The Righteous One’s Exasperation under the Cross

a brief study of Psalm 35, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 2 Feb 2007

We do not know the historical occasion under which Psalm 35 was written. Some believe that it is connected to Psalm 34 which was originally written by David as he thought about how God delivered him from Achish. It is noted that both psalms have a reference to angels (v. 6) and to bones (v. 10).

But we cannot be sure. One thing is sure, however: This psalm was written in the Spirit of Christ. While we may not be able to trace exactly when this psalm fits into the life of David, it is not at all difficult to see how this psalm describes vividly the experience and thoughts of our Lord as He headed to the Cross.

In the same night in which He was betrayed, our Lord when speaking to the disciples, quoted verse 19 (“Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause”) as being fulfilled in the situation that He was in—For the scribes and chief priest were indeed hating Him without cause, and they were about to translate their hatred into murder (cf. Jn 15:25).

In this psalm we see the Lord’s grief at the way He was rewarded evil for good, and we see how He committed His impenitent enemies unto His Father’s vengeance.

This is quite a long psalm, but it has essentially 3 sections:

(1) Verses 1-10—The Lord’s imprecations against His and His Father’s enemies.

(2) Verses 11-16—The Lord’s outpouring of His exasperation unto the Father in regard to the wicked enemies of His.

(3) Verses 17-28—The Lord’s plea to His Father to intervene to destroy the wicked and to bless the righteous.

Let’s look at these 3 sections briefly.

Our Lord begins by calling unto the Father to plead His cause.

1. The Lord’s Imprecation 
(v. 1-10)

1 Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me. 2 Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for mine help.

The word ‘plead’ translates a Hebrew word (byri) that describes a courtroom process.

Our Lord is calling unto the Father to take up His case, to make a righteous judgement about it, and to fight for Him. He can ask God to fight for Him because He is perfectly confident that in the matter on hand, He is perfectly righteous, whereas His enemies are entirely at fault.

7 For without cause have they hid for me their net in a pit, which without cause they have digged for my soul

For this same reason, our Lord calls unto His Father to deal with His enemies.

3 Draw out also the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me…

4 Let them be confounded and put to shame that seek after my soul.

Let them be turned back and brought to confusion that devise my hurt.

5 Let them be as chaff before the wind: and let the angel of the LORD chase them.

6 Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.…

8 Let destruction come upon him at unawares; and

Let his net that he hath hid catch himself: into that very destruction let him fall.

Few of us dare to make such solemn imprecations, for every time we ask the Lord to condemn anyone for his sin, our sin rises up in our conscience like the mud at bottom of a lake being stirred up to cloud our mind.

But Christ our Lord is without sin. And His relationship with the Father is one of utmost intimacy. “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation” He requests His Father (v. 3b). Therefore His request that the Father deal with His enemies is as much a desire to see His name vindicated as it is to have an occasion to praise the Father, to celebrate His greatness. This is what He says in verse 9-10—

9 And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD: it shall rejoice in his salvation.…

Our Lord has every right to call imprecations upon His enemies. As a people united to Christ we too may call imprecations against the enemies of God.

Yes, we may find ourselves unable to frame words of imprecation of our own, but we may certainly sing these words with our Lord. And we may certainly cry out unto the Father to plead our cause and to deal with our enemies especially when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake as our Lord was persecuted by His tormentors.

But none of us will ever experience the degree of pain and exasperation that our Lord experienced when He endured the cross on our behalf. Consider…

2. The Lord’s Exasperation 
(v. 11-16)

11 False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not.

Our Lord had no sin. He had a conscience void of offence before God and before man. When He was dragged before Annas and then Caiaphas, neither of them could find any fault with Him. They bribed or persuaded some false witnesses to say something nasty about Him, but even they could not agree among themselves.

The most they could say was:

“We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands” (Mk 14:58).

Our Lord was not talking about the temple in Jerusalem, and neither did He say that He would destroy it. He was talking about His own body and how after they had killed Him, He would rise again on the third day.

And not only did they accuse Him falsely, they rewarded Him evil for good (v. 12). This is so much more wicked because our Lord had been extraordinarily kind towards many of those who were clamouring for His blood (v. 13-14). He wept with them that wept. He healed many who were sick. He delivered many possessed with demons. He fed many who were hungry. Many of them were total strangers but He dealt with them with uncommon kindness.

But sadly many of them abandoned Him as soon as they discovered that it was costly to follow Him. Some of them even joined in to clamour for His blood. Their eyes of gratitude were blindfolded by their sin.

Instead of grieving that our Lord was suffering under the hands of wicked men, they rejoiced. They seem to say: “If he would not accede to our request to be a king to supply all our needs, why bother to have him around. Away with him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”

These, the enemies of our Lord, were like a pack of wild animals surrounding Him, snapping at Him, gnashing their teeth and waiting to tear Him apart (v. 15-16).

Sadly, most of these were people who appeared to be very religious. They were, in fact, in Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. But these were “hypocritical mockers in feasts” (v. 16). And the deeds of hypocrites are most exasperating, for they appear righteous, but are, in fact, wicked to the core.

Oh beloved brothers and sisters, what about us? Shall we not examine ourselves of whether our love for the Lord is sincere? Let us examine ourselves when we come to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. But not just then: Let us, whenever, we sing the psalms remind ourselves of the heinousness of hypocrisy that we may deign to cry out unto our Saviour to give us more faith and more love for Him.

If we would do so, and so walk with the Lord with contrite spirit, in humble reliance and gratitude unto Him, then we shall share in the joy of the Lord that anticipates for Himself and His people in the final section of this psalm where we see…

3. The Lord’s Supplication 
(v. 17-28)

17 Lord, how long wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling from the lions. 18 I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people.

Our Lord was no stoic going to the cross. He was flesh and blood like us. He felt pain in His body. He felt pain in His soul. Therefore, He pours out the desires of His heart unto the Father that the Father will not allow the injustice against Him to prevail a day longer than needed.

He desires to pass from the time of torment quickly into the time of rejoicing when He shall praise the Father in the great congregation.

He was, beloved brethren and children, looking forward to joining us and to us joining Him to worship the Father together (cf. Heb 2:12). Our Lord valued public worship more than any of us!

But as He anticipated the joy of worship, so His heart grieved over the injustice that He was experiencing, for His enjoyment of God is marred by reasons outside of Himself.

He must have been experiencing the same kind of feeling we get when we have to suffer unjustly due to no fault of our own. It is the feeling that gives rise to a temptation to take revenge. But our Lord, the God-Man, would never give in to temptation. Vengeance belongs unto the LORD.

Instead, He reiterated His desire to be vindicated against His enemies and the enemies of the Father.

19 Let not them that are mine enemies wrongfully rejoice over me: neither let them wink with the eye that hate me without a cause.

Now, the rejoicing of the enemies of the Lord would cease at His vindication. His vindication would be displayed for all to see in His rising from the dead. For His resurrection would indicate how His sacrifice on behalf of the church is sufficient to pay for the sin of His people—which also proves beyond doubt that His enemies had no basis whatsoever to raise up any charges against Him, not to mention clamour for His death.

But as mentioned, our Lord does not take His vindication for granted. He presents it unto His Father as a matter of prayer. He desired for the Father to act quickly and decisively against those who dealt with Him unjustly (v. 22-26).

The Father heard the Lord’s prayer. He would indeed answer Him. He would answer His prayer in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. He would also answer His prayer in the everlasting punishment of the wicked; and at the great and mighty Day of the Lord.

In that great and glorious day all who love the Lord shall magnify the name of the LORD for all eternity. This was the day anticipated and prayed for by our Lord as He concludes this psalm:

27 Let them shout for joy, and be glad, that favour my righteous cause: yea, let them say continually, Let the LORD be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant. 28 And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.

This is the day that we must look forward to also. Today we look forward to every opportunity to worship the Lord. But we know in our heart of hearts that our worship is not as joyful and perfect as we desire it to be.

We are still hindered by sin, both our own sin and the sin of others.

We desire to shout for joy, but our hearts are often very heavy.

We desire that the LORD’s name be magnified, but we know that often times, we bring shame to the Lord’s name by our failures.

We desire to praise the LORD all the day. Somehow we know that true and complete joy will come in the day when we will be able to worship the LORD without sin and distraction. But today, no matter how we try, the cares of the world, limitations of our bodies and many other distractions hinder our enjoyment of God and His worship.

Thank God that the day is coming when all these limitations will be eradicated!

As our heavenly Father heard the prayer of our Lord Jesus and raised Him from the dead, so He will hear His prayer to bring us, for whom He died, into everlasting glory and heavenly enjoyment of God.


May these thoughts fill our heart with anticipation as we look forward to each Lord’s Day to enjoy a foretaste of our eternal, ever-blessed communion with Christ.

May our anticipation of the joy and weight of glory that awaits us in Christ fill our hearts with song of praise all day long!

May the exasperations and discouragements that we experience every day be lightened both as we learn to cast our burdens upon the Lord who cares and who was exasperated for our sakes and as we hope in Him. Amen. W