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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 35

Introduction

Psalms 35

THE Psalmist, sorely distressed by malicious and ungodly enemies, prays the Lord for deliverance, promising cordial thanks, if his prayer should be granted. The Psalm falls into three strophes, in each of which the three elements of complaint, prayer, and promise of thanksgiving, are contained, and which are especially remarkable on this account, that each of these runs out into the vow of thanksgiving, Psalms 35:1-10; Psalms 35:11-18; Psalms 35:19-28. The middle strophe, surrounded on each side by two decades, in which prayer predominates, is chiefly remarkable for an extended representation of the Psalmist’s distress, and of the black ingratitude of his enemies, which calls aloud for the divine retribution.

The relations of David’s time manifestly form the ground of this Psalm, which was composed, according to the superscription, by him. A special ground may be obtained, in 1 Samuel 24:15, where a declaration of David to Saul is recorded, “The Lord therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand,”—which coincides with the first verse of our Psalm in very characteristic expressions. Still, we are not to suppose, on this account, that the Psalm possesses an individual character: what at first sight appears to carry this aspect, is soon perceived, by an experienced judgment, to be a mere individualizing. David speaks in the person of the righteous, with what view it is more easily explained, how the truly Righteous One could appropriate this Psalm to himself, ( John 15:25, comp. with Psalms 35:19 here), an application, which led many of the older expositors to give the Psalm a too direct and exclusive Messianic exposition, (comp. on the other hand, Introd. to Psalms 22) An casual synchronism between this Psalm and the immediately preceding one, is indicated by the agreement, which Psalms 35:5 and Psalms 35:6 present to the other, the more remarkable, as these two Psalms are the only ones, in which the Angel of the Lord, in a general way, occurs. But in both he appears entirely in the same character sand connection.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Of David. Contend, O Lord, with my contenders, consume those who consume me. In the first member, the relation of the righteous to his enemies, appears under the image of a contest for justice, in the second, under the image of a war. What is expressed in the first member as a wish, is in Isaiah 49:25, converted into a promise, “I will contend with him that contend-eth with thee.” But the wish here also rises on the ground of the promise. To beg any thing from God, which he had not promised, were a piece of folly. לחם , signifies, not to fight, but to eat, and את is not prepos. but marks the accus. The mean-ing of fighting first enters in Niphil, prop. to be eaten, then to be eaten by another. A destructive warfare against the enemies is not rarely represented as a consuming of these, comp. for ex-ample, Numbers 24:8, “He eats up (consumes) the heathen, sand their bones will he break.” Calvin: “The sum is, that, overwhelmed with calumnies, and oppressed with cruelty, and finding no help in the world, he commends his life, as well as his good name, into the hand of God.”

Verse 2

Ver. 2. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up as my help. The Lord is represented under the image of a hero, who equips himself for the deliverance of his oppressed friend. This representation has its ground in human weakness. As dangers palpable and manifest surround us, God’s hidden and invisible power is not of itself fitted to keep us from all fear and anxiety. It must in a manner take to itself flesh and blood. It usually borrows its dress from the danger, which at the time is threat-ened. In opposition to the arts of lying and calumny, God is set up as patron or administrator, who takes charge of the affairs of his people. If danger is threatened from rude violence, he appears as a warrior, as in Deuteronomy 32:41-42, who lays hold of weapons for the defence of his own. In this verse the Psalmist calls upon the Lord to take weapons of defence, in the next weapons of offence. מגן is the small shield, and צנה the great one, as appears from 1 Kings 10:16-17. בעזרתי prop. in my help, ב is that which marks, in what property any thing appears or consists, Ew. Small Gr. § 521. Help is elsewhere also not rarely used by David for helper, comp. for example, Psalms 27:9.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. And take hold of the spear, and set a barrier against my persecutors; say to my soul: thy salvation am I. רוק in Hiph. to empty, then to take out, namely, from the armoury. In the expression: set a barrier, prop. close up against my persecutors, the figure is borrowed from a host, which comes to the help of its confederates, when threatened with a surprisal by the enemy, and, by throwing itself between them and the enemy, blocks up the way for the latter. It appears, that we have here before us a military term of art, such as was quite suitable in the mouth of the warrior David, and as we have already met with in Psalms 35:1 and Psalms 35:2. We are not to supply some definite noun, such as way. Close up, rather imports as much as, make a close. לקראת , against, in military connection, for example, Deuteronomy 1:44, Joshua 8:14, is carefully to be distinguished from לפני . Against my persecutors, in that thou dost oppose a barrier to them, dost therewith meet them. Many take סגר as a noun=σά?γαρις , a species of battle-axe. But this exposition forsakes the Hebrew usage, in which the verb סגר has the signification of closing up, the noun סגור that of barricade; it has against it the authority of all the old translations, and is also deserving of rejection from the very form, as names of species almost without exception have the ו . In the second member, the Psalmist is thought by many to wish for an audible communication. But, according to the connection, the speech is rather one embodied in fact. Comp. the first member and Psalms 35:4. God has to speak comfort to the endangered and troubled soul of the Psalmist by the communication of help. The expression: to my soul, is used, as Psalms 35:4 shows, because his soul found itself in danger, because his enemies consulted about taking his life.

Verses 4-9

Ver. 4. Let them be confounded and put to shame, who seek after my soul, let them be turned back and brought to confusion, who devise my hurt. That the fut. are to be taken optatively, that the Psalmist does not express hope and confidence, but as in Psalms 35:1-3, prays, appears from the יהי in Psalms 35:6. Ver. 5. Let them be as chaff before the wind, and let the angel of the Lord thrust them. Comp. in regard to the angel of the Lord, דחה signifies only to thrust, knock down, never to drive, or to drive away. On their eager flight the angel of the Lord lays hold of them and throws them to the ground so that they can never rise up again. Comp. on Psalms 36:12. We are not to supply to דחה the suffix, but the participle enters into the place of the noun; prop. let the angel of the Lord be their pusher. Ver. 6. Let their way be dark and slippery, and let the angel of the Lord persecute them. The putting of the substantives darkness and slipperiness, for the adj. gives more strength. Whosoever is pursued by a powerful enemy upon a dark and slippery path, which necessarily retards the speed of his flight, he is given up to sure destruction. Ver. 7. For without cause they have hid for me their pit-net, without cause they have made a pit for my soul. The ground is here laid for the wish expressed in the preceding verse, guaranteeing the certainty of its fulfilment. The pit-net is a pit covered with a net. The image is derived from the hunting of wild beasts, which are caught in such pit-nets, covered over with twigs and earth. We are not exactly to supply שחת to חפרו , but to dig, stands for, to make a pit. Ver. 8. Let destruction come upon him unawares, and his net, which he has concealed, let it catch him, for destruction let him fall therein. The singular refers here, as in all similar cases, to the ideal person of the wicked. The expression: he knows not, stands often for, unexpectedly, suddenly. As they had surprised the righteous in the midst of his peace, so might perdition again overtake them in the midst of their security. שואה is prop. part. of the verb שאה , to rush together, and denotes, not destruction in the active sense, but the ruin. This signification is here also demanded by the last member, where בשואה marks the circumstances, under which the fall takes place. His falling into the net is a thing connected with the entire ruin, as is said in Psalms 36:12, “They fall and are not able to rise up again,” Psalms 34:21, “Evil slays the wicked.” The בשואה distinguishes the evil impending over the enemies from what had already befallen the Psalmist. Ver. 9. So will my soul be joyful in the Lord; it shall rejoice in his salvation.

Verse 10

Ver. 10. All my bones shall say: Lord who is like thee, who deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, and the poor and needy from his spoiler. The futures are not to be taken optat. as Luther: “My soul might rejoice,” etc. Neither do they contain the expression of the Psalmist’s hope; but he seeks to make the Lord inclined to grant the desired help, by declaring that it would not be lavished on an ungrateful person, and that, like seed, the help afforded would yield a rich harvest of praise and thanksgivings. The bones mark the innermost nature.

The second strophe follows with preponderating lamentation. The design of the representation given of the malice of the enemies in Psalms 35:11-16, discovers itself in the words in Psalms 35:17, “Lord, how long wilt thou look on, rescue my soul from their destructions, mine only one from the lions,” for which a preparation and a motive were provided by the representation. After the prayer there follows again, in Psalms 35:18, the promise of a thanksgiving, implying that the granting of what he sought would tend to the glorification of the name of God.

Verses 11-14

Ver. 11. Malicious witnesses rise up, what I know not of, that do they inquire of me, they wish me to express an acknowledgment of misdeeds of which I have been quite innocent. The verse is neither to be explained historically, nor to be taken figuratively, but contains an individualizing trait, such as very frequently occurs in the Psalms, which were sung of the person of the righteous. Ver. 12. They rewarded me evil for good, bereavement of my soul. We are not to render: Bereavement is to my soul; but the שכול is the accus. governed by: they rewarded. For according to the connection, the bereavement of the Psalmist comes here into consideration, only in so far as it was caused by his enemies. In the following verse, which is merely an expansion of this, he brings out the fact, that he had manifested as tender a love to those who were now his enemies, as is wont to be shewn to none but the nearest relatives. In testimony of their gratitude and praise for this, they transplant him into a condition, as if he were entirely alone upon the wide world. They themselves attack him with wild hatred, comp. Psalms 35:15-16, and deprive him also of the fellowship of all others. Ver. 13. And I, when they were sick, put on sackcloth, pained myself with fasting, and my prayer returned back to my own bosom. The sickness here is not figurative, but an individualizing mark of the suffering. One must, in severe sufferings, discerning therein the righteous punishment of sin, find matter for repentance, and practise fasting as an exercise of repentance. (The form of expression ענה נפשק , to chastise his soul, to crucify his flesh, comp. the profound explanation in. Isaiah 58, is taken from the law, in which צום , indicating the form, is still not found.) Whoever acts thus at the sufferings of others, gives thereby a proof of the most tender fellowship and love, which destroys in a manner the distinction between I and thou, regards the suffering and the guilt of another as its own. Here also we are not to think of a figurative, but only an individualizing representation. The most tender fellowship has also, in certain circumstances, been realized under this form. The last words receive explanation from what is said in 1 Kings 18:42, upon the posture of Elias in prayer. He, who prays with his head bent down, appears to bring the prayer back, as it were, to the bosom from which it proceeded. Clauss: “We must think especially of the sitting or standing posture of mourners overwhelmed with great affliction; this is the natural bodily expression of a depressed state, afflictive both in itself and from its attendant pain.” We reject the exposition of Luther and others: I prayed from the heart continually, prop. my prayer returned out of (?) my bosom; and also that of many Jews, revived by Sachs: My prayer might (?) turn into my bosom, receive its fulfilment in myself, so full of love was it. Ver. 14. As if he were a friend, as if he were a brother, I went along; as one who mourns for his mother, was I in dirtiness bowed down. The words: as a friend, as a brother to me, for: as I would have done to a friend, nay to a brother, is to be explained from the circumstance, that the comparison is often barely indicated. We are not to think in such cases of supplying something grammatically. The expression: I went about, refers, as the context shows, to the outward appearance. אֲ בֶ ל is stat. constr. of adj. אָ בֵ ל , mourning. קדר , to be dirty, which is arbitrarily limited by many to the clothing, refers to the whole appearance, to the countenance also unwashed, and covered with ashes, and indicates, so far as it points to the dress, not black clothing, but dirty, (from the sitting in dust and ashes.) שחה , to bow down, is not to be understood tropically, but according to the context, which speaks throughout of the external symptoms of pain, of the bodily stooping of mourners. In the whole verse we must keep in our eye the symbolical spirit of the East, especially of ancient times; when the feelings so readily draw after them their outward indication, the mourner sits in sackcloth and ashes, while he, who receives a joyful message, puts on fine clothing and anoints himself. On account of this common imitation of the internal by the external, the latter only is very often expressed in poetry, where, in point of fact, the internal is meant. We shall see the external is not to be regarded here, whenever we perceive it is not a historical, but an ideal person that speaks. The contents of this and the preceding verse lead to the same result. If referred to a historical person, the representation has the character of some strained and unnatural.

Verse 15

Ver. 15. And now at my trouble they rejoice, and gather themselves, gather themselves against me the abjects, whom I know not, they tear and are not silent. The ver. forms the expansion of the “bereavement of my soul,” in Psalms 35:12. The Psalmist had shown to his enemies in their misfortune the most affectionate sympathy; their pain was his pain. But now, in his misfortune, his pain is their joy; they hasten in dense crowds to insult him, and throw him still deeper into misery, and this is the more sensibly felt by him, as in the company that thus assembled against him, there were found some of the most despicable of men. בצלעי , prop. in my halting. The halting, as a state of bodily restraint and weakness, stands here for a mark of wretchedness, as in Psalms 38:17. נכים is the plural of נֵ כֶ ה smitten, synonymous with נָ כְ ה , both alike from נכה , to be smitten. The smitten are men of the lowest grade, the poorest. This also discovers itself in the very next note: and I knew not, for whom I knew not, who from their peculiarly low condition, were shut out from the circle of my acquaintance. No one could have deviated from the correct exposition, if he had only attended to the strikingly coincident parallel passage in Job 30:1, ss. Job there complains, that he had become the object of attacks and insults from those, whose fathers he would have disdained to set beside the dogs of his flock, who in their want and wretchedness sought such miserable support as the wilderness could afford them, who were the very quintessence of what was low and common. To the נכים here, corresponds there נכאו מן הארץ , they are beaten out of the land, in Psalms 35:8. The current exposition: beating with the tongue, i.e. calumniating, comp. Jeremiah 18:18, is untenable, because against the signification of the root, (נכה first obtains in Hiph. an active signification,) and against the signification of the analogous formations, it takes the word in an active sense, and because it does not comport with the other part of the description: whom I knew not. The latter ground also holds against Hitzig’s exposition: fools, derived from נוךְ? not occurring in Hebrew; which besides destroys the manifestly existing connection with the forms נָ כֵ ה , and נָ כֵ א . We pass over other still more arbitrary expositions, as that of Luther: the halting plot against me without my fault. It may still be asked whether the beaten, those beaten with strokes, are the same who had been discoursed of in Psalms 35:13 and Psalms 35:14; or more correctly, whether they belong to their number; or whether the Psalmist here, as Calvin supposes, joins to his earlier acquaintances, who recompensed him evil for good, the multitude of those who, at an earlier period, were quite unknown to him, glad at having an opportunity to vent their malice against him. The first supposition is the correct one. For the latter would not come within the aim of the Psalmist, who gives here a farther enlargement of the declaration: they recompensed me evil for good, on which he had grounded his prayer to the Lord for the punishment of his enemies. On the other hand, the words: whom I knew not, are not to be regarded as contradictory. For this is only a mark of the poorest condition, which would naturally have excluded these men from the Psalmist’s circle, had not love and compassion impelled him to let himself down to them, and to act towards them a friendly and brotherly part.—קוע , to tear, most expositors, without foundation, take in the sense of reviling. The image is taken from a garment, from which any one seeks to tear away a fragment. By their not being silent, is meant their constantly raving against him with words and deeds.

Verses 16-18

Ver. 16. The vile, who mock for bread, gnash against me with the teeth. The expression, which in both members contains a separate clause, is very concise, —emotion, which here is indignation, loving brevity. In the first member the verb is wanting, they act, or they conduct themselves; in the second member, the infin. absol. stands for the 3d pl. In the first member the Psalmist, in order to bring out more pointedly the worthlessness of his enemies, describes them as persons who only aimed, through their bitter hostilities, to ingratiate themselves with a great personage, the centre of the whole opposition, in order to obtain from him the means of allaying their hunger, of prolonging their miserable existence. With such creatures, David may have had enough to do in the time of the Sauline persecution. בחנפי , prop. in the vile, for as the vile, comp. Ew. Small Gr. § 521. Vile persons of the mockeries of the cake, are vile persons, to whom the mockeries of the cake belong. לעג is subst. mockery. An adj. לָ עֵ ג , which most expositors suppose here, has no existence, not even in Isaiah 28:11. Mockeries of the cake are mockeries, which are so far connected with it that they are thrown out for its sake, in order to obtain it. The enemies appear, in perfect accordance with the description in the preceding verse, and that in Job 30, as mean and base men, who sell their tongues to railleries for a piece of bread. Of “guests,” and “parasites,” and “roast-smell-flatterers,” there is no mention. מעוג is not cake, as a sort of dainty bit, but the common cake of the ashes, which in the East stands in the room of bread. Neither are we to think of witty speeches which were uttered at the table, but of bitter mocking, which men indulge toward the object of their master’s hatred, like hounds set on by him. This is clear, partly from the word itself, and partly from the parallel: They gnash, &c. The gnashing of the teeth, for which expositors, who mistake the sense, substitute “showing of the teeth,” is always an expression of indignation, which the persons here referred to employ with all vehemence, in order to render themselves much endeared to their master. שנימו , as to their teeth, or with the same. Comp. on Psalms 4.

Ver. 17. Lord how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their desolations, from the young lions my only one. השיב stands in its common meaning. The soul is in a mournful, dangerous situation, placed amid devastations and lions. The Lord must bring it away from thence. The ἁ?π λεγ . שוֹ א , desolations. For my only one, see on Psalms 22:20.

Ver. 18. So will I praise thee in the great congregation, and among much people will extol thee. Comp. on ver. 9 and 10, and on Psalms 22:22; Psalms 22:25.

Verses 19-28

We come now to the third strophe, Psalms 35:19-28, chiefly made up of prayer, which has been solidly founded by the representation given in the second strophe of the Psalmist’s circumstances. Ver. 19. Let not them that are my enemies to me lying, rejoice over me, nor wink with the eye, who hate me without a cause. Enemies with falsehood or lies, are such as forge lying accusations against the object of their malice, with the view of giving a fair colour to it. קרץ עין prop. to press the eye together, here of the winking to one another with the eye, by which the enemies, who were sworn for the Psalmist’s destruction, gave each other joy concerning it. This they do even now, because they reckoned themselves quite sure of their object, comp. Psalms 35:21, but God might embitter their joy to them.

Ver. 20. For they speak not peace, and against the quiet in the land they devise words of deceit. The expression: they speak not peace, for: they abolish it, is used by way of contrast to what they ought to do, and points to the relations of Saul’s time. Saul’s distrust receives continually fresh nourishment from such tale-bearers. רגע quiet, peaceful.

Ver. 21. And they open their mouth wide against me, and say, there, there, our eye sees, namely, the wish of our soul, the misfortune of the righteous. Ver. 22. Yea, thou seest, Lord; keep not silence, Lord be not far from me. Psalms 35:20-21, gave the reason for Psalms 35:19. Let them not rejoice, for they, the wicked, deserve not thy help; but thy might, and their triumphing over the success of their plans, is for thee a call to interfere. And here a new prayer arises out of the reason given for the preceding prayer. The Psalmist places the seeing of God over against the malicious seeing of the enemy. Ver. 23. Stir up thyself and awake to my judgment, my God and Lord, to my cause. Ver. 24. Judge me according to thy righteousness, O Lord, my God, and let them not rejoice over me. Ver. 25. Let them not say in their hearts: there, there, so would we have it! Let them not say: We have swallowed him up. נפשנו prop. our soul, for, our wish, because their soul went entirely out into the wish. Ver. 26. Let them be ashamed and blush together, who rejoice at my hurt; let them be clothed with shame and dishonour, who magnify themselves against me. Ver. 27. Let them make jubilee and rejoice who wish my justification, and say continually: Great is the Lord who wills the peace of his servant. Make jubilee, the Lord will give them occasion for it. צדק , in opposition to רעח , misfortune, in Psalms 35:26, and parallel to the peace, denotes not the righteous cause, but righteousness as the gift of God; q. d. they wish, that I may be actually justified by God. Ver. 28. So will my tongue speak of thy righteousness, proclaim continually thy praise. The expression: thy righteousness, has respect to: my righteousness, in Psalms 35:27. God’s righteousness and the Psalmist’s justification stand in the closest connection with each other.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 35". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-35.html.