[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]
This last section of Psalm 22 is the most future-looking section of the psalm, going far beyond a historic kingdom of David and Solomon, or any other period in Israel’s history. While this is typical of the messianic Psalms, I think that the whole nation of Israel is praying for deliverance in Psalm 22. Israel itself is in the midst of wild beasts intent on destroying it. This is consistent with Daniel 7-12, for example, which describes the future enemies of Israel as wild beasts rising from the sea to oppress the nation. The nation is surrounded by enemies intent on destroying it and a worshiper any time during the Second Temple period may have thought of God as silent and distant (22:1-3).
The only way Israel can survive is if the Lord acts to rescue her from her oppressors. The nation was oppressed and needed the Lord to defend it over and over again. This is the reason the worshiper recalls the “fathers” who trusted in the Lord and were rescued (22:4-5). During the exile the nation looked forward to a new Exodus, they looked forward to God acting again as he has in the past. Isaiah 40-55 makes this especially clear, calling on Israel to return to the wilderness and “make straight the paths of the Lord.” They are called to join the procession out of Babylon. As they travel once again through the wilderness, God will re-create the desert place as the Garden of Eden.
Read this way, the Psalm has an application in nearly every generation of Israel’s history. Even after the Temple was rebuilt and some Jews returned to Jerusalem, there was still a sense that the exile continued since they were under foreign domination.
There is a universal aspect to Psalm 22: all the earth will bow down because the Lord has dominion over the whole earth. The whole earth will feast and worship the Lord in Zion. As in Isaiah 25:6-8, both Israel and the nations will stream to Mount Zion to worship God. When the Lord prepares the banquet, he will remove the disgrace from his people and defeat the final enemy (Death itself). But in Isaiah 25:6-8 there is some ambiguity since the nations do come to Zion, but it is unclear that they will be worshipers or if they will face judgments. Most English translations highlight only the universalism of the text based on Christian assumptions. Jewish interpreters regularly took the banquet in Zion as time of judgment on the nations rather than universal salvation.
This ambiguity is found here in Psalm 22 as well. In verse 26 it is the afflicted who seek the Lord who will “eat and be satisfied.” This is a “reversal of fortunes,” the afflicted ones will be lifted out of their troubles, they will no longer fear the oppressors. In verse 29, however, the “prosperous of the earth” will eat and worship as they bow down to the dust. This may be a reference to a future judgment of the nations at the beginning of the messianic age.
While Psalm 22 is read by Christians as foreshadowing the crucifixion, this future hope of restoration should not be ignored. By the time of Jesus’ ministry, Israel had endured hundreds of years of exile and domination by Gentiles. Many longed for the Messiah, they one who would finally liberate them from these “wild animals” who encircled them. Psalm 22 is one of the few places in the Hebrew Bible which combines the idea of a “suffering servant” with that of a triumphal Messiah.
There is much more work to be done with the Psalm as a foundation for early church Christology.