Psalm 17: A People of Hope

Hear me, Lord, my plea is just;
    listen to my cry.
Hear my prayer –
    it does not rise from deceitful lips.
Let my vindication come from you;
    may your eyes see what is right.

Though you probe my heart,
    though you examine me at night and test me,
you will find that I have planned no evil;
    my mouth has not transgressed.
Though people tried to bribe me,
    I have kept myself from the ways of the violent
    through what your lips have commanded.
My steps have held to your paths;
    my feet have not stumbled.

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
    turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of your great love,
    you who save by your right hand
    those who take refuge in you from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
    from my mortal enemies who surround me.

They close up their callous hearts,
    and their mouths speak with arrogance.
They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
    with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
They are like a lion hungry for prey,
    like a fierce lion crouching in cover.

Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down;
    with your sword rescue me from the wicked.
By your hand save me from such people, Lord,
    from those of this world whose reward is in this life.
May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies;
    may their children gorge themselves on it,
    and may there be leftovers for their little ones.

As for me, I shall be vindicated and shall see your face;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

– Psalm 17

One thing that God never promised anyone is that life would be easy – no matter how much we would like it to be! Such is certainly true of King David as even a cursory knowledge of his life makes clear.

In this Psalm we again see David in trouble. David isn’t perfect, none of us is (Romans 3:23) but here he is convinced that whatever has befallen him isn’t because of his wrongdoing (though there were plenty of occasions in his life when that was the case!).

In the light of what is going on and the opposition that he faces (v13-14), David appeals to God’s faithfulness and commitment (v7).  God is like the mother bird who will look after her young and protect them from whatever threatens them, a powerful image that Jesus later uses to show his love and concern for Jerusalem (Matthew 23.37).

Sometimes when faced with outright hostility the only prayer to be prayed is that God would bring down our enemies but, in the Gospels, Jesus goes beyond his famed ancestor and tells us to pray for our enemies, to forgive them – even, remarkably, to love them.

There are many Christians throughout the world who find themselves in difficult situations and face hostile persecution. For them, the prayer of David seems an appropriate response to their persecutors. It provides them with somewhere to turn and the hope that someone is listening and someone will act.

David’s enemies’ ambitions seem very ‘earthly’. Their ambitions seem to be all about getting more and more whether that be land or wealth or power – unfortunately there are still people like that around today. The Psalm says that the arrogant will, in God’s time, get what they deserve and they should be pitied when they do. Those who remain faithful to God will also be rewarded but the riches that David has in mind are very different to those of his enemies, his hope is not for more power or wealth but to see God face to face (v15). The New Testament assures us that when Christ, the image of the invisible God, appears ‘we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2).

We are a people who live by hope, but that hope isn’t based on wishful thinking or a naïvety about the world. Like David, it is rooted in an understanding of God’s steadfast love – and like David can make all the difference when we find ourselves in times of trouble.