Matthew 27:46: “… My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
This cry of Jesus as He hung on the cross cost Him great agony. As He hung there His weight fell largely upon the nails through His hands. As the weight of the body would sometimes tear through the flesh and bones of the hands, they sometimes drove nails through the wrists also. Jesus would have to pull His body up against those nails in order to draw enough air into His lungs to make an utterance. This verse tells us that “Jesus cried with a loud voice.” In spite of all the pain and labor that it took, He uttered this message in a loud voice. What was the message that was so important as to cost Him such suffering?
Jesus asked the question: “Why?” Psalm 22
So often in human experience of great suffering we ask the question: “Why?” Was Jesus accusing God by asking this question? Or, did He cry out of self-pity? No. As we shall see, He was quoting the title words from Psalm 22, the Song of the Scapegoat . Jesus knew well that His suffering was according to the Plan of Salvation before the foundations of the earth. Perhaps He even sang this whole Psalm as He was dying, not because He did not understand what was happening, but rather to tell the people that He was fulfilling the prophecy of the Scapegoat. So let us look at this wonderful Psalm to understand His message.
You will note that this is one of the Psalms that has a title which is actually verse one of the original Hebrew text. This title is sometimes left partially translated as in the King James Version “To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar. A Psalm of David.” RSV translates the Hebrew words Aijeleth Shahar as “The Hind of the Dawn.” The NIV translates them: “The Doe of the Morning.” The term Aijeleth may refer to a female goat. Shahar means “morning.” The Hebrew word for ‘upon’ may also be translated “High,” with reference to the time in which a thing occurs. The sense here seems to be that this “goat” has somehow become higher than the constellations of the heavens which mark the times; that is, even higher than the dawn itself. I believe the reference here is to the sacred service of the Scapegoat.
Psalm 22 is the Song of the Scapegoat. The Scapegoat Ceremony:
For the Biblical context, we must look at the Scapegoat ceremony as recorded in Leviticus 16:5-26. This passage describes how that sacrifice was to be made for the sins of the people under the Mosaic Covenant. As the High Priest, Aaron was to carry out these sacrifices.
“(5)And he shall take of the congregation of the children of Israel two kids of the goats for a sin offering. (6) And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house. (7) And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (8) And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other for the scapegoat. (9) And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. (10) But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16: 5-10).
Aaron was to offer the bullock and the goat for the sin offering as burnt sacrifices according to the specific and detailed instructions in verses 11-19.
“(20) And when he hath made an end of reconciling the holy place, and the tabernacle of the congregation, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat: (21) And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness.”
After this, Aaron is to bathe and change clothes and complete the ceremonies for the atonement of the sins of the nation. The “fit man” who carried the scapegoat into the wilderness is also to bathe and change clothes and then return to the camp.
Requirements for the Scapegoat
For more background on the scapegoat, we know that the animals for the sacrifices were to be perfect, without blemish. They could not be blind, lame, deformed, lack parts or be scarred in any way. From the traditions we learn that typically the Levites were responsible for carefully raising these animals. For protection these little goats for the sacrifices were probably taken into the households as the family pets, the “darling.” It would have frolicked with the children as their playmate and companion and was dearly loved.
From Psalm 22 we learn that the birth of this scapegoat was attended by its Good Shepherd for it says:“(9) But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. (10) I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.” Remember that the shepherd was to his sheep as God is to His people as expressed in Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
The shepherd, probably a Levite, had assisted in the birth of this goat and may have bottle fed it: “I was cast upon thee from the womb.” Many times this may have been twin goats.
We know that this scapegoat was born of the flock that this shepherd had cared for:
“(4) Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. (5) They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.” This scapegoat had every reason to trust in his shepherd as his forefathers had trusted for generations.
We can see from this that the presentation of these animals would have been a very emotional and truly sacrificial act of worship. Perhaps as the Levite carried the goats to the atonement ceremonies his children would ask: “Why are we taking the goats this time, Father?” And he would perhaps answer them: “The Lord has prepared Himself a sacrifice for our sins.”
Choice of the Scapegoat
At the presentation of the two goats, Aaron would cast lots to see which one was to be slain and offered as a burnt sacrifice and which one was to become the scapegoat. According to the commandment, when Aaron laid his hands upon the scapegoat and placed the sins of the nation upon his head, the scapegoat became sin, symbolically. At this, the congregation would begin to curse him, spit upon him, revile him and make faces at him. In Psalm 22:6-8 we see this happening:
“6) But I am a worm, and no man, a reproach of men, and despised of the people. (7) All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, (8) He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”
Then the shepherd Levite would have to carry the scapegoat out through the congregation, out into the wilderness to a place where there was a cliff, a precipice, over which he would hurl the little goat.
Here then, we can take up the experience from the viewpoint of the scapegoat in Psalm 22.
He has been hurled over the cliff by his good shepherd, (his “God.” )Then he reminds the shepherd, of his faithfulness in times past, of the unfair persecution of the congregation, of the fact of the shepherds care for him from his birth, and he begins to cry:
(1) My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? (2) O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. (3) But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.”
(11) Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.”
Then it seems that the little scapegoat may have started running to find his way back home and encounters a herd of wild bulls:
“(12) Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. (13) They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. (14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. (15) My strength is dried up like a potsherd: and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.”
Then, it seems that the herd of bulls passes and the scapegoat is left wounded and helpless and the pack of wild dogs that follow the herd attack him, tearing his flesh off of his bones:
“(16) For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. (17) I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. (18) They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.”
Again he cries out to his good shepherd:
“(20) Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. (21) Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.””
Meanwhile, at home:
The good shepherd may have been watching the fields and wilderness area in the slim hope that the Scapegoat would find his way back home. And here, in the middle of verse 21 the Scapegoat finds that the shepherd has heard him, even “from the horns of the unicorns.” Suddenly his lament turns to triumphant praise:
“(22) I will declare thy name unto my brethren in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. (23) Ye that fear the Lord; praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. (24) For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
(25) My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. (26) The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
(27) All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship thee: (28) For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations. (29) All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
(30) A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. (31) They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.”
Then the Song of the Scapegoat continues in Psalm 23 as he exults and rejoices in his restoration to the Good Shepherd:
The Psalmist David sings: “(1) The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. (2) He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (3) He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. (4) Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (5) Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (6) Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Jesus Became Our Scapegoat
In His agony on the cross Jesus pulled Himself up against the nails in order to get enough breath to sing this Song of the Scapegoat and to tell the world that He was fulfilling the prophecy given so many years earlier that the Scapegoat would carry away the sins of the nation. He knew He was about to enter into the Great Shepherd’s fold and abide in the house of the Lord forever.
“He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)