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Psalms Series Two

Prophecy

Psalm  22

Lesson audio

If asked to name the prophetic books of the Bible, most Christians would not list the Psalms. But there are prophetic Psalms, as we shall see.

Concept: the prophetic Psalm:

Just how do you recognize a prophetic Psalm? Prophecy, after all, tends to be a controversial subject; one man’s prophecy just might be another man’s poetry. So, is it like pornography, you’ll know it when you see it? Not quite:

  • A prophetic Psalm is one which is validated in the New Testament. Often enough this is by quotation, as is the case in Psalm 22. But much of the Psalm is not quoted, but clearly prophetic.
  • The Psalm is focused on the advent of Christ – either first or second. Psalm 2, for example, is focused on the second while Psalm 16 applies to the first. This Psalm applies to both.
  • Frequently, the Psalm will use the present tense, or even the past tense, in describing the future. Don’t be confused by this.
Details in prophecy

One of the more prominent features of prophetic Psalms is that they often show a very low level of detail – for example, in Psalm 22 we hear of people gambling for the victim’s clothes. Why is this?

  • First, that you might recognize the Messiah by the details.
  • Second, so that you might understand his suffering. The Gospels give us the factual account of the Crucifixion; this Psalm gives us the emotional ordeal Christ endured.
  • Details are given in the partial (first advent) fulfillment so that you may be all the more certain of the prophecy concerning his return.
Christ as exemplar

Much of the Scripture shows Christ not only as savior but as exemplar – the example for us to follow. The principle is always the same: the imitation of Christ. We are quite willing to imitate him – as long as it costs little. But when it comes to suffering, we are reluctant.

Why? If it happened to the sinless Christ, what on earth makes you think you should be treated any differently? Surely you will suffer as well.

And when you do, shouldn’t you have the same reaction he had? It is good, therefore, to hear his thoughts as prophesied a thousand years earlier.

Why So Far?

The reader will remember that Hebrew poetry rhymes in thought. In this section we will see rhymes of the question and answer variety.

Psalms 22:1-10 NIV For the director of music. To the tune of "The Doe of the Morning." A psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from the words of my groaning? (2) O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, and am not silent. (3) Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

you are the praise of Israel. [1] (4) In you our fathers put their trust;

they trusted and you delivered them. (5) They cried to you and were saved;

in you they trusted and were not disappointed. (6) But I am a worm and not a man,

scorned by men and despised by the people. (7) All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads: (8) "He trusts in the LORD;

let the LORD rescue him.

Let him deliver him,

since he delights in him." (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 upon you;

from my mother's womb you have been my God.

The first question may be taken word by word.[1]

  • Why – what cause would be so great that God the Father would abandon his only begotten? Only the love he has for his children.
  • Have – note the past tense. Christ accepts it as fact; no sense of “wait a minute.” It is, in a way, non-negotiable. What does this say about our troubles and prayers?
  • You – yes, the God of the universe. If he abandons you, who else could possibly cling to you? You can understand Judas and Peter forsaking him, but God?
  • Forsaken – we acknowledge the justice of God’s discipline, or chastening. But doesn’t it seem unfair that God has gone beyond that here? We must remember that Christ carried the sins of the world to explain that.
  • Me – remember who is really speaking here: Christ. The sinner David would know God’s chastisement, but the Christ is abandoned. It seems so unfair.

It is so strange that the Christ who had intimate fellowship with his Father now asks why he is far away. It is a reminder that we should also expect this feeling at times, when God withdraws for his purposes.

Holy history

Christ finds his first answer in history: think of what God has done for the nation of Israel. It’s his first resource, and should be ours as well. God does not change, and we need to remember that.

I am so low

David now proclaims the problem again – this time in social terms. Christ feels like a worm. Imagine it! He who gave up the glories of heaven to join with us now becomes less than us.

This feeling comes from how other people are treating him. It’s a fact of life: all humans – Christ included – need the acceptance by other people. We are social creatures. So when Christ experiences this, you can know that he understands quite well your torment when everyone else turns on you.

Christ finds the answer to this again in history – but this time in personal history. It is not the history of Israel to which he turns; it is his own history, from his birth. “Our God, and the God of our fathers.” The torment is social; the God who saves is personal.

My Troubles

Psalms 22:11-21 NIV 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 tearing 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 away within me. (15) My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me [2] in the dust of death. (16) Dogs have surrounded me;

a band of evil men has encircled me,

they have pierced [3] my hands and my feet. (17) I can count all my bones;

people stare and gloat over me. (18) They divide my garments among them

and cast lots for my clothing. (19) But you, O LORD, be not far off;

O my Strength, come quickly to help me. (20) Deliver my life from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs. (21) Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save [4] me from the horns of the wild oxen.

There is no one to help. Christ suffers alone – and therefore is alone as our Savior.

Again we see the rhymes – this time “them and me”

Them – I’m surrounded by powerful people. The word picture is powerful; we still use the lion as a symbol of power yet today. The “bulls of Bashan” is a local reference; Bashan is an area east of the Jordan noted for fine pasture (and therefore fat cows).

The dust of death – in vs. 14-15 we see some exquisite poetry:

  • Being “poured out” is a reference to the drink offerings of the Old Testament. Where the sacrifices by fire at least fed the priests, the drink offering is pure sacrifice. 100% of it goes for the glory of God.
  • “Bones out of joint” – anyone who has ever dislocated a bone understands two things: it takes quite a bit of trauma to do this – and it hurts.
  • “Heart melts like wax” – the metaphor’s origin is apparently this Psalm. It’s a common thought now; but remember the last time your courage just utterly failed. He went through that; so will you. Being scared is human.
  • His mouth is dried up “like a potsherd.” A potsherd is a pottery fragment, often used in those days like we’d use a sticky note today. The emotions are so strong his mouth dries up.
Surrounded

Here, vividly, are those details of the Crucifixion which are so convincingly prophetic. This is the kind of passage that liberal Christians would like to postdate after Christ – but the thousand year gap is just too much. Every little detail is under God’s command.

Plea for help – is just that. There is no sense here of why God should help; only the plea of the sufferer. Take heart; if Christ can plead this way, so can you and I.

Ultimate Result

Psalms 22:22-31 NIV I will declare your name to my brothers;

in the congregation 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 disdained

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 [5] will I fulfill my vows. (26) The poor will eat and be satisfied;

they 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

to a people yet unborn--

for he has done it.

There is a startling shift in tone here. As Paul often does, David expects that you will draw the proper conclusion from this shift without being told how do to it. We have gone from the suffering Christ to the risen Christ – and beyond that to Christ returned.

There is – as usual – a first reaction: praise. The Lord is risen; we praise God. He returns to judge; we praise God. Indeed, as often happens, part of that praise is to command others to praise. Why? For the rescue which comes. And if God rescues Christ, he will rescue his followers as well, for they are Christ’s brothers and sisters.

View of the Church – and beyond

We can see the church era in this:

  • There is the spread of the Gospel over all the earth.
  • We see the resurrection of the dead, those that go “down to the dust.”
  • We see the dominion of God.

Is it sure? Look at the last words: “for he has done it.” It is that sure – praise God.


[1] I am indebted to C. H. Spurgeon for the idea.

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