You almost didn’t have me as your rector. When I was about ten, our church youth club went to the Shankill swimming pool in Belfast. There were other pools nearer, but Shankill was the best one at the time, because of the added extras. There were flumes to come down, but even better, was the wave machine. The siren sounded, the waves kicked in, and suddenly, I was out of my depth.
I’m short now, but even shorter then, and I can’t swim. As people around me had fun, I found myself sinking, swallowing mouthfuls of chlorine swimming pool water, grasping for help. They might even have thought I was having a laugh, but it was no laughing matter. The duty lifeguards hadn’t spotted me, but thankfully one of our youth club leaders did, and grabbed up up and out of the water, to safety.
A frightening experience, one I’ll never forget; one which led to a tightening in my chest as I wrote it down earlier. It’s the same experience David pictures as he cries out in Psalm 69. ‘Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.’ It’s not a swimming pool, but it is a dangerous place - his feet are sinking in deep mire, he has no foothold, he is in danger of going under. He’s been crying out for so long that his throat is parched, he’s thirsty; he’s weary with crying. His enemies are watching with delight as they hate him and falsely accuse him.
As we see why he’s in such a situation, we quickly discover some words and verses that are very familiar. You’ll recognise some of the phrases - they’re ones that are used in connection with Jesus on the way to the cross. So as we consider the psalm, we’re not seeking to take it upon ourselves directly, but rather, seeing how David the King looks forward to and prophetically speaks with the voice of Christ the true King - and through him, what it means for us.
So why is he in such a situation? In verses 5-12, we find that the king is suffering for God’s sake (7) - suffering reproach and shame. He has become a stranger to his family (8), rejected and unrecognised. It’s because of his zeal for God’s house that has consumed him (9) - the zeal that the disciples saw when Jesus cleared the temple of the sellers and moneychangers. Those who seek to insult God are pouring out their insults on the king - like the British Embassy in Iran being attacked in November 2011, not because of anything the Ambassador had done, but simply because of who he represented. The king is mocked, insulted, and drunks make up songs about him.
From verse 13, the king returns to prayer, calling for rescue. Do you see the way in which he asks - he appeals to God’s character: ‘in the abundance of your steadfast love’ (13), ‘with your faithful help’ (14), ‘abundant mercy’ (16). He knows the God he is speaking to, he cries for answer, for rescue, for deliverance, for redemption.
You see, his danger isn’t just his enemies. His danger isn’t even the flood, this picture of his desperate situation. His greatest danger is at the end of verse 15: ‘Do not let... the Pit close its mouth over me.’ It’s a way of speaking about death - if you imagine going down a well or a mineshaft, and eventually darkness closes over, the pit swallows you up.
He’s in desperate trouble; yet still his enemies don’t relent. ‘you know the insults I receive, and my shame and dishonour.’ (19). He looks for pity, for comfort, but none is given. Just think of the insults that surrounded the Lord Jesus on the cross - If you are the Christ... he trusts in God... He looks for pity; but all he is given is vinegar to drink for his thirst. You remember in John’s Gospel that Jesus, knowing all was completed, and to fulfil the Scripture says ‘I thirst’ (Jn 19:28).
How precious this Psalm is, as it shows us, so long in advance, the suffering of the Christ; as David echoes the words of Jesus, the king. Yet the next section might take us by surprise. You see, as we think of the words of Jesus on the cross, he prays for his persecutors. But here, in Psalm 69, there are strong words of curse, as David calls down curses on his enemies.
He asks for them to be trapped, to be blinded, to be weakened, to receive God’s indignation and anger; for their homes to be left desolate. It’s strong stuff - and it only gets stronger: ‘Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.’ (28)
How come David can use these words, yet we’re told to bless those who persecute us and pray for them? The thing to note, though, is that you and I - we’re not David. We’re not the king; this psalm isn’t directly about us and our sufferings. Rather, it’s about the king, and those who attack him. To reject and crucify the Lord Jesus is to reject God. To turn your back on him is to bring these curses on yourself.
Jesus can say these things because, like in Psalm 2, he is God’s king - his enemies will be destroyed like the potter’s vessel. The first disciples understood this when they dealt with the legacy of Judas, who had betrayed Jesus. They quote this very verse ‘May their camp be a desolation’ as they declare Judas to have abandoned his place of leadership and appoint Matthias in his stead (Acts 1).
If we’re to be found in Psalm 69, it’s not so much as the chosen, suffering king; rather it’s as his enemies, the ones who caused his suffering; those who have mocked and scorned him; those who deserve to go down to the pit. Yet the amazing, wonderful good news is that Psalm 69 is all about the king who suffers and dies, whom God raised to life and victory.
That’s why there’s the change in tone from verse 30. If it was set to music, you would have up to verse 29 in a minor key, filled with emotion and pain and sorrow. But come verse 30 suddenly the orchestra strikes up, full of joy, like a fanfare: ‘I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.’ The death of the king is not the end. Evil will not triumph. God rescued Jesus not from death - but through death as he went to the cross, endured the shame, because of the joy that was set before him.
The closing verses capture that joy - a joy that includes us, as the king extends the good news to his people, as the scene becomes wider and wider. ‘Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.’
Just as God has rescued his Son, the King, so that rescue opens up to all the needy - in and through the King. It’s the cause of joy and praise - across the whole creation: ‘Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.’ Why? Because of God’s salvation - for Zion and the cities of Judah. The Lord’s people will be expanded, they will live and dwell with him.
Perhaps you’re feeling as if you’re about to go under. The waters are up to your neck. God, in his word, directs your attention to his son, and what he has done to rescue you - won’t your trust in him, and rejoice in his salvation.
This sermon was preached at the Lent Midweek service in Aghavea Church on Wednesday 6th March 2013.