The well-known Psalm 22 begins with the following as the first verse (KJV):

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

It is common to understand this verse as proof God forsook the speaker. However, the Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament appears to understand this as a poetic expression of how the author feels, contrasted with his real relationship with God (emphasis added):

The sufferer feels himself rejected of God; the feeling of divine wrath has completely enshrouded him; and still he knows himself to be joined to God in fear and love; his present condition belies the real nature of his relationship to God; and it is just this contradiction that urges him to the plaintive question, which comes up from the lowest depths: Why hast Thou forsaken me? But in spite of this feeling of desertion by God, the bond of love is not torn asunder; the sufferer calls God אלי (my God), and urged on by the longing desire that God again would grant him to feel this love, he calls Him, אלי אלי. That complaining question: why hast Thou forsaken me? is not without example even elsewhere in Psalm 88:15, cf. Isaiah 49:14.

In fact, after the speaker makes requests to be delivered, he says in verse 21 that God has answered him. Similarly, in verse 24, we read (KJV):

For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

Therefore, considering Psalm 22:1 in light of Isaiah 49:14-15 and the rest of the Psalm, should we understand the verse to mean that the speaker feels forsaken but, in reality, is not?

  • I agree with the Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. However, this did not prevent Jesus using this Psalm as His expression on the Cross.
    – Dottard
    Jul 22, 2022 at 21:44
  • 1
    There's no diff between literally and poetically. Whoever use the phrase asking God where are you and why have you hid your face or forsaken me is saying because it's true and he feels forsaken. Closed vote for opinion based.
    – Michael16
    Jul 25, 2022 at 4:05
  • Why is poetically mutually exclusive to literally? Can’t you be poetically literal? Of course you can. Seems like an excuse based question Aug 19 at 1:02

3 Answers 3


There are a few things that we should look at here: Genre, Book, Psalm, Sentence Features, and the context of all God's story. I think you've gotten most of that, but I'll try laying it out. For this discussion, I won't reference the NT usage of the text to avoid any sort of circular reasoning.


It is poetry - as you've tagged. In poetry, we do not expect the same sort of literalness as in other genres. We can expect figurative language and exaggerations in poetry. In Song of Songs we read in chapter 6, verse four that his beloved is like an army with banners. In the verse before, we learn that the two beloveds belong to one another - this wouldn't be true by the literal legal mores of the time - that characters are saying how it feels. It is poetry and that's allowed in poetry, and today is sort of the point of poetry.


The Book is the Psalms - a book of psalms, that is a certain sort of poetry. It has been called "Jesus' prayerbook". We can be confident in our identifying Psalm 22 as poetry and thus causing us to expect figurative language. But what is the book about? Bible Project accurately describes it as a book about lament and praise, but one that never forgets God's faithfulness.

The book of Psalms is supposed to be an encouragement to hope and faithfulness is response to God's faithfulness. For there to be literal forsakenness would conflict with the point of the book.


This is Psalm 22. How often is figurative language used here? And what is the point of this Psalm? In verse six, we read "But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.", scorned by everyone is figurative language since most of the world did not know the Psalmist existed, and "But I am a worm and not a man," is certainly figurative language. So we can say with confidence, that in this psalm the psalmist uses figurative language to portray the misery.

(Mike Winger actually has an interesting discussion of this worm.)

The first two thirds of the Psalm is filled with imagery asthe Psalmist talks about his sufferings. But then starting with verse 22 the figurative language stops, and the praises of God begins. This looks like a deliberate technique from the author to go from figurative sufferings - including that attention-grabbing first line - to vivid and literal descriptions of the glorious future. And that contrast is the point of the Psalm.


The word forsake is a word often used with God in the Old Testament, but almost always (there is one exception) about how God does not forsake his people (with is more than can be said for his people with God). So not only is the sentiment jarring, but the precise word jars too, however the feeling does not jar.

The exception is Deuteronomy 31:17, but that has a clear condition of forsakenness - to go after other Gods. This is something that the Psalmist gives no hint of doing.

The psalm is also written in the first person. What this sentence is doing is grabbing our attention, and connecting to us on the subjective experience level. However, by using feelings that we know cannot be so it leads us away from those feelings and to the wonders of God. Which is the point of the Psalm.

God's Big Story

So, we know that as a Psalm that it can be figurative language. And we know that Psalm 22 does use figurative language for sufferings in contrast to the literal glory. But are we certain that this first verse is not a literal starter that pre-introduces the animalistic imagery later? Well other thoughts in this first verse like "so far from my cries of anguish?" seem to dispute God's attributes, such as his omnipresence.

Also, these are questions. He does not make figurative blasphemous statements. He is asking the questions that people ask, and he is answering them with God's faithfulness.

And that is the point of the verse, the psalm, the book and the Bible. He is forsaken figuratively for "For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.".


In a word, no! The reason David was because he was being hunted down by King Saul and he was describing his own feelings of forsakenness.

At vs11-13, "Be not far from me, for trouble is near; For there is none to help. vs12, Many bulls have surrounded me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. Vs13, They open wide their mouth at me, as a raving and roaring lion."

When you read on the following is what David says at verses 23 and 24. "You who fear the Lord, praise Him; All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.

Vs24, For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard." I'm sure everyone of us at times felt we were forsaken due to circumstances that seemed hopeless. I know I did when I was in Vietnam in 1968 during the Tet offensive, and here I am alive and well thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And speaking of Jesus Christ? He was not forsaken on that cross either even though He knew that He would be forsaken by His closest friends. John 16:32, "Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. Also, the Father was in/with Him on that cross reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19.

  • I see nothing in the text indicates that David was being hunted down by Saul. Are you think of Psalm 57 which is introduced as " A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave" ? Aug 12, 2022 at 1:02
  • @DanFefferman You might find the following site useful as it goes through each verse of Psalm 22 as well as other references of what David was going through. studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/psalms-22.html Welcome to Stack Exchange.
    – Mr. Bond
    Aug 12, 2022 at 14:25
  • Thanks, I did find that interesting. It mentions several other possibilities as well: that was composed in part by Jeremiah, or by a writer during the exile, or during the Maccabean revolt... also that it's simply not possible to know at this time. I think the last is the most honest answer. Sep 17, 2022 at 3:24

I take offense to this phrase in one answer:

And speaking of Jesus Christ? He was not forsaken on that cross either

While David was in a very difficult situation and his prayers were not answered for a time. But eventually, they were and he lived on.

But Christ on the cross was literally forsaken from God and men and died. God did not answer Him at all. And with good reason! He was drinking the cup of Gods wrath in my stead for my sins.

(Mark 14:36)

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

(Mark 10:45)

For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

(Isaiah 53:3-5)

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. ¶ Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

(Isaiah 53:10)

Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

In fact when under strong convictions i agreed that i deserved to be forsaken forever and be cast in outer darkness and that this should be my punishment. That same moment Christ by His word and Spirit revealed Himself to me as my Lord and Savior by speaking these words in my heart and mind: "my God my God why hast thou forsaken me" hanging in my place.

I can not express in words how thankful i am and should be that Christ was really forsaken on the cross to save wretches like me.

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