The vast mercy, grace, and abounding chesed (lovingkindness) of our Father and King culminates in His willingness to forgive. So, as recipients of His lavish love, why do we often prefer vengeance, pay back, and punishment when wrongs have been committed against us? The parable of the unforgiving servant demonstrates this truth perfectly; and yet, I wonder if we really can see just how much we resemble this servant in our attitudes towards others who have hurt, wronged, or insulted us.
The more the Father has had me revisit this parable and other related passages, the more I am convicted when I look into the perfect law of liberty and see how distorted my reflection is in comparison to the Master. My nephesh (flesh) desires vindication, damages, and justice when I have been wronged, slighted, misunderstood, hurt, taken advantage of, misrepresented, slandered, wounded, stolen from, or even when I am simply offended. It feels like righteous anger, but is it?
When I think about what Messiah endured for lost, unrepentant, and even degenerate souls, my anger dissolves into a puddle of shame and conviction. Can I embody this kind of mercy, empathy, and forgiveness towards those who have deeply wounded me or one of my children? In my flesh, it is futile. But praise Adonai, we are given His Spirit, so the impossible IS possible. Hear the parable from the Literal Standard Version:
Matthew 18:21-35 (LSV)
21 Then Peter having come near to Him, said, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him—until seven times?”
22 Jesus says to him, “I do not say to you until seven times, but until seventy times seven.
23 Because of this was the kingdom of the heavens likened to a man, a king, who willed to take reckoning with his servants,
24 and he having begun to take account, there was brought near to him one debtor of a myriad of talents,
25 and he having nothing to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and the children, and all, whatever he had, and payment to be made.
26 The servant then, having fallen down, was prostrating to him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you all;
27 and the lord of that servant having been moved with compassion released him, and the debt he forgave him.
28 And that servant having come forth, found one of his fellow-servants who was owing him one hundred denarii, and having laid hold, he took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that which you owe.
29 His fellow-servant then, having fallen down at his feet, was calling on him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you all;
30 and he would not, but having gone away, he cast him into prison, until he might pay that which was owing.
31 And his fellow-servants having seen the things that were done, were grieved exceedingly, and having come, showed fully to their lord all the things that were done;
32 then having called him, his lord says to him, Evil servant! All that debt I forgave you, seeing you called on me,
33 did it not seem necessary to you to have dealt kindly with your fellow servant, as I also dealt kindly with you?
34 And having been angry, his lord delivered him to the inquisitors, until he might pay all that was owing to him;
35 so also My heavenly Father will do to you, if you may not forgive each one his brother from your hearts their trespasses.”
If you have been deeply wounded, hurt, manipulated, oppressed, or worse by another person, Peter’s query of forgiving up to seven times seems very generous. How many times does God expect one to “put up with” a person who continues to transgress against them? Isn’t this actually dangerous in some cases?
As a quick aside, consider that forgiveness is NOT a feeling. Forgiving someone does NOT mean that one must put themselves at risk physically, mentally, emotionally, or financially. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to give the “weapon” back to the one who assaulted you. This fallacy of belief prevents a lot of people from truly forgiving, because it seems to ask too much. True forgiveness is choosing to release the debt another person owes you. It doesn’t erase what happened. It doesn’t condone their behavior or words. You don’t have to become bedfellows with your betrayer (or even have warm, fuzzy feelings about them), but you do have to forgive the debt they owe you. Let it go and entrust them to Adonai. This releases you from the “torturers,” which will be explained later in this post.
Seven, being the number of completion and rest, was a reasonable, and even a Biblical, deduction made by Peter in regards to forgiveness. But Messiah says something shocking to our human sensibilities in response – we are to forgive our brothers/sisters up to seven times seventy! Rather than this being a clever way of saying 490, Yeshua is hinting back to a story that involved brothers and unforgiveness. When we fail to forgive, we are actually going the “way of Cain.”
Cain & Lamech
In Genesis 4, Cain was offended and hurt that Adonai accepted the offering of his brother Abel, but not his. It is noteworthy to point out that by faith Abel offered firstfruits, his best, which is a better sacrifice. Though Cain also made an offering, it was not from his firstfruits. He cared more about himself than his brother. Cain’s hurt turned into jealous anger towards his brother. Adonai warned him that he needed to master these emotions or sin would overtake him, and encouraged him that if he did well (in the future), it would go well with him too. But Cain did not listen. He didn’t “hear” the Word from Adonai and his anger resulted with the first murder in human history. Afterwards, Adonai asked Cain:
Genesis 4:9-10 (TLV) 9 “Where is Abel, your brother?” “I don’t know,” he said. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”10 Then He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the ground.”
Rather than repenting for murdering his brother, Cain smugly replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In the eyes of Adonai, yes, you are your brother’s keeper! In Hebrew, keeper is הֲשֹׁמֵ֥ר, ha-shomer, from shamar, a verb meaning to watch, to keep, to preserve, to guard, to be careful, to watch carefully over.
This is true for you and me too. We should keep, guard, and carefully watch over our brothers and sisters despite how we feel about them. What is most telling about the character of Adonai in this episode is that despite Cain’s unwillingness to repent, God still chooses to exercise long-suffering (patience) towards him. Even though Cain was only concerned about himself and only had remorse for the consequences/punishment of his actions, God protected him.
Genesis 4:13-15 (TLV) 13 Cain said to Adonai, “My iniquity is too great to bear! 14 Since You expelled me today from the face of the ground and I must be hidden from Your presence, then I will be a restless wanderer on the earth—anyone who finds me will kill me!” 15 But Adonai said to him, “In that case, anyone who kills Cain is to be avenged seven times over.” So Adonai put a mark on Cain, so that anyone who found him would not strike him down.
There are several ways the sevenfold vengeance is interpreted. Some suggest that this was a reference to seven generations, implying that the slayer of Cain should not only be punished in his own person, but in his posterity, even unto seven generations (Targum Onkelos). Others like Rashi and Ibn Ezra interpret it to mean that God deferred his vengeance on Cain unto seven generations, and at the end of them took vengeance on him by Lamech (Gill). Whichever way one views it, in the seventh generation, Cain’s grandson Lamech says something interesting:
Genesis 4:23-24 (JPS) 23 And Lamech said unto his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech; for I have slain a man for wounding me, and a young man for bruising me; 24 If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.
The phrase seventy and sevenfold is what Messiah said in Matthew 18, but the difference is striking. While Cain and Lamech demonstrated lack of concern for those whom they had wounded or killed, were never noted as being repentant, and were very “I” centered, Yeshua used these same numbers to highlight patience and radical forgiveness towards one that has transgressed. Instead of sevenfold vengeance or vindication, one lays down this right to bring about something far more profound: repentance.
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, NASB)
In this sense, Cain and Lamech represent the elder, firstborn (like Esau), who is one’s flesh (old nature or old man.) Flesh can never please Adonai, for the mind set on the flesh is death. Knowing this, the chesed, mercy, and compassion of God reserves His wrath, and even immediate justice, because above all, His desire is for no one to perish.
In the parable in Matthew 18, the “King” has compassion upon the servant when he pleads for “patience,” which is longsuffering. He forgives a debt so enormous that the man would never have been able to repay it in his lifetime. Instead of expressing gratitude through the trait of chesed (lovingkindness given to one who doesn’t deserve it), the man immediately finds a fellow slave who owes him a tiny debt and grabs him by the throat demanding repayment.
If we think we aren’t just like this servant, we are lying to ourselves.
The role of “shepherd” might not appear to be connected to these stories at first glance. But recall that Abel was a shepherd and Yeshua’s hint back to Genesis 4 would have been apparent to a first century hearer. Perhaps this is why Yeshua prefaces the command to forgive one’s brother and the parable of the unforgiving servant with a message about shepherding:
Matthew 18:10-14 (NASB) 10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] 12 What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”
A wayward sheep is one that has wandered off from the righteous Way, like Cain. While God certainly cares about the pain and devastation that we experience at the hands of others, He is also concerned with “finding” the perpetrators who have went astray. His will is for them to repent and be reconciled to Himself and the other sheep. When we are told to pray for our enemies, this should be our prayer for them too. It is the heart of our King. We are not to “despise” one of these “little ones,” as Messiah, the Good Shepherd, calls them.
Matthew 5:43-48 (NASB) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
This is not easily accomplished, and is impossible without the Spirit of the Living God residing in one’s heart. God knows this all too well. Longsuffering or patience means to “bear a burden.” It is a burden to bear the sins of others. It is afflicting to bear the emotional weight of our own pain. But this is precisely what Messiah did for us. And He tells us: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me (Mt. 16:24).
According to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, one can speak the tongue of angels, know all mysteries and knowledge, have faith to move mountains, give all of their money to the poor, willing give their body over to be burned, but if they don’t have love – all of it, even their faith, is useless. This passage goes on to list the attributes of love. The first listed trait is patience. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
Webster’s 1828 defines patience as “the suffering of afflictions, pain, toil, calamity, provocation or other evil, with a calm, unruffled temper; endurance without murmuring or fretfulness. The act or quality of waiting long for justice or expected good without discontent. The quality of bearing offenses and injuries without anger or revenge.”
Are these the traits of a good shepherd? I certainly see Yeshua the Messiah in each aspect! Many times I’ve witnessed people demean, condemn, shame, and harass other Believers for not believing, thinking or doing exactly what they do, and when confronted about their behavior, rather than repent, they say, “I’m just speaking the truth in love.” No. They aren’t. Love does not behave that way. Period. The phrase “speaking the truth in love,” comes from Ephesians 4:15. The context of that chapter is about unity in the Body and “growing up,” maturing and becoming like Messiah. It begins with:
Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB) 1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4 concludes with a few reminders about anger. “Be angry, but sin not.” The furious conduct I see on social media must make Adonai sick to His stomach (figuratively) as He continues to suffer on our wayward behalf. Most believers do not approach their fellowman with humility, gentleness, patience, or tolerance. Instead, they do what is right in their own eyes and seethe with anger, aggression, sarcasm, and passive aggressive behavior and say that they are “speaking the truth in love.” But their anger is dangerous. It has deluded many, and has its root in the way of Cain. Anger, according to verse 27, gives the enemy a “place” in our lives.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NASB) 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
The next time you feel the need to “speak the truth in love,” ask yourself if you can do so while also being kind, tender-hearted, and without bitterness, anger, clamor, and malice. If you are angry, have been hurt, or are bitter toward a particular group, denomination, sect, or person, you are part of the problem. The rotten fruit that comes forth causes more damage and gives the impression (because you are claiming to be and image bearer of Adonai) that He is like you – when He is NOT.
Forgiveness is major theme in the Book of Jonah that is read during Yom Kippur. In many ways, the days of counting the omer mirror the days of repentance during the month of Elul and the High Holy Days. Have you ever wondered why Jonah is read on the holiest day of the year? Jonah means dove (the bird), a figure of the Holy Spirit and carrying the Seed of the Good News.
But Yom Kippur is also the Day of Judgment. It reflects the question of day six of creation – are you a man (the image of Elohim) or are you a mere beast of the field (image of the beast)? Many think that Jonah is read on this day to represent a nation repenting, and it is. But there is a deeper reason that relates directly to the parable of the unforgiving servant and even the stories of Cain and Lamech. Though Jonah knew what He was called to do, he didn’t want to obey, because he despised the Ninevites. Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria – an aggressor of Israel and Judah. Jonah tried to run, but that landed him in the belly of a great fish. Jonah cried out the LORD in his distress and God delivered him; the fish vomited him out on dry land (a hint back to day 3).
Afterwards, Jonah reluctantly went and preached to Nineveh with great success. The people listened and repented, so God relented and didn’t destroy the city. Their repentance and God’s pardon infuriated Jonah. Even though he had enjoyed the mercy and grace of God, he resented it when God extended it to his enemies. The final chapter of Jonah is vital for every Believer to wrestle with – and every Yom Kippur we need to know if our heart is aligned with Adonai or has become like Jonah, who would rather die than see God show mercy and forgive one’s adversary.
Jonah 4:1-11 (NASB)
1 But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.
2 He prayed to the LORD and said, “Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.
3 Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.”
4 The LORD said, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”
5 Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city.
6 So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.
7 But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.
8 When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”
9 Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.”
10 Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight.
11 Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?”
Jonah understood God’s mercy and compassion – that’s why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. He knew God would be gracious and forgiving if they repented. Even a successful prophet of Adonai can prefer death over life. Three times Jonah says this is his preference. Notice how many times anger is mentioned. Anger is an emotion of the soul/nephesh/flesh, and is NOT of the Spirit of Adonai. This makes Jonah’s name quite ironic. One who should typify the Ruach and Good News, chose death (the flesh).
“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,  because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,  and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6-8 NASB)
When we hold resentment, bitterness, grudges, and contempt against other human beings (even if they have deeply wounded us by unspeakable means), we are like Jonah, Cain, and Lamech. Jonah wanted to sit back and watch Nineveh burn to the ground. Isn’t that often our desire towards our enemies? He even built himself a sukkah in hopes that Adonai would change His mind and smite them all. A true sukkah is a covering akin to love; it conceals the sins and faults of others and brings reconciliation and unity. Rather than having compassion for those who “know not what they are doing,” Jonah was more upset over a plant dying because it gave him physical comfort.
What an awful prison Jonah made for himself. How many jail cells have we built and locked ourselves in? Humans are stubborn. It’s easy to read these stories and see “their” problem. But can we see that these examples were written for our own correction (mussar)? That we embody their selfish, ungrateful, and self-righteous attitudes? I recently listened to a Bema podcast with Marty Solomon and Brent Billings called “The Key to Your Own Prison.” Near the forty-two minute mark, they point out a nuance with the Greek pronouns of the following verse in Matthew 18:
“And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.” (Matthew 18:34, NASB)
Did the King who was compassionate and gracious revoke His forgiveness? Does God go back on His Word? Did he forgive an insurmountable debt and then change His mind and have “torturers” wring every last cent from the first slave? If so, that’s a terrifying god. And yet, that’s how most of us read the story, because the truth is that this IS something we would do to, and desire for, someone who was ungrateful for our kindness. But the Greek showcases another possibility that does not compromise the nature of Adonai. What if (and the Greek easily allows this) the Lord handed the first slave over to the torturers until he repaid all that the second slave owed him?
In other words, what if the King required the first slave to be “tortured” until he forgave the second slave’s debt? The next verse implies this too: “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” When we are in a state of unforgiveness, who is imprisoned? Who is tortured, embittered, and in turmoil? The one we haven’t forgiven, or us? Marty Solomon said we are “given the key to our own prison,” but will we use the key (forgiveness)?
The word “torturers” conjures visions of the Greek god Hades and his hellhound Cerberus. But the Greek word actually means a prison keeper or jailer. Unforgiveness is a jailer, and forgiveness opens the door to the cell. God is not fickle or sadistic. He is not Hades. His attributes of mercy haven’t changed. The main reason we struggle so much with forgiving with the willingness of our Master is because we are afraid. We fear that our oppressor or aggressor is not going to get what they deserve (Jonah). We are afraid that our pain doesn’t matter to God, but it does. We hurt so bad that we no longer can see the “other” as human. We deem them unworthy of God’s grace (the height of haughtiness, which blinds us to the truth).
But those are all feelings. Fear is a liar. The truth is that Adonai will not let the guilty go unpunished. But that punishment will be perfect. It will not be too little or too much. His justice is righteous. It is precisely middah keneged middah – measure for measure. Thus, we can freely forgive, have patience and compassion, and entrust them to Adonai.
Exodus 34:6-7 (TLV) 6 Then Adonai passed before him, and proclaimed, “Adonai, Adonai, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth, 7 showing mercy to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means leaving the guilty unpunished, but bringing the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”
There are two Hebrew words that comprise the English word for longsuffering. Literally, it means a long nose (nostrils). This is an idiom for taking in a long deep breath. It is a pause, a refrain from the short pants and flaring nostrils that anger invokes. Physically, taking long deep breaths calms one’s heart rate, relieves stress, and can even alleviate anxiety. In the west, when we say, “I need a breather,” it refers to removing ourselves from a stressful situation so we don’t make a hasty decision born from anger, frustration, exhaustion, or panic. We need a break, a reset.
When the Bible refers to God as having a long nose or nostrils, it means that it takes a long time for Him to take in a breath. He is calm and patient with us, and that means He suffers on our account when we are wayward and obstinate. Breath is associated with life, not death. God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of man and he became a living soul. Adonai’s deep, longsuffering breath is also what allows our life to continue despite our wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Praise His Holy and Merciful Name! On the other hand, anger’s rapid, short breaths figures the opposite.
When being tested, try some deep breathing exercises to separate yourself from your emotions, and to realign yourself with the Spirit of God. Pray the Lord’s Prayer, which reminds us to forgive the debts and trespasses of others because Adonai has forgiven us. This also reminds one of our proper place and position before the King – that is a place of humility and submission.
Matthew 6:9-13 (NASB) 9 Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”
In closing, I leave you with Graham Cooke, who has an excellent podcast episode on patience called “The Patience Advantage.” In it, he outlines patience as fruit that:
- Guards us from negatives.
- Acts as an entry point to encounter with God.
- And is a critical component in walking from where we are today, into the outcomes God has planned for our tomorrows.
As you count the omer this year, may the leaven of unforgiveness be replaced with the New Grain, the New Bread that is our Messiah who was stripped, beaten, spit upon, mocked, and nailed to a tree, and instead of demanding justice or calling down fire from heaven upon the guilty, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
“Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” – Martin Luther King Jr. – Acceptance Speech, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, 10 December 1964
 Jude 1 – read the attributes/traits/actions of those on this path.
 Firstfruits require faith because they are the first to come up from the ground or be birthed in the flock. There is no earthly guarantee of more to come. Hebrews 11:4 (NASB) By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
 Romans 8:6-8 (NASB) For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,  because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,  and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
 John 3:16 (NASB) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
 See also Luke 6:27-36.
 As a contrast, review the actions of wicked shepherds and “fat” selfish sheep in Ezekiel 34.
 Later, Nineveh reverted to their wayward ways and God destroyed the city. It wasn’t in Jonah’s timing, but according to the Sovereign King of Universe and the future actions of the Assyrians.