Psalm 22 – My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?


Psalm 22


This lament psalm is unique both in its description of the depths of distress and in the expansive praise following the experience of God’s help.


The first part of the psalm is a typical lament in form (vv. 1-21a), but hardly typical in the picture it paints of suffering and despair. The poet feels forsaken by God (vv. 1-2), less than human (v. 6), and under attack from all sides (vv. 7-8, 12-13, 16-18). The pray-er’s faith (v. 2) and body (vv. 14-15) are both shaken to the breaking point.

The psalm was prayed first by sufferers in ancient Israel, and then it provided words for Jesus’ own prayer from the cross (Mark 15:34). In fact, the psalm’s description of suffering colors the entire scene of the crucifixion in the Gospels. Jesus is seen to embody fully the innocent suffering described in Psalm 22 and other psalms.

Despite feeling forsaken in the moment, the pray-er has nowhere to turn but to God, remembering God’s care for Israel in the past (vv. 3-5) and his or her own personal experiences of God’s loving protection (vv. 9-11). Memory serves faith when present terror calls it into question, and memory is supported when God’s people pray this and other psalms. The voice of one generation provides words and meaning for another.

Experiencing God’s helping hand, the psalmist turns to praise, also typical of the lament psalms, though here the praise section, too, goes beyond that found in other psalms of this type. Typically, the pray-er promises to bear witness in the congregation to God’s goodness (vv. 22-26). But this psalm goes farther, announcing that “all the ends of the earth” shall turn to God because of God’s saving love–including even those “who sleep in the earth” and “people yet unborn” (vv. 27-31). Only the most amazing gift of God’s salvation could engender such response, which makes this psalm particularly appropriate for the New Testament to use in announcing that God “has done it” (v. 31) in the gift of God’s Son Jesus.