James Swetnam, «The Crux at Hebrews 5,7-8», Vol. 81 (2000) 347-361
Heb 5,7-8 is a classic crux. It is not clear, as the text seems to say, how Jesus could beg to be freed from death and then be heard `although He was son'. Further, it is not clear how Jesus could `learn obedience from the things He suffered' since Hebrews pictures Him as antecedently ready to do God's will. The present paper reviews some of the principal suggestions which have been made and makes its own: that the Sitz im Leben of Jesus' plea is the cross, and the words refer to Ps 22 which Jesus cites in Matthew and Mark. In the context, reference to the psalm is taken by bystanders as an allusion to God intervening through Elijah to save Jesus. Hebrews understands Jesus' citing the initial verse of the psalm as an agreement to all that the psalm implies, i.e., as an implicit petition to die. Further, the main verse alluded to in Ps 22 seems to refer to the tôdâ which Jesus celebrated with His disciples, and this explains how He could `learn' obedience: He learned by experience the benignant effect of obedience to God.
understand better Ps 22,25, the verse to which Heb 5,7-8 primarily refers, and this means understanding it in its context of the structure of the psalm as a whole.
Ps 22 can be structured as follows: lament as invocation (generalizing references to space and time) (vv. 2-3) manifestation of trust (references to Israel as a collective reality) (vv. 4-6) portrait of the individual who is lamenting (use first person personal pronoun to draw attention to his plight) (vv. 7-9) manifestation of individual trust in God (matching the manifestation of individual distress) (vv. 10-12) third series of laments (generalizing motifs of persecution culminate in what seems to be an execution scene in v. 20) (vv. 13-19) formula of petition in v. 20, followed by summarizing repetition of persecutors (in reverse order to vv. 13-19) (vv. 20-22) an individual hymn of thanksgiving (which has as its Sitz im Leben the tôdâ) (vv. 23-27) address to Israel present, Israel past, Israel future (vv. 28-32) (with allusion to the single act of saving resurrection in v. 32)43.
In this structure the allusions in Heb 5,7-8 to Ps 22,25 are found in the section of the individual hymn of thanksgiving. The author of Hebrews has a particular interest in this section, for at 2,12 of his epistle he cites Ps 22, 23 (a)paggelw= to_ o!noma/ sou toi=j a)delfoi=j mou, e)n me/sw| e)kklhsi/aj u(mnh/sw se). The citation at 2,12 strengthens the case for an allusion to Ps 22,25 at 5,7-8, since both the cited verse at 2,12 and the verse alluded to at 5,7 are found in the same section of Ps 22 (vv. 23-27). Especially striking is the Sitz im Leben of this section: the tôdâ or hymn of thanksgiving. This apparent interest in the tôdâ ceremony (much depends on the interpretation of Ps 22, obviously) is in turn confirmed by another unusual feature of Hebrews: it is the only New Testament writing which has the full Septuagint Greek expression of the tôdâ ceremony: qusi/a ai)ne/sewj (13,15)44.