Sunday Morning Greek Blog

March 20, 2011

“Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34, par. Psalm 22:1)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Christology,Greek,Mark Gospel of,Old Testament,Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 8:40 am

In Mark 15:34 (parallel Matthew 27:46), Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (the Aramaic version is given in the text: ʾEloi, ʾEloi, lama sabachthani; Hebrew:אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי
ʾEliy, ʾEliy, lamah ʿăzăbtāniy; Greek: Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με; ho theos mou ho theos mou, eis ti enkatelipes me?). Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1 [22:2 MT, LXX] here, but is he quoting it in utter despair? Having just finished reading The Screwtape Letters, I learned again that despair is probably the worst sin with which Satan can tempt us. But we know Jesus did not give into sin, not even the sin of despair. So why does he quote it on the cross, in the hour of his greatest pain?

If you read all of Psalm 22, you will find many parallels to the negative and agonizing aspects of the crucifixion event. In 22:7, we see the mocking (Mark 15:20, 31), insulting (ὀνειδίζω oneidizō; Hebrew is literally: ‘open wide their lips’; Mark 15:29, 32), and shaking of heads (Mark 15:29). In Psalm 22:15, David prophesies, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” Jesus sums that up in John 19:28 (the only one to record this) when he says “I am thirsty.” Psalm 22:16 is explicit: “They pierce my hands and my feet” (although there is a variant reading here; see TNIV footnote). The casting of lots to divide Christ’s clothes (Psalm 22:18) is referenced by all four Gospel writers (Mark 15:24, Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:34, John 19:23–24). Psalm 22:24 hints at Isaiah’s suffering servant, especially Isaiah 53. The final verse of Psalm 22 (v. 31) has the declaration, “He has done it!” That sounds very much like John 19:30: “It is finished.”

My point in citing all these is that Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 not because he is in despair, but because he wants to call attention to the entire Psalm. (Matthew does something similar when he quotes Isaiah 7:14 about the virgin being with child; he is bringing to his readers’ attention the whole prophetic, messianic narrative of Isaiah 7–12.) Psalm 22 is also filled with great hope. It has many positive statements in it that would have served to encourage and strengthen Christ in his final moments on the cross: vv. 4–5 speak of deliverance and salvation; vv. 9–10 speak of God’s closeness throughout life; vv. 11 and 19–20 are pleas for God to stay near and bring rescue in times of trouble; vv. 22–31 look forward to the proclamation of the Gospel message.

Christ gave it all for our salvation. Even when we think we have it bad, look at the example of Christ on the cross, who, in the face of death, did not consider himself forsaken, but held on to the promise of help and deliverance of Psalm 22.

Other Tidbits from the Crucifixion Stories

As I was checking parallel Gospel accounts, I happened to notice in John 19:23 that Jesus’ undergarment was woven in one piece, “from top to bottom,” so the soldiers did not want to tear (σχίζω schizō) this as they did the rest of his clothes. Similar language is used when the curtain of the temple is torn (σχίζω
again) “from top to bottom,” although Mark and John use different words for “bottom.”

Mark records in 15:47 that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses both saw the tomb where Jesus had been placed by Joseph of Arimathea. This is an important apologetic element, as “every testimony is established by two or three witnesses.” Someone had to have seen where Jesus was placed to know the tomb had indeed been miraculously vacated.

One more thing (not “finally,” because there is so much more I could say): I find it interesting that when the soldiers mock Jesus before taking him to Golgotha, they beat him on the head (Mark 15:19) with a reed (καλάμος kalamos). In 15:36, the same word is used of the stick on which they place the sponge to offer Jesus one last drink. Is it possible that was the same stick or reed? Things that make you go “hmm.”



  1. […] (NASB), or “neglect” (NLT). This is the same word Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1 on the cross when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That is how […]

    Pingback by “Falling Away” (παραπίπτω parapiptō) in Hebrews 6:6 « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — November 18, 2011 @ 11:46 pm | Reply

  2. […] “Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34, par. Psalm 22:1) […]

    Pingback by The Passion Week of Christ « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — March 11, 2012 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

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