The Messianic Psalms
Dr. John Boyd, Hollywood, Ireland, continues his meditations on the Messianic Psalms. Here in Psalm 69 he indicates the sufferings of Christ and the glory that eventually will be revealed.
Messiah — The Reproached One
The superscription of this Psalm is like that of Psalm 45. The Chief Musician must conduct it publicly. Shoshannim (lit., lilies) was possibly the name of a tune to which it was set, or it may be that Shoshannim was a lily-like instrument.
Psalm 69 may fairly be classified as Messianic. It was written by David, and while some refer it to his trials when hunted by Saul, the historical books record no comparable experience in David’s life. It would seem rather to be one of those portions described by Peter as a prior testimony of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow (1 Pet. 1:10-12). Three of the five citations from the Psalm in the New Testament refer directly to the Lord in the days of His flesh, viz. verse 4a in John 15:25, verse 9a in John 2:17, verse 9b in Romans 15:3. The other two citations refer to those who opposed Jesus on earth, verse 22 in Romans 11:9, v. 25 in Acts 1:20.
Despite these undoubted Messianic references some find difficulty in applying to Christ a Psalm that contains so many imprecations. These passages in the Psalms present a real problem. Let us bear in mind that they were written prophetically under the guidance of the Holy Spirit concerning the future doom of impenitent ones, and denote the final and irrevocable wrath of God whose mercy and love have been despised. We ought reverently to adore the justice of God as well as His love and mercy. Viewed in this light, imprecations should not prevent us from seeing Christ in the Psalm.
Nor should verse 5 be a stumbling-block. It is not a confession of sins so much as an expression of confidence in God who knows all about Him, despite what others may lay to His charge.
This Psalm was fulfilled at Calvary. Many things on that occasion correspond with what is written here, e.g., verse 7 — reproach and shame (Luke 23:35), verse 20 — desertion (Mt. 26:56), verse 21 — the offering of gall (Mt. 27:34) and vinegar (Mt. 27:48).
The Psalm is divided into seven stanzas, I Messiah’s Suffering (vs. 1-6), II Messiah’s Reproach (vs. 7-12), III Messiah’s Prayer (vs. 13-18), IV Messiah’s Plight (vs. 19-21), V Messiah’s Vindication (vs. 22-28), VI Messiah’s Thanksgiving (vs. 29-33), VII Messiah’s Inheritance (vs. 34-36). Let us examine these.
Messiah’s Suffering (vs. 1-6)
Verses 1-3 describe the experience of a soul going into death. It is like being overwhelmed in a flood; finding no sure foundation for the feet; the body moisture drying up; the eyes growing dim. Such was Messiah’s experience on Calvary.
Messiah then thinks of His enemies; they were numerous and powerful; they had no reason to hate Him for He had ever blessed them; they wrongfully sought to destroy Him (Mk. 14:56). At Calvary the Lord restored what He had not taken away; He made satisfaction for wrongs He had never done. What Adam by his sin forfeited, Christ restored. Adam forfeited the right to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24); Christ restored that privilege (Rev. 2:27). Because of Adam’s sin, death had passed on all men (Rom. 5:12); through Christ grace reigns unto eternal life (Rom. 5:21). Through Adam came the condemnation of death; through Christ came justification of life (Rom. 5:18). It may be that Messiah here also refers to the restoration of creation (Acts 3:21), and to the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.
In verse 5 Messiah calls on God to witness His causeless sufferings from. His enemies. Nothing is hidden from God who would know if by reason of folly or sins He had given men cause to afflict Him. It may be that here the Lord reminds God that sins He bore were those of man laid upon Him, and confessed as His own. He prays that His experience of groundless suffering may not discourage or deter those faithful ones who like Him seek God and wait on Him.
Messiah’s Reproach (vs. 7-12)
The reproach that men heaped upon Messiah is now detailed. Reproach is exposure to open shame, a stripping, either literal or metaphorical — the taking away of one’s character in taunts and railings. In the words of verse 7, “For Thy sake I have borne reproach,” we find the real reason for the shame endured by Christ. Whilst fully appreciating the work He did for us on Calvary, we must never lose sight of the fact that primarily it was for God. God purposed that His servant should bear reproach and shame. As the perfect Servant He experienced obedience (Heb. 5:8). His work for God included the shame of the Cross, but this did not deter Christ from the full accomplishment of His Father’s will.
The source of His reproach is seen in verse 9. Those from whom Christ thus suffered are described as “them that reproached Thee.” Those who had despised God despised God’s Christ. Israel, His “brethren,” treated Him as a stranger. He came unto His own, but they received Him not. Even Mary’s children turned against Him. They did not believe in Him (John 7:5). They said that He was out of His mind (Mk. 3:21); and this, after He had done some of His mighty works. How like Israel of old! Israel who “forgat God their Saviour, which had done great things in Egypt” (Ps. 106:21).
Jesus was reproached by those who desecrated the temple of God. They had turned what should have been a place of prayer into a house of merchandise. Zeal for the honour of God’s House burned like fire in His bones. He drove out the moneychangers, and secured their undying opposition. They did not forget His censure, but reproached Him with those very words on the Cross (Mk. 27:40). Those who disparaged God’s House despised God’s Son.
Verses 10-12 present another reproach. Weeping, fasting, wearing sackcloth betoken lamentation for the people’s condition. Their only response was reproach. To the people He was a proverb, an object of contempt. They pitied His simplicity. Their leaders spoke against Him and planned to get rid of Him. Drunkards found His actions the subject for ribald songs.
The Lord entered into the sorrows of Israel. He was called “the Man of Sorrows.” Yet they despised Him. He wept at the grave of Lazarus sharing the sisters’ grief, but some of the by-standers found fault (John 11:37). Jesus wept over Jerusalem; He lamented because Israel had missed her day of visitation; He confessed the nation’s sins and mourned for them. In response, the leaders questioned His authority to teach them and sought His death. “They that sit in the gate speak against Me.”
Messiah’s Prayer (vs. 13-18)
Following Israel’s treatment, Messiah prays to Jehovah the eternal “I AM,” to God the omnipotent One. In this short prayer He makes fourteen petitions beseeching God’s help. Three times He prays “Answer Me” (R.V., vs. 13, 16, 17). In each case a different plea is put forward, in verse 13: ANSWER ME because Thy truth is pledged to salvation — deliverance from His plight already mentioned — the mire (v. 2), His enemies (v. 4), the deep waters (v. 2), the overwhelming flood (v. 2), the yawning pit (v. 2). II verse 16: ANSWER ME because of Thy loving-kindness, Thy tender mercies, Thy benevolent countenance. III verse 17: ANSWER ME because of My plight — I am in distress; I need companionship; I am in the midst of enemies.
Messiah’s Plight (vs. 19-21)
Messiah describes the effect of His reproach in the words of verse 20, “I am full of heaviness,” lit., I am sore sick (R.V. marg.).
In Gethsemane He was full of heaviness; His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; He knew full well the shame and reproach He was about to suffer. Then He called His three favoured disciples apart and asked them to watch with Him. Was He seeking their sympathy and moral support? Was He looking for pity? Was He desiring comfort from them? One can sense His disappointment in the words He spoke to them, “Could you not watch with Me one hour?”.
Events now move faster. Judas came and kissed Him — not the kiss of friendship but of betrayal. All the disciples forsook Him. He stood alone in the High Priest’s house. Peter, following afar off, clinked away after his denial. Jesus was left alone to bear all the reproach, the shame, the spitting, the false accusations. No one stood with Him.
At Calvary it was the same. His reproach was publicly displayed; His adversaries openly attacked Him before God. God knew His reproach. God had delivered Him up to it all. The Lord Himself knew of it, yet He had not turned back. He could say in truth, “I hid not My face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:6). What grace! He who was so rich in honours from the angelic host in Heaven became so poor in the reproach men heaped upon Him on earth.
The Lord was put to an open shame. Crucifixion was the most humiliating of all forms of capital punishment. Jesus, stripped by the soldiers, hung in nakedness before a jeering crowd. What dishonour! What shame!
Great multitudes came to see the sight; the rulers scoffed at Him; the passers-by railed on Him; the robbers also reproached Him. Did Pilate intend insult in his superscription on the cross, as though to say, “This is what we do with kings?”
In verse 2 the Lord’s reproach reached its climax. It is heartbreaking to find no support amidst such opposition; to seek and to find none to pity, to give a glance of sympathy, to comfort in distress. When in agony He cried, “I thirst,” they only aggravated it by giving Him vinegar to drink. No comforter; no sympathizer; no helper. He was doing a work for His God and none could share its responsibility. Such loneliness amidst reproach produces heaviness like an incurable malady.
Messiah’s Vindication (vs. 22-28)
The imprecations that follow seem not to fit in with the Lord’s first prayer on the Cross. But they may be viewed rather as predictions, or as a call on God to vindicate the righteousness of His throne. These imprecations were used by One consumed with a zeal for God’s House, and whose desire was that the violated majesty of God’s law should not pass unpunished. His enemies had given Him gall and vinegar; their table, richly spread, would become to them a snare. Their banquets would be their ruin.
Note the Revised Version of verse 22b, “When they are in peace, let it become a trap.” This is a picture of Israel today. Paul applies this verse to them in Romans 11:8-9. It will be more in evidence just before Messiah’s second advent (1 Thess. 5:3). The eyes with which they looked on the suffering Messiah will be darkened — spiritually blinded till the day when they shall look upon Him whom they had pierced (Rev. 1:7). Their loins, strong to inflict suffering, will then shake in their powerlessness. They will then experience God’s indignation and anger (1 Thess. 2:16). Their habitation, lit., their encampment, will be desolate, as if a typhoon had struck it. The reason for this coming wrath is their persecution of Messiah, smitten by God for our sins. These will experience one iniquity after another. They will not enjoy the justifying grace of God, but will have their names erased from the book of life — final exclusion from the eternal blessing of the righteous (Rev. 20:15).
Such will also be the portion of those who at Messiah’s second advent will be found opposing Him and His people. God will vindicate His Son and set Him up as King in Jerusalem. He will conquer and rule with a rod of iron.
Messiah’s Thanksgiving (vs. 29-33)
In contrast with the wicked of verse 28 who are excluded from God’s salvation, Messiah, who was reproached amidst suffering at Calvary, is confident that He will be set on high by God’s deliverance —referring to His resurrection and ascension. For this salvation He will praise God with thanksgiving (Ps. 22:22-26). This thankful praise is more acceptable to God than animal sacrifices, even the best of them, e.g., the mature bullock brought as a sin offering at the consecration of the priest (Num. 29:1). In this praise Messiah will be joined gladly by the meek and poor who seek after God (v. 6), and whose cry Jehovah hears.
Messiah’s Inheritance (vs. 34-36)
The Psalmist with prophetic outlook describes Messiah’s eventual deliverance of Israel following their experience of God’s wrath (vs. 22-28).
Well might all creation join in the chorus of praise to God as Messiah comes into His inheritance. God will restore Israel (Isa. 44:3), and set His King upon His holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:8). Israel will then show their love for Messiah’s name, as He reigns in their midst.
Thus in Psalm 69 we see Messiah, reproached and despised by Israel, but finally vindicated by Jehovah. Israel regathered, forgiven, restored, will sing the praises of Him in whom before they had seen no beauty. Let us then rejoice in this perfection of God’s work. He never departed from His plan to bless Israel, and through them eventually to magnify His Son, who manifested such grace to the chosen people, and endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself (Heb. 12:3). What a glorious finale — worshipped, glorified, adored!
Sinners in derision crowned Him,
Mocking thus the Saviour’s claim,
Saints and angels crowd around Him,
Own His title, praise His name:
Crown Him! Crown Him!
Spread abroad the Victor’s fame.