By Chris Shelton
Psalm 35 is a psalm about judgment and salvation – two themes we see throughout scripture. In verse 1, David asks the Lord to “combat those who fight me.” David was the Lord’s anointed king and he saw threatening enemies who were too strong for him, so he asks the Lord to take up the fight and be his deliverance or salvation from them (verse 3).
This struggle anticipates the advancement of the gospel against an opposition too strong for the people of God. Jesus told his disciples, “You can do nothing without me. They lived and acted on this truth. In Acts 4, Peter and John were threatened by the authorities “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.”
When they returned to the church, they reported what the authorities had told them. The whole church turned to prayer: “Lord, behold their threats and grant your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.” Then we read: “They were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29-31).
It’s not easy to follow Christ, but the Lord knows we are weak. He tells you to abide in him and he will abide in you. What a beautiful promise! We should call on the Lord, remembering this promise, when we find ourselves overwhelmed by our circumstances and our faith severely tested. We can say like David: “Lord, take up the fight; my enemies are too strong for me.
In Psalm 35:4-8, David speaks of judgment. He uses imprecatory language, which signifies a curse, asking the Lord to destroy his enemies. He makes explicit requests such as, “Let them be like chaff before the wind, the angel of the Lord driving them away” and “Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it.”
Imprecative language is surprising but not surprising. The Lord is holy and sin angers him. When Christ came into the world, imprecatory language was still used. John the Baptist said, “The chaff will be burned with unquenchable fire,” and “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
But the day of salvation had come. John’s warnings of God’s judgment were to point sinners to a great Savior and salvation, to open the way to Christ the Lord. Christ came to die in the place of sinners, to take upon himself the imprecatory curses. God magnifies his grace and love in the person and work of Jesus Christ while satisfying his justice.
The Lord builds his church by the power of his Spirit through the preaching of the gospel. All who come to Christ will be freely and completely forgiven of their sins and will receive eternal life with him. It is a great salvation that is completely free. And essential; no one can be saved except by grace.
The redeemed are not saved because they have not sinned, nor because they have sinned less than others, nor because they do not deserve perdition. And they should remember this when faced with opposition or persecution. Men crucified Jesus without sin and righteousness, but he prayed for them on the cross. He is full of mercy, but will in no way exculpate the guilty.
There will be a judgment. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). The language of judgment David uses in this Psalm underscores the terrible nature of God’s impending judgment upon this world. God, by his very nature, will be driven to destroy the wicked. There is certain coming ruin awaiting the enemies of Christ and his people. And the Church must proclaim it faithfully, but with tenderness; pointing sinners to a willing Saviour.
In verse 9, David promises to rejoice in the Lord and rejoice in his salvation. David knew that only the Lord could save him, so the Lord deserved all the praise. In David’s case, the Lord’s salvation would not be marred by an ungrateful soul. He rejoiced in the Lord.
The people of God are in every way and in every respect a blessed people. They are blessed in their hopes and expectations, as was David. Circumstances and people change, but God does not change. If you belong to Christ, you belong to God. Whatever happens in this world, God does not change, and that is enough for those who believe.
Reverend Chris Shelton is pastor of the First Union Presbyterian Church.