We may observe, in these verses,
I. What David prays for. Being compassed about with enemies that sought his life, he prays to God to preserve him safely through all their attempts against him, to the crown to which he was anointed. This prayer is both a prediction of the preservation of Christ through all the hardships and difficulties of his humiliation, to the glories and joys of his exalted state, and a pattern to Christians to commit the keeping of their souls to God, trusting him to preserve them to his heavenly kingdom. He prays,
1. That he himself might be protected (Ps. 17:8): “Keep me safe, hide me close, where I may not be found, where I may not be come at. Deliver my soul, not only my mortal life from death, but my immortal spirit from sin.” Those who put themselves under God’s protection may in faith implore the benefit of it.
(1.) He prays that God would keep him, [1.] With as much care as a man keeps the apple of his eye with, which nature has wonderfully fenced and teaches us to guard. If we keep God’s law as the apple of our eye (Prov. 7:2), we may expect that God will so keep us; for it is said concerning his people that whoso touches them touches the apple of his eye, Zech. 2:8. [2.] With as much tenderness as the hen gathers her young ones under her wings with; Christ uses the similitude, Matt. 23:37. “Hide me under the shadow of thy wings, where I may be both safe and warm.” Or, perhaps, it rather alludes to the wings of the cherubim shadowing the mercy-seat: “Let me be taken under the protection of that glorious grace which is peculiar to God’s Israel.” What David here prays for was performed to the Son of David, our Lord Jesus, of whom it is said (Isa. 49:2) that God hid him in the shadow of his hand, hid him as a polished shaft in his quiver.
(2.) David further prays, “Lord, keep me from the wicked, from men of the world,” [1.] “From being, and doing, like them, from walking in their counsel, and standing in their way, and eating of their dainties.” [2.] “From being destroyed and run down by them. Let them not have their will against me; let them not triumph over me.”
2. That all the designs of his enemies to bring his either into sin or into trouble might be defeated (Ps. 17:13): “Arise, O Lord! appear for me, disappoint him, and cast him down in his own eyes by the disappointment.” While Saul persecuted David, how often did he miss his prey, when he thought he had him sure! And how were Christ’s enemies disappointed by his resurrection, who thought they had gained their point when they had put him to death!
II. What he pleads for the encouraging of his own faith in these petitions, and his hope of speeding. He pleads,
1. The malice and wickedness of his enemies: “They are such as are not fit to be countenanced, such as, if I be not delivered from them by the special care of God himself, will be my ruin. Lord, see what wicked men those are that oppress me, and waste me, and run me down.” (1.) “They are very spiteful and malicious; they are my deadly enemies, that thirst after my blood, my heart’s blood—enemies against the soul,” so the word is. David’s enemies did what they could to drive him to sin and drive him away from God; they bade him go serve other gods (1 Sam. 26:19), and therefore he had reason to pray against them. Note, Those are our worst enemies, and we ought so to account them, that are enemies to our souls. (2.) “They are very secure and sensual, insolent and haughty (Ps. 17:10): They are enclosed in their own fat, wrap themselves, hug themselves, in their own honour, and power, and plenty, and then make light of God, and set his judgments at defiance, Ps. 73:7; Job 15:27. They wallow in pleasure, and promise themselves that to-morrow shall be as this day. And therefore with their mouth they speak proudly, glorying in themselves, blaspheming God, trampling upon his people, and insulting them.” See Rev. 13:5, 6. “Lord, are not such men as these fit to be mortified and humbled, and made to know themselves? Will it not be for thy glory to look upon these proud men and abase them?” (3.) “They are restless and unwearied in their attempts against me: They compass me about, Ps. 17:9. They have now in a manner gained their point; they have surrounded us, they have compassed us in our steps, they track us wherever we go, follow us as close as the hound does the hare, and take all advantages against us, being both too many and too quick for us. And yet they pretend to look another way, and set their eyes bowing down to the earth, as if they were meditating, retired into themselves, and thinking of something else;” or (as some think), “They are watchful and intent upon it, to do us a mischief; they are down-looked, and never let slip any opportunity of compassing their design.” (4.) “The ringleader of them (that was Saul) is in a special manner bloody and barbarous, politic and projecting (Ps. 17:12), like a lion that lives by prey and is therefore greedy of it.” It is as much the meat and drink of a wicked man to do mischief as it is of a good man to do good. He is like a young lion lurking in secret places, disguising his cruel designs. This is fitly applied to Saul, who sought David on the rocks of the wild goats (1 Sam. 24:2) and in the wilderness of Ziph (Ps. 26:2), where lions used to lurk for their prey.
2. The power God had over them, to control and restrain them. He pleads, (1.) “Lord, they are thy sword; and will any father suffer his sword to be drawn against his own children?” As this is a reason why we should patiently bear the injuries of men, that they are but the instruments of the trouble (it comes originally from God, to whose will we are bound to submit), so it is an encouragement to us to hope both that their wrath shall praise him and that the remainder thereof he will restrain, that they are God’s sword, which he can manage as he pleases, which cannot move without him, and which he will sheathe when he has done his work with it. (2.) “They are thy hand, by which thou dost chastise thy people and make them feel thy displeasure.” He therefore expects deliverance from God’s hand because from God’s hand the trouble came. Una eademque manus vulnus opemque tulit—The same hand wounds and heals. There is no flying from God’s hand but by flying to it. It is very comfortable, when we are in fear of the power of man, to see it dependent upon and in subjection to the power of God; see Isa. 10:6, 7, 15.
3. Their outward prosperity (Ps. 17:14): “Lord, appear against them, for,” (1.) “They are entirely devoted to the world, and care not for thee and thy favour. They are men of the world, actuated by the spirit of the world, walking according to the course of this world, in love with the wealth and pleasure of this world, eager in the pursuits of it (making them their business) and at ease in the enjoyments of it—making them their bliss. They have their portion in this life; they look upon the good things of this world as the best things, and sufficient to make them happy, and they choose them accordingly, place their felicity in them, and aim at them as their chief good; they rest satisfied with them, their souls take their ease in them, and they look no further, nor are in any care to provide for another life. These things are their consolation (Luke 6:24), their good things (Luke 16:25), their reward (Matt. 6:5), the penny they agreed for, Matt. 20:13. Now, Lord, shall men of this character be supported and countenanced against those who honour thee by preferring thy favour before all the wealth in this world, and taking thee for their portion?” Ps. 16:5. (2.) They have abundance of the world. [1.] They have enlarged appetites, and a great deal wherewith to satisfy them: Their bellies thou fillest with thy hidden treasures. The things of this world are called treasures, because they are so accounted; otherwise, to a soul, and in comparison with eternal blessings, they are but trash. They are hidden in the several parts of the creation, and hidden in the sovereign disposals of Providence. They are God’s hidden treasures, for the earth is his and the fulness thereof, though the men of the world think it is their own and forget God’s property in it. Those that fare deliciously every day have their bellies filled with these hidden treasures; and they will but fill the belly (1 Cor. 6:13); they will not fill the soul; they are not bread for that, nor can they satisfy, Isa. 55:2. They are husks, and ashes, and wind; and yet most men, having no care for their souls, but all for their bellies, take up with them. [2.] They have numerous families, and a great deal to leave to them: They are full of children, and yet their pasture is not overstocked; they have enough for them all, and leave the rest of their substance to their babes, to their grand-children; and this is their heaven, it is their bliss, it is their all. “Lord,” said David, “deliver me from them; let me not have my portion with them. Deliver me from their designs against me; for, they having so much wealth and power, I am not able to deal with them unless the Lord be on my side.”
4. He pleads his own dependence upon God as his portion and happiness. “They have their portion in this life, but as for me (Ps. 17:15) I am none of them, I have but little of the world. Nec habeo, nec careo, nec curo—I neither have, nor need, nor care for it. It is the vision and fruition of God that I place my happiness in; that is it I hope for, and comfort myself with the hopes of, and thereby distinguish myself from those who have their portion in this life.” Beholding God’s face with satisfaction may be considered, (1.) As our duty and comfort in this world. We must in righteousness (clothed with Christ’s righteousness, having a good heart and a good life) by faith behold God’s face and set him always before us, must entertain ourselves from day to day with the contemplation of the beauty of the Lord; and, when we awake every morning, we must be satisfied with his likeness set before us in his word, and with his likeness stamped upon us by his renewing grace. Our experience of God’s favour to us, and our conformity to him, should yield us more satisfaction than those have whose belly is filled with the delights of sense. 2. As our recompence and happiness in the other world. With the prospect of that he concluded the foregoing psalm, and so this. That happiness is prepared and designed only for the righteous that are justified and sanctified. They shall be put in possession of it when they awake, when the soul awakes, at death, out of its slumber in the body, and when the body awakes, at the resurrection, out of its slumber in the grave. That blessedness will consist in three things:—[1.] The immediate vision of God and his glory: I shall behold thy face, not, as in this world, through a glass darkly. The knowledge of God will there be perfected and the enlarged intellect filled with it. [2.] The participation of his likeness. Our holiness will there be perfect. This results from the former (1 John 3:2): When he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. [3.] A complete and full satisfaction resulting from all this: I shall be satisfied, abundantly satisfied with it. There is no satisfaction for a soul but in God, and in his face and likeness, his good-will towards us and his good work in us; and even that satisfaction will not be perfect till we come to heaven.