The Crucified Messiah
This Psalm is not just an experience of David who is the author. So many references can only fit one person—Jesus the Messiah and His sufferings on the cross. So the Psalm can be seen as a prophetic portrayal of the sufferings of the Messiah and His glory that followed. Or it can be described as “forsaken by God” and “delivered by God” for easy understanding of the structure of the Psalm.
[Other related passages: Isaiah 52:13—53:12, Matthew 27:35—46, John 19:23—25, Hebrews 2:12. ]
There are two things to note: First, the accuracy of the prophecy which was written by David nearly 1000 years before Jesus Christ. The Psalm almost reads like an eyewitness account of what happened on crucifixion day. For example, “they have pierced my hands and my feet,” and “they divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
It also points out the fact that the Scripture was indeed God-breathed or inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20, 21). This fact is further supported by the historical truth that crucifixion as a mode of execution was practically unknown during David’s time. It came later in history.
Second, H. C. Leupold points out the very notable difference between language styles in the first part of the Psalm and the second part: “In the first half the statements of the individual verses are shorter, like gasps breathed in distress. Now [i.e the second part] they are longer, for the speaker is delivered and free from pain.”
In the first part of the Psalm, the sufferer is shifting between hope and despair in a see-saw fashion. This is also the experience of a believer who passes through intense suffering. At one moment his hope and faith are high, and the next moment he is in despair, and after a while the clouds separate and the sun shines again.
This was the fourth saying of Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27:46). There was darkness over all the land for three hours when Jesus was crucified. It was symbolic of the darkness that came over the soul of Jesus as He lay dying on the cross.
It was the horrible darkness of separation from God as all the sins of the world were placed on Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus then felt forsaken by God. And He asked, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This “why” is not asking to seek the cause of being forsaken. It is almost the complaint of a child who does not find his father while very sick. Because that is the time that the child desires the father’s presence the most; but in this case does not find it! Jesus had already been forsaken by his disciples; one had betrayed Him and another had denied knowing Him and all others had fled when He was arrested.
So Jesus is asking, “O God, have you also left me alone?’ This forsaken experience was indeed real and most agonizingly painful.
Jesus was forsaken on the cross so that we might never be forsaken by God. That is why God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV). Being forsaken is an experience that any true believer in Jesus Christ faces at some point in his life.
You too may have passed through such an experience. In such experiences, sometimes the cause of suffering is unknown, and often God seems far away from our cries for help. Yet know that our Saviour having gone through the forsaken experience understands what we are going through and He draws near to help.
The strength of prayer is felt here in this cry. Though God seems to be far away the Suffering Servant (Jesus Christ) does not distrust the power of God to help Him. So He is asking, why God has not sent help as an answer to His prayers. Though forsaken He refuses to throw away His hope in God.
He address God as “Eli” meaning “my Strong One.” “The Man of Sorrows had prayed until his speech failed him, and he could only utter moanings and groanings as men do in severe sicknesses, like the roarings of an wounded animal” C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David.
Comment: “That there is something of singular force, meaning, and feeling in these words is manifest from this—the evangelists have studiously given us this verse in the very words of the Hebrew, in order to show their emphatic force. And moreover I do not remember any one other place in the Scriptures where we have this repetition, ELI, ELI.” Martin Luther, The Treasury of David.
Often we like to think of prayer as some kind of romantic sweet thing that gets things from God. It can be that. But such a simple understanding of prayer is not enough for the Christian life. Jesus, here, is shown as crying out to God day and night. But at the time of His crucifixion He was met with the silence of God.
Yet He continued to pray. He was thus giving us a great example of His own teaching that they should always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1). So we should take heart and always pray though no answer is coming to us.
“Yet you are holy” (NIV footnote). “For in this case, `holy’ means `exempt from the shortcomings of man.’ ” H. C. Leupold.
That means that it is unthinkable that God would forsake anyone who trusts in Him. In other words, the sufferer is not willing to find fault with God. He says that God does do not do wrong to those who trust in Him even though we might not understand why some things happen to us. Often, the first thing we do when something bad happens to us is to blame God; isn’t it? Jesus’ attitude was different. Can we not try to follow His example?
“You are the praise of Israel.” or You are “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (NIV footnote). God used to appear on top of the mercy seat above the ark of the testimony in between the two cherubim. Similarly, God is now having His throne on the foundation of the praises of the people.
Verses 4 and 5
Past deliverances of God give us hope for present help and deliverance. That is why so many times when people of Old Testament times prayed, they quoted God delivering them from bondage in Egypt. They based their praying on God’s help given to them in the past.
So also, David was confident to meet Goliath because earlier God had delivered him from the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:34—37). Here we find another important aspect of prayer. We should remind God of His past deliverances in our life.
At the same time we should be confident that as in times past when we were not disappointed in trusting God, so also this time too God will deliver us.
The silence of God in the face of the psalmist’s cries (v. 2) causes him to reflect on God (v. 3) and his past faithfulness to Israel (vv. 45). When we are perplexed by our sufferings, that is the time to think of God’s past dealings with his children.
In this verse there is a mood change. The sufferer now looks at himself and sees himself as a worm. Think about it. Jesus compared Himself to a worm. And not man!
“Christ calls himself `a worm’ . . . on account of the opinion that men of the world had of him . . . The Jews esteemed Christ as a worm, and treated him as such; he was loathsome to them and hated by them; everyone trampled upon him, and trod him underfoot as men do worms . . . and it has been observed by some that the [Hebrew] word there used signifies the scarlet worm, or the worm that is in the grain or berry with which scarlet is dyed; and like this scarlet worm did our Lord look, when by way of mockery he was clothed with a scarlet robe; and especially when he appeared in his dyed garments, and was red in his apparel, . . . when his body was covered with blood when he hung upon the cross, which was shed to make crimson and scarlet sins as white as snow” – John Gill (The Treasury of David).
When Jesus was hanging on the cross the crowd was not simply silently watching. They were hurling insults at him. Even the two robbers who were crucified along with Jesus did so (Matthew 27:44). They even shook their heads as a gesture of mocking Jesus.
Even Jesus’ enemies admitted that Jesus fully trusted God. Now they make it their point of attack. They said that since Jesus trusted in God, let God rescue Him. Here “The opposition seems to quote from remarks that their victim [Jesus] had previously made” H. C. Leupold.
We need to understand that people always love to attack our confidence in God. David was often questioned about his confidence in God (1 Samuel 17:33; 23:3, 30:6). King Hezekiah’s confidence in God was too thus questioned (2 Kings 18:19, 2 Chronicles 32:10, Isaiah 36:4). So never think it strange that others mock and question your confidence in God especially when you look helpless to them in the time of your suffering.
See what David said, “Many are saying of me, `God will not deliver him.’ But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:2, 3 NIV).
Verses 9 to 11
At this point the sufferer again turns to God in hope. Instead of weakening in faith because of the mocking by his enemies, he once again turns to his God. He recalls that from the time of His birth, even from His mother’s womb, God was His God.
This is especially true of Jesus as He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). We also know that Jesus was zealous (showing great energy and enthusiasm for something) for His Father’s house even as a child (see Luke 2:41—52).
So Jesus, in His moments of suffering is reminding God of the constant relationship He has had with God from His early days. On that basis He appeals to God not to be far from Him. He presents His helpless situation to God. He tells Him that trouble is near and there is no one to help. (Read also Psalm 121:1, 2 to know to whom we should turn to for help in times of difficulty.).
The consolation Jesus is looking for is not deliverance from the cross; but the nearness and the Presence of His heavenly Father.
Perhaps this is the only time in the gospels that we have a record of Jesus addressing His Father as my God. At all other times He called God, “Father.” It shows us the intensity of His suffering because the sins of all placed on Him had caused a separation between Him and God for a brief period of time.
Verses 12 and 13
Can you imagine a man, helpless, unarmed, naked and bleeding and unable to help himself, in the midst of a herd of angry bulls? That was the condition of our Lord Jesus Christ while He was nailed to the cross. His enemies surrounded Him and shut off every avenue of escape.
Look at the expression “strong bulls of Bashan.” “These animals are remarkable for the proud, fierce, and sullen manner in which they exercise their great strength. Such were the persecutors who now beset the our Lord. These were first, human, and secondly, spiritual foes; and both were alike distinguished for the proud, fierce and sullen manner in which they assaulted him” — John Stevenson (The Treasury of David).
Comment: “These enemies are likened to vicious bulls or to strong bulls from the grassy plains of Bashan, where they found ample pasturage and were well fed, who are thought of as being ready to dash in on this poor victim whom they have encircled, making escape impossible. Imagine what fear must come to a man in such a case!” — H. C. Leupold.
Another image used is that of roaring lions opening their mouth to tear their prey. The enemies of Jesus Christ were now at the foot of the cross. Jesus is thus surrounded by mortal enemies.
Comment: “Like roaring lions they howled out their fury, and longed to tear the Saviour in pieces, as wild beasts raven over their prey. Our Lord’s faith must have passed through a most severe conflict while he found himself abandoned to the tender mercies of the wicked, but he came off victoriously by prayer; the very dangers he was exposed being used to add prevalence to his entreaties” — C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David.
Now Jesus turns to His suffering once again. He describes Himself as someone being poured out like water. That image points to a life utterly spent. There was nothing left untouched in His body or soul by His suffering. Every element was poured out for the salvation of you and me. He gave all, everything He could give. He kept nothing back.
“He was utterly spent, like water poured upon the earth; his heart failed him, and had no more firmness in it than running water, and his whole being was made a sacrifice . . .” — C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David.
He says, “all my bones are out of joint.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that bones came out of their position. But it points to the extreme physical suffering on the cross which caused Him to feel that all His bones were loosened from its joints.
He then says that His heart has turned to wax which has melted away within Him. Again the image shows intense suffering. We can better understand this if we think of the passover lamb.
It was not supposed to be boiled in water, but it had to be completely roasted in the fire. So also Jesus was now facing the fire of hell because of His enemies, and because of Satan and his spiritual forces and also because God had laid upon Him the sins of us all. And because of its extreme suffering His heart became like wax melting in the fire.
Dr. Gill wisely observes, “if the heart of Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, melted at it, what heart can endure or hands be strong, when God deals with them in his wrath?” — (quoted in Treasury of David).
Jesus then says that His strength is dried up like piece of broken pottery. “Jesus likens himself to a broken piece of earthenware, or an earthen pot, baked in the fire till the last particle of moisture is driven out of the clay. No doubt a high degree of feverish burning afflicted the body of our Lord . . . thirst and fever fastened his tongue to his jaws . . . so that he could hardly speak” –C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David.
Comment: “The extremity of the misery includes the fact that he has as little strength as moisture that might be found in a potsherd—which is obviously nil” — H. C. Leupold.
Now Jesus tells God that He lay Him in the dust of death. The words suggest the picture of Jesus wrestling with Death, and finally rolling into the dust along with it.
We do not know what His feelings were at this point of time. We can only guess. Lancelot Andrews quotes what the ancient Fathers of the Greek church wrote to conclude their liturgy on the passion of Christ: “By thine unknown sorrows and sufferings, felt by thee, but not distinctly known by us, have mercy upon us and save us” – The Treasury of David.
Another animal imagery is used here. That of dogs surrounding a man. They are a band of evil men. Now when we think of dogs today, we think of domesticated pets in our homes. But that is not the picture here.
In hunting down a prey, people formed a wide circle and closed in on the victim from every side. Once having trapped their prey in the middle, the hunters killed their prey at their own convenience. Such is the picture used here.
“Here he [Jesus] marks the more ignoble crowd, who, while less strong than their brutal leaders, were not less ferocious, for there they were howling and barking like unclean and hungry dogs.” — C. H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David.
Comment: “Do you know that God uses animals to teach us about sin? Today’s passage talks about the Devil’s entire zoo . . . Our Lord was on the cross, and people were acting like animals. That’s what is wrong with the world. When we leave God out of our lives, we descend to the level of animals. . . When men put Jesus on the cross, they acted like animals. And He replied `I am a worm’ (Psalm 22:6). Can you imagine bulls and lions and dogs and oxen chasing a worm? Oh, how our Lord humbled himself for us! — Warren W. Wiersbe, Prayer, Praise & Promises.
Verses 16b, 17 and 18
Here we have an almost eyewitness account of the crucifixion. It is amazing to note how accurately the writer was inspired by the Holy Spirit to describe the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ almost 10 centuries before it happened. We need to remember that the Jewish people had no idea about crucifixion. They used to stone people to death under the Law of Moses.
“They have pierced my hands and my feet.” This description can fit no one else but Jesus Christ on the cross. He could count all his bones. The posture on the cross and perhaps the great difficulty with which breathing took place during the crucifixion made it possible to see the framework of bones press visibly against the skin. Such was the intensity of death by crucifixion.
We might think that people would have sympathized with Jesus while He lay dying on the cross. Instead of that, the people came and stared at Him as if they were viewing an exhibit in a museum. Remember that they had stripped Him naked (perhaps there must have been a loin cloth around His waist). They gloated over Him. That means they were happy over what happened to Jesus. It was a very unpleasant experience.
Then the scene of dividing the garments of Jesus is here described. They were casting lots for it. It shows how the soldiers thought of Jesus. Here was the Son of God dying in front of them for their sins too. But they never cared; they were unmindful what happened for they thought of Him as another criminal.
How better are we today? We call ourselves the children of God. But what importance have we given to the cross of Jesus Christ and His sufferings for us? Are we not much more interested in casting lots for some benefits we can receive from Him?
The clothes of those who were crucified usually belonged to the soldiers who executed them. But casting lots for the clothes was not a common sight. That shows how much the Spirit of God had inspired David to write these words.
The Suffering Servant continues His prayer. He asks God not to be far off. How much we should learn to pray from this. Jesus never gave up praying even though God offered Him no comfort during the time of His suffering on the cross. And Jesus was not even asking for deliverance but for the nearness of God’s Presence. Even that was denied Him because of our sins.
Remember the confidence that Jesus had in prayer. He said once, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me” (John 11:41, 42 NIV). In spite of that confidence, here God is not offering any comfort to Jesus. Still Jesus continues to pray to His God.
That should teach us to continue to pray even if we don’t receive a favourable answer. There is a great blessing in praying even when the answer is not coming as we desired.
He calls God, “my Strength.” In another Psalm it is written, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you” (Psalm 84:5 NIV). Is it true about you and me? Is God our strength? Jesus prays to God to come quickly to help Him. Oh, blessed be God who comes to our help quickly! Such help is given to us today because it was refused for His own dearly beloved Son on the cross. Think about it.
Verse 20 and 21
Jesus continues to cry out to God to save Him from the sword. He refers to His life as “my precious life.” The imagery of dogs, lions and wild oxen is used here to show us the utter helplessness of Jesus Christ as He lay on the cross bleeding to death. “How extreme the peril was is indicated by the last figure, `from the horns of the wild oxen.’ This could well mean that the victim envisions himself as being caught up on the oxen’s horns and about to be further tossed or gored to death when he is suddenly snatched away and set beyond the pale of danger.” — H. C. Leupold.
Here is a sudden change. The prayers of the Suffering Servant has been heard. Instead of relief from suffering, God gave Him a greater privilege of rising from the dead. And Jesus, in response, said: “I will declare your name to my brothers.” After Jesus had risen, he said to the women who had come to the tomb, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers . . .” (Matthew 28:10 NIV). Isn’t this amazing and comforting at the same time. Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:11). The next verse is quoted from Psalm 22 itself.
Jesus is saying that He will declare God’s Name to His brothers. What does it mean? It means that Jesus would make known God’s character to His people. He would tell them of the great deliverance that God has brought in His life by raising Him from the dead (see Romans 1:4). This is so that God’s name may be glorified through Him. And Jesus will praise God in the company of like-minded people who are now part of the worldwide church.
Comment: Because of His experiencing human suffering and death, Jesus has become our elder brother. He is the firstborn (Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:15, 18, Revelation 1:5) and we follow Him in death and resurrection.
You find here Jesus instructing those who fear the Lord to praise God. Therefore let us be keen to praise God for all the deliverances He has given us in our lives. The command to praise God is especially given to the children of Israel. That includes us too as we too are the children of Abraham by faith. And Jesus is calling us to render to God the highest form of worship; that is praise. Our God is worthy of praise.
If you do not know how to praise God, use the following passages to get a feel of praising God. Slowly you’ll learn. Look at the following passages. Read it aloud prayerfully: Exodus 15:11, 1 Chronicles 29:10—13, 2 Chronicles 20:21b, Nehemiah 9:5b—7, Psalm 103:1, 2. Psalm 113:1— 3, Psalm 136, Psalm 150, Isaiah 6:3, Isaiah 9:6, 7, Jeremiah 10:6,7, Ezekiel 1:26—28, Daniel 2:20—23; 7:9, 10, 13, 14, Romans 11:33—36, Philippians 2:5—11, 1 Timothy 3:16, Revelation 1:12—16; 4:8b, 11; 5:9, 10, 12—14; 7:10, 12; 15:3, 4; 19:1—8.
The reason for praising God is given here. God had not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one. Oh, what comfort to us is this truth. God does not despise us in our suffering. He does not hide His face from us forever. He listens to our cry for help. And help does come perhaps in a manner we do not expect and a time much later than what we thought the right time.
From God Himself comes the theme of the suffering one’s praise. And praising God is not just a private expression. Here the suffering one is found willing to offer God praise in the the great assembly, in the company of those who fear God.
And like those godly people who while suffering usually made vows to God, Jesus too says that He will fulfil His vows to God. (This does not mean that Jesus made some specific vows to God while He was dying on the cross.). Reading verse 22 might give us the clue to this vow.
It is surely the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the world (see also verses 27, 28) that is referred to as the vows made by Him. “Messiah vowed to build up a spiritual temple for the Lord, and he will surely keep his word” – C. H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David.
Advanced Notes: “This section indicates that every class and kind of men shall share in the blessings of the experience which the psalm has reported. Those listed first as expressing their gratitude are `the meek’ and the ones ‘that seek the Lord.’ These two groups might be put under the head of the more earnest and devout among mankind. They will rejoice especially in the redemption that Christ secured for mankind.
The `meek,’ however, are spoken of as those who `eat and are satisfied.’ The language is borrowed from a typical Old Testament mode of expressing thanksgiving to the Lord, the peace offering (Leviticus 3), in connection with which a feast was prepared (Leviticus 7:15 and verses following) to which a man would invite poor friends of his that they might share his joy and deliverance.
It could be possible that v. 25 and v. 26 are connected in thought in that the vows spoken of may include the vow to sacrifice such a peace offering if the sufferer was delivered.
The concluding benediction is one that at such a meal the guest, perhaps, spoke in reference to his host: `May your heart live forever.’ —another way of saying, May God be your reward, or like. Such unintroduced exclamations are found elsewhere in the Scriptures; compare Psalm 104:24; 87:6b, 31:14a; 45:6a.” — H. C. Leupold
Jesus’ death was not in vain. He endured the cross, scorning its shame, for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). That joy is the salvation of multitudes of people from all the corners of the world. See Revelation 7:9, 10. The people of this world will not be able to forget the Suffering Servant on the cross.
They will retain it in their mind and turn to Him. Herein lies the attractiveness of the gospel. For Jesus Himself had said that when He was lifted up from the earth, He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32, 33).
Paul wrote about not only Christ’s humiliation on the cross but also His exaltation. He is given the name above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Philippians 2:5—11).
The Suffering Servant is none other than the King of kings and Lord of Lords. His suffering and exaltation proves to the world that His is the dominion, the kingdom, the power and the glory. Oh, yes, He’ll rule over the nations. Today, He rules over the hearts of men. Someday, He will rule over all. “Your kingdom come.” Isn’t that what we pray almost everyday?
The benefits of the kingdom will not be closed to the rich or those who cannot keep themselves alive. In other words even though the poor readily accept the gospel the rich are not excluded. Nor are the weak excluded.
“ `Rich and poor,’ as Bishop Horne, observes, `are invited’that is, to `worship God’; and the hour is coming when all the race of Adam, as many as sleep in the `dust’ of the earth, unable to raise themselves from thence, quickened and called forth by the voice of the Son of Man, must bow the knee to King Messiah” – John Morison, The Treasury of David.
Verses 30 and 31
One generation will tell the next generation of the glorious work that was accomplished on the cross. Thus future generations will be told about the Lord. The too will proclaim His righteousness. “God’s family register is not for strangers, but for the children only” – C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David.
The last phrase, “for he has done it,” many scholars say, is the equivalent of “It is finished.” That was what Jesus said on the cross (the 6th saying) (John 19:30). Through the death of Jesus on the cross, because He shed His precious blood, the work of salvation is done. There is nothing more left for anyone to do, but believe. “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22 NIV).
Comments about the Psalm
“David and his afflictions may be here in a modified sense, but, as the star is concealed by the light of the sun, he who sees Jesus will probably neither see nor care to see David.” – C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David.
“The Spirit of Christ, which was in the prophets, testifies in this psalm, as clearly and fully as anywhere in all the Old Testament, `the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow’ (1 Peter 1:11); of him, no doubt, David here speaks, and not of himself, or any other man. Much of it is expressly applied to Christ in the New Testament, all of it may be applied to him, and some of it must be understood of him only” — Matthew Henry Commentary.
“This Psalm, as it sets out the sufferings of Christ to the full, so also his three great offices. His sufferings are copiously [abundantly] described from the beginning of the Psalm to verse 22. The prophetical office of Christ from verse 22 to 25. That which is foretold about his vows (verse 25), hath respect to his priestly function. In the rest of the Psalm the kingly office of Christ is set forth.” – William Gouge, D.D. (1575—1653), in “A Commentary on the whole Epistle to the Hebrews.” (as quoted in The Treasury of David). [emphasis added].
Books of Study Used
1. The NIV Matthew Henry Commentary (Zondervan Publishing House).
2. Exposition of Psalms by H. C. Leupold (O M Books).
3. Prayer, Praise & Promises (A Daily Walk Through the Psalms) by Warren W. Wiersbe (Authentic Books).
4. The Treasury of David by Charles H. Spurgeon, Hendrickson Publishers.