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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Psalms 17



Verses 1-15


"David pours forth to God in this psalm an earnest prayer for deliverance from his inveterate enemies, who were bent on taking away his life. We find in it his opinion of the character of his oppressors, who were obviously persons of consideration and influence, and who were disposed to exercise all the power which their station enabled them to command, to gratify their hatred and malice against him. He affirms his own innocence, and expresses his full conviction that the time would come when the relative conditions of himself and his opponents would be changed. Many persons think, and with some reason, that the psalm was written on the occasion when Saul and his men pursued David in the wilderness of Engedi."—Phillips.


(Psa .)

We are reminded here:

I. Of our need of the Divine succour. "Hold up my goings in Thy paths" (Psa ). This is the language of one who felt that he could not hold himself up. Some in the pride of their heart imagine that they can, in their own wit and strength, face life and its difficulties. Let us look at the path of life, the path which leads to heaven, and we shall see our need of a Divine Helper. In our way through this world to a better we must often encounter:

1. Steep paths. How pure, perfect, high are the statutes of God! We are born in the depths of sin and shame. All that is truly great and truly good lies far above us, as those white mountains of Switzerland lie above the traveller, their tops touching heaven. Now, who can ascend the holy hill? Can we, in our own strength, get so much above ourselves, so much beyond ourselves? Surely not. Without superhuman help we should soon grow faint and weary in scaling these sublime heights, and glide down, or fall down, into sense and sin.

2. Rough paths. Life has its paths of suffering, the paths that have to be traversed with bleeding feet. Here human nature often faints and falls. Men strike against sick-beds, bereavements, losses, persecutions, and lose all energy, peace, hope. Our heart is often "discouraged because of the way," and unless we have Divine strength, comfort, guidance, we must perish.

3. Dark paths. We are often in most perplexing circumstances, and it is very easy for us to get wrong. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." Our path is often untried, strange, and dangerous. We speak of taking a leap in the dark. We are constantly doing this, compelled to do it; life is a series of leaps in the dark. If a Heavenly Hand does not aid us, we must stumble and fall.

4. Slippery paths. Days of youth, when the blood is hot, and life free and full; days of temptation, when a strange illusive light brightens into beauty things of death and darkness; days of comfort, when there is nothing to stir the soul, but everything to lull it; days of prosperity, when riches and honours increase: these are the times when we stand on slippery paths, on enchanted ground; and unless God help us, we are soon, as an old writer says, "on all fours." Alpine climbers say that the icy peaks which sometimes they attempt to climb are like "the neck of a bottle," and it is hard work to keep from sliding into the abyss. Life has paths similarly slippery, and unless a Divine guide uphold us, our steps will slide.

"In Psa we read, ‘Thou wilt show me the path of life;' here the psalm speaks of the paths of the destroyer. The path of life is oue; but there are many paths of the destroyer."—Wordsworth. And Satan is perpetually seeking to drive or to draw us from the King's highway into his destructive paths. "The path of life is like the vale of Siddim, slimy and slippery, full of lime-pits and pit-falls, springs and stumbling-blocks."—Trapp. "Hold up my goings"—as a careful driver holds up his horse when going down hill. We have all sorts of paces, both fast and slow, and the road is never long of one sort, but with God to hold up our goings, nothing in the pace or in the road can cast down."—Spurgeon. "Lord, hold me up, that I may hold out."—Watson.

We are reminded:

II. Of the sufficiency of the Divine succour. The Psalmist has no doubt of his safety if only God will save him. Thus, in another place: "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe" (Psa ). There is no royal road to heaven, but there is a royal Helper, and none can perish who cling to Him. "God is able to make you stand" (Rom 14:4). There is a Catholic story which relates that once a holy painter was painting on the lofty ceiling of a church the image of one of the apostles. Absorbed in his work the artist stepped back to contemplate it, and stepped beyond the edge of the scaffolding; in a moment the figure that he was painting started into life, caught the falling artist, and set him down safely by the altar. If we live in the Church, and seek to glorify God, whenever we take a dangerous step, or stand in perilous slight, a Hand stronger than that of Peter's, stronger than Gabriel's, shall preserve us, and keep us in safety.

"On every side He stands,

And for His Israel cares;

And safe in His Almighty hands,

Their souls for ever bears."


1. That we are safe only whilst we rest in God. All other securities for good living are valid only whilst God gives them efficacy. Promises, vows, pledges, all are unreliable, except as God gives them fixity and force. God's help is the key-stone of all prudential measures. We must all try to take the dying minister' advice: "Stand up for Christ, stand up in Christ."

2. That it is the privilege of the believer to be held up. Not only to be picked up when we have fallen, but to be held up, so that we may not fall. The old poet sings—

"That which makes us have no need

Of physic, that's physic indeed."

Preventing grace is the best physic.

3. That we are preserved from falling by holding to God's Word" (Psa ). "Whatever men in general may do or say, I have but one guide and rule of action, viz., Thy Word."—Perowne. And Kay renders (Psa 17:5). "Because my treadings held firm to Thy paths, my steps have been unmoved." "By holding fast my goings in Thy paths, or rather, tracks, ruts of wheels, my footsteps have not been moved. I owe my safety to the care which I take to tread in Thy footsteps." Wordsworth. If we hold firmly by God's Word, that Word will preserve us. It shows us which are the false paths. "By the words of thy lips I have marked the paths of the transgressor."—Wordsworth. It strengthens us to walk in true paths. Its examples, its promises, the grace which is ever given in the reading of it, energise us to walk in the path of life which it indicates.

4. That the text gives no sanction to carelessness and sloth. If God hold us up we have something to do, we have to hold to Him. To hold God's hand day by day is the supremest effort of the soul, it means unceasing thought, prayer, endeavour. God only saves those who daily cling to Him in sighs, and prayers, and tears.


(Psa .)

I. Special Need. "Show Thy marvellous lovingkindness" (Psa ). "Make Thy grace wonderful."—Moll. "Exhibit Thy special mercies, Thou who savest them that flee for refuge."—Kay. "It has particular reference to extraordinary favours, implying an unusual necessity."—Alexander. The Psalmist was in a position of peculiar distress and peril. Mark his trying position as here depicted by himself.

1. The number of his enemies (Psa ). They compassed him about. He felt that he was hemmed in by them on every side.

2. The character of his enemies. They were deadly enemies (Psa ). As the 10th verse particularises, they were proud, arrogant, unfeeling. "Their heart is not a pulsating human heart, but a lump of fat"—Moll. Insensible, obdurate, cruel.

3. The strategy of his enemies (Psa ). "They had fixed their eyes intently on the Psalmist, with a purpose to prostrate him to the ground, or completely overwhelm him."—Moll. A greedy lion lurking in secret places, expresses at once, their ferocious disposition and crafty action. It was then with the Psalmist a time of special need. All God's people know such times. They are often in deep waters, but sometimes deep calleth unto deep; their sky is often clouded, but sometimes it is eclipsed; they often pass through the fire, but sometimes the furnace is heated seven times hotter than it is wont to be heated. Their trouble is sore, their trial fiery. Their tribulation seems to go beyond that of Christians in general; it certainly goes beyond any which they have experienced in the past. They have need of extraordinary help, marvellous lovingkindnesses, special mercies.

II. Special Help. "Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of Thy wings" (Psa ). How truly sublime these conceptions! In the seasons of deepest distress we have the brightest visions of God's love and power to save. In times of deepest trial we are:

1. The dearest to God. "Keep me as the apple of the eye." This is a symbol of that which is dearest to us. How precious is the eye, how carefully guarded by us! So we are never dearer to God than when we want Him most. The most suffering child in a family is the best beloved; and so it is in God's family (Zec ).

2. The nearest to God. "Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings." How near, how safe! "The wings of a hen cover her brood so that they cannot be seen by birds of prey; she covers them against rain and storms; she warms them and strengthens them when they are cold and weak; so likewise does the Divine grace with His children."—Moll. Thus in times of persecution and temptation; of suffering and trouble; of weakness and fear, God draws us all the closer to Himself, and under those wings, whose golden feathers are wisdom and power and love, we hide in safety.

3. The happiest in God. The eaglet hiding under the wing of the parent bird is a figure of comfort as well as safety. It is only as we realise deeper experience of pain, and loss, and peril, that we realise the deeper joys of the Divine life. "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ" (2Co ). The brighter rainbow decks the darker cloud; in mid-winter's gloom the stars burn brightest. God's wing is as soft as it is strong, and the sorrow that drives us to the closer communion ensures us a deeper peace, a keener bliss.

"When my sorrows most increase,

Let Thy strongest joys be given!

Jesus, come with my distress,

And agony is heaven!"


(Psa .)

In these verses we have an illustration of the purifying and ennobling influences of sanctified trouble. We see that unsanctified prosperity degrades those who enjoy it, whilst sanctified adversity lifts up those who suffer it

I. Sanctified sorrow drives us nearer God. In the 7th and 8th verses this is very apparent. "The hard usage of his enemies drove David into God's blessed bosom; as children misused abroad run home to their parents."—Trapp. Wronged by the world, buffeted by the messengers of Satan, overtaken by the storms of adversity, in closer fellowship with God we find balm to our soul. One day an aide-de-camp of the late Emperor Nicholas of Russia threw himself at the monarch's feet, and begged from his sovereign permission to fight a duel. The Emperor, who was a staunch opponent of duelling, immediately and emphatically refused. "But, sire, I am dishonoured; I must fight," cried the disconsolate aide. The Czar frowned, and asked him what he meant. "I have been struck in the face," was the ready reply. "Well," said the Emperor, "for all that, thou shalt not fight; but come—come with me." And, taking him by the arm, the Emperor led him into the presence of his court which was assembled in an adjoining saloon. Then, in view of the flower of his realm, the Emperor kissed the cheek of the aide-de-camp which had received the blow. "Go now," he exclaimed, "and be at peace; thy affront has been effaced." Thus, when we are wronged by men or devils, we fly to our God, and the kiss of the King of the universe more than atones for the injury and dishonour that may have been done us. The King's love and favour fill the wounded soul with strength and gladness.

II. Sanctified sorrow conducts to a higher spiritual life. We see this specially in the 14th verse. The Psalmist has been led to feel how much superior is the Divine life to a worldly life. He is led to a new and deeper appreciation of a godly nature, and of all the treasures it inherits. In the midst of persecution and sorrow he realises a more intense spirituality. A naturalist, speaking of the swarms of insects which torment cattle in tropical lands, shows that the sufferings of the cattle issue in their safety. "Observe," says this writer, "that the furious eagerness of the winged insects, which seem to be the agents of death, is frequently a cause of life. By an incessant persecution of the sick flocks, enfeebled by hot damp airs, they ensure their safety. Otherwise they would remain stupidly resigned, and hour after hour grow less capable of motion, gloomier and more morbid in the bonds of fever, until they could rise no more. The inexorable spur knows, however, the secret of putting them on their legs; though, with trembling limbs, they take to flight, the insect never quits them; presses them, urges them, and conducts them, bleeding, to the wholesome regions of the dry lands and the living waters, where their furious guide abandons them, and returns to the pestilent vapours, to its realm of death." Thus David's enemies, like a swarm of winged insects, drove him to loftier heights of life. If he had been left to a level life of care and prosperity he might have fallen a victim to its relaxing influences, but persecutions and tribulations drove him to the higher walks of thought, and feeling, and life. Is it not often thus with God's people? They are stung by many losses and sorrows; but these afflictions secure their salvation. With trembling limbs, and bleeding hearts, they take their flight from the miasmatic plains of the carnal life, to the tablelands of which God Himself is sun and moon.

III. Sanctified sorrow awakens longings for the heavenly and eternal life (Psa ). Here we see the Psalmist loosened from earth by his troubles, and looking forward to the heavenly and immortal for the satisfaction of all his longings. Such is the beauty of Damascus that we are told Mahomet feared, if he entered it, his heart would be captivated by its loveliness, and he would be unfitted for the celestial, so he turned away from the gates of the Syrian paradise. Amid scenes of affluence and pleasure we may easily forget our great inheritance; but in disappointment and affliction our heart goes out after that Divine and heavenly inheritance which fadeth not away.


"Men of the World" (Psa )

We will first consider:

I. The characters thus described. "Men of the world" observe:

1. Their portion. "Which have their portion in this life." "The word here used for ‘world' denotes the transitory nature of the world as a thing of time. Men of the world are those who have made it their home, and who, together with the world and the lust thereof, are passing away. Being thus worldly-minded, they have their portion in life, i.e. in the brief years of their existence upon earth."—Perowne. "Life is by some understood to mean a life of ease or pleasure; but this is far less natural than the obvious sense of this life, this present state as distinguished from futurity."—Alexander.

(1.) They live to the visible. The "world." Their pain and pleasure, hope and fear, loss or gain, all have to do with the senses and the worldly life.

(2.) They live to the present. Their disposition is gross—their highest good and happiness is in the purely natural life. "Worldliness consists in these three things:—Attachment to the Outward; attachment to the Transitory; attachment to the Unreal: in opposition to love for the Inward, the Eternal, the True."—Robertson. A man may not be an atheist, and yet be a man of the world; a man may not be vicious, and yet be a man of the world; nay, a man may be moral, amiable, kind, and yet be a man of the world. They love not God: "The friendship of the world is enmity with God." They love the near and the low, not the distant and the high—they are deaf to the injunction, "Set not your affections upon things of the earth." They look at the things which are temporal. How many there are with many good qualities, but who at their best are never more than men of the world!

2. Their prosperity.

(1.) They have enough for themselves. "Whose belly thou fillest with Thy hid treasure." "To the eye of sense God seems sometimes to have reserved His choicest gifts for the ungodly."—Alexander. "They have more than heart could wish, their eyes stand out with fatness" (Job ).

(2.) They have enough for their children. "They are full of children," &c. Margin, their children are full. "The obvious signification is, that they have enough for themselves and for their children."—Barnes. They found large and flourishing houses. The prosperity of the wicked need not excite any particular surprise.

(1.) They set their whole heart on such prosperity.

(2.) They bend their whole strength to compass their aim.

(3.) They have no moral scruples to stand in the way of their progress. They live to the world, and get it. Its wreaths theirs, its gold, its purple, its dainties.


II. The disadvantages of their lot.

The Psalmist in this place is not envying "the men of this world;" but, on the contrary, pities them.

1. The hand of God is against them. "From the wicked by Thy sword: from men by Thy hand" (Psa ). Many take worldly prosperity as a sign of God's favour, but it is no such sign. God's hand is against men of the world. His sword is lifted against them, and must smite erelong if they repent not.

2. They have a profound discontent. A carnal content they have, but does not the Psalmist intimate in the 15th verse, that "true" satisfaction comes only through righteousness? Yes, the men of the world are full of precious things—pleasures, honours, gold, and silver—but their spirit is desolate and unsatisfied. "Their portion is a lean and hungry one at the best—one that may fill the hand, but cannot fill the soul."—Binnie.

3. They soon part with their inheritance for ever. "This world." "This life." Whatever this world gives us it soon takes back again, just as the hungry ocean-waves suck back again the glittering shells with which they first strewed the shore. And then? "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1Jn ).


(Psa .)

Satisfaction! What a magical word! Oh! What is it? Where is it to be found? Who shall teach us to realise it? In this verse we have suggested to us,

I. The nature of true satisfaction.

1. It is spiritual. The Psalmist shows here that it is not external and physical, but internal and spiritual. The sensual men in the 14th verse, are not satisfied men are not men seeking satisfaction in a right direction. Not in mere sensuality shall we ever find content. You cannot satisfy the body with thoughts, neither can you satisfy the soul with meats. Not in social rank and glory shall we prove satisfaction. The ancient star-worshippers affixed mirrors to their breasts to bring near to them the orbs they worshipped, but the orbs themselves were far away in the heavens, nevertheless; and titles, purple, coronets, golden fortunes, crowns of fame, are but mirrors also in which you have the reflections of high and glorious things—reflections, and nothing more. Not in mere intellectuality shall we find content,—art, science, philosophy. St. Augustine complains to God of his friends offering him the books of the philosophers;—"And these were the dishes in which they brought to me, being hungry, the sun and the moon instead of Thee." True satisfaction is not in the sphere of the senses, but of the spirit.

2. It is complete. The satisfaction of the sensual in the 14th verse, is one-sided, only regarding one section of the complex nature. The Psalmist's satisfaction was all pervasive—the gratification of his whole being—appetite, sensibility, imagination, spirit. "Their's, partial, defective, such as would but gratify their bestial part; his, adequate, complete, a happiness of proportion, such as should satisfy the man."—John Howe.

3. It is full, "satisfied, fed to the full."—French. The whole nature blessed, and fully blessed. "They hunger no more, neither do they thirst any more."

4. It is everlasting. The Psalmist looks forward here to the great future, and anticipates endless blessedness. The perpetuity of the inheritance of the worldly man referred to in Psa , is quite a mock immortality—he dies, and his estate is soon dissipated; but the joy of a spiritualised and perfected nature flows for evermore.

II. The source of true satisfaction.

1. The vision of God. "As for me—in righteousness let me behold Thy face."—Perowne. The knowledge of God—the perception of His goodness, wisdom, beauty. The secret of all our discontents is our misapprehension of the Divine nature, law, government, purpose. If we could see the Throne, and Him that sits thereupon, with unclouded face—for really the cloud is on our face, not on God's—our soul would be filled with ecstasy. To know that God is all beauty, and His law all love, and His government all wise, and His kingdom and eternity all joy—to know this, is overflowing and everlasting gladness. To have a clear, full vision of Jesus, Who is the brightness of the Father's glory, is the secret of satisfaction. Observe, it is through righteousness that we gain this vision. "In righteousness let me behold Thy face." "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

2. The likeness of God. "When I awake with Thy likeness." "When Thy likeness is awakened."—Horsley. As we become pure we get the clearer vision of God, and as we get the clearer vision of God, the Divine image is inwrought once more in our deepest nature. "We all with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord," &c. (2Co ).

"Unlike my God I cannot rest,

For sin is perfect misery:

But stamp Thine image on my breast,

Conform my hallowed soul to Thee.

"Partaker of Thine utmost grace,

My soul would then be satisfied;

As Moses, when he saw Thy face,

And sank into Thine arms and died."

(1.) This satisfaction may be largely attained in this life. It is a grave error to place this satisfaction wholly in the future. In this life we may, through the grace of Jesus, attain power over sin, fix our heart singly upon God, and attain thus to the vision of God, the likeness of God, and all the joy of which God is the fountain. Let us seek a pure heart.

(2.) This satisfaction is fully attained in the life to come. "They shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads." Here we begin to awake in the likeness of God, and as His image shines more clear in our soul, our satisfaction becomes more profound; in heaven, that likeness shall be complete—we shall see Him as He is, and our joy shall be full.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 17:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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