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Psalm 69

by Tim O'Hearn

How does one know when an Old Testament prophecy has a New Testament application? Or even if? Or even whether something in the Old Testament is a prophecy at all? Sometimes these are hard questions to answer. The simple answer is that if the New Testament writers say it applies, it applies. Matthew says over 30 times that something in the life of Jesus happened that it might be fulfilled what was said by the prophet. But even then, some of his references (such as the virgin birth) are so obscure in the original that one would otherwise be inclined to say, “That was a prophecy?” Absent any such confirmatory statement, however, the prophecy would have to have multiple elements that clearly fit. Even ignoring the scholarly arguments over the word “pierced,” Psalm 22 contains multiple statements that were clearly fulfilled in the one event of the crucifixion: derision of the Jewish leaders with exact quotation, parting of garments. Most of the Psalms are not generally considered to be prophetic, and yet when one appears to have such elements, how much can one take as predictive? For instance, how much of Psalm 69 refers to the life and death of Jesus? And if it doesn’t, what can we learn from it, anyway?

David and Jonah

The most striking thing about the 69th Psalm is its similarity to the psalm in Jonah 2. When most people think of Jonah they think of the big fish. Then maybe they think of his message to Nineveh or his argument with God about his shade. The last thing we consider Jonah to be is a psalmist. Chapter 2 of that book is probably the most forgotten, and yet it is a psalm comparable to those of David.

Jonah’s use of nautical imagery is understandable, considering his situation. David’s may be less so, but there are distinct similarities that would indicate Jonah was quite familiar with David’s psalms. Take a look at the similarities. The parallels are not exact, but neither were the circumstances.

Psalm 69 Jonah 2
Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. (vv. 1-2) For thou hadst cast me into the deep, in the midst of the seas; and the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and thy waves passed over me. (v. 3)
Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters. Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me. (vv. 14-15) The waters compassed me about, even to the soul: the depth closed me round about, the weeds were wrapped about my head. I went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about me for ever: yet hast thou brought up my life from corruption, O LORD my God. (vv. 5-6)
I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. (v. 3) I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight; yet I will look again toward thy holy temple. When my soul fainted within me I remembered the LORD: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple. (vv. 2, 4, 7)
They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away. O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee. Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel. (vv. 4-6) They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. (v. 8)
But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation. (v. 13) But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD. (v. 9)

David and Jonah were facing trials that seemed beyond bearing. The specific cause of Psalm 69 is not given, but it is clear that David was dealing with betrayal from those close to him. He was being hounded near to death. Jonah was facing a betrayal of a different sort. He was being asked to preach salvation to the people who had killed some of his own neighbors. In a sense he felt betrayed by God. Nevertheless, both realized that their salvation, physical and spiritual, would only come from God. From the depths of despair they cry that they might not drown.

This shows that some parts of the psalms are universal. They have meaning for people in similar circumstances. Does that mean, however, that parts of them cannot be specific? Hardly.

Save from my Enemies

The bulk of the remainder of Psalm 69 continues the prayer for salvation from enemies. It moves away from the nautical imagery, and becomes more straightforward.

First David lays out his complaint. His enemies speak against him without cause. Verses 7, 8, 12, 18-20 tell of the effect of their reproaches. Even his family is against him, and he feels it like a man in mourning. Nobody seems to be on his side. He looked “for comforters, but I found none.” (v. 20)

Because of this he calls on God to avenge him. Some people have trouble with psalms like this one. “Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.” (v. 25) “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” (v. 28) They feel that David is asking God to take vengeance on his behalf out of proportion to the crime. Some other psalms are even more explicit in what the psalmist wants done to his persecutors. What people fail to remember is that David is asking for vengeance because of his position, not from personal spite. “For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded.” (v. 26) In this case he is asking God to take vengeance on those who add to the vengeance of God, those who rub salt into the wound. In other psalms he asks God to punish because they are attacking God’s anointed. He is calling God to defend his own honor, not David’s.

Verses 29-36, the end of the psalm, sing the praises of God. David appears to be saying that if God defends his own name, others will see it and glorify Him. If David, even in these circumstances, can “magnify him with thanksgiving,” then “the humble shall see, and be glad.” (v 32)

Nor is David alone in his praise. “Let the heaven and earth praise him, the seas, and every thing that moveth therein.” (v 34) This praise will result in the salvation of the inhabitants of the land of Judah. It can be extended, though, to all who praise God. “Salvation is of the LORD.”

Two passages

That leaves two passages that are generally taken to be prophecies of the Messiah; one because it is descriptive, and one because it is quoted as being Messianic. It could be said that the whole psalm describes the reproach of the Jewish leaders endured by Jesus, and is entirely about the Messiah. That may be true, or it may be a bit of a stretch. Without a specific passage later saying “this is about Jesus” we cannot be certain. But we can be certain about portions of the psalm.

“They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (v. 21) While none of the gospel writers specifically mention this passage, The last thing we consider Jonah to be is a psalmist.every one of them mentions that Jesus was given vinegar to drink while on the cross. It seems such a small detail, yet all four writers mention it. They clearly had this verse in mind as they observed his suffering.

For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me. (Ps 69:9)

This verse is quoted in two different contexts to prove that Jesus was the Messiah. The first had to do with an incident in the Temple at Passover. Jesus observed those who bought and sold in the Temple, made a scourge, and drove them out of the Temple, bankrupting the money changers. John says, “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (Jn 2:17) The disciples saw this event as a specific fulfillment of prophecy.

Paul takes the other half of the verse to apply to Jesus. In Romans 15:1-4 he advocates doing good for others without concern for oneself. Do good for the sake of doing good, because even Jesus did not please himself, but “the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.” It did not matter how much people reviled him, he would do the right thing. Even when that right thing meant his death on a stake.

This is a marvelous psalm, in part because it does specifically speak of the Messiah. But its prophetic portion is small compared to its prayer to God. It is worth praying, whether any or all applies to Jesus, because we all need God’s salvation.