For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The Doe of the Morning’. A psalm of David.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,(Ps. 22:1-8 NIV)
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
‘He trusts in the Lord,’ they say,
‘let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.’
This Psalm is well known because of its use by the Lord on the cross. We can look at it first as it applies to the Psalmist, and then we look at how the Psalm is fulfilled in the life and death of our Saviour.
The Psalmist plunges into lament and despair. Where is the Psalmist of Psalm 21 who rejoiced and celebrated God’s deliverance? One moment on the mountain top experience singing God’s praise and now in the valley of despondency and dereliction. How can he be so fickle? Yet how quickly we can turn from joy to extreme sorrow. Taking the Psalms as a whole, we can see the range of emotions that the Psalmist experiences. Not only are the Psalms a window into the soul of the Psalmist but they are window into our own soul.
The Psalmist moves from lament, to prayer and then praise and thanksgiving in Psalm 22. The Psalm begins with the lonely worshipper. He is lonely but not alone. He sits in the congregation but doesn’t engage with the worship. He is taken up with his own feelings, but as the song progresses he is stolen out of his individualism into the community of the worshipping congregation. It is like someone who comes to church burdened with a huge private burden looking for a private word from the Lord to sustain their soul. Initially they don’t feel part of the congregation, the hymns are not suitable for the way they feel, the prayers don’t touch them at the point of their need, the sermon is unlikely to be appropriate, but as the service proceeds they realise that the service is not about them, it is about giving worship to God and they come out of their individualism into community to praise God.
The darkest mystery of the Psalmist’s suffering is the sense of being forsaken by God. For the Psalmist there is a great contradiction between theology and experience. Theology taught him that the covenant LORD was with His people, but his experience said otherwise. The Psalmist refers to the fact that theology taught that his fathers had trusted in the LORD and they were not put to shame (v4-5). But the Psalmist’s experience was at odds with the theology. The covenant LORD was believed to have delivered the fathers who trusted in Him, but it appears that the LORD has forsaken the Psalmist. Many commentators suggest that the Psalmist is sick and he cries out from a near death experience. Day and night the Psalmist cries out in prayer. In his experience of abandonment, the Psalmist keeps on bringing his prayer before God. The Psalmist is not silent in his prayers, but God is. If the Psalmist is ill, the silence of God is worse than any physical ailment.
The Psalmist acknowledges God to be his God. You are my God but I don’t feel like Your child. The repeated ‘My God, My God’ adds pathos to the cry of dereliction.
Why have you forsaken me?
(Why are You) so far from saving me?
(Why are you so far from) my cries of anguish?
LORD You do not answer when I call by day and by night. I cry out in the day and I find no rest at night. Lord I am here, where are You? You do not hear me. Yet You are enthroned by the praises of everyone else. You delivered my ancestors, but why won’t You deliver me? They cried out to You, You listened to them, they were not put to shame. Why them and not me? They were human, but I feel less than human, I am a worm and no man. I feel like a worm because I have been treated like a worm. I have known shame, I am not listened to by God and I am despised for it, by the people. I am a spectacle open to public shame and ridicule. Everyone mocks me and hurls their insults at me. They sarcastically shake their heads at me and if it is possible to sink any lower in my dereliction, they taunt me by saying, ‘God will rescue me since You delight in me.’ The people don’t believe that I am Your delight and I don’t believe it either. ‘You said that he was the apple of Your eye. Let Him come now and deliver him, since he is the favourite.’ Where is your God now?
The Psalmist feels God is not there, and he is forsaken and he is mocked and reminded of this by the jeers of the people who delight in his downfall.
The Psalmist thinks of better days when God was visibly with His people. It is possible for us to despise the days that we live in. We think that there was once a golden age when God was doing more and blessing previous generations. God has placed us here at this time, in this place. He took the previous generation because their time was finished. The only time we have to be faithful is now in the time that God has given us.
The Psalmist may appear to us to be in a very dark place. But it could be darker. The Psalmist is in prayer before the Lord. That is progress. Far worse, to feel that God is silent and for us to remain silent. Being in the presence of God in prayer is always the beginning of better days.
Lord God we have experienced those days when the heavens seem like brass and our prayers do not penetrate through to a hearing in Heaven. Lord we don’t know what you are doing, but help us to know that You are doing. When our souls tend towards despair, lift us up and come to our aid. Help us to trust in You even in those periods of silence. Allow us to hear Your word and be encouraged by Your presence for we ask this in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.