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Psalm 35:19-21 meaning

David petitions God to not allow his enemies to get away with slandering him. His petitions are prophetic of how Jesus the Messiah was slandered during His trials. 

Psalm 35 is a prayer David offered to the LORD, asking Him to rescue him from enemies who unjustly seek his destruction. This portion of Psalm 35 begins David the psalmist's third litany (list of petitions). 

Psalm 35 is outlined as follows:

  • First Litany (Psalm 35:1-8)
  • First Praise (Psalm 35:9-10)
  • Second Litany (Psalm 35:11-17
  • Second Praise (Psalm 35:18)   
  • Third Litany (Psalm 35:19-27)   
  • Third Praise (Psalm 35:28)   

Psalm 35:19-21 as David's Prayer

The third and final litany of Psalm 35 consists of seven petitions to the LORD and makes an accusation against David's enemies.

The first petition of the third litany of Psalm 35 is:

Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me;
Nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously (v 19).

David describes his adversaries as those who are wrongfully my enemies and those who hate me without cause. This description echoes his prior portrayals of his adversaries when the psalmist said that they laid traps for him without cause (Psalm 35:7) and that "they repay me evil for good" (Psalm 35:12). 

These accounts suggest that the psalmist's enemies were once his friends, and that David never did anything to harm them, but they betrayed and hated him without cause

David petitions the LORD to not let his enemies win. If they are successful in their plot to destroy David, they will rejoice over him and his destruction. Because their plot is wicked or illegal, they will be prone to keep it secret among themselves. So, the conspirators will wink at each other as a way to maliciously share their satisfaction of what they did to David. 

The psalmist petitions the LORD to not let these things happen. If those who hate him do not rejoice or wink maliciously, it will be because David has escaped their efforts to harm him. 

After making this petition, David the psalmist, asserts an accusation against his enemies. His accusation explains why he is petitioning the LORD to be against them and to thwart their plans.

David's accusation is that they are slandering him,

For they do not speak peace,
But they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land (v 21).

As has been the case throughout all of Psalm 35, the pronoun they refers to the psalmist's enemies and those who hate him. 

The psalmist accuses his enemies of not speaking peace

The Hebrew word that is translated as peace in this verse is a form of the word "shalom." 

"Shalom" is an important word in the culture of Israel. It describes the world as God intends it to be—with everything in proper alignment and harmony. It is a world where love and justice are the natural byproducts of every personal interaction. The idea of "Shalom" anticipates this perfect state of harmony when the Messiah establishes His kingdom. 

"Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace ['shalom'] will be between the two offices."
(Zechariah 6:13)

The hope of and desire for "shalom" is expressed in practically every Jewish greeting. When friends, family, even strangers meet someone, they speak the word "shalom" as a favorable greeting, as a way to express the greeter's intent to bless the person they are seeing.

When the psalmist says his enemies do not speak "shalom," he is not saying that they are simply being rude. He is accusing them of wrongfully seeking to destroy harmony and community. They are fostering discord—the opposite of "shalom." In so doing, they are transgressing one of the most fundamental commandments—"Love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Leviticus 19:18).

David elaborates upon their intent. Instead of speaking peace, they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land

Those who are quiet in the land are those who respectfully mind their own business and are content to love God and serve others. Those who are quiet in the land do not seek to trouble or harass other people. 

The psalmist's enemies devise deceitful words against those who are faithful to the LORD. They are not merely David's enemies, but they are enemies of the LORD's people. They are enemies of "shalom."

The psalmist then cites evidence for his accusation that they speak discord instead of peace.  

They opened their mouth wide against me;
They said, "Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!" (v 21).

The expression They opened their mouth wide against me—means to loudly shout or scream angry or hateful things against someone. When someone yells, they expand their mouth wide open to project their voice. To yell against someone means to scream harmful words and to oppose that person. 

David's enemies are bold enough to yell against him. This could be because they have David alone to themselves, or because they believe they are in a secure position that allows them to unleash their hatred against him publicly without facing serious repercussions for doing so. 

David quotes his enemies as shouting: "Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!"

The interjection: Aha, aha expresses malicious surprise and delight of the psalmist's enemies. Their hatred against David has been pent up and building for an extended time. They have had to impatiently wait to destroy him, and perhaps have failed to do so more than once already. But now something has suddenly happened that causes them to instantly believe that they can destroy him now. Their eyes have seen something that causes them to cheer that his destruction will happen.

Because they have suddenly seen what they believe will be David's ruin, they are shouting and maliciously celebrating. 

David was anointed by the LORD to be king over Israel. As king, he was accountable to the LORD to use his authority to foster "shalom" (peace and harmony) by implementing the rule of God's perfect law. By maliciously plotting and celebrating the downfall of the LORD's anointed king, David's enemies were, by extension, foolishly celebrating the obstruction of God's kingdom. 

How David's litany in Psalm 35:19-21 corresponds to Jesus, the Messiah

The Bible Says commentary for this section of scripture will continue to number the various ways Psalm 35 is prophetic of Jesus, the Messiah. The listing of Psalm 35's Messianic prophecies start in The Bible Says commentary for Psalm 35:1-3. This section of scripture begins with the 21st Messianic prophecy of Psalm 35

21.   The Messiah's enemies will not be victorious over Him.

Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me;
Nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously (v 19). 

Jesus, the Messiah will triumph over His enemies.

This includes not only Satan—the adversary (Romans 16:20), but also those who were wrongfully His enemies. In a general sense this refers to everyone, because everyone has been created by the LORD and for the LORD (Psalm 100:3, Colossians 1:16).

But in a more specific sense those who hate Jesus the Messiah without cause could refer to those among the generation of Israel that rejected Him as Messiah. This includes the chief priests, scribes, and elders of the Sanhedrin who illegally plotted and condemned Jesus to death (Matthew 26:2-3, Luke 22:68-71). It also could include Jesus's disciple Judas, who betrayed Him without cause. The New Testament is eerily silent as to why Judas decided to betray his Rabbi. It appears that he literally did so without cause

Judas felt terrible remorse soon after his betrayal, and committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-5). And though the religious leaders temporarily rejoiced over the death of Jesus the Messiah, they quickly became afraid upon His resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28:11-15). 

Within forty years of Jesus the Messiah's resurrection, Rome utterly destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D. as Jesus predicted would happen (Matthew 24:2). Jesus predicted this would come upon that generation (Matthew 23:35-36). The contemporary historian Josephus estimated that over 1 million Jews were slaughtered or starved to death during this catastrophe (Josephus. "The War of the Jews" Book 6. Chapter 9. Section 4). None of the religious authorities who hated Jesus the Messiah were rejoicing then.

To learn more about Matthew's explanation of Judas's bargain, see The Bible Says commentary for Matthew 27:6-10.

When Jesus the Messiah returns, He will judge everyone (Matthew 25:31-32)—including those who devised His crucifixion. On that day, no one will wink maliciously.

This prophecy which describes the Messiah's adversaries as those who are wrongfully His enemies and who hate Him without cause echoes the fifth and tenth Messianic prophecies of Psalm 35 which suggest that He will be betrayed. 

(5) The Messiah's adversaries will seek His destruction without cause.
(Psalm 35:7)

(10) The Messiah will be good, but His adversaries will wrong Him for His good.
(Psalm 35:12)

David's accusation against his enemies is also prophetic of the Messiah.

22.   The Messiah's adversaries oppose "shalom" (peace).

For they do not speak peace,
But they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land (v 20).

Jesus is the Messiah, Bringer of "shalom." He is the One who will reconcile heaven and earth, bringing all things to perfect harmony (2 Peter 3:13). He is the LORD's anointed who will establish the Messianic kingdom and all the blessings that come with living according to God's perfect law.

As the Messiah, Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). Jesus's Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) proclaims the principles of His kingdom—which describe peace—"shalom." The term Matthew used to record what Jesus said was "righteousness"—which essentially means harmony of all things with God's (good) design. When Jesus taught His disciples to "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33), He was exhorting them to seek "shalom" (peace) and seek true peace, which only comes by living in harmony with God's rule and design for life.  

Jesus's offer of "Makarios" (unalloyed happiness and blessing) (Matthew 5:3-10), was freely offered to everyone who would follow Him and accept His rule. But despite this incredible offer, some hated Him without cause

Instead of seeking harmony and speaking peace, the Messiah's enemies wanted to control and exploit others for the pleasure of their own appetites (Matthew 23:14). They hated Jesus. And they rejected the blessings of His kingdom. 

By opposing Jesus as the Messiah without cause, His enemies necessarily opposed the "shalom" (peace) of the Messianic kingdom—first for themselves, but also for those who are quiet in the land

Jesus's description of those who are "blessed" in His kingdom might describe those who are quiet in land at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount as:

  • the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3)
  • those who mourn (Matthew 5:4); 
  • the gentle (Matthew 5:5)
  • those who hunger and thirst for righteousness ("shalom"/peace) (Matthew 5:6)
  • the merciful (Matthew 5:7)
  • the pure in heart (Matthew 5:8)
  • the peacemakers ("shalom"-makers) (Matthew 5:9)

These kinds of people are "persecuted for the sake of righteousness [and the "shalom"/peace they seek]" by the Messiah's enemies who devise deceit against them (Matthew 5:10)

The quiet in the land could also just refer to those seeking to live peaceably in the land. The indication is that the Messiah's enemies actually bring violence to those who prefer to live peaceably. This drips with irony given that Jesus's enemies justified their actions by rationalizing that they had to do violence to Jesus in order to protect their nation (John 11:48). 

Jesus offers encouragement that as His enemies devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land, that those who are targeted with such slander are blessed ("Makarios") "when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me" (Matthew 5:11). Jesus tells them why they are blessed when this apparently unpleasant thing happens:

"Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
(Matthew 5:12)

The enemies of Jesus the Messiah persecuted and killed His followers (Matthew 10:24-25, 10:28, Acts 4:1-3, 5:18, 5:40, 6:12 - 7:60, 8:3, 9:1-2, 12:1-2, 12:3, 14:2-5, 16:22-23, Acts 21:27-Acts 28:31). Church tradition teaches that all of the twelve disciples experienced some form of martyrdom for their faith.

23.   The Messiah's adversaries will shout against Him and celebrate His ruin.

They opened their mouth wide against me;
They said, "Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!" (v 21).

There are at least three possible fulfillments of this Messianic prophecy in the life of Jesus. 

The first was during Jesus's second religious trial in the home of Caiaphas. After failing to find a charge which could be used to condemn Jesus to death (Matthew 26:59), Jesus's accusers faced the prospect that their illegal conspiracy against Him would come to light. 

If their illegal actions and nefarious plot became exposed to the people, it would likely lead to the ruin of the Sadducees and Pharisees. They were desperate for this not to happen. Then Caiaphas, the high priest, illegally abused his authority as judge and began to prosecute Jesus, putting him under oath to testify whether or not He was the Christ (Matthew 26:63). 

To see a more complete explanation of this miscarriage of justice, see The Bible Says article: "Jesus's Trial, Part 5. The Laws of Practice that were Violated."

Jesus answered the high priest truthfully (Matthew 26:64). At that point the high priest immediately opened his mouth wide against Jesus and charged Him with blasphemy (Matthew 26:65). The Gospels do not specifically say that Caiaphas shouted when he made this accusation, but it does say that he tore his robes which was an unlawful physical outburst of shock and emotion (Matthew 26:65). Given the intensity of the moment, it would seem likely that the expressed intensity meets the pictorial emotion expressed by the image of opening one's mouth wide against Jesus. 

The high priest then turned to those who "gathered themselves together" (Psalm 35:15, Matthew 26:57) against Jesus and asked them: 

"'What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy, how does it seem to you?'
"And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death."
(Mark 14:63-64—See also Matthew 26:65-66)

The priests and elders' response was essentially the same as what David wrote in Psalm 35:21"Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!" They had abandoned the legal requirement to gain two or three witnesses in order to condemn (Deuteronomy 17:6). All they needed now was to be justified in their own eyes. 

This turn of events to simply declare Jesus guilty was sudden and savagely celebrated by those who hated Jesus (Matthew 26:67-68).

The second potential fulfillment of this prophecy is virtually identical to the first, only this time it took place during Jesus's third religious trial. This trial is called the Sunrise Trial before the Sanhedrin. It was Jesus's official religious trial, but was no more legal than His Preliminary Trial in the House of Annas or the Night Time Trial in the House of Caiaphas. 

Jesus's third and final religious trial, unburdened by the task of finding a charge with which to condemn Him, simply repeated the line of litigation that Caiaphas had discovered no more than a few hours before. That trial too ended with the Sanhedrin Council saying, essentially: Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it! They expressed this sentiment as: "What further need do we have of testimony? For we have heard it ourselves from His own mouth" (Luke 22:71). 

A third possible Messianic fulfillment of the prophecy was during the final phase of Jesus's Civil Trial, as those who hated Jesus without cause opened their mouth wide against Him and shouted: 

  • "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" (Luke 22:21)
  • "His blood shall be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:25)
  • "Away with Him…We have no king but Caesar!" (John 19:15)
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