Psalm 22 in the Bible begins with the most anguished cry in human history: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These are the words that Jesus took on His lips at the depth of His suffering on the cross. His suffering on the cross. His suffering was unique at that point as He offered Himself up for the sins of all people. And so, we have tended to see this cry as unique to Jesus. But such an approach to these words is clearly wrong. Jesus was not inventing unique words to interpret His suffering.
Rather He was quoting Psalm 22:1. These words were first uttered by David, and David was speaking for all God’s people. We need to reflect on these words and the whole Psalm as they relate to Jesus and to all His people in order to understand them fully.
The psalm begins with a section dominated by agonized prayer of David. David is expressing in the first place his own experience about feeling abandoned by God. Here is the most intense suffering God’s servant can know-not just that enemies surround him and that his body is in dreadful pain, but that he feels that God doesn’t hear him and does not care about his suffering. And this is not just the experience of David. It is the experience of all God’s people in the face of terrible trouble. We wonder how our loving heavenly Father can stand idly by when we are is such distress.
Yet, even in this extreme distress, David never loses faith or falls into complete hopelessness. His anguish leads him to prayer, and the first words of the prayer are “My God.” Even in his suffering and wondering about God is his God. Amid his anguish, he articulates that faith. He remembers God’s past faithfulness. “In you our fathers trusted, they trusted, and you delivered them. To you, they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and we’re not put to shame.” Then David remembers God’s past care in his own personal life: “Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you I was I cast from by birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” A recurring spiritual remedy in the Psalms is to fill the mind with memories of God’s past faithfulness to assure us of His present faithfulness.
We see David’s hope also in the earnestness of his prayer for present relief. He knows that God can help, and he turns to God as the only one who can help him. “But you, O’ Lord, do not be far off O you my help, come quickly to my aid!” We must never stop praying; even in our deepest distress.
In John Calvin’s commentary, he concluded that a sense of being forsaken by God, far from being unique to Jesus or rare for the believer, is a regular and frequent struggle for believers. He wrote, “There is not one of the godly who does not experience in himself the same thing. According to the judgment of the flesh, he thinks he is cast off and forsaken by God, while yet he apprehends by faith the grace of God, which is hidden from the eye of sense and reason.” We must not think that living the Christian life is easy or that we will not daily have to bear the cross.
This Psalm is not only the experience of every believer, but it is also a very remarkable and specific prophecy of the suffering of Jesus. We see the scene of the crucifixion especially clearly in the words, “A company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet-I can count all my bones-they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them and they cast lots.” (Auction off) Here we see that indeed this Psalm comes to it’s fullness realization in Jesus.
Jesus knew this Psalm and quoted its first words to identify with us in our suffering since He bore on the cross our agony and suffering. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has power over death.” (Hebrews 2:14) Jesus does deliver us by becoming our substitute and sacrifice for our sins.