Christianity · Theology

Psalm 22 and the Crucifixion Account

Among the most powerful, the most beautiful, and the most convincing aspects of the Scriptures is the absolute abundance of prophecy. We see visions of greatness in Genesis’ account of Joseph; we see warnings of coming judgement in Daniel and Jeremiah; we see the end of all time in Revelation. Yet, standing in the midst of all those prophecies, the foretelling of the Messiah pulls them together, sometimes in quite unexpected ways.

Such is the situation we find ourselves in when we read Psalm 22. On the surface, if one reads it without considering the Gospels in the New Testament, the text appears to be the prayer of an utterly desperate man moving from hopelessness to trust—which is true. But that’s not all it is. If one has studied the New Testament, he’ll find that David prayed something prophetic—something so strikingly similar to Christ’s last words on the cross that the dedicated student of the Scriptures finds the parallels impossible to ignore. As a matter of fact, if you look at Psalm 22 on Bible Gateway, the heading for the chapter is written as “The Suffering, Praise, and Posterity of the Messiah.” In this post, then, I’ll help you to compare Psalm 22 and the overall crucifixion accounts of the Gospel by using three of the clearest prophetic verses in the psalm. In the days following Resurrection Sunday, let us celebrate the nearness of David to his Lord, the passion of Christ on the cross, and the mercy of the Father in heaven—together.

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of my groaning?” ~Psalm 22:1, NKJV

Sometimes, when we pray to God, we aren’t convinced that He hears us or much less cares. He seems so far in trials, in the midst of discouragement and heartache. This bleak perspective on reality is reflected in both King David’s song and King Jesus’ cry. David truly cannot believe that God is near and is blind to the work He is doing in his life. He did not know his psalm would be part of the Holy Scriptures and in a beautiful irony bring thousands closer to God through expressing how far He seems. Jesus, however, had truly experienced God’s forsaking and thus had more reason to cry before Him at the cross. Christ’s love for us, though, sustained Him through the most despicable of sufferings and provided a way for all to receive His redeeming glory.

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” ~Matthew 27:46, NKJV

“For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots.” ~Psalm 22:16-18, NKJV

The prophecy contained in Psalm 22 does not comprise Jesus’ words only. In verses 16-18, we also receive a glimpse into the violence (and lack of it) inflicted upon Him as well as what happens to Christ’s clothing. Piercing of hands and feet. No breaking of bones. Dividing of garments and casting of lots. It’s all there, and we’d be ashamed to not note how faithfully this verse mirrors the Gospels.

But think of David in his prayer. Does he inadvertently prophesy in his suffering, with no knowledge of what was to occur upon the death of his Messiah, simply compelled to use the strongest of language to convey his passionate grief? Or does he know somehow the exact details of the Father’s mercy plan? Since the Bible does not (to my knowledge) record any sort of Messianic vision given to David, I am inclined to think the former, which makes this passage all the more fascinating. What a wonderful experience it would be, to be so near to God that you can prophesy so unconsciously!

“Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” ~John 19:32-34, NKJV

“And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take.” ~Mark 15:24, NKJV

“You who fear the LORD, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel! For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard.” ~Psalm 22:23-24, NKJV

Both the psalm and the New Testament crucifixion accounts refuse to end in despair. They end in hope. In the midst of our suffering, when we look at the pain of Christ as He hung on the cross, we can have a peaceful joy in knowing that God heard the cries of His Son, and that He continues to listen to His imperfect sons and daughters on Earth. We can know this because of the Resurrection—because we have seen Him work and move in the modern world. Because His love now covers our sins. Because He is ruling heaven as a living, powerful God, not breaking into earthly dust as a dead man killed like a criminal. In both Psalm 22 and the crucifixion accounts, the Prince cried; the King listened; and the people are now free to rejoice.

“Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ And they remembered His words.” ~Luke 24:5-8, NKJV


~Sarah Merly

April 7, 2018

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