The Psalms are an important part of worship. Through singing the Psalms, we express our experience as sinners in a sinful world using the same vivid language that the Old Testament psalmists did. Through the Psalms we pray to God; we ask for aid, comfort, and forgiveness for our sins. The Psalms assure us of God’s grace. And in thankfulness for God’s grace, we praise Him through the inspired words of the Psalms. Psalm 22 as it is versified in Psalter number 47 contains all of these elements. Let’s explore that versification in writing and with music.
David felt as if God had forsaken him. As Christians familiar with New Testament history, we immediately recognize David’s cry for help as prophetic of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Both David and Jesus had the same response to their suffering; they prayed. In Psalm 22 David prays that God will remember him, and deliver him from his suffering. David’s prayer in verse 11 is, “Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.” David recognized that when he was suffering and felt alone, only God could help him.
Jesus suffered as the day of His crucifixion approached and He prayed, “Let this cup pass from me.” Even though Jesus submitted perfectly, the suffering still overwhelmed Him and He prayed for relief. Then when He was hanging on the cross, Jesus cried out with the same words that David had written, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
When we suffer, we must follow the examples of David and Jesus. It is appropriate that we pray the prayer of Psalm 22 and ask God to deliver us from our suffering. Just as David recognized, we must recognize that God is our only source of help.
Again, we immediately recognize the prophetic nature of David’s description of his suffering. David was in a very intense period of suffering, and it gave him a glimpse into what Jesus would later endure. But Jesus suffered as no other man could suffer. The unbelieving civil authorities conspired to sentence him to death despite having never committed a crime, or even a sin. They led Jesus to Golgotha as if He was a criminal. They nailed Him to the cross as a spectacle, and onlookers ridiculed and mocked Him out of hatred for God. He hung there for hours in “thirst and agony” as he slowly died. But Jesus’ greatest suffering came as He willingly took upon himself God’s wrath to pay for the sins of His people in the world. It is appropriate that as we commemorate Christ’s passion we sing this Psalm to help us understand His suffering.
Here David returns to his prayer for help. The source of this help was the exact event that he was prophesying about. Jesus suffered intensely as payment for David’s sins and for the sins of many others. Having descended to Hell to achieve that, Jesus ascended to glory in heaven. That sacrifice and the following glorification were the source of David’s comfort, help, and forgiveness of sins. God gave David that comfort even though he lived long before Jesus’ incarnation. God’s control of the events of history is so sure, that even though David only got a small glimpse of Jesus’ sacrifice, he could have full confidence in His victory over death.
We experience the same comfort as David, but from a different perspective. We sing this Psalm knowing the details of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. We can see more clearly how Jesus accomplished victory over death.
The closing verse of this Psalter number is one of praise to God. David was assured that God did not “stay afar,” and he showed his gratitude through the praise we find in this Psalm. When we gather for worship and praise God by singing the Psalms, we are doing exactly what David refers to in Psalm 22 verse 22. “I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.” When we sing the Psalms we are glorifying God in a tradition that dates back thousands of years. I participate in that tradition by singing the Psalms with my fellow church members and I participate as a church organist. What I have expressed above in words, I express again in organ music.