Faithlife Sermons

Psalm 35: A Prayer for Rescue

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
· 2 views
Notes & Transcripts
Sermon Tone Analysis
A
D
F
J
S
Emotion
A
C
T
Language
O
C
E
A
E
Social
View more →

Prayer Requests and Praise Reports
Intro:
While falls generally into the category of psalms known as prayers for deliverance, it is also what we would call an imprecatory psalm. An imprecation is a spoken curse; the author (usually David) curses his enemies. There are at least nine of these imprecatory psalms in the Psalter, most of them written by David.
The voice of the psalm is singular, sparking speculation that the narrator is intended to be the king responding to some national crisis. While the identification is not certain, there are moments throughout the psalm in which the perspective is broadened to include the worshiping community (35:18, 27).
A series of direct quotations characterizes the poem, placed in the mouths of various parties, including God (35:3), the psalmist (35:10), the enemy (35:21, 25), and the worshiping community (35:27). This allows the psalmist to reveal the inner reflections of the protagonists to the reader and probes deeper than the surface description of observable action and reaction.
It begins with a plea for divine action and deliverance that employs phrases familiar to both legal (ryb [“present a lawsuit”; niv “contend”]) and military (lḥm [“engage in battle”; niv “fight”]) conflict (35:1–3).
Craigie suggests dividing the text into three major sections (35:1–10, 11–18, 19–28), which, with some refinement below, offers a helpful understanding of the movement of the psalm. It begins with a plea for divine action and deliverance that employs phrases familiar to both legal (ryb [“present a lawsuit”; niv “contend”]) and military (lḥm [“engage in battle”; niv “fight”]) conflict (35:1–3). The psalm then describes enemy attacks in terms of military battle (35:4–8), using the second of the two images introduced in the opening plea. Craigie’s first section concludes with a personal response and promise of praise (35:9–10).
The psalm then describes enemy attacks in terms of military battle (35:4–8), using the second of the two images introduced in the opening plea.
The idea of legal conflict dominates the next section, describing “ruthless witnesses” who maliciously attack the psalmist (35:11–16).
The final section is punctuated with the term translated by the niv as “gloat over me” (35:19, 24, 26). This section describes the arrogant twisting of the truth by the psalmist’s enemies, who assume they have gained the upper hand over him (35:19–27). This unit is, in my opinion, directed more generally to cover both the military and legal opponents described in the previous sections. Like the preceding sections, this one concludes with a personal plea for deliverance (35:22–25) and a promise to praise (35:28). In this case, plea and promise are separated by an extended request for retribution to fall on the psalmist’s enemies (35:26–27).
PtW-
In an imprecatory psalm the author (usually David) curses his enemies. There are at least nine of these imprecatory psalms in the Psalter, most of them written by David.
Johnston, J. A. (2015). Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King— to 41. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 357). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Christians sometimes have trouble with these psalms because they seem to go against Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (). On the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” ().
Wilson, G. H. (2002). Psalms (Vol. 1, pp. 578–579). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
sounds like just the opposite. “Let them be like chaff before the wind … Let their way be dark … Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it” (35:5, 6, 8). To make it even more puzzling, David praises God as he curses his enemies! The three main sections of each end with a word of praise (35:10, 18, 27–28).
Three Points of Discussion:
P1. Prayer in Uncalled-for Danger (v. 1-10)
P2. Prayer in Undeserved Danger (v. 11-18)
P3. Prayer in Malicious Danger (v. 19-28)
P1. Prayer in Uncalled-for Danger (v. 1-10)
Christians sometimes have trouble with these psalms because they seem to go against Jesus’ teaching. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (). On the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” ().
sounds like just the opposite. “Let them be like chaff before the wind … Let their way be dark … Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it” (35:5, 6, 8). To make it even more puzzling, David praises God as he curses his enemies! The three main sections of each end with a word of praise (35:10, 18, 27–28).
sounds like just the opposite. “Let them be like chaff before the wind … Let their way be dark … Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it” (35:5, 6, 8). To make it even more puzzling, David praises God as he curses his enemies! The three main sections of each end with a word of praise (35:10, 18, 27–28).
The voice of the psalm is singular, sparking speculation that the narrator is intended to be the king responding to some national crisis. While the identification is not certain, there are moments throughout the psalm in which the perspective is broadened to include the worshiping community (35:18, 27).
It begins with a plea for divine action and deliverance that employs phrases familiar to both legal (re-shyoo-bet) [“present a lawsuit”; niv “contend”]) and military (lḥm [“engage in battle”; niv “fight”]) conflict (35:1–3).
It begins with a plea for divine action and deliverance that employs phrases familiar to both legal (ryb [“present a lawsuit”; niv “contend”]) and military (lḥm [“engage in battle”; niv “fight”]) conflict (35:1–3).
The psalm then describes enemy attacks in terms of military battle (35:4–8), using the second of the two images introduced in the opening plea.
The psalm then describes enemy attacks in terms of military battle (35:4–8), using the second of the two images introduced in the opening plea.
The idea of legal conflict dominates the next section, describing “ruthless witnesses” who maliciously attack the psalmist (35:11–16).
‘,,,llllllllllllllllllll
The idea of legal conflict dominates the next section, describing “ruthless witnesses” who maliciously attack the psalmist (35:11–16).
PtW-
sounds like just the opposite. “Let them be like chaff before the wind … Let their way be dark … Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it” (35:5, 6, 8). To make it even more puzzling, David praises God as he curses his enemies! The three main sections of each end with a word of praise (35:10, 18, 27–28).
The Battle
In the first section David calls on God to fight for him. His prayer is in verses 4–6.
Let them be put to shame and dishonor
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away!
Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them!
David’s enemies were trying to kill him even though he was God’s anointed king—“[they] seek … my life,” he says (v. 4).
David calls down four curses or imprecations on them that represent complete defeat.
“ashamed”
“dishonored”
"turned back”
"humiliated”
These represent defeat in battle. If an army is “turned back,” it does not achieve its objective.
And as they retreat, David also asks God to chase them as an avenging angel. David mentions “the angel of the Lord” in the previous psalm () and again twice in these verses. It’s worth noticing that these are the only references to “the angel of the Lord” in all the psalms. Who is this “angel of the Lord”? He appears at various times in the Old Testament as the special protector of God’s people. We should not think of “the angel of the Lord” as an ordinary angel, though, because at various times “the angel of the Lord” seems to be God himself.
And as they retreat, David also asks God to chase them as an avenging angel. David mentions “the angel of the Lord” in the previous psalm () and again twice in these verses. It’s worth noticing that these are the only references to “the angel of the Lord” in all the psalms.
Who is this “angel of the Lord”? He appears at various times in the Old Testament as the special protector of God’s people. We should not think of “the angel of the Lord” as an ordinary angel, though, because at various times “the angel of the Lord” seems to be God himself.
For instance, when Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, he described the God of his fathers as “the angel who has redeemed me from all evil” (, ). When Israel crossed the Red Sea, Moses said that the Lord was in the cloud and then said it was “the angel of God” (; ). There are a number of references like this that lead many Bible teachers to think “the angel of the Lord” is Jesus Christ, the second member of the Trinity, appearing and working before his incarnation. If this is true, and I think it is, then David calls on Christ to curse his enemies and drive them like chaff into darkness. And in fact the same Jesus who is our Shepherd and Savior is also the Messiah of who breaks his enemies with a rod of iron.
David claims his innocence in verse 7 and again calls down three more curses on his enemy in verse 8. These curses do not embarrass him in the least. In fact he promises to praise God when God carries out this judgment, v. 9-10
Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord,
exulting in his salvation.
All my bones shall say,
“O Lord, who is like you,
If you have a rose-tinted, Pollyanna view of God—maybe like a nice, white-haired grandfather in Heaven—you will be shocked to hear David praise God for sending destruction.
delivering the poor
from him who is too strong for him,
But this is not indiscriminate anger—the people God destroys were robbing the poor. David was the king; he was responsible for the safety of all his people. These enemies were trying to kill him and were terrorizing villages. Do we want them to stop their attacks? Of course. But if they will not stop and they continue their violence, there comes a point when we will praise God for laying them low.
the poor and needy from him who robs him?” (35:9, 10)
If you have a rose-tinted, Pollyanna view of God—maybe like a nice, white-haired grandfather in Heaven—you will be shocked to hear David praise God for sending destruction. But this is not indiscriminate anger—the people God destroys were robbing the poor. David was the king; he was responsible for the safety of all his people. These enemies were trying to kill him and were terrorizing villages. Do we want them to stop their attacks? Of course. But if they will not stop and they continue their violence, there comes a point when we will praise God for laying them low.
When David says he rejoices in God’s judgment on these enemies, it doesn’t say what else he might be feeling. When the police catch a criminal, you might feel sorry for the offender even though you are glad he is off the streets. We can praise God for judging an evil person while we are grieved by the sin that controlled him, dragged him down, and destroyed him. It is possible to rejoice and weep over the same event.
A plea for divine intervention (1–3) is followed by a prayer for retribution (4–6) and the explanation that such behaviour is without cause (7). The retributive theme is repeated in v 8 followed by a promise of exultation in God for his saving power (9, 10). The reference to war and weapons (1, 2) points to the strength of the Lord, which is more than a match for all the strength of the enemy.
Johnston, J. A. (2015). Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King— to 41. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 362–364). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
first section concludes with a personal response and promise of praise (35:9–10).
P2. Prayer in Undeserved Danger (v. 11-18)
David is facing pain and betrayal in . His enemies were people with whom he was once close. He fasted when they were sick, but they paid him back with hatred. They hid nets to trip up his feet, working in the shadows, plotting in secret. They were “malicious witnesses” (35:11) who tried to confuse him with their questions. They gathered like wolves and kicked him when he was down. He thought they were friends, but they turned against him. And since David was God’s king, this was about more than just him.
P3. (v. 17-21)
The Lawsuit
In the second section David returns to the courtroom.
Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask me of things that I do not know. (35:11)
In the courtroom dramas we have watched, we have seen what a good lawyer can do to people on the witness stand. Even if they are honest and innocent, he can trip them up. And if other witnesses have already lied about them on the stand, the lawyer can eat them alive. This seems to be what was happening to David.
According to verses 12–16, it was especially painful because the false witnesses used to be his friends. He fasted and prayed for them when they were sick, but they turned against him when he stumbled. Maybe they were simply using him because he was king. When it seemed like he was losing power, they turned against him to get in good with the new administration. But David knew God would rescue him and promises to praise God when he does.
The long opening section (12–16) in which David laments that he is receiving evil in return for good is followed by a plea for divine intervention (17) and the promise of praise for deliverance (18).
This is the sad heart of the psalm: to find that people who were considered friends are the source of false report, gloat over misfortune and seethe with hatred. In this section the Lord is addressed as the ‘Sovereign One’ (17) with the added question How long? Certainly he is stronger than any foe, but the praying saint must be prepared to submit to the Sovereign’s timetable.
13 When my prayers … ‘And my prayer kept returning to my bosom’, which may imply unanswered prayer but is an unusual way of expressing the idea. If ‘bosom’ is metaphorical for ‘heart’ () then ‘but my prayer kept coming back into mind’, i.e. not-withstanding their treatment of him, he still found himself praying for them (). 16. Ungodly, profane in mind and conduct, abhorrent to God, religiously apostate: here, people acting as if no divine sanctions of conduct existed. They maliciously … Probably (niv mg.) ‘Like ungodly mockers, all around, they gnashed …’ 17 Lord, ‘Sovereign One’. 18 The Lord delights to be thanked (). The promise of praise and thanks unites this psalm (9, 28).
second section is concluded by a personal plea and promise of praise (35:17–18).
P3. Prayer in Malicious Danger (v. 19-28)
The Plot

The Plot

In the final section of Psalm 35, David asks God to vindicate him. His enemies are gloating over his downfall. It is hard enough to go through betrayal, but when people laugh about your pain, it’s even worse.

Let not those rejoice over me

who are wrongfully my foes,

and let not those wink the eye

who hate me without cause. (35:19)

David uses the word “rejoice” in the sense of gloating three times in these last verses (vv. 19, 24, 26). The worst outcome would be for things to turn out well for the bad guys, for the wicked people who are taking advantage of the people who are “quiet in the land” (v. 20).

Would God allow this injustice to stand? No; when God saves his king, all the people will rejoice.

Let 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!”

Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness

and of your praise all the day long. (35:27, 28)

The good people in Israel were loyal to David, and they rejoiced when God rescued him. All Israel knew that God had chosen David, and the prophet Samuel had anointed him to be king. When God saved the king, he brought blessing to the nation. The faithful in the land praised God for his faithfulness to his servant David.

In the same way, as believers we rejoice at God’s faithfulness in saving our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great Son of David, and ultimately this psalm is about him and the opposition he endured. The leaders of Israel were thrilled when they killed him on the cross. They had their heart’s desire. But God raised him from the dead and rescued him. And now Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father, waiting for God to place all his enemies beneath his feet (Psalm 110:1).

Christ’s enemies hate him still today. I wish they would put down their swords, stop their lies, and worship him, but they will not. And so there is nothing left for them but the judgment God has warned us about in both the Old and New Testaments.

David is facing pain and betrayal in . His enemies were people with whom he was once close. He fasted when they were sick, but they paid him back with hatred. They hid nets to trip up his feet, working in the shadows, plotting in secret. They were “malicious witnesses” (35:11) who tried to confuse him with their questions. They gathered like wolves and kicked him when he was down. He thought they were friends, but they turned against him. And since David was God’s king, this was about more than just him.
Like the preceding sections, this one concludes with a personal plea for deliverance (35:22–25) and a promise to praise (35:28). In this case, plea and promise are separated by an extended request for retribution to fall on the psalmist’s enemies (35:26–27).
Johnston, J. A. (2015). Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King— to 41. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 361). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
In the final section of , David asks God to vindicate him. His enemies are gloating over his downfall. It is hard enough to go through betrayal, but when people laugh about your pain, it’s even worse.
Let not those rejoice over me
who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye
who hate me without cause. (35:19)
David uses the word “rejoice” in the sense of gloating three times in these last verses (vv. 19, 24, 26). The worst outcome would be for things to turn out well for the bad guys, for the wicked people who are taking advantage of the people who are “quiet in the land” (v. 20).
Would God allow this injustice to stand? No; when God saves his king, all the people will rejoice. (v. 27-28)
Let 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!”
Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long. (35:27, 28)
The good people in Israel were loyal to David, and they rejoiced when God rescued him. All Israel knew that God had chosen David, and the prophet Samuel had anointed him to be king. When God saved the king, he brought blessing to the nation. The faithful in the land praised God for his faithfulness to his servant David.
In the same way, as believers we rejoice at God’s faithfulness in saving our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the great Son of David, and ultimately this psalm is about him and the opposition he endured. The leaders of Israel were thrilled when they killed him on the cross. They had their heart’s desire. But God raised him from the dead and rescued him. And now Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father, waiting for God to place all his enemies beneath his feet ().
Christ’s enemies hate him still today. I wish they would put down their swords, stop their lies, and worship him, but they will not. And so there is nothing left for them but the judgment God has warned us about in both the Old and New Testaments.
David’s foes are full of gloating and malice (19–21). Will the Lord remain silent (22–24)? If only he will hear the appeal for intervention (24–26) the day will come when David’s real friends with David will magnify the Lord (27–28). The new stress in this section is the righteousness of the Lord (24). Since he is a righteous God he must act for one so sorely tried. 19 Without cause (cf. ). Wink. The mischievous innuendo. 22 You have seen. Note the connection with v 21, we have seen. Whatever they may claim, the Lord knows the rights of the matter. Lord, ‘Sovereign’. In v 17 the title pointed to his control of the timetable; here, his mastery of the foe. 27 David had enemies in plenty but did not forget that he had friends too—a great antidote to the loneliness created by false accusation. And the day will come when they will be foremost in praising God for David’s deliverance.
Johnston, J. A. (2015). Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King— to 41. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 364–365). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Like the preceding sections, this one concludes with a personal plea for deliverance (35:22–25) and a promise to praise (35:28). In this case, plea and promise are separated by an extended request for retribution to fall on the psalmist’s enemies (35:26–27).

Some people write off Psalm 35 and other imprecatory psalms by saying that David was vindictive and out for revenge. They suggest that David asked God to destroy his enemies because he was human and this was a character flaw. If he had been a better man, they say, he would not have prayed this way.

Why this is wrong:
First, it doesn’t square with what we know of David. He wasn’t a bitter, vindictive man. Time and again David spared Saul’s life even though Saul was trying to kill him (; ; cf. ).
Johnston, J. A. (2015). Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King— to 41. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 358). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Second, David never asks to take vengeance himself on his enemies. He asks God to be his avenger. This is important because God is a righteous judge who never condemns the innocent. David is not praying with a bitter spirit—he is asking God for justice. There is a big difference between vindication and vindictiveness.
Second, David never asks to take vengeance himself on his enemies. He asks God to be his avenger. This is important because God is a righteous judge who never condemns the innocent. David is not praying with a bitter spirit—he is asking God for justice. There is a big difference between vindication and vindictiveness.
Third, David was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (). This means that is not just David’s words and personal feelings—these are the very words of God. The bottom line is that we can’t just write off these imprecatory psalms as David’s personal character flaw.
Johnston, J. A. (2015). Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King— to 41. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 358). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
The Right Perspective
Johnston, J. A. (2015). Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King— to 41. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 358). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
So what should we think? As Christians, what should we make of and other psalms where David calls for judgment on his enemies? Are we supposed to pray this way ourselves?
The most important thing to notice is that David is not a private citizen like you and me. He is the king of Israel. This matters for several reasons.
As the king, he represents something more than himself—he represents peace and stability for the nation through his leadership. If someone were to kill me, it would only affect my family, my friends, and my church. This is a relatively small group of people. But if someone were to kill the President, that would destabilize the whole country. That is why the Secret Service has such an important job. In the same way, the people who plotted against King David threatened the whole country. For the sake of the nation, he could not ignore someone who wanted to overthrow the government.
His enemies were also hurting innocent people. David mentions that “the poor and needy” were being robbed (35:10) and the quiet people of the land were suffering (35:20). It’s one thing for you and me to forgive someone who hurts us—this is what Jesus meant when he said in essence, “turn the other cheek.” But if you are the king, you can’t turn the other cheek when your people are attacked. God has placed kings in authority to maintain order in society (, ). King David was responsible to provide law and justice, peace and security for the citizens of his kingdom—he could not turn a blind eye to evil. “A policeman, judge, governor, or president must deal with the violent differently from how you and I might deal with them.”
As the king of Israel, David had also been chosen by God to be his servant. The prophet Samuel had anointed David; everyone knew that God had chosen him to lead Israel (cf., e.g., , ).
So when someone attacked David, he was actually attacking God and fighting against God’s will. When God rescued David, he would bring glory to his own name. This is why David says in 35:27, “Let 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!’ ” If God did not defend his servant David, then God’s name would be tarnished. So in a profound sense David was motivated by the glory of God.
As a final point to understand the curses in this imprecatory psalm, remember also that David was a prophet and a model for the Messiah, the Son of David. The rejection David experienced points forward to Christ’s rejection.
In fact, Jesus quotes 35:19 to explain why many of the Jews hated him. As he prepared his disciples to face persecution, Jesus said,
Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.… Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: “They hated me without a cause.” (, )
The rejection David experienced in was fulfilled when Jesus was hated and rejected by his own people. The judgment David calls for in this psalm points forward to the judgment that is waiting for everyone who rejects Christ. God is patient and opens his arms to welcome sinners. But there comes a point when he condemns the enemies of Christ who do not repent.
Johnston, J. A. (2015). Preaching the Word: The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King— to 41. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 359–361). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
Related Media
Related Sermons