In these verses we have,
I. David’s representation of his case to God, setting forth the restless rage and malice of his persecutors. He was God’s servant, expressly appointed by him to be what he was, followed his guidance, and aimed at his glory in the way of duty, had lived (as St. Paul speaks) in all good conscience before God unto this day; and yet there were those that strove with him, that did their utmost to oppose his advancement, and made all the interest they could against him; they fought against him (Ps. 35:1), not only undermined him closely and secretly, but openly avowed their opposition to him and set themselves to do him all the mischief they could. They persecuted him with an unwearied enmity, sought after his soul (Ps. 35:4), that is, his life, no less would satisfy their bloody minds; they aimed to disquiet his spirit and put that into disorder. Nor was it a sudden passion against him that they harboured, but inveterate malice: They devised his hurt, laid their heads together, and set their wits on work, not only to do him a mischief, but to find out ways and means to ruin him. They treated him, who was the greatest blessing of his country, as if he had been the curse and plague of it; they hunted him as a dangerous beast of prey; they digged a pit for him and laid a net in it, that they might have him at their mercy, Ps. 35:7. They took a great deal of pains in persecuting him, for they digged a pit (Ps. 7:15); and very close and crafty they were in carrying on their designs; the old serpent taught them subtlety: they hid their net from David and his friends; but in vain, for they could not hide it from God. And, lastly, he found himself an unequal match for them. His enemy, especially Saul, was too strong for him (Ps. 35:10), for he had the army at his command, and assumed to himself the sole power of making laws and giving judgment, attainted and condemned whom he pleased, carried not a sceptre, but a javelin, in his hand, to cast at any man that stood in his way; such was the manner of the king, and all about him were compelled to do as he bade them, right or wrong. The king’s word is a law, and every thing must be carried with a high hand; he has fields, and vineyards, and preferments, at his disposal, 1 Sam. 22:7. But David is poor and needy, has nothing to make friends with, and therefore has none to take his part but men (as we say) of broken fortunes (1 Sam. 22:2); and therefore no marvel that Saul spoiled him of what little he had got and the interest he had made. If the kings of the earth set themselves against the Lord and his anointed, who can contend with them? Note, It is no new thing for the most righteous men, and the most righteous cause, to meet with many mighty and malicious enemies: Christ himself is striven with and fought against, and war is made upon the holy seed; and we are not to marvel at the matter: it is a fruit of the old enmity in the seed of the serpent against the seed of the woman.
II. His appeal to God concerning his integrity and the justice of his cause. If a fellow-subject had wronged him, he might have appealed to his prince, as St. Paul did to Caesar; but, when his prince wronged him, he appealed to his God, who is prince and Judge of the kings of the earth: Plead my cause, O Lord! Ps. 35:1. Note, A righteous cause may, with the greatest satisfaction imaginable, he laid before a righteous God, and referred to him to give judgment upon it; for he perfectly knows the merits of it, holds the balance exactly even, and with him there is no respect of persons. God knew that they were, without cause, his enemies, and that they had, without cause, digged pits for him, Ps. 35:7. Note, It will be a comfort to us, when men do us wrong, if our consciences can witness for us that we have never done them any. It was so to St. Paul. Acts 25:10; To the Jews have I done no wrong. We are apt to justify our uneasiness at the injuries men do us by this, That we never gave them any cause to use us so; whereas this should, more than any thing, make us easy, for then we may the more confidently expect that God will plead our cause.
III. His prayer to God to manifest himself both for him and to him, in this trial. 1. For him. He prays that God would fight against his enemies, so as to disable them to hurt him, and defeat their designs against him (Ps. 35:1), that he would take hold of shield and buckler, for the Lord is a man of war (Exod. 15:3), and that he would stand up for his help (Ps. 35:2), for he had few that would stand up for him, and, if he had ever so many, they would stand him in no stead without God. He prays that God would stop their way (Ps. 35:3), that they might not overtake him when he fled from them. This prayer we may put up against our persecutors, that God would restrain them and stop their way. 2. To him: “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation; let me have inward comfort under all these outward troubles, to support my soul which they strike at. Let God be my salvation, not only my Saviour out of my present troubles, but my everlasting bliss. Let me have that salvation not only which he is the author of, but which consists in his favour; and let me know my interest in it; let me have the comfortable assurance of it in my own breast.” If God, by his Spirit, witness to our spirits that he is our salvation, we have enough, we need desire no more to make us happy; and this is a powerful support when men persecute us. If God be our friend, no matter who is our enemy.
IV. His prospect of the destruction of his enemies, which he prays for, not in malice or revenge. We find how patiently he bore Shimei’s curses (so let him curse, for the Lord has bidden him); and we cannot suppose that he who was so meek in his conversation would give vent to any intemperate heat or passion in his devotion; but, by the spirit of prophecy, he foretels the just judgments of God that would come upon them for their great wickedness, their malice, cruelty, and perfidiousness, and especially the enmity to the counsels of God, the interests of religion, and that reformation which they knew David, if ever he had power in his hand, would be an instrument of. They seemed to be hardened in their sins, and to be of the number of those who have sinned unto death and are not to be prayed for, Jer. 7:16; 11:14; 14:11; 1 John 5:16. As for Saul himself, David, it is probable, knew that God had rejected him and had forbidden Samuel to mourn for him, 1 Sam. 16:1. And these predictions look further, and read the doom of the enemies of Christ and his kingdom, as appears by comparing Rom. 11:9, 10. David here prays, 1. Against his many enemies (Ps. 35:4-6): Let them be confounded, etc. Or, as Dr. Hammond reads it, They shall be confounded, they shall be turned back. This may be taken as a prayer for their repentance, for all penitents are put to shame for their sins and turned back from them. Or, if they were not brought to repentance, David prays that they might be defeated and disappointed in their designs against him and so put to shame. Though they should in some degree prevail, yet he foresees that it would be to their own ruin at last: They shall be as chaff before the wind, so unable will wicked men be to stand before the judgments of God and so certainly will they be driven away by them, Ps. 1:4. Their way shall be dark and slippery, darkness and slipperiness (so the margin reads it); the way of sinners is so, for they walk in darkness and in continual danger of falling into sin, into hell; and it will prove so at last, for their foot shall slide in due time, Deut. 32:35. But this is not the worst of it. Even chaff before the wind may perhaps be stopped, and find a place of rest, and, though the way be dark and slippery, it is possible that a man may keep his footing; but it is here foretold that the angel of the Lord shall chase them (Ps. 35:5) so that they shall find no rest, shall persecute them (Ps. 35:6) so that they cannot possibly escape the pit of destruction. As God’s angels encamp against those that fight against him. They are the ministers of his justice, as well as of his mercy. Those that make God their enemy make all the holy angels their enemies. 2. Against his one mighty enemy (Ps. 35:8): Let destruction come upon him. It is probable that he means Saul, who laid snares for him and aimed at his destruction. David vowed that his hand should not be upon him; he would not be judge in his own cause. But, at the same time, he foretold that the Lord would smite him (1 Sam. 26:10), and here that the net he had hidden should catch himself, and into that very destruction he should fall. This was remarkably fulfilled in the ruin of Saul; for he had laid a plot to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines (1 Sam. 18:25), that was the net which he hid for him under pretence of doing him honour, and in that very net was he himself taken, for he fell by the hand of the Philistines when his day came to fall.
V. His prospect of his own deliverance, which, having committed his cause to God, he did not doubt of, Ps. 35:9, 10. 1. He hoped that he should have the comfort of it: “My soul shall be joyful, not in my own ease and safety, but in the Lord and in his favour, in his promise and in his salvation according to the promise.” Joy in God and in his salvation is the only true, solid, satisfying joy. Those whose souls are sorrowful in the Lord, who sow in tears and sorrow after a godly sort, need not question but that in due time their souls shall be joyful in the Lord; for gladness is sown for them, and they shall at last enter into the joy of their Lord. 2. He promised that then God should have the glory of it (Ps. 35:10): All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto thee? (1.) He will praise God with the whole man, with all that is within him, and with all the strength and vigour of his soul, intimated by his bones, which are within the body and are the strength of it. (2.) He will praise him as one of peerless and unparalleled perfection. We cannot express how great and good God is, and therefore must praise him by acknowledging him to be a non-such. Lord, who is like unto thee? No such patron of oppressed innocency, no such punisher of triumphant tyranny. The formation of our bones so wonderfully, so curiously (Eccl. 11:5; Ps. 139:16), the serviceableness of our bones, and the preservation of them, and especially the life which, at the resurrection, shall be breathed upon the dry bones and make them flourish as a herb, oblige every bone in our bodies, if it could speak, to say, Lord, who is like unto thee? and willingly to undergo any services or sufferings for him.