Psalm 22 – Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Did you know that the psalm Jesus quoted while on the cross ends with rejoicing? It is both a powerful prophetic psalm pointing to Jesus and also a reminder that we can and should always praise God no matter what our situation.


Psalm 22 divides into two section based upon the change of address. Although most scholars divide the psalm at Psalm 22:22, I agree with Dr. C. J. Labuschagne that it makes more sense to divide the psalm where the change in direction of address occurs at Psalm 22:23, since all of section one is addressed as a prayer to God and all of section 2 is addressed to the people.

Superimposed on this two part structure is also a seven part menorah pattern.

I feel forsaken, but I know You are trustworthy
(Psalm 22:1-5)
I am despised, but You are my God
(Psalm 22:6-11)
I am surrounded by animals - I am defeated
(Psalm 22:12-18)
But You will rescue me!
(Psalm 22:19-22)
I am surrounded by the godly - Praise God!
(Psalm 22:23-25)
Everyone should worship God - He rescues the despised!
(Psalm 22:26-28)
Everyone will worship God - He is trustworthy
(Psalm 22:29-31)

Part 1 - Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Psalm 22:1-22

The first Part of this psalm is a prophetic portrayal of Jesus on the cross.  All of this part is addressed as a prayer to God.  Notice some of the amazing parallels with Jesus on the cross:

  1. Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 while on the cross (Matthew 27:46.)  Some see this as a statement of the Father's actual forsaking of Christ on the cross, while others argue that Jesus is simply pointing his disciples to the fact that He is fulfilling this prophetic psalm.
  2. Jesus was mocked using almost identical words as those in Psalm 22:8 (Matthew 27:43.)
  3. Jesus was thirsty (John 19:28.)  Notice John points out that Jesus does this to fulfill this prophecy.
  4. Jesus was pierced (Matthew 27:35.)
  5. Jesus' garments were gambled over (Matthew 27:35.)

Other possible parallels include "bones out of joint" (Psalm 22:14) "heart ... melted away" (Psalm 22:14) and "I can count all my bones" (Psalm 22:17.)

Trust in the Midst of Distress

The first two sections of the prayer use the structure of a complaint followed by a declaration of confident trust. Notice the transitions from complaint to trust in verses 3 and 9.

This psalm, quoted by Jesus on the cross, never gives in to complete despair. In fact, the word "trust" or some variant of it occurs 5 times in the first 11 verses. Over and over the psalmist reminds God that, even though he doesn't understand why God hasn't acted yet, he still trust Him.

It is OK to feel frustrated by your circumstance. It is even OK to voice that complaint to God - just like David in this psalm. But never forget that God is still worthy of your complete trust.

Surrounded by Animals

Verse 12 begins three word pictures where David compares his enemies to animals: first bulls (verse 12), then lions (verse 13) and finally dogs (verse 16). He then mentions these same three animals in reverse in verses 20-21.

Do you ever feel like everyone around you is an animal? That your enemies are too strong for you and only want to destroy you? David expresses these same feelings. Don't be afraid to express your feelings back to God.

In between David uses three more word pictures based on water, wax and pottery to describe how his body feels. He is totally worn out and exhausted. We don't know exactly what was happening to David when he wrote this, but once again, we see that it is OK to voice your complaint to God. He can handle it.

Complete Trust

Surprisingly, this prayer ends with a declaration of trust and praise. The psalmist ends Part 1, not with a plea for help, but with a declaration of praise.

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

This same declaration is placed in the mouth of Jesus in Hebrews 2:12.  This suggests that Jesus, even while on the cross, was praising God!  It is even possible that the declaration on the cross of "Why have you forsaken me?" was ultimately pointing everyone to this declaration of praise.  And this fits so perfectly with Psalm 22:3 where, in many translations, we are told that God is enthroned by the praises of Israel.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.

It is the praise of God that will lead to victory and so the psalmist switches from describing his dire circumstances to declaring the praises of God.

Part 2 - Praise God

Psalm 22:23-31

Just as the psalmist knew that his suffering did not define God and just as Jesus at the cross knew that death was not the end, so we can enthrone God on our praises no matter what our situation.  In direct contrast to the first section we are now overwhelmed with the joyful praise of the the poet.

Over and over in these last few verses we are told to worship and praise God.

God will not ignore the suffering of the afflicted.  God will satisfy those who seek Him.  Everyone, rich and poor, present and future, from every nation will praise and worship God.

they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

And what has He done?  When you put this song of praise in the context of Part 1, it becomes clear that prophetically this psalm is pointing to God's salvation of the world through the death of Christ.  Just as Jesus said on the cross,

"It is finished!"

This post is part of a series on the Psalms.

by Jerry Wyrick, President of Worship Arts Conservatory

Jerry Wyrick

This post is part of a series on the Psalms.

by Jerry Wyrick, President of Worship Arts Conservatory

Posted in General Worship, Personal Worship, Psalms and tagged , , .