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In this series of Psalms the holiness of God in grace and in judgment is specially emphasized. That is something I think we should all understand clearly. Everything that God does or everything that He permits is in accordance with His own holy nature. God will not allow anything either in the way of grace to sinners or in the way of trial to His people, or in the way of judgment falling upon the ungodly, that is contrary to the holiness of His nature. Only today somebody said to me, “I do not believe in the God of the Old Testament. I love the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but the God of the Old Testament is a God of judgment and vengeance and hatred, and I cannot believe in that God.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the image of the invisible God. He is the exact expression of His character, and I do not see how any thoughtful person can fail to observe in reading the four accounts of the life of the Lord Jesus that the same things that are predicated of Jehovah in the Old Testament are seen in the Jesus of the New Testament. The Lord Jesus pronounces stern words of judgment. It is He who says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites.” It is He who says of the cities in which the greatest of His mighty works had been done, “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). He invokes judgment upon those cities because they rejected the light. And then it is He who speaks of the “worm [that] dieth not,” “the fire [that] is not quenched,” the wicked going “into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” These expressions used by our Lord Jesus Christ are stronger than the ordinary expressions used of the judgment by the God of the Old Testament. And then again as far as vengeance is concerned we must remember when we think of God as a God of vengeance that we do not mean a revengeful God, but we mean that “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7), and our Lord Jesus Christ insists upon the same thing. If men live in sin and wickedness and corruption, they are going to reap the results. God is going to take vengeance upon the wicked for their ungodly deeds. And if you say the God of the Old Testament is a God of hatred, so our Lord Jesus Christ has His hatreds too. The God of the Old Testament hated sin; He hated everything that was unholy, and our Lord Jesus Christ hates sin with a perfect hatred, and He loves holiness and loves purity. So it is all nonsense to try to differentiate between a God of the Old Testament and of the New. The God of the Old Testament said, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), and the God of the New Testament said, “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So as we turn to these three Psalms we see God’s way of grace and judgment shown to be in perfect accord with His infinite holiness.
In the thirty-fifth Psalm we have die soul in distress appealing to divine power for help, God recognized as the source of all blessing. Somebody has said, and I think rightly, that we may read this Psalm as the musings of the heart of Jesus as He stood before Pilate’s judgment seat. Read it at your leisure with that thought in mind. Say to yourself, “I am going to think of this as though these words were uttered by the Lord Jesus as He stood before Pilate.” And I think you will see how aptly they would fit just such a case. Of course there are certain expressions in it that our Lord Jesus Himself could not use, but the Psalm as a whole might well be a vehicle for expressing the thoughts of His heart. And we may think of it as a prayer which any tried saint, persecuted and misunderstood, might offer to God.
In the first six verses you have the soul’s plea, “Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.” Can you not see how aptly the Lord Jesus could speak like this to the Father in that hour of trial? Can you not see how it would suit the lips of any troubled saint, persecuted and distressed, or how it fitted the lips of David when he was being hunted like a partridge on the mountain with Saul seeking his life? There is not necessarily any evil feeling in the heart, no unkind feeling when one in such a case calls upon God to confound his enemies. Would you not say the same today if in the circumstances of some of God’s suffering people in China, if you had to flee from your home and had a wife and children with you and the enemy coming upon you? Do you not see how without any thought of hatred toward the people as such, but for the sake of those you love, you could pray, “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. Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the Lord chase them.” Is that not beautiful? “Let the angel of the Lord chase them.” I am not going to take vengeance into my own hands, but by Thy angels, O God, come between me and my foes and undertake for me! Beginning with verse 7 and going on to verse 10 you have the troubled one pleading for help on the ground of conscious rectitude. When you have a good conscience toward God, when it is not accusing you, when you do not feel that the suffering you are going through is chastisement because of your own wrong doing, when you are clear in your own mind that you have been seeking to do the will of God, it gives you perfect confidence when you pray. And so the soul pleads like this, “For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.” Remember how the Lord quoted similar words from another Psalm, “They hated me without a cause.” There He was, the holy One who had come with heart and hands full of blessing, and yet men turned upon Him with all their hatred and bitterness; but He could look up into the face of the Father and say, “O My Father, they hated Me without a cause,” and so He pleads for judgment, “Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall. And My soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in His salvation.” Somebody may say, “Is that the New Testament spirit, to rejoice in the destruction of the enemy?” It is not that He is rejoicing in the destruction of the enemy but it is that He rejoices in the deliverance from the enemy. Take for instance that book, “A Thousand Miles of Miracles in China.” When that dear missionary and his wife were fleeing from bandits, could they not pray like this, and if at last word came that the enemy had been destroyed would they not cry out with gladness, “My soul shall be joyful in the Lord: it shall rejoice in His salvation?” One is grateful for the deliverance, and of course in certain circumstances that deliverance necessarily means the destruction of the enemy. “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 then in the next section, verses 11 to 18, we have the expression of the soul’s absolute confidence in God. Perhaps there is no other part of the Psalm that could more fully express the heart of the Lord Jesus as He stood before Pilate than these words, “False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul. 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. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together: yea, the abjects gathered themselves together against me, and I knew it not; they did tear me, and ceased not.” Think of the Lord Jesus when they took up stones to stone Him and He said, “For which of those [good] works do ye stone Me?” In other words, “I have been among you doing nothing but good; I have sought only your blessing; why are you stoning Me?” And when they came to arrest Him in the garden He said, “When 1 was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against Me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). And yet He had gone about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil. There was no reason, from the human standpoint, why men should turn against Him; yet they hated Him because His holiness caused their sinfulness and wickedness to stand out in such a glaring light.
Again you hear him speak, “With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.” The gnashing of teeth expresses hatred. “Lord, how long wilt Thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions. I will give Thee thanks in the great congregation : I will praise Thee among much people.”
In the next group of verses, from 19 to 23, the soul now speaks to God of the sin, the wickedness of the adversary which in the very nature of things calls for judgment. We are so sentimental sometimes we forget that sin is the most hateful thing in all God’s universe, and if sinners will not be separated from their sin they must be judged in and with their sin. And so we find here the Spirit of God speaking through that tried saint calling down judgment on the wicked. “Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.” These words definitely refer to the Lord Jesus.
“For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land”-against them who are doing nothing to deserve such treatment. “Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it. This Thou hast seen, O Lord: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me. Stir up Thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord.”
And then in verses 24 to 28 the soul is at perfect peace as he leaves everything with God. Whatever comes, Lord, I turn it all over to Thee. It is a great thing to come to that place where you can truly trust and say, “I will trust, and not be afraid.” “Judge me, O Lord my God, according to Thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me. Let them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it: let them not say, We have swallowed him up. 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. 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. And my tongue shall speak of Thy righteousness and of Thy praise all the day long.”
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Psalms 35". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany