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Psalm 5

“To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David. Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me. For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5, ESV)

The Psalmist prays for the divine help, ver. 2 (1), on the ground that Jehovah is his King and his God, ver. 3 (2), that he early and constantly invokes his aid, ver. 4 (3), that the enemies, from whom he seeks to be delivered, are the enemies of God, ver. 5, 6 (4, 5), and as such must inevitably perish, ver. 7 (6), while he, as the representative of God’s friends, must be rescued, ver. 8 (7). He then goes over the same ground afresh, asking again to be protected from his enemies, ver. 9 (8), again describing them as desperately wicked, ver. 10 (9), again appealing to God’s justice to destroy them, ver. 11 (10), and again anticipating certain triumph, ver. 12 (11), on the ground of God’s habitual and uniform dealing with the righteous, ver. 13 (12). As the two preceding psalms appear to constitute a pair, so this one seems to contain such a pair or double psalm within itself. It is also obvious that this is but a further variation of the theme which runs through the preceding psalms, and therefore an additional proof that their arrangement in the book is not fortuitous or arbitrary. If ver. 4 (3) of this psalm be supposed to mark it as a morning hymn, its affinity to the two before it becomes still more close and striking.

  1. To (or for) the Chief Musician. See above on Ps. 4:1. To (or for) Nehiloth. This, though undoubtedly a part of the original inscription, is obscure and enigmatical. Its very obscurity indeed may be regarded as a proof of its antiquity and genuineness. Some understand it to mean flutes or wind-instruments in general, as Neginoth, in the title of the fourth psalm, means stringed instruments. The sense would then be: (to be sung) to (an accompaniment of) flutes or wind-instruments. But as the Hebrew word is nowhere else used in this sense, and the preposition here employed is not the one prefixed to names of instruments, and flutes are nowhere mentioned as a part of the temple music, others make Nehiloth the name of a tune, or of another song to the melody of which this was to be adapted: (to be sung) to (the air of) Nehiloth. Others follow the ancient version in making it refer, not to the musical performance, but the subject of the psalm: (as) to inheritances, lots, or destinies, viz. those of the righteous and the wicked. This is favored by the circumstance, that most of the other enigmatical inscriptions of the psalms may be more probably explained as having reference to their theme or subject than in any other manner. The title closes, as in the foregoing psalm, by ascribing it to David as its author. Nor is there anything, as we shall see, to militate against the truth of this inscription.

  2. (1). To my words, O Lord, Jehovah, give ear, perceive my thought. Attend not only to my vocal and audible petitions, but to my unexpressed desires, to those "groanings which cannot be uttered," but are no less significant to God than language (Rom. 8:26, 27). The second verb suggests the idea of attention, as well as that of simple apprehension.

  3. (2). Hearken to the voice of my crying, or my cry for help, to which the Hebrew word is always specially applied. My king and my God, not as a mere creator and providential ruler, but as the covenant God and king of Israel, whom David represented. As he was himself the king of Israel, so God was his king, the lord paramount or sovereign, in whose right he reigned. This address involves a reason why his prayer must be heard. God, as the king of his people, could not deny them his protection, and they asked no other. For to thee, and thee only, will I pray. As if he had said, It is in this capacity that I invoke thee, and I therefore must be heard. This is a specimen of that παῤῥησία, or freedom of speech towards God, which is recognized as an effect and evidence of faith, in the New as well as the Old Testament, Heb. 4:16, 10:19, 35; 1 John 2:28, 3:21, 4:17, 5:14.

  4. (3). O Lord, Jehovah, (in) the morning thou shalt hear my voice. This is not so much a request to be heard as a resolution to persist in prayer. The reference may be either to stated hours of prayer or to early devotion as a proof of earnestness and faith. See Ps. 55:18 (17), 88:14 (13.) (In) the morning I will set (my prayer) in order, to (or for) thee. There is here a beautiful allusion to the Mosaic ritual, which is unavoidably lost in a translation. The Hebrew verb is the technical term used in the Old Testament to signify the act of arranging the wood upon the altar (Gen. 22:9, Lev. 1:7, 1 Kings 18:33), and the shewbread on the table (Exod. 40:23, Lev. 24:6, 8). It would therefore necessarily suggest the idea of prayer as an oblation, here described as a kind of morning sacrifice to God. And I will look out, or watch, for an answer to my prayers. The image presented is that of one looking from a wall or tower in anxious expectation of approaching succor. A similar use of the same verb occurs in Hab. 2:1, and Micah 7:7. True faith is not contented with the act of supplication, but displays itself in eager expectation of an answer.

  5. (4). Here, as elsewhere, the Psalmist identifies his cause with God’s, and anticipates the downfall of his enemies because they are sinners and therefore odious in God’s sight. For not a God delighting in wickedness (art) thou, as might appear to be the case if these should go unpunished. It is necessary, therefore, for the divine honor, that they should not go unpunished. Not with thee, as thy guest or friend, shall evil, or the bad (man), dwell. For an opposite use of the same figure, see below, Ps. 15:1, 61:5 (4). It is still implied, that the impunity of sinners would appear as if God harbored and abetted them, and therefore must be inconsistent with his honor as a holy God.

  6. (5). What was said in the preceding verse of sin is here, to prevent misapprehension, said of sinners. They shall not stand, the proud, or insolent, here put for wicked men in general and for the Psalmist’s enemies in particular, before thine eyes. Thou canst not bear the presence of thy moral opposites. Sin is not only opposed to God’s will, but repugnant to his nature. By ceasing to hate it, he would cease to be holy, cease to be perfect, cease to be God. This idea is expressed more directly in the other clause. Thou hast hated, and must still hate, all doers of iniquity. This last word is originally a negative, meaning inanity or nonentity, but like several other negatives in Hebrew, is employed as a strong term to denote moral deficiency and worthlessness.

  7. (6). As the preceding verse extends what was said of sin in the abstract to personal offenders, so here what was said of the divine dispositions is applied to divine acts. That which God hates he must destroy. Particular classes of transgressors are here put, as before, by way of specimen or sample, for the whole; with special reference, however, to the sins of David’s enemies. Thou wilt destroy speakers of falsehood; see above, on Ps. 4:3 (2). A man of blood, literally bloods, the plural form being commonly used where there is reference to blood-guiltiness or murder. See Gen. 4:10, 11; Ps. 51:16 (14). A man of blood and fraud, a bloody and deceitful man, the Lord, Jehovah, will abhor; he must and will shew his abhorrence by the punishment of such offenders. This confident anticipation of God’s righteous retributions really involves a prayer for the deliverance of the Psalmist from his enemies.

  8. (7). For the same reason he is equally confident in the anticipation of his own deliverance. Since his enemies must perish as the enemies of God, he must escape, not on account of his own merit, nor simply as an object of God’s favor, but as the champion of his cause, his earthly vicegerent, the type and representative of his Messiah. And I, as distinguished from these sinners, in the abundance of thy mercy, which excludes all reliance on his own strength or goodness, will come to thy house, the tabernacle set up on Mount Zion by David. I will worship, literally prostrate or bow myself, towards thy temple of holiness, thy holy temple, or rather palace, so called as the residence of Israel’s divine King, and therefore no less applicable to the tabernacle than the temple. See 1 Sam. 1:9, 3:3, Ps. 27:4, 28:2. Towards, not in, because the worshippers did not go into the sanctuary itself, but worshipped in the court, with their faces turned towards the place of God’s manifested presence. Such usages are now superseded by the advent of the true sanctuary. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4). In thy fear, the reverence engendered even by the view and the experience of God’s mercy. There may be an allusion in this verse to David’s painful sense of his exclusion from the house of God (2 Sam. 15:25); but it cannot be merely an anticipation of renewed access to the sanctuary, which was equally open to all others, and could not therefore be used to indicate the contrast between his condition and that of others. The verse is rather an engagement to acknowledge God’s delivering mercy in the customary manner. See below, Ps. 66:13. As if he had said, While my enemies perish by the hand of God, I shall be brought by his mercy to give thanks for my deliverance at his sanctuary.

  9. (8). The Psalmist here begins his prayer and argument anew, pursuing the same order as before. O Lord, Jehovah, lead me, guide me safely, in thy righteousness, i.e. in the exercise of that same justice which destroys my enemies, on account of my enemies, that they may not triumph; make straight before my face thy way, i.e. mark out a safe and easy path for me to tread. The explanation of the way as that of duty and obedience, although not at variance with scriptural usage, is less suited to the context here, in which the prayer throughout is for protection and deliverance.

  10. (9). The same reason as before is now assigned for his deliverance from his enemies, viz. because they were the enemies of God, and they were such because they were atrocious sinners. For there is nothing in his mouth, i.e. the mouth of any one of them, or of all concentrated in one ideal person, sure or certain, i.e. true. Their inside, their heart, their real disposition, as distinguished from the outward appearance, (is) mischiefs, injuries, or crimes, consists of nothing else. A grave opened, to receive the victim, (is) their throat, like that of a devouring monster. Or the throat may be mentioned as an organ of speech, as in Ps. 149:6, 115:7, and compared with the grave as a receptacle of corruption or a place of destruction. Their tongue they smooth, or make smooth, by hypocrisy or flattery, as the wicked woman is said to make her words smooth, Prov. 2:16, 7:5. The Septuagint version of this clause is quoted by Paul (Rom. 3:13), with several other passages from the Old Testament, as a strong description of human depravity. The last words are rendered in that version, "with their tongues they have used craft or deceit," an idea really included in the literal translation.

  11. (10). Condemn them, literally make them guilty, i.e. recognize and treat them as such, O God! They shall fall, i.e. they must, they cannot but fall, a common figure for destruction (Ps. 36:13, 141:10), from their plans, i.e., before they can accomplish them, or in consequence, by means of them. (Compare Hos. 11:6). In the fulness, or abundance, of their sins, thrust them forth, cast them out from thy presence, and down from their present exaltation. For they have rebelled against thee, not me, or against me only as thy instrument and representative. Or the opposition may be between rebelling against God and simply sinning against man. The imperative and future forms, in this verse, both express the certainty of the event, with an implication of approving acquiescence. Such expressions, in the Psalms, have never really excited or encouraged a spirit of revenge in any reader, and are no more fitted to have that effect than the act of a judge who condemns a criminal to death, or of the officer who executes the sentence. The objections often urged against such passages are not natural, but spring from over-refinement and a false view of the Psalms as expressions of mere personal feeling. See below, on Ps. 7:13 (12).

  12. (11). The transition and contrast are the same as in ver. 8 (7) above. While the wicked perish, the righteous shall have cause for everlasting joy. And all (those) trusting in thee, making thee their refuge, shall be glad; for ever shall they shout (or sing) for joy, and (not without cause, for) thou wilt cover over (or protect) them; and in thee, in thy presence and thy favor, shall exult, or triumph, (the) lovers of thy name, i.e. of thy manifested excellence, which is the usual sense of this expression in the Old Testament. The believers and lovers of God’s name, here spoken of, are not merely friends of the psalmist who rejoice in his deliverance, but the great congregation of God’s people, to which he belonged, and of which he was the representative, so that his deliverance was theirs, and a rational occasion of their joy, not only on his account but on their own.

  13. (12). The confident hope expressed in the foregoing verse was not a groundless or capricious one, but founded on the nature of God and the uniform tenor of his dispensations. The psalmist knows what God will do in this case, because he knows what he does and will do still in general. For thou wilt bless, and art wont to bless, the righteous, the opposite of those described in ver. 5–7 (4–6) and 10, 11 (9, 10), O Lord, Jehovah! Like the shield, as the shield protects the soldier (so with) favour thou wilt surround him, or enclose him, still referring to the righteous; see the same comparison in Ps. 3:4 (3.) The confident assertion that God will do so, implies that he has done so, and is wont to do so, to the righteous as a class. And this affords a reasonable ground for the belief, expressed in the preceding verse, that he will do so also in the present case.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained. Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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