Michael Browne, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Sorrow-Song of the Great Forsaken. If ever we trod upon holy ground it is here, as we listen to "a prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint" to Jehovah. Here is the sorrow-song of the Great Forsaken, deserted by His friends, reproached by His enemies and bearing the judgment of God. This afflicted One is none other than Christ seen here in His earthly humiliation.
The key to this pathetic cry is verse 10, "for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down". It refers to Christ who was raised up in Israel as Messiah, but instead of entering the glory of His kingdom He is cast away and rejected. The reason given is because of the "indignation" and "wrath" due to others which fell upon Him. But from the depths of His sufferings He is reminded that He will "arise" and "build up Zion" and rule there in universal splendour, w. 13, 16, 22. This Psalm therefore bears clear testimony to the truth that the glory of Christ rises out of, and rests upon, His sufferings.
Voice of the Jewish Remnant. Projecting the prophetic voice of the Psalmist here to its farthest reaches, we hear the cry of the Jewish "remnant" during the time of the tribulation. It is the collective voice of a nation's tormented soul, alone, despised by her enemies, and pleading for help from God who alone can save her. But rising out of the afflicted, overwhelmed chorus a single Voice emerges, vv. 1-11. A sob of grief swelling high, evocative of such affliction and loneliness that it embodies all the other voices and takes their complaint as its own, surging on with a haunting dirge of desolation supremely tragic - immensely moving. It is Messiah pouring out His grief over the ruin of Zion, over her lifting up and casting away in judgment. It is the anguished lament of a broken heart.
Spiritual Anguish of Gethsemane. On the authority of Hebrews 1. 10-12, we know that verses 25-27 of this Psalm are also the language of God speaking to His Son. What is not clear in Hebrews though, but becomes apparent as we read our Psalm, is that this word of the Father to the Son is a message of vital encouragement to help Him at a time of deep human distress and crisis. Viewed in this way, it illuminates something of the spiritual anguish experienced by Christ in Gethsemane.
Strengthening of Messiah in His Humanity. Thus the object of this prophecy is to provide ground for the encouragement and strengthening of Messiah in His humanity - to reinforce, as it were, the purpose and resolve of the human Jesus when His humanity was at its point of ultimate strain in anticipation of the work of sin-bearing. We have therefore, in this scripture, a most sacred glimpse into the essential realness of Messiah's manhood.
We see, so to speak, Messiah during the days of His flesh, entering a long tunnel of darkness, anguish and terror, all alone. It is the culmination of a journey that has made Him "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief"., during which His human spirit has been under constant and dire stress. The last stage of the journey approaches. He must enter the tunnel, and the thought of this final and most dreadful of tests lays such a fearful depression upon Him, that a conflict is stirred up in His holy humanity.
This conflict - the scope, remorselessness and gigantic strivings of which we can only view from light-years away -led to a prostrate Man in a garden, whose inner agony was so terrible, whose emotional depths were so desperately racked, that great gouts of blood oozed out in His sweat and fell to the earth, and a piteous cry was whispered to heaven, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" Luke 22. 42. Whatever be the full import of this most unfathomable of prayers, one thing at least may be said - the last frontier of human resistance and agony had been reached beyond which it was impossible to go. For this afflicted Man the light at the end of the tunnel is dim indeed, and more than human aid is required. So an angel appears from heaven and strengthens Him, Luke 22. 43.
It is here, at this point of divine aid to the exhausted humanity of God's Son, that this Psalm may be applied. What renewed strength must have flowed into Christ's soul as the angelic messenger relays the word of His Father to Him (if our interpretation be followed, very probably the truth of Psalm 102. 25-28), reminding Him that He is the great Creator, and will outlive in His glory the universe His hands had made. In the strength supplied by these essential truths in Gethsemane, the Son was enabled to meet and triumph over all the blasts and judgments of Gabbatha and Golgotha.
Analysis. The structure of this Psalm is determined by the Spirit's use of verses 25-27 in Hebrews 1, where it is definitely the language of God to His Son, and establishes (as in other Messianic Psalms) the concept of a dialogue between God and Messiah during some aspect of Messiah's obedient service:
Christ's Complaint as Man of Sorrows, w. 1-11.
(a) Aloneness of Messiah, 1-7.
(b) Affliction of Messiah, 8-11.
God's Answer to His Complaint, w. 12-22.
Messiah's Renewed Solitary Musings on His Grief,
vv. 23-24. God's Second Reply, w. 25-28.
Synopsis of the Psalm.
Christ's Complaint as Man of Sorrows, W. 1-11. With bowed heart and reverent mind we enter, as led by the Spirit of God, into the garden of Gethsemane where the Saviour, prostrate before His God, pours out His grief as the full burden of affliction from the Lord presses upon His holy soul. (It is true He probably used these words often when waiting upon God during His night seasons of sadness - but this is the very moment of His casting away, and the words of this prophecy are being transformed into the real agony of Messiah's soul as He suffers as a Man at the hand of His God). Now, mystery of mysteries, the Voice, whose grief finds expression in these verses, belongs to the Layer of earth's foundation, the Unchanging Lord, w. 25-27. View here His humiliation and unequalled sorrow: as the lowly Jesus, offering up "prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death", Heb. 5. 7; as the Bearer of sin crying unto God in the day of trouble, dreading the "hiding" of Jehovah's face, Ps. 102.1-2; physically and spiritually consumed by stress, vv. 3-5; deserted by friends and followers, alone like a pelican in the desert, an owl among ruins, a sparrow forlorn upon the house top, vv. 6-7; reproached by His enemies, v. 8, and groaning with anguish of soul as God's indignation would cast Him down in judgment, vv. 9-10. And finally, anticipating the cross. His holy soul, withered like grass in the furnace, enters the declining shadow whose deepest darkness is death, v. n. What a vivid portrayal of Gethsemane's mighty conflict! But how far short we fall of real comprehension concerning the sufferings of Christ here, the depths of which must be treasured forever among the secret things of God.
God's Answer to His Complaint, vv. 12-22. Strength is poured into the afflicted One and a vision of hope encourages Him. He is addressed as Jehovah and life is pledged to Him, v. 12. Through Him and His redeeming work, Zion would be built up, for now the time of her mercy, the set time to favour her had come, the basis for all mercy and favour Zionward being the final sacrifice offered on the antitypical day of atonement by Israel's Royal Priest - Messiah. It all pointed to, and depended upon, Messiah's work of redemption. He must go forward in obedience to the eternal plan. A kingdom is thus promised Him and a full display of all His glories when the One now despised and rejected by the nation would be recognized and received as their rightful King. Then the groaning prisoners, the faithful remnant in Israel appointed to death, would be liberated for ever in the golden year of their jubilee, and all nations would acclaim and serve Him. But this exalted picture begins to fade in the grief-stricken mind of the Man, Christ Jesus, as He faces the imminent crisis of the cross, and we hear His voice again as He muses on His grief.
Messiah's Renewed Solitary Musings on His Grief, w. 23-24. It was "in the way" of Messiah's perfect service for Jehovah that He was afflicted - not for any wrong that He had done. He, personally, is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" - and now the iron enters His soul. "He shortened my days" is the tortured exclamation of His burdened heart. And again we are brought face to face with the mystery of His suffering humanity as He pleads, "take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations".
It is not fear of defeat or final failure that makes Him speak thus. He is pouring out what these sufferings mean to Him as a Man, and as the only Man who could thus endure and through His perfection bear humanity's fearsome load of sin. His humanity yearns for life, and shrinks from what its cutting off will mean in separation and wrath from the God who was all in all to Him. But we say again with reverent tones, it is real humanity, undergoing a real trial, enduring all the indignation and wrath that was necessary to exhaust the divine retribution against sin, and that it was humanity pressed to its uttermost limits of endurance. More, it would be impossible to say, but less would be an injustice.
God's Second Reply, w. 25-28. The final word of strength from God to His suffering Son is given. He had just professed weakness, v. 23, and prayed as one exhausted of all might. Now God reminds Him that He is the Original Architect, possessed of infinite power as Creator of earth and heaven. He is the Unchanging Creator, out-enduring in His eternity the worlds that His hands had formed, v. 26. What all this must have meant for that frail, bowed Supplicant, alone in His sufferings among the olive trees on that Judean hillside, as the redemption of all mankind was about to enter its final, tragic movement, and He was its conscious Chosen Executor! In this answer to Messiah's cry is given the final word of power - the ultimate promise of hope as He goes forth, in meek submission to the Father's will, to the death of the cross. Eternal life is His, "thy years shall have no end". An everlasting kingdom is His, "the children of thy servants shall continue". An established seed is His, "their seed shall be established before thee". Blessed be God, how that promise has been fulfilled through His sacrificial death. He lives now in the power of an endless life, Heb. 7. 16; Rev. 1. 18. In this resurrection life He has confirmed His everlasting kingdom, 2 Pet. 1. 11, and in the purpose of Jehovah His throne is established, Ps. 2.6, for earthly rule. And now He rests eternally satisfied; through the travail of His soul a seed has been born, Isa. 53. 10, which shall serve Him for ever, Ps. 22. 30. Praise be to God.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Michael is in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, where he serves as an elder. He worked as a missionary in Hong Kong for thirteen years and since 1972 has had an itinerant Bible teaching and gospel ministry labouring in many parts of the world.