Psalm 17 – A Cry for Intervention

Fleeing for his life, David is calling on Jehovah to intervene and save him and his followers from the enemy.

1.  A prayer of David. Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.
2.  Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; let thine eyes behold the things that are equal.

It seems that most of the translations I have at my disposal say “Hear the right,  O Lord”  which is a strange sentence, because of the use of the word “right,” – what exactly does that mean?  In this Psalm, “right” means “righteous.”  David’s claim is that he is a righteous person living a righteous life and that means he is living honestly in morals and ethics. I like the way Brenton’s English Septuagint translates it, it seems to clear up the phrase and makes more sense: “Harken, O Lord of my righteousness.”  So, David is asking the Lord to take note of his righteousness, but … he is also giving credit to God for the righteousness he has.

He asks to be heard.  He professes that his words are true and are not deceitful.  He continues, asking that God listen to his request and to his prayer – and again, he is claiming that he has done no wrong and that he is not speaking with feigned lips – that is, he is not lying or being deceitful.

In verse two David is requesting that God only would judge him and not men, because it is only God who knows him through and through and he is ready to hear and accept God’s ruling. The King James (and most other versions) gives the wording of the second phrase in verse two as: “let thine eyes behold things that are equal.” I think that here, David is stating his trust in the judgment of God – because God will look at each side of the conflict and hold each to be equal to the other – innocent until proven guilty, if-you-will, taking no sides – and then arrive at a judgment.  This whole verse reflects David’s confidence that God will find him to be the righteous one.

Look Inside My Heart …

3.  Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.

David focuses on his inner self and the things he does in public and in private.  He lists evidence of his righteousness, telling the Lord that he can watch him and He will see that he is as he claims.   He says the Lord has tested his heart; that He has visited David at night, (a time of a man’s most private hours to witness what he does in solitude);  and that He has tested him in difficult situations.

The Oxford Annotated Bible has it translated as a sort of challenge, saying: “If you question my heart; if you visit me in the night ; if you test me with fire; then you will see my righteousness — I have done nothing to be ashamed of.”  Translations really differ don’t they?

See My Relationship to the World:

4.  Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.
5.  Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.

He is shifting focus now,  looking at his actions in the world of men – the world that is around him.  He has guarded himself from the paths of the destroyer, that is, sinful ways that other men fall into.  How does he guard himself?  By the words that come from the mouth of God. He credits the word of God, (“by the word of thy lips), to be the reason that he has kept away from the violence of men and his will is to remain in the paths laid out by the Lord. “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”   It is not on his own strength, but on the power in the word of God that he is able to keep on the straight and narrow.

You are the God Who Answers

6  I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech.
7  Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them.
8  Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings,
9  From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about.

When David calls, he knows God will answer. It is because the Lord listens that David calls to Him and asks God to hear his prayer. Our Lord is a living God; He loves His children and will listen when they call on Him. David asks God to show the wonder of his love through the saving of those who place their trust in God from their enemies and that God continue to protect and even hide him.  The visuals “apple of your eye” and hiding under the wings are powerful pictures of blessing and protection.

I was asked why he chose “apple of the eye” as a picture of favor.  I don’t know about the cultural aspects, but think about your own experience.  Let’s say you include an apple in your lunch.  You might eat it as a sort of dessert during lunch or may save it for later.  I am willing to bet that when you decided to put it in your lunch, you were thinking about how good it would taste at the end of the day when you are weary from work and are wanting something sweet, crisp, fresh and juicy to satisfy your thirst.  You have that apple in mind – it is the “apple-of-your-eye.”  You are satisfied with it.

Enemy Characteristics

10  They are inclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly.
11  They have now compassed us in our steps: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth;
12  Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places.

These passages describe people who, it seems to me are wealthy – at least successful in what they do – and perhaps the bit about pride refers back to this phrase of being enclosed in their own fat.  This is a reference to great success brings pride and boasting, that is, “fat.”  Speaking proudly is, most commonly, a result of success.

Now we find that David is not alone.  It is not only against him that wrongs were being done, but also against those who follow him.  His enemies have surrounded them and it seems that wherever they go the enemies are there and watching.  The enemy is intent upon watching them, like a lion (which we have encountered in a previous Psalm) that is stalking it’s prey, they are intent upon the object of their attention with eyes never wavering from it.

“Bowing down to the earth” is puzzling.  I first considered a cat that has its eye on a bird – while it is watching its actions and waiting for an opportune time, the cat is crouched down and often times the muzzle is tilted toward the ground. I think it is a way of maybe disguising its form or hiding the eyes or perhaps it keeps the muscles around the eyes relaxed so that less distortion is created, giving the best eyesight possible, getting ready for the pounce.  I don’t know.  I decided I was stretching a bit, so I went to the commentaries.

One commentary considers the eye bowing to the earth as a way of showing that the enemy watches the very ground upon which the righteous have walked, looking for any misstep they might have made for which they can be accused of wrong-doing [Psalms].  Another states that the posture shows fraudulence and hypocrisy.  When people are not truthful they often divert their eyes, looking down (to the ground) as if they were harmless, hiding their lies and intent [Gill].  Still another refers to the huntsman, tracking the footprint of the prey. This fits in nicely with the image of the lion, waiting in secret for its prey [Clarke].  Again, back at Clarke’s commentary (and others) the image is of Saul who was powerful in his kingship and was fierce in his pouncing on his enemy.

David’s plea

13  Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword:
14  From men which are thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world, which have their portion in this life, and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes.
15  As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

Now David’s plea: He cries to God to step between he and the wicked – most commentators believe this to be Saul – just as the lion is leaping, and cast him down.  He continues with a plea to spare his life and save his soul.  Here is a phrase that needs to be read and re-read because at first reading it gives the impression that the wicked is the sword of God.  While we have seen in scripture that God has used pagans and the wicked to discipline Israel, that is not what it means here.  “Which is thy sword” refers back to David’s own soul.  It is like he is saying not to let the weapon of the Lord fall into the hands of the wicked.

Disappoint, as used here,  seems to be too mild a word and it seems that it may be poorly chosen (shame on me for questioning the scholars of the 1600’s!).  The Hebrew word means “to anticipate, to go before, to prevent.”  So, he is asking more than to just disappoint the enemy – he would have God intercede before the two parties came to blows.

He continues this plea in verse 14 and here, again we run into a phrase that seems to say that the wicked are the hand of God.  Looking at other translations, they all seem to prefer the wording “From men, by thy hand, O Lord.”  This makes sense to me: “… deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword: From men, by thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world … .”

He goes on to tell that these men are men of the world who have their portion in this life.  God has provided for them, just as he does for His own children, but they have hid God’s treasure – that is they have hoarded it up and kept it secret. “They are full of children” is another strange phrase.  Barnes comments that this expresses that the sons are satisfied.  What this is saying is that they have enough to satisfy both them and their children and leave an inheritance as well.

Verse 15 David contrasts his desires with the desires of the men of the world.  When he wakes from death in his righteousness he will see the face of God – that is his satisfaction;  that is his reward and he will trust God for the fulfillment of that reward.

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[Note: A list of the references may be found on the page entitled “Bibliography.”  This is kept separate from the articles on Psalms so the list may be used for other pages as well as posts not related to Psalms.]

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