My God, my God, why have your forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night but I find no rest.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions that tear their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.
Normally, when I write these devotionals I follow a pretty standard format: I start with a personal story that makes some point; I reference how the particular psalm makes the same point, or the opposite point, or how my story is a parable for doctrines of the Psalm; I explain the content of the Psalm or verses of the Psalm; and I conclude with a line or two reference back to my story, now in the hope and truths of the Psalm’s teaching. If you look back over all these Songs of Prayer you will see a variation on the theme of that structure. Sometimes obviously, sometimes less so; often personal stories, occasionally borrowed stories; sometimes the parabolic connection is clear, sometimes I stretch the metaphors to the near-breaking point.
But as I write for this week I just can’t do it. I read this Psalm and there is only one story that comes to mind; there is only one story in which the words of this psalm seem to fit; I cannot read this Psalm in any other light than that of the True and Better story of Jesus and the gospel of God’s redemption after our rebellion.
And it’s more than just that Jesus quotes this Psalm on the cross: at the last crying out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34) But it is in the anxiety of the line “My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night but I find no rest.” read against the backdrop of Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane asking that the cup be removed from him – and yet committing to the will of God his Father; against the anguish of that prayer such that “his sweet was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Lk.22:44) It’s in the scorning and mocking, the being despised and rejected (Mt. 27:29; Jn. 1:11); it’s in the way the people said, “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” and to Jesus they said, “He saved others but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Mt. 27:42-43); it’s in the way water poured out of his side (“I am poured out like water”) (Jn. 19:34); it’s in the way Jesus was parched and thirsty as he hung on the cross (“My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth”) (Jn. 19:28); it’s in the way his hands and feet were pierced (“they pierce my hands and my feet”) (Jn. 20:25; Mk. 15:24); the way his gaunt and naked body was on display for all to see (“All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me”); it is in the way the soldiers cast dice for his clothes and took them as their own (“They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”) (Jn. 19:24; Lk. 23:34).
Whether David writes this Psalm entirely prophetically or if it is somehow based on his own experiences with the Holy Spirit working out a greater fulfillment in Jesus, scholars are divided. But my heart reads this as being about Jesus – I simply can’t see it any other way.
Tim Keller describes reading this Psalm like standing on Holy Ground.
That is an image I can see – nay, experience – as I read this Psalm. Whether for the first time – or the thousandth – every time… my heart comes back to Jesus; in life, but especially in his death on the cross “Christ sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might deliver us, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 37)
He cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” so that I call him, "My God."
Holy Father, we stand on holy ground in your presence because of what Jesus suffered. Open the eyes of my heart to be captivated by his gospel; and let me live unafraid of life – or death – because of who I see in this song of prayer. Amen.