Throughout September 2022, I managed to read and reflect – briefly – on a Psalm each day. For December 2022, I’m going to pick up the discipline. I’ll read the Psalm, pray, and then ponder a few questions:
- What is this Psalm about?
- What does this Psalm teach about God?
- How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
I’ll close the post with a simple prayer, trying to draw the themes together.
On the fifth of December, here’s Psalm 35:
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!
2 Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!
3 Draw the spear and javelin
against my pursuers!
Say to my soul,
“I am your salvation!”
4 Let them be put to shame and dishonour
who seek after my life!
Let them be turned back and disappointed
who devise evil against me!
5 Let them be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away!
6 Let their way be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them!
7 For without cause they hid their net for me;
without cause they dug a pit for my life.
8 Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!
And let the net that he hid ensnare him;
let him fall into it—to his destruction!
9 Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord,
exulting in his salvation.
10 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?”
11 Malicious witnesses rise up;
they ask me of things that I do not know.
12 They repay me evil for good;
my soul is bereft.
13 But I, when they were sick—
I wore sackcloth;
I afflicted myself with fasting;
I prayed with head bowed on my chest.
14 I went about as though I grieved for my friend or my brother;
as one who laments his mother,
I bowed down in mourning.
15 But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered;
they gathered together against me;
wretches whom I did not know
tore at me without ceasing;
16 like profane mockers at a feast,
they gnash at me with their teeth.
17 How long, O Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their destruction,
my precious life from the lions!
18 I will thank you in the great congregation;
in the mighty throng I will praise you.
19 Let not those rejoice over me
who are wrongfully my foes,
and let not those wink the eye
who hate me without cause.
20 For they do not speak peace,
but against those who are quiet in the land
they devise words of deceit.
21 They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, “Aha, Aha!
Our eyes have seen it!”
22 You have seen, O Lord; be not silent!
O Lord, be not far from me!
23 Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication,
for my cause, my God and my Lord!
24 Vindicate me, O Lord, my God,
according to your righteousness,
and let them not rejoice over me!
25 Let them not say in their hearts,
“Aha, our heart’s desire!”
Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.”
26 Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether
who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonour
who magnify themselves against me!
27 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!”
28 Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness
and of your praise all the day long.
What is this Psalm about?
This Psalm is a lament – some suggest three laments joined together – of a believer crying out to God for age. The very real pain of persecution and warfare is powerfully interwoven with praise and declaration of truth about God. The urgency of the language, and the military equipment metaphors sprinkled throughout, make it all the more notable that the Psalmist throughout refers to God with the honorific, ‘O Lord’ – a challenge and a model.
What does this Psalm teach us about God?
The God of Psalm 35 is clearly capable of warfare and victory – including sending an angel – yet it is notable that this is a God who can be petitioned. The Psalmist is asking God – which further implies God’s freedom to act, or not act, as God desires. The ‘imprecatory’ language of some Psalms is in view here – Psalm 35 reminds us that God is not just a friend and a father, but a King and a Warrior. God is not small and fluffy – but strong and mighty. Yet, just as C. S. Lewis wrote of Aslan that he is not safe but he is good, Psalm 35 shares that God is concerned with justice and righteousness, a fully-orbed and realised God.
How does this Psalm connect to God’s people today?
Some may find some of the military language difficult from a New Testament perspective – though it is easy to overlook the military metaphors scattered throughout the second Testament. For those brothers and sisters being persecuted or under duress, knowing that a) we can cry out to God and that b) God may answer and act because [v27b] he ‘delights in the welfare of his servant’, is deeply reassuring. In this potentially tricky words, we can find solace. There is perhaps a challenge to Christians, like me, in the West, that our discomfort with this kind of language may well be because we are generally too comfortable.
A prayer drawn from Psalm 33:
You have seen, O Lord; be not silent! O Lord, be not far from me! Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication, for my cause, my God and my Lord! Lord, would you bring your strength to me in my trial, and to the hearts of my brothers and sisters around the world who need your mighty hand. Amen.