Psalm 22 is unquestionably one of the clearest and most powerful prophetic passages of Messiah in the Psalms, even in the whole of the Old Testament. While other impressive prophetic passages such as Isaiah 53 and Daniel 7:13-8 are very precise in their description of Messiah in His suffering and glorification, Psalm 22 describes what few other prophetic passages can – the emotional battle of Messiah.
While this Psalm is written by David and some does apply to him personally, other parts never applied to him. Here we see how Scripture is inspired by God, whereas this is written by David, about his own condition, Christ was also writing about Himself.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2, ESV).
The clearest reasoning behind this Psalm being Messianic has to do with the use of this first verse by Jesus, the Messiah, in Matthew 27:46. It is interesting that Christ chooses to say these words from the cross, in His moment of deepest agony and darkness. The fact that He says it originally in Aramaic, when I don’t believe an Aramaic translation was ever in use then, means that Jesus had translated this Himself into His heart-language, his boyhood language. He had appropriated these words as His own for such a time as this, the mysterious separation of the Trinity for the first and only time in history.
The following context of the Psalm is therefore important here, for His mind was on this lament. He desires that God listen to Him and save Him, but God does not. One striking point that comes to mind is how often David says in other Psalms that when He called out to God, He immediately responded and rescued David. Yet here God has “forsaken”, and is unwilling to listen or to help the One in anguish. This cannot be David, and this is not the normal response of our loving Heavenly Father. This was a special, crucial moment in time – had He listened and saved Messiah from the hands of evil men, there would be no salvation for humankind. The forsaking was not out of hatred or betrayal, but for the greater good, to lose His Son for a time so that the world may have the opportunity to be reconciled to God; truly a sacrifice of love.
“To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them” (Psalm 22:4-5).
Messiah here finds hope in the past faithfulness of God as a promise for His future. God may turn His face now, but not forever; God may allow evil to grow, but never without purpose or future plan for good. Messiah has been shut-off from the perfect communication with the Trinity, a great and unfathomable mystery worthy of much meditation and thought.
His hope is based on God’s character. How do I know God will do what is good, just, and loving in the future? Because He always has in the past, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Tim. 2:13). This is one of my favorite concepts on a personal level, to know that God is always seeking for the greater good in my life and the life of others, and that I can draw strength studying how He has helped His Own in the past, be it in Scripture, or throughout history.
“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’
Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
They open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.” (Psalm 22:6, 8, 11-3).
Some have said that the Psalm now turns back to David, for Jesus could not have said that He was “a worm and not a man”, but this would be to miss the point. Neither David nor Jesus were “a worm”, but instead the illustration has to do with how others saw them, not how they saw themselves, or even how God saw them. The rest of the sentence indicates the meaning, as one who was “scorned” and “despised”. The Gospels are full examples of the rejection, betrayal, and scorning of Christ.
Verse 8 clearly points to the cross itself, where men stood around the cross and mocked Messiah, led by their religious leaders who had worked so hard for this their moment of triumph and elation. Such mockers are described as “strong bulls” that surround, stomping their hoofs and sounding their nostrils in a moment of rage. They are also described to be as “a ravening and roaring lion”, a ferocious lion which has already pounced, ready to tear and break his prey.
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.” (Psalm 22:14-5).
Messiah is at the breaking point, with precious little strength left. His lifeblood is flowing out of his body, as does liquid gush from a pierced wine-skin. His bones are not broken, but have been stretched to a breaking point, showing the type of torture roman crucifixion would bring. Messiah’s hope is almost gone, His desperate pleas are falling on silent ears and the sleep of death is crouching near.
The thirst is overwhelming, the pain unbearable. Will help come – would God allow His Son to be humiliated and then have the enemy rejoice its victory? Yes; help will not come, hope will not be realized, and death will set in.
[To be continued in part 2, “Messiah’s Hope”]