This is how God fights – Psalm 22

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

Psalm 22 comes in the middle of a 5 psalm arc on battles. It also is the first of three psalms about how God fights his battle: Psalm 22 is about the past, Psalm 23 about the present and Psalm 24 about the future. Together they speak of AT-ONE-MENT: Becoming one with God is what these songs are about.

My mind likes things to have structure. Which is unfortunate as the structure of Psalm 22 is complicated. It’s a shame we have lost the tune, because if we could see how it fits to the music things would probably become apparent.

The chain of handcuffs is broken in front of the image of a cross.

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

22 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.
Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

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 you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live for ever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.

28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 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.

30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Pslalm 22 ESVUK, with paragraphs added to reveal the structure

AT-ONE-MENT—THE PAST

The title of Psalm 22 is “Doe of the Dawn.” Doe speaks of the suffering of a vulnerable animal and dawn speaks of a new morning. This song is about deliverence from within suffering.

Looking at the structure of the psalm, deliverence from within suffering is also the theme. Psalm 22 is a linking Psalm. It is part of the three Psalms 20-22 that have the same structure and a part of a set of three Psalms 22-24 by being about atonement.

Like Psalms 20 and 21, Psalm 22 is a double chiasm: A chiasm is the structure where the themes are introduced in one order then dealt with in reverse order. In Psalm 22, the first chiasm deals with suffering and the second with deliverance.

Part 1 – Crucifixion

Chiasm 1

The title of Psalm 22 is Doe of the Dawn. Doe speaks of the suffering of a vulnerable animal and dawn speaks of a new morning. This song is about deliverance from within suffering.

Looking at the structure of the psalm, deliverance from within suffering is also the theme. Psalm 22 is a linking Psalm. It is part of the three Psalms 20-22 that have the same structure and a part of a set of three Psalms 22-24 by being about atonement.

Like Psalms 20 and 21, Psalm 22 is a double chiasm: A chiasm is a structure where the themes are introduced in one order and then dealt with in reverse order. In Psalm 22, the first chiasm deals with suffering and the second with deliverance.

Part 1 – Crucifixion

Chiasm 1

  • A – vv. 1-5 – “Why are you so far from saving me?” But you do not answer (Hebrew word ana),
  • B – vv. 6-8 – the Lord looks down and hears and hears enemies gloating
  • C – vv. 9-11 – “Be not far from me,”
  •  B’ – vv. 12-18 – the Lord looks down and sees and hears enemies gloating
  •  A’ – vv. 19-21 – “O Lord, do not be far off!” You have rescued me (Hebrew word ana)

The opening words of this psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” were spoken by Jesus from the cross. This ties in with the theme of Psalms 20 to 24, the Messiah is a king fighting his battles. And this is how he fights, not by exerting force but by becoming vulnerable. In his temptation in the desert, Jesus was offered everything, power, devotion and control, everything that a human leader craves. He refused it all. Instead, he took every opportunity he could in ministry to give it away, replicating, equipping and empowering people wherever he could.

Verse 1 of Psalm 22 was prayed by Jesus from the cross, the cry of a desperate man, one who has nothing. Christians have long looked at this psalm as a song as a prophecy of the crucifixion. It is that, and it is more. It is a picture of how our spiritual battles are fought, not by force but by giving things away.

Part 2 – Resurrection

This is where it gets complicated. The structure of the second part is D.E.D’ where the D and E parts are also chiasms:

  • Da – vv. 22 & 23 – Theme, the congregation and praise
    • Db – v. 24 – He has heard
  •  Da’ – vv, 25 & 26 – Theme, the congregation and praise
    • Ea – v. 27a – All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
      • Eb – v. 27b – and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.
        • Ec – v. 28a – For kingship belongs to the Lord,
      •  Eb’ – v 28b – and he rules over the nations.
    •  Ea’ v, 29 – All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship
  •  D’ – vv. 30 & 31 – – Theme, the congregation and praise

The pivotal verse is the last part of verse 21, “You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!” Through suffering, the king has been rescued. The life that has been taken is given back. That God has heard is echoed in verse 24,

The victory of the king is not for Israel alone, it is for the nations, the earth; it is for everyone. The king in victory is not keeping it for himself but giving it away to all who will accept it. It becomes our victory.

But there is also more to this psalm than the prophecy of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Psalm 22, at first glance, is an individual complaint by David. The enemies are likened to lions in verses 13 & 21, but in Hebrew lion is also in v 16 is “like a lion [they are at] my hands and feet“* not they have pierced my hands and feet which comes from The Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament. Not that the lack of a literal lack of linkage to the crucifixion means this psalm is not about the death and resurrection of Jesus, he did, after all, quote the first line from the cross.

A Jewish interpretation, there is no such thing as the Jewish interpretation, is that this messianic prayer is about the nation of Israel. The centre of the middle section is about God’s kingship, which draws the nation and the earth to him (parallelism is used here for emphasis, twice). God wishes to draw all people to himself, it says that they will realise and will come to God.

This dual individualistic/plural meaning of this psalm that we get from the Rabbis can be used by Christians. We can use it as our prayer, as our deliberate complaint to God when we are suffering. We can use it to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can use it to show how God blesses the people who follow him.


< Psalm 21 | Psalm 22 | Psalm 23 >
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* ESV Study Bible footnotes.

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