Psalm 35 – “Awake to My Vindication”
This psalm is simply titled A Psalm of David. This is one of what are commonly known as the Imprecatory Psalms, which in strong terms ask God to defeat and destroy the enemies of His people. As you read through the book of Psalms, the Imprecatory Psalms become more intense. Psalm 7 is perhaps the mildest, while some count at least 30 curses in Psalm 109.
It is difficult to assign this psalm to any particular period of David’s life. However, the phrasing of Psalm 35:1a is similar to what David said to Saul in 1 Samuel 24:15, so it may be linked to the period of David’s life when Saul pursued him.
A. David and his adversaries.
1. (1-3) David pleads to God for defense.
Plead my cause, O LORD, with those who strive with me;
Fight against those who fight against me.
Take hold of shield and buckler,
And stand up for my help.
Also draw out the spear,
And stop those who pursue me.
Say to my soul,
“I am your salvation.”
a. Plead my cause, O LORD, with those who strive with me: Many adversaries fought against David, and many were the times he prayed, “Fight against those who fight against me.” He could rightly pray this prayer because he generally lived in God’s will, and those who fought against him were opposed to God.
i. “The prayer in verse 1a uses the same word and metaphor as David does with his remonstrance with Saul (1 Samuel 24:15).” (Maclaren)
ii. “The verb ‘contend’ [strive] is a legal term, frequently used among the prophets.” (VanGemeren)
iii. “More literally, litigate, O Lord, with them that litigate against me, contend against them that contend with me.” (Cresswell, cited in Spurgeon)
iv. “Every saint of God shall have this privilege: the accuser of the brethren shall be met by the Advocate of the saints.” (Spurgeon)
b. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help: With vivid images David called upon God to put on His armor and fight on David’s behalf.
i. We often don’t think of God having armor, but He does. Isaiah 59:17 says of the LORD: For He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.
ii. “The Lord is likened to a warrior who contends on behalf of his own. He comes with a small shield (magen) and a ‘buckler’ (sinnah, a large, possibly rectangular shield often carried by a shield-bearer; cf. 1 Samuel 17:7, 41), together with a ‘spear and javelin.’” (VanGemeren)
c. Also draw out the spear: A shield and a buckler are primarily defensive weapons, but David also called upon God to be on the offense for him. As David found protection behind God’s shield and buckler, he also asked God to keep his enemies at a distance with a spear.
i. “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 side of Divine activity, turned to the foe, is martial and menacing; the inner side is full of tender, secret breathings of comfort and love.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Before the enemy comes to close quarters the Lord can push them off as with a long spear.” (Spurgeon)
d. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation”: David needed to hear it again and again in his soul – that God was his salvation, and no one else. David was not his own salvation; God reminded his soul, “I am your salvation.”
i. “So trying were the circumstances, so poignant the pain, that he was at least in danger of losing his assurance in God. Hence the plea that God would give him the inward sense of certainty: ‘Say unto my soul – I am thy salvation.’ It was a request for the renewing or strengthening of the inner communion with God, which is ever the secret of strength in days of turmoil and sorrow.” (Morgan)
ii. “Brethren, there is nothing that can make you strong to labor for God, bold to fight against your enemies, and mighty to resist your temptations, like a full assurance that God is your God, and your sure salvation.” (Spurgeon)
iii. This statement suggests many aspects of David’s assurance.
· David had his doubts.
· David was not content when he had his doubts.
· David knew where to obtain full assurance.
· David’s assurance had a divine source.
· David’s assurance was deep and personal.
· David’s assurance was present, not future.
2. (4-8) David prays for the destruction of his enemies.
Let those be put to shame and brought to dishonor
Who seek after my life;
Let those be turned back and brought to confusion
Who plot my hurt.
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
And let the angel of the LORD chase them.
Let their way be dark and slippery,
And let the angel of the LORD pursue them.
For without cause they have hidden their net for me in a pit,
Which they have dug without cause for my life.
Let destruction come upon him unexpectedly,
And let his net that he has hidden catch himself;
Into that very destruction let him fall.
a. Let those be put to shame and brought to dishonor who seek after my life: David asked God to not only protect him, but also to vindicate him. He wanted it to be seen and known that he really did serve and obey God, and that those who opposed him were made like chaff before the wind.
i. “Viewing sinners as men, we love them and seek their good, but regarding them as enemies of God, we cannot think of them with anything but detestation, and a loyal desire for the confusion of their devices. No loyal subject can wish well to rebels. Squeamish sentimentality may object to the strong language here used, but in their hearts all good men wish confusion to mischief-makers.” (Spurgeon)
b. Let the angel of the LORD chase them: For emphasis, David prayed twice for the intervention of God’s special messenger, the angel of the LORD.
i. Knowingly or not, David called upon God the Son for His help. “In my judgment this figure was a preincarnate manifestation of the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, which is why he is regularly called ‘the LORD.’” (Boice)
ii. “The angel of the Lord is either our salvation or our doom; cf. Exodus 23:20-22.” (Kidner)
iii. “Chaff driven before the wind may rest against a wall; but where shall they rest who are chased by an angel?” (Trapp)
c. Without cause they have hidden their net for me in a pit: For emphasis, twice David asked God to note that his enemies came against him without cause.
i. It’s easy to be too confident in one’s own blamelessness, and many have repeated the sense of David’s prayer without being blameless. Nevertheless David could rightly pray that those who came against him did so without cause.
ii. “Without cause, twice here, and again in 19, touches the very nerve of David’s pain…. The psalms make us specially sensitive to the hurt of injustice.” (Kidner)
iii. “Net-making and pit-digging require time and labour, and both of these the wicked will expend cheerfully if they may but overthrow the people of God.” (Spurgeon)
d. Let his net that he has hidden catch himself: David prayed that the guilty one would truly be caught in his own trap – and the guilty one was his adversary. David prayed that destruction would come upon his adversary unexpectedly.
i. We can pray on the same principle against our spiritual adversaries, the principalities and powers that battle against us in the spiritual realm. The devil has snares (1 Timothy 3:7, 2 Timothy 2:26) and he has strategies (2 Corinthians 2:11) set against us. We may rightly pray that the devil is caught in and by his own snares and strategies.
3. (9-10) Promised praise for anticipated deliverance.
And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD;
It shall rejoice in His salvation.
All my bones shall say,
“LORD, who is like You,
Delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him,
Yes, the poor and the needy from him who plunders him?”
a. And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: After pleading to God for deliverance and protection, David promised that his soul would be appropriately happy in the LORD.
i. “We do not triumph in the destruction of others, but in the salvation given to us of God.” (Spurgeon)
b. All my bones shall say, “LORD, who is like You”: David promised that his entire being would be given in honor to God, who delivers the poor from him who is too strong for him.
4. (11-14) David’s previous care for his adversaries.
Fierce witnesses rise up;
They ask me things that I do not know.
They reward me evil for good,
To the sorrow of my soul.
But as for me, when they were sick,
My clothing was sackcloth;
I humbled myself with fasting;
And my prayer would return to my own heart.
I paced about as though he were my friend or brother;
I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother.
a. They reward me evil for good: David remembered the dishonor of his enemies, who gave him evil when he gave them good – all to the sorrow of his soul.
i. “Causeless hatred is the lot of the good in this evil world. Their goodness is cause enough; for men’s likes and dislikes follow their moral character.” (Maclaren)
ii. They reward me evil for good: “This was never more literally true of David, than it was of the holy Jesus, when, standing before Pontius Pilate, he received no other return from the Jews, for all the gracious words which he had spoken, and all the merciful works which he had done among them, than that of being slandered, and put to death.” (Horne)
iii. To the sorrow of my soul: To be misunderstood or be made the deliberate target of false accusation is great sorrow. Smyth (cited in Spurgeon) suggested several reasons why God might allow such a sorrowful trial.
· To humble His people.
· To cause them to seek Him in urgent prayer.
· To prevent them from pursuing the very thing falsely accused of.
· To test whether His people will rely upon Him in all things.
· To teach them how to behave toward others when they are falsely accused.
· To warn them against making false accusations against others.
b. When they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: David described some of the good that he did for his enemies. He showed remarkable love and concern for them when they were sick, making their problems his own and caring for them as though they were my friend or brother.
5. (15-16) How David’s adversaries betrayed him.
But in my adversity they rejoiced
And gathered together;
Attackers gathered against me,
And I did not know it;
They tore at me and did not cease;
With ungodly mockers at feasts
They gnashed at me with their teeth.
a. But in my adversity they rejoiced: David treated these enemies well in their adversity, but they were happy in David’s time of crisis.
i. “This mobbing of one who has suddenly become vulnerable, whose goodness has put men to shame, was eagerly re-enacted at the trial of Jesus.” (Kidner)
b. Attackers gathered against me, and I did not know it: The attacks from David’s enemies were worse because they were hidden from David and came upon him as a surprise.
6. (17-18) Praise promised for prayed-for deliverance.
Lord, how long will You look on?
Rescue me from their destructions,
My precious life from the lions.
I will give You thanks in the great assembly;
I will praise You among many people.
a. Lord, how long will You look on? David spoke honestly before God, admitting that he felt God was passive and indifferent. He begged God for rescue in his distress – which was so bad he felt lions were after him.
b. I will give You thanks in the great assembly: David vowed that he would give God the glory for His deliverance and do so publically.
B. The prayer for vindication.
1. (19-22) Reasons for vindication before his enemies.
Let them not rejoice over me who are wrongfully my enemies;
Nor let them wink with the eye who hate me without a cause.
For they do not speak peace,
But they devise deceitful matters
Against the quiet ones in the land.
They also opened their mouth wide against me,
And said, “Aha, aha!
Our eyes have seen it.”
This You have seen, O LORD;
Do not keep silence.
O Lord, do not be far from me.
a. Let them not rejoice over me who are wrongfully my enemies: David continued his prayer, asking God to vindicate him before his enemies.
i. “Wink with their eye, i.e. mock me, or insult over me, as the phrase signifies, Proverbs 6:13; 10:10.” (Poole)
ii. Who hate me without a cause: “Jesus identified with those who suffer without apparent cause, because he applies the words of v. 19 (cf. 69:4) to himself (John 15:25).” (VanGemeren)
b. They devise deceitful matters against the quiet ones in the land: David prayed for vindication against his enemies because they plotted against God’s humble, simple people.
i. The German Lutheran Bible translated the phrase the quiet ones in the land as die Stillen im Lande. It later became a phrase to describe believers in Germany, especially those from the Pietistic tradition. They emphasized living a quiet, devoted life of peace before God and man, and trusting in God to defend them.
ii. “In every age God has had his quiet ones. Retired from its noise and strife, withdrawn from its ambitions and jealousies, unshaken by its alarms; because they had entered into the secret of a life hidden in God.” (Meyer)
iii. “When men rage about thee, go and tell Jesus. When storms are high, hide thee in his secret place. When others compete for fame and applause, and their passion might infect thee, get into thy closet, and shut thy door, and quiet thyself as a weaned babe.” (Meyer)
c. This You have seen, O LORD…. O Lord, do not be far from me: David continued his plea to God, using two different names for God in the Hebrew text – two different names that are often translated in English by one word.
· LORD, with small capital letters, translates the Hebrew word Yahweh – the covenant name of God.
· Lord, with regular letters, translates the Hebrew word Adonai – the ancient Hebrew word for Lord. Sometimes adonai has the sense of Sir and sometimes it has the sense of God.
i. This You have seen, O LORD: “God has seen the facts of the case, and these include not only David’s innocence, but also that he is being falsely accused and slandered.” (Boice)
ii. This You have seen, O LORD: “Thou hast seen is a perfect foil to the enemy’s cry, ‘our eyes have seen it!’” (Kidner)
2. (23-26) The plea for Divine vindication.
Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication,
To my cause, my God and my Lord.
Vindicate me, O LORD my God, according to Your righteousness;
And let them not rejoice over me.
Let them not say in their hearts, “Ah, so we would have it!”
Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.”
Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion
Who rejoice at my hurt;
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
Who exalt themselves against me.
a. Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication: David was confident that he was on God’s side in his contention with his enemies, yet he longed for God to actively vindicate him. It seemed that God was too passive, so David cried out for Him to stir up Yourself and to awake on David’s behalf.
b. My God and my Lord: Here David used another word in the Hebrew vocabulary for God, the word Elohim – commonly translated as God. This is the plural for the generic word for God.
i. My God and my Lord: “The cry of Thomas when he saw the wounds of Jesus. If he did not count our Lord to be divine, neither does David here ascribe Deity to Jehovah, for there is no difference except in the order of the words and the tongue in which they were spoken; the meaning is identical.” (Spurgeon)
c. Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion who rejoice at my hurt: David simply and powerfully asked God to be his defense before his enemies.
i. Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor: “He will shame them for shaming his people, bring them to 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)
3. (27-28) Asking that the people of God take joy in David’s vindication.
Let them shout for joy and be glad,
Who favor my righteous cause;
And let them say continually,
“Let the LORD be magnified,
Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.”
And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness
And of Your praise all the day long.
a. Let them shout for joy and be glad, who favor my righteous cause: Through the psalms in general, we see that David did not think of himself as perfect in a sinless sense. Yet in many of the disputes with his enemies, he had no problem seeing that he was on God’s side and they were not. In many of these conflicts, we don’t sense that David was troubled by self-doubt.
i. “The enemy’s fall is the occasion of glad praise, not because his intended victim yields to the temptation to take malicious delight in his calamity (Schadenfreude). His own deliverance, not the other’s destruction, makes the singer joyful in Jehovah.” (Maclaren)
b. Let the LORD be magnified: David spoke much of his own need and trouble in this psalm. Yet he ended with a strong focus on God and His praise. He thought of the people of God enlarging the LORD in their hearts and minds, and of his continual praise to God (my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day long).
i. “Mine enemies’ great design is to magnify themselves, verse 26, but my chief desire is that God may be magnified.” (Poole)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org