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My Notes On Psalms 1-6

These notes are written from a Catholic perspective, though I do make use of some Protestant and
Jewish sources on occasion. The author of these notes makes no pretensions to being either a gifted
writer or a biblical scholar; my only hope is that some may find these notes useful, and perhaps inspire
them to read, study, and pray the Psalms themselves.
Introduction to Psalm 1

This is a psalm of instruction concerning good and evil, setting before us life and death, the blessing
and the curse, that we may take the right way which leads to happiness and avoid that which will
certainly end in our misery and ruin. The different character and condition of godly people and wicked
people, those that serve God and those that serve him not, is here plainly stated in a few words; so that
every man, if he will be faithful to himself, may here see his own face and then read his own doom.
That division of the children of men into saints and sinners, righteous and unrighteous, the children of
God and the children of the wicked one, as it is ancient, ever since the struggle began between sin and
grace, the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, so it is lasting, and will survive all other
divisions and subdivisions of men into high and low, rich and poor, bond and free; for by this men’s
everlasting state will be determined, and the distinction will last as long as heaven and hell. This psalm
shows us, 1) The holiness and happiness of a godly man (v. 1-3). 2) The sinfulness and misery of a
wicked man (v. 4, 5). 3) The ground
and reason of both (v. 6). Whoever collected the psalms of David (probably it was Ezra) with good
reason put this psalm first, as a preface to the rest, because it is absolutely necessary to the acceptance
of our devotions that we be righteous before God (for it is only the prayer of the upright that is his
delight), and therefore that we be right in our notions of blessedness and in our choice of the way that
leads to it. Those are not fit to put up good prayers who do not walk in good ways. (From the
MATTHEW HENRY BIBLE COMMENTARY: PSALMS, CH 1)
This psalm is usually classified as a wisdom psalm inasmuch as it contains characteristics common to
that genre. These include macarisms (i.e. blessed or happy sayings); extolling of the Torah; two-ways
teaching (i.e. contrasting the actions and/or fate of the just and wicked); and acrostic structure (i.e.
alphabetic structure).
The psalm can be easily divided into four parts (note that the three part structure given above is more
generally accepted):
A) Vss 1-3. These verses focus on the just man. Vs 1 defines the just man by way of negation, detailing
what the just man is not. Vs 2 looks at the just man in a positive fashion by describing something a just
man does. Vs 3 applies a descriptive image of the just man.
B) Vs 4 Focus upon the wicked and applies a descriptive image of them.
C) Vs 5 Gives the consequences of the differences that exist between the just and the wicked.
D) Vs 6 The ultimate reason for these consequences.

Psalm 1

PSALM 1: TEXT AND NOTES (The text of Psalm 1 is my own translation. You are urged to consult
a recognized translation such as the RSV or the NAB)
Vs 1 Happy the man who walks not according to the direction of the wicked, stands not on the
path with sinners, sits not in the assembly of scorners.
Happiness in the bible has little to do with the emotional state we often associate the word with. The
happy man is one who enjoys God’s blessing here, and looks forward to its fullness in the future. It is
interesting to note that the Hebrew word for happy, asre, is derived from a Semitic stem which in its
verb form means “walk” or “go forward”; and in its noun form means “a footstep”. Our life then is
conceived of as a pilgrimage, a religious journey towards God and full happiness. This accounts for the
journey motif which dominates this Psalm.
The present state of the happy man, which will reach its fullness only in the future, is described first by
using a three-fold negation:
1) The happy man is one who walks not according to the directions of the wicked. In the bible, the
word walk, along with the word path and its synonyms (way, road) are used as metaphors for ones
moral actions and life. In keeping with the journey motif I have translated the Hebrew word etsah (ay-
tsaw) as direction rather than the commonly used “counsel” or “advice”.
2) The happy man stands not on the road with sinners. As already noted, the word road or path is a
metaphor for ones moral activity. The Hebrew word chattaw (khat-taw) is derived from a root word
which, among other things, can mean “to miss a target,” but also can mean “to go errant from a course,
road or direction.
3) The happy man sits not in the assembly of scorners. The word sits translates the Hebrew mosab.
The word has the sense of keeping formal company. The scorner is one who mocks the will of God and
its manifestation in true religion (see Psalm 119:51)
The three negations of verse 1 appear to increase in their designation of evil situations. Taking
directions from the unrighteous is foolish enough, but accompanying them on a journey is even more
foolish; worse still is it to gather formally with them and share in their deliberations which scorn God’s
law and those who follow it.
Vs 2 But in the law of the Lord is his delight, upon this law he ponders day and night.
Verse 2 begins to describe the just man in positive terms. He is now described according to that which
shows him to be just. The word but is emphatic, highlighting the different approach to the subject and
emphasizing the utter contrast between the truly just one and those who live in accord with the
negations of verse 1.
Rather than listening to the directions of sinners and finding a false kind of happiness in the company
of such people, the truly happy man delights in the law of the Lord. Delight is a translation of the
word chaphets (khaw-fates). One could translate the verse to read “his inclination is towards the law of
the Lord, upon this law he ponders…” One moves towards what one delights in and desires. The sense
of the Hebrew chaphets
then could have a connection to the journey motif.
Law here would be better translated as instruction. The Hebrew word Torah can mean either law or
instruction; with the second meaning being the more common meaning for not all instructions are laws,
but all laws are, in some sense, instructive. Remember that the Law of Moses consists of the first five
books of the OT, but Genesis and the first several chapters of Exodus, along with various parts of other
books, contain few laws but much narrative.
Not only does the happy man delight in the law, but he also ponders it continuously. This word ponder
(Hebrew hagah) originally referred to the cooing of a dove and is usually translated as “meditates”.
When the Jews meditated on the law they would recite it in low tones, much as we do with the Our
Father or the Psalms. The word then refers to thoughtful, reflective prayer. This stands in marked
contrast to the scorners mentioned in verse 1. the Hebrew word for scorn originally referred to the talk
of people of foreign tongues. It came to be applied to those who childishly mimic people. (see Isaiah
28:9-11 and the corresponding footnotes of the NAB)
Vs 3 He is like a tree well-planted by steams of water, which gives forth its fruit in its season; its
leaves do not wither. Whatsoever he does, he prospers.
A good bit of the Holy Land is quite dry, and therefore treeless. Also, during a certain time of the year
the Sirocco winds begin to blow in from the desert and wither much of the foliage. A tree which has
been well-planted by flowing water however, would do well. The word I have translated as well-
planted implies that the tree in the image has in fact been transplanted beside the water. This perhaps
suggests the idea that the just man is taken care of by God, who is sometimes described in the bible as a
husbandman (grower of trees, vines, ect. See Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 13:6-9).
In the prophet Jeremiah the wise man is described as a tree near water while the fool is described as a
desert shrub:
5: Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart
turns away from the LORD. 6: He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He
shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7: “Blessed is the man
who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8: He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out
its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not
anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (RSV Jer 17) See also Rev 22:1-3
In keeping with the wisdom motif of the Psalm, it should be noted that the word wither in its Hebrew
form, can also be applied to foolish men or things as in Prov 30:32. The word can also be applied to the
act of treating something with contempt, as in Micah 7:6.
Vs 4 But not so are the wicked! They are like chaff driven on by the wind.
This verse begins with the Hebrew word loken which is translated above as but. This word highlights in
an emphatic way the contrast between what was said in verse 3 concerning the just, and what is said in
verse 4 concerning the wicked.
In stark contrast to verse 3 the wicked are here described as useless chaff. Chaff refers to the outer shell
or husks from which grain was taken. Light, dry, sterile, it was utterly useless. It was fit only to burn,
but even in this it was useless, since it burned so quickly it wasn’t even adequate for use as kindling.
Most people simply left it on the ground to be driven away by the wind. It is hard to imagine an image
of rootlessness and bareness more fitting than this. (see the prayer against enemies in Psalm 35:5) The
winnowing of chaff is used, throughout the Bible, as a image of God’s judgment (see Hosea 13:2-3 and
Matt 3:12).
Wind is also used as an image of God’s punishment (see Psalm 18:42; Psalm 48:7; Hosea 13:15)
Vs 5 For this reason the wicked will not withstand the judgment, nor sinners stand in the assembly of
the righteous.
The wicked will not stand in the judgment because the are like chaff. As chaff has no root in the ground
these people have not root in God or his Torah. In the judgment they will not stand with God and his
holy people but will be removed from their presence.
The reference to sinners standing and the term assembly reminds us of the negations of verse 1. A man
who stands not on the road with sinners, sits not in the assembly of scorners shows that he is already on
the way to God and the fullness of happiness to come. A happiness which consist in withstanding God’s
judgment and being present with the just.
Vs 6 The Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked perishes.
As a farmer who has transplanted a tree or vine keeps careful watch over it and cares for it, so God
keeps careful watch over the righteous as they live out their life. The barren way of the wicked can only
end in destruction.
(NOTE:The Psalm has a very interesting feature. The first word of the text (happy) begins with the first
letter of the Hebrew Bible. The last word (perish) begins with the last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. As
far removed A is Z- that’s how far removed from the righteous sinners are).

Psalm 2
A sublime vision of the nations in revolt against Jehovah and his Anoited, with a declaration of
the divine purpose to maintain his King’s authority, and a warning to the world that it must bow
to him or perish. The structure of this psalm is extremely regular. It naturally falls into four
stanzas of three verses each. In the first (1-3), the conduct of the rebellious nations is described.
In the second (4-6), god replies to them by word and deed. In the third (7-9), the Messiah or
Anointed One declares the divine decrees in relation to himself. In the fourth (10-12), the
Psalmist exhorts the rulers of the nations to submission, with a threatening of the divine wrath to
the disobedient, and a closing benediction on believers. (THE PSALMS by J. A. Alexander.
Published by Charles Scribner, New York 1852. Public domain book)
Vs 1 Why do the nations rage, and the gentiles mutter vainly?
Vs 2 The kings of the earth stand up, the rulers sit in counsel together, opposing the Lord, and
opposing his Anointed one, saying,
Vs 3 “Let us burst their bonds completely, cast their chains off from us.
The Psalm opens with the psalmist asking a question in parallel fashion, which is typical of Hebrew
poetry. The first part of the parallel asks why the nations (Hebrew goy) rage (ragash). Goy could refer
to the Jewish people or other descendants of Abraham but is usually used for his non-descendants.
Rage (ragash) means more than simply anger. It refers to the malicious plotting borne of such anger.

Vs 4 He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh: The Lord will have them in derision.
Vs 5 Then will he speak unto them in his wrath, And vex them in his sore displeasure:
Vs 6 Yet I have set my king Upon my holy hill of Zion. (ASV. Public domain)
the Lord sitting in heaven contrasts nicely with the rulers of the earth sitting in counsel against him.
While they rage, he laughs; while they mutter vainly, he derides them and speaks in wrath. While
they exalt themselves by standing up, he derides them. While they plot to cast of the bonds and
chains of God and his Anointed, he insists that the one he anointed rules at his pleasure.
The Lords mood in verse 5 is colorfully described. The Hebrew word for wrath refers to the flaring of
the nostrils which often takes place as part of angry facial expressions. The Word for sore displeasure
refers to the red hue of an angry mans “burning” cheeks
Vs 7 I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son; this day have I begotten you.
Vs 8 Ask it of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and put the ends of the
earth into your possession.
Vs 9 With an iron rod you shall break them; like a clay dish you shall smash them to pieces.
Here th anointed king speaks, telling us what the Lord has promised to him. You are my son, this day
I have begotten you is a clear reference to 2 Samuel 7:14. This text is applied to our Blessed Lord in
Hebrews 1:5. It is believed by many biblical scholars that this Psalm was either part of the coronation
ceremony for a newly installed Davidic king, or was used as part of an anniversary celebration of the
coronation (or both). Inheriting the nations and possessing the ends of the earth are not promises
fulfilled to the descendent's of David save one, Jesus. (See Daniel 7:13-14; Matthew 28: 18-20). Verse
9 also has Messianic overtones (see Revelation 12:5).
Vs 10 Be wise, O you kings; be instructed rulers of the earth.
Vs 11 Serve God with fear, tremble as you bow down to him.
Vs 12 Render him homage, lest he grow angry with you and you perish from the way, for his
anger ignites suddenly. Happy are those who put their trust in him.
The call to wisdom and instruction, along with the word happy provide verbal and thematic links to
Psalm 1. The rebels are here being called to conversion in light of the Lords will as revealed in Torah,
the revelation of God’s wisdom. “The four invitations have a wisdom flavor, ‘be wise’ ‘be warned’,
’serve…with fear’, ‘kiss.’ (Konrad Schaefer, PSALMS, pg 9.) Whereas the Psalm opened by focusing
on the rebels anger, it closes by warning them concerning God’s. The reference to his anger igniting
reminds us of God’s mood towards the rebels which was colorfully described in verse 5. In verse 2 the
kings stood up against the lord and his Anointed; here they are exhorted and warned to serve God
with fear and trembling and bow down to him.

Psalm 3
Psalm 3 is generally categorized as a Psalm of lament. This may seem odd since the Psalmist
exhibits great trust in God, yet this is a characteristic of the lament psalms. Obviously, if the
Psalmist didn’t have trust in his God the prayer would be mere play acting-for what purpose?
The first verse is a sort of superscription which tells us this is a Psalm of David which he spoke out
during his flight from his rebellious (and favorite) son Absalom. This was of course a very troubled
time for the king, not only because of his son’s revolt, but also because most of his army and one of his
most trusted advisers had joined joined Absalom’s side. David was forced to flee Jerusalem, cross the
Kidron, and ascend the Mount of Olives as his night of trouble began. Many have seen in the defection
of his adviser, Ahithophel, and in his crossing of the Kidron to ascend Olivet, as a foreshadowing of the
events surrounding Jesus “on the night he was betrayed.” (see 2 Samuel 15-18; John 18:1-14; Luke
22:39)
(Note: I’ve followed the numbering of this Psalm as it is found in most modern Bibles. Verse 1
identifies the circumstances of the Psalm, the text of which begins in verse 2. Unless noted otherwise I
am using my own translation here. It should be checked with a recognized translation and not relied
upon as in any way authoritative)
Vs 2 O Lord, how many my enemies have become! Many there are who rise up to oppose me!
Vs 3 Many there are who say of me, “for that one, there is no salvation from God.
Three times the word many (rap) is used in the opening lines. This gives a sense of urgency and,
considering who the many are, a sense of danger. The quote of the many in verse 3 reminds me of
Shimei’s cursing of David as he fled Jerusalem. No doubt the sentiments of that man were echoed by
many (see 2 Sam 16:5-8). Notice the proliferation: 1) the enemies grow; 2) they are active (”rise up”);
3) they declare him destitute on God.
Vs 4 But you are my shield, O Lord, and my glory; you lift up my head.
This verse begins with an emphatic but. In spite of his troubles the Psalmist knows what his enemies
deny. God is with him as his protector (shield), and as his support (lift up my head).
Vs 5 With my voice I cried out to the Lord, from his holy mount he answers me.
Vs 6 I lay myself down to sleep and I wake again, for the Lord holds me up.
Vs 7 I have no fear of the many thousands who stand against me on every side.
The enemies might say he has no salvation from God (vs 3), but with a voice and a cry the lie is put to
that claim for the Lord answers him (vs 5). Though enemies have risen up to oppose him he can lay
down undisturbed in sleep knowing that he will wake again for the Lord holds him up (i.e. sustains
him). Thus he has no fear of the Many thousands (see 2-3) who stand against him.
Vs 8 Arise, O Lord, rescue me, O my God! Strike all my enemies upon the cheek, break the teeth
of these wicked ones.
Vs 9 Salvation is the Lords; your blessings be upon your people.
Against the opponents who have risen to oppose him (vs 2) the Psalmist asks God to arise. These
people had arrogantly claimed that their was no salvation for him from God (vs 3), as if they had a say
in whom the Lord would save, and upon whom he would shed his blessing. That their teeth be smashed
for speaking such things is seen as fitting punishment

Psalm 4
Psalm 4 is given the title “trust in God” by the New American Bible. This is a fitting title as verses
1, 3, 5 and 8 show. Within the Catholic and Orthodox traditions this psalm is often used as a
night prayer (see vss 4 and 8). The Psalm opens with a statement by the psalmist that God has
heard his prayer (vs 1). This is followed in verses 2-6 with admonitions and advice by the psalmist
to his detractors. He is not so much attempting to put them right with himself, but, rather, with
God. The psalm ends as it began, by addressing God (vss 7-8) [Please note, I am using an modern
translation of psalm 4 from the WEB Bible. Other translations may employ a slightly different verse
numbering system.]
4:1 Answer me when I call, God of my righteousness.
Give me relief from my distress.
Have mercy on me, and hear my prayer.

The first part of verse 1 sounds bold, almost imperative. It reflects the psalmist trust and confidence in
his God. In his conflict with others (see vs 2) he is confident that he is in the right and that, therefore,
the God of his righteousness will help him. Due to these enemies the psalmist is in distress. The
Hebrew word used here is tsar (tsawr), a word meaning constrained. He is being pressed upon by his
foes in some way. Perhaps they are seeking to limit his freedom, or worse, hinder his relations with
God. Whatever the case may be, he prays for relief. Literally he prays to be enlarged, to be given space
space from his enemies (rachab= raw- khab). The psalmist is confident that God will show him mercy
by hearing his prayer.
4:2 You sons of men, how long shall my glory be turned into dishonor? Will you love vanity, and
seek after falsehood?
The superscription of this Psalm attributes it to David. Is the glory of David which is being dishonored
to be understood as his kingship, or is the word glory being used here as synonymous with honor?
Another possibility is that my glory is a reference to God, whom the psalmist’s enemies are mocking
Since kingship is not mentioned anywhere in this psalm it seems likely that one of the latter views is
likely. Vanity and falsehood are often associated with idolatry in the OT
Vanity is the Hebrew word riyq (reek). This words designates emptiness. It is, as just noted, used at
times for idols (1 Sam 12:21).
Falsehood is the Hebrew word kazab (kaw-zawb). It is used of idols in Psalm 40:5, Amos 2:4 and
elsewhere.
4:3 But know that Yahweh has set apart for himself him who is godly: Yahweh will hear when I
call to him. Godly would perhaps be better translated as faithful. Because of his faith the just man is
heard (see James 5:16). The psalmist has confidence in this based it would seem on personal
experience.
4:4 Stand in awe, and don’t sin. Search your own heart on your bed, and be still.
Many translations read “tremble,” others read “do not be angry,” rather than stand in awe. The word
ragaz (raw-gaz) is in the Qal form and can be translated in any of these ways. Parallelism, which is a
very popular Hebrew poetical device suggests this translation: “tremble and do not sin. Speak in your
own heart on your bed and be still.” The parallel is contrasting. One in a right relationship to God
trembles (In fear or awe of God) and does not sin. Rather he can lay upon his bed in stillness and
ponder the things of God (e.g the law, see psalm 1). (Notice that in the translation I just gave I
translated as “speak in your own heart…,” this is the literal rendering and its importance will become
clear below).
4:5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. Put your trust in Yahweh.
If they trembled (had awe/fear) of God they would not have to have been told to “sin not.” Because
they loved the vanity and falsehood (vs 2) which is idolatry they are being bidden here to worship Go
rightly and to trust in him rather than idols. The word righteous used here reminds us of the opening of
the psalm wherein God was termed God of my righteousness.
4:6 Many say, “Who will show us any good? Yahweh, let the light of your face shine on us.”
4:7 You have put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and their new wine are
increased. 4:8 In peace I will both lay myself down and sleep, for you, Yahweh alone, make me
live in safety.
(I have modified the translation here. The WEB Bible does not extend the quotation of the many in
verse 6 beyond the word Good.)
Notice that in verse 6 who will show us any good is followed by a call upon God (Yahweh). This
suggests to me that the many tend to think of Yahweh as just one God among others who can be called
on for help. In contrast to this the psalmist has exhibited an unwavering trust in God. He is unworried
about who will show him good for Yahweh has put gladness in his heart. This gladness is greater than
that which the many have when they enjoy an abundance of wine and grain. In keeping with my
speculation about idolatry I will note that the people often worshiped fertility gods like Baal in order to
ensure a plentiful harvest, even while worshiping Yahweh for the same reason. The psalmist however
trust in Yahweh who alone makes him secure (vs 8)

Psalm 5
Note: I’m using the World English Bible for the text of psalm 5. The verse numbering of this bible
differ from some other.
We saw that Psalm 4 was characterized as an evening prayer. Psalm 5 is generally held to be a
morning prayer (vs 3). Perhaps we are to see a connection between the two psalms (Note the
similar openings: Psalm 4:1=Psalm 5:1-3. Also, note that both close with the theme of God
providing security: 4:9=5:11-12).

5:1 Give ear to my words, Yahweh.


Consider my meditation.
5:2 Listen to the voice of my cry, my King and my God;
for to you do I pray.
5:3 Yahweh, in the morning you shall hear my voice.
In the morning I will lay my requests before you, and will watch expectantly.

The opening shows that this is a song of lament or, as it is sometimes termed, a song of complaint (see
footnote 1, NAB). The Psalmist calls upon God with three imperatives: “give ear“, “consider“, and
“listen“. Such imperatives are typical of complaint psalms and serve to highlight the petitioners
confidence in God. Such confidence is also seen in his referring to the Lord as “my King and my
God.” This confidence and insistent prayer is typical of biblical prayers (see Luke 11:5-13; and 18:1-8.
See also CCC 2610 and 2613).

Vs 1 Give ear to my words, Yahweh. Consider my meditation. Because he takes refuge in the Lord
who defends and blesses the righteous (vss 11-12), the psalmist is able to call upon God in confidence.
He asks God to consider what he has to say. The word consider in the Hebrew text is in the Qal tense
and would better be translated as “understand”. What God is to understand is his meditation. The just
man, says psalm 1, delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates on the law of the Lord day and night.
(see psalm 1:2), but sinners will not stand at the judgment (See psalm 1:6 compare with Psalm 5:5, 10
WEB ).

Vs 2 My king and my God. Personalizes the prayer. In ancient Israel a king wasn’t just a ruler, he was
also a judge and defender of those who were in the right regarding legal and religious laws (see 1
Kings 3:18-27; 2 Sam 14:4-24). It appears that the psalmist is engaged in some form of legal
contention with his adversaries and expects God to judge the case (see notes on vs 3). My God is the
more personal part of the address. It is followed by the words for to you do I pray. Why this
emphasis? Are we to understand that his enemies are in the habit of praying to other Gods?.

Vs 3 Yahweh in the morning you shall hear my voice. Both the liturgy and legal proceedings were
heard in the morning. Some scholars suggest that the psalmist facing is am unjust legal accusation but
is confident that he will receive a favorable judgment and as a result will offer a morning sacrifice in
the temple (see 5: 7 WEB).

Cont. Vs 3 In the morning I will lay my request before you, and will watch expectantly. The
Psalmist will watch (literally, “look up”) to God for an answer (see Psalm 123). Again the psalmist
expresses confidence that God will hear and answer him, because he knows that the Lord watches over
the way of the just (see psalm 1:6. Also Psalm 121). This Looking up to God with confidence is based
also on the Psalmist’s knowledge of the state of the wicked in God’s sight. (note the word play)
5:4 For you are not a God who has pleasure in wickedness.
Evil can’t live with you.
cb(5,5); 5:5 The arrogant shall not stand in your sight.
You hate all workers of iniquity.
cb(5,6); 5:6 You will destroy those who speak lies.
Yahweh abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

Vs 4 For- acts as a conjunctive linking up what is said here about God with the confidence expressed
by the Psalmist in verse 3. Wickedness- the Hebrew word is resha (reh-shah) which is often used in
the Bible to describe those who pervert ethics or civil law. Evil cannot live (dwell, sojourn) with you-
This could mean that no evil dwells in God. However, since the word is also used for dwelling in God’s
tent (Psalm 15:2; 61:5) the meaning could be that evil men will sooner or later be exposed and cast out
from worshiping at the temple (contrast with verse 7).
Vs 5 The arrogant shall not stand in your sight- Forms a nice contrast with the Psalmist’s attitude in
verse 3. The Psalmist humbly Lays his requests before the Lord and watches (looks up) expectantly
for a response; on the other hand, the arrogant (those who make a spectacle of themselves in relation
to God and men) cannot b stand in God’s sight.
You hate all workers on iniquity- See3 Job 31:2-3–”For what is the portion from God
above, and the heritage from the Almighty on high? Is it not calamity to the unrighteous,
and disaster to the workers of iniquity?”

Vs 6 You will destroy those who speak lies- Again, this is probably referring to false accusers or
witnesses in a legal (civil or religious) case. The prophets of the OT often condemned perjury and
giving false witness, along with other perversions of the legal system (see Amos 5:7, 10; Isa 1:23;
5:18-24).
2476 False witness and perjury. When it is made publicly, a statement contrary to the
truth takes on a particular gravity. In court it becomes false witness. 276 When it is
under oath, it is perjury. Acts such as these contribute to condemnation of the
innocent, exoneration of the guilty, or the increased punishment of the accused. 277
They gravely compromise the exercise of justice and the fairness of judicial
decisions. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)

5:7 But as for me, in the abundance of your loving kindness I will come into your house. I will
bow toward your holy temple in reverence of you.
But as for me- establishes a strong contrast with the preceding verses which described both the sinners
state and God’s attitude towards sinners. Because of the Lord’s loving kindness the Psalmist will come
into the your (God’s) house, unlike the wicked whom the God of loving kindness is said to take no
pleasure in, for evil will not live (dwell) with God. Only those who, like the psalmist, bow toward the
holy temple (vs 7) can stand in God’s sight (vs 5)

5:8 Lead me, Yahweh, in your righteousness because of my enemies.


Make your way straight before my face.
cb(5,9); 5:9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth.
Their heart is destruction.
Their throat is an open tomb.
They flatter with their tongue.
cb(5,10); 5:10 Hold them guilty, God.
Let them fall by their own counsels;
Thrust them out in the multitude of their transgressions,
for they have rebelled against you.

Vs 8 lead me in your righteousness- Having established God’s superiority and power over the
unrighteous, the psalmist calls upon God to lead him in the face (before, in the presence of) his enemies
for reasons given in verse 9.
Vs 9 heart is destruction…throat…tongue- these references call to mind the bloodthirsty and
deceitful whom the Lord abhors (see vs 6)
Vs 10 let them fall by their own counsels; thrust them out..- That those who do evil trap themselves
in their wickedness is a very common motif in the wisdom literature. Also, again we think of the words
the arrogant shall not stand in your sight (vs 5).
5:11 But let all those who take refuge in you rejoice,
Let them always shout for joy, because you defend them.
Let them also who love your name be joyful in you.
cb(5,12); 5:12 For you will bless the righteous.
Yahweh, you will surround him with favor as with a shield.
Vs 11 But let all those who take refuge in you- provides a contrast with the preceding verses,
especially the words Let them fall by their own counsels. Those who rejoice in God and are
defended by him stand in marked contrast to those who rebel and are thrust out.
Vs 12 the righteous… you will surround- a contrast is drawn between the righteous whom God
surrounds, and the rebels who are (as it were) surrounded by the multitude of their transgressions
and whom, as a result, are thrust out from God’s presence since they cannot enjoy his protection (see
vs 10).

Psalm 6
I’m using the Douay-Rheims translation of the Psalm, but following the verse numbering of more
modern translations
Psalm six is the first of the so-called Penitential Psalms. It is a cry for mercy in the midst of a grave
illness.
6:1 Is a title which, among other things, attributes the Psalm to David.
6:2 O Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy wrath (see Ps. 2:5). The
Hebrew word for rebuke is yakach, which means “to be right”, and, by implication, to have just cause.
Used causatively here it means rebuke, reprove. Essentially, by using this word in this way, the
Psalmist is admitting his fault and the rightness of his punishment, but also asking that justice be
tempered with mercy. This he can do on the basis of God’s covenant relation. Concerning the
relationship between God’s justice, mercy, and the covenant, one can profitably read article 4 of Pope
John Paul’s Dives in Misericordia.
The Hebrew word for God’s indignation is aph, which refers to the nose. A person who is indignant or
angry tends to breathe heavily, in an impassioned way. This description of God’s attitude towards the
Psalmist is not without meaning, as will become clear further on. Chastise me in thy wrath. The word
for chastise can refer (literally) either to physical blows or a verbal brow-beating. It came to refer to
punishment in general, as is the case here. The word for wrath is chemah, and it derives from a word
meaning “hot” or “burning.” The Lord’s anger is at a fever pitch, in light of the psalmist’s own
sickness, possibly brought on by a fever, this description is rather interesting.
6:2 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak: heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. The
previous verse contained two imperatives (rebuke me not, chastise me not), as does this verse (have
mercy on me, heal me). The Psalmist has done something to offend God, this is rather clear from the
first two imperatives and from the call for mercy. The Hebrew word for mercy used here is
chanan,=bend or stoop down: a figure of benevolent condescension. In spite of his sins he can rely on
God for mercy on the basis of the covenant even though God is right (righteous, just) in rebuking him
(recall the comment on rebuke above).
“The concept of “mercy” in the Old Testament has a long and rich history. We have to refer back
to it in order that the mercy revealed by Christ may shine forth more clearly. By revealing that
mercy both through His actions and through His teaching, Christ addressed Himself to people
who not only knew the concept of mercy, but who also, as the People of God of the Old Covenant,
had drawn from their age - long history a special experience of the mercy of God. This experience
was social and communal, as well as individual and interior.
Israel was, in fact, the people of the covenant with God, a covenant that it broke many times.
Whenever it became aware of its infidelity - and in the history of Israel there was no lack of
prophets and others who awakened this awareness-it appealed to mercy. In this regard, the books
of the Old Testament give us very many examples. Among the events and texts of greater
importance one may recall: the beginning of the history of the Judges,31 the prayer of Solomon
at the inauguration of the Temple,32 part of the prophetic work of Micah,33 the consoling
assurances given by Isaiah,34 the cry of the Jews in exile,35 and the renewal of the covenant after
the return from exile.36
It is significant that in their preaching the prophets link mercy, which they often refer to because
of the people’s sins, with the incisive image of love on God’s part. The Lord loves Israel with the
love of a special choosing, much like the love of a spouse,37 and for this reason He pardons its
sins and even its infidelities and betrayals. When He finds repentance and true conversion, He
brings His people back to grace.38 In the preaching of the prophets, mercy signifies a special
power of love, which prevails over the sin and infidelity of the chosen people.
In this broad “social” context, mercy appears as a correlative to the interior experience of
individuals languishing in a state of guilt or enduring every kind of suffering and misfortune.
Both physical evil and moral evil, namely sin, cause the sons and daughters of Israel to turn to
the Lord and beseech His mercy. In this way David turns to Him, conscious of the seriousness of
his guilt39; Job too, after his rebellion, turns to Him in his tremendous misfortune40; so also does
Esther, knowing the mortal threat to her own people.4142 And we find still other examples in the
books of the Old Testament.
At the root of this many-sided conviction, which is both communal and personal, and which is
demonstrated by the whole of the Old Testament down the centuries, is the basic experience of
the chosen people at the Exodus: the Lord saw the affliction of His people reduced to slavery,
heard their cry, knew their sufferings and decided to deliver them.43 In this act of salvation by
the Lord, the prophet perceived his love and compassion.44 This is precisely the grounds upon
which the people and each of its members based their certainty of the mercy of God, which can
be invoked whenever tragedy strikes.
Added to this is the fact that sin too constitutes man’s misery. The people of the Old Covenant
experienced this misery from the time of the Exodus, when they set up the golden calf. The Lord
Himself triumphed over this act of breaking the covenant when He solemnly declared to Moses
that He was a “God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and
faithfulness.”45 It is in this central revelation that the chosen people, and each of its members,
will find, every time that they have sinned, the strength and the motive for turning to the Lord to
remind Him of what He had exactly revealed about Himself46 and to beseech His forgiveness.
Thus, in deeds and in words, the Lord revealed His mercy from the very beginnings of the people
which He chose for Himself; and, in the course of its history, this people continually entrusted
itself, both when stricken with misfortune and when it became aware of its sin, to the God of
mercies. All the subtleties of love become manifest in the Lord’s mercy towards those who are His
own: He is their Father,47 for Israel is His firstborn son48; the Lord is also the bridegroom of her
whose new name the prophet proclaims: Ruhamah, “Beloved” or “she has obtained pity.”49
Even when the Lord is exasperated by the infidelity of His people and thinks of finishing with it,
it is still His tenderness and generous love for those who are His own which overcomes His anger.
50 Thus it is easy to understand why the psalmists, when they desire to sing the highest praises of

the Lord, break forth into hymns to the God of love, tenderness, mercy and fidelity. (Pope John Paul
II)

For my bones are troubled (bahal=trembling). This part of the verse gives the motive by which the
Psalmist hopes god will act. The beginning of the next verse supplies a second, somewhat parallel
motive.
6:3 And my soul is troubled exceedingly: but thou, O Lord, how long? The word soul here is
nephes. The word can refer to any being that breathes. The Psalmists breath, and hence his life-
principle, is in danger exceedingly (Hebrew: meod= vehemently). He is having trouble catching his
breath, he is fighting for air. He applies the same word to his breathing which he had applied to his
soul (troubled, trembling). Recall that God’s indignation (aph) was described as heavy due to
impassioned anger (verse 1). The calming of God’s angry breathing, his indignation, will result in the
easy breathing of the Psalmist.
But thou, O Lord, how long? The Psalmist’s life is in danger (verse 5) and his question is really a
subtle request for a quick response from God. Here we see the Psalmist’s certitude concerning the
mercy of God rather than an implied doubt.
6:4 Turn to me, O Lord, and deliver my soul: O save me for thy mercy’s sake. Two more
imperatives are addressed to God (turn, deliver), along with another motivating factor (for thy mercy’s
sake). The word soul-nephes-appears again. The Psalmist calling upon God to turn to me recalls his
earlier plea for mercy, where the word chanan was used (verse 2).
6:5 For there is no one in death, that is mindful of thee: and who shall confess to thee in hell?
Provides another motive for God to act: there is no liturgy in hell. See the footnote #5 to Psalm 6 in the
NAB. See also various translations of the verse. The Old Testament did not have a fully developed
concept of the after life. The Psalmist, being near death is unable to go to the temple and participate in
its liturgy, consequently, he was already no better off than the dead. With the death and resurrection of
Christ, the faithful departed do in fact participate in liturgy, as Hebrews 12:22-25, and the Book of
Revelation makes clear.
6:6 I have laboured in my groanings, every night I will wash my bed: I will water my couch with
my tears. The word for labored is yaga, which means “to gasp,” thus the psalmist continues to focus
upon the danger to his nephes,-his soul, breath, life force. He can find no rest or relief even in sleep,
for he cries copiously for his sins and the afflictions of mind and body which they have occasioned.
The Psalmist doesn’t simply say he “washes” his bed with tears, he literally inundates it (sachah). He
washes (literally dissolves) his couch with his tears. One recalls the ancient Christian tradition that St
Peter, as a result of the memory of his denial of our blessed Lord, cried so often at the memory of it that
the tears etched a path into his cheeks.
6:7 My eye is troubled through indignation: I have grown old amongst all my enemies. The
Psalmist says (more properly than in our translation) that his eye is shrinking, i.e., his sight is failing.
Pain, affliction, and failing eyesight has made him old before his time. The word used here for
indignation is different than that used to describe God’s anger towards the Psalmist in verse 2. A better
translation would be “vexation,” “grief,” or “frustration.” Whether this is an effect of his sin, or
whether it is caused by his enemies is hard to determine. The enemies appear rather suddenly as a
topic, perhaps the Psalmist has refrained from mentioning them until now in order to get himself right
with God first. If a man has made God an enemy by his sins he can hardly expect God to help him with
his other enemies (see Numbers 14).
6:8 Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity: for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.
The Psalmist has by God’s mercy and through repentance attained to a right relationship with God.
Having implored him in verse 4 to turn (shub) to me, He can now with confidence issue his enemies
an imperative: depart (sur) from me. The motive for this imperative is that he is no longer among the
workers of iniquity for the lord has heard the voice of his weeping.
6:9 The Lord hath heard my supplication: the Lord hath received my prayer. Yet another motive
for the departure of the enemies.
6:10 Let all my enemies be ashamed, and be very much troubled: let them be turned back, and
be ashamed very speedily. The Psalmist prays that his enemies be ashamed-literally, pale, as if they
themselves have come down with a sickness. The trouble (trembling) he experienced in body and soul
as a result of God’s anger (see verses 2-3) is requested as an affliction against them. Is this request
made by the Psalmist in hope that it will lead them to repent? Again the Psalmist prays that they be
turned back. Once again he asks that they be ashamed (pale), and that this take place speedily.