Forums Meditations and Spirituality Psalm 22 Reply To: Psalm 22

Brother Gilbert Joseph
    Post count: 87

    Here is a part of it:

    Psalm 22 is one of those texts in the First Testament that has a polemical history between Jews and Christians and is called by those of the Second Testament a Messianic text. In this short essay I cannot cover this topic in any detail and I will discuss some limited aspects of the text with a focus on Psalm 22:16 (17) and Psalm 22:20 (21). While a vertical argumentative and polemic approach to Psalm 22 may aid scholarly understanding a more lateral sharing of wisdom approach to the Biblical text and textual criticism may be more fruitful. This gleaning of wisdom approach is called bricolage by Altes.[1] This is also the approach used by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov [2]and is called Likutey in Hebrew (gathering, gleanings). Levinas writes of “a wisdom older than the patent presence of a meaning in the writing. A wisdom without which the message buried deep within the enigma of the text cannot be grasped.”[3] Thus this approach allows for a broader landscape that allows for different layers and approaches to enrich our understanding and our encounter of the text and of our rendezvous with others in their encounter of the text.

    Psalm 22 is read by traditional Christians and Jewish believers in Yeshua in the light of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) and they read the text as a prophetic foretelling of the sufferings of the Messiah.[4] Many Christians see Jesus’ cry from the cross,[5] of the words of the opening of Psalm 22, as the Messiah drawing our attention to the whole of the prophetic meaning of the Psalm in regards to the passion of the Messiah Yeshua.[6] Jewish readers see other Messianic figures in the text such as King David[7], King Hezekiah, Queen Esther[8] and the Messiah Ephraim[9] among others. Many commentators see the figure as a royal personage[10]. Others see the Lamenter of Psalm 22 not as a single person but rather a personification of Israel or the Jewish people. Esther Menn mentions the concerns of some believers that the emphasis on a historical personage may take away its power as a prayer or cry of the ordinary believer.[11] She also mentions Psalm 22 as being a part of the Jewish pre-exilic Temple ritual in regards to the rituals of healing for a person in distress[12].There is no reason that Psalm 22 can’t be read taking all these insights and perspectives into account. However Psalm 22 and the other Davidic Psalms are set in the social context of Judaism and its concerns, both cultural and religious. Some believe that the Psalms were composed in the pre-exilic period, others in the post-exilic.[13] Croft mentions that some scholars such as Birkeland and Rosenbaum consider the role of the antagonists in the Psalm to be crucial in identifying whether the Psalms are a product of the history of the pre or post exilic periods.[14]

    Psalm 22:20 (in the Hebrew Bible it is verse 21) reads in Hebrew as הַצִּילָה מֵחֶרֶב נַפְשִׁי מִיַּד-כֶּלֶב, יְחִידָתִי. (ha-tzilah me-cherev nafshi; miyad kalev, y’chidti). This means “Deliver from the sword my soul[15]; from the hand of the dog my only one (yachid). Rivka Ulmer[16] discusses how Jewish sources connect this yachid (only one or only begotten son) in Psalm 22 with the yachid of the Akedah (Binding of Abraham and Isaac). She writes:

    The interpretation of the verse Save my soul from the sword, yehidati [my only one] from the power of the dog (Ps.22:21) does not only focus upon the lemma “dog,” but also upon “my only one.” Genesis Rabbah 46:7 (see Sifre Deuteronomy 313) contains an interpretation relating this Psalm to the Aqedah, the sacrifice of Isaac. Rabbinic hermeneutics situate Psalm 22:21 in the context of sacrificing a son. Your only son (Gen.22:12) is implied and juxtaposed to my only one (Ps.22:21); the text states God said to Abraham: “I give merit to you, as if I had asked you to sacrifice yourself and you did not refuse it.” My only one in this case would indicate that God recognized Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son. In another midrash, Numbers Rabbah 17:2, a lemma from Genesis Your only son, referring to Isaac, is changed to “your soul,” proof-text is Psalm 22:21. The ram sacrificed saves not only Isaac, but also Abraham. These passages show a nexus between Psalm 22:21 and Isaac, the “only son” of Abraham…[17]

    Many writers claim that Psalm 22 is not perceived as a Messianic text by Judaism whereas Ulmer one of the leading Jewish scholars in this field clearly demonstrates that Jews of the past did interpret it in a Messianic light.[18] Christians saw this yachid in Psalm 22 and in the Akedah as alluding to the ‘only begotten son’ who is the suffering Messiah Jesus the son of Joseph and Miriam (Mary) and son of God the Father, which led to later Jewish authorities (due to the bitter polemics) to deny a Messianic significance to Psalm 22 in contradiction to past Jewish midrashim.[19]

    This leads us to the rather polemic discussion of ‘the pierced one’ mentioned by Christians but is translated by Jewish scholars as ‘like a Lion’ in Psalm 22:16 (or 17). The textual evidence is complex as some Masoretic texts do have karu (they pierce or dig) rather than ka’ari (like a lion) and one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Nachal Chever text) also has karu.[20] The Septuagint also has pierced (ωρυξαν). Here in Psalm 22 we seem to have the concept of a pierced one (karu) and a uniquely begotten son (yachid) and this is also found in Zechariah where it speaks of the people of Jerusalem and the House of David looking upon an apparition of a pierced one who is also a yachid[21].

    However if we read the text of Psalm 22:16 (17) as “like a lion” (ka’ari) it can also be read in a Messianic manner as the Messiah is perceived as a Lion. The symbol of Judah is the Lion (Gen.49:9) and the Messiah Yeshua is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in the Apocalypse of John.[22] While some lions are mentioned in Psalm 22 in a negative way (along with dogs) the Hebrew for them is the aryeh form rather than ari. Thus the lion here which reminds us moderns of a kind of Aslan figure and may allude to the story in antiquity of Apion’s “Androcles and the Lion” and Aesop’s fable of the “Lion and the Mouse”. Both these stories tell of a Lion with a thorn piercing his paw (foot) and a kind one digging it out of its foot. These common tales may have been appealing to Jews of the Roman period and the rabbis may have used ka’ari as an alternative reading and then later, due to the polemical debates between Jews and Christians, ka’ari (like a lion) became the preferred reading of the Jewish community. It is common in Jewish rabbinic discussions to read certain words in the Hebrew texts differently and give a deeper meaning by the use of these alternative readings.[23]

    If instead of reading this as referring to a male but rather as a female, then the Lion becomes a Lioness and alludes to Queen Esther which is another Jewish reading of Psalm 22.[24] This story of Esther also speaks of a wooden gallow that Haman builds to hang or crucify Mordechai. Mordechai is perceived as a type of the messianic Tzadik (the righteous one) according to the teaching of Rebbe Nachman and the Breslov rabbis.[25] Tkacz also writes that St Jerome also knew of traditions that ascribe the role of the lamenter of Psalm 22 to Esther and Mordechai.[26] Mordechai is perceived as a type (behinat) of the humble Tzadik (of Zechariah 9:9) and Queen Esther is a type of the Shekhinah (feminine Presence of God).[27] The name Gazelle of the Dawn (Ayelet haShahar) as the title of Psalm 22 alludes to the weeping Shekhinah who unites with the Tzadik to chant this lament.[28] Some Jewish sources see this lament of Psalm 22 as voiced by both Esther and Mordechai together.[29]

    Esther’s husband the Persian king is described by Esther as a dog and a lion according to the Talmud. This account in the Babylonian Talmud places the events of Esther’s story in the context of Psalm 22. In this passage Esther’s royal pagan husband is associated, by her using the words of Psalm 22: 20-21 (21-22 in the Hebrew Bible), with both the concepts of the dog and the lion.[30]

    R. Levi said: When she reached the chamber of the idols, the Divine Presence left her. She said, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me. (Ps. 22:2) Is it possible that You punish the inadvertent sin like the presumptuous one, or one done under compulsion like one committed willingly? Or is it because I called [Ahasuerus] “dog,” as it says Save my soul from the sword, my only one from the power of the dog?(Ps. 22:21) She immediately retracted and called him “lion,” as it says. Save me from the lion’s mouth (Ps 22:22).[31]

    The Zohar also alludes to the apparitions of a dog and lion in regard to the Temple offerings.[32] When the offerings were accepted an image of a Lion crouching over its prey (the symbol of Judah)[33] appears above the sacrificial altar while the dogs hide themselves away. The dogs represent the gentiles.[34] However when the people sin the Lion is killed by the Tzadik and an image of a demonic dog appears and consumes the sacrifices.[35] The Zohar seems to be saying that this Tzadik (righteous one) killed the two lions of God (Ariels) which represent the two Temples due to sin. The concept of the two lions- The Lion and the Lioness in Zohar 1:6b also alludes to the lion and the lioness of Genesis 49:9. Thus we see that the lamenter of Psalm 22 can refer to an individual, to Israel as a collective and as the Temple. Whether one perceives the lamenter as a king or queen, or the personification of Israel or the Temple, or a prophecy of the Jewish Messiah (whether Yeshua or the future Mashiach Ephraim or Joseph or David) it can only be understood in the context of a Hebrew perspective rooted in the rites, customs, culture and ethics of Judaism.