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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 22

 

 

Introduction

As we come to this psalm we can only stop and wonder. For if we had found it as a fragment with no date attached in some Egyptian papyrus pile we would instantly have assigned its first half as a description of the crucifixion of Jesus (see Meditation following the commentary on the Psalm). The coincidences, we would have said, are too marked, the details too certain, for us to do otherwise. And this would be further supported by the fact that the consequences of the prayer of the one described here is the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God over the ‘poor/meek’ (Psalms 22:26; compare Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:5) and over the nations (Psalms 22:28).

And yet we know that it was written hundreds of years before He was born. We can only therefore consider it in awe and reverence as we consider its background and its source, and recognise in it God’s means of describing the sufferings of His Son long before the event, a description brought about through the experiences and ideas of the Psalmist.

The psalm is split into two major parts, parts which are in total contrast.

· Firstly we have the plaintive cry and pleas of one in great need and suffering (Psalms 22:1-22).

· These are then followed by words of praise for deliverance and a declaration of confidence in the coming future Kingly Rule promised by God (Psalms 22:23-31).

It is clear that we are to see the one as leading on to the other.

Various suggestions about its origin have been made. Some have seen in it the words of a man caught up in some dreadful and debilitating sickness, others as the words of a Davidic king being pursued and in despair, possibly even David himself, seemingly defeated and pressed in by the enemy, having lost hope, and also having lost the confidence of a majority of the people, with the leading men of the people having turned against him in scorn, and captivity and death staring him in the face. In the course of his nightmare he sees himself as a hunted animal, and visualises his final capture and the ignominious treatment that will be meted out to him. Possibly he visualises it in terms of some great chase during a hunt, when the hunted animal is subjected to a cruel death, and applying the idea to himself he cries out for deliverance.

Yet others see it as an ‘ideal’ picture of the righteous sufferer, describing the multitude of ways that such might suffer in the world preparatory to the bringing in of God’s righteous kingly rule. It may be compared in this way with Isaiah 53. And still others have seen it as the cry of the people of God in the awfulness of exile.

But as with Isaiah 53 it might be thought that any suggestion that takes away from it the idea of the awful sufferings of some particular individual must be wide of the mark, for the intensity of suffering is too real, and the despair too deep, for it to come from any other than personal experience.

Certainly the heading connects the psalm with the house of David. We might well therefore see it as initially true of David himself in the days of his persecution by Saul, or of one of his descendants in a time of great crisis and defeat. Its inclusion in worship would then show that it could be seen as continuing to apply to the house of David as it went through its traumas of history. At any time they could find themselves facing a similar experience, and could have the same hope. For YHWH was the deliverer of the weak and helpless in the face of the enemy.

And as such it can above all be interpreted Messianically, (as it is also at Qumran), as preparing for the day when great David’s greater Son will endure precisely such contradiction of sinners against Himself, for it was later recognised that the Son of Man must emerge from suffering to receive his throne (Daniel 7:14), and that the Messiah would be cut off and would have nothing (Daniel 9:25). It clearly also links with the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.

That Jesus applied the psalm to Himself is clear from His cry on the cross (Mark 15:34) which cites the first verse of the psalm, and John sees further fulfilment of it in terms of the distribution of Jesus’ clothing (Psalms 22:18 with John 19:24), while the words of those who put him to scorn are paralleled by bystanders at the cross. That there are many parallels between the Psalm and Jesus’ experience on the cross we will see as we consider the psalm in detail. For here we have God writing the story prior to the event.

That Israel and Judah would also apply it to their own sufferings could also be guaranteed, but that does not necessarily signify that that was its source. That was the purpose of Psalms, to be applied to many cases. The Psalm may well, however, have been the inspiration for the expressions of suffering in Isaiah and Jeremiah as they recognised that God’s purposes would be achieved through suffering, especially in Isaiah’s vision of a suffering exalted One (Isaiah 52:13-15).

Heading.

‘For the Chief Musician; set to Aijeleth hash-Shahar. A Psalm of David.’

This is yet another Psalm offered to the organiser of the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and dedicated to David. As such it was intended to aid the worship of Israel, something which must be borne in mind when seeking to interpret its significance. It was intended to have a message for its day.

The tune Aijeleth hash-Shahar means ‘hind of the dawn’. If it indicated a hind stirred at break of day by the horns of the huntsmen, having to endure the chase and to die under the teeth of the hunting dogs and the spears of the huntsmen, exhausted and in complete hopelessness, it would be very fitting. Perhaps that was in the mind of the composer and/or the writer. If the writer thought in such terms it would help to explain some of the vivid language that follows.

However, one thing that stands out about this Psalm is that in all the despair there is (unusually) no confession of guilt. The one who prays does so as one who has no awareness of sin. He cries for vindication, not for forgiveness. It is a fitting picture of Jesus Christ Who alone could genuinely have prayed like this (see Meditation that follows).


Verse 1

The Cross.

‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from helping Me, and from the words of My loud groaning?’

These words were cited by Jesus on the cross. But we cannot see it as merely signifying that Jesus was taking comfort from the Psalm. It was rather because (if we may say it reverently) He had come to a new understanding of what the Psalmist was describing. From the torment of His soul as He bore on Himself the sins of the world He was aware of a sense of total desolation and torment, a sense of total isolation from His Father, and it came out in this cry. He felt that in His cry He had to pierce through the darkness, because He felt ‘God forsaken’. As has been well said, ‘God forsaken by God, who can understand it?’

He was not, of course, forsaken. He could still speak to MY God. And the very fact of His praying was a recognition of the fact that God was within hearing, even though appearing to be terribly far away. It rather therefore expressed the agony that He was facing, and the burden that He was bearing. It was the only prayer that Jesus ever made that He did not address to God as ‘Father’. Even in the agony of the Garden He had prayed ‘Abba, Father’. But now in the darkness of His soul, tormented by the sin of the world, He came as a suppliant to God, rather than as a Son to the Father. And for Him there was a genuine and very real sense of separation. In these moments He knew the awful intensity of the work that He had come to do, and the price that He had come to pay. He was taking on Himself all the agony deserved by mankind.


Verses 1-10

A Cry Of Despair From The Heart, From One Who Yet Hopes In God (Psalms 22:1-10).

Psalms 22:1

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring (groaning)?’

God is here spoken of as El, (Eli, Eli - my God, my God - in the Aramaic Eloi or Eli).

In context it should be recognised that this is not a total cry of despair, for hope is shortly expressed in God. But it is certainly an indication of the deep distress of the speaker. The dual ‘my God, my God’ is both an expression of faith (‘my’) and an indication of urgency (compare Isaiah 49:14). The writer cannot understand why he should be undergoing such torment of spirit, and why the miseries of life should have been so thrust on him. It would fit well with David’s worst periods in his flight from Saul as he felt himself being constantly hunted down by one whom he was aware was slightly mad, and who sought his life with the intensity of a madman.

What is worse the writer feels that his sufferings have gone on for far too long. God is still far from helping him, and he feels that his roaring like an animal in pain has apparently been in vain (compare Psalms 32:3; Psalms 38:8). None would know better than David the roaring in anguish of the lion as it was slain by the shepherd with no one to deliver it.

That Jesus applied it to Himself in the depths of His sufferings on the cross is not surprising. It would bring some comfort in the midst of His dreadful anguish and misery, as He faced alone the consequences of sin as they were laid upon Him, and the darkness of His struggles with the Enemy, to know that what He faced had already been foreshadowed in these words.

Psalms 22:2

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer,

And in the night season, and am not silent.’

The psalmist was experiencing his suffering and rejection day and night. He cried constantly to God, but he was seemingly not being heard. Daily his prayer would reach up to God, nightly he was in such despair that he could not sleep and utilised the time for more prayer. He could not be silent for his spirit was heavy in him.

This would certainly have been the experience of David, and it was so of many since. When a Christian is in despair as to why his prayers are seemingly not being answered he can take comfort from the thought that others have gone that way before, only to come out triumphant.

We may see here the daylight hours on the cross followed by the darkness that covered the whole earth when Jesus was being crucified. We cannot doubt that His cry to His God and Father was constant. It also reflects the darkness of Gethsemane when He could not be silent.

Psalms 22:3-5

‘But you are holy,

O you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel.

‘Our fathers trusted in you,

They trusted, and you delivered them.

‘They cried to you, and were delivered,

They trusted in you, and were not put to shame.’

The psalmist now calls on God in terms of what He is and in the light of his memories of Israel’s past. He knows that God is holy, set apart and distinct, right in all He does. He does not doubt, therefore, that what God allows must be good and that He will do what is right in this circumstance too. And this reminds him of how Israel had suffered in the past, but had in the end in their darkness always enjoyed God’s deliverance.

‘But you are holy.’ He gives pause for thought. He recognises that God is set apart and unknowable. There is no searching of His understanding. His ways are not our ways and therefore we must hesitate before we speak. ‘God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5:1). He must not prejudge God, and he can be sure that what this holy God does is right and that He will in the end save His people. Compare Habakkuk 1:12.

‘O you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel..’ For he knows too that He ‘is enthroned on the praises of Israel’. He is Israel’s God, and their covenant Lord and King, and they worship Him constantly and truly. He is sure therefore that He Who thus receives their worship and homage will not fail them.

‘‘Our fathers trusted in you. They trusted, and you delivered them. They cried to you, and were delivered, they trusted in you, and were not put to shame.’ His confidence is boosted by his knowledge of God’s mercies in the past. Here we have an indication that his troubles are not just personal. There are the whole people to consider. But their fathers had trusted in God, indeed had trusted threefold, (‘they trusted -- they trusted -- they trusted’) and God had never failed them. When they cried to Him at times when they were almost in despair that there could be any hope, they did not end up shamefaced, for in the end He always responded by delivering them. He could not fail to respond to threefold faith.

Therefore is he now confident that God will respond in this situation too, however bad it may seem. Certainly even as he fled from Saul David could see the despair of Israel. The Philistines were pressing in on them, demanding, in many parts, heavy tribute, and Saul was fighting against them a losing battle. Things looked bleak indeed.

And Jesus too on the cross, meditating on these words, knew better than any how good God had been to His people. Indeed was that not why He was there?

Psalms 22:6

‘But I am a worm, and no man,

A reproach of men, and despised of the people.

Yet the psalmist wants God to know the depths of the humiliation that he feels, and that he does not see himself sufficient to deliver Israel. He feels like a worm, writhing in the dust, treated with contempt, kicked and despised. He feels that he is not a man at all, but the lowest of the low, constantly under the reproach of men. And anyway they do not want him. They despise him.

Even a man like David would have known such moments of darkness and despair when all seemed lost and he felt like lying down in the dust and dying (compare Elijah’s cry in 1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 19:14). And this was the man after God’s own heart. But it is when man is at his lowest that God steps in to deliver.

And such was the treatment meted out to Jesus on the cross as He was treated as less than a human being, and as those who should have worshipped Him mocked instead and constantly reproached Him. He was treated as a worm.

The parallels with Isaiah are significant. There too YHWH’s servant was called a worm (Isaiah 41:14). There too the favoured of God was as one despised by men (Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 53:3). There too they shrank from him because he was scarcely human (Isaiah 52:14; Isaiah 53:2-3).

Psalms 22:7-8

‘All those who see me laugh me to scorn,

They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

‘Commit it to YHWH (literally ‘roll it on YHWH’), let him deliver him,

Let him rescue him, seeing he delights in him.’

The psalmist is aware of what people are saying about him. He feels deeply their scorn and their insults, and their despising of the faith that he had constantly asserted before them. In the good days he had declared his confidence in YHWH. Now they threw it back in his face. Their thought was, ‘Did not his present position show that they had been in the right and not him?’ So they laughed at him, mocking him. They made faces at him; they shook their heads in amused reproach (see Psalms 35:21; Job 16:4; Job 16:10; Lamentations 2:15). Where was his favoured position now? They committed him mockingly to YHWH. Let him roll his problem on YHWH. If YHWH really did really favour him, let Him now demonstrate it. But they were confident that He would not.

‘Seeing He delights in him.’ Previously his faith had made them feel uncomfortable. Now they retaliate with sarcasm. Did God really delight in him? Well they could see for themselves how true that was.

So might David well have felt with almost the whole of Israel against him, his popularity dissipated, and his rivals glad to see him gone. There is nothing like success for winning enemies, especially among rivals. And even more deeply would Jesus have felt it on the cross. He had come purposing only good, and they had rejected Him and treated Him as though He were evil, even mocking His Father’s purposes. These very things were done to Him and these very words were spoken against Him by His enemies round the cross (Matthew 27:39; Matthew 27:43). They did not realise that they were fulfilling prophecy and condemning themselves. ‘Laugh me to scorn.’ The verb in LXX is also used in Luke 23:35 of the rulers jeering at Jesus.

Psalms 22:9-10

‘But you are he who took me out of the womb,

You made me trust when I was on my mother's breasts.

I was cast on you from the womb,

You are my God since my mother bore me.’

But the psalmist is very much aware of God’s hand on his life and that, in spite of present circumstance, he did trust in God in the way that his reproachers doubted, and that he did believe that God would deliver him. It was God Who had brought him to birth, it was God Who from earliest days had nurtured his faith (compare Psalms 71:5-6), it was God on Whom he had constantly relied (compare Psalms 55:22), for often he had had no one else to turn to, and it was to God that he had constantly looked from when he was very young. Their reproaches were therefore false.

So would David have felt as he looked back over his life, for his heart had been right from earliest days, which is why he was God’s chosen (1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Samuel 16:12). He would remember too how he had been cast on God when the lion and the bear had come against his flock (1 Samuel 17:34), and how God had delivered Goliath into his hands even while he was but a youth (1 Samuel 17:42-50).

And of no one was this more true than of Jesus, Who was miraculously born at the express will of His Father (Luke 1:35), and Who had looked to Him and learned from Him from His earliest days (Luke 2:40).


Verse 2

‘Oh My God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer, and in the night season, and am not silent.’

For the first time in His life Jesus had become aware of what to us is commonplace, the sense of separation from the Father. He had become aware of what it meant to pray knowing that there seemed to be no response. Never before had He prayed and faced this stony silence. It is no wonder that He found it unnerving. But there was a sense in which He had to bear the burden alone, for He was dying in His humanness, and the Father had no humanness. So both through the hours of light until midday, and then through the following hours of darkness, His cry continued. Even at this final hour He was not silent, but His Father was. The heavens were seemingly closed to His plea. But let us not overlook the fact that Heaven too was distraught. The angels could not bear the sight. And yet the Father held back His comfort from His Son, in order that His Son might bear our sin to the full. For He could not condone the sin that He was bearing (the sin that was our sin). This was the cup that Jesus had chosen to drink, and He had to drink it alone.


Verses 3-5

‘But You are holy, O You Who inhabits the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You. They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered. They trusted in You, and were not put to shame.’

At no stage did Jesus lose confidence in the Father as the Deliverer of Israel. Even on the cross He could declare God’s faithfulness to His people, despite the fact that He Himself was unheard. For God was surrounded by the praises of Israel because of what He had done for them. They had trusted and had been delivered. They had cried and they had been delivered. They had trusted in Him and had not needed to be ashamed of the fact, because God had answered them. That was why He could reach out to the dying brigand. But it made Him also aware of how much this was not happening for Him. For Him no prayer for deliverance would be heard. No cry would be heeded. He must tread the way of suffering alone, for there was no other way.


Verse 6

‘But I am a worm, and no man. A reproach of men, and despised of the people.’

He recognised that He had taken the position of the lowest of the low. He had become a worm, not a man, helpless and there to be kicked, and trodden on, and crushed under the heel. He was taking on Himself the reproaches of His people (Isaiah 41:14), and thus He had become as one who was reproached by men, and was despised by the very people whom He had come to save. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of Sorrows, humiliated by grief, One from Whom men hid their faces, because He had lost all esteem in the eyes of men (Isaiah 53:3).


Verse 7-8

‘All they who see me laugh me to scorn. They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “Commit Yourself to YHWH. Let Him deliver Him. Let Him rescue Him, seeing He delights in Him.”

Those who gathered round His cross were full of mocking They all laughed Him to scorn. He had claimed to be the chosen of God. Let God then deliver Him if He would. They cried, ‘Ha, You Who will destroy the Temple, and build it in three days, if You are the Son of God, save Yourself and come down from the cross. He saved others, Himself He cannot save. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel now come down from the cross that we may see and believe. He trusted in God. Let Him deliver Him now if He delights in Him” (Matthew 27:40-42; Mark 15:29-32). In these words they had this Psalm in mind and were parodying the very thoughts it contained. He had set Himself forward as the One spoken of by the Psalmist, so in their eyes the words unquestionably applied to Him, though not in truth.


Verse 9-10

‘But You are He who took me out of the womb. You made me trust when I was on my mother’s breasts. I was cast on you from the womb. You are my God since my mother bore me.’

Yet in it all He could not forget that it was God Who had brought Him forth from the womb. God had taught Him to trust even as He was breast fed by His mother. God had as it were breast fed Him too. Right from the womb He had trusted Him. How then could He fail Him now?


Verse 11

‘Do not be far from me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.’

So in His extremity He cried that God would not be too far from Him. For He was aware of what He must face, and that there was no one else to whom He could go for help. Chronologically this comes before Psalms 22:1. And for a time the help was there until the darkness of the sin of the world descended. And then it seemed as though it had gone.


Verses 11-21

The Sufferer’s Prayer For Deliverance And Provides A Description of His Predicament (Psalms 22:11-21).

That we are to see some of these descriptions as figurative comes out in Psalms 22:21 where the psalmist sums all up by describing it as being saved from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild ox. He has a vivid imagination and knows much about the hunt and about the behaviour of wild beasts, and how they are treated in the hunt.

Psalms 22:11

‘Do not be far from me, for trouble is near,

For there is none to help.’

Aware of trouble approaching the sufferer cries to God for help. In Psalms 22:1 he had said that God was far from him. Now he pleads that it might not be so, for, if He is, he is lost. He confirms that he has nowhere else to turn and asks God ‘not to be far from Him’, for he is facing almost impossible dangers.

Psalms 22:12-13

‘Many bulls have encompassed me,

Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.

They gape on me with their mouth,

As a ravening and a roaring lion.’

His enemies are gathered against him on all sides. They are like bulls which have a tendency to gather around any strange object and can easily be moved to attack it. Yes, they are like the strongest of bulls, the strong bulls of Bashan, an area famous for its lush pastures (Deuteronomy 32:14; Amos 4:1). They are impenetrable. And their mouths are wide open to swallow him like the mouth of a ravening and roaring lion (see Psalms 7:2). (This mixing of metaphors confirms that he as enemies in mind, not bulls). Perhaps some of his main enemies came from Bashan, east of Jordan in the north.

Psalms 22:14

‘I am poured out like water,

And all my bones are out of joint,

My heart is like wax,

It is melted within me.’

This description is probably not to be taken literally, although he may well have been going through a bout of severe illness which made him feel totally out of sorts. ‘Poured out like water’ parallels the ‘melted wax’. He feels drained and empty, with his joints stiff and painful as if the bones were out of joint, and his innermost heart failing under the pressure. Compare Psalms 6:2-3; Psalms 6:6-7; Joshua 7:5). But if he has just fled from a defeat it is always possible that he had suffered a fall in his eagerness to escape.

In his constant flight from Saul David may well have experienced such misery more than once. But this may have been a particularly bad experience.

For Jesus this did become literally true. Not only would He be physically drained and probably suffering from hypothermia in the hot sun, but crucifixion could literally take His bones out of joint and His sufferings would certainly affect His mental state and His emotions (His heart) so that they seemed like wax melted within Him.

Psalms 22:15

‘My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

And my tongue cleaves to my jaws.’

The idea of the potsherd is probably of a pot that has been overheated and become so dried out that it has cracked and broken. The tongue cleaving to his jaws represented excessive thirst. So did the psalmist feel totally dried up, with his strength gone (see Psalms 32:4). This may have been as a result of his illness, or the result of flight through hot, desert places, or both.

David may well have experienced such conditions as he fled through the desert to escape from Saul’s searchers, and had to hide in inhospitable places, especially if he was also ill at the time.

It was certainly Jesus’ experience on the cross to suffer excessive thirst, which He refused to quench until His work was done (Matthew 27:34).

Psalms 22:15-16

And you have brought me into the dust of death,

For dogs have encompassed me,

A company of evildoers have enclosed me,

They pierced my hands and my feet.’

It may be that the psalmist had been hunted down with dogs, dragged down into the dust to die, surrounded by those who hunted him, and had his hands and feet pierced by the spears of the hunters to render him helpless, or by the teeth of the dogs, only to be delivered at the last moment. But it may be that he is simply vividly describing the fate that he shortly envisages will be his unless some miracle happens, as he hears the baying of the dogs in the distance, and knows what they will do with any fugitive they catch, and is aware also of how men like his pursuers mutilate a man so that he can no longer harm them, cutting the tendons of hands and feet. A third alternative is that he is depicting his fate in picturesque terms take from his knowledge of the hunt.

This may have been true of any Davidic king fleeing for his life after a resounding defeat, but if this was David fleeing from Saul he would know that he was sufficiently feared as a warrior to warrant such particular attentions (compare Judges 1:6-7).

Alternately the description of ‘the dogs’ may simply be metaphorical as a description of rabid humans. All were familiar with the packs of savage dogs that scavenged outside cities, and sometimes even within. They provided a fitting illustration of those whose hatred was so intense that they would literally snarl at him when they caught him.

And there is no more vivid way of describing the packs of evil men who had gathered to hunt Jesus down and see that He met the awful fate that they had planned for Him, than as a pack of mangy dogs. That such men gathered round Him and pierced His hands and His feet is without question.

‘You have brought me into the dust of death.’ This describes the final ignominy for a hunted man as he is finally caught and dragged down into the dust to die, whether literally or metaphorically. But here he sees himself as brought to this pass by God Himself. It was the will of YHWH to bruise him (Isaiah 53:10).

‘They pierced my hands and my feet.’ Unless an unknown verb or poetic form is in use the Massoretic Text has ‘like a lion (ca’ari) my hands and my feet’. ‘They pierced’ is ca’aru as suggested by LXX and other versions. But i and u (yod and waw) can be very similar in Hebrew copying and this may be a rare copying mistake in MT, so that LXX has preserved the true rendering. The original thought may then be that the dogs have bitten his hands and feet and pierced him with their teeth, or that the hunters have done it with spears and arrows. That it literally happened to Jesus we know through the nails on the cross.

The Targum has the conflated ‘biting like a lion’. It is, however, always possible that he is seen as being meted out the normal treatment for a lion when caught and kept alive. with its claws being broken by a hammer or extracted, thus signifying ‘they smashed/rendered useless/mangled my hands and my feet’. It may be significant that there is no reference to this phrase in the New Testament.

Psalms 22:17

‘I may count all my bones,

They look and stare on me.’

He has been so hard-pressed, and so without solid food over so long a period, that he has been reduced to skin and bones. As they tear from him his rich clothing to share the spoils among them he is able to count all his ribs, while his adversaries stand around and stare at him in grim delight at how he has suffered.

Again there may be an element of exaggeration in this, and it is therefore quite likely that such words might have been found on the lips of David, especially if he was suffering from the nightmare of what might well shortly happen to him.

Of Jesus again the words were literally true. After His ill-treatment at the hands of Jewish leaders and Romans, being hung and distorted on a cross would make his bones clearly visible beneath His skin, as His adversaries stood around and stared.

Psalms 22:18

‘They part my clothing among them,

And on my vesture do they cast lots.’

If the psalmist’s clothing was of rich quality they may well have stripped him and given him an old piece of cloth, even if his nakedness bothered them at all (see Isaiah 20:4). This would be their reward for capturing such an important prisoner.

We can well see that the thought of such ignominy would have been a nightmare to David, the practise possibly being well known to him as occurring among soldiers, and the mention of the vesture (the undergarment, a seamless tunic) stressing total nakedness. This method of sharing out the clothing of captives, which was both simple and practical, may well have been a practise continued through the centuries, although David might have been thinking of it as something that would occur after he had been killed. Stripping the dead after battle was common practise.

It specifically happened to Jesus on His death, and is claimed as the ‘filling full’ of prophecy (John 19:23-24).

Psalms 22:19

‘But do not be far off, O YHWH,

O you, my succour, hasten to help me.’

So the sufferer turns to YHWH for help. God is his succour and he looks to Him for assistance. This would suggest that what he has described is simply near expectation, rather than what has actually happened, a vivid nightmare of what lay ahead if things did not change quickly. He still hoped to be delivered from the worst.

Psalms 22:20

‘Deliver my soul from the sword,

My darling from the power of the dog.’

This is confirmed here by his hope to be delivered from the power of the dog (Psalms 22:16). He wants to escape death by a sword and mauling by a dog. ‘My darling’. Literally ‘my only one’. He is thinking of his own unique life which is most precious to him, and dearer to him than almost anything else on earth.

Jesus’ deliverance would be by resurrection.

Psalms 22:21

‘Save me from the lion's mouth,

Yes, from the horns of the wild-oxen you have answered me.

So he puts in his final plea. Let him be saved from the lion’s mouth. The lion here may well be Saul. And then in the second part of the verse the whole spirit of the psalm changes, as he suddenly recognises that he will be saved indeed. He is about to be delivered from the horns of ‘the wild oxen’ because God has answered him.

Or we may render, ‘save me from the lion’s mouth, yes, from the horns of the wild oxen’ and then with sudden enlightenment - ‘You have answered me.’ Either way it is a switch that declares that God has heard his prayers.


Verse 12

‘Many bulls have surrounded me, strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gape at Me with their mouth, like a ravening and a roaring lion.’

He knew what had brought Him there. During His last days He had been crowded in as though by a herd of bulls which had threatened and surrounded Him, as the Chief Priests and Scribes had hemmed Him in. And now there they were, gaping at Him with their mouths, and as they stood there at the cross, they were surrounding Him on every side, as though they were hungry lions, determined to consume Him.


Verse 14

‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, it is melted within me.’

The inevitable effects of crucifixion were having their effect. His body was being weakened as the blood poured from His many wounds like water, and as His body was twisted and stretched by the cross, His bones became distorted and out of joint, while His heart within Him was like melted wax, as a result of His sufferings, and at the awfulness of the burden of sin that He faced.


Verse 15

‘My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws, and You have brought me into the dust of death.’

His body had been toughened by His manner of life, but now all His strength had flowed out of Him. On top of the other pain, the hot sun had dried Him out, as the sweat had poured from His body, so that He was like a pot which had been fashioned in the fire and which had had all the moisture removed from it, leaving it dried and cracked, while His tongue stuck to His dried out mouth, as lingering death slowly took possession of Him. The One Who was the Lord of life was conscious that His body would shortly be brought to dust through death, a contradiction to His very nature.


Verse 16

‘For dogs have surrounded Me. A company of evildoers have enclosed Me. They pierced my hands and my feet.’

But His trials continued. Having obtained that they wanted, His opponents were now gathered round Him like a pack of snarling dogs, and He felt enclosed by the soldiers of Rome who had driven nails through His hands and feet. But the ones who were really responsible for the nails were the ones who watched and sneered, and you and I.


Verse 17

‘I may count all my bones. They look and stare at me.’

His hours on the cross, by distorting His whole body as a consequence of the unnatural strain exerted on it, resulted in His bones thrusting themselves up under His skin, so that every bone could be counted, and meanwhile the spectators stared at His naked body and gazed at Him with astonishment.


Verse 18

‘They part my garments among them, and for My robe they cast lots.

Meanwhile as He hung there, the soldiers gambled heartlessly at His feet, dividing up His clothing, and casting lots for His seamless robe. As far as they were concerned He was as good as dead, and His clothes were their perquisites. They took another swig of wine. They were half drunk. It was a good thing to be half drunk when you carried out a crucifixion. It deadened the awfulness of what you were doing. And to them He was just another victim.


Verse 19

‘But do not be far off, Oh YHWH. Oh You Who are my succour, hurry to my aid.’

As the long hours passed, and the battles with evil and sin continued, He cried that God might not be far off but might hurry to help Him. The hours of darkness seemed so long, the battle with the forces of evil so powerful, and He felt in desperate need of succour. He knew that He must see it through to the end, but now He was thinking beyond the end, when He could say ‘it is finished’, and relief would come.


Verse 20-21

‘Deliver my soul from the sword, My darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth, yes, from the horns of the wild-oxen You have answered me.’

A victim of the sword of Rome, and the dogs of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, He cries to be delivered from them both, as though from the mouth of lions, or from the horns of the wild ox. (In Numbers 24:8-9 it is Israel who are the lion and the wild ox). Once He had endured let God save Him and deliver Him. And He was confident that it would be so, for He could finally declare, ‘You have answered Me’. And thus on the note of final deliverance the Psalm leads on into the aftermath.

The Resurrection.

Following the cross will come the resurrection, and resulting from the resurrection will come His testimony to His ‘brothers’, who will be brought to fear the Lord and glorify Him. The poor and humble will find joy in His Kingly Rule, while the nations worldwide will turn to God and worship Him.

22. 22 ‘I will declare Your name to my brothers. In the midst of the gathering will I praise You.’

He assures His Father that He will make Him fully known (will make ‘His name’, the essence of what He is, known) to ‘His brothers’, to those who gather together in His Name. This verse is cited in Hebrews 2:12 in a context where He is also described as the wagon boss of their faith. He will go forward together with His brothers, encouraging them to worship God, and He will be ever among them (Matthew 18:20). Compare, ‘lo I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20).


Verses 22-31

He Comes Out Of His Situation In Triumph Because of The Kingly Rule of God (Psalms 22:22-31).

The Psalmist now rejoiced in the deliverance of the one about whom he has been speaking. For the result is to be that all the ends of the earth will seek YHWH and His Kingly Rule will be established over the nations. It is clear therefore that in the end the one who is in mind is the coming King who will rule over the everlasting kingdom.

Psalms 22:22

‘I will declare your name to my brothers,

In the midst of the assembly will I praise you.’

Confident that God has heard him and will deliver him, the Psalmist now declares how he will reveal the full attributes (the significance of ‘Your Name’ - the name was seen as indicating the attributes) of a compassionate God to his brothers in the assembly (LXX - ekklesia, church) of the people. And there also he will praise Him. This verse is cited by the writer to the Hebrews as referring to Jesus (Hebrews 2:12), as He leads His people to glory..

Psalms 22:23

‘You who fear YHWH, praise him,

All you the seed of Jacob, glorify him,

And stand in awe of him,

All you the seed of Israel.’

Thus all God’s true people (those who fear Him) are to praise YHWH and glorify Him. They are to stand in awe at what He has done. So the people of Israel are being called on to rejoice in the deliverance of the one being described by the Psalmist, for his deliverance is important to them. And in the same way, having established His new congregation of Israel (Matthew 16:18; John 15:1-6), Jesus will call on His people to praise God for the way that He has come through suffering to triumph, having been made a perfect File Leader through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). No wonder the women were filled with awe at learning of His resurrection (Mark 16:8).

Psalms 22:24

‘For he has not despised nor abhorred,

The affliction of the afflicted,

Nor has he hid his face from him,

But when he cried to him, he heard.’

And the reason for the praise and worship is that YHWH has not turned away from his deep affliction, nor has He hid His face from him (He had not forsaken him), so that the cry of the one of whom the Psalmist speaks was heard, and answered. The idea of ‘affliction’ is applied both the Servant in Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:7 and the Messianic king of Zechariah 9:9. The pattern is clear. God’s purposes are fulfilled through suffering.

Psalms 22:25

Of you comes my praise in the great assembly,

I will pay my vows before those who fear him.

And the reason that he can praise YHWH is because the reason for praising and ability to praise have come from Him. He is the source of the praise issuing from the one of whom the Psalmist is speaking, and its end. And the result is that he can praise Him in the great assembly and fulfil the vows that he has made while in distress, performing them in front of all who truly fear Him (compare Hebrews 10:7; Hebrews 10:9).

Psalms 22:26-27

‘The meek shall eat and be satisfied,

They will praise YHWH who seek after him.

Let your heart live for ever.’

‘All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to YHWH,

And all the kindreds of the nations will worship before you.’

And the consequence of the triumph of this one who has suffered will be that the poor and meek who truly seek after YHWH will eat of the votive offering (the paying of the vows of Psalms 22:25) and be satisfied, for they will be his guests. They will rejoice in the means of atonement and worship. This gains even more meaning in the light of John 6:35 ff. They will partake of Him through faith.

‘Let your heart live for ever.’ And the result is that he can call on God to enable them to live for ever. He offers them the equivalent of eternal life.

And this is not only for the poor of Israel, it is also for the Gentiles. All the ends of the earth will call to mind the suffering and dedication of the one who has suffered, and will turn to YHWH, and all the families of the nations (compare Genesis 12:3; Genesis 28:14) will worship before YHWH. Through the seed of Abraham the nations will be blessed, and will come to know YHWH.

Psalms 22:28

‘For the kingdom is YHWH’s,

And he is the ruler over the nations.’

And this will be because they will acknowledge His Kingly Rule, for the Kingly Rule is YHWH’s and He is the ruler over the nations. Here we have the initial idea of the coming Kingly Rule of God (tou kuriou he basileia - ‘the Kingly Rule of the Lord’), which all who respond will acknowledge.

Psalms 22:29

‘All the fat ones of the earth will eat and worship,

All those who go down to the dust will bow before him,

Even he who cannot keep his soul alive.’

And the result of the suffering of the one of whom the Psalmist is speaking and the rejoicing over His deliverance will be that those who are in full life (the fat ones of the earth) and those who are dying or dead (those who go down to the dust), will both partake of His sacrificial offering, and will worship and bow before Him, even those who cannot avoid death. The living and the dead will praise Him. While the idea of resurrection is not spelled out, as it was unlikely to be in those days, there is the clear indication that he will somehow benefit both. Every knee will bow to Him, and every tongue will swear (Isaiah 45:23).

Psalms 22:30

‘A seed will serve him.

It will be told of the Lord to the next generation.’

And the result of this will go on from generation to generation. Each generation will be told what the Lord has done.

Psalms 22:31

‘They will come and will declare his righteousness,

To a people who will be born,

That he has done it.’

And the further result will be that God’s righteousness as revealed in this deliverance will be declared into the future, to those not yet born, so wonderful will have been the deliverance. All will declare that ‘He has done it’.

A Meditation.

We have already seen that there is a Messianic basis in this Psalm. It is so expressive of what Jesus suffered for us that we should possibly meditate on what it can tell us about His sufferings for us. In doing so we will see how wonderfully God prepared the way for the death of His Son.


Verse 23

‘You who fear YHWH, praise Him. All you, the seed of Jacob, glorify Him. And stand in awe of Him, all you the seed of Israel.’

And in fulfilment of His promise He calls on all who fear YHWH to praise Him, and all ‘the seed of Jacob/Israel’ (representing God’s true people) to glorify Him and stand in awe of Him. Note the close connection with ideas in Isaiah 41-49 where the seeds of Jacob and Israel are constantly in mind, are closely connected with the Servant, and are to be restored. Now the Servant will fulfil His promised ministry to them (Isaiah 49:6).


Verse 24

‘For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, nor has He hid His face from Him. But when He cried to Him, He heard.’

And the reason why they are to praise God is because He has not despised or turned away from the deep afflictions of the Afflicted One. Rather when He had cried from the extremities of His soul, God had heard Him. This was in deep contrast to what men had done earlier (Psalms 22:6-8).


Verse 25

‘From You comes My praise in the great assembly, I will pay my vows before those who fear Him.’

Indeed it is from Him, as a result of His working, that Jesus can praise Him among His people. For Jesus has offered Himself up as an acceptable freewill offering (Hebrews 10:1-14) so that He might dispense His blessing on those who fear Him, and now He will act of their behalf. Thus He will fulfil His promises that He has made to God, in the eyes of all who fear Him.


Verse 26

‘The meek will eat and be satisfied. They will praise YHWH who seek after Him. Let your heart live for ever.

And the result is that the poor and humble will partake of Him and be satisfied (John 6:35). They will eat and be filled. And those who seek after YHWH will praise Him. In the words of Jesus, ‘blessed ones are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingly Rule of God’ (Matthew 5:3).


Verse 27

‘All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to YHWH. And all the families of the nations will worship before You.’

And not only will the poor and needy praise Him, but among the nations to the ends of the earth many will acknowledge His Name. They will remember what the Afflicted One has endured, and turn to YHWH, and some among all the families of the nations will worship YHWH (Genesis 12:3; compare Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6).


Verse 28

‘For the Kingly Rules is YHWH’s, and He is the ruler over the nations.’

For they will recognise that the Kingly Rule over all things is YHWH’s and that it is He Who rules over the nations. Thus will they ‘enter under the Kingly Rule of God’ at His behest.


Verse 29

‘All the fat ones of the earth will eat and worship. All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive.’

In His presence all are equal. Both those who prosper and those who can hardly keep themselves alive and are near death (in other words men of every kind and situation) will look to YHWH for life, partaking of His sacrifice of Himself, and will worship Him.


Verse 30-31

‘A seed will serve Him. It will be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They will come and will declare His righteousness, to a people who will be born, that he has done it.’

And a seed will serve Him, the holy seed of Isaiah 6:13, those who have been refined and have responded to Him and looked for salvation. And they will pass on the truth about the Lord to the next generation, and will declare His righteousness to a people yet unborn. For they will learn that ‘He has done it’.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 22:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-22.html. 2013.

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