Deliver the poor and needy … Give me justice.’ (10, 24)
Psalm 35 has been omitted from the lectionary, perhaps as a ‘special interest’ poem — in this case for those who have been slandered or victim of deceit and such injustices. Hopefully most readers will not suffer such pain too often and may not identify with the psalmist and the song; but it does happen.
However, the Psalter again demands attention to the recurrent theme of justice. The psalmist sees divine justice rescuing the poor and needy from their attackers. In fact much of the psalm seeks the undoing of enemies, slanderers and oppressors.As noted in relation to other songs by David like Psalm 52 and 34, the historical setting — David’s harsh experience at the hands of both slanderers and King Saul — and and social mores of the day are important.
The psalmist early recognises that the best response is to seek wisdom and any remediation required from the source of all love and justice, whether external or internal, rather than taking an eye for an eye. There’s no doubt that David hopes for the downfall of his opponents. Significantly, though, when they were sick he is sympathetic to the plight of his enemies, wearing sack-cloth, fasting, praying and regarding them just like good friend or family. (vs 13, 14)
The song highlights the devastation unguarded words can cause in the lives of others, and recommends the habit of speaking the truth in love. (Eph. 4:15)
Each of three lamenting sections concludes (verses 10, 18, 28) in a declaration of praise and trust in divine goodness.
Responsorial settings, indeed any in the classical and early music collections are very few. To my mind, the psalm does not lend itself well to the responsorial style unless the refrain is positive and uplifting. Isaac Everett‘s in The Emergent Psalter, sounding appropriately rather like a Hebrew song (download>), is just that:
Otherwise, a hymn like PFAS 35A (the only suggestion in this book, but with the added attraction of an arrangement by JS Bach) might suffice as a response to the reading.
Meanwhile, here is a setting which also has flavours of the Middle East, but from a fine Australian band, the Sons of Korah.