Life is filled with multifarious troubles. In His incarnation, our Lord Jesus Christ experienced the tribulations that are endemic to the human condition in a fallen world; He also suffered for righteousness’ sake. These difficulties outfitted this impeccable and victorious One to be a comprehensive Saviour and ‘a merciful and faithful high priest’, Heb. 2. 16-18; 4. 14-16. Whereas other messianic psalms explore the physical sufferings in greater detail, Psalm 69 emphasizes His emotional and spiritual sorrows at the hands of His persecutors.
The psalm may be outlined as follows:
Motyer breaks it down this way:
‘A1 vv. 1-4, Prayer describing the deadly crisis
B1 vv. 5-12, Those needing protection
A2 vv. 13-18, Prayer pleading the character of God
B2 vv. 19-29, Those meriting retribution
A3 vv. 29-36, Prayer turning to praise’.1
The superscription connects it with the Hebrew Shoshannim – ‘lilies’. Most likely this refers to its tune, NKJV, and T. E. Wilson points out the other psalms that bear it:
Psalm 69 is one of the most cited Old Testament messianic passages in the New Testament.3 It looks forward to the Lord’s cleansing of the temple, the reproaches that fell on Him from His Father’s enemies – for no just cause – as well as Judas Iscariot’s perishing under divine wrath.
The opening phrase ‘save me’, indicates the desperate seriousness of the subject matter. The first two verses describe simulated drowning. The waters – sometimes picturing death and judgement in the scriptures – are flooding into his ‘soul’ or ‘neck’, NKJV, Gen. 7, Exod. 14. In Psalm 130 verse 1, the psalmist uses the same term as he uses in verse 2 for deep waters, ‘Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord’.
Simultaneously, he has that awful sinking feeling – a sort of emotional quicksand robs him of a solid place to stand. Spurgeon eloquently depicts the scene of the servant’s substitutionary sufferings, ‘All the sea outside a vessel is less to be feared than that which finds its way into the hold. A wounded spirit who can bear. Our Lord in this verse is seen before us as a Jonah, crying, “The waters compassed me about, even to the soul”. He was doing business for us on the great waters, at his Father’s command; the stormy wind was lifting up the waves thereof, and he went down to the depths till his soul was melted because of trouble. In all this he has sympathy with us, and is able to succour us when we, like Peter, beginning to sink, cry to him, “Lord, save, or we perish”’.4
The opening words no doubt express some of the struggles that David endured when fleeing from Saul, and later from his own son, Absalom. Meanwhile, sinking in the mire reminds one of Jeremiah’s imprisonment in an empty cistern, Jer. 38. 6. Yet no saint, ancient or modern, may compare with the Lord Jesus in fulfilling these horrid prophecies. He above anyone could speak of the numberless, causeless enemies who cruelly attacked Him. Despite the water metaphors, He describes His dehydration brought on by His incessant crying for help; no divine rescue, however, is on the horizon, v. 3.
Although He is innocent and perfectly righteous, verse 4 of the psalm pictures Christ like the trespass offering; offering restitution for sin’s damage, Lev. 5. 14-16. Many old writers speak of the Lord restoring more than Adam lost. Take Winslow’s remarks for example, ‘by the wonderful redemption wrought by Christ, we gain infinitely more than we lose. Man, clad in the righteousness of God, shines with a luster – and Paradise, closed against all “that defiles, and works abomination, or makes a lie," blooms with a beauty never possessed before sin tainted the one, or the curse blighted the other’.5
Rather than merely restoring the world to Edenic lustre, God in Christ will renew this planet for the millennial kingdom, bring in new heavens and a new earth, and raise believers to the position of sons of God who are accepted in the Beloved in the Almighty’s holy presence.
As with other messianic psalms, not all of the chapter is specifically referring to Christ; such is the case with verses 5 and 6, which speak of a sinner like David rather than the impeccable Son of God. Verse 7 notes that He bore reproach and shame on behalf of His Father’s righteous cause, instead of anything that He had done. Only He could say, ‘I do always those things that please him’, John 8. 29. This derision even led to His brethren’s mockery, v. 8; cp. John 7. 3-10. Besides being alienated from His earthly family, He was also rejected by the nation to whom He had committed ‘the oracles of God’, John 1. 10, 11; Rom. 3. 1, 2.
Types, shadows, and direct prophecies all accurately painted a portrait of what the Messiah would be like when He came. Only the incomparably lovely Lord Jesus matches the description. The disciples saw this, for example, when they thought of Psalm 69 verse 9 in connection to His zealous cleansing of the temple, John 2. 17. Yet others taunted the One whose humble attitude was associated with mourning activities like ‘fasting’ and ‘sackcloth’, Ps. 69. 10, 11. The more lowly His demeanour, the more caustic the combined vitriol heaped on Him by the lowest and highest members of society, v. 12.6
In the face of pitiless human dereliction, the Messiah casts Himself on His Father. As Kirkpatrick comments, ‘From the hardheartedness of men he turns to the mercy of God’.7 The extreme condition that He describes in the psalm’s first two verses are now reiterated as a prayer in verses 14 and 15. He confidently looks to God the Father as His deliverer, knowing that He is aware of every sorrow and trouble that His faithful servant is experiencing, vv. 16-19. The all-merciful God operates out of perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future. The psalmist’s cry to ‘draw nigh’, v. 18, is later echoed by Asaph, Ps. 73. 28, and reminds believers today that they are promised God’s nearness if they draw near to Him, Jas. 4. 8; also Heb. 13. 5.
The onslaught of reproach wounds Him deeply, Ps. 69. 20. Among humans, He finds no comforters, though He seeks consolation from them. In the Son’s experience, His disciples forsook Him in His hour of greatest need, Matt. 26. 56. His deep sorrow began in the garden of Gethsemane as He prayerfully anticipated the cup of wrath that He would drain at Calvary, Luke 22. 39-46; Heb. 5. 7, 8. It continued as the righteous judge laid ‘on him the iniquity of us all’ on the cross, Isa. 53. 6. The enemies’ tortuous treatment concludes with their provision of poisonous food and sour drink to the thirsting sufferer, Ps. 69. 21. As Kidner notes, ‘What David was offered in metaphor, Jesus was offered in fact, according to Matthew 27:34, 48, where the Greek words for gall … and vinegar are those that the LXX uses here’.8
Believers in the present dispensation are sometimes disquieted by imprecatory passages like Psalm 69 verses 22 to 28. They see its tone as inconsistent with the Christian attitude of ‘love your enemies’, Matt. 5. 44. Yet it must be remembered that God is just, and one day the Son Himself will righteously judge the world, John 5. 22-30; Acts 17. 31. Of course, the punishment will fit the crimes: as one example, Psalm 69 verse 22 refers to the enemies’ table becoming ‘a snare’; this is appropriate considering the food that they gave Christ, v. 21. His wrath is never capricious; instead, it always accords with truth, beauty, and goodness. New Testament passages such as 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 and Revelation chapters 6 to 12 are similarly devoted to the curse that will fall on those who reject the Lord. Peter even applies this imprecatory section of the psalm to Judas Iscariot, Acts 1. 20; Ps. 69. 25. God first offers salvation, but if it is rejected, all that is left for the impenitent is condemnation, John 3. 16, 17.
The final two sections of the psalm return to the destiny of the suffering psalmist. In contrast to the unbelievers spoken of in the previous verses, he is ‘poor’, a description similar to godly ones elsewhere in scripture, Ps. 40. 17; Matt. 5. 3. His self-abnegation leads him to cast himself entirely on God for deliverance; therefore, he is assured of divine rescue. This leads him to thankful praise, Ps. 69. 30-33, which is better than mere ceremonial offerings and which ends by encouraging others to look to the Almighty in their times of distress.
In verse 34, the psalm has a closing doxology, which encompasses all of the creation. The last two verses look ahead to Israel’s future millennial kingdom glory during the Messiah’s reign. As Hamilton Smith explains, ‘Thus we learn that while the suffering of Christ from the guilty nation brings judgement upon the nation, it also leads to the exaltation of Christ. Furthermore the execution of judgement upon the nation prepares the way for the blessing of the godly remnant and the restoration of Israel’.9 The sorrowful psalm that begins with a cry for individual salvation, closes with a scene of glorious deliverance for the entire nation of Israel – and, by extension, to the ends of the universe, Ps. 69. 36; Isa. 9. 6, 7. Likewise, Psalm 22 verses 22 to 31 ends by considering this precious time of the King of kings’ majestic and beneficent rule on behalf of the poor and needy who inherit the kingdom by His grace.
J. A. Motyer, ‘The Psalms’, New Bible Commentary, IVP, 1994, pg. 528.
T. E. Wilson, ‘Aug. 17’, Day by Day through the Old Testament, C. E. Hocking and M. Horlock (ed.), Precious Seed, 1982, pg. 261.
John 2. 17; 15. 25; 19. 29, 30; Matt. 27. 34; Rom. 15. 3.
C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 3, Marshall Brothers, n.d., pp. 175, 176.
Octavius Winslow, ‘Final and Full Redemption’, Soul Depths & Soul Heights, Banner of Truth, 2006, pg. 109.
Those ‘who sit in the gate’ are associated with government, justice, and business, Gen. 19. 1; Ruth 4; 2 Sam. 15. 1-6. By contrast, ‘the song of drunkards’ conjures up images of bawdy drinking ballads sung by low-class scoundrels.
A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, Cambridge University Press, 1906, pg. 402.
Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, IVP, 1973, pg. 266.
Hamilton Smith, The Psalms, Believer’s Bookshelf, 1995, pg. 108.
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