Why I Am A Christian (#5): Old Testament Fulfilment (2): Psalm 22

Statue of Jesus Christ on the cross. Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net under Creative Commons Licence. https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=234051&picture=jesus-christ-on-cross
Statue of Jesus Christ on the cross. Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net under Creative Commons Licence. https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=234051&picture=jesus-christ-on-cross

[<<] [Contents] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [>>]

The Christian faith is not infrequently derided as irrational, delusional, fairyland. Though such arguments are sometimes made in an intellectually vigorous manner, I would argue that at least as often such arguments are made facilely, and without any proper understanding of what Christianity claims or teaches.

In spite of such attacks on the Christian faith (intellectually vigorous or otherwise), I remain a believing Christian, convinced of the truth of God’s revealed word, the Bible. In this series of eleven posts, I outline some of the reasons why I still find the Christian faith compelling and convincing.

Contents

Reason #5: Old Testament Fulfilment: Psalm 22

Recap from last time

“Old Testament ‘fulfilment’ is far wider in scope than merely fulfilling the prophetic pronouncements of the formal Old Testament prophets. In so far as all of the Old Testament — Law, History, Wisdom Literature, as well as formal Prophecy — finds its fulfilment in Christ and in the New Testament, the entire Old Testament may be considered ‘prophetic.’”

In the previous post in this series, we spent some time discussing what the New Testament writers understand by the Old Testament’s being ‘fulfilled’ by Christ and by the New Testament. We showed that this ‘fulfilment’ is far wider in scope than merely fulfilling the prophetic pronouncements of the formal Old Testament prophets. In so far as all of the Old Testament — Law, History, Wisdom Literature, as well as formal Prophecy — finds its fulfilment in Christ and in the New Testament, the entire Old Testament may be considered ‘prophetic.’

This leads to some (to us) surprising ways in which the New Testament claims that the Old Testament finds its fulfilment. We studied two examples of this — the rejected Moses in Exodus 2:11-15 fulfilled in the rejected Christ; and the ashes of the sacrifices taken outside the camp of Israel in Exodus 29:14 and Leviticus 4:11-12, fulfilled in the death of Christ outside the city and the temple, and the subsequent rejection of Christians from society (Hebrews 13:10-13).

This doesn’t mean that the New Testament is doing something specious when it makes such claims; it simply means that our modern, empirical understanding of ‘fulfilment’ probably needs modification.

Psalm 22

A passage of the Old Testament the fulfilment of which requires much less preparatory explanation to the modern reader — indeed, would have required much less preparatory explanation to hearers in the first century — is Psalm 22.

“I can remember the first time I read Psalm 22 and how amazed I was by its accurate prophetic description of Jesus’ death and resurrection — for me it was an eye-opening experience.”

The song of King David (c. 1000—961 B.C.[1]) that we now know as Psalm 22 is an astonishing prediction of the rejection, mockery, death by crucifixion, and subsequent new (bodily) life of Jesus. So much so that it deserves its own instalment in this series. I can remember the first time I read Psalm 22 and how amazed I was by its accurate prophetic description of Jesus’ death and resurrection — for me it was a similarly eye-opening experience to reading Genesis 22.

Although David speaks in the first person, as if the events described in this psalm were happening to him, the events it describes never happened to him. They point forward to one in the future to whom these events would happen, as if it were him to whom they happened (that is, Christ) who is describing them.

Here is the text of the psalm[2]:—

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

[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.

“But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
‘He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”

Psalm 22:6-8

[3] Yet you are holy,
     enthroned on the praises[3] 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.

[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!”

[9] Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
     you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
[10] On you was I cast from my birth,
     and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
[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.

“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;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.”

Psalm 22:14-15

[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[4]
[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.

[19] But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
     O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
[20] Deliver my soul from the sword,
     my precious life from the power of the dog!
[21]    Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued[5] me from the horns of the wild oxen!

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

Psalm 22:22

[22] I will tell of your name to my brothers;
     in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
[23] You who fear the Lord, praise him!
     All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
     and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
[24] For he has not despised or abhorred
     the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
     but has heard, when he cried to him.

[25] From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
     my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
[26] The afflicted[6] shall eat and be satisfied;
     those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
     May your hearts live for ever!

“He has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.”

Psalm 22:24

[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.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Firstly, this psalm speaks clearly of Jesus’ crucifixion, mockery by the people, and death.

“And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Mark 15:34

So when Jesus was hanging on the cross, amongst the last words he spoke before his death were the opening words of this psalm:

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Mark 15:34[7]

In quoting this psalm in particular, it seems that even as he hung there, Jesus was telling those who looked on him that this psalm was fulfilled in him.

Despised by the people

The mockery of Jesus on the cross is foreseen in this psalm, particularly in verses 6-8,12-13 quoted above. And this also is clearly picked up in the Gospel accounts:

And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
Matthew 27:39-43[8]

Crucified

It is worth pausing on verses 14-16 of this psalm, and seeing how much it reads like a crucifixion — in spite of its being written centuries before the Romans had even adopted the practice of crucifixion:

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;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet[9]
Psalm 22:14-16

By drawing attention so heavily to this psalm (as we shall continue to see), all the Gospel writers want the reader to see these verses as describing, in advance, the crucifixion of Jesus. Indeed, in the light of the Gospel accounts it is almost an act of faith not to read them in this way.

They cast lots for his clothing

Verse 18 of the psalm,

they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots,

is directly alluded to by all four Gospels, in connexion with the soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments among themselves and casting lots for his clothing (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34). John’s Gospel even goes so far as directly to quote from the psalm:—

“They said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfil the Scripture which says,

‘They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.’”

John 19:24

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfil the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
John 19:23-24[10]

Clearly all four of the Gospel writers saw this detail of how Jesus died as directly fulfilling the words of the psalm.

He could count all his bones

“When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth — that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’”

John 19:33-37

I can count all my bones —
they stare and gloat over me;
Psalm 22:17

John’s Gospel makes a point of the fact that those who were crucified with Jesus had their legs broken by the soldiers, but that because Jesus was already dead, they did not break his bones:—

So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth — that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”
John 19:32-37[11]

Although John does not quote Psalm 22 directly here (he actually quotes a composite of Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12 and Psalm 34:20, along with Zechariah 12:10), the psalm nevertheless provides further witness to a pertinent detail of the way Jesus died.

[
Note, John’s statement that Jesus’ legs were not broken is given some confirmation by Mark’s Gospel wherein we learn of Pilate’s surprise that Jesus was already dead:—

Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph [of Arimathea].
Mark 15:44-45[12]

]

Raised to new life

At least among Christians, it is well known that Psalm 22 is a detailed prophecy of Jesus’ death (would that it were a well-known fact among non-Christians!). Perhaps less well known is that Psalm 22 also speaks very clearly of Jesus’ resurrection.

“At least among Christians, it is well known that Psalm 22 is a detailed prophecy of Jesus’ death (would that it were a well-known fact among non-Christians!). Perhaps less well known is that Psalm 22 also speaks very clearly of Jesus’ resurrection.”

After the psalmist’s suffering and anguish up to verse 18, the psalm then turns on its axis.

First, the psalmist cries out to God for rescue, in increasingly confident terms, in verses 19-21:—

But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued[13] me from the horns of the wild oxen!

And then from verse 22 onwards it speaks in calm and restored terms, as if the psalmist had undergone his suffering and had somehow ‘burst through it.’ It is as if the psalmist is now experiencing new life (embodied new life, no less) in the presence of God:—

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews (in the New Testament) even regards verse 22 (“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you”) as a prophecy of the creation of the Christian Church (see Hebrews 2:10-12)!

Conclusion

“Here is a psalm which, hundreds of years before the event, foretold the mockery, suffering, and crucifixion of Jesus in some detail; but also foretold his bodily resurrection and the creation of a new people to the praise of God.”

Psalm 22 is a truly remarkable psalm.

From the Christian point of view — that is, looking back on it from the perspective of the New Testament documents — here is a psalm which, hundreds of years before the event, foretold the mockery, suffering, and crucifixion of Jesus in some detail; but also foretold his bodily resurrection and the creation of his new people who would praise God (the Father) in his presence.

This psalm is therefore one more significant reason why I find the historical and theological claims of Christianity compelling and convincing.

*        *        *

In the next instalment in this series, we will examine a quite different reason for believing that the Old Testament is divinely inspired: the people of Israel’s consistent confession of inadequacy therein.

 

[<<] [Contents] [Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] [Part 8] [Part 9] [Part 10] [Part 11] [>>]

 

 

Note
etimasthe.com is something I do outside of full-time employment. Consequently I generally only post new material on here once or twice a week.

The best way to stay informed of new content on here is to follow us on Twitter (@etimasthe) or to ‘like’ our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/etimasthe.

 


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 


[1] This is according to the chronology of W.F. Albright, as given in The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version ; Containing the Old and New Testaments with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Anglicized ed (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995), sec. Chronological Tables of Rulers (New Testament section, p.262). The alternative chronology of E.R. Thiele, also given in loc., gives the dates as 1000—965 B.C.

[2] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+22&version=ESVUK

[3] ESV footnote here reads: Or dwelling in the praises

[4] ESV footnote here reads: Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac; most Hebrew manuscripts like a lion [they are at] my hands and feet

[5] ESV footnote here reads: Hebrew answered

[6] ESV footnote here reads: Or The meek

[7] See also Matthew 27:46 which records the same saying. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+15%3A34%3B+Matthew+27%3A46&version=ESVUK

[8] See also Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35-37. It is worth noting that the etimasthe site is named after this idea of the despising of the Son of God: the Greek word ‘etimasthe’ means ‘he was despised’ and comes from the Greek version of the Old Testament text of Isaiah 53:3. See here.

[9] ESV footnote here reads: Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac; most Hebrew manuscripts like a lion [they are at] my hands and feet

[10] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+19%3A23-24&version=ESVUK

[11] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+19%3A32-37&version=ESVUK

[12] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+15%3A44-45&version=ESVUK

[13] ESV footnote here reads: Hebrew answered

Add a Comment