Summary: Maintaining an attitude of praise in the midst of affliction: Jesus' example.
A PARADIGM OF PRAISE
The details of the sufferings in Psalm 22:1-21 match more exactly the anguish of Jesus than anything that we can find in any of the written records of David’s life - and because of this the church has always read this Psalm of David as a Psalm of Jesus. In this respect Psalm 22 stands alongside Isaiah 53 as a prophecy of the suffering of Messiah.
One of the famous ‘seven last sayings of Jesus on the Cross’ is known as the Cry of Abandonment. It appears to be a verbatim quotation of Psalm 22:1 (cf. Mark 15:34), but in fact the converse is true. It was the Spirit of Jesus that inspired the words that flowed from David’s mouth (2 Samuel 23:1-2).
Whatever deep sense of desolation rocked David into penning these words, his God-inspired prophetic insight reaches far beyond the limits of his own time and experience to the Cross of Jesus – and beyond. Therefore I have called this closing section of the Psalm ‘a paradigm of praise’ - not just because of its content, but especially because of its context.
The first person singular of Psalm 22:1-21 - ‘I’ – switches to persons plural from Psalm 22:22 onward, as the composer looks forward to the day when he will no longer be a stranger in the great congregation (Psalm 22:25). Have we the faith that sees beyond the affliction to its end (Job 23:10), beyond the fight to the victory (Psalm 22:22-24); to praise God in the midst of affliction like Paul and Silas (Acts 16:22-25)? David - and Jesus – envisaged an end to the present tribulation.
The Psalmist calls upon his brethren to join him in celebration of the victory wrought by God, who ‘has not despised the affliction of the afflicted’ (Psalm 22:23-24). The celebration takes the form of a testimonial feast, to which the whole congregation is invited (Psalm 22:25). Those who formerly shared his tears (cf. Romans 12:15), now have opportunity to rejoice with him.
The reference to “the meek” anticipates the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 5:5). Those who seek the LORD are told, “Your heart shall live for ever” (Psalm 22:26). This in turn points to the regeneration accomplished by Jesus: the making alive of those who were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1).
Jesus eventually opened the doors of salvation to those outside the family: to the poor and afflicted, and even to strangers beyond the boundaries of Israel (Psalm 22:27-28). This universalisation of the gospel, rightly understood, is the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3).
The keys of death are in the hands of Jesus, and “none can keep alive his own soul” (Psalm 22:29). All the dead shall at last bow down before Him (cf. Philippians 2:10-11). The present celebrants are joining the faithful of former generations in the Church Universal.
They are followed by “a seed” that shall yet serve the LORD (Psalm 22:30), who shall in turn declare His righteousness to a people yet unborn (Psalm 22:31). The gospel extends not only to the ends of the earth, but to the end of the age.
Another of the ‘seven last sayings of Jesus upon the Cross’ is known as ‘the Word of Triumph’:- ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). This is a cry of completion, or accomplishment, not unlike the closing words of our reading: “He has done it” (Psalm 22:31).
Perhaps one aspect of ‘taking up our Cross daily and following Jesus’ (Luke 9:23) is that we should do so not just with a cheerful countenance, but also with praise upon our lips. How do we relate to setbacks in our lives? Do we stop praising because of them?