Strength and power are attributes of tyrants and heroes. They can be used to destroy and to deliver. This week the Torah portion is about the strength and power of God to forgive. After the children of Israel make their fateful decision to refuse to proceed to Canaan because of their fear of the inhabitants of the land, God is so angry that He wants to disinherit them. Like the situation with the golden Calf, Moses intercedes for the people. Moses pleads with God and says, “But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, ‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations’. Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now” (Numbers 14:17–19). Moses calls upon the very same attributes of God that were revealed to him when God forgave the sin of the golden calf. He refers to these attributes as “the power of the Lord”.
God responds to the prayer of Moses with these words: “I have pardoned them according to your word; but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD” (Numbers 14:20–21). What does the forgiveness of the sin of the nation have to do with the glory of the Lord filling the earth?
The glory of God is the strength or power of God displayed in his judgments, miracles, and mercy. In the idolatrous act of building a golden calf, as well as the refusal to enter the land, God could have shown his might in the righteous destruction of the people. However, his glorious strength is displayed in his forgiveness. Conventional wisdom is that the strength of God is in his power to destroy. However, the strength and hence the glory of the God of Israel is in his powerful patience to develop his people to become the light to the nations that he had called them to become. His glory is in his lovingkindness and truth. His glory is in his goodness. Read Exodus 33:18–23 and notice the relationship between glory, goodness, and the attributes of God. The glory of God is also seen in his judgment of sin, but according to our Torah portion the primary demonstration of the glory of God is in his forgiveness and discipleship of his people. Through this great act of lovingkindness, Israel will ultimately fulfill her calling and the world will indeed be filled with his glory.
We are called to be imitators of God: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Messiah also has forgiven you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 4:32–5:1). When we live this way, we display the glory of God. That is because when we are kind and forgiving, we are edifying others. We are building them up. We are helping them to fulfill their calling in the Lord. Even when we must admonish someone, we are displaying the glory of God because the end goal is the building up of the body of Messiah. Let us be quick to forgive. Just as Moses refers to the forgiveness of God as the strength or power or God, it takes great strength on our part to forgive and to edify. This strength can only come from God when we are empowered by the Spirit of God to walk in his ways. Let us be builders rather than breakers! In this way, may we be strong in the Lord to forgive others and to build up the body of Messiah.