This Psalm has been referred to by many writers as the Psalm that is beyond all others, the Psalm of the cross.2 As we read it we should envision Jesus crying out for help as he is being crucified (vv. 1 – 21) and then we should envision him making a proclamation of praise to the ends of the earth immediately following his resurrection (vv. 21 – 31).3
1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. 3Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” 9Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. 10On you was I cast from my birth and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 11Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. 12Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – 17I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; 18they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. 19But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! 20Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! 21Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! 22I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him. 25From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. 26The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! 27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. 29All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
In my estimation, this Psalm is perhaps the most descriptive picture we have of what was going on in the heart of Jesus and coming out of his mouth during his crucifixion and resurrection. Notice how the opening words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are the same exact words used by Jesus from the cross (Matt. 27:46).
Also notice how the last words of the Psalm, “they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” so closely reflect the final words of Jesus on the cross when he proclaimed, “It is finished” (Jn. 19:30).4
This Psalm really is The Song of the Cross where we get to hear Jesus’ cry for help from the cross and his proclamation of praise from the empty tomb. Think about Jesus’ cry for help…
#1: A CRY FOR HELP (VV. 1 – 21)
Imagine Jesus hanging from his nail pierced hands and his nail pierced feet as he cries out to his Heavenly Father, “Where are you in my grief, God (vv. 1 – 2)? I know that you are the holy deliverer of my ancestors (vv. 3 – 5). Can you see that I am under heavy persecution, Lord (vv. 6 – 8)? I don’t trust anyone except you, Father (vv. 9 – 11). My enemies are wrongfully tearing me to pieces (vv. 12 – 18). Father, you are my only help, my only deliverer, my only Savior, my only rescuer (vv. 19 – 21).”
God, where are you in my grief (vv. 1 – 2)? This is the heart cry of someone who feels completely abandoned, completely alone, absolutely despised, rejected and betrayed. These words are the depressing words of someone who feels like they have lost more than their best friend; this person has lost the closest relationship they have ever enjoyed. He keeps crying out, calling and begging but all he gets is silence in the midst of his aloneness and his soul is so torn up that he cannot find any rest from the sense of being completely alone.
I know that you are the holy deliverer of my ancestors (vv. 3 – 5). In the midst of his absolute loneliness, Jesus remembers that Israel in the past trusted, trusted and kept on trusting God in all of his holiness as they cried out to him, and he eventually came through and rescued them in his own timing which resulted in their vindication and praise towards God. Sometimes it is very difficult to trust, trust and keep on trusting when it seems like God is silent.
Can’t you see that I am under heavy persecution (vv. 6 – 8)? It’s not just that Jesus felt completely alone, he also endured heavy persecution at the cross. He was so scorned and so despised by everyone that he felt less than human. Everyone mocked him as they ridiculed him and made fun of him for not getting himself out of the horrible predicament he was in; if he was God then he should be able to get out of this. Sometimes it’s the people you trust and love the most who hurt you the most.
I don’t trust anyone except you, Father (vv. 9 – 11). Jesus remembers that God has been with him since before his coming in the flesh. When he says that God is the one who “took me from the womb” and “made me trust you at my mother’s breast” he is pointing to the fact that even in the miracle of the incarnation or Jesus who is God being born in the flesh, he and his Father had enjoyed an eternally unified relationship that no one could tear apart. Jesus knew better than to entrust his heart fully to any broken human being. He knew that the trouble of the cross was at hand and the only person he could trust was his Heavenly Father. Broken human beings will always let you down regardless of their stature or their title but our Father in Heaven is absolutely faithful.
My enemies are wrongfully tearing me to pieces (vv. 12 – 18). When he speaks of the “strong bulls of Bashan” who have surrounded him with their wide-open mouths like roaring lions and the dogs who have surrounded him and pierced his hands and feet, he is talking about the very powerful religious leaders who turned on him and incited all of the Jews to also turn on him in the crucifixion. His life is being poured out in front of his enemies, his bones are out of joint, his heart is weakening, his strength is wasting away, he can feel pain in every bone of his body as he hangs there naked and bearing the shame of our sin while his enemies gamble for his last earthly possessions.
Father, you are my only help, my only deliverer, my only Savior, my only rescuer (vv. 19 – 21). In his final moments of life on this earth Jesus cries out to his Father one more time “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit”. Please do not be far from me as I die. You are the only help I have. Please come quickly. Deliver me once and for all from these powerful dogs who have surrounded me. Save me from being torn to pieces by my enemies. You are my only help, my only deliverer, my only Savior, my only rescuer. And then Jesus takes his final breathe and he dies in my place.
#2: A PROCLAMATION OF PRAISE (VV. 21 – 31)
Now imagine the resurrected Christ proclaiming praise to his Heavenly Father throughout the entire earth in true missional form as he joyfully shouts, “God, you are my helper, my deliverer, my Savior and my rescuer (vv. 19 – 21). I will lead others to praise you as the deliverer God that you really are (vv. 22 – 24). I will praise you and be fully satisfied with you, Lord (vv. 25 – 26). All the earth will praise the King who has finished the work of salvation (vv. 27 – 31).”
God, you are my helper, my deliverer, my Savior and my rescuer (v. 21). The final portion of verse 21 acts like a hinge as the door closes on the room of the crucifixion and opens into the room of the resurrection when Jesus cries out “Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!” This is the victorious shout of praise from the lips of the resurrected Christ as he proclaims the finished work of salvation and the power of God in the empty tomb. Satan, Sin and Death have been defeated and the power of their weapons, like the loud roar of the lion and the piercing horns of a wild oxen, have been completely destroyed!
I will lead others to praise you as the Deliverer-God you really are (vv. 22 – 24). The finished work of salvation at the cross and the vindicating power of the empty tomb, leads our Savior to lead his brothers (and sisters), all who have or will be saved by the power of his justifying work, to praise God and stand in awe of his miraculous power to save those who once were afflicted by their enemies, Satan, Sin and Death. God does not hide himself from those who truly seek his face through the message of the cross and the empty tomb.
I will praise you and be fully satisfied with you, Lord (vv. 25 – 26). True eternal satisfaction comes only from experiencing what it means to be rescued and redeemed from the affliction of Satan, Sin and Death. True praise of our Father in Heaven is the direct result of God’s redeeming work in our lives. This praise is not only an individual personal act it is something that all of the redeemed community does together. All who fear God and seek him will praise him!
All the earth will praise the King who has finished the work of salvation (vv. 27 – 31). The proclamation of praise that came from the lips of our Savior in the room of the empty tomb, was never meant to be contained inside the walls of some special church building somewhere. Proclamation of praise was meant to extend to the home, to the town hall, to the school hall, to the pool hall, to the break room, to the gym, to the gas station, literally to the ends of the earth throughout every nation. This worldwide praise is the heartbeat of worldwide missions work that begins in our own backyards and extends to the ends of the earth. Every living human being is meant to hear the proclamation of the gospel of the crucified, risen and returning Christ from the lips of the truly redeemed as they proclaim that God has “done it.” It is finished!
Do you know what it is like to cry out to God for help while feeling like he is miles away? Have you felt like you do not have anyone you can trust except God because everyone here on this earth has either turned their back on you or is actively trying to hurt you?
Jesus felt abandoned, surrounded, desperate, and overwhelmed at the cross and he experienced this so that you and I would never truly have to be alone.5
Do you know the triumphant joy of being rescued by the risen Christ? Have you experienced the overflowing fountain of praise that erupts when you realize the power of the cross and the empty tomb? Do you know what it is like to be so overwhelmed with the saving grace and mercy of God that you just can’t stop shouting it from the mountain tops?
As long as children are still being born, Psalm 22 should send us out to the world (into our places of influence) with the good news of the crucified, resurrected and returning Christ.6
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 James A. Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord is King (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 233.
3 Ibid., 233 – 242.
4 Ibid., 233.
5 Ibid., 234; 235.
6 Ibid., 242.