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Deeper Commentary

 

Psa 35:1 By David- Like many of the Psalms, this appears to have begun as a reflection upon Saul, and was then used again by David at the time of Absalom's rebellion.


Contend, Yahweh, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me-
These were exactly David's words about Saul (1 Sam. 24:15). David imagined the court of Heaven to be permanently sitting, and he invites God to enter into legal judgment with Saul and then carry out an appropriate judgment.

Psa 35:2 Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help-
The 'standing up' continues the legal allusions of :1. We may enquire why God is bidden take hold of defensive things like shield and protective armour. Perhaps the idea is that God was to show to David's enemies that all their offensive weaponry was nothing compared to His defense.


Psa 35:3 Brandish the spear and block those who pursue me-
GNB "Lift up your spear and war ax against those who pursue me". If we stick with "block [the way]", we can think of Saul being turned back from pursuing David by news of a Philistine incursion, or Absalom being persuaded not to follow the advice of Ahithophel in immediately pursuing David.

Tell my soul, I am Your salvation- David is asking God to persuade him, to tell him in his soul, deep within him. This is another of the frequent indications in the Psalms that David believed God was capable of talking directly to the human heart over and above His written word; for as we see from Ps. 119, David had access to that word anyway. But he asks God to write the reality of salvation deeper in his own soul.


Psa 35:4 Let those who seek after my soul be disappointed and brought to dishonour. Let those who plot my ruin be turned back and confounded-
Saul sought  to take David's life. So many of the Psalms contain imprecations against those who were seeking David's soul- not just his physical life, but seeking to destroy his very being (e.g. Ps. 35:4; 40:14; 54:1; 63:9; 70:2; 71:13). These imprecations expose the evil of Saul, and asks God to condemn him. Some of those Psalms appear to have been written by David in the Saul days, and then rewritten at the time of Absalom's rebellion- another man who sought David's soul, and yet whom David loved. The words of this prayer are also in view in Ps. 44:7, where David considers them to have been answered. 

The words are repeated in Ps. 40:14. That Psalm appears to have some reference to David's sin with Bathsheba, which provoked the plotting against David's life referred to here. And yet we wonder as to how David could so bitterly wish the destruction of his opponents, when he himself had been saved by grace.

 


Psa 35:5 Let them be as chaff before the wind, Yahweh’s angel driving them on-
David wishes that those who chased him (:6) be chased by God's Angel in the condemnation process of the last day (see on :6). "Chaff before the wind" recalls the destruction of the image representing worldly empires in Dan. 2. This continual wishing of condemnation upon enemies is certainly out of step with the love and prayerful pity for enemies inculcated in the spirit of Christ and specific New Testament teachings. 

The idea of threshing is often associated with the judgement; the unworthy will be as chaff chased by the Angels. The Angels are made spirit (the same word Hebrew word as 'winds') and are being likened to the wind in this threshing process, driving the unworthy away; as Adam, typifying the rejected, was chased out of Eden by the Angels. "As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more; but the righteous is an everlasting foundation" (Prov. 10:25) appears the basis of the parable of the house on the rock, making the whirlwind correspond to the second coming in judgement. "The whirlwind" is Angel cherubim language; as if it is by that means that the wicked will be destroyed. 


Psa 35:6 Let their way be dark and slippery, Yahweh’s angel pursuing them-
See on :6. Again we have to reflect that this willing of men into condemnation is so different to the spirit of the Christ whom David saw in spirit always before his face. The language here is used of God's confirmation of Judah in their sinful way (Jer. 23:12 = Ps. 35:6); whichever path we choose, we are confirmed in. Those who are of a slippery tongue (Ps. 55:21 s.w.) will be confirmed in this; they will, as it were, slip headlong into condemnation. Their own chosen way is their judgment.

 

 

Psa 35:7 For without cause they have hidden their net in a pit for me, without cause they have dug a pit for my soul- The continued emphasis in David's psalms upon "without cause" surely reflects a self righteousness (Ps. 35:19; 69:4; 109:3; 119:161). For David's righteousness was only impressive relative to the wickedness of his enemies; before God, it was filthy rags. It was true that Saul persecuted David "without cause" (s.w. 1 Sam. 19:5), but the experience of "without cause" persecution can lead us to an inappropriate self-righteousness. This is what happened to Job, who also suffered "without cause" (s.w. Job 2:3), and had to be convicted of self-righteousness at the end of the story. And it seems this happened to David. David himself intended to shed blood "without cause" and was only saved from it by grace (s.w. 1 Sam. 25:31).


Psa 35:8 Let destruction come on him unawares. Let his net that he has hidden catch himself; let him fall into that destruction-
This death wish seems to have come true of Absalom rather than Saul; for Absalom's death by his hair catching in a tree and literally falling to his death after being struck dead there would be more appropriate to these words than Saul's death. And David was to bitterly mourn Absalom's death. We need to ask ourselves how we would really feel if our bitter feelings were actually fulfilled by God.


Psa 35:9 My soul shall be joyful in Yahweh, I shall rejoice in His salvation-
When David's great enemies (Saul and Absalom) did fall, David mourned and didn't rejoice.


Psa 35:10 All my bones shall say, Yahweh, who is like You, who delivers the poor from him who is too strong for him; yes, the poor and the needy from him who robs him?-
Just as the description of Absalom's death in :8 didn't exactly come true for Absalom, so we wonder how David was robbed by his enemies. However he may have in view the fact that Saul and Absalom abused the poor generally, as was foretold of Saul by Samuel. It was this, rather than Saul's actual persecution of David, which David sees as the prime example of Saul's wickedness.


Psa 35:11 Unrighteous witnesses rise up; they accuse me of things that I know nothing about-
Again we struggle to find much evidence of this in the historical records; but the intrigues after the sin with Bathsheba may well be what is in view. And Saul likely mobilized support for his anti-David campaign by a slander campaign, saying things such as those willingly believed by Nabal (1 Sam. 25:10).


Psa 35:12 They reward me evil for good, to the bereaving of my soul-
This is exactly the language of how Saul treated David, who showed him "good" in preserving his life, and was rewarded for it with "evil" by Saul (1 Sam. 24:17). This injustice bereaved David, he was deeply hurt by the injustice of it all. We only sense this here in the Psalms; the historical record gives little indication of the psychological trauma David experienced because of it.


Psa 35:13 But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth, I afflicted my soul with fasting-
Saul is in view (see on :12). The sickness of Saul was psychological, and David not only played the harp for him but also prayed and fasted in sackcloth for him. This again is something we don't see in the historical records.

My prayer returned into my own bosom- GNB "I prayed with my head bowed low", ESV "with head bowed on my chest". But it could also be an idiom implying his prayer had gone unanswered (as in Mt. 10:13; Ps. 79:12). Or he could mean that although the prayer was unanswered, a blessing still returned to him because he had prayed (as in Jer. 18:20).


Psa 35:14 I behaved myself as though it had been my friend or my brother. I bowed down mourning, as one who mourns his mother-
This is one verse which to me is a cameo of the extent of the victory which David won against the mind of the flesh, against our massive tendency to repay sin with sin, bitterness with bitterness, anger with anger. If we take nothing else away from this, please focus your mind on this, and keep the memory: Here David protests his love for the one who was persecuting him (:12) and is reflecting upon his attitude to Saul's death. "As one who mourns for his mother". This is surely one of the most powerful figures that could be employed. Picture a young man of say 24, in a dark blue suit, kneeling down at the graveside of his mother, surrounded by friends and relatives, bowing down heavily in his grief. Or picture a man of 34, 44, 54, hair greying and receding now, bowing himself down heavily. Or even 64, 74, alone in his grief, bowing down heavily to the green turf, muttering words about mum. Perhaps some of us haven't yet experienced this; many have. If you haven't, just imagine it. Surely it brings a lump to your throat. Now it was with this intensity of grief that David mourned the death or sickness of his persecutor. This is a wondrous reflection of his devotion, his true love, his triumph over bitterness and anger, over all the human actions that had been directed against him. The heavy bowing down of the Lord Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem, the city that hated and rejected him, whose leaders slew him, whose people screamed for his blood. David wept for Saul as if he was his friend or brother. Who was David's friend and brother? Surely Jonathan his brother-in-law. But he wept for Saul, David says, as he wept for Jonathan. This is testified to historically by David's lament of 2 Sam. 1. And still David sought out the house of Saul, “that I may shew the kindness of God” unto them (2 Sam. 9:3). It was the experience of Divine kindness that motivated David. As he hoped for fellowship at the King’s table in the future, so David delighted in inviting his former enemies to partake of his table, now he was king (2 Sam. 9:7,11,13). And if we hope to share the Lord’s table in the Kingdom, we must share it with our weaker brethren now. I see in all this such a triumph for David, that a man should reflect the love of God to such an extent, to love in the face of such hatred, to not just love those who loved him.

The deep sorrow of the Lord Jesus for Judas and all those who turn away is surely typified here. Right at the bitter end, the Lord still referred to him as His friend (Mt. 26:50), even though a few hours before He had been speaking of how the faithful few were His friends, and how He would give His life for His friends (Jn. 15:13-15). Throughout His ministry, the Lord had spoken of the faithful as His friends (Lk. 14:20; 11:8; 12:4). This was the spirit of the Lord Jesus in His time of dying, this is what enabled Him to  go through the mock trial, the intense degradation, the bitter pain of rejection, without bitterness and the sin of unholy anger. To be like David to Saul, like Paul to Corinth, like Christ to the Jews, like God to us, really is possible. If that's how we can live, we will truly be in the new life.

 


Psa 35:15 But in my adversity-
Literally 'limping', a strange term to use, until we perceive yet another allusion to Jacob limping home from exile (s.w. Gen. 32:31). The same word is used of the exiles who were to be regathered and reestablished as a kingdom in the face of all opposition (Mic. 4:6,7).

They rejoiced, and gathered themselves together. The attackers gathered themselves together against me, and I didn’t know it. They tore at me, and didn’t cease- This may refer to Saul's various secret plans to kill David, hidden from him even by those supposedly close to him.


Psa 35:16 Like the profane mockers in feasts, they gnashed their teeth at me-
These feasts may be a reference to idol worship, which was prevalent in Israel at David's time and amongst his enemies (see on Ps. 31:6). There may also be reference to Absalom's deceitful feasts of 2 Sam. 13:24; 15:7-10. Gnashing of teeth is the language of condemnation at the last day (Mt. 8:12 etc.). But those thus condemned will have gnashed their teeth at their brethren in this life. By doing so, they are living out their own condemnation.


Psa 35:17 Lord, how long will You look on? Rescue my soul from their destruction, my precious life from the lions- "
Precious life" is literally 'my darling', 'my only one'. I suggest this isn't narcissism, but rather a rightful appreciation of the value and meaning of our own life; which we want preserved so that we can use it for God.


Psa 35:18 I will give You thanks in the great assembly, I will praise You among many people-
David's vision was to take the good news of God's grace to the assembly of God's people and also to the "many people" of the Gentiles. David knew his sinfulness, he knew his reliance upon the grace of God, more and more as he got older. One would have thought that after the Bathsheba incident, David would have kept his mouth shut so far as telling other people how to live was concerned. But instead, we find an increasing emphasis in the Psalms (chronologically) upon David's desire to teach others of God's ways- particularly the surrounding Gentile peoples, before whom David had been disgraced over Bathsheba, not to mention from his two faced allegiance to Achish (1 Sam. 27:8-12). There is real stress upon this evangelistic fervour of David (Ps. 4:3; 18:49; 22:25,31; 35:18; 40:9,10; 57:9; 62:8; 66:5,16; 95:1,8; 96:5-8,10; 100:1-4; 105:1,2; 119:27; 145:5,6,12). Indeed, Ps. 71:18 records the "old and greyheaded" David pleading with God not to die until he had taught "thy strength unto this generation". As with Paul years later, the only reason he wanted to stay alive was in order to witness the Gospel of grace to others. David therefore coped with his deep inner traumas by looking out of himself to those around him, eagerly desiring to share with them the pureness of God's grace. He didn't do this as some kind of self-help psychiatry; it came naturally from a realization of his own sinfulness and God's mercy, and the wonderful willingness of God to extend this to men.

It is the struggle of every spiritually minded and righteous man to humble himself to accept he is only part of a far wider congregation, comprised of believers who may frankly be less spiritually minded than himself (Ps. 26:12; 35:18; 68:26). David and the Lord Jesus are parade examples of achieving this sense.


Psa 35:19 Don’t let those who are my enemies wrongfully rejoice over me; neither let those who hate me without a cause wink their eyes-
For "without a cause", see on :7. "Wrongfully" reflects again David's deep sense of injustice (see on Ps. 35:7). He uses the word for "false witness", as if they were breaking one of the ten commandments; and he uses it often, heaping condemnation upon any who dare lie / bear false witness about him (Ps. 38:19; 52:3; 63:11; 101:7; 119:29,69,86,118; 120:2; 144:8,11). And yet David lied and deceived in order to get Uriah killed so that he could take his wife for himself. Surely reflection upon that sin made him realize that his zeal to condemn dishonesty was at best misplaced; to lament it is one thing, but David was to be taught that he had himself done the very thing he so condemned.


Psa 35:20 For they don’t speak peace, but they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land-
The devising of words reflects David's deep sense that the essence of spirituality is deep in the mind or heart; words issue from the heart.


Psa 35:21 Yes, they opened their mouth wide against me-
The allusion to lions or wild animals is so frequent in David's thinking. His victories over wild animals in his youth remained an abiding memory.

They said, Aha! Aha! Our eye has seen it!- The weakness they thought their eyes had seen was nothing compared to the way Yahweh's eye had seen them (:22). 


Psa 35:22 You have seen it, Yahweh. Don’t keep silent. Lord, don’t be far from me-
See on :21. The plea for God not to "be far from me" is common (Ps. 22:11,19; 35:22; 38:21; 71:12). The emphasis perhaps is to be placed upon David not wanting God to be far from him, seeing that he felt others were 'far' from him (s.w. Ps. 88:8,18). He accepted his social and psychological isolation from others, but he didn't want God to be likewise far off from him. In the context of the exiles, God was willing to not be 'far off' from the exiles if they repented (Is. 46:13).

 


Psa 35:23 Wake up! Rise up to defend me, my God! My Lord, contend for me!-
A window on what communication can be with our creator is provided by considering the  ‘imprecatory Psalms’ like this one; where the writer wishes terrible judgments upon his enemies. It is possible to understand these Psalms in terms of the promises to Abraham- that God will curse those who curse the true seed of Abraham. They can therefore be seen to be merely asking for the promises to Abraham to be fulfilled against God’s enemies. But another angle on this problem is to consider how the Psalmists talk to God in a far ‘rougher’ way than we do. They pour out their feelings, their anger and frustration with their enemies, their inability to understand how God is working… and they let it all hang down. They seem to have no reserve with God; they talk to Him as if He is their friend and acquaintance. David pleads with God to ‘avenge my cause’ (Ps. 35:23), he protests how he is in the right and how he longs for God to judge him. And so do the prophets, in the interjections they sometimes make in commentary on the prophecy they have just uttered. The emotion which David often seems to have felt was “Damn these people!”, but he pours this out to God and asks Him to damn them. When we like David feel our enemies are unjust, we can:

1. Seek revenge. But this isn’t a response we can make, Biblically.

2. Deny the feelings of hurt and anger. And yet, they surface somehow. And we join the ranks of the millions of hurt people in this world, who ‘take it out’ in some way on others.

3. Or we can do as David seems to have done. Take these feelings, absolutely as they are, with no rough edges smoothed off them…to God Himself. Pour them all out in prayer and leave Him to resolve the matter. In passing, this fits in with the conclusions of modern psychiatry- that we can’t eliminate our feelings, so we must express them in an appropriate way.

This latter option is how I understand the imprecatory Psalms.

 


Psa 35:24 Vindicate me, Yahweh my God, according to Your righteousness. Don’t let them gloat over me-
Time and again in the Psalms, David expresses his good conscience in terms of asking God to come and judge him (e.g. Ps. 35:24). Was this not some reference to the future theophany which David knew some day would come?

 


Psa 35:25 Don’t let them say in their heart, Aha! That’s just the way we want it! Don’t let them say, We have swallowed him up!-
The reference may be to Ahithophel's plan to swallow up David at the time of Absalom's rebellion (2 Sam. 17:12,16 s.w.). David's prayer of Ps. 35:25; 69:15; 124:3 not to be swallowed up / destroyed was answered, but he was devastated at the answer- for it meant the death of his son Absalom. Again David has Job in mind, who had his 'brethren' arguing that he should be swallowed up / destroyed without cause (Job 2:3 s.w.).


Psa 35:26 Let them be disappointed and confounded together who rejoice at my calamity. Let them be clothed with shame and dishonour who magnify themselves against me-
The only other occurrence of the phrase "rejoice at my calamity" is in Prov. 2:14, where David's son Solomon condemns those who "rejoice to do evil" (s.w.). He is quoting these reflections of David upon the coalition of haters who joined Absalom in trying to overthrow him. Solomon speaks the truth, but he does so with an eye on justifying himself against his brother Absalom and those who had followed him. Always Solomon is harnessing 'truth' to an agenda of self-justification; and we must be warned by this.

 


Psa 35:27 Let them shout for joy and be glad, who favour my righteous cause. Yes, let them say continually, Yahweh be magnified, who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant!-
David's desire for the glorification of God rather than himself is always to be noted and commended. His own name had been magnified (1 Chron. 11:9), by God's grace; but he wanted Yahweh's Name to be magnified by as many as possible, as well as by himself.  


Psa 35:28 My tongue shall talk about Your righteousness and about Your praise all day long
- Although David asks for his "righteous cause" to be favoured (:27), he rejoices not in his rightness, but in God's righteousness.