Reading through the Bible together
This psalm has a dual, even triple, application: on one hand the imagery is that of David conveying his own experience of grief and distress, at the same time it abounds in expressions and references in the New Testament attesting to the Messianic character of at least portions of this Psalm (see: Matt 27:35, 39, 43, 46; Mark 15:24, 34; Luke 23:34, 35; John 19:24, 28). The principles are powerful and timeless for they speak to the experiences of believers today. Clearly one can see the principle of blended and multiple applications. Unquestionably, Psalm 22 is one of the most graphic and moving of the prophetic Messianic psalms.
One can approach this Psalm from multiple perspectives. One approach is to view it from the Messianic perspective of gaining insight of what Christ went through on behalf of the sinner and how He accomplished a spiritual breakthrough that resulted in the victory on the cross. Then one can view it from the relational and experiential perspective and derive rich insights on how best to cope with difficult interpersonal life experiences. One can also meditate on what the psalmist himself was experiencing when he penned these words.
Psalm 22 has depth and breadth. It can move one’s emotions if we enter into the experience of the sufferings of Christ and lose ourselves in the love and self-sacrifice of Christ. We are reminded and encouraged by Ellen White to frequently review the closing scenes in the life of our Redeemer. Beset with temptations as He was, we may all learn lessons of the utmost importance to us. It would be well to spend a thoughtful hour each day reviewing the life of Christ from the manger to Calvary. We should take it point by point and let the imagination vividly grasp each scene, especially the closing ones of His earthly life (DA p. 83),
By so contemplating the teachings, suffering, and sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the human race and for saving people—universally and individually three things will happen: we may 1) strengthen our faith, 2) quicken our love, and 3) become more deeply imbued with the spirit which sustained our Savior. So there is every reason for the thoughtful reader to give this Psalm extra time and thought.
The Psalm is divided into two distinct parts, the first 21 verses consists of protest and complaints, and the prayer of the sufferer; the last ten verses (vs. 22–31), spontaneously break out in words of thanksgiving after deliverance. Interestingly, there is no transition between the two parts. There is only this sudden change from despondency to praise.
Note: The reader can derive helpful understanding of the Messianic features of this Psalm and gather strength by reading the four gospels on the struggles of Christ during His Passion and by reading the Desire of Ages, pages 741–757.
1. Messianic Application: Psalm 22 has been called The Psalm of the Cross because of its obvious references to them in the New Testament when those writers apply them to the sufferings of Christ and His crucifixion. It is touches one’s heart to imagine Christ's agony, despite His trust in God, that His Father had forsaken Him because of His identification with sinners and for taking the weight of sin that belonged to them. We are reminded that “If we would be saved at last we must all learn the lesson of penitence and faith at the foot of the cross. Christ suffered humiliation to save us from everlasting disgrace. He consented to have scorn, mockery, and abuse fall upon Him in order to shield us. It was our transgression that gathered the veil of darkness about His divine soul and extorted the cry from Him, as one smitten and forsaken of God. He bore our sorrows; He was put to grief for our sins. He made Himself an offering for sin, that we might be justified before God through Him. Everything noble in man will respond to the contemplation of the cross. (See the hymn, Lift Him Up, #371).
2. Spiritual Application: The appeal to the reader is that time be taken to study the life of Christ, His life, teachings, suffering and then the cross and resurrection. Meditate on these topics and then think what those events mean to us as we cope with the challenges of working out our own salvation and when working for the salvation of others. Christ’s selfless and exemplary experience of suffering can provide the reader with new impetus to face trials that arise in their Christian walk—Christ did it all for me, I can and will do it all for Him! This wonderful hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, #156, eloquently speaks to this theme.
3. Experiential Application: The flow of this Psalm provides a helpful description of how one can deal with the painful challenges of life. For instance, in verses 22:1-10 the psalmist recognizes that he is in the struggle of his life, so we can recognize the reality of problems that overwhelm us. The psalmist feels deserted and separated from all sources of strength and sustenance, he feels devalued and ridiculed and it seems he has nowhere to turn. We experience similar situations in life. What do we do? Like the psalmist, in the midst of this terrible and painful struggle, we can recognize the efficacy of prayer and the reality of a God who hears and listens. We then can reach out and call on that wonderful Person to partner with us in the midst of our trial. The psalmist wisely reaches out of himself to this wonderful power, even as Jonah cried out to God from the belly of the whale (Jonah 2:1-9). We can do the same.
4. Supplication Application: There is profound and raw authenticity in this Psalm. It speaks to us in our life of thought and in our prayer life. The psalmist cries out in terrible utterances. He speaks about how he needs God to be near him because trouble is suffocating him and there is no human support system to help him. He describes how he is needy, and oh, so hurting. Then he moves to the recognition of how there is only one source of support that he can turn to—God Himself! Also there are these terrible and ferocious opponents that are opposing him to such an extent that his energy and vitality are dried up. His foes are many and they have such great strength. What can he do? Where should he turn? What do we do? Where do we turn? The psalmist makes this fervent appeal for the presence and the protection of God. Why? Because he knows that if God is nearby and involved, then whatever the outcome, it will be alright. He emphasizes his grief and depression with the spontaneous, perhaps even disciplined response: But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, my life from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen!” Then he adds, though he is still in the midst of the problem, “You have answered Me.” (This is really powerful. If you pursue this theme, you will be enriched. I know I was.)
5. Success Application: This is the grand conclusion of a dilemna. Life happens like that sometimes. Everything is seemingly out of control but the believer who has mastered the principles of Psalm 22 can declare victory before victory is actually won. How? They do it with faith: they declare praise and glory because of their faith in God's Word, because of the strength of God’s Word and the confidence based on His promises and Providence. They think it, believe it and say it; they declare it! They don’t need to see it to believe it; God said it and that’s enough for them. This is the Messianic example, the Christ example, and this experience can be ours.
Debert W. Baker