We may not be on the run from the king and his men, as David often was under the reign of Saul, but we all experience times when we feel surrounded.
Persecuted Christians or those living in war-torn lands may be physically surrounded by enemies seeking to destroy them, but at some time each believer will feel the enemies of fear, anxiety, and distress circling like a band of bloodthirsty brigands.
Psalm 35 speaks to those times. Through it, God speaks to our souls.
This psalm of David is a long lament that calls God to act against the wicked. In fact, this is one of the psalms often called “imprecatory” because it calls down curses upon evil doers.
Like many lament psalms, it begins with a cry to God (Psalm 35:1, ESV):
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
It continues with images of military weapons (verses 2-3a, ESV):
Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Have you (like me) always wondered exactly what a “buckler” was? It’s a small shield, sometimes fitted with a center spike or short sword, that was used defensively. Apparently it’s still used today in the sport of fencing.
Of course, God doesn’t need any kind of weapon, but the warrior David used this military imagery to help readers imagine God coming alongside and fighting for us.
The second half of verse 3 provided the title for this post:
Say to my soul,
“I am your salvation!”
Aren’t you moved by the thought of God speaking to your soul? I am.
John Calvin wrote, “David desires to have it thoroughly fixed in his mind, and to be fully persuaded that God is the author of his salvation.” Since his present circumstance dulls his mind and senses to the hope and joy of his salvation, he prays that God would grant him a “lively sense” of his favor, “so that being armed with this buckler, he might sustain every conflict and surmount every opposing obstacle.” It’s as if he said, “Lord, whatever may arise to discourage me, confirm me in this persuasion, that my salvation is assuredly in thee…that I may become as infallibly certain as if thou hadst said it, that through thy favour I shall be saved” (p. 577, Commentaries on the Psalms).
Psalm 35 includes a long litany of imprecations against the wicked with the assumption that God will grant deliverance (verses 9-10, ESV):
Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord,
exulting in his salvation.
All my bones shall say,
“O Lord, who is like you,
delivering the poor
from him who is too strong for him,
the poor and needy from him who robs him?”
When we realize God’s rescue, we rejoice in the Lord and exult in his salvation. Yet we often experience attack.
Sometimes whose who malign us are the very ones with whom we mourned in their sorrow:
Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask me of things that I do not know.
They repay me evil for good;
my soul is bereft.
But I, when they were sick—
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
I bowed down in mourning (11-14, ESV).
God may seem to delay, but his deliverance is sure. And when he rescues us, our response should be corporate praise.
How long, O Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their destruction,
my precious life from the lions!
I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you (17-18, ESV).
David continues to ask God to act against his enemies, who are actually God’s enemies. He seeks vindication, not according to his own righteousness, but according to God’s righteousness (verse 24, ESV):
Vindicate me, O Lord, my God,
according to your righteousness,
and let them not rejoice over me!
He asks God to let these deceivers, who rejoice in the calamity of the righteous, be put to shame. On the other hand, David desires that those who delight in his righteousness will rejoice:
Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
who magnify themselves against me!
Let those who delight in my righteousness
shout for joy and be glad
and say evermore,
“Great is the Lord,
who delights in the welfare of his servant!”
Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long (verses 26-28, ESV).
Those who love the righteous will rejoice in their deliverance. But when we or someone we love is delivered, we must do more than simply be glad. We must witness of God’s greatness. When God speaks to our souls, we should speak to others of his great assurance and deliverance.
Ask God today to speak to your soul!