April 9, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 69 (NIV)
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.
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.
You, God, know my folly;
my guilt is not hidden from you.
But I pray to you, LORD,
in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
answer me with your sure salvation.
Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.
Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.
may it become retribution and a trap.
May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.
the seas and all that move in them,
for God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;
the children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.
The depth of anguish in Psalm 69 caught the attention of the early church as a picture of the anguish of Christ as he endured rejection in his ministry, and specifically on the cross. This Psalm is quoted numerous times in the New Testament and applied specifically to Christ. In John 2:17, the disciples “remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me,’” quoting Psalm 69:9a. The Apostle Paul quotes this psalm in describing how Christ patiently endured insults: “For even Christ did not please himself, but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me’” (Romans 15:3 quoting Psalm 69:9b).
On the night before his crucifixion, just hours before his arrest, Jesus gave his final teaching to his disciples known as the upper room discourse (John 13-17). Jesus admonishes them (and us) to expect the world’s and the religious authorities’ hatred and rejection. Jesus says that they have hated “both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what in written in their Law: ‘They hated me without cause,’” quoting Psalm 69:4. Finally, while on the cross his “throat was parched” (69:3), he was “mocked” (69:12), and “they gave me vinegar for my thirst” (69:21). It is no surprise that the early church saw in Psalm 69 the foreshadowing of a graphic description of the passion of Christ and, in particular, the sufferings of Christ on the cross.
The power of these words being found in the psalms on the lips of Jesus’ ancestor David, is that we are able to enter into the “inside” experience of the passion. The gospels describe the death of Christ on the cross as faithful historians who were eye witnesses to an event. They are third person accounts. Psalm 69 is written in the first person, so it captures the experience of the passion from the perspective of Christ himself. We should also sense how personal the meaning of this is for you and for me. We often pray for God to take us out of suffering, but God responds not by taking suffering away from us, but by entering into the suffering Himself.
We have surveyed the parallels. We come now to the dramatic departure of Psalm 69 with the passion of Christ on the cross. After this remarkable description of rejection and suffering (69:1-21), David begins to call down curses on his enemies. He prays that his enemies will be blinded (vs. 21). He prays that God’s wrath will be poured out upon them (vs. 24) and their houses be deserted (vs. 25). He even prays that “they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous” (vs. 28).
When you track Psalm 69 side by side with the passion accounts, it is a very moving experience. But precisely at the point in the psalm where the cursing begins, at that very point in the passion account, we hear the thunderous interruption of our deserved condemnation and cursing with Jesus’ word of grace: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Here, in a single verse, we have the whole gospel in seed form. We who are the deserved recipients of God’s judgment and exclusion from the Book of Life, have been given a reprieve of grace. The cross offers a new pathway of grace. Jesus is not cursing us. Rather, he has chosen to bear our curse! This is the gospel.
The curses of Psalm 69 are, of course, not obliterated. (Remember, Jesus did not come to abolish, but to fulfill). This world is still under the curses of Psalm 69 and, on the final Judgment Day, there will be many whose names will have been blotted out of the Book of Life (Rev. 20:15). But, the difference is that, through Jesus Christ, a “new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) has been opened up for us that all might be saved. We who are the recipients of God’s grace should be eagerly and joyously sharing this good news with everyone we know!