Have you ever prayed for revenge when you felt oppressed by others?
Payback. If there was ever a temptation in times of personal siege, it's for payback, revenge, dark karma. We all are tempted to demand payback at one time or another, but are we honest and brazen enough to pray for it? In the light of the gospels, that thought is "a little tacky" at best, highly inappropriate at worst. But that didn't stop the ancient Israelites to seek payback, even in prayer. In fact, they felt their honor demanded it.
Psalm 69 was a lament song that asked for divine retribution. This psalm can be divided into six part: 1) opening prayer for salvation, 2) lament, 3) prayer for salvation, 4) lament, 5) curse of enemies, and 6) final doxology. Notice the repetition of themes seemed to heighten the core of the hymn: the curse of enemies.
Opening Prayer for Salvation
For the Chief Musician. To the tune of "Lilies." By David.
1 Save me, God,
for the waters have come up to my neck!
2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold.
I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.
3 I am weary with my crying.
My throat is dry.
My eyes fail, looking for my God.
The opening petition of the psalm was surprisingly direct. "God, save me." 69:1b-2 presented a flood analogy (cursed like the sinners in the time of Noah?), yet, 69:3 countered with the thirst of the psalmist because of tears. A modern equivalent to the opening might be: "Lord, save me. I'm up to my eye balls in trouble, but I've cried so much, my mouth is dry and I can't see you."
4 Those who hate me without a cause are more than the
hairs of my head.
Those who want to cut me off, being my enemies wrongfully, are mighty.
I have to restore what I didn't take away.
5 God, you know my foolishness.
My sins aren't hidden from you.
6 Don't let those who wait for you be shamed through me, Lord YHWH of Armies.
Don't let those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, God of Israel.
7 Because for your sake, I have borne reproach.
Shame has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother's children.
9 For the zeal of your house consumes me.
The reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
10 When I wept and I fasted,
that was to my reproach.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12 Those who sit in the gate talk about me.
I am the song of the drunkards.
This lament, along with the opening prayer, echoed the same themes from Jeremiah. Like the prophet, the psalmist was hounded by close friends and family members (69:8), yet was fully known by God. His enemies were numerous and powerful. Despite, personal repentance for the nation, the psalmist gained little comfort. Even, the watchmen gossiped about the psalmist; he was the butt of jokes and the subject of drunkard songs. From the rich to the poor, the singer was reviled by all in society. Yet, the psalmist remained faithful and was willing to endure irrational reproach.
Prayer for Salvation
13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, YHWH, in an
God, in the abundance of your loving kindness, answer me in the truth of your salvation.
14 Deliver me out of the mire, and don't let me sink.
Let me be delivered from those who hate me, and out of the deep waters.
15 Don't let the flood waters overwhelm me,
neither let the deep swallow me up.
Don't let the pit shut its mouth on me.
16 Answer me, YHWH, for your loving kindness is good.
According to the multitude of your tender mercies, turn to me.
17 Don't hide your face from your servant,
for I am in distress.
Answer me speedily!
18 Draw near to my soul, and redeem it.
Ransom me because of my enemies.
Notice how the prayer for salvation in 69:14-15 echoed the flood theme of 69:1-2. The psalmist feared sinking into the "mire" and the "depths" (the depths of the seas were considered to be the home of evil by many ancient peoples). This prayer to be saved from the sea was marked off by two bookend verses; both 69:13 & 16 invoked the reason for the covenant of Sinai: God's loving kindness. The hymn reminded God of his promises; the psalmist saw the answering of his prayer as a way for God to renew his covenant, but on a far more personal level. The covenant also became a reason for hasten a positive response from God (69:17-18).
19 You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor.
My adversaries are all before you.
20 Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness.
I looked for some to take pity, but there was none;
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They also gave me gall for my food.
In my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.
The psalmist stated his loneliness in start terms. Only God knew the measure of his suffering. No one else cared or enemies openly derided the singer. He felt he was treated with utter disdain.
22 Let their table before them become a snare.
May it become a retribution and a trap.
23 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they can't see.
Let their backs be continually bent.
24 Pour out your indignation on them.
Let the fierceness of your anger overtake them.
25 Let their habitation be desolate.
Let no one dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute him whom you have wounded.
They tell of the sorrow of those whom you have hurt.
27 Charge them with crime upon crime.
Don't let them come into your righteousness.
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of life,
and not be written with the righteous.
Ancient Israelites, like their Semitic cousins, were an intense people. They were known to bless and curse expressively, even out of proportion. The psalmist was no exception. Here, he cursed the meal associations of his enemies; he cursed them to the ravages of old age; he cursed them to to a complete loss of honor and reputation; he cursed them to an existence of loneliness akin to exile, especially a exile from YHWH himself. The bile of the singer was palpable, his anger displayed before God and fellow worshipers in stark relief.
29 But I am in pain and distress.
Let your salvation, God, protect me.
30 I will praise the name of God with a song,
and will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 It will please YHWH better than an ox,
or a bull that has horns and hoofs.
32 The humble have seen it, and are glad.
You who seek after God, let your heart live.
33 For YHWH hears the needy,
and doesn't despise his captive people.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him;
the seas, and everything that moves therein!
35 For God will save Zion, and build the cities of Judah.
They shall settle there, and own it.
36 The children also of his servants shall inherit it.
Those who love his name shall dwell therein.
The doxology turned the psalmist from his lament and his curse. Now he placed his total focus upon God. The singer asked for salvation, then declared his song more pleasing to God than sacrificial offerings, for it was the hymn of the humble and the needy. (Does 69:33b indicate the psalm was written during the Babylonian exile? Or, was it written after the return, as 69:35-36 seem to suggest?) The psalm ended with a call to universal praise and a sure hope that the promise God made to Abraham for the land would be fulfilled.
As you read the psalm, you will notice phrases that sound familiar. They should, for the evangelists used the tone and snippets of the hymn for their Passion narratives. John 15:25 used 69:4; Matthew 27:34 used 69:21. Indeed, the psalm's loneliness and lament became a backdrop for the Passion. The tone of the psalm dovetailed with the suffering of the Messiah.
It's easy to want payback, especially when we been wronged. If such a temptation rears its ugly head, maybe we should do what the psalmist did. Do not shy away, but put our feelings honestly before God. Sometimes, sharing the state of the heart with God is the first step toward justice and healing. It may not gain us payback, but it will achieve something much greater.
How have you placed your dark emotions before God? How has your honesty healed you?