This is a morning psalm (V5), and the threat from enemies leads Kidner to entitled it ‘Clouded Dawn’.
Summary: ‘The introduction (vv. 2–4), like the entire psalm, is addressed to Yahweh, worshiped as holy (vv. 5–7) and good (vv. 8–9); the wicked fall (vv. 5–7, 10–11) but the upright are joyful (vv. 8–9, 12–13).’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)
Although presented in the first person, the psalm may represent the thoughts and feelings of one as representing those of many.
Psa 5:1 For the director of music. For flutes. A psalm of David. Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing.
My words…my sighing – Two forms of praying: verbal and non-verbal.
The sighing becomes focussed into a ‘cry’, v2, and then an articulate prayer, v3.
Psa 5:2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
Give ear…consider…listen… suggest that the psalmist, although convinced of God’s reality, feels that God may be unable, or unwilling, to hear him in his need.
My King and my God – ‘If we would have the Lord for our God, let us also take him for our King. If we reject his laws, it is certain we reject his grace. If we refuse his yoke, we surely do not accept his mercy. If his sceptre if an offence to us, so it his plan of saving sinners by his blood. If Christ is made of God unto us righteousness, he is also made of God unto us sanctification.’ (Plumer)
Psa 5:3 In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.
In the morning – ‘Is there a thriving Christian on earth, who gives his earliest thoughts to the world and only later ones to God?’ (Plumer)
Wait in expectation – ‘Prayer lives in a watch-tower. The Oratory should be an observatory.’ (Plumer)
Psa 5:4 You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.
With you the wicked cannot dwell – ‘The psalmist’s point is that God is so incompatible with evil that even the most temporary coexistence is utterly impossible.’ (Wilson)
‘When man’s hope is built on the idea that God is like his erring creatures, that he is not holy, just, or true, all his solemn services are worthless, and his prospects are dismal.’ (Plumer)
Broyles remarks that ‘the wicked are given mention simply as a foil to describe God in terms of the kind of company he cannot tolerate. God’s character is described as the antithesis of the wicked. Similarly in verses 9–10, no mention is made of their victimizing the speaker or anyone else. The supporting reason for God to banish them is “for they have rebelled against you.” The wicked are presented primarily as opponents of God.’
Psa 5:5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong.
Psa 5:6 You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.
‘Because God is holy and man sinful, regeneration is necessary. God, and sinners who live iniquity, cannot dwell together, vv4,5,6. To expect happiness in heaven without a new nature is more foolish than any dream of madmen. Men may believe the world is flat or round, that it moves or stands still, and yet be virtuous, and happy, and on the road to heaven. But without a new heart no man can be saved.’ (Plumer)
‘The characteristics most abhorrent to and unlike Yahweh are arrogance, violence, and deceit. He is characterized by truth and peace.’ (Broyles)
Wilson (NIVAC) explains that holiness, in the ancient world, seldom carried moral overtones. The gods of the ANE were morally no different than humans: ‘They acted in anger, in lust, or for personal gain. They carried grudges and sought vengeance. They could lie, deceive, and manipulate.’ They differed from humans in that they were powerful and lived for ever. But the God of Israel breaks this pattern. He is morally upright and cannot tolerate evil. Evil-doers will not come into his presence; rather, they will suffer destruction.
Psa 5:7 But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple.
Your house…your holy temple – Surprising designations, since the ark was kept in a tent at that time, 2 Sam 7:2. Kidner suggests that three alternatives are available: (a) that ‘of David’ in the title means something other than that David actually wrote the psalm; (b) that the traditional names for God’s dwelling survived from earlier days (cf 1 Sam 1:7,9); (c) that David’s language has been adapted to the use of later worshipers. Kidner prefers (b).
Here we have two great attitudes that make true worship possible: on God’s part, the attitude of ‘mercy’; and on our part, the attitude of ‘reverence’.
Your great mercy – ‘As Psalms 24:5 and 65:1–5 (see the commentary) make clear, entry into the temple is achieved not by claims of moral rectitude but “by your great mercy.’ (Broyles)
Long ago, a poor woman from the slums of London was invited to go with a group of people for a holiday at the seaside. She had never seen the sea before, and when she saw it, she burst into tears. “Why are you crying?” those around her asked. Pointing to the sea, she said, “This is the only thing I have ever seen that there was enough of!” God’s mercy is great. There is enough and to spare.
The story has been told of a mother who sought from the emperor the pardon of her son. The emperor said it was the man’s second offence, and justice demanded he be punished. “I’m not asking for justice,” said the mother. “I am pleading for mercy.” “But,” said the emperor, “He doesn’t deserve mercy.” “Sir,” cried the woman, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask.” “Well, then,” replied the emperor, “I will show mercy.” And her son was freed.
There was a politician who, after receiving the proofs of a portrait, was very angry with the photographer. He stormed back to the photographer and arrived with these angry words: “This picture does not do me justice!” The photographer replied, “Sir, with a face like yours, you don’t need justice, you need mercy!”
Psa 5:8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies– make straight your way before me.
Lead me…make straight – ‘not general petitions for guidance but are requests for direct admittance into Yahweh’s holy court.’ (Broyles)
My enemies is, lit., ‘my lurkers’. The danger comes (according to Broyles) not from outright aggression, but from temptation.
Psa 5:9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.
With their tongue they speak deceit – lit. ‘their tongues they make smooth’, which, says Broyles, is an idiom for flattery (and thus in Psa 12:2f; 36:2, NIV).
Deceit is the most hurtful of sins between human beings, because it destroys trust (cf. Psa 12:3-5).
‘Compliments to unregenerate men respecting their goodness are as much out of place as praise of a corpse for its beauty. They are all dead.’ (Plumer)
Cf. Rom 3:13, where, (as Kidner points out), ‘the reader finds himself included in the charge.’
Psa 5:10 Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
Declare them guilty – this is the opposite of ‘justify’.
Let their intrigues be their downfall – Their punishment is ‘both divinely instigated and self-inflicted’ (Broyles). See Pss. 7:9–16; 9:15–16.
Broyes adds: ‘The petitions also emphasize just justice: the wicked are to become their own victims, and thus their punishment will be in like measure to their crimes.’
Declare…downfall…banish… – Three aspects of judgement in this verse: exposure, collapse, expulsion.
‘The Hebrew text draws our attention to a contrast that is very telling. The speaker would enter Yahweh’s house in “the abundance (Hb. berōb) of (his) mercy” (v. 7), but the wicked are to be banished, presumably from the temple, in “the abundance (Hb. berōb) of their transgressions” (v. 10).’ (Broyles)
Psa 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
Spread your protection over them – The word ‘protection’ is supplied by the translators. So the underlying idea is of God ‘covering over’ them, as the wings of the cherubim ‘cover’ the ark, (Ex 25:20; 37:9; 1 Kgs. 8:7; 1 Chron 28:18. In Psa 91:4 it is the Lord himself whose ‘feathers’ cover the one who takes refuge in him.
Glad…joy…rejoice – Note the repetition. It is this joy (according to Broyles) which is the ultimate goal of the psalm.
‘Although danger is not forgotten (note the defensive words, refuge and shield) the psalmist now breaks free of his loneliness. He is no longer a man praying on his own, hemmed in by his foes, but is conscious of a whole company who can joint him in praise.’ (Kidner)
Psa 5:12 For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
‘If our cause is good, let us not be uneasy about the issue. In courts of human judicature we may have a good cause, a good judge, a good jury, good counsel and good witnesses, and yet we may often fail. But he, who has a good cause in the court of heaven, shall not be cast.’ (Plumer)
‘This Psalm shows that in essentials true religion is the same in all ages. It has sorrows, but then it has joys; it has conflicts, but then it has victories; it has darkness, but then it has trust; it has foes, but it also has an infallible guide; it has perils but it is surrounded with God’s favour as with a shield’ (Plumer)
‘It is interesting to note that the psalm distinguishes the two parties by different criteria. The enemies are described morally: they “do wrong, tell lies,” and are “bloodthirsty and deceitful.” The righteous, however, are described religiously: they “by your great mercy … come into your house, take refuge in you,” and “love your name.”’ (Broyles)