Psalm 17

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2006-04-17 10:13.

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According to the superscription, this is a prayer ascribed to David. The expressions of confidence about his uprightness suggest that this psalm may relate to the period when he was living as a fugitive on account of King Saul.

David’s appeal for YHWH to be attentive to his cry rested on the personal conviction about his own uprightness or the rightness of his cause. Because he knew he had not been deceitful with his lips but had been truthful when speaking, David petitioned YHWH to give ear to his prayer. This prayer would have passed undefiled lips and thus would have been a reflection of pure motives.

The reference to God’s “face” (usually not rendered literally) is to be understood as meaning the presence of YHWH. Accordingly, David expected a favorable judgment to come from the Most High, resulting in his being delivered from those seeking his injury. While the Masoretic Text refers to YHWH’s eyes, the Septuagint reads “my eyes” (David’s eyes). The object of the seeing, however, is the same—the things that are upright. Both the Hebrew and the Greek terms are the plural form for “uprightness.” The Masoretic Text appears to convey the sense that YHWH would see David’s upright actions, while the Septuagint speaks of David’s seeing the things that are upright, evidently by reason of God’s vindicating his cause and effecting his deliverance from his enemies.

So sure was David of his having conducted himself aright that he believed that, if YHWH were to examine his “heart” (his deep inner self), make an unexpected visit by night, or if he were to test him, he would not be found guilty of having given thought to any evil scheme. (According to the reading of the Septuagint, the verbs are in the aorist tense [commonly rendered as a past tense], indicating that YHWH had found no “unrighteousness” or “injustice” in him.) He had not transgressed with his mouth, which would mean that his expressions were sincere and free from any falsehood or deception.

The “works of man” apparently designate divinely disapproved deeds. David had shunned such works, allowing himself to be guided by the “word” of God’s lips. The law, as an expression of God’s will for his people, could be designated as such a word. In particular, by heeding this word, David had shunned the paths of the violent man, which paths or ways could include engaging in ruthless oppression, vicious assault, robbery, or bloodshed.

In his walk or conduct, David’s “steps” adhered to God’s ways as revealed in his law. His feet did not “slip” or were not “shaken,” suggesting that he kept them firmly placed in the ways or paths having God’s approval. The Septuagint, however, represents David’s words as a petition that the Almighty direct his steps, not allowing them to be “shaken” or “moved” from the divinely approved “paths.”

David called upon God in prayer because he did not doubt that he would receive a response. With unqualified trust in the Most High as the hearer of prayer, he asked that God give ear to his words.

YHWH is the savior or deliverer of those seeking refuge in him or looking to him for protection from their enemies or those seeking to harm them. Therefore, the wondrous demonstration of loyalty, unfailing love, or compassionate care (mercy or pity, LXX) for which David pleaded would have been an act of deliverance from those seeking his death.

The concluding expression (in verse 7) about the “right hand” may be understood to mean that those looking to YHWH (“hoping” in him, LXX) were at his right hand or at his hand of favor that would be ready to assist them. Another possibility is that deliverance would come by God’s right hand or his power. Because the Hebrew preposition be (preceding the word for “right hand”) can have various meanings, including “at,” “in,” “on,” “among,” “through,” and “against,” this is reflected in the renderings of modern translations—“you save by your right hand” (NIV), “O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand” (NRSV), “those who take refuge at Your right hand” (NASB), “Savior of all who seek refuge from those who rebel against Your right hand” (HCSB), and “saviour of those who hope in your strength against attack” (NJB; a rendering that represents the “right hand” as meaning “strength”). According to the Septuagint, the desired deliverance is from those resisting God’s right hand.

David petitioned YHWH to safeguard him as if he were the “pupil” of his eye and, therefore, someone very precious to him. As a bird may protectively cover its offspring with its wings, so David’s plea was for YHWH to thus hide or shield him in the shadow of his wings.

He needed this protection because of the wicked whose objective was to bring about his ruin. According to the Septuagint, he wanted to be shielded from the “face” of the impious or ungodly who were causing him trouble or distress. The enemies against his “soul” (David himself or his life) surrounded him, making his circumstances especially perilous.

These enemies were vicious and ruthless. They had enclosed themselves with “fat” (commonly translated to mean that they had closed their “hearts”). This suggests that they had dulled their feelings as if surrounding them with fat and so came to be persons without pity or compassion. Evidently because of having no regard for others, they spoke arrogantly. The expressions of their mouth would have been a reflection of their proud bearing and contempt for those whom they oppressed.

A number of translators have interpretively paraphrased the expression “our steps” to mean “they track me down” (NRSV) or “they have tracked me down” (NIV). The first person plural suffix for “our” has also been rendered as “their.” “Their steps even now encircle me.” (NAB) Possibly the Masoretic Text may be understood to mean that the steps of David and his supporters were being hemmed in, allowing no avenue for escape. The Septuagint, however, reads, “Now they cast me out; they have surrounded me.” (If “now” applies to being “surrounded,” another rendering would be, “They cast me out; now they have surrounded me.”) A Dead Sea Psalms scroll agrees with the Septuagint, verifying that the basis for the Septuagint rendering is a Hebrew text differing from the Masoretic Text. Nevertheless, the Septuagint, the Masoretic Text, and the Dead Sea Psalms scroll are in harmony regarding the psalmist’s being surrounded by enemies.

The eyes of the wicked were focused on bringing about David’s downfall, casting him to the ground. With their eyes fixed downward, the enemies were like a lion ever on the watch to bring down prey and then to tear it to pieces or like a young lion lurking in ambush.

The petition is for YHWH to rise as from a seated position and to confront the wicked to their face, taking action against them and using his sword (his executional power) to rescue David’s soul or life.

In the next verse (14), the Masoretic Text reads “men,” the Septuagint “enemies,” and one of the Dead Sea Psalms scrolls “plagues.” The “men” from whom David wanted to be rescued would have been his “enemies” who would also have been “plagues” to David. These men or enemies were persons who lived only for the present, having no regard for YHWH. They were “of the world,” having an exclusive mundane focus. Their portion or share was “in [this] life,” a mere mundane existence, with a focus on food, possessions, and offspring. A Dead Sea Psalms scroll is more specific in referring to “their life.”

Numerous translations do not link the filling of the bellies and the satisfying of offspring to the wicked, but interpretively render the somewhat obscure Hebrew to convey a very different meaning. “You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.” (NIV) “But as to Your treasured ones, fill their bellies. Their sons too shall be satisfied, and have something to leave over for their young.” (Tanakh) “You provide food for those you love. Their children have plenty, and their grandchildren will have more than enough.” (CEV) Such renderings, however, introduce an abrupt change in subject, and the Septuagint (although obscure in part) does not support the introduction of a new thought. The part of the verse (15) in question reads, “... divide them [into parts] in their life; their belly has been filled with your hidden [things]; they have been satisfied with sons, and they have left the remnant to their infants.”

It appears that the preferable rendering would be one that applies to the wicked who, with their children and by God’s permission, prosper for a time. The interpretive renderings of a number of translations make the application to the wicked explicit but convey very different meanings. “Lord, save me by your power from those whose reward is in this life. They have plenty of food. They have many sons and leave much money to their children.” (NCV) “Punish them with the sufferings you have stored up for them; may there be enough for their children and some left over for their children’s children!” (GNT, Second Edition) “May they have their punishment in full. May their children inherit more of the same, and may the judgment continue to their children’s children.” (NTL)

Unlike those who found their full satisfaction in a mundane existence devoid of reverential regard for God, David had an entirely different focus. An awareness of YHWH’s presence was of utmost importance to him. As one who maintained righteousness or uprightness, David was confident of beholding God’s face, having his approval. On awakening, evidently in the morning, he would be fully satisfied by “seeing” God’s “form” or “likeness.” This suggests that he would be fully aware of having YHWH as part of his life. (Compare Job’s words about “seeing” God. [Job 42:5]) David’s awareness of the divine presence would have been heightened upon awakening and finding himself delivered from his enemies. According to the Septuagint, he would be “fed” or “satisfied” when God’s glory appears.


For comments about the name YHWH, see Psalm1.

In verse 15, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus read “pigs” (húeios), not “sons” (huiós)