“Reaching Out” (livvardyart.com.au)
Psalm 22 is an amazing Lament Psalm, or, as Brueggemann calls them, Psalms of Disorientation, and it typically moves through a number of different “moods”, so to speak. Consider the following:
The Lament (or complaint) that God seems distant, in fact, He seems to have abandoned the psalmist completely, as he remains silent to the speaker’s cries:
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
A recalling of who God is, starting with “Yet you”, and how He has intervened in the past when his people Israel put their faith in Him. A fact that only heightens the strangeness of God’s silence:
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. 4 In you our ancestors 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.
Back to the present reality of the psalmist, describing his horrible suffering at the hands of evil people, who are almost daring God to act on the psalmist’s behalf:
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. 8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
A recalling then of God’s very personal intervention in the psalmist’s life, again starting with “Yet you”, and again heightening the anomaly of what is happening in his life:
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. 10 From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
A prayer for God’s deliverance because “there is no one [else] to help”, in the light of such ferocious enemies (likened to wild animals) attacking him:
11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. 13 Roaring lions that tear their prey 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 within me. 15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. 17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. 20 Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
A promise by the psalmist that he will give God “praise in the assembly” because of Him answering prayer and delivering the psalmist, revealing the reality that God indeed had not forsaken him and did hear his cry:
22 I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. 23 You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
A promise that as a result, all “families of the nations” will acknowledge the Lord, speaking in universal proportions in both geography and time, declaring that “He has done it!”
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise him— may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, 28 for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. 30 Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!
Think about your own life. Was there a time when your life’s story was similar, even in some small way, to the psalmists? How did you react?
I have discovered in life that people can choose between two paths during such times. We can work our way through the difficulties with God (even if he seems distant at first) and come through stronger, all the more convinced of His faithfulness and goodness and sovereignty, as did the psalmist. Or we can become bitter and give up on God totally. I have seen both situations and the former reaction has produced some amazing people who it is great to be around. Whereas the latter reaction has produced some very sad and bitter people, who lives often have become meaningless. Presently I am meeting with one such person and it is so sad to listen to him as he shares his life with me. May we learn from the psalmist how to respond in a positive way to life’s ups and downs, enhancing our relationship with God.
So, let me summarize this remarkable psalm and its application to our own lives in the words of Tremper Longman:
“Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament by a person who does not feel the presence of God in the midst of suffering, but rather experiences fear in the face of persecution by enemies. The well-known Christological sense of the psalm [see my 2 previous posts] should not distract us from the fact that…[this is] a lament which may be a model prayer for worshippers today who can use this psalm to call on God to make himself present in the midst of pain. The confidence and joy expressed at the end can impart hope, as the psalmist moves toward God rather than staying mired in disappointment.” (see references # 30)
And of course, this psalm was fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who understands totally when we are going through tough times, because he has experienced them himself.
Next time things are difficult, remember these words:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us HOLD FIRMLY to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then APPROACH God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may RECEIVE mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Father, thanks you that we have such a “great high priest…Jesus the Son of God” who totally understands our situations in life from his own experience. Teach us to trust you, to even use the psalms as our prayers to you, no matter what comes our way. And your promise is that we will receive your mercy and grace. Amen.