This psalm is simply what it says it is at the very beginning, “A prayer of David”. Pure and simply David talking intimately to God about the dire circumstances of his life and asking God to intervene. We aren’t told when these particular circumstances took place, but having read the story of David’s life, possibility it could have been the events of 1 Samuel 23:7-29 when David, for no good reason other than Saul’s jealousy, was being pursued by King Saul. We read there that,
“15 While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life…
19 The Ziphites went up to Saul at Gibeah and said, “Is not David hiding among us… 20 Now, Your Majesty, come down whenever it pleases you to do so, and we will be responsible for giving him into your hands.”
21 Saul replied, “The Lord bless you for your concern for me. 22 Go and get more information…and come back to me with definite information. Then I will go with you; if he is in the area, I will track him down among all the clans of Judah.”
And so, David’s prayer in Psalm 17.
1 Hear me, Lord, my plea is just; listen to my cry. Hear my prayer— it does not rise from deceitful lips. 2 Let my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.
3 Though you probe my heart, though you examine me at night and test me, you will find that I have planned no evil; my mouth has not transgressed. 4 Though people tried to bribe me, I have kept myself from the ways of the violent through what your lips have commanded. 5 My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled.
6 I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer. 7 Show me the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. 8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings 9 from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.
10 They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance. 11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground. 12 They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a fierce lion crouching in cover.
13 Rise up, Lord, confront them, bring them down; with your sword rescue me from the wicked. 14 By your hand save me from such people, Lord, from those of this world whose reward is in this life. May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones.
15 As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
As Longman says, “This psalm can…provide a model prayer for any who suffer for no apparent cause, particularly for those being harassed or persecuted by others.” (see references # 30)
The thing most obvious about this conversation between David and his Lord is the intimacy between them. Consider the following words:
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.
Moore’s comment on the use of these metaphors is “he asks the Lord to protect him “as the apple of your eye”. It means the pupil of the eye, one of the most delicate and precious parts of the human body, and it is the phrase which the Lord used when he promised in the psalm which is recorded in Deuteronomy 32:10 to protect his people “as the apple of his eye.” He continues, “David uses another unusual metaphor when he asks the Lord to “hide me in the shadow of your wings”, but if we read into the next verse we discover this is an allusion to Deuteronomy 32:11, where the Lord promises to protect his people “like an eagle…that spreads its wings.” He then says, “David is modelling for us how to bring the promises of Psalms back to God in prayer. Psalms isn’t just a great book of worship songs. It is also our manual for prayer.” (see references # 36)
Father, what a wonderful truth that we can talk to you about anything in our lives or in the lives of others. What a great privilege is prayer, not only for ourselves but to be able to intercede for the needs of others, wherever they might be in the world, whatever their circumstances. And our confidence is in you when we “call on you, [our] God, for you will answer [us]; turn your ear to [us] and hear [our] prayer. [For you will] Show [us] the wonders of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.”