Psalm 17 bears the simple title, “A prayer of David.” Charles H. Spurgeon wrote, “David would never have been a man after God’s own heart if he had not been a man of prayer. He was a master in the sacred art of supplication.” Psalm 17 is a prototypical supplication or appeal to God.
The seventeenth Psalm has been the departing song of many Christian martyrs upon their unjust death. In 1685, this Psalm was the final song of Covenanter Daniel McMichael and later Alexander McRobin, who was said to have died, “in much composure and cheerfulness.” A couple of years later, another Covenanter, John Gibson was permitted to pray before he was shot – he sang part of Psalm 17. He reported to his family how it was the joyfullest day of his life; “the rest were shot without being allowed to pray separately,” he wrote. You cannot kill men with faith like this; they know they have eternal life. This Psalm has undoubtedly been the source of great encouragement to many a persecuted Christian through the ages, who, notwithstanding their chains, may enter the Lord’s presence at any time with a simple cry out.
In the Psalm, after first inviting God’s vigilant scrutiny in verses 1-5, from the position of personal righteousness, David appeals on the basis of his innocence, for God’s protection in verses 6-9.
I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O Savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings
Few Psalms exhibit the closeness that David experienced with God, as this Psalm does. Take note of how the language of his appeal is founded in God’s loving care for him. He appeals to God not as a judge but as a close friend. He speaks confidently; “you will answer me, O God;” leaving no room for doubt. Even though we see him quite clearly in the midst of enemies (vss. 9-12), he has confidence because he knows his God is near to him. Few words capture God’s nearness as those in verse 8, “keep me as the apple of your eye;” this is David’s appeal to God to keep him right before His presence. To accomplish that, David’s eyes must likewise be fastened upon God.
How about you? Are you enjoying your privilege in Christ of nearness and access to the Father? Are you experiencing confidence in prayer that come comes from knowing the immediacy of His presence? Are you confident in your appeals, knowing that they are based on the perfect righteous merit of Christ? Through Christ, by one Spirit, you can know the realized presence of God standing before His very throne of grace.