The Messianic Psalms

Psalm 22 – The Suffering Saviour

 

By Fraser Gordon

 

Introduction

 

Psalm 22 is a psalm of David written about a thousand years before the birth of Christ. Yet it reveals details of a death by crucifixion, and other events that are not found in the life of David himself! Within this psalm, we find prophetic insight concerning the Messiah, His crucifixion and resurrection. The four gospels give us an account of the six hours Christ spent on the cross, and reveal to us the external things that happened to Jesus. In Psalm 22 however, we gain an insight into the mind of Christ during those six hours of crucifixion... what He was experiencing during His crucifixion from the third to the ninth hour (9am –3pm). Let’s look at this awesome psalm.

 

Jesus was forsaken…

 

Verse 1-2 “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?... “Oh my God I cry in the daytime but you do not hear…”

 

At the ninth hour (Mark 15:34) Jesus cried out these words to His Father.  We will never fully comprehend what it was like for Jesus to be separated from His Father.  This is something that Jesus had never experienced in all of eternity. Yet, during the final 3 hours upon the cross[1], the sins of the whole world were poured upon Christ and He was made the accursed thing, sin itself (2 Cor 5:21).  The entire wrath of a holy and righteous God was poured out upon the sinless Son of God and the Father withdrew His presence from the Son.  In this time of separation, Jesus cried out the question before us… ‘Why? Why have you forsaken me?’ The only answer to that is that it was for us.  He was made perfect through the things that He suffered. As a man He was separated from His God… For the first time ever, God was silent and His presence was not felt by the Son. Even though we will never know the depths that Christ went to when He was separated from His Father, we will experience periods when God is silent and His presence is not felt. It is in times like this, times when we feel like we have been hung out to dry, that we can learn from Jesus’ reaction in the next few verses.

 

Verse 3-5 “But You are Holy… Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them.  They cried to You, and were delivered; they trusted in You, and were not ashamed.”

 

In these verses, Christ is showing us the pathway to Life. Notice how Christ acknowledged that God was holy and righteous in the midst of His trouble. He reminds Himself that God delivered Israel in the past and would do so again. In doing this, He is giving God the right to order His steps and choose His paths, knowing that God’s character is absolutely just and trustworthy. We see an example of this in the garden of Gethsemane, when Christ prayed to His Father, “If it is possible let this cup pass from Me, yet not My will but Yours be done”[2].  Just as the Lord Jesus acknowledged God to be Holy in the midst of His trouble, so we too must continually yield ourselves to his guidance and trust Him in all our circumstances.

 

Why did Jesus call Himself a worm?

 

Verse 6 “But I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people.”

 

We return now to Christ’s experience. In being made sin and the accursed thing, He calls himself a worm and no man. What a radical statement to make… He is calling Himself the lowest form of life, a worm!  And not just any worm but a particular kind of worm - a scarlet worm[3] (coccus ilicus).  The scarlet worm is a beautiful type of the Lord Jesus in His death.  In order for this worm to bring forth life (reproduce), it attaches itself to the trunk of a tree, lays its eggs and dies.  In dying it stains the tree scarlet. In the scarlet worm we have a picture of life coming only out of death.  Just as the Lord Jesus was willing to lay aside His life to bring forth many sons unto glory so too this worm lays aside the right to live to bring forth life.  In the process of dying the worm stained the tree scarlet which is a graphic picture of Christ’s shed blood on the cross. Jesus was a man, but not any kind of man; conceived of the Holy Spirit, born without sin, the only perfect man who ever walked on earth in all that He said and did. When He came into the world He said, (Heb 10.5) “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire but a body you have prepared for me ...Then I said, Behold, I have come – In the volume of the book it is written of me to do your will O God”.

 

Verses 7-8 “All those who see me ridicule me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying He trusted in the Lord, let him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

 

These two verses portray a concerted attack on Jesus’ relationship with His Father and has its fulfilment in Matt 27:41-44 - “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.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, I am the Son of God.  Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.” In the face of this persecution, again and again Jesus must return and remind Himself of the truth as we shall see in verses 9 –11.

 

The Unique Relationship

 

Verses 9-11 “But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.  I was cast upon You from birth.  From My mother’s womb You have been My God.  Be not far from Me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.”

 

In reading these verses we are reminded again of the unique relationship of total dependence Jesus had with the Father, even from the womb. This relationship is portrayed in another prophetic passage in Isaiah 50:4-6. “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned; that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary.  He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens my ear to hear as the learned.  The Lord God has opened My ear and I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away.  I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide my face from shame and spitting.”

 

So even though Jesus was an equal member of the Godhead, in becoming a man He laid aside all his rights to live and act as God.  He laid aside his knowledge and learned from God His father in complete dependence. Reminding Himself of that relationship Jesus cries ‘be not far from Me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.’

 

Crucifixion detailed before there was such a death!

 

Verses 12-21 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it has melted within me…”

 

These verses graphically detail the effects of the crucifixion. The position that Christ hung on the cross would have put enormous stress on the body organs as well as the bones. Hence His statement - “All my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax”.[4] Other effects of crucifixion are seen in these verses – the Lord’s strength was completely dried up and the extreme thirst caused His tongue to cling to His jaw.

 

“For dogs have surrounded Me, the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.  They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” 

 

According to Jewish thought, “dogs” was a term referring to the gentiles (Matt 15:21-28). In the context of Psalm 22 it refers specifically to the Romans. Crucifixion was a Roman way of death, not a Jewish method.  David writing a thousand years before the death of Christ foretold a method that was not practiced among the Israelites! Another wonderful prophecy is seen in this passage where David even foretold what would become of Jesus’ garments. The fulfilment of this prophecy is in John 19:23,24 where we read that the soldiers divided his clothes into four parts and cast lots for His tunic… exactly as what was prophesied!

 

Christ victorious through the resurrection!

 

Verse 21-22 “You have answered Me.  I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You.”

 

Here we have a definite change in the psalm. As we have already seen, verses 1-21 portray Christ as the suffering servant surrounded by the wicked.  But when we get to verse 22 we have a change in perspective. We have resurrection life and the words… “You have answered me…”

 

When Christ was upon the cross being judged for the sins of the world he cried, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me”.  But His last words were, “My Father into Thy hands I commit My Spirit” showing that sin had been dealt with, the price had been paid and the relationship between the Father and Son was restored… the sacrifice was accepted! So in verse 22 we have the words “You have answered me.  I will declare your name…”  This is Christ speaking in resurrection life saying He is going to declare the name of His God to His brethren. With that in mind, it is time for a question…  

 

What is the name of God that Christ declares to us?

 

After His resurrection, the first person that Jesus appeared to was Mary (John 20:16-17) and He instructs her to go to His brethren and tell them that He was to ascend to “My Father and your Father and My God and your God”.  From this first meeting after His resurrection Jesus declared something new about God… He is a Father, and He is OUR Father!  In the Old Testament, this is not known; His righteousness, holiness, providence and justice were all known by the saints, but the personal aspect of God as our Father could only be known and experienced after the resurrection. This is seen also in Hebrews chapter 2 -

 

Heb 2:9-13 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.  For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.

 

The writer of Hebrews quotes Psalm 22:22 showing that it is Christ speaking through this Psalm.  The context of this passage in Hebrews shows Christ as a man, tasting death for the purpose of bringing “many sons to glory” (pictured graphically by the scarlet worm), and also of the wonderful plan and working of God at Calvary.

 

In Heb 2:11 we have the words “both He who sanctifies and those that are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren”.  In John 17 Jesus prayed that just as the Father and the Son are one, we also may be one. His prayer was that we would experience the same relationship of sonship that existed between Jesus and his Father. So in Heb 2:11 we have both He who sanctifies (Christ) and those that are being sanctified (believers) pictured as one family.  When the Lord Jesus died upon the cross, not only were our sins nailed with Him but God united us with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6). We are placed into the resurrected Christ and loved as a son because of our union with Jesus.

 

It is because of this oneness that we find Jesus praising the Father in the midst of the church - “In the midst of the assembly I will praise You”.  Jesus no longer questions why He was forsaken.  God has reconciled all things at the cross and Jesus praises His Father for the great things He has done. God has brought about a oneness between Christ and His people and He is not ashamed to call believers brethren and declare the name of God, (which is Father) to all believers. He desires that they may experience the truth of being dearly loved by the Father and accepted in His beloved Son. Galatians 4:6-7 brings out this truth that “God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying Abba Father” which means ‘daddy’.  We have Christ declaring to the believer that sin has been dealt with, God’s righteous character is satisfied, and we are therefore exhorted to draw near to God as our Father.

 

The Father did hear and He did answer!

 

Verses 23-25 ‘You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!.. For he (the Father) has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one (Jesus); he (the Father) has not hidden his face from him (Jesus) but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.’

 

In the midst of His uncertainty, Jesus had cried ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ In these verses however, we find that the Father had heard His cry for help. Though the Father had to hide His face for a time, Jesus’ sacrifice was not despised but was accepted by the Father as a perfect sin offering. For His part, Jesus says He will fulfil His vows... He will give praise to the Father in the midst of His brethren.  

 

The Millennial Reign of Christ

 

Verse 26-31 The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him— may your hearts live forever! 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, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. 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. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.

 

These verses apply to the millennial reign of Christ. William MacDonald, in ‘The Believers Bible Commentary’ writes ‘In the last six verses of this Psalm, there is a change of speaker. Now the Holy Spirit speaks, describing the ideal conditions that will prevail during the peace and prosperity of the Millennium’. We read that poverty will be banished (vs 26). The earth will be full of God’s praise (vs 26). There will be worldwide revival as all the ends of the earth remember what Christ did at Calvary. (vs 27). The Lord Himself will exercise worldwide dominion (vs 28, 29) and the message of His great redemption will be passed down from one generation to the next. (vs 30, 31) Fantastic!

 

Conclusion

 

Psalm 22 is an awesome Messianic psalm. For it not only accurately details the suffering of Jesus on the cross, but also reveals the glories of His resurrection and His future reign on earth. It starts with Jesus’ cry upon the cross – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ But it ends with victory…’They will proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn – for He has done it!’ Amen.



[1] John W. Lawrence, in an article called ‘The death of death’ wrote the following interesting points concerning Jesus’ time on the cross:

 

“During the first three hours the sufferings of Christ on the cross were at the hands of men.  During the last three hours, He suffered at the hands of a righteous and holy God. During the first three hours our Lord was the “sinless” Son of God (Heb 7:26); during the last three hours He was “made sin” (2 Cor.5:21); and He became the accursed thing.  Because God cannot look on sin, neither did He allow man to look on the Lord during this time.  God, for the only time in eternity past or future, was separated from the Son, and a veil was hung over the light of the sun in order that man might realize the gravity of the moment.”

 

“During the first three hours, Calvary was only a hill outside the city of Jerusalem where the Son of Man was crucified; during the final three hours, Calvary became the brazen altar of God where the Son of God was slain for our sins. During the light, Christ bore the weight of His own body on the cross; during the last three hours He bore the sins of the whole world.”

 

[2]  Another example would be Job 13:5 “though He slay Me yet will I trust Him”. In Philippians 4:6-8, Paul, chained to a wall, shows us how to survive internally, telling us in vs. 8 to meditate on things that are true, noble, just and pure. This is what Jesus did, as shown by Psalm 22, while feeling separated from His Father on the cross. He reminded Himself of the faithfulness and holiness of the Father even though He felt abandoned.

 

[3] The Hebrew word for "worm" in Psalm 22:6 is from the word ‘towla’, which refers to a particular type of worm, known as the ‘coccus ilicis’. It was the scarlet worm, and was commonly used in Israel to make scarlet dye.

[4] In his book ‘The Case for Christ’, Lee Strobel interviewed Alexander Metherell, M.D. In response to a question concerning the effect of crucifixion upon its victim, Metherell responded “Once a person is hanging in the vertical position, crucifixion is essentially and agonizingly a slow death by asphyxiation. The reason is that the stresses on the muscles and diaphragm put the chest into the inhaled position; basically, in order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension on the muscles would be eased for a moment. In doing so, the nail would tear through the foot, eventually locking up against the tarsal bones. After managing to exhale, the person would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. Again he would have to push himself up to exhale, scraping his bloodied back against the coarse wood of the cross. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn’t be able to push up and breathe anymore… Even before he died, the hypovolemic shock would have caused a sustained rapid heart rate that would have contributed to heart failure resulting in the collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart, called a pericardial effusion… John probably had no idea why he saw both blood and a clear fluid come out – certainly that’s not what an untrained person like him would have anticipated. Yet John’s description is consistent with what modern medicine would have expected to have happened.