Seeing God in our Sufferings Part 3 of a series based on Psalm 22
By Philip Powell
New King James Version (NKJV) unless otherwise specified.
RECAP: In the previous articles in this series we saw how this Psalm of the Cross presents Christ as He is dying, looking in five distinct and different directions and seeing GOD, His Father everywhere He looks:
1. LOOKING UP HE EMBRACED GOD ON HIS THRONE–verses 1-3
2. LOOKING BACK HE ENCOUNTERED GOD IN HISTORY–verses 4-5; now
3. LOOKING DOWN HE DESCRIBES THE OUTWORKINGS OF GOD IN HIS SUFFERINGS.
PSALM 22 verse 6:
But I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
Of this C.H. Spurgeon writes:
This verse is a miracle in language. How could the Lord of glory be brought to such abasement as to be not only lower than the angels, but even lower than men. What a contrast between “I AM” and “I am a worm” yet such a double nature was found in the person of our Lord Jesus when bleeding upon the tree. He felt himself to be comparable to a helpless, powerless, down-trodden worm, passive while crushed, and unnoticed and despised by those who trod upon him. He selects the weakest of creatures, which is all flesh; and becomes, when trodden upon, writhing, quivering flesh, utterly devoid of any might except strength to suffer. This was a true likeness of himself when his body and soul had become a mass of misery—the very essence of agony—in the dying pangs of crucifixion. Man by nature is but a worm; but our Lord puts himself even beneath man, on account of the scorn that was heaped upon him and the weakness which he felt, and therefore he adds, “and no man.” The privileges and blessings which belonged to the fathers he could not obtain while deserted by God, and common acts of humanity were not allowed him, for he was rejected of men; he was outlawed from the society of earth, and shut out from the smile of heaven. How utterly did the Saviour empty himself of all glory, and become of no reputation for our sakes!
All of that is only partially true. There is much more in the inspired statement than C.H. Spurgeon detected. The expression, “I am a worm…”, which we may attribute to our Lord on the cross does not employ the Hebrew word “rimmah” which stands for the ordinary earth worm, but “towla”, (also “toleah” or “tolaath”) which in this context must be fully rendered “I am a scarlet worm …”
“Towla” appears 43 times in the Old Testament and is rendered “scarlet” 34 times in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, being in the main descriptive of the curtains and coverings within the Tabernacle in the wilderness and/or of the Ark of the Covenant—for example see Exodus 26:1:
Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine woven linen and blue, purple, and scarlet [“towla”]: thread; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them.
In Isaiah the same word [“towla”] is rendered “crimson”.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson [“towla”], They shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
Job chapter 25 verse 6 brings out the contrast between the ordinary earthworm and the scarlet worm:
How much less man, that is a worm “rimmah”? and the son of man, which is a worm “towla”? (KJV). Here it would be too much to say that Bildad (cf. Job 25:1), who most certainly was not inspired in the sense of always uttering that which was true, is contrasting ordinary man with “the son of man”. The context precludes that notion:
How then can man be righteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman? If even the moon does not shine, And the stars are not pure in His sight, How much less man, who is a maggot, And a son of man, who is a worm? (Job 25:4-6).
The NKJV rendition of the Hebrew “rimmah” as “maggot” forcefully demonstrates how it could never be applied to our Lord. Rimmah the ordinary earthworm contains the idea of the cause and sign of decay2which cannot be applied to Christ and is excluded from “towla” the scarlet worm. Interestingly and, as an aside, scarlet worms, not earthworms are said to have been produced by the stale manna disobediently kept over from the day of provision: Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms “towla” and stank. And Moses was angry with them (Exodus 16:20).
The illustration is instructive. Divine provision, not freshly gathered and daily imbibed is subject to death and decay. “Give us this day (TODAY) our daily bread” must be the guiding principle in our daily devotion to and of Him.
As far as we know the scarlet worm is a creature unique to the lands of the Middle East. Author, Henry Morris in his Biblical Basis for Modern Science observes:
When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted. What a picture this gives of Christ, dying on the tree, shedding his precious blood that he might “bring many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10)! He died for us, that we might live through Him! Ps 22:6 describes such a worm and gives us this picture of Christ. (cf. Isa 1:18)
The Great Creator became my Saviour And ALL God’s fullness dwelleth in HIM
The same Henry Morris in his Bible & Science tape series comments:
Look at the 22nd Psalm. This is the great Psalm of the crucifixion of Christ written 1,000 years before it was fulfilled. It describes in great detail the sufferings of Christ on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cries out. Then down in verse 6...he says “But I am a worm (08438), and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” What did he mean by saying “I am a worm”?...This particular worm is different from other kinds of worms. There are different kinds of worms, different varieties, but this is a particular worm. It means more than just he is not a man. Isaiah 52:14 says, “His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men.” He was literally made corruption personified; he didn’t even look like a man there on the cross; it is talking about more than that here. He says “I am a worm and no man.” This is a scarlet worm and the reason it was called that was because it had the ability to secrete a scarlet fluid which was used in making the scarlet dye that they used in ancient days. As a matter of fact, when you find the word “scarlet” in the Bible, it’s the same word. “Though your sins be as scarlet,” it’s the same word exactly. The worm was identified with the crimson colour. … The Lord Jesus said, “I am like that scarlet worm.” He’s making peace through the blood of His cross; He’s bringing many sons into glory through the suffering. And this is a graphic testimony of the fact that eternal life comes out of the suffering and death of the Son of God.
Jesus Christ of Nazareth never ceased to be the eternal creator even when hanging in ignominy and shame on the Cross. As man He was submissive and yielding even to “the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8); and mystery of mysteries as the eternal Son He remained creator even in the process of death, retaining the power of the dismissal and the regaining of His life and bringing in a new order of humankind.
Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father (John 10: 17-18).
Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.” Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium7, and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, “Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?” Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin (John 19:6-11).
And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last (Luke 23:46). For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
The Magnitude of His Sufferings
There are a number of verses in Psalm 22 that focus on this third direction of Christ’s gaze as He carries out His “cross” work. Looking down He describes His physical and bodily sufferings.
I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me, the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones (Psalm 22:14-17).
One of the amazing features of Bible prophecy is the remarkable way in which it is all harmonised and frequently confirmed and reinforced without a single contradiction. For example take the above expression “all My bones are out of joint” and compare it with Psalm 34:20—“He guards all His bones; not one of them is broken” and you will see that there is no contradiction between the two. Dislocation of the joints, without the breaking of bones, would be a natural consequence of the body’s weight suspended in crucifixion. That aside the language of Psalm 22 is clearly descriptive employing powerful figures of speech so there is no need to be overly literal in our interpretation. Nonetheless the expression “I can count all my bones” may indeed confirm the faithful fulfilment of the promise—not one of them was broken cf. John 19: 32 to 36:
Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.”
Writing to the Corinthians Paul identifies our Lord in His death on the cross as the passover lamb of which the divine law required:
In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones. All the congregation of Israel shall keep it (Exodus 12:46-47).
The detail of prophetic fulfilment is truly remarkable. That the prophetic Psalm 22 draws our attention to this fact is no less remarkable. Our Lord effectively confirmed the truth—“I can count all My bones”—they are all there—not one of them is broken.
In prophecy as in the gospel itself there remains what Paul calls a “mystery” i.e. that which is hidden and yet revealed to the “initiated” i.e. to those who have eyes to see the revealed truth. Two things are happening at the Cross in this regard:
1) As the recipient of divine chastisement as man’s sin-bearer our Lord is suffering as no man ever suffered; and
2) As the great creator on the anvil of Calvary He is shaping the future and by Himself producing a new Creation.
Christ’s perfect humanity and total deity are ever present in the life and work of the “God-man” even at the lowest point—His sacrifice, suffering and death. Is He our penal substitute? Yes, definitely!
For He (God the Father) made Him (God the Son) who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Is He vanquished on the Cross yet triumphant in hell as Copeland teaches? No, definitely not!
So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit (John 19:30 cf. Luke 23:46). And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, “Father, ‘into Your hands I commit My spirit.’” Having said this, He breathed His last.
J.I. Packer in his Knowing God writes:
If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about His life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation, “through whom He made the worlds” (Heb. 1:2 RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked His coming into this world, and His life in it, and His exit from it. It is not strange that He, the author of life should rise from the dead. If He was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that He should die than that He should rise again. ‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies,’ wrote Wesley; but there is no comparable mystery in the Immortal’s resurrection. And if the immortal Son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all of a piece, and hangs together completely. The incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.
NEXT: Looking Out. Christ Contemplates His Enemies—verses 12, 16 etc