The psalm is composed, manifestly, of two portions—the complaint and prayer of a sufferer ( Psalms 22:1-21 ), and a song of rejoicing after deliverance ( Psalms 22:22-31 ). According to some critics, the first of these two portions is also itself divided into two parts—each consisting of two strophes ( Psalms 22:1-10 and Psalms 22:12-21 ), which are linked together by a single ejaculatory verse ( Psalms 22:11 ). A further analysis divides each of the three strophes of ten verses into two strophes of five; but there is certainly no ,such division in the second strophe of ten, since Psalms 22:16-17 are most closely connected together.
The composition of the psalm by David, though not universally admitted, has in its favour a large majority of the critics. The imagery is Davidical; the sudden transition at Psalms 22:22 is Davidical; the whole psalm "abounds in expressions which occur frequently, or exclusively, in psalms generally admitted to have been composed by David" ('Speaker's Commentary'). David's authorship is moreover distinctly asserted in the title, and confirmed by the "enigmatic superscription," which is a Davidical fancy.
But thou art he that took me out of the womb (comp. Job 10:8-11 ). God's creatures have always a claim upon him from the very fact that they are his creatures. Every sufferer may appeal to God as his Maker, and therefore bound to be his Helper and Preserver. Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. Thou gavest me the serene joy and trust of infancy—that happy time to which man looks back with such deep satisfaction. Every joy, every satisfaction, came from thee.
From darkness to light; or, the song of the early dawn.
This is one of the most wonderful of all the psalms. It has gathered round it the study of expositors of most diverse types—from those who see in it scarcely aught but a description beforehand of the Messiah's suffering and glory, to those who see in it scarcely any Messianic reference at all, and who acknowledge only one sense in which even the term "Messianic" is to be tolerated, even in the fact that light gleams forth after the darkness. Both these extreme views should be avoided, and we venture to ask for the careful and candid attention of the reader, as we move along a specific path in the elucidation of this psalm. The title of the psalm is significant; literally, it reads, "To the chief musician [or, 'precentor'] upon Aijeleth Shahar [or, 'the hind of the morning,' margin]. A Psalm of David" We accent the heading, here and elsewhere "a Psalm of David," unless adequate reason to the contrary can be shown. But what can be the meaning of the expression," the hind of the morning"? A reference to Furst's Lexicon will be found helpful. £ The phrase is a figurative one, and signifies, "the first light of the morning." In this psalm we see the light of early morn breaking forth after the deepest darkness of the blackest night. Hence the title given above to this homily. But then the question comes—Whose is the darkness, and whose is the light? We reply—Primarily, the writer's, whoever he may have been, whether David or any other Old Testament saint. For the psalm is not written in the third person, as is the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah. There is no room here for the question, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?" In Isaiah 53:1-12 . the reference is to another; in this psalm the wail is declared to be the writer's own. Yet we have to take note of the fact that in the New Testament there are some seven or eight references to this psalm in which its words and phrases are applied to the Lord Jesus Christ. There are other phrases in the psalm which were literally true of our Lord, but yet are not quoted in the New Testament. £ We do not wonder at Bishop Perowne's remark. £ "Unnatural as I cannot help thinking that interpretation is which assumes that the psalmist himself never felt the sorrows which he describes … I hold that to be a far worse error which sees here no foreshadowing of Christ at all. Indeed, the coincidence between the sufferings of the psalmist and the sufferings of Christ is so remarkable, that it is very surprising that any one should deny or question the relation between the type and the antitype." To a like effect are the devout and thoughtful words of Orelli, £ "What the psalmist complains of in mere figurative, though highly coloured terms, befell the Son of God in veritable fact. Herein we see the objective connection, established of set purpose by God's providence, which so framed even the phrasing of the pious prayer, that without knowledge of the suppliant it became prophecy, and again so controlled even what was outward and seemingly accidental in the history of Jesus, that the old prophetic oracles appear incorporated in it." There is no reason to think, on the one hand, that the writer was a mere machine, nor yet, on the other, that he fully knew the far-reaching significance of the words he used. £ And this leads us to a remark which we make once for all, that there are two senses in which psalms may be Messianic—direct and indirect.
1 . Direct. In these the reference is exclusively to the Messiah; every phrase is true of him, and of him alone, and cannot be so translated as not to apply to him, nor so that it can, as a whole, apply to any one else. The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and also the second and hundred and tenth psalms are illustrations of this.
2 . Indirect. In these the first meaning is historical, and applies to the writer himself; hut many phrases therein have a second and far-reaching intent; of these the fullest application is to him who was David's Son and yet David's Lord. The psalm before us is an illustration of this indirect Messianic structure; and this not only, perhaps not so much, because in the first writing of the words the Spirit of God pointed forward to Christ, as because our Lord himself, having taken a human nature, and shared human experiences, found himself the partaker of like sorrows with the Old Testament saints, plunged into like horrible darkness, which found expression in the very same words, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" £ Mr. Spurgeon, indeed, admits some possible application to David himself, but says that believers will scarcely care to think of his sufferings; they will rather fasten their gaze on those of their Lord. That is true, in a very touching sense. At the same time, we shall lose much of the comfort the psalm is adapted to afford, if we do not look very distinctly at the sufferings of David, in order to see, with equal distinctness, how completely our Lord shared his "brethren's" sorrows, darkness, and groans, when he took up their burdens and made them his own. £ Let us therefore deal with this psalm in a twofold outline—first, as it applies to the writer; and then as it it taken up by the Lord Jesus, and made his own (with such exceptions as that named in the first footnote below).
I. ISRAEL 'S KING PASSES THROUGH DEEPEST DARKNESS TO THE LIGHT . Here let us answer by anticipation a remark with which we have frequently met, to the effect that we cannot fasten on any incident in the career of David which would lead to such extreme anguish as that indicated here. Who that has any knowledge of the horrors to which sensitive souls are liable, could raise any difficulty over this? Far more depends on subjective condition than on outward incident. Why, the saints of God now do pass through times of indescribable anguish, of which no outward incident affords even a glimmer of explanation. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness." Let the outer occasion have been whatsoever it may, here at any rate is:
1 . A saint in terrible darkness. In the midst of his woe, he remembers his transgressions, £ and it may have been, as is so often the case, that the writer attributes his anguish to his numberless transgressions (verse 1, LXX .). The details of his intensity of sorrow are manifold.
2. The woe is freely told to God There may be the stinging memory of bygone sin piercing the soul, still the psalmist cleaves to his God.
3 . The light dawns at last. The "everlasting covenant" does not fail; it has been "ordered in all things," and remains sure and steadfast; and oftentimes, even while the saint is on his knees, he will scarce have ended his groaning 'ere his sigh is turned to a song (cf. Psalms 27:12-14 ). Hence the last ten verses of the psalm are as joyous as the others are sad. "The darkest hour is before the dawn," and the brightness of morning shall chase away the gloom of night. So it is here.
II. WORDS OF A SUFFERING SAINT ARE APPROPRIATED BY A SUFFERING SAVIOUR . The Lord Jesus Christ, in all things "made like unto his brethren," takes up words from this psalm into his own lips. If we were dealing only with the Messianic aspect of the psalm, we should open it up in the following order:
Since, however, we are seeking to expound the psalm in both its aspects, we rather indicate four lines of thought, the pursuing of which will throw light on the wonder of the appropriation of the words of a suffering saint by a suffering Saviour; while some look at the fierce cry with which this psalm beans as intended to set forth the woes of the coming Messiah, that cry seems to us far more touching when we find that our dear Redeemer uses the words of an ancient sufferer as his own! £ Observe:
1 . There is no depth of sorrow through which the saint can pass , but Jesus understands it all . How many causes of woe are enumerated here! But in all points Jesus felt the same. The writer endured
Every one of these forms of hardship and ill pressed sorely on Jesus; and though we may meditate continuously and with ever-deepening wonder £ on each of them, yet all the rest fade away into insignificance compared with the anguish that arose from the hiding of the Father's face. Every trouble can be borne when the Father is seen to smile; but when his face is hidden in a total eclipse, what darkness can be so dreadful as that? There was, as it were, a hiding of the face from him ( Isaiah 53:3 ). £ Let those saints of God who have to pass through seasons of prolonged mental anguish remember that, however severe the conflict may be, the Saviour has passed through one still more terrible than theirs.
2 . If even the saint asks " why ?" even so did the Saviour. The "why?" however, applies only to the opening words—to the hiding of God's face. There may be mystery therein, even when (as in the case of every saint) there are transgressions to be bemoaned. But our Saviour has an unfathomable woe, "yet without sin. " The "why?" then, imperatively requires an answer. In the tire, at the faggot, and at the stake, martyrs have sung for joy. Why is it that at the moment of direst need the sinless Sufferer should have felt aught so dreadful as abandonment by God? Not that the abandonment was real. The Father never loved the Son more than when he hung bleeding on the cross. But our Saviour endured the sense of it. Why was this? He did not deserve it. But he had laden himself with our burden. "The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all." Nor do we know that we can put the pith and essence of the atonement in fewer words than these:
We can understand that, coming as Man into the midst of a sinful race, all the suffering which a holy nature must endure in conflict with sinful men would be his. But the sense of desertion by God while doing his Father's will can only be accounted for by the amazing fact that "he sent his Son to be the Propitiation for our sins."
3 . In passing through his manifold experience of sorrow , the Saviour learned to suffer with the saint , and was being made perfect as the Captain of salvation. ( Hebrews 2:10 ; Hebrews 5:2 , Hebrews 5:7 , Hebrews 5:8 , Hebrews 5:9 .) Our Saviour was
III. THE WORDS OF THE SAINT EMERGING FROM HIS GLOOM ARE APPROPRIATE TO THE SAVIOUR IN HIS EXALTATION AND TRIUMPH . With the Saviour, as with the psalmist, the darkest night was the prelude to the brightness of day. The brightness which marks the last ten verses of the psalm is a declaration that the kingdom of David shall be established for ever and ever, and that, though David may have to pass through fire and flood, his kingdom shall abide through age after age; and thus we find the phraseology of these verses applied to the after-career of David's Son and David's Lord in Hebrews 2:11 , Hebrews 2:12 . Whence five points invite attention. The Holy Ghost, inditing the psalmist's words so that they forecast the issue of Messiah's sufferings as well as his own, shows us our Saviour
It is not, it is not for nought that the Messiah endured all his woe ( Isaiah 53:11 ; Hebrews 12:1 , Hebrews 12:2 ; Philippians 2:11 ). It behoved him to suffer, and then "to enter into his glory." And as with the Master, so with the servant. "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him." He hath said, "Where I am, there shall also my servant be." Following him in sharing his cross, we shall follow him in sharing his crown.—C.
A struggle from the gloom of adversity to peace and joy.
It was said among the heathen that a just man struggling with adversity was a sight worthy of the gods. Such a sight we have here. We see a truly just man struggling from the gloomiest depths of adversity upwards to the serene heights of peace and joy in God. Three stages may be marked.
I. THE WAIL OF DESERTION . ( Psalms 22:1-10 .) Suffering is no "strange thing." It comes sooner or later to all. Always, and especially in its severer forms, it is a mystery. We cry, "Why?" "Why am I thus?" "Why all this from God to me?" God's servants who have been most afflicted have most felt this mystery. So it was with Abraham, when" the horror of great darkness fell upon him" ( Genesis 15:12 ). So it was with Jacob , in that night of long and awful wrestling with the angel ( Genesis 32:24 ). So it was with Moses and the prophets ( Isaiah 40:27 ). So it was with the psalmist here. His sufferings were intensified by the sense of desertion ( Psalms 22:1 , Psalms 22:2 ). He cried to God, but there was no answer. He continued day and night in prayer, and yet there was no response. And yet he will not give up his trust in God. He tries to calm himself by remembrance of God's holiness and love, and by the thought of God's gracious dealings with his people. But, alas! this only aggravated his pare. The contrast was sharp and terrible. "Our fathers trusted in thee, and thou didst deliver them. But 1 am a worm, and no man." It seemed to him that the desertion, which he felt so keenly, was equally apparent to others. But instead of pity, there was scorn; instead of sympathy, there was reproach. Lowered in the estimation of others, he was lowered also in his own. All this seemed irreconcilable with a right relation to God. He cannot understand, but no more can he reproach. The bond of love is strained, but it is not ruptured. Like Job, he is ready to say, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." How thankful should we be for such revelations! They not only teach us patience, but they help us in the time of our trial to draw nearer in loving concord with Jesus and his saints.
II. THE PRAYER OF TRUST . There is a time to speak. Speech helps to unburden the heart. But the psalmist does not cry for help till he has reached a calmer mood, and so far encouraged himself by recollection of God's love and kindness in his life from the first (verses 9, 10). He looks to the past, that he may be braced to look at the present. Then, in sight of all the distresses and perils that surrounded him, he cries mightily to God (verses 11-18). His faith is sorely tried, but it does not fail. Even with things waxing worse and worse, with enemies many and fierce, with strength well-nigh worn out, with death staring him in the face (verse 18), he renews his pathetic cry, "Be not far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me' (verses 19-21).
III. THE SONG OF VICTORY . The capacity of the soul is wonderful. It can sink very low, and it can rise very high. It has been said of prayer—
"What changes one short hour
Spent in thy presence has availed to make!"
And we see this here. Fear is turned to praise (verses 22-24). Loneliness gives place to the joys of "the great congregation" (verses 25, 26). Individual sufferings are forgotten in the glad vision of the triumphs of Messiah, and the glory and blessedness of his kingdom (verses 27-31). Who is there who loves the Lord, whose heart does not rejoice in foretaste and foresight of these good times, and with renewed ardour pray, "Thy kingdom come "?—W.F.
The cry of despair struggling with the cry of faith.
The writer was' apparently an exile, still in the hands of his heathen captors. His extreme peril, the obloquy and scorn to which he was exposed as a professed worshipper of Jehovah, his imminent death, are touched on with a tenderness and a power which have made the language familiar to us in another application—as used by Christ in the agonies of the cross. It is the cry of despair struggling with the cry of faith.
I. THE CRY OF DESPAIR . That God had forsaken him.
1 . Had forsaken him for a long time. ( Psalms 22:1 , Psalms 22:2 .) It was not a temporary eclipse, but seemed a permanent desertion.
2 . That this abandonment was somehow consistent with God ' s faithfulness. ( Psalms 22:3 .) There was no doubt it did not arise from caprice, but from holiness. That made the darkness very dark.
3 . It arose from his personal unworthiness. ( Psalms 22:4 - 6.) God had rescued his fathers; but he was a worm, and not a man, unworthy of deliverance, despised of men. "Fear not, thou worm Jacob."
4 . A contrast to God ' s former care of him. ( Psalms 22:9 , Psalms 22:10 .) Not easy to analyze the contents of such a consciousness. But in general, "It is the sense of the Divine mercy, care, and support gone!"
II. But there is in the background, FAITH STRUGGLING AGAINST THIS DESPAIR .
1 . He still can say , " My God." Repeatedly ( Psalms 22:1 , Psalms 22:2 ). No unbelief could dissolve that tie.
2 . Faith will not let go its hold upon his "holiness," however dark its aspect towards him now. ( Psalms 22:3 .) God cannot be far from a man who retains the sense of his holy faithfulness.
3 . He is suffering in the righteous cause — for God ' s sake. ( Psalms 22:6-8 .) As Christ was. There is more than a gleam of hope for him here.
4 . God had brought him into the world , and cared for him in helpless infancy. ( Psalms 22:9 , Psalms 22:10 .) These are the grounds of persistent faith battling against the sense of desertion and despair; and they are all-sufficient for us in our darkest hours. "We can but trust; we cannot know."—S.