THIS psalm is termed "a prayer"—"a Prayer of David." It consists, no doubt, mainly of a series of petitions (Psalms 17:1, Psalms 17:2, Psalms 17:6, Psalms 17:7, Psalms 17:8, Psalms 17:9, Psalms 17:13, Psalms 17:14); but contains also a number of verses which have no precatory character (Psalms 17:3, Psalms 17:4, Psalms 17:5, Psalms 17:10-12, Psalms 17:15); and, on the whole, it cannot be said to be occupied with supplication to a greater extent than many of the compositions which are simply termed "psalms." Probably it was called a "prayer" because the writer himself seemed so to entitle it in Psalms 17:1. David's authorship is generally allowed, since the composition has "the marked characteristics of David's early style" ('Speaker's Commentary'). The current of thought and language is vehement and abrupt; there is a deep dependence upon God, and at the same time a warmth of indignation against the writer's enemies, found frequently in the Davidical psalms, and not very noticeable in the others. There is also an earnest faith in a future life (Psalms 17:15), which was a marked feature of David's character, but not very common among his contemporaries. The time in David's life to which the psalm belongs is uncertain; but it has been conjectured, with a certain amount of probability, to have been written during the heat of the persecution by Saul, perhaps when David was pursued after by the wicked king in the wilderness of Maon (1 Samuel 23:26). (So Hitzig, Moll, and the 'Speaker's Commentary.')
The metrical arrangement is somewhat doubtful. Perhaps the best division is that of Dr. Kay, who makes the poem one of four stanzas—the first of five verses (Psalms 17:1-5); the second of four (Psalms 17:6-9); the third of three (Psalms 17:10-12); and the fourth also of three (Psalms 17:13-15).
Hear the right, O Lord (comp. Psalms 9:4). Here and elsewhere the psalmist assumes that right is on his side, and that he is persecuted unjustly. Unless he had been convinced of this, he could not have called on God to vindicate him. The narrative in 1 Samuel 18:1-30.-27, fully justifies his conviction. Attend unto my cry (comp. Psalms 4:1; Psalms 5:2; Psalms 61:1). Rinnah, the word translated "cry" here (and in Psalms 61:1) is a strong term: it means "shout," "outcry"—most often, though not here, "a shout of joy." Give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips; rather, feigning lips, or guileful lips—lips, i.e; that speak falsehood knowingly.
Let my sentence come forth from thy presence. David does not doubt, any more than Job (Job 13:18), what the sentence will be. As right is on his side (verse 1), it must be in his favour. Let thine eyes behold the things that are equal; literally, Let thine eyes behold equities.
Thou hast proved mine heart (comp. Psalms 26:2; Psalms 66:9; Psalms 95:9; Psalms 139:23). "Proved" means "tried," "tested," examined strictly, so as to know whether there was any wickedness in it or not. Thou hast visited me in the night. The night is the time when men can least escape those searching, testing thoughts which God's providence then especially sends, to "try the very heart and reins" (Psalms 7:9). Thou hast tried me; and shalt find nothing; rather, and findest nothing. The process was one begun in the past, and continuing on in the present. God was ever searching David and trying him; but "found nothing," i.e. no alloy, no base rectal, no serious flaw in his character; not that he was sinless, but that he 'was sincere and earnest—a true worshipper of God, not a hypocrite. I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man" (James 3:2). David's resolution to "keep the door of his lips" would have a chastening influence over both his thoughts and acts.
Concerning the works of man; i.e. "with respect to the actions of ordinary life "—here called "the works of Adam" ― i.e. of the natural man. By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer. By attending to thy Law, and following it (see Psalms 119:11), I have refrained myself from sin, and avoided the wicked courses of the violent.
Hold thou up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not. So De Wette and Rosenmuller; but most recent critics prefer to consider the words as an assertion rather than a prayer, and translate, "My steps have held fast to thy paths: [therefore] my feet have not been moved" (Kay, Hengstenberg, Alexander, Cheyne, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Revised Version).
I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God (comp. Psalms 17:1, Psalms 17:2). Having established, as the ground of his claim to be heard of God, his own sincerity, steadfastness, and virtuous course in life (Psalms 17:3-5), David now recurs to his original intent, and resumes his "prayer." He is sure that God will hear him, since his prayer is grounded on "right." Incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech (comp. Psalms 71:2; Psalms 88:2, etc.).
Show thy marvellous loving kindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them. It is uncertain to which clause of the sentence the word בִּימִיגָךָ belongs. Its position seems to attach it rather to those who resist God than to those who trust in him. See the marginal version, which has, O thou that savest them which trust in thee from those that rise up against thy right hand. But the rendering in the text of the Authorized Version is preferred by most writers.
Keep me as the apple of the eye (comp. Deuteronomy 32:10, where the same simile is used). Here, however, the expression employed is still more tender and more practical: "Keep me," says David," as the apple, daughter of the eye." Hide me under the shadow of thy wings. This seems also to be a reminiscence of Deuteronomy, where, after the mention of the "apple of the eye," the water continues, As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him" (Deuteronomy 32:11, Deuteronomy 32:12; comp. further Psalms 36:7; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 63:8; Psalms 91:4).
From the wicked that oppress me; or, lay me waste—treat me as invaders treat an enemy's territory (see Isaiah 15:1). From my deadly enemies, who compass me about; literally, my enemies in soul—those who in heart and mind are wholly set against me. When hunted by Saul upon the mountains, David was often "compassed about" with foes (1 Samuel 23:14, 1 Samuel 23:15, 1 Samuel 23:26; 1 Samuel 26:20).
They are enclosed in their own fat (comp. Deuteronomy 32:15; Job 15:27; Psalms 119:70). Self-indulgence has hardened their feelings and dulled their souls. An organ enclosed in fat cannot work freely. So their feelings cannot work as nature intended through the coarseness and hardness in which they are, as it were, embedded. With their mouth they speak proudly (comp. Psalms 12:3, Psalms 12:4; Psalms 86:14).
They have now compassed us in our steps; rather, [following] our steps, they now compass me (comp. Psalms 17:9; and see 1 Samuel 23:26). They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth; rather, they have set their eyes, to east [me] down to the earth. The simile of the lion is already in the writer's mind. As the lion, before making his spring, fixes his eyes intently upon the prey—not to fascinate it, but to make sure of his distance—with intent, when he springs, to cast the prey down to the earth; so it is now with my enemies, who have set their eyes on me. (So Dr. Kay, the 'Speaker's Commentary,' and the Revised Version.)
Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey; literally, his likeness [is] as a lion that is greedy to rend (comp. Psalms 7:2; Psalms 10:9; Psalms 57:4). And as it were a young lion (kephir, "a lion in the first burst of youthful vigour") lurking in secret places; rather, crouching. The attitude of the lieu when he is just preparing to spring.
Arise, O Lord (comp. Psalms 7:6; Psalms 9:19; Psalms 10:12; Psalms 44:26, etc.). Having described the character of the wicked man, and pointed out his ill desert (Psalms 17:9-12), the psalmist now invokes God's vengeance upon him. "Right" requires equally the succour of the godly and the punishment of the ungodly man. Disappoint him, cast him down; literally, get before him, bow him down; i.e. intercept his spring, and bow him down to the earth (see Psalms 18:39). Deliver my soul from the wicked. This will be the result of the interposition. When the ungodly are cast down, the righteous are delivered out of their hand. Which is thy sword. 4. true statement (see Isaiah 10:5), but scarcely what the writer intended in this place, where he is regarding the wicked as altogether opposed to God. It is best to translate, with the Revised Version, Deliver my soul from the wicked by thy sword.
From men which are thy hand, O Lord; rather, from men, by thy hand, as in the margin of the Authorized Version, and in the text of the Revised Version. From men of the world; i.e. men who are altogether worldly, whose views, aspirations, hopes, longings, are bounded by this life—the "children of this world," as our Lord expressed it (Luke 16:8). Which have their portion in this life; i.e. who have here all that they will ever receive, and all that they care to receive. And whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure; rather, with thy stores—the good things that thou makest the earth to produce. There seems to be some allusion here to the frequent worldly prosperity of the ungodly (comp. Job 12:6; Job 21:7-13; Psalms 73:3-12). They are full of children (so Job 21:8, Job 21:11; Job 27:14). And leave the rest of their substance to their babes (comp. Psalms 49:10). No doubt this is often the case; but the ill-gotten gains handed on by the wicked to their children seldom prosper (see Job 27:14-17).
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; i.e. "As for me, I do not envy the wicked man's prosperity. I set against it the blessedness of which I am quite sure. I in my righteousness shall behold the face of God, have the light of his countenance shine upon me, and thus be raised to a condition of perfect happiness." Moreover, I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. David had already spoken of death as a "sleep" (Psalms 13:3). Now he speaks of "awaking." What awaking can this be but an awaking from the sleep of death? When he so awakes, he says, he will he "satisfied with God's likeness." The word used is the same as that employed in Numbers 12:8, of the manifestation of the Divine glory to Moses—viz. temunah. David therefore expects to see, on awaking, a similar manifestation, he will have the enjoyment of the "beatific vision," if not in the Christian sense, at any rate in a true and real sense, and one that will wholly "satisfy" him.
"As for me … thy likeness." "I shall be satisfied." This is a great and bold thing to say. It implies one of two things—either a low standard of satisfaction, a poor measure of what it takes to satisfy a human soul; or else a prospect beyond this world. If only a question of lower wants—"What shall I eat … drink? wherewithal be clothed? what wages shall I earn? what holidays and amusements secure?"—then if your desires be temperate, you may easily say," I shall be satisfied." But if it be a question of your soul, life, whole being, with all high, deep, partially developed capacities for happiness and blessedness,—then it is not in this world that satisfaction is possible. Earth might be bankrupt, and yet leave your soul, your inner immortal self, starving (Matthew 16:26).
I. THE SATISFACTION DESIRED AND EXPECTED—ardently desired and confidently expected. To behold God's face in righteousness; to awake from the dream of life, from the sleep of death, to the reality of his presence, the sight of his unveiled glory. We are met here by one of those apparent contradictions in Scripture, which are always rich in deep meaning and instruction. On one hand, it is declared that to see God is impossible. He is "the King immortal, invisible" (1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:16). "God is a Spirit," the Infinite Spirit; and how can spirit become visible to sense? On the other hand, our Saviour promises that "the pure in heart shall see God." Of Moses it was said, "The similitude [or 'form,' 'image,'—the same word as in the text] of the Lord shall he behold" (Numbers 12:8). Isaiah tells us how, in vision, he beheld the Lord on his throne (Isaiah 6:1-13.). Ezekiel, Daniel, and St. John had similar visions. Visions, it is true; but visions that stood for that infinitely glorious reality of which the Lord said to Moses, "There shall be no man see me, and live" (Exodus 33:20). The explanation of this seeming contradiction is found in John 1:18. All those glorious manifestations, as well as the occasions on which a Divine angel appeared, as to Abraham, Jacob, Joshua, etc; who is identified with the Lord, we understand to have been manifestations of the Son of God, the everlasting Word, crowned and completed by the Incarnation (John 1:14). He is "the Image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). Thus this desire and expectation have for us as Christians a clearness and force they could not have for the holiest of the ancient believers. Even in the days of his flesh, the Lord could say, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." How much more in his glory! The Lord God and the Lamb are the light of the heavenly city. This does not exclude other manifestations of God as Spirit to our spirits; like that of which Christ speaks (John 14:23). Some have thought there is a dead faculty in our nature, by which we should have direct intuition of God; be naturally conscious of his presence, as we are of space and time. If so, this dead or sleeping sense, partially quickened by faith, shall awake; we shall know, consciously, what now we believe, that "in him we live, and move, and have our being." Meantime, this is enough for faith to lay hold on, to rest in—we shall see Jesus our Lord in his glory. "To depart," is, for the Christian, "to be with Christ;" "Absent from the body, at home with the Lord." We shall "see him as he is;" "the Fulness of the Godhead bodily" dwelling in the immortal temple of glorified humanity. And in him we shall see the Father, and come to the Father. Our fellowship will be "with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Ambition cannot rise higher than this. Thought cannot soar beyond this. Faith, hope, love, cannot desire more than this.
"Then shall I see and hear and know
All I desired or wish'd below."
Divines have been wont to call this "the beatific vision," q.d. the happy-making sight of God. But note that whatever be the forms of inconceivable glory in which God reveals himself to his children, the true satisfaction is in the knowledge of God himself (1 Corinthians 13:12). As we look into the face and eyes of a friend to read his soul—thought, feeling, inner self—so the knowledge of God of which Christ says, "This is life eternal" (John 17:3), is of his character, holiness, truth, wisdom, infinite love to us.
II. THE GLORIOUS FULNESS AND PERFECTION OF THIS SATISFACTION.
1. The end of the conflict between faith and doubt. How many a soul has echoed Job's cry (Job 23:3, Job 23:8-10)! The life of faith is a wholesome discipline (John 20:29; 1 Peter 1:8). But who could bear to think that it would last for ever?
2. The consciousness of perfect reconciliation to God. No shadow of fear, any more than of doubt.
3. The experience of complete likeness to our Saviour (Colossians 3:10). This is the point of 1 John 3:2.
4. The perfect rest of the soul. Hope is compared to the "anchor of the soul" (Hebrews 6:19). But the ship is still tossed on the surges (Hebrews 4:9).
5. The elevation of our being and life to the highest pitch of love, knowledge, and joy.
CONCLUSION. Turn this expectation and desire into a question, a heart-trying test—Shall I be thus satisfied? Is my keenest desire tuned to this note? Will this satisfy me?—this and nothing else? The presence of Christ, perfect likeness to him, and eternal fellowship with him; to behold, without a veil, the glory of God in the face of Jesus; to know God? Believe it, no other heaven is promised or possible. If you-life be not tending this way, you are misdirecting, misspending it.
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
The saint's appeal from the wrongs of earth to the Righteous One on the throne.
The title of our homily on this psalm is in some respects similar to that on the seventh psalm. There, however, the psalm is an appeal to the great Vindicator of one unjustly accused; here, it is the appeal of one beset with persecutors to the great Judge of all. Whenever or by whomsoever the words of this psalm were penned, it may not be easy to say. The probability is that it is one of David's. £ If so, there is an abundance of incident in the record of his career by which it may be illustrated and explained. And, indeed, the surest (perhaps the only) way of interpreting such psalms as this is to read them by the light of the Books of Samuel. Anyway, however, it is an infinite mercy that we have preserved to us, not only psalms to be enjoyed at all times,(such as the twenty-third and the forty-sixth), but others adapted for special times. For very often the saints of God have been so impeached, slandered, worried, beset, and persecuted, that the words of this psalm have exactly fitted their ease. And in all such instances, the people of God may find sweet repose in reading the words before us; showing us, as they do,
I. HERE IS A REMARKABLE CASE LAID BEFORE GOD. There are in it six features.
1. The writer is sorely and grievously persecuted. (Psalms 17:9-12.) It has been well said, "Where would David's psalms have been, if he had not been persecuted?" £ The experiences through which he passed may be studied in the records to which we have referred above. In fact, one of our most skilled expositors said to the writer that his own study of the Books of Samuel had thrown floods of light on the Psalms, had cleared up many phrases that before were unintelligible, and had shown the reason of many others that seemed unjustifiable. And since David was withal the poet of the sanctuary, be could and did put these hard experiences of his life in such words as should be helpful to the troubled and ill-treated saint in all future time. (For the exact significance of detailed expressions, seethe Exposition. £) Let believers follow David here, and whatever their cares and worries may be, let them tell them out, one by one, to their God, who will never misunderstand them, and, even if some expressions of emotion are unwise and faulty, will cover the faults with the mantle of his forgiving love, and fulfil the desires according to his own perfect wisdom. Oh, the infinite relief of having a Friend to whom we may safely tell every thing!
2. David is conscious of his own integrity. (Verses 1 4.) This is by no means to be understood as a piece of self-righteousness (see Psalms 143:2). It is quite consistent with the deepest humiliation before a holy and heart-searching God, that an upright man should avow his innocence of the guilt that false accusers may charge upon him. In fact, we ought, while penitent before our God for innumerable heart-sins, to be able to look our fellow-men in the face with the dignity of conscious honesty and purity.
3. David knows there is a Judge on the Throne, a Judge of perfect righteousness—and One who will listen to his cry (verse 7). He knows God as One who saves the trusting ones from their foes by his own omnipotent hand.
4. Hence to him David makes his appeal. (Verse 2.) Note: Only one who is at peace with God, and who is among the upright in heart, could possibly make such an appeal as this,—for sentence to come forth from God's presence must be a terror to the rebel, for that sentence could only be one of condemnation. But souls in harmony with God can lovingly look to God as their Redeemer, their Goel, their Vindicator; they will say, with Job, "I know that my Redeemer liveth;" or with Cromwell, "I know that God is above all ill reports; and that he will in his own time vindicate me." Yea, they can call on God to do this, leaving in his hands the time and the way of doing it (cf. 1 John 3:21, 1 John 3:22).
5. With the appeal, David joins fervent supplication.
(a) That God would deliver him out of their hand.
(b) That God would hold up his goings in the right way.
(c) That God would keep him
( α) as the apple of the eye (literally," the little man," "the daughter of the eye")—an exquisitely beautiful figure, admirably adapted to be the basis of an address to the young on God's care in the structure of the eye;
( β) as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings—another figure of marvellous tenderness £ (Psalms 36:7; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 61:4; Psalms 91:4; Matthew 23:37). Nor let it be unnoticed that for all this, David uttered a "piercing cry' (for so the word in the first verse signifies).
6. David remembers that, after all, he has no reason to envy his persecutors; that, after all, it is far better to know God as his God, and to have him as a Refuge, than to have all the ease, comfort, and wealth which this world can give. And this brings us to note—
II. THAT, REMARKABLE AS THE PSALMIST'S CASE IS, IT PRESENTS TO US A STILL MORE REMARKABLE CONTRAST. £ (Verse 14.) How much force is there in the expression, "As for me" (cf. Psalms 4:1-8 :16)! Note: Amid all the confusion, strife, and whirl of earth, each man has a distinctive individuality, which is all his own, and is never confounded with another's (Galatians 6:5; Isaiah 40:27). No one has a right to think he is lost in the crowd (2 Timothy 2:19; Revelation 2:17; Isaiah 43:1; Luke 12:6, Luke 12:7). Each one has a relation to God entirely his own. The bad may mingle with the good, but are never confounded with them. Not one grain of wheat is by mistake cast into the fire, nor yet one of the tares gathered into the garner. All that is momentous in hope, character, relation, security, destiny, gathers round the individual. Each one has an "As for me." In the psalm before us there are indications of six points of difference between David and his enemies; so vital are they, that not all the distress which he suffers from them could make him desire to change places with them.
1. He is right; they are in the wrong. (Verse 1.) As we have before said, the writer by no means claims to be perfect, but he knows that he has chosen the side of righteousness, and is sincerely anxious to walk according thereto; he walks in his integrity, though he may be conscious of coming far short of his own ideal. But as for his enemies, to be in the right is no concern of theirs! Their's is might against right. Note: Happy is the man who sees infinite honour in being right, however much it may cost him!
2. God is to him a Defender; to them he is a Judge—to condemn them and put them to shame. This is the ground-tone of the psalm. The throne of the great Eternal is to the psalmist one of grace, mercy, and love; but to his enemies, it appears to shoot forth devouring flame. Note: God will seem to us according to our state before him (see Psalms 18:25, Psalms 18:26).
3. The psalmist addresses God in confident hope; they resist God, in proud defiance. The whole attitude of David's enemies was one of proud self-confidence: "Our tongues are our own: who is Lord over us?" Hence:
4. The throne of righteousness, which was the safety of David, was the peril of his persecutors. His joy was their dread. Wicked men are afraid of God; and it is saddening to reflect that the guilt of an uneasy conscience projects its own dark shadow on the face of infinite love!
5. David had an eternal portion in his God; they lived only for this life. He calls them (verse 14) "men of the world" (cf. Hebrew original). David could say, "Thou art my Portion, O God;" but with them their all was laid up here. When they depart hence, they will leave behind them all their treasures; but David would go, at death, to the enjoyment of his. Hence:
6. The outlook of the psalmist was full of gladness; theirs, full of gloom. How blissful the anticipation in the one case!
"I shall behold thy blissful face,
And stand complete in righteousness."
(a) As a slumbrous state in the under-world, from which there was no awaking. This was the pagan view.
(b) As a slumbrous state in the underworld, but with the hope of an awaking "in the morning." This was the Hebrew conception.
(c) To the Christian, however, the state after death is—"Absent from the body, at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8, Revised Version). The glory, however, will be completed at the resurrection (Colossians 3:4, Revised Version). But how different the outlook of the wicked! (Matthew 7:13, Matthew 7:14; Philippians 3:19; Luke 16:22, Luke 16:23; Luke 12:21; Luke 13:28). Well may preachers plead agonizingly with their hearers to choose life rather than death (Hebrews 11:25, Hebrews 11:26)! Little will the godly think of past sorrow when they Gave their recompense in heaven! Small comfort, will earth's wealth give to those who miss heaven!—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
The righteousness of God's dealing.
It is a common saying that "the pillow is a good counsellor;" and there is much truth in this. In the quietness and retirement of night we are able to collect our thoughts and to commune with our own hearts, as to the past, the present, and the future. And if we do this in the spirit of the psalmist, realizing God's presence and relying upon him for counsel and guidance, it will be well. Whether this psalm was written at night or not, we cannot tell; but it contains truths fitted to soothe and comfort the soul in the night of trouble, and that mark the progress of the light from sunrise to the perfect day.
I. THAT GOD WILL HEAR THE RIGHT. This faith accords with the intuitions of the heart. We are sure that God must be on the side of right, for we feel that it is only when we are for the right that we are on the side of God. If we are true, much more must God be true. If we are just, much more must God be just. And this confidence is confirmed by God's words and deeds (Psalms 17:4, Psalms 17:5). If it were otherwise, how could we trust God? and how could God govern and judge the world?
II. THAT GOD WILL DEFEND THE FAITHFUL. Perfect righteousness no man can claim. But as regards spirit and intention, and even as to actual conduct, some can plead integrity. Job could say, "Behold, my witness is in heaven" (Job 16:19). Samuel could appeal to Israel as to his uprightness, "Behold, here I am, witness against me before the Lord, … whom have I defrauded, or whom have I oppressed?" (1 Samuel 12:3). So David called Saul to witness to his innocence. "Moreover, my father, know thou and see that there is neither evil nor transgression in mine hand, and I have not sinned against thee" (1 Samuel 24:11). It is a great matter if we can thus approach God with a good conscience (1 John 3:21). But our integrity, after all, is nothing to boast of. Before men, we may be innocent, but not before God. Our trust must therefore be, not in our own merits, but in God's mercy. God's lovingkindness will shine forth in giving protection and deliverance (verses 6-12) to those who love him and hope in his mercy. He will be their Refuge and Defence against every foe. With tender care and never-failing prayer, he will keep them from the evil.
II. THAT GOD WILL DISAPPOINT THE PERSECUTOR, WHILE HE WILL ABUNDANTLY SATISFY THE DESIRES OF THE HUMBLE. (Verses 13-15.) When David was pursued by the forces of Saul, and in sore straits in the wilderness of Maon, God in a wonderful way brought him deliverance (1 Samuel 23:25). So we may expect that God will meet the enemies of his people, front to front, and cast them down. There are marvellous deliverances wrought by God in behalf of his children (2 Peter 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). But God does far more than deliver—he satisfies. The heart is ever yearning after some unattained possession and enjoyment. "Man never is, but always to be blessed." The children of this world have their desires, and, though they may so far be successful, though they may gain wealth, and have sons to bear their name and inherit their possessions, yet for all this they are not satisfied. Their blessings, through their own perversity, are turned to curses. But in bright contrast with these men of carnal minds, is the man who loveth God and worketh righteousness. "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness."—W.F.
The visits of God in the night.
The psalmist seems to have been one of the children of Israel scattered abroad. From the midst of a strange country he looks with a wistful eye towards the far-off land of his youth. Tried and persecuted by the worldly and profane, he takes refuge under the sheltering wings of Jehovah, his father's God. If he was not David, he has the spirit of David. There are foreshadowings and foregleams of gospel times, in the ideas as to "the world," the "loving-kindness," and saving power of the Lord; and the blessed hope of satisfaction in God. This verse leads us to consider the visits of God in the night.
I. REFRESHMENT. The divisions of time have to do with man (Genesis 1:5; Psalms 104:20).
"God has set labour and rest,
As day and night to men successive,
And the timely dew of sleep."
When night comes, it brings, not only relief from toil, but needed rest in sleep. In this we see the mercy of God. Like the sunshine and the rain, sleep is a common gift from God to men. Sleep also often brings return of health. How often is it said of some beloved one, with trembling hope, "If he sleep, he shall do well" (John 11:12)!
II. PROTECTION. We associate the day with safety (John 11:9). On the other hand, night is the season when not only wild beasts, but lawless men, seek their prey (Psalm cir. 20, 21; Job 24:14-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:7). There may be dangers unseen and unknown (Psalms 91:5, Psalms 91:6). Besides, there are perils from evil thoughts and the wiles of the wicked one. But come what will, God is our sure Defence. He visits us in love and mercy. He watches over us with untiring vigilance (Psalms 121:3). The angel of judgment may be abroad, but under the shelter of the blood of the covenant we are safe. Even though God should say, "This night thy soul shall be required of thee," it will be in love, and not in wrath. Even should we be taken away in our sleep, it will be to light, and not to darkness. Hence we may say, "I will lay me down in peace, and sleep; for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety" (Psalms 4:8).
III. INSTRUCTION. God has access to us at all times. He speaks to us continually by day, when our ears are open; but he also speaks to us, as he sees cause, by night, in dreams and visions, and when he holds our souls waking. Of this we have many examples in the Bible, and who is there who has not had some knowledge of this in his own experience? Dreams and visions are, for the most part, vain things; but there are even dreams and visions that have been found to be visits of God and turning-points in life. But it is when we have hours of sleeplessness that precious opportunities occur of communing in our hearts with God. Then there is not only quietness, but solitude. We are alone with God, and if we recognize his presence and hearken to his Word, we shall have cause to say, with thankfulness, "Thou hast visited me in the night." Sleeplessness, if prolonged, if it becomes a habit, is a sore evil; but sleepless hours may be turned to great profit. We have then the opportunity for quiet thought, for self-examination, for converse with God. Perhaps the past, with its joys and sorrows, rises before us, or we are troubled about the present or the future; but God is ever near, to counsel and to comfort us. "He giveth songs in the night" (Job 35:10). "One practical lesson at least may be remembered as bearing on this subject—the duty of storing the mind, while we are yet comparatively young and strong, with that which, in the hours of sleeplessness and pain, will enable us to rise up to God. A mind well stored with Holy Scripture, with good prayers and hymns, need never feel that the waking hours of the night are lost. We may do more, for the soul's true sanctification and peace, than many others in their own brief earthly pilgrimage" (Canon Liddon).—W.F.
The Bible is a book of contrasts. Here we have a contrast between the man of God and "the men of the world." We may bring out something of its force and significance by considering the three awakings here suggested.
I. THE AWAKING FROM SLEEP. The psalmist says (Psalms 17:3), "Thou hast visited me in the night." The sense of God's presence abides. When he awakes, it is not, like the worldling, to a life of selfish pleasure, but to a life of holy service. His first thought is not of self, but of God. His highest joy is in fellowship with God and in doing his work. His prayer is—
"Guard my first springs of thought and will,
And with thyself my spirit fill."
II. THE AWAKING FROM THE NIGHT OF TROUBLE. Darkness is the image of gloom; light, of joy. "The men of the world" have few troubles, but they have fewer comforts. Their hope is in the things that perish. The godly man may be sorely tried (Psalms 17:7-9), but he has "strong consolation." And even if gloom settles down upon him, it is but for a little, and when he awakes, thoughts that troubled him pass away as the visions of the night, and he rejoices in God's favour as in the light. Joy comes with the morning.
III. THE AWAKING FROM THE SLEEP OF DEATH. "Here we see right into the heart of the Old Testament faith." In life and death, God is all. Thus the soul rises to the hope of immortality. "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
1. This awaking holds good of the whole being. The spirit is first, but the body next.
2. This awaking opens up a glorious vision. There will be many and wondrous sights, but the first and chief of all will be God. "Thy face." So Moses (Numbers 12:8); so believers (2 Corinthians 3:18). But here in a far higher way.
3. This awaking will bring complete satisfaction. Here we are never satisfied. This awaking into glory will first of all, and in the fullest sense of the word, bring satisfaction. "Thy likeness." Nothing less will satisfy. This is the hope of all our hoping. The joy of joys. "The rest that remaineth for the people of God." How grand must that possession be that will satisfy the soul, awakened to the highest life and the noblest aspirings! Not only will the redeemed be satisfied, but the Redeemer also. "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied." Study the awful contrast (Daniel 12:2; Luke 16:25; John 5:28, John 5:29).—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
The prayer of the righteous.
"In this psalm a servant of God, conscious of his own uprightness, and surrounded by enemies, prays to be kept from the evil world and from the evil men who persecute him, and then from the dark present looks forward with joy to the bright future." The first five verses are as the porch to the temple—the introduction to the main prayer of the psalm. The psalmist pleads with God—
I. FOR THE RIGHTEOUS CAUSE. (Psalms 17:1, Psalms 17:2.) God is righteous, therefore he must be on the side of justice and right. When we pray that liberty may prevail against slavery of mind or body, that justice may triumph over all injustice, that truth may overcome falsehood, that the spirit may be stronger than the flesh, and that religion may conquer all irreligion, we may be sure that we are praying according to the will of God, and may expect him to answer us.
II. IS A RIGHTEOUS SPIRIT. The prayer is offered by "lips without deceit," in all sincerity, without any hypocritical pretence. The truthfulness, righteousness, of his spirit are here pleaded as a ground for his being heard. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Integrity of mind is necessary to all true and successful prayer. He is in earnest about the righteous cause, and not making a pretence to it.
III. ON THE GROUND OF RIGHTEOUS CHARACTER. (Psalms 17:3.)
1. God had subjected him to close scrutiny in the night. He had been divinely tested. 4, In the night," when good and evil thoughts spring up in greatest force, because of our freedom from outward occupation, and when the native bias discovers itself unchecked. Then God tries him, and does not find that his thoughts are dross, but gold. This is a bold statement, when put by the side of other statements, "If thou, Lord, shouldst mark iniquity," etc.
2. He keeps evil thoughts in subjection, even when they do arise. They do not pass his mouth, do not find expression, but are held back from utterance. We cannot help evil thoughts, but we can help the utterance of them.
IV. HE PLEADS ALSO RIGHTEOUS CONDUCT. (Psalms 17:4, Psalms 17:5.) He has kept himself from the common doings of men, from the ways of the oppressor and destroyer. This is the negative side of his conduct; but it is a great virtue to resist the mass and run against the stream. The positive is that he had held fast in his doings to the Divine paths, and been steadfast in the right course. He has been constant, and steered by the heavenly pole-star.—S.
Confidence in God.
From the first to the fifth verse the prayer bases his confidence in God on four pleas.
1. He prays for the righteous cause.
2. In a righteous spirit.
3. On the ground of a righteous character.
4. On the ground of righteous conduct.
Now we come to other grounds upon which he urges God to save him.
I. THE COMPASSION OF GOD for THOSE WHO URGENTLY CRY TO HIM. (Psalms 17:6, Psalms 17:7.) He calls, because God answers him; and now he calls for a special exercise of mercy, because God saves those who find their refuge or safety in him. He was pleading according to the law of God's nature, and had, therefore, a Divine warrant for his prayer: "If we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us."
II. HIS IMMINENT DANGER. (Psalms 17:7, Psalms 17:9, Psalms 17:11, Psalms 17:12.) His enemies were the enemies of God (Psalms 17:7). They would destroy him (Psalms 17:9). They haunted his footsteps everywhere (Psalms 17:11). He prays, therefore, to be protected as the pupil of the eye is protected, as if he could not be kept secure enough; and to be hidden under the shadow of the Divine wings, where no danger could reach him (Deuteronomy 32:10, Deuteronomy 32:11).
III. THE WICKEDNESS OF HIS ADVERSARIES.
1. Their want of sympathy and their hard pride. (Psalms 17:10.) "Enclosed in fat" is equivalent to "have become gross and unfeeling."
2. They were bent on the ruin of others as well as themselves. (Psalms 17:11.)
3. They were fierce and furious in their wicked efforts. (Psalms 17:12.) Like a greedy lion, like a young vigorous lion lurking in his lair.
IV. THEY WERE MEN WHO SOUGHT THEIR PORTION IN THIS PASSING LIFE; WHILE HE SOUGHT HIS IN GOD. (Psalms 17:13-15.)
1. They were satisfied with the treasures of this world. With children and worldly substance, and were not worthy, therefore, to triumph over the righteous cause and the righteous persons. Deliver me from such worldlings.
2. He was seeking after the highest good. (Psalms 17:15.) "In righteousness let me behold thy face; let me be satisfied, when I awake, with thine image." An echo of the eleventh verse of the previous psalm, which reveals his trust in a future life. "There is an allusion probably to such a manifestation of God as that made to Moses (Numbers 12:8), where God declares that with Moses he will speak "mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches, and the similitude [rather, 'form,' the same word as here] of Jehovah shall he behold."—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany