A Terrible Death
(12) Many bulls have surrounded me. Strong [bulls] of Bashan have encircled me. (13) They open wide their mouths at me like a raging and roaring lion. (14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax. It has melted within my breast. (15) My strength is dried up like a broken piece of pottery, and my tongue sticks to my jaws. You lay me in the dust of death, (16) for dogs have surrounded me. A pack of evildoers has encircled me. They have pierced my hands and my feet. (17) I can count all my bones. They stare, they gloat over me. (18) They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
The imagery used in these seven verses is some of the most forceful and vivid to be found in all of Scripture. David skillfully matches the descriptions of what he was undergoing externally with a corresponding account of what he was experiencing internally. Many commentators consider this passage a prophetic portrayal of the crucifixion of Christ although David surely never witnessed such a death nor ever experienced the horrible torture of being hung on a cross.
Three times the psalmist describes himself as “surrounded” using two words, one repeated, in two verses (vss. 12 & 16). He compares his enemies to three types of wild animals: “strong bulls from Bashan” (vs. 12), “raging and roaring lions” (vs. 13), and a pack of wild dogs (vs. 16). Eight vivid images describe what the author was feeling during this time of torture, images that enable us to grasp to some extent the horrors of crucifixion: “poured out like water...bones out of joint...heart melting like wax” (vs. 14), “strength dried up like a broken piece of pottery...tongue sticking to jaws...being laid in the dust of death” (vs. 15), and “encircled by dogs...hands and feet pierced” (vs. 16).
The last two verses in this segment in their literal sense can only be attributed to one death in human history, namely that of Jesus on the cross. The Apostle John in his account of the crucifixion considered each statement a prophecy specifically fulfilled in Jesus’ death. Because it was Passover, the Jewish leaders had petitioned the Romans to break the legs of those being crucified. This was done so that they could no longer support themselves to breathe, thus hastening their deaths (Jn. 19:31-36). Christ had already released his spirit to the Father in death before his legs had to be broken (Jn. 19:30). According to John, this precisely fulfilled the prophecy of verse 17 (Jn. 19:36).
Additionally, those who have studied ancient methods of execution tell us that criminals were crucified without clothing as a sign of their disgrace. Custom dictated that the Roman soldiers assigned to nail victims to their crosses would divide among themselves any clothing that remained. In Jesus’ case, his seamless undergarment was too valuable to be torn apart. For this particular piece of clothing the soldiers cast lots to determine who would win it in precise fulfillment of verse 18 (Jn. 19:23-24).
A terrible way to die
- surrounded by enemies (vss. 12, 13, & 16)
- suffering in agony (vss. 14 & 15, 17 & 18)
He died surrounded by his enemies and enduring unimaginable agony.
From time to time we need to be reminded of the suffering Jesus endured for us on the cross no matter how difficult and distasteful such thoughts may be. Artists who try to depict the horrors of crucifixion either fall short of reality or so gruesomely portray Christ’s sufferings that we can hardly stand to look at their efforts. Words can sometimes be more effective than visual images.
Some of our greatest hymns remind us of the horrors of the cross and the agonies the Savior endured for us. One from the time of the German Reformation is particularly worthy of consideration. Authored by Johann Heerman (1585-1647) and translated a century ago by Robert Bridges, it contains the following lines: “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee. / ‘Twas I, Lord, Jesus; I it was denied thee. I crucified thee. // For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s *oblation, / thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.”