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Psalm 22 was written by David. Some scholars think it was written during some time of great distress by David. But the psalm contains so many allusions to what Jesus actually experienced while on the cross, many other commentators consider this whole psalm an entire prophetic composition.
For example, Augustine about 400 A.D. wrote (Expositions on the Book of Psalms, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, volume 8, pg. 58), "...the Lord Jesus Christ himself speaketh. For in the morning on the first day of the week was His resurrection, whereby He was taken up, into eternal life, Over whom death shall have no more dominion. Now what follows is spoken in the person of The Crucified." And Charles Haddon Spurgeon went so far as to suggest in 1876 (Treasury of David, vol. 3, pg. 324), "It may have been actually repeated word by word by our Lord when hanging on the tree...."
Others consider that although David wrote these words out of his own time of trial, the Holy Spirit caused him to use words that would be ultimately fulfilled in the coming Messiah. This is John Calvins position when in 1551 he wrote (John Calvins Commentary on the Psalms pg. 281), "...there is no doubt that Christ, in uttering this exclamation upon the cross, manifestly showed, that although David here bewails his own distresses, this psalm was composed under the influence of the Spirit of prophecy concerning Davids King and Lord."
Some scholars even argue that David wrote this psalm entirely from his own experience with no future application, but this is hard to accept since we know much of the suffering described in Psalm 22 never actually happened to David.
I have to admit that as I began my study of the 22nd psalm, I was skeptical that all the verses applied to Jesus. However, after studying the Hebrew and discovering many verses in other areas of the Bible about the Savior and seeing how they apply to Psalm 22, I am now thoroughly convinced that what we have here is what Christ was actually thinking while on the cross. You will have to judge for yourself. I present my case one verse at a time.
In the Hebrew, the first verse of the psalm is the title or superscription in our Bibles. The Hebrew for the Title is < rxa#$aha tley@e)a> ayeleth hashachar and means literally "the hind of the morning." The targums were the Jewish interpretations of scripture written about the Second Century A.D. Delitzsch points out that the targum on Psalm 22 refers to the hind of the morning as the lamb of the morning sacrifice. This seems to reveal an ancient Hebrew interpretation since the Jews would have no reason to validate a Christian concept. This is amazing when we realize that Jesus was nailed to the cross in the morning, and he was the lamb sacrificed for the sins of you and me and all the world the lamb of the morning sacrifice.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
This verse was actually fulfilled word for word when Jesus was on the cross. Matthew 27:46 (KJV) tells us, "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Here in Psalm 22 we have the anguish and feelings of abandonment that Jesus felt as he uttered these words: "Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?" It was during this dark time that your sins and mine were being placed on Christ. The penalty for our sins was the separation from God which Jesus suffered in our stead. Because he was willing to do this for us, we will never experience that abandonment from God.
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Notice that verse 2 refers to both day and night. We find that while Jesus was on the cross, suddenly daytime turned to night time. Luke 23:44 (KJV) tells us, "And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst."
This darkness was in response to Christ taking on the sins of the world and symbolized God hiding his face from his son by darkening the illuminating light of his sun. This is the darkness we live in until we turn our life over to God. Even in this darkest hour, we see Gods mercy: for in the midst of the darkness of the accumulated sin of all mankind for all ages, we find God tearing the veil in the temple which separated man from Gods presence. It was through Christs willing sacrifice that we all may enter, rejoicing and worshipping, into his Holy of Holies.
Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. To thee they cried, and were saved; in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed.
The last part of verse 5, "in you they trusted, and were not disappointed," in the Hebrew means literally, "in you they trusted, and they were not ashamed." Hebrews 12:2 tells us Jesus "endured the cross, despising the shame." He knew that even though to the world and to those mocking him, he might appear to be despicable and a shame; his father would deliver him, and he would rise in triumph.
But I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people.
In the first part of this verse, Jesus calls himself a worm and no man. Many commentators believe that this refers to the appearance of Jesus bruised and beaten body. Isaiah 52 was written hundreds of years before Christ and prophesied of the coming Messiah. Isaiah 52:14 says , "As many were astonished at him his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men."
In the second part of this verse, the psalmist says he is "scorned by men, and despised by the people." This was literally fulfilled in Mark 15:29 (NIV), "Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads," and Mark 15:31 (NIV), "In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves."
All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their headsNew International Version
There is no question this verse is fulfilled almost word for word in Matthew 27:39. Compare Psalm 22:7 (NIV), "All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads," to Matthew 27:39 (NIV), "Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads."
Even after 2000 years things have not changed much. Men are still shaking their heads at Jesus message and ridiculing those who would serve him. They laugh at the thought of going to church; they deride praying. They consider faith a crutch for those who are weak. They joke about heaven and make fun of believers. But someday they will have to face Jesus for the final judgement. At that time, more than just their heads will be shaking.
He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.New International Version
Once again we have almost word for word fulfillment of this verse in the New Testament. The Jewish leaders unknowingly confirm scripture by speaking the very words David wrote 1000 years earlier. Compare Psalm 22:8 (NIV), "He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him," to Matthew 27:43 (NIV), "He trusts in God, let God rescue him."
Barnes (Notes on the Old Testament, Psalms vol. 1, pg. 197) points out, "It is one of the most remarkable instances of blindness...that has ever occurred in the world, that the Jews should have used this language in taunting the dying redeemer, without even suspecting that they were fulfilling the prophecies and demonstrating at the very time when they were reviling him that he was the true Messiah."
Little did the mockers and scoffers know that God was indeed going to deliver his son. Not the way they had anticipated, but the way God had planned it all along. Jesus would suffer, and he would even die, but God would resurrect him out of the pit, and he would emerge victorious over death, hell, and the grave. He would break the chains which Satan used to shackle mankind. Gods creation which had fallen into sin at the Garden of Eden would at long last be set free: free from the bondage of sin, free to enter the presence of God.
Yet thou art he who took me from the womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's breasts. Upon thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God.
In these two verses Jesus thoughts turn to his mother. The Gospel of John records the occasion which prompted these thoughts. John 19:26-27 (NKJV) tells us, "When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother,
Woman, behold your son! Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home."
Even in his time of intense suffering Jesus was thinking of others. As the oldest son, the responsibility for caring for his mother as she grew older would fall upon him. He cared about his mothers physical needs as well as her spiritual needs.
As physical health begins to decline with the advancing years, many begin to feel abandoned. Our Lord cares about our needs in all stages of our life. Just as he provided for his mothers old age, he will be with us up to the very moment he calls us home to live with him in eternity.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help.
Certainly we see this verse fulfilled with Jesus on the cross. But notice the last half of this verse says, "and there is none to help." This was fulfilled in Matthew 26:56 (NIV) which informs us, "...Then all the disciples deserted him and fled." There was no one to help Jesus.
John Milton about 1650 wrote these lines concerning Christs suffering on the cross (The Passion, stanza II, Great Books of the Western World, vol. 32, pg. 10),
Sometimes we feel like this verse, "Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help." Its comforting to know that Jesus understands exactly how we feel. But for us, he is always near, and he is always there to help, and we never need to feel alone or helpless.
Many bulls encompass me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me.
From Matthew 27 we see that Jesus was surrounded by soldiers, chief priests who were mocking him, scribes and elders who were hurling insults at him, and even a thief who was deriding him. Some of Jesus followers were there, but Matthew 27:55 tells us they watched from a distance. Jesus was surrounded by his enemies, and his friends were far from him.
Barnes (Barnes Notes on the Old Testament, Psalms vol. 1, pg. 198) gives a good commentary on this verse, "The bulls of Bashan are here alluded to as remarkable for their size, their strength, and their fierceness; and are designed to represent men who are fierce, savage, and violent. As applied to the Redeemer, the allusion is to the fierce and cruel men that persecuted him and sought his life. No one can doubt that the allusion is applicable to his persecutors and murderers...."
They open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
The Hebrew here means literally, "They open upon me their mouths, a lion tearing and roaring." So what event at the cross is this verse describing? I think the key is the two phrases "They open their mouths" and "roaring." Compare this to the Jewish leaders opening their mouths and roaring at Jesus in Matthew 27:41-42 (NKJV), "Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him."
No doubt it was difficult for the Savior to endure these taunting insults. But he knew who was behind the contempt for he told the Jewish leaders in John 8:44 that they were doing the deeds of their father, the devil. Peter identifies the enemy in 1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV), "...your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour."
Was this mere coincidence that David used the term "lion" in Psalm 22 1000 years before Jesus had to take on Satan in the battle for our soul? The further into this psalm we get, the more obvious it becomes how God orchestrated the events to occur to provide for our redemption. How marvelous it is to read these prophetic verses fulfilled down to the smallest detail. And how amazing that David would write the very words which would be ultimately fulfilled by his direct descendant. David could not have truly understood the real meaning of some of the words of his song. But we can now see and appreciate how God used David to carry out his divine plan.
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.
The first part of this verse tells us that Jesus was poured out like water. We read in John 19:34, "But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water." This was literally fulfilled.
The rest of this verse and the next 2 verses reveal the suffering of one
dying on the cross. Scofield (The Scofield Reference Bible pg. 608) comments, "Psalm
22 is a graphic picture of death by crucifixion. the bones (of the hands, arms, shoulders,
and pelvis) out of joint (v. 14); the profuse perspiration caused by intense suffering (v.
14); the action of the heart affected
I wonder if we can ever begin to understand the torture and suffering Jesus experienced on the cross. Not only did he have to endure the tormenting physical pain, but he also felt the emotional agony of being abandoned by God and the spiritual pain of all the sins of mankind flooding his soul. If we could really understand, we would be so filled with gratitude that we would never fall to sins temptation.
But we are trapped in this carnal body with all its selfishness, pride, and lust; and surrounded on every side by the illusion and glitter of worldliness, so that we are in a constant spiritual battle to keep our focus on God and his commandments. While here on this earth, we will probably be too distracted to ever truly appreciate Christs suffering. But some day, when we are dwelling in our future home, we will be able to understand. And we will be able to say to Jesus, through our tears, thank you!
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; thou dost lay me in the dust of death.
This verse continues the description of the agonies of the crucifixion. It tells us his tongue was sticking to his jaws, no doubt from dryness. In John 19:28 Jesus said, "I thirst." This verse was literally fulfilled.
But in spite of his agony, the last phrase of this verse is remarkable. We might read this verse 100 times and only see "lay me in the dust of death." But Maclaren points out that Jesus acknowledges that "thou dost lay me in the dust of death." In other words, God brought him to the dust of death. This was the divine plan all along, and now its being completed.
Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet.
This phrase "dogs are round about me" is an interesting description. Stedman (Psalms of Faith pg. 76-77) has this to say about the term "dogs" in this verse, "It is absolutely impossible to explain that verse on any natural basis. It is clearly a God-given picture of the Crucifixion. The psalmist says that the sufferer is surrounded by dogs. This was the common Jewish term for Gentiles, and especially for the Romans. Roman executioners are all around the cross here."
We see examples of the Roman soldiers, the "dogs," at the cross throughout the gospel narratives. They are casting lots for Jesus garments in John 19:23-24, a soldier pierces Jesus side in John 19:34, they mock him in Matthew 27:29, they give him vinegar to drink in Matthew 27:35, they crucify him in Matthew 27:35, and the centurion uttered his proclamation of faith in Matthew 27:54.
The second half of Psalm 22:16 is an amazing prophecy, "they have pierced my hands and my feet." When David wrote this psalm, crucifixion was unknown. Execution for the Hebrews was by stoning. Yet here it is clearly described centuries before the Romans would impose their legal system on the nation of Israel.. The fact that Jesus hands and feet were pierced is confirmed in John 20:25-27 where Jesus confronts Thomas for his doubting.
It causes us to stop and consider when we realize that Jesus knew Psalm 22 before he ever began his final journey to Jerusalem. He understood the suffering he would encounter, but he was obedient unto death because of you and because of me.
Delle Norton describes Christs agony (Hoyts New Cyclopedia pg. 676),
I can count all my bonesthey stare and gloat over me.
I believe this verse is prophesying the same as Psalm 34:20 that none of Jesus bones would be broken. This was fulfilled in John 19:32-33, "So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him; but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs."
Why is this important? It was a beautiful fulfillment of Gods Passover lamb sacrifice. In Numbers 9:12 the nation of Israel was instructed not to break any bone of the Passover lamb. This was written 1500 years before God presented to Israel and the whole world the true Passover Lamb. All the others were mere foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice of Gods son.
They divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots.
Until the events at the crucifixion, it would have been impossible for David or any later Hebrew reader to understand what this verse is saying. The first half of the verse plainly contradicts the last half of the verse. The Hebrew words for garment and raiment mean virtually the same thing. This verse is a clear example of Hebrew poetry where the same thought is repeated twice. But these two actions are contradictory: either they divided the garments or they cast lots for the garment. This could not be clearly understood until after it was fulfilled at the cross of Jesus.
And this verse was literally fulfilled in John 19:23-24, "When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and made four parts, one for each soldier; also his tunic. but the tunic was without seam, woven from top to bottom; so they said to one another, Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be. "
It is amazing to think that David wrote this. this event could not have happened to him, or he would have been dead. To say he was poetically exaggerating a time in his life when he felt surrounded by his enemies still doesnt seem to explain this remarkable language. It is no wonder the ancient commentators believed these were the words of Jesus, not David. And yet God used David ... to write this prophecy, just as he also used Isaiah, Micah, Daniel, Moses, Malachi, Amos, Haggai, Zechariah and so many others to record future events with amazing accuracy. What more proof do we need that the Bible is Gods inspired word to man?
But thou, O Lord, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
We already mentioned how in verse 16 the "dogs" referred to the Roman soldiers. Now, here in verse 20 Jesus calls out to God to deliver him from the power of the dog, the sword. This scripture was literally fulfilled in John 19:34, "But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear...."
It was Satan who thought he had defeated Jesus by using the power of the Roman sword. But just like David when he used Goliaths own sword to defeat him, God would defeat the forces of darkness. It was the Roman sword which crucified Jesus and persecuted the early Christians. But within only a few centuries, it was the Roman Empire itself which caused the propagation of Christianity throughout the entire world.
Save me from the mouth of the lion, my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen!
This verse is the last mention of suffering in this psalm. For the first 21 verses we see the suffering Savior who had to endure the agony of the cross. Then suddenly beginning with verse 22 and continuing through to the end of the psalm we see a new tone of jubilance. Suffering dramatically changes to praise and glory of God. This was fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ. The shame of the cross changed to the victory of the resurrection.
Starting with verse 22, our Redeemers thoughts turn to the future; to the time after the Resurrection when the price has been paid. Many of the verb forms from verse 22 to the end of the psalm are imperfect indicating a future tense. This seems to confirm that these thoughts are still from the perspective of the one on the cross who would accomplish all these things after his death and resurrection. The agony of the suffering is now in the background for he knows his work is completed. His soul is at peace and he can cry out (Luke 23:46 NKJV), "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit."
I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee:
We must keep in mind that verse 22 is from the perspective of the cross that Jesus will in the future declare to his brethren. This was literally fulfilled in John 20 when Jesus ministered to the disciples after the Resurrection. In fact in verse 17 he instructs Mary to "go to my brethren."
But in a way this verse is continuing to be fulfilled in congregations down through the centuries as Jesus continues to declare the things of God to his brethren. This is beautifully explained in Hebrews 2:11-12 (NIV) where Paul quotes Psalm 22:22 as being from the lips of Jesus, "Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says, I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises. "
You who fear the Lord, praise him! all you sons of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hid his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
This verse is very similar to Isaiah 53:3 (NKJV) which tells of the future Messiah, "He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; he was despised, and we did not esteem Him." Notice the similarities: Psalm 22:24 "despised...abhorred...the afflicted...hid his face;" Isaiah 53:3 "despised...rejected...man of sorrows...we hid our faces."
The difference in these two passages is that the Isaiah account shows us how the world saw Jesus on the cross, but the account in Psalm 22 is from the perspective of Jesus himself while on the cross. Although he was despised of man, he was not despised of God; although he appeared abhorrent, he was not abhorred by God; although man hid his face from him, God only looked away for a moment, but "when he cried unto him, he heard."
From thee comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
In this verse I made the most exciting discovery in this whole study. When I began examining Psalm 22, this is the verse with which I had the most difficulty imagining Jesus speaking or thinking these words on the cross. Jesus doesnt need to pay any vows. He is God, he is eternal. How could this verse be appropriate?
Then I read this verse in the Hebrew. The Hebrew word translated "pay" is < ml#$a> shalem. We are familiar with the Hebrew word for peace, shalom. Shalem belongs to the same root. The reason why the Hebrews used this word to mean "pay" was that when you paid your neighbor a debt you owed, you literally made a covenant of peace with him. In other words, he wouldnt get angry at you and burn down your house or steal your cattle to recover his debt.
To use this word as paying a vow meant you were making a covenant of peace with God. Now it is obvious how appropriate these words are for Jesus on the cross. By the divine design Jesus death and resurrection made a covenant of peace with man. And equally true, through what Jesus accomplished at Calvary, man made a covenant of peace with God. This could only be accomplished by the duality of Jesus: Jesus as God linked the divine with the human, and Jesus as man linked the human with the divine.
And what do we call this new relationship between God and man? the new covenant, or new testament. As Jesus said in John 14:27 (NKJV), "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live for ever!
This verse is a wonderful promise of what Christ would accomplish. Jesus spoke very similar words to these in Luke 6:20-21. Compare Psalm 22:26 (NIV) "The poor will eat and be satisfied;" to Luke 6:20-21 (NIV) "Blessed are you who are poor...for you will be satisfied." Jesus paid the price that we might live forever. As the psalmist records, even the poor and afflicted will be satisfied. All who seek him will praise him for his wonderful work.
In the 1600s George Herbert wrote a poem entitled Redemption.
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
Jesus is thinking these thoughts recorded in this verse while he is on the cross. He has been rejected even by those of his own country. But he is looking forward to another time a time when the whole world honors him. Now, the Jewish leaders are mocking and ridiculing him, but Philippians 2:9-11 (NKJV) tells us, "Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." This verse in Psalm 22 will be fulfilled in the future by Christ the Messiah.
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
Here in verse 28, Jesus is thinking about Gods rule over the nations. In 1 Corinthians 15:24-25 (NKJV) Paul tells us about Jesus own rule over the nations, "Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet."
Leaders come and go, nations rise and fall, armies conquer, then are defeated. But God rules over all. Where is the Persian Empire today? What happened to the might of the Roman army? Where is the Spanish Armada? What became of the Aztec warriors? And despite their proud boast, the sun has finally set on the British Empire. God is the one in charge of history. No leader has served without God allowing it.
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.
New International Version
This verse is talking about the rich worshipping the Lord. This was literally fulfilled in John 19:38-40 when the two prosperous Jewish leaders who had been secret disciples, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus the Pharisee, now openly take their stand and attend to their crucified Saviors burial.
Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation.
This was certainly fulfilled in a dramatic way. Within just a few short weeks after the crucifixion the gospel message exploded. The church in Jerusalem grew by the thousands. Within the first century it expanded throughout the entire Roman Empire and continued to expand throughout the entire world. today missionaries are being sent to every obscure corner of the world. Peters declaration in Acts 2:39 (NKJV) is still being fulfilled today, "For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call."
And proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it.
In the Hebrew this verse ends with the words, "He has done it." This is very similar to Jesus last words recorded in John 19:30, "It is finished." The 19th Century Hebrew scholar Frans Delitzsch even translates Psalm 22:31, "He hath finished it."
Can it really be true that this psalm both opens and closes with the actual words that Jesus spoke on the cross? And these words were written 1000 years before the event! I leave it to you to reach your own conclusion. I can only say that words cannot adequately express what I felt in my spirit as I studied this amazing psalm. If we realize that God can fulfill his word after a thousand-year interval down to the smallest detail, we can also be confident that he will keep his promises to us.
If you know Christ as your personal Savior, you will want to rejoice and praise him that he completed his work. If you dont know him, why dont you bow before him? Thats why he went to the cross because he loved you!
This study on Psalm 22:1-31 © 1996 - 1998 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.