Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places, Lesson 5

Lesson 5 | October 16, 2016

Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD

Psalm 69a

The rich vein of messianic prophecy found in Psalm 69 is mined frequently by the writers of the New Testament.[1]  Together with Psalms 22 and 110, Psalm 69 “is one of the three psalms most often quoted in the New Testament.”[2]  The following verbal connections may be readily seen:

Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head … (verse 4a).

But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, “They hated Me without a cause” (John 15:25).

Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up … (verse 9a).

Then His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up” (John 2:17).

And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me (verse 9b).

For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me” (Romans 15:3).

They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (verse 21).

… they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. … Immediately one of them ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine and put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink (Matthew 27:34a, 48).

 

Let their table become a snare before them, and their well-being a trap.  Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see; and make their loins shake continually (verses 22-23).

And David says: “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a recompense to them.  Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, and bow down their back always” (Romans 11:9-10).

Let their dwelling place be desolate; let no one live in their tents (verse 25).

For it is written in the book of Psalms: “Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it …” (Acts 1:20a).

            In addition to these verses which are specifically connected in the New Testament with the person of Christ or with the affairs of His kingdom, there are other statements in Psalm 69 which may not be quoted by the writers of the New Testament but which are conceptually related to the Messiah, His experiences, or His kingdom.  For example:

 

I am weary with my crying; My throat is dry; My eyes fail while I wait for my God (verse 3).

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?”  that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” (John 19:28).

Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; shame has covered my face (verse 7).

… looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

 

I have become a stranger to my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s children (verse 8).

His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. … For even His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:3, 5).

 

When I wept and chastened my soul with fasting, that became my reproach.  I also made sackcloth my garment; I became a byword to them (verse 10-11).

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry (Matthew 4:1-2).

 

In addition to these conceptual links, we will see that there are other thematic indications that Psalm 69 should be read as pointing ahead to the Messiah.  The New Testament sees Psalm 69 as specifically fulfilled in the life, experiences, and kingdom of Christ.  Jesus Himself considered verse 4 to be fulfilled in His own experiences.[3]  This, together with Jesus’ broader statements about the nature of messianic prophecy, lifts texts such as Psalm 69 above the level of mere generic instruction.[4]  If we read the Old Testament as the New Testament does, we will see these texts as specifically anticipating the Messiah and the events of His life and kingdom.  When Jesus cleansed the temple, it caused His disciples to remember Psalm 69:9a.[5]  Paul saw Christ’s selflessness as having been anticipated in Psalm 69:9b.[6]  He also saw the consequences of Jewish rejection of the Messiah as having been foreseen in Psalm 69:22-23.[7]  Peter appealed to Psalm 69:25 for support in the need to replace Judas.[8]  As Wilcock points out, “the New Testament relates [Psalm 69] directly to Christ.”[9]

In view of the nature of the use of Psalm 69 in the New Testament, the larger view of Jesus and the New Testament church concerning the messianic focus of the Old Testament, and the influence of the messianic context of the Psalter, we will read Psalm 69 as a psalm that specifically points to the person of Christ, to His experiences, and to the affairs of His kingdom.  Like Psalm 22, Psalm 69 could well be one of the prayers of Jesus, the entire content of which is not revealed in the New Testament.

The fact that Psalm 69 is set to the tune “The Lilies” distinguishes it from all but three other psalms.[10]  David Mitchell sees eschatological significance in the Septuagint translation of ‘l shoshannim [“Set to ‘The Lilies’”] as huper tōn alloiōthēsomenōn [“for those who will be changed”] in Psalms 45, 69, and 80, and as tois alloiōthēsomenois eti [“for those who shall yet be changed”] in Psalm 60, Mitchell points out that

At first glance this seems to be no translation at all.  But there is an underlying idea that links lilies and the transformation (of the year) – the idea of springtime, when lilies bloom.  So this may be an interpretation rather than a departure from the Hebrew.  And there may be eschatological implications.  For the idea of the transformation of the earth in spring connotes the image-complex of Passover, new creation and resurrection, for which lilies are an ancient symbol.[11]

If we accept Mitchell’s suggestion, it may further strengthen the idea that Psalm 69 is specifically messianic: It points ahead to the Messiah, whose sufferings – so vividly described in the psalm – result in new life for those who believe on Him.  That the psalm includes the promise of new life for those who trust in the Messiah may be seen in verse 32: “The humble shall see this and be glad; and you who seek God, your hearts shall live.”

It is not difficult to read Psalm 69 as a prayer of the Messiah in the midst of His suffering.  The prayer begins with a plea for deliverance (verse 1).  The danger is described metaphorically as deep mire and waters that make it impossible to stand (verses 1-2). The Messiah has cried to the point of exhaustion; His throat is dry.  The combination of tears and dehydration has hindered His eyesight (verse 3).  Lest we think this is too dramatic a description, we must remember that the New Testament describes the Messiah’s prayers as “vehement cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7).

As He described His solidarity with the Father, a solidarity so complete that those who hated Jesus hated His Father also, Jesus said, “But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause’” (John 15:25).  This is, of course, a reference to Psalm 69:4: “Those who hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of my head….”[12]

The idea here and in John 8:17; 10:34 may be that, when the Old Testament is read without a Christ-centered consciousness, it becomes a book other than what God intended.  Jesus did not say, “As it is written in our law,” or even, “As it is written in the law.”  Suddenly, the “law” becomes the law as it is identified with and owned by the unbelieving Jewish leaders who rejected the central theme of the law: The Messiah.  This is not God’s law; it is their law.  The words are the same, but the words – stripped of the meaning intended by God – are no longer His; they are theirs.

The enmity of the religious leaders who – had they been able – would have killed Jesus is bound up with the words of verse 4.  They were numerous (“more than the hairs of my head”) and mighty.[13]  The wrongfulness of their enmity is captured in the words, “Though I have stolen nothing, I still must restore it” (verse 4).  Wilcock observes that we “do not know in what sense the psalmist was forced to restore what [he] did not steal,[14] but this could be a reference to the view of Jesus’ unbelieving enemies that He had “stolen” the messianic claim.  They did not believe it was rightfully His, so they demanded that He “restore it.”  Even if this is not the point, the statement indicates that their claims – whatever they were – were false.

In our next lesson, we will examine the rest of Psalm 69, including verse 5, which may seem impossible to reconcile with the idea that the entire psalm is messianic.


[1] This lesson is abbreviated from the comments on Psalm 69 in Daniel L. Segraves, The Messiah in the Psalms (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2007), 276-290.

[2] Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms 1-72: Songs for the People of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 239.

[3] See John 15:25.

[4] See Luke 24:25-27, 44-48.

[5] See John 2:17.

[6] See Romans 15:3, and note how Paul connects this quote from Psalm 69 with the fact that “whatever things were written before were written for our learning” in the next verse (Romans 15:4a).  The point seems to be that when we read the Scriptures messianically, “we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4b).

[7] See Romans 11:9-10.

[8] See Acts 1:20.

[9] Wilcock, 241.

[10] See Psalms 45, 60, and 80.

[11] David C. Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: an Eschatological Programme in the Books of Psalms (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 19-20.

[12] See also Psalm 35:19 and the comments there.

[13] See Matthew 26:4; Luke 4:28-29; 22:2; John 5:18; 7:1, 19, 25; 8:37, 40.

[14] Wilcock, 241.