We are continuing our summer series through the Psalms, and this morning I have the great privilege of guiding us through Psalm 22. This particular psalm is as much prophecy as it is poetry. In fact, it is one of the most significant prophecies about the suffering of the Messiah in all of Scripture!
By way of introduction, let me share a few facts about Psalm 22.
- It was written by King David (nearly 1,000 years before Messiah)
- It is considered a psalm of lament, yet it ends triumphantly
- Emotive! Genuinely takes us from the deepest depths to the highest heights
- This one psalm is quoted no less than 14 times in the New Covenant!
And now, before we contemplate Psalm 22, I want to read something to you, and it is so crucial that you hear this, that I even am going to ask you to stop anything you may be doing; stop taking notes, put down anything you may be looking at, even quiet your own thoughts, so that you can give 100% attention to these familiar words.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Yeshua cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” – that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)
Why did Yeshua say that? I will give you my answer that in a little while. Those who are hostile to the Faith might argue (as some have) that Yeshua was blaspheming – accusing God of abandoning Him and being unjust; and that, because of this alleged blasphemy, He cannot be the Messiah. That argument is dishonest to the core; but those who are unfamiliar with Scripture and unfamiliar with the teaching techniques of First-Century rabbis might be taken in by such an argument – especially if they are looking for reasons not to believe. But then you find out that those were the very opening words of Psalm 22, written by King David, and nobody’s accusing him of blasphemy.
So let’s begin our study of Psalm 22, and may the Spirit of the Lord grant us ears to hear, minds to understand, and hearts to believe all that is written.
אֵלִי אֵלִי, לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
One of the most wonderful things about the Psalms of David is their brute honesty. His feelings, even his doubts and bewilderment, are on open display. There’s no sugar-coating or nuance. Here, David finds himself in great distress, and God has been silent; deliverance seems nowhere to be found. Can any of us say that we’ve never felt that way ourselves; that we’ve never questioned God in the midst of our trying circumstances? Isn’t it comforting to know that someone such as King David struggled in his faith, too? But he persevered in his trust for Adonai. A good ending is what is important; not how you began, or the hiccups along the way.
וְאַתָּה קָדוֹשׁ – יוֹשֵׁב, תְּהִלּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל
Yet You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You delivered them. To You they cried and were rescued; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.
Despite feeling dismayed, David at once acknowledges God’s kingship, holiness and frankly undeserved mercy and faithfulness to the nation. We have a history with Him, and He absolutely deserves the praises of His people.
Israel’s story is that of one unlikely victory after another; of rescues and reversals that, statistically speaking, could never be credited to chance. In generation after generation, God’s hidden hand moved powerfully and mercifully to secure our survival when we cried out to Him.
Our faith is a faith built on remembrance. It is through the consistent reading of Scripture that we are reminded of the wondrous works Adonai has performed, and when we remember, our faith is strengthened and deepened; and THAT is what will get us through our trials!
וְאָנֹכִי תוֹלַעַת וְלֹא-אִישׁ
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; “He trusts in the Lord; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, for He delights in him!”
David faced opposition and at times contempt from the likes of King Saul, from the Philistines, from Shimei the Benjamite, and even from his own son, Absalom, and his formerly good friend Ahithophel. But at no time in the biblical record would the description in these verses apply to any situation in which David found himself. Not even close. I have no doubt that at times David felt abandoned and experienced mockery, but this is more than mere hyperbole… it is prophecy.
I believe David wrote his psalms by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and whatever the occasion that initially moved him to write this particular psalm, at this point he transcends lament and begins to prophesy. This is David foretelling the experience of the Son of David, the Messiah. And, more specifically, the scene that would unfold, 1,000 years in the future, at the public execution of Yeshua.
… I am a worm and not a man (regarded as less than human)
… scorned… despised by the people (not ‘peoples’ but the people = Israel)
… all who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads
… “He trusts in the Lord; let Him deliver him”… (hateful sarcasm)
We will examine this in more detail in a few minutes. But for now, as we come to verses 9-11, David continues his lament, declaring his closeness to Adonai, and expressing hope for deliverance in the midst of his despair.
כִּי-אַתָּה גֹחִי מִבָּטֶן
Yet You are He who took me from the womb; You made me trust You at my mother’s breasts. On You was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb You have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
David acknowledges Adonai’s presence and protection in his life from the time of his infancy. He asks why God would have sustained him all these years, only now to remain distant and allow him to fall into the hands of the scoffers. Trouble is at hand, and no one on Earth will help, so he appeals to Heaven.
But again, as we come to this next section, verses 12-18, I believe this psalm transcends lament and moves into the realm of messianic prophecy.
סְבָבוּנִי, פָּרִים רַבִּים
Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
What a striking series of metaphors! Bulls are powerful, and potentially deadly animals. They can easily trample or gore a person to death. Lions are the most fearsome predators on earth. The Son of David, the One of whom this psalm is now speaking, is surrounded by a group of powerful men intent on killing Him. And the physical description that follows indicates that they are succeeding.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; You lay me in the dust of death.
To be poured out like water sounds very much like someone who is bleeding out and near to death. To have all one’s bones – the entire skeleton be out of joint would require either being completely suspended and then suddenly dropped and the force of the impact dislocating all the joints, or else the full weight of a man’s body being suspended by just one or two bones, and causing the bones in the entire upper body to dislocate . It may even describe one who has been violently impaled.
This all sounds very much like what occurred during crucifixion in the Roman era, though this psalm was written 1,000 years earlier. Crucifixion didn’t exist in the time of David. It was invented by the Persians in the 4th century BC. The Romans refined the process to make it as slow and cruel and terrifying as possible.
The feeling of one’s heart melting like wax describes what we would call heart failure. The lack of oxygen from the difficulty in breathing, being suspended by nails through the wrists and feet, would cause the heart to enlarge, and death usually came through suffocation or heart failure. Extreme dehydration was a cruel aspect of crucifixion. Let me read verses 14 and 15 again: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; You lay me in the dust of death.
This is precisely what Yeshua experienced at His crucifixion. We will read the account in a few minutes, so that you can make the comparison for yourself.
כִּי סְבָבוּנִי, כְּלָבִים
For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me;
Once again, this describes a scenario for which there is no biblical record in the life of David. David was genuinely in a distressing situation when he wrote Psalm 22, but it is evident that the Spirit moved him to prophesy of the sufferings of the greater David – the Son of David – Messiah Yeshua.
I love dogs, and so do many of you do; but in the Ancient Near East dogs were considered unclean and undesirable, and in wild packs could be vicious. David describes the mob surrounding the Suffering One as ‘a company of evildoers’ – comparable to wild, unclean, vicious dogs. They are intent on killing Him.
they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones—
Is there any question now that this is talking about Messiah’s suffering? Could it be any more obvious? Well, you may be surprised (or not) to learn that the phrase they have pierced my hands and feet is translated differently in Jewish editions of Psalm 22. They render it this way: like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet. Jewish translations base it on the Masoretic Text (MT), which dates to about the 9th century AD.
By contrast, the Septuagint (LXX), which is the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures, and which predates the MT by over 1,000 years (2nd century BC) used the verb ëDL>”< from éDLFFT meaning ‘pierced’. The scholarly rabbis in Alexandria, Egypt who translated the Septuagint, lived well before Yeshua, so there was no anti-Christian bias. They just translated as faithfully as possible the Hebrew Bible into Greek for what had become a Greek-speaking world.
Without going into a lot of grammatical or textual technicalities, let me say that I have studied this passage carefully, and it should be translated ‘pierced’. But even if we were to concede the modern rabbinical translation ‘like a lion’ it would in no way alter the meaning of the verse or the theme of this psalm. And furthermore, there are prophecies elsewhere in the Old Testament of a pierced, dying Messiah.
David continues the description of the wicked assembly who surround the Suffering One.
they stare and gloat over me;
Those who lobbied to have Him tortured and executed are gleeful about it; they boast about it. They gloat with self-satisfaction. The Innocent One, in the eyes of this evil mob, is little more than a spectacle. And, having stripped Him even of His clothing, they add insult to injury. David writes,
they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
While He is still alive, and suffering horribly, those looking on begin dividing up His clothes, casting lots to see who gets what.
Now, I know this is all sounding very familiar, right? Somewhere, other than in Psalm 22, you’ve read just such a description – the very same contempt and mockery. I will read it to you. It’s Matthew’s account of the crucifixion of Yeshua.
Matthew 27:35, 39-43, 45-46
And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots… And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself… He trusts in God; let God rescue Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’… Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Yeshua cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” – that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
So now let me answer the question I asked earlier: why did Yeshua, from the cross, cry out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani (Aramaic form of azavtani)”? Part of the answer is that Yeshua genuinely felt alone and in agony in that hour, in excruciating pain (by the way, the word excruciating is from the same root as crucifixion); dying slowly and in a horrendous and humiliating way. But there is another reason.
In ancient Israel, rabbinical students were expected to have all 150 Psalms memorized. One of the ways that a rabbi might test the proficiency of his talmidim (disciples) would be to recite the first line of a psalm, and then observe as his students recited the rest of the psalm back to him.
So, when Yeshua cried out the first line of Psalm 22, every learned Jewish man present at the scene of His crucifixion would have immediately recognized it, and each one in his mind would have rehearsed to himself the rest of the psalm.
Imagine their astonishment, as they suddenly realize the words of the psalm are being played out right before their eyes, including His being pierced in his hands and feet, people wagging their heads in mockery and taunting Him, His garments being divided up, and even lots being cast for His outer garment! This is why it is no surprise to read in Acts 6:7 that even many of the Kohanim (priests) were becoming believers.
There is much more that could be taught about the significance of this prophecy, but for the sake of time, and because I’d like us to take in the entire psalm with it’s wonderful, victorious conclusion, let’s press on.
וְאַתָּה יְהוָה, אַל-תִּרְחָק
But You, O Lord, do not be far off! O You my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
David pleads for Adonai to rescue him quickly, as He has done before. Here we have more evidence that this psalm is poetic and has intentional structure. The three types of animals David previously used as metaphors for those bent on his destruction, are mentioned once again here, but the order is inverted. The dog, then the lion, then the wild ox (or bull). And he is confident that the Lord God will answer him. So much so that he can say,
I will tell of Your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You
Whatever the distress in which David found himself, and despite his lament, he could confidently anticipate being together with God’s people again, participating in worship and praise to Adonai. When you find yourself in a lamentable situation, it helps to remember the times of fellowship and of praise to Messiah with those you love, and let it be your prayer that God will make it possible once again.
And now David nudges us, inviting us to follow his example of praise. And I wonder whether perhaps the last part of Psalm 22 was written sometime later. Maybe David left it unfinished until his situation had been resolved favorably. But the last section of the psalm has a wonderful, victorious tone.
יִרְאֵי יְהוָה, הַלְלוּהוּ
You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you offspring of Israel! For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from him, but has heard, when he cried to Him.
We are invited to praise the Living God, who wasn’t ignoring David’s plea after all, but very much heard the cries of his affliction, and delivered him. Let’s continue:
From You comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear Him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek Him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!
David’s trust in God to rescue him was well-placed. Back in verse 22 he could say confidently that he expected to be able to be safely back among his fellow Israelis, worshiping together in the Great Assembly. God is a God of deliverances, and not just for David the beloved, but for all those who seek Him and reverence Him. In a fallen world, given to greed and oppression and hunger and affliction, the one who fears Adonai has a compassionate and mighty Advocate and Redeemer!
And the psalm ends with a guarantee that better days are coming for Planet Earth when the King takes His rightful throne. Redemption began in Israel, but God’s salvation will extend to all the nations of the earth, and His exploits will be recounted in all generations. Let’s read verses 27-31.
יִזְכְּרוּ, וְיָשֻׁבוּ אֶל-יְהוָה – כָּל-אַפְסֵי-אָרֶץ
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before Him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn, that He has done it.
Everybody loves a story that has a happy ending, where matters are resolved, and the good guy perseveres, and justice wins out. Think about the movies you like to go back and watch again – maybe several times. For most of us, it isn’t the ones that leave you hanging, or where evil goes unpunished. It just isn’t satisfying to the human soul.
Psalm 22 is a very full and satisfying chapter of Scripture. It contains lament and distress, but also contains prophecy and hope and the promise of victory. It is one of my favorite psalms, despite the description of the horrible mistreatment of Messiah, the Son of David. It was, after all, Yeshua’s death that brought us life. The Righteous One gave Himself for the unrighteous, accomplishing eternal life for all who believe, where once we had only the expectation of judgment and death. I hope you will come back again and again to Psalm 22. May the Lord fill our minds and hearts with wonder and cause us to always trust in Him.