Jubilee

For the week of May 28, 2016 / 20 Iyar 5776

Text: Jubilee

Be-Har
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2
Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6-27
Originally post for the week of May 20, 2000 / 15 Iyyar 5760;
Revised version as appearing in the book “Torah Light”

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:10)

I love the way the Torah confronts conventional thinking. Far from being irrelevant or outdated, the Bible addresses many of the same issues we face in our own day. Yet how it deals with these issues is so very different from the dictates of popular thinking.

This week’s Torah portion is a great example of this. God commanded that every fifty years was to be a Jubilee year. At that time, everyone among the people of Israel was to return to his ancestral property. If anyone had sold their land to someone else or lost it due to debt, they would get it back. God says, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:23).

What a different way of looking at property! First, in ancient Israeli society, no one actually owned land; it belonged to God, who allotted portions of the Land to the various tribal groups and specific clans. Because it was his to give, the tribal inheritances could not be lost permanently. As the people went about their daily business, they could lose their land temporarily. After every fifty years, however, the land would revert to the original owners.

In God’s economy, the highs and lows of economic fortune are balanced by the Jubilee. Every fifty years the nation would basically start over. This would have prevented the poor from becoming completely destitute and staying that way from generation to generation.

This reminded the people that what they had was entrusted to them by God, something that every society would do well to realize. We wrongly think that all we have has come to us by our own efforts rather than by God’s blessing.

Another thing the Jubilee teaches us is that when we truly know God, we don’t have to think that our future is dictated by the present. We too can start over. God is a God of restoration. He longs to see his beloved creatures restored to the place he intended for us. Just like he provided a physical inheritance for the clans of Israel, so he has an inheritance for all people. He wants to restore each person to the quality of life he intended before our first parents’ rebellion in the garden of Eden. When Yeshua went public, he read a passage from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue—words reminiscent of the Jubilee:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18–19, quoted from Isaiah 62:1–2)

Through Yeshua, every one of us can experience a Jubilee. No matter how destitute we have become, we can be restored to the kind of life God originally intended for us.

In the Jubilee, for anyone to be restored to their land, they had to get up and go there. No one was forced to return to his God-given inheritance. Each person had to take it upon himself to reacquire what was rightfully his.

It is the same for us today, but how do we do that? Pray and ask God for your rightful inheritance. Then trust him to answer that prayer. It might mean a major change in your life, but you will finally find yourself where you were truly meant to be all along.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Blasphemy

For the week of May 21, 2016 / 13 Iyar 5776

Passage from Hebrew Bible

 

Emor
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1-24:23
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. (Vayikra/Leviticus 24:16)

This week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion) includes a very serious injunction to impose violent capital punishment upon a person who “blasphemes the name of the LORD.” We may hear the term “blaspheme” mentioned from time to time, but what does it actually mean? And why is it so serious?

Depending on the English translation blaspheme is used when translating a variety of Hebrew words that apparently refer to the dishonoring of God in one way or other. The word here is “naqav,” which has a variety of meanings depending on the context. It can mean blaspheme or curse, pierce something with holes, or even select people for something. At first glance, these usages may seem to have nothing to do with each other. In fact, some scholars propose that while the word is the same, they may derive from a different semantic history. While that is possible, these usages may actually help us understand what blasphemy really is and why it is so serious.

Whether one is selecting people or boring holes, it assumes a certain kind of relationship between the person doing the action and the object. Selecting people assumes a level of authority and power on the part of the person doing the selecting. Boring holes assumes superiority and control over an object. It could be that in a context such as our parsha that naqav is describing a person taking a place of superiority over God and treating him like an object to be controlled for one’s own use.

The injunction against naqav here was in response to the misuse of God’s name in the midst of a fight between two men. It is possible that the offending party was attempting to utilize God’s name in order to gain the upper hand in the fight. Such a thing was deemed to be so wrong as to warrant the man’s execution.

This is not exactly the same as breaking the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Shemot/Exodus 20:7). To take God’s name in vain is to treat it lightly especially in relationship to taking oaths. Naqav, on the other hand, is invoking God’s name to manipulate others for one’s own benefit.

While under the New Covenant we (as opposed to the state) have no jurisdiction to enact capital punishment, the Torah portion encourages us to take the prohibition against naqav very seriously. Are there ways in which we seek to use God to control others, and thereby commit naqav? It is too easy sometimes to invoke God’s name in hopes that people will do our bidding. We forget that every individual is answerable to God, not to us. This is something to remembered especially when dealing with those closest to us. Even when our goal is to honor God and accomplish his will, we must never think it is permissible to use God’s name against those whom we are called to love and serve.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The God of Israel

For the week of May 14, 2016 / 6 Iyar 5776

Israel independence day and abstract flag icons

Kedoshim
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob (Amos 9:8)

A significant feature of the Hebrew prophets is doom and gloom. After all, these spokespeople of God emerged as the nation of Israel fell into deeper and deeper decline. God had warned the nation from its beginnings that rebellion against him would result in judgment, culminating in foreign oppression and exile.

Israel is not the only target of biblical prophetic warnings. Israel’s enemies also faced the prospect of dire consequences due to their evil ways. While the threat of harsh judgment hung over the heads of both Israel and these other nations, there was one huge difference between them. Israel could be confident that judgment was never God’s final word to them. Interwoven within so much doom and gloom are the unbreakable threads of restoration.

I write this in between two key markers in the Jewish calendar. Thursday, May 5, this year, is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we remember the 6 million Jews who died as a result of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies during World War II. Exactly one week later, Thursday, May 12, is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day, celebrating the re-emergence of the Jewish national home in 1948 after almost two thousand years of exile.

Whatever one thinks about the causes of the Holocaust or the political underpinning of the modern state of Israel, it is difficult not to be amazed at how a nation, dispersed and stateless for so long under great duress, could rise from the ashes of attempted genocide to become one of the greatest countries of the world. Sadly, many who only hear negative stories about Israel fed to us by the media are clued out as to the beauty and achievements of this most remarkable young ancient country.

Students of history should be confounded by this. No nation has ever withstood such hardship for so long only to be restored to its land, rediscover its language, regather and integrate literally millions of its people from the four corners of the earth.

The only reasonable explanation for the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is God’s commitment to them as a people rooted in his covenantal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is the basis of the hope offered by the prophets of old. The Bible is clear that human rebellion against God leads to destruction. Anyone’s hope is only and always found in God’s intervention. And time after time throughout the Bible that’s what we see as God comes through for Israel.

It’s interesting how some people accept God’s faithfulness to Israel in the Bible while having a hard time extending that same faithfulness into modern times. For some this is due to a misunderstanding as to the relationship of God’s unconditional covenantal promises to the nation through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the conditional nature of the later covenant given at Mt. Sinai to Moses. While Sinai delineated harsh consequences for disobedience, God’s unconditional obligations to the people based on his promises to the patriarchs put himself in a situation where he could not leave Israel in an everlasting state of judgment.

Confusion over these matters is compounded by the New Covenant’s emphasis on the individual’s relationship with God and how personal salvation through the Messiah is for people of all nations, not Israel alone. Many fail to distinguish the national vs. personal aspects of God’s workings with humankind. God’s faithfulness to the nation of Israel as established through the Abrahamic covenant doesn’t automatically set individual Jewish people in right relationship with God. Salvation is always by faith. At the same time, the importance of personal faith doesn’t undermine God’s ongoing covenant faithfulness to Israel as demonstrated in its survival and national restoration. In fact, the God of Israel can only be fully known for who he is when we recognize his eternal faithfulness to Israel.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Feel of Clean

For the week of May 7, 2016 / 29 Nisan 5776

Vacuum cleaning dust on a floor

Aharei Mot
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 20:18-42
Originally posted the week of April 16, 2011 (revised version as appearing in the book “Torah Light”)

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins. (Vayikra/Leviticus 16:30)

Do you enjoy the feeling of clean? You know what I mean. After working or playing hard on a muggy summer day, when you finally have a nice long shower, there’s nothing like that feeling of being free from the stickiness of sweat and dirt.

The Torah uses the terms unclean and clean to describe our state before God. The effect of sin in our lives makes us dirty in a very real sense. While this reality is spiritual, not physical, it is no less real.

Being dirty physically isn’t bad in itself, yet it can prevent us from participating in certain situations. While grease and grime may be appropriate for a car mechanic at a service garage, it wouldn’t do to be covered with dirt at his wedding. In the same way, spiritual uncleanness makes us unfit to enter God’s presence.

Our awareness or lack thereof is no indication of how physically dirty we may be. Human beings are quite adaptable and can get used to all sorts of things, including dirt. Getting comfortable with dirt doesn’t change the fact of dirt. It’s the same spiritually. How aware we are of our uncleanness may or may not be an accurate reflection of our spiritual state.

The Torah assumes that human beings get dirty spiritually and provides cleansing through the sacrifices. This is a foreign concept for most of us. We don’t tend to think of ourselves as spiritually unclean. But this is the very reason for our alienation from God. Due to sin, we are unfit to be in God’s presence, which in turn undermines human existence in every way.

Spiritual cleansing as prescribed by the Torah was only a partial solution, in that it only allowed the people to participate in the religious affairs of the nation. It never really made the people fit to be in God’s presence. In fact, it actually served as a reminder of how terribly dirty we really are.

When Yeshua celebrated his last Pesach (English, Passover) with his disciples, he washed their feet to demonstrate (among other things) the humble attitude we should have toward each other (see John 13:1–20). As he was about to wash Peter’s feet, Peter understandably reacted to the Messiah’s performing the function of a common servant. Once he understood that this act was necessary for him to truly be part of the Messiah’s life and mission, he asked that Yeshua might also wash his head and hands. To this, Yeshua made a most profound pronouncement. He said to Peter, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean” (John 13:10). While it is still necessary to deal with the uncleanness of daily living, as signified by the need for foot washing, Peter was clean. He was clean but didn’t know it. He didn’t feel clean. He thought he was still dirty.

Do you feel dirty? Unlike physical cleansing, spiritual cleansing isn’t naturally or automatically felt. But if you, like Peter, have turned to Yeshua as your Master and Messiah, then you, like Peter, are clean. Ah, the feel of clean!

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

What’s in a Name?

For the week of April 30, 2016 / 22 Nisan 5776

A name tag with the words, "Hello my name is ?"

Pesach 8
Torah: Devarim/Deuteronomy 14:22 – 16:17; Bemidbar/Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Isaiah 10:32 – 12:6

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. (Isaiah 12:2)

The special Haftarah (reading from the Prophets) traditionally chosen when the end of Pesach (English: Passover) falls on a Shabbat (English: Sabbath) is a high point in the Hebrew Scriptures. It speaks of a day when King Messiah will establish everlasting peace on earth. In response, people will celebrate God’s goodness with great joy. This is where the well-known song and folk dance, Mayim (meaning “water”), comes from: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

Salvation to many people has very spiritual overtones as if it is exclusive to the domain of the intangible.  This comes out of the false notion that God is really only concerned about our souls. The body, as is the rest of the material world, is temporary and decaying. Our only hope is if our souls connect with God adequately so that the essential non-tangible part of us might have the opportunity to exist in an eternally blissful state in heaven.

Biblically speaking, salvation is indeed a spiritual concept since it is rooted in God, but it isn’t only spiritual. The Bible doesn’t view the realm of God as completely detached from the other aspects of life. Scripture teaches that the spiritual and the material are integrated. Salvation is not a concern for only our souls, but for the whole person. Plus, it isn’t just for individuals, the salvation foretold by the Hebrew prophets is the salvation of the entire creation. That’s something to sing and dance about all right!

Almost forty years ago, when I was a new believer, I was working part time at a Jewish Community Centre. My fairly new faith in Yeshua as the Messiah (I normally called him Jesus back then) was not something that the administration valued, to say the least. One day, the Centre’s director thought we should have a talk. I don’t remember everything that was said, except for when he challenged me to show him where Jesus was mentioned in the Hebrew Bible by name. Obviously (or so I thought) the name Jesus is not in the Old Testament. So what could I say! I was aware of the many prophecies that so vividly predicted his coming (http://www.alangilman.ca/content/messianicprophecies.html), but his actual name? He thought he scored some points with that.

But, as many of you know, Jesus’s Hebrew name is Yeshua, which means “salvation.” If I would have known, I could have shown him the over three hundred and fifty occurrences of the noun and verbal forms of that word, including from this week’s Haftarah: “Behold, God is my yeshuah; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD God is my strength and my song, and he has become my yeshuah.” (Isaiah 12:2). I know that salvation isn’t being used as a proper name here, but the name given the Messiah is repeated over and over again.

At Pesach we rejoice over God’s salvation of our people, delivering us from slavery in Egypt. Over and over again since then, God has been our yeshuah. It is fitting that this would be the Messiah’s given name. For he is our salvation, our rescuer, our deliverer. Let us draw water from the wells of Yeshua!

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Types

For the week of April 23, 2016 / 15 Nisan 5776

A focus, using a magnifying glass, on the words in Genesis 1:1

Pesach 1
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 12:21-51; Bemidbar/Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Joshua 5:2 – 6:1; 6:27

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. (Shemot/Exodus 12:23)

It is absolutely astounding how the Hebrew Scriptures point to Yeshua. While there are predictive prophecies that were designed to create expectation in the hearts of ancient Israel, so many characters and happenings foreshadow the Messiah. There’s no way anyone could have made this up or figured it out in advance. And it’s not as if these foreshadowing elements call themselves out to be noticed. But once Yeshua came and said what he said, did what he did, and there was some time to reflect on the implications of all this, the intentionality of God in overseeing it all becomes obvious.

When teaching from the Hebrew Scriptures, it is common and appropriate to make these connections. Sometimes, however, the search for these types (as they are technically called) goes too far, in my opinion. We should be careful not to create illegitimate parallels, making up ideas and concepts about either the Old Testament or Yeshua that are simply not true. I have also seen how an Old Testament passage may be properly interpreted and explained, but then as the climax of the teaching, we are told that whatever good thing we may have encountered in the passage, it pales in comparison to Yeshua and whatever way he might be the epitome of the lesson at hand.

For example, we could be told in graphic, dramatic detail about what it must have been like for Isaac to be bound to the wood and see his father about to plunge the knife into his heart (see Bereshit/Genesis 22:1-19). But then we’re told that’s nothing compared to Yeshua, who actually was killed. The resulting effect on the hearers is that everything said before is eclipsed by making so much of what Yeshua did. Why even bother telling the earlier story if it pales in comparison?

I have the impression that for some people Old Testament study is nothing more than finding these connections to Yeshua. Don’t get me wrong! That these connections are there are wonderfully astounding. I believe that they help validate the divine authorship and integrity of the entire Bible. But is that what the earlier stories are all about; making interesting connections?

As I was thinking about this the other day, I realized something. While it is true that Yeshua fulfills the types in such great ways, it is the types that enable us to connect with the truths they communicate. So while Yeshua is the greater, Noah, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, David, etc., if we only had Yeshua, then we could easily distance ourselves from who he is and what he did since he is unique as the Messiah, the Son of God. But when we see others being like him in so many ways, we learn that we can be like him too. So the types bridge the reality of God in Yeshua to us.

Which brings us to our special Torah portion for the feast of Pesach (English: Passover, which begins this year the evening of April 22). Prior to the tenth and final plague, the killing of the firstborn, the people of Israel were instructed to take the blood of a lamb and apply it to the doorframes of their homes. That night the Angel of Death would pass over every house which had applied the blood. How Yeshua fulfills this is obvious. Having shed his blood for our sins, if we figuratively apply his blood to our lives, then we will not be condemned when judgment comes.

Yeshua’s greater deliverance doesn’t eclipse Passover. Besides it being an essential aspect of Israel’s history, it challenges us to see faith not as something hidden in our heads and hearts, but an outward public act. Every house that night was set apart publicly as a result of faith and obedience to God’s word. Yeshua is certainly the greater Passover, but it’s Passover that reminds us that we ourselves must respond.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Defiled No More!

For the week of April 16, 2016 / 8 Nisan 5776

Clean

Mezora
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/Kings 7:3-20
Revised version of message originally posted the week of April 12, 2008 / 7 Nissan 5768

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. (Vayikra / Leviticus 15:31)

This is perhaps one of the most important statements in the Torah that helps us to understand the implications of the New Covenant. Vayikra (the Book of Leviticus) contains detailed instructions regarding how the community of Israel was to deal with spiritual uncleanness.

The term unclean in Hebrew is “tamei.” It does not mean unclean in the sense of being dirty but rather refers to defilement with regard to spiritual purity. When someone or something is tamei, they are unfit to be in God’s presence or to be used in God’s service. Not only did the defiled person risk death by attempting to be in God’s presence, their defilement also defiled God’s dwelling.

Let me explain. God’s plan and purpose for creating the people of Israel were to make himself known to the world through them. God instructed them through Moses to construct a tent-like structure called the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), which would later become a permanent structure called the Temple (the Hebrew word for Temple is simply “bayit,” meaning “house”). Whether it be the Mishkan or the Temple, they represented God’s dwelling place. The various inner sections of these structures, while providing, in one sense, access to God, they vividly illustrated the barriers that existed between us and him.

Much of the sacrificial system was to deal with this issue of defilement. On one hand it allowed people to engage God by undergoing ritual cleansing, but at the same time, it continually reminded them how they, as an example of the condition of all nations before God, were unfit to intimately engage him.

Many of the things that defiled a person, which in turn threatened the purity of God’s dwelling, were unintentional, including certain diseases, bodily emissions, and childbirth. While immorality was also defiling, it was necessary to learn that human defilement was fundamentally involuntary. Being unfit to approach God was an aspect of our natural human state.

The Torah’s teaching on defilement, therefore, describes our predicament before God. Even though Israel was called to be God’s people, human nature as derived from our first parents is unable to engage our Creator as he originally intended.

It is this predicament that the Messiah came to resolve. He, who in his nature was completely undefiled, took upon himself our defilement so that we can approach God freely and fully. The New Covenant book of Hebrews details how Yeshua purified God’s heavenly dwelling of which the earthly Mishkan and Temple were models. Our defilement defiled God’s dwelling place and kept us alienated from him. But the sacrificial blood of the Messiah the Son of God removed the effects of our defilement, making all who trust in him eternally pure, and thus absolutely fit to be in God’s presence and be in a state whereby we can freely serve him.

It is no wonder then that not long after Yeshua’s coming the Temple was destroyed. There is no longer any need to go through the motions of purification or to be reminded of our defilement since Yeshua has purified us once and for all.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Some Things Are Just No Big Deal

For the week of April 9, 2016 / 1 Nisan 5776

Man looking in a mirror, concerned about hair loss.

Tazri’a, Rosh Hodesh, & Hahodesh
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59; Bemidbar/Numbers 28:9-15; Shemot/Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46; Isaiah 66:1-24
Revised – originally posted the week of April 5, 2008 / 29 Adar II 5768

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

If a man’s hair falls out from his head, he is bald; he is clean. (Vayikra/Leviticus 13:40)

This week’s parasha (weekly Torah reading portion) contains a statement which at first may seem a little out of place. Yet it actually helps us gain some understanding of God’s perspective of life. The context in which this statement is found is one which addresses the issue of leprosy and leprosy-type diseases. Here we are given very specific details regarding how a cohen (English: priest) was to determine whether or not a person was infected with a leprous disease, which would result in that person being quarantined for as long as they had it.

To avoid false diagnoses, the passage includes a few skin conditions that could have been taken to be serious, but were, in fact, no concern. Their similarity to the serious ailments clearly justifies their inclusion. Thankfully having a condition similar to the real thing did not result in the same course of action as having the real thing.

The statement about baldness was likely included since losing one’s hair could be a symptom of a leprous condition. But the statement tells us in no uncertain terms that simply going bald with no other symptoms is no big deal.

Maybe baldness is a big deal to you. I know it is for some – at least from a vanity point of view. But regarding personal health, spiritual matters, or the welfare of the community, it is nothing to be concerned about.

Like baldness, many things that happen to us in life are no big deal. Yet some people think that everything that happens to us is for a reason. They try to look behind every circumstance and figure out its significance. Certainly many things do happen for a reason. I myself have experienced many unusual situations that appeared to be due to spiritual activity of some sort. Sometimes the reasons for these things were obvious, other times not. But unless God makes those reasons clear, who am I to guess what is going on behind the scenes of my life? And perhaps there isn’t a reason for everything after all.

There are certain things that happen to us, such as going bald, that should not cause us concern. You might be going through some normal body changes that are really bothering you, but are simply due to your getting older. Maybe you aren’t looking for some grandiose meaning behind this. Maybe you just don’t like it and it has become a much bigger deal than it needs to be.

This is not to say that there aren’t things in life that should be taken very seriously, whether they be certain medical conditions that require attention or circumstances through which God is seeking to speak to you. But at the same time, there are a great many other things that are no big deal. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we will be able to focus on the things of life that are truly important.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Unauthorized Fire

For the week of April 2, 2016 / 23 Adar II 5776

UnauthorizedFire01_480

Shemini & Parah
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47; Bemidbar/Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (Vayikra/Leviticus 10:1-2)

It is incidences like this one that challenges pop notions about God. Perhaps it also reinforces an older view that helped create the current one. It seems that there was a time when the God of the Bible was depicted as a big angry man in the sky, who was just waiting for one of his lowly human creatures to mess up, so he could give him what for. I don’t know if this is myth or not, but this depiction of the Great and Awesome Holy God was completely devoid of love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance.

We don’t hear too much about the Great and Awesome Holy God anymore. He has been replaced by a far gentler, tolerant, and understanding universal force known for his unconditional love.

From a biblical perspective both of these caricatures of the God of Israel are inaccurate. From Genesis through Revelation, his love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance are essential aspects of his character. From the moment the human race fell into the clutches of evil, he has been determined to rescue us (see Bereshit/Genesis 3:15). The reason for calling Abraham and developing the nation of Israel was to bring the blessing of life to the whole world (see Genesis 12:1-3). The whole story of Israel is one of a loving Father yearning for the welfare of his people with the goal of the promised blessing enveloping the globe. The greatest expression of this love is evidenced in the gift of the Messiah, his Son, along with an invitation to all to receive eternal life (see John 3:16).

If this is true, what do we do with a story like Nadab and Abihu? How could a God of love strike down Aaron’s sons like this? Apart from offering “unauthorized fire,” we don’t even know exactly what they did wrong. They may have been drunk (see Vayikra/Leviticus 10:8-9). But the prohibition against priests being under the influence wasn’t given until afterward. Whatever the reason, it resulted in a most drastic response from an otherwise merciful and loving God.

This is not an isolated case. Through the Hebrew Scriptures, we see God harshly punish people. For some, the activities of a wrathful God is a so-called “Old Testament” phenomenon, but that simply isn’t true. This same complexity of character is revealed in the New Covenant Writings as well. While love, mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance are so central, Yeshua has harsh and even cold words for all sorts of people. Later, God kills two people for spiritual hypocrisy (see Acts 5:11), and Paul even strikes a person blind who was getting in the way of God’s love (Acts 13:4-12).

Believing in a god who only does nice things is escapism. It might make you feel better to think that God’s love is warm and cozy fluff that wants nothing more than to coddle you in your dysfunction. But God loves you too much to simply give you whatever you want. The love of God is love on his terms, not ours. He is overwhelmingly merciful and accepting, but only if we are willing to come to him his way, by repenting of our sins and humbly trusting in the Messiah Yeshua.

And once we experience his forgiveness and acceptance in Yeshua, that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. It’s true that God isn’t waiting to blast us for the smallest slip-up. He is way more patient than that. But if we think we can take his love for granted, and assume that he will put up with our irresponsible behavior, we are fooling ourselves. I don’t know what your “unauthorized fire” might be. But don’t wait until it’s too late.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

More than Heart

For the week of March 19, 2016 / 9 Adar II 5776

Book pages in the shape of a heart

Vayikra & Zakhor
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26 (English: 1:1 – 6:7) &
Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: 2 Shmuel/1 Samuel 15:2-34

Download Audio [Right click link to download]

If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. (Vayikra / Leviticus 1:3)

When reading the descriptions of the various sacrifices in the third book of Moses it becomes apparent that the emphasis isn’t so much over why various sacrifices were offered, but rather what the requirements were for each sacrifice. This includes which animals were allowed, since certain animals were acceptable for some and not for others; which offerings included portions for the cohanim (English: priests) and which did not; when the people were to keep parts of the animal for eating and when not to; which offerings included grain and/or drink; which ones allowed for less expensive items when given by the poor, and so on.

It is clear that God was very particular about the regulations surrounding the sacrifices. People were not to offer to God whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and however they wanted. How God was to be worshipped was determined by God – not by the people.

Someone might want to point out that God was never really interested in the external aspects of worship. Didn’t the prophets make this clear as in this example from Isaiah and quoted by Yeshua several centuries later?

And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 cf. Matthew 15:8).

Performing our duties, while our hearts are actually distant from God is hypocrisy. God is not fooled by our simply going through the motions. But the prophetic warning against the trap of heartless submission to God doesn’t imply that it’s all about the heart. Scripture never gives the impression that God accepts anything and everything we choose to offer him. Faith in God is never to be a cover up for evil.

Our acceptance by God due to Yeshua’s final sacrifice for sin doesn’t mean that how we approach God no longer matters. In fact, the restrictions upon us are greater than ever before. While the sacrificial system is no longer in force, the offering he now calls for is the offering of ourselves. The New Covenant writings sees this as the only reasonable response to his great mercy toward us in the Messiah. Paul writes:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1)

And just as Torah carefully outlined the requirements for the sacrifices, so Paul reminds us that we should take similar care about how we offer ourselves:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Certainly our inner motives are essential, but so are the externals. We don’t live godly lives in order to achieve God’s acceptance. Rather because of God’s acceptance of us in Yeshua, we strive after godliness—a godliness according to his design.

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail