They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Feast of Sukkot: Part 2

"Examining the Lulav"

“Examining the Lulav”

In our first lesson on the Biblical Feast of Sukkot, we looked at how God instructed the Israelites to observe this holiday that He ordained.  Also, we looked at when and how it is celebrated today by Jews all over the world. In today’s post we will look at how the Feast of Sukkot played into Jewish history.  Over the years, three historical events added a lot of emphasis and meaning to the Jewish perception of the Feast of Sukkot.  These three events gave a strong national identity to Sukkot and gave the Israelites a special sense of pride and fervor each time it was celebrated.

The first event occurred during the reign of Solomon when he chose the Feast of Sukkot as the time that he would dedicate the first temple to God. This event occurs in 1 Kings 8:2 and 2 Chronicles 5:2-3. The temple had actually been completed eleven months earlier (1 Kings 6:38) but Solomon waited to dedicate the temple on Sukkot to emphasize the fact that He had preserved them in the wilderness and brought them to their new, permanent home. During the dedication, God showed up in a big way:

When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,

“He is good;
his love endures forever.”
2 Chronicles 7: 1-3

God had come to permanently tabernacle (dwell) with His people.

The second event occurred during a much more dismal time period for the Israelites. Approximately four hundred years after Solomon dedicated the original temple, it was destroyed by Babylon in 586 B.C. For over one hundred years the temple lay in ruins until the time when Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubabel began to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its temple. They began living permanently in Israel during the seventh month (Nehemiah 7:73b). Then in Nehemiah 8:13-17, these men re-birthed the Feast of Sukkot:

On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written.

So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.

From the Text we know that their joy was very great and from this point on the Feast took on an even more important place in Jewish hearts. God had let them reestablish their identity that was so powerful during the time of Solomon.

The third historical event occurred between the time of the two testaments, during the Macabbean revolt. Under the thumb of the Greeks and not allowed to use their temple, circumcise their boys, or even own a copy of Torah, the Jews finally revolted to overthrow the Greeks. This revolt lasted seven years and when they were finally victorious, their leader, Judah Macabee, ordered an eight day celebration to commemorate the fact that they had missed the Feast of Sukkot during the revolt. This holiday is known today as Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, and celebrates God giving His people their temple back and once again establishing them as a free nation.

These three events, taking place over one thousand years, added a lot of tradition and importance to the Sukkot Festival and it became much like the American Independence Day celebration held annually on the 4th of July.

A fourth event that developed over the years – not as a direct order from God, but as a tradition – was the waving of the “lulav”. God told the returning Israelites in Nehemiah 8:13-18, to put the branches of three types of trees (palm, myrtle, olive) on the roofs of their booths.  The tradition developed over the years of wrapping the olive and myrtle branches around a large palm frond to make a long standard or flagpole of sorts.  During the Feast of Sukkot, every worshiper at the temple waved these “flags” around much like Americans do on July 4th.  On the last day of the Feast, the worshipers were supposed to beat the ground with the branches until all the leaves came off – with lots of noise and intensity, like American fireworks.  Can you imagine the noise and commotion that half a million or more people would make following this procedure?

While waving and beating the “lulavs”, the assembled worshipers would chant Psalm 113-118, called the “Hallel”. A look at these Psalms shows you that they say everything that is great and awesome about God. The word, “Hallel”, translated in English as “praise”, is a middle eastern word. It’s root is a sound that middle eastern women make in extreme emotion – a shrieking, rolling of the tongue. When you hear them do it on television, it is a sound you don’t forget.  Hallel to God is Hallel Yhwh, or as we say, Hallelujah. However, they don’t say it like we do; it comes out with great emotion: Hallel to Yhwh! If your look at Psalm 113 it begins with Hallel-u-Yah – or “Praise the Lord”. The crowd would continue chanting through each psalm with emotion and voices rising and coming to a climax when they got to Psalm 118:25. This verse was the key verse and heart of the Hallel. “O Lord, save us, deliver us, save us! O lord grant us success, or make us fruitful, make us worthwhile, make us significant!” By the way, “save us” did not mean “salvation”, but had to do with a call for rain; as in “send us rain”. It’s interesting to note that rain and salvation are always connected because rain is so life-giving and necessary for survival. Picture hundreds of thousands of Jews, waving the lulavs, and shouting the Hallel in a shrieking, emotional voice.

All of this historical background sets the stage for an awesome New Testament Story that happened during Sukkot. That will be the topic of our next post on this fascinating subject.

Feast of Sukkot: Part 1

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the Lord’s Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. The first day is a sacred assembly; do no regular work. For seven days present food offerings to the Lord, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the Lord. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work.

(“‘These are the Lord’s appointed festivals, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies for bringing food offerings to the Lord—the burnt offerings and grain offerings, sacrifices and drink offerings required for each day. These offerings are in addition to those for the Lord’s Sabbaths and in addition to your gifts and whatever you have vowed and all the freewill offerings you give to the Lord.)

“‘So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of sabbath rest, and the eighth day also is a day of sabbath rest. On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees—from palms, willows and other leafy trees—and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the Lord for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in temporary shelters for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in such shelters so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’”
– Leviticus 23:33-44

SukkahSukkot (also called the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths) is a holiday set up by God in Leviticus 23:33-44. It is one of the three holidays that God told the Israelites they must attend in Jerusalem each year (the other two are Passover and Pentecost). This holiday is celebrated for seven days (or eight in some areas) starting on the fifteenth day of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar. This year on the Christian calendar, it began on September 19 and was over on the 25th. Sukkot follows five days after the holiday of Yom Kippur that we looked at in our last post.

In contrast to Yom Kippur, Sukkot is a very joyous occasion. For the Jew, it is quite a drastic transition from the most solemn day of the the year to the most joyous. The seven days of Sukkot are an exciting, fun-filled festival often called the “Season of Rejoicing”.

The name, “Sukkot” (suka – singular) means “booths” and refers to the temporary structures that God told the Israelites to build and live in for seven days to remind them of His provision for them while they were in the wilderness for forty years. The Hebrew word for tabernacle (mishkan) means a temporary dwelling, hence the alternate name Feast of Tabernacles or Booths. The Israelites were instructed to build their temporary booths with an open roof so that you could see the moon and stars at night. This outdoor experience would remind you of God’s bigness and His provision for the Israelites while they lived in the wilderness.

For the modern participant in Sukkot, it is a fun-filled seven days. Even though many Israelites today live in high rise apartments, they still build small makeshift booths on their patios or where any small space is available. Some companies even offer Sukkot kits that you can put together for your home. These booths are decorated with lights and fruits and vegetables and children’s artwork. Families camp out in the backyard and eat their meals in them and often take turns sleeping in the booths at night. The festival has a similar look and feel to our Christmas. On the first day of the Festival, work is forbidden and is a Sabbath like holiday. On each day of the seven day holiday, special blessings are recited over four species of plants that God required them to have in their possession. The etrog (similar to a lemon), a palm branch called lulav, two willow branches, and three myrtle branches are all required in the booth. These four species are held and waved before the Lord as the blessings are recited.

The precepts found in the Feast of Sukkot are very similar to our American Thanksgiving. Many historians think that the American pilgrims borrowed this idea from the Bible when they set up the first Thanksgiving Feast. They were trying to find a way to express their thanks to God for letting them survive the winter and giving them their first harvest. They looked to the Bible to show how to best express that gratitude and copied the instructions of the Feast of Sukkot .

The Bible contains several stories that involved the Feast of Sukkot and the historical significance of these events had a big effect on how Sukkot was celebrated later in Jewish history. In our next post, we will look at several of these,”Sukkot” events.

Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe

In our previous post, we discussed Rosh Hoshanah, the first great day in the season of the Jewish High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah occurs on the first day of the seventh month in the Jewish calendar which corresponds to September 5th, 2013 on our calendar (last week). It is called the Feast of Trumpets because trumpets are sounded on that day to herald or announce the events of the next feast to come. That next feast to come is Yom Kippur and it occurs on the tenth day of the same month, which is our Sept 14. This holiday was instituted by God in the book of Leviticus:

The Lord said to Moses, “The tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement. Hold a sacred assembly and deny yourselves, and present a food offering to the Lord. Do not do any work on that day, because it is the Day of Atonement, when atonement is made for you before the Lord your God. Those who do not deny themselves on that day must be cut off from their people. I will destroy from among their people anyone who does any work on that day. You shall do no work at all. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live. It is a day of Sabbath rest for you, and you must deny yourselves. From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your Sabbath.”
– Leviticus 23:26-32

Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat…because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. It is a day of Sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.

“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”
– Leviticus 16:7-10, 30-34

Yom Kippur, azazel goatsYom Kippur, also called the Day of Atonement, is the most important of all the holidays in the Jewish year. Many secular Jews who do not normally observe other Jewish customs will refrain from work, fast, and attend synagogue services on this day. It is a day set aside for the modern Jew to try to amend past behaviors and ask for forgiveness for wrongs that have been done against God and against other human beings. The entire twenty four hour period is spent fasting and much time is spent in the synagogue petitioning God and confessing sins. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that the soul has been humbled and that they have been forgiven by God. The purpose of this special day is for the Jewish believer to prepare for judgment, pray for forgiveness, reconcile themselves with their family, neighbors, and with God, and to purify themselves from sin and error. For the modern Jewish person, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur are the time for a new beginning.

In contrast, the observance of Yom Kippur in Bible times was not as much of an individual focus as it was a priestly institution. As seen in the Leviticus passages, Yom Kippur rites were performed only in the sanctuary by the High Priest on this one day of the year. Individuals only observed the priestly ordinances and did not participate in any way in the process of the Feast liturgy. The evening of the Day of Atonement begins with the blast of the (shofar) trumpet. This will be the last time the shofar is heard until next year. When the actual day of the feast begins, the high priest will put on special linen garments and enter the holy sanctuary. The priest will begin by making offerings to cleanse the temple and the altar. Then he will make atonement for himself and the rest of the priests. Lastly, the priest will make atonement for the rest of the people.

Before the destruction of the Temple, the atonement that was made for the people involved two goats. By casting lots, the priest chose between the two goats. One was chosen for the Lord and the other, called “azazel”, was the scapegoat. The first animal was sacrificed to God and the blood sprinkled on the altar to pay the penalty for the people’s sins. Then the priest, in the second part of the ceremony, transferred the sins of the people onto the second goat and then it was driven outside the camp and into the wilderness to take the sins away from the camp. To the Jews, these two animals were each considered half of a single sacrifice. For this reason they selected two goats that looked as much alike as possible. The picture was for Israel’s sins to first be forgiven and then taken away and cast into the abyss to await the final judgment.

To the Christian who believes in the sacrificial death of God’s son Jesus, the symbolism is huge. Jesus was the lamb of God that paid once for all our sins (Hebrew 10 – especially Hebrews 10:14 and Hebrews 10:19). Jesus is also the scapegoat because the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6-7) and He was led outside of the camp to die in disgrace for us (Hebrews 13:12-13). Christ is the way that God chose to atone (let us be at-one-with God) for our transgressions. Also, Jesus was our High Priest, the one that made the atonement of our sin once and for all (Hebrew 7:24, Hebrew 7:27).

Even though we are not Jewish, we can certainly proclaim that Yom Kippur is a great day to celebrate – that day when God atoned for our sins by sending His only son Jesus to be sacrificed in our place. Because of this great sacrifice our sins will be remembered no more!

Rosh Hashannah

Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon,
    and when the moon is full, on the day of our festival;
this is a decree for Israel,
    an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
–Psalm 81:3-4

This week, for Jewish people all over the world, marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year and the Fall Holy Days festivals that were commanded by God in the book of Leviticus. God set up seven High Holy Days and grouped them together as follows:

  1. Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits all occur together in the spring and are celebrated concurrently in the March/April time period on our calendar
  2. Pentecost is the fourth festival and occurs by itself in June
  3. Rosh Hashannah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot all occur in the fall and are also celebrated consecutively during the September/October time period

The fall festivals begin with Rosh Hashannah, or the Feast of Trumpets, and occurs on the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, which corresponds on our calendar to today, September 5th, 2013.

Leviticus 23:23-25 says:

“The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of sabbath rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present a food offering to the Lord.’”

Rabbi blowing shofarThis verse begins with, “The Lord said to Moses” and therefore indicates a start of a new section in the Feasts which in this case is the Fall Feasts. The phrase, “commemorated with trumpet blasts” translates the Hebrew word, “tĕruw`ah”. This word is similar to the English word “fanfare” and refers to the things for which a trumpet would be sounded, such as the arrival of a King, or a call to battle. The Day of Rosh Hashannah therefore announces the coming of the Holidays to follow and says by the blowing of the trumpet that these days to follow are incredibly important. You need to be prepared; you better get ready because the day has arrived.

The Jewish people actually begin blowing the ram’s horn (shofar) in the synagogue in the previous month to remind the people that the Fall Holy Days are approaching and to get everyone ready to observe them. Then, on the first day of the seventh month, there is a special service that features an elaborate ceremony of trumpet blowing. The trumpets remind the Jewish people to prepare for the coming Day of Atonement by examining their lives for the past year. This is much different than our American tradition of celebrating our New Year. We make it a happy and raucous celebration and give no thought to the year just finished, but focus on the new beginnings to come. In contrast, Rosh Hashannah and the succeeding Yom Kippur have a much different atmosphere. They are known as the ”Days of Awe” and are serious days as they call you to reflect on your life from the past year and the moral responsibilities that you carry. These two holidays are not greeted with noise and joy, but with a serious and contrite heart.

Besides being reminded to prepare and examine your heart, Rosh Hashannah also reminds the Jewish people of some other important events. It reminds them to celebrate God’s creation because they believe God began His creation of the universe on the first day of the seventh month, which is the same day Rosh Hashannah is celebrated. Also, it reminded them that the Lord descended on Mt. Sinai with the blast of a shofar (Exodus 19:16-19) and that the coming of the Messiah’s Kingdom will be announced by the blast of the shofar.

To Christians, the spring holidays speak of the first coming of the Messiah (Passover, Pentecost) and the fall holidays speak of his imminent return. Look at the following verses:

And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.
– Matthew 24:31

in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
– 1 Corinthians 15:52

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
– 1 Thessalonians 4:16

Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
– Revelation 8:6

As the trumpets sound before the Day of Atonement to call all Jews to repentance, they also sound for all mankind to repent before that day when the Lord will return and pour out his wrath on the earth because it has not repented. For Christians, the trumpets announce the return of the King. These trumpets call us to repent and prepare our hearts for His coming. For the lost, the trumpets are a call to repentance, because they announce the coming judgment of God. Yom Kippur, the holiday that follows Rosh Hashannah, will be for each person either a Day of Atonement or a Day of Judgment.

Additional information on the feasts can be found here:

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Part 6

Part 6 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus and the DisciplesIn our final post we will look at the last of the the three ”we” petitions found in the Lord’s Prayer and then summarize the results of our study. Matthew 6:13 says, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” Luke 11:4 says only, “lead us not into temptation” and does not include the “deliver us from evil” phrase. What was Jesus saying when He suggested that we ask God not to lead us into temptation? Does God lead us into temptation unless we ask Him not to? James 1:13 certainly contradicts that statement because it warns us to never say that God is tempting us because God never tempts anyone. How then do we reconcile these difficulties and what are we really asking God to do when we ask Him not to lead us into temptation but to deliver us from the evil one (or evil)?

First of all, the word in Greek that is translated “temptation” can also be read as “trial” or “test”. In his book, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”, Kenneth Bailey offers three suggestions as to what Jesus might have meant when He put this phrase in the Lord’s Prayer. The first suggestion leans heavily on the words, “lead us not” or, “do not lead us” into a place of trial or test. The picture is of a divine guide (God) leading an earthly pilgrim (us) down life’s path. The pilgrim has supreme confidence in the guide’s ability not lead him into the wrong place. “God, you alone know the way, so we trust you to lead us on the correct path and keep us away from tests, trials, and temptations.”
The second interpretation of the phrase, “lead us not into temptation”, is the that the Greek words suggest that we are asking God to not permit us to go on the wrong path. “Lord, please hold us back and don’t let us take the wrong path. We know we are weak, so Father protect us and don’t let us take the wrong trail in life.”

The third possible explanation of this phrase could have to do with the story of Peter’s testing during Jesus’ arrest and trial. Jesus warns Peter, saying, “Satan wants to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith might not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus doesn’t promise Peter that there would not be a time of trial or testing, but that He has prayed that Peter would be able to withstand the test. Later in the garden, Jesus awakens Peter and tells him to pray lest he enter into temptation. Peter doesn’t pray and soon afterwards is tested and fails in his time of trial by denying Jesus three times. This story suggests that we must pray to be protected by Jesus from Satan and his attacks. We are to pray to God for deliverance from the time of trial that evil brings. When you think of all three of these interpretations together, it makes sense to combine all these possibilities into a prayer to ask God to keep us away from the tests, trials, and temptations that life and Satan bring – and also from those that we bring upon ourselves.

Now, what about the statement, “deliver us from the evil one” (or from evil)? What kind of evil was Jesus talking about; evil from without, within or both? There are several places in Scripture where it speaks of God delivering someone from evil or harm (e.g. Psalm 121:7 and Job 5:19). The Hebrew word for evil, ”ra”, is a broad word meaning danger or misfortune as well as sin. It is very likely then that this phrase then could have a very wide meaning that would include evil inclinations as well as keeping from harm. A great, short way to express this is to say, “keep us far from evil and evil far from us”. We are asking God’s protection from what is outside us and what is inside us, as well.

Finally, what about the last lines of the Lord’s Prayer that we have so religiously recited all these years, “For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory forever, amen”? Surprisingly, this statement is not in either gospel rendering in the earliest manuscripts and is not included in any of the accepted translations. It was a doxology that was added apparently by the early church and is a paraphrasing of one of David’s ancient prayers found in 1 Chronicles 29:11-13. The Roman Catholic Church does not include this final passage when reciting the Lord’s Prayer, however, most Protestants do.

To summarize our study on the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, in very few words, weaves together some amazing themes and kingdom principles for us to pray for and about. The prayer is remarkably concise and yet vastly comprehensive. Jesus taught us how to talk to our Father in Heaven, how to praise Him, and what to ask for ourselves and our community. Although it is most often prayed as a liturgical prayer, it should not be thought of in this light. At it’s core, it is a model prayer for how to pray to God from the heart. It can easily be modified and added to in order to fit any situation that the prayer finds himself in. The Lord’s Prayer is a timeless and classic masterpiece that has been loved and memorized for two thousand years by followers of Messiah Jesus. If our Messiah said, “this is how you should pray”, then we definitely need to know what the content and intent of his model prayer was. Hopefully, this study gave some insight and instruction in how better to pray to, “our Father in Heaven”. May His Kingdom come and His will be done through us, just like it would be done in Heaven!

Lord Teach Us to Pray: Part 5

Part 5 of a Series on the Lord’s Prayer, found in Luke 11:1-4 and Matthew 6:9-13

Jesus, Teach Us to PrayIn this post we will look at the second of the three, “we” petitions found in the Lord’s Prayer. For review, the model prayer that Jesus gave to His followers first contained three petitions that pertain to and speak towards our Father in Heaven and His holiness. First, we must pray to the source of everything and ask for His holiness and His kingdom to be magnified. Only then are we ready to pray for our own needs to be met. The order is important; God comes first and our concerns, although important, are secondary. The key to understanding and implementing this section of the Lord’s Prayer lies in the following statements: in the three, “we” petitions, we are asking for daily bread, daily pardon, and daily protection. Just like we need daily physical sustenance, we also need daily forgiveness and daily protection from evil and the evil one. As a western thinker, our first thought is that these requests are just for our personal needs. In the context of the Lord’s Prayer, however, they are presented as communal needs. These three petitions are to be prayed in the first person plural. We are not praying for ourselves as individuals but for ourselves as a church, corporately. The Lord’s Prayer is at its core a family prayer for the church community. Although it is used in personal prayer time, Jesus gave us this prayer to offer up for each other communally. The heart of the Lord’s Prayer is in these two concepts:

  1. We are to use the Lord’s Prayer as an opportunity to pray with and for one another and
  2. We are to request on a daily basis that God will be magnified in our lives and that He will provide, pardon, and protect us.

Now that we have reviewed the previous posts, let’s take a closer look at the next section of the prayer.

The second,”we” petition in Matthew’s gospel says, “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”. Luke’s version says, “forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us”. What happened to trespasses? How do we know whether to say debts, trespasses or sins? Surprisingly, the King James Version does not have trespasses either, but debts and sins in both accounts in the gospels. However, the word, “trespasses” is used in the KJV in verses 14 and 15 of Matthew 6, after the end of the Lord’s Prayer. Evidently this was a word used by the Episcopalian and Catholic faiths in their translations of the text. What then did Jesus mean by the phrase, “forgive us our debts, trespasses, and sins, as we forgive those who do these same things to us”?

The word “debt” refers to unfulfilled obligations both towards God and our fellow man. Debts in this instance are things that we have left undone; things we should have done but did not. Trespasses, or sins, on the other hand, refer to a failure to do the right thing when we did act. The prayer to God to forgive us for our debts, sins, or trespasses, is a prayer to ask not only for a release from the guilt and burden of wrongdoing, but also the release from the guilt of unfulfilled responsibilities. Psalm 19:12-13 says it well. “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins, may they not rule over me…”

In the second half of the petition, (Matthew 6:12 and Luke 11:4), “as we forgive our debtors, or those who have sinned against us”, the Lord’s Prayer seems to make a connection between the forgiveness we receive and the forgiveness that we offer. Could this be right? In the two verses immediately following the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But, if you do no forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”. Later in Matthew 18:23-34, Jesus tells a parable of a servant whose master forgives an enormous debt. The servant then turns on one of his fellow servants and refuses to forgive even a small debt. When the master found out about the servant’s actions in light of what he had just done for him, he had the servant thrown into prison and tortured. Later, when Jesus was crucified, He followed His own words with actions from the Cross as He cried out, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

When people do us wrong, they put themselves in our debt. How will we react when we are asked to forgive like we are trusting that God will do for us? If we forgive, we are showing our family resemblance to our Father in heaven. If we choose not to forgive, the text is very plain that God won’t forgive us either. So the forgiven must forgive; otherwise we are not grasping the concept of what grace really means. Just as Jesus forgave His trespassers while He was hanging from the cross, we also, must forgive. For like the angry mob, we also “do not know what we do”. Freely we have received and freely we must give! Knowing that our forgiveness from God depends on our ability to forgive our neighbor is a sobering, yet revolutionary concept from the Text that challenges us to be more like Christ in our dealings with our fellow man.