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"Vengeance is Mine" Says Who?

Psalms Series  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  59:54
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Introduction:
Anger weakens a man. It usually puts him at a disadvantage. When Sinbad and his sailors landed on one of their tropical islands, they saw high up in the trees coconuts which could quench their thirst and satisfy their hunger. The coconuts were far above the reach of Sinbad and the sailors, but in the branches of the trees were these chattering apes. Sinbad and his men began to throw stones and sticks up at the apes. This enraged the monkeys and they began to seize the coconuts and hurl them down at the men on the ground. That was just what Sinbad and his men wanted. They got the apes so angry that the apes gathered their food for them. That is a good illustration of how by indulgence in anger we play into the hands of our foes—we can act like apes.
The Bible speaks about anger, and generally speaking, to types: unrighteous anger & righteous anger. This morning, we will see both types of anger.
We learn from reading the Psalms that God is not detached from your affairs as though He saved you and then left you to fend on your own.
Here, as we continue our expository journey through the Psalms, David is seeking the Lord’s intervention in his life because of those who are making it difficult for Him
Transition:
Psalm 35, the first of the imprecatory psalms, deals with the issue of divine justice in a bare-bones way. The imprecatory psalms (“curses”) are prayers that God will requite the evil deeds of the psalmists’ enemies. They include Psalms 35; 55; 59; 69; 79; 83; 109; and 137. The three that most honestly earn this title are Psalms 35; 69; and 109
This psalm is indeed one of the top three psalms designated as the “greatest imprecatory psalms” and as we read through it this morning, you’ll quickly discover why.
In one sense, it is an individual lament, but in its total effect, it is more a prayer for deliverance. Psalm 35, then, is a prayer that God will deal out justice to those who, without cause, have dealt injustice to the psalmist, King David.
Scripture Reading: Psalm 35 (we’ll just read to verse 18)
Psalm 35:1–18 LEB
1 Contend, O Yahweh, with my contenders; fight those who fight me. 2 Grasp buckler and shield and rise to my aid. 3 And draw the spear and javelin to meet those who pursue me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” 4 Let those who seek my life be shamed and humiliated. Let those who plot calamity against me be repulsed and ashamed. 5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of Yahweh driving them. 6 Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of Yahweh pursuing them. 7 For without cause they secretly hide the pit with their net for me; without cause they dug it for my life. 8 Let unforeseen ruin come on him, and his net that he hid, let it catch him. Let him fall into it in ruin. 9 Then my soul will rejoice in Yahweh; it will rejoice in his salvation. 10 All of my bones shall say, “O Yahweh, who is like you, who delivers the poor from one stronger than he and the poor and needy from the one who robs him?” 11 Violent witnesses rise up; they ask me concerning what I do not know. 12 They repay me evil in place of good. It is bereavement to my soul. 13 But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. I weakened my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned to me unanswered. 14 I behaved as though he were a friend or as a brother to me. As one lamenting a mother, I was bowed down in mourning. 15 But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered together; smiters whom I did not know gathered against me. They tore and did not cease. 16 Among the ungodly of the mockers at feasts, they gnashed at me with their teeth. 17 My Lord, how long will you watch? Restore my life from their ravages, my only life from the young lions. 18 I will give thanks to you in the great assembly; among the mighty people I will praise you.
You can see that this is perhaps a “psalms of anger” or “psalms of wrath” would be better.
The bold metaphors of the Psalms are sometimes shocking, such as that of vv.2–3. King David prays that God will take up the weapons of battle and use them against his enemies. It is essentially a challenge for YHWH to equip himself for battle. While this is more a metaphor than a virtual description of YHWH’s battle worthiness, its bold effect is nevertheless notable, and for some, it is disturbing. It is similar to the metaphor of Yahweh’s actions in Psalm 3:7:
Psalm 3:7 LEB
Rise up, O Yahweh; deliver me, O my God; for you strike all my enemies on the cheek. The teeth of the wicked you break.
you strike all my enemies on the cheek. The teeth of the wicked you break.”
The biggest problem of this psalm (as with the other imprecatory Psalms) for Christians and Jews alike is how to reconcile their vengeful nature against the commandment to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself & as Levitical law has commanded:
[[Lev. 19:18)]
Leviticus 19:18 LEB
You shall not seek vengeance, and you shall not harbor a grudge against your fellow citizens; and you shall love your neighbor like yourself; I am Yahweh.
Christians face a challenge beyond that, which is how to obey Jesus’s instruction to “Love your enemies” : [(Matt. 5:44)]
Matthew 5:44 LEB
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
How can that command be lived out if the spirit of these psalms is allowed to stand as an authentic piece of biblical ethics? In other words, is it ever right before our God to pray for cursings and for the demise of our enemies?
Transition:
While trying to understand these perplexing poems and their caustic prayers for vengeance on the psalmists’ enemies, we should not at the same time forget that divine judgment is a reality that both the Old and New Testaments take seriously. C. S. Lewis has pointed out that these psalms can remind us that there is still a place in Christian piety for a sense of righteous indignation.
Lewis, Reflections, 30.
As we progress through this Psalm, I want to show you how even in the imprecatory Psalms, we can find praise woven throughout it.

I. The PETITION & Praise (vv.1-10)

David starts off calling on his personal LORD to take up the fight.
Psalm 35:1 LEB
Contend, O Yahweh, with my contenders; fight those who fight me.
That’s always the wisest thing to do… think about it! Maybe we don’t know always what words to say, but simply calling upon the Lord should always be the very first thing we do.
In Jude, even Michael the archangel didn’t contend with satan without invoking God:
Jude 9 LEB
But Michael the archangel, when he argued with the devil, disputing concerning the body of Moses, did not dare to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
It’s always wise to keep the Lord between you and the devil.
Continuing on, David has a demand for YHWH:
Psalm 35:2 LEB
Grasp buckler and shield and rise to my aid.
Okay, sounds good...
Psalm 35:3 LEB
And draw the spear and javelin to meet those who pursue me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”
draw the spear and javelin
WOW! This is getting angry! This might be an allusion to when King Saul was attacking David by throwing spears at him.
Spears were hurled at David by Saul when David was in his court playing the harp. So too, even if our enemy isn’t literally throwing spears at us, they attack us with the weapons of words and manipulation—pointing out where we have missed the mark, seeking to pin us to the wall with accusations. But, in addition to the spear of Saul and the spear of Satan, there is the spear of our Savior that He absorbed in His side when He hung on the Cross and died for our sin—none of this is beyond Jesus.
While this picture of YHWH as a violent opponent may sit negatively to our sensitivities, we should remember that it is a measured reaction against his enemies’ violence.
Is this righteous anger?
Our first strong hint of righteous anger comes here with the qualifier:
Psalm 35:3 LEB
And draw the spear and javelin to meet those who pursue me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”
I am your salvation.”
He’s concerned about God’s view of him
Psalm 35:4 LEB
Let those who seek my life be shamed and humiliated. Let those who plot calamity against me be repulsed and ashamed.
In other words, David is saying: “Turn the tables on my enemies, Lord. Cause them to be confused” -- And that’s exactly what we see the Lord do for us. When Satan and his demons launch their attacks against us, we can turn the tables because of the Lord’s victory.
As David fled from Saul, he was joined by a group of faithful renegades. And as these men spent time with David, they became more and more like him. In 2 Samuel 23, we see the story of one of them…
2 Samuel 23:20–22 LEB
20 Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of Ish-Hai, was a great man of deeds from Kabzeel. He struck down two sons of Ariel of Moab, and he went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day. 21 He also killed a good-looking Egyptian man, in whose hand was a spear. He went down against him with the staff and snatched the spear from the hand of the Egyptian and killed him with his spear. 22 These things Benaiah the son of Jehoiada did and gained a name for himself among the three mighty warriors.
After facing down lion-like men and a lion itself, Benaiah slew an Egyptian with the Egyptian’s own spear.
Sometimes people say, “I feel attacked by my own flesh, by the enemy himself, and by the world system all around me. What do I do?”
The best thing to do is what Benaiah did. That is, go on the offensive. Take the weapons of the enemy—the accusations Satan hurls at you—and say, “You’re right. In fact, I’m even worse than you say I am. But Jesus has paid the price for my sin . I’m forgiven and I love Him all the more for it.”
Jesus said that the one who is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). Therefore, turn the tables on the enemy. When he attacks you, celebrate what God has done on your behalf and interceded for your brothers and sisters in order that they will have victory over the very area with which we struggle-- Use Satan’s own spear against him and watch him flee.
Psalm 35:5–7 LEB
5 Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of Yahweh driving them. 6 Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of Yahweh pursuing them. 7 For without cause they secretly hide the pit with their net for me; without cause they dug it for my life.
Ephesians 6 tells us we wrestle not against flesh and blood. Therefore, we are to realize that, like David, we are to fervently and constantly do battle—not against people but against spiritual principalities and powers through prayer.
Psalm 35:8 LEB
Let unforeseen ruin come on him, and his net that he hid, let it catch him. Let him fall into it in ruin.
King Saul laid traps for David. Satan lays traps for us. He has traps and snares and wants to see us brought down. But David says his soul shall be joyful when the enemy himself is destroyed.
Psalm 35:9 LEB
Then my soul will rejoice in Yahweh; it will rejoice in his salvation.
Here is where the Praise first starts! There will be a day coming very soon here when Satan will be bound for one thousand years—during which time peace and prosperity will fill this planet as Jesus reigns during the Millennium (Revelation 20).
Psalm 35:10 LEB
All of my bones shall say, “O Yahweh, who is like you, who delivers the poor from one stronger than he and the poor and needy from the one who robs him?”
But this here is King Saul! One of God’s anointed attacking David, a man after God’s own heart! Is your son or daughter breaking your heart? Is your neighbor causing you problems? Is a “friend” mistreating you? Don’t be so quick to come down on the person, but see the power that is manipulating that person and go to war in prayer against that power.
After Peter made his great confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus said, “Blessed are thou, Peter, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this to you, but my Father which is in heaven.” Then Jesus went on to talk about going to Jerusalem, where He would be crucified and rise three days later.
“Not so,” Peter said. “Be it far from Thee.”
And what did Jesus say? He said, “Get thee behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:16–23).
I don’t believe Jesus was calling Peter Satan. Rather, I think Jesus was talking directly to Satan, recognizing that it was Satan who was manipulating and deceiving Peter. So too, we need to see people who are cantankerous, bitter, small-minded, and mean-spirited as people who themselves have been victimized by the enemy. The enemy is the enemy, not the person. Anytime I’m fighting against flesh and blood, I’m fighting the wrong battle. Our battle is not with people. It’s with Satan.
Not all people are vicious, they can be victims too. And when you see this, you can love even your enemy as Jesus commanded us to do (Luke 6:28).
Luke 6:28 LEB
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

I. The PETITION & Praise (vv.1-10)

Transition:
He now moves from his prayer request to details of what he was suffering through

II. The PERSECUTION & Praise (vv.11-18)

Even as David cried for deliverance, he still found praise to God.
Psalm 35:11 LEB
Violent witnesses rise up; they ask me concerning what I do not know.
“Violent witnesses”
This is serious! Those who accuse David of blood-violence, are accusing him of a crime deserving death.
In David’s case, this is those who were bearing false witness.
Bearing false witness is not only telling big lies. It can also include giving the right information but with the wrong implication. This happens to us today (especially on the political scene) and it happened to Jesus: [[Mark 14:58]]
Mark 14:58 LEB
“We heard him saying, ‘I will destroy this temple made by hands, and within three days I will build another not made by hands.”
While Jesus did indeed say those words, He wasn’t talking about the physical temple, but rather the temple of His own body that would be resurrected after three days
Satan is a false witness because, even though we have committed the sins of which he accuses us, he fails to acknowledge that they are forgiven through the work of Calvary.
Back to our passage:
Psalm 35:12 LEB
They repay me evil in place of good. It is bereavement to my soul.
The innocence of King David is obvious in his reminder, “They repay me evil for good”, while he has done the opposite:
Psalm 35:13–14 LEB
13 But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. I weakened my soul with fasting, and my prayer returned to me unanswered. 14 I behaved as though he were a friend or as a brother to me. As one lamenting a mother, I was bowed down in mourning.
This moral code belongs in the same category as “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18); and certainly David has exceeds the “eye for an eye” principle by miles and institutes an ethic of love, very close to what Jesus himself has taught. To be sure, it is unnatural for us, because by our sinful nature we tend to return others’ behavior in kind. Yet this position only breeds further resentment and violence. The Old Testament ethic extends upward from retaliation, to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart” and “your neighbor as yourself”. David’s demeanor illustrates the upper range.
This Psalm is, then, not so much a case of wishing your enemy ill as it is a desire for righteousness and justice to prevail with all its necessary consequences
Psalm 35:15–17 LEB
15 But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered together; smiters whom I did not know gathered against me. They tore and did not cease. 16 Among the ungodly of the mockers at feasts, they gnashed at me with their teeth. 17 My Lord, how long will you watch? Restore my life from their ravages, my only life from the young lions.
All too often, I’m afraid we’re eager to publish our problems, talk about our trials, and call attention to our burdens. But when the answers come, we’re not as eager to voice the victory. David is eager and now moves to praise:
Psalm 35:18 LEB
I will give thanks to you in the great assembly; among the mighty people I will praise you.
In other words, “I will speak God’s praise in the great congregation that others might grow strong in their faith, that the Father might be pleased with my testimony of praise,” David seemed to say. I fear most believers never do this. In other words, when God delivers and blesses, hardly anyone ever publically acknowledges it. It reminds me Luke 17. When ten lepers cried, “Have mercy upon me,” Jesus healed all ten. But only one came back to thank and worship the Lord. Only one out of ten made the effort, expended the energy, and publicly acknowledged that Jesus had done something wonderful (Luke 17).

II. The PERSECUTION & Praise (vv.11-18)

Transition:
We now have David’s request & his details of suffering mixed with praise, he moves on to the subject of gloating:

III. The Gloating & Praise (vv.19-28)

Again, David insists on his innocence before God.
Psalm 35:19–21 LEB
19 Let not those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me. Nor let those who hate me without cause wink the eye. 20 For they do not speak peace, but against the quiet ones of the land they plan deceitful words. 21 They also made wide their mouths against me. They said, “Aha! Aha! Our eyes have seen it.”
Even back then, to “wink the eye” was a metaphor that suggests insidious intentions
“Aha! I saw that!” the enemy says as he accuses us day and night.
Psalm 35:22–24 LEB
You have seen, O Yahweh. Do not be deaf. O Lord, do not be far from me. Wake up and rouse yourself for my right, for my cause, O my God and my Lord. Vindicate me according to your righteousness, O Yahweh my God, and do not let them rejoice over me.
Vindicate me according to your righteousness
“Judge me, LORD, not according to my righteousness but according to Thine,” David prays. As believers, we are the righteousness of God. Why? Because He who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). And now we’re robed in His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). Oh, such grace!
Psalm 35:25–26 LEB
Do not let them say in their hearts, “Aha, our desire.” Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.” Let them be shamed and abashed altogether, who rejoice at my misfortune. Let them put on shame and insult, who magnify themselves against me.
Let them put on shame and insult
Let those that bring condemnation—in our case, Satan and his demons—be put away.
Psalm 35:27 LEB
Let them shout for joy and be glad, who delight in my vindication; and let them say continually, “Yahweh is great, who delights in the welfare of his servant.”
When does our tongue speak of God’s righteousness? It will surely happen in heaven. But Jesus said we are to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Psalm 35:28 LEB
Then my tongue will proclaim your righteousness, and your praise all day.
So if that’s happening in heaven, may it also happen in our hearts and homes even today.

So What?

To pronounce or pray curses against anybody ought to arouse a resistance inside us, mainly because Jesus has said that we should pray for our enemies, even love them (Matt. 5:43–48). But if God does not deal appropriately with injustice, how can we view him as a just God? Some retributive aspect is necessary for a balanced view of justice. The modern Western world is correct to insist on an appropriate measurement of punitive justice, but a total elimination of that aspect would make the system essentially “unjust.” By the same analogy, we cannot eliminate the punitive aspect from the biblical profile of God and still maintain the profile of a just God.
Loving our enemies elicits a certain kind of resistance as well, since that is so contrary to our sinful nature. How can we possibly love our enemies! While Jesus interprets the curses of the psalms (Pss. 35:19; 69:4) to have been fulfilled in his own suffering [[John 15:25]]
John 15:25 LEB
But this happened so that the word that is written in their law would be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without a reason.’
Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus use an imprecation against his enemies. He both prescribes and practices a new standard of behavior toward one’s enemies, best expressed by his words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” [[Luke 23:34]].
Luke 23:34 LEB
But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothes.
We should make a distinction between interpersonal relationships, on the one hand (in which we are to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, etc.), and on the other, the behavior of those responsible for carrying out justice in society. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is talking about how we should live as kingdom people, not about how society should function or how governing officials should deal with crime. Certainly the government officials are not to turn the other cheek and let crime go unchecked. When God is carrying out justice, His interpersonal relationships are not the focus.
The first principle of justice that this psalm presents is that evil people may be ensnared by their own machinations (35:7–8). Then the second principle of justice is that YHWH may initiate punitive action. In fact—and this is of great significance—the writers of the imprecatory psalms never take vengeance into their own hands but leave it in God’s (“Vengeance is mine …”; see Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). God is the ultimate administer of punishment in order to establish His justice—it is significant, and it provides a perspective that helps us understand why these particular psalms are included in the Psalter.
In Conclusion:
The most righteous men and the most righteous causes may expect to meet with many mighty and malicious enemies. The safest place to leave a righteous cause is with the righteous God who is able to give judgment upon it in the right way and at the right time. Here, David was a type of Christ to whom the wicked world was most ungrateful (Jn. 10:32) and who was slandered as no one else ever was (Matt. 26:60). If we, as Christ followers, are falsely charged also, let us remember that they also persecuted the great prophets and even our Lord, Himself. If God is our friend, it does not matter who are our enemies.
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