In Psalm 22:12 David, in his distress, laments, “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.” The picture of being surrounded by angry bulls, intent on goring and trampling their victim, is fearful indeed.
Bashan was a territory that Israel won, defeating King Og during Israel’s conquest of Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:3–4). The territory included about sixty wealthy cities (Joshua 13:30), some of which had walls of bronze (1 Kings 4:13). Bashan was a place of giants (like Og) and mighty oaks (Isaiah 2:13). Bashan was associated with strength and wealth and plenty.
Bashan was also famous for the quality of its cows and flocks. Moses recounts how God had provided Jacob (the people of Israel) with curds of cows, milk of the flock, and fat of lambs and rams of the breed of Bashan (Deuteronomy 32:14). In His lovingkindness God had delivered the land of Bashan to Israel (Psalm 132:17–22). But, sadly, the people grew fat from this wealth and forsook the God who provided it for them (Deuteronomy 32:15–16). Even the women there were oppressing the poor and crushing the needy (Amos 4:1). Because of the people’s evil, God said He would judge the people of Israel and remove them from the land. The impenetrable forest of Bashan would come down (Zechariah 11:2). After this judgment, God would again restore Israel to the land, and they would feed in Bashan and Gilead once again (Micah 7:14).
As David describes the difficulty he was facing, he implores God to be not far from him. Trouble was near, and there was no one to help him (Psalm 22:11). David illustrates his tribulations, noting that he has been surrounded by “many bulls”—and not just any bulls, but strong bulls of Bashan (Psalm 22:12). David found himself in an unwinnable situation, surrounded by mighty opponents who were strong like the bulls of Bashan. Despite these fearsome circumstances, David knew that God was not far off. God could deliver David’s soul from these threats (Psalm 22:19–20). David, confident that God would deliver him, committed to praise God (Psalm 22:22–24). Despite the strength of his enemies—who were like the bulls of Bashan—David knew that God was greater. In his psalms, David provides beautiful examples of trust in God’s faithfulness.
Psalm 22 is a messianic psalm. The horrific circumstances David faced and how he dealt with them foreshadowed Jesus’ own difficulties and death at the hands of those who had rejected Him. Jesus in fact uses some terminology from Psalm 22, exclaiming like David that God had forsaken Him (Mark 15:34; cf. Psalm 22:1). Just as it appeared that God had forsaken David (Psalm 22:8), it appeared that God had forsaken Jesus. And just as David was ultimately delivered from death, Jesus was raised from the dead. His life was delivered (Psalm 22:20).
At the cross, the strong bulls of Bashan had surrounded Jesus and apparently defeated Him, but Jesus was victorious and was delivered from the grave. As David said elsewhere, he had never seen the righteous forsaken (Psalm 37:25). God delivers those who trust in Him, even when they are facing impossible situations. We may be surrounded by the strong bulls of Bashan, but we have the greatest Bullfighter on our side.