Psalm 17:1

The title of our homily on this psalm is in some respects similar to that on the seventh psalm. There, however, the psalm is an appeal to the great Vindicator of one unjustly accused; here, it is the appeal of one beset with persecutors to the great Judge of all. Whenever or by whomsoever the words of this psalm were penned, it may not be easy to say. The probability is that it is one of David's. If so, there is an abundance of incident in the record of his career by which it may be illustrated and explained. And, indeed, the surest (perhaps the only) way of interpreting such psalms as this is to read them by the light of the Books of Samuel. Anyway, however, it is an infinite mercy that we have preserved to us, not only psalms to be enjoyed at all times,(such as the twenty-third and the forty-sixth), but others adapted for special times. For very often the saints of God have been so impeached, slandered, worried, beset, and persecuted, that the words of this psalm have exactly fitted their ease. And in all such instances, the people of God may find sweet repose in reading the words before us; showing us, as they do,

(1) that however greatly we may be wronged on earth, there is a Righteous One to whom we may make our final appeal;

(2) that he who sitteth on the throne is not only just, but is also One of "marvellous loving-kindness;"

(3) that therefore we may pour out our heart before him, and tell him our case - the whole of it, exactly as it is; so that, though we are by no means obliged to adopt as our own every word in psalms like this, yet we may learn from them to present our case before God as minutely and exactly as the psalmists did theirs, - as varied as are the cases, so varied may be the words.

I. HERE IS A REMARKABLE CASE LAID BEFORE GOD. There are in it six features.

1. The writer is sorely and grievously persecuted. (Vers. 9-12.) It has been well said, "Where would David's psalms have been, if he had not been persecuted?" The experiences through which he passed may be studied in the records to which we have referred above. In fact, one of our most skilled expositors said to the writer that his own study of the Books of Samuel had thrown floods of light on the Psalms, had cleared up many phrases that before were unintelligible, and had shown the reason of many others that seemed unjustifiable. And since David was withal the poet of the sanctuary, be could and did put these hard experiences of his life in such words as should be helpful to the troubled and ill-treated saint in all future time. (For the exact significance of detailed expressions, seethe Exposition.) Let believers follow David here, and whatever their cares and worries may be, let them tell them out, one by one, to their God, who will never misunderstand them, and, even if some expressions of emotion are unwise and faulty, will cover the faults with the mantle of his forgiving love, and fulfil the desires according to his own perfect wisdom. Oh, the infinite relief of having a Friend to whom we may safely tell every thing!

2. David is conscious of his own integrity. (Vers. 1 4.) This is by no means to be understood as a piece of self-righteousness (see Psalm 143:2). It is quite consistent with the deepest humiliation before a holy and heart-searching God, that an upright man should avow his innocence of the guilt that false accusers may charge upon him. In fact, we ought, while penitent before our God for innumerable heart-sins, to be able to look our fellow-men in the face with the dignity of conscious honesty and purity.

3. David knows there is a Judge on the Throne, a Judge of perfect righteousness - and One who will listen to his cry (ver. 7). He knows God as One who saves the trusting ones from their foes by his own omnipotent hand.

4. Hence to him David makes his appeal. (Ver. 2.) Note: Only one who is at peace with God, and who is among the upright in heart, could possibly make such an appeal as this, - for sentence to come forth from God's presence must be a terror to the rebel, for that sentence could only be one of condemnation. But souls in harmony with God can lovingly look to God as their Redeemer, their Goel, their Vindicator; they will say, with Job, "I know that my Redeemer liveth;" or with Cromwell, "I know that God is above all ill reports; and that he will in his own time vindicate me." Yea, they can call on God to do this, leaving in his hands the time and the way of doing it (cf. 1 John 3:21, 22).

5. With the appeal, David joins fervent supplication.

(1) With regard to his enemies. That God would arise, i.e. interpose in the way of providential aid; that he would cast down the wicked from their high pretensions, and disappoint them, i.e. prevent them - be beforehand with them, and frustrate their evil designs ere they attempt to carry them out.

(2) With regard to himself.

(a) That God would deliver him out of their hand.

(b) That God would hold up his goings in the right way.

(c) That God would keep him

(α) as the apple of the eye (literally," the little man," "the daughter of the eye") - an exquisitely beautiful figure, admirably adapted to be the basis of an address to the young on God's care in the structure of the eye; (β) as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings - another figure of marvellous tenderness (Psalm 36:7; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4; Psalm 91:4; Matthew 23:37). Nor let it be unnoticed that for all this, David uttered a "piercing cry' (for so the word in the first verse signifies).

6. David remembers that, after all, he has no reason to envy his persecutors; that, after all, it is far better to know God as his God, and to have him as a Refuge, than to have all the ease, comfort, and wealth which this world can give. And this brings us to note -

II. THAT, REMARKABLE AS THE PSALMIST'S CASE IS, IT PRESENTS TO US A STILL MORE REMARKABLE CONTRAST. (Ver. 14.) How much force is there in the expression, "As for me" (cf. Psalm 4:16)! Note: Amid all the confusion, strife, and whirl of earth, each man has a distinctive individuality, which is all his own, and is never confounded with another's (Galatians 6:5; Isaiah 40:27). No one has a right to think he is lost in the crowd (2 Timothy 2:19; Revelation 2:17; Isaiah 43:1; Luke 12:6, 7). Each one has a relation to God entirely his own. The bad may mingle with the good, but are never confounded with them. Not one grain of wheat is by mistake cast into the fire, nor yet one of the tares gathered into the garner. All that is momentous in hope, character, relation, security, destiny, gathers round the individual. Each one has an "As for me." In the psalm before us there are indications of six points of difference between David and his enemies; so vital are they, that not all the distress which he suffers from them could make him desire to change places with them.

1. He is right; they are in the wrong. (Ver. 1.) As we have before said, the writer by no means claims to be perfect, but he knows that he has chosen the side of righteousness, and is sincerely anxious to walk according thereto; he walks in his integrity, though he may be conscious of coming far short of his own ideal. But as for his enemies, to be in the right is no concern of theirs! Their's is might against right. Note: Happy is the man who sees infinite honour in being right, however much it may cost him!

2. God is to him a Defender; to them he is a Judge - to condemn them and put them to shame. This is the ground-tone of the psalm. The throne of the great Eternal is to the psalmist one of grace, mercy, and love; but to his enemies, it appears to shoot forth devouring flame. Note: God will seem to us according to our state before him (see Psalm 18:25, 26).

3. The psalmist addresses God in confident hope; they resist God, in proud defiance. The whole attitude of David's enemies was one of proud self-confidence: "Our tongues are our own: who is Lord over us?" Hence:

4. The throne of righteousness, which was the safety of David, was the peril of his persecutors. His joy was their dread. Wicked men are afraid of God; and it is saddening to reflect that the guilt of an uneasy conscience projects its own dark shadow on the face of infinite love!

5. David had an eternal portion in his God; they lived only for this life. He calls them (ver. 14) "men of the world" (cf. Hebrew original). David could say, "Thou art my Portion, O God;" but with them their all was laid up here. When they depart hence, they will leave behind them all their treasures; but David would go, at death, to the enjoyment of his. Hence:

6. The outlook of the psalmist was full of gladness; theirs, full of gloom. How blissful the anticipation in the one case!

(1) A glorious vision. "I shall behold thy face in righteousness." Whether the writer thought of a bodily vision of Jehovah's form, or of a spiritual vision of the invisible glory, we cannot say. At any rate, knowing even now the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we can forecast the ecstatic rapture which we shall feel when he shall be manifested, and we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is!

(2) A glorious transformation. "When I awake, with thy likeness," i.e. with possessing it (otherwise the phrase would be a tautology). As Watts beautifully puts it -

"I shall behold thy blissful face,
And stand complete in righteousness."

(3) Entire satisfaction therein; i.e. both with the vision and with the conformation. Yes! There will be full and complete realization of the glory which now we see only "as through a glass darkly." And this will be in the awakening (cf. Psalm 49:14, "The upright... in the morning). The state after death has been viewed in three aspects.

(a) As a slumbrous state in the under-world, from which there was no awaking. This was the pagan view.

(b) As a slumbrous state in the underworld, but with the hope of an awaking in the morning." This was the Hebrew conception.

(c) To the Christian, however, the state after death is - "Absent from the body, at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8, Revised Version). The glory, however, will be completed at the resurrection (Colossians 3:4, Revised Version). But how different the outlook of the wicked! (Matthew 7:13, 14; Philippians 3:19; Luke 16:22, 23; Luke 12:21; Luke 13:28). Well may preachers plead agonizingly with their hearers to choose life rather than death (Hebrews 11:25, 26)! Little will the godly think of past sorrow when they Gave their recompense in heaven! Small comfort, will earth's wealth give to those who miss heaven! - C.

Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto my cry,...that goeth not out of feigned lips.
The Psalmist is quite sure that he himself is sincere. The verses which follow seem to be a kind of anticipation of the Pharisee's self-satisfied prayer; but they are nothing of the kind. The reference is not to sinlessness, but to sincerity. The Psalmist does not say, I am a pure man, without a stain upon the heart or hand. He says, I am a sincere man, the general purpose I have had in view is a purpose marked by honesty. He does not represent himself as pure snow in the face of heaven, but as a man whose supreme motive has been a motive of honesty and general truthfulness. Sincerity can appeal to the right. We draw our prayer out of our own character. This suppliant is so sure of his own honesty that he says, Let the whole case be settled honestly. At other times, when he knows there is not a clean spot upon his whole constitution — one sound healthy spot — he falls right down before God and weeps out his soul ill penitence....We should be sure of our motive before we invoke the doing of right. It is better for us to invoke the exercise of mercy. Most men will get more from pity than they ever can get from righteousness.

(Joseph Parker, D. D.)

It is observable that the eagle soareth on high, little intending to fly to heaven, but to gain her prey; and so it is that many do carry a great deal of seeming devotion in lifting up their eyes towards heaven; but they do it only to accomplish with more ease, safety, and applause their wicked designs here on earth; such as without are Catos, within Neros; hear them, no man better; search and try them, no man worse; they have Jacob's voice, but Esau's hands; they profess like saints, but practise like Satans; they have their long prayers, but short prayings; they are like apothecaries gallipots — having without the title of some excellent preservative, but within they are full of deadly poison; counterfeit holiness is their cloak for all manner of villanies, and the midwife to bring forth all their devilish designs.

(Peter Bales.)

I. A CRY FOR JUSTICE (vers. 1-7). Things in the mind of David. —

1. A sense of truthfulness. He was conscious that there was no discrepancy between his speech and his spirit. The man, unless he feels that he is sincere, will never dare to appeal to heaven for justice. Virtuous sincerity requires that there should be not only an exact correspondence between the speech and spirit, but also between the spirit and eternal realities.

2. A desire for the Divine verdict. "Let my sentence come forth from Thy presence." The human soul everywhere holds that there is justice at the head of the universe, and that it will sooner or later vindicate the right.

3. A consciousness of a Divine searching. "Thou hast proved mine heart." A man may be deeply conscious of his imperfection before God, analyst conscious of his innocence of the charges brought against him by man.

4. A determination to be blameless in his speech. "I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress." What he means is, I will utter nothing wrong concerning mine enemies, nothing that can justify their harsh and cruel conduct.

5. An assurance of Divine protection. He was protected from ruin. Protected by God. And protected in connection with his own agency. God's agency in connection with man's deliverance neither supersedes the necessity nor interferes with the freedom of human effort.

6. A dread of falling from rectitude. "Hold up my goings in Thy paths". This means — I am right as far as mine enemies are concerned at present. I am conscious of no wrong. I am anxious to retain my blamelessness. To retain my blamelessness I need Divine help.

7. A confidence that God will attend to his prayer. The meaning is — I have invoked Thee heretofore, and do so still, because I know that Thou wilt hear.

II. HERE IS A CRY FOR MERCY. "Show Thy marvellous loving kindness." A prayer for protection from enemies. Note the character in which he appeals to God for protection. He appeals to Him as a mighty Saviour. The manner in which he desired protection. The enemies from whom he sought protection. The cry for mercy is as deep and universal as that for justice.

III. HERE IS A CRY FOR PERFECTION. Three facts deduce from the words.

1. That the death of a good man is an awaking from sleep. There is much spiritual torpor and spiritual dreaming even in the best.

2. In this awaking at death there will be the complete assimilation of the soul to God.

3. In this assimilation will consist the everlasting satisfaction of our nature. There is no satisfaction without this. The spiritual powers will not work harmoniously under the dominion of any other disposition. The conscience will frown upon any other state of mind. The Great One will not bless with His friendship any other state of mind in His creatures. Likeness to God is likeness to His controlling disposition. His controlling disposition is disinterested love, and this is that well which springs up to everlasting life.


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