“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”: The last words of Moses?

by Bob Schwartz

Robert Hawke Dowling (1827–1886)

Then Moses went up to Mount Nebo and God showed him the whole land. God said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”* Moses cried with a loud voice, “אֵלִי, אֵלִי, לָמָה עֲזַבְתָּנִי?” (“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”), that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”**

*Deuteronomy 34:1-4
**Matthew 27:46 (with revision)

Passover is mostly about Moses. Easter is all about Jesus.

Passover is about the life of Moses. Easter is about the death of Jesus.

Yet with all the drama of the Exodus story, the moment of greatest pathos in the life of Moses—maybe in the Torah—is his death. All that trouble (the Yiddish word is tzuris), and God denies him entry to the promised land.

Moses had complained to God before, as do others in the Tanakh, but at that moment not a word from him. Jesus had an equally understandable reason to talk back, hanging on the cross. He does, with a question that has sounded down the millennia: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The denial of Moses on Mount Nebo is heartbreaking. We are not told whether Moses himself was heartbroken, angry or bitter. Or maybe accepting and understanding. He stays silent. The next thing we are told is that Moses is dead and honored.

Which doesn’t stop us from imagining. In my imagining, the last words Moses speaks are the last words Jesus speaks.

Happy Passover. Happy Easter.

© 2023 by Bob Schwartz