I remained in my seat as the lecture hall began to empty. Class was over, but I was too busy flipping back and forth in my Bible between the books of Matthew and Acts, reading and rereading about the demise of Judas.
Had the betrayer hanged himself, as Matthew reports (Matthew 27:5)? Or did he fall over headlong before his guts poured out, as Luke says (Acts 1:18)? Had Judas bought the field where he died (Acts 1:18)? Or had the chief priests purchased the land (Matthew 27:7)? Did it make a difference?
As the professor was making his way to the back of the room to leave, I took the opportunity to ask what he thought. He told me the two accounts described the same events, that they could be reconciled without too much trouble.
It seems Judas “went away and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5) from a tree in a certain field. The branch that held him broke, and “there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out” (Acts 1:18). Later, the chief priests used “the payment [Judas] received for his wickedness” (Acts 1:18) after “he threw the money into the temple” (Matthew 27:5) “to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners” (Matthew 27:7) in Judas’ name. And “they called that field in their language Akeldama, that is Field of Blood” (Acts 1:19).
I left class that day a little dizzy from the Bible-page flipping but more or less satisfied. I understood that two writers could describe events differently and both be accurate. That night, however, I tripped over Judas again. Reviewing Acts 1, something Peter said to the other disciples jumped out at me: “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas…. It is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it’” (vv. 15, 20).
That quotation is from Psalm 69:25, only there the pronouns are plural—“May their place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in their tents” (emphasis added). Whatever Peter saw in this passage that made him think of Judas, I was somehow missing. There didn’t seem to be a connection between David’s plea for God to deal with his enemies and Judas’ Field of Blood.
Reading through Psalm 69, there are other connections with the New Testament that don’t quite make sense at first. For example, David writes, “Zeal for your house consumes me” (v. 9), meaning he longs to worship in God’s presence. But John says that when Jesus overturned the tables in the temple courts and chased folks out with a whip, His disciples remembered this verse as a prophecy Jesus was in that moment fulfilling (John 2:17). Wait—what?
Reading on, there are more:
- David says his enemies gave him vinegar when he was thirsty (Psalm 69:21); all four gospel writers note that Jesus was offered wine vinegar on the cross (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:29).
- David laments his enemies hate him without reason (Psalm 69:4); Jesus references this complaint, saying the world’s hatred of Him and the Father were a fulfillment of David’s words (John 15:25).
- David says to God, “The insults of those who insult you fall on me” (Psalm 69:9); in Romans, Paul cites this verse as an example for believers, indicating it was lived out in the life of Christ (Romans 15:1–3).
- David wants his enemies to stumble into a trap, to be blinded, and to be hunched over in pain (Psalm 69:22–23); Paul says that the Jewish people who hardened their hearts against Christ stumbled over him and suffer from spiritual blindness (Romans 11:9–10).
The thing is, I would never read Psalm 69 and see these applications—not in a thousand years. It seems the New Testament writers bent and twisted the verses in order to make the puzzle pieces fit where they needed them.
But that’s just the way it seems.
The writers of the New Testament didn’t spew their words into a vacuum, void of criticism and naysayers. They wrote to people who, for the most part, knew the Old Testament or had access to it. If these “prophecies” fulfilled made little sense to their readers, they would have been dismissed out of hand, perhaps along with the gospel message being communicated.
All of the New Testament writers we’ve mentioned suffered for their faith. Most of them were martyred. Their lives were on the line when they put pen to paper (or stylus to papyrus, rather). This was not a game, and no one would be so reckless as to create non-sensical prophecies out of thin air. There would be nothing to gain, and such work would go against their God-given mission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18–20).
When they appealed to Psalm 69, the did so on common ground with their first readers. It appears that this psalm, though originally penned about David, came to be understood as a prophecy about the life of Jesus. David was a type of Christ, a picture of Jesus, even if a blurry and imperfect one. Where the idea of seeing Jesus in Psalm 69 first came from we can’t be sure, but it caught on, apparently very early in the life of the Church. It may have even been started by Jesus Himself (Luke 24:27, 44).
There are many commentaries on the Old Testament, but there is only one that is inspired by the Holy Spirit: the New Testament. So when we come up against something that seems off to us, we can be sure that it is we who are misaligned and not the New Testament.
This approach to Scripture involves a bit of faith and trust, but it is, in truth, the only way to read the Old Testament. I’m confident that if David were here, he’d agree.