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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 17



Verse 1-2

‘A Prayer of David.’

A further psalm from the Davidic psalms.

Psalms 17:1-2

‘Hear, O YHWH, righteousness, attend to my cry,

Give ear to my prayer, which goes not out of deceitful lips.

Let my verdict come forth from your presence,

Let your eyes look on rightness (or ‘your eyes look on what is right’).’

The psalmist is under attack by the world and cries to YHWH to vindicate him. The verb indicates that his cry is strong and piercing. ‘O YHWH, righteousness’ might signify that it is God Who is his righteousness (‘YHWH of righteousness’), or that he wants YHWH to judge righteously.

The scene is the heavenly court. He declares that he is speaking honestly and has nothing to hide. There is no deceit on his lips. He asks that he might be justified in the eyes of all men as YHWH passes judgment on his life and behaviour. Let YHWH Who knows all things hear his plea, and come to the right verdict, the right judgment, and make it known to the world (compare Psalms 37:6; Isaiah 42:1-4; contrast Habakkuk 1:4). Thus will His eyes look down on what is totally right.

Verse 3

‘You have proved my heart, you have visited me in the night,

You have tried me, and find nothing,

I am determined that my mouth shall not transgress.’

‘You have proved my heart.’ That is, have tried it and tested it and found out the truth about it.

‘You have visited me in the night.’ The night is the time when men can be alone and the truth can come out. It is at night that a man’s thoughts roam freely and people consider mischief (Psalms 36:4). It is also possible that when seeking a solution in a case the judge would visit a man at night when, alone together in privacy, he may be able to discover the truth. Compare how Nicodemus came to Jesus by night in order to find the truth (John 3:1). But YHWH has visited him and tried him then and found nothing. Indeed he is determined that nothing that he says will suggest transgression against God’s Law and against His requirements.

Verse 4-5

‘As for the works of men, by the word of your lips,

I have kept myself from the ways of the violent.

My steps have held fast to your paths,

My feet have not slipped.’

When he compares his behaviour with the behaviour of others he can justly claim that because he has heard YHWH’s word from His lips (through His Law) he has kept himself from being an unjustly violent man, even though none might have had better excuse. For he was a trained fighting man, had a band of men at his call, and had been unjustly treated. Yet he has ensured that his steps held fast firmly to YHWH’s paths, and his feet never slipped. What we suffer provides no excuse for how we behave.

Verse 6-7

‘I have called on you, for you will answer me, O God,

Incline your ear to me, and hear my speech.

Show your marvellous covenant love,

O you who save by your right hand,

Those who take refuge in you,

From those who rise up.’

He calls on YHWH as the Deliverer, the One Who reveals His marvellous covenant love, Who saves by His powerful right hand, confident that He will answer him. He cries to Him to do so. The ‘I’ is emphatic. He has taken refuge in YHWH. Let YHWH deliver him from those who rise up against him, as for one who is true to the covenant.

Verse 8-9

‘Keep me as the apple of the eye;

Hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the unrighteous who oppress (spoil) me,

My deadly enemies, who encompass me about.’

The apple of the eye is the pupil. It represented the precious gift of sight. Thus it is above all things what a man guards, and it is protected by the eyelid. Thus the psalmist wants God to protect him as a man would protect his eyesight, indeed he wants him to be as an eyelid to him. The second illustration is that of the bird which takes its young under its wing for protection. Thus the psalmist claims dual protection.

The reason that he needs such protection is then given. The unrighteous, those who do not heed the voice of God, are oppressing him and seeking to despoil him. His deadly enemies are surrounding him, those who seek his death. They may have been internal enemies like Saul. They may have been external enemies. But the need is the same. The writer seeks protection from them all because he is YHWH’s, because he is righteous and does observe YHWH’s Law and YHWH’s will.

Those whose trust is in God can look to God with confidence when unbelievers press in for He will be their eyelid to protect His precious eye, He will take them under His wings to protect His young.

Verse 10-11

‘They are enclosed in their own fat (midriff?),

With their mouth they speak proudly.

They have now encompassed us in our steps,

They set their eyes to cast us down to the earth.’

It may be that he vividly picture his enemies as being entrapped in their own midriff. (Different parts of the body are often used to depict the whole person and as thus affecting behaviour). Thus they are unable to consider their ways or behave humanely. The fat blocks their ears. Or it may signify that in their current prosperity (possibly gained by toadying up to the psalmist’s enemy) they are unable to hear the voice of God and behave righteously. Thus when they speak it is always with pride and arrogance. Either way they have now trapped the psalmist and his men, with their eyes showing their determination to cast them down to the earth.

Verse 12

‘He is like a lion which is greedy for his prey,

And as it were a young lion lurking in secret places.’

The ‘he’ here is some individual who is like a hunting lion greedy for its prey, a prime young lion of the pack lurking in hiding ready to pounce. There is always a ringleader, one who is especially subtle and dangerous. Certainly David found himself in such a situation against Saul. But many of God’s people experienced the same in those dangerous days. Our enemies may be less deadly but they can seem as equally dangerous. But God is able to deliver us from them all.

Verse 13-14

‘Arise, O YHWH. Confront him, make him bow down,

Deliver my soul from the unrighteous by your sword,

From men by your hand, O YHWH,

From men of the world, whose portion is in this life,

And whose belly you fill with your treasure.

They are satisfied with children,

And leave the rest of their substance to their babes.’

‘Arise, O YHWH. Confront him, make him bow down.’ He calls on YHWH to awaken to the situation, and to face up to ‘the lion’, confront him and bring him down to the ground. Let him be rendered powerless. Let YHWH’s sword deliver him from the unrighteous, those who contrary to God’s will seek to bring him down. Let His hand save him from the men who come against him.

‘From men of the world, whose portion is in this life, and whose belly you fill with your treasure. They are satisfied with children, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes.’ He sums up the unrighteous. They are men taken up with the world (compare John 15:19; Philippians 3:19), men whose sole portion is in this life, (they have no portion in God - contrast Psalms 16:5), their only aim being to bear sons to perpetuate their name and to pass down what they have built up to their children. Thus they ignore God and His ways, their lives are meaningless and inward-looking, and their lives can be summed up in their children and so on ad infinitum. They live a purposeless existence.

And all this in spite of the fact that it is YHWH who supplies them with good things, fills their bellies with treasure, making His rain fall equally on the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45) in order to provide them with the treasures of the harvest.

Or ‘bellies filled with His treasure’ might refer to the children in the wombs of their wives, their wives’ bellies being seen as their own.

The whole picture of the unrighteous is of meaninglessness of existence rather than of positive evil. They fail to do the good required by God’s Law. They fail to love their neighbours as themselves. They fail to truly worship God. They fail in all that is most important.

Verse 15

‘As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness,

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with your form (likeness).’

In contrast to his enemies the psalmist beholds YHWH’s face ‘in righteousness’. This may mean that it is because God has accounted him as righteous in that he has responded to Him truly under the covenant, including the necessary making of atonement, or because he sees YHWH as the Righteous One. Either way he considers that to see the face of YHWH is better by far than all that the unrighteous can have.

‘I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with your form.’ When he wakes he will be satisfied if he but behold the ‘form’ of YHWH, as Moses had done before him (Exodus 33:17-23). What are the treasures of earth beside this? His only desire is to live for YHWH and enjoy His presence and see His face.

It is quite probable that we are to see in this his conscious hope of living on for ever in the presence of God (compare Psalms 16:9-11). The point is that the unrighteous live on in their children, and maintain their treasures by passing them on, while he lives on in beholding YHWH continually and his continuing treasure is found in YHWH. He needs no children or children’s children in order to be fulfilled because he will find his continual fulfilment in God. And God is his eternal treasure. In his times of ecstasy at least he cannot conceive of being separated from God by anything, not even by death.

‘When I awake.’ Probably not from the sleep of death, for that is a much later concept, but from the sleep of half-realisation of YHWH to being awake to the full realisation. He is confident that one day he will see Him as He is (1 John 3:1-3). That is all that he desires.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 17:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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