*Scripture verses covered in this section's commentary are noted in italics

Psalm 35:1-3 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Psalm 35:1
  • Psalm 35:2
  • Psalm 35:3

David petitions God to advocate on His behalf against those who contend and fight against him. He puts his trust in the LORD for his deliverance. This is prophetic of how Jesus entrusts His case to the LORD during His illegal religious trials.

The Biblical superscription of Psalm 35 is:

Prayer for Rescue from Enemies.
A Psalm of David.

We know that David is the young man who was anointed king, killed Goliath, fled from Saul, became king of Israel, and fought many battles on behalf of Israel. This is the David who was the author of this psalm

We also know that this psalm is a prayer to God for rescue from enemies. Despite being king, David lived a dangerous life and had many enemies—foreign and domestic—who threatened his life.  

Psalm 35 is also prophetic of Jesus, the Messiah. In many respects, it is similar to the more well-known Psalm 22. From a prophetic standpoint, both psalms focus on the persecution and glorious vindication of the coming Messiah. Their prophetic content differs mainly in the fact that Psalm 22 tends to focus on the physical abuse the Messiah will suffer, while Psalm 35 tends to focus on legal injustices the Messiah will bear. Psalm 22 prophesies of the cross. Psalm 35 prophesies of the betrayal of Jesus, and the fraudulent religious trials. 

Each of The Bible Says commentaries for Psalm 35 will be divided into two sections. One section will explain how the psalm portends to David, the author of the psalm, and one section will explain how the psalm prophetically corresponds to Jesus as the Messiah. For easier navigation, these sections will be marked with boldfaced headings. Moreover, the commentaries for Psalm 35 will attempt to point the prophetic correlations of David’s prayer to the Messiah. They will keep a running tally of the Messianic prophesies of Psalm 35 and explain their fulfillments in the first and second advents of Jesus. The Bible Says has identified an amazing 38 of these prophecies within Psalm 35.  

Psalm 35 is divided into three groups or litanies of petitions: Psalm 35:1-8; Psalm 35:11-17; Psalm 35:19-27. At the conclusion of each litany is a praise of confidence in the LORD. There are three of these praises in total: Psalm 35:9-10; Psalm 35:18; Psalm 35:28.

Psalm 35:1-3 as David’s Prayer

The first petition of Psalm 35 begins with an urgent request:

Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
Fight against those who fight against me (v 1).

The expression contend with means to challenge or wrestle with. David is calling upon the LORD to trouble those who are causing trouble for him. 

In the second line, David repeats this request in stronger terms—asking God to fight against those who are fighting against him. David wants God to oppose his foes because they are opposing him in his mission to serve the LORD. Their opposition seems to have been more than a nuisance to David and his service to God. They have become a major obstacle and a material threat to his efforts and life.   

The magnitude or severity of the threat of those who contend with and fight against David becomes increasingly apparent throughout Psalm 35. David requests immediate military assistance, saying:

Take hold of buckler and shield
And rise up for my help (v 2).

Here David uses militant language to call upon the LORD to come to his defense. A buckler is a small round shield that is strapped to the forearm. A buckler is used to deflect swings from a sword or club. A shield is typically larger than a buckler. A full shield usually protects more of the body from projectiles like arrows or spears. Each are used to protect and defend against attack. 

David is asking the LORD to rise up for his help against those who are attacking him from close range and from afar. He is asking the LORD to defend and protect Him, by deflecting the efforts of his attackers. 

Draw also the spear and the battle-axe to meet those who pursue me (v 3a).

In verse 3, David asks the LORD to protect him by using violent force or the threat of violent force against those who are pursuing him as he tries to escape. He wants God to also draw his spear and battle-axe and meet those who are chasing him. A drawn spear is one that is ready to be thrown at an enemy. A battle-axe is a deadly weapon in close combat. Just as David asks for defense both in close quarters as well as from afar, he likewise asks for offensive aid.

If God meets them and stands between David and his pursuers, then his enemies will either shrink back and call off their pursuit when they see the LORD arrayed for battle, or they will engage him and be destroyed. Either way, if God will meet with them, David will be safe. 

David asks the LORD to reassure him.

Say to my soul, “I am your salvation” (v 3b).

David is fearful for his life. The word salvation in scripture means “something or someone is being delivered” and context determines who or what is being delivered, and from what peril. 

Here, David is asking the LORD to provide salvation for the sake of his physical life, for God to deliver him from being abused or put to death by his enemies. The Hebrew word translated as soul can also mean life. David is asking God to let him know that he will be okay. David believes he will be saved, if the LORD tells him “I am your salvation.” This expression is the equivalent of David requesting to hear God tell him, “I got you.” 

Interestingly, the Hebrew word that is translated as your salvation is a form of יְשׁוּעָה (H344). It is pronounced “yesh-oo’-aw” and transliterated as “Yeshua.” Yeshua is functionally the same word as the Hebrew name translated to English as Joshua or Jesus. The name of Joshua and Jesus means in Hebrew “the Lord saves” or “salvation of the Lord.” 

Therefore, a rough translation of David’s line could be rendered: Say to my soul, “I am Jesus.  Jesus is our salvation from sin, and from the corruption that is in the world, 

“There is salvation in no one else [but Jesus]; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
(Acts 4:12) 

In the immediate context of this verse from Acts 4, it seems likely the primary deliverance Peter has in mind is both the spiritual as well as physical deliverance promised to Israel in the Messianic kingdom. In the previous chapter of Acts, Peter asserted to a group of gathered Jews:

“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
(Acts 3:19)

Peter desired both spiritual deliverance (“sins may be wiped away”) as well as physical deliverance—the “times of refreshing” refers to Israel’s deliverance from oppression and the inauguration of a messianic kingdom. God’s promised deliverance is comprehensive. Thus far in Psalm 35, David is relying completely on the LORD to defend him. The psalm has given no indication that David has taken any measures to actively defend himself from those who fight against him. He appears to be entrusting himself and the outcome to the LORD alone. 

David’s faith and reliance upon the LORD to contend and fight on his behalf is a practical example for us to follow and live out as we try to apply the Biblical principle of leaving room for God’s judgment and wrath,

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution…
For the LORD will vindicate His people”
(Deuteronomy 32:35-36, Hebrews 10:30)

It is not our responsibility to punish our enemies for the harm they inflict upon us. It is the LORD’s job. Anytime we seek our own vengeance, we are usurping God’s authority for ourselves. The best recourse for us to take when we are personally offended or angered by our enemies is to turn the other cheek, and let God’s wrath deal with them, rather than our own. Jesus taught His disciples:

Do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
(Matthew 5:39) 

The Apostle Paul adds (quoting Deuteronomy 32:35):

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
(Romans 12:19-21) 

Instead of resisting an evil person, i.e. argue with, contend with, fight against, etc. we are to walk away and disengage. Moreover, we are to do good to them. In doing so, we win. We “heap burning coals on his head” by demonstrating the true and right way to engage constructively, by loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

This requires faith that the LORD’s way is better than our natural response. The LORD’s way is to love others as we love ourselves. The world’s way is to exploit others for our own gain. The fundamental choice humanity has had from the Garden of Eden until now is whether to trust God and His love-your-neighbor ways, or whether to trust in ourselves and our own knowledge. 

To trust that God’s ways are for our best requires relying on His strength to disengage in  contentious moments with others. But if we respond by trusting the LORD, and turn the other cheek, God may use the mercy shown through this action to convert an enemy into a brother. If not, He will justly vindicate and avenge in His time and in His way. There is indication that in trying to do God’s job for Him, we actually spare people His wrath. 

Regardless of the path God chooses, we receive a better outcome than if we take matters into our own hand—because even if we succeed in putting down our enemy, we will have to answer to the LORD for usurping His authority.  

How David’s litany in Psalm 35:1-3 corresponds to Jesus, the Messiah

This passage contains Psalm 35’s first prophetic allusion concerning Jesus, the Messiah. 

1.   The Messiah will petition the LORD to contend with and fight against His adversaries on His behalf.

Jesus had many enemies who contended with and fought against Him in His quest to accomplish His Father’s will. 

Jesus’s main opponents were the religious authorities of His day, who felt threatened by the Kingdom he proclaimed because it was so very different from their own enclaves of power. 

Jesus’s religious opposition included various segments of Jewish leaders, including the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees.

The Pharisees were the honored gatekeepers of Jewish culture and tradition. They controlled the local synagogues where they taught their elaborate system of rules. In many cases, these rules were designed to extort the people for their own gain (Matthew 23:4, 14).

The Scribes were religious lawyers. They allied with the Pharisees to create legal loopholes for themselves to exploit, and legal hammers with which to crush anyone who opposed them for the slightest infraction (Matthew 23:4, 14). 

Jesus had some harsh things to say about the Scribes and Pharisees.

“They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.”
(Matthew 23:4)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”
(Matthew 23:14)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
(Matthew 23:23)

The Sadducees were the priests. They controlled the Temple in Jerusalem and performed the daily sacrifices offered there. 

Jesus greatly angered the Sadducees when he drove out their money changers, flipping over their tables in the temple courtyard as he did so:

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer”; but you are making it a robbers’ den.’”
(Matthew 21:12)

These three groups not only contended with Jesus, the Messiah, they also conspired and colluded against Him to murder Him (Matthew 16:21, 26:3-4; John 11:47-53). The leaders of these three groups formed the Sanhedrin Council, which was the highest court in Jewish law. The Sanhedrin illegally condemned Jesus to death during his third and final Religious Trial (Luke 22:66-71). 

For a list of the rules which were violated during Jesus’s Religious Trials, see The Bible Says article: “Jesus’s Trial, Part 1. The Laws Broken by the Religious Leaders: A Summary.”

During these illegally prosecuted trials, Jesus, like David, entrusted His defense and vindication to the LORD

Even though He confronted and exposed the wicked hypocrisy of his adversaries, He never used His own power or authority to defeat or even condemn His enemies (Matthew 26:52-53, John 3:17). 

Jesus never vindicated Himself. When the scribes and Pharisees demanded that He give them a sign, Jesus only said:

“An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
(Matthew 12:39-40)

Jesus refused to perform a sign, He only pointed to His future resurrection from the dead after being buried for three days. Jesus indicated that Jonah foreshadowed His burial and resurrection. 

Jesus entrusted His vindication and defense and His salvation from death to His heavenly Father—even unto His own humiliating and excruciating death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). And God answered by raising Him from the dead. Because Jesus was so faithful, “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).

When Jesus was accused and slandered, He did not respond to the accusations of His enemies. He did not address the charges brought against Him or say anything in His defense. Jesus completely entrusted His cause to the LORD to contend on His behalf. 

In His second religious trial, “Jesus kept silent” (Matthew 26:63a) until He was compelled to speak under oath by the high priest. When the priests and elders were slanderously accusing Jesus to Pilate, “the governor was quite amazed” that “He did not answer…with regard to even a single charge” (Matthew 27:14).

During these accusations, Jesus responded as Isaiah prophesied the Servant of the LORD would respond:

“He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth.”
(Isaiah 53:7a)

Biblical Text

Prayer for Rescue from Enemies.
A Psalm of David.

1 Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
Fight against those who fight against me.
2 Take hold of buckler and shield
And rise up for my help.
3 Draw also the spear and the battle-axe to meet those who pursue me;
Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

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