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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Psalms 5

1. “Author of the psalm” - This psalm also purports to be a psalm of David, and there is nothing in it to lead us to doubt that this opinion is correct. It is ascribed to him in all the versions, and by all the ancient Hebrew writers, and the contents are such as we might expect from him.

2. “The occasion on which the psalm was composed.” This is not specified in the title to the psalm, and there is nothing in the psalm itself that can enable us to determine it with certainty. There can be no improbability in supposing that there were some events in the life of David, or that there were some particular circumstances, which suggested the thoughts in the psalm, but all those local and personal allusions are suppressed, as it does not appear to have been the writer’s object to disclose private feelings, but to give utterance to sentiments, though perhaps suggested by private and personal considerations, which might be of permanent use to the church at all times.

There is evidence in the psalm itself that the author at the time of its composition was beset by enemies, and that he was in the midst of peril from the designs of violent men, Psalms 5:6, Psalms 5:8-10. Who those enemies were, however, he does not specify, for the object was to express sentiments that would be of use, to all who might be in similar circumstances, by showing what were the true feelings of piety, and what was the real ground of trust for the people of God at such times; and this object would not have been furthered by any specifications in regard to the foes which surrounded him at the time.

Flaminius (see Rosenmuller) supposes that the psalm was composed in the time of Saul, and in reference to the persecutions which David experienced then; but most interpreters have referred it to the time of Absalom’s rebellion. Most of the Jewish writers, according to Kimchi (see DeWette), suppose that it had reference to Doeg and Ahithophel; but, as DeWette remarks, since they lived at different times, it cannot be supposed that the psalm had reference to them both. There is no improbability in supposing that the psalm was composed with reference to the same circumstances as the two preceding - that important event in the life of David when his own son rose up in rebellion against him, and drove him from his throne. In those prolonged and fearful troubles it is by no means improbable that the royal poet would give utterance to his feelings in more than one poetic effusion, or that some new phase of the trouble would suggest some new reflections, and lead him anew to seek consolation in religion, and to express his confidence in God. The psalm has a sufficient resemblance to the two preceding to accord with this supposition, and it can be read with profit with those scenes in view.

3. “Contents of the psalm.” The psalm, so far as the sentiment is concerned, may be properly regarded as divided into four parts:

I. An earnest prayer of the author to God to hear him; to attend to his cry, and to deliver him, Psalms 5:1-3. His prayer in the morning he would direct to him, and with the returning light of day he would look up to him. In his troubles his first act would be each day to call upon God.

II. An expression of unwavering confidence in God as the protector and the friend of the righteous, and the enemy of all wickedness, Psalms 5:4-7. God, he was assured, had no pleasure in wickedness; would not suffer evil to dwell in his presence; would abhor all that was false and deceitful, and he might, therefore, in all his troubles, put his trust in him. In view of this fact - this characteristic of the divine nature - he says that he would enter his holy temple, where prayer was accustomed to be made, with confidence, and worship with profound reverence, Psalms 5:7.

III. Prayer to God, in view of all this, for his guidance and protection in his perplexities, Psalms 5:8-10. He felt himself surrounded by dangers; he was in perplexity as to the true way of safety; his enemies were powerful, numerous, and treacherous, and he beseeches God, therefore, to interpose and to deliver him from them - even by cutting them off. He prays that they might fall by their own counsels, and that, as they had rebelled against God, they might be checked and punished as they deserved.

IV. An exhortation, founded on these views, for all to put their trust in God, Psalms 5:11-12. What he had found to be true, all others would find to be true; and as he in his troubles had seen reason to put his trust in God, and had not been disappointed, so he exhorts all others, in similar circumstances, to do the same.

“To the chief muscian.” See the note on the title to Psalms 4:1-8.

Verse 1

Give ear to my words, O Lord - We naturally incline the ear toward anyone when we wish to hear distinctly what he says, and we turn away the ear when we do not. The meaning here is, David prayed that God would be attentive to or would regard his prayer. This form of the petition is, that he would attend to his “words” - to what he was about to “express” as his desire. He intended to express only what he wished to be granted.

Consider my meditation - Understand; perceive, for so the word rendered “consider” properly means. He desired that he would regard the real import of what is here called his “meditation;” that is, he wished him not merely to attend to his “words,” but to the secret and unexpressed desires of the soul. The idea seems to be that while his words would be sincere and truthful, yet they could not express “all” his meaning. There were desires of the soul which no language could convey - deep, unuttered “groanings” (compare Romans 8:26-27), which could not be uttered in language. There is a difference, however, in rendering the word translated “meditation.” Most interpreters regard it as derived from הגה hâgâh, to meditate (see the notes at Psalms 1:2) - and as thus denoting “thought,” or “meditation.” Gesenius and some others regard it as derived from הגג hāgag, obsolete root - meaning to set on fire, to kindle; and hence, that it means here “heat,” fervour of the mind; and then, fervent cry, or prayer. See “Rosenmuiller” also in “loc.” DeWette concurs with Gesenius, and supposes that it should be rendered “sigh” or complaint. Prof. Alexander renders it “thought.” Horsley renders it, “my sighing,” but says he is in doubt whether it refers to an “internal desire of the mind,” in opposition to “words” in the former part of the verse, or to a “prayer uttered sotto voce, like the private prayer usually said by every person before he takes his seat in the church” - the “internal motion of the mind toward God.” It is not easy to determine the true meaning, but the probability is that it refers to an internal emotion - a fervent, ardent feeling - perhaps finding partial expression in sighs Romans 8:26, but which does not find expression in words, and which words could not convey. He prayed that God would attend to the “whole” desires of the soul - whether expressed or unexpressed.

Verses 1-12


Upon Nehiloth - The title of Psalms 4:1-8 is, “upon Neginoth.” As that refers to a musical instrument, so it is probable that this does, and that the idea here is that this psalm was intended particularly for the music-master that had special charge of this instrument, or who presided over those that played on it. Perhaps the idea is that this psalm was specially designed to be accompanied with this instrument. The word here, Nehiloth - נחילות nechı̂ylôth, plural. נחילה nechı̂ylâh, singular - is supposed by Gesenius, Lexicon, to denote a flute, or pipe, as being “perforated,” from חלל châlal, to bore.” The word occurs only in this place. Very various opinions have been entertained of its meaning. See Hengstenberg, “Com.” The Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint understand it as meaning “inheritance” - the same as נחלה nachălâh, and as being somehow designed to refer to the people of God “as” a heritage. Latin Vulgate: In finem pro ca, quae hereditatem consequitur, psalmus David. So the Septuagint - ὑπὲρ τῆς κληρονομούσης huper tēs klēronomousēs. So Luther, Fur das Erbe. What was the precise idea affixed to this it is not very easy to determine. Luther explains it, “according to the title, this is the general idea of the psalm, that the author prays for the inheritance or heritage of God, desiring that the people of God may be faithful to him, and may always adhere to him.” The true interpretation, however, is evidently to regard this as an instrument of music, and to consider the psalm as adapted to be sung with the instrument of music specified. Why it was adapted particularly to “that” instrument of music cannot now be determined. Horsley renders it “upon the flutes.” Compare Ugolin. Thesau. Ant. Sac.; tom. xxxii. pp. 158-170.

A Psalm of David - See introduction to Psalms 3:1-8.

Verse 2

Hearken unto the voice of my cry - My cry for assistance. The word “voice” refers to the utterance of his desires, or to his “expressed” wishes in a time of trouble.

My King, and my God - Though he was himself a king, yet he acknowledged his subjection to God as his supreme Ruler, and looked up to Him to protect him in his dangers, and to restore him to his rights. He was, at the same time, his God - his covenant God - to whom he felt that he was permitted to come in the hour of trouble, and whose blessing he was permitted to invoke.

For unto thee will I pray - He had no one else to go to in his troubles, and he felt that he “might” approach the living God. It was his fixed purpose - his regular habit - to pray to him, and to seek his favor and friendship, and he felt that he was permitted to do so now.

Verse 3

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord - The voice of prayer. Compare the notes at Psalms 3:5. Probably he refers here to a general habit of praying in the morning, though he makes a particular reference to his circumstances at that time. Compare Psalms 55:17. The psalmist felt, doubtless, that while it was a general duty and privilege to call upon God with the return of each morning, there was a special reason for it in the circumstances in which he then was. See the introduction to the psalm. He was then surrounded by enemies, and was in danger, and it was only in God that he could hope for protection even for a single day. The propriety of looking to God in the morning by prayer commends itself to any reflecting mind. Who knows what a day may bring forth? Who knows what temptations may await him? Who can protect himself from the dangers which may encompass him? Who can enable us to discharge the duties which are incumbent on us every day? Feeble, helpless, sinful, prone to err, in a world of temptation, and surrounded by dangers alike when we see them and when we do not, there is an obvious fitness in looking to God each morning for his guidance and protection; and the resolution of the psalmist here should be the firm purpose of every man.

In the morning - Regularly; each morning.

Will I direct my prayer unto thee - Margin, as in Hebrew, “set in order.” The word used here - ערך ârak - means properly to place in a row, to put in order, to arrange, e. g., to place wood upon the altar Genesis 22:9; Leviticus 1:7; to arrange the showbread on the table Exodus 40:23; Leviticus 24:6, Leviticus 24:8. There is, not improbably, an allusion to these customs in the use of the word here; and the meaning may be, that his prayer would be a regularly arranged service before God. It would be a kind of morning sacrifice, and it would be arranged and performed with a suitable regard to the nature of the service - the fact that it was rendered to the great God. There would be a devout regard to propriety - a serious and solemn attention to the duties involved in the act as the worship of a holy God. Prayer should not be rash; it should not be performend negligently or with a light spirit; it should engage the profound thought of the soul, and it should be performed with the same serious regard to time and to propriety which was demanded in the solemn and carefully prescribed rites of the ancient temple-service.

And will look up - The word used here - צפה tsâphâh - means, properly, to look about, to view from a distance. In Isaiah 21:5, it refers to a tower which has a wide prospect. Compare Song of Solomon 7:4. The idea here is properly that he would watch, narrowly and carefully (as one does who is stationed on a tower), for some token of divine favor - for some answer to his prayer - for some divine interposition - for some intimation of the divine will. This is, perhaps, equivalent to the Saviour’s repeated command to “watch and pray.” The notion of looking “up” is not necessarily in the word used here, but it indicates the state of mind where there is deep and careful solicitude as to the answer to prayer.

Verse 4

For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness - The psalmist here refers to a well-known and well-understood characteristic of the Divine Being, that he was holy and pure, and that he could not have any pleasure in furthering the designs of wicked men. This is said with reference to his enemies, who were thus wicked; and the idea is that God would not, and could not, consistently with his nature, further their designs. This is the ground of encouragement which he had to pray - that he was conscious that his own aims were right, and that his cause was just, and that God could not favor the cause of the ungodly. This is still, and always will be, a ground of encouragement in prayer. If we know that our cause is right, we may look to God to favor it; if a cause is wrong, we cannot look to him to interpose to advance it. Good men, therefore, pray; wicked men do not.

Neither shall evil dwell with thee - The same idea is here expressed in another form. If God should show favor to the wicked, it would seem as if he admitted them to his habitation, as we do our friends and those in whom we delight. But as God would not do this, the psalmist feels that it was proper for him to call upon Him to deliver him from wicked people.

Verse 5

The foolish - Referring still to his enemies, as having this character, and urging the fact that they “had” such a character as a reason why God should hear him, and deliver him. The word “foolish” here, הוללים hôleliym, is used to denote the wicked, under the common idea in the Scriptures that sin is folly. Compare Psalms 14:1. It is rendered by Prof. Alexander, “the proud” or “insolent.” The Aramaic renders it “deriders;” Latin Vulgate: “unjust;” Septuagint “transgressors;” Gesenius, Lexicon, “proud.” So DeWette. The common idea, however, is the correct one, referring to the wicked under the idea that they were “fools,” as all sin is supreme folly.

Shall not stand in thy sight - Shall not be allowed to be in thy presence; that is, thou wilt not approve their cause, or favor them. See the notes at Psalms 1:5.

Thou hatest all workers of iniquity - All that do wrong. He refers here, also, to a general characteristic of God, but still with an implied and immediate reference to his enemies as sustaining this character, and as a reason why he appealed to God to defend his cause. Nothing is more constantly affirmed in the Scriptures than that God hates all forms of evil.

Verse 6

Thou shalt destroy - Thou wilt bring to ruin; thou wilt cause to perish; that is, cause to perish as the wicked are caused to perish, by being punished. The idea is that God could not approve their cause; could not favor them; could not give them prosperity, and that they must be overthrown and punished. As in the previous verses, so here, David refers to this as a general characteristic of God, but with an implied reference to his enemies.

Them that speak leasing - Lies; the word “leasing” being the old Saxon word to denote falsehood. See Psalms 4:2. It is not found elsewhere in our common version. The allusion here is to his enemies, and the idea is that they were false and treacherous; a description which will well apply to them on the supposition that this refers to the rebellion of Absalom. See the introduction to the psalm.

The Lord will abhor - Will hate; will hold in abomination. That is, he will show his abhorrence by punishing such as are here referred to.

The bloody and deceitful man - The man of blood and fraud; the man who sheds blood, and is guilty of treachery and fraud. Margin, “man of bloods and deceit.” The “man of bloods,” - “the plural form being commonly used where there is reference to blood-guiltiness or murder.” - “Prof. Alexander.” See Genesis 4:10; Psalms 51:14. The idea seems to be that of shedding “much” blood. The reference here, as before, is to a general characteristic of the Divine Mind, with a special reference to the character of David’s enemies, as being distinguished for fraud and blood-guiltiness. On the supposition (see introduction) that this refers to the rebellion of Absalom, there can be no difficulty in seeing the propriety of the application. It was on these grounds that the psalmist directed his prayer to God. He was confident that his was a righteous cause; he was as sure that his enemies were engaged in a wicked cause; and he felt, therefore, that “he” might go before God and seek his interposition, with the assurance that all his attributes, as a righteous and holy God, would be enlisted in his favor. God has “no” attribute which can take part with a sinner, or on which a sinner can rely; the righteous can appeal to “every” attribute in the divine nature as a ground of confidence and hope.

Verse 7

But as for me - While it is their characteristic that they are wicked, and have no desire to serve God; and while with such characteristics they can have no hope of access to God, and no reason to suppose that he will hear their cry, I am inclined to enter his house, and I feel the assurance that he will listen to my prayer. In character and ill feelings he was wholly unlike them.

I will come into thy house - Indicating his expectation and his hope that he would yet be permitted to enter the courts of the Lord, from which he was now driven away (see the introduction to the psalm), and his purpose thus to acknowledge God. The word “house” here refers to the tabernacle, which was regarded as the house or dwelling place of God. The word was applied to the entire structure, embracing all the courts, as being sacred to God, as the word was subsequently to the whole of the temple. It was the holy of holies, however, which was regarded as the special dwelling-place of God, and that none were permitted to enter but the high priest, and he but once in the year. (See the notes at Hebrews 9:1-7.)

In the multitude of thy mercy - In thine abundant mercy. He expected to be delivered from his present troubles, and he felt assured that God would permit him again to enter his earthly courts, and to offer his vows and thanksgivings there.

And in thy fear - In profound reverence for thee. Fear, or reverence, is often employed to denote devotion or worship.

Will I worship toward thy holy temple - The worshippers were not permitted to enter the temple, but worshipped “toward” it; that is, looking toward it, or prostrating themselves toward it as the special dwelling-place of God. If they were in the courts around the temple, they worshipped with their faces toward the place where God was supposed to reside; if they were far away, even in distant lands, they still directed their faces toward Jerusalem and the temple, as the Muslims now do toward Mecca. See the notes at Daniel 6:10. It has been objected, from the use of the word “temple” here, that this psalm could not have been written by David, as the temple was not built until the time of Solomon. But in reply to this it may be observed that the word here used - היכל hêykâl - is a word of large signification, and might be applied to any place of worship. It means, properly, a large and magnificent building, a palace, Proverbs 30:28; Isaiah 39:7; Daniel 1:4; and then, the place where Yahweh was supposed to reside, or the place of his worship; and might be applied to the tabernacle as well as to the temple. In fact, it is “often” applied to the tabernacle that was in use before the building of the temple, 1Sa 1:9; 1 Samuel 3:3; 2 Samuel 22:7. Compare Gesenius’ Lexicon.

Verse 8

Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness - That is, conduct me safely in the manifestation of the principles of justice or righteousness which belong to thy nature. David felt assured that his was a righteous cause, and that he might make his appeal to God on the ground of the justness of that cause. Such a ground of appeal is always proper when we are in danger or in trouble from the injustice of others, for we may always ask of God to interpose, and to cause that which is right to be done.

Because of mine enemies - On account of my enemies, or in respect to them; that is, that they may not triumph, but that I may be vindicated and may be delivered from them.

Make thy way straight before my face - The way in which thou wouldst have me to walk. That is, mark out or make plain before me the path for me to tread - the path in which thou wilt deliver me. He was in perplexity, and knew not which way to go, and he looks up to God for guidance and direction.

Verse 9

For there is no faithfulness in their mouth - There is nothing in them which can be confided in; nothing in their promises and declarations. They are false and treacherous, and I can, therefore, only appeal to thee. It is easy to see the propriety of this statement, and of those which follow, on the supposition that this refers to the rebellion of Absalom. Absalom had gone to Hebron on a false pretence 2 Samuel 15:7-10, and every act of his in this whole transaction had been treacherous and false.

Their inward part - Not only their external conduct, but their hearts, their principles, their motives. This was fairly to be inferred from their conduct. The object of the psalmist is to show that they were wholly depraved in all that properly constitutes character or that entered into moral conduct.

Their throat is an open sepulchre - That is, as the grave is open to receive its victim, so is their throat open to devour or swallow up the peace and happiness of others. The main idea is that they are false, treacherous, not to be confided in, slanderous. This passage, with the following, is employed by the apostle Paul to demonstrate the universal depravity of man. See the notes at Romans 3:13.

They flatter with their tongue - He had referred to the “inward part,” or the “heart,” and to the “throat” as being depraved and evil; he now refers to another member of the body as being equally depraved - the “tongue.” Instead of being employed to utter truth, and to give expression to the real feelings of the heart, it was employed to flatter others, with a view to lead them astray, or to make use of them for base and selfish purposes. The propriety of this representation as applicable to Absalom and his coadjutors no one can fail to see (compare 2 Samuel 15:1-6). It is also to an eminent degree the characteristic of the wicked in general. On this, also, see the notes at Romans 3:13.

Verse 10

Destroy thou them, O God - The word here rendered “destroy” is translated by Prof. Alexander “condemn” - “condemn them; literally, make them guilty; that is, recognize and treat them as such.” The Hebrew word אשׁם 'âsham, means to fail in duty, to transgress, to be guilty; in the Hiphil, the form used here, according to Gesenius, to “punish; and hence, to destroy,” (Lexicon) The idea in the mind of the psalmist seems to have been that he desired, since they were undoubtedly guilty, that God would regard and treat them “as such.” It is not that he wished that God would make them guilty; or that, in itself considered, he desired that they should be found to be so, or that, in itself considered, he wished them to be punished or cut off; but it is that, as they were guilty, and as they were pursuing a course which tended to overthrow the government of the land, and as they were at war with God and with the best interests of the people, God would interpose and stay their progress - that he would show himself to be a righteous and just God. There is no evidence of any private malignity in this prayer, or of any spirit of private revenge. It is a prayer which corresponds with all the efforts, and consequently with all the wishes of every good person, that the violators of law may be arrested and punished. In this, assuredly, there is no wrong.

Let them fall by their own counsels - So as to show that they brought this judgment upon themselves. The wish is, that their plans, which were evil, might come to nought, and tend to their own overthrow. That is, the psalmist did not wish to imbrue his hands in their blood, or to be made the agent in their destruction; but he desired that God would himself interpose, so that their own plans might be made the means of quelling the rebellion. If men are so wicked that they must perish it is desirable that it should be “seen” that they perish by their own guilt and folly.

Cast them out - Expel them; drive them away; let them not be successful in taking possession of the throne, and in overturning the government.

In the multitude of their transgressions - In the abundance of their sins, or as a consequence of the number and the aggravation of their offences. The design of the psalmist is to fix the attention on the “great number” of their sins as a reason why they should not be successful. Such a prayer is not wrong, for it would not be right to pray that sinners “in” the abundance of their sins, or in consequence of the multitude of their sins, should be successful and prosperous. The fact that they are such sinners is, under a righteous administration, a reason why they should “not” be successful, not why they “should be.”

For they have rebelled against thee - This is given as a reason why the psalmist prayed that they should be cut off. It was not that they had wronged him; it was because they had rebelled against God; and it was right, therefore, to hope and to pray that he would interpose and vindicate his government and law. There is no spirit of private revenge manifested here, and nothing said that would encourage or foster such a spirit. All that is said here is but carrying out what every magistrate must feel who executes the laws, and is what he endeavors himself to do; for it is desirable that the wicked - the violators of the law - the enemies of their country - should be arrested and prosecuted. See the general introduction, 6.

Verse 11

But let all those that put their trust in thee rejoice - Compare the notes at Psalms 2:12. That is, they have occasion to rejoice in thee and in thy protection. The wicked have everything to dread, for they must be cut off; but the righteous have every reason to be happy, for they shall partake of the favor of God. This is, at the same time, the earnest expression of a desire that they might rejoice, and that the dealings of God with them might be such that they would ever “have occasion” for joy.

Let them even shout for joy - Internal joy or happiness is often expressed by shouting, or singing, as the word used here frequently signifies. The meaning is, that they should give every proper expression to their feeling of joy. This may be done by singing, or by grateful ascriptions of praise and gratitude.

Because thou defendest them - While the wicked are cut off Psalms 5:10. The psalmist, in this expression, doubtless had a primary reference to himself and to those who adhered to him in his righteous cause; but, as is common in the Psalms, he gives to the sentiment a general form, that it might be useful to all who fear and love God.

Let them also that love thy name - That love thee - the name being often put for the person. This is but another form of designating the righteous, for it is one of their characteristics that they love the name of God.

Be joyful in thee - Rejoice in thee - in thine existence, thy perfections, thy government, thy law, thy dealings, thy service; in all that thou hast revealed of thyself, and in all that thou doest. Compare Philippians 3:1, note; Philippians 4:4, note. It is one of the characteristics of the truly pious that they do find their happiness in God. They rejoice that there is a God, and that he is just such a being as he is; and they take delight in contemplating his perfections, in the evidences of his favor and friendship, in communion with him, in doing his will.

Verse 12

For thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous - It is one of the characteristics of God that, while he will punish the wicked, he will show favor to the righteous; while he brings deserved punishment upon the one, he will show his favor to the other.

With favor wilt thou compass him as with a shield - That is, as a shield is thrown round or before one in the day of battle to protect him, so wilt thou throw thy protection around the righteous. For a description of a “shield,” see the notes at Ephesians 6:16. Compare the notes at Psalms 3:3. On these accounts, David felt that he might trust in God in the day of trouble and danger; and, on the same account, all who are righteous may put their trust in him now.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.