Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

Posted: April 14, 2017 in Life, religion
Tags: ,

The Crucifixion of Jesus

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? which is translated, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? [Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34]

At a glance, this passage from the crucifixion scene seems to show that Jesus is accusing God of betraying him to this horrorshow of an execution. But there are a two details about first-century Jerusalem that make this verse much more meaningful to our twenty-first-century ears.

First, two thousand years ago the average Jew in Galilee could recite the scriptures from memory; most children had memorized the entire Torah by the age of six. The written word was rare and usually available only in the local synagogue. Radically honed memorization skills were a crucial ingredient for the integrity of oral literary traditions, and the communities themselves, to survive. If anyone got a detail wrong, everyone else in the village was obligated to correct him.

Second, Jesus is conveying much more than a single statement of anguish; it was a common technique for a rabbi of the era of Jesus (or any other devout Jew) to relate the meaning of an entire Psalm by quoting only the first sentence. A full reading of David’s prophetic Psalm 22 sheds some light about why Jesus quoted it and what it really meant, especially these verses:

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? 2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. 3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. 4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. 5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. 16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. 17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. 18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. 19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.

31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

And verses 22-24 are the opposite of an accusation of betrayal:

22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. 23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. 24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

Casting LotsBy quoting the first verse Jesus is quoting the entire Psalm, and in doing so is making an enormous statement: this prophecy is fulfilled today (in shockingly accurate detail), Jesus surrenders to the Father who keeps his promises, and the whole world will praise God for what He has done this day.

The nuances of Jesus’ dramatic words would have been obvious to first century Jews and Christians. This Holy Week, take a minute to challenge our assumptions and look closer at the context for those things that at first seem difficult or contradictory. There are riches to be found when digging into the holy word of God.


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