Acknowledging Israel

For the week of April 29, 2023 / 8 Iyar 5783

Message info over a map of Israel with a push pin in it along with a hand holding a Bible over the map.

Achrei Mot & Kedoshim
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15

I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the LORD your God. (Amos 9:14-15)

Tuesday evening this week is Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. This year marks seventy-five years since the establishment of the modern state of Israel. It may or may not surprise you that in my experience the vast majority of people in the world who claim strong adherence to the Bible see no relation whatsoever between Scripture and the reemergence of Israel as a geopolitical entity. No better time than a seventy-fifth anniversary to demonstrate otherwise.

First, let me say that anything I list as support for a biblical basis for God’s ongoing faithfulness to the Jewish people, including our return to our ancient homeland, does not justify everything Israel has done prior to or during the past seventy-five years. But tell me, why do I even need to say this? Don’t we know that everyone and everything in this world is a mixed bag? Of all people, those of us who value Scripture should know that God uses broken vessels. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David all had issues. But if anything, their issues demonstrate God’s faithfulness both to them as individuals and to Israel as a nation. And yet, for some reason, the majority of the Church has tended to regard Israel’s sins as unpardonable despite innumerable promises to the contrary. This week’s Haftarah (weekly reading portion from the Prophets) is but one example that clearly establishes a commitment on God’s part to preserve Israel and fulfill its glorious destiny. Yet this doesn’t stop a majority of Christians from reading the Church into these promises, while, at the same time, leaving the judgment parts with Israel.

There are at least two factors at work here. The first is anti-Jewish sentiment. As the church went from an exclusively Jewish movement to a an exclusively non-Jewish one, non-Jewish leaders brought their ingrained disdain for Jewish people with them. As a result, they happily affirmed scriptural critique of Israel, while deflecting God’s messages of love, concern, assurance, and restoration solely to themselves. The second factor is the misapplication of the concept of ingrafting that Paul expounds in Romans, chapter eleven. The inclusion of the nations in the Gospel is something that Paul calls in another place a mystery (see Ephesians 3:1-6). No one expected God’s blessings to be extended to non-Israelites through the Messiah. But instead of receiving this undeserved grace with humility, they quickly developed a “new kid on the block” attitude, an attitude Paul strongly warned against (see Romans 11:18).

The Jewish people have endured great suffering due to the Church’s unwillingness to grasp the scriptural complexity of God’s commitment to Israel. I will try to summarize. God gave unconditional promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which include an objective of extending his blessing to all nations. This would eventually be realized through the coming of the Messiah, who, as King of the Jews, accomplishes God’s purposes within Israel, God’s blessings coming to the nations, and the restoration of the creation. Messiah’s coming emerged out of God’s faithfulness to Israel to resolve once and for all their alienation from God due to their ongoing disobedience. No one anticipated how this would fulfill God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations, while also working to restore Israel to himself and to their land.

For some reason, many Christians are fine with a god (note the lowercase “g”), who is willing to receive outsiders but doesn’t have it in him to preserve and restore his own covenant people. I am aware of the parables spoken to certain Jewish leaders warning them of being cast out while Gentiles will be let in. At an individual level that’s true. But it is wrong to paint this as Jews vs. Gentiles. Instead, it’s between the arrogant and the humble, whoever, wherever, and whenever they may be. This is why Paul would write: “For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24).

“Their own olive tree.” Does it bother you that God’s inspired word calls it Israel’s tree? You can redefine Israel all you like by turning the olive tree into “the Church,” but I hope it isn’t too long before you see how silly that is. I don’t mean to offend anyone. It’s just that the biblical promises to my people have been misappropriated by most of the Church for far too long.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


When Nonsense Will Be No More

For the week of April 22, 2023 / 1 Iyar 5783

Message info over an image of Escher Relativity Stairs

Tazria & Metzora
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 12:1 – 15:33; B’midbar/Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24

For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22)

This week’s Haftarah (reading portion from Hebrew Prophets) is the second of two references made by Isaiah to “the new heavens and the new earth” that God will create (the first being Isaiah 65:17). The renewal of the entirety of creation is central to the overall story of the Bible. From the beginning, God had determined that he would not allow the cursed state of affairs resulting from our first parents’ disobedience, to be permanent. From the first hint of restoration based on the eventual destruction of the serpent and all it represented (see Bereshit/Genesis 3:15) to the promise to Abraham of world-wide blessing (see Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-3; compare Galatians 3:8) to various other prophecies to Israel and their implications for the nations, summing it all up in terms of universal renewal should be of no surprise.

Contrary to popular misconception, the expectation of the new heavens and new earth was never to be understood as God’s intent to destroy the material realm. Far from it! God was and is committed to his creation project. What is to be destroyed will be all the evil forces that have worked to undermine the essential goodness of God’s plan. A day is coming when the universe will be set right fully and forever.

To deny God’s intentions for the material realm distracts from an accurate biblical understanding of the world in which we live. Biblically minded people may be surprised, if not offended, to be told that our tendency to degrade the creation by denying the God-given goodness of the material realm has contributed to the growing tendency of much of today’s culture to embrace nonsense.

We live in a world of design, God’s design. Despite its cursed state, the creation is based on divinely intentioned principles. Denial of those principles is a denial of reality, nonsense in other words. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Problem of Pain, eloquently explains that the only thing that God can’t do is nonsense. The universe we live in has material and non-material aspects to it. Nonsense doesn’t exist, nor can it.

Yet, that doesn’t stop human beings from pretending that it does. I attribute this phenomenon to the wonderful God-given gift of imagination. Imagination is a key dynamic involved in creativity. It is imagination that enables us to problem solve, to explore possibilities, and to expound the complexities of life and the universe in extraordinary ways. What imagination on its own cannot do is determine what is good and right. When imagination is untethered from the realities of our universe, untold destruction is the result.

Asserting “anything is possible” or “you can be anything you want to be” are helpful when facing legitimate injustice or badly perceived obstacles. All sorts of beneficial innovations have been discovered and effectively implemented due to such optimistic attitudes. Accepting our inability to fly was reasonable until someone allowed their imagination to develop flying machines. But to imagine we can fly without such a device is outside the realm of God-established reality. To believe we could would be nonsense. Any attempt to do so would result in destruction.

Nonsense has beset the human family from the time Adam and Eve accepted the serpent’s claim that God was lying to them. Whether we ascribe power to idols or believe being rich will make us happy or that being popular will give us self-esteem or pretending we were born in the wrong body, nonsense has always set us in a destructive direction.

The establishment of the new heavens and the new earth will mark the time when nonsense will be shown for what it really is. No longer will reality be ignored as God unveils the full essence of his design forever. Until then, we have the opportunity and responsibility to reflect the creation’s destiny through navigating our broken world via the truth of God’s Word under the forgiveness of the Messiah and the power of the Ruach HaKodesh (English: the Holy Spirit). Imagine that!


Food Matters

For the week of April 15, 2023 / 24 Nissan 5783

Message info over an assortment of foods

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 6:1 – 7:17
Originally posted the week of April 22, 2017 / 26 Nissan 5777

Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. (Vayikra/Leviticus 11:2)

One of the essential features of the covenant God gave the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai is the directives concerning what kinds of meat were permissible to eat. Only animals which met certain criteria from the various categories of mammals, birds, fish, and insects were allowed to be consumed. Why exactly only mammals that chew their cud and have split hooves or fish that have both fins and scales could be eaten is not explained.

This hasn’t stopped people from trying to guess. Is there something about the design of these animals in contrast to those who didn’t meet the specified criteria that represented something about God or life? Perhaps, but since this is not explicitly stated, then it’s pure speculation, of which I am leery. Are these animals heathier to eat than others? The English words used to describe the categories of permitted vs. not permitted are “clean” and “unclean.” To the contemporary reader this may imply “healthy” and “unhealthy,” which these foods might be, but that’s not how clean and unclean function in the Torah. These terms have to do with being ritually fit for service. Encountering something unclean, be it food or anything else, renders one ceremonially unfit to engage the ancient sacrificial system.

One possibility may have to do with the way awareness of clean and unclean foods would help create a general sensitivity with regard to what is acceptable and what is not. As we see in our own day, discerning right from wrong is not natural. We need to be taught the difference. Having to always be careful about what goes into our mouths may train us to be careful about other aspects of life as well.

Whatever the reasons for these directives, one of the outcomes of this strict culinary lifestyle is that it creates a closed community. God’s forbidding the eating of certain foods made it impossible for the people to socialize with the surrounding cultures, since they followed no such diet. It’s understandable that since Israel’s neighbors heartily consumed unclean cuisine, that Israel would regard foreigners themselves as unclean.

It is commonly asserted that with the coming of Yeshua, the Torah food laws where discarded. Certainly these directives are implicated by the Messiah’s instituting of the New Covenant, but not in the way usually assumed. The oft quoted passage, Mark 7:19, is more of a criticism of the misguided religious obsession of ritual over heart, than a statement about the new status of pork, etc.

But that doesn’t mean that God intended to preserve the food laws into the New Covenant period. Peter learned this when God prepared him to make his first official visit to a Gentile home as an emissary of the Messiah.

Those who think the food laws still apply like to point out that Peter’s vision in which God told him to eat unclean animals was not mainly about the animals, but rather the Jewish mindset toward Gentiles as expressed in his comment: “God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). While his vision is indeed first and foremost about people, the food issue is certainly implied, since there is no way to fully interact with foreign cultures without sharing what they eat.

This doesn’t mean that Jewish believers or anyone else may not retain scruples over food. Not only do the New Covenant Writings mention this, but they encourage us to be sensitive toward the scruples of others for love’s sake (see Romans 14:1 – 15:13). But if we are called unto a foreign culture, we need to be ready to enjoy all sorts of fare that we may not prefer.

One more thing. While it is clear that the early Jewish followers of Yeshua were not mandated to impose food laws upon the Gentiles (see Acts 15), thus extending freedom to believers regarding what they eat, it is conceivable that being exposed to passages such as this week’s parsha (weekly Torah portion) may alert other cultures that perhaps not everything we want to put in our mouths is good for us. I know this opens a can of worms for some. But just because we are allowed to eat worms, doesn’t mean we should.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Generation to Generation

Message info over an image of a grandfather, son, and grandson

For the week of April 8, 2023 / 17 Nisan 5783
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 13:1-16; B’midbar/Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:37-37:14
Originally posted the week of April 11, 2020 / 17 Nisan 5780 (revised)

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You shall tell your son on that day: It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt. (Shemot/Exodus 13:8)

Pesach (English: Passover) begins this year the evening of Wednesday, April 5. One of the reasons for this annual commemoration of Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt is to retain connection from generation to generation, “l’dor vador” as it is said in Hebrew. The ritual aspects of the retelling of the exodus were designed by God to not only remind subsequent generations of this wonderful, foundational story from our history, but to intimately bind our descendants to the original event to the extent that they see themselves as actually there when it happened. Every year when celebrating Pesach, we are to say to our children: “It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.”

But isn’t this statement for the originals only? Would it not be more correct for the children of the released Hebrew slaves to say, “It is because of what the Lord did for my parents when they came out of Egypt”? Understanding oneself as connected to a historical event through one’s ancestors isn’t identical to being there, of course. That’s technically correct, but technicalities of this sort obscure the depth of meaning found in the intense identification the statement demands.

Even technically, we are far more connected to our history than we normally think. However genetics actually work, the experiences of the past indelibly stamp themselves on our psyches. To some extent, we carry the past with us and pass it on to our children whether we or they are conscious of it. For subsequent generations to benefit from the events of the past, be they good or bad, it’s better to be not only conscious of those events but consciously understand them properly.

From the days of Moses and the departure from Egypt every Jewish person was to regard themselves as a freed slave. To lose that would be to lose the core of our identity and begin to become something that we are not.

Retaining connection to this story is not for the Jewish people alone. When Yeshua leveraged his last Pesach celebration to function as the key reference through which his followers would remember him and his sacrifice, he opened the door for everyone, Jewish or otherwise, to realize the commonality of all peoples. Israel’s oppression in tyrannical Egypt functions as a picture of the oppression of all people to evil. Yeshua’s giving of himself as the supreme Passover Lamb provides freedom to all who trust in him. Just like the Angel of Death passed over those Jewish homes that applied the Passover lamb’s blood to their doorframes in faith, so God’s judgement passes over anyone, Jewish or not, who figuratively places the Messiah’s blood over themselves by trusting in him.

As we tell the story of our deliverance that we inherited from those who have gone before, their story becomes our story. This is especially important given what we have all gone through these past three years due to lockdowns, masking, social distancing, travel restrictions, and other mandates. The physical and psychological divisions among us eclipsed our shared humanity. Pesach, as understood through a messianic lens, reminds us that the God of Israel is the God of deliverance for all. And if we make his deliverance ours, as demonstrated by the exodus and offered to all people through the Messiah Yeshua, we will have the opportunity to tell our children, “This is what the Lord did for me.”

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated