CQOD Special Archive
THE HUMANITY OF JESUS CHRIST,
AS REVEALED IN CERTAIN PSALMS
A. As of David
This psalm is so obviously descriptive of Jesus' sufferings on the cross that it is difficult to picture it as arising out of the life of David. We know of no period in David's life in which he experienced sufferings of the intensity that this psalm portrays. Nor did we suspect that David's vision and concerns embraced the entire world as described in the closing verses of the psalm. We can only suppose that the exaggerated, poetic language with which David expressed his experience proved to describe literally the experience of his Greater Son, Jesus.
Let us examine the structure and content of the psalm. It divides into two major sections: vv 1-21 contain the thoughts, complaints, feelings, and appeals of a person in deep suffering; verses 22-31 sing a song of victory, worship and praise. Let us examine each in detail.
Verses 1-21: This section divides again into two parts: vv 1-10 reveal the spiritual suffering of the author, and vv 12-21 describe his physical sufferings. Each part ends with an appeal to God for deliverance. This section is clearly the product of deep anguish: thoughts and feelings tumble out in the short, unconnected flashes of a tormented and confused mind. Here there is no careful logic or contrived poetic symmetry; we are confronted with the stream-of-consciousness of a suffering soul.
In vv 1 and 2 we find that God is seemingly absent in this time of suffering. The author feels forsaken by God; God is far from helping or even hearing his cries. Even worse, he is unable to comprehend why this is so. The key mood here is that of questioning and confusion.
This confusion is compounded because, as stated in vv 3-5, God has never failed to aid his people in their times of need. "Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded (RSV, disappointed)." (vv 4,5) The implication is that David feels disappointment in God and his "let down" feeling is worsened by recalling God's faithfulness to past generations.
In vv 6-8 we see that David's loneliness is intensified by the ridicule and mockery of the people. Apparently at some earlier time David had publicly expressed his trust in God's power to deliver him, and his "testimony" is now thrown back at him as a jeer. "He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him; let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him" (v 8) This gross humor at his expense makes David react. "But I am a worm, and no man." (v 6) Strange words for an anointed king, but suffering and mockery can have such devastating effects.
David's spiritual suffering is worsened because of its contrast with his lifelong fellowship with God, as described in vv 9 and 10. From the time of his childhood, David claims, he has known and trusted in God. Why, by implication, does God fail him at this, his greatest hour of need?
This part ends with an appeal "Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help."(v 11) Thus are his pitiful helplessness and loneliness laid at the feet of God.
The next part (vv 12-21) describes the physical sufferings of the author. Here our gaze alternates between the various tormentors and the physical condition and feelings of the tormented one.
The attackers are poetically described as vicious, menacing animals: strong bulls (v 13), roaring lions (v 13), dogs (vv 16, 20, 21), and the unicorn (RSV, wild oxen) (v 21). In various figures these are pictured as encircling David, tearing at him with their teeth, roaring at him, and gloating over their victim. In v 18, the figures are dropped, and we are told plainly, "They part my garments among them and cast lots upon my vesture."
David describes his physical condition: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and Thou hast brought me into the dust of death." (vv 14,15) "... they pierced my hands and my feet. I can feel all my bones..." (vv 16b,17a). As stated above, these are surely figurative exaggerations of David's condition. However, as we shall claim below, they could be a literal description of Jesus' sufferings on the cross.
This part, like the first one, ends with an appeal (vv 19-21). David again cries out to God for deliverance from his enemies.
Verses 22-31: The second section of the psalm, vv 22-31, is a song of victory, praise, and worship which anticipates God's responding to the appeals of the first section. David's ordeal and his deliverance from it are here seen as such an important event that it will be a source of blessing to not only the Jews but to the Gentile peoples as well.
Verses 22-26 are concerned with the Jews. We see in v 22 David's anticipation of again praising God and testifying to his righteous name before his brethren. "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee." He then calls upon them to join him in praise and worship on account of this deliverance. "For he hath not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither has he hid his face from him; but when he cried to him, he heard." (v 24)
The last part of the psalm anticipates world-wide effects out of these agonies. "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee." Thus the Gentiles, too, shall come to bless God through David's sufferings. Verses 28 and 29 declare that David's God is sovereign over all the world and that even the proud and mighty shall submit to God. Further generations shall hear and respond to God's righteousness. (vv 30,31)
Thus, David's ordeal is pictured as having effects which spread both in space and time to a large body of people. Surely here Peter's words are relevant: "Of which salvation the prophets inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow." (I Pet 1:10,11). For surely David's words, describing both the suffering and the glory to follow went far beyond his own situation and Psalm 22 literally described "the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that follow." Let us now reexamine the psalm as of Messianic origin.
B. As of Christ
Psalm 22 is quoted four times in the New Testament and all four quotations ascribe the psalm to Jesus. Three of the quotations (vv 1, 8, and 18) are connected with the crucifixion (Matt 27:46, 27:43, and 27:35, respectively, plus parallel passages in the other gospels), and one quotation (v 22, quoted in Heb 2:12) in connection with explaining some aspects of Jesus' work on the cross.
That this psalm describes Jesus' thoughts, feelings, and hopes while he was being crucified is, we feel, beyond doubt. His questioning cry from the cross, "My God, My God. Why hast thou forsaken me" is tantamount to citing the entire psalm as descriptive of his experiences at that time. Thus we should approach this psalm with awe and worship, realizing that we are dealing here with deep mysteries. How it could be that Jesus was made "to be sin for us" (II Cor. 5:9), how he "bore our sins in his own body on the tree" (I Pet.2:24) -- these and related questions are too large to explore here. What we learn from Psalm 22 is neither "why it was so" nor "what does it mean", but rather "what was it like." This subjective examination of the cross is the focus of our remarks to follow.
Several aspects of Jesus's suffering on the cross are vividly portrayed in the first part of the psalm. For one, we see the immense loneliness he suffered. Rejected and taunted by his own people (vv 6-8), surrounded and tortured by his enemies (vv 12-21), Jesus cries out to his God, who has always sustained him -- only to find himself abandoned here, too. Subjectively if not objectively, Jesus faced the consequences of sin alone.
We see also Jesus' confusion over his situation. No doubt he understood the night before why it was that he had to endure the cross, and certainly after the resurrection he taught his disciples extensively concerning the necessity of his suffering; but in the midst of the experience Jesus cries out, "Why?"
Note as well, Jesus' view of himself during this experience. "But I am a worm, and no man" (v 6). This self examination results, no doubt, from the ridicule of the passersby. Mockery is one of the cruelest forms of hatred, for it attacks one's self-respect. But Jesus' sense of worthlessness was surely amplified because he was bearing our sins, and he perhaps realized that there was some truth in the jeers of the crowd: that God did not delight in him and could not be expected to help.
We conclude that Jesus knows what it feels like to be a sinner. He experienced fully the aloneness of the sinner, alienated from God and from man as well, and he drank deeply the cup of guilt, feelings and all. This is one way in which Jesus was "made perfect through sufferings," (Heb 2:10) so that "he is able to succor them that are tempted". (Heb 2:18).
Verses 12-21 concentrate on the physical side of our Lord's suffering. According to C. Truman David, M.D., in a detailed examination of the medical aspects of the crucifixion1, Psalm 22 is vividly accurate in its description of the pains of a crucifixion. So far as a medical doctor can imagine, Psalm 22 described what it would feel like to be crucified.
In vv 22-26, attention turns away from the suffering toward its benefits to Jesus' "brethren." Jesus' desire was to declare God's name to his brethren. In Heb 2:11,12 we read "For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one [nature (that is, they are all men)]: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee." Thus Jesus' "brethren" are those who are sanctified, i.e, we who benefit from his passion. We note:
Finally, in vv 27-31, Jesus sees beyond the limits of the immediate to the wider fruits of his ordeal. The whole world shall hear the gospel and turn to the Lord (v 27), and future generations shall hear of these things (vv 30,31). This last section of the psalm reminds us of Heb 12:2: "Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." The "joy" that was set before Jesus was, we feel, knowing of the riches which would come to his brethren out of his death. In short, we are his joy, set before him when on the cross. As we have seen, only as the circle of the love of Jesus becomes world wide and as big as history will it be complete.
- Jesus' desire is to be to the church its teacher and revelation of God. His work is to declare God's name (his faithful and holy nature) to his brethren. This work he accomplished perfectly while on earth, "I have manifested thy name unto the men thou gavest me out of the world (John 17:6)," and this ministry he committed to the second Comforter when he left this earth.
- His desire for the church to praise, glorify, and fear (worship) God, because of what happened to Jesus (vv 23,24). It is our opinion that we cannot stress too much the praise and worship of God. To appreciate the love shown in the cross (in both senses) is to enter into the worship of the heavenly realm. When the church fails to appreciate the cross, then Jesus is robbed to that extent of the fruit of his travail.
- Jesus realized that they who approach God aright, meekly and with a seeking heart, shall receive good things from the Lord. He blesses such with "long life" (v 26).
1 "The Crucifixion of Jesus," New Wine, Vol.4 (Dec. 1972), pp2-5.
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