Psalms 17


David implores the succour of God against his enemies; and

professes his integrity and determination to live to God's

glory, 1.

He prays for support, and expresses strong confidence in God,


describes the malice and cruelty of his enemies, and prays

against them, 10-14;

receives a strong persuasion of support and final victory, 15.


The title is, A prayer of David; in which there is nothing that

requires explanation. David was most probably the author of this

Psalm; and it appears to have been written about the time in which

Saul had carried his persecution against him to the highest pitch.

See 1Sa 27:1, &c. The Arabic calls it "A prayer of a perfect man,

of Christ himself, or of any one redeemed by him." Dr. Delaney, in

his life of David, supposes that this poem was written just after

parting with Jonathan, when David went into exile.

Verse 1. Hear the right] Attend to the justice of my cause,

Yehovah tsedek, righteous Jehovah. "O righteous Jehovah,

attend unto my cry."

Goeth not out of feigned lips.] My supplication is sincere: and

the desire of my heart accompanies the words of my lips.

Verse 2. My sentence come forth from thy presence] Thou knowest

my heart, and my ways; judge me as thou shalt find; let me not

fall under the judgment of man.

Let thine eyes behold the things that are equal.] Thou knowest

whether I render to all their due, and whether others act justly

by me. Thou canst not be deceived: do justice between me and my


Verse 3. Thou hast proved mine heart] Thou well knowest whether

there be any evil way in me. Thou hast given me to see many and

sore trials; and yet, through thy mercy, I have preserved my

integrity both to thee and to my king. Thou hast seen me in my

most secret retirements, and knowest whether I have plotted

mischief against him who now wishes to take away my life.

Thou hast tried me] tseraphtani; Thou hast put me to

the test, as they do metals, in order to detect their alloy, and

to purify them: well expressed by the Vulgate, Igne me examinasti,

"Thou hast tried me by fire;" and well paraphrased in my old

Psalter,-Thu examynd me the lykkenyng of the fournas, that

purges metal, and imang al this, wykednes es nout funden in me:

that es, I am funden clene of syn, and so ryghtwis.-He who is

saved from his sin is right wise; he has found the true wisdom.

My mouth shall not transgress.] This clause is added to the

following verse by the Vulgate and Septuagint: "That my mouth may

not speak according to the works of men, I have observed difficult

ways because of the words of thy lips." That is, So far from doing

any improper action, I have even refrained from all words that

might be counted inflammatory or seditious by my adversaries; for

I took thy word for the regulation of my conduct, and prescribed

to myself the most painful duties, in order that I might, in every

respect, avoid what would give offence either to thee or to man.

Among the genuine followers of God, plots and civil broils are

never found.

Verse 4. The paths of the destroyer.] Some render, hard or

difficult paths, the sense of which is given above. But the

passage is exceedingly obscure. My old Psalter translates and

paraphrases as follows:-

Trans. That my mouthe speke noght the werkes of men, for the

wordes of thi lippes I haf keped hard wayse.

Par. That es, that nothing passe of my mouthe bot at falles to

the louyng of the; noght til werkes of men, that dos o gaynes thy

wil; als to say, I spak noght bot gude; and for the wordes of thi

lippes, that es, to ful fil the wordes that thi prophetes saide; I

kepe hard waies of verteus and of tribulacioun, the qwilk men

thynk hard; and for thi thai leve the hard way til heven, and

takes the soft way til hel; but it es ful hard at the end.

Verse 5. Hold up my goings in thy paths] David walked in God's

ways; but, without Divine assistance, he could not walk steadily,

even in them. The words of God's lips had shown him the steps he

was to take, and he implores the strength of God's grace to enable

him to walk in those steps. He had been kept from the paths of the

destroyer; but this was not sufficient; he must walk in God's

paths-must spend his life in obedience to the Divine will.

Negative holiness can save no man. "Every tree that bringeth not

forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."

Verse 6. Incline thine ear unto me] David prayed from a

conviction that God would hear: but he could not be satisfied

unless he received an answer. In a believer's mind the petition

and the answer should not be separated.

Verse 7. Show thy marvellous lovingkindness] David was now

exposed to imminent danger; common interpositions of Providence

could not save him; if God did not work miracles for him, he must

fall by the hand of Saul. Yet he lays no claim to such miraculous

interpositions; he expects all from God's lovingkindness.

The common reading here is haphleh chasadeycha,

"distinguish thy holy ones;" but haple, "do wonders," is the

reading of about seventy MSS., some ancient editions, with the

Septuagint, Vulgate, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic. The marginal

reading of this verse is nearer the original than that of the


Verse 8. Keep me as the apple of the eye] Or, as the black of

the daughter of eye. Take as much care to preserve me now by

Divine influence, as thou hast to preserve my eye by thy good

providence. Thou hast entrenched it deeply in the skull; hast

ramparted it with the forehead and cheek-bones; defended it by the

eyebrow, eyelids, and eyelashes; and placed it in that situation

where the hands can best protect it.

Hide me under the shadow of thy wings] This is a metaphor taken

from the hen and her chickens. See it explained at large in the

note on Mt 23:37. The Lord says of his followers, Zec 2:8: "He

that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye." How dear are

our eyes to us! how dear must his followers be to God!

Verse 9. From my deadly enemies, who compass me about.] This is

a metaphor taken from huntsmen, who spread themselves around a

large track of forest, driving in the deer from every part of the

circumference, till they are forced into the nets or traps which

they have set for them in some particular narrow passage. The

metaphor is carried on in the following verses.

Verse 10. They are enclosed in their own fat] Dr. Kennicott,

Bishop Horsley, Houbigant, and others, read the passage thus:

alai chablamo sageru, "They have closed their net

upon me." This continues the metaphor which was introduced in the

preceding verse, and which is continued in the two following: and

requires only that ali, "upon me," should began this verse

instead of end the preceding; and that cheleb, which

signifies fat, should be read chebel, which signifies rope,

cable, or net. This important reading requires only the

interchange of two letters. The Syriac translates it, shut

their mouth: but the above emendation is most likely to be true.

They speak proudly.] Having compassed the mountain on which I

had taken refuge, they now exult, being assured that they will

soon be in possession of their prey.

Verse 11. They have now compassed us in our steps] Instead of

ashshurenu, "our steps," Dr. Kennicott and others

recommend ashreynu, "O lucky we, at last we have compassed

him." He cannot now escape; he is sure to fall into our hands.

They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth] All the

commentators and critics have missed the very expressive and

elegant metaphor contained in this clause. Kennicott says, They

drove the hart into toils, and then shot him. Bishop Horsley says,

on the clause, They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth:

"This is the attitude of huntsmen, taking aim at an animal upon

the ground." No, it is the attitude of the huntsmen looking for

the slot, or track of the hart's, hind's, or antelope's foot on

the ground. See at the conclusion of the Psalm.

See Clarke on Ps 17:15.

Verse 12. Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey] I believe

the word lion is here used to express Saul in his strength, kingly

power, and fierce rapacity. See the observations at the end of the

Psalm. See Clarke on Ps 17:15.

Verse 13. Arise, O Lord, disappoint him] When he arises to spring

upon and tear me to pieces, arise thou, O Lord; disappoint him of his

prey; seize him, and cast him down.

Deliver my soul] Save my life.

From the wicked, which is thy sword] Saul is still meant, and we

may understand the words as either implying the sword, the civil

power, with which God had intrusted him, and which he was now

grievously abusing; or, it may mean, deliver me by THY sword-cut

him off who wishes to cut me off. On this ground the next verse

should be read from men, BY thy hand. So the margin. The hand of

God not only meaning his power, but his providence.

Verse 14. From men of the world, which have] mimethim

mecheled, from mortal men of time; temporizers; men who shift with

the times, who have no fixed principle but one, that of securing

their own secular interest: and this agrees with what

follows-which have their portion in this life; who never seek

after any thing spiritual; who have bartered heaven for earth, and

have got the portion they desired; for thou fillest their belly

with thy hid treasure. Their belly-their sensual appetites-is

their god; and, when their animal desires are satisfied, they take

their rest without consideration, like the beasts that perish.

Their portion in this life] bachaiyim, in lives,

probably meaning heritable lands and estates; for they leave them

to their children, they descend to posterity, and every one has

his life portion in them. They are lands of lives.

They are full of children] Have a numerous offspring, whom they

educate in the same principles, and to whom they leave a large

earthly patrimony, and who spend it as their fathers have done,

and perhaps even more dissolutely. Often covetous fathers lay up

riches, which profligate sons scatter to all the winds of heaven.

I have seen many instances of this.

Verse 15. As for me] I cannot be satisfied with such a portion.

I will behold thy face] Nothing but an evidence of thy

approbation can content my soul.

In righteousness] I cannot have thy approbation unless I am

conformed to thy will. I must be righteous in order that my

heart and life may please thee.

I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.] Nothing

but God can satisfy the wishes of an immortal spirit. He made it

with infinite capacities and desires; and he alone, the infinite

Good, can meet and gratify these desires, and fill this

all-capacious mind. No soul was ever satisfied but by God; and he

satisfies the soul only by restoring it to his image, which, by

the fall, it has lost.

I think there is an allusion here to the creation of Adam. When

God breathed into him the breath of lives, and he became a living

soul, he would appear as one suddenly awaked from sleep. The first

object that met his eyes was his glorious Creator, and being made

in his image and in his likeness, he could converse with him face

to face-was capable of the most intimate union with him, because

he was filled with holiness and moral perfection. Thus was he

satisfied, the God of infinite perfection and purity filling all

the powers and faculties of his soul. David sees this in the light

of the Divine Spirit, and knows that his happiness depends on

being restored to this image and likeness; and he longs for the

time when he shall completely arise out of the sleep and death of

sin, and be created anew after the image of God, in righteousness

and true holiness. I do not think that he refers to the

resurrection of the body, but to the resurrection of the soul in

this life; to the regaining the image which Adam lost.

The paraphrase in my old Psalter understands the whole of this

Psalm as referring to the persecution, passion, death, and

resurrection of Christ; and so did several of the primitive

fathers, particularly St. Jerome and St. Augustine. I shall give a

specimen from Ps 17:11:-

Projicientes me, nunc circumdederunt me: oculos suos statuerunt

declinare in terram.

Trans. Forth castand me now, thai haf umgyfen me: thair egheu

thai sette to heelde in the erde.

Par.-Forth kasten me out of the cite, als the stede had bene

fyled of me: now thai haf umgyfen me in the cros hyngand, als folk

that gedyrs til a somer gamen: for thai sett thair eghen, that es

the entent of thaire hert to heeld in the erde; that es, in erdly

thynges to covayte tham, and haf tham. And thai wende qwen thai

slew Crist that he had suffird al the ill, and thai nane.

Perhaps some of my readers may think that this needs

translating, so far does our present differ from our ancient


Text.-They have now cast me forth; they have surrounded me:

their eyes they set down to the earth.

Par.-They have cast me out of the city, as if the state were to

be defiled by me: now they have surrounded me hanging on the

cross, as people gathered together at summer games. For they set

their eyes, that is, the intent of their heart, down to the earth;

that is, earthly things, to covet them and to have them: and they

thought, when they slew Christ, that he had suffered all the ill,

and they none.

BY the slot or track of the hart on the ground, referred to in

Ps 17:11, experienced huntsmen can discern whether there have

been a hart there, whether he has been there lately, whether the

slot they see be the track of a hart or a hind, and whether the

animal be young or old. All these can be discerned by the slot.

And if the reader have that scarce book at hand, Tuberville on

Hunting, 4to, 1575 or 1611, he will find all this information in

chap. xxii., p. 63, entitled, The Judgment and Knowledge by the

Slot of a Hart; and on the same page; a wood-cut, representing a

huntsman with his eyes set, bowing down to the earth, examining

three slots which he had just found. The cut is a fine

illustration of this clause. Saul and his men were hunting David,

and curiously searching every place to find out any track, mark,

or footstep, by which they might learn whether he had been in such

a place, and whether he had been there lately. Nothing can more

fully display the accuracy and intensity of this search than the

metaphor contained in the above clause. He who has been his late

Majesty's huntsmen looking for the slot in Windsor Forest will see

the strength and propriety of the figure used by the psalmist.

Ver. 12. Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey.] This is

the picture of Saul. While his huntsmen were beating every bush,

prying into every cave and crevice, and examining every foot of

ground to find out a track, Saul is ready, whenever the game is

started, to spring upon, seize, and destroy it. The metaphors are

well connected, well sustained, and strongly expressive of the

whole process of this persecution.

In the ninth verse the huntsmen beat the forest to raise and

drive in the game. In the tenth they set their nets, and speak

confidently of the expected success. In the eleventh, they

felicitate themselves on having found the slot, the certain

indication of the prey being at hand. And in the twelfth, the king

of the sport is represented as just ready to spring upon the prey;

or, as having his bow bent, and his arrow on the string, ready to

let fly the moment the prey appears. It is worthy of remark, that

kings and queens were frequently present, and were the chiefs of

the sport; and it was they who, when he had been killed, broke up

the deer: 1. Slitting down the brisket with their knife or sword;

and, 2. Cutting off the head. And, as Tuberville published the

first edition of his book in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, he

gives a large wood-cut, p. 133, representing this princess just

alighted from her horse-the stag stretched upon the ground-the

huntsman kneeling, holding the fore foot of the animal with his

left hand, and with his right presenting a knife to the queen for

the purpose of the breaking up. As the second edition was

published in the reign of James the First, the image of the queen

is taken out and a whole length of James introduced in the place.

The same appears in Tuberville's Book of Falconrie, connected

with the above. In p. 81, edition 1575, where the flight of the

hawk at the heron is represented, the queen is seated on her

charger: but in the edition of 1611 King James is placed on the

same charger, the queen being removed.

The lion is the monarch of the forest; and is used successfully

here to represent Saul, king of Israel, endeavouring to hunt down

David; hemming him in on every side; searching for his footsteps;

and ready to spring upon him, shoot him with his bow, or pierce

him with his javelin, as soon as he should be obliged to flee from

his last cover. The whole is finely imagined, and beautifully



David's appeal to God in justification of himself; and his

petition for defence against his enemies.

There are THREE parts in this Psalm:-

I. A petition. 1. For audience, Ps 17:1, 6. 2. For perseverance

in good, Ps 17:5. 3. For special favour, Ps 17:7, 8. 4. For

immediate deliverance, Ps 17:13, 14.

II. A narration; in which we meet with, 1. His appeal to God,

and his own justification, Ps 17:2-4. 2. The reasons of it; his

enemies and their character, Ps 17:9-14.

III. A conclusion; which has two parts. 1. One belonging to this

life; and, 2. One belonging to the life to come, Ps 17:15.

I. 1. He begins with petition for audience. And he urges it for

two reasons: 1. The justness of his cause: "Hear the right, O

Lord." 2. The sincerity of his heart: "That goeth not out of

feigned lips."

2. Again, there were other reasons why he desired to be heard:

1. He felt himself prone to slip, and fall from God: "Hold up my

goings," &c. 2. He was in great danger, and nothing but a miracle

could save him: "Show thy marvellous lovingkindness." 3. His

enemies were insolent and mighty, and God's sword only could

prevail against them: "Arise, O Lord," Ps 17:13, 14.

II. A narration: His appeal to God. Since a verdict must pass

upon him, he desired that God should pronounce it: "Let my

sentence come forth from thy presence." I know that thou art a

righteous Judge, and canst not be swayed by prejudice: "Let thine

eyes behold the thing that is equal," and then I know it must go

well with me: "Thou hast proved my heart. Thou hast tried me

before on this business, and hast found nothing.

1. Nothing in my HEART: "Thou hast proved my heart."

2. Nothing in my TONGUE: "For I am purposed that my mouth shall

not offend."

3. Nothing in my HAND: "For, concerning the works of men," which

are mischievous; by the words of thy lips, I have had so great a

regard to thy commandments that "I have kept myself from the paths

of the wicked;" of him who, to satisfy his own desires, breaks all


4. He confesses that he was poor and weak, and liable to fall,

unless sustained by the grace of God: "Hold up my goings in thy


And this first petition he renews, and takes courage from the

assurance that he shall be heard: "I will call upon thee, for thou

wilt hear me." And he puts in a special petition, which has two


1. "Show thy marvellous lovingkindness;" let me have more than

ordinary help. And this he urges from the consideration that God

saves them who trust in him from those who rise up against them.

2. That he would save him with the greatest care and vigilance,

as a man would preserve the apple of his eye, or as a hen would

guard her young: "Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me," &c.

And to prevail in this special petition, he brings his arguments

from his present necessity. He was encompassed with enemies, whom

he describes:-

1. They were capital enemies; they hemmed him in on every side.

2. They were powerful, proud, and rich: "Men enclosed in their

own fat, speaking proudly with their tongues," Ps 17:10.

3. Their counsels were fixed, and bent to ruin him: "They set

their eyes, bowing down to the earth," Ps 17:11.

4. They were such enemies as prospered in their designs,

Ps 17:14. 1. Men of the world. 2. They had their portion in

this life, and sought for none other. 3. They fed themselves

without fear: "Their bellies were full." 4. They had a numerous

offspring, and therefore more to be dreaded because of their

family connections. 5. They left much substance behind them, so

that their plans might be all continued and brought to effect.

III. The conclusion, containing the expectation of David,

opposed to his enemies' felicity.

1. In this life: "As for me, I will behold thy face in


2. In the life to come: "When I awake," rise from the dead,

"after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it."

On each of these divisions the reader is referred to the notes.

Copyright information for Clarke