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Psalm 22 Title - The Doe of the Morning

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, March 25, 2023

For the remainder of this Lenten season, we turn our attention to one of the great Psalms of Lent, Psalm 22. Rather than covering this Psalm quickly in a matter of days or all at once, we will walk slowly through these verses as if each is a little tree in a grove, and we will grab every single branch and give it a shake.

For the director of music.
To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.”
A psalm of David.

The Latin name for this Psalm (a lament) is Deus Deus Meus, after the opening verse, “My God, My God (why have you forsaken me?).” Psalm 22 is quoted more than any other Psalm in the New Testament. It is quoted in all four Gospels and the book of Hebrews, and most famously the first verse is quoted by Jesus as the fourth word from the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

The headings of the Psalms are part of God’s inspired word. They are present in the oldest manuscript copies of the Psalms, and they are included in the oldest translations. In fact, when the Greek Septuagint was being translated centuries before Christ, there were words in the Psalm headings that were already so ancient and obscure (David lived some eight hundred years before the Septuagint translators learned their Hebrew) that they could not translate some of the terms in the headings.

The headings give us the names of the authors of many Psalms; in this case, David. There is no reference to the kingship or to divisions in the kingdom in the poem; David refers to all Israel in verse 23 as “all you descendants of Jacob… all you descendants of Israel.” The wedge between Saul’s Benjamin and David’s Judah is foreign to this psalm.

David wrote this poem for all Israel to hear, or perhaps later in life when he became king and was supplying music for temple worship, he drew this piece from his past and deemed that it was appropriate as a song of a man in trouble as a prayer for help.

There is no word “tune” in the Hebrew text of the heading. Translators simply try to understand what “To ‘The Doe of the Morning’” could mean, and a melody or an ancient musical style seems to be the best guess. That this was written in such a way, with another piece of music in mind, shows that it is a complete piece as we have it. It is not a jumble of fragments of other compositions, but a unified piece.

The word “doe” in this heading (eyalah) occurs several times in the Bible (Genesis 49:21; Job 39:1). Deer are frequently the subjects of pastoral and romantic pieces of music, particularly because they are timid and swift and also because they are lovely creatures. “May you rejoice in the wife of your youth, a loving doe, a graceful deer” (Proverbs 5:18-19).

Most commentators see “The Doe of the Morning” as a reference to Christ in some way (see Luther’s Works 10:259). Luther felt, with his usual practical application of faith, that since deer are typically hunted in the morning, a fitting translation would be: “Concerning the hind (deer) that is hunted in the early morning.” In the Scriptures, the references to deer are almost always to their swiftness (especially in the Psalms and the Psalm of Habakkuk, Habakkuk 3:19), so the idea may simply be that this was a tune or a style of music with a quick pace. Or a fast tempo with a grim tune, since a deer hunt usually ends with a slain deer.

This Psalm presents David to us in two ways. First, he is a young man, persecuted but praying to God for help. He is confident even when all others would be in despair. He teaches us to look to God at all times and in all situations. David can say, “Why have you forsaken me?” but he is saying it in the context of a prayer. He does not give up his faith even though he himself sees no way out of his dire circumstance.

Second, we see David as a prophet. His own difficult circumstance prefigures the suffering, crucifixion, and death of Jesus, but also the resurrection and reign of Christ in heaven (22:29-31). He invites us all to put our trust in the Lord with all the confidence of a man inviting those who are dying of thirst to come and drink from a spring of cool, fresh water. Drink! Come and be saved! Here are words of life, of rescue, of hope. Here is the narrow way to heaven forevermore, through Christ alone. Dash away, doe of the morning, for the narrow and sometimes troubled path ahead of you is the path to everlasting life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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