As we have noted a number of times, the psalmist had adversaries, men who were antagonistic toward him. God wants us to have much experience in bringing our adversaries before Him, and in His Word, He teaches us how to do this. We need to learn how to pray about our enemies. “Hear the right, O LORD, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips . . .” (Ps. 17:1).
This psalm consists of four basic parts. In the first David is seeking justice in the controversy between him and those who are against him (vv. 1-4). But David knows his own frame, and so in the second section he asks God to sustain him so that he acts rightly during the course of the contest (vv. 5-6). In the third part, he wants protection from his foes, who are described in a very graphic way (vv. 7-12). In the last section, he asks God that his foes would be disappointed, and he rests in faith (vv. 13-15).
David craves a hearing. The repetition is marked. Hear the right (v. 1). Attend to the cry (v. 1). Give ear to the prayer (v. 1). David is not dissembling in his prayer—it comes from unfeigned lips. He does not lie to God.
God is righteous, and can recognize the right—His eyes behold equity (v. 2). David pleads again to come from the presence of God (v. 2). In the contest, David is assured of the essential rightness of his case—God has tested his heart (v. 3). God has visited him in the night (v. 3). God has tried him, and shall find nothing wrong (v. 3). Now there is confidence. David was resolved not to sin with his mouth (v. 3). He does this because God has commanded us to refrain from the works (words) of men, and to stay off the paths of the destroyer (v. 4).
This is not arrogance, but is rather a humble confidence. David is not guilty of hubris in all this. He knows that he is fully capable of sinning himself in the midst of the fray, and so he cries out to God for protection. “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not” (v. 5). He knows that his prayer is pleasing to God, and is therefore going to be honored by God. He presents this prayer knowing that it is heard (v. 6).
We see lovingkindness on the one hand, and deadly enemies on the other. David is in a game where he is playing for keeps. He has a deep and profound knowledge of two things—he knows his God and he knows his adversaries.
The first thing he knows is marvelous lovingkindess—God is filled with lovingkindness, but David wants it to be shown (v. 7). God is the one who saves (with His own right hand) those who trust God to save them from those who rise up against Him (v. 7). But David is filled with resolute confidence. These foes who want to touch him are wanting to walk up and touch God’s eyeball. He prays to be kept as the apple of God’s eye (v. 8). He huddles under the shadow of God’s wings (v. 8).
But he also knows the character of the foe—God protects him from the wicked who oppress him (v. 9). They are deadly men, and they have surrounded David (v. 9). Are they misunderstood souls, with their own perspective which has its own share of legitimacy? Well, no. They are greasy enemies, enclosed in their own fat (v. 10). They speak prideful, swelling words. They are dedicated to the task of bringing David down—they have set their eyes upon the earth. The image is that of hunters tracing their prey, walking along intently looking for any bent blade of grass or snapped twig (v. 11). They hunt because they are ravenous. Like a lion lurking before a kill, they are after David (v. 12).
Of course God has sovereign control over all things. It makes sense for David to pray to Him. But notice how closely David associates his deadly enemies with his sovereign friend. He asks God to disappoint the enemy. Cast him down. Deliver the soul of David from the wicked—but these wicked men are God’s sword (v. 13). Their purpose may be vile, but God’s is not. These men of the world are the Lord’s hand (v. 14). This does not exonerate them—they have their only portion in this life. As Jesus put it, they already have their reward. They have treasure, they are full of children, and they leave all their goods behind when they die. Do they lay up treasure in heaven? No—they lick the earth.
David is in a different place—he will behold God in righteousness. When he awakes, he will be satisfied with the likeness of God. God is his inheritance (v. 15).
We must return now to an earlier point—David knew his God, and he knew his foes. Too many of us drift off this balance one way or another. We know how vile and dangerous men are, but we forget the lovingkindness of God. Or we remember the lovingkindness of God, and forget that it is a sin to be naive about the fallenness of our race. We are not conducting our pilgrimage in this fallen world through a Precious Moments figurine cabinet. But neither are we in a world where God has forsaken his people Remember David’s confidence in his prayer.
We serve the Lord of hosts. He is the God of battles. Because of this, we need to think of ourselves as veterans of constant warfare, and we must not behave as though we are scared recruits. But this means confidence—true knowledge of what side you are on.