Psalm 22 – “Forsaken”
“The very word “forsaken” is one of the most tragic in all human speech… What calamities are conjured up by this word – a man forsaken of his friends, a wife forsaken by her husband, a child forsaken by its parents! But a creature forsaken by its Creator, a man forsaken of God – O this is the most frightful of all. This is the evil of all evils. This is the climactic calamity.”
To be forsaken by God means to be abandoned by him; separated from him; to have his face turned away from you, his blessing and goodness and favor withheld.
And this psalmist is felling this God-forsakenness and asking “why?” – because he knows that this forsakenness is something that he shouldn’t be experiencing – he knows the promises of God – and he feels that his present experience is contradicting the content of those promises:
Because, God promises to never forsake his people. Over & over again in the OT, God promises to never forsake his people:
Dt 31:6 “He will not leave you or forsake you”
Dt 31:8 “He will not leave you or forsake you”
Jos 1:5 “I will not leave you or forsake you”
1 Sam 12:22 “For the LORD will not forsake his people”
1 Ki 6:13 “And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel.”
Neh 9:17 “Even though they were stubborn, “you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”
Neh 9:19 “you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness”
Neh 9:31 “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God”
Psalm 37:28 “For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his saints”
Psalm 94:14 “For the LORD will not forsake his people”
Isaiah 42:16 “I do not forsake them”
Now, of course there are passages which talk of God’s forsaking his people if they forsake him; there are passages which warn of God’s forsaking his people when they forsake him; So, it’s not a completely unconditional promise because while the grace of God is never merited by our response, it is always conditioned upon our response of faith; And, so, for those who have faith in God – imperfect faith but faith nevertheless, for those who seek God, for those who remain in God, for those who look to God, for those who are the people of God – he promises – over and over and over – that he will never forsake them.
God promises to never forsake his people.
But, he doesn’t promise that his people will never feel forsaken by him.
And, so, the question is: have you ever felt forsaken by God?
If you have, then, this Psalm reminds us that you are in good company with the people of God. If you have felt forsaken by God, you are not alone. If you have felt forsaken by God, you haven’t necessarily failed in your faith – all though that feeling can lead to a failure in faith – but you haven’t necessarily failed in your faith, you’ve only experienced life in a fallen world – the uncertainties of it; the hardships of it; the loneliness of it; the pain and sadness of it.
You’ve felt one of the realities of the miseries of sin – that as a result of the fall, we lost perfect communion with God – Adam & Eve were kicked out of the garden where they walked with God without shame and guilt and hiding; and though in Christ by his grace we are reconciled to God, and though we have a restored friendship and fellowship with him, that is imperfect; and it is sometimes not felt or seen against the backdrop of the painful experiences of life.
If you feel forsaken by God, don’t be ashamed; don’t be surprised; but, don’t turn away from God in that feeling of God-forsakenness – turn towards him.
The Sufferer (Psalmist – David)
Look at how the psalmist describes this God-forsakenness:
Distant from God; Alone; Weak:
He feels like God is distant; v1, in the parallel lines to the question about his God-forsakenness, he describes that forsakenness in terms of distance: why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
he feels like God doesn’t hear him. God is far away, God doesn’t care, God isn’t responding to me.
-You call, no answer; leave a voicemail, no response; text text text. everyone learns at some point in life that when your friends never call you back, it’s probably because they didn’t want to be your friends anymore. You conclude: “I guess that person doesn’t care about me. I guess they don’t love me.” And, that’s how the psalmist feels about God.
And, He feels alone in it: contrast b/w how God is dealing with him, and how God has dealt with his people all throughout the past – v1&2 contrasts with v3-5, you see this with the word “Yet”.
David cries out day and night and no answer, no rest, no salvation; Yet…
yet: (3-5) God is enthroned on the praises of Israel; in him our fathers trusted, and he delivered them. To him they cried and were rescued; in him they trusted and they were not put to shame.
But David trusted in God and he is put to shame – 6-8: v6 – But I; I don’t even feel human anymore; I am shamed, scorned, despised; v7-8 – I’m mocked & insulted; v 8 – They enemies are taunting him for not having been delivered – for his trust in God being in vain.
See the contrast in these first 8 verses? All the rest of God’s people cry out to God and are heard; delivered; not put to shame. But, he cries out to God and he is unheard; forsaken; put to shame for his trust in God.
Distant; alone; weak.
vv14-15 – he is poured out like water; his bones are out of joint; his heart is melted like wax, his strength is dried up – all imagery which describes weakness:
He has no strength, no resiliency, no ability to deal with the difficulties of life. He feels like a puddle of water; a bag of bones with no ability to support himself and no strength to stand and fight; his heart – or his gut or inner resolve – have melted away.
But he can still look to God in faith. Isn’t that amazing?
Even in his weakness, he can have faith – because faith is not the result of strength; it is an acknowledgment of our own weakness, and looking to God for the strength that we need.
Faith is not easy; it’s difficult. It’s not automatic, it’s a deliberative act of the will. But faith is receiving and resting upon the promises of God. And we best do that in our weakness, not in strength – in fact, it’s the turning away from self-reliance, and casting ourselves upon God.
At the end of a race, when someone has given it all they’ve got – and they collapse in exhaustion onto the ground – that is what faith looks like for this Psalmist.
See, in this feeling of God-forsakenness, he still turns towards God – the very God who he feels he has been forsaken by! Think about how counterintuitive that is – turning towards the God you’ve been forsaken by!
But, I think that’s crucial – that’s part of the point of what David wants to teach us from his experience: In your feelings of God-forsakenness, persist in turning towards God, not away from him.
Because in the cry of despair, you see David’s hope.
Despair: He doesn’t say, My God, My God, why are you about to forsake me? Why have you.
Yet, at the same time, Hope: If he really believed he was utterly forsaken by God, then why is he still calling out to God?
he feels utterly forsaken by God, but he still cries out to this very same God that he believes has forsaken him.
He still calls him “My God” – 3x – in the span of 2 verses!
He isn’t merely, impersonally stating the fact: “The God who I used to believe in has forsaken me.” He’s crying out to his own God – he’s speaking in personal terms – he’s claiming this God as his very own.
God is still his God.
In his feeling of God-forsakenness, he still turns towards God, not away from God. and he pours himself into the only thing that can give him hope – his faith in God.
“When the people of God wrestle with themselves, on the one hand they discover the weakness of the flesh – thinking they are cast off by God; on the other they give evidence of their faith, holding onto the grace of God.”
That is the movement of faith – that works against the disbelief of our present experience and doesn’t let our feelings reign like a dictator over our lives, but in the darkness; in the confusion; in the disbelief, still chooses to hope in God, trust in God, turn to God.
And God welcomes us – when we turn to him in our suffering, in our dejection, in our hopelessness, in our confusion – he welcomes the cry of the sufferer. He isn’t surprised by it; he isn’t offended by it; his feelings aren’t hurt by it; actually, as we’ll see, he understands it quite well.
God welcomes us in our near-hopeless cries of feeling forsaken by him.
And so, when you are suffering, do you turn to God? Do you pray to him – cry and call out to him?
God is still his God; he still is crying out to his God; he still is looking for God; waiting upon God; turning towards God; and putting his faith in God.
You see, in the time of feeling this God-forsakenness, we can turn towards God, or we can turn away from him. In the time of feeling this God-forsakenness, we can harden ourselves in disbelief towards God, or we can continue to hope by faith in God’s promises that he will be faithful.
In the midst of suffering – we have to choose to turn towards God – that even when it feels like he is distant; we are alone; we are too weak to do it.
John Stott – “the real pain of suffering is the apparent God-forsakenness of it”.
And, in light of this feeling of God-forsakenness, it’s especially tempting to want to turn away from God: after all, God has turned away from me! Time to find something else to trust in, to hope in, to rescue me out of this trouble or despair I’m in.
It is an act of faith to turn to Jesus in the midst of our suffering. Sometimes, however, we turn to other things: let me mention 4: Escape; Despair; Self-Pity; co-dependency.
Escape – This is the turn away from reality, into to fantasy. we simply don’t want to deal with the difficulties of life, the difficulties of the situation, so we deny reality or distract ourselves from it; escape into fantasy, stick our heads in the sand, distract ourselves with entertainment or the comfort of food or the escape of drugs/alcohol.
Despair: This is the turn to reality, away from Hope: This is the embrace of the present, apparent reality of our situation without regard to God – and the honest inevitable result of realism, without God, is absolute despair. Because if this life is all there is, if my suffering doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t have any purpose or resolution or there’s nothing beyond it, then there is no hope, only despair.
Self-Pity: this is the turn to self, away from God: the turn inward. Self-pity is the ironic love of the suffering that once hated; it finds some value, some reward, some identity in my suffering, and loves suffering for suffering’s sake – which I don’t believe God ever calls us to do – we rejoice even in our sufferings, but not because of our sufferings themselves but because of what God does through our sufferings and the resulting hope that we can have through our suffering. This is the turn inward, that rejects comfort and healing in order to fully embrace suffering as an identity.
Co-dependency: This is the turn to others, away from God: If God has forsaken me, I will find someone else to be my God. I will look to friend or spouse or lover as savior, but – no person can ever be your savior, and you can’t be the savior of another person. Of course we need other people to help us in our suffering – we see that the Psalmist later on returns to worshipping in community; but we never want to turn from God to others. We need people to love us, help us, be present with us, and point us to Jesus, but none can be our Jesus – and the more we try to make someone do that, the more we put a burden on them which they can’t bear, and the more we will despise and resent them when they inevitably can’t bear our burden.
Problem is not just his own internal processing, but that he faces real objective enemies:
They surround him, with desire to harm him (v12) – calls them: “bulls of bashan” – proverbial for their large size – bashan was a fertile, prosperous area and so the bulls who lived there were well-fed; which become synonymous for human pride.
(v13) Lions: reading to tear him apart; dogs – surrounding him, seeking to harm
v16 like dogs – who in that culture were not cute and cuddly but dirty scavengers who are treating him like road-kill – “Pierced hands and feet” tricky to translate but, if it is included in the imagery of dogs, then it may be these dogs gnawing at his extremities as though he is already dead; which fits into v18 – the evildoers are stripping off his clothes – they’re dividing up his last remaining assets as if he was already dead.
But, perhaps worst of all for the psalmist:
Mock his faith:
Others around him either doubt the genuineness of his faith, or the wisdom of his faith – v8
Either, Genuineness: If he really trusted in the Lord – then the Lord would deliver him; rescue him. But, he must have some defect: either a total hypocrite/phony; or some fault in his faith which is the reason for God having forsaken him. This is somewhat similar to the wisdom of Job’s friends: Should have loved God more; should have trusted in him better – if you really had faith you wouldn’t be in this mess – but here you are, so it must be because you didn’t really have faith.
Genuineness; Or, wisdom: If he trusted in God, then let God save him. It’s like someone had the choice between donuts and fruit, and they picked fruit and everyone else picked donuts and then later they start to feel forsaken by that fruit, and starts to ask for a bite of donut, but everyone else says, Hey, “you choose fruit, you stick with fruit” – He could have chosen something better to trust in, but if what you chose doesn’t come through for you, that’s your own fault.
When you are suffering; when you feel forsaken by God; when you feel surrounded by enemies with no where to turn for deliverance, you might be tempted to believe these taunts of the enemy.
You might be tempted to think that your trust in God is in vain; or that God is against you because of your imperfect faith. But don’t believe the taunts of the enemy.
This psalmist was discouraged by them; he was disheartened by them; but he didn’t believe them.
v19-21 – He keeps crying out to God, hoping in God, waiting on God, pleading with God. And, in the course of writing the Psalm, he experiences the deliverance he had been waiting for.
Sufferer; Enemies; Resolution
Contrast 1-21, 22-31
reaffirms his faith: does so by praising God:
(v22, “I will declare your name” “I will praise you; 25 – “my praise”.
And he does so publicly, unashamed – Despite the mocking that he had received; despite his suffering and the fact that his life had for a time made his trust in God appear foolish in the world’s eyes, he continues to praise God, unashamed.
v22 – “my people”, “in the assembly”… he is worshiping with the people of God.
v25-26 – he is making vows – offerings – to God, which probably involved some kind of feast and celebration – and others are sharing in that feasting with him – the poor will eat and be satisfied;
he doesn’t isolate himself from the people of God. Don’t cut yourself off from the people of God in your time of suffering – reach out for help, and be open to their willingness to be part of your life.
his life becomes a testimony of faith:
v24 – God answered him;
, v27 28 – all the ends of the earth turn to the lord; all families of nations bow down; all dominion belongs to the Lord.
But, the true resolution doesn’t come with David.
You may be aware that Jesus cried this cry of God-forsakenness. On the cross, Jesus cried the words of Psalm 22:1 – “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me.”
And, you may notice many parallels to the story of Jesus’ suffering: surrounded by enemies, who cast lots for his clothing, who pierced his hands and feet, who taunted by them saying similar words to David’s enemies: “He trusts in God, let God rescue him!”; even to the little detail of v7 that the mockers are shaking their heads at him (signifies rejection or scorn or utter disbelief at his shameful situation) – in matthew 27:39 – “those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads.
Spurgeon: This Psalm is “beyond all others the Psalm of the cross…It is the photograph of our Lord’s saddest hours, the record of his dying words, the vial of his last tears, the memorial of his expiring joys.”
The suffering of David points us to the suffering of Jesus
Jesus, on the cross, suffers all the way to death; he experienced forsakenness by God in the fullest sense – the wrath of God for the sins of His people. And he cried the Psalmists’ cry of forsakenness – a deeper and fuller and more tragic forsakenness than the psalmist or any of us could imagine.
“A creature forsaken by its Creator, a man forsaken of God – O this is the most frightful of all. This is the evil of all evils. This is the climactic calamity….But if this is true of sinners, how infinitely more so of the beloved Son of the Father! He who hung there on the accursed tree had been from all eternity the object of the Father’s love… His own joy had been to behold the Father’s face. The father’s presence had been his home, the father’s bosom his dwelling place, the father’s glory he had shared before ever the world was. During the 33 years the Son had been on earth, he enjoyed unbroken communion with the Father. Never a thought that was out of harmony with the Father’s mind, never a volition but what originated in the Father’s will, never a moment spent out of his conscious presence. What, then, must it have meant for him to be “forsaken” by God – This, was the most bitter ingredient of that cup that the Father had given the Redeemer to drink.”
the exchange (we deserved, he did not, he took our place & paid the penalty)
Jesus experienced the suffering we deserved – the wrath of God – for us.
He was forsaken, so that we could be forgiven.
When you feel God-forsaken – remember that Jesus was God-forsaken, for you, and he knows that feeling more intimately and more terribly than any of us who are in Christ ever will:
the guarantee (because he was forsaken, we can know that in Christ we will never be. This is how the tension of OT promises (of God) and reality (of people’s sinfulness) is resolved)
And if Jesus could trust God through the God-forsakenness of the cross)- (into your hands); then we can trust God through the times we feel forsaken – we can know that if we are in Christ, we are not.
Spurgeon: “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
Jesus’ cry of anguish, results in our cries of praise. Jesus’ cry of suffering results in our cries of Joy.
The result: worship. (v26-29)Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile;
Spurgeon: “Rich and poor, high and low, the king and the beggar, all alike have need of salvation by Jesus Christ”.
all nations are drawn to the cross of Jesus, by the cross of Jesus, and made into one people of God who bow down in worship.