Author: J. David Elwell, Th.D.
The Merciful King and the Unforgiving Servant: New Podcast Available!
Forgiveness is a vital, and central practice of the messianic faith. How great a debt have we been forgiven? What should such forgiveness foster in us? In this episode of Messiah in Life, we consider forgiveness, and the dynamic of it in the human relationship; as well as how unforgiveness impacts our life and the lives of those around us.
Lifted Up and Known
“May the Lord bless you and keep you (יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ). May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you ( יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ). May the Lord lift up his face upon you and give peace (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם).” (Numbers 6:24-26).
The opening of Torah portion Nasso (Num. 4:21 – 7:89) reads, “Again the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Take a census also of the sons of Gershon by their ancestral households and by their families’” (Num. 4:21-22).
The phrase “take a census” can be translated as, “lift up the head” (נָשֹׂא אֶת-רֹאשׁ). While it may not be obvious by these words, this portion of Scripture is about encouragement: the lifting up of the people of God from their circumstance. Based upon the opening census of this portion, along with others found in Scripture, rabbinic sages concluded that the Lord counts those He loves. We learn from Messiah Yeshua/Jesus that so great is the love and care of the Lord for His people that “the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30). This should be a source of blessed encouragement.
The theme of lifting up extends through this entire portion of the Torah; as we note major concepts related to נָשֹׂא, “raise up.” As examples:
נָשֹׂא אֶת-רֹאש, “lift of the head,” the census of Gershon mentioned above.
The Priestly Blessing, בִּרְכַּת כֹּהֲנִים is also called נשיאת כפיים, the “lifting of the palms.”
The issue of marriage regarding the “spirit of jealous,” רוּחַ-קִנְאָה: marriage in Hebrew is נישואין.
יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ “Lift up His countenance,” יִשָּׂא is from נָשֹׂא.
The gifts from the heads of the tribes: prince is נָשִׂיא.
Additionally, the teaching of the Nazarite also lifted up the people of God. How so? No matter how poor, ordinary, or unlearned an Israelite was, he could reach a place of sanctity by first shaving, and then simply not cutting his hair and abstaining from the fruit of the vine. We note in the Apostolic Scriptures that the apostle Paul took the vow of a Nazarite, as we read in Acts 18:18, “At Cenchrea Paul had his hair cut off, for he was keeping a vow.” Then in Acts 21 Paul pays the Temple expenses of four other Jewish disciples of Messiah at the direction of the apostle James, in order for them to begin or fulfill their Nazarite vow (Acts 21:23-24, 26).
The theme of lifting up by the Lord is found throughout the Bible. We read in Psalm 30:1, “I will exalt You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up,” or James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God, and He will lift you up.” Lifting up represents a change in circumstance, in position, and condition for both the poor and the wealthy among the covenant people of God; and in each case, we find the Lord meeting his people where they are in order to raise them to where He desires them to be.
Experiencing the Spirit-filled covenant life is not conditioned upon complex practices or elaborate or eloquent prayers, but on the people of God approaching him humbled, regardless of social position or condition. The Spirit-filled life in Messiah, the Risen One (Matt. 28:6), is not out of reach for the most esteemed or the most simple; rather, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:19). Again, as James reminds us, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God, and He will lift you up” (Jas. 4:10).
The Spirit-filled life is secured not by our action or performance being accepted by the Lord (Eph. 2:8-9); but rather, the work of Messiah Yeshua lifted up on the cross (Jn. 3:14-18). The late Dr. Tim Keller explains, “It is not the level but the object of our faith that saves us.” All of the shadows of lifting, as found in this portion of the Torah, are fulfilled in the person of Messiah – who lifts us, rescues us, blesses us, and provides gifts to utilize in vertical worship unto the Lord by horizontal lifting service to the human other (Lev. 19:18; Ro. 12:1-8).
In this day and age, as the complexities of life continue to distract, let our faith rest on the Gospel of Messiah. Let us not complicate the simple matters of faith – prayer, worship and loving action. May we continue to rest on the simple, albeit complex, truth that Messiah gave it all, paid it all, and overcame it all in order to lift us to heavenly heights in Him regardless of our circumstance. Friends, may you have hope for today, tomorrow and every day the Lord blesses you with from these simple words: “May the Lord bless, and keep you” in the name of Yeshua. Amen.
Be well. Shalom.