TorahScope: Balak



Numbers 22:2-25:9
Micah 5:6-6:8

“Balaam’s Example to Avoid”

by Mark Huey

This week’s Torah portion, Balak, is full of some significant descriptions of the attempted spiritual attack on the fledgling nation of Ancient Israel, as it was encamped on the plains of Moab overlooking the Jordan, while preparing for the invasion of the Promised Land. Recall that the God-blessed conquest over the Amorites was completed (Numbers 21:10-22:1), and the Israelites were now basking in their triumph, having recently placed faith in the raised brazen serpent to ward off the sting of vipers (Numbers 21:6-20). However, the physical challenges of defeating an enemy is one thing—but now as this parashah commences, the relative relaxation of victory was going to provide the Lord, through demonically inspired individuals, the opportunity to once again test the hearts of His people. After all, people are generally vulnerable to the wiles of the Devil when they let down their guard, and experience a wide return to fleshly endeavors. So, while studying this Torah portion this week, it is appropriate that we ponder the many questions posed by the Prophet Micah, who recognized in his era the propensity for Israel to chronically fall back upon its carnal inclinations, by not recognizing what the Lord had done and what was good:

“My people, what have I done to you, and how have I wearied you? Answer Me. Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt and ransomed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam. My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab counseled And what Balaam son of Beor answered him, and from Shittim to Gilgal, so that you might know the righteous acts of the LORD. With what shall I come to the LORD and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:3-8).

The Holy One of Israel never relents from persistently molding His chosen people, to be a light to rest of the world (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), with a faithful dependence upon Him for all that they have been called to accomplish for salvation history. In our Torah reading, an opportunity for the Lord to use Balak, the king of Moab, and Balaam, a prophet for hire (Deuteronomy 23:4-5; cf. 2 Peter 2:15), to test the hearts of Israel, arrived during a period of respite from the rigors of warfare and the arduous final march to the plains of Moab. Balak was aware of Israel’s rout of the Amorites, but rather than engage the Israelites militarily, he chose to elicit the charms of a soothsayer regionally known for having the power to bless or curse people:

“Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. So Moab was in great fear because of the people, for they were numerous; and Moab was in dread of the sons of Israel. Moab said to the elders of Midian, ‘Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.’ And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time. So he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor, at Pethor, which is near the River, in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, ‘Behold, a people came out of Egypt; behold, they cover the surface of the land, and they are living opposite me. Now, therefore, please come, curse this people for me since they are too mighty for me; perhaps I may be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land. For I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed” (Numbers 22:2-6).

The problem, with Balak’s strategy, was that he chose a mere mortal to try to overturn the ultimate blessing bestowed upon the descendants of Abraham by the Creator God Himself:

“And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3).

Needless to say, in the end as the narrative unfolds, everyone will discover that God’s blessings far surpass anything that human beings can conjure. In the case of Balaam, we see a great demonstration of how the Holy One would not even allow him to utter a curse, but rather oracles of blessings upon His own!

Interestingly, upon receiving the request from Balak, Balaam is recorded to have consulted with God, and even references Him as a covenant keeping deity:

“Balaam said to God, ‘Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me, “Behold, there is a people who came out of Egypt and they cover the surface of the land; now come, curse them for me; perhaps I may be able to fight against them and drive them out.”’ God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.’ So Balaam arose in the morning and said to Balak’s leaders, ‘Go back to your land, for the LORD has refused to let me go with you.’ The leaders of Moab arose and went to Balak and said, ‘Balaam refused to come with us.’ Then Balak again sent leaders, more numerous and more distinguished than the former. They came to Balaam and said to him, ‘Thus says Balak the son of Zippor, “Let nothing, I beg you, hinder you from coming to me; for I will indeed honor you richly, and I will do whatever you say to me. Please come then, curse this people for me.”’ Balaam replied to the servants of Balak, ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything, either small or great, contrary to the command of the LORD my God. Now please, you also stay here tonight, and I will find out what else the LORD will speak to me.’ God came to Balaam at night and said to him, ‘If the men have come to call you, rise up and go with them; but only the word which I speak to you shall you do’” (Numbers 22:10-20).

These interchanges reveal a great warning to God’s people down through the ages, how even those who might know about the Lord at some level—given the wrong motivations steered by a love of money (1 Timothy 6:10) and selfish ambition (Philippians 1:17)—can be used to test those who are His faithful. Jude warned the Messiah followers of his generation how people like Balaam are often found participating in love feasts or regular fellowship gatherings of the saints, via some sort of cover of having a “genuine” relationship with the Lord:

“Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 11-13).

Believers need to be warned! Discerning the spirits, by examining a person’s or a group’s spiritual fruit, and testing the faith of those attempting to influence one’s relationship with the Most High—is required of everyone who is truly seeking His righteousness. Lamentably, far too many people are easily beguiled by the same demonic principalities that once influenced those like Cain, Balaam, and Korah—because just like the Ancient Israelites, the Lord is constantly testing every heart.

Upon given permission to travel to adhere to Balak’s request, our Torah reading depicts the somewhat amusing reality of how God can, at times, use a common animal to communicate to His people. In this case, the infamous Balaam’s donkey is actually noted for speaking words that the angelic host called into action:

“So Balaam arose in the morning, and saddled his donkey and went with the leaders of Moab. But God was angry because he was going, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding on his donkey and his two servants were with him. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand, the donkey turned off from the way and went into the field; but Balaam struck the donkey to turn her back into the way. Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path of the vineyards, with a wall on this side and a wall on that side. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she pressed herself to the wall and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he struck her again. The angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place where there was no way to turn to the right hand or the left. When the donkey saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam was angry and struck the donkey with his stick. And the LORD opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ Then Balaam said to the donkey, ‘Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.’ The donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?’ And he said, ‘No.’ Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed all the way to the ground. The angel of the LORD said to him, ‘Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out as an adversary, because your way was contrary to me. But the donkey saw me and turned aside from me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, I would surely have killed you just now, and let her live.’ Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, ‘I have sinned, for I did not know that you were standing in the way against me. Now then, if it is displeasing to you, I will turn back.’ But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you.’ So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak” (Numbers 22:21-35).

The Lord used this unique encounter to demonstrably warn Balaam that he was not to speak anything but what He instructed him to say. Then, because there was a delay in Balaam’s arrival, Balak’s anxiety was responded by Balaam indicating that he would only be able to speak a word that God put in his mouth:

“When Balak heard that Balaam was coming, he went out to meet him at the city of Moab, which is on the Arnon border, at the extreme end of the border. Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Did I not urgently send to you to call you? Why did you not come to me? Am I really unable to honor you?’ So Balaam said to Balak, ‘Behold, I have come now to you! Am I able to speak anything at all? The word that God puts in my mouth, that I shall speak’” (Numbers 22:36-38).

Obviously, despite some impure motives centered on gold and silver, the frightening episode with Balaam’s donkey speaking to him—had communicated to Balaam that he had better speak only the words given to him by the God of Israel Himself.

As our parashah continues, we find that Balaam was definitely aware of many of the rituals associated with properly approaching the Lord. By sacrificing seven bulls and seven rams on seven different altars, Balaam obviously knew a considerable amount about the revealed ways of the Almighty. The lesson to be learned is that none of us are to be fooled by someone who claims to know the Lord—and perhaps can quote Scripture to tickle the ears (2 Timothy 4:3), with all sorts of teaching using the Bible as a basis for unsound conclusions. In the case of Balaam, he was once again constrained to speak only what the Lord allowed, despite the pleas of Balak to curse Israel:

“Then Balaam said to Balak, ‘Build seven altars for me here, and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.’ Balak did just as Balaam had spoken, and Balak and Balaam offered up a bull and a ram on each altar. Then Balaam said to Balak, ‘Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the LORD will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.’ So he went to a bare hill. Now God met Balaam, and he said to Him, ‘I have set up the seven altars, and I have offered up a bull and a ram on each altar.’ Then the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth and said, ‘Return to Balak, and you shall speak thus.’ So he returned to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, he and all the leaders of Moab. He took up his discourse and said, ‘From Aram Balak has brought me, Moab’s king from the mountains of the East, “Come curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!” How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the LORD has not denounced? As I see him from the top of the rocks, and I look at him from the hills; behold, a people who dwells apart, and will not be reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!’ Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have actually blessed them!’ He replied, ‘Must I not be careful to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?’ Then Balak said to him, ‘Please come with me to another place from where you may see them, although you will only see the extreme end of them and will not see all of them; and curse them for me from there’” (Numbers 23:1-13).

Instead of cursing Ancient Israel, Balaam uttered some profound words that echo the blessing bestowed upon Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12:2-3). Balak was mortified that rather than cursing the Israelites, Balaam actually blessed them. So to get another vantage point and perhaps elicit the desired curse, Balak relocated Balaam to a higher perch so he could see all of the encamped Israelites.

A second oracle comes forth from the mouth of Balaam, which is even more mellifluous, almost waxing poetically when compared to the first discourse. Naturally, Balak was once again appalled with the words he heard:

“And he said to Balak, ‘Stand here beside your burnt offering while I myself meet the LORD over there.’ Then the LORD met Balaam and put a word in his mouth and said, ‘Return to Balak, and thus you shall speak.’ He came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the leaders of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, ‘What has the LORD spoken?’ Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘Arise, O Balak, and hear; give ear to me, O son of Zippor! God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; when He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it. He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; nor has He seen trouble in Israel; the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them. God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox. For there is no omen against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel; at the proper time it shall be said to Jacob and to Israel, what God has done! Behold, a people rises like a lioness, and as a lion it lifts itself; It will not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain.’ Then Balak said to Balaam, ‘Do not curse them at all nor bless them at all!’ But Balaam replied to Balak, ‘Did I not tell you, “Whatever the LORD speaks, that I must do”’?” (Numbers 23:15-26).

Balak’s reaction to silence Balaam, so that no more words of any kind would be uttered over Israel, was received by deaf ears. Balaam had to have realized how the Lord God was using him to bless Israel, and he was overcome by the Spirit of God, being led to eloquently proclaim yet another oracle:

“When Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not go as at other times to seek omens but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe; and the Spirit of God came upon him. He took up his discourse and said, ‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, how fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside the river, like aloes planted by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from his buckets, and his seed will be by many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brings him out of Egypt, he is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, and will crush their bones in pieces, and shatter them with his arrows. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, and cursed is everyone who curses you.’ Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, ‘I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the LORD has held you back from honor’” (Numbers 24:1-11).

From this description of Israel, uttered through the mouth of a prophet for hire, came some beautiful words which define Israel as blessed with prosperity and mighty among its adversaries. These are words which have been incorporated into the traditional Jewish liturgy of the Shabbat service, and hence are employed at many Messianic congregations and fellowships. Balak was sternly warned that all who bless Israel will be blessed, but those who curse Israel will be cursed. Balak was livid. Despite the opportunity for Balaam to significantly cash in on Balak’s request to curse Israel, Balaam was constrained to only speak what the Lord was ultimately directing by His Spirit. In fact, Balak’s command for Balaam to stop speaking was ignored, as Balaam continued to proclaim a final oracle that directs one to the future, and how the Holy One would be dealing with the adversaries of Israel:

“Balaam said to Balak, ‘Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the LORD, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the LORD speaks, that I will speak”? And now, behold, I am going to my people; come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come. He took up his discourse and said, ‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, while Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, and will destroy the remnant from the city.’ And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, ‘Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.’ And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, ‘Your dwelling place is enduring, And your nest is set in the cliff. Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; how long will Asshur keep you captive?’ Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, and they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; so they also will come to destruction.’ Then Balaam arose and departed and returned to his place, and Balak also went his way” (Numbers 24:12-25).

Sometimes, the Spirit of the Most High can be so compelling to vessels of righteousness—or in the case of Balaam, one seeking personal gain, financial acquisitions, and/or self-elevating notoriety—that people cannot terminate the flow of revelation coming forth from God. Here, we find a reference to the coming of the Messiah in days to come (Numbers 24:17). Also seen is a list of regional powers to the Ancient Near East, which will either be ruled by Israel, or will experience some kind of judgment from God. Regardless of the details, the point made is that the still-sojourning Israelites and the Lord they serve will be a power to contend with.

After what was surely an exhausting exercise, Balaam finally left, and the disappointed Balak returned to his city to contemplate what, for him, had been depressing words declared over Israel. Needless to say, Balak probably had a few restless nights, as the Israelites were encamped around the Tabernacle and were anticipating entering into the Promised Land. However, as the Israelites were gathered, we do see how later, that Balaam gave the Moabites some wicked advice on how to have the Israelites curse themselves:

“Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16).

The conclusion to our parashah ends on some disappointing developments and actions taken, which result in the deaths of many Israelites, who are on the precipice of entering into Canaan:

“While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.’ So Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.’ Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. Those who died by the plague were 24,000” (Numbers 25:1-9).

It is here that the sin of Baal Peor is detailed, with the introduction of the grandson of Aaron, the son of Eleazar, named Phinehas. He was to eventually become the high priest of Israel, and will be discussed in much greater detail in next week’s reading (Numbers 25:10-30:1[29:40]). Nevertheless, Phinehas’ zealousness for the Lord, brutally dealing with the sin in the camp, is mentioned. When seeing this action, perhaps it is much clearer why the Jewish Sages turned to Micah 5:6-6:8 as the Haftarah. They surely wanted to see people faithful to God be reminded of the imperative to do justice and walk humbly before Him (Micah 6:8).

Of course, the requirement to serve the Lord in righteousness, walking humbly before Him—and not being like a Balaam, who was perverted by his lust for riches—never goes away. The need to remember the poor examples of those who are spoken about in the Bible, and how the people of God will have their faith in him challenged by a number of ways—should necessarily direct us to implore Him for wisdom, discernment, and steadfastness! This is even more imperative for those who know that Yeshua the Messiah has come, as Believers in Him have each experienced a transformation of their hearts and minds via the presence of the Holy Spirit.


TorahScope: Chukat



Numbers 19:1-22:1
Judges 11:1-33

“Heifer and Serpent Faith”

by Mark Huey

Now that the rules and guidelines for the Levitical priesthood have been widely delineated in the previous Torah readings, along with the disappointment of the spying expedition completed and the challenges to leadership by Korah and his cohorts dealt with severely—our Torah portion for this week, Chukat, commences with the inexplicable, mysterious procedure for purifying the unclean with the ashes of a red heifer (Numbers 19:1-22). For millennia, Jewish Sages and Bible scholars alike have been unable to fully comprehend just why the Lord would institute this practice—which purifies the unclean while rendering the clean unclean in the process—but nevertheless, because the instruction came from Him, we should recognize that it is something that would be done if either the Tabernacle or Temple were operational.

In some regards, this confounding ritual at least partially foreshadows a future mindboggling event when the unblemished Messiah would be crucified for the sin of fallen humanity, providing permanent atonement. Our Torah reading is notably specific, reminding the reader that being cleansed by the ashes of the heifer the statute was applicable to all people within the broad community of Israel. What this should communicate to each of us is how the work of being cleansed is undeniably something that God wants to provide for all people—be it a ritual cleansing or most importantly a spiritual cleansing:

“Now a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, and the congregation of the sons of Israel shall keep it as water to remove impurity; it is purification from sin. The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and it shall be a perpetual statute to the sons of Israel and to the alien who sojourns among them. The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days…Then the clean person shall sprinkle on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify him from uncleanness, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and shall be clean by evening. But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself from uncleanness, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD; the water for impurity has not been sprinkled on him, he is unclean. So it shall be a perpetual statute for them. And he who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and he who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. Furthermore, anything that the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening” (Numbers 19:9-11, 19-22).

After the ritual with the red heifer is explained, our reading actually fasts forward some thirty-eight years, to when the whole congregation is bivouacked in the wilderness of Zin. This is where a number of generational transitions take place, as Moses was preparing the survivors of the sojourn to enter into the Promised Land. At this point in the journey, though, Miriam died. The rock that followed the Israelites, sustaining the people and their herds with water, which had followed them since Horeb (Exodus 17:6; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4, was no longer spewing forth water. This dilemma naturally evoked a response from the younger generation, which was not too dissimilar from how their parents and grandparents reacted when initially departing from Egypt (Exodus 17). However, in this case, one finds that the aged Moses did not adhere to the explicit instructions of the Lord in terms of the people receiving water:

“Then the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to the wilderness of Zin in the first month; and the people stayed at Kadesh. Now Miriam died there and was buried there. There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. The people thus contended with Moses and spoke, saying, ‘If only we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why then have you brought the LORD’s assembly into this wilderness, for us and our beasts to die here? Why have you made us come up from Egypt, to bring us in to this wretched place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, nor is there water to drink.’ Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.’ So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, ‘Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’ Those were the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and He proved Himself holy among them” (Numbers 20:1-13).

While Moses and Aaron once again fell on their faces, imploring the Lord for guidance on how to handle not only the complaints of the grumblers—but most critically the need for water—Moses’ frustration with the circumstances generated a reaction that did not conform with the Almighty’s command to simply take the rod of authority from the Tabernacle, and speak to the rock to bring forth water. Instead, Moses struck the rock twice with the rod, and in doing so, disobeyed the Lord and sealed both his and his brother’s fate, from leading the assembly into the Promised Land. This lack of obedience to the instruction of the Lord has in time since been a most severe warning to all of those called to be in leadership of God’s people. One would think that after nearly forty years of serving the Lord and following His instructions, someone of Moses’ stature who was given such great responsibility, would not succumb to the impetuous actions of the flesh. However, Moses struck the rock twice, and the consequence of his actions resulted in being denied the blessing of entering into the Promised Land—despite some future pleadings seeking the Lord to reverse His decision (Deuteronomy 3:23-27).

At the waters began to flow again, the attempt to make the final push toward Canaan encountered a number of impediments, because of the presence of other people groups residing in the territory along the designated route to the Promised Land. After all, transporting hundreds of thousands of people and their livestock through the area was naturally going to require a significant amount of provision. Immediately, the fledgling nation of Israel was about to receive a foretaste of the fact that their neighbors were not about to just welcome them with open arms. First, their kindred among the descendants of Esau rejected Moses’ request for passage through their territory, despite the assurance that Israel would not even drink any of their scarce water resources:

“From Kadesh Moses then sent messengers to the king of Edom: ‘Thus your brother Israel has said, “You know all the hardship that has befallen us; that our fathers went down to Egypt, and we stayed in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians treated us and our fathers badly. But when we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent an angel and brought us out from Egypt; now behold, we are at Kadesh, a town on the edge of your territory. Please let us pass through your land. We will not pass through field or through vineyard; we will not even drink water from a well. We will go along the king’s highway, not turning to the right or left, until we pass through your territory.”’ Edom, however, said to him, ‘You shall not pass through us, or I will come out with the sword against you.’ Again, the sons of Israel said to him, ‘We will go up by the highway, and if I and my livestock do drink any of your water, then I will pay its price. Let me only pass through on my feet, nothing else.’ But he said, ‘You shall not pass through.’ And Edom came out against him with a heavy force and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to allow Israel to pass through his territory; so Israel turned away from him” (Numbers 20:14-21).

Moses and Aaron certainly contemplated the rejection of their request to the Edomites, and our Torah reading gives us some transitional information communicated while the people assembled near Mount Hor. Aaron would die, and his priestly responsibilities would be transferred to his son Eleazar—literally as the garments of the high priest were taken off of Aaron and placed onto Eleazar. In a seemingly seamless procedure, Eleazar, who was raised serving and following his father Aaron’s lead, was given the representative clothing of the high priest, so that the congregation would know that the transfer of authority had been completed to the next generation. In a fitting tribute to the loss of a useful servant of the Most High, the congregation mourned the loss of Aaron for thirty days, establishing a meaningful precedence for future generations to consider when those who have served them ably pass away:

“Now when they set out from Kadesh, the sons of Israel, the whole congregation, came to Mount Hor. Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron at Mount Hor by the border of the land of Edom, saying, ‘Aaron will be gathered to his people; for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the sons of Israel, because you rebelled against My command at the waters of Meribah. Take Aaron and his son Eleazar and bring them up to Mount Hor;  and strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. So Aaron will be gathered to his people, and will die there.’ So Moses did just as the LORD had commanded, and they went up to Mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. After Moses had stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar, Aaron died there on the mountain top. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain. When all the congregation saw that Aaron had died, all the house of Israel wept for Aaron thirty days” (Numbers 20:22-29).

With the disappointment of not being able to travel through Edom realized, Moses decided that another route through the Negev was the way to proceed. As noted earlier, though, these other neighbors were not necessarily welcoming the Israelites, but instead were going out to battle with them. However, this time the Lord heard the pleas of His people, and with His blessing, the Israelites overcame the Canaanites who impeded their progress:

“When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, then he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. So Israel made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.’ The LORD heard the voice of Israel and delivered up the Canaanites; then they utterly destroyed them and their cities. Thus the name of the place was called Hormah” (Numbers 21:1-3).

When the journey recommenced around Edom, there was a chronic return to complaining about a lack of food and water, which prompted the Lord to send serpents into the camp to severely chastise the recalcitrant Israelites. Once again in his intermediary capacity, Moses interceded for the people. The Lord directed him to fashion a bronze serpent, which was to be lifted up and made visible by all in the camp. All the people had to do was to gaze upon this bronze serpent standard, with the belief that it would heal them from the sting of the serpents:

“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.’ And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.’ And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived” (Numbers 21:4-9).

Centuries later, in His encounter with Nicodemus, Yeshua the Messiah Himself would describe how this act of Moses, in the Ancient Israelites’ desert sojourn, was a significant foreshadowing of the need for all people to look to Him. Yeshua would be lifted up as a sacrifice for human sin, which all being saved would need to recognize in order to be born from above:

“Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Yeshua answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:3-16).

Despite the Lord’s issues with the complaining Israelites, He still loved them and was committed to fulfilling His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as their sojourn continued, with yet some more neighbors to contend with in order to enter into the Promised Land. The Amorites were given the same assurances as the Edomites regarding foraging from fields and vineyards and consuming water from their wells, but without any logical alternatives, Moses decided to route the Israelite entourage through the Amorite territory. In this case, the favor of the Lord was with Israel, and when the battles concluded, Israel had taken possession of land from the Arnon to the Jabbok Rivers, as well as their cities and villages:

“Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon, king of the Amorites, saying, ‘Let me pass through your land. We will not turn off into field or vineyard; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the king’s highway until we have passed through your border.’ But Sihon would not permit Israel to pass through his border. So Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. Then Israel struck him with the edge of the sword, and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as the sons of Ammon; for the border of the sons of Ammon was Jazer. Israel took all these cities and Israel lived in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all her villages. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon. Therefore those who use proverbs say, ‘Come to Heshbon! Let it be built! So let the city of Sihon be established. For a fire went forth from Heshbon, a flame from the town of Sihon; it devoured Ar of Moab, the dominant heights of the Arnon. Woe to you, O Moab! You are ruined, O people of Chemosh! He has given his sons as fugitives, And his daughters into captivity, to an Amorite king, Sihon. But we have cast them down, Heshbon is ruined as far as Dibon, then we have laid waste even to Nophah, which reaches to Medeba.’ Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there. Then they turned and went up by the way of Bashan, and Og the king of Bashan went out with all his people, for battle at Edrei. But the LORD said to Moses, ‘Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.’ So they killed him and his sons and all his people, until there was no remnant left him; and they possessed his land” (Numbers 21:21-35).

After the victories were secured as Chukat comes to a close, the Israelites were encamped on the plains of Moab poised by the Jordan River, overlooking Jericho and prepared for entry into Canaan:

“Then the sons of Israel journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan opposite Jericho” (Numbers 22:1).

Now it would just be a matter of preparing the Israelites for a final push into Canaan, with some substantial obstacles like the fortified city of Jericho impeding their progress. There were still some challenges to come from the Moabites, which will be addressed in further reading, but the next generation of people (often called the “Joshua generation”) which was on the precipice of occupying the Promised Land, was being primed for the coming invasion. Naturally, they had the common needs such as access to water and food to sustain them continually, which became a concern—but they had just witnessed and participated in the final thrust defeating the Amorites, and were enjoying the spoils of their triumph. They had a new high priest, without the presence of previously recognized leaders like Miriam and Aaron around—but the emergence of Joshua and Caleb as elder leaders and fearless warriors, perhaps gave the Israelites some confidence, as the Jordan River was all that separated them from their destiny.

All who survived the attack of the serpents had to have realized that God’s means of deliverance was punctuated by faith in what Moses had instructed them to do. The Tabernacle was in full operation, and the ashes of the red heifer were still performing the cleansing of the people (perhaps as the final corpses of the generation not permitted to enter into Canaan were being buried). After nearly forty years, Moses, despite his indiscretion in striking the rock, was still among them. The anticipation of finally settling in the Promised Land, no doubt, offered thoughts of completion, as the community of Israel could finally settle down.

Thinking about what Chukat might communicate to modern-day Believers in the Messiah of Israel, the concept of living by faith and in what the Lord has instructed His people to do, does not come naturally. In many ways, for those living today—even with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit—there can still be a tendency to follow after ways of the flesh. Not following the dictates of one’s fallen humanity will be a battle that becomes even more apparent as we continue our reading of the Torah.


The Wild and Wonderful World of the Broad Messianic Movement – June 2018 OIM News


June 2018

In these divisive and conflicted times, there is a desperate need to be able to discern the truth, because the Lord knows that His beloved children need guidance to weather the barrage of misinformation flooding the channels of communication. In many respects, however, the confusion of thought is no different than what it has been in every wicked and perverse generation that has ever existed. After all, the intangible spiritual warfare, migrating to physical displays, has persisted on Planet Earth, since Lucifer fell and was cast down from Heaven:

“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:12-14, NASU).

“You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade you were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezekiel 28:14-15, NASU)

However, despite the clever Adversary constantly bringing strife, division, and turmoil—in his desperate desire to rob, kill, and destroy God’s children and humanity at large—Yeshua reminded His followers that they have been imbued with authority on high, with names written in the Book of Life in the Heavenly realms:

“‘The one who listens to you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.’ Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Master, even the demons submit to us in Your name!’ And Yeshua said to them, ‘I was watching satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to trample upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names have been written in the heavens’” (Luke 10:16-20, TLV).

Today’s born again Believers should take comfort in their ultimate destiny! However, in the interim as one seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness—in order to fulfill the Great Commission, and prays for God’s Kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven—the ability to separate truth from fiction is critical, to avoid wasting a lot of time in the pitfalls cunningly concealed to entrap and discourage the faithful ones. This is especially valid, since certain nefarious people, who have attained lofty ruling positions of power and societal influence, are often oblivious to the truth of God’s Messiah, when the good news is or was presented to them. An example of this ignorance is seen when Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler over Judea, unknowingly confronted the King of Kings with these compelling questions:

“Yeshua answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Judean leaders. But as it is, My kingdom is not from here.’ So Pilate said to Him, ‘Are you a king, then?’ Yeshua answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world, so that I might testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’ After he said this, he went out again to the Judean leaders. He said to them, ‘I find no case against Him’” (John 18:36-38, TLV).

In this case, Yeshua unequivocally stated that “everyone who is ‘of the truth’ hears His voice,” and accordingly, is able to discern that He is indeed the Son of God. In addition, because Believers understand and faithfully trust that Yeshua is God’s Son, and that His blood sacrifice atoned for their personal sin, they take comfort in the Scriptural truths that have been received by and preserved down through the ages by the Jewish people:

“Then what is the advantage of being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Much in every way. First of all, they were entrusted with the sayings of God. So what if some did not trust? Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? May it never be! Let God be true even if every man is a liar, as it is written, ‘that You may be righteous in Your words and prevail when You are judged’ [Psalm 51:4]” (Romans 3:1-4, TLV).

But note in Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he acknowledges the responsibility entrusted to the Jewish people to maintain the oracles of God, that he contrasts the statement in Psalm 116:11 regarding all being liars, with David’s Psalm of confession, after he had been confronted by Nathan the prophet concerning his transgression with Bathsheba. In these two Psalms, the truth of humanity’s depravity, and each person’s individual need to recognize the truth of his or her sin nature, is critical to cry out for the salvation provided only by the Living God through His Son’s sacrifice. Note the beautiful verities shared by David, who undoubtedly, despite his gross sins of adultery and murder, has been used by the Holy One down through the ages to inspire countless thousands to embrace the truths found in the Psalms attributed to his authorship:

“For the music director: a psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he went to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your mercy. According to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was born in iniquity and in sin when my mother conceived me. Surely You desire truth in the inner being. Make me know wisdom inwardly. Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness, so the bones You crushed may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence—take not Your Ruach ha-Kodesh from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then will I teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguilt, O God—God of my salvation. Then my tongue will sing for joy of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. For You would not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it, nor be pleased by burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:1-19, TLV).

So to echo a refrain, which persists particularly in the minds of incalculable millions in America today—who are inundated with conflicting reports regardless of the facts when it comes to the ruling class—“What is truth?” This is a poignant question, because on spiritual levels, as noted above, it can be reduced to recognizing one’s sinful nature, and need of the salvation provided by the sacrifice of God’s Son Yeshua. However, when it comes to what is transpiring on the physical plane, where human beings function breath by breath and heartbeat by heartbeat, the truth regarding mortal actions is much more difficult to ascertain. After all, when the given Scriptural truth that every person is a liar, it is conceivable that even relatively “good people” can alter the truth (or lie) in order to protect their names, reputations, wealth, families, or positions. And with the ability to proliferate mistruths or half-truths through a plethora of communication channels, it is near impossible to read the minds of those who obfuscate the truth. Nevertheless, Believers need to ask for wisdom from above, discernment, and the gift of the discerning of spirits to help sort through all of the noise and distractions. For most assuredly, it is critical to be aware of what is happening in the immediate environment and crucial to be in prayer, supplication, and intercession for those who rule over us (Romans 13) and all in authority:

“Therefore, first of all I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made on behalf of all people—for kings and all who are in authority—so we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and respectfulness. This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. He desires all men to be saved and come into the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4, TLV).

Finally, some additional questions from the Apostle Paul come to mind, which summarize and define the difference between the wise and foolish of this world:

“Where is the wise one? Where is the Torah scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that—in God’s wisdom—the world through its wisdom did not know God, God was pleased—through the foolishness of the message proclaimed—to save those who believe. For Jewish people ask for signs and Greek people seek after wisdom, but we proclaim Messiah crucified—a stumbling block to Jewish people and foolishness to Gentile people, but to those who are called (both Jewish and Greek people), Messiah, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brothers and sisters, that not many are wise according to human standards, not many are powerful, and not many are born well. Yet God chose the foolish things of the world so He might put to shame the wise; and God chose the weak things of the world so He might put to shame the strong; and God chose the lowly and despised things of the world, the things that are as nothing, so He might bring to nothing the things that are—so that no human might boast before God. But because of Him you are in Messiah Yeshua, who became to us wisdom from God and righteousness and holiness and redemption—so that, just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in Adonai’ [Jeremiah 9:24]” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31, TLV).

So with the hot Summer days upon us, may we each seek wisdom from above and continue to advance the Kingdom of God, according to the respective calls upon each of our lives, as we each boast in the Lord!


Mark Huey

The Wild and Wonderful World of the Broad Messianic Movement

by J.K. McKee

Any one of us, who has read the Gospels and Acts, is undeniably struck by the fact that the message of the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, was first proclaimed to the Jewish people—and the necessity of proclaiming the good news to today’s Jewish people is hardly on the spiritual radar of contemporary evangelicalism. With a handful of exceptions (i.e., Matthew 8:9; Luke 7:8), the quantitative declaration of the good news, to those of the nations, did not take place until after Peter’s vision in Acts ch. 10. Of course, as a Tanach prophecy like Isaiah 49:6 would declare, “It is too trifling a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved ones of Israel. So I will give You as a light for the nations, that You should be My salvation to the end of the earth” (TLV). However, given some of the controversies regarding the inclusion of Greek and Roman Believers in the First Century Body of Messiah—particularly as seen in parts of Galatians and Romans—many of the Jewish Believers did not consider the anticipated restoration of Israel’s Kingdom (Acts 1:6) to be intertwined with the salvation of people from the masses of humanity.

History has borne out that by the mid-First Century, more people from the nations at large were receiving Israel’s Messiah, than the Messiah’s own Jewish people. In Romans chs. 9-11, the Apostle Paul was distraught over the widescale dismissal of Yeshua by his fellow Jews, but did recognize that it had to be a part of God’s plan. Non-Jewish Believers would have a responsibility, though, of provoking Jewish people to jealousy for faith in Yeshua (Romans 11:11), not be arrogant against the natural branches (Romans 11:18), and be vessels of grace and mercy to the Jewish people (Romans 11:30-31). Unfortunately, Paul’s direction has not been implemented over the centuries—and rather than seeing non-Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah demonstrate His love to the Jewish people, instead discrimination, persecution, and atrocities have taken place. Only in our generation, perhaps, have some of the directions of Romans chs. 9-11 been taken more seriously by non-Jewish Messiah followers.

The Messianic Jewish Movement

The development of today’s modern Messianic Jewish movement goes back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah established congregations, synagogues, and assemblies with the mission of facilitating Jewish outreach, Jewish evangelism, and solidarity with the State of Israel. This is a mission which continues to our present day, and should ever be on the hearts and minds of those involved with today’s Messianic congregations. A major reason, for the establishment of Messianic Jewish congregations, was to combat the errant idea that Jewish people, who come to faith in Israel’s Messiah, stop being Jewish, start being “Christian,” and should readily assimilate into a non-Jewish Christian Church system and culture. In stark contrast to this, Jewish people coming to faith in Israel’s Messiah, hardly stop being Jewish; some would say that being a Believer in Israel’s Messiah is one of the most Jewish things that one can do. The Messianic Jewish movement is present, to particularly communicate to the wider non-believing Jewish community, that expressing faith in Yeshua of Nazareth does not mean an abandonment of one’s Jewish heritage and traditions. For much of Messianic Judaism’s modern history, these convictions have put it at odds with a great deal of traditional Christianity.

Throughout much of the 1980s and into the 1990s, Messianic Judaism grew, primarily in North America, with the establishment of congregations to reach out to the local Jewish community in their immediate vicinity. This mission continues to our present day. However, while the original vision and purpose of the Messianic Jewish movement innately involved Jewish outreach, evangelism, and Israel solidarity—Messianic Jewish rabbis and congregational leaders frequently do get invited to speak at evangelical churches, and in particular speak not only on the Messiah in the Biblical festivals, but frequently host Passover seder presentations. The late 1990s saw a wide number of non-Jewish Believers being called into the Messianic community, for a variety of reasons. Many of these reasons involved evangelical Believers wanting to partake of their Jewish Roots in tangible ways, learning about the Tanach or Old Testament on a more regular basis, and participating in things that Yeshua and His first followers did. Some Messianic Jewish congregations were very welcoming of such non-Jewish Believers as their fellow brothers and sisters, actually concluding that as the Messiah’s return was steadily approaching, that the Messianic movement would probably start looking more and more like the First Century ekklēsia. Others, however, did not act so positively toward the large numbers of non-Jewish Believers coming into their ranks. Were these people going to help aid Jewish outreach and evangelism, or bring an all new series of issues (and problems) into the assembly?

Following the turn of the Millennium in the early 2000s, there were varied Messianic Jewish reactions to the many non-Jewish Believers coming into the Messianic movement. Some of these reactions were positive, and others were negative. Messianic Jewish leaders have properly emphasized that non-Jewish Believers need to be supernaturally called into the Messianic movement (certainly at this phase of its development), and committed to Jewish ministry, even though it will obviously involve some significant investigation and study of their own faith heritage in Israel’s Scriptures.  This would also necessarily include being sensitive to Jewish concerns and historical resistance to Yeshua the Messiah. Many Messianic Jewish leaders have eagerly embraced non-Jewish participation in the Messianic Jewish movement, with an emphasis on congregations representing the “one new man” or “one new humanity” of Ephesians 2:15, where all can confess sins of prejudice and misunderstanding to each other, and we can pool our talents and resources for the salvation and restoration of Israel (cf. Romans 11:26). Other sectors of the Messianic Jewish movement have not been so welcoming of non-Jewish Believers in its ranks. And, because of this, a number of movements or sub-movements spun off of the Messianic Jewish movement, from the 1980s to the 2000s.

It is safe to say, that just as many of the First Century Jewish Believers did not anticipate many Greeks and Romans embracing faith in Israel’s Messiah—so did a number of Messianic Judaism’s early pioneers not prepare themselves sufficiently for non-Jewish Believers coming into the Messianic movement. The salvation of the nations at large was anticipated in the Tanach, and in the case of non-Jewish Believers being drawn into the Messianic movement in significant numbers, in modern times, it is also prophesied that the nations will stream to Zion to be taught God’s Instruction, resulting in worldwide peace (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3). These prophecies are taking place in our day, just as in our day more Jewish people have come to Messiah faith than since the times of the Messiah. Yet, a holy message of seeing all of God’s people with a faith grounded in all of God’s Word, has been frequently used in an inappropriate manner to promote division, rather than to better understand the ways of God, so that we can better and more genuinely understand the two critical commands of loving Him and neighbor (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18).

The One Law/One Torah Sub-Movement

In the early 2000s, a prominent movement that broke off of Messianic Judaism, is frequently known by the label of One Law/One Torah. To its credit, it honestly sought an answer for the place of non-Jewish Believers within the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) as co-heirs with Jewish Believers (Ephesians 3:6). It usefully decided that non-Jewish Believers in the Messianic movement are like the sojourners or gerim who entered into Ancient Israel, professing belief in Israel’s God, and entering into the community. Because sojourners or gerim could be among those easily taken advantage of, the Torah includes explicit instruction to the Israelites that they were to be shown hospitality. The sojourner in Ancient Israel, was to actually be treated by the native born as though he were native born: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34, NASU). It was hardly unreasonable or unfair to suggest that non-Jewish Believers, in today’s Messianic movement, be shown the same welcome that sojourners in Ancient Israel were to be demonstrated.

Much of the One Law/One Torah sub-movement’s ideology is focused around a number of Torah passages which stress either “one law” or “one statute” to be followed by those within the community of Ancient Israel (i.e., Exodus 12:48-49; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 9:14; 15:15-16). A statement such as “There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 24:22, NASU), would be applied by proponents of a One Torah theology as a universal statement for all in the community of Ancient Israel following the same Torah. While passages that use terminology such as “one law” or “one statute” should be able to be examined for what they mean within Torah jurisprudence—are such remarks involving “one law” or “one statute” universal statements, or principally statements regarding the legislation immediately detailed?

Leviticus 24:22, for example, is immediately preceded by how natives and sojourners, equally within Ancient Israel, were to be stoned to death for blasphemy: “Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16, NASU). When an act of blasphemy was committed within Ancient Israel, by either a native or a sojourner, the uniform penalty of capital punishment was to be enacted. It was not as though a native born could be issued a corporal punishment such as a flogging, or have to pay a heavy fine—with the sojourner only subject to capital punishment. In high legal matters where the native born of Israel might have been shown preferential treatment or special favors, there was to be a uniform standard.

The Torah’s instruction includes a number of significant areas detailing both the native born Israelite’s, and well as the sojourner’s, obedience and standing (Exodus 12:10; Leviticus 16:29; 17:15; 18:26; Numbers 35:15; Deuteronomy 1:16). And frequently, sojourners were to be regarded as a part of the broad community of Israel. However, it is hardly as though there were no differences of any kind between the two. Sojourners, unless being circumcised and intermarrying into one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, did not have any sort of ancestral claim on the Promised Land. Likewise, due to their frequently low economic status, sojourners in Ancient Israel were often recipients of welfare (Leviticus 19:10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; 14:21). While sojourners and natives in the community of Ancient Israel had a great deal in common, there were also differences as well. Advocates of a One Law/One Torah theology, do not tend to be willing to discuss those differences.

While there are well-meaning and sincere advocates of a One Law/One Torah theology, who have made useful theological contributions, there is a deep ideological problem with emphasizing Bible passages that use the terminology “one law” or “one statute” as a credo. Each one of these passages involves an original setting in Ancient Israel that has been directly affected by the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah—and the post-resurrection era in which we live. A frequent criticism of those who identify as One Law/One Torah, is that they are very legalistic and rigid in their approach to Moses’ Teaching. This is hardly a surprise if “one law” originally involved settings such as uniform capital punishment for those in Ancient Israel! Yeshua the Messiah, via His sacrifice on the tree, absorbed the capital penalties of the Torah onto Himself (Colossians 2:14).

Rather than emphasize passages that employ “one law” terminology, it is far better to stress education and training in Moses’ Teaching, for the Jewish and non-Jewish Believers who make up today’s Messianic movement: “Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12, NASU). An educational model, of receiving Torah instruction, will facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit via the power of the New Covenant, which is to supernaturally transcribe God’s commandments onto a redeemed heart and mind (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). A redeemed heart and mind are not rigid and inflexible when it comes to implementing God’s Instruction in complicated Twenty-First Century circumstances.

The Two-House Sub-Movement

Around the turn of the Millennium, and extending into the early 2000s, another major sect that spun off of Messianic Judaism was the Two-House movement. Many of the people, who were initially involved in the Two-House sub-movement, had been non-Jewish Believers who had felt unwelcomed or dismissed from Messianic Judaism. In feeling spurned or marginalized in Messianic Jewish settings, and also concluding that they could not return to their previous Christian experience, a wide array of questions about why they had been drawn toward the Messianic movement and their faith heritage in Israel’s Scriptures were being asked. A number of today’s Messianic Jews are of the opinion that various non-Jewish Believers in the Messianic movement are indeed here because they have distant Jewish ancestry which has asserted itself in some way, as the Messiah’s return draws closer. People, who identify as being Two-House, think that most of today’s non-Jewish Believers, involved in today’s “things Messianic,” are here, in slight contrast, because they are most probably descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes.

Anyone who studies the Tanach Scriptures should very much be aware of how following the death of King Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel or Ephraim, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Divided Kingdom era is a part of legitimate Biblical history, recorded in the Books of Kings and Books of Chronicles, and reflected in the Prophets. As a matter of Biblical history, it also has to be recognized that when the Northern Kingdom of Israel/Ephraim fell to the expanding Assyrian Empire in 722-721 B.C.E., that a sizeable enough part of its population was deported. Many of these people, in being forcibly transversed to other parts of the Assyrian Empire, in the Middle East, were forced to intermarry with other conquered peoples. Anyone involved in Biblical Studies has to acknowledge that the exact whereabouts, of what are commonly called the Ten Lost Tribes, has been a matter of much speculation—as well as myth—throughout history.

There are Tanach prophecies, detailing the final restoration of Israel’s Kingdom, which surely involve the reunion of people from both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms (i.e., Isaiah 11:12-16; Jeremiah 31:6-10; Ezekiel 37:15-28; Zechariah 10:6-10). The famed two-stick oracle of Ezekiel 37:15-28, for example, is recognized as being a futuristic, yet-to-be fulfilled prophecy, by both Jewish and Christian commentators alike—and for many of the latter, as something which will be directly involved with the Messiah’s Second Coming. Certainly as a matter of Bible study and eschatology, considering prophetic passages of the Tanach which involve the Northern and Southern Kingdoms as participants, should not be a huge issue. If, for example, there are people who are descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom, to be reunited with those of the Southern Kingdom, before the Messiah’s return, then it is something for us to contemplate in regard to how soon, or how not so soon, Yeshua will come back.

Among both Jewish and Christian Bible scholars today, it is recognized that in spite of some of the unwarranted speculation and mythology that has been witnessed in history regarding the Ten Lost Tribes—that there are pockets of people groups on Earth today, who are separate from the Jewish community, but nevertheless have some oral traditions or customs going back to Ancient Israel. There are pockets of people in remote corners of places like Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean basin, and the environs of Central Africa, who claim to be descendants of the exiled Northern Kingdom—and have been confirmed as likely members of the Ten Lost Tribes by Jewish authorities in Israel, usually enjoined by DNA analysis. These are the areas which generally fall within the sphere of influence of the old Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires, and where the exiles of the Northern Kingdom could have been legitimately deported, scattered, and/or assimilated (cf. Jeremiah 31:10; Hosea 8:8-9; Amos 9:8-9).

The Two-House sub-movement, in originally seeking an answer for the place of many non-Jewish Believers in today’s Messianic movement, drew the assumption that they are most probably descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes—even though such people had no quantitative evidence for Semitic ancestry. The Two-House sub-movement widely believes that there are hundreds of millions, or even billions, of physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on Planet Earth today, in spite of the Torah word that the numbers of Israel will not be so numerous (Deuteronomy 28:62).

In spite of the non-Jews who make up the Two-House sub-movement, self-identifying as “Ephraim”—and wanting some kind of reunion with “Judah”—the Two-House sub-movement is broadly hostile to a great deal of mainline Jewish traditions and customs. This is most frequently evident by Two-House people often following a different calendar for the appointed times than the mainstream Jewish calendar, affluent use of the Divine Name YHWH/YHVH rather than acceptable titles such as God or Lord, and even a tacit acceptance of polygamy by some of its leaders. (A few of those within the Two-House sub-movement do not believe that today’s Ashkenazic Jews are legitimate Semites, they think that the State of Israel is a Luciferian counterfeit, and they are even Holocaust deniers.) Messianic Judaism has had every reason to at least be concerned, when people identifying as “Two-House” visit its assemblies.

The place of non-Jewish Believers within Messianic congregations, definitely needs to be one where they are welcomed as equal brothers and sisters in the Lord, with gifts and talents and skills which need to be appreciated and used. One does not have to be of physical Israel in order to be accepted into the Kingdom of God—because physical ancestry of any kind hardly merits someone eternal salvation (cf. Romans 2:9). As a matter of our Biblical Studies, we do need to carefully and reasonably be able to discuss the Divided Kingdom era of Ancient Israel’s history, and be able to sort through much of the fact and fiction involved with the deportation of exiles from the Northern Kingdom by Assyria. Various Messianic Jewish ministries of today have recognized legitimate people groups from Asia and Africa descended from the Ten Lost Tribes, and it is likely these people who will be among the participants in prophecies like Ezekiel 37:15-28.

The Hebrew Roots Movement

There are many non-Jewish Believers, who in the 2000s felt unwelcome in various Messianic Jewish congregations, felt welcomed in the Two-House sub-movement, identified as some sort of “Israelite” for a season—but then who thankfully saw some of the extremism present in the Two-House sub-movement regarding the Lost Tribes and physical identity. By the late 2000s and into the 2010s, many who had been involved in the Two-House sub-movement, legitimately tried to shed some of the tall tales involving the Lost Tribes, and instead attempted to focus more on what it meant for non-Jewish Believers to be grafted-in to the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11:16-17ff), and more consciously associating with their faith heritage in the Tanach Scriptures. Many non-Jews had been a part of the Two-House sub-movement, for a season—not necessarily because they thought they were members of the Ten Lost Tribes—but instead because they felt more welcomed and included than they would be in various Messianic Jewish venues.

In the 1990s, when one encountered the term “Hebrew Roots” being used, it was most probably employed by various evangelical Christian teachers trying to stress how Christian people have a faith heritage in the Old Testament, the Bible of Jesus, and that it is important for people to understand the richness of the Hebrew language and how the Tanach points to the Messiah. The term “Hebrew Roots,” for many, was a synonym for “Jewish Roots,” or the term “Hebrew Roots” was used as a compliment to the term “Jewish Roots.” The term “Hebrew Roots” was a term which could be employed to specifically emphasize the foundational importance of the Hebrew Scriptures, the importance of Hebrew language study, and getting Christian people plugged into more detailed examination of the Old Testament. The term “Jewish Roots” could be used to emphasize study of the Second Temple Judaism of Yeshua and His first disciples, the necessary examination of the broad history of this period and immediately thereafter, as well as a review of significant bodies of extra-Biblical and Rabbinical literature germane to this time. Certainly in many of my own writings, I have stressed how we all have Hebrew Roots in the Tanach Scriptures, and Jewish Roots in the Second Temple faith of Yeshua and His early disciples.

As various non-Jewish people sought to distance themselves from the label “Two-House” in the late 2000s and early 2010s, many of them instead began to use the term Hebrew Roots. For some of these people, this involved a sincere desire of wanting to study the Tanach Scriptures and live in a similar manner to Yeshua and His first followers. Many who have used the term “Hebrew Roots” have done so to legitimately stress a Biblical faith rooted in the Tanach Scriptures. For others, however, the term “Hebrew Roots” became a moniker to be sensationalized and abused, as in the late 2010s the term “Hebrew Roots” has become something largely associated with a non-Jewish movement, not at all interested in Jewish outreach or evangelism, widely dismissive of mainline Jewish traditions and customs, and at times with an even wider array of problems than those identifying as Two-House ever had. Many non-Jewish people who are involved in “Hebrew Roots” not only have a great deal of unfair disdain toward the Jewish Synagogue, but also the positive legacy of evangelical Protestantism. An entire host of sensationalistic hype is today connected to the label “Hebrew Roots,” not only involving a great deal of end-time paranoia and fear, but also conspiracy theories, postulations about the Nephilim of Genesis 6, and most recently Flat Earth—among other things. It is an understatement to say that today, when the term “Hebrew Roots” is invoked, that many of today’s Messianic Jewish leaders and teachers get tense.

Navigating Our Future

The emergence of today’s Messianic movement on the scene, represents the last final spiritual move of God, before the final stretch of history culminating in the return of Israel’s Messiah. At no time in history, since the First Century C.E., have more Jewish people come to faith in Yeshua of Nazareth. And, similar to the First Century Body of Messiah, many non-Jewish Believers are in close, regular communion with these Jewish Believers. In no uncertain terms, a number of the issues which arose in the First Century, are manifesting themselves today in various forms. But, unlike the past, we have the teacher of history to inform us about mistakes which do not have to be repeated!