Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Acharei Mot

After the death

Leviticus 16:1-18:30
Ezekiel 22:1-19 (A); 22:1-16 (S)

Kedoshim

Holy Ones

Leviticus 19:1-20:27
Amos 9:7-15 (A); Ezekiel 20:2-20 (S)

“Holiness Matters”


by Mark Huey

For the second week in a row due to calendar considerations (2012), our Torah study is a double portion. After the tragic and unexpected deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-2), explicit instructions are given by the Lord to Moses on how Aaron and future high priests were to formally offer sacrifices at a specified time in order to restore Israel’s relationship with Him. As we see the description of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement at this point in the annual cycle (Leviticus 16:29), Torah students can be reminded that they have about six months or so, before this time is to be observed. The balance of Acharei Mot-Kedoshim deals specifically with God’s desire for Israel to be holy and sanctified. There are a series of both negative and positive commandments, dealing with a variety of issues, that will set the people apart from their pagan neighbors. As we read and contemplate Acharei Mot-Kedoshim this week, it should be an excellent time for personal examination regarding what the Lord requires of His sons and daughters—because from His perspective, personal holiness matters.

The Lord strongly desires a people who not only know and fear His holiness, but recognize that their individual and corporate holiness is necessary to maintain an intimate relationship with Him. With the spectacular fiery deaths of Aaron’s sons fresh in their minds, God specified that access to the Holy of Holies was restricted to the high priest on a designated day, after complying with absolute instructions on how to atone not only for his personal sin, but the corporate sins of Israel:

“Now the LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they had approached the presence of the LORD and died. The LORD said to Moses: ‘Tell your brother Aaron that he shall not enter at any time into the holy place inside the veil, before the mercy seat which is on the ark, or he will die; for I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat. Aaron shall enter the holy place with this: with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering…This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute. So the priest who is anointed and ordained to serve as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement: he shall thus put on the linen garments, the holy garments, and make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar. He shall also make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly. Now you shall have this as a permanent statute, to make atonement for the sons of Israel for all their sins once every year.’ And just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so he did” (Leviticus 16:1-3, 29-34).

Of course, for Believers in Yeshua the Messiah and His atoning sacrifice, there is confidence that the ultimate sacrifice for human sin has been completed. Yeshua’s own sacrifice allows the redeemed in Him access to the holiest place in Heaven:

“For the Law, since it has…a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, ‘SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. THEN I SAID, “BEHOLD I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD”’ [Psalm 40:6-8]. After saying above, ‘SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them’ [Psalm 40:6] (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL’ [Psalm 40:7]. He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Yeshua the Messiah once for all. Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET [Psalm 110:1]. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, ‘THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,’ He then says, ‘AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE’ [Jeremiah 31:33]. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Yeshua, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:1-23).

However, even with these assurances from the Apostolic Scriptures that the ultimate sacrifice for sin has been made—it remains incumbent for Messiah followers to be fully informed about what the Lord states regarding blood, moral physical relationships, and proper ethical treatment of neighbors in the community. One cannot appreciate Yeshua’s work, unless one appreciates the Torah that foretold of His work (Hebrews 10:1). By being reminded of these commands on a regular basis by studying the Torah—especially in view of the permanence of Yom Kippur—modern-day Believers in the Messiah have a definite responsibility to not be ignorant when it comes to how they should conduct their lives. After all, while there is forgiveness for sins of commission and omission, the universal principle that a person reaps what is sown will always apply (cf. Galatians 6:7-8). If God’s people desire to be holy, as He is holy, then it is critical to review what He has stated in His Word—so that we might be obedient to His commandments. This is why I am most elated, that the Lord has led many people, both Jewish and non-Jewish Believers together, to the practice of studying through the Torah on an annual basis.

Blood Issues

As the reading turns from the Day of Atonement, it becomes apparent that the Lord wanted His people to have a comprehensive understanding about blood, as it was a vital part of animal life. Since blood is used in the sacrificial offerings, the Lord wanted the community of Israel to be aware of the fact that the life of animal flesh is found in its blood, and should be treated with great respect:

“And any man from the house of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood.’ So when any man from the sons of Israel, or from the aliens who sojourn among them, in hunting catches a beast or a bird which may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘You are not to eat the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’ When any person eats an animal which dies or is torn by beasts, whether he is a native or an alien, he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and remain unclean until evening; then he will become clean. ‘But if he does not wash them or bathe his body, then he shall bear his guilt’” (Leviticus 17:10-16).

While the Lord has already given instructions about clean and unclean animals fit for human consumption (Leviticus 11), these specific details about blood have been used to develop a proper way to handle the blood of animals that are to be eaten. Blood is to not only be respected—but not eaten or consumed—because the blood is the literal “life” of the animal. So important was this for the First Century Jewish community, that the Apostolic decree decisively prohibited the non-Jewish Believers coming to faith, to consume blood (Acts 15:20, 29), as a definite part of eating kosher. Yet, what does it mean if followers of the Messiah are not aware of these laws—and are more conditioned by various cultural mores? Thankfully by reviewing and adhering to these instructions, we can allow the Holy Spirit to direct us back to an appropriate path, and receive forgiveness from the Lord from whatever immediate or long term consequences—whether spiritual and/or physical—have been incurred as a result of ingesting blood.

Proper Relations

After these explicit instructions about how to handle blood, the Torah turns to a lengthy description about proper sexual contact. Apparently, not only in Egypt, but also in Canaan, these pagan cultures were involved in all kinds of sexual relationships that were improper and considered abominable by the Lord. Thankfully, what the Lord considers moral and proper relationships between people has been historically instituted in much of Western civilization because of the influence of Judeo-Christian values. But with the decline of societal standards in modern times, many of these abominable practices are becoming acceptable to an increasing number of the ill-advised population:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “I am the LORD your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the LORD your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD”’” (Leviticus 18:1-5).

While reading through Leviticus ch. 18, one will discover the varieties of incest considered improper, bestiality forbidden, and homosexuality considered an abomination. Hopefully, despite a Twentieth and Twenty-First Century cultural decline, by reviewing God’s standards for proper sexual activity, followers of the Messiah will be given the resolve to stand up for what the Creator has stated is appropriate. But whether one recalls the vile sexual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, or rereads the description of Paul in Romans ch. 1 regarding the nations’ rejection of God—one should recognize that these deviant human choices will seemingly always be something with which societies will have to contend:

“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:24-32).

By just reviewing the sordid list of the consequences of being given over to degrading passions, one can better understand why so much sin runs rampant throughout a society unable to stifle these vile practices. Hence, the reinforcement of annually rereading these prohibitions should not only prevent one from ever considering them, but also be able to carefully direct others to the truth—that they might receive the mercy of a Loving God and be stirred to repentance. Those called into God’s community of faithful Believers should recognize how final judgment of those in sexual sin reside with the offender—but they should be able to intelligibly and reasonably explain why God considers sexual actions between people, outside of the bonds of a heterosexual, monogamous marriage relationship, to be totally unacceptable.

Be Holy

Upon turning to Leviticus chs. 19-20, readers encounter ordinances and statutes given by the Lord, to surely enable Israel to be the kingdom of priests and holy nation (Exodus 19:6) that He desires. In many respects, these two chapters are an amplification of the Decalogue, by intensifying the substance of the Ten Commandments. This section begins and ends with the explicit direction for Israel to be holy, as God is holy:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the LORD your God”’” (Leviticus 19:1-4).

“Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).

Walking in a holy, sanctified manner, does not just happen because someone is either born into Israel, and/or calls oneself a follower of Yeshua. What are some of the ways that God’s people can maintain a degree of holiness? The Torah goes into detail, enumerating instructions that include, but are surely not limited to: reverence for parents, keeping the Sabbath, avoiding idol worship, not stealing, not lying, and not profaning the Lord’s name. One of the most important instructions to be followed pertains to respect and love for neighbors:

“You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:13-18).

Yeshua expounded upon Leviticus 19:18, in some rather profound teaching, about how to walk in a manner that exudes holiness. In His well-known teaching on the good Samaritan, when a lawyer asked what was required to inherit eternal life, Yeshua shared the story of someone robbed on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho. After comparing what a priest and a Levite did, with how the Samaritan dealt with his neighbor, Yeshua queried the lawyer with a question that has an obvious answer:

“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]. And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE’ [Leviticus 18:5]. But wishing to justify himself, he said to Yeshua, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Yeshua replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.” Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’ And he said, ‘The one who showed mercy toward him.’ Then Yeshua said to him, ‘Go and do the same’” (Luke 10:25-37).

As you read this familiar passage, and recall from our Torah portion the ways one should treat his or her neighbor—we find that Yeshua took loving one’s neighbor to a higher level. While there is no explicit instruction in Leviticus ch. 19 to give a person help if he or she was found on the side of the road, Yeshua required that one extend mercy and help in time of need. Early in His ministry, Yeshua expounded His teaching on judging others, with how treating others as you would choose to be treated, is a key part of a walk of faith exemplifying holiness:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:1-12).

Note how in Yeshua’s conclusion, that treating others as you would want to be treated, is derived from the Torah and the Prophets. If people are not studying the Torah and Prophets, and being reminded of what the Lord has declared, then how are they ever going to know what He expects of them? While some Believers via the Spirit might understand a few things, specificity of good works required of God’s people may be significantly missed. This is why studying Torah is so essential, so that Messiah followers cannot only know what it says—but so that they can allow its principles to be truly ingrained in the heart and mind. What can be lost, in the good works required of God’s people, if you, for example, fail to study the instruction about withholding wages or leaving the corners of a field unharvested? What might this tell us about the poor and destitute in society, who need help?

Child Sacrifice Forbidden

Perhaps one of the vilest sins described, in this section of Scripture, was the Ancient Near Eastern practice of offering up children to appease the god Molech. For modern-day Believers, this passage can be commonly associated with the abomination of abortion on demand, where if a child is conceived, a woman can simply choose to dispose of it. Yet, offering an infant child to Molech was much different, as the metal idol would be heated, and then the helpless child would be burned alive—its screams perhaps being regarded as some kind of worship. Those who would offer children to Molech, a sin that persisted in much of the history of the Tanakh, are those who would surely incur the anger of the Lord for far more than just idolatry:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘You shall also say to the sons of Israel: “Any man from the sons of Israel or from the aliens sojourning in Israel who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will also set My face against that man and will cut him off from among his people, because he has given some of his offspring to Molech, so as to defile My sanctuary and to profane My holy name. If the people of the land, however, should ever disregard that man when he gives any of his offspring to Molech, so as not to put him to death, then I Myself will set My face against that man and against his family, and I will cut off from among their people both him and all those who play the harlot after him, by playing the harlot after Molech. As for the person who turns to mediums and to spiritists, to play the harlot after them, I will also set My face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you. If there is anyone who curses his father or his mother, he shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother, his bloodguiltiness is upon him. If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death”’” (Leviticus 20:1-10).

To practice any of the detestable practices listed above, would merit one severe consequences. If the Holy One was so concerned about these pagan practices to include them in the Torah—perhaps being reminded of them will instill in modern-day Messiah followers a desire to pray for those caught up in these sorts of abhorrent acts, even with a few modern twists and differences. Perhaps given the opportunity to confront, hopefully in love, those participating in these practices, we can turn to these Scripture passages to reveal what God has declared. In so doing, we can hope that His Spirit will convict and turn people from their wicked ways, with an ample opportunity for them to be transformed by the good news of salvation in Yeshua!

Holiness Matters

As Acharei Mot-Kedoshim winds down, the overwhelming number of ordinances that are encountered, both positive and negative, need some time for reflection. If while reading and contemplating them, you were convicted of a time when you might have indulged yourself in one or part of one of these actions—perhaps you should go back and confess your sin to the Lord, asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness for sin is available to all, but does require confession and repentance. Yet, being informed from God’s Word regarding what He considers sin to be is necessary, if there is to be a true compulsion to ask for forgiveness, and a commitment made to the process of ongoing sanctification.

Personally speaking, I can remember a time years ago, when first going through the Torah, that I was confronted by the following verse:

“Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:31).

Upon reading this verse, the Holy Spirit brought to mind not only my previous readings of horoscopes, but also times when I played on an Ouija Board, before I became a Believer. While for years I had not consulted a horoscope or played the game, for some reason I was convicted that I had once placed some credence on these means of predicting the future or my good fortune. So, I took the time to confess my sin of ignorance and ask God for forgiveness. Since then, whenever I see a horoscope listing in the paper or magazine, I do not even bother to read it, but am simply reminded of my repentance and how easy it is for people to get distracted by things that God forbids. While this is a simple example, perhaps going back through these Torah portions and asking God to bring to mind some things that were done in ignorance, may just initiate a time of confession and repentance.

After all, God is forever asking His people to be holy—because from His perspective, holiness matters:

“Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).

Tazria-Metzora

Tazria

She Conceives

Leviticus 12:1-13:59
2 Kings 4:42-5:19

Metzora

Infected One

Leviticus 14:1-15:33
2 Kings 7:3-20

“Speech Impediments”


by Mark Huey

Having just given instructions about clean and unclean meats, acceptable and unacceptable for human consumption (Leviticus 11), the Torah now turns to what is to be done after childbirth (Leviticus 12:1-8), and with various skin afflictions (Leviticus 13:1-59) and fluid emissions (Leviticus 15:1-33) that can seemingly disrupt intimate communion with the Almighty. This week’s double portion Torah reading (for 2012), which usually occurs on most non-leap years, addresses these circumstances with explicit details that have been subject to a variety of interpretations down through the centuries. While it is interesting to tally and analyze all of the different theories offered, and the practices that have been altered over the years to accommodate these commands in Jewish tradition, there is one particular view that has garnered a great deal of attention in Jewish examination. The material seen in Shemeni (Leviticus 9:1-11:47), as well as Tazria-Metzora, allows Torah readers an annual opportunity to consider the debilitating sin of lashon ha’ra or “the evil tongue.” Malicious gossip and unverified slander are things that lamentably contaminate far too many who claim to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

There is debate among examiners as to whether or not the disease labeled “leprosy,” tzara’at in our Torah portion, is the actual leprosy of today. Our main point in reading the parashah should be to recognize how there would be a noticeable infection that appeared on the skin of the afflicted. The prescribed method for dealing with the disease was handled by the Levitical priesthood, in order to assure that any potential spread of the disease was minimized. Once discerned as “leprosy” by the priest, the afflicted would be isolated for extended periods of seven days, and reexamined until a declaration of being “clean” could be issued. In the lengthy description of how to contend with leprosy in Leviticus 13, it is notable that cleanliness is achievable after the infection has ended, but when the infection remains, the afflicted is required to warn others with the cry of “Unclean! Unclean!” and remain isolated outside the camp:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling or a scab or a bright spot, and it becomes an infection of leprosy on the skin of his body, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests. The priest shall look at the mark on the skin of the body, and if the hair in the infection has turned white and the infection appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is an infection of leprosy; when the priest has looked at him, he shall pronounce him unclean. But if the bright spot is white on the skin of his body, and it does not appear to be deeper than the skin, and the hair on it has not turned white, then the priest shall isolate him who has the infection for seven days. The priest shall look at him on the seventh day, and if in his eyes the infection has not changed and the infection has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall isolate him for seven more days. The priest shall look at him again on the seventh day, and if the infection has faded and the mark has not spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him clean; it is only a scab. And he shall wash his clothes and be clean’…As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:1-6, 45-46).

Leprosy and the Evil Tongue

With a detailed explanation of how to deal with leprosy, the Jewish Sages searched for some other passages in the Torah, in order to try and explain what could have possibly brought this affliction upon the Israelites. Many turned to the episode of Moses’ sister Miriam contracting leprosy, and sought out a reason for her contracting the disease. It is noted how in association with her questioning the authority of Moses by speaking ill of him, she experienced a seven-day banishment from the camp until she could be received again:

“Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, ‘Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?’ And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.) Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, ‘You three come out to the tent of meeting.’ So the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, He said, ‘Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?’ So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed. But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. Then Aaron said to Moses, ‘Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!’ Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘O God, heal her, I pray!’ But the LORD said to Moses, ‘If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.’ So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again” (Numbers 12:1-15).

In this passage, Moses’ older sister Miriam and his older brother Aaron not only spoke ill of his choice of a wife, but they also challenged Moses’ leadership and his intimate relationship with the Holy One. This angered the Lord to the point of defending Moses to Aaron and Miriam, in categorical terms, about His familiarity with Him as His servant. As a result of Miriam’s actions, but apparently not Aaron because Miriam initiated the attack, the Lord afflicted her with leprosy, turning her skin white. The punishment for the leprous-induced sin was to place Miriam outside of the camp for seven days, paralleling what is to be done to a person afflicted with leprosy as noted in Leviticus 13. To confirm that there was indeed a connection for disobedience and coming against God’s anointed leader, there is a similar admonition found later in Deuteronomy 24, that makes a similar linkage:

“Be careful against an infection of leprosy that you diligently observe and do according to all that the Levitical priests teach you; as I have commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:8-9).

Consequently noting the parallels described in other passages of the Torah, the Jewish Sages have widely concluded that speaking evil against someone has serious repercussions—not only to the person being slandered or libeled—but the community itself infected by the lies and or distortions of the truth. Within the Books of Proverbs and Psalms, we especially see how an evil heart and its intentions are directly connected to an evil tongue, which must be tempered and handled properly, lest it do serious damage to God’s people. Simply consider the following summary of some of the main things that the Lord considers to be an abomination to Him:

“There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Further abominations to the Lord would be those who secretly slander a neighbor, those who speak arrogantly against the righteous, and lying lips:

“A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil. Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; no one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure” (Psalm 101:4-5).

“Let the lying lips be mute, which speak arrogantly against the righteous with pride and contempt” (Psalm 31:18).

“Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal faithfully are His delight” (Proverbs 12:22).

Of course, there is always the Biblical assurance that the Lord will deal specifically with the false witness. The following are warnings from Proverbs about its incumbent punishment:

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will not escape” (Proverbs 19:5).

“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will perish” (Proverbs 19:9).

Further examination of the Torah shows us that the problem of falsifying facts is quite real, and would need to be dealt with accordingly in the community of Ancient Israel, especially when resolving conflicts or judging iniquities or sin. This was further detailed in Deuteronomy 19, where a false witness who rises up in a case will be purged, in the same manner as a convicted criminal:

“A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you” (Deuteronomy 19:15-20).

Note that malicious witnesses were to receive the punishment that they had intended for the falsely accused, in order for the evil to be purged and eradicated from the community. After all, the strife spread by evil hearts speaking wicked things, must be minimized in order to maintain goodwill among the people of God. Proverbs 6:14 admonishes each one of us, Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, who spreads strife” (Proverbs 6:14).

The Messiah’s Directions

Regrettably, humanity’s challenge with the inherent inclination to speak falsely about others, or simply slander or libel people for a bevy of reasons, continues this verbal malady down through the ages. But beyond the wisdom found in the Proverbs and Psalms, there are additional comments made by Yeshua the Messiah that address not only how to avoid speaking ill of others, but also helps clarify how our Heavenly Father is most concerned about the intentions of the heart rather than rote adherence to vain human traditions. Yeshua speaks directly to the need for people to conduct self-examination, as opposed to constantly judging others with the apparent design to straighten them out:

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:41-45).

Yeshua describes the hypocrisy of self-righteous criticism of others, by summarizing the connection between the evil heart and the evil words of the critic. Once again, as noted in the Proverbs and Psalms, the issue is the heart and how a wicked heart can generate evil comments.

In another encounter later in Yeshua’s ministry, He was confronted by some Pharisees who were criticizing the Disciples’ apparent disregard for following a ritualistic hand washing methods of the elders. In this exchange, Yeshua got right to the heart of the matter as He revealed the true heart intentions of His critics. Here Yeshua quoted from Isaiah who prophesied that people would honor God with their lips, while their hearts were far away. Yeshua then went on to explain that what was truly in the hearts of the wicked would be evidenced by what they say:

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to from Yeshua Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER” [Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16], and, “HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH” [Exodus 21:17]. But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,’ he is not to honor his father or his mother.” And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: “THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN”’ [Isaiah 29:13]. After Yeshua called the crowd to Him, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.’ Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ Yeshua said, ‘Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man” (Matthew 15:1-20).

When asked by Peter to explain the parable, Yeshua categorically stated that a person was not necessarily defiled by what he or she ate, or for that matter how one washes hands—but rather that the significant defilement to be on guard against comes from the wickedness found in the heart and its manifestation proceeding forth from the mouth.

Clearly, the issues of the heart are what matters most to the Holy One of Israel. Yeshua issued a very sobering word, about how everyone will eventually be held accountable for what they say, revealing what is truly in their hearts:

“Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:32-37).

This is a sobering reminder to all who seek the Holy One of Israel, in that there will come a point in time, when there will be some sort of accounting for all that one not only does—but also what one also says. The reality of this should not be taken lightly.

This week, as we read and consider the separation from the Lord, notably to be experienced by skin afflictions—perhaps the Sages were wise to make the much more direct connection between the wickedness of the heart and what proceeds out of the mouth. For certainly, the many words of Yeshua confirm how the Lord is most concerned about the heart intentions of His people. Hence, if you find yourself considering wicked thoughts that may come forth as statements from your mouth, it would be appropriate to confess those sins and repent of them immediately. Certainly learn how to be very careful with what comes out of your mouth!

In the case of the leper, or Miriam, a seven-day period was adequate to be allowed back into the community. But we might question if we have ever taken seven seconds or seven minutes or seven hours—to truly repent before the Lord for wickedness in our hearts that might have come forth from the mouth. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity for each of us to make those confessions, and personally help to clean up the camp—so that any speech impediments will be minimized, and then eliminated.

Controversies Involving Torah-Based “Means of Grace” – April 2018 OIM News


Update

April 2018

For those Israel lovers and students of history who are paying attention, the 5th of Iyyar on the Jewish calendar, which coincides with the 18th of April on the Gregorian calendar in 2018, is Yom HaAtzma’ut or Israeli Independence Day. As expected, a number of Israeli national celebrations will take place at this time, but because today’s world more widely follows the western Gregorian calendar, May 14, 2018 will be more prominently recognized as the seventieth anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Hence in this season of remembrance, Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) on the 17th of April and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem liberation day) on the 13th of May, there are about four weeks of coincidental anniversaries and commemorations, which should remind followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He alone is the God of history and current human affairs. However, notable “coincidences” are not overlooked by the discerning Bible student.

Correspondingly, Believers who utilize the Holy Scriptures as one critical grid for observing world events keep a keen eye on what happens to the Promised Land (Israel), the Jewish people, and Jerusalem, in particular. After all, the inheritors of Zion will always be the “apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8), as each critical clock-like pendulum tick, directs the world toward the End of the Age. In addition, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator God, has directly stated that He has placed His Name on Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 6:5-6; Exodus 20:24; Zechariah 2:12). Thus, when anticipated significant events—such as moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in conjunction with the seventieth anniversary on May 14, 2018—the Body of Messiah should be in intercessory prayer, thankful jubilation, and praise that the promised blessings of Genesis 12:3 will be bestowed upon America for its stalwart support of the modern State of Israel.

Historically speaking, God raises up different individuals or nations at various times to advance His will on Earth, to bless or to curse, depending on how they act toward the Jewish people. Thankfully for most of American history, most governmental leaders have stood by the Jewish people. President Truman was the first national leader to recognize Israel when it declared statehood seventy years ago. As a result, God has blessed the United States, today the only remaining superpower on the planet. But such blessing should never be taken for granted, because God’s thoughts and ways are much higher than human genius or comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9).

With God’s higher ways in mind, while studying the relatively modern history of the reconstitution of the State of Israel, and the return of the Jewish people to the Promised Land—one comes upon the prophetic conclusions of Anglican clergyman William Hechler, one person who God used to help Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl promote his vision for a Jewish State in the late 1890s. Ironically, most students of the Holy Scriptures have been exposed to a considerable number of interpretations of Bible prophecies, which are nothing more than educated guesses on when the end-times are coming or when the Messiah is going to return. Inaccuracies and false predictions are commonplace, but God still uses incorrect eschatology to accomplish His purposes.

Hechler loved the Jewish people and was an ardent student of the Bible, when his path crossed with Herzl, who had written Der Judenstaat or The Jewish State, detailing a vision for a homeland for the persecuted Jews of Europe. Coincidentally by the time they became acquainted, Hechler had surmised from his study of the Scriptures that God had promised to restore the Jews to the Holy Land, as seen in these conclusions about the forty-two month period referenced in the Books of Daniel and Revelation:

excerpted from The Prince and The Prophet by Claude Duvernoy

THE BIBLICAL FORTY-TWO MONTHS

But how to interpret the forty-two months? Most scholars of that time agreed that one prophetic month was not thirty days but thirty years—which comes out to 1260 years. It is a number that appears both in Daniel and Revelation. So, the Temple was destroyed and taken from the Jews in 70 A.D. Add 1260 years and the year is 1330—a dead end as nothing happened in 1330.

But Daniel 12:11 also states that the 1,290 days [or years] will start after the abomination of desolation is set up in the holy place (where the Temple was.) So what is this abomination?

In 627-628, Jerusalem fell into the hands of a pagan power: Islam, under its third Caliph—Omar, Mohammed’s brother-in-law. He not only took possession of Jerusalem; he razed the medieval Christian church built on the “Holy Place,” and built the Mosque of Omer to the glory of the prophet. Hechler surely knew that in this mosque there is written the Koranic verses including “God has no Son.”

If one adds 1260 years to the year 627-628, he comes to 1897-1898. Hechler was convinced that 1897-1898 would mark the dawn of the final restoration of Israel in the Promise Land!

No, he was not announcing either the End of the Age, or the Second Coming. But what he did announce was the starting point of the ultimate restoration of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel.

Note in Hechler’s conclusions that around the time he was helping Herzl (mid 1890s), he was convinced that the final restoration of Israel was beginning. So regardless of whether Hechler was one-hundred percent accurate with his deductions, God used him to help encourage Herzl to organize the First Zionist Congress convened in Basel, Switzerland from August 29-31, 1897. In addition, through Hechler’s strategic relationships, he was able to introduce Herzl to key royalty and government officials in Germany, Turkey, and Great Britain. As a result, the prophetic statement of Herzl written in his journal on September 3, 1897, has an amazing amount of accuracy about the timing of the formation of the State of Israel:

Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word—which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly—it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”

Now without getting into all of the suppositions about the “jubilee” years, and the fact that from 1897-1898 to 1947-1948 is fifty or so years, or from 1917 (Balfour Declaration) to 1967 (liberation of Jerusalem after Six Day War) is fifty years, and from 1967 to 2017-2018 is another fifty years—theories and suppositions can go any of several directions, just like they did in Hechler’s studies. But the point is that God is active in the minute affairs of humanity, and He absolutely accomplishes His will for the created order, regardless of who He uses. God can use an obscure journalist (Herzl), an eccentric clergyman (Hechler), a member of the British Parliament (Balfour), or members of the Jewish Agency, when led by David Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 14, 1948 after the British Mandate expired.

Personally, having been to the unimpressive room in a converted home in Tel Aviv where the Israeli Declaration of Independence was declared on May 14, 1948, the humble irony of the leaders of modern day Israel claiming their rightful place among the nations of the world is awesome to contemplate. In fact, those inauspicious and humble beginnings are somewhat reminiscent of an ancient prophecy from Zechariah about Israel’s king entering Jerusalem humbly on a donkey:

“Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, a righteous one bringing salvation. He is lowly, riding on a donkey—on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, TLV).

Of course this prophecy was fulfilled by the Messiah, as He entered into Jerusalem prior to His trial, humiliation, beating, and execution:

“The next day, the huge crowd that had come up for the feast heard that Yeshua was coming to Jerusalem. So they took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, ‘“Hoshia-na! Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The King of Israel!’ Finding a young donkey, Yeshua sat on it, as it is written, ‘Fear not, Daughter of Zion! Look! Your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.’ His disciples did not understand these things at first. But when Yeshua was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that the crowd had done these things for Him” (John 12:12-16, TLV).

As we consider these things, both God’s people and people of the world at large, are going to one day more fully understand what is transpiring in this current “season of coincidences” regarding the timing of Israeli anniversaries, Biblical jubilees, or whatever other measure one uses to try and comprehend the mind and thoughts of the Sovereign Maker. While seventy years of existence is a remarkable achievement for the State of Israel and should be celebrated, Moses’ only recognized Psalm adds yet another “time” component to speculation about the unknowable timeline regarding the End of the Age known only by our Heavenly Father (Matthew 24:3, 36):

“For all our days have passed away under Your wrath. We spent our years like a sigh. The span of our years is seventy—or with strength, eighty—yet at best they are trouble and sorrow. For they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who knows the power of Your anger? Your fury leads to awe of you. So teach us to number our days, so that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:9-12, TLV).

Yes Lord, let us present you a heart of wisdom, as we praise, worship, and glorify your Holy Name—no matter what our individually roles and assignments are to help advance your Kingdom here on Earth! Make us available vessels, because You alone are able to work through us…

Chag Samaech Yom HaAtzma’ut

Mark Huey


Controversies Involving Torah-Based “Means of Grace”

by J.K. McKee

While it is unfortunate to have to say this, some of the biggest controversies which face the contemporary Messianic movement today, involve misunderstandings of various outward actions and activities—which are intended to bless, and not divide—the people of God. Whether we want to admit it or not, as an emerging faith community, today’s Messianic movement has areas of its theology and practice which are under-developed, or which involve applications limited to a local congregation or assembly, dependent on a group’s circumstances. People can inappropriately assume, at times, that “one size fits all,” when in fact, some things might instead need to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

In my own life, I have been personally involved in planning the funeral of my father (1992) and the wedding of my sister (2015). It is fairly easy to recognize that in planning a funeral or a wedding, that the needs of the immediate family, the larger extended family, and the friends involved, need to be taken into consideration. While the basic rituals of remembering the deceased and burying the remains, and the recitation of marriage vows and a celebration of a new couple joining together, remain consistent for a funeral or for a wedding—every funeral and every wedding have things requested by the family, which the spiritual leader officiating has to take into consideration. Consequently, a number of the divisive issues involving Torah-based means of grace, are those which precisely concern a consultation between families and their local Messianic congregational leader. And if necessary, we should be honest enough as people who compose a still-developing Messianic movement, to recognize those areas where further study and investigation are required.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

How many people really know what the discipline of going through bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, truly is? Many have the impression, based on portrayals in popular culture, that a bar mitzvah is just an opportunity to have a party, showering a thirteen year old boy or girl with endless gifts, somehow intended for their future. While various festivities may be involved with the commemoration of a bar mitzvah, the discipline and procedures of going through a bar mitzvah—especially within today’s Jewish community—are quite serious and even rigorous.

The term bar mitzvah means “son of the commandments,” with bat mitzvah meaning “daughter of the commandments.” The exact origins of the more modern process of a Jewish youth going through bar mitzvah are unclear. The workbook Messianic Judaism Class, in answering the question “Is this custom a Biblical command?”, answers, “It’s a part of Jewish tradition since the 13th century. It’s an extra-Biblical tradition that is not forbidden by Biblical teaching.”[1] mong the different reasons it lists for the significance of bar or bat mitzvah, include: a rite of passage, boyhood to manhood and girlhood to womanhood, acceptance of personal responsibility of oneself before God, learning Hebrew, learning to be a leader, identification with Judaism and the faith community. The bar/bat mitzvah process typically involves a recognition, for a young man or woman (usually 13 for boys, 12 for girls), that he or she is about to enter into adulthood.

Within the Jewish community, the process of going through bar/bat mitzvah involves Hebrew education, study of Jewish history and culture, and a review of the responsibilities that a Jewish man or woman will have as he or she enters into adulthood, and takes up some place within congregational life. At the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, the young person who has completed his or her required classes, will often cant from the Hebrew Torah portion, and give a short teaching. As the young man or young woman is formally recognized as an adult before the assembly, he or she not only is to be committed to a life of service to God and the Jewish people, but the corporate body too has a responsibility of being there to support these young people. While it is traditional for those going through bar/bat mitzvah to be teenagers, adults well into their seventies and eighties have gone through bar/bat mitzvah.

While many of the traditions and procedures associated with bar/bat mitzvah originate from post-Second Temple times, Jewish history does record the need for young people to be trained in the Scriptures, and be recognized as members of the spiritual community. The First Century historian Josephus recorded, “when I was a child, and about fourteen years of age, I was commended by all for the love I had to learning; on which account the high priests and principal men of the city came then frequently to me together, in order to know my opinion about the accurate understanding of points of the law” (Life 1.9).[2] The authors of Messianic Judaism Class, referencing Yeshua’s encounter at the Temple in Luke 2:41-43, 46-49, conclude, “Yeshua is doing what we do at a Bar Mitzvah. The boy or girl reads that week’s passage and then they do a little teaching from it.”[3] As it was recorded of the young Yeshua:

“Now His parents were going every year to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. When He became twelve years old, they were going up according to festival custom. As they headed home after completing the days, the boy Yeshua remained in Jerusalem, but His parents didn’t know…After three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the center of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all those hearing Him were astonished at His understanding and His answers. When His parents saw Yeshua, they were overwhelmed. And His mother said to Him, ‘Child, why did you do this to us? Look! Your father and I were searching for You frantically!’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for Me? Didn’t you know that I must be about the things of My Father?’” (Luke 2:41-43, 46-49, TLV).

Each Messianic congregation will have some kind of bar/bat mitzvah education regimen, involving Hebrew study, Bible study, a review of Jewish history and culture, some likely review of Christian history, a review of the modern Messianic movement, and likely also discipleship instruction for young adults experiencing puberty. In Messianic bar/bat mitzvah, the young adult is honored before the congregation, as the corporate Body of Messiah does have to recognize its responsibility in seeing young people welcomed and mentored. (As it is noted in Messianic Judaism Class, “It has been copied by the church in confirmation.”[4] Protestant denominations which offer confirmation classes to young adults, usually offer classes on what it means for young people to be responsible Christians, church members, Bible readers, and they address the challenges facing teenagers going through many life changes, as they face adulthood.)

The bar/bat mitzvah process does bear spiritual importance for young people not only being recognized as adults, but for evaluating their present standing before God. Galatians 3:24 communicates how “the Torah became our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we might be made right based on trusting” (TLV), meaning that our common human violation of the Torah’s instruction is to show us our need for a Redeemer. An ideal time to confirm that this has indeed happened, is when a young man or young woman is going through the process of bar or bat mitzvah.

Certainly Messianic Jewish children, and the children of intermarried couples in the Messianic movement, would be naturally anticipated to be those who go through bar/bat mitzvah. But what about non-Jewish children in the Messianic movement? This is where it has to be recognized that there is variance of approach in the Messianic community. More often than not, though, your local Messianic congregation will have its bar/bat mitzvah classes open to the children of both its Jewish and non-Jewish members. In fact, it is likely that there might be grown adults in attendance at its bar/bat mitzvah classes! If you are a non-Jewish parent, your local Messianic congregational leadership might recommend some modifications of the different blessings which are offered in the bar/bat mitzvah service, for your son or daughter. And, whether you are Jewish or non-Jewish, if your son or daughter is going through bar/bat mitzvah, you might want to suggest that some things be incorporated into their service, in order to honor their lives thus far. Much of this is dependent on the venue of your local Messianic congregation, and for an accounting of the needs of one’s family, extended family, and guests in attendance.

Circumcision

At the close of the 2010s, our faith community does not have a coherent theology of circumcision, even though its physical and spiritual components do make up a critical part of the Biblical narrative. The Ancient Israelites were admonished in Deuteronomy 10:16, “circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” (NASU; cf. Colossians 2:11), speaking to the important lesson of circumcision: removing an outer barrier placed between a human being and God. Yet, the physical rite of male circumcision, is something we seldom address—mainly because it is a sexual issue. However, anyone knowing about the standard basics of the Jewish life cycle, should be familiar enough with how by ancient convention, male Jews are circumcised on the eighth day. Furthermore, anyone with a cursory understanding of some of the controversies which arose in the First Century ekklēsia, should be aware of how circumcision was a huge debate involving the inclusion of Greek and Roman Believers into the Body of Messiah.

Male circumcision, as a medical practice, was something which pre-dated the Patriarch Abraham, even though it is correctly recognized that male circumcision is the memorial sign of the Abrahamic covenant:

“God also said to Abraham, ‘As for you, My covenant you must keep, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant that you must keep between Me and you and your seed after you: all your males must be circumcised. You must be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and this will become a sign of the covenant between Me and you. Also your eight-day-olds must be circumcised, every male, throughout your generations, including a house-born slave or a slave bought with money from any foreigner who is not of your seed. Your house-born slave and your purchased slave must surely be circumcised. So My covenant will be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant’ (Genesis 17:9-13, TLV).

So severe was male circumcision, it was said, “But the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin—that person will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Genesis 17:14, TLV). Leviticus 12:3 would further codify for native born males, born into Ancient Israel, “In the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin is to be circumcised” (TLV). Sojourners, entering into Ancient Israel, would have to be circumcised in order to eat of the Passover sacrifice, but as a result would be considered as natives: “But if an outsider dwells with you, who would keep the Passover for ADONAI, all his males must be circumcised. Then let him draw near and keep it. He will be like one who is native to the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat from it” (Exodus 12:48, TLV). Israel’s enemies in the Tanach, in particular the Philistines, were often taunted for being “uncircumcised” (i.e., 1 Samuel 17:26, 36; 2 Samuel 1:20)

During the Maccabean crisis of the Second Century B.C.E., the Seleucid Greeks made it illegal for Jewish mothers to circumcise their infant sons, on the threat of death (1 Maccabees 1:48). The right for Jews to circumcise, was something that the Maccabees properly fought and gave their lives for. So, it should not be surprising that by the First Century C.E., as the good news or gospel was going out into the Mediterranean, that it was definitely believed, that in order for non-Jews to be fully admitted into the people of God, that they needed to be circumcised as Jewish proselytes. While there were ancient Jewish discussions involving what it meant for a non-Jew to become a proselyte, circumcision was widely agreed to be necessary. Debates are witnessed throughout Paul’s letter to the Galatians whether circumcision was necessary of Greek and Roman Believers for them to be fully received into the Body of Messiah, and the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 met to decisively address the issue: “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5, ESV). Circumcision was not deemed necessary for non-Jewish Believers to be fully welcomed in as equal brothers and sisters of the Jewish Believers (Galatians 3:28).

There is little doubting the importance that male circumcision continues to have for Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah. Yeshua the Messiah Himself, was circumcised (Luke 1:57-66). The Apostle Paul was circumcised (Philippians 3:5), and he definitely says, “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” (Romans 3:1-2, TLV). Paul had his disciple Timothy, who was born of a Jewish mother but had a Greek father, circumcised (Acts 16:1-3). Yet, Paul also warns against any over-inflated self-opinions about circumcision that First Century Jews might have had, as he also says, “Circumcision is indeed worthwhile if you keep the Torah; but if you break the Torah, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if the uncircumcised keeps the righteous decrees of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?” (Romans 2:25-26, TLV).

Most of us are not fully informed as to all the details regarding the circumcision of infant males in our various Messianic congregations and assemblies. At most, we are probably aware how a Messianic Jewish couple or intermarried couple, will make sure that a newborn male is circumcised on the eighth day. Sometimes, a Jewish mohel, who has been specially trained in circumcision, will circumcise a Messianic Jewish male infant. Involved with this will be various traditions and customs involving the naming of the male child (cf. Luke 1:59), and blessings issued upon him. When a Jewish mohel is not available, then if there is a doctor in your local congregation, he or she will usually be consulted for the options that are available, which may then result in the infant male being circumcised in a hospital setting. At a later time, some kind of infant dedication, perhaps involving Jewish circumcision blessings, will take place.

Beyond the Jewish community, male circumcision has been a widescale medical practice in much of the West, for well over a century. Although its medical benefits have been debated in recent times, the authors of Messianic Judaism Class address the question “Are there any physical benefits to circumcision?” with, “There might be. They have discovered in Africa that the tribes that circumcise their males have a lower rate of HIV/AIDS infection.”[5] Because male circumcision is a common medical practice, questions inevitably arise regarding what non-Jewish families in the Messianic movement should do, when having a male child. All agree that physical circumcision is not required for salvation. There are those in the Messianic movement, approaching a passage like 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 as it addressing a vocational calling, who think that non-Jewish infant males should not be circumcised.[6] There are others, who think that physical circumcision as a medical practice, is hardly prohibited, but that some of the traditional Jewish ceremonies and blessings involving the naming of a male child, should be reserved for infant males of Messianic Jewish and intermarried couples. Another sort of ceremony or child dedication should be practiced to bless a non-Jewish infant male. Significant questions are posed for the future, given how in the Millennial Kingdom, no one uncircumcised of heart or flesh can enter into the Lord’s sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:9).[7]

Water Immersion

Within the broad Christian tradition, to be sure, some significance is placed on what is customarily called “baptism.” Baptism as an English term is widely derived from the Greek verb baptizō and Greek noun baptisma. The verb baptizō appears in not just the Greek New Testament or Apostolic Scriptures, but also the Septuagint, or ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanach. As is noted by the Thayer lexicon, baptizō can mean “to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water.”[8] Due to much of the socio-religious associations that can go along with the English term “baptism,” the Messianic community tends to employ the more neutral term “immersion.” It is also quite common to hear the term mikveh employed, representative of a “gathering of water, esp. the ritual bath of purification” (Jastrow).[9] Many of the debates that take place in Protestantism, to be sure, involving “baptism,” do not need to be repeated in today’s Messianic congregations.

While Believers in Israel’s Messiah can often conclude that water immersion is something which is only witnessed in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), water immersion for Believers is rooted in the purification rituals of the Tanach (cf. Exodus 29:1, 4; Leviticus 17:15-16; Psalm 51:2). Individuals, and certainly members of the Levitical priesthood, had to typically go through a ritual purification in water, before approaching God in the Tabernacle or Temple. In Second Temple times, water immersion was required of new proselytes to Judaism, who would often be regarded as “born again” (b.Yevamot 48b). Yet, Jewish persons would often go through ritual immersion in water for other reasons in life, namely to denote a significant status change. When John, the precursor of Yeshua of Nazareth, arrived on the scene immersing people in water, it was precisely so that they could be called to repentance and be readied to recognize the coming Messiah (Matthew 3:4-6; John 1:24-25; cf. Matthew 3:13-17).

Water immersion following salvation (cf. Matthew 28:19-20), was deemed quite critical for new Believers in the First Century C.E. Those who were saved on the day of Shavuot/Pentecost were immersed in water (Acts 2:38), as were Cornelius and his companions when the good news was declared to them by Peter (Acts 10:45-48). The total immersion of a human person into water following a declaration of faith in Israel’s Messiah, is to not only signify a status change (Romans 6:6-7), but also for one to be identified with His death, burial, and resurrection: “Or do you not know that all of us who were immersed into Messiah Yeshua were immersed into His death? Therefore we were buried together with Him through immersion into death—in order that just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become joined together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also will be joined together in His resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5, TLV).

Messianic Jewish Believers can, at times, have some initial difficulty with water immersion as a part of coming to faith, because of forced baptisms enacted during the Middle Ages by Roman Catholicism. Frequently, European Jews were forced to convert and be baptized, or they could face seizure of property, deportation, or even death.[10] Non-Jewish Believers from evangelical Protestant backgrounds—particularly where “Believer’s baptism” was practiced—can have difficulty with not necessarily seeing how water immersion is rooted within Tanach purification rituals, but how the Jewish mikveh is something which has a wider range of applications. While the most important status change for a man or woman, is when he or she receives the salvation of Yeshua—there are likely other times when going through water immersion may be something useful. In Orthodox Judaism, women are immersed in water following their menstrual cycle. People in today’s Messianic community, may decide to go through a mikveh when a significant status change in their life is about to take place. Your congregational leadership should be consulted, before you go through any water immersion. As obvious as it might be, while Messianic congregations frequently do not require one to be re-immersed for congregational membership—going through a mikveh might be something you find useful, should you enter into a new community of Messiah followers.[11]

Communion

Significant questions can be raised by various people entering into the Messianic movement, from evangelical backgrounds, particularly regarding what is done regarding the common practice of communion. In diverse Christian traditions, remembering the Last Supper of Yeshua can take place any number of ways and any number of times. Sometimes communion is weekly, sometimes it is monthly; sometimes communion is offered to all in church attendance, and sometimes it is only offered to members of a particular denomination or assembly. Sometimes Christian communion uses leavened bread and grape juice, and sometimes Christian communion uses an unleavened wafer and wine.[12]

Messianic people are of the broad conviction that what is commonly called the Last Supper, held between Yeshua and His Disciples before His execution, was actually a Passover seder meal. Yeshua’s establishment of the New Covenant, by referencing the elements of bread and wine, were conducted in association with the unleavened bread and wine of the traditional seder meal (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). While many Christians remember the Lord’s Supper via a weekly or annual communion, Messianic practice tends to be far more infrequent.

How do Messianic people approach “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26, TLV)? As indicated by the workbook Messianic Judaism Class, “Some interpret this to mean, ‘as often as you celebrate Pesakh, once per year. Some interpret this as every time you gather together. Some interpret this as one per week, month, quarter. Some interpret this as whenever you are guided by the Spirit.”[13] On the whole, within the broad Messianic community, the Lord’s Supper will be remembered within the context of the Passover seder, making it an annual serious occurrence. If the Lord’s Supper is at all honored a bit more regularly, it will likely be observed at some kind of a private prayer meeting, employing unleavened bread and grape juice.

Consult Your Rabbi

The four areas we have just covered: bar/bat mitzvah, circumcision, water immersion, and communion, are areas where today’s Messianic movement is admittedly still developing and exploring. The way that these practices are observed and applied in one congregation, is not likely to be the same as they are observed in another congregation. In the customary packaging for items labeled as “Kosher for Passover,” one also frequently finds “Consult your Rabbi.” This means that there might be some questions that need to be asked of one’s local, spiritual leader. And indeed, when it involves bar/bat mitzvah, circumcision, water immersion, communion, or some other significant practice witnessed in today’s Body of Messiah—your local, spiritual leader(s) will likely need to be consulted. And, such leader(s) should be honest enough with you, to indicate those areas where the Messianic movement as a whole is in need of some further theological refinement.

The admonition of Hebrews 13:17 directs Messiah followers to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as ones who must give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no benefit to you” (TLV). Yet, all of us—recognizing a few of the present difficulties of our still-emerging and developing Messianic faith community—have at times been in (strong) disagreement with congregational leadership, over a particular issue or two. We need to each recognize how there is only one Messianic movement, and it is very small. None of the subjects we have just talked about, should merit one leaving a congregation or assembly, if you have a disagreement with your congregational leadership—or more likely some (outspoken) people within your congregation—over their implementation and application. Instead, we should each learn to give one another the space that we need to live out a Messianic walk of faith, and also respect the individual and familial needs of other people.


NOTES

[1] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[2] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 1.

[3] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[6] There is no agreement among examiners whether 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, and its reference to “Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20, American Standard Version), relates to a vocational calling or a calling into salvation and sanctification.

The latter position is what the author ascribes to, based on the Greek source text and related statements in the Pauline letters. Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “1 Corinthians 7:17-24.”

[7] For a further review, consult the author’s article “Is Circumcision for Everyone?”, appearing in Torah in the Balance, Volume II.

[8] Thayer, 94.

[9] Jastrow, 829.

[10] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 63.

[11] For a further review, consult the article “The Waters of Immersion,” appearing in Torah in the Balance, Volume II.

[12] For a further review, consult Paul E. Engle, ed., Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

[13] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 67.