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Psalm 35: My Savior Will Defend Me

This psalm is attributed to David and clearly comes from a time when he had enemies who were plotting to take his life (v. 4). David is aware he has enemies conspiring against him. He speaks of those who contend with me... fight against me (v. 1), those who pursue me (v. 3), those who seek my life... plot my ruin (v. 4).  David brings the situation to God for him to deal with (v. 1): He uses law-court language, meaning 'be my advocate, give me justice'; he also uses military language, meaning 'if the dispute cannot be settled by argument and comes to blows, you fight for me, Lord.' This is developed in verses 2-3 where he asks God to take up both defensive (v. 2) and offensive (v. 3) weapons. In verses 4-8 he goes further, asking God to do to his enemies the kind of things they are trying to do to him – bring disgrace... shame... dismay (v. 4), be driven away as chaff before the wind at the hands of the destroying angel of the Lord (v. 5), be driven along a dark and slippery path on which they are likely to stumble in their haste (v. 6), and ultimately be overtaken by ruin (v. 8).

Psalm 35 is one of a group of psalms called imprecatory psalms. This is an unusual name, but it’s easy to understand once you know that the word imprecation means a curse. In an imprecatory psalm the author (usually David) curses his enemies. There are other such psalms (7, 35, 58, 69, 83, 137, 139).

Christians sometimes have trouble with these psalms because they seem to go against Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (Luke 6:27-29). On the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  How should we understand the hard words of judgment in Psalm 35 and others like it? Some have argued that David was a vindictive person. That was not so for the following reasons: 

          First: David again and again spared Saul’s life (1 Sam. 24:1-7; 26:1-12; cf. 2 Sam 1).

Second: David never asks to take vengeance himself on his enemies. He asks God to be his avenger. This is important because God is a righteous judge who never condemns the innocent. David is not praying with a bitter spirit—he is asking God for justice. There is a big difference between vindication and vindictiveness.

Third: David was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:25). This means that Psalm 35 is not just David’s words and personal feelings—these are the very words of God. The bottom line is that we cannot just write off these imprecatory psalms as David’s personal character flaw.  The Bible was inspired by God from beginning to end.

I believe this is an important lesson for us today.  We may cry for justice from our Lord but always leave the vengeance to Him. It is also a mistake to think that the New Testament teaches grace but not judgment. John the Baptist said that Christ would burn the wicked like “chaff... with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). Jesus said those who did not receive him would be thrown into “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13, cp also Rev. 19:1-3).

Therefore, the principle of retribution is an integral part of the rule of God.  Those who fight against God will find God fighting against them. We should notice the way the New Testament quotes this psalm, which is added evidence that far from being passages which ‘may be omitted’, the cursing is integral to Scripture.  Christ’s ultimate object, and ours, is that the destroyers be destroyed. But in the meantime, he accepts ‘what is written in their Law: “They hated me without reason,”’ and warns his followers to expect the same treatment: Consider this passage: ““If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. 25 But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause” (John 18:25).

What should we do when perhaps even our closest friends betray us?

1. Pray for God to protect us (vv. 1-3).

2. Ask God to execute perfect justice (vv. 4-8).

3. Make a promise to God: That you will praise Him & His salvation (vv. 9-10).

4. Tell God about the unjust hatred of your enemies (vv. 11-16).

5. Cry out for God to rescue & vindicate you (vv. 17-26).

6. Celebrate God’s deliverance & vindication (vv. 27-28).