Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

Psalm 22  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Listen from:
The cry in this psalm is pre-eminently the cry of one forsaken of God. In this the psalm stands alone. Not, indeed, that we do not find other sufferings of our Lord in this psalm, but, that which gives it its distinctness from all other psalms is this cry of abandonment. It is a cry to God, and that, as the psalm says, both when He was not heard, and when He was. Other psalms speak of Him as the perfect man, the one who ever trusted in God; the sixteenth Psalm is specially His language as the trusting one; other psalms speak of His sufferings from His enemies, and what He endured at the hand of man; but in Psa. 22 it is not His enemies that are before us, though they are mentioned afterward, but it is Himself, His cry to God Himself.
It is that solemn moment with which nothing can be compared, when upon the cross He took up the whole question of sin before God; and good and evil were brought to an issue in the only Person that could solve the riddle!
It was atonement. Not that this alone appears in the psalm, but it is its first and deepest thought and truth. Indeed, the psalm shows that there was no sorrow that He knew not;—no shame from which He was saved, nothing of wickedness, on man’s part, lacking—surrounded by dogs and ravening lions, nay, man, more cruel than all, baser than all, man alone guilty, though led on by a mightier rebel than himself. All this we find, but more wondrous and beyond all else, God was there, and there as the judge of sin, God was then forsaking Jesus, because of sin. It is this with which the psalm opens. It is this verse which the Lord Jesus Himself singles out from the psalm, when He cries under God’s abandonment upon the cross. God has given these words to us, as the utterance of His own beloved Son, when, in accomplishing that work which we need for eternity, He was made sin for us.
The Lord Jesus was not meeting Satan at the Cross. He had met Satan after His baptism, and had conquered him. He had acted upon this victory everywhere in His ministry. He having bound the strong man in the wilderness, afterward He spoiled his goods as He went about doing good. The Lord Jesus had also, in Gethsemane, after His ministry was closed, passed through the conflict with Satan as the power of darkness. On the Cross it is neither Satan nor man. It is sin before God, and He who knew no sin, glorifying God as God about sin in death.
This was no question with His Father. He was ever the beloved Son in whom the Father was always well pleased, and never more so than on the cross. But sin is against God, and it is this He has taken up, and He goes through it before God in death. Our hearts delight in it, and rest in it. When God touches the question of sin, atonement is made. Atonement has two parts. It is expiation before God, and substitution for our sins. The latter is not the subject of our psalm. We find it in other psalms. Both are figured in the ritual for the day of atonement, in Lev. 16. There was Jehovah’s lot, and Israel’s lot. The blood of the sin-offering carried in where God was, and the actual transgressions of the congregation confessed by Aaron on the head of the scape goat. The former is taken up in this psalm. It is the grand and most important part of atonement, where all is important. It is Jehovah’s lot—the expiation of sin before God. God is seen here in all the forms of His moral being, dealing with sin in the Person of one who is able to take it up, and go through it all perfectly. Herein is the infinite grace of God—one who, when forsaken of God, had therein reached the very highest point in glorifying God. This is the meaning of the words, “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.” Did the glory of His Person shelter Him from suffering? Not so. It was that which enabled Him to endure it, and to feel it all as none other could. The Lord felt everything perfectly. If there had been the smallest insensibility it had not been perfection. In the cross sin was disposed of righteously, and forever, not by power, but by suffering. The Lord went through it all and was heard. “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.” The answer was in resurrection. We find it in the next verse: “I will declare thy name to my brethren.”
Death, and death alone, disposes of sin, so that the sinner, receiving the testimony to this perfect work of Christ, might be put absolutely without sin, as to his conscience, in the presence of God. Thus the work of Christ brings the soul to God—not only to the Father, but to God. Thus it is not merely love which is displayed, but in the Cross we have also a foundation of righteousness. God is fully revealed as God. The atonement was not wrought before the Father as such. It was not as Father that God dealt with sin in the person of Christ. It was the Father’s delight in doing the work, but the work was before God, the work was about sin, and the result of the work is that the righteousness of God is declared. God having thus dealt with sin in atonement is the only firm footing for the soul; without this, all truth, and especially heavenly truth, will only elate the soul, or leave it a prey to Satan’s delusions.
In the cross, the Lord Jesus, as Son of Man, glorified God, when made sin. All through His life He glorified His Father. Even at twelve years of age we hear Him say, “ Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” At His baptism we see how the Father cares for His glory. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Not “hear ye Him” yet, for the time for this had not come, but He was always the beloved Son, in whom the Father was well pleased. And herein we see the evil of the teaching, which speaks of the Lord as the sin-bearer in life. If it could have been, He would not have been before the Father, as the One in whom He was ever well pleased. Had He been always bearing sin, He had always been forsaken of God, and to say this is a virtual denial of the personal glory of the Son of God.
But now that He has passed through the unparalleled hour, when, made sin, He was forsaken of God, and having died, He enters in resurrection into the blessedness of His own relationship, and declares it as that into which He now can bring all His people, it is now, “Go and tell my brethren, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father, to my God, and your God.” It is not “our Father” now: that would be beneath His glory. It is His own relationship as man, and into this He brings, by His own work, those for whom He has wrought redemption; and more, it is the place He then took on high. It is into this blessed relationship and access to the Father the Lord now brings His people, and not only so, but He Himself is in their midst; leading their praise. “In the midst of the congregation will I sing praises unto Thee.” This is the characteristic praise of the Church of God, and it is the more remarkable to find it here, as the psalms do not bring out the Church’s portion, but Israel’s. It is the worship of those, whom the Lord brings into His own relationship to God His Father.
It is the worship of those who stand consciously in the full results of His atonement, and are brought into the same nearness to God as He is in, when He says, I ascend unto My Father and your Father, to My God and your God, and He in their midst leading the worship. It is the worship of saints, and not of poor sinners as such worshipping. This is peculiarly the worship and position of saints now. There will never be anything like it again. The day is coming when the earth’s groans shall cease; when heaven and earth shall be filled with praise; but there never will be a day such as this. It will not he worship in the holiest then, or the name of the Father on the lips of those who worship. This psalm proves it. It is “thy name” declared “to my brethren” in verse 22. The next verse the Lord calls on those “who fear Jehovah” to praise Him. This verse brings us on to Jewish ground. It is not the Lord leading the praises in the Church, but calling on those that fear Jehovah, and the seed of Israel, to praise. Jehovah, and not Father, is the title now. The call to praise is upon the ground of the same work. “For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him, but when lie cried unto him, he heard.” The praise is founded upon the work of the cross, when He cried, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and was heard; and now the public answer is given, in the Father having raised Him from the dead. It is the call of praise on the ground of atonement. This is very distinctly marked in the 25th verse. Then it is the Messiah’s praise in the great congregation. But it is not now in the midst of the Church, as verse 22nd. We have the two positions in John 20. On the first day of the week when the Lord appears in their midst, and besides saluting them with peace, breathes on them and says, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost;” and on the eighth day when Thomas owns Him with the confession, “My Lord and my God,” and where we have no breathing on them, and no mention of the Holy Ghost. Thomas confesses Him according to Jewish faith, but there is not, in this second scene, anything that speaks of association with Christ. It is not the blessedness now of union, nor even of association; but the Lord paying His vows in the great congregation, as the Head of Israel, and they are gathered as a people round the Lord their God. Then we find the meek. “The meek shall eat and be satisfied.” They shall now enter into earthly blessing. It is the accomplishment of the promise;— “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Then the blessing flows out, and “all the ends of tile world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.” To apply this now is only to deceive. It is a baseless fable now. Then it will extend to all the kingdoms of the nations. “For the kingdom is the Lord’s, and he is the governor among all nations.”
The more we examine these verses, the more we see we are upon prophetic and earthly, and not on Christian ground. We have each in its place. Verse 22 is Christian ground. Verse 23 we have Israel. Verse 24 speaks of the atonement as the ground of all the blessing of the psalm from now unto the millennial day. But now it is a little flock, and not a great congregation; whatever departs from this is inconsistent with the Cross. In the time of future glory it will be the great congregation, and all the ends of the world, and all the kindreds of the nations—they will praise Jehovah.