Be the Light

For the week of February 24, 2024 / 15 Adar 5784

Message info over part of the Arch of Titus

Tetzaveh
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 27:20 – 30:10
Haftarah: Ezekiel 43:10-27
Originally posted the week of February 16, 2019 / 11 Adar 5779

You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel. (Shemot/Exodus 27:20-21)

One of the most recognizable symbols of the Jewish people is the menorah, the seven-branched candelabra, intended for exclusive use within the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and later the Temple. It’s ironic that it became so recognizable, given its location, a hidden room into which only the cohanim (English: priests) were allowed to enter. The reason why we know what it looked like is because it is included in the depiction of the siege of Jerusalem on the first century Arch of Titus in Rome. Where the menorah ended up, we may never know. In spite of theories claiming items such as the Ark of the Covenant being in safekeeping somewhere, as far as we know all the Mishkan/Temple’s furnishings, including the menorah, are lost for good.

The menorah had a most practical purpose. It was the only light available within the ha-kodesh (English: the Holy Place). Without it, it was pitch black in there. Without it, the cohanim couldn’t fulfill their duties. The carrying away of the menorah by the Romans, like the destruction of the Temple, seemed to indicate the extinguishing of Israel’s light.

The centuries that followed were dark ones for the Jewish people. Yet, even without the menorah and the priestly service, the scattered nation never lost hope of the return of the divine light. Some may claim that the light never went out because the fire of hope in the hearts of the people never stopped burning.

The eternal light of God cannot be snuffed out. The menorah had more than a practical function. It was a symbol of the illuminating presence of God. Israel was chosen by God to be people of light, the bearers of truth for the world. God’s revelation of himself and his ways allowed Israel to clearly see the world as it is in contrast to the other nations having to grope about, trying to figure life out in the darkness of alienation from God. The time would come when the light would not shine upon Israel alone but would flood the world with its brilliance.

And that time came.

It’s no coincidence that within a generation of the Messiah’s coming, the menorah would be carried off into the center of one of the greatest empires of all time. This was not to show that the light of God shifted from Jerusalem to Rome, but that the light of God would no longer be hidden away in the Temple.

Israel’s light was never extinguished, for eleven Jewish men were commissioned by the Messiah to bring that light to the nations. Since then, each follower of Yeshua is called to bear that same light, wherever we may go.

For that to happen, each of us needs to be a menorah so to speak. In the same way that the menorah needed to be continually tended, so we need to tend to the Messiah’s light in us. Tragically, too many take his light for granted, thinking he will do what he will do in and through us, with or without our attention. But it doesn’t work that way. Like the priests of old, we need to make sure his light keeps burning bright. Yeshua’s warning not to hide our light under a basket (see Matthew 5:15) is an intentionally ridiculous image to emphasize how ludicrous it is when we do just that.

Have you ever thought of how we hide our light away? Perhaps others have reacted to you, because of your faith in Yeshua? Hopefully it was for a good reason – the Lord’s light was exposing evil in their lives. What did you when that happened? Did you apologize and dim it down? Or did you let the light do its job? Perhaps you don’t even bother shining in certain situations. You leave it at home, only turning it up during a personal prayer time or when you are with other believers. It can get tiring shining your light in one place and not another. It’s on when you’re in your car listening to music, off at the coffee shop or at work, and back on again at gatherings. I don’t think that’s how to tend the light. No wonder it’s getting so dark in some places.

It’s time to tend the light. We need to give attention to Yeshua’s presence in our lives so that he shines brightly through us. We can’t fabricate it. We can only tend it. We can only tend what we have. If you don’t have it, ask God for it. And once he sets you ablaze, keep it burning.

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

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Something’s Missing

For the week of February 17, 2024 / 8 Adar 5784

Message info over the opening of a double door, revealing a large question mark against a bright white background

Terumah
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 5:26 – 6:13 (English 5:12 – 6:13)

There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel. (Shemot/Exodus 25:22)

We are currently in the section of the Torah that provides instructions for the building of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and its associated items. The Mishkan was a semi-portable worship center for the people of Israel. It was designed to be taken down and moved throughout Israel’s wilderness journey until it would be more or less permanently placed in the Promised Land at the location determined by God.

Calling it a worship center may conjure an inaccurate picture in your mind. Perhaps, “sacrifice center” is better, since its main activity was to be the offering of sacrifices. Yet, for the people of its day, worship and sacrifice were basically the same thing as the people’s service to God (worship means service) was mainly expressed through sacrifice. Gathering for prayer and song would be a development over time. That’s not to say that there weren’t other important aspects to what went on at the Mishkan. It’s that sacrifice was very much core to everything that went on there.

Missing from the Mishkan’s instructions are clear explanations of what its design and various articles mean. This may reflect God’s priorities in that following his instructions is more important than understanding the reasons behind them. That’s not to say that there are no reasons for what God directs here, but perhaps our need to understand shouldn’t be of utmost importance.

This is not to say that the Mishkan is devoid of powerful meaning. First and foremost, the Mishkan was established by God to ensure that the people would not sacrifice to God in any way and in any place they pleased. Beyond that, the curtain that separated the Most Holy Place from the rest of the Mishkan and the outside world illustrated our general alienation from God. Moreover, the atonement cover on the Ark of the Covenant demonstrated the necessity of sacrificial blood to enable us to meet with God. Still, we should be careful not to overly speculate, finding meaning where it isn’t stated or clearly implied.

Perhaps one of the most meaningful aspects of the Mishkan is found in something that is completely missing: an image of God. After all, isn’t that what such a structure was to house? Today we take God’s invisibility for granted. But back then, gods were always represented through images of various kinds. That for all intents and purposes, the Mishkan was empty, was radical.

The missing something—or I should say, “someone”—not only demonstrated the truth that the God of Israel could not be contained, but also, as the Master of the Universe, he is not subject to human control.

It seems to me that God’s immaterial nature as profoundly expressed through his rejection of representative imagery in the Mishkan is an aspect of his person and character that many people have trouble accepting. Note that I am aware that it’s not as if God has no image at all, for that’s a fundamental role of human beings as made in his image and most fully expressed through the Messiah. But while we have these vivid expressions of his image, his invisibility tends to be something many of us try to overcome instead of accept.

We do this in the various ways we attempt to get a handle on life. We constantly try to stay in control in an unpredictable world. We adopt various techniques to provide us with a sense of security. Instead of heeding the biblical call to entrust ourselves to the all-powerful, good, and loving God, we rely on formulas, superstitions, ideologies, affiliations, and psychological gimmicks. We so easily buy into the lie that we can guarantee desired results by our attempts to manipulate the world. And often we do so in God’s name.

Our attempt to replace what’s missing from the Mishkan robs us from truly experiencing God’s presence and power. It’s only as we accept what’s missing that we can discover that, in fact, nothing is missing at all.

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

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Whose Side Are You On?

For the week of February 10, 2024 / 1 Adar 5784

Message info over a man holding a Bible, staring up to heaven

Mishpatim
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 21:1 – 24:18; B’midbar/Numbers 28:9-15
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24

But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries. (Shemot/Exodus 23:22)

I find reading something like this difficult in light of what’s been going on in Israel since October 7. Frankly, I am hesitant to bring it up mainly because I fear those who might weaponize it against my people. “See!” they say. “If the people of Israel were truly godly, they wouldn’t be constantly facing extermination by their enemies, let alone the horrific attack by Hamas on October 7.” Among Bible-sensitive people, I suspect that many wonder if the current crisis might be a purposeful act of judgement on God’s part. If Israel lived up to its biblical calling, they may think, then there would be peace within its borders, as God would keep its enemies at bay.

To start off, let’s consider that this might be true. That is a possibility that the slaughter of 1200 Israelis and others, including women, the elderly, and children, plus the taking of hostages, many of whom were also women, the elderly, and children, was an act of judgment by God against Israel for its sins. What’s that to you? The Messiah was confronted by a similar question when he was asked about certain Galileans who were slaughtered by the Roman governor:

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-5).

I like to say that when we read the Bible, it is always speaking to me (if you are reading it, it’s speaking to you). There is always a temptation to think in terms of other people who, “really need to hear this!” And perhaps that’s true to some extent. But before considering others, we need to start with ourselves.

I imagine when almost three thousand people perished in the terrorist attack upon the World Trade Center in September 2011, many people wondered, “What did they do to deserve that?” There are so many supposedly miraculous stories of people who should have been there but weren’t. Were they more righteous than the selfless rescue workers who perished, for example? Who are we to make such determinations? Yeshua’s words are designed to turn us from judging the dead to questioning ourselves. Such disasters should cause us to take personal inventory of our own lives and make sure that we are right with God before we face our own disaster, which will come for all of us eventually.

We also have to take into account how a promise like the one I quoted from this week’s parsha (Torah portion) actually works. We might assume that it’s a simple cause-and-effect principle, as in “behave yourselves and everything will always be fine.” Scripture doesn’t reflect such a simplistic interpretation. The Book of Job, for example, focuses on the problem we have with life not always working out as we expect. Job’s friends wrongly assumed that his suffering was proof positive that he was being punished for his sins. In reality, he was suffering because he was such a good man.

David is another example. Labelled as “a man after God’s own heart,” he suffered at the hands of a demonically oppressed tyrant, not for his wrongs, but because God had chosen him to be Israel’s righteous leader.

Do these and other examples, therefore, contradict Torah? Absolutely not! What they do is provide fuller understanding as to how life with God works. Note we read, not that Israel would not suffer, but rather that if they were careful to be attentive to God’s directions, then their enemies would be God’s enemies. It would be presumptuous to think that God was fighting on their behalf, if they were not treating him as their commander in chief.

I would hope that the current crisis in Israel is provoking Israelis and all Jewish people everywhere to consider their relationship with God. But shouldn’t we all?

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

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