Augustine. Exposition on the Book of Psalms. Schaff, Philip (editor). New York: Christian Literature Publishing Co, 1886. Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers: Series 1: Volume VIII. Re-published 2014, Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle electronic edition, ISBN-13: 978-1-78379-372-3.
Augustine finds Psalm 69 to speak of Christ’s humiliation and, by some extension, of our trials (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329400). Change, mentioned in the title of the Psalm, is universal. Yet it is not all from the same source. “That we have been changed then for the worse, to ourselves let us ascribe: that for the better we are changed, let us praise God” (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329410).
Augustine notes that the Hebrew word “Pascha” is different from the Greek word “Paschein,” which means to suffer. The Hebrew word simply refers to a passage, such as Jesus going back to the Father (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329415). He brings this up because of the importance of change in the Psalm.
The call for deliverance, in verse one, reflects a cry that the followers of Jesus make often, though not always from a fear of drowning. Troubles which threaten us do surround us, as Augustine illustrates by the lives of martyrs (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329430). The reference to “clay” in verse two suggests to Augustine the creation of humans, but being “of the deep” suggests the fall into sin (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329446). The verse further makes mention, in English versions, of “no standing.” Augustine’s version speaks of having “no substance,” which he takes to speak of God, who is of great substance (value) but no substance (incorporeal) (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329456). Augustine continues to briefly describe the nature of the Trinity in terms of substance. Augustine then affirms that through the fall into sin the substance of our security before God was broken, resulting in an inability to gain a solid footing (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329476).
Verse three speaks of the fatigue of crying out to God as we wait. Augustine immediately considers this in terms of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ suffering and death (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329491). His conclusion, however, is that Jesus cried out frequently and never tired of it and that his hope in God did not fail him. The verse therefore seems to speak of “the Body, not the Head” - Christians, not Christ (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329506). He likewise takes verses 4-5 as speakingof Christians, who are opposed for no good cause and who sin before God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329516). The call of verse six likewise asks that the whole body of Christ may not be hindered because of the failings of one.
Opposition comes, in verse seven, for God’s sake. The revilings we receive should come due to our dedication to Christ rather than from our sin. Augustine is clear that we should have no shame about living for Christ, though others will attempt to treat us as shameful (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329541).
Verse eight turns us back to attention on Christ, who was treated as an alien and a stranger (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329546). Augustine uses verse nine to describe the fact that those who despise God the Father also despise God the Son. This, along with the other aspects of Christ’s humiliation, brought him mourning and sorrow (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329556). Christ became a person scorned, someone to be insulted in public by drunkards (vv. 11-12). Here Augustine does suggest the Christian is in the same condition, due to the animus against Christ (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329577).
The response to scorn is prayer to God (v. 13). Augustine points out that prayer is made based on God’s abundant mercy, which is the only way of overcoming our sin (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329582). The Psalm returns here to the image of water and mud, asking God to have mercy. The deep pit of our sin is able to swallow us (v. 15) but God is able to rescue us. The call, then, continues in verse 16, that God would hear and answer in accord with his mercy, which is “sweet.” Augustine explains the relief and comfort found in the mercy of God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329613). Again, in verse 16, we ask God to help because of his great mercy, not because of our great sin.
There is a place for calling upon God for help based on sin, but that is the sin of the enemies. In verses 18-19 the adversaries are standing before God in their sin. Therefore we ask God to deal with that sin, as it harms our adversaries (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329644). Augustine is clear that the goal is the conversion of the adversaries.
Verses 20-21 speak to the sorrow of God in Christ, as there were none prepared to receive his mercy (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329663). Though there was lamentation among Jesus’ followers at his death, they all deserted him in their sorrow. Rather than consolation, in verse 21, Jesus was given a bitter drink (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329683). (We note here the verse numbers in this translation are one verse ahead of English versions).
Verse 22 asks that the adversaries of Christ be caught in their own trap. Augustine is clear that it would be far better for them to turn away (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329704). However, their intention is steadfast. Augustine sees this as a just reward, a natural result. They try to flee from the presence of God, but will be overtaince God’s presence is everywhere (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329724). Augustine observes that the Jews lost their place in Jerusalem after opposite Christ and having him executed (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329729). The penalty for rejecting God is thus very serious. Verse 27 describes this in terms of iniquity being piled onto iniquity. Sin begets sin (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329754). The failure to remove iniquity results in decay. Those in verse 28 who wished to be blotted out from God’s book of life receive their wish. Again, this is a natural result of the rejection of God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329774).
Verse 29 shifts the focus back from the adversaries to the Christian (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329784). Augustine speaks of God’s blessing upon those who are poor in spirit and humble. They receive God’s riches. The praises of God, in verse 31, are more valuable in God’s sight than rich offerings. God listens to the poor, so Augustine exhorts his readers to make themselves poor in spirit, humble before God (Augustine Psalms, loc. 329815). God will then save his people.