They Are Us

For the week of April 1, 2023 / 10 Nisan 5783

Message info over a collection of old photos and a pocket watch

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Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 6:1-8:36 (English 6:8 – 8:36)
Haftarah: Malachi 3:4-24 (English: 3:4 – 4:6)

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction. (Malachi 3:24 [English 4:6])

As is my custom, I prepare TorahBytes each week by looking at both the weekly Torah and Haftarah (excerpt from the Prophets) portions. In more recent years, I also tend to look back at my previous messages based on these portions. The last time I commented on the portion from the end of Malachi, was the week of April 4, 2020. The first set of significant COVID measures, including lockdowns and social distancing, began in most places a couple of weeks prior. Here are a few excerpts from that message:

We are in sobering times. Most of us alive today have never seen a global pandemic nor have had to endure such drastic measures. Time will tell whether or not the restrictions imposed upon us are justified…We don’t know what the world will be like when this is over…People’s value systems will be transformed…Are we prepared? Are we prepared to face death? Are we prepared to face life?…The pressures of coping with COVID-19 personally and relationally are driving us individually and societally to a tipping point.

At that time, I asserted that the generational division had already been in place long before this crisis undermined our societal foundations, making dealing with COVID far more difficult than it would have been had the family unit been stronger. But something else was also going on unrelated to COVID: an all-out attack on the past.

The present can certainly be helpful in shining light on the past. Yet, it’s one thing to experience regret for our personal or communal wrongs. But it’s quite another to mercilessly attack it. We have become too quick to condemn the actions of the past based on our supposed enlightened perspective. God’s warning through Malachi speaks powerfully to the current moment. He said that unless the hearts of the fathers turn toward the children and vice versa, God would “come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” In other words, the survival of society depends on the healing of the generation gap.

Not only has the generation gap widened in the past few years, the very nature of the gap has changed. What began as a difference of opinion between adults and young people amidst the turbulent 1960s, is now a violent disdain for the actions of generations of the distant past. What had been a critique of cultural values has become a rage over long-ago events to the extent that their very memories are being wiped out of existence.

What is perhaps the most insidious aspect of this so-called social justice movement is the practical denial that the current generation are the descendants of our forebears. When we condemn them, we don’t realize how much we condemn ourselves. Assuming that the current generation possesses sufficient moral superiority, qualifying them to sit in judgment over the past, exposes a complete lack of self-awareness. Today’s social justice warrior types forget that we share the same humanity, in all its glory and brokenness, as those who came before. So, instead of owning the inheritance of past wrongs and working toward a better future, all that is gained is a sense of pride in one’s self-proclaimed moral superiority. To be so out of touch with one’s own nature can only lead to greater trouble. It’s only by recognizing that we are made of the same stuff as our ancestors can we find any resolution to the pain we feel for the social ills that have plagued humanity from the beginning. It’s when we see ourselves in the faces of the past that we can effectively address the ills of the present. But when we distance ourselves from our ancestors, we distance ourselves from ourselves.

This is why we need to heed the prophetic call to turn our hearts to our fathers. This may be our literal fathers or our historical and cultural ones. A thought: I wonder how many people who are enraged over great social ills of the distant past are also enraged at their own dads. These may be related. Be that as it may, the warning through Malachi is as relevant today as it was when it was first delivered. If the generational divide is not healed, we are in big trouble.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated


Divine Aromatherapy

For the week of March 25, 2023 / 3 Nisan 5783

Message info over an image of an essential oil diffuser humidifier

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23

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And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. (Vayikra/Leviticus 1:9)

Do you have a favorite smell? I have heard it said that our sense of smell supplies one of the strongest memories human beings possess. Whether we believe in aromatherapy or not, it is difficult to deny how various fragrances can have a profound effect upon us. Some fragrances may spark our appetite, while other may excite us, clear our minds, or help us relax.

As we begin Vayikra, Leviticus, the third book of the Torah, for another year, we regularly read about God’s emotive response to certain offerings. This is termed, according to the translation I’m using here, the English Standard Version, as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. This gives the impression of some sort of pleasure response on God’s part. Before I address what may be going on here specifically, I want to discuss more generally what Scripture means when it refers to God’s having what appears to be very humanlike experiences.

Many theologians assert that such references are a type of metaphor (figure of speech) called personification or anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is when nonhuman creatures or objects are portrayed in human-like ways. Examples commonly found in books and movies, include talking animals, toys, or cars. Personification is when the actions of a nonhuman creature or object are described in humanlike ways. This is so, when weather “threatens” or pain “shouts.” Most examples like this when pertaining to God would be categorized as personification, such as when he regretted making Saul king (see Shmuel/Samuel 15:11) or one day exulting over his people with singing (see Zephaniah 3:17).

It is important to understand how these and many other examples of God’s having or expressing humanlike attributes or emotions represent what he is experiencing. Through history many have undermined the power and meaning of such metaphors by asserting that God can’t be affected by human behavior. They conclude that these metaphors are used for our sakes alone in order to confront our beliefs and behaviors, while God himself is absolutely unmoved. If God can be affected by his creation, how would he then retain control?

Philosophically, I see the problem. But the Bible doesn’t attempt to fully satisfy our desire for an exhaustive philosophical system. Instead, it provides what we need to know in order to live effective, godly lives. That includes, in God’s wisdom, all sorts of descriptions of himself that are humanlike.

Isn’t that God’s way of coming down to our level, so that we can understand that which is completely beyond our comprehension? To some extent, yes. However, when God reveals himself in these ways, what’s the point if they don’t represent reality? When the second Psalm tells us God laughs at the conspirators (see Psalm 2:4), if he isn’t really laughing, what then is he doing? If God is as unmoved as some say he is, then it seems to me what we are left with is nothing more than a mechanical universe, while created by God, is simply behaving according to design. God isn’t involved, even though he is ultimately responsible for creation’s impersonal reactions.

But is that the reality the Bible reflects? Is not God personally involved in human affairs? Does he not communicate to and through people? Is it not more reasonable to accept that God actually experiences the emotions as told us through Scripture? I suggest that our human experiences are a real though comparably feeble reflection of what God is experiencing. Our emotions, therefore, are a taste of what God is truly feeling.

Once we accept that God is experiencing something very real in response to properly instituted offerings, we are able to look more carefully at the expression “pleasing aroma.” The word translated as “pleasing” (nee-kho-akh) is derived from the word “noo-akh,” meaning “to rest” or “to settle down.” This is why some translations prefer “soothing aroma.” It’s not just that God likes these offerings, it’s that they sooth him, the picture being one of God’s being agitated by sinful behavior but calmed by the act of sacrifice. Of course, we know from other parts of Scripture that it wasn’t the offering itself that made the difference, but the heart of the person making the offering.

And so it was with such a heart that Messiah himself not only gave himself but did so as an example to us all. As we read in the New Covenant Writings, “Conduct yourselves in love, just as the Messiah loved us, and gave himself for us, as a sweet-smelling offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2; New Testament for Everyone). The great universal effect accomplished by the Messiah’s sacrifice is to be reflected in the healing aroma of our lives.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated


Let Him In

For the week of March 18, 2023 / 25 Adar 5783

Message info over a large double wooden door, a hand opening them, and glowing light coming through

Vayakhel & Pekudei
Torah: Ex 35:1 – 40:38; & Ex 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46
Originally posted the week of March 9, 2019 / 2 Adar II 5779

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

After many chapters containing intricate details of every aspect of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), it was finally finished. It must have been really something for a nation of former slaves to have completed their first building project that was for themselves. It was for God, of course. But it was also, in a very real sense, their own. Located in the center of their community, Israel now had a tangible expression of their unique peoplehood and faith.

However satisfying the Mishkan was or impressive it was to see, nothing can compare to what happened next. The pillar of cloud and fire, which was a physical manifestation of God himself, filled it. In some real way God himself took up residence in his house. The “everywhere” God localized his presence in the midst of the people of Israel.  

What would the Mishkan be without God inside it? Since it was built under his direction and according to his instructions, it was a legitimate place of true worship. The cohanim (English: priests), who were responsible for the sacrifices and the maintenance of the inner buildings, and Levi’im (English: Levites), who assisted them, were sanctioned by God through Moses. As long as they were faithful to the Mishkan’s Torah regulations, their activities would be pleasing to God and of benefit to the people. The understanding of God reflected by the Mishkan and its proceedings would proclaim the truth of God, his word, and his people.

So, what difference did his localized presence make?  It might surprise you if I don’t say “everything.” It’s not “everything” due to its legitimacy and the benefits I briefly tried to describe. But it is still a really big difference. The presence of God within the Mishkan allowed the people to go beyond good and true concepts of God to encountering him personally.

This personal dynamic is key to genuinely experiencing God. I wonder how much well-intentioned believers are content with a life that is more akin to the Mishkan without God’s presence. Most things in our lives appear to be in order. We believe the right things. We go through all the right motions. We avoid bad stuff (at least most of the time). But, if we are honest, God remains a concept; there’s no personal dynamic. God is around certainly, but he isn’t right here, not to mention inside us.

I know there’s lots of controversy about what the New Covenant Writings refer to as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Much of that controversy is wrapped up in people’s attempt to explain and formulize the personal dynamic of God’s presence in the life of the believer. Forget the controversy for a second. Is our experience of God supposed to be like the Mishkan without God? The New Covenant refers to us as the Temple of the Holy Spirit both corporately (1 Corinthians 3:16) and individually (1 Corinthians 6:19), because we are to be like the Mishkan with God inside.

If God isn’t in you the way he wants to be, let me offer some suggestions as to why. First, you may not truly believe in Yeshua. You may know that already, you may be lying to yourself, or others have deceived you into thinking that you are a true believer when you are not. If that’s the case, that can easily change right now. Turn from your sin and call out to God in Yeshua’s name. Second, the Bible speaks about grieving (Ephesian 4:30) the Holy Spirit. You may have come to believe in Yeshua, but your lifestyle is creating all sorts of barriers to truly experiencing him the way you should. The solution to that is the same as the first. Stop the bad behavior and turn to Yeshua. Let him direct you from there. Finally, you may have been conditioned against the work of God in your life. The Bible also speaks about quenching the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). You have been taught to be suspicious of emotions, impressions, inklings, voices, and visions – these and other ways that God makes himself known to us personally. This one is more difficult that the other two, since it so insidious. Some people have been taught that many of the things that God is doing in your life is of the devil. Can’t do much about that until you have a major paradigm shift (completely new way of looking at life). Good news though – nothing is impossible for God. He can show you what’s right. But for that to happen, you’re going to have to let him in.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Pain of Waiting

Message info over a photo of a woman impatiently sitting alone in a waiting room

Ki Tissa
For the week of March 11, 2023 / 18 Adar 5783
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 30:11 – 34:35
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38
Originally posted the week of February 15, 2014 / 15 Adar 5774 (revised)

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When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Shemot/Exodus 32:1)

Years ago, I was talking to someone and said to them that I suffered from a lack of faith. That’s quite a confession for someone who calls himself a “believer,” seeing that biblically, belief and faith are the same thing, as is trust. Whatever the correct terminology, I was seeking to sum up my life struggles by acknowledging unbelief. My friend said “No, your trouble is lack of patience.” I think they were right. It’s not that I have never struggled with faith; it’s that my impatience has caused me unnecessary trouble time and time again.

I hate waiting! I can’t remember a time when I felt differently. Whether I am suffering, dreading a potential problem, or even anticipating something fun and exciting, I find the waiting process awful. I remember the first time I met someone who found more pleasure in the anticipation of an event than in the event itself, it was like meeting a visitor from another planet. How can anyone enjoy anticipation, when it makes me sick! It took me a while before I realized that I had a problem, a big problem.

The people of Israel camping out at Mt. Sinai vividly demonstrate for us how serious a lack of patience can be. Moses was away for over a month meeting with God. Even though Moses, a person who had proved to be so trustworthy, said he was coming back, they couldn’t handle what they took to be a delay in his return. I don’t blame them for how they felt. Of course I don’t, I can so relate! Being in a hostile environment, journeying into the unknown, having no clue when their leader would return, they were likely overwhelmed by their uncertainty and the waiting.

Patience is the ability to endure the pain of waiting, an ability they certainly lacked. But that’s not where they went wrong. Their sin was not in the pain of waiting, but in their turning to other gods. Their real problem was their lack of faith, which was exposed by their impatience.

The distinction between patience and faith is an important one. I wonder how many people are like me, especially in thinking that we are struggling with faith, not patience. Properly understanding this distinction can help us overcome this problem.

Those of us who suffer from the pain of waiting need to come to grips with the fact that so much of life is a process. Seeds are planted a long time before the plants produce fruit. Babies and other living creatures need a period of gestation before being born, hatched, etc. Maturity takes time. Projects require design and development. None of these common processes are due to sin. God invented process. Getting used to the reality of process over time is a first step in learning to be patient, to not get offended when we experience delay, short- or long-term.

Where my friend may not have been quite correct by saying that my problem was lack of patience, not lack of faith, is that they didn’t acknowledge how faith and patience are connected. While it has been helpful for me to realize that I have difficulty waiting, at the root of this is a lingering doubt over God’s general inclination toward me. For if we realize that God is in control of our lives, that he truly loves us, and his intentions toward us are always good, then when we experience delay, when we need to wait, when we cannot immediately see how our problems will be resolved, we can take comfort in God. Impatience, therefore, serves the purpose at times to reveal foundational flaws in our basic relationship to God.

Some people are afraid to pray for patience, thinking that God will bring them into the kind of difficult situations that require it. Whether or not we need to pray such a prayer, God will bring us into those situations anyway. We, like the people of Israel, will find ourselves where waiting a moment longer seems to be the most impossible thing ever. Whether our problem is lack of faith or patience, the solution is always the same. Don’t give up on God, because he has promised to be with us through the often-painful process of waiting.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Mercy Place

For the week of February 25, 2023 / 4 Adar 5783

Message info over an artist's reproduction of the Ark of the Covenant
For illustration purposes only. Not intended to provide exact representation of the Ark.

For the week of February 25, 2023 / 4 Adar 5783
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 25:1 – 27:19
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 5:26 – 6:13 (English: 5:12 – 6:13)
Originally posted the week of March 4, 2017 / 6 Adar 5777

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You shall put the mercy seat on the ark of the testimony in the Most Holy Place. (Shemot/Exodus 26:34)

As part of the building of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and its furnishings, God directed Moses to build a “kapporet,” an ornate cover to be placed on top of the “aron ha-b’rit” (English: the Ark of the Covenant). The aron ha-b’rit was an elegant box that contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments, a jar with a portion of manna, and Aaron’s rod that had budded. It resided in the Mishkan’s inner sanctum called the “kodesh ha-k’dashim” (English: the Most Holy Place), and it represented the very presence of God within the community of Israel.

When the “Cohen Ha-Gadol” (English: the High Priest) entered the kodesh ha-k’dashim once a year at Yom Kippur (English: the Day of Atonement), the kapporet was the focus of his attention, for he was to apply the blood of the festival’s special sacrifices before it and over it (see Vayikra/Leviticus 16:11-4). The purpose of this ritual was to provide purification for the inner sanctum from the people’s uncleanness, transgressions, and sins.

The kapporet was a lid made of pure gold overshadowed by the wings of golden “k’ruvim” (English: cherubim). The Scriptures tell us little about these creatures. We are introduced to them when Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden of Eden and God placed them to guard the tree of life. It is possible, therefore, that their being symbolically part of the kapporet was to remind Israel that the way to everlasting life remained blocked during the days of the Mishkan and its successor, the Temple.

Many English Bible versions translate kapporet as “mercy seat.” This goes back to one of the earliest English Bible translators, William Tyndale, whose 16th century translation became the core of the King James Bible and much of subsequent English translation tradition. It appears that Tyndale’s rendering of kapporet as mercy seat is based on Paul’s use of the Greek equivalent “hilastērion” in his letter to the Romans as he refers to the Messiah Yeshua, “whom God hath made a seat of mercy through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:26; Tyndale’s version). Hilastērion is the word for kapporet used by the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, that was common in Paul’s day. While hilastērion had a different usage in Greek outside the Bible, Paul must have had its biblical use in mind, a connection that Tyndale choose to make abundantly clear.

Regrettably, in my opinion, the translators of the King James Bible and many other later English translations chose not to preserve this connection. Instead most go with the pagan Greek meaning, “propitiation,” which is the idea of appeasing an angry god. Ironically, the King James and many other English translations that use “propitiation” in Romans retain Tyndale’s “mercy seat” in Exodus even though the reason for translating the kapporet as “mercy seat” is because Tyndale was drawing from Paul’s allusion in Romans to the place of God’s presence and mercy where cleansing occurs.

You may not be aware of the great controversy among scholars over the meaning of Paul’s use of hilastērion. This is part of a discussion about how Yeshua’s suffering and death provides forgiveness and acceptance to those who trust in him. But however it works, let us not miss the power of Paul’s allusion. Through Yeshua’s giving of his life, he has become our kapporet – the place of mercy. What was once hidden and inaccessible has become available to all. If we put our trust in him, God purifies us once and for all, making us fit to freely enter his presence.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Justice for the Preborn

For the week of February 18, 2023 / 27 Shevat 5783

Message info over an ultrasound of a preborn infant

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 21:1 – 24:18; 30:11-16
Haftarah: 2 Melachim/2 Kings 12:1-17

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When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Shemot/Exodus 21:22-25)

The other day, I was copied on an email conversation between some Christian leaders on a prolife issue. It contained a brief comment about the religious Jewish view of abortion being similar to theirs, which would be protection for all human beings from conception to natural death. Realizing that the Jewish view is far more nuanced than this, I wanted to send them a clarification. Just to be sure I was articulating the religious Jewish view correctly I double checked some online resources, one of which is the article Abortion and Judaism on the “My Jewish Learning” website.

Note that I have referred to the religious Jewish view. Most Jewish people would not consider themselves strictly religious and would, generally speaking, view such an issue in a similar manner to the majority view in the culture. As for religious Jews, a key aspect of their perspective on the subject is that the fetus doesn’t become a person until the first breath. That doesn’t mean the fetus is of no value until then, but it is viewed in a lessor way than fully born individuals.

Part of this discussion involves the fact that there are not many explicit references in Hebrew Scripture addressing this issue. Be that as it may, I assert that King David establishes the womb as a sacred place that should be protected when he writes: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).

There does appear to be one passage in the Torah, the one I quoted at the beginning, that does explicitly address the value of the preborn. Here is a situation where a pregnant woman is apparently hit by accident due to some men fighting. It’s a fascinating passage with regard to personal liability when a bystander, in this case a women, is potentially harmed in a scuffle. We won’t go into all the details involving her, but instead simply focus on the ramifications for the preborn. As you may see in the article I referred to earlier, the rabbinic interpretation of this passage is that the “life for life” penalty is deemed not to apply to the children, but may only result in a monetary fine upon the one committing the infraction.

That conclusion is not reasonable given what is described in the passage. While it may not say who exactly is suffering harm, there is no reason to assume it is exclusively the mother. Note that at this point the children are no longer in the womb. Their welfare is as observable as the other parties involved. It is clear then that should the mother and/or children be harmed in this situation, the perpetrator, even if unintentionally, causes death, is to be charged with murder.

That the children are already born may seem to support the rabbinic idea that personhood is only ascribed to humans upon birth. However, I find the personhood concept irrelevant. The passage itself establishes the value of the children in this situation. Unlike our day, it would have been most difficult to determine if mortal injury came to the fetus. It would only be after birth that such a determination could be made. That capital punishment was the penalty when a child died due to harm done to him or her prior to birth demonstrates the God of Israel’s high value on the preborn.

Certainly, there are differences between preborn and born children. This has been well articulated through the acronym SLED, which stands for Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency. I would add that the baby’s breathing on his or her own along with the cutting of the umbilical cord is a significant major developmental transition. Yet. we have no clear statement in Scripture that this is when personhood is established. But even if it did, do not preborn humans deserve the care and protection the rest of us deserve? Isn’t this what we learn from this passage? To ignore what God is saying here, devalues us all.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version



For the week of February 11, 2023/ 20 Shevat 5783

Message information over a man with an attitude, sitting at a desk

Torah: Shemot / Exodus 18:1 – 20:23
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1 – 7:6; 9:5 (English: Isaiah 6:1 – 7:6; 9:6)

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In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-5)

I have heard it said that Isaiah’s vision of God, even though it is found in the sixth chapter of his book, must have occurred before he began his prophetic work. That’s understandable, since it is here that Isaiah receives his marching orders, therefore serving as an introduction. Another clue that suggests this took place before he ever spoke to the people on God’s behalf is his reaction. First, it devastated him: “Woe is me! For I am lost”, which is not something we would expect from a faithful servant of God. Second, he confessed to having “unclean lips” just like the rest of his people. What kind of prophet of God has unclean lips? My proposal: a genuine one.

Let me explain. While it is possible that Isaiah’s vision is out of sequence, is it necessary that his dramatic experience had to have come first before he took up his prophetic vocation? That says more about our assumptions of how God works than our grappling with what is actually going on here.

I am aware of the many biblical accounts of people to whom God appeared and/or spoke to before they began their divine task. But there are also people to whom God appeared and/or spoke to well into their ministry. So why can’t it be that Isaiah is an example of the latter? Our assumption may dictate otherwise due to, as I already mentioned, the nature of the vision and Isaiah’s level of interaction. It is reasonable to regard these as foundational to both his personal spiritual state and the scope of his mission, but that doesn’t mean he could not have experienced this midstream. Must we assume that God wouldn’t address foundational issues in our lives?

Why do we assume that Isaiah must have had all this in place prior to the beginning of his work? Many people hearing or reading this are engaged in some sort of work for God. Others too may do so sometime in the future. Do we believe that we are so completely spiritual and that the scope of our ministry is or will be so perfectly defined that we will never require adjustment? But we are not Isaiah, we might say. We cannot compare our callings to his. Really? Are we truly that different from him? Isaiah, as were all the significant biblical characters, was a human being just like us, serving the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as we are called to do. Does it sound that far fetched that this great prophet of God might discover that he is not as spiritual as he thought he was and that he may not have yet fully grasped the scope of his calling?

Isaiah wasn’t alone in his need to grow in his faith and work. All through Abraham’s life God expanded his understanding of what was being promised to him and how it was to work out. It took Jacob years to become a true believer. Moses had a lot to learn before he was ready to assume his leadership role and even then, the challenges that he faced forced him to draw closer and closer to God. David’s whole life was one of getting to know God better. Some of his personal weaknesses did not rise to the surface until after God used him in very significant ways.

God uses imperfect people. He doesn’t perfect us prior to his using us. When God calls us to a task, he doesn’t usually give us all the details. Let us not then assume that whatever understanding we currently have of God, our relationship to him, or the nature of the work to which he calls us, is complete.

God may not appear or speak to us in the same manner as he did with Isaiah. But let us be careful not to let our assumptions about God and how he deals with us prevent him from accomplishing all he wants to do in and through us.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Sing About It!

For the week of February 4, 2023 / 13 Shevat 5783

Message information over an image of a man performing in song

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
Haftarah: Shoftim/Judges 4:4 – 5:31
Revised version of message posted the week of July 2, 2011 / 30 Sivan 5771

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Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the LORD, saying, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Shemot/Exodus 15:1)

The Bible has several examples of songs that were written to commemorate significant events in the lives of the people. The main purpose of singing such songs was to help the community remember the character and power of God. The retelling of an event’s details helps us to get in touch with very specific elements of God’s character and power. It is one thing to proclaim that God is good and strong in general terms; it’s another to recount specific good things he did and exactly how he did them. While it is good to be aware of God’s characteristics in an abstract way, we connect with those abstract realities more effectively when we have actual examples to remember.

Retelling events through song has several other advantages over merely speaking or reading about them. The process of writing the song provides the opportunity for the writer or writers to carefully ponder the details of the event and their significance to others. This results in more than the cold recalling of facts, but also allows for the retention of the meaning of the event for generations to come. Songs are a lot easier to remember and have the tendency to get passed on to future generations. The poetic nature of songs, especially well-written ones, give future generations the opportunity to not only relive the original event, but ponder its significance all over again, while reflecting upon how past lessons can be applied to the present. Due to the nature of song, some of this happens unconsciously.

In most cultures throughout history song has held a very important place. Our own day is no exception. In fact, there may have never been a time when song has been as prevalent as it is today. But when I think of the content of most songs, very few are of the nature of those which we find in Scripture. Most contemporary songs (and there are exceptions) are about feelings and desires of the moment. These songs are highly emotional and subjective. This is not to say that there is no place for this kind of song – the Psalms include examples of such, though the perspective of the Psalms is very different from most contemporary songs. The tendency of much of today’s songs reveals the current state of most people, which is obsessed with self and the pursuit of pleasure. This tendency has spilled over into much of what may be considered as spiritually minded songs as well.

Another difference between songs in the Bible and songwriting today is the influence of commercialism and social media. If making money isn’t our motive, then at least we want to garner as much attention as possible. The result is that our songwriting motive has become more about self and popularity than God and our and future generation’s need to remember who he is and what he has done.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we began to write and sing songs simply about the great works of God as they are happening in our lives today? Have you, your family, or community gone through some significant event the recounting of which would benefit generations to come? Perhaps you or your loved ones have survived an ordeal of some kind? Did God see you through financial hardship, serious illness or accident? Maybe you are part of a congregation that almost dissolved but has seen a remarkable rejuvenation. Maybe your community is recuperating from a natural disaster. Maybe something terrible has happened to you or your loved ones, and there are some important lessons that should never be forgotten. Whatever it might be, it deserves a song. It might be sad or happy or both, but it needs to be sung.

Since it is always important to be true to one’s own words, I recently recorded and posted to YouTube an updated version of a simple song I wrote in my first year as a believer. You can view it here:

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Why So Negative?

For the week of January 28, 2023 / 6 Shevat 5783

Message info along with a photo of of a man who just endured a self-caused explosion

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 10:1 – 13:16
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28

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Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I have dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the LORD.” (Shemot/Exodus 10:1-2)

I have been told on more than one occasion that I am too negative. You may think the glass is half-full, while I may not even see a glass! That’s an exaggeration, I hope. But I would be careful about drinking that water, since it might be poison. One of my roles at a high-tech firm some years ago was quality control. I don’t know if that was a good idea for someone like me. Not that I wasn’t good at it. I may have been too good as I would find all sorts of problems that the designers never dreamed of. I was a natural. Is it my fault that when I walk into a room, I immediately notice the one picture frame that’s a bit off? Not to mention wondering what that squeaky noise is. And do I smell something burning?

This doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the positive. I love it when things work well. Perhaps it’s possible that the reason why I am so sensitive to the negative is because I love the good so much. Where I need to be most careful is in relating to people in the process. I need to choose when, how, and with whom to mention negatives. Sometimes negatives should be overlooked for the sake of relationships and various life priorities. But it may not surprise you to learn that I am concerned that overlooking the negative for some greater good is happening far too often in our day, as we are, in my opinion, not taking the negatives seriously enough.

God called Moses to confront a great negative. Pharaoh, king of Egypt, enslaved the people of Israel in order to prevent them from ever joining forces with an enemy army. God sent Moses and his brother Aaron to demand Israel’s release. Pharaoh’s refusal to heed God’s word resulted in another negative – a set of negatives – the ten plagues. The Hebrew words for plague, are better translated as “strike.” God pummeled Egypt over and over again until Pharaoh gave way. Even then, after Israel headed out, he attempted to bring them back, resulting in his army drowning in the sea. So much negative.

A previous job I had was that of a business college instructor. As I was starting out, I was informed by one of the veteran instructors that she preferred to correct students’ papers in green ink, since the traditional red was deemed to be too negative. At the time, as the new guy, I went along with it. But looking back, we weren’t highlighting the correct answers but pointing out the errors. We did that to show the students where they needed to improve in order to give them the best chance of succeeding in the workplace. I, like anyone else, don’t find pleasure in having my mistakes highlighted, but there’s a time to unambiguously point out mistakes.

Pharaoh was making a huge mistake. People were unjustly suffering due to his selfish motives. He could have simply acquiesced to God’s demand and saved himself and his people from needless suffering, but he didn’t. According to the design of the world which God made, Pharaoh’s arrogance was destined to lead to terrible consequences unless he changed course. Welcome to Planet Earth, Pharaoh.

Welcome to Planet Earth, everyone! How much longer can society pursue its current course before God’s judgment is poured out? Pharaoh and company went years and years thinking they could get away with treating their fellow human beings as a commodity. But it was only a matter of time before God would say, “Enough is enough.” The same is true for our day. We mistake God’s patience for either his non-existence or his disinterest. Worse, many in the name of faith in Messiah, put a positive spin on his intentions, ascribing to God love for humans not that different from that of a child for his puppy. God indeed yearns for us to know his goodness for all eternity. He longs to rescue us from our misguided and selfish behavior. Yet, he will only wait so long before millions will finally and permanently suffer the consequences.

Am I being too negative? Then I guess a physician diagnosing cancer is also too negative. It is not positive spin on my part (I wouldn’t do that!) to say the cancer diagnosis is an expression of goodness despite its negativity. Heeding the negative appropriately is the pathway to an enduring positive outcome. Unless we begin to see the negatives for what they are, we will not experience the positives in the way God desires for us.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Dynamics of Arrogance

For the week of January 21, 2023 / 28 Tevet 5783

Message info over a photo of the Nile River bordered top and bottom with colored maple leaves

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 6:2 – 9:35
Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25 – 29:21

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Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will bring a sword upon you, and will cut off from you man and beast, and the land of Egypt shall be a desolation and a waste. Then they will know that I am the LORD. “Because you said, ‘The Nile is mine, and I made it,’ therefore, behold, I am against you and against your streams, and I will make the land of Egypt an utter waste and desolation, from Migdol to Syene, as far as the border of Cush. (Ezekiel 29:8-10)

This week’s haftarah (excerpt from the Hebrew prophets) was most likely selected due to its references to Egypt and, particularly, Pharaoh, Egypt’s king. Both are concerned with God’s judgment on Pharaoh and his land even though the circumstances addressed by Ezekiel are very different from those faced by Moses. In Moses’ day, Israel had witnessed God’s heavy hand of judgment upon Pharaoh for refusing to heed God’s demand to let his people go. Centuries later Ezekiel prophesied an even greater devastation upon Egypt. It isn’t clear if the “desolation and waste” mentioned in the verses I quoted occurred around that time or if it is yet in the future. That doesn’t concern me as much as the reason stated by God for his harsh judgment.

Pharaoh’s arrogance in Ezekiel’s day is captured by God’s rebuke of Pharaoh’s saying, “The Nile is mine, and I made it.” The Nile River played a most essential role in Egypt. The country’s agriculture and economy were dependent on the Nile. The Land of Israel had relatively little fresh water and was thus utterly dependent on rain for survival. If sufficient rain didn’t fall at the right time of year, drought and famine would be the result. The Nile, on the other hand, functioned as a reliable, continual water source for Egypt despite its being surrounded by desert.

The presence of such a water resource would naturally lead the Egyptians to have a great sense of security. They were aware of their special possession especially in contrast to the intense water needs of their neighbors. It is understandable that such a culture would regard themselves as specially favored by their gods. One might think that the events of Moses’ time would have cured them of such a perspective but evidently not. In fact, not only would Egypt take pride in their gods, Pharaoh also eventually regarded himself in divine terms, identifying, or more correctly, overidentifying with his gods to the extent that he took credit for creating the Nile. I would expect most moderns to react to such a claim as rooted in a misguided worldview of foolish superstitions. However it was that Pharaoh came to assert such a claim, God deemed it worthy of devastating consequences.

How did Pharaoh come to think of himself in this way? Did he really and truly believe he made the Nile? Perhaps it was common in his culture to regard the king as the incarnation of a deity. Perhaps there are countries today that still think this way, but could you imagine in Canada where I live, for example, having a special ceremony where a priest or holy man waves his hand over our Prime Minister to transform him from a normal human being like the rest of us into the personification of some god or other? From that point on, whatever he says is the god’s word, while everyone else must obey or be killed. When he walks by, his people must bow in deference as he proclaims, “The maple syrup is mine, and I made it!”

I trust you’re chuckling. But think again. While world leaders generally don’t speak in such deified terms, they and those who support them are increasingly regarding themselves as the great benefactors of their people. I cannot remember how many times in the past three years our Prime Minister has said that it is his responsibility to keep Canadians safe, warming the hearts of an apparent majority of the population. Without getting into the technicalities of our parliamentary system, when did that become his responsibility? When a country’s leader begins to assume the role of ultimate parent, assuming he or she has the authority and power to determine what constitutes safe and healthy behavior, it isn’t long before they have taken the role of God.

This kind of arrogance, with or without replicating Pharaoh’s type of wording, is becoming more and more common among all sorts of authorities in traditional democracies. As God himself is neglected by a growing number of people, human authority naturally takes his place. Such a course will not end well.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version