Psalm 22 — From Dereliction to Declaration

22 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

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

7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.

10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.

11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.

13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.

18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.

20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.

23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.

24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.

26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.

27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.

29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.

30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.

31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

Christians immediately jump to a christological hermeneutic with Psalm 22. The reason this common error happens is that Jesus uttered verse 1 from the cross at the dark hour of God’s abandonment. Remembering David as the author also reminds us that Israel worshiped YHWH with Psalm 22 before Jesus Christ’s first advent. It is important for us to begin there.

The genre is an individual lament Psalm with a transformation to praise and thanksgiving for deliverance. The Psalm is messianic, but it is not prophetic. David was a prophet, but there is nothing indicating he was writing from anything other than his own experiences. The original setting is difficult to discern. The New Testament is credited with the application to Christ, by way of inspired interpretation.

The structure of Psalm 22 is delineated by three words or movements: dereliction; deliverance; and declaration. The lament is complemented by statements of confident trust (past). The petition is made by the suppliant (present); and the resulting praise is extended in both time and space (future). David, the suffering shepherd of Israel, wrote his poetic prayer to YHWH when surrounded by enemies. It is titled, “For the choir director” to indicate liturgy. The Hebrew transliteration, “Aijeleth Hashshahar” translates “doe of the dawn,” which is probably the name of a familiar tune. Like the others in Book I, we read, “A Psalm of David.”

David inquired about his dereliction (v. 1). The rhetorical question comes from a man of faith, who is tempted with unbelief by his circumstances needing deliverance. His faith relationship is observed by the repeated address, “my God.” The temptation is the suggestion that God, “El” has abandoned the Psalmist. Jesus Christ quoted this verse during the crucifixion’s meanest hour, when God the Father turned away (“relinquished”) from His only begotten Son. Every premonition of hell should include the loveless, hopeless, anticipation of eternal abandonment — the penalty and punishment for sin.

David lamented the lack of response from God (v. 2). He was void of inner peace. The idiom “day and night” suggests a relentless prayer without ceasing, but no satisfaction was attained. The Christian calls these “unanswered prayers,” but they are greatly intensified in a life and death cry to heaven.

David acknowledged God and His relationship with Israel (v. 3). Holiness is the attribute best suited to answer the question of being forsaken. Sin separates us from God because holiness cannot permit sin to defile perfection. Despite Israel’s sin, God receives Israel’s praise. The reason is their covenant relationship.

David recalled covenant history and God’s faithfulness to deliver (v. 4). Trust in God, by the faithful, is the prerequisite for deliverance. In Hebrews 11, the roster of the faithful reveals a legacy of salvation by grace through faith. Jesus fully trusted His Father, demonstrated by always doing His will. Our laments to God should be seasoned with confident testimonies of past deliverances.

David reiterated the trust exercised by “our fathers” and their lack of disappointment (v. 5). When the believer surrenders to God’s leading, the outcome, despite all circumstances, proves God has worked it altogether for good. The history of the Bible is linear. Chronological events display trouble/trust/deliverance (ie. Exodus; Conquest; Judges; etc.).

David contrasted his own state of reproach and complained against himself and the people (v. 6). First, the image of abasement is a worm. Slow, defenseless, and easily crushed underfoot, it becomes symbolic of Jesus allowing His own arrest without diminishing the terror of vulnerability. As the people turned on David, by Saul’s slick slandering; so the people of Jerusalem had turned on Jesus during the passion week. The faithful follower of Jesus will sooner or later taste the hatred of wicked men.

David registered the verbal and non-verbal persecution he endured (v. 7). The destructive groupthink of Israel toward David and Jesus became irresistible. If everyone is against Jesus, who would dare be for Him? The words, the spitting, and the wagging of heads in disgusted disdain escorted Jesus outside the city. “I gave My back to those who strike Me, and My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting (Is 50:6).”

David quoted his mockers, who were quoting him with sarcasm (v. 8). David preached and preached YHWH, Israel’s deliverer. His opponents took advantage of the silence from God. “He saved others, let Him save Himself!” was the argument against the cursed man hanging on the Roman tree with the inscription, “King of the Jews” written above Him. The God-forsaken man is a mockery to the religious group. His God has no power to deliver, no strength to save. His words, directives, and wisdom become the twisted sport of men whose tongues are a fire.

David reflected on his life-long relationship with God (v. 9). YHWH is depicted as a mid-wife in David’s illustration of an intimate relationship. God delivered David from his mother’s womb. Interestingly, God is the cause of David’s subsequent trust. The providence of provision for the infant includes the womb and the breast. God was there.

David reaffirmed his intimate trust relationship from the beginning (v. 10). God has been there from the beginning, and David can again say, “my God.” No human relationship with Almighty God was as close as Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. The elect of God should gain comfort from these because we were known by God before He knit us together in our mother’s womb.

David opened his petition with an exclusive claim to hope only in God (v. 11). Trouble warrants help. Man usually begins with self-help, then, resorts to human help. Only when his idols fail does he consider God, if at all. Israel notoriously trusted in other gods, molten images, and diviners. Isaiah later preached, “Surely, God is with you, and there is none else, no other god. Truly, Thou art a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior! (Is 45:14d-15).” YHWH demanded undivided allegiance, which David, Jesus, and true followers are pleased to give.

David introduced the savage identity of his opponents (v. 12). The enemies’ identity was exposed using a chiasm of metaphors beginning with “many, strong bulls of Bashan.” The imagery of the bull in the ancient near east was virile. Bulls were dangerous opponents. Bulls in every generation herd together to trample those who get in their way.

David employed a second metaphor to describe his predicament (v. 13). His enemies were opened-mouthed lions tearing the flesh of their prey and intermittently roaring to ward off competitors. The identity and intention of David’s opponents were mirrored by Jesus’ opponents, who desired to kill Him. Satan roams the earth like a lion looking to devour.

David used two similes to express his desperate state (v. 14). The first was a vessel dehydrated to empty. Emaciated, the body’s bones protrude grotesquely. Second, was the image of a wax residue from something burned to a melted waste. David’s heart was dried up and withered.

David languished with the imagery of a parched, withering demise (v. 15). The parallel to the heart was his strength. Extreme cottonmouth would compel the words, “I thirst.” Here again, God is seen as the cause. God has positioned His Son in “the dust of death.” David needed deliverance from death, while Jesus was delivered through death. We die with Christ.

David returned to the savage beast imagery to explain their tactics (v. 16). “Dogs” run in wild packs to intimidate, encircle, and ravage. A human title is applied here to David’s opponents, “a band of evildoers.” Jesus had the chief priests, scribes, and elders gathered before Him to offer their final arguments against Him. “They pierced my hands and my feet” is clouded profusely by the LXX translation, “like a lion, my hands and feet.” The former fits the context and is preferred. The expression is vivid when talking about the crucifixion of Jesus. In the same way, Zechariah prophesies that Israel will look upon Him whom they have pierced when Jesus returns at His second advent (Zech 12:10). At that time, Jerusalem will be surrounded by the nations who rage against God and against His anointed (Ps. 2).

David gave vivid images of his suffering state (v. 17). No bone of Jesus was broken at the crucifixion. The word of the psalmist was also fulfilled in that they stared at Him (Lk 23:27, 35). Naked, bloody, dehydrated, marred beyond human recognition, pierced, suffocating, agonizing to rise upon his nails to gasp for a breath of air. Gruesome. Vicious.

David described his opponents’ confidence in his imminent quietus (v. 18). Insult was added to the injury as they gambled for his clothing. Men are mean.

David began his plea for help (v. 19). Vicinity is a repeated theme. David was drawing near to God, and he beckoned God to quickly draw near to him with help. From whence does your help come from? My help comes from the Lord. Precious is the vicinity of the Holy Spirit to the Christian. The indwelling Spirit, permanently residing in the believer, is a ready help in times of trouble. Location, location, location…matters in more than just real estate.

David’s greatest need was deliverance from the barbarians (v. 20). “The sword” is symbolic of a weapon used in violent killing. The chiasm of wild beasts begins again where it left off in v. 16 with dogs. The pack has power. Saul’s men had weapons, authority, and a commission to kill. The pack of dogs surrounding Jesus persuaded the Roman governor, Pontus Pilate, with their barking, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” The righteous will always have to contend with the unrighteous. Jesus said, “In the world you will have trouble.”

David reversed the order of animal intrigue and found reassurance in God’s reply (v. 21). The chiasm is completed with the return to lions and wild oxen. If David was facing the sword and the closing pack of dogs, then the precarious position of being in the lion’s mouth and at the tip of the bull’s horn meant imminent death. David was delivered from this death, but Jesus was pinned down. Death came for Jesus, but it could not hold Him. God delivered Jesus through death. Christians will pass through bodily death, but Jesus’ resurrection teaches us that we also will pass through death unto life. God answered David’s prayer, Jesus’ prayer, and He answers the believer’s prayer, “…but deliver us from evil…”

David vowed to bear witness to Israel (v. 22). The request for life comes with the vow to give testimony of God’s goodness and to go public with praise. No greater evidence exists for David keeping this promise than his collection of Psalms. At this point of division in the structure (deliverance to praise), we move from Jesus being our high priest on the cross to Jesus being the prophet, “I will tell of Thy name to my brethren.” The writer of Hebrews attributes this work to Jesus by quoting v. 22 in Hebrews 2:12. Believers bear witness and testimony in spreading the Gospel to the nations.

David called Israel to praise YHWH (v. 23). He seems to interrupt his own promise and gets on with it. The present verb tense makes the work of praise, glorifying, and standing in awe of Him an immediate labor for those who fear Him. The tri-part work is accomplished by the descendants of Jacob, of Israel. As the church takes this work to the end of the earth, we have a person to proclaim and a reason for doing it.

David explained the reason for praising YHWH as God’s attentiveness to Israel (v. 24). Israel knew affliction and so did the king. No King of the Jews knew more affliction than Jesus. The crux of assurance is simply being heard by God. God hears the cries of His people. Hearing is synonymous with delivering. God is near to His people. A redeemed people have a new song to sing.

David expressed praise as a gift from God (v. 25). A new and great assembly replaces the pack of dogs. God is the cause of David’s praise. More vows to praise are paid with more praise. Again, Israel is called, “those who fear Him.”

David identified those who praise the Lord (v. 26). The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied because the meek are those who seek Him. He knows how to give good bread. Christians anticipate the marriage supper of the Lamb, declaring Him at the Lord’s Table, until He comes again.

David extended the bounds of worship beyond Israel (v. 27). The declaration goes global to, “all the ends of the earth” and repentance is represented by all nations. Avoiding universalism, we foresee all the families of the earth being blessed. Though households are divided because of Christ, still, the covenant promise to Abraham will be fulfilled in Christ, the blessing of all nations. Christians are commissioned to bear witness to the uttermost part of the earth (Acts 1:8).

David declared kingdom authority (v. 28). God is King. Jesus is King. Jesus is God. It has been given to Him to rule over the nations as King of kings and Lord of lords. His kingdom will have no end. The church declares His throne to all peoples. Some repent to join in bowing the knee and confessing with their tongues (Is 45:23), “Jesus Christ is Lord” to the glory of the Father.

David included rich people and dead people as worshipers (v. 29). The afflicted were noted in v. 26, but here the rich are included in the assembly, too. The socio-economic divide that inhibits relationships in the world is broken down in the church. We are brothers with Joseph, a ruler in Egypt because the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps. 24:1). The dead also worship. The hope of the resurrection ignites this promise of eternal worship, a gift from God.

David prophesied that progeny would worship YHWH (v. 30). If the whole earth (space) is being prepared for worship, then so are future generations. Deuteronomy 6 commands that the knowledge of the Lord be taught to the next generation and continuing on. Our fathers trusted Christ; and we join them in passing on the blessed legacy of life, abundant and eternal.

David prophesied of a future generation, who would preach YHWH’s deliverance (v. 31). Jesus Christ, the righteous, is preached throughout every generation from the time they are born. Every name fades with time. Men are forgotten by their progeny. The name of the Lord Jesus Christ grows more famous in every generation. When Jesus said, “It is finished” from the cross, he echoed David’s claim, “He has performed it.” We are to make His name great in the nations.

In conclusion, we have heard the derelict cry of David and Jesus, encompassed by death, the last enemy. The lament of lonely abandonment was replaced with a community called to worship. David’s words were adopted by Jesus as appropriate expressions for the depth of His despair. They were also used in His declaration of victory over the band of evildoers. The price of the affair was costly; but Jesus fulfilled His offices of priest, prophet, and king. The praise, glory, and awe of His people have enthroned Him for His mission accomplished on their behalf.

David Norczyk

Spokane Valley, Washington

June 11, 2021

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David Norczyk

Some random theologian out West somewhere, Christian writer, preacher