What tragedies have you faced in your life? How have these experiences changed you?
I’ve written many times about adversity in this web site and the themes seem to be the same. Tough times can be shared events, like 9/11. They can also be intensely personal, like the loss of a loved one. Tough times can be opportunities to reach out to others or reject them. Tough times can shake, but ultimately define our character. Tough times can present us with a faith challenge and a faith choice: turn to God or turn away from God. Tough times can bring out the best and the worst in us.
Psalm 22 was “snapshot” of life in adversity. It asked the question: Why God? Why do I feel abandoned? Why do my enemies surround and threaten me? Why do I wilt in the face of all this opposition? The psalm didn’t try to really answer these questions. Instead, it responded with an act of the will. The psalm ended with an act of faith and a universal song of praise. No matter what my troubles are, my God will save me and I will proclaim his glory before everyone.
For the Chief Musician; set to “The Doe of the Morning.” A Psalm by David.
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?
2 My God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer;
in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But you are holy,
you who inhabit the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in you.
They trusted, and you delivered them.
5 They cried to you, and were delivered.
They trusted in you, and were not disappointed.
6 But I am a worm, and no man;
a reproach of men, and despised by the people.
7 All those who see me mock me.
They insult me with their lips. They shake their heads, saying,
8 “He trusts in YHWH;
let him deliver him.
Let him rescue him, since he delights in him.”
9 But you brought me out of the womb.
You made me trust at my mother’s breasts.
10 I was thrown on you from my mother’s womb.
You are my God since my mother bore me.
11 Don’t be far from me, for trouble is near.
For there is none to help.
World English Bible
22:1-11 was a dialogue between the question and the act of faith. The psalm began with abandonment (22:1-2) only to be answered with the faith of ancestors (22:3-5). Shame for faithfulness (22:6-8) was answered by the wonder of coming into being (22:9-10). 22:11 ended this section with a simple prayer for help.
12 Many bulls have surrounded me.
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
13 They open their mouths wide against me,
lions tearing prey and roaring.
14 I am poured out like water.
All my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax;
it is melted within me.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd.
My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded me.
A company of evildoers have enclosed me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.
17 I can count all of my bones.
They look and stare at me.
18 They divide my garments among them.
They cast lots for my clothing.
19 But don’t be far off, YHWH.
You are my help: hurry to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth!
Yes, from the horns of the wild oxen, you have answered me.
22:12-21 was an extended dialogue between failing strength and a prayer for redemption. 22:12-18 described an attack of one’s enemies. Like a pack of dogs (a derogatory term among Semites) and a mindless herd of cattle, the enemies surround and “size up” their prey before they attack. They hurl insults and plan the division of spoils even before they pounce. The intended victim goes weak in the face of the opposition. Still, the victim has enough faith for a final prayer, a plea for salvation (22:19-21).
22 I will declare your name to my brothers.
In the midst of the assembly, I will praise you.
23 You who fear YHWH, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify him!
Stand in awe of him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted,
Neither has he hidden his face from him;
but when he cried to him, he heard.
25 Of you comes my praise in the great assembly.
I will pay my vows before those who fear him.
26 The humble shall eat and be satisfied.
They shall praise YHWH who seek after him.
Let your hearts live forever.
22:22-26 was a promise of faithfulness when the Lord acted. Praise would be public and universal. The salvation of the petitioner would be an example to the people of what God can do. The petitioner would offer sacrifice (a thanksgiving offering) to fulfill a vow to God. The petitioner would be so thankful, he would share the communion meal of the sacrifice with the poor of Jerusalem (in other words, the petitioner was most likely the king or high priest; only they were rich enough to afford such a magnanimous gift).
27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to
All the relatives of the nations shall worship before you.
28 For the kingdom is YHWH’s.
He is the ruler over the nations.
29 All the rich ones of the earth shall eat and worship.
All those who go down to the dust shall bow before him,
even he who can’t keep his soul alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him.
Future generations shall be told about the Lord.
31 They shall come and shall declare his righteousness to a people that shall be born,
for he has done it.
The psalm ended with a call for universal praise (22:27-31). All peoples, the dead, and those to be born were to praise God for his faithfulness and activity.
Many psalms have a tension between the spirituality of the individual and the liturgy of the assembly. The individual can apply psalms to his or her life; the psalm can also represent the condition of the community. Psalm 22 is the paradigm of this tension. A personal song became a psalm of the assembly. But, with the Passion Narratives, the liturgical chant became intensely personal for Jesus of Nazareth. In nine different ways, images or lines from the psalm appear in the Passion. While Jews still apply the psalm to the entire nation, Christians apply it to one person.
For Christians, Psalm 22 will forever be linked with Jesus on the cross. When we recite this psalm, we can identify our adversity with travails of our Savior. If he could remain faithful in the midst of his suffering, we, too, can face our trials with some hope. The tough times won’t last forever. There is life after the experience of death. Despite despair, shame, and attack, we can look to Christ on the cross and gain strength.
Reflect on the trials you’ve faced this week. How have they encouraged or discouraged you? How has God used them to strengthen your faith?