We come now to a psalm of imprecation. These psalms do not represent the entire psalter, but they are a significant part of it. Of particular note would Psalms 7, 69, and 109. What are we to do with them? Well, among other things, sing them. Our aversion to the psalms of imprecation has more to do with our effeminacy than it does with our kindness. We gravitate toward an ignorant fastidiousness on this subject, not because we are more saintly than David, but rather because our hearts are colder than his.
Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help . . . (Psalm 35:1-28).
This psalm divides readily into three sections. The first section uses the imagery of battle (vv. 1-10). The second is the image of verbal controversy and slander (vv. 11-18). The third section (vv. 19-28) brings the note of victory and deliverance. Each section states the danger posed by the adversaries, and each section concludes on a note of jubilation or victory.
But first, why are we embarrassed by imprecation? We need not spend a great deal of time on this, for if we are biblical people, the Scriptures will balance themselves. If we ride a hobby horse of our own selection, whether it is John 3:16 or Psalm 109, we will be self-condemned. But let Scripture calibrate itself. We are told to bless our enemies, and so we do (Matt. 5: 43-48). We are told that vengeance is the Lord’s (Dt. 32:35 ; Rom. 12:19-21), not that vengeance is wrong. We are told to commit all cases of outrage and treachery back to the Lord, who always does what is right (e.g. Ps. 35). And with that we should be content to let God sort it out.
David calls for Jehovah’s pike. David wants God to take up the battle (v. 1). Get into this, David prays. The pattern is to hold them at bay with shield and buckler (v. 2). Stand in a narrow pass, and draw out Your pike to stop them (v. 3). Tell me that I am saved. Let them be turned back in confusion (v. 4). Having turned them back, make it an utter rout (v. 5), like chaff in the wind. Let the angel of the Lord (the Lord Himself) chase them down. Make the path they have to flee on dark, and make it slippery, and have the angel of the Lord persecute them (v. 6). This is a just thing to ask because they became David’s enemies without cause (v. 7). The prayer is for what we call poetic justice. They put a net in a pit which they dug for David’s soul, and that would be the ideal place for them to be caught (v. 8).
This first section ends with exultation. When this deliverance happens, his soul will rejoice in what the Lord has done (v. 9). All David’s bones will rejoice, and will say who is like the Lord? Who delivers the poor and needy like this? (v. 10).
But it is also necessary to contend against lies. Someone who wants to be involved in spiritual warfare and not have to deal with lies is like someone who wants to go into a physical war in which the enemy will not be permitted to have guns. False witnesses came against David, and said things that he had never heard of (v. 11). Not only so, but they lied treacherously — they rewarded evil for good (v. 12). David had shown them extraordinary kindness (vv. 13-14). Whether this was the occasion for the psalm or not, it is paralleled in David’s treatment of Saul, and Saul’s reciprocal mistreatment of David. David played the harp to comfort Saul in his sickness. David helped establish Saul on the throne by fighting his battles. And Saul was treacherous. But when David encountered adversity, their response was one of envy-driven joy (Prov. 17:5). They delighted to tear at David with their teeth (v. 16). They did this at their feasts — and David was obviously the main course. Malice has one eye, and the object of disdain can’t do anything right.
Lord, don’t You see this kind of thing (v. 17)? This is a holy impatience. God gives His blessing to this kind of familiarity. Rescue me, David pleads. And when God does, David promises to give thanks to God in the great congregation, among many people (v. 18). This scriptural principle makes it entirely inappropriate for me to pass this verse by without praising God publicly for all the vindications He has brought about over the last several years. Our triune God has shut down numerous lies and so we praise Him in our congregation.
The psalmist asks God to not let his adversaries rejoice over him wrongly (v. 19). They have no reason for their hatred, do not let them wink with the eye (v. 19). Those who mind their own business, who are quiet in the land, have deceitful matters devised against them (v. 20). But these treacherous ex-friends open their mouths wide against David (v. 21). The next line captures their snarky attitude perfectly. “Aha, aha, our eye hath seen it. Hath it not been posted on the blog?” They say they have seen it, but God actually has seen it (v. 22). God, stir Yourself. Wake up! God, judge me according to Your righteousness and let them not rejoice (vv. 23-24). Don’t let them win. Don’t let them say, “we have swallowed him” (v. 25). The saints may be easy to swallow, but they are impossible to digest. Let these wicked men be brought to confusion; clothe them with shame and dishonor (v. 26).
Let those who side with me, David says, shout for joy (v. 27). Let them be glad. And the Lord, who takes pleasure in the prosperity of His servant, should obviously be magnified. And David will not stop talking about the deliverance that God has brought about (v. 28).
The devil accuses, and his interns are all like him. If you think of a pointy and boney finger, jabbing charges at you, then the thought that should come to mind is that this is diabolical. It is not the way the Holy Spirit works. If God keeps our tears in a bottle, and He does, then the devil keeps our dried out sins in a can, in order to haul them out to unsettle us. “And look what you did back in 1987!” If that were the basis of judgment, it would go hard with us.
God knows the difference between offense and defense. He knows the difference between without a cause and with cause. He knows that an appeal from a victim is not to be confused with the self-righteous appeal from a persecutor.