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“All who see me mock me” (Psalm 22:6–8): The Artful Hebrew Bible

This series of Hebrew and You is looking at art in the Hebrew Bible as seen in Ps 22. The series began in April, a post that included brief descriptions of some features of Hebrew poetry, and continued in May. This is the third in the series. Two reminders once again: (1) we are following primarily the Hebrew versification, even though the titles to these series follow English versification, and (2) in the transliteration below hyphens (-) join multiple English words when they represent a single Hebrew word and an equals sign (=) marks the Maqqef (a mark in the Masoretic Text (MT) roughly approximating the English hyphen) joining multiple words into one stressed syllable or “beat.”

Analyzing Psalm 22:7–9(E6–8)

First, we give the Hebrew of these verses both in Hebrew and in transliteration labeling the verse lines and the “beat” count (Ct). After that is a translation showing the correspondence between the Hebrew and the English words. Words added for sense are in parentheses.





וְאָנֹכִי תוֹלַעַת וְלֹא־אִ֑ישׁ


wəʾānōkî tôlaʿat wəlōʾ-ʾîš


חֶרְפַּת אָדָם וּבְזוּי עָם׃


ḥerpat ʾādām ûbəzûy ʿām


כָּל־רֹאַי יַלְעִגוּ לִ֑י


kol-rōʾay yalʿigû lî


יַפְטִירוּ בְשָׂפָה יָנִיעוּ רֹאשׁ׃


yapṭîrû bəśāpâ yānîʿû rōʾš


גֹּל אֶל־יְהוָה יְפַלְּטֵ֑הוּ


gōl ʾel-yəhwâ yəpalləṭēhû


יַצִּילֵהוּ כִּי חָפֵץ בּוֹ׃


yaṣṣîlēhû kî ḥāpēṣ bô


7 But-I (am) a-worm and-not=a-man,
a-disgrace-of a-human and-a-scorn-of a-people.
8 All=who-see-me offer-mockery to-me;
They-make-wide with-lip(s), they-wag (their)-head:
9 “Roll-(your ways) to=the-Lord! Let-him-deliver-him!
Let-him-rescue-him, for he-is-pleased with-him!”

Observations and Inferences

The “But I” in v. 7 is a shift back to David from the Lord (“But you” in v. 4). So, the psalm begins with David focused on his plight (apparent abandonment by the Lord) in vv. 2–3(E1–2), then turns to the Lord in vv. 4–6(E3–5), and back to himself describing the loathing he feels toward himself and from those around him.

Notice the parallel beat count, 3-4/3-4/3-4, marks this as a unit and contrasts with the 2-3-3/2-3-3 pattern in vv. 4–6 (please see the previous blog post, in which I failed to recognize the repeated pattern of two rhythmic cycles spread over three bicola).

7(E6) In this verse there are three singular nouns referring to humans: man (ʾîš), human (ʾādām), and people (ʿām). The first is usually used of a male, the second is often used of any person, and the third is used of a group of people. All of these are indefinite nouns and speak of persons in general.

In line a David uses the metaphor of a worm to describe himself. Line b explains the metaphor with two genitive phrases (please see Hebrew for the Rest of Us [HRU]), ch. 11 on functions and translations of the genitive case here rendered with the colorless preposition “of”). The “human” and “people” are subjective genitives, i.e., these are the ones who perform the actions implied by the head nouns. This bicolon is synonymous; line a is the general assertion and line b specific.

The synonymy of the three nouns heightens the emotional pain in David caused by others. In line a he is a lowly worm and not a man. Whether this loathing is in his own self-estimation or in the estimation of others is not certain but the prominence of “But I” at the beginning suggests the former. In line b he explains that others treat him as without value.

8(E7) Verse 8 is also in synonymous parallelism, and again general in line a and specific in line b. The specificity in line b is the mention of the motions of body parts that accompany verbal mocking.

The verb translated “make wide” comes from the root פטר, p-ṭ-r, and occurs only nine times in the OT most often in the qal and niphal stems. Four of those uses are found in a description of decorations in the temple carved with “open” flowers (NIV, ESV; 1 Kgs 6:18, 29, 32, 35). The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew 6:679–80 gives the basic meaning of the qal as “release” or “let go.” This is the only time it occurs in the hiphil stem (see HRU, ch 13, for an overview of the stems). In later Hebrew the Piel of this root is used for “dismiss” and hence “divorce” and the hiphil is commonly found in Rabbinic literature (see Jastrow, Dictionary, פטר, p. 1157). The use here might be similar to our expression “to let (words) fly.” But why use the unusual (at least for the OT) hiphil form? Perhaps to match the next verb “wag,” יָנִיעוּ (yānîʿû), which is also in the hiphil(a common enough form for that root) so that there is a rhyming effect.

Finally, the first word group כָּל־רֹאַי (kol-rōʾay) and the last word רֹאשׁ (rōʾš) both include a letter combination of Resh-Alef. These form bookends around the two lines.

The rhyming hiphil-stem words enhance the auditory component of the verse and the Resh-Alef repetition helps these two lines to cohere. This couplet forms a unit that gives the detail on the self-loathing and loathsomeness that David feels from the behavior of others.

9(E8) This verse concludes this section by reporting the speech of the mockers whose actions are described in the previous verse. This reported speech of characters not actually present seems to be another poetic feature (see here Luis Alonso Schökel, A Manual of Hebrew Poetics [Roma: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1988], ch. 10 on dialogue and monologue, esp. pp. 174–78); at least it is not something one would normally find in narrative. For another clear example see Ps 2:3. I offer a wooden translation to closely follow the Hebrew structure. The mockers turn to David and utter the command, “Roll to the Lord.” But roll what? Fuller expressions are found in Ps 37:5, “Commit [roll] your way to the Lord” (NIV) and Prov 16:3, “Commit [roll] your works to the Lord” (NASB). My translation inserts a direct object in parentheses for sense. The Hebrew vowel pointing marks this as an imperative to a singular “you.” This command of the mockers is a harsh dose of sarcasm to the suffering psalmist. Though it does not follow imperative form of the MT, the NIV nicely captures the essence of the idiom in Ps 22: 9[8]: “He trusts in the Lord.”

After the mockers address David, they speak to one another with additional biting sarcasm. Two more volitional clauses, jussive verb forms (see HRU, ch. 16), occur, each consisting of a single word. These are rendered into English with the structure “let him …” in which the “him” is the agent, that is, the Lord in this verse. The first clause ends the first line and the second begins the second line. These two lines form a chiastic structure (A—B—B′—A′) to the elements in each line, in which the “B” elements are the center and the focus:

The second “him” in each jussive clause is the pronominal suffix attached to the verb forms and denoting the direct object, David (see HRU, ch. 13).

Finally, the conjunction “for,” כִּי (), might also be translated “if” or in other ways (see HRU, ch. 7). The explanatory use of כִּי as found in the translation, though, heightens the sarcasm also found in the parallel command “Roll.”

The chiastic structure of the verse once again tightly knits the two lines into a bicolon. What was only a general statement of the mockers in line 7b[E6b] becomes in verses 8–9[E7–8] a full description of the actions and words of the mockers that deepen David’s pain in suffering.

Two Quick Devotional Thoughts

First, when we are in pain, we may feel worthless. Even David described himself as a worm. Feelings are neither good nor bad—they just are. Self-reflection is good but speaking hurtful thoughts to ourselves about ourselves only does harm. In those times we need to remember who the Lord is and what he has done in the past (vv. 4–6). (And there is more good news coming in this psalm!)

Second, words can hurt. There may be times for hard challenges to people. A person needs to use a hammer on a tough nut but not on a mushy tomato. Sometimes Jesus was harsh toward those who were rejecting him to their own harm (Matt 23:27–28). But with the hurting Jesus was gentle (John 7:53–8:11; and Matt 12:20 quoting Isa 42:3 about the Servant, Jesus). Jesus’s goal was always to woo the lost. May we find our peace in the Lord when our suffering is exacerbated by the hurtful actions and words of others. And may we watch that we ourselves do not participate in the mocking of the “squishy tomatoes” we may meet whether in speech or in body language.

Our Father, grant us the awareness and wisdom to know how to speak to draw all people to your Son. Amen.

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