Psalm 22: the psalm of the cross
Psalm 22 For the director of music. To the tune of "The Doe of the Morning." A psalm of David. (1) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (2) My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. (3) Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. (4) In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. (5) To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (6) But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. (7) All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. (8) "He trusts in the LORD," they say, "let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." (9) Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast. (10) From birth I was cast on you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. (11) Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. (12) Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. (13) Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. (14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. (15) My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. (16) Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. (17) All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. (18) They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. (19) But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. (20) Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. (21) Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. (22) I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. (23) You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! (24) For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. (25) From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. (26) The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the LORD will praise him- may your hearts live forever! (27) All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, (28) for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. (29) All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him- those who cannot keep themselves alive. (30) Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the LORD. (31) They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!
Oh for grace to draw near and see this great sight! We should read reverently, putting off our shoes from off our feet, as Moses did at the burning bush, for if there be holy ground anywhere in Scripture it is in this psalm.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
If you love Jesus, then you recognize these first words and many of the latter statements. Perhaps the words cause your heart to sting a bit, as they do mine.
David cried these words long before his “Greater Son” did so on the cross. What was happening in his life that would cause him to cry out to God in such a tormented way? Not only can you feel the fear and pain in his words, but there’s a great cry of abandonment, of being cast aside, like when someone you love turns their back on you.
Not just- “God, where are you?” But- “My God, my God, why?”
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Psalm 22:1
Let us remember that David was chosen by God to be king of His people when he was possibly ten years old. And then, David feared for his life for twenty years before he was finally crowned king of Judah around the age of thirty. He lived in caves; he ran for his life. There were probably many times when he could have cried these words to God.
Friends, do you have a prayer that you’ve prayed for many years? Have you prayed for the salvation of someone you love? For healing? Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Have you felt like He turned His back on you?
Here’s the deal: My God, your God, David’s God has not and will never abandon you, will never turn His back on you, will never cast you aside. And here’s why we can speak with confidence . . .
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" (which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). Matthew 27:45-46
Jesus was a Jew. He would have grown up hearing and memorizing the Scriptures, especially the songs of David. Jesus quoted David’s words when I was dying on the cross. Did he recite the whole thing? Were there other words He spoke to the Father in His time of greatest need?
Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of Psalm 22, and He knew it.
But friends, here is the piece we must now remember, although it is hard to hear:
It was necessary that [Jesus] should feel the loss of his Father’s smile- for the condemned in hell must have tasted that bitterness and therefore the Father closed the eye of his love, put the hand of justice before the smile of his face, and left his son to cry, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
Jesus was not a sinner; He had never known that sting of guilt and regret. But He took it all. He carried the weight of my sin and your sin and the sins of the world onto His shoulder that day 2000 years ago.
And the Father turned away.
For that couple of agonizing hours, Jesus was utterly alone and abandoned . . . with the weight of my sin on His shoulders.
As horrible as this was, it is done, and Jesus fulfilled God’s perfect and loving plan of redemption for His children.
And that is why Bible commentators have titled this psalm, “The Psalm of the Cross.” Whatever David was experiencing when he wrote this psalm pales in comparison to what was done on the cross that day for you and for me.
There are more things that point to Jesus on the cross, prophesies of how it would happen. David would not have known this, but the Jewish people of Jesus’s time would have recognized it, and certainly, (although maybe after the fact) Jesus’s own disciples.
Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircle me; they pierce my hands and feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. Psalm 22:16-18
Jesus knew what was coming for Him, His whole life. He knew this not because of David’s psalm, but because He has always been with the Father. How horrible. But also, how much true and genuine love?
David goes on to remember that God has been faithful. There have been other psalms like this beginning with great pain, fear, or a plea for help only to turn to reminders of God’s faithfulness. And therefore, a good reminder for us also that when we felt alone, like God isn’t listening or answering, we need to remember the times that He has been faithful.
Despite his fear and worry, David remembered and clung to God’s faithfulness to him.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, you and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. Psalm 22:3-5 ESV
David speaks of the glory of God throughout the rest of the psalm. The Lord will reign, and all the nations will praise Him. Did Jesus recite these words too while He suffered on the cross? Although God had turned His face away, Jesus still had the words of the Lord in His heart. He knew the promises.
Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generations, they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it. Psalm 22:30-31 ESV
What a beautiful tragic reminder to us to read the Word of God. As Jesus suffered on the cross and the Father turned away, He held those words and promises in His heart.
Let us do the same. If you have not read the Bible, my friends, can I encourage you to start today? Start at the beginning. Sure, you will get bogged down in parts, and it will take you more than a year. But you will meet God there, in His Word.
Also, let us memorize Scripture. Ancient Israel knew the power behind reciting scripture. I believe Jesus did too. Why have we lost this?
In times of trial and fear and worry, remember God’s faithfulness. Recite His words and His promises. Here’s one to start us off:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
Father in heaven, thank you for the promise that you will never leave us. Thank you for sending Jesus to take our sin on the cross, therefore the reassurance that no matter where we go or what we are going through, that you will never turn your face from us. Thank you for this act of great love for us. Help us to treasure this always. Please give us strength today. Amen.