Open to Psalm 35 for this Psalm 35 commentary.
Psalm 35 is a lament psalm where David is working through a problem in his life with God’s help.
This lament psalm – like most lament psalms – has David working through dealing with his enemies.
Some label this as an “imprecatory psalm” while others think that’s too extreme a label since there really is no curse being uttered by David against his enemies. Actually, the worst that David asks the Lord for regarding his enemies is that they experience the very evil that they’re committing against him.
So, let’s dive into Psalm 35, starting with the superscription and then the first petition we see in this psalm in verses 1 through 8.
KJV Psalm 35:1 <A Psalm of David.>
Psalm 35 Commentary Petition for Protection from Persecutors | 1-8
Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me:
fight against them that fight against me.
So, David begins by asking the Lord to return to his enemies only what they are doing to him.
The word plead is the verbal form on the word translated strive in this verse. So, strive or contend with those who strive or contend with me is what David is saying.
And David’s request is even clearer in the second statement that he makes in this verse. He asks God to fight against those who fight against him.
So, there’s this reciprocal nature of David’s request. He’s not the aggressor here. He’s only asking the Lord to return his enemies’ own evil back to themselves. To show them what it feels like to have someone contending and fighting against them – because that’s exactly what they were doing to David – contending and fighting against him.
Then, David continues his petition in verse 2.
2 Take hold of shield and buckler,
and stand up for mine help.
So, the first reference to a shield is that of a small shield you could hold on your arm while in combat. Then the word buckler is referring to a larger shield.
But already in these first two verses, it’s clear that David is painting a picture of warfare. He’s using military-style words to call God to action against his enemies. He’s asking God to go to war – as it were – with those who are at war with David.
The petition continues in verse 3.
3 Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me:
say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
So, the weapons mentioned back in verse 2 were more for defense than offense. Shields – large and small – are used mostly for defensive purposes. But here in verse 3, the weapons that David calls God to use against his enemies are offensive.
There’s the spear, of course. And then the KJV and several other versions have David asking God to stop the way against his persecutors. Now, if you have a version of the Bible that has a different word there, it’s probably battle-axe or javelin. And that’s because the word stop and the word javelin are just one vowel different from each other in Hebrew. And so, some translations use one vowel and some the other vowel.
Whatever that word was as God breathed it out through David, the effect of either word is clear. David is now asking God to take the offensive against his enemies.
And David isn’t simply interested in the destruction of his enemies. Now, we actually see him at the end of this verse redirecting his desires to the Lord. He wants God to tell him “I am your salvation.” He wants that reassurance from God that he himself will take care of David’s most troubling difficulties.
So, ultimately he wants God’s salvation – not just his enemies’ destruction.
And why does David need his soul to be comforted? Well, it’s because in verse 4 we’re told that there are those who seek after that very soul to harm it.
4 Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul:
let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt.
Again, it’s very evident that David is taking a defensive approach here rather than aggressively seeking the destruction of these men who are persecuting him.
And the other thing to keep in mind is that he’s bringing these requests to the Lord. He’s not seeking his own vengeance.
Now, as we move on, I’ll remind us that in the psalm previous to the one we’re studying right now – Psalm 34 which we studied last time – we saw there the first reference in the Psalms to this being known as the Angel of the Lord. And interestingly enough – in verses 5 and 6 of our psalm for today – Psalm 35 – this being is mentioned two times as David calls on him to chase and pursue his enemies who are chasing and persecuting him.
5 Let them be as chaff before the wind:
and let the angel of the LORD chase them.
6 Let their way be dark and slippery:
and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.
So, David asks that these people who are fighting him and striving against him and persecuting him be like chaff before the wind. That is, blown around. Flimsy. Weak. Powerless. Just like they’re making David feel.
And he asks that the path they walk on would be dark and slippery. He wants them to experience danger on their way. When you can’t see the path you’re walking on, that’s dangerous. You might wander off the path or stumble over something on the path. But when that path is not only dark – but also slippery – then whatever footing you may have had on that dark path is gone. The idea is that David wants his enemies to stumble and slip and fall.
And then of course, there’s this reference to the Angel of the Lord. And we know how dangerous this being is. He killed 185,000 Assyrians in one night. So, David is asking that the Angel of the Lord chase and persecute – or pursue – these people.
But, why? I mean – that doesn’t sound very loving. Why is David calling for these things to be the case for his enemies? Verse 7.
7 For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit,
which without cause they have digged for my soul.
So, it’s not as if David is the one who initiated this kind of antagonism between him and his enemies. No – they are the aggressors.
They’re pictured as hiding a net for David in a secret place – as if he were some animal to capture and kill.
They’re the one who dug a pit for him to fall into – again as if his life is worth as little as that of a beast’s.
And they did this without cause. That’s huge. David didn’t do something to provoke them to these actions. There is literally no cause whatsoever for them treating David like they’re treating him.
And that’s why he feels justified in continuing to ask the Lord to come to his defense in verse 8.
8 Let destruction come upon him at unawares;
and let his net that he hath hid catch himself:
into that very destruction let him fall.
So, once more we see this request for reciprocal destruction. They hid a net in verse 7. So, therefore – verse 8 – let them be caught in that very net they laid for me!
Now, we have in English a word that describes what happened to European Jews under the murderous reign of the German Nazi Adolf Hitler. It’s actually a word from Latin that came from Greek that means “whole burnt offering.” It’s the word holocaust.
But, Jews don’t usually use that word to describe that tragedy from the early 20th century. Instead, they use the word shoah. And interestingly, that word is found twice in this verse. It’s translated as destruction.
David – of course – didn’t know about the destruction that would come to his people in the 20th century. Nevertheless, what he’s asking for his enemies is akin to what happened to the Jews under Hitler – destruction, devastation, desolation.
Why? It always come back to this in this psalm. David is not the aggressor here. His enemies are. David is simply asking that what those men have done to him and others – unjustly – God would return to them.
They’re wanting to destroy and devastate and leave him desolate. And so, David asks that those actions be returned to them.
Psalm 35 Commentary Confidence in God’s Deliverance | 9-10
And so, after eight verses of asking God for protection from his persecutors, David now for two verses – verses 9 and 10 – expresses confidence that God will deliver him from his enemies.
9 And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD:
it shall rejoice in his salvation.
So, that soul of David’s – which the enemies were trying to capture in their pit back in verse 7 – that soul – David says – is going to rejoice in the Lord’s deliverance. David is confident that God will protect him – and answer his prayers that he’s already uttered in this psalm.
The confidence continues into verse 10.
10 All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee,
which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him,
yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?
And notice the picture David paints of him and people like him – in contrast to his persecutors. Does David picture them as being on even footing? Are they both represented as being about the same level when it comes to their strength and power?
No – David portrays himself and those like him as poor with two different Hebrew words – both indicating helplessness and being disadvantaged.
On the other hand – how does he portray his enemies?… They’re too strong for him. They spoil or rob him.
It’s hard to imagine a king saying these things – though it’s not impossible – especially in David’s life. So, perhaps this psalm was written before David was anointed King of all Israel – when he felt himself especially vulnerable and weak.
Psalm 35 Commentary Lament for Being Repaid Evil for Good | 11-16
Well, so far we’ve seen David’s petition for help and protection against his abusers. Then we’ve seen him express confidence in the Lord’s ability and willingness to protect him.
And that leads us to the next major part of this psalm. It’s the lament – where David really identifies in greater detail the nature of his problem that he’s struggling through with God’s help.
And when it comes down to it, David struggles most with this fact – that he’s being repaid by his enemies with evil… for his doing good to them. There’s that contrast that seems to push David beyond the limit. He’s done them good. And they turn around… and repay him with abuse?!
Psalm 35 Commentary Enemies’ Abuse | 11-12
So, David showcases some of this abuse that he’s facing from these men in verses 11 and 12.
11 False witnesses did rise up;
they laid to my charge things that I knew not.
12 They rewarded me evil for good
to the spoiling of my soul.
So, these men are portrayed as rising up – indicating a threatening posture toward David.
They’re false witnesses – or literally witnesses of violence – witnesses of chamas. They’re lying about David and their lies – if believed – will result in violence done to him.
Their treatment of him will result – if unchecked – in the spoiling of his soul. That is, in the bereavement of his soul – as in his very life is in jeopardy because of their lies and unjust treatment of David.
And then David mentions that they take his good that he’s done for them and they pay him back – not in kind. Not with good – but with evil.
Psalm 35 Commentary David’s Seeing Their Good | 13-14
And that leads David to expound on the good that he’s done for these men in times past in verses 13 and 14.
13 But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth:
I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.
14 I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother:
I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.
So, there’s the sharp contrast – but as for me. In contrast to what his enemies are doing – he would treat their loss as if it were his own.
Sackcloth was the garment worn by mourners. He mourned their sickness. He refrained from food when this would happen to show the seriousness of the situation in his own heart.
The part about his prayer returning to his own bosom might be him saying something like “if what I’m saying here is not the truth, let God not listen to my prayers.” Or maybe it’s emphasizing how much David was praying for his enemies.
And there is no greater loss in life than to lose one’s family. And it’s that kind of reaction that David would have for the misfortune of these people. He treated and thought of these people like his own family.
Psalm 35 Commentary Enemies’ Abuse | 15-16
And so, given David’s real heartfelt sorrow at every loss these people may experience in times past, it’s awful to see how they are now treating him in verses 15 and 16.
15 But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together:
yea, the abjects [i.e., stricken/smitten] gathered themselves together against me, and I knew it not;
they did tear me, and ceased not:
16 With hypocritical mockers in feasts,
they gnashed upon me with their teeth.
So, when the enemies were sorrowful, David was sorrowful. But now, when David was sorrowful, the enemies… rejoiced! They got together as a pack of lions to tear at their prey.
And then verse 16 continues with the idea that David was at their mercy. In verse 15 he’s being torn at like prey by a predator. But in verse 16 he’s like the food at a feast being gnashed upon by the teeth of these godless mockers.
Psalm 35 Commentary Petition | 17
And so, David moves on to verse 17 where he continues speaking of predator vs. prey. But now he’s moved from his lament to another petition.
17 Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions,
my darling from the lions.
How long is God going to watch as David is – as it were – torn and gnashed upon by these enemies of his?
And again he brings in the concept of ferocious beasts when he mentions that he needs to be rescued from lions. And of course, he’s not speaking of literal physical lions – he’s speaking of his enemies – which are acting like lions.
And David’s darling there means “only.” He’s speaking of his life as it truly is – his only one on this earth. He has no other.
Psalm 35 Commentary Praise | 18
But just when it seems that things are as dark as they can be, David breaks into praise in verse 18.
18 I will give thee thanks in the great congregation:
I will praise thee among much people.
So, David is confident in God’s help and so, he takes the time to praise God for future help that he believes will come.
Psalm 35 Commentary Petition | 19
And you might think that he could end the psalm right there. But David isn’t done yet.
I think we all know what it’s like to find some real grace to believe God for protection or whatever else… only lapse into fear and doubt.
And when that happens, it’s completely appropriate to once again petition the Lord – which is exactly what we see happening in verse 19.
19 Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me:
neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.
Again, without a cause. That seems to be what is bothering David so much about this. There’s no cause for his enemies’ abuse. In fact, just the opposite is the case – they have reason to thank him for the good he’s done to them.
Psalm 35 Commentary Lament | 20-21
And so this renewed petition concerning deliverance from these men seems to launch David back into bringing these men back into focus with another section of lament in verses 20 and 21.
20 For they speak not peace:
but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.
21 Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me,
and said, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it.
Psalm 35 Commentary Petition | 22-27
And then there’s an extended petition section in verses 22 through 27. But what’s really interesting is that toward the end of the section the petition turns from petitions concerning David’s enemies… to petitions concerning the joy of God’s servants.
22 This thou hast seen, O LORD:
keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.
23 Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment,
even unto my cause, my God and my Lord.
24 Judge me, O LORD my God, according to thy righteousness;
and let them not rejoice over me.
25 Let them not say in their hearts,
Ah, so would we have it:
let them not say,
We have swallowed him up.
26 Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt:
let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me.
But, that’s not what David wants to be focusing on – the protection of his own life and the prevention of his enemies winning. No, he wants to get to the joy that God’s people should have in God delivering David from trouble in verse 27.
27 Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause:
yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.
Psalm 35 Commentary Praise | 28
And so, with that, David can end this psalm with praise on his lips.
28 And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.