What’s Driving You?

For the week of June 10, 2023 / 21 Sivan 5783

Message info over a modern crowd in the Sinai wilderness facing a pillar of fire

Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 8:1 – 12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (English: 2:10 – 4:7)
Originally posted the week of June 13, 2020 / 21 Sivan 5780

At the command of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the LORD they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. (B’midbar/Numbers 9:18)

I am a big picture guy. That’s true in nature as well as stories and ideas. I love grand views and vistas, be it wide mountain ranges or hills and valleys from above or looking back at the skyline of a great city. I love big pictures because I also love the details they encompass. The better I can see the big picture, the more I understand its details. In stories, the Bible included, between its big picture and details are themes and motifs. Themes are ribbons of ideas, common subplots woven through events and descriptions. Motifs are recurring story elements. God’s love, mercy, and justice are biblical themes. The dynamics of how humans interact with God’s will is a common motif.

We first encounter this motif in the Garden of Eden (see Bereshit/Genesis 3). God gives clear directives to Adam and Eve, which are soon challenged by the serpent. The reader can sense the peril that awaits our first parents should they give into the temptation to doubt the goodwill of their creator, which tragically they do. This motif is played out over and over again throughout Scripture, including this week’s parsha (Torah reading portion).

Israel’s journey through the wilderness is a time of training between their slavery in Egypt and their conquest of the Promised Land. Having been given the gift of God’s word through Moses, the difficult challenges of wilderness living provides opportunity after opportunity to discover the nature and character of their God.

Like Adam and Eve before them they are instructed that obedience to God results in life and blessing, while rebellion results in death and destruction. One of the many ways this was to be lived out was in their travel directions. God reserved the right to tell them when they were to break camp and where they were to go next. The indication of when to go and where was provided by a pillar of cloud. If it stayed, they were to stay. When it moved, they were to move until it stopped.

Our translation expresses God’s communication via the cloud as being at “his command.” While capturing the intent of the Hebrew metaphor here, it misses its vividness. The Hebrew reads more along the line of “At the mouth of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the mouth of the Lord they camped. The picture painted by the metaphor is one of God’s speaking, key to the motif we are looking at. What’s not clear is whether it’s the cloud’s movement that’s in response to God’s speaking or that the movement of the cloud was the indication of God’s speaking. Either way, the people were to learn to embark or settle exclusively in response to God’s word.

Note the implications of this. If God’s word was to be their only guide, then that means they were not to listen to anything or anyone else. Enemies attacking? No cloud movement. Stay put. Water supplies exhausted? No cloud movement. Stay put. Living in a lush oasis? Cloud is moving. Time to go. Circumstances, preferences, and opinions don’t count. Only God’s word.

Should it be any different for us today? There’s no cloud to follow that I know of. Yet we have something more, not less, than the ancient Israelites. We have far more of God’s written word than they had. In the books of the Hebrew and New Covenant Scriptures we have more direct words from God; more examples, good and bad; more truth sorted out than they did. Plus, under the New Covenant, we have a far greater intimacy with God through the Messiah and the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh (English: the Holy Spirit) empowering us. It’s as if the wilderness cloud has now taken up residence within us.

Are we being driven by voices shouting at us or are we listening to God? That in no way diminishes the issues of our day, but it should determine what we do about them. The listening to God motif of Scripture clearly directs us to avoid being reactive. Circumstances and opinion are blind guides. Only God’s direction leads to life.

It feels good to connect to popular causes, but at what cost? What would happen if you stopped, took a deep breathe, and asked God what to do? His direction may not take you where you think you should go, but it’s the only way to ensure you get to where God wants you to go.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Returning the Blessing

For the week of June 3, 2023 / 14 Sivan 5783

Message info over blessing hands with a Mogen David brick motif

Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 4:21 – 7:89
Haftarah: Shoftim/Judges 13:2-25

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them, the LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.” (B’midbar/Numbers 6:22-27)

You may be aware of the recent three-week initiative to pray for Israel. At the beginning of this time, my wife and I, both Jewish believers, were in a small prayer group (the others aren’t Jewish). We were praying for Israel. We have rarely been in the presence of such precious prayers. One of the people had it on his heart to pray the priestly blessing from B’midbar/Numbers chapter six, which is part of this week’s parsha (weekly Torah portion), over the Jewish people.

You may or may not be aware how common it is for Christian leaders to recite this blessing, usually at the end of a service, over their congregations. The words are wonderful. The sentiment is great. It is certainly a blessing! You might remember the musical rendition of these ancient words around the beginning of COVID. It warmed my heart to hear God’s word through Moses sung over and over again in a multitude of languages by the peoples of the world amidst the fear that had gripped so many.

Let me try to unpack why I was so touched by the blessing being prayed over our people that Sunday evening. First, in my experience, most people who call themselves Christians see themselves as the new or true Israel. Whatever their personal feelings might be toward Jewish people, there is a tendency to view us as having been God’s chosen people at one time, but with the coming of the Messiah, that identity was transferred to the community of Yeshua followers, the “Church” in other words. This idea is technically termed, “supersessionism,” or more popularly “replacement theology.” Yet, even among those Christians who claim to reject such an idea and accept God’s ongoing faithfulness to the Jewish people, there is still a tendency to directly apply elements of Scripture that were particularly given to the people Israel to themselves. In many cases, perhaps most, I believe this is legitimate, at least to some extent. Let me explain.

Through the Jewish Messiah, the peoples of the nations have the opportunity to have a personal relationship with the one true God, the God of Israel. While there are ongoing distinctives between Jews and Gentiles, the way that non-Jews learn the truth of God and life is via sacred writings that are fundamentally Jewish. All people, Jews and Gentiles, learn about trusting God through Abraham’s willingness to follow God into the unknown. We learn to pray through David’s psalms. We understand God’s faithfulness through his commitment to the people of Israel. And on it goes.

While it is, as I said, legitimate for non-Jews to apply Scriptural truth to themselves, it is tragic that it is often done without ever acknowledging its original context or how it has come about that Jewish Scriptures can become God’s Word for all or the Jewish Messiah can be anyone’s Messiah. The result is the replacement theology I referred to earlier that regards the Church as the new or true Israel even among those who deny such an idea.

With all this in mind, let’s return to the Sunday evening prayer time. Against the backdrop of layers and layers of historic misrepresentation of and arrogance toward Jewish people; a precious and powerful blessing which has been appropriated by the Church unto itself for two thousand years was being returned to its rightful place as this precious man prayed for God’s favor to once more be poured out upon Israel.

You might think, “So what?” What difference does such a sentiment make? It’s because this gesture functions as a symbol of what I believe is the general change of direction that must occur among our non-Jewish fellow Messiah followers. One day we might realize the untold damage the Church has done both to itself and to the Jewish people for not heeding Paul’s words from Romans, chapter eleven, “do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you” (Romans 11:18).

It is time for the Church worldwide of every tradition to acknowledge, not only the primacy of Israel in the plans and purposes of God, but his ongoing faithfulness to Israel despite our spiritual condition. Great blessing has come to the Gentiles through, not only the Jewish Messiah, but through those early Jewish believers, who broke through unimaginable barriers to bring God’s blessing to the nations.

God’s heart of love and concern for the Jewish people has never changed. Therefore, let those among the nations who have been richly blessed by the God of Israel in the name of the Jewish Messiah rise up and declare to the people of Israel, “the Lord bless you and keep you!”

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Yet I Will Rejoice

For the week of May 27, 2023 / 7 Sivan 5783

Message info on plain black background

Torah: D’varim/Deuteronomy 14:22 – 16:17
Haftarah: Habakkuk 3:1-19

Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:18)

This coming Shabbat (English: Sabbath) coincides with the festival of Shavuot (English: Weeks/Pentecost). As far as I know, no one knows for sure the exact reasons why the various Haftarah readings (portions from the Hebrew Prophets) were chosen to accompany the weekly Torah readings. Often, it is obvious due to content elements of each. This week’s reading from Habakkuk is not so obvious. Clearly, the Torah portion was chosen because it includes Shavuot, but why read the last chapter of Habakkuk? One source speculates that the description in Habakkuk of God’s dramatic exploits are reminiscent of the events at Sinai. But you might wonder, what does Sinai have to do with Shavuot? While there is nothing explicitly said in the Bible as to Shavuot’s connection to a historical event as is the case of Pesach (English: Passover), which commemorates the exodus, and Sukkot (English: Booths) which commemorates the wilderness wanderings, traditionally, Shavuot became associated with the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. As Shavuot occurred fifty days after Pesach, this association is reasonable.

I would like to propose what I think is a more profound connection between Habakkuk and Shavuot. My thoughts also see a connection with the Torah but is based on the Shavuot’s primary function as a harvest festival. Here is Habakkuk 3:17-18:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
    nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
    and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
    and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk praised the God of Israel despite the prospect of no harvest. For many of us today it is difficult to comprehend how a failing harvest necessarily meant starvation. This is a disaster of great proportions. The book of Habakkuk features the prophet’s anguish over God’s showing him the impending doom coming upon his people at the hands of the Babylonians. Through a most painful process, he resolved to rejoice in God.

Shavuot was designed to give thanks to God for the harvest, but what do we do when there is no harvest? Our tendency is to despair, to be angry, to lash out at God perhaps. Habakkuk wasn’t blind to the terrible prospects ahead. Far from it! He felt the anguish of the coming suffering deeply. Yet he would not give up on acknowledging God for who he is.

It is fitting to remember these things at the same time we remember the giving of the Torah. The Torah constituted Israel as a nation before God based on his rescuing them from slavery in Egypt. It declared that he was Israel’s God and Israel was his people. After much consternation, Habakkuk determined that he would not allow dreaded circumstances to get in the way of his commitment to God. He came to accept that the coming devastation was the just punishment for his people’s ongoing waywardness. God had been patient for a long time, but now, the results of misguided living were coming to fruition. Habakkuk would not blame God for the evil of his people. God was still good. God was still right. God was still worthy of praise. Even though occasions such as Shavuot are designed to be occasions to rejoice over God’s provision, he no less deserves praise when he pours out much deserved punishment.

For all sorts of reasons, some deserved, some not, we go through great hardships at times. How often have we reacted to such painful circumstances by doubting or even rejecting God? It’s no easy thing to come to the place that Habakkuk did, but with God’s help we can. To do so, we need to be willing to see the difficulties of life for what they really are, including our part in bringing them about and God’s ongoing faithfulness through it all.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Owned by God

For the week of May 20, 2023 / 29 Iyar 5783

Message information over an illustration of the ancient tabernacle of Israel

Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
Haftarah: 1 Shmuel/ 1 Samuel 20:18-42
Originally posted the week of May 15, 2010 / 2 Sivan 5770
Revised version from the book Torah Light: Insights from the Books of Moses

Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the LORD. (B’midbar/Numbers 3:12–13)

The Levites (Hebrew, levi-im), the descendants of Jacob’s son Levi, fulfilled a special function among their people. Instead of being given territory within the Land of Israel like the other tribes, they were to be special religious servants. A subset of the Levites were the priests (Hebrew, cohanim), the descendants of Moses’s brother Aaron, who offered the sacrifices. The rest of the Levites assisted the priests in their duties and fulfilled other religious tasks throughout the nation. The Levites belonged to God in a way the rest of the people did not, for their daily concerns were consumed with the service of God rather than normal human endeavors.

The setting aside of the Levites was not simply because there was a need for religious ministers. Rather, they stood in the place of all the firstborn males who survived the Exodus. God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt by striking the Egyptians with ten plagues. The final plague was the killing of the firstborn males, both human and animal. To protect the people of Israel from this, God told them to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to the doorframes of their houses. When the Angel of Death came to strike down the firstborn males, he passed over the houses upon which the blood was applied. This is why the festival commemorating this event is called Passover (see Sh’mot/Exodus 11:1–12:13).

But how does this relate to the Levites? The tenth plague was not limited to the striking down of the Egyptian firstborn only, but rather all the firstborn of the land of Egypt regardless of nationality. The stubborn disobedience of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, brought general destruction upon his land. There were certain plagues in which the people of Israel experienced special protection, but not all of them. With regard to the tenth plague, if any Israelite home did not follow God’s instructions, their firstborn males would have perished as well. Therefore, the preservation of the Israelite firstborn males was due to God’s special grace upon them. Thus, the firstborn males of Israel were indebted to God to a much greater degree than the rest of the nation. While the whole nation was indebted to God for their freedom, the firstborn males were also indebted to him for their very lives.

The preservation of the firstborn males and their special relationship to God was to be remembered throughout future generations. Instead of the actual firstborn males of the whole nation being called into religious service, God determined that the Levites should stand in their place. Their service to God, therefore, represented God’s unique ownership of the firstborn males.

Just as the Levites were God’s special possession, so are all followers of the Messiah. Like Egypt of old, God’s judgment is coming upon the whole earth. Due to our stubborn refusal to obey God according to his standards, God condemns everyone to eternal destruction unless we apply the blood of Yeshua’s sacrifice to our lives. Like it did over the firstborn males, God’s judgment will pass over us if we follow his instructions and entrust ourselves to Yeshua the Messiah.

Like the firstborn males, if we believe in Yeshua, we are indebted to him, not just for our freedom, but for our very lives. Therefore, like the Levites, we are owned by God. We no longer have the freedom to live however we wish, pursuing our own goals and desires. Rather, as his special possession, we are set apart to serve his interests alone.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Covenantal Foundations

For the week of May 13, 2023 / 22 Iyar 5783

Message info over wooden tablets of a Hebrew representation of the Ten Commandments

Behar & Bechukotai
Torah: Vayikra/ Leviticus 25:1 – 27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14
Updated version of message posted the week of June 4, 2016 / 27 Iyar 5776

But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers in their treachery that they committed against me, and also in walking contrary to me, so that I walked contrary to them and brought them into the land of their enemies—if then their uncircumcised heart is humbled and they make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and I will remember my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land. (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:40-42)

Here in the last weekly portion of the third book of Moses, we read of the conditions under which God would restore the people of Israel to a right relationship with himself and return them to their land. The covenantal reference in the verses quoted above is key to understand God’s unique arrangement with Israel.

This week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion) describes the blessings of obedience and the consequences of disobedience under the covenantal arrangement established through Moses by God at Mt. Sinai. As long as Israel adhered to God’s commands, they as a nation would thrive. But should they reject God’s ways, breaking this covenant, they would experience terrible circumstances, culminating in oppression by their enemies and removal from their land.

Should this occur, which indeed it did, God made provision within the Sinai covenant for restoration to himself and to the land. But note that this provision is not based on the Sinai covenant, but on the earlier one made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel’s existence as a people, including their habitation and their role among the nations of the world, was established, not by Sinai through Moses, but through God’s unconditional promise to Abraham (see Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-3) and passed down to Isaac and Jacob. The Sinai covenant with its conditions of blessings came about as a result of God’s deliverance of Israel from their oppression in Egypt, a deliverance also rooted in his earlier covenant with the patriarchs. This is what we read in Shemot (the Book of Exodus):

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. (Shemot/Exodus 2:23-24)

The earlier covenant is the driving force behind all of God’s dealings with Israel. So that even if Sinai resulted in failure, which it did, the covenantal foundation would survive. That’s why God’s judgment upon Israel could never be his final word to them. Even after rejecting God by turning to other gods and suffering the threatened consequences, there would always remain a right of appeal to unconditional promises that predate Moses.

This is also why a new covenant would one day be necessary. Jeremiah in chapter thirty-one of his book looked beyond the day when these words of judgment would be fulfilled towards a new covenantal arrangement that would finally resolve the sin problem that continually beset Israel under the Sinai covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31-33). That God’s affirmation of his ongoing faithfulness to Israel is based on their being the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is eloquently stated immediately following:

Thus says the LORD,
who gives the sun for light by day
    and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the LORD of hosts is his name:
“If this fixed order departs
    from before me, declares the LORD,
then shall the offspring of Israel cease
    from being a nation before me forever.”

Thus says the LORD:
“If the heavens above can be measured,
    and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel
    for all that they have done,
declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:35-37)

The establishment of the New Covenant on the foundation of the patriarchs provides hope for Israel’s full eventual restoration. It’s in Romans 11:28 that we read despite Israel’s behavior, “they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.” More than that! Knowing that the New Covenant is rooted in unconditional promises to Israel assures all its participants, Jew or Gentile, of God’s ongoing faithfulness to them.

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


Cultural Appropriation

For the week of May 6, 2023 / 15 Iyar 5783

Message info over an illustration depicting Santa Claus wearing a kippa and lighting Hanukkah candles

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1-24:23
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31
Originally posted the week of May 5, 2018 / 20 Iyar 5778 (updated)

Thus Moses declared to the people of Israel the appointed feasts of the LORD. (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:44)

According to Wikipedia, “Cultural appropriation is the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity.” When cultural appropriation first came to my attention some time ago, I thought the strong objection to it was a bit strange, not because I don’t understand the concern, but because I am so used to it – sort of!

As a Jewish believer in the Messiah, whose spiritual relationships are mainly among non-Jews, I encounter cultural appropriation constantly. In fact, Christianity is and has always been an exercise in cultural appropriation. Generally, Jews and Christians are not aware of this, however, since most Christian cultural expression wouldn’t be recognized as Jewish. The fact is there is almost nothing within Christianity’s core beliefs that isn’t derived from the Jewish world. Some are more obvious than others. The primary document for Christians is the Bible, both Old and New Testaments written almost exclusively by Jews and focused on activities happening to or done by Jewish people. Even as global outreach developed, its development and implementation was in Jewish hands. The God of the Christians is the God of Israel. The religious and theological concepts adhered to by Christians are all Jewish in origin, such as sin, righteousness, sacrifice, and holiness. Then there’s the very center of all core concepts, the Messiah. While the Jewish and Christian worlds have traditionally been divided over the Messiah’s identity, Christianity is founded on the conviction that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Jewish Messiah. Using Greek-oriented instead of Hebrew-oriented terminology obscures the cultural connection. That many Jews and Christians aren’t conscious that Christ and Messiah, for example, are synonyms doesn’t negate the Jewish nature of the messianic concept.

Other key Jewish components of Christianity are not as obvious. Most people don’t realize that baptism was originally a Jewish custom that was done as part of the conversion process as well as when an estranged Jewish person wanted to return to God. The development of the church as the place of community teaching and prayer was based on the synagogue. Communion, also called the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper, is taken from Passover. The hope of the resurrection of the body was an exclusively Jewish concept. We could go on.

The early Jewish believers went out of their way to allow the Good News about the Messiah to function freely and fully in a non-Jewish context. Through God-given wisdom they freed the core of biblical faith from Jewish cultural control, allowing the nations to work out the essentials of biblical spirituality within their own contexts. What I don’t think the early believers envisioned is how far from a Jewish frame of reference the Church would go.

Many non-Jewish believers over the past hundred years or so have sought to re-contextualize Christianity within a Jewish frame of reference. Some correctly understand that the freedom to adapt biblical teaching within foreign cultures, while helpful in many ways, can tend to skew biblical truth, especially when cut off from its Jewish roots. At the same time, however, the passion to restore biblical faith to its ancient roots can go overboard. This is where appropriate cultural adaptation can become misappropriation. This happens in two ways: first, by confusing Jewish culture with biblical truth. Not everything that is Jewish is necessarily biblical. Much of Jewish culture found in the world today is recent in origin. While we don’t know the tunes of King David’s psalms, we are fairly certain that they were not anything close to what is thought of as Jewish music today. Similarly, Jewish foods are normally adaptations of local fare throughout the world where Jewish people have lived. Apart from the limits of kosher laws, there is nothing intrinsically biblical about the vast majority of Jewish cuisine.

The second type of misappropriation is in regard to actual biblical material. For example, take the feasts as listed in this week’s parsha (weekly Torah portion). It is tragic that this key component of the Books of Moses, like most of the Hebrew Scriptures, has been virtually ignored by Christians. There is so much to learn from the feasts as they teach us about God’s character and activities. Yet it is easy to go from a healthy renewed focus on Scripture to a misguided emphasis on cultural expression. Much of Jewish festival observance today is based on tradition, not Bible. Tradition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is culturally bound to the people who developed it. People don’t often possess the level of sensitivity necessary to adapt cultural forms. That doesn’t mean it should never be done. Perhaps what needs to be done, be it non-Jewish Christians in relation to Jewish people or between other cultural groups is to truly get to know the people whose culture it is before we treat it as our own.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


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