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FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.
THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- PSALMS 1-50--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS
Note: Throughout this commentary God’s Name is represented as YHWH in accordance with the Hebrew text. LXX represented it as kurios (‘Lord’). It is in fact a name that was seen as so sacred that no one ever pronounced it. Thus how to do so has been forgotten. Yahweh is probably the nearest best guess, although others suggest Yohweh. Jehovah is a corruption of it, which arose from the fact that the Jews put the vowel signs of adonai (Lord) to the consonants YHWH so that (to a Hebraist) the name was unpronounceable. The reader would then read it as adonai.
‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.’
This Psalm is offered to the person responsible for the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and is of the Davidic collection. ‘To (or ‘for’) David’ may indicate that it was dedicated to David, written for the Davidic house, or even written by David himself.
The Psalm falls into two parts indicating a twofold revelation of God. The first part speaks of His revelation in nature. God is revealed in nature in the fullness of His glory and power, and in this connection He is ‘God’ (El), the God of Creation. The second speaks of His revelation through His word, and in this connection He is ‘YHWH’, the God of covenant, the One Who instructs His own and is faithful to them. The first part declares His majestic splendour, and His goodness in His overall provision for man, the second His moral beauty and intimate concern for morality in the giving of His Law, His ‘Instruction’. The first calls for worship, the second for responsive obedience.
God Speaks Through Nature (19.1-6).
The psalmist tells us that as we behold the glory of the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars, and the wonder of the expanse above, with its splendid panoply of glistening blue, they declare to us God’s glory. Their beauty, splendour and vastness reveal something of what He is. Their very construction reveals his creativity and skill.
From surveying the heavens, says the Psalmist, we can understand something of God’s greatness, of His orderly power and control, and of the fact that He is the source of all earthly beauty and splendour. And finally we understand the idea that He is far above all.
Here we learn that every day has something new to say to us about God, every starlit night gives us greater knowledge of Him. The daylight, centred on the sun, reveals to us His created beauty, His intricate design, His sense of order, the darkness reveals a sense of mystery and yet through the moon and the stars we enjoy the certainty that all is in its place and that God has not forgotten us.
That is why Paul could say, ‘The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Godhead.’ (Romans 1.20).
So central to the Psalmist’s revelation is that creation speaks to us constantly, bringing discernment and knowledge about the divine as God applies their lesson to our inward spirit, and that both day and night constantly proclaim Him and make Him known to the responsive heart.
‘Day to day utters (literally ‘pours out’) speech.’ Each day the message of the glory of God flows out abundantly to those who will hear, from every part of creation.
‘And night to night shows knowledge.’ And when the day is over contemplation of the night sky grants to us an awe and reverence as we behold its splendour and teaches us His mighty power, for the moon is steady in it purpose and regulates the months, and each star remains in its place and moves in measurable ways.
They do not speak in human tongue, for then they would only have a limited message for some. They are not heard through a human voice. Rather do they speak a universal language, a permanent word that never ceases. Their quiet splendour and silent eloquence ensure that we are never tired of listening to them, and cannot avoid them.
Thus does their message reach out to the whole earth, to the end of the world. ‘Their line’ here refers to the measuring line (Jeremiah 31.39; Zechariah 1.16), going out and measuring the sphere in which God is active through them, and ‘their words’ express their universal influence as they reveal His glory.
The use of the measuring line was always a symbol of God about to act (Ezekiel 40.3; Zechariah 1.16; 2.1-2).
And central to all this influence and activity is the sun that He has created. No god this, but an instrument of His pleasure, provided with its tent, its chamber, (that is, the place from which it can come forth), like a man emerging from his tent in the morning and a bridegroom appearing in all his splendour and triumph from the bridal chamber (Isaiah 61.10). This is how it appeared to man as he saw it rise and set. Like a man rises at sunrise and leaves his tent so does the sun rise for its day’s labour. Its ‘tent’ refers simply to wherever it comes from, described in picturesque language and in human terms.
And then like a strong man it fulfils its potential, it runs its course, from one end of heaven to the other, and nothing avoids its heat. It warms all that is, with none preventing it. It is God’s gracious provision for man’s welfare.
The whole vivid picture considers things as man sees them every day. Here is the whole panoply of creation, and here the sun rising and appearing in its splendour, making its way across the heavens, warming up the earth, reaching to every corner, and then, having performed its duty, setting in the west. For nothing is more prominent in the work of creation than the sun, set by God to play its part as ‘the greater light’ (Genesis 1.16). And nothing more effective in doing His will for the benefit of man.
So sun, moon and stars and the whole of heaven are a permanent reminder of the glory of God, and of His wondrous handiwork and gracious provision. It is a living work of art, a glorious spectacle of beauty and effectiveness and purpose. And it makes warm the whole earth and fills it with light.
But there is also something else that arises every morning and goes out through all the world and constantly brings to man light and heat and beauty and splendour, and that is ‘the word of YHWH’ as revealed in and taught from the Scriptures. They too declare the glory of God and reveal His handiwork (verse 1), they too speak and give knowledge (verse 2), they too warm the earth (verse 6), they too provide for the deepest needs of man.
God Speaks Through His Word And Covenant (19.7-11).
For the Instruction (torah - law) of YHWH is total and complete and fully fitted for its work of daily restoring and warming the soul, and the testimony of YHWH is certain and effective in making the simple wise. The ‘simple’ are not the foolish, rather are they those whose hearts are open, whose minds are not cluttered up with worldly wisdom, and who are therefore ready and fitted to receive His word. (The word is paralleled in Proverbs 1.4 with ‘the young man’). They can be likened to the children whose minds were so unfettered that they were ready to respond to the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 10.15). They are a reminder that God reveals Himself to those who are uncluttered by their own cleverness. Until we stop arguing we will never see Him.
The ‘Instruction of YHWH’ was the name applied to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, seen as God’s wider covenant. But here it refers not only to the words themselves but to their application through men of God who are faithful to that word, and above all through His Spirit. The Scriptures, however, remain the perfect standard. In the end what is written is written. (Thus the constant refrain, ‘it is written’). The ‘Testimony’ refers to its bearing witness to YHWH, to What He is, and what He requires, and What He will do on man’s behalf, that men may know Him and be enabled to walk in His will.
Note the transition from ‘God’ to ‘YHWH’, the covenant name. These benefits are for those who hear and respond to Him in His covenant, those whose pleasure it is to do His will as their sovereign Lord.
The ‘precepts of YHWH’, the injunctions that YHWH lays down, are fully right, and they bring rejoicing to the heart, for our God-given conscience totally approves of them. Each commandment of YHWH is pure, bringing knowledge and understanding and perception so that man sees what is true. Not a yod or tittle of the Instruction will fail until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5.18). Thus are they beloved of the righteous who desire them above all things (compare Psalm 119.35, 40, 47, 77, 97, 103-4, 127-8).
In parallel with instruction, testimony, precepts, commandment and ordinances, the ‘fear of YHWH’ refers to God’s word as that which fills men with awe and reverence, which imparts the fear of YHWH which gives wisdom and understanding (Job 28.28; Psalm 111.10; Proverbs 1.7). The ‘fear of YHWH’ is here the awe-inspiring word (see Deuteronomy 4.10). It is clean and pure, free of all that would taint it, and thus itself cleanses and purifies, and it goes on for ever. There is nothing of corruption in it. It is of the other world, not of this one.
The ‘ordinances of YHWH’, the requirements that God lays down, are altogether true and righteous in their totality.
So God’s word as given to His people is here exalted as being of greater benefit than the sun, and as going deeper, for while the sun is an external blessing, God’s word reaches to the very heart of man.
In mind here are all that are spoken of in verses 7-9. God’s whole word as revealed in His instruction, His testimony, His precepts, His commandments, His fear, and His ordinances is of greater value than much pure gold, and is sweeter than the sweetest honey from the honeycomb. ‘The droppings’ are the honey that exudes naturally, the very sweetest of the honey.
Note the emphasis. God’s teaching is more desirable, not only than gold or even fine gold, but than much fine gold. They are the riches of Heaven. And it is sweeter than anything otherwise known to man.
And not only are they desirable, they are also vital to our welfare. For they warn us of what will bring us under God’s displeasure, and by observing them and putting them into practise we will receive great reward, both in this world and that which is to come (1 Timothy 4.8). They will make life fuller and more glorious (Proverbs 22.4), bringing peace and deep satisfaction (1 Timothy 6.6), and the fullness of the blessings of God.
The Resulting Prayer For Deliverance From Sin And Declaration Of God’s Total Reliability (19.12-14).
But the Psalmist admits that although he delights in Yahweh’s Instruction there are still errors and sins in his life that he is not easily aware of. For he is so sinful that even God’s Instruction cannot cover all his sins. So he prays that he may be cleansed from what is hidden, his faults of which he is not aware. He wants God to put him in the right before Him because he himself, as far as he is able, looks to Him and lives according to His word.
Indeed he prays that God will keep him, as God’s true servant, from sinning presumptuously. In context this surely means from deliberately disobeying His Instruction. That he does not want to do. Although he recognises that he does sin unwittingly, for he longs to be delivered from the dominion of sin, he wants to be delivered from a wayward heart. We can compare here Paul in Romans 7. It is the attitude of heart and mind that must be right, and then the rest will follow, depending on God’s forgiveness and His activity within (12b, 13a).
It should be noted here that the Psalmist makes clear that his only hope is that God will act in His life. Without that he will have no hope of being true. It is in the end to God that he looks for deliverance.
And the result will be that he will be upright, and will be clear from ‘great transgression’, the kind of sin that finally destroys, sin that is deliberate and habitual (see Numbers 15.30-31). Such sin ‘rules over’ men (John 8.34; Romans 6.12-14) and results in judgment.
‘Presumptious’, that is, ‘whatever is presumptious’, whether sins or actions, which result from pride and arrogance, and are a deliberate flouting of God’s law.
So does he want to be right in mouth and heart so as to behave in a way that is totally acceptable to God. And he finishes with the heartfelt prayer that in both the words of his mouth and the thoughts of his heart he might be acceptable in God’s sight. He recognises that it is what is in the heart that defiles a man (Mark 7.20-23). As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23.7). And that from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12.34), so that by our words we will be accounted righteous or condemned (Matthew 12.37).
‘Be acceptable.’ The word connects with acceptability with God achieved through sacrifice (Leviticus 1.3, 4). He desires that his words and thoughts be acceptable offerings to God, free from all taint and blemish.
For YHWH is his rock and his redeemer, and his desire is to please Him. The idea of the rock is of a solid and sure foundation (18.1; Isaiah 26.4 in context), and includes the idea of protection (Isaiah 32.2). The idea of a ‘redeemer’ is of one who acts on another’s behalf, delivering from bondage and from sin, and ensuring his reinstatement in blessing and favour, by the expenditure of saving effort and/or by the payment of a price.
This short Psalm is a cry that God will faithfully respond to His own in the day of trouble. Such a day of trouble has apparently come and the appeal is threefold, firstly for YHWH to act in response to the past faithfulness of His people, secondly, because of YHWH’s own trustworthiness as their covenant God, and thirdly and finally because He is their King.
It may be that we are to see it as in the form of prayer and response. First the leading intercessor makes his declaratory petition (verses 1-4). Then the people respond (5 a-b). Then again the leader speaks (5c), followed by further response (6-8; verse 6 may be the response of the high priest alone) and concluding with a final plea for deliverance (9).
This is another Psalm offered to the organiser of the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and dedicated to David. The prayer is for God to aid the Davidic king, giving him victory against the enemies of God’s people.
The Leading Intercessor Speaks To The People By Way Of Intercession (20.1-4).
We note here the singular ‘you’. The reference is probably to the whole people seen as one. Or it may be spoken to the king as representing the people. Either way it was probably spoken in the tabernacle/temple precincts while sacrifices were being offered (verse 3), in a day of trouble, possibly when news had come of raids on their territory and possibly more. We do not all suffer from those now, but we do suffer the encroachments of another Enemy.
The leading petitioner (who may be the anointed Prince, or the High Priest) appeals for Yahweh to help them (the people) on the day of trouble that has come on them, and to set them in a place of safety and victory. Reference to ‘the God of Jacob’ may recognise that they are like Jacob, the weak and failing side of Jacob/Israel, but at the same time stressing that they are looking to His mercy, precisely because He was the God of Jacob, the weak and failing one who yet proved his strength with God. Or they may be proudly naming their ancestor, and reminding God that they are descended from one who was His chosen, and that they are His chosen in him. Either way the appeal is that He will establish them ‘on high’, in the place of honour and victory.
‘The name of the God of Jacob set you up on high.’ That is, God as He is revealed through His name.
The deliverance is looked for ‘from the sanctuary’, that is from the invisible God acting from Heaven through His throne over the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH in the Holiest of All. They look for strengthening (‘a holding up’) in their endeavours, in all they sought to do, a ‘holding up’ coming out of Mount Zion, the earthly dwellingplace of God, on which the Tabernacle or Temple stands.
The assumption is that God will hear and answer their cry because by His own choice He has taken up His dwelling among His people, and because He is their God Who has elected to make a covenant with them, and their prince is His anointed one (verse 6), His chosen.
So as the offerings for YHWH’s aid are offered, the petitioner appeals to God to remember all their past offerings which have revealed them as His true covenant people, and to especially note these that are now being offered. The offerings are both an admission of sin, a means of atonement and a token of rededication to God’s covenant. To ‘remember’ them will be to act in response to them
‘All your offerings.’ Possibly in mind are the meal offerings (mincha - ‘gift’) which accompanied sacrifices. Also the ‘burnt offering’ (‘whole offering’, i.e. wholly consumed by fire) which was wholly offered to YHWH. These two composed the daily morning and evening offering (Exodus 29.38-42; Numbers 28.3-8). But they were also offered at other times as well, and the fact that the meal offerings are plural suggests that this is referring to extra offerings possibly resulting from the crisis. ‘Accept as fat’ means to treat it as acceptable. The fat was an important part of the offering.
For sacrificial offerings made specifically in preparation for war see 1 Samuel 7.9-10; 13.9-12 and Jeremiah 6.4 which speaks of ‘sanctifying a war’.
The speaker’s final petition is that they will receive what they desire from their hearts, and will be prospered in what they have decided to do in order to deal with the problem on hand.
The People’s Response (20.5a).
The people make response by declaring their faith and confidence that He will deliver, thus causing them to triumph, and proclaim that it is in His name that they will set up their banners. Firstly it will be in faith, in readiness for their victorious assaults against the enemy with Him on their side, and then, once their faith is rewarded, in revealing the victory after the battle. All would be one in declaring their confidence in YHWH.
The Original Petitioner Then Adds His ‘Amen’ (20.5b).
The leading petitioner then takes over stating his confident hope that YHWH their God will fulfil all their petitions. This is followed by a confident declaration that God will respond to His anointed prince and give him the strength required for victory.
This Could Be A Declaration of Faith From The Original Petitioner or From The High Priest (20.6).
This could be the continuation of the words of the leading petitioner, or the words of the High Priest. Either way his confidence is that YHWH will save His anointed (the Davidic Prince), delivering him from his foes by answering from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand (by exerting His strongest power) and giving him victory. ‘Has saved’ is expressing the certainty that it will be so. Alternately ‘His anointed’ may mean the people as a whole.
The People Again Respond Asserting Their Total Dependence on YHWH (20.7-9).
The contrast is then made between them and their opponents, and indeed them and all the world. Whereas others trust in chariots and horses, and in all their other weaponry and worldly resources, God’s people trust in the name of YHWH their God. That is, they believe in what He is as represented by His name. His name, and what He is, will be their battlecry and their boast. They need nothing else. Although they will arm themselves as adequately as they are able, they recognise that without Him they can do nothing. Faith, however, is no excuse for lack of effort. In the words of Cromwell, they trust in God and keep their powder dry.
That they have made a sensible choice comes out in the fact that the chariots and horses will fail their enemies so that they will bow down and fall (seen as already accomplished). While through their confidence in the name of YHWH they know that they themselves will, after the battle, arise and stand upright.
The Psalm ends with a firm plea to the covenant King. Let Him save, by answering them when they call. Alternately it may be a plea to YHWH to save, by means of their king responding when they call, but the former is more likely.
The general principle behind the Psalm can be applied to all God’s people when they face trouble. They can call on God to help them through His Anointed Who is with them, and be certain of God’s victory in whatever way He pleases to send it.
‘For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.’
This is another Psalm offered to the organiser of the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and dedicated to David. There is much in it that suggests that it was written by David, for it was to David that the promise was given that his house would continue for ever. It may be seen as a song of victory following the petition of Psalm 20. It is a song of triumph for the king and for the everlasting blessing that the Davidic house will bring. It can therefore also be seen as looking ahead to the Greater David, the Messiah Jesus Christ. The Targum (Aramaic paraphrase read out in the Synagogue) paraphrases ‘king’ in verses 1 & 7 as ‘King Messiah’.
We may therefore see this psalm in three ways.
Praise and Worship Is Offered To YHWH For His Goodness And Faithfulness Towards His Anointed (21.1b-7).
The psalmist declares that the king will rejoice in YHWH’s strength, especially His strength as revealed in His great deliverance on behalf of His people, because He has given them victory. As God’s anointed God has blessed him by revealing His saving power through him, and he can now rejoice in the fulfilment of the promises given to him as God’s chosen one. So should all rejoice who find themselves being used as His instruments as God goes before them to give them victory, although often only after the battle has been fierce.
Jesus Messiah also rejoiced in His Father’s strength and wisdom, and in the wonder of His salvation as worked out through Himself (Luke 10.20-22; John 12.28).
For YHWH has given to His king the desire of his heart, victory over his enemies and the enemies of God’s people. He has not withheld from him anything of what he requested. Selah. ‘Think of that!’ Think also of the fact that in the end all triumphs by the people of God are due to Him.
This psalm is a reminder to us that the Davidic king was ever seen as having the responsibility of being a chief intercessor on behalf of his people, for as king of Jerusalem he was seen as a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110.4), responsible before God for the welfare of the city. This would also be why he was to have a special place in Ezekiel’s heavenly temple (Ezekiel 44.3).
How much more then will that be true of the Great Intercessor, the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek described in Hebrews, (see Hebrews 6.20 and regularly in the letter), Who makes intercession continually on behalf of His own.
It is a reminder that we too should never forget to rejoice in God when He hears and answers our prayers.
Indeed God goes to meet the king with ‘the blessings of goodness’. This probably signifies ‘the blessings that come from the goodness of God’. These blessings include his crown of fine gold, a symbol of his prosperity and victory, and the longevity promised to the house of David.
Kings were regularly greeted with the words, ‘May the king live for ever’ (1 Kings 1.31; Nehemiah 2.3). The thought was that he might have long days and be succeeded by his sons. Here that is extended to ‘forever and ever’. It is never to cease. The exaltation is in the fact that he is the chosen of YHWH, Who will give him long life and will give to him through his seed an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7.16).
‘You set a crown of fine gold on his head.’ There may be an allusion here to 2 Samuel 12.30 as an illustration of the glory that He constantly gave him in the defeat of his enemies. It possibly especially has in mind the crown of gold he had received from the enemy he had recently defeated. For it was customary for the victor to take the defeated king’s crown. But it may rather simply indicate that he was God’s anointed and therefor crowned with the finest of crowns.
‘He asked life of you, you gave it to him, even length of days for ever and ever.’ Compare 61.5-6. Long life was always the request of kings both for their own sake, and because it was thought to evidence their righteousness. It was especially important in view of the fact that a king’s death could bring hardship on his people, especially if his successors were weak or quarrelsome (compare also Hezekiah’s concern in Isaiah 38.10-20 and see Exodus 23.26; 1 Kings 3.11-14; Proverbs 3.1-2 in respect of length of days). So the king is given ‘length of days’. But here the thought would seem to include life through a long and successful dynasty, ensuring the effective continuation of his rule (2 Samuel 7.12-16).
But far more wonderfully was it fulfilled in the One Who was crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2.9) and Whom God raised from the dead that He might be our everlasting King (Acts 2.24, 32-36) and give us life for evermore.
Further benefits that the king receives are now described. He gets great glory from the recent deliverance as plaudits are poured on him, honour and majesty are bestowed on him as a result of his conquest, as kings submit their kingdoms to him, but most importantly he continues in the everlasting blessing of God, revealed in continual triumphs, and enjoys gladness and joy in the presence of God. He enjoys peace with God and peace for his kingdom. No one ever loses by their faithfulness to God.
For the success of the king is evidence of the divine favour, so that he basks in His glory, and as a truly righteous king walks in the light of His presence (see 4.6; 16.11; 89.15; 140.13).
How much more then is the eternal glory poured out on the King Messiah Who receives all these things in even greater abundance as He takes His throne in Heaven, with all being made subject to Him. For glory, honour and majesty are divine attributes (8.1, 5; 104.1).
‘For you make him most blessed for ever.’ This is literally ‘you make him blessings for ever’ (compare Genesis 12.2). He is not only blessed but he dispenses blessing and is the source of blessing to his people. The people are themselves blessed in the success of their king, both because his success brings peace and joy, and because it brings stability and wealth. And of none was this more true in the spiritual sphere than with the King of Kings.
And all this results from the king’s faith in God. It is because he trusts in YHWH, and through His lovingkindness, that nothing can move or defeat him. It is his trust in God that is the foundation of his success.
Again we see how true this also was of the King Messiah, for He too trusted His Father fully, and was confident in His mercy and goodness. That was the root of His own success. And it gained Him the victory.
Attention Now Turns To The King Declaring His Reward and His Success Because He Trusts In YHWH (21.8-12).
The consequence of his faith is that the king will root out and defeat all his enemies. Neither their subtlety nor their strength will succeed against him. Wherever they hide he will discover them. Whatever their plots he will know of them. Compare Psalm 2.
There is also here the assurance that those who are God’s can always be sure that He will watch over them, and that He will know all that there is to know about their enemies.
And finally there is here the guarantee that the King Messiah will finally triumph over all His enemies who will not be able to avoid His searching eye. As the next verse makes clear, they will be brought into fiery judgment before Him.
For God’s anger, His antipathy to sin, is aroused against the enemies of His people, because their very sinfulness is revealed in their desire to attack those who are faithful to Him. That is why He allow their enemies’ cities to be burned and the fires to destroy them. For He will enable the king to capture their cities and make them like a blazing furnace, and when the king personally arrives (the time of his countenance) and reveals his anger at their behaviour against God’s people, they will be swallowed up before the face of God’s anointed, and this will be in accordance with God’s will. For God’s wrath is revealed, as well as the king’s, because He is determined that He will protect His own who obey His covenant and reveal their love for Him and His ways, against all that would come against them. That then is why He will allow the fire to devour their enemies. Fire is often used in Scripture as a metaphor for the wrath of God (see e.g. Exodus 19.18; Hebrews 12.29; Revelation 1.14; and often).
While in our day this may seem ferocious we must remember that the people then lived in dangerous circumstances in dangerous days. Enemies were ever likely to swoop on them in order steal their possessions, rape their wives, burn their cities, destroy their crops and slay their children (especially the males), taking over their land, and either driving them out or exacting penal tribute (See Judges for examples). The only alternative was for their armies to get in first and prevent it.
But as Scripture constantly reveals God does not directly intervene in the details of world affairs. He carries out His will by controlling men’s overall activity, leaving the details to men themselves. Thus Nebuchadnezzar could be His servant (Jeremiah 25.9; 27.6) in spite of the terrible things he did. God was not responsible for the terrible things. He did not interfere with the detail. He had final overall direction as to what was or was not accomplished.
And the result will be that the ‘fruit’ of their enemy, their sons and daughters (Lamentations 2.20), will be destroyed from the face of the earth by the king and his armies. Their seed will be destroyed from among the children of men. This would ensure the future, for it was only by rendering the enemy weak that they could be subdued and prevented from being a constant threat.
And the king’s success in all this mirrors the success of King Messiah when He comes to judge the world.
For, as he points out here, these peoples that have been attacked by the king were not innocent. They had intended evil against them. They were constantly plotting and planning their raids. And the only reason that their plans failed was because the king got in first. That is the reason that they were not able to ‘perform’ their ‘devices’. So do we learn that God can deal with all our enemies, whatever their schemes, if we respond to what He asks of us.
21.12 ‘For you will make them turn their back,
Thus the enemy will not be able to stand against them, but will turn their back to them, while their own bowstrings will cause havoc and devastation among the enemy. Their victory will be certain because God is with His anointed.
We are reminded here that God may allow chastening for His people for a little while, but He will not allow them finally to be destroyed. He will guide us in the use of whatever weapons we possess so as to discomfit our enemies.
A Final Cry is Now Made Directly To YHWH (21.13).
21.13 ‘Be exalted, O YHWH, in your strength,
And their final plea is that YHWH might be exalted, revealing His strength. Thus will they be able to sing and praise His power. In the end it is the glory of God that matters, not the success of men, and it is that which should be our main concern, and it should always lead us to praise and worship.
As we come to this psalm we can only stop and wonder. For if we had found it as a fragment with no date attached in some Egyptian papyrus pile we would instantly have assigned its first half as a description of the crucifixion of Jesus (see Meditation following the commentary on the Psalm). The coincidences, we would have said, are too marked, the details too certain, for us to do otherwise. And this would be further supported by the fact that the consequences of the prayer of the one described here is the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God over the ‘poor/meek’ (verse 26; compare Matthew 5.3, 5) and over the nations (verse 28).
And yet we know that it was written hundreds of years before He was born. We can only therefore consider it in awe and reverence as we consider its background and its source, and recognise in it God’s means of describing the sufferings of His Son long before the event, a description brought about through the experiences and ideas of the Psalmist.
The psalm is split into two major parts, parts which are in total contrast.
It is clear that we are to see the one as leading on to the other.
Various suggestions about its origin have been made. Some have seen in it the words of a man caught up in some dreadful and debilitating sickness, others as the words of a Davidic king being pursued and in despair, possibly even David himself, seemingly defeated and pressed in by the enemy, having lost hope, and also having lost the confidence of a majority of the people, with the leading men of the people having turned against him in scorn, and captivity and death staring him in the face. In the course of his nightmare he sees himself as a hunted animal, and visualises his final capture and the ignominious treatment that will be meted out to him. Possibly he visualises it in terms of some great chase during a hunt, when the hunted animal is subjected to a cruel death, and applying the idea to himself he cries out for deliverance.
Yet others see it as an ‘ideal’ picture of the righteous sufferer, describing the multitude of ways that such might suffer in the world preparatory to the bringing in of God’s righteous kingly rule. It may be compared in this way with Isaiah 53. And still others have seen it as the cry of the people of God in the awfulness of exile.
But as with Isaiah 53 it might be thought that any suggestion that takes away from it the idea of the awful sufferings of some particular individual must be wide of the mark, for the intensity of suffering is too real, and the despair too deep, for it to come from any other than personal experience.
Certainly the heading connects the psalm with the house of David. We might well therefore see it as initially true of David himself in the days of his persecution by Saul, or of one of his descendants in a time of great crisis and defeat. Its inclusion in worship would then show that it could be seen as continuing to apply to the house of David as it went through its traumas of history. At any time they could find themselves facing a similar experience, and could have the same hope. For YHWH was the deliverer of the weak and helpless in the face of the enemy.
And as such it can above all be interpreted Messianically, (as it is also at Qumran), as preparing for the day when great David’s greater Son will endure precisely such contradiction of sinners against Himself, for it was later recognised that the Son of Man must emerge from suffering to receive his throne (Daniel 7.14), and that the Messiah would be cut off and would have nothing (Daniel 9.25). It clearly also links with the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.
That Jesus applied the psalm to Himself is clear from His cry on the cross (Mark 15.34) which cites the first verse of the psalm, and John sees further fulfilment of it in terms of the distribution of Jesus’ clothing (verse 18 with John 19.24), while the words of those who put him to scorn are paralleled by bystanders at the cross. That there are many parallels between the Psalm and Jesus’ experience on the cross we will see as we consider the psalm in detail. For here we have God writing the story prior to the event.
That Israel and Judah would also apply it to their own sufferings could also be guaranteed, but that does not necessarily signify that that was its source. That was the purpose of Psalms, to be applied to many cases. The Psalm may well, however, have been the inspiration for the expressions of suffering in Isaiah and Jeremiah as they recognised that God’s purposes would be achieved through suffering, especially in Isaiah’s vision of a suffering exalted One (Isaiah 52.13-15).
‘For the Chief Musician; set to Aijeleth hash-Shahar. A Psalm of David.’
This is yet another Psalm offered to the organiser of the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and dedicated to David. As such it was intended to aid the worship of Israel, something which must be borne in mind when seeking to interpret its significance. It was intended to have a message for its day.
The tune Aijeleth hash-Shahar means ‘hind of the dawn’. If it indicated a hind stirred at break of day by the horns of the huntsmen, having to endure the chase and to die under the teeth of the hunting dogs and the spears of the huntsmen, exhausted and in complete hopelessness, it would be very fitting. Perhaps that was in the mind of the composer and/or the writer. If the writer thought in such terms it would help to explain some of the vivid language that follows.
However, one thing that stands out about this Psalm is that in all the despair there is (unusually) no confession of guilt. The one who prays does so as one who has no awareness of sin. He cries for vindication, not for forgiveness. It is a fitting picture of Jesus Christ Who alone could genuinely have prayed like this (see Meditation that follows).
A Cry Of Despair From The Heart, From One Who Yet Hopes In God (verses 1-10).
God is here spoken of as El, (Eli, Eli - my God, my God - in the Aramaic Eloi or Eli).
In context it should be recognised that this is not a total cry of despair, for hope is shortly expressed in God. But it is certainly an indication of the deep distress of the speaker. The dual ‘my God, my God’ is both an expression of faith (‘my’) and an indication of urgency (compare Isaiah 49.14). The writer cannot understand why he should be undergoing such torment of spirit, and why the miseries of life should have been so thrust on him. It would fit well with David’s worst periods in his flight from Saul as he felt himself being constantly hunted down by one whom he was aware was slightly mad, and who sought his life with the intensity of a madman.
What is worse the writer feels that his sufferings have gone on for far too long. God is still far from helping him, and he feels that his roaring like an animal in pain has apparently been in vain (compare 32.3; 38.8). None would know better than David the roaring in anguish of the lion as it was slain by the shepherd with no one to deliver it.
That Jesus applied it to Himself in the depths of His sufferings on the cross is not surprising. It would bring some comfort in the midst of His dreadful anguish and misery, as He faced alone the consequences of sin as they were laid upon Him, and the darkness of His struggles with the Enemy, to know that what He faced had already been foreshadowed in these words.
The psalmist was experiencing his suffering and rejection day and night. He cried constantly to God, but he was seemingly not being heard. Daily his prayer would reach up to God, nightly he was in such despair that he could not sleep and utilised the time for more prayer. He could not be silent for his spirit was heavy in him.
This would certainly have been the experience of David, and it was so of many since. When a Christian is in despair as to why his prayers are seemingly not being answered he can take comfort from the thought that others have gone that way before, only to come out triumphant.
We may see here the daylight hours on the cross followed by the darkness that covered the whole earth when Jesus was being crucified. We cannot doubt that His cry to His God and Father was constant. It also reflects the darkness of Gethsemane when He could not be silent.
The psalmist now calls on God in terms of what He is and in the light of his memories of Israel’s past. He knows that God is holy, set apart and distinct, right in all He does. He does not doubt, therefore, that what God allows must be good and that He will do what is right in this circumstance too. And this reminds him of how Israel had suffered in the past, but had in the end in their darkness always enjoyed God’s deliverance.
‘But you are holy.’ He gives pause for thought. He recognises that God is set apart and unknowable. There is no searching of His understanding. His ways are not our ways and therefore we must hesitate before we speak. ‘God is in Heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5.1). He must not prejudge God, and he can be sure that what this holy God does is right and that He will in the end save His people. Compare Habakkuk 1.12.
‘O you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel..’ For he knows too that He ‘is enthroned on the praises of Israel’. He is Israel’s God, and their covenant Lord and King, and they worship Him constantly and truly. He is sure therefore that He Who thus receives their worship and homage will not fail them.
‘‘Our fathers trusted in you. They trusted, and you delivered them. They cried to you, and were delivered, they trusted in you, and were not put to shame.’ His confidence is boosted by his knowledge of God’s mercies in the past. Here we have an indication that his troubles are not just personal. There are the whole people to consider. But their fathers had trusted in God, indeed had trusted threefold, (‘they trusted -- they trusted -- they trusted’) and God had never failed them. When they cried to Him at times when they were almost in despair that there could be any hope, they did not end up shamefaced, for in the end He always responded by delivering them. He could not fail to respond to threefold faith.
Therefore is he now confident that God will respond in this situation too, however bad it may seem. Certainly even as he fled from Saul David could see the despair of Israel. The Philistines were pressing in on them, demanding, in many parts, heavy tribute, and Saul was fighting against them a losing battle. Things looked bleak indeed.
And Jesus too on the cross, meditating on these words, knew better than any how good God had been to His people. Indeed was that not why He was there?
Yet the psalmist wants God to know the depths of the humiliation that he feels, and that he does not see himself sufficient to deliver Israel. He feels like a worm, writhing in the dust, treated with contempt, kicked and despised. He feels that he is not a man at all, but the lowest of the low, constantly under the reproach of men. And anyway they do not want him. They despise him.
Even a man like David would have known such moments of darkness and despair when all seemed lost and he felt like lying down in the dust and dying (compare Elijah’s cry in 1 Kings 19.10, 14). And this was the man after God’s own heart. But it is when man is at his lowest that God steps in to deliver.
And such was the treatment meted out to Jesus on the cross as He was treated as less than a human being, and as those who should have worshipped Him mocked instead and constantly reproached Him. He was treated as a worm.
The parallels with Isaiah are significant. There too YHWH’s servant was called a worm (Isaiah 41.14). There too the favoured of God was as one despised by men (Isaiah 49.7; 50.6; 53.3). There too they shrank from him because he was scarcely human (Isaiah 52.14; 53.2-3).
The psalmist is aware of what people are saying about him. He feels deeply their scorn and their insults, and their despising of the faith that he had constantly asserted before them. In the good days he had declared his confidence in YHWH. Now they threw it back in his face. Their thought was, ‘Did not his present position show that they had been in the right and not him?’ So they laughed at him, mocking him. They made faces at him; they shook their heads in amused reproach (see 35.21; Job 16.4, 10; Lamentations 2.15). Where was his favoured position now? They committed him mockingly to YHWH. Let him roll his problem on YHWH. If YHWH really did really favour him, let Him now demonstrate it. But they were confident that He would not.
‘Seeing He delights in him.’ Previously his faith had made them feel uncomfortable. Now they retaliate with sarcasm. Did God really delight in him? Well they could see for themselves how true that was.
So might David well have felt with almost the whole of Israel against him, his popularity dissipated, and his rivals glad to see him gone. There is nothing like success for winning enemies, especially among rivals. And even more deeply would Jesus have felt it on the cross. He had come purposing only good, and they had rejected Him and treated Him as though He were evil, even mocking His Father’s purposes. These very things were done to Him and these very words were spoken against Him by His enemies round the cross (Matthew 27.39, 43). They did not realise that they were fulfilling prophecy and condemning themselves. ‘Laugh me to scorn.’ The verb in LXX is also used in Luke 23.35 of the rulers jeering at Jesus.
But the psalmist is very much aware of God’s hand on his life and that, in spite of present circumstance, he did trust in God in the way that his reproachers doubted, and that he did believe that God would deliver him. It was God Who had brought him to birth, it was God Who from earliest days had nurtured his faith (compare 71.5-6), it was God on Whom he had constantly relied (compare 55.22), for often he had had no one else to turn to, and it was to God that he had constantly looked from when he was very young. Their reproaches were therefore false.
So would David have felt as he looked back over his life, for his heart had been right from earliest days, which is why he was God’s chosen (1 Samuel 16.7, 12). He would remember too how he had been cast on God when the lion and the bear had come against his flock (1 Samuel 17.34), and how God had delivered Goliath into his hands even while he was but a youth (1 Samuel 17.42-50).
And of no one was this more true than of Jesus, Who was miraculously born at the express will of His Father (Luke 1.35), and Who had looked to Him and learned from Him from His earliest days (Luke 2.40).
The Sufferer’s Prayer For Deliverance And Provides A Description of His Predicament (22.11-21).
That we are to see some of these descriptions as figurative comes out in verse 21 where the psalmist sums all up by describing it as being saved from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild ox. He has a vivid imagination and knows much about the hunt and about the behaviour of wild beasts, and how they are treated in the hunt.
Aware of trouble approaching the sufferer cries to God for help. In verse 1 he had said that God was far from him. Now he pleads that it might not be so, for, if He is, he is lost. He confirms that he has nowhere else to turn and asks God ‘not to be far from Him’, for he is facing almost impossible dangers.
His enemies are gathered against him on all sides. They are like bulls which have a tendency to gather around any strange object and can easily be moved to attack it. Yes, they are like the strongest of bulls, the strong bulls of Bashan, an area famous for its lush pastures (Deuteronomy 32.14; Amos 4.1). They are impenetrable. And their mouths are wide open to swallow him like the mouth of a ravening and roaring lion (see 7.2). (This mixing of metaphors confirms that he as enemies in mind, not bulls). Perhaps some of his main enemies came from Bashan, east of Jordan in the north.
This description is probably not to be taken literally, although he may well have been going through a bout of severe illness which made him feel totally out of sorts. ‘Poured out like water’ parallels the ‘melted wax’. He feels drained and empty, with his joints stiff and painful as if the bones were out of joint, and his innermost heart failing under the pressure. Compare 6.2-3, 6-7; Joshua 7.5). But if he has just fled from a defeat it is always possible that he had suffered a fall in his eagerness to escape.
In his constant flight from Saul David may well have experienced such misery more than once. But this may have been a particularly bad experience.
For Jesus this did become literally true. Not only would He be physically drained and probably suffering from hypothermia in the hot sun, but crucifixion could literally take His bones out of joint and His sufferings would certainly affect His mental state and His emotions (His heart) so that they seemed like wax melted within Him.
The idea of the potsherd is probably of a pot that has been overheated and become so dried out that it has cracked and broken. The tongue cleaving to his jaws represented excessive thirst. So did the psalmist feel totally dried up, with his strength gone (see 32.4). This may have been as a result of his illness, or the result of flight through hot, desert places, or both.
David may well have experienced such conditions as he fled through the desert to escape from Saul’s searchers, and had to hide in inhospitable places, especially if he was also ill at the time.
It was certainly Jesus’ experience on the cross to suffer excessive thirst, which He refused to quench until His work was done (Matthew 27.34).
It may be that the psalmist had been hunted down with dogs, dragged down into the dust to die, surrounded by those who hunted him, and had his hands and feet pierced by the spears of the hunters to render him helpless, or by the teeth of the dogs, only to be delivered at the last moment. But it may be that he is simply vividly describing the fate that he shortly envisages will be his unless some miracle happens, as he hears the baying of the dogs in the distance, and knows what they will do with any fugitive they catch, and is aware also of how men like his pursuers mutilate a man so that he can no longer harm them, cutting the tendons of hands and feet. A third alternative is that he is depicting his fate in picturesque terms take from his knowledge of the hunt.
This may have been true of any Davidic king fleeing for his life after a resounding defeat, but if this was David fleeing from Saul he would know that he was sufficiently feared as a warrior to warrant such particular attentions (compare Judges 1.6-7).
Alternately the description of ‘the dogs’ may simply be metaphorical as a description of rabid humans. All were familiar with the packs of savage dogs that scavenged outside cities, and sometimes even within. They provided a fitting illustration of those whose hatred was so intense that they would literally snarl at him when they caught him.
And there is no more vivid way of describing the packs of evil men who had gathered to hunt Jesus down and see that He met the awful fate that they had planned for Him, than as a pack of mangy dogs. That such men gathered round Him and pierced His hands and His feet is without question.
‘You have brought me into the dust of death.’ This describes the final ignominy for a hunted man as he is finally caught and dragged down into the dust to die, whether literally or metaphorically. But here he sees himself as brought to this pass by God Himself. It was the will of YHWH to bruise him (Isaiah 53.10).
‘They pierced my hands and my feet.’ Unless an unknown verb or poetic form is in use the Massoretic Text has ‘like a lion (ca’ari) my hands and my feet’. ‘They pierced’ is ca’aru as suggested by LXX and other versions. But i and u (yod and waw) can be very similar in Hebrew copying and this may be a rare copying mistake in MT, so that LXX has preserved the true rendering. The original thought may then be that the dogs have bitten his hands and feet and pierced him with their teeth, or that the hunters have done it with spears and arrows. That it literally happened to Jesus we know through the nails on the cross.
The Targum has the conflated ‘biting like a lion’. It is, however, always possible that he is seen as being meted out the normal treatment for a lion when caught and kept alive. with its claws being broken by a hammer or extracted, thus signifying ‘they smashed/rendered useless/mangled my hands and my feet’. It may be significant that there is no reference to this phrase in the New Testament.
He has been so hard-pressed, and so without solid food over so long a period, that he has been reduced to skin and bones. As they tear from him his rich clothing to share the spoils among them he is able to count all his ribs, while his adversaries stand around and stare at him in grim delight at how he has suffered.
Again there may be an element of exaggeration in this, and it is therefore quite likely that such words might have been found on the lips of David, especially if he was suffering from the nightmare of what might well shortly happen to him.
Of Jesus again the words were literally true. After His ill-treatment at the hands of Jewish leaders and Romans, being hung and distorted on a cross would make his bones clearly visible beneath His skin, as His adversaries stood around and stared.
If the psalmist’s clothing was of rich quality they may well have stripped him and given him an old piece of cloth, even if his nakedness bothered them at all (see Isaiah 20.4). This would be their reward for capturing such an important prisoner.
We can well see that the thought of such ignominy would have been a nightmare to David, the practise possibly being well known to him as occurring among soldiers, and the mention of the vesture (the undergarment, a seamless tunic) stressing total nakedness. This method of sharing out the clothing of captives, which was both simple and practical, may well have been a practise continued through the centuries, although David might have been thinking of it as something that would occur after he had been killed. Stripping the dead after battle was common practise.
It specifically happened to Jesus on His death, and is claimed as the ‘filling full’ of prophecy (John 19.23-24).
So the sufferer turns to YHWH for help. God is his succour and he looks to Him for assistance. This would suggest that what he has described is simply near expectation, rather than what has actually happened, a vivid nightmare of what lay ahead if things did not change quickly. He still hoped to be delivered from the worst.
This is confirmed here by his hope to be delivered from the power of the dog (verse 16). He wants to escape death by a sword and mauling by a dog. ‘My darling’. Literally ‘my only one’. He is thinking of his own unique life which is most precious to him, and dearer to him than almost anything else on earth.
Jesus’ deliverance would be by resurrection.
So he puts in his final plea. Let him be saved from the lion’s mouth. The lion here may well be Saul. And then in the second part of the verse the whole spirit of the psalm changes, as he suddenly recognises that he will be saved indeed. He is about to be delivered from the horns of ‘the wild oxen’ because God has answered him.
Or we may render, ‘save me from the lion’s mouth, yes, from the horns of the wild oxen’ and then with sudden enlightenment - ‘You have answered me.’ Either way it is a switch that declares that God has heard his prayers.
He Comes Out Of His Situation In Triumph Because of The Kingly Rule of God (22.22-31).
The Psalmist now rejoiced in the deliverance of the one about whom he has been speaking. For the result is to be that all the ends of the earth will seek YHWH and His Kingly Rule will be established over the nations. It is clear therefore that in the end the one who is in mind is the coming King who will rule over the everlasting kingdom.
Confident that God has heard him and will deliver him, the Psalmist now declares how he will reveal the full attributes (the significance of ‘Your Name’ - the name was seen as indicating the attributes) of a compassionate God to his brothers in the assembly (LXX - ekklesia, church) of the people. And there also he will praise Him. This verse is cited by the writer to the Hebrews as referring to Jesus (Hebrews 2.12), as He leads His people to glory..
Thus all God’s true people (those who fear Him) are to praise YHWH and glorify Him. They are to stand in awe at what He has done. So the people of Israel are being called on to rejoice in the deliverance of the one being described by the Psalmist, for his deliverance is important to them. And in the same way, having established His new congregation of Israel (Matthew 16.18; John 15.1-6), Jesus will call on His people to praise God for the way that He has come through suffering to triumph, having been made a perfect File Leader through suffering (Hebrews 2.10). No wonder the women were filled with awe at learning of His resurrection (Mark 16.8).
And the reason for the praise and worship is that YHWH has not turned away from his deep affliction, nor has He hid His face from him (He had not forsaken him), so that the cry of the one of whom the Psalmist speaks was heard, and answered. The idea of ‘affliction’ is applied both the Servant in Isaiah 53.4, 7 and the Messianic king of Zechariah 9.9. The pattern is clear. God’s purposes are fulfilled through suffering.
And the reason that he can praise YHWH is because the reason for praising and ability to praise have come from Him. He is the source of the praise issuing from the one of whom the Psalmist is speaking, and its end. And the result is that he can praise Him in the great assembly and fulfil the vows that he has made while in distress, performing them in front of all who truly fear Him (compare Hebrews 10.7, 9).
And the consequence of the triumph of this one who has suffered will be that the poor and meek who truly seek after YHWH will eat of the votive offering (the paying of the vows of verse 25) and be satisfied, for they will be his guests. They will rejoice in the means of atonement and worship. This gains even more meaning in the light of John 6.35 ff. They will partake of Him through faith.
‘Let your heart live for ever.’ And the result is that he can call on God to enable them to live for ever. He offers them the equivalent of eternal life.
And this is not only for the poor of Israel, it is also for the Gentiles. All the ends of the earth will call to mind the suffering and dedication of the one who has suffered, and will turn to YHWH, and all the families of the nations (compare Genesis 12.3;28.14) will worship before YHWH. Through the seed of Abraham the nations will be blessed, and will come to know YHWH.
And this will be because they will acknowledge His Kingly Rule, for the Kingly Rule is YHWH’s and He is the ruler over the nations. Here we have the initial idea of the coming Kingly Rule of God (tou kuriou he basileia - ‘the Kingly Rule of the Lord’), which all who respond will acknowledge.
And the result of the suffering of the one of whom the Psalmist is speaking and the rejoicing over His deliverance will be that those who are in full life (the fat ones of the earth) and those who are dying or dead (those who go down to the dust), will both partake of His sacrificial offering, and will worship and bow before Him, even those who cannot avoid death. The living and the dead will praise Him. While the idea of resurrection is not spelled out, as it was unlikely to be in those days, there is the clear indication that he will somehow benefit both. Every knee will bow to Him, and every tongue will swear (Isaiah 45.23).
And the result of this will go on from generation to generation. Each generation will be told what the Lord has done.
And the further result will be that God’s righteousness as revealed in this deliverance will be declared into the future, to those not yet born, so wonderful will have been the deliverance. All will declare that ‘He has done it’.
We have already seen that there is a Messianic basis in this Psalm. It is so expressive of what Jesus suffered for us that we should possibly meditate on what it can tell us about His sufferings for us. In doing so we will see how wonderfully God prepared the way for the death of His Son.
22.1 ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me? Why are you so far from helping Me, and from the words of My loud groaning?’
These words were cited by Jesus on the cross. But we cannot see it as merely signifying that Jesus was taking comfort from the Psalm. It was rather because (if we may say it reverently) He had come to a new understanding of what the Psalmist was describing. From the torment of His soul as He bore on Himself the sins of the world He was aware of a sense of total desolation and torment, a sense of total isolation from His Father, and it came out in this cry. He felt that in His cry He had to pierce through the darkness, because He felt ‘God forsaken’. As has been well said, ‘God forsaken by God, who can understand it?’
He was not, of course, forsaken. He could still speak to MY God. And the very fact of His praying was a recognition of the fact that God was within hearing, even though appearing to be terribly far away. It rather therefore expressed the agony that He was facing, and the burden that He was bearing. It was the only prayer that Jesus ever made that He did not address to God as ‘Father’. Even in the agony of the Garden He had prayed ‘Abba, Father’. But now in the darkness of His soul, tormented by the sin of the world, He came as a suppliant to God, rather than as a Son to the Father. And for Him there was a genuine and very real sense of separation. In these moments He knew the awful intensity of the work that He had come to do, and the price that He had come to pay. He was taking on Himself all the agony deserved by mankind.
22.2 ‘Oh My God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer, and in the night season, and am not silent.’
For the first time in His life Jesus had become aware of what to us is commonplace, the sense of separation from the Father. He had become aware of what it meant to pray knowing that there seemed to be no response. Never before had He prayed and faced this stony silence. It is no wonder that He found it unnerving. But there was a sense in which He had to bear the burden alone, for He was dying in His humanness, and the Father had no humanness. So both through the hours of light until midday, and then through the following hours of darkness, His cry continued. Even at this final hour He was not silent, but His Father was. The heavens were seemingly closed to His plea. But let us not overlook the fact that Heaven too was distraught. The angels could not bear the sight. And yet the Father held back His comfort from His Son, in order that His Son might bear our sin to the full. For He could not condone the sin that He was bearing (the sin that was our sin). This was the cup that Jesus had chosen to drink, and He had to drink it alone.
22.3-5 ‘But You are holy, O You Who inhabits the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You. They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered. They trusted in You, and were not put to shame.’
At no stage did Jesus lose confidence in the Father as the Deliverer of Israel. Even on the cross He could declare God’s faithfulness to His people, despite the fact that He Himself was unheard. For God was surrounded by the praises of Israel because of what He had done for them. They had trusted and had been delivered. They had cried and they had been delivered. They had trusted in Him and had not needed to be ashamed of the fact, because God had answered them. That was why He could reach out to the dying brigand. But it made Him also aware of how much this was not happening for Him. For Him no prayer for deliverance would be heard. No cry would be heeded. He must tread the way of suffering alone, for there was no other way.
22.6 ‘But I am a worm, and no man. A reproach of men, and despised of the people.’
He recognised that He had taken the position of the lowest of the low. He had become a worm, not a man, helpless and there to be kicked, and trodden on, and crushed under the heel. He was taking on Himself the reproaches of His people (Isaiah 41.14), and thus He had become as one who was reproached by men, and was despised by the very people whom He had come to save. He was despised and rejected by men, a Man of Sorrows, humiliated by grief, One from Whom men hid their faces, because He had lost all esteem in the eyes of men (Isaiah 53.3).
22.7-8 ‘All they who see me laugh me to scorn. They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “Commit Yourself to YHWH. Let Him deliver Him. Let Him rescue Him, seeing He delights in Him.”
Those who gathered round His cross were full of mocking They all laughed Him to scorn. He had claimed to be the chosen of God. Let God then deliver Him if He would. They cried, ‘Ha, You Who will destroy the Temple, and build it in three days, if You are the Son of God, save Yourself and come down from the cross. He saved others, Himself He cannot save. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel now come down from the cross that we may see and believe. He trusted in God. Let Him deliver Him now if He delights in Him” (Matthew 27.40-42; Mark 15.29-32). In these words they had this Psalm in mind and were parodying the very thoughts it contained. He had set Himself forward as the One spoken of by the Psalmist, so in their eyes the words unquestionably applied to Him, though not in truth.
22.9-10 ‘But You are He who took me out of the womb. You made me trust when I was on my mother’s breasts. I was cast on you from the womb. You are my God since my mother bore me.’
Yet in it all He could not forget that it was God Who had brought Him forth from the womb. God had taught Him to trust even as He was breast fed by His mother. God had as it were breast fed Him too. Right from the womb He had trusted Him. How then could He fail Him now?
22.11 ‘Do not be far from me, for trouble is near, for there is none to help.’
So in His extremity He cried that God would not be too far from Him. For He was aware of what He must face, and that there was no one else to whom He could go for help. Chronologically this comes before verse 1. And for a time the help was there until the darkness of the sin of the world descended. And then it seemed as though it had gone.
22.12 ‘Many bulls have surrounded me, strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gape at Me with their mouth, like a ravening and a roaring lion.’
He knew what had brought Him there. During His last days He had been crowded in as though by a herd of bulls which had threatened and surrounded Him, as the Chief Priests and Scribes had hemmed Him in. And now there they were, gaping at Him with their mouths, and as they stood there at the cross, they were surrounding Him on every side, as though they were hungry lions, determined to consume Him.
22.14 ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, it is melted within me.’
The inevitable effects of crucifixion were having their effect. His body was being weakened as the blood poured from His many wounds like water, and as His body was twisted and stretched by the cross, His bones became distorted and out of joint, while His heart within Him was like melted wax, as a result of His sufferings, and at the awfulness of the burden of sin that He faced.
22.15 ‘My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws, and You have brought me into the dust of death.’
His body had been toughened by His manner of life, but now all His strength had flowed out of Him. On top of the other pain, the hot sun had dried Him out, as the sweat had poured from His body, so that He was like a pot which had been fashioned in the fire and which had had all the moisture removed from it, leaving it dried and cracked, while His tongue stuck to His dried out mouth, as lingering death slowly took possession of Him. The One Who was the Lord of life was conscious that His body would shortly be brought to dust through death, a contradiction to His very nature.
22.16 ‘For dogs have surrounded Me. A company of evildoers have enclosed Me. They pierced my hands and my feet.’
But His trials continued. Having obtained that they wanted, His opponents were now gathered round Him like a pack of snarling dogs, and He felt enclosed by the soldiers of Rome who had driven nails through His hands and feet. But the ones who were really responsible for the nails were the ones who watched and sneered, and you and I.
22.17 ‘I may count all my bones. They look and stare at me.’
His hours on the cross, by distorting His whole body as a consequence of the unnatural strain exerted on it, resulted in His bones thrusting themselves up under His skin, so that every bone could be counted, and meanwhile the spectators stared at His naked body and gazed at Him with astonishment.
22.18 ‘They part my garments among them, and for My robe they cast lots.
Meanwhile as He hung there, the soldiers gambled heartlessly at His feet, dividing up His clothing, and casting lots for His seamless robe. As far as they were concerned He was as good as dead, and His clothes were their perquisites. They took another swig of wine. They were half drunk. It was a good thing to be half drunk when you carried out a crucifixion. It deadened the awfulness of what you were doing. And to them He was just another victim.
22.19 ‘But do not be far off, Oh YHWH. Oh You Who are my succour, hurry to my aid.’
As the long hours passed, and the battles with evil and sin continued, He cried that God might not be far off but might hurry to help Him. The hours of darkness seemed so long, the battle with the forces of evil so powerful, and He felt in desperate need of succour. He knew that He must see it through to the end, but now He was thinking beyond the end, when He could say ‘it is finished’, and relief would come.
22.20-21 ‘Deliver my soul from the sword, My darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth, yes, from the horns of the wild-oxen You have answered me.’
A victim of the sword of Rome, and the dogs of the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, He cries to be delivered from them both, as though from the mouth of lions, or from the horns of the wild ox. (In Numbers 24.8, 9 it is Israel who are the lion and the wild ox). Once He had endured let God save Him and deliver Him. And He was confident that it would be so, for He could finally declare, ‘You have answered Me’. And thus on the note of final deliverance the Psalm leads on into the aftermath.
Following the cross will come the resurrection, and resulting from the resurrection will come His testimony to His ‘brothers’, who will be brought to fear the Lord and glorify Him. The poor and humble will find joy in His Kingly Rule, while the nations worldwide will turn to God and worship Him.
22. 22 ‘I will declare Your name to my brothers. In the midst of the gathering will I praise You.’
He assures His Father that He will make Him fully known (will make ‘His name’, the essence of what He is, known) to ‘His brothers’, to those who gather together in His Name. This verse is cited in Hebrews 2.12 in a context where He is also described as the wagon boss of their faith. He will go forward together with His brothers, encouraging them to worship God, and He will be ever among them (Matthew 18.20). Compare, ‘lo I am with you always’ (Matthew 28.20).
22.23 ‘You who fear YHWH, praise Him. All you, the seed of Jacob, glorify Him. And stand in awe of Him, all you the seed of Israel.’
And in fulfilment of His promise He calls on all who fear YHWH to praise Him, and all ‘the seed of Jacob/Israel’ (representing God’s true people) to glorify Him and stand in awe of Him. Note the close connection with ideas in Isaiah 41-49 where the seeds of Jacob and Israel are constantly in mind, are closely connected with the Servant, and are to be restored. Now the Servant will fulfil His promised ministry to them (Isaiah 49.6).
22.24 ‘For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, nor has He hid His face from Him. But when He cried to Him, He heard.’
And the reason why they are to praise God is because He has not despised or turned away from the deep afflictions of the Afflicted One. Rather when He had cried from the extremities of His soul, God had heard Him. This was in deep contrast to what men had done earlier (verses 6-8).
22.25 ‘From You comes My praise in the great assembly, I will pay my vows before those who fear Him.’
Indeed it is from Him, as a result of His working, that Jesus can praise Him among His people. For Jesus has offered Himself up as an acceptable freewill offering (Hebrews 10.1-14) so that He might dispense His blessing on those who fear Him, and now He will act of their behalf. Thus He will fulfil His promises that He has made to God, in the eyes of all who fear Him.
22.26 ‘The meek will eat and be satisfied. They will praise YHWH who seek after Him. Let your heart live for ever.
And the result is that the poor and humble will partake of Him and be satisfied (John 6.35). They will eat and be filled. And those who seek after YHWH will praise Him. In the words of Jesus, ‘blessed ones are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingly Rule of God’ (Matthew 5.3).
22.27 ‘All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to YHWH. And all the families of the nations will worship before You.’
And not only will the poor and needy praise Him, but among the nations to the ends of the earth many will acknowledge His Name. They will remember what the Afflicted One has endured, and turn to YHWH, and some among all the families of the nations will worship YHWH (Genesis 12.3; compare Isaiah 42.6; 49.6).
22.28 ‘For the Kingly Rules is YHWH’s, and He is the ruler over the nations.’
For they will recognise that the Kingly Rule over all things is YHWH’s and that it is He Who rules over the nations. Thus will they ‘enter under the Kingly Rule of God’ at His behest.
22.29 ‘All the fat ones of the earth will eat and worship. All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive.’
In His presence all are equal. Both those who prosper and those who can hardly keep themselves alive and are near death (in other words men of every kind and situation) will look to YHWH for life, partaking of His sacrifice of Himself, and will worship Him.
22.30-31 ‘A seed will serve Him. It will be told of the Lord unto the next generation. They will come and will declare His righteousness, to a people who will be born, that he has done it.’
And a seed will serve Him, the holy seed of Isaiah 6.13, those who have been refined and have responded to Him and looked for salvation. And they will pass on the truth about the Lord to the next generation, and will declare His righteousness to a people yet unborn. For they will learn that ‘He has done it’.
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FREE Scholarly verse by verse commentaries on the Bible.
GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS 1.1-7.38 --- 8.1-11.47 --- 12.1-16.34--- 17.1-27.34--- NUMBERS 1-10--- 11-19--- 20-36--- DEUTERONOMY 1.1-4.44 --- 4.45-11.32 --- 12.1-29.1--- 29.2-34.12 --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- PSALMS 1-36--- ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL 1-7 ---DANIEL 8-12 --- MICAH ---NAHUM--- HABAKKUK---ZEPHANIAH --- HAGGAI ---ZECHARIAH --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS 1-7 --- 8-16 --- 2 CORINTHIANS 1-7 --- 8-13 -- -GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- HEBREWS 1-6 --- 7-10 --- 11-13 --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION
--- THE GOSPELS & ACTS