Psalm Bible Study (Worshiping God)

Psalm 17, The Prayer of David


  1. The model prayer of Jesus is one that is very well known and most of us have committed to our memories. But we may neglect to realize that there are many other prayers that are contained in the scriptures worthy of modeling in our own prayer lives.
  2. Psalm 17 is one of those passages where we read a prayer that is worthy for us to model. Psalm 17 is a prayer of David. As we go through this prayer, let us notice how David approaches the Lord, what David is requesting, and how he goes about presenting his appeal to God. In this prayer, David is going to make arguments for his case. This is important, not that God must be persuaded, but to cause us to think through our requests and to sharpen them.

I. Hear My Plea (1-5)

A. David’s calling

  1. David emphatically begins this prayer by requesting God’s attention. Three times in verse 1 David petitions God to give His attention to him. “Hear, O Lord,” “listen,” and “give ear.” We have seen David use this approach before with the Lord in the fifth psalm. In that psalm, David said “Give ear,” “consider,” and “give attention.” David bases his request to be heard by the Lord upon two things: his innocence and his life which is beyond reproach.
  2. His innocence. David makes forceful arguments in these first five verses. David’s innocence is strongly argued in verse 2, “may my vindication come from you.” This is a clear statement of David’s innocence. David’s plea is a righteous plea (vs. 1) and David expects to find vindication from the Lord. This suggests to us that there are enemies who have laid charges against David. David wants to be cleared of these charges by God Himself. We ought to consider that even the man after God’s own heart had people laying charges against him, of which he was innocent. To be blameless is not to have no one ever charge or slander us, but that our character will vindicate us from such charges.
  3. His life, which is beyond reproach. We need to see how strongly David argues that his life has been beyond reproach. In verse 1 David declares that his plea does not arise from deceitful lips. In verse 3 David says that the Lord can probe his heart and test him and he will find nothing concerning these charges. Further, David says that he has resolved that his mouth will not sin. In verse 5 David also declares that his feet have held to the way of God’s paths and his feet have not slipped. This is powerful language in this prayer.
  4. I think we would be right to ask the question: How can David say these words? How can any human being claim such innocence? I think we can answer this question in two ways. First, the innocence that David claims is probably concerning the charges that have been made against him. I believe David is telling the Lord to search his heart and he will find that he has not committed what his enemies charge.

B. Self-examination

  1. But I believe there is another aspect involved in David’s ability to go before God with such forceful words of innocence. David has done self-examination before making his petition. David has searched within himself, made confession, and stands before God innocent.
  2. Though we are timid to say such words, we need to be able to go before God, above reproach and pray. If we cannot, then we must correct the fault that is in our lives. Otherwise, we are wasting our breath in our prayers. We need to ask ourselves some questions before we pray to examine ourselves.
  3. Are we being disobedient? Isaiah 59:1-2 tells us, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” We should not be surprised if our prayers seem powerless and fruitless if we are practicing sin. If we are defying God’s commands, then our sins have separated us from God, and therefore He will not hear us. In our self-examination, let us ask if we have been disobedient and then make confession and repentance to God before we pray.
  4. Are we being selfish? Do we pray for others’ needs or only our needs? Do we think about spiritual needs or do we only pray for our physical needs? James 4 tells us that we ask and do not receive because we are praying to fulfill our selfish lusts and desires. We cannot pray selfishly and expect to receive anything.
  5. Is there a wrong that we need to make right? We cannot offer a righteous plea if we have wronged others. We have the obligation to make right any wrongs that we have committed. Remember the words of Jesus, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23 -24).
  6. Do we have our priorities in order? We need to see the commitments that David had made to the Lord, as stated in this psalm. David had determined to keep himself from the steps of the violent (vs. 4). David made a commitment to keep his feet following the pathway of God (vs. 5). Notice his diligence in verse 3, “I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.” Have we made that kind of resolve? This shows our priorities when we make these determinations, commitments, and goals in our lives. When we have made proper self-examination and made correction, we can then go before God with our righteous plea and declare our innocence in God’s sight.

II. Plea Based Upon the Love of God (6-9)

A. God keeps His covenant and promises

  1. David also requests God to hear and answer his prayer based upon God’s character. Specifically, David relies upon the love of God. David says, “show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand” (vs. 7). This love is stronger in the Hebrew than what our English language has the ability to communicate. This is not speaking of God’s general love. David is appealing to God’s love that causes Him to enter into a covenant with His people and fulfill His promises to them. It is the love that causes God to keep His end of the promises and covenants, even though His people break those covenants.
  2. It is that covenant love that maintained the people of Israel so that a Messiah would come, even though the people deserved utter destruction. It is that covenant love that God would send His Son knowing the people would abuse Him, torture Him, disregard Him, and kill Him. It is that covenant love that God forgives us of our sins though we each transgress the covenant. What a great hope we each have to rely upon the promises and covenant love of God.

B. God’s faithfulness as a refuge

  1. So many times we have seen David describe the Lord as a refuge to the righteous. We see this description given again in verse 7, “those who take refuge in you from their foes.” David uses the knowledge that God is a refuge as a basis for his plea for God to answer him.
  2. This is another important way that we can approach God. God has promised to be a refuge to the righteous. We can go to God and declare what the enemies are doing and ask for God’s protection. We see this in verses 8-9 where David asks to be hidden in the shadow of God’s wings because of “the wicked who assail me” and because of “my deadly enemies who surround me.” We turn to God in prayer when we need protection, strength, help, and safety.

III. Call to God Because We Are In Danger (10-12)

A. The enemies’ hearts are callous

  1. David also appeals to God to hear his prayer because he is in danger from his enemies. David will describe the character of these enemies to show that he is the righteous one and they are the evil ones.
  2. David first points out that his enemies’ hearts are callous. They have hearts that do not want to listen. Their hearts are stubborn such that they will not change. They have hearts that disregard the Lord and His commands.

B. The enemies’ mouths are arrogant

  1. Furthermore, out of his enemies’ mouths come arrogant words. Arrogance and slander are certain characteristics that God hates. Therefore, God should judge them and deliver David because David has resolved that his mouth will not sin.
  2. As we read these traits we must realize that if we possess these characteristics, then we also are enemies of God. If we have callous hearts and arrogant mouths, then we, too, are part of the enemies that David was calling to be struck down by God.

C. The enemies surround David

  1. David also says that the enemies surround him. They are ready to attack “like a lion hungry for prey, like a great lion crouching in cover.” The first image suggests to us the enemies are on the brink of pouncing. They are hungry and looking for prey to be able to feast on.
  2. The second image suggests the idea of an ambush. If you have watched any of the animal channels, you will have seen that lions crouch in hiding awaiting their prey. The prey believes that everything is fine, peaceful, and calm and suddenly the lion pounces and catches the prey. David alludes to this animal action as happening to him. He knows that he is being set up for a fall and requests the Lord to do something about what is happening.
  3. We also must learn to call upon God when we see that calamity may strike us. We have the right to seek God out and call on Him for help. If we do not, then we are not using Him as a refuge that He has promised to be for us. David is placing all of his chips on God to help in this time of need.

IV. David’s Call to God For Action (13-15)

A. Act

  1. Notice all of the action words David uses in verse 13 to call upon God. “Rise up,” “confront them,” “cast them down,” and “rescue” or “deliver.” Here David asks God to really do something. Notice also the strength of the request, such as, “rescue me from the wicked by your sword.” This is a powerful call to action. It is a request to destroy his enemies.
  2. I find this request fascinating because this is the method by which David solved his problems. Consider for the moment David’s troubles with King Saul. David repeatedly refused to take matters into his own hands. Many opportunities were given to David to kill Saul to preserve his own life. But David would not kill the Lord’s anointed.
  3. In this psalm, David does not say that he will take matters into his own hands, that he will draw the sword and kill his enemies. He is leaving that vengeance to God. He wants God to pick up the sword and show David’s innocence. When we come to God in prayer we must be ready to place our dependence upon Him.

B. The character of the worldly

  1. David further rests his hope upon the Lord because of the character of the ungodly and worldly. David wants to be saved from these kinds of people. David goes on to describe what kind of people his enemies are.
  2. First, we notice that his enemies are those whose reward is found in this life. In Matthew 6, Jesus told us that those who were seeking after worldly gain and pursuing the glory of man had already received their reward in this life. People who try to make themselves glorified by others have already received their reward. You and I can have our reward in this life. If glory is so important to you, you can have that reward. If money is so important to you, then you can also have that reward. If you must have the respect and esteem of others, you can seek that reward. But that is all you have. You have lost any eternal rewards, exchanging them for temporary physical rewards that are but a vapor. What a foolish trade we often make.
  3. This is further illustrated in verse 14, “their sons have plenty and they store up wealth.” How much this reminds me of the rich fool that Jesus spoke of in Luke 12:20 who continued to store up for himself treasures on earth. When he died, he had nothing to show for himself, losing his physical riches by death and having no eternal riches stored up for himself in heaven.
  4. Notice a little more that David says. “Storing up wealth for their children” is a characteristic of the worldly. We commit a great disservice to our children by trying to give them everything they want so that they will simply have it all. We become strong through adversity and needs. Being given all that we want simply ruins our character and does not help us transform ourselves into the image of God. God does not give us all that we want or else we would be spoiled rotten brats. Yet, we think we are wiser than God and ought to give our children everything. We err greatly when we think these things. We do not fully appreciate what is given to us and greatly value what we must earn and work for. We were not given everything and it was good for us. Let us realize that we ought to raise our children to learn valuable lessons that we learned growing up through lack.

C. Final hope

  1. The final verse describes David’s great hope. One of the great final hopes we have is to see the face of God. Here David says that he will see David’s face. What a great statement of confidence and it is a statement that we all ought to be able to say.
  2. How sad it is when Christians do not know where their eternal destination will be. How sad it is when those who are trying to serve the Lord do not know if they are going to heaven. We ought to be able with great certainty to utter these words. If we cannot, then we need to repent and confess of whatever is hanging over our heads so that we can know we will see His face. If we have confessed our sins, then there is no reason for doubt and no room for fear in wondering what will happen to us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  3. There is one more hope that David expresses. Many of the versions miss the wording that is being conveyed, I believe. The NKJV says, “I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.” What satisfies you? Jesus spoke of His satisfaction doing the will of the Father (John 4). We cannot be satisfied until we have molded ourselves in the image of God. What an attitude we must carry when we come to God in prayer! This attitude must reign supreme in our minds and hearts. I suggest to you that if a person comes to God in prayer with a heart of wanting to be found in His likeness, that prayer will not be turned away. This must be our whole effort and life’s goal.
  4. David’s prayer is beautiful. It is a prayer that shows us how to boldly approach the throne of God so that we may find grace and help in our time of need. Let us also model the prayer of David.
Share on Facebook
Scroll to Top