The Prayer of a Righteous Person

Guided by a Sovereign God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:11
0 ratings
Sermon Tone Analysis
View more →
Psalm 17
A lie-detector (polygraph) test claims to show whether a person is being honest. The common method asks the subject a series of questions while measuring physiological reactions such as blood pressure, eye dilation, pulse rate, and perspiration – factors which are difficult if not impossible for the subject to control.
Though police occasionally use these tests to interrogate suspects, judges do not always accept the results, and polygraphs tests are likewise controversial among psychologists. Scientists have not proven that such tests can verify a person’s honesty. Would you like to take a polygraph test today?
When it comes to verifying a person’s honesty, innocence, or integrity, we should recognize that God is a far more reliable reference or source. After all, he knows what you do when no one is there, and he also knows what you’re thinking!
“His eyes are on the ways of man, and he sees all his steps.” (Job 34:21)
“Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts?’” (Matt 9:4)
Are you comfortable with God knowing these things about you?
A Prayer of David.
This background note for this psalm tells us of a time that David found such comfort and confidence in God’s comprehensive knowledge of his life that it motivated him to pray. It motivated him to make a serious and heartfelt request to God at a time when he was being treated wrongfully.
From this psalm, we see that an innocent person can pray to God with confidence. And from this we can be challenged to prioritize living an innocent, guilt-free life as followers of Christ who make living a life of integrity a top priority.

David invited God to evaluate his life.

Hear, Yahweh, a righteous cause;
give attention to my pleading,
listen closely to my prayer – which does not come from deceitful lips.
May my judgment come from before your face,
may your eyes see what is right.
With this prayer, David invited God to evaluate his life. Doing so is far more reliable than a polygraph test but it may also be more uncomfortable – because he knows everything about you perfectly.
Hear, give attention, and listen closely all request God to give close and careful attention to David’s situation.
“A righteous cause” and “may your eyes see what is right” tells us that David was fully convinced that he was in the right, therefore he strongly desired for God to examine his case and evaluate his life.
He insisted that his prayer had not come from “deceitful lips,” claiming that if God were to evaluate his life, he would not find out that he’d been double-crossed. He would not end up agreeing to defend David’s innocence only to find out that David was guilty. David wanted the Supreme Court of the universe to hear his case on the basis of his innocence.

David enjoyed a guilt-free conscience.

You have tested my heart – you have examined me in the night;
you have sifted me and found no evil plans,
I have not overstepped with my mouth.
As for human behavior – by the word of your mouth,
I have kept myself from the paths of the violent.
My steps adhere to your tracks,
my footsteps have not slipped.
Apparently, God had evaluated David’s life by examining his inner thoughts at night.
Tested and sifted describe the process of heating and purifying metals, such as gold.
Examined describes close scrutiny, like when a detective investigates evidence or when a jeweler examines a diamond.
God’s evaluation of David’s inner thoughts revealed no impurities – no sinful plans, no sinful words, and no sinful behavior, either.
Can you see the progression from heart, to mouth, to hands here? David’s motives, words, and behavior was innocent on all levels.
These claims by David do not mean he had never sinned. Another psalm (Psa 51) records a prayer of David in which he confessed his guilt over committing some serious sins.
No one has lived an entirely innocent life except Christ. David is describing a specific experience, scenario, or period of time in which some people were treating him wrongly.
We don’t know anything more about this situation than what this psalm tells us – but it was a frightening and harrowing experience of a personal nature in which David felt as though his very life was at risk of being destroyed.
Whatever the details of this scenario may have been, David felt as though his actions, motives, and words were being scrutinized as a reasonable cause, so he testified of his innocence to God and believed that God had examined and acknowledged his innocence.
How had David ensured proper behavior in this scenario? “By the word of God’s mouth, he had kept himself from the paths of the violent.” David had carefully followed the guidance of God’s Word in choosing what to think, to say, and to do in this difficult scenario or towards these difficult people.
As a result, his decisions “adhered to God’s tracks,” tracks referring to the hardened tracks on a road or trail packed down from the regular passage of wagon wheels. David insisted that he had followed the pathway of God’s Word so carefully that his decisions never slipped or varied from that road as far as this difficult situation was concerned.

David requested God’s special assistance.

I call to you because you will answer me, God;
incline your ear to me – hear my words.
Reveal the wonder of your steadfast love,
savior of those who seek shelter from adversaries at your right hand.
Keep me as the center of the eye,
in the shadow of your wings hide me –
From the face of the wicked who assault me,
my adversaries in life encircling around me.
Because David had a clear conscience in this matter, he called out to God for special assistance. This prayer was an audible cry for help, not just an internal dialogue.
“Savior of those who seek shelter” is a concept with a deep and longstanding OT background. The word savior, moe-SHEE-ah, refers to someone who delivers others from unjust treatment and oppression.
The name “Moses” corresponds to this word, and he was the person God sent to deliver Israel from oppression in Egypt.
In the Mosaic Law, this concept first appears to defend a woman who was attacked and raped in a place with no one around who resisted her attackers but there was no one to save her from her attacker (Deu 22:27).
The Mosaic Law also warns that if Israel disobeyed their covenant with God, they would suffer oppression and there would be no one to deliver them (Deut 28:29, 31).
In Judges, these ‘judges’ were called deliverers whom God sent to deliver Israel from their oppressors.
In Isaiah, moe-SHEE-ah occurs more than any other OT book and it describes God this way, attaching this word to other titles like “Holy One of Israel” and “Redeemer” (see Isa 19:20).
With this background in mind, we see that by crying out to Yahweh – the deliverer of those who seek refuge from their adversaries – David was relying on a longstanding relationship between Yahweh and Israel. One commentator concludes:
“The upshot of this investigation is that by crying out to Yahweh, the Savior of those who seek refuge, the psalmist is invoking a long heritage of relationship between Yahweh and Israel. Whenever Israel cried to Yahweh, acknowledging his power over her, Yahweh responded as mošiaʿ. When, by contrast, Israel refused to obey Yahweh, there was no deliverer … for Israel, and Yahweh sold them into the control of other nations—a pattern clearly illustrated by the opening chapters of the book of Judges (esp. Judg. 2:10–3:4).” (Wilson, Psalms, NIV Application Commentary, 322)
The key here is that David believed he had been faithful to God’s covenant –carefully following God’s teaching and ways in heart, words, and behavior. Therefore, he could pray from a position of innocence which produced confidence that God would deliver him.
To keep “as the center of the eye” was a figure of speech (we say “apple of the eye”) that refers to how our body protects the pupils of our eyes. Our eyelids react quickly to bursts of air, blowing sand, or bright light, to cover our pupils quickly so they will not be damaged.
In “the shadow of your wings” refers to how some species of adult birds cover their young, defenseless hatchlings with their wings to shield them from the scorching sun of the desert or from downpours of rain. (Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the bird who shielded its young from a prairie fire and was burned in doing so. Well, unfortunately that story if false – so I couldn’t use it as an illustration and be honest.)
Like David, when we live in guilt-free submission to God we can confidently request his intervention when we’re treated unjustly. But when we live self-centered, disobedient lives, we can have no confidence that he will take up our cause when we suffer and must fend for ourselves instead. We cannot live as we please, in disobedience and neglect of God, and then run to him for defense in trouble.

David recognized the guiltiness of his oppressors.

They have closed their fattened heart;
with their mouth they speak in arrogance.
Our steps they have now surrounded;
they set their eyes to crouch down to the ground.
He is like a lion longing to tear apart,
and like a fierce lion crouching in a hiding place.
In contrast to his innocent and righteous behavior, David highlighted the sinful and wrong words, motives, and actions of the people who were attempting to hurt or destroy him.
Fattened heart portrays a heart encased with excessive fat, causing many Bible translations to translate this as a calloused heart. David seems to describe people who lived such self-indulgent, opulent lives that their fatness (a symbol of an indulgent and opulent lifestyle) had prevent them from being sensitive to the needs of others.
Mouth (or lips) may even portray fatty folds of skin covering the through under a person’s chin, extending the grotesque imagery of overindulged and pompous people who care only in gaining more for themselves at the expense of others.
These people were on a mission to ruin David though they were the ones who were in the wrong. Have you ever experienced this, being accused or attacked by people who seemed to feel no concern or shame for the trouble they were causing?
People spread hurtful rumors about you in the community
Co-workers or colleagues oppose you at work
Someone files a baseless lawsuit against you for selfish gain
David also describes these people as calculating, predatory animals who were surrounding him like a helpless, hunted prey, surveying him from a hidden, crouched position ready to pounce and tear him to shreds.
Sadly, people behave this way, especially towards people who follow God and his ways. That’s why we need to adhere closely to the teaching of God’s Word so that we don’t react or respond in a way that is likewise sinful.

David rested in the righteous judgment of God.

Rise up, Yahweh, get in front of his face, bring him down –
save my life from the wicked by your sword;
From men, by your hand Yahweh,
from men of this world whose portion is in this life,
and whose stomach you fill with your treasure;
they are satisfied with children,
and leave wealth for their offspring.
As for me, in righteousness I will see your face,
I will be satisfied when I awake with your likeness.
On the basis of his innocence, David asked God to confront his adversaries on his behalf. He wanted God to confront them to their face and to bend them to force them to bow their knees to his will, something which David himself had gladly and voluntarily done – giving him great confident in his prayer.
In doing so, he recognized that these men were merely men who had an inflated and mistaken view of their accomplishments.
Their accomplishments were limited to this temporary life and had no eternal value.
Whatever luxuries they enjoyed, they had not received this things because of their own merit or success – they had been given these things by God.
They placed too much value on their children. Though children are a significant blessing from God, these people drew too much satisfaction from them while also passing along their wealth to them after death. Leaving an inheritance for your children is a good thing to do but doing so is not what the ultimate measure of success.
David clarifies his criticism of his adversaries at the end of his prayer by contrasting their shortsighted measures of safety, satisfaction, and success with his truer understanding of what matters most – a close and personal relationship with God.
More than material or financial gain, raising successful children, and passing along wealth to future generations, David treasured a close relationship with God. He valued waking in the morning after a night of anxious sleep and divine examination to see the smile of God’s face and the awareness of his very real and personal presence with him.
So, David trusted in God to judge his adversaries and to defend his cause. Rather than take matters into his own hands and risk sinning as well, he rested in the righteous judgment of God – being satisfied most with a close and confidence relationship with God.
A clean conscience is the foundation for a close and confident relationship with God in times of trouble. Nothing – not even a materially successful life and family – is more important than a clean conscience before God and man. An innocent person can pray to God with confidence.s
From this psalm, we cannot affirm that it is possible to live a perfect, sinless life. Yet, could it be that we are far too quick to say, “I’m not perfect,” as an excuse to justify the casual acceptance of our wrong desires, hurtful words, and sinful habits?
If we depend on God and adhere closely to what his Word says, then we can indeed feel right, speak right, and do right in any given situation. The Apostle John agreed when he said, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1).
Could it be that a complacent attitude towards our remaining sinful tendencies is a reason why we struggle to pray with confidence to God, because we know that we are not submitting ourselves daily to the clear guidance of his Word?
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more