October 15, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 35 (NIV)
1 Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me.
2 Take up shield and armor;
arise and come to my aid.
3 Brandish spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
“I am your salvation.”
4 May those who seek my life
be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
be turned back in dismay.
5 May they be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
6 may their path be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
17 How long, Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.
18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
among the throngs I will praise you.
19 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.
20 They do not speak peaceably,
but devise false accusations
against those who live quietly in the land.
21 They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha!
With our own eyes we have seen it.”
26 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.
27 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.”
28 My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
your praises all day long.
This is a prayer of desperation in the face of the unyielding assaults of the enemy. One of the first lessons we learn when reading the Psalms, is that they were written for those engaged in conflict, not for the non-combatant. The Psalms cannot imagine a world where the people of God do not see themselves engaged in conflict. We have already observed that 125 of the 150 Psalms make reference to enemies or the wicked who stand in opposition to those seeking to walk in righteousness. This psalm, in particular, uses very graphic language to describe the onslaught of the wicked. They “fight against me” (vs 1). They “seek my life” (vs. 4). They “hid their net” and “dug a pit” for me (vs. 7). They put forth a false narrative or a false witness against me (vs. 11) and they “maliciously mocked me” (vs. 16) and “falsely accuse me” (vs. 20). They “repay me evil for good” (vs. 12). They rejoiced when I stumbled (vs. 15, 26) and “slandered me without ceasing” (vs. 15). The psalmist (in this psalm, King David) feels free to express the depth of his anguish directly to God and seek his vindication. This psalm encourages a vibrant and honest prayer life which clearly and forthrightly sets forth before God our circumstances, however dire.
It is interesting to note the two ways the psalmist anticipates God’s answer to this prayer of desperation. The first is that God himself would take action and do something. For example, verse 17 says “O Lord, how long will you look on? Rescue my life from their ravages…”. Verse 23 says, “Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord!” These prayers are asking for a decisive resolution whereby his foes are overturned by the power and might of God’s sovereign intervention. Sometimes this happens and we should rejoice when it does.
However, the psalmist also understands that sometimes it is only over a painfully long period of time that God renders his judgment against the wicked, by allowing the seeds of their own deceit and wickedness to take root and be revealed for what they are. In this psalm, David uses a very popular image that is found over a dozen times in the psalms. He prays that the wicked will themselves fall into the pit they have dug for him. Alternatively, may they be trapped in the very net they have spread to trap me. The psalmist says, “they hid their net for me without cause…and dug a pit for me” (vs. 7). “May the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit to their own ruin” (vs. 8). This is a common theme in the Psalms written by David that serves to remind us of the two ways God judges those who oppose him. The first, and the one we think of most, is the direct judgement of God against someone. However, the second way, which is highlighted here, is God allowing the natural course of events to play out, which ends up becoming an act of self-judgment. The seeds of evil grow up and entrap the very one who planted those seeds. (The prayer that the wicked will be trapped by their own schemes, and fall into the very pit they dug for others can be found in Psalm 5:10; 7:15,16; 9:15,16; 35;7,8; 37:15; 54:5; 57:6; 59:12; 64:8; 140:9; 141:10).
As Christians we understand that, in the end, those who have put their faith in Christ will be vindicated. We will be victorious. Jesus faced the full brunt of opposition and quoted this psalm and applied it to himself when he said, “they hated me without reason” (John 15:25, quoting Psalm 35:19). Yet, Jesus secured our ultimate victory. What we do not know is how this victory will unfold in our own experience in the world. God deals with the wicked in his own way, and in His own time. Some of us may live to see the overthrow of the forces arrayed against us. Others of us may have to wait for generations and, indeed, may never see in this life, the public overthrow of the wicked. However, in either case we must learn to trust in the Lord!