November 12, 2017
Daniel L. Segraves
To read Psalm 22:1-22 and Matthew 27:33-46 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, an idea that is supported by a reading of Matthew. 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. One translation of the Hebrew Aijeleth Shahar is “The Deer of the Dawn” (NKJV). The Septuagint translates the superscription as “For the end, concerning the morning aid, a Psalm of David.” When the superscription is read this way, 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.
When read as the Messiah’s prayer, Psalm 22:1-21a describe His experiences on the cross in His own words. In Psalm 22:21b He proclaims that His prayer for deliverance has been answered. According to the New Testament, His prayer was not answered by sparing Him from the suffering of the cross, but by the Resurrection. In Psalm 22:22 the Messiah proclaims His intent to declare the name of the LORD in the midst of the assembly. (See Hebrews 2:11-12.)
1 Jesus prayed the words of the first half of this verse on His cross (Matthew 27:46). There is reason to think Jesus prayed the first twenty-two verses of this psalm. We know He prayed the first words recorded in this verse, and we know He prayed the words of verse 22 at some point in His life. (See Hebrews 2:12.) Some have thought Jesus’ plaintive cry indicated that at the moment of His greatest need, God abandoned Jesus. This was not the case. Instead, Jesus’ words indicated the genuine depth of the emotional trauma He experienced; His suffering was not only physical; it affected every aspect of His being, materially and immaterially. In the same way that any person 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 22:1, 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 was further developed in the words, “Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?”
2 The prayer “in the night season” correlates with Matthew’s words, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:45).
3 On the cross, Jesus acknowledged the holiness of God, which was demonstrated by His enthronement in “the praises of Israel.” The phrase “the praises of Israel” was a figure of speech referring God’s rule from between the cherubim on the ark of the covenant. (See Psalms 80:1; 99:1.) This made 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.)
4-8 The Messiah contrasts His experience on the cross with the experiences of the “fathers” who trusted in God and were delivered. The statement “I am a worm” is a figure of speech intended to describe the extent of the reproach Jesus the Messiah experienced on the cross. The extent of the way the unbelievers despised the Messiah is seen in their ridicule of Him and their denial that God had any interest in the events of the cross.
7-8 Compare with Matthew 27:39-43.
9-10 The Messiah acknowledges the genuineness of His human existence and His dependence on God since His birth.
11 Compare with verse 1.
12-13 Bashan, a fertile region east of the Jordan River, was known for its sheep and plump but wild, dangerous cattle. The imagery of danger is vividly presented in these words.
14-15 The Messiah’s physical condition is described in metaphors expressing formlessness and His inner feelings of anguish; He could no longer function as a human being. Like a dried-out and useless potsherd, He had exhausted His resilience and was unable to cope with the trauma. Not only did Jesus experience dehydration; His bones were out of joint; He was brought to “the dust of death.”
15 Compare with John 19:28.
16 Compare with Luke 24:39-40; John 20:25, 27. Although there were domesticated dogs in Israel in the first century, there were also wild, vicious, scavenging dogs that roamed in packs. (See Psalm 59:6, 14.)
17 On the cross, the Messiah endured the shame of nakedness: All of His bones could be counted; the onlookers stared at Him.
18 Compare with Matthew 27:35.
19-21 The Messiah’s prayer in these verses recapitulates the danger He faced on the cross. Compare verse 19a with verses 1b and 11a and 19b with 1b. The sword was the chief weapon used by the Roman military. (See Romans 13:4.) The prayer returns to the imagery of the dog, the lion, and the bulls.
21-22 Finally, the sufferings were past. The Messiah declared, “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” The writer of Hebrews saw Psalm 22:22 as being connected with the death of the Messiah and occurring after His death. The phrase “crowned with glory and honor” indicated that this occurred after the Resurrection. (See Hebrews 2:9-12.) The word translated “unicorns” (rēmiym) by the KJV refers to wild oxen.
23-24 David speaks to the congregation, to those who “fear the LORD,” about the suffering of the Messiah. He encouraged them to praise, glorify, and fear the LORD. The reason for this was that the LORD did not despise the Messiah in His afflictions, regardless of the assessment made by those who participated in His crucifixion (verses 6-8), nor did He hid His face from the Messiah, even though the Messiah felt forsaken (verses 1-2).
25-27 David speaks to the Messiah, declaring that he would praise the Messiah in the congregation of believers and that he would make public payment of his vows. The Messiah’s victory over death brought blessings for the poor. Those who sought the LORD would have reason to praise Him; their hearts would enjoy abundant life forever (verse 26). The death and resurrection of the Messiah would have universal impact. He would be worshiped by “the ends of the world” and “all the kindreds of the nations” (verse 27).
28 The resurrection of the Messiah further proved the universality of the rule of the LORD. In the larger context of Psalms, it was the evidence of the certainty of the Davidic covenant.
29 Those who would worship the Messiah included the prosperous and the suffering. His rule would be universal.
30-31 David looks to the future and declares that the events of Psalm 22 would be recognized as the work of the Lord. The worship of the Messiah would not end with the generation that saw the experiences of Psalm 22. He would be served by their posterity (verse 30). People yet to be born would hear of His righteousness and of the work accomplished on the cross (verse 31).