DEVOTION – LENT
“But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people.” (Psalm 22:6)
When the term “Easter egg” is applied to a movie or other such medium, it does not refer to the hard-boiled and brightly colored eggs that some families hide for their children to find on Easter. Rather, the term refers to some sort of “inside” joke or allusion cleverly hidden in a scene. For example, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Star Wars robots R2-D2 and C-3PO show up quite clearly (if you’re looking for them) as hieroglyphs on a pillar just as Indiana Jones finds the Ark. It’s something that most people never notice, but those who find it enjoy it like children finding a hidden Easter egg.
Psalm 22 contains what may be just such an “Easter egg,” although, given the content, it would be more of a “Lenten egg.” There is significant meaning—unknown to most readers—hidden in the use of one particular word. You may already know that Psalm 22 is a Messianic psalm: it foretells things about the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. This psalm pictures, specifically, the suffering that Jesus would experience on the cross to win our salvation.
Throughout the psalm, it is the Messiah Who is speaking. It begins with words which Jesus would speak from the cross a thousand years later: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Throughout Psalm 22, the sufferings He experienced when He was crucified are expressed. It is in the first part of verse 6, however, that the “Easter egg,” or at least the allusion unknown to those who do not read Hebrew and do not know about this specific worm, occurs. There, the Messiah says, “But I am a worm, and no man.”
The Hebrew word used here for “worm” is very significant. It is tola’at. This is not just any old generic worm; that would be the Hebrew word rimmah. But the word used in Psalm 22 refers specifically to the worm commonly known as the “scarlet worm.” This worm was used in ancient Israel to make scarlet dye, and forms of the word tola’at are most often translated as “scarlet” or “crimson.” However, in Psalm 22:6, it is properly translated as “worm.”
The “Easter egg” aspect of Jesus’ use of this word is striking, and derives from the life cycle of the scarlet worm. When one of these worms is about to give birth, she attaches herself to a piece of wood. She then forms a hard, protective shell around herself, and gives birth to the young larvae inside this shell. During the process, she secretes a crimson gel, which covers everything inside the shell. While inside the shell (usually three days), the larvae feed on the body of the mother worm. After emerging from the shell, they retain the red color for the rest of their lives. In the meanwhile, the body of the mother worm turns into a white waxy substance, which falls to the ground like snow.
It would be a mistake to assert these comparisons as the express meaning of this passage, or to over-allegorize these points of comparison, as some commentators do. However, at least three facets of the crimson worm’s life cycle are certainly striking in terms of the Messiah’s choice of the words, “I am a [scarlet] worm, and no man.” The first is that in order to give life to others, the worm attaches itself to a piece of wood, even as Christ was nailed to the wooden cross to give spiritual life to us. Second is the sacrificial aspect. For the mother to give life, she must die. So also the Son of God gave us eternal life through His death. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, the red color produced by this worm reminds us of the blood of Christ, by which we are saved from all our sins. “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow.’” (Isaiah 1:18)
If Jesus’ choice of words in verse 6 of Psalm 22 was, indeed, an “Easter egg,” I pray it may be one which gives us increased appreciation for this Messianic psalm.
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.