The Jewish morning begins with the “Modeh Ani” (“I thank”) prayer, which expresses the worshiper’s gratitude for another day of life.
מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ מֶלֶךְ חַי וְקַיָּם, שֶׁהֶחֱזַרְתָּ בִּי נִשְׁמָתִי בְּחֶמְלָה. רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ
(Modeh anee lefanecha melech chai vekayam, she-he-chezarta bee nishmatee b’chemla, raba emunatecha).
Translation: “I thank Thee, living and eternal King, for Thou hast mercifully restored my soul within me; Great is Thy faithfulness.”
The presumption here is that the worshiper entrusted the spirit to the Almighty for safe-keeping the previous evening. Many observant Jews use the phrase, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5) at the end of their evening prayers.
It is interesting that this ritual includes the same verse that Jesus cried out while dying on the cross (Luke 23:46). It is highly likely that Jesus, in his agony, was reciting this psalm from memory as he faced the greatest challenge of his incarnate life.
We read these fitting words in Psalm 31:1-5
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
Be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit; (בְּיָדְךָ, אַפְקִיד רוּחִי)
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
I would like to focus on the text which was quoted in the Gospels (vs. 5). How does this beautiful verse sound in Hebrew original? Is it possible that something essential about it has been lost in translation?
The Hebrew word translated, “I commit,” is “אַפְקִיד” (pronounced afkid). This word has a meaning that is much closer to “I deposit” – which necessarily signifies a future “reclaiming” of the thing deposited. A vivid image might be that of checking in a coat at theater or restaurant, or even money into the bank, with the definite intention of getting it back. While the English word “commit” can also be used to describe giving something with the purpose of claiming it back at some point in the future, it might just as well mean the giving of something without stating any clear intentions for the future. In Hebrew, on the other hand, the unequivocal meaning of this verse is the temporary submission of one’s spirit into the hands of God – giving it into “His custody,” with the definite intention of receiving it back.
It makes perfect sense that Jesus would quote this particular psalm while hanging on a Roman cross.
This shows that if we take the time to compare the original verse Jesus was reciting from Hebrew, a simple, but significant insight into the words of Jesus on the cross will emerge. The words Jesus uttered were nothing less than a declaration of his great Israelite faith. He was confident that as he deposited his soul into the hands of his Heavenly Father, he will surely get it back at his resurrection. What happened three days later proved that Jesus did not hope in vain.