Psalm 22

The Hebrew expression generally understood to mean “to [the] leader” or “to [the] musical director” is rendered “to the end” in the Septuagint. Uncertainty exists about whether the Hebrew word nátsach means “leader” or “director.”

The words “according to the hind of the dawn” may indicate a musical composition to the accompaniment of which this particular psalm would have been sung. Another possibility is that it is a musical designation, the significance of which is not known. The Septuagint reads, “concerning the assistance of the early morning.”

Psalm 22 (21, LXX) is ascribed to David. Because of having been granted the prophetic gift and receiving a divine revelation through the prophet Nathan that his dynasty would continue, David used language that found fulfillment in the experiences of Jesus, the foretold Messiah and the permanent heir in the royal line. (2 Samuel 7:10-17; Luke 1:31-33; 69, 70; Acts 2:29-31) While there are clear Messianic references in Psalm 22, the words apparently also have a historical background (which is the focus of the commentary). Accordingly, there is no need to look for Messianic applications when no supporting biblical evidence exists. (For the Messianic aspects, see the Notes section.) Often such applications are forced and do not contribute to a better understanding of the text.

Apparently faced with extreme distress and finding himself in a state of helplessness, the psalmist cried out to his God, “Why have you abandoned me?” Unaware of any guilt on his part that would have led to divine disapproval and being forsaken to his enemies, he could not understand this development, and the question revealed his innocence. It appeared to David that God had distanced himself, not responding to the words of his “roaring,” his loud outcry of distress, and effecting his deliverance.

He cried out during the day, but God did not answer. Even at night, David did not remain silent, evidently continuing to cry out. The Hebrew could also be understood to mean that he had no rest or repose during the night. According to the Septuagint, his outcry would not be accounted to him as “folly.”

David knew God to be “holy” or pure, and this would have made it especially difficult for him to understand why the distressing situation continued. The reference to God’s dwelling in or sitting on the praises of Israel suggests that, as these praises ascended, he would be surrounded by them like a habitation or enthroned on them. In the Septuagint, however, God, “the praise of Israel” or the One whom the people laud, is portrayed as dwelling in the holy places.

Reflecting on past dealings, the psalmist declared that the Israelite forefathers trusted in God. They trusted in him, and he delivered them.

Their trust had not led to disappointment. They cried to him and were delivered. Because of their trust in him, they did not experience shame or suffer humiliating defeat before their enemies.

By contrast, David found himself in the position of a “worm,” and not a man. He appeared to be a helpless creature amounting to nothing, was ridiculed, and treated with contempt.

When seeing his pitiable state, people mocked him. They “separated” or parted their “lips,” evidently opening their mouths to hurl insults. In a gesture of contempt, they wagged their heads.

In the Hebrew text, the opening word of the taunt is “roll” (the imperative second person singular masculine form of galál), with the possible implied object of “roll” being “burden,” that is, a burden to be rolled upon YHWH. In the Septuagint, however, the verb is a form of elpízo, meaning “hope” or “trust.” Modern translations vary in their renderings—“you relied on” (NAB), “commit your cause to” (NRSV), “he trusts in” (NIV), or “let him commit himself to” (Tanakh) YHWH. The mockery continued: Because the psalmist looked to God, let God rescue him; let God deliver him, for he delights in him. (See additional comments in the Notes section.)

In speaking of God’s taking him from the womb, the psalmist appreciatively attributed his life to the Most High who had made his birth possible. David also acknowledged that God had made him secure upon his mother’s breast, continuing to sustain and care for him in his mother’s arms. From the “womb” or from the time he was born, he was thrust upon YHWH. There was never a time when YHWH was not his God. From his mother’s womb or from his birth, this had been the case.

On account of this relationship from the very start of his life, he pleaded that God would not be far away (“turn away,” LXX) from him or too distant to provide aid. With distress being at hand and closing in on him, David needed his God to be nearby, for no one else could provide help.

His enemies surrounded him like many fierce bulls ready to gore, like strong bulls from Bashan (a region east of the Jordan that was well-suited for raising cattle). (Compare Numbers 32:1-5, 33.) The Septuagint makes no mention of Bashan but refers to the animals as “fat bulls.”

With their mouths wide open, these foes were also like a lion, rending and roaring. They were prepared to pounce on David and tear him to pieces.

Faced with formidable enemies, David depicted himself as powerless, comparable to being poured out like water from a vessel. When referring to all his bones as being separated, he seemingly meant that his situation could be likened to a condition where the limbs did not function properly, making any escape impossible. His “heart” had become like wax, losing its motivating and energizing capacity. It melted in his “inward parts,” indicating that he lost his courage.

He lacked strength, for it had dried up like a discarded fragment of earthenware that would soon crumble. Apparently his mouth proved to be so dry that he could not speak, for his tongue stuck to his “jaws,” probably meaning his gums. The Septuagint, however, reads “throat,” not “jaws.” David had been reduced to the point where he felt that God was laying him in the “dust of death” or abandoning him to death and burial in the dust.

Like vicious scavenger dogs, his enemies surrounded the psalmist. “A company of evildoers” encircled him, bent on bringing about his downfall. Seemingly no avenue of escape existed. The foes were at his hands and feet like a lion before its prey. The Septuagint, though, makes no mention of a lion but reads, “they pierced my hands and feet.” This rendering also has the support of a Dead Sea Psalms scroll (5/6HevPs), suggesting that the Septuagint is based on a Hebrew text differing from the Masoretic Text.

In his weak and emaciated state, the psalmist could count all his bones, which evidently would have been visible underneath the skin. According to Septuagint manuscripts, his enemies counted all his bones. They looked at him and found malicious pleasure in seeing him in this pathetic state.

The psalmist portrayed the enemies as having stripped him of his garments. They distributed them among themselves by casting lots to determine who would get each piece.

Again, as in verse 11(12), the psalmist pleads for YHWH not to be far away. He looked to his God as his “strength,” praying that he hasten to his aid. According to the Septuagint, his plea was for God’s help not to be distant.

David petitioned God to deliver his “soul” or life from the sword and from the “hand of the dog,” evidently meaning the power of the enemy. The expression “my only one” apparently is to be understood as meaning his own precious life. In the Septuagint, “my only one” is rendered “my only-begotten” (monogené mou), the life that was uniquely his own.

David continued to liken his enemies to wild animals, pleading to be saved from the lion’s mouth and from the horns of wild bulls (“unicorns,” LXX). In the Masoretic Text, the concluding expression is “you answered me,” which may mean “you came to the rescue.” Instead of “you answered me,” the Septuagint says “my humiliation.” This reading suggests that the petition is for deliverance from the humiliation vicious enemies could inflict upon him.

From this point onward, the psalmist depicted himself as one who had been delivered and expressed his deep gratitude to YHWH. To his “brothers,” apparently meaning fellow Israelites and paralleling “in the midst of the congregation,” he would declare God’s “name,” evidently relating the marvelous deliverance the Most High had brought about, and he would praise him for it.

He invited all fearers of YHWH to join him in this expression of praise. These fearers of YHWH are also “sons of Jacob” or “sons of Israel” (God’s people descended from Jacob or Israel) and were called upon to “glorify” and be in fear of or have reverential regard for YHWH.

There was good reason for acting on the psalmist’s invitation because of YHWH’s dealings with the afflicted. Unlike merciless humans who add to the suffering of those in distress by looking upon them with contempt, the Most High never despises or detests the affliction of those who are afflicted, poor, or lowly. According to the Septuagint, he has not disdained or been irritated by the supplication of the poor. He does not hide his face from them, refusing to turn his attention to their sad plight, but listens to their cry for aid. In the Septuagint, the psalmist is represented as the one whose cry was heard (“did not hide his face from me,” not “from him”; “I cried,” not “he cried”).

David’s praise in the great congregation (evidently that of Israel) had its source in YHWH, whose saving acts provided the basis for the laudation. When in dire straits, David had apparently made vows. Evidently, therefore, in response to the aid provided, he was determined to pay his vows in the presence of those who feared or had reverential regard for YHWH.

In view of the divine help he had been granted, the psalmist expressed the confidence that the needy or godly lowly ones would eat and be satisfied. All those seeking YHWH, desiring his approval, guidance, aid, and blessing, would praise him, apparently for all that he had done for them. The expression about their “hearts” living forever may signify their being granted a long and blessed life.

David envisioned that people outside the borders of Israel — “all the ends of the earth” — would “remember” (probably God’s deliverances of his people) and turn to YHWH and that all the families of the nations would bow down to him or worship him.

The reason for their bowing down before YHWH is his being the possessor of royal dominion. He rules over the nations.

The reference to their “eating” may refer to their living sumptuously. Having eaten, all the “fat ones” (the rich or prosperous ones) of the earth or land would bow down before YHWH, acknowledging him as having royal dominion. Those going down to the dust, or being reduced to lifeless dust when they die, will bow before him. Not a single one of those going down to the dust can keep his “soul” or himself alive. (See the Notes section for additional comments.)

Because of who YHWH is and what he has done, a “seed” or offspring would serve him. This is because those who witnessed the Lord’s activity would tell the coming or future generation about him.

“They” would come and announce God’s righteousness or justice (evidently as revealed by his helping those in distress). The words “they will come” may be understood to refer to the future generation that would arrive on the scene. These words, however, are not included in the Septuagint and numerous modern translations. To those yet to be born, “they” (the new generation) would announce what the Most High has done (probably the activity that revealed his justice).


In Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, the words of the crucified Son of God are those found in Psalm 22:1(2). Although the thought is the same, the Greek in the Matthew (theé mou theé mou, hinatí me enkatélipes) differs from that in Mark (ho theós mou ho theós mou, eis tí enkatélipés me; slightly different manuscript readings of Mark exist), but both are closer to the reading of the Masoretic Text than is the Septuagint. The Septuagint rendering is, “O God, my God, pay attention to me; why have you forsaken me?” The outcry indicated absolute innocence and the deep sense of pain from having been abandoned (for his Father did not intervene).

Those who taunted the crucified Son of God wagged their heads. (Compare Psalm 22:7(8) with Matthew 27:39.)

The taunts hurled at the crucified Son of God parallel the words of Psalm 22:8(9). (Matthew 27:43)

In the second part of verse 15(16), a partially preserved Dead Sea Psalms scroll differs from the Masoretic Text and seems to read, “my tongue melts in my mouth. They have placed me as the dust of death.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible) Like the sticking of the tongue to the gums, the “melting” of the tongue seemingly points to inability to speak. The reference to “they” or the enemies differs from the Masoretic Text, which attributes the developments to God (apparently in the sense of his permitting it).

In verse 16(17), the Greek word for “pierce” (a form of orýsso) basically means to “dig” or “dig out.” It is not the same term (ekkentéo) used regarding the “piercing” of Jesus’ side (John 19:37; Revelation 1:7), but believers in the first century evidently understood that the words of Psalm 22:16(17) were thus fulfilled in the case of Jesus Christ.

The gloating of Christ’s enemies (Luke 23:35) and the dividing of his clothing fit the description of Psalm 22:17, 18(18, 19). After relating what the soldiers did with Jesus’ clothing and their decision to cast lots for the seamless garment, John 19:24 calls attention to the fulfillment of the scripture (Psalm 22:18[19]), which is then quoted. The Greek text of the quotation is identical to that of the Septuagint.

With the exception of the first word, the quotation of Psalm 22:22(23) in Hebrews 2:12 is the same as the Septuagint reading. In the letter to the Hebrews, the words of Psalm 22 are used to show that believers are Christ’s brothers whom he is not ashamed to acknowledge as such.

Translators have variously rendered verse 29(30), representing those going down to the dust as either being dead or about to die. The explicit renderings often are interpretive paraphrases. “All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; all who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage.” (NAB) “To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust.” (NRSV) “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.” (NIV) “All those in full vigor shall eat and prostrate themselves; all those at death’s door, whose spirits flag, shall bend the knee before Him.” (Tanakh) “All who are rich and have more than enough will bow down to you, Lord. Even those who are dying and almost in the grave will come and bow down.” (CEV) In view of the contrast with the “fat ones,” it may be preferable to regard those going down to the dust as being persons barely existing on account of their poverty.

In the concluding phrase of verse 29(30), the Masoretic Text reads, “and his soul not keep alive.” This could mean that those about to go down to the dust (or barely existing) are unable preserve their “soul” or life. The Septuagint, however, uses the first person singular (“and my soul lives to him”), indicating that the soul of the psalmist, or he himself, lives to God. A number of modern translations have chosen to adopt this meaning. “And I will live for the LORD” (NAB), “and I shall live for him” (NRSV).

For verse 30(31), the Septuagint continues the application to the psalmist. “And my seed will serve him. To the Lord, the coming generation shall be announced.”

In the concluding verse, Septuagint manuscripts read, “whom the Lord has made,” not “that he has made [or, done].”