The 69th Psalm has long been considered to be a Messianic Psalm. In fact, many commentators and scholars believe that this psalm has nothing to do with David, but David is only speaking prophetically of the Messiah to come. While we must accept that David was not only king but was also a prophet (Acts 2:29-30). This teaching can be seen clearly in one commentary I own: Exploring Psalms volume one by John Phillips. He says, “From beginning to end it points forward to Christ. This is not about David, but about great David’s greater Son” (553). But it is not reasonable for us to view this psalm in the way John Phillips declares. The reason why should be evident to us once we read verse 5, “God, You know my foolishness, and my guilty acts are not hidden from You.” This cannot refer to Jesus since the scriptures are filled with passages arguing Christ’s sinlessness. So it is not possible to say that this psalm exclusively speaks of the Christ and not of David. However, neither can we say that this psalm speaks exclusively of David because at least three times the New Testament writers quote from this psalm and apply its fulfillment to Christ.
This dilemma is a problem for many scholars. Phil Roberts states the problem well: “We often feel embarrassed when attempting to ‘justify’ the hermeneutical practices of the New Testament. Perhaps the real hermeneutical problem is the difficulty of fully participating in the first century view of Scripture.” I believe this is our problem in understanding the Old and the New Testaments. We are having difficulty viewing the scriptures with the mind of the original audience.
We need to understand how the Jews interpreted the scriptures if we are going to fully understand the argument that Peter is making in Acts 2. The following is a list of premises the Jews had when interpreting the scriptures.
First, the Old Testament scriptures were inspired of God. In our series “Is the Bible the Word of God,” we have gone to great lengths to prove this very truth to ourselves. The Jews believed this fundamental premise also. Therefore, the scriptures are one book given by God to the people.
Second, the Old Testament scriptures speak to every generation, with special relevance for “the end time.” Since the scriptures are the word of God, then the scriptures are timeless. The scriptures spoke to every generation that would come along and read the word of God. Further, the scriptures have special relevance to the time of the coming of the Messiah, otherwise called the “last days” or “end time.”
Third, context gives words their meaning. The same words, read in a new context, might state another true point. To understand this point, we need to recognize this truth in our own culture. Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner during the War of 1812. Those words had a special meaning to those people at that time in the context of that war. However, the song has a different but related meaning to soldiers today who have fought in recent wars. The words “the bombs bursting in air” does not call to their minds the war of 1812 but the war they just fought in.
Similarly, we know the P.P. Bliss penned the song “It Is Well With My Soul” as upon the knowledge of losing his family at sea. The despair and loss of his family on a ship sinking was the context and meaning of the song. However, we do not sing the song today in our worship thinking about poor Mr. Bliss and how we lost his family. Today the song has a different meaning to us, though related, about how God can carry us through whatever losses we may endure.
This is the way we must understand the Psalms as we study each one. David is clearly writing about himself and his difficulties (note verse 5). David uses figurative language to describe the severity of his suffering (see verse 21). However, this psalm was also to be understood in the context of the coming Messiah. Thus, what David spoke of himself in a figurative sense is, in many places in Psalm 69, fulfilled literally through the suffering of Jesus. With this background in mind, let us study Psalm 69.
A Crushing Blow (69:1-4)
David begins the psalm with a description of how he feels from the suffering he is enduring. David describes his pain as if he was drowning in the sea, sinking in deep mud, and crushed by a flood of waves. David goes on to describe his physical state, declaring that he is weary from crying, his throat is dry, and his eyes fail. David’s pain comes from his enemies who hate him without cause. The injustice is so great against David that he is forced to restore what he did not steal (69:4).
This fourth verse is the first passage of this psalm that is quoted in the New Testament and applied to Jesus. As Jesus is teaching his disciples in the upper room the night before his death, he said, “If I had not done the works among them that no one else has done, they would not have sin. Now they have seen and hated both Me and My Father. But this happened so that the statement written in their law might be fulfilled: They hated Me for no reason” (John 15:24-25). The concept of this part of the fulfillment of the prophecy is not only that the Jewish leaders hated Jesus, but they were accusing him falsely. Jesus is predicting this element of his upcoming trials that would happen in a matter of hours. Jesus is telling his disciples that he was going to pay the price for things that he had not done and a great act of injustice was about to take place.
Scorn and Shame (69:5-12)
David goes on to describe the scorn and shame that he is enduring through this suffering. In the midst of this suffering David admits that he is not perfect, but does have error in his life. David prays that his actions do not cause the God of Israel to be humiliated (69:5-6). We see an important truth expressed by David: suffering causes self-examination. Anyone going through great difficulty usually does not need to be told that they have made bad decisions in his or her life and has committed sin. David also points out another important truth: our sins have an impact on how people view God. Further, other people who trust God are impacted by the sins of another (69:6).
There are many Messianic allusions and quotations in this section of the psalm. The first allusion is found in verse 8, “I have become a stranger to my brothers and a foreigner to my mother’s sons.” We also know through the words of John that the brothers of Jesus did not believe him to the Messiah, along with the Jewish leaders. “For not even His brothers believed in Him” (John 7:5).
Two Messianic quotations are found in Psalm 69:9. The first quotation is the first part of verse 9, “For zeal for Your house has consumed me.” This is the passage the disciples of Jesus remember after Jesus cleanses the temple in John 2:17. The second quotation is the second part of verse 9, “And the insults of those who insult You have fallen on me.” Paul’s application of this passage is interesting in Romans 15:2-3: “Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, in order to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The reproaches of those who insult You have fallen on Me.” In the psalm, David declares that the suffering he is enduring is because of his desire for righteousness and being a follower of God. Paul uses the quotation of the psalm to show that Jesus suffered because of His righteousness. But Paul goes a step further to show that we need to look out for our neighbors’ interests and be unselfish because that is what Christ did.
Call For God’s Favor (69:13-21)
In verse 13 we read that David is praying for a time of favor from God and that God answer his prayer with his abundant and faithful love. Verses 14-15 refer back to the first two verses of the psalm, requesting to God that he not sink in the deep mud nor be overwhelmed by the deep floodwaters. David calls for deliverance from the Lord. Verses 19-21 describe the shame and insults that David experiences. David looks for sympathy or comforters, but finds none. Instead of finding comfort or help, he finds continued mistreatment. This mistreatment is symbolized in the thirst David has is not quenched by water, but with vinegar and gall.
Most everyone will recognize the fulfillment of this Messianic language in Jesus. “When they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Skull Place), they gave Him sour wine mixed with gall to drink. But when He tasted it, He would not drink it” (Matthew 27:33-34). The gall and vinegar was not only literally given to Jesus but was also symbolic of the brutal treatment he received from the people.
Call For Judgment (69:22-28)
David then calls out to God for judgment to fall upon his enemies on this section of the psalm. The prayer for judgment is so strong and so grime that David even asks, “let them be erased from the book of life and no be recorded with the righteous” (69:28). This section of the psalm is fervent plea for God’s wrath to be vented against the enemies and that they fall into their own trap. In a very interesting twist, this is also quoted in the New Testament. In Romans 11, Paul is about the fulfillment of God’s prophecies and promises to Israel. We pick up this theme in verses 7-10:
“7 What then? Israel did not find what it was looking for, but the elect did find it. The rest were hardened,
8 as it is written: God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear, to this day.
9 And David says: Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution to them.
10 Let their eyes be darkened so they cannot see, and their backs be bent continually.”
Paul quotes Psalm 69:22-23 in verses 9-10 to show that the elect of Israel received God’s promises but not all of Israel did. Just as in the days of David there were enemies against God’s chosen ones, so also there continues to be enemies of God’s chosen, specifically His anointed, Jesus. They refused to see the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and so the wrath of God comes against them.
Perhaps the most difficult quotation of this psalm is verse 25 which is quoted in Acts 1:20 and is applied to Judas. The point we continue to see is that the Jews understood the scriptures as applying to the end times of the Messiah as well as to the original author. Thus, Peter can look to this psalm and use it as an argument that Judas would leave his position and another would need to be appointed.
Praise To God (69:29-36)
The psalm ends with David praising God and giving thanks for His salvation. David continues to be impressive in his ability to keep praising God in the midst of severe suffering. God desires our praise and is not impressed with outward sacrifices. In verse 34 David calls upon all of creation to praise God. The final verses are forward looking to the Messianic age as David speaks of deliverance of Zion and the building of the cities of Judah. Verse 34 alone sounds very physical but the final verse seems to point to spiritual Jerusalem: “The descendants of His servants will inherit it, and those who love His name will live in it.” This sounds like a forward promise fulfilled by Christ as the writer of Hebrews expressed: “Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
In spite of our suffering and despite the trials that come in life, we know that we have our home in Zion, the city of the living God. God will continue to bless us, continue to love us, and continue to save us as we continue to praise the Lord our God. We have been given a wealthy inheritance and a great blessing to dwell with God.