The 22nd Psalm & Its Dramatic Pause
Introduction: The recent rash of celebrity suicides breaks our hearts, for these people have achieved fame and fortune but haven’t found peace with God. They are overwhelmed with sorrow and despair. They feel abandoned by life. I’ve been fortunate, for I’ve never felt abandoned like that. I cannot think of a significant time in my life when I’ve felt truly abandoned or forsaken by someone I loved. Many people know what it’s like to have someone they love—dad, mom, husband, wife, friend—walk out on them. This is the way David felt in Psalm 22. This is a remarkable chapter of Scripture, for it is prophetic. Though written 1000 years before Christ, it describes the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus in exacting detail. But this Psalm also reflects the personal experience of its author, King David. In its immediate application, David was writing about himself. He was describing something he was going through. He was overwhelmed and he felt abandoned by the people he loved, by life itself, and by God.
The most jolting thing about Psalm 22 is its dramatic pause between verses 21 and 22. In verses 1-21, this man is overwhelmed. In verses 22-31, he is overjoyed. In verses 1-21, he is despairing of his problems. In verses 22-31, he is declaring the praise of His God. Learning what happens between verses 21 and 22 is not just the key to understanding this Psalm; it is the secret to understanding life itself.
1. Being Overwhelmed (Psalm 22:1-21)
Verse 1: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Jesus quoted this verse from the cross. He knew Psalm 22:1, and it expressed how He felt on Calvary. But in its original context, this was the cry of David. He felt God had abandoned him. We don’t know his exact circumstances, but we know they were terrible. David went on to say: Why are You so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I call out by day, but You do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. This man is exhausted. He hasn’t been able to rest. He hasn’t been able to sleep at night. He feels anguish and abandonment.
Verse 3: David is having trouble reconciling his theology with his experience: Yet You are enthroned as the Holy One, you are the one Israel praises. We have a God who inhabits our praises, but what if we don’t have praises to offer? What if our joy is overwhelmed by pain?
Verse 4: In You our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were saved; in You they trusted and were not put to shame. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. In other words, “Lord, You dwell among the people who praise You, and You help those who put their trust in You. But my life is falling apart, everyone despises me, and You have turned Your back on me. I feel like a worm.”
Verse 7: All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. How do you feel when someone looks at you and shakes their heads in derision, as though belittling and mocking you?
Verse 8: “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let Him deliver him, since he delights in him.” People were insulting this man and his faith in God. When was the last time someone made fun of your faith in Christ? The verb, “trusts,” is a Hebrew word meaning, “to roll.” It conveys the idea of rolling a burden from one place to another. When we trust the Lord, we are rolling our burdens onto the Lord. It is a visual word.
Verse 9: Yet You brought me out of the womb; You made me trust in You, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb You have been my God. David grew up trusting God. He followed the example of his godly mother. He had never known a time when he wasn’t trusting God. But now, everything was going wrong and overwhelming his faith.
Verse 11: Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Bashan is an area on the Golan Heights populated by wild bulls with long horns that could kill a man. I remember walking in a field and turning around to find a big black bull, eyeing me, pawing the ground. All I could do was slowly back toward the fence and get away from that animal. David felt he was surrounded by problems and by people like that. In the next verse he uses the word “lions” to describe his problems.
Verse 13: Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me.” David envisions another animal to describe his adversaries.
Verse 14: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You lay me in the dust of death. All of this was taking a physical toll on him. When we get overwhelmed it affects us physically.
Verse 16: Dogs surround me; a pack of villains encircles me; their pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment. It’s impossible to read this without thinking of Jesus, suffering for us on the cross, but remember—while this is a prophetic portion of Scripture, it also reflected the personal experience of the person originally writing it.
Verse 19: But You, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
Here was a person utterly overwhelmed, abandoned. The other day I read the story of Washington at Valley Forge, and I wondered how a human being could withstand the pressure of those terrible, cold, discouraging days. His troops were freezing. His men were deserting. They didn’t have clothing. They didn’t have food. The capital at Philadelphia had fallen. The British occupied the city, including Independence Hall. The Revolutionary War seemed as good as over and defeat seemed inevitable. It was only the resolve of George Washington and his faith in God’s Providence that kept him from personal collapse. All Washington could do was to ride into a little grove of the woods, kneel among the trees, and pray. Sometimes the problems and pressures of life overwhelm us.
2. Being Overjoyed (Psalm 22:22-31)
But as Washington found out, the war isn’t over yet. For 21 verses this man has been despairing, and now he is declaring. The last ten verses of Psalm 22 are like another Psalm altogether. There is a dramatic change of tone in verse 22.
Verse 22: I will declare Your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise You. You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him! Revere Him, all you descendants of Israel! For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; He has not hidden His face from him but has listened to his cry for help. The first part of the Psalm begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And now the second part of the Psalm begins, “I will declare Your name… I will praise you…!”
Verse 25: From You comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear You I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise Him—may your hearts live forever! Every other word is praise! Praise, praise, praise!
Verse 27: All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before Him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn; He has done it!
What an intriguing last word: IT! He has done IT! What is IT? Generation after generation, people born and unborn, throughout all of human history will declare, “Praise the Lord! He has done IT!”
What is IT? For 21 verses this man was in total despair. He had been forsaken. And then suddenly for ten verses He is bursting with praise and exuberance and enthusiasm and worship. What happened to him between verses 21 and 22? What caused the tremendous change in His composition?
There are two possible answers. First, maybe his circumstances changed. Perhaps God had mercy on him and answered his prayer and swept away his problems and resolved his difficulties. The Lord is good about doing that.
But there is a second option. Perhaps this man’s circumstances didn’t change at all, but his attitude did. He managed to turn his burdens over to the Lord. He managed to roll his situation over to God, and in the process the deep anguish in his heart was relieved. This is the most difficult lesson I’ve tried to learn in the Christian faith. God wants us to roll our anxious cares over to Him and to live our lives with a certain sense of joy despite our problems, because that is the essence of the life of faith.
The lesson of Psalm 22 is that God will never leave us or forsake us. Even when we feel abandoned or forsaken or forgotten, the Lord will never do that. Sometimes He changes our circumstances, and sometimes He strengthens our faith; but, in any case, He wants to move us from despairing to declaring; from being overwhelmed to being overjoyed.
Conclusion: Let’s circle back to the final word of verse 22—IT. Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! What is IT?
This Psalm represents David’s personal experience; it also contains Messianic prophecy. This Psalm is all about Jesus. Verses 1-21 describe His crucifixion in exacting detail; and then a great change occurs. A dramatic pause, followed by endless, exuberant praise What could have happened between verses 21 and 22? Whatever it was provides the reason our attitudes and our circumstances can and will truly change by God’s power and providence. What happened between verses 21 and 22 is the powerful force in the universe. What was “IT”?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday! What else! We can read that between the lines because it is impossible to miss.
On Thursday night of Passion Week, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus rolled His burden onto the Father and said, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” On Friday afternoon, suspended on the cross, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He died for our sins. He shed His blood for our atonement. He was wrapped in a shroud and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, but only for three days. Then, in the greatest exhibition of power the universe has ever seen, “up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph over His foes.” He showed Himself alive with many infallible proofs, and He ascended to heaven where He resumed His place on the throne of God. One day, and soon, He will come again as He promised. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture; He was buried; and He rose again on the third day according to the Scripture.”
Because of the resurrection of Christ we can have an immediate change in our attitudes; and an ultimate and permanent change in our circumstances as God, in His timing, will turn all our curses into blessings.
Let me suggest a exercise. This might seem extreme to you, but consider it. What if you took two pieces of paper. On one of them you wrote out the words of Psalm 22:1-21. It might take you about 10 or 15 minutes. Ponder each word and write it in pen and ink. Then, on a separate sheet of paper, write out verses 22-32. Again, ponder each word. Pray over these pages, and then put them on the floor. Step on the page and tell the Lord honestly, “Here is where I am. Help me to step out of this condition.” And then, by faith, roll your burden onto the Lord and take a step and plant your feet on the second page. Choose to live in the last ten verse of this Psalm. Choose to live in resurrection victory. Oh, how I wish the celebrities we read about this week would have done this.
You’ve lived long enough in verses 1-21. Jesus took all that for you, so you can live in verses 22-31, so you can live in Resurrection Victory. Will you take that step?
The Bible says, “What can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? No. In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor power nor things present nor things to things to come nor height nor depth nor anything thing else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the Lord of God, which is in the Lord Jesus Christ who rose from the grave and will never abandon or forsake us.
And that is IT.