Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms. Schaff, Philip (editor). New York: Christian Literature Publishing Col, 1886. Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers: Series 1: Volume VIII. Re-published 2014, Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle electronic edition, ISBN-13: 978-1-78379-372-3.
Psalm 35 is a Psalm of David, which Augustine finds significant for the fact that David, the type of Christ, is the one whose name means “Strong in hand” or “desirable,” This is the strong Lord who is able to make a difference in all he touches (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321343). The Psalm calls out to God for help against those who are hurtful (v. 1). Augustine questions the means God will use to rescue His people, and concludes that God, who has armed his people with God’s own armor (Ephesians 6:11ff) then uses His people to bring help and rescue (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321350). The attacks of enemies can come from any number of offenses, large and small (v. 3). Augustine considers that all the attacks we endure ultimately have only one purpose; they intend to destroy our soul (v. 4).At the same time he sees that when the Lord interferes with the plans of the evil, even with Peter’s plans to prevent Jesus from being killed, the Lord does it for the good of His people (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321371). Augustine compares our evil plans to going ahead of the Lord rather than following after him. Those who go ahead are driven as dust (v. 5).
Why do the wicked face a scattering as dust? Augustine, citing Psalm 35:7, says it is because they attempt to set a trap for Christ, as the Jews did in the arrest of Jesus (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321392). The betrayal of Christ worked good for the world, so Jesus allowed even this evil act. We do try to do good as Christ, but we realize the world is full of traps. Yet, as we read in verse 8, the ungodly catch themselves in their traps (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321399).
In contrast to the wicked, in verse 9, the soul of the Psalmist rejoices in God. Augustine is quick to remind us that God is the reward and delight of those who trust in Him (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321406). God is the one who tells people to ask Him for the things we need. In verse 10, our inmost being, our bones, rejoice in the Lord (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321426). At the center of this rejoicing Augustine says is the confidence that God is the redeemer. He spends some time reminding his reader in no uncertain terms about salvation bygrae through faith to all who believe and will confess him. Christ is described, again and again, as the strong one who can bind the enemy and rescue the poor and needy from every evil. This is the thrust of Psalm 35:10 (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321447).
Augustine asks, based on Psalm 35:11, what could have been said about Jesus by the false witnesses which would come as a surprise to him (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321454). Augustine takes the statement to be slightly allegorical. Jesus did not confront the false testimony in any way. In effect, he acted as though he didn’t hear or know about the accusations. As described in verse 12 he allowed them to pay his good back with evil. Rather than retaliate, Jesus conducted himself with humility and mourning (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321468). He ultimately laiddown his life, a final act of humility, to die for those whose sin deserved death. Augustine sees all this as possible only because Jesus hid himself in humility. Likewise, Augustine says Jesus fasted from his holiness and glory (v. 13), not even finding any repentant people at his death except the one repentant thief who died with him (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321488).This gives meaning to our prayer and Jesus’ prayer while alone, knowing that the Father sees and hears. Augustine also finds that verse 14 reinforces he fact that we are with Jesus in his humility, as with a neighbor.
The enemies of Jesus, in verse 15, rejoiced over his sorrow and pain (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321516). The derision and mocking were ways to dishonor Christ, even though He was the Head of all. Yet Augustine doesn’t consider this an unusual reaction. “Whenever men find a Christian, they are wont to insut, to persecute, to deride him, to call him dull, senseless, of no spirit, of no knowledge. Do what they will, Christ is in heaven . . . “ (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321531). Jesus’ people are routinely disrespected,but Jesus, by his victory, is immune to the vilification of his enemies. In the last day, He will pour out judgment on the earth, but he delays for the time being (v. 17), out of love, to rescue more who will believe on him. Until that time, God’s people confess Him and proclaim His name all around the world (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321538). Counter to this glorification, the unbelievers continue to revile the Lord (v. 20-21).
Verses 22 and following call on the Lord to bring his judgment soon, not to keep silence (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321559). Even as Christ suffers on our behalf we desire him to rescue us from suffering. Though we suffer martyrdom we still pray the Lord would avenge our death (Augustine Psalms, loc. 321573). In a certain sense our course is righteous (v. 24). We would not be able to defend ourselves in righteousness, but our Lord is able (v. 25). For this reason we call on the Lord for deliverance. He, the Head of the Church, is the righteous one who can bring all to rights.