Children have an innate sense of fairness. If you give a piece of cake to each of two siblings, they will carefully examine each slice to ensure that they did not get the smaller one. Or, if one child gets a consequence for misbehavior, they will make sure their brother or sister gets the same treatment.
In Psalm 17, David finds himself surrounded by adversaries. While the cause is not entirely clear, it seems these enemies were falsely accusing him of wrongdoing. They were arrogant and looking for every opportunity to take David down (vv. 10–12). The primary problem with the wicked is that they believe that their “reward is in this life” (v. 14). That is, they do not think that God will hold them accountable, or that there is any judgment after death. In contrast, David declared that he had lived a holy life. “Though you probe my heart . . . you will find that I have planned no evil” (v. 3). He was not saying that he was perfect, but rather that he feared God. When he sinned, he repented and called out to God for help. He lived as a man who knew he would one day give account to God. That is the essence of what it means to fear God. David begged God to rescue him from the wicked and to vindicate him from false charges (v. 15).
Even more than getting justice, David wanted to experience God’s presence. This desire is clear from his opening plea (v. 1). In the middle of the psalm, he asked God to “keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (v. 8). He ended the psalm by declaring, “When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (v. 15). You could summarize David’s prayer this way: “May the wicked be far from me, and may You be close.”
When we look at the evil that surrounds us, it can be easy to think that God must be very far away. David prays that God will be present in his life. In some ways, this is the essence of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). When the Lord returns, this prayer will be fully answered.