(H) A prayer of David. (1) Hear, Yahweh, what is righteous. Attend to my cry. Listen to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips. (2) Let my vindication come from your presence. Let your eyes look on what is upright. (3) You have examined my heart. You have visited me by night. You have tested me, and you will find nothing. I have determined that my mouth will not sin. (4) As for human efforts, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. (5) My steps have held firmly to your paths. My feet have not slipped. (6) I call on you, for you will answer me, God. Incline your ear to me. Hear my words. (7) Wondrously demonstrate your steadfast love, O deliverer of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
David begins and ends the opening half of this psalm with several earnest petitions. First, he asks God to pay attention to his prayer with three synonyms, all imperatives: “hear,” “attend,” and “listen” (vs. 1). Next, David shifts from ears to eyes, asking God to examine his life with two jussives, imperatival verb forms that express strong desire (vs. 2). Several verses later, David returns to hearing with two more synonyms: “incline your ear” and “hear,” again both imperatives (vs. 6). Finally, David asks God to show him his steadfast love (vs. 7).
In the middle three verses, David speaks of what Yahweh who tests our hearts already knows about him. He cites three actions that show he has made every effort to live a godly life. First, he has guarded his mouth against speaking sinful words (vs. 3). He has also avoided the ways of the violent (vs. 4). Finally, he has pursued the paths of righteousness (vs. 5). It is no wonder that David feels justified in boldly approaching God with his requests.
I. Petition: hear and vindicate me. (1 & 2)
II. Basis: I have sought to live righteously. (3-5)
III. Petition: hear me and deliver me. (6 & 7)
Those committed to godly living have a firm basis for coming boldly to Yahweh and confidently seeking his vindication and deliverance.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews we find an exhortation that captures the essence of this psalm: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16 KJV). Boldness in the case of Hebrews 4 is attributed to the ministry of our great High Priest. Because of our identification with Christ, God opens wide the door of access into his presence, a door through which we may boldly enter. In Psalm 17, David’s boldness in prayer is due to his faithfulness and consistency in living a godly life (vss. 3-5). Twice in scripture David is described as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13 and Acts 13). The chief characteristic of such a person is obedience, or as Luke phrased it regarding David, “He will do everything I want him to do” (Acts 13:22).
To be effective intercessors, we must enter boldly into God’s presence to present our petitions. We can approach him this way only if we are clothed in the garments of righteousness which Christ has provided for us. More than that, we must, like David, be sure that we are seeking the Lord with pure hearts, sincerely desiring God’s will. We need to take seriously the statement, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Ps. 68:18 KJV). Turning this to the positive, we can be confident that God will hear our prayers and answer us if we are seeking him with lives that are cleansed from sin and with the desire that he be glorified in all that we ask.
We should constantly be evaluating the effectiveness of our prayer lives. If our prayers seem weak and ineffective, this may be a symptom of a heart that is not earnestly seeking after God. In such a case, we need to pray, “Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).