Forsaken (Psalm 22)Series: Psalms (Worshipping God)
My grandma died in December. When we were with the family, different people relayed conversations with her about her wishes after she died. It has struck me recently how many conversations someone has toward the end of life. You pass on stories of your past. You answer all kinds of questions from lawyers, financial advisors, doctors, and the family.
In Psalm 22, David was asking questions, but they weren’t the end of days questions you expect from your family and others. His circumstances were dire. It was the end of his life. Notice verses 12-18.
The Circumstances (22:12-18)
Psalms 22:12–18 (ESV), “12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17 I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
- (vs. 12-13) Picture the scene. David is surrounded by hostile voices, by enemies. He sees them as strong bulls and roaring lions. They are wild and fierce. Untamed. Their mouths are wide-open — jeering at him.
- (vs. 14-15) He has no strength left. His body and spirit are so exhausted that he feels like water poured out. His tongue has no more strength. He’s been crying out for help, but he can’t cry out any longer.
- (vs. 16-18) The evildoers - the bulls, the lions, the dogs - they attack. They pin him down. They point. They mock him. They tear off his clothes and pass them around.
The Conflicting Thoughts (22:1-11)
- And there is one question in his mind. “Where is God?” He’s not dying a peaceful death of old age - strung up on morphine and surrounded by loved ones. He’s dying the death of a wicked man. This is the death of a man whose sins have caught up with him - God is finally repaying him.
- And so he asks in vs. 1-2 (ESV), “1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” He has been crying for God day and night ceaselessly. He hasn’t rested in a long time. Now, as he lays in the dust, he finally accepts it: God’s not answering these cries. So he asks, “Why?”
- Whether or not you’ve literally been pinned to the ground, stripped, and mocked by your enemies, if you’ve lived very long you can relate to the spirit of this feeling, can’t you? Keep reading and see if you can’t continue to relate to his conflicting thoughts.
Psalms 22:3–11 (ESV), “3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. 10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. 11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.”
- (vs. 3-5) See if you can relate to these conflicting thoughts.
- I’ve been crying to God till I’m hoarse. I’ve stayed up all night begging him for help. And the response? … Nothing.
- Yet, everyone in Israel is still praising this God.
- My fathers trusted in God in the past and he delivered them.
- (vs. 6-8) Yet, here I am, I delight in the Lord and I’m counted as a worm. Everyone is shaking their heads at me - my trust in God is a joke. “Listen to this fool - isn’t this great. ‘God, save me!’ Yeah, God, come on, save him!”
- (vs. 9-11) Yet, I’ve trusted in you since I was a helpless newborn. I’ve done never done anything but trust in you. And no one else is coming to help.
Have you had these conflicting thoughts? Your experience, your knowledge of history, and your heart all say, “God is alive and powerful and he rescues the one who cries for help.” But reality says: “God has abandoned the innocent, the weak, and the righteous. He has abandoned me and he’s going to let this crowd of evildoers have the final say.”
There are many reasons we may feel this way: seeing injustice against innocent and weak people; loved ones falling seriously ill or dying young; sin causing irreparable damage to life; watching a church be ripped apart by false teaching, sin, or bad attitudes. For me, I often feel this way when I see someone commit their life to Christ, but then - no matter how much we pray for, encourage, and serve them - they aren’t really committed. Those are the times when it seems like everything good and pure in the world is doomed - no matter how good it was, darkness is able to overcome and God’s not going to do anything about it. That kind of stuff causes us to want to stop, look at God, and ask, “Why? What’s going on?”
Jesus entered into this situation on the final day of his life. Matthew 26-27 is carefully crafted with the language of this Psalm to show us that he is the innocent sufferer - as David, Job, Joseph, and others were. Jesus is surrounded, stripped, beaten up, mocked, and pinned to a cross. He is naked in front of a crowd who spits on him and makes fun of him for trusting God to rescue him. And since he is the king of the Jews - the one God is pleased with - you are thinking, “God will rescue him.” Yet, the world is dark and there is no response from heaven. When the light comes back, Jesus cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” No salvation comes and he dies.
I always used to ask, “Did God really forsake Jesus on the cross?” But that’s not the question that either David or Jesus asks. They didn’t ask, “Have you forsaken me?” They asked, “Why have you forsaken me?” So that’s the question I want to consider with you. Why did God put Jesus in this situation - death on a cross? And why - of all things to say on the cross - why did Jesus call attention to this situation? How does this help us? Hebrews 2-5 addresses this.
Why Did God Let Jesus Suffer Alone on the Cross?
1. To conquer the one who has power over death and free us from fear of it (Hebrews 2:14-15). Hebrews 2:14–15 (ESV), “14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” He says the fear of death has made us slaves. Satan uses our fears to control us. That’s the real problem with these dark situations - they control us, make us selfish, make us cowards. Our answer is unexpected. Jesus didn’t dodge death - the weapon of the enemy. To defeat Satan, he took a strike from the worst weapon Satan has. To others, this seems foolish and weak. But he had to suffer the defeat we all fear to show us the victory that - in our darkest moments - we doubt is real and possible.
2. To share in our weaknesses to become a sympathetic high priest (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16; 5:2). Hebrews 2:17–18 (ESV), “17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 4:15–16 (ESV), “15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Imagine what it was like to be a believer before the cross. Job felt like God didn’t really understand what it was like to suffer in the way he did. Job talked to God, but “God didn’t care.” Now we have the confidence that the high priest before God’s throne knows exactly what it is like to feel the darkness, despair, and abandonment we feel. Just think of how much this knowledge affects the way we pray!
3. To give us the example of a faithful son who was perfected through suffering (Hebrews 2:17; 3:1-2; 3:5-6; 4:15; 5:8-9). The Hebrew writer contrasts Jesus’ faithfulness with the unbelief of Israel. God delivered Israel from Egypt… but seemed to leave Israel in the desert. It was hot and dry. Wild beasts, snakes, and scorpions were everywhere. Israel was hungry, thirsty, and scared. But their response was not a discouraged and confused faith, it was anger and unbelief. “Is God really among us? You’ve brought us out here to die!” In contrast, Hebrews says Jesus was faithful and “faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin,” (Hebrews 3:5-6; 4:15). Hebrews 5:8–9 (ESV), “8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” We don’t typically think Jesus needed to learn anything or be perfected, but going through this suffering did that. And he was faithful through it. We might think suffering is pointless. We are tempted to give up on God - to not be steadfast, to be angry, to not believe. God allowed Jesus to go through this to show us that his Son learned obedience in suffering, so his children can too. It is so painful, but discipline is for our good.
4. To demonstrate God’s attentive ear and death-defying salvation to all (Hebrews 5:7; Psalm 22:19-31). If the message of Psalm 22 and the cross is simply that God abandoned David and Jesus like he’s abandoned others before so he can relate to us, this would be pretty incomplete and depressing. But the Hebrew writer says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence,” (Hebrews 5:7 (ESV)). Actually, God did not abandon David or Jesus fully or literally. God seemed like he wasn’t there and he seemed deaf to Jesus’ cries, but this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, David testifies to this in Psalm 22.
Notice what David says after he makes a final plea for God’s help. Psalms 22:22–24 (ESV), “22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24 For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
Psalms 22:27–31 (ESV), 27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”
In the end, God rescued and David came to realize that God was actually listening the whole time. The feeling of abandonment was more of a terrifying perception than a literal reality. But at the moment, it was real. David felt pinned to the ground. Jesus was blindfolded, beaten, mocked, pinned to a cross, spat upon, and alone. Jesus didn’t die the death of a righteous man, he died the death of a criminal. It seemed like sinners were going to have the final word. But three days later, God raised him from the dead to show this: while everyone thought God was deaf, he was listening and preparing the most unexpected salvation.
This Psalm enters into the problem of pain and suffering that believers have always struggled with: if God is good and powerful, why are these things happening? This isn’t easy. Maybe you have felt that way before. I have. If you haven’t ever felt this way, let me ask: do you pray? One way to solve all these doubts is to never ask God for help. Is that faith? Later, the Hebrew writer says in Hebrews 11:6 (ESV), “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Part of the power of the Psalm and Jesus’ example is how they still cried to God for help even though it seemed he wasn’t there. They believed God rewards those who seek him, so they sought him. If we are honest, maybe we tend to rely on our own strength in darkness because it’s too painful to put faith in God and hear no response for a time. We forget Jesus entered into that same situation and still cried for help to show us that’s what God wants.
Keep praying - even if we are saying, “Why, God?” or “How long?” The answer to our prayers may not come when we want or in the way we expected; it may not even come until after we die. But God raised Jesus to show us that he doesn’t need us to still be breathing to fulfill his promises. So much pain and injustice is not put to right now, but we are guaranteed it will be dealt with in the final day.
Let us not be like the Israelites who tested God in the desert. They stopped boasting in their hope, they did not endure, and they will not enter God’s rest. Let’s put faith in the God who - while he may seem deaf - is listening and preparing a salvation greater than anyone could ever imagine.