This psalm is the first of a remarkable triplet of psalms (Psalms 22, 23, 24) in which we have:
- The Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the Great Shepherd (Heb 13:20), and the Chief Shepherd (1Peter 5:4)
- The Cross, the (shepherd’s) Crook, and the Crown
- The Suffering Savior, the Satisfying Shepherd, and the Supreme Sovereign
- Grace (2Cor 8:9), Guidance (Psa 23:2-3), and Glory (Psa 24:7-10)
- The Past, the Present, and the Future
- Pierced hands, Caring hands (for the sheep), and Clean hands (Psa 24:4)
It is also one of four 22nd chapters about the Lamb of God (Gen 22, Psa 22, Luke 22, and Rev 22). It is the sin offering psalm (v1). Psalm 16 is the meal offering psalm, 40 is the burnt offering psalm, 69 is the trespass offering psalm, and 85 is the peace offering psalm.
Leviticus 6:25 tells us that the sin offering is most holy. We see His holiness first of all in His perfect trust. This psalm has no confession of sin or failure whatsoever. There is no bitterness towards God or man. Even though His sufferings were infinite, He uttered no imprecations against His enemies, as is seen in His first words from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 KJV). Here He is the perfect example of His own teaching: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies … do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt 5:44 KJV).
In the midst of immeasurable sufferings, the Lord Jesus justified God: “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Psa 22:3 KJV). He sees the divine side of all His sufferings in v15: “thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” This divine side is also seen in Acts 2:23: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (KJV). In all of this we see the holiness of the sin offering.
David is called a prophet in Acts 2:30. This psalm is prophetic, though written 1050 years before Christ was born. Since the psalm is so intensely personal, it indicates that it was written out of some deep experience in David’s life. But the statements go far beyond anything that David suffered. David was never brought to a crucifixion experience as we have in v16. It is an excellent illustration of 1 Peter 1:11: “Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ … did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (KJV). It has been truly said that the psalmist gives a more vivid description of the sufferings of Christ on the cross than any of the four gospel writers.
Verses 14 and 15 give four details that accompany crucifixion, though written many years before any person was crucified. Both statements describe the effects of crucifixion, the first in v14: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” This speaks of excessive perspiration and dehydration. Verse 15 says, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd,” speaking of extreme weakness. Most persons dying from crucifixion died of physical exhaustion. Verse 15 also says, “my tongue cleaveth to my jaws,” speaking of terrible thirst (see John 19:28). He, who began His public ministry by being hungry after fasting for forty days, finished His ministry by being thirsty (John 19:28-30; Psa 69:21).
The Holy Spirit’s inspiration of David to write these four details that accompany crucifixion, many years before it was even thought of, is a wonderful testimony to the inspiration of the Word of God.
Let us consider the usage of this psalm in the NT. The Lord Jesus used the first words of this psalm on the cross at the ninth hour- the cry that broke the long silence on the cross. The fact that He quoted the very first words of this psalm suggests that the whole psalm was His meditation on the cross. Verse 2 suggests that the first three hours of light were followed by three hours of darkness.
“All they that see me laugh me to scorn” (v7) was fulfilled in Matt 27:39: “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads” (KJV). But there is an even more specific fulfillment in Luke 23:35 where we read that the rulers “derided him.” The word for “derided” is used only twice in the NT. The Pharisees mocked His teaching in Luke 16:14 and the leaders mocked Him on the cross (Luke 23:35). The chief priests, with the scribes and elders, fulfilled v8 in Matthew 27:43. John 19:24 is given as a fulfillment regarding Messiah’s garments. Psalm 22:22 is quoted in Hebrews 2:12.
Think of the sorrows of our Lord Jesus as so forcefully brought out in this psalm. “Why art thou so far from helping me?” (v1). “Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help” (v11 KJV). “But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me” (v19 KJV). Think of what He lacked in the first eleven verses: He received no help (v1), no rest (v2 ESV) and no sympathy (v7). Instead of sympathy, positive scorn and derision were given. There was never any sorrow like His sorrow, nor any love like His love.
This amazing psalm is in two parts. The first part is a sob (vv1-21), and He is alone in His suffering; the second part is a song (vv22-31) and He is accompanied in His song! This reminds us of the day that Greeks came up to worship. The Lord Jesus thought of all the suffering that would be necessary before any Greeks or Gentiles (like most of us) could truly worship God. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24 KJV). A few moments later He said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour” (John 12:27 KJV).
The key to the first part of the psalm is in verse 2: “thou hearest not”; the key to the second part is in verse 21: “thou hast heard me.” Verse 21 is a transition verse; after the first six words of verse 21, there is a sudden transition from the earnest entreaty of the first 21 verses to calm assurance. The RV has a space between verses 21 and 22. Whether your Bible has a space or not, we are all to understand that there is a space of time between these two verses. Death and resurrection have intervened!
In the first part of this psalm we can see His sufferings in a fourfold way: His sufferings were spiritual (vv1-5), social (vv6-13), physical (vv14-20) and diabolical (v21). We could add to those headings: suffering from the holiness of God (vv1-5), from the haughtiness of man (vv6-13), from the hatred of man (vv14-20) and from the hostility of Satan (v21).
Harold Paisley gave three applications of titles of the Lord Jesus in this psalm, to which I have added my own material.
Messianic (three titles)
“A worm and no man” (v6) – this does not mean “no man” in the sense of not being a man, but rather a “nobody” in contrast to a “somebody.” “Worm” is one despised, defenseless and downtrodden. Isaiah 53:3 prophesied: “He is despised and rejected of men.” The word that he uses for “man” is ish – a man in his dignity, an honorable appellation, and a distinctive term; it often signifies a husband. The Lord did not use the word adam for man, suggesting his lowly origin; nor did He use enosh – man in his frailty. The worm is the tola worm from which crimson dye was obtained. The tola worm is said to be able to go through a dunghill and emerge undefiled. Our Lord passed through this corrupt scene undefiled by all around Him.
A leader in praise – “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee” (v22 KJV). Hebrews 2:11-12 says, “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee” (KJV). John 20:17 records our Lord’s words to Mary Magdalene: “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father: but go unto my brethren, and say to them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God” (RV). Believers can be thankful that God is our God and our Father because of our Lord’s work on the cross; but we must never forget that God was His God and Father in a unique way – a non-transferable way that was His and His alone!
Governor among the nations – “all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations” (v27-28 KJV).
When David wrote the psalm, it was all future, but now the first 21 verses have already been fulfilled: His birth, life, death, resurrection and exaltation. In verse 20, “my darling” reads “my only one” in the RV margin. John, in his gospel and epistles, has “only begotten” five times.
The Mystery of His Birth – The Lord asked Job, “canst thou mark when the hinds do calve?” (39:1) The birth of the Lord Jesus was natural (Psa 22:9-10), but His conception was absolutely miraculous. In Psalm 71:6, the psalmist used similar words about himself, but we have no reason to believe that the psalmist’s birth was miraculous.
The Misery of His Suffering – Jeremiah 14:5 says, “Yea, the hind also calved in the field, and forsook it, because there was no grass” (KJV). The hind could not bear to see the suffering of its young. Hagar said about her boy, Ishmael, “Let me not see the death of the child” (Gen 21:16). Surely, there is a depth to the sufferings of Christ that none of us can fathom, but we can thank God that enough has been revealed to fully satisfy our consciences and fill our hearts with adoring worship!
The Marvels of His Trust – There was no person who ever lived who was so dependent on his God as the Lord Jesus. We read these words in Matthew 27: “Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said … He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God” (vv41-43 KJV). They could tell by His very deportment that if anybody had ever trusted God, He did. But they were taunting Him with these words, in essence saying, “You trusted in God, but look at the predicament that you are in now! Such a predicament is inconsistent with such a life of trust!” Those words were a fulfillment of Psalm 22:8. But the next two phrases (vv9-10) show that He trusted God more than it is possible for any other person: “Thou didst make me hope (or “trust”) when I was upon my mother’s breasts.” Even as a baby on the virgin Mary’s breasts, He was consciously trusting God. Surely, no other baby ever did that!