Psalm 22 is both a lamentation and a thanksgiving. Verses 1 to 21 contain the lamentation, where the psalmist cries to the Lord because of the trouble he’s in. And verses 22 to 31 contain the thanksgiving, where the psalmist gives thanks the Lord for delivering him from his trouble. And he anticipates a time when all the ends of the earth will turn to the Lord to worship him.
Verses 1 to 21
The psalm begins with a threefold cry to God:
Why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me?
Why are you so far from the words of my groaning?
The psalmist feels abandoned by God and forgotten. Though God is the God who saves, he has not saved the psalmist from his trouble. Though God is the God who hears, he has not heard the groans of the psalmist. According to verse 2, he cries out to the Lord day and night. And so, at night, when others are fast asleep, he’s not silent, but is crying out to the Lord for help. But the Lord will not answer him.
And the psalmist is puzzled, isn’t he? He knows the Lord is the Holy One who is enthroned over all. He’s the praise of Israel, which means he’s the one they praise. And they praise the Lord, because when they trusted him in the past, the Lord delivered them from trouble. When they cried out to God, he saved them. They trusted in him and they were never disappointed, because the Lord came to help them. That’s been the experience of Israel in the past: God heard their groaning when they were in Egypt; and he rescued them. God heard their complaints when they were in the wilderness; and he provided for them. When they were faced with enemies in the Promised Land, the Lord rescued them again and again and again. He rescued them; so why won’t he rescue me?
He’s so worn out and broken by his trouble that he describes himself as a worm. No one notices a worm or cares whether a worm lives or dies. And so, that’s how he now feels. No one cares. And he goes on to say that people scorn him and despise him. Those who see him mock him and hurl insults at him. He’s the object of their scorn and ridicule. And, according to verse 8, they taunted him because he trusts in the Lord. They said about him:
He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him.
And he does trust in the Lord. In fact, he’s trusted in the Lord all of his life. That’s what verses 9 to 11 are about. From the time of his birth and from those earliest times when he still fed from his mother’s breast, he was brought up to trust in the Lord and to regard the Lord as his God. And so, since he’s one of God’s children, how can God abandon him now? Therefore he pleads with the Lord in verse 11 not to remain far off from him, because trouble has come near to him and there is no one else to help him.
And he needs help, doesn’t he? He needs help because he’s surrounded by enemies who are fierce and powerful and who show him no mercy. His enemies — whoever they are — are many; and they’re like strong bulls and they’re like roaring lions, ready to tear their prey apart, with the mouths opened wide against him, ready to bite at him and to devour him. He says he’s been poured out like water, which is presumably a way of saying that all his strength and energy has drained away. And his bones feel out of joint. In other words, his body feels broken. And then he compares his heart to wax which has melted away. It’s another way of conveying to us that his strength and energy has drained away. His strength has dried up, he says, like a pot-sherd. A pot-sherd is a broken piece of a pot. The pot, when unbroken, is filled with water; but when it’s broken, all the water drains away and it’s baked hot and dry in the sun. And so, he’s been broken and his mouth is dry and his tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth. And you, he says, you — the Lord his God — you lay me in the dust of death. Because the Lord has not come to help him against his enemies, it’s as if God has laid him down to die.
And then, in verse 16, he compares his enemies to a pack of wild dogs which has surrounded him. But, of course, his enemies are not wild dogs, or bulls or lions. They’re evil men. And these evil men have pierced his hands and his feet. And the psalmist looks down at his weakened, broken body and he’s able to count his bones, showing through his skin. And people are passing by, looking at him and gloating over him. They’ve even stripped him of his clothes and they’re busy selling them.
His enemies surrounded him and they’ve beaten him and they’ve wounded him and he feels broken and ready to die. And in his brokenness, he cries out to the Lord once again in verse 19:
But you, O Lord, be not far off.
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
Deliver me from the sword.
Deliver my precious life from the power of the dogs.
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions.
Save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
Again, there are no dogs or lions or oxen. He’s referring to evil men who have attacked him. And even though it seems that the Lord has forsaken him, and is far from saving him and far from hearing his groaning, he still cries out to the Lord and prays to the Lord to deliver him.
The lamentation part of the psalm ends; and the next verses are full of praise and thanksgiving. There’s nothing in the text to say what’s happened, but clearly the Lord has heard and has rescued the psalmist from his trouble. And so, in verse 22, he says that he will praise God’s name to his brothers in the congregation of God’s people. And he calls on all who fear the Lord and who are members of the people of Israel to praise the Lord and to honour and revere him. And the reason he calls on them to praise God is because, according to verse 24, the Lord has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one. God has not hidden his face from him. God has listened to his cry for help. And, of course, the psalmist is the afflicted one. He’s saying that God has helped him.
And so, when he stands before the great assembly, the theme of his song of praise will be the Lord. And he will fulfil his vows. At some point, he made a vow to sacrifice thanksgiving offerings to the Lord. And the time has come to fulfil that vow and to offer those sacrifices to the Lord. And after bringing the offering to the Lord in his temple, part of the meat was shared with the other worshippers as part of a thanksgiving meal. So, together they praised the Lord.
But he not only calls on the people of Israel to praise the Lord, because in verse 27 he anticipates a time when all the ends of the earth will turn to the Lord and will bow down in worship before him. And, according to verse 29, all kinds of people will come: the rich of the earth will come along with those who go down to the dust, which includes the weak and the dying. And future generations will serve the Lord by worshipping him. One generation will proclaim his righteousness to the next generation, because of the good things he has done to save his people.
And so, lamentation is replaced by praise, despair is replaced by joy. Well, I’m sure you know that the Lord Jesus spoke the words of verse 1 of this psalm when he was suffering on the cross. Do you remember? Matthew tells us that about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ That is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
And it’s striking as we read the psalm how the words of David match what the Lord Jesus suffered on the cross. The Lord Jesus was scorned and despised and the people who passed by mocked and insulted him. David says in verse 7 that his enemies shook the heads at him. This was presumably some kind of insulting gesture. And Matthew tells us those who passed by the cross, wagged their heads at the Lord Jesus. They even said:
He trusts in God; let God deliver him now.
The crowds who called for his crucifixion and the soldiers who surrounded him to beat him and to whip him where like strong bulls and like roaring lions and wild dogs. They pierced his hands and feet when they nailed him to the cross; and on the cross he spoke of his thirst. And they stripped him of his clothes and divided them up and cast lots for them.
And it’s clear therefore that the Holy Spirit, when he inspired David to write this psalm, inspired him to write a psalm which would so wonderfully and accurately foreshadow the suffering of the Lord Jesus. But it’s even more wonderful when we consider that the Lord Jesus suffered like this for you. This is what it was like for him, when he was taken by evil men and nailed to the cross. This is a description of his suffering. And he suffered all of this, because this was only way to save you from the punishment you deserve for your sins. He suffered your punishment in your place to satisfy the justice of God and to accomplish your salvation. And so, we ought to give thanks to God every day for Christ our Saviour who endured so much for us.
But then, of course, after the Lord’s suffering and death and burial, there came the resurrection. And we can imagine the resurrection taking place between the end of verse 21 and the beginning of verse 22. And the writer to the Hebrew takes the word of verse 22 about declaring God’s name to his brothers in the congregation and he puts those words on the lips of the Risen Lord Jesus. The Lord God Almighty did not abandon his Son and he did not forsake him forever. Though the Lord had to suffer and die, his Father in heaven heard his cry and he delivered him from death and he raised him up above his enemies to live for ever in glory. And from his throne in heaven, he sends his Spirit to the ends of the earth to enable men and women and boys and girls to turn to God and to bow down before him in worship. He enables all kinds of people — rich and poor, strong and weak — to come to God.
And so, this psalm foreshadows the suffering and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and the extension of Christ’s kingdom throughout the world.
But then, since we’re united with Christ by faith, we share in his suffering, don’t we? Like him, we suffer for righteousness’ sake. And so, like him, the Devil comes at us with his wicked schemes. And like him, an unbelieving world despises and mocks us. And like him, we suffer hardships and sorrow and all kinds of troubles and trials in this troubled life which make us weep.
And at times, we call out to the Lord and he seems not to answer us. And we’re bewildered, because everything in the Bible tells us that the Lord is a God who hears and answers the prayers of his people. And we know how God has helped other people. So, why won’t he help me? Why has he forsaken me? Why is he so far away from saving me? Why is he so far from hearing my groans? It seems to us that he has forgotten us or that he has disregarded us. And we don’t understand why.
And so, this psalm articulates what we sometimes feel. But the good news is that the psalm ends in praise. The psalmist asked ‘Why have you forsaken me?’, but then God came to help him. The Lord Jesus asked, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’, but then God raised him from the dead. And though we might ask, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’, this psalm teaches us — and the experience of the Lord Jesus teaches us — that when the time is right, the Lord God will come and rescue us.
When will the time be right? Well, we cannot tell, because only the Lord knows. But while we wait, and while we suffer, we have to keep trusting in our Heavenly Father, always believing that he will not forget his children forever. And, of course, if we think back over your life, there were times when you were in trouble and your situation seemed hopeless. And yet, here you are today, because the Lord helped you. And even if the troubles we go through end in death, we know that the Lord will not forsake us, but will raise us up to resurrection life, just as he did with the Lord Jesus Christ. And in the great assembly in glory, the theme of our praise for ever and for ever will be the Lord our God who does all things right.