Psalm 5

Dear Reader,

I had done a translation of Psalm 5 a while back but realized I had not posted anything more than that. You can find all the Psalm studies I have done plus some background on how and why we do this here.

Translation

Here again is my translation of Psalm 5:

1 My utterances hear, Lord; understand my murmuring.

2 Listen to the voice of my cry, my king and my God.

3 For unto you I pray.

4 Lord, in the morning you will hear my voice.

5 In the morning I will recount to you and I will watch.

6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;

7 Evil does not sojourn with you.

8 The boastful do not stand before your eyes;

9 You hate all workers of iniquity.

10 You destroy those who speak a lie;

11 A man of blood and deceit the Lord abhors.

12 But as for me, in the  greatness of your faithfulness I will enter your house;

13 I will worship in your holy temple in your fear.

14 Lord, lead me in your righteousness because of my enemies;

15 Make straight before me your path.

16 Because there is not in their mouth uprightness; their insides [are] destruction;

17 An open grave [is] their throat, [with] their tongue they flatter.

18 Hold them guilty, God. May they fall from their [own] devices;

19 In the greatness of their transgressions cut them off for they rebelled against you.

20 But all who find refuge in you will rejoice; forever they will exult;

21 For you will enclose them and those who love your name will be glad in you.

22 For you will bless the righteous, Lord;

23 Like a shield you will surround them [with] favor.

As usual, I recommend you print out the Psalm and get some colored pencils and spend some time with it on your own before reading my comments. Look for which lines go together and what elements within those lines correspond. I try in my translations to lay things out in a way that will help you see the structure of the Psalm (this is why I don’t use the verse numbers but line numbers) but there are, as in any translation, some executive decisions that need to be made. Are there other ways you could or would divide up this Psalm? Do you see sections within the Psalm? Any words or themes that are carried through the Psalm?

Analysis

Poetic Structuring 

Psalm 5 is not long compared to some others but it is longer than many of the Psalms we’ve tackled thus far. This makes it a little harder to take in all at once. I’d like to begin by discussing how the Psalmist structures this (slightly) longer Psalm. This part is a little harder and less accessible in translation so bear with me.

Most of the lines, as I have them laid out, come in parallel pairs — 1 goes with 2; 4 with 5; 6 with 7; and so on through 22 and 23. One could divide the Psalm in various ways. On one hand, some of the pairs as I have them could be further subdivided. On the other, line 3, the lone standout among these parallel pairs, could be combined with another.

There are a few reasons why I decided to leave line 3 — “For unto you I pray” — on its own:

  • Line 3 gives the reason for what is said in 1 and 2, but it does not say the same thing.
  • Looking the other direction, line 4 begins with “LORD” (which also appears in line 1), seemingly introducing a new section within the Psalm.
  • Line 3 is a “for” clause, but lines 4 and 5 have their own “for” clause beginning in line 6.
  • Turning again to what comes before — a closer examination of the Hebrew shows that lines 1 and 2 have a tight structure. Line 3 stands outside of that structure.  Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that is almost impossible to carry over into an English translation. Note the word count in each of the lines:

1 My utterances hear,         Lord; (3 words)

understand my murmuring.           (2 words)

2 Listen to the voice of my cry,      (3 words)

my king and my God.                    (2 words)

The word counts here function something like a rhyme scheme in English poetry giving an ABAB pattern to these lines. This pattern ties lines 1 and 2 together but at the same times leaves out line 3.

If we leave it as it is, as the only line without a parallel, then line 3 becomes in some sense the focus of the Psalm. And what does this line say? “For unto you I pray.”  This gives us the content as much as the attitude of the Psalm — Psalm 5 is above all a prayer. It is the psalmist crying out.

The same kind of tight structure we saw in lines 1 and 2, can also be seen in other sections within Psalm 5. In lines 6 through 9 the organizing element is not the word count but the pronouns. Notice who is active (that is, who the subject is) in each line:

6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; (you)

7 Evil does not sojourn with you.                                 (them)

8 The boastful do not stand before your eyes;            (them)

9 You hate all workers of iniquity.                                  (you)

Lines 1 and 2, as we saw above, have an “ABAB” structure. Here lines 6 through 9 have an ABBA structure. The structure comes not from  word count this time but from the content.

Likewise lines 16 and 17 can be subdivided into four shorter lines:

16 For there is not in their mouth uprightness;

                      their insides [are] destruction;

17                  An open grave [is] their throat,

                      [with] their tongue they flatter.

Notice that in the two halves of line 16, a body part comes first and then what it is (or is not). The first half of line 17 reverses this order but then it is back in the second half of the line. This gives this segment an AABA pattern. I don’t think there is necessarily deep hidden meaning in patterns like this. It simply shows that the Psalmist is trying to mix things up a bit. He is keeping the reader or listener on his toes and keeping the parallelism from feeling too repetitive.

As in the first lines, the word count also forms a pattern here. This is a little less obvious because if that little word “for” which begins it all. But if you are willing to take “for” as an added word or one that applies to the whole verse, then the word count for the rest of this section is, once again, 3 2 3 2 as it was in lines 1 and 2.

Finally, lines 18 and 19 contain the same you-them alternation in an ABBA pattern as we saw in lines 6-9:

18  Hold them guilty, God.  (you)

May they fall from their [own] devices; (them)

19 In the greatness of their transgressions cut them off  (them)

for they rebelled against you. (you)

Content

One question I often like to ask of a Psalm is who does what? There are four actors in Psalm 5: the psalmist; God; “them,” that is, evil/godless people; and God’s people.

The things God does in this Psalm are: hear, understand, and listen (lines 1, 2 and 4); not delight, hate, destroy and abhor (lines 6, 9, 10 and 11); lead and make straight (lines 14 and 15); hold guilty and cut off (lines 18 and 19); and enclose, bless, and surround (lines 21, 22 ans 23).

The psalmist prays (line 3); recounts and watches (line 5); and enters and worships (lines 12 and 13). Notice that his action is confined to the first half of the Psalm and that it is all rather passive and concerns activities we would consider part of worship.

The evil people do not sojourn or stand (lines 7 and 8); they flatter (line 17); and they fall and rebel (lines 18 and 19). We get some additional description of them in lines 16 and 17 though these are not finite verbs in Hebrew.

While the psalmist disappears from the Psalm after line 13, the people of God, those who trust in Him, appear. They rejoice, exalt and are glad (lines 20 ad 21).

There are a couple of things we can deduce from all this. The psalmist is relatively passive. His part is to pray; it is God who acts. The godless people are not particularly active here either. They flatter but mostly their crime seems to be inherent to their nature. Lines 16 and 17 tell us that their very body parts are sources of evil. They cannot stand before God (line 8).

And in the end the congregation rejoices. Which brings us to the second point: there is movement in this Psalm from the individual to the body. We begin with the psalmist praying, a fact which is emphasized by line 3 standing on its own, as discussed above.  The individual prays; the Lord acts; and in the end the congregation rejoices. Psalm 5 begins in a solitary way, with one man praying, but it ends with the people of God who are all able to rejoice in His salvation.

Conclusions

I haven’t found Psalm 5 to be the easiest. A lot of what is there is hard to convey in English. Though Hebrew poetry does not use the same devices as English poetry, I hope you have seen that there is depth here. There is structuring that serves both an aesthetic purpose, varying the patterns to keep the audience at attention, and a more content-driven purpose, highlighting a key line.  Though there is not a lot of action in this Psalm, there is movement and the prayer of the individual ultimately leads to the rejoicing of the congregation.

Nebby

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