These are David’s words, and they are words Jesus spoke when he hung on the cross. Many statements in the Old Testament are predictive and point to Christ, including this verse, which anticipates Christ hanging on the cross taking on Himself the sins of the world and being abandoned by the Father in that moment as a result.
While there is a predictive element, clearly, to this statement, I think there is something else going on. Jesus was undoubtedly harkening back to David’s words, but maybe He had another purpose in doing so. We see many times in the Bible that a single phrase has multiple meanings, more than one application, and both or all of them are instructive.
Jesus spoke those words, He fully understood the emotion and the experience of them. He was fully man, in the flesh. As a man, He certainly felt the range of emotions and pain that we feel. As a man, He experienced, and therefore, understood all that it means to be human, the full spectrum.
He also took our sin on His own person. In that moment when our sins were put on Christ in the flesh, God the Father turned His head. He had to. Jesus not only felt abandoned; He was abandoned. The word translated “forsaken” is in the Hebrew perfect tense, signifying that the event was finished, done, completed. It means left behind, abandoned.
Though we feel forsaken and abandoned at times, we are not. God will never leave us or forsake us. (Deut. 31:6; Heb. 13:5) Jesus, however, was actually abandoned in that moment as He took sin on His person.
Jesus fully experienced the sense of abandonment that we sometimes feel, rightly or wrongly, when we feel separated from God and out of communication with God. To the extent that Jesus was intimate with the Father, intimate in a way we have never known, the complete abandonment would have been that much more painful.
In that moment, Jesus knew the intention of evil men who sought to do Him harm; He knew the feeling of utter abandonment of God because of sin. He experienced the loneliness and abandonment that is the condition of man in wrong relation to fellow man and to God.
Though David’s words were prophetic, and Jesus echoed them in fulfillment of that prophetic utterance of David, those words express something just as significant and far more intimate. Jesus was identifying with David, identifying with us in that sense of abandonment and isolation that we sometimes feel. In saying those words David spoke in different circumstances many hundreds of years before, Jesus was letting us know that He knows how we feel.
God is not distant and uncaring. He is intimate and intimately cares for us more than we know. He not only knows our actions and our thoughts (Psalm 139); He knows how we feel. He loves us deeply, completely and with full knowledge and full understanding. The God who created the universe out of nothing and millions and trillions of stars and galaxies beyond what man can see, intimately knows us, even our human emotions and human condition.
That is a God we can trust with our very beings unconditionally.
[i] 5800a /ʽāzan – literally, leave behind (“to loose”), especially to abandon or leave destitute. Its related Arabic cognate means “be remote, absent.” The Akkadian cognate is used of forsaking a marriage or other important commitment.
[ii] “Forsaken” in this verse is in the Hebrew perfect tense, meaning the action is finished (completed, done). The perfect sets the platform for thought to progress, portraying it as complete (finished) with its effect bearing on what comes next.
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