The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Psalm 17: 1, 5, 6, 8, 15

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 31, 2010

Psalm 17 is a psalm of complaint made by an individual who has been unjustly accused and, as a consequence, persecuted. He has-according to modern scholars-taken refuge in the Temple and cries to God for help, confident that He will vindicate him. The attribution of the Psalm to David is understood as a reference to his being persecuted by Saul (see 2 Sam 22). The Temple had not been built in David’s day, in which case, if the attribution is original to the Psalm and not a latter addition, David is to be understood as being in the tent/tabernacle which housed the Ark prior to the Temple.

The Psalm is easily divided into three parts, with each beginning with a request:

Part 1, vss 1-5: “Hear, O Lord.” The Psalmist begs God to give him justice and help against his foes.  His cause is just: he is free from all guilt; his mind is pure, and his life has been directed by the Law (Father Patrick Boylan).

Part 2, vss 6-12: “O incline thy ear unto me.”  He again begs for help from the Lord, and describes the cruel enemy who is threatening him (Father Boylan).

Part 3, vss 13-15: “Arise, O Lord.”  The third part the appeal is for the destruction of the enemy.  Even though the godless seem to prevail for a while, in the end justice will triumph, and the light of God’s face will shine on those who are now oppressed (Father Boylan).

In all, the Psalm contains 11 requests.

The Psalmists attitude of complaint, the description of his enemies, his insistence on his own blessedness, his prayer for a very special divine assistance, point to a time of great peril arising from the menace of powerful foes. The only period of David’s career in which he found himself in such a position, was during the persecution of Saul.  The poem is certainly descriptive of an individual, not of a community.  The text of the psalm is in a comparatively poor condition, and we thus fail to get as much light from it about its origin as, at first sight, it seems to give.  For many modern critics this psalm suggests the social and religious background of the late post-Exilic period.  The psalm is, like the preceding, of very great religious value, since it implies, if it does not clearly state, the doctrine of immortality (Father Boylan).

17:1. Hear, O Lord, my justice: attend to my supplication. Give ear unto my prayer, which proceedeth not from deceitful lips.

The Psalmist prays that the Lord will hear his justice, i.e., his innocence.  צֶדֶק (Justice) is the accusative of the object: the righteousness, intended by the suppliant, is his own (Psa17:15). He knows that he is not merely righteous in his relation to man, but also in his relation to God. In all such assertions of pious self-consciousness, that which is intended is a righteousness of life which has its ground in the righteousness of faith. True, Hupfeld is of opinion, that under the Old Testament nothing was known either of righteousness which is by faith…. But if this were true, then Paul was in gross error and Christianity is built upon the sand. But the truth, that faith is the ultimate ground of righteousness, is expressed in Gen 15:6, and at other turning-points in the course of the history of redemption; and the truth, that the righteousness which avails before God is a gift of grace is, for instance, a thought distinctly marked out in the expression of Jeremiah צִדְקֵנוּ ה, “the Lord our righteousness.” The Old Testament conception, it is true, looks more to the phenomena than to the root of the matter…but the righteousness of life of the Old Testament and that of the New have one and the same basis, viz., in the grace of God, the Redeemer, towards sinful man, who in himself is altogether wanting in righteousness before God (Psa 143:2). Thus there is no self-righteousness, in David’s praying that the righteousness, which in him is persecuted and cries for help, may be heard. For, on the one hand, in his personal relation to Saul, he knows himself to be free from any ungrateful thoughts of usurpation, and on the other, in his personal relation to God free from מִרְמָה, i.e., self-delusion and hypocrisy (Keil and Delitzsch).

Give ear unto my prayer, which proceedeth not from deceitful lips. This verse should be seen in relation to verse 4: Psa 17:4  That my mouth may not speak the works of men: “for the sake of the words of thy lips, I have kept hard ways.” By maintaining stout devotion to God’s ways, i.e., God’s revealed will, here called “the words of thy lips”, the psalmist has not deceitful lips. Compare with verse 10 which provides a contrast: “their mouth hath spoken proudly.”  It also brings to mind Psalm 14:9-12 (RSV): “Those who surround me lift up their head, let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! Let burning coals fall upon them! Let them be cast into pits, no more to rise! Let not the slanderer be established in the land; let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!”

Psa 17:5  Perfect thou my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps be not moved.

The Douay-Rheims, following the Vulgate’s translation of the Greek Septuagint, translates this as a request the psalmist made to God for protection, the NAB and RSV translate it as the psalmist’s statement of innocence: “My steps have held fast to thy paths, my feet have not slipped” (RSV).  Either way, the verse reflects the fact that God can and does preserve the faithful.  See Psalms 18:36; 119:117; 121:3, 7; 1 Sam 2:9; Jer 10:23.  The term path, or equivalents such as road or way, is a metaphor for moral life.

If one accepts the DR translation, as a prayer that my footsteps may not be moved, it should be seen in relation to verse 11: “They have cast me forth,” as if trying to force him from the right path, or cause his feet to stumble.

If one accepts the RSV and NAB translation of the verse “My steps have held fast to thy paths, my feet have not slipped,” then the translation of verse 11 in those versions is also applicable. The RSV of verse 11 reads: “They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.” The emphasis here is on “They track me down,” as if following his footsteps on the moral path, looking for a pretext to “cast” him “to the ground.”

Psa 17:6  I call upon thee, for thou wilt answer me, O God; incline thy ear to me, hear my words (RSV)

Compare with verse 1. Once again the psalmist is confident that God will hear and answer him as a result of his justice, exhibited in his moral life.

Psa 17:8  From them that resist thy right hand keep me, as the apple of thy eye. Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.

The psalmist prays that God will keep him as the apple of thy eye, a term of endearment and protection.  Again, comparison with verse 11 should be seen, for the enemies “have set their eyes bowing down to the earth.”  If God keeps him as the apple of His eye then the enemies watchful vigil to do him harm will be to no avail. See also Deut 32:10; Zech 2:8; 36:7; 63:7.

Protect me under the shadow of thy wings. Some see God as being compared to a mother bird protecting her young. See Matt 23:37~”Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not?” See also Psalms 36:8; 63:8; 91:4 Others see a reference to the protective presence of God manifest on the wings of the Cherubim (Ex 25:20-22).

Psa 17:15  But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear.

The psalm began with the psalmist asking God to “hear my justice” (vs 1) and the request “let thy eyes behold” (vs 2). Here he expresses his confidence that his prayer has been (or will be) heard before God’s sight (eyes) in justice.

4 Responses to “My Notes on Psalm 17: 1, 5, 6, 8, 15”

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