by Malcolm Radcliffe, N. Ireland
This Psalm commences a beautiful triplet of Psalms regarding the Lord Jesus:
- In Psalm 22 we see Him as the Saviour, suffering in weakness;
- In Psalm 23 we see Him as the Shepherd, guiding in faithfulness;
- In Psalm 24 we see Him as the Sovereign, reigning in righteousness.
- In Psalm 22 we see Him as the Good Shepherd giving His life for the sheep: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep” Jn.10.11;
- In Psalm 23 we see Him as the Great Shepherd living on behalf of His sheep: “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” Heb.13.20;
- In Psalm 24 we see Him as the Chief Shepherd coming to reward under-shepherds who have cared for His sheep: “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” 1Pet.5.4.
Some have put it this way:
- In Psalm 22 we have the Cross;
- In Psalm 23 we have the Crook;
- In Psalm 24 we have the Crown.
Psalm 22 is the fourth Messianic Psalm, the earlier ones being Psalm 2, Psalm 8 and Psalm 16.
Psalm 22 begins with the fourth statement of the seven spoken by the Saviour on the cross:
- The first is “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” Lk.23.34. The Pardon of the Priest.
- The second is “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with Me in paradise” Lk.23.43. The Kindness of the King.
- The third is “Woman, behold thy son … Behold thy mother!” Jn.19.26,27. The Care of the Kinsman.
- Now, the fourth, is “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Matt.27.46; Mk.15.34. The Solitude of the Sinbearer.
It was a cry of distress, but not a cry of distrust. He could still address Him as “My God” Ps.22.2. God forsaken by God: what a mystery!
Verse 2 says, “O My God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.” The reference to “the daytime” and “the night season” reminds us of His sufferings on the cross, and would cover the six hours when He hung there, in which there were three hours of daylight and then three of darkness: “And it was the third hour, and they crucified Him … And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” Mk.15.25,33. In Gen.31.40, Jacob speaks of his sufferings in the daytime and in the night season, that he might gain his bride: “in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.” How much more the Lord Jesus suffered, in the daylight and in the darkness, that He might gain His bride: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it” Eph.5.25.
- The fifth statement of the Lord Jesus on the cross is “I thirst” Jn.19.28. The Anguish of the Almighty. It is anticipated in Ps.22.15: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and My tongue cleaveth to My jaws; and Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death.”
- The sixth is “It is finished” Jn.19.30. The Cry of the Conqueror. This saying also has reference to this Psalm: in Ps.22.31 we read, “He hath done this”, or ‘He hath finished it’.
- The seventh and final statement is “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” Lk.23.46. The Fellowship with the Father.
In light of the close correspondence between the sayings on the cross and this Psalm, it could well be that the Saviour was meditating on the whole Psalm in His hours of suffering on the cross. As we consider this Psalm we are indeed treading on holy ground.
The Title of the Psalm is “To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David”:
“To the chief Musician”
This is translated by Helen Spurrell1 as “To the Eternal Victor”, for so He is, as v.31 shows: “They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this.”
- 1. Spurrell, Helen. “A Translation of the Old Testament Scriptures from the Original Hebrew”. James Nisbet & Co., London, 1885.
“Upon Aijeleth Shahar”
Aijeleth Shahar means ‘The hind of the morning’, or ‘The hind of the dawn’. There are several references to the hind in the Scriptures, for example, in Job 39.1-4, where we have the mystery of its birth and the marvel of its development, but there is something very precious about it being in the title of this lovely Psalm. Surely it must point us to the One Who is the subject of the Psalm: our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.
We have a picture of ‘the hind of the morning’ in Mk.1.35, where Mark writes concerning the Lord Jesus: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.” David, as we know, was a shepherd, who would often have been out with his flock as the day dawned. I do wonder if perhaps there were times when he saw the hind and the hart eating their fresh bits of grass, and then, from a distance, hearing the sound of the hunters and their dogs. So, the hart and hind take flight, but in doing so the hind gets caught in a trap. The hart stands alongside the hind. They have always been close, inseparable, but as the dogs get closer the hart leaves, and the cry goes up from the hind; a pitiful cry, which, if it could be put into words, would be that of Ps.22.1: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’
That was the cry that went up from Calvary. Forsaken? Yes. Forgotten? Never.
In Psalm 22, we see four views of the enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ, depicted by animals:
- The Bulls of Bashan – v.12
- The Lion – v.13
- The Dogs – v.16
- The Horns of the Unicorns – v.21
The Bulls of Bashan – v.12
“Many bulls have compassed Me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset Me round.”
The bull, being a clean animal, would speak of the Jew. Amos writes, “Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, ‘Bring, and let us drink’” Amos 4.1. There the term “kine of Bashan” denotes the proud, arrogant religious leaders. This represents the chief priests, scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and elders who surrounded the cross in an attitude of total hostility. In Matt.27.41-43, we read of “the chief priests mocking Him, with the scribes and elders”, and their words included those of v.8 of our Psalm: “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He be the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him: for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
Bashan was famous for its pasture. That is the reason why the two and a half tribes (Gad, Reuben, and half the tribe of Manasseh) wanted to settle there: they had livestock, Num.32.1-5,33. The pastureland of Bashan was ideal for feeding their cattle. So here we have the well-fed Jewish leaders all gathered round, against the ‘Hind of the Dawn’.
The Lion – v.13
“They gaped upon Me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.”
The enemies of the Lord Jesus were all energised by the ‘‘lion’’. Peter reminds us who the ‘‘lion’’ is: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour’’ 1Pet.5.8. We see his opposition to Christ from the time of His coming here, in the attempt by Herod to kill Him, Matthew chapter 2. How good it is to know that “through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” Heb.2.14,15.
The Dogs – v.16
“For dogs have compassed Me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed Me: they pierced My hands and My feet.”
The “dog” represents the Gentile, as Mk.7.26-30 would show: a Gentile woman was told by the Lord that “it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.” How accurate is our Bible: it was not the (Jewish) “bulls” but the (Gentile) “dogs”, the Romans, who pierced His hands and His feet. This verse is a wonderful testimony to Divine inspiration, since crucifixion as a form of putting one to death was not thought up until centuries after this Psalm was written. The language of this Psalm clearly depicts a death by crucifixion.
In v.20 we have a reference to “the dog”: “Deliver My soul from the sword; My darling from the power of the dog.” This could well refer to Herod, an Edomite, who was a puppet-king by Roman appointment, and whom the Lord had called “that fox”: “there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto Him, ‘Get Thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill Thee.’ And He said unto them, ‘Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected’” Lk.13.31,32.
The Horns of the Unicorns – v.21
“Thou hast heard Me from the horns of the unicorns [wild buffalo, or oxen].”
We note that it is “horns” (plural), not ‘horn’ (singular). How will the wild buffalo or ox deal with its victim? It will take it in its horns and cast it headlong and continue to do so until its victim is dead. They bound the Saviour in the garden, Jn.18.12, and took Him to Annas, Jn.18.13, then to Caiaphas, Jn.18.24, then to Pilate’s hall of judgment, Jn.18.28, then to Herod, Lk.23.7, then back to Pilate, Lk.23.11, and to Golgotha, Jn.19.16,17. In the language of Isa.53.8, “He was taken from prison and from judgment”, carried along, as it were, on the ‘wild oxen’.
In contrast to the fourfold depiction of His enemies the suffering Saviour is seen in four ways:
- A Worm in His Lowliness – v.6
- A Potsherd in His Loneliness – v.15
- The Darling in His Loveliness – v.20
- The Song Leader in His Loftiness – v.22
A Worm in His Lowliness – v.6
“But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.”
I can understand Bildad speaking in Job 25.6 about “man, that is a worm”. I can understand God addressing Jacob in Isa.41.14: “Fear not, thou worm Jacob”. I can understand the sentiments of the hymnwriter, “I’ll creep beside Him as a worm, and see Him die for me.” But how can anyone understand the eternal Son of God speaking about Himself as “a worm”?
The word “worm” is translated many times in the Old Testament as “scarlet” or “crimson”, as in Isa.1.18: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ saith the LORD: ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’” The worm was crushed to produce a scarlet dye of tremendous value. In Isa.53.5 we read that “He was bruised [‘crushed’] for our iniquities”, and what a ‘dye’ has been produced: “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” 1Jn.1.7; “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” 1Pet.1.18,19.
“And no man”: that is, literally, ‘a nobody’. He “made Himself of no reputation” Phil.2.7. He was prepared to become “the song of the drunkards” Ps.69.12. He was prepared to go so low that He might lift us up to the heights of eternal glory: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” 2Cor.8.9.
A Potsherd in His Loneliness – v.15
“My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and My tongue cleaveth to My jaws; and Thou hast brought Me into the dust of death.”
A “potsherd” means ‘a fragment of pottery’. It has been in the oven for hours, until every particle of moisture and sap has been dried out of it. What a marvel, that He Who created the mighty oceans in Genesis chapter 1 would thirst at Calvary. He Who commenced His public ministry hungry in a wilderness (“And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days He did eat nothing: and when they were ended, He afterward hungered” Lk.4.1,2) ended it thirsting on a cross (“After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, ‘I thirst’” Jn.19.28).
The Darling in His Loveliness – v.20
“Deliver My soul from the sword; My darling from the power of the dog.”
“My darling” means ‘my own priceless one’, or ‘my own unique one’, as in Gen.22.2: “Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac”. When the Saviour hung on the cross, in shame and agony, with that tremendous load of sin upon Him, He never ceased to be the Father’s Darling. There was a time when we were in our sins and in Him we could see “no beauty that we should desire Him” Isa.53.2, but now we can say, “He is altogether lovely” S of S.5.16, and “We love Him, because He first loved us” 1Jn.4.19.
The Song Leader in His Loftiness – v.22
“I will declare Thy name unto My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.”
This verse is the turning point in the Psalm. The suffering is now over and leads to the song. In Mk.14.26, Christ sang with eleven men (“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives”); here it is with the “great congregation” of Rev.5.9-14. He is the One Who shall lead the praise: “My praise shall be of Thee in the great congregation” Ps.22.25.
Finally, in the closing part of the Psalm we see four increasing circles of those who are blessed by Him and His work:
- “My brethren” v.22
- “The seed of Jacob … the seed of Israel” v.23
- “All the ends of the world … all the kindreds of the nations” v.27
- “A people that shall be born” v.31
“My brethren” v.22
“I will declare Thy name unto My brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.”
The first are those whom He calls “My brethren”. We recall His words in Jn.20.17, “Go to My brethren”, and Heb.2.11, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren.”
“The seed of Jacob … the seed of Israel” v.23
“Ye that fear the LORD, praise Him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him; and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel.”
What a glorious day it will be for the people of the nation of Israel when they discover that Psalm 22 was all about their Messiah Whom they rejected! Zech.12.10 will be fulfilled: “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.”
Then their conversion story, recorded in Isaiah chapter 53, will be told.
“All the ends of the world … all the kindreds of the nations” v.27
“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee.”
It will not only be the nation of Israel that is converted to Him: all across the globe people will “turn unto the LORD”, and He shall receive worship from all the peoples of the world.
“A people that shall be born” v.31
“They shall come, and shall declare His righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that He hath done this.”
The circle seems to be widening out, and all will say, “He hath done this”, or ‘He hath finished it’.
In closing, how blessed it is to know that because of the finished work of Psalm 22, we can enjoy the furnished table of Psalm 23 and the future triumph of Psalm 24!