This excerpt is adapted from Learning to Love the Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey.
Psalm 69 presents familiar elements of lament and praise, but in a particularly pointed and vivid way. The suffering is poignant, the praise strong, the imprecations severe, and the anticipations of Christ detailed. The psalm is primarily a series of supplications with elaborations explaining the circumstances that have produced these prayers (vv. 1–29). The psalm concludes with a call to praise God as the One who hears and answers prayer (vv. 30–36).
The first prayer is an individual cry for rescue: “Save me, O God!” The psalmist presents his need in the poetic image of a man who is drowning. The waters surround and threaten him so that his life seems at its end (vv. 1–2). Added to the imminence of death is the sense that God has not heard his prayers. He is worn out in calling on God. His misery is highlighted by the irony that although he is drowning, he is thirsty (v. 3). As another poet said, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” The psalmist clarifies the danger he faces by speaking of enemies of great number who hate him for no reason (v. 4 NIV). By “no reason,” he does not mean that the enemies have no allegations against him, but only that they have no valid accusations. Yet the psalmist does acknowledge that he is suffering for his sin against God (v. 5).
The second prayer is for the people of God, that the psalmist’s suffering would not bring shame and confusion to God’s people (v. 6). The psalmist recognizes that he is scorned and abused and that he is alienated even from those closest to him (vv. 7–12). But he knows that he suffers for God’s sake (v. 7) and in His service. He is zealous for God (v. 9) and sincerely repentant for his sins (vv. 10–11), yet he is ridiculed by many, from the exalted judges in the gate to the most contemptible members of society: “I am the talk of those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me” (v. 12). But this abuse is malicious and unfair. He hopes it will not deceive those who love God.
Third, in verses 13–18, we find a series of intense, repeated supplications for rescue. The psalmist, more briefly than in the earlier part of the psalm, offers the reasons for his appeal for help. He mentions again his need for help in light of the dangers that surround him, but even more, he appeals to the character of God as a reason for God to help. God is the God of “steadfast love” (v. 13) and of “abundant mercy” (v. 16). So the psalmist prays for his “saving faithfulness” (v. 13), which he believes will help him because “your steadfast love is good” (v. 16). These verses express the kinds of passionate prayer that the psalmist alluded to in verse 3. As the psalm has developed, however, he seems to be growing in confidence that the Lord will hear and answer his prayers because of who God is.
Still, he returns to his present suffering in the face of the scorn of his enemies (vv. 19–21). He says that he is alone and friendless, and that where he expected some comfort or sympathy, he finds none. In light of the complete antipathy on the part of his enemies, he offers prayers of imprecation (vv. 22–28). These imprecations are the most terrifying in the Psalter. He prays that his enemies may be impoverished and oppressed, that they may lose home and heritage. But even more, he prays that they may be damned: “May they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous” (vv. 27b–28). Continue reading