December 20, 2021
Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani
This information is posted from the book Eastern Customs and Idioms of the Bible: The Teachings of Orientalisms by K. Pillai.
There is no copyright so, I am taking the liberty to post the whole article from Pillai’s Assorted Idioms. This will enlighten readers and appreciators of the Bible, and bring a greater intimacy with the Word.
“Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani” Matthew 27:46, 47
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? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
This verse has caused Western translators, theologians and lay people much difficulty. The confusion lies in the translation. However, instead of looking there we have looked for manifold sense knowledge reasons to prove God left Christ to die alone, in spite of all the other biblical truths at our disposal, such as “I and the Father are one,” “God was in Christ,” and “for this cause came I unto this hour.”
Jesus spoke Northern Aramaic, which in the King James Version is called Hebrew. The original Aramaic words are: Eli, Eli, lmana shbakthani meaning, “My God, my God, for this [cause or purpose] was I spared or kept.” The Greek words in translation as given are “Eli, Eli, lama (there is no word like “lama” in Aramaic—should be, lmana.) sabachthani (there is no word like sabachthani in Aramaic—should be, shbakthani.)” The words in the original are: “Eli, Eli, lmana shbakthani.” This is to say, “It is my destiny to die this kind of death.” It does not mean what the King James translators give, nor is there anything in the tone of the words to indicate an appeal for help, as implied by expositors. The Jews simply thought he was calling on Elijah, for Elia is the Aramaic for Elijah.
The Aramaic word, Shbakthani stems from the root word, shbak meaning to spare, keep, reserve, allow, permit, or let me live. The context and use determines its meaning. In 1 Kings 19:18 the word “reserved”1 is this same word as is also Romans 11:4.
1Reserved—Check also 1 Samuel 14:36; Isaiah 10: 3; 14:1; Matthew 6:12; John 11:48; Luke 18:16; Psalm 22:1 (Eastern version).
Psalm 22:1 in the Aramaic is rendered, “let me live,”2 in the sense of “spared me” instead of “forsaken me.” When suffering or in deep agony and distress the Eastern and Oriental people wonder why they live, and so they ask God why he has spared them or let them live, and why He has not taken them as He did their fathers. In Psalm 22 the writer wonders why they have been spared and let live to go through so many trials and struggles and why God has not speedily vindicated them of their enemies.
2 Let me live—Check 1 Kings 19:4; Job 7:15; 10:1.
The Aramaic words for “forsaken me”3 are taatani and nashantani, meaning also to forget. Had Jesus meant that he was forsaken of God he would have used the word, taatani or nashantani and the people near the cross would have understood what he was saying, and the Jews would have gloated saying, “We told you so, he is a sinner, see God has forsaken him.” But, when he said, “For this I was spared,” the sense knowledge people at the cross including the Jews and soldiers could not understand what he was saying, for was he not dying as a thief and murderer on an accursed cross at an accursed place, the Skull.
3 Forsaken me—Check Psalms 13:1; 42: 9; 43: 2; 44:9; 60:1; 78: 7-11; Genesis 41:51 (Eastern Version).
If God had forsaken Jesus, how could He have conversed with God?
When Jesus was dying upon the cross the Jews reviled him because in their estimation he was dying as one who had blasphemed God. Instead of replying to the insults of the infuriated mob Jesus exclaimed what any Eastern leader dying innocently might exclaim today: “My God, my God, for this I was kept and spared. This is my hour, this is the purpose for which I came. Let the people say and think what they will, but my death has much more meaning than they know.”
The Aramaic word, lmana means, “for what purpose.” It is never a question but always used as an exclamation of wonder and awe over the accomplishment of the thing at hand.
These words of Jesus were addressed to God, but notice the mighty effect they must have had on the action of his disciples for whom the bottom had dropped out of everything. They had always hoped Jesus would be the redeemer of Israel but he was dying an accursed and despised death. His statement reminded them once again what he had told them before but they understood not—knowing not that he must die and rise again the third day, (Mark 9:31; Luke 18:34; John 16:324), that this was his true destiny, the Messiah had to suffer at the hands of the enemies of God, but that he knew God was with him for victory and deliverance.
4 Mark 9:31—For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. Luke 18:34—And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. John 16:32—Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.
It may be of interest to you to know that to this day the Assyrian Church teaches that God was continually with Jesus on the cross and in the grave because God could not be separated from him. Had God forsaken Jesus then the Scriptures would fall apart and his mission would have been failure. Pagan gods may forget their duty to their people and even fall asleep (I Kings 18:295), but not the true God. Human fathers do not forsake those they love in their hour of death or greatest need. Would the heavenly Father do less? God forbid and forgive us of our error.
5 I Kings 18:29—And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.
The last words Jesus said on the cross were, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” If God had forsaken him how could Jesus have committed his spirit to God if they were not on speaking terms? Jesus was not questioning God’s wisdom but with loving purpose moving forward in the great redemption with uttermost confidence and the assurance of resurrection victory, for your redemption and mine.
The Oriental people believe that the manner of a man’s death is predetermined and predestinated to the end that when death comes God is closer to them than at any other time.
Jesus taught that God was a loving Father, whose watchful care and presence covered even the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. He was a Father who at no time was absent or afar off from His children. He would never leave them nor forsake them to His archenemy.
Jesus would have contradicted all his teachings and examples had God not been with him in the hour of his greatest trial and suffering. God was never closer to Jesus than in his hour of greatest agony. Jesus had angels in multitude at his command. The whole panorama is the story of the nearness of God in Christ Jesus laying down his life without taking it from him, because of his great and infinite love.