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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Psalm 22, Part 1, The Lament for the Crucifixion

Although this psalm has a heading that it is a psalm of King David, Israel’s second king who reigned in the 900’s BCE, scholars take that with a grain of salt. And they are right. The headings came later, and there is no guarantee that the heading is correct. However, the psalms resides in a biblical section designated as the “psalms of David,” and whoever wrote it was a “seer” of high magnitude. Thus, I assume that it’s David until someone can prove that it wasn’t.

According toa passage in 1 Samuel, ecstatic prophecy was a respected phenomenon in those days, even to the point where the person prophesying is laid out helplessly on the ground for long periods of time (19:18-24). Today’s Pentecostals would have no problem recognizing such an event. Whoever wrote this was most likely in that kind of state, and not only saw it, but lived it. The scholars will usually say something like, the sufferer feels hopeless and cries out to his God. The sufferer is seen to be some anonymous Israelite. But it’s not about some human sufferer… it’s not about David… it’s about Jesus Christ. It’s about his crucifixion.

Ps. 22:1  My God, my God, why have forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?  NIV, 1984

Jesus cried these words on the cross, but in Aramaic rather than in Hebrew. The Hebrew word translated “saving me” sounds like “y’shooah tee,” which means “my salvation.” In that word is the name “Joshua,” which means “salvation.” The English translation of it is “Jesus.” The word translated as “groaning” is really the loud cry of prey being taken down. It’s not a quiet little groan or moan. It’s a loud cry.

Matthew 27:45, 46: From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 That’s when someone grabbed a sponge, filled it with wine vinegar (which would be acidic), put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. More insults are hurled at Jesus in the Matthew story, then with another loud voice, he gave up the ghost. (Matt. 27:48-50). Psalm 69:21: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”

Psalm 22:2: O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.

Could it be that at the garden called Gethsemane Jesus sought the kind comfort from the angels that he received after his fast in the wilderness? Did he recall his glorious transformation before his disciples? But God was silent. The angels didn’t show up for his trial nor at his flogging. He felt alone on the road to Calvary. Jesus understood what we humans go though when we suffer, yet God seems far away. On the cross, he didn’t see their comforting forms, their mourning for him.

Psalm 22:3: Yet, you are enthroned as the Holy One, you are the praise of Israel.

A better translation is: Yet you are the holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel, NRSV. Or even the KJV, But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

Psalm 22:4, 5: In you our fathers trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

In spite of his sense of abandonment and pain, the psalmist gratefully recalls God’s great mercies of the past, and affirms in his heart that those mercies will not fail.

Psalm 22:6-9: But I am a worm and not a man (compare to Job 25:6), scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

Compare with Matthew 27:39-43: 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 in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (See also Mark 15 and Luke 23.)

Psalm 22:9-11:  Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you’ from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

Christ’s name, Joshua (or Yeshua), and his title of Savior was announced to Mary before his conception, and to Joseph before his birth. John the Baptist leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb in the presence of the unborn Messiah. But at the cross, there was no one acclaiming his great mission or title. The people are no longer hailing him with palm branches. The women standing at his feet could do nothing to help.

Psalm 22:12-13:  Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.

These people are not like the Romans, of whom Christ said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” These particular Jewish leaders at the foot of the cross circle like predators surrounding the prey. They are well dressed, well groomed, and well fed, but they have bestial spirits… lions, dogs, and bulls… perhaps even demonic spirits. Rather than the friendly spirits of God’s kingdom, the Messiah is surrounded by the denizens of hell. Even his disciples have abandoned him.

And now, we have a perfect description of a crucifixion, written from the perspective of the crucified one. His hands and feet are pierced with nails, and the soldiers cast lots to divide up his clothes. Crowned with a thorny crown, in excruciating pain as his weight pulls on his hands, struggling to breathe, with bruises and bloody scars on his back, Messiah suffers the agony of dying slowly. Water is gathering around his heart and probably in his lungs. When the soldier’s sword goes up into his side, it pierces his heart. Water and blood come out separately.

Psalm 22: 14-14:  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men have surrounded me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; they divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.

Jesus cried out, “Into your hands I commend my spirit!” and “It is finished!” At that moment Satan triumphed because he thought he had crushed Messiah’s head, but he had only bitten the heel. Not too long hence, he would feel the crushing of a mighty foot on his own head.

The scholars can argue amongst themselves as to whether the four Gospel writers faked the facts of the crucifixion to fit Psalm 22, which was quite possibly written in the 10th century BCE, but even if it was much later, it was still written before Roman crucifixion even existed. And who would prophesy that a Holy Hero would find himself in such a position? And if the Gospel accounts were NOT faked to fit, who could deny the miracle in that description? It is not an anti-semitic passage, because all of Christ’s original disciples were Jews. His mother, father, brothers and sisters were all Jews. It wasn’t an ethnic group that crucified Christ… it was men in power who are the epitome of all self-serving men in power today. They are found in every city in every year of history. They are found in the media, on wall street, in the police stations, in Congress, and even in church.

Come back tomorrow, Easter Sunday, for the rest of the psalm and how it pertains to the rest of the story.