Psalm 22 consists of lamentation, supplication and thanksgiving. It was originally written by David in a state of personal despair, but can be understood as having been used as liturgy by worshippers who were suffering from sickness and seeking healing or were near death and seeking deliverance. David wrote it for the lead musician to either play on an instrument called the “ayeleth hashahar” (literally “dawn doe” translated as “morning star”) or to a melody familiar to the Hebrews in 1000 BC known as the song “Ayeleth Hashahar” (“Dawn Doe” or “Morning Star” song).
The psalm begins with David (or, the worshipper) expressing their sense of being forsaken by God because of their sickness or their exposure to death. (22:1-5) They are struggling to understand their faith and theology in light of the contradiction with their experienced suffering and lack of deliverance.
This confusion and complaint is followed by the second problem: the afflicted worshipper is rejected by others in the community. (22:6-8) The afflicted worshipper and the situation is misunderstood by others who consider the suffering psalmist to be lower than life (“a worm”) and scorn them with ridicule. As their health fades and death approaches the silence of God seems to confirm the mockers accusation that the suffering worshipper has been rejected by God.
The afflicted worshipper describes the trouble that surrounds him (22:12-18) and prays for deliverance in 22:19-21. Then in between verse 22:21 and 22:22 it appears that an oracle or a word from the Lord is received by one of the officiating priests and spoken to the worshipper in words of promised deliverance. The worshipper than makes a vow promising to declare the name of the Lord to his brothers and to praise God in the congregation of worshippers while calling others to do the same:
“I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!” (Psalm 22:22-23)
In this Psalm the afflicted worshipper is healed and restored to life. But, within the final verses (22:29-31) even those who are not delivered from affliction, sickness and death are said to kneel before the Lord just like the living ones do who feast and worship on earth. In other words, the proclamation of what the Lord does and his absolute dominion over the earth will be proclaimed to future generations in spite of someone’s deliverance from death because the Lord rules on both sides of the grave.
Even though there is no clear connection to the promise of the Messiah in this Old Testament Psalm, both Jesus on the cross and the writers of the New Testament made connections between Jesus’ work of salvation with the overall theme of this psalm and its specific verses. Jesus quoted the opening and closing verses of Psalm 22 while on the cross (Matthew 27:46 and John 19:30). The writers of the Gospels make these connections with the 22nd Psalm:
- Dividing garments from Psalm 22:18 in John 19:23-24
- Hurl insults and shake heads from Psalm 22:7 in Mt. 27:39 and Mark 15:29
- Let the Lord deliver him from Psalm 22:8 in Mt. 27:43
With the death and resurrection of Jesus this Psalm can be interpreted not only as deliverance from sickness and death, but also deliverance through death and suffering by means of the resurrection. This hope of resurrection is the basis for praise and worship by all members of the congregation including both those who are delivered from sickness and those who are delivered by resurrection.