Realizing Reality

For the week of March 24, 2018 / 8 Nisan 5778

Five illustrations of a man in different states of realization

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36 (English 6:8 – 8:36)
Haftarah: Malachi 3:4-24 (English 3:4 – 4:6)

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The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely—in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby – if he has sinned and has realized his guilt and will restore what he took by robbery or what he got by oppression or the deposit that was committed to him or the lost thing that he found or anything about which he has sworn falsely, he shall restore it in full and shall add a fifth to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs on the day he realizes his guilt. And he shall bring to the priest as his compensation to the LORD a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him before the LORD, and he shall be forgiven for any of the things that one may do and thereby become guilty.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 6:1-7 [English: 6:8-14])

As you may be aware, I don’t normally begin with such a lengthy quote, but I couldn’t think of a more succinct way to provide the scriptural basis for what I want to address this week. It’s more important than usual due to the need to adjust some of what I said in last week’s message, The Ultimate Sacrifice. I had stated unequivocally that under the Old Covenant, there was no sacrifice for intentional sin. I referenced the book of B’midbar/Numbers 15:30, which uses the term “high hand” which apparently is a way to speak of intentionality: “But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people.” “Cut off” could mean either execution or banishment. At the same time, we saw that King David’s sincere and humble prayer of confession in Psalm 51 for his intentional sins was accepted by God in spite of there being no appropriate sacrifice for what he did.

Now to this week’s portion, especially its opening verses that I read. Here it appears there is sacrifice for intentional sin after all. How did I miss that? The intentional/unintentional distinction vis-à-vis sacrifice and forgiveness appears to be common among interpreters. But after taking a closer look at these verses, I am not sure that such a distinction is so cut and dried. Certainly, when someone realizes guilt it may imply that they were not previously aware of it. But is being unaware necessarily a sign of unintentionality? It could be. For example, if you fail to stop at a stop sign, the authorities are not to accept your claim of not seeing the sign as the basis of innocence. While it could happen that a stop sign may have been significantly obstructed, unawareness on its own doesn’t preclude guilt. Still, unawareness is a factor in determining unintentionality.

But is that what is going on here? Does realizing guilt necessarily imply lack of awareness and unintentionality? Let’s look closer at the passage. It begins with “If anyone sins and commits a breach of faith against the LORD by deceiving his neighbor in a matter of deposit or security, or through robbery, or if he has oppressed his neighbor or has found something lost and lied about it, swearing falsely…” Does this sound unintentional to you? Deceiving a neighbor regarding money or goods? Theft? Oppression? Lying? Swearing falsely? Do people not realize what they are doing when they do such things? Might they not be aware of how serious such things are? It’s possible, I guess. Certainly, they may not feel guilty about doing whatever they did. Those of you who suffer from constant guilt, this might be hard to believe. But it’s amazing how psychologically disconnected some people can be.

Guilt is an objective reality. Our wrongs place us automatically out of sorts with God and the world. Our realization of guilt is not what makes it real, however. The effects of guilt create havoc whether or not we are aware of it. Realization brings us to the place where we can finally deal with it. And that’s what the guilt offering provided to the people.

Sinning with a high hand, therefore, may be more along the lines of a certain kind of purposeful intentionality beyond what’s described here, including overt rebellion against God. This passage, on the other hand, refers to “in any of all the things that people do and sin thereby.” Not to belittle any of these things, but we are encouraged to admit the commonality of such behavior. But unintentional? I don’t think so.

We need to take responsibility for the ungodly aspects of our lives no matter what our awareness-level is. Not feeling guilty is no excuse. People will use having peace about something as license to get away with sinning. That they are unaware of the seriousness of their wrong is one thing. That they and everyone around is suffering due to their resistance to the truth is another.

I can’t speak to individual situations, but perhaps some subconsciously remain unaware of their guilt because they are afraid of the consequences. When that’s the case, we would do better to be more afraid of not realizing our guilt. Once we allow guilt to rise in our consciousness, we can finally do something about it. First, we restore the intimacy of relationship with those affected by making amends as able. Second, we restore intimacy with God though sacrifice. Under the Old Covenant that was done by the method described in our Torah portion. Under the New, we receive the benefits of Yeshua’s ultimate sacrifice through faith.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Ultimate Sacrifice

For the week of March 17, 2018 / 1 Nisan 5778

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26 (English: 1:1 – 6:7); Shemot/Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46; Isaiah 66:1-24

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If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed. (Vayikra/Leviticus 4:27-28)

For the New Covenant believer, the concept of sin and forgiveness is central. We understand that whatever the Old Covenant sacrificial system meant, it in some way points to the Messiah’s ultimate sacrifice. For that reason, it is understandable that we would search for parallels between the multi-purpose sacrifice of animals and Yeshua’s unjust death. The problem is it is difficult to draw exact parallels. First, not all sacrifice was for sin. At times people would offer something to express gratitude for example. In contrast, the Messiah’s death was altogether tragic. Even though Yeshua freely accepted his mission, however, there was nothing good nor celebratory about his having to die. While the results of his death were good, and the resurrection should be celebrated, the process of death itself was not good. Therefore, Yeshua’s sacrifice only parallels those sacrifices that were for sin of some kind.

Another dissimilarity is the animals didn’t unduly suffer when killed. They weren’t beaten beforehand as Yeshua was, and they were killed quickly unlike Yeshua’s slow, excruciating, humiliating death on a Roman cross.

There’s at least one more difference. We see it in the verses I quoted at the beginning. You might be surprised to learn that Old Covenant sacrifice for sin was only for unintentional sin. There were no sacrifices for intentional sin at all. The consequence for intentional sin, the Hebrew phrase for that being sinning with a “high hand” (B’midbar/Numbers 15:30), was either banishment or death. This could be why King David in his well-known penitential psalm says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise

(Psalm 51:18-19; English: 51:16-17)

This is not a New Testament-esque post-sacrificial system advanced theology of anti-animal sacrifice. It’s that there were no sacrifices to cover David’s intentional sins of adultery and murder. The only acceptable action on David’s part is what he did – honestly and humbly admit his guilt.

What was the point of sacrifice for sin if it was not to cover serious, intentional wrongdoing? It appears the loss of animal life was designed to make the people aware of their sinful condition. Most of us are conscious of our big sins, while tending to go through life blind to how much we really fall short. The sacrifices helped the people in ancient times to take even their unintentional shortcomings seriously. Sin is costly to ourselves and to those around us; it is also an affront to God who created us to serve him and his purposes. Instead of glibly saying, “nobody’s perfect,” we need to be made aware of the great chasm caused by our ever-present failings and the world as it was supposed to be.

It should be obvious that if unintentional sin was serious enough to require the killing of innocent animals, how much more serious is intentional sin? No wonder Yeshua’s offering was so different from animal sacrifice. It was the only sacrifice designed to truly take away sin. Old Covenant ritual wasn’t simply symbolically foreshadowing a similar, but greater, sacrifice, rather it prepared Israel and the world for a much different, far more effective sacrifice – one that would deal with sin once and for all.

In spite of the supreme effectiveness of Yeshua’s death for sin, its effects are not applied to us automatically. In order to experience the benefits of what Yeshua has done, we need to echo David’s words. On our own we have nothing to offer that could satisfy the great losses we have caused the world or the affront our lives have been to our Creator. Nothing apart God’s full giving of himself in the person of the Messiah is sufficient to resolve our alienation from him. Making it our own requires a turning of our lives in faith to Yeshua and personally accepting the precious gift of his ultimate sacrifice.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Anti-Narcissist

For the week of March 10, 2018 / 23 Adar 5778Screen capture of Google search definition of narcissistVayakhel & Pekudei
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 35:1 – 40:38 & B’midbar/Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38

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Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. (Ezekiel 36:22)

A key theme in the book of the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel (Hebrew: Y’chezkel) is the glory of God. Early in the book which takes place during the early stages of the Babylonian conquest, Ezekiel has a vision of God’s glory in terms of a heavenly chariot. Eventually the prophet sees God’s glory leave the Jerusalem temple, thus illustrating that Israel’s exile is his exile too. On one hand, it is comforting to be reminded that God is with his people even in times like these, but we shouldn’t miss the indictment against them: their misdeeds resulted in the loss of God’s glory.

There are two aspects to what constitutes the glory of God. First, it refers to the outward manifestation of his being. Since God is a spirit, he cannot be detected by our physical senses. But from time to time he displays the essence of who he is within the material sphere –  blinding light and consuming fire being two most common. Sometimes his glory is expressed through actions, often referred to as signs, since there is significance or meaning behind them. The ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the provision of manna, and so on are expressions of his glory.

The second aspect of glory has to do with honor, the appropriate response to these manifestations. When we sufficiently acknowledge a display of God’s glory, we give credit to whom credit is due. So when God does something amazing and we respond with amazement, remarking that only God could have done such a thing, we are giving God glory or honoring him.

God cares very much about his honor to the extent that it is perhaps his prime internal motivating force. The verse I read at the start is one of many examples in the Bible, several of which are in Ezekiel, that convey this idea. In much of the Hebrew prophetic literature, God’s judgement of the Jewish people is not his final word concerning them, but a temporary measure in the process of their eventual physical and spiritual restoration. But, to make sure that the people don’t get the wrong impression, God deems it necessary to remind them that he is not doing this for their sakes but for the sake of his holy name, which is another way to say, for his honor.

One might react to this, wondering why the Supreme Being would appear to be so self-centered as if he wants to remind us: “Don’t forget everybody; this is all about Me!” Perhaps this is exactly what God is saying. Some may even want us to believe that not only is this correct, but that our whole approach to God and life needs to revolve around such a notion.

Is God the ultimate narcissist, ever consumed with himself? No wonder we talk about God using people. Perhaps that’s exactly what he is doing. Are we nothing more than his minions created to do his bidding? Could it be that any perceived kindness toward us is illusionary, since we are nothing but expendable pawns in some divine plan? To hear how some people theologize the Bible, you’d think so.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Everything about God is lavishly generous. He, the only self-sufficient one, far from being narcissistic, freely chose to bring into existence a wonderful creation, designing humans in particular to uniquely share aspects of himself by making us in his image.

God doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t need our honor. But he knows that we need to honor him. Our misunderstanding of this greatly stems from our skewed view of honor. Honor isn’t about its apparent perks or position. Honor is an acknowledgement of truth. Failure to give credit where credit is due detaches us from reality and sends us down the rabbit hole of delusion and destruction. Neglecting to give glory to God for who he is and what he has done shifts our allegiance from the true Master of the Universe to ourselves, thus fashioning human beings into puny false gods. But when we honor him, we place ourselves in our rightful place in the universe, thus allowing us to function according to design.

God’s passion for his honor stems from a deeper motivating force of selfless love. His concern for his glory is his plea for us to live in reality. To know him truly is to honor him. To perceive him accurately is to give him glory. To live otherwise is to dwell in the darkness. Let us honor God and really live!

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Truth You Know

14 Adar 5778 / March 1, 2018
Special for Purim 5778

Painting of Haman honoring Mordecai

by Ari Gradus. For Gradus’ work, see <

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If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him. (Esther 6:13)

One of my favorite moments in the Purim story is when the wicked Haman returns home after his humiliating task of parading Mordecai through the streets of the Persian capital. Seeing his thoroughly despondent state, his wife says to him these insightful words: “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him” (Esther 6:13). But it’s not how prophetically accurate this was that is so striking. What gets me is why didn’t she say this earlier. “If Mordecai is of the Jewish people…” Not long before, right after another one of Haman’s “I can’t stand Mordecai” pity parties, she came up with the brilliant idea of having a 75-foot-high gallows made to hang Mordecai on. In fact, it was Haman’s being in the royal court waiting to ask the king’s permission for this murderous deed that ended up with him publicly honoring Mordecai for rescuing the king some time earlier.

Obviously, it was this unusual turn of events that tweaked Haman’s wife’s thinking, resulting in her somber prediction. But again, if she already had enough of a grasp of the grand narrative of the Jewish people enabling her to predict her husband’s imminent demise, then why did she think they could get away with her spectacular hang-Mordecai-plan?

It’s because she thought, despite the truth, that they could get away with it. She wasn’t stupid. She and her husband knew how to play the political game to suit their selfish purposes, not caring one bit about who got hurt along the way. She was even able to risk fighting the forces of the universe to succeed. She knew God’s favor was on the Jews. Yet, perhaps she deceived herself long enough to think they could succeed. Weren’t things going their way until now?

Do we always have to wait until heaven pushes back against the forces of evil before we come to our senses? Can we not learn from history that the forces of good will always eventually prevail? Can we not learn from the story of Purim that standing against God, his people, and his plans will inevitably come to naught?

Like Haman’s wife, it’s not as if we don’t know better.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version