Jewish Holiday Calendar
Note: For September 2015 site updates, please scroll past this entry....
The Jewish civil year begins in the fall, though the Biblical year begins in spring (Exod. 12:2). Preparations for the fall holidays begin with a thirty day period of teshuvah (repentance) during the (late summer) month of Elul. The following ten days begin with the Feast of Trumpets (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, on Tishri 1) and end with the Day of Atonement (i.e., Yom Kippur, on Tishri 10). These first ten days of the new year are called the "Ten Days of Awe" (i.e., aseret ye'mei teshuvah: עֲשֶׁרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה), or simply the Jewish "High Holidays." Just five days after the solemn time of Yom Kippur begins the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.
The Fall Holidays:
The fall festivals prophetically indicate the Day of the LORD, the second coming of Yeshua, the great national turning of the Jewish people, and the establishment of the reign of the Messiah upon the earth during the Millennial Kingdom in the world to come.
Note that in accordance with tradition, holiday dates begin at sundown. Moreover, some holidays may be postponed one day if they happen to fall on the weekly Sabbath:
Month of Tishri (Sun. Sept. 13th [eve] - Mon. Oct. 12th [day])
Month of Cheshvan (Mon. Oct. 12th [eve] - Wed. Nov. 11th [day])
Month of Kislev (Wed. Nov. 11th [eve] - Fri. Dec. 11th [day])
- Month of Elul (Fri. Aug. 14th [eve] - Sun. Sept. 13th [day])
Month of Tevet (Fri., Dec. 11th [eve] - Sun. Jan. 10th [day])
- Four Sabbaths: Toldot, Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev
- Dates for Chanukah 2015 (5776):
- 1st Chanukah candle - Sun. Dec. 6th [Kislev 25]
- 2nd Chanukah candle - Mon. Dec. 7th
- 3rd Chanukah candle: Tues. Dec. 8th
- 4th Chanukah candle: Wed. Dec. 9th
- 5th Chanukah candle: Thur. Dec. 10th
- 6th Chanukah candle: Fri. Dec. 11th (Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Chanukah)
Note: Many Jewish calendars will list the first day of a holiday without indicating that the holiday actually begins sundown the night before... So, for example, while Chanukah begins Sunday, Dec. 6th at sundown, many calendars may indicate that it occurs on Monday, December 7th...
September 2015 Updates
Torah as our Heritage...
09.30.15 (Tishri 17, 5776) From our Torah reading for this holiday season (i.e., Zot Ha'berakhah: "this is the blessing") we read the following: "Moses charged us (צִוָּה־לָנוּ) with the Torah as the heritage (מוֹרָשָׁה) of the congregation of Jacob" (Deut. 33:4). Note, however, that for the Torah to become part of our heritage as the people of God, it must be seriously studied, wrestled over, and earnestly engaged... This is a happy task we are given, as it is written: "the righteous one delights in the Torah of the LORD (בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה) and in his Torah he meditates (יֶהְגֶּה) day and night" (Psalm 1:2). Commenting on this verse Rashi noted that God's Torah rightly belongs to the one who labors in it and groans (הָגָה) over its meaning, for only then may it be meaningfully said to be "his Torah" (תּוֹרָתוֹ). However the converse is also true: the one makes no effort to study Torah will soon be without godly direction. We are admonished to be "doers of the word, and not hearers only," since merely assenting to truth without practicing it leads to self-deception (James 1:22). As the Messiah said, "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (John 13:17).
Dwelling in the Presence...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, the "Feast of Tabernacles." ]
09.30.15 (Tishri 17, 5776) During the holiday of Sukkot we construct a sukkah, a "booth" or temporary structure, that we will "live in" for the holiday week. Living in a sukkah is meant to recall God's surrounding love and care for us as we make our journey through the desert of this world on our way to Zion... It is an attempt to make visible the invisible, to give a glimpse of God's abiding glory. On a spiritual level, however, the essence of Sukkot is "dwelling" or "abiding" in the Divine Presence. And though the LORD is forever enthroned in heaven as our Creator, our King, and our loving Deliverer, and though indeed the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3), nevertheless we must make a dwelling within our hearts. He stands at the door and knocks (Rev. 3:20). "Where does God dwell," it is asked, "but where He is given a place, a sanctuary, a throne within the heart."
Left-to-right (top): 1. Sukkah decorations; 2. wooden etrog case; 2. Ha'tikvah poster;
4. sukkah wall hanging; 5. our lulav with etrog
(bottom): 1. window accents; 2. chimes from the roof; 3. kiddush cup;
4) Judah with decorations; 5) chag Simchateinu!
Left-to-right (top): 1. Our lulav set; 2. Judah helps build the sukkah; 2. a view from the top;
4. inside the sukkah; 5. Olga lights the yom tov candles
(bottom): 1. John recites ha'motzi; 2. kiddush for Sukkot; 3. John rejoices in the sukkah;
4) Josiah prays in the sukkah; 5) Judah ready to wave lulav
There are two great questions God always is asking us. The first is "who do you say that I am?" and the second is "will you make a place for me?" Being in a love relationship with God is the goal of life, the "end of the law," and the reason we were created. But we cannot love God apart from understanding his passion for us. The LORD is the "Jealous God," a Consuming Fire, the One who desires all of our heart on the altar (Luke 9:23). Therefore the very first commandment is simply אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ, "I AM the LORD your God" (Exod. 20:2), because without "making a place" God's love within your heart, nothing else will follow.
Note: To see some larger pictures of our Sukkot celebrations, click here.
Torah First and Last...
[ We read the last -- and first -- portion of Torah for the holiday of Simchat Torah... ]
09.30.15 (Tishri 17, 5776) Our Torah reading for this week is a bit complicated. In addition to the passages we read for the holiday of Sukkot, we will also read the Book of Ecclesiastes (i.e., Kohelet) for the Sabbath of Sukkot. We will also read both the last portion of the Torah (i.e., V'zot HaBerakhah: Deut. 33:1-34:12) as well as the first chapter of the Torah (i.e., Gen. 1:1-2:3) for the holiday of "Simchat Torah" (which immediately follows Sukkot). Finally, on the Sabbath that follows the celebration of Simchat Torah, we will read the entire portion of Bereshit (i.e., Gen. 1:1-6:8). The upshot is that during this season of the year we will read the end of the Torah scroll and then "rewind" it to the beginning...
Every year we read the Torah from beginning to end... We do this every year because Talmud Torah - the study of Torah - is an ongoing venture in the life of a Jew. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the very first letter of the Torah is the Bet (בּ) in the word bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית), and the very last letter of the Torah is the Lamed (ל) in the word Israel (יִשְׂרָאֵל). Putting these letters together we get the word lev (לֵב), "heart," (note the similarity to the English word "love") suggesting that the entire Torah - from the first letter to the last - reveals the heart and love of God for us... Moreover, the first letter of Scripture is a Bet (בּ), as explained above, and the last letter is a Nun (ן) in the word "Amen" (אָמֵן), so the whole Bible - from beginning to end - reveals the Person of God the Son (בֶּן) for us...
Note: For more on this subject, see "Every Letter of Torah."
Choosing to Rejoice...
09.29.15 (Tishri 16, 5776) The Torah describes Sukkot ("Tabernacles") as a holiday of joy and gladness: "You are to rejoice in your festival.... for seven days you shall keep the festival... so that you will be altogether joyful" (Deut. 16:14-15). Nevertheless we may wonder how we can celebrate in a world filled with suffering, death, and misery? Since God commands us to be joyful, however, we must therefore understand joy to be something more than temporal elation or fleeting pleasure, but rather as the result of the decision to believe in healing and life despite the appearances of this realm. "The world to come, the perfect world, we at least believe in; but this material world, this one here and now, how can anyone believe in it? The only thing to do is to run to the refuge of God" (Nachman). The joy of Sukkot, then, is the joy of hope, the conviction that "all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." Darkness will be overcome by the light; evil will become undone; all that is untrue shall be made true; and every tear shall be wiped away... The sukkah symbolizes the "Clouds of Glory" that surround our way in the desert – the "Divine Presence" beheld in faith. We find joy as we choose to believe in the deeper reality of God's sheltering love...
The Overmastering Light...
09.28.15 (Tishri 16, 5776) There is a lot of engineered fear "in the air," and the enemy of our souls seeks first of all to lead us into a place of exile, worry, and pain. We are able to resist him by submitting to the truth about reality (James 4:7). God's Name YHVH (יהוה) means "Presence" and "Love," and there is no power in heaven or earth that can overrule His hand. Therefore even if the prophesied "End of Days" were to begin this very hour, our responsibility is to focus on the Divine Presence and to walk in His truth and love. As King David said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8).
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shiv·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken"
Hebrew Study Card
The devil's strategy is as banal as it is tedious, namely, to entice us to forget the truth of God and to live in a state of virtual exile and pain. Therefore Shema - listen and remember - is the basic commandment. Since the LORD is the Center of all that is real, to become anxious is to "practice the absence" of God's presence instead of practicing His Presence. We have to remember the future, as well as the present and past....
There is a future time of healing and deliverance coming to us, though we must abide in the shadow of its substance for a bit longer: "For behold, the Day is coming (הַיּוֹם בָּא), burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The Day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my Name, the Sun of Righteousness (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה) shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out skipping like calves released from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 4:1-3).
This awesome passage from the Book of Malachi primarily applies to the Second Coming of Yeshua and the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יהוה). The "Sun of Righteousness," shemesh tzaddik (שֶׁמֶשׁ צְדָקָה), refers to Messiah son of David, the risen life-giving Healer of God. Of Him it is said, "The LORD God is a sun and a shield" (Psalm 84:11) and "the LORD shall be to thee an everlasting Light (אוֹר עוֹלָם), and thy God thy glory; thy sun shall no more go down, for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light" (Isa. 60:19-20). The Divine Light will shine on those who receive God's righteousness, that is, on those who put their trust in the One who said, 'I am the Light of the world' (John 8:12). Shine Your Light upon us, O LORD!
The sages say, "in the world to come (עוֹלָם הַבָּא), God will bring the sun out of its sheath to burn the wicked; they will be judged by it, but the righteous will be healed by it' (Shemot Rabbah). Yeshua is compared to the "Sun" because as the Sun is the central luminous body of our world, so Yeshua is called the "Light of Life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים). Yeshua is melech ha-kavod (מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד), "the King of Glory" -- and no one can stand before the blinding power of His countenance (Psalm 27:4; Rev. 1:8-19). His is the "Fountain of Light" for all of creation, the Source and End of all life: "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together... that in everything He might be preeminent" (Col. 1:16-18). Yeshua will come "with healing in his wings" -- that is, in healing radiance, with rays and beams, which metaphorically describe His influence over the hearts of men... Note that the word for "wings" used in this passage (i.e., kanaf: כָּנָף) pictures the image of a heavenly tallit (טַלִּית), or the heavenly firmament (רָקִיעַ) of the LORD's sheltering Presence.
Sukkot Lunar Eclipse...
09.27.15 (Tishri 14, 5776) After decorating our Sukkah last night, I spent some time taking pictures of the spectacular lunar eclipse, which occurred from around 9:00 pm until 12:00 am in our time zone. And despite the fallacious doctrine called the "Four Blood Moon" prophecy, we nevertheless marvel over the wisdom and glory of God as we consider the acts of his creation. To that end, I hope you enjoy this sequence of pictures I took of the lunar eclipse on Sukkot 5776 (ט״ו בְּתִשְׁרֵי תשע״ו). Chag Sukkot Same'ach!
Like the Passover eclipse we saw last April, seeing the Sukkot lunar eclipse was both a humbling and a profoundly sacred experience. The following blessing is customarily recited when you witness a remarkable event in God's creation, for instance, when you see an eclipse, a shooting star, or beautiful mountain vista, or some other natural wonder:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
עשֶׂה מַעֲשֶׂה בְרֵאשִׁית
ba·rukh · at·ta · Adonai · E·lo·hei·nu · me·lekh · ha·o·lam
o·seh · ma·a·seh · ve·rei·shit
"Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who makes the works of creation."
Sukkot and Salvation...
09.27.15 (Tishri 14, 5776) The holiday of Sukkot remembers the journey of the redeemed people of God - first from Egypt, then to Sinai, and then into the void of the desert places.... The repeated failures of the Israelites in the wilderness was meant to reveal the insufficiency of "Egyptian thinking" by demonstrating God's faithful love and ongoing care. The entire ordeal in the wilderness was a "Sukkot experience" that pointed beyond Sinai....
The holiday of Sukkot symbolizes the journey of this life by means of erecting a sukkah - a flimsy shelter that we are to "live in" for seven days. The sukkah is meant to help us ask ourselves: Where is the true home we seek? Where is the true shelter of our lives? The first Jew (Abram) was called ha-ivri (הָעִבְרִי) - "the Hebrew," a term that means "one who has crossed over" (עָבַר) from another place. When he heeded the call Lekh lekha (לך־לך), "go for yourself," it was Abram's walk of faith that made him into a Jew.... He left the comforts of Ur to become a tent dweller who became a "stranger and sojourner" with God. Similarly, the Jewish people as a whole were forced to leave the "security" of Egypt and journey into the unknown in order to realize the promises of God. Sukkot ultimately reminds us that our security is neither found in political power structures nor in the concrete walls of our homes, but solely in the Presence of God. Our freedom as God's children is at stake in the matter of redemption, and God takes it very seriously when we seek to exchange any supposed source of security for the venture of true faith....
So where is the true home you seek? Are you clinging to hope in this world and its counterfeit security? Are you willing to sacrifice your dignity as a child of God for the protection of the "State"? When God redeemed Israel from Egypt, it was a rebirth experience. Passover represented the means of redemption (the blood of the lamb), Shavuot represented the revelation of the holiness of God (the Sinai experience), and Sukkot represented the walk of faith as reborn and redeemed children. God took Israel out of Egypt (i.e., out of the world) in order to reveal to them who He is -- and who they were in relationship with Him.... The pattern remains the same. The world system is a form of slavery, and Sukkot reveals how God bypasses the world to care for His people...
For more on this topic, see "Sukkot and Freedom." Chag Sukkot Sameach friends!
The LORD our Rock...
[ Our Torah portion for this week (Ha'azinu) is always read during the High Holidays... ]
09.25.15 (Tishri 12, 5776) Moses was a truly great prophet, and the Ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) is an oracle that reveals many profound insights. For example, when Moses stated, "I will proclaim the name of the LORD (שֵׁם יְהוָה); ascribe greatness to our God" (הָבוּ גדֶל לֵאלהֵינוּ) [Deut. 32:3], we learn that we must examine our hearts to be sure that reverence and awe are within us lest we take the Name in vain or regard it as "profane" (i.e., common). The central idea here is kavanah - focused awareness - with the intent to honor God in our speech. Indeed, because of this verse the ancient sages always hesitated before even mentioning God's Name, and the custom of saying "Hashem" or "Adonai" became a common practice...
Moses goes on to describe the LORD as "the Rock" (הַצּוּר) whose ways are perfect and whose judgments are sound. The LORD is the "God of Faith" (אֵל אֱמוּנָה) who abhors iniquity; all He does is righteous and true:
הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ כִּי כָל־דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט
אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא
hatz·-tzur ta·mim po·o·lo, ki khol de·ra·khav mish·pat
El E·mu·nah ve·ein a·vel, tzad·dik ve·ya·shar hu
"The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he."
The metaphor that God is "the Rock" emphasizes God's permanence and strength - that He is the very "bedrock" and substratum of our existence. The Talmud (Berachot 10a) notes that "rock" (צוּר) shares the same root as "artist" (יוֹצֵר), and therefore identifies God as the Ultimate Artist of reality. Indeed, the verb yatzar (יָצַר) means to fashion or shape (Gen. 2:7). God is the creative Source and energy of Reality; those who build their lives on the foundation of his truth will be secure when storms of testing arise (Matt. 7:24-25).
Strangers to this World...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles... ]
09.25.15 (Tishri 12, 5776) God's people are "strangers" in this world; they are estranged and live as "resident aliens" -- here, yet not here.... Thus Abraham said to the sons of Chet: "I am a 'stranger and sojourner' (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a burial site..." (Gen. 23:4), and likewise King David confessed: "For we are strangers with You (כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ) and sojourners like our fathers; our days on earth are like a shadow (כַּצֵּל יָמֵינוּ) without abiding (1 Chron. 29:15). Faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The life of faith therefore calls us to live as toshavim - sojourners - who are at an infinite "distance" from the world of appearances and who seek the Eternal. The holiday of Sukkot reminds us that we are just passing through this world, as we look forward to our real home in heaven (Heb. 11:9-10). "O You who are at home deep within my heart, enable me to join you deep in my heart."
The Holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles)
[ The week-long holiday of Sukkot begins Sunday, Sept. 27th at sundown this year... ]
09.24.15 (Tishri 11, 5776) On the Jewish calendar, there is a quick transition from the somber time of the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur) to the week-long festival of Sukkot (called "Tabernacles" in the Christian tradition). If the High Holidays focus on the LORD as our Creator, our Judge, and the One who atones for our sins, then Sukkot is the time when we joyously celebrate all that He has done for us. Prophetically understood, the seven days of Sukkot picture olam haba, the world to come, and the Millennial Kingdom reign of Mashiach ben David. If Yeshua was born during Sukkot (i.e., conceived during Chanukah, the festival of lights), then another meaning of the "word became flesh and 'tabernacled with us" (John 1:14) extends to the coming kingdom age, when He will again "sukkah" with his people during the time of his reign from Zion.
Since it represents the time of ingathering of the harvest, Sukkot prophetically prefigures the joyous redemption and gathering of the Jewish people during the days of the Messiah's reign on earth (Isa. 27:12-13; Jer. 23:7-8). Indeed all of the nations that survived the Great Tribulation will come together to worship the LORD in Jerusalem during the Feast of Sukkot (Zech. 14:16-17). The holiday season therefore provides a vision of the coming Kingdom of God upon the earth, when the Word will again "tabernacle with us."
This year Sukkot begins just after sundown on Sunday, Sept. 27th (i.e., Tishri 15 on the Jewish calendar). The festival is celebrated for seven days (i.e., from Tishri 15-21) during which we "dwell" in a sukkah -- a hut of temporary construction, with a roof covering (schach) of raw vegetable matter (i.e., branches, bamboo, etc.). The sukkah represents our dependence upon God's shelter for our protection and divine providence. We eat our meals in the sukkah and recite a special blessing (leshev Ba-Sukkah) at this time.
In addition to the Sukkah, the most prominent symbol of Sukkot is the Arba'at Ha-minim (אַרְבַּעַת הַמִּינִים) - "the Four Species," or four kinds of plants explicitly mentioned in the Torah regarding the festival of Sukkot: "On the first day you shall take: 1) the product of goodly trees (etrog), 2) branches of palm trees (lulav), 3) boughs of leafy trees (hadas), and 4) willows of the brook (aravot), and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days" (Lev. 23:40). We wave the "four species" (held together as a bouquet with the etrog) and recite a blessing (netilat lulav) to ask God for a fruitful and blessed year.
Sukkot marks the conclusion of the Jewish Fall Holidays and is the last of the three Shelosh Regalim (שלוש רגלים, i.e., the three annual pilgrimage festivals: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles) (Deut. 16:16). It can be argued that Sukkot is the climax of all the festivals in Scripture: Everything leads to it as a culmination in God's prophetic plan. It is interesting to compare the use of words relating to simchah [joy] in the description of these three festivals. Regarding Pesach, the word simchah does not appear at all (Deut. 17:1-8); regarding Shavuot, it appears only once (Deut. 17:11); but, regarding Sukkot, simchah appears several times. For instance:
You shall keep the Feast of Sukkot seven days, when you have gathered in the produce... You shall rejoice in your feast (וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ אַתָּה)... because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful. (Deut. 16:13-15)
Sukkot is called "z'man simchateinu," the "season of our joy." Indeed, in ancient Israel, the joy of Sukkot was so renowed that it came to be called simply "the Feast" (1 Kings 12:32). Sukkot was a time when sacrifices were offered for the healing of the nations (Num. 29:12-40), and it was also a time when (on Sabbatical years) the Torah would be read publicly to all the people (Deut. 31:10-13).
From a spiritual perspective, Sukkot corresponds to the joy of knowing your sins were forgiven (during Yom Kippur) and also recalls God's miraculous provision and care after the deliverance from bondage in Egypt (Lev. 23:43). Prophetically, Sukkot anticipates the coming kingdom of the Messiah Yeshua wherein all the nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD during the festival (see Zech. 14:16). Today Sukkot is a time to remember God's Sheltering Presence and Provision for us for the start of the New Year.
Note: The weekly Torah readings are suspended for the week of Sukkot, though we will finish reading the Torah (and begin reading it anew) on the holiday of Simchat Torah, immediately following the holiday. For more information about Sukkot, including how you can observe it as a follower of Yeshua, see the Sukkot pages and their links.
The Book of Life...
[ Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement." Thank God for our beloved Yeshua! ]
09.22.15 (Tishri 9, 5776) The Scriptures teach that every word we speak and every choice we make are infallibly recorded in "heavenly scrolls," and one day these scrolls will be opened as a testimony about what we did with our lives (Dan. 7:10; Matt. 12:36-37; 1 Cor. 3:13, 4:5). "And I saw the dead, both the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book (סֵפֶר אַחֵר) was opened, which is called the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים). And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done" (Rev. 20:12).
In this vision of the great day of judgment to come, notice that there was "another book" opened during the judgment called the "Book of Life," and later we learn that only those whose names were found written in this book would be granted access to the glories of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:27). But what is this book and how can our names be inscribed in it so that we can partake of the future glory?
The Lamb's Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים אֲשֶׁר לַשֶּׂה) refers to "the record" (i.e., the words and deeds) of Yeshua our Messiah, the true Lamb of God, and therefore the book represents the final attestation - or "sworn testimony" - of the worthiness of God's own righteousness and salvation. In the great plan of God's salvation for the world, Yeshua was "born to die" as our atoning sacrifice for sin (Heb. 10:7-5). "God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him (ἐν αὐτῷ) we would become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). But note that we must be "in him," that is, fully identified with Yeshua so that his sacrifical death becomes counted as our own... Our identification in him means that our sin is "imputed" to his suffering and death upon the cross, just as his righteousness is "imputed" to us through the vindication of his resurrection. This is the essence of the "korban principle" of "life-for-life" - the innocent sacrificed for the guilty - that was the foundation of the sacrificial system of the Temple. By faith, the substitutionary death of Yeshua is "for you."
For more on this, see "The Book of Life: Finding your name in the pages of redemption."
Note: In light of the finished work of Yeshua on our behalf, we do not wish to be "sealed for a good year" (i.e., g'mar chatimah tovah) in the Book of Life during this season... In light of the sacrifice of Yeshua this is chillul Hashem - a desecration of the Name of the LORD. Instead we trust that our names are written and sealed for good because of His sacrifice on our behalf... May Yeshua - who is our true Atonement (כפרה אמיתית) - be magnified! Amen.
Yom Kippur and Jonah...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]
09.22.15 (Tishri 9, 5776) During the afternoon service of Yom Kippur, the Book of Jonah is recited to awaken the heart to "Arise, call out to your God" (1:6). Like Jonah we first must be "swallowed up" in consciousness of our own rebellion before we realize we are undone, that we are without remedy apart from God's direct intervention and deliverance. We start there - in the "belly of the fish" - and later are resurrected to go forth by God's mercy and grace. Likewise we first see ourselves as undone and go to the cross, finding pardon and given the power of the ruach HaKodesh to live unto God according to the truth. But note that the imperatives of the New Testament are directed to the new nature given to us by God, and not to the old nature that has been crucified and done away. We are admonished to live in accordance with the truth of what God has done for us through the Moshia', the Savior. You are a new creation, therefore be who you are in the Messiah!
It is noteworthy that Yeshua mentioned the "sign of Jonah the prophet," that is, Jonah's miraculous deliverance after being entombed in the belly of the fish for three days, to authenticate his own claim to be Israel's Redeemer. "Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth" (Matt. 12:40). "This is an evil generation. It seeks a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet (אוֹת יוֹנָה הַנָּבִיא). For as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation" (Luke 11:29-30). In other words, the story of Jonah foreshadowed the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah, that is, his death, burial and especially his miraculous resurrection on the third day. Just as God brought Jonah back to life after three days in the belly of the earth, so the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead would vindicate his claim to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In this way the "Sign of Jonah" and the sacrificial and atoning work of Yeshua as our High Priest of the new covenant are connected.
"We we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself, yes, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:8-9). This marks the end of carnal hope, when we realize we are but "dead men walking," and from this extremity of inner desperation and clarity we learn to rely solely on God for what we need. Here we abandon ourselves to God's care, despite the despair, darkness, and fear. We rely on "God who raises the dead," because all other remedies have been vanquished. It is a great gift to be so afflicted, for these "troubles of love" teach us to trust God alone for all we need. The only way out is through. We don't seek an easy way of life, but only that the LORD our God be with us throughout our troubles...
Atonement and Sacrifice...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]
09.22.15 (Tishri 9, 5776) Some "anti-missionary" teachers deny that Yeshua could have died for our sins because the Torah forbade human sacrifice. In response, let me first state first that when such people refer to the "Torah" in this matter, they are actually referring to the subset of the Torah called Sefer Ha-Brit (סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית) that defined the various ethical, social, and ritual obligations given in the Sinai Covenant (Exod. 24:7-8). Indeed, claiming that the whole Torah may be reduced to the Sinai Covenant is an example of the logical "fallacy of composition," that is, inferring that something must be true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole.... But we must remember that Torah is something more than the code of laws and ritual obligations prescribed in the Sinai Covenant. Indeed the older covenant expressed in Sefer Ha-Brit was sprinkled with the blood of sacrificial bulls at Sinai -- sacrifices, by the way, that preceded the laws of sacrifice given at Sinai itself (Exod. 24:6-8). Please note that this "Book of the Covenant" is not to be exclusively identified with the Torah itself, since as I've repeatedly mentioned over the years, "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) is a general term meaning "direction," "teaching," "will of God," and so on. Indeed the whole "Torah of Moses" (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה) contains far more than the covenant at Sinai (as important and worthy as that part is). For instance, the Torah reveals that the very first "priest" (i.e., kohen: כּהֵן) was neither a Jew nor a Levite nor a descendant of Aaron, but rather Someone who is said to have "neither beginning of days nor end of life" but is made like (ἀφωμοιωμένος) the Son of God, a priest continually (Heb. 7:3). This priest, of course, was Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the King of Salem (מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם) to whom Abraham offered tithes after his victory over the kings (Gen. 14:18). The New Testament Scriptures make the point that the priesthood of Malki-Tzedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood and is therefore superior to the rites and services of the Tabernacle - including the Yom Kippur avodah (Heb. 7:9-11).
It was to Malki-Tzedek that Abram (and by extension, the Levitical system instituted by his descendant Moses) gave tithes and homage -- and rightly so, since Yeshua is the great High Priest of the better covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8:6). Indeed, Yeshua is Himself the Promised Seed of Abraham who saves the world from the kelalah (curse) caused by Adam's transgression (Gen. 3:15). It is profoundly prophetic how Abraham was met by the Coming One as the Priest of the Most High God in the City of Zion, and how he gave him the tokens of bread and wine - the very commemorative emblems Yeshua gave to His disciples as a witness of His mediation for their sins (1 Cor. 11:23-26). It is also highly prophetic that Abraham himself was commanded by the LORD to offer human sacrifice when he bound his "only begotten son" Isaac upon the altar at Moriah (see The Gospel of Moses). Many midrashim state that Isaac actually was killed but came back to life, and that agrees with the Book of Hebrews description that Abraham expected the resurrection of his son (Heb. 11:17-19). It is fallacious then, to claim that the Torah categorically forbade such a sacrifice. On the contrary, it was proclaimed to Adam and Eve, prefigured in the Akedah, and later spoken about directly by the Hebrew prophets, including David. "Then he [Messiah] said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book'. I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Heb. 10:7; Psalm 40:8).
For more on this topic, see "Rabbis who Deny Blood Atonement."
Behold the Goat of God...
[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at sundown this year. ]
09.21.15 (Tishri 8, 5776) The original Passover sacrifice (korban Pesach) was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the laws concerning the sacrificial rites. In the same way, Yeshua's sacrifice was directed from Heaven itself by means of the prophetic office of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) - a higher order of priesthood (Gen. 14:18; Psalm 110:4; Heb. 7).
And while we are perhaps more familiar with the Biblical imagery of Messiah as "the Lamb of God" (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), it is nonetheless true that he is also depicted as "the Goat of God" (עֵז הַאֱלהִים) who purifies us from iniquity and offers his blood for our everlasting atonement... As the "Lamb of God" Yeshua pictures redemption from slavery to Satan and freedom from the wrath of God. By means of his shed blood and broken body, the plague of death passes over us and we are set free to serve God (this is the Passover/Exodus connection). As the "Goat of God," Yeshua pictures both personal cleansing (i.e., "atonement" for sin: the Greek word (ἱλαστήριον) is used in the LXX for the kapporet (i.e., mercy seat) in the Holy of Holies that was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice on Yom Kippur) as our personal Mediator before the Father, as well as corporate cleansing for ethnic Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation period. At that time Yeshua will function as Israel's true High Priest whose sacrifice is applied for Israel's purification, and so "all Israel shall be saved" (this is the Yom Kippur connection).
Note: For more on this see, "Yom Kippur and the Gospel" and "Behold, the Goat of God."
Torah of Blood Atonement...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement"... ]
09.21.15 (Tishri 8, 5776) "The Life is in the blood..." (Lev. 17:11). The "Day of Atonement" is the English translation for Yom Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים). The shoresh (root) for the word "kippur" is kafar (כָּפַר), which probably derives from the word kofer, meaning "ransom." This word is parallel to the word "redeem" (Psalm 49:7) and means "to exchange by offering a substitute." The great majority of usages in the Tanakh concern "making an atonement" by the priestly ritual of sprinkling of sacrificial blood to cleanse from sin or defilement (i.e., tahora). The blood of the sacrifice was given in exchange for the life of the worshiper (the "life-for-life" principle). This symbolism is clarified when the worshiper leaned his hands on the head of the sacrifice (semichah) while confessing sin (Lev. 16:21; 1:4; 4:4, etc.). The shoresh also appears in the term kapporet [the "Mercy Seat," but better rendered as simply the place of blood covering]. The kapporet was the golden cover of the sacred chest in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle (or Temple) where the sacrificial blood was presented.
כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא
וַאֲנִי נְתַתִּיו לָכֶם עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ
כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר
ki · ne·fesh · ha·ba·sar · ba·dam · hi
va·a·ni · ne·ta·tiv · la·khem · al · ha·miz·bei·ach
le·kha·peir · al · naf·sho·tei·khem
ki · ha·dam · hu · ba·ne·fesh · ye·kha·peir
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood,
and I have given it for you on the altar
to atone for your souls,
for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life."
Hebrew Study Card
The blood of Messiah ransoms our souls from death, brings us near to the Divine Presence, and cleanses us from all sin (Lev. 17:11; Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:22; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 1 John 2:2). The voice of his blood cries out on our behalf (Heb. 12:24), and his life was given in exchange for ours: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:12). We "lean into" Yeshua, confessing our sins, and are cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). In the New Testament Yeshua is called the "atonement" (ἱλασμός) for our sins (1 John 2:2), a Greek word that was used in the Septuagint (i.e., LXX) to translate the Hebrew word kippurim in the Torah (Lev. 25:9). The Septuagint uses the same word (ἱλασμός) to translate the Hebrew word for selichah (forgiveness), for example: "But with you there is forgiveness (הַסְּלִיחָה), that you may be held in awe" (Psalm 130:4). Just as the blood was sprinkled upon the kapporet (cover of the Ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies during the Yom Kippur ritual, so the blood of Messiah was sprinkled the heavenly kapporet, the very altar of Almighty God, to secure for us everlasting redemption and healing...
"Come now and reason with the LORD. Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isa. 1:18). The blood of bulls and goats could never fully remove our sins since they did not represent the very life of God poured out on our behalf (Heb. 10:4). God chose the ultimate "cleansing agent" for sin by shedding the precious blood of His own Son for the sake of our atonement (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 5:11). The blood of Yeshua truly cleanses us from the stain of our sins (Heb. 10:12-14). We make "spiritual contact" with the sacrificial blood of Yeshua through faith -- by being "baptized into His death" and identifying with Him as our Sin-Bearer before God. We then are delivered from the law's verdict against us and accepted into the Kingdom of God (Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 1:13-14, 2:10-15).
לְכוּ־נָא וְנִוָּכְחָה יאמַר יְהוָה
אִם־יִהְיוּ חֲטָאֵיכֶם כַּשָּׁנִים כַּשֶּׁלֶג יַלְבִּינוּ
אִם־יַאְדִּימוּ כַתּוֹלָע כַּצֶּמֶר יִהְיוּ
lekhu · na · venivakhechah · yomar · Adonai
im · yihehu · chata'eikhem · kashanim · kasheleg · yalbinu
im · ya'adinu · khatolah · katzemer · yiheyu
"Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool."
Hebrew Study Card
Parashat Ha'Azinu (האזינו)
[ Our Torah portion for this week (Ha'azinu) is always read during the High Holidays... ]
09.20.15 (Tishri 7, 5776) In last week's Torah reading for Shabbat Shuvah (i.e., parashat Vayeleich), the LORD told Moses that after his death the Israelites would "go after foreign gods" and break covenant with Him. Because of this, God instructed Moses to teach the people a prophetic song (שיר נבואי) called the "Ha'azinu" that foretold Israel's history (past, present, and the future redemption) and warned the people not to stray from the path that the LORD had clearly instructed them (Deut. 31:19-22). Structured in the style of an "oracle," parashat Ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) contains Moses' final words of prophecy given to the Israelites before he ascended Mount Nebo to die...
We read the Ha'azinu every year during the High Holidays. In the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), the song is written in a stylized two-column format with extra spaces. Each line of the shirah (song) is matched by a second, parallel unit (Talmud: Shabbat 103b).
The Ha'azinu reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. It begins, "Give ear, O heavens (הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם), and I will speak, and let the earth hear (וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ) the words of my mouth" (Deut. 32:1). The word ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) comes from verb azan (אָזַנ), as does the Hebrew word for "ear" (i.e., ozen: אזֶן). The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body. How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, friends...
Prayer of the Heart...
09.18.15 (Tishri 5, 5776) Isaiah the prophet said over 2,500 years ago, in the name of God: "This people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:8). The sages comment: "Nothing has changed from that day to this. Therefore, when you go to pray, leave yourself outside – go in only with your heart." Amen, the language of the heart is what is most important. "When you pray, rather let thy heart be without words than thy words be without heart" (Bunyan).
Teshuvah and Remedy...
09.18.15 (Tishri 5, 5776) The teshuvah (repentance) called for by Yeshua is not that of the rabbis... The rabbis want you to be sorry for your sins, to confess "every sin in the book," and to find "atonement" in religious rituals, but this is not "good news," but rather "stale news." The teshuvah of Yeshua is the miracle of new life; Messiah sets you free from the power of sin and death itself. The repentance of Yeshua is to trust in God's remedy for your sin: "This is the work of God, to believe in the One whom God sent" (John 6:29). "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him" (Isa. 59:16). We must turn away from the idea that God demands anything from us other than trust in his love. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:3). Stop trying to measure up to his standards. You simply cannot give more than you have the love to give, so you must begin by getting your heart needs met by accepting God's unconditional love. It's not about what you do for God, after all, but about what he does for you. That's the message of the gospel. Trust that you are rightly related to God because of the salvation of Yeshua, not because of your own efforts at self-improvement. "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed over (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24).
Do you believe that God loves you right now - just as you are - and that you don't have to change or improve yourself to be loved by him? Do you believe that, whatever your present condition, God loves you with the very passion that put Yeshua on the cross? The LORD is present for you now, if you will believe, not some time later, after you've attempted to remedy yourself... If we come to God in utter poverty of spirit, confessing our need for deliverance from the misery of ourselves, why do we think that, after so coming, we should later relate to God on a different basis? You are delivered by trusting in God's grace, by accepting his love for your soul, and likewise are you sanctified. We never get beyond our need for the cross, which is to say that we always need God's compassion and mercy...
We must be careful not to worship an idol, that is, a false concept of God! It is possible to read the Bible, to go to church or synagogue, and yet worship a pagan god. How so? By not knowing the heart of the Father; by not honoring the One who passionately seeks our healing. We know the Father by the Son, that is, in "the language of Son" (Heb. 1:2; Luke 10:21-24). Our heavenly Father is eager to forgive and embrace all of his children. In Yeshua's famous parable of the "prodigal son," the father saw his child a "long way off" and ran to embrace and kiss him - no questions asked, no explanations needed about his past. When the son nevertheless began reciting his carefully prepared speech of repentance, the father barely listened, and in his overwhelming joy instructed his servants, 'Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found...' (Luke 15:20-25).
Peace and love to you, friend... May you turn to Yeshua this hour. Shabbat shalom.
The Shepherd's Call...
09.18.15 (Tishri 5, 5776) "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray" (Matt. 18:12-13). Though it involves sorrow, and the pain of being lost, repentance is ultimately about finding joy, and when we return to God, we have reason to rejoice. The Good Shepherd says, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:6-7). The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost: "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out... I myself will be the Shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the banished, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the sick..." (Ezek. 34:11,15-16).
Despite the struggles we sometimes face, let me wish you the peace of God that passes all understanding, that inner peace that comes when we surrender ourselves to the love of God given in Yeshua our LORD. Shabbat Shalom, friends!
Yom Kippur and YHVH...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur which begins September 22 at sundown... ]
09.18.15 (Tishri 5, 5776) Yom Kippur was the only time when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies and call upon the Name of YHVH (יהוה) to offer blood sacrifice for the sins of the people. This "life for a life" principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system and marked the great day of intercession made by the High Priest on behalf of Israel. For this reason it was also called the "Day of God's Mercy," or the "Day of God's Name." This alludes to the revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) and the attributes of God's Compassion after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7). How much more, then, is Yom Kippur the "Day of Yeshua's Name" since He secured for all of humanity everlasting kapparah (atonement)? Yeshua the Messiah is Moshia ha'olam (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם), the Savior of the world; He alone possesses the "Name above all other Names" (Phil. 2:9-10; Acts 4:12). It is altogether fitting, then, that God's "hidden Name" (i.e., shem ha-meforash: שֵׁם הַמְּפרָשׁ) was proclaimed before the kapporet (the cover of the Ark of the Covenant) in the Holy of Holies while atonement for our sins was made through the sacrificial blood.
This gives us a whole new perspective on Paul's words (Rom. 10:9): "if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD (יהוה) and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (i.e., that his blood was shed and presented on your behalf upon the heavenly kapporet), then you will be saved (that is, you will be reconciled to God and made a partaker of the atoning work of Yeshua). Surely the Apostle Paul, a zealous rabbi who diligently studied Torah in Jerusalem under Rabbi Gamaliel (who was himself the grandson of the renowned Rabbi Hillel the Elder), understood the theological implications when he stated that the prophecy: "And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the Name of the LORD (בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה) shall be saved" (Joel 2:32) applied directly to Yeshua (Rom. 10:10).
Eyes of the Heart...
[ The following concerns Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement..." ]
09.18.15 (Tishri 5, 5776) As I've mentioned before, the Hebrew word for "seeing" (ra'ah) is related to the word for "fear" (yirah), suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with reverent awe over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. It is in this sense that we are to serve the LORD with "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv), that is, with awareness of the sanctity and sacredness of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13). Da lifnei mi atah omed: "Know before whom you stand!" We must rouse ourselves and become aware... Sin puts us to sleep, numbs our minds and hearts, and blinds us to the radiance of divine revelation. When we see life as it is, with the "eyes of the heart" (Eph. 1:18), we will be filled with wonder and awe over the mystery of life itself. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified.
Transformed by Love...
09.18.15 (Tishri 5, 5776) How do we change? How are we made new? Is it through self-effort? making resolutions? changing our diet or wardrobe? going into counselling? joining a "religion"? Or do we change by the miracle of God's compassionate intervention in our lives? When Yeshua invites us to turn and come to Him, he wants us to awaken to something so valuable that we would be willing to give up everything in the world to take hold of it (Matt. 13:45-46). True spiritual transformation is not just about leaving your sin behind you (as good as that is), but is rather about discovering the glory of true and infinite life. It's about being the beloved. May the Lord help us see...
God's love sees the hidden beauty, worth, and value of your life. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it" (Matt. 13:45-46). You may be tempted to identify with the merchant and regard this parable as a challenge to give up everything to obtain the surpassing worth of the kingdom of heaven, but another way to understand it is to see God as the Merchant, the central character of the story.... Instead of you paying the great price for the pearl, turn the story around: God pays the price - and you are regarded as His choice pearl! You are a treasured possession, the "apple of God's eye..."
We are changed by the power of unconditional love, but this means that we must allow ourselves to be loved without attempting to earn it (Rom. 4). If we are willing to receive love only if we regard ourselves as worthy or deserving of it, then we will reinforce the illusion that love can be bought, explained, or owed to us based on our merit.
Have you discovered the glory and wonder of God's unconditional love, despite the many sins and the shame of your life? Do you know "in your gut" that his love means no longer having to defend or explain yourself? God's love enables you to quit hiding what you really are from Him; you can give up the pretense of being something you're not. When you turn to the Lord in the transparency of your brokenness, weakness, and neediness, you will find Him there, accepting you for who you really are...
That's the message of gospel, after all. The cross of Yeshua is the end of "self improvement" projects, and that includes the "end of the law" as the means of attempting to find our acceptance before God (Rom. 10:4). We come to know God's love and acceptance "apart from the law," that is, despite our repeated failures, pain, and loss of the false self. We are truly changed as we disclose more and more of what we really are to God, that is, when we come "out of the shadows" to be made visible and healed before His glorious Presence. Then we discover the "lightness" of being united to the risen Messiah and the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ). May God work within us all such a miracle!
Essence of Yom Kippur...
[ The following concerns Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement..." ]
09.17.15 (Tishri 4, 5776) The earthy Tabernacle (i.e., Mishkan) and its furnishings were "copies" of the heavenly Temple and the Throne of God Himself. Moses was commanded to make the Sanctuary according to the "pattern" revealed at Sinai (Exod. 25:9). As it is written in our Scriptures, "For Messiah has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are representations (ἀντίτυπος) of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Heb. 9:24). The centermost point of the earthly Tabernacle was the Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ), a "three-in-one" box that contained God's Holy Word (i.e., the tablets of the Torah). As such, the Ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. The Ark stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the "three-in-one" space called the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). This was the sacred place where the blood of purification was sprinkled during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and this is the Place (הַמָּקוֹם) that prefigured the offering of the blood of the Messiah, our eternal Mediator of the New Covenant. "For I will appear in the cloud over the kapporet" (Lev. 16:2; Exod. 25:22). As it is written, "I have blotted out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like heavy mist; return to me (שׁוּבָה אֵלַי), for I have redeemed you (Isa. 44:22).
The central ritual of atonement given in the Torah is that of the anointed High Priest sprinkling sacrificial blood over the tablets of the law upon the kapporet (the "mercy seat") of the Ark of the Covenant - the Place where "Love and truth meet, where righteousness and peace kiss" (Psalm 85:10). It was from the midst of the surrounding cloud in the Holy of Holies that the Voice of the LORD was heard, just as it was in the midst of the surrounding cloud of darkness upon the cross that Yeshua cried out in intercession for our sins...
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ
che·sed ve·e·met nif·ga·shu
tzedek ve·sha·lom na·sha·ku
"Love and truth have met,
justice and peace have kissed."
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Note further that the High Priest was required to perform the Yom Kippur avodah (service) alone, while wearing humble attire, divested of his glory, and in complete solitude: "No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out" (Lev. 16:17). The Hebrew text literally says, "no adam (אָדָם) shall be in the tent," which suggests that something more than the natural man is needed for divine intercession. And just as Moses alone approached God in the thick clouds at Sinai to receive the revelation of the Altar as mediator of the older covenant (Exod. 24:15), so Yeshua, the Mediator of the New Covenant, went through his severest agony on the cross as the darkness covered the earth (Luke 23:44; Matt. 27:45).
The Heart of Atonement...
[ Yom Kippur, or the "Day of Atonement," begins Tuesday, Sept. 22nd at sunset... ]
09.17.15 (Tishri 4, 5776) The Torah describes Yom Kippur (יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים), or the "Day of Atonement(s)," as an ordained time during which the anointed High Priest of Israel would perform a series of special sacrificial rituals to cleanse the Mishkan (Temple). The climax of this most holy day occurred when the High Priest would offer incense and then enter the Holy of Holies to sprinkle sacrificial blood upon the kapporet (i.e., the "crown" or lid of the Ark of the Covenant) on behalf of the sins of the people. The New Testament regards the ritual as a "shadow" based on the "pattern" given to Moses, which finds its substance in the sacrifice of Yeshua, our greater High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek, who offered his own blood upon the cross for eternal atonement (Heb. 6:19-20; 7-10). In the history of Christian theology, however, various theories have been offered to explain how we can be reconciled to God by means of the sacrificial death of Yeshua on the cross, including the "Ransom" theory (i.e., Yeshua ransoms us from the devil, or from sin, or from the curse of the law), the "Christus Victor" theory (i.e., Yeshua's death defeated the powers of evil, which had held humankind in their dominion); the judicial "Satisfaction" theory (i.e., Yeshua's death satisfied God's holy righteousness, enabling him to both be just and to justly forgive the trusting sinner), the "Penal Substitution" theory (i.e., Yeshua paid the penalty for our sins as our substitute so that we could be forgiven), the "Exchange" theory (i.e., our sin is exchanged for Yeshua's righteousness: "For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), and so on. In general, however, it may be said that the New Testament teaches that God gave up His life so that we can be in relationship with Him, that is, so that we can be "at-one" with His heart for us. In short, the idea of "atonement" (i.e., kapparah [כַּפָּרָה], which may be understood as "covering," "protection," "exchange," "purification," or "forgiveness") is about accepting God's heart for you - being unified and healed by his love - and if you miss that wonder, you've missed the essential point of the High Holiday season!
Understand, then, that Yom Kippur is about God's love for us that overcomes the separation caused by our terminally sinful condition. As I've explained before, the word for love (i.e., ahavah: אהבה) equals the number thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26, which is the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). Likewise the Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), is written in the plural to emphasize that life cannot be lived alone but must be shared. Notice that within the word itself are embedded two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is an abbreviation for YHVH, also indicating the "deep Akedah" of Father and Son). God gave up His life so that we can be in relationship with Him, that is, so that we can be "at-one" with His heart for us.
Most of our deepest anxieties come from the fear of death, whether we are conscious of this or not... Death represents fear of the unknown, fear of being abandoned, fear of being rejected, fear of being separated from others, and so on. I am so glad Yeshua gives us eternal life, which for me is not so much about immortality of the soul as it is being loved and accepted by God... That is what "at-one-ment" means, after all (John 17:22-23). Because God loves and accepts us, we trust Him to be present for us, even in the darkest of hours, on the other side of the veil, where he "prepares a place for us" (John 14:2). As Yeshua said, "I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned, but has passed (i.e., μετά + βαίνω, lit., "crossed over" [עָבַר]) from death to life" (John 5:24). God's love "crosses over" from death to life and now forever sustains me.
Yom Kippur - Day of Atonement
[ This year the Yom Kippur fast begins an hour before sundown on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd, and lasts until an hour past sundown on Wednesday, Sept. 23rd.... ]
09.16.15 (Tishri 3, 5776) Yom Kippur (יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים), or the "Day of Atonement(s)," is regarded as the holiest day of the Jewish year, and provides prophetic insight regarding the Second Coming of the Messiah, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20). The term Yom Kippur is written in the plural in the Torah, Yom Ha-Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), which alludes to the two great atonements given by the LORD - the first for those among all the nations who turn to Yeshua for cleansing and forgiveness, and the second for the purification of ethnic Israel during Yom Adonai, the great Day of the LORD (יוֹם־יְהוָה הַגָּדוֹל) at the End of Days.
For more information, see the Yom Kippur pages.
Teshuvah of Brokenness...
09.16.15 (Tishri 3, 5776) Regarding the call to repentance we read: "Rend your hearts and not your garments and return to the LORD your God (וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם), for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love..." (Joel 2:13). Genuine teshuvah (repentance) is not about the "outer layers" of life, but engages the deepest depths of heart; it is not expressed in religious practices or rituals but in personal brokenness and utter desperation... As King David said, "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit (רוּחַ נִשְׁבָּרָה); a broken and contrite heart (לֵב־נִשְׁבָּר וְנִדְכֶּה), O God, you will not despise" (Psalm 51:17). As is written in our Haftarah portion for Shabbat Shuvah: "Return O Israel (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל), to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take with you words and return to the LORD (וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה) and say to him, 'Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips'" (Hos. 14:1-2).
Note that the appeal to the LORD as "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם הוּא אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד) recalls the meaning of YHVH (יהוה) revealed to Moses in his state of brokenness over the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7).
The Goal of Holiness...
[ The following is related to Yom Kippur and the Days of Awe... ]
09.16.15 (Tishri 3, 5776) "Be holy as I am holy" (Lev. 19:2). This doesn't mean wrapping yourself up in some protective cloak of religious rituals as much as it means accepting your own atonement: reconciling who you are with your past, finding healing and love, and walking in genuine hope... Holiness isn't as much "separation" from the profane as it is "consecration" to the sacred, and in that sense it is a kind of teshuvah, a turning of the heart back to reality.... Negatively put, "being holy" is turning away from fear, despair, and anger; positively put, it is embracing the worth and value of life, respecting the Divine Presence, and walking in the radiance of God's love. Hashivenu Adonai....
Redeeming the Time...
09.15.15 (Tishri 2, 5776) The "appointed times" (i.e., mo'edim: מוֹעֲדִים) were given by God to help us turn away from the omnipresent urge within the human heart to embrace vanity: "Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father and guard (שָׁמַר) my Sabbaths (שַׁבְּתתַי)... Do not turn to worthlessness (i.e., אֱלִיל) or make for yourselves any molten gods" (Lev. 19:3-4). In other words, the Biblical holidays - including Shabbat, Passover, and so on - were intended to help us to sanctify ("set apart," "make holy") the times and seasons in order to remind us of God's Presence (Psalm 104:19). Therefore they are called mikra'ei kodesh (מִקְרָאֵי קדֶשׁ), "times in which holiness is proclaimed" (Lev. 23:2). The Torah's declaration that these days are holy implies that they are set apart for special activities, such as commemorating God as our Creator (Shabbat), our Redeemer (Passover), our Resurrection (Firstfruits), our Lawgiver (Shavuot), our King (Rosh Hashanah), our High Priest (Yom Kippur), our Shelter (Sukkot), and so on. In this connection it should be noted that it is a mistake to assume that the divine calendar was somehow abrogated with the cross of Yeshua, since all of the Jewish holidays center on Him, and indeed the advent of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) occurred precisely after the prescribed 49 day countdown to Shavuot (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
Presently our lives "suspended" between two worlds - this world with its illusions (olam hazeh), and the real world of spiritual substance and meaning (olam haba). We exist in an "already-not-yet" state of expectation and yearning where we must consciously mediate the truth of heaven by bringing it "down to earth." This is a truth war, and by truth I do not mean intellectual knowledge as much as the living truth that marks the lifestyle and vision of a follower of Messiah. We consciously remember Torah truth; we choose to always "set the LORD before us," and take "every thought captive to the passion of Messiah..." May God help each of us heed the call to walk in holiness by the power of His love and grace. Amen.
Refuge of Teshuvah...
09.15.15 (Tishri 2, 5776) The message of teshuvah (repentance) is one of healing. As is written in our Torah, "Guard well your souls..." (וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאד לְנַפְשׁתֵיכֶם) [Deut. 4:15]. The Hebrew grammar of this verse is a bit unusual, since the verb shamar (שָׁמַר), meaning to "guard" or to "keep," is written in the passive voice (niphal), i.e., "Let yourselves be guarded well..." If we open our hearts to heed or listen to the truth of God - if we let go and surrender to God's will for our lives - we will be protected from the snares of idolatry. "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath -- there is no other" (Deut. 4:39). When you surrender from the heart you will understand that "the LORD is your Guard" (יְהוָה שׁמְרֶךָ); the LORD is yishmor et nafshekha - "the One who guards your life" (Psalm 121:5,7).
Love's Greater Judgment...
09.15.15 (Tishri 2, 5776) A sober admonition is given in our Scriptures regarding the great Day of Judgment (יוֹם הַדִּין) to come: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). And yet what is the will of the Father but to trust in Messiah for life (John 6:40)? "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answers: "This is the work of God, that you trust in the One whom he has sent" (John 6:28-29). The Torah of God centers on Messiah. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not ... do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I say to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (i.e., ἀνομία, from -α ('not') + νομος, 'torah') [Matt. 7:22-23]. From this statement we infer that ma'asim tovim (מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים), or "good works" -- even those done in the very Name of Messiah -- are insufficient for life, and that something more is therefore needed. Yeshua wasn't questioning their creed or theology, nor was he denying the deeds done in his name. What he was questioning was their heart, how they knew him, and whether they trusted in his love. "As long as Christ remains outside of us we are separated from him." Paradoxically, those who appealed to their good deeds were those who practiced "lawlessness," since they did not keep the law of faith (תורה של אמונה) in God's love...
Rosh Hashanah and the Lamb...
09.14.15 (Tishri 1, 5776) In the Torah we find that the word "love" (i.e., ahavah) first appears regarding Abraham's passion for his son: "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love (אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ), and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Gen. 22:2). After journeying to the place, Abraham told his child that God would provide a lamb (אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה), and then bound Isaac, laid him upon an altar, and raised his knife to slay him (Gen. 22:8-10). At the very last moment, the Angel of the Lord called out: "Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son (בֵּן יָחִיד), from me" (Gen. 22:11-12). Abraham then "lifted up his eyes" and saw a ram "caught in a thicket" which he offered in place of his son. Abraham then named the place Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD who provides" (Gen. 22:14). The sacrifice of the lamb for Isaac portrayed the coming sacrifice of Yeshua, the great "Lamb of God" (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) who would be offered in exchange for the trusting sinner (John 1:29). Indeed the story of how God provided the lamb at Moriah (and later during the Passover in Egypt) foreshadowed the greater redemption given in Messiah at the "Passover cross," and may be understood as the "Gospel according to Moses" (Luke 24:27; John 5:46). Therefore, during Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment (יוֹם הַדִּין), we listen to the sound of the shofar (ram's horn) to remind us of the provision of Lamb of God given in place of Isaac...
Shanah Tovah, friends!
09.14.15 (Tishri 1, 5776) Happy New Year - Shanah Tovah - friends! May this coming year be good and sweet for you. Here are a few pictures taken during our celebration for Rosh Hashanah 5776. As you can see, the boys are getting bigger: Josiah is now ten and Judah is six. Thank you so much for praying for these precious little guys, and for our entire family. As some of you may know, we are expecting another child this coming winter, B"H!
Left-to-right (top): 1. Josiah at the apple orchard; 2. blowing shofars; 3. harvested apples;
4. Judah gets ready for the holiday! 5. apples and honey.
(bottom): 1. Holiday items; 2. lighting the Yom Tov candles; 3. Judah; 4) tapuach u'devash
בַּחֲצצְרוֹת וְקוֹל שׁוֹפָר
הָרִיעוּ לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ יְהוָה
ba·cha·tzotz·rot · ve·kol · sho·far
ha·ri·u · lif·nei · ha·me·lekh · Adonai
"With trumpets and the sound of the shofar
shout for joy before the King, the LORD!"
Listen to the Shofar:
We sincerely wish you "shanah tovah u'metukah ba'Adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach" - a good and sweet year in our Lord Jesus the Messiah! May the LORD God heal you, body and soul; may He ease your pain, increase your strength, and release you from all your fears... May blessing, love, joy, and true shalom surround you and fill you with ongoing wonder and thanks. In the Name above all Names we pray: Amen.
The Days of Awe...
09.14.15 (Tishri 1, 5776) According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1) the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים), and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death (סֶפֶר הַמָּוֵת). However, most people will not be inscribed in either book, but have ten days -- from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur -- to repent before "sealing their fate." On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be written in one of the books. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah (עֲשֶׂרֶת יְמֵי תְּשׁוּבָה) - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good.
Followers of Yeshua we are not legalists, of course, nor do we agree with the rabbis who claim that Rosh Hashanah is a day of our judgment, since that has judicially been taken care of at the cross of Messiah -- "Judgment Day" happened when Messiah was crucified for our sins. "He declared us not guilty because of his gracious love; and now we know that we are heirs of eternal life" (Titus 3:7). Our faith in Yeshua forever seals us in the Lamb's Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים)! Nevertheless we must turn to Him every day, we must walk in the light of his heart, and therefore the call to teshuvah (repentance) is always timely. Moreover there is a prophetic aspect to this season, as Yom Teruah (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) represents the "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יְהוָה) and the imminent apocalyptic judgment of the present world... Just as the spring festivals foretold Messiah's first advent, so the fall festivals foretell his second coming... Moreover, "teruah" (תְּרוּעָה) is the blast of a shofar, the "calling up" signal for those who belong to Messiah; the "opening of the gate" to the Wedding of the Lamb! May God help us be ready to soon see our King!
Note: for more on this important subject, including the trust that we are forever "sealed for good" in the Lamb of God's Book of Life, see "Getting Ready for the Days of Awe."
Shabbat Shuvah - שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this evening at sundown. Shanah Tovah chaverim! ]
09.13.15 (Elul 29, 5775) The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and the solemn fast of Yom Kippur is the very first of the new year, called Shabbat Shuvah (שַׁבַּת שׁוּבָה) - that is, "the Sabbath of Return." It is called "shuvah" because the Haftarah (i.e., Hosea 14:1) begins, Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ): "Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God!" As the very first Shabbat of the new year, Shabbat Shuvah is intended to "set the tone" for the "Days of Awe" leading up to the great Day of Atonement.
שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ
shu·vah · Yis·ra·el · ad · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha,
ki · kha·shal·ta · ba·a·vo·ne·kha
"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity."
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Note the Hebrew grammar in this verse: "Return (שׁוּבָה), O Israel, until (עַד) the LORD is your God" (Hos. 14:1). We are called to repent until the LORD becomes "your God," that is, until you surrender yourself to His presence and love. You return as you "set the Lord always before you" and know him in all your ways (Psalm 16:8; Prov. 3:6).
Shanah Tovah, and may you be inscribed in the Lamb's book of life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים אֲשֶׁר לַשֶּׂה) for good, friends! Shalom in Yeshua our Lord.
09.13.15 (Elul 29, 5775) We are all on a spiritual journey, writing the "Book of our Life." To help us in the "writing" process, we can ask ourselves some pointed questions, such as: "How did I get to this place in my life?" "Where am I now?" "Am I where I should be?" We engage in this process of self-examination (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) with an aim to grow -- to let go of the pain of the past and move forward. We forgive by surrendering our pain to God's care and by "giving away" the hurt. Confession (ὁμολογία) means coming before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. We reach out to God in trust, relying upon his kindness and mercy. When King David said, Adonai ohri v'yishi, mimi ira? - "The LORD is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of himself and of his past...
Clear Thinking and Teshuvah...
09.13.15 (Elul 29, 5775) Consider for a moment how your thinking defines your inner reality and the quality of your spiritual life. Thinking is inextricably linked to faith, and therefore we are responsible not only for what we believe, but for how we think (Acts 17:30-31). Sinful thinking creates "negative energy" that brings pain to yourself and others. Left unchallenged, such impaired cognitive function leads to slavery of the mind, hopeless addictions of thought, and distressing captivity. The first step to freedom is to confess our sin, acknowledging the reality of our own negativity – and bringing that truth to the light. Therefore teshuvah - turning to God - involves cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ), accounting for our soul and yielding it to the love of God for rectification: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). For freedom we have been set free, and that means freedom from the power of the lie. If we are blind to our own sin, we cannot confess the truth to find healing (James 5:16).
Teshuvah and Love...
[ The great holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins this Sunday at sundown. L'shanah tovah u'metukah ba'Adonai Yeshua meshicheinu, chaverim! ]
09.11.15 (Elul 27, 5775) Repentance means changing how you understand yourself, and therefore it is intimately connected with how you understand God. As A.W. Tozer once said, "What I believe about God is the most important thing about me." Understanding the goodness and glory of God leads to self-respect, a sense of dignity, and so on. This works the other way around, too. If you regard yourself as small, insignificant, and unworthy, you will tend to consider God that way, too. "According to your faith be it done unto you." As you see God, so you will see yourself; as you see yourself, so you will see God. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Mark 4:24).
Personal repentance implies encountering the revelation of God at "first hand." God does not love you at a distance, nor does he call you to embrace him at "second hand." Repentance, or teshuvah, is the "like for like" measure of God's love; it is your answer to God's question and call....
The message of the gospel requires that you regard yourself as worth dying for, that you are God's friend... "There is no greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). God demands that you regard yourself as worth the sacrifice of his beloved son Yeshua in your place; he demands that you understand how dear you are to his heart. God sees something of such great value in you that he was willing to suffer and die to redeem it from loss... Just as the kingdom of God is a "pearl of great price," so you are a pearl of great price to God. What grieves and angers God is the refusal to believe that you are someone of infinite importance to him... Only God can rightfully make such a demand because He knows that loving other things more than Him leads to "disordered love," darkness, and eventual madness. We were made for God's love, but substituting finite things for this infinite need will never suffice to bring lasting healing to our souls...
Those who are "in the flesh" cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). We must turn away from regarding ourselves as mere "flesh" and understand that we are essentially spiritual beings created and redeemed by God (2 Cor. 5:16). We must give up the distinctions in the "world of basar" - the carnal world that is known through sensuous apprehension - and accept ourselves as "new creations" in the Messiah. It is "not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring" (Rom. 9:6-8).
The mere conviction of sin is not the same thing as repentance. We have to step beyond a troubled conscience and have our sin crucified by God's love and grace. Grace is therefore essential to genuine repentance, since moral reformation is never enough. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." We must be humbled so that we can receive. God gives us bitter experience of our inadequacy to call us to return to him. Only God can kill the power of sin within our hearts. Conviction of sin is not the end, but rather newness of life.
True repentance has a distinct and constant reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you repent of sin without looking to Christ, away with your repentance! If you are so lamenting your sin as to forget the Savior, you have need to begin all this work over again. Whenever we repent of sin we must have one eye upon sin and another upon the Cross. Or, better still, let us have both eyes upon Christ, seeing our sin punished in Him and by no means let us look at sin except as we look at Jesus.
If I hate sin because of the punishment, I have not repented of sin – I merely regret that God is just. But if I can see sin as an offense against Jesus Christ and loathe myself because I have wounded Him, then I have a true brokenness of heart... Only under the Cross can you repent. Repentance elsewhere is remorse which clings to the sin and only dreads the punishment. Let us then seek, under God, to have a hatred of sin caused by a sight of Christ's love. - C.H. Spurgeon
There is a place for godly sorrow, of course, and for genuine remorse over our sins. As we understand God's desire and love for us, we begin to realize that the essence of sin is the refusal of God's heart for us. The underlying issue with sin concerns the question of God's love. Simply abstaining from certain actions does not address the deepest need of the heart. It is not turning away from sin that matters as much as turning toward God. The death of sin is meant to lead us to the life of love.
God is both infinitely loving and infinitely just, and both of these "attributes" are inseparably a part of who he is. God is One. Nonetheless, the cross of Yeshua proves that "love is stronger than death, passion fiercer than the grave; its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame, the very flame of the Lord" (Song. 8:6). It is at the cross that "love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). This implies that we must drop our defenses – even those supposed objections and pretenses voiced by our shame – and "accept that we are accepted." It is God's great love for you that leads you to repent and to turn to him. Allow yourself to be embraced by his "everlasting arms."
מֵרָחוֹק יְהוָה נִרְאָה לִי
וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ
עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד
me·ra·chok Adonai nir·ah li
ve·a·ha·vat o·lam a·hav·tikh
al ken me·shakh·tikh cha·sed
"The LORD appeared to me from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you."
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Genuine repentance will entirely change you. It is an act of profound respect over what God has done on your behalf. You say, but I am a miserable wretch! Indeed that is so, but the consciousness of your wretched state is the heart's cry for love... God goes "outside the camp" to meet with you. He enters the leper colony to join you there, in your wretchedness, and even takes upon your fatal disease. He sees you in your desperate estate and joins you there. God enters into the dust of your death and says, "Live!"
Note: For more on this, see "Teshuvah and God's Love."
A Matter of Life and Death...
[ Our Torah portion this week, parashat Nitzavim, is always read on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, since it describes the process of turning (teshuvah)... ]
09.11.15 (Elul 27, 5775) "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life (בָּחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים), that you and your offspring may live" (Deut. 30:19). Does it seem obvious to you that a person would choose life and live? Yet so many refuse this very thing; they do not choose life but rather take a self-destructive path.... They do so, undoubtedly, because they are spiritually blind, taken captive by the delusions and vanities of this evil world. Despite the incalculable cost – the pain, sorrow, and the inevitable loss – people persist in their lawless self-will, enslaved to their passions, without an abiding center, and therefore without a true self. The miracle of God imparts the will to "choose life" by trusting in the power of the Messiah. As it is written, "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12).
Confession and Healing...
09.10.15 (Elul 26, 5775) "Confess your sins.. that you may be healed" (James 5:16). An integral part of teshuvah is viduy (וידוי), or "confession," where we find refuge from the inner battle of our sin and "return to ourselves" by finding solace in God's love... Teshuvah, then, is a "coming back" to what is most essential about you, and recovering your place as God's beloved child. Confession is an act of faith that affirms we are not our sin, and that our past does not imprison us or dictate our future. Teshuvah is more than confession, of course, since it implies real change or inner transformation, though it is necessary since apart from inner honesty, no real change is possible. As Kierkegaard rightly observed: "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty." Therefore we are instructed to confess our sins that we may be healed.
Note: As important as the confession of sin is, it is not the means by which we "save ourselves" from demons of the past (or future), since our salvation (i.e., יְשׁוּעָה) is the gift of God (מַתַּת אֱלהִים), a blessing wherein we are given grace to awaken to reality, to learn the sacred duty of being honest with ourselves, and to be made "partakers of the divine nature" (Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Pet. 1:4; Titus 3:5-7; James 1:17; John 6:44, etc.). Indeed, genuine teshuvah turns us from a place of painful regret over our sin to a place of real change and a new way of being: We are "reborn" by the love and mercy of God (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Pet. 1:23). Of course the godly transformation of our character (as opposed to the ontological miracle of regeneration) is a process of growth (i.e., "sanctification") where we "catch up" and "grow into" our prophetic nature. However, since it's a process, we must be patient with ourselves as we "learn to be who we are" in Messiah. Meanwhile, the confession of our struggle with sin allows us to externalize the anguish we carry inside – to give voice to our hope for deliverance from our old nature and its impulses - and to exercise patience as we await the completion of our redemption (Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 5:1-10). By faith we are no longer identified with our sin or enslaved to our past; we are set free by God's power to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). And may the Merciful LORD our God help us all...
Turning, turning, turning...
09.10.15 (Elul 26, 5775) "Turning, turning, turning..." Every year we revisit the theme of "repentance" by 1) turning to God (teshuvah); 2) turning to others we've offended (mechilah), and 3) turning to those in need (tzedakah); and every year we take inventory of our lives (cheshbon ha'nefesh) with the goal of growing and taking responsibility for our lives. We regret those decisions in our past that have desensitized us to the sacred, and we seek spiritual renewal to serve God more faithfully in the year to come. Simcha Bunim said of the ongoing cycle of teshuvah: "On Rosh Hashanah the world begins anew, and therefore before it begins anew, it comes to an end. Just as before dying all the powers of the body clutch hard at life, so a person at the turn of the year ought to clutch at life with all his strength and might" (Bunim quote taken from Buber: "Tales of the Hasidim,"1947).
Different sins require different types of confession. Sins against God (i.e., bein Adam la-Makom: בֵּין אָדָם לָמָקוֹם) require confession to God alone for the sake of obtaining divine forgiveness. Sins against others (i.e., bein Adam l'chavero: בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרוֹ) require that we personally acknowledge our harm to them and ask them for mechilah (מְחִילָה), forgiveness. Finally, sins against ourselves require that we admit that we have damaged our own lives and be willing to accept personal forgiveness. "For those whom we have wronged (including ourselves), may we be forgiven..."
There is a godly sorrow that works recovery within our hearts. "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10). This kind of sorrow is healing, since it moves us to return to the source of Love we so desperately need. May God all bless us with such sorrow, the "gift of tears."
Teshuvah and the Mind...
09.09.15 (Elul 25, 5775) We are responsible to walk in truth and to reject what is false (1 John 4:6). This implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not to abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). The LORD our God will help us to do this, as Yeshua said: "I will ask the Father, and he will give you a Helper (παράκλητος, someone "called to one's side"), to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת), whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him" (John 14:16-17). The Spirit of Truth helps us "discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable, and perfect" (Rom. 12:2) and empowers us to take "every thought captive" to the reality of the Divine Presence (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Truth is connected to memory - both in our personal histories as well as the history of God's redemptive actions performed on our behalf. Truth is ἀλήθεια, "a-letheia," not forgetfulfulness... Hence we are constantly commanded to remember what God has done for us and to "diligently repeat" the truth to our children (Deut. 6:4-9). Similarly, the Spirit of Truth brings to remembrance the words of Yeshua to our hearts (John 14:26).
Followers of Yeshua are commanded to love the truth and to think clearly about their faith. The ministry of reconciliation itself is defined as "the word of truth, by the power of God, through weapons of righteousness" (2 Cor. 6:7). Indeed, the word of truth (τὸν λόγον τῆς ἀληθείας) is a synonym for the "gospel of salvation" itself (Eph. 1:13; Col. 1:5; James 1:18). We are saved by Yeshua, who is the "way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). God commands all people to believe this truth (Acts 17:30-31; 1 Tim. 2:4). People perish because "they refuse to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Therefore we see that the issue of truth is central to salvation itself....
Genuine teshuvah (repentance) implies that we will change our thinking in order to be transformed by God's truth. The follower of Messiah "cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth" (2 Cor. 13:8). During this Season of Teshuvah, may God help us all to think clearly and to turn our thoughts to Him. May He protect us from the vanity of a darkened mind and from all distractions that attempt to seduce us away from Him. May the LORD give us the purity of heart to know and do His will in the truth. Amen.
Note: For more on this subject, see "Teshuvah of the Mind."
Torah of Teshuvah...
09.09.15 (Elul 25, 5775) Perhaps you (like me) once learned Psalm 19:7 as, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." The Hebrew reads, תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ, and might better be translated as, "The instruction of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul." Heeding Torah causes our souls to undergo teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), or "repentance," which is the very theme of Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays.
תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ
עֵדוּת יְהוָה נֶאֱמָנָה מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי
torat · Adonai · temimat · meshivat · nafesh
eidut · Adonai · ne'emanah · machkimat · peti
"The instruction of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul
The testimony of the LORD is reliable, making wise the simple."
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This again is the message of teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), or "repentance." We turn away (shuv) from ourselves to discover that only the love of God given in Yeshua gives life to our dead hearts. Teshuvah is therefore first of all a matter of faith, of trusting in the miracle of God. And though it is indeed a great gift from heaven, it requires that we pass through the "narrow gate" of humility by confessing the truth about who we are (Matt. 7:13). We turn away from our pride; we acknowledge our inner poverty, our neediness, and we mourn over the loss and hurt caused by our sin. Teshuvah turns away from our attempts to defend or justify ourselves and instead turns to God to heal our separation from Him (Rom. 8:3-4). By faith God buries our old nature and transforms us into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
An Ever-Present Mercy...
09.08.15 (Elul 24, 5775) Since Rosh Hashanah is known as the "Day of Judgment" (i.e., yom ha'din: יום הדין), it is customary to offer additional prayers of supplication (selichot) before the advent of the holiday. These prayers appeal to God's compassion and often include the recitation of "shelosh esrei middot rachamim," that is, the thirteen attributes of God's mercy (Exod. 34:6-7). The thirteen attributes reveal the inner meaning of God's Name YHVH (יהוה) that was disclosed to Moses after the people had committed the dreadful sin of the worshiping the golden calf at Sinai. God is not only our Judge and Lawgiver (Elohim), but our Savior and our Healer (Moshia). In his great mercy He restores what we have broken; He overcomes our jugdment by means of his abounding love given to us in Yeshua (Psalm 85:10). We therefore appeal to YHVH as the Source of Compassion, the "breath of life" (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) that was imparted to Adam on the day he was first created (Gen. 2:7).
The Torah teaches that the Name of the LORD (יהוה) means both ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה) "Presence" and rachum v'chanun (רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן), "Mercy and Grace" (Exod. 3:14; 34:6-7). Yeshua said, "I go to prepare a place for you," which means that his presence and love are waiting for you in whatever lies ahead (Rom. 8:35-39). We live and move and have our being in God's love. To worry is "practicing the absence" of God instead of practicing His Presence... Trust the word of the Holy Spirit: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for healing peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).
For more on this subject, see the Elul and High Holiday pages...
Prayer for only one thing...
09.08.15 (Elul 24, 5775) King David says in Psalm 27:4, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek" (אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ). Notice immediately that David asked for just one thing – not many things. He did not come with a litany of requests. He was not "double minded." As Kierkegaard said, "purity of the heart is to will one thing." David asked for the gift of focus and the pursuit of truth. He desired the "pearl of great price." Note also that the verb translated "I will seek" (avakesh) comes from the verb bakash (בָּקַשׁ) meaning "to wish" or "to desire." The verse could therefore be read as, "The one thing I ask from the Lord is for godly desire – for the will to "behold the sweetness of the Lord, and to inquire in His Presence." This is a prayer for the highest we may attain. The "one thing" David asked for was a heart made alive to perceive the wonder of God.
אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהוָה כָּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי
לַחֲזוֹת בְּנעַם־יְהוָה וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלוֹ
att·ah · sha·al·ti · me·et-Adonai · o·tah · a·vak·kesh
shiv·ti · be·vet-Adonai · kol-ye·mei · cha·yai
la·cha·zot · be·no·am-Adonai · u·le·va·ker · be·he·kha·lo
"One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his Presence."
If we consciously delight ourselves in the Lord, He has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). As Yeshua taught us: "seek first the Kingdom of God" (Matt. 6:33).
Come just as you are...
09.08.15 (Elul 24, 5775) Some people seem to think that we first must repent and then we will encounter the LORD, but it's actually the other way around: we first encounter the Savior and then we learn the meaning of repentance. Thus Paul's eyes were opened after he was first blinded by the light (Acts 9:3-6). Likewise, it is only after we have met the Lord that we begin to understand our blindness of heart, but as learn to see more clearly, we encounter more and more of his love (Rom. 5:20). As Yeshua said, "My yoke is pleasant (χρηστὸς) and my burden is light (Matt. 11:30). Repentance, then, is a progressive and ongoing process of awakening, as we learn to love God and to accept ourselves, despite our struggle with sin. As Anselm prayed: "O Lord, grant us grace to desire thee with all our hearts, that so desiring, we may seek and find thee, and so finding thee, may love thee, and loving thee may hate those things from which you have redeemed us."
We encounter the Lord "just as we are," by means of his gracious intervention in our lives, and so we continue to live by faith in God's grace (indeed, what we call "sanctification" is often just "catching up" with the miracle of his revelation to us). And we always come to God "just as we are," since we are never more than what we are in the truth: "by the grace of God I am what I am," as Paul said. "For all things come from You, and from your hand we give back to you" (1 Chron. 29:14). Therefore the Spirit says, "Come just as you are, or you may never come at all...."
A prayer to the One calling you to come: "I come to you just as I am - needy, sick within, weary, and broken... I come seeking your love; I come because you invited me to come: I open my heart, such as it is, to you; please join me here, in this place of my need, in this place of pain, and wrap me your comfort. I can only love you as I know your love, Lord Yeshua, so please help me to know your love in the truth. Amen."
Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?
[ The holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Sunday (i.e., Sept. 13th) at sundown... ]
09.07.15 (Elul 23, 5775) Though the term "Rosh Hashanah" does not occur in the Torah, the start of the 7th month (i.e., Tishri 1) is set apart by special shofar blowing (see Lev. 23:24-25, Num. 29:1-2). Furthermore, the Torah calls the end of the harvest year (in the fall) the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:6), which indicates the symmetry of the calendar: the fall festivals "mirror" the spring festivals and correspond to one another. Just as there is a "new year" in the spring, on the new moon of Nisan, so there is in the fall, on the new moon of Tishri, the seventh month... That is why we make a "teruah" shout of thanks to God in anticipation of the fulfillment of God's redemptive purposes during the End of Days.
But what about the idea of focusing on repentance ("teshuvah") during this time of year? Well, undergoing self-examination and returning to God are clearly commanded throughout the Scriptures, including the New Testament writings (see Lam. 3:40; Haggai 1:5; Psalm 119:59; Matt. 7:3-5, Gal. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 11:28, 2 Cor. 13:5, James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9, etc.). Setting aside 40 days each year to call us to turn to God is a healing custom, especially if it's done in light of truth of the gospel message. After all, Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment (kisei ha-din) to give account for their lives to God (see 2 Cor. 5:10). As it is written: "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). The foundation of every true work of God comes from trusting in the finished work of Yeshua the Messiah, and the work of our faith will be tested and judged.
For more on this subject, see Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?
Your Own Judgment Day...
09.07.15 (Elul 23, 5775) The central theme of Rosh Hashanah is to recall that God is our Creator, our King, and therefore our righteous Judge. And since our souls were created by God, each of us has the duty to serve Him as our King and live before Him as our Judge. Since the LORD is the God of Truth (יהוה אֵל אֱמֶת) who cannot attest to a lie, every person who has ever lived will necessarily face judgment one day (Heb. 9:27).
There is a midrash about a dialog between Adam and God after Adam's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Adam feared that all humans would later blame him for their mortality, but God replied, "Don't worry about the others. From now on, each soul will be responsible for giving account of his or her life. Each person is required to write his or her own 'Book of Life.' On the Day of Judgment, I simply ratify what has been written."
Indeed, the Scriptures reveal that there are heavenly "books" that contain detailed records of all that we did (or did not do) during our time here on earth: "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים). And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done" (Rev. 20:12).
Today you are writing the "Book of your Life." Every action you make - every thought, every decision, every deed - is being "recorded" in the archives of Heaven itself. When your soul returns to account for itself before God one day, this "book" will be opened before the Judge of the Universe. As Yeshua said, "on the Day of Judgment (יוֹם הַדִּין) people will give account (ἀποδίδωμι, lit. "give back") every idle word they speak (Matt 12:36). The story of your life will be replayed before all of heaven itself...
Every one of us will give account of our lives. In Matthew 25:14-30, Yeshua used a parable to indicate what this reckoning will be like. After distributing "talents" to three different servants, a certain "employer" left on a long journey. When he finally returned, he wanted his servants to account for the use of their talents, so he called them to "settle accounts with them" (Matt. 25:19). This phrase "settle accounts" (συναίρει λόγον) means to compare things, to look closely at the records to determine profit or loss to a business, and is therefore similar to the idea of a financial audit. In the parable, the employer considered the state of his business and then called each of his servants in to stand before him for a summary review. Likewise, each of us will be called to stand before the Lord to give account for his or her life. Those who used their talent for the promotion of the Kingdom will be rewarded, but those who wasted their opportunities will not (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
Life is a serious business, friends, and it is also a test. It is "God who tests our hearts" (1 Thess. 2:4). Yeshua said, "I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds" (Rev. 2:23). We have one opportunity to live for Yeshua in this life, and the fact that we will each face a day of judgment before the LORD should sober us to sanctity. God holds us responsible for what we think and believe (Acts 17:30-31), and this implies that we have a moral and spiritual duty to think clearly and not abuse our minds (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 12:2). It is the fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יהוה) that is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10). "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil" (Prov. 16:16). The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil, and therefore, those who love the LORD are called to hate evil (Prov. 8:13; Psalm 97:10). Sin always cheats us of the good. "Blessed is the man that endures testing: for when he has been approved (δόκιμος), he shall receive the crown of life (τὸν στέφανον τῆς ζωῆς) that the Lord has promised to those who love him" (James 1:12).
Are you living in conscious awareness that life is a test and that you will one day stand before Yeshua to give account for every detail of your life? Are you mindful of eternity and of the inevitability of your own personal judgement day? If this causes you anxiety, what do you need to do differently in your life so that you may have confidence for that day? "Therefore we labor... to be well pleasing to Him" (2 Cor. 5:9). We must strive to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" in order to be unhindered in our walk with God (Heb. 12:1).
For more on this, see "Testing of Heart: Remembering your own Day of Judgment."
Teshuvah and Acceptance...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance"... ]
09.07.15 (Elul 23, 5775) During the Season of Teshuvah we recite Psalm 27 every day: "Look to the LORD and be strong; look to the LORD and have hope" (Psalm 27:14). Look to the LORD... We can look to the LORD in hope only to the extent we have learned to forgive and "endure ourselves." Faith believes that God's love is more real, more significant, and more powerful than even the worst of our sins, and therefore faith affirms God's prerogative in loving us for who we really are. The inner voice of faith affirms that the LORD "does not deal with us according to our sins (חַטּאות), nor repay us according to our iniquities (עֲוֹנת). For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions (פְּשָׁעִים) from us" (Psalm 103:10-12).
כִּרְחק מִזְרָח מִמַּעֲרָב
הִרְחִיק מִמֶּנּוּ אֶת־פְּשָׁעֵינוּ
kir·chok · miz·rach · mi·ma·a·rav
hir·chik · mi·me·nu · pe·sha·ei·nu
"As far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us"
When we draw near to the LORD in bittachon (trust), he causes our our transgressions to be banished from His presence (the hiphil form of the verb rachak [רָחַק], "to depart" is used in this verse, indicating that God's kindness is the cause of the action). This is because sin represents our separation from the heart of God, yet the Father's heart is always our home: "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him" (Psalm 103:13). In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), there are two sons: the younger son who runs away and follows the path of unbridled lust, and the older son, who stays home yet inwardly turns away from his father's love. Both sons are lost, and the father grieves for both, because neither son truly understands the father's heart... May you know who you are in the Father's heart this day.
Nitzavim and Rosh Hashanah...
[ Our Torah portion this week, parashat Nitzavim, is always read on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, since it describes the process of turning (teshuvah)... ]
09.06.15 (Elul 22, 5775) Parashat Nitzavim is always read on the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, serving as a prelude to the holiday. The sages found an allusion to Rosh Hashanah in the opening verse: "You are standing today all of you before the LORD your God" (Deut. 29:10), where "this day" refers to Rosh Hashanah, when "all of you" shall stand before the LORD your God in judgment. Another tradition says "this day" refers to the day of Moses' death, the same day that Joshua would become the leader of the people. Since Joshua is a picture of Yeshua, in the latter sense we see an allusion to the rapture of God's people who will stand before the LORD at the sound of the shofar blast (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-52). This is one of the "secret things" (הַנִּסְתָּרת) that belong to the LORD (Deut. 29:29), though the mystery was revealed to Paul. The "last" shofar blast refers to Rosh Hashanah when the dead shall be raised (Rosh Hashanah 16b), whereas the "great" shofar blast is sounded at the end of Yom Kippur, after Israel has received the atonement.
In this connection, the Kol Dodi notes that the final redemption of the Jewish people will occur only when the people acknowledge that both the blessing and the curse come from the hand of God (see Deut. 30:1-2). As long as Israel credits some other power - for example, their own ingenuity or even their failures - with control over their fate, they will not return to God. This is hinted at in Deut. 30:1, "And it shall be, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse..." The letters of "and it will be" (וְהָיָה) spell the Sacred Name (יהוה), and therefore a complete return to the LORD implies accepting that both the blessing and the curse come from God's soverign purposes for our ultimate good.
According to many of the sages, the time immediately preceding the appearance of the Messiah will be a time of testing (nisayon) in which the world will undergo various forms of tribulation called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some say the birth pangs are to last for 70 years, with the last 7 years being the most intense period of tribulation -- called the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). The climax of the Great Tribulation is called the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל) which represents God's wrath poured out upon a rebellious world system. On this fateful day, the LORD will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19) and worldwide catastrophes will occur. "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). Only after the nations of the world have been judged will the kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים) be established upon the earth. The remnant of Israel will be saved and the 1,000 year reign of King Messiah will then commence (Rev. 20:4). For more information about this, see "As the Day Draws Near."
Choose Life Today...
09.06.15 (Elul 22, 5775) Our Torah portion describes the (ongoing and life-long) process of being in relationship with God. Where it says, "See, I have set before you today (הַיּוֹם) life and good, death and evil" (Deut. 30:15), we note that on any given day a person can choose the way of life or the way of death. If until now he was on the corrupt path, today he can choose the good; and if until now he was on the good path, he must choose it again today lest he choose the evil. In other words, every day, indeed every moment of the day, presents us with the spiritual choice: Choose life and good, or death and evil. As it says in the New Testament: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" and again, "Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:7-8,13).
Parashat Nitzavim - פרשת נצבים
09.06.15 (Elul 22, 5775) From our Torah portion this week (Nitzavim) we read: "The LORD your God will return as you return (וְשָׁב יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ אֶת־שְׁבוּתְךָ), and will have mercy upon you, turning to gather you back..." (Deut 30:3). This has both a present and prophetic application. First, in the present hour, if you turn to God, he will show you compassion, and he will "gather back" all those distant and broken parts of yourself into shalom and wholeness. He will restore your lost days; he will bring you out of exile and give you comfort in Yeshua. He makes all things new! Therefore "draw near, therefore to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Second, the LORD will return to earth as the Jewish people return from their captivity, and he will restore Zion during the time of the final redemption. The LORD will turn captivity into mercy; he will turn in his compassion to his people. As it says: "I will be found by you, declares the LORD ... and I will bring you back" (Jer. 29:14).
The language of the Torah here is emphatic: "even if your exile is at the farthest edge of heaven (בִּקְצֵה הַשָּׁמָיִם), from there the LORD your God will gather you..." (Deut. 30:4). Note that this prophecy is written in the singular and therefore pertains to each individual exile. God will "gather you," that is, he bring you back to make you whole. Even if your exile (singular) is to the uttermost, the LORD will take you and deliver you, as it is written, "He is able to save to the uttermost (σῴζειν εἰς τὸ παντελὲς) those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb. 7:25).
Season of Renewal...
09.04.15 (Elul 20, 5775) Though it's a difficult and sometimes painful process, the primary goal of teshuvah (repentance) is healing from the oppression of our sins and the restoration of our relationships. Someone once said that great sins are like great possessions -- both are difficult to give up. We have to be willing to "give up our sins" in order to find inner healing (and "giving up our sins" also may mean breaking free of the "pride-shame" cycle). Often we can only get to this point when we are afflicted and weary of our soul's sickness. Looked at this way, our afflictions are a really gift from the LORD to help us turn and surrender to Him. As the psalmist wrote: טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ / "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71).
It's important to remember that one of the main goals of the enemy of your soul is to induce a sense of forgetfulness and apathy. The devil wants you to forget that you are ben melech (or bat melech) - a son (or daughter) of the King. The entire venture of teshuvah presupposes that you are created b'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God - and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua our Lord paid in order to reconcile your soul with God. What is the greatest sin you can commit in your life? To forget (or disregard) what God has done for you... Remaining asleep, unmindful of your true identity is one of the most tragic things of life.... Therefore Rosh Hashanah is sometimes called Yom Ha-Zikaron - the "Day of Remembrance" (Lev. 23:24). The blast of the shofar is meant to jolt us from our sleep... We are to remember who we really are -- and to remember that God is our King. The person who says, "Tomorrow I will do teshuvah" really is saying, "Not now." And then tomorrow comes and he says, "Not now." And in this way his entire life passes by, saying, "Not now." Finally one day he wakes up only to find himself already dead....
According to some of the sages past events are not fixed in stone; rather they -- like our relationship to them -- can change. We do not have to live with childhood trauma or bitterness from the past. Teshuvah means "putting away childish things" and growing up (1 Cor. 13:11). Only our personal future is unknown and therefore seemingly "static." The forgiveness given through Yeshua redeems all of our sins -- including those that might haunt us from our past. Our present response to the LORD has the potential to transform everything in our lives -- both our past, present, and future... His love transforms every aspect of our lives, from cradle to grave. God is always present whenever we let Him in.
The sages point out that the gematria for the word Elul (אלוּל) equals binah (בּינה), suggesting that teshuvah is a matter of the heart's understanding of itself. Of course this is not to suggest that we should do teshuvah only during the 40 days before Yom Kippur. On the contrary, teshuvah is a lifelong and ongoing process -- a daily struggle to retain our focus and faith. Repentance is often "slow motion," involving lots of smaller decisions we make throughout the days of the year... This is the normal course of genuine transformation (or "sanctification"). The process of seeking the LORD is an ongoing process of discovery about God's love and forgiveness. For this reason the confession of our frailties and sin should be a regular part of our fellowship with one another (James 5:16).
The essence of Torah is to love your neighbor as yourself. Teshuvah means, among other things, understanding how far we are removed from this ideal and how we might move to remedy the breach. This is a daily task, an ongoing duty... But we cannot give away what we don't have, so if we're deficient in self-love, we will be unable to genuinely love others, too. Part of loving others is the obligation to forgive yourself for your sins. For some people, this might mean "accepting that they are accepted" by God... Real change is difficult -- some would even say impossible -- though with God all things are possible -- including the miracle of turning a heart of stone into flesh....
Raise your hand if you struggle with sin in your life (my hand is raised). Now raise your hand if you trust God's miracle given to you in Yeshua for your healing (my hand is raised and waving). תודה לך יהוה לנס ישועתך - "Thank you LORD for the miracle of your salvation."
Note: For more on this topic see, "Teshuvah and Renewal."
Love not the World...
09.04.15 (Elul 20, 5775) Our Torah portion this week (Ki Tavo) recalls how "the Egyptians mistreated and afflicted us..." (Deut. 26:6). The sages note that the word translated "they afflicted" (וַיָּרֵעוּ) could be translated either as "they made us bad (רַע)" or "they befriended us" (רֵעַ), though the two meanings may be related, since befriending the ideals and values of the world corrupts us so that we lose our identity and our spiritual sensitivity. As it is written, "whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Therefore we are admonished not to love this world and its rubbish: "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
Teshuvah and Healing...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
09.04.15 (Elul 20, 5775) Repentance is an ongoing disposition of life in Messiah, since it rightly relates us to God. First we encounter our incurable sickness - the inner contradiction and bondage of soul that both loves and hates sin - and then we seek God's saving power in Yeshua. As the Apostle Paul said: "Who can save me from the misery of myself? – God alone, through Jesus (Rom. 7:18-25). This is the first step, to know the "miserable creature that I am," that is, the slavery of your will to sin, and the second is to be willing to give this sickness of your soul to God's care in Jesus. As he said, "Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the 'righteous,' but sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:31-32). Yeshua regarded forgiveness of your sins as essential to finding inner healing, even more important than health, prosperity, or religious observance.
If it is going to move us at all, we must understand that repentance means returning to love, finding your heart's desire in God... As Yeshua said, "Repent, for you have lost your first love..." (Rev. 2:4-5). Turn around: Look at what is missing within! He appeals to you like a lover standing outside in the cold, calling out your name, and knocking for you to open the door to let him inside (Rev. 3:19-20). Open the door of your heart! Return to him now! "Lord, help me turn to receive your love..."
Cleaving to Hope...
09.03.15 (Elul 19, 5775) "Love suffers long and is kind..." (1 Cor. 13:4). Have patience with all things, but most of all with yourself. We must "endure ourselves" along the way, often learning hard lessons about our own insufficiency. Have faith that despite all your imperfections, all your defects of character, and your overall weakness of heart, God is indeed at work in your darkness, molding and shaping you to bear witness of His glorious power to save the soul. The LORD holds your hand; his grace and love will help you persevere, giving you the will to press on in hope. Never give up, friends!
דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ
da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha
"My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
Hebrew Study Card
The concept of "cleaving" or "holding fast" to God is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) in Jewish tradition, a word that derives from the root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). Some have described devakut as "God consciousness imbued with love." "To cleave to Him - that means the cleaving of the mind to Him, for there is no devakut except that of the mind and the meditation of the heart" (Sh'ar ha-ahavah). We are able to cling or cleave to God because He first clung to the cross in love for us (1 John 4:19).
Focus of the Heart...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
09.02.15 (Elul 18, 5775) Regarding the subject of teshuvah (returning to God) Yeshua taught: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'" (Matt. 5:8). The Greek word translated "pure" is katharos (καθαρός), a word sometimes used describe the cleansing of a wound (catharsis), or to describe the unalloyed quality of a substance through refining fire (the corresponding Hebrew word for the "pure of heart" (בַּר־לֵבָב), used in Psalm 24:4, comes from a root (בָּרַר) that likewise means to purify by fire). Metaphorically, then, purity of heart refers to separation from the profane, that is, singleness of vision, wholeheartedness, passion, wonder, and focused desire for the sacred. As the Beatitudes reveal (Matt. 5:3-8), only those who are impoverished in spirit, who mourn over themselves and hunger for God's mercy, are refined by their struggle to see God (the Greek text implies these will see God now – with inward vision – as well as in the world to come). Because the pure in heart use ayin tovah, the good eye, they walk "in the light, as God is in the light" (Matt. 6:22). When we are undivided in heart, the Spirit imparts to us hidden wisdom (1 Cor. 2:6-7) and we are able to discern hidden realities that others do not see (1 Cor. 2:14). As we center our affections on Yeshua, we become unified, made whole, and healed of our inner fragmentation. We see the Lord both in this world, through his effects, and then panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), "face to face," in the world to come. Our hope purifies us for that coming great day of full disclosure (1 John 3:2-3; Heb. 12:14).
If we are impure of heart, we will be inwardly divided, unfocused, fragmented, filled with destabilizing anxiety, envy, anger, and so on. More tragically, because we seek to escape ourselves, we will be devoid of a true center, without a focal point or abiding purpose, and therefore we will be lost to ourselves, wandering and without rest (God forbid).
It is the Spirit that gives life (John 6:63). The Holy Spirit imparts the "pulse" of the Divine Life, and we gain newness of life when we trust God for purification from our sins through Yeshua our LORD. As King David further attested: Lev tahor bara li Elohim – "Create in me a clean heart, O God" and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Only the new heart (lev chadash) created by power of God's Spirit can possibly yield the life of the Spirit within us. The creation of a new heart represents the transformation of your whole inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, and the rebirth of your will. If you struggle with being inwardly divided, fervently ask the LORD to give you the blessing of purity of heart...
Note: People tend to think of "purity of heart" in moral terms, such as not looking with lust on others, not coveting, etc., though these are symptoms of disordered love... Genuine purity is a matter of focus, of finding the "good portion" and the "one thing necessary" (Luke 10:42). Such purity heals you of ambivalence, settling the heart's inner decision. Purity of heart realizes that all that you've ever longed for is found in God alone. It is a great, great gift from heaven to know God as your heart's true desire - to fully understand that your relationship with Him is the ultimate concern and treasure of your existence.
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
09.02.15 (Elul 18, 5775) From our Torah portion for this week (Ki Tavo) we read: "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you hear (shema) the Voice of the LORD your God" (Deut. 28:2). The language here is unusual, as if these blessings would seize you like an army takes an enemy stronghold. The sages comment that God's blessings can "overtake" you in a way that may hide their true purpose for your good (Rom. 8:28). At such times we do not understand they are a concealed mercy (רַחֲמִים נִסְתָר) designed for our benefit. Therefore king David affirmed his confidence despite being surrounded by trouble. Where it is written, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life" (Psalm 23:6), the verb translated "shall follow me" (i.e., יִרְדְּפוּנִי) comes from a root word that means "to pursue," as a hunter chases after his prey. David was sure that God's lovingkindness would "hound" him as he made his way through this world - even in the dark places, even in "the valley of the shadow of death" (בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת) - where God's rod and staff would there comfort him and shepherd his way (Psalm 23:4). Therefore, "May your love, O LORD, be upon us, as we hope in You."
יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יְהוָה עָלֵינוּ
כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ
ye·hi · chas·de·kha · Adonai · a·lei·nu
ka·a·sher · yi·chal·nu · lakh
"May your love, O LORD, be upon us,
as we hope in You"
Hebrew Study Card
Whatever the heart seeks, it will find. We are constantly "asking, seeking, and knocking" (Matt. 7:7), even if we are often unaware of our heart's search. The one who pursues righteousness will find it, just as evil will come to the one who searches after it (Prov. 11:27). As it is written, "Those who worship worthless idols forsake the love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד) that could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8). David understood that as he pursued God, God's love would pursue him; as we seek, so we are sought by God; as we draw near to God, so He will draw near to us (James 4:8).
The prophet Hosea likewise cried out: "Let us know; let us press on to know (i.e., נִרְדְּפָה, "pursue after") the LORD; His going out is sure as the dawn; He will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth" (Hos. 6:3). May God help us pursue him be'khol levavkha - with all our heart - because He has promised, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13). And may the love of the LORD indeed be upon us, even as we put our hope in Him. Amen.
Return to Sanity...
09.01.15 (Elul 17, 5775) Repentance is a return to sanity which begins with the resolution to question your presuppositions and to change your thinking... There are three requisites for genuine repentance, that is, for turning to God in the truth, namely: 1) seeing eyes; 2) hearing ears; and 3) an understanding heart, ready to be healed (Isa. 6:10). God alone does the miracle but it is nevertheless our responsibility to believe that the miracle is for us. Repentance is the first step of salvation, as Messiah said: "Repent and believe in the good news" (Mark 1:15), and apart from repentance man has no real existence. As Yeshua said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Repentance is the expression of trust in God's love, and by means of it we affirm: "I am ready to exist as a person of worth." Come alive, friends!
Note: I am on the road this week and ask for your prayers for safe travels. Thank you!
Teshuvah's Deep Regret...
[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the theme of teshuvah (repentance)... ]
09.01.15 (Elul 17, 5775) While it's true that we express sorrow and regret for our sins - we mourn over our lives - this is part of the healing process, with the end result of obtaining comfort from God (Matt. 5:4). Mere regret over sin is not enough, however, since the motive may be from shame (pride) or disappointment over some selfish loss. Esau repented with tears, but his wasn't true repentance since he didn't lament the loss of his heart to God's love... True repentance leads to healing and life. When the woman from Magdala wept and washed Jesus' feet with her tears, he said, "I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much" (Luke 7:44-48). In other words, she was lavish in her love because she deeply regretted that she had missed what was most important, what she desperately needed all along... She saw her sin as blindness to God's love... After all, why would she weep over her sins unless she loved him? And how could she love him unless he first revealed his love to her? (1 John 4:19)
"For grief (λύπη) as intended by God produces a repentance (תְּשׁוּעָה) that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10).
09.01.15 (Elul 17, 5775) "If we confess our sins..." (1 John 1:9). The question is raised, if a man sins purposely, how can he know whether his intentional repentance can overcome his intentional sin? We must press on, and maintain our teshuvah. Even if we sin 70 x 7 times (Matt. 18:21-22), we are forbidden to regard ourselves as beyond the reach of God's healing love. The Spirit cries out: "Return to Me, and I will return to you" (Mal. 3:7).
A king's son was at a far distance from his father. Said his friends to him, "Return to your father." He said, "I can't: the way is too far. His father sent to him and said, "Go as far as you are able, and I will come the rest of the way to you. Thus says the Holy One, blessed be He: "Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 3:7).
שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם
אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת
shu·vu · e·lai · ve·a·shuv·ah · a·lei·khem
a·mar · Adonai · tze·va·ot
"Return to me, and I will return to you,
says the LORD of hosts."
It is never too late to turn to God... there is always hope. The prophet Jeremiah spoke in the Name of the LORD: "Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am kind (כִּי־חָסִיד אֲנִי), declares the LORD" (Jer. 3:12). When the people drew back in shame, however, God encouraged them by saying "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father? Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness. "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."