Psalm 35: Honesty in Negativity

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and armor;
    arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin
    against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
    “I am your salvation.”

May those who seek my life
    be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
    be turned back in dismay.
May they be like chaff before the wind,
    with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
may their path be dark and slippery,
    with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

Since they hid their net for me without cause
    and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
    may the net they hid entangle them,
    may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
    and delight in his salvation.
My whole being will exclaim,
    “Who is like you, Lord?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
    the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Ruthless witnesses come forward;
    they question me on things I know nothing about.
They repay me evil for good
    and leave me like one bereaved.
Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
    and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
    I went about mourning
    as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
    as though weeping for my mother.
But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
    assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.
    They slandered me without ceasing.
Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked;
    they gnashed their teeth at me.

How long, Lord, will you look on?
    Rescue me from their ravages,
    my precious life from these lions.
I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
    among the throngs I will praise you.
Do not let those gloat over me
    who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason
    maliciously wink the eye.
They do not speak peaceably,
    but devise false accusations
    against those who live quietly in the land.
They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha!
    With our own eyes we have seen it.”

Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.
    Do not be far from me, Lord.
Awake, and rise to my defense!
    Contend for me, my God and Lord.
Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God;
    do not let them gloat over me.
Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!”
    or say, “We have swallowed him up.”

May all who gloat over my distress
    be put to shame and confusion;
may all who exalt themselves over me
    be clothed with shame and disgrace.
May those who delight in my vindication
    shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, “The Lord be exalted,
    who delights in the well-being of his servant.”

My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
    your praises all day long.

– Psalm 35

David is in serious trouble – again! The Psalm begins with an urgent plea to God (vv. 1–3) which, after a brief interlude (vv. 4–16), continues in v. 17 and culminates in v. 24 where David appeals to God’s righteousness to vindicate him. It is that belief in God’s righteousness that is the basis of David’s hope and it is the only basis of our hope if we are not to sink miserably into despair.

David hurts, his enemies – who he has not wronged (vv. 13, 14) – hate him, they slander him (v15), they gloat over him (v19), they seek his life (v4). The Psalm gives voice to David’s pain but it ends with an anticipation of praise (vv. 18, 27). God is the one who defends and delivers the weak and the vulnerable (vv. 27, 28) and he is to be praised.

Much of David’s language here is very raw and angry. All manner of unpleasant things are wished upon his enemies (vv. 7–8). David’s words are not nice – they may well be unsettling or uncomfortable to pious Christians who lead more comfortable and settled lives than he ever did. However, we should be careful not to rush to judgement. We don’t know exactly what David was going through and if we did we might be more sympathetic.

More profoundly, if we are ever to move on to a better way of dealing with ‘enemies’ we cannot avoid being honest, facing up to the realities of the situation and the pain we feel about it. Real prayer is not about pious platitudes but about being open about negative circumstances, people and feelings and about bringing them before God. Of course, even prayer might not change negative circumstances or negative people, but if we own our negative feelings and take them to God then at least they can change and that can make a world of difference.