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Psalm 22

Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility

To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

1

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

2

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;

and by night, but find no rest.

 

3

Yet you are holy,

enthroned on the praises of Israel.

4

In you our ancestors trusted;

they trusted, and you delivered them.

5

To you they cried, and were saved;

in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

 


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1. My God! The first verse contains two remarkable sentences, which, although apparently contrary to each other, are yet ever entering into the minds of the godly together. When the Psalmist speaks of being forsaken and cast off by God, it seems to be the complaint of a man in despair; for can a man have a single spark of faith remaining in him, when he believes that there is no longer any succor for him in God? And yet, in calling God twice his own God, and depositing his groanings into his bosom, he makes a very distinct confession of his faith. With this inward conflict the godly must necessarily be exercised whenever God withdraws from them the tokens of his favor, so that, in whatever direction they turn their eyes, they see nothing but the darkness of night. I say, that the people of God, in wrestling with themselves, on the one hand discover the weakness of the flesh, and on the other give evidence of their faith. With respect to the reprobate, as they cherish in their hearts their distrust of God, their perplexity of mind overwhelms them, and thus totally incapacitates them for aspiring after the grace of God by faith. That David sustained the assaults of temptation, without being overwhelmed, or swallowed up by it, may be easily gathered from his words. He was greatly oppressed with sorrow, but notwithstanding this, he breaks forth into the language of assurance, My God! my God! which he could not have done without vigorously resisting the contrary apprehension 499499     “Ce qu il ne pouvoit faire si non en resistant vivement a la apprehension contraire.” — Fr. that God had forsaken him. There is not one of the godly who does not daily experience in himself the same thing. According to the judgment of the flesh, he thinks he is cast off and forsaken by God, while yet he apprehends by faith the grace of God, which is hidden from the eye of sense and reason; and thus it comes to pass, that contrary affections are mingled and interwoven in the prayers of the faithful. Carnal sense and reason cannot but conceive of God as being either favorable or hostile, according to the present condition of things which is presented to their view. When, therefore, he suffers us to lie long in sorrow, and as it were to pine away under it, we must necessarily feel, according to the apprehension of the flesh, as if he had quite forgotten us. When such a perplexing thought takes entire possession of the mind of man, it overwhelms him in profound unbelief, and he neither seeks, nor any longer expects, to find a remedy. But if faith come to his aid against such a temptation, the same person who, judging from the outward appearance of things, regarded God as incensed against him, or as having abandoned him, beholds in the mirror of the promises the grace of God which is hidden and distant. Between these two contrary affections the faithful are agitated, and, as it were, fluctuate, when Satan, on the one hand, by exhibiting to their view the signs of the wrath of God, urges them on to despair, and endeavors entirely to overthrow their faith; while faith, on the other hand, by calling them back to the promises, teaches them to wait patiently and to trust in God, until he again show them his fatherly countenance.

We see then the source from which proceeded this exclamation, My God! my God! and from which also proceeded the complaint which follows immediately after, Why hast thou forsaken me? Whilst the vehemence of grief, and the infirmity of the flesh, forced from the Psalmist these words, I am forsaken of God; faith, lest he should when so severely tried sink into despair, put into his mouth a correction of this language, so that he boldly called God, of whom he thought he was forsaken, his God. Yea, we see that he has given the first place to faith. Before he allows himself to utter his complaint, in order to give faith the chief place, he first declares that he still claimed God as his own God, and betook himself to him for refuge. And as the affections of the flesh, when once they break forth, are not easily restrained, but rather carry us beyond the bounds of reason, it is surely well to repress them at the very commencement. David, therefore, observed the best possible order in giving his faith the precedency - in expressing it before giving vent to his sorrow, and in qualifying, by devout prayer, the complaint which he afterwards makes with respect to the greatness of his calamities. Had he spoken simply and precisely in these terms, Lord, why forsakest thou me? he would have seemed, by a complaint so bitter, to murmur against God; and besides, his mind would have been in great danger of being embittered with discontent through the greatness of his grief. But, by here raising up against murmuring and discontent the rampart of faith, he keeps all his thoughts and feelings under restraint, that they may not break beyond due bounds. Nor is the repetition superfluous when he twice calls God his God; and, a little after, he even repeats the same words the third time. When God, as if he had cast off all care about us, passes over our miseries and groanings as if he saw them not, the conflict with this species of temptation is arduous and painful, and therefore David the more strenuously exerts himself in seeking the confirmation of his faith. Faith does not gain the victory at the first encounter, but after receiving many blows, and after being exercised with many tossings, she at length comes forth victorious. I do not say that David was so courageous and valiant a champion as that his faith did not waver. The faithful may put forth all their efforts to subdue their carnal affections, that they may subject and devote themselves wholly to God; but still there is always some infirmity remaining in them. From this proceeded that halting of holy Jacob, of which Moses makes mention in Genesis 32:24; for although in wrestling with God he prevailed, yet he ever after bore the mark of his sinful defect. By such examples God encourages his servants to perseverance, lest, from a consciousness of their own infirmity, they should sink into despair. The means therefore which we ought to adopt, whenever our flesh becomes tumultuous, and, like an impetuous tempest, hurries us into impatience, is to strive against it, and to endeavor to restrain its impetuosity. In doing this we will, it is true, be agitated and sorely tried, but our faith will, nevertheless, continue safe, and be preserved from shipwreck. Farther, we may gather from the very form of the complaint which David here makes, that he did not without cause redouble the words by which his faith might be sustained. He does not simply say that he was forsaken by God, but he adds, that God was far from his help, in as-much as when he saw him in the greatest danger, he gave him no token to encourage him in the hope of obtaining deliverance. Since God has the ability to succor us, if, when he sees us exposed as a prey to our enemies, he nevertheless sits still as if he cared not about us, who would not say that he has drawn back his hand that he may not deliver us? Again, by the expression, the words of my roaring, the Psalmist intimates that he was distressed and tormented in the highest degree. He certainly was not a man of so little courage as, on account of some slight or ordinary affliction, to howl in this manner like a brute beast. 500500     “Et de faict, il n’estoit point de si petit courage, que pour quelque real leger il hurlast ainsi comme une beste brute.” — Fr. “The original word [for roaring] properly denotes the roaring of a lion, and is often applied to the deep groaning of men in sickness. See among other places, Psalm 32:3; 38:9.” — Bishop Mant. We must therefore come to the conclusion, that the distress was very great which could extort such roaring from a man who was distinguished for meekness, and for the undaunted courage with which he endured calamities.

As our Savior Jesus Christ, when hanging on the cross, and when ready to yield up his soul into the hands of God his Father, made use of these very words, (Matthew 27:46,) we must consider how these two things can agree, that Christ was the only begotten Son of God, and that yet he was so penetrated with grief, seized with so great mental trouble, as to cry out that God his Father had forsaken him. The apparent contradiction between these two statements has constrained many interpreters to have recourse to evasions for fear of charging Christ with blame in this matter. 501501     “Pour crainte de charger Christ de ce blasme.” — Fr. Accordingly, they have said that Christ made this complaint rather according to the opinion of the common people, who witnessed his sufferings, than from any feeling which he had of being deserted by his father. But they have not considered that they greatly lessen the benefit of our redemption, in imagining that Christ was altogether exempted from the terrors which the judgment of God strikes into sinners. It was a groundless fear to be afraid of making Christ subject to so great sorrow, lest they should diminish his glory. As Peter, in Acts 2:24, clearly testifies that “it was not possible that he should be holden of the pains of death,” it follows that he was not altogether exempted from them. And as he became our representative, and took upon him our sins, it was certainly necessary that he should appear before the judgment-seat of God as a sinner. From this proceeded the terror and dread which constrained him to pray for deliverance from death; not that it was so grievous to him merely to depart from this life; but because there was before his eyes the curse of God, to which all who are sinners are exposed. Now, if during his first conflict “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood,” and he needed an angel to comfort him, (Luke 22:43,) it is not wonderful if, in his last sufferings on the cross, he uttered a complaint which indicated the deepest sorrow. By the way, it should be marked, that Christ, although subject to human passions and affections, never fell into sin through the weakness of the flesh; for the perfection of his nature preserved him from all excess. He could therefore overcome all the temptations with which Satan assailed him, without receiving any wound in the conflict which might afterwards constrain him to halt. In short, there is no doubt that Christ, in uttering this exclamation upon the cross, manifestly showed, that although David here bewails his own distresses, this psalm was composed under the influence of the Spirit of prophecy concerning David’s King and Lord.

2. O my God! I cry in the day-time. In this verse the Psalmist expresses the long continuance of his affliction, which increased his disquietude and weariness. It was a temptation even still more grievous, that his crying seemed only to be lost labor; for, as our only means of relief under our calamities is in calling upon God, if we derive no advantage from our prayers, what other remedy remains for us? David, therefore, complains that God is in a manner deaf to his prayers. When he says in the second clause, And there is no silence to me, the meaning is, that he experienced no comfort or solace, nothing which could impart tranquillity to his troubled mind. As long as affliction pressed upon him, his mind was so disquieted, that he was constrained to cry out. Here there is shown the constancy of faith, in that the long duration of calamities could neither overthrow it, nor interrupt its exercise. The true rule of praying is, therefore, this, that he who seems to have beaten the air to no purpose, or to have lost his labor in praying for a long time, should not, on that account, leave off, or desist from that duty. Meanwhile, there is this advantage which God in his fatherly kindness grants to his people, that if they have been disappointed at any time of their desires and expectations, they may make known to God their perplexities and distresses, and unburden them, as it were, into his bosom.

3. Yet thou art holy. In the Hebrew, it is properly, And thou art holy: but the copula ו, vau, ought, without doubt, to be rendered by the adversative particle yet. Some think that the eternal and immutable state of God is here set in opposition to the afflictions which David experienced; 504504     As ישב, yashab, not only signifies to inhabit, but also to remain or continue, (see Psalm 102:13,) Hammond thinks this last is the meaning here, and renders the word, “But thou remainest or continuest to be holy, O thou, the praises of, or who art the praises of Israel, that is, the object of all their praises; or more simply, But thou remainest holy, the praises of Israel.” but I cannot subscribe to this opinion. It is more simple and natural to view the language as meaning, that God has always shown himself gracious to his chosen people. The subject here treated is not what God is in heaven, but what he has shown himself to be towards men. It may be asked, whether David, in these words, aggravates his complaint, by insinuating that he is the only person who obtains nothing from God? or whether, by holding up these words as a shield before him, he repels the temptation with which he was assailed, by exhibiting to his view this truth, that God is the continual deliverer of his people? I admit that this verse is an additional expression of the greatness of David’s grief; but I have no doubt, that in using this language he seeks from it a remedy against his distrust. It was a dangerous temptation to see himself forsaken by God; and, accordingly, lest by continually thinking upon it, he should nourish it, he turned his mind to the contemplation of the constant evidences afforded of the grace of God, from which he might encourage himself, in the hope of obtaining succor. He, therefore, not only meant to ask how it was that God, who had always dealt mercifully with his people, should now, forgetting as it were his own nature, thus leave a miserable man without any succor or solace; but he also takes a shield with which to defend himself against the fiery darts of Satan. He calls God holy, because he continues always like himself. He says that he inhabiteth the praises of Israel; because, in showing such liberality towards the chosen people, as to be continually bestowing blessings upon them, he furnished them with matter for continued praise and thanksgiving. Unless God cause us to taste of his goodness by doing us good, we must needs become mute in regard to the celebration of his praise. As David belonged to the number of this chosen people, he strives, in opposition to all the obstacles which distrust might suggest as standing in the way, to cherish the hope that he shall at length be united to this body to sing along with them the praises of God.

4. Our fathers trusted in thee. Here the Psalmist assigns the reason why God sitteth amidst the praises of the tribes of Israel. The reason is, because his hand had been always stretched forth to preserve his faithful people. David, as I have just now observed, gathers together the examples of all past ages, in order thereby to encourage, strengthen, and effectually persuade himself, that as God had never cast off any of his chosen people, he also would be one of the number of those for whom deliverance is securely laid up in the hand of God. He therefore expressly declares that he belongs to the offspring of those who had been heard, intimating by this, that he is an heir of the same grace which they had experienced. He has an eye to the covenant by which God had adopted the posterity of Abraham to be his peculiar people. It would be of little consequence to know the varied instances in which God has exercised his mercy towards his own people, unless each of us could reckon himself among their number, as David includes himself in the Church of God. In repeating three times that the fathers had obtained deliverance by trusting, there is no doubt that with all modesty he intends tacitly to intimate that he had the same hope with which they were inspired, a hope which draws after it, as its effect, the fulfillment of the promises in our behalf. In order that a man may derive encouragement from the blessings which God has bestowed upon his servants in former times, he should turn his attention to the free promises of God’s word, and to the faith which leans upon them. In short, to show that this confidence was neither cold nor dead, David tells us, at the same time, that they cried unto God. He who pretends that he trusts in God, and yet is so listless and indifferent under his calamities that he does not implore his aid, lies shamefully. By prayer, then, true faith is known, as the goodness of a tree is known by its fruit. It ought also to be observed, that God regards no other prayers as right but those which proceed from faith, and are accompanied with it. It is therefore not without good reason that David has put the word cried in the middle between these words, They trusted in thee, they trusted, in the fourth verse, and these words, They trusted in thee, in the fifth verse.




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