by Daniel Rudge, England
Psalm 69 belongs to the Second Book of Psalms (Psalms 42-72), which aligns with the Book of Exodus. Therein are Psalms that deal with the various themes of Israel’s ruin, Redeemer and redemption. More specifically, Psalm 68 speaks of One Who has “ascended on high” and “led captivity captive” Ps.68.18. Consequently, God scatters His foes and blesses His people; all of which is dependent on a risen, ascended Lord. Psalms 69-71 are somewhat in parenthesis as the leading theme is a cry for deliverance from the reproach and persecution of men. Psalm 72 seems to furnish the answer to such a cry: the King is reigning! “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth” Ps.72.8, and “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth” Ps.72.6. This group of five Psalms seems to have been to the forefront of the mind of the apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 4: “Now that He ascended [Psalm 68], what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? [Psalms 69-71]. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things [Psalm 72]” Eph.4.9,10. Indeed, Psalm 72 triumphantly declares, “let the whole earth be filled with His glory” v.19.
Though some commentators dispute the authorship of the Psalm, those who believe in the inspiration of Scripture would find it hard to reject its Davidic authorship as confirmed by Paul in Rom.11.9. The Psalm concerns David’s lament at his unjust reproach at the hands of men. Such suffering, far from being deserved, was occasioned by his own zeal for the holy things of God; compare vv.7,9. Whilst a specific time in the life of David during which this Psalm was written is difficult to identify, it could have been during the time of Absalom’s rebellion. As David left Jerusalem and passed over the brook Kidron he reached Bahurim, where Shimei, the son of Gera of the house of Saul, came forth and cursed David saying, “Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial: the LORD hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose stead thou hast reigned; and the LORD hath delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom thy son: and, behold, thou art taken in thy mischief, because thou art a bloody man” 2Sam.16.7,8. Yet David was the Lord’s anointed and one after God’s own heart. Shimei’s accusations were unfounded, but as the rightful king of Israel in exile and away from Jerusalem he was made a contemptible object of scorn. David was in a state of dishonour, shame and disgrace; thus the key word of the Psalm is “reproach”, used six times in the first two sections. In all this, David is but a foreshadow of a far greater: “He who speaks is doubtless, first of all, David; but evidently a greater than he is in view.” The Lord Jesus is the ultimate example of one who suffered for righteousness’ sake, 1Pet.3.14.
First, this is a Messianic Psalm: it is quoted seven times in the New Testament, five of which find direct fulfilment in Christ. The remaining two find fulfilment in the present state of Israel (quotation number six) and the sad demise of Judas Iscariot (quotation number seven). It is useful to see this in tabular form:
New Testament Quotation or Allusion
However, not all of the Psalm can be applied to the Lord Jesus. Note, for example, v.5. David is seeking to argue his innocence before God in relation to unfounded charges: see the New English Translation (N.E.T.) rendering of v.4. The basis of his argument is the omniscience of God. David has shown “foolishness” and committed “sins” in the past, all of which are known to God. Therefore, God knows David is innocent of these particular charges of which he is accused. Such statements can never be applied to the Lord Jesus. He never had to argue innocence or acknowledge sins before His God. One Who is the wisdom of God cannot be accused of “foolishness”. He is indeed “without sin” Heb.4.15. Thus, David stands in this Psalm as one who is representative of saints who suffer for righteousness’ sake, the Lord Jesus being the pre-eminent example of such.
Second, it should also be noted that Psalm 69 differs in character from Psalm 22. These two great Psalms reveal different aspects of the sufferings of Christ. Psalm 22 deals primarily with the atoning suffering of the Lord Jesus on the cross, that is, suffering from God. Psalm 69 emphasises His suffering for righteousness’ sake, especially during his life; thus it is suffering for God. The difference can also be seen in the fire of the brazen altar and the fire to which the various baked meal offerings were subjected, Lev.2.4-7. The former foreshadows Calvary as the altar burned with fire which originated from heaven (Psalm 22); the latter was fire made in the home, foreshadowing the testing and pressure of persecution in life (Psalm 69).
Third, Psalm 69 is widely acknowledged as the Psalm of the trespass offering because of the grand statement of v.4: “Then I restored that which I took not away.” Read Lev.5.14-6.7. Any trespass incurred both guilt and damage. The guilt was repaired by the offering of a ram of consecration and the material damage was estimated by Moses according to Divine standard, being the shekel of the sanctuary, Lev.5.15. Restitution was then made and a “fifth part” added thereto. Therefore, the trespass offering placed the injured party in a better position than before the offence took place. Such is the glorious outcome of the work of Christ at Calvary. Christ did not merely make amends for Adam’s sin, but more than restored the damage it created. Adam sinned “in the holy things” Lev.5.15, and robbed God of His due in worship and devotion, but Christ restored that which He took not away. Indeed, “God reaps a richer harvest of glory, honour, and praise in the fields of redemption than ever He could have reaped from those of creation. ‘The sons of God’ could raise a loftier song of praise around the empty tomb of Jesus than ever they raised in view of the Creator’s accomplished work.”2 Now, the spontaneous love of children to their Father is much more than the obligatory love of Adam for his beneficent Creator. Indeed, the crescendo of chorus in heaven moves from the elders prescribing praise in virtue of creation, Revelation chapter 4, to many angels and every creature prescribing the worship of a new song in virtue of Calvary: “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation’” Rev.5.9. And yet there is more. Adam also sinned against “his neighbour” Lev. 6.2, in the sense that sin damaged the whole human race. But believers in Christ are in a far better position than innocent Adam in the paradise of Eden. Saints today are the great gainers of the “much more” to be found in Christ (compare Rom.5.9,10,15,17,20).
- 2. Mackintosh, C.H. “Notes on the Pentateuch”. Loizeaux Brothers, 1985.
The Psalm breaks into four major paragraphs, the first of which (vv.1-12) describes the condition of soul of the Lord Jesus, suffering for righteousness’ sake throughout His earthly sojourn. The second section (vv.13-21) emphasises the sufferer’s cry for deliverance. Both sections record shadowy glimpses of Gethsemane (compare vv.13-15), Gabbatha (compare vv.18,19) and Golgotha (compare vv.20,21). The tone changes to an imprecatory note in the third section (vv.22-28). The call for judgment is loud and clear as the Psalmist calls for God’s righteous judgment upon the wicked, which is fitting for an age of law and clearly illustrative of the present condition of Israel in this day of grace (compare Rom.11.9,10). Having testified of the sufferings of Christ in the foregoing verses, the final section (vv.29-36) speaks of the glory that should follow and the Psalmist’s confidence in God. His prayer is answered and a song of praise fills his mouth, v.30. Thus, the four sections might be neatly summarised by the words: grief, vv.1-12; gall, vv.13-21; government, vv.22-28; and glory, vv.29-36.
It is not the intention to provide a verse-by-verse exposition of the Psalm, but rather to highlight and develop the devotional applications of each section to the Person and work of the Lord Jesus.
The inscription of the Psalm bears the word Shoshannim, meaning ‘lilies’ (compare Psalms 45,60,80), which likely refers to the tune to which the chief Musician was to set the Psalm. This flower of the spring, often found growing in the mire and amongst thorns, stands as an emblem of purity and glory. We are reminded of the Lord Jesus, Who, though suffering reproach beyond any other, blossomed to produce a sweet fragrance to His Father throughout His earthly sojourn below. He was a glimpse of purity in an otherwise filthy world.
What He Suffered
Sinking – vv.1,2
Trouble oppressed the inner depths (soul) of the Person of Christ. Such an experience was like sinking in deep, soft mud where there was no foothold; or, in a second metaphor, like a drowning man in overflowing flood waters. Throughout His life, the reproach to which the Lord Jesus was subjected created sorrows within (His soul), around (sinking in mire) and above (overflowing floodwater) His blessed Person. The figurative language clearly depicts the flood tide of human hatred that ultimately culminated in His rejection at the cross.
Supplication – v.3
The Psalmist waits in dependence upon his God. He is not tired of praying but exhausted by praying. His throat is “dried”, literally burning hot or parched through pleading with his God. His “eyes fail” in the sense that he is staring intently and expectantly for God to act in deliverance. One is reminded of the “strong crying” and tears of Gethsemane, and ultimate deliverance of the Lord Jesus “out of death” Heb.5.7, J.N.D.
Sorrow – v.4
The Lord Jesus was hated “without a cause”. For no good reason He was subjected to intense dislike resulting in hostility. Joseph knew something of the same experience, being hated because of his relationship to his father, his words, and his destiny to reign, Gen.37.4-8. The Lord Jesus suffered fierce opposition as He claimed equality with the Father, Jn.5.18, spoke words of truth which filled those in the synagogue in Nazareth with wrath, Lk.4.28, and told of His destiny to reign, Matt.26.64,65. Yet the Psalmist appears to be lamenting a case of miscarriage of justice. They are his enemies “wrongfully”, that is, this is hostility based on a lie. Furthermore, not doubting the connection to the trespass offering (for which see above), the final statement of the verse is translated by the New English Translation as “they make me repay what I did not steal!”; thus the Psalmist is being treated of wrongs he had not committed. The same was true at the bema of Pilate. The Jews, knowing the charge of blasphemy would carry no weight with a Roman governor, brought a false threefold political accusation, Lk.23.2. Firstly, He was accused of “perverting” (misleading) the nation and disturbing the religious peace, and yet Christ is the personification of truth and Prince of peace! Second was the accusation of forbidding to give tribute to Caesar therefore making Christ a financial risk to the empire; but He taught to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” Mk.12.17. Finally, they accused Him of claiming to be a political king and rebel against Caesar’s rule. But when the people of Galilee sought to “take Him by force, to make Him a king” Jn.6.15, He departed “into a mountain Himself alone”. Here is One Whose kingdom is not of this world, Jn.18.36! Therefore, it is of no surprise that, in answer to the threefold accusation, Pilate declares three times, “no fault”!
Shame – v.7
“Shame hath covered my face” is idiomatic of total humiliation and thorough disgrace. Men who were condemned to die often had their faces covered (compare Esther 7.8). Indeed, the face of the Lord Jesus was literally ‘covered around’ as He was beaten in abject mockery before the Sanhedrin, Mk.14.65. One is reminded of the utter shame of crucifixion: the word “cross” was unmentionable in polite Roman society as it provoked unspeakable horror and loathing. Yet, the Lord Jesus “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” Phil.2.8. So, a face which “did shine as the sun” on the Mount of Transfiguration was spit upon and disfigured more than any man at Calvary. The saints shall yet see the face of the Lord Jesus, but there will be no shame associated with it on this occasion. Rather, it will be the “glory of God” in the face of Jesus Christ, 2Cor.4.6.
Stranger – v.8
The Lord Jesus became a “stranger” to His brethren nationally (compare Jn.1.11) and an “alien” (foreigner) to His “mother’s children” socially. He was treated as if He was of no family relation to them whatsoever. As Spurgeon says, “His brethren in race rejected Him. His brethren by blood were offended at Him. His brethren in spirit forsook Him and fled.”3 We note the careful language of Scripture in the use of the phrase “mother’s children”. When Jacob seeks to emphasise the sovereignty of Judah over all the tribes of Israel he speaks of “thy father’s children” Gen.49.8, for they were of four different mothers! But Christ was virgin born, and thus it cannot be His “father’s children”.
- 3. Spurgeon, C.H. “The Treasury of David”.
Song – vv.10-12
The piety of the Lord Jesus was misrepresented, misunderstood and insulted. So much so that He became a “proverb” (byword) or song of jest. From the highest (“they that sit in the gate”) to the lowest in society (“drunkards”, in the street), Christ became the “butt of their unholy merriment”4. For instance, the Jews accused the Holy One of God of being a Samaritan and having a “devil” Jn.8.48. At the cross, the highest in society made sport of Him: there were the chief priests, scribes and elders in mockery saying, “He saved others; Himself he cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him” Matt.27.42. And what of the lowest in society? “And the robbers also who had been crucified with Him cast the same reproaches on Him” Matt.27.44, J.N.D. All this is a far cry from the song of heaven. The seraphim cry “Holy, holy, holy” Isa.6.3; myriads of angels in a circle around the throne say, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” Rev.5.12. Yet Christ subjected Himself to men’s songs of mockery.
- 4. Perowne, J.J. Stewart. “The Book of Psalms”. G. Bell and Sons, 1883.
Why He Suffered
This first section of the Psalm (vv.1-12) not only describes what Christ suffered by way of reproach, but why He was willing to do so. It was not so much for me or us, but rather for His Father and the honour of His house! “Because for Thy sake I have borne reproach” v.7. “For the zeal of Thine house hath eaten Me up” v.9. Here is One Who moved in total obedience to His Father’s will, despite the cost and despising the reproach. “If His zeal for God had occasioned it, then in His love for God He could bear it.”5 In fact, “the reproaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon Me” is quoted by Paul in Rom.15.3. He shows that the Lord Jesus so lived for God – the name, honour and glory of His Father – that any hatred towards God was borne by Him and never more so than at Calvary. Here the hostility and enmity of mankind against God was poured out in public disgrace upon Him. Thus, says Paul, a little perspective is required! Any irritation that might be caused by the scruple of a ‘weaker’ brother is insignificant in comparison with what Christ suffered on behalf of others. If He acted in such a selfless way, so should we.
- 5. Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock, 2001.
In addition, the Lord Jesus had overflowing fervour (“zeal”) for the house of God which was like a burning fire within. It was the disciples who remembered the words of this Psalm when they saw the Lord Jesus driving the merchants and moneychangers out of the Temple with a “scourge of small cords” Jn.2.14-17. He was most zealous for the purity and orderly function of the house of God, that His Father might be glorified thereby. Surely the words of Ps.26.8 were also in His mind, “LORD, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth.” The practical example to every believer is plain. The Lord Jesus was willing to suffer any cost for the sake of the honour and glory of His Father and His Father’s house. Would we be willing to suffer reproach for His name’s sake? Or would we forsake creature comforts and loved ones for Him? Though they had left their first love, and thus their motive is in question, the church at Ephesus could not be criticised for their zeal for Christ whatever the cost! “I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of My name, and have not grown weary” Rev.2.3, N.E.T.
Some of the statements of this section may appear repetitive, but the emphasis has changed. Now there is a heartfelt request for deliverance from the circumstances already described.
Before considering the two verses which describe the reproach of Calvary (vv.20,21), we note three characteristics of the prayers of the Lord Jesus. Not only were they persistent (see v.3 above) but patient: “My prayer is unto Thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time” v.13. He is expecting an answer to His prayer for deliverance but recognises it will be at an “acceptable time”, that is, a time of grace or a time best suited to Divine pleasure and purpose! One is reminded of the powerful exclamation of Psalm 22, when in answer to the cry of “Deliver My soul from the sword” v.20, and “Save Me from the lion’s mouth”, He cries, “Thou hast heard Me” v.21! This is surely the deliverance of resurrection. The third day, of resurrection, was the “acceptable time”, the time best suited to Divine pleasure, when His prayer for deliverance was heard because of His piety, Heb.5.7. Are we patient in prayer? Are we ready to wait God’s time rather than ours?
We also rejoice in the personal acquaintance of the Lord Jesus, our great High Priest, with the sufferings of His people. This can be seen in v.19: “Thou hast known my reproach”. The word translated “known” is ‘to know first-hand’. How could the Psalmist encourage himself with the knowledge that God knew all his suffering first-hand? This is likely a tacit appreciation of the omniscience of God, and yet we rejoice in a Saviour Who has Himself experienced “grief” Isa.53.3. There is One Who has been here and experienced suffering for righteousness’ sake beyond that of any other. Consequently, “we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” Heb.4.15.
The particular reproach of Calvary is described in vv.20,21:
His Heart – v.20
Whilst no bone of the Lord Jesus could be broken, the same could not be said of His heart: “reproach hath broken My heart”. The language is very strong: His whole inner being was sorely affected, even shattered, by the reproach of mankind. The statement shows something of the great impact of the vile repulsion of men, even His own people, on the soul of Christ; so much so that He was “full of heaviness”, which is suggestive of one who is sick with emotion. He was “despised and rejected of men” Isa.53.3, and no more was this in evidence than at Calvary. This is a statement of great irony considering that part of the work of the Lord Jesus was to “heal the brokenhearted” Lk.4.18. The widow of Nain was about to bury her “only son” until the Lord Jesus met her at the gate of the city. We remember His word of comfort, “Weep not”, and, following the miracle of resurrection, “He delivered him to his mother” Lk.7.13,15. Her shattered heart was healed. Then there were two on the road to Emmaus who had desperately hoped that Jesus of Nazareth was “He which should have redeemed Israel” Lk.24.21, but now He had been crucified. He healed their broken hearts, causing them to burn through the exposition of Scriptures concerning Himself and a revelation of His risen Person to their souls.
His Helpers – v.20
The solitude of the Lord Jesus on the cross was evident as He “looked for some to take pity, but there was none”. The word “pity” has the thought of ‘swaying’ or ‘shaking’ the head in identification with one’s suffering, but, in contrast, they that passed by the cross “wagged” their heads in mockery, Mk.15.29. He looked for “comforters” to help alleviate His sorrow and give some spiritual strength, but His disciples had all forsaken Him and fled. Again, the irony is patent for this glorious Person on the cross is the Divine “Comforter”. In the present age, He comes alongside His own in order to comfort and strengthen, but there was no such solace for Him. Instead He cried, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Ps.22.1.
His Hunger – v.21
His “adversaries” gave Him “gall” for food, which probably refers to a very bitter, even poisonous, herb. The Lord Jesus was offered three drinks at Calvary. Prior to crucifixion, the soldiers offered Him “wine mingled with gall” but He would not drink because the mild poison would act as a sedative, Matt.27.34; Mk.15.23. Secondly, the soldiers repeatedly offered Him vinegar in mockery, as a toast to a king, Lk.23.36. Finally, at the end of three hours of darkness, He was offered and “received” vinegar, Jn.19.28-30, a cheap, sour wine used by soldiers and a favourite beverage of the lower ranks of society. This vinegar was no sedative but would rather prolong life and therefore pain. Remarkable then, that so soon after tasting the vinegar, the Good Shepherd laid down His life. He had total control over death. We remember the public ministry of the Lord Jesus began with hunger in the wilderness and closed with thirst on the cross.
This Psalm is one of eleven imprecatory Psalms so called because the writer calls down curses and judgment upon his enemies. He is not seeking personal vengeance (as Simeon and Levi, Genesis chapter 34) but committing his cause into the hand of the God of perfect justice. Similar imprecations can also be found in the mouths of prophets such as Jeremiah, Jer.11.20, as well as the martyrs in heaven in Rev.6.10. Whilst the Lord Jesus pronounced “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees, Matt.23.13-33, imprecations were contrary to the conduct of Christ, Who rather cried, “Father, forgive them” Lk.23.34. Again, we note the words of Spurgeon, “The severe spirit of the law breathes out imprecations, while the tender heart of Jesus offers prayers for His murderers.”6
- 6. Spurgeon, C.H., ibid.
Calling God’s righteous judgment upon the wicked is fitting for an age of law, and the deserved due of all those who reject the trespass offering of which this Psalm so beautifully speaks. Such actions, however, are not in keeping with the present day of grace. Rather, believers are to “bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not” Rom.12.14.
The verses of this section are quoted on two occasions in the New Testament.
Firstly, vv.22,23 are cited by Paul in Rom.11.9,10 to perfectly describe the present condition of the nation of Israel as those who had rejected their Messiah. They were in such a hardened state that even their spiritual blessings (or “table”, possibly the altar or sacrificial system) which should have led them to Christ instead became a “stumblingblock” to keep them from Christ. Their eyes were “darkened” that they could not see the truth of God. Their backs were bowed, either in bondage and fear of their enemies or under the general burden and slavery of the Law. This is the sad state of a people who had long abused their many blessings and rejected the Word of God. Thus, judicial blindness was the lot of the nation, but it was only partial and temporary, for God has a future for His earthly people, Rom.11.25.
Secondly, v.25, as well as Ps.109.8, is quoted by Peter in relation to the betrayal and subsequent end of Judas Iscariot, Acts 1.20. The Psalmist envisages a camp of empty tents because the inhabitants have been killed: a clear reference to the desolation of Jerusalem and solemn events of A.D.70 (therefore the allusion to this verse by the Lord Jesus in Matt.23.38). Not only did Judas represent the adversaries of Christ, even the apostate nation itself, but the imprecatory prayer of the Psalmist was fulfilled in what happened to Judas and his property, Acts 1.18,19.
The closing verses of the Psalm take the form of a song of praise. It is almost as if the Psalmist is living in the good of answered prayer before it comes in his experience. He has been in the sanctuary and communed with his God. As such he has a much clearer understanding of God’s dealings in his life and looks towards a glorious deliverance; compare Ps.73.17.
Set on High – v.29
He prays that God’s deliverance might lift him from the “mire” v.1, to set him “up on high” v.29. The thought is to be inaccessibly and safely high up. Thank God, Christ has been “highly exalted” Phil.2.9. In fact, “He shall be exalted [rise up] and extolled [lifted up], and be very high [exceedingly exalted]” Isa.52.13. We could paraphrase, ‘He shall be made high, higher and the highest!’ Whilst this could refer to the resurrection, ascension and subsequent exaltation of the Lord Jesus, the context in Isaiah is the restoration of the nation of Israel and therefore may refer to His coming exaltation on earth, in answer to His former humiliation. Some ancient rabbis used to say, “He shall be exalted above Abraham, He shall be lifted up above Moses, and be higher than the ministering angels.” The Epistle to the Hebrews certainly demonstrates the truth of that statement!
Song of Praise – vv.30-36
The cry for deliverance, v.1, has become a song of praise: “I will praise the name of God with a song” v.30. The Lord Jesus is the worship leader. The same night in which He was betrayed, He led a ‘choir’ of eleven disciples in the singing of “a hymn” Mk.14.26. The likely theme was the Hallel Psalms sung during the Passover (Psalms 113-118). Given the events that lay before the Lord Jesus in the forthcoming hours, it was remarkable He could sing such words as “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” Ps.118.24; “Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar” Ps.118.27; and “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner” Ps.118.22. The worship swells to include glorified saints in Heb.2.12. Part of the eternal priestly work of the Son is to fully reveal the Person and character (“name”) of the Father. Yet, Psalm 69 reaches even greater heights, with the Lord Jesus leading a universal chorus of praise to God: “Let the heaven and earth praise Him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein” v.34.
In closing, we note two practical applications of these verses. Firstly, the Psalmist seeks to “magnify” God by offering a confession of thanksgiving for his deliverance, v.30. So we, as God’s redeemed and delivered people, should seek to glorify our God and magnify Christ in thanksgiving through the way we live and speak, Phil.1.20. Secondly, such praise is certainly more pleasing to the Lord than animal sacrifices, v.31, for “these could be offered mechanically and coldly, without the gratitude of a full heart. True devotion was better. Worship from a heart overflowing with praise of Him would please Him more than ritual offerings.”7
- 7. Flanigan, J.M., ibid.