Psalm 17 • The Prayer of a Righteous Man


This Psalm is specifically labeled, “A prayer of David”. Knowing him to not just be a righteous man but a spiritual example held up by God Himself, this prayer offers us the opportunity to dissect the prayer of a righteous man to compare and contrast it to our own prayers. We will not find any “formulas” to ensure God answers prayer the way we want, but rather that prayer should reflect our desire to shed ourselves of anything short of the way HE wants it.

Read verses 1-5

Q: How is God viewed in this prayer from the point of view of the petitioner?

A: As Judge. This is shown in his request of God to “hear a just cause” and as for its outcome “let my judgment come forth from Your presence”. It’s further revealed in v.3, “Let Your eyes look with equity”, a term that is often used in arguing cases for legal restoration or restitution of something or someone wronged.

Q: How is this like a court case in the way each point is brought before God the Judge?

A: Court cases, whether criminal or civil, involve 2 parties: The offender and the offended, or the plaintiff and defendant. The judge evaluates the integrity and actions of both sides to find whether either one has truly acted innocently or bears some responsibility of guilt. All the evidence is examined to see if EITHER party is justified or not. David knows that he cannot secure judgment in his own favor without first establishing his own credibility and spiritual standing.

Q: What are the ways that God evaluates the petitioner to establish the quality of spiritual legal standing before Him?

  1. You have tried my heart” (v.3) Is it inclined towards sin or consistently rejecting it?
  2. You have visited me by night” (v.3) Obedience is not just an outward thing that happens only when someone can be seen; it’s a lifestyle that goes on 24 hours a day.
  3. You have tested me” (v.3) It’s not just knowledge about God but knowledge put into practice that proves the listener is hearing from the heart. One can “know” the law without following it.

Q: What is the evidence presented that the petitioner has passed God’s evaluation and is therefore established as justified in his spiritual standing before God as Judge?

  1. Control of speech (“I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress”) which is visible evidence of what is truly stored in the heart.
  2. Rejection of the world’s ways (“I have kept from the paths of the violent”) which is visible evidence of obedience.
  3. Faithfulness to God’s ways (“My steps have held fast to Your paths”) which is visible evidence of sanctification, being set apart wholly unto God for His purpose.

Application: Right standing before the Lord is characterized by one’s control of speech, rejection of the world’s ways, and faithfulness to God’s way.

Read verses 6-12

Q: What does it appear that David is specifically seeking from God?

A: Protection.

  1. “...refuge at Your right hand...” (v.7)
  2. Keep me...” (v.8)
  3. Hide me...” (v.8)

Q: From what does he seek protection?

A: Evil. He seeks protection from the attacks of those that are opposed to God in their behavior and obedience.

  1. From those who rise up...” (v.7)
  2. From the wicked...” (v.9)
  3. My deadly enemies...” (v.9)

Q: According to v.10, how is their attitude contrary to God’s ways?

A: They exhibit no love or mercy (“They have closed their unfeeling heart”) and verbally attack in accordance with their pride (“With their mouth they speak proudly”).

Q: How do their actions further prove their contrary attitude in v.11-12?

  1. They have now surrounded us in our steps”. They’re attacking the very path or ways of God that the petitioner is adhering to.
  2. They set their eyes to cast us down to the ground”. Like toppling a statue or building, they’re content only with total destruction.
  3. He is like a lion that is eager to tear”. They’re caught up in the thrill of destruction, ready to enjoy the kill.
  4. And as a young lion lurking in hiding places”. They’ll do it any way possible, even to the point of setting an ambush.

Q: So in keeping with this being a case brought before the Judge, how does this contrast with what David established about himself in the preceding section?

A: In the opening section David presented evidence of his own good spiritual standing before God; here he presents the evidence of the offenders’ bad spiritual standing. They combine to present a case of why David needs, and is worthy of, God’s protection.

Q: How would you characterize the situation between David and these people? Is this just a failed relationship that can be repaired or some kind of personal misunderstanding that can be resolved?

A: The case being presented is whether or not it’s true that one side is walking according to God’s ways and the other is not. It can’t be resolved on a personal level because it’s truly an issue of spiritual warfare.

Application: The case we bring before the Lord may entail earthly events, but the greater issue is always the spiritual standing behind them.

Read verses 13-15

Q: What is surprising about David’s specific request against his attackers?

A: David does not ask for their destruction but that God would “confront him, bring him low”, a way of asking God to conquer them spiritually.

Point: The prayer of a righteous man is concerned with the souls of even his most evil spiritual attackers that they might be reconciled to God and saved. The righteous man knows that only God can achieve a positive, spiritual breakthrough with them.

Q: Does David ask for the strength to overcome them himself?

A: No, he asks, “Deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword...with Your hand, O Lord”. Point: The prayer of a righteous man is more concerned for things to be carried out according to God’s ways than his own ways.

Q: How does David contrast the essential difference between those that follow God’s ways and those that don’t?

A: In v.14, those that don’t follow God’s ways are concerned with the things of the world or their earthly inheritance (“whose portion is in this life...treasure...satisfied with children...”), whereas in v.15 the righteous are concerned about their spiritual inheritance (“I will be satisfied with Your likeness”).

Application: The righteous man sees the bigger picture beyond just the limits of this present life to embrace the eternal.

Overall Application