Psalm 17 - An exposition
This Psalm is a prayer of David. It is a supplication, a pleading to God Almighty, who is the judge of all to execute justice and vindication for his appointed King. A man under great unjust persecution will not be weary to take his case to God when man and law have become his enemies. His eyes will be closed with tears flowing from much affliction for vindication and deliverance from wicked souls who seeks to destroy his life unjustly. Thus David pleas to His God to (Psalm 17:1) hear a just cause. By a just cause is meant that God should give his ears to hear a fair case. The accused, David, feels that he has immorally been inculpated and his accusers have brought an unfair indictment against him. But God, knowing the veins of the hearts, being just and righteous, loves to hear a just cause; therefore David directs his plead, bidding goodbye to the corrupt judges. Attend to my cry! Lord please do not neglect my groaning, do not be far from this court of affliction but come and attend. Sit upon your throne and listen to my cry for justice. Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit! Lord, my God, my lips are free of deceit, there is no untruth found in them. All of my petitions are founded in truth, they are not exaggerated or interwoven with lies.
The saint may come before His Lord his God with a just cause; we may survey the vastness of the fraudulent trials upon this earth and bring them before God Almighty. As he is a God who loves justice, therefore, he loves to hear the petitions of those who campaign for Justice; those whom have not given their lips to deceit, but to truth. David has lost hope to seek vindication from the hands of men so he prays earnestly to God that (Psalm 17:2) from your presence let my vindication come! Let your eyes behold the right! The heavenly tribunal will render the right verdict; from heaven itself will light shine forth to condemn this darkness of injustice. Heaven, being outraged by the awry of the courts of the earth below will render his own verdict from the Kings of Kings and Lords of Lords and vindicate the just - vindication will ultimately be distributed from sovereign hands, setting free the captives, those held by the chains of unjust decrees. Do not be weary in your dungeon of discrimination and inequality, do not cease thy prayer, but continue its fervency, for the God who loves justice and hates iniquity will vindicate you from his presence and bring the rulers of darkness to nought! God's eyes will behold the right; he will, when he finally rises to judge all of mankind. He will execute pure righteousness that none will be found to be unjustly treated. Such will be the severity of the execution of his righteousness that the only ones who will be vindicated are those who are found to be without wrinkle or blemish; those without the spot of sin who have been rightly and justly clothed with the garments of the Lamb. God will try the hearts of men and will judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. O sinner, have you any secrets in your hearts at this moment? Confess them now lest you should be found with them on that great awful day, when the entirety of your hearts will be laid bare. If you are found to be with them, you will be thrown into the fire, yea, and your whole body. Better it is that you cut them off now than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. God will judge our hearts in the final day but in the present he also tries our hearts as the Psalmist declares: (Psalm 17:3) You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, you will find nothing.
God has tested his heart, God has visited him in the night and finds nothing in him to condemn; like the confident Apostle who stated to the Corinthians, 'For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.' The Lord has tried the Psalmist and visited him at night when it is in this late hour that the Sons of men are prone to sin. Job 24:14 says, 'the murderer rises before it is light, that he may kill the poor and needy, and in the night he is like a thief.' And Micah 2:1, 'Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hands.' Also John 11:10, 'But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.' And Romans 13:12, 'The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.' Also 1Th 5:5, 'For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.' The Lord tested the Psalmist in the night, He visited him when man is apt to get into all kinds of mischief, but even then the Lord finds nothing; no transgression or wickedness because the Psalmist purposed that his mouth will not transgress. O what a purpose, what a firm earnestness to forsake the company of darkness. The tongue is the spring of evil. It has the power to bring life and death. 'If any man does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body' (James 3:2). What a purpose to make of a confirmation of not transgressing with the mouth. Imitate! My dear saints, like the psalmist, let us purpose in our hearts to subject this small yet powerful tongue to the chains and chamber of righteousness. Let us bid it to speak no evil, to utter no lies, to succumb to truth, to forsake malice, to bid farewell to deceitfulness, to speak life instead of death, to bless and not to curse. If we neglect this so noble a purpose, I fear that we may stain our bodies with its vileness, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. Let us not transgress with our lips and when we do, let us remember so vividly that atoning sacrifice shed on our behalf - shed for poor sinners whose tongue is apt to go astray, blessing God and at the same time cursing men. Let us humble our heads before the man who wore the crown of thorns, who intercedes on our behalf, and clothes us with a righteousness that is entirely his own. He is the only perfect man and because of him we are perfected.
By keeping a bridle on our lips we shall avoid many transgressions; our speech among men shall be holy and sanctified. The Psalmist sought this holiness (Psalm 17:4) With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. Many men seek to accommodate themselves to whatever company they find themselves in; they seek not to stand out or to differ too much from the morality of the group. For the sake of acceptance and belonging, many throw away their identity or good conscience. It is so with our youth today. They forsake the principles of Christ and eat the feast of secularism. They make friends with culture whilst unknowingly and sometimes knowingly stab Christ with the spear all over again. But the Psalmist treasured the words of Christ; he treasured the scriptures and laws found in them for that is how the psalmist can discern right from wrong. All that is good and noble, all that is worthy and pleasing to God is to be found in the scriptures; and those that keep his words or his commandments are those who truly love him. The words of Christ are a gem, they are like precious silver, they are honey to the mouth and those who keep them or abide by them will not stray - they will not for one moment sit with the enemy and indulge in their wicked activities but will be wholly separate unto holiness. This does not mean that we possess a pharisaic spirit; on the contrary, we are to be found in the midst of them showing them the most excellent way, and of the grace of God which welcomes poor sinner to turn into the house of mercy and righteousness. The psalmist (Psalm 17:5) held fast to God's path; therefore his feet have not tumbled.
Wicked men are always walking on slippery surfaces, they know it not, otherwise they would soon move to the levelled path of righteousness. At any moment they are due to fall and fall into hell forever. It is only the hands of Sovereign mercy which stops them from slipping and falling forever. The saints of Christ are those whom Sovereign mercy has placed upon the smooth and solid grounds of Christ righteousness where henceforth they cannot slip. At times it may feel that they are slipping and will fall at any moment but as Sovereign grace will have it, it shall never be. For when the saints find themselves to be slipping all they need to do is like the psalmist (Psalm 17:6) I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words. God is always at hand, forever near to listen to the calls of his children. Our earthly fathers may have some deficiencies in always not noticing when their kids are in urgent needs of them but it is not so with our heavenly father. He is always aware; forever incline to bring you a happy and holy disposition that in order to achieve his desired ends. He might for a season make you walk through the valley. When you are in such a dark valley you may say with the psalmist (Psalm 17:7) Wondrously show your steadfast love, O Saviour of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand. You are free to declare such from the Lord your God. For it was in love that he predestined you for adoption as sons in Jesus Christ his beloved. It was in the same love, the same pleasurable love which flows from his heart to you, that in Jesus Christ, there is redemption and forgiveness of your trespasses. God has demonstrated his wondrous love towards you that while you were yet sinners, enemies and wicked rebels, he saved you, he sent his one and only beloved Son to die such a horrible, sin atoning redemptive death for you. Now in your dark valley, rest your souls upon him who justifies the ungodly, cast all your cares upon him and he will save you from your enemies - even though you may perish in your valley, yet you shall live and dance; for he has redeemed you and saved you with his mighty stretched hand.
God loves his saints abundantly very much so that it was his pleasure to lavish upon them all of the heavenly blessings and riches, restricting nothing from them but giving them his all. Nothing was withheld, not even his one and only beloved Son. Men would still have been greatly blessed if God had given to his saints everything but His Son. Men would have still been endowed with great wealth and be more precious than the finest jewel and be a billion times richer than the angels. But sweet and agape love knows no restriction; with our heavenly Father, we witness a first rate love, a love that lavishes his finest gift without measure. He gives us what we need most, Himself. The whole trinity is ours to enjoy.
The psalmist pleads to God to keep him as the apple of his eyes; that is, for God to consider him tender and precious, to behold him as it was written in Deuteronomy 32:10, 'He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.' The psalmist is seeking for the same treatment, for the same precious look which fends off every malice from bruising and biting the precious apple. As well as (Psalm 17:8-9) beholding me as the apple of your eyes also hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me. David looked to God for refuge from wicked men who sought to do him great violence, he pleads to God to hide him under his wings. David's enemies wanted him dead. They wanted God's anointed to perish from the earth; they have seen the rising of his greatness and how the good Jehovah was with him. So in jealousy like Saul they plot his death and have no inclination to wish him well.
Psalm 17:10 They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly. These enemies of David are brutes who possess no traces of humility. These ungodly men are like Jeshurun who grew fat, and kicked; stout, and sleek; then he forsook God who made him and scoffed at the Rock of his salvation, (Deuteronomy 32:15). They are also like Pharaoh who had neither pity nor mercy for Israel but was a mortal bathed in pride for Pharaoh said, 'Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go', (Exodus 5:2). Wise men would have taken the prayer of Hannah to heart and obeyed it when she prayed, 'Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed,' (1Samuel 2:3). But foolish and prideful men have no spirit to humble their pitiful souls before God but like the beast, they will continue in their transgressions and utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. David's enemies spoke arrogantly and there are many today who speak arrogantly against Christ and his church. Their swords are sharpened for persecution, their intellects increased for the sake of bringing down Christ from heaven and their mouths opened to ridicule God's glorious gospel. Throughout the centuries, ever since the birth of the church (Psalm 17:11) They have surrounded her steps; they set their eyes to cast her to the ground. (Psalm 17:12) They are like a lion eager to tear, as a young lion lurking in ambush. Jude spoke well of these bringers of chaos and confusion who have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ, (Jude 4).
David had his share of treacherous enemies and wicked souls who were willing, not for a price, but for the sake of satisfaction that this David, if they should have their way would be among the dead in a moment. But David, being a righteous man, for he understood that doctrine championed by the reformers that God justifies the ungodly pleads to heaven, to His Adonai to (Psalm 17:13) Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, (Psalm 17:14) from men by your hand, O LORD, from men of the world whose portion is in this life. You fill their womb with treasure; they are satisfied with children, and they leave their abundance to their infants.
David is demanding of the LORD to awake, to put on his strength, as in the days of old, the generations of long ago. For was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? And also for deliverance, pleading with Habakkuk when he uttered, 'Are you not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, you have ordained them as a judgment, and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof,' (Habakkuk 1:12).
These men who have been ordained to bring about calamity against God's elect, whose portion is their belly, men who have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. They have fattened their hearts. But also we see that bounty of common grace where God himself fills the wombs of wicked men with great abundant treasures with which they are satisfied and have enough for their next generation.
These men are men of this world having as their head shameful Adam, contrary to those who have been redeemed by the head of the new humanity, Christ Jesus. Like their master they are not of this world, for if they were of this world, the world would love them as their own; but because they are not of the world, because Christ has chosen them out of the world, therefore the world hates them. Dear saints, do not be alarmed if the world hates you; if they place no invitation through your door for the party, do not stress or think to powder yourself up so as to be agreeable with their manners and ways. You are from God. There is a greater and more delightful feast which awaits you. But whilst you wait, seek out ways in which you can invite those who have been blinded by the devil, seek with all earnestness for you have been persuaded of the terror of the Lord, therefore reason with them and tell them of the danger at hand.
Sorrowful Job, lamenting of his own sorrows says of the men of this world, ‘Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their offspring are established in their presence, and their descendants before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them. Their bull breeds without fail; their cow calves and does not miscarry. They send out their little boys like a flock, and their children dance. They sing to the tambourine and the lyre and rejoice to the sound of the pipe. They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. They say to God, 'Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways, (Job 21:7-14).
They do not desire the knowledge of the ways of God but we find a better answer in the heart and mouth of David for he says as we all should say and believe (Psalm 17:15) As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness. Whilst men of this world seek their satisfaction in this world, with all of its material blessings, the saints of Christ will seek it in Him. They shall at last be satisfied on that glorious day, when all heaven and earth is renewed and they themselves adorned with the new resurrected body and behold their God as he truly his. They shall be satisfied and for all eternity and more be awed, delighted and have their souls filled with the glorious display of the image of God, beholding him in his glory and marvellous holiness.