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A Psalm For All Season

Psalm 22:1 - My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?

Read all of Psalm 22.

Psalm 22 could be called a Good Friday psalm because it speaks of the death of the Messiah. It could also be called an Easter psalm because it speaks of the resurrection of the Messiah. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are events to be remembered not only on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They are the foundation of the Christian faith. Therefore Psalm 22 could rightly be called a psalm for all seasons. Whenever we Christians read this magnificent psalm it should cause us to worship our Lord and Savior.

Psalms which are Christ-centered, such as Psalm 22, are known as Messianic Psalms. Although these psalms were written centuries before Christ, they give us a wealth of truth concerning our Lord Jesus. In most of the Messianic Psalms the psalmist writes about something from his own experience, but under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the description goes beyond the experience of the writer and prophetically speaks of Christ.

Psalm 22 is a truly amazing and remarkable Messianic Psalm. First of all, it is amazing in its penetration of the sufferings of our Lord. In this psalm we glimpse the depths of the extreme spiritual sufferings of the Son of God. Here we are given the awesome privilege of exploring "holy ground" that is largely hidden in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion. The sufferings of Christ on the cross were not just the intense physical agonies that He endured. As the sacrifice for our sins, He also experienced the wrath of God. No martyr of the faith has ever had to cry out, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" (v1 and Matthew 27:46). And yet this was our Lord's experience as He was dying on the cross through hours of blazing sun and chilling darkness (v2 and Matthew 27:45).

The answer to the question "Why?" comes in verse 3. God, who is holy and cannot look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13), had to "turn His back" on His only beloved Son as Jesus became our substitute--bearing the penalty of our sins. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Think of the commitment of the Lord Jesus to His Father's will throughout this ordeal. Even though there was no answer of deliverance to His cry, He did not turn back or shrink from this final hour to which the Father had led Him. No Old Testament believer ever had to experience such silent heavens (v4-5). In the face of such desperate circumstances, His response to the Father is one of unwavering faith in the righteous government of God. "Yet Thou art holy, O Thou who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel" (v3). What a contrast to our usual response when difficult circumstances come. How much praise for God's righteous ways comes from our lips when we're in the depths of suffering with no deliverance in sight? And we, of course, are never separated from our heavenly Father as Jesus was forsaken.

In verses 6-8 we see some further experiences on the cross which contributed to our Lord's spiritual sorrow and anguish. He was downtrodden and defenseless like a worm (v6). He was discredited and despised by the very people He came to save (v6). He was mocked and taunted for His faith in the One who had obviously forsaken Him (vs8-9 and Mark 15:29-32). And yet His commitment to the Father and His confidence in His Father's sovereign will was in no way weakened from what it had been throughout His life--even from birth (vs9-10). Again what a contrast to our weak faith! How often our faith wavers, even when there is very little pressure on us--let alone intense suffering. Perhaps Psalm 22 will cause us not only to bend our knees in more worship but to straighten our backs and square our shoulders in resolute faith regardless of the pressure.

As a Messianic Psalm, Psalm 22 is also remarkable in its prediction of the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. Even the most ardent skeptic of the Bible must admit that the psalms were written long before the birth of Christ. Copies of the psalms were found among the now-famous Dead Sea Scrolls and were dated at least 100 years before Christ. Besides the general predictions of our Lord's sufferings on the cross which we saw in verses 6-8, and which continue in verses 11-13, there are some specific prophecies concerning His crucifixion in verses 14-18. The critic will try to evade the so-called "vague" or general predictions by saying that they were just experiences of the psalmist, David. The bulls and lions of verses 12-13, for example, are not the heartless mob that jeered our dying Lord, but merely the enemies of King David. The critic will even say that Jesus artificially made verse 1 into a "prophecy" by quoting it from the cross. However, the vivid and detailed language of crucifixion in verses 14-18 is hard for any skeptic to get around.

Although Psalm 22 may have its roots in some trying experience of David, it certainly transcends that experience completely in verses 14-18. When were all of David's bones out of joint, for example (v14)? Yet this is exactly what happened to a body suspended in crucifixion as the cross was unmercifully dropped into the earthen hole. And when were David's hands and feet pierced (v16)? For that matter, how often was piercing practiced in crucifixion? The normal method was to tie the hands and feet to the cross. The prophetic evidence for the crucifixion of Christ from this contested verse (v16) is overwhelming. Profuse perspiration (v14), heart prostration (v14), physical exhaustion (v15), extreme thirst (v15), partial nudity (v17), and hurt to modesty (v17) are further descriptions that add to the graphic picture of crucifixion and should be read in conjunction with the Gospel accounts of our Lord's death. (See Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23 and John 19.) And remember that crucifixion was not a form of execution common to the time and culture of David. It was a Roman method, and therefore came into use long after Psalm 22 was written.

In addition to the detailed sufferings of the crucifixion that are before us in these verses, there are also the details of the activity of the soldiers who were there (v18). Roman soldiers considered the clothes of the victim as spoils of the execution. They would generally divide or tear apart a poor peasant's clothing to use as rags for cleaning weapons, etc. According to John 19:23, this is exactly what they did to Christ's outer garments. However, in accordance with the further prophetic detail of casting lots (v18), we note in John 19:24 that the soldiers gambled for Jesus' seamless tunic. All of these details of the crucifixion of Christ were carried out by individuals who had no idea of the predictions of Psalm 22. Do you want proof of the inspiration of the Bible? What better proof could you ask for?!

The perspective of the sufferings of Christ presented in Psalm 22 is also important to observe and appreciate. Notice that the Messiah Himself is the Speaker throughout most of the psalm. In verses 1-21 He is speaking from the perspective of victory after the resurrection. Our Lord's death comes between verses 21 and 22. This is why the spear-thrust of the Roman soldier, which occurred after the Lord died (John 19:33-34), is not included in the psalm. We know from the New Testament that the wrath of God against our sin was fully satisfied before Christ died because He proclaimed in triumph, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). We can appreciate this truth from verse 21 of the psalm because the Lord was answered (not just heard) by the Father before He died. His time of being forsaken of God was over. He was caught by the Father, figuratively, after being thrown from the horns of the wild oxen. It was at this point that our Lord commended His human spirit into the Father's care, and then physically died. See Luke 23:46.)

Now notice the joy of resurrection beginning in verse 22. The Savior is no longer alone. He is declaring the Father's name in the midst of His brethren (v22). That includes us! (See Hebrews 2:11-12.) What a position we have been given as a result of Christ's atoning work on the cross! In verses 26-31 it appears that the Holy Spirit is the Speaker and our attention is drawn to the results of our Lord's death and resurrection. The scope of these verses is not limited to the present time; they certainly look forward to Christ's second coming. The poor and afflicted will be relieved (v26). The whole earth will recognize the Lordship of Christ (vs 27-29). The righteousness of Christ and His finished work (this is the meaning of "done" or "performed" in verse 31) will be declared to generation after generation throughout the rest of man's history on earth (vs30-31). The theme of Psalm 22 is not only appropriate for all seasons--it is the theme of all history! It is only a matter of time before the entire universe recognizes the truth of Psalm 22.
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