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Psalm 35

Against oppression

Do battle with those who attack me, Yahveh
fight against those who fight against me.
2 Take up shield and armor and defend me.
3 Wield spear and battle-axe against my pursuers
and tell me, “I’m your victory!”
4 Bewilder and mortify
those who are out to kill me.
Turn back in confusion
those who plot my downfall.
5 Blow them away like chaff in the wind
with the angel of Yahveh[1] driving them back.
6 Make their path dark and slippery
with the angel of Yahveh hot on their heels!
7 For unprovoked, they dug a pit for me
and for no reason spread a net for me.
8 So now let havoc strike without warning
and the trap they set catch them instead
throwing them headlong into their own pit.
9 Then I’ll rejoice in Yahveh
and celebrate his rescue.
10 Every bone in my body will cry out
“Who is like you, Yahveh
who rescues the helpless from bullies
the poor and needy
from those who ravage them?

11 Vicious witnesses bring charges against me
and grill me about crimes I know nothing of.
12 They repay me evil for good
leaving me devastated.
13 But when they were sick
I dressed in mourning and fasted
praying, downcast, hunched over.
14 I grieved as if for a dear friend or brother
doubled over as if my own mother was dying.
15 But the moment I stumbled
they gathered in glee—gathered against me.
Riffraff I didn’t even know
appeared and attacked my reputation nonstop.
16 They shower me with profanities
and gnash their teeth at me.
17 How long, Yahveh
will you simply watch?
Rescue me from their attacks
save my one-and-only life from these lions.
18 I will thank you in the great congregation
praising you before that vast assembly.

19 Don’t let my treacherous enemies
celebrate my destruction
or those who hate me for no reason
wink at each other behind my back.
20 Never talking peace, they only distort
what the land’s peace-lovers do.
21 And they accuse me, their mouths gaping:
“Ha! Ha! We saw it with our own eyes!”
22 But you saw what happened too, Yahveh
so now isn’t the time to keep quiet!
Don’t disappear when I need you, Yahveh!
23 Wake up and come defend me!
Take up my cause, my Lord Yahveh.
24 Vindicate me, Yahveh my God
in keeping with your justice
and don’t let them celebrate my downfall.
25 Don’t let them say to themselves
“Yes! Just what we wanted!”
Don’t let them exclaim
“We ate him alive!”
26 Humiliate and confound
those who relish my misfortune.
Cover with shame and disgrace
all who promote themselves at my expense.
27 All who long to see me come out on top
will shout and cheer.
Give them constant cause to say
“Praise Yahveh
who loves to see his servant prosper!”
28 Then I will talk about your justice
and sing your praises all day long.

Since David was beloved by many Israelites, King Saul couldn’t eliminate him without justification.[2] Even dictators seek some legal pretext for liquidating perceived threats to their power—in absentia if they must. Saul doubtless tried David like this, whether or not formally. Charging David with imaginary crimes, Saul’s witnesses were heard by all, while David couldn’t defend himself. Besides being Saul’s son-in-law, David was his most loyal subject. Instead of leading a palace coup when Saul was ill, he prayed for Saul’s recovery. Now Saul hunts him down like an animal, repaying David evil for good.

Besides lamenting Saul’s oppression, David urges God to drive away those bent on killing him.[3] He also tells God actively to vindicate him. False witnesses claim they saw David commit crimes he’s astonished to hear of. So he calls God to the witness stand to tell what he saw. Linking this lament to Psalm 34 is David’s awareness that, besides being his only hope of victory, Yahveh loves to help the helpless, making David marvel at his uniqueness.

David longs to tell every Israelite about God’s rescue so all can join him in celebrating God’s astonishing goodness. That will restore David’s honor among all those before whom he currently stands disgraced.

There’s no God like you, Lord, who identifies with the oppressed and will one day right every wrong. Deliver from evil all who face oppression. Lift up the humble and humble their oppressors. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, for the glory of your name. Amen.


[1] The angel of Yahveh represents God on earth, executing his judgment and protecting his people.

[2] Commentators are divided over this lament’s historical context, with some saying it relates to some international treaty’s violation. Others see it, as I do, related to Saul’s evil attempts to liquidate David. Its placement after Psalm 34 may suggest that it relates to David’s life on the run after returning from Gath, that psalm attesting to what he learned in his final hours there.

[3] Anyone shocked by David’s calls for divine judgment here needs to recall that, for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven, God must set everything right in the world. To do that, he must battle oppressors, who never stop without a fight. Thus, it’s only right that we join the psalmist in praying that God do that.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.