This Psalm records a cry of distress – the petition of a man falsely accused.
The psalm naturally divides itself into three parts, each ending with a note of hope (outline from MacArthur Study Bible):
- First Cycle: Petition for deliverance from the Attacks He Was Experiencing (35:1-10)
- Second Cycle: Expression of lament for the Perjury He Was Experiencing (35:11-18)
- He Prays that God Would Examine the Evidence (35:11-16)
- He Prays that God Would Act without Delay (35:17)
- He Pledges Praise (35:18)
- Third Cycle: Renewed petition for Judgment and Justice (35:19-28)
- He Prays for Judgment concerning Them (35:19-21)
- He Prays for Justice concerning Himself (35:22-26)
- He Pledges Praise (35:27-28)
Prayer for Rescue from Enemies – A Psalm of David
1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; Fight against those who fight against me. 2 Take hold of buckler and shield and rise up for my help. 3 Draw also the spear and the battle-axe to meet those who pursue me; Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” 4 Let those be ashamed and dishonored who seek my life; Let those be turned back and humiliated who devise evil against me. 5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them on. 6 Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.
7 For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my soul. 8 Let destruction come upon him unawares, and let the net which he hid catch himself; into that very destruction let him fall. 9 And my soul shall rejoice in the LORD; it shall exult in His salvation. 10 All my bones will say, “LORD, who is like You, Who delivers the afflicted from him who is too strong for him, and the afflicted and the needy from him who robs him?”
11 Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know. 12 They repay me evil for good, to the bereavement of my soul. 13 But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, and my prayer kept returning to my bosom. 14 I went about as though it were my friend or brother; I bowed down mourning, as one who sorrows for a mother. 15 But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered themselves together; the smiters whom I did not know gathered together against me, they slandered me without ceasing.
16 Like godless jesters at a feast, they gnashed at me with their teeth. 17 Lord, how long will You look on? Rescue my soul from their ravages, my only life from the lions. 18 I will give You thanks in the great congregation; I will praise You among a mighty throng. 19 Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me; Nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously. 20 For they do not speak peace, but they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land. 21 They opened their mouth wide against me; they said, “Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!” 22 You have seen it, O LORD, do not keep silent; O Lord, do not be far from me.
23 Stir up Yourself, and awake to my right And to my cause, my God and my Lord. 24 Judge me, O LORD my God, according to Your righteousness, and do not let them rejoice over me. 25 Do not let them say in their heart, “Aha, our desire!” Do not let them say, “We have swallowed him up!” 26 Let those be ashamed and humiliated altogether who rejoice at my distress; Let those be clothed with shame and dishonor who magnify themselves over me. 27 Let them shout for joy and rejoice, who favor my vindication; and let them say continually, “The LORD be magnified, Who delights in the prosperity of His servant.” 28 And my tongue shall declare Your righteousness and Your praise all day long. (NASB)
This Psalm may well date from the time when David was being pursued by Saul. It is an Imprecatory Psalm. David’s motives are not for revenge; he had opportunities to kill Saul but did not. Rather, it is a plea for God’s righteous judgment. The motive is that David might once again thank God freely (verses 18, 28). Jesus quotes part of this Psalm (v. 19b) in John 15:25:
25 But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.’
Q: In what way are Imprecatory Psalms relevant for the Christian today? Should we be praying Imprecatory prayers against our enemies?
Here are 2 articles to look at regarding imprecatory Psalms:
This Psalm played a providential role in strengthening the founding fathers of America at a critical time in the struggle against Great Britain. It was the First Continental Congress that met at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia during September of 1774:
The members of the First Congress had assembled to discuss what to do about the latest injustices of the British government, which had closed the port of Boston with warships on June 1, 1774 (the Boston Port Act) in punishment for the Boston Tea Party.
Boston citizens had thrown 42 tons of tea into the harbor in December of the previous year, as an act of protest against unjust taxation. The colonists had no representatives in Parliament and they believed it was unlawful to be taxed by a body in which they had no representation. The Boston Tea Party was the culmination of many years of protests and strife regarding taxation and representation. Parliament was outraged at this act of defiance and set about bringing the rebellious Massachusetts back to order. A series of acts, known as the “Coercive Acts” in Britain, were passed in 1774, which shut down all self-government in Massachusetts, limited town meetings and moved the trials of government officials out of the colony. Armed conflict seemed inevitable. Those were desperate times.
Among the 56 delegates in attendance at the Continental Congress were two future Presidents: George Washington and John Adams, John’s cousin and patriot leader, Samuel Adams, John Jay, the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice and a fiery 38-year-old lawyer from Virginia named Patrick Henry. A day into the meeting came the call to have a chaplain pray over their deliberations. So John Adams recommended the Rev. Dr. Jacob Duché, an Anglican minister of Christ Church, located just two blocks away. It was agreed, and John Adams records what happened the next morning in a letter to his wife Abigail dated September 16, 1774:
“Accordingly, next morning [the minister] appeared … and … read the … thirty‑fifth Psalm. You must remember, this was the next morning after we heard the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston.”
The Pastor began reading the entire text of Psalm 35, which was the Anglican Church’s assigned Scripture reading for that day.
1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; Fight against those who fight against me. 2 Take hold of buckler and shield and rise up for my help. 3 Draw also the spear and the battle-axe to meet those who pursue me; Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” 4 Let those be ashamed and dishonored who seek my life; Let those be turned back and humiliated who devise evil against me. 5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them on. 6 Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them. (NASB)
This Psalm spoke directly to their desperate situation because only one day before they received the rumor, though unfounded, of the British bombardment of Boston. John Adam’s believed it was “Providential.” Pastor Duché followed this psalm with prayer asking God to support the American cause:
O Lord our Heavenly Father, high and mighty King of kings, and Lord of lords, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers on earth and reignest with power supreme and uncontrolled over all the Kingdoms, Empires and Governments; look down in mercy, we beseech Thee, on these our American States, who have fled to Thee from the rod of the oppressor and thrown themselves on Thy gracious protection, desiring to be henceforth dependent only on Thee. To Thee have they appealed for the righteousness of their cause; to Thee do they now look up for that countenance and support, which Thou alone canst give. Take them, therefore, Heavenly Father, under Thy nurturing care; give them wisdom in Council and valor in the field; defeat the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness of their Cause and if they persist in their sanguinary purposes, of own unerring justice, sounding in their hearts, constrain them to drop the weapons of war from their unnerved hands in the day of battle!
Be Thou present, O God of wisdom, and direct the councils of this honorable assembly; enable them to settle things on the best and surest foundation. That the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that order, harmony and peace may be effectually restored, and truth and justice, religion and piety, prevail and flourish amongst the people. Preserve the health of their bodies and vigor of their minds; shower down on them and the millions they here represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ, Thy Son and our Savior. Amen.
The Scripture reading and prayer moved the whole assembly. John Adams reflects on the scene in his letter to his wife Abigail:
“I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that morning. After this, Mr. Duché, unexpectedly to everybody, struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. I must confess, I never heard a better prayer, or one so well pronounced … for America, for the Congress, for the province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It had an excellent effect upon everybody here… I must beg you to read that Psalm… It will amuse your Friends to read this Letter and the 35th Psalm to them. Read it to your Father… I long to see my dear Family. God bless, preserve and prosper it.”
The Library of Congress printed on a historical placard of this event in Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia:
“Washington was kneeling there with Henry, Randolph, Rutledge, Lee, and Jay, and by their side there stood, bowed in reverence the Puritan Patriots of New England. … ‘It was enough’ says Mr. Adams, ‘to melt a heart of stone. I saw the tears gush into the eyes of the old, grave, Pacific Quakers of Philadelphia.’”
For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD
1 An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. 2 For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. 3 The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. 4 Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong. 5 Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. 6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast. 7 How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. 10 Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart. 11 May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. 12 See how the evildoers lie fallen– thrown down, not able to rise! (NIV)
The theme of this psalm is certainly the loving-kindness of God (verses 5, 7, 10). David first describes the rebellious sinner (verses 1-4), then the blessedness of the righteous man (verses 5-9), and concludes with a prayer that the righteous man may be protected from the wicked (verses 10-12).
1 An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. 2 For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.
One thing we need to remember here is that we, as believers are referred to as wicked, evil and ungodly in our natural state.
Q: In what way do people’s words or behavior show that “there is no fear of God” before their eyes?
Here are a few examples. First, here is Jesus speaking to his disciples and calling them evil (in a “matter of fact” kind of way):
Luke 11:13 – If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Romans 4:5 – However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Romans 5:6 – You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.
So, the wicked referred to in verse 1 includes us, the believers who are saved by grace through faith.
3 The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. 4 Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong.
John MacArthur, in a sermon on Romans 7:14-25, talks about 3 ways we can sin in our minds:
- Sins of remembering – One way your mind sins is by reaching back, cherishing the memory of sins past, bringing back lurid memories of a bygone transgression. Someone who is truly repentant about a sin in the past can still harvest pleasure from that sin once repented of.
- Sin in the present. Looking on a woman with lust (adultery) or hate of someone (murder)
- Sins of scheming about the future. Scripture is full of condemnation of those who plan to sin.
Verse 4 specifically speaks about this sin of planning evil in the future. In that sermon referred to, MacArthur talks about how we are to battle those sins of the mind:
“Sin is so pervasive, subtle that we must be … suspicious of our own spirituality. We must let it be revealed and suspect the worst. We must humble ourselves in the face of what we think might be our most righteous act, knowing it is not free from sin. … the only way to deal with sin is to deal with it strongly, to resist and oppose the first risings of temptation. It has to be dealt with in the heart on the inside. It has to be fought at the point of its incubation…, or it will overpower us, … the work of sanctification is a work that God does in which the believer cooperates in his mind. Sanctification is a work in your thought life.”
Now David switches to describing the loving kindness, righteousness and faithfulness of the LORD.
5 Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. 6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast. 7 How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
God’s omnipotence would be a terror if He was not also loving, kind and faithful to those who love Him. God will judge the world and that is a fearful thing, but He will judge it in righteousness:
Hebrews 10:31 – It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Acts 17:30-31 – 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.
There will absolutely not be anyone who will be judged “unfairly”. All those not clothed in the righteousness of Christ will receive the just penalty for the sins committed in the body. But the children of God are adopted into His family and they don’t need to be afraid of Christ as their Judge, but rather to revere Him as their Savior, because He has paid the penalty for their sins (Romans 8):
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. 10 Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart.
The abundance of the house of God is the tree of life which bears twelve fruit. This river also, that we are to drink from, is the river that flows from the throne of God:
Revelation 2:7 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Revelation 22:1-2 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Revelation 22:14 – Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.
Q: Final questions or comments?
- MacArthur Study Bible comments
- Article by Tony Perkins President of Family Research Council (http://lostepisodes.us/john-adams-first-continental-congress/)
- This day in history June 1, 1774 (http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/boston-port-act-takes-effect.html)
- Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/04-01-02-0101)
- First Prayer of the Continental Congress: https://chaplain.house.gov/archive/continental.html
- American Minute with Bill Federer – First Prayer in Congress “It was enough” says Mr. Adams, “to melt a heart of stone.”: https://myemail.constantcontact.com/First-Prayer-in-Congress–It-was-enough–says-Mr–Adams–to-melt-a-heart-of-stone–.html?soid=1108762609255&aid=fqzfemft9wk