Psalm 35:11-15

11. Violent witnesses rise up, they charge me with things which I know not. 12. They render me evil for good, to the bereaving1 of my soul. 13. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I afflicted my soul with fasting; and have poured my prayer into my own bosom. 14. I behaved myself towards him as if he had been my friend and brother: I humbled myself as one that mourneth heavily for his mother. 15. But they rejoiced at my halting, they gathered themselves together; yea, even the abjects whom I knew not gathered themselves against me: they have torn me with their lips, and have not ceased.


11. Violent witnesses2 rise up. The Hebrew is, they shall rise up; but in using the future tense, the Psalmist intimates that he is speaking of what he had suffered for a long time. And he complains that he was so oppressed with calumny that he had no opportunity of defending himself; than which nothing more grievous and painful can ever happen to those of an ingenuous mind, and who are conscious of no blame. Besides, he not only says that he had been falsely accused, but he also condemns the audacity and insolence of those who violently rose up to bear witness against him. To this belongs what he adds, They charge me with things which I know not. David then was not only spoiled of his worldly goods, and basely driven into exile, but was also accused and loaded with infamy under color of justice. Being involved in such distress, he resorted directly to God, hoping that he would maintain his innocence. So ought the children of God to walk through good report and bad report, and patiently suffer reproach, until he assert and declare their innocence from on high. In old times, it was a common proverb among the heathen, "There is no theater more beautiful than a good conscience;" and in this they uttered a noble sentiment; but no man can be sustained and supported by the purity of his conscience unless he has recourse to God.

12. They render me evil for good. David again shows that the malice of his enemies was of a very aggravated character, because they not only oppressed him wrongfully, seeing he was innocent, and had given them no occasion of offense, but also because even those who had received much enjoyment and many favors from him, recompensed him in a very strange and ungrateful manner. Such disgraceful conduct wounds the feelings of good men very severely, and seems quite intolerable. But it is an inexpressibly great consolation when we can testify before God, that we have attempted by every means in our power to soothe the minds of our enemies, and to bow them to gentleness, although, notwithstanding, they are hurried on by insatiable cruelty in desiring our hurt; for God will not suffer this barbarous and brutal ingratitude to pass unpunished. Their cruelty is farther expressed when it is said that they endeavored to bereave (for so it is properly in the Hebrew3) the soul of a meek and peaceable man; that is to say, to deprive it of comfort, and render it so desolate as to overwhelm it with despair and destroy it. David afterwards recounts certain acts of kindness which he had done them, and which, if they had had any sense of equity and humanity, ought to have been as so many sacred bonds of mutual love. He does not say that he aided them with money or with goods, or that he had by some other means exercised liberality towards them, for it may sometimes happen that when the hand is open the heart may be shut; but he mentions certain tokens of true and genuine love -- that he lamented their misfortunes before God, and was troubled for them, as if he had mourned for the death of his mother; and, finally, that he felt for and took an interest in them as if they had been his own brothers. Since then he had thus laid them under high obligations to him, of what baser ingratitude could they be guilty than to vomit against him in his adversity the poison of their hatred? With respect to the meaning of the words, I take the term sickness, in this place, to signify metaphorically any kind of trouble or sorrow. David's meaning is, that as often as any calamity had befallen them he was a partaker of their grief. A good evidence of this was the prayer which he says he poured out into his own bosom. The proper meaning of the expression is, that he did not ostentatiously utter his prayers aloud before men, like many who pretend much more affection than they really feel, but that by praying in secret, and without making the world privy to it, he showed that he was sincerely and from the heart distressed by reason of their affliction. As we say that a man rejoices in his own bosom, who is satisfied with the secret and inward feeling of his heart, without declaring it to others, so also one may be said to weep or pray in his own bosom, who pours not forth his tears and prayers before men to secure their favor, but, contented with having God alone for his witness, conceals his emotions in his own heart. I do not, however, deny that in this manner of speaking there is expressed the attitude of one who prays, as if the Psalmist had said, that he bowed down his body, and prayed with his head hanging down, and his arms folded, as men in heaviness are accustomed to do.4 But this especially we ought to regard as his meaning, that there was no dissimulation in his prayer. Some think that there is an imprecation in his words, and they explain them in this sense. Lord, if it is true that I have not desired all prosperity to them, let all mischief fall upon me:but this is a forced explanation. There is still another exposition, which has as little plausibility in it; and it is this:Because I profited nothing by praying for them, the fruit of my prayer returned to myself. The sense, which is more in unison with the purpose and also the words of the prophet, is, I prayed for them just as I pray for myself. But what I have already advanced concerning the secret affection of the Psalmist will, I hope, prove satisfactory to the judicious reader. With respect to sackcloth and fasting, he used them as helps to prayer. The faithful pray even after their meals, and do not observe fasting every day as necessary for prayer, nor consider it needful to put on sackcloth whenever they come into the presence of God. But we know that those who lived in ancient times resorted to these exercises when any urgent necessity pressed upon them. In the time of public calamity or danger they all put on sackcloth, and gave themselves to fasting, that by humbling themselves before God, and acknowledging their guilt, they might appease his wrath. In like manner, when any one in particular was afflicted, in order to excite himself to greater earnestness in prayer, he put on sackcloth and engaged in fasting, as being the tokens of grief. When David then, as he here tells us, put on sackcloth, it was the same as if he had taken upon himself the sins of his enemies, in order to implore from God mercy for them, while they were exerting all their power to accomplish his destruction. Although we may reckon the wearing of sackcloth and sitting in ashes among the number of the legal ceremonies, yet the exercise of fasting remains in force amongst us at this day as well as in the time of David. When God, therefore, calls us to repentance, by showing us signs of his displeasure, let us bear in mind that we ought not only to pray to him after the ordinary manner, but also to employ such means as are fitted to promote our humility. In conclusion, the Psalmist says that he behaved and acted towards them as if each of them had been his brother.

15. But they rejoiced at my halting. I see no reason why interpreters should trouble themselves as they do about the word halting. Some conjecture that David had his leg put out of joint, and others suppose that he halted from some disease. But when we consider carefully the whole passage, nothing is more evident than that he refers by this expression to the calamities which befell him; as if he had said, As soon as they saw me begin to stagger and ready to fall, they did as it were gather together against me, and endeavored entirely to overthrow me. There is, therefore, in this expression almost the same metaphor as we have already seen in the word sickness. Now, as men often relent at seeing the misfortunes of their enemies, so that they cease to hate or persecute those who are already miserably wretched, it was an evidence of the very cruel and fierce spirit by which David's former friends were actuated against him, when, upon seeing him cast down and afflicted, they were rather by this incited furiously and insolently to assail him. At the commencement he speaks only of a few; but immediately after, in order to show still farther the indignity which had been done to him, he adds to them the base and ignoble of the common people; not that he blames all alike, but that he may the better show with what bitter hostility he was assailed on all sides. It is probable that those who were then in power were as it were firebrands, who endeavored to kindle every where the flame of hatred against David, that the people every where might rise up to destroy him, and strive with each other in this enterprise. And he repeats twice that they gathered themselves together, in order to show how resolute and determined they were in their opposition to him; unless, perhaps, some would prefer to explain the words thus:They gathered themselves together, not only those who had some pretext for doing so, but even the lowest of the people. The Hebrew word Mykn, nekim, literally signifies the whipped, or beaten,5 but it is here to be understood as denoting base and disreputable persons. Some interpreters, indeed, derive it from the word hak, kaäh, which signifies to make sad, and expound it actively, Those who make me sad:but the previous interpretation agrees better with the design of the passage, namely, that David was shamefully treated by the lowest dregs of the people. The words, I knew not, may be referred to the cause as well as to the persons. I, however, explain it as referring to the persons in this sense:So far from having any cause to complain that I have offended them, or done them any harm, I did not even know them. At the same time, these words may be understood as implying a complaint on the part of David, that the people were enraged against him without any cause, since he is conscious of no crime, and can conceive of no ground for such fierce hatred towards him. As to the last clause of the verse, also, although interpreters entertain different opinions, it appears to me that I have given the true and natural meaning. Literally it is, they did cut, and ceased not; but there can be no doubt that the language is metaphorical, and that the word cut6 signifies that they opened their mouth; as if David had said, They have insolently poured forth with open mouth their scoffing and reproachful words against me. The additional clause in the sentence, and ceased not, is a repetition common in the Hebrew language, and is employed to express the vehemence with which David's enemies proceeded against him. It implies that there was no end or measure to their evil-speaking, and that they continued to pour forth with distended throats whatever first occurred to them.

1 "C'est, desconforter." Note, Fr. marg. "That is, to the discomfort;"

2 "omx yde witnesses of wrong or violence; i.e., witnesses deponing to acts of violence, as committed by the person accused. See Psalm 27:12." -- Horsley.

3 "Ont tasch, de rendre orpheline car il y a ainsi proprement en Hebrieu" -- Fr.

4 "When the Orientals," says Boothroyd, "pray seriously in grief, they hide their face in their bosom:and to this custom the Psalmist here alludes. Rabbi Levi, Dathe, and others, explain it in like manner."

5 The word is derived from hkn, nakah, to strike or to smite. The LXX. render it mastigev, scourges; and Jerome reads percutientes, smiters, in which he is followed by Ainsworth, who understands the word as meaning smiters with the tongue, or calumniators, and who thinks that the LXX., in translating it scourges, alluded to the scourge of the tongue, as in Job 5:21; and if smiters is the proper rendering, we may certainly conclude, that as this smiting is represented as done upon the person who was its object in his absence, it was a smiting by the tongue. At the same time, this critic observes, that the word may be read the smitten, that is, abjects, vile persons, as in Job 30:8. Dr Kennicott translates it by verbcrones, whipt slaves, vile scoundrels. Another meaning of the word, according to Buxtorff, is, the wry-legged, the lame. In this sense it is used in 2 Samuel 4:4, and 9:3; and hence the epithet of Necho was given to one of the Pharaohs, who halted in his gait. Thus it easily came to be employed as a term of contempt. Calvin and the translators of our English Bible agree in the meaning which they attach to this word.

6 The verb erq, kara, for cut, "is significant of tearing or rending, and by an easy metaphor, is applicable to wounds inflicted by evil speaking and slander." -- Walford.