Ruthless witnesses come forward;
they question me on things I know nothing about.
They repay me evil for good
and leave me like one bereaved.
Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
I went about mourning
as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
as though weeping for my mother.
But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.
They slandered me without ceasing.
Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked;
they gnashed their teeth at me.
How long, Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.
I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
among the throngs I will praise you.
Do not let those gloat over me
who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason
maliciously wink the eye.
They do not speak peaceably,
but devise false accusations
against those who live quietly in the land.
They sneer at me and say, ‘Aha! Aha!
With our own eyes we have seen it.’
Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.
Do not be far from me, Lord.
Awake, and rise to my defence!
Contend for me, my God and Lord.
Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God;
do not let them gloat over me.
Do not let them think, ‘Aha, just what we wanted!’
or say, ‘We have swallowed him up.’
May all who gloat over my distress
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who exalt themselves over me
be clothed with shame and disgrace.
May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, ‘The Lord be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.’
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,(Ps. 35:11-28 NIV)
your praises all day long.
The Psalmist turns again to lament. The problem he describes in v11-18 is the worst kind of problem. He has been repaid evil for good. When others were ill, he mourned and prayed for them. He was sincere, and he prayed for them as if they were members of his only family. When the Psalmist stumbled, the very people he had prayed for gathered together with glee to rejoice in his stumble. They slandered his name behind his back, and carried out a whispering campaign of spiteful, relentless attacks. These people behaved like the ungodly, maliciously mocking and attacking the Psalmist. This has carried on for some time, and the Psalmist cries out for the Lord to intervene, ‘how long is the Lord going to look on?’ While this goes on, those who are attacking the Psalmist rejoice in glee with every verbal wound that they inflict. This is so difficult for the Psalmist, because the people whom he tried to serve and help have turned on him. Those who attacked him seemed to gain in strength and became like wild animals, and they were ravaging his reputation. The Psalmist doesn’t retaliate, instead he turns to God, and again anticipating his rescue, he looks forward to praising the Lord and giving thanks.
The Psalmist returns again to the unjust betrayal. He has seen those who have become his enemies without him ever having given them cause or reason. The harm that they do is subtle, but as they do their damage they wink knowing that they have scored their points. These slanderers are not interested in peace, they watch carefully to find further occasion to devise false accusations. The use of the word devise indicates that the false accusations were carefully crafted to include enough truth to make the accusation plausible and believable.
The Psalmist would have been happy to live a quiet life, but these slanderers were determined to rob him of any sense of peace. They laugh at the torture they have put him through, and he can see their sense of triumph. In the previous Psalm we saw that the eye of the Lord is always upon his people. This adds to the Psalmist’s difficulties, because the Psalmist knew that the Lord had seen all this but had remained silent. Perhaps the Lord’s silence emboldened the slanderers, because they appeared to be getting away with their behaviour, and possibly even felt that their behaviour was justified.
The Psalmist wants the Lord to act, to vindicate him to the standard of the Lord’s righteousness. The Psalmist is quite exhausted by those who gloat over him. They are robbing him of the joy of serving the Lord. They are delighted because they think they have triumphed by swallowing him up.
The Psalmist has a deep concern that justice and righteousness may triumph. When the Lord intervenes, those who opposed him will be exposed for what they have done, and they will suffer shame and disgrace. There will be many who rejoice at the vindication of the Psalmist. But the praise is not for the Psalmist, it is for the Lord. The Psalmist now has a sense of wellbeing that had unnecessarily been robbed from him by spiteful people. The Psalmist speaks of the Lord’s righteousness and praises the Lord all day long.
There is a contrast here between the two groups of enemies: the first group was attacking openly with weapons, and the second group were those who had been close the Psalmist, and they turn on him and repay him evil when he had attempted to do them good and pray for them when they were in need. The eye of the lord sees both types of opposition and will one day establish righteousness and justice.
Lord God we thank You that one day righteousness and justice will prevail. Lord help us not to be guilty of undermining the joy of any brother or sister. Keep us free of gossip and slander. Help us to seek the peace of the churches that Your people will be built up and learn to love one another deeply. Lord in mercy hear our prayer, for we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.