God's presence

The Crimson Worm: Psalm 22, 9 June 2024

The Crimson Worm: Psalm 22
Restoring Your Soul: Psalms

Series Big Idea: The Psalms are filled with passionate expressions of the soul.
Big Idea: Psalm 22 is a remarkable portrait of the suffering Messiah centuries before his birth who is worthy of our worship and praise today.
On Friday, September 22, 2006, I was in one of the darkest moments of my life, living in a hospital with a sick child at the beginning of what would be a nine-year journey of pain and suffering, one which still impacts my life and family to this day in both good and tragic ways. My journal records me clinging to God, knowing that He is good and faithful and in control, and I was certainly out of control. Rather than play Bible Roulette and hope some inspiring scripture would appear as I randomly opened the book, I looked at the date, saw it was September 22, and turned to Psalm 22. I could hardly get beyond the first verse.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1, NIV)
I shared this story several years ago, but as we continue our series on the Psalms, I wanted to return to this prophetic text which literally made me weep. Perhaps the words are familiar, not from the pen of King David, but the lips of King Jesus. The scene is the crucifixion of Jesus on the day we call Good Friday. He is hanging on the cross, nails in his wrists and feet, thorns on his head, and agony in his heart, body, and soul.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). (Mark 15:33-34, NIV)
Some might think my connection to these words had to do with my suffering, but instead it thrust me into an empathy with God the Father like never before. My child—and God’s son—were in tremendous agony, but they were not alone in their pain. It’s been said the worst thing a human can do is bury their child. One of the things near the top is parenting a suffering child.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1, NIV)
Jesus knew the scriptures and quoted them from the cross. Psalm 22—like the rest of the psalms—was originally a song. We’re even told about the music.
For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David. (Psalm 22:0)
I wish I could hum the tune for you, but David failed to record it!
Jesus quoted the first verse of Psalm 22 on the cross, but we never need to fear about God forsaking us. The writer of Hebrews said,
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
            “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NIV)
That’s good news. That’s great news! When you’re hurting, lonely, afraid, rejected, anxious, discouraged, depressed, disappointed, or just sad, cling to this promise. A few psalms later, it says,
For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. (Psalm 37:28a, NIV)
God will not forsake you…ever. David felt forsaken by God, but it was never a reality.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
            Why are you so far from saving me,
            so far from my cries of anguish? (Psalm 22:1, NIV)
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
            by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:2, NIV)
How many of you can relate to sleepless nights? It’s not just a new parent thing!
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
            you are the one Israel praises. (Psalm 22:3, NIV)
I love how David shifts gears. This is common in his prayers and psalms. He’ll go from one extreme to the other, angry and then confident, depressed then hopeful. I think begins looking inward at his own circumstances and then looks up. Don’t miss this, though…
we can pour out our heart to God.
I think this is one reason why David is called a man after God’s own heart…twice. He kept it real. He didn’t wear a mask or pretend everything was ok. He was fully present in the moment, honest about his God-given emotions, and held nothing back, but he didn’t remain in his misery. After getting things off his chest, he looked up to God and remembered his conversation partner.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
            you are the one Israel praises. (Psalm 22:3, NIV)
This is our God!
In you our ancestors put their trust;
            they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
            in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (Psalm 22:4-5, NIV)
We can trust God fully. I’m so glad. From generation to generation, God is faithful. He is trustworthy, and He’s the same God today as He was thousands of years ago when this was written.
Now David shifts again, this time returning to himself.
But I am a worm and not a man,
            scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
            they hurl insults, shaking their heads. (Psalm 22:6-7, NIV)
I am a worm. What an interesting statement. We’ve already seen the prophetic nature of this psalm with echoes of Jesus on the cross.
What’s fascinating here is found in the original Hebrew language. A common worm or maggot is “rimmah,” but here the word for “worm” is “towla” or “tola’ath,” referencing a specific, crimson worm found in Israel. It’s actually a deep scarlet, the color of blood. 
I heard a podcast about this crimson worm and almost drove my car off the road! A red dye was extracted from this worm, used for the curtains in the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1) and the high priest’s garments. The dye was also used to purify a leper (Lev. 14:4-6). Listen to this:
When the female crimson worm is ready to lay her eggs, which happens only once in her life, she climbs up a tree or fence and attaches herself to it.  With her body attached to the wooden tree, a hard crimson shell forms. It is a shell so hard and so secured to the wood that it can only be removed by tearing apart the body, which would kill the worm.  
The female worm lays her eggs under her body, under the protective shell. When the larvae hatch, they remain under the mother’s protective shell so the baby worms can feed on the living body of the mother worm for three days.  After three days, the mother worm dies, and her body excretes a crimson or scarlet dye that stains the wood to which she is attached and her baby worms. The baby worms remain crimson-colored for their entire lives.  Thereby, they are identified as crimson worms.
On day four, the tail of the mother worm pulls up into her head, forming a heart-shaped body that is no longer crimson but has turned into a snow-white wax that looks like a patch of wool on the tree or fence. It then begins to flake off and drop to the ground looking like snow.
Isaiah 1:18 says,
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
            says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
            they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
            they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18, NIV)
Is that crazy or what? This is a picture of Jesus, dying on a tree to save us. Three days. Death. Heart-shaped body. Snow white…
500-1000 years before Jesus is crucified King David references a crimson worm with prophetic language. Amazing! Let’s return to the text:
“He trusts in the LORD,” they say,
            “let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
            since he delights in him.” (Psalm 22:8, NIV)
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
            you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
            from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Psalm 22:9-10, NIV)
David praises the LORD for His deliverance. He trusts God, even in the midst of trials.
Do not be far from me,
            for trouble is near
            and there is no one to help. (Psalm 22:11, NIV)
Many bulls surround me;
            strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. (Psalm 22:12, NIV)
Roaring lions that tear their prey
            open their mouths wide against me. (Psalm 22:13, NIV)
I am poured out like water,
            and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
            it has melted within me. (Psalm 22:14, NIV)
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
            and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
            you lay me in the dust of death. (Psalm 22:15, NIV)
Have you ever felt like this?
Dogs surround me,
            a pack of villains encircles me;
            they pierce  my hands and my feet. (Psalm 22:16, NIV)
Did you catch that reference to Jesus’ crucifixion?
All my bones are on display;
            people stare and gloat over me. (Psalm 22:17, NIV)
They divide my clothes among them
            and cast lots for my garment. (Psalm 22:18, NIV)
This happened to Jesus in John 19:24. This is a bleak picture that shifts yet again.
But you, LORD, do not be far from me.
            You are my strength; come quickly to help me. (Psalm 22:19, NIV)
Deliver me from the sword,
            my precious life from the power of the dogs. (Psalm 22:20, NIV)
Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
            save me from the horns of the wild oxen. (Psalm 22:21, NIV)
I will declare your name to my people;
            in the assembly I will praise you. (Psalm 22:22, NIV)
You who fear the LORD, praise him!
            All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
            Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! (Psalm 22:23, NIV)
For he has not despised or scorned
            the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
            but has listened to his cry for help. (Psalm 22:24, NIV)
God always hears His children. It’s hard to understand why He sometimes seems distant or even sleeping, but He will never forsake you. In the midst of your darkest suffering, He is present. And He understands.
Jesus knows suffering. He lived a perfect life, yet he was executed by that which he created.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
            before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows. (Psalm 22:25, NIV)
There are a few more verses.
The poor will eat and be satisfied;
            those who seek the LORD will praise him—
            may your hearts live forever! (Psalm 22:26, NIV)
All the ends of the earth
            will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
            will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the LORD
            and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28, NIV)
All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
            all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
            those who cannot keep themselves alive. (Psalm 22:29, NIV)
Posterity will serve him;
            future generations will be told about the Lord. (Psalm 22:30, NIV)
They will proclaim his righteousness,
            declaring to a people yet unborn:
            He has done it! (Psalm 22:31, NIV)
So What?
The Bible is filled with prophecy, including over 300 Old Testament references that foreshadow Jesus hundreds of years before his birth. The crimson worm is an incredible symbol of Christ and his work on the cross to die for our sins and reconcile us to the Father. We see David’s gut-wrenching honesty followed by praise to the Almighty. Ultimately we see the LORD reigns over all and is worthy of our worship and devotion.

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