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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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