To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. Of David.
1 Save me, O 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,
and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
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4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.
7 For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that dishonor has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother’s sons.
9 For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
10 When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting,
it became my reproach.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
12 I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
14 Deliver me
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
15 Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
16 Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17 Hide not your face from your servant,
for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
18 Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
ransom me because of my enemies!
19 You know my reproach,
and my shame and my dishonor;
my foes are all known to you.
20 Reproaches 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.
21 They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.
22 Let their own table before them become a snare;
and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.
23 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
24 Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be a desolation;
let no one dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute him whom you have struck down,
and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.
27 Add to them punishment upon punishment;
may they have no acquittal from you.
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
29 But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, set me on high!
30 I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
36 the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.
“I Was Sinking”
“Save me, O God!” Suffering was so intense that the psalmist compared it to the experience of drowning. “Help! Help!” the waters had come up to my neck. As a child, I had that kind of drowning experience. I was sinking and could not get hold of anything. As water rose and pulled me down, I choked, trying to use my last moments to cry for help. Every second felt like an eternity.
In the same way, the psalmist cried out for God’s salvation. Hatred, false accusations, mockery, shame, and loneliness engulfed him. Every second of waiting seemed like an eternity. “O God, save me!” “O God, rescue me!” “O God, answer me!” He changed between pleading and protesting, not only because he was desperate, but also because he knew his God was able to take this kind of pushback.
These days, many times we feel we are in a similar situation. The waters have come up to our necks. We read the news, and it is full of stories of suffering. We look around and see people starving and dying in the darkness. Our brothers and sisters are scattered and driven out of their homes. We feel powerless in the face of false accusations and injustice. O God, where are you when these things are happening? After all, we bear the reproaches of men who are contemptuous of you, God. We have become the object of gossip and ridicule because of our zeal for you, God. Rescue and redeem us, now, please!
My heart aches with the psalmist as I read his desperate outcry. Yet I am also deeply grateful for this psalm. I am grateful God did not shy away from putting this song in his Holy Book, where I can find understanding and acceptance.
There was a time when I was in so much distress I could not utter a single word of prayer. In that season, this psalm was sufficient to convey my emotions and thoughts. I prayed, pleaded, and protested to my God. There was no better comfort. In the middle of dark nights, this psalm took me to his throne. I sat before my Lord, broken and weeping. He was there to listen and lament with me. Who am I that I can take my troubles and anguish to the Creator of heaven and earth and plead for immediate attention? Although I am sinful and lowly, my God has allowed me to call upon his name and justice. He has shown me his faithful love and compassion before, and he will do it again.
Another One in the Water
Psalm 69 is the second most quoted psalm in the New Testament. Jesus also experienced the things this psalmist went through. Before the world hated us, it hated Jesus. Because of his zeal for God’s house and his love for God’s people, Jesus took our reproach and went to the cross. He tasted sour wine, and gave up his life for sinners like us. When the waters came up to our necks, Jesus had already sunk to the bottom – all so he could lift us up.
When I was drowning as a child, I clearly remember a thought that came to me: “Give up. No one is coming. This is it.” I did not continue calling for help, because I thought no one was there, and no one was coming. However, Psalm 69 has a different ending. The psalmist continues to plead and protest. Eventually, he praises God for his sure redemption. Because he knew God would come, he did not give up.
But God did not only show up as a mighty warrior who would eventually wipe out all enemies. God also showed up as another human who also had waters up to his neck. He understands what it feels like to be unable to breathe. He entered fully into our situation. Not only did he save us from death; he also saves us from the despair, loneliness, fear, shame, and disgrace life has thrown at us.
Psalm 69 is called an imprecatory psalm because it contains prayers of punishment. It seems embarrassing to many Christians: aren’t we called to love our enemies? Yes. The reason we can love our enemies is because we are sure of God’s justice. The New Testament did not shy away from the fulfillment of justice. Why should we? In the end, all wrongdoings will be repaid and those who suffer will be delivered. That is our hope. Because of this, we do not have to take justice into our own hands. God vindicates us. Jesus took our sin, inability and wounds upon himself, so we could be free to forgive and love.
When I was at the bottom of the river, I prayed, “Jesus, forgive my sins. Save me!” Somehow, the faith of a child was so strong at that moment that I really had peace in my heart. The next thing I knew, I woke from unconsciousness, surrounded by family. I did not know what happened, but to this day I remember the assurance I had at the bottom of the waters. I knew I had a God who was able to save, not only in this life, but also in eternity.
We are living in a very difficult time, but we have a God who has lived and is living through hardship for us and with us. Salvation is coming. Let us not stop our plea or protest, for redemption is on the way.
Rachel Chen (a pseudonym) grew up in southeastern China, but she and her family currently live in Texas.
Hear us, O God! Save us, especially our brothers and sisters who are under unjust attacks and oppression. Lord, you understand and are able to sympathize with us. May you count our tears and put them in a bottle to cherish them. May your Holy Spirit work within us, so we do not despair or grow weary. Give us strength and power to journey through this dark season. Lift up our spirits so we may see your glory! In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen!