Whatever the possible background events in David’s life from which Psalm 22 could have been written, we can certainly be encouraged by his desire to focus on the Messiah during his trials. David was God’s prophet who “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow” (1 Pet 1:11).

Yet Psalm 22 is more than a description of his sufferings. It is also a powerful insight into the very emotions and mindset of the Messiah during extreme suffering: it is a feature of this Psalm that the thoughts and feelings of Christ are laid bare.

“A Psalm of David”

It might be asked, why did God inspire David to write Psalm 22? Why give so much detail of his sacrifice and sufferings? Was it important that Jesus knew the depth of his coming struggle?

One aspect of the answer, from our perspective, is found in the words of Jesus in John 13:19 and 14:29. Jesus foretold these specific events to provide concrete evidence that would allow us to “believe” in the truth of the Messiah and his work.

But it is Jesus again who tells us from his perspective why so much detail was provided. It was because “the Father loveth the Son” ( John 5:19-20). This love motivated God to show “him all that He Himself is doing”. Because Jesus humbly acknowledged that he could do nothing by himself (v19,30), he learnt to seek the Father’s will and not his own (v30).

Jesus would see in the fulfilment of each element of his sufferings only further proof that God was in control, that He was faithful to His promises and His will is from and to everlasting. Jesus would know that all that happened was by the “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23-24). In so doing he could “commit his soul to God as a faithful Creator” (1 Pet 4:19; cp Luke 23:46 & Psa 31:5). The reality of his sufferings coming to pass would only further prove the reality of the “joy set before him”.

Psalm 22 highlights this transition by the clear division into two halves:

  • Psalm 22:1-21 – Lament: the experiences, struggles and feelings of the Messiah
  • Emphasis: “cry” (x2), “help” (x2), “trust” (x4), “deliver” (x4), “hope”, “save”
  • Psalm 22:22-31 – Praise: for the victory, salvation, and future glory of the Messiah and his seed
  • Emphasis: “glorify”, “praise” (x4), “declare” (x2), “fear” (x3), “worship” (x2)

Such a revelation to the Son was a vital aspect in his victory. To whom much was given much was expected (Luke 12:48). Isaiah 53:11 says that “by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many”.

It can be so fortifying to our faith to see how accurately the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of the Messiah were foretold. We can be certain that God exists by His “more sure word of prophecy”. Truly “known to God are all His works from the beginning” (Acts 15:18).

“My God, my God”

The very first verse begins with Christ’s passionate plea for strength. The repetition of the supplication, “My God, my God” (Heb El = power or strength), shows the degree of anguish that Jesus felt. Yet it is so encouraging to see the way Christ deals with such turmoil. The Messiah’s mind is turned to the supremacy of God’s will in order to focus on His ultimate strength and salvation. Notice how these are interspersed throughout:

Messiah’s thoughts and feelingsv1-2v6-8v11-18
Trust and acknowledgement of God’s willv3-5v9-10v19-21

Christ knew that his only source of strength was in God, right from the beginning of his life (Psa 22:10,19). The word for “my strength” in verse 19 is a related derivation to the word El in verse 1. But equally important is the fact that this Psalm reveals the spirit of Christ in recognising man’s lack of strength and the weakness of the flesh: for “my strength (BDB ‘human strength’, Strongs ‘vigour’) is dried up” (Psa 22:15).

The very words of Psalm 22 shows that God did hear and did not forsake him or turn His face from him.

Here lies the crucial acknowledgement of two truths in Christ’s sacrificial work. He demonstrated the facts concerning man’s weakness, having its origin in sin and consequence in death, while at the same time commending God’s strength, having its origin in holiness and resulting in righteousness. Paul expresses both these aspects in Hebrews 2:17: “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest… in things pertaining to God”.

Jesus shared the weakness of “his brethren” (Heb 2:14). It is the mortal sin-prone condition that came into the world as a consequence of Adam’s sin and became the misfortune of all his descendants (Rom 5:12; 8:3). It was vital he come in our nature so that by bearing the consequences of sin he could “through death… destroy that which has the power of death”. Furthermore, being tempted and experiencing the feelings and weaknesses that we all have, he is able to “help” us (Heb 2:11-17) who are without strength too.

It is fitting that the Psalm that so reveals the weakness of flesh finishes with the future declaration to the whole world that this work has only been accomplished by God’s strength. We will proclaim to the world that God “has done this” (Psa 22:31).

“Why have you forsaken me?”

The first phrase, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, is one of the most well-known expressions of Christ’s sufferings. We can only imagine the anguish of the Son of God on the cross crying out these words. It was the fourth saying on the cross, at the ninth hour (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). But did God really “forsake” (Heb = ‘leave’, ‘let alone’) him? Let us consider this from both the context of Psalm 22 and the testimony of other scriptures.

Noting the context of verses 1 and 2, we see that the Psalm expresses the Messiah’s feelings of being forsaken because God seems so “far from helping” (Heb = ‘salvation’/’deliverance’) and from hearing the “words of his roaring”. He feels at this point that God is not hearing him (v2).

Yet if we continue reading through the Psalm, we can see from his own words (in v21 and 24) that God did hear him. This is repeated for emphasis! The cry of “save me” in verse 21 is immediately followed by the victorious, “yea from the horns of the wild oxen thou hast answered me”. Furthermore, the Messiah himself praises God (v23) in acknowledgement that God did not “despise the affliction of the depressed”. This is emphatically supported by the certainty of God “not hiding His face from him”.

So the very words of Psalm 22 show that God did hear and did not forsake him or turn His face from him. This is also the consistent and definitive message throughout Scripture:

  1. Genesis 22:6,8 – “They went both of them together”.
    • Psalm 22 echoes this idea: “thy son, thine only”, “seed”, “all nations of the earth”, resurrection.
  2. Genesis 28:15 – God’s promise to Jacob is certain: “I will never leave thee”.
    • Psalm 22 echoes: “seed”, “families of the earth”, “house of God”, “vows”, “my God”.
  3. Isaiah 41:10-14 – The suffering servant assured that God would help.
    • Psalm 22 echoes: “fear not”, “strengthen thee”, “confounded”, “thou worm”, “Holy one”.
  4. Isaiah 50:6-9: “He is near that justified me… behold the Lord G will help me”
    • Psalm 22 echoes: “let him trust in the name of Yahweh”, chapter related to sufferings
  5. Isaiah 63:9: “In all their affliction he was afflicted”
    • Psalm 22 echoes: “dyed garments… red apparel… blood garments”, “thy holiness”.
  6. Hebrews 5:7: “When he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared”
    • Psalm 22 echoes: “crying”, “save”, “hear”.
  7. Hebrews 13:5 – Paul references God’s promise to Joshua in 1:5; “I will never leave thee or forsake thee”.
    • Psalm 22 echoes: “So we may boldly say ‘The Lord is my helper’, ‘I will not fear’.”
  8. John 8:28-29; 16:32-33 – In Jesus’ own words he expresses the fact that God would “not leave him alone”.

These examples from both the Old and New Testament shows that God would never leave or forsake His elect, especially His own beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. Jesus himself believed that. We can also be encouraged to have his same conviction, no matter the trials we may face. God will “never leave us or forsake us”.

“Words of my roaring”

So why then would the Messiah say, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me”?

Simply, and importantly, this is an expression of how he felt at this time! He felt vulnerable and weak. This is showing us the very emotions and feelings of Christ during this crucial trial. Significantly, in John 16:32-33 when Jesus emphatically tells us that he is “not alone” (because “the Father is with him”), it was because he had just told his disciples “that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone”.

This is why Jesus felt forsaken. He had just been betrayed by Judas, abandoned by his disciples (who had just scattered), put unjustly on trial before Jew and Gentile, beaten and crucified, “despised and rejected of men” (Isa 53:3), in darkness for three hours, and now he faced the reality of three days in the grave not conscious of his Father’s presence. Of course he felt forsaken, as would we, when going through this experience.

This is confirmed when we look at Psalm 42. The relevance of this Psalm to Christ at this time is seen in his fifth saying on the cross. “I thirst” (John 19:28) was said just after his fourth at the ninth hour on the cross. Yes, he would have been physically parched and thirsty (Psa 69:21; cp 22:1), but he thirsted for something more! Psalm 42:1-2 is the picture of the “hart panting” in thirst for God, and to be in His presence in the future (Psa 16:9-11) in immortality (John 7:37-39).

Here in Psalm 42, the anguish and tears of Christ are also seen in the dual lament, “why are you cast down, oh my soul?” (Psa 42:5,11). But in Psalm 42:9 we see that Christ would “say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me” (this is the cry of Psa 22:1 fulfilled in Matt 27:46). But most importantly, Psalm 42 reveals WHY he would feel this way and say that. The dual lament is preceded on both occasions with the repeating of the cause. He mourns because “they continually say unto me, ‘Where is thy God’” (42:3,10).

So it was not only that everyone had forsaken Jesus, but that they also mocked him claiming that God had forsaken him too, because he was in this position and affliction. And Christ was feeling the impact of this! Here lies the true power and importance of Psalm 22. This extra dimension beyond the gospels takes us into the very mind of the Messiah. Here we can better appreciate that Jesus “was touched with the feelings of our infirmities”.

He cried out in lament because God seemed “far” from helping. These were the “words of my roaring” (v2). This phrase is also found in Psalm 32:3 and 38:8 where he pours out the impact such pain and suffering was having on him mentally and physically. His “bones waxed old” to the point he was “feeble and sore broken”. Yet the word “far” is used again as bookends within the Psalm (v11, 19), showing that although Christ initially felt forsaken, yet he strengthens himself from his lament with the double call for God to stay near him during this desperate time.

It is interesting to note the use of the word “roaring” in Jeremiah 25:30, Joel 3:16 and Amos 1:2. It is used in reference to Yahweh who will one day “roar out of Zion”. He will come for the judgement and the salvation of His people.

“I cried in the daytime and in the night season”

Such was the plea of the suffering servant, made with “strong crying and tears”, that his prayer and supplication never ceased in being offered “day” and “night”. Yet are these the very words that Christ picks up in his parable of Luke 18:7?

If so, it is an awesome connection and encouragement for us to take. Jesus spoke this parable to the end that we “ought always to pray and not faint”. Psalm 22 is like the prayer of the Messiah in this very struggle. Although we, at times, like the Christ in Psalm 22, feel God is far away, we need to know that God “bears long” with us, and being the Judge of all the earth, He does hear and will avenge “His elect” in His own time. The challenge that Christ leaves for us is “will he find this faith in the earth”? In our next section we will go on to explore the faith Christ did have in his Father.