The Book of Psalms

The Prayer of a Righteous Man, Part 5


Theme: A Final Appeal
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 third of David’s arguments seems a bit humdrum compared to the first two, but it was not humdrum to the psalmist. It is the danger in which he found himself. He speaks about it in verses 10-12. This is the first time in the psalm in which David speaks specifically about his problem: he has enemies, and they are threatening him. He says three things about them. First, “they close up their callous hearts” (literally, “they are enclosed in their own fat”). He probably means that they are implacable. They have no mercy. Second, “their mouths speak with arrogance.” David has denounced this type of speech in earlier psalms (Ps. 5:5; 10:2-13; 12:3). Third, “they have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.” He means that they are intent on his destruction.
This is a very sound basis for a prayer appeal, if we know that we really are God’s and are serving him. One Bible teacher was in the habit of praying when under attack, “Lord, your property is in danger.” We are never on such strong ground as when we can pray that God’s property and work are in danger and that we need his deliverance.
After these three urgent arguments for God’s intervention in his danger, David ends with a final appeal. It has an interesting form. When we were studying Psalm 15, I included a brief discussion of Hebrew parallelism as the chief characteristic of Hebrew poetry. I said that there are different kinds of parallelism and gave illustrations. One type which I did not mention is called chiasm, from the Greek letter chi which is written like an “X.” A chiastic parallel has the form: A, B, B, A. There was an example in Psalm 15: “who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow man…” The form is subject, verb; verb, subject (A, B, B, A).
I mention this here because entire compositions have this pattern, which is the case with the psalm we are studying. In the first part of the psalm David has first protested his innocence, after which he has described his enemies. As he closes, in verses 13-15, he reverses the order by describing his enemies a second time and then restating his claim to be blameless: “And I—in righteousness I will see your face” (v. 15). In this way the psalm ends precisely where it began.
It is a great blessing to be able to pray like this—not claiming to be sinless, but to be so close to the Lord that we can approach him with an upright heart and then, having prayed, go back to the affairs of this world still knowing that we are right before him.
In Harry Ironside’s brief but sometimes very helpful study of the psalms, he says that there are three verses from the Psalms that he liked to link together: Psalm 18:30 (“As for God, his way is perfect”), Psalm 103:15 (“As for man, his days are as grass”) and Psalm 17:15 (“As for me, I will behold your face in righteousness,” KJV). The first teaches that no matter what comes into our lives—whether sickness, financial trouble, family problems, or something else—God makes no mistakes. His ways with us are flawless. But man? Well, David has learned not to expect much from him, as he says: “His days are like grass.” Therefore, he will put his hope in God, knowing that “in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake [from the sleep of death], I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”4
This is the prayer of a righteous man, and it is strong and prevailing. Such prayers always are. It is what James was speaking about when he wrote, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Study Questions:

What is David’s third argument for why God should hear his prayer? How can that be applied to us?
What is a chiasm? From today’s devotional, how is this seen in this week’s psalm?

Key Point: The first [Psalm 18:30] teaches that no matter what comes into our lives—whether sickness, financial trouble, family problems, or something else—God makes no mistakes. His ways with us are flawless.
For Further Study: In order for our prayers to be effective, we need to be marked by a strong faith that trusts in the covenant faithfulness of the Lord. There are important lessons we can learn in this area from the life of Abraham. Order your free booklet by James Boice, “How to Have a Growing Faith.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
4H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (New York: Loizeaux, 1952), p. 97.

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