I’ve taken Bible study seriously since I was young. God gave us a book that we all believe is from him, so doesn’t that mean we ought to really know what it says? So I studied, I memorized, and I learned a lot.
It was in my mid-thirties that my intensive study through the Psalms began. Of course, I already knew the Psalms and had memorized many of them, but the thought of digging deeper and finding important truths excited me.
There I was, as the tree with deep roots in Psalm 1 (kind of sliding past Psalm 2), trusting God in my bed in Psalms 3 and 4 and 6, praising God in Psalms 8 and 9. I took to heart God’s description of the righteous person in Psalm 15. I blessed the Lord and set him at my right hand in Psalm 16. I fell in love with Psalm 18. I dug into learning about the statutes and commandments and ordinances of the Lord in Psalm 19. I rejoiced in his salvation in Psalm 20, and I trusted him in Psalm 21. It was great.
Then I came to Psalm 22.
I knew something was wrong as I approached this psalm — I could feel it in my innermost being. I wasn’t excited about reading Psalm 22.
And I knew why. I had to face the truth.
A Crossroads in Bible Study
All the other psalms — well, almost all of them anyway — seemed to have been about me, but Psalm 22, as many Christians know, is so plainly about Jesus. There was no way I could be so sacrilegious as to think that it was about me.
And for that reason, I didn’t want to read it.
I didn’t want to read it because it wasn’t about me.
There it was. That was the stark truth.
When I realized it, I was aghast at myself, and in humility I went to God and laid it all out before him. I repented of my selfishness and asked him to make Psalm 22 come alive for me.
I wrote next to Psalm 22 in my wide-margin Bible:
Yesterday I was struggling with the fact that I don’t appreciate a psalm as much when it’s applied to Jesus instead of me, and what selfishness and immaturity that fact revealed in me. Now I am faced with a psalm that can’t possibly be appreciated properly unless it is applied to Jesus. God, grant me the grace to rejoice in the truth of your Holy Word.
In thirty years of earnest Bible studies, this is one of the very first times, if not the first time, I asked God to open my eyes to the beauty and truth of his Word. It was one of the first times I recognized the inability of my own soul to accomplish the good work God wanted for me. And though I didn’t understand it at the time (since the Holy Spirit wasn’t a popular topic of conversation in my circles), I was asking the Holy Spirit to open the Scriptures for me.
Fifteen years later, reading Andrew Murray’s book The Believer’s New Covenant, I read something along the lines of “Who do you think you are to suppose you can ever understand the word of God in your own strength?” At that time, I trembled in remembering this crossroads in my life, at Psalm 22.
It was a crossroads, because the Lord answered that prayer.
Gazing at the Glory of Christ
Though I wrote phrases like “example for me” altogether too much through the first part of the psalm, by the time I was a third of the way into it, I began to see Christ.
What happened to me over the course of those two weeks — studying sounds far too academic. Meditating these days can have New-Age overtones. Pondering the Scriptures? Soaking in the Scriptures? But really the point isn’t what I did with the Scriptures. It’s what God did in me through them, as he held them up as a magnifying glass to see the Lord Jesus Christ more and more clearly.
Psalm 22, the psalm of our Savior suffering and crying out on the cross, came alive for me in those two weeks. I was there. I saw him. I wept over his reproach. I saw him in his suffering and his glory in a way I had never seen him before, a way that profoundly changed me. I was most literally laid flat before him.
And then I came to understand that yes indeed this psalm did refer to me.
Now I See
Jesus said, through David, “In the midst of the great congregation I will praise you” (Psalm 22:25). I was there, in that great congregation.
Jesus said, through David, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you” (verse 27). I was part of one of the families far out on the edges of the earth. I was one of the ones who turned to him. I saw myself in my proper place, small, in a huge congregation, lifting my hands to an unimaginably great and glorious overcoming Lord.
Jesus said, “They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.” He. Has. Done. It.
It. Is. Finished.
I was one of the “people yet unborn” then, now alive. His righteousness was proclaimed to me. It was finished for me, for all of us in that great congregation.
If I had continued studying in my previous style, these are all truths that I could have grasped intellectually. But because in his mercy, the Lord had held up a mirror to my face, “Look what kind of person you are!” and pointed me to the solution, because of that self-exposure and crying out to him and his lavish answers, the truths of this psalm hit home in a far deeper way. Psalm 22 became true, not just in my intellect, but in my experience.
I saw the exalted Living Word that the written Word is given to us to exalt. For me, this was a beginning — a beginning of truly seeing.
When I study Psalm 22 now, my reaction is every bit as visceral as it was then — how many years ago was this? Let’s see. Hmmm . . . (I check the notes in my wide-margin Bible.) In December of this year is it exactly 22 years. A little providence to remind me of his manifest love.
God, grant me the grace to rejoice in the truth of your holy Word, I prayed. I was talking about the Bible. But what I saw was Jesus. I saw right through the magnifying glass of the written Word to behold the beauty of the exalted Living Word, the one ever so worthy of exaltation.