The Explication of Psalm 22:1-15

29 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.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

I believe David wrote Psalm 22 after the messianic prophecy given by Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 which states, “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me[b]; your throne will be established forever.” It would make sense that this was the occasion that would prompt the writing of a messianic psalm. Nathan’s prophecy not only foretells that the messiah will come from the lineage of David but also the physical agony he would endure. It is this agony that is depicted throughout Psalm 22. It is also these depictions that categorize this psalm as both messianic and prophetic.

Verses 1 and 2 are written in prophetic voice, imploring the same words that Christ will say from the cross in Matthew 27:46. Verse 2 also predicts the prayer in the garden prior to Jesus’ arrest.  These two verses show that the speaker of this Psalm is the coming messiah and not David. This same voice will be employed throughout the rest of the Psalm.

Verses 3-5 I believe switch back to the voice of David. In these verses, he praises God for past redemption. David calls on his audience, who are most likely other Hebrew people, to remember all the times that Yahweh has saved them. David reminds them of the many times that his ancestors had called upon God for deliverance and were heard. This reminder, I believe, is an imploring call by David for his people to have that same kind of trust in the protagonist.


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Verse 6 introduces the first metaphor. This verse begins a new section with the messianic voice. He refers to himself as, “a worm and not a man”.  According to Richard Beck of experimentaltheology.blogspot.com comments on this verse by explaining that , “Apparently, the Hebrew word for worm in Psalm 22.6 is towla’ which two meanings, “worm” and “scarlet/crimson.” The connection between the worm and the color red has to do with the fact that this particular worm was the “scarlet worm” (Kermes ilicis or Coccus ilicis). The Kermes worm is where we get the word crimson because this was the worm that was used to create red dye around the ancient Mediterranean. The worm isn’t really a worm but a scale insect that attaches itself to trees, generally oaks, to feed off the sap (see picture above). Jesus would have seen the Kermes worm on Palestine Oaks (Quercus calliprino). While affixed to the tree the female worm would give birth to a brood and then die. Toward the end of this cycle the mother’s body would bloat and fill with a red fluid that would stain the tree. The ancients would collect these dead bodies and the eggs to make a crimson dye.
So the worm in Psalm 22.6 is an insect that leaves a crimson stain on a tree.“(experimentaltheology.blogspot.com) Beck’s findings are quite interesting. Not only do we get the image of a lowly person that considers themselves less than human, but also of the crimson stain.  The color crimson brings to mind the color of blood. Blood is symbolic life and was of great importance to the Hebrew culture. It is blood that is shed as sacrifice to Yahweh. The idea of blood and sacrifice being associated with the Messiah is almost prophetic. Though the Israelite people did not understand the future christian ideals of Christ being the ultimate sacrifice, it is subtlety alluded to through this metaphor.

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The second part of verse 6 verse 8 through  is also prophetic of the community’s reaction to Jesus. This idea is backed up in the New Testaments accounts. The people hated Jesus so much that when given the opportunity free a prisoner, as was customary during the Passover, they free Barabbas. The same words used in mockery in this passage are seen again in Matthew 27:43.

Verses 9 and 10 show the humanity of the messiah. We see an equality in his birth. He was born like every other human was before him and like every one after him. The author also shows again emphasizes his theme of trusting in God by establishing the idea that even the Messiah had to.

Verse 11 is the starting verse in a series of verses that plea to God for help from the dangers around him.

In verse 12 we are given the images of bulls, “strong of Bashan”.  According to Clarke’s commentary, the significance of this image was that, “the bull is the emblem of brutal strength, that gores and tramples down all before it. Such was Absalom, Ahithophel, and others, who rose up in rebellion against David; and such were the Jewish rulers who conspired against Christ.
Strong bulls of Bashan – Bashan was a district beyond Jordan, very fertile, where they were accustomed to fatten cattle, which became, in consequence of the excellent pasture, the largest, as well as the fattest, in the country. See Calmet. All in whose hands were the chief power and influence became David’s enemies; for Absalom had stolen away the hearts of all Israel. Against Christ, the chiefs both of Jews and Gentiles were united”.(Clarke’s Commentary) Researching this symbol gave way to several theories. Everything from giants, to demons, to even Satan himself. Clarke’s ideology, however, I believe is the best because it shows a double meaning. It shows the symbol’s effect on both King David and his hardships, as well as Christ and the suffering he endured through the crucifixion process.

Verse 13 gives way to another symbol of destruction, the lion. The lion is considered “king of the jungle” or “king of the beasts”. Furthermore, the idea of royalty brings with it the image of power. The lion symbol depicted in verse 13 is not one of passivity. This lion is no longer waiting to pounce on its prey, but is upon its prey, roaring and ready to rip it to shreds. According to Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, the roaring can be seen as, “either by way of derision and contempt, Job 16:10; or belching out blasphemy against him, or rather, with the greatest vehemency, crying out “Crucify him, crucify him”, Luke 23:21; and this they did”. (Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible) Gill’s thoughts on the roaring being a literal noise made by the blood thirsty “animals” that want so desperately to crucify Christ goes beyond the simple lion figure in this verse and I believe adds a new depth to understanding the text.

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 Verses 14 and 15 give a very vivid prophecy of the physical agony that the future Messiah was to endure. According to Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary the idea of being “poured out like water” refers to, “Utter exhaustion and hopeless weakness, in these circumstances of pressing danger, are set forth by the most expressive figures; the solidity of the body is destroyed, and it becomes like water”. (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary) The ideas of water and exhaustion give way to the idea of a once solid, strong body and mind being beaten down to the point of total annihilation. The end of verse 14 incorporates the use of symbolism by stating, “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me”. This, again, paints the picture of diminishing strength and internal agony.

This psalm may not be the most widely quoted or even the most widely read for that matter. For the Jewish culture however it has a certain significance. According to Wikipedia Psalm 22 is, “Is recited on the Fast of Esther. Verse 4 is part of the opening paragraph of Uva Letzion. Verse 26 is found in the repetition of the Amidah during Rosh Hashanah. Verse 29 is a part of Az Yashir. It is recited following the passage from Exodus. On Rosh Hashanah, it is found in the repetition of the Amidah.” (Wikipedia.com)

In addition to Jewish significance, it also has a few pop cultures allusions as well. It is recited at the end of “Hang on to Your Life” by the Who:
 Hang on to Your Life

Thinkin’ ‘bout it’s here and it’s real
Wonderin’ how I really should feel
You can sell your soul
But don’t you sell it too cheap…

Hang on to your life
Hang on to your life

Thinkin’ ‘bout betraying a friend
Thinkin’ ‘bout delaying the end
You can ride the wind
But don’t you ride it too high…

Hang on to your life….

These lyrics depict similar circumstances that are seen throughout the text of Psalm 22. We see images of people screaming at the person who is soon to die, which correlates to the mocking of Christ.  We also see the betrayal of a friend which references Judas helping to deliver Jesus to the Sanhedrin.

Psalm 22 is a very complex and deep text. There are several prophecies of events to happen 1000 years in the future. In fact, according to www.bible.ca the first recorded crucifixion was in 519BC. This means that David was writing of things that had not even been invented yet! Exploring beneath the surface of this Psalm was very interesting and taught me just how deep a seemingly shallow and obvious symbol can go.

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