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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Psalms 17

Psalm 17, like Psalm 16, is about David, whereby he is clearly a picture of the Lord Jesus. He is also a picture of the faithful remnant of Israel. Psalm 16 is about his inner, intimate, confidential and personal relationship with his God. This has been revealed through suffering, just as happens with pure gold that has been tested by fire.

We see this in perfection in the Lord Jesus in Whom through all suffering His complete trust in His God became visible. We see in His suffering Who God is to Him. In this He is an example for every believer, both now for us who belong to the church and for the faithful remnant in the future.

In Psalm 17 we see the pressure that is being exerted on David from outside. The same thing applies to the believing remnant and also to the Lord Jesus. Through that pressure, a sincere heart is revealed as one that is completely devoted to God. In the case of the Lord Jesus we recognize this in the description of Him in the Gospels.

Here it is more about the circumstances that are characterized by enemies surrounding the righteous. This is also what the faithful remnant will experience in the end time. We see in this psalm the Lord Jesus connected with the believing remnant. His experiences are shared by them. What He has experienced, they will, to some extent, experience. He is with them in the Spirit. In this psalm He teaches His own to trust in God as the God of the resurrection, the God Who will soon come to save them.

We can divide this psalm into three parts:
1. Psa 17:1-5 are the basis of David’s prayer. In it he speaks of his righteousness; he expresses his uprightness.
2. Psa 17:6-12 deal with oppression by the enemy. This section begins with a prayer followed by a description of the enemy.
3. Finally, Psa 17:13-15. This section again begins with a prayer. David asks for destruction of the enemy and his deliverance. The enemy, both of David and of the Lord Jesus and the faithful remnant in the future, is the unbelieving part of the people. This unbelieving part, the apostate multitude, with the antichrist at its head, is supported by the restored Roman Empire, the European Union, or the beast coming out of the sea spoken of in Revelation 13 (Rev 13:1-10).

We find the essence of this prayer of David in the middle of the psalm, in Psa 17:8: “Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings.”

Verses 1-2

Prayer for Justice


This psalm is “of David” (Psa 17:1a). The psalm is called “a prayer”, which we also hear from beginning to end. Three other psalms of David are likewise so named (Psa 86:1; Psa 102:1; Psa 142:1) and further only the one psalm of Moses (Psa 90:1).

David calls the LORD’s attention with three powerful statements: “hear”, “give heed”, and “give ear to” (Psa 17:1b). The matter at hand is “a just cause”. The word “cause” is not in the original and has been added. It is therefore possible to read the text this way: “Hear the right [strictly: righteousness]” (Darby Translation). ‘Hear’ also means ‘deal’. ‘Righteousness’ implies ‘according to Your covenant and/or Your promises’.

David is not speaking of others, but of himself. It may seem that he is trying to defend himself, but he is not. A just cause is only just if that cause is so judged by God. David is not concerned with restoring honor to himself or to assert himself, but with the honor of God which is at stake here.

This is about injustice in the world and among the people of God. David prays to the righteous Judge for justice. In Psa 17:15 he expresses his confidence that he will see God’s face in righteousness, which means that God will act and deliver in righteousness.

He sees his cause as God’s cause. Therefore, he urgently asks God to hear him. He speaks of his “crying” to God. He cries out aloud, for his soul is in distress (Psa 106:44; Psa 142:6). What he wants to say he calls “my prayer”, indicating that he comes to God as a supplicant.

He adds that his prayer “is not from deceitful lips”. This is not posturing, but indicates that he approaches God with a clear conscience to present his cause to Him. It is the prayer of a righteous person (cf. Jam 5:16b), that is, of one who stands upright before God. He can approach God freely because there are no things in his life that are contrary to God’s holiness and because he is upright in his heart (1Jn 3:21).

The point is not that he is sinless, but that he does not walk around with sins that he has not confessed. He has integrity and is sincerely devoted to the LORD. What he says is consistent with what is in his heart and also evident in his actions (Psa 66:18). David also demonstrates this in Psa 17:3-5.

He wants the LORD to confirm his innocence on the basis of righteous judgment with a judicial decision. To do this, he appeals to God’s “presence” (Psa 17:2), that is, to God’s presence in his life. After all, God’s eyes “look with equity”, that is, He sees the right things and judges them according to what is consistent with law and justice. He will then see that according to truth and justice there is no sin in the sense of deceit or hypocrisy present with him. Then his justice can go out from God’s presence so that his adversaries are gagged.

Verses 3-5

A Righteous Prays


In these verses, David places himself before God and submits his inner self and his actions to Him. He draws God’s attention to what He knows about him. He testifies to his righteousness. In doing so, he gives his own assessment of what is in him and the deeds he has done and the ways he has gone. He can say that there is nothing that accuses him.

In Psa 17:3, David speaks of three methods that God has used to see what is in his heart: God has “tried” him, “visited” him, and “tested” him. It is also possible to translate these three verbs in imperative: “Test my heart, search it by night, test me” (cf. Psa 139:23). The result of the examination is certain: “You find nothing” or “You will find nothing”.

Having tried the heart is to examine it to see if it is pure in its motives. God has visited him at night, when he is alone and, as it were, face to face with God, when nothing distracts him. That is also the most appropriate opportunity to confront him with a sin if there were one. His whole person has been tested, which refers more to the circumstances that serve as a testing environment in which he is living.

David knows that the injustice done to him by wicked people has no ground whatsoever. God has also observed this with him, for He has found nothing after thorough examination. Therefore, he has the firm confidence that God’s assessment of his righteous case that he submits to Him will be in accordance with it.

The meaning of the last part of the verse – “I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress” – is that nothing more and nothing else has come out of his mouth than what he has thought. It implies that his thoughts and his words, by which he makes his thoughts known, are in complete harmony. He does not use his words to hide his true thoughts. He has no wrong, hidden thoughts. This is often the case with people, but not with David.

This too we see in perfection and always with the Lord Jesus, in Whom every word He speaks expresses exactly what He thinks. He is what He says (Jn 8:25). This is how it should be with every believer.

After David has spoken of his inner self, he then speaks of his actions (Psa 17:4). In this, too, God will not be able to discover anything that could make his righteous cause a failure. David speaks of “the deeds of men”. It is not about sinful deeds, but about man’s general doings, his daily activities. In this he has been obedient to “the word of Your lips”, which is the Word of God.

That has kept him from going “the paths of the violent [literally: of the burglar or transgressor]”. The paths of the violent are the paths of the devil who is the violent, the burglar and transgressor. It is not so much about a path of violence but about a forbidden path, a path of disobedience, as a burglar goes. It is a path that causes harm others. People who live without God live for the devil and go his way. It is the path of “destruction and misery” (Rom 3:16). Only obedience to God’s Word keeps us from this. The Lord Jesus is the perfect example in this.

By being obedient to the word of God’s lips, David has held fast to the paths of God (Psa 17:5). He has gone the way that God has gone before him. He has put his feet in His footsteps. As a result, his feet have not slipped. The way we go, we go step by step. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet, meaning that God’s Word gives light for every step we have to take. God’s Word is also a light to our path, which is the entire way we travel, with our eye fixed on the final goal (Psa 119:105).

Verses 6-9

Prayer for Protection


Here begins the second part of the psalm, which consists of Psa 17:6-12. In it, there is talk of oppression by the enemy. This section also begins with a prayer. The word “I” with which Psa 17:6 begins has emphasis here. David says: “I, it is I who call upon You. I, who have just shown You my whole inner and outer self, by which You have seen that everything in it corresponds to Who You are.” He calls upon God because he knows that God hears him.

He asks God to show him “wondrously” His “lovingkindness” (Psa 17:7). This is a beautiful expression. Every display of God’s lovingkindness to us is a wonder. Do we also have an eye for that and bow down in worship to Him for it? The first wonder of God’s lovingkindness is that He has saved us (Tit 3:4-6). After that, He has shown us countless more wonders of His lovingkindness. Has He not often helped us in His lovingkindness in all kinds of situations, for which we ourselves saw no solution and for which we then resorted to Him?

Here it is about a situation where David is surrounded by people who rise up against God’s right hand [the context makes it clear that this is meant here]. It points to the audacity of these rebels, for they rise up against the power of God, of whom the right hand speaks. With His right hand, God supports and delivers His own (Psa 18:35; Psa 139:10). By this David is saying to God that he realizes that his enemies do not rise up against him, but against the strong God. We can also apply the “right hand” to the Messiah. He is at God’s right hand and He is the power of God (Heb 1:3; 1Cor 1:24).

For himself, he asks for protection. For that, he boldly appeals to God’s lovingkindness, reminding God how precious he is to Him. He describes this preciousness by speaking of himself as the “apple of the eye” (Psa 17:8; cf. Zec 2:8). The request for its protection also includes the request to be able to continue to see everything clearly.

The apple of the eye is the pupil of the eye. The Hebrew word means ‘little man, daughter of the eye’. This is because your image is reflected by the pupil when you look at it. That David is the apple of God’s eye means that David is reflected in the apple of God’s eye, God’s pupil. This, in turn, is because the LORD does not lose sight of him and constantly protects him.

The apple of his eye is one of the most sensitive and vulnerable parts of the body. He therefore makes an additional appeal for God’s protection asking that God hides him “in the shadow” of His “wings” (Psa 36:7; Psa 57:1b; Psa 63:7; Psa 91:4; cf. Rth 2:12; Isa 49:2; Isa 51:16; Mt 23:37). In addition to protecting what is precious, it is also about protecting and securing what is defenseless.

These pictures illustrate the love of God in His acts of care and protection for those who are dear and precious to Him. Moses uses both of these pictures in the song he teaches God’s people. In doing so, he wants to teach them about their preciousness to God and the love and care God has lavished on them because of it (Deu 32:10-11).

David presents himself to God in his preciousness and vulnerability because of “the wicked” who “despoil” him and his “deadly enemies who surround” him (Psa 17:9). He is in mortal danger. The wicked are out to despoil him. His deadly enemies have surrounded him, making him feel like a surrounded, besieged city (cf. 2Kgs 6:14), from which every way out has been cut off.

Verses 10-12

The Wicked and Deadly Enemies


In Psa 17:9, David has told God what his enemies are up to. In Psa 17:10-12, he holds up to God by what his enemies are led and how they proceed. Their hearts are “unfeeling”, literally “fat” (Psa 17:10; cf. Isa 6:10), making them inaccessible to reasonable arguments for repentance. “Their fat” points to their prosperity, well-being, abundance. They revel in prosperity that they would not want to miss for anything in the world.

In doing so, they have at the same time put a barrier around their hearts, so that it is closed off to any call to turn their backs on their sinful way of life (cf. Psa 119:70; Deu 32:15). That they have closed their hearts with fat also means that they have no compassion for others.

Because of their fat inner being, “they speak proudly” with their mouths. They attribute their prosperity and well-being to their own efforts. The arrogance spells out. There is no thought of God in them, Who nevertheless “causes His sun to rise on [the] evil and [the] good, and sends rain on [the] righteous and [the] unrighteous” (Mt 5:45). Because there is no thought of God, there is also no care for others.

Instead of taking care of others they are out to plunder others (Psa 17:11). Those who are arrogant cannot be trusted. Their actions reveal the fatness around their hearts. They surround “us in our steps”, which are the steps of the righteous. Here David speaks in the plural. What happens to him happens to all who belong to him. Thus the Lord Jesus said that just as His enemies persecuted Him, they will also persecute those who belong to Him (Jn 15:20).

The wicked lurk on the righteous. They ‘stalk’ him. They make themselves small and lie down on the ground to jump and rob the unsuspecting passerby from that position. The wicked “is like a lion that is eager to tear” (Psa 17:12). The lion is a symbol of brute force with a devouring voracity. “As a young lion lurking in hiding places” to pounce on its prey, the wicked lies in ambush to pounce on and tear apart the righteous.

Verses 13-14

Prayer for Deliverance From the Wicked


With Psa 17:13 begins the third and final section of the psalm, which consists of Psa 17:13-15. In this section it is about the salvation of the oppressed righteous that results from the destruction of the enemy by the LORD. This section also begins with a prayer.

The description of the wicked once again impressed David as to his mortal enmity. He cries out to the LORD to arise, go to the wicked, and bring him low (Psa 17:13). When the LORD arises, it causes terror among His opponents (Isa 2:19). He then exalts Himself in His full, impressive magnitude, so to speak. Then He goes to the wicked, who is paralyzed with dismay, and strikes him down. Bring him low means that He brings him down from his pretended high position by killing him.

When the LORD kills the wicked with His sword, the righteous will be delivered from him. The sword of God, “Your sword”, is His Word (Eph 6:17). He kills His opponents with the sword that comes from His mouth (Rev 2:16; Rev 19:15). This is a different use of God’s Word than the use David made of it, for he used it to stay on his guard against going astray (Psa 17:4).

He asks the LORD not only for deliverance from the wicked, but for deliverance “from men … from men of the world, whose portion is in [this] life” (Psa 17:14). For this he appeals to “Your hand”, that is, he wants God to intervene in the lives of these men.

These men, this kind of men – they are emphatically mentioned twice – are characterized by the fact that they live for here and now. They have their portion in this life. They live by the motto, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (Isa 22:13; 1Cor 15:32). It is the spirit of Cain who squandered the future blessing of the firstborn right for an instant bite of good food (Gen 25:29-34).

This category of people is always referred to in the book of Revelation as “those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 3:10; Rev 6:10; Rev 8:13; Rev 11:10; Rev 13:8; 14; Rev 14:6; Rev 17:8). Their portion is in the greatest possible contrast to David’s portion, who says that the LORD is his portion (Psa 16:5). That is an eternal portion, while the portion of the men of the world is limited to this life, the short life on earth here and now.

They can fill their bellies with the good things of life. That they are able to do so, they owe to God. He gives it to them from His sources (Acts 14:17), but these are hidden from them because they banish Him from their thinking. They even get so much that they can also satisfy their children. What those children have left over from that, they leave to their children.

It all seems wonderful; the blessing passes from one generation to the next. At the same time there is great drama in it. They can leave it to their children, but that is because they themselves can take nothing of it with them when they die. Then begins for them the endless eternity of doom and gloom.

Verse 15

The Hope of the Righteous


In this verse we see the great blessing of the righteous which forms a huge contrast to the fate of the wicked one and all the wicked in the previous verse (cf. Phil 3:19-20). Prophetically, this means that the wicked will be exterminated and the faithful remnant in the realm of peace will be satisfied in righteousness.

David confidently says that he will “behold” God’s face “in righteousness”. He will be in God’s presence by virtue of the righteousness God has proven to him and not by virtue of his own righteousness, for he does not have any. He will be with God by virtue of the work of Christ Who worked this righteousness for him with God.

The satisfaction this gives is eternal. This is an enormous contrast to the satisfaction of the wicked in Psa 17:14. Those who partake of the resurrection, the awakening, will eternally see God’s face (Rev 22:4a), eternally enjoy His presence, eternally be satisfied with God’s likeness. The likeness of God is Christ in Whom God will be visible for all eternity.

For us, New Testament believers, this is already true now. After all, we live in a spiritual sense in the world of the resurrection because we have died and risen with Christ. Because of this we already see Him (Heb 2:9), Who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15; 2Cor 4:4; Jn 14:9). When we are with Him, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is (1Jn 3:2).

The psalm ends in a similar way to the previous one (Psa 16:11). There it is more the personal joy of the Lord Jesus when, having passed through death, He sees the face of God in the resurrection. Here He is more the Leader of all who will also be like Him satisfied with the likeness of God in the resurrection because in this psalm He is united with the believers.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Psalms 17". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/psalms-17.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.