Each time the New Testament quotes from or alludes to this Psalm it is in connection with the Messiah (e.g. Mt 27.43,46; Mk 15.29,34; Jn 19.23,24,28; Heb 2.12). And so, although David wrote it in response to his own persecutions and deliverance, its final fulfilment is found in Christ. None of Davids afflictions could literally equate to those described. Instead, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.16), he employed poetic hyperbole to illustrate the severity of his own troubles; and these exaggerated statements were actually realised in detail by Christ, whose agony far eclipsed anything experienced by David. Gods words to Moses, "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Ex 3.5), can be appropriately applied to a Psalm that so graphically depicts the Lords past humiliation (vv.1-21) and future exaltation (vv.22-31). The accuracy with which Scripture foresaw Christs suffering and subsequent glory (Lk 24.25-27; 1 Pet 1.11) highlights its inspiration, reaffirms its reliability, and reminds us that Calvary has always been in the plan of God.
Messiahs suffering (vv.1-21)
The Lords agony was so intense that He who "as a sheep before her shearers is dumb openeth not his mouth" (Is 53.7) roared as a lion in distress (v.1). Such great pains, however, failed to shake His confidence in God. Instead, having been forsaken, the holy sin-bearer still addressed Him as, "My God" (v.1). His reflections upon intrauterine life, birth, and breast feeding all bear wonderful testimony to the humanity of the Lord Jesus, His unfathomable stoop, and His unceasing trust in God (vv.9-10). The Creator, through miraculous conception, became a baby within the virgins womb; simultaneously dependent upon Mary for sustenance whilst upholding her, as He does "all things" (Heb 1.3). Samson may have been "a Nazarite unto God from the womb" (Judg 13.5), John the Baptist "filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mothers womb" (Lk 1.15), and Saul of Tarsus "separated from my mothers womb" (Gal 1.15), but Christs unique God consciousness and faith had no beginning, for it always existed "I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mothers belly" (v.10). And so, with unwavering faith, He kept praying despite a silent heaven "I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent" (v.2). He longed for Gods presence "be not far from me" (vv.11,19) - and deliverance (vv.20,21). Conspicuously absent was any call for vengeance upon His enemies, reproach against God, or signs of bitterness and resentment. The Lord Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him (Lk 23.34). Instead of reprimanding God, the divine sufferer adoringly acknowledged His holiness (v.3), past faithfulness to the fathers (vv.4,5), and the fact that He inhabits "the praises of Israel" (v.3). Although men were utterly cruel, the Saviour traced everything back to the hand of God: "Thou hast brought me into the dust of death" (v.15). Therefore, as with Job, He could state, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13.15). Thus, Christs moral glories shone brightest in His darkest hour.
His sufferings fall into three main groupings: physical, psychological, and propitiatory.
1. Physical. The extreme physical sufferings delineated in this Psalm all point to crucifixion, the cruel Roman form of execution. Such expressions as, "I am poured out like water my heart is like wax" (v.14), "my strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws" (v.15) depict the incredible exhaustion and dehydration induced by such a death. "All my bones are out of joint" (v.14) anticipated the dislocation of arm joints because of bearing the bodys weight through them. The uncomfortable and awkward position of being stretched on a cross caused many bones (e.g. ribs) that usually go unnoticed to become visible "I may tell all my bones" (v.17). By driving nails through the hands and feet (v.16) nerves would be severed leading to paralysis and excruciating neurogenic pain.
2. Psychological. Did men shudder at such suffering? Were they moved with compassion by such a sight? No! Instead, they laughed, shot out the lip, shook their heads in mockery, and scorned Christs life-long trust in God, and Gods delight in Him (vv.6-8; Mt 27.39-44). Such derision produced a sense of smallness and vulnerability in the Saviours mind, so much so that He counted Himself but "a worm, and no man" (v.6). The Lords enemies were many, strong, and so ferocious that they were likened to the following wild beasts: powerful bulls from the rich pasture lands of Bashan (v.12); wild oxen with lethal horns (v.21); a pack of dangerous wild dogs (v.20); the lion (vv.13,21). These may symbolize Jews, Gentiles, and Satan, himself "a roaring lion" (1 Pet 5.8), who surrounded, looked upon, and stared at Christ (vv.12,16,17). In addition to such intimidation, the soldiers greedily parted His garments and cast lots upon His vesture as though He were already as good as dead (v.18; Jn 19.23-24). Since "all the disciples forsook him, and fled" (Mt 26.56), the Lord Jesus faced these troubles alone. He felt this isolation keenly, and so prayed, "Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help" (v.11).
3. Propitiatory. Propitiation (hilasterion: Rom 3.25; Heb 9.5) "means to expiate, to appease, or atone for".1 At Calvary a transaction took place whereby Gods holiness was satisfied, and His wrath averted, so "that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Rom 3.26). Although we cannot appreciate fully what occurred on the cross, Scripture uses human language to explain it in measure. For example: "the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is 53.6); "it pleased the Lord to bruise him" (Is 53.10); "all thy billows and thy waves passed over me" (Jonah 2.3); "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow" (Zech 13.7). And in this case, as uttered by the Lord immediately following the three hours of darkness, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (v.1; Mt 27.46).
Messiahs glory (vv.21-31)
The words, "Thou hast heard me" (v.21), mark a dramatic change in the content, tone, and even rhythm of the Psalm. By using short, gasping sentences, the first section implied great effort on the part of the speaker, and perhaps even difficulty in catching breath. Now the mood has changed, the sentences have become longer, and a sense of calmness and triumph has entered the scene. Men may have despised the suffering One, and heaven may have been silent for a time, but God never "despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard" (v.24; Heb 5.7). By raising Christ from the dead God not only answered His prayers, but also showed to the world that He was fully satisfied with what He had done.
The main fruit of Christs suffering is praise to God, in ever widening circles: firstly, in the midst of His brethren, secondly, within Israel the nation, and, finally, amongst all peoples during the kingdom period. The term, "my brethren" (v.22), describes a closely related and likeminded company that may refer to a godly remnant during the tribulation (Mt 25.33-46), or even "the church, Which is his body" (Jn 17.6,26; 20.17; Eph 1.22,23). It is in the midst of such a group that as "the chief musician" He leads Gods praise, and declares Gods name: "the embodiment of (His) revealed character".2 Although the Jews have been, and remain, judicially blinded (Rom 11.7,8), "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom 11.26), and at that future point all "the seed of Israel" will fear and glorify Jehovah (v.23).
Three important aspects of the millennial kingdom are addressed: universal worship, divine authority, and widespread knowledge of God. The meek (anaw) are those who refuse to defend themselves (Num 12.3), are taught of God (Ps 25.9), delight in Him (Ps 34.2), and are heard by Him (Ps 10.17). Although ungodly men frequently "turn aside the way of the meek" (Amos 2.7), during the kingdom they will be satisfied, and free to seek and praise God without fear or threat to their lives (v.26). All nations (v.27; Zech 14.16), and even all levels of society, from the rich "they that be fat upon earth" to the poor and sickly who are ready to die "all they that go down to the dust" - will worship the Lord. Although "the Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom [presently] ruleth over all" (Ps 103.19), during the kingdom there will be a visible manifestation of Gods authoritative rule over the nations (v.28). Not only will all "the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Is 11.9), but such shall be transmitted from one generation to the next (vv.30,31). This last feature of teaching Biblical truths to subsequent generations was meant to characterize Israel under Law (Deut 6.6-9), and should certainly be prioritised by Christian parents now under grace (Eph 6.4).
1 Enns P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. P110
2 Baron D. Israel in the Plan of God. P135