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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 22

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Introduction

THE GREAT OLD TESTAMENT PROPHECY
OF THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST

From Halley’s Bible Handbook, we have the following: “This sounds like a cry of anguish from David, but though written a thousand years before Jesus, it is so vivid a description of the crucifixion of Jesus that one would think of the writer as being personally present at the Cross. Jesus’ dying words (Psalms 22:1), the sneers of his enemies (Psalms 22:7-8), the piercing of his hands and feet (Psalms 22:16), and the casting of lots for his garments (Psalms 22:18) are some of the events here described. None of these statements are applicable to David, or to any other known event or person in the history of mankind, except the crucifixion of the Son of God.”(F1)

There are four different ways of interpreting this psalm: (1) as a description of the sorrows and sufferings of David the king of Israel; (2) as a description of the sorrows and sufferings of some unknown righteous person of antiquity, possibly; Jeremiah, (3) as a description of the nation of Israel during their captivity or at some other period of crisis; and (4) as a predictive prophecy of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, written by King David, of course, but having little or no reference whatever to that monarch.

To this writer, the fourth option here is the only viable one. The specific things here foretold could not possibly refer to anyone else except the Messiah.

Those who in their unbelief continue to deny any such thing as predictive prophecy are, in this psalm, up against the absolute, unanswerable refutation of their false view. The accurate and extensive details of the crucifixion appearing here are so complete and convincing that their denial is possible only for some person who has been blinded by the god of this world.

The words of Peter (Acts 2:30 f) are applicable here: “David, being a prophet… he foresaw and spoke of… the Christ.” This basic truth is reiterated again and again in the inspired New Testament.

There are no less than nine New Testament references which tie the meaning of this psalm irrevocably to the prophecy of our Lord’s crucifixion.

“Jesus quoted the first line of this psalm on the Cross (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). Those who crucified him divided his garments among themselves and cast lots for his vesture (Psalms 22:18) (Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24).
The very words of Jesus’ enemies were foretold in Psalms 22:8 (Matthew 27:43).
The thirst of Jesus was prophesied in Psalms 22:15 (Matthew 27:48).
The piercing of Jesus’ hands and feet was foretold (Psalms 22:16) (John 20:25).
The praising of God in the midst of the assembly (Psalms 22:22) is quoted in Hebrews 2:12.”

Thus, the New Testament finds the prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion no less than nine times mentioned in this psalm; and we can only wonder about those alleged Christian “scholars” who cannot find any reference whatever to Our Lord in this psalm.

With the inspired testimony of the New Testament so plainly stated, we can have no doubt whatever of the accuracy of our interpretation. It is not “ours,” in any private sense; it is the testimony of the blessed Holy Spirit.

There is nothing new about this conviction on the part of this writer. One will find just as emphatic a declaration of this interpretation in our Commentary on Matthew, pp. 521,522. As Leupold said, “This interpretation is the oldest of the four methods mentioned above, and the predominant one in the Christian Church from the earliest times; and to a very large extent it still is.”(F2)

The great weakness of other interpretation is that,

(1) the things foretold here, as far as men know, never happened to any other being who ever lived except the Lord Jesus Christ.

(2) Furthermore, the worldwide blessings that are mentioned in the second section as coming subsequently from the death of the Sufferer in the first part of the psalm, cannot possibly be attributed to anyone other than Christ.

(3) There is another important reason why Christ alone is depicted here. The words here are free of any consciousness whatever of sin; there is no hint of confessing wrongs; there is no call for vengeance against enemies, only unfaltering trust and faith in God. This is utterly unlike David or any other human being who ever lived. The spiritual state of the Sufferer indicates no human being whatever, but the Lord Jesus Christ.

To refuse the obvious interpretation of the psalm as a predictive prophecy of the crucifixion of Christ leaves one in the utmost darkness and total ignorance regarding any reasonable meaning of the passage. Addis, for example, who could not find the Lord anywhere in the psalm, wrote only one fifth of a page regarding this magnificent psalm!(F3)

Structurally, the psalm falls into two portions: The sufferings of the Christ (Psalms 22:1-21), and the glory that would be revealed afterward (Psalms 22:22-31). We are indebted to Gaebelein for this outline, which he based upon Peter’s statement in 1 Peter 1:11.(F4)

Verses 1-2

“My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou answerest not; And in the night season, and am not silent.”

Jesus’ quoting the first line of this Psalm during his agony upon the Cross has led to many opinions. It has been supposed that Christ here merely quoted these words from the psalm to call attention to the whole bundle of prophecies in it which were being fulfilled literally at that very time. It is also believed by many that God Himself did indeed, for a little while, withdraw his presence from Christ in order to make it possible for Christ to die. There is much in the sacred Scriptures to commend this view.

Christ is spoken of in Hebrews 2:9 as the One, who by the grace of God did indeed, “Taste of death for every man.” Isaiah tells us that, “God laid upon him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Paul mentioned that God Himself “Set forth the Christ to be a propitiation” (Romans 3:25), or an atonement, for the sins of all men. “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3); and “Him (Christ) who knew no sin, God made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The ultimate consequence of sin is separation from God; and, in Christ’s becoming a substitute for sinful men upon the cross, he not only tasted of death, but also tasted the terrible consequences of sin in that soul-torturing experience of separation from the Creator. It is our understanding of Christ’s plaintive cry, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me,” that Jesus did indeed, momentarily, taste the awful agony of separation from the Father. “For a moment in that last agony, the Perfect Man was alone with the sins of the whole world.”(F5)

Verses 3-5

“But thou art holy. O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: They trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: They trusted in thee, and were not put to shame.”

Our Saviour’s example in this pleading that God had indeed heard and answered the prayers of “the fathers,” is a strong argument that in our own prayers, we should recall and recite in God’s presence the occasions upon which he has already heard and answered our petitions.

Verses 6-8

“But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying Commit thyself unto Jehovah; let him deliver him: Let him rescue him, seeing he delighteth in him.”

“But I am a worm” (Psalms 22:6). Jesus is not speaking here of his own estimate of his own true importance and worth, but of the estimate that his enemies have made concerning him, as proved by the second half of the verse. “He is despised (as men despise a worm) and is not recognized by his contemporaries as a human being with rights.”(F6)

“They laugh me to scorn… shoot out the lip… shake (or wag) the head” (Psalms 22:7). The apostle Matthew recorded the fulfillment of this: “They that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads” (Matthew 27:39).

“Let him (God) deliver him, seeing he delighteth in him” (Psalms 22:8). These were the very words of Christ’s enemies while he suffered upon the Cross. “He trusteth in God; let him deliver him, if he desireth him” (Matthew 27:43).

Barnes described this mockery by the rulers and High Priests of Israel as, “One of the most remarkable instances of blindness and infatuation that has ever occurred in the world, that the Jews should have used this language to taunt the dying Redeemer, without even suspecting that they were fulfilling the prophecies, and demonstrating at the very time when they were reviling him that he was indeed the true Messiah.”(F7)

Verses 9-11

“But thou art he that took me out of the womb; Thou didst make me trust when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb; Thou art my God since my mother bare me. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; For there is none to help.”

“Thou art my God since my mother bare me” (Psalms 22:10). In a sense, this is true of all men, “But of the Holy Child, it was most true (Luke 2:40; Luke 2:49; Luke 2:52).”(F8)

“Trouble is near; there is none to help” (Psalms 22:11). The agony of death itself was approaching; the disciples had all forsaken him and fled, with the exception of John; and in the excruciating agony of that situation, Jesus again cried out for help.

We simply cannot understand why any Christian writer could complain that the Scriptures here are so general, “That no particular illness, or distressful situation can be identified.” It is no illness whatever that is described here. “This is not the description of an illness, but of an execution”!(F9) The torture described here is clearly that of a crucifixion, a form of execution, which, as far as we can determine, had never at that time been used by any government. Although it resembles the impaling of enemies upon stakes, as practiced by the Assyrians, the practice of crucifixion was never developed until a later time by the Romans.

Verses 12-14

“Many bulls have compassed me; Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gape upon me with their mouth, As a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, And all my bones are out of joint: My heart is like wax; it is melted within me,”

“They gape upon me with their mouth” (Psalms 22:13). This expression right in the center of these three verses alerts us to the fact that these animals such as bulls, lions, and dogs (a little later) are not to be understood as literal animals at all. What bull ever gaped upon a human being with his mouth? “The crowd depicted here is thus described as bestial, but it is all too human.”(F10)

“Bulls of Bashan” (Psalms 22:12). “Bulls of Bashan were remarkable for their size, strength, and fierceness; and are introduced here to represent men who were fierce, savage and violent.”(F11)

“Poured out like water” (Psalms 22:14). “It is not known exactly what this means. “Extreme weakness and exhaustion, or utter prostration seem to be indicated.”(F12)

“All my bones are out of joint” (Psalms 22:14). We are surprised that some commentators are unable to explain this. The crucifixion to which condemned men of that day were subjected began on the ground, where the victim was nailed to the cross, which was then lifted and dropped into the hole prepared for it. At the very least this would have unjointed both shoulders and perhaps other joints as well.

“My heart is like wax” (Psalms 22:14). This indicates that the victim would die of heart-failure, which, of course, is the very manner in which Jesus died, which alone can account for the fact that he was already dead when the soldiers of Pilate came to break his legs.

Verses 15-16

“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. For dogs have compassed me: A company of evil-doers have enclosed me; They pierced my hands and my feet.”

“Strength is dried up… tongue cleaveth to my jaws” (Psalms 22:15). These words speak eloquently of the Saviour’s thirst upon the cross, to alleviate which there was no effort whatever, except that of a Roman soldier who offered him, from his daily rations, a little sour wine on a sponge (Matthew 27:48).

“Thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (Psalms 22:15). This emphasizes the truth that we are here dealing with an execution, not some kind of a disease.

“The dogs have compassed me” (Psalms 22:16). Who are the dogs? Like the Bulls of Bashan, these dogs were not animals at all. The genius of Hebrew poetry in which the thought is repeated in parallel lines makes it abundantly clear that the “dogs” here are “a company of evil-doers,” namely, the blood-thirsty priests of the Sanhedrin, who by suborned testimony, political intimidation, and mob violence achieved the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. No better example of dogs ever existed.

“They pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalms 22:16). We shall not delve into the question of the rendition “pierced” as it appears here. Unbelievers, of course, would accept any other rendition available if they could find one; but as Addis admitted, all other renditions make no sense at all. “It is impossible to give any satisfactory explanation.”(F13)

The translators of the LXX, some quarter of a millennium before Christ was born, properly translated the disputed word here as “pierced,” and theirs was certainly an unbiased translation. As Leupold stated, “This rendition can safely be retained; it is the one statement that most certainly identifies the form of death here as that by crucifixion.”(F14)

The most astounding and ridiculous comment on this piercing of the hands and the feet of Jesus which we have ever encountered is that of the usually dependable Dummelow, who wrote:

“`They pierced my hands and my feet.’ The reference is still to the dogs who snap at the exposed parts (such as hands and feet) when they attack (during the crucifixion).”(F15)

Apparently, Dummelow did not understand Hebrew poetry, or the fact that with a band of soldiers presiding over the crucifixion, no dogs would have been allowed to participate in it. Furthermore, literal dogs neither would have or could have “pierced” Jesus’ hands and feet. A Roman cross always elevated the victim above the earth and well out of the reach of any dog. Furthermore, dogs never pierce their victims, they mutilate and tear them. Dummelow’s impossible comment points up the desperation of the radical critics trying vainly to avoid the necessity of admitting predictive prophecy.

Verses 17-18

“I may count all my bones. They look and stare upon me; They part my garments among them, And upon my vesture do they cast lots.”

No Christian needs to be told that three of the holy gospels recorded the fulfilment of the prophecies in these two verses, namely, in Matthew 27:35; Luke 23:34; and John 19:24.

“I may count all my bones” (Psalms 22:15). “Crucifixion would have extended the frame and have thrown the bones of the thorax into prominence.”(F16)

“They part my garments among them, and upon my vesture do they cast lots” (Psalms 22:16). These prophecies were fulfilled by the soldiers who executed Our Lord. There could not possibly have been any collusion or pre-arrangement by Jesus’ disciples to help bring this about. Oh no! Most of them were already far away, having forsaken the Lord and fled. Like many other of these prophecies, they were fulfilled by the enemies of Jesus, who were totally unaware that what they were doing had already been spelled out in the Bible 800 years before the occasion of their deeds. No infidel can laugh this off. No radical critic can get rid of the evidence in this chapter.

It should be noted that there were two methods of disposing of Jesus’ garments. First, by agreement, the soldiers distributed part of his clothes; but the presence of a valuable vesture, perhaps a garment very similar to that which the High Priest of Israel wore into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, if indeed not actually identical with it, prompted the soldiers to refrain from tearing it into pieces as they had probably done with Jesus’ other garments. So they decided to cast lots for it! What are the odds, really, against such a prophecy having been fulfilled accidentally? The size of such odds staggers the imagination. The hand of Almighty God is surely visible here.

Verses 19-21

“But be not thou far off, O Jehovah: O thou my succor, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword, My darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth; Yea, from the horns of the wild-oxen thou hast answered me.”

These lines conclude the first division of this psalm. Appropriately enough, they are concluded with an assurance of God’s answer the Sufferer’s petitions.

“My darling from the power of the dog” (Psalms 22:20). The word “darling” fails to reveal what was really meant; and, therefore, it seems better to render it “dear life” as allowed in the American Standard Version marginal reference. That rendition would stress the undeniable truth that Jesus did indeed value his precious life.

“From the horns of the wild-oxen” (Psalms 22:21). We are not able to understand what is meant by God’s answering the Sufferer from the “horns of the wild-oxen,” unless this may be referred to the fact that God did not answer our Lord until the very last instant of his earthly life.

“Yea… thou has answered me” (Psalms 22:21). As Kidner noted, “Only our version (American Standard Version) captures the sudden and dramatic change, kept back in the Hebrew text until the very last word, rendered here as `thou-hast-answered-me.’(F17)

This statement that Jehovah indeed answered the praying Sufferer was reserved until the very last word of the first section of the psalm; and, from this, we may conclude that God’s forsaking Jesus on the cross ended at some point shortly before our Lord expired. The last section of the psalm stresses the wonderful things achieved by the death of the Sufferer. Verse 24, below, makes it clear enough that God did indeed heed the earnest cries of the Suffering Redeemer. The delay in God’s doing so was perhaps due to the necessity that the Atoning Redeemer should indeed “taste of death for every man” in its ultimate sense of “sensing for awhile” the horrible agony of separation from God.

Verses 22-24

“I will declare thy name unto my brethren: In the midst of the assembly will I praise thee. Ye that fear Jehovah, praise him; All ye seed of Jacob glorify him; And stand in awe of him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither hath he hid his face from him; But when he cried unto him, he heard.”

“My brethren… the assembly… praise of God... seed of Jacob… seed of Israel.” (Psalms 22:22-23). The words of these two verses speak of the Church which Jesus Christ would establish after his resurrection. Seed of Jacob speaks of the old Israel, and Seed of Israel gives a hint of the New Israel of God, which is the Church.

“For” (Psalms 22:24). For once, this word means “because” or “because of” the truth that God did indeed answer the plea of the Atoning Saviour, raised him from the dead, sent his holy angels to escort him to heaven, where God enthroned him forever at his own right hand; and established the Church of Jesus Christ on the first Pentecost thereafter, sending the Holy Spirit himself as the Comforter of His Church during the present dispensation.

This is made certain by the fact that, “Hebrews 2:11-12 relates Psalms 22:22 to the Messiah, this verse being the head of this entire paragraph, who is not ashamed to call us brethren; who therefore stands in the midst (Psalms 22:22), not only on high, and whose thanksgiving feast the humble (and the meek) are welcome to eat and be satisfied (Psalms 22:26) and (in no mere form of words, but in reality) to live forever.”(F18)

God did not despise; he did not hide his face; but when Jesus cried unto him, GOD HEARD. We may thus paraphrase Psalms 22:24.

Verses 25-26

“Of thee cometh my praise in the great assembly: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied; They shall praise Jehovah that seek after him: Let your heart live forever,”

“In the great assembly” (Psalms 22:25). Again, this word speaks of the Church established by our Lord. See Kidner’s comment on this under Psalms 22:22, above.

“The meek shall eat and be satisfied” (Psalms 22:26). This attitude of the Church of God toward the meek and the humble of earth fulfilled Jesus’ declaration that, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” “It is plain that the marvelous results that are here enumerated must be thought of as being fruits of the experience through which the Sufferer has just passed.”(F19) The word “for” in Psalms 22:24 makes this understanding of the passage mandatory.

“The last few verses of this psalm indicate that every class and kind of men shall share in the blessings of the experience which the psalm has reported. The `meek’ and `those that seek the Lord’ are mentioned especially.”(F20)

“Live forever” (Psalms 22:26). Yes, nothing less than eternal life is the reward of those who shall truly love and serve the Redeemer. The language here goes far beyond what could possibly be ascribed to any earthly king. Only the King of Kings and Lord of Lords could make a promise like this.

“Your heart” (Psalms 22:26). These words have troubled some scholars, but as Dahood stated, “They evidently refer to the members of the congregation”(F21) mentioned by the psalmist, that is, to the followers of Jesus Christ.

Verses 27-31

“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto Jehovah; And all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is Jehovah’s; And he is the ruler over the nations. All the fat ones of the earth shall eat and worship: All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him, Even he that cannot keep his soul alive. A seed shall serve him; It shall be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They shall come and declare his righteousness Unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done it.”

In Psalms 22:27-28 are prophesies that the kingdom of God shall spread over all the world, the nations (that, is the Gentiles) shall submit to the rule of Christ who is the king in the kingdom of God.

Not only so, this proliferation of the power and glory of God’s kingdom shall make steady progress throughout all generations.

“All the fat ones of earth shall eat and worship” (Psalms 22:29). “This means that those who are at present self-sufficient will put aside their arrogance and join the feast.”(F22)

“All they that go down to the dust” (Psalms 22:29). This points to the fact that many successive generations shall rise, serving the Lord, and shall pass away in the long continuation of the Kingdom of Jehovah.

“They shall declare his righteousness… that he hath done it” (Psalms 22:31). Kidner pointed out, that just as the psalm began with its first verse in the mouth of Jesus on the Cross, it ends in the same manner. “`He hath done it’ is an announcement not very far removed from another word of Jesus from the Cross, namely, `It is finished.’ “(F23)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 22". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-22.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
 
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