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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.