Scarlet Worm

April 13, 2022

By Gina Padilla

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” 

For years I had known these words spoken by Jesus as he suffered on the cross, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized these words were written by King David nearly 1000 years before the crucifixion of Christ. 

The words come from Psalm 22, which our beautiful Savior quotes while he was enduring God’s wrath for our sin on the cross. This psalm details several events particular to Jesus’ suffering such as: being scorned, mocked, and insulted (v 6,7,8), hands and feet being pierced (v 16), dividing up clothes and casting lots (v 18). But I want to draw your attention to a different verse in that psalm:

“But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone,
despised by people”

Psalm 22:6 NIV

This verse seems to indicate that he who was made just a little lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7) was feeling lower than dirt. However, there is another meaning here.

The transliteration for the common Hebrew word for worm is ‘rimmah’ and it is defined as a maggot or worm. But this is not the word used in this verse. The transliteration of the Hebrew word for worm used here is ‘towla’ or ‘tola’ath’ which means crimson worm or scarlet worm. The worm referred to by this word is a specific type of worm, called the coccus ilicis. This same word is also used in Hebrew to mean the act of dying something scarlet because the Hebrews used the secretions of this worm for red dye. In Exodus when God is giving instructions for the furnishings of the tabernacle and the high priests’ clothing this same word is used to mean the color scarlet.

The scarlet worm is no ordinary worm. When the female is about to give birth, she attaches herself to a tree trunk or branch and makes a hard crimson shell. She cannot be removed without tearing her body apart and killing her. The worm lays her eggs under her body protecting them with the shell. When the babies hatch, they are not only protected under the hard shell, but the living body of the mother provides them food. In just a few days the babies grow to the point where they can take care of themselves, and the mother dies. As the mother crimson worm dies, she oozes red dye that stain her babies and the wood she is attached to. Her children bear the red stain their entire lives.

Stop and think about that for a minute. This seemingly insignificant worm willingly attaches itself to wood, protects its children, nourishes them with its dying body and gives its life for them by dying, staining them crimson in the process. Just like our beautiful Savior willingly attached himself to a cross for His children’s sins, died for them and by staining us with His blood gave us eternal life.

for the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2 NIV

God’s creation gives us a picture of the work our beautiful Savior did on the cross. We see a parent laying down their life for their children and staining them forever with their sacrifice.

Though the psalm is mournful, it ends with glorious joy. After pouring out His soul in agony, the Forsaken One no longer feels forsaken (v21). The psalm continues giving hope for the future such as the poor eating and being satisfied (v26) and future generations proclaiming His righteousness (v31). 

These future generations will also declare that “He has done this.” (v31) or as our Savior said:

“It is finished” (John 19:30 NIV).

Glory to God!

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?
O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;
And in the night season, and am not silent.

But You are holy,
Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
Our fathers trusted in You;
They trusted, and You delivered them.
They cried to You, and were delivered;
They trusted in You, and were not ashamed.

But I am a worm, and no man;
A reproach of men, and despised by the people.
All those who see Me ridicule Me;
They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
“He trusted in the Lord, let Him rescue Him;
Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth.
From My mother’s womb
You have been My God.

Be not far from Me,
For trouble is near;
For there is none to help.

Many bulls have surrounded Me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled Me.
They gape at Me with their mouths,
Like a raging and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
And all My bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It has melted within Me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And My tongue clings to My jaws;
You have brought Me to the dust of death.

For dogs have surrounded Me;
The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me.
They pierced My hands and My feet;
I can count all My bones.
They look and stare at Me.
They divide My garments among them,
And for My clothing they cast lots.

But You, O Lord, do not be far from Me;
O My Strength, hasten to help Me!
Deliver Me from the sword,
My precious life from the power of the dog.
Save Me from the lion’s mouth
And from the horns of the wild oxen!

You have answered Me.

I will declare Your name to My brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.
You who fear the Lord, praise Him!
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel!
For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from Him;
But when He cried to Him, He heard.

My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!

All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s,
And He rules over the nations.

All the prosperous of the earth
Shall eat and worship;
All those who go down to the dust
Shall bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep himself alive.

A posterity shall serve Him.
It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation,
They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,
That He has done this.

Psalm 22:1-31 NKJV

Photo Credit: Geda Žyvatkauskaitė

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  1. Dave VanEpps says:

    Whoa, that was VERY cool, Gina! Mind blowing even.

  2. Stacy Mallard says:

    I had not heard this before! Great explanation and application. So many small things in scripture that have such deep meaning. Happy Easter! He is risen!

  3. Debbie Zannetti says:

    I always wondered about the color scarlet referenced in the Bible. Thank you for this insight.

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