A Prayer of David
READING: Psalm 17
The text itself titles this “A Prayer of David.” It differs from some of the other psalms in that it was a prayer, rather than a poem written to be sung. David wrote this prayer, prayed this prayer, probably when he was running from Saul who was looking for him and wanted to kill him. From the context of the prayer it is clear that David is being hounded in some way by men who are stronger and more powerful than he is.
David opens this prayer with a plea to God to hear him, with a plea to God for justice. He makes sure his heart is right before God, that he isn’t being deceitful with God or himself about what’s happening. When David says in verse 3, “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,/ Though you test me, you will find nothing;/ I have resolved that my mouth will not sin,” I don’t think he’s saying he never sins. It’s clear from other psalms that David knew that he sinned. He’s saying that in this situation he hasn’t done anything to deserve what has happened to him. He has watched his own heart and mouth and he hasn’t sinned. And if this prayer is in response to Saul’s hounding of David, other Scripture backs this up. David had opportunity to speak ill of Saul, to spread rumors about Saul, to hurt and even kill Saul, but he refused to do any of those things. Instead, he left his “rights” in God’s hands, just as here, he leaves vindication and vengeance in God’s hands.
After David asks for justice and reviews his own response, his heart and actions in what has happened to him, he again calls to God to hear him, to listen. This time, in verses 6 – 9, he asks for God’s loving protection. He uses metaphors to express his need of God’s care. “Keep me as the apple of your eye;/ Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” The “apple” of the eye is the pupil and it is in one of the most protected parts of the body, set back in a cave of bone. The second metaphor, of being hidden in the shadow of God’s wings, gives the picture of a mother bird, hiding her chicks from danger.
When I was a little girl, my mother had Bible clubs in our home and sometimes she would tell stories that were like modern day parables. One story that she told I will always remember when I think of what it means to be hidden in the shadow of His wings. I won’t give all the details, but the story was about a little boy on a small farm who had a pet chicken. The hen hatched some baby chicks and the boy loved watching the chicks run after their mother. Then one day a fire swept over the grasslands and threatened their farm. The boy and his family had to leave, or were busy saving the buildings, or something. (Can’t remember that part, I was so worried about the chicken!) The boy was worried about his chicken and after the fire went to look for her. He found her alone, huddled on the ground in a charred area, blackened with soot like the ground around her. It was clear she was dead and the boy began to cry and went over to pick her up. When he did, out from under her wings ran her chicks, peeping and alive. The mother hen had hidden her babies under her wings; she gave her life so that her chicks could live. That story had a huge impact on me. God protects us that way. He came in the flesh and died so that we can live.
Next, in verses 10 – 12, David focuses on his enemies and what characterizes them. They have callous hearts toward God; they are arrogant; they are powerful. The images here are ones of hunters, of a hungry lion that seeks prey, and David was the prey! So David again turns to God, “Rise up, O LORD, confront them!” God is more powerful than those enemy lions!
At the end of the prayer David ponders the fate of those who live for this world: for power, for money, for fame, for pleasure, for position… all that ends when this life ends. David contrasts their purposes with his own. He wants to please God, to live for Him, to look at God so long and so hard that he’s made into God’s image.
This prayer begins with a cry for help and ends in contentment and rest.
I was hit by what David says at the beginning of this prayer. He tells God that it comes from an honest heart, or as the NASB puts it, “is not from deceitful lips.” David was honest with God when he prays. This might sound obvious, like duh, of course, Becky! But I think it’s easy for us to use platitudes when we pray. I realized this for the first time when I was in college. I was raised in a Christian family, and became a believer as a young child. I had a good idea how God wanted me to be, what pleased Him, what didn’t. So when I prayed sometimes I said things that I knew I ought to be saying, not what I really thought or felt. As we read the prayers of David and the psalms that reveal his heart, I think we’ll see, as we see in this chapter, that David is transparent with God. He honestly speaks his heart. I want to be like that, too, bring my heart and thoughts, as they truly are, to God. What about you?
In verse 14, David asks that God deliver him from men “whose portion is in this life,” whose focus is on what they can gain in this life: power, position, pleasure, possessions. It is so easy for us to live like our “portion is in this life.” So this verse cautions me to stop and ask just what I am living for. What is the focus of my life? It’s so easy to get our perspective skewed.
And finally, David didn’t try to get even or retaliate, but left vindication and justice in God’s hands. When someone hurts you, what is your response? Is it to hurt them back? Let’s try to apply this psalm and pray, entrusting God with the justice of our cause, rather than striking back at those who’ve harmed us.
Lord, thank You that You are just and righteous and that we can lay everything on Your lap – our troubles, our fears, our hearts – because You care for us. Help us to pray from honest hearts, as David did. Help our portion to be in You, not in this life. Thank you that You love us and protect us, and that You died for us in order to give us refuge, and so that we might live!