We have noticed that in the early part of this book a great many of these Psalms have to do primarily with David’s personal experiences. This particular Psalm evidently was written either during the time that he was fleeing from King Saul and his army or when he was hiding from the armies of his own son, Absalom. It probably has reference to the former case. One can understand how David would pen these wards perhaps some night when he was restless, unable to sleep, on the alert, for he knew the enemy was pursuing him. He could not know the instant they might come upon him and an engagement be precipitated, for he realized that from the human standpoint he was in danger of his life every moment. In such circumstances he turned to God. To whom else could he turn?
How wonderfully these Psalms fit in to similar conditions in the lives of God’s beloved people. How much they meant to the suffering in Israel during the days of the Maccabees when they were being so cruelly hunted down and slain, save as God put His hand upon Judas Maccabee and enabled them to defeat the army of the Syrians. And how much they have meant to Christian sufferers during all the centuries whether persecuted by pagan Rome and other heathen powers, or whether in the case of Protestants suffering at the hands of an apostate church because of their faithfulness to the Word of God and the gospel of His grace, or whether, as in the case of the Covenanters of Scotland when the ruling powers were seeking to force upon Christian people a religious system that they could not conscientiously accept, and they too were hunted like partridges on the mountains and never knew what day the heather would be stained with their blood. But we do not see all that is in these Psalms if we think of them merely as presenting the experiences of David or of other believers who like him have been suffering from human foes. We need to go deeper than that, we need to remember that David was, after all, a typical character. In very large measure he typified our Lord Jesus Christ. His very name is significant. The word “David” means “The beloved,” and God the Father said of our blessed Lord Jesus, “This is My beloved Son [this is My David] in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). One of the earliest incidents recorded in the life of David was when he came from his father’s house in order to minister to his brethren who were in suffering and distress in the war with the Philistines. He reminds us of the Lord who came from His Father’s house of glory with arms full of blessing for His needy people in this world. And again, David’s city is significant. He belonged to Bethlehem, and our blessed Saviour was born in that city. The name too is significant, Bethlehem, “The house of bread.” But it never really answered to its name until Jesus was born there. He says, “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (John 6:41). And then how wonderfully David typified our blessed Lord Jesus Christ in his rejection. The very people that he benefited the most turned upon him with hatred and bitterness. And so our Lord Jesus Christ had to know all the bitterness, the hatred, the untrustworthiness of the hearts of those whom He came to save, and at last He went to the Cross and there gave Himself in sacrifice for our redemption. So as we read these Psalms we need to listen carefully to hear, not merely the voice of David, but the voice of Jesus.
I do not know a word in this Psalm that may not have been uttered to the Father by our blessed Lord on one of those nights when out on the mountainside communing with Him, for we may be very sure that He largely used the words of Holy Scripture. What we especially see in this seventeenth Psalm is the righteous man sustained by the Word in the midst of his enemies, and surely that was the case with our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. There is one thing in regard to the mystery of the incarnation that we need to lay hold on and it is this: though our Lord was both God and Man in one blessed, adorable Person, from the moment that He came into this world until that moment when He cried, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46), He chose not to act as God, though He was God, but He chose to act as a Man of faith dependent in every respect upon the Father’s will and guided by the Holy Spirit. It is difficult for us to understand how He who was God and Man could become so utterly will-less in this scene that the Father’s will was the only will He knew. And the Father’s will was expressed in the Holy Scriptures which He studied from a Child and was manifested by the Holy Spirit who dominated and controlled the Man Christ Jesus. You remember when He went into the wilderness after His baptism, Scripture says, “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1). One of the evangelists uses a stronger word; he says He was driven of the Spirit into the wilderness (Mark 1:12). He was absolutely under the control of the Holy Spirit of God. Man had so terribly dishonored God, there had been such grave rebellion against His will all down through the years that our Lord Jesus Christ, before He went to the Cross to settle the sin question, made it the business of His life to glorify the Father fully by giving Him here on earth a human life that was absolutely yielded to Him. In connection with the incarnation we need to remember that our blessed Lord was just as truly God as if He had never become man, and He was as truly man as if He had never been God, but His manhood was never separated from His deity. Nevertheless, in this scene He chose to act as man and not simply as God. The Man Christ Jesus, as to the mystery of His Person, is God over all blessed forevermore, but He acted here before the Father as a dependent man. How beautifully that comes out in this Psalm. We can hear Him, as it were, speaking to His Father when foes are pressing about Him, when He is met with rejection on every hand, when for the love of His heart He is receiving only hatred.
“Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto My cry, give ear unto My prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.” What a word this is for us. It is so possible for prayer to go out of feigned lips; it is so possible to pray absolutely beyond our experience. Have you ever heard people pray something like this, “O Lord, we do thank Thee for Thy wondrous love and grace, for the way Thou dost so fully satisfy our hearts,” and then the next night, perhaps, they are off to the world for satisfaction. That is prayer going out of feigned lips. Or, have you ever heard people pray like this, “O Lord, grant that the love of Christ may absolutely control us, that nothing but His grace and love toward others may be seen,” and within twenty minutes they are saying the meanest, unkindest things about fellow believers or about others in the world? That is prayer going out of feigned lips. Sometimes people pray like this, “O Lord, we look up to Thee. We trust Thee for everything, for daily bread to meet our need,” and yet within an hour they may be talking to you about their circumstances and saying, “I am nearly worried to death; I don’t know what I am going to do.” The two things do not go together. That is praying out of feigned lips. But the Lord Jesus could say, “Give ear unto My prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.” His inmost being was in full accord with the words of His mouth.
There is a beautiful figure of that in connection with the Tabernacle. Every whit of it uttered His glory. Surrounding the court of that tabernacle there were curtains of fine twined linen suspended from pillars, forming the wall, all around it. That speaks of Christ’s righteousness before the world. The world from the outside could see that white curtain surrounding the court, and the white linen always speaks of righteousness in Scripture. But inside where the sanctuary itself stood there were ten curtains of fine twined linen fastened together that formed the tent of the tabernacle, the tabernacle proper. The world outside could not see those curtains for they were covered over with goats’ hair and rams’ skins dyed red and seal skins, or badgers’ skins curtains. They were there for the priests and for God to see. But do you get this point? If you were outside you saw the curtains of fine twined linen surrounding the court, and as God looked down He saw the curtains of fine twined linen inside the sanctuary. In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ’s righteousness was just the same under the eye of God as it was under the eye of man. It is so different with us. We can often seem so righteous and so good and so holy before our brethren, but as God looks down upon us it is so different. There was nothing like that with Jesus. In every respect His inward life and His outward life were in perfect agreement. He was just the same before men that He was before God. He was just the same in the presence of God that He was in the presence of men, and that is why He could say, “Give ear unto My prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.” There was nothing unreal about Jesus. Oh, that we might be more like Him!
“Let My sentence come forth from Thy presence.” That is another way of saying, “I just hand My case over to Thee; whatever Thou dost choose will be all right.” “Let My sentence come forth from Thy presence; let Thine eyes behold the things that are equal.” “I know Thou wilt weigh everything right, Father, and so I hand it over to Thee.” And then He can say, “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.” He was the holy, sinless Saviour! He had to be that or He never could have died for me. If there had been any evil way in Him, He would have needed a Saviour Himself, but because He was ever the Holy Son of God, He was competent to take my sin upon Himself and die in my room and stead.
Now notice the place the Word of God had in His life, “Concerning the works of men, by the word of Thy lips I have kept Me from the paths of the destroyer.” Thou hast held fast “My goings in Thy paths, that My footsteps slip not.” The Lord Jesus Christ who was the Eternal Word, and He was the theme of all Holy Scripture, chose as a Man on earth to live by the Word. He fed on the Word; He was sustained by the Word. When Satan said, “If Thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3), He met him with the Word and said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). And so He met the devil in one temptation after another with the Word, for the Word was hidden in His heart and there was no possibility of His sinning against the Father. Would that you and I were more controlled by the Word. So often we think of it as something to exercise our minds about, and we are more concerned about getting an intellectual understanding of Scripture than we are of hiding the Word in our hearts. That is why we are so ready to run to hear all kinds of thrilling addresses and why we spend so little time over the Word privately and why we care so little whether we get to hear the Word if it is simply the opening up of the truth for our practical sanctification. As far as the private life is concerned there are some who seldom open a Bible from one week to another. The blessed Lord could say, “He wakeneth morning by morning, He wakeneth Mine ear to hear as the learned” (Isaiah 50:4). Think of Him, the holy, spot- less Son of God, feeding on the Word, and yet you and I imagine we can get along without it! God give us a deeper love for the Word of God and help us to eat it that we too may say, “Concerning the works of men, by the word of Thy lips I have kept Me from the paths of the destroyer.”
And then notice His perfect confidence in the Father, in verses 6 and 7, “I have called upon Thee, for Thou wilt hear Me, O God: incline Thine ear unto Me, and hear My speech. Shew Thy marvelous loving-kindness, O Thou that savest by Thy right hand them which put their trust in Thee from those that rise up against them.” Is it not lovely to listen, as it were, to the secret things going on between the Father and the Son, the things that the Lord Jesus delighted to say to His Father when He was alone with Him, for that is what you have in a Psalm like this.
How beautiful the next verse is, “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of Thy wings.” These two figures are used frequently in the Old Testament. “The apple of the eye.” If you were to look up that word “apple” in a critical concordance or a Hebrew lexicon you might be surprised at the real word, for the literal Hebrew is, “little man”-“Keep me as the little man in the eye.” If you stand close to me and you look into my eye, what do you see there? A little man and that little man is yourself; you see yourself reflected upside down; you are a little man in my eye. Now the Lord Jesus says to the Father; David says to Jehovah, “Keep me as the little man in Thine eye.” God is always looking at you, and you are reflected in His eye. How deep is His interest in you! And then the other figure is that of a great eagle protecting its young. “Hide Me under the shadow of Thy wings.” “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalms 91:1). “From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about.”
In verses 10 to 15 you find again contrasted the men of the world and the man of faith. He describes the men of the world, men who live for self, “They are inclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly.” They are haughty men, they are enemies of righteousness. “They have now compassed us in our steps: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth.” They are like their master, for “The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places. Arise, O Lord, disappoint [hinder] him.” It is really little more than “hinder,” it means to get there first before the enemy can do anything. “Cast him down.” But notice how he speaks of these wicked men, “Deliver my soul from the wicked, which is Thy sword. From the men which are Thy hand.” One reason God tolerates wicked men in the world instead of sending them to hell is that He uses them as His scourge for the righteous when they need a whipping. That is why the prophet calls them, “Thy sword.” You remember God said that He raised up Nebuchadnezzar to come against the people to punish them. He uses the ungodly to test, to try, and to restrain His own people.
These “men of the world,” “have their portion in this life.” It is like those of whom we read in The Revelation. Frequently in that book we read of “them that dwell upon the earth.” That does not mean people living in this world, but people who have refused the heavenly calling and have their portion down here. They are all about us; they have no interest in heaven; they have no interest in God or His Christ. The only world they care anything about is this world. They “have their portion in this life.” And so they are satisfied with children. The word “full” really means “satisfied.” That is, when a man accumulates a great fortune he says, “I will pass it on to them,” and he just lives on in his children. But with the righteous, how different! They are willing to lay down their lives for the blessing of others if need be. As for these men of the world they leave their substance to their children and do not know what is going to become of it.
But see the contrast. David says, in verse 15, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.” There are three passages in the book of Psalms that I love to link together. They are Psalms 18:30, “As for God, His way is perfect”; Psalms 103:15, “As for man, his days are as grass”; Psalms 17:15, “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.” Notice these three statements, “As for God-as for man-as for me.” “As for God, His way is perfect.” No matter what comes I know He makes no mistake. Sickness may come, financial trouble may come, family trouble may come, church troubles may come-and there is no trouble on earth so bad as trouble among the people of God-but no matter what happens, “As for God, His way is perfect.” As for man: David says, I have learned not to expect much from him, “his days are as grass.” But “As for me,…I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Psalms 17". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany