The progression of thought in Psalm 69 seems simple enough to understand. David begins by casting himself before God seeking respite from life’s overwhelming circumstances (1-3). And while we aren’t told many specifics, we do know he is living under the burden of an unjust accusation (4) for which his main concern is that other followers of God are not shamed due to his circumstances (6-8). He prays for God’s love and that his shame would be transferred to his enemies (9-28) before he concludes by stating that in spite of his pain he will still praise God (29-36). In many ways, this is a psalm much like others that have preceded it, but there is also a sense in which this psalm brings us something new.
If you review the previous paragraph, you may have noticed I omitted verse 5 from my outline. This is not because verse 5 is unimportant, rather it is because depending on how verse 5 is read, the psalm holds different meanings, making it the key verse for understanding the psalm. It reads as follows:
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. (69:5)
David, in the midst of false accusations, offers to God the fact that he is a sinful person and has done many wrong things, all of which he acknowledges God is aware. At first glance, it doesn’t seem to make sense for David to write about his real sin when penning a psalm primarily concerned with false accusations. For, if he was innocent of the accusations laid before him, why bring up the fact that he was not innocent of other sins?
I suppose there are a couple of possible answers. The first coming to mind is that David believed it was important to affirm that he was not perfect. He knows we cannot stand in the face of accusations and say we have never sinned. By him acknowledging his sinful nature he is kept humble. But, as true as this might be, I don’t think this explanation fully grasps why David included verse 5.
The second possibility and the one that I find more likely is that David struggled with separating his guilt resulting from sinful actions from the shame resulting from a sinful nature. Even though he was not guilty of sin in this instance, he knew his nature was flawed. Furthermore, I think it possible that the false accusation might have been consistent with the sinful things he was tempted to do on a daily basis. In other words, the false accusations were consistent with his character flaws.
Let’s look at a different example. Imagine you are accused of stealing, but you and most everyone you know realize that stealing is not something about which you are usually tempted. You might be distraught about such an accusation, but somewhere deep down you know the accusation will eventually be proven false. But, on the other hand, if stealing is something for which you are daily tempted and something that you have done in the past, no matter how hard you protest, doubt arises in the minds of others as to whether you are guilty of theft and whether you are now lying. For you, however, your struggle is not with doubt, but with a paralyzing fear that arises in your mind. You fear being found out by those who don’t know you. You fear being rejected. You fear being discarded. But most of all, you fear that your prayers for relief will not be heard because of the shameful nature with which you live.
This is why I believe verse 5 is the key verse of Psalm 69. It changes the psalm from a request for justice in the world into a heartfelt cry for freedom from guilt and shame, thus becoming a prayer for inner peace.
David doesn’t allow himself to search down empty avenues for inner peace, rather he prays that God’s love and salvation would bring it to him (13) even though he is still afflicted and living in pain. As easy as it might be, he doesn’t mope around in the shadow of his sinful nature awaiting salvation, rather his voice sings out praise (29-33) in spite of the inner war he is waging.
This struggle is also a battle I believe Paul waged, given his past persecution of the church. Note his words in Romans 8:18-25,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing…in hope that it will be set free from its bondage to corruption…and not only creation but we ourselves…groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoptions as sons…with patience.
I think this is the defining battle of our lives. Will we live life mired down in the deep waters of our own shameful past, or will we let it go, press on, and look for the prize of abundant life in Christ that is set before us?