Despite the mockery of some, the Messiah was the son of God. Fearfully and wonderfully made, taken from the womb and cast upon God, he was the one whom his Father delighted in, for he was called by God, “my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”. He had come into the world for one purpose and now his “hour had come”. Psalm 22 allows us to follow our Lord’s mind on the cross as he cried to his Father.

“Be not far from me”

Although Psalm 22 is broken into two clear halves, verses 1-21 referring to the cross and verses 22-32 referring to the crown, there seem to be three pairs of bookends within the psalm that could section it into three parts. The first part is bookended by the phrase “My God,” which begins in verse 1 and ends in verse 10. Here the turmoil of mind between how he feels yet the clear understanding of God and His will is revealed. The second section is verses 11-21 and is bookended by the phrase “Be not far from me” (v11,19). Here he bears up to God the anguish of his sufferings in supplication for God to be close and help. The last part of the Psalm, from verse 22 to verse 31, is bookended by the phrases “I will declare” (v22) and “they will declare” (v32), showing the development of the Messiah’s seed and our hope.

What is amazing about this middle section is the transition that occurs between the two times the phrase “Be not far from me” appears in verses 11 and 19. The first time the phrase ends with “for trouble is near; for there is none to help,” whereas the second time it ends with “O Yahweh”! The cry of anguish turns to the realisation that Yahweh is “my strength”. And so it is God’s name, Yahweh, that he then is to declare to his “brethren” (v22).

However, verse 11 shows us the turmoil of the Messiah’s mind at this time. On one hand, the cry of “Be not far from me” shows the understanding that “the Father is with me” ( John 16:32), but also the feeling that there were “no helpers” because “all … forsook him, and fled” (Matt 26:56). Now was his hour and “trouble was near”. This is a reference to “sorrows of death” (Psa 116:3). Remarkably, the context of Psalm 116 goes on to exemplify the same transition seen here from Psalm 22:

“Be not far from me; for trouble is near” (v11)“The sorrows of death ... I found trouble and sorrow” (v3)
“Have compassed me” (vv12,16)“Compassed me” (v3)
“Be not thou far from me, O Yahweh” (v19)“Then called I upon the name of Yahweh” (v4)
“O my strength ... Deliver my soul” (vv19,20)“O Yahweh, I beseech thee, deliver my soul” (v4)
“He hath not despised nor abhorred the a iction of the a icted” (v24)“I was greatly afflicted” (v10)
“I will pay my vows” (v25)“I will pay my vows” (v18)
“In the great congregation” (v25)“In the presence of all His people” (v18)

Little wonder that in Psalm 116:13 we see Christ in the upper room and at Gethsemane. In verse 14 we see him before the Jewish and Gentile trials. In verse 15 we see Jesus on the cross at Golgotha. In verse 16 we see his resurrection. Then in verses 17-19 the wonderful kingdom age as paralleled in Psalm 22:22-31.

“Many have compassed me”

The suffering Messiah was highly aware of the encircling beasts. The phrase “have compassed me” occurs twice (v12,16) highlighting two distinct groups. It is the “bulls” in verse 12 (who are also described acting like lions in v13) who make up the first group surrounding Christ. Then in verse 16 it is the “dogs,” the assembly of the wicked, those who “pierced my hands and my feet”. The figures of a lion and a dog here link us to a possible background connection in Absalom (2 Sam 17:10) and Shimei (2 Sam 16:9).

The “bulls of Bashan” are representative of the Jewish leaders who ruthlessly tried to destroy Jesus (Matt 26:57-68). Bashan was an area of rich land and so prosperous and abundant. But they “waxed fat … and forsook God” (Deut 32:15). The Jewish leaders were meant to be stewards of God’s house and vineyard but, having seen “the heir” and wanting to “seize on his inheritance”, they “caught him, and cast him out … and slew him” (Matt 21:37-40).

To do this they “opened their mouth against [him]” (Psa 22:13) and like a lion tried to pull Christ to pieces. This is an apt description of their attempt to seek false witnesses who would fabricate lies in order to prove Jesus worthy of death. How fitting for Christ to think of them as beasts (cf. Psa 49:20, Dan 7) Yet Psalm 22:21 records that God “heard me from the horns of the [wild bull]”. They had used their horns (power) to condemn Christ, but God had heard the cry of His suffering servant. So when the Lord of the vineyard comes “what will He do unto those husbandmen”?

The answer is clear (Amos 4:1-3; Matt 26:64).

It is interesting that the word translated “beset me round”in verse 12 means to enclose or crown (so translated in Prov 14:18). Could this be an allusion to the crown of thorns that Jesus as “King of the Jews” would be forced to wear? Another reminder of the ram on Mt Moriah?

The second group who compassed Jesus are recorded in verse 16. After the illegal Jewish trial, Jesus was delivered up to the Gentile “dogs” (Matt 15:26). Jesus was to further suffer at the hand of Pilate, Herod and his soldiers. The “assembly of the wicked” who “inclosed me” is detailed in Luke 23:10-11. The word “inclose” can also mean to strike. Not only did Christ have to endure the scorn and ridicule, but also the physical abuse as they “struck him on the face” (Luke 22:64; cf. Matt 26:67).

Although we can only imagine how Christ felt having to go through all this, it is amazing to see that as Psalm 22 records these graphic details there is a total absence of any thought of revenge. Conversely, the Messiah’s thoughts are turning to God for salvation from the “power [Hebrew = hand] of the dog”. Pilate’s boast in John 19:10 is that “I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee”. But Christ knew from Daniel 8:12 that this had been “given him” from above.

It was this knowledge that empowered the Apostles in Acts 4:25-30. They understood from Jesus’ experiences that “the assembly of the wicked” had gathered together against God’s Christ, but only to “do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done”. So they too asked for God’s hand to be the power in their lives while facing the threats from those who had surrounded them. What a great example for us too.

“They pierced my hands and feet”

There are precious few illustrations of exactly the mode of death that Christ was to go through in the Old Testament (cf. Gen 22; Num 21:8-9; Deut 21:23). Yet therein Psalm 22 we have some of the most detailed descriptions of crucifixion, which was yet to be invented!

We can see in verses 14-15 how totally spent physically and mentally Jesus was at this time. Having endured the Jewish and Gentile trials overnight, being scourged and beaten, now crucified and in agony, he had shed and expended every drop. The fluids in his body had begun to pool in his legs; his mouth became dry and harsh. Crucifixion is designed to prolong the agony, and so verse 17 shows that Christ could “tell [count] all his bones”. Every moment must have seemed drawn out. Being emaciated from the continued suffering, each bone would be in pain to the extent he could tally them all.

Hardly able to breathe, it is amazing that in all of this, Jesus’ mind turns back to God, His will (cf. Isa 53:10) and his concern for others. He recognised that God had “brought him into the dust of death”, an illusion to the very sentence of death spoken in Genesis 3:19. Christ knew that he had come under the “dominion of death” so that he might “die to sin” (Rom 6:9-10) and reverse the consequences that had come into the world through Adam. We can see that Christ’s mind was on this very thing from Luke 23:43; “Thou shalt be with me in paradise (Eden)”.

In verse 16 we have the clearest reference to crucifixion: “they pierced my hands and feet”. It is John that bears record of this in John 19:37: “they shall look on him whom they pierced”. However, it is interesting to note that John quotes from Zechariah 12:10 and not Psalm 22. In Zechariah, Yahweh is speaking. And it goes on to say: “They shall look on me (Yahweh) whom they have pierced and mourn for him ( Jesus)”. John does this in order to beautifully tie this to the meaning of Thomas’ words in John 20:28, when he finally sees Jesus and says: “My Lord and My God”.

This connection to Zechariah would have been well known to Jesus and it demonstrates how God and His Son were united in this work of crucifixion, to the extent that God enters into the very feelings of His Son as he is being pierced! Like Abraham and Isaac, the Father and Son went together (Gen 22:6,8).

While Jesus was crucified and hanging wasted in front of them all, verses 17-18 record three significant events that would occur. As at a public spectacle, they would “look and stare”. Surely, from the previous descriptions of his sufferings we could concur with the words of Isaiah 53:2: “when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him”. The next two events are the parting of his garments and the casting of lots for the robe (cf. Matt 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24). How amazing is the accuracy of these things being fulfilled and how reassuring to Christ and to our faith. It is interesting to note in the Luke record that these things were recorded after Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”. In this we can hear the son calling on his Father who is near for His strength and help to endure. No wonder then a person looking on such a godly spirit under immense trial would be drawn to the conclusion that “Truly this man was the son of God”(Mark 15:39).

“My darling”

The suffering Messiah was now drawing to the end of his ordeal. Having seen each prophetic statement come to pass, he knew there would be one last cry of “help”, “deliver” and “save” but this time in confidence of Yahweh “my strength” (as the contrast to v11 shows) to save. This recognition had come through the suffering of verses 11-19, as Paul expounds in Hebrews 5:7-8. He had come to recognise the importance of what the Father had asked of him.

God had “heard [him] from the horns of the wild bull”. This last phrase in verse 21 is the climax of this entire half of the psalm. It is here that the certainty of the events that had come to pass gave him the confidence to know the inevitability of the joy set before him. Thus he could say in spirit, “my flesh also shall rest in hope” (Psa 16:9).

Christ uses a wonderful phrase to describe himself in verse 20, which demonstrates his hope and the relationship that he had with his Father. “My darling” is the word ‘yachiyd’. It occurs 12 times in the Old Testament, most notably in Genesis 22 where it is used twice (v12,16). There it is translated “Take now thy son… thine only” (cf. Psa35:17, Zech 12:10). It comes from the root word meaning to be “united”, by implication beloved ( John 3:16).

Abraham was shown in figure what God was going to accomplish in His “only one”. Genesis 22:17 was the first time God had sworn by Himself in order to demonstrate the “immutability of His counsel” so that we could have that hope “as an anchor to our soul”(Heb 6:13-19). This was Christ’s hope!

But what was that hope? It is clearly the hope of resurrection! For Abraham accounted “that God was able to raise him up” (Heb 11:19). God’s oath to Abraham was that his “seed [would] possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen 22:17). The Messiah cried for deliverance from those enemies who represented the power of sin but it was Jesus who triumphed over them (Col2:15) because God would “ransom[him] from the power of the grave” (Hos 13:14). It is Paul who picks this up in 1 Corinthians 15, the chapter on resurrection, to show that, as Adam had brought death into the world, so “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (v26). Mortality would finally be conquered and swallowed up (v53-54).

We can only be totally amazed by the power of Christ’s thoughts even while suffering. How wonderful the implications for us, having been touched with the marvel of these verses. We can confidently proclaim with Paul, “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”(v57). It is these words that summarise the last section of Psalm 22.