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"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabaktanei?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” - Matthew 27:46 (NASB)

This morning, I was reading through this passage in Matthew. It immediately brought to mind Psalm 22 (which I read this week).

I've read and heard many teachings about this passage. Most of the time, the speaker usually states that God "forsook" Jesus because Jesus took upon himself the world's sins. "Therefore," they claim, "God could not look at Jesus and thus forsook him on the cross" (or something very similar).

Although I could be wrong, I don't feel entirely comfortable with this thought. My first instinct was to think that Jesus was simply citing this passage in Psalm 22 as a way to state to the hearers that his suffering -- and the realization that the Messiah would suffer -- was ultimately a fulfillment of this prophetic reference written by David.

This assumption is based upon how passages were cited prior to the much-later numeric nomenclature of chapters and verses. This is reflected by ancient Jewish writings refer to a book or psalm by the first verse (as compared to the modern numeric chapter).

This is similar to how the Hebrew name for the individual divisions of the Pentateuch are based upon the first phrase rather than the English book titles taken from Greek/Latin names via the LXX. Instead of "Genesis," the first book is called "Bereshit" (i.e., "In the Beginning..." Genesis 1:1). "Exodus" is "Shemot" or "Names" (i.e., "These are the NAMES..." Exodus 1:1). Leviticus is "Wayiqra" or "And He Called" (i.e., "And the LORD called..." Leviticus 1:1). For the 23rd Psalm (prior to numbered chapters and verses), someone would simply cite the Psalm as, "The LORD is my shepherd."

I've also read and heard that, by his crucifixion, Jesus was simply fulfilling Psalm 22. This is demonstrated by Jesus saying aloud the very words that David had written in Psalm 22. And, of course, I've heard it said that David was simply prophesying about the crucifixion.

Hence, this is the reasoning behind my question.

In this passage (Matthew 27:46), was Jesus fulfilling, quoting or citing Psalm 22? Could be be all three?

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    I don’t have time to leave an answer but I believe it was both/all three. If you read the Psalm it’s a vivid depiction of his death and resurrection. It even references two groups, bulls of Bashan which given previous biblical references of cows of Bashan to Hebrew women by one of the prophets seems to refer to the Jewish leaders and dogs presumably referring to Gentiles, and indeed both were active in Jesus’ death. So I agree that Jesus quoted this psalm to highlight what was going on and that he was the Messiah. And it does show that the Father wasn’t forsaking him even tho he died for us.
    – bob
    Commented Jun 20 at 16:17
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    I’ve never loved people taking Jesus’ words as proof that the Father forsook the Son or turned his face away from the Son (it’s part of many worship songs) given the rest of the text of this Psalm. It specifically says “ For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
    – bob
    Commented Jun 20 at 16:18
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    It gets even more interesting if you view the quote more topologically, which is how the Jews quoted Scripture. In other words, citing the beginning sentence means the entire Psalm is being fulfilled. See 22:27-28: "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, And all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord’s And He rules over the nations." He's fulfilling the entire Psalm. Commented Jun 20 at 16:21

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Let us be very clear that Psalm 22 is a psalm about David's almost depressed mood and state of mind. He feels abandoned, alone, crushed in spirit. However, David appears to find comfort in speaking to the LORD, 1 Sam 30:6, Ps 59:16, 119:50, 52, 76.

Further, crucifixion as a death penalty and cruel torture had not even been invented in David's time and thus some of the verses of the Ps 22 are written metaphorically about David's discomfort.

However, Ps 22 appears to be undoubtedly about Jesus method of execution and thus, both Jesus and the evangelists appear to re-purpose the psalm as being fulfilled in Jesus death. Here is a sample:

  • V1 - "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" This is quoted by Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34 as stated by to Jesus.
  • V8 - “He trusts in the LORD, let the LORD deliver him; let the LORD rescue him, since He delights in him.” This is quoted by Matt 27:43
  • V17 - "I can count all my bones; they stare and gloat over me." Jesus died without any of His bones being broken (unlike the two thieves beside Him.)
  • V18 - "They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." This is quoted in John 19:24; see also Matt 27:35, Mark 15:24, and Luke 23:34

Thus, when Jesus quoted the first verse of this psalm, the hearers, who knew their Scriptures well, would have been reminded of the rest of the psalm.

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    Thank you. This makes good sense. I've also wondered if the final phrase of the final verse of Psalm 22 (verse 31's "He has done") might also be invoked on the cross too (i.e., "It is finished") or when we read Revelation 21:6 ("It is done"). Of course, I might simply be linking two (or three) entirely independent thoughts/events together.
    – Chris M
    Commented Jun 19 at 23:20
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    I should have read you answer before I made my comment above. You're exactly right. IMO, you could have quoted the entire Psalm. Commented Jun 20 at 16:25
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When Jesus uttered his cry of dereliction, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he was quoting from Psalm 22 but he also quoted from other prophetic Psalms. The entire 22nd Psalm can be seen to be fulfilled in Jesus, as well as other parts of prophetic scripture. But if we look at the matter clinically, academically, or as something that makes us uncomfortable to consider, then the depth of Christ’s agony will never be appreciated. Yet Christians are said to be “crucified with Christ”, so is it not of utmost importance for us to face up to that forsakenness? Let me quote from this book on the matter, as it deals with Psalm 22 and other prophecies.

“Jesus stands where no-one ever stood before or since, knowing himself the bearer of the sin of the world, destined to pay the price for its redemption (Mark 10:45), and now drinking the bitterest dregs of the cup which had so discomposed him in Gethsemane. In its very nature, the spiritual content of this climax of his suffering is inaccessible to us... and perhaps no human words could express what his 'hell' meant...

...Clearly, the forsakenness is only a moment in the long journey from the third to the ninth hour; for much of the time Jesus remained in communion with his Father. But now comes a moment of well-nigh unsustainable awfulness. Abba is out of reach, not listening. The intimacy is broken; an intimacy that had never been broken before. It as a breach for which nothing could have prepared Jesus.... now, at the ninth hour, Abba was not there, and Jesus can say only 'Eloi!' God is certainly there, but not as Abba. There is now no sense of his own divine sonship, no sense of God's love and no sense of his Father's approval...

...At every other time of crisis, Abba had spoken great words of encouragement; 'This is my son, whom I love' (Mark 1:11; 9:7). How he needed those words now! But no such words came. He hears only the derision of the spectators, the curses of the soldier and the whispers of the Prince of Darkness. He is on his own.

...It was the Father who was delivering him up (Rom. 8:32) and everything spoke of his anger. That anger was no additional fact or circumstance. It was in the circumstances: in the pain, in the loneliness, in Satan's whispers and in heaven's deafness; and under that anger his identity contracted to the point where the whole truth about him was that he was the sin of the world. He was carrying it, heaven held him answerable for it, and he was it... because of it he was a doomed and ruined man, korban, devoted to destruction. God's pure eyes could not look on him...

Even at the lowest point, in the black hole of dereliction, faith and hope still breathe, as they must, for unbelief and despair are sin, and would have rendered his sacrifice void. Faith must walk where there is no light (Isa. 50:10)... Yet there is a 'why?' It is not the 'why?' of protest or self-pity, but the 'why?' of the Righteous One, conscious of personal innocence and knowing that not even Holiness itself can find a spot in him. But it is also the 'why?' of a unique sufferer who has momentarily lost sight of the great divine purpose which his suffering was progressing... All he 'knows' is that he is 'a worm and not a man' (Psalm 22:6); and his faith is a question, not an answer: 'why?'" Christ Crucified Donald Macleod, pp 47-49 (IVP 2014)

However, the cry of dereliction was not Christ’s last cry from the cross, nor did he die forsaken. John records this one word – tetelestai – ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). The Father is completely satisfied by his Son’s sacrifice, and so Christ can address him as ‘Father’ again, when giving up his spirit.

“Nothing more is needed Now and for all time coming this one act of perfect obedience and sacrifice would determine humanity’s relation to God. And yet there is work to be done beyond the tetelestai. He has glorified the Father on earth, and in response the Father will glorify him (John 17:1); not, however, in order to an existence of self-indulgent ease, but so that, with all the new power and authority of his throne, he will continue his work as redeemer, giving eternal life to all those the Father has given him (John 17:2).” (Ibid. pp.52-53)

This serves to show that, in order for the whole of Psalm 22 to be seen to apply to Christ on the cross, more than verse 46 in Matthew 27 has to be taken into account. Putting it the other way around – consider the entire 22nd Psalm, then read the full account of Christ on the cross. So it will quickly become clear that verse 46 was both being fulfilled in Christ, even while he quoted the precise verse, and as other things happened with other verses of prophecy obviously applying at those points.

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If one looks at the entire Psalm it cannot be about Jesus. The psalmist asks God to "deliver my soul from the sword" - something few Christians, who believe Jesus' soul was never in danger, can imagine him asking. The psalm also proposes a bargain with God, promising to praise him in exchange for salvation.

Lord, do not stay far off; my strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver (save, rescue) my soul from the sword, my life from the grip of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth, my poor life from the horns of wild bulls. Then I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the assembly I will praise you

At the same time, it cannot be denied that several verses of the Psalm seem prophetic. This is a normal method of the Christian exegesis of OT scripture, which finds its parallel in interpreting the Servant songs (or certain verses in them) to predict Jesus' suffering on the Cross.

In the end, the answer to the OP's question depends on one's theological orientation and other opinion-based factors. That the words are the same as Ps. 22 is undeniable. That Jesus was aware of this is almost certain. Personally I lean toward the idea that he was singing or reciting this psalm. Perhaps, in his heart, he did not feel completely forsaken by God but sought to comfort him, having the complete psalm in his heart, including the feeling of confidence that:

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord; All the families of nations will bow low before him. 29 For kingship belongs to the Lord, the ruler over the nations. 30 All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God; All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage. 31 And I will live for the Lord; my descendants will serve you. 32 The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.

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    Imagine Jesus ever asking? He did ask, in the garden of Gethsemane.
    – Mary
    Commented Jun 20 at 3:16
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    @Mary You're right. I was thinking of "save my soul"... not deliverance from death. I'll adjust my answer to make this clearer. Commented Jun 20 at 12:17

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