I suppose all of us have those watershed moments that we can look back on. Those moments when our lives are drastically changed. When something clicked, when an epiphany struck. That moment for me came when I read Psalm 22 for the first time in the spring of 2013. I was finishing my Junior year of high school, and I had just started to believe in God.
But I wasn’t sure which “God” was the “God.” After investigating the cosmological, teleological, and moral reasons to believe in a higher power, I was convinced that a transcendent, uncaused first cause was logically necessary to explain reality as we know it.
But, I wondered, what is this “God” like? Was Jesus His Son? Was the Bible His Word? Or, did he even reveal himself to mankind in any verbal way? I believed in a “God,” but I certainly wasn’t religious, and I certainly wasn’t a Christian. Then I was shown Psalm 22. And soon, for the first time ever, I believed that the God who exists speaks to us through the Bible and has given us His Son.
Background and Text of Psalm 22
Psalm 22 was most likely written during the reign of David as king of Israel (1010 – 970 B.C.). Before the time of Jesus, the Psalm was often read as a desperate prayer to God in a time of trouble. The Psalm captures the pain and agony of extreme suffering, while also highlighting the glory of God. Notice the text of the Psalm itself:
1 my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. 3 yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 in you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 to you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6 but I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 all who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “he trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” 9 yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb, you have been my God. 11 be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. 12 many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; 13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. 14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death. 16 for dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet— 17 I can count all my bones— they stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, o lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog! 21 save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen! 22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you. (Ps 22:1-22 ESV)
Psalm 22 Led to My Faith in Jesus as the Christ
When I read Psalm 22 initially, some things caught my attention. However, when I went through Psalm 22 with another Bible open to the New Testament, that is when my belief shifted. The first twenty-two verses of Psalm 22 describe, with uncanny detail, the crucifixion of Jesus though it was written nearly 1,000 years before the event. Notice the similarities:
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…” (psalm 22:1); “and about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matt 27:46).
- In Psalm 22:7-8, the psalmist says are all mocking the one suffering, that they are calling upon him to let god save him; in Matthew 27:39-43, Mark 15:29-32, and Luke 23:35-36 Jesus is mocked and told to deliver himself from crucifixion because he claimed to be the son of God.
- Psalm 22:16-18 exclaims, “for dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet–i can count all my bones–they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing cast lots.” In this section is an obvious reference to crucifixion among other things, and again is fulfilled uncannily in the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt 27:35; Mark 15:24; John 19:23, 37).
As one skeptical of Christianity and its claims, after reading these 1,000-year parallels, my mind began to race to explain it away. I began thinking of possibilities until I settled on what I perceived as the best one. The writers of the New Testament, I thought, simply opened up to Psalm 22, or were familiar with it and fabricated the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion. I believed that was sufficient enough to ignore this incredible testimony to Jesus’ supernatural origin.
However, the more I pondered it, the worse that line of thinking became. First, there were other witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion. They could have easily rebutted these events as false, but they never did. Similarly, many of the Jewish leaders who would have been extremely familiar with this event ended up converting to Christianity, being convinced that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 6:7).
Secondly, the men who wrote the four Gospels, in which the crucifixion of Jesus is described, all did so relatively independent of each other, and their account corroborates. Even if they got together to tell this grand lie, for what purpose would they? We lie to gain something we otherwise could not with the truth. Yet these men who wrote the historical accounts of Jesus gained nothing but hardship, being thrown in prison, executed by the Roman government, or harassed by Jewish leaders.
They lost almost every earthly thing because of their testimony, yet none of their contemporary opponents could say that their account was false. It’s easy for us, 2,000 years removed from an event, to be skeptical. But those who opposed Christianity at its inception never once disputed the historicity of the events surrounding His crucifixion as foretold in Psalm 22.
Eventually, I had to face the music. Psalm 22 is a powerful testimony to the fact that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God.
Psalm 22 Led to My Belief in the Inspiration of the Bible
Beyond the fact that Jesus fulfilled 1,000-year-old Psalms to the tee, I needed to explain how a 1,000-year-old Psalm could so vividly foretell events yet future. Once again, I searched for an explanation that excluded the possibility of the Bible being certifiably supernatural in composition. I came to the same conclusion once more, that the New Testament writers simply fabricated the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion to fit the description in the Psalm. But, the same logic led me to dismiss that conclusion once more. However, I thought, I know that no man can foretell events so vividly that are to take place 1,000 years in the future.
The fulfillment of the Psalm at the crucifixion of Jesus can only be explained by David having the influence of a supernatural being. Now, I do not mean “supernatural” in the way it is often thrown around today to refer to ghosts and unexplainable Youtube videos. I mean supernatural in the strictest, purest form: that which transcends the natural world. That being is God: a causeless first cause Who transcends nature because He created it. The sort of knowledge on display in Psalm 22 is beyond human capability and natural explanation. Its source wasn’t David, but God. Not a god or gods; but God.
The transcendent, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Creator who has specifically revealed Himself through the written testimony of the Bible. The God whom I had been running from my entire life. Psalm 22, I had to concede, was proof-positive for what I would later know was referred to as the inspiration of the Scriptures. That is, that the Bible is breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16-17).
After investigating and thinking about the origins and apparent fulfillment of Psalm 22, my life was changed. I became convinced that the God that exists directly influenced the composition of the Bible. Also, for the first time, I became convinced that Jesus was who He said He was: the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Tying Up Loose Ends
If you are reading this as a skeptic, I know that this does not answer all of your questions. It wasn’t necessarily meant to. Maybe, it has gotten you to think, or maybe you only think that I am mistaken.
Either way, I encourage you to put some effort into investigating the claims of Christianity. For the church, I hope this may give you hope. The Word of God is still powerful in its working, and an open-minded skeptic is never a lost cause.