1 LORD, plead my case when I am charged by foes maliciously; And fight for me, when they attack and vent their spite on me.
2 Take up your shield! Come to my aid! 3 Speak to my soul and say, “I’m your salvation.” With your spear cut off my en’mies’ way.
4 May those who seek to take my life endure disgrace and shame; May those who plot my overthrow turn back the way they came.
5 May they like chaff before the wind be blown in disarray, And by the angel of the LORD be driven far away.
6 LORD, make their pathway insecure, in darkness hard to find; And let the angel of the LORD attack them from behind.
7 Since they have spread a net for me without a cause at all, And for no reason dug a pit that in it I might fall,
8 Let ruin seize them, and let them in their own net be caught; May they instead fall in their pit and so to death be brought.
9 Then will my soul rejoice in God and in his saving name. 10 “Who is a God like you, O LORD?” my heart and soul exclaim.
“The poor you rescue from the hands of those who are too strong; You save the poor and weak from those who rob and do them wrong.”
11 Malicious witnesses rise up and falsely slander me; I have no knowledge of the things they ask accusingly.
12 They pay back evil for my good and leave my soul forlorn. 13 Yet, at their illness, I would fast and, clad in sackcloth, mourn.
And when my prayers were not heard, 14 I mourned as one bereaved Of mother, brother, closest friend; I bowed my head and grieved.
15 But when I slipped, they gathered round and gloated with delight; They came upon me unawares to vent on me their spite.
Unceasingly they slandered me; 16 they mocked maliciously, Like those who have no fear of God, and gnashed their teeth at me.
17 O Lord, how long will you look on? Defend me from their strife; From these marauding lions’ teeth protect my precious life.
18 Then where the great assembly meets to you I will give praise; Among the crowds of worshippers in thanks my voice I’ll raise.
19 Let him not gloat who, without cause, is my fierce enemy, Nor those who hate me unprovoked stare spitefully at me.
20 They do not speak in peaceful words, but cunning schemes have planned, Accusing those who live at peace and quiet in the land.
21 Triumphantly they shout and say, “His wickedness we see!” 22 LORD, you have seen; hold not your peace. Lord, be not far from me.
23 Awake, and rise to my defence! Contend for me, my God. 24 Do not let them gloat over me; in justice judge, O LORD.
25 Let them not think within their hearts, “At last! just what we want!” Nor let them say, “We’ve swallowed him”— let that not be their taunt.
26 May all who gloat at my distress know shame and loss of face; May all who triumph over me be covered with disgrace.
27 May those who long to see me cleared shout out with joy and sing: “The LORD be praised, who loves to see his servant prospering.”
28 I will extol your righteousness; I’ll praise you with my tongue. I will proclaim your greatness, LORD, and praise you all day long.
Psalm 35 is a psalm of imprecation.
It originates from someone who feels deeply wronged. As a consequence, the Psalmists’ response is to enlist God’s help in destroying those who set out to destroy him. It is a sentiment that most of us are familiar with. To hurt others as we ourselves have been hurt.
This spirit of retaliation is one from which most Christians flinch, believing it not to be worthy of the One who died in agony with words of forgiveness on his lips for those whose actions had led him to a cruel execution by the Roman occupying power.
Five hundred years ago, the Archbishop of Glasgow issued a terrible curse against the Reiver families who burnt and stole from families living on either side of the English Scottish border. Some 300 words of the curse are carved into a granite stone which has been placed in the Millennium Gallery. The curse has provoked controversy in the city.
Yet the hounding of the innocent by the powerful inflames us still. Verses 11- 14 indicate that the Psalmist has shown goodness to those who now work for his downfall. In verses 15 16 we get a foretaste of the treatment Jesus experienced, whilst remaining like a sheep before its shearers. From this heartfelt cry, we are reminded that God is not impartial, impassive to the suffering of people. The praises the Church offers flow from God’s nature and purpose which to embody justice for the oppressed and the vulnerable, even if God’s ways of transforming brutality and injustice are not like ours.
Thank you, God, That you hear the cries of suffering people. Lead us from curses to blessing. Minister to the anger in our own hearts, So that we may be instruments of your peace, In a world which scarcely recognises it, Amen
The Rev’d Richard Church, is a URC minister, worshipping with Streatham URC, and serves as Deputy General Secretary (Discipleship).