Enduring Futility

For the week of January 14, 2023 / 21 Tevet 5783

Message info along with a leaky water bucket

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 1:1 – 6:1
Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6 – 28:13, 29:22-23

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So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. (Shemot/Exodus 1:13-14)

The embryonic nation of Israel was preserved via God’s providence by migrating to Egypt through the unusual and painful circumstances that led to Joseph’s rise to prominence there. For some time, not sure exactly how long, the growing nation prospered in their temporary home. Eventually, an Egyptian king arose who became suspicious of them. He was concerned Israel would one day ally themselves with Egypt’s enemies, leading to Egypt’s demise. In an attempt to undermine such a possibility, the king imposed an oppressive policy to enslave Israel. As this failed to weaken the growing Hebrew nation, life for Israel got a lot worse before it got better, as the king decreed the murder of the Hebrew baby boys at birth.

From what we can tell, Israel suffered a long time, hundreds of years in fact, as slaves in Egypt before God sent Moses and his brother to rescue them. That this was foretold to Abraham (see Bereshit/Genesis 15:12-16) is little consolation for what must have been an unbearable situation. Later biblical history informs us that the vast majority of Israel’s suffering was due to its failure to live up to its covenantal obligations. There are several occasions when repentance brought almost immediate relief. But that’s not the case here. There is no indication whatsoever that Israel’s suffering was due to anything on their part, good or bad, except for their simply being there, a situation that had been originally determined by God for their welfare.

As I was preparing this message, I struggled to find meaning through Israel’s centuries-long oppression in Egypt. I was on the brink of deeming this period as utterly futile. I hate futility. I get very unsettled when I lose grasp of meaning. I don’t think I am alone. Even materialistic naturalists (those who believe the universe came into existence through nothing more than energy and matter plus chance), who reject that there is any objective meaning to life, can’t seem to live like that and so seek to find meaning anyway they can. Then, there’s the typical, “Everything is for a reason,” line that seems to make people feel better even if the mysterious reason is beyond comprehension.

In the case of Israel in Egypt, I do believe there is a futility aspect to it at least for the individuals who lived through it. There were innumerable Israelites, who were born into, lived through, and died in that most oppressive state. Perhaps the expectation of returning one day to the Promised Land provided some relief. We don’t know. We also don’t know how faith in the God of their fathers encouraged them day by day. If the behavior of the wilderness generation later on is any clue to the depths of their faith, then it was pretty shallow. I will come back to the futility in a moment.

From a big-picture viewpoint, Israel’s experience in Egypt wasn’t futile. God used their hardships there as a pressure cooker to develop Israel as a nation. Note that Israel didn’t come into being through the normal processes experienced by other people groups, but rather by God’s particular design. The Promised Land, likely due to its geographical peculiarities as a land bridge connecting Africa, Asia, and Europe, was home to a wide variety of people groups and influences. It’s possible that the clan that arose from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, would not have been able to become the substantial nation it did without the Egypt years. Also, if the political establishment in Egypt would have remained friendly to Israel, they may have been absorbed into the Egyptian people and would have not wanted to leave. The antagonism they experienced served to ensure their distinctiveness and their acquiring the Promised Land. Moreover, Israel’s experience in Egypt serves to illustrate the oppression all people are under. This sets up the great redemption God desires for all people through the Messiah.

All that might satisfy our yearning for meaning. It makes us feel better when reading about their hardships to see that there was a grand purpose behind it all. But what about them? They wouldn’t have been aware of any of this. The best they could have done was endure. In fact, some may have preferred an early death rather than continuing to go through such painful futility.

And that might be exactly how you are feeling right now. Like the Israelites, we may not know the grand purposes we are serving. Moreover, I am not convinced that everything that happens is for some precise intentional reason. And yet, we do know that according to the New Covenant Writings, based on stories like Israel in Egypt, that God uses everything for the good of his people (see Romans 8:28). This may not completely alleviate the pain we feel when confronted by apparent futility, but, if we let it, it will help see us through.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Be Not Ashamed

For the week of December 24, 2022 / 30 Kislev 5783

Message info over a Hanukkah menorah and a man in disgust pointing at a Bible

Miketz/Rosh Hodesh/Hanukkah
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 41:1 – 44:17; B’midbar/Numbers 28:9-15; 7:42-53
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (English 2:10 – 4:7); Isaiah 66:1-24; 1 Samuel 20:18-42

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Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)

Note: the following are some “final reflections” at the end of an extensive Hanukkah presentation I did recently, where I cover Hanukkah’s historical background, contemporary customs, and some important lessons we can learn. View video here.

In the days leading to Hanukkah, the Hellenistic (Greek) authorities, among other things, forbade the study of Torah. Will we see the Bible banned in our day? We might, but that’s not necessary, due to how much it has been shamed.

Over time we have been told that the biblical world is so different from ours that it’s become more and more difficult to see how what the Bible teaches can be relevant to today’s world. Many have become convinced that it was written at a time when misogynistic, “homophobian” racists walked the earth, and therefore the issues the Bible addresses have nothing to do with our supposedly far more enlightened world. We sit in judgement over the real and imagined sins of the past, while we congratulate ourselves for our superior morality. What then does the Bible have to teach us? We may seek to mine the Bible for encouragement and hope—we want to bolster our faith after all—but when it comes to life’s particulars: marriage and family, sexuality, business, politics, leisure, entertainment, what constitutes legitimate congregational life, and so on, many of us have left the Bible—the whole Bible—far, far behind.

Sure, we’re diehard fans of Yeshua (Jesus), but have become detached from the very written word that defined his person, his life, and his mission—a mission that has been extended to his followers, the God-given mandate to disciple the nations—a mandate entrusted to us by the Most High to instruct the world in his good and life-infused ways. Yet, when we get into the nitty gritty of Scripture, especially when it comes to Yeshua’s own Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures, the same Scriptures Paul said were not only breathed out by God but are also “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” that God’s people may be “complete, equipped for every good work”—when it comes to the fulness of those Scriptures, many of us have become what we might call “neo-Marcionites.”

Marcionism was an ancient gnostic heresy that, not only claimed that the Old Testament god was different from the New Testament god, but that the Old Testament is archaic and oppressive; replaced by a new and improved Covenant, a version of which neither Paul nor Yeshua would recognize. Instead of standing confident in his written Word, his entire written Word, we are often apologetic and ashamed of God’s ancient but enduring truth that is as relevant today as it was when it was first written.

But it needn’t stay this way. Like the Maccabees, we need to say, “enough is enough.” We need to take up the spiritual sword of God’s word. We need to ask God to teach us how to effectively wield it in our day. But first, we need to ask him to pierce our own hearts with it afresh, allowing ourselves to be taught by him—without shame and without fear—as he fills us with his words of life to, not only nourish ourselves, but to enable us to provide light to an ever increasingly dark world.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Time To Engage

For the week of December 17, 2022 / 23 Kislev 5783

Message information

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 37:1 – 40:23
Haftarah: Amos 2:6 – 3:8
Updated version of message posted the week of December 21, 2019 / 23 Kislev 5780

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Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Bereshit/Genesis 37:5-8)

Sometimes I ponder the circumstances that led to two of my most important life experiences: my coming to know the Messiah and connecting with the young lady who would become my wife. What this has to do with Joseph and this week’s parsha will become clear eventually. So many unusual twists and turns brought me to hear about Yeshua for the first time in September 1976, including my parents’ breakup, and my own issues with my father, which opened me to accept my mother’s desire to move to Florida from Montreal in tenth grade. But when the better life we sought didn’t pan out, we returned six months later. The instability of that time fueled by my own distraction led to my repeating my senior year of high school, which gave me a new circle of friends. One such friend would later have a boyfriend from California, who upon visiting Montreal shared Yeshua with me.

All this helped set up my sort-of first-time meeting with my bride to be, Robin. I say “sort-of” because as children, we both had been in the same Yiddish school class, three days each week following public school. After my coming to know the Lord, I happened to be in a Bible study where her name was mentioned in a prayer request – that’s how I found out that she too was a new believer. A few months later her name came up again when I overheard her being invited to an event I was involved in, which led to our meeting as believers for the first time.

I could use these details to talk about the working of God’s guiding hand in our lives. So many of the circumstances of what led to my crucial life changes were out of my control. Life can feel like the living out of a script at times. But this is not my point here; nor is it what I want to demonstrate from Joseph’s life. In each of my examples, there is one influence I left out: me. On the morning of the afternoon I received Yeshua, I was sitting in my room wondering what to do that day. I had become friends with another friend’s cousin who had been visiting from out of town and was returning home later that afternoon. The friend was part of the new circle I mentioned earlier. I had already said “good-bye” to the cousin, but on a whim I decided to phone to see if I could hang out with him one more time before he left for the airport. I could have easily dismissed the thought of calling, not wanting to intrude. But I didn’t. So, I called. I went over, not knowing I would soon interact with the person from California who would share with me the message that would completely transform my life forever.

As for the day I met Robin, what I had overheard was two girls hovering around the phone (which was on the wall in those days), discussing their attempt to coax her to come to the event that night. She had told them she was too tired. I don’t remember how I discovered it was she with whom they had been talking. But when I did, I asked them to get her back on the phone. She, being intrigued by the possibility of meeting another Jewish believer, came after all. We quickly developed a friendship that would become a lot more than that over the next few years (we’ll leave those details for another time).

I don’t bring up my involvement in relation to these events to take any credit. Obviously, each of these are way too complex for that, but what would have happened if I hadn’t phoned the cousin or asked the girls to call Robin back? We’ll never know, of course. Just like we’ll never know what would have happened if Joseph hadn’t told his dreams to his brothers.

I am conflicted about Joseph. Was he a purely innocent victim to his brothers’ murderous jealousy fueled by his father’s nearsighted favoritism? Or was he a spoiled younger brother taking advantage of his father’s favor? Perhaps he was overly naïve, clueless to how his brothers would react to his dreams. His story doesn’t include the level of commentary necessary to draw firm conclusions. All we know is that he freely spoke about his dreams. Unlike my stories, however, Joseph’s involvement led to some extremely painful experiences. But in the end the fledgling nation of Israel and the whole region of the world in which they lived were rescued through his superior administrative ability working within the Egyptian government. All this came about through the remarkable twists and turns spurred by his sharing of his dreams.

I wonder how much life we are missing out on due to our lack of engagement. Are we paying sufficient attention to what’s going on around us? How many of us are far too tentative, much too passive, and too hesitant in responding to life’s circumstances. We don’t speak up or get involved because we are too cautious. We can’t necessarily set up the events of our lives, but unless we engage the opportunities placed before us, we will never fully live.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version



For the week of December 10, 2022 / 16 Kislev 5783

Message info over an image of a woman transformed from troubled to victorious

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 32:4 – 36:43 (English: 32:3 – 36:43)
Haftarah: Hosea 11:7 – 12:12

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And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. (Bereshit/Genesis 33:1-3)

Jacob was terrified of his brother Esau. And not for no reason. About twenty years before, instigated by their mother, Jacob tricked their father Isaac into giving the blessing of the firstborn to him instead of his older twin. By customary rights, Esau should have been the one to carry forth the bulk of the inheritance, which in this case, would have included the promises of God first given to their grandfather Abraham.

Some people might get hung up by the fact that God had already foretold that Jacob would take the primary place in the family (see Bereshit/Genesis 25:23). But God’s plans for the two boys in no way justifies the underhanded method employed by Jacob and Rebekah. We also may think it strange that something of such importance not only would be handled this way, but couldn’t Isaac simply have nullified the stolen blessing? Perhaps, but he didn’t. Whether we can appreciate the cultural values of their day or not, what happened happened. And what happened understandably infuriated Esau to the extent that he vowed to kill his brother.

Again, at his mother’s urging, Jacob did what many of us would have done in similar circumstances; he ran away. Perhaps if he would have given thought to the meaning of the blessing, he may have risked staying, trusting that God would work it out. The problem is he didn’t believe in God yet. This is clear by his response to God’s words to him in Bethel on his way to Mesopotamia. Notice the “if”: “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God” (Bereshit/Genesis 28:20-21). Not only didn’t Jacob yet have a personal relationship with the God of his father and grandfather, he also hadn’t fully grasped the fulness of the blessing he stole.

Jacob went off to Haran in Mesopotamia with some sense that he would one day return to the land of his birth. However, it isn’t clear whether he would have, or if he only did so due to how unmanageable the situation with his uncle Laban had become. Be that as it may, as he struggled with this, God spoke to him again, telling him to return home (see Bereshit/Genesis 31:13). Without the insight of Scripture, we might assume that he was spiritualizing his leaving yet another difficult situation. But this indeed was God’s direction. To Jacob’s credit, he did it despite what lay ahead.

As he headed back home, he faced his greatest fear, Esau, but did so in his usual manner of trying to manipulate the situation in order to try to appease his brother. He even put his own family at risk so as to better protect himself.

Then, it was time. Jacob had struggled with others his whole life. Now he was to undergo a struggle like none other as God wrestles with him all night. True to form Jacob doesn’t give up, a tenacity that God commends. Jacob as a result is given a new name to redefine his life along with a limp to remind him of that night. He emerges transformed. Hours earlier he was overwhelmed by fear, doing what he always had done, as he attempted to manipulate the situation to his advantage. Now, he was different as he went to meet his brother, limping as he did so, and discovered that his brother’s anger had abated.

I imagine he may have discovered his brother’s changed attitude regardless. However, we don’t know how Jacob’s anxiety may have irritated the situation. What we do know is that he was a completely changed man able to move forward in what God had for him without the controlling fear.

I don’t know how God wants to work such dramatic change in you and me, but, as followers of the Messiah, he will. A key New Covenant promise is that he would put his Torah in the hearts of his people (see Jeremiah 31:33). Core to the working of the Messiah in our lives is his transformative work of placing God’s ways, perspective, and desires into the center of our beings. He may or may not do so through a dramatic encounter such as what Jacob experienced that night but do it he will.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The House of God

For the week of December 3, 2022 / 9 Kislev 5783

Message info over an ethereal staircase in the sky

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 28:10 – 32:3
Haftarah: Hosea 12:13 – 14:10 (English 12:12 – 14:9)
Originally posted December 9, 2000 / 12 Kislev 5761
Revised version from the book Torah Light: Insights from the Books of Moses

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Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Bereshit/Genesis 28:16–17)

Jacob had a vision of God in a dream. He’d never had an experience like this before. When he awoke, he surmised that there was something special about the place he was in, referring to it as the house of God, the gate of heaven. We don’t know if his conclusion about the place was accurate or if it was nothing more than his own interpretation of the experience.

Jacob assumed that this was a special place. He gave a new name to the town, calling it Bet-el (English, Bethel)—meaning “House of God”—and set up a pillar there. He then made a pledge that if God would keep his promise to bring him back there, this same god would be his God.

Whatever the significance of the place, Jacob thought God was more in Bet-el than he would be in the land of his ancestors where he was going. It would take many years before he realized how real and how present God was. Jacob’s dream was meant to reveal to him that God was going to take care of him. But Jacob focused more on the experience than on the message.

Like Jacob, we sometimes have difficulty knowing God beyond our experiences of him. I know many of us have not experienced anything like Jacob did, but still God is often confined to our specific events, activities, and experiences. We like to focus more on the wonderful things that God does than to learn the lessons those things were designed to teach us.

The essence of idolatry is the substituting of something in place of the reality of God. It may or may not be a physical object that we can touch. It might be a memory or a concept through which we relate to God. These things may function in our lives as helps in knowing God, but the fact is they get in the way.

It sounds so spiritual to be like Jacob and get excited over an experience. But God remained someone who seemed far from him for a very long time. It would not be until later difficult circumstances that God would finally become personal to him.

Could it have been any different for Jacob? We don’t know. But it can be different for us. Instead of getting hyped over what God is doing (or not doing) in our lives, maybe we should listen to what God is saying to us. Let’s stop making monuments of our experiences (or lack thereof) and let God into our hearts right now.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


What’s Going on in There?

For the week of November 26, 2022 / 2 Kislev 5783

Message info along with the silhouette of a pregnant woman

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 25:19 – 28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7

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And Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren. And the LORD granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” (Bereshit/Genesis 25:21-23)

Human life is a journey of discovery. From the beginnings of consciousness inside our mothers, we embark on a process of realization. As we encounter early sensations of feeling and the strangeness of muffled sounds, we eventually emerge from protective darkness into the brilliance of an illuminated environment. We quickly develop mentally and physically as we interpret our surroundings and try to make sense of a strange new world.

The wonders of being alive continue. Tragically for many, this process, overwhelming at times to be sure, ends far too soon. Not only at death, but for reasons deep in the psychology of self, midway through life as well. The ever-changing complexities of life and the sheer apparent infiniteness of potential experiences is far too difficult for some to absorb. They thus prefer the illusion of predictability and the false comfort that stems from closing oneself off from the meaning that arises from the unexpected.

I don’t know how much Isaac and Rebekah grasped of the great epic story they were part of. Isaac’s father Abraham surely told his son of his unusual encounters with the unseen God. Isaac, the miracle baby, endured the trauma of his father’s willingness to offer him as a sacrifice. He survived because God apparently changed his mind. He later married Rebekah due to a set of sweet providential circumstances. At least that’s how Abraham’s servant, tasked with finding his master a wife for his son, recounted the events.

Whatever was going on, it was essential for Rebekah to have children. For God’s promise to her father-in-law to come to pass, children were necessary, but it wasn’t happening—a plight I have been told happens to about twenty-five percent of all couples. While not possessing the modern techniques of our day, I am sure their culture offered a myriad of solutions for such a condition. We don’t know if they considered any of these. What we do know is that Isaac prayed to the God of his father. Not only that, but his prayer was answered. What a relief! And yet, Rebekah knew something was wrong. So, she, like her husband, prayed. From the language of the text, her request wasn’t so much about fixing her predicament, but a desire to know what was going on.

What was going on was a conflict on an international scale. Two nations were struggling within her womb. I don’t know what an ultrasound would have revealed besides two babies each within their own placenta, given they were fraternal twins. While science has opened to us a vast sphere of wonders, it cannot give access to meaning, purpose, and destiny; only God can. Rebekah’s openness to God by inquiring of him allowed her (and us) to discover the grand purposes of God hidden within her womb.

The lack of this type of inquiry among people today has narrowed the universe into a closed box of meaninglessness. Committing to view life exclusively through a materialistic lens of personal ambition and comfort has cut us off from the grand story that we are all a part of. How many people are carrying embryonic wonders (actual and metaphorical) of which they have no clue, because they refuse to inquire of the Master of the Universe as to what is going on within them.

In our day, the discomfort Rebekah experienced could be easily resolved by surgically terminating her babies. But whether or not such tools were at her disposal, she knew that what she was carrying in her body was ultimately not about her. Her ability to see beyond herself led to the insight that God gave her. Thankfully, her focus wasn’t on herself, but instead, she reached out to the only one who could provide the insight she desired.

What are we missing due to our self-focus and narrow materialistic view of life? There may be far more to the turmoil churning inside of us. What do you think would happen if we opened ourselves up to the God of Rebekah and received his insight into what is really going on in us?

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


When It’s Not You

For the week of November 19, 2022 / 25 Heshvan 5783

Message information over an image of a man blaming a woman, pointing at her

Hayyei Sarah
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 23:1-25:18
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/2 Kings 1:1-31
Originally posted the week of November 11, 2017 / 22 Heshvan 5778

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Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. (Bereshit/Genesis 25:1-3)

Abraham is depicted in the Bible as the model of faith. It was him of whom we read, “He believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Bereshit/Genesis 15:6). It was his trust in God (faith is trust) that established his right relationship with God. What did he trust God for? The seemingly impossible prospect of innumerable offspring (see Bereshit/Genesis 15:5). Why was this a seemingly impossible prospect? He and his wife, Sarah, were childless and already advanced in years. They astonishingly have the child of promise when Abraham is one hundred years old and Sarah is ninety.

In this week’s parsha (Torah reading portion), Sarah dies, and sometime later Abraham remarries. Obviously, he is way over a hundred by now, but ends up having a whack of kids through his second wife, Keturah. Not bad for an old man, eh? But wait a second! I thought Abraham couldn’t conceive. Perhaps God healed whatever his condition was, so that he could have Isaac, the promised one. But that’s not right. Years before, after waiting and waiting and still no child, Sarah suggested going the surrogate mother route through her servant Hagar (see Genesis 16). Can’t say for sure, but looks like Hagar conceived pretty quickly. You know what that means, don’t you? The problem wasn’t with Abraham. It was Sarah who couldn’t conceive, at least not until God intervened.

If I am right, then Abraham’s faith challenge was not his own inability, but his wife’s. Did he understand that? He must have. They knew how conception worked. The Bible tells us many times something to the effect of so-and-so lay with her, and she conceived. Abraham knew he could produce kids. And he knew Sarah couldn’t. And yet he stuck with her until the end. He was open to the surrogacy solution, and appeared to believe that that was part of God’s plan until told differently. He thought it was funny when it became clear that his wife would finally conceive. Isaac, meaning laughter, would be identified with this act of heavenly humor forever. It was funny, but he went for it, lying with his long-time committed spouse at least one more time.

While many of the challenges to our fulfilling God’s will are due to our own weaknesses, struggles, and so on, we often find ourselves, like Abraham, frustrated by issues arising from others. Being confronted by actual enemies is one thing, but being constrained by those closest to us is another. How many people have started off on some Great Adventure and have been thwarted in pursuing what are clearly God-given goals, hitting a rock wall because of a loved one? Household obligations may dictate holding off on all sorts of noble, inspired objectives.

Abraham’s willingness to alleviate his situation only stemmed as far as surrogacy within the confines of his understanding of the cultural norms of the day. But that didn’t resolve the matter. Note that he never took a second wife. Maybe God kept him from that temptation by taking him to a hostile, alien land. We don’t know. What we do know is that God wasn’t put off by the length of time or Sarah’s infertility and that Abraham was willing to cooperate with the details of God’s plan as they were revealed to him.

There may be times when we unnecessarily accept obstacles to God’s plans for our lives. We may assume a false sense of responsibility towards family, friends, or business. We may have misguided financial expectations. But at other times, we need to resist skirting God-given limitations, trusting he knows what he is doing and will bring to pass whatever he wants in his time and in his way.

Sometime later, God would say to Isaac, concerning his dad: “Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Bereshit/Genesis 26:5). The exemplary nature of Abraham’s faith is not confined to a few highlighted moments, but includes a lifestyle, imperfect though it was, loyal to God. This is no less found in his faithfulness to Sarah in spite of her insufficiency. He knew that the God who called him to be a great nation had also determined that marriage be permanent. He accepted the challenge and became the father of all who truly believe.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


God of Wonders

For the week of November 12, 2022 / 18 Heshvan 5783

Message info upon a splendid space background

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 18:1 – 22:24
Haftarah:2 Kings 4:1-37

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Is anything too hard for the LORD? (Bereshit/Genesis 18:14)

This week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion) includes God’s visit to Abraham and Sarah to announce her giving birth to a son in a year’s time. Sarah reacted by laughing in disbelief. This is understandable due to her awareness of being well past child-bearing age (see Bereshit/Genesis 18:11). Understandable or not, God questioned the validity of Sarah’s response on the basis of the rhetorical question (in the words of our translation), “Is anything too hard for the LORD? (Bereshit/Genesis 18:14).

The reference to “too hard” is derived from the Hebrew word pala. The vast majority of popular English translations represent this as “too hard” or “impossible.” But that fails to capture the extent of the contrast between God’s ability and Sarah’s assumption. The word pala is the word for “wonder” as in the wonders God performed in Egypt on behalf of the Israelites. It is also one of the designations of the coming king in Isaiah 9:6 (“And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor”). In contexts where miraculous signs are not necessarily involved, it appears to be stressing the extraordinary nature of God and his works. Pala reflects that God’s works function beyond the limits of our understanding.

Translating “pala” as “too hard” or “impossible” misses the point. There is something more to this than simply God’s ability to do the extremely difficult. His ability is on a scale, not only more than, but very different from our own. He is not just bigger and stronger than everything, he functions within a realm outside of anything we can possibly conceive of.

Is this not Paul’s assertion when he writes, “Now to him who by his power working in us is able to do far beyond anything we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20; CJB). Think about that! Not just your imagination, but imagination in general. We might claim we believe that God’s ability is limitless, while at the same time, limiting him in our minds regardless. We do this by not truly accepting that his ability is beyond our understanding. That’s why Paul includes asking along with imagination. God’s wonders are beyond our ability to articulate them.

Often, when the subject of God’s infinite power comes up, many people want to know why he allows bad things to exist at all. While a lot of us wouldn’t admit this, this kind of question tend to carry an underlying suspicion towards God. Either God isn’t all powerful or he isn’t truly good. More personally, perhaps he cares more about others than me. I think it’s important to grapple with such questions. The answers, as far as I understand Scripture, are found in grasping the essence of God’s plans and purposes in the world. Human beings have been created to steward the planet under God’s rule. We are to do so as mature, responsible children of God the King. We are so crucial to God’s creation project that our actions matter. Our submission to God through faith and obedience produces blessing. Doing our own thing in our own way leads to destruction. God’s wielding his power to forcibly prevent human misuse of our divinely derived responsibility might sound appealing but that would be to create a completely different type of existence. We have no idea what such a world would be like. We are better off learning to navigate the world the way it actually is.

So, instead of wondering why God doesn’t perform according to our preferences, what would happen if we spent more time contemplating that he really is a God of wonders? What would happen if we trusted that the realm of his activities is truly beyond anything that we can imagine? Perhaps we would be so overwhelmed that we’d be dumbstruck. After all, his ability at work in us is beyond anything that we can put into words. But hold on. His wonder-working power is something that is active both in us personally and communally. If we let that sink in, how might we view our challenges, our problems, and our disappointments, not to mention how we might approach opportunities and dreams?

We don’t realize how we restrict God’s unlimited power in our lives by limiting what we believe he is able to do. By limiting him to the realm of our perceived possibilities we fail to keep in step with him. But once we reckon that he is a God of wonders, we can begin to live the wonder-filled lives he is calling us to.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.


God’s Promise Plan

For the week of November 5, 2022 / 11 Heshvan 5783

Message info over Hebrew biblical text

Lech Lecha
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27 – 41:16

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Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-3)

I remember where I was when the importance of this passage first hit me. It was the summer of 1980. I had been a believer for almost four years and was in the first few months of marriage. My wife and I were with some friends of ours, attending a special lecture by renowned Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. in Toronto. Kaiser was emphasizing God’s promise-plan as the central theme of Scripture, a teaching that has been core to his life’s work. Through the years I have come to be leery about supposed interpretive keys as if there are elements of God’s written Word upon which everything else hangs. We need to be careful not to allow our deductions from Scripture, however legitimate they may be, to become the lens through which we view the whole Bible. Since the Bible is God’s only authoritative, inspired written revelation of himself and life, we must always compare our personal conclusions with the Bible itself.

This is easier said than done. The Bible is surprisingly cohesive for a collection of such a wide variety of writings by a great many authors over a long period of time. The vast number of recurring themes and common concerns along with innumerable allusions to past events, plus the foreshadowing and prediction of future events (many of those fulfilled within its own pages), begs for it to be reduced to neatly defined categories. Yet, the Bible itself isn’t written that way. A categorical approach can easily obscure the depth and detail of Scripture, including the nuance and ambiguity that is not only part of its charm, but often provides the gateway to its depth of meaning.

With that caution in mind, it is hard to deny that God’s promise of restoration isn’t a driving force throughout Scripture, beginning in the Garden, when God pronounces eventual doom upon the serpent (see Bereshit/Genesis 3:15). I remember Dr. Kaiser saying in 1980 that Genesis 12 was the true beginning of the biblical story, while the first eleven chapters of Genesis functioned as an introduction. Whether this was God’s intent or not, we cannot say for sure, but I understand what Kaiser was saying. Genesis chapters one through eleven set the stage for the outworking of God’s plans and purposes. Human beings having been created by God as stewards of the creation under his rule, rebelled against his word, resulting in the curse – the broken state of affairs we all have been born into ever since. From the time of their rebellion, God determined to restore all things, while life on Planet Earth went from bad to worse. The flood demonstrates God’s determined commitment to his creation project, while Babel reflects the ongoing depraved state of humankind.

Against this backdrop, God calls Avram (English: Abram), whose name was later changed to Avraham (English: Abraham) a childless, elderly man, to leave family and the familiar to journey to an unknown environment. If he would do so, through his descendants, God’s blessing would come to the whole world, thus alleviating the curse. This is the story of the Bible.

The Bible’s story is the development of Avraham’s descendants, the people of Israel. It is how God worked in and through them to bless the whole world. It was to them that God revealed himself and his ways, while demonstrating humanity’s inability to resolve our broken, cursed state on our own. It would take God himself in the person of the greatest Jewish king, the Messiah, to defeat evil in all its forms, reconciling people to himself.

I believe it was from Kaiser that summer day in 1980 that I first heard the connection between the call of Avram and Paul’s words, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you’” (Galatians 3:8; NASB). By calling God’s promise to Avram, the gospel, the good news, we are to understand that the proclamation of Messiah’s rule over the earth is the vehicle by which blessing comes to the nations. It’s when we trust in the Messiah Yeshua that the power of the curse is removed from our lives and equips us to be instruments of blessing in the footsteps of Avram.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.



For the week of October 29, 2022 / 4 Heshvan 5783

Message info over a man interacting with technological symbols

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 6:9 – 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5

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And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (Bereshit/Genesis 11:3-4)

This week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading) features technology gone bad. The story of the Tower of Babel takes place between Noah’s Ark and the call of Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham). A superficial reading may give the impression that God is against technological advancement. He didn’t like that they had undertaken such a project. Actually, that might be true, but not because of their technological prowess.

That human beings would engage in technological development is assumed in Scripture. From the very beginning of our existence, we read of God’s directing the first man and woman: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Bereshit/Genesis 1:28). Humans were given the responsibility to “subdue” the earth. The Hebrew for subdue is kavash’ and has to do with making something or someone do what you want. In the context of the creation mandate, human beings were to make the earth be what God wanted it to be through them. We were not to simply make sure everything just stayed the way it was first made.

Some misunderstand the Garden of Eden as perfection in the sense that it could in no way be improved upon. People could mess it up, but not make it better. But this misunderstands God’s intention for both the planet and human responsibility. One might think that people were to just laze around eating fruit from the garden’s trees and drinking water from the rivers and that’s it. I can’t say for sure what it would have been like if the rebellion against God wouldn’t have happened so soon, but the directive to subdue the earth certainly called for interacting with and developing the creation. Under this directive, it would not be long before tools would be invented, and all sorts of discoveries made. These early forms of technology would be the baby steps eventually leading to space stations and smart phones.

So, what was so wrong about the Babel building project? I remember as a child in first or second grade, when my public school in Montreal was still allowed to read Bible stories, being told the reason why the people were making this high tower. I don’t know if it was in the story itself, if the teacher mentioned it, or if was a comment from a student. However it came to me, I had the impression that the tower was to enable people to survive in the event of another flood. I eventually learned that the biblical text gives no such impression. Instead, the purpose of the tower and the city was for theexpressed purpose of the people’s making a name for themselves to prevent them from being dispersed throughout the earth. They believed that their building project would provide them with identity and security, thus enabling them to remain together in that one location.

God was not happy about this plan. Again, it might appear that he was concerned about their technological prowess in and of itself. We read, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Bereshit/Genesis 11:6). The “nothing that they propose…will be impossible” implies God’s concern that if left unchecked humans will devise highly destructive inventions. But it wasn’t the technology itself he was concerned about, since he already not only tolerated but instigated technological advancement. Apart from the tools already developed, it was God who supplied the design of an extraordinary boat-like structure which preserved his creation project.

The problem with the development of the tower and city was not the technology itself but the people’s motive. God had commanded human beings to fill the earth, but they wanted to stay together in one place. They believed their technology could accomplish that. This stemmed from their believing that their identity and security could be derived from themselves and their self-driven plans.

While technology in itself is neither good nor bad, when it is used for self and security contrary to God’s will, it is highly destructive. What happened at Babel demonstrated that human nature was bent towards itself and away from God. In God’s wisdom, he confused their language to put a wrench in the works, so to speak. The resultant communication barrier greatly slowed down technological innovation and its inevitable destruction.

Let me reiterate that the problem isn’t the technology itself, but how it is used. When used as a tool in the service of God under his direction and for his purposes, much blessing may result. However, when used for self, disconnected from our Lord and King, there’s no limit to the damage it can do.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version