Theme: “’Tis Mercy All”
In this week’s studies David prays that the Lord would show his justice against all who do evil, even as he asks that the Lord’s blessing would rest upon the righteous.
Scripture: Psalm 5:1-12
One of the complaints unbelievers make against Christians is that their understanding of sin causes them to think of themselves as better than other people. But that is not actually the case. In fact, it is the opposite. The next stanza of the psalm shows what really happens (vv. 7, 8): “But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple. Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies—make straight your way before me.”
Remember that David has approached God properly and has been led by that to reflect on the sinfulness of sin and on the fact that God will not hear the ungodly. In these verses he turns back to God again. If the objection of unbelievers which I have just referred to were true, we would expect David to be saying: “But I am different from the evil doers I have mentioned. I am a good man, and it is because I have tried to live a good life that I ask you to hear me.” Actually, he does nothing of the sort. Instead of pleading his own righteousness as grounds for coming to God, David pleads God’s mercy: “But I, by your mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple” (v. 7).6
I cannot emphasize too much how important this is, since it is by the mercy of God alone that any human being may approach him. We must not forget Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax collector. The Pharisee was an ostensibly righteous man. He prayed, “God, thank you that I am not like all other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11, 12). The tax collector, who was standing at a distance, did not consider himself worthy even to look up to heaven but only prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (v. 13). In a situation like this the world will always side with the visibly righteous man. But Jesus said, “I tell you that this man the tax collector, rather than the other [the Pharisee], went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 14).
Returning to the psalm, Craigie says, “Though evil persons are excluded from God’s presence because of their sin, it does not follow that the psalmist is admitted by virtue of his own goodness. The psalmist’s entrance into God’s house would be based only upon ‘the abundance of your lovingkindness’ (v. 8 [v. 7, our numbering]); that is to say, it was only God’s grace and covenant love (hesed) toward his people which made entrance into his presence possible.”7
Verse 8 contains the first actual petition in the psalm, which means that over half has been spent on preparation. And now that the request occurs, it is simply for guidance—that God would lead the psalmist in righteousness and make his way straight before him.
In what ways can Christians be like the Pharisees? How do we avoid this?
What is noteworthy about the first petition that we come to in this psalm? What does that reveal about the psalmist’s view of himself and about how he views God?
Application: How has God been merciful to you in not treating you as your sins deserved? What areas of your life still need work? Ask the Lord for grace to increasingly live in a way that is pleasing to him.
For Further Study: To see how Habakkuk approached God in prayer, and the things that he emphasized, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Secret of Effective Prayer.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
6Since the Ark of the Covenant, the earthly center of Israel’s worship, was kept in a tent during David’s lifetime (2 Sam. 7:2), it is puzzling to know how David can speak of God’s “house” and “temple,” as he does in verse 7. This would seem to be appropriate for a later day, after the temple of Solomon had been constructed, but not earlier. There are four possible explanations: (l) The psalm is not actually by David. This is the view of most modern commentators. (2) Although the psalm was originally written by David, David’s language has been altered to fit the needs of later worshipers. (3) The terms for God’s dwelling that had been used when the Ark was at Shiloh lived on as traditional expressions (cf. 1 Sam. 1:7, 9, where the words “house” and “temple” both occur). This view is particularly attractive since in 2 Samuel 12:20 the word “house” is used of the very tent David erected to hold the Ark after it had been brought to Jerusalem. (4) Psalm 5 is not referring to an earthly house or temple at all but to the heavenly temple where God actually dwells. For a discussion of these possibilities, see Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72. An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), pp. 59, 121; and H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 77, 78.
7Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 87.