In our dark times, we often wonder if God is far away; if He doesn’t hear our cries. And we begin to wonder if we can trust him with our pain. Psalm 22 demonstrates, with unmistakable clarity, that our fears are wrong. God is not only trustworthy, he is worthy of the most glorious praise in how he handles our afflictions. If you’re looking for hope. If you’re looking for something to give you strength to get through today, Psalm 22 is a balm that will salve your soul.
“My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” That’s how the psalmist opens Psalm 22. He is a man who feels forsaken by God. In his particular situation, he has been taken captive and faces execution. He’s alone with no one to help, and it seems even God is far from him.
This psalm is like a coin. It has two sides, and both are equally of value. There is the prophetic side. The man facing execution is Jesus. There are details in this psalm that parallel the events of his crucifixion. This psalm was also on Jesus’ mind during his last hours as he quotes from it. Even his accusers quote from Psalm 22 as they mock him. And Peter says David was a prophet who wrote of the Messiah’s crucifixion.
On the other side of this coin, the psalm is about us. It serves as a mirror to the afflictions we face in this life. We are to identify with it. We may not identify with everything written here, yet it gives us a model of how to face suffering, how to cry out to God, and how to cling to hope. It also gives us the most realistic expression of what we should expect in our suffering.
The horror and the pain produce a multi-layered affliction. The psalmist is emptied of everything he has. His bones are out of joint. His heart is melted like wax. His strength is spent. He is near to death. His enemies taunt him. They attack with sharp, biting words. They mock his faith in God, and give voice to the fears that overwhelm him: Everyone has abandoned you, even your God. You still trust him? If God delights in you, where is he.
And they move in for the kill. They surround him as predators surround its prey — like lions, bulls, wild oxen, and a pack of jackals.
In these forsaken hours, all he can do is reach for hope. Hope in the holy nature of God who cannot allow suffering and evil to prevail upon his people; hope in the testimony of God’s people who have faced severe affliction through the ages, yet God did not let them go. He was trustworthy in their trial, and they came through with such great praise that their praises enthrone God. He finds hope in the sovereign intimacy God has shown in his own life. He understands it was God who pulled him from his mother’s womb. It was God who laid him to his mother’s breast. His life, and the sustaining of his life, comes from the hand of God. And if he is to die, it will be God who lays him to the dust. The hand of the enemy may slay him, but it is that very same God who brought him into the world who will lay him in the dust of death. God is there in his life, and will be the one to take him to his death. That’s God’s sovereign care.
And at the last moment, right when it seemed all was lost, when the enemy is about to prevail, the psalmist is rescued. This rescue happens so fast, so unexpectedly, and so thoroughly, that the metrics of the poetry continue, but the tense changes. The present imperative cries of, “Deliver me…” become the past tense exclamation, “You have rescued me…” And the whole tone of the psalm changes.
So what happened? How did God rescue the psalmist?
We’re not told. How did God deliver Jesus? We know Jesus died on the cross. Does that mean he wasn’t rescued? On the contrary, it was beyond death that Jesus was delivered. God brought him back to life.
When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, Abraham was going to follow through with the sacrifice because he believed God would bring him back from the dead. That’s what the book of Hebrews tells us. And Jesus is that son who was sacrificed, who God raised from the dead. And that one event took away the victory of sin and death. Death is no longer the end of the story, because death was not the end of Jesus’ story. Jesus’ burial in the tomb wasn’t the end of the story. And because of that, when we go to the grave, that’s not the end of our story. Jesus was rescued by God after death.
In our humanity, our temporal perspective is so strong that we think less about the deliverance God brings after death than we do deliverance from the afflictions in this life. Right? We want God to deliver us before we die. We see death as a victory for evil. We cry out to God to heal our loved one from a terminal condition. If only God would heal them, what a miraculous testimony that would be! Perform a medical miracle in this precious life! But they die, and we’re let down.
The real tragedy is that we approach some afflictions crying out for a miracle, and we forget that we should also be preparing our loved one, and ourselves, for death. And we treat the greatest miracle of rescue, the one that comes after death, as a consolation. The real rescue should have come before. And beyond our grief, which is natural and right, the rescue beyond death is our fall-back plan. Perhaps we don’t rejoice in that as much as we use it to save face for all the “have-faith-in-the-healing-power-of-God” boastings that fell from our lips.
The greatest rescue happened after death. The most glorious deliverance that should shake the unbelieving world up is the after death rescue. This is the testimony of Jesus. This is the testimony of this psalm. Deliverance in this life is temporary. Deliverance through death is eternal.
This doesn’t mean God never delivers us from affliction in this life. He does, and when he does, he deserves our praise. And this is what we see unfold in the rest of this psalm. There is a perspective here that we need to cultivate. Here is the response of the psalmist to his deliverance.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
This brings us back to those he found hope in back in verse 3.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Israel, and the fathers, the patriarchs, enthroned God upon their praises. They trusted in God; they cried out to him, and they were delivered. They were not put to shame. And now the psalmist joins them. He will tell of God’s name to his brothers, that God is a God to be trusted. He delivered, and he rescued.
He proclaims God’s name, and he praises him in the midst of the congregation. He cannot be silent! And neither can those he has joined.
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!
This isn’t a generalized expression of, “Praise God, brother. Amen! Hallelujah!” This is specific, and it’s imperative. There is urgency here. What God has done for the psalmist requires the full attention of God’s people. Our right response is to praise, glorify, and stand in awe.
To praise is to boast. It’s to celebrate, to shine your light upon him, to reveal who he is, to commend everyone to him.To glorify is to reflect how weighty God is, to reveal the gravity of his character and his work. To stand in awe is to stop us in our tracks. Whatever occupies our attention, or occupation, our activity, our busyness, whatever it is that occupies our life, we are to stop in our tracks and stand still. We are to turn our attention upon God. We’re to dwell upon his transcendent holiness, his otherness. Awe looks upon something that is other than us, something that is strange to us. God is so great, and so different from us. He is strange to us, and the nature of his almighty strangeness instills in us fear.
And there is something very particular about God that drives this praise, glory, and awe. But before we look at that, I want you to see something about this congregation. The psalmist describes the congregation as his brothers. They consist of those who fear the Lord, the offspring of Jacob, and the offspring of Israel. This seems to be a picture of the nation that includes the bloodline of Israel and those Gentiles among them who fear God. There are two parallel terms for the bloodline: the offspring of Jacob and Israel. Jacob and Israel are the same person, just two different names. Jacob was the liar, the deceiver, the man of trouble, and he became Israel when God made a covenant with him.
When Scripture refers to the offspring of Jacob and the offspring of Israel, it’s not just a device to say the same exact thing in a clever way. There is a purpose. The offspring of Jacob usually points to those who are troubled. Jacob was a man of trouble. He was also a man who didn’t know God’s covenant. When Scripture refers to the offspring of Israel, it refers to the people who know God’s covenant. Those who know God’s favor, and his rescue.
These are the ones who gather together to praise God, to glorify him, and stand in awe of him.
What motivates their praise, their glory, and the awe? Is it because the psalmist was rescued from his enemies? His crisis is over? His life was spared? Yes, but that’s only part of it, and that’s just the surface of it. Here is the motivation:
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.
The praise is not just for what God did. The praise is for who this God is. When the psalmist was drowning in his affliction, he felt God was far from him, that God didn’t hear his cries. Even his enemies thought the same, and mock him for it. “He trusts in God, so why doesn’t his God deliver him? He delights in him. Where is he now?” The psalmist even opens with the cry, “Oh God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”
God abandoned him. And his enemies made him wonder if God doesn’t delight in him. Perhaps God despised him. Maybe he doesn’t care about his suffering. God abhors his affliction, he can’t be near it, he can’t look upon it. He can’t bear to hear the roaring, so God hides his face from him. That’s the impression on the psalmist’s heart.
But guess what? That’s not what happened at all! God did not despise him. He did not abhor his affliction. He didn’t hide his face. God heard his cries. God heard his groaning, his roaring.
And this is what we wanted to know all along! We wanted to know that the opening cry of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” was only a perception! It was not the reality! God did not forsake him!
- Why are you so far from saving me? I’m not. I’m right here.
- Why are you so far from the words of my groaning? I hear all your groans.
- I cry by day but you do not answer! I am answering in my way and in my time, and it is an answer that is worthy of your highest praise.
- I cry to you by night, but I find no rest! Trust me. Lay your burdens upon me and I will give you a rest you cannot possibly imagine.
- I am despised, mocked, ridiculed. I will deliver you, and you will not be put to shame.
- I am a worm. No, don’t think that. I delight in you.
- I’ve lost heart. I am filled with pain. My will to live is gone. My strength is dried up. I am close to death, and you are the one digging my grave. That’s right. But even in death, I will deliver you. Death has no claim on you.
- My enemies are about to devour me. If they do, it’s by my hand, and I will still deliver you.
This is really hard for us to understand. The enemy doesn’t want us to understand. The enemy uses the weakness of our hearts and minds to make us believe the opposite of what is true about God. So let’s hear it again. God wasn’t absent. God did not wander far away. God had not abandoned him. God did not forsake him. He was with him, listening, watching, working, and delivering.
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.
Everything you thought was God’s negligence, his indifference, his absence, was not true. The pain, the suffering, the trial was all true, but God was there with you, and he was working. And we may not see how he is working until we enter his presence, but when we do, we will join David in praise.
Whatever it is you are facing in your life, God is not absent. He is not ignoring you. He knows your pain. He is intimately acquainted with the affliction that overshadows your life, whether it’s disease, terminal illness, financial trouble, business failure, addiction, mental illness, disability, grieving the loss of a child or loved one, or any other kind of hardship that’s fallen upon you or someone you love. God knows all about it. He knows how it affects you. You are his child, and he delights in you.
Others may abandon you. They may ignore you. They may avoid you because your suffering is abhorrent. But that’s not God’s response. He does not abhor the affliction of the afflicted. He is the one who delivers the affliction of the afflicted. He is holy. That means he despises the affliction that has come upon you. Yes, he may use it to shape you, but that doesn’t mean he is a God who likes affliction, or he’s indifferent to it. He’s holy. A holy God delivers us from affliction. He does not hide his face from us. He hears us. He hears our cries. He delivers. He is holy.
And generation upon generation of God’s people have testified to this. And they gather together — all who fear God, all the offspring of Jacob and Israel, and they raise their praises to God for his deliverance. They glorify God and stand in awe of him who hears us, who does not hide his face from us, for he is a God who does not despise the affliction of the afflicted.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
The congregation of the Israelites now grows to become a “great” congregation. We will see this great congregation defined in more detail as we move forward. But I will tell you now, this great congregation is you. You are part of it. And this is a future event of praise. It has yet to come.
In that day, when we are finally delivered, we will join the psalmist in this grand congregation, and we will raise our voices and our worship, and God will be enthroned upon our praises. We will praise him for his deliverance. We will praise him for hearing our cries. We will praise him for being a God who does not abhor our afflictions and hide his face from us.
And in the next, and final section of this psalm, we will see something that will make our heart sing and rejoice even more. What we are about to behold is a picture, an event that I can’t wait to participate in. It’s an event that gives me the greatest hope, the most strength, and relief from my affliction. Is it more praise? No. It’s something more, and it will take your breath away.
Episodes in the Psalm 22 series
There are 6 messages in this series on Psalm 22. This is a rich psalm filled with marvelous insight to encourage and comfort the suffering Christian. It provides some of the grandest truths in all of Scripture, Job-like in it’s intensity and Revelation-like in it’s hope. It starts in the deepest, darkest of pits, and rockets to stellar heights, all this in 31 verses of poetry. It’s my prayer that this psalm blesses your battered soul and causes you to rejoice in God in the midst of your afflictions.
- Part 1, Episode 8, Psalm 22: 1-5, The Darkest Hour in All of Scripture
- Part 2, Episode 9, Psalm 22: 6-11, A Battle-worn Faith
- Part 3, Episode 10, Psalm 22: 12-21, Cries & Desperation; How the Godly Suffer
- Part 4, Episode 11, Psalm 22: 22-24, He Has Hidden His Face
- Part 5, Episode 12, Psalm 22: 25, 26, The Peace Offering of the Afflicted
- Part 6, Episode 13, Psalm 22: 27-31, Even the One Who Could Not Keep Himself Alive