Theme: Three Important Reference Points
In this week’s lessons we are given a vivid picture of Christ’s sufferings.
Scripture: Psalm 69:1-18
Toward the end of our last study in Psalm 68, I asked whether the psalm was messianic and said that this is not an easy question to answer. In some ways the psalm is messianic, in some ways it is not. There is no difficulty answering the same question about Psalm 69, because it is clearly about Jesus. In fact, it is one of the most obviously messianic psalms in the Psalter. This is why, for instance, next to Psalms 22 and 110, it is the psalm most frequently cited in the New Testament. Seven of its thirty-six verses are directly quoted, and others furnish themes relating to Christ’s work that are expanded in the gospels.
Arno C. Gaebelein captures something of this flavor when he says of Psalm 69, “What a precious psalm it is! It begins with the cry of the one who bore our sins in his body, who suffered for our sake. It ends with the glorious results of his atoning work.”1
The messianic psalms have their own historical setting, of course, and in this case the setting is the condition of a hurting man who is asking God for help against his many troubles and foes. We must note this, because some of the psalm’s expressions fit this original situation and do not relate to Jesus, even though the psalm is messianic. Verse 5 is an example: “You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you.” Obviously, that cannot have been said or thought by Jesus Christ in any way.
Psalm 69 is identified as a psalm of David. Can it be, especially in light of verse 35, which speaks of rebuilding the cities of Judah? That sounds like something written after the destruction of the cities of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar and his armies. Recognizing this problem, a number of writers assign the psalm to Jeremiah, but this is only a calculated guess due to the time at which Jeremiah wrote and perhaps a little to his having been put into a cistern, since the author of the psalm begins by saying that “the waters have come up to his neck” and that he is sinking “in the miry depths where there is no foothold” (vv. 2, 3).
If the psalm is by David, the ending was probably added to relate it to a later historical situation. But there is nothing strange about that. It only shows that the psalm touches on common human experiences and relates to any people and any time.
The way to study the psalm is to keep three important and overlapping reference points in mind: 1) David’s situation (or that of another ancient Jewish writer); 2) the person and work of Jesus Christ; and 3) our own experiences and problems. When we think of David we will remind ourselves of how difficult life must have been for him, even though he was the powerful and esteemed king of Israel. When we think of Jesus we will try to enter into his genuine humanity and realize more fully what he endured from sinful human beings for our sakes. When we think of ourselves and our experiences we will be encouraged to endure and carry on faithfully for God, looking to Jesus as our great enabling example.
We will remember how the author of Hebrews said, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb. 12:2-4).
1Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1939), pp. 275, 276.
What is a messianic psalm?
How do we know that Psalm 69 is messianic?
How does the psalm begin and end?
What is the setting for the psalm? Why is this significant?
Why is it important to note that not all the references are messianic?
What are the three overlapping reference points?
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