“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”
1 Kings 7:40-50 (A); 7:13-26 (S)
by Mark Huey
By the time we arrive at this week’s Torah portion, V’yakheil, we discover that it encapsulates a description of the actions of Ancient Israel, as the people collectively fulfill the requirements for the Tabernacle construction which was the subject of the previous Terumah (Exodus 27:20-30:10) and Tetzaveh (Exodus 30:11-34:35) readings. Without any hesitation, the text reminds us about the commandment to take a Sabbath rest, even in the midst of the Israelites building of the Tabernacle and producing the various implements, accouterments, and garments as defined.
If you have been reading closely the past few weeks, you will have noticed that Shabbat is of particular concern to the God of Israel. Two times (Exodus 31:12-17; 34:21), an emphasis is placed not only on the “sign” of Shabbat, but also on the importance to observe it faithfully. As the physical labor for constructing the Tabernacle finally commenced, Moses once again reminded Israel about the Sabbath. Perhaps knowing human nature, these admonitions have been placed by the Lord in these Torah portions, so that we may be reminded that having a day of rest is a great blessing to all those who remember and observe it:
“Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, ‘These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do: For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day” (Exodus 35:1-3).
Of course, it is important to note that in this section of the Torah, we find that the whole congregation of Israel, kol-adah b’nei Yisrael, was supposed to rest. By resting one day out of seven, the people would be able to focus on the Lord in a rather unique and special way on the Sabbath day, but they would most especially be able to be rejuvenated during this critical season of the Tabernacle’s construction.
Further on in our Torah portion, we witness the widescale amount of contributions and offerings that the Israelites were making to the building project. The overwhelming reaction by many, with their offerings literally ushering forth, required that Moses command the people to halt their outpouring of freewill offerings:
“And they said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the LORD commanded us to perform.’ So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, ‘Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.’ Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it” (Exodus 36:5-7).
As I personally pondered the importance of Shabbat this week, and rejoiced in the recorded reaction of the people who wanted to contribute to the various construction projects, I was personally thinking about how I have dealt with this subject since I came to the Lord in 1978. I was born again at the age of 27, and committed myself to being a Believer, rather than a non-Believer—a member of God’s people—rather than a part of the world. From that year forward, I matured in my relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, and learned to live more like Him. Like many of you, it has been a “wild ride,” and I have done things since becoming Messianic that I would never have dreamed of when I first came to faith.
First, I thought back to some of the early years of my new life in the Lord when I was confronted by a relative who happened to be a proponent of Dominion theology. At the time, he was trying to persuade me that taking Sunday and devoting it fully to God was a good thing that would honor the Fourth Commandment. At the time, I was faithfully attending Sunday morning services at a church in Dallas, Texas, and then coming back on Sunday evening for a service that would include taking communion. Two times a day I would load my family into the car and proceed to the church for a teaching convocation, and then a second service which was more contemplative.
At that time many years ago, when this relative admonished me, I thought he was being extremely legalistic. After all, I was living in Dallas and the Cowboys were on a roll in the NFL! I also played men’s city league soccer, and our games just happened to be played on Sunday afternoon. I could certainly get my “time in” with the Lord between Sunday morning and Sunday evening. As I justified my other activities during the afternoon, I actually thought I was doing pretty well to be a dedicated “twice a Sunday” attendee. With the passage of time, I have witnessed that via God’s sanctification in my life that my personal attitude has changed substantially since those naïve days many years ago.
In God’s mercy to me, as I have continued to beseech Him in order to know Him and understand His ways, He has been faithful to reveal more and more of Himself to me. The Prophet Jeremiah reminds us about the rewards of seeking the Holy One of Israel.
“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile’” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
Here, we find that our Heavenly Father does have things under control and He does have a plan for our lives! I can personally testify that if you do seek Him with all your heart, He will not only restore your fortunes, but as He has said: He will gather you back from where you have been scattered. The Lord will bring you back to Himself no matter what nefarious paths you have chosen to follow for a season. He will take you from the doldrums of sin into a place where you can be used for the growth of His Kingdom.
Today, as the Messianic movement continues to grow and affect positive change in the lives of God’s people, we encounter that many are learning to reappreciate the value of the Torah, and the significance of things like the seventh-day Sabbath. The Lord is restoring an understanding to all His people regarding how Yeshua and the early Believers obeyed the commandments—and this is exciting to witness! As I study the Torah and read passages about Shabbat, the appointed times, and other things that the Lord wants His people to follow so that He can bless us, I am immensely blessed. I not only know now that the Sabbath Biblically begins at sundown on the sixth day and ends on sundown on the seventh day (cf. Genesis 1:5), and not at midnight as I had always assumed according to modern reckoning. I think it is amazing that Shabbat is exactly what the Scriptures say it is—and it was there all along. I simply failed to look at it.
As I have been maturing in my walk with the Lord, I can honestly say that I delight in Shabbat and I look forward to it as the pinnacle of my week. Entering into the Father’s rest and putting down the labors of the week are more clearly understood than when I had my debate years ago with this relative. Today, I might be able to present a more comprehensive understanding of what the Sabbath is for me as defined by the Holy Scriptures, than what he tried to present to me years ago. Perhaps now he would be the one considering me “legalistic.”
My second area of contemplation this week was piqued by some other verses in our Torah portion, which describe the supernatural endowment of two individuals who had been specifically selected by the Lord to oversee the various construction projects of the Tabernacle:
“Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded. Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it” (Exodus 36:1-2).
Over the past few years (2005-2010), I have spent some time at the Orlando Convention Center overseeing the construction of various “temporary tabernacles,” and I can relate to just what it takes to physically construct something and take it down in order to move it. Now these trade show, seminar, and conference booths and displays are not to be compared to the magnificence and significance of the Tabernacle, but there are some parallels. I have had to use my hands to build things that have a degree of temporary usefulness, and as a result I can identify with some of what Bezalel and Oholiab had to do.
It does take a certain amount of mental acumen when dealing with the erection of complex structures, and this is where I have been able to consider some of the talents and gifts of those like Bezalel and Oholiab. Not only were these skillful people probably able to physically make the objects of the Tabernacle, but they were also probably gifted with the ability to organize and administer the construction projects. In my work, I have enjoyed learning from the younger and more experienced artisans, who often have specially designed tools crafted for certain needs. Even though I might have some age and wisdom in other areas of life, when it comes to knowing the most efficient and safest way to construct something, I typically defer to the younger people, who I discern are more gifted and experienced for various construction projects.
Additionally, I learned another lesson this week (in 2005) via a gift that I was given for Bible research. I received a certain Greek lexicon, and I believe that receiving it happens to be well timed with a writing project that I have been inspired to pursue. In recent weeks, while going through the Torah portions, I have been spiritually stimulated by Paul’s words of being a “living sacrifice” and what it means as listed in the balance of Romans ch. 12. Pensively, as I began to lay out some of my thoughts and started to think about the terms being used, I realized that my Greek study resources were slim. In a providentially-timed gift, I was given a reference tool that should hopefully point me in the right direction.
In an ironic sort of way, just like watching the younger and more gifted builders of complex structures at the Convention Center, a gifted young teacher of the Holy Scriptures gave me a resource “tool” that will allow me to be far more effective in my studies. I was delighted that this tool was given to me at just the right time. Similar to a Bezalel or Oholiab coming along with a special tool or instrument, or perhaps one first showing you how to build something, it is a sign of maturity when you do not think too highly of yourself and are willing to listen to instruction from someone else. Even if the advice or tool comes from someone younger, I recommend to joyfully receive what is being imparted, and welcome the talents that the Lord wants to instill in you via a young person, so you can be more effective in His service.
This begins to take on even more significance when you realize that in light of the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, it is the operation of the Ancient Israelites with all of their collective talents and gifts in unison with one another that accomplishes all of what God wants. After all, where would Bezalel and Oholiab have been without the gold, jewels, brass, skins, wood, and the laborers to perform certain tasks? If the willing hearts did not give the items necessary for the project, no matter how talented the artisans were, the Tabernacle would have been a conceptual design relegated to theory rather than the reality of a completed temporary dwelling place for the Most High.
Consequently, it takes the whole Body of the Messiah to accomplish the Lord’s will. Now that I am armed with some more theological tools, I hope that my ability to write and comment about certain aspects of the Scriptures will be greatly enhanced. Just consider some of the things that Paul writes about in Romans 12, which are required of us who serve the Lord diligently:
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).
With the measure of faith I have the more I learn to walk in His ways, the more I not only appreciate His rest on Shabbat, but also to simply rest in confidence in Him for all things. Watching Him orchestrate my life today via a consistent study of the Torah and how it applies to my walk with Him, in so many regards, is fascinating. As I sit back and review Scripture through His illumination, I am beginning to realize more than ever that my actions do speak louder than words. I have seen my walk starting to catch up with my talk! Some verses that dramatically changed my life many years ago, echo the prayers that I still offer today:
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Messiah, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).
I am blessed that my earnest actions to know my Lord and Savior, and quite possibly the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, continues to bring me more of His rest, as I personally notice the maturation in my walk with and in Him. These actions speak volumes to me much louder than all the words I can fathom! In a like manner, I pray that you would be equally encouraged that our collective actions will be what today’s world sees and hears.
Finally, even though different measures of faith come by hearing, it is most often by our Messiah-like actions that people will observe the power of the Holy Word that is transforming us. In so doing, others should be drawn to us to hear about how God has transformed our lives by us receiving Yeshua and obeying Him diligently. This must be the testimony that we offer: whether they witness our obedience via the peace only He can give us or even whether they witness our obedience to following something like Shabbat. May we remember that we testify of Yeshua via our actions—sometimes even more than our words! Take to serious heart the immeasurable responsibility that you have.
When you take
1 Kings 18:1-39 (A); 18:20-39 (S)
by Mark Huey
This week’s Torah portion is entitled Ki Tisa, and we see how the Israelites continue to receive instruction from God via Moses, who continues to remain on Mount Sinai. For the past two weeks in Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) and Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10), we have seen much instruction regarding the Tabernacle service and how different offerings were to be contributed toward its construction. Now, additional instructions are given, including: taking a census, a laver for proper cleansing at the Tent of Meeting, prescriptions for the anointing oil, and the ingredients for the holy incense. After this, Moses is given directives about those who have been specifically anointed with the Spirit of God in wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and the required skillset to construct the Ark of the Covenant and all of the related implements. The Lord also speaks of the significance of the seventh-day Sabbath, as this special weekly day of rest is to be set aside as a unique “sign” between Israel and God, designating this community as His chosen people.
As Moses was handed the two tablets of stone which had been inscribed by the very finger of God, he began to make his descent toward the camp of Israel, which was impatiently waiting below. Apparently, the forty-day period he was on the mountain was too long for the people to wait. In the interim, they had lost faith in God and in Moses’ ability to return from Mount Sinai:
“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him’” (Exodus 32:1).
Amazingly, within less than forty days, the Israelites departed worship of the Lord and pressured Aaron to make a god for them to worship. With the offerings of gold rings and earrings by the people, Aaron himself fashioned a golden calf and proclaimed a feast unto this golden idol:
“He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD’” (Exodus 32:4-5).
As this rebellion erupted, God was incensed with the actions of His chosen people, and He responded by stating that He was ready to eliminate all of them, and start over with the offspring of Moses:
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation’” (Exodus 32:9-10).
At this point, we get a glimpse into the heart of Moses, who beseeched God to remember His covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through interrogative questions. What would it communicate to the Egyptians if the God of the Hebrews simply delivered His people into His safety only to wipe them out?
“‘Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, “With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth”? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”’ So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:12-14).
In an interesting statement by the Lord, it is recorded that He “repented” (RSV) or changed his mind about what He wanted to do to the Israelites. The Hebrew verb nacham, appearing in the Nifal stem (simple action, passive voice), means “be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent” or “comfort oneself, be comforted” (BDB). The LXX renders this with the Greek verb hilaskomai, meaning, “to make him propitious to one, conciliate him, win his favour” (LS). Yet, even while God is said to have changed His mind or repented, elsewhere in the Torah we see how “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent [nacham, Hitpael]; has He said, and will He not do it?” (Numbers 23:19). God actually repented from His stated intention to eliminate the people of Israel when witnessing their idolatry; God as an Eternal Being with a definite plan for Creation cannot repent or deviate from His plan. Why the tension between Exodus 32:14 and Numbers 23:19? Is it because we are limited mortals and are unable to see things fully from His perspective? Or was it because the Lord was refining Moses for further service, seeing if he truly was the able leader of Ancient Israel that he could be in reminding God of His duty not to wipe out the idolatrous people?
One thing we know for certain is that witnessed in many of the mythologies of the Ancient Near East, if various gods and goddesses saw disloyalty being committed by their people—they would exterminate them without a second thought. The Lord God of Israel, quite to the contrary, is compassionate, understanding, and merciful—especially when we entreat Him! Some might even observe how one of the primary reasons that God even created the universe, the Earth, and humanity was to display His attributes which center on grand compassion.
The Golden Calf Incident
Moses returned from the mountain with the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, and with Joshua he found Aaron and the remaining Israelites in idolatrous revelry (Exodus 32:15-18). The scene was too much to bear, and in his anger Moses broke the two tablets that God gave him as he approaches the golden calf (Exodus 32:19). Moses shoved the idol in the fire and reduced it to a powder (Exodus 32:20a). He took this power and mixed it with water, forcing the revelers to drink a bitter mixture (Exodus 32:20b). At this point, after Aaron’s poor justification that the golden calf just “made itself” in the fire (Exodus 32:21-24), the indignant Moses declared that all of those true to the God of Israel must join to him:
“Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies—then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him. He said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.”’ So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day” (Exodus 32:26-28).
The drama of the moment subsided as the Levites went through the crowd, and slew three thousand people who were participating in the riotous festival (Exodus 32:28-35). Moses interceded to God for the Israelites with one of the most self-sacrificial offers that is ever recorded in the Scriptures: He unabashedly offered his own life for the lives of the Israelites. He was even willing to have his name erased from the Book of Life:
“But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” (Exodus 32:32).
Moses completely understood his role as an intermediary between God and Israel.
Face to Face
Now as the days proceed, Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with the Lord “face to face.” The Israelites began to respect Moses, because as he departed for the Tent of Meeting, the people stood at their tents and watched him enter in. As they watched the pillar of cloud descend upon the gathering place, the people arose and began to worship the Lord at the opening to their own tents. We are then told that Moses spoke with the Lord “face to face,” as a person would speak with his friend:
“Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:7-11).
A very interesting request from Moses is then recorded. While interceding for the people of Israel, Moses expressed a great desire to get to know the Almighty on a much deeper level:
“Then Moses said to the LORD, ‘See, You say to me, “Bring up this people!” But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, “I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.” Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people’” (Exodus 33:12-13).
Moses pleaded that God would reveal His ways to him in order for him to really know Him and find favor in His sight. This plea of Moses is somewhat reminiscent of what the Apostle Paul would later communicate to the Philippians regarding a Believer getting to know Yeshua intimately as Lord—ultimately to the point of emulating His ministry even in death:
“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Messiah. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Messiah, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).
Of course, this heartfelt request of Paul comes after he has listed all of his worldly accomplishments and personal passion for the Lord. He realized, just like Moses centuries earlier, that getting to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is really what life is all about! A committed man or woman of faith must pursue an understanding of God with all of the heart, mind, soul, and strength.
At this point, the Holy One made a promise to Moses about revealing Himself, and He showed Moses His glory:
“Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!’ And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ Then the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:18-23).
As you read these words, the Lord clearly states, “You will not be able to see My face, for no human can see My face and live” (ATS). An unholy mortal cannot look upon the sheer holiness of the Creator and survive. Sinful flesh cannot bear to view the awesomeness of pure holiness. Moses, however, was allowed to see the proverbial “back” of God and His glory, as He passed by. Throughout the Scriptures we are certainly encouraged to seek the face of God, but since this statement about seeing God’s face appears so definite, in our mind’s eye when we consider who we are seeking—it is probably better to visualize seeking God’s presence or intimacy, or His favor or His compassion.
A Second Chance
After the Lord had decided not to eliminate Israel, He commanded Moses to hew out two more tablets of stone to replace the two which were broken in anger over the discovery of idolatry in the camp. In an answer to Moses’ petition, the Lord came down to meet Moses and revealed His glory to Him, uttering some profound words which described His Divine character:
“Now the LORD said to Moses, ‘Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.’ So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations’” (Exodus 34:1-7).
What we see described of God in Exodus 34:6-7 are the attributes of a Creator who is full of great compassion, longsuffering, and faithfulness toward His human creations. In His self-description, we find a God whose character is beyond our sinful imagination to comprehend. These are characteristics—because God is infinitely perfect—that He will always exemplify toward men and women of any generation. They are not just “New Testament” concepts, as many people may falsely think—but are demonstrated time and time again in the “Old Testament.” They are, however, chiefly embodied in the revelation of the Messiah of Israel, who was incarnated as a man so that there might be a permanent solution provided for the human sin problem.
The Compassion of the Cross
The Father’s compassion toward us is absolutely epitomized by the sacrificial death of His Son, who absorbed in Himself the capital punishment of the Torah due upon each of us (cf. Colossians 2:14). When I consider the gruesome sacrifice of the Messiah upon the tree, I can only be reminded of the prophetic declaration of Isaiah—but in so doing I am deeply saddened by how many have not believed the report of the good news:
“Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:1-5).
The Psalmist also reminds us that it is impossible for a mortal man to redeem another from the power of death and being left to the realm of the dead in Sheol. Only God Himself can provide the ransom required for redemption:
“No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever—that he should live on eternally, that he should not undergo decay…As sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd; and the upright shall rule over them in the morning, and their form shall be for Sheol to consume so that they have no habitation. But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Selah” (Psalm 49:7-9, 14-15).
God Himself had to offer Himself in order to redeem fallen humanity, something which because of His compassionate nature He did in the person of Messiah Yeshua. This is an awesome thing to consider. As we get to know Him more, we realize just what a sacrificial heart He has for His Creation.
The Prophet Micah summarizes, in similar terms, the attributes of God that we witness in Exodus 34:6-7, making the following declaration:
“Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sin from to the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old” (Micah 7:18-20).
Micah states that God will not retain His anger forever because of His attribute of “steadfast love” (RSV) or “mercy” (NIV), chesed. The Lord will have compassion on us and forgive us for our iniquities and sins, casting them into the depths of the sea. The Lord is fair and just, and He will not just summarily wipe out His people.
What a gracious God we honor, worship, and glorify! May His love for us become a part of who we are as we continue to know Him. Ultimately, we can understand how the Father’s compassion was personified in the glorious work accomplished by Yeshua on the cross at Golgotha (Calvary)—and surely also in many more acts to come as we eagerly await the Messiah’s return. The ability of God to continue to demonstrate love and compassion toward us is unfathomable by the human mind, as observed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans:
“For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? [Isaiah 40:13; Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18] For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:30-36).
We cannot fully understand what true godly compassion is; it is beyond our human ability to compute. We need to simply be thankful that through the Father’s compassion personified in the Son, Yeshua—through faith we can get a glimpse of who God truly is and by His grace continue to seek Him. We need to demonstrate such love and compassion to others, and by loving them and showing them His goodness, hopefully the Lord will allow us to be used to draw others unto Him!
 Exodus 30:11-16.
 Exodus 30:17-21.
 Exodus 30:22-33.
 Exodus 30:34-38.
 Exodus 31:1-11.
 Exodus 31:12-18.
 BDB, 637.
 LS, 379.
 In Numbers 23:19 the verb nacham appears in the Hitpael stem (intensive action, reflective voice), meaning “rue, repent of” (BDB, 637).
 It is from Micah 7:19 that the Jewish custom of tashlikh, throwing crumbs or small pieces of bread into a body of water at the time of Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah, is derived. For more information, consult the relevant sections of the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.
There is something about this time of the year that reminds me of the “seasons of life” which continue in clockwork like fashion, to spring forth life and renewed vigor to pursue the Holy One of Israel. Perhaps it was a recent birthday, coupled with attending a Messianic Jewish conference and a congregational leadership retreat, in consecutive weekends, which all combined to make me reconsider these memorable statements from the Preacher in the Book of Ecclesiastes:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
Without getting too philosophical or overly dramatic, there is definitely a personal benefit from taking some “time of reflection,” to simply meditate upon God’s Word, as the Holy Spirit brings it to mind. In this case, I have been reminded of the timely cycles or events of life that occur for every soul on the planet we call home.
Thankfully, for those inclined to follow the Torah reading patterns established by the Jewish Sages, to inculcate every generation with the wisdom found in the instruction given to Moses, there are annual reminders of the Almighty’s faithfulness to His people. Consequently this month, we conclude the Book of Exodus, reconsidering the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt, and when they receive the nascent instructions on how to establish the holy nation of priests:
“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).
In addition this month, our methodical study of the miraculous Exodus events is interspersed with another deliverance story, when the Book of Esther is considered and Purim or the Feast of Lots is celebrated. Once again, the Creator God demonstrated His sovereign will for the children of Israel, as they avoided potential annihilation from the ancient Persian Empire. So, it is extremely important for modern-day followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to reflect upon the “times and seasons” of life found in the Holy Scriptures, being continually cognizant of the ancient and modern realities of Israel’s (and God’s) persistent foes. After all, the obstinate Enemy of our souls has always used people like the Amalekites to destroy those who have been called to bring the light of truth. In fact, it is clearly stated that after Moses declared the Holy One as a banner over Israel, the harassment from the Amalekites will continue forever:
“Moses built an altar and named it The LORD is My Banner; and he said, ‘The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation’” (Exodus 17:15-16).
Therefore, let us all be persistent in our intercessory prayers, as we reflect upon historical occurrences, and present realities! 2017 is a year of significant anniversaries for the State of Israel and the liberation of Jerusalem, which will keep Israel in the media focus throughout the year. It is our fervent prayer that despite the attempts of nefarious interests to do harm to Israel, we will all redouble our prayers for protection for those in positions to lend help and security. We know from past experience that as the Lord continues to bring His people together in harmony, the Evil One continues to prowl about as a lion seeking to devour any susceptible to his wiles.
This month’s lead article by J.K. McKee has been entitled, “Purim, Haman, and Anti-Semitism.” As he continues to expand the Messianic Apologetics division of Outreach Israel, there is also a change in our service narrative that will begin to come into focus. In the past, our ministry has tended to almost exclusively be focused on helping non-Jewish families and individuals, like ours, get acclimated to the Messianic movement and experience, as they embrace their faith heritage in Israel’s Scriptures. Because of our growing associations with Messianic Jewish Believers and leaders over the past few years, we will be focusing more efforts on how we can make a substantial contribution to Jewish outreach and evangelism, particularly in the apologetics of Yeshua’s Messiahship and Bible difficulties. This is very exciting! Please continue to support our efforts with your financial contributions! Without your offerings and gifts, it would be difficult to dedicate the time and energy to produce our many educational resources.
Thank you in advance for your partnership with our ministry endeavors!
“The LORD bless you, and keep you; the LORD make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).
Shalom and blessings,
Purim, Haman, and Anti-Semitism
by J.K. McKee
This month the worldwide Jewish community will be commemorating the Festival of Lots or Purim. As many of us know, Purim is a time when the account of the Book of Esther is read, there is typically some kind of congregational play where young people dress up as Biblical characters, and there is a great deal of food. Purim is a calendrical reminder that one month later, we will be remembering the Passover. There are many important themes of Purim, as witnessed in the Book of Esther, which force us as God’s people to not only consider the ancient Jewish exile from the Promised Land, but also how anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism is a blight that humanity has been suffering from for well over two millennia.
I have already written many things about Purim and the Book of Esther, which are included in our ministry’s Messianic Spring Holiday Helper publication, as well as in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic. As someone who has been involved in Biblical Studies, my approach to reading the Book of Esther is not guided by me trying to look for esoteric or hidden meanings behind the characters of Queen Esther, King Ahasuerus (Xerxes), Mordecai, or Haman. While there are points of irony within the account of Esther, and one can surely see the sovereign direction of the God of Israel behind the events—my interest is understandably more focused on the historicity of the events, and how we learn from them moving forward in time. There certainly was an Ancient Persian Empire that controlled what we today call the Middle East, and into parts of both India and the Eastern Mediterranean. There certainly was a large displaced population of Jews, living in exile away from their home in the Land of Israel.
At the end of 2003, I can recall some of the unexpected reactions that many people in the Messianic community had, when The Jewish Study Bible by Oxford University Press was released. Even today, the engagement level that many Messianic people have tends to begin and end with the resources produced by Orthodox Jewish publishers such as ArtScroll—which definitely sits at the (far) Right end of the spectrum. When The Jewish Study Bible was released, it was acclaimed to be a compendium of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jewish scholarship; what it ended up being was a Jewish edition of another Oxford Annotated Bible, meaning that it was very liberal. Its introduction for the Book of Esther approached Esther as though the story were ahistorical at best, but in all likelihood an ancient novella akin to modern day soap operas, broadly fiction, with its inclusion in the Hebrew canon of the Tanach to be somewhat spurious. I certainly believe that the Book of Esther contains reliable history, and should not be removed from the Biblical canon—but historical issues in the Book of Esther are actually some of the least of our challenges when approaching the Tanach.
I seriously wonder if some of the conclusions drawn by those who treat the Book of Esther as being ahistorical, are affected by how Purim can often be commemorated today in various settings. None of us should have any real problems with having a good time, and even putting on a dramatic presentation, in costume, of various Biblical stories. Dramatic presentations will necessarily invite embellishing a few things here or there. Ultimately though, the account of Esther chosen to be the wife of King Ahasuerus, Mordecai’s position in the Persian court, Haman’s manipulations—and God working behind the scenes through people strategically positioned—is something very serious and sober. There is no denying the fact that the account of the Book of Esther, forces each of us to consider the dastardly effects of anti-Semitism throughout world history. There has been a concentrated effort by the enemy to see that the Jewish people are eradicated—mainly because without the Jews, you have no people who can bear forth to God’s faithfulness of a Messiah to come.
When I was living in Central Florida from 2001-2012, my local Messianic congregation did have a customary Purim play, where the younger people, and a few of the adults, dressed up as characters from the Book of Esther. Periodically, however, the traditional play would be supplemented with another presentation: Hamans throughout history. In the traditional Purim play, the figure of the evil Haman is typically booed. Haman dresses up in all black, with some kind of an elaborate headpiece, and he is played by someone who has to give him sinister characteristics. And yes, for the record, I have played Haman on multiple occasions. Even though at the end of the record of Esther, Haman is put to death using the same mechanisms with which he sought to exterminate the Jews—anyone who reads history, is quite consciously aware of how anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism did not die with Haman. What many would rightly classify as “the spirit of Haman,” a chief demonic principality which seeks for the annihilation of the Jewish people, has been passed down among many willing vessels to our present day.
So, assuming that in attending a Shabbat service during the week of Purim, and witnessing the younger people and a few adults seemingly make fun of themselves as they go through the story of Esther—is the story of Esther to just be something where we have a good laugh, and then eat 250-calorie Hamentashen cookies afterwards? I am hardly someone who is against having a good time, but as I recall from the Hamans throughout history presentation, the customary Purim play only gives one-half of the story. How do we move forward with it?
When we contemplate the figure of Haman in the Persian court, we see the ultimate opportunist. Haman uses his subordinates to help elevate himself, and he manipulates the Persian king to acquire more and more power. One wonders if Haman ever saw himself deposing King Ahasuerus to become king himself, but what was more likely is that Haman was positioning himself to be the major power behind the throne, with Ahasuerus a puppet to do his bidding. Haman is stated to be a descendant of Agag (Esther 3:1), who was spared by King Saul (1 Kings 15:8), which can provide for some interesting speculation. But, Haman is ultimately someone intimately involved in the high political affairs of the Persian Empire. And, Haman is someone who found the Jew Mordecai to be a significant threat to him (Esther 3:2). Rather than simply seeking revenge on Mordecai for not showing him the respect he believed he was due, Haman seeks to eliminate all of the Jews in the Persian Empire (Esther 3:6).
The customary Purim play usually ends with two young people dressed as Persian soldiers, marching out a much larger adult, who will be hanged on his own gallows. When I played Haman years ago, I was marched out to the back of the congregation—where I then joined six others, as the second presentation was getting ready. Our congregational leader made a few observations about the fun and humor everyone was able to participate in, but that there was more to be heard. That the spirit of Haman lives on, in not just many people—but specific people in positions of great power in history—has to be recognized. And so, he invited the “Hamans throughout history” to come up and be introduced, with their various profiles as evidence of the great scourge of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism.
While “Hamans throughout history” was supposed to be a very serious and probing presentation, it too embellished things. As I was obviously the first to walk out in front of the congregation, I recall back in 2004 how The Imperial March from Star Wars was specifically chosen to be played. Everyone had just “met” the Persian Haman in the preceding Purim play, but there was a recounting of who Haman was, his hatred for Mordecai and the Jewish people, and how he met his fate. And then, six others in costume were announced, one by one, to come up to the congregation and be introduced.
The next person who was announced to the congregation was a Greek, but more specifically someone who represented the Seleucids who invaded the Land of Israel, and sacrificed pigs at the Temple in Jerusalem. Because Chanukah had taken place only months before, the account of the Maccabean resistance was fresh on everyone’s minds. The Seleucid Greeks wanted the Jewish people to give up on the Torah, circumcision, the Sabbath, kosher dietary laws, and be assimilated into Greek culture and religion. Those who did not comply were put to death. While not the blanket extermination intended by the Persian Haman, the insidious nature of Antiochus Epiphanes, and in wanting to see the Jewish people annihilated by assimilation into the wider Hellenistic milieu, was well taken. Even today, the biggest threat to the survival of the Jewish people is not necessarily Middle Eastern terrorism, but instead is in Jews wanting to give up on their heritage, and completely assimilate into wider Gentile society.
The third person announced was a Roman, but someone who specifically was in costume as a Roman emperor. While Judea was a province of the Roman Empire, and Judaism was a legal and protected religion exempt from Caesar worship, on the whole the Jewish population within the Roman Empire tended to be a tolerated minority at best, but frequently discriminated against. The temptation to assimilate into paganism was always present, which led to Jewish zealots and others wanting to see the national integrity of the Jewish people preserved, by political independence. As readers of the Apostolic Scriptures are innately aware, as the good news of Yeshua was spreading out in the First Century, the tensions which led to the Jewish revolt and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. to Rome, were also building. The relationship between not only the Jewish people and the Romans—but the Believers in Israel’s Messiah—substantially deteriorated in the centuries following.
The fourth person introduced to the congregation was a Roman Catholic inquisitor. The common Jewish hostility to Roman Catholicism is very palpable. In the case of the Spanish Inquisition, its major purpose was to identify and convert those it considered to be heretics, so that the Kingdom of Spain could be a fully Catholic society. In the Sixteenth Century, this mainly included those of the nascent Protestant movement, which rejected Rome and papal authority—and the longstanding Jewish population, which had once flourished and thrived in Spain. The figure of the inquisitor invokes not only forced conversions of Jews to Roman Catholicism, but also the forced renunciation of various converts’ Jewish heritage via the compulsion to eat pork. But most especially, the figure of the inquisitor represents how there were Jewish people tortured to death by those claiming to represent the Messiah of Israel.
The fifth person introduced before the congregation was dressed up as Adolf Hitler. While the anti-Semitism of the Greek, the Roman, and the Inquisitor was less specific, the anti-Semitism of Nazi Germany was self-explanatory. A number of the factors leading to the rise of Hitler, including the anti-Semitism of German Reformer Martin Luther, and how the German Jews deeply integrated into German society were utterly betrayed by their Christian neighbors, were explained. More than anything else, the systematic extermination of the Jews of Europe, enacted by the most advanced society on Earth at the time—in terms of its science, technology, and philosophy—was graphically portrayed on the screen. The Holocaust and 6 million Jewish dead, to be sure, was the great tragedy of the Twentieth Century. But the Holocaust was perpetrated not just by some sadistic fascist state; it was perpetrated by those with all of the advancements and education of the age, and absolutely no ethics or humanity. And to be sure, the Holocaust was committed by many people claiming to be followers of Israel’s Messiah.
The sixth person introduced before the congregation was a Muslim terrorist. Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, modern Israel has not at all had an easy relationship with the surrounding Muslim countries. When I first started being involved with Hamans throughout history in 2004-2005, someone dressed up as Yassir Arafat came up, with a brief discussion and slides presented on the PLO and Intifada. After 2005, someone dressed up as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran (2005-2013), came up—carrying a briefcase labeled as “Bomb,” with a radiation symbol on it no less! In this case, the point made was not only that the State of Israel had Muslim neighbors wishing its destruction, but at least one in Iran actively out to build a nuclear weapon. And to further intensify the point, President Ahmadinejad is technically a Persian. But, not only is Islamic terrorism and anti-Zionism a threat to Israel and the Jewish people, it is a threat to the Western world.
At this point in the Hamans throughout history, it can be legitimately interjected as to who else in past human affairs could have been brought before the audience. Seeing how my congregational leader, David Pavlik, had a huge walrus moustache, I actually thought about him dressing up as either Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein! You could probably have had a white supremacist or KKK member, or going back even before Haman, have had various Egyptians who oppressed Ancient Israel. But, being pressed for time, only one more person filled with “the spirit of Haman” could come before the audience: “He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25).
Not too unlike the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the seventh figure is presented before the congregation. The music is changed to be far more eerie and bone chilling. The final Haman is dressed in all-black suit, and wears a hockey mask, obscuring his face. The specific identity of this final person is unknown, but he has been foretold in the Holy Scriptures. The final figure who is brought before the congregation, is none other than he “who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). The final Haman, the ultimate enemy of the Jewish people and the God of Israel, will be the antimessiah or antichrist. The challenge is put before the Messianic congregation to not just be able to identify and resist this person when he comes on the scene—but to now do everything humanly possible to increase one’s loyalty to the God of Israel, and support the Jewish people. For, as the antimessiah comes on the scene, so will there be a massive influx of Jewish people to the community of faith (cf. Romans 11:25-26ff)!
After moving back to North Texas in 2012, I do not know if the Hamans throughout history presentation is still conducted in my previous Messianic assembly. My current congregation, like many other Messianic Jewish congregations, to be sure, holds a Purim play for our Shabbat morning service. The sure advantage, of at least sitting down and recognizing that there has been a demonic principality operative throughout many centuries since the deliverance of the Jewish people during the time of Esther and Mordecai—opposing the God of Israel, His ways, and seeking the eradication of Jews—should cause us to consider our role as Messianic people for the future. The story of Esther does not end with the hanging of Haman. It might be said that the story of Esther will only end when “the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (Revelation 19:20).
Anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism have been around for a very, very long time. Anti-Semitism was around centuries before the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah. All of us need to be aware of the blatant forces of anti-Semitism, found in the Hitlers, Arafats, and Ahmadinejads of the world. All of us need to stand in support of our local Jewish communities, and find ourselves as eager Zionists in friendship with the State of Israel. But what about the more subtle forms of anti-Semitism that can be encountered? While we know that many evangelical Christians today have a grossly under-whelming knowledge and appreciation for their Jewish Roots in the Synagogue—are you aware that many who consider themselves to be “Hebrew Roots” Believers do not have that much more knowledge or appreciation of Judaism?
One of the more obvious things that we have to encourage people to do, is read the Scriptures more intelligibly. Consider these two different versions of 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, from two widely accessible Christian Bible versions:
“For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men” (NASU).
“For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, since you have also suffered the same things from people of your own country, just as they did from the Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and persecuted us; they displease God and are hostile to everyone” (HCSB).
The big difference here, in English reading, is whether or not a non-restrictive comma should be placed between vs. 14 and 15: “the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus” or “the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus.” Anyone who reads the Gospels in context, knows that it was only certain Jews, in the religious and political leadership, who were responsible for the death of Yeshua. Likewise, Paul himself further says in 1 Corinthians 2:8, “the rulers of this age…crucified the Lord of glory,” as the Romans also bore specific responsibility for executing the Messiah. In 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, Paul is associating the Jewish religious leaders who were responsible for Yeshua’s death, with the Jewish religious leaders in Thessalonica, who saw him and his party ejected from the city (Acts 17:1-15). A smart reader can recognize this sort of detail, as there were thousands of Jews living in the Land of Israel, and certainly in the greater Diaspora, who had never even heard of Yeshua of Nazareth and cannot be held at specific fault for seeing Him unjustly condemned to death. But an ignorant person from the Middle Ages would have used 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 as a means to hunt down and persecute European Jews, blaming all Jews everywhere and at all times for the unjust trial and execution of Yeshua. Do not be surprised if the latter approach experiences some revival in the days ahead.
This month, an even more perditious form of anti-Semitism will manifest itself across many sectors of the independent Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement, largely composed of non-Jews—who while having embraced their faith heritage in the Tanach Scriptures, tend to be very suspicious, and at times hostile, to the Jewish Synagogue. To be fair, a number of the Hebrew Roots associations you will encounter embrace the Festival of Purim, and do their best to stand against anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. They rightly believe that there are many lessons to be learned from the Book of Esther, they value the traditions and customs of Purim, and they are supportive of Zionism and the State of Israel. But many other people in the Hebrew Roots movement do not support Purim. In fact, they believe that Mordecai’s establishment of Purim as a holiday to be commemorated by the Jewish people, who were saved from extermination (Esther 9:20-22), is to be construed as “adding” to God’s Instruction in the Torah, and that Purim is to be rejected. I have even seen a few claim, just like many liberal theologians, that the Book of Esther is ahistorical and should not be canon.
If I want to see anything change this year, I want to see our appreciation for the themes of Purim deepen and increase. I do not want it to begin and end with a child’s play; I want to see more congregations having presentations on Hamans throughout history. I want the themes of God’s deliverance behind the scenes through good people, and the vigilance we all must maintain against anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, be carried throughout the year.