Chapter 19 Immeasurable Sufferings

My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? (Psalm 22:1)

Behold, and see if there be any sorrow, like unto My sorrow (Lamentations 1:12).

There is nothing in the whole of human literature more poignant than Psalm 22. It is the ultimate depth of suffering— a prophetic portrayal of the pouring out of our Lord’s soul unto death. This psalm was committed to “the chief singer,” as the title indicates, for none but he could have charge of such a holy strain. The “Aijeleth Shahar” in the title is interpreted as “the hind of the morning”—a figure of Christ, the promised Messiah. It is another portrayal of our Lord under the figure of this gentle animal being pursued and hunted by ferocious beasts.

It is a psalm of the cross, and expresses in detail, as nowhere else, the sufferings of our Lord on that shameful tree. There is no psalm like this psalm. One of its most remarkable features is the absence of any confession of sin. The sufferer has no personal sin to be confessed, and this because it points to the sinless Son of God as Son of man.

There are a number of beasts mentioned.

There are “bulls” in verse 12. The bull was a ceremonially clean animal, and no doubt this points to the Jewish rulers-scribes and Pharisees, high priests such as Annas and Caiaphas, and the whole Jewish Sanhedrin council which plotted to put Jesus to death.

Verse 20 speaks of “dogs.” The dog was an unclean animal and this no doubt refers to the Gentiles—often spoken of as “Gentile dogs” by the Jews. Rome was in charge of Palestine at the time of our Lord’s death, and He was condemned by the Roman governor, Pilate, to die a Roman death. Roman soldiers, too, circled the cross and gambled for His garments.

Verse 21 speaks of “lions,” also unclean animals, and probably points to all the hosts of hell as ferocious and fearful enemies. They were to fling themselves upon the Lord in His moment of greatest physical weakness in the hope of tearing Him to pieces.

Then, in verse 21, the “unicorn” is mentioned, and scholars have interpreted this as the single-horned rhinoceros. It is likely a representation of death itself and its enormous power to impale men.

The Utter Dereliction of Our Lord

The first source of our Lord’s sufferings was in relation to God: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (verse 1)—or, “Why hast Thou let Me go?” or “Why hast Thou given Me over?” It is the cry of One who had been in eternal communion with God, but now finds that communion is being sundered—broken in upon. It is not a rebellious cry. It is not a cry of complaint. It is one of bewilderment. Why? The answer is really given in verse 3: “But Thou art holy.” At this point of time our Lord was now “made sin for us,” and was standing forward as responsible for all our sins, which were laid upon Him. Thus the Father, in His office as God, had to turn away from the sight of His Son, who was now in His office of Sin-Bearer on our behalf.

The second source of our Lord’s sufferings was in relation to man. The ribald mockery of men is depicted in verses 7 and 8: “All they that see Me laugh Me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that He would deliver Him.” Priest and people, Jews and Gentiles, soldiers and civilians are all seen in this derisive laughter, which summed up a universal scorn for God’s beloved One.

And together with this mocking ribaldry were gestures of contempt, such as the shooting out of the lip, wagging the head, and other obscene gestures. Then came what may have been the crudest part—the taunting of His faith in God, which must have been like poisoned venom to His holy soul.

The third source of our Lord’s sufferings was in relation to the powers of hell. Satan marshaled all his forces and cleverly waited before attack until our Lord was brought into the most bitter extremity of physical pain: “All My bones are out of joint.” It is said, I believe, that there are two hundred and eight bones in the body, and who can measure this kind of suffering when all were dislocated? It was at this strategic hour that Satan flung all his forces against Christ, hoping to overwhelm Him.

The Glorious Jubilation of Our Lord

From that deep and dire dereliction the psalm passes into the triumph of the Saviour, and thus into a paean of praise. I will mention three wondrous results from the Lord Jesus having borne our sufferings:

(1) The creation of a gospel for sinful men—a gospel of redeeming love. “I will declare Thy name unto My brethren” (verse 22)—that is, the name of God, who is just. Through the sufferings of the cross the just God found the righteous means of becoming “the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). Here, too, the church of firstborn ones comes into view, when the Redeemer says, “In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee” (Psalm 22:22). He leads the praise of His redeemed ones before God the Father.

(2) The provisions of a complete satisfaction for such believing people. “The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek Him: your heart shall live for ever” (verse 26). They who believe are meek in that they have renounced all human pride, and have sought after the Saviour until they found Him.

(3) The fruition of our Lord’s passion gathered from all nations. “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee” (verse 27). They shall remember, return, and revere the Lord.

The last phrase of the psalm is for the glory of God: “He hath done this” (verse 31), which, I understand, is but one word in Hebrew—“finished.” This has reference, not only to the completed work on the cross, but to the completed work in believers as they are finally presented to the Father “without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing”—a work wrought out to perfection in all who believe.

Mercy and truth unite,
O ’tis a wondrous sight,
All sights above! Jesus the curse sustains!
Guilt’s bitter cup He drains!
Nothing for us remains,
Nothing but love.

Love that no tongue can teach,
Love that no thought can reach:
No love like His. God is its blessed source,
Death can ne’er stop its course,
Nothing can stay its force;
Matchless it is.

Thomas Kelly