Theme: A Three-Part Psalm
In this week’s lessons we learn how to handle slander and mistreatment in a righteous way, both against ourselves and others.
Scripture: Psalm 35:1-28
In yesterday’s study I said that in thinking about these imprecations from David, we need to have a balanced view, recognizing our own sin and frequent hypocrisy.
In my judgment the chief thing to note is that in Psalms 7,35, 69 and 109, David is not writing as a private citizen but as the king and judge of Israel, and the judgment he calls for is a righteous judgment upon those who, by opposing him, oppose God and godliness. It is one thing to forgive a wrong done against us personally. To do so is commendable. But it is quite another thing to overlook a wrong done by an evil person to another party, especially if you are the one chiefly responsible for administering law or justice in that circumstance. A policeman, judge, governor or president must deal with violent people differently from how you and I might deal with them.
I also suggest that there is a place for private citizens, especially Christians, to oppose evil vigorously. We can pray for the conversion of the very wicked, but if they are not going to be converted (and many are not), we can certainly pray for their overthrow and destruction. It was right for all good people to pray for and rejoice at the fall of Adolf Hitler. It is right to pray for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Right, that is, only if we pray with awareness of our own sins and with confession and prayer for forgiveness for the sins of the United States of America. That is what I mean by a balanced view. On the one hand, it recognizes evil for what it is and prays for its defeat. On the other hand, it acknowledges the sin that is always also in us and prays for forgiveness.
David has that balance in these psalms. It is only God’s people, those who know something of their own sin as well as something of the holiness of God, who can achieve it.
I have sometimes pointed out in our studies how difficult these psalms often are to outline, with the result that the suggestions of commentators frequently differ widely. Strikingly, almost all agree on the outline of this psalm. It is in three parts, each of which begins with a prayer and ends on a note of confident hope in God’s just intervention or deliverance. The first part embraces verses 1-10. The second part covers verses 11-18. The third part comprises verses 19-28.2 However, the first three verses and the last three verses stand somewhat apart and can be considered as an introduction and conclusion.
Here is one more thing to note. In the introductory stanza (vv. 1-3) David introduces two images for what he wants God to do on his behalf. The first image is of a court of law. A suit is in progress. David is being attacked by ruthless witnesses. He wants God to be his advocate. He says, “Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me.” Although we miss this in English, the word “contend” refers to an attorney’s pleas for his client. The second image is of a battlefield. David’s enemies are waging war against him, and he wants God to be his champion: “Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.” The last words apply to both the lawsuit and the battle: “Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation.’”
Was David wrong to be judging others? Why or why not?
What must we keep in mind when we pray for the destruction of the wicked?
Reflection: How do we reconcile the judgment expressed in this psalm with the loving forgiveness of Christ in the New Testament? How do justice and mercy fit together when it comes to how we as Christians deal with evildoers around us, especially when such evil is done to us or to those close to us?
2So say Perowne, Leupold, Maclaren, Gaebelein, Spurgeon, Craigie, Kidner and some others. It is surprising that the New International Version does not follow this pattern. It would have been better, in my judgment, if the fourth stanza in the NIV had been broken at verse 18, the first half being attached to stanza three and the second half to stanza five. The stanzas would then comprise verses 1-3, 4-10, 11-18, 19-25 and 26-28.