By Wayne Clapp

There is probably no scripture more misunderstood than Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God. My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?” Did Jesus Christ really utter these words? Would Jesus have accused his heavenly Father of such an act of desertion? Did God really abandon His only begotten son as he was dying on the cross?

Matthew 27:46:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

We understand this verse word by word except for the foreign words. “Eli” means “my God.” Lama, or lemana means “why” or “for what purpose” and always introduces a question. It occurs 53 times in the Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament (#1584) and it translated “why” 45 times, “what” 5 times, and “for what purpose” 3 times. “Sabachthani” comes from sebag meaning to leave, forgive, allow, reserve, or spare.

It does appear from reading this verse in the King James version that God forsook Jesus while he endured the agony of the cross. In fact most of the other Bible versions translate it the same way. How could a loving heavenly Father do such a thing? A key question to ask is, “Is this verse in harmony with the other verses on this same subject?” If this verse contradicts other scriptures on this subject it must be suspect because God’s Word cannot contradictions itself.

Let’s look first at John 16:32.

John 16:32:
Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered [Jesus is talking to His apostles.], every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.

Jesus was talking about the time of His crucifixion and of His death. He said, “the Father is with me.” Although Jesus knew everyone else would forsake him, he took comfort knowing that his heavenly Father would be with him. He knew God had always been with him, why would He forsake him at this crucial hour.

John 8:29:
And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.

Was Jesus pleasing His Father when he endured the cross? You bet he was. He always did his Father’s will so he must have been pleasing God.

John 6:38:
For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

Whose will was Jesus doing when he was dying on the cross? he was doing His Father will then, too.

II Corinthians 5:19:
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself….

If God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself how could He have left him?

John 10:30:
I and my Father are one.

God and Jesus Christ were one in purpose. They were acting together to accomplish the same purpose. How could God forsake Jesus and they still be one? Look at what Christ said at the time He was taken captive.

Matthew 26:53:
Thinketh thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?

Twelve legions of angels is 72,000 angels. The Father would have given Jesus 72,000 angels. When God brought His people out of Egypt it said an angel went before them to keep them in the way — an angel. What could Jesus have done with 72,000? Jesus could have walked right out from among this group of men if He had wanted to. But he didn’t. Why? Let’s look at the next verse.

Matthew 26:54:
But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?

Jesus asked this rhetorical question to confront their thinking. He told Peter to put his sword away because he knew what the Word said. Jesus was more concerned about the scriptures being fulfilled than that he be tortured and die. Jesus’ desire was to do God’s will. He wanted the scriptures fulfilled. He always did the Father’s will, so he must have been doing God’s will when He was dying upon the cross.

In John 18:11 when the soldiers came to take Jesus he asked a similar question, “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” Again Jesus asks this rhetorical question to confront Peter’s thinking. Jesus had spent some agonizing time in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane when he had asked the Father three times “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) Jesus did not want to endure the torture and death he saw ahead of him, and asked God if there were some other way. When he knew there was no other way he submitted to the will of his Father, making God’s will his will.

Yet Matthew 27:46 says, “Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This verse contradicts the rest of the Word on this subject. God did not forsake Jesus. He was in him reconciling the world unto Himself. Jesus knew what his Father’s will was, and he was determined that it be fulfilled. He was carrying out his Father’s purpose, and God was with him throughout this horrendous experience.

People teach that Jesus became sin, and God can’t stand sin. Therefore He had to forsake His son in his hour of need. If God forsook Jesus Christ because of sin, what chance do you or I have. God never forsook Jesus. How could we ever believe Hebrews 13:5 where it says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” if, in fact, He forsook Jesus at any point. Remembering those other clear scriptures that are not in harmony with this one stops us from wrongly dividing this scripture.

The difficulty with Matthew 26:47 is due to an error in translation. “Forsaken” is the wrong choice for the translation in this verse. The Greek word translated “forsaken,”enkataleipô can mean “to leave” in the sense of forsaking and abandoning, or “to leave” in the sense of sparing or allowing to remain. The context determines the meaning.

II Timothy 4:10 and 16:
For Demas hath forsaken (enkataleipô) me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.
At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook(enkataleipô) me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.

Both of these verses use the same Greek word (enkataleipô) in the sense of forsaking or abandoning. Demas forsook Paul; he physically left him. All at Paul’s first trial forsook him. This is one usage of this word. However there is a second usage of this word.

Acts 2:27:
Because thou wilt not leave (enkataleipô) my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Here on the Day of Pentecost Peter quotes David speaking prophetically of the Messiah. God didn’t allow his soul to remain in the grave. God raised him from the dead.Enkataleipô is used here in the sense of allowing it to remain.

Romans 9:29:
And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left(enkataleipô) us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.

God didn’t forsake or abandon a seed, He spared one. They weren’t forsaken; they still remained. Had they not been spared we would have been like Sodom and Gomorrah. This too is an example of enkataleipô used in the second manner, meaning to spare or to allow to remain. The Lord spared us a seed or allowed a seed to remain for us.

Similarly the Aramaic word sebaq has the same two meanings. It occurs in II Timothy 4:10 and 16 as did the Greek word enkataleipô with the first usage. It also is used with the second meaning.

Acts 24:27:
But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left (sebaq) Paul bound.

The word “left” in Act 24:27 doesn’t mean Felix forsook Paul. Rather he left him in prison. Paul remained bound as a favor to the Judeans.

Romans 11:4:
But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved (sebaq) to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.

The word “reserved” in Romans 11:4 is sebaq. Here it carries the second meaning also. These seven thousand men were not forsaken, they were left after the rest succumbed to the pressure to worship Baal. These seven thousand remained. They were reserved or spared because they didn’t bow the knee to the image of Baal.

Jesus Christ’s life was a fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies. In his final hours on the cross, his mind was most certainly encouraged by the Psalmist who remained faithful to God through the torturing pressures of life. Jesus’ Cry of Triumph was a quotation of Psalm 22:1.

Psalm 22:1:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?…

The words “hast forsaken” in this verse is the Hebrew, azab. This word also has these same two meanings. It also is used of forsaking or abandoning, and it is used of remaining, reserving, or sparing. Let’s look at some other examples.

Psalm 27:10:
When my father and my mother forsake (azab) me, then the LORD will take me up.

Note azab is used here in the sense of forsake or abandon. The Psalmist says that father and mother could forsake him, but he knew the Lord would take him up. Even the dearest most loving of people could forsake or abandon us, but not our loving heavenly Father.

Psalm 37:25:
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteousforsaken (azab), nor his seed begging bread.

Here again, azab is used in the sense of “forsake” or “abandon.” Here the Psalmist says he has not seen the righteous forsaken. Don’t you think Jesus qualified. God would not have forsaken His son.

Psalm 37:28:
For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh (azab) not his saints; they are preserved for ever…

This should establish the truth that God doesn’t forsake or abandon his saints. He didn’t forsake David in Psalm 22 and He didn’t forsake Jesus on the cross either. Azab also carries the second meaning.

Leviticus 19:10:
And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather everygrape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave (azab) them for the poor and stranger: I am the LORD your God.

God instructed them to leave or reserve some of the grapes for the poor and the stranger. They were to leave some; to let some remain on the vine. The word “leave” in Leviticus 19:10 means leave in the sense of reserving or sparing. It is also used in Ruth in the same way.

Ruth 2:15,16:
And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not:
And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave(azab) them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.

Boaz instructed them to leave, azab, handfuls on purpose for Ruth to glean. Yes, they were left on purpose; they were reserved for Ruth; they were spared so Ruth could glean them. It is not only used of grapes and grain but also of people. Look also at Ezekiel 24.

Ezekiel 24:21:
Speak unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will profane my sanctuary, the excellency of your strength, the desire of your eyes, and that which your soul pitieth; and your sons and your daughters whom ye have left (azab) shall fall by the sword.

“Left” in Ezekiel 24:21 does not means leave in the sense of forsaking, but in the sense of remaining. The sons and daughters that had been spared so far were going to fall my the sword. So in all three of the Biblical languages we have seen that the words translated “forsaken” could also be translated “spared,” “reserved,” or “remaining.”

If I knew you were coming and I saved a piece of pie for you, it would be left. Not in the sense that I abandoned it, but in the sense of it being reserved or designated or set aside for you. It was left for a reason or a purpose — to bless you. I allowed it to remain. I watched over it, making sure no one else ate it so that it remained for you. I reserved it for you.

Jesus was not forsaken rather he was left on the cross for a purpose. He had to remain there until His Father’s business was fully completed. In John 4:34 Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work.” When the work was completed, Jesus recognized it, and said, “It is finished” and he gave up the ghost. It is interesting to note that the first recorded words of Jesus in the Bible are found in Luke 2:49 where he said, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” The last words before he died were “It is finished.” He had finished the work His Father had given him to do. All the time in between he was about His Father’s business.

There are many prophetic statements in Psalm 22 that were fulfilled while Jesus hung on the cross. David spoke these words by revelation of his own experience and his own circumstance, and not all of Psalm 22 can be said to be prophecy regarding the Messiah, but much of it is. For example let’s look at verses one and two again.

Psalm 22:1,2:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

Notice the italics in verse one. This last phrase could be translated, “Far from helping meare the words of my roaring.” He cried day and night wondering if God even heard him. Nothing David said seemed to avail anything. He knew that only God could bring his deliverance. These words were true regarding David, but were they true regarding Jesus Christ? Would Jesus have ever confessed that his Father didn’t hear him? No! On the contrary he declared that He always did. Look at John 11 and Jesus’ prayer for the raising of Lazarus.

John 11:41,42:
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

Jesus confidently asserted that God always heard him. Therefore Psalm 22:2 could not have been spoken prophetically of Jesus. Yes it was true of David. He was not sure that God heard his cry, but Jesus could have never said that. David continues to describe his anguish and despair until verse 19 when he begins to praise and worship God in spite of the circumstances. In verse 21 David realized and confessed that God had heard him. David expected God to save him from this situation as He had done many times previously.

The opening question in Psalm 22:1 could also be translated, “Why hast thou spared me?” For a while in David’s life he was on the run, and it seemed like he would go from one crisis situation to another. It was proverbially as if he escaped from a lion and a bear met him. Paul could have asked this same question after he was delivered from the shipwreck and then bitten by the viper. Why did you spare from the shipwreck — so I could die from this viper bit? David’s heart was asking, “Why did you spare me from the last trouble? When I find myself in this one?”

This question in Psalm 22:1 is also rhetorical because David already knows the answer. He answers the question and states the purpose later in the Psalm. In verse 22 he says, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren…” In verse 25 he says, “I will pay my vows…” In verse 30 he says, “A seed shall serve him…” The answer is clear. Man has a purpose to live for God although at times things may appear to be gloomy. This is clearly stated in Psalm 118.

Psalm 118:17,18:
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.
The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.

As Jesus hung on the cross he found strength in Psalm 22. Jesus understood that many of the statements in this Psalm spoke prophetically of him. His Cry of Triumph showed his recognition that he was fulfilling this Word of God as he laid down his life. Verse 8 are the exact words the religious leaders cast at Jesus as they passed by the cross.

Psalm 22:8:
He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

In verse 15 the Psalmist described the dryness of his mouth saying, “and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” Jesus’ next words after this Cry of Triumph were, “I thirst.” He had refused other drinks offered him that day, but requested this one. Verse 16 says, “They pierced my hands and my feet.” This was literally true of Jesus that day. Verse 18 is cited in the Gospels in reference to the soldiers gambling for his clothes after he was crucified.

Psalm 22:18:
They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

The final words in the King James translation of Psalm 22:31 are “that he hath donethis.” The Hebrew words used here may be translated, “It is done.” or “It is finished.” These were Jesus’ final words from the cross. Salvation and redemption were finished. For what purpose was he spared? To finish the work God sent him to do; to die for all mankind; to be the Passover lamb.

Therefore since God’s forsaking his only begotten son at that moment would contradict not only God’s loving nature, but also many other scriptures. The question from the cross was not “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” Rather, it was “My God, My God, Why did you spare me?” Or, “My God, My God, For what purpose have you left me here?” But why was the question asked? Didn’t Jesus know the answer? Yes, he did.

John 12:27:
Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.

The question mark in this verse is wrongly placed after “say.” It should appear after “hour.” The question. should read, “What shall I say, Father save me from this hour?” The New American Standard Version does just that:

John 12:27:
Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.

This question was posed a few days before his crucifixion, and he immediately answered it: “…for this cause or purpose came I unto this hour.” That was the answer to the question then and it was still the answer to the question a few days later when he hung on the cross. Therefore, the question on the cross in Matthew 27:46 is a rhetorical question.

The answer was obvious. “My God, My God, for what purpose have you spared me? For this purpose have I come to this hour!” His purpose was to finish his Father’s business. Jesus Christ as the Passover lamb was sacrificed for us. His purpose was to suffer and die for all mankind. He paid the price for us. His was not a cry of despair, but a cry of triumph, in that he was fulfilling his whole purpose, shedding his blood as the Passover lamb. Others forsook Jesus, but not his Father.

Jesus knew the literal answer to his question, “For this purpose you spared me!” He said it in the form of a rhetorical question for emphasis. He knew why! He wanted the others to ask the same question? He was confronting their thinking so they too would consider why he was there. It was put in the form of a question not to obtain information or to seek a reply, but to cause those that were present and heard him to think and to consider the matter. Remember Jesus’ statement in John 11?

John 11:41,42:
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.

That’s the same reason Jesus made his Cry of Triumph. He cried with a “loud voice.” There was great intensity in his voice and he spoke with great effort. Not because he wanted God to tell him the purpose for which he was spared and allowed to remain on the cross, but rather so those who were there would believe that God had sent him and that he was fulfilling God’s Word while remaining on the cross.

Jesus frequently used rhetorical question to encourage people to think and consider things more indepthly. We already looked at two rhetorical questions he spoke to Peter when the soldiers came to take him. He asked, “But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” and “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? In Matthew 8:26 when his disciples came to him when they were in the midst of a storm at sea he asked, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” In Matthew 14:31 after Peter had walked on the water he saw the sea boisterous became afraid and began to sink when Jesus caught him and asked, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” In Matthew 26:50 when Judas came with the soldiers to betray Jesus, Jesus asked, “Friend, wherefore art thou come? Jesus was not seeking information. He knew why Judas was there. When asked at the last supper who it was who would betray him he answered “He…to whom I give a sop.” He later gave it to Judas and told him “that thou doest, do quickly.” When Judas came to Jesus in the garden to betray him with a kiss Jesus knew what he was doing, but he asked a rhetorical question to confront Judas’ thinking to get him to consider what he was doing. Jesus knew, and he wanted Judas to think about it

However, not only was this cry a rhetorical question, but it was also a gnome, a quotation from the Old Testament. As a gnome it directed their thinking to the appropriate Word of God that would allow them to come to the correct conclusion. Surely this Cry of Triumph brought to their remembrance this familiar Psalm. Then they would see that the mocking of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders was foretold by God. Instead of causing doubt, this mocking should have helped them to realize that this was transpiring in fulfillment of God’s Word. The parting of the garments and the casting of lots for his vesture further documented the truth that he was the Messiah. The combination of these two figures of speech was a most emphatic presentation of the truth. “For this cause or purpose had he come to this hour.”

It was about the ninth hour, three o’clock in the afternoon, when Jesus spoke these words from the cross, “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani.” By this time Jesus had gone through nearly forty hours of interrogation, mockery, beatings, and suffering without so much as murmuring one complaint. Why, would he accuse God now? He didn’t. His was not a cry of despair implicating God as an irresponsible and uncaring Father. Rather this was a Cry of Triumph. This was the culmination of his purpose and the consummation of the work the Father had given him to do. Jesus knew he was drinking the cup his father had prepared for him. He knew he was doing his Father’s will, dying as the Passover lamb.

Jesus endured this agony and suffering to fulfill the Word of God. He took our place. He was our substitute for sin. He paid the price of his innocent blood to redeem you and me. It wasn’t the rope tied around his midriff or the nails driven through his hands and feet that kept him on that cross. Rather, it was his uncompromising and relentless love for His Father and His Word. He delighted to do God’s will (Psalms 40:8), and for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2). He could have walked off the cross if he wanted, with twelve legions of angels at his command. Why did Jesus keep hanging on that cross. Because he loved us. They didn’t take his life that day. He so loved us that he gave himself for us. Through every moment of this agonizing death God was with him providing him strength and comfort. What was the joy that was set before him? He knew that he was fulfilling his Father’s plan of salvation that would pay the price for the sin of all mankind.

Jesus knew his purpose and the culmination and consummation of his Father’s business. He could have literally said, “For this purpose you spared me!” “This is why I came unto this hour!” But, because he wanted those present to also see his triumph (Colossians 2:14,15), he put this declaration in the form of a question which brought the minds of the people present back to God’s wonderful Word in Psalm 22. He knew the agony he was enduring was the fulfillment of the scriptures, and he wanted those present to also see and understand what was transpiring before their eyes. With his “tongue cleaving to his jaw being brought to the dust of death,” he asked for a drink After receiving that drink he mustered his strength and declared “It Is Finished!” What was finished? Your redemption and mine. Jesus Christ had given His own life. He who knew no sin had become sin so that you and I might become the righteousness of God in Him. All his life he had been about his Father’s business and finally he had finished it. Then he gave up the ghost. They didn’t take his life, he laid it down for you and me.

God like any loving parent stayed with His Son. This was not only their triumphal hour, but ours also. For it was at this point that Jesus Christ, the second Adam, fulfilled all the legal requirements for our redemption and salvation. This was Christ’s purpose. Jesus’ cry did not implicate God as an irresponsible and uncaring Father. Rather, it declared Jesus Christ’s faithfulness to God’s plan of redemption and his concern for all mankind. Now we have an accurate translation of Matthew 27:46, one of the most difficult verses of Scripture in the King James version, “My God, My God, Why did you spare me? For people who have eyes to see and ears to hear the answer is obvious.