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The Psalm Jesus Quoted on the Cross

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

The Gospels of Mark and Matthew record Jesus crying out from the cross:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34, NIV)

Those words quote the beginning of Psalm 22 — a psalm of loss, lament, loneliness, and the perseverance of hope.

Jesus’ question is not only a lament; it is also a cry of profound hope and deep trust.

His words are not only an expression of anguish; they are also an encouragement to his listeners at the foot of the cross.

Psalm 22

Psalm 22 is attributed to David. He wrote it while on the run from his enemies, while facing dire threats to his life.

It begins:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1–2, NIV)

Then David reminds himself, and the reader, that the God of Israel came through for His people in the past:

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises
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. (Psalm 22:3–5, NIV)

David laments his circumstances and expresses his anguish. He feels consistently abandoned by God, left to the mercy of the “bulls” and “dogs” encircling him.

How else can he explain such a turn of fortune? How could he find himself running for his life from a host of enemies, terrified and lonely, if God had not forsaken him?

He feels the sting of those who mock his trust in God, because he realizes they have a point based on the evidence before their eyes.

All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.” (Psalm 22: 7–8, NIV)

Sometimes, modern Christians interpret suffering as God testing and strengthening them. Other times, we point to Satan as the source of our troubles and count ourselves lucky to be considered worthy of his attention.

David, however, regards his suffering as evidence of God’s absence, not as a Divine test or spiritual warfare.

I feel for David in this psalm. If health, wealth, and power evince God’s favor in the ancient Jewish imagination, then David must have felt completely disfavored and unmoored.

Nonetheless, despite all evidence to the contrary, despite all the “bulls” and “dogs” encircling him, David trusts that God will deliver him. He proclaims that God “listened” to his cry for help, and future generations will praise God for what He did for His people and for David.

Psalm 22 ends triumphantly:

They will proclaim [God’s] righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it! (Psalm 22:31, NIV)

Why Jesus quoted Psalm 22

Jesus could have said anything while on the cross. He could have repeated the Greatest Commandment. He could have quoted from one of the prophets.

He quoted Psalm 22 for a reason.

  • To remind His Jewish listeners that God would deliver Him despite all evidence to the contrary.
  • To remind them to confidently trust God even in the worst of circumstances.
  • To tell them that the Crucifixion, that death, was not the end.

Like David, Jesus may have felt abandoned by God, and, also like David, Jesus persevered in trusting God’s love, mercy, and deliverance nonetheless.

Yet it’s possible that Jesus never felt abandoned by God the Father. It could be that Jesus wanted His followers to think of Psalm 22, to know He trusted God, and to trust Him, too.

John 19:30 records Jesus’ last words before dying on the cross: “It is finished” (NIV).

I believe Jesus deeply, confidently trusted even in the moment of His physical death that He would be resurrected.

David wrote in Psalm 22, after all, that people would one day say of God, “He has done it!”

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