The first three verses of Psalm 5 are ones I have often used to begin the day….
Give ear to my words, O Lord;
give heed to my sighing.
Listen to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
There is even a lovely modern tune to which these words are sung that I learned many years ago but never hear in church anymore.
However, this psalm shows us something common with many of the psalms. While there are certain parts of each psalm that provide perfect expression for our own devotion today, there are, in these same psalms, parts with which we do not identify. I find this to be the case in Psalm 5. After asking the Lord to hear him in the first three verses, the psalmist, goes on to speak in the next three verses about how wicked other people are. (By the way, this psalm is attributed to David, but we cannot be sure that he wrote it since the attribution of particular psalms to particular people was made long after their lifetimes.) Regardless, of who wrote this psalm, I do not think any Christian can read these words without thinking that he or she (at one time or another) might actually be like one of these wicked people the psalmist describes. After all, have we not, even as Christians, sometimes been boastful or deceitful?
The Psalmist, on the other hand, draws a contrast between himself and these wicked people….
But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
Will enter your house…
The Christian, in reading and/or praying this psalm, cannot draw this contrast between himself and the wicked without realizing that it is only Christ, through his perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection from the dead, who makes the Christian anything but wicked.
This is not to say that the psalmists do not ever recognize their own sin. They do, and we have an example of this recognition in Psalm 6. However, in this psalm there is another line that Christians are liable to stumble over….
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who can give you praise?
In this verse we see reflected the same belief articulated in the book of Job and throughout most of the Hebrew Scriptures. The ancient Jews, for the most part, did not believe in any sort of afterlife. At least, they did not believe in such until the time of Jesus, when we see the Pharisees holding to a belief in the resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees holding to the old unbelief in any sort of afterlife. That is why the latter are sad, you see?
Thus, we have not even gotten through the first section of the psalms without encountering words that a Christian cannot say with any sort of concurrence or assent at all. It makes one wonder what thoughts have gone through the minds of Christians who have vocalized the Psalms in worship over the last two thousand years when they come to verses like this.
In Psalm 7, we encounter, once again, a type of self-righteousness that should be alien to Christian devotion. However, as C. S. Lewis points out in Reflections on the Psalms we must make a distinction between self-righteousness and being in the right. The first is always a delusion. However, any of us, at one particular moment in time, may be right about one particular issue. Lewis writes,
We need therefore by no means assume that the Psalmists are deceived or lying when they assert that, as against their particular enemies at some particular moment, they are completely in the right. Their voices while they say so may grate harshly on our ear and suggest to us that they are unamiable people. But that is another matter. And to be wronged does not commonly make people amiable.
But of course the fatal confusion between being in the right and being righteous soon falls upon them.
Psalm 8, on the other hand, fairly demands to be sung by every Christian. It is no wonder that the early Christians saw this psalm as a messianic prophecy. For Christ was the one, par excellence, who was, for a time, made a little lower than the angels, and who now is crowned with glory and honor.
Thus, in the course of just four psalms, we have found place to join in with the ancient Jewish devotion, and points at which we must pause and consider the different position and new knowledge in which the Christian stands. In either case, whether we can join in singing the psalm, or are forced to pause in our devotion, we are given much food for thought.