Theme: The Suffering Savior
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
Yesterday we pointed out that there are six stanzas within the first part of Psalm 22, and looked at the first two stanzas. Today we consider the next three, and will then describe the last one on Friday.
3. The mockery of the crucifixion (vv. 6-8). The third of these six sections moves from the earlier sense of having been abandoned by God to the scorn of the people, who mock him on this precise basis: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him” (v. 8). These words, as well as the gestures that accompanied them, were reproduced precisely at the crucifixion: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself. He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God”’” (Matt. 27:39-43).
4. Memory of the past: part 2 (vv. 9-11). The second stanza was a memory of God’s past faithfulness to and deliverance of the fathers, just as the fourth stanza is also a memory. But here the sufferer has moved forward a notch in his thinking, since his memory now is not of God’s faithfulness to those others only but of God’s former faithfulness to himself. “From my mother’s womb you have been my God,” says the psalmist (v. 10). Will God not continue to be faithful to me now?
5. The physical suffering (vv. 12-18). In some ways the most striking section of
all is this one, in which the crucifixion seems to be remarkably portrayed. It is worth quoting the note on this in the well-known Scofield Reference Bible, prepared by C. I. Scofield:
Psalm 22 is a graphic picture of death by crucifixion. The bones (of the hands, arms, shoulders, and pelvis) out of joint (v. 14); the profuse perspiration caused by intense suffering (v. 14); the action of the heart affected (v. 14); strength exhausted, and extreme thirst (v. 15); the hands and feet pierced (see v. 16…); partial nudity with the hurt to modesty (v. 17), are all associated with that mode of death. The accompanying circumstances are precisely those fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ. The desolate cry of v. 1 (Mt. 27:46); the periods of light and darkness of v. 2 (Mt. 27:45); the contemptuous and humiliating treatment of vv. 6-8, 12-13 (Mt. 27:39–44); the casting lots of v. 18 (Mt. 27:35), were all literally fulfilled. When it is remembered that crucifixion was a Roman, not Jewish, form of execution, the proof of inspiration is irresistible.2
It is not only the physical aspects of crucifixion that are described in these verses, however. The section also depicts those abusing the sufferer as “strong bulls of Bashan,” “roaring lions” and “dogs,” and suggests (although obliquely) why people do such things to one another. Derek Kidner lists them as: “resentment at those who make high claims (v. 8); the compulsion of crowd mentality (vv. 12, 16a; cf. Exod. 23:2); greed, even for trivial gains (v. 18); and perverted tastes enjoying a harrowing spectacle (v. 17) simply because sin is murderous, and sinners have hatred in them (cf. John 8:44).”3
A special word should be said about verse 16, which declares, “they have pierced my hands and my feet.” The word “pierced” is the most striking indication of a crucifixion in the entire psalm, but it is well known that the Masoretic (or vowel pointed) text of the Middle Ages does not say “pierced.” As it stands, the word in the text should be rendered “as a lion.”
A translator must always be careful how he or she disagrees with the Masoretic text, particularly when there is no explicit textual variant on which to base an alternative translation. Yet in this case there seems to be good reason for doing so. For one thing, the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament, produced a century or two before the Christian era and therefore an unbiased witness, rendered the word “pierced.” Second, the other major versions also translate the Hebrew this way. Third, the meaning “as a lion” has little sense in the context and leaves the phrase in question without an explicit verb (it would have to be supplied from the phrase preceding). This suggests that the Masoretic text and vowel pointing is just wrong and that alternative vowels should be supplied, which can be done. In fact, it may even suggest that the Masoretic text was deliberately pointed in the way it has been by later Jewish scholars to avoid what otherwise would be a nearly inescapable prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion.4
What change in theme occurs in the third stanza?
The second stanza (vv. 3-5) was one of a memory of the past, where the psalmist recollects God’s faithfulness and deliverance of others. The fourth stanza (vv. 9-11) is also a memory of the past. What is the psalmist remembering here?
Application: If you are going through some kind of suffering or trial, recount evidences of God’s faithfulness to you in the past. What does that teach you about the Lord and what you can expect him to do for you?
2The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), note to Psalm 22:7.3Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 107.4The technical possibilities are discussed by most of the commentators, but the most thorough is probably J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 246-248. Original edition 1878-1879. However, Derek Kidner (Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms [Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973], pp. 107, 108) and Peter C. Craigie (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 [Waco, TX: Word, 1983], p. 196) also have helpful discussions, the latter with many references to additional scholarly material on the subject.