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What is the power of the dog in Psalm 22:20?

power of the dog

Psalm 22 is a messianic psalm in which King David suffers great pain and distress as a type of Christ. He cries out to God for help, just as Jesus would later call out on the cross (see Psalm 22:1, cited in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34). Like Christ, who pleaded with the Father to rescue Him from death (Hebrews 5:7), David implores God to save him from his enemies: “Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!” (Psalm 22:20, ESV).

In most parts of the world today, dogs are viewed as beloved pets. But in ancient times dogs were primarily feral, scavenging animals considered unclean in Israel. In a couple of passages, dogs were used for guarding houses and herding flocks (Isaiah 56:10; Job 30:1), but, more frequently, dogs were wild creatures that roamed the streets devouring refuse and dead bodies (1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:19, 23; 22:38).

A person’s enemies were identified as “dogs” in Scripture (Psalm 59:6). In Jeremiah 15:3, the Lord appointed four kinds of destroyers: “The sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, the vultures to devour, and the wild animals to finish up what is left.” The apostle Paul warned believers to watch out for false apostles, calling them dogs: “Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh” (Philippians 3:2). Those who were excluded from the kingdom of heaven were called dogs in Revelation 22:15: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

In Psalm 22, David refers to his enemies as “bulls” or “wild oxen” (verses 12 and 21), “lions” (verses 13 and 21), and “dogs” (verses 16 and 20). These are metaphors and not literal animals. In verse 16, he reports, “Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet.”

The power of the dog speaks of the creature’s ability to surround its prey like a pack of wolves, to bite, tear, inflict wounds, do evil, and destroy. Both a sword and a dog can kill. When David prayed to God to deliver his soul “from the sword” and his “precious life from the power of the dog,” he feared losing his life in a cruel and violent manner.

The terminology power of the dog may also invoke the might of the Roman Empire in Psalm 22’s prophetic portrayal of Christ’s suffering and death. It was Roman soldiers who carried out the crucifixion of Christ, surrounding Jesus, stripping off His clothing, nailing Him to the cross, and even gambling for His clothing (Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24; cf. Psalm 22:18). A dog was the Jewish derogatory term for the Gentiles (Matthew 7:6; 15:26; Revelation 22:15). The Romans, the Jewish High Council, and Satan himself rallied together to put Jesus to death.

For the most part, dogs are presented in the Bible in an offensive light (1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Samuel 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13; Proverbs 26:11). They symbolize despicable, hostile, or evil people who group together like dogs to prey on the vulnerable. Our great enemy, the devil, operates like a dog or a lion, prowling around in search of someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Thus, the power of the dog is the lethal influence of one’s enemies who band together to inflict harm, injury, or death.

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What is the power of the dog in Psalm 22:20?
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This page last updated: August 24, 2023