Psalm 35 is typically referred to as an imprecatory Psalm or a cursing Psalm.2 In this Psalm, King David literally curses his enemies, complains about his enemies, prays for God to annihilate his enemies, and then, he praises God for his promises of justice and judgment against wickedness and evil.3
OF DAVID, 1Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! 2Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help! 3Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers! Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!” 4Let them be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life! Let them be turned back and disappointed who devise evil against me! 5Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the LORD driving them away! 6Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the LORD pursuing them! 7For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life. 8Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! And let the net that he hid ensnare him; let him fall into it – to his destruction! 9Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD, exulting in his salvation. 10All my bones shall say, “O LORD, who is like you, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, the poor and needy from him who robs him?” 11Malicious witnesses rise up; they ask me of things that I do not know. 12They repay me evil for good; my soul is bereft. 13But I, when they were sick – I wore sackcloth; I afflicted myself with fasting; I prayed with head bowed on my chest. 14I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother, as one who laments his mother, I bowed down in mourning. 15But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered; they gathered together against me; wretches whom I did not know tore at me without ceasing; 16like profane mockers at a feast, they gnash at me with their teeth. 17How long, O LORD, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions! 18I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you. 19Let not those rejoice over me who are wrongfully my foes, and let not those wink the eye who hate me without cause. 20For they do not speak peace, but against those who are quiet in the land they devise words of deceit. 21They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha! Our eyes have seen it!” 22You have seen, O LORD; be not silent! O LORD, be not far from me! 23Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my LORD! 24Vindicate me, O LORD, my God, according to your righteousness, and let them not rejoice over me! 25Let them not say in their hearts, “Aha, our hearts desire!” Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.” 26Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether who rejoice at my calamity! Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor who magnify themselves against me! 27Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, “Great is the LORD, who delights in the welfare of his servant!” 28Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long.
It might make you feel uncomfortable to think about God as a righteous, and just judge who avenges wickedness and evil in this world, but it is really important for us to see God, both as a perfectly righteous, just, and avenging warrior against wickedness and evil, as well as a perfectly loving, gracious, and merciful Father who extends compassion to those who turn away from the wickedness and evil of sinful living to our crucified, risen, and returning Savior in faith. God is both perfectly just and perfectly loving.
Overall, I think this Psalm is both an encouragement to those of us who are facing some deep hurt and pain at the hands of others as well as an invitation to those of us who are living as enemies of God. If you are carrying deep hurt and pain from abandonment, betrayal, abuse, and rejection at the hands of someone you once trusted, this Psalm is meant to help you to be encouraged by the trustworthy promises of God’s impending judgement and justice against wickedness and evil.
If you find yourself living as God’s enemy, loving what is wicked and evil, hating what is righteous and good, then this Psalm is an invitation to give up your war against God and to seek refuge, shelter, and acceptance in the loving kindness and forgiveness of the cross of Jesus.
With all of that said, Psalm 35 basically breaks down into three sections: Calling on God to fight for us (vss. 1 – 10), Trusting in God in the courtroom of accusation (vss. 11 – 18), and Rejoicing in God amidst opposition (vss. 19 – 28).
#1: DAVID CALLS ON GOD TO FIGHT FOR HIM (VSS. 1 – 10)
The fear of being chased by an enemy for no good reason can be really exhausting. David seems to be experiencing the exhaustion that fear produces while being chased by an enemy; it’s almost as though David can feel the hot breath of his enemy on the back of his neck. So, he calls out to God to come and to fight on his behalf.
He calls on God to contend or fight against his enemies, to defend him with a shield, to oppose his enemies with a sword and a spear and to remind his soul that God is his Salvation (vss. 1 – 3). He calls on God to shame and to dishonor his enemies, to turn them around and make them run in stumbling fear as the Lord pursues them (vss. 4 – 6). David’s enemies had no good reason to afflict him, so he calls on the Lord to destroy them by making them fall into the trap they had set for him (vss. 7 – 8).
The mere thought of knowing that God would answer his call for help makes David anticipate the joy he will feel as he worships God for his salvation; it’s something that David knows he will feel all the way down to his bones because God is the one who promises to deliver the poor and the needy and the weak from anyone who tries to oppress or rob them (vss. 9 – 10).
Nowhere else do we see God fighting for us more clearly than at the cross of Jesus Christ. Even when we face the pain and the fear and the exhaustion of human enemies breathing down our necks, we know that behind those human attacks are the dark spiritual forces of Satan, Sin, and Death – all of whom have been defeated by the cross and the empty tomb and one day will be vanquished forever in the final judgment as we who have trusted in Christ experience the once and for all finality of eternal victory. This is something we can trust in now. And that leads us to the second point of the text.
#2: DAVID TRUSTS IN GOD IN THE COURTROOM OF ACCUSATION (VSS. 11 – 18)
One of the most painful things we experience in this life is the betrayal of our closest friends or loved ones who never repent but instead continue to level their abuse against us. King David was experiencing this very kind of pain – the pain of betrayal and the ongoing vicious attacks of those who used to be in his inner circle.
David lays it out like he’s in the courtroom of accusation when he says that his enemies are calling up malicious witnesses to lie about him and to bombard him with questions like evil prosecuting attorneys who care nothing about all the good things he’s done for them; all his enemies want is to afflict him even though he used to fast, pray and mourn for them when they were in distress; he treated them like close friends or like close brothers and all they can do is seek his harm and rejoice when his foot slips; like vicious wolves they tried to rip and tear King David to pieces in front of everyone (vss. 11 – 16).
Yet, David knows that he’s not in that courtroom alone. He knows that the Lord is with him and that he sees everything that is happening to him so he asks the Lord how long this will last as he expresses his absolute trust in God that he will rescue him from the destructive teeth of lions (vs. 17). David can’t wait for the day when he experiences the blessing of trusting in God to come to his rescue because on that day – when God steps into the lion’s den – on that day, David will be overwhelmed with gratitude, and he will lead everyone within earshot to praise God with him for his redemption (vs. 18).
Once again, like David, we too can place our absolute trust in God when we find ourselves in the courtroom of accusation. When Satan reminds us of our failures, when Sin lures us into giving in, when Death taunts us with the impending darkness of the grave, we can stand in that courtroom full of confidence knowing that our true King, Jesus, has beaten our enemies with three nails, two pieces of wood, and an empty grave!
When we stand resolutely with this kind of trusting faith in that courtroom, calling on God to fight for us, we do so as we look forward to the overwhelming sense of joy that we will experience in the completed victory of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior. This is exactly what David feels in the final portion of our text – he feels absolute, unshakeable joy!
#3: DAVID REJOICES IN GOD AMIDST THE OPPOSITION (VSS. 19 – 28)
In these final verses, David’s enemies seem to be so deceived and enticed by their desire to see David destroyed that they work themselves into a frenzied state of opposition. They are rejoicing at the prospect of David’s downfall – so much so, that they are winking at one another and calling out to each other with wicked anticipation as they feed on their purely unjust and deceptive hatred for David (vss. 19 – 21).
But David knows, that even though his enemies have deceived themselves into believing they are about to witness his destruction, that the Lord sees everything and that he will soon vindicate David as he shuts the mouths of his enemies forever and turns their unfounded joy into absolute shame and disappointment (vss. 22 – 26).
The days are numbered for the forces of wickedness and evil and on the day when the victory of our crucified, risen and returning Savior is manifested across the universe, on that day, all of God’s enemies will be defeated for good and they will sit in the shame and humiliation and terror of their unfounded and deceptive opposition against Christ and his bride; on that day we will all – with King David – shout for joy and proclaim that “Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servant”and we will tell everyone of the perfect justice of God as we praise him for his victorious redemption (vss. 27 – 28)!
In conclusion, I want to say that pure and everlasting joy in the midst of severe opposition, is the result of trusting God in the courtroom of accusation as you call on him to fight for you in your weakness. I don’t know what you walked in here with this morning. I don’t know what wounds you have received at the hands of evil or wicked people. I don’t know what emotional, relational, or spiritual battles you have been fighting against this week. And I don’t know what kind of failures are causing you to feel ashamed or guilty. But I do know this:
- You have a Savior that has fought for you and will continue to fight for you until you step into eternity completely free from the shackles of your enemies.
- You have a Savior that you can trust when your enemies have filled the courtroom of your heart and mind with all of their lies about you; Jesus is in that courtroom, and he will turn that courtroom upside down as he completely annihilates your enemies with his broken body and his shed blood and his empty tomb.
- You have a Savior, who was filled with overflowing joy as he hopped up on that cross to endure the hate and the shame and the horror of your sin so that you could be filled with joy, knowing that your eternal destiny with your Father in Heaven is absolutely secure and unshakeable in the face of any opposition you will face.
Once again, pure and everlasting joy in the midst of severe opposition, is the result of trusting God in the courtroom of accusation, as you call on him to fight for you in your weakness. And the place that you find this joy… the place where your trust in him is kept strong… the place that you call out to him from… that place is the foot of a bloody cross in the doorway of the empty tomb as you hold onto the unfading promise of eternity in Heaven! Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 James A. Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord is King, Vol. 1, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 357.
3 Ibid., 362.