The Agora
Tragedy And Triumph (Psa 22)

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"My God, My God" (vv 1-5)


He was alone on the cross; there was no ministering angel as in the garden of Gethsemane, no direct answer to his fervent entreaties. Imagine this! Imagine that the despair and the limitations of the flesh he had inherited very nearly overcame Christ... very nearly, but not quite!

"My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
The cry was wrung in anguished pain from his lips. Yet as he spoke the words, he would know their source. With his wonderful memory of Scriptures, Christ would leap forward in his contemplation to the verses that followed. Unable to ease the physical agony of the flogged back, unable to relieve the pain of the grinding spikes and the chafing of the rough timbers... how his mind -- his extraordinary, godly mind -- would battle the flesh's weakness to concentrate on this precious fragment of Scripture.

As the waves of pain swept over him, he would be raised from despair to assurance, from horror to consolation, and he would marvel at the images of this Psalm -- being brought at last, as his life ebbed away, to fix his entire being upon the joyous hope of the last phrases. Let this transcendent mind of Christ be in us as we follow his meditations and, like him, fix our affections on the hope set before us.

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A brief chronology, before we commence:

Parallel passage in Psalm 22
1. Early morning
His trial finished, Christ is scourged

2. 3rd hour (9 am)
Crucifixion (Mar 15:25)

3. 6th hour (noon)
Darkness commences, lasting approximately 3 hours (Mat 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luk 23:44)

4. 9th hour (3 pm)
He cries out, "Eli, Eli..." (Mat 27:46; Mar 15:34).
Vv 1-21a: "My God, my God...": Christ, in darkness, describes his sufferings
5. Shortly thereafter
Light breaks forth at end of the 3 hours, as though to show Christ that his Father has not forsaken him
Vv 21b-31a: "Thou hast heard me...": Christ, in light, joyfully describes his future glory
6. Some time between 9th and 12th hours
"It is finished" (John 19:30)
V 31b: "He hath done this"
7. 12th hour (6 pm)
By this time, Christ is already dead (Mar 15:42)

Verse 1: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?": From dry, chapped, swollen lips the words were wrenched. His speech was almost unintelligible; they thought he was calling for Elijah: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!" (Mat 27:46). It was an exclamation perhaps more than a question: "My El, my Strength, Oh how Thou hast forsaken me!" It was the cry of conscious innocence, which knows no cause for estrangement, "but casts itself on the One beloved, and thinks not of a rejection.

"Azavtani" signifies "to leave" or "to decline to help" (Psa 71:11; 2Ch 12:5; Deu 31:17). This is part of the just deserts of every sinner: to be left at last to his fate by God. Thus the forsaking by the Father was a necessary part of Christ's sufferings on behalf of sinners. In his sufferings he "bore our sins" (1Pe 2:21-24) in that he bore, with all its weaknesses and defects, the nature that resulted from sin. This was the only cause for estrangement -- so that Christ might fully experience through his nature and circumstances the affliction and grief of a "man of sorrows" (Isa 53:4-9), that he night be "in all points tempted like as we are, yet without (personal) sin". In this he became a perfect high priest, "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Heb 4:15).

Consider the monumental character of such a man -- a man who suffered overwhelming temptations and excruciating tortures, and yet... and yet his greatest sorrow, his only complaint, was to be separated for a few moments from his Heavenly Father. It was a terrible trial to one so sensitive, so dependent upon prayer, so intimate with the Father. It is a measure of our feeble moral stature alongside him, that our separation from God is for most of the time not a worry to us at all! We fret about finances and holidays, about minor bumps and bruises and how our friends have "wronged" us; only once in a while do we come face to face with the enormity of the gulf that divides us from God. For us, there is a different answer than Christ's to the question, "Why hast Thou forsaken us?" The answer is in Isa 59:2:

"Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you..."
Did Yahweh truly "forsake" His Son in whom He was well pleased? We have noted already that the cry from the cross was more of an exclamation than a question. Christ knew the reason for the temporary cessation of his Father's loving presence and support, and he bowed himself to the Father's will: "Thy will be done." But the question remains: Did Yahweh forsake Christ There is perhaps in this heart-rending cry a reference to the departure of the sustaining Holy Spirit, which the Son had possessed without measure since baptism. There is perhaps an allusion at the same time to the absence of the ministering angel. But perhaps most to the point there is implied by poetic overstatement a momentary despair -- a despair, however, which did not continue into sin. (No other man could have dared to speak in such a way to God, without sinning!)

In one sense Yahweh did forsake His Son. It was by His "determinate counsel and foreknowledge" that Christ was delivered into the hands of sinners (Acts 2:23). "God gave His only Son..." (John 3:15). (But in another sense He never could forsake him: "I knew that Thou hearest me always" -- John 11:42.) It was a measure of His transcending parental love that Yahweh forsook His Son in death -- love foreshadowed best, perhaps, in Abraham's offering of Isaac (Rom 8:32).

And this particular incident, filled with meaning, brings to light another facet of the cry from the cross: While the word "azavtani" (forsake) is used in Psalm 22:1, a word of slightly different significance is used by Christ in the Gospel accounts. We are familiar with it: the Aramaic "sabachthani". One suggested meaning is "to entangle" and when so understood this takes our mind immediately to Gen 22. The corresponding noun "sabach" is found in v 13 there: "a ram caught in the thicket (sabach)". Christ was the ram caught in the thicket, the ram provided by God as an offering. In using this slightly different word his cry becomes an exclamation of assent: "My God, Thou hast ensnared and provided me as the sacrificial victim!"

"Why art Thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring (groaning)?": The reason is the same as in the previous phrase. God could not help Christ, because the final victory must be his own. In suffering on account of sin, he must be obedient unto death (Phi 2:8; Heb 5:8,9), and the Father could not go with him there.

Verse 2: "O my God, I cry in the daytime, but Thou nearest not": Or, "Thou dost not answer" (RSV). This is more appropriate, due to John 11:42 (cited above), to name one example. Like Jacob of old, Christ clings to God in prayer without ceasing -- "I will not let Thee go, except (or until) Thou bless me" (Gen 32:26).

"And in the night seasons, and am not silent": At this time darkness has fallen over the hill of Calvary. Though it is the middle of the day, it is dark as night -- for God cannot and will not at this time answer His Son's pleas, and the natural elements conspire to reinforce this divine silence. The last phrase of v 2 might best be rendered: "...But I have no rest"; this maintains the parallelism. In other words, "I have no reason as yet to cease my crying." The darkness emblematic of God's silence and separation continues until Christ, in his meditation and prayer, reaches v 21. Then light breaks forth (see the chronology above) and he exults, "Thou hast heard me." He has received in the renewed light a tangible proof that God is yet watching over him.


Though separated by silence and darkness from his Father, Christ still expresses trust in Him; "I know Thou wilt hear me, since Thou heard Israel" (Exo 15:1; 1Sa 2:1; Psa 34:3,4).

Verse 3: "But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel": "Kadosh" signifies righteous, just, or pure. It is used of Yahweh in the highest ideal of absolute perfection. Christ's words are the language of profound resignation: Thou art just... Not as I will, but as Thou wilt:

"With gentle resignation still,
He yielded to the Father's will..."
The unanswerable justice of the Holy One was being enacted in solemn and terrible drama on Golgotha. The perfect righteousness of the Holy One was being attested in the sufferings of His Son (Rom 3:25,26). This is what "flesh and blood" deserves; look upon it and consider!

Here is the triumph of faith. Even in the awesome stillness Christ still trusts in the Hearer of prayers, although He hears him not. In the wide swirling ocean of dark temptation, the Saviour stands like a rock and a beacon. "It matters not what I endure -- even rejection; Thou alone art holy!"

Verses 4,5; "Our fathers trusted in Thee... and Thou didst deliver them": Here is the intelligent pleading of precedent, and also for us the answer to the questions we may sometimes ask or think, "Why should I read the Old Testament?" or "Why should I learn all that history?" Our Saviour continually mined these fields for gems of faith, and he stored up these treasures against the time when he would need them. "Our fathers trusted in Thee; so I trust, and more so. Thou didst deliver them; I know Thou wilt deliver me. They cried unto Thee; I cry even more, my God, my God. They were not confounded; so now leave me not in these straits to the confusion of my face and the eclipse of Thy purpose, O Thou Who inhabitest the praises of Israel!"

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