A psalm of trust in the Lord's defense
"A prayer of David. Hear a just cause, O LORD, attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips. Let my vindication come from Your presence; let Your eyes look on the things that are upright." (verses 1-2)
David, the king of Israel, spent many years both prior to the throne, and during his reign, in military conflict and personal danger. Whether on the run from King Saul, the Philistines, or even his son Absalom, David knew the pressures and fears of a life of warfare. Here in Psalm 17, David pleads his case before God; a case of innocence. In the face of accusations and perhaps death threats, he maintains his truthfulness and righteousness before God, imploring the LORD to take a stand on his behalf.
While we may never face overt threats of violence like those David experienced, many of us will have experienced false accusation in the course of our lifetimes. Have you never been suspected or rebuked for wrong doing that you were not guilty of? Did it not hurt or anger your heart that someone believed a lie about you? Here David cries out from his heart to perhaps the only One who does not question his character, the only One who sees the hearts of all men and knows everything. David knows that God knows that he is innocent, and he desires God to vindicate him, to clear his name of blame and suspicion. David is an example to us; how natural it is to try to clear our own name! Jesus, our best example, "opened not His mouth" and before His accusers was silent.
To our loving God we can go when we are faced with slander or judgment. Not only will He uphold us in our integrity, but He will not even judge us when we are guilty! Jesus took all the judgment we could ever receive, and now offers only mercy. When falsely accused, the challenge is to let God be our defense, and to let the issue rest with Him.
"He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret - it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; but those who wait on the LORD, they shall inherit the earth." (Psalm 37:6-9)
"You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. Concerning the works of men, by the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer. Uphold my steps in Your paths, that my footsteps may not slip." (verses 3-5)
David, still addressing the LORD, speaks of his integrity before God, who has seen him both day and night, and still found him to be totally upright. Integrity means doing what is right, even when no one watching, (or so I simplistically explain it to my children). David knows and declares his own integrity before God.
David affirms to the LORD that the decision he made long ago to guard his words and his actions, he has upheld. He has not sinned with his mouth, nor with his feet. He has kept to the straight and narrow way, and not fallen into any sin. But lest he seem proud, we must also note what David reveals about how he has so guarded himself... "by the word of Your lips.."(vs. 4) God's word has been the source of David's integrity; another psalmist wrote, "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You." (Psalm 119:11) The word of God is a powerful agent in the life of a believer for a walk of holiness; Jesus Himself said that the holy scriptures would sanctify us, or set us apart and make us holy. "Sanctify them by Your truth; Your Word is truth." (John 17:17)
And thus, beginning with a prayer that God will continue to keep him on the right path and from sin, David now enters into the petition part of this psalm, where he lays out his requests before the Lord.
"I have called upon You, for You will hear me, O God; incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech. Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings, from the wicked who oppress me, from the deadly enemies who surround me." (verses 6-9)
David immediately voices his confidence that God will listen to his prayer, and then asks for God to hear his requests. Why would David ask God to listen to him, after already stating that he knew God would listen to him? It says in 1 John 5:14-15, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And we know that if He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petition that we have asked of Him."
When we ask God for something He has already promised in His Word, we can ask with full assurance that He will listen to our request and answer us in accordance with His will. We can be certain He will do what He promised. Why ask then? James 4:2, "Yet you do not have, because you do not ask."
God desires that we should depend upon Him for everything, and trust Him alone to meet our needs. There is a very human tendency to try to do everything ourselves and only call upon God when we hit a wall and can do no more out of our own ability. This happened to me this week, yesterday actually.
Taking my oldest with me to get groceries, we arrived at the supermarket without the needed dollar coin to unlock the shopping carts. I searched the car, my purse, and my son pulled out his cash supply, but all we had was small change. Vexed at the hassle, I prepared to go into the store without a cart and somehow aquire the needed coin, perhaps by begging one off the customer service with my license as collateral. My son annoyed me further by saying, "No wait, Mom, lets pray and ask God to provide!"
Not wanting to "bother God" over a silly loonie, I tried to reason with him why it was unecessary to pray. "Its not an emergency, and I can get a coin some other way." But he persisted, "Please, Mom! Just try!" I complied, but not without a wince of doubt that my son would be disappointed when God chose to let this small issue work itself out in the normal way, without divine intervention. My faithless little prayer went something like this, "Lord, please provide a dollar so we can have the cart we need to go shopping. In Jesus name, Amen."
I was shocked, (and a bit ashamed of myself), when not a second later, I spied an abandoned grocery cart, unlocked and unused, just feet from our car. With an acquiescent smile and a shake of my head, I reached out for the cart, silently repented, and thanked God for His faithfulness to my son's faith. My son looked pleased with himself, his eyes saying, "told you so", but he only smiled at me and laughed. God promises to provide us with exactly what we need. We can ask for anything, great or small, with complete confidence, just like David did.
And David's prayer was for no shopping cart loonie! His request was for God's mercy, kindness, and protection from evil men in a dangerous situation. Still, God's promises remain sure.
"Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.'" (Isaiah 41:10)
"But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard [KJV "keep"] you from the evil one." (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
"They have closed up their fat hearts; with their mouths they speak proudly. They have now surrounded us in our steps; they have set their eyes, crouching down to the earth, as a lion is eager to tear his prey, and like a young lion lurking in secret places.
Arise, O LORD, confront him, cast him down; deliver my life from the wicked with Your sword, with your hand from men, O LORD, from men of the world who have their portion in this life, and whose belly You fill with Your hidden treasure. They are satisfied with children, and leave the rest of their possession for their babes." (verses 10-14)
David describes to God exactly what these wicked men are like. While his language is intense, when you listen to what he is actually saying about these men, it is surprising. These evil ones are not the scum of the city, lurking in dark corners for innocent women and children, consumed with lusts, poverty, filth, and crime. These are not "roughians," nor jaded criminals. These are your family men, prosperous business men, men involved in local government and community affairs. These are your upstanding, tax paying, charity giving men of the world, who have invested heavily in this life and are reaping the rewards of their wise earthly choices.
These men, it would seem, have formed a conspiracy against David, to destroy his reputation and ultimately kill him. Why, who, and when, we don't know. Without knowing the specific date of it's writing, we are left to guess what precise situation this might have been in David's life. Was it early on in his public career, as national hero and warrior for king Saul, or perhaps a bit later when Saul made him public enemy number one? While it was likely written during his 40 year reign as king, those details matter little now. What is important is already written for us in the psalm, details God inspired David to record.
With a cry for God to defend him from these proud, self-satisfied men, David describes an interesting detail about their value system and philosophy on life. He says that they have their portion in THIS life. Perhaps David was thinking of his own psalm, (now recorded right next to our currant psalm), when he said, "O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance." (Psalm 16:5,6)
In contrast to these men, David's hope and stock was only in the Lord and in the life to come. These worldly wise men think no further than their own descendants, setting things up so that the next generation of worldly men can continue on in prosperity and power. The word "belly" refers to the womb, and the hidden treasure speaks of children. Psalm 139:15 says, referencing pregnancy, "My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." Children are a blessing, a hidden treasure at conception, that God has generously given to both those who worship Him as the Creator of life and those who don't. Jesus said, "He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45)
For these men who have their portion now, their children are their only lasting hope. They content themselves to have lived a full life and to be able to pass on the fruit of their labour to the next generation. As Solomon would say, "Vanity of vanities. All is vanity." (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
"As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness." (verse 15)
Is this life all we can hope for? Is an investment in the generation to come the only legacy we can leave? Or is there more?
David knows there is more.
Forsaking the portion he might have contented himself on in this life, David chose to instead reach higher than mere possessions and even family. David would be satisfied with nothing less than seeing God Himself, and being made like Him. And looking back, now three thousand years ago, David's greatest desire has been and is fulfilled. When his physical body finally gave out, David himself did not die, but met Jesus in person and was made like Him in righteousness. Forever free from sin and death, he lives in the presence of God without shame and guilt!
When a person places their trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, they pass from place of spiritual death into spiritual life. Their soul is made clean and their spirit new. When their body finally wears out, the life that has been contained in their dying earthly body for so long, is finally free and ready to be clothed with a new and perfect body that will live in the presence of God forever. This is true satisfaction and fulfillment.
David, amidst false accusations and imminent danger, kept two solid truths in focus:
One, that God alone would be his defense and in Him alone should he put his trust for deliverance from his problems.
And two, that his hope is ultimately in eternity; although he could invest in an earthly legacy, David desired only one thing above all else: to be made righteous and to dwell forever in the presence of the Lord.
When we too are faced with great trials, we can remember the spiritual legacy David left behind in the psalms, and learn from this man whose hope was truly in God alone.
Personally, I can hardly wait for that day when I, too, will see the face of Jesus in perfect righteousness, and stand before Him clothed in glory! By the blood of my Saviour, when I die, I will awake in His likeness. Only then, will I be satisfied. Maranatha!