For the week of May 18, 2024 / 10 Iyar 5784

Message info over three arrows all hitting the bullseye of a target

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1-24:23
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31
Revised version of “Perfect Offerings,” originally posted the week of 20 Iyar 5758 / May 16, 1998

And when anyone offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it. (Vayikra/Leviticus 22:21)

Offerings to the God of Israel were to be without defect. Certainly one of the reasons for this was that the people were not to bring their leftovers and undesirables to him. For a sacrifice to be meaningful and acceptable, it had to be valuable. But apart from value, the perfect nature of these offerings has much to teach us about God, his creation, the Messiah, and ourselves.

First, by insisting that these animals have no blemishes, deformities, or disease, we are reminded that God himself has no defects, weaknesses or faults. We tend to create religion and spirituality that accommodates our own imperfect nature. But God calls us to something much higher. God is perfect. So what we offer to him must be of a fitting quality. To offer him anything less is to lower him to our level.

Next, we are reminded that the world was created perfectly. The imperfections and blemishes of life are a result of human rebellion against the Creator. By bringing some of the best of our possessions, we are confronted with an ideal that once was and will be again. Having to reject the defective, emphasizes the nature of the perfect. A day is coming when the creation will be renewed; the curse upon it will be no more.

For generations the people Israel had to carefully examine the offerings they brought as they were to be of only the highest quality. Little did they know that they were acting out what God himself would one day do himself. For what the animals could not accomplish, God did through the perfect offering of his Son, the Messiah, whom Peter refers to as “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).

Yeshua lived the only perfect and sinless life ever, preparing him to provide the way for imperfect people like us to be fully accepted by God. We read in the New Covenant book of Hebrews:

For if sprinkling ceremonially unclean persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer restores their outward purity; then how much more the blood of the Messiah, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself to God as a sacrifice without blemish, will purify our conscience from works that lead to death, so that we can serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14; Complete Jewish Bible).

On our own, because of our imperfections, we cannot approach God and serve him in the way he intends; we are disqualified. But if we trust in Yeshua and his perfect offering on our behalf, we are made acceptable to God, blemishes and all.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version



For the week of May 4, 2024 / 26 Nisan  5784

Message information on parchment background

Aharei Mot
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 16:1-18:30
Haftarah: 1 Sh’muel/1 Samuel 20:18-42
Originally posted the week of May 4, 2019 / 29 Nisan 5779

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. (Vayikra/Leviticus 17:11)

This statement by God through Moses clarifies the sacrificial system’s operative dynamic. Or, in other words, that which makes sacrifice work. Within God’s design of creation, a creature’s life was in its blood. Whether this be metaphorical or literal, I can’t say for sure, though I suspect it’s both. The blood on the altar represents the giving up of the life of the sacrificed animal.

So, it’s not so much the physical presence of blood that makes atonement. The word for atonement, “kaphar,” means “to cover.” And while blood is an effective covering; it’s the life which the blood represents that is doing the covering. That which needs to be covered is our souls. What is missed in English, however, is that the word “life” in the phrase “the life of the flesh is in the blood” and the word for “soul” here is the same Hebrew word “nephesh.” If we more precisely reflect the Hebrew word in both cases, we would better understand that the Jewish sacrificial system established that it was the giving of the offered animal’s life that provided cover for human life.

Why covering? Our first parents were created by God to have intimate unobstructed fellowship with him. When they turned to the creation over against the creator by heeding the voice of the serpent over against God’s word, they were overwhelmed with shame, attempted to cover themselves with leaves and hide. They knew they were no longer fit to be in God’s presence in this condition. Their being cast out of the garden reflected the resulting distance between them and God. Every additional misdeed done by them or their ancestors (including us) is a manifestation of the twisted nature they introduced to humankind. It would require the tragic ongoing loss of life to allow for any semblance of fellowship with God by covering the shame of human sinfulness.

For the nation of Israel, all the sacrificial system could do was maintain the tentative presence of God in their midst. It was a needed, albeit temporary, solution to the sin problem that did more to remind the people of Israel of the problem than to resolve it. As we read in the New Covenant book of Hebrews:

For since the law (Torah) has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4).

The stopgap measure of the ancient sacrificial system prepared Israel and the world for the life that would not only cover human shame but release us from it forever. The shed blood of the Messiah is the giving of his sinless life, not only for Israel, but for anyone who avails himself or herself its power. It’s the giving of his life on our behalf that reestablishes intimate relationship with God. It’s no wonder that within forty years of his death the sacrificial system would be no more. The Messiah’s lifeblood is now freely available to all.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Israel Difference

For the week of April 27, 2024 / 19 Nisan 5784

Message info over a matzah background

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 33:12 – 34:26; B’midbar/Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:37 – 37:14

For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth? (Shemot/Exodus 33:16)

This week’s parsha (Torah reading portion) is a special mid-Pesach Shabbat Torah reading. It covers the time following Israel’s worship of the golden calf and Moses’ breaking the original tablets of the Ten Commandments. Due to Moses’ intercession, God relents of destroying the people for their sin and reaffirms the covenant. That the parsha is chosen for the week of Pesach is curious, since there is no mention of leaving Egypt and associated events. However, God’s renewal of the covenant as documented here demonstrates that the rescue of Israel from slavery is part of something much bigger and enduring. Commemorating Pesach is to remember God’s commitment to Israel for the long haul.

The parsha also includes Moses’ seeking God for clarity over his continued presence with the people going forward. Through his conversation with God, he expresses that which sets Israel apart from all other nations. It’s not the extraordinary events that recently took place even though the exodus from Egypt is one of the most well-known stories of history. It’s not the giving of the Torah and the rest of the Bible even though it’s a unique heavenly gift that has blessed the world for centuries. What makes Israel distinct is God’s presence with them. In fact, it’s God’s presence from which everything else worthy of note in Israel’s history stems.

God himself sought out a people, beginning with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through whom to bring blessing to the rest of the world. And from those earliest days, he engaged Israel personally. They were not always aware of his presence. Long periods would go by when they may have felt that he had abandoned them. But even then, God’s attention was on them to oversee the workings of their lives to further his purposes both in and through them.

Some may want to reduce Israel’s story as one in which superior religious thought developed over time. Amid great struggles, special men and women rose to the fore as they developed extraordinary ways of living life. The Bible stories and the people involved can therefore be regarded as prototypical object lessons from which later generations could glean wisdom. According to this perspective, whether or not these stories actually happened to real people in real-life situations is secondary to the lessons we can learn from them.

Learning lessons from Bible stories is a good thing, but to downplay their historicity greatly undermines their intended power. For, if the people and events are nothing more than highly developed prototypical stories to enlighten readers, what does this tells us about Moses’ claim about what made Israel special? In order to establish the importance of Moses’s claim, an actual God needed to be literally present with real people. Otherwise, Moses’ words are nonsense.

But they were not nonsense. Moses really did encounter the Creator God, who spoke and made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He really did tell Moses what to say to Pharoah, striking Egypt with plagues due to Pharoah’s obstinance. He really did appear to Israel in the form of a pillar of cloud and fire and led them through the sea to freedom. He really did provide them with food and drink in the wilderness and really did give his Torah to Moses. God’s presence was really with Israel. It was (and still is) his personal attention that sets Israel, and all who trust in him through Israel’s Messiah, apart.

What makes God’s people different is that God is personally present with us. He never intended to leave us with a set of principles or ideas that we simply rehash and aspire to. He has indeed given us his Word, but never with the intention that we would figure it out on our own. That same Word calls us to be aware of his presence as we fix our attention on him and continually rely on him.

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


Defiled No More!

For the week of April 20, 2024 / 12 Nisan 5784

Message info over a dirty background with a white strip across it

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 14:1 – 15:33
Haftarah:  Malachi 3:4-24 (English: 3:4 – 4:6)
Previously posted the week of April 16, 2016 / 8 Nisan 5776

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


Deal with It

For the week of April 13, 2024 / 5 Nisan 5784

Message info over an image of a mouldy wall along with cleaning supplies

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59
Haftarah: 2 M’lachim/2 Kings 4:42 – 5:19
Originally posted the week of April 6, 2019 / 1 Nisan 5779

Then he shall examine the disease on the seventh day. If the disease has spread in the garment, in the warp or the woof, or in the skin, whatever be the use of the skin, the disease is a persistent leprous disease; it is unclean. And he shall burn the garment, or the warp or the woof, the wool or the linen, or any article made of skin that is diseased, for it is a persistent leprous disease. It shall be burned in the fire. (Vayikra/Leviticus 13:51-52)

As I have studied Torah for most of my life, I have come to see that there is far more to its teachings than the particular details it describes. Don’t get me wrong! The details are extremely important, but the details point beyond themselves to something much greater. I don’t mean that in some esoteric way as if the Bible is a code book of mysteries to be solved (in spite of what some may think!). It’s more straightforward than that. As we absorb its content over time, we are drawn into God’s understanding of the world in which we live. This worldview is not simply one possible way to look at life, but the only truly effective way. The God of Israel – the one who both designed and implemented the creation – is the only one who truly understands how best to negotiate the complexities of living. Through the Scriptures he has revealed that understanding.

Take for example the section of Torah we are in currently. God through Moses establishes strict guidelines with regard to certain infections. Note what’s missing. There is a great lack of spiritualization here. There’s nothing to suggest that people whose bodies or houses were afflicted were to blame in any way. While there was what to do in response, there was no reason to be ashamed of such things. Lack of shame encourages people to not hide their problems but bring them out into the open where they can be dealt with.

Not everything that looks problematic is serious. It was necessary for the general population and the leadership to learn the difference between those things that needed to be cut out and destroyed and others that could be left alone. A culture trained by God in this way would learn to approach all of life in a similar fashion. One doesn’t have to be a psychologist to know that negative human behavior can be as infectious as the examples given us in Torah.

In the New Covenant Writings, Paul provides an illustration of this (see 1 Corinthians 5:6-8). The faith community of the city of Corinth had allowed arrogance and malice to fester. He likened these negative influences to the way leaven pervades dough. Once the fermentation process gets in, it can’t be removed. It affects the entire batch. He therefore calls for a whole new lump of dough.

The problem with Paul’s illustration is when it comes to fermented dough, it’s permanent. If this was really about dough, then “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (1 Corinthians 5:7), would require throwing out the infected batch and starting with a new one. There’s no way he intends an exact parallel for the Corinthians. He isn’t saying that their community was beyond the point of no return; that they would need to start with a whole new group of people. What he is saying is that the transformative process required to resolve their metaphorical infection was drastic and would, therefore, require a resolve on the part of this community to take their situation seriously. They would have to do whatever was necessary to experience renewal. Thankfully, Paul’s extreme language emphasizes the potential of God’s transformative power available to them (and to us!) through Yeshua the Messiah.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version



For the week of April 6, 2024 / 27 Adar II 5784

Message info along with a large yellow arrow, illustrating a reverse direction

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47; Shemot/Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: 2 Shmuel/2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17
Replaced by: Ezekiel 45:16-46

Note: This following message was intended to be based on this week’s Haftarah (selection from the Hebrew Prophets). From time to time, the regularly scheduled Haftarah is preempted by a special selection due to that particular Shabbat’s proximity to a festival or other special occasion (see this article for more information). This is something I am usually aware of when preparing my weekly TorahBytes message. However, for some reason, I failed to notice the special reading and prepared the following based on the regularly scheduled one. I decided to post what I wrote anyway. Perhaps you will catch the irony. —Alan Gilman

And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you.” But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Would you build me a house to dwell in?’” (2 Shmuel/2 Samuel 7:3-5)

After King David’s throne was secure, having unified the tribes of Israel and having brought peace to the land, he had it in his heart to build a permanent house for God. According to Torah, God’s dwelling was to be in the form of the mishkan (English: tabernacle), the complex, semi-portable, national center for sacrifice. After erecting and dismantling the mishkan as needed during the years of Israel’s wanderings, it eventually came to rest in Shiloh about forty-five kilometers (thirty miles) north of Jerusalem. In the days of Eli, the cohen ha-gadol (English: the high priest), the central furnishing of the mishkan, the ark of the covenant, was captured by the Philistines. Many years later, after David became king, he brought it to Jerusalem where it was housed in a tent.

It troubled David that he himself dwelt in a permanent dwelling, while the ark of God dwelt in a tent. The ark signified the presence of God among the people of Israel. To David, God’s appointed earthly king had more dignified housing than the heavenly king of all kings. So, he brought his concern to the prophet Nathan. From their interaction and what follows, it’s clear that Nathan understood David wasn’t simply sharing a concern but also had a specific plan in mind: to build a permanent house for God. To Nathan, this was a great idea, and he told David so.

Nathan was correct to assume that God was with David and apparently viewed David’s grand building project in line with all he understood about both David and God. It must have been gratifying to David to get the prophet’s green light to proceed.

But sometime later (the wording sounds as if it wasn’t that much later), God speaks to Nathan, contradicting what Nathan had earlier said to David. David was not to build him a house. It would be his son who would do it instead. This in no way undermines what David envisioned. Far from it! According to First Chronicles, the plans for the temple were given to David by God. We read, “All this he made clear to me in writing from the hand of the Lord, all the work to be done according to the plan” (1 Chronicles 28:19). David was indeed inspired to build a permanent dwelling for God. It’s understandable that this being the case, both David and the prophet assumed that David would oversee the project, that is, until God said otherwise.

I cannot tell you how impressed I am by Nathan! Acknowledged as a prophet of God, he green lights David’s temple project, but then has to go back and say that he got it wrong. He not only received the message of correction; he also delivered it.

God did reveal more to Nathan than a simple correction of something like, “Yes, but not you and not now.” God gave Nathan a good deal of detail regarding his plans for David’s dynasty, the nature of which would have likely cushioned any sense of negativity that was included. But still, Nathan was open to God’s correcting what he had said to King David and was willing to tell him so.

How many of us would do as Nathan did? You might think, “If God would speak to me as clearly as he spoke to Nathan, of course I would!” Do you really think your openness to correction, especially after you’ve gone on record with regard to a matter, is based on how clearly God speaks to you? In any way that we might discover we have misrepresented God’s will—be it an interpretation of Scripture or how we might understand its implications in our lives or the lives of others—would we be as quick as Nathan to say so?

How often are we too embarrassed to admit that we’ve been wrong? And if we are not correctable in small things, do we think that we will be correctable in divine things? Nathan’s correctability should inspire us to consider what’s at stake here. For those of us who claim to know the God of Truth, we must commit ourselves to that truth at all costs. What’s the alternative?

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Centrality of Israel

For the week of March 30, 2024 / 20 Adar II 5784

Message info over a photo of a wooden door along with a old fashioned key with a Star of David

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36 (English: 6:8 – 8:36)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38
Originally posted the week of March 30, 2019 / 23 Adar II 5779

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And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. (Ezekiel 36:23)

The story of the Bible is the story of God’s rescue operation of the creation. According to the earliest chapters of the Bible, from the moment God cursed the world in response to our first parents’ rebellion, he determined to put a complete end to evil (see Bereshit/Genesis 3:15). Much of the rest of Scripture is the unfolding of that promise. The intricate interplay of the whole Bible is summed up by Paul when he calls God’s promise of blessing to Abraham, the “gospel,” meaning “good news” (Galatians 3:8; cf. Bereshit/Genesis 12:3). The good news is that the curse would be undone through Abraham’s descendants.

Yeshua followers are quick to point out that the realization of the promise to Abraham is wrapped up in the Messiah. That is certainly true. Yeshua’s death and resurrection provide forgiveness and eternal life to all who repent and put their trust in him. However, Yeshua’s part of the story of God, essential as it is, is not the whole story. In fact, we cannot fully appreciate Yeshua and what he has done unless we see him in the context of the whole Bible.

To understand Yeshua in the context of the Bible is to come to grips with the centrality of Israel in the plan of God. To start with, Yeshua isn’t portrayed in Scripture simply as the savior from heaven. He is that, but he is first and foremost the promised Messiah of Israel. He couldn’t be the savior of all if he wasn’t the Jewish Messiah. That’s just the beginning. There’s far more to Israel’s role in God’s rescue plan than Yeshua’s Jewish messianic pedigree.

Tragically, Israel’s role has been obscured by deep-seated prejudice towards the Jewish people through the centuries. Ignoring Paul’s warning to the non-Jewish believers in Rome to not be arrogant towards the Jewish people (see Romans 11:17-24), the church did just that. Paul must have sensed that there was a growing “new kid on the block” mentality emerging from the increasing number of Gentile believers in his day. He knew that the outworking of God’s promise to bless the nations that they were experiencing could easily be misinterpreted as a shift of God’s heart – that Israel was “out” and the Church, its non-Jewish component in particular, was “in.” His olive-tree metaphor in Romans chapter eleven is a masterful three-dimensional picture of the complexity of the multi-ethnic makeup of the New Covenant community of faith. The inclusion of non-Jews into God’s family was not to be regarded as a replacement of his earlier commitment to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

This anti-Jewish lens filters out the fulness of Scripture. Take this week’s Haftarah portion, for example. When you read Ezekiel’s words, do you hear God’s faithfulness to Israel or his disgust? Israel failed to live up to the standard of being God’s holy people as established at Mt. Sinai through Moses (see Shemot/Exodus 19:5-6). But many have failed to understand that Israel was made an example to demonstrate to the world everyone’s need of God. That should evoke awe and gratefulness, not disdain.

Why then does God himself seem to be so negative on Israel? Isn’t that what’s going on in this week’s Haftarah? He says through the prophet Ezekiel: “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel” (Ezekiel 36:32). Words like these may appear to reflect God’s supposed rejection of his ancient covenant people. But keep on reading:

Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it. (Ezekiel 36:33-36)

God’s response to Israel’s failure is not rejection but restoration – a restoration that’s not only spiritual but physical as it includes a glorious transformation in their ancient homeland. Any version of God’s rescue operation that fails to include God’s ongoing plans and purposes for the Jewish people misrepresents his mission, his word, and himself.

What God began through the faithful remnant of Jewish followers of Yeshua sent out two thousand years ago will culminate in the renewal of the entire creation. When Israel is finally and fully restored, both the people and the land, the curse over the earth will be completely broken and God’s rule and reign will be established forever. God is not finished with Israel; the best is yet to come.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard VersionFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Mordecai Would Not Bow Down

For the week of March 23, 2024 / 13 Adar II 5784

Message info over Image taken 'Haman and Mordecai" by Paul Alexander Leroy 1884. Wikimedia
Image taken from Haman and Mordecai by Paul Alexander Leroy 1884. Wikimedia

Vayikra & Zachor
Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26 (English 1 – 6:7); D’varim/Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 15:2-34

And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone. So, as they had made known to him the people of Mordecai, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus. (Esther 3:5-6)

The Festival of Purim begins this year on the evening of March 23. The title of this week’s message is a fitting summary of the meaning of Purim. I borrowed it from the book of the same name by Dr. Timothy P. Jackson, currently Professor Emeritus of Theological Ethics at the Chandler School of Theology, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Jackson’s book is not about Purim per se, but an analysis of the dynamics of antisemitism. Yet, a central element of the Purim story, the extreme reaction to Mordecai’s unwillingness to bow down to Haman, is according to Jackson—and I agree with him—the essence of what antisemitism is all about.

When people attempt to identify the earliest forms of antisemitism, they might look at the conflicts between Isaac and Ishmael or Jacob and Esau, but these in no way typify the venomous Jew hatred of the later Christian era, when the Jews, as a people, were ascribed the most negative of traits, including that of being God’s enemies. Other conflicts such as Israel’s oppression under Pharaoh as slaves in Egypt or their devastation and exile under the empires of Assyria and Babylon were far more like normal nation-building of megalomaniac kings. Antisemitism targets Jews for being Jews with little conscious ideological or political motivations.

The events of Purim may, in fact, be the prototype of antisemitism. After the Persian king promoted Haman, Mordecai, who was Jewish, was the only one who would not bow down before him. The reason was likely that Haman was an Agagite, descended from the Amalekites, ancient enemies of Israel. That Haman was enraged is not surprising; it’s what his rage led him to do that was a new kind of evil. Haman went to the king and said:

There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king’s laws, so that it is not to the king’s profit to tolerate them (Esther 3:8).

What motivated Haman’s murderous rage against all Jews was Mordecai’s literal stand against showing deference to him, but that’s not what he told the king. His annihilation plan was forged by depicting the Jewish people as different, a difference that should not be tolerated. The King was quick to comply. We read:

Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods (Esther 3:13).

The one Jewish man Mordecai’s unwillingness to bow unleashed a murderous onslaught on his whole people, justified by their being different and the false claim of disobeying the King’s laws. They weren’t actually disobeying the law, only Mordecai did. One law against one man, Haman. Yet, note how easy it was for the political machine and the entirety of society to be taken up with Haman’s offense.

Jackson explains that people who study antisemitism can’t seem to find any reasonable motivations behind it. The more it is studied, the less sense it makes. Most evil behavior has some justification no matter how misguided, while antisemitism appears to be simply insane. Jackson disagrees. He claims that antisemitism is driven by a rejection of “moral monotheism.” If I understand him correctly moral monotheism asserts that there is only one God who imposes his clear moral and just guidelines upon all. This makes all individuals ultimately answerable to God not human authority. Understanding this, Mordecai was able to stand against one of the most powerful empires of all time, something that anti-God powers, both seen and unseen, will not tolerate.

Mordecai symbolizes the special role to which God has called the Jewish people (and all who trust in the Jewish Messiah). Whether we are aware of it or not, we find ourselves at odds with the prevailing ungodly powers as they oppose the God of Israel and all he stands for. In the end, however, as demonstrated by the story of Purim, God always prevails. We are well advised to follow Mordecai’s example.

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


If You Build It, He Will Come

Message info over a photo of a corn field

For the week of March 16, 2024 / 6 Adar II 5784
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 38:21 – 40:38
Haftarah: 1 Kings 7:40-50
Originally posted the week of February 1, 2014 / 1 Adar 5774 (revised)

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Shemot/Exodus 40:34)

A major component of the Torah is the instructions God gave Moses for the building of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), the large and elaborate, yet mobile structure designed for the offering of sacrifice. It was the precursor of the permanent Temple first built many centuries later under King Solomon, David’s son.

In the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, a novice farmer who hears a voice, saying “If you build it, he will come.” He believes that if he tears down his corn field and builds a baseball diamond, then a disgraced player from the distant past by the name of Shoeless Joe will come back. Ray does it, and not only does Shoeless Joe return but several other ball players as well. However, neither Joe nor any of these players is the one of whom the voice spoke. I won’t tell you who it is in case you haven’t seen the film. The point is Ray built “it,” and “he” did come.

While not a direct quote, God basically told Moses, “If you build it, I will come!” Field of Dreams is a fantasy. The Mishkan is real. It was essential that Moses followed God’s instructions carefully, because God wanted to live there. Moses built it (meaning it was built under his supervision) and God really came (see Shemot / Exodus 40:16-38).

We learn from the construction details of the Mishkan that God is very particular about where he lives. God is not into “it’s the thought that counts” or “as long as your heart is in the right place.” In fact, the Bible teaches that no one’s heart is in the right place (e.g. Jeremiah 17:9). That’s why we need to come to God on his terms alone. If the people of Israel didn’t follow God’s instructions, he would not dwell in the Mishkan. But they did, and he did.

One of the things that makes the design of the Mishkan so special is that it is patterned after God’s heavenly dwelling (see Hebrews 8 – 9). Exactly how the earthly version parallels the heavenly one, I don’t know; but it does. One way may be how the various items inside the Mishkan, especially the two-room sanctuary, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place express God’s truth. The Ark of the Covenant speaks of the presence, mercy, and loyalty of God; the lampstand, his light; the table of bread, his provision; the incense altar, prayer. It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of these items. They are not simply ritualistic elements but speak of how life is really meant to be lived, the most important of all being our need for the very presence of God, which is the main purpose of the Mishkan: If you build it, he will come.

The Mishkan shows us that God came, but. We see this through the existence of a curtain that divided the two special rooms. Only the cohanim (English: the priests) could serve in the Holy Place, which they did on a daily basis. But the Most Holy Place, which represented the presence of God, could not be accessed except once a year on Yom Kippur (English: Day of Atonement), and then only by the Cohen HaGadol (English: the High Priest). This arrangement was designed intentionally to demonstrate to the people of Israel that full access to God was not available. If you build it, he will come; but don’t get too close!

Could you imagine having someone living with you who stayed behind closed doors all the time? Your very existence and identity is wrapped up in that person, but you could never get near to them. It’s not that the person doesn’t want to see you or have relationship with you. It’s that there’s actually something about you that is keeping the other person from getting close.

The people of Israel needed to learn that their sin, like the curtain, erected a barrier between them and God. Sin is that principle of life that twists human nature into something substandard, lacking the spiritual and moral qualities God requires. The sacrificial system addressed the sin problem, but never resolved it. Not resolved until the sacrifice of all sacrifices, that is. When Yeshua died, the dividing curtain tore in two (see Matthew 27:51). It’s as if his sacrificial death kicked down the door that kept us from God. The Mishkan reminds us that God’s desire is to dwell with his people. Now with the coming of Yeshua, he is both with us and accessible.

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


Toward a Biblical Understanding of Fund Raising

For the week of March 9, 2024 / 29 Adar 5784

Message information over a Bible and a fundraising motif

Vayakhel & Shekalim
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 35:1 – 38:20; 30:11-16
Haftarah: 2 Kings 12:1-17 (English: 11:21 – 12:16)
Originally posted the week of March 5, 2016 / 25 Adar 5776 (revised)

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the LORD has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution…” (Shemot/Exodus 35:4-5)

I was brought up with an unhealthy relationship to money. It was the subject that my parents seemed to constantly bicker about. My father taught me that “money made the world go round,” something he firmly believed. As I grew up I regularly was told that we couldn’t do this and we couldn’t do that, because of the money. Not long after my parents divorced in my mid-teens, my mother and I were on welfare. We had a nice enough place to live and we didn’t starve, but the thought of not having enough was always with us, and it got to me. Our poverty was likely a key aspect in the panic attacks that eventually led me to know Yeshua.

Coming to know the Messiah   and reading the Bible radically transformed my thinking in many areas, including money. The most mind-blowing concept was that I was no longer alone with regard to material provision. According to Yeshua, I had a Heavenly Father who was committed to taking care of my needs (see Matthew 6:25-34). So, instead of every future hope of mine being stamped with a big and bold red “CAN’T” on it, I had a funding resource beyond my wildest dreams. I am not saying that I expected God to give me whatever I wanted, but as I have sought him for everything from education to marriage (which would eventually include 10 kids!), houses, cars, travel, and so on, he has provided for me and my family in so many surprising ways.

I am so grateful that the first community of believers I was involved with after coming to faith highly valued the Messiah’s teaching on God’s provision. Unlike some groups, their understanding regarding the relationship between faith and finances led them to rarely, if ever, talk about money. The idea was that since God promised to provide for our needs, then it would be dishonoring to him to ask people to give. This approach was firmly rooted in people such as George Müller, who was famous for founding orphanages and schools in England in the 19th century. As far we know, Müller never made a private or public request for funds, except to God alone in prayer. His story and the example of my community at the time led me to believe that this was the only way to be a genuine person of faith. To ask anyone for money was regarded as putting my trust in people, not God, thus undermining Yeshua’s teaching on God’s generosity toward his children.

As I mentioned, I have innumerable examples of God’s provision, but my commitment to keep my needs to myself at times became more than I could handle. Years ago, we sought to establish a ministry. We were affiliated with a group of believers but were basically on our own in terms of support. When little by way of finances came in, I had a difficult time of it. I regret to say that this was one of the factors for leaving the work I was doing. Based on my conviction, I concluded that I was at fault for not trusting God.

That was about thirty-two years ago. When I considered stepping back into fulltime Bible teaching ministry in 2012, I wondered how I was going to handle the trust factor. It’s only been since then that I have been challenged to rethink how fund raising is supposed to work. It has taken a long time to accept that the George Müller method was not actually biblical after all. The Bible doesn’t teach it’s wrong to ask for money. Look at this week’s Torah portion, for example. God instructed Moses to ask for contributions for the building of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle). While there are right and wrong ways to raise funds, being open and honest about the need to fund ministry is godly.

I have come to realize that my difficulty with asking people to fund my ministry is not derived from the Bible, but rather due to deep-seated values that I somehow inherited that makes me feel ashamed for being a “charity case.” But why should it be acceptable to trade money for temporal goods, but shameful to invite people to invest in something that will bring eternal benefits? People fund all sorts of legitimate (and not-so legitimate) activities. What’s wrong with funding the work of God’s Kingdom? We have no problem with someone hawking their wares at the side of the road. Why then are we put out when someone seeks raise money for ministry? You can always say, “No.”

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