Psalm 22 – Psalm of the Sob

Although the title reads, “A Psalm of David,” the events described in this Psalm cannot be about David himself. Nothing is ever recorded about David’s garments being gambled for, nor the piercing of his hands and feet. There are no episodes in David’s life which would lead us to believe he is here describing his own personal sufferings. What is shared in Psalm 22 is far beyond any of David’s own experiences. It is impossible to miss the fact that the Psalmist is referring to a man who is in agony, and he describes the depths of that suffering. If it is not a description of what Jesus went through on the cross, then what is it? The Psalm shows the innermost thoughts of God’s Son and His firm faith in His Father amid the severest physical and psychological pain.

The language of the Psalm cannot be figurative, because if the suffering described here were symbolic, it would be meaningless. Nor could this Psalm be referring to the Jews and their sufferings in Babylon, for crucifixion was unknown in that era. The events described in Psalm 22 cannot refer to any other historical person than Messiah. The Jews have always wrestled with this Psalm because they cannot comprehend the concept of a suffering Messiah. But it has always been the prevailing opinion throughout two thousands years of Christianity that Psalm 22 is Messianic. When a Jew admits this Psalm is Messianic, he or she admits that the sufferings therein described were perfectly fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Add to this the fact that several of the verses in Psalm 22 are directly referred to in the New Testament. In Matthew 27:46, Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” In Matthew 27:43, we find how Jesus’ enemies taunted him as described in Psalm 22:7-8.  Jesus’ garments are gambled for in John 19:24 (Psalm 22:18) and John clearly states that this is a direct fulfillment of that event as described in this Psalm. 

From Psalm 22 we learn that Jesus was hated by many. But though His enemies were fierce and His sufferings intense, He was confident God would hear Him. The words of Psalm 22 are often abrupt, for David describes His terrible agony, uttered under stress which was almost unbearable.

Verse 1:  “Why have you forsaken me?”

The thought here is, “Why have you left me to suffer alone?” It is clear that Jesus felt as if He was forsaken, but there is nothing to suggest that the Father ever forsook His Son, even for a micro-second. It is often preached that the Father had to “abandon” or “turn His back” on His Son while He was on the cross in order to accept His sacrifice for sins. But there is no Bible verse that remotely suggests this is true. His anguish is the point, not some “theology of abandonment.” It seems that Jesus could handle the betrayal, the arrest, the trials, the scourging, the mocking, the crown of thorns, the shame and the spitting…but to feel forsaken by His heavenly Father was a horrible, overwhelming experience.

“Why are you so far from the word of my roaring?”

The Psalmist refers to the roaring of a lion as he describes Jesus’ screams of agony on the Cross. The question here is put to One who seemed not to hear, or stood far off and would not help the suffering one. It depicts a loud cry for deliverance. Bear in mind that this is no ordinary human who is suffering, but the Son of God Himself.  How can we understand what He went through? Psalm 22 is but a small window into which we can look and glimpse His pain. But the “why” of Jesus’ vicarious atonement for sin cannot be fully answered in our life here on earth. That is why the Book of Revelation describes the myriads around the throne, praising the Lamb of God throughout eternity. 

Verse 2: “I cry in the daytime”
This seems to refer to a deeper emotional pain than crying throughout the night. The Psalmist indicates that the crying is constant, but seemingly unheard.

“but you don’t hear me”
“Although I’m never silent, you don’t respond to my cries. It seems that you do not hear me. You permit me to suffer without being rescued.”

Verse 3: “But you are holy” 
The concept here is one of unwavering trust in God, despite God’s silence. “I don’t blame you, God. I still have unwavering trust in you. Though I receive no answer from You, You are still righteous.” The picture here is of a man who continues to have confidence in God, though his prayer request is delayed or denied.

Verse 4: “Our fathers trusted in Thee”
‘We know you have intervened before through the lives of our forefathers. You’ve sent us Moses, Joshua and the Judges. You have identified yourself with us in our sufferings. We know that you can help us now as you have in the past. Since You have not changed, you won’t forsake me now.’

Verse 5: “They cried to you and were delivered; they trusted and were not confounded”
The word “confounded” can be interpreted “ashamed.” This refers to the shame that would come if they trusted in a powerless God. “We came with our empty vessels and were not disappointed, because you filled them. We are not confused because we are not disappointed in you.”

Verse 6: “But I am a worm and not a man”
The Psalmist describes One who sees himself as a lowly insect, not worthy of God’s notice. “I am treated as the least significant of all things, unworthy of the attention of God or man.”

“and despised by the people”
“Those who know my sufferings put me down.”

Verse 7: “All they that see me laugh me to scorn”
“They deride and mock me.”  We read in Matthew 27:39 that “they who passed by reviled Him.”

“They shoot out the lip”
“They open wide their mouths, they stretch their mouths in derision, mocking and scorning Me.”  We see the same thought in Job 16:10, “They opened wide their mouth against me.”

“They shake their heads”
Their body language was that of derision and bigotry.  Matthew 27:39 makes it clear that this happened exactly as was predicted in Psalm 22.

Verse 8: “He trusted in God that He would deliver him.”
The Hebrew term means “He rolled himself on the Lord.” The idea here is one who is carrying a heavy burden, but is able to roll it off on another who is willing to bear it. It conveys the thought of committing or entrusting something to another. The same word is found in Psalm 37:5 – “Commit thy way unto the Lord” – that is, “Roll thy way upon the Lord.”  But note that the language here is the taunting of His enemies. It is the accusation that, though He rolled Himself on the Lord (had confidence in God), God didn’t carry his burden.  In Matthew 27:43, the mockers said, “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him, if He will have Him!” The unbelieving Jews taunted Jesus, not knowing they were fulfilling prophecy. They were proving He was Messiah by what they were unwittingly quoting from this Psalm.

“Let him deliver him”
“Let God deliver this one who claims to be so close to Jehovah!”

“Seeing he delighted in him”
“Let His Father demonstrate His love for this crucified man by rescuing Him!”

No one knows how deeply our Lord Jesus suffered within His spirit as He hung there for our sins. As a child, Jesus would have read the passages in the Law and the Prophets concerning Himself. The fact that He knew, throughout His life, that He was headed for this intense suffering makes us love our Jesus all the more.

Verse 9: “But you took me out of the womb”
Jesus is saying here to His Father, “You brought me into the world.” It is a reference to His Incarnation.

“You gave me hope when I was very young”
This refers to Jesus’ upbringing, for the Hebrew term here refers to the early years of childhood.
Verse 10: “I was cast upon you from the womb”
“I am thankful for your preservation and protection.”  The Father protected Jesus from Herod’s wrath when He was an infant…and from Satan’s temptations when He was an adult.

“You are my God from my mother’s womb”
This a similar thought to the one in verse nine.

Verse 11:  “Don’t be far from me”
“Don’t leave me.”

“For trouble is near”
Jesus had an awareness of the type of death that awaited Him at the end of His earthly life.

“For there is none (no human being) to help me”
Jesus had His disciples, but they could not spare Him the death on the cross.

Verse 12: “Bulls have compassed me”
“Fierce men, like wild bulls, are all around Me.”

“Strong bulls of Bashan”
Bashan was an area given to the half-tribe of Manasseh, east of Jordan and north of Gilead. Its rich pasture is often referred to in Old Testament (Isaiah 2:13). The bulls of Bashan were famous for their size, strength and fierceness. David uses this analogy to compare them to the overpowering strength of Jesus’ enemies.

Verse 13: “They gape upon me with their mouths”
“They have opened their mouths against me, as if they would devour Me.”

“As a ravening and roaring lion”
The word “ravening” refers to a lion tearing at his prey as he devours it. It depicts the fierceness with which Jesus’ enemies sought his life.

Verse 14: “I am poured out like water”
This is a reference to the “melting” or powerlessness of one’s heart in the midst of despair.  “The hearts of the people became like water” (Joshua 7:5).

“All my bones are out of joint”
It is literally impossible for all of one’s joints to be out of joint at the same time, so the term, like the one preceding it, must be figurative. The term means to “break off, to separate, to divide.” His heart wasn’t literally “melted”  nor was all of His bones “out of joint.”  The meaning here is that Jesus was powerless in His agony to use his physical strength to help Himself.

“My heart is like wax”
“My strength has left Me.” This further describes Jesus’ sense of weakness.

Verse 15: “My strength is dry like a potsherd”
“I am like a piece of pottery, brittle and easily.”

“My tongue cleaves to my jaws”
“My mouth is dry.”  Jesus cried from the cross “I thirst!”

“You have brought me to the dust of death”
The idea here is of returning to the earth in death.

Verse 16: “For dogs have surrounded me”
David compares those who killed their own Messiah as dogs: fierce, snarling and ferocious.

“The assembly of the wicked have enclosed me”
“I am surrounded on all sides.”  This brings to mind the arrest in the Garden, those surrounding Him at His trial and the hateful men who surrounded Him on Calvary.

Verse 16: “They have pierced my hands and feet”
This is a reference to the crucifixion process hundreds of years before this torture was invented. Although history records some crucified victims were tied to a cross, this verse proves that Messiah was nailed. To “pierce” means “to bore through.”  Again, such torture was never recorded as happening to David, so he must be referring to Christ’s agony, for it fits a scene of crucifixion perfectly.

Verse 17: “I can see all my bones”
“I can count my bones, for they are visibly protruding.”

“They stare at me”
Those referred to here as “they” are the same “they” as those who parted His garments in verse18.

Verse 18: “They part my clothing”
“They divide up my garments.”  We know from the Gospel account that the soldiers did this.

“For my vesture they cast lots”
“They gamble for the better parts of my clothing.”

Verse 19: “Don’t be far from me Lord”
“Be near to Me and sustain Me.”

“O my strength”
“The Source of my strength and life.”

“Haste to help me”
“Come to my support.”  This is not a prayer to be rescued, but rather a cry of despair.

Verse 20: “Deliver my soul from the sword”
It was not a sword that killed Jesus. The term “sword” here represents any instrument of death. David is comparing these sufferings to a sword piercing an individual and ending his life.

“My darling”
Jesus is referring to that which is most precious. His life and His soul are depicted here as something very dear.

“From the power of the dog”
Again, the enemy’s character is compared to that of a ravaging canine.

Verse 21: “Save me from the lion’s mouth”
Now His enemies are compared to ravening lions, as in verse 13.

“Save me”
Again, this is not a plea for deliverance from the Cross, but a plea for the Father to answer His prayer.

“From the horns of the unicorns”
Although only myths tell of horses with a horn extending from their foreheads, the Hebrew word here refers to the rhino.

Verses 16 through 21 tell of the horror the Son of God experienced as He was pinned to cross, feeling helpless and weak, as His enemies taunted Him. In our most horrible of situations, when our worst fears seem to overpower us, take heart from Jesus’ attitude in the final verses of this Psalm, victory, despite sufferings.

Verse 22: “I will declare thy name unto my brothers”
These were not Jesus’ literal brothers, but the family of the entire human race.

“In the midst of the congregation”
“Among the people assembled for worship.”  His work on the cross has caused billions of people throughout the past two millennia to assemble and praise God’s name.

Verse 23: “Ye that fear the Lord, praise him”
The word “fear” can be translated “respect”.  Praise God, if you respect Him.

Verse 24: “For he has not ignored me in my afflictions, nor hid his face from me”
“He has not forsaken me, nor permanently and completely abandoned Me.”  This is further proof that the Father never forsook His Son for a minute, although Jesus might have felt that way while on the Cross (verse 1).

“But he heard when I cried”
Jesus was aware, despite His agony, that the Father was indeed listening to His prayer.

Verse 25: “My praise shall be of thee in the great congregations”
“In the great assemblies of those who worship you.”

“I will pay my vows”
This is a reference to Jesus’ heartfelt commitment to honor His Father.
“I am indebted to you, Father, and I will obey.”

Verse 26: “The meek shall eat and be satisfied”
The “meek” here is a reference to those who are afflicted and distressed. God will give blessings and provision for those who feel forsaken.

“They will praise the Lord that seek him”
They will have good reason to, for the Father will vindicate them.

“Your heart shall live forever”
Jesus affirms that the heart of the Father is true, that His spirit will never die, faint or be discouraged. Since the heart of God is eternal, we should be encouraged by this knowledge.

Verse 27:  “All the ends of the world”
That is to say, all parts of the earth will have worshippers.

“And turn to the Lord”
Families all over the globe will surrender their lives to Him.

Verse 28: “For the kingdom is the Lord’s”
The world belongs to Him and all who dwell here.

Verse 28: “All they that be fat upon the earth”
All classes of people, the rich and the poor, those crushed and those who are prosperous are all in view here.

“Shall eat and worship…for none can keep his own soul alive”
This is a reference to the fact that we should be aware that God has the power of life and death. Therefore, we should not despair, but praise the Lord.

Verse 30: “A seed shall serve him”
A remnant shall be true to God. This is a reference to Christ’s Church, those who are born again. This Psalm should make you want to serve Him with all your heart.

“Shall be accounted for the Lord for a generation”
David points to a future generation of the people of God.

Verse 31: “They shall come and declare his righteousness unto a future people”
This is addressed to a generation yet unborn.

“That he hath done this”
What is the “this” that David refers to here? It is Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary, everything that he has described in Psalm 22.

This Psalm is as applicable to Jesus’ sufferings and death as is Isaiah 53. Although other Messianic passages may describe what happened to Jesus physically, Psalm 22 is unique in that it also describes what Jesus felt deep within His spirit. As we read this Psalm again, we have a window into Jesus’ soul to see the thoughts that passed through His mind as He hung there in my place, sacrificing Himself for my sins on the cross. We sense His sorrow at the thought of being separated from His Father, yet the complete underlying confidence is that His Father would never forsake Him. At the end of the Psalm, we read of Jesus’ assurance that His sacrifice and obedience would cause God’s people to praise the Lord throughout the earth in future generations. What a privilege to praise Him for redeeming us through His shed blood on the cross of Calvary.

Maxim of the Moment

Love’s demise is indifference.