May 2007 Updates
05.31.07 I wrote another brief Hebrew mediation (Valley of Decision) based on the well-known phrase: "As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15). This statement of Yehoshua (Joshua) was intended to remind Israel that the Sinai revelation was not some distant encounter experienced by others, but was to mark the lifestyle for all who would enter the Promised Land. Paradoxically, we are forced to freely choose whether to live as a tzaddik (righteous person of faith) or as a rasha (idolatrous person of unbelief) -- and we cannot not choose! All of us have ultimate concerns and values, but if we spurn faithful submission to the LORD, we will invariably be consigned to a life based on the yetzer hara (the natural state of the soul) and self-serving idolatry.
Yehoshua was clearly a picture of the Mashiach Yeshua (Jesus), and even their respective names derive from the same Hebrew root (yasha', from which comes yeshuah, salvation). Yehoshua was faithful to the LORD and loved the Torah (like Yeshua, Deuteronomy was his favorite book). Unlike Moses, who was forbidden from entering the land, Yehoshua was chosen to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Land of Promise. Yehoshua circumcised the people (at Gilgal), married a Gentile bride (Rachav of Jericho), defeated the enemies of the LORD, and by faith even caused cosmic events to occur (i.e., the sun standing still). There are many more parallels between Yehoshua and Yeshua that could be identified, of course.
A midrash says that when Yehoshua was born, no one took note, but when he died, all of Israel took note. Nonetheless, the Israelites did not mourn for him properly. One was busy with his vineyard, the other with his field, yet another with his coal. The Holy One, Blessed be He, therefore sought to make the whole world quake (Midrash Shmuel 23:7). This is also an apt description of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, the Suffering Servant, whose birth went unnoticed, but His death and resurrection indeed shook the world!
05.28.07 I updated the weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (beha'alotekha) and created a PDF file download for you.
I hope you will take some time to read this parashah, since it provides awesome truth about the LORD God of Israel and His salvation.
05.28.07 I am staying up very late to get the Torah portion for this week completed by some time tomorrow. I also hope to continue adding additional material about the Ten Commandments. Your prayers for this work are crucial and appreciated. Thank you.
05.25.07 I am continuting my update/revision of the Ten Commandments material. Today I added additional information regarding the Second Commandment (i.e., the commandment not to have "other gods before" the LORD).
While giving this commandment, the LORD identifies Himself as El Kana, "the Jealous God" (in reference to the "marriage ceremony" between Israel and God). A Jew who engages in idolatry is like a spouse who willfully engages in adultery (indeed, idolatry is a form of spiritual adultery).
The LORD watches us lovingly and closely, like a faithful and passionate husband watches over his beloved wife. He is entirely committed to our relationship with Him, but are we putting other desires, affections, or interests ahead of His love?
05.23.07 I am beginning to revise the Hebrew4Christians Ten Commandments pages in honor of Shavu'ot (I updated the First Commandment today and created a PDF file download as well). I hope you might take the time to review the marvelous revelation God gave to mankind at Sinai...
05.23.07 Chag Sameach and Happy Shavuot to all of you! Last night my wife and I stayed up and read the book of Ruth and prayed. I then tried staying up for most of the night studying Torah, according to the custom of leil tikkun Shavuot.
When the Jews exclaimed at Sinai, kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD speaks we will do" [Ex. 19:8]), they signified an abandonment to God's will for their lives. In other words, they first chose obedience before they understood the terms of the covenant. Only later, after Moses wrote the book of the covenant (sefer habrit) did they add v'nishmah (and we will hear/obey, from shama [Ex. 24:7]). The Jews first chose to do whatever the LORD commanded and then hoped to "hear" these words in order to understand their meaning. It is the quality of hearing that matters. As Anselm said, we believe in order to understand. The decision to serve God comes first, and then comes understanding.
According to Jewish tradition, God created the universe itself on the condition that Israel accepted the Torah. Each of us is called to likewise order our lives as if the existence of the universe depends upon our faith. Abraham was a tzaddik on account of his faith, and redemptive history depended upon his obedience.
Jewish Midrash states that the Ten Commandments were spoken all at once, in a single divine utterance, and then repeated one-by-one to the Israelites. Unlike the other commandments of the Torah, these ten are unconditionally given. The LORD identified Himself as Elohim (not YHVH) when proclaiming them, indicating His role as Judge of the universe, and He used the second person singular (not plural) for the verbs: You shall not steal..."
I am considering updating the Ten Commandments on this site to more provide more detailed exegesis and commentary... I will update you on this page if I do so.
The Torah portion for this week is Naso, which provides revelation about the duty to give to others. Terumot (contributions) to the kohanim (priests) are mandatory, and those who withhold the ma'aser (percentage) are subject to judgment from the LORD. There is a strange statement in Num. 5:10: "A man's holies shall be his..." The sages teach that the offerings one gives away to holy causes is permanently held, whereas one's personal assets are temporary. The giving of tzedakah delivers the soul from trouble (Prov. 28:27).
05.22.07 I updated the weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (Naso) and created a new PDF file for you to download.
In the midst of this reading, the LORD gives the priests of Israel three special pesukim (verses) used to bless the people (sometimes called the birkat kohanim). This blessing is for you, chaverim, during this season of rededication to the love and care of the LORD God of Israel as revealed in Yeshua our Mashiach, blessed be He.
Happy Shavu'ot! Chag Sameach!
Tuesday May 22nd (at sundown) is the start of the 6th of Sivan, the time traditionally recognized as the climax of the Passover season known as Shavu'ot ("weeks" or "Pentecost"). For traditional Judaism, Shavu'ot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (mattan Torah). In addition, Jewish confirmation ceremonies are often held at the synagogue for young adults to recommit themselves to Talmud Torah (the study of Torah) and to renew their decision to live as Jews.
Common Shavu'ot customs include decorating the home and synagogue with greenery, eating dairy foods and sweets (as samples of "milk and honey"), and staying up the entire night of Erev Shavu'ot (the night of Sivan 5th) to study the Torah (this custom is called tikkun leil shavu'ot). For the Messianic Jew, Shavu'ot is the time of celebrating the birth of the Church, since the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was poured out to the believers in Jerusalem during this festival.
In the diaspora, Shavu'ot is celebrated on both Sivan 6th and 7th (though in Israel it is celebrated just on the 6th).
Please continue to pray for this ministry, since it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy to write and develop this material in a time-sensitive manner. And please accept all my thanks and appreciation for those of you who have shown hebrew4christians support!
05.21.07 I updated the Weekly Torah page to include the (midweek) readings for the great holiday of Shavu'ot (I will be adding the Torah summary for the Shabbat readings later this evening). Let me wish you and your family joy a heartfelt chag sameach!
05.17.07 The holiday of Shavu'ot ("Pentecost") occurs on Wednesday May 23 this year (for those who live outside of Israel, it is celebrated for an additional day on the 24th). Technically speaking, since the Jewish day begins at sundown, we begin our celebration on the evening of Teusday, May 22.
In traditional Judaism, the festival of Shavu'ot ("Weeks") marks the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach, the Conclusion of Passover. Since the great Exodus from Egypt was intended to lead to the revelation of Sinai, the goal of Passover is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. God took the Jews out of Egypt so that they would be His own treasured people, holy and separated from the pagan cultures around them. Indeed, all of the mo'edim (holidays) are connected with this event, including the fall festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
According to the sages: The new moon of Nisan marks the start of sacred time, Passover remembers the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, the first day of Unleavened Bread remembers the Exodus from Egypt, the seventh day of Unleavened Bread remembers the crossing of the Red Sea, the counting of the Omer recalls the days before the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and Shavu'ot remembers the giving of the Torah exactly seven weeks after the Exodus (on Sivan 6). Indeed, Shavu'ot at Mount Sinai is sometimes considered the day on which Judaism was born:
When the Jews began to settle in the Promised Land, the meaning of Shavu'ot was transformed into an agricultural holiday that celebrated the LORD's provision for His people. In the final book of Torah, Moses reviewed the history and the laws given to the Jews and reminded them to faithfully observe Passover (Deut. 16:1-7), Unleavened Bread (Deut 16:8), the Omer Count (Deut 16:9), and Shavu'ot:
You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God. (Deut. 16:9-11)
After the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the agricultural aspect of Shavu'ot could no longer be observed, and the Talmudic sages later re-connected this festival with the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai during the month of Sivan (Ex. 19:1).
For the Messianic Jew (or Christian), Shavu'ot is the time of celebrating the birth of kallat Mashiach - the Bride of the Messiah (or Church), since the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was poured out to the believers in Jerusalem during this festival (Acts 1:8; 2). For more information about Shavu'ot, click here.
05.13.07 I updated the weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (BeMidbar) and created a PDF file for you to download. BeMidbar means "in the wilderness" and is also the name given to the fourth book of the Torah (i.e., Numbers). It begins with the census of the shevatim (tribes) and a description of machaneh Yisrael (the Israelite camp).
It is fascinating to note that the Apostle Paul correlated the life-giving Rock that provided supernatural water for the Israelites with the Mashiach Yeshua (1 Cor. 10:4). In other words, Yeshua Himself was the source of life for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness of Sinai. It is still true to this day.....
It is also interesting to note that every year, at the time this parashah is read in the synagogues, the Jewish people are counting the final days of sefirat ha'omer, which heralds the beginning of the great holiday of Shavuot and the celebration of the giving of the Torah. This is another picture of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to God's covenant people...
Speaking of Shavuot, I hope to add some exciting new information about this great holiday over the next few days, so please come back and check it out, chaverim.
24 Reasons why Jerusalem Matters
05.13.07 Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, is the most recent addition to the Jewish calendar, marking the day when Israeli soldiers victoriously recaptured the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordanian control during the Arab-Israeli Six Day War (on June 7th, 1967, or Iyyar 28, 5727). This year, Yom Yerushalayim occurs on Wednesday, May 16th. Am Yisrael Chai!
Spiritually, Jerusalem (and in particular, Mount Moriah), is considered the most important place on earth for 24 reasons (for the details, click here.)
The Last Portions of Leviticus
05.06.07 (Iyyar 18, 5767) This coming Shabbat we have another "double portion" of Torah: parashiyot Behar and Bechukotai. I wrote new commentaries for each of these parashiyot (portions) and created new PDF files for you to download. After studying these, we have finished the study of the book of Leviticus for this year. If you have been regulary reading and study Torah with me, let me wish you Yasher Koach and Chazak! (said upon completing a book of the Torah).
** IMPORTANT** I will be out of town all this coming week and unable to check email. Please pray for our safety as we travel, chaverim!
Why Christians Should Study Torah
05.04.07 (Iyyar 16, 5767) Often Christians think that the "Old Testament" is virtually irrelevant today, since the doctrines of the Church are made explicit in the New Testament writings. However, this is a serious mistake, as the following facts will demonstrate:
- Yeshua (Jesus) and all his disciples were Torah-observant Jews. The Scriptures which they studied, loved, and quoted were the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (i.e., the Jewish Tanakh). Indeed, Yeshua quoted from the book of Deuteronomy (from the Torah) more than any other book in the Scriptures. As a child, Yeshua would have studied the Torah and memorized it with other Jewish children. He would also have been familiar with the teaching of the earlier Jewish sages of Israel.
When asked what was the greatest commandment of the LORD, Yeshua quoted the ve'ahavta portion of the Shema: ve'ahavta et Adonai eloheykha be'khol-levavkha, u'vekhol nafshekha, u'vekhol me'odekha, "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:5), and then He added the commandment, v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha - ani Adonai , "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). Both of these commandments come directly from the Torah.
Indeed, Yeshua said that He did not come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17-19). He later told a prospective follower of His, "If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17). When He was further asked which ones, Yeshua replied by citing the Ten Commandments and appealed to the man to follow Him (Matt. 19:18-21).
- Yeshua said that the Jewish Scriptures plainly testify of Him (John 5:39). As His followers, we should understand what this means and how they indeed bear witness of Him as the King of the Jews (Matt 2:2; 27:11). In addition, by studying Torah, we can more fully appreciate the glory and grace as revealed in the Person and Work of our beloved Mashiach. For example, we can more fully savor the role of the sacrificial system and how Yeshua fulfilled all of God's holy requirements on our behalf as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the new covenant.
- When two disciples were on their way to the town of Emmaus discussing the implications of the crucifixion of Yeshua three days earlier, who but the Master Himself appeared alongside of them and taught them from the Jewish Scriptures? "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24: 13-36). Again, as His followers, we should likewise be able to recount how Yeshua is revealed in the Jewish Scriptures.
- The "Church" was born on a Jewish holiday of Shauv'ot (Pentecost) among the Jewish people in Jerusalem. Peter's sermon during that festival (Acts 2:1-41) was entirely Jewish, copiously quoting from the prophets and David, which would have meant little to any Gentiles in earshot (if there were any). It is likely, therefore, that the 3,000 people who were saved that day would have been all Jewish. The earliest members of the new church met regularly in the Temple, where Gentiles were explicitly excluded (Acts 2:46). Note that the apostles Peter and John are recorded to have gone to the Temple for prayer during the time of the minchah (afternoon) sacrifices (Acts 3:1), and their ministry continued exclusively among the Jewish people, "among whom were thousands who believed and were zealous for the Torah" (Acts 21:20). Even after they were imprisoned but miraculously escaped, an angel told them to "Go, stand and speak in the Temple to the people all the words of this life" (Acts 5:20).
- Later, when the Jerusalem Council wrote their letter to the Gentiles regarding their relationship to the Torah, they advised them to at first abstain from those things that would make them abhorrent to the Jews, with the assumption that they would later go on to study the Torah of Moses and the other Jewish Scriptures (Acts 15:19-21).
- The Apostle Paul was raised a Torah observant Jew who studied under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Rabbi Sha'ul (as he would have been called) was well-established in the Jewish leadership of his day, and even had a relationship with the Sanhedrin and High Priest of Israel (Acts 9:1-2). But even after his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-21), he still identified himself a Jew. In Acts 23:6 he confessed, "I am (not "was") a Pharisee." He even declared that concerning the observance of the Torah he was "blameless," which indicates that he observed a Jewish lifestyle to his dying day (Phil. 3:6). Paul testified that he kept the Torah throughout his life (Acts 25:7-8, see also Acts 28:17).
Paul took the Nazarite vow (Acts 18:18), lived "in observance of the Torah" (Acts 21:23-24), and even offered sacrifices in the Jewish Temple (Acts 21:26). Notice that Paul not only paid for his own sacrifices in order to be released from his Nazarite vow, but also paid for the sacrifices for four other Jewish believers! Notice also that this was performed at the explicit request of James, the head of the Jerusalem Church (and half-brother of Yeshua).
Paul regularly attended synagogue. "He came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures" (Acts 17:1-2).
When Paul wrote to the Gentile churches, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16-17), he was of course referring to the Jewish Scriptures, since the New Testament had not yet been compiled for the church.
Indeed, in order to understand Paul's writings, we need to remember his training as a Rabbi when he quotes the Scriptures in his writings. For example, when he wrote, "And all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4), he was quoting from a story later written in the Talmud (i.e., that from the time that Moses struck the rock at Horeb and brought forth water until the death of Miriam (Ex. 20:1), this water-giving rock "followed the children of Israel through the desert and provided water for them each day" (Taanit, 9a and Bava Metizia, 86b).
- Many Christian denominations profess to believe in the authority of both the "Old Testament" and the New Testament Scriptures while functionally relegating the study of the Torah to the dustheap of history. If the Jewish Scriptures are taken seriously at all, these denominational traditions attempt to explain away their clear reading (for example, the covenantal promises made to ethnic Israel) and arrogate the intent of the text as being applicable solely to the Church.
This is both shortsighted and inconsistent, since it is impossible to understand the New Testament writings (including the very Church itself) while ignoring the cultural and theological context of which it is a part. Moreover, it must be remembered that the Greek text of the New Testament derives its authority and veracity from the Jewish Scriptures, and not the other way around. Too many Christian theologians go at this backwards, reading the New Testament (and particularly certain ideas ascribed to the Apostle Paul) as the interpretative filter for the study of the Hebrew text. Theologians of the Western traditions must consciously remember the dictum, "a text without a context is a pretext" and repent of their heresies of replacement theology and implicit anti-Semitism (for more on this, click here).
So yes, for these (and many other) reasons, it is important, even vital, for Christians to study the Torah as part of the whole counsel of God (2 Tim. 2:15).
Please note that I am not discussing the issue of "Torah Observance" here, i.e., the erroneous doctrine that Christians are justified (or minimally, sanctified) by the terms of the covenant given at Sinai (i.e., the sefer habrit given to Moses and ratified by the 70 elders of Israel). No, I am simply saying that Christians ought to be "Torah aware" and to take seriously the plain reading and intent of the Jewish Scriptures when they read the words of the Yeshua and His apostles....
All this leads to another question:
How do we fall away from the LORD?
It happens incrementally, in subtle stages. The evil one does not come to us one day and say, "Stop studying the Scriptures," since he knows we would immediately reject this as an evil suggestion. No, instead he comes and tells us that we don't need to study so much. After all, the LORD loves us and has taken care of our sin problem by His grace, so we can take it easy, right? "You can't get right with God by good deeds," he hisses, "so why not leave the study and learning of things like Torah to the professionals! After all, isn't that what (ahem) the clergy are paid for?"
After awhile, we study less and less, until finally we abandon the serious study of the Scriptures altogether (though we might still read a daily devotional on occasion). We don't think this should worry us, however, since we still attend services and "try to be a good person" by avoiding the bigger sins.
This way of living leads finally to outright apostasy, however, since without study of the Scriptures and a profound appreciation for them, we will soon forget the call of the LORD in our lives. The little sins soon don't bother us so much; and we find ourselves compromising here and there, with a divided heart on matters that used to cause us to wince... We begin to forget that we are always walking upon holy ground before the Presence of the LORD, and our lives will become more and more profane and out of touch with the fear of God. Attending services themselves soon becomes optional, though we are sure to attend the bigger holidays, at least for the sake of appearances. Then the bigger sins come, and with them come trouble, vexation, shame, desperation, and a sense of "exile" from the LORD.
Our children will see this. So will our friends. Our testimony and witness will be compromised. Soon our children will think that the study of Scripture and the obedience to the Word of God are optional "lifestyle choices," and they will slide further away into a profane and alienated lifestyle of their own.
The remedy for this descent into apostasy is to return to the Torah and the Scriptures and to study them with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength....
05.03.07 (Iyyar 15, 5767) Since April 4th (the second day of Passover), Orthodox Jews began reciting a daily blessing that counts 49 days until Shavu'ot ("Pentecost") -- which begins at sundown on May 22 this year. This process, called Sefirat haOmer ("Counting of the Omer"), represents a time of anticipation and cheshbon hanefesh (soul searching) that is meant to increase our awareness of the holiness of God as revealed at Mount Sinai.
According to some Jewish sages, the 49 days of counting represent a time of increasing purification and teshuvah -- a godly response to the 49 "levels of impurity" (tumah) Israel had lapsed into while enslaved in Egypt. Just as there are 49 levels of spiritual impurity, so there are said to be 49 levels spiritual of purity (mem-tet panim tumah, v'mem-tet panim tahora). Since God is holy and Shavu'ot is about encountering the Holy One of Israel at Sinai, this time is used to become more spiritually prepared to meet with God.
From a Messianic perspective, however, it is clear that God also wanted to be sure that the Jewish people did not miss something else. It's almost as if there is a dotted line pointing directly from Passover to Pentecost - a yovel ("Jubilee") of days that represented the goal or result of the Passover celebration. Do you know what that is, chaverim?
05.01.07 (Iyyar 13, 5767) April was one of my most productive months here at Hebrew4Christians. To get some idea of all the new material I wrote, simply scroll down the page, noting all of April's entries.... The LORD is good, and my burden to share the truth from His word seems inexhaustible (though I sometimes feel in my bones the saying of Yeshua, "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak").
I updated the weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (Emor) and created another PDF file for you to download. This portion of the Torah furthers the discussion of holiness (from last week's parashah), though it centers primarily on the role of the kohanim (priests). This week's portion also states the LORD's requirement that His followers observe the eight "feasts of the LORD," or mo'edim (appointed times).
And though it is not explicitly mentioned in this portion of Torah, notice how the order of the camp of the Israelites resembled a cross, with the Kohanim next to the tribe of Judah, from whom would come Yeshua, our Kohen Gadol of the new covenant:
Baruch HaShem - the camp of the LORD is itself a picture of the cross, the place of ultimate sacrifice, where the King of the Jews would lay down His life to ransom captive Israel!