“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”
(“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
First-century Jews didn’t have bibles neatly divided into chapters and verses. A local synagogue had few, if any, actual pieces of parchment with scriptures written on them. A pastor/teacher nowadays in a church service says “open your bibles to Psalm 22”, and the reading commences. But back then, the rabbi prompted the congregation to recite scriptures by starting off quoting the first few words of a passage, and the congregation would pick it up, reciting the entire passage from memory. That’s because, especially for boys, the first few years of their education consisted of memorizing large parts of the Law and the Prophets (our Old Testament). Psalm 22 was a famous passage, known even then as a Messianic psalm, describing the man who was to suffer and die but ultimately reconcile “all the ends of the earth” and “all the families of the nations” back to God.
So imagine yourself as a Jew watching and hearing this man nailed to the cross, whom you know as a rabbi, quote the first few lines of Psalm 22. Your mind would instinctively recall the entire passage:
- “…all who see me mock me; they hurl insults…” – that was happening right before your eyes, as it had been going on all day.
- “…all my bones are out of joint…” – crucifixion literally dislocates wrists and elbows and shoulders.
- “…they pierce my hands and my feet…” – exactly as you see right before your eyes.
- “…they divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment…” – exactly as happened earlier that day.
The prophecy that King David wrote some 1000 years before is now a scene being played out in detail before your very eyes. Could it be that this man is the Messiah, the Son of God, as he had claimed numerous times?
In the midst of this dispair, hope: “In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame…. He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one….”
And in the midst of this disgrace, future glory: “… and all the families of the nations will bow down before him … dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations … all the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him.”
Jesus was crying out in physical and mental anguish, for sure. But I’m convinced that He wasn’t just crying out in anguish, but also demonstrating that those ancient prophecies applied to Him. He was using His position as a rabbi to call people’s attention to that fact – not only to the people gathered around the cross that day, but also to those who would read the records of those events for millennia to come, so that “all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.”