The Testimony of the Holy Spirit in the Prophets
The Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter informs us, “testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Pet. 1:11). This means that the prophets of the Old Testament, empowered by the Holy Spirit, bore witness to either the sufferings of Christ or the glories which would follow His sufferings. Psalm 22 is a perfect example of this very thing by predicting both the sufferings and glories of Christ in one psalm.1 The psalm is divided into two distinct parts: verses 1–21 taking up Christ’s sufferings, then verses 22–31 looking at the glories of Messiah’s Kingdom which come after that. The Church period, however, is entirely passed over because it is not the subject of prophecy.2
One of the interesting features of Psalm 22 is its reference to six animals. Many have noticed this and wondered why. Let’s explore this briefly—and in doing so it will throw more light on this wonderful messianic psalm.
The Hind of the Morning
The title or inscription3 of the psalm contains the words, “Aijelith-Shahar” which is a Hebrew term that means, “The Hind of the Morning” (DBY); or “The Deer of the Dawn” (NKJV). Messiah is metaphorically referred to as a “hind of the morning.” This is one of the most gentle and graceful of God’s creatures, agile in its movements (Hab. 3:19). An apt picture of the One who was swift to do God’s will. The idea of the “morning” is suggestive as well calling to mind Christ’s energy to do God’s will (see with Abraham Gen. 22:3; cf. Isa. 50:4; Mk. 1:35).
The darkened heavens when Christ is forsaken in the opening verse of the psalm is preceded and contrasted with the morning or the dawn—a new day. Thus Psalm 22 begins with Christ’s victory in resurrection before the details of his suffering are mentioned.4
It is a female deer which is found in this inscription. This is significant as Psalm 22 presents Christ as the sin-offering and it is only in the sin offerings and peace offerings that a female of the flock was allowed. The female represents the submissive, fruitful aspect of Christ’s work toward mankind.5
Man, however, viewed Him in another light; He was scorned and despised and could say of Himself, “I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men (v. 6). The worm, a small and despised creature in the eyes of men, is the apt picture here of the Lord Jesus suffering at the hands of men.
This is no common earthworm but rather it is the crimson crocus worm (Hebrew: “tola”) from which scarlet dye was extracted when crushed. Scarlet is the color of Jewish royalty, Saul’s daughters were clothed with scarlet (2 Sam. 1:24). It was this scarlet dye which was used in the curtains of the tabernacle and in the cloth that covered the “table of showbread”6 (Num. 4:6–7). The Twelve loaves of the showbread also represent the twelve tribes of Israel continually before God.
Rahab put out the scarlet cord to recognize the right of the God of Israel to the land (Josh. 2:18). Putting these things together, the scarlet represents the earthly glory of Israel; that is, the dominical (kingly) rights of the Lord Jesus Christ.7
Bulls of Bashan
As we continue to read through Psalm 22 we see that the “strong bulls of Bashan” encircled Messiah at the cross (v. 12). Bashan was a very fertile area in northern Israel. It was the area chosen by Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (Num. 32:1–2). Today it is the area known as the Golan Heights which Israel recaptured from Syria during the “six days war” in 1967.
Its cattle were famous for being well-fed. They represent the rulers of Israel who were reaping financial gain through the religious system they had erected. Christ was a threat to their covetousness. When He overturned the money-changers’ tables it was then they determined He must die (Mk. 11:17–18). The religious elite and their sycophants had a profitable money operation on the Temple Mount and Christ was a threat to that, as well as being envious at the reception of His words by the people. Someone has said that the religious leaders believed in their own version of the Golden Rule: whoever has the gold rules.
Messiah says, “They have encircled Me, they gape at me with their mouths.” What a picture of what happened at the cross! Like bulls, they gorged Him with their horns saying, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save.”
Messiah’s persecutors were like a “raging and roaring lion” (v. 13). The lion is the well-known symbol of the persecuting power of Satan. (1 Pet. 5:8; cf. 2 Tim. 4:16–17). They mocked and spoke against Him with their mouths. The “mouth of the lion” is seen again in verse 21. This is figurative of Satan’s power of death as they had called for Christ’s death before Pilate. The “power of the dog,” the Gentile soldiers (v. 20), is associated with the “mouth of the lion” here. Although the Jews delivered Christ to be crucified, it was the Romans who only had the power of capital punishment by crucifixion. Pilate wanted to let the Lord Jesus go, or at least let the Jewish religious leaders deal with Him as they saw fit. But these evil shepherds of God’s people, wanted Christ crucified for one very important reason. In their estimation, no Jew would accept a Messiah Who had been crucified, for: “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” (Gal. 3:13; Dt. 21:23). How could He be truly Messiah if He had been cursed by God? Who would accept such a Messiah? Of course, Isaiah 53:4–5 has the answer to that question: it was for their iniquities.
Another type of animal now appears in the Psalm, which at first sight may be surprising but really is illuminating: “for dogs have surrounded Me (v. 17). Here it is the Roman soldiers that are pictured (see also v. 20). Dogs were viewed as unclean and a symbol of Gentile wickedness (Mt. 15:26). The Gentiles as well as the Jews had a part in the death of the lovely, “hind of the morning.” See comments in the preceding paragraph on the “lion’s mouth” and the “power of the dog.”
It was the Roman soldiers who pierced His blessed hands and feet. How striking that these poor hardened, pagan soldiers, who worshipped the Pantheon of gods, in their darkness and ignorance were fulfilling the Scriptures! They knew nothing of these prophecies yet fulfilled them to the letter.
Finally, Christ calls for deliverance from the “horns” of the “wild oxen,” (v. 21), a graphic depiction of the cross. His prayer was answered by resurrection. If He was forsaken in the opening of the psalm, now He is heard!
Another view of the “horns of the wild oxen” is that they represent the power of death. Horns in the Bible often represent kingdoms or powers (see Dan. 7:19–20; 8:3–7, Rev. 13:1, and Zech. 1:18). Through death He destroyed the one who had the power of death, that is the devil (Heb. 2:14). Indeed Calvary itself has the idea of the “skull,” which is the universal symbol of death. Christ was absolutely victorious over its power. Christ came out of death, victorious over it, thus God had answered Him from the horns of the wild oxen (v. 21; Heb. 5:7).
He Satan’s power laid low;
Made sin, He sin o’erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.
1. Usually the prophets will focus on one of these aspects of Christ or the other. However Psalm 22 is somewhat unique in that it is equally divided between these two wondrous themes: the sufferings and glories of Messiah.
2. See Ephesians 3:3–9. The Church as the body of Christ was a “mystery” meaning it was not revealed until the death of Christ but only to the New Testament apostles and prophets, it was hidden to the Old Testament prophets. Prophecy has been described as having two mountain peaks: one is the cross and the sufferings of Christ, the other mountain peak is the coming kingdom and glory of Christ. In-between the two peaks is the hidden valley of the church age.
3. The inscriptions at the head of the Psalms are believed to be inspired and in some translations of the Bible appear as the first verse of the psalm. See the Dutch Bible for example where To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Deer of the Dawn.” A Psalm of David is considered the first verse and “My God, My God…” is the second.
4. This is similar to Isaiah 52:13–15 which begins with Christ’s victory in suffering and exaltation before the details of His suffering prophesied in chapter 53.
5. Whereas in the burnt offering only a male was allowed and represents Christ’s work Godward.
6. “Bread of the presence” (ESV).
7. In Revelation 17:3–4 scarlet is mentioned in connection with the Beast and the Harlot. But they are pretenders, and usurpers, of Christ’s rights over the world.
8. Jeremiah 23:1–3; Ezekiel 34:1–25.
9. Golgotha is the Aramaic word for “skull.” The word “cavalry” comes from the Latin word for head or skull. It is simply the Latin term for Golgotha.