Psalms of Lament
The psalms of lament are all about Christ.
Psychical Christians love the lament psalms. Spiritual voyeurs, they scour the wailing prayers, the engulfing floods, the dimmed spirit and eyes, arrogating them as their very own. They hold fast to the belief that these sacred, sacred hymns give them license to raise their fist to God's face. As one Biblical Studies professor writes in a leading Christian magazine, "I . . . understood that the lament psalms gave me permission to complain to God." Grappling with what he characterizes as a crushing work load, he intones, "I could resonate with this cry from David:
I have come into deep waters;
The floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
My throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
Looking for my God. (Ps 69:2, 3)
Do we really think that God's own Spirit inspired these psalms to give us a platform to complain? To the One who sought to save us?
The Apostle Paul says no. In Philippians he writes, no, instructs, us that we should think on those things that are true and honorable and just and pure and gracious. In Colossians he tells us to think on those things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. This is hardly the stuff of breathing out invectives to God.
So what of these psalms, these laments? What are they doing in the book? Why did the Spirit of God inspire a psalmist to write like a man who has been stretched beyond himself, seemingly even beyond death, who agonizingly tarries for a far-off deliverance?
Even a superficial reading of Psalm 69 shows that the psalm isn't about us. It's not even about the psalmist.
Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God. (Ps 69:1–3)
You cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows passed over me.
The waters closed in over me;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped around my head
at the roots of the mountains. (Jonah 2:3, 5)
Notice how Psalm 69, the psalm used by the Bible professor as the template for his workload grievance, echoes the prayers of Jonah. We understand from scripture that Jonah is a type of Christ.
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
many are those who would destroy me,
my enemies who accuse me falsely. (Ps 69:4)
But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfill the word that is written in their law, "They hated me without cause." (Jn 15:25)
Here we see Jesus telling the disciples how Psalm 69:4 was fulfilled in his own earthly ministry.
I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother's children. (Ps 69:8)
He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity . . . (Is 53:3)
God showed Isaiah six hundred years into the future, where he saw the root of Jesse being mocked and spit upon by his own people.
It is zeal for your house that has consumed me;
the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me. (Ps 69:9)
His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." (Jn 2:17)
Near the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus made a whip of cords, entered the Temple, and ravaged it, driving out the moneychangers. His disciples remembered the first line of Psalm 69:9.
For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." (Rom 15:3)
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, encouraging them to bear up the weak in the midst of persecution, showed them that Psalm 69:9a were the first-person words of Christ himself.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Ps 69:21)
A jar of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. (Jn 19:29)
Standing at the foot of the cross, John watched the fulfillment of Psalm 69 happen right before his eyes as the Israelites took a sponge of vinegar and held it up to Jesus' mouth.
May their camp be a desolation;
let no one live in their tents. (Ps 69:25)
(Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. This became known to all the residents of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Hakeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of the psalms, "Let his homestead become desolate and let there be no one to live in it." (Acts 1:18–20)
Luke, along with all the other disciples, understands one of the last verses of the psalm to be a prophecy of Judas's betrayal of the Lord.
The lament psalms aren't an ancient license for the Christian to pillory God along his walk of salvation. They are prophecies and echoes of the Messiah, pieces of the heroic mosaic of Christ's passion. When we understand this, we'll have no desire to complain to God about anything.