The Agora
Tragedy And Triumph (Psa 22)

Previous Index Next

"The Sufferings Of Christ" (vv 19-21)

It seems fairly certain that, among the extreme trials of crucifixion, Christ experienced the humiliation and shame of nakedness. This is implied in the counting of his bones (v 17) and the parting of his garments (v 18). We read of the women who were there standing "afar off" (Mat 27:55; Mark 15:40), possibly due to their natural modesty at the sight. Nakedness is symbolic in Scripture of the sin-nature (which Christ possessed) and sin itself (of which he was accused). Complete nakedness was not the ordinary custom for executed criminals in the first century, but it is not difficult to imagine Christ's influential enemies arranging this in order to degrade and "defile" him to the uttermost. Thus, as in other ways, the leaders of Israel unwittingly contributed to the force of the symbolism: Christ as a partaker of the effects of our sins, knowing the bitterness of all that sinful flesh inherits.

The licentious society in which we live comes quite close to idolizing the naked body, but the whole tone of Scripture is in the opposite direction. The priests, for example, were commanded to wear breeches and not robes when they officiated, so that even the sight of a naked leg would not mar their service. Women in the ecclesias were to be modestly covered, and no doubt this was true for legs and breasts as well as heads! In short, flesh is nothing to be proud of; it is far better for our sisters (and brothers) to cover theirs with a fair amount of clothing Instead of a carefully nurtured suntan.

For Christ the shame was not just in the nakedness. As the brutally hot hours wore on, he became increasingly afflicted by bitter sweat, and by the blood that oozed from open wounds. The callous crowds stirred up clouds of choking dust, dust that became caked to his body. (Hymn 168 is certainly in error if read literally. Golgotha was a "green hill" only in the writer's imagination; or else, prophetically "green" with the hope of eternal life beyond the grave.) In a very real sense Christ lived out the condemnation of Adam: "Unto dust shalt thou return." Finally, the body's natural functions could no longer be held in check, and odor and flies would contribute to the agony of his last mortal hours. All the signs of corruption attached themselves, one by one, to this man of sign. In him we see ourselves for what we are -- creatures shrouded in corruption and decay. Let us look at ourselves, brethren: "Dying thou shalt die" is more than a Hebrew colloquialism! We are dying every minute of every day, and there is only one cure.

Nakedness is only one of an astounding number of links with the early part of Genesis; in many ways Christ fulfilled the type of the "last Adam". In providing a way of escape from the Edenic curse, our Saviour fell under that curse in every conceivable way. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man shall many be made righteous" (Rom 5:19). Let us survey the cross with a sense of wonder; here the prince of glory died to provide what our richest gains cannot. In the shadow of the cross our pride shrivels to nothingness and contempt.

* * *

Seven times was Christ's blood shed. Seven is the number of perfection and completeness, and without shedding of Hood there can be no remission of sins. In shedding his blood, seven times Christ became the perfect sacrifice and completed in himself, once and for all, the whole Mosaic system of bloodshed. The seven times are as follows:

The Messiah's sacrifice
The High Priest's consecration (Exo 29:20)
1. Head: the crown of thorns
Blood of a ram, upon tip of right ear
2. Back: the Roman scourge

3,4. Hands: the Roman spikes
Blood upon thumb of right hand
5,6. Feet: the spike(s)
Blood upon great toe of right foot
7. Side (after death): the Roman spear
Blood "sprinkled upon the altar round about"

Between the sacrifices of all animals and that of Christ there is another great difference, obvious in the above listing. The animal died as its blood was shed, but Christ was a "living sacrifice" (Rom 12:1,2). Only in the last of the seven instances of bloodshed was he unconscious. Paul tells us that to some degree we must emulate this sacrifice, as our "reasonable" (reasoning, or intelligent) service. Christ's sacrifice was not a suicide, where with a last knowing breath he cast himself headlong into death. Rather, it was a conscious, drawn-out process, completed in accordance with God's will. From his head and hands and feet flowed down not only blood, but also sorrow and love. He gave his heart and mind on the cross, not just his body.

* * *

Perhaps it is appropriate here, before proceeding to the last sections, to review by another table the "animals" of Psalm 22:

Of whom spoken?
Worm (toolath)
Lowliness (Job 25:6), or scarlet (v 6)
Royalty (Gen 49:9,10)
Jewish princes and rulers
Jewish princes
Uncleanness (Rev 22;15; Mat 15:26,27)
Wild ox
Strength (Num 23:22)
The "strong ones" (both Jews and Gentiles)

Against the lowly "worm" Jesus, the lordly "beasts" of Rome and Jerusalem took counsel together:

Psalm 2
Acts 4:27
V 2: Rulers (Jewish princes)
"Both Herod...
V 2: Kings of the earth (Roman)
...Pontius Pilate...
V 1: "Heathen" (signifying Gentiles)
...the Gentiles...
V 1: "People" (Jews)
The people of Israel...

...were gathered together."

And yet, though Gentiles participated in his execution, there seem to be some flashes of Roman insight that may be seen as prophetic of the Gentiles' subsequent gospel enlightenment. This may be called "The Great Paradox":

(1) At the time of crucifixion, the Jews become Gentiles...
Rulers: "We have no king but Caesar" (John 19:5).

People: "Crucify him" (Mar 15:13).
(2) while the Gentiles become Jews!
Ruler: "Pilate wrote a title..." (John 19:19).

People: "Truly this was the Son of God" (Mat 27:54).

Let us examine ourselves. We are first of all Gentiles after the flesh who have seen the King of the Jews "lifted up"; acknowledging his authority, we have become spiritual Jews. Do we subsequently become "Jews", who through pride or indifference or lack of faith testify that we really have no king but the "Caesar" of this world? If we are of this latter class, then Paul says of us that, like the mob in the Holy City that fateful morning, we also crucify the Son of God and put him to an open shame (Heb 6:6).

* * *


In three short intense verses Christ pleads again for that which he has sought from the beginning of the psalm -- his Father's visible favor. In strong crying and tears he multiplies his petitions. In v 21 finally comes the answer to his prayers and the breaking point of the psalm: "Thou hast heard me!" The darkness which has shrouded Golgotha for some time, the coming of which brought forth that desperate cry "My God, my God!", is now broken by light. His last few moments are ones of exultation, as reflected in the last section of the psalm. Christ faces death triumphantly, knowing he has conquered the final enemy. His work is finished and in his last minutes he catches a bright vision of the glory that will follow (vv 22-31).

Verse 19 is a cry for help as death approaches. It is a repetition of v 11: "Be not far from me, O Yahweh." God's presence constitutes the only deliverance that he desires. May our prayers be imitations of this great prayer of our Teacher -- in constant importunity, steadfast faith, and assurance of reply. God never yet forsook in need the man that trusted Him indeed.

Verse 20: "Deliver my soul ('nephesh') from the sword; my darling from the power ('paw') of the dog": The word "darling" is "yachiyd", signifying "single" or "only one" (as in Gen 22:2,12,16 -- of Isaac; Psa 68:6; Zec 12:10). By implication it signifies the "beloved one"; that which cannot be replaced; or one's life.

Verse 21: "Save me from the lion's mouth": The lion was mentioned also in v 13, a ravening beast, also the symbol of the tribe of Judah. The leaders of Judah had become voracious beasts in their treatment of this man who dared to call their ways in question.

"Thou hast heard me": This is in direct contrast to vv 1,2. The God who had seemed to forsake him to die in the darkness now at last sheds light upon him for a final time. Prayer moves the hand that moves the world. This phrase initiates the last half of the psalm -- filled to overflowing with exceeding great joy, just as the first half was agony and sorrow. Christ looks in vision upon the "seed" to be born out of his sufferings, the fruit of his toil and travail, and he rejoices.

"From the horns of the unicorn": Either the wild ox (as in RSV) or the rhinoceros. The ox is the Scriptural symbol of great strength (Num 23:22; Job 39:9,10). It is a symbol of death, our strongest enemy. Samson faced the strong lion and slew him and subsequently found honey in the carcass. Christ (the typical "Samson") faced death "the strong one"; he faced the "horns of the altar" (Psa 118:27) and emerged victorious. Out of the jaws of death came meat for the world. Out of the "strong one" came forth the sweetness of renewed life, eternal life (Jdg 14:14). "Out of weakness" the Saviour "was made strong" (Heb 11:34) -- so that true Israel may be delivered from its last and greatest enemy. Thanks be to God for the unspeakable gift of His Son, that even death itself holds no terror for His beloved children.

Previous Index Next