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Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs– heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (ESV)
Everyone who’s attended Christian church for any length of time has been taught, “What is true of Christ is true of us in him.” The Holy Spirit unites the church and Christ through believer’s baptism. We can pray the psalms with Christ, because, as believers, He is in us and we are in Him.
Romans 6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (ESV)
Nowhere is the victory of Christ more pronounced than in Psalm 21. Andrew Bonar rightly divides this psalm into three sections: 1) Verses 1-7: “Messiah’s exaltation after his suffering,” 2) Verses 8-12: “His future acts when He rises up to sweep away his foes,” and 3) Verse 13: “The cry of his own for that day, as their day of realized bliss.” (Andrew Bonar, 72)
What is true of Christ is true of us. In Christ we have our resurrection from difficult situations that threaten to drown and annihilate us. In Christ we have our victory over our enemies. These include death itself, fatigue, despair, persecutors, fear, uncertainties, hopelessness, and many others. Finally, our end will be glorious, as we share an eternity of praise and thanksgiving for the Father of the One who set us free.
Dialogue functions as a prophetic tool for the Spirit’s announcement centuries ahead of time that the divine Christ would be incarnated as a human being who would suffer greatly.
[Please feel free to jump down to the Summary and Conclusion at the end of this article.]
Speakers. Although it is true that Psalm 22 attributes David as its author, while Psalm 102 makes no attribution, I believe the in-character persona of the first person speaker is identical. The character is Christ, God’s Son, and the setting is his passion. I can say this because both psalms are quoted in the New Testament with the Son identified as the speaker.
Concerning this identification, Psalm 22 is the easier to ascertain. A portion of verse 1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV), is placed by gospel writers Matthew and Mark as proceeding from the lips of Christ, as he hung upon the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Psalm 102:25-26 is cited in Hebrews 1:10-12. The author of the letter attributes this quotation to God and states that in the quotation God addresses the Son (Hebrews 1:8). Going back to Psalm 102, we discover that since God addresses the Son in verses 25-26, then it must be in reply to the Son’s addressing God in verses 23-24, “He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. ‘O my God,’ I say, ‘take me not away in the midst of my days…'” God then replies, as in Hebrews, “25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.” (ESV)
Pattern. Both Psalm 22 and Psalm 102 follow a pattern of 1) statement of suffering by a first person singular speaker, which, as demonstrated above, is the in-character persona of Christ. 2) Following the statement of suffering is an objection in a different voice, which might be paraphrased, “But your greatness, Lord, extends far beyond this suffering.” 3) Following the objection, the first person singular voice of Christ provides further evidence of suffering contra the objection. 4) The psalm resolves the conflict in final statements of the glory of Christ in a voice not the sufferer’s own.
1. Suffering. In both Psalm 22 and Psalm 102, the first person singular in-character persona expresses great suffering.
Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (ESV) …
…11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet–
17 I can count all my bones– they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (ESV)
Psalm 102:1 A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!
3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places;
7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (ESV)
2. Objection. Both psalms record objections to the initial statements of the speaker’s suffering.
Psalm 22 Recap of Suffering: 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
Objection: 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
[See Dialogue in Psalm 22 for an explanation of how these verses might be considered an objection by a chorus of speakers.]
Psalm 102 Recap of Suffering: 1 A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD… 3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. 4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. 5 … my bones cling to my flesh. 6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; 7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. 8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. 9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, 10 … for you have taken me up and thrown me down. 11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (ESV)
Objection: 12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. 13 You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come. 14 For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. 15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. 16 For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; 17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. 18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: 19 that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, 21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, 22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD. (ESV)
John Barclay attributes verses 12-22 to speech by the Father through the Holy Spirit to the Son. [Barclay, John, The Psalms of David, 332. While most commentators do not share his attribution, I share most of it, independently. I cite Barclay here as confirmation of this assignment of multiple speakers. The topic of dialogue in Psalm 102 will receive an article of its own.]
3. Protest contra the objection: The speaker protests against the objection with further evidence of his suffering. The objection points to the essential being of the sufferer as far and beyond greater than the quality of the suffering would seem to suggest might be possible. That is, the first person speaker, because of his suffering, appears to limit his identity, while the objectors expand and elevate his identity. The first person singular speaker then replies with further evidence that indeed, his suffering has been extreme.
Psalm 22 Objection: 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
Protestation Contra Objection: 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (ESV)
Psalm 102 Objection: 12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. 13 You will arise and have pity on Zion… [through verse 22]
Protestation Contra Objection: 23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days.
24a “O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days … (ESV)
4. Resolution by means of a final statement of the glory of Christ (the sufferer) in a voice not the sufferer’s own:
Psalm 22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
(ESV) [See Dialogue in Psalm 22 for an explanation of how this portion might be considered as speech by a persona different than the sufferer. The article also discusses how this portion might apply to both God and his Christ.]
Psalm 102:25 In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands. 26 They shall perish, but thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them, and they shall be changed. 27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. 28 The children of thy servants shall dwell securely, and their seed shall prosper for ever. (Septuagint English)
Summary and Conclusion. This article seeks to demonstrate how Psalm 22 and Psalm 102 follow a similar pattern of organization. The pattern has four steps: 1) Statement of suffering by a first person singular speaker, 2) Objection to the statement by a different speaker(s), 3) Contra the objection, response by the initial speaker with further evidence of suffering, and 4) Final statement of the glory of the sufferer above and beyond (outside the realm of) his suffering. The significance of observing this pattern is to realize that Psalms is a unified whole that speaks prophetically of the suffering of the Christ to come. The New Testament authors understood and utilized the prophetic role of Psalms, as witnessed by their quotations of them.
By means of dialogue, both psalms emphasize the human nature of Christ, while also emphasizing his divinity. It is as a human being that the Christ suffers, with the suffering expressed through the voice of a first person singular speaker. Part of the dramatic pathos of each psalm lies in the reader’s discovery that Christ the divine Son suffered so greatly as a human being that for encouragement he needed to be reminded of his divine identity. A chorus of God’s people remind him in Psalm 22, while in Psalm 102, God himself reminds his incarnated Son that he is divine. As mentioned, the dialogue functions as a prophetic tool for the Spirit’s announcement centuries ahead of time that the divine Christ would be incarnated as a human being who would suffer greatly.
Those who have been reading my blog for some time know that my premises concerning Psalms are that 1) Psalms are written by and large about Christ, and 2) Psalms contain dialogue.
Disclaimer: I promise that the original ideas (to the best of my knowledge they are original) presented here, concerning verses 3-5, are neither simple for me as author to compose, nor as readers will they be simple for you to follow. This psalm requires effort and takes time.
Concerning dialogue, many psalms contain conversation, or speech, directed from one party to another. The speech occurs in blocks of varying length to or from the major characters. Considered as a unified whole, the major characters in Psalms are 1) God, 2) His Son the King, 3) the King’s people, 4) God’s enemies, who are also enemies of the King, and 5) at times, an unidentified narrator.
Psalms is a high drama that tells the story of God’s chosen King and his people. Once the reader has perceived and experienced speech in certain of the psalms, it proves difficult not to look for and find it in other psalms. The speech and drama expressed in individual psalms unites them into a continuous, passionate story about the main characters, especially God’s Son, the King.
Psalms with clear examples of speech include Psalms 2, 89, and 110. Hebrews 1 quotes several psalms as though God himself were speaking directly about his Son through them. Psalm 22 also contains speech.
Psalm 22 and Speech
1. First Person Singular (verses 1-2, 6-21) Speaker: the psalmist, the Lord, Christ at his passion. Christ spoke a portion of verse 1 while hanging on the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a, ESV) Verse 1 in particular marks this psalm as prophetic. Addressee: God
2. Third person reported speech (verses 7-8). Speaker: The first person speaker of verses 1-2 and 6 is quoting in third person what the mockers are saying to him. Addressee: those whom the first person speaker addresses in verses 3-5 (see below.)
Within the actual setting of the Crucifixion event of the Christ, i.e., Jesus Christ’s being crucified, there really was a chorus of mockers present at the foot of the cross who spoke words similar to those of Psalm 22: 6-7. Matthew records various examples of mockers in Matthew 27:39-44. (See also Mark 15:29-32.) Luke also records the speech of mockers in Luke 23:35-39.
3. First Person Plural (verses 3-5). Speaker: either 1) the same speaker as in number one above, or 2) a choral group of speakers. Addressee: if 1), the same speaker, then the addressee is God. If 2) a choral group, then the addressee is the first person singular speaker of verses 1-2.
My viewing this block as possibly being spoken by a chorus is to my knowledge original. Therefore, I cannot point to confirmation from another. I would prefer being able to cite someone else who reads the psalm this way.
- Within the setting of a readers’ theater type of dramatic performance (See Psalms 9 and 10: A Readers Theater), a group of speakers functioning as a chorus is entirely logical, reasonable, and possible.
- Other psalms containing clear-cut examples of a chorus of speakers representing the people of God are the following: 20, 46, 48, 95, 100, 118, and 132.
- The block of speech found in verses 3-5 is set off by contrastive conjunctions.
- Most English versions begin verse 3 with either of the English words, “but” or “yet.”
- The contrastive conjunction is present in both Hebrew and Greek versions.
- The block ends with verse 5, and to indicate this, verse 6 presents another contrastive conjunction, which appears as “but” in English.
- The sense of this block contrasts in content from the prior two verses and the following protestation by the original first person singular speaker.
Here is a paraphrase of verses 1-8 interpreted as a Readers Theater dialogue. The text utilizes the New King James version.
Superscript: To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Deer of the Dawn.” A Psalm of David.
The Christ addressing God (verses 1-2): My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.
Chorus of Faithful Followers addressing the Christ (verses 3-5): But You are holy1, Enthroned in the praises of Israel! Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed. [1 See footnote below describing Christ as the Holy One of God]
The Christ responding to the chorus’ objection (verses 6-7): But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
Mockers (verse 8): “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”
The Christ addressing God (verses 9-10, etc.): But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God…
Casting this portion of Psalm 22 into a Readers Theater dialogue adds depth and richness to an already deep, rich psalm. The dialogue serves to emphasize the prophetic nature of the psalm. Today’s readers must always bear in mind that when Psalm 22 was first “performed,” Messiah was still centuries in the future. His name had not yet been spoken. Worshipers of God were for the first time learning that there was indeed a Son, a King, a Chosen One of the Lord Jehovah, appointed by him and destined by him for his people to worship. This was all new. Much of the psalms serve as an announcement and description of what the life of the future Christ would be like.
As the dialogue above opens, the reader hears the first speaker wailing out to God in sorrow for his dreadful suffering. Then the chorus, who have been watching and listening, object with loud surprise and dismay, “But how can this be? You are so-and-so.” Clearly, the prophet behind these biblical words has given the chorus the role of seeing and knowing the identity of the suffering one, “This is none other than our God himself!” “How can you be suffering? You are our God, whom we have known and trusted for generations! You had the power to deliver us. How can you now say that you are forsaken of God?”
The first speaker turns toward the chorus and replies with an objection of his own, “But it is not as you say. I am a worm and not even a man. I am a reproach of men, and despised by the people. Look! Here’s proof. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head. This is what they are saying about me. Listen.”
Then, as though they were also present on stage, the mockers repeat their mocking, “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”
At this point the first person speaker turns away from the chorus, having answered their objection, and turns toward God, whom he had been addressing at the beginning. He begins, “But you are he who…” It is as though he is continuing his thought from verses 1 and 2 while interweaving those sentiments with what his mockers have just spoken. “This is what the mockers are saying about me, but you, my God, are not like them. You are not one of them. You appear to be abandoning me, but why? You are he who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God…What a long history we have together. Why are you forsaking me now?”
Evaluation of Above
There is nothing in the text that could possibly prove that the readers theater interpretation is correct. Neither can it be proved that this interpretation is not possible and is incorrect. Further, there is much in the text, in the psalms as a whole, and in the New Testament that could bear witness to a dialogical–readers theater–interpretation.
From a literary standpoint, the readers theater interpretation makes as much sense as the perception of a single speaker throughout, because of the contrastive clauses introducing the sections. When read out loud straight through, there’s definitely a sense of argument in the words themselves. Either the speaker is arguing with God, arguing with himself, or both. The argument concerns the topic of why God has abandoned the speaker.
If there is only one speaker throughout, then verses 3-5 could fit nicely with the possibility that the speaker is arguing with God. He might be saying, “Why are you abandoning me now? In the past you did such and such for our people. Your abandoning me now is out of character with your past actions.”
Against this interpretation lies the question of why the first person singular speaker suddenly chose to identify himself with the group of believers whom God delivered over the centuries? And once having done so, why would he suddenly switch back to singular to see himself as not even qualifying to be in that group of believers? He states that he is a worm, and not a man. He adds proof that he has many detractors who mock him. Then suddenly, he argues from the other side that God has treated him well in the past. It is God who took him out of his mother’s womb and so forth.
If there is one speaker throughout, then the reader must conclude that he is in a great state of mental agitation and doubt. He flips back and forth between statements of faith in God and statements of self aversion. From what I know of God and Scripture, it makes more sense to me to hear more than one speaker in this section. The first person singular sufferer is talking to both God and the chorus of witnesses who interrupt his prayer to address him directly in disbelief of the situation. Given that the psalm is a prophecy announcing a future occurrence, I find no harm in the readers theater viewpoint. It accurately portrays the truth of the shocking nature of the Christian cross narrative, that the Almighty God Yahweh, who shepherded his people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the promised land, would be the same person who speaks the words of Psalm 22. Such a discord is all but inconceivable. A chorus of God’s people would certainly be shocked at the revelation that their protector and deliverer was now in dire straits, abandoned by Almighty God. And yet, vindication comes in the end.
The plaintive sufferer speaks through verse 21. The descriptions in verses 12-18 closely match the occurrences recorded in the gospel accounts of the scene at the cross of Christ: the Roman soldiers surrounding Jesus (Psalm 22:12), the religious authorities speaking slanderous lies (verse 13), the physical effects of crucifixion (verses 14-15), the enemies surrounding the cross mentioned again (verse 16a), the nail pierced hands and feet (verse 16b), the effects on the body of a hard life of constant exercising, fasting, and hunger, the skin and bones displayed by hanging naked on a cross (verse 17a), the public nature of the crucifixion revealed in the stares and gloating of people (verse 17b), and the soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments by lot at the foot of the cross (verse 18). Verses 19-21a record a direct request for deliverance, “But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! (NKJ)
The prayer for deliverance recorded in verses 19-21a transitions abruptly in verse 21b, “You have answered me.” The NET Bible places an exclamation point here. Verse 22 announces praise and testimony to be given by the former sufferer to his brothers and in the middle of the congregation. Verses 23-31 form a final prophetic block that concludes this magnificent psalm.
While it is clear that the agonizing sufferer spoke the bulk of verses 1-21a (minus verses 3-5, which could correspond to a chorus, and the reported speech of mockers in verse 8), the announcement of deliverance in 21b, and the intention to praise God in verse 22 (1st person singular), it is not clear who speaks the final section from verses 23-31. Some might conclude that the sufferer of the early part of the psalm sings a praise solo to God at the end. Others hear a cantata, because the ending verses have a mixture of voices that alternate both speakers and addressees. It is not simple to decipher who is speaking to whom and about whom in verses 23-31.
How do we sort these verses? Most commentators find a sharp contrast between the blocks of verses 1-21 and 22-31, which they explain in various ways, none of which can be proven definitively. (See, for example, Craig C. Broyles, 115, 120-122 and Charles Spurgeon, 324.) Verse 21a definitely attaches to the prior verses. Here the sufferer is directly addressing God as he continues to ask for deliverance. Verse 21b, the announcement of answered prayer, is also spoken in first person singular by the sufferer to God. Following this, because of grammatical considerations alone, verse 22 would appear to be the same speaker. Verses 21b and 22 comprise a clear transition between the first portion of the psalm, the passion portion, and the final portion of the psalm, the praise portion.
The remaining verses of the praise portion prove difficult to determine who is speaking. The difficulty stems from the changing grammatical character of the speaker(s) and addressees. On the one hand, the sufferer of the first portion of the psalm might be seen as a sole speaker throughout. In this scenario, the speaker performs before the congregation the vow of praise he gave to God in verse 22. Difficulties for the reader arise, however, as the sufferer alternates between addressing God directly as “you” and referring to him in third person singular as “him,” “the LORD,” and the Lord. He may also refer to himself in third person as “him” in verse 24 and “he” in the phrase “when he cried to him,” (verse 24). While the concept of praising God clearly rings through the entire section, it proves difficult for the reader to follow the speaker’s line of thought exactly. The prior section from verses 9 through 21 did not present these difficulties.
An alternate method of reading the final section would be a readers theater format. This possibility arises due to the heavy Christology of the first section spoken by the sufferer. Readers steeped in remembrances of the gospel accounts of Christ’s passion called forth by verses 1-21, most likely will find in the final sections remembrances of Christ’s sequential role as the ascended, eternal King, as presented in the remaining portions of the New Testament. The following is a suggestion only; it cannot be proven, yet in keeping with the Christology of the first portion, it can help elucidate the prophetic nature of the final portion.
Christ addressing God (verse 22): I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
Christ addressing his brothers in the midst of the congregation after his his suffering has ended and just as he announced in the prior verse (verse 23): “You who fear the LORD (Yahweh), praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!”
Chorus of the Congregation speaking in agreement (verse 24): For he [Yahweh of vs 23] has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted [the sufferer of the first portion of the psalm], and he [Yahweh] has not hidden his [Yahweh’s] face from him [the afflicted sufferer], but has heard, when he [the sufferer] cried to him [Yahweh].
Christ addressing God (verse 25a): From you comes my praise in the great congregation; [a reality unfolding in the choral reading of this very psalm]
Christ addressing himself or the listeners/audience (verses 25b): my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
Christ addressing the congregation or the audience (verse 26a and b): The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him [Yahweh] shall praise the LORD [Yahweh]!
Or, chorus of the congregation addressing the audience (verse 26a and b): The afflicted [the former sufferer, whom the congregation recognizes as the Christ] shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him [the same former sufferer] shall praise the LORD [Yahweh God]!
Christ addressing the congregation (verse 26c): May your hearts live forever!
Chorus of the Congregation offering the praise announced in verse 26b (verse 27a): All the ends of the earth shall remember [the suffering and exaltation of the Christ] and turn to the LORD [Yahweh, or the exalted Christ],
Chorus of the Congregation addressing Christ (verse 27b): and all the families of the nations shall worship before you [the exalted Christ].
Chorus of the Congregation prophesying about the Christ, whom they identify with Yahweh (verses 28-31): For kingship belongs to the LORD [the Christ, the sufferer of the prior portion whom they recognized as their God in verses 3-5], and he rules over the nations [gentiles, a new addition]. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him [Christ] shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him [Christ]; it shall be told of the Lord [Adonay] to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness [the Christ’s] to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
The strength of viewing Psalm 22 in the above fashion is that it binds together the psalm as a whole, unifying the two perhaps disparate sections. The tension of the conflict between the protector/deliverer God of verses 3-5 with the sufferer of verses 1-2 and 6-21 is resolved in the recognition that his story turned out good in the end. God delivered him from his affliction.
Another strength of the readers theater style of interpretation is that the promise of praise in verse 22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:” (ESV) is fulfilled and acted out even in the psalm itself.
More than that, in the context of the Christ story, the final four verses speak words that are true of both God and his Christ. Their identities seem melded. In the end, Yahweh the Christ would be King forever, including over the nations. All mortals would bow and worship before him (See Philippians 2:10 and Romans 14:11).
There is no doubt that some psalms contain speech. For example, in Psalm 2, God speaks directly and is labeled as speaking.
Psalm 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
Other psalms that perhaps contain speech but bear no labels, present difficulties of interpretation. By the addition of presumed labels, such as those for a readers theater to be presented before a live audience, some of these difficulties might disappear.
The organizers of a live reading in Old Testament times, possibly priests, would perhaps indicate to their audiences who was speaking which lines. They may have offered visual or vocal clues lost in translation. Theater audiences today have no difficulty recognizing who is speaking which lines, because they both see and hear the speakers. If the same audiences, however, were to merely read a script without the parts assigned and that bore neither quotation marks nor paragraph breaks, they most likely would encounter frequent confusion as to who was speaking what, especially if a list of characters was also missing2.
One of my passions in presenting Psalms is to communicate the high sense of life and drama present in them. The psalms are not dry pieces of ancient religious language. They are life giving communications from Almighty God, who knows our form and wishes to tell us that he is intimately involved in our lives. Within Psalms, a tuned in reader can find the complete gospel of Jesus Christ: his preexistence with God and as God, his incarnation, his passion, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, his Lordship as King over all, and his future role as final judge3. God sent Jesus as Redeemer of the entire human race, because God loves us. God incarnated himself through his Son. Jesus understands us experientially from the inside out. God does not reject us, but he provides a way back to himself. In the person of the suffering and then exalted psalmist, God shows us that way.
1 See the following for references to Jesus Christ as “the Holy One.”
- 1 John 2:20 “Holy One” https://bible.org/seriespage/9-exegetical-commentary-1-john-218-27. W. Hall Harris III refers to Jesus as the Holy One.
- Mark 1:24 by unclean Spirit; also Luke 4:34
- John 6:69 by Peter to Jesus, “You are the Holy One of God.”
- Acts 2:27 by Peter quoting Psalm 16:10
- Acts 13:35 by Paul quoting Psalm 16:10
- 1 Peter 1:15 “the Holy One who called you,” is most likely God. Bob Utley, Bob Utley, https://bible.org/seriespage/i-peter-11-23.
2 An excellent book that explores the intricacies of speech and dialogue in Psalms and other portions of scripture is The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation by Matthew W. Bates. (See Bibliography.)
3 See Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. (Bibliography.)
I wanted to write a quick and easy, last minute message for Thanksgiving Day. “Piece of cake,” I thought. So I hit the concordance looking for a short psalm of pure thanksgiving. Except for Psalm 100, I found none. What I found is that psalms containing “thanks*” are woven into many psalms that speak of hardship, suffering, the wicked, and judgment. Light bulb!
How often do you, or I, or anyone experience days of pure thanksgiving? The key to understanding thanksgiving in Psalms is that they are “woven in.” Psalms is like a tapestry created from the fabric of life. Perhaps this is why they have remained on the top ten list of biblical popularity for eons of human history. They express real life and living. Just as pain and blessing are woven together, so are pain and thanksgiving.
God understands our human hearts, and he is very wise. When he tells us in his Word to give thanks, it is because he knows that thanksgiving is good for us. Finding something to thank God for in the middle of chaos, hurt, disappointment, doubt, confusion, and despair is like finding a rock in sinking sand. It can literally save our psyche from severe harm. In general, our minds are monaural–they follow one track at a time. When I am purposefully giving thanks out loud, it means that I am not doubting, not complaining, not fearing, and a host of other “nots.” I can only do one thing at a time. When I am worshiping God with thanksgiving, God is rescuing my heart from harm. Hallelujia!
So here we go:
Thank you Lord that I slept in a warm, dry bed last night. Thank you Lord that I woke up and am still alive this morning. Thank you that I have family and friends. Thank you that I have one more day to live, that yesterday, which was so horrible for me, is not the last page in the book of my life. Thank you that my car still runs. Thank you for your presence in my heart. Thank you that your invitation for me to turn to you still stands. Thank you for your promise of life after death. Thank you for this little blade of green grass growing through the crack in the pavement. Thank you Lord for sharing this moment with me. Thank you for you…
It’s not hard to fill half an hour with simple thoughts such as these. Thanksgiving is an anti-depressant for those who have little. For those who have much, it’s an antidote to pride. Giving thanks reminds us that we are not in charge. It cautions us not to take our blessings for granted.
So, Happy Thanksgiving!!
Here is one example of a variegated psalm that contains the mix of life.
Psalm 28:1 Of David. To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.
6 Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever. (ESV)
IS IT COINCIDENCE OR GOD’S PLAN that three psalms ending with the number 8 form a triplet detailing the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God’s divine and human Son? Psalm 88 is a first person account of the crucifixion. Yes, that’s right–the Psalter gives us in Christ’s own words an account of what it was like for him to die. Foretelling in advance is called prophecy. Through the poet Christ prophetically speaks out his thoughts and deep feelings as he lies within his tomb. That God captured this moment in time and included it within his Scripture for us to find and read is precious beyond words.
Psalm 18 is a joyful account of Papa God rescuing his Son from death. For us who have seen so many movies, the word that comes to my mind is “playful.” This account of the resurrection frolics, and I mean no disrespect. A more modern word might be “rocks.” Psalm 18 rocks. Reading this psalm fills me with admiration for God, wonder, and respect. The drama of the psalm matches the drama of the most amazing event in all of human history–a man who had been dead for three days broke free from his grave alive and well. Psalm 18 tells how that happened. It later describes the exaltation of Christ to Kingship over all nations as he executes judgment upon his enemies, both spiritual and physical.
Finally, Psalm 118 continues the celebration of resurrection. It’s a glorious day!
Please take time to reread these three prior posts as they explain in detail what I have outlined above. The links are here:
JESUS TOLD US his Father loves to fish. All fishermen have stories to tell. Read some of God’s favorite fish stories in Psalm 107.
Four Fish Stories
1. Some refugees lived out in the desert. One day they got lost and wandered around in the wasteland. They became hungry and thirsty and knew they were about to die. No one was there to help them. They had heard about God, but he wasn’t their God. Nevertheless, at their wits’ end and not wanting to perish, they cried out to the Lord. He heard them. He showed them a straight path they hadn’t seen before. It led to a nearby village where they settled.
Do you think they should thank him for taking them to a safe place where they had water and food?
2. Some children grew up and became rebels against God. “Sunday school BS!” they called it. Unfortunately, they wound up in a foreign prison where they suffered in darkness and iron chains. Their captors forced them into bitter labor. After a long time, they began collapsing on the job, and there was no one to help them. So they swallowed their pride and cried to the Lord in their trouble. Miraculously, the court reversed their sentence, and they were set free.
Do you think they should thank God for his love?
3. Some other children grew up and also rebelled. They turned to drugs, alcohol, and sex. In the end, they hurt their own bodies, got sick, lost all their appetite, and wasted away to nothing. No one really wants to die, so they turned to the Lord in their trouble and cried out to him. He heard. He sent crazy Christians to them who loved them and told them God’s word. God healed them.
Do you think they should thank him and even joyfully tell others about him?
4. These other people became savvy business men and women. They knew all about global marketing and made gobs of money, even millions. But the world economy was very unstable. The markets crashed, their wholesale and retail outlets failed, and all their stocks became worthless. Their stomachs churned and they got sick. No matter which way they turned, the whole world was reeling around them. Really, really scared, they cried out to the Lord in their trouble. He helped them. He stilled the storm to a whisper, and the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm. He guided them to the safe haven they desperately longed for.
Do you think they should thank him by going to the other sophisticated people in their world with praise for the God who saved them?
Do you see how God catches his fish? We say, “Why does God allow all this pain and hardship in our lives? How could a good and loving God allow this?” It’s true–he does allow humankind to suffer. It is true–God does turn rivers into deserts and flowing springs into thirsty ground. A good farm becomes a dust barren waste. He does this because people are wicked and ignore his commandments.
But then God goes and does just the opposite–he turns the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs. He brings the hungry to live in bounteous places. They work and spend their time and resources wisely, and he blesses them and their families.
It’s a sad truth, but when things go well for us, our human tendency is to forget all about God and his ways. We even thumb our noses at him. But when oppression, calamity and sorrow come, we are humbled. God has no respect for the high and mighty among us. But the needy, he lifts out of their affliction and increases their families like flocks. The upright see and rejoice in all this, but the wicked just shut their mouths.
A wise person should think about these things and consider the great love of the Lord.
Some parts of Scripture are written as an appeal to nonbelievers–the Gospel of John, for example–while other parts, such as Psalm 77, are written for believers. The poetry of Psalm 77 is like a painting. It paints the intimate details of a believer’s heart as he, or she, struggles to maintain faith through a dark night of ongoing trial.
These words from the NIV are like colors:
I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me; in distress; I stretched out untiring hands; I would not be comforted (chose to pray rather than sleep away the pain); I groaned; I meditated; my spirit grew faint; you kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak; Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
What Christian has never felt like this?
But the poet in Psalm 77, who could easily be Christ himself as he nears his death, chooses not to remain in this posture of unanswered, agonized beseeching. He steps forward. He resolves to do something about his mental state. He purposefully chooses to remember.
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (NIV)
What does this believer remember? God’s ways, his past miracles, his power among his believing people. Every Christian has a history with God Almighty. If not, then they are not Christian. All Christians have been saved by God. There is so much to remember! The older one grows, the greater in number are these memories of times when God stepped in to help and to save. For the poet in Psalm 77, it was the crazy crossing of the Red Sea that he remembers. For the guards at the tomb of Christ, it was that magnificent earthquake that released to freedom their no longer dead prisoner. For Jesus, it was when he came up from the waters of baptism and the dove of the Holy Spirit alighted on his head. For Peter, it was when an angel of the Lord silently broke the locks on the chains that bound him captive to the guards in Herod’s dungeon (Acts 12:1-11).
We all have memories. Psalm 77 encourages us as believers not to remain in our feelings of fear and despair, but to make an instant withdrawal from the savings account of our past dealings with God. God’s nature and his love never change; he is eternal; so is his love for us. Because we remember all the times that God saved us in the past, we know that he will not fail us now. Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
PSALMS ARE NOT WRITTEN IN CHRONOLOGICAL SEQUENCE. Readers hinder themselves when they only read Psalms in sequential order. If I may use a word like “fun” when describing the Bible, then it’s fun and exciting to find two psalms separated numerically that link in chronological sequence. By “chronological sequence,” I mean the sequence of events in Jesus’ life.
Using a psalm arrangement such as that found in 31 Days of Wisdom and Praise sometimes helps locate links that otherwise might be lost. One such link in this book is found on Day 17. On Day 17, Psalm 47 immediately follows Psalm 17. Psalm 17 (see link to the left) contains a prayer which prophetically describes Jesus’ thought life at some point near the time of his Passion. In verses 9-12, the reader can easily picture Christ as he is confronted in the Garden of Gethsemane and later assailed by a mass of accusers at his unjust trial. Then in verses 13-15 the prophetic voice of Christ through the psalmist asks God for help and expresses faith that God will perform his resurrection. Psalm 47 answers Psalm 17, though separated by thirty other psalms.
Psalm 47:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
8 God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted! (ESV)
While Psalm 17 is ascribed to David, a solo speaker, Psalm 47 is ascribed to the Sons of Korah. The reader perceives Psalm 17 in deep chords of stress and endangerment, while the group speakers of Psalm 47 appear barely able to contain themselves for joy and jumping gladness. In Psalm 47, God answers what the psalmist prays in Psalm 17, while the chorus of singers in Psalm 47 serve as witnesses and co-beneficiaries of God’s reply. The reader can easily picture the disciples’ astonishment, followed by joy, as they learn that Jesus their friend and teacher is no longer dead, but alive. The amazement and extreme jubilation carries over to the incipient church assembled to watch as Jesus ascends into the clouds. The church continues to express their reverence and jubilation over Christ their King throughout the remainder of the New Testament. Psalm 47 is an appropriate celebration of both Christ’s ascension and his second coming.
Readers should remember that the psalms are prophetic. They use poetry, often written in first person, to foretell what will happen at a later date to Jesus, who is God’s anointed, and to Israel, which in the prophetic application of Psalms is Jesus’ church. Verses 5-9 celebrate the ascension of King Jesus and name him as God. Psalm 47 complements Psalm 2, which also names the Son as sharing divinity with God, “…You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” (Psa 2:7 ESV)
“How could a loving God allow this?”
“If God exists, how could he allow this?”
Nonbelievers and those overwhelmed by tragedy often ask some form of the above two questions.
Twice in human history, God answered.
The first was the global flood recorded in Genesis 6 and in cultural stories and artifacts from all over the world. In the Genesis account, God passed judgment on the entire human race. God spared only one man he judged righteous and seven others of his close family. Everyone else in the entire human race died.
The second time God answered the “How could he…?” question, he lifted his Son on a cross. In this judgment, one righteous man died so that the entire human race might be rescued. The only thing God requires of people is to Believe and Receive.
Sin is ugly in all its forms, especially to our creator, who is good and who made us good. Yet in answer to our, “How could a loving God…?” question, so many rebel at the choices God gives when he tells us that he does NOT, in fact, allow these things. So many refuse the “believe and receive” option. They might prefer a sliding scale if they judge their own sin to be nonexistent or quite small. I don’t have an answer for your heart, only my own. But knowing my own deep, dark secrets and all the acts I’ve ever done or left undone, I prefer God’s second option. Knowing Jesus is not that bad. He’s far, far better than God the judge, and he takes good care of his own. It’s your call. Each of us chooses for ourselves.
The speaker of Psalm 16 has an amazing relationship with the Lord. He runs onto the stage in verse 1, makes a beeline to the Lord, and cries out, “Help me!” (Protect me, save me, guard me.) “Here’s the deal,” he says, “I’m hiding in you. You are my refuge, my safety, my one spot, my only hope.”
Then he grants the Lord everything, “You are the Lord. You are the One. I have nothing worth anything anywhere in all myself or my life apart from you.” Talk about putting your eggs into one basket! What a confession this is.
Scholars concede that verses 3 and 4 are difficult, as in not clear, not understood. Let’s just say that the psalmist makes reference to other people, whether for good or for bad, but dismisses them all and turns back to the Lord.
“You are the One. You are my reward and blessing.” The original of verse 5 reads, “You are my piece of inheritance and my cup.” Not a house, nor a piece of property, not a castle, nor acres and acres of land, but You, a person, you are my inheritance and my daily provision. “I will settle myself down in You and drink of You.” Crazy, huh? Can we even imagine relating to another person in this way? I can only think of someone who is madly in love. Verse 5 also says, “You make my lot secure.” That speaks of knowing someone who both owns the lottery and controls the machine that chooses the numbers. This person matches up the winning number with the ticket I hold in my hand. Can’t get any more certain than that.
I also like the Septuagint translation of the last part of verse 5, “You are he who restores my inheritance to me.” The word restore means to bring back what was lost, to bring back what was once beautiful, whole, powerful, good, and strong. Think about the entire Bible from start to finish. What was lost in Genesis? What gets restored in Revelation? Humankind’s innocence was lost in Genesis–peace, prosperity, walking and talking in the presence of God in a place that was paradise. All this is restored in Revelation. But not just people lost out when Eve surrendered to God’s enemy and ate the apple–God lost out. The Creator and his Son, who was always by his side, they lost what they created to an enemy who destroyed and ruined what they had made for their eternal enjoyment. The Bible tells the story of how all God’s creation gets restored to God. In verse 5 the psalmist speaks of his inheritance portion of all this. Then in verse 6 we see the psalmist surveying his inheritance. “Yep,” he says, “I got the best piece. My inheritance is really good, better than anything else.”
By now we might be wondering who this psalmist is. His tone is so certain, so sure, so totally convinced that he himself is the winner of all. Who talks like this? Verse 7 gives a clue. The psalmist is someone who is close to the Lord. All night long the Lord keeps him awake instructing him, giving him guidance and counsel; we might even say child-training him, educating him, discipling him. Verse 8 tells us the psalmist is someone who sees the Lord always directly in front of his face. He never loses sight of him, never loses track. Further, the Lord is at his right hand. The right side symbolically is the position of power, the leading side, the side of protection and favor. Such confidence in the Lord is amazing.
The psalmist’s confidence in his Lord translates into an overwhelming sense of gladness and joy that in verse 9 completely floods the psalmist’s heart and every other part of him. Even his body rests securely, not the least bit anxious about anything. Verse 10 is the most amazing statement of all. The psalmist speaks out his faith and confidence in God by saying, “You will not leave my soul in hell, neither will you allow your Holy One, me, to see corruption.” In other words, even when I die, the psalmist is saying, You, God, are not going to leave me dead, and you’re not going to allow my body to rot as every other living thing since creation itself does when it dies. I’m different. I’m special. You God will not allow my body to rot at death, nor will you let me stay dead.
There is only one human being in all of history who can make a claim like this one and have it come true–Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The apostle Peter said so in Acts 2:25-28. There he quotes Psalm 16:8-11 and applies these verses pointedly to Jesus shortly after all the apostles and many others witnessed his resurrection.
Psalm 16 closes in verse 11 with this great verse, quoted here from the NET Bible, “You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.” What could be better than this?
Before I leave here, I just want to point out what strikes me about Psalm 16.
- When the psalmist runs to God for safety in verse 1, he is running for a reason. He’s in trouble.
- The psalmist, God’s Son, has total confidence and assurance in who God is. He knows that God is able to help him and is eager to do so.
- The psalmist knows who he himself is. He is someone whom God very certainly wants to help.
- The psalmist speaks to God from a point in time far before the historical events that equate with this psalm, the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In other words, this is prophecy. Christ the Son existed eternally before he became human, before his incarnation. This is how through the human penman he was able to foresee and foretell his future through this psalm.
- This one is important for us as readers. What is true of Christ in this psalm is also true of all those who give allegiance to him as their King. Just as the psalmist places his trust 100% in God as his Lord and benefactor, so believers must place their trust 100% in Christ as the King whom they follow and rely upon in everything. The New Testament teaches this everywhere.
- All the blessings the psalmist receives from God, God also gives to those who own Christ, to those who by their allegiance to him are found to be in him.
Romans 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (ESV)
Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Romans 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
7. Therefore, we can read Psalm 16 with Christ as speaker, or we can read it with ourselves as speaker. It works both ways.