Revive Our Hearts Podcast

I Am a Worm

Leslie Basham: If you’re suffering does it mean God’s displeased with you? Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Suffering is no gauge of the Father’s love and delight. We cannot determine how God feels about us by what is going on around us. And don’t we get these voices in our head sometimes? “If God really loved you, He wouldn’t have let this happen? You wouldn’t have gone through that. You wouldn’t be going through this.”

Leslie Basham: You’re listening to Revive Our Hearts for Tuesday, April 3.

Jesus knows what it’s like to ask “Why?” He knows what it’s like to feel like prayers are unanswered. We explored this yesterday with Nancy in the series, Psalm of the Cross. Here’s the second part of that series.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I saw in the news a couple of days ago an interview with a girl who at the age of twenty-one a few years ago was violently assaulted in a New York subway. Now she’s come public with this, and she’s describing the feelings of utter, absolute desperation and abandonment as at 2:00 in the morning she cries out and talks about two transient employees working at their positions who saw and heard her cries for help but failed to come to her rescue.

As I listen to this girl just pouring out her heart about the sense of terror and desperation and “Why didn’t somebody do something?” and “Why didn’t they come and help?” my mind went immediately to the passage that we’re looking at this week—Psalm 22, a prophetic, Messianic psalm of Christ the suffering Savior. He says in the first two verses which we looked at yesterday,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me from the words of my groaning? Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

So in this passage we have a prophecy of what we see fulfilled in the gospels as Christ cries out from the cross in this verse of seven words. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Now as we come to verse 3 today, we find an answer to that question. Verse 3: “Yet you are holy.” The answer to why Christ had to be forsaken by His Father is that God is holy. On the cross Christ was dying not for His sins; He had no sins. But on the cross He took on Himself all of our sins. Our sin was laid on Him. That is what caused Him to be separated from His Father.

Isaiah 53:6: "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity [all the iniquity] of us all.” That’s all the sin of every man, woman, and child of all ages, all times, all parts of the world, all history, every man and woman. All that sin laid on Christ.

In fact, 2 Corinthians 5:21 goes further than that and says,

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

He took on himself our sin. He actually became sin for us on the cross, dying vicariously as the substitutionary Lamb of God in our place.

Now some would say that at that moment Jesus was not really forsaken, that He just felt forsaken. But I don’t believe that’s accurate biblically. He had to be forsaken. God had to turn His back on His Son in order to be able to redeem us from our sins. He had to endure the full brunt and extent of the wrath of God against our sin. He had to drink the full cup of God’s judgment.

God could not look at His Son in that moment because Jesus became sin for us carrying our sin. So intimacy with His Father was broken. Now He was not forsaken forever. In those moments, He endured what we would have had to endure in Hell forever. But in this passage and in the New Testament gospels, we see that He commended His Spirit into God’s hands. At that point the price was paid, and the fellowship with God was able to be reestablished.

But we need to remember as we read psalms like this and in the Old Testament, that He was forsaken by God because of our sins and to remember that if we have trusted Him as our substitute, as our sin bearer, we will never be truly forsaken.

We will never have to cry out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Now we may feel forsaken at times, but we will never be truly forsaken as Jesus was at that moment because He was forsaken for us.

In fact, in the very next psalm, Psalm 23:4, the psalmist says, “I will fear no evil for” what? “you are with me.” You are with me. God is here. God is close. He says, “I will never leave you. I will never leave or forsake you,” because Christ was forsaken for us there on that cross.

Now at this point in this passage, Psalm 22, the psalmist is overwhelmed with grief and anguish. “I cry out to you. I’m forsaken. You’re far from saving me. I’m groaning.” It’s like he’s being caught in this fiercely swirling whitewater rapids, and it’s threatening to take him under. He’s about to go under.

But rather than letting him pull it under into the undertow, he lifts his eyes up, reaches up, and grabs hold of the rock that is higher than I. That’s what you see in verse 3. “Yet you.” And this thought punctuates the psalm. I’m going through this horrible, awful suffering, "yet you . . ." He says it again in verse 9, “Yet you,” and again in verse 19, "Yet you." He transfers His focus to God.

At this moment in verse 3 he says, "Yet you are holy." "I am forsaken. You are not answering My prayer. But You are holy.” Prophetically we hear Jesus say, “In spite of what I feel, in spite of what I think, in spite of what I’m experiencing, You are holy, My God. There is no wrongdoing in You.” He realizes that there is no basis for accusation against God. God is holy. God has done nothing wrong.

Now we have people today who shake their fists in the face of a holy God and say, “You have sinned. You have done wrong. You failed me. You let me down.” But in His moment of being forsaken and abandoned by His Father, Jesus lifts His face up and cries out, “You are holy. You have done no wrong.”

He goes on to say, “You are enthroned on the praises of Israel.” Another translation says, “You who inhabit the praises of Israel.” “You who dwell in the praises of Israel.” That word praise is a key word in this psalm. You’ll go through and you’ll see that, I think, at least five times there’s reference to praise in the psalm. A psalm of the cross has also praise in it. “God inhabits the praise of His people.”

Jesus is reminding us that God our heavenly Father is worthy of our praise no matter what. It makes me wonder about the stuff we call praise and worship in our church services—does our praise enthrone God or ourselves? Are we intent on showcasing His glory and His fame, putting the spotlight on Him? Or are we seeking to feel good ourselves, to put the spotlight on us? It’s an important question to ask about our corporate, so-called praise and worship. Is God being enthroned on the praises of His people?

Now you see in this passage a pattern that David shows throughout the psalms. Every time he feels distressed or desperate, he transfers his focus, his gaze, from his circumstances to God. Over and over again you see him in the psalms being overwhelmed by his circumstances, but then he’ll lift His eyes upward and go, “But You, but You, but You O God.”

He’s reminding us that the problems and pressures of this life are not the ultimate reality. They’re real but they’re not ultimate. God is more real, more ultimate than any problem we can be facing around us no matter how severe it may be. What we see and what we feel and what we think are not the same as what’s really going on.

David feels forsaken at times as do we. It feels like God is far away and God doesn’t answer. But the reality is God is a very present help in time of trouble, that God is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is merciful, and our praise in the midst of trouble demonstrates faith. When we lift our eyes up, though they’re filled with tears, we say, “God I trust You. I trust You. You are holy. Be enthroned on the praises of Your people.” Then we are demonstrating faith.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day who last week was facing some very disheartening circumstances in her family. She was discouraged. She was down. She told me about how she and her husband on their way to church, which is about a twenty-minute ride, just began to speak out loud sentences about who God is. They said, “Lord, You are . . . You are holy. Lord, You are good. Lord, You are faithful. Lord, You are righteous. Lord, You are merciful.” And for twenty minutes they enthroned God on their praises.

She said, “By the time we got to church, the cloud had lifted.” The circumstances hadn’t changed, but their perspective had.

Well, as we come to verses 4 and 5 in this prophetic psalm, the psalmist points us to the testimony and the experience of others. Verse 4: “In you our fathers trusted; and you delivered them.” It’s a reminder that when we’re feeling forsaken, it’s important to rehearse the goodness and the faithfulness of God to others in the past.

"Lord, You’ve helped them. Surely You will help me now." A key word here and throughout this psalm is the word trust. And another word is deliver or rescue or save. You see that word trust five times. The words deliver or rescue or save seven times throughout this psalm. They trusted in You, and You delivered them.

Verse 5: “They cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” Now it strikes me that in verse 5 you have those two thoughts. “They cried to him and they trusted in him.”

Some of us cry to him and they don’t trust in Him. And some of us trust in Him but we don’t stop to cry out to Him and to tell Him what our need is. They cried to Him and they trusted in Him. In times of trouble, that’s the recipe. Cry out to the Lord. Tell Him what’s happening, and then trust His providence, His sovereignty, His goodness, His holiness, His mercy to do what is right in that situation. Cry to Him. Trust in Him.

In verses 6 and 8, we return to the subject of the sufferings of the Messiah. Here we have not just the spiritual suffering that we saw at the beginning of this psalm as Jesus was separated from His Father, forsaken by His Father. Now we have what I would call the psychological suffering that He endured on the cross.

Verses 6-8:

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; "He who trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

So in verse 1 we saw that He was forsaken by God. Now we see in these verses that He is scorned and mocked and despised by man. Now keep in mind that less than a week earlier these same people had lauded him as King of the Jews. Now they’re making sport of Him. He’s the object of cruel jesting. They ridicule Him.

You can see a passage very much like this one in Matthew 27 as you read about the crucifixion of Christ. It’s what makes it clear that Psalm 22 is in fact a psalm of the cross.

This line in verse 8, “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him.” This is what the people who passed by the cross said as they mocked, they ridiculed. “Let God rescue him because God delights in him.” The implication is, “If God really delighted in you, if you really were God’s beloved Son, God would rescue you.”

The assumption is that which is made by so many people today that God exists for our comfort and our convenience; that if God really loved us, He would get us out of this mess. The fact is, God still delighted in His Son. Jesus was still the Son with whom God was well pleased, but God let His Son suffer.

Suffering is no gauge of the Father’s love and delight. We cannot determine how God feels about us by what is going on around us. And that was the temptation here at the cross. That was part of the torment. “If you’re really loved by God . . .”

And don’t we get these voices in our heads sometimes? “If God really loved you He wouldn’t have let this happen? You wouldn’t have gone through that. You wouldn’t be going through this.” The fact is, if we are in Christ, we are God’s beloved children. And never, ever, ever for a moment no matter what we’re going through will He take that love away from us.

Now I want to go back for a few moments here to that phrase at the beginning of verse 6 where it says prophetically of the Lord Jesus, “But I am a worm and not a man.” This is a phrase I’ve been meditating on and pondering over the last several days. I think it speaks first of all of the humiliation of Jesus—His willingness to be identified as a worm. You can hardly think of any creature more lowly than a worm—a weak, defenseless, powerless creature.

In fact, let me read to you just a paragraph here from Roy Hession's book The Calvary Road where he makes this point. He says,

We see him who is in the form of God counting not equality with God a prize to be grasped at and hung onto but letting it go for us and taking upon him the form of a servant, God’s servant, man’s servant.

We see him willing to have no rights of his own, no home of his own, no possessions of his own, willing to let men revile him and revile not again, willing to let men tread on him and not retaliate or defend himself. Above all we see him broken as he meekly goes to Calvary to become men's scapegoat as bears their sins in his own body on that tree. In a pathetic passage, in a prophetic psalm he says [this is Psalm 22], “I am a worm and no man."

Those who have been in tropical lands tell us that there is a big difference between a snake and a worm when you attempt to strike at them. The snake rears itself up and hisses and tries to strike back—a true picture of self. But a worm offers no resistance. It allows you to do what you’d like with it—kick into or squash it under your heel—a picture of true brokenness. And Jesus was willing to become just that for us—"a worm and no man."

And what a picture of that passage in Philippians w where it says "He made himself nothing" (v. 7). He made Himself of no reputation. Here we have the Lord of glory who is made a little lower than the angels by becoming a man, taking on human flesh and then stoops to be a bond slave, the lowest rung on the status ladder, and then stoops lower than the lowest to become a worm and not a man (see vv. 5-11).

So that speaks to us of His humiliation, His brokenness, His lowliness. But I think the fact that He calls Himself a worm also hints at the redemptive nature of His death. That word worm in the Hebrew is the word tola'ath. It’s a word that’s used forty-three times in the Bible and it’s usually translated "scarlet.” One time it’s translated “crimson.” For example, “Though your sins be as scarlet,” tola'ath, “they shall be as white as snow.”

But eight times that same word tola'ath is translated “worm”—“scarlet” and “worm.” What’s the connection? Well, this worm in Psalm 22—“I am a worm and no man”—many scholars believe refer to what is known as a scarlet worm that’s common in the Middle East. It’s similar to the cochineal that you find in Latin America. You may have read about these when these insects are crushed the blood that comes out makes a crimson dye. Its brilliant color that’s used in making red garments, red fabrics.

Well, this scarlet worm, the tola'ath is found in Palestine, in Syria. It secretes a scarlet fluid that was used in ancient times to make a beautiful scarlet dye. It was used in things like the curtains in the tabernacle in the Old Testament that were scarlet colored. These scarlet worms were used to make that scarlet dye.

In the life cycle of this scarlet worm we see what I think is a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus. When the scarlet worm was ready to give birth she would find the trunk of a tree, and she would attach her body securely, permanently to that tree trunk. Then she would lay her eggs, and the eggs would remain under her body until they hatched. The mother’s body would provide protection for the babies until they were ready to get out and function on their own, and then the mother worm, that scarlet worm would die.

As it died, its body affixed to that tree would burst, and the scarlet fluid inside would flow out and stain her body and her babies and the tree. I believe we have in that a graphic illustration from the world of nature that points to Christ who said, “I am a worm,”tola'ath, “and no man.”

  • As the scarlet worm died while being attached to a tree, the Son of God was attached to a tree and laid down His life to give us eternal life and to make us children of God.
  • As the scarlet fluid flowed out from the dying worm and covered her young, so the blood that flowed out from the veins of Christ covers us. It makes atonement for our sin and clothes us in His righteousness.

As one commentary says, “The glorious garments of our salvation have been procured as a result of Christ’s death and suffering. He became the tola'ath, the worm, crushed in death so that we might be robed in glory.

Oh Lord, how I thank You for Your willingness to be a worm and no man, to humble yourself, to make yourself of no reputation for our sakes and for the redemptive picture that we have in the scarlet worm; and how you as the Son of God, our tola'ath, were willing to be affixed to a tree to die on that tree and to give Your lifeblood to cover us, to atone for our sins, and to make us children of God that we might be robed in the glories of Your righteousness.

Oh Lord, I pray that in this holy week You would give us a fresh sense of what You endured for us there on the cross, and that we would be willing for Your sake to become nothing, to give life to others, to share Your life with others so that You might be everything, so that Your eternal redemptive life might be given as well to others. We love You Lord Jesus, and we bless You, amen.

Leslie Basham: The Bible is fascinating. Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been showing us a compelling picture of Christ through the phrase, “I am a worm and not a man.” You can read that line in Psalm 22, our focus this week as we prepare our hearts for Easter.

Nancy, today’s program shows that talking about Christ’s work on the cross never gets boring.

We’re able to bring you this Bible teaching thanks to listeners who believe in Revive Our Hearts and want to spread this message to other women.

When you support Revive Our Hearts, we’d like to send you a helpful resource. Nancy’s here to tell you about it.

Nancy: When you donate any amount this week, we want to say, “Thanks,” by sending you a really special book by my very good friend, Elyse Fitzpatrick. Her book is called Comforts from the Cross. It’s a series of thirty-one short daily readings that will help you better understand what Jesus did for you on the cross. It will help you understand how His sacrifice applies to your life every day.

I love the way that Elyse writes in such a personal, practical style while pointing us to deep truths that we celebrate during this Easter season. We’ll send you Elyse’s book, Comforts from the Cross, when you send a donation of any amount. 

You can make your donation online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or give us a call at 1-800-569-5959. When you contact us, make sure and let us know the call letters of the station where you catch Revive Our Hearts.

Leslie: Well, does it ever feel like no one can help you? Jesus knows that feeling.

Nancy: It strikes me that the greatest distress that Jesus could think of was that God not be near Him, that God would forsake Him. His greatest desire in time of trouble was that God would be near. That was His highest good.

It reminds me of that passage in Psalm 73, "Behold, those who are far from you shall perish." Jesus was willing to be far from God for this moment so we would not have to perish. Jesus cries out from the cross and He says, "There is none to help." His disciples had forsaken Him. They had fled. He was friendless. He was alone and saying, "There is nowhere else I can turn for help."

Leslie: Nancy will explore that aspect of His suffering tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

Used with permission.  Bob Kauflin. "Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?" Songs for the Cross-Centered Life. Sovereign Grace Music, 1997.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.