1 To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Deer of the Dawn.” a Psalm of David.
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?
2 O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;
And in the night season, and am not silent.
It was a song that did it for me last night. I was sitting at the computer, and my children were in the next room with a friend who was spending the night. They had put on some music playing quietly from my own digital music player, and they were talking about teenage things and laughing. Then that song came on. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know the one. It’s the song that reminds you of your loss, reminds you of the immediacy of the pain of your grieving. It’s the song that brings up old, dark memories that you just cannot face right at that moment. I called out to them, “Please, put on a different song, kids. I can’t listen to that one right now.” They switched to another song–a worship song, as it turns out–and I got back to what I was doing. A short time later, they went to bed…and then I wept.
I remembered those days after my wife died as if they were still happening. It was a little over two years ago, but it might just as well have been yesterday. I remember crying out to God for help that night I found her, praying and pleading even as I tried to resuscitate her. And in between the police and paramedics, between trying to corral my children away from the dark scene unfolding downstairs, between speaking with social workers and the hospital chaplain, between telling my mother-in-law and stepson that my beloved wife–her daughter, his mother–was gone… Well, between all of that, I kept thinking of this psalm of David.
We remember the very first line of this psalm because our Savior spoke it from the cross just before He breathed His last breath. “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” He cried out in Hebrew, which we are told means “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34) That awful night two years ago I spoke those words: “Why have You forsaken me? Do You not hear my prayer? Am I not loved by You? Is not my beloved wife worth saving? Am I not crying loud enough? I am not silent, O Lord my God! Can You not hear my groaning?”
It seems strange to us to imagine the Son of God crying out such a thing to His Father. Why would He who is God the Son cry out as if abandoned by God the Father? I will not consider that this morning, but what I will consider is this: Why was this revealed to David and to us? You see, we must always consider the context, and it seems that our beloved Savior had a passion for quoting the Pentateuch and the Prophets, but He almost never mentioned the Psalms. And then when He did, it was in His last hour, and He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
In speaking those words from the Cross, Jesus undoubtedly brought all the words of this psalm to the minds of the onlookers. The Jews watching around the foot of the cross would recognize the Hebrew words, would understand the pleading, would see and hear and know what the Latin-speaking Roman soldiers and Greek-speaking onlookers did not. And what did they understand?
20 Deliver Me from the sword,
My precious life from the power of the dog.
21 Save Me from the lion’s mouth
And from the horns of the wild oxen!
You have answered Me.
“You have answered Me.” What was the answer? Salvation for men and glory to God.
27 All the ends of the world
Shall remember and turn to the LORD,
And all the families of the nations
Shall worship before You.
28 For the kingdom is the LORD’s,
And He rules over the nations.
29 All the prosperous of the earth
Shall eat and worship;
All those who go down to the dust
Shall bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep himself alive.
30 A posterity shall serve Him.
It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation,
31 They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born,
That He has done this.
And shortly after speaking those words “Why have You forsaken Me?” our Savior said something else: “It is finished.” God has done this, God has taken this moment of terror and pain and redeemed it for us all. God HAS heard from His place in heaven, and He has forgiven us, and He has acted to save us. It is finished.
But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.”
“You are Mine,” says the Lord our God. He has told us He would NEVER leave us nor forsake us, and He has not. He has been true to His Word to Abraham and to Jacob and to David and to all of us. Fear not, for He has redeemed us through the suffering of His only Son. He has called us by our names to bring us to repentance and faith. And if we remember His Word and return to Him, if we do as He has commanded, loving Him with all our heart and soul and mind, then we are His friends indeed. (John 15:14)
God chose to reveal this moment to David, to allow the Holy Spirit to breathe these words into David’s heart. At the time, David might have thought they were about his own life: he often wrote of feeling abandoned by God, often cried out for succor in his darkest hours. We can all certainly relate to that. But despite all the times David complained of feeling abandoned by the Lord, he always turned it around into praise. God has not forsaken us, no more than He did David. And like David, it is within us to yet turn from the darkness that surrounds us and address the light of God, praising the Lord for His salvation. He has answered, forgiven, and granted us such grace as we could never have known.
That song last night sent me down a very dark memory lane, and yet I lifted my eyes unto the hills, looking up to the mountain of God whence comes my help. I wept, and still I praised the Lord my God for His salvation and mercy. Even as I remembered feeling so alone that night, His rod and His staff were with me, to comfort me. He led me through it all. He answered with strength for His Son, and He answered with salvation for me. He was not far from my groaning, and He heard my cries in the daytime and in the night. He has not forsaken me utterly, has never left me. His Spirit has always been here to be my Comforter, my Teacher, my Helper.
The branch of Jesse hung upon a tree, nails in His hands and feet, blood running from the thorns in His brow, and He called out to His Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” David first heard those words hundreds of years before that, and he knew that the agony they portrayed was for the redemption of us all. Let us remember that moment of our salvation, and let us now turn our groaning into songs of praise for Jesus Christ, our true Lord and Savior.
O Lord my God, the song that comes to mind this morning is “How great Thou art.” How great is Your majesty, Father, and how great Your salvation. How great Your mercy, and How great Your holy Presence within me. How amazing that You never really have forsaken me, that You have shepherded me through dark valleys and into green pastures. How comforting has been Your firm hand as I strayed now and then, and how gentle has been the yoke of Your love. Beloved Savior, though I yet weep for my own loneliness and sorrow, still I will praise You in the assembly. Still I will lift up holy hands for You and say, “How great Thou art!” Amen.