For the general scope of this psalm, compare Introduction to Psalms 16; for particular points of resemblance, compare Psalm 17:8 with Psalm 16:1; Psalm 17:3 with Psalm 16:7; Psalm 17:7; Psalm 17:14 with Psalm 16:8, &c; and many linguistic analogies only seen in the Hebrew. It would be satisfactory if we could actually identify the author—doubtless the same man—of the two; but if we lose sight of him in thinking of the righteous part of Israel generally, suffering under the attacks of the ungodly or the heathen, and with only its faith to sustain it, the question of authorship loses its importance.
The psalm is entirely without rhythmic art.
Title.—A prayer. From Psalm 72:20, “the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended,” we naturally regard tephillah, i.e., prayer, as a name applicable to all the pieces of the collection, though it only actually occurs as an inscription five times, and only one—the present—belongs to the first two books.
The things that are equal.—Heb., meysharîm, which may be either abstract, rectitude, or concrete, the just (Song of Solomon 1:4, Note), or adverbial, justly.
I am purposed.—The Hebrew word presents a difficulty. It is better to take it as a noun—counsels, and here, as generally, evil counsels—and join it to the preceding, not (as in the Authorised Version) the following words.
“Thou hast proved my heart,
Thou hast visited me in the night,
Thou hast found no malice in me,
My mouth doth not transgress, or
It (malice) doth not pass my mouth.”
“I offend”—that is, “neither in thought nor word.” The LXX., Vulg., Syr., Chald., and Arab. versions support this arrangement.
By the word of thy lips.—Some take this clause closely with the foregoing, and render, “against the word,” &c; but the Authorised Version is better. The Divine standard for action, not the human or worldly, influences the writer.
I have kept me.—Literally, I for my part have observed ways of violence. But usage (Proverbs 2:20) almost compels us to understand by this, “I have kept ways of violence,” which is impossible here. Hence we have either to give the verb the unusual sense “guard against,” or suppose an error in the text.
My course kept close in thy tracks,
My footsteps have not wavered.
(Comp. Job 23:11; Psalm 41:12.)
Psalm 17:6I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech.(6) I—is emphatic, “As for me, I,” &c.
Hide me under the shadow of thy wings.—The figure of the sheltering wings of the parent bird, so common in Hebrew literature, generally refers to the eagle or vulture, as in Deuteronomy 32:10-11, the source of both the beautiful images of the text. Our Lord’s use of the figure is made more tender by the English rendering, “hen” (Matthew 23:37). (See Note New Testament Commentary.)
They have set.—Literally, they fix their eyes to cast on the earth, which may mean, “they fix their eyes on me, ready to strike me to the ground.” Ewald, “they direct their eyes through the land to strike.” But Mr. Burgess suggests a translation at once simple and convincing. He brings the first word back from the next verse, and points it our blood, instead of the awkward his likeness. He thus gets, “They have set their eyes to shed our blood on the earth.” For the Hebrew verb in similar sense, comp. Isaiah 66:12.
“About them round
A lion now he stalks with fiery glare.”
Which is thy sword.—This thought, making the wicked God’s weapons of wrath (Isaiah 10:5), is arbitrarily introduced by the Authorised Version, and is quite out of keeping with the context. Translate “with thy sword,” either understanding a preposition, or treating the accusative as an adverb of manner; as an adverb of time and place it is common. Similarly in the next verse, “with thy hand from men of the world.”
Their portion in this life—contrasts with Psalm 16:5.
Thy hid treasure.—That which thou hast stored up, which is sometimes in a good sense (Psalm 31:19; Proverbs 13:22), sometimes in a bad (Job 21:19). But ought we not to translate—
“With thy treasure thou fillest their womb:
They are full of children.”
These two lines are thus in close parallelism, while the last clause of the verse, “and leave,” &c, answers to “which have their portion in this life.”
Instead of “likeness,” render image, or appearance. But what does the poet mean by the hope of seeking God when he wakes? Some think of rising to peace after a perplexing trouble; others of health after suffering; others of the sunlight of the Divine grace breaking on the soul. But the literal reference to night in Psalm 17:3 seems to ask for the same reference here. Instead of waking to a worldling’s hope of a day of feasting and pleasure, the psalmist wakes to the higher and nobler thought that God—who in sleep (so like death, when nothing is visible), has been, as it were, absent—is now again, when he sees once more (LXX.), found at his right hand (comp. end of Psalms 16), a conscious presence to him, assuring him of justice and protection. But as in Psalms 16, so here, we feel that in spite of his subjection to the common notions about death the psalmist may have felt the stirrings of a better hope. Such “cries from the dark,” even if they do not prove the possession of a belief in immortality, show how the human heart was already groping its way, however blindly, towards it.