John T. Willis

Friday, July 08, 2005

Psalm 69:32-36

Psalm 69:32 belongs with the verses which precede it (verses 29-31), as indicated in the previous "Blog," but this verse also belongs with the verses which follow it (verses 33-36). This is clear from the obvious "pattern" of verses 32-36: "Let so and so do something" (verses 32a, 34a), "For the Lord [God] does something" (verses 33a, 35a). So verses 32-33 are parallel to verses 34-36:

"Let the oppressed see it [namely, what Yahweh has done for me, the psalmist] and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord [Yahweh] hears the needy,
and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah;
and his servants shall live there and possess it;
the children of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall live in it."

1. Yahweh's deliverance of the psalmist whom hostile enemies have oppressed is living proof that Yahweh cares very much for and protects the needy, the poor, the orphan, the widow, the alien, the disenfranchised who depend on him, and that even if human beings put God's faithful followers in prison ("in bonds"), God loves them as much as he always did, and will protect them and deliver them in his own good time and way. The Bible is full of examples of God's faithful followers whom the world imprisoned because of their commitment to God (Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, those mentioned in Matthew 25:36, 39; Hebrews 11:36; and many others), whom God rescued as he saw fit and blessed immensely.
2. What God does is so extensive that it affects heaven and earth and all that is in them. So the psalmist calls on all creation to praise God for his wonderful works. See Psalms 47; 66:1-4; 67; 148; etc.
3. Verses 35-36 suggest that the setting of Psalm 69 is the end of the Babylonian exile (ca. 550-536 B. C.). Zion and the cities of Judah apparently are not populated when this psalm was written, but the psalmist anticipates a time when God's true servants ("those who love his name") will return there and re-inhabit these vacated places. The composer looks even beyond this to the next generation, who will be born and grow up in these cities which now are without people. "God's name" in verse 36b is a circumlocution for God; so the poet is referring to people who genuinely love God.
May God help us trust in him when we are in dire circumstances like the people envisioned in Psalm 69, who are captives in Babylon. And may God help us hope in him alone as we wait for him to deliver his faithful followers from hostile enemies and harsh oppression.

John Willis

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Psalm 69:29-32

In Psalm 69:29-32, the speaker contrasts herself/himself with her/his enemies whom she/he asked Yahweh to curse in verses 22-28:

"But I am lowly and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, protect me.
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord [Yahweh] more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive."

1. From these words, the hearers realize that this psalm is not only a prayer to persuade Yahweh to save the psalmist from her/his enemies, but also an encouragement to others who experience similar distresses as the speaker. The poet presents herself/himself as an example to the hearers, and in verse 32b actually addresses the hearers and encourages them to persevere with strong faith under oppressive circumstances. [Note similar language in verse 6].
2. There are different ways to "praise" God: by bearing witness to others what God has done for us (Isaiah 43:8-13); by telling the assembly of God's people what God has done for us (see Psalms 22:22; 107:22, 32); and by composing a "song" which describes what God has done for us (as here; see Psalms 96:1-3; 98:1-6).
3. Thanksgiving is the only appropriate response to Yahweh's mighty deeds in behalf of humanity. We are totally dependent on Yahweh for everything, so when he does things for us, we must be grateful. See Colossians 3:15-17.
4. External religious acts--animals sacrifices, music, prayer, giving, preaching, and the like--all have their place in the ebb and flow of the lives of the faithful, but they pale into insignificance compared with "matters of the heart"--trust in God, love for God and others, forgiveness, acceptance of others, grace, mercy, and [here] gratitude or thanksgiving. God accepts our external religious acts IF they come from a genuine heart (see Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:4-6; Isaiah 1:10-17; 58:1-12; Jeremiah 7:1-14; Micah 6:6-8; Titus 1:16; 1 Corinthians 13; etc.).
5. The faithful persistence of others under distressful circumstances is a great encouragement to people of like faith to continue in their service to God when times are bad. Peter holds up the example of Christ's faithful persistence during his suffering and death to encourage Christians suffering persecution to remain faithful to God in spite of the oppression they are experiencing (1 Peter 2:18-25).
May God help us never to give up, but to trust in his protection and care, in the worst kinds of circumstances.

John Willis

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Psalm 69:22-28

The composer of Psalm 69 has described the way her/his enemies have treated her/him (verses 9-12, 19-21). Now, in verses 22-28, the poet asks Yahweh to right the wrongs her/his enemies have done by bringing upon them what they have brought upon the defenseless:

"Let their table be a trap for them,
a snare for their allies.
Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
May their camp be a desolation;
let no one live in their tents.
For they persecute those whom you have struck down,
and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.
Add guilt to their guilt;
may have have no acquittal from you.
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous."

1. The psalmist is not asking for personal revenge, but for Yahweh to maintain justice and righteousness in the world. Often Yahweh has said he would maintain justice and righteousness in his world (see for example, Psalms 72:1-4; Isaiah 1:21-28; 10:1-4; 28:16-17; Jeremiah 22:13-19; Zechariah 7:8-10; and often). The author of Psalm 69 is simply asking Yahweh to do what he has often declared he would do.
2. Prayers that Yahweh curse his enemies is not "sub-Christian." The New Testament contains the same kind of prayers (Acts 13:9-11; 23:3; Galatians 1:6-10; 1 Corinthians 16:22; etc.). Such prayers demonstrate great restraint by those who pray them. It is inappropriate for God's faithful people to "retaliate" against evil done to them (see Matthew 5:38-48); instead, God teaches them to return good for evil (see Exodus 23:4-5; 1 Samuel 24:17; Proverbs 24:28-29; 25:21-22; Romans 12:14; etc.). God promises that he will deal with his enemies, who are also the enemies of his people, in his own time and in his own way. "Vengeance is mine, and recompense; . . . Indeed the Lord will vindicate his people" (Deuteronomy 32:35, 36). Thus, Paul teaches God's people in Romans 12:19-21: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
3. The Bible frequently refers to a "book" which God is keeping, according to which he will judge all peoples (see Exodus 32:32-33; Psalm 139:16; Isaiah 34:16; Revelation 21:27; etc.). Apparently Psalm 69:28 has in mind a "book" containing the names of the righteous, that is, those who faithfully seek to serve Yahweh.
May God help us to let him do his work of retribution, while we strive to respond to those who hate and oppose us with love and service; and may our prayers and lives reflect this attitude.

John Willis

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Psalm 69:19-21

In order to convince Yahweh to "answer" her/his prayer for help (Psalm 69:13-18), the composer of Psalm 69 describes the terrible plight in which she/he finds herself/himself in verses 19-21:

"You [Yahweh] know the insults I receive,
and my shame and dishonor;
my foes are all known to you.
Insults have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none;
and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."

1. A major weapon in the arsenal of the wicked against the righteous is insults (see verses 7, 9, 19, 20). When Individual A insults Individual B, it shows that Individual A is very fragile and unstable and filled with uncertainty, and that Individual A can think of no rational argument to respond to the position of Individual B; so all Individual A has to fall back on is insults. It is clear that Individual A is in the wrong.
2. God knows all human hearts and all human words and all human actions, even if no human being knows any of these things. The author of Psalm 139 says in verses 1-2:
"O Lord [Yahweh], you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away."
When God's opponents thing they are "getting away with murder," God is watching and patiently waiting for "just the right time" to deal with them.
3. A faithful follower of God would like to think that she/he could find like-minded believers who would comfort her/him in difficult times; and sometimes this happens. But often it does not happen. Job's three friends--Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar--came to comfort him in his terrible sufferings, but they failed miserably--See Job 2:11-13; 6:14-20; 16:2.
4. Verse 21 is obviously highly figurative or metaphorical. The enemies of the psalmist treated her/him like someone giving a hungry and thirsty traveler poison and vinegar. Not only do these elements fail to satisfy one's hunger and thirst; they bring the suffering traveler closer to death. The creative Gospel writers reapply verse 21 to Jesus on the cross and give it a literal meaning: see Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23; Luke 23:36; John 19:29-30. We pointed out earlier that John applied Psalm 69:4 to Jesus in John 15:25; and Psalm 69:9 to Jesus in John 2:17. Psalm 69 is a good psalm to study to get an idea of how the New Testament speakers applied to Hebrew Bible to Jesus and the early church. They used the Hebrew Bible quite differently from the way we use it.
When wicked people are trying to destroy God's faithful servants, it is comforting to hear the words of Psalm 69:19-21, which assure us that God knows what is happening, and that he can and will intervene in his own time and way in behalf of his genuine followers.

John Willis

Monday, July 04, 2005

Psalm 69:13-18

After the author of Psalm 69 has described his/her many troubles in verses 1b-12, he/she prays fervently for Yahweh to intervene in vss. 13-18:

"But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord [Yahweh].
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the Pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord [Yahweh], for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant,
for I am in distress--make haste to answer me.
Draw near to me, redeem me,
set me free because of my enemies."

1. Three times in these six verses the psalmist begs Yahweh to ANSWER him/her (verses 13c, 16a, 17b). This would consist of Yahweh delivering the poet from all his/her troubles.
2. Twice the psalmist appeals to Yahweh's STEADFAST LOVE (verses 13c, 16a), which he/she couples with Yahweh's faithfulness (verse 13d; see Exodus 34:6; Psalms 25:10; 40:10-11; 89:1-2, 14; Lamentations 3:22-23) and mercy (verse 16b; see Exodus 34:6; Psalms 86:15; 103:4). It is significant that the composer does not claim his/her own good works or righteousness when pleading to God to intervene, but appeals to Yahweh's steadfast love.
3. This speaker uses powerful verbs in beseeching Yahweh to help him/her: rescue (verse 14a); deliver (verse 14b); redeem (verse 18a); and set free (verse 18b). These are the verbs Exodus 6:2-8 and other biblical texts use to describe the exodus of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage.
4. The expressions "sinking in the mire" (verse 14a), "deep waters" (verse 14c), and "flood" (verse 15a) repeat the language used in the description of the psalmist's distresses in verse 2). "The deep" and "the Pit" are common biblical terms for death and the netherworld or realm of the dea.
5. The plea "Do not hide your face" is an idiom meaning something like: "Do not reject or ignore my prayer" (see Psalms 22:24; 27:9; 102:1).
6. Since the psalmist is completely dependent on Yahweh, he/she refers to himself/herself as Yahweh's "servant" (verse 17a; see especially Psalms 27:9 and 31:16, where God's face and being God's servant are closely connected with each other.
7. In his/her present distressful circumstances, the psalmist feels God is far away; so he/she pleads with God to "draw near" to him/her in order to redeem and set him/her free (verse 18). It is very consoling to know that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe is near those who seek him (see Psalm 148:14; Philippians 4:4-7).

John Willis