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This Psalm was penned by David when he was slandered and persecuted by Saul and his stewards, as is manifest from the whole body of it.
David prayeth for his own safety, Psalms 35:1,Psalms 35:2, and his enemies’ destruction, Psalms 35:3-19.35.10; showeth their falsehood, and unthankfulness, and malice, Psalms 35:11-19.35.21.
He prayeth for their confussion, Psalms 35:22-19.35.26; but for the preservation and joy of the godly, Psalms 35:27,Psalms 35:28.
Seeing I am unable to right myself and the magistrates refuse to do me justice, be thou my Patron and Protector.
Take hold of shield and buckler; therewith to cover and defend me. Compare Psalms 91:4; Proverbs 2:7.
The spear; thy offensive weapons. He alludes to the practice of soldiers in battle.
The way, in which they are marching directly and furiously against me. But divers interpreters, both Hebrews and others, take this Hebrew word for a noun, and render it a sword; or, as the word may signify, a close weapon; for the psalmist here representing God as a man of war, and accordingly furnishing him with other weapons, it seems not probable that he would omit this weapon, which was most constantly and universally used.
Say unto my soul, i.e. unto me; either,
1. By thy Spirit assuring me of it; or,
2. By thy providence effecting it; for God’s saying or speaking is oft meant of his doing, because his word is sufficient for the doing of whatsoever he pleaseth.
Confounded, i.e. frustrated in their wicked designs and hopes against me. Concerning this, and the like, and following imprecations, which may seem strange and severe, it must be considered,
1. That they did not proceed from any passionate or revengeful spirit in David towards his enemies, (from which how free he was, appears not only from his own words here, Psalms 35:12-19.35.14, but from the whole course of his life, and the frequent instances mentioned in his history of his meek and merciful carriage to his enemies when they were in his power,) but from his zeal for God, and for piety and justice, to which they showed themselves to be constant and implacable adversaries, and by the direction of the prophetical Spirit of God wherewith he was endued, which Spirit did exactly know the condition of his enemies, and that those against whom they are levelled were hardened and incurable.
2. That they contain nothing but a prayer to God, that he would accomplish his own threatenings, and execute his own law of retaliation, of eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, and so bring upon them the evils which they designed against him; which also was of great and good use, both to glorify God’s justice, and to warn and reform other sinners by the terror of their example.
3. That they may be taken only for predictions, as hath been observed before upon the like occasion. Turned back; either,
1. Stopped or hindered in the execution of their wicked design. Or rather,
2. (which is more suitable to the context) discomfited and put to flight, as this phrase is frequently used, as Psalms 9:3; Psalms 70:2; Psalms 78:9; Isaiah 42:17; Jeremiah 46:5,Jeremiah 46:21.
As chaff before the wind, i.e. dispersed and chased from place to place, finding rest and safety no where.
The angel of the Lord; whom God useth to defend his people, and to destroy their enemies.
Their way, by which they flee, being chased, as was now said.
Dark and slippery; so as they can neither discern the right path, nor be able to stand in it, and much less to run away, especially from so swift a persecutor as an angel, whereby they must unavoidably fall into their enemies’ hands, and be destroyed.
Out of mere malice, without any injury or provocation on my part, and without any necessity on their parts. They are no common, but the worst of enemies; and therefore I may justly pray against them, as I do. These expressions aggravate their sins, and signify that their persecution of him was not the effect of a midden passion, but of a deep and habitual hatred and malice, and of an evil design, carried on in a constant and continued course with deliberation, and cunning, and deceit, and that against his soul or life; for nothing less would satisfy them.
Upon him, i.e. upon each of thine and mine implacable enemies, of whom he hath hitherto spoken.
In the Lord; in and for his glory and service, which shall be advanced by this means, and for his favour to me, otherwise I am far from rejoicing in their calamities.
All my bones, i.e. my whole body, by a synecdoche, as Psalms 34:20, as well as my soul, mentioned Psalms 35:9. I will glorify thee, both with my soul and with my body.
Shall say: speech is ascribed to the bones figuratively, as elsewhere they are said to fear and to rejoice, Psalms 6:2; Psalms 51:8, and as the loins are said to bless, Job 31:20. If they could speak, they would express thy praises, because having been dried up with sorrow, they are now refreshed by thy mercy.
They accused me to Saul of treachery and designs against his crown and life, and other crimes whereof I was wholly innocent and ignorant.
For good; for the good offices which did to divers of them when I had favour and power in Saul’s court and camp.
To the spoiling of my soul, i.e. to the stripping of my person of all my comforts and hopes, and of my life itself.
Sick; or in any other great misery.
Sackcloth; which was the habit of mourners, Genesis 37:34; Matthew 11:21; Revelation 11:3.
I humbled my soul, Heb. I afflicted my soul, (of which phrase see Leviticus 16:29,Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 23:27,Leviticus 23:32, &c.,) partly with fasting, and partly with compassion and fervent prayers for them. And my prayer returned into mine own bosom: according to this translation the sense may be this, and, or but, or although my fastings and prayers did them no good, neither abated their malice, nor prevailed with God for them, so far as I desired, but returned to me without success, like a gift sent to an uncivil person, who disdainfully rejects it, and returns it to the giver. But,
1. This is not true, that his prayers returned empty to him, and did them no good, for they prevailed with God for their recovery, as appears by the following verses.
2. This doth not seem to suit well with the context; for both in the foregoing and following words he is only describing what he did for them, and not what the effects of it were, which he describes in the succeeding verses. Others therefore render the words otherwise; either,
1. Thus, and my prayer in my bosom returned, i.e. I did daily and frequently repeat my prayers for them, and that not only in public, when I joined with others in a fast-day appointed for them, which might be done in policy or for ostentation; but also in secret, between God and my own soul, and that with a sincere and hearty affection: for what is done secretly and affectionately, is said to be done in the bosom, Numbers 11:12; Psalms 89:50; Proverbs 21:14, although indeed there is in those places another proposition; which may possibly alter the case. Or,
2. (which seems the truest sense) And as for my prayer, (to wit, which I joined with my fasting on their behalf,) let it return (nothing being more frequent than for future verbs to be put imperatively)
into my own bosom; i.e. if any shall think or say that my fasting for them was but counterfeit or politic, and that I did not pray for them, but rather against them, as I do in this Psalm, and that under all this show I secretly wished their death or destruction; my earnest desire is, that the all-seeing and heart-searching God would grant unto me, when I come into their circumstances, the same things which I begged for them, whether good or evil. And this sense agrees with the common use of this phrase in Scripture, where whatsoever is repaid to any man is said to be rendered into his bosom, as Psalms 79:2; Isaiah 65:6,Isaiah 65:7; Jeremiah 32:18; Luke 6:38, as elsewhere it is said to return upon his head.
I behaved myself, Heb. I walked; either to him, to visit and comfort him; or about the streets, whither my occasions led me. Though walking is oft put for a man’s carriage or conversation.
I bowed down; went hanging down my head, as mourners used to do, Isaiah 58:5.
Mother; he mentions the mother rather than the father, either because her tender affection, and care, and kindness to him had more won upon his heart, and made him more sensible of the loss; or because, through the depravation of man’s nature, children are many times less sensible of their father’s loss or death, because it is compensated with some advantage to themselves; which doth not usually happen upon the mother’s death. Some render it, as a mourning mother, for the loss of her son. But this doth not seem to suit so well with the order of the Hebrew words.
In mine adversity, Heb. in my halting, i.e. when I was in great danger of falling into mischief; when I had any sickness, or ill success in my affairs, and was almost lost; for such are said to halt, Micah 4:6,Micah 4:7; Zephaniah 3:19. See also Psalms 38:17; Jeremiah 20:10.
Gathered themselves together, to wit, against me, as it is expressed in the next clause; either because they were so full of joy at the tidings, that they could not contain it in their own breasts, but sought to communicate it to others; or that they might insult over me, and please and recreate themselves and one another with discourses about it; or that they might consult how to improve the advantage which they now had against me, to my utter destruction. The objects; or, vile persons; either for the meanness of their condition, of for their wickedness, for which they were worthy to be beaten, as the phrase is, Deuteronomy 25:2; where the Hebrew word is of the same root with this. Or, the lame, as this very word is rendered, 2 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 9:3, to wit, of their feet, as it is there expressed. The cripples that could not walk without trouble and pain, were as forward as any to go to these meetings upon this occasion.
I knew it not: this may be added to express either their hypocrisy and pretences of respect and affection to him, by reason whereof he had no suspicion of them, nor of any such practices of theirs; or his own danger, that he did not know, and therefore could not prevent, their plots and conspiracies against him. Heb. and I knew not; which is by others, and well may be, rendered thus, even they whom I knew not, they whom I was so far from provoking by any injury, that I never saw their faces, nor heard of their names.
Tear me, i.e. my good name, with scoffs, and calumnies, and reproaches, and curses.
Ceased not, Heb. were not silent, i.e. did thus unweariedly and continually.
Hypocritical, or profane, as this word signifies, Job 8:13; Job 13:16; Job 15:34; Job 17:8, and, as some add, in all other places.
Mockers; whose common practice it is to scoff at and deride others, and me in particular.
In feasts; or, of or for a cake; or, a morsel of bread, as this word signifies, 1 Kings 17:12,1 Kings 17:13; 1 Kings 19:6; by which he further shows what vile and worthless persons these were, that would
transgress for a morsel of bread, as it is said, Proverbs 28:21. They made themselves buffoons and jesters, and accustomed themselves to mock and deride David, that thereby they might gain admittance to the acquaintance and tables of great men, where they might fill their bellies; which was all that they sought for, or got by it.
They gnashed upon me with their teeth; they used all expressions of rage and hatred against me, among which this was one, Job 16:9; Lamentations 2:16. This they did to curry favour with my great and potent adversaries.
Look on, like an idle spectator, without affording me any pity or help. My darling, to wit,
my soul, as it is in the former clause. Heb. my only one; which is now left alone and forsaken by my friends, and hath none to trust to but God. See Poole "Psalms 22:20".
When I shall be restored to the liberty of the public assemblies and solemn feasts.
Wink with their eye, i.e. mock me, or insult over me, as this phrase signifies, Proverbs 6:13; Proverbs 10:10.
Verse 20. They are enemies to all peaceable counsels; they breathe out nothing but threatenings and war. They use not only open violence, but deceit, and subtle artifices, against me and my followers, who desire nothing more than to live quietly and peaceably under Saul’s government.
They opened their mouth wide against me; either,
1. To devour me. It is a metaphor taken from wild beasts, when they come within reach of their prey. Or;
2. To pour forth whole floods of scoffs, and slanders, and contumelies. Aha, aha; an expression of joy and triumph. See Poole "Job 39:25; Psalms 40:15". Hath seen it, Heb. hath seen, to wit, what we have long desired and hoped for. See the same or like ellipsis Psalms 54:7; Psalms 59:10; Psalms 112:8.
As they say they have seen, so my comfort is, thou also hast seen, and dost observe all their plots and threats, and all my distresses and calamities, which I suffer for thy sake.
Keep not silence; or, be not deaf, to wit, to my prayers. The same word signifies both to be silent and to be deaf. See Poole "Psalms 28:1".
Be not far from me; do not withdraw thy favour and help from me.
At last undertake to plead my cause against mine adversaries.
Thy righteousness; whereby thou usest and lovest to defend the innocent, and to punish their oppressors.
Ah, so would we have it; Heb. Aha, our soul, i.e. Oh our soul crieth, Aha; an expression of mirth, as before, Psalms 35:21. Or, Aha, we have our wish or desire, as the soul is taken, Psalms 41:2. David is now as low as we could wish him.
As they gathered themselves together to deride and oppose me, so do thou gather them together to destroy them. Or, in like manner, one as well as another; let the proud and great ones of them be disappointed and ashamed as well as the meanest among them.
Themselves; the same ellipsis we have Psalms 38:16; Psalms 55:12; Jeremiah 48:26. Or, their mouth, as it is expressed, Obadiah 1:12. So Ezekiel 35:13. That extol themselves and their power, and look upon me with scorn and contempt.
That favour my righteous cause; that wish well to it, although they want either strength or courage to plead it.
Magnified, i.e. exalted and praised for his righteousness, and truth, and goodness manifested in my deliverance. Mine enemies’ great design is to magnify themselves, Psalms 35:26, but my chief desire is that God may be magnified.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Psalms 35". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent