GETTING THE MESSAGE/Judgement, yet salvation through Christ
Psalm 35 is a psalm about judgment and salvation — two themes we see throughout the Scriptures. In verse one, David calls upon the Lord to “fight against those who fight against me.” David was the Lord’s anointed king and he saw enemies threatening that 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 advance of the gospel against opposition that is too strong for God’s people. Jesus told his disciples, “You can do nothing apart from me.” They lived and acted by 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 said to them. The whole church turned to prayer: “Lord, look upon their threats and grant to 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 great promise! We should call upon the Lord, remembering this promise, when we find ourselves overwhelmed by our circumstances and our faith severely challenged. We may 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 means a curse, asking the Lord to destroy his enemies. He makes explicit requests such as, “Let them be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away,” and “Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it.”
Imprecatory language is startling but not surprising. The Lord is holy and sin provokes his wrath. 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. The warnings from John of the judgment of God were to point sinners to a great Savior and salvation, to make the way for Christ the Lord. Christ came to die in the place of sinners, take the imprecatory curses upon himself. God magnifies his grace and love in the person and work of Christ Jesus while satisfying his justice.
The Lord builds his church by the power of his Spirt through the preaching of the gospel. All who come to Christ will be freely and completely forgiven their sins and given eternal life with him. It is a great salvation that is wholly gratuitous. And essential; none 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 are to remember this when they face opposition or persecution. Men crucified the sinless and righteous Jesus, yet he prayed for them on the cross. He is full of mercy, but will by no means clear the guilty.
There will be a judgment. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). The language of judgment David uses in this Psalm points to the terrible nature of God’s impending judgment that hangs over this world. God by his very nature will be led to destroy the wicked. There is a certain coming ruin that awaits the enemies of Christ and his people. And the church must proclaim it faithfully, but with tenderness; pointing sinners to a Savior willing to accept them.
In verse 9, David promises to rejoice in the Lord and exult in his salvation. David knew only the Lord could save him so the Lord deserved all the praise. In David’s case, the salvation of the Lord would not be wasted on an ungrateful soul. He rejoiced in the Lord.
The people of God are in every way and in all respects a blessed people. They are blessed in their hopes and expectations, as David was. Circumstances and people change, but God does not. If you are Christ’s, you are God’s. Whatever happens in this world, God changes not, and that is enough for those who believe.
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.