I wonder when was the last time you either read or sang any part of Psalm 35 in church? Or maybe the right question is, have you ever read or sung it in church? We have our favourites and, I imagine, this psalm is not one of them. So then, I guess we need to then ask, why not? And you might say, well Rod, just read it for yourself and then you will understand!
Historically, at times, Christians have had a problem with psalms like this, sometimes called “imprecatory psalms” which are described as those that “invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imprecatory_Psalms) Using images of conflict and hostility, right from the beginning this psalm reveals this truth as it petitions God to “engage himself as a warrior…to match the hostilities of the opponents.” (Broyles). The psalmist (probably David) passionately and desperately cries out:
1 Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me.
2 Take up shield and armour;
arise and come to my aid.
3 Brandish spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
“I am your salvation.”
4 May those who seek my life
be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
be turned back in dismay.
5 May they be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
6 may their path be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.
7 Since they hid their net for me without cause
and without cause dug a pit for me,
8 may ruin overtake them by surprise—
may the net they hid entangle them,
may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
9 Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
and delight in his salvation.
10 My whole being will exclaim,
“Who is like you, Lord?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them.”
Wilcock quotes C.S. Lewis in his book Reflections on the Psalms when in his chapter on “The Cursings”, he says: “The Church of England’s Alternative Service Book of 1980 marked passages in thirteen [Imprecatory Psalms] which…’may be omitted’…in public worship. In one case (Psalm 58) the entire psalm was so marked.” Thankfully, says Wilcock, “their successors were less swayed by the spirit of the age, and Common Worship, published in 2000, contains no such editorial high-handedness.”
He also quotes Wenham who referred to “a study some years ago which concluded that on the grounds of their ‘bloodthirsty threats and curses’ no fewer than 84 psalms (out of 150!) were ‘not fit for Christians to sing’!”
Such is the problem some people have with these particular psalms. What about you?
Bit by bit, over the next weeks we will look at this psalm and see (with the help of some better qualified than me) if we can find some possible answers to the questions we may have with this particular type of psalm, and hopefully find ourselves having a new appreciation for why these psalms are included in the scriptures.
Father, thank you, even if we don’t always understand everything we read in the Bible, we know that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that [we] the servant[s] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And that even includes these “difficult” psalms! Amen.
Note: to listen to Psalm 35 as a song go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfoyhlSJ9f8