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Psalm 22:1-2 (KJV):

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.

The typical understanding of these verses attributes the Father with forsaking Christ when He was on the cross. Does Psalm 22 actually support this understanding?

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  • God did not intervene to prevent the Crucifixion. – Lucian Jan 2 at 22:30
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Understanding the Hebrew word עָזַב

"Thou forsaken me" is rendered in the Hebrew with עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי, a form of verb עָזַב (azav). The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon gives עָזַב (azav) the definition of "leave, forsake, loose."

עָזַב (azav) can sometimes be understood as leaving in a physical/spatial sense, as in Joshua 8:17

"And there was not a man left in Ai or Bethel, that went not out after Israel: and they left the city open, and pursued after Israel."

However, without having to individually examine all 211 biblical occurences of עָזַב (azav), an honest assessment is that עָזַב (azav) usually does not usually indicate any kind of physical/spatial departure.

To give one example among many, the verb is used in Deuteronomy 14:27. God isn't saying "thou shalt not move more than 100 feet from the Levite." God is saying "thou shalt take care of the Levite." It isn't a physical/spatial sense.

And the Levite that is within thy gates; thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance with thee.

Note that some translations say thou shalt not neglect the Levite. I think this is a useful way in many cases to translate עָזַב (azav).

Note also that, although the above verse from Joshua can be understood in a physical/spatial sense, it can also be understood in the sense that the city was left unprotected.


The answer

To attempt to answer OP's question regarding the crucifixion, yes, Christ was forsaken by his Father in the sense that he was left unprotected but not in the physical/spatial sense. Not only is it embarrassingly bad theology to say that the omnipresent God wasn't present at the crucifixion, it doesn't fit into the context of Psalm 22.

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

As you probably know already, usually two Psalm phrases in parallel mean more or less the same thing. So if we understand Christ's crucifixion in light of the Psalm, we can say the Father "forsook" (azav) Christ because the Father took away at least some help from Christ, thus abandoning him to his sufferings. This can be understood in the sense of the Father depriving Christ of consolation (similar to what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus had so much anxiety that he shed blood), thus not permitting His Son to suffer a kind of "joyful martyrdom." Alternatively, this can also be understood in the sense of the Father not protecting Christ from physical pain. [What I've said in this paragraph can be predicated of his human nature (and his person) but not his divine nature of course.]


Appendix: What about verse 24?

An interesting aspect of Psalm 22 is that, although the narrator (speaking in the first person) is almost exclusively "suffering," he praises God for His kindness toward others. I won't quote the entire Psalm, but notice how good things tend to happen to others but the narrator tends to suffer.

1{To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David.} My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

4Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

5They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

6But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.

14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

23Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. 24For 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.

26The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.

29All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.

Since the subject in verse 24 appears to be someone other than the narrator, I think it would be not fitting to apply "neither has he hid his face from him" to Christ on the cross.

Christologically, it is actually very fitting that the narrator of Psalm 22 (speaking as Christ) would suffer and others would rejoice, for Christ offered himself as a sacrifice in order to make eternal life possible for others. (c.f. 1 John 2:2, etc.)

  • He bore sins in his body on the tree, I Peter 2:24. His suffering was in human nature, it is true. But it was He who suffered. And He is One Person, not two. – Nigel J Dec 30 '18 at 23:24
  • @ Pascal’s Wager Outstanding point: “Not only is it embarrassingly bad theology to say that the omnipresent God wasn't present at the crucifixion, it doesn't fit into the context of Psalm 22.” If you incorporate verse 24 in your answer, I’ll select it as the answer. 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. – alb Dec 31 '18 at 15:01
  • @alb In other words, the beginning of Psalm 22 suggests that the Father didn't help Christ but verse 24 would suggest that the Father did help Christ, and how can these be reconciled? Is that what you mean? – Pascal's Wager Dec 31 '18 at 15:51
  • Exactly. In his humanity, Christ "felt" like He was being abandoned/forsaken. However, when you keep reading in the Psalm, the context tells you plainly that this was not the case. The Father never forsook Him, nor hid His face from Him, and the Father did heard His cry. The Father never left the Son during the crucifixion process. – alb Jan 1 at 12:58
  • @alb I have updated my answer to include an appendix to discuss verse 24. I have also reworded some other things. My older version said "the Father didn't help Christ," but I changed this to "the Father took away at least some help from Christ" in order to be more precise. (I think what I said in my first version was technically not true! facepalm) – Pascal's Wager Jan 1 at 18:05
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One should certainly include the likelihood that Yeshua's obvious intention was to quote the first line of Psalm 22 to draw attention to how aptly it could be applied to his crucifixion.

It could certainly be argued that the initial expression that began "Eli, Eli" is more likely to belong to David than Yeshua--it's in Aramaic and does not factor into the chiastic structure of the description that follows.

Thus, it's a leap of logic to ascribe the passion that David expressed to that of Yeshua.

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