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 Messiah’s resurrection. But the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are events to be remembered not only on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but also every other day, as they are the very foundation of the Christian faith. Therefore Psalm 22 could rightly be called a psalm for all seasons. Reading 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 they were written centuries before Christ, they give us a wealth of truth about our Savior. In most of the Messianic Psalms, the psalmist wrote 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 remarkable Messianic Psalm. First, its presentation of the suffering of our Lord is amazing. In this psalm we glimpse the depths of the extreme spiritual sufferings of the Son of God. Here we are given the privilege of exploring holy ground largely hidden in the gospel accounts of the crucifixion. Christ’s sufferings on the cross were not limited to His intense physical agonies. 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 have You forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Mt. 27:46 NIV). And yet this was our Lord’s experience as He was dying on the cross in the blazing sun and chilling darkness (v. 2; Mt. 27:45).
The answer to this question comes in verse 3. A holy God, who cannot look upon sin (Hab. 1:13), had to “turn His back” on His only 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 Cor. 5:21). Think of the commitment of the Lord to His Father’s will throughout this ordeal. Even though there was no answer of deliverance to His cry, He did not turn back from this final hour to which the Father had led Him. No Old Testament believer ever had to experience such silent heavens (vv. 4-5). In the face of such desperate circumstances, His response to the Father was one of unwavering faith in the righteous government of God. “Yet You are enthroned as the Holy One; You are the praise of Israel” (v. 3). What a contrast to our response to difficult circumstances. How much praise for God’s righteous ways comes from our lips when we’re suffering with no deliverance in sight? And we, of course, are never separated from our heavenly Father as Jesus was.
In Psalm 22:6-8 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 (v. 6). He was discredited and despised by the very people He came to save (v. 7). He was mocked and taunted for His faith in the One who had obviously forsaken Him (vv. 7-8; Mk. 15:29-32). Yet His commitment to the Father and His confidence in His Father’s sovereign will was in no way weakened from what it was throughout His life – even from birth (vv. 9-10). Again, what a contrast to our weak faith! How often our faith wavers, even when there is little pressure on us – let alone intense suffering. Perhaps Psalm 22 will cause us not only to bend our knees in 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 our Lord. Even the skeptic must admit that the psalms were written long before Christ’s birth. Copies of the psalms were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and were dated at least 100 years before Christ. Besides the general predictions of our Lord’s suffering 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 these predictions by saying that they were just experiences of the psalmist, David. He’ll say that the bulls and lions of verses 12-13, for example, were not the heartless mob that jeered our dying Lord, but merely David’s enemies. The critic will even say that Jesus artificially made the opening verse 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 a trying experience of David, it certainly transcends that experience completely in verses 14-18. When were all of David’s “bones … out of joint” (v. 14)? Yet this is exactly what happened to a crucified body as the cross was unmercifully dropped into the hole that held it erect. And were David’s hands and feet pierced (v. 16)? How often was piercing actually 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 verse (v. 16) is overwhelming. Profuse perspiration, heat prostration, physical exhaustion, extreme thirst, partial nudity, and hurt to modesty (vv. 14-17) 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. (Mt. 27; Mk. 15; Lk. 23; Jn. 19). And remember that crucifixion was not a form of execution common to the time and culture of David. It was a Roman method, that came into use long after Psalm 22 was written.
In addition to the detail of the crucifixion before us in these verses, there are also the details of the soldiers’ activity (v. 18). Roman soldiers considered the victim’s clothes as spoils to be used 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 (v. 18), we note in John 19:24 that the soldiers gambled for Jesus’ seamless tunic. All these details of the crucifixion were carried out by individuals who had no idea of the predictions of Psalm 22. What better proof for the Bible’s inspiration!
The perspective of the sufferings presented in this psalm is also important. Notice that the Messiah Himself is the speaker through most of the psalm. In verses 1-21 He is speaking from the perspective of victory after the resurrection. His death comes in verses 21-22. This is why the spear-thrust of the Roman soldier, which occurred after the Lord died (Jn. 19:33-34), is not included. We know from the New Testament that the wrath of God against our sin was fully satisfied before Christ died, because He proclaimed, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30). We can appreciate this truth of verse 21 because the Lord was answered by the Father before He died. His time of being forsaken was over. Figuratively, He was “saved … from the horns of the wild oxen” by the Father. At this point our Lord commended His spirit into the Father’s care, then died (Lk. 23:46).
Now notice the joy of resurrection beginning in verse 22. The Savior is no longer alone. He declared the Father’s name in the midst of His brethren (v. 22). That includes us! (Heb. 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 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 just to the present time; they also look forward to Christ’s second coming. The poor and afflicted will be relieved (v. 26). The whole earth will recognize the lordship of Christ (vv. 27-29). The righteousness of Christ and His finished work will be declared to the generations throughout the rest of history (vv. 30-31).
The theme of Psalm 22 is not just 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 and worships the Lord.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org