Psalm 22 is known as one of three Shepherd Psalms (Psalms 22, 23 and 24 Read: Following the Good, Great and Chief Shepherd)  Psalm 22 is also prophetic and gives a “picture” of the cross from the perspective of our Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.  The psalm describes, in great detail, the suffering and death of Jesus that would take place 1,000 years later. 

On the cross, Jesus quoted this psalm when He cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Mat 27:46, Mark 15:34).  For those standing at the foot of the cross, His words should have called to their minds this psalm. Had they remembered David’s words, they should have seen what was happening before their eyes and remembered the promise of hope in the psalms closing words.

A Remez in Psalm 22?

 In Jewish hermeneutics (interpretation of Scripture), a remez is a hidden message or a deeper meaning.  It’s said to be a “treasure” that is found below the surface of, or behind, the words.  (See below for a list of remezes in the Bible.)

There’s an interesting remez in verse 6 of Psalm 22. Being prophetic of the cross of Jesus, the verse says, “But I am a worm, and no man…”  Jesus was certainly a man on the cross, so what did the psalmist mean when he wrote, “But I am a worm”?

The Hebrew word for our English word worm is “rimmah,”  which is defined as a maggot or a worm.  But the word for “worm” in Psalm 22:6 is  towla’, or tola’ath, and it derives from the root words:  yala’, which means: to blurt or utter inconsiderately:—devour, and shaniy, which is defined as: crimson, prop. the insect or its color, also stuff dyed with it:–crimson, scarlet (thread).

So the word “tola’ath” used in Psalm 22:6 denotes not only a worm, but also a crimson, or scarlet, worm that is common to the Middle East, predominantly in Israel.  It’s well known that both crimson and scarlet are the colors of blood – a very deep, blackish red — and in this crimson worm is a hidden meaning of biblical significance.

The Crimson Worm

The Crimson Worm (scientific name: coccus ilicis or kermes ilicis) looks more like a grub than a worm. Its lifecycle reveals a remez (hidden meaning) that “points” us to the work of Jesus on the cross.

When the female worm is ready to lay her eggs (which happens only once in her life), she climbs up a tree or fence and attaches herself to it.  She particularly likes a specific type of oak tree. With the worm’s body attached to the word, a hard crimson shell forms — a shell so hard and so secured to the wood that it can only be removed by tearing apart the body which would kill the worm.  

The female Crimson Worm, under the protective shell, lays her eggs under her body and when the larvae hatch (the baby worms are born) they remain under the protective shell and feed on the living body of the mother worm for three days.  Then the mother worm dies and her body excretes a crimson or scarlet dye that stains the wood to which she is attached and also her baby worms.  They remain crimson colored for their entire life.  On day four, the tail of the mother worm pulls up into her head, forming a heart-shaped body that is no longer crimson but has turned into a snow-white wax, looking like a patch of wool on the tree or fence.  It then begins to flake off and drop to the ground looking like snow (or manna?).  

Isa 1:18  Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet [shaniy – root word of tola’ath], they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson [tola’ath], they shall be as wool.

The Body of the Tola’ath

In biblical times, the red dye excreted from the Crimson Worm (Ps 22:6, Isa 1:18, Isa 66:24) was used in the High Priest’s robe and probably for Ram’s skins dyed red in the covering of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  Uses of this red dye continue today:

  • The worm’s body and shell, while still red and attached to the tree, are scraped off and used to make what is called “Royal Red Dye.”
  • The waxy material is used to make a high-quality shellac that is used in the Middle East as a wood preserver. 
  • The remains of the Crimson Worm are also used in a medicine that helps in regulating the human heart.

What Does Psalm 22 Mean: “I am a Worm”

Was Jesus a “Crimson Worm” on the cross?  In typology, yes.

  • Just as the mother worm attaches herself to the tree or fence, Jesus put himself on a wooden cross, a type of “tree,” and willingly allowed the nails to be driven into His hands. However, it wasn’t the nails that held Him on the cross. It was His desire to fulfill the purpose and plan of God the Father.
  • Just as the mother worm attaches itself to a tree, by the design of God in the creation of its lifecycle, so also it was God’s plan from before the foundations of the world to send His son.
  • Just as the mother worm, when crushed, excretes a crimson/scarlet dye that covers the baby worms and stains, or marks, them, Jesus was bruised/crushed for our iniquities (Isa 53:5). His scourging and death brought forth His crimson/scarlet blood that both washes away our sins and marks us as His own.  
  • Just as the baby worm is dependent on the mother worm for the crimson dye to give it life and to mark it, a repentant sinner must depend on the blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, to receive new life and be marked as His own.

Spurgeon in writing on verse 6 of this psalm (“But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people”) said:

“There is a little red worm which seems to be nothing else but blood when it is crushed. It seems all gone except a blood-stain and the Savior, in the deep humiliation of His spirit, compares Himself to that little red worm. How true it is that, ‘He made Himself of no reputation’ for our sakes! He emptied Himself of all His Glory and if there is any glory natural to manhood, He emptied Himself even of that! Not only the glories of His Godhead, but the honors of His Manhood He laid aside that it might be seen that, ‘though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor.’”

“He became poor.”  In typology, Jesus became a worm, a lowly worm.  He was crushed for our sakes and He poured out His red blood—the blood that washes us clean.  The blood that gives us life.  

Nature Declares the Glory of God

Look around and see all the whispers of Jesus.  From the beauty of God’s creation — the sun, the moon, the stars, the land, the seas, the animals, and most of all mankind — everything testifies of our amazing God.  In the spring, we see new life emerging. In the summer, we feel the warmth of the sun. In the fall, the colors of God’s “paintbrush” are vivid. And, in the winter, we rest in a blanket of white.  All to begin again in the lifecycle of nature. 

 “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be [white] as wool.” Isaiah 1:18

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