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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Second Widow's Son: The Messiah to Nain

According to AncientSandals.com the city of Nain was located just 7 miles outside of Nazareth, where the Lord and Savior was raised, and one could see it from Nain. Nain lay just on the north side of Moreh, the hill of the Rabbi, the place Abraham had set the first altar of God, between Sichem and Moreh. The authority and sovereignty of the 'shoulder' (Sichem or Shechem) and the hill of the Rabbi leave little doubt, that this place was ordained one day for a great work of God, and the history of Israel had already proven it: long before Jesus came to Nain, Elijah had already raised the son of the Shulamite widow, the Widow of Zarephath, in a city nearby[] many centuries before the day the Lord and his disciples came to the gate of Nain.1

Jesus and his disciples have just been in Capernaum the day before, where he encountered a Roman Centurion, a friend of the local synagogue, who pleaded on behalf of his servant who was sick. Healing the soldier's servant by the word of his mouth, Jesus commended the Centurion, a gentile, for faith greater than he had found in Israel: a remarkable commendation.The authority of the Lord and Savior was comprehended by a representative of brutal Rome, who understood power and authority.

Leaving Capernaum, on the next day, Jesus and his disciples come to the gates of the city of Nain, meaning 'pleasant'.
Luke 7:11 And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.

Jesus walked always in sovereign paths, so it would be error to suggest that they 'happened on' a funeral in a random city, nonetheless Jesus and his disciples,as they enter the gate of Nain on the North side of Moreh, encounter the weeping and mourning of a death procession for the only son of a widow of Nain.

Funeral processions in those days in Israel were not the sanitized ceremonies we have now in the 21st century, with brief memorials. Death and life were important in Israel, and even though death was all around in Roman-occupied Israel, through open killings and crucifixion, and even live burnings. Remembering the deceased person, though was not an hour long quiet memorial: it often lasted days, especially for an important person. When Jacob [Israel] dies, Joseph leads a band of Egyptian government officials back to Machpelah and 'AbelMizraim' {the sorrow of Egypt] to make mourning for his father, lasting some time:
Gen 50:9And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen: and it was a very great company. Gen 50:10 And they came to the threshingfloor of Atad, which [is] beyond Jordan, and there they mourned with a great and very sore lamentation: and he made a mourning for his father seven days. Gen 50:11 And when the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning in the floor of Atad, they said, This [is] a grievous mourning to the Egyptians: wherefore the name of it was called Abelmizraim, which [is] beyond Jordan.

The death of the great man and father Jacob was mourned first seven days with a small army and entourage in attendance, even commemorating with a name change the place of mourning. As Jesus enters into Nain, though the son's name is not mentioned, nor is there knowledge of his eminence, there does appear to be a great attendance on the death of this only son:
Luk 7:12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.

Widows and only Sons

The plight that met the widow on that sad morning, caused Jesus to be greatly moved: it is not made clear when his own earthly father Joseph died, but it appears to have been before his ministry, so Jesus both from the mind of Messiah as well as from experience growing up knew how hard it was for a widow in Israel. These were the days long before welfare systems and retirement homes: a woman whose husband died was remanded to family members to care for her: if the man had brothers or a living father, they were to provide for her, and in both testaments, 'raise up seed' for the deceased son. If a woman had no living relatives, her children were to care for her if she was of a certain age, for it was hardly a day of women's rights, and women were seldom hired for more than menial tasks. A widow therefore would hardly be able to take care of herself, and given the rebuke of Jesus to the Pharisees regarding the 'devouring of widow's houses' it was highly likely, that little help was to be found at the Temple, though this was their charge. (e.g. Anna the prophetess who abode at the temple).

One can only imagine that the hardship for this widow in Nain was even worse than for most, for having lost her husband, she now was losing her son, which meant a very sorrowful life of want and trial in old age. Jesus had compassion. He comforts her and admonishes her not to weep; this would certainly be insensitive, unless he intended a great work of God to follow:

Luk 7:13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.

Much of what Jesus does in the New Testament does not require words, or only requires words. As Jesus comforts the widow, the admonition not to weep is with great cause: he walks over to the bier that the pallbearers are carrying and with only a touch, they stop, and Jesus commands the son who has died, to rise:

Luk 7:14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare [him] stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

It is interesting to note that the pallbearers stand still with Jesus' touch of the bier. It is also interesting to note that Jesus is touching death: if the son did not arise at command, this would have been an unclean act for a rabbi in Israel. Jesus does touch the bier though, and gives the command so often heard "Arise".
The word 'arise' seems very clear, and certainly is, just as it is accurate. The greek word for arise is


The meaning can range from getting up from a static position, to rising from death,  and is used in many of the healings Jesus and later the apostles performed.  At the very least, the implication is a change in state.

No sooner are the words spoken by the Lord,  the young man from Nain sits up in his coffin and begins to speak.  The dead son is no longer dead, and is delivered to his mother:

"And he that was dead sat up and began to speak.  And he delivered him to his mother"  Luke 7:15

The reaction of the people at the funeral,  wailing in the procession,  is understandably one of raw astonishment:  they had no doubt heard of Jesus and the miracles he was performing in the region:  having just arrived from Capernaum,  a short distance,  he had just healed by word alone the Centurion's servant, and previously cast out devils in the synagogue there.  Similarly, his fame was spreading rapidly,  as he healed a man of palsy,  Peter's mother-in-law,  and a multitude of others:  even John the Baptist in Herod's prison, sent messengers to ask him if he were the Messiah or were they to look for another.   As the disciples walked into Nain, and as Jesus spoke the words that healed the mother's only son,  the fulfillment of their expectations was solidified.

The passage regarding their reaction mentions that they were struck with fear.

"and there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people." 7:16
There is a healthy fear of God that often confronts one who encounters God in a 'theophany' or 'christophany' such as when Daniel is confronted by an angel from Heaven, or similarly, Ezekiel.  The awe and glory of God is great, unexpected,  and beyond the range of normal experience.   In the venue of 'normal' experience, we adapt easily to things within a general range of experience.  When something unexpected or even phenomenal happens, we still have the ability to assimilate or accommodate the new information:  e.g. if someone sees an object in the sky that is not an expected one,  they 'adapt' the idea to the category of 'flying objects'  and until more is known, are satisfied with the general comfort zone of what they believe will be explained.

Here, though,  the crowd is at a funeral:  they are headed in the direction of a burial,  and instead of a burial and mourning,  the intrusion of life over death enters in,  defying description or understanding and causing fear:  Israel was no stranger to at least some miracles by this point, they were the 'children of the prophets' and through the centuries there had been many unusual events,  including the raising of a child to life by Elijah, (1 Kings 17:21-22) or the miracle of the 8 days of oil for the Maccabees.  However, the one raising from death was many centuries before, and oil lasting 8 days, while astonishing, is not the same, as a boy sitting up at his funeral,  raised from death by the touch of the Messiah.   Fear is often a reaction to what cannot be understood or comfortably fit into any mental or emotional framework we understand.   Certainly also, the presence of Messiah was so astounding that even the touching of his hem in one instance brought healing: there was a sense of his glory.   The first assumption though, was that Jesus was a prophet, or 'nabe' for at least the office of prophet still existed and was comprehended. (e.g. Anna and Simeon, at Jesus' birth both gave prophetic utterances and blessings).

In any event, the fear was more of an awesome fear,  equated with 'God visiting his people':  the people who witnessed the raising from death did not see it as some mere 'rousing from sleep',  but as a real coming back to life,  which indicates that there was no question in the minds of all that the son had indeed died.

In the end,  restored to life and his mother,  Jesus had brought unspeakable joy and hope to the bleakest of situations.   Rumors regarding the event stirred though, and also travelled throughout all Israel:   as mentioned, when John the Baptist heard, he immediately dispatched his disciples to inquire of Christ's Messiahship.    They ask:

Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? 7:20b

Before Jesus even answers,  the answer comes in the events before them: 

7:21  And in that same hour, he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.

Opening the eyes of the blind was a sign of Messiah,  and here, Jesus raises the dead, cures disease, casts out evil spirits and heals blindness,  in addition to the opening of the eyes of the man blind since birth in John 9.  These miraculous events were for a purpose in Israel:  they were to confirm and declare the Messiah by signs which were prophesied in the Torah over the centuries.  Jesus answers the question of whether he is the Messiah or not for John's disciples succinctly:

"Go you way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the ded are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.  23 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." Luke 7:22-3

Here in Nain, the Resurrection and the Life shows his sovereign power over life and death:  there is no power death holds, than he holds one greater.  This son of God, son of David, and son of a mother who by then it is assumed was alone in the world,  understood completely the plight of woman attending her son's funeral.   Beyond mere Love (as if it is 'mere'),  the love of God is demonstrated in the raising from death and countless other healings,  which declare that the power and presence of God is among men, and there for a purpose.  The one who affirms, "I am the Resurrection and the Life"  and " I am the Way, the Truth and the Life"  gives life, and before the end of his ministry,  will show the great triumph, of life over death.

Till the next. ekbest.

1"Nain", in Ancient Sandals[http://www.ancientsandals.com/overviews/nain.htm]

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