Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
Today we look at Psalm 17. The background to this psalm (and to many other psalms), is Israel’s covenant with God. Since a covenant is a signed agreement between two parties, I call it a “contract”. Israel’s contract with God was negotiated at Mt. Sinai, where the Ten Commandments summarize Israel’s duty. At the signing ceremony, Israel agreed to love, honor, and obey God. They agreed to build a God-centered community and not to chase after other gods who appeared more powerful or exciting or accommodating.
God’s part of the contract was conditional. When Israel honored the contract, God promised to “love, honor, and protect” them. And when Israel violated the contract, God would discipline and punish them.
With this contract is in the background, the poet develops his prayer in three movements. In verses 1 – 5, he asks God to listen to his just cause. He’s confident his cause is “just” and “righteous” because he has been faithfully performing his part of the contract. He confidently says to God, “Even if you probe me and test me at night, you won’t find anything wrong” (v. 3).
In the second movement of Psalm 17, the poet makes a request. He says to God, “Since I have been faithfully doing my part, I’m calling on you to perform your part of the contract.” But instead of using legal language or contract language to make his request, the poet surprises us with the language of personal relationship. He invites God to “love, honor, and protect” him in three lovely pictures: “Show the wonder of your great love” (v. 7), he says, “keep me as the apple of your eye” (v. 8), “hide me in the shadow of your wings” (v. 8).
The third movement of the psalm describes the poet’s enemies as hunters tracking him down (v. 11) and as a lion crouching to spring on its prey (v. 11). “I need a major rescue,” he says to God. “That would be your part of the contract.”
Our father, Israel’s contract with you reminds us of their freedom journey from slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, across the dangerous desert to their new home in the Promised Land. Our freedom journey is with Christ who negotiated a new contract with you, to liberate us from the guilt and power of sin, to invite us to new life in Christian community, and to write your law in our hearts (Hebrews 9:15).
Under this new contract, you adopted us as sons and daughters, you gave us the gift of your spirit, you called us to love each other and you. This we do, as much as we are able. We have turned our hearts from hatred to love, we have turned our motivation from self-righteous obedience to a heartfelt desire to imitate you. We measure our progress not by what we achieve but by how your spirit of grace and holiness fills us and flows through us each day.
As we live out this new contract, our enemies are ever near. We are unloving to your sons and daughters for we often find them unlovely. We are drawn to the gods of money, sex,self-interest, and power. We feel the spirit of this world mocking and taunting and resisting the good spirit you put in us.
With the poet we pray, “Show us the wonder of your great love, keep us as the apple of your eye, hide us in the shadow of your wings. Rescue us by your right hand from from the mortal enemies that surround us” (vv. 7-9). With the hymn writer we say,
“My foes are ever near me,
Around me and within;
But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer,
And shield my soul from sin.” (John E. Bode, hymn: O Jesus I Have Promised, 1869)
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.