Psalm 5 Analysis: The Importance Of David’s Lament Essays Examples
Psalm 5 is in the middle of a group of psalms, Psalms 4-7 that seem to tell a kind of story (Pyle, E., 2004). It is the story of King David, and his struggle against Absalom, a struggle he later greatly mourned. As such, it follows the strict structure of a psalm of lament, designed to show lay both desperation and sorrow at the feet of God, and to beg for some kind of absolution of relief. When one considers that historical significance, literary features, technical elements and general tone of the work, its application today becomes clearer.
After committing fratricide, and killing the other sons of David, Absalom returned to Jerusalem and plotted against his father. David, rather than attempting to stand against his son and his supporters, prepare to flee with all his household (2 Samuel 3:13-19). In the psalm he first bemoans his son’s wickedness “For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest (Psalm 5: 1-2).” And then asks for God’s guidance as he flees: “because of my enemies— make your way straight before me (Psalm 5:8).” This was a significant time in David’s life because he would ultimately have to choose to die, and abandon his people to his evil son, or to have his last living heir killed (2 Samuel 13-19). It was extremely hurtful to him and “being a man after God’s own heart” it is not surprising that he ultimately elected to turn to God for solace (Acts 13:22).
Major Literary Features
Psalm 5, like most of the psalms is broken into poetic stanzas. More specifically, it begins with a quatrain that establishes the topic, contains two longer stanza, and ends with a very traditional couplet.
In terms of internal literary conventions, the psalm uses parallelism to place emphasis on the use of the world morning “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly (Psalm 5:3-4).” This is specifically used to link the fifth psalm to psalms four, six, and seven, which also place emphasis on the concepts of “morning” and “night” which are commonly used to create merism in biblical texts (Carmichael, A., n.d.).
Synecdoche is also a literary device closely associated with the psalms. Synecdoche refers to a part of the object, the offending part, or to something closely associated with an object in order to highlight its flaw (Carmichael, A., n.d.). In Psalms 5, Synecdoche can be seen in the following: “with their tongues they tell lies (Psalm 5:9).” While we know that it physically takes more than a tongue to tell a lie, the tongue is considered the offending part, or representative of the whole mouth, and the deceptive spirit in biblical terms. The passage also relies heavily on traditional metaphor, referring to the evil man’s throat as an “open grave (Psalm5:9).”
Finally, the Psalm uses traditional poetic phrasing and lyricism to create movement through the passage (Carmichael, A., n.d.). As with all Psalms, Psalm 5 was designed, by David to be sung unto God, and so it is addressed to the director of music, and has a lyrical, or musicality to it. This is the literary feature, which perhaps more than others, marks it as a part if King David’s work.
Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of all Psalms is the technical elements which are designed to offer music notes, or lyrical instruction for the musicians later performing the work. Psalms 5 has two such references.
The first is the use of the Hebrew word “hagigi (Psalm 5:1).” Hagigi is, technically speaking, an interjection (Wilson, R. 2015). It denotes that the song is a meditation. For the musician, this means that it should be performed with a whispering melody or with quieter instruments (Wilson, R. 2015).
The other technical element in Psalm 5, is the presence of liturgical note. A liturgical note tells who the psalm is to, it is like writing “Attn: Musical Director” on a letter today. It told the Choirmaster, or other specific musical leader to pay attention (Wilson, R. 2015). ). Psalm 5 is specifically addressed, “To the director of music.” The liturgical note also directs “for pipes” demonstrating what the psalm should have been accompanied by (Psalm 5:1).
There are several genres of Psalm including songs of praise, songs of Zion, general hymns, and others. Psalm 5 is one of a series of lamenting, or complaining psalms. Psalms of lament make up roughly a quarter of the psalter and fall into one of two categories: individual lament and communal complaint (Gunkel, H., n.d.). Each follows a very specific form. Psalm 5 is considered by Psalm expert Hermann Gunkel to be an individual lament, and so should follow the following form, with some possible variation: Laments will typically include the following element:
Summons to Yahweh. 2) Complaint/Lament proper, often preceded by a description of the prayer. 3) Considerations inducing Yahweh to intervene, whether by challenging Yahweh’s honour, exciting his anger by citing the enemies’ words, or by the nature of the complaint itself. 4) Petition/Entreaty. This is the most significant part of the complaint psalm. May be of a general nature or may be quite specific (confessional petitions, petitions of innocence, etc.). 5) Conviction of being heard (present only in some Psalms) and/or a vow (Gunkle, H., n.d.).
In Psalm 5 the first quatrain is used to summon God. David calls out “Listen to my words” and “hear my cry (Psalm 5:1).”
He then, in a manner consistent with the form laid out by Gunkle, describes his prayer, or method of praying saying that he will pray in the morning and then wait expectantly. “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly (Psalm 5:3).”
In the next four lines, he entreats God to intervene, both exciting his anger, and citing the enemy’s evil nature. “For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong; you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, Lord, detest (Psalms 5: 4-6). “
The final two lines of the first stanza contain a turn in which he then focuses on, not his enemy, but his own heart, and God’s goodness: “But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple (Psalm 5:7).” This is the beginning of the section that Gunkle refers to as the entreaty, and it continues for much of the second stanza. Finally, he ends with the assertion that he has been heard, and found peace. “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield (Psalm 5:12).”
Hassel Bollock supports Gunkle’s interpretation of the Psalm, going on to call it, more specifically, a lament psalm for the “persecuted (2004).” He notes that David was suffering at the time that the Psalm was written, and sought rest and comfort in the lord. It is designed as a “confession of trust” which allows he who says the prayer to draw closer to God, and call on his protection in an hour of weakness (Bullock, C., 2004).
While at first glance this Psalm may seem out of date, or as if it is tied so closely to David’s history that it has no modern application, modern devotional writers have found it moving, and have made contemporary application of the text.
The first two verse are referred to by James Sire as the “morning meditation” and he uses them to inspire modern readers of the psalms to draw close to God early in the morning, upon rising, and encourages disciples to integrate this “form and content” into their own lives (2009).
Sire also points out the lesson that modern Christians can learn about the power of lies, from the text. He notes that words cannot “break bones” but that they damage the spirit, and it is clear from the Psalm that Absalom’s lies have hurt his father greatly (Sire, J., 2009).
Sires proves that the Psalm, though written about a particularly humbling period of David’s life has ample application today, and can be used to teach both the importance of prayerfulness, and of monitoring one’s speech to modern religious audiences. Psalm 5 is a beautifully written work, and a credit to the Psalmist, which contains many of the literary and technical elements that are specifically associated with biblical hymns, and which move audiences even today. The form, so predictable in nature, is powerful in its delivery, and deserves to be carefully studied by the faithful and those looking for spiritual guidance for years to come
Bullock, C. (2004). Encountering the book of psalms (encountering biblical studies) a literary and theological introduction. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.
Carmichael, A. (n.d.) What kinds of literary techniques are used in the bible. Christian Aplogetics and Research Ministry. Retrieved from https://carm.org/bible-literary-techniques
Holy Bible. New International Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011. BibleGateway.com. Web. Mar. 2011.
Gunkle, H., (n.d.) A formal-critical classification of the psalms according to Hermann Gunkle.
Pyle, E., (2004, April 20). Psalm 5 Literary Context. OPC Norman. Retrieved from http://www.opcnorman.org/blogs/EricPyle/archives/2004/04/20/10.50.18/
Sire, J. (2005). Learning to pray through the Psalms. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
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