Theme: The Psalm’s Pattern
In this week’s lessons we are given a vivid picture of Christ’s sufferings.
Scripture: Psalm 69:1-18
The next verse is one which could not have been spoken by Jesus.1 It is the psalmist’s brief confession of folly and guilt or transgression (v. 5). In itself this is not at all surprising. We should all constantly confess our sins to God. What is surprising is that this is not what we would expect at this point of the psalm. We would expect to find a protest of innocence on the psalmist’s part, because he has just said, “Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs of my head; many are my enemies without cause, those who seek to destroy me. I am forced to restore what I did not steal.”
We would expect him to say, “And you know, God, that I really did not steal it, regardless of what they say.” Or “Really, I didn’t give them any reason to hate me.” Instead we find David acknowledging his foolishness and guilt (transgressions). This is a real inversion, but it is the kind of thing we learn to expect from the godly. As much as they can, they live without blame before other men and women. But they nevertheless know their lack of wisdom and acknowledge their deep guilt before God. In fact, it is their profound awareness of their guilt before God that keeps them close to God and causes them to lead morally upright lives.
Each of the psalms has its own unique outline, and the unique pattern of this psalm is to repeat, first the lament introduced in verses 1-4 and then the appeal for help introduced in the same verses. Thus, we have a first renewal of the lament in verses 6-12, a first renewal of the plea for help in verses 13-18, a second renewal of the lament in verses 19-21, and a second renewal of the plea in verses 22-28. This is followed at the end by a one-verse interjection similar to that in verse 5, in verse 29, and a two-part conclusion in verses 30-36.
Verses 6-12 contain the first renewal of the lament. Yet they go beyond what was said in the first stanza, as each of the repetitions also go beyond what has come before. In the opening stanza the writer complained that he was being unjustly attacked. Here he explains why; it is “for your sake” (v. 7) and because “zeal for your house consumes me” (v. 8). This is very much like Jeremiah 15:15, where the prophet said that he suffered reproach for God’s sake. Even more to the point, it reminds us of Jesus’ teaching about suffering for righteousness’ sake in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matt. 5:10, 11). Clearly the key words here are “because of righteousness” and “because of me.” This is not a promise of blessing for people who are persecuted because they are obnoxious or fanatics. It is for those who suffer because of righteousness and for their identification with Jesus Christ.
Two lines in this section are explicitly identified with Jesus in the New Testament. The first is the first half of verse 9 (“zeal for your house consumes me”). John tells us that the disciples remembered that verse and applied it to Jesus on the occasion of his cleansing the temple (John 2:17). The second is the second half of the same verse (“the insults of those who insult you fall on me”), which Paul applied to Jesus in Romans 15:3.
Paul’s point is that Jesus’ behavior is an example for us in the sense that we should not seek to please ourselves but rather work for others well-being. Moreover, this should be true even in situations where we are being slandered by our enemies, rejected by our family, ridiculed by mockers and criticized by people who are in authority over us. If we read through the first part of the psalm with situations like that in mind, we will find many examples of the kind of insults (or other abuses) Jesus endured for us that we should be willing to endure for God and others.
Enemies. The first example goes back to stanza one, where the psalmist complains that his enemies “outnumber the hairs of his head” (v. 4). Since Jesus quoted this verse of himself, there can be no doubt of its application. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote about how these verses apply to Jesus Christ: “There were those among the scribes and Pharisees, the priests and the Levites, who simply hated him. The reason is not hard to find. Until he came and stood beside them, they looked like good men. Linen bleaching on the grass seems white until the Snow falls; it then appears gray. Thus it was for the so called ‘spiritual’ leaders of the people. They hated him freely; they hated him without a cause in himself. The only cause was in their evil hearts. When we turn to the New Testament we shall see what channel their hatred took.”
His brothers. Verse 8 says, “I am a stranger to my brothers.” Barnhouse also applied this to Jesus’ experience: “After Jesus was born, the Virgin Mary was fully and completely married to Joseph, and the Bible tells us that she bore him at least six children. We read there were at least two daughters, and the names of four sons are recorded in Mark 6:3. The presence of Jesus in that household certainly caused difficulties. It is hard to live with near-perfection; how much harder to live with absolute perfection! After Christ came to manhood, his half-brothers wanted him to declare himself and use his power. They knew that he had turned water into wine, and that he had healed the sick and fed the multitudes. They could not be unaware of the potential of such power as an advantage to them, and they wanted him to live according to the dictates of the advertising agencies. In John’s Gospel we read, ‘Now the Jews’ feast of the tabernacles was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his brothers did not believe on him’ (John 7:2-5). Truly he had become a stranger to his brothers, an alien to his mother’s children.”
A proverb. “Still further in this psalm we see that he became a proverb to the people—a byword (v. 11). We know how a Christian student may be sneered at on a college campus—called a “Joe Christian” or a “Holy Roller.” [Today we speak of “religious nuts,” or the “radical right”]. We do not know what the slang phrase was by which Christ was thus deprecated, but our text leaves no doubt of the fact. He was a byword to the people.”
The rulers. “In the next clause we read: ‘They that sit in the gate speak against me’ (v. 12). To sit in the gate meant to be a ruler of the people. Of the diligent woman described in the last paragraph of Proverbs it is said, ‘Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land’ (Prov. 31:23). Thus, those who sat in the gate were the rulers of the people, the honorable ones, and they were against him.”
The drunkards. “Finally, we read, ‘And I was the song of the drunkards’ (v. 12). Solomon reminds us that ‘Fools make a mock of sin’ (Prov. 14:9), but here we find men who mock at the Savior who died for them.”2
1Saint Augustine had trouble interpreting this verse because his way of explaining the psalms is to apply everything to Christ. He resolved the problem by deciding that the words apply to the members of Christ’s body, not to the body’s head.
2Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Glory: Exposition of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, vol. 10, Romans 14:13–16:27 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), pp. 39, 40.
What can we expect a godly person to do?
How does the section in verses 6-12 remind us of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount?
Which two lines in the psalm are identified with Jesus in the New Testament? Where do we see each of these verses mentioned in the New Testament?
What is Paul’s point in Romans 15:3?
How did Jesus endure the insults of his enemies?
How did Jesus’ brothers misunderstand him?
Reflection: Have you ever been ridiculed or hurt because you are a Christian? How does Christ’s suffering encourage you to withstand insults and abuses for his sake?