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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Psalms 35

Verses 1-28

INTRODUCTION

“This psalm, If It be as the inscription tells us a psalm of David, must have been composed either during his persecution by Saul or during the revolt of Absalom. It is usual to connect it with his words in 1 Samuel 24:15. Its peculiar feature is, that the enemies on whom the poet imprecates the righteous judgments of God are men who had formerly been his friends, men for whom he had prayed in their sorrow’ with a brother’s heart,’ and who now requited his love with ungrateful hatred. Such an enemy Saul may have been; but we never find any trace of bitterness in David’s feelings towards Saul. The generous enemy whose heart smote him because he had cut off Saul’s skirt, and who always recognised in Saul the Lord’s anointed, would never have called down the judgments of God upon his head. It seems to me, therefore, more probable, that the aiders and abettors of Absalom’s conspiracy, men like Ahithophel and his associates, are aimed at in the poet’s burning words. But all this, and even the authorship itself, must be matter of conjecture. The psalm falls into three principal divisions, each of which closes with a thanksgiving.”—Perowne.

WHOLE PSALM

The views taken of the spirit and purpose of this psalm vary greatly. Some interpreters hold that there is reference throughout to the Messiah. Thus, A. A. Bonar writes, “This is an awful psalm. Let us read it as the words of the Lord Jesus, and what do we find? We find Him praying to the Father for help, and then consenting to the doom of His relentless, impenitent foes; yea, rather pronouncing the doom with His own lips, even as when He shall say to the barren fig-tree, ‘Cut it down,’ and to those on the left hand, ‘Depart.’ It is in that spirit He says, ‘Let them be confounded’ (Psalms 35:4-19.35.6). This is their sentence uttered by the lips of the Judge. It is not the wish of one who is revengeful; it is the utterance of justice compelled by the state of parties to speak in stern severity. Our Lord Himself quotes Psalms 35:19, ‘They hated me without a cause,’ in John 15:25, on the last evening He spent with His disciples before He suffered. For then He found Himself in the very situation so strikingly described in Psalms 35:11-19.35.12,—false witnesses rising up—men rewarding His whole career of kindness by spoiling His soul.”

Other interpreters strongly oppose this opinion. Thus, Dr. David Thomas calls the supposition that the psalm is prophetical of the Messiah, “simple blasphemy.” He says, “There is nothing of the spirit of Christ in the psalm; it is eternally antagonistic to the teachings of His Sermon on the Mount, and to the tenor of His whole life. This poem burns with vengeance from beginning to end,” As an exponent of the more general opinion, Perowne may be quoted. “But how are we to account for such prayers for vengeance at all? Are these the mere outbursts of passionate and unsanctified feeling, or are they the legitimate expression of a righteous indignation? Are they to be excused as being animated by’ the spirit of Elias,’ a spirit not unholy, indeed, but far removed from the meekness and gentleness of Christ? or are they stereotyped forms in which the spirit of Christian devotion may utter itself? Are they Jewish only, or may they be Christian also? An uninstructed fastidiousness, it is well known, has made many persons recoil from reading these psalms at all. Many have found their lips falter when they have been called to join in using them in the congregation, and have either uttered them with bated breath and doubting heart, or have interpreted them in a sense widely at variance with the letter. Some have tried to reconcile them with a more enlightened conscience by regarding such words, not as the expression of a wish, but as the utterance of a prediction; but the Hebrew optative, which is distinct enough from the simple future, absolutely forbids this expedient. Others, again, would see in them expressions which may lawfully be used in the soul’s wrestling against spiritual enemies. And, finally, some would defend them as utterances of righteous zeal for God’s honour, and remind us that if we do not sympathise with such zeal, it may be, not because our religion is more pure, but because our hearts are colder.

Now, the real source of the difficulty lies in our not observing and bearing in mind the essential difference between the Old Testament and the New. The older dispensation was in every sense a sterner one than the new. The spirit of Elias, though not an evil spirit, was not the spirit of Christ (Luke 9:55). And through Him His disciples are made partakers of the same spirit. But this was not the spirit of the older economy. The Jewish nation had been trained in a sterner school. It had been steeled and hardened by the discipline which had pledged it to a war of extermination with idoloters, and however necessary such a discipline might be, it would not tend to foster the gentler virtues. It is conceivable how even a righteous man under it, feeling it to be his bounden duty to root out evil wherever he saw it, and identifying, as he did, his own enemies, with the enemies of Jehovah, might use language which to us appears unnecessarily vindictive. To men so trained and taught, what we call “religious toleration” was a thing not only wrong, but absolutely inconceivable. It may be quite true that we find revenge forbidden as directly in the Old Testament as in the New, as, for instance, in Leviticus 19:18. And it may be no less true that we find instances of imprecation in the New (cf. 2 Tim. iv. 14; Acts 23:3; and 1 Corinthians 16:23). But even these expressions are very different from the varied, deliberate, carefully constructed, detailed anathemas of the psalms. And our Lord’s denunciations, to which Hengstenberg refers, are in no way parallel. They are not curses upon individuals, but, in fact, solemn utterances of the great truth: “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” But, after all, whatever may be said of particular passages, the general tone which runs through the two covenants is unquestionably different. To deny this is not to honour Moses, but to dishonour Christ (Matthew 5:43; Matthew 19:8). On the other hand, we must not forget that these imprecations are not the passionate longing for personal revenge. The singer undoubtedly sees in his enemies the enemies of God and His Church. They that are not with Him are against God. And because the zeal of God’s house ever consumes him, he prays that all the doers of iniquity may be rooted out. The indignation, therefore, is righteous, though it may appear to us wrongly directed, or excessive in its utterance. Once more, the very fact that a dark cloud hid God’s judgments in the world to come from the view of the Old Testament saints, may be alleged in excuse of this their desire to see Him take vengeance on His enemies here. How deeply the problem of God’s righteousness exercised their minds is abundantly evident from numerous places in the psalms. They longed to see that righteousness manifested. It could be manifested, they thought, only in the evident exaltation of the righteous, and the evident destruction of the wicked, here. Hence, with their eye always fixed on temporal recompense, they could even wish and pray for the destruction of the ungodly. The awful things of the world to come were to a great extent hid from their eyes. Could they have seen them, then, surely, their prayer would have been, not “Let the angel of the Lord persecute them,” but rather, with Him who hung on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

I AM THY SALVATION

(Psalms 35:1-19.35.10.)

Revenge was alien to the spirit of David, both as a man and as a prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 24:9, Psalms 7:3-19.7.5). It seems just, therefore, as it certainly is more pleasant, to regard him as speaking here, not from personal animosity, but from a holy indignation against evil and evil-doers. At first sight, we might imagine that he had particular individuals in view; whether he had or not, we cannot tell. It is sufficient for us to take his vehement cries for Divine judgment, as applicable more to principles than persons. This interpretation seems in accordance with Paul’s use of Psalms 5:9, in his argument for the corruption of human nature (Romans 3:13). It is also agreeable to our circumstances, as under the dispensation of the gospel (Matthew 5:43-40.5.45, Romans 12:19-45.12.21).

Psalms 35:1-19.35.10. The key-note of this passage is found in Psalms 35:3. “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.” This is confirmed by the form of the thanksgiving in Psalms 35:9. “And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord, it shall rejoice in His salvation.” Outward deliverances are but types of inward deliverances. The salvation of God cannot be held as consummated short of the eternal redemption of the soul.

I. Salvation is from God (Psalms 35:1-19.35.3). “O Lord.” “The name Jehovah, the self-existent Creator, occurs eight times; Adonai, the rightful governor, three times; and Elohim, the everlasting Almighty, twice in this psalm. These names are in keeping with the tenor of the psalm, as it speaks of mercy and of judgment.”—Murphy. “The manifestation of God’s saving and protecting power is described in Scripture, under various figures corresponding to the form of the particular suffering or danger. Against injustice He appears as an advocate or Judge (Psalms 35:23), against violence as a warrior (Deuteronomy 32:41-5.32.42). In this character the psalmist here entreats Him to appear, and for that end to seize, grasp, or lay hold of his weapons.”—Alexander. “Such figurative representations of God tend to give us a more vivid apprehension of His powerful help.”—Tholuck. “Plead, O Lord, with them that strive with me.” This means, “Oppose my opposers, devour my devourers, strive with my strivers.” “Shield and buckler” were weapons of defence. They may represent “the greater and the lesser protections of providence.” “Draw out the spear,” i.e., for attack. “Stop the way,” i.e., encounter and thwart the persecutor. “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.” This appeal expresses the faith and hope of the believer. Nothing is so fitted to give courage as the sense of Jehovah’s presence and love. The cause of His people is His cause. He identifies Himself with them.

II. Salvation implies death to evil, and life to good (Psalms 35:4-19.35.8). “The psalmist regards all men simply as they stand with God, and therefore divides them into those who accept His mercy, and those who are at enmity with Him. And his own enemies he regards solely as the enemies of God; so long as they continue in this frame of mind, he has no prayers for them, but that they may be disappointed in their ungodly designs. Such a result is the only one likely to bring them to a better mind. Plainly he views them as incorrigible offenders, who will never come to themselves but by the rough handling of adversity, if even by that. If they know anything of God, and still defy Him, it is obvious that nothing but the actual experience that He cannot be defied will bring them to repentance. And if that will not do it, he looks upon them as reprobates.”—Murphy. Carrying out the figure of Jehovah as a Man of War, the psalmist depicts with terrific force the discomfiture of His enemies.

1. Shameful defeat (Psalms 35:4). They are not only arrested, but driven back in confusion. All their malicious efforts are frustrated. Their faces are covered with shame. So it was in a gracious sense with Saul of Tarsus, but, alas! it is seldom that defeat implies repentance.

2. Headlong rout (Psalms 35:5). “Chaff” is the emblem of vanity (Psalms 1:4), as “the Wind” is the emblem of judgment. In the previous psalm (Psalms 34:7), the angel of the Lord is represented as the angel of mercy, here as the angel of judgment, presiding over the storm that sweeps away God’s enemies. There is a similar contrast in the story of Peter’s deliverance and Herod’s doom (Acts 12:7).

3. Over-whelming ruin (Psalms 35:6-19.35.8). The image seems that of an army broken and driven back in horrid rout, and confusion worse confounded. With such terrible scenes David as a soldier was not unfamiliar. “Let their way be dark and slippery.” Let it be dark, so that they cannot see, and slippery, so that they cannot find safe footing. How terrible the fate of God’s enemies, with no way of escape before, and the avenger pressing hard behind. Psalms 35:7. “For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit.” The reference is to the artifices used for taking birds and beasts of prey. “Without cause,” “wantonly, gratuitously, unprovoked, and therefore prompted by mere malice.”—Alexander. This is their condemnation. Psalms 35:8 indicates how the ruin of the wicked is self caused, and will come upon them at last sudden and awful, as the crash of a falling house.

III. Salvation demands everlasting gratitude and praise (Psalms 35:9-19.35.10). “Neither revenge nor any other form of selfishness is the source of the soul’s joy, but only the Lord and His salvation. ‘All my bones.’ This is the vehement figure employed by a healthy and hearty gratitude. ‘Lord, who is like Thee.’ This verse amplifies the thought of the preceding one. ‘Delivering the humble.’ There is a union of justice and benevolence, which exhibits at the same time the strength and the charm of the moral government of God. The very same act delivers the oppressed, and defeats the oppressor.”—Murphy. “He would not be worthy of the name of man who should look calmly on the tyrant, the swindler, or the murderer, building up his fortunes on the misery and ruin of his fellowmen, and thwarting with cold, determined malignity every effort of the righteous and the benevolent to improve their condition. As little would he be worthy of the name of Christian, who could survey unmoved the efforts of unprincipled men, to hold the souls of their fellows in eternal darkness, and drag them back into the gulf of destruction, when others were helping them to glory, honour, and immortality. The first wish of the Christian for such persons is, that their hearts may be changed. He would fain save the persons, and in the spirit of his forgiving Master, he would welcome them to the mercy and the blessedness he himself has found. But come what may of themselves, the only wish he can have respecting their cause is, that it may utterly perish. And if they cling to the pernicious cause, in spite of every effort to show them its wickedness; and to impress them with its doom, if the cause, and the persons upholding it, become so indissolubly blended that the one cannot be destroyed without the other; why, then, in spite of sickly sentimentalism, it is the manly duty of God’s servant to call for the destruction of both; and it is with a holy satisfaction he is enabled to anticipate the fulfilment of his desire. No soft sympathy for doomed individuals who, in their determined wickedness, have scorned every warning, and resisted every appeal, shall hinder the servant of God from rejoicing when by their overthrow, millions are freed from fetters, and are enabled to set forward on a glorious career of light, liberty, and joy.”—W. G. Blaikie. God’s rescues not only call forth gratitude of His people on earth, but awaken the songs of heaven. As there is joy amongst the angels over one sinner that repenteth, so there are exulting alleluias over the overthrow of God’s enemies, and the final triumph of His kingdom (Revelation 19:1-66.19.3).

EVIL FOR GOOD

(Psalms 35:11-19.35.18.)

I. Innocence calumniated (Psalms 35:11). “Unjust witnesses.”—Delitzch. “Unscrupulous witnesses.”—Perowne. These were men accustomed to violence and deceit. They wished to ruin David, and as they could not accuse him truly, they had no scruple in accusing him falsely. They even endeavoured to wring from him a confession of crimes, which he had not only not committed, but of which he had no knowledge. “To please Saul, there were always men to be found mean enough to impeach David.”—Spurgeon. Such things are still done.

II. Goodwill repaid with bereavement (Psalms 35:12). There was nothing but kindness on David’s part, but his enemies returned evil for good (cf. Saul, 1 Samuel 24:17). They had no pity. Their conduct wounded him deeply. “Spoiling of soul,” i.e., bereaving my soul. “David sent his parents to the king of Moab for safety; he was severed from Michal his wife and from Jonathan his friend, and he was estranged not only from Saul, but from all his court.”—Murphy. “Very touching are the words, ‘My soul is bereaved,’ I am alone in the world; I who have ever sought to help the friendless and comfort the afflicted, and who prayed so earnestly for others, am forsaken of all.”—Perowne.

III. Brotherly kindness requited with hatred (Psalms 35:13-19.35.14). “The general idea is, that he displayed the deepest sympathy with their distresses. This idea is expressed by figures borrowed from the oriental mourning usages. Sackcloth, fasting, and prayer, are particularly mentioned.”—Alexander.

“Yet I,” emphatic in contrast with their selfishness.
“Sackcloth,” the raiment of sympathy and sorrow.
“Fasting,” the idea of overpowering compassion. “My prayer returned,” “was again and again repeated on their behalf. ‘In my bosom,’ in the silent aspirations of my heart.”—Murphy “As one that mourneth for his mother, I went softly about in mourning attire.” Delitzch. The loss of a mother is held in the East as the saddest of all bereavements. “How few professors in these days have such bowels of compassion; and yet under the Gospel there should be far more tender love than under the law. Had we more hearty love to mankind, and care for its innumerable ills, we might be far more useful; certainly we should be infinitely more Christlike. ‘He prayeth best, who loveth best.’ “—Spurgeon.

IV. Misfortune met with derision (Psalms 35:15). “But in mine adversity.” Whether his affliction was in body or outward condition, it was made the occasion of scorn instead of comfort, and that by the most abject. “At my halting, when I leaned to one side from the upright posture of prosperity. When they saw the first change in the countenance of Saul towards him, their envy was gratified.”—Murphy.

“When I limped, cripples mocked at me, i.e., those who were themselves contemptible treated me with contempt. ‘I did not know it.’ It was done behind my back, and while I was entirely unsuspicious. ‘They rent or tore me’ by their slanders.”—Alexander.

V. Piety made the subject of ribaldry and scorn (Psalms 35:16). The language here is obscure. Perowne translates “with them that are profane in their outlandish mockings.” Delitzch, “after the manner of common parasites.” Alexander, “with worthless mockers for bread.” The reference seems to be to hangers on at the tables of the rich (lit. “cake-mockers”), who were wont for hire or a “bit of bread,” to play the buffoon, and to make entertainment for the guests. Piety would be a common subject for their mockery. Thus it has been often in the world. There have been historians who have sneered at things sacred. There have been novelists who have ridiculed evangelical religion. There have been poets who have prostituted their genius to make piety the sport of fools. Even to this day there are men so base, that to gratify their patrons, in a word, “for a bit of bread” they will sell the truth, mock at purity, and cast contempt on all that is holy and God-like.

“Very forcibly might our Lord have used the words of these verses! Let us not forget to see the despised and rejected of men here painted to the life. Calvary and the ribald crew around the cross seem brought before our eyes.”—Spurgeon.

Psalms 35:17-19.35.18. “The sufferer’s appeal to the Lord.” “Lord.” Adonai, the governor who is bound to administer justice. “How long” (Psalms 6:3-19.6.10). This is the expostulation of the sufferer under persecution. How often has it been uttered!

“From their destructions,” their destructive intents and endeavours. “My only one” (Psalms 22:20).

“Young lions” (Psalms 34:10), in human shape. Psalms 35:18. “I will thank.” Confess Thy name, especially Thy goodness. “A mighty people.” Mighty for their numbers, and their communion with God.—Murphy.

THE CAUSELESS HATES

(Psalms 35:19-19.35.28.)

I. His character (Psalms 35:19-19.35.22). He is described as false, “false enemies;” as spiteful, “my haters without cause,” i.e., “out of sheer spite.”—Alexander. (Psalms 7:4; Psalms 25:3; cf. John 15:25), As turbulent. “For they speak not peace, but they devise words of deceit against the quiet in the laud,” i.e., “the land of promise, considered as the home of God’s chosen people, who, as its rightful proprietors, are characteristically peaceful, and averse to all strife and disorder.”—Alexander. He is further described as adding insult to injury (Psalms 35:21). “The gaping mouth, insulting laugh, and glaring eye, are the rude indications of malice.”—Murphy. Thus his enemies hated Daniel (Daniel 6:4), thus Haman hated Mordecai (Esther 3:5-17.3.6), thus the ten brethren hated Joseph. Every conscious malicious effort strengthens the unholy passion. “Whom we have injured we are sure to hate.” There is a fiendish joy in the discovery of any fault which may afford some excuse for the conduct pursued (Micah 7:8).

In having without a cause, they may be said not merely to hate truth and goodness, but to hate God Himself. It is the spirit of hell (cf. John 15:18-43.15.25; 1 John 2:9; 1 John 3:15; 1 John 4:20).

II. His righteous doom (Psalms 35:22-19.35.26). There is here a twofold and earnest appeal to God for judgment. He is regarded—

1. As a silent witness. “Thou hast looked on, O Lord, be not silent.” Mine enemies “are not the only witnesses of my distress, for Thou, Lord, likewise seest, and hast long seen it. Seeing it, therefore, be no longer silent.”—Alexander.

2. As an almighty friend. “O Lord, be not far from me.” Be my shield and helper. The sense of God’s nearness gives comfort and courage.

3. As a righteous judge (Psalms 35:23-19.35.24). “Do me justice, clear me from aspersion, grant an attestation of my innocence, in the exercise and exhibition of Thine own essential rectitude, and in accordance with that covenant relation which exists between us; and thus in the most effectual manner take away from my malignant enemies all pretext and occasion for exulting in my overthrow, or otherwise triumphing at my expense.”—Alexander.

Psalms 35:25-19.35.26. The appeal to God is renewed, showing the necessary result of judgment in the confusion and disgrace of the wicked, and the exaltation of the righteous.

“Here is the eternal result of all the laborious and crafty devices of the Lord’s enemies. God will make little of them, though they magnified themselves. He will shame them for shaming His people, bring them into confusion for making confusion, pull off their fine apparel, and give them a beggarly suit of dishonour, and turn all their rejoicing into weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Truly the saints can afford to wait.”—Spurgeon.

Psalms 35:27-19.35.28. “The psalmist is assured of a favourable answer to his appeal, and therefore betakes himself to thanksgiving. ‘Let them shout and be glad that delight in my righteousness,’ i.e., that desires to see justice done to me. He calls upon his friends, as well as himself, to praise the Lord for the justice of His government”.—Murphy.

THE RETURN OF PRAYER

Psalms 35:13. This word is obscure. Some understand it of posture (1 Kings 18:42); others of inward prayer; others of repeated prayer, and others of ineffectual prayer. Perowne says, “I prefer rendering, ‘And my prayer, may it return into mine own bosom.’ The prayer I offered for them is a prayer I might have offered for myself. So true a prayer was it, so full of love, that I could wish nothing more than that the blessings I asked for them, should be vouchsafed to me” (cf. Matthew 10:13; Luke 10:6).

Prayer may return in different ways.

I. Unheard. The priests of Baal cried in vain, so with the hypocrite and the formalist; so with the man who prays from hate and not from love.

“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below,
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

Shakespeare.

II. Unanswered. Not that God does not hear, or hearing does not care, or caring cannot help, but that for reasons known to Himself. He withholds what is asked. Perhaps the time is not come or the petitioner is not fit to receive the blessing, or it may be better to refuse than to grant the request. God gave Israel a king when they wanted one, but it was in His wrath

(1. Sam. Psalms 8:7-19.8.9); Hosea 13:11). God refused to relieve Paul from the thorn in the flesh, though he besought Him thrice, but it was in love. He gave him better than he asked (2 Corinthians 12:9).

III. Bringing benedictions. Others, and ourselves also, are benefited (Job 42:10). Intercessions not only binds us more to God, but brings us nearer our brethren. It is an antidote to selfishness and hate. It fills the heart with love.

“For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain;
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer,
Both for themselves, and those who call them friend!
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.”

Tennyson.

BEHAVING AS A FRIEND

Psalms 35:14. This implies—

I. Kind consideration. There are differences. All depends on the spirit (cf. Satan, Job 1:8, and God Pa Psalms 31:7). Mark the Priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan (Luke 10:30-42.10.36).

II. Generous sympathy. Observation without sympathy is torture. But how sweet is true sympathy. It is like cold water to a thirsty soul. It is like balm to a bleeding heart. It is the man who sympathises that can help. Others may be dull, but he is quick to see. Others may stand by silent and powerless, but he knows, as if by intuition, how to speak a word in season. His very presence is an inspiration (cf. Job 6:14; 1 Samuel 23:16).

III. Self-denying service. Love is the essence of friendship. Sacrifice is the highest form of love (cf. John 15:13; 1 John 3:18; Romans 5:8). A Moravian missionary sold himself to slavery, that he might win the love and trust of the slaves. The appeals of others they might scorn, but their hearts were opened to the man who had thus proved himself their friend.

IV. Constancy in love and devotion (Proverbs 17:17; Proverbs 27:6; Psalms 141:5).

“Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds;
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh no! it is au ever fixèd mark,

That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star of every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”

Shakespeare.

“The noblest friendship ever shown,
The Saviour of the world makes known.”

Cowper.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 35". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/psalms-35.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.