Psalm 17 is a model of prayer for God’s people today, who face injustice for their beliefs and are attacked for their allegiance to God’s word.  It’s a model of prayer that informs us how to walk with God when we’re under attack, especially by spiritual enemies.


Sermon Transcript


Can you remember a time when you dropped to your knees and cried out to God?   Not a morning prayer before the start of the day, but the kind that you pray in a life-threatening emergency?  A few years ago, I was coming home from playing basketball and once I got out of my car and started walking towards my house, I saw a man 5 yards away fire a gun 3 times at another car passing by.  I immediately ducked for cover and scurried in the opposite direction.  I was terrified.  As I frantically escaped and tried to hide, I instinctively cried out to God to spare my life, to protect me, and bring me home.  Thankfully he did.  But can you imagine if I had been the target?  If I was that guy’s enemy and he wanted to take my life?  My panic and fear would have been exponentially worse!  A man acquainted with war, David is facing men who want him dead.  He wrote Psalm 17 as a prayer of desperation when his enemies were relentless in their pursuit of his life.  

This Psalm is a model of prayer for Israel, who King David led through many wars against many enemies.  It’s a model of prayer for God’s people today, who face injustice for their beliefs and are attacked for their allegiance to God’s word.  It’s a model of prayer that informs you and me how to walk with God when we’re under attack, especially by spiritual enemies.  That man firing the gun probably had a reason to be shooting at that car passing by, but if it was at me, I would cry out that I was completely innocent, that I had no reason to be his target.  And that’s how David is feeling as he prays.  It’s a prayer of confidence in not only God’s protection but also for his supreme justice.  It is a prayer of hope in God’s vindication.  We don’t use that word too often so I looked up the definition for us.  To vindicate means “to clear, as from an accusation” or “to afford justification for”.  And this psalm ends with confidence that The Lord will vindicate his people.  We see that God will vindicate his people (1) for the sake of righteousness (v. 1-9), (2) he will vindicate his people from their enemies (v. 10-14), and (3) he will vindicate his people with his glory (v. 15).

The Lord will vindicate his people for the sake of righteousness

There’s no precise evidence of what David was going through that made him pray this prayer.  We know he was in a lot of military battles, and many people, including King Saul of Israel, were out to kill him.  Perhaps they blamed him for something and sought to pay him back.  Whatever situation he was in, it’s clear he was desperate for God’s intervention.  David’s prayer begins with a cry, the most basic of human utterances.  He cries out to the Lord to listen simply because he has a good reason, a just cause, to call on the Lord.  Speaking with lips free from deceit, he is utterly honest in his cry; there’s no pretense; it’s from the gut, from the depths of his heart.  So if this is David calling God in an emergency, saying “Pick up pick up pick up” the first thing he says is “you have to be here God!”  In verse 2 he says vindication ought to come from God’s presence.  If vindication comes from God, who sees all things and knows all things, it is authoritatively final.  If David takes this situation into his own hands, it may just add more fuel to the fire.  

So that’s where verse 3 to 5 come in.  He doesn’t want to give God or his enemies a reason to be against him.  As we go into these verses, you must understand that David was not perfect; these claims are his way of making clear that God is on the side of truth, and David is on that side.  In other words, compared to God, David knows he is not righteous, but compared to his enemies, David is on the righteous side.  He knows God has standards and he has lived according to these standards with integrity.  Integrity means being integrated throughout – your inside matches your outside regardless of where you are or who you’re with.  In verse 3, he maintains innocence in his inner being when he says “you have tried my heart,” where all my desires and motives come from.  “You visited at night” when it’s dark, when I’m alone.  Throughout these circumstances, David invites God to see there’s nothing out of line with the truth.  Then he connects the inner being to his outer being by saying “I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.”  Meaning that what’s true in my heart is evident in what comes out of my mouth.  David had no fault, no damage, no crime committed in his speech.  In verse  4, David maintains innocence in his outer being:  these are his actions or works.  He has avoided the ways of the violent, his steps have held fast to God’s path and have not slipped.  And all this self analysis regarding his conduct was possible because he knew what God required, “by the word of your lips.”  In other words, he knew the Scriptures well; after all, he was a man after God’s own heart.  With his whole life, his whole being, inner and outer, laid out before the Lord, David is drawing a line in the sand and fully standing with God on the side of righteousness.  

This confidence gives him the boldness in verse 6 to call on the God who answers.  “For you will answer me, O God” he says.  What does that say about the God we worship?  He is the one who answers, the one who is faithful, the one who will never leave you nor forsake you.  With confidence in God’s faithfulness, David asks the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth to once again give him some attention and listen to him.  This time not to stand on his own merits, but to ask God to not just show, but wondrously show his steadfast love.  Isn’t that beautiful?  Those of us who know how wondrously we’ve failed know just how wondrously we need to be changed.  A commentator I read said the whole Psalm hinges on verse 7.  God is sovereign, which means he runs the whole creation and he can rule it as he pleases.  He doesn’t owe David or any of us anything, yet he listens, and responds.  It’s important to know who God is.  As David puts it, he’s the Savior of those who seek refuge at his right hand.  How does he save?  Wondrously.  Why does he save?  Because of his steadfast love.  Who does he save?  Those who seek refuge in him.  This small verse explodes with God’s nature to show what is translated as his lovingkindness, the covenant of grace, which the Jesus Storybook Bible refers to as a “Never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”  That kind of refuge is pretty powerful when deadly enemies surround you.

To illustrate that kind of refuge, David says “Keep me as the apple of your eye” which is a poetic way of describing the pupil, that black hole in the middle of your eye.  What a precious part of the body that is so well guarded.  It has our arms and hands to guard it from large dangers like the bright sun, or an incoming fist.  It has eyelids and eyelashes to protect it even from miniscule dangers like dust and debris.  And it’s so precious to us because it’s so useful, it is how we take in light to see everything.  David wants to be kept by the Lord through these wicked and deadly dangers so that he can be useful for the Lord’s purpose, for the sake of righteousness.  Not only does he ask to be protected, he wants to feel at peace, to be comforted in this protection, like baby birds are under their mother’s wings.  These metaphors echo the song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32.  After God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land, Moses sang of the Lord, “he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye.  Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone guided him.”  The Exodus is the main event for Israel, that was told and retold throughout their generations.  God’s salvation, faithfulness and lovingkindness was wondrously evident to them in that moment of history, and David is calling on God to once again deliver that kind of salvation to him and his people.

From these first nine verses, there is a sense that David acknowledges that God is the supreme Judge.  He wants God to see what is right and judge the situation accordingly.  God knows the truth from lies, therefore he knows the innocent from the guilty.  David is a confident defendant and he is desperate for the verdict.  He has cross-examined his heart and his situation, and is so sure of it that he summons God, the Judge, to be a witness for his case.  What boldness, and confidence, to call on the judge to be a witness to your defense.  It’s because of his desire for righteousness that he can be so bold.  He had a surefire case to plead, and he was diligent to make sure that he was in fact not at fault in the eyes of the Lord.  Earlier this year, my wife had a conflict with her supervisor, who accused her of things that were untrue.  He included these false statements in her formal evaluation, and naturally she was very upset.  She turned to HR for assistance and resolution, but she also humbly turned to God to make sure that she was not blameless in the matter.  Even though she was angry and wanted her evaluation changed to be more accurate, she prayed that the Lord would reveal any wrongdoing on her part.  He revealed where she was at fault, she repented of her pride in the matter, took ownership before the Lord and before her supervisor, and apologized where it was needed.  Thankfully, her supervisor made changes to better reflect the truth of her performance at work and their professional relationship was restored.

It certainly takes patience and maturity to have God test your heart.   If you are being slandered, misrepresented, unjustly accused, we can surely cry out as God’s children, but we must come to God with a heart ready to be convicted and corrected.  A disobedient child does not have much room to ask something of their parent, but an obedient child garners a parent’s attention and will.  What are you desperate for God to do today?  This week?  This year?  Here’s a loving reminder that, whatever it is, we need to be aligned to God’s Word and seek his guidance through Scripture.  Regardless of who is preaching, God is speaking through the Bible and the more often this book is closed on our shelves, the more likely we are to try to vindicate ourselves of our own efforts for our own sake, rather than the sake of righteousness.  We have to be more interested in God’s laws being followed and his judgments being right than in our case being won.  Let’s use this prayer as a model to be honest and self-reflective when we cry out to God.  If you have haters (and in this fallen world we all do), don’t give them a legitimate reason to hate you.  Live a holy life, or die trying.  Seek the Lord’s guidance in identifying areas of sin or weakness that need to be addressed, in your inner thoughts and heart, in your speech, and in your actions.  May we be a church community that supports one another in doing that by meeting together regularly, sharing our sin struggles, studying the Scriptures in citygroups and discipleship groups, and rejoicing together in our Savior, whose right hand is the refuge from our adversaries.  God has given these graces as a means of living for the sake of righteousness, so we would be foolish not to use them when we face accusations and attacks from those who want to bring us down.  Which brings me to the next part of the text.

The Lord will vindicate his people from their enemies

David says his deadly enemies surround him, then in verses 10 through 14 he describes these enemies to the Lord.  Simply put, they are not on the side of righteousness.  Verse 10 of the King James Version of the Bible says “They are inclosed in their own fat.”  And this is not referring to the outward appearance of man, but looks at the heart.  While David invited God to test his heart and find nothing, these enemies have fat hearts, meaning they are so full of pride and greed they have no pity, no compassion for others.  They are only concerned for themselves, and their speech reveals this in their arrogance.  Thus they have no concern for righteousness, no fear or need of God’s words.  Verse 11 shows that they are not just against David, but against his whole community.  They are determined to bring God’s people down to the ground once and for all.  While David hungers for righteousness as a crying baby hungers for food, there seems to be a singular, powerful enemy in verse 12 that is hungry as a lion to ambush and destroy.  We could speculate on who these enemies are, or who this main enemy seems to be, but it’s clear David is not trying to engage with them.

So in order to maintain his innocence, David again calls on God to confront this enemy and subdue him.  In this situation, David isn’t trying to fight, or exchange eye for eye, or follow the ways of the violent.  Instead he wants God to fight the wicked for him, knowing that (verse 14) it is God who created them, and it is God who will judge them.  Who’s them?  They are “men of the world whose portion is in this life.”  I think he’s trying to say, “God, you made these people and yet they don’t want you, they just want the things you give!”  They love the gifts, all the things of the world, but pay no mind to the Giver.  And to David it seems that despite this idolatry, the wicked prosper.  They are filled with riches and success in the world, and even though their portion in this life ends, their abundance of treasure lives on in the next generation.  Their worldly wealth overflows to their children and grandchildren.  Not only are David’s enemies wrongly accusing him, not only are they intent on destroying his people, they are the kind of people who get all the good things in life!  So we naturally respond like David: that’s not fair!  

How often do we say that to ourselves when things don’t go our way?  Or when we are offended or attacked?  How quickly do we want to speak rudely to those who are rude to us?  Or defend our good intentions to justify the negative impact of our actions?  Not only that, we envy the lives of others and are resentful of their success.   A few of you know about a situation I had with my next door neighbor a couple years ago.  We accidentally caused some minor damage to his property, so we apologized and offered to pay for the repair.  He responded with profanity-profuse rage and completely insulted our character and made it clear that he cared more about his property than he did about me, my wife or the people around him.  I paid for the repair, but I was humiliated and afraid.  I was angry with how he treated us, and even more resentful that there seemed to be no justice.  He had it all: a beautiful home, wife, kids, lots of money, and not a care in the world.  This was another situation that brought me to my knees and we cried out to God for protection and vindication.  By God’s grace and with the help of Pastor Mike and some church members, I was convinced that I ought to repent of my resentment, pray for my neighbor and love him and his family by doing good to them, praying for them.  I had to be honest with God about what I was facing and let Him determine my course of action.

I hope it’s not your next door neighbor, but we all have enemies.  In this fallen world, we will all face people who rejoice at our failure, who will accuse us falsely, who will insult us, and who will make us cry out “it’s not fair!” If you’re a Christian, I know you have enemies because I face them too.  They are the flesh, the world, and Satan.  Like we heard in Psalm 14, such enemies will say there is no God.  The world will shame you for taking His words seriously.  In its arrogance, the world tells you to believe in yourself, to be your own boss, but as it tells you how to be, it will also shame you if you tell anyone else how they should live.  That’s not fair!  The world defines success and promises abundant treasure that comes from it.  Yet it has no cares for what that will do to our souls.  Then if our flesh fails, the unbelieving world will accuse you of being a hypocrite whose faith is false and whose life is no better than theirs.  Okay, maybe you aren’t drawn to fame and fortune.  So the world will affirm something more near and dear to our heart, that family is everything.  You can be satisfied with children, as David puts it.  But even having obedient children, campaigning for a political cause, or belonging to an ethnic group can be an idol if that’s what your portion is in this life.  

And that is Satan’s goal: to see us love anything more than God so that he can accuse us before God, like he did to Job.  He is that singular, powerful adversary (1 Peter 5:8) that “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”   This lion is eager to tear us from God’s mercy and righteousness.  He is hungry to see us fail in our love for God, and he will ambush our affections and desires so that our portion is only in this life.  But to believe his lies, to reject God’s loving commands is sin, and the wages of sin is death, and death is the ultimate enemy of every living creature.  How are you responding to that enemy today?  Right now, if you all found out there was a lion behind those curtains, you wouldn’t just sit here and listen to me.  We would all be sprinting that way!  We would be crying out for God’s protection.  You would avoid coming back here unless you had confidence that you were 100% safe.  Yet “we do not wrestle with flesh and blood… but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  These forces are actually there behind the curtains of our comforts; it is our pride that makes us live as if there is no God; it is the indwelling sin we repeatedly struggle with; the secret sins that no one knows; the lying whispers and accusations that emphasize our guilt and shame.  Will you trust in God to deliver you?  Your enemies surround you and accuse you, will you call on the Lord to confront your enemy and subdue him?  If any part of you says yes, then let’s see how God will do it.

The Lord will vindicate his people with his glory

In the final verse of our text this morning, David’s anxiety regarding his enemies is lifted, his confidence goes from optimistically hopeful to joyfully conclusive.  He contrasts himself to the enemies whose portion is this life, and says, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness.”  He’s oriented towards the future now.  And he can do so because of the past, the history of God’s faithfulness he has heard and read, and because he belongs to a delivered community that has witnessed the Lord’s vindication throughout generations.  Again, the Israelites remembered the Exodus, how God vindicated them, and how he used Moses to deliver his people to the promised land.  And it was Moses, according to Numbers 12:6 and Deuteronomy 34:10, who actually saw the Lord’s form and knew him face to face.  David longs to behold God’s glory as Moses did because it was God’s glory that saved Israel before, and so it’s God’s glory that will save them once again.  Remember the beginning of this prayer in verse 2, when David said “From your presence let my vindication come.”  By the end of this prayer, he is doubling down on the truth of God’s faithfulness to his people as a done deal.  He closes by saying “when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  In other words, when all is said and done, I will have a complete satisfaction that nothing in this life can offer because I will not have the gifts but I will have the Giver himself.  I will be in his presence; I will see him face to face.

As I read the words “behold your face” I thought of what kind of face can give us a hint of what David is longing for.  I imagine a child beholding the face of her mother after a long day at school.  I imagine someone beholding the face of an old friend as they pick them up at the airport.  I imagine a groom beholding the face of his bride on their wedding day.   I imagine a mother and father beholding the face of their newborn for the first time.  I imagine a family beholding the face of their relative who just returned from a long military campaign overseas.  These moments can move you to tears of joy.  And perhaps you’ve experienced some of these happy moments, but that’s what they are, just moments.  And moments, as wonderful as they are, pass; they come and go.  And our satisfaction in getting what we desire fades with them.  But beholding God’s face will be different.  C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia children’s books, writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. … I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and help others to do the same.”  And that’s where the rubber meets the road, right?  Our deepest joy and satisfaction is beholding the face of God, seeing our Creator, in whose image we are made.  Yet we have this enemy called death, and because we are guilty of sin, we deserve judgment.  When we see the holy judge face to face, who will live?  Will we have tears of joy or tears of terror?  

As Philly rapper Shai Linne says, “Moses wasn’t good enough, David wasn’t good enough.”  It’s only… if we keep reading the Bible after Psalm 17, we eventually meet one of David’s descendents, Jesus who is the Christ.  And it is Jesus who is the glory of God’s presence made flesh, born into the world.  His face is the face of righteousness, he is the image of the invisible God.  It is with God’s glory in Jesus that God’s people are ultimately and completely vindicated.  He is the only one in all human history who can say to God throughout his entire life,  “you have tested me, and you will find nothing.”  He is the only one with steps that held fast to God’s paths every single day, whose feet never slipped.  Yet God did not keep him as the apple of his eye, “for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many”.  Men whose portion was in this life despised him, deadly enemies surrounded him, the wicked violently nailed him to a cross, and Satan and all the spiritual forces of evil claimed victory when he died.  And in that moment of death, despite his righteousness, God did not answer him when he called.  

But just like Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5 and Lazarus in John 11, the Lord said as David says in verse 13, “Arise, O Lord!  Confront him, subdue him!”  On the cross, Jesus confronted our greatest enemy, Death.  When David prayed in verse 13 “Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,” I’m sure he didn’t imagine that God would answer that prayer by using the sword on himself, his own Son.  Yet after three days in the grave, Jesus subdued Death by his resurrection.  The whole Bible points to this:  Even while we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for the ungodly.  He faced everyone’s biggest, baddest enemy… and conquered it.  The resurrection is THE main event that wondrously showed the steadfast love of God for his people.  “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  And God’s people have been getting together every Sunday since then to remember this, and to sing and rejoice in their Savior who gives refuge from their enemies with his blood.  It is by his blood that we are thoroughly vindicated, our debt is paid, we are free from guilt, we are clear and innocent of any and all accusations, we are protected and comforted from the enemies, big and small.

This is the vindication for your life.  It is justification for your soul.  It is the beautiful Gospel, the good news, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  If you have questions about it, please ask.  We want to tell you about this Savior who will deliver your soul from the wicked if you trust him and believe him, because he did it for so many of us here.  But we also want you to know it doesn’t mean your struggles with sin will magically disappear, but Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”  It doesn’t mean you won’t face injustice, persecution or wicked enemies, but Jesus also said “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”  Isn’t that wonderful?  You don’t have to retaliate, or have the last word.  Rejoice!  You don’t have to despair when your kids don’t listen perfectly or when your plans don’t follow through.  Whatever hardship or crisis you’re going through, there is meaning in your suffering, and we are blessed because God will vindicate his people with his glory.  When you face your enemies, when you face death, when you face the holy, immovable Judge, you will stand because of what Jesus has done.  God will look on the righteousness of Jesus and we will not fear his verdict, but be satisfied by it.  For Christ’s righteousness will be given to you, and your soul will be delivered for all eternity.  Put your faith in this.  Believe and it will be credited to you as righteousness.  It’s only Jesus.  Again, it is our main objective to press on to that other country, where the glory of God revealed in the resurrected Jesus is king, and help others do the same.

Psalm 17 starts with a cry and it ends with satisfaction.  Each day we cultivate our personal relationship with God is a sign of our longing to be satisfied.  We cry out for Jesus to return with his glory, and when he does, we will no longer need to cry.  We will actually have no need for anything, because we will wake up to a reality that is full and complete, such that our portion in this life will be like a dream.  When we behold his glory face to face, we will be a new creation, after the likeness of our eternal Savior Jesus.  A 19th century theologian named Herman Bavinck said, “And in this new creation God will then establish His kingdom.  For Christ has completed the work that was given Him as Mediator to do; He has reigned so long as King that He has put all His enemies under His feet and has raised to life all those whom the Father has given Him.  True, even after that, He will in eternity remain the head of the church, the One who gives them His glory to behold and who fills them with His fullness.”  Trust in Jesus today.  He is Lord and only he can satisfy your deepest needs and desires.  Only he can vindicate you from the enemies that surround you.  Only he will set you free both now and forever.  Turn from sin and come to Jesus; behold the face of your Savior who said in John 16, “I have said these things to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  Hallelujah!  Let us pray.