Psalm 5
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Another morning prayer, uttered by one who is exposed to danger from the machinations of unscrupulous and hypocritical enemies. The title assigns it to David, and he might have written thus when he was in the court of Saul, or shortly before the outbreak of Absalom’s rebellion.

It has been urged that Psalm 5:7 assumes the existence of the Temple, and is therefore decisive against the Davidic authorship. This however is not certain. The term “house of the Lord” presents no difficulty. It is used of the Tabernacle (Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26; Deuteronomy 23:18; Joshua 6:24; 1 Samuel 1:24; 1 Samuel 3:15), and also of the tent which David pitched for the ark on Mount Zion (2 Samuel 12:20). But could this ark-tent be called a temple? The Heb. word hêycâl denotes a spacious building, whether temple or palace (Psalm 45:8; Psalm 45:15), and would not be a strictly appropriate designation for it. It is however applied to the sanctuary at Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:9; 1 Samuel 3:3), and may have remained in use, and been applied to the ark-tent in David’s time. It should at any rate be noticed that in Psalm 27:4; Psalm 27:6, ‘house of the Lord,’ ‘temple,’ and ‘tent’ (A.V. tabernacle) are all used in close juxtaposition.

It is moreover at least possible that here, as in Psalm 11:4, Psalm 18:6, Psalm 29:9 (?), the temple is heaven, the dwelling-place of God, of which the earthly temple is but the symbol.

The Psalm opens with an urgent cry for a favourable hearing (Psalm 5:1-3). Jehovah will not tolerate the wicked (Psalm 5:4-6); but the Psalmist, through His lovingkindness, is admitted to His presence. He prays that he may be preserved from falling into the snares of his insidious foes (Psalm 5:7-9); and that their just condemnation and punishment may exhibit a proof of God’s righteous government which will cheer the hearts of His servants (Psalm 5:10-12).

The title may be rendered with R.V., For the Chief Musician; with the Nehiloth, or, (marg.) wind instruments. See Introd. pp. xxi, xxiv.

To the chief Musician upon Nehiloth, A Psalm of David. Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.
1. my meditation] The Heb. word, which occurs again only in Psalm 39:3, may denote either the unspoken prayer of the heart (cp. the cognate verb in Psalm 1:2); or the low, murmuring utterance of brooding sorrow. Cp. Isaiah 38:14. So Jerome, murmur meum.

1–3. Introductory petitions for a favourable hearing.

Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.
2. my cry] A word specially used of an imploring cry to God for help (Psalm 22:24; Psalm 28:2; &c.).

my King, and my God] Cp. Psalm 84:3. The language is all the more significant, if the petitioner was David. He appeals to Him, Whose chosen representative he was.

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.
3. O Lord, in the morning shalt thou hear my voice;

In the morning will I order my prayer unto thee, and will keep watch. (R.V.).

‘In the morning’ is repeated with emphasis. The first thought of the day is prayer. cp. Psalm 55:17, Psalm 88:13, Psalm 59:16, Psalm 92:2, Psalm 57:8.

will I direct] Better, as R.V., will I order. The word means to arrange, and is used of setting in order the pieces of wood (Genesis 22:9; Leviticus 1:7), or the parts of the sacrifice (Leviticus 1:8), upon the altar. One of the first duties of the priests in the morning was to prepare the wood for the morning sacrifice, which was offered at sunrise (Leviticus 6:12; Numbers 28:4). Hence some commentators think that the Psalmist intends to compare his daily morning prayer to the daily morning sacrifice. Cp. Psalm 141:2. But the word ‘order’ has no exclusive or even predominant sacrificial reference; and we should probably rather compare the expressions ‘to order one’s words’ or ‘one’s cause’ in Job 32:14; Job 23:4, and the more closely parallel use of the word without an object in Job 33:5; Job 37:19.

and will look up] Rather, as R.V., will keep watch, for an answer, like a sentinel on the look out (2 Samuel 18:24). Cp. Micah 7:7; Habakkuk 2:1.

For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.
4. a God] El, not Elohim. If the fundamental idea of this name for God is that of power[3], its use here is significant. Power without goodness is the fetishistic conception of deity, to which human nature is prone (Psalm 50:21).

[3] Attractive but questionable is Lagarde’s explanation of the name El as ‘the Being to Whom man turns,’ the aim and end of all human longing and effort.

neither shall evil dwell with thee] Rather, as R.V. marg., with the LXX, Vulg. and Jerome, The evil man shall not sojourn with thee. He cannot be (so to speak) God’s guest, and enjoy the hospitality and protection which Oriental custom prescribes. See on Psalm 15:1, and cp. Psalm 61:4. To sinners the divine holiness is a consuming fire which they cannot endure (Isaiah 33:14).

4–6. The ground of the Psalmist’s confident expectation of an answer is the holiness of God, who will tolerate no evil. Comp. the ideal of an earthly king’s court in Psalms 101.

The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.
5, 6. Various classes of evil doers. The foolish, or rather the arrogant, a word denoting boastful blustering presumption rather than folly; cp. Psalm 73:3, Psalm 75:4 : workers of iniquity, the standing expression in the Psalms for those who make a practice of what is morally worthless (cp. John 3:20; John 5:29); those ‘that speak lies’ (for leasing see on Psalm 4:2); cp. Psalm 58:3, Psalm 7:14 : men of bloodshed and deceit, who do not shrink from murder and that by treachery, in fact the Shimeis and Doegs and Ahithophels and Joabs of David’s time.

shall not stand in thy sight] This may simply mean that they cannot impose upon God. He passes judgement on their hollow pretensions (cp. Psalm 1:5), and they shrink away condemned. But the idea is probably rather of courtiers standing in the presence of a monarch. Cp. Proverbs 22:29; Psalm 101:7; and the picture of the heavenly council in Job 1:6; Job 2:1.

will abhor] Abhorreth; a strong word: abominates, as something wholly unnatural and detestable.

Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.
But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.
7. I will come &c.] Better, as R.V., following the order of the original: in the multitude [or, abundance] of thy lovingkindness will I come into thy house. Cp. Psalm 69:13; Psalm 69:16, Psalm 106:7; Psalm 106:45. The wicked are excluded from Jehovah’s presence by their own act; the godly man is admitted to it by Jehovah’s grace. Note the contrast between “the multitude of thy lovingkindness,” and “the multitude of their transgressions,” Psalm 5:10.

and in thy fear] Omit and. Fear, reverent awe, is the right spirit for approach to a holy God. Cp. Psalm 2:11; Hebrews 12:28-29.

will I worship] The Heb. word means to prostrate one’s self, the Oriental attitude of reverence to a superior or supplication (Genesis 18:2); hence in general, of the corresponding disposition of mind, to worship. The Psalmist worships facing the sanctuary which was the outward sign of Jehovah’s presence among His people. Or is the heavenly temple meant? (1 Kings 8:22).

7–9. In sharp contrast to the banishment of the wicked from God’s presence is the Psalmist’s freedom of access. He prays for the special guidance needed by one who is surrounded by insidious enemies.

Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.
8. The prayer for guidance which is the main object and central thought of the Psalm.

Lead me … in thy righteousness] i.e. because Thou art righteous. A comparison of Psalm 23:3; Proverbs 8:20; Proverbs 12:28; might incline us to understand the meaning to be, ‘Lead me in the path of right conduct which Thou hast marked out for me:’ but the true parallels are Psalm 31:1, Psalm 71:2, Psalm 119:40, Psalm 143:1; Psalm 143:11; which shew clearly that God’s own righteousness is meant. One element of that righteousness is faithfulness to His saints in the fulfilment of covenant promises, and to this the Psalmist appeals.

because of mine enemies] A peculiar word found only in Psalm 27:11, Psalm 54:5, Psalm 56:2, Psalm 59:10. Render, as in R.V. margin, them that lie in wait for me, like fowlers (Jeremiah 5:26, R.V.), or a leopard for its prey (Hosea 13:7). He prays that he may be preserved from falling into their snares.

make thy way straight] Or, as P.B.V. and R.V., plain. The word means both level and straight. The godly man’s life is a path marked out for him by God (Psalm 17:5, Psalm 73:24, Psalm 86:11). He prays that it may be such that he may be in no danger of stumbling or losing his way. ‘Bring us not into temptation.’

For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue.
9. The reason for the Psalmist’s special need of guidance is the treacherous character of his enemies. There is no stedfastness, nothing upon which he can depend, in their talk: their inmost heart is bent on destruction (lit. is destructions, or perhaps, as R.V. marg., a yawning gulf): their throat, the instrument of speech (Psalm 115:7, Psalm 149:6), threatens death like an open grave, though their words are so smooth and specious.

Destroy thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.
10. Destroy thou them, O God] R.V., Hold them guilty; punish them; for it is by visible failure and disaster that their condemnation is to be made known.

let them fall by their own counsels] Let their own machinations recoil on their heads and bring them to ruin. Cp. 2 Samuel 15:31. Better so than as margin, fall from, i.e. fail in, their counsels. Cp. Psalm 64:8.

cast them out] As no longer worthy to dwell in the land: or, thrust them down from the position which they occupy. Cp. Psalm 62:4; Psalm 36:12.

for they have rebelled against thee] Rebellion against the king was in a special way rebellion against Jehovah, whose representative he was. But it may refer quite generally to their defiance of divine authority, and their persecution of God’s servant.

10–12. As he calls to mind their malice he can no longer refrain, but breaks out into urgent prayer that sentence may be passed upon them as guilty of high treason against God; that so, in the triumph of the right, the godly may rejoice in God’s favour and protection. On such prayers see Introduction, p. lxxxviii ff.

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy name be joyful in thee.
11. We may render more exactly:

So shall all those that take refuge in thee rejoice,

They shall ever shout for joy while thou protectest them,

And they that love thy name shall exult in thee.

The punishment of the wicked according to their deeds is an occasion for the universal rejoicing of the godly. Not only do they sympathise with their fellow-saint in his deliverance, but they see in it a vindication of Jehovah’s righteous government, and an assurance that those who have put themselves under His protection will not find their confidence misplaced.

that love thy name] Cp. Psalm 69:36, Psalm 119:132. ‘The Name of Jehovah’ is the compendious expression for His character and attributes as He has revealed them to men. See Oehler’s O.T. Theology, § 56. Needs must those who love Him as He has revealed Himself rejoice when He proves Himself true to His promises.

defendest them] Protectest, or shelterest them; in Thy secret pavilion (Psalm 27:5, Psalm 31:20); or, under Thy outspread wings (Psalm 91:4).

For thou, LORD, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.
12. The R.V. follows the Massoretic punctuation in transferring lord to the second half of the verse:

O lord, thou wilt compass him with favour as with a shield.

a shield] A buckler, or large shield to protect the whole body. Cp. Psalm 35:2, Psalm 91:4; 1 Samuel 17:7. From 1 Kings 10:16-17 it would seem that the ‘buckler’ (A.V. ‘target’) was about double the size of the ‘shield.’

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