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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 35

 

 

Introduction

Heading.

‘A Psalm of David’

This is the Psalm of a man who is being hard pressed by his enemies who are seeking to accuse him falsely and maliciously before the courts of the land. But it is quite possible also that his life was literally in danger, for he calls initially for deliverance from his enemies in words put in military terms, and this may suggest that they had at first sought to attack him in other ways before they brought him to court. So we may see the Psalm as applying to any situation where a man is in danger because of his faithfulness to God.

Initially then his call is to God for personal protection, and then he prays that God will vindicate him when the case eventually comes to court.

Some have seen it as written by David with respect to his treatment by Saul, and some of the jealous men who composed Saul’s court. On this basis we may see it as follows:

· the first three verses may be seen as asking for protection in view of Saul’s deadly hunt for David (1 Samuel 21-26; see especially 1 Samuel 23:25; 1 Samuel 24:11; 1 Samuel 26:2), as he prays that YHWH will personally arm Himself in his defence and be his salvation.

· In Psalms 35:4-6 he calls on God by His Angel to drive his enemies back and put them to flight (compare Exodus 23/20, 23).

· In Psalms 35:7-10 he asks that those who hunt for him might fall into the trap that they themselves have set so that again he can rejoice in YHWH’s salvation.

· In Psalms 35:11-16 he bewails the false charges made against him and the way in which his one time friends and colleagues, whom he had treated as though they were his own family, have now turned against him, even though he had acted well towards them (see 1 Samuel 24:9).

· In Psalms 35:17-21 he points out how false their accusations are and asks for deliverance from their attempts to bring him down.

· And in 22-28 he calls on God to vindicate him, to punish those who are against him, and to reward those who take up his cause, at which point he will make known to all what God has done for him.

However, although he may well have done so, we do not know of David actually undergoing the kind of trial described in Psalms 35:11; Psalms 35:15-16; Psalms 35:19-21, thus the Psalm may refer to a later son of David. It does, however, make this a prayer which will bring comfort to any who are falsely accused because of their loyalty to God, whatever the particular danger involved, because all those who follow Christ are warned that such things could happen to them in one way or another (Matthew 10:17-22; Matthew 10:26-28; Matthew 10:33-36).


Verses 1-3

The Psalmist Asks That God Will Protect Him And Stand Firm In His Defence (Psalms 35:1-3).

In these first three verses we have a vivid picture drawn of God dressed in heavenly armour, and fully armed. He is to take up His larger shield for diverting the missiles of the enemy, and also his smaller shield necessary for hand fighting, together with His divine spear, and He is to stand ready to defend His servant, while at the same time giving him the assurance that He will certainly save him. We can compare this picture with the idea of the Captain of the Lord’s host with the drawn sword in His hand (Joshua 5:13-14), and that of the Mighty Warrior in Isaiah 59:16-17, the Redeemer Who would come to Zion (Isaiah 59:20). In each case it is God Who will fight on His people’s behalf against all His enemies, and bring salvation to His own. See also Isaiah 49:2 of the Servant of YHWH, Who is to be the Lord’s Instrument, and Isaiah 63:1 ff. where as a Warrior His judgment will be carried out on His enemies, a picture finally completed in Revelation 19:11-16 in the description of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. For further descriptions of YHWH as a man of war Who fights on behalf of His own see Exodus 15:3; Deuteronomy 32:41-42.

We are reminded by these verses of a small group of missionaries who had gone among a hostile cannibal tribe, and had taken shelter in a hut, fully alive to the hostility of the tribe around them, and waiting in trepidation for the attack that they knew must surely come, for they were very much aware of the mutterings and threats that were going on, and even of one or two movements towards the hut during the night that came to nothing. All night they waited, praying with their hearts in their mouths, their only surprise being that nothing occurred. And then to their greater surprise the next day a deputation came in peace, and on arrival looked around and asked, ‘Where is the great white hunter who stood armed on guard outside your hut last night?’ These men then went on to explain that they had gathered together during the night in order to kill the missionaries, only to be held at bay by a fearsome figure Who had stood on guard outside the hut all night, accompanied by a number of companions, so that they had not dared to approach. And because they were afraid of the great white hunter they wanted to make peace. Subsequently on returning to the UK the missionaries were approached by a group of godly Christians who asked them if they could remember anything special happening on such and such a date, and when they checked their diaries they discovered that it had been the very night of their experience. It appears that God had urged on that group of prayer warriors to a special time of prayer for these missionaries, and what was even more strange was that the number of those who gathered for prayer turned out to have been identical with the number of the companions of the great white Hunter described by the tribespeople. They had learned that, ‘The angel of YHWH encamps round about those who fear him, and delivers them’ (Psalms 34:7), and that He still does it today.

Important men today are followed about by armed men who are ready to protect them at all times with their lives. It should remind us that when we go out as Christians who are walking faithfully with Him we can have the assurance that we are accompanied by the Lord of Hosts Himself, dressed for battle, and especially when times are hard.

Psalms 35:1-3

‘Strive you, O YHWH, with those who strive with me,

Fight you against those who fight against me.’

Take hold of shield and buckler,

And stand up for my help.

Draw out also the spear,

And stop the way (or ‘And the battleaxe’) against those who pursue me,

Say to my soul,

I am your salvation.’

The Psalmist first calls on YHWH to stand up on his behalf, and fight his cause. Only those whose lives are totally committed to His service have the right to pray such a prayer. They have the right because they are His servants. The word ‘strive’ can also be translated ‘plead my cause’ as in Psalms 35:23, and this is probably its meaning here as he pictures the coming battle for his vindication in military terms.

The ‘shield’ was the large shield with which arrows and spears were deflected. The buckler was the small hand shield which gave protection in hand to hand battle. He wanted YHWH with both these two shields (completely armed) to stand up for him and provide him with help. And he also asked Him to draw out His divine spear so as to stop his pursuers in their tracks.

‘Stop the way.’ The Hebrew is s’gor, ‘stop’. (‘The way’ is read in. It is not there in the Hebrew). Some see it as an ancient word for a weapon like a battleaxe (‘a stopper’) that halts men in their tracks. This translation would then provide two attacking weapons to compare with the two defensive shields. On the other hand translating it as ‘stopping the way’ by treating it as a verb parallels ‘stand up for my help’.

But above all he wanted to hear YHWH saying to Him, ‘I am your Saviour, your Salvation’. He wanted the assurance of God’s personal delivering power, and he wanted it in His own words. This is the word also that comes to us when we put our trust in Jesus. We hear His voice saying, ‘I am your salvation’.


Verses 4-6

He Calls on God By His Angel to Drive His Enemies Back and Put Them to Flight (Psalms 35:4-6).

Not content with the fact that YHWH will stand with him to protect him, he calls on Him to pursue his enemies and do to them what they are trying to do to him.

Psalms 35:4-8

‘ Let those be put to shame and brought to dishonour,

Who seek after my soul.

Let them be turned back and confounded,

Who devise my hurt.

Let them be as chaff before the wind,

And the angel of YHWH driving them on.

Let their way be dark and slippery,

And the angel of YHWH pursuing them.’

‘ Let those be put to shame and brought to dishonour, who seek after my soul.’ The thoughts of his enemies were concentrating on bringing him to shame and dishonour, so he calls on YHWH to do the same to them. Let them receive what they are trying to pile on him.

‘Let them be turned back and confounded, who devise my hurt.’ Notice the two parallel statements so typical of Hebrew poetry. First shame and dishonour, now turned back and confounded. The metaphor is still military. They want to hurt him, thus let they themselves therefore be hurt as they are beaten back and put to rout.

‘Let them be as chaff before the wind, and the angel of YHWH driving them on.’ Indeed he wants them to be like the chaff, the outer husk, from the grain which is taken up by the wind and carried away as the grain is tossed up into the wind by the winnowing fork. No, he wants more than that, not just a wind from the Lord but the mighty Angel of YHWH Himself. Let Him drive them on as chaff before the wind.

The idea of the Angel of YHWH occurs throughout the Old Testament as descriptive of God’s ‘other self’. He acts in God’s Name, yes even is God, and yet He also communicates with God. See Genesis 16:7; Genesis 16:9; Genesis 16:11; Genesis 16:13; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 22:11; Genesis 22:15; Exodus 23:20; Exodus 23:23; Judges 2:1; Judges 2:4; Judges 6:12; Judges 6:20; Judges 6:22; Judges 13:9-21; Isaiah 63:9; Zechariah 1:11-13; Zechariah 3:1). Along with ‘the Spirit of God’ He is an expression of the triunity of God. It was He Who had driven the Canaanites out of Canaan (Exodus 23:20). Who more suitable then to be the One Who will ‘drive on’ his enemies now?

‘Let their way be dark and slippery, and the angel of YHWH pursuing them.’ Having driven them on he wants the Angel to pursue them like an avenging angel, as they slither and slide over the wet mountain passes, or on the steep limestone slopes, as the night draws in. If it was David speaking he had probably often seen the enemy in such a case. Being blown away like chaff, and slithering on the wet passes as they scurry to make their escape, indicates the uselessness and helplessness that he wants them to feel. This may have in mind the literal trouncing of his enemies in battle, or it may be metaphorical for their trouncing in court. It can apply to any situation where God’s people are facing an enemy, and God renders the enemy helpless.


Verses 7-10

He Asks That Those Who Are Hunting For Him Might Fall Into The Trap That They Themselves Have Set So That Once More He Can Rejoice in YHWH’s Salvation (Psalms 35:7-10).

This movement from the battle ground to the hunting field might serve to confirm that the pictures are metaphorical, unless this actually was a battle strategy of his enemies.

Psalms 35:7-8

‘For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit,

Without cause have they dug a pit for my soul.

Let destruction come upon him unawares,

And let his net that he has hid catch him himself,

With destruction let him fall in it.’

He sees his enemies as having dug a pit in which they have concealed a net with the aim that he will fall into it unawares, and be caught in their net. And the doubly-stressed point is that they have had no real cause for doing so because he is innocent. And so he prays that his enemies too may be caught unawares, and taken in the net that they themselves have laid, so that they might be destroyed. We note that the principle is being constantly repeated that what a man sows, that he should also reap. The picture of the men being taken unawares by the trap, and being filled with surprise as they fall into their own net is quite vivid. And the result will be their own destruction. Compare Jeremiah 18:20; Jeremiah 18:22, ‘shall evil be recompensed for good? They have dug a pit for my soul’.

Psalms 35:9-10

‘And my soul will be joyful in YHWH,

It will rejoice in his salvation.

All my bones shall say, YHWH,

Who is like unto you,

Who delivers the poor from him who is too strong for him,

Yes, the poor and the needy from him who robs him?’

And the result for him will be that he will be saved from his enemies by the One Who had declared, ‘I am your salvation’ (Psalms 35:3). Thus will his soul be joyful and rejoice. From the centre of his being (his bones) he will ask ‘who can compare with YHWH, who delivers the poor and weak from the strong and mighty, and from those who would seek to rob him?’ This idea of the deliverance of the poor and needy is a common one in Scripture. For they are the ones who most tend to look to YHWH, while the better off do not feel that they need Him. But in the end all who seek Him must be of a humble and contrite heart. That is why when God has truly blessed someone, one sign of it will be that they are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). It is the humble and contrite of heart who alone can dwell with the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity ( Isaiah 57:15).

‘Who is like unto You?’ Compare Exodus 15:11, ‘Who is like to you, O YHWH, among the heavenly beings, who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders’. And Micah 7:18, ‘Who is a God like to you, Who pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?’ None compares with Him either in power or in goodness. He is the Incomparable.

For the poor and needy as descriptive of the righteous see Psalms 37:14; Psalms 40:17; Psalms 86:1-2 and often. They are the poor and needy in soul as well as in body.


Verses 11-16

Brought Before the Judges He Is Questioned About Crimes Of Which He Knows Nothing, And That By Those To Whom He Had Shown Nothing But Kindness Who Are Now Determined To Bring Him Down (Psalms 35:11-16).

The scene now changes to the court room. He is asked questions about crimes of which he knows nothing, and that in the face of hostile and false witnesses. And the very men who are doing it are those for whom in the past he has shown great concern. They are rewarding him evil for good.

Psalms 35:11-12

‘Unrighteous witnesses rise up,

They ask me of things that I know not.

They reward me evil for good,

To the bereaving of my soul.’

Brought before the court he finds that many false witnesses are called who testify of him having done things of which he was totally unaware. They were falsifying evidence and seeking to blacken his name. This was by men to whom he had shown nothing but kindness, and yet they were now seeking to make him bereft of soul. It is not an uncommon experience of the righteous. It would later happen to the Lord, Jesus Christ Himself. For it is the way of sinful man to hate goodness even while praising it.

Psalms 35:13-14

‘But as for me, when they were sick,

My clothing was sackcloth,

I afflicted my soul with fasting,

And my prayer returned into my own bosom.

I behaved myself

As though it had been my friend or my brother,

I bowed down mourning,

As one who bewails his mother.’

He describes the kindness that he had shown to these men when they had been in trouble. When they were sick he had dressed himself in sackcloth, a sign of mourning and self-affliction in order to show his humility. He had afflicted his soul by going without food. Compare Jeremiah 18:20, ‘Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away the anger from them’.

Indeed his prayers for them had been as passionate as if they had been members of his own family or his close companions. He had mourned over their needs with the same intensity as he would have mourned the loss of his mother.

‘My prayer returned into my own bosom.’ This could be read as meaning that by praying for others he himself was blessed as well, and that is certainly always true when we pray, but in context it more likely means that his prayer was as intense as if he was praying for his own loved ones, those of his bosom.

Psalms 35:15-16

‘But in my adversity (‘my limping’) they rejoiced,

And gathered themselves together,

The abjects (or ‘smiters’) gathered themselves together against me,

And I knew it not, (or ‘those whom I did not know’),

They did tear me,

And ceased not,

Like the profane mockers in feasts,

They gnashed upon me with their teeth.’

And what recompense did he now receive for the love that he had shown to them? Instead of having compassion for him they rejoiced in the difficult situation in which he found himself. They delighted that he was as one lame, limping along. Indeed they gathered together to oppose him, and not only did so, but also gathered together the ‘abjects’, the lowest level of society, against him. It was partly from among these that the false witnesses would come. And this had taken him completely by surprise. They were people whom he neither knew nor recognised. Some would translate as ‘the smiters’ (the word is a rare one), signifying those who smote him and his reputation with their words. Either way the idea is similar. His reputation was being torn to shreds. Compare Jeremiah 18:18.

‘They tore me and did not stop.’ He had had to endure a constant barrage of lies and accusations, a barrage that went on and on. They had rent him as though they were beasts of prey (compare Hosea 13:8), and they had done it unceasingly.

Once again we are reminded of our Lord, Jesus Christ who suffered such contradiction of sinners against Himself. He too faced false accusations, and the antagonism of those who should have been His friends, and face it unflinchingly.

‘Like the profane mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.’ This appears to have in mind the buffoons who would be rewarded for their antics at feasts by being offered food which they would immediately hungrily devour. In the same way these who opposed him were like buffoons sought hungrily to eat him up.


Verses 17-21

Concerned By How Long His Affliction Is Going On He Points Out How False Their Accusations Are and Asks For Deliverance From Their Attempts To Bring Him Down (Psalms 35:17-21)..

Psalms 35:17-18

‘Lord, how long will you look on?

Rescue my soul from their destructions,

My only one from the lions.

I will give you thanks in the great assembly,

I will praise you among much people.’

Patient endurance under affliction is ever the test of the man of God. Compare Roman Psalms 5:3-5; James 1:2-3, and the Psalmist is no exception. He is concerned at how long his troubles have been going on. They seem interminable. How long, then, can God look on and not interfere?

So he prays that he may be delivered from their attempts to destroy him, that he night be delivered from these wild beasts who have come together against him. And he promises that when he is delivered, then he will go into the great assembly and offer his thanks, he will go among large crowds of people and offer praise. He will give all the honour to God.

Psalms 35:19-21

‘Let not those who are my enemies,

Wrongfully rejoice over me,

Neither let those wink with the eye,

Who hate me without a cause.

‘For they do not speak peace,

But they devise deceitful words,

Against those who are quiet in the land.

Yes, they opened their mouth wide against me,

They said, “Aha, aha, our eye has seen it.” ’

These his enemies anticipate rejoicing over what they see to be his imminent downfall, they hope to wink at each other with they eye as they consider what they have achieved. Proverbs tells us that it is the worthless person who winks with the eye (Proverbs 6:12-13), for ‘he who winks with the eye causes sorrow’ (Proverbs 10:10). It is a sign of those who are behaving in an underhanded way.

But the Psalmist prays that it might not happen. He asks, ‘let it not be’. Notice, however, that this is on the basis that it has no real justification. He is not about to get what he deserves. These people do not have a reasonable cause, they are behaving dishonestly. And they reveal it by devising deceitful words rather than speaking peace. They are not interested in a fair result, but in getting their own way. And they do not only do it against the Psalmist, they do it against all who are at peace and causing no trouble in the land. Dishonest accusations are rife.

And so their mouths are opened wide as they accuse him (compare Isaiah 57:4), and they insinuate that they have seen what they are speaking about. The picture is graphic. They say, ‘Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it’, either as though they had come across it by surprise, or else were emphasising how they had caught him out. Compare the winking of the eye. It is all an act put on to catch him out. None of it is reality, it is a show put on for the judges.


Verses 22-28

He Calls On God To Vindicate Him, By Punishing Those Who Are Against Him, And By Rewarding Those Who Take Up His Cause, At Which Point He Will Make Known To All What God Has Done For Him (Psalms 35:22-28).

Psalms 35:22-24

‘You have seen it, O YHWH, keep not silence,

O Lord, do not be far from me.

Stir up yourself, and awake to the justice due to me,

Even to my cause, my God and my Lord.

‘Judge me, O YHWH my God, according to your righteousness,

And let them not rejoice over me.’

The Psalmist is confident that YHWH see all that is going on, and he calls on Him to act on that basis. This is the confidence that all who live truly can have, that God knows the way that they take, and all that befalls them in it, and will thus in His own good time act on their behalf.

So he asks Him not to remain silent, (compare Psalms 28:1 where it is translated, ‘do not be deaf to me’), and to be close to him in his trials. For ‘be not far from me’ compare Psalms 22:11; Psalms 38:21; Psalms 71:12. Indeed he calls on Him to ensure that he receives the justice due to him, and to uphold his cause. He is not asking for favours, but for justice. He is asking Him to act ‘according to His righteousness’. Note the proliferation of titles, ‘O YHWH’, ‘O Lord’, ‘my God and my Lord’, ‘YHWH my God’. He is calling on the Judge of all the world to do right (Genesis 18:25).

‘Let them not rejoice over me.’ It cannot be right that an unjust cause should triumph, for then righteousness will be the loser.

Psalms 35:25-26

‘Let them not say in their heart, “Aha, so would we have it,”

Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.”

Let them be put to shame and confounded together,

Who rejoice at my hurt,

Let them be clothed with shame and dishonour,

Who magnify themselves against me.’

The Psalmist is concerned that the unrighteous will not be able to gloat. He does not want them to be able to say, ‘Aha, we have got our way’ (literally ‘Aha, our desire’). He does not want them to be able to gloat over the fact that they have swallowed him up. Compare Psalms 124:3; Proverbs 1:12; Lamentations 2:16. They rejoice at his hurt, so let them too be hurt, let them be ashamed and confounded. They magnify themselves against him, so let them instead be clothed with shame and dishonour. His desire is that they get what they deserve, the very opposite of what by underhand means they are seeking for themselves. Compare Psalms 35:4 where the same idea is in mind, and see Psalms 40:14. Continually he want right to prevail. He is as much concerned for the honour of God as he is for himself.

Psalms 35:27-28

‘Let them shout for joy, and be glad,

Who favour my righteous cause,

Yes, let them say continually, YHWH be magnified,

Who has pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.’

And my tongue shall talk of your righteousness,

And of your praise all the day long.’

And it is because the honour of God is concerned that he anticipates support from the godly. He asks YHWH that those who support his righteous cause might be able to shout for joy and be glad at its success, because they will give honour to YHWH for supporting such a righteous cause and delighting in the welfare (literally ‘peace’) of His servant, and having pleasure in his ‘peace’. The wellbeing of His servants brings glory to YHWH (as paradoxically so does their suffering for a righteous cause).

And the result will be that his tongue will ‘speak musingly’ of His righteousness. It will be something to continually meditate on and rejoice over that YHWH’s truth and righteousness have triumphed. And on top of that he will speak musingly of His praise all the day long. The result of his vindication will be that the praise is given to YHWH. And this should ever be the case.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 35:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-35.html. 2013.

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Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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