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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Psalms 17



Verse 1-2

The urgency with which David called on God to heed his petition suggests that he was in a very difficult position. He claimed to be representing a just cause as he made his request, and he assured God he was speaking the truth in what he was about to say. He visualized God as the celestial Judge and asked for a fair ruling in His court. In what follows, the cry for investigation of David"s situation ( Psalm 17:3-5) and vindication of David"s person ( Psalm 17:6-15) continues.

Verses 1-5

1. The plea of the righteous17:1-5

Verses 1-15

Psalm 17

The content of this lament psalm is similar to that of the preceding one, except that the danger David faced when he wrote this psalm was more threatening. Again he viewed himself as a person committed to God who lived among many others who lived for the present. He prayed for deliverance from their oppression and anticipated the future in God"s presence. A strong concern for righteousness pervades the entire psalm (cf. Psalm 17:1-2; Psalm 17:15).

This is one of five psalms that identify themselves as prayers (cf86; 90; 102; and142; see also Psalm 72:20 and Habakkuk 3:1.). There are at least a dozen Hebrew words for prayer, and the one used here, tepilla, means "to intervene." Since most of the psalms were prayers, it is unusual that only five call themselves "prayers." Perhaps this Hebrew word had other connotations as well, possibly indicating a tune to be used in corporate worship.

Verse 3

David was not asking for acceptance by God because of his own righteousness. He claimed that in the present conflict, in which evil people were opposing him, he had done nothing worthy of their antagonism. God had examined David"s attitudes, as well as his actions, and had no basis for condemning him. Furthermore, David had previously made a strong commitment not to sin.

". . . he requests God to "test" his "heart" (see Psalm 7:9), i.e, to put him through every conceivable examination. The probing (bahan, see Psalm 7:9) of "the heart" ( Psalm 17:3 a) is a determination of the purity and integrity of the heart. Even as silver and gold underwent a refining process and were tested until the smith was satisfied with the purity of these precious metals, so the psalmist asks for an examination of his purity of devotion to God." [Note: VanGemeren, p162.]

Verse 4-5

David also claimed to have kept free from sinners" ways with the help of God"s Word. He had pursued God"s revealed way to live consistently.

Verse 6-7

The psalmist based his request on God"s loyal love for him as seen in His deliverance of those who take refuge in Him. He called on God to deliver him immediately.

Verses 6-12

2. The petition for protection17:6-12

David asked God to keep him from the wicked in the world who are vicious and proud.

Verse 8

The apple of the eye evidently refers to the pupil, the source of sight. With this figure, David was asking God to keep him in the center of His vision, not to let him out of His sight but to keep His eye on him. David also expressed his need for God"s careful protection, using the image of a bird protecting its young under its wings (cf. Deuteronomy 32:10-11; Ruth 2:12; Matthew 23:37).

Verses 9-12

Whatever the situation in David"s life was to which he referred in this Psalm , it is clear from these verses that David"s enemies were surrounding him (figuratively if not literally, cf. Psalm 22:12-18). They determined to kill him. They appear to have been confident of their success, too. Their eyes were on David even as the Lord"s were ( Psalm 17:8 a), but there was hatred in their gaze. Rather than protecting him lovingly as a mother bird ( Psalm 17:8 b), they were out to tear him apart and devour him as a lion does its prey, by sneaking around and attacking. The lion is a symbol of brute strength and a ferocious appetite (cf. Judges 14:14), and so provides a fitting picture of the wicked (cf. Psalm 7:2; Psalm 10:9; Psalm 22:13).

Verse 13-14

David"s mention of the Lord"s sword may mean he expected God to use a human army to deliver him, or this may be just a metaphorical way of speaking about deliverance. His description of the wicked draws attention to the fact that they live only for the present. They are content with the many blessings God gives all people in this life through His "common grace." They occupy themselves entirely with their families and estates to the exclusion of spiritual matters.

Verses 13-15

3. The prospect for the future17:13-15

Verse 15

In contrast to the wicked, David found his greatest delight in God, not in the temporal things of this world (cf. Philippians 3:19-20). Some readers have assumed this verse refers to David"s hope of seeing God after he died. However, the preceding verses seem to point to a contrast: the preoccupation of the wicked with earthly things versus the preoccupation of David with God during their lifetimes. The awaking in view, then, would not be a reference to resurrection but to waking up from sleep day by day. Of course, David would one day really see God, but this verse does not seem to be describing that event. It speaks rather of David"s enjoyment of God"s presence before death (cf. Matthew 5:8; Titus 1:15). David"s concern was more God"s face and God"s likeness than his future resurrection.

In times of opposition from godless people whose whole lives revolve around material matters, God"s faithful followers can enjoy God"s fellowship now. They can also look forward to divine deliverance and to seeing the Lord one day. David"s hope lay in a continuing relationship with God, and so does ours. He did not have the amount of revelation of what lay beyond the grave that we do. He found comfort in his relationship with God in this life as being superior to what the wicked enjoyed. We do too, but we also know that in addition, when we die, we will go into the Lord"s presence and from then on be with Him ( 2 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:17).


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 17:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 28th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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