Psalm 17

The Psalmist is  certain that his cause is just and those who oppose him are wicked:

I call on You; You will answer me, God; turn Your ear to me, hear what I say. (17:6)
Rise, O LORD! Go forth to meet him. Bring him down; rescue me from the wicked with Your sword … (17:13)

What is it like to be so sure of yourself? I am not. I am filled with self-doubt. Even when I know that I have a solid foundation for the path I have chosen, for the decision I have made, even when I know that I am doing the right thing, I still have doubts. As long as there is someone who takes a different path, makes a different decision, I wonder whether I should be so sure that I am right and he is wrong. Is this healthy humility, or paralyzing timidity?

Rabbinic texts, Mishnah and Talmud, record the rejected opinions because they see the potential for more than one correct answer. Talmud often goes the extra mile to explain the logic behind a position that they ultimate reject, to teach us that we can learn to appreciate an opinion with which we vigorously disagree.

There is a lot of arrogance in the words of this Psalmist. I wonder what happened to him to make him so certain that God tested him and found his cause just? What would happen to his faith in God if he were to discover that his enemies, whom he calls arrogant, are actually very nice people, and he is wrong?

The ultimate test of our faith is not what happens when we experience a Divine intervention proving that we are right, but rather what happens when we feel let down and discover that we are wrong!

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3 thoughts on “Psalm 17

  1. I think this is a good post.
    I think we shoud not ask G-D to do bad things to
    our enemies,
    I think that maybe the Psalm is asking G-d to protect him from his
    ememies and asking G-d to fight for him in the battle, and to watch over him, because our help comes from G-D.
    this is how i think

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  2. Rabbi, couldn’t the opposite be true as well? The Psalmists is asking the Lord to take care of this because he is not sure he is right. If he were sure he were right, he would take action himself. I often ask the Lord to kill my enemies (or run over them with a freight train or smite them with leprosy) because I trust the Lord will do that ONLY if it is the right thing to do. Notice the Psalmists says “meet him” before he says “strike him down.” The Psalmist says, “meet him” first because he not sure, so he wants the Lord to double-check his request for revenge before he “strikes him down.” Similarly, he asks the Lord to use “your sword” not the Psalmist’s sword. Again, the Psalmist is not sure enough to use his own sword. Anyway, I often ask the Lord to do very nasty things to my enemies but I am often wrong so I trust him to properly tone down my request. Apparently, I have never been right yet because the Lord has never taken one of my suggestions and struck one down. Likewise, I have yet to see one run over by a freight train or smitten with leprosy. Still, I keep asking.

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    • I’m not convinced that the “meet him” is to be read as you suggest. I think the “meet him” is to be understood in the sense of meeting one’s enemy on the battlefield. However, my Psalm musings are not necessarily meant to explain the p’shat (simple, contextual meaning) of the Psalm. Your reflection on the process of prayer rooted in the language of this Psalmist, in which God acts as a kind of filter preventing your worst (unjust) wishes from being carried out, is interesting. I wonder, though, that you often ask God to do nasty things to your enemies …. Perhaps God is trying to tell you that you are too mired in nasty, vengeful thoughts!

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