Psalm 69 – We’re Blessed When Our Commitment to God Provokes Persecution*
Blog by Rob Vandeman
Psalms 69 is written by a man in crisis. The waters of depression and oppression threaten his very life. He suffers at the hands of his enemies because of his devotion to God. The troubles are not specific, which is in keeping with the purpose of the Psalms to provide templates of prayers for later worshippers who have similar, though not identical, issues.
Psalm 69 is a full lament in the sense that it contains all the elements one might expect in such a prayer (invocation, cry for help, complaint, confession of sin, imprecation, praise). It thus serves well as a model prayer for us as we seek God’s help in the midst of trouble, particularly when we suffer on account of righteousness and devotion to God.
In addition, Psalm 69 is one of the most often quoted psalms in the New Testament. After all, Jesus was the only truly righteous person, and He was severely persecuted. Thus, the New Testament authors, and Jesus himself, believed that this psalm found articulation in the very words and deeds of Jesus.
Jesus tells his disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). But does the world have reason to hate Jesus? No, they have seen Him do works and speak words that should have convinced them that God had sent Him. As it is (quoting Ps. 694) they “hated Me without reason.”
When He cleansed the temple courts and drove out the moneychangers, the disciples remembered what was said in Psalm 69:9a and applied it to Jesus: “Zeal for your house will consume Me” (John 2:17).
Perhaps the most striking application of Psalm 69 to Jesus is found in the Passion Narrative. In the psalm, the author hoped for someone to comfort him, but instead those around him “put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst (69:21). He responds by unleashing a harsh imprecation against them. In contrast, Jesus, later given vinegar for His thirst (see Mark 15:23 and parallels; John 19:29), said concerning those who crucified him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
The psalm presupposes that there is a great deal of trouble and tragedy in life. A person would have to be blind not to see it. But for those who know God, tragedy is never the final word. The final word is always victory and praise. And this is the note on which the psalm ends. David first voices his praise to God, then calls on “heaven and earth . . .the seas and all that move in them” to praise God also. Verse 33 is the key to the psalm and the most important verse. “The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.”
I wish we could plant that truth in our minds so that nothing would ever blot it out and so that it could ring there with a constant glad clarity. In this world, there is always much pain and tragedy. It is what life is like. What is more, God does not always remove the pain or troubling times. Jesus prayed in great agony in Gethsemane, asking that the cup He was about to drink might be taken from him, and God did not remove the cup. Jesus had to drink it. God nevertheless heard His prayer and did not despise his agony. Moreover, He sent angels to minister to Him and strengthen Him so that he might go through His trial gloriously for God.
Be assured that this will be the case with you also. Whatever cross you are given, you must talk to God about it and believe that he will hear your prayers and come to strengthen you. And like the psalmist – you will certainly praise Him for it one day.
- The title I have assigned to this psalm is a quote of the beatitude in Matthew 5:10 as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message.