4. Be angry, and do not sin;
The ESV, as well as the HCSB, translates the Hebrew רָגַז(ragaz) as “Be angry,” but although this is a legitimate translation of the word, the context of the preceding verses seems to require a different translation. The KJV and ASV translate ragaz as “Stand in awe,” whereas the NIV and NASB use “Tremble.” Calvin1 understands the imperative as the first in a chain of exhortations
…to repentance…he bids them tremble, or be troubled; a word by which he rebukes their stupidity in running headlong in their wicked course, without any fear of God, or any sense of danger…He tells them that the best remedy to cure their rage, and prevent them from sinning any longer, would be to awaken from their lethargy and begin to be afraid and tremble…2
This interpretation fits the context, but Paul’s quotation of the LXX translation in Eph 4:26 reads “Be angry and do not sin,” making the interpretation of the Psalm somewhat more difficult, as it appears to be the case that Paul is rightfully employing the Psalm to admonish believers to not sin. Moreover, Kiel and Delitzch explain that
The LXX has translated it correctly…(cf. Eph 4:26): If ye will be angry beware of sinning, viz., backbiting and rebellion (cf. The similar paratactic combinations [in] Ps 28:1; Jos 6:8; Isa 12:1).3
And still another option given by Hoehner is that
it is best to accept both of these imperatives as commands, one as positive and the other as negative […] Because the Hebrew word has the connotation of trembling with anger, Craigie states, ‘The psalmist advises his enemies to keep their anger within themselves, to maintain control of their words and their evil actions.’4
The emphasis, therefore, is not on the command to be angry but the command to not sin. David is warning those who are enraged at God, i.e. the wicked, to not sin, but to reconsider their foolish ways and come to repentance.5
4a. …ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
David’s command here seems to be reflective of what we find in Ps 2:1-3 & 10-12. Those who are opposed to our God would do well to consider their ways, for God’s judgment is not slack. The righteous are set apart for God by Him; therefore, the wicked should reconsider their ways before they assault God’s elect. The mercy of God in these commands is more evidence of just how depraved the man without Christ is, for although God restrains His hand from immediately casting these men into torments for their sins, and although the Lord goes on to identify their sin for them and give them the opportunity to repent and believe, they do not. Instead, they continue in their wicked ways, heaping up wrath against themselves for the day of judgment.
What is of note is that David does not command these wicked to do external acts of righteousness, but instead begins with their hearts, i.e. their minds/souls. After warning them of the precarious situation they are in for their sins of the heart, he commands them to “ponder” these things in their own hearts, to think and meditate on whether or not they are being reasonable in their rebellion. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but these men are fools who are bent toward doing that which is abominable before the Lord. God cuts through to the division of soul and spirit with His Word, showing His omniscience in commands such as these. And we would do well to see and understand that the Law is spiritual,6 addressing the very souls of men, and not giving them any room to consider themselves righteous apart from the imputed righteousness of God.7 We often fail to address what is wrong with trees that bear bad fruit: They are corrupt at the core.
Can these men ponder their own hearts, then, if they are corrupt at the core? No, “…for the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s Law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”8 Even this command to repent and come to their senses is impossible for them to do – God must grant them a new heart,9 repentance,10 and faith.11 Apart from the Sovereign work of God, the command means only more condemnation for them. It is the Spirit who must breathe life into these dead sinners, replace their hearts of stone with those made of flesh, fashioned by the Spirit according to the foreordination of the Father, and purchased by the blood of Christ.
1See also, John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Pss 4:4
2Commentary on the Psalms, Pss 4:4
3Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, Pss 4:4-5
4Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, p.620
5cf. Ps 2:1-3 & 10-12, where David identifies the wicked as raging and then commands them to come to repentance and faith in God’s Anointed One, Christ Jesus.
6cf. Rom 7:14a
7cf. Rom 3:19
9cf. John 3:3; Rom 2:29; Heb 8:1-12
10cf. 2 Tim 2:25
11cf. Phil 1:29