In these verses we have Christ suffering and Christ praying, by which we are directed to look for crosses and to look up to God under them.
I. Here is Christ suffering. David indeed was often in trouble, and beset with enemies; but many of the particulars here specified are such as were never true of David, and therefore must be appropriated to Christ in the depth of his humiliation.
1. He is here deserted by his friends: Trouble and distress are near, and there is none to help, none to uphold, Ps. 22:11. He trod the wine–press alone; for all his disciples forsook him and fled. It is God’s honour to help when all other helps and succours fail.
2. He is here insulted and surrounded by his enemies, such as were of a higher rank, who for their strength and fury, are compared to bulls, strong bulls of Bashan (Ps. 22:12), fat and fed to the full, haughty and sour; such were the chief priests and elders that persecuted Christ; and others of a lower rank, who are compared to dogs (Ps. 22:16), filthy and greedy, and unwearied in running him down. There was an assembly of the wicked plotting against him (Ps. 22:16); for the chief priests sat in council, to consult of ways and means to take Christ. These enemies were numerous and unanimous: “Many, and those of different and clashing interests among themselves, as Herod and Pilate, have agreed to compass me. They have carried their plot far, and seem to have gained their point, for they have beset me round, Ps. 22:12. They have enclosed me, Ps. 22:16. They are formidable and threatening (Ps. 22:13): They gaped upon me with their mouths, to show me that they would swallow me up; and this with as much strength and fierceness as a roaring ravening lion leaps upon his prey.”
3. He is here crucified. The very manner of his death is described, though never in use among the Jews: They pierced my hands and my feet (Ps. 22:16), which were nailed to the accursed tree, and the whole body left so to hang, the effect of which must needs be the most exquisite pain and torture. There is no one passage in all the Old Testament which the Jews have so industriously corrupted as this, because it is such an eminent prediction of the death of Christ and was so exactly fulfilled.
4. He is here dying (Ps. 22:14, 15), dying in pain and anguish, because he was to satisfy for sin, which brought in pain, and for which we must otherwise have lain in everlasting anguish. Here is, (1.) The dissolution of the whole frame of his body: I am poured out like water, weak as water, and yielding to the power of death, emptying himself of all the supports of his human nature. (2.) The dislocation of his bones. Care was taken that not one of them should be broken (John 19:36), but they were all out of joint by the violent stretching of his body upon the cross as upon a rack. Or it may denote the fear that seized him in his agony in the garden, when he began to be sore amazed, the effect of which perhaps was (as sometimes it has been of great fear, Dan. 5:6), that the joints of his loins were loosed and his knees smote one against another. His bones were put out of joint that he might put the whole creation into joint again, which sin had put out of joint, and might make our broken bones to rejoice. (3.) The colliquation of his spirits: My heart is like wax, melted to receive the impressions of God’s wrath against the sins he undertook to satisfy for, melting away like the vitals of a dying man; and, as this satisfied for the hardness of our hearts, so the consideration of it should help to soften them. When Job speaks of his inward trouble he says, The Almighty makes my heart soft, Job 23:16, and see Ps. 58:2. (4.) The failing of his natural force: My strength is dried up; so that he became parched and brittle like a potsherd, the radical moisture being wasted by the fire of divine wrath preying upon his spirits. Who then can stand before God’s anger? Or who knows the power of it? If this was done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry? (5.) The clamminess of his mouth, a usual symptom of approaching death: My tongue cleaveth to my jaws; this was fulfilled both in his thirst upon the cross (John 19:28) and in his silence under his sufferings; for, as a sheep before the shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth, nor objected against any thing done to him. (6.) His giving up the ghost: “Thou hast brought me to the dust of death; I am just ready to drop into the grave;” for nothing less would satisfy divine justice. The life of the sinner was forfeited, and therefore the life of the sacrifice must be the ransom for it. The sentence of death passed upon Adam was thus expressed: Unto dust thou shalt return. And therefore Christ, having an eye to that sentence in his obedience to death, here uses a similar expression: Thou hast brought me to the dust of death.
5. He was stripped. The shame of nakedness was the immediate consequence of sin; and therefore our Lord Jesus was stripped of his clothes, when he was crucified, that he might clothe us with the robe of his righteousness, and that the shame of our nakedness might not appear. Now here we are told, (1.) How his body looked when it was thus stripped: I may tell all my bones, Ps. 22:17. His blessed body was lean and emaciated with labour, grief, and fasting, during the whole course of his ministry, which made him look as if he was nearly 50 years old when he was yet but 33, as we find, John 8:57. His wrinkles now witnessed for him that he was far from being what was called, a gluttonous man and a wine–bibber. Or his bones might be numbered, because his body was distended upon the cross, which made it easy to count his ribs. They look and stare upon me, that is, my bones do, being distorted, and having no flesh to cover them, as Job says (Job 16:8), My leanness, rising up in me, beareth witness to my face. Or “the standers by, the passers by, are amazed to see my bones start out thus; and, instead of pitying me, are pleased even with such a rueful spectacle.” (2.) What they did with his clothes, which they took from him (Ps. 22:18): They parted my garments among them, to every soldier a part, and upon my vesture, the seamless coat, do they cast lots. This very circumstance was exactly fulfilled, John 19:23, 24. And though it was no great instance of Christ’s suffering, yet it is a great instance of the fulfilling of the scripture in him. Thus it was written, and therefore thus it behoved Christ to suffer. Let this therefore confirm our faith in him as the true Messiah, and inflame our love to him as the best of friends, who loved us and suffered all this for us.
II. Here is Christ praying, and with that supporting himself under the burden of his sufferings. Christ, in his agony, prayed earnestly, prayed that the cup might pass from him. When the prince of this world with his terrors set upon him, gaped upon him as a roaring lion, he fell upon the ground and prayed. And of that David’s praying here was a type. He calls God his strength, Ps. 22:19. When we cannot rejoice in God as our song, yet let us stay ourselves upon him as our strength, and take the comfort of spiritual supports when we cannot come at spiritual delights. He prays, 1. That God would be with him, and not set himself at a distance from him: Be not thou far from me (Ps. 22:11), and again, Ps. 22:19. “Whoever stands aloof from my sore, Lord, do not thou.” The nearness of trouble should quicken us to draw near to God and then we may hope that he will draw near to us. 2. That he would help him and make haste to help him, help him to bear up under his troubles, that he might not fail nor be discouraged, that he might neither shrink from his undertaking nor sink under it. And the Father heard him in that he feared (Heb. 5:7) and enabled him to go through with his work. 3. That he would deliver him and save him, Ps. 22:20, 21. (1.) Observe what the jewel is which he is in care for, “The safety of my soul, my darling; let that be redeemed from the power of the grave, Ps. 49:15. Father, into thy hands I commit that, to be conveyed safely to paradise.” The psalmist here calls his soul his darling, his only one (so the word is): “My soul is my only one. I have but one soul to take care of, and therefore the greater is my shame if I neglect it and the greater will the loss be if I let it perish. Being my only one, it ought to be my darling, for the eternal welfare of which I ought to be deeply concerned. I do not use my soul as my darling, unless I take care to preserve it from every thing that would hurt it and to provide all necessaries for it, and be entirely tender of its welfare.” (2.) Observe what the danger is from which he prays to be delivered, from the sword, the flaming sword of divine wrath, which turns every way. This he dreaded more than any thing, Gen. 3:24. God’s anger was the wormwood and the gall in the bitter cup that was put into his hands. “O deliver my soul from that. Lord, though I lose my life, let me not lose thy love. Save me from the power of the dog, and from the lion’s mouth.” This seems to be meant of Satan, that old enemy who bruised the heel of the seed of the woman, the prince of this world, with whom he was to engage in close combat and whom he saw coming, John 14:30. “Lord, save me from being overpowered by his terrors.” He pleads, “Thou hast formerly heard me from the horns of the unicorn,” that is, “saved me from him in answer to my prayer.” This may refer to the victory Christ had obtained over Satan and his temptations (Matt. 4:1-11), when the devil left him for a season (Luke 4:13), but now returned in another manner to attack him with his terrors. “Lord, thou gavest me the victory then, give it me now, that I may spoil principalities and powers, and cast out the prince of this world.” Has God delivered us from the horns of the unicorn, that we be not tossed? Let that encourage us to hope that we shall be delivered from the lion’s mouth, that we be not torn. He that has delivered doth and will deliver. This prayer of Christ, no doubt, was answered, for the Father heard him always. And, though he did not deliver him from death, yet he suffered him not to see corruption, but, the third day, raised him out of the dust of death, which was a greater instance of God’s favour to him than if he had helped him down from the cross; for that would have hindered his undertaking, whereas his resurrection crowned it.
In singing this we should meditate on the sufferings and resurrection of Christ till we experience in our own souls the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.