Psalm 35: defend me, my God
(1)Contend, LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.
(2)Take up shield and armor; arise and come to my aid.
(3)Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to me, "I am your salvation."
(4)May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.
(5)May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them away;
(6)may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.
(7)Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me,
(8)may ruin overtake them by surprise-- may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
(9)Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.
(10My whole being will exclaim, "Who is like you, LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them."
(11)Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about.
(12)They repay me evil for good and leave me like one bereaved.
(13)Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting. When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
(14)I went about mourning as though for my friend or brother. I bowed my head in grief as though weeping for my mother.
(15)But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee; assailants gathered against me without my knowledge. They slandered me without ceasing.
(16)Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me.
(17)How long, LORD, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my precious life from these lions.
(18)I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you.
(19)Do not let those gloat over me who are my enemies without cause; do not let those who hate me without reason maliciously wink the eye.
(20)They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land.
(21)They sneer at me and say, "Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we have seen it!"
(22)LORD, you have seen this; do not be silent. Do not be far from me, Lord.
(23)Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord.
(24)Vindicate me in your righteousness, LORD, my God; do not let them gloat over me.
(25)Do not let them think, "Aha, just what we wanted!" or say, "We have swallowed him up."
(26)May all who gloat over my distress be put to shame and confusion; may all who exalt themselves over me be clothed with shame and disgrace.
(27)May those who delight in my vindication shout for joy and gladness; may they always say, "The LORD be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant."
(28)My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long.
Do you feel discouraged? Alone? Do you feel like no one is on your side? No one cares enough about you that you feel like you've been cast aside? Do you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders?
Are you just barely making it? Just trying to put one foot in front of the other? That is how 2020 seems to be going for all of us.
"The whole psalm is the appeal to heaven of a bold heart and a clear conscience, irritated beyond measure by oppression and malice."
--Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
The inscription of this psalm is just Of David. Bible scholars feel this psalm was written during the reign of King Saul and David's uncertainty of his own life and safety within the king's court. In fact, some feel this psalm may be a continuation of the first Imprecatory Psalm (Psalm 7).
Psalm 35 is an Imprecatory Psalm or what some call a "Cursing Psalm." There are quite a few in the Psalter.
It's called a Cursing Psalm, but that's not what I feel from David's words when I read it. You can find every emotion in the Psalter. What a beautiful reminder from God that He walks with us during the highs and lows of our lives, that He wants to hear about the good and the bad. We have had glimpses into David's fears, his guilt, his joys. In this particular psalm, we can experience David's anger and discouragement and feeling of abandonment.
God clearly loved David; He considered David "a man after His own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). God knew his victories and his joys; his pain and his fears. God knew his failures and his sins, but loved him still. And He was well acquainted with David's anger.
What looks like a man calling curses down upon his enemies is actually a psalm sharing David's pain, his heartbreak, his loneliness, and despair.
Bible scholars divide this psalm up into three sections. I have chosen to label each section below based upon a sermon I listened to from the Jesmond Parish Church in England. I will link it below in case you're interested in watching it. I loved the message, and I loved how the speaker (Alan Munden) labeled the three sections: "the case, the plea, the resolution."
"David Makes His Case" (Verses 1-10 NLT)
O Lord, oppose those who oppose me. Fight those who fight against me. Put on your armor, and take up your shield. Prepare for battle, and come to my aid. Lift up your spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Let me hear you say, "I will give you victory!" Bring shame and disgrace on those trying to kill me; turn them back and humiliate those who want to harm me. Blow them away like chaff in the wind--a wind sent by the angel of the LORD. Make their path dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them. I did them no wrong, but they laid a trap for me. I did them no wrong, but they dug a pit to catch me. So let sudden ruin come upon them! Let them be caught in the trap they set for me! Let them be destroyed in the pit they dug for me.
Then I will rejoice in the LORD. I will be glad because he rescues me. With every bone in my body I will praise him: "LORD, who can compare with you? Who else rescues the helpless from the strong? Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?"
This is a prayer. This is David's prayer to God for help. David is opposed and discouraged. He's afraid for his life. He walks the road that God expects of him and is constantly thwarted by evil. David knows what God wants of him, but feels alone in his desire to follow Him. Sometimes as Christians we walk a lonely road, like David. It can seem like we are fighting a current that wants to sweep us away from One we know we need.
What did David do when he felt this way?
He called upon the Lord.
As a believer is that our first step when something goes wrong? When we feel exhausted and like the world is pulling us in? Even if all we can do is complain? And, like David, do we expect God to act? Do we expect Him to answer? To intervene?
It is interesting that David is not asking that innocent people be hurt; he's asking for justice, for the Lord to hold evil accountable. He is making his case before the Lord.
"Could it possibly be a sin for a Christian to pray for justice, as David did here throughout the psalm...?"
--James Burton Coffman, American pastor, 1905-2006
Jesus told us to pray for our enemies.
You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
"When Christ taught us to pray for our enemies, what did he mean? Did he mean that we should pray for their success in their evil efforts? Did he mean that we should pray for them to receive God's blessing and with Divine favor to such an extent that they would simply forget or neglect their campaign against the faithful followers of God? To confront such questions is to know the answer."
In fact, Jesus gave us an example of this, didn't He?
When they came to the place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified--one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.
Is Jesus asking the Father to forgive the criminals on either side of Him? The soldiers who were just following orders? The religious leaders who actually put him there?
At Calvary, who did NOT know what they were doing? Probably the soldiers who had no choice but to do what they were told and who probably had not yet heard the Good News. What do you think?
But what about praying for those who DO know right from wrong? Praying for those who are persecuting us?
"Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me. Plead against those who plead against me; strive with my strivers; contend with my contenders. If they urge their suite in the law court, Lord, meet them there, and beat them at their own weapons."
Here's the thing with this Cursing Psalm, we are, as Believers, elevated to a higher standard. However, you can love the sinner, yet call for justice. In fact, God very clearly expects this of us. If you doubt this, see Jesus's example.
David never calls for the slaughter of his enemies; he calls for God to thwart them and their wicked plans. David pleads for them to be dismayed, to turn back, to be put to shame, to slip and fall, to stumble in the pit they dug for him.
He may not call for his enemies deaths, but he does call upon the Angel of Lord to pursue them, that they might slip and fall and see the error in their ways.
Interestingly, this and the previous psalm (Psalm 34) are the only times in the Psalter when God is called upon in this way, as the Angel of the LORD.
"This armed Jehovah, grasping shield and drawing spear, utters no battle shout, but whispers consolation to the trembling man crouching behind his shield. The outward sign of Divine activity, turned to the foe, is martial and menacing; the inner side is full of tender, secret breathings of comfort and love."
--Alexander Maclaren, English minister, 1826-1910
--Alexander Maclaren, English minister, 1826-1910
Who is "the angel of the LORD" that David is referring to? Sometimes the Bible speaks of AN angel of the Lord or THE angel of the Lord. In this case, David refers to THE angel of the LORD. The LORD all caps is the covenant name of God, YHWH or Yahweh.
THE angel of the LORD actually shows up in the Old Testament as God Himself in all His power and great love. If you want to read more about this, I'll link a great article below or read the story of Hagar and God's gentleness and compassion during her great time of fear and abandonment (Genesis 16) or Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3).
"David Pleads for God's Defense" (verses 11-18 NLT)
Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about. They repay me evil for good. I am sick with despair. Yet when they were ill, I grieved for them. I denied myself by fasting for them, but my prayers returned unanswered. I was sad, as though they were my friends or family, as if I were grieving for my own mother. But they are glad now that I am in trouble; they gleefully join together against me. I am attacked by people I don't even know; they slander me constantly. They mock me and call me names; they snarl at me. How long, O Lord, will you look on and do nothing? Rescue me from their fierce attacks. Protect my life from these lions! Then I will thank you in front of the great assembly. I will praise you before all the people!
Can't you just feel the unfairness? David felt he was blameless. He had done nothing to deserve this violence against him, to the point of making him feel "sick with despair" at how unfair it all was. He had been kind and compassionate to them; bearing their mourning and suffering upon himself. He had even prayed for them, interceded with the Father on their behalf! He had given all.
Just think about that. Have you loved and prayed for someone who turned their back on you? I think some of us can relate to this for sure. David's example is good for us. What did he do when he was betrayed in this manner?
He cried out to God. He appealed directly to the Lord to defend him, to intervene for him. "How long will you let this go on for me, God?" Such pain and heartache.
David knew God heard him. He knew God cared for him. David knew God would defend him.
It's sometimes hard to claim this; that God will answer me, that He is listening, that He will rescue me. God is faithful. He is always there.
David is a good example of that deep relationship with God; run to Him my friends, sit still and silent in His presence, listen for His voice in the mundane day to day of 2020.
Do you know that Jesus ran to His Father as well?
But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:16 (NIV)
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed. (KJV)
But he withdrew himself in the deserts, and prayed. (ASV)
But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. (NLT)
Jesus is God incarnate; He could have taken all His stresses and worries and zapped them gone or fixed! Instead, He taught us to step away to some quiet place and reboot or "plug into" the source of all life and love and healing. Maybe His prayers sounded like David's psalms; maybe He and God just talked. I wish I could overhear that relationship.
How do you reboot? How do you "plug into" the source of your life, the One who knows exactly what you need? Do you have a "lonely" place to withdraw to? I wonder where David's "place" was; where he would sit and write these prayers to God.
"David Asks for a Resolution" (verses 19-28 NLT)
Don't let my treacherous enemies rejoice over my defeat. Don't let those who hate me without cause gloat over my sorrow. They don't talk of peace; they plot against innocent people who mind their own business. They shout, "Aha! Aha! With our own eyes we say him do it!" O LORD, you know all about this. Do not stay silent. Do not abandon me now, O Lord. Wake up! Rise to my defense! Take up my case, my God and my Lord. Declare me not guilty, O LORD my God, for you give justice. Don't let my enemies laugh about me in my troubles. Don't let them say, "Look, we got what we wanted! Now we will eat him alive!" May those who rejoice at my troubles be humiliated and disgraced. May those who triumph over me be covered with shame and dishonor. But give great joy to those who came to my defense. Let them continually say, "Great is the LORD, who delights in blessing his servant with peace!" Then I will proclaim your justice, and I will praise you all day long.
After dumping all of his frustrations on the table before God, David says,
O LORD, you know all about this.
David knew God had in under control. God would defend David; that He would defend the righteous. David believed this and claimed this.
When we are down and distressed, we need to remember this: that God is Sovereign. He is in control of our lives and our futures. As Christians, fundamentally we believe that He will never leave us and will raise us up to His Glory.
But day to day.... do we believe this? Do we remember this promise?
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
If you haven't noticed, each of the three sections ends with a sweet praise of the Father:
My whole being will exclaim "Who is like you, LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who robe them." (V10)
I will give thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you. (V18)
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness, your praises all day long. (V28)
When the world crashes in, when the weight of sin or grief or betrayal becomes heavy, remember God's faithfulness. Remember God's love and His promises, and cry out to Him.
How do we praise God all day long? That does seem daunting sometimes, and especially in 2020. I love this quote from Augustine:
"Who endureth to praise God all the day long? I will suggest a remedy, whereby thou mayest praise God all the day long if thou wilt. Whatever thou dost, do well, and thou praiseth God."
--St. Augustine, theologian, 354-430 AD.
Father in heaven, thank you that hear our prayers. Teach us to praise all day long, in all that we do. Teach us to give to you all our worries and fears, and then teach us to praise you while we wait for your provision. Father, you are good and faithful and worthy of all that we have. Show us how to love you more and to lead others to you. In your will, heal our land, protect our loved ones, strengthen your church. We love you. Amen.
Who is the angel of the LORD? (Christianity.com)