June 2009 Updates
Parashat Chukat & Balak
[ This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: parashat Chukat and Balak. Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]
06.28.09 (Tammuz 6, 5769) Yom iyra ani eleykhah evtach (יוֹם אִירָא אֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ אֶבְטָח) / "When I am afraid, I put my trust in Thee" (Psalm 56:3).
This week's Torah includes reference to an ancient Moabite King named Balak who enlisted the services of a Midianite sorcerer named Balaam to "curse" the Jewish people. King Balak's plan was to fight Israel by means of spiritual powers (i.e., kishuf - the occult and magic). Perhaps Balak reasoned that if he and Balaam combined their occultic powers, they could defeat Israel before they entered the Promised Land....
As I wrote recently, "there is no fear in love" (אין פַּחַד בָּאַהֲבָה), especially since we know that ein od milvado -- there is no real power apart from God (i.e., He is the only true Power in the universe, despite the menace and threats that mankind routinely practice upon one another).... The LORD God of Israel is in complete control of all things. Indeed, Yeshua is called elyon lemalkhei-aretz (עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי־אָרֶץ) - the "Ruler of the princes of the earth" (Rev. 1:5) - and that means they ultimately will answer to Him. Despite the pre-planned deconstruction of the United States and other world economies, we know that the LORD God Almighty reigns, and we need not be subject to the fear of man or his devices. Act counter culturally -- call upon the Name of the LORD and walk in faith, chaverim!
The period of time immediately before the Messiah's arrival is sometimes called ikvot meshicha (עִקְּבוֹת מְשִׁיחַ), the time when the "footsteps of the Messiah" can be heard. This is the time appointed by God for the final Messianic redemption and the close of the present age (olam ha-zeh). For Christians, this refers to the Second Coming of Jesus to judge the nations and establish His kingdom in Jerusalem...
According to traditional Jewish sources (Pesachim 54b; Midrash Tehilim 9:2), no one knows the time when the Messiah will appear -- though there are some hints. God created the world in six days, each of which represents a thousand years. The seventh day is the start of the great Messianic Sabbath Rest, and therefore this age cannot last beyond 6,000 years. According to the traditional Jewish calendar we are living in the year 5769 which means it is "Erev Shabbat" of the world. We are drawing close, in other words, to the prophesied End of Days and the appearance of Yeshua our Messiah!
According to the sages, then, by the year 6,000 the Messiah has to arrive, though he could come earlier. This accords with the teachings of Jesus and His apostolic witnesses (Matt. 24:36-44; 1 Thess 5:1-3; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3). The condition of the world during acharit hayamim (the end of days) will be grossly evil (2 Pet. 3:3; 2 Thess. 2:3-4, 2 Tim. 3:1-5). The world will undergo various forms of tribulation, called chevlei Mashiach - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Sometimes the birth pangs are said to last for 70 years, with the last 7 years as the most intense period of tribulation -- the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). The first wave of trouble came from Edom (i.e., "Rome/Europe") in the form of the Holocaust; the second is coming from Ishamel (i.e., the Arab states) in the form of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This accords with the teachings of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25).
Some of the "signs" of this period include the rise of various false prophets, numerous wars and "rumors of wars" (including the rise of Magog [Iran]), famines, earthquakes, worldwide apostasy from the faith, persecution, and a globalized sort of godlessness that is revealed in unbridled selfishness, greed, chutzpah (audacity), shamelessness, and a general lack of hakarat ha-tov (gratitude). The greatest sign, however, will be that Israel will exist once again as a sovereign nation, despite the prophesied exile among the nations (Deut. 4:27-31; Jer. 30:1-3). According to some of the sages, the 9th century work Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer foretells that just before the coming of Messiah, "Ishmael" will rise in power to terrorize the world. According to Yalkut Shimoni, the king of Persia (Iran) is going to "have a weapon that is going to terrorize the world." A coming "Messiah of evil" (code name Armilus) will soon appear on the world stage to offer a peace treaty for Israel and the Middle East, "but when they shall say, "peace and safety" (confirmed covenant) then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman (time of Jacob's Trouble), and they will not escape (1 Thess. 5:3). This is the significance of the extraordinary cataclysmic world events which we are witnessing this very day....
Ultimately the Great Tribulation period is redemptive and healing (called yissurei ahavah, "the troubles of love"). The prophets wrote that Zion will go through labor and then give birth to children (Isa. 66:8). Thus the Vilna Gaon wrote that the geulah (national redemption) is something like rebirth of the nation of Israel. This accords with the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur as the Day of Judgment and time of Israel's national conversion. In the verse from prophet Jeremiah regarding the "Time of Jacob's Trouble," it's vital to see the goal in mind - "yet out of it he is saved" (וּמִמֶּנָּה יִוָּשֵׁעַ). The sages note that childbirth is a time of radical transition and struggle for the baby -- from the time of relatively peaceful existence within the womb into the harsh light of day -- and therefore a similar transition between this world and the Messianic world to come is about to take place....
Surely we can look to HaShem, may His Name be blessed, to reveal the fulfillment of the redemption soon! Maran ata Yeshua!
"For though the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end -- it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay" (Habakkuk 2:3)
Aaron's Rod and the Authority of Messiah...
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Korach. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.26.09 (Tammuz 4, 5769) This week's Torah begins with Korach and 250 leaders of Israel confronting Moses and Aaron in the wilderness saying, "You have gone too far!....Why do you raise yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?"
Recall that Korach was the blood cousin of Moses who reasoned that he should be the head of the Levite clan. After all, Moses was given leadership of Israel at large, and Aaron was given the leadership of the priesthood, so why shouldn't he likewise be honored in Israel? Korach's co-conspirators were two brothers named Dathan and Abiram from the tribe of Rueben, Israel's firstborn son. Since traditionally the firstborn son obtained the leadership of the people, these tribal leaders would have sympathized with Korach and also resented Moses' leadership of Israel.
According to rabbinical tradition, Dathan and Abiram might have been the leading conspirators against Moses, since they had a long history of opposing him. They had been the ones who reported Moses' murder of the Egyptian which caused him to flee to Midian; they were said to have partook of the manna on the seventh day after the Exodus -- defying Moses' direct orders; and they were the ones who issued the rebellious cry in the camp saying, "Let us choose a leader and return to Egypt" (Num. 14:3-4). When Moses later appealed to them to desist from their rebellion with Korach, they answered insolently: "Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land of milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness?" (Num. 16:13). Note how these men, presumably once wealthy and successful in the land of Egypt, now referred to it as "a land flowing with milk and honey" -- the very words Moses had used to describe the Promised Land! For those who love this world, the ideal of the "Promised Land" always seems like "pie-in-the-sky," and the struggle to walk by faith seems like downright torture...
Korach was certainly in collusion with Dathan and Abiram in this grave rebellion. The sages regard his name (קרַח) as an acronym formed from the three words קִנְאָה (jealously), רוֹמְמוּת (exaltedness), and חָמַד (coveting/desire). Korach was jealous of his cousin's status; he sought for personal honor; and he coveted power of which he was not worthy. Ironically, his "dispute" with Moses (and Aaron) hinged on what he regarded as Moses' self-exaltation: "Why do you lift yourselves up above the assembly of the LORD" (Num. 16:3). Since we know that the Torah describes Moses as a man of consummate humility (Num. 12:3), Korach's accusation was the height of hypocrisy -- charging him with the very sin of which he was guilty. (As an aside, isn't it typical of human nature to project our faults on others -- to ascribe our own shortcomings and defects as if they existed in others?)
We know how the story ended for Korach and his rebellious followers. Pirke Avot 4:21 says, "Jealousy, desire, and the quest for personal honor removes an individual from the world." This was clearly evidenced when the earth "swallowed" the rebels alive. Nonetheless, even after witnessing the terrifying judgment of God, the Israelites still complained that the first born had been rejected in favor of the Levites.
As a final test to vindicate Aaron as God's exclusively chosen priest, each of the twelve tribal heads of Israel, as well as Aaron himself, were instructed to bring their staffs to Moses. Moses then inscribed their names on each staff and brought them into the sanctuary before the Ark of the testimony. "And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you."
The following day Moses went into the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and "behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds." He then brought out all the staffs and gave them back to each of the tribal leaders. The LORD then told Moses to return Aaron's staff to the Mishkan as a memorial and testimony for generations to come.
Just as God exclusively chose Aaron to minister before Him, so Yeshua was the exclusively chosen to be the greater High Priest of the New Covenant. Regarding His priesthood "after the order of Malki-Tzedek," the author of Book of Hebrews wrote: "No one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was" (Heb. 5:4). And just as Aaron's lifeless rod miraculously brought forth life, Yeshua's cross -- likewise made of wood -- also "budded and produced blossoms" after His resurrection from the dead. Yeshua went into the sanctuary made without hands and there offered his blood to procure for us an everlasting atonement. His sacrifice as our High Priest gives us life from the dead! Under the terms of the Sinai covenant, "Aaron's rod" was a picture of God's authority and judgment, just the Messiah's cross and resurrection vindicates God's exclusive choice of Yeshua as our Mediator before God. Those who reject His choice will ultimately share the same fate as those who partook of Korach's rebellion (Jude 1:11).
If it pleases God, I will add some additional commentary on this Torah portion tomorrow, chaverim. Shalom for now.
New Hebrew Meditation
Vision and Exile
06.24.09 (Tammuz 2, 5769) Today I wrote a new Hebrew meditation (called Vision and Exile) that is intended to encourage us to look past appearances and to keep focused on what is real, true, and abiding. I hope you find it encouraging, chaverim....
The traditional definition of philosophy is the "love of wisdom" (φίλος + σοφία), and therefore of all people Christians should be philosophers. After all, the Messiah Himself is called the "Wisdom of God" in the Scriptures (1 Cor. 1:24), and we are told that in Him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). Moreover, we are explicitly commanded to ask God for heavenly wisdom (James 1:5), though this is "not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away" (see 1 Cor. 2:6-7). Indeed, the gospel message itself is called the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:21-24).
God's wisdom turns the world's thinking upside down, and inwardly accepting it invariably leads to collision with this world and its various counterfeit systems of "philosophy." Walking in the wisdom of Yeshua leads to a sense of "divine discontent" that arises when yearn for our heavenly home. In this regard we follow the Messiah in His suffering "outside the gate" (Heb. 13:12-14).
Parashat Korach - פרשת קורח
06.21.09 (Sivan 29, 5769) Last week's Torah portion (Shelach) told the tragic story about the "sin of the spies" (chet ha-meraglim) and of the divine decree that the generation of Israelites rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die while in the desert. In this week's portion (Korach), the hard truth of their condition began to sink in, and the people bemoaned their fate and rebelled further by attempting to overthrow the Lord's designated leadership and return to Egypt. This rebellion was instigated and organized by Moses' cousin Korach, who - along with co-conspirators from the tribe of Rueben - was swiftly judged and put to death, thereby vindicating the Aaronic priesthood and Moses' leadership of Israel.
Personal Update: My son Josiah appears to have Chickenpox, and we are concerned for Judah (who is now 11 weeks old). I've also been sick the last two days and it's been difficult to write as much as I would like. Please keep our little family in your prayers, chaverim. Thank you so much for your love and support!
Judah at 11 weeks
Lord of the Sabbath - אֲדוֹן הַשַּׁבָּת
"I have been crucified with the Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but the Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Torah, then the Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:20-21).
06.16.09 (Sivan 24, 5769) Recently someone asked me to explain why I wrote that "Christians are not legalistically required to observe the Sabbath day" in the Hebrew4Christians Shabbat Seder Guide. Doesn't this statement contradict the clear teaching of the Ten Commandments? And if I make an exception regarding this commandment, then what's to stop me from making an exception regarding one of the others -- for instance, the commandment against committing adultery? Am I being inconsistent here?
I want to take a few minutes to clearly respond to this issue, since I think that the question reveals a profound confusion between the idea of "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) and "Covenant" (בְּרִית) as revealed in the Scriptures. As I've stated repeatedly on this site, Torah is a general word that means "instruction" and always is a function of the underlying covenant of which it is part. Torah is therefore our response to the covenantal actions of the LORD God of Israel. Followers of Yeshua (Jesus) are therefore not "anti-Torah" even if they understand this word in relation to the New Covenant. The all-important matter is to understand our response to the God's covenantal actions as mediated through our beloved Messiah...
So please let me restate and reaffirm the liberating truth that because of the gracious covenant of God as mediated through Yeshua our Messiah, we are no longer bound to the terms of the Sinai covenant. We have a "better covenant based on better promises" (Heb. 8:6). Please pause over that statement, chaverim (and see "Compare the Covenants"). We are called to serve a higher law of love and mercy as evidenced in the life and Torah of the Messiah. Of course we are free to "observe Shabbat" and to recall that the LORD is our Creator on this day of the week, but we are not legalistically required to do so (Rom. 14:5). Plainly put, the issue of "Sabbath observance" is tied to the terms of a covenant that was "destined for obsolescence" (Heb. 8:13). The Sabbath, in other words, prefigures something far more significant for our lives.... You can read more about this here.
Second, it's vital to realize that the principle of Shabbat is valid, just as the principle of adhering to faithful love is (i.e., the positive expression of the commandment not to commit adultery). The statement that "there is a rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9-10) does not refer to ritualistic "Sabbath-keeping," however, since the context clearly states that "whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." This is a "tetelestai" revelation -- a moment when you apprehend that God has fulfilled the Torah's demand on your behalf through the gift of Yeshua's life and sacrifice (2 Cor. 5:21). Accepting the "death benefits" of the Messiah makes you an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven (Gal. 4:4-7). You are no longer "marrried" to the former arrangement of being in union with God; there is a better cup and a better ketubah (Rom. 7:1-4).
With all due respect to those of you who believe that Christians should "return to Sinai" for sanctification, let me ask a few hard questions... If you are serious about keeping the 613 laws of the Torah -- rather than merely trifling with the idea -- then you should likewise consent to the practice of slavery -- and you might even consider selling your daughter should the need arise (Exod. 21:7; Lev. 25:44). You also should seek the death penalty for homosexuality (Lev. 20:13) and argue that parents have a "divine right" to put to death a rebellious child (Deut. 21:18-22). Indeed, you would be perfectly justified stoning to death anyone who does "work" on the Sabbath (Exod. 35:2) -- even if that person simply leaves his or her dwelling (Exod. 16:29). Moreover, you should approve of the Spanish Inquisition and its auto-de-fe of publicly executing blasphemers (Lev. 24:10-16). If you're a real zealot, you also might consider burning apostate cities to the ground and killing all their inhabitants (Deut 7:2, 12:2, 13:15-17). Which city should be first on your list? Las Vegas?
And don't forget the various social, religious, and dietary laws given in the Torah, either. Be careful to never shake the hand of a woman, since she might be niddah -- in a state of menstruation (Lev. 15:19-24). Always eat kosher, and never leave your house on the Sabbath, either -- not even to go to synagogue services (Exod. 16:29). And don't light a fire in your dwelling either (Exod. 35:3) -- which the rabbis later extended to mean refraining from turning on a stove, flipping on a light switch, starting your car, etc. You'll also have some trouble finding a way to offer your guilt, sin, and freewill sacrifices at the Holy Temple, since it doesn't exist.... Of course, you can choose to submit to the authority of the rabbis who created "Judaism without the Temple" after its destruction in 70 AD, though Yeshua certainly would have advised against this (Matt. 23:8-9). You can read more about this here.
My point here is simple enough. When the Lord Yeshua came there was a change in the law, because there was a change in the priesthood (see Heb. 7:11-12). Today we don't offer sheep and goats upon altars in our churches because we understand that this is no longer the way to come before the LORD. We have a better hope before the Throne of Grace (Heb. 4:16, 7:19).
With the destruction of the Second Temple (in 70 AD) and the loss of the Levitical priesthood, there were only a few options available to the Jewish community. One was to accept the death of Yeshua as the atonement for sin, and the other was to reconstruct Jewish theology so that the community could exist without a Temple (and to therefore find a way to forgive sin without blood sacrifice). Choices were made and polarizations occurred. The Council at Yavne represented the mainstream Jewish choice.
The Preeminence of the Messiah
In light of God's redemptive work through the Messiah, the Scriptures command us to "consider Yeshua, [who] has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses -- as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself" (Heb. 3:1-6). Yeshua alone is our great Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the better covenant (Heb. 8:6), and Yeshua alone is the Supreme Mediator between God and man. Only Yeshua brings God and man together.
Consider, then, how Yeshua the Messiah is greater than:
- The first Jew, Abraham (John 8:53-58)
- Israel and his children (John 4:12-14)
- Moses the lawgiver (Heb. 3:1-6; Matt. 17:1-8; John 1:17; Acts 13:38-39, etc.)
- All the angels of God (Matt. 13:41-42; Heb. 2)
- The Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7; 13:10)
- The Temple itself (Matt. 12:6, cp. Mark 11:16);
- All the sacrifices offered at the Temple (Heb. 8-10)
- King David, Israel's first great king (Matt. 22:41-46)
- Solomon, the greatest king of Israel (Luke 11:31)
- Jonah, one of the greatest Jewish prophets (Matt. 12:41)
- Elijah, one of the greatest Jewish prophets (Matt. 17:1-8)
- The Sabbath (John 5:17-18; Matt. 12:8)
Indeed, Yeshua is called the very Creator Himself (Col. 1:18-19) who sits upon the throne of God Himself (Psalm 45:6-7; Heb. 1:8). He is both the Judge and the Savior of the world (Matt. 16:27). Yeshua is both the LORD of the Sabbath and the LORD of the Torah of Moses... Simply put, Moses stands in relation to Yeshua as the creature stands before the Creator and is accountable to Him. Every knee shall bow to Him. Yeshua = YHVH.
The "Church" (or better, kehilat Mashiach) is a called-out group of people from among all the nations who are made partakers of the covenantal blessings and redemptive purposes of the LORD God Almighty. It is what the Apostle Paul termed a "mystery," meaning that it was undisclosed before the advent of the Messiah Yeshua. The entire history of ethnic Israel was accomplished in order to "get Yeshua to Moriah" - the place of ultimate sacrifice - where He would offer up His life for the sins of the world.... and thereby break the "spell" of the kelalah (curse).
Yeshua at Moriah is the Central Point of all sacred history. It is the Altar. All the outpouring of the wrath of God against sin was accomplished there, since it involved the torture and death of the only true Tzaddik who ever lived. Yet it was by means of Yeshua's righteous suffering that all the families of the earth may now be blessed and escape the kelalah of HaShem. It is finished -- Tetelestai -- by the hand of Yeshua, not Moses. We are called to follow Him....
Adultery, in its truest sense, is promiscuity: those who denigrate the sacrifice of the Messiah and claim something else is necessary are called spiritual adulterers (see Rom. 7:1-4). Trying to mingle the covenants of Sinai and Zion leads to confusion and to potential destruction (Gal. 1:6-9; 2:4-5; 2:21; 3:3,10, etc.).
Addendum: So what now? Where do we draw the line between the words of the older covenant and the new covenant? After all, Yeshua is the One who spoke from the midst of the fire at Sinai... How do we put all this together?
Jewish thinking regards the Sabbath primarily as a testimony that God alone is the Creator of the universe (celebrating His rule over creation), and secondarily as a memorial of the redemption from Egypt (Deut. 5:15). The Sabbath is a day of blessing wherein a "double portion" of heavenly food is provided (Exod. 16:22) that represents a foretaste of olam haba (the world to come). For Messianic believers, especially, the Sabbath "is a delight" – not a burden -- a time for celebrating our personal rest in the salvation of the LORD.
It is evident that Yeshua did not "keep the Sabbath" -- at least not as the Pharisees of His day regarded the matter. For Yeshua, the Sabbath was not so much a time of inducing a state of static rest as it was a time of providing rest and comfort to others. Recall that it was on the Sabbath that Yeshua said to them, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working (ἐργάζομαι)." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath (ἔλυεν τὸ σάββατον), but He was even calling God His own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:17-18). Later, some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath" (John 9:16). Likewise the Apostle Paul acted contrary to the Torah's commandment (Exod. 16:29) when on the Sabbath "he went outside the city gate to the river..." (Acts 16:13).
We are called to walk in the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת) -- and to worship the LORD God of Israel. If we love Him and genuinely desire to please Him, we will fulfill the inward intent of the Torah in our daily lives (Jer. 31:31-33). All of the moral law of the Torah is restated in the New Testament -- but even more radically. We ask the Holy Spirit for help in discerning the truth on a personal, moment-by-moment basis. We trust in God's guidance and help as He promised in the terms of the New Covenant. Freedom doesn't mean we're "free to do whatever we want," but rather we're "free to love God without fear..." We are now heirs of God, no longer slaves. Yeshua came to elevate our lives and bring us safely to the Father as redeemed children...
The Apostle Paul wrote: Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ· εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη, ἄρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν / "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Torah then the Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:21). Note that the word translated "nullify" (ἀθετῶ) means to "transgress" or to "set aside as ineffective." Ironically enough, those who advocate for "Torah observance" (at least in the legalistic sense) are obliquely setting the grace of God aside as ineffective. The writer of the Book of Hebrews warns, "Anyone who has set aside (ἀθετῶ - same word) the Torah of Moses died without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:28-29). If nullifying the Torah warrants death, then nullifying the redemptive work of salvation warrants even greater retribution... We can't have it both ways: you must choose whether your savior is Moses or Yeshua, chaverim.
As a practical matter, we freely choose to light candles, recite Kiddush and the other blessings in order to "observe Shabbat" in our home... We refrain from doing "business" during this time -- we turn off the computer, set aside time for a fellowship meal and prayer, etc. We choose, in other words, to focus on God as our Creator and to celebrate the greater Exodus from Egypt He gives us in Yeshua... We are made new creations in the Messiah (2 Cor. 5:17). We celebrate the Light of the World, the Giver of Salvation (i.e., rest); we come before the great High Priest of the Temple made without human hands, etc. We understand that we are not "required" to do this (especially in a "halachic" sense) because the institution of Shabbat itself merely foreshadowed the greater redemptive freedom we now have in the Messiah (Heb. 10:1). Nonetheless, we partake of this sacred tradition anyway, savoring the truth of the Messiah and identifying with our Jewish roots. Yeshua is forever the LORD of the Sabbath (אֲדוֹן הַשַּׁבָּת).
Love ultimately is a choice. Before salvation, we were not free to live apart from sin; now we are free to choose the path of righteousness. God will give us all wisdom and grace if we ask Him to guide us in the way....
Parashat Shelach Lekha - פרשת שלח־לך
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shelach Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.15.09 (Sivan 23, 5769) This week's Torah primarily concerns the infamous "Sin of the Spies." Instead of leaving Sinai to immediately take possession of the Promised Land, the Israelites first called for a "spying expedition" - a tragic error that would result in the LORD's decree that the entire generation that was rescued from Egypt would die in the desert. Only Joshua and Caleb were spared this judgment from Heaven (for more information, see the drash on the Torah portion).
How did Joshua and Caleb escape this great national tragedy? A passage from the Talmud (Tractate Sotah 34b) states that Moses foresaw the treachery and faithlessness of the spies (meraglim) and therefore renamed Hoshea (הושׁע) to Yehoshua (יהושׁע) -- in order to remind him that YHVH (י) must always come first. Another passage from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) states that the extra Yod came from Sarai (שׂרי), who had "given up" the Yod to form the name Sarah (שׂרה). In this story, the Yod appeared before the LORD and "complained" about being deleted from this righteous woman of valor. The LORD, however, reassured Yod that the day would come when it would become the first letter of a great tzaddik's name (i.e., Yehoshua/Joshua).
Rashi notes that the Sin of the Spies was essentially that of lashon hara -- speaking evil by producing an evil report -- in this case, speaking against the nation of Israel (or more precisely, against God Himself, since His promise to give the land to the people was not held in sufficient esteem -- despite the miracles the Exodus generation had witnessed). The spies terrified the people by referring to the "children of the giants" (יְלִדֵי הָעֲנָק) and the heavy fortifications of the cities in the Promised Land. Essentially the spies claimed that "the people are stronger than God" (the phrase כִּי־חָזָק הוּא מִמֶּנּוּ can be understood in this sense), and the Israelites wept all that night and wished for death (Num. 14:2).
Moses' appeal on behalf of Israel was also based on avoiding chillul HaShem (i.e., the desecration of God's Name): Wouldn't the Egyptians likewise think that God did not have the power to bring the people into the land if He should kill them in the desert? (Num. 14:12-14). Moses then reminded the LORD of the revelation of His Name YHVH (יהוה) which was disclosed to him after the Sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7). Appealing to the shelosh esrei middot shel rachamim - the thirteen attributes of God's mercy - is a model for our intercession for one another as well...
The LORD is El Rachum (אֵל רַחוּם), "the Compassionate God" (the word rechem means womb, see Deut. 4:31, Isa. 49:15). Practicing compassion is therefore one of the middot ha-lev (qualities of heart) that should mark our lives -- especially in light of the rachamanut (compassion) given to us through Yeshua the Mashiach (Col. 3:13, Eph. 5:2).
Proverbs 11:27 states: "He who seeks good [for others] seeks [God's] favor, but he who searches out evil [in others] upon him shall it come." The sages remark that he who prays for another and is in need of the same thing is answered first (Talmud: Bava Kamma). For example, when the prophet Job prayed for his friends, God restored Job's own fortunes (Job 42:10). There is always a shared blessing when we pray for others, as King David said in Psalm 35:13: "may what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, "may it return upon my own breast" [תפִלָּתִי עַל־חֵיקִי תָשׁוּב]).
This truth works both ways. When we seek the good of others, we find God's favor, but when we show indifference or apathy, it likewise shall "return upon our own breast."
Make His will as your own,
so that He will regard your will as His own (Pirkei Avot 2:4a)
Indeed, the very "law of Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2). The word translated burden is βαρος ("weight"), from which we derive the word barometer. This same word is used in 2 Cor. 4:17 to refer to the "weight of glory" that we will experience in Olam Haba (the world to come). Bearing one another's burdens -- taking upon ourselves some of their "pressures" -- reveals the glory of the One who bore our sin and shame at Moriah (1 Pet. 2:24).
06.12.09 (Sivan 20, 5769) I have been experiencing spiritual attacks from the evil one this entire week, chaverim, and I humbly ask you to offer up a prayer for me at this time. The LORD knows the details... Thank you....
May you be filled with God's perfect peace (שָׁלוֹם רָב) and overwhelmed with holy wonder, despite any storms you might be encountering! God is faithful; He is Light; He is love; His victory is sure... Shabbat Shalom chaverim...
Parallel Transliterated New Testament!
06.11.09 (Sivan 19, 5769) We now are offering the New Testament -- both in Greek AND Hebrew - completely transliterated into English! With this unique Bible program, you will be able to look up any verse in the English New Testament and read both the underlying Greek text as well as the most up-to-date and accurate Hebrew translation! Each verse of the Greek and Hebrew includes an easy to use transliteration so you can read with confidence. You can print any pages you desire for further study. Click here for more information.
Adonai Tzidkenu - יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ
[ The following entry explores the concept of the "Righteous Branch" that was mentioned in this week's Haftarah reading. Please read the Haftarah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.11.09 (Sivan 19, 5769) The name Adonai Tzidkenu (יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ), "the LORD our Righteousness," appears in Jeremiah's prophecy of the "righteous branch" (tzemach tzaddik, צֶמַח צַדִּיק), the great Davidic King who was promised to appear (Jer. 23:5-6). This "Righteous Branch" is also mentioned in Book of Zechariah as the one who would ultimately unite the authority of the priesthood with the Kingship of God on behalf of Israel's redemption. In what follows, I want to explore the connection between the "Righteous Branch" and the Divine Name, Adonai Tzidkenu.
The word tzidkenu comes from the word tzedek (צדק), a word that means "justice" and implies fidelity to moral truth (i.e., "righteousness"). To say YHVH is righteous means that He is morally perfect and indeed the very Author of moral truth (Deut. 32:4, 2 Chron. 12:6; Psalm 11:7; Jer. 12:1; Lam. 1:18). God adheres perfectly to all moral truth in the universe, since He alone is its Source. The LORD cannot lie (Num. 23:19) anymore than He can create a "square circle" or make 2+2=5. And since He is the Creator and Source of all truth, He is the one who defines the way human beings are bound to relate to Him and to one another. Unlike physical objects that merely function according to natural law and design, God has given human beings the ability to make decisions that either adhere or deviate from moral truth. This is embedded in our use of everyday language and thinking. We regularly distinguish between what is the case and what ought to be.
Since human beings are created b'tzelem Elohim – in the image of God – we are endowed with an intuitive duty to promote justice and righteousness. Indeed, the inner voice of conscience provides evidence for a "categorical imperative" to always do what we (intuitively) know is right. As Immanuel Kant put it, "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it would become a universal law," or as Rabbi Hillel put it, "What is hateful to yourself, do to no other," or as Yeshua said, "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
Since God is the Lawgiver, His moral law (revealed both in human conscience and more fully in the Torah) is the ultimate standard of human beings created in His image and likeness (Psalm 7:11, 19:7, 58:11). Moreover, since it is a Divine necessity for God to adhere to truth (Num. 23:19, Heb. 6:18), the all-seeing eye of God must judge sin (i.e., deviations from moral truth), and therefore He is rightly called the Judge of all the earth (Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4; Psalm 9:8, 96:10; 98:9; 119:137). God "hates sin and loves righteousness" (Psalm 45:7), and righteousness and justice are said to be the very foundation of His throne: צֶדֶק וּמִשְׁפָּט מְכוֹן כִּסְאֶךָ חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת יְקַדְּמוּ פָנֶיך / "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you" (Psalm 89:14[15h]).
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the law of the Lord (torat Adonai) refers to the revelation of God's will for human beings to live rightly before Him in light of His reality and holiness: תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ / "The Torah of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul" (Psalm 19:7).
By functioning as a "looking glass" of our inward condition, the Law of the Lord reveals both the divine standard of life required of the tzaddik (righteous person) and the truth of our own need for deliverance from ourselves. Nonetheless, in order to be justified before the Lord, the law as law demands that we live as morally perfect agents, regardless of our heredity, infirmities, social status, education, and so on. "Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy: for I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 20:7). As Yeshua Himself said in Matthew 5:48: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." And as James said: "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it" (James 2:10).
The moral law of God is the abiding truth of God's requirements for the human soul to be blameless before Him. If we do not realize this, it is because we are asleep or morally deadened; however, the moment we awaken and become alive, life itself becomes tragic. As the Apostle Paul said, "I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Rom. 7:9). This is the conviction of our sinful condition, and it is itself a gift from heaven, for without it we would never attend to the need of our hearts for an abiding hope that can overcome the verdict of alienation and death that hangs over us all... We would never pursue teshuvah (returning to the LORD).
Since God cannot lie, He must judge sin, and therefore we all stand in need of His forgiveness. Our efforts to affect self-righteousness are considered as "filthy rags" before the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 64:6). We all stand before the Judge of the Universe as guilty sinners in the need of reconciliation and forgiveness. We are in need of deliverance so that we can make peace with the Source of moral truth. The idea that YHVH is "our righteousness" implies His salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) from our sinful condition, since He vindicates those whom He loves (Isa. 46:13). Indeed, the idea of the LORD as Redeemer (Go'el) includes the idea of vindication through ransom. To say, then, that YHVH is our righteousness (Adonai Tzidkenu) suggests an imputed righteousness given to those who put their trust in Him. Because this vindication against the guilt of sin is God's own work and doing, He receives all the glory and praise.
The first occurrence of the word "righteousness" in the Scriptures (i.e., צדקה) concerns Abraham and the issue of trust: וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה / "And he trusted in the LORD, He counted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). It was Abraham's trust (emunah, אמוּנה) in the promise of God (that he would be heir of the world) that resulted in the Divine verdict (חשׁבּוֹן) that he was righteous. The Apostle Paul later analogized this event to expound the doctrine of "justification by faith," that is, that a person who trusts in the Divine merit of Yeshua as God's agent of reconcilation is (legally, forensically) declared righteous before God (Gal. 3:6, Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 4:1-4, etc).
Although Jewish tradition considers him to be the patriarch Shem (who survived the Flood), Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) is a picture of Adonai Tzidkenu. He is called the "King of Righteousness and priest of the Most High God" (Gen. 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:6). The Midrash Lamentations says, "The proper name of Messiah is Adonai Tzidkenu - the Lord our righteousness." Note that the very first occurence of the word "priest" in the Scriptures occurs in reference to the King/Priest Malki-Tzedek – a picture of the coming Tzemach Tzedakah, Yeshua the Anointed One.
The New Testament likewise calls Yeshua Adonai Tzidkenu and declares Him the only True Tzaddik (1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Pet. 1:2) since He alone truly fulfilled the Torah of Moses and gave Himself as a sacrificial offering upon the cross to save the world from the judgement of God (2 Cor. 5:21; John 3:36). Those who trust in Him are also justified as tzaddikim, since "the tzaddik shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11). Ultimately, Adonai Tzadkenu is Yeshua the Mashiach and refers to the merit of His saving work imparted to us through faith.
A person who routinely practices righteousness is called a tzaddik (צדיק), a "righteous man" (a tzedeket is a righteous woman). In Jewish tradition, tzedakah is "doing the right thing" by promoting justice and fairness in life (it also means helping the needy, as in giving charity). The Scriptures command: Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: "justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20), and therefore helping others who are oppressed or in need is a divine imperative.
Tzedakah is declared lifegiving: "in the path of tzedakah there is life" (Prov. 12:28). Giving is a way of life for those who live according to the truth. Followers of Yeshua are called tzaddikim (Matt. 5:16; 1 John 2:29, 3:7,10) because they are justified (legally declared "not guilty") by the grace and salvation of the LORD, and because they demonstrate their love by giving to others (John 13:35, 1 John 5:2).
In short, Adonai Tzidkenu (יְהוָה צִדְקֵנוּ) is the name for Yeshua, who "saves His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). The righteousness of Yeshua is the gospel message itself, that is, the power of God to save us from the verdict of our sinful condition and to restore our relationship with a holy and morally perfect God. God will not clear the guilty, but He does something infinitely better: He removes the guilt! The curse of the Law's verdict upon us has been taken away through the substitionary sacrifice of Yeshua upon the cross at Moriah (Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21). God puts our sin upon Yeshua and gives us His righteousness in exchange. By sincerely turning to Him in confession of our condition and trusting in His righteousness we are declared legally "justified" (i.e., "just-if-I'd" never sinned) before the Judge of the World. Moreover, through our union with Yeshua, we share in the vindiction of His resurrected life and have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). To be justified is to share in Yeshua's righteousness: Adonai Tzidkenu!
The Branch of Righteousness
[ The following entry concerns this week's Haftarah reading from parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Haftarah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.09.09 (Sivan 17, 5769) The haftarah (i.e., the portion from the prophets) for this week includes reference to Tzemach Tzedakah (צֶמַח צְדָקָה) - the "Branch of Righteousness." Tzemach (צֶמַח, "branch") is a metaphorical name for the Mashiach, the offshoot of King David (Jer. 33:15). Of him the prophet Zechariah says, "Behold, a man called the Branch (tzemach) shall branch out (יִצְמָח) from the midst of the earth, and he shall build the Temple of the LORD (בָּנָה אֶת־הֵיכַל יְהוָה)" [Zech. 6:12].
This is a "dual aspect" prophecy, of course. The prophet Zechariah initially gave this message to Joshua (Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak) who was the High Priest at the time of the return of the Exile from Babylon, and tzemach may refer to Zerubavel in the immediate context. But note the prophet's parable: "Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch" (Zech. 3:8). Shifting metaphors, the prophet then likens this "branch" to a stone: "For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day" (Zech. 3:9).
The LORD later instructed the prophet to crown Joshua (Zech. 6:10-13) signifying regal authority... So who is this who would combine priestly and kingly power on behalf of Israel and who would "remove the iniquity of the land in one day"? Who is this "Righteous Branch"? The prophecy says, הִנֵּה־אִישׁ צֶמַח שְׁמוֹ / hinei-ish tzemach shmo: "behold the man whose name is the Branch" (Zech. 6:12).
It must be remembered that God's high priest (kohen gadol) was never allowed to wear the crown of a king (separation of "church and state" goes back to the prophecy of Yaakov!). The scepter is Judah's -- and King Messiah would therefore come from the royal tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10; see elsewhere this site regarding "Shiloh"). This picture, then, of a High Priest wearing the King's crown therefore goes beyond the various roles defined in the Levitical priesthood (i.e., Torah).
The union of anointed King (i.e., Mashiach) and the High Priest was going to "bring peace" to Israel (Zech. 6:13). Yeshua is the One who will ultimately restore the Temple of the God of Israel in the truth. "In that day the LORD of hosts will be a crown of glory (עֲטֶרֶת צְבִי), and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people" (Isa. 28:5).
The Tzemach Tzedakah (Righteous Branch) is another picture of God's future High Priest and King Yeshua, who came "after the order of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק)." Malki-Tzedek ("Melchizedek"), you will recall, is named the "King of Righteousness and priest of the Most High God" (Gen. 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; Heb. 5:6). Note that the very first occurence of the word "priest" in the Scriptures refers to Malki-Tzedek – a picture of the coming Tzemach Tzedakah, Yeshua the Anointed One. It was before Malki-Tzedek that father Abraham gave tithes (after the defeat of the four kings) -- a point that the author of the Book of Hebrews says signifies that the Levitical priesthood was always subservient to a greater order of divine service (see Hebrews 7:1-12).
The haftarah concludes with a strange vision of a menorah flanked by two olive trees (Zech. 4:2-3). The golden menorah had a bowl on top and each lamp had seven pipes attached to it. Two olive trees were next to the menorah, one on the right, and one on the left. The two olive trees may picture the union of the priesthood and the kingship in the Person of the Mashiach, Yeshua, or they may refer to Israel and the Church, respectively. Note that the portion ends with, "he shall bring forth the top stone (הָאֶבֶן הָראשָׁה) with shoutings of 'Grace, grace, unto it'" (Zech. 4:7). Grace (חֵן) is the mark of the greater priesthood of the LORD God of Israel.
The "Seven" Books of Moses
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.08.09 (Sivan 16, 5769) The Torah portion for this week (Beha'alotekha) includes a textual oddity that warrants a close look from believers in the Mashiach Yeshua. An "inverted Nun" (called Nun Hafuchah) appears both before and after Numbers 10:35-36:
And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, "Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you." And when it rested, he said, "Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel." (Numbers 10:35-6)
In the Talmud (Shabbat 115b, 116a) it is stated that any part of the Torah with 85 or more letters is itself considered a "book," and therefore according to some of the Jewish sages this passage of Scripture actually demarcates a separate book of the Torah! If so, instead of the five books of Moses, we would have seven:
4. Numbers (1:1-10:34)
5. Numbers (10:35-36)
6. Numbers (10:37-ff)
Before Moses would lead the Israelites to a new station in the wilderness, he would order the ark to be moved by the Levites and then would chant "Arise, O LORD, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you!" When the Shechinah rested, Moses would stop the procession of the camp and chant, "Return, O LORD, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel."
However, on account of the "Sin of the Spies," Israel was refused entry into the Promised Land, and the "story" of what follows after Numbers 10:35-36 - namely, the outbreak of fiery judgment and the subsequent exile - was sadly written as history instead. What should have been written is that the LORD (as symbolized by the presence of the ark) entered the land with the redeemed Israelites on account of their faith in His promises. According to these sages, this part of the Torah is "yet to be written" and will be altered when the Messiah comes.
Why don't the Nun's face each other? According to the Talmud (Yoma 54a), the two Nuns picture the two keruvim (cherubs) which hovered over the Ark of the Covenant. When the Jewish people pleased God, the cherubs would face one another; if, however, they were disobedient, these angelic creatures would turn away from one another in the direction of the Holy Temple. Sin causes a rip in the fabric of spiritual reality, causing the angels of God (symbols of the Divine Presence) to turn away....
From a Messianic perspective, it is fascinating to see that what immediately preceeds this "book" is the story of Yitro (Jethro), Moses' Gentile father-in-law, who was offered to partake of the blessings of Israel. This is a perhaps a picture of the so-called "Church age" - i.e., the time when God would offer His salvation to the nations of the world (as represented by Jethro) just before a time of purging of national Israel. In other words, we can read this parenthetical "book" as a time of special dispensation for the nations of the world to turn to the "Son of Life" and be saved.
Parashat Beha'alotekha - בהעלתך
[ The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat (i.e., June 13) is parashat Beha'alotekha. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
06.07.09 (Sivan 15, 5769) The Hebrew word beha'alotekha (be-ha-a-LOH-te-khah) comes from the root alah (עלה) meaning to ascend or "go up," though in the causative stem (such as the hiphil, as in this case), it can also mean to "offer." The olah offering (same root) is a whole burnt offering in which the sacrificial animal is turned to smoke that ascends heavenward.
Midrash states that Aharon (Aaron) was completely humble in his office as the first Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of Israel. It is said that his task to light the lamps of the menorah was never routine for him, but he remained entirely focused and reverent every time he performed this avodah.
This seemingly modest act of faithful service again indicates that what man esteems and what God esteems are very often two entirely different things. After all, the light of the menorah was not visible to those of the camp of Israel since it shined within the confines of sacred chamber of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Only the priests who served could behold this light; otherwise it remained hidden from the eyes of man... There is a Divine Light we can only see within the hidden chamber of God's love.
There is a "transposition" of values, a "holy irony," in the realm of the Spirit. From God's perspective that which considered great in the eyes of men is considered of little account, and that which is considered insignificant in the eyes of men is considered of great importance (Luke 9:48). The wisdom of this world (i.e., the pragmatic, the self-promoting egotism, etc.) is folly before God (1 Cor. 1:20, 3:19). Therefore the Mashiach Yeshua "made himself nothing" and disguised himself in the form of a lowly servant (ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών). Unlike various systems of religion that attach merit and status to those who have attained "respectable levels" of personal sanctity, those who are called great in the Kingdom of Heaven (מלכוּת השׁמים) will be recognized as the servants of all (Mark 9:35; 10:44). Human pride and the Divine Presence are entirely incompatible.
If it pleases God, I will add additional commentary to this portion of Torah later this week. Shalom, chaverim.
[ The following entry explores the (ongoing) need for repentance and "openness" in our lives, chaverim.... ]
06.04.09 (Sivan 13, 5769) Change is hard for us, isn't it? Once we become accustomed to something, it's often quite difficult to give it up. We sometimes see this in children who get distressed when a relatively minor detail is omitted from a daily routine, or when an elderly person gets upset over having his schedule changed. Most of us seem to instinctively resist change, even at the expense of our well-being. This "bias for the familiar" can eventually lead to addictions, prejudices, unreflective habits, fixed ideas, bitterness, and other forms of self-defeating patterns of behavior. As William James once remarked, "A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." Too many of us "believe our own propaganda."
So here's a question: Do you really want to change? Do you want to get well? Often that means the radically transforming task of "giving up your sickness," i.e., forsaking your ingrained and habituated ideas, illusions -- even your dreams. Someone once said that great sins are like great possessions: it's often hard to give them up.
Perhaps we resist change because it implies the death of something familiar... Everything is in a constant state of change, after all, and that can lead to a subconscious dread of life. We therefore seek to cling to what we know.... Fear is often the motive for defining things, for giving them labels, for constructing a framework or paradigm about "the way life is." If we can name something, we gain power over it -- or so we think. We take hold of opinions, assume convictions, develop doctrines, and erect systems of philosophy and theology -- all in an attempt to allay our fear of death. We tell ourselves stories in order to comfort ourselves, somewhat like whistling while we walk alone in the darkness.
Life is ultimately a test, chaverim, and this world - olam ha-zeh - is essentially a "Valley of Decision" for our souls... Every day we are given to opportunity to "wake up" to what is real, abiding, and true. Tragically many people never seem to be roused from the soporific influence of illusions, dreams, and the world's preprogrammed thinking -- and therefore they remain soundly asleep. Repentance represents a shock to the soul -- it is the turning to the truth and a confession that all we ever knew was vanity and emptiness. It is the antithesis of pride which pretends to understand, control, and manage appearances...
It is wise to heed the adage: "Don't believe everything you think." That is, we should be willing to undergo self-examination. Μετάνοια (metanoia), the Greek word often translated as "repentance," literally means "changing your thinking." It is often the word used to translate the Hebrew word nechamah (נֶחָמָה), relating to comfort or compassion. This is the inner peace that comes from surrender to God's will and plan. Metanoia suggests giving up your ideas of how the world should be run and "letting God be God." (The Greek word ἐπιστρέφω (epistrepho) means turning to or relying upon God, and is the word used to translate the Hebrew word shuv (שׁוּב), from which we get the word teshuvah.)
Why is repentance so important, and why are we constantly tested regarding our faith? Some have said that testing comes so that God will know whether we truly love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength... But surely God already knows this, just as He perfectly knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts before we offer up a prayer to Him. So why pray at all? Doesn't God already know what's best for us -- indeed, for the entire world? Are we trying to persuade or cajole the Almighty to do our bidding, after all?
Henri Nouwen once wrote, "I am beginning to see that much of praying is grieving." Grieving is an expression of waking up -- of coming to realize the vast fracture between the "is" and "ought" of our lives. All of creation "groans" for God on some level.... Kierkegaard said that the purpose of prayer is not to influence God but rather to change us. When we get past our words -- our chatter, the insecurities that rise from our hearts, the cares of the day, even our hopes and dreams -- then we are sufficiently quieted to encounter God. It is then that we can truly listen and grieve over our lives in naked dependence upon God.
Scripture reveals that the LORD (יהוה) is perfect and that all is well in His universe (Psalm 18:30; Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:11, etc.). He has not lost control of things... He is not "wringing His wrists" over the world and its evils. He is the "LORD of Lord of Lords" - the ruler of all possible worlds.... Repentance means waking up from the illusion that anything is more important or more powerful than God's reign and rule. When we turn to the truth we are set free from our fears, and therefore the nature of temptation is always a question of seduction away from reality. We are seduced whenever we find ourselves living in the world of our self-imposed illusions.
Our pride is a great enemy. Fear of admitting our ignorance, of pretending that we have "the answers," that we "understand" the meaning of life, etc., can be a great seduction. Even our theological commitments can seduce us if they are used for the purpose of evading our great need for inner transformation. Clinging to our convictions can make us a "convict" -- a prisoner of a system that leaves us unable to genuinely engage others or even God Himself. "Don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up..." Humility confesses that it does not always know; is not always sure. It is a state of listening. It is teachable. It is aware of our insufficiency and limitations.
Accepting the message of God's salvation in Yeshua is a matter of repentance. We turn away from illusions about self-sufficiency and turn to God's remedy for our lives. It is a double turning. We "let go and let God" by looking away from ourselves and looking to God's Presence in all our circumstances. He is our life, after all, and His ways are perfect. He knows what things we have need of before we ask Him, and He loves us with an everlasting love...
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom, chaverim. May the "the peace of God that passes all understanding" fill your hearts and minds because of Yeshua our LORD.
New Kierkegaard Article
06.01.09 (Sivan 9, 5769) Today I added a brief excerpt from the writings of Soren Kierkegaard (Christ has no doctrine) that's meant to remind us that the passion of faith is it's own category of existence. Consider the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac), for example. How could Abraham have attempted to explain his decision to kill his "only begotton" son (בֵּן יָחִיד) to someone who was "on the outside" of the Divine conversation? Similarly, if we are so busy attempting to understand our faith using terms of rational discourse, we run the risk of evading the immediate task at hand, namely, Yeshua's call: "Follow me..."
Of course, like many things he wrote, Kierkegaard's thesis is meant to be provocative. Instead of "spoon feeding" you the answers, Kierkegaard (like any good teacher) wants to help you personally "work through the issues." Are you thinking too much about your faith, rather than living it out in your daily life? That's the dichotomy (i.e., double-mindedness) we all are faced with in the everyday moments of our finite existence...