Text: Psalm 22
This Psalm shows the inner struggling in prayer of a man of God that teaches us how we ought to come to God with honesty and truth - moving our souls from pain to peace.
In this passage we find an example of prayer to God that in many ways is deceptive in how profoundly it can impact our lives. It is one of the most transparent songs ever to come from the lips of David. Here we find the great king crying out in agony and bewilderment. Here we find as well the unshakable faith of a man whose heart chased after the heart of God.
What is more, the words penned here were voiced again, about 1000 years later, from a cross outside of Jerusalem. We find here not only the pattern of prayer that characterized David, but we find a pattern of prayer used by our Lord.
This Psalm is address to the choir director. As Spurgeon has noted,
"This ode of singular excellence was committed to the most excellent of the temple songsters; the chief among then thousand is worthy to be extolled by the chief Musician; no meaner singer must have charge of such a strain; we must see to it that we call up our best abilities when Jesus is the theme of our praise."
- Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1, pg. 324.
The meaning of the phrase Aijeleth Hashshahar (עַל־אַיֶּ֥לֶת הַשַּׁ֗חַר) is uncertain. It may designate a particular instrument, or it could be a certain type of song, such as a lament. It may refer to a tune that was to be used to sing this song, similar to what we see in our hymnals today. These words may be translated as "concerning the hind of the morning," a phrase that may point to David feeling distressed like a deer being chased by the dogs he refers to in v. 16.
Regardless of the meaning of these words, the author of the Psalm is most certainly David. Though we are familiar with this great man of God, it is good to remember a few things about him.
- As a young man he spent a great deal of time alone in the fields with God
- He was a talented musician who entertained king Saul
- He had faith strengthened through years of escaping Saul's armies in the wilderness
- He was a mighty warrior, killing animals with his bare hands as a boy, slaying a giant no soldier in Saul's army dared face, and bringing hostile nations to surrender as a grown man
- He was a man in love with God's Word and the God of the Word
This is the David that quakes and moans in this Psalm. Even the strong find themselves in moments of great weakness, vulnerability, confusion, heartache and pain. It is moments like these that God pleases to use to remind us that all true strength is found only in Him.
Let us now turn in our copies of God's Word to Psalm 22 and see what it has to say to us this morning.
Read Psalm 22
I. Travailing in Prayer (vv. 1-21)
The first half of this Psalm is a series of three struggles. They take the form of three alarming cries followed by comforting truths.
"But Lord!," cries David in v. 1, v. 6, and v. 11. "And yet I know that...," he replies to himself each time.
Each verse is the honest cry of a heart in distress, each chorus is a sermon of truth that comes like the elusive balm of Gilead to quiet the soul.
A. First Struggle (vv. 1-5)
David's first struggle is contained in the first 5 verses of this Psalm. Though this is not the lengthiest plea in this Psalm, it is certainly the most despairing. David here begins his conversation with God in the depths of emotion. He does not fear to approach Yahweh in this state, but he meekly and imploringly expresses himself.
We shall see as we go through this Psalm that David is distressed because of trouble in three directions.
- First, he senses a separation from God
- Second, he senses a personal inability and wretchedness
- Third, he senses a great danger approaching from around him
I believe we can all relate to these three. Often in life we find cause of alarm either in our relationship with God, our human weakness or our earthly circumstances. Yet, do we not often find ourselves entirely and only consumed with the second two of the three? It is our physical circumstances and inner deficiencies that seem to us to be the most real, the most urgent troubles. And yet how much more critical and urgent is our relationship with God!
Which troubles our hearts more? Losing a job, failing an exam, being rejected by a friend, or realizing that you feel less convicted over your sin than previously, finding prayer distant and tedious, opening God's Word and finding its pages dry and lifeless instead of gushing with rivers of life?
David understood that his relationship with God was the chief distress he was in, and so it is to this that he first turns his attention.
1. Godward Cry (vv. 1-2)
The opening words of this Psalm we know well as Christ's cry from the cross. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani, אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי. In this cry we see three things.
- Despite his pain, David still acknowledged God as God
- Despite feeling forsaken, David clung to his personal relationship to God by calling Him my God
- David was not concerned for what God had done to him, but with where God had gone from him
As Matthew Henry has well said,
To cry out, "My God, why am I sick? Why am I poor?’’ would give cause to suspect discontent and worldliness. But, Why has though forsaken me? is the language of a heart binding up its happiness in God’s favour. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991), Ps 22:11.
In the second half of the verse he begins to tell us why he feels abandoned by God. In short, it is because God has not yet answered his cries for help. "Far from my deliverance," which is God, he says, "are the words of my groaning." The word for groaning is also the word that describes a lion's roar. He is calling loudly, but it seems that his deliverance is still out of earshot. Like a child crying for his parents and thinking they can't hear him, so is David. By day, v. 2, he cries and hears no answer, at night that silence leaves him sleepless.
Cutting through this cloud of doubt and fear, however, come the next three verses. David had filled his mind with the word of God from his childhood, and this practice is now used to bring him the comfort he seeks.
2. Truth from Israel's Past (vv. 3-5)
"Yet," says David. This verse marks the first triumph of truth over perception. David feels a great distance between him and God - this is certain. Yet, he knows there is a truth which argues against how he currently feels. The truth is anchored to the character of God. God, the God David calls my God, is a holy God. In His holiness there can be no imperfection, no forgetfulness, no injustice, no evil intentions, no heartless abandonment. Men may leave us, disappoint us, but not God! And the holiness of God is testified to by the whole nation of Israel. David had but to remember the history of God's people to know what sort of God he worshipped.
God delivered David's ancestors repeatedly. They had trusted God, and God had proven himself. Though they were alarmed and cried out as David even now is doing, they nevertheless trusted God. See it here in v. 5. Trusting God is not in opposition to crying out to Him!
God is not impressed by our ability to suffer in silence. He does not ask that we feel no pain. God asks that in our pain we cry out to Him and in our crying to trust Him.
No parent resents his child who says, "this task you have given me is very difficult, yet I know you must have given it to me out of your love and for my good - help me to succeed." Or, "your discipline has brought me to tears, but I know that you desire what is best for me." It is rather resentful silence that is a cause for worry. So it is with our God, so David knew and thus prayed. It is the offering of prayers such as this that earned him that highest of all titles - a man after God's heart.
It would seem that the Psalm should end here. But this is not the case. As is often our experience, when troubles come we face waves of worry. Once one wave is stilled, there is another coming in behind it. David here is no different. Having addressed his relationship with God, he feels a gnawing sense of worthlessness creep over him. What else is there to do but bring this as well to His Father?
B. Second Struggle (vv. 6-10)
1. Inward Cry (vv. 6-8)
After staring at the sun everything seems dark. So David, after thinking of God is overcome by his own meagerness. "I am a worm," he cries in v. 6. In the original this is emphasized. As David looks at his life his image of himself is reduced to nothing. He does not see himself as the proud warrior, the conquering king, the champion of Israel. Instead he views himself as a lowly worm. He is a reproach, the butt of every joke. The subject of mockery. His reputation is gone. And what is more, the point of the insults David endures is that He holds fast to, and delights in, God. See it here in v. 8.
And if we remember, it was this very taunt that cruel men gathered on mount Calvary took up against our Savior (cf. Matthew 27:40).
Let us not forget that it is our moments of greatest weakness that we often, as did our Lord, achieve our highest victories. For God's people it has always been true that when we are weak, then we are strong (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:10). We who have believed on Him know that in clinging to Him there will always be final victory. David uses this thought to comfort himself.
2. Truth from David's Past (vv. 9-10)
Beginning in v. 9 David remembers his own personal experience with God. Not only had God been faithful to the nation of Israel, but He had been faithful to David. "You are He who brought me forth from the womb," says David. "You have been my God from my mother's womb."
What amazing things God had already done in the life of David. What strength and courage, victory and joy had David known to come from the hand of his God. This ought to be our prayer as well!
Remember well that God is not just the God of His church, He is the God of you and of me. We are to be a people who remember what God has done and use those memories to bring our souls to worship. In Deuteronomy 4:9 God commands His people not to forget what our eyes have seen from the Lord. In Psalm 103:2 David, speaking to his own soul yet again, commands himself to bless the Lord and not to forget all His benefits.
Do we remember how we have followed God and how He has led us this far? Do we bring it to mind regularly so that in moments of suffering it comes quickly into our thoughts? If we fail to remember we shall lose a great weapon to use in the battle against doubt.
C. Third Struggle (vv. 11-21)
David's third, and final struggle in this Psalm comes as he takes a look at the circumstances around him.
1. Outward Cry (vv. 11-18)
Verses 11-18 paint an image straight out of a nightmare.
Have you ever had a dream in which you were chased by some great monster or beast or wicked criminal? And in this dream no matter how fast you tried to run, or how loud you tried to scream, your legs just wouldn't work and no sound would come out of your mouth? This is exactly the situation David faced in his life.
He was surrounded by great adversaries - charging bulls (v. 12); roaring lions (v. 13), wild dogs (v. 16), and a band of evildoers (v. 16). In the midst of this the mighty warrior David felt completely powerless.
His vitality was being poured out upon the ground like a pitcher of water (v. 14a) and his once strong body felt as though every bone had been pulled out of its joint (v. 14b). His courage had evaporated like melting wax (v. 14c). Instead of a strong and commanding voice, he found his tongue sticking to his mouth, incapable of sound (v. 15).
For David this was more than a dream, too. His enemies were not content to intimidate him, but they had come to attack him personally - piercing him, staring at his emaciated body, and openly gambling over his clothing (vv. 16-18).
We know that this section was more than mere poetry for our Savior. For Jesus these words were quite literally true. They did surround Him, pierce Him, mock Him and gaze upon His nakedness and cast lots for His clothing.
In view of such a terrible plight, what can a man do? All seems hopeless! And all would be hopeless, if it were not for our great God.
2. Request for Present Deliverance (vv. 19-21)
David knows exactly where to turn in his hour of testing. He has responded during his first two struggles by remembering what God has done in the past. This has emboldened him now to ask God to act in the present according to His character.
In these verses we see a remarkable change in tone. Sure of the goodness and faithfulness of God, he moves to implore God to act. "Come near!" he cries. "Deliver me!" These are strong commands in the original and reflect the confidence with which David prays. He knows that the God who never changes will remain true, and so he boldly calls upon his Father to save him.
They very last line in v. 22 marks the end of David's struggle and the beginning of his triumph. No more does he cry out in despair. No longer does he wonder where God is. Though David finds himself between the very horns of his enemies (v. 21b), he has heard the answer of God. God does not forsake His own. Ever.
David was never forsaken by God, and Jesus Christ was not left in the tomb.
See how greatly David has been transformed through this prayer. From complete despair he has arrived at confident peace. He began in travail, he ends in triumph. This is a pattern for us! But there remains yet one more tool we can learn from in studying transformational prayer.
- We should look to the past and God's faithfulness to His people
- We should look at our own lives and God's faithfulness to us
- We should call upon God to act according to His will in confidence
- Lastly, we should never forget the future when all things will be put right
II. Triumphing through Prayer (vv. 22-31)
David erupts in this second half of the Psalm in great praise to God for what will come to him in the future. God's people remember what He has done in the past, but we run always with our minds fixed, like Paul, on the future before us. It is there that we find our fullest joy and happiness waiting.
A. Hope in the Future (vv. 23-25a, 26-31)
These verses are truly glorious in how they beautifully resolve the first half of the Psalm. David feared because of his relationship with God, because of his shattered reputation and because of his painful circumstances. In these verses he rejoices for how God will solve all three.
1. Restored Relationship (vv. 22-24)
First we see David proudly promising to speak of God and to praise Him. Notice that in this promise is the confidence that he will again stand among friends - surrounded by his "brethren," in the "midst of the assembly." There will come deliverance and David will stand before His God.
Speaking as though it had already happened, David describes God's attention to those who are afflicted. Though for a moment He may seem lost to view, yet in the final analysis God does not hid His face from them, and whenever they cry He hears them.
2. Restored Reputation (vv. 25)
Notice that in this glimpse of the future there is no mocking, no scoffing, no sneering. The valuation of men comes from only one source - the only source that has ever mattered. "From You comes my praise," says David. He will be vindicated before his God and before the great assembly.
We can have this confidence too. Whatever shame or reproach we bear in this life, whatever slander or gossip is falsely spoken of us, there will be a day when everything will be set right. In Psalm 58:11 we read that God will indeed reward the righteous as He judges the earth. We can take strength today in that hope.
Our hope in God is like a merchant with a ship at sea. He may be in quite a bit of financial trouble but still sleep easy knowing that as soon as his ship comes into port he will be very prosperous.
3. Restored Rest (vv. 26-31)
Lastly we see David describe God's ultimate victory over all suffering and rebellion. David's final deliverance was assured in God's fulfillment of His promises to Israel.
Notice what wonders await the chosen!
- The afflicted will east and be satisfied (v. 26)
- There will be global peace as everyone worships the Lord (v. 27)
- God will rule unchallenged over everyone (v. 28)
In this great age there will be universal recognition of dependence on God. Which a person is prosperous (literally fat) or on the dusty brink of destruction, all shall bow before the Lord.
The end of v. 29 literally reads, and he has not kept his soul alive (וְ֝נַפְשׁ֗וֹ לֹ֣א חִיָּֽה). It is God who sustains life. Only He can keep any soul alive. Looking for comfort anywhere else is vain.
David closes by looking down through time between his current situation and the glories of eternity and seeing the unbroken line of the godly stretching thinly but firmly from end to end. Each generation will proclaim the goodness of God to the next. What He has done will never cease to be heard.
B. Personal Response (v. 22 and v. 25b)
This last section we read has included three personal statements from David regarding what his response to God would be. It is instructive for us. This is the response of a heart that has found rest and should be apparent if we have properly understood our situation.
1. I will tell (v. 22a)
First David says that he will tell God's name to his brethren. In the name of God is summarized all of His person, attributes and work. The heart at peace in God speaks thus. A heart bitter towards God or feeling distant from Him cannot utter such words.
When we are in close fellowship with our Father we speak of Him to our brothers.
Christ is quoted as having spoken these words in Hebrews 2:10-12 in reference to us as the church. Just as Jesus has taught us of the Father, so we ought to be speaking of Him to others as well.
2. I will praise (v. 22b)
Secondly David is driven to public praise. When we see God for who He is and trust Him, we cannot help but to praise Him. This is particularly true when God has brought us through the fires of testing. When we have been plucked from horns of the bull, and delivered from the teeth of the dogs, we are grateful in a way that is hard to reach when we are comfortable and at ease.
3. I will pay (v. 25b)
Lastly, David says he will pay his vows. The commitment he has made to the Lord will be honored. What he has purposed to do will be fulfilled. Having been renewed through prayer, David is now excited to resume serving God in obedience. This is the final step of spiritual transformation.
Despair has a crippling effect, transformational prayer has a restoring effect. When gripped with fear we can do nothing, when resting in the mighty arms of a good God we may confidently do all that God has asked of us.
We have learned much this morning.
- The value of looking to God's past faithfulness to His people
- The value of looking to God's past faithfulness to us
- The value of looking to God's future promises
- The signs of spiritual victory over doubt
- Telling the name of God
- Praising God
- Obeying God
Most importantly, however, I want us all to leave this morning determined to go to God in the midst of whatever trouble our soul is in. Whether it is distress from difficult circumstances or from a fierce battle with sin - let us go to God to be transformed through prayer that is honest and full of truth.
Let us feed upon God's Word so that the Holy Spirit will have a deep well to draw from as He operates on our hearts.
Close in prayer