Like Psalms 3 and 4, Psalm 5 is a psalm of David. However, the title of the Psalm gives no information about the historical background to the Psalm or the circumstances which led David to write it. It is, though, like Psalm 3 and 4, a lament in which the psalmist cries to the Lord because he’s in trouble. It’s also a psalm of confidence, because David is confident that the Lord will help him. And we can divide the Psalm into four parts.
Verses 1 to 3
In the first part — verses 1 to 3 — David appeals to the Lord to hear his prayer. He begins and says:
Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing.
Sighing refers to his inner thoughts. So, not only does he want the Lord to pay attention to his words, but he wants the Lord to take heed to his innermost thoughts and his worries and fears and his sorrow. In verse 2 he appeals to the Lord to hear his cry for help. And notice that he addresses the Lord as ‘My King and my God.’ The Lord is both God and King, who rules as King over the whole of the earth which he, as God, has created. So, there is no one better to turn to for help when we’re in trouble, because the Lord our God rules and reigns over all. And in verse 3, the psalmist refers to the morning. So, we can imagine the psalmist, rising from his bed, and turning to the Lord with renewed hopefulness and expectation, because he’s confident that the Lord will hear his voice. And as he lays his requests before the Lord, he’s hopeful that the Lord will answer him.
Notice, of course, that he addresses his prayer, not only to his King and his God, but also to ‘the Lord’ in capital letters. This is God’s special covenant name, which he revealed to Moses at the burning bush, the name he wanted his chosen people to know him by. And so, the psalmist knows that he’s coming in prayer to the Lord, who has bound himself to his chosen people, to be their God and to protect them always.
Verses 4 to 7
In the second part of the Psalm — verses 4 to 7 — the psalmist describes how the Lord hates the wicked, but will accept him. So, in verse 4 he says the Lord is not a God who takes pleasure in evil; and the wicked may not dwell with him. According to verse 5, the arrogant — which is another name for the wicked — cannot even stand in the presence of the Lord; and he hates all who do wrong. So, we’re to think of the tabernacle and the temple in Old Testament times. Who may go up to the Lord? Who may stand in his presence? Not the wicked or the arrogant; not those who do wrong. They are shut out of the presence of the Lord, because the Lord is holy. And think of the work of the Levites and priests in those days, and how they were given the responsibility of guarding God’s holy place, so that no one unclean could enter the tabernacle and temple. Remember too when we were studying the book of Nehemiah, and how Nehemiah posted Levites at the gates of the city to keep the unclean out of the city, which was to be God’s holy city. And, of course, we can go back further in time to the beginning of creation and to the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve disobeyed the Lord by eating the forbidden fruit, they were sent out of the Garden, away from the presence of the Lord. The Lord is not a God who takes pleasure in evil; the wicked and arrogant cannot dwell or even stand in his presence, but are shut out from the presence of the Lord. In fact, according to verse 6, the Lord destroys those who tell lies and he abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men. Since David will once again refer to those who can’t be trusted in verse 9, it’s likely that the enemies he’s facing now are people who are telling lies about him in order to destroy him. However, David knows that the Lord will not put up with such people, because the Lord destroys those who tell lies and he abhors them.
So, he knows the Lord will not allow the wicked to dwell his God’s presence. On the other hand, according to verse 7, David is confident that he will be allowed into God’s house, his temple. But notice the basis of his confidence. He doesn’t refer to his own righteousness or goodness. He doesn’t claim that he, unlike the wicked, has the right to come before the Lord. He doesn’t claim that he deserves to come into God’s presence because of his own goodness. No, instead of relying on his own righteousness, he’s relying on God’s mercy. And that’s important, because we know — don’t we? — that David was also a sinner. In a later psalm, David will confess:
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
David knows he’s a sinner, who does not belong in the presence of the Lord who is holy. And so, he’s not relying on his own righteousness, but on the Lord and his mercy, because the Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquity, but instead he’s willing to pardon his people, because he’s gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
So, the Psalmist knows that the Lord is holy and the wicked cannot dwell with him. He also knows that the only reason he can come before the Lord is because of the Lord’s mercy. And so, instead of coming with pride, because of his own achievements, he comes humbly and in fear, bowing humbly and reverently before the Lord.
Verses 8 to 10
In the third part of the Psalm — verses 8 to 10 — we come to the prayer itself. In the first part, he appealed to the Lord to hear his prayer. Now we have his prayer. And he asks for the Lord to lead him in righteousness. In other words, lead me along the right path. And he adds: ‘because of my enemies’. So, because of his enemies — those liars and deceivers who are out to destroy him — lead me in the right way. Make straight your way before me, which means take away from me all hindrances and temptations and things which would cause me to stumble.
And then he complains to the Lord about his enemies. Not a word they say can be trusted. Their heart is fill with destruction, which means they’re plotting against him. Their throat is an open grave in the sense that what they say brings sorrow and suffering to their victims. And with their tongue they speak deceit. The commentators point out that the verb used here is used of those who give the impression of being trustworthy and truthful, but really they’re only deceiving you. So, they may appear to be friendly, but they can’t be trusted.
And so, the psalmist goes on in verse 10 to ask the Lord to declare them guilty. Bring them down and banish them for their sins, because they have rebelled, not against David, but against the Lord. All sin is against the Lord. David knew that, because at the time of his sin with Bathsheba, he confessed to the Lord in Psalm 51:
Against you, you only, have a I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.
Sin is rebellion against the Lord. And so, since David’s enemies have sinned against the Lord, David asks the Lord to declare them guilty and to banish them from his presence.
Perhaps we might have expected David to pray for their forgiveness and to ask the Lord to pardon them. But he’s writing as a prophet and is making clear what the outcome will be for all those who continue in their sin and who do not repent and humble themselves before the Lord. By these words, David is making clear that those who persist in their rebellion will be declared guilty on the day of judgment and banished away from the presence of the Lord to be punished forever. But, of course, all those like David who humble themselves before the Lord and who confess their guilt and ask for mercy will find it.
Verses 11 and 12
That’s the point of the final part of the Psalm which is verses 11 and 12. Those who take refuge in the Lord — which is a way of describing those who trust in the Lord — they will be glad. They will always sing for joy. And just as a mother bird might spread her wings over her little ones, so the Lord will spread his protection over all those who love him. The Lord will bless the righteous. That is, the Lord will bless those who are righteous by faith. And he’ll surround them with favour like a shield.
Therefore, though the psalmist is faced with enemies, who are lying against him, he is confident that the Lord will come to his aid and protect him from his enemies. But his confidence is not grounded in his own righteousness, but in the mercy of God, in the steadfast love of the Lord for his people, whom he has graciously and freely chosen.
This Psalm is a reminder once again that the Christian life is always a life of conflict. We see this in David’s own life, because when he first appeared in the Bible, he had to fight against Goliath and the Philistines. Saul too turned against him and tried on different occasions to kill him. His own son, Absalom, plotted against him; and when he was an old man, Adonijah set himself up as his rival. His life was a life of conflict.
And David points us to Christ, whose life on earth was also a life of conflict, from the time of his birth right through to the time of his death and resurrection. And during his ministry, his enemies plotted together to get rid of him; and false witnesses made all kinds of false allegations against him; and the Devil came at him with his temptations. Even after his resurrection, the Lord’s enemies lied about him and said his disciples had hidden his dead body.
David faced enemies. The Lord Jesus faced enemies. And so shall we, because the Christian life is a life of conflict; and the Devil is at work in the world to oppose Christ and his church and to do what he can to crush our faith and to overwhelm us with sorrow. And so, we must stand firm in the faith, calling on the Lord to hear us and to answer us. But we base our appeal to the Lord, not on our own righteousness, because we know that we too are sinners, who sin against the Lord continually. So we base our appeal on the Lord’s mercy. Because of the Lord’s mercy to us, we know that we can come before him in prayer, to seek his help. And because of the Lord’s mercy to us, we know that one day will be able to come into his presence to dwell with him forever. On that day, all who have rebelled against him and who refused to repent, will be banished from his presence forever. But all who have trusted in the Lord, and in Jesus Christ his Son who loved us and gave his life for us, will come into God’s presence where we will sing for joy forever and forever.