Who were the “strong bulls of Bashan” standing before Christ’s cross?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Indeed, they are some puzzling statements. King David, some 10 centuries beforehand, quotes Jesus Christ as He hangs on Calvary’s cross. Psalm 22: “[11] Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. [12] Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.” What or who are these “strong bulls of Bashan?” Are actual four-legged bovine standing before Jesus? We think not.

An important rule of thumb concerning Bible study—which we would do well to always keep in mind—can be summarized in one simple statement. It is, “If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense.” In the case of Psalm 22, however, we cannot see why God’s Word would here draw our attention to literal animals. Something more sinister is being accentuated here, and if our spiritual senses are sharp enough, we will grasp it.

Turning to Matthew chapter 27, we make some comparisons: “[35] And they crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. [36] And sitting down they watched him there; [37] And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. [38] Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. [39] And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, [40] And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. [41] Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, [42] He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. [43] He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. [44] The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.”

Calvary’s cross—with Christ nailed to it—is center-stage. They have gathered to watch the Son of God suffer and die. Whether standing or sitting, they have come to taunt Him in His final hours. The “strong bulls of Bashan” have surrounded Jesus. Who are they? Why, dear friends, they are “the chief priests, scribes, and elders” (verse 41)! These are Israel’s religious leaders, her spiritual advisers, having guided her down a most perilous path. Remember, it was these very people—the “religious” hierarchy—who had persuaded the Jewish nation to condemn Jesus to death just moments earlier! (Mark well, God never said anything here about drug dealers, gang members, drunkards, prostitutes, and publicans!!)

Consider Mark chapter 15: “[9] But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews? [10] For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy. [11] But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them. [12] And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? [13] And they cried out again, Crucify him. [14] Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him. [15] And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.”

If the “bulls of Bashan” were actually human, why does Psalms call them thus? More verse comparisons are necessary.

Ezekiel 1:10 says, “As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.” Now, chapter 10, verse 14: “And every one had four faces: the first face was the face of a cherub, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle.” Did you notice how “the face of an ox” and “the face of a cherub” are used interchangeably? This is significant because Satan is titled “the anointed cherub that covereth” (Ezekiel 28:14). Satan has a body that resembles a bull or an ox (cf. “cattle” of Genesis 3:14). These religious leaders are called “bulls” because they are operating under Satan’s influence. False religion has corrupted them. They have allowed themselves to be used of the Devil. Like their cunning spiritual father Satan, they are called “vipers” and “snakes” (Matthew 3:7; Matthew 23:33; cf. Genesis 3:1,4).

Why is there a connection to Bashan? Let us turn to Deuteronomy chapter 3: “[10] All the cities of the plain, and all Gilead, and all Bashan, unto Salchah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. [11] For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man. [12] And this land, which we possessed at that time, from Aroer, which is by the river Arnon, and half mount Gilead, and the cities thereof, gave I unto the Reubenites and to the Gadites. [13] And the rest of Gilead, and all Bashan, being the kingdom of Og, gave I unto the half tribe of Manasseh; all the region of Argob, with all Bashan, which was called the land of giants.” (Moses is pointing back to the historical events of Numbers 21:33-35 and Numbers chapter 32.)

Bashan was east of the Jordan River. It was home to giants—yes, physically enormous men—who were tools of Satan to keep the land polluted and make Israel too intimidated to take over the land. The LORD God enabled Israel to conquer them under Moses in order to take the land back for God’s glory. See Joshua 13:12: “All the kingdom of Og in Bashan, which reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei, who remained of the remnant of the giants: for these did Moses smite, and cast them out.”

Like the giants of Bashan, Israel’s religious leaders were Satan’s instruments to defile God’s land. Both classes were involved with pagan religion, devil worship. In the case of Israel’s religious leaders, that false religious system drove them to crucify the Son of God. These representatives of Satan’s policy of evil stood and sat to mock the Lord Jesus as He died for our sins.

Also see:
» Who, crucified on Calvary, mocked Jesus?
» Were there five crosses on Calvary?
» How could Jesus say His killers knew not what they were doing?