The title for this psalm in the English Standard Version (ESV) is “To the Choirmaster: For the Flutes. A Psalm of David.” From my review of Charles Spurgeon’s commentary and Matthew Henry’s commentary there appears to be some debate as to whether this was the original title and whether or not this psalm is to be specifically composed with wind instrument accompaniment (there was some discussion on this about the previous psalm, which calls for stringed instrument accompaniment specifically, but not as much). The debate centers around some Hebrew that apparently scholars are not exactly sure the meaning of. If there were doubts in commentaries hundreds of years ago unless we find some new clarifying material I do not think they are to be resolved affirmatively at this time one way or the other. Still, I choose to believe that the accompaniment choices were intentional.
My personal belief is that the Lord places a particular emphasis on the human voice as an instrument of expression and more importantly prayer. Our voice is composed of breath (which is what gives us life) that is pushed out of our lungs through our vocal cords, which are bands (“strings”) that can be tightened or loosened to change the sound. So I think this particular arrangement, considering that the stringed instrument psalm is paired before this wind instrument psalm, is a subtle cue that we should use our voices (manipulating the wind over the strings of our vocal chords) to pray to God and sing praises to him.
So anyways these are just some things to think when we consider the “tone” of these psalms (for example, note the “breathy” quality of the woodwinds vs. the resonance of the strings). Moving on to the psalm.
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.
(Psalm 5:1-3 ESV)
Some call this the “Morning Prayer” psalm (see David Guzik ‘s commentary) and I tend to agree. Please note the way this psalm ties into the previous psalm in that we end Psalm 4 with David presumably asleep and begin Psalm 5 with him presumably awaking. What a beautiful way to connect these two psalms but also to affirm God’s word. Psalm 4 provides “In peace I will both lie down and sleep…” (Psalm 4:8 ESV) and we now find that David has presumably awoken as the Lord has fulfilled his prayer to protect him as he sleeps.
Let us also note David’s persistence. In the beginning of the previous psalm he cries out to the Lord for help and here we see that same “note” played again, starting this psalm with a cry for help, linking these two psalms together in a kind of cross-psalm parallelism. I will be curious to see if there are other instances of “pairing” like this as we go through the psalms. The message I get from this is, day or night, the Lord is with us and the Lord hears our cries (as he heard Ishmael’s mother Hagar when she cried out to him for help; see Genesis 21:17).
Note that in this psalm we see the phrase “in the morning” repeated twice. Often when things are repeated in the bible it is to emphasize their importance. When we think of giving the Lord the firstfruits this should apply to our mornings, which are the firstfruits of the day. So we should pray first thing in the morning (or soon after) so that we may receive a blessing (see Guzik id for more discussion of this).
I think it is also important that we be watchful to see if the Lord has answered our prayers. There are many books on the art of prayer and I think one of the most important parts of prayer is specificity and observability. So for example, if I were to pray for world peace it may very well be that the Lord has answered my prayer but because my prayer was so broad I may not know or even be able to see the fruits of my prayer. So perhaps I should narrow it down to peace in my city, neighborhood or even amongst my immediate neighbors. The more specific we are the easier it is to observe the results of our prayer. So I think our prayers should be specific and then once made we should look and see if they have been answered. One last comment on this, I think this specificity can also be applied to what appear to be specific prayers. For example, I pray that so and so recovers from their illness. If this is a chronic condition or a complicated one then perhaps we want to make a general petition and have a sub-petition within it. So, for example I pray that John recovers from cancer and also specifically that his pain or discomfort become more manageable. Then, the next time I speak to John I can see if in my conversation I can ascertain whether or not my prayers have been answered.
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.
(Psalm 5:4-6 ESV)
Lest we forget the Lord detests wickedness and here he expresses in six different ways the fact that he will not abide evil (note that the number six is commonly associated with man). I think sometimes we can look around at the world around us and, as expressed in the previous psalm, ask the Lord “Who will show us some good?” (Psalm 4:6 ESV). But if you are bothered by the evil you see, know for a certainty that the Lord abhors it more than you can imagine and will render a final judgment.
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.
(Psalm 5:7 ESV)
So here David contrasts himself with these men of perdition, but not on account of his own righteousness, rather it is on God’s mercy he will enter the temple of the Lord. For without the Lord we are no different than the wicked but it is his mercy that has brought us into his presence and under his grace (Spurgeon id).
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.
(Psalm 5:8 ESV)
When we are beset on all sides by the wicked let us lift up our voices to the Lord to make straight our paths, that we may not be caught in their web.
For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue.
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.
(Psalm 5:9-10 ESV)
I had written a previous post on the power of words and we are advised to be very careful of what we say, for our words can build up or they can destroy. Flattery is not a virtue, it is a vice. This is against our common standard practice these days but we should be careful of our praise of others and not speak at all if we can’t speak truthfully. The remainder of this portion is imprecatory. I will not plan to comment much on imprecatory portions of psalms as we are now advised to bless those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44).
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.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.
(Psalm 5:11-12 ESV)
As in the last two psalms we end with an affirmation of God’s goodness and his divine protection. The saints (which we are) are a holy people, separated unto God and under the pinions of his wings, he will cover us with favor and shield us from all evil.
Heavenly Father, in the name of your son Jesus Christ I thank you for blessing us with your favor and pray that we may abhor evil as you do, hating it with a perfect hatred. In your mercy you have chosen to make your dwelling in us, your holy temple. May the Lord be ever praised! Amen and amen!
*ESV=English Standard Version