Psalm 35: Contend
February 12, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Exodus 32-33, Psalm 35, Matthew 15:1-20, Acts 21:1-26
What do you do when you have people who are out to get you? It is hard to go through life without any kind of conflict whatsoever. To some extent, we expect that there will be times when we come across people who don’t like us or who are not our best friends. But there is a different level of opposition where there are people—individuals or a group—who are deliberately doing what they can to take you down. When they are twisting your words or plotting behind the scenes to sully your name, your reputation, and even physically hurt you. What do you do then? What is the right response for a Christian in such a situation?
In this psalm, David is faced with people who are “contending” against him. They “without cause” “hid a net” for him. They “without cause” “dug a pit” for his life. They’re trying to get him. He is faced by “malicious witnesses”—they are using lying words to trap him. “They ask me of things that I do not know.” They ask leading questions of the “When did you stop beating your wife?” kind. None of this is because of something that David has done to hurt them. In fact, when they were sick he wore “sackcloth.” He grieved when they were in hospital. He looked sad and felt sad when they were in trouble. He “fasted” and “prayed” for them when they were unwell. But when he stumbled, they “rejoiced” and “gathered together against” him. At the first sign that he was in trouble, they made the most of that momentary weakness to try to take him out. They open their mouths and say “aha, aha!”—here’s our opportunity, we’ve seen it, let’s go take him down!
What do you do when you have this kind of deliberate opposition plotting against you? Perhaps there is someone at work or someone at school who is your enemy because you are a follower of Jesus. They won’t come out and say that is the reason, but the truth is that if you took a different moral stand on some things, then they would not oppose you. How do you respond in such times when people are “contending” against you? There are probably a lot of things to say about that, wise and shrewd tactics and the like. But the first and most important thing is what David describes in this psalm. He asks God to fight for him. “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me.”
We know from the life of David that David was certainly not averse to taking initiative. He was very much a man of action. But that activity was, at David’s best, rooted in this prayerful asking of God to fight for him. “Contend with those who contend with me.” Or again, “Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation!’” David is looking for assurance, inside, in his soul, that God will save him. He asks that they would be “put to shame and dishonor who seek after his life.” Is it right to pray such things?
As Christians we have a higher model to follow than David’s. Our Lord Jesus prayed at the cross, “Father, forgive them.” That should be our prayer. But it is not wrong to tell God that we feel differently. We tell God our anger at injustice so that the rightful recompense for such injustice may land in the person of God: either expressed in his wrath in hell against sinners, or expressed in his love at the cross to save sinners. Either way, we give Christ our burdens. We express our frustration to God: “How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction.” We even ask that God would “vindicate” us; it is not good when the name of Christ is sullied through false accusations against Christ’s people.
In short, we look for the right order of things to be put back in place: “Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore, ‘Great is the LORD who delights in the welfare of his servant!’” Or as God said to Paul so many years later: “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” (for when Saul persecuted the church, he was persecuting the body of Christ). We long for and ask that God’s people would be shown—despite all our failings—to be truly the people of God, so that then we would again tell of his righteousness and his praise “all the day long.” What do you do when people are out to get you, destroy you, take you down? Try Psalm 35.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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