“Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck...
“My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”
~Psalm 69:1, 3b (NRSV).
These psalms of lament are of perennial encouragement to us. Notionally it’s David who pours out this bitter, exhausted complaint (it’s his name appearing in the superscription). The psalmist is found here in all manner of disparate vexation — they’re a comprehensive mess from the treatment they’ve received. So, it’s compelling that even biblical characters of note lose the plot.
Yet, it’s equally undeniable that the harder this psalmist is pressed, the more they beseech their Lord; the only influence who’s able to turn things around.
The motif of this psalm is the cognisance, sheer weight of number, and the imminence of the enemy. Friendless desperation completely sums up the psalmist’s perspective.
Yet, they cannot let go of their faith in Yahweh, despite all their hopes being dashed.
The cause is utter hopelessness; the effect, spiritual fatigue.
The Exercise of Their Faith Has Broken the Psalmist
Now hear this! Especially those downtrodden of soul.
The very character of this psalm is captured in verse 3; the psalmist is bereft of the ability to go on.
Zeal for the house, morals, mission and work of the Lord has literally eaten this servant up (verse 9).
Get this; it’s a past-tense statement.
So far as the psalmist is concerned he’s gone-for, but due residual breath and minuscule energy for thought that somehow remains he must continue pleading for deliverance. We at our ‘eaten up’ depths can surely relate.
Messianic Undertones and Overtones
Like Psalm 22, this psalm features as a possible centrepiece on the mantle of Christ’s Passion.
We can very well imagine Jesus’ human spirit eaten up during this sequence of consummation — the breaking of body and the shedding of blood on the cross, and beforehand, right from Judas Iscariot’s betrayal.
As a man, Jesus has endured every physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain imaginable during the Passion sequence. Faith, if it was possible, and not already part of the Lord’s plan for the redemption, has failed Jesus. His enemies encroached and bore down upon him in such a way he had not one friend except, ironically, perhaps, Simon of Cyrene.
The disciples fled, the Romans mocked Jesus, and the Jews instigated the most infamous kangaroo court ever. Friendless desperation... zeal for the Father’s house was to consume Jesus, literally.
Why This Psalm is So Encouraging
The depth and breadth of imprecation (cursing the enemy in prayer to God) in this psalm shows us one human being at their absolute lowest ebb. There is no further down the abyss.
It’s therefore an empathetic catchall, because as we read its verses, we can place ourselves right there, in the darkest miry pit, out of control, depressed, and at the whim of whatever enemies are ours — whether these are actual people, our feelings or thoughts or something else.
Take heart, God’s beyond this scary shade, willing us to the finish line, calling us home.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.