Jesus and Psalm 22

This post features material covered over the last three weeks at Wascana Fellowship.

Jesus claims that his mission of salvation is described throughout the Scriptures that we Christians call the Old Testament. Luke, who had interviewed eyewitnesses in composing his Gospel, quotes Jesus as saying that his mission is described in such detail that even his ministry, death, resurrection and the worldwide ministry of his apostles is predicted in all three main divisions of the Old Testament, including the Psalms (a shorthand way of including the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Daniel).

Luke 24:44 (New King James Version)

44 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.  46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day,  47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

This time I would like to look at a striking Psalm that Jesus quotes while dying on the cross to see what he might have explained to his disciples from it afterward about his mission.

And theirs.

The psalm is about a man who is in deep trouble, surrounded by enemies who want to kill him. In its original context it was probably written by David at a time his life was in danger from his own boss, King Saul. (Not many of us have experienced a job environment quite that toxic!)

A lot of the language he uses about his situation would have been metaphorical, referring to how he felt about the problems rather than how they physically manifested in his body.

The striking thing is how some of that language ends up applying so literally to the manner of Jesus’ beating and death. Other parts retain their metaphorical meaning while still aptly describing Jesus’ experience.

I would like to go through that Psalm and highlight some of what I feel are some of the striking correspondences with Jesus’ mission of salvation.

Psalm 22 (New King James Version)

1 To the Chief Musician. Set to ‘The Deer of the Dawn.’  A Psalm of David.

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

This is the part that Jesus speaks aloud from the cross in Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34 These were the beginning words of a well-known hymn in Judea.

Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning?  2 O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.

Jesus is identifying himself as the Davidic King – chosen by God, but as yet uncrowned – who must endure the rage of the present unholy rulers until the day of his ascension as King. The expression of his feelings of helplessness against inhumanly cruel opponents continues to the end of verse 2.

3 But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.  4 Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them.  5 They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed.

David is appealing to God’s previous record of salvation from troubles in the history of Israel to remind himself of God’s graciousness. Just as his forefathers trusted in God in the midst of overwhelming troubles, so should he. Yet the troubles don’t just go away.

6 But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. 7 All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head,

As noted in Mt 27:39,44; Mk 15:32; and Lk 23:39 there is a striking correspondence between the wording in verse 7 and the ridicule of Jesus at the crucifixion.

 saying,  8 “He trusted  in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

Even more striking is how the jeers of the crowd in Mt 27:43 match almost word-for-word what the psalm says about the man in trouble. Yet Jesus does indeed have a special relationship with the Lord, as noted in Mt. 3:17. The irony is lost on the crowd that the Lord does indeed delight in him.

 9 But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.  10 I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God.

A claim about God’s pre-birth selection is made in the case of a few very special heroes of God in the Scriptures, such as Samuel, Sampson, Jeremiah and John the Baptist. Jesus’ birth and childhood are even more special. Four stories about Jesus shed light upon verses 9 and 10.

1)    God could not possibly have been more involved in Jesus’ birth. Both Mary and Joseph have angels appear to them to announce that the child is born of the Holy Spirit in Luke 1:26-38 and Mt. 1:18-25.

2)    As a further indicator of God’s involvement in Jesus’ birth Luke 2:4-28 notes three startling events that take place within eight days of Jesus’ birth. Mary makes a special note of each of these events in her heart for future reference.

  • An angelic chorus moves a group of shepherds to find Jesus and pass on a message of universal salvation to the entire town.
  • At Jesus’ circumcision a devout man named Simeon, announces that Jesus is the saviour he has been promised that he would see before he died.
  • The prophetess Anna immediately chimes in and makes a similar announcement.

3)    Jesus was cast upon God’s care from birth. In Mt. 2:7-23 God intervenes while Jesus is yet a baby to prevent his death in a mass murder of infants by King Herod.

4)    Finally, Jesus knew God (the Father) from the very first. In Luke 2:39-52 we have a story of how Jesus grew up with supernatural wisdom in the ways of God.

 11 Be not far from Me, For trouble is near; For there is none to help.  12 Many bulls have surrounded Me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me.  13 They gape at Me with their mouths, Like a raging and roaring lion.

These metaphors aptly apply to the jeering crowds in Pilate’s court who were crying “Crucify him!”

14 I am poured out like water,

Another metaphor by David, yet Jesus had his side run through with a spear, with the result of “blood and water” pouring out of his side in John 19:34.

And all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me.  15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And My tongue clings to My jaws;

Part of the cruelty of crucifixion is that the victim is nailed to the cross in such a way that it puts maximum stress on the joints of the hands and shoulders. It also stresses the lungs, causing an agonizing difficulty getting enough air. In order to breathe, they must push up on their nailed-down feet to lift themselves enough to breathe. This naturally stresses his already-broken feet. Victims apparently eventually suffocate when they no longer have strength to lift themselves enough to take a breath. John 19:28 notes that Jesus is thirsty which matches the description of the tongue clinging to his jaws.

You have brought Me to the dust of death.

What is a figure of speech for David becomes a literal reality for Jesus according to John 19:33, 41-42.

16 For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced  My hands and My feet;

It seems unlikely that David, who wrote around 1000 B.C., would have been familiar with a torture method used a millennium later by a people he would not have recognized. Even in David’s day, however, jabbing a knife or a spear through hands would have made self defense impossible. Doing the same thing to feet would make it impossible to escape enemies. How much more is escape impossible when the hands and feet that are “pierced” are nailed to an immobile cross and suspended above ground.

17 I can count all My bones.

The flogging Jesus underwent at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers was designed to maximize tearing of the flesh and muscles, literally exposing portions of the ribs and other bones.

They look and stare at Me.  18 They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.

This detail is deemed significant enough that it is mentioned by all four gospel writers. (John 19:23-24, Mt 27:35, Mk 15:24 and Lk 23:34)

19 But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me!  20 Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog.  21 Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen!

After the long description of the problem, here is the actual request for deliverance.

You have answered Me.

In the Old Testament whenever God “hears” or “answers” a plea for help it means that the circumstances are about to change. Salvation from the circumstance is on the way. For instance, when God “heard” the cries of his people in Egyptian slavery, he pulled Moses out of retirement to lead the people out of Egypt. Israel is as good as saved. The process is just details on the way. The resurrection is God the Father’s answer to Jesus’ feelings of abandonment and powerlessness.

22 I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews certainly understands Psalm 22 to have been written about Jesus. In Heb. 2:11, speaking of the risen and glorified Jesus, he notes, “For both he that sanctifieth and they that are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.”  His proof text in the following verse is Psalm 22:22. For him, Jesus is the one praising God’s name to his “brethren.” God’s rescue of Jesus becomes the cause of the call to worship in verses in Psalm 22:23-24.

23 You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel!  24 For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.

The answer to the feelings of abandonment is that God was always there. God was not ignoring Jesus’ affliction. Rather, Jesus’ affliction was the answer to the greater question of how to overcome the affliction of all the afflicted of the world throughout history. In the person of Jesus, God has heard. He has heard all of the cries!

25 My praise shall be of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.  26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the Lord. Let your heart live forever!  27 All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the Lord, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You.

This portion of the psalm could easily have been prefiguring Jesus’ mission for his disciples in Lk 24:45-48. Rev. 21:24-26 also speaks of a time when all peoples will worship Jesus Christ as a result of his great saving work. Verse 26 may prefigure the result of preaching about Jesus in Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-35.

I find it fascinating that scholars cannot agree about what trial in David’s life this Psalm is about. So what exactly is the saving event in David’s life that all ends of the earth shall remember? It would seem that David left that blank in order to point ahead to an even greater salvation event: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and rule!

28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s, And He rules over the nations.

In Mt. 28:18-19 Jesus tell his disciples that the Father has given him authority over heaven and earth. Because of this, Jesus uses that authority to send his disciples on a worldwide mission of redemption.

29 All the prosperous of the earth Shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust Shall bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep himself alive.

Even though Jesus was not able to keep himself alive, God brought him back. That gives believers in him confidence that he is both willing and able to do the same for them.

Jesus speaks to Peter in Mt 16:18 about the fact that he will build his church. A salient feature of his church is that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Any soldier or military historian will tell you that gates are defensive military structures, not offensive. The attack is being waged by the church on hell, not the other way around. In other words, Jesus is declaring war on death, and the church is his army.

Matthew speaks of an incident in which many recently-dead believers are brought back to life at the moment of Jesus’ death (Mt. 27:50-53). This revival prefigures the resurrection of the dead in Christ. Ultimately, all who ever lived will appear before Jesus as Judge (Rev. 20:4-6 and 11-13).

30 A posterity shall serve Him. It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation, 31 They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,

As noted above, Mt. 28:18-19 records Jesus’ sending of his disciples on their worldwide mission. One gets the impression that he means to continue that mission even beyond their death when in the following verse he adds “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

That He has done this.

John 19:30 records Jesus’ last words while on the cross. They are words that denote a mission well completed. They are words that assure the people whose Lord is Jesus that all will be well at the appointed time.

“It is finished.”


About John Valade

I facilitate and teach in Wascana Fellowship. I have been married to Wanda since 1984. M.Div. from Briercrest Seminary, SK in 2011 and B.R.E. Canadian Bible College (now Ambrose University College) in 2000.
This entry was posted in Faith, gospel, Religion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Jesus and Psalm 22

  1. I was richly blessed to read your message concerning this deeply moving Psalm. I wept all the way through it. The power of the Holy Spirit flowed throughout my entire reading. One of my favorite passages of the Bible. Thank You for this powerful post. God Bless You Sir. M J Seymour.

  2. Reblogged this on Upper Biblical Studies for All and commented:
    One of the most poignant, and moving passages of the Scripture you will ever read. Read this aloud, with your heart, and the Sweet Gentle Flow of the Holy Ghost will flow beautifully over You. God Bless You.

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