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God’s Word for You

Psalm 22:11-13 Bulls and lions surround me

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, April 1, 2023

11 Do not be distant from me,
  for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

David recalls the first verse of the Psalm here: “My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me?” He brings these words to the fore once again, pleading: “Do not be distant from me!” For although God “is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:27), David was in trouble. When trouble comes, we naturally cling to whomever is near even though they might be only inches away. It is an impulse, I suppose, left over from childhood, where burying one’s head in mama’s shoulder or hair was the answer to every fear. But trouble, or a day of trouble, is serious when a seasoned soldier like David describes it. David knew that some friends don’t stand with you in a day of trouble, and that there are some friends who are even wicked enough to switch sides in a time of trouble. So he knew not to look only to friends, nor even his own brothers (1 Samuel 16:6-10). He turned to the Lord, “a refuge in a day of trouble” (Nahum 1:7). For “No one is like the God of Israel, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge!” (Deuteronomy 33:26-27). “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).

When we consider these words prophetically, about Jesus on the cross, once again we see the agony of the Son reaching and calling out to his Father, but the Father has turned away his face on account of the sins he bore: our sins. In this context, when he says “there is no one to help,” his words are more plaintive and longing than any other words ever spoken. For when Christ knew that there is “no one to help,” he knew that he could not bury his head in his mother’s shoulder and hair as he did as a baby even though she was there, just a few feet away, watching him suffer (John 19:26). He also knew that his apostles and followers could do nothing to help. The squad of soldiers sitting at his feet were ready to stop anyone trying to interfere with his death with deadly force (Matthew 27:36). He also knew that the legions of angels he spoke about just the night before (Matthew 26:53) were no longer his to command. The Holy Spirit would not come to his aid, for the Spirit and the Father are one in will, one in word, “for they are not several Gods, but one God.” And finally, most painful of all, the Father would not come to help him. He was alone, suffering the pain of hell. For hell is not about the torments of Satan (those torments are ours on earth, our temptations). Satan is a prisoner of hell, not the warden. Hell is the absence of the love of the Father, and it was that agony, that of being alone and without the love of the Father or the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, that he endured for us.

12 Many bulls surround me;
  strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 They open their mouths wide against me,
  like lions tearing their prey and roaring.

David thought of his enemies like the bulls of Israel’s cattle country, which was Bashan east and northeast of Galilee. Perhaps this is a hint of where David was when he wrote this poem, or perhaps he was only thinking of the powerful creatures with their dangerous horns like a thornbush of spears, sharp, glinting, and deadly. This was the trouble that was all around, surrounding him.

David’s enemies were not shy about opening their mouths and hurling insults at him (2 Samuel 16:5-8). This was true of Israel’s enemies in general (Lamentations 2:16). But for Christ, the enemies were the people of the city, the criminals condemned with him, the soldiers beneath him, and the priests, scribes, and elders of the Jews. Everyone spat their venom at him, snarling and cursing him, so that they looked like lions tearing apart an animal. And this is not yet the end of the comparisons of his enemies as animals (wild dogs are coming in verse 16). But it is enough for now.

Those feet that had walked the length and breadth of the Promised Land to carry the gospel to the lost sheep of Israel were now being stretched out on the cross by soldiers who meant for them never to walk, ever again. Those hands that had been raised to bless and heal and show compassion on so many were now being stretched out in a gesture that may have seemed to his tormentors like a mockery of blessing, but what has come down to us as an everlasting sign of the blessing of God. His eyes that had looked with love on so many were soaked now in his own precious blood. So far, so far from help! So near, so near, the end of this torment that forever brought us peace.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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