I was in California a couple of weeks ago for a wedding, and on Saturday morning I got to hear my friend Tim, a pastor in northern California, give a sermon, the basis of which gives me my topic for this devotional.
This pastor is the type of person who can find a song in anything and believes that there is a song for every occasion. You can be having a conversation with him and he will feel obligated to add song lyrics to just about anything you say. You probably know somebody like this. Maybe this is you. His thesis in the sermon he gave was this: not only is it ok for him to do this, but there is biblical evidence that there is a song for every occasion.
Easter was a couple of weeks ago, but I hope you will allow me to revisit it. Reading the accounts of Jesus on the cross, I have always sort of struggled with the line Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) I never knew what to do with this verse. Was it weakness we are seeing, an actual feeling of being forsaken? Was it the collective weight of the moment and pressure so great that He simply had to say something? It is, at face value, a difficult verse.
See if you can sing in your head the next line of these songs: Tis so sweet . . . ; Amazing grace . . . These are songs we all know, ones that have been ingrained in us. The song that Jesus “sings” would likewise have been familiar to those witnessing his crucifixion, given that the song was Psalm 22. We know how Psalm 23, the following chapter, begins: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” Do you know how Psalm 22 begins?
[ For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David. ] My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
– Psalm 22:1
I had never heard of this before. The crazy part is that people are singing along! Let’s look at a few more examples here:
And when they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments among themselves by casting lots.
– Matthew 27:35
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
– Psalm 22:18
Even the religious leaders participated in this part. They knew this song, too. Imagine knowing the words, the source of the song, yet completely missing the point.
And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now, if He delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
All who see me sneer at me;
They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,
Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
Jesus also refers back to the original passage in Psalm 22, but updates the language somewhat.
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.”
– John 19:28
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And You lay me in the dust of death.
– Psalm 22:15
One of the signal things about crucifixion is that the body literally dries out. The body’s fluid collects in the legs and extremities, the tongue sticks to the inside of the mouth.
There is a lot more here too.
Many bulls have surrounded me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
– Psalm 22:12
I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It is melted within me.
– Psalm 22:14
For dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced my hands and my feet.
– Psalm 22:16
Verse 12 I found really interesting. The bulls of Bashan were known for their size; they are big and, appropriately, beefy. When I think of Roman soldiers, I tend to think of them the same way. And the phrase at the end, “they have encircled me”? The Hebrew is more accurately translated “crowned.”
Comparing the reality surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion and the words David wrote centuries before, I think we can agree there are strong connections and fulfillments of prophecy at play. Which brings me to my next point:
Can we talk about worms?! I have been dying to talk about worms!
But I am a worm and not a man,
A reproach of men and despised by the people.
– Psalm 22:6
I don’t know about you, but I do not like to think of Jesus as a worm. The clear allusions to Psalm 22 throughout the Crucifixion accounts allow for us to consider that connection, though. Throughout the Bible, worms are represented as lowly, insignificant. Isaiah links them to the concept of decay; Job to the concept of humility. We can see both in Jesus’s story.
But are you ready for the amazing thing about worms? The species of worm to which the Hebrew word in Psalm 22 refers was an important source of scarlet dye in the Middle East – so much so that the word for worm (TOW-LA-LATH) could be used as a term for the color scarlet (TOWLA). Have you ever been in a home improvement store, in the paint aisle, and you see some of the color names that have been assigned? Some names are creative, some simply descriptive. While we would be surprised to see a “Worm Scarlet” next to the “Robin’s Egg Blue” in that aisle today, that would not have been a strange allusion for the people in that region, at that time.
Throughout the Old Testament, one finds that scarlet was the color of the curtains for the Hebrew tabernacle and, later, the temple. Exodus gives curtain directions thusly:
“You shall make a veil of blue and purple and scarlet (TOWLA) material and fine twisted linen; it shall be made with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman.”
– Exodus 26:31
You could translate the word “scarlet” as “worm” in that passage and it would have made sense to the readers. The worm then represents two opposite things: the lowest point in the life of a human being – the decay and corruption of the body. But as a source of scarlet dye, it has a key role to play at the summit of human existence – where man meets God.
Can I get a little weirder? Let me tell you what happens when this particular species of worm dies: When it is ready to lay eggs, the worm climbs a tree, fastening itself to the wood. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the living flesh three days. When it finally dies, it secretes a crimson dye and contorts its body into a heart shape. At the end of the fourth day, the color turns from red to white.
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.”
– Isaiah 1:18
There is a reason.
Have you ever stayed in your car after you reached your destination, just to hear the end of a song you like? Jesus started singing a song, and He finished it as well.
They will come and will declare His righteousness
To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.
– Psalm 22:31
Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
– John 19:30
He has done it. This song, from the beginning full of suffering and despair, does not end with suffering, but with praise. The final line in Psalm 22 can be translated as He has done it, or simply it is done.
The more I learn about the Bible, and the more context I get, the more I appreciate it. Jesus is truly woven throughout, and I am grateful for his song choice at the end of His life. The best songs, in my opinion, are the ones we can sing along with. In the Crucifixion song, there were parts for the Romans, for the religious leaders and onlookers, and for Jesus Himself, but the song Jesus chose to sing has a part for us too:
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
– Psalm 22:27
As you remember and turn to the Lord, worship Him not only for the good, world-changing things He has done, but also for the fact that He has invited us all to sing along.
This devotional was written by Benjamin Speegle, Processing Assistant at the Office of Volunteer Ministries, and originally shared at a staff worship at the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists on May 15, 2019.