A Reflection on Psalm 17.1-8 by Canon Rob,
6th November, 3rd Sunday before Advent
Surprisingly, the refrain and heading for Psalm 17 in “Common Worship: Daily Prayer” is “The Lord is my strength and my song.” I say “surprisingly” because the tone in most verses is a cry for help. The author is clearly desperate for the Lord to hear his prayer as we see in the words accompanying the picture here. The version in Common Worship, which we use at St Dunstan’s makes it sound even more urgent. “Hear my just cause, O Lord; consider my complaint; listen to my prayer, which comes not from lying lips.” Some commentaries suggest this psalm was written by David himself at a time when he was trying to escape from King Saul. [See 1 Samuel 23.19-29.] Whether or not this is true, there is no doubt that the author is feeling, not only under possible attack, but also suffering a great injustice.
It also seems that the author is full of himself! See verse 3 for example: “Weigh my heart, examine me by night, refine me, and you will find no impurity within me.” Who does he think he is!Yet his main aim is to plead for justice and he is doing his very best to ask God to take his side, to understand what he is going through, then to relieve him of this agony, which takes us back to the refrain mentioned above. The author can plead with God for justice because he trusts His strength and His song. The Lord will stand by him. Perhaps it is helpful to imagine a court of law in which a person who is innocent is standing before the judge, pleading for the truth to be heard because the judge is known to be totally honest and wise. Verse 6 suggests this is true: “I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; incline your ear to me, and listen to my words.” As long as God listens to his plea, he has confidence that he will win his case. Justice will be served, because he has no doubt that the Lord is listening, understands and, most importantly, knows what is true. We may be right to think that the author of the psalm is full of himself, and we might also assume that we would never begin a plea for God’s help by boasting. But it is certainly the case that he has great faith in God. He is totally confident that the Lord will hear the prayers of those who follow His commandments, because he has learned that from his reading of the Scriptures. In verse 7 he asks, “Show me your marvellous loving-kindness.” Loving-kindness, especially in Coverdale’s version of the Bible, is loaded with meaning. It is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘chesed,’ used when referring to God’s relationship with His chosen people. We find it over 20 times in the Book of Psalms, combining both ‘love’ and ‘loyalty,’ behind which is the remembrance of the Covenant which God made with His people. George Matheson’s hymn, “O Love that wilt not let me go” [519 in Complete Anglican Hymns which we use] sums up the meaning well. We do not deserve this love. It is a free gift of God and the author of Psalm 17 believed this to be true which is why he can plead with God in the way that he does.
Verse 8 reinforces the author’s faith and, for me at least, is one of the most beautiful verses in the entire Book of Psalms. “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings.” Those who have attended a Service of Compline, or Night Prayer, will remember the verse being used: so apt for this act of worship, which the note in Common Worship describes as “a service of quietness and reflection before rest at the end of the day.” The verse conveys two thoughts about God’s protective care, summed up in the picture here. God watches over us at all times and he keeps us close to Him. These are what the author of Psalm 17 is really asking for. With both, he knows that he will receive the justice which he prays for and he can live in peace, loving the Lord his God and being loved by Him.
Show your steadfast love, O Lord, to all who put their trust in you,
and who seek refuge in your protective care.