Many of the psalms begin with a prescript or title that sometimes identifies the author, the style of psalm, the musical setting, or even whom the psalm might be for. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prescript is the first verse of the psalm, but in most English translations it is not numbered as a verse but simply written as a header or introduction to the psalm. Psalm 22:1 includes such a prescript: “To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David” (KJV).
The Psalm 22 prescript notes that the Psalm is lamnasseaḥ (“for the preeminent one,” that is, “for the choir director”). The prescript concludes by identifying the author: Psalm 22 is a mizmor (“psalm, melody”) ledawid (“of David”). The song was intended to be sung Al-Aijeleth Ha-Shahar, a Hebrew phrase that most translations render as something akin to “To the Tune of ‘The Doe of the Morning’” (NIV) or “Set to ‘The Deer of the Dawn’” (NKJV). We can break down the definition like so:
The phrase aijeleth ha-shahar, meaning “upon a doe of the morning,” could refer to a type of melody or even instrument, but it could also identify the psalm as a morning psalm. The song was written to be sung or recited in the early morning hours—at dawn when the deer are active.
Elsewhere, David emphasizes his communion with God in the morning. He says that God would hear his voice in the morning, and that he would pray and be alert early in the day (Psalm 5:3; cf. Psalm 88:13). He would even bring his complaints and difficulties to God in the morning, as during other times of the day (Psalm 55:16). David would joyfully sing of God’s lovingkindness in the morning (Psalm 59:16). David adds that it is good to give thanks to the Lord and declare His lovingkindness in the morning (Psalm 92:1–2), and that is when David loves to hear of God’s lovingkindness (Psalm 143:8).
David’s use of the phrase aijeleth ha-shahar in Psalm 22:1 is an excellent reminder to us of how important it is to start the new day with fellowship with God. God has given us much for which to be thankful, and He tells of His lovingkindness in the Scriptures. David’s emphasis on the morning as a time to focus on the Lord provides helpful guidance as we develop disciplines and habits in walking with God. By focusing on the Lord in the early morning, we set the tone for the day. We fellowship with Him from the very start. If we begin our day without recognizing Him and all He has done for us, then our focus and priorities for the day may be misguided. With the phrase aijeleth ha-shahar, David reminds us of the importance of looking to God in the early morning as the day begins.
There is perhaps another significance to David’s use of aijeleth ha-shahar as an introduction to Psalm 22. This psalm speaks specifically of God’s deliverance and salvation. In Psalm 22 David recognizes that, even in the midst of great difficulty, God is faithful to save. The psalm points ultimately to the Savior, who would Himself echo the words of Psalm 22 on the cross when He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, KJV). Both David and Jesus teach us to look to God in times of trouble. By using the phrase aijeleth ha-shahar in Psalm 22:1, David reminds us that the best time to do this is as early as possible—as early as the doe begins her day.