Practical Reflections on the Psalms: Psalm 17

Psalm 17  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Listen from:
Psalm 17
Psa. 16 gave the inward spiritual life of Christ and so ours, ending in the highest joy of God's presence. Psa. 17 considers this life practically here below, and in respect to its difficulties with man opposed to what is right. The state of the soul is still marked by entire dependence on God, but as to integrity towards God, and as against man, the soul can plead righteousness. Still. it does not avenge itself, but casts itself entirely on God, and thus gets the fruits of His righteous dealings. This is a great secret of practical wisdom, not avenging self—the patience of the new life in the midst of evil, and looking, and leaving all to God. This supposes the righteous path as man of the divine life, which therefore can appeal to God's necessary judgment about it, knowing what He is and also trusting in Him; but even here deliverance is sought, not vengeance, only the disappointing the plans of wickedness. If we have not walked uprightly, still confidence in God is our true place. He spares and restores in mercy most graciously; but this, though other psalms take it up, is not the subject of this psalm. Here it is the righteous life which God looks at and vindicates against the men of this world, for it is Christ and Christians as far as they live the life of Christ. Immediately, as ever, it is Christ and the remnant. Jehovah hears the righteous and the prayer which goes not out of feigned lips. Remark that in this psalm the life of Christ is supposed and found to meet opposition and oppression in the world from the men of this world. We have seen how separated it was, associated with the excellent of the earth, passing as a stranger through it, though humanly in it. But then faith—and this shows how entirely Jehovah is still looked to—sees that the men of this world are the men of God's hand. They serve to prove the heart and, in us, who are ever in danger to slip into the world, to keep us strangers in it. Still God delivers from them. Christ for blessed reasons was not delivered; yet as freely giving Himself. The heart has the sense of righteousness here and hence counts on deliverance; but there is no spirit of vengeance.
It is the Spirit of Christ Himself, and hence above the spirit of the remnant, and much more the Christian spirit. There is the consciousness of righteousness and of integrity, but entire dependence on the Lord in respect of it, not as regards justification—it is not the question here—but confidence. I know nothing of myself, says Paul, yet I am not hereby justified. Again, if our heart condemn us not, then we have no confidence towards God. So Jesus: “the Father hath not left me alone, for I do always those things that please Him.” There is the consciousness of righteousness and confidence in God. And the heart appeals to him, because of righteousness. And all this is right, thinks rightly of God, and trusts to God that He will not be inconsistent with Himself and cannot be. If there be desire of vengeance, we have sunk below this. Remark the further traits of the conscious life. It is not merely righteous walk, but a proved heart, where the secret movements of the heart are alone with God. When the reins instruct, God proves, but nothing is found. This, absolutely true of Christ, is true of the Christian as to the purpose of his heart, and so far as he keeps nothing back, nothing reserved from God. This can be, though then in utter humiliation, where even there has been failure. “Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” So in Job. He held fast the consciousness of his integrity—not that he had not failed. The short-comings of nature had to be checked and judged, and this he only did when humbled in the presence of God. He had for a long while, as God witnesses, held fast his integrity in every sense. He did as with God all through, but did not know himself as this was needed. Christ ever walked so and the provings of His heart only found integrity to God. There was purpose. His mouth also should not transgress. He was a perfect man, as James says. Next, as regards the works of men, for He walked as a man in this world, this word was His absolute rule. By it He kept Himself from the paths of the destroyer. But there is no pride, but entire dependence on Jehovah in the right path. “Hold thou up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” Such was the practical life of Christ in this world. This was His life and walk in itself.
In what follows from verse 6, it is shown in looking to God as regards the opposition and oppression of the wicked. He looks. for Jehovah's loving-kindness as his sole stay in presence of his enemies. This, again, is perfection. His path was with God; no yielding to please men and be spared; no complaint that he had not his portion in this world. He sees the success and prosperity of the men of this world, without envy. Faith fully tried is faith still. If we trust the Lord and have Him for our portion, we have courage to walk in His path and not find nature satisfied; but this is faith. If there be not so, there will be some craving after what the natural heart could have, and so danger of yielding, in order to have what nature craves and the world gives after all, husks that perish. But the human heart must have something. If it has the Lord it suffices, but this tests it. Here we have perfection in respect of the heart and path in this world. The great secret is to have the heart filled with Christ, and so be in the path at God's will. Thus there is no room for will and acts which harass the soul, and of which self is always the center, as Christ is in the heart walking in faith. Hence His presence in righteousness is what is before the soul as the blessed result. It is in righteousness. It is not the absolute joy in God of Psa. 16, but the righteousness which gives joy in His presence for those who have suffered for it and by it here below in God's paths, in an opposing world, and absence or denial of self. “God is not unrighteous to forget.” “It is a righteous thing with God to recompense to you rest with us.” And the heart, too, is satisfied, not here exactly with what God is, but with what we are. “I shall awake up after thy likeness,” so “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren. Holy delight in God, having him always before the face, leads to perfect delight and joy in God, when His presence makes it full. Faithfulness, internal and external, to God in the midst of an opposing and perhaps oppressing world, leads to righteous recompense of glory and God's presence in righteousness. Both are perfect in Christ, and through Christ, the portion of the saints. Verses 7 and 11 give the general application to those associated with Christ; still, though applicable to the remnant, the psalm gives the proper perfection of Christ and so of the Christian. Deliverance now is looked for in this psalm, not in 16. There it was the perfect passage of life with God through death, up to fullness of joy in Him in His presence. Here righteous deliverance from men is looked for. And for this—though we may be honored with martyrdom, according to the pattern of Christ's sufferings—the Christian may look. “The Lord shall deliver me,” says the apostle, “from every evil work, and preserve me to his heavenly kingdom.” The soul may confidently and entirely trust God, as against all the machinations of the wicked, as walking in the path of righteousness. God saves such by His right hand. He may trust for restoration, if it has failed; but there is a path of righteousness which Christ has traced here below in a world of sin, and left the blessed track of His steps, and the witness of the movements of His heart, for us to walk in and live by.