For Sermon Central researchers: I have posted a series of 15 sermons on the Psalms. In recent personal studies I have found the psalms to be richer and more thought-provoking than I had fully appreciated. I had too often swept swiftly through psalms without slowing down to inquire as thoroughly as I might have into the depths of meaning and feeling that are expressed by the psalmists. Upon deeper examination and reflection, I find the psalms to be highly relevant to Christians in every age. My most recent foray into the psalms led me to present a series of studies of selected psalms in a class environment.
In my classes I did not examine every psalm, or every verse of the ones I did. Rather, I presented selected psalms that I believe to be representative of the collection in the book of Psalms. The studies were held in a class environment suitable for pauses for questions and discussion, and to pose “thought questions” where the meanings are not readily apparent, as is often the case in poetry. My notes include suggested points for such pauses, and I have not removed them in Sermon Central posts.
I developed the material with the view in mind that the series may be well used as sermons. There is an introductory sermon that describes what psalms are (whether they are in the 150-chapter book or elsewhere) and explains my approach to the series. The psalms I selected were presented in no particular order in the classes; however, I suggest that anyone using this material as a series begin with the introductory sermon and follow it with Psalms 1 and 2 in that order, as the first two psalms function as a pair. Beyond that, the selected psalms may be presented in any order.
To get as much enjoyment as we could from our study, I did some of the reading from the KJV, which I believe is the most beautiful of the English bible translations. For clarity we also used other versions, mainly ESV, which I have used for several years and the one I have come to prefer.
Today we are in the Psalms. The Psalms are a unique book. In the Hebrew bible, the book as a whole is not named. However, the content suggests it as an appropriate description.
There are some psalms in other books of the bible, some of them practically matching verbatim those that are in the book of Psalms.
The Psalms are written entirely as poetry, suitable for singing.
In fact many – if not all – of the psalms were sung.
Poetry in the bible
Mark Wenger (professor Columbia International University in South Carolina) wrote a paper on Poetry in the Bible. He wrote: “Over 8,600 of the verses of the Bible are poetry – nearly 27% of all the verses in scripture. Only seven books of the Bible have no clear poetry within them. One book in the Old Testament lacks poetry; Esther is a narrative without poetry, unusual in ancient literature. In the OT, more than 8200 verses of the Old Testament’s 23,000+ verses are, quite plainly, poetry (slightly more than 35%).”
Poetry lends itself to memorization.
In Junior High School I memorized a portion of William Cullen Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis. That was about 68 years ago, and I can still quote that passage from memory:
So live, that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
Invictus, by William Ernest Henley: Ends with this memorable verse:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Memorization, assisted by the form of poetry, was helpful in a time when written material could not be possessed in hard copy by everyone. Perhaps that accounts for the amount of scripture that is written in verse. For example, the Magnificat, Mary’s outpouring of praise upon learning of Elizabeth her relative’s pregnancy, confirming the words of the angel’s visit in Nazareth, are written in verse – not rhyming verse, but clearly, we have them in poetic form. I have no idea whether Mary expressed them that way at the very first, or the Holy Spirit, in giving them to Matthew, delivered them as poetry. But poetry they are. Most English translations recognize this in Luke 1:46-55.
In old England the book of Psalms was sometimes printed separately from the rest of the bible.
It was called the Psalter.
That reverence for the psalms has continued down to our present time.
In my youth it was not unusual to find a New Testament that was followed by the Psalms.
Of course they are not part of the New Testament, but considered by bible publishers important enough to package along with the New Testament.
John Piper: “Poetry is an expression of the fact that there are great things that are inexpressible. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the depths of human experiences and the capabilities of language to express them. For the poet, this limitation does not produce silence; it produces poetry.”
Burton Coffman: “The Psalms particularly speak to the Bible-reader because the sentiments of God fearing men are expressed more than in other books of the Scriptures, be it in prayer, in confession, in praises or in grief. In many of these situations the Bible reader finds himself and therefore is especially attracted and spoken to by the Psalms.”
Read Psalm 22
We might ask “Who wrote this?”
As the title says, “A Psalm of David,” this psalm is said to have been composed by David. It cannot be proved that the titles of the psalms were written by the author rather than a scribe or compiler. But in the absence of any reason to doubt the truth of the inscription, we accept it as true, though possibly not part of the inspired writing. Let us suppose then – without being adamant about it – that David wrote Psalm 22.
As a general rule, when we read scripture, we need to seek the answer to the question, “what does God intend for me to take away from what I am reading?”
In addressing that question, we benefit from taking scrupulous notice of who the scripture was addressed to, and the circumstances at the time. But we have some difficulty deciphering what this psalm was to David -
• A work of fiction?
• A story he heard from some prophet and wrote down in poetic form?
• It is obviously not something David himself experienced, or expected to.
• What did this mean to the people who read or sang this psalm?
We don’t and cannot know the answers to all these questions. Nor can we know how David got the God-breathed content. From the Holy Spirit of course, but -
• Did David dig up some golden plates and translate them into Hebrew from a language he did not know?
• Did David meet with God as Moses did, and speak with him as friend with friend?
• Did David simply grow up – as I believe Jesus did – with a native knowledge and comprehension of things that would follow? Was that why he was willing to take on the giant?
• Were angels – through whose agency the law was given – somehow the conduit for this revelation? (cf Acts 7:53, Gal 3:19)
• John, exiled on Patmos Island, was told by Jesus,
Write … the things … you have seen … (did David receive a visit from Jesus, as John did?)
• Did the Holy Spirit simply dictate the Psalm and David took dictation?
I doubt that David dug up some golden plates, but among the more plausible ways, if you find out, let me know.
I don’t know the machinations of the delivery of the psalm to David, but we know who it came from.
It came from Jesus:
John 16:13-14 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Like the New Testament writings, Psalm 22 is inspired.
It was recorded about 1000 years before the event it portrays.
II. The content
If I say “Psalm 22” the thought that leaps into most minds is the terrible cry of Jesus,
My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Many explanations have been offered for this extraordinary exclamation:
• Delirium brought on by extreme suffering and approaching death
• The “human side” of Jesus (as if he were sometimes human, sometimes not)
• A plea for his own death to end his time on the cross
• Perhaps Jesus was just quoting a familiar scripture
Less familiarly than the opening line, the psalm describes, in the first person, Jesus’ physical agony while on the cross, as expressed by his distant ancestor David 1000 years earlier.
But the psalm reveals far more than that.
On a deeper level, it reveals the true cost of redemption, and how Jesus felt as he was paying it.
Psalm 22 is about the price paid to
• purchase our redemption,
• restore our fellowship with God
• open the door for direct prayer with no human agent (meaning we actually enter the most holy place), and
• secure the salvation of believers.
Our only hope rests not in ourselves, but in the event this psalm portrays.
What does this mean?
It means every sin was accounted as though Christ had committed it.
The transfer of our sins to Jesus was not imaginary - Jesus did not imagine that he was forsaken.
If he was not fully aware of what was going on as he hung dying, the price of our salvation is reduced accordingly.
The result of the transfer of our sins to Jesus was not simply a matter of Jesus stepping forward to take our everlasting punishment by suffering for six hours on the cross and experiencing physical death - as terrible as that time was.
It was that, but there was more to the transaction than the grisly physical punishment, even death.
Physical suffering, yes, but beyond that agony was the horror of the rest of the price that had to be paid.
III. The price of our sins is alienation from God.
As horrible as the mocking and physical abuse Jesus suffered that day, it was part of what happened, but not all.
The opening line of the psalm: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” gives us a glimpse of the cost of the full burden of sin that Jesus actually bore, not as an abstract concept but in the full reality of everything sin means to God.
But it is not in the cry itself, but the answer that stands at the center of God’s entire plan – the divine plan that flows from the words, “In the beginning…”
For “In the beginning” itself depended for its meaning, on what Psalm 22 describes.
To seek the answer let’s look at the word:
In the context of this psalm, what does “forsaken” mean? In asking “my God” why he was forsaken, what did Jesus want that he did not have?
Let’s peel away another layer of the onion.
Isaiah 59:1-2 Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
DOES NOT HEAR
IV. A subset of verses in this psalm explain the mysterious cry.
In writing this psalm, David had access to – and has given us - a window into the mind of Jesus, specifically while the crucifixion was in progress.
Psalm 22:2 shows us what actually did happen through the thoughts of Jesus:
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
These are Jesus’ words, as surely as the plaintive cry in verse 1 of the psalm!
Jesus always had instant and total communion with the Father to that point, meaning that he was perpetually in a prayerful mode – his communion with the Father constant. How that communion was exercised we have no idea, but when it was withdrawn, its absence was horribly distressing to Jesus.
But on the cross, his attempts to reach the first person in the godhead were in vain.
“By day” – the sun shown for the first 3 hours.
“By night” – darkness covered the land for 3 hours
The “deafness” of God was not the imagined, incoherent thoughts of a suffering man.
Vs 3-4 show that Jesus was not deprived of understanding:
Psa 22:3-5 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. (4) In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Jesus was not delirious, nor did he succumb to the weakness of the human flesh. If Jesus said that he was forsaken, you can be sure that Jesus was – in a vitally important sense - forsaken.
The “forsakenness” Jesus himself expresses is an essential part of the price of atonement.
In v6 Jesus says,
I am a worm, and not a man.
He cannot mean that he regarded himself so, for he knew his was a noble and divine mission and understood that the events of the day would stand at the center of all human events, changing the relationship that had been lost in Eden. But in the minds of those who demanded his death, and those carrying it out (vs6-8), Jesus was regarded as a worm, less than a man, and worthy of derision.
In vs 9-11 Jesus renews his efforts to reach the Father, recalling that the separation he now experienced had never occurred since Mary bore him.
In v12 he resumes the description of the mockery of “bulls” who lacked any understanding of the momentous nature of the crucifixion.
They are called “dogs” in v16, not to belittle them or deny the benefit of salvation even to them, for he died for the vilest of sinners; but to show that they had no more understanding than an animal of the meaning of this particular execution.
In V17 the psalmist returns to the description of the physical suffering and mockery, which seems to have been continual.
In v19 Jesus calls out to God one final time, this time seeming to ask for the hastening of his death, releasing him from the dog, the lion, and wild oxen carrying out the execution.
In v20 he wants to be delivered from the “sword.”
From what sword did Jesus ask to be delivered?
The sword that was thrust into is side postmortem? I doubt it.
Or the sword that cut off his perpetual, instant, and sweet communion with the Father?
I offer that as my opinion.
Then something happens!
Look closely at verse 21:
In the middle of verse 21 everything changes.
In the first clause, he is still pleading for deliverance from his tormentors.
In the second clause, perhaps through his death, he is now released from not only the suffering, but also from the temptation to call on the power at his disposal and end it all by taking himself down from the cross.
The temptation of Jesus didn’t end in the wilderness of Judea. When Jesus told the disciples about his impending death, Peter protested, saying “This shall never happen to you.” But Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.”
If that temptation was present during the hours of agony, it vanished in the second part of v21.
You have rescued me! (ESV)
KJV “Thou has heard me.”
NASB Save me from the lion's mouth; From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
RESCUED – HEARD - ANSWERED
From the latter part of v21 to the end of the psalm, the psalmist - or the One he represents - praises God and exults in the salvation acquired by the foregoing verses, speaking to God variously in the second and third person.
In v23 the psalmist departs from this briefly to address “those who fear the Lord” “all the offspring of Jacob (Israel)” calling on them (or us) to praise and glorify the Lord (the Father).
V24 answers: “For…” (meaning the answer immediately follows)
Psa 22:24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
V24 shows that the Father was not deaf forever to the cries of his suffering Son.
Albert Barnes captures the essence of this important verse (paraphrased): “Neither hath he hid his face from him” - that is, “permanently, constantly, finally, completely.” The Father had not wholly abandoned the Son, but though he for a time forsook him, it was for the time only until redemption was purchased; and the unity of Father and Son was not been ultimately and forever withdrawn.
Vs 25-26 possibly refer to David himself.
Vs 27-31 speak of the universal scope of the saving work accomplished on the cross, reaching across all humanity then living and to their posterity (v30).
People yet unborn will come to know of the righteousness they may possess through the suffering and death - and the forsaking - that David foresaw.