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Psalm 17

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Prayer for Protection Against Oppressors Prayer with Confidence in Final Salvation Prayer of Deliverance from Personal Enemies
(A Lament)
The Prayer of An Innocent Person The Plea of the Innocent
MT Intro
"A Prayer of David"
       
17:1-5 17:1-2 17:1-2 17:1-2 17:1-2
  17:3-5 17:3-5 17:3-5 17:3-4a
        17:4b-7
17:6-12 17:6-9 17:6-7 17:6-7  
    17:8-12 17:8-9a 17:8-12
      17:9b-12  
  17:10-12      
17:13-15 17:13-14 17:13-14 17:13-14 17:13-14b
        17:14c-15
  17:15 17:15 17:15  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 17:1-5
 1Hear a just cause, O Lord, give heed to my cry;
 Give ear to my prayer, which is not from deceitful lips.
 2Let my judgment come forth from Your presence;
 Let Your eyes look with equity.
 3You have tried my heart;
 You have visited me by night;
 You have tested me and You find nothing;
 I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.
 4As for the deeds of men, by the word of Your lips
 I have kept from the paths of the violent.
 5My steps have held fast to Your paths.
 My feet have not slipped.

17:1 Notice the parallel imperatives referring to the psalmist's prayer.

1. hear — BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative, cf. Ps. 17:6; 27:7; 28:2; 30:10; 39:12; 54:12; 61:1; 64:1; 84:8; 102:1; 119:149; 130:2; 143:1

2. give heed — BDB 904, KB 1151, Hiphil imperative, cf. Ps. 5:2; 55:2; 61:1; 86:6; 142:6

3. give ear — BDB 23, KB 27, Hiphil imperative, cf. Ps. 5:1; 39:12; 49:1; 54:2; 55:1; 77:1; 80:1; 84:8; 140:6; 141:1; 143:1

Psalms is a book of God's people earnestly asking Him to hear (i.e., take note of and respond to) their sensed needs.

In verse 1 the words of the one with a just cause (BDB 841) is contrasted to the words of the one with "deceitful lips" (cf. Isa. 29:13).

Psalm 17:1 is parallel to 17:6. All three strophes of this Psalm begin with several imperatives beseeching God to act on the psalmist's behalf!

NASB, NKJV"not from deceitful lips"
NRSV, NJB"from lips free of deceit"
TEV"honest prayer"
JPSOA"without guile"

The psalmist is asserting his integrity. He prays with no hidden motives or known lies (cf. Isa. 29:13).

17:2 As verse one had three imperatives, this verse has two understood jussives.

1. let my judgment/vindication come forth from Your presence — BDB 422, KB 425, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

2. let Your eyes look with equity — BDB 302, KB 301, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

 

NASB"equity"
NKJV"upright"
NRSV"the right"
NJB, TEV,
JPSOA, REB"right"
LXX"straightforwardness"

The MT has "evenness," "uprightness," or "equity" (BDB 449). Here it refers to YHWH judging fairly or impartially. The psalmist is asking for the God of justice to render a just verdict (cf. Ps. 17:1a).

17:3-5 The psalmist enumerates why God should judge/vindicate him.

1. what God has done (all perfects)

a. He tried his heart, Ps. 17:3a

b. He visited him by night, Ps. 17:3b (a & b are parallel with no distinction intended)

c. He tested him and found nothing, Ps. 17:3c (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD TESTS HIS PEOPLE at Ps. 11:4b)

2. what he has done or not done

a. he has not transgressed with his mouth, Ps. 17:3d

b. he has kept away from the path of the violent (the word, BDB 829, means "robber," cf. Jer. 7:11, but can mean "violent," cf. Ezek. 18:10), Ps. 17:4

c. he has walked God's paths, Ps. 17:5a

d. he has not slipped, Ps. 17:5b (cf. Ps. 18:36)

The concept of "path" means that the psalmist has followed carefully God's covenant guidelines (cf. Ps. 37:31; 40:2; 44:18; 66:9; 73:2; 119:105; Pro. 14:15). Wicked people

1. deviate from the path to the right or left

2. stumble on the path

3. have slippery steps

See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD TESTS HIS PEOPLE at Ps. 11:4b-5.

17:3d The UBS Text Project (pp. 182-183) has a good brief note about the options for translating this line of poetry.

"If זמתי is interpreted as an infinitive construct with a suffix, the last part of Ps. 17:3 should be interpreted as ‘my plans (thoughts) do not go beyond my mouth' (i.e., my thoughts correspond with my words, my words confirm with my ideas). If זמתי is interpreted as a verb in the first person singular, the clause should be interpreted as ‘if I devise 〈something〉 (i.e. something wicked), 〈this〉 should not cross my mouth."

Also see NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 1112, for the same suggested emendation. The change from the MT, "my wickedness" (BDB 273, KB 273) to "I have considered" or "I planned" (BDB 273, KB 273, Qal perfect) involves only a change of vowels.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 17:6-12
 6I have called upon You, for You will answer me, O God;
 Incline Your ear to me, hear my speech.
 7Wondrously show Your lovingkindness,
 O Savior of those who take refuge at Your right hand
 From those who rise up against them.
 8Keep me as the apple of the eye;
 Hide me in the shadow of Your wings
 9From the wicked who despoil me,
 My deadly enemies who surround me.
 10They have closed their unfeeling heart,
 With their mouth they speak proudly.
 11They have now surrounded us in our steps;
 They set their eyes to cast us down to the ground.
 12He is like a lion that is eager to tear,
 And as a young lion lurking in hiding places.

17:6-12 This strophe describes God's actions toward the psalmist and his opponents' actions.

1. God's actions

a. he called and God answered, Ps. 17:6

b. God showed His covenant love and loyalty (i.e., lovingkindness, see Special Topic at Ps. 5:7)

c. God gave him refuge (see note at Ps. 5:11)

d. God kept/protected "the apple of my eye" (an idiom of tender care for someone especially close, cf. Deut. 32:16; Pro. 7:2)

e. God hid him in the shadow of His wings (see Special Topic at Ps. 5:11-12)

2. the opponent's actions

a. they despoiled him (i.e., kill him), Ps. 17:9

b. they surrounded him, Ps. 17:9b,11a

c. they closed their heart (lit. "their fat [BDB 316] they have closed" [BDB 688, KB 742, Qal perfect]," cf. LXX; "fat" is used in a negative sense of people in Ps. 73:3 and 119:70)

d. they speak proudly against him

e. they set their eyes against him

f. they tear him like a lion, Ps. 17:12

What a sharp contrast!

17:6

NASB, NKJV"incline Your ear to me"
TEV, NJB,
JPSOA"turn your ear to me"

This is a Hebrew idiom, which when used in prayers, asks YHWH to turn/bend (cf. 2 Kgs. 19:16; Isa. 37:17; Dan. 9:18; Ps. 31:2; 71:2; 86:1; 88:2; 102:2; 116:2).

YHWH, though a non-corporal spiritual being, is described in human vocabulary. See the Special Topic on anthropomorphism at Ps. 2:4-6. Humans have no vocabulary but that related to this planet and their physicalness. Human vocabulary used of God or the spiritual realm is always figurative.

17:7 This verse has a series of powerful, emotive theological terms related to YHWH's person and mercy.

1. wondrously show — BDB 811, KB 930, Hiphil imperative (see related word BDB 810 in Ps. 33:22, see Special Topic at Ps. 9:1)

2. lovingkindness, YHWH's hesed — BDB 338 (see Special Topic at Ps. 5:7) which denotes His covenant loyalty and steadfast love

3. O Savior — BDB 446, Hiphil participle, i.e., the one who saves, cf. Ps. 106:7,21

4. refuge — BDB 340, Qal participle, YHWH is a strong and mighty fortress for those who take refuge in Him, cf. Ps. 5:11; 18:2

 

▣ "at Your right hand" This phrase can be understood in several senses.

1. the place close to YHWH where the needy seek refuge, cf. NASB, TEV

2. the means by which YHWH delivers the needy (i.e., His strong right hand, cf. NKJV, JPSOA, REB, see SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND at Ps. 7:3-4)

3. the close association between the psalmist and his enemies (i.e., close associates, cf. NRSV)

 

17:9 "the wicked" It is hard to identify this group. It could refer to

1. covenant partners who, for their own purposes, attack the psalmist

2. covenant partners who knowingly violate YHWH's covenant

3. the surrounding nations who ignorantly, blindly follow idols and not YHWH

Only the context of the Psalm and the individual strophe can help the identification. I am not sure "the wicked" realize they are such. Often they think they are serving God in their actions.

In this Psalm they seem to be wealthy, successful Israelites who see their possessions and children as a covenant sign of God's approval.

17:11 "They have now surrounded us" The MT has the verb (BDB 685, KB 738) as singular but it is paralleled in the next line with a plural verb. So the Masoretic scholars put a marginal note (Qere) suggesting it be read as a plural (cf. NASB "us" in Ps. 17:11, lines a and b).

I think the singular (MT) is best. This Psalm is an individual lament, but later came to be used liturgically for the whole community, which is so common in the Psalms.

NASB, NKJV"our steps"
NRSV"they track me down"
NJB"they are advancing"

The Hebrew of Ps. 17:11 starts with "our steps" (BDB 81, feminine plural, אשׁרינו) but by a change of vowels, can become a verb, "advance" (BDB 80, אשׁר), which is in one Hebrew manuscript, cf. NRSV, NJB.

NASB"to cast us to the ground"
NKJV"crouching down to the earth"
NRSV"to cast me to the ground"
TEV"to pull me down"
NJB"hurl me to the ground"
LXX"to incline at the ground"
Peshitta"to bury me in the ground"

The verbal "to cast" (Qal infinitive construct) is literally the verb "incline" (BDB 639, KB 692) used in Ps. 17:6, but here that translation does not fit the context. Remember words have meaning only in context! Poetry forces words to be used in unique ways.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 17:13-15
 13Arise, O Lord, confront him, bring him low;
 Deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword,
 14From men with Your hand, O Lord,
 From men of the world, whose portion is in this life,
 And whose belly You fill with Your treasure;
 They are satisfied with children,
 And leave their abundance to their babes.
 15As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
 I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.

17:13-15 The psalmist calls on God to act on his behalf (Ps. 17:13).

1. arise — BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal imperative

2. confront — BDB 869, KB 1068, Piel imperative

3. bring low — BDB 502, KB 499, Hiphil imperative

4. deliver — BDB 812, KB 930, Piel imperative

Notice the "froms," which characterize the opponents (Ps. 17:13b-14).

1. from the wicked

2. from men (NET Bible [p. 867, #32] emends it to "from those who kill," i.e., "murderers" in both lines a and b)

a. whose portion in life is of the world

b. whose belly is full

c. who have many children

d. who leave their wealth to their children

However, the psalmist is characterized as

1. one who beholds God's face in righteousness (idiom of intimacy, cf. Ps. 11:7)

2. one who is satisfied with God's presence (cf. Ps. 16:11)

Both of the verbs of Ps. 17:15 are cohortatives.

1. see/behold — BDB 302, KB 301, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

2. satisfied — BDB 959, KB 1302, Qal cohortative

 

17:15 As the wicked (and their posterity) are satisfied (BDB 959, KB 1302, Qal imperfect) with earthly things, ill-gotten gains; the psalmist (emphatic "I") is satisfied (BDB 959, KB 1302) with YHWH's presence!

▣ "when I awake" This verb (BDB 884, KB 1098, Hiphil infinitive construct) is used in several senses.

1. awake from a special vision of God

2. awake from a night's sleep

3. awake from drunkenness

4. awake from death

I think #4 best fits the context (i.e., YHWH's presence, cf. 2 Kgs. 4:31; Job 14:12; Ps. 23:24-25; 139:18; Isa. 26:19; Jer. 51:39,57; Dan. 12:2). If so, then the ending of Psalm 16 and Psalm 17 are similar!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How did YHWH deal with the psalmist's claim of innocence?

2. How does the psalmist claim that he is innocent?

3. Explain the imagery of "at Your right Hand."

4. Explain the imagery of "the apple of the eye."

5. Explain the imagery of "in the shadow of Your wings."