# 220 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 69. Nobody knows!

Made famous by Louis Armstrong in the 1960s  (watch on YouTube @  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVKKRzemX_w ), “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” is an example of an African-American spiritual song that originated during the period of slavery in the USA. It went like this:

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows but Jesus

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Glory, Hallelujah

Sometimes I’m up

And sometimes I’m down

Yes, Lord, you know, sometimes I’m almost to the ground

Oh, yes, Lord,

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows but Jesus

Concerning these songs, “Frederick Douglass, himself a former slave [wrote in his book] My Bondage and My Freedom [that they were] …loud, long and deep, breathing the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of those wild notes always depressed my spirits, and filled my heart with ineffable sadness.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_(music)

In many ways they mirror the Lament Psalms (also known as Psalms of Complaint or Psalms of Disorientation). Psalm 69 is a good example of this type of Psalm. According to the title, it is attributed to David, although the occasion is unknown.

The psalm has some interesting and descriptive imagery, as the author describes as best as he can, just like the “spirituals”, his “bitterest anguish” and his “ineffable sadness.”  

He begins by describing his overwhelming troubles with an allusion to drowning in turbulent and deep waters:

Save me, O God,
    for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
    where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
    the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
    my throat is parched.

He then goes on to describe why he has this sense of drowning in his sorrows:

My eyes fail,
    looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason
    outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
    those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
    what I did not steal…

I am a foreigner to my own family,
    a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
    and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
10 When I weep and fast,  I must endure scorn;
11 when I put on sackcloth,
    people make sport of me.
12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
    and I am the song of the drunkards…

19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
    all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
    and has left me helpless;

I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
    for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
    and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

There is no doubt that this writer was in trouble! Most probably, it was often sung by God’s people over the millennia who could identify their own troubles with what he was suffering. Sung, in the same way the African/American Spirituals were sung. 

In singing the “spirituals”, the slaves were helped to express just how they felt about the “trouble I’ve seen”, but it also enabled them to see that there was hope, despite their problems. In the “spiritual” above the answer was that even though “nobody knows”, they had an assurance than there was One who understood – i.e. “Jesus”!

So, what hope did the psalmist have as he prayed? It came from his understanding of the divine attributes of God that he describes below:

13 But I pray to you, Lord,
    in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
    answer me with your sure salvation.
14 Rescue me from the mire,
    do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
    from the deep waters…

16 Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love;
    in your great mercy turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
    answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18 Come near and rescue me;
    deliver me
because of my foes…

29 But as for me, afflicted and in pain—
    may your salvation, God, protect me.

And so, considering these divine attributes, David has hope, and he is able to praise God as he says:

30 I will praise God’s name in song
    and glorify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox,
    more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
32 The poor will see and be glad—
    you who seek God, may your hearts live!

And, so he confidently says:

33 The Lord hears the needy
    and does not despise his captive people.

Then he proclaims:

34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
    the seas and all that move in them,
35 for God will save Zion
    and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;
36     the children of his servants will inherit it,
    and those who love his name will dwell there.

Broyles notes that this psalm “closes with hymnic praise that reaches cosmic proportions (heaven and earth, and the seas).”  (# 4)

Kidner says that this “psalm is yet another reminder that the most desperate of prayers can end, and rightly so, in doxology.” (# 29)

Are you one who “love[s] his name”?  If so, look forward to singing a doxology when this Covid-19 pandemic is all over!

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