Psalm 69
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

If we cannot identify the author of this psalm with any other known individual, we must certainly set aside the traditional ascription to David. Psalm 69:10-12, cannot by any ingenuity be worked into his known history. Psalm 69:20 does not give a picture of David’s condition at any time, for he always found a Nathan or a Barzillai even in his darkest hour. The conclusion (see Note Psalm 69:33), if not, as some think, a liturgical addition of a later date than the rest of the psalm, speaking as it does the language of past exile times, is another argument against the inscription. It also makes against an opinion shared by many critics, that refers this, together with Psalms 10, &c., to Jeremiah. The real author is lost in the general sufferings of these victims of religious persecution (Psalm 69:9), for whom he speaks (Psalm 69:6.) The expression of this affliction is certainly figurative—and never has grief found a more copious imagery—and therefore we cannot fix the precise nature of the persecution. There appear, however, to have been two parties in Israel itself, one zealous for the national religion, the other indifferent to it, or even scornful of it (Psalm 69:9-13). It is on the latter that the fierce torrent of invective that begins with Psalm 69:22 is poured—an invective we can best appreciate, if we cannot excuse it, by remembering that it was the outcome, not of personal hatred, but of religious exclusiveness. Except Psalms 22, no other hymn from ancient Israel supplied more for quotation and application to the young Christian community, when searching deep into the recognised sacred writings of their nation to prove that the despised and suffering one was the Christ. That in so doing they fastened on accidental coincidences, and altogether ignored the impassable distance between one who could be the mouthpiece of such terrible curses and Jesus Christ, need not blind us to the illustration which is thrown on Him and His life by the suffering and endurance of this, as of all martyrs in a right cause. The psalm falls into stanzas, but not all of equal length. The parallelism is varied by triplets.

Title.—See title Psalms 4, 45

To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim, A Psalm of David. Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.
(1) The waters . . .—For this common and obvious figure of a “sea of troubles” comp. Psalm 18:4; Psalm 18:16; Psalm 32:6; Psalm 42:7.

I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.
(3) Crying.—Better, calling, i.e., on God in prayer. For a similar picture of utter dejection comp. Psalm 22:15. The following English lines have caught the feeling of these verses:

“How have I knelt with arms of my aspiring

Lifted all night in irresponsive air,

Dazed and amazed with overmuch desiring,

Blank with the utter agony of prayer.”

St. Paul, by F. Myers.

They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head: they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty: then I restored that which I took not away.
(4) They that would destroy me . . .—Properly, my exterminators. It seems a piece of hypercriticism to object to this as too strong a word. It is a very allowable prolepsis. At the same time the parallelism would be improved by adopting, as Ewald suggests, the Syriac reading “my enemies without are more numerous than my bones,” and the construction would be the same as in Psalm 40:12.

Wrongfully.—Better, without cause. Comp. Psalm 35:19.

Then I restored.—Rather, what I did not steal I must then restore, possibly a proverbial saying to express harsh and unjust treatment. Comp. Ps. Xxxv. 11; Jeremiah 15:10.

O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee.
(5) My foolishness.—This does not conflict with a true Messianic application of the Psalm, but is fatal to that which would see in the author not an imperfect type, but a prophetic mouthpiece of Christ.

Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.
(6) Let not them.—We again meet the feeling so common in the Psalms (see especially Psalm 44:17-22), that the sufferings of any member of Israel must bring dishonour on the name of Jehovah and on His religion. Here, however, it seems to touch a higher chord of feeling and to approach the true Churchmanship—the esprit de corps of the Kingdom of Heaven—which attaches a greater heinousness to the sin because it may harm the brethren. Not only would Jehovah be dishonoured in the sight of the heathen if He seemed to be disregarding His part of the covenant, but for an Israelite to have violated his part brought shame on all Israel.

Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face.
(7) Because.—Better, for.

For thy sake.—It is plain from Psalm 69:9 that these words can only mean that the reproach under which the psalmist (or the community of which he was the spokesman) laboured was borne in the cause of religion. (Comp. Jeremiah 15:15.)

I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children.
(8) Mother’s children.—See Note Song of Solomon 1:6.

For the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up; and the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.
(9) Of thine housei.e., for thine house. Hosea 8:1, shows that house might stand for congregation, but very probably we are to understand zeal for the restoration or repair of the Temple, or more likely regard for its purity and honour. So at least one applied the words long after, John 2:17 (where see Note in New Testament Commentary).

And the reproaches.—See St. Paul’s application of these words Romans 15:3. If the author had been thinking chiefly of his sin as the cause of the reproach of God, surely he would have said “the reproaches of these that reproach me are fallen upon Thee.” The intention seems to be that though in his own eyes a very insignificant and unworthy member of the community, yet being one who burnt with zeal for it, he felt as personally directed against himself all the taunts aimed at Jehovah and His religion.

When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach.
(10) When I wept . . .—The expression I wept (or lamented) my soul with fasting is hardly intelligible, though perhaps we might say I wept out my soul with fasting. The LXX. and Psalm 35:13 suggest an emendation to “I humbled my soul with fasting.”

To my reproach.—Quite literally and better, a reproach to me. Those who made light of the covenant altogether, who were in heart apostates both to faith and patriotism, would naturally treat with contempt those outward signs by which an erring Israelite owned his offence and sought reconciliation.

They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards.
(12) In the gate . . .—The place of public resort where justice was administered. (See Psalm 9:14 Note.)

And I was the song.—Literally, and songs of those drinking strong drink, but we must supply the pronoun.

But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O LORD, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation.
(13) But.—A better arrangement of the clauses of this verse is:

But as for me my prayer (is) to Thee

Jehovah in a time of grace,

God in the abundance of Thy (covenant) mercy

Hear me with the faithfulness of Thy help.

For the favourable or gracious time comp Isaiah 49:8.

Whatever the sin of Psalm 69:5, &c., it had not cut the offender off from the sense of the blessings of the covenant, or he had been by pardon restored to it.

Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.
(15) Pit.—Properly, well. A stone usually covered the wells (Genesis 29:10), which explains the phrase, “shut her mouth.” Is this merely figurative; or have we here a reminiscence of some terrible crime, analogous to that of Cawnpore?

Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
(20) I am full of heaviness.—Rather, I am sick. The word here used (with its cognates), as well as that rendered pity in the next clause, are favourite words with Jeremiah, as also are the figures of the next verse. (See Jeremiah 8:14; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15.)

They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
(21) Gall.—Heb., rôsh, i.e., head. (Comp. poppy heads. See Deuteronomy 32:32.) In Hosea 10:4 it is translated hemlock, but is most probably the poppy (papaver arenarium), which grows everywhere in Palestine, and answers all the conditions. The rendering, gall, comes from the LXX.

Vinegar.—Sour wine would not be rejected as unpalatable (see Note Ruth 2:14). It was forbidden to Nazarites as a luxury (Numbers 6:3). Was the author of the psalm possibly a Nazarite? or are the expressions in the psalm merely figurative. Comp.

“The banquet where the meats became

As wormwood.”

—TENNYSON: Elaine.

Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap.
(22) Let their table.—The form of this imprecation is, of course, suggested by the figurative language immediately preceding. Life had been made bitter by rancour and enmity, and the psalmist hurls back his curses, couched in the terms which had arisen to his lips to express his own misery.

And that which.—Rather, and to them in peace a noose. Seated at the banquet, amid every sign of peace, and every means of enjoyment, let their surroundings of security and pleasure become their snare and ruin. (Comp. 1Thessalonians 5:3. See St. Paul’s citation, Romans 11:9, New Testament Commentary.)

Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake.
(23) Their eyes.—The darkened eyes and trembling limbs (comp. Nahum 2:10; Daniel 5:6) are expressive of terror and dismay.

Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents.
(25) Habitation.—The derivation is from a word meaning circle, and a better rendering is therefore encampment or village. Nomadic tribes pitch their tents in an enclosed ring. The derivation of the English town is precisely similar. The desolation of his homestead was, to the Arab, the most frightful of calamities. (Comp. Job 18:15. For St. Peter’s use of this verse, combined with Psalm 109:8, see Acts 1:20, and Note, New Testament Commentary.)

For they persecute him whom thou hast smitten; and they talk to the grief of those whom thou hast wounded.
(26) They talk . . .—Better, and respecting the pain of thy pierced ones, they talk. (For the construction of this verb talk, see Psalm 2:7.) We naturally think of Isaiah 53:4, and of the Cross.

Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness.
(27, 28) It is doubtful whether these verses give the talk of the enemies just mentioned, or whether the psalmist himself, after a pause, resumes his imprecations. The former supposition certainly adds a fresh force to the prayer of Psalm 69:29; and it is more natural to suppose that the string of curses, once ended, should not be taken up again. On the other hand, would the apostates, against whom the psalm is directed, have put their animosity into the shape of a wish to have names blotted out of God’s book? If so, it must be in irony.

(27) Add iniquity—This may be understood in two different senses: (1) Let sin be added to sin in thy account, till the tale be full. (2) Add guilt for guilt, i.e., for each wrong committed write down a punishment.

And let them not . . .i.e., let them not be justified in thy sight; not gain their cause at thy tribunal.

Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.
(28) Book of the livingor life.—This image, which plays so great a part in Christian poetry (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 21:27. Comp. Philippians 4:3; Luke 10:20), is derived from the civil lists or registers of the Jews. (Exodus 32:32; Jeremiah 22:30; Ezekiel 13:9.) At first erasure from this list only implied that a man was dead, or that a family was extinct (see references above); but as death was thought to deprive of all benefit of the covenant (see Note, Psalm 6:5), such erasure came to imply exclusion from all the rights and privileges of the Theocracy, and therefore from the glory of participating in the promised deliverance and restoration of the race, and so gradually, as eschatological ideas developed, from the resurrection to eternal life. Daniel 12:1 marks a stage in this development. In the psalmist’s mouth the words would correspond to the ideas current when he wrote. From the next clause, Let them not be written with the righteous, it might be argued that the idea had already appeared which limited the resurrection to the righteous—an idea current at the date of 2 Maccabees 7:14, but probably familiar to some minds much sooner.

But I am poor and sorrowful: let thy salvation, O God, set me up on high.
(29) Set me up on high.—Or, lift me up, i.e., into a secure place out of the reach of enemies.

This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bullock that hath horns and hoofs.
(31, 32) The pre-eminence of praise above sacrifice is not infrequent in the Psalms. (Comp. Psalm 50:14.)

(31) That hath . . .—Literally, showing horns and dividing the hoofs, marking at once clean animals, and those of fit age for sacrifice.

The humble shall see this, and be glad: and your heart shall live that seek God.
(32) Humble.—Rather, afflicted.

And your heart . . .—Better, may your heart live. (See Psalm 22:5.)

For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners.
(33) For the Lord.—This and the following verses evidently bring the psalm within the circle of literature, of which Isaiah 65:17 seq., is the noblest example—the literature inspired by the hope of the restoration and of the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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