Psalm 35:4-7

4. Let those who seek my soul be confounded and put to shame; and let those who devise my hurt be turned back, and brought to confusion. 5. Let them be as chaff before the wind, and let the angel of Jehovah thrust [or impel] them.1 6. Let their way be darkness and slipperiness, and let the angel of Jehovah pursue them. 7. For they have hid for me without cause their net in a pit, without cause they have digged a pit2 for my soul.


4. Let those who seek my soul be confounded. David now calls upon God to take vengeance upon his enemies; and he asks not only that he would disappoint and destroy their designs, but also that he would recompense them according to their deserts. In the first place, he desires that they may be confounded and put to shame in seeing their expectation and desire fail; and then he proceeds farther, desiring that while they imagine themselves to be firmly established, and deeply rooted, they may be like chaff or stubble. As the chaff is driven with the wind, so also he desires, that, being disquieted by the secret impulse of the angel of the Lord, they may never have rest. The imprecation which follows is even more dreadful, and it is this:that wherever they go they may meet with darkness and slippery places; and that in their doubt and perplexity the angel of the Lord would pursue them. In fine, whatever they devise, and to whatever side they turn, he prays that all their counsels and enterprises may come to a disastrous termination. When he desires that they may be driven by the angel of the Lord, we learn from this that the reason why the ungodly are troubled, though no man pursues them, is, that God smites them with a spirit of amazement, and distracts them with such fears that they tremble and are troubled.

The same thing he expresses more clearly in the following verse, praying that the angel of the Lord would drive them through dark and slippery places, so that reason and understanding might fail them, and that they might not know whither to go, nor what to become, nor have even time given them to draw their breath. We need not be surprised that this work should be assigned to the angels, by whose instrumentality God executes his judgments. At the same time, this passage may be expounded of the devils as well as of the holy angels, who are ever ready to execute the divine behests. We know that the devil is permitted to exercise his dominion over the reprobate; and hence it is often said that "an evil spirit from God came upon Saul," (1 Samuel 18:10.) But as the devils never execute the will of God, unless compelled to do it when God wishes to serve himself of them; the Sacred Scriptures declare that the holy and elect angels are in a much higher sense the servants of God. God, then, executes his judgments by the wicked and reprobate angels; but he gives the elect angels the pre-eminence over them. On this account, also, good angels only are called rightfully "principalities," as in Ephesians 3:10; Colossians 1:16, and other similar passages. If it is objected that it is not meet that the angels, who are the ministers of grace and salvation, and the appointed guardians of the faithful, should be employed in executing judgment upon the reprobate, the explanation is simply this, that they cannot watch for the preservation of the godly without being prepared for fighting -- that they cannot succor them by their aid without also opposing their enemies, and declaring themselves to be against them. The style of imprecation which the Psalmist here employs can be explained only by bearing in mind what I have elsewhere said, namely, that David pleads not simply his own cause, nor utters rashly the dictates of passion, nor with unadvised zeal desires the destruction of his enemies; but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit he entertains and expresses against the reprobate such desires as were characterised by great moderation, and which were far removed from the spirit of those who are impelled either by desire of revenge or hatred, or some other inordinate emotion of the flesh.

7. For they have hid for me without a cause. He here declares that he did not take the name of God in vain, nor call upon him for protection without just cause, for he openly asserts his innocence, and complains that he was thus severely afflicted without having committed any crime, or given any occasion to his enemies. It becomes us carefully to mark this, so that no one may rush unadvisedly into God's presence, nor call upon him for vengeance, without the assurance and testimony of a good conscience. When he says that he was assailed by stratagem, fraud, and wicked practices, there is implied in this a tacit commendation of his own integrity.

1 "C'est, chasse et presse." -- Note, Fr. marg. "That is, chase and pursue them."

2 The allusion here is to the custom of digging pits and putting nets in them, covered with straw, etc., to catch wild beasts.