English Basic Explanation - Chapter 4
King David composed this chapter in a situation of grave crisis, when he found himself subject to scorn, degradation, and, even worse, betrayal and deceit. According to Rashi, this Psalm was written during the period when David was pursued by King Shaul, who held David in such low regard that he regularly referred to him as "son of Yishai," refusing to even mention his name. As he fled from the king, David was betrayed by the people of Zif, who welcomed and acted kindly towards David, only to later report to Shaul of his whereabouts (Shemuel I, chapter 23).
David begins this chapter by appealing to the Almighty for assistance, and then expresses his confidence in his ultimate victory over his foes. Why, he rhetorically asks his pursuers and betrayers, do you persistently work to destroy me, when God will assuredly answer my prayers? Rather than feel frightened and threatened by his enemies' hostility, David speaks to them with the confidence that he has the upper hand, with a sense of security and self-assurance in his eventual triumph. He admonishes them, "Say in your heart on your bed, 'Tremble, and do not sin,' and keep silent" (verse 5). Instead of devising sinister plots against him in the hope of thereby winning King Shaul's favor, they are best advised to think about their standing before the Almighty, and concern themselves with earning His favor, rather than Shaul's.
In the final three verses of this chapter, David leaves the specific context of his travails to describe his general attitude toward his situation in life. Most people, he observes, never feel content with what they have and constantly strive and pray for greater wealth and success. David, however, takes a much different – and much healthier – approach: "You have placed joy in my heart, even as their grain and wine increased" (verse 8). He is unaffected by the wealth and prosperity enjoyed by those around him; it arouses within him no feelings of envy. He feels content with what he has because he enjoys the company and protection of the Almighty. In his mind, a relationship with God is the most valuable asset that one could even acquire, in relation to which all material success loses all importance and value.
This Psalm conveys the message that success must be gauged on the basis of one's spiritual achievements, rather than on the basis of his wealth or social standing. David is unimpressed by the political gains of the people of Zif or the wealth of the nation's aristocrats, because these are not where his aspirations and priorities lie. So long as he has earned the Almighty's favor, so long as he remains faithful to God and enjoys His protection, he is content and at peace with himself.