The Four Beasts of Psalm 22

For some years four impressive life-size, bronze statues/ sculptures stood together in the plaza between the law school and the main library of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They represented the four horses of Revelation chapter 6 - white, red, black, and pale - each of which symbolizes a different aspect of God’s future working in this world.

But there is another biblical chapter which describes a set of four animals that were to play a role in the history of the Christian church at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. These are the four beasts mentioned in Psalm 22. Some 1,000 years earlier, David the king records some painful events. Some of the vocabulary in this psalm describes unpleasant happenings in his own life, but all of it relates to his greater Son.

When people in general reflect on the sufferings of Jesus Christ that were experienced during His passion, they tend to focus on His excruciating physical agonies and His spiritual torment upon assuming mankind’s accumulated sins as His own. It is my observation that not as much reflection is given to the emotional pain our Lord suffered as a result of verbal abuse. King David did not just mention that the Son of David was going to be harassed by ‘beasts’ in general. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he specifically mentions four species of beasts as adversely affecting our Lord mentally in addition to His extreme physical sufferings.

It should be noted that the Godhead had created each of these four species of beasts, each of which had been gentle in the Garden of Eden up to the time that Eve and then Adam bought into Satan’s lies and then sinned.

After that, a curse was placed on all of creation. Romans chapter 8 verse 22 states, ‘For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now’.

Regarding the kingdom age yet to come, God says, ‘in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely’, Hos. 2. 18. ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them’, Isa. 11. 6.

In the case of our Lord Jesus Christ, the situation was far worse than any similar plight of a human as He hung on the cross in excruciating agony for six interminably long hours. It is undoubtedly extremely disconcerting to face a situation with impending trouble when confined/held in place in a way that no defence or shielding is humanly possible. That would preclude putting one’s hands over the ears to muffle hurtful comments directed at Him.

Note that King David used metaphors of four beasts to describe these categories of enemies who will engage in verbally abusing our Lord.

Beast one: bulls of Bashan

Verse 12 states, ‘Many bulls have compassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round’. The country of Bashan embraced the territory which was on the east of the Jordan River, north of Gilead, and which had been given to the half-tribe of Manasseh. Bashan was distinguished for having rich pastureland. Its trees and breed of cattle are frequently referred to in the scriptures. The bulls of Bashan are here alluded to as remarkable for their size, their strength, and their fierceness. Here, they represent those that were savage and violent.

There is substantial evidence to note that Bashan was the headquarters for the worship of the god ‘Baal’.1 It is worth noting that Baal was represented by a bull. Recall that worship of this heathen deity was also carried on by the inhabitants of this region, the Amorites, whose king was Og. They resisted the Israelites, who, being led by Moses, defeated them just before Joshua led the Israelites across the river Jordan into the land of Canaan. We recall that the worship of this same ‘deity’ was also carried on by the Philistines, including the legendary Goliath. It is interesting that Og was also a giant as well as Goliath, Deut. 3. 11. Hence, what could be construed by the bulls of Bashan can refer to evil spirits (demons … pagan deities) who had been the foes of Jehovah for thousands of years.2

Beast two: lion

Verse 13 reads, ‘They [the bulls of Bashan] gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion’. A lion is mentioned also in verse 21, which reads, ‘Save me from the lion’s mouth’. Fierce and threatening as the bulls were, some of Christ’s adversaries were as ravenous as roaring lions. They ‘gaped … with their mouths’, eager to devour, ready to spring on the prey (our Lord) and crush Him in their monstrous jaws. Like roaring lions, these enemies of Christ howled out their fury, longing to tear the Saviour in pieces.

Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology states, ‘Most Hebrew and Greek words for “lion” are used in a figurative sense, nevertheless we can draw a number of inferences regarding the perceived characteristics and behavior of literal lions. They are, (as stated in the following verses), among other things, strong (Prov. 30:30) -especially in their teeth (Job 4:10) and paws (1 Sam. 17:37), fearless (Prov. 28:1; 30:30), stealthy (Psalm 17:12), frightening (Hosea 11:10; Amos 3:8), destructive (1 Sam. 17:34 ; Micah 5:8)’.3

Scripture symbolizes the tribe of Judah as a lion. On his deathbed, Jacob made this prophetic statement regarding his son, Judah, and his descendants, ‘Judah is a lion’s whelp [pup]; from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion … who shall rouse him up?’ Gen. 49. 9. Rabbinic tradition states that when the Israelites camped in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, the tribe of Judah was assembled east of the tabernacle under a banner with a lion on it.4 Also, frequently, leaders both secular and spiritual, are characterized as being ‘lions’. The leaders that were present at the cross were, for the most part, the Jewish spiritual hierarchy: priests, scribes, and elders.5 Matthew records, ‘Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God’, 27. 41-43. Our Lord’s emotional stamina must have passed through a most severe conflict while He found Himself abandoned to the ‘tender’ mercies of these vile and cruel Jewish religious leaders.

Beast three: dog

Note the two verses from Psalm 22: ‘For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet’, v. 16; ‘Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog’, v. 20.

‘The word dog is used many times in scripture, but it’s not talking about cute house pets. When the word is used, it’s usually talking about unholy people or half wild or wild dangerous animals who usually roam the streets in packs for food. They are dirty and are not to be messed with’.6 Gill’s Exposition of the Bible states that ‘dogs’ here refers to Gentiles, so called by the Jews by way of contempt, because of their ignorance, idolatry, and impurity, by whom are also meant wicked men, as the following clause shows.7 It may very well be that the Roman soldiers, who were Gentiles, were chiefly intended, whom the Jews used to call ‘dogs’. After they had crucified Him, they gambled over our Lord’s seamless tunic and divided up the rest of His clothes into four parts - one part for each soldier, John 19. 23, 24. In addition, they resorted to verbally berating Him. Luke chapter 23 verses 36 and 37 states, ‘the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, and saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself’.

Beast four: wild oxen, NIV

The evidence for this association of Ephraim with wild oxen is as follows:

Genesis chapter 48 verses 11 to 20 states that when Jacob was about to die, he gathered his sons from Leah and Rachel about him and made a declarative statement about each. Joseph was given the double portion of the firstborn instead of Reuben, 1 Chr. 5. 1. Moreover, Jacob deliberately gave Ephraim the firstborn right and blessing over Manasseh, who was really the firstborn of the two.8

Jewish tradition says that the four ensigns (standards) under which Israel encamped about the tabernacle during their wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan were a lion for Judah on the east, an ox for Ephraim on the west, an eagle for Dan on the north, and a man for Reuben on the south.9

Mark chapter 15 verse 32 goes on to state, ‘they that were crucified with him reviled him’. Our Lord even had to endure hurtful verbal jabs directed at Him from the two criminals who were ‘in the same boat’ with Him as far as punishment was concerned.

It is important to stress that our Lord was not in a position where He could close off these malicious invectives directed at Him; He couldn’t stop up His ears with His hands. Instead, He had to fully endure their words as well as the emotion behind them, which in combination, as the scriptures seem to reveal, hurt Him deeply.

However, perceptively, Meyer points out, ‘In the middle of Ps. 22:21 there is a remarkable change from the plaintive to the triumphant: supplication and entreaty break out into exultation; hope saves the broken harp from the hands of despair, restrings it, and extracts from it strains to which angels, on their way home to God, are constrained to listen’.10 Note the last sentence of verse 21, ‘thou hast heard me’. It would be interesting to know what constituted the answer to His prayer that began as recorded in verse 19. For the rest of the chapter, the Son of David is engaged in praise and worship. Perhaps our Lord was able to experience a glimpse of a sure, definite lessening of His physical, emotional, and spiritual sufferings that would be His within a relatively short time.

Endnotes

1

Michael S. Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World—And Why It Matters, Lexham Press, 2015, pg. 122. Emphasis added.

2

See here:

3

See here:

4

John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Moody Press, 1999.

5

See: Matt. 27. 41-43; Mark 15. 31, 32; Luke 23. 35.

6

See:

7

John Gill, Exposition of the Entire Bible, an e-sword Bible software resource.

8

See also: Deut. 33. 13-17.

9

C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrickson, 2002.

10

F. B. Meyer, Through the Bible Day by Day, an e-sword Bible software resource.

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