Profound Peace

For the week of May 28, 2022 / 27 Iyar 5782

Message title information over woman sleeping on a cloud in the sky

Bechukotai
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

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I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:6)

What a wonderful thought! Especially that this is a promise to an entire nation. That there might be a condition by which God would provide such a sense of security, so that people could rest at night unconcerned about danger of any sort. This is even more remarkable when we consider that the people who first heard this lived fundamentally vulnerable lives. They had nowhere near the number of effective structures and resources that many enjoy in our day.

The Hebrew word translated afraid here is “charad,” and means “to tremble.” It’s a loss of control, a fear that intimidates, causing us to run away, be it literally, so that we vacate our location, or metaphorically, where we are unable to engage the situation in which we find ourselves.

What God promises to provide Israel is peace, “shalom.” Shalom is more than calm. It may result in calm, individually or societally, but it’s a way to describe when everything is in its rightful place, working as it should and in right relationship with everything else. In this context, it’s a basic state of social health, whereby the individuals of the society are functioning well and in right relationship with others. We can see why this leads to a lack of fear.

In the context of the Sinai covenant, societal health and the resulting calm is derived from a lifestyle of godliness. The section in which this promise is found begins with: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them” (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:3). Some Christian interpreters regard this negatively as being part of an impossible system whereby the promised blessing could never be achieved. They think of this as God’s imposing an impossible standard in which Israel was doomed to fail. Israel did fail, but God wasn’t seeking to simply shame his chosen nation; rather he was instructing them and the world through them that real security can only be found in right relationship to him and his ways.

The misguided notion that Torah (often misunderstood as “law” in a cold legal sense, rather than “teaching” or “direction”) functions only to establish guilt, fails to notice how its blessings were enjoyed by those who genuinely followed it. We see this in both individuals, such as Moses, Joshua, David, and Elijah to name a few, and in the nation of Israel as a whole. Granted, these periods, such as the height of Solomon’s reign, are brief, but they were real. As far as Scripture is concerned, their experiences serve as important positive examples of the Torah promise above.

While these examples demonstrate the positive intent of Torah, they do, at the same time, highlight the failure of most people to experience such a sense of security. Fear is rampant. Whether it has increased in the COVID era is hard to say. I suspect that the constant reports of disease and death along with restrictions and precautions exposed the preexisting insecurities most people live with.

The Torah promise of security should challenge us to confront our fears. Living, always wondering when disaster will attack, be it a debilitating disease or social unrest, is not what we were designed for. God’s heart for his beloved creatures is to live without fear.

No one illustrates this better than the Messiah. Despite living in a most hostile environment, including his closest companions regularly misunderstanding him, he was never flustered. It’s not that he didn’t have emotions. He even got upset from time to time. But he never was looking over his shoulder, worried about what might happen to him.

One of the greatest examples was when he was crossing Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) during a storm. His disciples were freaking out while he was sleeping. I can’t relate. I have enough trouble sleeping in my comfortable bed in my quiet house.

It’s unhelpful when we view the Messiah’s sense of confidence through a lens of “He’s the Messiah; what do you expect?” We forget that he was fully human, living a truly godly life. He reflected a genuine Torah-oriented lifestyle as was offered to Israel.

And because he did so even to the point of death, followed by conquering death through his resurrection, he has opened a way for us to share in his life. We do that by admitting our failure to live by God’s standards and by relying on Yeshua, through who we not only derive the benefits of his obedience but are drawn into the type of lifestyle that results in profound peace.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Jubilee

Behar
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2
Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6-27
Originally posted the week of May 20, 2000 / 15 Iyar 5760;
Revised version as appearing in the book “
Torah Light

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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.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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You Can Count on It!

For the week of May 14, 2022 / 13 Iyar 5782

Message title information along with a barley sheaf

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

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You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD. (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:15-16)

This week’s parsha (weekly Torah portion) includes the most complete description of the feasts of Israel in the Bible: Shabbat (the weekly sabbath); Pesach (Passover); Shavuot (Pentecost or Weeks); Yom Truah (the day of blowing [of the shofar], which traditionally marks the new year); Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement); and Sukkot (Booths or Tabernacles). Note that biblically speaking, Pesach actually refers only to the first evening, while the seven days following is the Feast of Matzah (Unleavened Bread). Eventually the term Pesach came to refer to the week-long feast.

Also included is a ritual that starts at Pesach time and continues until Shavuot. There is some controversy over which day this ritual was to begin. The Torah says, “on the day after the Sabbath,” but the first day of Pesach is to be observed as a sabbath, whatever day of the week it lands. So, it isn’t clear whether the ritual was to begin the second day of Pesach (the majority view) or the day after the first weekly Shabbat after the first day of Pesach. Sorry if that’s confusing. Regardless, what is clear is that at Pesach time an offering of the first fruits of the harvest was to be waved before the Lord and then the people were to start counting days. They were to count fifty days from the waving of the sheaf. The fiftieth day was the next festival, Shavuot (which is why it is also called Pentecost, derived from the number fifty). The Hebrew word for sheaf is “omer.” The counting of the fifty days between Pesach and Shavuot is called “Sefirat HaOmer”, the Counting of the Omer. From what’s written in Torah, it is difficult to determine whether God intended a literal counting of the days, but that is the custom. Each day a blessing is recited, and the day is counted.

That the days are counted might be behind how the New Covenant book of Acts refers to Shavuot in chapter two and verse one. To denote the arrival of the day, the Greek word, “symplay-ro-oh” is used, which has the sense of fulfilment or filling up. That is why some older translations, read, “When the day of Pentecost had fully come” instead of simply writing “arrived” as became more common in later translations. All Torah feasts have an element of anticipation, but the Counting of the Omer, takes it to another level.

But there is more than anticipation going on here. There is a unique, purposeful connection between the two feasts of Pesach and Shavuot. You might remember that when God directed Moses to tell Pharoah to let the people of Israel go, he said that it was so that the people would serve God at Mt. Sinai (see Shemot/Exodus 3:12). It was about fifty days between Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their receiving the Torah from God on that very mountain. Pesach commemorates the deliverance; Shavuot the receiving of the Torah. One leads to the others. Neither are standalone events.

God rescued the people from slavery in order that they would become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemot/Exodus 10:6). While the experience of liberation is something to celebrate, it is essential to remember that it was a liberation unto a mission. The people weren’t set free so that they could finally do whatever they wanted. They were set free from serving the oppressive, self-seeking tyrant in order to serve the life-giving, loving Creator.

Those who have experienced the greater liberation from bondage to sin and death under the oppressive rule of the evil one also need to remember a similar connection. We too haven’t been set free just so that we can do whatever we want. As we read in the New Covenant Writings, like ancient Israel, all followers of Israel’s Messiah have been called to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Sometimes, we can feel as if our lives are without purpose or direction. This can be the case even for those who have experienced the liberating power of God through the Messiah. Let’s remember, however, that becoming God’s children through faith in Yeshua is only the beginning. How our purpose is to be lived out may not always be clear, but God’s got a plan for us. You can count on it.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version 

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No Leftovers, Revisited

For the week of May 7, 2022 / 6 Iyar 5782

Message title information with a crossed-out image of leftovers in containers

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

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When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from his people. (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:5-8)

In the past I have commented on God’s directives of not allowing certain offerings to be eaten beyond a certain time. That message dealt with the thanksgiving offering, a variant of the peace offering, which was to be fully consumed on the same day it was offered. At that time, I suggested that not allowing it to stay around for longer ensured that it was being used exclusively for its intended purpose.

This week, we see a different type of the peace offering that could be eaten through the next day. Anything left over afterward had to be burned up. We are told in the Hebrew that by the third day the meat becomes “pigool.” The sense is similar to the normal expression of unacceptability, “ta-may.” Ta-may is most often translated “unclean,” denoting ritualistic defilement, while pigool appears to have the sense of “stinks.” These leftovers may not actually stink, though in the context of ancient Israel, they might. The point, however, is that as far as this offering is concerned, the meat has gone bad, and is no longer suitable.

In contrast to the other offering, there was no obligation to finish off the meat the same day. Leftovers were allowed, but only for one day and no more. There is therefore an urgency and intensity lacking. Thus, one engaged these offerings in a more laid-back fashion. And yet, there is still something key that was not to be neglected: that which was set apart for God was for God alone. It appears that allowing for an extra day of consumption didn’t distract from this, while any additional time likely would have.

Some people might be surprised that sacrifices were eaten by the one offering it. Some were not consumed by humans at all. Others included a portion for the cohanim (English: priests). But the peace offerings were divided between God, the cohanim, and the one offering the sacrifice. This reminds us that sacrifices are not always and only about giving up something completely. It has more to do with giving the thing over to God. That might include continued relationship to it. However, when such an ongoing relationship exists, it is essential to remember that the thing from that time forward always remains God’s property to do with what he wants.

This should help us to better understand the call under the New Covenant to give our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (see Romans 12:1). To do so isn’t accomplished by somehow completely disconnecting ourselves, giving our will away to a cause or an organization. Neither is it to absolve ourselves forever from personal responsibility. Far from it! It is that we come to a place where we truly fulfill our role as stewards of God’s creation (see Bereshit/Genesis 1:26-28). This doesn’t cut us off from deriving benefit from life. In fact, as we fully live out our callings, we discover blessings we never dreamt of when we were living for ourselves. But as we enjoy the great benefits of serving God, we must not be distracted by enjoying them for their own sakes. Rather, we need to always remember that they, as we ourselves, have been fully given over to our Lord and King.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version 

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