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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Psalms 17



Verse 1

Psalms 17.

David, in confidence of his integrity, asketh defence of God, against his enemies: he sheweth their pride, craft, and eagerness: he prayeth against them in confidence of his hope.

A Prayer of David.

Title. לדוד תפלה tephillah ledavid, a Prayer of David. The author, in this Psalm, earnestly prays for a deliverance from his enemies; whom he describes as just ready to swallow him up. In the 4th and 5th verses he justifies his innocence, and pictures his enemies in the 14th as persons intoxicated with prosperity. By the 3rd and 15th verses it seems to be a night-piece. Dr. Delaney supposes it to have been written after David's parting with Jonathan, and going into exile. See 1 Samuel 20:42.

Psalms 17:1. Hear the right, O Lord Hear, O righteous Lord] Houbigant.

Verse 3

Psalms 17:3. Thou hast visited me in the night "Thou hast been present with me in my greatest privacies; to discover whether, in my retirement from the eyes of men, I was forming any evil designs, or indulging any mischievous imaginations." The last clause of this verse is obscure. David here is thought by many interpreters to hint at what passed in the camp of Saul, when Abishai would have killed him, but was prevented by David, 1 Samuel 26:9.; and the sense will be clearer, if the first words of this verse be added to the former, as they actually are in the LXX. Then the sense will be; "I have purposed that my mouth shall not offend, concerning men's works;" i.e. "I am so far from doing any wicked thing, that I will keep a strict watch, even over my words; and, though my enemies persecute me ever so much by their evil deeds, I am resolved that they shall not tempt me to speak evil. And as to what I said of my innocence, in respect of any wicked overt-act, this is one remarkable instance of it, that, when I had my enemy in my power, by attending to and obeying thy commandments, O God, the words of thy lips, I preserved my innocence in that great trial of it, and kept me from the ways of that destroyer, Abishai." Then the next verse follows naturally; in which he beseeches God to keep him in this righteous course: Hold up my goings, &c.

Verse 7

Psalms 17:7. Shew, &c.— Magnify thy mercies, O thou, &c.

Verse 8

Psalms 17:8. Hide me under the shadow of thy wings This is a figurative expression, say some, taken from hens, who with great carefulness hide their chickens under their wings to protect them from birds of prey: see Matthew 23:37. But it appears to me much more probable, that the idea is taken from the wings of the cherubim which overshadowed the mercy-seat. See Psalms 57; Psalms 1.

Verse 10

Psalms 17:10. They are inclosed in their own fat This is a poetical or proverbial speech, to signify haughtiness, as caused by wealth or great prosperity; together with that indulgence of the sensual appetites, and disregard to the duties and doctrines of religion, which is a consequence of such haughtiness, Jeshurun waxed fat, i.e. rich and prosperous; and the consequence was that he kicked; i.e. grew proud, insulting, and luxurious. See Deuteronomy 32:15.; and Psalms 73:7.

Verse 11

Psalms 17:11. They have now compassed us in our steps Mudge renders this and the preceding verse differently: Psalms 17:10. They draw close their cords; with their mouth they speak exultingly: "We have succeeded now." Psalms 17:11. They come about me, they set their eyes stooping down upon the earth. The image here is taken from hunters, and the circumstances follow very properly. They compassed him about, they enclosed him in their net; "We have succeeded at last," they said; they came round him; they stooped down and looked earnestly at him; their eyes fixed, like a lion which is just leaping at his prey. See Houbigant.

Verse 13

Psalms 17:13. Deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword Let thy sword deliver me from the wicked: thy hand, O Lord, from men: Psalms 17:14. From those men who are of this world; &c. Houbigant.

Verse 14

Psalms 17:14. From men of the world, which have their portion in this life If we did enough remember, what it concerns wicked men to forget, That they have their portion in this life, and are therefore filled with the treasures of this world, upon which they have set their whole hearts, that they may have no pretence or title to that of the next; we should with pity look at the bargain that they have made for themselves; and tremble more at what they are to suffer hereafter, than be troubled at what for the present they enjoy. When we see men languishing in fevers and dropsies, we do not envy them the pleasure that they have enjoyed in former riots and excesses; and when we see men wasted and faint in consumptions, or worn away by more noisome diseases, we do not envy them the pleasure of their former lusts and licence; and truly, if we did present to our clear thoughts the severe interest which bloody rebels and traitors must unavoidably pay for their short triumphs in this world, we could not think that their dying in the same prosperity they had lived in, and their leaving children to succeed them in their offices and estates, and to inherit their unrighteousness, was any addition or improvement of their happiness. The children will complain of an ungodly father, because they shall be reproached for his sake; says the Son of Sirach. Sirach 41:7. No man has reason to be proud of leaving an estate behind him, and such children to inherit it, as will quickly grow ashamed of the memory of their own father: and to wicked men whose wisest ambition would be, that they and their actions might quickly be forgotten, it is the greatest curse which can befal them, that they leave a posterity to keep up their infamy, and to put the world often in mind of their unrighteousness. In a word, if, in the deepest deluge of misery which is ready to overwhelm us, we can keep such a confidence about us, as may carry us to God in honest and faithful prayer; such as may warrant us that God is pleased to look down upon us with favour; if, under those clouds of oppression, and in that night of affliction, HE does discern that we do in truth, according to the best of our understanding, through his grace, guide ourselves by those rules which he has given us; he will take us so far into his own immediate protection, that we shall be so much satisfied in the consciousness of having pleased him, and done as he would have us, and suffered as he hath found best for us, that we shall only pity those instruments of his displeasure who have taken so deep a draught of joy in this world, that they have quenched all thirst of the inestimable comfort of that which is to come.

Verse 15

Psalms 17:15. I will behold, &c.— I will through righteousness behold thy face. Bishop Hare has observed, that the sense of the latter part of this verse, according to the genius of the Hebrew poetry, is the same with the former. By or through righteousness, implies the condition upon which he expected the return of God's mercy here, and the eternal vision of him hereafter: while worldly men, with all the abundance and prosperity wherewith they felicitate themselves in this life, shall be for ever banished from the presence of God, and deprived of that beatific vision. All the ideas in this verse are so magnificent, that the awaking which David here speaks of, can be properly applied to nothing but his resurrection; especially when we compare this verse with the last of the 16th psalm. As death is frequently represented in Scripture under the notion of sleep; so is the resurrection under that of awaking. See John 11:11. Others, however, think that David here refers to his approaching God's presence in the tabernacle in righteousness; and that, while the men of the world were filled and satisfied with the good things of it, he, whenever he awoke, i.e. every morning, applying to God in prayer, should be filled with the joy of God's countenance, and be satisfied with his likeness. The following paraphrase seems well to express the full meaning: "I will come to worship before thine ark with an honest and upright heart; and then I trust that my appearing in this manner before thee in this life, shall be an earnest of my mine perfect enjoyment of thee in the other life; when I shall awake out of the grave, and be made like thee, and shall by this means be so happy that I shall have nothing further to desire."

REFLECTIONS.—In this psalm, David, 1. Begs a hearing of his righteous cause; and, as he spoke from the simplicity of his heart, he hoped for an answer of peace from the heart-searching God. Note; When our conscience bears witness to our inward simplicity, then have we confidence to approach God.

2. He humbly sues for the gracious interposition of God in his behalf, that his uprightness might be made manifest, and by God's providential dealings the sentence of his justice might appear. Note; When we are traduced of men, it is an unspeakable comfort to have the testimony of our conscience, and boldness to look up to the omniscient God.

3. He appeals to God, who had proved him in the furnace of affliction, and comforted him under the darkest times of his distress; that nothing was found in him, no allowed guile, no secret malice against his bitterest enemies; and God knew that it was his purpose both to withhold his lips from every evil word, and his hands from every evil work. Note; We must not only abstain from acts of violence against those who injure us, but our lips must be kept with a bridle, that not an unkind reflection may be made concerning them.

4. He prays for continued support in this holy way, sensible that it was not in man that walketh to direct his steps; and that, if left but for a moment to himself, his feet must slide. Note; (1.) A deep sense of our own weakness and insufficiency is the surest way to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. (2.) Every Christian walks in a slippery path, and many wait for his halting; he needs, therefore, watch and pray, that he faint not. (3.) Enemies to God's people are rebels against himself, and will be reckoned with accordingly. (4.) In the eyes of a believer, God's loving-kindness appears marvellous, and not only in his first gracious call, when he brought him out of his wretched state of sin, but especially in his many recoveries when his feet were well nigh gone; and, when he gets to heaven, he will still more wonder at himself, and stand to all eternity admiring God's amazing love.

5. Sensible that his help stood only in the Lord, the Psalmist redoubles his importunate prayer, Keep me as the apple of the eye; with such care as we guard the coats of that sensible organ: hide me under the shadow of thy wings; with such tenderness as the hen gathers her chickens; or in such safety as if lodged on the mercy-seat under the wings of the cherubim. Note; In vain does Satan rage against those whom God secures. His enemies, who oppressed him, and compassed him about, are described in lively colours, bespeaking their sensuality, pride, malice, craft, and cruelty. Note; When a Christian is thus beset, he had need look about him, and above him, if he would be preserved from falling. In the view of his danger, David cries to God; Arise, O Lord, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, which is thy sword, the instrument that God often uses for correction or judgment; and, however, men may purpose, they can only move and act as they are permitted by him: from the men which are thy hand; held in it, restrained by it, or used according to God's purposes and designs. Note; If we receive unkindness from man, let us think whose hand he is; and, though the action in him be evil, justify God in his corrections.

Finally, the Psalmist concludes with his great hope and joy: not the world, nor the things of it, did he grasp after; a nobler ambition filled his heart, even to be like and enjoy the blessed God. As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; either walking now in the ways of God's will and worship, and therein enjoying the present sense of his favour and love; or, as expecting God's appearing in the great day when he should be exculpated from the accusations laid to his charge; or rather intimating the manner in which he expected to see God's face with comfort; I shall be satisfied with this, and nothing less than this, when I awake in thy likeness, when, on and after the glorious resurrection-day, I shall be eternally perfected in holiness, and made happy in the constant vision and eternal fruition of thy blessed Self. O that such may be our sentiments, such our desires, such our prayers!


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 17:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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