The setting and ideas of Psalm 22 are very similar to Psalms 6 and 30. The superscription of Psalm 22 is not helpful. It reads: "To the leader: according to the Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David." "According to the Deer of the Dawn" seems to be a familiar tune for the singers or praise leader. The superscriptions of the Psalms are later additions. The psalmist of Psalm 22 is confronted with three serious problems: (1) He feels that God has deserted or forsaken him; (2) He is very ill physically; and (3) His enemies have unleashed a malicious attack against him. This psalm naturally falls into two parts.
I. The Poet describes his afflictions, and pleads with Yahweh to deliver him. Psalm 22:1-21a.
a. The psalmist begins by expressing his deep feeling that God has forsaken him. He desperately needs God's help, and he repeatedly groans over his anguish. He cries to God by day and night, but God does not answer, and the psalmist has no rest. There are times in everyone's life when we share this same type of feelings. 22:1-2.
b. In his attempt to persuade Yahweh to respond, the poet compares his own situation with Yahweh's faithful responses and help in the past. He praises Yahweh because he is holy and confesses that Yahweh is enthroned as king on the praises of Israel. The ancestors of the psalmist trusted in Yahweh, and Yahweh delivered them. They cried to Yahweh, and Yahweh saved them. They trusted in Yahweh, and Yahweh did not put them to shame. Why doesn't Yahweh respond in the same way with the psalmist? 22:3-5.
c. Then the poet reflects on his own miserable situation. He feels like he is a "worm and not human." His enemies scorn and despise him. They mock at the psalmist, they make horrible mouths at him, they shake their heads to symbolize he has no hope, they mock him, saying, "Commit your cause to the Lord, let him deliver--let him rescue the one in whom he delights!" These are obvious sarcastic words. When a person is down and out, sometimes other people throw salt into the wounds. 22:6-8.
d. The psalmist turns back to address God. He reminds God that God is the one who took him from the womb and kept him safe on his mother's breast. The psalmist has been Yahweh's God from his birth. Thus, he pleads that Yahweh will not be far from him, because trouble is near and there is no help but from God. 22:9-11, 19.
e. The poet then describes his enemies. He compares them with "strong bulls," "ravening and roaring lions," and "vicious dogs" surrounding him to destroy him. 22:12-13, 16, 20-21a.
f. Finally, the psalmist paints a vivid picture of his physical illness. He declares that he is poured out like water; all his bones are out of joint, one can count all his bones because he is so thin, and people stare and gloat over him. The psalmist says that his heart is like wax and is melted within his breast; he is very depressed. His mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and his tongue clings to the his jaws, he is near death. He is completed dehydrated. His enemies are convinced that he will die at any moment, and so they divide his clothes among themselves after his death, and each person receives different pieces of his clothing by casting lots. 22:14-15, 17-18.
II. The Psalmist praises Yahweh because Yahweh has heard his prayer and has delivered him from death and all his afflictions. Psalm 22:21b-31.
a. The whole tone between verses 1-21a and verses 21b-31 stand in bold contrast. Apparently, between the first stanza and the second stanza, Yahweh intervened and delivered the psalmist from all his afflictions. It is also possible that a messenger of God [a priest or a prophet or a wise person] delivered an oracle to the psalmist after the psalmist's complaints in verses 1-21a.
b. The poet praises Yahweh for "rescuing" him from his enemies, "the wild oxen." 22:21b.
c. The psalmist then resolves to go to his "great congregation" to tell them how Yahweh has delivered him from all his afflictions. The psalmist "tells" of Yahweh's name to his brothers and sisters, "praises" Yahweh in the midst of the congregation. He encourages his brothers and sisters to "fear Yahweh," "praise him," "glorify him," "stand in awe of him." The structure in verse 23 is chiastic: abba. To fear Yahweh is the same as to stand in awe of Yahweh; and to praise Yahweh is the same as to glorify Yahweh. Then, in bold contrast to his complaints in verses 1-21a, the poet declares in verse 24:
Yahweh did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted,
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.
Often, we have similar experiences. We are very depressed, and suddenly God intervenes and changes our hearts, our situations, our lives, and turns us upside down. 22:22-24.