Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places 2

Lesson 2 | September 11, 2016

Prepared by Daniel L. Segraves, PhD

Psalm 22[1]

To read Matthew 27:33-46 and Psalm 22:1-22 together is to see the evident connection between these texts.  Psalm 22 has long been viewed as a messianic psalm fulfilled in the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross, and this is certainly supported by a reading of Matthew.

Matthew wrote, “Then they crucified Him, and divided his garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet: ‘They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots’” (Matthew 27:35).  The prophet Matthew had in mind was David (see Acts 2:29-30), who wrote, “They divided My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Psalm 22:18).

The crucifixion was accomplished by driving nails through the hands and feet of Jesus to fasten Him to the Cross.  (See Luke 24:39-40; John 20:25, 27.)  David wrote, “For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.  They pierced My hands and My feet” (Psalm 22:16).

Matthew wrote, “And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!  If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’  Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save.  If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.  He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God”’” (Matthew 27:39-43).  David wrote, “All those who see Me ridicule Me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, ‘He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!” (Psalm 22:7-8).

Matthew wrote, “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land” (Matthew 27:45).  This means that from noon until 3:00 P.M. night interrupted the day.  David wrote, “O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent” (Psalm 22:2).

Matthew wrote, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’  that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46).  David begins the psalm, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).

Another aspect of fulfillment is recognized by John, who wrote, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst!’” (John 19:28).  This is an apparent reference to Psalm 22:15, where David wrote, “My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought me to the dust of death.”

In Psalm 22:1-21a, the Suffering Messiah is speaking, describing His experiences on the Cross.  In Psalm 22:21b He proclaims that His prayer for deliverance has been answered.  We know, from the New Testament account, that His prayer was answered not by sparing Him from the suffering of the Cross, but by the resurrection.  In Psalm 22:22, the Messiah declares His intent to declare the name of the Lord to His brethren and to praise Him in the midst of the assembly.  (See Hebrews 2:11-12.)

In Psalm 22:23-24, David speaks to the congregation, to those who “fear the Lord,” about the suffering of the Messiah.

In Psalm 22:25-27, David speaks to the Messiah.

In Psalm 22:30-31, David looks to the future and declares that the events of Psalm 22 will be recognized by “a people who will be born” to be the work of the Lord.  This “posterity shall serve Him.”[2]

Some have thought that Jesus’ plaintive cry, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me,” indicates that at the moment of His greatest need, God abandoned Jesus.  This is not the case.  Jesus’ words indicate instead the genuine depth of the emotional trauma He experienced; His suffering was not just physical; it affected every aspect of His being, materially and immaterially.  In the same way that any human being in the midst of the horrors of painful circumstances might cry out, “God, where are you?” (see Psalm 10:1), so Jesus on the Cross cried out of His experience of aloneness and the feeling of being forsaken.

When Jesus uttered the words of Psalm 1:1a, He acknowledged the messianic import of the psalm.  Although we have no record that He prayed all of the words in Psalm 22:1-22, we should understand His use of the first words as representative of His entire experience.  This is how the psalm was understood by the writers of the gospels.

Jesus’ feeling of being forsaken is further developed in the words, “Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of my groaning?” (verse 1b).  Although Jesus prayed, and His prayer was heard (see Hebrews 5:7), the answer was not to deliver Him from the experience of death.  His prayer was answered by means of the resurrection.  (See Psalm 22:21b-22.)[3]

Because the light of day was interrupted by the darkness of night for three hours, from noon until 3:00 P.M., Jesus cried out to God “in the daytime” and “in the night season” (verse 2).  There was no answer from God at that time; God’s answer would come with resurrection.  (See Romans 1:4.)

On the cross, Jesus acknowledged the holiness of God, which is demonstrated by His enthronement “in the praises of Israel” (verse 3).  The phrase “praises of Israel” is a figure of speech used as a “confessional reference to God’s rule,”[4] as seen between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant.  (See Psalms 80:1; 99:1.)  This makes very significant the tearing of the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Jerusalem temple at the time of Christ’s death.  (See Matthew 27:51.)  The tearing of this veil represented the access into God’s presence that is now available to all people of faith on the basis of Christ’s death.  (See Hebrews 10:19-22.)

In Psalm 22:4-8, the Messiah contrasted His experience on the Cross with the experiences of the “fathers”[5] who trusted in God and were delivered (verses 4-5).  In contrast to those who were delivered, He said, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people” (verse 6).  The first part of this verse is, of course, a figure of speech intended to describe the extent of the reproach Jesus experienced on the Cross.[6]

The extent of the way the unbelievers despised Jesus can be seen in their ridicule of Him (verse 7).  They denied that God had any interest in the events of the Cross (verse 8).

The Messiah acknowledges the genuineness of His human existence and His dependence on God since His birth (verses 9-10).

The words of verse 11 are similar to those of verse 1b.  Although His prayer was heard, the answer was not deliverance from death.  The answer was resurrection from death.  (See comments on verse 1b.)

In Bashan, a fertile region east of the Jordan River known for its sheep and plump cattle, “a breed of ferocious undomesticated cattle roamed free.”[7]  The imagery of danger is vividly presented in the words, “Many bulls have surrounded Me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me.  They gape at Me with their mouths, like a raging and roaring lion” (verses 12-13).

The Messiah describes His physical condition in verses 14-15.  He is “poured out like water” and His heart is like “wax.”  These are metaphors expressing formlessness and His inner feelings of anguish; He can no longer function as a human being.  Like a dried-out and useless potsherd, He has exhausted his resilience and is unable to cope with the trauma.[8]  On the Cross, He cries out, “I thirst” (John 19:28).  Not only did Jesus experience dehydration; His bones were out of joint; He was brought “to the dust of death.”

Although dogs were domesticated at this time, “they still lived as scavengers, often roaming in packs on the outskirts of town (Ps 59:6, 14) and scavenging in town itself (1 Kings 14:11).  For these reasons the term dog is often one of derision and contempt in the Bible.”[9]

The Messiah described those who were involved in His crucifixion as “dogs” (verse 16).  They pierced His hands and feet.

On the Cross, the Messiah endured the shame of nakedness: All of His bones could be counted; the onlookers stared at Him (verse 17).

His garments were divided among those who participated in His crucifixion.  They cast lots for His robe (verse 18).  (See Matthew 27:35.)

The Messiah’s prayer in verses 19-21a recapitulates the danger He faced on the Cross.  He prayed that the Lord would not be far from Him (19a; see verses 1b and 11a).  He prayed for help (19b; see verse 1b).  He prayed for deliverance from the sword, the chief weapon used by the Roman military (verse 20a).  (See Romans 13:4.)  He returns to the imagery of the dog, the lion, and the oxen, or bulls (verses 20b-21a; see verses 12-13, 16.)

If Psalm 22 is a messianic psalm, we would expect the superscription to make some contribution to the messianic theme.  The KJV offers a partial translation and transliteration: “To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David.”  The NKJV offers a translation: “To the Chief Musician.  Set to ‘The Deer of the Dawn.’  A Psalm of David.”  Why, then, does the LXX translate the superscription as “For the end, concerning the morning aid, a Psalm of David”?

Kidner’s comments are helpful:

This may be a tune-name . . . but is better explained as a glimpse of the theme, and translated . . . ‘On the help of (i.e., at ) daybreak’.  The word ’ayyelet (‘Hind’, rsv) is very close to the rare word eyalut, ‘help’ (19, Heb. 20), and could be vocalized to coincide with it, if it is not indeed a feminine form of eyal (help), Psalm 88:4 (Heb. 5).  So the title draws attention to the deliverance which will light up the final verses of the psalm.[10]

If this is the way we should read the superscription, the psalm begins by pointing to the resurrection of Christ: This was His aid or help on the morning of the first day of the week.[11]

Psalm 22 is not the only Old Testament reference to the events Jesus experienced in His suffering on the Cross, but it is certainly a clear and sustained prophecy of the Event that brought redemption for the human race.

The videos and study guides for this class can be accessed at

[1] This lesson is abbreviated from the comments on Psalm 22 in Daniel L. Segraves, The Messiah in the Psalms (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 207), 71-77.

[2] The broad outline of Psalm 22 presented here follows John H. Sailhamer, NIV Compact Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 319.

[3] Notice the contextual connection between the death of Jesus and the words of Psalm 22:22 in Hebrews 2:9-12.

[4] Willem A. VanGemeren in Frank E. Gabelein, gen. ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 201.

[5] When Jesus says “our fathers,” He acknowledges His solidarity with the people of Israel.  This is attributable to the genuineness and fullness of His human existence.

[6] The statement “I am a worm, and no man” is certainly not intended to deny Christ’s humanity, any more than it is intended to be literally understood to mean that He is a worm.

[7] John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 523.

[8] VanGemeren, 205.

[9] Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, 524.

[10] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 41-42.

[11] See Mark 16:9.