CQOD Special Archive
THE HUMANITY OF JESUS CHRIST,
AS REVEALED IN CERTAIN PSALMS
A. As of David
1. Introduction. Psalm 69 is second only to Psalm 22 in number of New Testament citations. All six citations are related directly or indirectly to Jesus and are in the first person; in short, this psalm fits perfectly our criteria for study. On the other hand, this psalm brings some difficulties, for several features of the psalm at first reading appear to be uncongenial to the character of Jesus. In the following we will follow our usual pattern by considering the psalm first as from David and second as from Jesus Christ.
2. Structure. The psalm is a lament (vv 1-29), concluding with a song of victory or trust (vv 30-36). Within the lament is a section of curses or imprecations upon the enemies of the psalmist (vv 22-28). Within this overall structure are a few noteworthy features. The lament begins (v 1) and ends (v29) with verses containing the same elements (salvation, raising up, and the address "O God"). This should not be considered an invitation to transfer back to the beginning and begin again (as in Donne's cycle of Holy Sonnets2) because the concluding plea, to be "set on high," leads naturally into the praise and confidence of the final song.
There is an interesting parallel between vv 6-8 and vv 9-12. Both sections begin with the psalmist's concern for God's people or God's house, and state that the concern brought first disgrace, then isolation. The imprecatory section follows a pattern of describing the crimes of the enemies (v 21,26), followed by prayer for the appropriate recompense.
3. Summary of the lament section. Verses 1 and 2 describe the psalmist's sense of being overwhelmed with trouble, in the figure of a drowning man. This figure surfaces again in vv 14 and 15. Verse 3 describes his state of weariness and sense of abandonment by God.
Verses 4-12 detail the cause of this trouble: many powerful enemies (v 4a), false accusations (v 4b), ostracism by family (v 8), ridicule by the community (v l1b, 12). Verses 13-18 plead for God's attention, response, and deliverance.
Verses 19-21 detail the actions of the psalmist's foes, followed by a series of prayers for requital: including religious delusions (v 27), physical afflictions (v 23), displacement (by death?) (v 23), and divine anger. Verse 26 describes their merciless treatment of the psalmist and leads to further prayers for withdrawal of God's mercy from them. The final plea echoes the beginning of the psalm, as mentioned above.
4. Summary of the song of victory. Verses 30,31 promise deep-felt praise and worship for God's anticipated deliverance. David shows, with a touch of humor (who needs bull horns and hoofs?), his insight that God is more pleased with heart-felt worship and contrition than with formal religion. Verses 32-34 anticipate antiphonal response from other oppressed among the faithful and from the creation itself. The psalm concludes with the affirmation that God will deliver and restore his dwelling place, and his people shall inhabit their land in safety.
This psalm contains many elements in common with Psalm 22: the expression of deep suffering, ruthless enemies, faith that transcends present difficulties, a vision for widespread fruit from the present ordeal. The new feature of Psalm 69 is the series of maledictions; of such no hint appears in Psalm 22.
5. The imprecations. The psalmist sees God as the righteous judge. When falsely accused (of malfeasance?) by his enemies (v 4b,c), David calls upon God to judge him (v 5). Better to fall into the hands of a righteous judge who sees the heart and knows the truth than to suffer abuse and accusations from unrighteous foes.
Similarly David (v 26) feels that God is punishing him (for what he gives no hint), yet his human tormentors are totally lacking in mercy and compassion (v 20,26). David throughout maintains the hope that mercy will temper God's judgment; certainly he has no hope of mercy with his enemies.
In view of this awareness of God as judge, how may we view the curses David heaps upon his foes? David calls down upon his enemies nothing more or less that what God has clearly promised throughout the law. David amplifies with passion what Psalm 1 speaks in a calm detached manner. What's wrong (thinks our protagonist) with encouraging God to do what he said he would do?
This section jars our sensibilities because we have dwelled too long on the pleasant promises of the Scripture and hastened past the concomitant threats and curses. There is little difference between what David expresses in this psalm and what, to give but one New Testament example, Paul says in Romans 12:19, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'" David merely offends us by being so specific.
B. As of Christ
1. Quotations in the New Testament. Psalm 69 is quoted six times in the New Testament, counting the fulfillment of v 21 in all four gospels as one citation. We shall examine each.
a. Verse 4 is quoted in John 15:25: "It [the Jew's rejection of Jesus] is to fulfill the word that is written in their law, 'They hated me without a cause.'" Here the enemies of the psalmist are identified with the world generally (see John 15:18) but with the Jews specifically (their law). Within the psalm, the enemies were active in their hatred, seeking to destroy, to attack with lies, to accuse (falsely, as we shall argue). Certainly these actions and attitudes describe the contemporary enemies of Christ in high places.
The context of John 15 is the upper room discourse, after which Jesus went to the garden to pray and await arrest. We usually think of Jesus in the upper room as calmly and patiently preparing his disciples for their coming crisis; only in the garden are we shown his deep anguish over what lies ahead for himself. But if this verse occurred to Jesus as describing his enemies, surely he was also identifying with the rest of the psalm with its vivid description of overwhelming troubles and importune cries to God for deliverance. What in the upper room was still under the surface was openly expressed in the garden.
b. Verse 9a is cited in John 2:17: "[As Jesus cleansed the temple] His disciples remembered that it was written, 'Zeal for thy house will consume me'". Jesus goes on to identify the temple with his body and, by implication, with the church to be established as his body on the earth, the new dwelling place for God's Spirit.
Jesus was "consumed" for the temple in several ways. This violent action and the ensuing statement, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," was used as evidence against Jesus at his trial (Matt 26:60b,61, see also 27:40). More important is his self-sacrifice on the cross for the church. We understand further that Jesus continues to offer himself for the church through his ministry as High Priest before the throne of God. The house of God continues to be his consuming interest. Great no doubt was David's concern for God's house, whether this refers to the tabernacle or to the preparations being made for the temple soon to be built. But David's concern was but a shadow of what Jesus would give to establish on earth a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.
c. Verse 9b is quoted in Romans 15:1-3: "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves; let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, `The reproaches of those who reproached thee fell on me.'" The context concerns strife within the church over matters of strictness in the keeping of certain rules. The trouble is that the stricter brother condemns the freer, and the liberated brother despises the legalist for his uninformed outlook (Rom. 14:10). Paul cites Psalm 69:9b to show that Christ took upon himself such insults, i.e., to insult a Christian brother is to insult Christ. In the parallel passage in I Cor. 8, Paul makes the same point more strongly: "Thus, sinning against your brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ."
Thus the two quotations from v 9 harmonize around Jesus' identification with the church. The statement in v 8, "I have become a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother's sons," shows the shift in God's favor and attention from Israel to the church. This shift bears upon the quotation of Psalm 69:22 in Romans 11:10, to be discussed below.
d. Verse 21b is not quoted explicitly in the New Testament but clearly refers to an incident described in all four gospels, e.g., "The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar..." (Luke 23:36, see also Matt 27:34, Mark 15:23, and John 19:29). Some understand that this action to intend a kindness because the substance offered was a sedative to dull our Lord's pain. Jesus refused the drink, as we know, and this refusal accords with the context in Psalm 69:21, "They gave me poison for my food and for my thirst (see John 19:28) they gave me vinegar to drink."
Another problem with this verse arises because it leads into the beginning of the imprecations, "Let their own table before them become a snare; let their sacrificial feasts be a trap." (Psalm 69:22). This verse refers to the Jews (see Romans 11:9,10, discussed below), yet the vinegar is offered by the Roman soldiers. We consider, however, that the soldiers acted as agents of the Jewish leaders, who were able to manipulate the Roman judicial system to their ends. Thus we see no contradiction.
e. Verse 22 is quoted in Romans 11:7-9,10: "... Israel failed to obtain [salvation] ... The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written ... And David says, `Let their table become a snare and a trap, a pitfall and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.'" Paul's point is that, except for a believing remnant, the Jews were presently under God's judgment as a result of their rejection of the Messiah.
Paul's application of the imprecatory section of Psalm 69 to the Jews carries strong implications because the curses speak of damnation, "Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from thee. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous."(Psalm 69:27,28) However, Paul backs off immediately from this implication and, later in the chapter, rises to the affirmation that "all Israel will be saved"(Romans 11:24). The purpose of the quotation of Psalm 69 in Romans 11 is to show that, at that and subsequent times, the practice of their ancestral religion by the Jews became a trap and a distraction from receiving their Messiah, and that their spiritual blindness and oppressed status in society were part of God's judgment upon them. Subsequent history accords with this prophesy. (A cynic might call this a self-fulfilling prophesy because much of the Jews' suffering has been at the hands of Christians who found justifications in such scriptures.)
This passage will doubly embarrass those who find the curses in this psalm unworthy of a godly person, for not only does the psalmist utter these curses (on behalf of Jesus, by our thesis), but, according to Paul, God has answered his prayer. To our point of view, this merely highlights the importance of the spiritual issues with which the fact of Christ confronts all men throughout history. The way the Jews treated their Messiah had implications for themselves and for generations to come.
f. Verse 25 is quoted in Acts 1:16,19,20: "And [Judas' purchase of a field with the blood money] became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called Akeldame, that is, Field of Blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms, `Let his habitation become desolate and let there be no one to dwell in it . . ." Thus one of the curses in Psalm 69 is applied by the apostles to Judas. How they understood the verse is not clear, however, for they juxtaposed it with Psalm 109:8 (LXX), "His office let another take," and proceeded to select a replacement for Judas.
While this attribution of Psalm 69 and another of the imprecatory psalms to Jesus gives us little insight into Jesus' personality, it does suggest that Jesus did not shy away from the imprecatory psalms in his "short course" in the Old Testament Messianic prophesies (Luke 24:44f). For to suppose that Jesus furnished his disciples with the many other Old Testament Messianic prophesies from Psalms and elsewhere, but to propose that the disciples out of their independent understanding directed these curses against Judas is completely arbitrary. Thus we conclude that Jesus understood these imprecatory psalms as describing his relationship with his enemies.
2. Problems in attributing the entirety of Psalm 69 to Jesus. We see three possible aspects of Psalm 69 which on first consideration seem ill fitted to Jesus. There are:
a. Verse 5, "O God, thou knowest my folly; the wrongs that I have done are not hidden from thee," would appear to be a confession of folly and wrongdoing. As we mentioned earlier, however, these verses are a defense against the false accusations (lies, v 14) of Jesus' enemies. The case is appealed to God in confidence of acquittal. Read in context, v 5 is a claim of innocence, not a confession of guilt.
b. Verse 26 states that God is the primary source of the Messiah's suffering, that his human foes merely are adding to his woes. Can this refer to Jesus? The language of v 26 echoes that of Isaiah 53:14,5: "Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities;..." Thus the content of v 26 accords with the Suffering Servant role of the Messiah.
c. The imprecations. We have already addressed various objections one might raise to putting these curses (by our thesis, as it were) into the mouth of Jesus. To the points made before, we wish to add one more. However inappropriate it might be for a man (such as David) to utter such curses upon his enemies, surely such curses are not strange from Jesus. He alone holds the keys of death and hell; he alone is qualified as righteous judge of all the world. Surely rejection and determined opposition to Jesus rightly might evoke such words of judgment as we find in Psalm 69.
The gospels are filled with threats of impending judgment from the lips of Jesus. We have looked at several of these in connection with Psalm 6:8, "Depart from me, all you workers of evil..." A similar strong passage is Luke 20:9-19, the parable of the vineyard. Here the owner lets his vineyard to tenants, who abuse the servants sent to collect rent. Finally the landlord's son was sent, and the tenants killed him because he was the heir. Of course, the landlord comes, judges the tenants, and gives the vineyard to others. The interpretation is so plain that "the scribes and chief priests ... perceived that he had told this parable against them." (Luke 20:19)
The parable of the vineyard is strong because it shows that the Jewish leaders opposed Jesus, not in ignorance of his Messiahship but because of it. If we take this parable seriously, we must conclude that the foes of Jesus were knowingly rejecting God's rule over themselves and their nation. Thus the strong judgment expressed in Psalm 69 does not outweigh their crimes.
3. Insights into Jesus. Our thesis in this paper is that we can gain understanding of Jesus by studying certain Messianic psalms as out of the mind of Jesus. What do we learn of Jesus thoughts in Psalm 69?
a. Like Psalm 22, Psalm 69 gives us a glimpse of the deep suffering of Jesus. Psalm 22 centers upon Jesus' thoughts and feelings on the cross; Psalm 69 centers upon Jesus' suffering due to the opposition of his nation's leaders. Thus Psalm 69 implies that Jesus experienced overwhelming despair and grief over a long period of time as the opposition grew.
A thorough study of Jesus' relationship to his enemies would double the length of this paper, which is already too long. Such a study would show the patient and resourceful means by which Jesus tried to penetrate the various defenses of his enemies to win them to his followers. Psalm 69 gives us a glimpse of the price he paid in his emotions and thoughts as it became increasingly clear that their opposition would remain firm to the tragic end.
b. Jesus' concern for the righteous. In the midst of his persecutions Jesus shows a deep concern for God's lambs. In vv 6-8 Jesus prays that those who "hope... in [God] should not be shamed" through him. This seems to refer to the believing remnant in Israel during Jesus' lifetime. Verse 8 shows that Jesus cared for these to the point of alienation with his earthly family (cf. Mark 3:31-35).
Verses 9-12 express the same idea, except that here we understand Jesus' "zeal for [God's] house" as looking forward to the church. This concern made Jesus an outcast and a source of ridicule to his own people, from the elders (who sat at the gates) to the riff-raff.
This theme is similar to that expressed in Psalm 34 where the positive side of Jesus' concern is shown, as we have shown above. Whereas in Psalm 34 the fruit of this concern is featured, here we see what it cost Jesus.
c. Jesus as judge. We are unaccustomed to thinking of Jesus as judge, as he is revealed in Psalm 69 (and also Psalm 6). This aspect of our Lord's work, however, is a frequent theme in the New Testament. Scanning for examples in the later chapters of Matthew, we find: Jesus cursing the fig tree, 21:18,19; telling parables of judgment, 21:33-45 (the vineyard, discussed above), 22:1-14 (the marriage feast), 24:45-51 (the wicked servants), 25:1-13 (wise and foolish virgins), 25:14-30 (talents). Jesus speaks directly of his role as judge in 25:31-46, and exercises the role of judge in speaking his mind to his religious foes, 23:1-36. To these we could add many passages in the epistles (e.g., II Cor. 5:10) and the Apocalypse, but our enthusiasm for this piling up of evidence is almost totally gone.
2 Modern Library Works of Donne and Blake, p 233ff.
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