Study Guide: Psalm 22 (Part 2)
Time: Past, Present, and Future
Something that I always encourage is to note how time functions in a Psalm. In this particular Psalm, the use of time is critical.
e.g Notice that in the first stanza, (and into the beginning of the second) the Psalmist is very much into the present. However, his past actions linger in the background like ghosts to haunt him.
“My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?/ Why are you so far from saving me?
My God, I cry out by day but do not answer,/ by night but I find no rest.” (1& 2/
“Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One/ you are the one Israel praises.” (3)
But then the recollection of the past intrudes (which by now we know is a very Jewish thing:
“in you, our ancestors put their trust/ they trusted you and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;/ in you they trusted and were not put to shame.’ (4-5)
And then it’s back to the present:
“But I am a worm and not a man/ scorned by everyone, despised by the people, etc. (6 ff)
And then it’s back to the past: etc Eventually he works his way to the future, which represents a turn in the Psalm:
“I will declare your name to my people/ in the assembly I will praise you!” etc
Question: How does the Psalmist’s use of time serve the point of the Psalm? How does it contribute to his self-understanding, whether positive or negative?
The Whole Person: Self, Others, and God
- (vss. 1-2) Clearly, the Psalmist feels completely alienated from God. How does he express that alienation in terms of the actions of God? How does he use images of space? Of time? What do the multiple uses of the word “My” imply about his relationship with God? Why, in the context of alienation, does he continue to use the word “MY?”2. (vss 3-5) How does the remembrance of the past serve the Psalmist? (On the other hand how does the remembrance of the past seem to contribute to his sense of worthlessness and alienation? (6) What other factor contributes to his sense of alienation? (6 b-8)3. (9-10) What does the Psalmist gain by his claims about his birth and his nurturance? How does the Psalmist understand the engagement of God in his life in the past? How does his remembrance of God’s involvement in his life serve his sense of alienation? (vs 11)
4. (12-15) Compare the structure of this stanza with the structure of the next (16-18) what do you see?
5. Note the use of animal images in 12-13, 16, 20b, 21. Why does he use those particular images to describe his social distress? What do they represent?
6. OT Scholar James Mays writes that the point of this Psalm is not to show us an instance in the life of David. No such account of such extreme suffering exists in the story of David. Mays believes that the Psalm was written as a paradigm of human suffering. Any sufferer could insert himself/herself into the Psalm. Do you think that the scope of this Psalm- the personal, relational, and spiritual dimension of it- supports Mays’s argument?
The Physical Dimension: Pain (14-15; 16b, 17a)
Pain is difficult to express, especially when one is in pain. The most common language of pain is the moan or the wordless cry. The pitch, tone, and volume of the sufferer’s voice gives those moans and groans their meaning.
However, one way that pain is expressed is by means of metaphor, sometimes which borders on the poetic. Here the Psalmist appeals to a set of metaphors to express his pain.
(1) Sadly, the text tells us nothing about the pitch, tone, and volume, etc of the Psalmist’s words here. However, take a few minutes and imagine what he must have been going through physically. What particular pain words (ache, throbbing, stinging, etc.) would you attach to each one?
(2) What is the significance of his mouth being dry?
- Contemporary psychology has demonstrated that the experience of pain is multi-dimensional. i.e. it is not simply a function of certain nerves doing certain things. There is likely a genetic and/or a personality pre-disposition toward the experience of pain. However, there are other perceptual and relational issues that influence our experience of pain. Our expectations of pain, the way we attend to it, and the relational context in which we experience it all makes a difference. More than a few writers on pain have noted that loneliness is a major contributor to the experience of pain. How do the Psalmist’s social (the turn of his enemies against him) and spiritual (the absence of God) contribute to the pain that the Psalmist feels?
The Social Dimension1. Scan the Psalm up to vs. 22. How does he characterize other people? What are they out to do to him? How does this social alienation feed his sense of alienation from God?
The Spiritual Dimension: The Turn
1. How does the Psalmist’s attitude toward God change in vs. 22 ff from how he regarded God in the verses leading up to vs. 22?
2. Why does the Psalmist make this turn? What happened?
3. What does he promise will be the outcome of this turn? To whom does he address these words about the future?