Read: Psalm 35:1; Exodus 14:14, 25; 1 Samuel 24:15; Isaiah 42:13; 49:25
David began his prayer for God’s assistance against his enemies in Palm 35 with the assumption that he hadn’t provoked the fight, his adversaries contended with him. The Hebrew word translated “contend” means “to quarrel.” What began as a verbal quarrel escalated into his enemies declaring war on him. Saul’s fear and hatred of David began as a personal quarrel, but soon there were many who took Saul’s part and an interpersonal conflict became open warfare. David’s prayer for God’s help was not presumptuous because the Lord has both stated and demonstrated His willingness to contend with those who contend with His people.
Think About It: In the specific case of the contention between David and Saul, how can we tell that the cause of the quarrel was one-sided (1 Samuel 24:10; 26:9)? What are the conditions under which God’s people can rightfully expect God to contend for them against their enemies?
Prayer: Lord, please help me to live at peace with others as much as possible; and where that is not possible, please contend with them on my behalf.
Read: Psalm 35:2 – 3; Psalm 13:5; 27:1; 40:17: 62:2; Ephesians 6:13 – 17
David requested protection from the Lord in Psalm 35:2. The Hebrew word translated “shield” is magen, a small shield used to protect the head and face. The soldier held the magen in his left hand and covered the left side of his face with it. Goodhugh’s Pictorial Dictionary of the Bible says that for this reason Nahash the Ammonite insisted on putting out the right eyes of the men of Jabesh-Gilead as this would have disabled them for battle (1 Samuel 11:2). The Hebrew word translated “buckler” is tsinnah, which refers to a large shield used to cover the whole body; it may even refer to whole-body armor. In contrast, the “buckler” of European armor was very small shield used to cover a fist. David’s request for God’s help did not stop with a request for passive protection. In Psalm 35:3 he also asked God to draw the spear and “stop the way.” (“Stop the way” translates the Hebrew segor, meaning “to shut, to close.” Strangely, the ESV translates segor as “javelin”, following neither the sense of the Greek Septuagint, nor the Hebrew.) Forming a wall of locked-together shields bristling with spears was a common technique of ancient warfare and an effective means of shutting down the most savage assault. Yet David felt the need for more than physical protection, for he concluded this portion of his prayer with a request that God provide assurance to his soul by affirming to him “I am your salvation!” David’s concern for his soul’s salvation even in the midst of contention and warfare may well be another example of why the Lord regarded David as a “man after My own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14).
Think About It: Am I more concerned about my physical safety and security, or about the salvation of my soul (Matthew 16:26; Luke 10:20)? How can I be sure that the Lord is my salvation (Romans 10:9 – 10; 1 John 5:11 – 13)?
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul.
Read: Psalm 35:4; Isaiah 45:16; Malachi 2:9
The 19th century Polish orthodox Rabbi known as Malbim explained four levels of humiliation that David prayed in Psalm 35:4 for God to give to his enemies. First, David prayed that his enemies be put to shame (Hebrew bosh), which refers to shame that comes from within (1 Samuel 24:17; 26:17 – 21). Second, David prayed for his enemies to be disgraced (Hebrew kalam), a more severe form of humiliation which is inflicted by others (1 Samuel 14:45; 1 Samuel 13:13). Third, David prayed for his enemies to be turned back, or to retreat (Hebrew yissogu achor), which describes a still more intense form of shame that comes from realizing one’s own defects (1 Samuel 15:24 – 25). Finally, David prayed for his enemies to be “disappointed” (Hebrew chaphar, to be disgraced), a word that comes from a root meaning “dig,” suggesting a humiliation at the hands of others so deep that the disgraced person desires to bury himself (1 Samuel 28:15 – 20).
Think About It: God answered David’s prayer in Psalm 35:4 insofar as it regarded Saul. Saul’s shame and regret never led to true repentance in the necessary sense that it led to a change of heart and change of behavior. Contrast Saul’s experience with 2 Corinthians 7:9 – 11. Do I experience grief over my own sins? Does that godly grief lead to repentance that leads to salvation?
Prayer: Lord, grant me the grace to go from shame to repentance, and onward to experience Your forgiveness and salvation.
Read: Psalm 35:5 – 6; Psalm 73:18; Isaiah 29:5; Jeremiah 23:12
David’s prayer for God to turn against his enemies reached to the depths in the language of Psalm 35:5 – 6. Chaff is the worthless part of the grain which the wind bears away; thus the image David painted was one of his enemies as worthless, and the wind as being none other than the relentless force of the angel of the Lord. The Hebrew words of verse 5, translated “dark and slippery,” sound even more sinister in Hebrew: chosek va halaq – laq-qoq. David pictured the wicked fleeing in terror down a dark and slippery path with the angel of the Lord in hot pursuit. From such a fate there is no escape. These words call to mind the dreaded fate of the wicked foretold by the Lord in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.” That verse was the text for Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” There could hardly be a starker contrast than that between the Lord’s salvation of the righteous in their time of trouble and the Lord’s pursuit and destruction of the wicked on judgment day.
Think About It: In one of the most vivid images of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Jonathan Edwards said, “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: His wrath towards you burns like fire. . .O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in!” Is Edwards’ emphasis on the wrath of God something 21st century sinners need to hear? Is it a message that is often communicated today? If not, why not? Edwards also said in his famous sermon “. . .all wicked men’s plans and schemes by which they use to escape hell, God contravenes.” Am I willing to face that fact that I must die and come to judgment? How does the judgment of the wicked differ from the judgment of those who have faith in Christ? (Compare 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 with Revelation 20:10 – 15.)
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for assurance of salvation. Please grant me the wisdom to number my days and use my time accordingly.
Read: Psalm 35:7 – 10; Psalm 7:15; Psalm 9:15; Proverbs 26:27; Ecclesiastes 10:8
The harshness of David’s prayer against his enemies was ameliorated by several factors. First, the circumstances which led to the warfare from which David prayed for deliverance were not of his own making. Second, David did not ask for his enemies to be delivered into his own hand in order that he might destroy them; he asked instead for God to act on his behalf, which meant that he left the fate of his enemies in the hands of the Sovereign God. Third, David crowned his request for God’s intervention with a simple quid-pro-quo: that his enemies be ensnared by the very net that they, for no good reason, set out to ensnare him. In making this last request David was only asking God to carry out the law of natural consequences as promised in Scripture. Fourth, what caused David to rejoice greatly was not the destruction of his enemies, but the Lord’s salvation and His gracious deliverance of the poor and oppressed (Psalm 35:9 – 10).
Think About It: When I am in a conflict with someone, can I honestly say the conflict was none of my doing? When someone has hurt me, do I desire to take my own revenge, or do I leave revenge up to God (Romans 12:19)? Will it help me to remember, if someone lays a trap for me, that the one who digs a pit inevitably falls into it?
Prayer: Lord, please grant me the wisdom to leave vengeance up to You, and please be merciful to us miserable sinners.
Read: Psalm 35:11 – 16; Proverbs 17:13; Jeremiah 18:20; John 10:32; Romans 5:6 – 8
The harshness of David’s prayer against his enemies was further ameliorated by the evil that characterized those enemies. At the head of that list of evils was the fact that they were former friends, people to whom David had done good, for whom he had prayed and grieved over when they were sick. These people, for whom he had cared, rejoiced at his stumbling and mocked him. Psalm 35:12 summed it up: “They repay me evil for good.” David described succinctly how this made him feel: “My soul is bereft.” The Hebrew word translated “bereft” is shekol and refers to the bereavement felt at the loss of a child.
Think About It: Have I ever been betrayed or neglected by those to whom I showed faithfulness and loyalty? Can I relate to how David felt? Does God understand how I feel when I find myself betrayed, despised, and rejected by those I love (Isaiah 53:3)? Have I been loyal and faithful to my friends? Am I loyal and faithful to Jesus?
Prayer: Jesus, thank You for being my first, last, and best friend.
Read: Psalm 35:17 – 28
The last twelve verses of David’s prayer for God’s help against his enemies reiterate his request for help, enumerate more of the evil characteristics of his enemies, and conclude with a call for praise for God’s delight in the welfare of His servants. David’s prayer in Psalm 35 plunges into the darkest depths, but characteristically of David’s psalms, also rises up to the heights of praise. This psalm contains a very graphic portrait of the worst kind of enemy, serving as a warning of what kind of person not to be. For example: we should never return evil for good; we should never rejoice at someone else’s suffering; we must never lay a trap for someone else; we should never slander or maliciously accuse anyone falsely.
Think About It: Psalm 35 can also be read as a kind of case study of the kind of person I ought to be. What are some godly characteristics suggested and encouraged by Psalm 35?