June 2007 Updates
06.28.07 Someone wrote me today and asked whether the phrase, "sha'alu shalom Yirushalayim" (from Psalm 122:6) somehow reveals Jesus. The word sha'alu actually means "ask" (as in ask a sheilah, a question). Shalom is a Name of Jesus, since He indeed is Sar Shalom (the Prince of Peace). The word Jerusalem means "teaching of peace" (the "Jeru" at the beginning comes from the same root as Torah, which means teaching), so the phrase could be construed as "ask about the Prince of Peace and His Teaching." At any rate, we know that Jesus is indeed the King of Jerusalem (Matt 5:35) who will soon return to reign over all the earth.
An issue that regularly comes up in the Hebrew4Christians forums is whether or not Christians (or Messianic Jews) are required to "follow the Torah." After all, since Yeshua was a Torah observant Jew, and we are called to follow Him, then shouldn't we likewise be Torah-observant? Much of the confusion centers on the question of what Torah actually means. Today I wrote a brief article about the issue. If interested, you can read it here.
06.27.07 I updated the weekly parashah for this coming week (Balak) and created a PDF file for you to download.
In this portion of Torah we see how the curses of the enemy are turned into blessings for those who belong to the Lord God of Israel. We need have no fear of the kishuf (witchcraft) of the workers of darkness, since God has promised us that no weapon formed against us shall prosper (Isa. 54:17), and ein 'od milvado (Deut. 4:35) - there is no power apart from the LORD God of Israel, who is Almighty and blessed forever. Indeed, the beloved Lord Yeshua told us, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you" (Luke 10:19).
Nonetheless, one of the most common sins in today's world is also one of the oldest - the seduction of Baal. The confutation of Bil'am (Balaam) in this parshah is a warning to all those who seek to manipulate the LORD for unholy ends. Let's stay alert, chaverim, because Satan seeks to entice all those who are of divided heart.
06.26.07 I just wrote a new Hebrew Meditation (called Rachum v'Chanun) based on Psalm 103:8. This meditation connects the breaking of the first set of luchot (tablets) given at Sinai with the revelation of the 13 attributes of God's mercy revealed to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7. Just as the first set of tablets, based as they were on the justice and holiness of God, were indeed broken, so a second set was given based on the attributes of God's mercy and grace. I hope you will see how God's mercy and grace restores our brokenness, chaverim...
I am late on the Torah summary this week, due to my afflictions. I hope to get to work on it again later tonight, IY"H. Please offer up a prayer for me, chaverim. Todah b'shem Yeshua Adoneinu.
06.24.07 I am working on the Torah portion for this coming Shabbat. I also need the prayers of the those who are made tzaddik on account of Yeshua to pray for me, as I need Him to help me in a special way. The LORD knows the details. Thank you, dear friends....
06.21.07 In my work on the Fifth Commandment, I addressed the thorny issue of whether we are to honor evil authorities. The duty of children to honor their parents is not necessarily categorical, since it is assumed that the parent is not abusing his or her privileged position of authority. The same can be said of governmental authority, if that authority attempts to coerce us into disobeying God (Acts 5:29).
06.20.07 I stayed up late tonight writing about the Fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother." The importance of this mitzvah cannot be overstated, since the word translated "honor" (kabed) derives from a root word meaning "weighty" (in terms of impressiveness or importance) and is often used to refer to the glory of God. For more, see my update of the Fifth Commandment.
Let me add a note of thanks to many of you who have written to me and expressed your appreciation for my efforts here... Sometimes I wonder if it is worth all the late nights and extra time I pour into this site, but then I receive an email or letter from someone and my heart is overjoyed and strengthened.
06.18.07 This week's parashah (Chukat) begins with the unusual ritual law (chukat hatorah) of the parah adumah (red heifer). This ritual is considered chok within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no rational sense. In fact, the Talmud states that of all the taryag mitzvot (613 commandments), this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, since this sacrifice is the most paradoxical of all the sacrifices found in the Torah. However, as we will see, the symbolism of the parah adumah is a clear foreshadowing of the sacrifice of the Mashiach Yeshua to deliver us from death itself!
In addition to the marvel of the parah adumah, this Torah reading concerns the sin of Moses at Meribah (when he struck the Rock instead of speaking to it, as the LORD commanded). Why was this sin so severely dealt with by the LORD?
The Rock was a picture of Him who was stricken for His people (Isa. 53:4 and 1 Cor. 10:4), and Moses' second striking suggested that Mashiach would need to be stricken a second time in order to provide the needs of the people. No! The Rock that was once smitten for the people was now to be spoken to as the Living Rock (1 Cor. 10:4). Moses conveyed the wrong message, suggesting that the first striking had been insufficient and that something more was needed. The price Moses (and Aaron) paid for this disobedience was severe: neither of them was allowed to enter the Promised Land. And it is to this day: those who attempt to add to the work of the LORD by affecting works of their own righteousness will likewise be disbarred from the land of Promise.
06.17.07 I am writing the Torah portion summary for this coming Shabbat. I wish all the men who are visitors here a joyful Father's Day, too.
06.13.07 On the Hebrew4Christian forums, occasionally there are disagreements among the chaverim. This is to be expected when hundreds of people come to share their insights and perspectives about various teachings from the Scriptures.
As a reminder to all of us, though, I updated the glossary pages regarding the entry of machloket (debate), part of which I will reproduce here. In particular the following principle I hope you find useful:
Eilu v'eilu divrei elohim chayim
"These and these are the words of the Living God" (Talmud Eruvim 13b)
There are some arguments (regarding interpretation) that come from a person's pride, and there are others that are machloket l'shem shamayim, "a disagreement for the sake of Heaven"... Each of us needs wisdom and grace to discern which is which whenever we engage in such machloket (debate). The axiom eilu v'eilu appeals to a sense of charity we should exhibit whenever we encounter others who have views that differ from our own.
If you argue with and contradict others, you may sometimes win a battle, but you will never win the war, since the animosity that develops may alienate you from your friend. On the other hand, if you humble yourself and regard the other person's importance, peace will ensue. "A gentle response will turn back anger" (Proverbs 15:1).
In Pirkei Avot (chapter 5) there is a statement: "Any machloket which is for the sake of Heaven (l'shamayim) will stand. Any machloket which is not for the sake of Heaven will not stand." If we are going to disagree with others, let love be our guiding principle!
06.12.07 In the first century BC, Hillel and Shammai became leaders of two different and antagonistic schools of Jewish thought. The Talmud records hundreds of differences of opinion between them, running the gamut of Jewish thinking at the time. In general it may be said that Hillel represented a more liberal interpretation of the Torah, whereas Shammai represented a stricter perspective.
For over two years the schools engaged in machlochet l'shamayim ("a debate for the sake of heaven") regarding the profound question of whether it would have been better for humans not to have been created than to have been created... Hillel argued that it was better that humans had been created, whereas Shammai argued the other way: it would have been better had God not created humankind. A vote was called for and the decision rendered was this: It would have been better for humans not to have been created than to have been created. However, since we do in fact exist, let us search our past deeds and carefully examine what we are about to do. (story adapted from Babylonian Talmud, Eruvin 13b).
Of course, most confessions of Christianity agree with Hillel. For example, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever" (taken from the Westminster Catechism), an end, it may be said, that is also man's chief good. Christianity is not a life-denying faith, though it acknowledges that olam hazeh - this world - is very often a vale of tears and trials for us.
The machlochet between Hillel and Shammai is not trivial, nor should it be dismissed out of hand. Shlomo ha'melech (King Solomon) was described as the wisest man on earth, and yet he said, havel havelim... hakol havelim ("Vanity of vanities... all is vanity," Eccl. 1:2), and Yeshua Himself said that it would have been better had Judas not been born (Matt. 26:24), indicating that He likewise reasoned using "counterfactual conditional" statements (i.e., conditional statements that are based on possibility rather than actuality).
In Mashiach Yeshua all the promises of God, all of the hope, all of the longing we might have within our wounded hearts is: "Yes" and "Amen" (2 Cor. 1:20).
06.11.07 I updated the weekly parashah for this coming week (Korach) and created a PDF file for you to download.
There has been a lot of spiritual warfare in my life lately, so I appreciate any of you who know the LORD God of Israel and Yeshua the Mashiach to offer tehillim on my behalf! Todah chaverim.
06.07.07 A busy and productive day! I rewrote my article on the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Ex. 20:10). Note that I did not take the time to develop a "theology of the Sabbath" here, but instead provided comments on the Hebrew text itself (I leave the decision of whether you will observe Shabbat up to you, chaverim). I hope my efforts will help you better appreciate the meaning of Shabbat.
06.07.07 Emunah and Pistis. What could "blind faith" possibly mean? Faith itself must have an object-- whether it is (minimally) the truth status of a proposition or (in more Biblical terms) a positive trust in the character, purposes, and love of the LORD God Almighty.... Though necessarily every person alive (including the most calloused of atheists) decidedly lives by faith, the idea that faith can be "blind" is nonsensical and even absurd. Even those who contemptuously speak of a "leap of faith" have in mind some object of belief -- that is, some state of affairs they reckon to be unworthy of the exercise of psychological risk...
The term emunah occurs for the first time in the Torah in connection with Abraham (Gen. 15:6). But what was the nature of Abraham's faith that God reckoned it as tzedakah ("righteousness)"? It is evident from the context that it was not merely a matter of accepting a series of propositions as being true (i.e., the Greek view of truth as "justified true belief"). Abraham did not encounter God as a Platonic Idea or an Aristotelian Unmoved Mover....
The context (the promise to the old man that he would be father of a multitude of nations) makes it clear that Abraham was declared tzaddik (righteous) because he trusted in God to do what He said. The word emunah itself comes from aman, which means to securely trust or rely upon (and from which we get the word "Amen"). Abraham believed in a future state of affairs (a future-tense proposition) as expressed in his present trust in the Person and Promise of God. He foresaw the redemption of the world (the Messiah) and believed in God's promise of salvation.
Emunah is more like faithfulness than a static state of mind (i.e., the Greek concept of ascertaining truth). It is more "belief in" than "belief that."
The ideal Greek mind was caught up in the pursuit of a state of epistemological bliss or nirvana-like experience of the divine. The contemplation of the eidos (Forms or Ideas), archetypal patterns of all reality, was the goal of life. Pistis (the Greek word for belief) was a means to episteme (knowledge) and represented a lower-level of consciousness. (The intellectuals of our day have of course abandoned the idea of objective truth and now define it (cynically) as any number of "narratives" which people use to interpret their environment. They excuse themselves (hypocritically) for this fault and make pretense that their intellectual nihilism is of course true. The LORD will have words for them one day).
There are many who believe that there is a God, that this God created the universe, and even that this God redeemed humanity through the sacrifice of His Son, but there are not so many who personally trust that He will keep His promises to them....
The Scriptures obviously assume God's existence (and therefore are "prepositional" in their truth claims -- e.g., "God exists" is a true statement), but more importantly they teach belief in God as the One who personally makes promises... Emunah represents active trust in the goodness of the LORD and expresses itself as loyalty to His will. It is a gift from God, since it presupposes God's disclosure and revelation to the person who expresses it.
It's not enough to get our doctrines correct, in terms of objective correspondence to reality (though of course that is important and should be pursued by those who have the ability). We are called to have a vital relationship with the LORD God of Israel and to rely on Him to keep His promises made to us -- even in the "already-not-yet" state of our temporal circumstances. We express emunah by living our lives in conscious trust of the promises and Presence of the LORD.
Ten Trials of Abraham
06.06.07 Various Jewish midrashim state that Terach, the father of Abraham, was a professional idol maker who plied his trade in Ur of southern Mesopatamia. His son Abraham, on the other hand, was becoming more and more convinced that there was only one true God. He grew to consider the practice of idolatry as repugnant.
One day Abraham dutifully went to sell the idols at the marketplace for the family but could take it no more. He put a stick in the hand of the largest idol and then smashed all the others, explaining to his father that the largest idol had attacked the smaller ones. When his father objected that this was impossible, Abraham had his "Aha!" moment -- and told his father he was done with idolatry forever.
Growing up in such a family was a test, in fact, one of the "ten trials" given to Abraham:
These Ten Trials of Abraham are said to include: (1) departure from his country (i.e., his family); (2) famine; (3) the wealth of kings; (4) seizure of his wife; (5) circumcision; (6) and (7) expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael, (8) the unfruitfulness of Sarah; (9) the sacrifice of Isaac (the Akedah), and (10) the burial of Sarah. Jewish legend adds that Abraham was also cast into a fiery furnace by the wicked Nimrod (also of Babylonia), just as the three tzaddikim were later thrown into the furnace by King Nebuchanezzar (as recorded in the book of Daniel). This trial mentioned in the Talmud (Pesahim 118a and Erubin 53a).
Avraham Avinu, "Our Father Abraham," is a model for us as we sojourn in this life. Many of us feel homeless and oppressed by trials of various sorts. Let me encourage you, chaverim, to remain faithful to the LORD God of Israel and to abstain from despair that leads to idolatry. Indeed, the first occurrence of the word love in the Scriptures (ahavah) (Gen 22:2) refers to Abraham's greatest trial, when he offered his promised son as a sacrifice on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Yeshua). This is a clear reference to the gospel message itself (John 3:16). Yeshua became willing to be sacrificed on our behalf so that we can live without dread of the future. There is real hope in God's love, and we are commanded to let this hope live within us (Rom. 8:24, 15:13, Gal 5:5, Eph 4:4. etc).
As I find time, I continue my update of the Ten Commandments. Today I wrote additional material on the Third Commandment: "You shall not take the Name of Adonai Your God in vain." The word translated "in vain" (lashav') probably comes from another word that pictures a rushing and destructive storm (shoah). For more, see my update of the Third Commandment (IY"H I will complete the other commandments soon).
06.05.07 I rewrote a bit of my last Hebrew meditation (Valley of Decision) and added additional glossary entries to the site today. I also added some additional material regarding the mo'edim (festivals). I am still hoping to find time to complete the rework of the Ten Commandments material (as well the Hebrew Grammar), but since I work two jobs and raise a family, my time (and sleep!) is very limited.... For all of you who have prayed for this work or offered a donation, please accept my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your chozek! I am here because others are holding my arms up....
Just for fun -- I decided to create some new Hebrew T-Shirts that you might be interested in purchasing. So far (as a test case) I have created just one design with the phrase Yeshua hu ha'Adon (Jesus is the LORD) written on the front. I used very high resolution STAM fonts, so the printing should turn out nicely. Depending on whether or not any of these sell, I might create other designs and add Scripture verses, designs, etc.
06.04.07 I updated the weekly parashah for this coming week (Shelach) and created a PDF file for you to download.
This sobering parashah tells the story about how the LORD decreed that the original generation rescued from Egypt would die out in the desert and be deprived from entering the Promised Land because of the "Sin of the Spies"....
Every year until the fortieth year, on the eve of the Ninth of Av, Moses would command the Israelites, "Go out and dig!" The men would go out of the camp, dig themselves graves, and sleep in them overnight. The next morning, a messenger would proclaim, "Let the living separate from the dead!" Many people had died that night, but the survivors would return to the camp for another year.
In the fortieth year no one died. Since they thought they might have counted the days incorrectly, they slept in their graves an additional night. This went on until the fifteenth of Av, when they finally realized that no more people would die, and they subsequently declared Tu B'Av a day of celebration (Talmud Yerushalmi, Ta'anit 4:6).
Aside from Parashat Ki Tisa (the sin of the Golden Calf), this parashah is perhaps one of the most sobering in all of the Torah. We must be careful, chaverim, not to let our fears blind us to the reality and glory of the LORD God of Israel.... May it please the LORD to make us all tzaddikim who walk in trust of His Presence.
06.01.07 Today I added another Hebrew blessing to the site to help us remember Zion (Jerusalem) -- and to hold fast to the "blessed hope" that Yeshua (Jesus) will soon return in glory to restore all things under the rule of God (may He come speedily and in our days).
If Yeshua had a favorite place during His earthly life, the Mount of Olives might be it. Located just a few hundred yards east of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, He spent much time there (Luke 22:39), delivering some of His greatest teaching from its slopes (Matt 24). Though Yeshua was betrayed and arrested there (Luke 22:39, 47-53), He also ascended from there to the Right Hand of God (Acts 1:1-12), and when He returns to earth with His tzaddikim to set up His Kingdom on the great "Day of the LORD," He will once again set His feet upon the Mount of Olives (Zech. 14:4-5; Acts 1:12).
Time is short, chaverim, and we need to be eagerly anticipating His coming!