Laughed to scorn

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When Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” it implied more than this single cry of dereliction.  Before chapter divisions were inserted into the biblical text (in the 12th century AD), a person would reference a Psalm by quoting its first line.  And when we study the whole of Psalm 22, we get a unique window onto the horrors of Christ crucified.

The Psalm that begins “My God, My God” continues with an extended, first person account of the Messiah’s sufferings.  In verse 6 He says:

“I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.  All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”  (Psalm 22:6-8)

A thousand years before Good Friday this Psalm predicts the whole experience of crucifixion – even quoting in advance the words of the crowd at Calvary (Matthew 27:41-43).

The phrase “laughed to scorn” is the KJV’s consistent translation of a single Hebrew word which carries both senses of laughing and scorn.  Nowadays we would call this an amplified translation.  If such a policy is employed too often it can make for onerous reading.  Yet when deployed sparingly and with a poet’s ear, it enriches a translation.

The King James Bible cannot claim the credit for this turn of phrase – it appears in Miles Coverdale’s (1540) and John Rogers’ (1549) translations.  The saying caught the attention of William Shakespeare, who perhaps knew the phrase from its use in the Bishop’s Bible of 1568.  He thought it eloquent enough to use in a key passage of Macbeth:

Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.
(Act 4, scene 1)

Shakespeare has caught the bible’s meaning.  To laugh to scorn is to deride something – to deem it as nothing and laugh contemptuously at it.  That’s how Macbeth considered “the power of man.”  And it’s how the power of man considers the Messiah.  We laugh Him to scorn as He dies in apparent weakness.

Yet there is a profound irony here.  These mockers felt so superior to Christ, yet their derision was actually proving His Messiah-ship.  As they laugh Him to scorn they only serve to prove that Jesus is the Messiah of Psalm 22.  It’s just one of several striking fulfilments of the Psalm on Good Friday.  The Messiah continues…

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.  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. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.  I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.  They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.  (Psalm 22:14-18)

The One who appeared so laughable on that cross is seen – in the light of Scripture – to be in complete control.  As they pierce His hands and feet, as they mock Him, as they gamble for His clothes, they are only establishing the identity of Jesus.  He is the Messiah, promised of old, the One who must suffer, must die and must rise again.  He will endure the scorn for now.  But He will have the last laugh.

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