“Hear me when I call” Psalm 4 (and elsewhere)
The impatience of the command form in the English language (we might even say its “nerve”) is on display in the very form of the sentence. When we tell others what to do, we deliberately address them last, if at all; subject takes second place to verb, as in “brush your teeth.” Action is obviously far more important than anything else.
“Shut the door,” cares nothing for feelings, simply insists on action. Add a name and things soften a bit, but not much: “Shut the door, Alphonse.” In fact, if we attempt to take the edge off a command and add something endearing, we come up with true phoniness: “shut the door, sweetheart.”
The command form happens so often in the Psalms that I think we simply become accustomed to hearing it and forget its lousy manners. My goodness, the Psalmist is talking to the Lord God Almighty here, not some forgetful kid; yet, he’s ordering him around as if he were a valet. “Hear my cry, O Lord,” says the King James. The NIV has “Answer me when I call to you,” which seems, if you ask me, to bring petulance to another level all together.
If the truth be known, most parents scold their children for using the command form too easily. “Give me the toys,” one kid screams, and loving parents do what they can to curb an insolent tongue.
“Insolent,” “impatient,” “petulant”—I’ve used some unpleasant words here so far, but it seems to me that they all fit. The arrogance—we can call it that, I think—of the writer is unmistakable. Simply stated, he’s telling the Lord what to do. “Answer me” doesn’t make the speaker sound like a supplicant.
Of course, grammar be hanged when you’re calling 911. And that’s what appears to be going on here, and elsewhere in the psalms. The writer has arrived at his wit’s end. He can’t cope. He doesn’t have a clue. He’s wasted the last of his best ideas, and there’s nowhere else to turn. Frantic, he forgets his manners and bellers. How else do we explain God’s tolerating this rhetorical blast? Poor guy doesn’t know what the heck to do!
You wonder sometimes whether God Almighty doesn’t actually appreciate being the last port in the storm. Most of us wouldn’t because most of our egos aren’t all that thrilled with being the end of the line. But God seems to like it. Apparently, his feelings aren’t hurt one bit.
I think he likes us emptied. I think he likes us bereft of our own wiles. I think he likes us without resources, nowhere to go, on our knees.
And I don’t know if that’s so much a characteristic of our Creator and Sustainer, as it is simply the story of our lives. We need foxholes to realize there is nothing we can do. We all need to hit bottom. At some time or another, we all cower in a corner, nowhere to turn.
The Psalms are songs of praise to the Lord, but they emerge from what’s human in all of us. They praise His holy name, but I’m really thankful that they also serve to help us understand the mysteries—and even the darkness—of our own lives.