John T. Willis

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Worshipper Petitions Yahweh to Deliver Him for His Enemies--Psalm 17

Many prayers in the Psalter deal with enemies. Often it is impossible to know who these enemies are. As we turn to Psalm 17, it is apparent that the enemies are personal enemies, probably in Israel. The superscription is very short: "A Prayer of David." This superscription identifies this psalm as a "prayer." There are different types of prayer. But Psalm 17 is clearly a petition. Whether David is the real author of this psalm is unknown, because many superscriptions over Psalms are later additions. No one really knows or not. Psalm 17 falls naturally into two parts.

I. The Psalmist declares that He has striven to be faithful to Yahweh. Psalm 17:1-7.
    a. The psalmist immediately petitions Yahweh to HEAR a just cause in behalf of the psalmist and against his enemies. He uses three verbs of petition: "Hear," "Attend to," and "Give ear." The psalmist states emphatically that he has not used deceit in speaking to Yahweh or others. 17:1.
    b. The poet continues to petition Yahweh to vindicate him and see the right. The poet is certain that his view is correct, and his enemies are incorrect and wicked. 17:2.
    c. The composer implores Yahweh to "try" his heart and "test" him. Then, Yahweh will know that He will find no wickedness in the psalmist and his mouth does not transgress. The verbs "try" and "test" occur often in the Bible. They are based on the practice or trying or testing precious metals like gold, silver, and copper. Refiners put these metals taken from the ground in a hot furnace to separate the pure metal from the alloys (see Jeremiah 6:27-30 for this process). Yahweh tests or tries the heart and life and human beings to purify their hearts and lives. 17:3.
    d. The psalmist continues that he has avoided the ways of his enemies, the "violent," and held his steps fast to Yahweh's paths so that his feet have not slipped. Life is a journey. We are all on a path or a way. We must devote our feet to God's path. 17:4-5.
    e. Finally, the poet beseeches Yahweh to "answer" his prayer, "incline his ear" to the psalmist's words, and thus to show his steadfast love. He declares that Yahweh is the savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries. 17:6-7.

II. The Psalmist describes the Sinful Ways of His Enemies. Psalm 17:8-15.
     a. The psalmist begins by imploring Yahweh to "guard" him as the apple of the eye, to "hide" him in the shadow of his wings from the wicked who despoil him and surround him as deadly enemies. Here there are two important metaphors. The apple of the eye is the retina, the most important part of the eye. At all cost, the psalmist wants him to protect him as one would protect the retina of the eye. The psalmist imagines Yahweh as a bird: an eagle, a hen, a vulture, etc. The mother bird protects her chicks, and the psalmist beseeches Yahweh to protect him in a similar way. 17:8-9.
     b. The poet asserts that his enemies are relentless. They close their hearts to pity. Wicked actions come from a wicked heart. His enemies speak arrogantly. They pursue the psalmist to destroy him. They surround him. They set their eyes to cast him to the ground. They like a lion and a young lion to tear lurking in ambush. The psalmist is well aware of the nature of his enemies, their power, and their determination to destroy him if at all possible. 17:10-12.
     c. Since his enemies are more powerful and far outnumbers the psalmist, the poet implores Yahweh to "Rise up," that is, swing into action. (The same term appears in Psalm 10:12 and often in the Psalter). He implores Yahweh to overthrow his enemies and deliver the psalmist from the wicked. The poet recognizes that he is but a mortal, and thus desperately needs Yahweh's intervention and help. 17:13-14a.
     d. Finally, the composer beseeches Yahweh to fill the bellies of his enemies what Yahweh has stored up for them and their children will have more than enough. It is not clear WHAT these disasters might be. The psalmist is leaving this totally to Yahweh. At any rate, the psalmist is certain that he will behold Yahweh's face in righteousness and be satisfied, beholding Yahweh's likeness. 17:14b-15.

Share YOUR ideas and questions and beliefs and experiences and shortcomings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


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