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Psalms 22 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

The first and greatest of the ‘Passion Psalms,’ consecrated for us by our Lord’s appropriation of it to Himself. His utterance of the opening words of it upon the Cross has been thought with much probability to indicate that the whole Psalm was the subject of His meditations during those hours of agony. But this application and fulfilment does not exclude a primary and historical reference.

A. i. The Psalm opens with the agonised cry of a persecuted saint, who feels himself deserted by God ( Psa 22:1-2). He appeals to the character of God ( Psa 22:3) and to the experience of His mercy in past ages ( Psa 22:4-5), whereas he is the butt and victim of scornful persecutors ( Psa 22:6-8), though from his birth he has been dependent upon God ( Psa 22:9-10).

ii. He urges his plea for help ( Psa 22:11), describing alternately the virulence of his foes ( Psa 22:12-13 ; Psa 22:16 ; Psa 22:18), and the pitiable plight to which he is reduced ( Psa 22:14-15 ; Psa 22:17). Still more earnestly he repeats his prayer ( Psa 22:19-21), till in an instant the certainty of deliverance flashes upon him (21 b).

B. i. The darkness of despair is past. He can look forward with confidence to the future. He avows his purpose to proclaim God’s goodness in a public act of thanksgiving ( Psa 22:22), calling upon all that fear Jehovah to join him in adoration ( Psa 22:23-24), and to share the blessings of the eucharistic feast ( Psa 22:25-26).

ii. And now a yet sublimer prospect opens to his view. Jehovah’s sovereignty will one day be universally recognised ( Psa 22:27-29); and His gracious Providence will be celebrated by all succeeding generations ( Psa 22:30-31).

The Psalm thus falls into two divisions, each of which is subdivided into two nearly equal parts.

A. Present needs. i. Plaintive expostulation (Psa 22:1-10). ii. Prayer for deliverance (Psa 22:11-21).

B. Future hopes. i. Thanksgiving for answered prayer (Psa 22:22-26). ii. The extension of Jehovah’s kingdom (Psa 22:27-31).

Commentators differ widely in their views of the scope, occasion, and date of the Psalm. The chief lines of interpretation may be termed the personal, the ideal, the national, and the predictive.

(1) The first impression produced by the Psalm is that it is a record of personal experience. The title ascribes it to David, and it has been variously supposed to reflect the circumstances of Saul’s persecution, or Absalom’s rebellion, or perhaps to gather into one focus all the vicissitudes of a life of much trial, or possibly to describe the fate he feared at some crisis rather than actual experiences. Delitzsch, who maintains the Davidic authorship, supposes it to have been written with reference to David’s narrow escape from Saul in the wilderness of Maon (1Sa 23:25 f.). But he admits that the history gives us no ground for supposing that David actually underwent such sufferings as are here described. There is, he thinks, an element of poetic hyperbole in the picture, which has been used by the Spirit of God with a prophetic purpose. The Psalm has its roots in David’s own experience, but its language reaches far beyond it to the sufferings of Christ.

Others have thought of Hezekiah, whose deliverance and recovery made an impression upon foreign nations (2Ch 32:23); others, with more probability, of Jeremiah, with special reference perhaps to the situation described in ch. Psa 37:11 ff.; others of some unknown poet of the Exile.

(2) But many features in the Psalm appear to transcend the limits of an individual experience. Hence some have seen in the speaker the ideal person of the righteous sufferer. The Psalm describes how the righteous must suffer in the world; how Jehovah delivers him in his extremity; how that deliverance redounds to His glory and the extension of His kingdom.

(3) From a somewhat similar point of view others have regarded the speaker as a personification of the Jewish nation in exile, persecuted by the heathen, apparently forsaken by Jehovah.

(4) Others again, concentrating their attention upon the striking agreement of the Psalm, even in minute details, with the facts of Christ’s Passion, have regarded it as wholly predictive.

Each of these lines of interpretation contains some truth; none is complete by itself. The intensely personal character of the Psalm bears witness that it springs from the experience of an individual life; yet it goes beyond an individual experience; the Psalmist is a representative character; he has absorbed into himself a real sense of the sufferings of others like himself, perhaps even of Israel as a nation; he interprets their thoughts; to some extent, secondarily at any rate, he is the mouthpiece of the nation. But the Psalm goes further. It is prophetic. These sufferings were so ordered by the Providence of God, as to be typical of the sufferings of Christ; the record of them was so shaped by the Spirit of God, as to foreshadow, even in detail, many of the circumstances of the Crucifixion; while the glorious hopes for the future anticipate most marvellously the blessed consequences of the Passion; ut non tam prophetia quam historia videatur (Cassiodorus). But the fulfilment far transcends the prophetic outline, and reveals (what in the Psalm is but hinted at, if so much as hinted at) the connexion of redemption with suffering.

It is impossible to speak definitely about the date and authorship of the Psalm. It is certainly difficult to connect it with what we know of David’s life; and we seem rather to be within the circle of prophetic thought out of which sprang the portrait of the suffering servant of Jehovah in the second book of Isaiah. The parallels with that book should be carefully studied. Yet the portrait there is more fully developed. The redemptive purpose of suffering is more explicitly realised. Here, though a glorious future succeeds the night of suffering, there is no organic connexion shewn between them.

The Psalm should be studied in the light of its fulfilment in regard both to its general drift and to particular allusions. The opening words were uttered by Christ upon the Cross (Mat 27:46; Mar 15:34). St John (Joh 19:24) expressly speaks of the partition of Christ’s garments by the soldiers as a fulfilment of Psa 22:18 (cp. Mat 27:35, where however the quotation is interpolated), Psa 22:14 ff. are a startlingly graphic anticipation of the agonies of crucifixion, even to the piercing of the hands and feet. The mockery of the bystanders is described in the language of the Psalm, and the chief priests borrow it for their scoffing ( Psa 22:7 ff., cp. Mat 27:39-44; Mar 15:29 ff.; Luk 23:35 ff.). The words of thanksgiving ( Psa 22:22) are applied to Christ by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Psa 2:12). The application of the concluding verses is obvious, though no actual reference is made to them in the N.T.

Yet it should be observed in how many points the type falls short of the fulfilment. It could not be otherwise. It is but one of many fragments of truth revealed beforehand which were to be summed up and receive their explanation in Christ.

Two points deserve special notice in connexion with the Messianic application of the Psalm. It contains no confession of sin; and it has none of the terrible imprecations which startle us in the kindred Psalms 69, 109.

The choice of the Psalm as a Proper Psalm for Good Friday needs no comment.

upon Aijeleth Shahar ] Rather, set to Ayyéleth hash-Shahar, i.e. the hind of the morning, the title of some song to the melody of which the Psalm was to be sung, so called either from its opening words or from its subject. Cp. the title of Psalms 9. It is useless to speculate whether ‘the hind of the morning’ in this song meant literally the hind bestirring itself, or hunted, in the early morning, or figuratively, the morning dawn. The phrase is used in the Talmud for the first rays of the dawn, “like two horns of light ascending from the east,” but this later use can hardly determine its meaning here.

Explanations which regard the phrase as descriptive of the contents of the Psalm: e.g. the hind as an emblem of persecuted innocence, the dawn as an emblem of deliverance: must be rejected as contrary to the analogy of other titles.

The LXX renders, concerning the help that cometh in the morning, explaining ayyéleth by the similar word eyâlûth ( strength or succour) in Psa 22:19. The Targum connects it with the morning sacrifice, and paraphrases concerning the virtue of the continual morning sacrifice.

Consult other comments:

Psalms 22:0 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Psalms 22:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Psalms 22:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Psalms 22:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Psalms 22:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Psalms 22:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Psalms 22:0 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 22:0 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Psalms 22:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Psalms 22:0 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges