Bible Question:

Doesn't Psalm 22 say, “. . . like a lion they are at my hands and feet”?

Bible Answer:

Verse 16 of Psalm 22 reads as follows:

For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. (NASB) Ps. 22:16

This is a difficult passage to translate. However, there are some important keys to unlocking the mystery. Dr. Gleason Archer makes the following observations about the verse,

More significantly we find in the MT of Psalm 22:17 (16 Eng.) the strange phrase “like the lion my hands and my feet” (kaari yaday we raglay) in a context that reads “dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men have encircled me – like the lion my hands and my feet!” This really makes no sense, for lions do not surround the feet of their victims. Rather, they pounce on them and bite them through with their teeth. Furthermore, this spelling of the word “lion” (ari) is rendered more doubtful by the fact that in v.13 (14MT) the word “lion” appears in the normal way ‘aryeh. It is most unlikely that the author would have used two different spellings of the same word within three verses of each other. Far more likely is the reading supported by most of the [Bible] versions: ka’ru (They [i.e. the dogs or evildoers] have pierced” my hands and my feet). This involves merely reading the final letter yodh as a waw, which would make it the past tense of a third person plural verb. This is apparently what the LXX read, for oryxan (“they have bored through”) reflects a karu from the verb kur (“pierce, dig through”). The Vulgate conforms to this with foderunt (“They have dug through”). The Syriac Peshitta has baz’w, which means “they have pierced/penetrated.” [1]

Dr. Archer alerts us to the fact that most likely the word that appears in Ps. 22:16 does not mean lion but means “pierced” for several reasons. The most significant reasons are 1) that “lion” does not make sense in the context of the passage and 2) there may be an error in the manuscript.

But what if Gleason Archer is wrong and the Hebrew language had two different words for lion? Since the LXX or Septuagint was written at the latest by B.C. 150, most likely much earlier, it would have been closer to the time that the Psalm was written and consequently have a better understanding of the meaning of the word. Here is a translation of Ps. 22:16 from the LXX, the Greek translation

For many dogs have encompassed me: the assembly of the wicked doers as beset me round: they pierced my hands and my feet. [2]

The Greek word used for “pierced” does not mean “lion.” The Greek word is ORUXAN. It means “to dig, excavate, or digging a hole.” [3] This indicates that the translators of the Hebrew Bible into the Septuagint, a Greek translation, understood that the hands and feet would be “pierced.” They did not understand that Hebrew word to mean “lion.”

Conclusion:

The prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to the cross.

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him (NKJV). Luke 23:33

Later one of Jesus’ disciples wanted to see the nail holes in Jesus hands and feet. He was not sure that the individual they were seeing was Jesus.

So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (NASB) John 20:25

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (NASB) John 20:26-28

When He saw the wounds, He knew that Jesus was God.

References:

1. Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan Publishing House. 1982. p. 37

2. Sir Lancelot Brenton. The Septuagint With Apocrypha, Henrickson Publishers. 1851. p. 710

3. Danker and Bauer. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago press. 1957. p. 725

Reference Links:

Peace With God