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“The subject of this psalm is the deliverance of a righteous sufferer from his enemies, and the effect of this deliverance on others. It is so framed as to be applied without violence to any case belonging to the class described, yet so that it was fully verified only in Christ, the Head and Representative of the class in question. The immediate speaker in the psalm is an ideal person, the righteous servant of Jehovah, but his words may, to a certain extent, be appropriated by any suffering believer and by the whole suffering Church, as they have been in all ages.”—Alexander.
I. Forsaken and Suffering. “Why hast Thou forsaken me? Why art Thou so far from helping me and from the words of my roaring?” Suffering is one of the mysteries of our complicated human life. None are exempt. The voice of anguish rises towards heaven in a ceaseless wail. As there are ecstasies of joy when the soul is exalted into a state of inexpressible rapture, so there are corresponding depressions when the soul is plunged into a gulf of darkness and despair. The bitterest element in all suffering is the sense of desertion, when the lonely victim is drifting helplessly before the black, pelting storm, without a hand to help, a voice to cheer, or a light to guide! Who can fathom the feelings of the solitary sufferer of Golgotha indicated in that thrilling and mysterious cry—“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!” It was “not the why of impatience or despair, not the sinful questioning of one whose heart rebels against his chastening, but rather the cry of a lost child who cannot understand why his father has left him, and who longs to see his father’s face again. What these words were in the lips of the Holy One of God, heart of man may not conceive. For a moment in that last agony the Perfect Man was alone with the sin of the world.”—Perowne.
II. Forsaken but not prayerless. “O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou hearest not, and in the night season and am not silent” (Psalms 22:2). “It is as if he said, I cannot understand this darkness. It is not that I have forgotten Thee. Day and night I cry, to me there is no silence.”—Perowne. Prayer is the great resource of the troubled soul; and though deliverance does not come immediately, prayer is not abandoned. The more continuous the misery the more intense and vocal the prayer. Though the door refuse to open for weeks and months, the earnest suppliant knows he is before the right door, that there is no other to which he can go, and that erelong it must open. “The greatest pain to the troubled soul is not to be sure of the hearing of his prayers. Whoever does not give up God, even when his trouble of body and pain of soul has advanced to the highest point, soon has the experience that God has not forsaken him.”—Lange. The solitude is not so oppressive whose silence is broken by the voice of prayer. Delay increases the soul’s importunity, and importunity will succeed (Luke 11:8).
III. Forsaken but trusting. Dense as may be the darkness and acute as may be the anguish, the sufferer does not lose his hold on God. It is still, “My God, my God.” The great test and triumph of faith is witnessed in the continuance of confidence, not only in one who is absent, but in one whom we are conscious has deserted us.
1. This trust was encouraged by contemplating the holiness of the Divine character. “But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Psalms 22:3). Throned above the myriad praises of the congregation which thank fully celebrate the many acts of Divine deliverance and redemption. The holiness of God is but another aspect of His faithfulness and mercy. The more vivid and extensive our conception of sin, the more exalted and impressive will be our view of the Divine holiness. The Redeemer of the world drew His mightiest consolation from a recollection of the holiness of God, when, in His hour of darkness and sorrow, He was brought into close and lonely contact with the enormity of human sin. “While the holiness of God is in the highest degree acknowledged and adored, the afflicted speaker in this verse seems to marvel how the holy God could forsake him, and be silent to his cries. The argument is, Thou art holy, oh! why is it Thou dost disregard Thy holy One in His hour of sharpest anguish? We may not question the holiness of God, but we may argue from it, and use it as a plea in our petitions.”—Spurgeon. “The expression, ‘Thou art holy,’ is a corroding element which must by and by entirely consume the other, ‘Thou hast forsaken me.”—Hengstenberg.
2. This trust was encouraged by recollecting the experience of God’s people in times of trouble. “Our fathers trusted in Thee,” &c. (Psalms 22:4-5). Thrice “they trusted,” and only once “they cried.” It was not that God could not deliver those who trusted in Him: He had done it for those of old time. He who could deliver the sinful when they cried to Him in faith, could much more deliver the Sinless One who came to Him in innocence. A genuine trust is always succeeded by a signal deliverance. Man is often disappointed and confounded when trusting to human policy and power; but never when trusting in God.
1. The lowest level of suffering is reached when the soul is consciously forsaken of God.
2. Prayer is the most suitable exercise of the soul in the most trying moments.
3. When the soul can do nothing else it can trust in God.
THE LONELINESS OF SUFFERING
I. Oppresses the soul with a sense of personal unworthiness (Psalms 22:6-8).
1. This unworthiness is humbly acknowledged. “I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised of the people” (Psalms 22:6). The first step in a downward career is to sink in the estimation of others; the next and more fatal one is to sink in our own estimation. Pungent and continued suffering depresses the mind, and fills it with gloomy and but half-comprehended thoughts, and the sufferer is tempted to depreciate himself and all his doings. “Man is compared to a worm in Job 25:6 on account of the nothingness of his existence. The worm in the passage before us, as in Isaiah 41:13, serves to designate nothingness within nothingness. The reproach and the contempt are brought under our notice, not so much in themselves, as in reference to the ground on which they rest—the deep misery of the sufferer, whose condition is such that it is reckoned by all men as altogether desperate.”—Hengstenberg.
2. This sense of unworthiness renders the soul more keenly sensitive to insult and scorn. “All they that see me laugh me to scorn,” &c. (Psalms 22:7-8). It is painful to endure the scornful ridicule of our enemies when we are in health and vigour, and able to repel and answer it. But when all our powers are prostrate by affliction, and we are too helpless to reply, the torture is overwhelming. Still more cruel and unbearable is it when the sufferer’s God is maligned (Psalms 22:8). “This is the most lacerating kind of contempt. Because he loves God more than himself, he would rather encounter floods of derision himself, than that one drop should fall on the name of his God. The shaking of the head and the opened mouth denote mocking delight.”—Tholuck. Oh! how inexpressibly keen must have been the sufferings of the Sinless One as He listened to the revilings of those who gloated over His crucifixion! How often is it that man despises what God holds in highest esteem! If we would be true followers of Christ we must be content to bear His reproach.
II. Throws the mind back upon the thought of the Divine Care from the earliest period of life (Psalms 22:9-10). He who protected and sustained us in the helplessness and perils of infancy, will not leave us to perish in the darkest and loneliest extremity. Too little do we think of the goodness of God which brought us into being, provided for every want, brightened the happy period of youth, and led us to trust Him in every emergency of life. Comfort may be found in the hour of trial by reflecting on the past mercies of God. The more conscious we become of our own impotency, the more tenaciously do we cling to the Divine arm and the more highly do we prize the smallest acts of kindness and sympathy. “I began to rail against Providence,” wrote the imprisoned Armand Charratt with the blood he had pricked from his arm, “when a messenger of mercy came to me in the form of an escaped canary-bird down a chimney of the Bastille. I kept the canary-bird, and for three years I was no longer solitary.” “God begins His care over us from the earliest hour. We are dandled upon the knee of mercy and cherished in the lap of goodness; our cradle is canopied by Divine love, and our first totterings are guided by His care. He who was our God when we left our mother, will be with us till we return to mother-earth, and will keep us from perishing in the belly of hell Faith finds weapons everywhere.”—Spurgeon.
III. Is embittered by the violence and cruelty of relentless enemies.
1. They are violent. “Many bulls have compassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion” (Psalms 22:12-13). The lonely sufferer is terrified by the fierce opposition of his enemies, who, like strong and ravenous beasts, threaten him with horrible mutilation and destruction. The wild, ferocious outbreaks of the wicked are ever a source of distress to the holy soul. One of the bitterest elements in the sufferings of the world’s Redeemer was, that He had to endure the contradiction of sinners against Himself. The sorrows of the good are met with the taunting, malicious revelry of the wicked.
2. They are cruel. “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalms 22:16). The enemies are still compared to savage animals, but the figure is somewhat different: “dogs” not only as fierce, but as unclean. We must remember that these dogs are the savage wild dogs of the East (1 Kings 14:11; Psalms 59:6; Psalms 59:14-15).—Perowne. Jews and heathens enclosed the solitary Sufferer of Calvary, as dogs in their madness and fury close in upon the hunted stag. They pierced His hands with nails, that our souls might not be pierced with judgments. Sin is the most terrific instrument of cruelty.
IV. Intensifies the sense of utter helplessness and agony (Psalms 22:11; Psalms 22:14-15; Psalms 22:17-18). It is impossible to find words that will depict more graphically a condition of complete exhaustion, distress, and despair, than those contained in these verses. The lonely sufferer, after referring to the cruelty of his tormentors, passes on to speak of the effects of their savage treatment upon himself. He felt absolutely friendless and alone:—“There is none to help.” As poured-out water dissolves on the ground, so his strength is dissolved: he is utterly spent. “I am poured out like water.” His bones, the support of the physical frame, are sundered and displaced, involving unutterable agony. “All my bones are out of joint. I may tell all my bones, they look and stare upon me.” His courage fails him; the brave heart can hold up no longer, but sinks in despair. “My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.” The sap of life is dried up like the moisture out of a burnt-out potsherd: his misery and fevered pain exhausted his endurance and strength, as a vessel of clay is dried and burnt within a furnace. “My strength is dried up like a potsherd.” In consequence of excessive thirst and anguish, his tongue is sealed to his jaws; and he feels as one who has already entered the grave. “My tongue cleaveth to my jaws, and Thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” As a last act of indignity, as though he were already dead, his very clothes are stripped from him and raffled as plunder among his unpitying enemies. “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psalms 22:18). How all these particulars were fulfilled in the sufferings of the Son of God, is narrated in the gospels with touching simplicity and realistic power. The heaviest stroke in all suffering is that which we must bear alone. No loneliness is more oppressive, more distressing, more insupportable than the loneliness of suffering.
1. The weakness and vanity of man.
2. The terrible consequences of sin.
3. The only source of help in extremity is Divine.
A PATHETIC CRY FOR HELP
I. That God is the unfailing source of help in time of trouble. “Be not Thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste Thee to help me” (Psalms 22:19). Trouble is a blessing when it drives us nearer to God. The fainting victim turns away from his fierce persecutors and from his own sufferings, and fixes his eyes on God. All earthly help has its limits, but Divine help never fails. If God be distant, the darkness deepens and the sorrow too. But when the strength of Israel hastens to the rescue, the light of hope breaks in and the anguish is assuaged. From the lowest depths God hears the piteous cry of the helpless. “Prayer is the weapon with which the bars of the gates of heaven are burst open.”
II. That deliverance is implored from imminent peril (Psalms 22:20-21).
1. From threatened death. “Deliver my soul from the sword: my darling”—my only one. “From the parallelism = my soul, my life. The life is so called, either because man has but one life, or because it is the most precious of all things.”—Perowne. This life was exposed to destruction by the sword; for “the sword is an individualising designation of whatever is an instrument of death.” The Lord can blunt the point of the sharpest weapon; and, at the last moment, restore the stricken one who cries to Him.
2. From the ferocity of the most pitiless tormentors. “Save me—from the power of the dog—from the lion’s mouth—from the horns of the unicorns.” Luther observes—“The rage of the furious devil is so great, that the prophet does not consider it enough to have represented it by a sharp sword, but introduces further, for the same purpose, the tearings of raging, furious dogs, the mouth of the greedy and hungry lion, which stands already open, and is ready to devour, and the dreadfully fierce wrath of the raging, terrible unicorn.” The word unicorn is from a Hebrew verb which signifies to elevate, and refers to an animal “having a high horn in its nose or front, an untameable beast, which may be slain, but cannot be taken alive. It is spoken of in Scripture in respect to its strength in Numbers 22:0, its untameable ferocity Job 39:9, its height of horn Psalms 92:11.”—Bythner. The fury of the most violent and dreaded enemy is under the control of the sufferer’s God. He who holds the winds in His fists, whose whisper stills the angriest storm, whose look smites the most formidable hosts with paralysis, can dissipate, like foam before the breeze, the violent anger of our persecuting adversaries.
III. That the cry for help is emboldened by the recollection of past deliverances. “For Thou hast heard me” (Psalms 22:21). None are so poor in blessings, but there are some periods in their past history in which they were specially impressed with the saving interposition of heaven, in answer to prayer. The soul in its deepest distress falls back upon such a well-tested experience, and gathers confidence. From this point we observe a marked change in the condition of the sufferer. From a state of abject wretchedness and despair, he rises into the apparently sudden enjoyment of a radiant hope, and calm, restful assurance. Faith, however feeble its grasp, if persevering, is certain to triumph. The past is an inspiration for the present, and a guide for the future.
A SONG OF DELIVERANCE
At this point we detect a marked change in the tone and spirit of the psalm. Light breaks in upon the forlorn sufferer. Despair gives place to hope; and the prospect of speedy and certain deliverance animates the soul with gratitude and joy.
I. That this deliverance was celebrated by grateful praise.
1. The theme of praise is the Name of the Great Deliverer. “I will declare THY NAME unto my brethren.” The Name of Jehovah is inclusive of all the Divine perfections; but that perfection which is more immediately exercised in effecting for us a great deliverance will naturally be most prominent in our song. The deliverance of the world’s Redeemer from His unutterable sufferings, and the consequent deliverance of humanity from the power of sin, called into play all the energies and perfections of the Divine Nature. The Divine Name, therefore, in all its depth and expanse of meaning, is the subject of highest adoration. To declare the name of the Lord is to make known what He has done.
2. The praise is offered publicly. “Unto my brethren—in the midst of the congregation—in the great congregation—before them that fear Him” (Psalms 22:22; Psalms 22:25). Instead of the anxious cry, which, in contrast with the praises of Israel, previously sounded from the month of the innocent and horribly tortured victim, the song of praise of the delivered, is in future to resound in the assembly of his brothers, and the whole congregation is to hear, to their own edification, the declaration of the great and wonderful things that God has done to this one who was so afflicted and utterly lost. The sufferings of the righteous are according to the Divine purpose not only to be of advantage to the present congregation but likewise to the heathen throughout the entire world.—Lange.
3. The praise is general. “All ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him” (Psalms 22:23). All the true worshippers of Jehovah are called upon to praise Him. True praise is characterised by profound reverence. “Ye that fear the Lord.” “Humble awe of God is so necessary a preparation for praising Him that none are fit to sing to His honour but such as reverence His word. Holy fear should always keep the key of the singing pew. Where Jesus leads the tune none but holy lips may dare to sing.”—Spurgeon. True praise is ac companied with substantial thank offerings, “I will pay my vows before them that fear Him” (Psalms 22:25). The faithful promiser, who, when in trouble had vowed to offer certain sacrifices, was accustomed, after deliverance, to invite the widow, the orphan, and the poor to participate with him in the sacrificial meal (Deuteronomy 12:18; Deuteronomy 16:11) The grateful heart will praise God with a full-handed generosity, and delights to share its bounty and joy with others. The salvation of one adds to the happiness of many (Luke 15:10).
4. The praise recognises the special character of the deliverance (Psalms 22:24) God esteems what others despise. The abject sufferer who sinks below the notice and help of man is never beyond the reach and sympathy of God. The recollection of the horrors from which we have been snatched, will give a colouring to the expression of our gratitude. The affliction of the afflicted, “The same word is used with Messianic reference Isaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:7; Zechariah 9:9. When he cried He heard. What a contrast to Psalms 22:1-2! Very remarkable is this confident acknowledgment of God’s goodness in hearing prayer.”—Perowne.
5. The praise will bring satisfaction to the most needy. “The meek shall eat and be satisfied,” &c (Psalms 22:26). The gratitude of the delivered sufferer and the joy it occasions to others, are represented under the figure of a feast in which the poorest participate. The grateful and extended proclamation of the merciful works of God, especially as exhibited in the salvation of the human race, will supply the spiritual banquet for which millions crave, and for lack of which they perish.
II. That this deliverance will be the means of conferring blessing on all mankind.
1. All nations will acknowledge the supremacy of Jehovah. “All the ends of the world shall remember,” &c. (Psalms 22:27-28). The heathen may have forgotten God, but they are not forgotten by Him: they may have ignored the Divine rule, but they cannot destroy it—“He is the governor among the nations.” The heathen who share in the great salvation wrought out by the suffering Messiah will gladly submit to His lordship. “It is well to mark the order of conversion as here set forth:—They shall remember—this is reflection, like the prodigal who came unto himself: and turn unto Jehovah—this is repentance, like Manasseh who left his idols; and shall worship—this is holy service as Paul adored the Christ whom once he abhorred.”—Spurgeon.
2. All ranks of men shall find happiness in the worship of Jehovah (Psalms 22:29). Here the image of the banquet is resumed, the feast is provided for all, irrespective of national or personal distinctions. “All they that be fat upon the earth”—the rich and mighty; “all they that go down to the dust”—those who are so miserably starved and poor that they are ready to perish, and “cannot keep alive their own soul”—all shall sit down together at the same divinely-furnished banquet. Here all guests are poor, and God is rich for all. The Gospel shall win the homage of all nations and all classes of men.
III. That this deliverance will vindicate the Divine Righteousness to future ages (Psalms 22:30-31). “His Righteousness not only as manifested in the deliverance of His righteous servant, but as manifested in all His great work of salvation, both in the suffering and in the exaltation of Christ, and also in providing the feast for all who will partake thereof. This hope of the conversion of other nations to the faith of God’s elect, was in an especial manner characteristic of the period of the return from the Babylonish captivity. The prophecies of Zechariah are full of it, and so are many of the Psalms which probably date from that period.”—Perowne. The divine conduct in the great work of Redemption will be continually celebrated. Posterity will perpetuate the worship of Jehovah; each succeeding generation will preserve and disseminate the knowledge committed to it by the generation preceding. The seed of the righteous is indestructible and ever fruitful. The true Church of God can never perish. It is said that the Baobab-tree—the largest known tree in the world—though stripped of its bark outside and hollowed to a large cavity within its trunk, has the singular power of exuding from its substance a perfectly new bark, which lines both the inner and outer surfaces of the tree. So is it with the Church of God. Though pierced and peeled and wounded by the gleaming axes of malicious enemies, it still lives and grows in irresistible productiveness, affording shelter to millions, and stretching its life-giving and healing foliage over all nations.
1. Deliverance from peril should be gratefully acknowledged.
2. The world it most indebted to those who have suffered most for its benefit.
3. The influence of a good work never dies.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 22". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29