We understand Psalms 3 and 4 as David’s responses to Absalom’s rebellion. His anger and hatred against his father for several reasons led him to attempt a coup to kill his father and take the kingdom from him. The initiation of his uprising took the form of a plea from Absalom to his father, David, for permission to go to Hebron to fulfill a vow to offer sacrifices. David gladly blessed him and freed him to go. At that time, Absalom called his rebellious forces together to kill David and take the kingdom. This could be the setting for Psalm 4 and verse 5. Still advising his rebellious son, David says, “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.” Absalom did offer sacrifices but recruited others to rebel with him as he did so. His offerings were a lie. Eveson observes, “Absalom and others show a rebellious attitude toward the Lord and his anointed, and so all their worship is a sham. This was so with Absalom and those associated with him. They belonged to the nation God had set apart for himself, yet they behaved like enemies of God and his people by rebelling against the Lord’s anointed. Their worship of God at the Jerusalem sanctuary was futile as long as they showed contempt for the king.”[1]

Absalom’s sacrifices were a sham. They were intended to conceal his real intent from his father, the anointed King of Israel. God will never accept such sacrifices. VanGemeren, observes, “They must be ‘sincere’ sacrifices, presented out of wholehearted trust in Yahweh, as an expression of submission to him. The sacrifices are only ‘righteous’ when they are acts of devotion flowing out of a right relationship with God.”[2] The phrase in this Psalm is best translated as “sacrifices of righteousness.” Some commentators suggest that it’s referring to the physical sacrifices that the Old Testament saints presented to God at the altar. Most, however, see the sacrifices as referring to having the right heart and attitude that accompany the sacrifices. I think that Psalm 51 gives us a better understanding of what David refers to with the phrase “sacrifices of righteousness.” In Psalm 51, David repents of his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah and pleads with God for forgiveness. When he’s assured that God has forgiven him, he asserts in verse 17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” David wanted his son to stop trusting in himself and his popularity and strength and look to God and rest under the mighty hand of Him that delivered David from Goliath and anointed him as King of Israel.

As New Testament Christians, we too must let go of confidence in ourselves and put our faith in the Lord. We need to offer “Sacrifices of Righteousness” ye “At the same time, we must bear in mind how exceedingly defective our best services are; and must renounce all hope in ‘our own righteousness, as being in itself no better than filthy rags.’ If St. Paul, with all his transcendent excellencies, ‘desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness, but that which is of God by faith in Christ,’ much more must we do so, whose righteousness falls so far short of his. Our constant and grateful acknowledgment must be, ‘In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.’ Yes; ‘in the Lord must all the seed of Israel be justified, and in him alone must they glory.’”[3]

[1] Eveson, Philip. 2014–2015. The Book of Psalms: From Suffering to Glory. Vol. 1. Welwyn Commentary Series. Welwyn Garden City, UK: EP.

[2] VanGemeren, Willem A. 1991. “Psalms.” In The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, 5:83. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[3] Simeon, Charles. 1836. Horae Homileticae: Psalms, I–LXXII. Vol. 5. London: Samuel Holdsworth.