Distinct differences in tone, mood and theme, divide Song 17 into 3 parts: verses 1 to 8, 9 to 14, and the final verse, 15.
Each of the first 8 verses centres upon imagery of the body: v. 1, ear and lips
v. 2, face and eyes
v. 3, heart and mouth
v. 4, lips
v. 5, feet
v. 6, ear
v. 7, hand
v. 8, eye
The singer’s argument is that his “guileless lips” (v. 10, his mouth that has not transgressed, have guarded his feet from stumbling (v. 5); his surety comes both from his having followed God’s dictates and from knowing that, accordingly, he will be found righteous by God. Indeed, as he declares in verse 8, God will
Guard me like the pupil of the eye;
in the shadow of Your wings hide me....
His certainty in his own rectitude and his belief that God will see in him only “what is right” (v. 2) leads him to –somewhat audaciously– direct God to hear his pleas and prayers and to show him “steadfast love” (v. 7).
The consistent image pattern of bodily organs emphasizes the likeness the singer wishes to create between himself and God; the singer’s lips are guileless because they imitate God’s by echoing the words of God’s lips (v. 4). Thus his body acts as a mirror to God, Who, beholding the singer, sees God’s image.
With verse 9, the tone and theme of the song darken. The reason the singer has asked for God’s shelter in the preceding verses is explained: his enemies surround him just as would a lion ambush its prey. The imagery of verses 9 to 14 is opposite, in intent and mood, to that of verses 1 to 8. The singer’s enemies are described as savage beasts; powerful, arrogant and brutal:
They have fattened themselves over;
their mouths have spoken in arrogance.
Our steps they now have hemmed in;
they set their eyes roaming over the land.
(v. 10 – 11)
Their lips, fat with arrogance, contrast with those of the singer, whose prayers mouth the words of God; their eyes, “roaming over the land”, search for prey, in contrast to the eyes of God which seek out righteousness.
Asking God to shield him (v. 8), the singer feels himself protected by God’s care and closeness: God’s eyelids shut over him; God’s wings not only offer protection, they cast a shadow over the singer so that his presence is hidden from his assailants. So guarded and secured, the singer sends God forth as his warrior:
Rise, Adonai! Go forth to meet him.
Bring him down, save my soul from the
wicked by Your sword….
Verse 14 declares the singer’s victory: his enemies, by their perfidy, forfeit their share of life; whereas God’s “treasured ones” –and it is certain the singer considers himself among them– will, by their righteousness, ensure the prosperity and the future of their children.
Verse 15 is the final change in, indeed the resolution to, mood and theme. After great clamour, quietude:
As for me, justified, I will behold Your face;
awake, I shall be sated with the vision of You.
The purpose of the song’s imagery clarifies: in verses 1 to 8, the singer expects that his actions, his life, will be judged to be free of guile and shamefulness:
From before Your face my vindication
will issue forth; Your eyes will behold
what is right. (v. 2)
Verse 15 proclaims the singer to be “justified”, his righteousness has been established. In verse 2 it is God’s face that sees the singer; in verse 15 it is the singer who will, he imagines, with eyes fully opened, perceive the Face of God. His sustenance will be not only the words of God of the opening verses, but his entire being will be animated by his vision of God. Thus physicality, the substance of the song’s imagery, transforms into spiritual exultation.