HOUSMAIL NO HM#088A -                                                                                                        Revised 28 March 2002


" At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34)

Did Jesus really say on the cross, that He thought God had abandoned Him? (meaning "gone away" and left Him alone.) Sadly the most commonly encountered "traditional answer" to that question is that Jesus was indeed forsaken and rejected by God -- that God turned His back on Jesus because He was too "holy" to look on the "sins" that had been laid on Jesus -- that in order to properly experience the penalty of our sins, Jesus had to "feel" that God had rejected Him and withdrawn His presence -- that He was somehow completely separated from God -- and that He cried out in despair.

How sad that the relationship between God and His beloved Son could be so misunderstood, by any who claim to know the God revealed by Jesus.

But how comforting it is to know that this traditional explanation could NEVER be true!

A lot of gobbledegook has been written about this. Of course there are some exceptions, but the worst orthodox commentators seem to have some sort of collective "kings new clothes" syndrome. I can't devote a lot of space to this aspect -- and it will be impossible to do justice to all the variations encountered. But, in brief, the traditional explanation usually seems to accompany an unacceptable version of the Atonement, in which God is portrayed as so angry about our sin that He had to "vent His wrath" by beating up on "someone else" before He could be "placated" about us! And in a further completely grotesque misrepresentation, they then say that He had the innocent Jesus vicariously tortured and bruised, in order to change His feelings towards US! And from there, they create the other theological monstrosity which says that Jesus had somehow become so "unclean" that God's offended "holiness" could no longer even look at Him -- So He forsook Him.

The problem with THAT is that the cross is NOT a demonstration of WRATH -- It is an expression of the GREAT LOVE towards us, which is shared by God and His Son! (John 3:16; Rom 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10) The cross is not meant to change God's feelings towards us -- It is designed to change our feelings towards God. "We love because He first loved us". (1 John 4:19)

Whether or not Jesus was quoting the first line from Psalm 22 in ARAMAIC, is not the real issue! However, it is worth noting that the Psalm itself tells us that it is NOT TRUE that Jesus was "abandoned" by God in the sense of DESERTION! The whole tenor of the Psalm is that it is written by someone who KNOWS that, regardless of "feelings", God has not "gone away"! HE IS STILL THERE LISTENING TO THE PRAYER! And He WILL answer! Notice especially verse 24. " For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hid his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him ."

It was Jesus who said " I am with you ALWAYS".(Matt 28:20) That promise is not just His own! It is His expression of THE TRUTH about God! (John 14:6) And THAT is the EXPRESS IMAGE of God. (Heb 1:3) That is what God meant by " I will NEVER leave nor forsake you ". (Heb 13:5) And that is THE GREAT PROMISE of Psalm 23:4! " In the valley of the shadow of death .... Thou art with me ". (David wrote it about himself, but surely it must also be a prophecy which applies to Jesus? -- (Luke 24:45)

Finally -- there is NO PLACE, and NOTHING IN ALL CREATION, which can separate a Child of God from the Father. (Rom 8:38) Not even in death or in the grave!(Psalm 139:8 )

Of course it is important to note that the truth of those promises does NOT depend on OUR FEELINGS! It doesn't always "feel good" in the "valley of the shadow"! The promises are true simply because GOD SAID IT. They are true whether we "feel" it or not!

Real FAITH is meant to rise above our feelings, to KNOW that God is ALWAYS still "there".

Why might the bystanders have mistakenly thought that Jesus was calling for Elijah? (Mark 15:35)

I have read somewhere, some years ago, that calling for help from Elijah, was a fairly common practice of the day, for Jews when in distress. But of course Jesus wouldn't have been doing that.

There was also another common Jewish misconception, based on Malachi 4:5, that Elijah was going to appear in person, in association with the coming of the Messiah. [Indeed that same mistaken perception still exists in many parts of the 21st century Church, in relation to the second coming!] So perhaps the bystanders thought Jesus was calling for Elijah for that reason. But of course Jesus wouldn't have been doing that either! He had said VERY plainly that John the Baptist had already fulfilled this prophecy. (Matt 17:10-13) We are not meant to look for Elijah in person -- but for John who came in the " spirit and power of Elijah ". (Luke 1:17)

I have read some commentators who claim that Jesus actually recited the WHOLE Psalm 22 from the cross. Attractive as the thought might be, it is another mere speculation from overactive minds. There is of course, nothing in the context to support that claim. Indeed, given that Jesus was at the last extremity of physical strength, and on the very threshold of death, it seems highly improbable!

The word "sabachthani" is Aramaic . So it could not be from the Hebrew version of Psalm 22, as preserved in the "sacred language" of the scrolls which were kept and read in the Synagogues. However, it appears that the common language spoken in Israel was Aramaic. Although Hebrew was still known amongst the educated, few amongst the common people understood it. Consequently when the Scriptures were read in Hebrew, it had become customary for a translator (known as a "meturgeman") to stand with the reader and give an oral paraphrase in Aramaic, verse by verse. ("Sketches of Jewish Social Life", by Alfred Edersheim, Chapter 17)

From that some conclude that it seems quite possible that Jesus could be quoting from the Aramaic paraphrase of the first line of the Psalm, which the people were used to hearing in the synagogue. However, whether or not that is true, the real issue is still what Jesus meant when He said it. The clue for that is in the word Jesus used, which has been translated "forsaken" -- "SABACHTHANI". (More about that below.)

I don't often resort to Greek to explain the Scriptures! However this is one of those cases where it really does help. The English word "forsake" does not quite adequately translate this Aramaic word. The literal meaning of SABACHTHANI is actually something more like -- "To leave down in" (a situation)

When "sabachthani" is translated into Greek, the word used in both Matthew and Mark is -- EGKATELIPES. According to Bauer's Greek Lexicon, it has THREE alternative meanings!

- leave behind.
- forsake, abandon, desert.
- leave, allow to remain.
Bagster's Analytical Greek Lexicon is even more positive about that third alternative. It has - "to leave in a place or situation"

It is that third alternative meaning which best matches the ARAMAIC word in the context of what Jesus meant when He spoke it from the cross. And it is that one we should chose to best fit with the other promises contained in the Scriptures.

Did we really need the Greek lesson? For those familiar with the promises quoted above, the confirmation provided by a study of the Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek, is only the "icing on the cake"!

But we shouldn't really need that to establish IN ENGLISH, that Jesus could not possibly be saying that He had been abandoned by God, in the usually accepted sense proposed by popular mainstream theology.

We should know THAT from our understanding of what the rest of the Scriptures tell us about the character of God, and the relationship between the Father and His Beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased.

The clue is in the time of the day when Jesus said it -- just as He was dying at the 9th hour. The sacrifice of the Passover Lambs was supposed to be offered " in the evening ". (Exod 12:6) But there is a marginal note in the KJV which points out that the Hebrew actually says " between the two evenings ". And from the first century Jewish historian, Josephus, (War 6,9,3) we learn that the Jews understood this peculiar phrase to mean " between the 9th and 11th hour of the day ".

Jesus knew that it was the 9th hour. He knew that, in the temple, the priests were about to commence the slaughter of the Passover lambs -- and here He was -- THE REAL PASSOVER LAMB -- still alive!


This is no agonised cry expressing feelings of despair for abandonment or rejection! It is a final prayer of surrender and submission to His Father's will. And it is a great triumphant shout of victory! It really says something like:

"It is time for me to die -- My suffering is almost ended! My God, why have you LEFT ME HERE IN THIS SITUATION (SABACHTHANI) still alive? Take me!"

* And then he cried, "It is finished"! (John 19:30)

* And then He cried, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit". (Luke 23:46)

* And then, at the precise moment foretold by the OT type of the Passover Lamb,
    He bowed His Head and GAVE up His spirit.(John 19:30) -- Emphasise " GAVE "!

He wasn't in despair. He wasn't gasping for breath to stay alive -- He was GIVING Himself -- for our sins!

And then, on the third day, He rose again -- for our justification!

Praise God for this great expression of His love for His Father, and for us -- foretold by the OT prophets even to the exact year, and the exact day of the year, and the exact time of day!

The bottom line is that Jesus could not have been saying that God had rejected or abandoned Him! That would amount to a complete lack of faith in those wonderful OT promises!

In this wonderful example of trust in extremity, we are meant to find encouragement when our own time comes to be confronted with the reality of what it means to walk through the "valley of the shadow".