Psalm 22

Notes (NET Translation)

For the music director; according to the tune “Morning Doe;” a psalm of David.

1 My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.

The psalmist is not speaking of a broken relationship with God, rather, as the second line makes clear, he is using the language to describe how he feels. Practically speaking, God feels distant rather than near.1 Jesus cries out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” during his crucifixion (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34).

What is most significant about the NT perspective is the self-identification of Jesus with the suffering psalmist, for it provides an insight into one part of the meaning of the crucifixion. The sufferer of Ps 22 is a human being, experiencing the terror of mortality in the absence of God and the presence of enemies. In the suffering of Jesus, we perceive God, in Jesus, entering into and participating in the terror of mortality; he identifies with the suffering and the dying. Because God, in Jesus, has engaged in that desolation, he can offer comfort to those of us who walk now where the psalmist walked. But there is also a remarkable difference between the experience of the suffering psalmist and that of Jesus. The psalm concludes with praise because the sufferer escaped death; Jesus died. Yet the latter half of the psalm (vv 22-32) may also be read from a messianic perspective. The transition at v 22 is now understood not in deliverance from death, as was the case for the psalmist, but in deliverance through death, achieved in the resurrection. And it is that deliverance which is the ground of praise, both for the sufferer (vv 23-27) and for the “great congregation” (vv 28-32).2

2 My God, I cry out during the day, but you do not answer, and during the night my prayers do not let up.

3 You are holy; you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel.

4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted in you and you rescued them.

5 To you they cried out, and they were saved; in you they trusted and they were not disappointed.

6 But I am a worm, not a man; people insult me and despise me.

A worm is a symbol of insignificance (Isa 41:14; Job 25:6) and also associated with a state of decay or death (Isa 14:11).

7 All who see me taunt me; they mock me and shake their heads.

This kind of behavior was directed towards Jesus during the passion (Mt. 20:19; 27:29, 31, 39, 41; Mk. 10:34; 15:20, 29, 31; Lk. 18:32; 22:63; 23:11, 36).

8 They say, “Commit yourself to the LORD! Let the LORD rescue him! Let the LORD deliver him, for he delights in him.”

The unpious mock the psalmist with their argument against his kind of piety. They question his suffering in the light of their myopic view of God’s love, and in the promises of God’s deliverance. If the psalmist had trusted the Lord, why then is he suffering? They conclude that either he had boasted of trusting in God but was hypocritical or that God does not love him. These ancient mockers posed the issue of the problem of evil and suffering in a most agonizing way. The hope of the godly was in God’s “delight” in his saints, especially during times of adversity (cf. 37:23). The support of the Lord’s hand (37:24) is not there, and the mockers make the most of this occasion.3

Similar words were directed towards Jesus as he hung from the cross (Mt 27:43; Lk 23:35).

9 Yes, you are the one who brought me out from the womb and made me feel secure on my mother’s breasts.

10 I have been dependent on you since birth; from the time I came out of my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not remain far away from me, for trouble is near and I have no one to help me.

12 Many bulls surround me; powerful bulls of Bashan hem me in.

The crowd of enemies is portrayed in beastly terms as they show inhuman cruelty. Bashan produced the largest cattle in the territory (Dt 32:14; Mic 7:14).

Bashan is the region known today as the Golan Heights, located north of the Yarmuk, east of the Sea of Galilee, and south of the Hermon Range. Its elevation is about two thousand feet above sea level, and it receives an average rain of over twenty-four inches per year. Its productiveness in meat, wheat, and oaks, largely due to its regular precipitation, led to Bashan’s becoming symbolic of human pride (Isa 2:13). The enemies in their self-reliance are compared to the bulls raised on the Bashan plateau. As they encircle, their “horns” (v. 21) are all to evident and inspire fear in the psalmist.4

13 They open their mouths to devour me like a roaring lion that rips its prey.

14 My strength drains away like water; all my bones are dislocated; my heart is like wax; it melts away inside me.

This verse indicates the psalmist is “washed out”, “falling apart”, or “can’t hold it together.”

15 The roof of my mouth is as dry as a piece of pottery; my tongue sticks to my gums. You set me in the dust of death.

16 Yes, wild dogs surround me — a gang of evil men crowd around me; like a lion they pin my hands and feet.

Derek Kidner argues that “pierced” is the best translation of the Hebrew karah:

A strong argument in its favor is that the LXX, compiled two centuries before the crucifixion, and therefore an unbiased witness, understood it so. All the major translations reject the Masoretic vowels (added to the written text in the Christian era) as yielding little sense here (see margin of RV, RSV, NEB), and the majority in fact agree with LXX. The chief alternatives (e.g., ‘bound’ or ‘hacked off’) solve no linguistic difficulties which ‘pierced” does not solve, but avoid the apparent prediction of the cross by exchanging a common Hebrew verb (dig, bore, pierce) for hypothetical ones, attested only in Akkadian, Syriac and Arabic, not in biblical Hebrew.5

17 I can count all my bones; my enemies are gloating over me in triumph.

18 They are dividing up my clothes among themselves; they are rolling dice for my garments.

The soldiers threw dice to decide who would get Jesus’ garments (Mt 27:35; Mk 15:24; Lk 23:34; Jn 19:24).

19 But you, O LORD, do not remain far away! You are my source of strength! Hurry and help me!

20 Deliver me from the sword! Save my life from the claws of the wild dogs!

The sword is a metaphor for violent death.6

21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lion, and from the horns of the wild oxen! You have answered me!

22 I will declare your name to my countrymen! In the middle of the assembly I will praise you!

The “assembly” refers to the congregation of the righteous.7 Heb. 2:11-12 relates this verse to Christ.

23 You loyal followers of the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! All you descendants of Israel, stand in awe of him!

24 For he did not despise or detest the suffering of the oppressed; he did not ignore him; when he cried out to him, he responded.

25 You are the reason I offer praise in the great assembly; I will fulfill my promises before the LORD’s loyal followers.

26 Let the oppressed eat and be filled! Let those who seek his help praise the LORD! May you live forever!

27 Let all the people of the earth acknowledge the LORD and turn to him! Let all the nations worship you!

28 For the LORD is king and rules over the nations.

29 All of the thriving people of the earth will join the celebration and worship; all those who are descending into the grave will bow before him, including those who cannot preserve their lives.

30 A whole generation will serve him; they will tell the next generation about the sovereign Lord.

31 They will come and tell about his saving deeds; they will tell a future generation what he has accomplished.

Bibliography

Craigie, Peter C., and Marvin E. Tate. Psalms 1-50. Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2004.

Goldingay, John. Psalms: Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 2006.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.


  1. Kidner 2008, p. 123 
  2. Craigie 2004, p. 202–203 
  3. VanGemeren 2008, p. 239 
  4. VanGemeren 2008, p. 242 
  5. Kidner 2008, p. 125 
  6. Goldingay 2006, loc. 6763-6764 
  7. VanGemeren 2008, p. 247 
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