Question: "What does "be not far from me" mean in Psalm 22:11?"
Answer: Psalm 22 follows the typical pattern of a “prayer for help” or “complaint psalm.” Like many others in this classification (see Psalm 2:1; 10:1; 13:1–2; 52:1; 74:1), the psalmist cries to God for help but feels abandoned because God does not answer him. In Psalm 22, David acknowledges the Lord’s presence from the moment of his birth and then appeals to God to stay close to him now: “On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help” (Psalm 22:10–11, ESV).
Amid his suffering and trouble, David knows that no one else but God can help him. His appeal echoes that of Job in the time of his misery and pain: “Your hands shaped me and made me. Will you now turn and destroy me? Remember that you molded me like clay. Will you now turn me to dust again?” (Job 10:8–9).
“Be not far from me,” or, stated positively, “come close to me,” is a classic lament found throughout the Psalms: “O God, don’t stay away. My God, please hurry to help me” (Psalm 71:12, NLT). In Psalm 38:21–22, the psalmist prays, “Do not abandon me, O LORD. Do not stand at a distance, my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my savior” (NLT; see also Psalm 35:22).
David’s situation in Psalm 22 is a prophetic foreshadowing of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death. David’s anguished complaint begins like this: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1–2). David’s outcry mirrors the Lord’s very words from the cross: “About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Matthew 27:46).
David seeks God’s help but receives no immediate answer. Again in Psalm 22:19, David prays, “But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me.” The Lord’s apparent delay in responding causes David to feel as if God is far off. Like so many other psalms, this one movingly expresses the familiar emotions people experience when they are alone and afflicted. We may know in our heads that God is near. We have felt His presence all of our lives, yet we pray, “Be not far from me, Lord,” because, right at that moment, God seems distant.
Jesus Himself joined with the multitude of believers on earth in their lonely affliction. He became one with us in our suffering. He, too, cried out to God, “Why have you forsaken me?” Therefore, we should not feel ashamed to plead with God, “Do not keep silence. O Lord, do not be far from me” (Psalm 35:22, NKJV). If God did not mind such pleas from David, Job, and His very own Son, then He will not mind when we are honest and vulnerable as we come to Him in our moments of deep need.
In English, “be not far from me” might be more naturally expressed, “keep close to me” or “stay near me.” David often acknowledges the nearness of God in his prayers: “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18; see also Psalm 119:151; 34:18). Even in his darkest despair, David knows that, in reality, God is close at hand: “For he [the Lord] has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help” (Psalm 22:24, NLT). David perseveres, and before the end of his prayer, his heart is lifted in confident worship. He is able to confess that “all who seek the LORD will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy” (Psalm 22:26, NLT).