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Psalm 5 – David’s Prayer
For the director of music. For flutes.
A psalm of David.
1Give ear to my words, O Lord,
2Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
3Morning by morning, O Lord, You hear my voice;
morning by morning I lay my requests
4You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil;
5The arrogant cannot stand in Your presence;
6You destroy those who tell lies;
7But I, by Your great mercy,
In reverence will I bow down
8Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness
Make straight Your way before me.
9Not a word from their mouth can be trusted;
Their throat is an open grave;
10Declare them guilty, O God!
Banish them for their many sins,
11But let all who take refuge in You be glad;
Spread Your protection over them,
may rejoice in You.
12For surely, O Lord,
You bless the righteous;
as with a shield.
Psalm 5, like the previous psalm, concerns prayer. In the first three verses, David prays to the Lord for help, and then “waits in expectation”. The rest of the psalm deals with the reasons that David’s prayer will be heard and answered: God’s hatred of evil (v. 4-6); the grace and guidance of God for His own people (v. 7-8); the utter depravity of David’s adversaries (v. 9-10); the blessings and protection that God bestows upon His people (v. 11-12).
David begins this psalm with a prayer. The specifics of his prayer are not stated, implying that the principles in this psalm can be applied to all prayers. We know only that David is crying “for help”, through numerous “requests”, and his problem is on-going, for he offers his prayer “morning by morning”.
His prayer consists of three requests: “Give ear to my words”, “consider my sighing”, and “listen to my cry”. In these three requests, David uses three styles of communication: his “words”, his “sighing”, and his “cry”.
First, David prays with his “words”: the reasoned, well thought-out expression of his petition to God. It is good to communicate to God requests that are well reasoned. Through the process of reasoning, God can lead us to a proper perspective of the situation, and even to an answer to the prayer.
Second, David prays with his “sighing”. There are times, especially in times of trouble, when we are at a loss of words, we cannot even express our prayers. We have reasoned through our petitions, we have stated with words the result of our reasoning, then we run out of words. In these times, we can depend on the Holy Spirit to express our prayer through our “sighing”, through our groanings, and, at times, through the gift of tongues. As Paul teaches: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). David asks for the Lord to not only hear his words, but also his unuttered desires. “Words are not the essence but the garments of prayer” [Spurgeon]. Of course, “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8); so, the lack of words should not prevent you from praying! The spirit of prayer is much more important than the words that are spoken. A spirit without words is heard, but words without a spirit will never be.
Third, David prays with a “cry”. David not only prayed through reasoned requests, and spiritual sighings, but also with emotive cries. Your emotions are an expression of your desire; they communicate the seriousness of your request. James says: “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16, KJV). Christ is our example in this: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission” (Heb. 5:7). Can a loving Father resist the cries of His children?
David addresses his prayer in verse 1 directly to the “Lord”. It is our great privilege to be able to present our requests directly to the Creator of the Universe. Never undervalue this privilege! Also, in verse 2, David addresses his prayer to “my King and my God”. He prays to God not only as Creator, but as the King of the people of Israel, the God of the covenant, and also his personal God (as denoted by the “my”). David, though King of Israel, realizes that he is not the preeminent king, but that God is.
David presents his requests “morning by morning”. In Psalm 4, the evening was depicted as a good time for reflection. Here, the morning is shown as a good time for prayer. Indeed, it is good to seek the Lord early. To do so sets the mood for the day; it establishes who is sovereign over the day. Our thoughts should naturally turn to our Lord first thing in the morning. Note also that David does not just say “in the morning”, but “morning by morning You hear my voice”. David was consistent in prayer, not missing a morning. He could confidently say that the Lord would hear his voice each morning.
David prays in the morning by “laying his requests” before God. The words that he uses for presenting his requests are the same ones that are used for carefully arranging wood on an altar (as in Gen. 22:9; Lev.1:7; and I Kings 18:33) or for arranging the showbread on the table in the tabernacle (as in Ex. 40:23 and Lev. 24:6,8). This likens prayer to the most sacred of covenant rituals.
Finally, after presenting his requests before God, David in faith “waits in expectation”. Faith not only asks in prayer, but expects an answer. We should trust in God for an answer to our prayers. “Man fell from God by distrust, by having God in suspicion; God will bring him back by trust” [Swinnock, cited in Spurgeon].
David teaches us much about prayer in these verses. Our prayers should have purpose; our words are secondary to the spirit of prayer; our prayers should be heartfelt, with emotion; they are directed to a personal God; we should pray morning by morning; we should wait expectantly for an answer.
Having presented his prayer, David goes on to state four reasons why his prayer will be heard. In verses 4 through 6, he cites as a reason God’s hatred of evil. This, of course, implies that David’s prayer was a righteous prayer. It would be an insult to God’s holiness to pray for anything unrighteous. So, David is appealing to God on the basis of His righteousness. For a prayer to be answered by God, it must necessarily be consistent with His nature.
David first states that God is “not a God who takes pleasure in evil”. God hates sin. We must realize this. We tend to gloss over sin, make light of sin, even at times take pride in sin, but, in no uncertain terms, God hates sin. Some mistake God’s mercy for tolerance of sin.
David goes on to point out that, with God, “the wicked cannot dwell” (vs. 4). Only the holy can dwell with God. For God to tolerate the presence of the unrighteous would decrease His holiness. So, how is it that we Christians expect to dwell with God in heaven for eternity? Are we holy? Not in ourselves. But through our belief in Christ, we are imputed with righteousness. “Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:39) and “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).
In verses 7 and 8, David cites, as the second reason his prayer will be heard, God’s grace and guidance for His people. He begins by saying: “But I, by Your great mercy, will come into Your house” (vs. 7). It is not because we are any better than the enemies of God that we are able to come to Him, but strictly by His “great mercy”.
Now, God’s mercy is available to all, even David’s enemies. David was set apart from his enemies and able to receive God’s mercy for three reasons. First, David desired to receive God’s mercy and, thus, was resolved to enter God’s house, so he says assuredly “I will”. Second, David bowed down “in reverence” to God; he had a healthy respect and fear of God. Third, David desired to be lead by the Lord and to live a holy life, so he says: “Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness” (vs. 8).
Note that it is the Lord’s “righteousness”, not David’s own, in which David desires to be lead. Those who fear the Lord know that they need Him to help them walk in His ways. Those who have no reverence for the Lord think they are good enough on their own. In the book of Psalms, this is what distinguishes the righteous from the wicked. Again, it is not that the “righteous” are any better in themselves than the “wicked”, or that the “righteous” have easier access to God’s grace and guidance than the “wicked”, it is that the “righteous” have chosen to fear the Lord and seek His righteousness. As “Wisdom” says in the book of Proverbs: “Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes” (Prov. 1:29-31).
David states that he needed to be led in the Lord’s righteousness “because of my enemies” (vs. 8). Sin begets sin. Just being in the presence of the wicked will increase one’s own chances of falling into sin, even if the wicked are one’s adversaries. The wickedness of our enemies may cause us to rationalize our own sin, especially if they are gaining the victory. After all, we might say, “They’re doing it. Why shouldn’t I?” We must resist sin, especially in our conflicts with the wicked. Like David, despite the actions of our enemies, we should seek to be led in the righteousness of the Lord.
Also, we need God to light the path before us, to clear the obstacles from our way, and make the way of His righteousness smooth and unambiguous; so, David asks God to “make straight your way before me”. We need the Lord to make His path straight so that we do not mistakenly stray onto the wrong path, out of His righteousness. Satan loves to muddy the waters, to put up a smoke screen, so as to confuse us in order to deceitfully lead us into sin. To ask the Lord to make His way straight before us is a prayer we would all do well to pray.
Note that it is the Lord’s way that David asks to make straight, not his own. We all have our view of the way our path should take, but we need to seek God’s path. In fact, a good prayer is to ask that God throw obstacles into our way, so as to make clear to us His way.
The third reason David’s prayer will be heard is because of the depravity of his adversaries. His enemies are ripe for judgment. In verses 9 and 10, as before, David enumerates seven traits of his enemies: “not a word from their mouth can be trusted”, “a heart filled with destruction”, “their throat is an open grave”, a deceitful tongue, full of “intrigues”, “many sins”, and in rebellion.
Three of these traits have to do with his enemies’ speech: “not a word from their mouth can be trusted”, “their throat is an open grave”, and “with their tongue they speak deceit”. This is in contrast to David, who used his speech to pray to the Lord “morning by morning”. Indeed, so much of the depravity in the world is expressed in speech. As Jesus pointed out: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). David’s expression, “their throat is an open grave,”—suggesting the stench of the decomposing dead—is an apt description of so much of the conversation in the world.
Paul cites some of the elements of this description when he describes the depravity of all men, including you and me, in Romans 3: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips” (Rom. 3:10-13). The fact that we too are guilty of these things proves that to be reconciled to God, we need a new nature: we need to be born again.
David goes on to ask that the Lord “declare them guilty” (vs. 10). There comes a time when God’s judgment must be consummated, in order that He preserve His righteousness. Though all of us are depraved, God has provided a way for us to walk in His righteousness. If we reject that way, which is through Jesus Christ, we will eventually experience God’s wrath, as He carries out His judgment. To ignore or reject God’s way to righteousness is the height of rebellion against God. David desires that his enemies own “intrigues be their downfall” (vs. 10). Many times, the Lord need only allow the wicked to continue in their own wicked ways and judgment will naturally befall them.
In this final section, David cites the fourth reason that his prayer will be answered: God blesses and protects His people. David begins by saying: “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.” Indeed, as people of God, we should be glad! For some reason, “in this world those who have the least right to rejoice often seem to be the most merry; and those who have the greatest cause of joy often seem to be the most sad.” [Plumer] We have great cause to “sing for joy”, and so we should do so every chance we get.
Indeed, there are times when we, like David, are driven to cry out to the Lord, but there will come a time when we will have nothing but happiness, our joy being fulfilled. Those of the world may laugh now, but later they will weep. We may weep now, but only for a time. In the end, we will have joy unbounded for eternity.
In fact, our joy should transcend the temporary trials that we experience in this life. James says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2) and Peter adds: “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (I Pet. 4:13). The joy and praise of God’s people through trials is a great witness to the truth of Christianity. Fortunately, throughout history, many of God’s people have maintained their joy even through the worst of circumstances. “The most exultant anthems ever sung on this earth are the songs of God’s people passing through the wilderness, the fire and the floods.” [Plumer]
Knowing of the joy of God’s people, even despite living in this ungodly world among those who curse God, David concludes: “For surely, O Lord, You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favor as with a shield” (vs. 12). Yes, we may face trials here living among the ungodly; nevertheless, we are under God’s blessing and shield. We can rejoice that we face nothing but what He allows us to face. We can rejoice that the worst we can face on earth, the death of our bodies, will only result in our eternal joy.