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God’s Word for You

Psalm 22:19-21 My one and only life

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, April 6, 2023

19 But you, O LORD, do not be distant;
  O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver my life from the sword,
  my one and only life from the power of the dogs.
21 Save me from the mouth of the lions;
  answer me from the horns of the wild oxen.

David began this Psalm by asking, “Why have you forsaken me?” In verse 11, he also said, “Do not be distant from me.” Now he says this a third time and asks for help to come quickly. David faced deadly trouble many times from enemies and from friends and even from his own sons later in his life. And even though David refused to ever raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed, he himself (who was anointed by the Lord through the hand of the prophet Samuel) was attacked many times. During the exile the Israelites said, “The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath, was caught in their traps” (Lamentations 4:20). Those words, like so many of David’s, prophesy what happened on the cross.

In the song of Moses, the Lord is called “my strength and my salvation” (Exodus 15:2), and David used the same language (Psalm 28:8, 118:14). All help, strength, power, and blessing comes from the Lord. Without our God we have nothing, not even life.

“My one and only life” in verse 20 is a word that can mean an only child (Genesis 22:2) or people who are lonely (Psalm 68:6). Here it is a reminder that human beings do not have many lives. We will not be reincarnated on this earth. We do not come back into the world; once a life is ended, as far as this world is concerned, it has ended (Psalm 88:10). Yes, there is the resurrection to everlasting life, but our bodies will not be here. They will be in the new heaven; the new earth (2 Peter 3:13). We will not come into the present world once again, and therefore “my one and only life” is our time now, our time of grace. When age, disease, war, violence, or accident takes us, we will have no more time to come to faith. This is why this word is also sometimes translated “precious” as in Psalm 35:17, a verse very much like the one before us.

If the mighty and resourceful David might ask for help against the sword of his enemies, then no man should shrink from making the same request. But our Lord? David prophesies that even he would pray to be spared from his attackers, and surely this was a part of his request to be spared the cup of his suffering (Mark 14:36). For “justice is severe,” but is not the punishment of injustice, the undeserved cuts and blows, severe as well? The innocent man may say, “I did not deserve this,” but when there is no one to help him—when even God turned away his face from his one and only Son, what terrible pain there was! Terror on every side!

Once again David recalls the dangers of the fallen world, the dogs and lions and wild oxen, the claws and teeth and horns that rend the flesh and gouge out eyes and ears and nose and rip even the mouth apart so that cries of pain can no longer be understood! What villainy the devil has wrought on the world, that we walk in danger every day, that death itself falls with the rain, and that sin and temptation are born within a man’s own flesh. Will Satan and his demons suffer what Christ suffered a thousandfold? Will the ravenous wild dogs and lions and wild oxen that sometimes prowled the earth stalk and snap beneath the devil’s eternal cross and terrify him forevermore?

These are sufferings that we had earned. We should be punished as the Lord was. But Christ ascended the cross so that we would not descend into hell. He removed what sin brought; he gave back what Adam lost.

The grammar of verse 21 confuses some, but consider this: “Save me from the mouth of the lions” is a cry from David or any of us, when we are attacked, but especially the cry of Jesus on the cross. The next line, “Answer me from the horns of the wild oxen,” is our prayer to the Lord. Even as he was attacked and murdered (“the horns of the wild oxen”), we call out to him to save us during the very act of his suffering and death. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, and by his wounds we are healed.

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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