WORD STUDY – Eli Eli lama sabachthani (My Destiny)
Matthew 27:46: “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?”
Genesis 15:9-10: “And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid one against another; but the birds (singular in Hebrew) divided he not.”
I have two pet doves, Jonah and Shekinah, and the thought of cutting then in half is not at all appealing to me. It would be hard enough for me to cut poor Jonah and Shekinah in half let alone a lamb that you raised and took extra special care for a year. I mean little lambs can be pretty endearing, all white with their little black face and going baaaa. Can you imagine having to put a knife in that innocent little creature that you cared for, bathed, feed, and kept safe for a year and then cutting the little guy in half because you committed some selfish sin that the little fellow had nothing to do with? Well welcome to Easter. The sacrifice of a little lamb that could very well have been a family pet like you pet dog, that your children cared for groomed (he had to be without blemish and spot) and protected, then at the end of a year he was slaughtered to death for your sins. I think the ancient Hebrews had a fairly good idea of what the price of sin was and the amazing sacrifice and love of the Messiah who would be as innocent of any sin like that little lamb or Jonah and Shekinah.
Somehow Easter gets filled with rabbits, chocolate eggs, big family dinners, pageants and all the holiday trappings that we somehow just don’t get it. Do you have a pet dog, cat or or animal that your raised and cared for who love you unconditionally. When you were training your little puppy did you ever spank him or yell at him and then he comes up to and licks your hand? That is such unconditional love given to you. Now think about the fact that you committed some sin and the only way you can be forgiven is to kill that precious little pet of yours and burn him on an altar. I think the reality of your sin would really set in. You love that little pet so much it would break your heart. Do you love Jesus as much as your pet, does it really break your heart that he was slaughtered on a cross because you sinned?
In Genesis 15 God is forming the Abrahamic covenant. This was called a blood covenant. Ancient man had a special relationship with the animals. A hunter would even ask the animals permission before killing it. It was believed that the animal knew his mission in life was to feed a hunter’s family and the animal would respond, “Yes, that is my destiny, that is my purpose for being on this earth.” The hunter took no pleasure in killing an animal. But he believed that the animal was sacrificing his life for him and his family.
You see when Jesus was on the cross he cried out Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani. Traditionally we have been taught that this means My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me? Actually, behind the scenes scholars have debated this translation for two thousand years. Much of the problem lies in out Western insistence that the inspired text of the Gospels were written in Greek. Although this is merely a transliteration from the Aramaic the Greek text has an addendum attached which says: “This being interpreted means My God, My God why has thou forsaken me.” If the inspired text was written in Aramaic rather than Greek, as many scholars are coming to believe, then this addendum would not be part of the inspired text but a scribes interpretation.
Only in the last fifty years have scholars and archaeologist come to a consensus that Jesus not only spoke Aramaic but a dead dialect of Aramaic known as the old Galilean. Jesus and his disciples came from Northern Palestine in Galilee where they spoke a very distinct dialect of Aramaic similar but different than the Aramaic spoken down South in Judea and Jerusalem. The disciples and Jesus had a distinct accent. It even betrayed Peter where the woman in the temple court said: “Even you speech betrays you.” When Jesus spoke Eli Eli on the cross the people attending questioned what he was saying. Eli would have been the Southern dialect but the Northern dialect was Eloi. Lama Sabachthani was difficult as the Southern Judea dialect did not have such a word. It certainly was not Greek, nor Latin so the scribes assumed he was quoting Psalms 22:1. However in Hebrew forsaken is ‘azabethani. That last bethani part does resemble the last part of Sabachthani so it was a good guess, but a guess nonetheless if that is not part of the inspired text.
You will not find any text books or grammar books on the Old Galilean because, as I said, it is a dead language. However, about fifty years ago a tribe in Northern Iraq was found to still speak this dialect and scholars from Cambridge, Oxford and other prestigious schools descended upon these people to study the language. Many are now anxiously awaiting a grammar, vocabulary and Lexicon to be published on the Old Galilean.
Anyways, as the scholars studied this language guess what they discovered? People were actually using the expression Eloi, Eloi Lama Sabachthani only not in the context of being forsaken but in the context of “being kept” or more precisely saying: “Well, that is my fate, my destiny.” The word Eloi or Eli is found in practically all the Semitic languages. It does mean a god, but also a supreme power, an authority, someone or something who rules over you. It could even be your heart that rules you. When a word is repeated in the Semitic language it is to show an emphasis.
Keep in mind this is still under debate and I know of no published paper on this that has been subjected to peer review, perhaps there is by now, but I have not found it. Still, I firmly believe that Jesus spoke an Old Galilean Aramaic, which was distinct, and that people down in Judea had difficulty understanding Him. This had to be translated from the Old Galilean into Greek either way.
Frankly, I am joining the growing school of thought that what Jesus said was: “Eloi, Eloi” This being what controlled Him which I believe was His heart. Maybe he meant “My God, My God.” Still it is the Lama Sabachthani that is key. He may have cried: “My God, My God this is my destiny.” Personally, I believe he was looking down at all those who wept as the little children would weep when they saw their little lamb put to death for their sins and Jesus said to those who wept over him: “My heart, listen to my heart, this is my destiny, this is why I came to earth in the first place.”
As that animal in ancient times would tell the hunter, “Yes, this is my destiny for being alive so that I may die to feed your family;” Jesus said: “This is why I am alive, so that I may die to save you and your family from your sins.”