The Treasury of David

Psalm 17

Title And Subject.

A prayer of David. David would not have been a man after God’s own heart, if he had not been a man of prayer. He was a master in the sacred art of supplication. He flies to prayer in all times of need, as a pilot speeds to the harbour in the stress of tempest. So frequent were David’s prayers that they could not be all dated and entitled; and hence this simply bears the author’s name, and nothing more. The smell of the furnace is upon the present psalm, but there is evidence in the last verse that he who wrote it came unharmed out of the flame. We have in the present plaintive song, An Appeal To Heaven from the persecutions of earth. A spiritual eye may see Jesus here.

Divisions. There are no very clear lines of demarcation between the parts; but we prefer the division adopted by that precious old commentator, David Dickson. In Psalms 17:1-4, David craves justice in the controversy between him and his oppressors. In Psalms 17:5-6, he requests of the Lord grace to act rightly while under the trial. From Psalms 17:7-12, he seeks protection from his foes, whom he graphically describes; and in Psalms 17:13-14, pleads that they may be disappointed; closing the whole in the most comfortable confidence that all would certainly be well with himself at the last.
The Treasury of David.

Psalm 17:3

Exposition

Thou hast proved mine heart. Like Peter, David uses the argument, “Thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee.” It is a most assuring thing to be able to appeal at once to the Lord, and call upon our Judge to be a witness for our defence. “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.”

Thou hast visited me in the night. As if he had said, “Lord, thou hast entered my house at all hours; and thou hast seen me when no one else was nigh; thou hast come upon me unawares and marked my unrestrained actions, and thou knowest whether or no I am guilty of the crimes laid at my door.” Happy man who can thus remember the omniscient eye, and the omnipresent visitor, and find comfort in the remembrance. We hope we have had our midnight visits from our Lord, and truly they are sweet; so sweet that the recollection of them sets us longing for more of such condescending communings. Lord, if indeed, we had been hypocrites, should we have had such fellowship, or feel such hungerings after a renewal of it?

Thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing. Surely the Psalmist means nothing hypocritical or wicked in the sense in which his slanderers accused him; for if the Lord should put the best of his people into the crucible, the dross would be a fearful sight, and would make penitence open her sluices wide. Assayers very soon detect the presence of alloy, and when the chief of all assayers shall, at the last, say of us he has found nothing, it will be a glorious hour indeed—”They are without fault before the throne of God.” Even here, as viewed in our covenant Head, the Lord sees no sin in Jacob, nor perverseness in Israel; even the all detecting glance of Omniscience can see no flaw where the great Substitute covers all with beauty and perfection.

I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. Oh those sad lips of ours! we had need purpose to purpose if we would keep them from exceeding their bounds. The number of diseases of the tongue is as many as the diseases of all the rest of the man put together, and they are more inveterate. Hands and feet one may bind, but who can fetter the lips? iron bands may hold a madman, but what chains can restrain the tongue? It needs more than a purpose to keep this nimble offender within its proper range. Lion taming and serpent charming are not to be mentioned in the same day as tongue taming, for the tongue can no man tame. Those who have to smart from the falsehoods of others should be the more jealous over themselves; perhaps this led the Psalmist to register this holy resolution; and, moreover, he intended thereby to aver that if he had said too much in his own defence, it was not intentional, for he desired in all respects to tune his lips to the sweet and simple music of truth. Notwithstanding all this David was slandered, as if to show us that the purest innocence will be bemired by malice. There is no sunshine without a shadow, no ripe fruit unpecked by the birds.

Explanatory Notes and Quaint Sayings

Thou hast proved mine heart:

What! take it at adventure, and not try

What metal it is made of? No, not I.

Should I now lightly let it pass,

Take sullen lead for silver, sounding brass,

Instead of solid gold, alas!

What would become of it in the great day

Of making jewels, it would be cast away.

The heart thou giv’st me must be such a one,

As is the same throughout. I will have none

But that which will abide the fire.

It is not a glittering outside I desire,

Whose seeming shows do soon expire;

But real worth within, which neither dross,

Nor base alloys, make subject unto loss.

If, in the composition of thine heart,

A stubborn, steely wilfulness have part,

That will not bow and bend to me,

Save only in a mere formality

Of tinsel trimmed hypocrisy,

I care not for it, though it show as fair

As the first blush of the sun gilded air.

The heart that in my furnace will not melt,

When it the glowing heat thereof hath felt,

Turn liquid, and dissolve in tears

Of true repentance for its faults, that hears

My threatening voice, and never fears,

Is not an heart worth having. If it be

An heart of stone, it is not an heart for me.

The heart, that, cast into my furnace, spits,

And sparkles in my face, fall into fits

Of discontented grudging, whines

When it is broken of its will, repines

At the least suffering, declines

My fatherly correction, is an heart

On which I care not to bestow mine art.

The heart that vapours out itself in smoke,

And with these cloudy shadows thinks to cloak

Its empty nakedness, how much

Soever thou esteemest, it is such

As never will endure my touch.

I will bring it to my furnace, and there see

What it will prove, what it is like to be.

If it be gold, it will be sure

The hottest fire that can be to endure,

And I shall draw it out more pure.

Affliction may refine, but cannot waste

That heart wherein my love is fixed fast.—Francis Quarles.

Thou hast visited me in the night, etc. In the night the soul is free from business with the world, and therefore freest for business with God; and then did God prove and visit David, that is, examine and sift him, by calling to his mind all his ways and works in former passages; and the issue of this trial was, he found nothing; not that his soul was empty of good things, or that there was nothing evil in him; but God, upon examination, found nothing of that evil in him which some men suspected him of; namely either any ill will or evil design against Saul, in reference to whom he called his cause a righteous cause, or the right (Psalms 17:1); “Hear the right, O Lord.” Joseph Caryl.

(third clause, New Translation.) Thou hast smelted me, and found in me no dross. A metaphor taken from the smelting of metals to purify them from extraneous matter. Geddes.

Proved… visited in the night… tried. Tribulation whereby, when examined, I was found righteous, is called not only night, in that it is wont to disturb with fear, but fire in that it actually burns. Augustine.

I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress. Wherefore, if thou be upon a mountain, look not backward again unto Sodom as Lot’s wife did; if thou be within the ark, fly not out again into the world as Noah’s crow did; if thou be well washed, return not again to the mire as the hog doth; if thou be clean, run not again to thy filth, as the dog doth; if thou be going towards the land of Canaan, think not on the flesh pots of Egypt; if thou be marching against the host of Midian, drink not of the waters of Harod; if thou be upon the housetop, come not down; if thou have set thy hand to the plough, look not behind thee; remember not those vices which are behind thee. Thomas Playfere.

Ver. 3-5. Where there is true grace, there is hatred of all sin, for hatred is πρὸς τὸ γένος. Can a man be resolved to commit what he hates? No, for his inward aversion would secure him more against it than all outward obstacles. As this inward purpose of a good man is against all sin, so more particularly against that which doth so easily beset him. David seems in several places to be naturally inclined to lying, but he takes up a particular resolution against it: (Psalms 17:3), “I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress; “(‏זַמֹּתִי‎)—I have contrived to waylay and intercept the sin of lying when it hath an occasion to approach me. A good man hath not only purposes, but he endeavours to fasten and strengthen those purposes by prayer; so David (Psalms 17:5), “Hold up my goings in the paths, that my footsteps slip not.” He strengthens himself by stirring up a liveliness in duty, and by avoiding occasions of sin; (Psalms 17:4), “I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer; “whereas, a wicked man neither steps out of the way of temptation, nor steps up to God for strength against it. Stephen Charnock.

Hints to the Village Preacher

Thou hast proved mine heart. The metal, the furnace, the refiner, etc.

Thou hast visited me in the night.

  1. Glorious visitor.
  2. Favoured individual.
  3. Peculiar season.
  4. Refreshing remembrance.
  5. Practical result.

(last sentence). Transgressions of the lip, and how to avoid them.
The Treasury of David.

The Treasury of David.

Singing Psalms

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