Psalm 16 - Hear a Just Cause, O Lord - Page 1 of 4 (series: Lessons on Psalms)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

April 5, 2014
Tom Lowe

Psalm 17

Title: Hear a Just Cause, O Lord
A Psalm of David.

Psalm 17 (KJV)

1 A Prayer of David. Hear a just cause, O Lord, Attend to my cry; Give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips.
2 Let my vindication come from Your presence; Let Your eyes look on the things that are upright.
3 You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.
4 Concerning the works of men, By the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer.
5 Uphold my steps in Your paths, That my footsteps may not slip.
6 I have called upon You, for You will hear me, O God; Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech.
7 Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You From those who rise up against them.
8 Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings,
9 From the wicked who oppress me, From my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They have closed up their fat hearts; With their mouths they speak proudly.
11 They have now surrounded us in our steps; They have set their eyes, crouching down to the earth,
12 As a lion is eager to tear his prey, And like a young lion lurking in secret places.
13 Arise, O Lord, Confront him, cast him down; Deliver my life from the wicked with Your sword,
14 With Your hand from men, O Lord, From men of the world who have their portion in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your hidden treasure. They are satisfied with children, And leave the rest of their possession for their babes.
15 As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.


Psalm 17 is titled, “A Prayer of David.” Three psalms are titled “A Prayer of David (17, 86, 142). The question is, “When was it written?” It seems to be a prayer that came out of his wilderness experience. It probably concerns the time when Saul and his men were almost upon him and came close to taking him. This psalm reveals David’s trust in God, but in the final analysis it speaks primarily of the Lord Jesus Christ. The psalm can also be a prayer for us today when we find ourselves in similar situations of trial, anxiety, or danger. As we study this psalm, keep in mind that we are studying a series of psalms which have the characteristic features of the class designated laments of individuals; included are Psalms 3, 4, 5, and 7. Another group of expositors include this psalm in a group of five identified as “prayers” (17, 86, 90, 102, 142). I don’t think it matters where this psalm is placed, so we will move on.
When we do wrong and suffer for it, our own conscience tells us our punishment is just. But it is another story when our suffering is unrelated to anything we have done! This kind of suffering—the “suffering for righteousness sake,” as Peter calls it—is a perennial puzzle to the Child of God. David knew his share of it. But he also knew what to do about it. He took his case to the Righteous Judge. There he was confident of a fair trial. The psalmist is petitioning God for deliverance from enemies who menace his life (vv. 10-12). They have made charges against him (vv. 1-2), of which he vigorously protests his innocence. It is not clear what the charges were, but from verses 4 and 5 it appears that he was accused of committing some act or acts tantamount to the crime of robbery or violence. His last court of appeal is God. In the temple (v. 8) he pleads for vindication. We are not told how the answer was communicated, but it may be safe to assume that it came through divine revelation given by a prophet of God. The lament ends in the usual way for such psalms, on a note of confidence.

At times, David’s defense seems like it is coming from a man on a giant ego trip. He loudly declares his righteousness, integrity, and obedience. It almost sounds like he has reached a state of sinless perfection. But this is really not the case at all. David is not claiming guiltlessness in all areas of his life, but simply in the present circumstances. He is saying that he did not do anything to provoke the current hostility of his foes.


1 A Prayer of David. Hear a just cause, O Lord, Attend to my cry; Give ear to my prayer which is not from deceitful lips.

The psalmist was used to praying; prayer for him was like breathing, something he couldn’t keep from doing, so it was not his distress and danger that brought him to do his duty. His current dangerous situation was only one part of his prayed, which included bold statements of his confidence in the Lord’s faithfulness, strength, lovingkindness, guidance, and care. This is a prayer of David—probably when he is being pursued by Saul—and his life is in danger. This prayer comes from the heart, and he says what he is really thinking. There will be no “put on” in it; He is not going to speak with “deceitful lips.” In other words, there will be no insincerity in what he is saying. This is the first indispensable condition of real prayer—a good conscience. We cannot hope to get anywhere with God if we come to Him “tongue in cheek,” as it were, simply putting on a show. He knows us too well. The Bible says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” If we come to God with unconfessed sin in our heart or with the deliberate intention of doing something contrary to His mind and will, we might as well save our breath.

David begins his prayer with an appeal (v.1) and a petition (v. 2). The urgency of his need is seen in his threefold petition, Hear, Attend to my cry, Give ear. This prayer was not a silent one; it is a loud cry and a fervent prayer. Through it the right or a “just cause” will be set forth, for he speaks with lips free of deceit. False accusations have been made against him by his enemies and he is bringing his cause before the Lord for His decision, because his truthfulness has been challenged. He saw God as a righteous judge who would give him a fair trial. King Saul and his leaders believed and circulated all kinds of lies about David, but the Lord and David knew the truth. David asked God to hear his plea, examine his life, and declare his integrity by giving him victory over the forces of Saul. Then everyone would know that God was with David, the man He has chosen to be Israel’s king. God knew that David’s prayer was sincere, and that his life, though not sinless, was blameless.
The word for “cry” denotes a shrill, piercing cry that rends the night like when an animal falls prey to a predator. His cry is only for justice from the One who knows his innocence. Dear reader, perhaps you’re like me; I must ask Him for mercy, not justice, because I am a sinner saved by grace; justice would only condemn me.

2 Let my vindication come from Your presence; Let Your eyes look on the things that are upright.

He is willing for the Lord to inspect his life and pass judgment, because he believes he will be exonerated and reckoned righteous by the Lord’s discoveries. His prayer is that God would vindicate him from the false charges made against him. I don’t know about you, but I am not asking God for justice; what I need is mercy. What most of us need from Him is mercy. “Let my vindication come from Your presence”—Thy Tribunal.

“Let Your eyes look on the things that are upright (just and right)” expresses both David’s confidence that he is innocent of all charges and that God’s judgment would exonerate him. What a comfort it is to appeal from the accusations of men to the judgment bar of God. Even if there has been unwise behavior, God will judge our intentions and motives.

3 You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.

In verses 3-5, David continues to declare his innocence and call on God to grant his petition. “You have tested my heart” . . . “tested me, and have found” no wickedness in me. Also, “You have visited me in the night,” when the soul is especially open to divine scrutiny (see Ps. 16:7){1]. Let the search be extremely thorough; the psalmist is sure of a favorable result, for “my mouth has not transgressed” (that is, by false witness or oath or worship) any command of thine. The word for “transgress” literally means “to pass beyond.” This is probably the most common sin of the tongue—to say more than was meant, more than was wise, more than was necessary. David was accused of wanting to take Saul’s life, but he is so far for doing such a despicable act that he will not even say a word against him, therefore he could say, “my mouth has not transgressed.”
It is interesting to note that when the Lord tested David, he did find something and, when he tested me He also found something. I have a notion that when He tested you, he found something also. These words must first of all be applied to Christ. He is the only one in which there is nothing sinful.

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