No greater love…

by Moshe Gold 

     Until a Christian discovers the horrible suffering endured by Jesus on the cross, they have only an intellectual appreciation of the cost of their salvation. Likewise, until those seeking the truth comprehend the anguish of His soul and the agony of His physical suffering, they have denied themselves a glimpse of the immense love of God for mankind. Psalm 22 abundantly uncovers this knowledge for us.

     The Psalm is titled Aijeleth HaShahar (Hind of the Morning), or perhaps this is the melody to which it was sung. Either way, the imagery is perfect for the song. A hind is a doe and in biblical poetry it represents one who, although innocent and pure, is nonetheless persecuted. The bulls (v.12), lions (v.13, 21) and dogs (v.16, 20) are natural enemies of the hind, which prey upon it. Morning represents deliverance after distress. The suffering and deliverance of the innocent perfectly describes the Psalm. 

     With the opening verse we hear the prey, who has been crying out in lonely resignation. The victim feels the silence of God. The weight of divine wrath is crushing him, and still he knows that he and God are joined together in a relationship, calling Him Eli (my God). These cries didn’t just begin; they have been a continuous outpouring, night and day. God who has answered the sufferer’s ancestors when they cried out, has given him confidence to continue, knowing that his relationship with the Father is closer and more intimate than theirs; but there is no answer, no comfort in the midst of his pain. This only increases his realization that his path is different than theirs and his isolation and torment will continue without a break until he is poured out in death. The innocent sufferer is not only shunned by God (vss. 1-6a), but tortured by man (vss. 6b-18) and tormented by Satan (vss. 19-21a). 

A Messianic Psalm 

     Some attribute this Psalm to King David, viewing it as a metaphoric tale of his suffering during the period of his hiding from King Saul. Others place its composition during the Exile in Babylon and account it as the collective sufferings of the Jewish people at that time. While it is possible to find truth in these situations as well as in the lives of various prophets who suffered as did Jeremiah, the imagery captured in metaphor and simile does not completely satisfy itself in those experiences. Rather, it very accurately describes the mental agony, resignation of submission to the will of God and excruciating manner of death that was suffered by Jesus’ death by crucifixion. It also describes the ultimate triumph of the Suffering One, the deliverance that will come to others, even in the future, because of His sufferings and how this will be spoken of from generation to generation. In doing so, Psalm 22 becomes prophetic, being directly quoted three times and alluded to five times1 in the New Testament.

 Consistent With Isaiah 53 

     Some claim that because Jesus cried “Eli Eli lama sabachthani?”2 quoting Psalm 22:1, he could not be the Messiah, according to Christian interpretation of Isaiah 53, where it says that the Messiah would be silent (Isaiah 53:7). Furthermore, they continue, if Jesus is part of a triune Godhead, then how could God not hear him? Or not answer him?

     Isaiah 53:7 speaks of His trial and condemnation. Toward His earthly tormentors He was silent. He never argued with them when they were bringing false charges against Him, allowing them to do with Him as they pleased. The calling out in Psalm 22 is directed toward God. Jesus stated that He came into the world to do the will of the Father. The will of the Father for the Messiah was that He would suffer and die for the sin of the people. As part of the Godhead in human form, His would be a perfect sacrifice to perfectly satisfy the justice of God with respect to sinful man. It would also be the perfect end to the sacrificial system and make way for establishing the New Covenant. It should be remembered that God did hear the cries (vs. 24), but chose not to answer. When Jesus hung on the cross He became the sin offering for mankind. Since God is pure, the moment sin was transferred to Jesus God had to temporarily suspend fellowship with Jesus until He was dead. It was this that brought about the pain and agony of heart that caused the cry. Like in Isaiah 53, after the Messiah’s death there is resurrection and a promise that many will trust in His sacrifice. In reality Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 harmonize to portray the victimization of the Messiah at the hands of sinful men and His ultimate victory for the sake of mankind. 

Not Corrupted By Christians 

     Some claim that Christians changed the words in verse 16; from “like a lion (they are at) my hands and my feet” to “…they pierced my hands and my feet.” This claim is based on The Masoretic Text of the 2nd – 9th Century, which interpreted the Hebrew characters kaaru ((כארו as kaari (כארי). In Hebrew this changes the word from “they pierced” to “like a lion.”

     First, older Hebrew texts show that Christians did not change this verse. The Dead Sea Scrolls (2nd Century BC) were copied in Hebrew and the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint (3rd Century BC) were the work of pious Jews. Both were composed before Roman crucifixion and certainly before the time of Jesus. Both works support the translation “they pierced.” The Syriac Peshitta, which is a Jewish translation into Syriac from the 2nd Century, follows the text of the Septuagint.  In all cases, these are Jewish translations that are authoritative and older than the Masoretic text. Second, detractors point out that the Septuagint uses a Greek word for pierced that pictures breaking open of the earth with a shovel and therefore has no relevance to piercing someone.  However, in the simile and metaphor of the Psalm, it also refers to the frantic digging of dogs as they burrow into the earth or a lion intensely digging into flesh. Thus it preserves the picture of the Messiah set upon by men who, like wild dogs, are clawing into his hands and feet or Satan like a lion piercing the hands and feet of its prey with its teeth.

     When arguments are exposed to the consistent message of Scripture concerning Messiah, they drift away like vapor and what remains cannot be denied: an intimate portrait of the sufferings of the Messiah. This description should cause us all to walk humbly and rejoice in the love of God that has been revealed to us. 

An Incredible Revelation 

     The Psalm specifically describes the crucifixion of Jesus beginning the evening before in the Garden of Gethsemane. In those hours before His arrest, Jesus prayed fervently to the Father pleading that if there was any other way to make the world of man savable then to please do it. His prayer was so intense that capillaries in His forehead burst and blood mingled with sweat dropped from His brow, yet the Father did not answer Him (vs. 2). After a mock trial (illegal under Jewish Law) He was delivered to the Roman guard. These bulls of Bashan (vs. 12) beat and whipped Him.  His head was bleeding, the skin of His back was shredded, the muscles sliced and the blood poured out like water (vs. 14). In this weakened and dehydrated state (vs. 15), He was stripped and stretched tightly on the cross so that His ribs were easily seen (vs. 17). Coarse iron spikes were driven through His wrists just behind the joint of the radius and ulna bones (considered part of the hand). This caused tendon and nerve damage and bleeding. The pain produced great burning and caused the hands and forearms to convulse. The same was done with His feet at the ankles. The cross was raised and dropped into the hole made for it. With the sudden jerking stop, the joints in His shoulders and hips and were put out of place while His elbows and knees felt the shock (vs. 14). The majority of the crowd mocked Him both verbally and with contemptuous facial expressions (vss. 7-8). With arms extended, His torso, sagging under His body weight made it difficult to exhale causing His blood pressure to rise, putting enormous strain on an already over-stressed heart. In a matter of hours, His heart would explode (melt, vs. 14), which was the way crucifixion killed people. As He hung there, soldiers like ravenous dogs gambled to see how they would divide His clothing (vs. 18). During this time, through parched lips, swollen tongue and dry and raspy throat He cried out to God, the words of verse 1; “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

     Although Satan, like a roaring lion, was eager to cut His soul off from the land of the living forever (vss. 20-21), Jesus raised to life. God had heard His cries and was satisfied (vs. 24) with the offering Jesus had made for sin, one time forever! The testimony and declaration that sin had been conquered by the Messiah of God was proclaimed in the synagogue and among the people (vs. 22). As noted in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, many, even among the Gentiles, came to faith in Him, being granted forgiveness of sin and eternal life with God (vs. 26). But among all peoples, there are those who will know Messiah Jesus only as judge and not as Savior (vs. 29). In every generation, to the glory of God, people become followers of Jesus, hearing the message from the former generation, believing it and declaring His salvation to the next generation (vss. 30-31)!  This has been the history of the true Church since its beginning on that Pentecost (Feast of Shavuot) morning fifty 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus.

     Hopefully you have part in this living revelation. Let us more deeply consider Jesus, who for the joy set before him suffered death on the cross for us. 

End Notes 

1.  Direct quotes – Psalm 22:1 (Matthew 22:46; Mark 15:34); 22:18 (Matthew 27:35; John 19:24); 22:22 (Hebrews 2:12). Allusion and parallels – Psalm 22:7 (Matthew 27:41 “mock;” Matthew 27:39, 44 “insults;” Mark 15:29 shaking heads”); 22:8 (Matthew 27:43 “let him deliver him;” 22:15 (John 19:28 “tongue”); 22:16 (John 20:25 “pierced”); 22:17 (Luke 23:35 “stare”).

2.  Matthew 27:46; In Jesus’ day Hebrew was the mother tongue, Aramaic the international language among Mideast peoples, and Greek the international language of the Roman Empire. In Psalm 22:1, the word “deserted me” (translated forsaken me) is azavtani in Hebrew and Jesus used sabachtani, which is Aramaic.

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