In contrast to last week’s psalm wherein the writer instructs us to bless the Lord at all times, Psalm 35 shows no such magnanimity. Unlike Psalm 34 which is all about God, this one is all about me, the writer! It is a personal appeal for deliverance from one who is being falsely accused and plotted against. Written in three sections, each part ends with words of thanksgiving (vs. 9-10, 18, 28). It could be three separate incidents involving one person, or a composite of accounts by three different authors.
In the first, powerful foes plot against the life and property of the writer who calls upon God to come to his assistance. He asks God to do battle for him, “Take hold of shield and buckler . . . Draw the spear and javelin.” (2-3)
In the second section the enemies are former friends who have turned against the writer. “They requite me evil for good.” (12) When they were sick the psalmist wore sackcloth, fasted and prayed for them, “as though I grieved for my friend or brother.” (14) Now that he is in trouble they mock and slander him, “they impiously mocked more and more, gnashing at me with their teeth (a Biblical gesture of scorn).” (16) How much more hurtful is the betrayal by a friend. We expect our friends to be on our side.
The writer in the final section is one of “the quiet in the land.” (20) Again his enemies utter false charges against him, claiming to be eye witnesses, “Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it.” (21) The psalmist cries, “Vindicate me, O Lord, my God, according to thy righteousness.” (24)
Together these paint a strong picture of one who has been betrayed, lied about and attacked. The human reaction to this is to want revenge, to hurt those who hurt you, especially when betrayed by a friend. The writer cries to God for help, asking God to punish them in kind for their evil deeds. “Let the net which they hid ensnare them; let them fall therein to ruin!” (8) “Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor who magnify themselves against me!” (26) It’s all about the writer!
It is a very human expression of anger in the face of injury. The writer bargains with God. If you do all this for me: “Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord.” (9); “Then I will thank you.” (18); “Then my tongue shall tell of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long.” (28) His thanks are dependent on getting what he asks for.
How like a child, seeing God as someone who can be bargained with, the gift-giver in the sky, not as one who freely gives to us before we even ask. Yet there is a place for such a prayer. God doesn’t expect immediate spiritual perfection from his people. He takes us where we are in our less than perfect, at times childish, life, and blesses us anyway. God would rather have honest prayer, even if full of anger and calls for destruction, than false pious platitudes.
When angry we may not be able to pray for our enemies, except for their destruction. Bring this prayer to God. Don’t worry about cleaning it up. God will take care of that. Don’t be afraid to pray to our God with our whole heart, soul and mind. Not many can jump from anger and hurt at betrayal to praying for the well-being of our detractor. It takes time to reach that level of spiritual maturity. What’s required is that we pray, not hold on to our anger, and allow God to do the rest.
God made us with all of our human failings, why would he expect us to be anything but human? Yet God calls us to something greater. That’s why we need psalms like this one alongside psalms like Psalm 34. Each is included in the psalter because each shows a different side to prayer. Our prayer needs to be as diverse as we are as people. Sometimes it is all about me, and that’s okay. Just don’t stay there too long.
Have you ever tried to hold back, clean up your prayer or been afraid to be honest with God?
Robertson, copyright 2/2014