Introduction
A suggested title for this psalm: ‘The suffering servant wins the deliverance of the nations.’ (Gelineau translation)

Whereas modern scholarship rightly stresses that we should begin by studying this psalm in its original context, we would be failing in our exposition if we did not recognise all the ways in which it breaks out of that context, such that the psalmist ‘says more than he knows’.

Indeed, we have the authority of our Lord himself for regarding this as prophetic of his sufferings and subsequent glory.  As Donald Williams says, ‘Luke tells us that the risen Lord interpreted the psalms to His disciples as referring prophetically to Himself (Luke 24:44). Can we doubt that Psalm 22 was among the texts He gave them?’

Kidner: ‘No Christian can read this without being vividly confronted with the crucifixion. It is not only a matter of prophecy minutely fulfilled, but of the sufferer’s humility—there is no plea for vengeance—and his vision of a world-wide ingathering of the Gentiles.’

‘This is a kind of gem among the Psalms, and is peculiarly excellent and remarkable. It contains those deep, sublime, and heavy sufferings of Christ, when agonizing in the midst of the terrors and pangs of divine wrath and death, which surpass all human thought and comprehension. I know not whether any Psalm throughout the whole book contains matter more weighty, or from which the hearts of the godly can so truly perceive those sighs and groans, inexpressible by man, which their Lord and Head, Jesus Christ, uttered when conflicting for us in the midst of death, and in the midst of the pains and terrors of hell. Wherefore this Psalm ought to be most highly prized by all who have any acquaintance with temptations of faith and spiritual conflicts.’ (Luther)

2 Chron 29:6; Ps 31:14-16; 43:1-5; Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34; Lk 24:44.

‘Of the thirteen (some count seventeen) major Old Testament texts that are quoted in the Gospel narratives, nine come from the Psalms, and five of those from Psalm 22. The best known of them all is the cry of dereliction, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani” (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34).’ (HSB)

The psalm has two strongly contrasting divisions: vv1-18 – a song of lament, speaking of the psalmist’s suffering, vv19-31 – a song of praise, speaking of the psalmist’s vindication.  We could characterise it as, ‘From trauma to triumph’, or, ‘from dereliction to deliverance’.

Psa 22:1 For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

To the tune “The Doe of the Morning” – or, ‘Hind of the Dawn’.  G.A.F. Knight says that in old Arab poems this describe a deer which has been cut off from the rest of its herd.  It is standing on a crag, gazing into the distance and hoping to find its friends again.

A psalm of David – Although there were many occasions in David’s life that might have called forth this psalm, none can be specified from the content itself.  Thus it is suitable for reading or singing for those finding themselves in similar situation.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

In this first part of the psalm were have three forms of suffering: spiritual (God has forsaken him), social (others mock him), and physical (he is in intense pain).  Each form of suffering finds its counterpart in the Gospels.

Tidball observes that each expression of lament is matched by an expression of trust (Psa 22:1f/3-5; 6-8/9-11; 12-18/19-21).

See Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34.

Martin Luther once set himself to study these profound words. For a long time he continued without food, in deepest meditation and in one position in his chair. When at length he rose from his thoughts, he was heard to exclaim with amazement, ‘God forsaken of God! Who can understand that!’

My God – notice here the difference between faith and feeling. All sense of God had vanished, all that remains is a terrible apprehension of the divine wrath, yet faith stills cries out to ‘my God’. The psalmist does not conclude: ‘There is no God’ (Psa 14:1).  Faith appeals to God even when he seems to have vanished without trace.

Williams notes the irony: though God seems to have abandoned him, the psalmist still cries out, “My God, my God”.

‘It was possible for Christ by faith to know that he was beloved of God, and he did know that he was beloved of God, when yet as to sense and feeling he tasted of God’s wrath. Faith and the want of sense are not inconsistent; there may be no present sense of God’s love, nay, there may be a present sense of his wrath, and yet there may be faith at the same time.’ (John Row)

Forsaken – and so he was, not with regard to God’s essence, for he fills heaven and earth, but with regard to his favour, grace, and love.

The OT contains many promises of God not to forsake his people: e.g. Deut 31:6, 8; Pss. 9:10; 37:28, 33; 94:14.

Tidball comments that in the time the psalmist most needs God’s help and reassurance is the very time when God seems utterly distant.

‘For our Saviour, who had known experimentally how sweet the comfort of his Father’s face had been, and had lived all his days under the warm beams and influences of the Divinity, and had had his soul all along refreshed with the sense of the Divine presence, for him to be left in that horror and darkness, as to have no taste of comfort, no glimpse of the Divinity breaking in upon his human soul, how great an affliction must that needs be unto him!’ (John Row)

Why…? – This is not the ‘why’ of calm enquiry, of impatience, of rebelliousness, or ignorance, but of bewilderment and longing. ‘Not the “why” of impatience or despair, not the sinful questioning of one whose heart rebels against his chastening, but rather the cry of a lost child who cannot understand why his father has left him, and who longs to see his father’s face again.’ (J. J. Stewart Perowne)

Kidner distinguished between the meaning for David, where the present clause is explained by the second one: “Why are you so far from helping me?”, and the meaning for Jesus, where it seems to describe ‘an objective reality, namely the punitive separation he accepted in our place, ‘having become a curse for us’ (Gal. 3:13).’

‘Sense and faith are very diverse. Sense may cry, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” while faith cries, “My God, my God”.’ (Plumer)

It was nothing new for the Lord to find himself forsaken. His brothers did not believe or follow him. The people of Nazareth had tried to kill him. His own people, to whom he came, received him not. Many of his disciples drew back and walked no more with him. Judas, his own familiar friend, betrayed him. Peter denied him. They all forsook him and fled. But he could say, “Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me,” Jn 16:32. He had known all his days the comfort, the warmth, the refreshment, of the Divine presence, Jn 1:1. What an unspeakable affliction for him to be left in a horror of darkness, without comfort and with no glimpse of the Father to relieve his soul.

This cry represents the depths of agony. Christ complained not of the physical agony of his body, nor of the emotional pain of being forsaken by his friends and mocked and reproached by his enemies, but of the spiritual torture of being forsaken by God. For the first time, an eternity of communion had been broken.

‘For our Saviour, who had known experimentally how sweet the comfort of his Father’s face had been, and had lived all his days under the warm beams and influences of the Divinity, and had had his soul all along refreshed with the sense of the Divine presence, for him to be left in that horror and darkness, as to have no taste of comfort, no glimpse of the Divinity breaking in upon his human soul, how great an affliction must that needs be unto him!’ (John Row)

‘There is but one method of satisfactorily explaining the awful scenes of the crucifixion. Stevenson: “That was the judgement-day of the Saviour of the world. At the tribunals of men he was condemned – under their sentence he was executed: and while his body hung in torture on the cross, he was arraigned in spirit before the bar of God, under the imputation of human guilt. The court of heaven, as it were, descended to Mount Calvary…These aweful words, ‘Let the law take its course,’ are uttered by the eternal Judge.” This explanation alone is sufficient. With his stripes we are healed. By his chastisement we have peace. By his death we live. Otherwise we never can defend the character of God concerning the humiliation of Christ. He never permitted a holy angel to suffer even the slightest indignity.’ (Plumer)

Learn to cherish God’s presence. We may mourn when separated from earthly friends; how much more should we weep when the Lord departs, even though only for a while. If God should depart, we lose our sweetest joy, our greatest comfort.

Be encouraged. Though Christ was deserted, he was powerfully supported. The everlasting arms were under him, even though God’s face was averted. So it is for Christians.

See the tragedy of sin. Sin separates us from God. By sinning we depart from God; and the punishment is, that God departs from us. This divine desertion is the essence of hell. If sin, when imputed to an innocent sufferer, produces such immense sorrow, what will be the lot of the sinner who dies without either a clear conscience, nor the hope of speedy deliverance, to comfort him?

If we ask, ‘Why?’, the answer is that it was a vicarious suffering. 1 Pet 2:24, ‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.’ Gal 3:13 says that he became a curse for us. This was penal suffering, inflicted on him as punishment for our sins, which demanded that God forsake us for ever. Cf. 1 Pet 3:18.

Stott (The Cross of Christ, p82) remarks that ‘his cry was in the form of a question…, not because [Jesus] did not know the answer, but only because the Old Testament text itself (which he was quoting) was in that form.’

Yet once Immanuel’s orphaned cry the universe hath shaken:
It went up single, echoless, “My God, I am forsaken!”
It went up from his holy lips amid his lost creation
That no one else need ever cry that cry of desolation.

‘The ultimate consolation is to know that one is not forsaken by God. The ultimate ignominy is to forsake God or his ways. The ultimate horror is to be forsaken by God.’ (DBI)

Barnes: ‘As applicable to the Saviour, this refers to those dreadful moments on the cross when, forsaken by men, he seemed also to be forsaken of God himself. God did not interpose to rescue him, but left him to bear those dreadful agonies alone. He bore the burden of the world’s atonement by himself. He was overwhelmed with grief, and crushed with pain; for the sins of the world, as well as the agonies of the cross, had come upon him.’  But the same writer adds that something further and deeper must have called this agonised cry from the cross.  It was ‘as if He who is the last hope of the suffering and the dying—the Father of mercies—had withdrawn from him; as if he were personally a sinner; as if he were himself guilty or blameworthy on account of the sins for which he was making an expiation. In some sense he experienced what the sinner will himself experience when, for his own sins, he will be at last forsaken of God, and abandoned to despair.’

‘There is a reason why God should forsake the wicked; but why should he forsake his own pure and holy Son in the agonies of death?’ (Barnes)

Why are you so far from saving me? – The psalmist’s complaint is not just that he cannot sense God’s presence, but that God seems unable or unwilling to rescue him from his enemies.  God seems too far away to hear his cry, and too far away to stretch out his hand to help.

Although this psalm complains of social suffering (v6-8) and physical suffering (v14f), the first and most serious complaint concerns the apparent absence of God.  This pain is only deepened by recollection of God’s faithfulness in past times to the nation (v3-5), and to the psalmist in his earlier life (v9f).

Psa 22:2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

God’s failure to rescue is not for want of asking.  David has been constantly crying out – day and night.

Psa 22:3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. 4 In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. 5 They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

Here, as Tidball remarks, the psalmist affirms

  1. God’s position (still occupying his throne, v3);
  2. God’s power (still able to act decisively, just as he has in the past, v4f)
  3. God’s purpose (bringing him out of his mother’s womb, the object of God’s design and plan, v9)
  4. God’s providence (supporting him throughout his life in countless ways, v10f)
  5. God’s promise (having been without strength, v15, he appeals to God as his Strength, v19; having been beset by ferocious enemies, v12f, he prays to God to defeat them on his behalf, v20f).

Yet… – ‘The alternation in the psalm between descriptions of trouble and statements about God’s way expresses the contradiction that rends the soul when the unity of faith and experience is broken.’ (Mays)

So, we should regard vv 3-5 as simultaneously a complaint (you have helped us in the past, why are you not helping me now?) and an appeal (you have helped us in the past: this gives me hope that you will help me now).

The psalmist, though forsaken by God, still appeals to God, three times.

‘Were temptations never so black, faith will not hearken to an ill word spoken against God, but will justify God always.’ (David Dickson)

You are enthroned as the Holy One – ‘The psalmist has received no news that God’s royal throne has been demolished’ (Tidball)

NRSV translates: ‘Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel’.  Longman, however thinks that the NIV rendering is the more likely.

These words may be taken either as complaint, or as argument.  If God has saved his people in the past (most notably in the Exodus), why does he not do the same now?  If he has redeemed the nation, why not the individual?

For the moment, ‘experience was altogether at odds with theology.’ (WBC)

Perowne, however, asks: ‘Does it seem strange that the heart in its darkness and sorrow should find comfort in this attribute of God? No, for God’s holiness is but another aspect of his faithfulness and mercy. And in that remarkable name, “the Holy One of Israel,” we are taught that he who is the “holy” God is also the God who has made a covenant with his chosen. It would be impossible for an Israelite to think of God’s holiness without thinking also of that covenant relationship. “Be ye holy; for I, the Lord your God am holy,” were the words in which Israel was reminded of their relation to God. See especially Leviticus 19:1. We see something of this feeling in such passages as Psalm 89:16-19; 99:5-9; Hosea 11:8, 9; Isaiah 41:14; 47:4.’

They cried to you and were saved – Here, again, is both confidence and complaint.  God’s people of old cried out, and were delivered; the psalmist cries out, but receives no answer.  Why does the God who saved them not save me?

Not disappointed – or, ‘not ashamed’.

Psa 22:6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: 8 “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

If the comfort of God seems far distant, then the taunts of those around him are all too near.

I am a worm and not a man – dehumanised by the way he is being treated by others.

The link with the previous verse is clear: we move from ‘not ashamed’ to ‘ashamed’.  Just as people with AIDS, depression, marriage breakdown, a prison record, and so on must face not only the situation itself, but questions about how that situation arose, so the suffering psalmist must face the taunts of those whose attitude is, ‘You must have done something to deserve this’.  (See the discussion in NICOT)

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads – cf. Mt 27:39; Mk 15:29.

“He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him” – taunts that are echoed in Mt 27:43; Lk 23:35.

Here is a second reason for the psalmist’s despondency not only does God seem to have forsaken him, but also he has become a reproach among others.

God is silent.  What is heard are the clamouring shouts of those who mock and belittle David.  If he were a man, God would have helped him: but he is regarded as a mere ‘worm’.

Shaking their heads – in derision.  See Mt 27:39; Mk 15:29.

“He trusts in the Lord” – With just such words the religious leaders mocked Jesus, Mt 27:43.

‘Notice the false premise from which the unbelievers argue in verse 8, as always: that God is there for our convenience, if he is there at all (cf. ‘command these stones’; ‘throw yourself down’; ‘come down from the cross’)’ (Kidner)

‘Grievous indeed it is to have our words distorted to falsehood, converted into jest, retorted against ourselves, and blazed abroad to our discredit.  Christ endured this fourfold contradiction.’ (Stevenson, quoted by Plumer)

Psa 22:9 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 upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

As in vv3-5, we may read these words either (or both) as complaint and argument.

You brought me out of the womb – God as midwife.

From birth I was cast upon you – I have relied on you for nurture and protect, just as a small child relies entirely on its mother.

David has experienced God’s care since birth and early infancy.  But, again, this only serves to underscore his present predicament.  Why not now?  Like vv3-5, these verses are less attempts at self-consolation, more arguments presented to God (Broyles).

The relationship between God and the psalmist

This is encapsulated in the title “my God” (vv. 1, 2, 10).

The obligations implicit upon the speaker are

  • to “trust” (v. 4 [2x], vv. 5, 9)
  • to cry out for help (vv. 1, 2, 5)
  • to praise God once delivered (vv. 3, 22)

The obligations implicit upon Yahweh are

  • to delight in the individual (v. 8 and implied in vv. 9–10)
  • to hear his cries for help (implied in vv. 1–2, and again note v. 24, “has listened,”
  • to deliver him (vv. 4–5, 8, 19–21)

The intimacy of this relationship is most poignantly illustrated in the speaker’s birth story (cf. Psa 71:5–6; 139:13–16), where Yahweh is depicted as midwife: “you brought me out of the womb”. There is even a parallel drawn between the speaker’s mother and Yahweh: as the speaker was “at my mother’s breast” after being “brought … out of the womb,” so “from birth” (lit. “womb”) “I was cast upon you”. Paradoxically the trust that the individual is to place in “my God”—even this is traced back to Yahweh: “you made me trust in you”.

(Based on, and mainly using the wording of, Broyles)

‘Notice that in declaring his right to say “my God,” the figure speaks not of his own acts or character or status but only of God and what God has done.’ (Mays)

Psa 22:11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Psa 22:12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13 Roaring lions tearing 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 away within me. 15 My strength 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 have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.  17 I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.  18 They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

Here is the third cause for the psalmist’s suffering: he is in physical agony.  He is surrounded, frightened, disjointed, laid low, pierced, naked, bereft.

Apply this description to Jesus: surrounded by cruel soldiers, flogged, weakened through fatigue, pain and blood loss, shoulder joints dislocated (possibly), intensely thirsty, pierced by nails, mocked and ridiculed, naked (with lots cast for his clothing).

David is outnumbered, and his enemies, though obviously human, are pictured as wearing the masks of ferocious animals – powerful and out of control.

Many expressions here are suggestive of death, even execution.

Strong bulls of Bashan – Situated east of the Sea of Galilee, Bashan was noted for its fertility.

‘In the ancient Near East, these images of bulls and lions represent images of power and strength, indicating these are no ordinary enemies but are menacing and powerful enemies that would discourage others from getting involved.’ (NICOT)

I am poured out like water – Williams suggests that, for David, these words and those that follow may be expressive of emotional pain.  But for Jesus on the cross, they describe the completeness of his agony.  ‘He is “poured out like water” and His blood flows. His “bones are out of joint” as His body hangs from the Cross. His “heart has melted” with the pain. His “strength” ebbs away and “is dried up.” His tongue is bloated and in His thirst He is offered sour wine (John 19:28–29). Death now beckons. Its dust settles upon Him. And, wonder of wonders, this is God’s doing: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief” (Is. 53:10).’

My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth – See Jn 19:28.

You lay me in the dust of death – This is the heart of the problem – ‘The one who has sapped him of life and made him vulnerable to ferocious attack is God himself.’ (Broyles)

Here is one difference between the experience of the psalmist and that of Jesus: the former was delivered from death, the latter through death. (Craigie)  This means that ‘for the psalmist, death was merely postponed.  One day it would come knocking on his door again.  For the Christ, death was defeated.  It could never return to knock on his door’ (Tidball).

Dogs – not regarded here in their modern role as ‘man’s best friend’, but as despised scavengers.  The psalmist is near to death, and the dogs are waiting to pounce.

They have pierced my hands and feet – This expression (if a correct translation, as Kidner thinks, citing the LXX for support) gives a remarkably prescient description of a crucifixion.  However, Longman explains that the translation of this phrase is difficult.  There is some support for translating: ‘my hands and feet have shrivelled,’ (NRSV) or, ‘Like a lion [they maul] my hands and feet’ (Harper).  The NIV follows the LXX.  This translation also receives support from the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Some regard it as a problem that the NT would be expected to quote this verse, if it truly expressed such a vivid description of a crucifixion.

They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing – In anticipation of death.  ‘He won’t be needing these clothes anymore’.  See Mt 27:35; Mk 15:24; Lk 23:34; Jn 19:24.

Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 are similar in many ways.  However, in the former, the sufferer is on the brink of death, whereas in the latter, he dies and is buried.

Psa 22:19 But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. 20 Deliver my life 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.

In this, the third of the ‘you-sections’ of the psalm, David utters a series of urgent cries for help, even as the enemy closes in.

Deliver – Brueggemann draws attention to ‘the great transformative verbs’ – ‘create’, ‘give life’, ‘deliver’, ‘redeem’, ‘save’, bring out’, etc.

‘The context suggests some of the motives for which men do these things to one another: resentment at those who make high claims (8); the compulsion of crowd-mentality (12, 16a; cf. Exod. 23:2); greed, even for trivial gains (18); and perverted tastes – enjoying a harrowing spectacle (17) simply because sin is murderous, and sinners have hatred in them (cf. John 8:44).’ (Kidner)

Save me – The underlying expression occurs as a single word at the end of the sentence.  It should be translated ‘You have heard’, and therefore becomes a striking exclamation of expected or actual last-minute deliverance (so NIV footnote, Kidner, WBC, NICOT, NBC, and others).  With this expression, then, we reach a sudden and decisive turning point in the psalm.

Dogs…lions…oxen – We wonder if there might be some significance in the fact that these animals, mentioned earlier, in vv12-16, are now referred to in reverse order.  It is as if God is being called up to undo, piece by piece, the suffering and the hurt of the past.

‘They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.’ (C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce)

Psa 22:22 I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.

Some think that from this verse onwards we have a new and separate composition.  But, as Grogan remarks, ‘this suggestion is unnecessary, for often psalms beginning in agonized prayer end in gratitude for divine intervention (cf., e.g., Psa 4; 13).’

We do not know the nature of the deliverance that David experienced.  It was possibly a sudden recovery from serious illness, or unexpected retreat of his enemies.

My brothers – ‘Wonderful is Christ’s condescension to his people, even the humblest of them.  He is not ashamed to “call them brethren”, v22.  Oftentimes they are rude, ignorant, poor, and through life they labour under prejudices and errors, and have many faults and defects of character, yet the Saviour owns the weakest of them, even when they are disowned by their censorious brethren.  If Christ calls us brethren, it is a small matter to be judged of man’s judgement.’ (Plumer)

‘These words apply supremely to Jesus as the resurrected and ascended Lord, proclaiming the victory achieved through his death. In so doing, he gathers around him and sustains the congregation or church of his spiritual brothers and sisters’ (NBC on Heb 2:12)

I will praise you – Plumer quotes Morison: ‘It is impossible for finite minds to comprehend the extent of blessedness which he felt when atonement was made, when justice was satisfied, when Satan was vanquished, when the prophetic testimony concerning his death and resurrection was fulfilled.’  Cf Heb 12:2.

See Heb 2:11f, where this verse is quoted verbatim, and given an Messianic application.

Guthrie (NIVAC on Hebrews) says that the quotation of this verse in Heb 2:12 ‘supports the author’s proclamation of solidarity between Jesus and the people of God in two ways. (1) He sees in its reference to “brothers” the establishment of a spiritual family relationship by the Son’s sacrificial death. (2) The phrase “in the presence of the congregation” places emphasis on Jesus’ location in our midst on earth, where we are “lower than the angels.” It thus constitutes a reference to his incarnation. Psalm 22, therefore, offers a rich backdrop for a discussion on the Son’s incarnation, suffering, and the familial relationships.’

The ever-widening proclamation of God’s wonderful name and deeds: (a) to his brothers, v22; (b) to Israel, v23; (c) to the ends of the earth, v27.

Psa 22:23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

‘The taunts of the mockers are now drowned out by the songs of the faithful.’ (EBC)

‘In Christ’s joy at the progress of his kingdom and glory all that fear the Lord participate and give thanks.’ (Plumer)

Psa 22:24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

He…has listened to his cry for help – Effectively withdrawing the complaint that God has been deaf to his cry for help (cf. vv1-3).

Psa 22:25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.

David promises: I will fulfill my vows.  ‘Vows are promises undertaken on condition that God will answer a plea for help.’ (Longman)

Tidball explains that such celebrations often lasted two days, and would be shared with others (see follow verse).

Psa 22:26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him– may your hearts live forever!

The poor will eat and be satisfied – possibly as a result of David fulfilling his vows (v26).

Broyles explains: ‘The reference to eating may seem strange (v. 26) until we recognize that thanksgiving in the OT often included a thanksgiving sacrifice, which was to be shared, as it were, as a communal meal with Yahweh, the priests, and the worshiper’s family (Lev. 7:15–16; Deut. 12:5–7; 1 Sam. 1:3–4, 9). Deuteronomy 16:10–17 implies that society’s poor may also share in the offerings of those especially blessed.’

May your hearts live forever! – Suggesting a toast to those who have come to celebrate and give thanks with him.

Mays suggests that the table fellowship indicated here and in v29 suggests that the Christian finds his or her place in this psalm not as the sufferer (that role is claimed by Jesus alone), but as one of those who gives thanks for him, in the company of the worshipping community.

As we consider this exuberant season of thankfulness and celebration, we might ask if our own thankfulness to God for answered prayer is as heartfelt and as public as our petitions for him to help us.

Psa 22:27 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,

‘Those sinful nations who at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11) were scattered across the face of the earth are here envisioned as drawn, as if by a magnet, to worship Yahweh in fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2–3, that through him and his descendants “all the families of the earth” would find blessing.’ (Wilson)

Lorimer says notes that in this psalm ‘the Saviour is not only spoken of but actually personated, apart from whom indeed the psalm is unintelligible.’ He adds, ‘Nothing can be more comprehensive than this – the very ends of the earth, without exception, and the very tribes and families of the nations, all are to worship Messiah; and a reason is assigned, because the world is his, and he is entitled to the homage of all nations.’ (The Revival of Religion, 190)

‘Out from the inner circle of the present church the blessing is to spread in growing power until the remotest parts of the earth shall be ashamed of their idols, mindful of the true God, penitent for their offences, and unanimously earnest for reconciliation with Jehovah. Then shall false worship cease, “and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee,” O thou only living and true God. This hope which was the reward of Jesus is a stimulus to those who fight his battles.’ (Spurgeon)

‘The prayers of the saints, the intercession of Christ, the reward secured to the Redeemer, God’s promise and oathe all require that the whole earth be converted unto God.’ (Plumer)

Psa 22:28 for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.

The Lord was as much on his throne when he hid his face (v3) as he is when every creature bows before him.  He was as much on his throne

‘Despite all evidence to the contrary in our own world of experience, God is still on his throne (Psa 22:3), and the whole of creation is moving inexorably toward the conclusion of his purposes for it. That purpose is good and praiseworthy (Psa 22:3b, 25–26)—the submission of all earthly powers to his own (Psa 22:27–28), the leveling of rich and poor in their common realisation of their absolute dependence on him (Psa 22:26, 29), and an endless future proclamation of God’s righteousness to unborn generations (Psa 22:30–31).’ (Wilson)

‘Wicked as this world is, God governs it.  He has never resigned his authority over any people.  A blessed truth is this.  He can at any time so display his power, justice and grace as to subdue the proudest people, fill the most self-righteous with alarm, and bring the most guilty to hope in his mercy.’ (Plumer)

Psa 22:29 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.

All who go down to the dust will kneel before him – Possibly those who are on the point of death, as David himself had been.  Some commentators think that there is a hint of life beyond death here.

Broyles says that this should probably read: ‘all who sleep in the earth will bow down’.  Either way, it is a remarkable statement concerning life after death, especially in the light of Psa115:17; cf. Psa 6:5; 30:9; 88:10–12.  Only Dan 12:2; Isa. 26:19 comes close to this (Broyles).

Psa 22:30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

David’s vision is as extensive chronologically as it is geographically.

‘the perpetuity of the Church is here abundantly proved, and in very clear terms: not that it always flourishes or continues in the same uniform course through successive ages, but because God, unwilling that his name should be extinguished in the world, will always raise up some sincerely to devote themselves to his service.’ (Calvin)

Psa 22:31 They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn– for he has done it.

They will proclaim his righteousness

For he has done it – or, ‘for it is done’.  Jesus may have echoed this in his final cry from the cross: “It is finished”, Jn 19:30.

‘Most appropriately the psalm, which started with a cry of dereliction, complaining of the divine absence, ends with a triumphant cry, proclaiming a work effected, accomplished, by the Lord himself.’ (Grogan)

‘The celebration bursts the borders of space and time (Davis 1992:96). The borders of Israel dissolve as worshipers from “the whole earth” and “all the nations” join the celebration. The borders of time dissolve as worshipers from future generations come onto the scene (22:30–31).’ (Cornerstone)

‘The universal application of this psalm to the nations and the generations can only find its fulfillment in the One whose name is above every name; the One to whom every knee shall bow.’ (Williams)

Mays contemplates the great reversal that this psalm records: from affliction unto death to deliverance to life.  ‘The figure whose prayer and praise are heard undergoes a reversal of relations: before, mocked and rejected because of his dependence on God; after, joined by a company who celebrate with him because of it; before, surrounded by forces of evil whose threat replaces the present power of God; after, the occasion for the universal eternal celebration of the sovereignty of God.’

Tidball comments that the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus provide a still firmer basis for the hope set out in these final verses of the psalm.  ‘Our experience may still sometimes lead us into the paths of hiddenness and uncertainty about God.  But his cross and resurrection give us the final answer, and tell us that if we trust in God we shall not be disappointed (v3).’

Tidball quotes Mays: ‘What God wrought in the life of this one individual establishes “the universal, comprehensive, everlasting kingdom of God.”  The cross and resurrection are “a summons to the world…to believe in the reign of the Lord.”‘

The death and deliverance of the one is the summons to the many.  ‘In the psalm, all the people of every nation, condition, and time are expected to turn to the LORD in praise of his sovereignty because he acted to deliver the dying afflicted one.’ (Mays)

‘Utterly vain are all the hopes of the wicked.  So this Psalm abundantly declares.  If ever earth and hell united in a plot dark, cunning and malignant above all others, it was that of compassing the death of the Son of man; yet out of that very event arise the greatest good to men, the greatest reward to Christ, and the greatest glory to God.’ (Plumer)

A Messianic psalm?

Longman thinks that this psalm ‘is not a prophecy, but rather a lament which may be a model prayer for worshippers today who can use this psalm to call on God to make himself present in the midst of pain.’  We agree, however, with Williams: ‘Either this psalm is prophetic, pointing to Christ, or it is meaningless.’

This psalm is ‘a prophecy of the passion of Christ, and of the vocation of the Gentiles.’ (Eusebius of Caesarea)

‘Who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ No doubt there was something in David’s own life which prompted this outpouring of grief. No doubt many believers both in David’s time and our own can identify with many of the sentiments here. But no figure so completely fits the description and experiences detailed here as Christ himself. No wonder that no psalm is quoted so frequently in the NT.

Calvin, while not neglecting the original setting and circumstances of the psalm, notes that it outstrips any one experience in David’s life.  Noting that the psalm contains expressions that can hardly have applied to David himself (e.g. in vv12-18), Barnes suggests that the psalmist is laying out a supposed case, which exhibits the response of faith to such extreme trial.

‘The coincidence between the sufferings of the Psalmist and the sufferings of Christ is so remarkable, that it is very surprising that any one should deny or question the relation between the type and the antitype.’ (Perowne)

Kidner agrees that ‘the language of the psalm defies a naturalistic explanation; the best account is in the terms used by Peter concerning another psalm of David: ‘Being therefore a prophet … he foresaw and spoke of … the Christ’ (Acts 2:30f.).’

Henry, Spurgeon, Knight, and others suggest that Jesus may have recited the whole psalm from the cross.  Mays supports this notion, pointing out that ‘citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying an entire passage.’

‘The so-called fourth word from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and the sixth word, “It is finished,” come from the first and last verses of this psalm. Not only is the first verse quoted in two Gospels, but Psalm 22:7-8 is clearly alluded to in Matthew 27:39, 43; Psalm 22:18 is quoted directly in John 19:24 and in part in Matthew 27:35, Mark 15:24 and Luke 23:34; and Psalm 22:22 is quoted directly in Hebrews 2:12. The final verse, Psalm 22:31, is cited, in part, in John 19:30. No wonder this psalm has been called “the Fifth Gospel.”‘ (HSB)

Hebrews 2:12 quotes v22 verbatim, giving the words a definite Messianic application.

Only in Isa 53, of all the OT, is the crucifixion portrayed as vividly as this.

‘it contains an astonishing number of close parallels to the events of Jesus’ crucifixion: a cry of abandonment (22:1–2), despising and mocking (22:6–7), the taunt that the Lord should deliver the one who trusts in him (22:8), a near-death experience described as being poured out like water with all his bones out of joint, his heart melted like wax, and his strength dissipated (22:14–15). Furthermore, he is surrounded by wicked onlookers (22:16a) who pierce his hands and feet (22:16b) and divide his garments by lot (22:18). Not surprisingly, commentators throughout church history have wondered whether a larger, messianic meaning was intended by the psalmist from the outset. The end of the psalm scarcely alleviates this tension, since the universal response and acclamation of Yahweh that results far exceeds that experienced by any Davidic king.’ (Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament)

Tidball comments: ‘To say that Jesus fits the template of Psalm 22 is not to say that he deliberately manipulated his situation to fit it.  He could not have done so even if he had tried.’  Tidball adds that it is more plausible to suppose that the Net Testament writers saw the close connections and brought them out in their descriptions of Jesus’ sufferings.

‘The vision of this hymn is prophetic in character and eschatological in scope. Its place at the conclusion of Psalm 22 connects a vision of the universal, comprehensive, everlasting kingdom of God to what the LORD has wrought in the life of this afflicted one whose prayer and praise the psalm expresses…The only individual through whose person God deals with the nations is the Davidic king, the messiah, the son of God, and, one must add, the unidentified servant of the “songs” in Isaiah 42:1–4; 49:1–6; and 52:13–53:12. Psalm 22 cannot be the prayer and praise of just any afflicted Israelite. Though we cannot know for certain for whom it was written and through what revisions it may have passed in the history of its use, in its present form the figure in the psalm shares in the corporate vocation of Israel and the messianic role of David.’ (Mays)

‘Though the psalm is not messianic in its original sense or setting,…it may be interpreted from a NT perspective as a messianic psalm par excellence. It is clear, from the recorded words of Jesus on the cross, that he identified his own loneliness and suffering with that of the psalmist (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). And it is clear that the evangelists interpreted the crucifixion in the light of the psalm, utilizing its words in their description of the scene (Matt 27:39; Mark 15:29; cf. Luke 23:35; Ps 22:8). Indeed, the psalm takes on the appearance of anticipatory prophecy; the high priests, scribes and elders employ the modes of words of the psalmist’s enemies against Jesus (Ps 22:19; cf. John 19:24; Matt 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34). It is not without reason that the psalm has been called the “Fifth Gospel” account of the crucifixion (Frost, CJT 8 [1962] 102–15).’ (WBC)

Good Friday and Easter Sunday

The combination of utmost suffering and exalted thanksgiving in this psalm reminds us that Good Friday and Easter Sunday (and all that followed) are not to be separated.  ‘The psalm as a unit reminds us that neither in faith nor liturgy are the moments of the passion story and Holy Week to be isolated. The periods are, rather, perspectives from which to view the whole. The mystery and meaning are that it is the living Lord who tells of his dying and it is the crucified One who lives.’ (Mays)

Theodicy

‘The psalm interprets Jesus’ passion and resurrection as a theodicy for those who commit their way to the LORD. The Gospel accounts make it very clear that Jesus suffered and died as one of the “lowly.”…For the lowly, the passion and resurrection of Jesus are a justification of God in whom they trust and a vindication of their trust.’ (Mays)

The psalm of the cross

Roger Ellsworth observes that

The words Jesus spoke on the cross are here – from v1 (cf Mt 27:46) to v31 (cf Jn 19:30).

The reason Jesus was on the cross is here – he experienced God-forsakenness: the ultimate penalty for sin (2 Thess 1:9).  He experienced this, so that me might not have to.

The sufferings Jesus endured on the cross are here – see how vv6-8 correspond to Mt 27:41-43.

Those who put Jesus on the cross are here – the sufferer is beset by those who hate him.  Yet the hand of God in this is clearly stated in v15 (cf. Isa 53:10; Rom 3:25; 8:32).

Jesus identifies with the sufferings of others

Mays notes that this psalm would have been composed for liturgical use, and therefore appropriate for a range of situations and experiences.  When Jesus, on the cross, quotes it (possibly in full) he is therefore not only voicing his own distress, but identifying himself with all those who have felt forsaken by God: ‘He gives all his followers who are afflicted permission and encouragement to pray for help. He shows that faith includes holding the worst of life up to God’

Jesus has been through the experience described (and felt) in this psalm.  ‘Knowing “he has been through it” does not give us a final explanation or metaphysic. It does give us a new perspective, experience, and stance.’ (Mays)

Tidball comments similarly: ‘In entering his own “dark night of the soul”, Jesus was one with the many who struggle with severe suffering and affliction.’  Again: [David speaks] not exclusively for himself but as a representative of others who find themselves in extreme trouble, perhaps facing ill health or the prospect of very near death.  It confronts us mostly with the isolation and loneliness of the sufferer.  But in one respect the sufferer does not suffer alone, for he expresses both his complaint and his praise in the congregation of God’s people, where he first seeks comfort and later enjoys companionship.  The psalm, then, is not so much a private prayer as a public liturgy.’

‘He is no visitant from another world, avoiding too much involvement with this world of ours; he has totally involved himself in the human lot. There is no depth of dereliction known to human beings which he has not plumbed; by this means he has been “made perfect”—that is to say, completely qualified to be his people’s sympathizing helper in their most extreme need. If they feel like crying to God, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” they can reflect that that is what he cried. When they call out of the depths to God, he who called out of the depths on Good Friday knows what it feels like. But there is this difference: he is with them now to strengthen them—no one was there to strengthen him.’ (HSB)