Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This psalm opens in a warlike tone, so as to suggest a soldier for its author, and for its occasion the eye of some battle. But we soon (Psalm 35:7-8; Psalm 35:11-12) perceive that these warlike expressions are only metaphors, and that the foes of the poet are malicious slanderers and scoffers of the pious Israelites—it may be the court party in the time of one of the later kings, or, more probably, the anti-national party (see Note, Psalm 35:16) at a later time, the innovators affected by Persian or Grecian influence.
Few good critics, at all events, consider the psalm Davidic. Some ascribe it to Jeremiah. But whoever was its author, it expresses, not an individual feeling alone, but that of a community despised and maligned for its piety, and appealing to Jehovah against its oppressors, with that longing for retributive justice which in an individual becomes, in a Christian view, wickedly vindictive, but to the Old Testament Church was the vindication of the Divine honour which was pledged to do justice to the chosen but afflicted people. The parallelism is fine and well sustained.
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.—Better, Strive, O Jehovah, with them that strive with me. The construction requires this, and the parallelism suggests recourse to arms rather than to the law.
Fight.—Literally, devour. (Comp. Numbers 24:8.
“He shall eat up the nations.” So a Latin author—
“Qua medius pugnæ vorat agmina vortex.”
SILIUS: Punic, 4:230.
“If the wars eat us not up.’—Coriolanus, Acts 1, sc. 1)
Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.(2) Shield and buckler.—Better, buckler and shield, as the first (Heb., magen) suggests a small, the latter (tsinnah) a large shield covering the whole body. Greek, θυρεός (see Note, Psalm 5:12.) Notice that the poet, in the intensity of his purpose, overlooks the anomaly of arming a warrior with two shields at once. The bold flight of imagination that could picture the Divine Being as a warrior, a picture common in Hebrew poetry, but here more vividly realised than anywhere else except Isaiah 63:1, may well excuse such a lapse.
Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.(3) Draw out also the spear—i.e., from the sheath, that seems to have been used to guard its point. So δουροδόκη (Homer, Odyssey, i. 128).
Stop the way.—So LXX., Vulg., and all ancient versions. Many modern scholars, however, are disposed to treat the word segor not as the imperative of a verb, but as a noun, equivalent to the Greek σάγαρις, Latin, securis, a Persian and Scythian weapon mentioned by Herodotus (i. 215, iv. 70) and Xenophon (Anab., iv. 4, 16), and generally taken for a battle-axe, but by some as a short curved sword or a scimitar. It is identified by Sir Henry Rawlinson with the khanjar of modern Persia, “a short curved double-edged dagger, almost universally worn.” The Bedouins of modern Egypt use a schagur.
The adoption of this rendering makes an excellent parallelism, and suits the word rendered “against,” which really means “to meet,” and suggests an onset instead of a mere passive attitude of defence.
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) Confounded.—Comp. Psalm 35:26.
Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them.(5) As chaff.—Comp. Psalm 1:4, and see Note. There can be little doubt that the “angel of Jehovah” in this and the following verse is (comp. Psalm 104:4) a personification of the “hurricane” itself, which drives before it all obstacles, and overwhelms even whole armies in dangerous places.
Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.(6) Dark and slippery.—See margin. Delitzsch supposes an allusion to the passage of the Red Sea, but the picture suggests rather the passage of some dangerous mountain pass in a raging storm. “The tracks in the limestone hills of Palestine are often worn as smooth as marble; comp. Psalm 73:18” (quoted from Kay, in the Speaker’s Commentary).
For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul.(7) Have they hid . . .—Literally, they have hid for me the pit of their net, which, as it stands, can mean nothing but a “pit with a net in it,” such as was used to entrap lions and other wild beasts. But it is better to remove the word “pit” to the second clause, thus doing away with the necessity of supplying a relative, and improving the rhythm.
“ For unprovoked they hid a net for me,
Unprovoked they digged a pit for my soul.”
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 destruction.—There is considerable difficulty here, and the ancient versions, by their variations, seem to point to some confusion in the text. The LXX., no doubt, are right in reading the pronouns as plurals, instead of singular. The word translated “destruction” means, primarily, a storm, or the crash that accompanies a storm (Proverbs 1:27), and if with the Syriac we might supply a clause, both parallelism and sense would be complete.
“Let men come upon him (them) unexpectedly.
Let the net which he had catch himself,
The pit which he (they) digged, let him (them) fall into it,
In ruin let him (them) fall into it.”
For “unawares,” see margin and Note, Song of Solomon 6:12.
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.—As we say, “all the fibres of my body.” (Comp. Psalm 6:2; Psalm 34:20.)
The poor . . . the poor.—Better, the sufferer . . . the sufferer.
They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul.(12) To the spoiling of my soul.—Literally, desolation to my soul. We may paraphrase,
“They rewarded me evil for good,
Which to me was desolation.”
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)And my prayer returned into mine own bosom.—This has been most variously explained. The context evidently implies something done for the benefit of the whilome friends for whom, in their sickness, the poet had worn sackcloth, and had fasted and adopted all the other signs of mourning. We must therefore set aside (1) the idea of fruitless prayer, in spite of the analogy of Matthew 10:13, Luke 10:6. (2) The notion that the answer to the prayer came back to the psalmist himself, instead of to those for whom it was offered, must also be set aside. And (3) we must reject the notion of secret, i.e., silent prayer, in spite of Proverbs 17:23; Proverbs 21:14, since all the “outward and visible” signs of mourning are indicated, and the very object was to show sympathy and interest.
There remains (1) the literal, and my prayer turned upon my bosom, referring to the posture described in Psalm 35:14. (Comp. 1Kings 18:42, where, however, there is no express mention of prayer.) The words were, as it were, muttered into his bosom. This is the view of Ewald and Delitzsch, but seems prosaic. (2)The far more probable meaning, my prayer came back again and again to my bosom, i.e., was repeated over and over again; just as we say, “the thought recurred to my mind.” (Comp. the common phrase for thoughts coming upon the heart, Jeremiah 3:16; Jeremiah 7:31, etc.) The Hebrew verb has this frequentative sense in one of its conjugations.
I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother.(14) I bowed down heavily.—Better, I went squalid, and bowed down, alluding to the neglected beard and person, and to the dust and ashes of Oriental mourning.
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) In mine adversity.—Better, at my fall.
The abjects . . .—The Hebrew word occurs only here. It is derived from a root meaning to smite, but its form is perplexing. The ancient versions all give it an active sense. LXX. and Vulg. “whips”; Symmachus, “smiters”; Chaldee, “the wicked who smite me with their words,” probably a correct paraphrase. The passive, “these smitten,” or “objects,” is due to R. Kimchi.
And I knew it not—i.e., either (1) “unawares,” as in Psalm 35:8; (2) “for what reason I knew not”; (3) “whom I knew not”; (4) “and I was innocent.” Of these possible explanations (2) is to be preferred.
With hypocritical mockers in feasts, they gnashed upon me with their teeth.(16) With hypocritical mockers in feasts.—This clause is full of difficulty. The LXX. and Vulg. have, “they tempted me, they mocked me with a mocking”; Symmachus, “in hypocrisy, with feigned words”; Chaldee, “with derisive words of flattery.” All these take the word rendered in the Authorised Version, “feasts,” as a cognate of a word in Isaiah 28:11, translated “stammering,” but which means rather, “barbarisms.” (Comp. Isaiah 33:19.) The word rendered “hypocritical” more properly means “profane” or “impious.” With these meanings we get a very good sense (with evident reference to the malicious attacks of foreigners, or of the anti-national party that affected foreign ways) in the manner of profane barbaric barbarisms, or with profanity and barbarism.
As to the rendering “feasts,” it comes from treating the word as the same used (1Kings 17:13) for a “cake.” “Cake-mockers” are explained to be parasites who hang about the tables of the rich, getting their dinner in return for their buffooneries. (Comp. the Greek ψωμοκόλακεις; Latin, bucellarii.)
Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions.(17) Darling . . . see margin and Note to Psalm 22:20.
The lions is another suitable epithet for the hostile foreign party, so bitter against the genuine Israelite.
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) Wink.—Proverbs 6:13; Proverbs 10:10; a common gesture of agreement among confederates.
For they speak not peace: but they devise deceitful matters against them that are quiet in the land.(20) Quiet in the land.—For the construction, comp. Isaiah 23:8 : “The honourable of the earth.” They are evidently the pious Jews who wished to preserve their national life and religion against foreign influence and intervention, and certainly among them were Levites.
Stir up thyself, and awake to my judgment, even unto my cause, my God and my Lord.(23) Stir up thyself.—Comp. Psalm 7:6.