In Psalm 22 the Messiah refers to his enemies in the plural until verse 20. Is the singular in verse 20 a particular singular enemy or is this still the same plural referent only singular in form? Is he referring to the people(s) as a singular sword, lion and dog?

[Psa 22:1-31 YLT] (1) To the Overseer, on 'The Hind of the Morning.' -- A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my salvation, The words of my roaring? (2) My God, I call by day, and Thou answerest not, And by night, and there is no silence to me. (3) And Thou art holy, Sitting -- the Praise of Israel. (4) In Thee did our fathers trust -- they trusted, And Thou dost deliver them. (5) Unto Thee they cried, and were delivered, In Thee they trusted, and were not ashamed. (6) And I am a worm, and no man, A reproach of man, and despised of the people. (7) All beholding me do mock at me, They make free with the lip -- shake the head, (8) 'Roll unto Jehovah, He doth deliver him, He doth deliver him, for he delighted in him.' (9) For thou art He bringing me forth from the womb, Causing me to trust, On the breasts of my mother. (10) On Thee I have been cast from the womb, From the belly of my mother Thou art my God. (11) Be not far from me, For adversity is near, for there is no helper. (12) Many bulls have surrounded me, Mighty ones of Bashan have compassed me, (13) They have opened against me their mouth, A lion tearing and roaring. (14) As waters I have been poured out, And separated themselves have all my bones, My heart hath been like wax, It is melted in the midst of my bowels. (15) Dried up as an earthen vessel is my power, And my tongue is cleaving to my jaws. (16) And to the dust of death thou appointest me, For surrounded me have dogs, A company of evil doers have compassed me, Piercing my hands and my feet. (17) I count all my bones -- they look expectingly, They look upon me, (18) They apportion my garments to themselves, And for my clothing they cause a lot to fall. (19) And Thou, O Jehovah, be not far off, O my strength, to help me haste. (20) Deliver from the sword my soul, From the paw of a dog mine only one. (21) Save me from the mouth of a lion: -- And -- from the horns of the high places Thou hast answered me! (22) I declare Thy name to my brethren, In the midst of the assembly I praise Thee. (23) Ye who fear Jehovah, praise ye Him, All the seed of Jacob, honour ye Him, And be afraid of Him, all ye seed of Israel. (24) For He hath not despised, nor abominated, The affliction of the afflicted, Nor hath He hidden His face from him, And in his crying unto Him He heareth. (25) Of Thee my praise is in the great assembly. My vows I complete before His fearers. (26) The humble do eat and are satisfied, Praise Jehovah do those seeking Him, Your heart doth live for ever. (27) Remember and return unto Jehovah, Do all ends of the earth, And before Thee bow themselves, Do all families of the nations, (28) For to Jehovah is the kingdom, And He is ruling among nations. (29) And the fat ones of earth have eaten, And they bow themselves, Before Him bow do all going down to dust, And he who hath not revived his soul. (30) A seed doth serve Him, It is declared of the Lord to the generation. (31) They come and declare His righteousness, To a people that is borne, that He hath made!

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Actually, in Ps 22 the enemies of David are metaphorically given various titles that form a chiastic pattern:

  • V12 - Bulls of Bashan (plural)
  • V13 - - Lion (singular)
  • V16a - - - Dogs (plural)
  • V16b - - - - Company (singular) of Wicked (plural)
  • V20 - - - Dog (singular)
  • V21a - - Lion (singular)
  • V21b - Wild Oxen (plural)

Thus, Bulls/oxen are both plural; Lion is singular both times; Only Dogs/dog appears in both forms. In the second instance (V20), the singular implies the plural.

In the case of the lions, the roaring of bulls is compared to that of a lion; and in the second case, David prays to be spared from the mouth of a lion.


What we have here is David being hunted down by Saul. He is in anguish for his life, i.e. or "soul" from Psalm 22:20. At vs6-9 David is echoing how the people view David.

From vs11 David is pleading to the Lord not to forsake him. He is "spent" and at the end of his strength. He also describes in animal terms how vicious these hunters are. At vs19 and 20 David again pleads to the Lord not to leave him. My only life from the power of the dog.

I believe the use of the word "dog" David is expressing to deliever him from the "collective" enemy as a singular dog. David does use the plural "dogs" at vs16. Also note at vs21, "Save me from the lion's mouth; And from the horns of the wild oxen Thou dost answer me."

I believe "from the lion's mouth" is represented as singular. So the good news is that the Lord God did deliver David because at vs22 He begans to praise God. Vs24, "For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Neither has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He heard."

Now, I know you applied this Psalm to the Messiah and I agree with you. I have used this Psalm for years when people insist on saying that God forsook His only Son on that cross. I maintain that Jesus Christ was not forsaken but rather He felt forsaken just as David did in his anguish felt God had deserted or left him.

Jesus said at John 16:32 the following. "Behold, an hour is coming and has already come for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I AM NOT ALONE BECAUSE THE FATHER IS WITH ME." You also have 2 Corinthians 5:19, "namely, that God was in Christ reconcilling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses agains them, and He has committed to us the word of reconcilation."

As a side note all of us have been in situations where we feel the Lord is not there. For me it was in Vietnam on may occasions but here I am alive and well praising God and thanking Him for even waking up in the morning to do what I love most, glorifying Him.


Why singular vs. plural?

As one reads through the Hebrew OT one notices the exceedingly frequent pattern that, in Hebrew, they are perfectly ok with changing from singular to plural, even within the same verse while they are talking about the same topic. Here's an example from the portion of Isaiah I'm reading through right now:

כָּל־שֹׁמֵר שַׁבָּת מֵחַלְּלוֹ וּמַחֲזִיקִים בִּבְרִיתִי (Isaiah 56:6 HMT-W4)
Every one who keeps himself from desecrating the Sabbath; and the ones who hold firmly to my covenant.

Notice the shift between singular and plural in the same part of the verse. And Isaiah is speaking about the same people.

Bringing that into English, then, becomes a challenge. Since, even though, they could switch between singular and plural and keep the referent in their minds, in the target language (English), we have to make a choice and try to be consistent with it. As one scans the English versions, you'll notice that they either go with all singular words with the examples in vss. 20-21, or they go all plural.

To answer your second question...

What/who is the referent?

Structurally, throughout the Psalm there is the continued pendulum swing between "them" (the bad guys) and "But you" (The Lord). There's no reason to conclude that David has abandoned this structure. Even though the words are singular, the referent is the same bad guys who have been against him from the beginning of the Psalm.

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