Psalm 22:
Blaming and Praising God

psalm22 man walking under arch

As we enter Psalm 22 we will address the themes of abandonment and renewal.

Andrew Davis, PhD

Many encounters with Psalm 22 begin and end with this Christian liturgical setting, but here I want to propose three additional ways to think about the psalm. The three insights will broaden our view of Psalm 22 beyond the standard Christian setting and association with Jesus’ death, while at the same time enriching our understanding of that setting.  Read more

Psalm 22 Text

אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי רָח֥וֹק מִֽ֝ישׁוּעָתִ֗י דִּבְרֵ֥י שַׁאֲגָתִֽי׃
אֱֽלֹהַ֗י אֶקְרָ֣א י֭וֹמָם וְלֹ֣א תַעֲנֶ֑ה וְ֝לַ֗יְלָה וְֽלֹא־דֻֽמִיָּ֥ה לִֽי׃
וְאַתָּ֥ה קָד֑וֹשׁ י֝וֹשֵׁ֗ב תְּהִלּ֥וֹת יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
בְּ֭ךָ בָּטְח֣וּ אֲבֹתֵ֑ינוּ בָּ֝טְח֗וּ וַֽתְּפַלְּטֵֽמוֹ׃
אֵלֶ֣יךָ זָעֲק֣וּ וְנִמְלָ֑טוּ בְּךָ֖ בָטְח֣וּ וְלֹא־בֽוֹשׁוּ׃
וְאָנֹכִ֣י תוֹלַ֣עַת וְלֹא־אִ֑ישׁ חֶרְפַּ֥ת אָ֝דָ֗ם וּבְז֥וּי עָֽם׃
כׇּל־רֹ֭אַי יַלְעִ֣גוּ לִ֑י יַפְטִ֥ירוּ בְ֝שָׂפָ֗ה יָנִ֥יעוּ רֹֽאשׁ׃
גֹּ֣ל אֶל־יְהֹוָ֣ה יְפַלְּטֵ֑הוּ יַ֝צִּילֵ֗הוּ כִּ֘י חָ֥פֵֽץ בּֽוֹ׃
כִּֽי־אַתָּ֣ה גֹחִ֣י מִבָּ֑טֶן מַ֝בְטִיחִ֗י עַל־שְׁדֵ֥י אִמִּֽי׃
עָ֭לֶיךָ הׇשְׁלַ֣כְתִּי מֵרָ֑חֶם מִבֶּ֥טֶן אִ֝מִּ֗י אֵ֣לִי אָֽתָּה׃
אַל־תִּרְחַ֣ק מִ֭מֶּנִּי כִּי־צָרָ֣ה קְרוֹבָ֑ה כִּי־אֵ֥ין עוֹזֵֽר׃
סְ֭בָבוּנִי פָּרִ֣ים רַבִּ֑ים אַבִּירֵ֖י בָשָׁ֣ן כִּתְּרֽוּנִי׃
פָּצ֣וּ עָלַ֣י פִּיהֶ֑ם אַ֝רְיֵ֗ה טֹרֵ֥ף וְשֹׁאֵֽג׃
כַּמַּ֥יִם נִשְׁפַּכְתִּי֮ וְהִתְפָּֽרְד֗וּ כׇּֽל־עַצְמ֫וֹתָ֥י הָיָ֣ה לִ֭בִּי כַּדּוֹנָ֑ג נָ֝מֵ֗ס בְּת֣וֹךְ מֵעָֽי׃
יָ֘בֵ֤שׁ כַּחֶ֨רֶשׂ ׀ כֹּחִ֗י וּ֭לְשׁוֹנִי מֻדְבָּ֣ק מַלְקוֹחָ֑י וְֽלַעֲפַר־מָ֥וֶת תִּשְׁפְּתֵֽנִי׃
כִּ֥י סְבָב֗וּנִי כְּלָ֫בִ֥ים עֲדַ֣ת מְ֭רֵעִים הִקִּיפ֑וּנִי כָּ֝אֲרִ֗י יָדַ֥י וְרַגְלָֽי׃
אֲסַפֵּ֥ר כׇּל־עַצְמוֹתָ֑י הֵ֥מָּה יַ֝בִּ֗יטוּ יִרְאוּ־בִֽי׃
יְחַלְּק֣וּ בְגָדַ֣י לָהֶ֑ם וְעַל־לְ֝בוּשִׁ֗י יַפִּ֥ילוּ גוֹרָֽל׃
וְאַתָּ֣ה יְ֭הֹוָה אַל־תִּרְחָ֑ק אֱ֝יָלוּתִ֗י לְעֶזְרָ֥תִי חֽוּשָׁה׃
הַצִּ֣ילָה מֵחֶ֣רֶב נַפְשִׁ֑י מִיַּד־כֶּ֝֗לֶב יְחִידָתִֽי׃
ה֭וֹשִׁיעֵנִי מִפִּ֣י אַרְיֵ֑ה וּמִקַּרְנֵ֖י רֵמִ֣ים עֲנִיתָֽנִי׃
אֲסַפְּרָ֣ה שִׁמְךָ֣ לְאֶחָ֑י בְּת֖וֹךְ קָהָ֣ל אֲהַלְלֶֽךָּ׃
יִרְאֵ֤י יְהֹוָ֨ה ׀ הַֽלְל֗וּהוּ כׇּל־זֶ֣רַע יַעֲקֹ֣ב כַּבְּד֑וּהוּ וְג֥וּרוּ מִ֝מֶּ֗נּוּ כׇּל־זֶ֥רַע יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
כִּ֤י לֹֽא־בָזָ֨ה וְלֹ֪א שִׁקַּ֡ץ עֱנ֬וּת עָנִ֗י וְלֹא־הִסְתִּ֣יר פָּנָ֣יו מִמֶּ֑נּוּ וּֽבְשַׁוְּע֖וֹ אֵלָ֣יו שָׁמֵֽעַ׃
מֵ֥אִתְּךָ֗ תְּֽהִלָּ֫תִ֥י בְּקָהָ֥ל רָ֑ב נְדָרַ֥י אֲ֝שַׁלֵּ֗ם נֶ֣גֶד יְרֵאָֽיו׃
יֹאכְל֬וּ עֲנָוִ֨ים ׀ וְיִשְׂבָּ֗עוּ יְהַֽלְל֣וּ יְ֭הֹוָה דֹּ֣רְשָׁ֑יו יְחִ֖י לְבַבְכֶ֣ם לָעַֽד׃
יִזְכְּר֤וּ ׀ וְיָשֻׁ֣בוּ אֶל־יְ֭הֹוָה כׇּל־אַפְסֵי־אָ֑רֶץ וְיִֽשְׁתַּחֲו֥וּ לְ֝פָנֶ֗יךָ כׇּֽל־מִשְׁפְּח֥וֹת גּוֹיִֽם׃
כִּ֣י לַ֭יהֹוָה הַמְּלוּכָ֑ה וּ֝מֹשֵׁ֗ל בַּגּוֹיִֽם׃
אָכְל֬וּ וַיִּֽשְׁתַּחֲו֨וּ ׀ כׇּֽל־דִּשְׁנֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ לְפָנָ֣יו יִ֭כְרְעוּ כׇּל־יוֹרְדֵ֣י עָפָ֑ר וְ֝נַפְשׁ֗וֹ לֹ֣א חִיָּֽה׃
זֶ֥רַע יַֽעַבְדֶ֑נּוּ יְסֻפַּ֖ר לַֽאדֹנָ֣י לַדּֽוֹר׃
יָ֭בֹאוּ וְיַגִּ֣ידוּ צִדְקָת֑וֹ לְעַ֥ם נ֝וֹלָ֗ד כִּ֣י עָשָֽׂה׃ {פ}

(1) For the leader; on ayyeleth ha-shaḥar. A psalm of David.
(2) My God, my God, why have You abandoned me; why so far from delivering me and from my anguished roaring?
(3) My God, I cry by day—You answer not; by night, and have no respite.
(4) But You are the Holy One, enthroned, the Praise of Israel.
(5) In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and You rescued them.
(6) To You they cried out and they escaped; in You they trusted and were not disappointed.
(7) But I am a worm, less than human; scorned by men, despised by people.
(8) All who see me mock me; they curl their lips, they shake their heads.
(9) “Let him commit himself to the LORD; let Him rescue him, let Him save him, for He is pleased with him.”
(10) You drew me from the womb, made me secure at my mother’s breast.
(11) I became Your charge at birth; from my mother’s womb You have been my God.
(12) Do not be far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
(13) Many bulls surround me, mighty ones of Bashan encircle me.
(14) They open their mouths at me like tearing, roaring lions.
(15) My life ebbs away: all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me;
(16) my vigor dries up like a shard; my tongue cleaves to my palate; You commit me to the dust of death.
(17) Dogs surround me; a pack of evil ones closes in on me, like lions [they maul] my hands and feet.
(18) I take the count of all my bones while they look on and gloat.
(19) They divide my clothes among themselves, casting lots for my garments.
(20) But You, O LORD, be not far off; my strength, hasten to my aid.
(21) Save my life from the sword, my precious life from the clutches of a dog.
(22) Deliver me from a lion’s mouth; from the horns of wild oxen rescue me.
(23) Then will I proclaim Your fame to my brethren, praise You in the congregation.
(24) You who fear the LORD, praise Him! All you offspring of Jacob, honor Him! Be in dread of Him, all you offspring of Israel!
(25) For He did not scorn, He did not spurn the plea of the lowly; He did not hide His face from him; when he cried out to Him, He listened.
(26) Because of You I offer praise in the great congregation; I pay my vows in the presence of His worshipers.
(27) Let the lowly eat and be satisfied; let all who seek the LORD praise Him. Always be of good cheer!
(28) Let all the ends of the earth pay heed and turn to the LORD, and the peoples of all nations prostrate themselves before You;
(29) for kingship is the LORD’s and He rules the nations.
(30) 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.

Al director musical. Sígase la tonada de «La cierva de la aurora». Salmo de David.
22 Dios mío, Dios mío,
¿por qué me has abandonado?
Lejos estás para salvarme,
lejos de mis palabras de lamento.
2 Dios mío, clamo de día y no me respondes;
clamo de noche y no hallo reposo.
3 Pero tú eres santo, tú eres rey,
¡tú eres la alabanza de Israel!
4 En ti confiaron nuestros padres;
confiaron, y tú los libraste;
5 a ti clamaron, y tú los salvaste;
se apoyaron en ti, y no los defraudaste.
6 Pero yo, gusano soy y no hombre;
la gente se burla de mí,
el pueblo me desprecia.
7 Cuantos me ven, se ríen de mí;
lanzan insultos, meneando la cabeza:
8 «Este confía en el Señor,
¡pues que el Señor lo ponga a salvo!
Ya que en él se deleita,
¡que sea él quien lo libre!»
9 Pero tú me sacaste del vientre materno;
me hiciste reposar confiado
en el regazo de mi madre.
10 Fui puesto a tu cuidado
desde antes de nacer;
desde el vientre de mi madre
mi Dios eres tú.
11 No te alejes de mí,
porque la angustia está cerca
y no hay nadie que me ayude.
12 Muchos toros me rodean;
fuertes toros de Basán me cercan.
13 Contra mí abren sus fauces
leones que rugen y desgarran a su presa.
14 Como agua he sido derramado;
dislocados están todos mis huesos.
Mi corazón se ha vuelto como cera,
y se derrite en mis entrañas.
15 Se ha secado mi vigor como una teja;
la lengua se me pega al paladar.
¡Me has hundido en el polvo de la muerte!
16 Como perros de presa, me han rodeado;
me ha cercado una banda de malvados;
me han traspasado[a] las manos y los pies.
17 Puedo contar todos mis huesos;
con satisfacción perversa
la gente se detiene a mirarme.
18 Se reparten entre ellos mis vestidos
y sobre mi ropa echan suertes.
19 Pero tú, Señor, no te alejes;
fuerza mía, ven pronto en mi auxilio.
20 Libra mi vida de la espada,
mi preciosa vida del poder de esos perros.
21 Rescátame de la boca de los leones;
sálvame de[b] los cuernos de los toros.
22 Proclamaré tu nombre a mis hermanos;
en medio de la congregación te alabaré.
23 ¡Alaben al Señor los que le temen!
¡Hónrenlo, descendientes de Jacob!
¡Venérenlo, descendientes de Israel!
24 Porque él no desprecia ni tiene en poco
el sufrimiento del pobre;
no esconde de él su rostro,
sino que lo escucha cuando a él clama.
25 Tú inspiras mi alabanza en la gran asamblea;
ante los que te temen cumpliré mis promesas.
26 Comerán los pobres y se saciarán;
alabarán al Señor quienes lo buscan;
¡que su corazón viva para siempre!
27 Se acordarán del Señor y se volverán a él
todos los confines de la tierra;
ante él se postrarán
todas las familias de las naciones,
28 porque del Señor es el reino;
él gobierna sobre las naciones.
29 Festejarán y adorarán todos los ricos de la tierra;
ante él se postrarán todos los que bajan al polvo,
los que no pueden conservar su vida.
30 La posteridad le servirá;
del Señor se hablará a las generaciones futuras.
31 A un pueblo que aún no ha nacido
se le dirá que Dios hizo justicia.


Footnotes

  1. 22:16 me han traspasado (LXX, Siríaca y algunos mss. hebreos); como el león (TM).
  2. 22:21 sálvame de (lectura probable); me respondiste desde (TM).

Line by line analysis (NJPS translation)

Ayyelet Ha-Shahar – The name of a musical instrument.

Another explanation: Concerning the nation of Israel, which is a beloved hind (Song of Songs 6: 10).

Our Sages, however, interpreted it as referring to Esther (Midrash on Psalms 22:1, Babylonian Talmud Megilah 15b). – RaShI – Rabbi Shlomo the Son of Isaac (1040-1105)

Ayyelet Ha-Shahar – An instrument with a very sweet sound that begins softly and gradually rises in volume like the rising light of dawn. – Rabbi Menhahem Meiri (1249-1315)

Ayyelet Ha-Shahar alludes to the Jewish people, who are compared to a doe (ayyelet) , whose beauty is like that of the dawn (shahar). The psalm reflects their collective cry during exile, where they have gone from being the doe of the dawn to a state of lowliness and darkness. – Rabbi David Kimhi (1160–1235), Rabbi Menhahem Meiri (1249-1315)

When the dawn breaks, the moon and stars retreat. At that moment, the darkness of night reaches its peak, and our slumber is deepest. So, too, just before the dawn of redemption, the Divine light will have reached its most profound concealment. Yet this darkness will create in us a great thirst for Godliness, which will in turn lead God to usher in the dawn of redemption. – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994)

“My God, My God, why have you abandoned Me!”
The collective cry of the Jewish people is spoken in the singular, since we are as one person with one heart. — Rabbi David Kimhi (1160–1235)

Even if you worship God with deveikut (fervent cleaving), do not consider yourself superior to others, for we are all created with unique capacities to serve our Creator. The worm, for example, serves its Creator to the best of its mental and physical abilities. Had God not given us human intelligence, we would not serve Him any differently than the worm. What, then, makes us superior to the worm?

Consider yourself equal to all creatures, since the abilities we have are no more than what has been granted to us by the Creator. — Tzava’at Ha’RiVaSh
(18th century, attributed to the Ba’al Shem Tov)

With the contrast of “distant” and “near,” the poet returns to the refrain of verse 2: “Such a long way between my desolate words and my deliverance.” In verse 2, the poet actually feels abandoned, with a great gap between her prayers and her deliverance; here, having just realized that God has always been present, the poet expresses only the fear that God might abandon her again. — Rabbi Richard N. Levy, Songs Ascending

Numbers 21 relates the story of Og, King of Bashan (located in the north of Israel) leading his people in an attack on the Israelites on their way through the wilderness. Moses’ final poem describes Bashan as teaming with “the best of” cows, lambs, and goats (Deuteronomy 32:14). Amos derisively calls the wealthy women of northern Israel quote cows of Bashan (Amos 4:1). Clearly, for an ancient Israelite audience, Bashan evoked images of physical aggression and animal husbandry. — Richard Levy, Songs Ascending

While the Hebrew is the ordinary word for dog, because dogs were not domesticated in ancient Israel (though they had long been domesticated elsewhere) and roamed about in packs as scavengers, the biblical term is wholly negative. — Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms

Ayaluti, my Leader. In the whole Hebrew Bible, the word ayaluti occurs only here. The word has the same letters as Ayelet, found in the musical directions in verse 1. It is translated in OJPS as “help” and in NJPS as “strength.” Because of its similarity to eilei (alef-yod-lamed-yod), meaning “leader” or “chief” (Exodus 15:15 and several times in Ezra), we have construed that sense here -particularly appropriate because ayaluti is parallel to Adonai.

Hurry to my aid! An echo of verse 12 (“There’s no one to help”), but now the poet realizes that God will be her help. Once she acknowledges that, help comes very soon -halfway through verse 22. — Rabbi Richard N. Levy, Songs Ascending

The three phases of the verse allude to the three aspects of the Messianic age:
“Let the humble eat and be satisfied” alludes to the material abundance of that time.

“Let those who seek God praise him” alludes to the spiritual clarity of that time.

“May your hearts live forever” alludes to the resurrection of the dead.

— Rabbi Jacob Emden (1697-1776)

Andrew DavisEntering the Psalm

By Andrew R. Davis, PhD

For Christians it is impossible to hear the opening verse of Psalm 22 without thinking of Jesus at the crucifixion. According to the Gospels (Mark 15:34; Matthew 27:46), Jesus cried out this verse – “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” – just before he died, and it has become a prominent feature of Christian liturgies commemorating his death. Many encounters with Psalm 22 begin and end with this Christian liturgical setting, but here I want to propose three additional ways to think about the psalm. The three insights will broaden our view of Psalm 22 beyond the standard Christian setting and association with Jesus’ death, while at the same time enriching our understanding of that setting.

First, although Psalm 22 begins with a bleak statement of divine abandonment, which sets the tone for the first two-thirds of the psalm (verses 1-23), the last third (verses 24-32) praises God’s deliverance and sovereignty. Thus, although we most remember Psalm 22 for its profound lament, God’s triumph has the last word.

The second insight is the psalm’s expansion from the particularity of the speaker’s crisis to the broader scope of YHWH’s kingship. Because the speaker laments his rejection and alienation, it comes as a surprise in verse 24 when he turns to address a gathering of supporters and we realize his lament, while highly personal, has taken place within the context of a large congregation (verse 26). The scope expands even further in verses 28-29 as the speaker invokes all nations and the ends of the earth as the extent of YHWH’s sovereignty. This movement shows the communal quality of prayer and worship in ancient Israel. Even an “individual lament” like Psalm 22 is embedded within the larger frameworks of community and the world as a whole.

The last insight is a lesson from Jewish interpretation of the psalm. Whereas Christian tradition, as we have seen, associates Psalm 22 with Jesus’ crucifixion, Jewish tradition connects it to the story of Esther, whose marriage to the Persian king brought her danger and peril, but also enabled the deliverance of her fellow Jews in exile. This mix of suffering and deliverance in her story mirrors the two parts of Psalm 22 and explains why the psalm came to be included in the celebration of Purim.

This deeper look into the biblical, Christian, and Jewish settings of Psalm 22 expands our appreciation of its diversity in content and reception. There is a lot packed into its thirty-two verses, and by looking at the psalm from different angles, we can celebrate its surplus of meaning and enrich the perspective most dear to each of us.- Andrew R. Davis, PhD

Additional Commentary

Aviva Zornberg

The opening words of Psalm 22 are saturated with the associations of the many individual sufferers who have found in them some strange respite.

Read more

By John M. Sweeney

Dare we disapprove of God? I think so; and there’s a long history of it. Disapproving of God is, in fact, what Psalm 22 sings. It is a protest ballad of criticism of the Divine. And why not? Where the hell is God, anyway?

Read more

Questions to Consider

  • What associations do you have when you read the strong words of lament at the beginning of the psalm?
  • What do you know about how this psalm has been used as part of religious services? How can you imagine this psalm could function as part of a liturgy in a service?
  • By which words in the psalm are you most touched? How do you feel about this psalm? Could it help you?

Activities & Exercises

He sits hidden somewhere
in the shadows of ineffable secrecy
and I tell Him
You are my refuge
my protector
I trust You
keep me safe

He will cover you
He’ll shield you
take you under His wing
take a bullet for you
or an arrow
or whatever whizzes past your head
endangering your life
your soul your loves
Lift your eyes
and see the wicked
fall in droves
while you remain intact
He will order angels
to guard you and yours
everywhere
to carry you
when the land gets rough
you’ll crush the heads
of snakes and lions
evil will never
befall your house

He knows my name
He knows I’m His
He answers me

I am your refuge
your protector
I will be with you
through hard times
you will live
a long good life

Activity

Write your own version of Psalm 22, including several human emotions and experiences. Try to incorporate both blame/desperation and praise/trust in God.

psalm22 art by Alyse Radenovic
Psalm 22: (16 x 22 inches, Acrylic, Alyse Radenovic, 2014)

Artist Statement

This is a painting of the complete text of Psalms 22 in Hebrew. Most of the text is not legible. This invites the viewer to move “in and out” of the text, and to meditate on alternate ways to “see”, relate to, and appreciate the text. The jumbled letters in the blue, white, and silver color scheme are meant to convey both tension and calmness, and be slightly evocative of a stormy sea, which ties in with the Psalm’s theme of seeking help from Hashem (“The Name,” God) when surrounded in a hostile environment.


Activity

Using paint or crayons, make your own visual creation of Psalm 22. Would you use blue or another color? You can also try to make a collage with letters, cutting shapes or pictures from magazines.


Activity

Listen to the musical interpretation of Psalm 22 by the band Poor Bishop Hooper. Notice the dramatic change in the music halfway. How does it go along with the feelings described in the Psalm? Try to make your own musical interpretation of what desperation or trust in God sound like.

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Copyright 2022 Hebrew College. Lesson by Anine de Grood.