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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Psalms 17




Verse 1

(1) Hear the right.—Or (see margin), justice. Some ancient versions read, “Hear, Lord of righteousness.” Others make it concrete: “Hear me, the righteous; “but the Authorised Version has the true sense.

Verse 2

(2) Let my sentence—i.e., let my cause be tried before Thy tribunal, where it is sure of success, since I am innocent and Thou art just. The second clause is better in the present, “Thine eyes behold,” &c.

The things that are equal.—Heb., meysharîm, which may be either abstract, rectitude, or concrete, the just (Song of Solomon 1:4, Note), or adverbial, justly.

Verse 3

(3) In the night (as Psalms 16:7).—The time of calm reflection and self-examination. Some, however, taking this verse in connection with Psalms 17:15, think the poem was composed at night.

I am purposed.—The Hebrew word presents a difficulty. It is better to take it as a noun—counsels, and here, as generally, evil counsels—and join it to the preceding, not (as in the Authorised Version) the following words.

“Thou hast proved my heart,

Thou hast visited me in the night,

Thou hast found no malice in me,

My mouth doth not transgress, or

It (malice) doth not pass my mouth.”

“I offend”—that is, “neither in thought nor word.” The LXX., Vulg., Syr., Chald., and Arab. versions support this arrangement.

Verse 4

(4) Concerning the works of men—i.e., as regards the actions of men, or in ordinary human actions; for the expression comp. Job 31:33; and Hosea 6:7, where the margin has Adam.

By the word of thy lips.—Some take this clause closely with the foregoing, and render, “against the word,” &c; but the Authorised Version is better. The Divine standard for action, not the human or worldly, influences the writer.

I have kept me.—Literally, I for my part have observed ways of violence. But usage (Proverbs 2:20) almost compels us to understand by this, “I have kept ways of violence,” which is impossible here. Hence we have either to give the verb the unusual sense “guard against,” or suppose an error in the text.

Verse 5

(5) Hold up.—Not, as in the Authorised Version, imperative, which is directly opposed to the context. The psalmist still asserts his innocence. Render:—

My course kept close in thy tracks,

My footsteps have not wavered.

(Comp. Job 23:11; Psalms 41:12.)

Paths.—Literally, wheel-tracks.

Verse 6

(6) I—is emphatic, “As for me, I,” &c.

Verse 7

(7) Shew.—Literally, Separate; but (comp. Psalms 4:3), from its use to express God’s providential care of Israel in distinction to other nations, acquires in addition the idea of wonder and miracle (Exodus 8:22; Exodus 9:4; Exodus 11:7, &c). The LXX. and Vulgate, “make thy mercies appear wonderful.”

Verse 8

(8) Apple of the eye.—Literally, little man, daughter of the eye. The mannikin is, of course, the reflection seen in the pupil. Daughter is either a contraction of a word meaning cavity, or is the common Hebrew idiom which by son or daughter of expresses relation, as sons of the bow = arrows. In fact, the curious Hebrew phrase is substantially like the Greek κόρη and Latin pupa, or pupilla, even to the gender.

Hide me under the shadow of thy wings.—The figure of the sheltering wings of the parent bird, so common in Hebrew literature, generally refers to the eagle or vulture, as in Deuteronomy 32:10-11, the source of both the beautiful images of the text. Our Lord’s use of the figure is made more tender by the English rendering, “hen” (Matthew 23:37). (See Note New Testament Commentary.)

Verse 9

(9) Deadly.—Literally, with the soul, or life, or better, as in the Syriac, “against the life,” and so deadly. Others take it adverbially with the verb, “eagerly compass.”

Verse 10

(10) They are inclosed . . .—Literally, Their fat have they shut up. So LXX. and Vulgate, without indicating the meaning. But the “proudly” of the next clause suggests that “fat” is only a figure for the conceit of prosperity, and as that verb is active, the word mouth should be joined with it as object from the next clause, “In their conceit they shut their mouth; (when they do speak) they speak proudly.

Verse 11

(11) They have now . . .—Evidently the meaning is, Wherever we go they surround us like curs, i.e., they dog our footsteps. But the text is confused.

They have set.—Literally, they fix their eyes to cast on the earth, which may mean, “they fix their eyes on me, ready to strike me to the ground.” Ewald, “they direct their eyes through the land to strike.” But Mr. Burgess suggests a translation at once simple and convincing. He brings the first word back from the next verse, and points it our blood, instead of the awkward his likeness. He thus gets, “They have set their eyes to shed our blood on the earth.” For the Hebrew verb in similar sense, comp. Isaiah 66:12.

Verse 12

(12) Young lion.—Heb., kephir. The Hebrew has seven different names for the lion. Milton’s description of Satan naturally recurs to the reader—

“About them round

A lion now he stalks with fiery glare.”

Verse 13

(13) Disappoint.—Rather, go to meet, as a champion defending some one.

Which is thy sword.—This thought, making the wicked God’s weapons of wrath (Isaiah 10:5), is arbitrarily introduced by the Authorised Version, and is quite out of keeping with the context. Translate “with thy sword,” either understanding a preposition, or treating the accusative as an adverb of manner; as an adverb of time and place it is common. Similarly in the next verse, “with thy hand from men of the world.”

Verse 14

Verse 15

(15) I—emphatic. The satisfaction of worldly men is in their wealth and family honours, that of the poet in the sun of God’s presence and the vision of His righteousness. (Comp. Note, Psalms 11:7.)

Instead of “likeness,” render image, or appearance. But what does the poet mean by the hope of seeking God when he wakes? Some think of rising to peace after a perplexing trouble; others of health after suffering; others of the sunlight of the Divine grace breaking on the soul. But the literal reference to night in Psalms 17:3 seems to ask for the same reference here. Instead of waking to a worldling’s hope of a day of feasting and pleasure, the psalmist wakes to the higher and nobler thought that God—who in sleep (so like death, when nothing is visible), has been, as it were, absent—is now again, when he sees once more (LXX.), found at his right hand (comp. end of Psalms 16), a conscious presence to him, assuring him of justice and protection. But as in Psalms 16, so here, we feel that in spite of his subjection to the common notions about death the psalmist may have felt the stirrings of a better hope. Such “cries from the dark,” even if they do not prove the possession of a belief in immortality, show how the human heart was already groping its way, however blindly, towards it.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 17:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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