Much like Isaiah 53, Psalm 22 describes the Messiah’s torment, rejection and death.
“To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22:1-2).
Son of David: King David, who wrote Psalm 22 under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, predicted that the Messiah - who would be his descendant - would suffer, be rejected and killed. When Jesus was on the cross, He cried out quoting the first line of the Psalm, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” That is: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Psalm 22 foretells how God had to separate from the Messiah. God turns His face away from the Messiah so that, as he dies, He may take the sins of Israel and of all mankind upon Himself.
Rashi (who was a famous Jewish sage) gave his commentary on this verse: “Why have You forsaken me?: They are destined to go into exile, and David recited this prayer for the future” (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki). Even Rashi could see that this psalm is a prophecy about the future and not just some past experience of David.
“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; He trusts in the Lord; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, for He delights in him!” (Psalm 22:6-8).
Now these verses describe the scorn and derision towards the Messiah by all those around him.
“Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help” (Psalm 22:9-11).
The Messiah’s trust is not in people, but in God, and has been from the beginning. However, God is not there in His time of trouble. Interestingly, even here like the rest of the biblical prophecies about the Messiah, only the Messiah’s mother is mentioned, there is no human father mentioned.
“For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; Like a lion are my hands and feet” (Psalm 22:16).
And now, here comes the interesting part! For the past millennia, all Hebrew bibles say: “Like a lion are my hands and feet.” Or, in other words: my hands and my feet are like those of a lion. It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, does it? 1,000 years ago, the Masoretes who made the “Masoretic text” that Israelis all use today, changed one single letter in this verse:
They shortened the letter VAV ( ו )
into the letter YUD ( י ).
Originally, the text actually read they have pierced my hands and my feet. The original Hebrew word means to mine or bore, to make a hole or dig a pit. According to Bar-Ilan University’s Biblical Hebrew Dictionary the meaning of “mine” is the same as “dig.” This is reinforced in various places throughout the Old Testament. For example, in Exodus 21:33 or in 2 Chronicles 16:14. However, this sounded a little too much like Jesus for the rabbis, they decided to shorten the letter VAV ( ו ) to become the letter YUD ( י ). Any person who reads any ancient version of the Old Testament, such as the Septuagint or the Dead Sea Scrolls, will see for themselves that the original text doesn’t say “like a lion”, but rather “they have bored / pierced.” The Dead Sea Scrolls, dated hundreds of years before the time of Jesus or as in the New Testament, were written at least 1,200 years prior to the Masoretic text.
That description is remarkably similar to the one in Zechariah 12, verse 10: “When they look on me, on Him whom they have pierced” as well as to the description in Isaiah 53 where the Messiah is said to be “pierced for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5).
Even the Jewish Sages recognized and admitted that Psalm 22 was a prophetic psalm about the Messiah. In fact, Rashi explains verse 27 as referring: “To the time of redemption, to the days of the Messiah.” (Rashi’s commentary on Psalm 22:27).
When one properly understands Psalm 22, the true Messiah and Savior can be easily discerned. It describes one who has suffered unbearable agony, pierced in his hands and feet, tortured and killed, but then rose from the dead. King David wasn’t referring to himself - even the rabbis agree about that. However, unlike David, Jesus not only risked His own life for His people, but He GAVE His life – for us all!
Eitan Bar is author of the new book Refuting Rabbinic Objections to Christianity and Messianic Prophecies, available from Amazon.