“The Hind of the Morning”
In the twenty-second psalm, David gives a more vivid description of the terrible reality of Calvary and the sufferings of Christ on the cross than do any of the gospel writers. None of the authors of the gospels dwell on the horrors of crucifixion, which were well known in their day and needed no elaboration. Yet note how this psalm begins with Christ’s utter devastation, saying, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) We should also observe how the psalm ends with the description of what has happened: “They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, that He has done this.” The phrase “He has done this,” is actually just one word in the original Hebrew language, ‘asah,’ which means, “finished.” This statement is similar to Christ’s words on the cross. It propels readers forward to Calvary where, at the completion of the Lord’s redemptive work, the Gospels record that the Lord said, “It is finished.” In the original Greek language it is just one powerful word tetelestai, which means, “it is finished.” There are thirty-three distinct prophecies that were fulfilled at Calvary, and this is one of the great chapters that verifies inspiration in the prophecies of His death.
The Holiest of Men Forsaken by the Holy God, Psalm 22:1-6
Let us look more in detail at the specific sections of this psalm, beginning with verses 1-6. The Psalmist begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?” The word “groaning” used in the Hebrew text here is also the same word often used to describe the roar of a lion, the noise of thunder, or the cry of an animal that has been mortally wounded. As the midnight darkness swept over Calvary at midday, it was met by a dreadful God-forsaken cry: Emmanuel’s orphan cry. God had abandoned the Lord. This cry was the cry of the mortally wounded “hind of the morning,” or “deer of the dawn.” Christ’s abandonment was absolutely complete and caused Him utter devastation. We can see this in Psalm 22:2: “O My God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent.” We can also see that the reason He was forsaken was as a result of God’s holiness.
In Psalm 22:3 the psalmist says, “But you are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.” Jesus was the holiest man who ever lived. He spoke of His own perfect holiness when He said to His disciples, “I always do those things which please the Father.” (John 8:29) God, His Father, also affirmed His complete holiness when He said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) Why then did the psalmist cry out in agony in foretelling Jesus’ suffering, “But thou art holy”? (Psalm 22:3) At Calvary, a righteous God was demanding the full price for the remission of sin, so that “He who knew no sin was made sin for us.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) There was a great gulf that separated us from a holy God, and Christ became this sin so that we might not experience this separation any longer. Therefore, beloved Christian, He tasted death for us, experiencing in those three hours of darkness what every last soul will experience in hell for eternity.
There are numerous instances in Scripture where men cried out to God in distress and He heard them. Moses, Abraham, and David all experienced desperation at one time or another, cried out in anguish to the Lord, and God heard each of them and answered. Jesus, in contrast, cried with heartbroken cries that went unanswered. The psalmist introduces us to a statement which defies explanation in Psalm 22:6, saying, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised by the people.” Let us consider two possible explanations of this phrase’s meaning:
First, it is possible that as the Lord hung on the cross, he felt despised and rejected by God and men. He had been forsaken by God and His disciples had been betrayed, denied, rejected, surrounded by the bulls of Bashan (representing the Jews), attacked by packs of wild dogs (representing the Gentiles), and subjected to the terror of the roaring lion and his wicked legions, which symbolized Satan and His demons. Hanging on that cross with pierced hands and feet, a lacerated back, and a disfigured face, He probably felt more like a worm than a man. This is very difficult to understand, but let us all try to imagine the eternal Son of God, the Creator of every star and upholder of the universe, considering Himself “a worm and no man.”
The second plausible explanation that some Bible teachers believe is that the reference here to a worm is the crimson crocus from which scarlet dye was obtained to color the robes of kings. To yield that royal dye, a lowly worm had to be crushed. This would render Jesus’ statement to meaning something to the effect of: “I am like the crimson crocus.” While on the cross we can see that the Lord was indeed crushed beneath the load of our sin and the wrath and curse of God. The scarlet dye, his precious blood, provided us with robes of righteousness. The hymn Abba Father We Approach Thee praises Jesus for this act of granting us our righteousness through His sacrifice: “Clothed in garments of salvation, at thy table is our place.”
The Contempt and Cruelty of Men, Psalm 22:7-18
The psalmist continues by crying out, “All those who see me ridicule me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him; let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!” (Psalm 22:7-8) One of the most significant points of the prophecy of Psalm 22 is the fact that it foretold exactly what the Lord’s enemies would say to him. (See Matthew 27:43) The phrase “He trusted in the Lord” is interesting because in the Hebrew Old Testament there are seven distinct words for ‘trust’, but the one used here occurs nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible. This emphasizes the unique relationship between our Savior and His Father, showing that the trust between them did not parallel relationships between human men. In fact, the Lord’s enemies were likened to the bulls of Bashan, such was their contempt, scorn, and cruelty expressed towards Jesus. (See Psalm 22:12-13) This refers to bulls that would gather around their victim in a circle, and at the slightest provocation would charge and gore their victim to death. The Jewish leaders were being compared to these bulls as they stood around the cross, mocking, scorning, and degrading our Lord. Not only were these leaders like bulls, ready to strike and kill, but they were also like roaring and scavenging lions ready to rend and devour Him. This is quite a striking image of those men at the foot of the cross!
Psalm 22:14-15 tells us how Jesus felt as those bloodthirsty bulls and lions closed in on Him to end His life. The psalmist laments, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it has melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue clings to my jaws; you have brought me to the dust of death.” The psalmist also likens other bystanders to “dogs” who are casting lots for His clothes. (See Psalm 22:16) These would be symbolizing the Gentiles or Roman soldiers who were looking onto the scene. Dogs during the time of the New Testament were not household pets; instead, they roamed the streets, were unclean and vicious, and tore their victims apart. So this description is to liken the soldiers to unclean and violent animals that attack. The various animals described here then, the bulls, lions, and dogs, represent those surrounding the cross that have crucified Him and led Him to this state of misery. The psalmist then goes on to pray and ask God for help, characterizing Jesus’ prayer from the cross: “But you, O Lord, do not be far from me; O my Strength, hasten to help me! Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog. ” (Psalm 22:19-21) We can associate this “dog” identified here in the person of Pilate, the Roman procurator responsible for the convicting of Jesus and his subsequent crucifixion. This cry from the psalmist not only resembles and predicts Jesus’ prayer and cries from the cross, but recalls another prophecy from Zechariah of similar words: “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, against the Man who is my companion,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 13:7)
Abuse of Satan and Demonic Powers, Psalm 22:19-21a
The Lord was not only abandoned by God and abhorred by men, but He was also abused by Satan. The psalmist cries, “Save me from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of the wild oxen!” (Psalm 22:19a) The lion, symbolizing Satan, was present at the cross, seeking and ready to devour. The powers of hell and rulers of this world’s darkness were present. We know that Christ is indeed over all of the powers of the heavens and earth, as Paul teaches in Colossians: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) Even though Christ is the head of all these things, they were still all gathered around our lonely Savior agonizing on the cross.
Blessing and Exaltation, Psalm 22:21b-31
The Psalm can be divided into two parts, with the natural dividing mark lying in the center of Psalm 22:21 where the suffering Savior cries, “You have answered me.” Everything before this verse involves Jesus’ suffering, and everything following it is an unbroken song. The title of this psalm, “Aijeleth Shohar,” in the original Hebrew language means “The hind of the dawn” or the “deer of the dawn.” In the poetical books, such as Song of Songs, the hind and the hart, the male and female deer, are frequently mentioned and symbolically refer to the Lord. Song of Songs 2:17 and 8:14 both refer to this animal, the “gazelle.” This kind of a deer is one of the most beautiful creations that God has made, yet it is also one of the most defenseless. Its only means of survival is its keen sense of smell and speed in flight, because enemies surround it continually. This analogy of the “hind” is the beautiful picture used of our Lord in Psalm 22 to show His defenselessness, His humility in suffering, and the constant attacking to which He was subject through enemies. In Psalm 22:1-21, we can see that His enemies come from three distinct sources. His sufferings are divinely from God, physically from man, and diabolically from Satan.
Yet in this second section of the Psalm 22:21b-31, we also find that the Lord is blessed in three corresponding spheres as well. The psalmist speaks of His “brethren” to whom He will pass on the message of salvation from His Lord. (See Psalm 22:22) He then goes on to recall the blessing of the “descendants of Jacob” and “offspring of Israel,” noting that He still recognizes His people as set apart in order to glorify God. (See Psalm 22:23) He then turns His praise and thanks for blessings to the kingdom of the Lord, saying, “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.” (Psalm 22:27) This last remembrance of blessing looks forward to the hope of all of God’s people for eternal salvation of the “ends of the world.”
There are also four different recognizable applications through which the psalmist speaks in Psalm 22. First, symbolically, the psalmist illustrates the sign of helplessness and defenselessness against enemies through the “hind of the dawn.” This hearkens us back to the suffering of our Lord on the cross and describes an image of our Lord in His abandonment by both God and men while at Calvary. Secondly, this psalm portrays several messianic titles to describe our Lord: the “worm,” “my darling,” the leader of the praises, and the ruler of the nations. (See Psalm 22:6, 22:20, 22:25, and 22:28 respectively) Each of these titles expands our image of the Lord and our understanding of what Jesus endured on the cross for each of us. Thirdly, we see the historic events of the birth, death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Messiah. The psalmist speaks of forming Him in the womb, bringing Him to the “dust of death,” hearing His cries and delivering Him from His enemies, and finally, recounting what He has done for the “next generation.” (See Psalm 22:9-10, 22:14-18, 22:19-24, and 22:25-31 respectively) Each one of these sections deals with an historical stage of the Lord’s life and ministry on earth or from the cross. Lastly, a fourth image is given in Psalm 22 of the Lord as the Prophet, when three circles of blessing are described, as previously mentioned. Each of these prophecies propels us forward to the time when His kingdom will come and all nations will glorify Him. These spheres of blessing are presented before the mention of the Kingdom of the Lord in Psalm 22:28-31 because this is the last stage of prophecy that follows the blessings of His people. (See Psalm 22:22, 22:23, and 22:27)
Interestingly enough, for Jewish people today, Isaiah 53, which portrays explicitly the sufferings of Christ and the sin-bearing Messiah, is often omitted in the Sabbath readings in the synagogue. Additionally, rabbinical commentaries of the Psalms omit any reference to Psalm 22, since it is “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” to them and their lack of recognition of Jesus as the Messiah. Beloved, as Christians may we all glory as the psalmist does in the recognition of what Psalm 22 teaches us in regards to our Savior. May we all be like the psalmist and be able to say “I will declare your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You.” (Psalm 22:22)