Psalm 35 - Justice or Mercy

Contend, LORD, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and armor;
arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
“I am your salvation.”
May those who seek my life
be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
be turned back in dismay.
May they be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the LORD driving them away;
may their path be dark and slippery,
with the angel of the LORD pursuing them.
Since they hid their net for me without cause
and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
may the net they hid entangle them,
may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.
Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD
and delight in his salvation.
My whole being will exclaim,
“Who is like you, LORD?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them.”
Ruthless witnesses come forward;
they question me on things I know nothing about.
They repay me evil for good
and leave me like one bereaved.
Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth
and humbled myself with fasting.
When my prayers returned to me unanswered,
I went about mourning
as though for my friend or brother.
I bowed my head in grief
as though weeping for my mother.
But when I stumbled, they gathered in glee;
assailants gathered against me without my knowledge.
They slandered me without ceasing.
Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked;
they gnashed their teeth at me.
How long, Lord, will you look on?
Rescue me from their ravages,
my precious life from these lions.
I will give you thanks in the great assembly;
among the throngs I will praise you.
Do not let those gloat over me
who are my enemies without cause;
do not let those who hate me without reason
maliciously wink the eye.
They do not speak peaceably,
but devise false accusations
against those who live quietly in the land.
They sneer at me and say, “Aha! Aha!
With our own eyes we have seen it.”
LORD, you have seen this; do not be silent.
Do not be far from me, Lord.
Awake, and rise to my defense!
Contend for me, my God and Lord.
Vindicate me in your righteousness, LORD my God;
do not let them gloat over me.
Do not let them think, “Aha, just what we wanted!”
or say, “We have swallowed him up.”
May all who gloat over my distress
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who exalt themselves over me
be clothed with shame and disgrace.
May those who delight in my vindication
shout for joy and gladness;
may they always say, “The LORD be exalted,
who delights in the well-being of his servant.”
My tongue will proclaim your righteousness,
your praises all day long.

In Psalm 35, David prays for deliverance from his enemies who unjustly wronged him. He expresses his deep sense of betrayal and anguish at the hands of those who have slandered him, rejoiced at his misfortunes, and accused him falsely. He cries out to God for vindication and justice, asking God to intervene on his behalf and defend his cause.

David's cry is especially heartrending because many of the people who have turned against him are people he has been good to. He prayed and fasted for them, and when his prayers went unanswered, he mourned for them as he would for a friend, brother, or mother. Yet, look at how they treated him when he stumbled. I am sure that many of us can relate to David's experience. However, we can learn something from David's response.

Instead of seeking revenge or harboring bitterness and resentment against his offenders, he turned to God for help, appealing to him for justice. Who better to deliver justice than the one who sees everything, including the motives of the heart? 

However, God is also merciful, which is another side of the same coin. While justice is concerned with what is right and fair, mercy is concerned with showing kindness and compassion to those who might be in need of forgiveness. In other words, justice is about giving people what they deserve, while mercy is about giving people what they do not deserve.

It is instinctive to appeal to God for justice rather than ask him to be merciful to our enemies because we want them punished. However, we should remember that if God chose to exercise justice universally, we would all be in trouble because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). And all of us are sinners. 

Consequently, as sinners in need of mercy, let us move beyond David's example of forsaking vengeance and appealing to God for justice. Let us follow Jesus' example instead by appealing for mercy. When he was dying on the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). 

It isn't always easy to do, so let us remember what Jesus said. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7).  

God bless you.