Psalm 22 contains some of the most heart-wrenching cries to God recorded in all of the Psalms. God himself is on trial and David asks, “Will God remain faithful?”
This is the song of a believer who experiences great suffering and wonders where God is. It is a psalm that, in the midst of injustice, wonders if God himself will be faithful to his promise.
This is a psalm in three movements. The first movement is written with the dark, minor notes of pain, bewilderment, and betrayal. The second has bright chords of rejoicing and freedom. The third is composed of both the deep, sundering bass notes of God’s power and the high ring of celestial praise.
The song, to be sung on the Sabbath, was a reminder. Like most psalmic worship, David’s goal was to weekly remember God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and to reassure the assembled congregation that God’s faithfulness is completely trustworthy. Let’s listen.
CONFLICT: IS GOD FAITHFUL?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
The first movement of Psalm 22 has God on trial. David asks the question, “Will he be faithful?” while at the same time arguing that he should. Verses 1–2 express the heart-cry of Jesus on the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” David most likely composed this psalm while on the run from King Saul. He had been promised the throne of Israel and the protection of God, yet he had spent the last few years of his life on the run as a fugitive. It truly seemed like God had forsaken David and forgotten his promise. Because the trial went on longer and longer, and David cried out more and more, it seemed that God had stopped paying attention.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Yet this situation, David cries, is out of character for God. His holiness and glory have not been jeopardized, but are still upheld by Israel. So he cannot have lost his power. When Israel cried out to God, they were rescued and not put to shame. They trusted in God and he answered their cries. David’s question is, “Why, if you redeemed Israel out of Egypt and her slavery, have you forgotten me?” Over the next few verses, David compares his situation and character to that of Israel. In verses 6–8, he describes his reality: he is despised by his own people, while Israel was only despised by foreigners. The people mocking him realize the conflict—they mock him because they think God will not rescue him. Verse 8 ends with the question, “Has God abandoned David?”
Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
David’s frustration mounts in verses 9–11. If God is faithful to his promises to those who are obedient, David has more claim than anyone. He was God’s from birth, and since infancy he has been faithfully obedient to God. If there is anyone who has a right to call on God’s faithfulness, it is David. At this point, God seems without an excuse, and David’s question is simply, “What gives?” The psalm then relays David’s resignation in vivid imagery: poured out like water and starving to death, David has nothing left to hold out for. His enemies surround him like lions and dogs. The wealth he had before becoming an outcast is divided up among his enemies.
This movement concludes with a final, dying man’s cry to God to deliver. David has made his argument and can do no more. He must now wait for God’s answer. This movement should be the heart-cry of every believer when suffering. There is nothing wrong with the tension of asking “Will God be faithful?” Often this question drives believers to worship and anticipates the future action of God. It is part of worship. However, worshipers find hope when they remember the past actions of God.
RESOLUTION: GOD IS FAITHFUL
But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
Just when it seems that God has truly gone silent, David’s tone changes: he begins to rejoice that God has answered him (verse 21). There is no comment whether or not David received the redemption for which he longed, but he expresses confidence that God will be faithful to his word. The deliverance in verses 19–21 form the foundation for David’s praise. Praise be to God for deliverance is not private act, but a communal one. This song, sung among the assembled people on Sabbath, recounts the actions of God in David’s life to the people of Israel. The song’s praise to God for his intervention reminds the nation of God’s acts on the whole nation’s behalf. Just as David was redeemed, so was Israel. Just as David has a reason to praise God, so does the congregation.
“These nations will remember the actions of God.
The conclusion to this movement is rather simple despite the terror of the previous movement. The afflicted can trust God for deliverance, and this deliverance should prompt obedience. Just as God was faithful to his promise, David promises faithfulness to his own promise. Worship is the beginning of obedience. The same spirit of thankfulness that prompts praise to God will also prompt obedience. Individual praise then encourages corporate remembrance of God’s action and further praise. But this chain of events is not limited to the people of God alone. The next movement concludes the psalm with a thunderous crescendo.
FUTURE: GOD’S FAITHFUL REIGN
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
The song concludes (verses 27–31) with a movement so profound it is hard to remember the suffering recounted in the first verses. David expands the worshiping people to include all the nations of the world. These nations will remember the actions of God—demonstrated in the lives of the people of Israel and her King—and turn to him in worship. God is truly King over the whole earth, and rightly deserves the worship of all people. Everyone—prosperous or otherwise—will serve him.
WE ARE WITNESSES
Just as a pebble tossed into a lake spreads ripples over the whole lake, a person who experiences God’s redemption and praises him sets off a reaction. The people of God take up the chorus and praise God along with the redeemed, for they, too, were redeemed. When all the people of God are doing this, they are a witness to God’s redemption and an example for the world.
Psalm 22 closes by mentioning the remembrance passed down from generation to generation. Parents who hand down the stories of God’s faithfulness raise children who trust their God.
In the same way, the people of God stand as a powerful witness to the world when worshiping him for his faithfulness and redemption. Just as Jesus suffered and felt the abandonment of God, yet experienced deliverance to the heights of glory, so Christians, when faced with suffering, praise God and trust him for deliverance.