Psalm 69 is a cry for help from the deep water…We don’t know the exact situation that caused the writing of Psalm 69. It gives us no clues, it’s lost in the mists of history, but the variety of vivid images it uses combine to give us a universal picture of human suffering that comes from facing situations beyond our own resources to deal with, where we need to cry out to God…“save us”. It’s called a psalm of David, and fits many of the situations we know he faced, some scholars want to ascribe it to Jeremiah, writing in the style of David, lamenting about being shunned by his people facing being abandoned in a used well, where the remaining water threatened to end his life and you couldn’t find a footing in the accumulated sludge beneath it. It’s place in the book of psalms shows that the exiles in Babylon valued it as it reflect their plight, their plea and their hope so well.
Vivid images…In Deep water, in over your head, wave after wave threatening to drag you under, going down for the last time, caught in miry clay unable to find sure footing, going down into the pit. I don’t know about you but on a personal level they evoke memories of situations and struggles, pain and suffering. … and I was reminded as I reflected on it…of a very concrete example of being nine and crossing a deep stream with my sister on a winters day at bethels beach and in one step going from ankle deep water to over our heads, being weighed down by winter clothes sturdy shoes, woollen socks, long pants, jumpers and jackets and fighting for breath, and trying to keep my head above the water. Then at the last moment my feet touching a rock and hauling myself and my sister up on the other side. My mum going for help and finding the only other person on the beach, a fisherman, who calmly lead us down stream to where the river was widest and shallowest, so we could cross back safely. That’s the day I learned that survival tip cross a stream where its widest.
On a societal level, like with those exiles, it does justice to the suffering of people who face oppression and indifference. We struggle with the language of retribution the psalmist uses of those who oppress him, but the perspectives of an oppressed people are likely to be different than ours and as Walt Whitman said “the attitude of the great poets is to cheer up the slaves and horrify despots”.
We are working our way through the E100 essential Bible reading challenge, looking at Jesus and who he is and how he fits in to the whole sweep of the narrative of scripture. We started with five reading from New Testament writers which summed up who they had come to understand Jesus as( we looked at Hebrews 1:1-4 in our service) . We looked at the need for a savior, how our wrongdoing had broken our relationship with God and with each other and the created world ( Isaiah 59). Then last week we looked at five types in the Old Testament, events or things that acted like previews of Jesus in the New Testament( Numbers 21: 4-9) . This week we are looking at what are called messianic Psalms, the songs and prayers of God’s people that look for God’s savior and find their fulfilment in Christ. Psalm 69 is one of those psalms; in fact it is the second most often quoted Psalm in the New Testament behind Psalm 22. Jesus used it, The early Church writers applied it to Jesus and used it to express both their understanding of God’s judgment and the hope of God establishing his Kingdom. More than that in the vivid images of its protests and pleas and possibility of redemption it paints a picture of Jesus…Jesus in the deep water, Jesus identifying with the depth of human suffering, Jesus with us even in the deep waters and Jesus as the way through. Our brief New Testament reading is the summery of the passage where Jesus had quoted this psalm… “in life there will be trouble… there will deep waters, mirey clay, the pits… but take heart, for I have overcome the world.” Even in the deep water Jesus.
Even though we are looking at the Psalm through the lens of what it says about Jesus we need to look at what the original writer was saying. It’s a lament… a pouring out of sorrow and hope. The psalmist finds themselves in a position of suffering and oppression and cries out to God to save him. He expresses his sorrow and suffering in those vivid images. Like with a lot of the wisdom literature in the Old Testament the Psalmist is struggling with why innocent people suffer. In v 4 he says they hate me without cause, like with Job it seems all he has to do is admit he is guilty and it will be all right, but he is not guilty. The Bible does not draw a direct link between a person sinning and suffering, it’s not that simple. Scholars see verse 5 as being ironic, not an admission of sin and guilt but rather that only God knows if he has done wrong, not his accusers and enemies. In fact he is shunned and ostracised and criticized and in deep water because of his devotion to God, his zeal for the house of the LORD. He suffers because he wants to see transformation and change not because he has done wrong. His suffering is made worse by the scorn and mocking of his enemies, he looks for comfort and fellowship, but receives none. The words talk of table fellowship, companionship to provide some relief and solace for his suffering, but they simply give him gall and vinegar. He responds it three ways he pleads with God to save him, he calls for justice, that his enemies might reap what they sow (v22-28), and you know, what kind of God would we have if he was dispassionate about those who cause suffering and injustice? But then the psalmist stops and has hope in God, in verse 30 he turns and praises God that God is a savior, we don’t know if God answers his personal plea, but in praising God, he is able in the last few lines of this psalm, to look to a brighter future, where God will restore his favour to his people. This is why this was such a powerful psalm for the exiles, because it looked forward to a return to Jerusalem, a new start, God setting things right. Its why its powerful for all people. Even in the deep water Jesus…
Ok how did Jesus use this Psalm… Well he refers to it in John 15:25 talking about the fact that just as the world had hated him for no reason, for the same reason’s as are in the Psalm, that they would also hate those who would follow him. That suffering and misunderstanding and being ostracised and persecuted were part of the lot of his followers. It shows us that Jesus identified with the sentiments of this Psalm; its record of innocent suffering echoed his own life, on that night he was betrayed and would echo down through the millennia of all people who sort to follow him, who looked to make change for the good.
This identification with the Psalm, lead the gospel writers to use it in making sense of things that Jesus did. It is quoted in John 2:17 to explain Jesus cleansing of the temple, making a whip and driving out the money changers, he was filled with zeal for the house of the LORD.
That event and attitude leads to Jesus suffering, when it’s mentioned in the other gospels it happens in the week leading up to his death. It leads to the religious authorities being opposed to Jesus and to his being crucified. we are told in all four gospels, that they gave him sour wine, or vinegar, echoing both Psalm 22 and 69 ‘They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar to drink”.
More than that we hear echoes of those words, “scorned and disgraced and shamed, and “no sympathy” in the words and actions of the religious authorities and the taunt filled crowd gathered around the cross. Even in the deep water Jesus experienced the deep water.
It’s also quoted in Acts 1:16,20, as Peter sees the reality of “may their place be deserted, let there be no one to dwell in their tents’ being fulfilled in the field bought with the money judas betrayed Jesus with and where he died being known as the field of blood.
We are not that comfortable thinking of God’s judgment and the rather strident language the psalmist uses. In Romans eleven Paul quotes this psalm as he wrestles with why Israel rejected Jesus, he acknowledges that they became blind as they were blind to who Christ was, and just as they did not offer table fellowship to Jesus so they have found that it has become a trap for them. They reaped what they sow. His hope is that there is a remnant who have found grace in Jesus Christ and this psalm gives hope as it finishes with the restoration of God’s People. At the cross we do not find Jesus voicing the words of this psalm but rather as a glimpse of that possible restoration uttering the words “father forgive them they no not what they do.” You may reap what you sow, but the offer from Jesus is grace and restoration.
The Psalm and the New Testament share the same hope as well. Both Psalm 69 and the Book of Revelation look to a New Jerusalem and a new creation as their hope. After the suffering and the trials God indeed sets all things straight.
What for us from this Psalm.
(I couldn’t help but see in Psalm 69 the process of bringing change and transformation, that both the psalmist and Jesus went through. The suffering of being misunderstood of seeing the possibilities of what could be and them clashing with the powers to be, the dominant mid set, people saying you’ve got it all wrong… In the end the only thing that gets one through is that vision of the new, the vision of that could be, in Christ, the realisation that God also dreams and looks to make thing new. In Hebrews11 it talks of the heroes and heroines of the faith being what God had for them and being willing to endure for the sake of that hope. Most dying without seeing it come to fruition. In Hebrews 12 It says that for the Joy set before him Jesus endured the cross; That we too should run the race fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and the one who prefects of our faith. For those in that struggle remember…even in the deep waters Jesus)*
In Christ we see an answer to the cry Save us O God… in Jesus close identification with the suffering and sorrow of this psalm in his own life and his own death, we see God reaching down to answer to save and to provide a way through. If the cross stands in the middle of human history, as the ultimate act of God’s love and grace to us all then the cross stands in the middle of this psalm between the suffering and the call for justice which finish at verse 29 and the affirmation of the goodness and hope of Gods restoration and care in verse 30. In meeting and knowing Jesus we can know that in our lives. We can be lifted from the deep water and placed on a hill. In Jesus there is the hope of God’s answer. EM Blaiklock says in these last eight verses ‘the humble, the poor and the sorrowful are upheld before God as the beatitudes, Jesus gracious invitation into his kingdom, similarly uphold them, and us.
But that is not some sort of passport to a blissful untroubled existence. If we do that say “come to Jesus and it’s all going to be alright, hunky dory, some blissful wonderful paradise, all beer and lamingtons” then you all know that it is the words of a dishonest salesman, wanting to flog off a faulty product to us. In this life says Jesus there will be troubles, like the psalmist if we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will find ourselves at odds with the world around us, and let’s face it life has it fares share of deep water, But the hope is that in the end that Christ has overcome the world. There is a bright future, a bright hope and even in the deep waters Christ.
I’ve used this image before. It’s very vivid and evocative. It’s A shadow on a wall forming the shape of a cross. It was taken in the 9th ward of New Orleans just after the flooding caused by cyclone Katrina, as aid workers were preparing to move out into the city. Perhaps it is an omen of what they will find in the city… death, but also it is the promise of the presence of Christ as the workers go off into the deep water….And Jesus does invite us to go into deep waters… As we’ve seen Jesus relate to this psalm of the deep waters we know that even in the deep waters Jesus has been there before us and has made a way through… even in the deep waters Jesus is able to hear and to hold… even in the deep waters… Jesus has not withdrawn his fellowship… he invites us to his table today to meet with him and be strengthened by his presence. Even if you find yourself in the deep water…Jesus.
*This paragraph was not originally in the sermon I preached but as I come to reflect further is, in my humble opinion, an application that needs to be drawn.