Sunday Morning Greek Blog

July 22, 2013

A Tale of Two Brothers

Filed under: Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 10:03 pm

I’m not sure exactly how to write this post. It’s going to be more of a stream of consciousness, I think, but I hope you appreciate the story I’m about to tell.

The Accident

My reflection process began about three weeks ago. Just before the Fourth of July, my dad was fishing on the Missouri River up by Fort Calhoun with my uncle on his pontoon boat. He was casting his line, when it got stuck close to shore. Instead of cutting the line and putting another hook on, my 73-year old dad, who never learned to swim, decided to get out of the boat and walk up the shore to free the line. Evidently, they were close enough to a shallow part of the river for him to do that. As he was walking along the shore, his foot slipped on a rock, his heel caught between two other rocks, and he fell and broke both bones in his lower leg, one of them in two places. My uncle called 911, and the ambulance came and took him to the hospital, where they fixed him up. He’s recovering nicely now, but he’ll be using a walker or cane for some time yet. That’s the happy ending.

The Relationship

Now I said my dad was with my uncle, but my Uncle Larry is not my dad’s brother. He’s dad’s ex-brother-in-law, my mom’s youngest sibling and only brother. My mom has two other sisters; one died a few years ago, and she still has a close relationship with the other. For reasons I don’t know and that aren’t really relevant to this story, the family dynamics changed over 25 years ago when my mom and dad divorced. The bottom line is that a rift developed between my mom and her little brother such that they haven’t had any meaningful contact, except perhaps at a couple funerals, for over 25 years. (I love my mom deeply, and I understand her pain. She and her husband have been a huge support to me in getting back on my feet after my divorce, and I will never be able to repay her for that. I have no ill-will toward anyone.) Yet my dad, himself the youngest of two and the only boy, has maintained a friendship with him all these years. They’ve gone fishing together quite often; he’s attended my uncle’s Fourth of July fish fry celebration almost every year (he missed it this year, obviously); and he even helped my uncle build a huge garage on his country property.

The accident on the river gave me a lot of time to reflect, especially since my dad was in the Blair hospital, and I had plenty of time to think driving back and forth. Why did my dad and uncle click and maintain that friendship all this years in spite of my mom’s rift with him? Here’s my theory. I have no objective way of knowing if this is true, but it makes sense for me, and as it began to make sense for me while I was driving, I got all teary-eyed. I got the sense that God had given me insight into a situation that might help bring healing to all involved.

The Theory

My dad and uncle are both the youngest and only boys in their respective families. My dad had lots of male cousins growing up that he could hang out with, but most were a bit younger than he was. I’m sure my uncle had plenty of male friends too, and I never knew too many of my mom’s cousins, because most of them had moved away from Nebraska. So when my dad married into my mom’s family, dad got his first “brother.” Now when Larry got married, he married a woman who had brothers only for siblings. Culturally, her family was very much like my dad’s side of the family, and my dad clicked almost immediately with my uncle’s wife’s family. Dad had also maintained a friendship with my uncle’s wife’s brother for several years, so he was no stranger to that family.

What I think is significant here is that my dad had found the brothers he never had as a kid, and my uncle and his wife’s family never blinked twice about considering my dad family. When I realized the power of that bond, that’s when I got all teary-eyed. It brought some healing to me in my own situation. I hope it brings healing to the rest of my family as well.

(I should add that my mom’s sister married, and is still married to, a pastor. He’s a great man, and my dad has no animosity toward him, but since my dad wasn’t the religious type, he never clicked with my mom’s brother-in-law like he clicked with her brother, my Uncle Larry.)

My Own Story

The more I reflected, the more I saw how this might influence my own life and the life of my kids. My son is the oldest of my three and the only boy, and he has two girl cousins who live nearby in Illinois. My siblings all had boys, and they all had them before my now-ex and I started having kids. Add to that one of them lived in Arkansas and the other two in Nebraska, and Alec rarely had any interaction with them. This past Father’s Day was an absolute blast for all of us. My dad and I and my three kids went to Rushmore and to my dad’s sister’s cabin in Wyoming. All of my kids had a blast, but my son really impressed me on so many levels. We connected in a way we hadn’t in a quite a while. I’m proud of my kids, I’m proud of my parents, and I’m proud of their families too. I can only wonder if this insight is part of the reason why God called me back to Nebraska three years ago. There’s still work to do in my family.

And now, a word from Psalms 126–127 to wrap this up:

126:1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

we were like those who dreamed.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,

our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations,

“The Lord has done great things for them.”

3 The Lord has done great things for us,

and we are filled with joy.

4 Restore our fortunes, Lord,

like streams in the Negev.

5 Those who sow with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

6 Those who go out weeping,

carrying seed to sow,

will return with songs of joy,

carrying sheaves with them.

127:1 Unless the Lord builds the house,

the builders labor in vain.

Unless the Lord watches over the city,

the guards stand watch in vain.

2 In vain you rise early

and stay up late,

toiling for food to eat—

for he grants sleep to those he loves.

3 Children are a heritage from the Lord,

offspring a reward from him.

4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior

are children born in one’s youth.

5 Blessed is the man

whose quiver is full of them.

They will not be put to shame

when they contend with their opponents in court.

Peace to all,

Scott Stocking


April 22, 2012

Sing a New Song (Psalm 98; Ephesians 5:18–21)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Ephesians,New Testament,Old Testament,Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 7:34 am

NOTE: The following is revised and expanded from an article I wrote that appeared in the February 4, 2001, edition of The Christian Standard.

Sports fans are passionate people. They love their favorite teams and cheer them on with great enthusiasm. But sometimes their passion gets out of control, and violence erupts. We have seen this on a number of occasions, especially when a favorite team wins a big game or a national championship. Revelry and carousing take place in the streets, some even firing guns into the air, while others are hurt or injured from brawls that break out.

Don’t Get Drunk on Wine. . .

The country witnessed this behavior in 2000 when Los Angeles residents rioted after the Lakers won the NBA title. No doubt in many of these incidents of individuals or crowds getting out of hand, alcohol was a major contributing factor. Alcohol breaks down our inhibitions and our sense of self-control, and leads to all kinds of misbehavior. Although Midwesterners are a little more subdued in their celebrations, I have no doubt that St. Louisans lined Busch Brewery’s pockets after Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series.

Expressing passion for a sports team can be turned into a positive model of worship. After all, the word “fan” comes from the word “fanatic.” Do we love God and express our praise for him as much as we do our favorite teams? Hasn’t God done much more than win a World Series or an NBA title? Now granted, I don’t want us going out and getting drunk for Jesus. Eph 5:18 provides a good balance for us when celebrating what God has done in our lives: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Paul warns that controlled substances and uncontrolled behaviors are not the proper way to celebrate or to let off steam at the extremes of life. These only lead to trouble, hardship, and sin.

Instead, Be Filled with the Spirit

Instead, Paul exhorts his readers to “be filled with the Spirit.” The similarity here with the negative command against alcohol may escape some: with alcohol, we give up control of our faculties to a mindless substance, and our corrupt flesh nature rises to the surface. If you’ve ever had too much to drink, you know what I mean. You say things when you’re tipsy that you wouldn’t say when you’re sober. Your ability to drive and walk is impaired. Being filled with the Spirit, however, implies that we are giving up control to “the mind of Christ” and to the God who created us for his purposes—our “new man” shines forth.

Understanding this truth is one key to getting a handle on the “worship wars” that many congregations have experienced in the past twenty years. Many in the older generations (“the builders” and to a certain extent, the “boomers”) fuss at the younger generation because of the latter’s desire to have more contemporary choruses and the additional accompaniment of guitars, drums, and so on. At the same time the younger generations (“busters,” “X,” and “2K”) complain about the slow tempo of some traditional hymns and the unpopularity (from their perspective) of the piano or church organ, or both. (One is hard pressed to find a successful radio station today that plays only piano and organ music!) When I moved back to Nebraska in 2010, I got reconnected with the congregation that sent me off to seminary. The sermon series that first Sunday I was back was “I Love the 80s.” Each week, the worship team performed a different (secular) hit song from the 80s, and the pastor used Scripture to highlight the significant themes of the song.

The one who is critical of the worship style a congregation uses is equally as guilty as the one who condemns another for not jumping on board a congregation’s preferred worship style, or a congregation’s desire to establish a more culturally relevant style. Neither group is filled with the Spirit. Neither group is more holy or righteous than the other is simply because of what its preferred style of music is. If we are filled with the Spirit when we come to worship, we allow the Holy Spirit to break down our inhibitions about style, while he directs our attention to the substance of the hymn or chorus.

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

When we get beyond our personal preferences about style, only then can we truly appreciate the command to “sing a new song” to our Lord. Paul goes on in Eph 5:19–20 to explain what he means by being filled with the Spirit. The first aspect is “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Paul here seems to bring the old (psalms, hymns) and the new (spiritual songs) together for the mutual edification of the body, and for the purpose of expressing thanks to our God. In fact, the five verbs that come after “be filled with the Spirit” are all subordinate to that command in some way, because they are all participles. Here is my outline for the organization of those verses:

Be filled (πληρόω) with the Spirit

    Speaking (λαλέω) to one another with psalms (ψαλμός), hymns (ὕμνος), and spiritual songs (ᾠδή)

        Singing (ᾄδω) and

        Making music (ψάλλω) in your hearts to the Lord,

        Always giving thanks (εὐχαριστέω) to God the Father…

    Submitting (ὑποτάσσω) to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The passion in that exhortation is self-evident. The musical expression of God’s Word was a vital part of the fellowship experience of first century Christians. This has been true throughout the centuries in the Christian faith, and still holds true today. Passionate worship is one of the signs of a living, growing, fruit-bearing congregation. Passionate worship shows the world that we really do love our Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

The second aspect of being filled with the Spirit is that we “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). Like the Fifth Commandment (Ex 20:12), this command serves as general statement of transition between our spiritual relationships (worship of God within the body) and our earthly relationships (family and work). In the context of the former (worship), submitting to one another implies that we show mutual respect for each other’s preferred styles. If the Spirit is present, style is at best a secondary concern. What matters is keeping the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

The New Song

The most common hymnbook in the pews of the churches I served in the past twenty years was Favorite Hymns of Praise (Tabernacle Publishing, Wheaton, IL) copyrighted in 1967. One day while preparing a sermon on the topic of the “new song,” I thumbed through the hymns and browsed an Internet site with hymn histories. I discovered that most of the hymns were in the public domain or the copyright had expired. In other words, they were written before copyright laws went into effect in the early 1920s. Although many of these hymns contain important, timeless truths about God and our faith, they are nonetheless “old.” The fact that they are old does not detract from their value, but it may detract from their appeal to younger generations.

The command to “sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 98:1) is not one which was negated by the New Covenant. All nine occurrences of the phrase “new song” in the NIV are connected with the victory, salvation, and justice of God.

God is still winning victories today, every time someone professes faith in him and receives baptism by immersion. In Luke 15, we see that the angels throw a heavenly party over each sinner who repents. Each soul has a unique story of how he or she came to know Christ, and each story is worthy of a “new song.”

Psalm 98

Psalm 98 is by far the most vivid statement of the “new song” in Scripture. The psalm consists of three stanzas of three verses each. In each of the first three verses, God’s salvation is mentioned. Verses 2–3 are particularly prophetic: the word for “salvation” (יְשׁוּעָה) is related to the word translated elsewhere as “Joshua,” or to the Greeks, “Jesus.”

Verses 4–6 make it clear that enthusiasm and passion are important, if not necessary, elements of worship. This second stanza begins and ends with the command to “shout for joy” (רוע). Verse 4 in the NIV is rendered “burst into jubilant song with music,” but the KJV reveals that the phrase is actually made up of only three verbs. “Burst” (KJV has “make a loud noise”; פצח) has the image of flood waters built up behind a dam or levee that suddenly break through clearing out everything in its path. “Jubilant song” (KJV has “rejoice”; רנן) is used of the mountains in vs. 8. “Music” (KJV has “sing praise”; זמר) is actually the root word for “psalm” (see the Ephesians passage above), which is a song sung to musical accompaniment.

God as Audience

Verse 6 is the crux of the entire psalm. The word “before” can also be translated “in the presence of.” When we “shout for joy in the presence of the Lord, the King,” the obvious conclusion here is that God is the audience. Those of us who worship, then, are the performers. The condition in Psalm 33:3 makes a great deal of sense, then: “play skillfully.” God wants us to give our best. Our best may not win us any recording contracts, but he does want us to worship with all that we are.

God wants us to praise him even when we do not feel like praising him, or even when we do not think our talents are good enough to contribute to the body. Jehoshaphat placed the choir out in front of the troops, and ultimately they did not have to lift a finger in violence against their enemies. God won the victory. Praise has a power that goes far beyond our ability and our comprehension. The point is: “SING!”

The final three stanzas reveal that worship is for all of God’s creation, not just his chosen people. In part, it is evangelistic. 1 Corinthians 14 indicates that orderly, comprehensible worship is a powerful tool for reaching the unsaved. If our forms of worship are foreign to the culture around us, we will not have a significant impact on our culture.

A Bold Example

One congregation I served in had a “talent” night. Two high school freshmen boys “rapped” Will Smith’s song “Just the Two of Us.” The “rap” is about Will Smith’s desire to be a good father to his son, in spite of his divorce from the boy’s mother. Nothing in the song is offensive to the Christian values of parenthood. I know some of our elderly members were squirming, if not fuming, from allowing that song to be performed in the sanctuary. But neither of these two young men has significant contact with their biological fathers. I interpreted that song as a heartfelt prayer of those two young men for a relationship like the one Will Smith sang about.


In worship, we long to draw near to our heavenly Father, just as those two teenagers longed to have a close relationship with their earthly fathers. Singing a new song to the Lord is one way to praise God for his victories in our lives, both past and future. If we are not singing new songs to the Lord, the rocks themselves will cry out declaring the righteous rule of our Savior and Lord.


Scott Stocking

September 2, 2011

HUB: How to Understand Your Bible: Week 1

Filed under: Biblical Studies,New Testament,Old Testament,Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 6:15 pm

Here is a synopsis of what we covered Wednesday night. We had nine people in class. What a great start! I hope you all come back next week.

Week 1 Learning Outcomes: After this week’s lesson, the class member should be able to:

  • Discuss with others what the Bible says about itself by citing key passages;
  • Recall the main reason for reading the Bible;
  • Describe the dual roles of love as they relate to the main reason for reading the Bible; and
  • List the five “big-picture” themes of the overall biblical story.

The following is adapted from Jake Christian’s curriculum

Read the following Scripture passages to prepare for class:

  • Psalm 119
  • 2 Timothy 3, especially verses 14–17
  • Matthew 22:37–40
  • 1 John 2:3–6
  • 1 John 3:16–18
  • Ephesians 4:11–16

The Big Picture:

  • Created for Oneness
  • Otherness Introduced
  • Otherness Expanded
  • Otherness Abated (I modified this from the handout)
  • Redeemed into Oneness

Some questions to consider (no right or wrong answers; just reflection):

  • What words or concepts come to mind when you think about the Bible?
  • What have been your successes in reading and studying the Bible?
  • Where do you want to experience some growth in reading and studying the Bible?
  • What does the Bible say about itself?
  • Who has had the most influence on your understanding of the Bible?

Next Week’s Topic: Introducing the Bible Study Method:

  • Get a Bible
  • Read it.
  • Think about how it applies to your life.

June 19, 2011

“I Am the Door of the Sheep”; “I Am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:7, 11)

Well, the summer solstice is just around the corner, and so is the end of my time reading through the Gospels. I read the first part of the crucifixion story this morning in John 19, and that has some interesting tidbits I may come back to:

  • Barabbas’s name is Aramaic for “Son of the Father,” or more colloquially, “Daddy’s Boy” (בַּר bar ‘son’ + אַבָּא abba ‘father, daddy’, perhaps with definite article); Jesus is the “Son of God [the Father]”: irony at its finest!
  • Three times, Pilate said he could find no charge against Jesus, and he seems to work tirelessly (and with concern for his own integrity) to try to release Jesus, even justifying his innocense to the Jewish leaders and the crowd, to no avail;
  • Jesus tries to ease Pilate’s worries about handing him over to be crucified by telling him, “The one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Note that Jesus cannot be accusing the God the Father here, but either Judas or the high priest.

But I digress from my intentions this morning. I want to tackle two more of the “I am” statements of Jesus found within a few verses of each other in chapter 10: “I am the Door of the Sheep” (v. 7) and “I am the good shepherd” (v. 11). The two statements are obviously closely related, but I will deal with each one separately, even though there will be some overlap.

“I Am the Door of the Sheep” (John 10:7)

I’m going to reproduce here my table (Table 1) from an earlier post that shows the connections between the seven “I am” statements of Jesus and the seven signs he performed, with today’s two statements highlighted: (2/13/2012: You can click the “I Am” statement to open the blog post for that statement.)

Table 1: Linking the “I Am” Statements with Jesus’ Miracles

“I Am” Statement


John 6:35: I Am the Bread of Life John 6:1–15: Jesus Feeds the 5000+
John 8:12: I Am the Light of the World John 9:1–12: Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
John 10:7: I Am the Door of the Sheep John 5:1–15: Healing of the Invalid at Bethesda [Sheep Gate]
*John 10:11: I Am the Good Shepherd John 6:16–24: Jesus Walks on Water
John 11:25: I Am the Resurrection and the Life John 11:38–44: Jesus Raises Lazarus from the Dead
*John 14:6: I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life John 4:43–54: Healing of the Official’s Son
John 15:1: I Am the True Vine John 2:1–11: Water into Wine

One of the first connections to note out of the gate (pun intended) is that Jesus’ third sign is healing a man at the pool by the Sheep Gate (προβατικῇ probatikē, literally “of the sheep”; the feminine form is elliptical or shorthand because the word for “gate”, which is feminine, is not in the text there) in the walls of Jerusalem (John 5:1–15). This is the city gate through which the sheep entered when being brought to town for the market or the Temple. I will grant that Jesus’ statement, “I am the door of the sheep” (ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ θὑρα τῶν προβάτων egō eimi hē thura tōn probatōn) is more agrarian and rural than it is commercial and political, but the connection is significant nonetheless, because chapter 5 is the only time the Sheep Gate is mentioned in the Gospels. The Sheep Gate is mentioned three times in Nehemiah in connection with rebuilding the wall. It is probably not coincidence, then, that the high priest and his fellow priests had the responsibility to rebuild that section of the wall and rehang the gates (Nehemiah 3:1; cf. Hebrews 4:14, where Jesus is called our “great high priest”).

This “I am” statement has a connection to John 14:6 as well. In John 10:9, Jesus repeats the “I am” statement, this time without the sheep (“I am the door”), and the salvific connection is obvious (TNIV modified to reflect Greek word order): “Through me, whoever enters will be saved.” The phrase “through me” (διʼ ἐμοῦ di’ emou; the emphatic form of the pronoun is used) comes first in 10:9, even before the conjunction, which is a grammatical tool for emphasizing a phrase. The same phrase is found in John 14:6 (“no one comes to the Father except through me“) at the end. (Don’t ask me why, but Greek scholars say that an element of a Greek sentence can be emphasized at the beginning or the ending of a sentence; just one of those quirky things about Greek.) Here’s the beautiful part: normally you might think a prepositional phrase like “through me” should be common enough, right? Want to guess how many times it occurs in John? If you said “twice,” you are exactly right! Because it appears at the beginning of the phrase in 10:9 and at the end of the phrase in 14:6, I would say we have an inclusio here. Was it intentional by John? Perhaps not. Did God have a hand in ordering the text that way? I certainly think so.

Now if we have an inclusio, we need to look at the text in between and see what’s going on. Jesus does make his other statement about being a good shepherd two verses later in 10:11, but two other significant events are bracketed by the “through me” statements. The first is the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead and Jesus’ accompanying “I am the resurrection and the life” statement. More on that in a future post. The other significant event is the Last Supper, in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. In 13:8, Jesus makes another statement about his exclusivity as the Savior: after Peter objects to Jesus washing his feet, Jesus replies (my translation, emphasizing the present continuous aspect of the verbs), “Unless I am washing your feet, you are not having any part with me [μετʼ ἐμοῦ met’ emou].” This act of washing the feet is the act of a good shepherd who cares for his sheep, so we now turn to that “I am” statement.

“I Am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11, 14)

In Table 1 above, I make a tentative link between “I am the good shepherd” (Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ποιμὴν ὁ καλός egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos) and Jesus walking on the water in John 6. Here’s the connection, but again, it is tentative: Only Matthew records that Jesus called Peter to walk on the water (14:28–31); perhaps John doesn’t record this because he doesn’t want to call attention to Peter’s lack of faith in that instance. The connection has its “degrees of separation,” but it’s more than just about feet and water.

Jesus had stayed behind when his disciples set out in the boat in John 6. But when he saw the disciples were having trouble managing the boat in the strong winds, Jesus left whatever shelter he had sought out and walked out onto the raging sea to get to those he loved. He was looking out for his sheep. This reminds of the parable of the wandering sheep in Matthew 18:10–14, only in the walking on the water pericope, the wilderness is the sea itself. I can imagine that even for the son of God, walking on the water was not the safest thing to do, let alone doing it in a storm, yet Jesus says in the latter part of John 10:11: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (repeated in vv. 15, 17, 18).

The concept of the good shepherd has its roots in the Old Testament. King David, of course, was a shepherd himself, and Psalm 23 is a popular treatise on how the Lord shepherds us on a daily basis. Ezekiel 34 is an extended treatise on the bad shepherds of Israel, who had led the nation on the path of exile. A few relevant passages from Ezekiel make the connection between Jesus’ “I am the good shepherd” statement and Jesus’ walking on water even more pronounced (all excerpts from the TNIV):

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness (34:11–12).

As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats (34:17; note parallel to Matthew 25:32–33).

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken (34:23–24).

They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid…. Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord (34:28b, 30–31)

Live It Out

I find no shortage of irony that the one John called “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29b) is also the door (or gate) for the sheep and the good shepherd. Both of these statements emphasize Jesus’ compassion for his flock. He protects us from thieves and bandits who would rob us of our joy. He is a refuge for us in times of storm and disaster. And he is the only one through whom we can be saved and have the promise of eternal life.

In John 21:15, Jesus has an emotional exchange with Peter to restore him to service after his denial. Three times, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Twice Jesus uses ἀγαπάω (agapaō) and once φιλέω (phileō), but Peter always responds with φιλέω. I don’t think much can made of the difference in the different words used for “love” as some have, but that’s not my point here. Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs” or “Feed my sheep.” Can we model the shepherding of the Savior? Some days it’s easier than others, but if Peter was forgiven for his triple-denial and went on to be instrumental in commencing the church, what great things can we do for God?

I had a stormy period this past month. Last month would have been my 19th anniversary with my (now ex-)wife, and I found myself craving the intimacy I once had with her. It was a struggle to get through that, but God, who is never unfaithful, continued to be faithful to me as I worked through my issues. I’ve come out on the other side now, but as much as I know I’m forgiven for the past, I still find that it haunts me at times. I need to trust that my shepherd is watching out for me in those times when I wander into the wilderness and know that as I “bleat” for his presence, protection, and love, he will hear me and come running to me to give me the only comfort that matters.


Scott Stocking

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.”


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