In looking at Psalm 5, you might notice that there is a structure to David’s prayer. Each section begins with David directly addressing the Lord.
- Verse 1: “Give ear to my words, O Lord.”
- Verse 4: “For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness.”
- Verse 8: “O Lord, lead me in your righteousness.”
- Verse 11 “But let all who take refuge in you be glad” (NASB 1995).
This is how we have been considering Psalm 5—along four thematic contours.
The Destiny of God’s Enemies
Back in verses 4–6, David considered the character of the wicked. Here in verses 9–10, however, David considers the destiny of the wicked.
Their inward part is destruction itself.
Their throat is an open grave;
They flatter with their tongue.
Hold them guilty, O God;
By their own devices let them fall!
In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out. (NASB 1995)
David is saying if the wicked do not avail themselves of God’s abundant lovingkindness, this is what awaits them. To paraphrase David: “And my prayer, O God, is that all those who refuse to take refuge in you and would rebelliously shake their fist in your face and repudiate your righteous ways, I pray that you would visit them with your almighty justice and holy wrath.”
David’s confrontational attitude may at first seem grating and hard to accept. Yet, this kind of imprecatory face-off is not something we should shy away from too quickly. A flagrant, ongoing, and belligerent insubordination against an eternal, holy, righteous, and just God can only deserve this kind of retribution. To paraphrase verses 10 and 11: “Take refuge in his abundant lovingkindness or else this is what awaits, and this is what sin and evil deserves: that your sinful devices will be turned against you to become your destruction and an open grave.”
Do we hate sin and evil this much? How often do we pause to pray something along these lines: “O Lord, you are a God who dwells in unapproachable light, whose face cannot behold sin. So wipe it from the earth in order that your glory may be shown and that you may be feared. Let evil perish so that your children may prosper.”
I wonder if Psalm 5 is not exactly the kind of prayer that our Christian brothers and sisters in parts of Africa and the Middle East are praying now as they face unimaginable evils of persecution and face the sorts of suffering we in the West are so unfamiliar with. Psalm 5 provides us with exactly the type of prayer we can pray when we see the effects of evil in our fallen world.
The Destiny of God’s Saints
David not only considers the destiny of God’s foes, the wicked; he also considers the destiny of God’s friends, the saints—those who take refuge in him.
Look again at verses 11 and 12.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad,
Let them ever sing for joy; And may you shelter them,
That those who love your name may exult in you.
For it is you who blesses the righteous man, O Lord,
You surround him with favor as with a shield. (NASB 1995)
Considering all that David has just prayed about justice and God fighting back against evil, he surprisingly concludes his prayer with an almost benedictory resolution.
Because of the strong (perhaps grating) language in Psalm 5 that might catch modern readers off guard, Christians might be tempted to wonder: Why is this prayer in the Bible? Because this is the kind of prayer God loves to answer. This is a prayer that focuses on God—his character, his mercy, and his grace—and it is a prayer that focuses on God’s promises.
And in contrast to those who delight in evil, by grace (i.e., hesed, v. 7) God has promised to receive all who take refuge in him and he has promised to give them joy (v. 11). As many a preacher has said: there is no refuge from him, there is only refuge to be found in him. Praise the Lord for Jesus Christ.
Dear reader, here is a verse for you as you go off to your job on Monday, for the saint who is facing another week of trials, health problems, and financial frustrations, for those experiencing family strife and heartbreaking situations with unconverted loved ones. Verse 12 tells us that God is a God who covers his people with favor as with a shield. God surrounds his people back and forth, up and down, and roundabout on every side with favor. God is a God who holds the hearts of men in his hand, and is able, in spite of every seeming obstacle and circumstance, to give us favor.
In the God of Psalm 5, we have refuge, protection, joy, and favor—favor for this life and for the life to come. Even when men hate us (as David is experiencing here), even when we fall out of favor with friend and neighbor, culture and society, because of his covenant mercy, because of the hesed of Christ, the good news is that God’s people can never fall out of favor with God.
Christ, the Avenging King and Chief Worshipper of Psalm 5
Andrew Bonar captures well the sobering and trepidatious demeanor of the saint who both longs for God’s justice and identifies with God’s heart for justice, but who at the same time fears for the objects of God’s justice:
In verses 10, 11, we have something that closely resembles the Apocalyptic scene in Revelation 19:1, 3, 4. The psalmist so fully sympathizes in the justice of the doom that is coming on the obstinate and impenitent rebels against God, that he cries aloud, “Destroy them, O God!” or, more exactly, “Hold them guilty, and treat them as such.” On the other hand, there arises at the same moment the shout of the righteous, acquiescing with entire satisfaction in their doom: “And let all those that put their trust in thee, rejoice! Let them ever shout for joy!” This is their “Hallelujah” over the rising smoke of torment—their “Glory and honor to the Lord our God.” And perhaps it is in this manner we are to understand, throughout the Book of Psalms, all those portions where we find, apparently, prayers that breathe revenge. They are never to be thought of as anything else than the breathed assent of righteous souls to the justice of their God, who taketh vengeance on sin.1
The disciple of Christ, whose heart has been brought into greater conformity with the heart of Christ, who loves what he loves and hate what he hates, cannot but agree with God’s judgment when it is exacted. As Bonar intimates, had we stood next to Abraham at Sodom, had we stood next to Jesus at the barren fig tree, we too would have called out, “Let the judgment of God rain down!”2 so intensely would we desire for the vindication of God’s honor and for the glory of his name.
Indeed, though these curse passages in the Psalms often strike us as difficult, in reality, they are no more than the enactment of the covenant oaths of Deuteronomy 27:15–26 where the curses from Mount Ebal are invited upon the God-defiant. Thus, they welcome upon themselves the Lord’s “holy abhorrence of sin and delight in the acts of justice.”3
Beyond demonstrating how the psalm conforms us to God’s character, Bonar helps us see that the attitude of worship in Psalm 5 is most supremely exemplified in Christ. As the psalm speaks of morning sacrifices, as it speaks of the pious worshipper rising early at the best hour of the day to watch and wait for the Lord, it calls to mind none other than the chief worshipper (v. 3) and ultimate Righteous One (v. 12), the Lord Jesus Christ:
It is a psalm which most certainly Messiah could use; none could ever use it so fully as he. Think of him, some morning leaving Bethany early that he may be in time for the morning sacrifice, and breathing forth this psalm by the way and as he enters the Temple-courts. Every word of it becomes doubly emphatic in his lips, down to the last verse, where we see him as “The Righteous One,” encompassed with the Father’s love and well-pleasedness. But whether we read it as peculiarly the utterance of Messiah, or as that of one of his members, we may describe this psalm as being The Righteous One’s thoughts of God and of man while going up to the morning sacrifice.4
Having given this wonderful text a brief exegetical, expositional, and pastoral survey, we will return one last time for a third installment, wherein we will consider further implications and applications from this marvelous psalm.
- A. A. Bonar, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1860), 16–17.
- Bonar, Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms, 17
- Bonar, Christ and His Church, 17.
- Bonar, 19.
©Sean Morris. All Rights Reserved.
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