Penal Substitutionary Atonement in Psalm 5

Brief Notes on Psalm 5

The Word of God speaks to us about Christ Jesus our Lord from beginning to end. It is, therefore, right and necessary for us to consider the fact that Scripture is first about Christ, and only secondarily about man. The Scriptures speak of Christ in a few ways. The Old Testament presents our Lord to us in a progressive unfolding of typological prophecies and propositional prophecies. In contrast to this, the New Testament presents Christ to us as the One who ties together types, shadows, and propositions concerning the One who is to come, the Sacrifice, the Greater King of Israel, the Anointed One who is Greater than David. The question of whether or not Christ re-interpreted the Old Testament needs to be clarified, therefore, for the Lord Jesus did indeed re-interpret the Old Testament Scriptures from one point of view, namely that of the Jews who were reading Scripture incorrectly. These Jews believed the text was concerned primarily with them, whereas Christ informs them that the Scriptures are actually about Him.[ cf. John 5:39-47] It is in light of this fact then that we will proceed to look at Psalm 5; we will ask the Holy Spirit to show us Christ in the text. This is not a matter of reading New Testament ideas into the Old Testament text, for the New Testament draws its doctrines from the Old Testament Scriptures which receive their fulfillment in the coming of the Messiah Christ. Instead, it is a matter of reading the Scriptures as Christ intended for us to read them – seeing the love of the Father for His people in sending His Son to be a Substitutionary Sacrifice in their stead, so that they may be forgiven and filled with the Holy Spirit who will conform them to the image of Him who died for them.

We begin by noting that in this psalm there are two groups of people, viz the righteous and the unrighteous. This distinction must be clarified, lest the legalists come along and claim that David was righteous in himself. David explains where this righteousness comes from: (i.)the love of God (v.7), (ii.)the substitutionary sacrifice (v.3b), and (iii.)the impartation of righteousness from God to David. We will look at this in some more detail, but it is necessary that we further differentiate between the two types of righteousness in this text. The first righteousness is that which comes from being justified freely by the grace of God, evidenced in the love of God in His acceptance of an innocent sacrifice that stands in the place of the sinner who justly deserves condemnation. This, it appears to me at least, seems to be the case in this psalm. David states that it is by the love of God that he will enter into God’s house. This logically must precede the offering of a sacrifice. Therefore, we note that this first righteousness is not imparted to David but imputed to him. David is not made righteous by his offering a sacrifice, he is accepted as righteous on the basis of the wrath of God being expiated by the blood of the sacrifice. This is shown by two facts: (a.)David prays to God on the basis of his offering of a sacrifice,[ cf. vv.1-2] and (b.)David’s transition from sacrifice to God’s hatred of wickedness is stated in this way, “For You are not a God who delights in wickedness…” (v.4a). The use of the preposition for seems to connect David’s thoughts about God’s hatred of wickedness with the reason why David offers up a sacrifice. So We see that David is not accepted by God on the basis of his own merits, but on the basis of the blood sacrifice, the substitute ordained for him by God in His love.

This is further emphasized by the antithetical parallel David draws between how it is he can enter into God’s presence, and why it is that the wicked are cast out from God’s presence. Those enter into God’s presence do so “through the abundance of [God’s] love.”[ v. 7a] Contrarily, those who are cast out of the presence of God eternally receive the wages of sin “because of the abundance of their transgressions.”[ v. 10b] David identifies himself as righteous,[ cf. v.12] but he does not point to his own works and say: “By the abundance of my love for Your, O Lord, I will enter into Your presence.” Rather, it is because God first loved David that David can in turn seek to be conformed to the image of Christ. This is, we should note, made clear by the preceding verse which reads as follows:

“Let all who take refuge in You rejoice.”[ v. 11a]

And this refuge is in Christ, Son of God and Son of David, for it is written:

“Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”

In love, God has ordained substitution for His elect people; the wicked, however, have not had substitution provided for them. Therefore, David says: “You bless the righteous, O Lord; You cover him with favor as with a shield.”[ v. 12] And there are no such words for the wicked. For it is written: “Evil may not dwell with You.”[ v. 4b] Likewise, the prophet explains: “You hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.”[ v. 6]And the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of David, says: “Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels…”[ v.10] This, once again, makes it clear that the difference between the righteous and the guilty is not primarily moral but forensic: the righteous have a sacrifice to stand in their place, while the wicked must bear their own guilt. This is the first manner in which we encounter our Lord Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.[ cf. John 1:29] For apart from the love of God providing a sacrifice for those whom He has chosen to show favor to, there is no hope for David, he is, like the wicked, condemned by the Law of God. For he himself says elsewhere: “Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You.”[ Ps 143:2] And again, he asks: “Who can discern his errors?”[ Ps 19:12] By the first he establishes that all men are guilty before God and cannot stand the piercing scrutiny of His Law; by the second, he establishes the fact that all men, even those who are repentant believers (such as David was), are ignorant of the degree of wretchedness that exists within them.

“The righteous,” therefore, are those who have been justified by faith alone, through the blood of the innocent Substitute alone, and who are now being led by God in His righteousness.[ cf. v.8] And it is in this way that we see that Christ is typified by the sacrifice that differentiates God’s people from His enemies. The sacrifice is that which removes their guilt, and those without the sacrifice remain in their guilt. The sacrifice bears the sins of the elect people of God, but the wicked must bear their own sins. The sacrifice makes the elect people, and consequently their worship as well, acceptable to God. The wicked, however, will be cast out of the presence of God forever. David’s hope is in God’s Word, His unfailing mercy, and His perfect faithfulness to His promises. Nowhere do we read of even a hint of David’s pride in his own good works as being somehow related, in a meritorious manner, to his justification, his right standing before God. David understands that there is no justification by faith and works. And this should rebuke those who seek to be justified by their own righteousness, which is no righteousness at all. For if David was a man after God’s own heart, and David’s whole confidence was not in himself but in the Substitutionary Sacrifice of Atonement provided for him by God, then why is it that legalists seek to be justified by the works of the Law? It should also encourage us, however, for the same reason; for if David was a sinner who had no hope in his own righteousness, a sinner whose whole dependence was upon the grace and mercy of God, and he was yet a man after God’s own heart, then we see that the loving favor of God is not something that we earn or lose on the basis of our own works.

Sola Gratia.



One thought on “Penal Substitutionary Atonement in Psalm 5

  1. Heather says:

    I love the Psalms:)

    we see that the loving favor of God is not something that we earn or lose on the basis of our own works.

    Interesting that you posted on this as I was recently considering the reality of this last sentiment.


involve yourself

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