Psalm 17 Hear Here!

Questions: Why should God listen to us? Does rightness matter? What about mercy? Will God save us from our enemies? What would satisfy us? “Read More” to pursue answers in the Psalms .

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Psalms 17:1-15

Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, [that goeth] not out of feigned lips.

I had to double-check the NIV to confirm David did in fact mean “hear the right”, not “hear me right”. That is, David is asking God to listen to him because what David is asking for is right:

Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; let thine eyes behold the things that are equal.

It is tempting to accuse David of relying on self-righteousness, but if so he’s at least willing to pay the price of such a claim:

Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited [me] in the night; thou hast tried me, [and] shalt find nothing; I am purposed [that] my mouth shall not transgress.

Ouch. I suspect David is self-consciously referring to Job, and determined to live up to his standards. Which presumably means he’s embracing his suffering as a test of his faith, rather than blaming God’s justice.

More importantly, though, David explicitly credits God with his righteousness:

Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept [me from] the paths of the destroyer. Hold up my goings in thy paths, [that] my footsteps slip not.

In other words, David is NOT saying, “You must help me because I deserve it”, but rather “You should help me because YOU are good, and your goodness is exactly what I desire:”

I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, [and hear] my speech.

Of course, David is not merely relying on an impersonal god of justice, but one who actually has compassion for David, and all who rely on Him:

Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust [in thee] from those that rise up [against them]. Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings,

Especially since they need rescuing…

* From the wicked that oppress me, [from] my deadly enemies, [who] compass me about.

* They are inclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly.

* They have now compassed us in our steps: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth;

* Like as a lion [that] is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places.

No wonder David cries out:

Arise, O LORD, disappoint him, cast him down: deliver my soul from the wicked, [which is] thy sword: From men [which are] thy hand, O LORD, from men of the world, [which have] their portion in [this] life

The KJV’s use of ‘which’ clauses is pretty confusing here, so I’ll go with the NIV rendering of those verses:

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.

and the last half of verse 14:

You still the hunger of those you cherish; — their sons have plenty, — and they store up wealth for their children.

The NIV assumes


(“cherish”) refers the people who inherit the blessing, rather than the KJV’s “hid” implying a treasure that is inherited:

and whose belly thou fillest with thy hid [treasure]: they are full of children, and leave the rest of their [substance] to their babes.

Given that this is the only use of


in the Old Testament, it is hard to know which is the correct rendering; after all, we know all too well that sometimes the wicked get to pass on blessings to their children.
What’s perhaps more important, though, is the fact that David’s happiness is largely independent of all that:

As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.

Again, David seems to be mirroring Job, which makes it even more likely he’s doing it self-consciously. In fact, it makes me wonder whether this whole Psalm is a Job-ic progression from demands to righteousness to mercy to intimacy.

Hmph. In that case, David isn’t so much alluding to Job as he is walking the same path Job walked to experience God. That is, he has no interest in scoring literary or theological points; rather, he is desperately seeking after the same God that Job knew. David is using this Psalm to teach himself (and us his readers) how to pray rightly, and move from an infant’s mewling cry to the security of a weaned child.

A lesson we all could stand to learn.


God, teach me to complain rightly. Help me to dig deeper into your character — your justice, compassion, and power. But more than that, Lord, teach me to the wonder of seeing thy face, for I know that only that will ever truly satisfy. And that thy likeness may dwell in me. Even as it dwelt in your Son, in whose name I pray. Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title plays on the oft-mispelled phrase, “Hear, Hear