Psalm 5 is another individual lament, and the first instance of a psalm with prayers for the personal downfall of the enemies. Such Psalms have in view a situation where one is faced with bloodthirsty and deceitful prosecutors. David is the author of this Psalm.
Explanation of Psalm 5
As is common in the laments, the psalm opens by calling out to God. The tone is one of urgency and expectation. Some psalms speak of the Lord as King have in mind his rule over all his creation. Others, such as this one, refer to him acting as king over his people. The Davidic kingship, when it functioned properly did not usurp either king or divine kingship, though a faithless king could lead to God punishing the people (1 Samuel 8:7; 12:12-15).
The singer praises God for loving what is right. The argument of the psalm is that the success of these persecutors would contradict the biblical view of God’s commitment to righteousness. The terms describing evil and evildoers are status words; that is, they describe people who reject God’s kingship, as well as denoting the behavior that stems from such rejection.
The phrase “abundance of your steadfast love” comes from Ex. 34:6, the basic confession of Old Testament faith, describing the Lord’s benevolence. Paul uses Psalm 5:9 in romans 3:13 as part of his argument that both Jews and Gentiles are under the power of sin. These prayers describe the judgment that must eventually fall on those members of God’s people who harden themselves to persecute the godly, because to harm the godly is to attack God. The request, then, is for God to vindicate his commitment to his people, here in this life for all to see. Prayers of this sort generally carry the unstated assumption that the evildoers will not repent and seek forgiveness. This psalm closes by expressing the assurance enjoyed by the faithful. The song prays that the truly faithful, in contrast to the evildoers, will always rejoice in the Lord and be assured of his care and protection.
Hope in God
The most important lesson contemporary humans can take from Psalm 5 is that human hope is grounded in the character of God- a character that is constant and does not change regardless of the ebb and flow of human circumstances. The righteous- those who take refuge in God- find hope in God’s holiness both because he is incompatible with evil and because he is relentlessly good.
The believer finds hope in God and refuge there because, despite the rampant evil that characterizes our world and even gains a foothold in our own lives, God is not unconcerned with evil or injustice. Even less is he their author. That is why the faithful throughout the ages, when faced with the implacable evil of pain, suffering, oppression, and injustice, are able to call confidently on God for redress, as the psalmist does in Psalm 5. As Christians we may be somewhat disconcerted by the harsh imprecations heaped on the enemy by the righteous. We feel constrained to moderate our anger and sense of injustice after the words of Jesus, “Bless those who persecuted you” (Luke 6:28; Rom. 12:14). But the psalmist’s words call us to remember that Jesus was never afraid to call evil what it was or to take a firm stance of condemnation against all of its forms. We too must take evil seriously, aligning ourselves with God’s essential character of holiness.
As believers we must also trust and proclaim the relentless goodness of God that will never allow evil to have the last word. The biblical message is consistent in affirming that the world as we know it is broken and does not represent the full intention of the Creator. God is not the author of evil we experience, nor is he unconcerned or unable to respond. The mystery of continued suffering and evil does not undermine the psalmist’s confidence that god’s full intent and purpose for humanity and all creation is good and blessing. Even Job ultimately confessed that the God he encountered was sovereign over creation and worth holding in to despite the clamoring voices of pain and suffering.
In the final analysis the psalmist sides with Job. His hope is grounded not in the swirling press of circumstance but on the unchanging sovereign of God. Yahweh is the psalmist’s king and god (v.2), as he is ours. He is the King who establishes justice and security. He is the sovereign who leads us in the paths of righteousness and divine blessing. Let all who take refuge in Him be glad.