Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Psalm 5:7 makes the inscription to this psalm suspicious. (See Note.) The address, “my king,” also denoting the theocratic relation of Jehovah to His people, seems more natural in. an invocation supposed to come from the entire faithful Israel—an invocation for help against the idolatrous part of the nation now in power, and preparing, if not actually beginning, persecution. The psalm is therefore rightly assigned to the troublous times of the later monarchy, possibly the reign of Manasseh. The bitterness of possible estrangement from the Temple and its services makes itself visible enough here, in feelings natural to this period. It is plain that when Psalms 5 was composed the adherents of Jehovah’s religion were the objects of dislike and calumny.
The parallelism is marked and well sustained.
Title.—Properly, to the leader on the flutes or to the precentor, with flute accompaniments. (See Note to inscription, Psalms 4)
Nehiloth.—Properly, nechîlôth: that is, bored instruments. The LXX., followed by the Vulg., translate, “on behalf of the heiress,” i.e., according to Augustine, “the Church;” but this is founded on a wrong etymology. Some Rabbins, deriving from a Chaldee word meaning “a swarm of bees,” make it refer to the multitudes reciting the psalm; others to the humming or hoarse sound of the musical accompaniment; others to a particular tune, “the drones.” Of the use of flutes in the religious services of the Hebrews we have proof in 1Samuel 10:5, 1Kings 1:40, Isaiah 30:29. Possibly the plural form may indicate the double flute. (See Bible Educator, ii. 89.)
To the chief Musician upon Nehiloth, A Psalm of David. Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation.(1) Meditation.—From a root cognate with the word translated meditate in Psalm 1:2, with primary sense of mutter or murmur. Here “whispered prayer,” in contrast to “words” in first clause, and to “voice of my cry” in the next. It echoes clause 1: “while unto thee will I pray” corresponds to “meditation.”
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) The daily morning sacrifice sees the Psalmist in the Temple. The word “direct,” or, better, prepare, is the same employed in Leviticus 1:8; Leviticus 1:12; Leviticus 6:12, of the priest laying out the wood for the sacrifice, or the parts of the offering itself, and suggest that the author may himself have been a priest. The word “offering” should be supplied, instead of “prayer.” Henry Vaughan’s fine hymn—
“When first thine eyes unveil, give thy soul leave
To do the like”—
was probably suggested by this verse.
Look up.—The Hebrew is from the root which forms “Mizpeh,” or “watch-tower.” The psalmist looks up for the answer to his prayer as the seer on his tower (Habakkuk 2:1) looked up for his inspiration. The usual attitude of prayer in the East was then, as now, either standing or prostrate, the hands lifted up or spread out (Exodus 9:33; Psalm 28:2; Psalm 134:2; Psalm 141:2). To raise the eyes was not so usual. Virgil, describing the capture of Cassandra by the Greeks, makes her look up, but only because her hands were bound.
“Ad coelum tendens ardentia lumina frustra,
Lumina—nam teneras arcebant vincula palmas.”
For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee.(4) Neither shall evil.—Better, the wicked man is not thy guest. For the same thought, see Psalms 15; and for the opposite, of God coming to dwell with the godly, Isaiah 57:15.
The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity.(5) Foolish.—Literally, shiners—i.e., displayers of self; or, perhaps, self-praisers, boasters.
Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the LORD will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.(6) Leasing.—See Psalm 4:2.
Bloody.—Margin, literally, of bloods and deceit. So LXX. and Vulg.
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) House . . . temple.—These words must certainly be taken literally, and not, as Hupfeld suggests, metaphorically, or in a spiritual sense with reference to Psalm 5:4. The reference to worship hardly allows the rendering palace, though the derivation of the Hebrew word permits it. No doubt either explanation is possible; but neither would have been suggested but for the title to the psalm; and it is clear (see General Introduction) that historical exactness was not regarded in affixing the psalm-titles.
Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face.(8) Enemies.—Literally, those watching for, or lying in wait. Aquila and Jerome both give “those lying in ambush.” God’s guidance and protection would enable the good man to avoid their snares, and to walk straight in the way of righteousness. To walk in God’s way is to walk in safety.
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) In their mouth.—See margin.
Wickedness.—Properly, an abyss, from root “to fall,” hence in parallelism with “open sepulcher” in next clause. This is an instance of introverted parallelism, “mouth” answering to “tongue.” (See Bible Educator, iii. 50.)
An open sepulchre.—At once dangerous and noisome.
Flatter.—Literally, make smooth the tongue. (Comp. Psalm 12:2.) Shakespeare uses “smooth tongue.” Comp. also—
“The subtle flend,
Though only strong with anger and disdain,
Dissembled, and this answer smooth returned.”
MILTON, Par. Lost.
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.—Literally, make or count guilty.
Transgressions.—Literally, revolts, thus being in close synonymous parallelism with the next clause. Or else, as in margin and in ancient versions, LXX., Vulg., and Syriac, “Let them fall from their counsels:” i.e., “let their plots fail.”
On the imprecations in the Psalms see General Introduction, 6.
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) Rejoice.—From root meaning primarily bright. Proverbs 13:9 : “The light of the righteous rejoiceth.”
Luther, when asked at Augsburg where he should find shelter if his patron, the Elector of Saxony, should desert him, replied, “under the shield of heaven.” The image is finely elaborated in Browning’s Instans Tyrannus:—
“When sudden—How think ye the end?
Did I say without friend?
Say, rather, from marge to blue marge,
The whole sky grew his targe
With the sun’s self for visible boss;
While an arm ran across
Which the earth heaved beneath like a breast
Where the wretch was safe pressed.
Do you see? Just my vengeance complete.
The man sprang to his feet.
Stood erect, caught at God’s skirts, and prayed—
So I was afraid.”