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Psalm 22

For the abandoned of the earth 

A David psalm. 

1 My God, my God
why have you deserted me?
Why are you always out of earshot
however loud I roar?
2 All day long I call, God
but you don’t answer.
Nor do I let up at night
but you grant me no relief. 

3 Yet you’re enthroned as the Holy One
the object of Israel’s praises.
4 Our ancestors put their trust in you—
they trusted and you saved them.
5 They cried to you and were rescued—
they trusted and you never shamed them.

6 But I’m a worm, subhuman
a blot on the earth, despised by people!
7 All who see me shake their heads
gape and sneer:
8 “He trusts in Yahveh.
So why doesn’t Yahveh save him?
If he’s so keen on him
let him rescue him now!”

 9 You were the midwife
who brought me out of my mother’s womb
and laid me safely on her breast.
10 You gave me my very first breath
so there’s never been a time
when you weren’t my God.
11 Don’t stand aloof from me
now that trouble has found me here
helpless and alone! 

12 Massive bulls rage around me
monstrous bulls from Bashan
snorting, breathing on me.
13 Ravenous lions roar in my face
their powerful jaws gaping.
14 I’m spilt like water on the ground
my bones all unhinged
my heart melted like wax inside me
15 my strength shrivelled to nothing
my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth
here where you’ve laid me out
in the dust of death.

 16 A pack of wild dogs has surrounded me
a gang of thugs has closed in
puncturing my hands and feet.
17 I count all my bones
while people gawk and stare.
18 They divide my garments among them
and roll the dice for my clothes. 

19 But you, Yahveh
don’t distance yourself from me—
hurry and help me, my strength!
20 Save my life from the sword
from these snarling dogs!
21 Save me from the lions’ jaws
from the bulls’ horns!

22 I’ll tell all my family
what you’ve done
praise you before everyone worshipping.
23 Praise Yahveh, all you who fear him!
Honor him, Jacob’s descendants!
Revere him, Israel’s posterity!
24 Because he didn’t despise or shun
the destitute with all his troubles.
He didn’t turn away aloof
but when he cried out to him for help
he heard him.

25 So my praise will overflow
when the whole community meets together.
I’ll keep my vows for all who worship to see.
26 The poor will feast to their heart’s content
and all who seek Yahveh will praise him.
“May such plenty be yours always!” 

27 The whole world
will acknowledge Yahveh and return to him.
Every people from every race on earth
will bow low before him.
28 Because all power and authority
belong to Yahveh.
He reigns supreme over the nations!
29 Earth’s wealthy will feast and worship.
Every mortal will bow in reverence before him
including those just hanging by a thread.
30 On hearing what Yahveh has done
our children will give their allegiance too.
31 They in turn will announce
his faithfulness to those yet unborn—
the good news of what he’s done.

Despite its anguished opening, this psalm expresses David’s faith powerfully, taking us all the way from dark despair to radiant joy. Simply by faith. David’s opening lines—made famous by Jesus’s utterance of them on the cross[1]—voice his lived reality. His anger gives some of his words a raw, even rude, edge.[2] But he’s not just railing. He’s desperately begging the God who repeatedly rescued Israel—the only God he’s ever known—to come help him. David describes his own helplessness and humiliation and his enemies’ inhumanity and indifference. Not only are they near and God far away. God has left him in the dust to die.

Then suddenly in verse 22, David shifts from despair to hope. Nothing in his situation has changed. Just his focus, remembering what God is like. Unlike the gods, who shun the destitute, Yahveh cares and hears, and his amazing compassion is fully equalled by his authority. He’s in complete command of the planet. So, David imagines his deliverance and him praising God and fulfilling his vows before everyone, with feasting and joy. He sees it leading ultimately to the universal acknowledgment of God’s greatness and a faith that cascades down through future generations.

Lord, thank you that, as with David, you help me make sense of my story. Help me to believe that, even when I feel abandoned by you, your compassion and authority are more real than anything else in my situation. Help me to call out to you till the day my joy overflows in praise. Amen.


[1] Christian readers often assume that this psalm was intended as a prophecy concerning Jesus. In fact, David wrote about his own plight, although that doesn’t mean it doesn’t also fit the supreme example of God-forsakenness perfectly. Inspired poetry always speaks to far more than it knows.

[2] Anyone uncomfortable with David’s “hyperbole” here should recall God’s candid admission in Isaiah 54:7: “I abandoned you for a short time.” God goes on to say, “but with great compassion I will bring you back.” It is God’s post-abandonment compassion that David prays for here.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.