Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
“God helps those who help themselves.”
“Sometimes God will deliver you from the fire, and other times he will make you fireproof.” – Joel Osteen
“Instructions from Jesus will always yield favorable results.” – Creflo Dollar
“Who sinned that this man was born blind, this man or his parents? – The Apostles
During my undergraduate studies I spent a semester in Uganda. This small, beautiful, Eastern African country is well known in the west for the Lord’s Resistance Army, child soldiers, and poverty. What many don’t know about is the resilience of the people, the hospitality of the families, and the beauty of the land.
Yet one plague remains…
Throughout Uganda you will see many preachers on TV. In fact, you’ll see many American preachers. The problem is, they’re not preachers like Adam Hamilton or Brian Zahnd, they’re the ones quoted above… Uganda is plagued by the Prosperity Gospel. So much so that families would spend their life savings to go and see these prosperity preachers.
If only that these phrases were true… The first quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin traces its origins back to ancient Greece. The Prosperity Gospel, Health and Wealth Gospel, whatever you want to call it, is no modern construct. It is an ancient theology that was absolutely present during Second Temple Judaism. If you were faithful, there’s no way God would let harm befall you. If harm did befall you, you must not be faithful! Hence the disciples’ inquiry.
This theology is still so present through celebrity preachers. It’s a dangerous theology that is all too easy to promote because it only makes sense, right? Why would a good God let harm come to those who live faithfully? It’s a cheap and pervasive theology.
While many are able to do some Biblical Hoolahooping with various passages to justify Health and Wealth, Psalm 69 is not one of them…
Akin to Psalm 22, Psalm 69 is a psalm of lament. It is a psalm of sorrow. And it is a psalm of faithfulness.
Our lection can be divided in two; verses 7-12 and 13-18. The first section deals not only with the source of lament, but also the relational fallout. While God is not to blame for what the psalmist experiences, it is, nonetheless, for God’s sake (v7). From the start things are bad… Within a culture of clans and extended families, being alienated from one’s own siblings brings the most shame. One might be able to overlook the songs of the drunkards or the gossip of those at the gate, but not the estrangement of one’s own kin.
The second section, 13-18, shifts in focus from personal lament to divine response. The psalmist seeks rescue not vindication. There is call for vengeance or retribution. There is a call for the steadfast love of God.
As others have pulled away, as others have neglected, the psalmist cries out for God to step in. Where companions are absent the prayer is that God would be present. Most notable here is the contrast between verse 8 and 18. It would have been the family that would redeem. The Hebrew here is ga’al which is properly translated to redeem but also literally means next of kin or kinship. The psalmist is asking God to be for him what his siblings aren’t.
Truly, this passage defies our propensity towards prosperity. It isn’t because of the psalmist’s unfaithfulness that he is put to shame, alienated, and insulted. It is, in fact, because of his faithfulness! Because the author has chosen to live faithfully, others ridicule and chastise.
Regarding this passage as prophetic may be inappropriate, but recognizing Christ here certainly is appropriate. Considering prophets like Jeremiah or the Suffering Servant, this Psalm could have just as easily come off of Jesus’ lips. Because of his unwavering faithfulness, Christ endured ultimate suffering. This Psalm states explicitly what Christ’s life teaches; the connection between faithfulness and suffering is tenuous at best. An increase in one does not mean a decrease in the other.
The great resolution to this isn’t a properly systematized understanding of theodicy, or justification of evil. The great resolution is, as the psalmist declares, the very presence of God. “Answer me, turn to me, don’t hide from me, draw near to me.”
Pastor, Hastings Church of the Nazarene