Life-Study of Psalms, by Witness Lee

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In Psalms 17—19 we see David’s concept concerning a man before God.

A. The Improvement of David’s Concept

Psalm 17 shows us the improvement of David’s concept. David’s concept improved from his righteousness (vv. 1-6) to God’s wondrous lovingkindness and God’s hiding him in the shadow of His wings (vv. 7-9).

In verse 3 David said, "You have tried me: You have found nothing./My thoughts do not pass through my mouth." David said that his thoughts did not pass through his mouth and that his prayer was not made with "lips of deceit" (v. 1). James, in the New Testament, said that the hardest thing for us to control is our mouth (James 3:1-12). But in Psalm 17, David told God that he had success in controlling his mouth. In verse 5 David said, "My steps have held fast to Your tracks;/My footsteps have not slipped." David said that he was still on God’s track, like a locomotive which is still on the rails.

In verses 7-9 David’s concept turned from his righteousness to God’s wondrous lovingkindness and God’s hiding him in the shadow of His wings. In verse 8 he prayed, "Guard me like the apple of Your eye;/In the shadow of Your wings hide me." David enjoyed the shadow of God’s wings, and he even enjoyed being guarded like the apple of God’s eye.

In the first six verses he was in his righteousness. He was boasting of his righteousness. James said that no one can control his mouth, but David said that God examined him and found nothing. In verses 7-9, however, he came out of his righteousness. He entered into God’s eye and came under God’s wings to enjoy the shadow. His boasting in his righteousness was in the line of the tree of knowledge, but God’s eye and God’s wings are in the line of the tree of life. This shows an improvement in David’s concept.

Right after this, however, David turned his attention to his enemies. Verses 10-14 are his accusation of his enemies. After the mentioning of his enjoyment in God’s eye and under God’s wings, he could not forget his enemies. To accuse our enemies and to ask God to bring them down (v. 13a) is not a prayer according to God’s economy. In God’s economy, God tells us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44).

At the end of Psalm 17, we can see David’s improvement in the satisfaction with God’s likeness (presence), yet he was still remaining in his righteousness before God (v. 15). How could David boast of his righteousness when he committed such a sinful act by taking Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah? God forgave David of this great sin, but He did not forget what David did. First Kings 15:5 says that David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite. Much later, in the New Testament, the genealogy of Christ in the book of Matthew says, "David begot Solomon of her who had been the wife of Uriah" (1:6).

The Bible tells us that in the new covenant, God forgives our sins and does not remember them (Heb. 8:12). Why then did God record David’s failure in the genealogy of Christ? This shows us that the Bible is not easy to understand. Psalm 51 shows that God forgave David, but in Matthew 1 God still mentioned Uriah, meaning that God did not forget. Uriah was a Hittite, a heathen. Matthew 1:6 says that David begot Solomon "of her who had been the wife of Uriah" to emphasize David’s great sin, thus showing that Christ as the kingly Savior is related not only to the heathen but also to sinners.

In spite of David’s great sin, he said in Psalm 17:15, "As for me, in righteousness will I look into Your face." He still remained in his righteousness before God, but at least in one sense, he was not in righteousness. James said, "Whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles in one point has become guilty of all" (James 2:10). We have seen previously that David, by his one transgression, directly broke the last five commandments because he murdered, committed adultery, stole, lied, and coveted (Exo. 20:13-17). David should have said that he would look into God’s face because of God’s mercy and lovingkindness. God’s lovingkindness is versus David’s righteousness. What is trustworthy—David’s righteousness or God’s lovingkindness? If God would examine us to the uttermost, how could we stand? We could not stand before God’s face in our righteousness. We have to hide ourselves under the shadow of His wings.

In Psalm 17 we see David’s human concept, but we also see the improvement of his concept. We see his improving from being "Cain-David" to being "Abel-David."

(Life-Study of Psalms, Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)