By James Boice
Theme: A Model Prayer
In this week’s lessons we look at Psalm 17, and learn how this prayer of David can serve as a model both for our own prayers and for how we examine our own holiness.
Scripture: Psalm 17:1-15
Commentators on psalms frequently distinguish between various types of psalms, which they call genres. A typical classification might be: hymns, laments, thanksgiving psalms, psalms of remembrance, psalms of confidence, wisdom psalms, and kingship psalms.1
Hymn psalms usually begin with a call to worship and continue by giving reasons why God should be praised and then praising him. Laments express the writer’s distress at some problem or calamity and ask God to help. Sometimes they also contain a confession of sin. They usually move to expressions of confidence that God has heard the prayer and will answer it. Thanksgiving psalms thank God for some blessing, often his response to a prior complaint. Psalms of remembrance and confidence are just what they sound like.
A wisdom psalm usually compares two contrasting ways of life, one to be followed and the other to be shunned. The chief example is Psalm 1, which begins: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Kingship psalms focus on the Jewish monarchy, not infrequently looking beyond it to the reign of God’s promised Messiah. Psalm 2 is a good example.
What kind of a psalm is Psalm 17? Fit into the categories I have listed, it is more of a lament than anything else. The psalmist is in danger and is crying to God for protection and deliverance. But mostly Psalm 17 is just a prayer. In fact, it is the first psalm explicitly called this (the title reading “A prayer of David”).
As we begin to study Psalm 17, I want to suggest that it is a model prayer. It is urgent, perceptive and moving. But, most of all, it models prayer by the way the psalmist uses arguments in making his appeal to God. He does not merely ask for what he wants or needs. He argues his case, explaining to God why God should answer. This is something preachers in an earlier day used to urge on members of their congregations. C. H. Spurgeon is an example. They recommended arguments, not because God needs to be persuaded to help his children—which he does not—
but because arguments force us carefully to think through what we are asking for and to sharpen our requests. Spurgeon said of David, “David would not have been a man after God’s own heart if he had not been a man of prayer. He was a master in the sacred art of supplication.”2
- What are some different types of psalms, and what are some themes that characterize them?
- How should Psalm 17 be understood, and why?
For Further Study: James Boice’s studies on the Psalms are available as a three-volume paperback set. You can order your copy from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and receive 25% off the regular price.
1For a simple modern treatment of these types see Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove, IL and Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1988), pp. 19-36.
2C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1a, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 215.
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