When under Attack
(19) Let not those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me. Let not those who hate me without a cause wink the eye, (20) for they do not speak peace. Rather, against those who live quietly in the land they devise deceitful words. (21) They open wide their mouths and say, “Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it.” (22) Yahweh, you have seen (this). Do not be silent. O Lord, do not be far from me. (23) Stir yourself and rise to my defense for my cause, my God and my Lord. (24) Vindicate me according to your righteousness, Yahweh, and let them not rejoice over me. (25) Let them not say in their hearts, “Aha, just what we wanted.” Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.” (26) Let those who rejoice at my distress be ashamed and confounded. Let those who exalt themselves against me be clothed with shame and reproach. (27) Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad, and let them say continually, “Great is Yahweh who delights in the wellbeing of his servant.” (28) Then my tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praise all the day long.
Two important repetitions are found in these verses. First, David uses “rejoice” three times to describe the perverse delight his enemies were feeling at his distress (vss. 19, 24, & 26). With each mention, he prays that his enemies might not triumph over him. “Righteousness” is also repeated three times, twice referring to Yahweh’s righteousness (vss. 24 & 28) and once to David’s personal righteousness (vs. 27). With this word David identifies himself with Yahweh who is both righteous and the protector of the righteous.
David ends this psalm the same way he begins it, with a series of verb forms. He uses fourteen jussives that carry an imperatival sense as well as three imperatives, all in just ten verses. At issue in this segment is how David’s enemies were verbally attacking him: “For they do not speak peace…they devise deceitful words” (vs. 20); “They...say, ‘Aha, aha’” (vs. 21); “Let them not say, ‘We have swallowed them up’” (vs. 25). In response to these verbal onslaughts, David asks Yahweh to bless those who praise God on his account (vs. 27) and then declares his own commitment to voicing God’s praise continually (vs. 28). In the very center of this segment we find David’s appeal to Yahweh expressed first negatively, “Do not be silent…do not be distant” (vs. 22), and then positively, “Stir yourself and rise to my defense” (vs. 23).
I. What my enemies do: revile me (19-21)
II. What I am asking God to do: vindicate me (22-27)
III. What I will do: praise my righteous God (28)
Our best defense against those who mockingly attack us is to entrust ourselves to Yahweh who will vindicate those he loves.
The opening segment of Psalm 35 focuses on enemies who try to bully us (vs. 1-6). Bullies are always hard to handle whether on a playground at recess or in the office during a coffee break, or even in our families. Some fight back when threatened. Some do whatever they can to avoid confrontation. Others remain quiet, eaten up by anxiety and dread, fearing what could happen next.
David, whose life was filled with bullies, found that the best approach was to ally himself with someone stronger, namely Yahweh. With God’s enablement, David faced Goliath armed with only a sling and five smooth stones and defeated a bully much stronger and more heavily armed than he. In the case of King Saul and his army, David entrusted himself to God’s protection while fleeing from a much stronger foe pursuing him through the Judean wilderness. In the case of Absalom’s rebellion, David followed the same strategy, entrusting himself to God, waiting on him to vindicate his cause.
Like David we need to learn to call upon Yahweh to “rise to my defense (and) vindiate me” when facing such opposition (vss. 23 & 24). Someone has said, “The best defense is a good offense.” For believers, the best defense is having Yahweh on our side. To paraphrase a famous quote from the social reformer, Frederick Douglass, “One person plus God always constitutes a majority.”