Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Relentless enemies are seeking the Psalmist’s life. Their hostility is groundless, and its maliciousness is aggravated by their ingratitude. He appeals to Jehovah to do him justice and deliver him.
Each of these points is strikingly illustrated by the narrative of David’s persecution by Saul.
(1) Saul was seeking David’s life. With Psalm 35:4; Psalm 35:7, cp. 1 Samuel 20:1; 1 Samuel 23:15; 1 Samuel 24:11; 1 Samuel 25:29.
(2) Saul’s enmity had been fomented by the malicious slanders of courtiers who were jealous of David; men with whom no doubt he had been on friendly terms at the court. Again and again he protests his innocence of the charges of disloyalty brought against him. With Psalm 35:7; Psalm 35:11 ff., Psalm 35:19, cp. 1 Samuel 19:5; 1 Samuel 20:1; 1 Samuel 24:9; 1 Samuel 24:11; 1 Samuel 26:18-19; and Saul’s confession of ingratitude, 1 Samuel 24:17 ff.
(3) With the appeal to God as the judge, Psalm 35:1; Psalm 35:23-24, cp. 1 Samuel 24:12; 1 Samuel 24:15.
But it is not against Saul himself that the Psalm (if it is David’s) is directed, but against the men who fomented Saul’s insane jealousy. Envious of David’s sudden rise, they left no means untried to bring about his fall. Comp. Introd. to Psalms 7.
Attention has however been called to the points of contact with Jeremiah, and the Psalm has been attributed to him by some commentators. Thus Psalm 35:6 finds a parallel in Jeremiah 23:12; Psalm 35:12 in Jeremiah 18:20; Jeremiah 18:22; Jeremiah 18:21 b, Jer 18:25 in Lamentations 2:16; &c. But it may well be questioned whether Jeremiah is not merely borrowing the language of the Psalm; and it should be noted that the military figures of Psalm 35:1-3, which would not be natural for him, find no parallel in his book.
The Psalm falls into three divisions, each ending with a vow of thanksgiving.
i. Psalm 35:1-10. Appeal to Jehovah to arm himself as the Psalmist’s champion (Psalm 35:1-3): prayer for the repulse and rout of his enemies (Psalm 35:4-6), and for the recoil of their groundless hostility upon themselves (Psalm 35:7-8); with a concluding vow of thanksgiving (Psalm 35:9-10).
ii. Psalm 35:11-18. The base ingratitude of his persecutors. They accuse him falsely, and return evil for good (Psalm 35:11-12); for while in their trouble he shewed the most friendly sympathy (13, 14), they requite him with slander and hatred (Psalm 35:15-16). Prayer for deliverance and vow of thanksgiving (Psalm 35:17-18).
iii. Psalm 35:19-28. Renewed prayer that Jehovah will not allow such malignant and spiteful foes to triumph but will do him justice; that he and all who hold with him may rejoice in the manifestation of Jehovah’s favour.
The points of contact with Psalms 7; Psalms 22; Psalms 38-40; Psalms 69; should be noticed.
On prayer for the destruction of enemies, see Introd. p. lxxxviii ff.
A Psalm of David. Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.1. Plead my cause] There is as it were a suit between him and his enemies. He appeals to Jehovah the Judge to do him justice (cp. Psalm 35:23-24). But the court in which the cause is to be tried is the field of battle; and therefore (dropping the figure of a suit) he calls on Jehovah to arm on his behalf. So in Psalm 9:4 victory is regarded as a judicial decision. Cp. 1 Samuel 24:15; 1 Samuel 25:39. The renderings strive with them that strive with me (R.V.); or, (as Isaiah 49:25), contend with them that contend with me, obscure this point, and miss the connexion with Psalm 35:23. Plead my cause with them that implead me (Cheyne) represents the original better.
1–3. Appeal to Jehovah to arm himself as the Psalmist’s champion.
Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.2, 3. ‘Anthropomorphic’ language of remarkable boldness, expanding the idea of Jehovah as “a man of war” (Exodus 15:3 : cp. Deuteronomy 32:41 f.).
shield and buckler] See note on Psalm 5:12. The mention of both together is part of the poetical picture.
stand up for mine help] Rather, Arise as my help. Arise (see notes on Psalm 3:7; Psalm 7:6) in the character and capacity of my helper (Psalm 27:9).
Draw out] From the armoury, or more probably from the spear-holder in which it was kept when not in use (Gr. δουροδόκη, Hom. Od. i. 128). The word is used of drawing a sword from its sheath (Exodus 15:9).
stop the way] All the ancient versions render the word s’gor as an imperative; and this gives a good sense. First the enemy are checked in their pursuit; then (Psalm 35:4 ff.) put to flight. But an ellipse of the way is harsh; the verb shut is not so used elsewhere; and the preposition against seems to imply attack. Hence many modem commentators regard the word as the name of a weapon not mentioned elsewhere in the O.T., battle-axe (R.V. marg.) or, dirk (Cheyne); the equivalent of the sagaris mentioned by Greek historians as the characteristic weapon of Persians, Scythians, and other Asiatics.
that persecute me] Rather, that pursue me (R.V.). Cp. 1 Samuel 24:14; &c.
say unto my soul &c.] Give me the comforting assurance of thy interposition for my deliverance. Cp. Psalm 3:2; Psalm 3:8 and notes there. The primary meaning of the words is of course temporal not spiritual.
Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt.4. Ashamed and dishonoured he they that seek my life;
Turned back and confounded be they that devise my hurt.
For that seek my life (or, soul) cp. 1 Samuel 20:1; &c. Let them be disappointed in their aim, repulsed with ignominy in their attack. Cp. Psalm 35:26; Psalm 40:14; Psalm 6:10.
4–6. Prayer for the repulse and rout of his enemies. No doubt the language might be entirely figurative, but it is more naturally explained if a literal fulfilment was at least a possibility.
Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them.5, 6. Let them be as chaff before the wind,
The angel of Jehovah thrusting them down.
Let their way be all dark and slippery,
The angel of Jehovah pursuing them.
A terrible picture of a pell-mell rout. Does it not read like a recollection of some incident in a warrior’s life, perhaps some defeat of the Philistines? Helpless as chaff before the wind (Psalm 1:4, Psalm 83:13) they are driven headlong down a dark and slippery track, where they can neither see nor keep their footing, with the dread Angel smiting them down as they vainly strive to escape. “The tracks down the limestone hills of Palestine are often worn as smooth as marble” (Kay).
Most probably the participles should be transposed. Pursuing suits the image of the storm-driven chaff (Isaiah 17:13); thrusting down (Psalm 36:12; Psalm 118:13; Psalm 140:4) agrees better with the picture of the stumbling fugitives. For the angel of Jehovah see note on Psalm 34:7. Cp. the reminiscence of this passage in Jeremiah 23:12.
Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.
For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.7. The word for pit must be transposed from the first line, where it is superfluous and awkward, to the second line, where it is required. Render
For without cause have they hid a net for me:
Without cause have they dug a pit for my soul (life).
The metaphors from the hunter’s nets and pitfalls express the insidious character of their secret plots. Cp. again Jeremiah 18:20; Jeremiah 18:22.
7, 8. The causelessness of their insidious enmity is the ground for such a prayer. May their schemes recoil on their own heads.
Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.8. Let his mischief recoil upon his own head. Cp. Psalm 7:15; Psalm 9:15; Psalm 57:6; and with the first line cp. Isaiah 47:11. Does the singular individualise each one of the enemies, or particularise one above all the rest, or speak of them collectively in the mass? It is less easy to decide here than in Psalm 7:2.
into that very destruction let him fall] R.V. renders, With destruction let him fall therein, retaining A.V. in the marg. But neither rendering is satisfactory; and it is possible (especially in view of the almost certain textual errors in Psalm 35:5-7) that the original reading was, and his pit that he hath dug, let him fall therein.
And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation.9, 10. Rejoicing for deliverance.
All my bones shall say, LORD, who is like unto thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him, yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him?10. All my bones] The bodily frame feels the thrill of joy as it feels the pain of sorrow. Cp. Psalm 51:8; and see note on Psalm 6:2.
who is like unto thee] Incomparable for power and goodness. Cp. Exodus 15:2; Micah 7:18.
the poor] The afflicted, often coupled with the needy (Psalm 37:14; Psalm 40:17; Psalm 86:1; &c.)
False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not.11. False witnesses] Rather, unrighteous, or, malicious, witnesses rise up; lit., witnesses of violence, as in Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 19:16. Cp. Psalm 27:12 (A.V. cruelty).
they laid to my charge &c.] R.V. they ask of me things that I know not: calling me to account for crimes, of which I have not even any knowledge. Cp. Psalm 69:4. The phraseology is that of a court; not that the Psalmist is to be thought of as actually put upon his trial. David was falsely and maliciously accused of treason and conspiracy against the king’s life (1 Samuel 24:9). Cp. Matthew 26:59 ff.
11–18. The causelessness of the Psalmist’s persecution and the ingratitude of his persecutors are urged as reasons for God’s interference on his behalf.
They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul.12. They rewarded &c.] Better, as R.V., they reward. As in the preceding verse he speaks of what is still going on. His enemies are guilty of the basest ingratitude. Cp. Psalm 38:20; Psalm 109:5; Proverbs 17:13. Saul confessed that he had treated David thus (1 Samuel 24:17 ff.).
to the spoiling of my soul] Render as R.V., to the bereaving of my soul: or perhaps, it is bereavement to my soul. Such conduct makes him feel as desolate as the childless mother.
But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.13. The ‘good’ he had done to them. His sympathy when they were in trouble was no mere formality. He prayed for their recovery, humbling himself before God with mourning and fasting (Psalm 69:10-11; 2 Samuel 12:16; Joel 2:12), that their sin might be forgiven and their sickness removed.
humbled] R.V., afflicted. It is the technical term for fasting in the Law. See Leviticus 16:29; Leviticus 16:31; Leviticus 23:27; Leviticus 23:32; Numbers 29:7; Isaiah 58:3; Isaiah 58:5.
and my prayer returned into mine own bosom] An obscure phrase; not to be explained of the attitude of earnest prayer with head bent down on the bosom so that the prayer which came from his heart seemed to return thither again (1 Kings 18:42 does not justify this explanation): nor again, that his prayer returned to him without effecting its object (Matthew 10:13), for there would be no point in his prayer being unanswered: but rather, my prayer shall return into mine own bosom. They have recompensed him evil for good; but his prayer will not be unrewarded. As the causeless curse returns with interest into the bosom whence it issues (Psalm 79:12), so the prayer at least brings back a blessing to its offerer (Jeremiah 18:20).
I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.14. Better with R.V.
I behaved myself as though it had been my friend or my brother:
I bowed down mourning, as one that bewaileth his mother.
Had they been his nearest and dearest, he could not have displayed deeper grief. The verse would be improved by a slight transposition (which is supported by Psalm 38:6), thus; I bowed down (descriptive of the mourner’s gait with the head bowed down by the load of sorrow) … I went mourning (like Lat. squalidus, of all the outward signs of grief, dark clothes, tear-stained unwashed face, untrimmed hair and beard—see 2 Samuel 19:24).
But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together: yea, the abjects gathered themselves together against me, and I knew it not; they did tear me, and ceased not:15. But at my halting they rejoice, and gather themselves together. Limping, like stumbling, is a figure for misfortune. Cp. Psalm 38:17; Jeremiah 20:10.
Yea, the abjects] The word rendered abjects is of doubtful meaning and possibly corrupt. (1) According to the rendering of A.V., retained by R.V., the sense is, that with his other enemies were associated the lowest outcasts, a rabble of men whom he knew not (Job 30:8 ff.); for the last words of the line must be rendered with R.V. marg., and those whom I knew not. (2) But the form of the sentence rather points to a description of the conduct of the men who have been mentioned already: so (retaining or slightly altering the present text), they gather themselves together smiting me unawares, or, for things that I know not. The wounds of slander are meant (Jeremiah 18:18). So the Targum: wicked men who smite me with their words. (3) Various emendations have been proposed. One that has found some favour, strangers, is foreign to the rest of the Psalm.
they did tear me &c.] They rend me, and cease not. Like beasts of prey (Hosea 13:8); or as we talk of tearing a man’s reputation to shreds. ‘Making mouths’ in P.B.V. is a modernisation of ‘making mowes’, i.e. grimaces, which is found in the Great Bible and the early editions of the Prayer Book.
With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.16. Like (less probably, among) the profanest of mocking parasites they gnash &c.; a gesture of rage, as though they would devour their victim (Psalm 35:25). The obscure phrase in the first line is generally explained to mean mockers for a cake, buffoons who purchase entertainment for themselves by scurrilous jests (Gr. κνισσοκόλακες, ψωμοκόλακες, Lat. buccellarii). Another explanation is, like (or, among) the profanest of perverse mockers.
Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions.17. wilt thou look on] Lit. wilt thou see, as in Psalm 35:22, and not interfere. A.V. gives the sense rightly.
rescue my soul] Restore, lit., bring back, my life, for it is all but lost.
my darling] Lit. my only one, i.e. my precious life. See on Psalm 22:20. The lions are his savage persecutors (Psalm 57:4).
17, 18. A cry for help, and a vow of thanksgiving.
I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.18. Another parallel to Psalms 22vv22, 25. Cp. Psalm 40:9-10.
much people] Or, a mighty people (R.V. marg.). The publicity of the thanksgiving is the point.
Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.19. wrongfully] Lit., falsely (Psalm 38:19; Psalm 69:4); the grounds they allege for their enmity being untrue.
neither let them wink] The insertion of the negative is grammatically justifiable, and probably right; though the clause may also be rendered, they wink &c., describing the confederates’ malicious signals of satisfaction at his misfortune (Proverbs 6:13; Proverbs 10:10).
that hate me without a cause] Cp. Psalm 69:4. Our Lord refers to these words as ‘fulfilled’ in Himself (John 15:25).
19–28. Renewed prayer in a somewhat calmer tone.
For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.20. Their conduct is just the opposite of ‘the fear of the Lord’ (Psalm 34:13-14). For it is not peace that they speak, but against them that are quiet in the land they imagine words of guile, accusing them of being ‘troublers of Israel’ and disturbers of the peace.
Yea, they opened their mouth wide against me, and said, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it.21. And they open … a gesture of contempt (Isaiah 57:4), rather than of murderous intent (Psalm 35:25): they say, Aha, aha, our eye hath seen: seen its desire, seen the fall of the man whose rise excited our envy.
This thou hast seen, O LORD: keep not silence: O Lord, be not far from me.22. He turns their taunt into a plea: Thou hast seen, O Jehovah. Cp. Psalm 35:17, note.
keep not silence] The same word as in Psalm 28:1, where R.V. renders, be not thou deaf unto me. With be not far from me, cp. Psalm 22:11; &c.
Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord.23. Arouse and awake for my judgement,
O my God and my Lord, for my cause.
Interpose to do me justice, and defend my cause. Cp. Psalm 35:1, and see note on Psalm 7:6.
Judge me, O LORD my God, according to thy righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me.24. Judge me] Do me justice. Cp. Psalm 7:8; and for the plea, according to thy righteousness, see Psalm 7:17; Psalm 31:1.
Let them not say in their hearts, Ah, so would we have it: let them not say, We have swallowed him up.25. Ah, so would we have it] Lit. Aha, our desire!
We have swallowed him up] Destroying every trace of his existence. Cp. Psalm 124:3; Proverbs 1:12; Lamentations 2:16.
Let them be ashamed and brought to confusion together that rejoice at mine hurt: let them be clothed with shame and dishonour that magnify themselves against me.26. A repetition of Psalm 35:4, with some variations, occurring again in Psalm 40:14.
Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.27. Cp. Psalm 40:16.
that favour my righteous cause] Lit. that delight in my righteousness; that welcome the vindication of my innocence.
which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant] More exactly, which delighteth (2 Samuel 15:26; Psalm 18:19; Psalm 22:8) in the welfare (lit. peace) of his servant.
And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.28. shall speak] ‘Shall speak musingly, in the low murmur of one entranced by a sweet thought.’ Cheyne.
of thy righteousness] For Jehovah’s righteousness (Psalm 35:24) will have been manifested in delivering His servant.
all the day long] ‘Tota die Deum laudare quis durat? Suggero remedium, unde tota die laudes Deum, si vis. Quidquid egeris bene age, et laudasti Deum.… In innocentia operum tuorum praepara te ad laudandum Deum tota die.’ St Augustine.