Alfred Place Baptist Church

Psalm 17: David's Longing for Vindication and Protection

A prayer of David.

Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer – it does not rise from deceitful lips. May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right. Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. As for the deeds of men – by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped. I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder 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 assail 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 great lion crouching in cover. Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword. O LORD, by your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life. You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children. And I – in righteousness I shall see your face; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

 

David was a man under pressure. Accusations had been made against him concerning his conduct; his ego; his vain ambition. Men said that his behaviour was criminal and that he deserved to die. The king of Israel himself believed this and was encouraging his men to hunt this rebel down and kill him. King Saul said, “He has rebelled against me and lies in wait for me” (I Sam. 22:13); Saul said again, “He is very crafty” (I Sam. 23:22). So David had to be on the move constantly, to keep going and hiding in this cave and that wilderness; he had nowhere to lay his head. At the same time David had to keep up his flaming devotion to God, that devotion that had written, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” He sought communion with God, growing closer and closer to him while being accused of being an ego-inflated renegade, a man who wanted the anointed king dead. Was every single person who opposed him and supported King Saul wrong, and David the only man right? Was there no truth in the allegations made against him? How do you pray at such times? This inspired prayer of David instructs us, coming as it does at this period in his life when he is being accused of great wickedness.

 
  1. DAVID PLEADS FOR GOD TO VINDICATE HIM. (vv. 1-5).
 

Hear, O Lord,” he begins. He doesn’t presume that God is bound to hear him when he prays. Doesn’t God say in the first chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood . . .” (Isa. 1:15)? When a man prays that he will win the lottery next week God never hears. When a criminal prays that he won’t get caught as he burgles a house God never answers. When a man prays that he’ll get a woman to sleep with him then God won’t listen. Is David in reality the criminal that he is accused of being? He knows that God may not listen to him and so he begins, “Hear, O Lord.” Then he goes on, “Hear . . . my righteous plea; listen to my cry.” He believes he is an innocent man, blameless of the charges that are laid against him. He believes that he has lived a righteous life, from the moment a servant boy came running to him to say that he had to hurry home to his father’s house because Samuel the prophet was there and he wanted to see him. David in his innocence wanted to know what this was all about. Why in the world did a prophet want to see him? He has no vain ambition for kingship. He was a righteous man, and now his prayers were righteous. He would not pray that king Saul would drop dead. He would not pray that he might become the king in his place even though that was his destiny. He was a humble man; what he wanted was to know that God heard him when he prayed. What was life without God? “Hear . . . my righteous plea; listen to my cry.” He yearns for this; you see he continues to pray, “Give ear to my prayer – it does not rise from deceitful lips.” You can deceive your wife about your religion. You can deceive your parents that you have become a Christian. You can deceive your friends when you sit with them and join in their God-talk. We have all been there at some time or other in our lives, pretending a familiarity with God we did not possess. There is no one here who is a stranger to deceitful lips. David pleaded his innocence of this sin to God. When he sent messages to King Saul affirming his loyalty, that he did not wish to harm him and seize his throne, then he was not speaking with deceitful lips. When he prayed at this moment and longed that God would hear him then he was being utterly and absolutely genuine. My praying “does not rise from deceitful lips.”

 

David continues just like that; “May my vindication come from you” (v.2). He had loyal supporters from some of the top families in the land. They would go to Jerusalem and visit King Saul and speak up on David’s behalf. “David is a fine man and wishes you no harm. Please, Saul, end your feud with him. No good can come of this. It is enough for us to resist the Philistines without fighting amongst ourselves.” Many would vindicate hi
m, write letters testifying of his integrity, speak up on his behalf to vindicate him, but David did not want the support of man. “May my vindication come from you.” It was so important to know that God believed in him. You will remember how our Lord Jesus was accused of doing his mighty works through the power of Beelzebub, that really he was a drunkard and mixed with the wrong people, that he broke the Sabbath. Then God spoke and said to him, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” God vindicated him, but the greatest divine vindication came on the third day after his death. God raised him from the dead. Men had said, “Blasphemer! He is worthy of crucifixion! A criminal! Away with him!” God raised him on the third day. God vindicated Jesus of Nazareth. The day of judgment will be a great day of vindication. All the world must appear before God and there will be those who had had their heads cut off, who were burnt alive at the stake, were tortured until they cursed their Saviour and then they were put to death. God will say of them, “Come ye blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the earth.” David in our psalm wants the assurance that this God is hearing him and though Saul and his supporters are saying all manner of evil against him yet God vindicates him.

 

That is all he wants; “may your eyes see what is right” (v.2). So often there are accusations made by a husband against his wife or the wife against the husband and none of us was there. We did not see what went on in that house, and so we have to be very careful in taking sides. Who is in the right and who is in the wrong? We are perplexed because we saw nothing of what happened, but God sees everything absolutely clearly. He hears every word and he knows the motivation for every word and action. The defiant Jews intent on crucifying their Messiah cried out, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Those words were rhetoric; that was mob emotion. We are not to take those words and say that Jews living today and living always will have the blood of Jesus on them. God knew their hearts. The boys shouting out those words with their fathers did not know what they were saying. God knew what discernment and commitment was there. We can speak as foolishly, “I wish I were dead . . . you don’t love me . . . nobody loves me . . . I could kill you . . .” What unguarded words we say, but God knows they are the utterances of a fool. God’s “eyes see what is right” and aren’t we mighty glad?

 

David will not let go of this theme that he is a righteous and innocent man. He says next, “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing” (v.3). How bold he is. David is not inferring that he is sinless, and that God will find a heart totally free from sin. Of course not. His heart was touched with sin but God had come by his Holy Spirit and given him new desires and new resources and new energy to compensate for the power of remaining sin. What David is talking about is the accusation that he was a criminal, a renegade and a rebel, full of vain ambition to become the king. He is wholly innocent of those crimes. He says to God these striking words, “probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing.” How solemn for God to probe our hearts and lives, for God to examine us and test us. He certainly does. Even in the Old Testament that was the case. When God gave the ten commandments you might think that they all dealt with outward behaviour as you went through them one by one, that is, until you came to number ten, “Thou shalt not covet.” How does a man covet? With his hands and voice and feet? No, he covets in his heart. Coveting is a restless aching itch for something that belongs to someone else, somebody else’s girl-friend, someone else’s husband, someone else’s house or car or money. Covetousness is the opposite of contentment. Covetousness is a rejection of God’s providence, where the Lord has put us, what he has given us, the gifts and limitations we’ve received by divine decree. We’re saying, “Not enough!” to God. We see it in children; “More, more, more . . .” they say. They are discontented because they are the children of Adam and Eve and from the womb they go astray coveting. God probes our heart, examines us night and day and tests us. He did so in the Old Testament and today in the New Testament he searches and tries us. David was not saying that the seeds of covetousness were something he never knew. There came a grievous time when he coveted his neighbour’s wife, but he never coveted the crown or the death of King Saul. “Probe my heart . . . you will find nothing,” he said to the God from whom nothing is hidden.

 

But David has not finished with this desire to spread himself out in the presence of God and hide nothing at all from Jehovah. He looks ahead; he makes a solemn vow in the presence of God; “I have resolved that my mouth will not sin” (v.3). He has made up his mind. He will set a watch on his lips. When he is provoked by Saul, when a servant comes hurrying into a cave and says, “A troop of soldiers sent by Saul are ten minutes march away. We must leave immediately or we will be in terrible danger,” then David did not blurt out his anger against Saul at this terrible inconvenience.  He did not curse him. He resolved that his mouth would not sin. It is a great mark of the grace that was in David that his resolution to please God reached his lips. David is not a one sin man. That is, he was not obsessed with one temptation to burst into rage against Saul, to dream of Saul, and talk incessantly about Saul and be utterly obsessed with Saul and vainly imagine that if only Saul was gone his life would be wonderful. David was too wise to think like that. We can be aware of one sin that easily besets us, and can imagine that if we only had victory over that sin that our lives would be perfect and joyful. David knew that each sin was like a measles’ spot and that he was not to direct all his attention to removing and camouflaging one spot. David had to deal with the sickness of remaining sin. He declared war on his sin and so he said, “My mouth will not sin.” David was determined to tame his tongue because, “if anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check” (James 3: 2). If David could keep his mouth under control then certainly he would be able to keep his right arm and his sword in check. So David concentrated on taming his tongue: “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). What was David showing God? How serious he was about pleasing God in everything, about living an all-round righteous life. He was not saying, “I am being accused of this one sin and I want you to vindicate me.” He was concerned that in every single thing he did he pleased God. He didn’t want a word on his lips to grieve the Spirit. That is the mark of a true believer, a mature, strong servant of God.

 

David still has not finished his plea for vindication. He considers Saul and his men, hunting him as though they were hunting a deer in the wilderness. They would kill him with as little compunction as they would kill a stag. This would be a man made in God’s image and likeness. This is a man who will live as long as God. This is an innocent man and they are being motivated by the anger of a tyrant Saul to murder him. What terrible deeds were they thinking of committing. David compares himself to them and this is how he responds in the presence of God: “As f
or the deeds of men – by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
” (v.4). David is saying to God, “I could be just like them, a violent man but for your grace.” I preach in a predominantly black congregation in London, and on our way there we go under a very wide bridge, a tube train bridge, and it has shops under it and then there is a patch of wall and in front of it on the pavement is a mound made up of bunches of flowers and greetings cards. Why are they there? Because a black teenage boy was stabbed to death there last year and his friends are commemorating another victim of knife crime. Then I stand in that pulpit and I see those teenagers listening to the word of God, and I think how God has spared them from a gang culture. What distinguishes them from the behaviour of their knife carrying acquaintances? David tells us in this psalm; “by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped” (v.4). When one of them has been horribly provoked by white racists he has been taught to walk away, to turn the other cheek, to overcome evil by good.

 

You know the great warning of getting involved in gang culture and criminal activity that you find in the first chapter of the book of Proverbs. It is essential reading for city living for Christians: “My son, if sinners entice you, do not give in to them. If they say, Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for someone’s blood, let’s waylay some harmless soul; let’s swallow them alive, like the grave, and whole, like those who go down to the pit; we will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot with us, and we will share a common purse’ – my son, do not go along with them, do not set foot on their paths; for their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood. How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it” (Provs. 1:10-19). David can say to God that he has been spared such lawlessness; “I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.” (v.4). So here is David, threatened with such violence, the subject of false accusations, and he can go to God and express his innocence of these crimes. That is where he begins.

 
  1. DAVID PLEADS FOR GOD TO PROTECT HIM. (vv.6-14).
 

Now a note of assurance enters his praying. As he has spoken to this Wonderful Counsellor in his presence he has received some confidence that God has accepted his words. “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me” (v.6). His words don’t end at the ceiling and fall back lifeless to the floor. God will answer David, and God will answer us too, when we pray. So, much encouraged, David asks for more than vindication, but still he approaches God with the same humility that he showed back in the first verse. He does not take it for granted that God will answer him: “Give ear to me and hear my prayer” (v.6). “This is so important to me, Lord, that you hang in with me and give me what I desire. I must have this. I know it is a glorious and demanding petition, but it is something that I want more than anything else that you could possibly give me, much more than vindication from what my enemies are saying about me, much, much more than that. Do you know what I want more than anything else, Lord? I will tell you; it is this; ‘Show me the wonder of your great love’ (v.7).” What a request! All the gospel is in that petition. We can and must flood it with all the further revelation of God’s wonderful love in the New Testament.

 

Here is great love because it had no beginning. All our love for our parents and spouses and children and friends had a beginning. God loved us with an everlasting love. There never was a time when he did not love us. Here is great love because it is a realistic love; he knew all about us; he had seen us at our worst, the most hypocritical two-timing sinners, and yet he loved us. Here is great love because it is a saving love; he determined to deliver us from the guilt and shame of our sins, to take everything away that was mean and ugly and vile and contaminating and foul. He loved us so much that he would save us from all of that. Here is great love because it is a costly love. What a price his love would cost him. He had just one Son and yet he sent him from heaven to this fallen groaning world to live amongst men where the blasphemies and adulteries and drunkenness and theft and violence is, where men crucify other men. He sent him to pitch his tent in our valley in all its darkness and there God made him sin as he died the accursed death of the cross. Here is great love because it spares us and it did not to spare his Son. It was God’s love for us that put him on the cross and laid his dead body in the tomb. Here is great love because it is transforming love. The Spirit of Jesus Christ would enter our lives, turning us from our sin, helping us to live holy lives as David was living at this time, overcoming Saul’s evil with good. Here is great love because it takes us through death into his presence, with life transforming power that when we see God we will be like him. Then we will be with him for ever and ever, never more to rebel and give him the fitful inconsistent obedience we render today – and like David gave God – but perfect love in response to the wonder of God’s great love. We love because he first loved us.

 

“Show it to me!” David cries. I have seen it. I have experienced it. I have known it, but I want to know it more and more and more. Show me your love and fill me with the wonder of this, that you could love someone like me! It is a love which saves sinners by God’s own right hand. That is a lovely metaphor; the right hand speaks of the power of God and the personal nature of his love. God does not issue a command from the other side of the Milky Way. Stooping so low but sinners raising by his right hand he has lifted us up. He did it by his right hand. We go to him conscious of the temptations of the world, the hostility of principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, how they would destroy us as Saul’s men would destroy David, but we have fled for refuge to the Lord who saves us from all our foes. Although David took refuge in Abdullam’s cave and in the Judean wilderness in many a hiding place and secret valley yet his great refuge was God himself. David hid in the rock of ages, the God who is a mighty fortress. He knew that God saved by his right hand “those who take refuge in you from their foes” (v.7).

 

But David wanted more than to be saved once by God, he wanted to be kept in that blessed state for ever; “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me” (vv. 8&9). What tremendous petitions! ‘Show me the wonder of your great love!’ More! ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye!’

 

“Thou art coming to a King,

Large petitions with Thee bring.

For His grace and power are such

None can ever ask too much.” (John Newton)

 

Many of you have heard from preachers in the past that our English language phrase ‘the apple of your eye’ is a good dynamically equivalent translation of the Hebrew which literally is ‘little man of the eye.’ You look into someone’s eye and you can see yourself reflected on his eyeball as a little person. Your eye is the most tender part of your body. You protect it by an immediate blink and your face turning away from the blow or the missile. We are the little man of God’s eye. By every means he will protect us, and so when grief and pain come into your life then you must know that it has been with the utmost regret that God has permitted this to occur because you are as precious to him as your very eyes are to you. Then you see how David brings in yet another metaphor. He uses the image of the mother hen spotting a kite swooping overhead, and sending out the cluck of danger to her chicks so that they all race back to her as she spreads her wings wide and beneath them they are all hidden away safe from a bird of prey. That is where the Christian is, under the shadow of the Almighty. John Wesley picks up the picture in ‘Jesus, lover of my soul:’

 

“Hide me O my Saviour hide,

Till the storms of life are past,

Safe into the haven guide,

O receive my soul at last.”

 

My enemies hover around me; they want to dive bomb me even if they kill themselves in the attempt – anti-Christ kamikazes! But the wings of God are over me; a sovereign protector I have, unseen yet for ever at hand.

 

Then David parades his enemies before God. It is as if the Lord is ignorant of their devices and David has to tell God what is going on; “Hide me . . . from the wicked who assail 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 great lion crouching in cover. Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword. O LORD, by your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life” (vv.9-14). “Do you see what is happening Lord? I am lost without you.” David feels that he’s as helpless as a sheep amidst lions, but what a Shepherd he has. Thus is the Creator of the universe, the God of infinite strength. The Lord is his Shepherd. David has no other mighty Protector, but with the Lord he needs no one else. Every sheep of God is safe. Can you believe this, that every single sheep whom God the Father gave to God the Son before the foundation of the earth to save and keep – and there are millions upon millions of them, an innumerable company – he has not lost one, not the weakest tottering sickly lamb, not the most stubborn and rebellious ram (and all of us take it in turn to being one or the other) – but Christ has saved and kept each one of them from those lions who would devour them. Not one is lost save Judas, the son of perdition, and that was that the Scripture might be fulfilled. David casts himself on this God. You hear of him in verses thirteen and fourteen – this God who rises up, this God who confronts his enemies, this God who brings them down, this God who rescues us from the wicked, this God who wields a mighty sword, this God who saves us from men who only think of this life and refuse to consider the life to come. God is active, and powerful; the great deliverer.

 

How kindly he cares for us. I read this week – and though I’ve searched here and there I cannot for the life of me think where I read it – the words of a Christian speaking of his childhood and a polluted river full of industrial waste which ran near his home. His parents had told him that he must not go near it, but one day with a friend he played on the bank and then fell into the river. He struggled out, his friend helping him, and he had changed colour to a foul brown. This bedraggled boy walked home and the men who saw him as he crept by, soaked through, laughed at his appearance. He feared the response of his parents, but when his mother came to the door to let him in she looked at him and didn’t say a word. He took off his clothes, and she ran the water in the bath and helped to wash all the foul brown muck from his body and hair, dried him, got out clean clothes for him and then prepared him a bowl of chicken soup. She made no comment at all about his defying her and falling in the river. Why not? He was the apple of her eye. She cherished him, and she might have lost him that day, but he was home safe again, only superficially dirty and she cared not for that. Here was her son who might have been dead and he was alive again, dirty but soon clean. So it is with us. Go home to David’s God for he is our God! When you have disobeyed God, go home to him. When you are dirty and defiled, go home to him. He will abundantly pardon. To our God who cherishes you as the apple of his eye, and he will wash you again and make you clean.

 
  1. DAVID CONSIDERS THE REWARDS OF GOD’S LOVE. (vv. 14&15).
 

Finally David looks back and David looks forward.

i] David looks back and all around. How has it been for all those whom the Lord cherishes? David says, “You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children” (v.14). We would all have to acknowledge that we are living in a hungry generation, not hungry for food and drink and warmth. Most people in Wales have all of that, but people are hungry for joy, and hungry for intimacy, and hungry for love, and hungry for experience, and hungry for something more than they have known so far. So they walk from pub to pub, and take drugs more commonly than ever in our history, because they are cheaper than alcohol and the buzz is better and there is no hangover. Or they watch TV for hours each night, and they leave their partners and move in with someone else and keep moving on. They are hungry for they know not what, but they do know that life is more than all they’ve got so far. Our hearts are hungry until they’ve tasted the living God, until they have eaten the body and drunk the blood of the Son of God. I am not talking about holy communion, I am talking about my whole life being fed by Jesus Christ, his life in me, his forgiveness, his protection, his guidance, his presence. The life of God in the soul of man that makes any man who has it cry out, “More than you I don’t desire, less than you would not satisfy.” David looked back to all the people he had known whom God loved and this was his judgment, “You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.” Would that be what you’d want for your children? Would that be the legacy you would leave them? My children have plenty, with wealth stored up for them? Then feast on the living God. He is the living bread. If a man feeds on him he will never hunger. He is the living water; if you drink of him then out of your inmost being waters will flow wells of living water which will satisfy you and your children and your friends. If your legacy is a God you don’t know, facing death you’d rather avoid, but can’t, then what you have left your children as a legacy is a hunger that nothing can satisfy but Jesus Christ the Son of God whom you have failed to introduce them to. Look at the peace a
nd joy of Christians; look at the contentment of their families.

 

ii] Then David looks ahead. What hope lies before him! “And I – in righteousness I shall see your face; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (v.15). You see the wonder expressed in David’s repetition of the word ‘I’ – “And I – in righteousness I . . .” Even me, he is saying. Not others, this will happen to me. I will be clothed in righteousness not my own. I will be as holy as the angels; I will be as righteous as God himself, and in that righteousness I will see your face. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see their God. My body shall sleep in Jesus and then in the great day of resurrection, when I wake up at the blast of the trumpet of God, I will see your likeness. The first face I see will be Jesus, and the first voice I hear will be his. He is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person and I will be satisfied seeing him. The world scoffs at eternity in heaven. How boring, says the world, but they have no knowledge of the immense riches and infinite fascination of the Son of God in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Imagine your passion was books and reading, that you were utterly obsessed with them, more than anything else. “Books, give me books,” was your cry, and then you were arrested and sentenced to a very long term of imprisonment in the National Library of Wales! “Heaven!” you would sigh. Now the National Library has some treasures of wisdom and knowledge but Christ has them all; satisfied with him in this world, but in the world to come we are eternally satisfied.

 

Douglas Macmillan’s father-in-law, Murdoch Campbell, wrote a little book on the psalms and on this particular psalm I believe was writing about himself and his own experience when he described himself in the grip of temptation and full of fear. What if the evil thoughts which so often assailed his mind should follow him to eternity? It was then that a voice seemed to speak to him: “In heaven you will be perfect in holiness and your soul shall be so full of God and of his love that there shall be no room for anything else within your being. Besides you will be infinitely and eternally beyond the reach of sin and Satan and all that distresses you here. Nothing can ever enter that glorious world that shall disturb the peace and happiness of God’s people.” Then, said holy Murdoch Campbell, with a good hope through grace, his soul danced for joy before the Lord.

 

7th March 2010   GEOFF THOMAS