Psalm 5:7 makes the inscription to this psalm suspicious. (See Note.) The address, “my king,” also denoting the theocratic relation of Jehovah to His people, seems more natural in. an invocation supposed to come from the entire faithful Israel—an invocation for help against the idolatrous part of the nation now in power, and preparing, if not actually beginning, persecution. The psalm is therefore rightly assigned to the troublous times of the later monarchy, possibly the reign of Manasseh. The bitterness of possible estrangement from the Temple and its services makes itself visible enough here, in feelings natural to this period. It is plain that when Psalms 5 was composed the adherents of Jehovah’s religion were the objects of dislike and calumny.
The parallelism is marked and well sustained.
Title.—Properly, to the leader on the flutes or to the precentor, with flute accompaniments. (See Note to inscription, Psalms 4)
Nehiloth.—Properly, nechîlôth: that is, bored instruments. The LXX., followed by the Vulg., translate, “on behalf of the heiress,” i.e., according to Augustine, “the Church;” but this is founded on a wrong etymology. Some Rabbins, deriving from a Chaldee word meaning “a swarm of bees,” make it refer to the multitudes reciting the psalm; others to the humming or hoarse sound of the musical accompaniment; others to a particular tune, “the drones.” Of the use of flutes in the religious services of the Hebrews we have proof in 1 Samuel 10:5, 1 Kings 1:40, Isaiah 30:29. Possibly the plural form may indicate the double flute. (See Bible Educator, ii. 89.)
“When first thine eyes unveil, give thy soul leave
To do the like”—
was probably suggested by this verse.
Look up.—The Hebrew is from the root which forms “Mizpeh,” or “watch-tower.” The psalmist looks up for the answer to his prayer as the seer on his tower (Habakkuk 2:1) looked up for his inspiration. The usual attitude of prayer in the East was then, as now, either standing or prostrate, the hands lifted up or spread out (Exodus 9:33; Psalm 28:2; Psalm 134:2; Psalm 141:2). To raise the eyes was not so usual. Virgil, describing the capture of Cassandra by the Greeks, makes her look up, but only because her hands were bound.
“Ad coelum tendens ardentia lumina frustra,
Lumina—nam teneras arcebant vincula palmas.”
Shall not stand.—As distinguished men before kings (Proverbs 22:29); as angels in the court of the heavenly King (Job 1:6).
Bloody.—Margin, literally, of bloods and deceit. So LXX. and Vulg.
Worship.—Literally, prostrate myself towards, as in 1 Kings 8:29; Psalm 28:2. (Comp. Daniel’s attitude of prayer towards Jerusalem, and that of the Moslems now towards Mecca.)
Wickedness.—Properly, an abyss, from root “to fall,” hence in parallelism with “open sepulcher” in next clause. This is an instance of introverted parallelism, “mouth” answering to “tongue.” (See Bible Educator, iii. 50.)
An open sepulchre.—At once dangerous and noisome.
Flatter.—Literally, make smooth the tongue. (Comp. Psalm 12:2.) Shakespeare uses “smooth tongue.” Comp. also—
“The subtle flend,
Though only strong with anger and disdain,
Dissembled, and this answer smooth returned.”
MILTON, Par. Lost.
Transgressions.—Literally, revolts, thus being in close synonymous parallelism with the next clause. Or else, as in margin and in ancient versions, LXX., Vulg., and Syriac, “Let them fall from their counsels:” i.e., “let their plots fail.”
On the imprecations in the Psalms see General Introduction, 6.
Shield.—Heb., tsinnah. The long large shield fit for a giant (1 Samuel 17:7; 1 Samuel 17:41), which could protect the whole body.
Luther, when asked at Augsburg where he should find shelter if his patron, the Elector of Saxony, should desert him, replied, “under the shield of heaven.” The image is finely elaborated in Browning’s Instans Tyrannus:—
“When sudden—How think ye the end?
Did I say without friend?
Say, rather, from marge to blue marge,
The whole sky grew his targe
With the sun’s self for visible boss;
While an arm ran across
Which the earth heaved beneath like a breast
Where the wretch was safe pressed.
Do you see? Just my vengeance complete.
The man sprang to his feet.
Stood erect, caught at God’s skirts, and prayed—
So I was afraid.”