The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Boylan’s Introduction to Psalm 69

Posted by Dim Bulb on July 9, 2013


THE psalmist is in sorest need, and prays to the Lord for help against his many foes (2-4). His enemies accuse him falsely; he has indeed sinned, but it is his zeal for the Lord, and not his own sin, that has brought him suffering (5-9). His zeal for the Temple and its worship, and his exact fulfilment of the Law have, in a special way, been the source of his present griefs (10-13). He thinks himself peculiarly entitled to the sympathy and help of the Lord, and for these he prays (14-19). Once more he describes the misery of his position his isolation and the ruthlessness of his foes (20-22). From this he passes, naturally enough, to an earnest prayer for vengeance on those who mock and maltreat him. The bitterness of the psalmist s words in this section (23-29) is remarkable. From the passing references to the feasts and sacrifices of his adversaries (23), as well as from the psalmist s explanation in verses 8, 10, that it is his loyalty to the Lord which has created enemies for him, we can understand that his attitude in uttering his imprecations is due to his zeal for the things of God, rather than to a spirit of personal resentment. For himself the psalmist is certain of coming help; and he vows to the Lord a service of praising song in return for the rescue which he confidently expects (30-34). The final section (35-37) is probably a liturgical addition to the poem. It invites all the world to join in the song of praising thanks to God for the rescue of Sion and Juda.

It is quite impossible to indicate the precise date or occasion of this psalm. In the New Testament it is frequently quoted. Three times at least in the Fourth Gospel it is referred to as a forecast of the experiences of Our Lord. The fifth verse is quoted in John 15:24-25: the quotation is put in the mouth of Our Lord Himself, and the verse is spoken of by Him as part of the Torah or Law. In John 2:17 the tenth verse is applied to Christ (as also by St. Paul
in Rom 15:203). In John 19:28 we are told that Our Lord’s cry, “I thirst,” was intended to make possible the fulfilment of verse 22. St. Paul (Rom 11:9-10) looks on verses 23, 24 as a prophecy of the doom which was to fall on the Jews for their rejection of Christ. St. Peter interprets verse 26 as a prophecy of the fate of the Betrayer (Acts 1:20). It may be taken as certain, therefore, that this psalm was interpreted Messianically by Our Lord and the Apostles. St. Paul speaks (Rom 11:9) of verses 23 and 24 as having been written by David. This does not, of course, establish per se the Davidic origin of the psalm. Paul speaks in the passage in question in the usual fashion of his day, according to which the psalms in general were ascribed to David. Whether or not the psalm-text quoted by him is Davidic, his argument stands, for the text is certainly a part of Sacred Scripture. The Messianic interpretation of the psalm does not exclude the possibility that it describes personal experiences of the psalmist. The attitude of Our Lord to the psalm, however, and the striking anticipations of Our Lord s sufferings which it contains, force us to conclude that, as the psalmist was carried beyond himself and the context of his experiences in poems like Ps 45, which describe the glory and beauty of the ideal king, so here, in depicting the sorrows of a just man oppressed by foes, he is carried on by the Spirit to depict the ideal the Messianic Sufferer (cf. Ps 22:30, etc.). The traditional exegesis regards David as the author of the psalm, and this point of view has been reaffirmed in a recent decree of the Biblical Commission. Such a conservative Catholic scholar, however, as Prince Max (Erklanmg der Psalmen und Cantica, 1914), writing four years subsequently to the Decision of the Commission, maintains that verse 36 fixes the Babylonian Exile as the date of the psalm. Against Prince Max it might be held that verses 36 and 37 formed no part of the original poem, but are a liturgical addition made in the exilic or post-exilic period. Apart from these two verses there is nothing in the psalm which would necessarily connect it with a late period. The tendency of all modern non-Catholic criticism is to regard the psalm as post-exilic, and even Maccabean.


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