Psalm 35 is a classic imprecatory psalm which calls down curses upon the principalities and powers that curse the plans and people of God. When God made his covenant with Abraham he said that ‘whoever curses you (the covenant people) I will curse’ (Gen. 1:3). And so this is a prayer of a man who knows that his complaint and his curses are justified. It is important to understand the spiritual significance of imprecatory psalms in general and for this I would direct you to the article provided on this website on the ‘imprecatory’ or battle psalms.
It is impossible to know what the specific circumstances of this psalm are. The language at times has legal connotations and this together with the strong military language could suggest that the issue here is that of international relations. It may be that some kind of treaty arrangement is being thrown back in David’s face and he is being accused of breaches which he claims to be innocent of. The foreign rulers may be using these accusations to justify a military action against Israel. Whatever the case, whether it be this or simply that David himself is being unjustly conspired against and accused, this is something that David was no stranger to. When David was anointed by God he was not guaranteed a smooth run and in fact it was his anointing that bought him more trouble than anything. He was harassed, unjustly accused, attacked, pursued as an individual and when he was king of a prospering nation that nation itself became a despised entity not least because of its rapid growth to prominence and supreme strength in the Ancient Middle East.
David prays in this psalm that God would be the enemy of those who are enemies to his people. He prays that God would fight against those who fight against his people and be the accuser of those who accuse his people. This should make us ask, if we are looking to apply this psalm to aspects of our own lives: ‘who is our real enemy.’ It is not ultimately any individual person since we are told to love people as individuals. Our real enemy is, as Paul says, ‘the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph. 6:12). People often serve the purposes of the ultimate evil will but as such they become more victims than real enemies. And so there is a sense in which we can ask God to seek out who it is that is really harassing us and cut them off in divine vengeance. This may not sound like a nice this to do but it is thoroughly biblical.
Prominent in this psalm is the idea that those who attack God’s people end up by doing themselves the greatest harm in the end. David says figuratively that they have hidden a net for him but ironically they will end up being caught up in it themselves (vs. 8). Likewise he says that had dug a pit for him but will end up falling into it themselves. And so those who seek to disgrace God people will themselves be disgraced and ashamed (vs. 4). Those who know the story of Esther will recognise that this is exactly what happened to Haman in a marvellous twist of fate that has to be amongst God’s greatest hits.
Ultimately it will not be at the hand of David or David’s army that the enemy will perish but they will be driven into oblivion by the angel of the very God whom they have raged against by threatening God’s people (vs. 5-6). This idea of being repelled away from God is the essence of the biblical understanding of hell. Hell is suffering under the infinite repulsion of God who repels evil away from himself in infinite wrath and supreme sovereign force. This is a dark and slippery fall if ever there was one (vs. 6).
When all these things happen, says David, then his soul will rejoice again in the LORD (vs. 9). David wants to see here again the way that God reflects the curses of his enemies back upon themselves and he wants to watch this and rejoice in it. He wants to see this because he loves to see the hand of God wield such sovereign power and justice on behalf of his people.