Theme: David’s Champion
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
This is also the outline of the psalm. Part one (vv. 1-10) develops the second of these two images, the image of the battle. Part two (vv. 11-18) develops the first, the image of a lawsuit. At the end, in part three, both come together (vv. 19-28).
1. Part One: A Battle. I have said that David develops two “images” in the psalm’s introduction and that these are then worked out in the following three sections of the psalm. That might suggest that the battle described in this section (vv. 7-10) or the lawsuit described in the next (vv. 11-18) are not real but are only suggestive of something else. That could be the case, but knowing who David was, as we do, it probably is not. David was surrounded by hostile military forces most of his life, and it is not hard to imagine other enemies spreading false accusations against him, particularly during the times he was fleeing from King Saul or from his rebellious son Absalom.
Two things stand out in David’s description of this military threat. First, his enemies have been scheming against him with the end purpose of taking his life. Using an illustration of how a person might go about capturing a wild animal, David says that they have hidden a net for him or dug a pit (v. 7). Less poetically, he says that they are plotting his ruin and seeking his life (v. 5).
Second, he insists that they have done this “without cause.” That claim appears twice in verse 7, and it reappears again in verse 19. This is not the same thing as David claiming to be innocent. All it means is that he had done nothing to merit the hostility of these enemies. To give a more modern example, we do not have to claim that the people of Poland, Austria, Holland and France were innocent of all wrong doing to say that they did not deserve the onslaught of the German armies at the beginning of World War II.
David’s basic prayer is that his enemies will be caught in their own devices, which is not an inappropriate thing to say. It would be a case of what we call poetic justice. May the violent meet a violent end, he says. May the crafty be deceived, cheaters be cheated, liars belied to.
The unusual thing is that David calls on “the angel of the LORD” to pursue these enemies or drive them away. This figure was mentioned in the previous psalm (in v. 7), but these are the only psalms in the entire psalm collection that do mention him. Who is he? He could be just any angel, of course. But he seems to be a special being, otherwise unidentified, who appears at irregular intervals in the Bible to help selected individuals.
He is first mentioned as coming to Hagar, when she was about to perish in the desert after having run away from Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Hagar called the angel who appeared to her to help her “the God who sees me” (Gen. 16:13), thereby identifying him as more than an angel. This same figure appeared to Abraham to stop him from sacrificing his son on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:11) and probably appeared to him earlier to announce the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, though the precise phrase “angel of the LORD” is not used (Gen. 18). There are three heavenly beings in that story, two called “angels,” but the third is repeatedly referred to as “the LORD” (Gen. 18:10, 13, 17, 20, 22, 26, 33). This figure is probably the same one who appeared to Hagar. Later he appeared to Joshua before the battle of Jericho to take charge of the Jewish armies, though there he is identified as “the commander of the army of the LORD” rather than an angel (Josh. 5:14, 15). He is the one who was also probably with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the blazing furnace, recorded in Daniel 3.
In my judgment this figure was a preincarnate manifestation of the second person of the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ, which is why he is regularly called “the Lord.” It is also why he does not appear in the New Testament as “the angel.” Instead, Paul on the road to Damascus, Stephen at his death and John on Patmos saw Jesus.
What does David have in mind in this psalm? Since he is writing about a military threat he is probably thinking of “the commander of the LORD’s army” and is looking to him and the heavenly legions to overcome his enemies. He is sure they will, because the first section of the psalm ends with praise to the Lord who will do it (vv. 9, 10).
Study Questions:

What two points are made about David’s military threat?
Who is the “angel of the LORD”? Where else does he appear in the Bible?

Reflection: How does God’s justice differ from our own?

Study Questions
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