David, in this Psalm, appeals to the righteous Judge of heaven and earth against his enemies who hated and persecuted him. It is supposed that Saul and his party are the people he meant, for with them he had the greatest struggles. We can apply this Psalm to any little peevish quarrels of our own. Christ has taught us to forgive our enemies and not to pray against them, but to pray for them, as He did. The Lord is the Avenger of His People.
Psalm 35:1-14 – A Psalm of David
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.” 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. Like chaff before the wind, 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. 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?” Fierce witnesses rise up; They ask me things that I do not know.
Rewarding me evil for good
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.
Henry says – David was God’s servant, expressly appointed by Him. He followed His guidance, and aimed at His glory in the way of duty. He had lived (as St. Paul speaks) in all good conscience before God unto this day; and yet there were those who strove against him. They did their utmost to oppose his advancement (Ps. 35:1). Openly they set themselves to do him all the trouble they could. They sought after his soul (Ps. 35:4), nothing less than his very life would satisfy their bloody minds. They aimed to bring an uneasiness to his spirit.
He had been a great blessing
They devised his hurt, put their heads together to not only do him trouble but to find out ways to ruin him. He had been the greatest blessing of his country yet they treated him as if he had been the curse and plague. They hunted him as a dangerous beast of prey, digging a pit for him that they might have him at their mercy, Ps. 35:7. The old serpent taught them subtlety. They hid their net from David and his friends; but it was in vain, for they could not hide it from God.
David found himself an unequal match for them. His enemy, especially Saul, was too strong for him (Ps. 35:10), for he had the army at his command. He condemned whom he pleased and carried a javelin to cast at any man who stood in his way. All who were around him were compelled to do as he bade them, right or wrong. But David is poor and needy (1 Sam. 22:2) and therefore Saul took from him of what little he had.
He is the Judge of the kings of the earth
It is no new thing for the most righteous men to meet with many mighty and malicious enemies. Christ Himself is fought against, and war is made upon the holy seed. It should not be a surprise. It is the old enmity in the seed of the serpent against the seed of the woman.
David appeals to God concerning his integrity and the justice of his cause. For He is the Judge of the kings of the earth: Plead my cause, O Lord! Ps. 35:1. God knows perfectly the merits of a righteous cause and knew that they had dug pits for him, Ps. 35:7. It is a comfort to us, when men do us wrong, if our consciences can witness for us that we have never done them any wrong. It was so to St. Paul. Acts 25:10; To the Jews I have done no wrong. We are apt to justify our uneasiness at the injuries men do to us if we have never given them any cause to harm us. For then we may more confidently expect that God will plead our cause.
The Lord is a man of war
He prays to God to manifest Himself for him in this trial. He prays that God would fight against his enemies, so as to disable them and defeat their plans against him (Ps. 35:1). He asks that God would take hold of shield and buckler, for the Lord is a man of war (Exod. 15:3), and that He would stand up for his help (Ps. 35:2). He had few who would stand up for him, and even if he had many it would be useless without God. We also may pray that God would restrain them and stop their way.
“Say unto my soul, I am your salvation; let me have inward comfort under all these outward troubles, to support my soul. God is my salvation, not only my Saviour out of my present troubles, but my everlasting bliss. Let me have that salvation not only which He is the author of, but which consists in His favour. If God, by His Spirit, witness to our spirits that He is our salvation, we have enough. We do not need to desire anything else to make us happy. If God be our friend it doesn’t matter who is our enemy.
David foretells the just judgments of God
By the spirit of prophecy, David foretells the just judgments of God that would come upon them for their great wickedness, malice, cruelty and betrayal. But especially for the enmity to the counsels of God, the interests of faith, and the reformation which they knew David would be an instrument of. They seemed to be hardened in their sins, and to be of those who have sinned unto death and are not to be prayed for, Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11; 1 John 5:16. David knew that God had rejected Saul and was forbidden to mourn for him, 1 Sam. 16:1. These predictions look further, and read of the doom of the enemies of Christ and His kingdom, as appears by comparing Rom. 11:9, 10.
David prays against his many enemies (Ps. 35:4-6): Let them be confounded and turned back. This may be taken as a prayer for their repentance, for all penitents are put to shame for their sins and turned back from them. Or, if they were not brought to repentance, David prays that they might be defeated and disappointed in their plans against him and so put to shame. They shall be as chaff before the wind, wicked men will be unable to stand before the judgments of God and will be driven away by them, Ps. 1:4. Their way shall be dark and slippery just as the way of sinners, for they walk in darkness and in continual danger of falling into sin and so into hell.
The angel of the Lord shall chase them
Their foot shall slide in due time, Deut. 32:35. It is here foretold that the angel of the Lord shall chase them (Ps. 35:5) so that they shall find no rest, shall persecute them (Ps. 35:6) so that they cannot possibly escape the pit of destruction. God’s angels encamp against those who fight against Him and they are the ministers of His justice, as well as of His mercy. Those who make God their enemy make all the holy angels their enemies also.
Let destruction come upon him. It is probable that he means Saul, who laid snares for him and aimed at his destruction. David vowed that his hand should not be upon him and that he would not be the judge of his own cause. But, at the same time, he foretold that the Lord would smite him (1 Sam. 26:10). He had hidden a net and would catch himself into that very destruction he should fall. This was remarkably fulfilled in the ruin of Saul. He had laid a plot to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines (1 Sam. 18:25), that was the net which he hid for him under pretense of doing him honour. And yet it was in that very net that he was himself taken, for he fell by the hand of the Philistines when his day came to fall.
My soul shall be joyful
Having committed his cause to God, he did not doubt of his own deliverance, Ps. 35:9, 10. He hoped that he would have the comfort of it: “My soul shall be joyful, not in my own ease and safety, but in the Lord, in His favour, His promise and in His salvation according to the promise.” Joy in God and in His salvation is the only true, solid, satisfying joy. Those whose souls are sorrowful in the Lord, who sow in tears and sorrow need not question that in due time their souls shall be joyful in the Lord. For gladness is sown for them, and they shall at last enter into the joy of their Lord.
He promised that God would have the glory of it (Ps. 35:10): All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto You? He will praise God with the whole man, with all that is within him, and with all the strength and vigor of his soul. He will praise Him as one of peerless and unparalleled perfection. We cannot express how great and good God is, and therefore must praise Him by acknowledging Him to be indescribable. Lord, who is like unto You?
The formation of our bones is so wonderfully made (Eccl. 11:5; Ps. 139:16). At the resurrection they shall be breathed upon and be made to flourish. If they could speak, they would say, Lord, who is like unto You? and willingly undergo any service or sufferings for Him.
Let us not think it strange
Saul tried to have David detained for treason. This he complains of as the highest piece of injustice imaginable: False witnesses did rise up, who would swear anything; they laid to my charge things that I knew not, nor ever thought of. See how much the honours, liberties and lives of the best of men, lie at the mercy of the worst. We have every reason to acknowledge with thankfulness that God holds the consciences even of bad men. If not there would be far more mischief done than currently is.
This instance of the wrong done to David was typical, and was also accomplished in the Son of David, Christ, against whom false witnesses did arise, Matt. 26:60. If we be at any time charged with what we are innocent of, let us not think it strange, as though some new thing was happening to us. So they persecuted the prophets before us, even the great prophet.
They rewarded me evil for good
David’s enemies were full of ingratitude (Ps. 35:12): They rewarded me evil for good. He had done a great deal of good service to his king, recall his harp, Goliath’s sword and the foreskins of the Philistines. Yet his king vowed his death, and his country was made too hot for him. This is to the unsettling of his soul. It robbed him of his comfort, and cut him to the heart, more than anything else.
David had often been called to attend upon Saul when he was melancholy and ill, and he had been useful to drive away the evil spirit, not with his harp, but with his prayers. Herein he was a type of Christ, to whom this wicked world was and is very ungrateful. John 10:32. Many good works have I shown you from my Father; for which of those do you stone me?
He was wholly made up of love and pity
David shows how tenderly he had behaved towards them in their afflictions (Ps. 35:13, 14): They were sick. Even the palaces and courts of princes are not exempt from the jurisdiction of death and the visitation of sickness. When these people were sick David mourned for them and sympathised with them in their grief. They were not related to him, he would lose nothing by their death yet he behaved himself as though they had been his nearest relations, purely from a principle of compassion and humanity.
David was a man of war, and of a bold, stout spirit, and yet he was susceptible to the impressions of sympathy. He would forget the bravery of the hero, and seemed wholly made up of love and pity. It is a rare composition of hardiness and tenderness, courage and compassion, in the same breast.
He mourned as for a brother or mother, which intimates that it is our duty to lay to heart the sickness, sorrow and death of our near relations. Those who do not are justly stigmatized as without natural affection. He was concerned for their precious souls, and had helped them with his prayers to God for mercy and grace.
A loving neighbour
With his prayers he joined humiliation and self-affliction, both in his diet (he fasted, at least from pleasant bread) and in his dress; he clothed himself with sackcloth. Thus he expressed his grief, not only for their affliction, but for their sin; for this is the guise and practice of a penitent. We ought to mourn for the sins of those who do not mourn for them themselves. His fasting also put an edge upon his praying, making them more fervent. He had no appetite for meat and would not allow himself time for eating.
Having the comfort of having done his duty his “prayer returned into my own bosom”. He approved himself of being a loving neighbour, though he could not win them nor make them his friends. We shall not lose by the good we have done to any, however ungrateful they may be.
Adapted from the Matthew Henry Commentary
[Slide right to left] My soul shall delight in the Lord There are moments when the eye glistens with joy Times when we can say “We are persuaded, confident, certain” The sun seems to shine every day. But there are times of doubt when gloom prevails There are seasons when you fear. Perhaps your interest in Christ depletes But He remains ever near. Ah! What a mercy it is that it is not Your hold of Christ that saves you, But His hold of you! how beautiful are Those everlasting arms of rescue. What a sweet fact it is That it is not how you grasp His hand But His grasp of yours, that saves you For by His grace alone you stand. The Lord’s promise once given is never recalled O what unspeakable delight! He, the controller of all things, is with you Every second of the day and night. By the late Andrew Feakin (passed away 16th March 2019)
Prayer for the Day
Prayer: Father, I come to You. May I, like Christ, always default to forgiving and praying for my enemies. May I follow Your guidance, and aim at Your glory and never be the judge of my own cause. When I have but few to stand up for me, I know that with You I can chase a thousand. Restrain my enemies and stop them in their way. Let me have inward comfort under all these outward troubles, that my soul be supported. You are my salvation, not only my Saviour out of my present troubles, but my everlasting bliss.
Let me have that salvation which consists in Your favour. For when You, by Your Spirit, witness to my spirit that You are my salvation, I have enough. I desire nothing else to make me happy. If You be my friend it doesn’t matter who is my enemy.
My soul shall be joyful in the Lord
My soul shall be joyful in You, in Your favour, Your promise and in You salvation according to all Your promises. Joy in You and in Your salvation is the only true, solid, satisfying joy. When my soul is sorrowful and I sow in tears help me remember that in due time my soul shall be joyful in You. For I know that gladness is sown for me, and I shall at last enter into Your joy.
Teach me to praise You with all that is within me, and with all the strength and vigour of my soul. I will praise You as one of peerless and unparalleled perfection. I cannot begin to express how great and good You are for You are indescribable. There is every reason to acknowledge with thankfulness that You hold the consciences even of bad men and so I shall not fear any further trouble than there is.
May I be wholly made up of love
May I be wholly made up of love, pity, tenderness, courage and compassion. Help me to lay to heart the sickness, sorrow and death of those near me. That I be known as one with the tender, godly affections of a saint. Lay upon me the concern for their precious souls, and may my prayers for Your mercy and grace help them.
May my prayers be joined with humiliation and self-affliction. Compel me to fast and so express my grief, not only for their affliction, but for their sin. Cause me to mourn for the sins of those who do not mourn for them themselves. May my fasting also put an edge upon my praying, making them more fervent. May I be approved of being a loving neighbour, even though I may not be able to win them nor make them my friends. In the name of Christ I pray. Amen.