It is written:
“For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet.” (Psalm 22:16)
In Psalm 22, the death of the Messianic King is prophesied in graphic and disturbing detail. Here in verse 16, we find some remarkable facts about the death of the Messiah that need to be considered.
First of all, the passage teaches us about how the “dogs” played an integral part in the death of the King. The word “dogs” was often used by the Jewish people to refer to the Gentiles. In discussing this word in the first century context, one scholar has noted:
“Second, the Greek word for “dog” is not the usual word for an unkempt street dog (Gk. kyōn), but a diminutive (Gk. kynarion), meaning a small dog that could be kept in the house as a pet. 14 In casting the word in the diminutive form Mark essentially empties it of opprobrium, for one feels entirely differently of a house pet than of an unclean street mongrel. The fact that the woman refers to her daughter and herself with the same term in her reply to Jesus shows that she does not take kynarion in a hostile or contemptuous sense. Third, “dog” signifies a traditional distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles that is important to the story. In the thought-world of the day, the Jews considered themselves “children” of God (Exod 4: 22; Deut 14: 1; Isa 1: 2). They differed from other nations because of their inclusion in the covenant of Abraham (Genesis 17) and because they possessed the Torah (Exodus 19). The issue at stake between Jesus and the woman is whether Jesus is sent to “the children” or “to the dogs.” The woman maintains the same distinction between “children” and “dogs” in her reply to Jesus, though with one slight change. Whereas Jesus refers to Israel as teknōn (” biological children”), the woman refers to Israel as paidiōn, which is more inclusive, implying both children and servants in a household. The change in terminology suggests that the woman understands the mercies of God to extend beyond ethnic Israel. The basic issue in the repartee between Jesus and the woman is not whether Gentiles have a claim on God’s mercies, but the relation of that claim to the Jewish claim. Jesus does not deny the woman’s request. “First let the children eat all they want” simply establishes a priority of mission; it does not exclude other hungry mouths. In the present context it implies the messianic priority of Jesus’ ministry to Israel to his ministry to the Gentiles, particularly, as we suggested earlier, with regard to teaching about the kingdom of God. But the priority of Israel in Jesus’ mission does not imply the exclusion of the Gentiles. The Servant of the Lord must first “restore the tribes of Jacob,” and then be “a light to the nations” (Isa 49: 6; also 42: 1; 61: 1-11). The choice of kynarion implies the dogs are house pets; that is, they belong to the household and will be fed along with the children. Indeed, the analogy of the children and dogs suggests a relationship to Jesus himself, for who might be the “father” who feeds the children —and their dogs —if not Jesus? The woman’s reply to Jesus in v. 28 shows her understanding and acceptance of Israel’s privilege. 15 Indeed, she appears to understand the purpose of Israel’s Messiah better than Israel does. Her pluck and persistence are a testimony to her trust in the sufficiency and surplus of Jesus: his provision for the disciples and Israel will be abundant enough to provide for one such as herself. Mark provides a clue to this understanding in the Gk. chortazō (NIV, “eat all they want”). This word occurs only twice elsewhere in Mark, in the feedings of the five thousand (6: 42) and four thousand (8: 4, 8). In its present location, the word bridges Jesus’ feeding of the Jews (6: 31-44) and his subsequent feeding of the Gentiles (8: 1-10). When dogs eat crumbs from the table they do not rob children of their food; they simply eat what is theirs from the surplus of the children.” (James R. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According To Mark, 4179-4205 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans’ Publishing Company)
Thus, this was a prophecy that the Messiah’s death would be connected to the Gentiles. This is very interesting when we consider that the Jewish people were not legally allowed to carry out capital punishment, and so had to resort to the Romans to carry out their plot against Jesus.
John 18:31-Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,”
Second, the prophecy speaks of the “piercing” that the Messiah would undergo. Over the last few years, some have objected that this is a faulty translation of the word used here.
What are the facts?
“As for Psalm 22: 16[ 17], almost all of the standard medieval Hebrew manuscripts (known as Masoretic) read ka’ari, followed by the words “my hands and my feet.” According to Rashi, the meaning is “as though they are crushed in a lion’s mouth,” while the commentary of Metsudat David states, “They crush my hands and my feet as the lion which crushes the bones of the prey in its mouth.” Thus, the imagery is clear: These lions are not licking the psalmist’s feet! They are tearing and ripping at them. 245 Given the metaphorical language of the surrounding verses (cf. w. 12-21[ 13-22]), this vivid image of mauling lions graphically conveys the great physical agony of the sufferer. Would this in any way contradict the picture of a crucified victim, his bones out of joint, mockers surrounding him and jeering at him, his garments stripped off of him and divided among his enemies, his feet and hands torn with nails, and his body hung on pieces of wood? 246 “But you’re avoiding something here,” you argue. “Where did the King James translators come up with this idea of ‘piercing’ the hands and feet? That’s not what the Hebrew says.” Actually, the Septuagint, the oldest existing Jewish translation of the Tanakh, was the first to translate the Hebrew as “they pierced my hands and feet” (using the verb oruxan in Greek), followed by the Syriac Peshitta version two or three centuries later (rendering with baz‘u). Not only so, but the oldest Hebrew copy of the Psalms we possess (from the Dead Sea Scrolls, dating to the century before Yeshua) reads the verb in this verse as ka’aru (not ka‘ari, “like a lion”), 247 a reading also found in about a dozen medieval Masoretic manuscripts—recognized as the authoritative texts in traditional Jewish thought—where instead of ka’ari (found in almost all other Masoretic manuscripts) the texts say either ka‘aru or karu. 248 (Hebrew scholars believe this comes from a root meaning “to dig out” or “to bore through.” ) So, the oldest Jewish translation (the Septuagint) translates “they pierced”; the oldest Jewish manuscript (from the Dead Sea Scrolls) reads ka’aru, not ka‘ari; and several Masoretic manuscripts read ka’aru or karu rather than ka’ari. This is not a Christian fabrication. I have copies of the manuscript evidence in front of my eyes as I write these words. 249 There is also an interesting notation made by the Masoretic scholars in the margin to Isaiah 38: 13, where the Hebrew word ka‘ari, “like a lion,” also occurs—the only other time in the Tanakh that ka’ari is found with the preposition k-, “like,” joined to this form of the word. 250 In this instance, however, ka‘ari occurs with a verb explaining the lion’s activity (“ break”), whereas in Psalm 22: 16[ 17] the meaning is ambiguous. As noted by Franz Delitzsch, “Perceiving this, the Masora [i.e., the marginal system of notation of the Masoretic scholars to the Hebrew biblical text] on Isaiah xxxviii. 13 observes, that k’ry in the two passages in which it occurs (Ps. xxii. 17, Isa. xxxviii. 13), occurs in two different meanings [Aramaic lyshny btry], just as the Midrash then also understands k‘ry in the Psalm as a verb used of marking with conjuring, magic characters.” 251 So, the Masoretes indicated that k’ry in Psalm 22 was to be understood differently than k’ry in Isaiah 38, where it certainly meant “like a lion.”” (Michael L. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus : Volume 3: Messianic Prophecy Objections, 125-126 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
The translation of “pierced” is perfectly in keeping with the Hebrew original and the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) made long before the time of Christ. Cole provides additional commentary on this point:
“See the critical apparatus of Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Rydelnik and Vanlaningham support the reading translated “they pierced” as follows: “The culminating statement of this suffering is they pierced my hands and my feet (v. 16), representing one of the most specific predictive references to Messiah’s crucifixion (paralleled only by Zch 12: 10). Yet this is one of the most debated passages in the Bible. The debate centers on the key Hebrew word ka’aru, rendered they pierced, though in most (but not all) medieval Hebrew manuscripts this word is written ka’ariy, meaning ‘like a lion.’ The first reading, however, is to be preferred for five reasons. First, it is supported by three of the four ancient translations (the Septuagint, the Peshitta, and the Vulgate; the fourth translation, the Targum to Psalms, was translated in the second century AD by non-Christian Jews). Second, even for Hebrew poetry, the phrase ‘like a lion’ is far too elliptical and makes no sense without a verb—which supporters of this reading are forced to supply (e.g., ‘like a lion they bite my hands and my feet’). Third, were the symbol of a lion intended, it would have been employed in the plural, not the singular, in order to agree with the plural subject (‘ evildoers’) in the verse (as in Jr 50: 17 and Zph 3: 3). Fourth, one of the leading medieval Jewish scribal authorities (Jacob ben Chayyim) himself affirms that the older and better manuscripts read ka’aru (‘ they pierced’) rather than ka’ariy (‘ like a lion’). Fifth, the reading ka’aru (‘ they pierced’) is attested in earliest the manuscript of this psalm (5/ 6 HevPs) from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which predates the medieval manuscripts by approximately one thousand years” (“ Psalms” in The Moody Bible Commentary ed. Michael Rydelnik and Michael G. Vanlaningham [Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014], 779–80).” (Robert L. Cole, “Psalm 22: The Suffering Of The Messianic King,” in Michael Rydelnik & Edwin Blum, The Moody Handbook of Messianic Prophecy: Studies and Expositions of the Messiah in the Old Testament, 541-542 Footnote 30 (Kindle Edition); Chicago; Moody Press)
It should also be observed that while this Psalm powerful describes crucifixion, it does so hundreds of years before this method of execution was even invented.
“Blinzler states, “Crucifixion was unknown in Jewish criminal law. The hanging on a gibbet, which was prescribed by Jewish law for idolaters and blasphemers who had been stoned, was not a death penalty, but an additional punishment after death designed to brand the executed person as one accursed of God, in accordance with Deut. 21:23 (LXX): ‘For he is accursed of God that hangeth on a tree.’ The Jews applied these words also to one who had been crucified. If crucifixion was the most shameful and degrading death penalty even in the eyes of the pagan world, the Jews in the time of Jesus regarded a person so executed as being, over and above, accursed of God.” 2/247,248 The Encyclopedia Americana records: “The history of crucifixion as a mode of punishment for crime must be studied as a part of the Roman system of jurisprudence…. The Hebrews, for example, adopted or accepted it only under Roman compulsion: under their own system, before Palestine became Roman territory, they inflicted the death penalty by stoning.” 8/253 ” . . . In 63 B.C., Pompey’s legions cut their way into the Judean capital. Palestine became a Roman province, though nominally a puppet Jewish dynasty survived.” 29/262 Thus, the type of death pictured in Isaiah 53 and Psalms 22 did not come into practice under the Jewish system until hundreds of years after the account was written.” (Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, eBook: Fast Answers for Skeptics’ Questions about Jesus, 151-152 (Kindle Edition, emphasis added, M.T.); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
The powerful description of the Psalmist elaborates very powerfully the death of the Messiah.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.