Friday, March 29, 2013

Psalm 22: You Lay Me in the Dust of Death

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are the words of my groaning to you so far from helping me? O my God, I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I have no rest.  
Yet you are holy,
 you who are enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted;
 they trusted, and you rescued them. To you they cried and were delivered; 
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.  
But I am a worm and not a man,
 a reproach of men and even despised by the people. All who see me laugh me to scorn; 
they hurled insults at me. They shake their heads, saying: “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; 
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”  
But you are the one who pushed me out of the womb, making me trust even from the time I was at my mother's breasts. Upon you I was cast from the womb,
 and from my mother's belly you have been my God. Do not be far off from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.  
Many bulls encompass me; 
strong bulls of Bashan surround me. They open wide their mouths at me, 
tearing and roaring like a lion. I am poured out like water,
 and all my bones are out of joint.
 My heart has become like wax,
 melting within me; my strength is dried up like broken pottery,
 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; 
like a lion they have pierced my hands and feet. They count all my bones, and 
they stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them,
 and for my clothing they cast lots.   
But you, O Lord, do not be far off from me!
 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, from the horns of the wild ox with which you have answered me.  
I will declare your name to my brethren. In the midst of the congregation I will praise you. You who fear Yahweh, 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.  
From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
 my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
 those who seek him shall praise Yahweh,
 and may their hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh, 
and all the families of the nations
 shall worship before you.  
For dominion belongs to Yahweh,
 and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous ones of the earth shall feast and worship, and all who go down to the dust shall bow before him, even the one whose life cannot be kept alive. Posterity shall serve him, future generations shall be told about Yahweh, and they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn that he has done it!

The opening words of Psalm 22 are probably the most familiar words of all the Psalms. After Jesus cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46), one can hardly view this Psalm as though it were merely David's expression of suffering. It must, in fact, represent the suffering of some one much greater than David, some Davidic King more ultimate than himself. These opening words also set the tone for the entire Psalm. This King feels a need to exclaim the horrors of separation and alienation from God. The picture painted for us is extremely real suffering and real trust through sufferingThis King "cries out" repeatedly, day after day, night after night, but finds no rest and no peace of mind.

This King knows who he's crying out to. He knows that Yahweh dwells in the midst of His covenant people, making him accessible to all who draw near. And yet, we are left wondering why, if Yahweh is indeed enthroned on the praises of Israel (praises from those Fathers who trusted in Him, were rescued by Him, and were not put to shame because of Him), God seems to be completely absent when the King of Israel cries out to Him. What is there for him to learn through such suffering? (Heb. 5:8)

This King knows he is in a lowly position among all the creatures of the earth. Far from being perfectly spotless and blameless, he is a filthy "worm" who bears the reproach of men. The people despise him; they laugh him to scorn and hurl insults at him, mocking him during his trial of extreme suffering (Matt. 27:39-44). The message of this King is known by his mockers too. They know he trusts and delights in Yahweh. They know he believes Yahweh is his deliverer too. And so they toy with his delights; they jest about his confidence in Yahweh. In their eyes, he is not the rightful King of Israel. Their heads shake in denial (Matt. 27:39).

Yet we see that this "worm" is not ashamed of his delight in Yahweh. He knows Yahweh was with him from conception and birth. The Spirit of Yahweh was at work within him even from his first memory outside the womb, even upon his mother's breast. "From my mother's belly You have been my God," this King declares. Therefore, when real trouble is near, and no one on earth is there to help deliver him, he is not ashamed to cry out toward heaven to this God whom he has always known: "Do not be far off from me! ...There is none to help!" He knows there is no one other to help him in this time of great trouble. In fact, as we approach the center of this Psalm, we learn that this great trouble -- whatever it is -- leads to death. For all practical purposes, this King already feels dead simply because God has forsaken him; simply because he cries and cries without any rest. Later on, this King will cry out these exact same words of help again, only he will cry out to God after being laid in the "dust of death." In other words, the next time he cries out to God for this same help, we get the feeling that God has never really been far off from him. Even though the Psalm begins with the feeling of God forsaking him, we learn that God was his "help" through all of that deadly suffering. And because God was his help through suffering, he can trust that God is his help after death as well.

Towards the center of this Psalm, we find a much more vivid picture of deadly suffering; we find a picture of one who is suffering as though he were in a den of beasts, trapped and tied down with no hope of escape except through death. This King feels like he is "encompassed" by "many bulls." And not just any bulls; these are notoriously strong ones from the land of Bashan. They surround him and taunt him, leaving no way of escape. They open their mouths wide, "tearing and roaring" like ferocious lions. Now we can imagine why this King has reason to feel troubled. This King is completely debilitated within this den of beasts. He is physically and emotionally drained with his bones dislocated like a man stretched upon a rack, while his heart and its resolve melts away like wax as he drifts closer to the reality of death. His strength is brittle like dried-up pottery that crumbles to pieces. He thirsts intensely, leaving his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth (John 19:28). The only one he has to cry out to is Yahweh himself. The only one who can deliver him is  Yahweh himself. 

Yet notice carefully that this King knows who has done all of this to him. This King knows that Yahweh has done this to him. He says "You lay me in the dust of death." Part of the reason why he knows Yahweh has done this to him is because he has cried out to Yahweh repeatedly, day after day, night after night, and Yahweh has responded by placing him in a den of beasts.

Dogs also encompass this King, and behind them is a surrounding "company of evildoers" who are going to make sure there is no escape for him. Like a lion, they have pierced his hands and feet (John 20:20-28; Zech. 12:10). Not only has be been bound, but he is being viscously attacked while the company of evildoers look upon him with malicious satisfaction at his sufferings. They even divide his garments and gamble over who gets the best pieces of his clothing (John 19:23-24). While this King lays in the dust of death like dry, crumbled potsherds, his enemies haggle over the value of his bloody garments.

Yet notice how great the faith of this King is! Even though there is no doubt of real trouble and no earthly deliverance from these evil beasts, he nevertheless cries out to the God of Heaven whom he knows can deliver from the dust. He cries out: "Do not be far off from me! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!" At this point, the King cries out for Yahweh to draw near because he knows Yahweh has never been too far off from him, even after entering the dust of death. He knows who his help truly is. He knows Yahweh is present to deliver his soul from the sword of his enemies, from the beasts which surround him -- the power of dogs, the mouth of lions, and horns of oxen "with which you have answered me." Why does this King believe that Yahweh can deliver him? Because he knows that Yahweh answered him; he knows that Yahweh wasn't totally silent concerning his cries. Yahweh was the one who placed him in a position from which to deliver him. Therefore, because Yahweh placed him in the dust, this King trusts that Yahweh can deliver him from the dust. 

This King knows that Yahweh "has not despised or abhorred 
the affliction of the afflicted,
 and he has not hidden his face from him." This King knows that Yahweh
 has heard his cries all along (Heb. 5:7). Therefore he will not cease to declare the praise which is due to Yahweh. In the midst of the congregation he will talk about Yahweh to his brethren and even sing Yahweh's praise (Heb. 2:12). And those who hear the word of this King, those who share this same faith, those who likewise trust and acknowledge the sovereignty of God in all affairs of life -- even His sovereignty through suffering -- they are exhorted to give Yahweh the praise which is due to his name. "All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; and stand in awe of him all you offspring of Israel!"

Notice carefully the expression of confidence this King shares and the source of his confidence: "From You comes my praise in the great congregation." This King is sure that he will praise Yahweh publicly among his brethren because Yahweh is the source of his praise. But not only will he praise Yahweh publicly, he will also pay his vows publicly by bringing his thank-offering to Yahweh (Lev. 7:16). In the House of Yahweh his afflicted brethren "shall eat" this thank-offering meal "and be satisfied." Also, notice that this thanksgiving meal within God's house becomes an opportunity for others to "seek Him" and to learn of Yahweh's goodness. His confidence is that "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to Yahweh, 
and all the families of the nations
 shall worship before you." Why is he confident that this will happen? Because He has known God from his mother's womb. He has known Yahweh, the covenant keeping God, from his mother's womb. He has known the God who placed him in a den to be torn apart by wild beasts while his enemies haggled over his garments. He has known the God who answered his cries by laying him in the dust of death. He also knows the God who answered his cries by drawing near to him, delivering him from death. In Deuteronomy 4:7, the people of Israel proclaim: "What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as Yahweh our God is to us?" And in this Psalm, the King knows the answer to that question. He knows there is no other god like Yahweh, which is why he has confidence that when Yahweh draws near to any nation, all the families of those nations shall worship Him. Yahweh is worthy of such worship.

Why is Yahweh worthy of such worship? Because "dominion belongs to Yahweh,
 and he rules over the nations." Because dominion belongs to Yahweh, there is hope for all future generations that are told about Yahweh and seek after Yahweh. "They shall come and proclaim" his dominion. They shall come and proclaim the gospel of "his righteousness to a people yet unborn." They shall come and proclaim the gospel of God's Kingdom on earth. Because Yahweh has laid this King in the dust of death and delivered him from it, redemption is actually accomplished. It is finished once-for-all through Yahweh's resurrection from death. And because it is finished -- redemption is accomplished -- there is prosperity, feasting, and worship for all his saints. 

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