The Crucifixion Psalm

In the last few evening services we have thought about how Jesus turns up in the Old Testament. In other words, the scriptures written hundreds and thousands of years before Jesus nevertheless are about Jesus. There are all sorts of prophecies and parallels that we can see, with hindsight, are about Jesus.

You might remember that we looked at the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac as a type of God sacrificing His Son and probably on exactly the same spot. We also looked at the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus’ birth.

READ Psalm 22.

Ps 22 is a psalm of David so was written about 1000 years before Christ.

As soon as we read the first line, something stands out: those were the words Jesus cried out on the cross.

As we read further there are more things that exactly parallel what the Bible says about the crucifixion. In fact, the detail is amazing. For the author to say “they have pierced my hands and my feet” and “they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” is just extraordinary and seems to be a very precise prophecy of Jesus’ death.

Many prophecies have a more immediate fulfilment and a more distant fulfilment. In other words, this psalm is not just about Jesus. It meant something for David as well.

David felt that God had abandoned him in a time of great suffering. He was groaning and in physical extremity and God was not doing anything to save him. God wasn’t answering his cries and his torment continued. He could find no rest.

Yet he continued to honour God.

He recognises that God is the God in whom his fathers – all the previous generations of Jews – had trusted – and God had delivered them. No doubt he was thinking of the deliverance through the Red Sea as well as many other occasions.

He feels he has been abandoned and rejected and worthless. He is mocked and people make fun of him. They mock his faith in God. If God is so great, let this God deliver him.

Yet again he talks of his relationship with God from his birth – even before his birth. He oscillates between his faith in God and his distress and God’s apparent silence.

He is surrounded by enemies who are like wild animals. He is physically weak and distressed. His tongues sticks to the roof of his mouth. His bones can all be counted. It is a terrible situation.

But he still believes in God (v.19) – “Lord, do not be far from me… come quickly to help me.”

He looks forward to the time when he will again be able to declare God’s goodness in the assembly – amongst those who have gathered for worship. He will exhort people to praise and honour God because…

v. 24 – God has not despised the suffering of the afflicted.  He has not hidden his face but has listened to his cry. God may seem slow to respond but actually He does hear our cries and He does deliver. God does not abandon His people in their suffering.

He continues to say how he will praise God. God delivers the poor.

In the future, people from all nations will worship God and bow before Him.

Future generations will be told about the Lord’s goodness and they will pass on this knowledge to yet more generations.

Even if that was the only significance this psalm had, it would still be a wonderful psalm.

  • It would be a psalm of faith in God even in the midst of suffering.
  • It would be a psalm of confidence in the justice of God. God does not tolerate injustice. God does not tolerate the righteous suffering at the hands of the wicked. There might be suffering but those who love God can know that one day – maybe not even until the other side of death – but one day justice will be done. God knows. God hears the cries of the righteous.
  • It is a psalm about the whole world , one day, bowing before God.

But there is more to this psalm than that. It has an even greater significance. In fact, some of the things said apply much more to Jesus than they could ever have applied to David. David might have felt as is his hands and feet had been pierced but, as far as I know, that never literally happened to David. He is using an image. But it literally happened to Jesus.

This is quite controversial. Some people will argue that the psalm doesn’t refer to the crucifixion. You will find all sorts of arguments online. There are Jews who will obviously not agree that this is a prophecy of Jesus.

Even that verse about his hands and feet being pierced is controversial. Lots of the ancient manuscripts use a word that is just fractionally different but means that “like a lion they are at my hands and feet”. You might see in the footnotes of your Bible that some manuscripts talk about the lion and some say the hands and feet were pierced. There are arguments to and fro.

It seems to me that there are so many other allusions to the crucifixion in this psalm that it is likely that it does refer to the piercing of hands and feet. And if it does, that is incredible. Crucifixion was not a form of execution at the time of the writing of the psalm. It is kind of bizarre to talk of hands and feet being pierced and yet that is precisely true of crucifixion.

Let’s look at why this psalm is known as the crucifixion psalm.

v.1 – the exact words Jesus cried from the cross. “My God…”

Of course, Jesus would have known the psalm so He could just say these words to make it look like a fulfilment. I think that is very unlikely. Jesus – as is clear in the words of this psalm – was close to death and in terrible anguish. I don’t think he would be too interested in quoting poetry!

On the other hand, in His awful situation, God might have brought the words of this psalm to His mind and the words of the psalm were the cry of His heart.

The whole situation of God not saving Him – and Jesus being distressed by that – were very real for Jesus e.g. v.2.

v.3 – and yet Jesus also did not lose faith in God. The psalmist’s expressions of faith in God maybe parallel Jesus also crying from the cross, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”

And Jesus would have known very well how the former generations had trusted in God and that faith had been rewarded when He delivered them.

v.6 – I am a worm and not a human being. Obviously not literally true! But this reflects the degree of rejection. Jesus was treated inhumanely – treated as if he was not a human being.

“I am scorned by everyone, despised by the people.”  The people of Jerusalem had turned against Jesus. They cried out for His crucifixion. They mocked him on the cross. They laughed and jeered.

v.7 they hurl insults.

v.8 – here is an instance where the detail is amazing: the enemies around him cry out “he trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue Him”. That is exactly what they cried out 1000 years later!

That couldn’t be contrived and yet it was accurately predicted.

v.9 – 11 – an expression of faith. But of whom can it be true to say “from my mother’s womb you have been my God”? If that means “I have acknowledged you from my mother’s womb” then it points to a very special person. This is perhaps one of the instances of the psalm being more appropriate to Jesus than to David.

vv.12 – 13 – surrounded by wild animals. Not literally true but an image of the danger and the threat and the power of his enemies.

v.14 – the physical suffering.

I am poured out like water – life draining away; utterly weak with no strength left

All my bones are out of joint – may have been literally true e.g. shoulders dislocated by the forces on his body.

Heart turned to wax and melted – heart failure – not strong muscle that is active but soft and being  shaped by external forces and noo longer able to resist.

v.15 – Mouth dry like a potsherd – an old piece of pottery – utterly dry. Jesus dried out “I thirst”.

Tongue sticks to roof of mouth – again may have been literally true in the horror of crucifixion.

You lay me in the dust of death – he is at the point of death. Life is ebbing away.

v.16 – dogs surround me – “dogs” is a Jewish term for Gentiles (c.f. Mt 15:26). This would seem to be a reference to the Roman soldiers who crucified Him.

They pierce my hands and feet.

v.17 – all my bones are on display – or can be counted. Jesus was stripped certainly of his outer clothes – possibly of all his clothes. His bones probably protruded in a horrible fashion.

v.18 – again incredible accuracy c.f. Jn 19:23-24

Then comes an appeal to this God He trusts to even now deliver Him.

v.19 – 21 – come quickly, deliver me; rescue me. C.f. “into your hands I commit my spirit.” “Lord, you and you alone can deliver me. Come. I put my trust in you.

The rest of the psalm is quite different. In the first part he is utterly alone and abandoned. In this part, he is in the assembly of the righteous. He is surrounded by the people of God

vv.22-end A vision of the future.

Heb 12:2b – “for the joy set before Him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”


The time would come when Jesus would declare God’s goodness in the assembly. God did not abandon His righteous Son. He heard Jesus’ cries on the cross. He is a God of justice.

We know that God did not rescue Jesus from the cross. Jesus died. And yet there is this picture of a very alive Jesus in the company of those he calls His people. And so, in the psalm, we also have the resurrection.

Heb 2:10-12 applies the words of this psalm to Jesus.

vv.26 – end = a picture of the Kingdom of God

  • the poor will eat and be satisfied
  • those who seek the Lord will praise Him
  • all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord. David had very little to do with this but Jesus is the Saviour of the world. It was because of His death on the cross that the whole world could be reconciled to God. It was as a result of Jesus’ Great Commission that the gospel has been carried to all the world and salvation is not something simply for the Jews but for all people. All the world will bow before Him c.f. Phil 2:10: “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

v.28 – for dominion belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations. Now the prophecy looks beyond the crucifixion and the resurrection, to Jesus’ return and His eternal reign as King of Kings.

v.29 – those who die will worship Him. The psalm talks about life after death in the Kingdom of God for those who have trusted in Him.

v.30 – posterity will serve Him. The good news of Jesus will be proclaimed from generation to generation. People of every generation will hear about Jesus and will worship Him.

They will proclaim His righteousness. People of all generations will bear witness to Jesus

Look at the last phrase: “He has done it!” That is the same as Jesus’ last cry from the cross, ‘It is finished!”

We could say that this is a remarkable psalm and God is a remarkable God building into the scriptures 1000 years before Jesus was even born such an unmistakable account of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection and return and reign. And that would be true.

But perhaps most remarkable is the Jesus who is described:

  • The Jesus who was abandoned by His father for the only time in all eternity – abandoned because he took our sin on Himself. Jesus became a sinner – not because he sinned but because He took our sin. And as a sinner, God truned away from Him.
  • The Jesus who endured such utterly unbearable suffering
  • Who was rejected, despised and scorned
  • Who suffered the most excruciating form of death. This psalm is no exaggeration.
  • And yet who retained faith in God in the most extreme circumstances
  • Who was faithful in doing His Father’s will
  • Who was rescued from death and raised again
  • Who has been proclaimed from generation to generation al around the globe and who is loved and worshipped by people of every nation.
  • Who will reign for eternity over His Kingdom where there will be no more crying or pain.

What do we think of Jesus?

  • Are we fully aware that He died for us?
  • Have we given our lives to Him?
  • Do we worship Him?
  • Do we bow down before Him – not just in worship but in serving Him as Lord?
  • Are we amongst those who proclaim His righteousness to another generation?
  • Have we learnt to trust God like Jesus did so that we know that no matter what suffering we are forced to endure – no matter what other people say and no matter whether we are rejected and mocked – we believe that our God hears our cries and He is a God who will do what is right?
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