A lament – Psalm 5

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

Don’t you just hate it when bad things are happening to good people and good things to bad people? This will become a major theme in the psalms, this is David’s first take on the problem:

A sulky girl in a blue dress.
A sulky girl – free image from PxHere

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

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 towards 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.
10 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.

11 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.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
    you cover him with favour as with a shield.

Psalm 5 ESVUK (paragraphs from ESV)

If I were to be honest I have always had an admiration for bad people, their lifestyle is so convenient. Bad people can do what they like, they don’t have to care about anyone else. To be a bad person is to be carefree.

On the other hand, good people do not get it so good. Being a good person is a compromise seldom being able to do what you want because there is constant pressure to not upset people. Being good is a life of compromise. So why would Saint Augustine have said, “Love God and do what you will?” It does not make sense, especially if we flip that sentence around a say, “Whatever you do, God loves.” That is clearly false. But Augustine could have been onto something.

David, in Psalm 2 is in a bit of a pickle. Nothing is going right for him and the bad guys are winning. By the style of the psalm, I am assuming that this was not written at the same time as the trouble. There is no mention of a specific time in David’s life in the introduction, the psalm is general in tone and, unlike the previous two psalms, there are none of the Selah words to link phrases.

With poetry, we can find meaning in structure. Psalm 5 is wisdom literature but also has a chiastic structure. Chiastic is a form which first introduces the subject, and then develops them in reverse order. Psalm 5 also has a central section, where we find the key to its understanding.

The structure of Psalm 5

  • Psa 5:1-3, The prayer of the righteous;
    • Psa 5:4, You are not a God who delights in wickedness;
      • Psa 5:5, The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
        • Psa 5:6, You destroy those who speak lies;
          • (central axis) Psa 5:7-8, “But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down towards 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;”
        • Psa 5:9, For there is no truth in their mouth;
      • Psa 5:10a, Make them bear their guilt, O God;
    • Psa 5:10b, They have rebelled against you;
  • Psa 5:11-12, The praise and joy of the righteous before the LORD.

Two things, The prater in verse 1 turns into praise and joy in verses 11 &12 and at no time is David demanding that his enemies are destroyed. This is left to God.

The pivot point in this psalm is submitting to God’s leadership in verses 7 & 8. This does not negate the prayers against the enemies but in submitting to God we leave everything to God, but there is a change: David prays, “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me;” We deal with liars by being truthful, with dishonest people by being honest. The way of God is right living, we need to live by God’s standards. In verses, 4-6 David reminds God of what he hates and in verses 9 & 10 asks God to act on them. But he is not calling for revenge but justice. If we have any enemies it is OK to mention them in our prayers to God, reminding God of what he has revealed about himself,

Back to Augustine. Augustine was commenting on 1 John 4:3-4. “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” People often only quote the first part (adding the name of God) as “Love God and do what you like,” There is more to it than that. Augustine said:

Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

It is by letting God work through us that we can do what we like. God does not lead us to be evil, only good.


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