Psalm 17

Many, many years ago, it happened that a piercing, thrice repeated cry ascended to the heavens. It was David, and, as was very often the case, David in trouble.

Thrice repeated in his crying to God. We refer to the opening of the seventeenth psalm.

Hear! Attend! Give ear!

Involuntarily we will repeat our cries of anguish. And in the same measure that we are in trouble, we will also repeat our cries for help.

So also David, he was in great trouble. We do not know the historical background. It may have been at the time that he had to flee from Saul.

At once, at the very beginning of the outpouring of his cry to God, he points the Almighty to the sincer­ity of his prayer. It did not come from feigned lips.

You must be very sincere when praying to God.

Oh yes, when asking for help of an earthy indi­vidual you may be able to fool him. You may act as though you are in the last extremity, while you are really not afraid at all. It may be possible to deceive your fellow man; but to try to deceive God is horrible indeed.

But listen to David: he requests a favor from God. He wants the Lord to inquire into his case. He pre­sents himself before the bar of God’s justice. At once, in the very beginning of the psalm we hear the same thing: Lord, hear the right!

David was in trouble with man. There was a case pending. And David had received the worst part. He lived under the shadow of a false accusation. It seem­ed as if all else had failed. He is appealing his case to the highest court: God.

The preliminary was already past. David knew this. He says to his Judge: Thou hast proved my heart; Thou hast visited me in the night; Thou hast tried me!

Happy is the man that is searched thus and who can say: and Thou shalt find nothing!

Such was the case with David. Whatever this case has been, David knew that he was innocent. He knew that God needed no witnesses to swear to the innocency of David. God had looked. And God had made David acquainted with His searching visit.

Do you remember, brother, when God visited you in the night?

That season, the night, is a wonderful time for God’s searching visits. During the day your world is so large, the creatures surrounding you are so many the voices of them are so loud. Life is so rich that we hardly hear the searching voice of the Inquirer.

But the night came. A cloak of darkness rests upon your world. You see and hear nothing. And there is the Judge. Insistently He asks and prods and digs, until He talks within the depths of your heart.

So He did with David. And he knew that God found nothing.

No David was not perfect. But with respect to the case at hand he was innocent. Moreover, he had pur­posed within himself not to transgress with his tongue. We often spoil a good cause with our foolish babblings. Be still; give place for the wrath of God! He will fight your fight, if it is a good fight.

How was it possible for David to remain so clean in his cause? Was he not surrounded by the bad ex­ample of them that are called the destroyers? Yes, he saw the evil example of the wicked on every side. But he possessed a reservoir of power that lifted him above the common mass of evil doers: the Word of

God. He says: I kept myself from evil paths by the words of Thy lips.

Wondrous power of the Word of God!

Long ago I have experienced this wonderworking power. Just stay out of church for a few Sundays. Neglect your communion with those that hold forth the words of life. Just close your Bible and fail to read its pages for some days, weeks, months….

And the results will be that you depart from the highway to heaven. You walk in darkness again. You begin to destroy. You become foolish.

The Word of God is a light on our pathway. It keeps you from ways of wickedness, displeasing to the Lord….

But if this is so, how do you explain the devilish work of Judas, performed in the very presence of the Word become flesh, that is, Jesus? If anyone had access to the words of God’s lips, it was Judas. And so we could continue to ask: If the words of God’s lips keep us from the paths of the destroyer, how is it that you find so many wicked evil doers in church?

The answer is: you have not said enough when you state that God’s Word is a power that keeps us from evil deeds. One thing must be added. And that miss­ing element we find in the next verse. “Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”

That is the work of the Spirit of God. The Word without the Spirit works death unto death to me. It makes me worse than before I heard. And that is so, not because of the word, but because I am evil.

No, the Word must be preached and the Spirit must apply it to me. And then I keep myself from the paths of wickedness.

In a figure I may say: God must hold up my goings in His paths.

A wonderful picture. I see the picture of a mother who holds her child under the arms and teaches it to walk. My goings would bring me to destruction with­out that constant guiding, lifting, steering power of the Spirit of Christ within. The Word for wisdom and the Spirit for its application and then all is well. Then my course is laid for the everlasting haven of rest.

And David returns to cry for help. Hear my speech, 0 God! He will bring his cause before the tribunal of heaven.

There are those that rise up against him. David realizes that their intent is destruction. They will kill him if they could.

Over against this terrible and threatening danger he invokes God’s help.

And God’s help is pictured here in the most won­derful phrases. He calls it the marvelous lovingkind­ness of God.

Marvelous is the lovingkindness of God. It will bring about your complete deliverance from all your enemies, worst of them being guilt and sin.

The lovingkindness of God is Jesus on the cross of Golgotha, because it is called the saving of those that trust in God, by His strong right hand.

Saving them, because they are surrounded by im­minent dangers. There is the flesh, the world and the devil. But they are the very apple of God’s eye. They are loved from all eternity. And they must be saved. If one elect child of God would be really hurt: God would be hurt. They must be saved therefore.

And David has recognized his enemies. He gives us a description of them: they are the wicked, the deadly enemies of God’s people, who compass them about, like as the hordes of the enemy’s hosts. And they are the wicked because they reveal themselves as very proud.

Ah, yes, proud they are. And pride is the worst of all sins. It is the very root sin of man and angels.

To be proud means that you conceive of yourself and act as though you are very God yourself. That was the idea of the devil when he fell himself, and that was also his idea in the temptation of man: ye shall be as God! And thus it shall be when sin shall have come to full completion. Then the sinful man shall sit in the temple of God, acting as though he were God!

To be proud is very foolish. Oh, why should the spirit of man be proud? We are so utterly dependent upon God. We are also so sinful and abominable. We ought to hide our faces from God, man and angel. “Dan zou geen schaamt’ mijn aangezicht bedekken!” is the cry of God’s child.

And David has recognized them as being proud. Thinking themselves to be sovereign upon the earth, they handle creation as though it were their own. They compass the righteous, they lurk like lions for their prey. They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth in order to follow the footsteps of the poor and needy, of the righteous whom he will devour.

Therefore he cries to God: Arise, O God! Do not allow me to fall into their hands. Personifying all his enemies into one individual, he cries to God: disap­point him, cast him down, deliver my soul from the wicked, which is Thy sword!

This last clause brings a deep truth to the fore­ground.

All these wicked people that compassed David were in reality the hand and the sword of God. The next verse calls them the hand of God.

The men of the world are God’s sword and God’s hand.

Miserable creatures they are. Every dog has his day. Yes, and they have their day too. And their day is the now and the here.

Listen to David’s description of their lot.

They have their portion in this life. Who does not think on the rich man and Lazarus in this con­nection? Yes, they have their portion in this life. And what a portion! Being created in God’s image so that this very creation calls for God’s communion, they only receive bread and drink, clothing and shel­ter, gold, silver and possessions, etc. They receive the things that are seen, that are temporal, that are transitory. They need spiritual things most of all. They will surely die and continue to die if they do not have God for their portion, but they only receive the husks, that is, the earthly things.

Note that God fills their belly.

Well, you must have some things in your stomach if you are to live upon this earth. You must have some bread and some water. You need some rags to cover your nakedness and to protect you from the cold. You must have shelter. You must have all these things if you are to live upon this earth. Still, these things are not essential to your well-being. Man does not live by bread alone. The meaning is that you do not need earthly bread in order to live in the real sense of the word. Christ lived without bread and shelter for 40 days in the desert. And when he hun­gered he refused to make stones into bread.

If you have a hungry belly, but a soul that is filled with God’s favorable and loving presence, you live and live indeed.

How different is the close of this psalm from its beginning. There a cry for help; here the rest that follows satisfaction.

How different is the lot of God’s people!

They will awake. Their bodies also. First their soul awoke in regeneration and conversion. Then also their bodies will awake in the day of Christ Jesus.

And then they will be filled to overflowing when they see the Face of God. And that is also His image which they will see in righteousness.

Here a wicked man wonders.

When they hear you say that the choicest and the most delightful thing for you is wrapped up in this: that you may see God, they wonder.

But we know and therefore we also sing in the longing of our deepest heart: “Wanneer zal ik ingaan en voor Uw aangezicht verschijnen?”

G. Vos