George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 17

1. Structure

1- 9.
Prayer for help against adversaries
The wickedness of the enemies
Faith in the outcome

Psalms 86 and 142 are psalms of pleading remarkably like the first paragraph here in tone and language, and with the same title: “Prayer” = Hebrew Tephillah. See also Psalm 90 (by Moses) and Psalm 102 (by Hezekiah).

There are quite a few verbal links with Psalm 16, which might account for their being placed side by side:

Psalm 16

Psalm 17
In the night seasons
In the night
I shall not be moved
That my footsteps slip not (Hebrew: be not moved)
The path of life
In thy paths
My right hand
Thy right hand
The portion of mine inheritance
Their portion in this life
In thy presence is fulness of joy
I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness

2. Historical setting

This psalm comes in the middle of a group of psalms which all seem to be concerned with Saul’s persecution of David the “outlaw”. He and his men are the hunters, David and his men the prey (vv. 9-13). The language here suggests, time after time, connections with the same unhappy period.

Give ear to my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips. Again, as in Psalms 10,12,15, etc., David’s honesty is contrasted with Saul’s deceitfulness.
By the word of thy lips. The promise given through Samuel at the time he anointed David (1 Sam. 16)? Or, by God’s word through the ephod (1 Sam. 23:2,4,6, etc.)?
The destroyer = Saul, the hunter: 1 Sam. 24.
Under the shadow of thy wings. David has the same lovely allusion to the wings of the cherubim in 57:1; 63:7 — both psalms of this outlaw period. A possible allusion to Samuel’s altar at Ramah (1 Sam. 7:17), where David once fled from Saul (19:18).
They have now compassed us in our steps. “Saul and his men compassed David and his men”: 1 Sam. 19:11; 23:19-27. Note “us”: David and his loyal few.

They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth, as in a stealthy attack, or in following the trail of the hunted men. There is an even more graphic use of the same figure in Psa. 10:8-10 (also about Saul).
Like as a lion. 10:7-9.

Disappoint him: “Forestall” (RV mg.), prevent, or stand before him and between us, to protect us. This God did providentially (see 1 Sam. 23:27).

3. Messianic reference

Feigned lips. The use of such a phrase as this only makes sense as a marked contrast between the Lord’s openness and honesty of speech and the scheming of his adversaries (as in Matt. 22:16,17). Compare Isa. 53:9; 1 Pet. 2:21-24: “nor any deceit in his mouth”.
Thou hast visited me in the night, as happened in Gethsemane: Luke 22:43.

Thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing, i.e. nothing amiss — as Gethsemane demonstrated. See also John 14:30.

I am purposed expresses strong resolution, as necessary in Jesus as in any other man, even though it was his meat and his drink to do his Father’s will.

My mouth shall not transgress. True of David, relatively, when compared with others. But absolutely true regarding Jesus: John 8:46; 14:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15.
By the word of thy lips. How often did Jesus make Holy Scripture his anchor when in temptation or debate.

The destroyer. The destroying Passover angel: Exod. 12:23. Yet other “destroyers” made him their victim. Others gladly made him their Passover Lamb.
Save by thy right hand. By Gabriel who stands in the presence of God (Luke 1:19; cp. Matt. 18:10), and who is the angel of answered prayer. Compare Psa. 34:7; 91:11.
The apple of the eye: A lovely phrase to describe the Beloved.

Under the shadow of thy wings. Compare 91:1,4: also about Messiah. See comments on Psa. 18:10 and context. (Both these expressive figures also occur together in Deut. 32:10-12.)
My deadly enemies, who compass me about, as in John 10:24. There is a sense of desperation about this verse, and in v. 11.
They are inclosed in their own fat. The fat of the sacrifices was God’s own portion. The men of the temple, so hostile to Jesus, had shut up their bowels of compassion (1 John 3:17; Psa. 119:70), and they ran the temple for their own materialistic benefit. Not for nothing was the holy court called “The Bazaar of the Sons of Annas”.

They speak proudly, as in John 11:47-50.
As a lion, with Jesus as the prey — waylaid, hunted. This same ugly scene, of patient stalking and sudden, vicious attack, is amplified in 22:12-18, the preeminent psalm of Golgotha!
The wicked, which is thy sword, and....
Men which are thy hand, O Lord. As the Assyrians were the rod of God’s anger (Isa. 10:5,15), and Saul the hard but necessary test of the faith of David, so also “it pleased the Lord to bruise” Jesus (Isa. 53:10) through the hostility of evil men (Acts 2:23).

Which have their portion in this life. Did not Jesus say: “They have their reward”, i.e. here and now? And for them that is all.

They are full of children. Annas had five sons and a son-in-law (Caiaphas), all of whom followed him in the high priest’s office. In general, see 73:2,3.
I will behold thy face in righteousness. This is the ascension of Jesus, just as....

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness is certainly his resurrection. This is a continuation of the resurrection theme in Psa. 16:8-11. For “satisfied”, see Isa. 53:11:

“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.”

Notice the commas; David does not say, “when I awake with thy like-ness”, as though rising from the dead and receiving immortality (i.e. “immortal emergence”) were one and the same event. But, rather, he says, “when I awake, with thy likeness”. ‘When I arise, I shall be satisfied to receive thy likeness.’ Other translations bear out this small, but important, distinction.

4. Other details

RSV: From thee let my vindication come.
The night, as in Psa. 16:7.

Thou hast tried me. Put to test, so as to purge away impurities, as gold or silver are tested by fire: 12:6; Job 23:10; 1 Pet. 1:7.
Hold up: s.w. 16:5 (“maintainest”).
Incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech. As one might bow down to hear the low and feeble words of the ill or dying (cp. 71:2; 116:2).
The apple of the eye is, apparently, the pupil; Zech. 2:8 is very expressive. Naturally speaking, the pupil is one of the most treasured parts of the body, being protected by skull, cheekbones, eyebrows, eyelids, lashes, tears, and even hands. It is difficult to be sure what precise idea is behind this distinctive Hebrew phrase. Here (but not in the other places) it reads literally: the dark one, the daughter of the eye. So perhaps the idea is that of a man with a dark-haired, dark-eyed daughter, a beauty, whom he treasures as the “idol” of his eye.

Hide me under the shadow of thy wings. Ruth 2:12; Matt. 23:37.
They are inclosed in their own fat. See Deut. 32:15 for the same figure. Compare Eglon in Judg. 3:17.
Which have their portion in this life. Compare Luke 16:25 and Psa. 49:19; contrast Psa. 16:5 and also v. 15 here.

Whose belly thou fillest with thy hid treasure. This should surely read: fillest with thy food.
I will behold thy face: 1 John 3:2; Phil. 3:21; 1 Cor. 13:12; 15:49 (Num. 12:8).

When I awake: Psa. 49:15; 16:11; 13:3; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2. The New Testament consistently refers to the death of those in Christ as a sleep. “Cemetery” means a dormitory, a place of sleeping.

Notice also the parallels with the Blessings of the “Sermon on the Mount”: “righteousness” and “satisfied” with Matt. 5:6 (“They which do hunger and thirst after righteousness ....shall be filled”), and “thy likeness” with Matt. 5:8 (“The pure in heart....shall see God”).

5. True satisfaction

Not here! not here! where the sparkling waters
Fade into mocking sands as we draw near,
Where in the wilderness each footstep falters;
I shall be satisfied — but oh! not here.

Not here, where every dream of bliss deceives us,
Where the worn spirit never gains its goal,
Where haunted ever by the thought that grieves us,
Across us floods of bitter memory roll.

Far out of sight, while yet the flesh infold us,
Lies the fair country where our faith abides,
And of its bliss is naught more wondrous told us
Than these few words, “I shall be satisfied”.

Satisfied! satisfied! the spirit’s yearning
For sweet companionship with kindred minds,
The silent love that here meets no returning,
The inspiration which no language finds.

Shall they be satisfied? the mind’s vague longings,
The aching void which nothing earthly fills?
Oh, what desires upon my heart are thronging
As I look onward to fair Judah’s hills!

Thither my weak and weary feet are tending —
Saviour and Lord, with thy frail child abide,
Guide me toward home, where all my wanderings ended,
I then shall see thee and “be satisfied”.

O.L. Turner

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