Lecture 14: Psalm 22
Course: Psalms by Dr. Bruce Waltke
Lecture 14: Psalm 22
I. Comparison of I AM and Elohim in the Psalms
I mentioned in the last hour of the Elohim salter. There are striking statistical contrasts between the use of ‘I AM’ and Elohim between Psalms 42 to 83. For example in Psalms 1 – 41 and 84 – 150 ‘I AM’ is used 584 times and Elohim is 94 times. In Psalms 42 to 83, the Elohim salter, ‘I AM’ is used 45 times and Elohim is used 210 times. You can see that there is a tremendous change. Most occurrences are due to alternate parallelisms in 1 – 44 and 84 – 150 ‘I AM’ is in the A verse set and Elohim in the B verse set. In 42 – 83 it is reversed where Elohim is in the A verse set and I Am is in the B verse set. In synoptic materials, look at Psalm 14 The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. Now look at Psalm 53 which is in the Elohim section, the fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. God look down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. Look at the change, God looks down from heaven instead of the LORD looks down from heaven. So we see that Psalms 42 – 83 for some reason are giving priority to the transcending God over the covenant keeping God. The research on this is fairly new, beginning with Psalm 42 and this figures prominently in ancient near eastern collections of poetry and in this collection there are 42 Psalms beginning with Psalm 42. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the numeral 42 is used in the context of judgement and premature death and this would be of the Ephraimites at the crossing of the Jordan where 42,000 are put to death. It is used of the children and it is used of relatives of Ahaziah who was the king of Israel and the son of Ahab and Jezebel of which there were 42 put to death. I think it has some bearing on the symbolic tribulation where you have a three and half years of 42 mouths. I think it all fits together and I suspect that it may deal with the destruction of Jerusalem. I think it may be that behind it is the premature death of Jerusalem in the exile. The other part of it is, it is going to come out of the exile and there will salvation behind it. So this tends to be somewhat dark but yet in Psalm 51, it says that God can forgive when the nation repents. This information gives you another dimension of our understanding of God.
II. Psalm 22 – An Individual Lament Psalm
Psalm 3 was the first Lament Psalm. It was a very distinctive kind of lament. Then there is a penitential psalm of lamenting sin in Psalm 51. We could also see a messianic psalm, a psalm portraying Jesus Christ and his death which is Psalm 22. This Psalm was clearly on the lips of Jesus as he was dying. It is the fourth of the seven verses of our Lord upon the Cross. Here are all seven verses:
A. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).
B. Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
C. Woman, behold your son: behold your mother (John 19:26-27).
D. My God, My God, why have you forsaken me, (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34).
E. I thirst (John 19:28).
F. It is finished (John 19:30).
G. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46).
Traditionally, these seven sayings are called words of: A. Forgiveness, B. Salvation, C. Relationship, D. Abandonment, E. Distress, F. Triumph and G. Reunion. In the middle it says: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This saying stumbles many people because it seems to say that Jesus is saying that God has abandoned him. Out of the twenty thousand or so students I have taught, those who have turned against the faith are less than five. One of those students that turned against the faith, it was this psalm that confused him. But honestly, I never thought that he had faith in the first place. I saw that in class, he was somewhat skeptical. I think that once you have tasted the things of God and then turned your back on those things; I don’t think there is any hope for you. I don’t think you can crucify the Son of God again. If we deny him, though we are unfaithful, he is faithful, yet, if we disown him, he will deny and disown us. So, I suspect that my poor student is in that state. If you know that a person cannot be corrected, don’t make it worst by arguing.
B. The Translation – Psalm 22, A psalm by David
1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my roaring?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
3 Yet you are the Holy One; the One enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mortals and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they split open their lips; they shake their heads:
8 "Commit [yourself] to I AM; let I AM rescue him. Let him deliver him; surely, he delights in him."
9 Surely, you are the one who brought me out of the womb; the one who caused me to trust at my mother's breast.
10 From the womb I was cast upon you; from my mother's belly you are my God.
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near; surely there is none to help.
12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Lions, tearing their prey and roaring, open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue is made to stick to the roof of my mouth; and you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Surely, dogs surround me, a band of evil men encircle me; they bore holes in my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones; people stare; they gloat over me.
18 They distribute my clothes among them, and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, I AM, do not be far off; my Help, come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Save me from the mouth of the lions; answer me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.
23 You who fear I AM, praise him! All you seed of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you seed of Israel!
24 For he has not despised, He has not abhorred the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him, but when he cried to him for help, listened.
25 From you comes my act of praising you in the great assembly; I will fulfill my vows before those who fear you.
26 Let the poor eat and be sated; let those who seek I AM praise him—Let your hearts live forever!
27 May all the ends of the earth remember and turn to the LORD, and all the clans of the nations bow down before you.
28 for dominion belongs to I AM as ruler over the nations.
29 May all the rich of the earth will bow down to him, before him all who go down to the dust will kneel, those who did not preserve their lives.
30 May their seed serve him; May it will be told to their generations about the Lord of all.
31 May they come and proclaim his righteousness; to a people yet unborn [mat they say]: “Surely, he has acted.”
C. A Description
We will just look at the Psalm and comment on it as we go along. All of the Psalms of David speak of Christ in different ways; by type as a king. In this psalm, he is a type of Christ using language that is prophetic and transcends his own experience. The details of this psalm don’t match the life of David, but instead it matches the life of Jesus and the Cross particularly. There is only one psalm and perhaps purely prophetic and that is Psalm 110. So mostly it is typology. Let’s look at the motifs of Psalm 22.
1. The Motifs
This is a lament psalm but not a complaint. It is a truly lament and has all the motifs. It begins with the address: my God, my God. The lament is a mixture of lament and confidence and praise and this runs from verses 1 – 10. Verse 11 is transitional that combines the lament together with the petition which will follow: do not be far from me, for trouble is near; surely there is none to help. Then you get seven verses: 12 – 18 in which he truly laments and describes his situation. That is followed by three verses of petition and they are united; that lament and petition are united in various ways. From 12 – 21, you get lament with petition. It shifts to praise in verse 22: I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. That runs from 22 to 31.
2. Three stanzas
1 and 2 consist of two strophes of five verses each; 1-5, 6-10; 22-26, 27-31. Stanza II also consist of two strophes: Lament of seven verses: 12-18 and the petition of three verses 19-21. Although this analysis obscures the psalmist’s anguish and the psalm’s fervency, it symmetrically reveals his spiritual composure, even as he endures a cruel and unjust death. So you have 10, 10 and 10 verses. In the midst of this situation, he is able to compose with great symmetry; his motions are not astray in the lament. In the first stanza, he is abandoned by God. In the second stanza, he is abandoned by people: all of see me mock me. In the first stanza he finds his confidence in God’s pass faithfulness to the fathers. In the second stanza his confidence isn’t bolstered by God’s pass faithfulness but by God’s pass faithfulness to he, himself. Verse 9: you are the one who brought me out of the womb; the one who caused me to trust at my mother’s breast. Our fathers trusted in you and now you caused me to trust in you. So we see the cycle of lament and confidence and it is an alternating parallelism.
There is an escalation from God to the people and then to confidence. So we have two verses of lament and then three verses of praise and then it turns around that you have three verses of lament and two verses of confidence. The Psalmist is in total control; his emotions haven’t overwhelmed him being totally rational and yet very passionate. It is amazing to be able to compose a psalm like this and this is what Jesus is using on the Cross. When he picks up a word out of the Psalm, you have to keep in mind the entire psalm. He is reciting this psalm as he hangs on the Cross and we see how it all fits him precisely because they are mocking him as he hangs there and this is what the psalm is saying. And it is Matthew who describes the crucifixion scene in relation to this psalm. This psalm depicted exactly what really was at the Cross.
So in verses 1-5 it seems that this is going on all the time as it mentioned day and night, constantly crying out; he has seemingly abandoned me in the midst of it. But this is normative Christian experience as we discuss this psalm. How long oh Lord: And we go through those experiences knocking on the door of the Lord until our fists are raw from knocking and nobody opens the door while the lights remain out upstairs. And that is what he is feeling. So Christ has been tested in all points as we have been. One of them includes the testing where you feel abandoned by God. He has gone through that experience with us, yet he did not sin. It ends up with confidence and also with praise; it is a doxological lament and thus fits in perfectly. The past faithfulness to God is a track record in verses 3-5. Yet, you are the Holy One, totally the other one. And so it is pictured as we offer up our spiritual praises, God sits enthroned on our praises. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. So in verse 6 he starts talking about himself. In the eyes of others, I am a worm. I am not even thought of as a human being. On the Cross, he was so marred he no longer looked human. This reminds us somewhat of Mel Gipson’s movie, the Passion of Christ; he no longer looked human. This was predicted of him. People ask me if that was true; I actually think that it was even worse. The Cross was indeed so horrible.
In verse 7, they mock him; he was scorned and despised. All who see me, mock me, they split open their lips; they shake their heads. Verse 9 starts to show some confidence: you are the one who brought me out of the womb; the one who caused me to trust at my mother’s breast. He drank the milk of her faith. He says, from my mother’s stomach you are my God. Now he moves to the lament which falls into two cycles. First of all he describes the enemies in zoomorphic terms where in verse 12, they are bulls and in verse 13 they are loins. In verse 14, he returns to his own experience where he describes himself as being poured out like water with his bones becoming out of joint and having a heart of melted wax because of his strength leaving him. This is what happened on the Cross, his bones became out of joint. He has no strength and has a dry mouth making him feel like he is lying in dust. He was unable to breathe. In verse 16 he turns back to this zoomorphic imagery comparing his enemies to dogs. In verse 17 he turns back to his personal experience of counting all his bones. He tells us that people are staring at him and gloating over him. This is how he saw the people around at the Cross; those Roman solders holding their spears and others yelling at him and taunting him. He saw them as loins roaring and fighting to eat their kill. This is descriptive of death by crucifixion which was unknown in David’s day as death came from stoning then. So he is dying amongst the animals tearing him apart so to speak. They cast lots for his garment after he died on the Cross. This is an amazing prophecy, a person dying by crucifixion boring holes in his hands and his feet and they nailed his hands and feet to the Cross, using large iron jagged nails. There was nothing like this in David’s times. When Jesus said that it was finished, he had totally fulfilled the Scripture which spoke of him in order to validate our faith.
3. The Petition
Now comes the petition asking in the midst of what is happening where God feels too far off to reverse it. He is asking for deliverance from the sword and the dogs and the lions and horns of the wild oxen; this is a reversal of the zoomorphic terms. This is another chiasm trying to gather his lament with his petition. He had seven of these petitions with these zoomorphic images. With the transition of a resurrection, all of a sudden he is praising God in the midst of it. The praise here falls into two sections: first of all, he praises God to the Jewish people, to my brothers, to the believing congregation. This section goes from verse 22 to verse 26. Then it goes out to the ends of the earth in verse 27. So it begins with his own praise with his brothers with five verses within the congregation and then five verses of praise to the ends of the earth: a five and a five. By addressing the congregation, he addresses those who fear the Lord, mainly his own people. Jesus gave his testimony to his own people and then once he rose from the death, he instructed his disciples to give his testimony to the gentiles. He says to them, let the poor eat and be sated; let those who seek God praise him – let your hearts live forever! Because you have the resurrection, you have hope. God is the ruler over all the nations. All people will hear this story of the king who suffered and triumphed. This testimony is universal in space and time; this will be passed on from generation to generation. And here we have at the end of history as far as we have come and we are still celebrating it. It continues to say that they will come and proclaim his righteousness; to a people yet unborn. So the final epitaph: God has defeated his enemies and the greatest enemy, death.
Transcribed by BT Ambassador Phil Smith