We don’t feel comfortable reading Psalm 69. We probably prefer Sunday morn­ings, in fact life in general, to be happy and positive. We don’t enjoy thinking about sad things or bad and uncomfortable things. We like even less to talk about them.

Yet, within the brotherhood lately we have had some very sad things happen. People we know and love have died, that shouldn’t have. People close to us are getting very ill, that don’t deserve it. Things are happening to individuals, families and ecclesias that are very sad. I know I’m not the only one who has felt that this doesn’t seem fair.

But then we think, or we are told, “Oh that’s not right. We shouldn’t say that. Or even think that! God is in control. He knows best. We just have to accept it.” And, “Thy will be done!”

We can admire people who accept such things that easily. Most of us can’t. We seem to need to rationalise it, to find a reason, to see the purpose, to make it make sense. But when we look at Psalm 69, was it so gloomy, so tragic and so unfair?!

A Graphic Portrayal of the Feelings of the Lord

This is a psalm that, even though written by David and related to a particular period in his life, is very obviously and very particularly Messianic. By that we mean he was writing about the Messiah, Jesus Christ. How does that happen? We don’t generally write about things we don’t understand. We might have tried that in school exams or university essays but the results don’t generally go well for us!

So, here in Psalm 69, David writes about his own thoughts and feelings at an extremely low period in his own life and as he does, the spirit lifts his thoughts and words to another level. Words that he would have to think about and “search diligently” for meaning (1 Pet 1:10). That’s encouraging because it means there are answers and they are here in the Bible. We don’t have to go anywhere else!

We can put all four gospels together and develop a full report of the events leading up to the cruci­fixion of the Lord. We can imagine what it was like to witness it. We can imagine what it looked like. But Psalm 69 tells us what it felt like!

Each of the four gospel writers quote Psalm 69:21: “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” There are not many things all the gospel writers mention, but this is one of them. Gall and vinegar. Clearly they were all impressed with how exactly the words of the psalm were being fulfilled. These were Messianic words but David could have seen those words as a metaphor for his own sufferings. Gall and vinegar, both unpleasant but serving to deaden pain.

But we know that this was all about Jesus, his suffering and eventually his death. He did not want anything that would deaden the pain or dull the senses. That’s what the world offers us all the time, from every source, from every angle. What was the reason for that verse in the psalm, I wonder?

Early in the Lord’s ministry, Jesus was in the temple and dramatically overthrew the tables of the money changers. John states, when recording the incident, “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17). That’s Psalm 69:9. It is almost as if the disciples were ticking off the things that were being fulfilled like a checklist.

Oh look:

  • There’s his zeal for God’s house
  • There’s the gall and the vinegar
  • There’s the parting of the garments
  • There’s the thirty pieces of silver!

We ask the question therefore, is that why the spirit moved David to write those words? Or are we and the disciples missing the point? Was Psalm 69 written so that we or the disciples could check things off? I don’t think that was the case at all.

A Man of Sorrows

Psalm 69 was written so that we em­pathise with what the Lord was feel­ing. It was written by David, a man who had had similar experiences, so we could appreciate, in a small way, what he and later the Messiah, were experiencing.

I find that uncomfortable. I would prefer the thought process to be:

  • This has happened
  • This is happening
  • This is going to happen.

That way I can look dispassionately at things and tell myself that is faith. This is where we are up to. But it is not until you read Psalm 69 that you realise how shockingly unfair all this was. Psalm 69 is what Paul in Hebrews 5 describes as the Lord offering up “prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save him out of death” (v7). This is the true zeal, the passion, the fervour, the intensity of our Lord at this time. How do we picture that?

When the Lord went through the Temple with a whip and overturned the tables of the money changers and the tables of those who were buying and selling sheep, oxen and doves, it appears as if the disciples thought, This place really means something to him. He is passionate about this house. This is intense. He is zealous. This is zeal! And then the Psalm came to someone’s mind! Here is the fulfillment of Psalm 69! Is that right? Contextually? Just because they remembered the Psalm doesn’t mean they under­stood it correctly!

Psalm 69 is rightly called ‘The Psalm of Gethsemane’: “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” (v1-2). Have you had an experience of not being able to get to the surface of the water? Many of us will have a story to tell and no matter how long ago, the feeling of terror never leaves us – that feeling of panic, helplessness and pending death. Many can relate to that from experience.

Have you ever felt like that metaphorically, physically, spiritually, emotionally? In circumstances so overwhelming that you felt like you were drown­ing? As if waters were coming into “your soul,” as the psalmist describes, and you are being forced to cry out, “Save me, O God!”

Those words describe how the Lord, the Son of God, felt. He was sinless, blameless and yet circum­stances were so dire that he felt as if he was drown­ing. He couldn’t reach the surface. He had done nothing to deserve that situation. How unfair was that? “I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried (parched): mine eyes fail while I wait for my God” (v3): some may be able to relate to that. I can’t! He cried so much he couldn’t cry any more. The gospel writer describes it as “great drops of blood”. The grief was so intense, so personal, so heartfelt that he cried until he was dehydrated.

Who was he crying for? For whom were all those tears shed? Himself? “They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head” (v4). Can you imagine tak­ing a handful of hair and giving a name of someone who hates you to every strand and knowing that they hate you without any justification?

The remainder of verse 4 the NASB translates more accu­rately as, “Those who would destroy me are powerful, being wrongfully my en­emies; What I did not steal, I then have to restore”.

The Lord was aware that those who were bent on his destruction had all the power and authority to do what they liked. There was no point plead­ing his own cause. There was no point saying how unfair this was. Jesus was being asked to accept responsibility for things he never did. The Son of God was being asked to pay restitution for things he never took.

The Focus of the Lord’s Zeal

Again we ask, was this a cry of self-pity? Look how unfair this all is? But note how the psalm turns. Look where the mind of the Lord is focussed: “Let not them that wait on thee, O Adonai Yahweh of armies, be ashamed for my sake” (v6). His only prayer was that others, who were following him, wouldn’t be put off by his experiences; “ashamed through me!” He knew it might make people doubt and so he prayed that this might not happen.

“Let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel”: he did not want oth­ers to be dishonoured or shamed because of their viewing of his experiences. Jesus understood that this reproach, this blame, this defaming, this dis­crediting, the lying accusations, the overwhelming sense of utter helplessness and grief, was happening so that God could be honoured – “for THY sake”.

“Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face”: the shame and igno­miny covered his face, so much so, that the disciples all forsook him and fled. “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children” (v8): there will be some who have suffered family estrange­ment for the sake of the Truth. They know the sharpness of that hurt and the yearning desire to be able to resolve this.

Jesus was alone. Completely and utterly alone. The disciples were asleep, oblivious to his ordeal. “For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up (consumed me)” (v9): although John cites the verse, Jesus was not referring to the physical Temple. His zeal wasn’t being manifest as a man with a whip going through the Temple in an intense passionate fervour. Here was a man whose zeal for you and me, in fact for all mankind, was so intense that he “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows,” every single one of them!

What that meant was, as the Psalm goes on to say:

  • Becoming a common joke
  • Being the subject of a song that drunkards sang
  • Being discredited by those in control and authority
  • And having no one to understand and provide comfort.

The second half of verse 9 says that, “the re­proaches of them that reproached Thee are fallen upon me.”

Paul quotes that in Romans 15:3. What would we expect the context to be? Romans 14 is all about the weak and the strong brother and the respon­sibilities each has to the other. Chapter 15 follows straight on from chapter 14 without a break: “we then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, the reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me” (v1-3).

Here then is how zeal is manifested. This is how zeal is demonstrated says Paul. The zeal of Psalm 69 is not the bold, loud, courageous, intimidating, passionate actions of a man with a whip. That can be zeal, but not here. A zealot, in the terms of Psalm 69 and Romans 15, is a person so thoughtful of others, so “not pleasing themselves”, that the feel­ing of unfairness doesn’t come into the equation. The Lord’s answer was to look outside of himself.

Zeal and Passion and fervour in the context of Psalm 69 is for God’s house – for God and His ecclesia.

Zeal for the Truth, for God and for God’s house, in the context of Psalm 69, is not manifested by the passionate brother who has a particular subject, topic or viewpoint that he wants to expound. It’s not the sister who is outspoken about standards, doctrine or child rearing. They may be legitimate things to be passionate about and that’s what the disciples thought zeal was. When they saw it early in Jesus’ ministry they said, “Oh, there it is. There’s zeal!”

Zeal and passion and fervour in the context of Psalm 69 is for God’s house – for God and His ecclesia. Sadly, the ecclesia will let us down. It will blame us for things we never did. It may even bring us enemies. We may even lose family because of it. It may overwhelm us with problems we cannot solve. It may cause us to cry until parched, for the sadness of circumstance, but the zeal that motivated the Lord rises above all that.

We meet to remember the Son of God today, who suffered all of the horrific detail recorded in Psalm 69 and he did it for you and for me. His zeal for us was such that he put the reproach aside and bore our infirmities. That is truly amazing. The insight that Psalm 69 gives us to his zeal, is truly helpful in bearing one another’s burdens