Messianic Perspectives of Psalms 22
The Center Point of Biblical Prophecy
The Messiah is the Center Point of Biblical prophecy. Bible prophecy is a glimpse into God’s plan for the ages. Presidents, kings, nations, governments and world-wide organizations are pawns and pieces used by God playing on the chess board of humanity to achieve His purposes. Satan and his minions are no match for God’s plan and are used to achieve His purposes. The God of Israel has no peer, is accountable to no one or no being and cannot be thwarted. He's indescribable....He's incomprehensible....He's invincible....He's irresistible.
Yeshua, as Messiah, is the center point of all prophecy. He is prophecy’s beginning and end. Yeshua is the fulfillment of prophecy. The Testimony of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy (Revelation 19:10). Joel C. Rosenberg, Christian writer and author of “Damascus Countdown” provides an insight on Biblical prophecy.
“This is Bible prophecy. This is an intercept from the mind of the all-knowing, all-seeing God of the universe. It is a weather report from the future, if you will, a storm warning. It was given to us so that we would be awake and ready and faithful and walking close to Jesus when the tempests come. God told us well in advance that he was going to shake all the nations.”
While the point of his statement refers to prophecy yet to be fulfilled in the future, it is applicable for prophecy that has been fulfilled. For fulfilled prophecy was once a prediction of future events. Sadly, the Bible itself gives evidence that those who should have known were not perceptive enough to see prophecy fulfilled before their eye. This is true of Yeshua’s birth, life, death and resurrection. All these event were predicted in the Tanach (Old Testament). The rabbis and spiritual leaders of Israel exegesis or interpretation of Scriptures was faulty. They failed to see the fulfilled prophecy because they lacked understanding of prophecy’s context in the light of their current events. It is important for us to understand the rabbinical exegesis to understand their failure to see Yeshua as Messiah. So we need to take a walk in the Garden.
Pardes is the Hebrew word meaning “garden” or “orchard”. The term, sometimes also spelled PaRDeS, is an acronym formed from the name initials of the following four approaches to biblical exegesis in rabbinic Judaism:
Peshat — “plain” or the direct meaning of the text.
Remez — “hints” or the deep (hidden or symbolic) meaning beyond just the literal sense.
Derash — “inquire or seek” — the comparative (midrashic) meaning, as given through similar occurrences though the use of stories and parables.
Sod — “secret” (mystery) or the esoteric/mystical meaning, as given through inspiration or revelation.
Each type of Pardes interpretation examines the extended meaning of a text. As a general rule, the extended meaning never contradicts the basic or Peshat meaning of the text. The Peshat means the plain or contextual meaning of the text. Each level is like peeling away a layer of onion that reveals deeper meaning in the text. These methods of interpretation were commonly used by the Rabbis and Pharisees during the Second Temple period. The B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) is full of examples of Pardes. For example, Yeshua used Derash in teaching through parables. The apostle Paul used Sod when saying, “Behold I show you a mystery”. With all this in mind, let us turn our attention to Psalms 22.
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest. Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In You our fathers trusted; They trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
The opening phase in Psalms 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” is ominous, yet a premonition of things to come. By repeating “My God” twice the writer emphasizes the emotional pain he was undergoing. This Psalm was a cry of King David’s heart as he suffered betrayal and felt abandoned by God. Yet, he was not abandoned but experienced a “dark night of the soul” and God was close, working with unseen hands, even though he did not sense Him. This cry of the heart and ominous statement “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” was a premonition of things to come.
The rabbinical Peshat or “plain” or the direct meaning of the text relates to King David. This Psalm is attributed to King David and “is the prayer of a righteous sufferer. He was brought down to the jaws of death and then rescued and raised up by God in answer to prayer, a glorious testimony to be recounted through the ages.”1 Many rabbis saw future applications of this Psalm and did not limit their understanding to only David’s experiences. For example, a rabbinical application of this Psalm by Rabbi Moshe Alshich, a prominent rabbi in the latter part of the 16th century, commented that David dedicated this psalm to Esther and the Purim story because he had a personal hand in the Jew’s salvation at that time by saving Shimi (2 Samuel 16:5-14) who’s decedent was Mordechai HaTzaddik.2 “Purim teaches us to see Hashem’s Guiding Hand at all times. This is a recognition that is relevant every day of the year and at all times!”3 In addition, Rashi comments on the statement, “why have you forsaken me” by saying, “They are destined to go into exile, and David recited this prayer for the future.”4 So the post-Second Temple period rabbinic understanding was that Psalms 22 was for future generations and not limited to King David’s time.
In the future, these words would echo out in pain and agony as a young Jewish man, a descendant of King David, and a rabbi, was stripped naked, tortured, bloody, and beaten. His appearance was that of a person who was mauled by a wild animal. He was a condemned criminal that was mercilessly affixed to a Roman cross by spikes that pierced his hands and feet. Even though beaten and mauled, the Roman soldiers carefully ensured no bones were broken in order to prolong his suffering. Roman soldiers gambled for his clothing near his execution site. People gathered around him to watch this young man die. Some cried out for his pain while others mocked him and his claims. While writhing in agony and pain, He cries out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? -- which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
The phase that Yeshua cried out was misinterpreted then as it is now. At the time of the crucifixion, in the confusion of these events a few people thought He was crying out for Eliyahu (Elijah) which sounds very similar to the Aramaic Eloi. Today, it is common belief among many Christian teachers that when Yeshua cried out these words he took on the sin of the world and the Father had to turn away, forsaking, and abandoning Him until he rose again three days later.
Yeshua’s Use of Remez
Yeshua was aware of these four rabbinic exegesis principles and used all in His teachings and ministry. When Yeshua cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” during His crucifixion, Yeshua was giving a Remez to Psalms 22. When using a Remez, when part of a verse is given the entire passage is implied. Michael Brown author of Answer Jewish Objections to Jesus states,
“For the most part, these Jewish sages clearly were not looking at an entire portion of Scripture—a whole psalm or chapter—when they cited the verses in question. Rather, what got their attention was a word association, or an association of ideas, or an even more distant link connecting the given verse or phrase with the Messiah. This was quite common in rabbinic interpretation during the first thousand years of this era, but it was not limited to the rabbinic writings, especially two thousand years ago.”5
Yeshua’s unique application of this passage was for His time, thus emphasizing the Remez aspect of His statement. He was not directing this phrase to the Heavenly Father, but to the Jewish religious leadership. The phase that Yeshua cried out was misinterpreted then as it is now. At the time of the crucifixion, in the confusion of these events a few people thought He was crying out for Eliyahu (Elijah) which sounds very similar to the Aramaic Eloi.
Yeshua was telling the rabbis via Remez that Psalms 22:1 was a “picture” of what was happening in front of them. When the Jewish religious leadership heard these words at the crucifixion, they should have clearly understood the context of what Yeshua was saying. In modern vernacular, Yeshua would be saying “HELLO” the lights are on but is anyone home! Robert Alter, professor of Hebrew language and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley comments on Psalm 22:1,
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? These famous words are the ones pronounced by Jesus in his last agony—though in Aramaic, not in the original Hebrew. That moment in Matthew is a kind of Pesher, or fulfillment interpretation, of this psalm, because there are other details here (for example, verses 16–19) that could be connected with the crucifixion.”6
Here are a few scenes of this event that the Jewish religious leaders might have observed during that reveal the prophetic fulfillment of Yeshua’s crucifixion in Psalms 22.
Point 1 - I am a worm and not a man
The first observation is found in Psalms 22:6-8
“But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me; they separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying, commit yourself to the LORD; let Him deliver him; Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
A worm is a creature that lives in and eats dirt, a creature so low that it is never regarded and usually stepped on. The psalmist sees that everyone despises him and treats him poorly. While Yeshua was hanging on the cross, naked and exposed he would have been vulnerable and defenseless like a worm. He was stepped upon verbally and mocked. Matthew’s Gospel contains amazing documentation that these events mirror the psalmist’s words, in Mattityahu 27:41-43
“In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, I am the Son of God”.
In some cases the very words spoken by the Jewish religious leadership at the crucifixion, were recorded thousands of years before by King David.
A Remez can also been seen in the Hebrew word for “worm” which is Tola or the crimson coccus. When the female scarlet worm was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle. As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted.”7 What a picture of Yeshua hanging on the cross, red with his own blood, bringing salvation to many.
Point 2 – Poured out like water
The next crucifixion scene is in Psalms 22:14-15
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.”
Dr. Alexander Metherell, M.D., PH.D, medically outlines what the psalmist described in the crucifixion. “The victim would experience tremendous pain and go into hypovolemic shock … suffering the effects of losing a large amount of blood.” This does four things. First, the heart races to try to pump blood that isn’t there [heart like wax]; second, the blood pressure drops, causing fainting or collapse [strength dried up]; third, the kidneys stop producing urine to maintain what volume is left; and fourth, the person becomes very thirsty as the body craves fluids to replace the lost blood volume [my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth].”8 The events recorded in John’s Gospel confirm both the psalmist and doctor’s account of Yeshua’s crucifixion. Yochanan/John 19 28, 29
“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, I am thirsty. A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth”.
Yeshua said, ‘I thirst,’ at which point a sip of vinegar was offered to him. Because of the terrible effects of this beating and blood loss. He was already in serious to critical condition even before the nails were driven through his hands and feet.”9 The response of people providing Yeshua a drink of sour wine is consistent with the oral tradition of the day. According to the Talmud, When a person is led out to be executed he is given a glass of wine containing a grain of frankincense, in order to numb his senses. Based upon Proverbs 31:6, “Give strong drink unto him who is perishing, wine to those bitter of soul”. (Sanhedrin 43a) 10 The Jewish religious leadership authorized giving sour wine, while he was hanging on the cross as described by the psalmist many years before it occurred.
Point 3 – The Humiliation
The third scene described in Psalms 22:16-18 declares,
“Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”
Dogs were not domesticated in ancient Israel, though they had long been domesticated elsewhere, and roamed about in packs as scavengers. The psalmist was saying his enemies were like scavengers. Taking what they could from him in his most vulnerable time. The soldiers took His belonging and gambled for them. History shows that the Romans hated and were enemies of the Jewish people. This was an opportunity to humiliate a perceived leader during Passover. When the Roman governor Pilate placed on the cross “The King of the Jews” it was a mockery to the Jewish people. The Roman soldier’s actions reveal their hidden desire to humiliate and crucify every Jewish person. They accomplished this vicariously through Yeshua.
“When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on …”
King David’s near term experience had a more long term view as stated in Luke’s Gospel, “When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on …” (Luke 23 33-35, NASB). Some people came to see and were morbidly entertained by his death, soldiers took His belonging and gambled for them, and it seems that everyone wanted something from Yeshua that day, just as the psalmist foretold.
Point 4 – The Pierced Hands and Feet
These enemies have “pierced my hands and my feet” has been a source of controversy with Jewish anti-missionaries which typically will translate this phrase “like a lion my hands and my feet”. In the Septuagint translation the Greek word supports the word phrase “dug or pierced.”
What causes such discrepancy and confusion is that the two Hebrew words for “pierced” and “lion” are remarkably similar in the original text. All that separates the two Hebrew words is the length of a “vav” or a “yod” vowel stroke.
The oldest evidence supports the translation “pierced my hands and my feet.” Bible scholar Robert Alter says of the controversy:
“The received Hebrew text—literally ‘like a lion my hands and feet’—makes no sense. The translation adopts one proposed correct reading of Karkhu, ‘they bound or pierced,’ for Ka ari, ‘like a lion’—though there is admittedly no ancient textual warrant for this reading.”11
Let’s say for the sake of argument the correct translation is “like a lion at my hands and feet”. According to Rashi (medieval Rabbi), the meaning is “as though they are crushed in a lion’s mouth,” Thus, the imagery is clear: these lions are not licking the psalmist’s feet! They are tearing and ripping at them as a lion. This would support the picture of a crucifixion as his hands and feet were bloody, bruised and nailed to the cross. The religious leadership should have begun to understand the Remez that Yeshua illustrated to them from the events on the Place of the Skull.
Point 5 – He Has Done It
The context of these final verses involves King David’s prediction that all nations will someday turn to God and worship Him in Psalms 22:27-29.
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship, all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive.
“David was truly a great king, and his impact on history is great, but the rescue of an earthly king would not result in the dominion of God over the whole earth and the enlistment of posterity for the purpose of proclaiming His righteousness to future generations.”12 Indeed the rescue of an earthly king would not result in the dominion of God over the whole earth. As Joel C. Rosenberg stated, “God told us well in advance that he was going to shake all the nations.” Indeed God has through Messiah Yeshua! This was a prophecy with a long-term view, looking forward to a time when one of his descendants would fulfill his words. The final scene is from the end of Psalms 22: 31
“They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn-- for he has done it.”
The last phrase “He has done it” is a dramatic conclusion to this psalm that begins in agony and ends in victory. This statement is very reminiscent of Yeshua’s words on the cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Yeshua’s Remez of Psalms 22 made sense to many as they observed the crucifixion events unfold before their eyes. “And all the crowds who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts” (John 23:48, NASB). During times of “teshuvah” (repentance and return) a Jewish person will pound their chest while making that admission of guilt. It is an acknowledgement and verbal admission of the sin. For some at Yeshua’s crucifixion, they understood the events, acknowledged their guilt and later proclaimed the righteousness that would be for the entire world as well as for future generations.
Prophecies in the Tanach often had both a current and future application. The life of King David as well as Yeshua’s life often paralleled as an example of this near/far prophetic fulfillment. Yeshua’s Remez and unique application of this Psalm to Himself during the crucifixion was a testimony to those attending His execution. The master rabbi while dying was teaching Israel that He was the fulfillment of their Messianic hope.
What has Yeshua finished? He accomplished the greatest victory in the history of the world and gave mankind the greatest gift of eternal life. For some at Yeshua’s crucifixion, they understood the events, acknowledged their guilt and later proclaimed the righteousness that would be for the entire world as well as for future generations. Yeshua’s Remez and unique application of this psalm to Himself during the crucifixion was a testimony to those attending His execution.
The Roman governor over Judea, Pontius Pilate, asked this question during Yeshua’s appearance before him. “Then what shall I do with Yeshua who is called Messiah?” (Mattityahu 27:22) What shall you do with Yeshua? Friend, you and I, just like the crowd 2,000 years ago say, “Crucify Him!” It wasn’t just the Roman soldier and Jewish leaders who wanted Yeshua crucified. We all did! We were all there because of our sin. Yet in his sacrifice there is hope of forgiveness and restoration with God. Yeshua, the master rabbi of Israel, while dying was showing Israel, indeed the entire world, that He was the fulfillment of their Messianic hope.
1. Brown, M. L. Answering Jewish objections to Jesus, Volume 3: Messianic prophecy objections. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), (117).
2. Tropper, Yosef. Psalm 22: Purim Every Day – Part 1 – Tehillim Themes. http://www.closetotorah.com/2012/08/psalm-22-purim-every-day-part-1-tehillim-themes, August 13, 2012
3. Tropper, Yosef. Psalm 22: Purim Every Day – Part 1 – Tehillim Themes. http://www.closetotorah.com/2012/08/psalm-22-purim-every-day-part-1-tehillim-themes, August 13, 2012
4. Yitzhaki, Shlomo (Rashi). The complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, Tehillim 22:2. http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16243/showrashi/true
5. Brown, M. L. (2003). Answering Jewish objections to Jesus, Volume 3: Messianic prophecy objections (127–128). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books
6. Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (Kindle Locations 2228-2231). Norton. Kindle Edition. (2009-10-19)
7. Morris, Henry. Biblical Basis for Modern Science. Baker Book House, (1985), Pg. 73
8. Strobel, Lee. Case for Christ/Case for Faith Compilation. Zondervan. (Kindle Edition, 2010), Locations 3865-3866.
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10. Stern, D. H. Jewish New Testament Commentary: A companion volume to the Jewish New Testament, electronic ed., Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications. (1996), Matthew 27:34.
11. Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. (Norton Kindle Edition, 2009), Locations 2261-2262.
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Stern, D. H. Jewish New Testament Commentary: A companion volume to the Jewish New Testament, electronic ed., Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.
Strobel, Lee. Case for Christ/Case for Faith Compilation. Zondervan Kindle Edition, 2010.
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