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Go to Bible: Psalms 22
Psa 22:1

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 on the cross (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34).

This was a psalm of David, but much of it is only literally applicable to Jesus Christ. It was likely written, and is applicable to David, during the time he was running from Saul, and likely had been running and hiding for years and was a low point emotionally. The title it was known by, “The Doe of the Morning,” fit perfectly with David’s emotional state and fits even more perfectly with Christ. David perceives himself as a morning doe, beautiful and innocent, yet hunted and hounded by the hunter, Saul, who seeks his life. But Jesus was the true one who was beautiful and truly innocent who was hunted from his birth when Herod sent soldiers to kill him. The evil hunters finally got their way when the religious leaders lied about him and framed him, and even the Roman governor Pilate, who knew Jesus was innocent, thought of himself first, before the life of this innocent man, and agreed to have him crucified.

Since David wrote this psalm by revelation (2 Tim. 3:16), and since it is more literally applicable to Jesus than to David, it seems clear that God had this written to help prepare Jesus Christ for what he would have to endure to redeem humankind from sin and death.

Psa 22:2(top)
Psa 22:3

“But you are holy.” This verse could almost seem strange to some, coming as it does after such deep cries of anguish. But the true believer recognizes that no matter what they are going through, God is holy and deserves praise. Even when we do not understand the “whats” and “whys” of life, the true believer does not blame God but cries out for help to Him.

Psa 22:4(top)
Psa 22:5

“disappointed.” The Hebrew word relates to shame and could be translated as “ashamed” or “put to shame,” but in this context, that translation would give the wrong impression. “Disappointed” carries the meaning much better here.

Psa 22:6

“But I am a worm and not a man.” The humble heart is not vengeful or puffed up, but perceives itself as less than it really is and thoughtfully reflects on the circumstances and opinions of others. In this case, the circumstances of life are reflected by the psalmist, who sees himself as being thought of and treated like a worm and not a man.

The Hebrew word for “worm” also can mean scarlet or red, and the particular worm in question was used in making red dye for clothing. The psalmist sees himself as being like a worm and not a man, but it also portrayed that before and at his crucifixion, Jesus Christ would be covered in blood, and that same imagery was likely behind the Red Heifer as well (Num. 19:2).

Psa 22:7

“They insult me with their lips.” This happened to Jesus (Matt. 27:39)

Psa 22:8

“He trusts in Yahweh, so let him deliver him.” The priests said this about Jesus (cp. Matt. 27:43).

Psa 22:9

“You made me trust even at my mother’s breasts.” The Hebrew can mean something like “you made me safe (secure) at my mother’s breasts,” but the normal meaning of the Hebrew is “trust,” and humans learn to trust early in life. Children develop a worldview very early in life, during their first couple of years. If they are loved and diligently cared for, fed when hungry, and held when scared or lonely, etc., they learn that the world is a safe, good place; if they are neglected as a baby they learn that the world is a hard unsafe place, and those deep inner feelings usually go with them throughout their life. That is a major reason that diligent mothering is so important.

Psa 22:10(top)
Psa 22:11

“For there is no one to help.” In David’s case, no one could seem to change Saul’s mind and make David’s life safe. In Jesus’ case, the disciples had fled (Matt. 26:56).

Psa 22:12

“Many bulls have surrounded me.” Here the enemies of David and Jesus are described as bulls. The bull was a powerful and potentially dangerous animal and Bashan was an area in the Transjordan where the largest bulls in Israel were raised. The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh did not want to cross the Jordan and go into the Promised Land after they had conquered the Transjordan because that area was so good for cattle and livestock (Num. 32:1-5). The enemies of David and Jesus are referred to as “bulls” (Ps. 22:12); “lions” (Ps. 22:13, 21); “dogs” (Ps. 22:16); “wild oxen” (Ps. 22:21), and these enemies are all around (Ps. 22:12, 16). They could be in a position to help, but they do not help, they just harass and stare (Ps. 22:17).

Psa 22:13(top)
Psa 22:14(top)
Psa 22:15

“And my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” This certainly literally applied to Jesus. It is very likely that Jesus was so dehydrated that his tongue had swollen and he could not talk well. He had been arrested on Monday night and it was now Wednesday morning, and besides that, he would have bled a lot from the beatings and being whipped and being nailed to a cross. This was likely why when he said “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” (Matt. 27:46) that the people mistook him for calling for Elijah instead of God (Matt. 27:47). It is also why he said, “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).

[For more on the events of Jesus’ last week, including his arrest on Monday night through his crucifixion Wednesday morning, see commentary on John 18:13.]

“you lay me in the dust of death.” The verb “lay” is in the imperfect in the Hebrew text, indicating that the action was then occurring. The Psalmist was not yet dead, which we can tell because he is still speaking. We know that Christ did die, and was in the process of dying while he was on the cross. In contrast, David did not die, but would have felt he was in the process of dying because of being hounded and pursued by Saul. The Psalm could be taken to imply that the psalmist died, but that is not explicitly stated.a Thus, the Jews never got from Psalm 22 that the Messiah would die.

Cp. NET text note; Allen Ross, A commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1, Kregel Exegetical Library.
Psa 22:16

“For dogs have surrounded me.” In the biblical world, dogs were scavengers that traveled in packs and could be dangerous. It was one reason travelers usually had a walking staff with them (cp. 1 Sam. 17:43). David considered his enemies as dogs. The phrase is actually more applicable to Jesus than David because the Jewish enemies of Jesus could be considered like a pack of fierce dogs, but more than that, the Jews considered Gentiles “dogs,” and indeed, Jesus was surrounded by Gentile enemies as well as Jewish enemies.

“They have pierced my hands and feet.” The specificity and succinctness of this biblical prophecy can be seen in that Roman-style crucifixion had not been invented at the time that David lived, which was almost 1,000 BC. The sentence must be taken as metaphorical of David, that his hands that he worked with and his feet that he walked with were not effective against Saul, but because the Bible is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16), it is also possible that even David himself wondered at what these words that came to him from God and were poured out in the psalm really meant. Of course, we now know that these God-given words were a prophecy of the Christ, and Jesus certainly knew that which was one reason he was certain his death would be by crucifixion (cp. John 8:28; 12:32-33. Also see commentary on Zech. 3:9).

The fact that Psalm 22:16 would point to the crucifixion of Christ was, and still continues to be, very disturbing to the Jews and other detractors who rejected the Lord and his death on the cross to pay for the sins of humankind. Thus it is no surprise that Psalm 22:16 would be miscopied and be a lightning rod for debate both on textual and historical grounds. At some point, as attested by early manuscripts including the Septuagint, the Hebrew verb (which can mean “pierced”) was changed to the noun “lion.” That point, and the exact wording of the original text, is still debated today, but the ancient evidence is clear enough, and so is the fact that Psalm 22 is not only explanatory of the life of David but predictive of the last days of Jesus Christ.

Allen Ross writes that the reading of the common Masoretic Hebrew text, “like a lion my hands and my feet” does not make any sense. Ross writes, “All the ancient versions, and the early Jewish sources as well, have a verb instead of ‘like a lion.’ Some of the Masoretic manuscripts also have verbs…So on the one side (‘like a lion’) we have the standard Masoretic reading in the Hebrew Bible, but on the other side (a verb) we have two manuscripts in the Masoretic Hebrew tradition that do not go with the reading of ‘like a lion’…and the ancient Greek, Arabic, Syriac, and Latin versions have verb forms. They read something like ‘they pierced, they dug, they bored through.’ The later Greek revisions have different verbs, but still verbs nonetheless. …All the external evidence, the manuscripts and the versions, supports the presence of a verb in the verse, probably with the meaning ‘they pierced.’ The text, then, was changed to avoid the reading in favor of ‘like a lion.’”a

Derek Kidner agrees with the translation “they have pierced,” and writes: “they have pierced, or, simply, ‘piercing,’ is the most likely translation of a problematic Hebrew word. The strong argument in favor is that the LXX [the Septuagint], compiled two centuries before the crucifixion, and therefore an unbiased witness, understood it so. All the major translations reject the Masoretic vowels (added to the written text in the Christian era) as yielding little sense here (see margin of RV, RSV, NEB), and the majority in fact agree with the LXX. The chief alternatives (e.g., ‘bound’ or ‘hacked off’) solve no linguistic difficulties which ‘pierced’ does not solve, but avoid the apparent prediction of the cross by exchanging a common Hebrew verb (dig, bore, pierce) for hypothetical ones, attested only in Akkadian, Syriac, and Arabic, not in biblical Hebrew.”b

Franz Delitzsch, after a long and detailed examination of the verse, writes, “the fulfillment in the nailing of the hands and (at least, the binding fast) of the feet of the Crucified One to the cross is clear. This is not the only passage in which it is predicated that the future Christ shall be murderously pierced; but it is the same in Isaiah 53:5 where He is said to be pierced on account of our sins, and in Zech. 12:10….”c

Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 1, Kregel Exegetical Library.
Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 [TOTC].
Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Psalms, 319.
Psa 22:17

“They look, they stare at me.” These enemies could be in a position to help, but they do not help, they just harass and stare. The word translated as “stare” can also mean “consider,” and so it is likely that the enemies are more than just “staring,” they are also gloating (cp. CJB; ESV; JPS; NAB; NET).

Psa 22:18

“They divide my garments among them. They cast lots for my clothing.” This happened to Jesus, and the Septuagint version of Psalm 22:18 is quoted in John 19:24 (cp. Matt. 27:35; Mark 15:24).

Psa 22:19(top)
Psa 22:20

“my only life.” The Hebrew text reads, “Deliver my soul from the sword, my only one from the power of the dog.” Scholars correctly assert that “my only one” refers to the only life that David (and prophetically Jesus) had, so most English versions have “life” instead of “one” for clarity. However, the text makes a strong point. People only have one life, and if it is gone, the person comes to an end and is gone. That is why God must rescue people from the power of the grave. Jesus asked, “For what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36). Indeed, if a person dies, they have nothing at all.

Psa 22:21

“you have answered me.” The verb “answered” in the perfect tense shows the Psalmist’s confidence that God would answer and deliver him.

Psa 22:22(top)
Psa 22:23(top)
Psa 22:24(top)
Psa 22:25(top)
Psa 22:26(top)
Psa 22:27

“bow down.” The word translated “bow down,” shachah (#07812 שָׁחָה), is the same Hebrew word as “worship.”

[For more on bowing down, see commentary on 1 Chronicles 29:20.]

Psa 22:28(top)
Psa 22:29

“All those who go down to the dust.” When people die they return to dust and await the resurrection from the dead. Note that it is the people themselves, not just the flesh body, who “go down to the dust.” Although many people believe a person’s “soul” goes on living after they die, that is not what the Bible teaches. As this verse states, no one can keep himself, literally, “his soul” alive. The soul dies when the body dies.

[For more information on dead people being dead in every way, see Appendix 3: “The Dead are Dead.” For more information on the soul, see Appendix 16: “Usages of ‘Soul.’”]

Psa 22:30(top)
Psa 22:31(top)

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