Yesterday, we talked about the pain of a surprise attack from an enemy. Today, as we continue to study Psalm 35, we will see that the pain goes even deeper. For, it was not an enemy who assaulted David, but a friend. It was not just an attack, but a betrayal.
Please read Psalm 35:11-16.
After David has fallen into the pit that his enemies dug for him, “malicious witnesses rise up.” A crowd gathers and begins to pile on to David’s suffering. The crowd falsely accuses David. “They ask me of things that I do not know.” Not only has the gossip spread about some grave sin that David has committed, but when he is asked about the gossip, he has know knowledge of the source.
It is easy to picture a modern athlete at a press conference who is being asked about a particular rumor. Not only has the interviewee never heard the rumor, but he has no idea how something like that could have gotten started. That is David’s position: he has fallen into a pit; once in the pit, he is asked about some crime he supposedly committed in some town he’s never visited. “Gotcha reporters” are nothing new!
What makes these witnesses so vile is that they were known to David. They were not just random people on the streets; they were not even mere acquaintances. They were close to David. So close that, when they were sick, the King of Israel donned sackcloth and ashes and mourned on their behalf. The King, who could enjoy any feast of his choosing, chose to fast in the hopes that this dear friend would get better. He humbled himself in prayer and grieved as a person in deepest mourning.
In this culture, it was common for a man to take multiple wives. As those wives had children, each son would have many rivals for his father’s affection, but far less rivals for that of his mother. As a result, most boys grew up having the deepest affection for their mother. With this context, you can understand the significance when David compares his mourning for his friend to “one who laments his mother.” He deeply loved this person, and did everything within his power to help his friend get better.
How did David’s friend repay him for such sincere devotion? “They repay me evil for good.” This betrayal absolutely broke David’s heart: “my soul is bereft.” How could anyone repay the kindness, the love, the empathy that David had for his friend with such malicious mockery?
The answer to every question is found at the cross. David was not alone when he suffered from the hands of those to whom he had shown nothing but love. Jesus Christ was the model of grace to God’s people, and they crucified him for it. His enemies hated him, plotted to kill him, tortured him, then piled on to all of this by mocking him as he hung dying on the cross.
David provides a prophecy of the cross in verses 15-16. This may have been an illustration of his own experience, but we see it clearly through the lens of the cross. Like vultures gather around a dying sheep, so did strangers gather around the cross and mock our Lord. They tore at Him without ceasing; they lapped up His suffering as guests at a feast; they sneered and gnashed their teeth at Him, while He gave His life for them.
I have used the pronoun “they,” but perhaps I should have used “we.” As Stuart Townend so beautifully wrote,
“Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life—I know that it is finished.”
I was the one who betrayed my Lord with my sin. And He loved me so much that He died for me. The pain that David expresses in Psalm 35 must have been magnified a million times on the cross. And Jesus forgave me anyway. Now He calls me to forgive those who betray me.