Monday, October 25, 2021

Psalm 22

Psalm 22: Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Initial Thoughts

This Psalm describes a lament from David over undeserved suffering. Some of David’s psalms mention specific events in his life, so we can see what he was lamenting about, but in this case he doesn’t; it’s unspecified suffering. All we know is that:

  1. He’s suffering,
  2. It’s undeserved suffering, and
  3. He trusts in God throughout it all

That last part is emphasized throughout the psalm. Some psalms follow a pattern whereby the psalmist starts by crying out to God about their suffering and then talking about the fact that they trust in Him, but in this psalm David is constantly going back and forth between what he’s going through and his trust in God.

So it’s not a surprise that the New Testament writers apply this psalm to Jesus’ suffering and death so often; it’s quoted numerous times in the Gospels; the ESV Study Bible even provides a chart of verses from this psalm that are quoted just in Matthew 27 alone:

Verse in Psalm 22 (ESV) Verse in Matthew 27 (ESV)
18 They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots.
7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, “I am the Son of God.”
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

They also mention that there are some who take this psalm as a direct prediction/prophecy about Jesus, while others view it more as a straightforward lament which gains fuller meaning in Jesus’ sufferings. Personally, I don’t know that it’s necessary to be too dogmatic about whether it’s primarily a lament or primarily a prophecy; it is clearly both, in retrospect, and can be read in either light.

Regardless, let’s get into it…

The Psalm

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.

Already, right in the first verse, a Christian can’t read this without thinking of Jesus’ words on the cross, since he quoted these words directly. But this is a sentiment all of God’s people sometimes feel: things are going so badly that it seems like God has forsaken us. Where is He? Why doesn’t He answer our cries? The difference between Jesus and everyone else is that to us it only seems like God has abandoned us; we know that He never will, regardless of how our circumstances sometimes feel. But Jesus? God the Father really did abandon Jesus on the cross! He suffered, for that period of time, in a way that no other human ever has.

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.

And here David pivots his focus from his own sufferings to the God he serves. Yes, David is suffering right now, and it seems like God has abandoned him… but God is God! He is Holy; the nation of Israel has trusted Him (not always perfectly), and He has delivered them (over and over again).

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.”

David pivots back to his suffering, and the fact that he is so scorned, so despised, that he feels like a worm instead of a man! But David is also facing the same problem Job faced from his wife: he’s being mocked for trusting the LORD in the first place!

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.

… but the LORD has always been there for David—from the days that he was nursing at his mother’s breasts! So he can go to God and ask—beg?—that He not abandon David to his trouble.

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.

As David pivots back to his troubles, he gives a long, poetic view of the way he’s surrounded by those troubles. Given the poetic language, the bulls/lions/dogs may refer to people or just David’s troubles, I don’t know. (Poetry is not my strong suit—I’m not qualified to be blogging through the Psalms!) And of course, again, verse 18 reminds us of Jesus’ crucifixion: when David wrote this psalm it probably seemed like exaggerated language, that his troubles were so bad that people were actually stealing his clothes and dividing them up, yet it literally happened to Jesus. In fact, we’re told in the Gospels that both of these things happened: the guards divided up Jesus’ clothes among them, and they cast lots for his undergarments since they didn’t want to tear them. (See, for example, John 19:23–24—which refers back to this psalm.)

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.

Regardless of the problems facing David, he still goes to God for help and strength.

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!

David now promises to praise the LORD, and I do not read this as him saying he’ll praise the LORD in response for salvation—he’s just going to praise Him, period! I see David as making two statements in this psalm:

  1. He trusts in the LORD, and
  2. He will praise the LORD

These things are interdependent, it’s true, but I don’t see David as bargaining with the LORD, and saying, “if You save me from my troubles I’ll praise You.” He believes the LORD will save him, and that the LORD is worthy of his praise, but it’s not a tit-for-tat. In fact, this entire psalm is David praising God before He has saved David from his troubles! David is still suffering as he writes this psalm; David still feels forsaken by his God; but he is praising God regardless.

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!

David finishes the psalm by talking about the fact that it’s not just him, everyone will praise the LORD! To the ends of the earth! (Which means not just the Israelites/Jews, everyone. I’m not sure if even David fully understood that, even though his psalms sometimes foretold it…) And tying this back to Jesus’ work on the cross, again, it’s because of his suffering and death (and resurrection) that all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD.

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