Psalm 69: “Save me, O God”
In this psalm, the psalmist (David) is going through difficult times, including unfair persecution by others, and asking God for help and salvation.
It’s a psalm that gets quoted quite often in the New Testament, applied specifically to Jesus. Some examples that were pointed out to me:
|Verse||Text||New Testament Reference||Text|
|4||Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.||John 15:25 (Jesus speaking)||“But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”|
|9||for zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.||John 2:17||His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”|
|Romans 15:3||For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”|
|21||They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.||John 19:28–29 (see also also Matthew 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23, 36; and Luke 23:36||Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.|
|22–23||May the table set before them become a snare; may it become retribution and a trap. May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent forever.||Romans 11||I won’t quote this one, but in Romans 11 Paul includes these verses as part of a larger argument about Jews’ hearts being “hardened”—yet not irrevocably so.|
|25||May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents.||Acts 1:20 (referring to the replacement of Judas)||“For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, “‘May another take his place of leadership.’"|
My point in quoting all of these is that it’s probably not valid to go through this psalm without thinking about how it applies to Jesus, given how closely it’s associated with Him in the New Testament. In fact, even aside from these specific quotations in the New Testament, it’s easy to see Jesus in the psalmist’s words—except for the part about calling down curses on his enemies, which Jesus didn’t to. (We’ll discuss that more later.) So I’ll try to do both as I go through the psalm: thinking about the poem at face value, but also thinking about it in light of Jesus’ life, ministry, and work on the cross.
As is becoming usual for blogging about Psalms (I think), I’ll quote a portion of the text, then give thoughts on that portion.
1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2 I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
3 I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
4 Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.
David starts the psalm with poetic and graphic language about the trials he’s facing. I’m not much of a one for poetry, but even someone like me is moved by the imagery of water coming up to my neck while at the same time sinking in the depths with no foothold! This is not the image of a man who’s afraid of drowning, it’s the image of a man who is already actively drowning! Not to mention being so worn out calling for help that your throat gets parched!
Even the part about being forced to restore what wasn’t stolen in the first place; the injustice of it hits us. It’s the poetry of a man who feels like his God has abandoned him.
This part we can easily apply to Jesus! Jesus was dealt with unjustly by the world; Jesus didn’t just feel like he was abandoned by God, he was abandoned by God! As mentioned above, verse 4 (“Those who hate me without reason”) was quoted by Jesus directly, because people did hate him without reason.
5 You, God, know my folly;
my guilt is not hidden from you.
6 Lord, the LORD Almighty,
may those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me;
God of Israel,
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me.
7 For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.
8 I am a foreigner to my own family,
a stranger to my own mother’s children;
9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
10 When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;
11 when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.
12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards.
There are times when poetry / songs / psalms get a bit hyperbolic; the author claims to be suffering even though he’s “totally innocent.” And that’s fine for poetry, we know from reading the rest of the Bible that nobody is totally innocent so we read the poetry as poetry and leave it at that. Nevertheless, David doesn’t go that route in this instance; he’s more nuanced. “Yes,” he’s saying, “I have sinned—you know that better than anyone, LORD!”
However, even though David has sinned, he also knows that that his own sin didn’t lead to this current suffering: the people who are claiming David wronged them weren’t actually wronged. In fact, David actually claims to be suffering for the LORD’s sake. He’s not just suffering unjustly, he’s suffering because he follows God. And he’s going even further than that: he’s worried that, because of past sins (even though they’re unrelated to his current distress), it might lead to others who hope in god being disgraced.
And again, it’s easy to apply this to Jesus, who was definitely persecuted for God’s sake—for his “zeal” for God—which didn’t happen to align with how people wanted to run their own lives, so they had him killed, trying to get rid of him.
13 But I pray to you, LORD,
in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
answer me with your sure salvation.
14 Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.
16 Answer me, LORD, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18 Come near and rescue me;
deliver me because of my foes.
This doesn’t really need any explanation: David prays to the LORD for deliverance—for an answer to his prayer. Not because he (David) is “good,” but because the LORD is good.
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
This feels like kind of a side note; in the midst of David’s prayer to the LORD he takes a moment to reaffirm how helpless and vulnerable he feels.
Jesus would have felt the same, but with the added prophetical aspect of the “vinegar” (or “wine vinegar”); in the ESV Study Bible they have this to say about it—keeping in mind that the NIV calls it “wine vinegar” in John, while the ESV calls it “sour wine”:
Sour wine would have been very unpleasant to someone suffering from severe thirst. John 19:28–29 uses these words in connection with one of Jesus’ last words on the cross (cf. also Matt. 27:34, 48; Mark 15:23, 36; Luke 23:36 ). The sour wine would have been the cheap beverage that the soldiers used to satisfy their thirst; but Jesus felt God-forsaken (Mark 15:34), and the thirst to which he was testifying must have been far more severe and deep-seated than anything this drink was meant for. When Jesus received it, he briefly prolonged his life (and his agony), and perhaps moistened his lips enough finally to cry out, “It is finished!”
In David’s case, I’m sure he’s speaking hyperbolically about people giving him “vinegar” to drink, but Jesus, when he had completed his work on the cross, was given literal “wine vinegar”, and it gave him just enough moisture to be able to declare his work done to anyone in earshot.
22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.
Here David does something else which is common in the Psalms: because he is being treated unfairly, he asks God to judge his “enemies” or, in this case, persecutors. And that’s not wrong; asking Got to render His judgement is perfectly fine and good.
However, this is the one area where Jesus differs from this Psalm, and I think that all of the quotations from this Psalm are meant to emphasize this key difference: Jesus suffered just like David did—more, in fact—and Jesus’ suffering was unjust, just as David’s was—more, in fact—but Jesus did not ask God to judge the ones who were sinning against them (which would be all of us). Instead, he went up on the cross and took our punishment Himself, so that we wouldn’t have to.
David prayed for God to judge his persecutors, and Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” David prayed for God’s wrath on the ones who were persecuting him, while Jesus took God’s wrath in our place—we have fellowship with God, and His favour upon us, because Jesus didn’t ask God to render his judgement.
And in the Gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament, any time someone from a Jewish background would hear this Psalm being quoted in relation to Jesus, they’d know all of this context, and they’d know that this was a psalm in which David was treated unfairly, and suffered unjustly, and called for God to judge the ones who had sinned—and notice that Jesus didn’t do that last thing.
29 But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
may your salvation, God, protect me.
David prayed that the LORD would judge those who need judging, but prays for salvation for himself. Which… is natural and human.
30 I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the LORD more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
32 The poor will see and be glad—
you who seek God, may your hearts live!
33 The LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his captive people.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and all that move in them,
35 for God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;
36 the children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.
David ends the psalm by saying that he will praise the LORD—in fact, all of heaven and earth will praise Him! The LORD is worthy of praise.
And given the way we keep referring this psalm back to Jesus, we should remember that part of the reason God is so worthy of our praise is that he isn’t just Holy, or Righteous, He’s also loving. We are too sinful to have a relationship with God; being in His presence would destroy us. But He had a plan to account for that, and to enable us to have a relationship with Him: Jesus’ work on the cross. David didn’t know all of that, but I don’t think he would have been surprised either; he was a man after God’s own heart. He loved the LORD, and even though he didn’t understand all of the nuances about how things would work in terms of sin and Grace, he knew the LORD was loving and gracious. The only part he was missing was the mechanics of it.