Psalm 17

Notes (NET Translation)

A prayer of David.

1 LORD, consider my just cause! Pay attention to my cry for help! Listen to the prayer I sincerely offer!

2 Make a just decision on my behalf! Decide what is right!

3 You have scrutinized my inner motives; you have examined me during the night. You have carefully evaluated me, but you find no sin. I am determined I will say nothing sinful.

Night is the time for Yhwh to catch people out in their lack of integrity, because their thinking as they lie in bed reflects and reveals their real attitudes (cf. 4:4; 36:4[5]).1

4 As for the actions of people – just as you have commanded, I have not followed in the footsteps of violent men.

The “violent” had no consideration of God or his commands. They were the gangsters of the OT who robbed and murdered without blinking an eye (cf. Jer 7:11; 18:10). The psalmist had held to the way of God.2

5 I carefully obey your commands; I do not deviate from them.

6 I call to you for you will answer me, O God. Listen to me! Hear what I say!

7 Accomplish awesome, faithful deeds, you who powerfully deliver those who look to you for protection from their enemies.

In the Hebrew, the language of this verse recalls the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15:11-13).3

8 Protect me as you would protect the pupil of your eye! Hide me in the shadow of your wings!

9 Protect me from the wicked men who attack me, my enemies who crowd around me for the kill.

10 They are calloused; they speak arrogantly.

The first clause literally means: “They have closed their fat.”

There is a contrast between the way the suppliant and the enemies use their inner being and mouth. The midriff (heleb, lit., “fat”) suggests the part of the body where the heart is located. Closing the midriff implies being unwilling to rethink their attitudes and their lives. The parallel complaint is that they also give full rein to their mouths to declare ambitious plans for causing trouble to the suppliant.4

11 They attack me, now they surround me; they intend to throw me to the ground.

12 He is like a lion that wants to tear its prey to bits, like a young lion crouching in hidden places.

13 Rise up, LORD! Confront him! Knock him down! Use your sword to rescue me from the wicked man!

14 LORD, use your power to deliver me from these murderers, from the murderers of this world! They enjoy prosperity; you overwhelm them with the riches they desire. They have many children, and leave their wealth to their offspring.

The translation of v 14b is disputed. For example, VanGemeren understands it differently than the NET:

Whom does the psalmist describe in v. 14b? The NIV [May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones] divides v. 14 and interprets v. 14b so as to fit with v. 15. But the variety of interpretations in commentaries and versions cautions us to take another look at these cola. The literal reading makes for an obscure translation: “your hidden will be full — their — belly sons will have plenty; and will leave their remains to their children.” The crux of the problem is the meaning of “your hidden.” If it is “your hidden punishment,” then v. 14b belongs to v. 14a with the sense given in the NEB and Briggs, 1:127: “their belly fill Thou with Thy stored-up penalty. May their sons be sated, may they leave their residue to their children.” In its favor is the context and the contrastive phrase “and I” or “but as for me” (v. 15). On the other hand, “your hidden” could refer back to the metaphor of the wings under which the psalmist found refuge (cf. “But your treasured ones! — you will fill their belly, sons will be sated, and they will bequeath their surplus to their children,” Craigie, 160-61). This is close to the reading in the NIV.

For three reasons, I see v. 14b as a continuation of judgment: (1) the contrast between “their” and “I” (vv. 14b-15a); (2) the ambiguity of “their” (three times) and the problem of correspondence between “your hidden” (masculine singular!) and the third masculine plural suffix (“their”); (3) the referent of “their” cannot be different from the wicked in v. 14a: “their portion” (NIV, “whose reward”).5

15 As for me, because I am innocent I will see your face; when I awake you will reveal yourself to me.

Though the precise sense of v 15 is uncertain, the general sense indicates the conscious awareness of the divine presence. It would no longer be enemies that dominated the psalmist’s vision, but God’s face; on awakening from the restless sleep of night (see also v 3), God’s form or actual presence would be a reality, not an elusive phantom of the troubled dreams of night.6

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.


  1. Goldingay 2006, loc. 4802-4804 
  2. VanGemeren 2008, p. 195 
  3. Craigie 2004, p. 163 
  4. Goldingay 2006, loc. 4856-4859 
  5. VanGemeren 2008, p. 200 
  6. Craigie 2004, p. 164–165 
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