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"Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round." Psalm 22:12 (KJV)

Who were the to bulls of Bashan to David? What was significant about Bashan being used in this verse?

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The Hebrew idiom of "Bulls of Bashan" is probably an amalgam of two ideas:

  • The plain of Bashan was a large fertile plain used for pasture in the northern part of the territory of Israel (Duet 3:10, Josh 20:8). It was famous for it rich pasture used for raising well-fed cattle (Jer 50:19, Micah 7:14, Nah 1:4). The cattle raised on Bashan were proverbial for their strength, size, passion and self-contentment (Deut 32:14, Ps 22:12, Eze 39:18, Amos 4:1).
  • King Og was a fierce opponent of Israel when they arrived to take the land from the local inhabitants but Og was defeated (Deut 3:3-5). This territory was given to the half tribe of Manasseh (Num 21:33-35, Deut 3:1-11, 13, Josh 13:7, 8, 12.)

Thus, "Bulls of Bashan" appears to be idiom for large, fierce enemies. The Pulpit commentary observes:

Strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. Bashan, the richest pasture-g"round of Palestine, produces the largest and strongest animals (Ezekiel 39:18). Hence "the kine of Bashan" became an expression for powerful oppressors (Amos 4:1).

In Psalm 22, David is struggling with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and cries out in anguish to God to comfort him and strengthen him. Just what caused these feelings of anguish is not specified in Psalm 22, but it is a frequent theme of David's psalms.

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