Psalm 22 provides us with a powerful insight into the very mindset and emotions of Christ as he went through these trials. It is vital for us to see that Jesus did feel alone, having been abandoned by his disciples, and despised of men. When overwhelmed with the grief and pain of such suffering for sin, help would seem so far away, as if God was not listening. Here, the weakness of flesh was declared openly before all.

Yet how important is it for us to know that God did hear “the words of [his] roaring” (v1) and did not hide His face from him (v24). We can only be encouraged that God will “avenge His own elect, which cry night and day unto Him, though He bear long with them” (Luke 18:7).

“Thou art holy”

How amazing to see in verse 3 the ‘spirit of Christ’ in this Psalm turn his mind to God in order to seek His strength in time of trouble and distress. Faith does not mean we are immune to the struggle, pain and even feelings of doubt that arise at times in our life. Rather, faith is the recognition that this is our “infirmity” (Psa 77:10; read the entire psalm), and that God is “holy” and “right” (Psa 145:17, Deut 32:4).

Note the clarity in the Messiah’s understanding, for verse 3 begins with “thou art…” in direct contrast to “I am…” in verse 6. Here the Messiah is acknowledging that despite what he feels, God’s way is right and holy: “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Faith gives us the strength to see things from God’s perspective.

God’s holiness has been continually demonstrated in all His righteous acts towards “our fathers” (Psa 22:4, Exod 15:11, Deut 10:21). Exodus 15 is the song of Moses, and linked to the song of the Lamb in Revelation 15:3, where praise is given because of God’s “great and marvellous … works”. Here all acknowledge that God is “just and true in [His] ways” for “thou only art holy” (v4). Note the parallels here to the Messiah’s own thoughts.

It is God’s holiness that causes the redeemed saints to praise God (Isa 6:3, Rev 4:8–11). Revelation 4 speaks of this being around “the throne”, which is exactly the same allusion as here in Psalm 22:3, where the word “inhabitest” is the same word as “dwellest between the cherubim” in Psa 80:1, 99:1 and Isa 37:16. Between the cherubim was the “mercy seat” (Exod 25:20-22), or the “throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). is pointed forward to Christ, the “glory as of the only begotten of the Father … full of grace and truth” ( John 1:14).

The structure of verse 3 seems to encourage the reading that God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel”. However, the Septuagint suggests the Hebrew structure should read, “You are enthroned as Holy. The Praise of Israel”. It is important from both Exod 25:20-22 and Rom 3:25-26 that it is only on the basis of God’s holiness and righteousness being “enthroned” in the faith of the individual that He will extend His grace and mercy. Psalm 71:19, 22-23 link God’s holiness and redemption beautifully (cf Psa 85:10). It is the depth of God’s mercy and grace that fills the saints with spontaneous and thankful praise.

The “praise of Israel” incorporates both natural and spiritual Israel, for around the throne are “four and twenty seats” (Rev 4:4) representative of “all the ends of the world … all the kindreds of the nations” (Psa 22:27; see also Rev 15:4). Once they cried day and night (Psa 22:2) but now in Revelation 4:8 they “rest not day and night” to praise and worship God.

“Our fathers trusted in thee”

How easy it would be for the Messiah to see in Israel’s history many examples of God’s deliverance? The word “cried” is first used in Exod 2:23 of Israel’s distress in bondage in Egypt, but the very next verse says, “And God heard their groaning”.

Psalm 107 picks up on the “cry” of Israel in their wilderness wanderings. The repetition of their cry to Yahweh in verses 6, 13, 19 and 28 is immediately followed by the repetition that God delivered or saved them. This leads beautifully into the phrase, “Oh that men would praise Yahweh for His goodness, and for His wonderful works unto the children of men” (v8,15,21,31).

It is the same word in the Judges that sees the cycle of Israel’s sin, suffering, then seeking God (“cried unto Yahweh”) lead God to send salvation by a “deliverer” (eg Jud 3:15).

There are also many examples from the lives of the patriarchs that could be cited to demonstrate God’s faithfulness, like Abraham’s trial in being asked to offer up Isaac. In Genesis 22:3 we see how hard this was for Abraham, yet in faith he was “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Heb 11:19). So Isaac was saved and delivered (Gen 22:12).

They were neither “confounded” nor “ashamed” (Isa 50:7), as God was faithful. This too would be the ultimate result for Christ. We must be encouraged by his turning his thoughts to God and faithfully committing his life to Him. Both Peter in 1 Peter 4:16–19 and Paul in Hebrews 12:1-14 draw out this exhortation for us. The many examples from the fathers who trusted in God will make up that “cloud of witnesses”. The greatest was Christ, for he “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

“But I am a worm”

But Christ knew that the cross lay before the crown. It is here we see an amazing insight into his thinking. God is faithful BUT the deliverance and salvation was through suffering and trials, not from them! Unlike Isaac, who was saved in that final moment, Christ was the ram caught in the thicket. “But I am a worm” in v26 demonstrates that Jesus knew that he came into the world for this very reason (cf Job 25:6 and John 12:27).

The worm here is a grub, Coccus ilicis, which was crushed to obtain a crimson/scarlet extract used to dye clothes. How many amazing connections immediately spring to mind! Yet more incredible is the mind of the Messiah to understand and process the implication this had for him.

The word “worm” is translated “scarlet” 34 times and is used in reference to the veil (Exod 26:31) and the clothing of the High Priest (Ex 28:2-8). The word is also translated “crimson” in Isaiah 1:18: “though your sins be as scarlet … red like crimson… they shall be as wool” (cf Psa 51:7, Rev 7:14).

How remarkable is this figure when considering the important balance of principles that converge on Christ in his work of redemption. Jesus came in the very nature that came under the dominion of death because of sin (Rom 5:12,18; 6:9). We can see the Messiah’s own reference to his bearing this condemnation in Psalm 22:15 when the writer uses the phrase “thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (cf Gen 3:19).

Yet it was only “through death” (Heb 2:14) that the sting of death, sin, would be crushed (Gen 3:15). In declaring God’s judgements to be right he was able to lay a basis for God to forgive (Rom 3:26), and to wash us “in his own blood” (Rev 1:5).

Even the New Testament picks up on this connection. The word “scarlet” in Matthew 27:28 is the Greek kokkinos. This also refers to the insect that feeds on evergreen trees, which when crushed produces a red extract used for dyeing garments. The root word kokkos refers to the kernel of a seed, and it is used seven times in the New Testament. On five occasions it is speaking of the grain of mustard seed, but on the last two occasions it is translated “corn” ( John 12:24) and “grain” (1 Cor 15:37). Both references speak of Christ’s death being the basis of bringing forth salvation and redemption for us. It is so moving for us to see our Messiah thinking about these things during such a time.

Christ felt and knew that he was the “reproach of men” (v6). But he understood something more in this than just being scorned by others. Jesus knew that he was bearing God ’s reproach (Psa 69:7,9; Rom 15:3). Sin had dishonoured God, reproached His holy name and marred His creation. So Jesus came bearing in his body those consequences that came upon man because of sin (1 Pet 2:24), so that he might be the very means God would use to rescue mankind from it. Yet, for this, the world only rejected and “despised” him. What a clear parallel to Isaiah 53. Truly he has “borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa 53:4).

It is important to note from our previous article that the people saw him as being forsaken due to the a iction he was suffering. But consideration of how Jesus saw himself as “a worm” shows the irony of this. If he was suffering affliction it was because God had brought him to this position (Isa 53:10). And if that was true, then it was proof that God had not forsaken him, rather it was showing that “they went both of them together” (Gen 22:6,8).

“He trusted in Yahweh”

The suffering Messiah knew the treatment he would endure from others by the explicit words in the middle section of Psalm 22. How he would be “despised of the people” (v6) is now categorically set out (vv11-20). This graphic illustration of how the worm would be crushed is fulfilled in the gospels as we follow the experiences of Christ.

Notice the repeated use of “they” in contrast to “I” and “me”. In verse 7, “they… laugh me to scorn” is seen clearly in Matthew 27:39: “they that passed by reviled him” (cf Luke 23:35). “They shake the head” is seen clearly in Matthew 27:39 in “wagging their heads”. Even their very words were foretold in Psalm 22:8: this “saying” is directly quoted in Matthew 27:43. Imagine the wonder of hearing those words being said to Christ when the speaker was totally ignorant of the fact that they were prophesied 1000 years before!

However, the context of Matthew 27:43 is also remarkable. e verse after the Psalm 22 quotation records that they also said, “for he said, I am the Son of God” as mocking such a claim. But Psalm 22:9-10 goes on to prove exactly that! Jesus was God’s son, “taken from the womb” (2 Sam 7, Psa 139:13-16). Jesus was born King of the Jews ( John 18:37) who “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). is divine mission necessitated a divine strengthening and overshadowing of his life (Psa 80:1, Isa 49:1). So he had to be “cast upon [God] from the womb” (v10).

Furthermore, if he was God’s son, then their scornful claim, “let Him deliver him, if He delight in him” (Psa 22:8, marginal note, author’s emphasis) would itself be powerless. For it was God’s own public declaration, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17, 17:5) that would clearly prove the certainty of God’s deliverance (see also Isa 42:1, Matt 12:18).

It also seems from Matthew 27 that this quotation from Psalm 22:8 was the last thing that occurred before the three hours of darkness descended on the land (which finished with Jesus’ famous quotation from Psalm 22 in Matthew 27:46). Therefore, we can suggest what he was thinking about during that time.

The phrase, “he trusted in Yahweh”, means ‘he rolled himself on Yahweh’. The same word is used in Psa 37:5 and Prov 16:3: “Commit thy way/works unto Yahweh”. Both verses hold some encouraging words: “And He shall bring it to pass” and “thy thoughts shall be established”. How relevant to Christ at this time as he thought about all these things, ultimately leading up to the seventh and last saying on the cross, “Into y hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

It is a powerful lesson for us all to understand how Christ saw God’s hand at work throughout his entire life. We often only seem to question God’s presence in our life when trials affect us. Prayer can seem at times only important when we are struggling. Yet Jesus saw God as being there through every moment, even to the moments of anguish on the cross. Such trust and hope in God must be developed for the times of our greatest trials and struggles. How vital it is that “in all [our] ways [we] acknowledge” God so that He might “direct [our] paths” (Prov 3:6, author’s emphasis). We must cast ourselves on Him and, like Christ, make Him personally “My God”.