The Book of Psalms

The Prayer of a Righteous Man, Part 4


Theme: The Love of God
In this week’s lessons we look at Psalm 17, and learn how this prayer of David can serve as a model both for our own prayers and for how we examine our own holiness.
Scripture: Psalm 17:1-15
The second of David’s arguments for why God should hear and answer his prayer is expressed in verses 6-9. It concerns the character of God, in these verses particularly his covenant-keeping love. These verses plead: “…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…”
Verse 7, which appeals to the covenant-keeping love of God, stands at the very center of the psalm and is the heart of David’s appeal. It is more powerful in Hebrew than in English, for the word translated “love” is actually hesed, which refers to the covenant, as I have indicated. It is not just a general benevolence, the kind God shows to the just and to the unjust alike. This is the love by which he enters into a favorable relationship with his people, promising to be their God and the God of their children forever. The New International Version translates the word rather weakly as “great love.” Other versions translate it “lovingkindness,” “steadfast love” or “true love.” It is the love by which God entered into a relationship with Abraham and his descendants, Isaac and Jacob. It is the covenant-keeping love revealed to Moses, David and other Old Testament believers.
The second thing that is not evident at first glance but which we need to see is that these verses echo two of the “Songs of Moses” from the Pentateuch. The first is the victory song of Exodus 15. Again, this is more evident in Hebrew than in English, but even in English there are obvious parallels. Three terms stand out: 1) “show the wonder” (Psalm 17:7) and “working wonders” (Exod. 33:11); 2) “your great love” (Psalm 17:7) and “your unfailing love” (Exod. 33:13); 3) “by your right hand” (Psalm 17:7) and “your right hand” (Exod. 33:12). The translations vary somewhat, but in the Hebrew each pair of words is the same. In the same way, there are echoes in Psalm 17 of “Song of Moses” recorded in Deuteronomy 32. Here is where the phrase “apple of your eye” and the idea of God hiding the psalmist “under the shadow of [his] wings” (Psalm 17:8) comes from (cf. Deut. 33:10, 11).
Each of these songs celebrates God’s faithfulness to his covenant, which he demonstrated by delivering his people from their many enemies. Therefore, when David echoes their language in his psalm, he is appealing to what God has already revealed himself to be like. God has kept covenant in the past. He is unchanging. Therefore, he can be expected to do the same for David in his parallel and equally dangerous circumstances. It is no accident that this is also the most confident section of the psalm. For we find David saying, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me” (v. 6).
God’s covenant-keeping love is a marvelous thing. How marvelous? Spurgeon suggested that it is “marvelous in its antiquity, its distinguishing character, its faithfulness, its immutability, and above all, marvelous in the wonders which it works.”3 It is this same covenant-keeping love that has reached out to us and saved us through the wonder-working death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Study Questions:

What is David’s second argument for why God should hear his prayer? Explain what David is referring to.
What other Scripture passages does David echo in verses 7 and 8? Why does David do this?

Reflection: How is God’s covenantal love seen in the Old Testament? How is it seen in the New Testament? What is the significance of this attribute of God for your daily life?
3C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. la, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 218.

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