The Shepherd’s Psalm, Day 3

By James Boice

Theme: Possessing Life and Guidance

In this week’s lessons we see how Jesus, as our shepherd, gives us everything we need in this world as well as in the world to come.

Scripture: Psalm 23:1-6

2. I shall not lack life. This is because “he restores my soul” (v. 3). In Hebrew idiom the words “restores my soul” can mean “brings me to repentance” (or conversion).5 But since the word translated “soul” is actually “life,” and since the metaphor here is that of shepherding, the words probably mean “the LORD restores me to physical health” (or salvation). In the book on this psalm which I referred to earlier, Phillip Keller explains this by the situation known to shepherds as a “cast (or cast down) sheep.” As Keller explains, “A heavy, fat or long-fleeced sheep will lie down comfortably in some little hollow or depression in the ground. It may roll on its side slightly to stretch out or relax. Suddenly the center of gravity in the body shifts so that it turns on its back far enough that the feet no longer touch the ground. It may feel a sense of panic and start to paw frantically. Frequently this only makes things worse. It rolls over even further. Now it is quite impossible for it to regain its feet.”6 In this position gases build up in the body, cutting off circulation to the legs, and often it is only a matter of a few hours before the sheep dies. The only one who can restore the sheep to health is the shepherd.

Sometimes we are like cast sheep. We are spiritually on our backs, quite helpless. But Jesus comes to us when we are in this condition, like he did to Peter after Peter had denied him even with oaths and cursing (Matt. 26:72, 74). Jesus restored Peter, just as he restores us. He gets us going again.

3. I shall not lack guidance. This is because the Lord “guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (v. 3).

Sheep are very foolish creatures. In fact, they are probably the most stupid animals on earth. One aspect of their stupidity is seen in the fact that they so easily wander away. They can have a good shepherd who can have brought them to the best grazing lands near an abundant supply of water, and they will still wander away to where the fields are barren and the water undrinkable. Again, they are creatures of habit. They can have been brought to good grazing land by their shepherd, but, having found it, they will keep on grazing it until every blade of grass and every root is eaten, the fields ruined and themselves impoverished. No other class of livestock requires more careful handling than do sheep. Therefore, having a shepherd who will move them from field to field yet always keep them near an abundant supply of water is essential for their welfare.

In his translation of this psalm Martin Luther rendered the phrase “paths of righteousness” by auf rechter Strasse (“in straight paths”), which is true enough. But that interpretation misses something because it is not only the straight way, it is also the righteous way. We stray by sinning, but God leads us into upright moral paths. Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (53:6).

Study Questions:

  1. Explain what is meant by the expression is verse 3, “he restores my soul.”
  2. What is a “cast” or “cast down” sheep? How do we fit that description, and what does the Lord do for us in response?
  3. How do sheep demonstrate their need for the shepherd’s guidance?

Application: Recount some examples of how God lead you in the past. What harmful results did he perhaps keep you from experiencing had you gone your own way? How did his plans turn out better than your own desires?

5Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), p. 110.
6Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 61.


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The Shepherd’s Psalm, Day 2

By James Boice

Theme: “I Shall Lack Nothing”

In this week’s lessons we see how Jesus, as our shepherd, gives us everything we need in this world as well as in the world to come.

Scripture: Psalm 23:1-6

Yesterday we concluded by saying that Jesus took up this Old Testament idea of God as the shepherd of his people.

In Luke 15 Jesus defended his mingling with tax collectors and “sinners” by saying, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:4-7).

Even more remarkable is Jesus’ teaching about himself as a shepherd in John 10: “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice…I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it…I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:2-4, 11, 12, 14-16).

We are part of that “one flock,” composed of believing Jews and Gentiles. So we are not stretching the twenty-third psalm to see Jesus as our shepherd and to apply the lines of the psalm carefully and in detail to ourselves.

It is not only the first half of the first line that is important, however. The second half is important too. It says, “I shall lack nothing.” This statement goes with the first half. Left to themselves, sheep lack everything. They are the most helpless animals. But if we belong to the one who is self-sufficient, inexhaustible and utterly unchanged by time, we will lack nothing since he is sufficient for all things and will provide for us.

What is it that those in the care of the good shepherd shall not lack? Verses 2-6 are an answer to that question.

1. I shall not lack rest. This is because “he makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (v. 2).

Phillip Keller is a pastor and author, who for eight years was himself a shepherd. Out of that experience he has written a helpful book entitled A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. It throws light on this and other statements. Sheep do not lie down easily, Keller says. In fact, as he goes on to explain, “It is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. Because of the social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.”4

Fear. Friction. Flies. Famine. Sheep must be free from each of these to be contented. But the interesting thing, as Keller notes, is that it is only the shepherd who can provide the trust, peace, deliverance and pasture that is needed to free the sheep from them.

It is interesting that the psalm begins at this point. we might expect it to begin with motion, either on the shepherd’s part or the sheep’s part, with some kind of activity. But strikingly, it begins with rest. It is a reminder that the Christian life also begins with resting in God or Christ. Along the way there will in time be many things for us to do. But we begin by resting in him who has done everything for us. Are you resting in Christ? Have you found Jesus to be the perfect provider of all your many needs? Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes on me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

Before he was crucified he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Study Questions:

  1. What do we learn about Jesus from his use of the shepherd image?
  2. What four things do sheep need in order to rest? How does the Lord meet those needs for us, both physically and spiritually?
  3. From the lesson, what is the significance of the psalm’s beginning with rest? How is Jesus said to give this rest?

Application: In what ways do you need to admit your helplessness before God?

For Further Study: For a more detailed look at how Jesus is our shepherd, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “I Am the Good Shepherd.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

4Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 35.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Shepherd’s Psalm, Day 1

By James Boice

Theme: “The LORD Is My Shepherd”

In this week’s lessons we see how Jesus, as our shepherd, gives us everything we need in this world as well as in the world to come.

Scripture: Psalm 23:1-6

The twenty-third psalm is the most beloved of the 150 psalms in the psalter, and possibly the best loved (and best known) chapter in the entire Bible. The great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon called it “the pearl of psalms.”1 J. J. Stewart Perowne, the nineteenth century preacher and commentator, observed that “there is no psalm in which the absence of all doubt, misgiving, fear and anxiety is so remarkable.”2 Alexander Maclaren said that “the world could spare many a large book better than this sunny little psalm. It has dried many tears and supplied the mold into which many hearts have poured their peaceful faith.”3

Millions of people have memorized this psalm, even those who have learned few other Scripture portions. Ministers have used it to comfort people who have been going through severe personal trials, suffering illness or dying. For some the words of this psalm have been the last they have uttered in life.

The psalm is a masterpiece throughout. But if ever a psalm could stand almost on a single line, it is this one, and the line it can stand on is the first. In fact, it can stand on only part of a line, the part which says: “The Lord is my shepherd.”

What an amazing juxtaposition of ideas! The word “LORD” is the English translation of the great Old Testament personal name for God, first disclosed to Moses at the burning bush, as told in Exodus 3, and then repeated more than 4,000 times in the pages of the Old Testament. The name literally means “I am who I am.” It is an inexhaustible name, like its bearer. But chiefly it refers to God’s timelessness, on the one hand, and to his self-sufficiency, on the other. Self-sufficiency means that God needs nothing. He needs no wisdom from anyone else; he has all wisdom in himself. He needs no power; he is all-powerful. He does not need to be worshipped or helped or served. Nor is he accountable to anyone. He answers only to himself.

Timelessness means that God is always the same in these eternal traits or attributes. He was like this yesterday; he will be like this tomorrow. He will be unchanged and unchangeable forever. He is the great “I am.”

On the other side of this amazing combination of ideas is the word “shepherd.” In Israel, as in other ancient societies, a shepherd’s work was considered the lowest of all works. If a family needed a shepherd, it was always the youngest son, like David, who got this unpleasant assignment. Shepherds had to live with the sheep twenty-four hours a day, and the task of caring for them was unending. Day and night, summer and winter, in fair weather and foul they labored to nourish, guide and protect the sheep. Who in his right mind would choose to be a shepherd? Yet Jehovah has chosen to be our shepherd, David says. The great God of the universe has stooped to take just such care of you and me.

This is an Old Testament statement, of course. But Christians can hardly forget that the metaphor was also taken up by Jesus and applied to himself, thus identifying himself with Jehovah, on the one hand, and assuming the task of being the shepherd of his people, on the other.

Study Questions:

  1. What does the name “LORD” mean? Why is this significant?
  2. What does the study teach us about Middle Eastern shepherds? Why does God liken himself to them?

Reflection: How has Psalm 23 been a blessing to you or to someone you know?

1C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1 a, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 353.
2J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 248. Original edition 1878-1879.
3Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 1, Psalms 1-38 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 226.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Psalm of the Cross: Part 1, Day 5

By James Boice

Theme: Died He for Me?

In this week’s lessons we look at how this psalm, written hundreds of years before Christ, describes the details of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.

Scripture: Psalm 22:1-21

6. The turning point (vv. 19-21). As I suggested at the beginning of this study, the climax of the first part of Psalm 22 and the turning point between part one and part two comes in this section as the suffering one finds his communion with God restored.

Yet the change is abrupt in spite of the steady progress from despair to renewed trust which I have been outlining. Strangely, the New International Version does not capture this well. It ends the section with the words “save me from the horns of the wild oxen.” But the verb literally means “you have heard” (see NIV note), and it is held to the very end so that the final couplet actually reads: “Rescue me from the mouth of the lions, from the horns of the wild oxen. You have heard me!”

As I said earlier, this is a cry of triumph, not despair. It marks the moment at which the period of darkness was past and Jesus, having suffered a true alienation from the Father as punishment for our sins, becomes aware of God’s presence and favor once again.

At this point the psalm takes on an entirely different tone, as it begins to celebrate the great victory of the cross. That victory is so great and its effects so extensive that it deserves to be explored by itself in the next study. But we cannot go on to that discussion without first asking if the atonement described in part one was for you. In what is probably the greatest of all Charles Wesley’s hymns, that great evangelist and poet of the Methodist church asks:

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died he for me, who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued?

That possibility was so wonderful to Wesley that he composed the entire hymn around it, describing such love as “amazing” and the death itself a “mystery” beyond the ability even of angels to fathom. But though he could not exhaust its meaning or ever cease to marvel at such love, Wesley knew that it was indeed for him that Christ died and that his only hope of salvation lay in that atonement: ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free; for, O my God, it found out me.

The question is whether it has found out you. It is a wonderful thing to know that Jesus died for sinners. It is amazing to study a prophetic picture of Christ’s suffering and death, as we have done. But all that can happen, and yet the person who hears can still perish in sin because he or she has not trusted in Jesus personally. Have you done that? Will you do it? All you have to do is tell him that you trust him, saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me. I am ready to follow you as my Lord and Savior.” If you will pray that prayer, you will find that Jesus has indeed made atonement for your sins. He was forsaken so you might never be forsaken. He bore your sins so that you might not have to suffer for them.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the turning point of the psalm?
  2. How does the second part of this psalm (vv. 22-31) compare with the first part we have studied this week?

Application: Who do you know who needs to hear from you about the atonement made by the Lord Jesus Christ for sinners?

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The Psalm of the Cross: Part 1, Day 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Suffering Savior

In this week’s lessons we look at how this psalm, written hundreds of years before Christ, describes the details of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.

Scripture: Psalm 22:1-21

Yesterday we pointed out that there are six stanzas within the first part of Psalm 22, and looked at the first two stanzas. Today we consider the next three, and will then describe the last one on Friday.

3. The mockery of the crucifixion (vv. 6-8). The third of these six sections moves from the earlier sense of having been abandoned by God to the scorn of the people, who mock him on this precise basis: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him” (v. 8). These words, as well as the gestures that accompanied them, were reproduced precisely at the crucifixion: “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the son of God!’ In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself. He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, “I am the Son of God”’” (Matt. 27:39-43).

4. Memory of the past: part 2 (vv. 9-11). The second stanza was a memory of God’s past faithfulness to and deliverance of the fathers, just as the fourth stanza is also a memory. But here the sufferer has moved forward a notch in his thinking, since his memory now is not of God’s faithfulness to those others only but of God’s former faithfulness to himself. “From my mother’s womb you have been my God,” says the psalmist (v. 10). Will God not continue to be faithful to me now?

5. The physical suffering (vv. 12-18). In some ways the most striking section of

all is this one, in which the crucifixion seems to be remarkably portrayed. It is worth quoting the note on this in the well-known Scofield Reference Bible, prepared by C. I. Scofield:

Psalm 22 is a graphic picture of death by crucifixion. The bones (of the hands, arms, shoulders, and pelvis) out of joint (v. 14); the profuse perspiration caused by intense suffering (v. 14); the action of the heart affected (v. 14); strength exhausted, and extreme thirst (v. 15); the hands and feet pierced (see v. 16…); partial nudity with the hurt to modesty (v. 17), are all associated with that mode of death. The accompanying circumstances are precisely those fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ. The desolate cry of v. 1 (Mt. 27:46); the periods of light and darkness of v. 2 (Mt. 27:45); the contemptuous and humiliating treatment of vv. 6-8, 12-13 (Mt. 27:39–44); the casting lots of v. 18 (Mt. 27:35), were all literally fulfilled. When it is remembered that crucifixion was a Roman, not Jewish, form of execution, the proof of inspiration is irresistible.2

It is not only the physical aspects of crucifixion that are described in these verses, however. The section also depicts those abusing the sufferer as “strong bulls of Bashan,” “roaring lions” and “dogs,” and suggests (although obliquely) why people do such things to one another. Derek Kidner lists them as: “resentment at those who make high claims (v. 8); the compulsion of crowd mentality (vv. 12, 16a; cf. Exod. 23:2); greed, even for trivial gains (v. 18); and perverted tastes enjoying a harrowing spectacle (v. 17) simply because sin is murderous, and sinners have hatred in them (cf. John 8:44).”3

A special word should be said about verse 16, which declares, “they have pierced my hands and my feet.” The word “pierced” is the most striking indication of a crucifixion in the entire psalm, but it is well known that the Masoretic (or vowel pointed) text of the Middle Ages does not say “pierced.” As it stands, the word in the text should be rendered “as a lion.”

A translator must always be careful how he or she disagrees with the Masoretic text, particularly when there is no explicit textual variant on which to base an alternative translation. Yet in this case there seems to be good reason for doing so. For one thing, the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament, produced a century or two before the Christian era and therefore an unbiased witness, rendered the word “pierced.” Second, the other major versions also translate the Hebrew this way. Third, the meaning “as a lion” has little sense in the context and leaves the phrase in question without an explicit verb (it would have to be supplied from the phrase preceding). This suggests that the Masoretic text and vowel pointing is just wrong and that alternative vowels should be supplied, which can be done. In fact, it may even suggest that the Masoretic text was deliberately pointed in the way it has been by later Jewish scholars to avoid what otherwise would be a nearly inescapable prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion.4

Study Questions:

  1. What change in theme occurs in the third stanza?
  2. The second stanza (vv. 3-5) was one of a memory of the past, where the psalmist recollects God’s faithfulness and deliverance of others. The fourth stanza (vv. 9-11) is also a memory of the past. What is the psalmist remembering here?

Application: If you are going through some kind of suffering or trial, recount evidences of God’s faithfulness to you in the past. What does that teach you about the Lord and what you can expect him to do for you?

2The New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), note to Psalm 22:7.
3Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 107.
4The technical possibilities are discussed by most of the commentators, but the most thorough is probably J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 246-248. Original edition 1878-1879. However, Derek Kidner (Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms [Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973], pp. 107, 108) and Peter C. Craigie (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 [Waco, TX: Word, 1983], p. 196) also have helpful discussions, the latter with many references to additional scholarly material on the subject.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Psalm of the Cross: Part 1, Day 3

By James Boice

Theme: The Most Poignant Verse

In this week’s lessons we look at how this psalm, written hundreds of years before Christ, describes the details of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.

Scripture: Psalm 22:1-21

There is a turning point in this psalm at the end of verse 21. Charles Haddon Spurgeon tells of a book by a man named J. Stevenson, called Christ on the Cross. It was a study of this psalm and had a sermon for every verse, thirty-one in all. Because of the turning point at the end of verse 21, I will be content with only two studies, one on each of the psalm’s two parts.

The most important (and most noticeable) feature of verses 1-21 is the alternating pattern of thought in its six stanzas. The first, third and fifth stanzas describe the author’s suffering. The second, fourth and sixth are prayers to God. But here is the interesting thing. As the pattern progresses, the intensity of the anguish decreases (at least, it becomes only physical rather than spiritual and psychological) and the author’s confidence in God moves upward or intensifies. Notice how it works out.

1. Christ’s cry of dereliction (vv. 1, 2). The most poignant verse in the entire psalm is the first, and this is also the most disturbing section. For here the suffering one cries out to God, believing that he has been forsaken by him, asking why he has been forsaken and asserting that God is silent. He receives no answer.

The idea that Jesus could be forsaken by God has been so disturbing to so many people that various theories have been invented to explain it. Some have supposed that Jesus was only referring to the psalm to call attention to it, as if to say that what he was suffering was what the psalm describes. Others have argued that Jesus only felt forsaken, when in fact he was not. They go on to say that in the final outcome, of course, Jesus was not forsaken, since we know that the crucifixion was followed by the resurrection. This is what the psalm as a whole shows, they argue. However, I do not hesitate to say that, according to the teaching of the New Testament, Jesus was indeed forsaken by God while he bore the sin of his people on the cross. This is the very essence of the atonement, Jesus bearing our hell in order that we might share his heaven. To be forsaken means to have the light of God’s countenance and the sense of his presence eclipsed, which is what happened to Jesus as he bore the wrath of God against sin for us.

How could this happen? How could one member of the eternal Trinity turn his back on another member of the Trinity? I do not know. I cannot explain it. But I believe that this is what the Bible teaches, so great was the love of God for us and so great was the price Jesus willingly paid to save us from our sins.

2. Memory of the past: part 1 (vv. 3-5). There are two ways of looking at the second section. Since it calls attention to God’s deliverance of the fathers, who trusted him in past days, it could be viewed as a bitter irony, that is, “You delivered them, but you have not delivered me; I am forsaken.” However, the verses can also be seen as a desperate grasping for encouragement by a recollection of God’s true character. God is utterly holy or righteous, says the psalmist. He is “the Holy one” (v. 3). Because of this quality God has always shown himself faithful to those in the past who trusted him. “Will he not therefore also be faithful to me and deliver me, even though I am forsaken now?” the psalmist seems to be asking. In my judgment, the flow of the psalm suggests the second of these two possibilities is the right one.

Study Questions:

  1. Describe the alternating pattern of the six stanzas of verses 1-21.
  2. How have people tried to explain the biblical teaching that Jesus was forsaken by the Father?
  3. Why was it necessary that Jesus be forsaken by God when he hung on the cross? In Jesus’ case, what does it mean to be forsaken?

Reflection: Have you ever felt forsaken by God? How did you recover the sense of the Lord’s favor and presence?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Psalm of the Cross: Part 1, Day 2

By James Boice

Theme: The Hours of Darkness

In this week’s lessons we look at how this psalm, written hundreds of years before Christ, describes the details of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.

Scripture: Psalm 22:1-21

As Jesus was being led through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of his crucifixion, what was he thinking of? He seems to have been thinking of other people. When Jesus saw the women weeping after him he said, “Do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children,” and he prophesied the terrible days to come (Luke 23:28-31). When the soldiers drove the nails through his hands and feet to affix him to the rough wooden cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He had words for the dying thief: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). He entrusted his mother to John’s safe keeping, saying, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to John, “Here is your mother” (John 19:26, 27). In none of these sentences did Jesus seem to be thinking of himself at all. He was thinking entirely of others.

This changed at noon. At noon a great darkness came over the land which lasted until three o’clock. The darkness was sent by the Father to shield Jesus during the hours he was made sin for us. These were private hours. It is as if God had shut the bronze doors of heaven upon Jesus so that what transpired during those hours happened between himself and Jesus alone.

What was Jesus thinking of during these three hours? There is no reason why we should have to know this, of course. God could have kept silent about it. But there are three important clues in the New Testament accounts. First, at the beginning of this period Jesus suddenly cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34)? It was a direct, explicit and completely appropriate quotation from the first verse of Psalm 22. Second, John tells us that Jesus, “knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled…said, ‘I am thirsty,’ as a result of which the soldiers offered him wine vinegar on a sponge” (John 19:28). The only Old Testament Scripture this could possibly refer to is Psalm 69:21, a psalm very similar to Psalm 22, which shows that Jesus was thinking through these Old Testament texts. Moreover, since John says this was “so that the Scripture would be fulfilled,” Jesus seems to have been deliberately reviewing these passages in his mind to be sure that he had fulfilled them completely. Third, at the end of the period of darkness, just before he died, Jesus called out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). This is a quotation from the last verse of Psalm 22. In our text that verse reads, “he has done it,” referring to God as subject. But there is no object for the verb in Hebrew, and it can equally well be translated, “It is finished.”

Putting these clues together, we can be fairly certain that Jesus was meditating on the Old Testament during the hours of his most intense suffering and that he saw his crucifixion as a fulfillment of Psalm 22 particularly.

Psalm 22 begins with a description of Christ’s alienation from the Father, as he was made sin for us. It continues by a vivid description of the crucifixion itself. It ends with triumph, as the suffering one tells how his prayer was heard and affirms that he will declare the name of God and praise God before his brethren and in the great assembly. Since Jesus ended his earthly life by quoting the last verse of this psalm, it means that he did not die in despair, as some, like Albert Schweitzer, have supposed he did. Rather, he died in triumph, knowing that the atonement was complete and accepted by God and that countless future generations would be saved because of it.

Study Questions:

  1. What clues are given in the New Testament about what Jesus was thinking when he hung on the cross prior to noon?
  2. What happens at noon, and how does that influence Jesus’ thoughts?

Application: In his suffering Jesus was focused on the Word of God. How can you apply this in your own periods of suffering?

For Further Study: As we saw today, in the first half of the crucifixion Jesus was thinking about other people. For a closer look at one of Jesus concerns, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Words from the Cross.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Psalm of the Cross: Part 1, Day 1

By James Boice

Theme: Prophesying the Crucifixion

In this week’s lessons we look at how this psalm, written hundreds of years before Christ, describes the details of Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion.

Scripture: Psalm 22:1-21

The Lord Jesus Christ is described as his people’s shepherd in three ways. In John 10:11 and 14 he is “the good shepherd,” who gives his life for his sheep. In Hebrews 13:20 he is “that great shepherd,” who has risen from the dead and lives now to direct his people in every good work. In 1 Peter 5:4 he is “the Chief shepherd,” who has ascended into heaven from whence he will one day return to reward the under shepherds of the church who have been faithful. It has been pointed out that Psalms 22, 23 and 24 are like that. Psalm 22 is the song of the dying shepherd, crying out to the Father. Psalm 23 is the song of the risen shepherd, guiding his sheep through life’s dark wilderness. Psalm 24 is the song of the ascended shepherd who will reward those who have served faithfully.

It is possible that some may find this pattern a bit forced, particularly in regard to the last two psalms. But there can be no doubt that it applies strikingly to Psalm 22. For this psalm is the “Psalm of the Cross,” the best description in all the Bible of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.

Most modern writers on the psalms try to find a setting for them either in the life of David, if they believe David was their author, or in the experience of some later writer or group of persons. But it is impossible to do this with this psalm. Some psalms are written out of illness. But Psalm 22 is not a description of an illness. It is a description of an execution, particularly a crucifixion. Crucifixion was not practiced in the time of David or for many long centuries afterward. So this is not an account of any suffering endured by any ancient person but a prophetic picture of the suffering to be endured by Jesus when he died to pay the penalty for our sins. In other words, it is prophetic and entirely messianic.

Derek Kidner, who is usually very cautious in such matters, nevertheless writes rightly, “No incident recorded of David can begin to account for this…The language of the psalm defies a naturalistic explanation; the best account is in the terms used by Peter concerning another psalm of David: ‘Being therefore a prophet…he foresaw and spoke of…the Christ’ (Acts 2:30f.).”1

But it is not only that David, being a prophet, foresaw and spoke in this psalm of Jesus’ sufferings. This is also the psalm upon which Jesus himself meditated as he hung on the cross.

We can profit best if we have the main events in mind. Jesus had been arrested the previous night and kept under guard in the house of the High Priest in order to be tried formally by the Sanhedrin in the morning. When day dawned he was quickly tried, convicted of blasphemy and then taken to Pilate’s Jerusalem residence for sentencing, since the Jewish court was unable to carry out the death penalty while Rome ruled Palestine. There were unexpected delays with Pilate. But at last his judgment was secured and Jesus was led through the streets of the city to Golgotha bearing his cross.

Study Questions:

  1. Explain why Psalm 22 cannot be attributed to David’s personal experience.
  2. Compare this psalm with Matthew’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion. Note the number of similarities, which proves that Psalm 22 is a prophetic psalm about Jesus’ death.

Reflection: As a messianic psalm that prophesies the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, what does it teach us about the Bible?

1Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 105.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Day of National Thanksgiving, Day 5

By James Boice

Theme: Thanksgiving for Future Victories

In this week’s lessons we see that prayer is not only to be offered to the Lord when we are in need of his help, but it is also to be offered in thanks for his goodness and faithfulness to us.

Scripture: Psalm 21:1-13

The second stanza of Psalm 21 corresponds to the second stanza of Psalm 20, though there are some differences. In Psalm 20 the speaker is apparently an individual, and while this could be the case in Psalm 21, it is not made explicit. In Psalm 20 the speaker uses the present tense, anticipating the victory that has been prayed for and is expected to be given. In Psalm 21 the tense is future, anticipating the victories yet to come.8 In spite of these differences, the tone of the two sections is very much alike, however. Both express confidence in God to protect the king and people in coming days as he has done in the past. In Psalm 21 this confidence follows naturally on the reference to the covenant in verse 7.

The only real problem with this section is the identity of the person being addressed (“you” and “your”), but it is not important. The person could be the king, in which case the stanza would mean that God would give him power over his enemies so they might be completely overthrown. Future victories would complete the work begun. Or the person could be God himself, in which case the stanza means that God will achieve this final victory. In the final analysis, the debate involves a distinction without a difference, because in any case it is God who works through the king.

Whatever the proper identity of the person addressed in verses 8-12 may be, there is no doubt at all about the one addressed in the final verse, which is where the psalm ends. He is God alone, all attention now being directed upward from man and anything man can do to God and God’s strength: “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength; we will sing and praise your might” (v. 13).

We need to learn from this as Christians, particularly in respect to our prayers for political and church leaders. Usually, we make one of two serious errors in regard to them. Either we have little or no respect for them and do not value them, which we show by failing to pray for them. Or else we think too highly of them and are therefore disillusioned or crushed when we discover in time that they are only mere sinful human beings, as we are.

We would not do either if we would follow the pattern set by Psalms 20 and 21. Psalm 20 is a prayer for the leader God has given. The people value him and want his plans to succeed. They know that his success is their success, his victory is their victory. Since no one can succeed without God’s help and intervention, they are faithful in their prayers for him. Psalm 21 thanks God for this intervention, and it rightly focuses on him, not the king. In both the intercession and the thanksgiving the people see their leader in the proper light and do what they should do in the exercise of their own spiritual responsibility. “O LORD, save the king!” they say. They want God to bless their leaders, to prosper them and to give success to their projects. But they also say of God, “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength.” This means that only God will be exalted and that our successes as leaders and as a people will only come when they are in his service and are given to us by him.

Study Questions:

  1. How do we generally pray for our leaders? What are the two errors we can make concerning how we regard them?
  2. What does this passage teach us about praying for those in authority?

Key Point: They want God to bless their leaders, to prosper them and to give success to their projects. But they also say of God, “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength.” This means that only God will be exalted and that our successes as leaders and as a people will only come when they are in his service and are given to us by him.

For Further Study: Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume study on the Psalms, and take 25% off the regular price.

8In the Hebrew text the tenses in Psalm 20:6-8 are perfects, though they are rightly translated by present tense English verbs since they refer to a victory which, though certain, had not yet finally occurred (“The LORD is saving his anointed”). The tenses of the Hebrew verbs in Psalm 21:8-12 are imperfects, which could also be rendered by present tense English verbs but in the context seem to require explicitly future translations.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Day of National Thanksgiving, Day 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Covenant-Keeping God

In this week’s lessons we see that prayer is not only to be offered to the Lord when we are in need of his help, but it is also to be offered in thanks for his goodness and faithfulness to us.

Scripture: Psalm 21:1-13

Today we look at the last two of the six specific blessings for which the Lord was to be given thanks.

5. Glory, splendor and majesty (v.5). The fifth blessing for which the people (or king) thank God is that glory, splendor and majesty have come to David as a result of his victories. In light of the previous verse, it’s hard not to think of this in terms of the superlative glory given to Jesus Christ because of his great victories over sin on the cross and over death by his resurrection.

6. The joy of God’s presence (v. 6). The last of these blessings is a partial present enjoyment of the blessings of the future age, described as the joy of God’s presence.

The New International Version is probably right to place verse 7 at the end of the first stanza of this psalm since it, like the preceding verses, speaks of the king in the third person (i.e., “he will not be shaken”). But it also breaks the pattern somewhat and is clearly also a transition verse. Verse 7 is a bridge from the past victory or victories celebrated in verses 1-6 to the future victories anticipated in verses 8-12. It bridges these two sections by referring to the covenant relationship that had been established by God with the people.

Verse 7 is rich with covenant language, particularly the two words hesed (translated “unfailing love” or, in other versions, “lovingkindness”) and botah, meaning “trust.” The first describes God’s part in the covenant. It is eternal and unchangeable. The second describes the king and people’s part. It is something that needs to be renewed constantly.6

We cannot read these words without again being made to think of Jesus Christ. He alone can be said utterly to have trusted God and thus never to have been shaken. Alexander Maclaren summarizes this well: “These daring anticipations are too exuberant to be realized in any but One, whose victory was achieved in the hour of apparent defeat, whose conquest was both his salvation and God’s, who prays knowing that he is always heard, who is King of men because he endured the cross—and wears the crown of pure gold because he did not refuse the crown of thorns, who liveth for evermore, having been given by the Father to have life in himself, who is the outshining of the Father’s glory, and has all power granted unto him; who is the source of all blessing to all, who dwells in the joy to which he will welcome his servants; and who himself lived and conquered by the life of faith, and so became the first leader of the long line of those who have trusted and have therefore stood fast.”7

Study Questions:

  1. What are the last two blessings listed? How are they seen in the light of further divine revelation given in the New Testament?
  2. How does verse 7 serve as a bridge between verses 1-6 and verse 8? What characterizes verse 7, and how does it relate to the Lord Jesus Christ?

6See Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 192.
7Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 1, Psalms 1-37 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 205.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.