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Psalms 4:6

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Who will show us any good? - This is not a fair translation. The word any is not in the text, nor any thing equivalent to it; and not a few have quoted it, and preached upon the text, placing the principal emphasis on this illegitimate word.

The place is sufficiently emphatic without this. There are multitudes who say, Who will show us good? Man wants good; he hates evil as evil, because he has pain, suffering, and death through it; and he wishes to find that supreme good which will content his heart, and save him from evil. But men mistake this good. They look for a good that is to gratify their passions; they have no notion of any happiness that does not come to them through the medium of their senses. Therefore they reject spiritual good, and they reject the Supreme God, by whom alone all the powers of the soul of man can be gratified.

Lift thou up the light of thy countenance - This alone, the light of thy countenance - thy peace and approbation, constitute the supreme good. This is what we want, wish, and pray for. The first is the wish of the worldling, the latter the wish of the godly.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

There be many that say - Some have supposed, as DeWette and others, that the allusion of the psalmist here is to his own followers, and that the reference is to their anxious fears in their misfortunes, as if they were poor and forsaken, and knew not from from where the supply of their wants would come. The more probable interpretation, however, is that the allusion is to the general anxiety of mankind, as contrasted with the feelings and desires of the psalmist himself in reference to the manner in which the desire was to be gratified. That is, the general inquiry among mankind is, who will show us good? Or, where shall we obtain that which seems to us to be good, or which will promote our happiness?

Who will show us any good? - The word “any” here is improperly supplied by the translators. The question is more emphatic as it is in the original - “Who will show us good?” That is, Where shall happiness be found? In what does it consist? How is it to be obtained? What will contribute to it? This is the “general” question asked by mankind. The “answer” to this question, of course, would be very various, and the psalmist evidently intends to place the answer which “he” would give in strong contrast with that which would be given by the mass of men. Some would place it in wealth; some in honor; some in palaces and pleasure grounds; some in gross sensual pleasure; some in literature; and some in refined social enjoyments. In contrast with all such views of the sources of true happiness, the psalmist says that he regards it as consisting in the favor and friendship of God. To him that was enough; and in this respect his views stood in strong contrast with those of the world around him. The “connection” here seems to be this - the psalmist saw those persons who were arrayed against him intent on their own selfish aims, prosecuting their purposes, regardless of the honor of God and the rights of other men; and he is led to make the reflection that this is the “general” character of mankind. They are seeking for happiness; they are actively employed in prosecuting their own selfish ends and purposes. They live simply to know how they shall be “happy,” and they prosecute any scheme which would seem to promise happiness, regardless of the rights of others and the claims of religion.

Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us - That is, in contrast with the feelings and plans of others. In the pursuit of what “they” regarded as good they were engaged in purposes of gain, of pleasure, or of ambition; he, on the contrary, asked only the favor of God - the light of the divine countenance. The phrase, “to lift up the light of the countenance” on one, is of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures, and is expressive of favor and friendship. When we are angry or displeased, the face seems covered with a dark cloud; when pleased, it brightens up and expresses benignity. There is undoubtedly allusion in this expression to the sun as it rises free from clouds and tempests, seeming to smile upon the world. The language here was not improbably derived from the benediction which the high priest was commanded to pronounce when he blessed the people of Israel Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” It may be added here, that what the psalmist regarded as the “supreme good” - the favor and friendship of God - is expressive of true piety in all ages and at all times. While the world is busy in seeking happiness in other things - in wealth, pleasure, gaiety, ambition, sensual delights - the child of God feels that true happiness is to be found only in religion, and in the service and friendship of the Creator; and, after all the anxious inquiries which men make, and the various experiments tried in succeeding ages, to find the source of true happiness, all who ever find it will be led to seek it where the psalmist said his happiness was found - in the light of the countenance of God.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Wordly people inquire for good, not for the chief good; all they want is outward good, present good, partial good, good meat, good drink, a good trade, and a good estate; but what are all these worth? Any good will serve the turn of most men, but a gracious soul will not be put off so. Lord, let us have thy favour, and let us know that we have it, we desire no more; let us be satisfied of thy loving-kindness, and will be satisfied with it. Many inquire after happiness, but David had found it. When God puts grace in the heart, he puts gladness in the heart. Thus comforted, he pitied, but neither envied nor feared the most prosperous sinner. He commits all his affairs to God, and is prepared to welcome his holy will. But salvation is in Christ alone; where will those appear who despise him as their Mediator, and revile him in his disciples? May they stand in awe, and no longer sin against the only remedy.
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