George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 35

1. Structure

The psalm alternates, in short sections, between two themes: (a) David and his God, and (b) David and his enemies.

2. Historical background

Practically all the allusions to David’s enemies suggest the period when he was hunted by Saul. Yet, strangely, there are a number of discernible resemblances in language to Psalm 109, which belongs to the time of Absalom’s rebellion. Is it possible that what was originally a Saul psalm was expanded in later days as an expression of David’s feelings when the Absalom rebellion boiled up? (See the commentary on Psa. 109.) Certainly verses 11-15 would suggest Ahithophel.

Plead my cause, O Lord. This is precisely the spirit of 1 Sam. 24:15 — David at his best:

“The Lord therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand.”

The language here is strongly reminiscent of Saul’s eager pursuit: 1 Sam. 23:25,28; 24:15; 26:18.

Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation. The words suggest that David’s faith in God did not come easily at this time. The temptation presented to him by his own devoted followers, to take the initiative to be rid of Saul, must have been almost too powerful to resist: 1 Sam. 24:4; 26:8.
Let them be...put to shame that seek after my soul. For both circumstances and phrasing, see 1 Sam. 20:1; 22:23; 23:25.
Let the angel of the Lord chase them, even as he (David) was chased. What a contrast with 34:7 and its background!
Without cause. Compare the moving eloquence of 1 Sam. 24:11.
All my bones. Is this a figurative way of expressing David’s hope that his followers (the “bones” of his body: 2 Sam. 5:1) would learn from him a milder reaction to the bitter hostility of Saul? (With this compare the obviously figurative use of “bone” in 34:20.)
False witnesses: 1 Sam. 24:9; 26:19. Sycophants — boot-lickers, wishing to be on the side of power, evidently said the things which they knew the king in his jealousy wanted to hear.
They rewarded me evil for good. In spite of his own words, Saul did precisely this: 1 Sam. 24:8,19.
When they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. Was this some unrecorded illness from which Saul suffered, or is the reference to his mental illness which grew on him over a lengthy period?

It is remarkable that all the most pointed contacts with 1 Samuel seem to come in the first half of the psalm.

3. Imprecatory psalm

An important element in the problem here lies in the discordance between the repeated imprecations (especially vv. 4,5,6,8,26) and the mild spirit displayed by David when he had opportunity to strike against his enemy (1 Sam. 24; 26). Several possibilities arise:

That David was invoking what he knew, or believed, to be the righteous judgment of God against unjustified hatred.
That the Hebrew requests: “Let them....let them....” should be read as straight futures: “They shall....they shall....”, David knowing that God must inevitably bring retribution against unrighteousness.
The imprecations represent exactly how David felt in resentment at all the hard treatment which came to him. In other words, the psalm is a true record, with inspired accuracy, of how in provocation this saint actually felt — whether Scripturally justified in so feeling or not. Compare the same feature in the record of Jeremiah’s similar reactions in similar circumstances: Jer. 20:12; 15:15. (This is perhaps the least likely.)
David was guided to include such verses in his psalm as true expressions, written beforehand, of how his greater Son will one day pronounce judgment against those who have rejected him.

For a fuller discussion, see the introductory Chapter 3: “The Imprecatory Psalms”.

4. Messianic reference

Two details stand out plain and clear:

Them that hate me without a cause. These words were specifically appropriated by Jesus as a prophecy of the willful opposition which was mobilized against himself and which would therefore inevitably go into action against his disciples: John 15:20,25; cp. Psa. 69:4. (It is an extraordinarily lovely thought that the single Greek word translated “without a cause” in John 15:25 also appears in Rom. 3:24: “being justified freely by his grace”. As gratuitous as was their hatred for Christ, just so was his love for them!)
False witnesses did rise up. Mark 14:57 uses this very phraseology about the trial of Jesus. The verses that follow here add a significant detail to the gospel story: They rewarded me evil for good (v. 12). These words (along with v. 13: when they were sick) carry the plain implication that those who spoke against Jesus at his trial had actually benefited from his compassionate healing powers. (Ponder, for one example, the possible motives of the lame man healed in John 5:11.) Certainly the accusation they made, about the “destruction” of the Temple (Mark 14:58), went back to the very earliest days of the minis-try (John 2:19). Jesus also seems to have had this evil for good in mind in John 10:32. (Or, to put the same point the other way round, was Judas the subject of some miraculous healing unrecorded in the Bible?)

5. Other Messianic details

Into that very destruction let him fall. As Jesus was hanged on a tree, so also Judas (Matt. 27:5). Pilate too ended his life in suicide. And Herod was banished from his kingdom and died in obscurity in Gaul (or perhaps Spain).
My soul....shall rejoice in his salvation. Compare Luke 1:46,47.
LXX: the childlessness of my soul. Compare Isa. 53:8: “Who shall declare his generation?”
My prayer returned into mine own bosom, as Jesus foretold also for his disciples:

“And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again” (Luke 10:5,6).

I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. This verse suggests the deep and abiding grief of Jesus for the traitor Judas — a detail not immediately discernible in the gospels alone.
Hypocritical mockers in feasts. Compare Luke 7:39 but see also Luke 13:28,29.

They gnashed upon me with their teeth, as in Matt. 27:39-43 and Acts 7:54.
My darling. See Psa. 22:20 (s.w.). By modern usage, a strange expression, equivalent to “my very soul”. But LXX has “only begotten”, which in the New Testament became a special name for Jesus: John 1:14,18; 3:16,18; Heb. 11:17; 1 John 4:9.
The great congregation. LXX ekklesia, as also in 40:9,10; 22:25 (cp. v. 31 there). An impressive prophecy of the outcome of this rejection and suffering.
O Lord, be not far from me. On the remarkable answer to this prayer, see Psa. 22:24 and the full context.
The “shame” experienced by Christ on the cross: Psa. 69:6,7,10, 19,20; Isa. 50:6; Heb. 6:6; 12:2.

Let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me. Compare v. 4. Shame and disgrace take the place of the usual garments for glory and for beauty: “Then the high priest rent his clothes” (Matt. 26:65).
That favour my righteous cause. RV margin reads: they have pleasure in MY righteousness.

Let them say continually. The Hebrew word is that for the daily sacrifice (cp. 34:1). Saints in Christ have no better offering.

6. Other details

Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help. The Lord as a “man of war”: Exod. 15:3; Deut. 32:41.
Stop the way against them, as happened in Exod. 14:20, when the pillar of God’s glory stood between the camp of Israel and the camp of the Egyptians.
The first verse means: ‘Let them be blown away as chaff’. The second verse means: ‘Let them be pursued by fierce enemies along treacherous mountain paths’.
As chaff, i.e. worthless, fit to be burnt or blown away by the “Angel-wind” of God: Psa. 1:4; Job 21:18; Isa. 5:24; 29:5; Jer. 23:28; Hos. 13:3; Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17; 1 Cor. 3:12,13.
Let their way be dark and slippery, as over a dangerous mountain pass in a storm. Quoted by Jeremiah (23:12). Compare Psa. 73:18; Prov. 4:19; Isa. 59:10; John 11:10; 12:35,36.
Pit = shachath (9:15; 30:9). The word naturally occurs in connection with digging (either a pit for a trap, or a grave).
This verse needs to be introduced with “Saying” — cp. 41:5; 52:6,7; 22:7,8; and 132:11,12.
Lord, who is like unto thee? This is the name Michael: cp. v. 5.

Which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him. What is “too strong” for the “poor”? Answers: the law (Gal. 3:10,13); sin (Rom. 5:21); the “world” (John 16:33); “self” (Rom. 7:24); and death (2 Tim. 1:10).
False witnesses did rise up. Compare Deut. 19:15-21.
I humbled my soul with fasting, i.e. “in the fast”: the Day of Atonement (cp. Isa. 58:5)?
Abjects. A strange word. RV margin: smiters (with the tongue). Or, if “those smitten” instead, then perhaps the “cripple” Mephibosheth son of Jonathan (2 Sam. 4:4; 9:1-13; 19:24-30)? Or, in the case of Christ, the two malefactors on the crosses?

They did tear me should perhaps read: They cried out against me. Two Hebrew words in this instance have exactly the same sound.

And I knew it not. ‘For what reason I knew not.’
LXX is very graphic here: They tempted me. They sneered at me most contemptuously.
Lions. Psa. 22:21; 34:10.
Wink with the eye implies conspiracy: Prov. 6:13; 10:10.
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