Psalm 5

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2006-04-17 09:37.

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As in the case of Psalm 4, the superscription relates to the composition. Because of uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew term rendered “flutes” (NRSV) and “wind instruments” (NAB), many translators have opted for the transliteration “nehiloth.” In keeping with the superscription, possibly the “musical director” or “leader” arranged for this psalm to be sung in the style of a melody known as “nehiloth,” or to the accompaniment of wind instruments. (See the Notes section for additional comments.)

The psalm is attributed to David. In view of the mention of enemies, the composition, like the two preceding psalms, may reflect circumstances during the period of Absalom’s rebellion. The comments that follow are presented in the light of this possible background.

The psalmist petitioned YHWH to listen to his words and to give heed to his sighing or groaning, which, though not expressed in words, revealed the intensity of his distress. The Septuagint, however, makes no reference to sighing. The petition is for God to understand his cry.

Though himself a king, David recognized YHWH as his King and God. As his subject, he pleaded that his cry for help be heard. Being his servant, David prayed to him as his God.

In the morning, before starting the day’s activity, he approached the Most High in prayer, doing so with the assurance that his voice would be heard. The Hebrew word ‘arák, in this context, may mean “arrange” or “set in order.” This could signify that David prepared himself to make his supplication or to offer sacrifice. He would then watch or be attentive in waiting for YHWH’s answer to his prayer.

David recognized that not all Israelites were recipients of divine blessing, approval, and guidance. The Most High found no pleasure in wickedness or conduct that violated his law. Practicers of bad would not be allowed to make their home with him. Their not residing with him indicated that he would not listen to their prayers nor accept their sacrifices, abandoning them to the dire consequences of their corrupt dealing.

He would not look with favor upon boastful ones who arrogantly exalted themselves and despised fellow Israelites. They would not be found standing in his presence or before “his eyes.” YHWH hated those who did evil, trampling upon the rights of others. He did not tolerate those who injured fellow Israelites with their lies, but decreed their destruction.

The Almighty detested any man who shed innocent blood and proved to be deceitful. To exact vengeance for his brother’s death in battle and perhaps also to eliminate a possible rival, Joab used deceit to catch Abner off guard and then slew him. (2 Samuel 3:26-30) David’s son Absalom, to avenge his sister Tamar, resorted to deceit to have his brother Amnon killed. (2 Samuel 13:22-29) Robber bands violently assaulted unsuspecting travelers and others. (Proverbs 1:11-13) To attain their unworthy ends, wealthy oppressors bribed judges and witnesses, thereby succeeding in having guiltless ones condemned to death. Deception would include any lawless or misleading means to seriously disadvantage, injure, or imperil others.

David opposed those who were corrupt, as is implied by his determination to enter YHWH’s house or temple. The Hebrew word chésed may be understood to denote graciousness, abiding loyalty, steadfast love, and mercy. It is a compassionate care and loving concern that expresses itself in action. In the Septuagint, the corresponding word is éleos (mercy, pity, or compassion). For David to come, with the abundance of YHWH’s loyalty or compassion, into the sanctuary would indicate that he benefited to the full from God’s unfailing love and mercy.

In David’s time, no temple existed in Zion, but the ark of the covenant (representative of the divine presence) was located there in a tent, making it holy. This, then, would have been the house or holy temple, and there, in fear or with reverential awe, David would bow down as a devoted worshiper.

On account of his enemies, he petitioned that YHWH, in his righteousness, would lead him. Apparently his concern was to avoid adopting their retaliatory ways because of the intense pressure they were exerting upon him when manifesting their hostility.

Evidently recognizing that it would not be easy for him to let divine righteousness direct him because of the distressing circumstances, he pleaded that YHWH would make the upright way smooth or straight, making it possible for him to continue pursuing this divinely approved course.

David then described his foes. They had no truth in their mouth, indicating that nothing they said could be trusted. Their “inward part” or, according to the Septuagint, their “heart”—their deep inner self—was filled with evil desires. They were corrupt to the core. The Septuagint reading (mátaios) is suggestive of complete worthlessness. Their throat, because of the utterances that flowed from it, was like an open burial place into which an unsuspecting person could easily fall and suffer serious injury. With their tongue, they resorted to flattery, feigning friendship while scheming to do harm.

Such corrupt persons were deserving of punishment. Therefore, David’s petition was that God would make them experience the consequences of their guilt. Their own counsels or God-dishonoring plans should prove to be their undoing, leading to their fall. Because they had committed many transgressions, they deserved to be cast out, treated like worthless refuse. This should be their recompense for having rebelled against the Almighty, defiantly disregarding his law and ruthlessly injuring others.

The course of the rebellious ones and its outcome contrasts markedly from that of God’s devoted servants. As persons who took refuge in YHWH, looking to him as the source of dependable aid and guidance, they had reason for rejoicing into the indefinite future. They could continue to shout for joy.

David’s petition was that YHWH would defend those who love his name (that is, God himself who is represented by the name). This would give them occasion to exult, having experienced his protection.

The psalmist did not doubt that YHWH blessed the upright ones. The Most High demonstrated his favor or approval by protecting them as if covering them with a large shield.


The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads victori (“to the victor”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.

To show that all humans are “under sin,” the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans (3:13), quoted words found in Psalm 5:9(10). The Septuagint reading and the wording of the quotation are identical. (See comments in the Notes section of Psalm 14.)

Instead of “like a shield,” the Dead Sea Scroll text (in the concluding verse) reads “with a shield.”

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.

In the Septuagint, the superscription reads, “To the end; concerning the heiress; a psalm to David.” This provides no guidance for determining the significance of “nehiloth,” suggesting that the translator also did not understand its meaning.