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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible
Psalms 17



Verse 1


David being now grievously persecuted and distressed by Saul and other enemies, and being also bespattered with many calumnies, he appeals to the heart-searching God, makes a solemn protestation of his integrity, earnestly begs of God protection and deliverances; and being made weary of this life by his pressing and manifold calamities, he comforts himself with the contemplation and hope of a happier life.

David, in confidence of his integrity, Psalms 17:1-6, prayeth to God for defence against his enemies, Psalms 17:7-9. He showeth their pride, craft, and eagerness to make a prey of the innocent, Psalms 17:10-12; and prayeth against them in confidence of his hope, Psalms 17:13-15.

The right, Heb. righteousness, i.e. me, who, notwithstanding all their accusations and slanders, am righteous. Or, my righteous cause; do thou take notice of it, and give sentence for me. Or, my righteous prayer. I desire nothing that is unreasonable or unjust, but that thou wouldst judge righteously between me and mine enemies, and vindicate thine own honour and faithfulness in making good thy promise to me; which thy righteousness obliges thee to do.

My cry, i.e. my fervent prayer attended with strong cries.

Not out of feigned lips, Heb. not with deceitful lips, which speak one thing, when my heart knoweth and designeth another. And this profession of his sincerity in his words doth fitly make way for his solemn appeal to God in the following verses.

Verse 2

My sentence, Heb. my right or judgment, i.e. judgment in my cause, or on my behalf.

From thy presence, i.e. from thee, and from thy tribunal, to which I bring my cause. Do not suspend or delay it, but speedily examine my cause and give sentence in it.

Things that are equal, or right. For though I desire and need thy grace and favour in many other respects, yet I beg only thy justice in this cause between me and them.

Verse 3

Proved, or searched, or tried it, by many and sore temptations and afflictions, whereby the sincerity or hypocrisy of men’s hearts are easily and commonly discovered, and especially by thy all-seeing eye. And that is my great comfort, that thou art witness of my innocency.

Thou hast visited me; thou hast made an inspection and inquiry into my heart.

In the night; either,

1. Metaphorically, i.e. in the time of trouble. Or,

2. Properly; when men’s minds being freed from the encumbrance and distraction of business, and from the presence and society of men, (which either lays a restraint upon them, or tempts them to use dissimulation,) do act most vigorously and freely, either upon good or evil, according to their several inclinations.

Thou hast tried me, accurately and severely, as goldsmiths do metals.

Shalt find nothing, i.e. nothing of unrighteousness. Heb. shalt not find, to wit, that whereof mine enemies accuse me, namely, hypocrisy towards thee, and evil design against Saul, covered under fair pretences, as they allege. So this general phrase is to be limited from the context, as other generals most frequently are. For he was so far from thinking himself sinless, that he often acknowledgeth his many and great sins, and particularly, that if God should enter into judgment with him, and be severe to mark iniquities, no living man could be justified, or stand before him, Psalms 130:3 143:2.

I am purposed, or, I have resolved upon deliberation, as the word implies, that my mouth shall not transgress; I am so far from practising against Saul’s life, as they charge me, that I will not wrong him so much as in a word. Some join these words with the next foregoing, and render the place thus, That which I have thought, my mouth shall not transgress, or rather, hath not transgressed, i.e. my thoughts and words always agree together. I abhor falsehood and dissimulation.

Verse 4

Concerning the works of men: concerning my care and caution about my words, I have now spoken, Psalms 17:3, now I may say the like concerning my works. As for the works which men generally practise. Or, because of (as the prefix lamed is oft used, as Genesis 2:23 Numbers 16:34 Jeremiah 4:31 22:10 23:9)

the works of men. So the sense may be this, Observing and considering the quality of the works of the men of this age, with whom I converse, or of all mankind, some few excepted; considering, I say, how wicked, and unreasonable, and pernicious they are, not only to others, but also to themselves; I was resolved to take more care in the ordering of my own actions.

By the word of thy lips, i.e. by the help of thy blessed word, and the excellent rules, promises, and threatenings thereof, which by deep and frequent meditation I have hid and fixed in mine heart, as the best antidote against sin and temptation, Psalms 119:9,11.

I have kept; so the same verb is used with the like supplement Joshua 6:18, which also is in a manner included in the verb. Or, I have observed, to wit, so as to avoid them.

The paths, or ways, i.e. the customs and practices, or the imitation of them; as may be gathered from the next verse, where he prays to be kept in God’s paths, which are opposed to these paths.

Of the destroyer; or, of the violent man; such as Saul and his courtiers and soldiers have showed themselves toward me. Although their rage and violence against me might have tempted me to have repaid them in their own coin, yet I forbore it, and spared both others and Saul himself, when his life was at my mercy, 1Sa 24$ 26$; and this I did in obedience to thy word, which required me to honour and preserve the Lord’s anointed.

Verse 5

As by thy word and grace thou hast hitherto kept me from the paths of evil men, and led me into thy paths; so, I pray thee, enable me by the same means to persevere in thy ways, and in mine abhorrency of wicked courses, that I may not fall into that sin of revenging myself upon Saul, to which I may be more and more tempted; nor into any other sin, whereby thou mayst be provoked, or men may be offended, and religion disgraced.

Verse 6

I have called upon thee; it hath been, and still is, and shall be my constant course to apply myself to thee for assistance and for deliverance.

For thou wilt hear me, O God; for though thou mayst delay for a season, I am well assured that thou wilt hear and answer me.

Verse 7

Thy marvellous loving-kindness, to wit, in preserving and delivering me; which, if thou dost, I must ever acknowledge it to be an act of kindness, or free grace, or undeserved bounty, yea, and of marvellous kindness, because of my extreme and pressing dangers, out of which nothing but a wonder of God’s mercy and power can save me.

By thy right hand, i. e. by thy great power.

In thee, or, in it, i.e. in thy right hand, as was now expressed.

From those that rise up against them; or, because of (as the Hebrew prefix mem oft signifies, as Psalms 12:6, and elsewhere) those exalt themselves, (as this word signifies, Job 20:27 27:7 Psalms 49:1) not only against me, but against thee, who hast engaged and declared thyself for me. So this prayer is like that Psalms 66:7, Let not the rebellious exalt themselves. But this place is otherwise translated in the margin of our Bibles, with which divers others, both ancient and later interpreters, agree, and that more agreeably to the order of the words in the Hebrew text,

O thou that savest (or usest to save)

them which trust in thee (or, as the Hebrew word may be properly rendered without any supplement, believers) from those that rise up against thy right hand, i.e. either against thy mighty power, which thou hast already showed in my wonderful preservation; or against thy counsel (which is called God’s hand, Acts 4:28) and revealed will concerning my advancement to the kingdom, which divers of these men did knowingly oppose, as may be gathered from 2 Samuel 3:9,10. Or, against the man (which word is oft understood, whereof examples have been given, and more we shall have in this book) of thy right hand, as David is called, Psalms 80:17. According to this translation his prayer is enforced with a double motive, to wit, his trust in God, and his enemies’ opposition against God.

Verse 8

The apple of the eye; which God hath marvellously fenced on every side, and men use their utmost care and diligence to keep.

Under the shadow of thy Wings; as a hen doth her chickens.

Verse 9

From the wicked; or, because of the wicked. From my deadly enemies; Heb. from those who are mine enemies in, or for, or against my (which pronoun is easily supplied out of the foregoing word, where it is expressed) soul or life, i.e. whom nothing but my blood and life will satisfy.

Who compass me about; which shows both their extreme malice and his great danger.

Verse 10

They live in great splendour and prosperity, whilst I am exercised with many and sore troubles. The like phrase we have Job 15:27 Psalms 73:7.

They speak proudly; not only against us, whom they scorn, but even against God himself, whom they despise, boasting of their own power, and what great things they will certainly effect against me.

Verse 11

In our steps, i. e. in all our ways. We go from place to place, to rocks, and caves, and woods; but wheresoever we go they are at hand, and ready to surround us; of which see an example, 1 Samuel 23:26.

They have set their eyes, to wit, upon or against us, i.e. they have discovered us, and keep their eyes fixed upon us, that we may not escape, or as designing to shoot at us.

Bowing down to the earth, i. e. couching and casting themselves down upon the earth, that they may not be discovered, and so may watch the fittest opportunity to surprise us; which sense is favoured by the next verse, and by comparing Psalms 10:10. Otherwise, to cast us down to the earth.

Verse 12

Like a lion that is greedy of his prey; when he is hungry, and therefore cruel. See Psalms 7:2 10:8-10.

Verse 13

Disappoint him, Heb. prevent his face, i.e. go forth against him, and meet and face him in battle, as enemies use to do. Or, prevent the execution of his mischievous designs against me; stop him in his attempt, and give him the first blow.

Which is thy sword; or, thy hand, as it follows, Psalms 17:14, i.e. thy instrument to execute vengeance upon thine enemies, or to chastise and exercise thy people; for which reason the Assyrian is called God’s rod, Isaiah 10:5, as being ordained for correction, Habakkuk 1:12. The sense is, Do not punish me by this rod; let me fall into thy hands, and not into the hands of wicked men, 2 Samuel 24:14. Or, by (which preposition is understood Psalms 2:12, and oft elsewhere) thy sword, i.e. by thy power.

Verse 14

Which are thy hand, wherewith thou dost correct me.

Men of the world, i. e. who prosper in and set their hearts upon this vain and transitory world, and neither have, nor choose, or desire any other portion or felicity, as it follows.

Whose belly, i.e. mind or appetite, as that word is used, Job 20:20 Proverbs 20:30.

With thy hid treasure, i.e. not only with common mercies, as food and raiment; but with thy choicest and most precious good things, such as men use to hide or keep in their treasures, with extraordinary wealth and glory, and all the delights and of the present life.

They are full of children; when many of the faithful servants are barren, these are blessed with a numerous posterity. Or, their children are filled or satisfied as well as their parents. There is abundantly enough, both for them and for their children, and to spare for their children’s children, as it follows.

Verse 15

I do not envy this their felicity, but my hopes and happiness are of another nature. I do not place my portion in earthly and temporal treasures, as they do, but in beholding God’s face, i.e. in the enjoyment of God’s presence and favour; which is indeed enjoyed in part in this life, but not fully and to satisfaction, or which David here speaks, as appears from the last clause of this verse; the sight of God and of his face being frequently spoken of, both the Old and New Testament, as a privilege denied even to the saints in this life, and peculiar to the next life, as is manifest from Exodus 33:20 Jude 13:22 Matthew 5:8 1 Corinthians 13:12 2 Corinthians 3:18 1 John 3:2.

In righteousness; with the comfort of a good conscience, bearing me witness that, notwithstanding all the calumnies and censures of mine enemies, I have been and am upright and righteous in the course of my life, both towards thee and towards all men; which testimony will enable me to look God in the face with boldness, when mine enemies, being conscious to themselves of gross and manifold unrighteousness towards thee, and me, and others, will be afraid to appear in thy presence.

I shall be satisfied: I am now greatly distressed and dissatisfied, and mine enemies are filled and satisfied with good things; but my turn will come, the time is coming wherein I shall be abundantly satisfied, to wit, with beholding thy face, which is to me more comfortable and satisfactory than all the possessions of this world.

When I awake; either,

1. When I shall be delivered from my present distresses and calamities. But these never are in Scripture, nor indeed can fitly be, called by the name of sleep, which is every where spoken of as a state of rest and quietness; as Psalms 127:2 John 11:12,13; and consequently deliverance from them cannot be compared to awaking. Or rather,

2. When I shall arise from the dead; for death is very frequently called sleep, both in Scripture, as 1 Kings 1:21 Isaiah 26:19 Jeremiah 51:39,57 Da 12:2 John 11:11,13, and in other authors; and consequently resurrection from the dead is justly and fitly called an awaking, as it is Job 14:12 Daniel 12:2 John 11:11. And since the doctrine of the resurrection of the just to a blessed and endless life was not unknown to the holy men of God in the Old Testament, as it were very easy to prove, nor to David in particular, as appears from Psalms 16:10,11, and from divers other passages, it cannot be imagined but David would support and comfort himself in his greatest agonies with the consideration thereof, this being incomparably the most weighty and effectual argument and ground of comfort which he could possibly use. And this also bests suits with the context; for David is here opposing his hopes and portion to that of his enemies; and having noted, not without a secret reflection and reproach upon them for it, that their portion was in this life, Psalms 17:14, it was most consonant to the place and to the thing itself, that he should seek and have his happiness in the future life.

With thy likeness, or image; by which may be understood either,

1. Christ, the Son of God, who was known to David and other prophets, as is evident, and that under the name of the Son of God, Psalms 2:7,12 Pr 30:4 Hosea 11:1, compared with Matthew 2:15, who being exactly like to his Father, might most fitly be called his likeness or image, as he is, Hebrews 1:3. Or,

2. The image of God stamped upon his glorified soul; which must needs afford him infinite delight and satisfaction. Or,

3. God himself, or the face of God mentioned in the former clause, and explained, here by another phrase, as is very usual in these writings. And this interpretation may receive strength from Numbers 12:8, where beholding the similitude of the Lord is evidently the same thing which is elsewhere called seeing his face; and from Hebrews 10:1, where the image doth not note the likeness or representation, but the truth and existence of the thing.


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 17:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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