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Psalm 69:1-18 - A Prayer in Desperate Times
For the director of music. To [the tune of] “Lilies.” Of David.
1Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
2I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
3I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.
4Those 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.
5You know my folly, O God;
my guilt is not hidden from You.
6May those who hope in You not be disgraced
because of me, O Lord, the Lord Almighty;
May those who seek You not be put to shame
because of me, O God of Israel.
7For I endure scorn for Your sake,
and shame covers my face.
8I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons;
9for zeal for Your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you
fall on me.
10When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;
11when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.
12Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards.
13But I pray to You, O Lord,
in the time of Your favor;
In Your great love, O God,
answer me with Your sure salvation.
14Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
Deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.
15Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.
16Answer me, O Lord,
out of the goodness of Your love;
In Your great mercy turn to me.
17Do not hide Your face from Your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18Come near and rescue me;
redeem me because of my foes.
This psalm is a prayer offered up by David in a time of hopelessness. We are not told specifically what occasion in David’s life inspired this psalm. Indeed, there were many events in David’s life that could have inspired it, for he led a life full of trouble.
We learn from reading the New Testament, that David, in this psalm, was speaking prophetically in the role of Jesus Christ (in theology, we say that David was a type of Jesus in this psalm). This psalm is applied to Jesus numerous times in the New Testament (see Matt. 27:34,48; Mark 15:23; John 2:17; John 15:25; John 19:28,29; Acts 1:16,20; Rom. 11:9–10). Certainly, David thought he was speaking for himself, and this psalm no doubt was written on the occasion of one of his many times of trials. However, the Holy Spirit also inspired David in such a way that this psalm in many parts could also apply to Christ. “His footprints all through this sorrowful song have been pointed out by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, and therefore we believe, and are sure, that the Son of Man is here” [Spurgeon]. “There is no Psalm, except for the twenty-second, more distinctly applied to Jesus in the New Testament” [Alexander].
David begins: “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” (vs. 1–2). The psalm opens with a phrase uttered by many a believer throughout the ages: “Save me, O God.” “The very best of men may be in extreme danger. That is a good reason for looking to God, and hoping in His mercy” [Plumer, 685]. “A child of God may, in his own sense, be very near to perishing, and yet must not, in the most desperate condition, cease to pray, nor cease to hope for delivery prayed for” [Dickson, 411].
When speaking of “the miry depths”, David speaks in a metaphor that reflects the hopelessness of his situation. He paints a picture of one sinking in the mud, while standing in a river. There is “no foothold” in the mud, and so there is no way to reverse the sinking as the waters of the river rise. In such hopeless situations, one can only turn to God.
Jesus faced one such situation. While on the cross, the weight of the world’s sins was placed on Him. What an impossible burden for anyone to bear! Like David in the hopeless situation, Jesus cried out to His Father in Heaven. We are told in the book of Hebrews: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission” (Heb. 5:7). Jesus’ “loud cries and tears” are typified by David, as he cries to God for help, fervently and unceasing: “I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God” (vs. 3).
David speaks of his enemies: “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” (vs. 4). David, in this situation, apparently was innocent, for he was hated “without reason”. These words apply even more to Jesus, who of course was completely without sin. Jesus, during His time on earth, unselfishly and unceasingly traveled around, “teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matt. 4:23). Those who hated Jesus, did not hate Him for any wrong He did to them, but because they did not want to accept His message. This is true even today. People of the world have an unreasonable hatred of the name of Jesus, though Jesus did only good, and even laid down His life for their sakes. They hate Jesus because of the message of repentance He brought. As Jesus said: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19–20). And truly, those who hate Jesus, as David said, “outnumber the hairs on my head.” Those who hate Jesus are rife, coming from all walks of life. “Both civilians and military, laics and clerics, doctors and drunkards, princes and people, set themselves against the Lord’s anointed… The hosts of earth and hell, band together, make up vast legions of antagonists, none of whom have any just ground for hating Him” [Spurgeon].
Though David’s enemies had no reason to hate him, David knew that he was not innocent in God’s sight: “You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from You” (vs. 5). “Even when, as to men’s unjust accusations, we plead ‘Not guilty’, yet, before God, we must acknowledge ourselves to have deserved all that is brought upon us, and much worse” [Henry]. Now, we have seen that many statements in this psalm can be applied to Christ. One might think that, because Jesus was sinless, this verse could not apply to Him. Yet, when Jesus was on the cross, He bore all the sins of the world. As Paul taught: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:21). “The sins of those for whom Christ died, by being imputed to Him, no doubt became His in the eyes of the law, in such a sense as to make Him answerable for them” [Anderson, in Spurgeon]. On the cross, as He bore our sins, Jesus felt all the guilt and shame that sin brings. So, at that time, Jesus could speak on our behalf: “You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from You.” This was the great gift that Jesus gave us. He bore our guilt, and endured the full wrath of God, the wrath that we deserved.
Next, David prays that he would bear up well under his trial: “May those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the Lord Almighty; may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel. For I endure scorn for Your sake, and shame covers my face” (vss. 6–7). David was concerned that his actions as he endured affliction might bring “shame” and “disgrace” on others. So he prayed that he might endure his trials as a godly man should: with courage, knowing that God is in control; with righteousness, not compromising virtue in the face of pain; with steadfastness, always looking to God for strength. We all should have this same concern. Our actions are being watched and studied by others, in light of our faith in God. We are witnesses for God, for good or for bad, in everything we do. If we act disgracefully, this brings “disgrace” and “shame” on all believers.
These verses can also be applied to Christ. He “endured scorn” as He did the Father’s will; He was “shamed” by even the act (deity though He is) of humbling Himself and becoming a man. Then also, He was further “shamed” by the horrible scourging He endured, culminating in His execution on the cross, between two thieves. Of course, Jesus bore Himself up very well under the affliction of the cross, even to the extent that He prayed for the forgiveness of His persecutors.
David speaks next of the scorn he faced because of his strong faith in God: “I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for Your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult You fall on me. When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn; when I put on sackcloth, people make sport of me. Those who sit at the gate mock me, and I am the song of the drunkards” (vss. 812). One proof that there is a spiritual war actively in process is the unreasonable hatred that comes on those who are “zealous” in doing God’s work. You can freely speak to others about the weather, about sports, even about Buddha and Confucius, but if you so much as mention the name of Jesus Christ, many people will become outraged. If you demonstrate a “zeal” and enjoyment for the worship of God, invariably “insults” will “fall on you”, as they did on David. “Zeal for God is so little understood by men of the world, that it always draws down opposition upon those who are inspired with it; they are sure to be accused of sinister motives, or of hypocrisy, or of being out of their senses… [In the world], virtue is accounted vice; truth, blasphemy; wisdom, folly” [Spurgeon]. “In affliction for God’s cause friends will more readily forsake a sufferer, than in his affliction for a civil cause” [Dickson, 414]. However, we must not let the scorn of the people deter us from doing the work of God, lest we lose the spiritual war. “Though we may be jeered for well-doing, we must never be jeered out of it” [Henry].
These verses also apply to Jesus. John tells us that Jesus’ clearing of the Temple of the moneychangers was a fulfillment of the verse: “Zeal for Your house consumes me” (see John 2:17). Also, Jesus was “a stranger to His brothers” (the Jews), and also “an alien to His own mother’s sons”: John tells us that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5). “The Jews (His brethren in race) rejected Him, His family (His brethren by blood) were offended at Him, His disciples (His brethren in spirit) forsook Him and fled; one of them sold Him, and another denied Him with oaths and cursings. Alas, my Lord, what pangs must have smitten Thy loving heart to be thus forsaken by those who should have loved Thee, defended Thee, and, if need be, died for Thee” [Spurgeon].
Despite being forsaken by his “brothers”, David has a place to turn for help, to his loving God: “But I pray to You, O 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” (vss. 13–14). “The best way to bear out the persecution of the mighty and the mockery of the base multitude, is to be frequent in prayer to God for our part” [Dickson, 416]. Men are fickle, anyway, limited in the desire and ability to help. From only God comes “sure salvation”.
David realizes that any help he gets from God stems from God’s love and mercy, and is not a reward for any merits of David himself: “Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of Your love; in Your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide Your face from Your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me; redeem me because of my foes” (vss. 15–18). It is smart to appeal to God’s love and mercy. We must realize that we deserve nothing from God. We would do well to have these words on our lips, as we pray for help in times of trouble: “Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of Your love; in Your great mercy turn to me.”