Little did David know when he penned Psalm 22 that he would record more details about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus than are recorded in any other chapter of the Old Testament. The astonishing fact is that he wrote these words over one thousand years before the birth of Christ.
These many specific events recorded in this Psalm all took place in a matter of a few hours in history. The probability of them all ever happening in that short a time span, and specifically in the life of one person, is infinitesimally small. Yet, it did happen!
The prediction of these detailed events occurring some one thousand years later can be likened to someone discovering a document in the Middle East written around the year 941 A.D., describing some very strange events. On a certain day at dawn, two hundred huge iron birds with wings that did not flap, but with great fans on their noses, would fly through the air more rapidly than any bird had ever flown. They would all be sent from several monstrous ships with large flat tops, and would do battle against a small island in the middle of an unknown sea. They would come against a nation of 140 million people, living on a yet unknown continent, and drop metal tubes that would explode with fire and destruction, killing within hours twenty-three hundred men, sinking the better part of that nation’s navy, and leaving an entire island in a state of disaster and destruction.
Described in that discovery would be that most infamous day in American history, December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked America at Pearl Harbor. Preposterous, you say, that anyone could predict things with such detail so far in advance. But this is exactly the accuracy of the predictions of Psalm 22.
The key to understanding these inspired words of David is found in verses two and twenty-one. In the second verse the Savior was speaking to His Heavenly Father, as He was passing through great physical, mental and spiritual anguish that was His on the cross. Heaven had shut its ears to His cry, and He said, “. . . thou hearest not . . .” (v. 2). Bearing the sins of the world in His body, there had to be a turning away by the Father, as Jesus became the sin offering. That eternal fellowship was broken for the first time, and He had to die alone. Our Lord sensed this in a very real way. “Thou hearest not” was His cry.
In verse twenty-one there is a complete change. The suffering was over. The penalty had been paid. Victory had been won, and the Savior could now say, “. . . thou hast heard me . . .” A new attitude prevails in the remaining portion of the Psalm. Resurrection has come! David lifts the tenor of the Psalm from despair to that of praise. Envisioned in the last ten verses is a great congregation of Jews and Gentiles alike, rejoicing eternally because of the accomplishments of the Savior on the cross of Calvary. His crucifixion is described in the first twenty verses, and the results of it and the resurrection in the last section of this poem.
The Events of the Crucifixion
The five events to be discussed all come from the lips of the Savior as He hung on the tree on that single most important day in history.
The Cry – v. 1
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Our Savior was all alone. No one else was there to help, not even His Father. Thrust on the cross in the morning hours, darkness had suddenly come. A cry piercing the blackened sky was uttered from His lips. The evangelists Matthew and Mark record that cry. There was no voice resounding from the heavens now saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” No answer came! Heaven was as brass!
Had not His forefathers called on God in time of deep distress and been delivered? They were never brought to shame like this. God helped them! But then the answer comes in verse 6: “But I am a worm.” There are five words for worm in the Hebrew Old Testament, but this one is used in a very special way. These “worms” were put in a vat, and their blood was squeezed out to later be made into a special dye for cloth used in making royal robes. Jesus was made a “worm” so that those who trust in Him and His work at Calvary might wear the robes of royalty with Him eternally.
The Exhaustion – v. 14
The Lord described His own personal condition in verse 14: “I am poured out like water.” He was utterly spent! His body was weak, not even able to carry the cross. He was so spent that His body had no more firmness than running water. It was like a libation poured out on the ground before the Lord. “All my bones are out of joint.” The muscles were so weak and fatigued that the bones were loosed from their sockets. This was total exhaustion.
The Thirst – v. 15
“I thirst” (Jn 19:28). It was left to the beloved Apostle John to record this physical need. Instead of the normal saliva moistening His mouth, there was only a sticky mass in it. His tongue was so dry it stuck to His jaws. “I thirst” was His cry, but nothing could quench that thirst. The agony was horrendous.
The Piercing – v. 16
When capital punishment was administered by the Jews, it was always by stoning. Crucifixion was unknown in the day of David. This innovation was left to the Romans hundreds of years later. It was very painful. Death usually took thirty-six to forty-eight hours. The victims were often crucified on a high place or along a heavily traveled road. Their bodies were left to rot or be eaten by the birds. It was a grim reminder to those passing by to obey the laws of Rome or suffer the grim consequences.
The normal procedure in crucifixion was to drive spikes through the hands and feet of the victim. This was unknown in David’s day, yet he predicted a millennium in advance not only this new method of death, but the manner of placing one on that cross.
John picked up this detail in chapter 19, verse 37 and declared this piercing and looking upon Him to be a fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture. There are only two verses in the Hebrew Scripture describing this: Zechariah 12:10 and Psalm 22:16.
The Garments – v. 18
The last little detail is so important. This, too, was not the usual procedure. Though the garments of the executed person were generally the spoil of the executioners, never did they gamble for one. Matthew 27:35 tells us of this arrangement by the executioners, and declares this specifically to be a fulfillment of Psalm 22:18, which he quotes. Truly, this crucified Jesus was the Son of God! God had given David the details far in advance.
THE ENEMIES AT THE CRUCIFIXION
Not only do we have recorded in advance the structure of events that would take place at the cross, but David even gives us a thorough account of the conduct of the enemies of Jesus as they gathered to watch Him crucified.
The Mocking Crowd
All they who see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out the Iip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him (vv. 7-8).
The ignominy of the cross was terrible. The pain and the agony were excruciating. The desertion by the Father was unbearable. Added to all this was the crowd, scoffing and ridiculing the Son of God. The writers of the four gospels very clearly have woven into their narratives the reaction of the crowd gathered to witness this terrible spectacle.
Even during His trial they mocked Him, spat upon Him, and hit Him upon the head. During the crucifixion they reviled Him. Both of the thieves at first made fun of Him. Probably the cry that disturbed Jesus most was: “. . . If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross” (Mt. 27:40). David recorded the very action of the half-crazed crowd a millennium before it took place.
The Staring Crowd
“They gaped upon me with their mouths, like a ravening and a roaring lion” (v. 13).
“For dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me” (v. 16).
“I may count all my bones; they look and stare upon me” (v. 17).
Ridicule, mockery, and all that went with it was bad enough, but the icy stares added insult to injury. Stretched to the body’s limit, bones out of joint, naked or near naked, that same crowd stood and gazed upon Him like a hungry lion ready to pounce. All privacy was gone! The wicked had their day. They could see an end to this One who troubled Israel. The leaders gazed and were filled with glee. Soon He would be gone. He would worry them no more.
But suddenly, they could stare no more. What strange phenomenon was this! Darkness in the middle of the day. Something had gone wrong. But, had it? No. The Father in grace spared the Son from more indignities by the crowd. They could not see the worst of the agony yet to come. Total darkness covered the face of the earth, that in His shame He could be seen no more. Death would come without anyone seeing it.
Suddenly, abruptly, there is a total change in the attitude of the Psalm. No longer is there a sufferer. The Speaker now says, “Thou hast heard me.” Grief turns to praise. Sadness becomes rejoicing. Sorrow turns to joy. From a horrible tempest all is suddenly changed into total calm. What makes the difference? Unquestionably, it is the resurrection!
The Speaker of the Psalm, who has just suffered and died, is now seen in the midst of a great company of people whom He calls His brethren. Verse 24 tells us that the Father heard His cry. He suffered more than anyone ever had, but these afflictions were in love, not because the Father despised or abhorred Him. The Justice of God demanded that Jesus should bear the burden of sin as our substitute, and it was in love that the Father sent Him to the cross. The hiding of God’s face was temporary, as He could not look upon the sin Jesus bore. The ultimate glory was in mind, a redeemed company of believers.
The verses in context give an indication of who constitutes this group of redeemed. They will be a “great congregation” (v. 25). They are called His “brethren” (v. 22). This great congregation is made up of Jews, as verse 23 speaks of them being of “the seed of Jacob” and “Israel.” However, the earlier part of this verse seems to indicate a much larger company than only Jewish believers, for He says, “Ye who fear the Lord, praise Him . . .” The writer of the Book of Hebrews quotes Psalm 22:22, and uses the word ecclesia or church for what is here translated “congregation.” This congregation is made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. This passage indicates a resurrected, rejoicing Savior, praising God for this great company of redeemed Jews and Gentiles alike.
The final portion of the Psalm looks with expectancy to the future. It anticipates the time when people of all nations will look to the Lord. The twenty-eighth verse fully anticipates the Millennial reign of Christ, when He finally has His Kingdom and rules over all nations.
The last verse of this Psalm is incredible. The literal Hebrew of the last phrase reads, “It is finished.” So the end of verse thirty one literally says, “There shall be deliverance proclaimed to a people yet unborn, that it is finished.” Isn’t it amazing that this Psalm both opens and closes with quotations of Jesus from the cross, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” and as He cried with a loud voice just before He died, “It is finished!”
Truly, Psalm 22 is a picture of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah.
Jewish writers give two possibilities as to who the sufferer is in Psalm 22. First, they say it could be David, the writer himself. David did suffer much, especially as King Saul sought to persecute and even kill him. Secondly, they say that there is a possibility that it is the nation of Israel who is the one suffering.
To answer these suggestions, it can be said, yes David did suffer very much, but his suffering never reached the intense depth of sorrow as the One suffering in this Psalm. To answer this second possible interpretation, Israel has suffered much at the hand of nation after nation, for century after century, but the context and the use of personal pronouns precludes the sufferer being the Jewish nation. It appears to be an individual rather than a nation. It would not even seem to be a pious remnant of the nation for the same reason.
The third possibility is the one presented above. The sufferer is an individual and He is Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. Samuel Levine, in his book, You Take Jesus, I’II Take God, which is a refutation of Christianity, says, “The only reason we would think that this Psalm refers to Jesus is because the history described in the New Testament seems to indicate a similarity between the crucifixion story and this Psalm.”
In trying to refute Christianity, he has to admit there is a great deal of similarity. There is good reason for this, Jesus is the One of whom the Psalm speaks. He is the Christ, Israel’s Messiah.