Pentecost + 3--June 17, 2007
Bill Long 6/5/07
Ps. 5:1-8; Listening in the Morning
Here is the Psalm, in the NRSV:
"To the leader: for the flutes. A Psalm of David.
1 Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing.
2 Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil will not sojourn with you.
5 The boastful will not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
6 You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
7But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house,
I will bow down towards your holy temple
in awe of you.
8 Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me."
This passionate Psalm reflects the author's confidence in God to deliver him from his current circumstances. Specifically it seems that people are passing false stories about him, stories that injure his reputation. He bases his hope for deliverance on the character of God as well as the intention of his own heart. Yet he knows that deliverance isn't automatic. He knows he has to "bring his case" before God in earnestness and regularity (v.3). This brief exposition will explain some of the flow of the passage, from the Psalmist's urgent plea, to his statement of the character of God, to his longing to be led by God.
I. Preparing the Case in the Morning (vv. 1-3)
Sighs, groanings and words characterize the Psalmist's approach to God. Sometimes our approach to God is in words, carefully chosen. Sometimes we just pour out our soul in a rush of unorganized and earnest words. Sometimes, the sounds we utter to God are like sighs too deep for words. What is striking about the language of the Psalmist's cry her is the passionate intensity of the language. He knows that he has no ultimate help apart from God. That is the reason he approaches the Divine with mouth and heart open.
I will only focus on one word in these verses, and that is the second verb in v. 3. Different translations of this Psalm render that verse differently. The King James, followed by most modern versions, translates the verse: "in the morning I will direct my prayer unto thee, and will keep watch." The NASV has, "in the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch." But the RSV in the 1950s rendered the verse differently: "in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for thee, and watch." Yet our version (NRSV) has: "in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch." If we look at the Hebrew word behind the different translations, we find the verb arak. It literally means "to arrange" or "set up." But the newer translation picks up on something that the older ones didn't--when arak is used in the Bible, especially the Book of Job, it is primarily used in a legal context. For example, Job says: "Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case (arak) before him...." (23:3-4). Again, when Elihu begins to speak, he challenges Job: "Answer me, if you can; set your words in order (arak) before me; take your stand" (33:5). Thus, one strand of "arranging" things in the Bible is "arranging" words in order to make a case before God. That, in my judgment, is what is happening here. The Psalmist pours our his complaint in earnest words, arranged with care as if in a legal proceeding. This is a good antidote against our tendency just to "speak first and think later." Make your case before God. Make it very very well.
II. God and Evildoers (vv. 4-6)
Over and over again in the next three verses we hear the Psalmist affirming something central about God--that God can't abide evildoers. Sometimes we have a saying in our culture, given to us by well-meaning preachers. Maybe we have even said it. "I hate the sin but love the sinner." We hear it all the time, in fact. It is used by some people to say how they can love gay people but despise their style of life. It is said by some who are personally opposed to abortion but still want to "love" those who take advantage of that legal option. But the Psalmist doesn't make that distinction. In fact, he believes that God hates both the sin and the sinner. "You hate all evildoers" (v. 5) says it pretty clearly. That is pretty strong language, but maybe those are the words we need to hear occasionally so that we don't flag in our commitment to see justice done in the world. Evildoers, those who "delight in wickedness," the "bloodthirsty and deceitful," are really not those to whom we should give free rein to rule, to lead, to set the policy for a nation or a people. It is this belief which gives the Psalmist confidence as he approaches God. Perhaps he believes in the purity of his own heart; we don't know. We do know, however, that he has been sorely oppressed by people who want to destroy him with their words.
III. Lead Me (vv. 7-8)
The Psalmist doesn't stop with the prayer against the enemies; he finishes with a twofold declaration. He will enter God's house to pray (v. 7) and he will ask for God to lead him in the ways of the divine righteousness (v. 8). This is a simple prayer, but it is also gets to the heart of the matter in many instances. We simply need guidance. We need to be led on the right way. Sometimes we tend to make our lives more complex than they need to be. I know that when I compete in spelling bees (I am a competitive speller), many people make mistakes by trying to make the words more difficult than they are. So it is in the spiritual life. Just "sound it out" would be the Psalmist's advice. Go to the temple of God; seek for God's deliverance and guidance in the moment of need. That is the simplicity (and difficulty) of this passage.