Psalms 21–23: The Good Shepherd & His Suffering

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 8: Wednesday

It will be recounted about the Lord
to the
coming generation.
They will come and will declare His righteousness
To a people who will be born, that He has done
Psalm 22:30b–31 LSB

Today’s Bible reading is Psalms 21–23. All three are psalms of David. Psalm 21 is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise. Psalm 22 begins in despair and ends in praise. In Psalm 23 David describes his relation­ship with God as he writes of the Lord as his shepherd.

Look at the first and last verses of Psalm 21:

O Yahweh, in Your strength the king will be glad,
And in Your salvation how greatly he will rejoice!
Psalm 21:1 LSB
Be exalted, O Yahweh, in Your strength;
We will sing and praise Your might.
Psalm 21:13 LSB

This psalm begins and ends with joy in God’s strength. Alec Motyer divides Psalm 21 into these sections:1

21:1 Yahweh’s strength, the king’s joy
21:2–7 Blessings granted and enjoyed
21:8–12 Blessings and victories anticipated
21:13 Yahweh’s strength, his people’s song

Because of God’s strength King David and the Israelites rejoice. There is gratitude for what God has done in 2–7. Notice the pivot in verse 8 to anticipating what God will do in the future.

For the king trusts in Yahweh,
And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken.
Psalm 21:7 LSB

The Hebrew word for trust:

“literally means “to rest on with all one’s weight”

“…a stronger meaning than “affirm”…trust, secure confidence, commitment to what is secure, worthy of confidence.”2

That is so hard sometimes, isn’t it? Look at the rest of 21:7. Lovingkindness of the Most High, is the phrase emphasized in the Hebrew in verse 7.3 It is through the lovingkindness of the Most High that we will not be shaken. David rejoiced in God’s strength, not his own. No one mightier than God; He is the Most High. M’Caw and Motyer write,

“As a title it signifies supreme dignity, unhampered power and universal sway.”4

David was confident he would not be shaken through God’s lovingkindness of God, not the lovingkindness of someone limited, but through the lovingkindness of the Most High, through the lovingkindness of God who is mightier than all. When we are afraid or worried, when it’s difficult to completely rest all that we are on God, ask God through His lovingkindness to help you know He is the most High that you might rest in Him. Ask God through His lovingkindness not to let you be shaken.

Psalm 22 is a Messianic psalm. Motyer comments:

“This psalm goes beyond any experience of David’s. While it could arise from some time of suffering it goes far beyond such to torture and death. We are listening to David the prophet (Acts 2:30) looking forward to the suffering Messiah.”5

If you compare it with the Gospel records of Jesus’ crucifixion Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19, you will find the prophecies fulfilled in its description of what Jesus endured on the cross. M’Caw and Motyer state:

“The details of Calvary are all so clearly here; mockery (v. 8), shame (vv. 13, 17), the pain of crucifixion (vv.14–16)…and the parting of garments (v. 18). All this took place by the agency of those who neither knew the Scriptures nor had any interest in fulfilling them, and provides dramatic and unanswerable evidence of the divine inspiration of the Bible and of the faithfulness of God to His Word.”6

Matthew, in 27:46, and Mark, in 15:34, both record Jesus crying out in the ninth hour the first words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” In his commentary on Mark 15:34, C. E. Graham Swift writes:

“The cry of dereliction is the only word from the cross recorded by Mark and Matthew…We may not fathom the depths of the saying, for it brings us to the very heart of the atonement. But it is important that we do not interpret the words merely of the feeling and subjective consciousness of Jesus, as though the dereliction was not a fact…since God cannot look upon sin (Hab.1:13) He hid His face when our sin was laid upon His sinless Son. Jesus, the sinner’s substitute and sin-bearer, was in fact forsaken that we might never be (Heb. 13:5). This was indeed the supreme and unparalleled sorrow from which He shrank. [Matthew 26:42, Mark 14:36, Luke 22:42].”7

Look at the contrasts in Psalm 22:3, 9, 19.

Yet You are holy,
Enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
Psalm 22:3 LSB
Yet You are He who brought me out of the womb;
You made me trust
when upon my mother’s breasts.
Psalm 22:9 LSB
But You, O Yahweh, be not far off;
O my Strength, hasten to my help.
Psalm 22:19 LSB

In the midst of pain and agony, this psalm constantly remembers who God is.  Derek Kidner writes that 19–21,

“is the climax of the ‘Thou’- sections, and the turning-point of the psalm. The first ‘Yet thou’ was deliberately objective (3–5); the second less so (9–11); the third [19–21] is a series of urgent cries, as the enemies seem to move in; murderous, unclean, ravenous, irresistable…

“In verse 21 only the RV [1885] captures anything of the sudden, dramatic change, kept back in the Hebrew to the last word…this single word is a cry that greets last-minute deliverance. ‘. . . And from the horns of the wild oxen. Thou-hast-answered-me!‘.”8

Motyer capures this dramatic change by translating 22:21 as:9

Save me from the lion’s mouth,
from the horns of the wild oxen …
Psalm 22:21

Kidner titles 22:22–31, “The spread of joy,” and writes:

“Finally the vision extends to unborn generations (30f.), in terms which anticipate the preaching of the cross, recounting God’s righteousness…revealed in the action He has taken. The psalm which began with the cry of dereliction ends with the word he has wrought it, an announcement not far removed from our Lord’s great cry, ‘It is finished.'”10

Alec Motyer agrees, writing that the last phrase of 22:31 matches “the ‘It is finished’ at Calvary (John 19:30).”11

It will be recounted about the Lord
to the
coming generation.
They will come and will declare His righteousness
To a people who will be born, that He has done
Psalm 22:30b–31 LSB

M’Caw and Motyer conclude:

“An endless posterity shall serve Him and the story of His great deed of deliverance shall be the permanent heritage of every generation (cf. Lk. 1:48–50)…

“No experience of suffering and of divine deliverance other than our Lord’s experience of the cross and resurrection has had such a universal result. It is, indeed impossible to imagine that any man of the ancient world, whether David or another, could in fact have seriously considered that his individual experience of God would have world-wide and time-long repercussions.”12

He has done it! The Good Shepherd of David’s shepherd psalm, Psalm 23, laid down His life for His sheep. For all who believe in Jesus, His great deed of deliverance is our permanent heritage, and now our proclamation to the next coming generation.

For a brief overview of the structure and poetry of Psalms see my post, The Five Books of Psalms.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
The Good Shepherd: Henry Ossawa Tanner. Public Domain.
1,5,9,11Alec Motyer, Psalms By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Ross-shire, Scotland, U.K. 2016) 54–55, 57, 59, 59
2,3HELPS Lexicon, The Discovery Bible. Retrieved 22 February 2023.
4,6,12Leslie S. M’Caw and J. T. Motyer, “Psalms,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 464, 465, 465.
7C. E. Graham Swift, “Mark,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 884.
8,10Derek Kidner, Psalm 1–72 (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1973) 108; 108–109: The Legacy Standard Bible, published in 2021 almost 50 years since Kidner wrote this, also captures this dramatic change. At Bible Hub, you can compare Psalm 22:21 in other modern English translations.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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