Friend, Come Up Higher

When Yeshua advised others to take a position of lower importance, He wasn’t just talking about table manners.

Artwork from the Torah Club Jesus, My Rabbi study, lesson "The Cost of Discipleship". (Image and art © First Fruits of Zion)

The Gospel of Luke records a certain meal to which Yeshua had been invited. Yeshua watched the disciples of His host and other guests jostle for position at the table.

"He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table,” so He “began speaking a parable to the invited guests (Luke 14:7).

He advised His fellow diners not to take the place of honor at a banquet lest one more worthy arrive and they find themselves demoted. “He who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place” (Luke 14:9). Better to “recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’” (Luke 14:10). The Master’s “parable” is based on a passage from Proverbs:

Do not claim honor in the presence of the king, and do not stand in the place of great men; for it is better that it be said to you, “Come up here,” than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince, whom your eyes have seen. (Proverbs 25:6-7)

Yeshua punctuated the teaching with His maxim: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). This is one of the many teachings of the Master that seems to have left a lasting impression on the sages. Several centuries later, the rabbis of the Galilee still quoted the same teaching (albeit without attribution to Yeshua):

Rabbi Yehoshua of Siknin, (in the name of Rabbi Levi) explained the verse [in Proverbs 25:6-7], “It is better that it be said to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince.” He said, “Rabbi Akiva taught in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai, ‘Distance yourself three seats lower from your place at the table and take your seat there until they say to you, “Come up.” That is better than going up to a higher seat than you deserve so that they have to say to you, “Go down.” It is better that they say to you, “Come up, come up,” and not say to you, “Go down, go down.”’” This is what Hillel meant when he used to say, “To be humbled is my exaltation, my exaltation is to be humbled.” (Leviticus Rabbah)

Both the gospel version of the teaching and the rabbinic version above conclude with an almost identical sentiment. Sometimes, the similarity between Yeshua’s words and rabbinic literature is so great that one cannot determine with any certainty whether a particular teaching originated with Yeshua or if He and the sages both derived it from a common tradition. In this case, our Master probably did quote or paraphrase the great Rabbi Hillel the Elder, a sage who had lived a generation before Yeshua. The prominent Pharisee in whose home the Master dined that day might have been one of the original disciples of Hillel, perhaps the famous Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.

The Master’s teaching about taking a lower place at the table sounds like good, pragmatic advice in the realm of table manners, but on closer examination, it holds a deeper meaning. Yeshua hinted toward something more than just good social etiquette. Luke explicitly refers to the teaching as a “parable.” Rabbi Yeshua taught that the position and prestige a person accords himself in this life would have consequences for determining his position and prestige in the afterlife, the Messianic Era, and the World to Come. By exalting oneself over others, one can expect to be told, “Go down, go down,” at the table of the righteous in the Messianic Era, but by humbling oneself, one can expect to be told, “Friend, move up higher,” at the messianic banquet.

The Master’s table teaching that day also contained a cryptic message about His own identity. The men jostling for seats of position and status at the prominent Pharisee’s table that Sabbath did not know that they reclined in the presence of the King. They exalted themselves in the King’s presence. How surprised they will be when they recline at the messianic banquet and discover that their curious dinner guest from that Sabbath now sits at the head of the table as master of ceremony. How embarrassing for those who pressed for a better seat above Him when they recognize the man they disregarded as beneath them in dignity! They had reclined at the table, oblivious to the King’s presence.

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This year Torah Clubs are studying the Gospels from a Messianic Jewish perspective. Every week Club members encounter Yeshua of Nazareth in his Jewish context. Discover the historical and cultural backdrops of the gospels and be amazed as the teachings of Yeshua snap into focus and clarity. Unravel his difficult words and parables; study Jewish parallels to his teachings; and ultimately know Jesus better.



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