Psalm 22: The Psalm of the Cross

Psalm 22: Dr. James Montgomery Boice (original source here)

Theme: Prophesying the Crucifixion

In this week’s lessons we look at how this psalm, written hundreds of years before Christ, describes the details of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.

Scripture: Psalm 22:1-21

The Lord Jesus Christ is described as his people’s shepherd in three ways. In John 10:11 and 14 he is “the good shepherd,” who gives his life for his sheep. In Hebrews 13:20 he is “that great shepherd,” who has risen from the dead and lives now to direct his people in every good work.

In 1 Peter 5:4 he is “the Chief shepherd,” who has ascended into heaven from whence he will one day return to reward the under shepherds of the church who have been faithful.

It has been pointed out that Psalms 22, 23 and 24 are like that.

Psalm 22 is the song of the dying shepherd, crying out to the Father.

Psalm 23 is the song of the risen shepherd, guiding his sheep through life’s dark wilderness.

Psalm 24 is the song of the ascended shepherd who will reward those who have served faithfully.

It is possible that some may find this pattern a bit forced, particularly in regard to the last two psalms. But there can be no doubt that it applies strikingly to Psalm 22. For this psalm is the “Psalm of the Cross,” the best description in all the Bible of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.

Most modern writers on the psalms try to find a setting for them either in the life of David, if they believe David was their author, or in the experience of some later writer or group of persons. But it is impossible to do this with this psalm. Some psalms are written out of illness.

But Psalm 22 is not a description of an illness. It is a description of an execution, particularly a crucifixion.

Crucifixion was not practiced in the time of David or for many long centuries afterward. So this is not an account of any suffering endured by any ancient person but a prophetic picture of the suffering to be endured by Jesus when he died to pay the penalty for our sins. In other words, it is prophetic and entirely messianic.

Derek Kidner, who is usually very cautious in such matters, nevertheless writes rightly, “No incident recorded of David can begin to account for this…The language of the psalm defies a naturalistic explanation; the best account is in the terms used by Peter concerning another psalm of David: ‘Being therefore a prophet…he foresaw and spoke of…the Christ’ (Acts 2:30f.).”1

But it is not only that David, being a prophet, foresaw and spoke in this psalm of Jesus’ sufferings. This is also the psalm upon which Jesus himself meditated as he hung on the cross.

We can profit best if we have the main events in mind. Jesus had been arrested the previous night and kept under guard in the house of the High Priest in order to be tried formally by the Sanhedrin in the morning. When day dawned he was quickly tried, convicted of blasphemy and then taken to Pilate’s Jerusalem residence for sentencing, since the Jewish court was unable to carry out the death penalty while Rome ruled Palestine. There were unexpected delays with Pilate. But at last his judgment was secured and Jesus was led through the streets of the city to Golgotha bearing his cross. Continue reading

Understanding Psalm 22

Article: The Suffering and the Glory of Psalm 22 by W. Robert Godfrey (original source here)

Psalm 22 begins with the most anguished cry in human history: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words that Jesus took on His lips at the depth of His suffering on the cross. His suffering was unique at that point as He offered Himself up for the sins of His people. And so, we have tended to see this cry as unique to Jesus. But such an approach to these words is clearly wrong. Jesus was not inventing unique words to interpret His suffering. Rather, He was quoting Psalm 22:1. These words were first uttered by David, and David was speaking for all of God’s people. We need to reflect on these words and the whole psalm as they relate to Christ and to all His people in order to understand them fully.

The psalm begins with a section dominated by the agonized prayer of David (vv. 1–21). David is expressing in the first place his own experience of feeling abandoned by God. Here is the most intense suffering God’s servant can know—not just that enemies surround him (vv. 7, 12–13) and that his body is in dreadful pain (vv. 14–16), but that he feels that God does not hear him and does not care about his suffering. And this is not just the experience of David. It is the experience of all God’s people in the face of terrible trouble. We wonder how our loving heavenly Father can stand idly by when we are in such distress. Continue reading

The Imprecations of Psalm 69

godfreyCan Christians Pray the Imprecations of Psalm 69?

This excerpt is adapted from Learning to Love the Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey.

Psalm 69 presents familiar elements of lament and praise, but in a particularly pointed and vivid way. The suffering is poignant, the praise strong, the imprecations severe, and the anticipations of Christ detailed. The psalm is primarily a series of supplications with elaborations explaining the circumstances that have produced these prayers (vv. 1–29). The psalm concludes with a call to praise God as the One who hears and answers prayer (vv. 30–36).

The first prayer is an individual cry for rescue: “Save me, O God!” The psalmist presents his need in the poetic image of a man who is drowning. The waters surround and threaten him so that his life seems at its end (vv. 1–2). Added to the imminence of death is the sense that God has not heard his prayers. He is worn out in calling on God. His misery is highlighted by the irony that although he is drowning, he is thirsty (v. 3). As another poet said, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.” The psalmist clarifies the danger he faces by speaking of enemies of great number who hate him for no reason (v. 4 NIV). By “no reason,” he does not mean that the enemies have no allegations against him, but only that they have no valid accusations. Yet the psalmist does acknowledge that he is suffering for his sin against God (v. 5).

The second prayer is for the people of God, that the psalmist’s suffering would not bring shame and confusion to God’s people (v. 6). The psalmist recognizes that he is scorned and abused and that he is alienated even from those closest to him (vv. 7–12). But he knows that he suffers for God’s sake (v. 7) and in His service. He is zealous for God (v. 9) and sincerely repentant for his sins (vv. 10–11), yet he is ridiculed by many, from the exalted judges in the gate to the most contemptible members of society: “I am the talk of those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me” (v. 12). But this abuse is malicious and unfair. He hopes it will not deceive those who love God.

Third, in verses 13–18, we find a series of intense, repeated supplications for rescue. The psalmist, more briefly than in the earlier part of the psalm, offers the reasons for his appeal for help. He mentions again his need for help in light of the dangers that surround him, but even more, he appeals to the character of God as a reason for God to help. God is the God of “steadfast love” (v. 13) and of “abundant mercy” (v. 16). So the psalmist prays for his “saving faithfulness” (v. 13), which he believes will help him because “your steadfast love is good” (v. 16). These verses express the kinds of passionate prayer that the psalmist alluded to in verse 3. As the psalm has developed, however, he seems to be growing in confidence that the Lord will hear and answer his prayers because of who God is.

Still, he returns to his present suffering in the face of the scorn of his enemies (vv. 19–21). He says that he is alone and friendless, and that where he expected some comfort or sympathy, he finds none. In light of the complete antipathy on the part of his enemies, he offers prayers of imprecation (vv. 22–28). These imprecations are the most terrifying in the Psalter. He prays that his enemies may be impoverished and oppressed, that they may lose home and heritage. But even more, he prays that they may be damned: “May they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous” (vv. 27b–28). Continue reading

Psalm 91 and the Word of Faith



Pastor Elly Achok Olare has become a very precious friend of mine in recent months. He and I share a very similar background in that we both were at one time pastors in the word of faith movement. I was recently asked a question about Psalm 91 and its proper interpretation and poised the same question to Pastor Elly who serves in Mumias, Kenya, Africa, asking for his thoughts on the matter. Here is his reply:

Hello there, I was just asked this: One of the most important verses that the word of faith movement refers to is Psalm 91 which they feel gives them authority over the devil. For example, the verses on trampling over the scorpion, the adder and the lion. They will refer to this verse as God giving them authority over Satan, and if they see that Satan is causing ill health, death, etc., then they see it as they have power over Satan rightfully given by God in this verse. How would you answer that? just wondering what sort of answer you would give for this question?

Dear friend and fellow combatant in the faith once and for all time delivered to the saints’

Pastor John, you have put before me a question whose difficulty is only matched by it’s huge importance to our faith and churchmanship. I shall not pretend to have answers to that question which would even start to satisfy a curious mind. However, as you have placed a demand on me so I shall happily contribute my two cents on the matter. As I read the question, I recalled Luther’s appreciation for the aptitude and succinctness of his opponent Erasmus in “identifying the real issue, the matter upon which the debate turns”. In a real sense the question that was posed to you and which you now share with us is such a one in the whole matter of the Word of Faith/prosperity Gospel heresy.

Allow me dear friend to observe two quick points before I attempt my response.

First; I believe that for those already schooled in the foundational doctrines of Grace, having known Christ aright, and been taught of God, the explanation which shall proceed is the “bread of children”. It will be nothing more than a tying of loose ends, and a confirmation of those things which the Holy Spirit has already testified to in the heart. To borrow the words of scripture “a savor of life unto life”. However seeing how diametrically opposed this soul destroying system of the Word of faith or prosperity Gospel; so called, is to the Gospel of God’s Grace in the face of Jesus Christ, it will take a little more than explanation to wrestle such an enslaved mind to submission to the true doctrine of Christ.

The second point I would beg your indulgence upon is to wonder at the strange,albeit wonderful providence of God, in that when I happened upon this question of yours, it was during a short break during our Wisdom Training Center diploma class lectures. Would you believe what the subject was? PENTECOSTALISM, CHARISMATICS AND WORD OF FAITH THEOLOGIES, being part of our course module on cults and religions of the world. I thought that was a strange providence. I had my students engage with this question and therefore in a subtle way, their own contributions will also show in this response.


As with all heresies the first mistake is always incurred at the point of hermaneutics. The tendency is to ‘copy & paste’ texts of scripture from the written pages straight to application in our own lives, experience and expectations. However as we read and re-read this passage,we could not escape the subtle yet compelling feeling, that we were looking at one of those special texts. The language employed is too grand, too pure and altogether too exalted to attach primarily and directly to any ordinary human being-even if that human being is a believer in Christ.

This Psalm as with many others, is very Christological. Its application has to pass through the ‘sieve of Christ’, and the redemptive motif which burdens the Old Testament.

In my view, a failure to grasp this will derail any attempt at making sense of the Psalm. The word of Faith movement is a utilitarian system and we expect that they shall latch onto such texts to vindicate their un-biblical presuppositions.

It is noteworthy that at the temptation of our Lord in Luke 4:1-4, Satan appeals to some texts in this passage-verses 11 and 12 in particular,and applies directly to our Lord. Note the words of the tempter “if you are the Son of God”, as If to say “give proof of it in fulfilling this psalm. The tempter knew that the Son of God was the subject of that particular Psalm, it anticipated him and so as if to verify that He is The Son of God he tempts Him in this way. In the second place, observe that Our Lord does not rebuke Satan for applying this psalm to Him,He only rebutted thus “It also written…” We must observe in passing that the tempter here in the Lucan account dangles before our Lord exactly what the word of faith dangles to millions today, material gain and self aggrandisement. It was the same trap set for our first parents-lust of the flesh and a pursuit of materialism. The Lord would not be drawn in and in this, He unlike the first Adam, overcame the tempter.

This Son of God is the figure who dwells in the secret place of the most high. He is the one who is presently and for all eternity sitting at the right hand of majesty on high – Acts 7:56. Jesus Christ is one who staked His legitimate claim to that inner sanctum of glory, when he prayed thus “give me the glory which I had with you from the beginning” – John 17:5

It is this Lord whom the Father will “when He calls upon me,and I will answer Him”, the Psalm paints a further picture, “I will be with Him in trouble; I will deliver Him and honor him” – 91:15. Perhaps these are glorious foretastes of the humiliation and subsequent exaltation of our Lord – Philippians 2:6-11. Surely it is He who in the days of His flesh offered prayers and supplications with “strong crying and tears”, to He who was able to save Him” and was heard ” – Hebrews 5:7.

It is only about him might the words appropriately and legitimately apply when the psalm says “He holds fast to my love” – 91:14 and “I will set him on high, because he hath known my name”. Continue reading

He Loves Me, He Abhors Me Not

Psalm 5:

David’s prayer (Psalm 5) is the fruit of his deep knowledge of God and His ways. Here we learn much about God’s view of the sinner as well as his sin, and the contrast of His love and mercy poured out on all who can rightfully claim Him to be their God and King.

When I Am Afraid

Faced with treachery and a revolt led by his own son Absalom, David has to flee Jerusalem in order to survive. His prayer recorded here in Psalm 3 has much to teach us.

Psalm 94

I wish the person who put this together had better spelling but this song by Sons of Korah is amazing, especially in the light of current events. Christians are being martyred throughout the Middle East and Africa; babies are murdered by the thousands every day in the womb of their mothers, and last week, Christians were actually martyred on American soil in Roseburg, Oregon. Rise up O Lord: