Mark Huey

April 2017 Outreach Israel News


OIM Update

April 2017

Late last month the senior director of partner relations for the Joseph Project and I were on a trip to East Texas to meet some people, who have been faithful supporters of that humanitarian aid effort in Israel. When we got back to Dallas, Margaret and John had dinner with us, where they had an opportunity to get better acquainted with our new friend. During our conversation about how the Lord is using the donations of people to minister to the needy in Israel, I was taken aback by the term “restitution” used by John, to describe what he has noted for years in his study of the Holy Scriptures. Since he had recently completed his commentary on 2 Corinthians, the subject of taking offerings from the First Century assemblies of the Mediterranean Diaspora to minister to the saints in Jerusalem, was something he had recently written about. He had noted parallels between the Apostle Paul taking monetary gifts from the Greek and Roman Believers to Jerusalem to bring physical relief to needy Jewish Believers, and how that was a nascent prophetic fulfillment of the wealth of the nations streaming to Zion in the Last Days.

Needless to say, I had never considered the concept of “financial restitution” when reflecting on the prophesied restoration of all things noted in Acts 3:19-21. But I was aware of verses like the following that dealt with the wealth of people and nations:

“And the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22).

“Foreigners will build up your walls, and their kings will minister to you; for in My wrath I struck you, and in My favor I have had compassion on you. Your gates will be open continually; they will not be closed day or night, so that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. For the nation and the kingdom which will not serve you will perish, and the nations will be utterly ruined” (Isaiah 60:10-12).

In addition, when we were discussing the fulfillment of the many prophecies regarding the restoration of Israel and how the past seventy years have seen incredible progress in the Land of Israel, the mention of the concept of “restitution” made me think about God’s perfect justice with the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As a congregation, we had just been through the commemoration of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people, as found in the Book of Esther. I recalled the edict of King Ahasuerus that not only protected the Jews, but allowed them to be enriched by the wealth of Persia:

“In them the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them, including children and women, and to plunder their spoil, on one day in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (that is, the month Adar)” (Esther 8:11-12).

Contemporaneously, we had just studied through the Book of Exodus with the Passover seder rapidly approaching. As a result, I had a memory flash about what happened to the Israelites when they were preparing to leave Egypt. These verses came to mind, as the distinctive term “restitution” of wealth from the plunder of the Egyptians could conceptually be a repayment for years of bondage in Egypt:

“I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:21-22).

Next month, I will be writing an article that addresses God’s Justice and Restitution. This month we have featured an excerpt from the forthcoming book Salvation on the Line: The Nature of Yeshua and His Divinity—Gospels and Acts. It addresses the scene of Yeshua walking on water in Mark 6:45-52 and Matthew 14:22-33, which has key Tanach background in the parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus—in addition to Yeshua speaking forth “I am” and being worshipped.

We want to encourage everyone to download the new Messianic Apologetics app for their iPhone or Android. It is available for free in both the iTunes store and on Google Play!

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 the nature of Yeshua, His 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,

Mark Huey


Yeshua Calms the Wind and the Sea, and is Worshipped

by J.K. McKee
editor@messianicapologetics.net

This entry has been reproduced from the forthcoming book
Salvation on the Line: The Nature of Yeshua and His Divinity

“Immediately Yeshua made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, ‘Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.’ Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened” (Mark 6:45-52).

“Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear. But immediately Yeshua spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Yeshua. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Yeshua stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” (Matthew 14:22-33).

The scene of Yeshua walking on water, for advocates of either a high Christology of Yeshua being God, or a low Christology of Yeshua being a created agent of God, obviously indicate that Yeshua possesses significant supernatural power. When the Disciples had gone off on a boat journey across the Sea of Galilee, their Teacher had gone off to pray. The boat was being tossed to and fro, and as the Messiah walked on the water to His Disciples, they thought that they were seeing a ghost or phantasma (Mark 6:49; Matthew 14:26). Yeshua assured them that it is, in fact, Him (Mark 6:50; Matthew 14:27). Peter beckoned to Yeshua, actually getting out of the boat to meet Him, but then started sinking due to his doubt (Matthew 14:28-30). The wind stopped when Yeshua got into the boat, and the water was calmed (Mark 6:51; Matthew 14:32). While having hard hearts (Mark 6:52), not fully recognizing or processing everything, their reaction was one of veneration toward their Master (Matthew 14:33).

Yeshua walking on water is important for Christological evaluation because (1) of the obvious miracle witnessed in Yeshua walking on water, (2) of Yeshua’s identification of Himself to the Disciples in the boat, and (3) the Disciples’ response in venerating Yeshua.

That God has supreme power, over the sea and the waves, is testified by Psalm 77:16-20:

“The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were in anguish; the deeps also trembled. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there. The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known. You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

It may indeed be that the sentiment of the Psalmist, “Your way was through the sea, Your path, through the mighty waters; Your tracks could not be seen” (Psalm 77:20, NJPS), could be applied to the ability of Yeshua to walk on the water. Peter, notably, was unable to walk on the water himself, without asking the Messiah to command him to come meet Him (Matthew 14:28). Isaiah 51:9 attests, “Was it not You who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed to cross over?” Yeshua, concurrent with this, walked on the water and had the ability to stop the waters.

More theological attention is notably given to the self-identification statements of the Messiah in Mark 6:50 and Matthew 14:27, which a version like the NASU has as, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Significant discussions abound, as the source text has egō eimi, more literally “I am,” and whether or not Yeshua’s self-identification of “I am” is to be associated with the self-identification of the LORD or YHWH in the Tanach, in some key places where the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew has notably employed egō eimi or “I am”:

“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Exodus 3:14).

“‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange god among you; so you are My witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘And I am God. Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?’” (Isaiah 43:10-13).

In the theophany of the burning bush, the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh, in Exodus 3:14, was translated by the Septuagint as egō eimi ho ōn. In the oracle of Isaiah 43:10-13, where the God of Israel declares Himself to be the One True God and Savior, the Hebrew clause ki-ani hu, “that I am He,” was translated by the Septuagint as hoti egō eimi. It should hardly be surprising that when the source text of the Mark 6:50 and Matthew 14:27, incorporate egō eimi into Yeshua’s dialogue, examiners recognize that there might be a connection with Tanach or Old Testament passages such as Exodus 3:14 and Isaiah 43:10-13—and the self-identification of the LORD or YHWH. And, Yeshua speaking “I am” in Mark 6:50 and Matthew 14:27 is hardly isolated; Yeshua speaking “I am” is associated with His walking on water and calming the waves.

Commentators on both the Gospels of Mark[1] and Matthew have tended to positively weigh some kind of a connection between egō eimi and statements of self-identification appearing in the Tanach or Old Testament. Yet, not all English readers tend to detect egō eimi as being “I am.”

There is a variance of perspectives witnessed among English versions of Mark 6:50: thareite, egō eimi mē phobeisthe, with some having “I am,” and others having “it is I”:

  • “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (RSV).
  • “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (NIV).
  • “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (HCSB).
  • “Take heart! I AM! Stop being alarmed and afraid [Exod. 3:14.]” (The Amplified Bible).
  • “Have courage. I AM! Do not fear” (LITV).
  • “Take courage! I am. Do not be afraid” (TLV).

The variance of approaches for thareite, egō eimi mē phobeisthe is even witnessed in various interlinear resources, as Mounce and Mounce has, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid!”,[2] but with Brown and Comfort having, “Have courage, I am; do not be afraid.”[3] A selection of commentators on the Gospel of Mark, in evaluating the usage of egō eimi in Mark 6:50, have associated it with either the burning bush theophany of Exodus 3:14 or various other statements of the Lord’s or YHWH’s self-identification in the Tanach:

  • E.B. Cranfield: “[egō eimi]: the ordinary Greek for ‘it is I’. It is conceivable that Mark intends his readers to be reminded of the O.T. use of the expression in Exod. iii. 14; Isa. xli. 4, xliii. 10, liii. 6.”[4]
  • Alan Cole: “[I]n answering with the words It is I, Jesus may have been deliberately using the name of God (Ex. 3:14). This would have only increased the awe of the disciples, although it could also have given them a clue as to the true nature of Jesus, if their hearts had not been hardened (verse 50).”[5]
  • Larry W. Hurtado: “It is I: The Greek phrase used here can function simply as a self-identification. But it is used in the OT (e.g., Isa 43:25; 48:12; 51:12;) with special force as a formula for self-description by God, resembling the phrasing in Exod. 3:14 where God first reveals himself to Moses. Note especially how the whole passage in Isa. 51:9-16 is a most interesting background for the sea miracle account here. In Mark the phrase reappears on the lips of Jesus in the trial scene (14:62), and there, also, is probably intended as an allusion to these OT passages.”[6]
  • William L. Lane: “For Mark the event is a theophany, a manifestation of the transcendent Lord who will ‘pass by’ as God did at Sinai before Moses (Ex. 33:19, 22) or on Horeb before Elijah (I Kings 19:11)….The emphatic ‘I’ in verse 50 is ambiguous. It can be understood as a normal statement of identity (‘it is I, Jesus’), but it can also possess deeper significance as the recognized formula of self-revelation which rests ultimately on the ‘I am that I am’ of Ex. 3:14. Not only the immediate context of the walking upon the water but the words with which the emphatic ‘I’ is framed favor the theophanic interpretation. The admonitions to ‘take heart’ and to ‘have no fear’ which introduce and conclude the ‘I am he’ are an integral part of the divine formula of self-revelation (e.g. Ps. 115:9ff.; 118:5f.; Isa. 41:4ff., 13ff.; 43:1ff.; 51:9ff.).”[7]

There is a similar variance of perspectives witnessed among English versions of Matthew 14:27: thareite, egō eimi mē phobeisthe, with some having “I am,” and others having “it is I”:

  • “Take heart, it is I; have no fear” (RSV).
  • “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (NIV).
  • “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid” (HCSB).
  • “Take courage! I AM! Stop being afraid! [Exod. 3:14.]” (The Amplified Bible).
  • “Be comforted! I AM! Do not fear” (LITV).
  • “Take courage! I am. Don’t be afraid” (TLV).

The variance of approaches for thareite, egō eimi mē phobeisthe is also witnessed in various interlinear resources, as Mounce and Mounce has, “Take courage, it is I! Do not be afraid.”,[8] and with Brown and Comfort having, “Have courage, I am [here]. Do not be afraid.”[9] A selection of commentators on the Gospel of Matthew, in evaluating the usage of egō eimi in Matthew 14:27, just as with Mark 6:50, have associated it with either the burning bush theophany of Exodus 3:14 or various other statements of the Lord’s or YHWH’s self-identification in the Tanach:

  • Donald A. Hagner: “[egō eimi], ‘It is I,’ probably had a deeper meaning to Matthew and his readers than the simple self-identification of Jesus that it is to the disciples. In a theophany-like context such as this, the words allude to the definition of the name Yahweh ([egō eimi]=I AM) given in the LXX of Exod 3:14 (cf. Matt 22:32; John 8:58; Mark 14:62) and Isa 43:10; 51:12. God is present uniquely in Jesus.”[10]
  • Leon Morris: “In all three Gospels Jesus identifies himself with the words ‘it is I,’ employing the emphatic pronoun commonly used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament where God is the speaker. The expression is sometimes used in the Old Testament where God is revealing himself, such as ‘I am who I am’ (Exod. 3:14). Its use on the lips of Jesus at this point might perhaps be said to be natural under the circumstances. The disciples were scared and in need of reassurance; it was important that they should know right away that the one they were seeing was no ghost, so Jesus identifies himself. But the expression has overtones of deity, and who but God could walk on the stormy waters?”[11]
  • Michael J. Wilkins: “The disciples may be thinking that some evil spirit is attempting to deceive them. Jesus gives them immediate assurance that he is no deceptive evil spirit but truly their Master: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ The expression ‘It is I’ (lit. ‘I am’) may allude to the voice of Yahweh from the burning bush (Ex. 3:14) and the voice of assurance to Israel of the Lord’s identity and presence as their Savior (Isa. 43:10-13). Throughout this section Jesus continues to reveal his true nature to the disciples, and this powerful statement accords with his miraculous calming of the storm.”[12]

While He was walking on the water, and as He spoke forth “I am,” it is doubtful that the fearful Disciples understood everything that was going on. Only in retrospect of the encounter of Yeshua walking on water, and calming the waves, would they have been able to fully process what they experienced. In his commentary on Matthew, Nolland actually takes the approach that it is sufficient for egō eimi, for the identification of Yeshua to His Disciples, to serve as “It is I.” However, Nolland also concludes that egō eimi does likely involve some Tanach or Old Testament identification of God, given how the Disciples thought that they were witnessing a ghost:

“While an echo of the divine self-naming of the OT is possible, in the context of the emphatic [egō] (‘I’) in [egō eimi] (lit. ‘I am’) is sufficiently accounted for by the need for Jesus to identify himself as himself, over against the possibility that the disciples are encountering a parodying spirit (but perhaps [egō eimi] takes both roles simultaneously).”[13]

In their book Putting Jesus in His Place, Bowman and Komoszewski assert that there are explicit connections intended between the scene of the Messiah walking on water, and the Lord God operating in the parting of the Red Sea for the Ancient Israelites in the Book of Exodus:

“As various scholars, both conservative and liberal, have observed, the Gospel accounts of Jesus walking on the sea allude rather clearly to the account in Exodus 14-15 of the Israelites’ crossing of the Red Sea. The Israelites walked in ‘the midst of the sea’ (Exod. 14:16, 22, 27, 29 NASB) and crossed to the other side (Exod. 15:16). Likewise, the disciples’ boat was ‘in the middle of the sea’ (Mark 6:47 NASB) and they also ‘crossed over’ the sea (Mark 6:53). A strong wind from the east blew across the Red Sea and, close to daybreak, the Egyptians found it increasingly difficult to drive their chariots as they attempted to follow the Israelites (Exod. 14:21, 24-25). Likewise, an adverse wind blew across the Sea of Galilee and, based on the geography, it also would have been blowing from the east; this wind also blew close to daybreak and made it difficult for the disciples to row their boat (Mark 6:48). According to Mark, the disciples had the same problem as the Egyptians: their hearts were hardened (Exod. 14:4, 8, 17; Mark 6:52).

“…Jesus appears…to fulfill the role of a greater Moses and of Yahweh. Jesus’ response to his disciples’ fear encompasses both roles. Moses had told the Israelites ‘Take heart!’ (tharseite, Exod. 14:13 LXX) and Jesus told the disciples the same thing: ‘Take heart!’ (tharseite, Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50). But then Jesus added, ‘It is I [egō eimi]; do not be afraid!’ (Matt. 14:27; Mark 6:50; John 6:20). This statement echoes statements by the Lord God in Isaiah, where he speaks of a kind of ‘new Exodus’ when the Jews would be restored to their land…{quoting Isaiah 43:1-2, 5, 10, 15-16}…”[14]

Bowman and Komoszewski further associate the activity of the Lord God in the Tanach, with Yeshua the Messiah walking on the water, noting the response of worship to the Son of God, on behalf of the Disciples:

“The most striking aspect of the account, is, of course, Jesus’ actually walking on the sea. In the historical Exodus miracle, the Israelites crossed through the sea but on dry land. In later poetic reflection on this defining moment in Israel’s history, biblical authors pictured God walking on the sea…{quoting Psalm 77:16-20}…

“By walking out to the disciples’ boat on the sea, Jesus demonstrated a mastery over the forces of nature unparalleled among human beings. Moses was merely the human agent through whom the Lord led the Israelites across the dry bed of the Red Sea. Jesus walked across the raging waters of the Sea of Galilee and spoke divine words of assurance and sovereign control to his disciples. No wonder, according to Matthew, the disciples responded by worshiping Jesus and affirming that he was God’s Son (Matt. 14:33).”[15]

In the scene of Yeshua walking on the water, theologians, examiners, and readers who conclude that Yeshua is God, do not make this conclusion only on the basis of the Messiah walking on water as the Lord God is portrayed as being superior to the elements, or the Messiah just speaking “I am.” The response of the Disciples to what took place, is recorded in Matthew 14:33: hoi de en tō ploiō prosekunēsan autō, “And those in the boat worshiped Him” (TLV). While Matthew 14:33 includes a definite employment of the verb proskuneō or “worship,” various versions which are employed in either Messianic Judaism and/or the Hebrew/Hebraic Roots movement, indicate that their translators or publishers, are unsure about the kind of veneration issued by the Disciples to Yeshua:

  • “The men in the boat fell down before him” (CJB/CJSB).
  • “And those in the boat paid homage to Him” (Power New Testament).
  • “And those in the boat came and did bow to Him” (ISR Scriptures-2009).
  • “Those who were in the boat came and bowed down before him” (The Messianic Writings).

While it is lexically acceptable to render proskuneō in Matthew 14:33 as “bow down,” is it theologically acceptable? The honor displayed by the Disciples to Yeshua—in spite of them not fully processing all of the events—is religious veneration. Nolland broadly states, “There are those who discover, in their experience of being rescued by Jesus, that in Jesus they encounter God, worship God, and Jesus as the Son of God.”[16] Morris is more assertive, concluding, “The experiences of seeing Jesus walk on the water and then of seeing him call Peter to walk there and of delivering that disciple when his faith failed made a profound impression; as a result they worshipped Jesus…It betokens the worship that should be offered to deity and thus shows us the effect the incident had had on those who saw it all.”[17]

As obvious as it might be, upon Yeshua getting into the boat and the waves being calmed, the Disciples could have all simply quieted themselves and wondered. Or they could have actually been said to have remembered their Israelite ancestors crossing the Red Sea. Instead, they worshipped Yeshua. And how serious is this? If Yeshua is not God, the One who identifies Himself as the “I am,” then to worship Yeshua would be to commit idolatry against the God of Israel. Wellum properly notes how “when Jesus was on earth, he received the praise and worship given to him without ever rebuking the persons who acted in this way (Matt. 14:33; 21:15-16; 28:9, 17; John 20:28; cf. 5:22-23).”[18] Yeshua did not refuse the Disciples’ worship of Him. In his book Jesus and the God of Israel, Richard Bauckham concurs,

“Matthew’s consistent use of the word proskunein, and his emphasis on the point, show that he intends a kind of reverence which, paid to any other human being, he would have regarded as idolatrous. This is reinforced by the fact that his unparalleled uses tend to be in epiphanic contexts (Matt. 2:2, 8, 11; 14:33; 28:9, 17). Combined with his emphasis on the presence of the exalted Christ among his people (18:20; 28:20), Matthew’s use must reflect the practice of the worship of Jesus in the [First Century] church.”[19]

The scene of Yeshua walking on the water, Yeshua declaring Himself to be “I am,” and Yeshua subsequently being worshipped by His Disciples—are together all strong signs of His Divinity. Many people throughout religious history who have concluded that Yeshua the Messiah is God, integrated into the Divine Identity, have not just made this conclusion on the basis of blind religious dogma. If Yeshua were just a created supernatural agent, we would not expect Him to just say “I am” as God at the burning bush, or permit Himself to be worshipped.


NOTES

[1] France, Mark, 273 fn#71 is one who notably takes a negative view of any association of egō eimi in Mark 6:50 with various Tanach statements of the LORD’s or YHWH’s self-identification.

[2] Mounce and Mounce, 156.

[3] Brown and Comfort, 144.

[4] Cranfield, Mark, 227.

[5] Cole, Mark, 180.

[6] Larry W. Hurtado, New International Biblical Commentary: Mark (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1989), 106.

[7] Lane, Mark, 237.

[8] Mounce and Mounce, 58.

[9] Brown and Comfort, 56.

[10] Donald A. Hagner. Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 14-28, Vol 33b (Dallas: Word Books, 1995), 423.

[11] Morris, Matthew, 382.

[12] Michael J. Wilkins, NIV Application Commentary: Matthew (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 516.

[13] Nolland, Matthew, 601.

[14] Bowman and Komoszewski, pp 204-205.

[15] Ibid., pp 205-206.

[16] Nolland, Matthew, 603.

[17] Morris, Matthew, 384.

[18] Wellum, “The Deity of Christ in the Apostolic Witness,” in The Deity of Christ, 142.

[19] Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 131.

Tazria-Metzora

Tazria-Metzora

She Conceives
Infected One

“Clean! Clean!”

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

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Every year, in a systematic fashion through the consistent study of the Torah, we have an excellent opportunity to review one of the most devastating transgressions that plagues not only the human race, but even those within the community of faith. With the double portion of Tazria-Metzora, the issues regarding unclean and clean and their relationship to leprosy (Heb. tzara’at), are once again considered:

“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 13:45-46).

For centuries the Jewish Rabbis have taught that this text, which addresses a wide array of physical issues, actually reaches beyond the physical dimension and reflects upon a person’s spiritual condition. One of the challenges that faces all people is the reality of our fallen nature. Whether a person believes the fact that he or she is a recipient of the Fall in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 3:16-19), the empirical evidence speaks for itself.

Fallen humanity is burdened with various degrees of understanding or misunderstanding inherited from tasting the forbidden fruit. The problems generated affect all of us, and Ancient Israel even though chosen by God as His special people, was not exempted. Israel was called by the Lord, however, to obey Him and be a testament to the rest of the world so that all might be redeemed. The Bible is a Divine chronicle of what the Creator wants to convey to the world, so that all might have reconciliation and redemption. The problem is that all of us have to constantly battle with a proclivity to follow the ways of our flesh instead of turning toward God for our salvation and deliverance.

Speak No Evil

Traditionally in Judaism the material of Tazria-Metzora and the law of leprosy (Leviticus chs. 13-14) has been probed beyond just the need for a leper to be physically cleansed of the ailment, but has been viewed as the root of what the Sages refer to as lashon ha’ra or “the evil tongue.” J.H. Hertz details how “The Rabbis regard leprosy as a Providential affliction in punishment for slander or tale bearing….; thus teaching that the slanderer is a moral leper, and should find no place in the camp of Israel.”[1]

One of the most prevalent calamities that can infect the human soul is the inherent need to build oneself up, and in so doing, in the deep recesses of the mind, a person can attempt to justify, or at the very least, cover up and deny his or her sin nature. One of the most frequent ways to enhance one’s personal image and self-estimation is to put other people down and to disparage them. This can occur by leveling insults against someone, thinking oneself to be superior, or by simply hating another person. By doing so, this allows the sinner to believe that he or she is better than the one being disparaged. The Scriptures are replete with admonitions against this, as God’s people are to be those who fight against the temptation to look down upon others with discord and revulsion (cf. James 3:9)! This is most especially true when negative thoughts and feelings manifest in the spoken (or even written) word. Consider this admonition from Proverbs regarding how vile the Holy One considers improper use of the tongue, among other bad things:

“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).

Upon reading this, it seems likely that there are six major causes of lashon ha’ra or the evil tongue. They all originate from “A mind that hatches evil plots” (NJPS), because what comes forth from our mouths somehow originates with us. Yeshua taught that what comes out of one’s mouth is often a reflection on the wicked nature of one’s inner person:

“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” (Matthew 15:18-19).

As you read this instruction from the Messiah, did you notice His use of the words “false testimonies [and] blasphemies[2]” (HCSB)? These are two of the most vicious forms of killing that are present in our age today—and they go far beyond homicide. In fact, when you compare the difference between physical murder and the chronic character assassination perpetrated by a false witness against a person by slander, you might conclude that to be murdered is (sometimes) preferred over the possible perpetual consequences of lies. An example to be considered is that slander against another is like tearing open a feather pillow that has been cast into the wind. There is no way to recapture all of the feathers that have been blown in all sorts of directions!

Due to the fallen nature of humans, with our proclivity to want to feel better about ourselves more than what reality often dictates, when gossip or rumor or slander of false witness is heard, there is a natural inclination to want to share such “juicy news” with others. This innate problem in our psyche has the effect of not only spreading a bad word, but it often goes in every direction and lands down upon others at almost any unexpected time. Even though attempts can be made to stop such sinful news, it is impossible for it to stop, just like it is impossible to collect all the feathers from a pillow that has been ripped in two.

Unclean and Clean

I hope that you can see some of the reasons why these Torah passages deal with the condition of unclean versus being clean. When reviewing Leviticus chs. 13-14, and looking at some of the statements made about skin conditions and different conditions because of various excretions from the body—you should see that a point being made is that for a considerable amount of time during the normal course of our lives, men and women are simply in a state of “uncleanness.” Our tendency to be unclean is something we cannot do very much about, with having leprosy as one of the most significant forms of uncleanness. A condition of physical uncleanness should highlight the spiritual cleanness we can only have via the salvation of the Messiah Yeshua!

There is a prophetic picture seen in the Book of Ezekiel, which does an excellent job at describing some of the inherent problems associated with being spiritually unclean. The Prophet Ezekiel was moved by the Lord to speak forth on how sinfully unclean Israel has been, but in the end how He will restore Israel, and the people will all be clean once again:

“Son of man, when the house of Israel was living in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds; their way before Me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity. Therefore I poured out My wrath on them for the blood which they had shed on the land, because they had defiled it with their idols. Also I scattered them among the nations and they were dispersed throughout the lands. According to their ways and their deeds I judged them. When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD; yet they have come out of His land.’ But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. Moreover, I will save you from all your uncleanness; and I will call for the grain and multiply it, and I will not bring a famine on you’” (Ezekiel 36:17-29).

In this passage, Ezekiel compared Israel to a woman in a major state of menstrual uncleanness. Because Israel did not walk in obedience before the Lord, it was scattered to the nations and punished. In spite of the gross sin committed, however, God Himself will restore His people and declare them to be clean (Heb. tahor) before Him. Israel will be forgiven of its idolatrous sins of filth, and be supernaturally empowered to keep God’s Torah.

When I think of the process of God making each of us clean by the power of the gospel, I am most prompted to consider Paul’s words about Yeshua dying for us as the ekklēsia, and us being washed by the water of the message:

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved the [assembly] and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26).

What is perhaps important to note is that the “word” being referred to here is rhēma, meaning “that which is said or spoken, a word, saying” (LS).[3] While we all must be made clean by the continual study of God’s written Word, has He spoken the words “Clean, clean!” over us as a result of our being convicted by Scripture? The key “spoken word” that is to make each of us clean is that quintessential declaration “Yeshua is Lord!” (Romans 10:9), as we acknowledge Him as the Supreme One to whom all must give honor and worship (Philippians 2:10; cf. Isaiah 45:23).

As Ezekiel continues his prophecy, he talks about the new heart of flesh that God is going to give His people in order for them to be able to fully obey Him, and experience all of the blessings that He has in store:

“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

Along with Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-27 is regarded as a key Tanakh attestation to the New Covenant that Yeshua inaugurated by His very sacrifice (cf. Luke 22:20).[4]

As I contemplated these verses in light of what Tazria-Metzora admonishes us this week, I have readily concluded that a heart of flesh, washed by the message of the gospel, with the Spirit of God indwelling us—is the only way to enter into a degree of being clean before a holy and righteous God. Attaining “cleanness” by human means is something that is almost impossible, given the proclivities of the sinful world in which we live. The Apostle Paul understood the absolute need for us to be made into new creatures, so that we might be transformed into those significant vessels able to function in the Master’s service:

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Messiah according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

The Apostle Peter also reflects on this, indicating that we can partake of Messiah Yeshua by exhibiting His Divine qualities in the world around us:

“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:4-9).

Both of these Apostles were urging the First Century Believers to take their purification in Yeshua most seriously. When you see the character traits that Messiah followers should be evidencing as a result of being made clean, you will find that they are the exact opposites of the evil sins and behavior that cause malicious gossip and slander to manifest.

Those who perpetually operate in lashon ha’ra, and yet to some degree claim to know Yeshua or Jesus, may not be as much immature as they may still have a fallen, unregenerated heart of stone. We need to pray that they are convicted by God’s Word so that they can be saved and cleansed by the Lord, and that He can pronounce “Clean!” over them. Some might be reading the Word, but things are not changing in their stony hearts. Instead, they continue to evidence common sinful traits like the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). These are the people who speak words of destruction from their mouths, rather than words of life and edification to others.

The only solution to all of these maladies, whether they are spots on one’s skin, lips that attempt to praise God when the heart is far removed from Him, or speaking slander and false witness against one’s brethren, is only embodied in the faithful decision to confess the inherent need mortals have for a Divine Savior.

Understand your need for a Redeemer! Confess and repent of your individual sins and transgressions, and cry out to the Lord for mercy! In His mercy to you, as a result of the sacrifice of His Son, you can be transformed into a new creature and be made clean (Revelation 7:14). With your new heart of flesh, you will be compelled by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to continue to be cleansed as you grow in your love for God because of the work He has done to make you His own.


NOTES

[1] Hertz, Pentateuch & Haftorahs, 461.

[2] Grk. pseudomarturiai, blasphēmiai.

[3] LS, 717.

[4] Consult the article “What is the New Covenant?” by J.K. McKee.

Shemini

Shemini

Eighth

“Be Ye Holy”

Leviticus 9:1-11:47
2 Samuel 6:1-7:17 (A); 6:1-19 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Previously in Tzav (Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36), Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated for seven days in order for them to be ordained into the priestly service (Leviticus 8:33). Having completed this seven-day period of cleansing and dedication, our Torah portion for this week, Shemini or “Eighth,” now begins:

“Now it came about on the eighth day [b’yom ha’sh’mini] that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel” (Leviticus 9:1).

Aaron and his sons have been consecrated to God and they can begin to offer up the various sacrifices for themselves and the Israelites. Further on, we read that after the different sacrifices have been made on the altar, the glory of God appeared among the people of Israel:

“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD [kavod-ADONAI] appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:22-24).

In an awesome display of His holiness, Aaron the high priest blessed the people of Israel, and a fire consumed the burnt offering. The Israelites shouted and fell on their faces. The Lord was pleased with their obedience and He accepted their offerings.

Within some undetermined amount of time, tragedy came upon the family of Aaron. For unknown reasons, Aaron’s two sons Nadab and Abihu, presented unauthorized fire before the Lord. In His displeasure He consumed them with a fire from the altar. When you reflect upon the descriptive verses, you can readily conclude that reverence, respect, and awe for the God of Israel are things that He requires of all His servants:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire [eish zarah] before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD” (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Nadab and Abihu did something which God considered grossly disrespectful of His holiness. This is explained to Aaron, who in his pain of loss simply remained silent:

“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.”’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent” (Leviticus 10:3).

However, within a few short verses, our parashah turns to the problem of serving the Lord while under the intoxicating influence of “wine or other fermented drink” (Leviticus 10:9, NIV). Various readers have thought that Nadab and Abihu could have been drunk while offering the strange fire before the Lord, accounting for their lack of reverence before God. As an example for generations since, the dramatic loss of their lives by a consuming fire has indelibly reminded people in positions of spiritual responsibility that the Lord requires absolute sobriety and attention placed upon Him, when one is conducting ministerial duties:

“Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean” (Leviticus 10:9-10).

Separation Unto Him

Continuing the account, we see a link between not being intoxicated with alcohol and the requirement upon God’s people to make a distinction between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean. This is where the balance of Shemini begins to rivet our attention. The Hebrew verb badal, generally meaning “be divided, separate” (BDB),[1] is frequently used, and becomes the primary emphasis of thought. The royal priesthood, the nation of priests, and all the community of Israel who have been called out to be, as Isaiah declared centuries later a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), are commanded to make a distinction between the holy and profane, and to understand the difference between the clean and unclean.

When you see a cursory usage of the verb badal, you find that it is used in the Hebrew Scriptures in a total of 41 verses.[2] It is used three times at the beginning of Genesis. I would submit that its high occurrence in the opening statements of the Torah is something for Bible readers to take note of:

“God saw that the light was good; and God separated [badal] the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate [badal] the waters from the waters.’  God made the expanse, and separated [badal] the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so” (Genesis 1:4-7).

Here, we see a major description of the separation of light from darkness. How more vivid a picture would you like to see of separation? Badal is employed to describe the distinction between the dry expanse and the waters, and the separation between the sky and ground. When we move forward to this week’s Torah portion, the concept of understanding the difference between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean, is about as stark a contrast as the human mind can possibly fathom. Consequently, God’s people should be those with the ability to determine what is holy and what is clean.

In His mercy God chose Israel to communicate His requirement to separate the things that are holy from the things that are profane. The Lord made this clear to Moses as the Ancient Israelites left Egypt, and as they were preparing to receive the Ten Commandments:

“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 [goy qadosh]. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).

Moses will repeat these same declarations to the Israelites in the Book of Deuteronomy, as he summarized the works that God had performed for them, prior to their entry into the Promised Land:

“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God [ki am qadosh atah l’ADONAI Elohekha]; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

The Prophet Isaiah reiterates the call of Israel to be a nation of priests unto the Lord:

“But you will be called the priests of the LORD; you will be spoken of as ministers of our God. You will eat the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast” (Isaiah 61:6).

Finally, in the Apostolic Scriptures, we see that the Apostle Peter appropriates the declarations of Moses and the Prophets as he exhorts all Believers in Yeshua to be who they have been called to be. He emphasizes his point by writing how people in the Messiah have been brought out of darkness and into the light of God:

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE [Isaiah 43:20], A royal PRIESTHOOD [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], A HOLY NATION [Exodus 19:6], A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION [Isaiah 43:21; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY [Hosea 2:23]” (1 Peter 2:9-10).[3]

Clean and Unclean

Moving through Shemini, the balance of the narrative goes into great detail discussing the kosher dietary laws which summarize what God considers clean and unclean animals for human consumption (Leviticus 11:1-47). Moses categorically lists what the Lord considers to be edible an inedible for His people, in terms of what is clean and unclean.

Does the Holy One of Israel know what is best for the human diet? Some say yes, but others are not so sure. Compliance with the dietary laws of Scripture is usually not a problem for those who are following the Torah’s other commandments. Within the broad Messianic community, Jewish Believers are among those with the least amount of hang-ups and difficulties in terms of following kashrut law. Non-Jewish Believers entering into the Messianic movement do have various levels of difficulty when it comes to the kosher issue. This is largely because of certain passages in the Apostolic Scriptures (i.e., Acts 10:1-16; 11:1-10; Romans 14:14; Colossians 2:16; 1 Timothy 4:1-5) which are commonly interpreted as negating the significance of the Biblical dietary laws. Each one of these passages, to be certain, is worthy of some careful re-reading and consideration of their ancient context.[4]

In spite of any claims that the kosher dietary laws are unimportant, the Biblical requirement to be holy just as God is holy still remains. The steadfast expectation for God’s people to be holy, perhaps ironically, appears within the very chapter of the Torah that details the significance of kashrut! When the Apostle Peter quotes from Leviticus 11:44-45, is he at all emphasizing the need to be holy by eating kosher?

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45).

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY’ [Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7]” (1 Peter 14:13-16).[5]

In 1 Peter 14:13-16, the Apostle applies the various principles we see in Shemini into a short admonition, to direct his audience to see the bankruptcy of their sinful behavior prior to their salvation. He directs them to “not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (RSV). He wants them to turn from any sin still present in their lives, and turn toward godly and holy behavior. It just so happens that the text he quotes relates to eating kosher.

There is a distinct link in Peter’s words to the possible problem that Nadab and Abihu had with alcohol. Peter reminds his readers to be sober, employing the verb nēphō, “to drink no wine” (LS).[6] Many in Peter’s audience were raised in pagan cultures where unclean meats were eaten. When he talks about the cravings that they experienced as sinners, could this likewise pertain to what they would eat? Keep in mind the fact that at many Roman parties, people would sit and drink, consume so-called “delicacies” (unclean things), and frequently engage in group-related sexual activities. How many of us ever connect drinking, eating, and ungodly sex? In the First Century, it was a bit more common than it is today. And, eating according to God’s Instruction is only one of many areas where the behavior of Messiah followers is to surely be set-apart!

“Be Ye Holy”

Some of you who might be reading this Torah commentary may have not yet concluded that the kosher dietary laws bear any relevance to you. I would ask you to give the words of Moses, Peter, and others some consideration. After all, as God’s people and His representatives in the world, we are commanded to be holy or separated out. Is one way for this to be accomplished, by only eating what God considers clean meat? We are surely to be priests unto Him, who are to demonstrate to the whole world the difference between the holy and profane—between what is acceptable and unacceptable. If we cannot control our intake of alcohol or our choice of the animals we eat, then is it possible that He will chastise us or penalize us as His designated representatives? I pray that you will consider these things as you approach the Lord this week in prayer and study of His Word.

It is very important for each one of us to seek a holiness that comes by obeying God’s commandments. By obeying God, we have been designated as a holy and set-apart people for His own possession. Once you truly recognize that you are His and blessings can abound by obeying Him, pleasing Him via a Spirit-led obedience is a delight beyond all of the desires or cravings of the flesh. And so I urge you: be ye holy!


NOTES

[1] BDB, 95.

[2] This figure was determined using a lemma search of the Hebrew Tanakh (WTT) in BibleWorks 8.0.

[3] Aland, GNT, 789.

[4] For a further discussion, consult the article “To Eat or Not to Eat?” by J.K. McKee.

Be aware that Messianic Apologetics will be releasing a Messianic Kosher Helper sometime in the future, which will address both the significance and theology of kashrut.

[5] Aland, GNT, 786.

[6] LS, 532.

Tzav

Tzav

Give an Order

“Kindness, Justice, Righteousness”

Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36
Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-23


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

While reading about the different offerings instructed, and the variety of sacrificial procedures in this week’s Torah portion, you can easily see how God was very specific about the guilt offering,[1] burnt offering,[2] grain offering,[3] sin offering,[4] and peace offering.[5] After detailing these specific offerings and their associated procedures, Leviticus ch. 8 describes how Aaron and his sons were to be consecrated as priests before the Lord. For the first time in the history of Israel, the high priest and the attendant priests are set-apart for service unto God and the people. Our parashah closes with a final word that seems to punctuate this selection of teaching in Leviticus chs. 6-8:

“Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses” (Leviticus 8:36).

For centuries, Ancient Israel attempted to follow these instructions with varying degrees of zeal and accuracy. The Tabernacle migrated throughout the wilderness, into the Promised Land to the period of the Judges and onto Shiloh, to ultimately be placed on Mount Moriah, when a magnificent Temple by the direction of King Solomon would finally be constructed. Thereafter, Israel had a more permanent place to bring their respective offerings. But apparently by the time of the Prophet Jeremiah, the intentions of the offerings had digressed to various perversions that were rampant among the people. If you take the time to read the context of our coupled Haftarah reading (Jeremiah 7:21-8:3; 9:22-24), you should be appalled by the declension to idolatry, theft, murder, adultery, and even child sacrifice. Jeremiah even prophesied that the Temple will end up like Shiloh and that the Southern Kingdom of Judah will be scattered just like the Northern Kingdom exiles had been two centuries earlier:

“‘And now, because you have done all these things,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer, therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim’” (Jeremiah 7:13-15).

Jeremiah makes the following opening remarks from this week’s Haftarah selection:

“For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you’” (Jeremiah 7:22-23).

When the Prophet Jeremiah declared God’s word, “when I brought your forefathers out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices” (NIV), is this at all to be taken as a contradiction of the commandments witnessed in Leviticus chs. 6-8? Or, is Jeremiah’s declaration intended to have a deeper understanding to a generation that has fallen into disloyalty and irreverence before God?

What Jeremiah says is that God is most concerned that the people obey His voice! If they do so, then they will have the Lord as their God, they will be His people, and they will be blessed by Him. God is more concerned with a personal and steadfast obedience from His people, and their loyalty to Him, than with them presenting Him burnt offerings and sacrifices offered in a hollow spirit.

When you reflect upon Jeremiah 7:22-23, and realize that the sins of the Southern Kingdom were greatly abominable—to the point of child sacrifice being present—the significance of Jeremiah’s prophetic utterance should take on some brevity. The word delivered indicates that a violent destruction of great parts of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and even the beloved city of Jerusalem, were coming because of the terrible deeds committed by the people. We even see that those of the Southern Kingdom would largely choose death rather than life, even in the places where they will be scattered:

“‘And death will be chosen rather than life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family, that remains in all the places to which I have driven them,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Jeremiah 8:3).

Such concluding remarks are so disturbing that the Jewish Sages decided to add a few verses from Jeremiah 9, in order to allow the tradition of giving hope to the reader so that one’s study may end positively:

“‘Speak, “Thus says the LORD, ‘The corpses of men will fall like dung on the open field, and like the sheaf after the reaper, but no one will gather them.’” Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 9:22-24).

While reading these final verses from our Haftarah portion, what is the redundant nature of the various offerings described in Tzav supposed to communicate to us? They are certainly very meaningful and specific instructions, with the Lord most concerned about detail and compliance. Yet, in lieu of our modern era—and especially in light of the ultimate sacrifice for sin performed by the Messiah Yeshua at Golgotha (Calvary)—I personally found that it was much easier to identify with Jeremiah’s statements. Jeremiah was speaking to a religious and secular audience that is very similar to the one we cohabit within our current generation.

What delights the Holy One of Israel is that people can boast and exclaim of personal knowledge, understanding, and grand experiences partaken of in Him. By knowing the Lord, a person should understand that He exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness. It is these three attributes which summarize the infinite love that our Creator has for His human creatures! When you take the time to review these awesome attributes, you will discover that when we mirror these attributes, we are a delight to Him.

While meditating upon these character traits, it is difficult to not consider a statement made by the Messiah to some of the religious leaders of His day, who He rebuked for their hypocrisy:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24).

Yeshua’s words parallel those of Jeremiah, in stating how obeying the Torah will reflect the graceful attributes of our Heavenly Father. The “weightier matters” of Moses’ Teaching are what we should all be seeking to demonstrate in our own maturation of faith. We should ask ourselves if we are extending justice to those who are oppressed. Do we show mercy and lovingkindness to those who need it? What about faith and how it relates to righteousness? Is it not by faith that we are considered righteous?

“Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

What is our faith focused upon? Is it upon the variety of offerings and animal sacrifices that we read about in Tzav this week? Surely these things are of the faith, but they cannot provide us with the internal confidence and trust in our Creator which only comes by us focusing our complete attention upon Him. And, for the Ancient Israelites who made these sacrifices with pure intentions, there were limitations in that they could not provide a permanent degree of atonement and/or restitution before the Holy One. Consequently, it is only faith in the completed work Yeshua—which is typified by those offerings—where eternal redemption can be found. The Apostle Paul gives us some thoughts to consider:

“Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH’ [Habakkuk 2:4]. However, the Law is not of faith; [yet, ‘HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE IN THEM[6]’] [Leviticus 18:5] [Leviticus 18:5]. Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, ‘CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE’ [Deuteronomy 21:23]—in order that in Messiah Yeshua the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:11-14).

The Apostles teach us that Yeshua the Messiah has redeemed us from the curse of the Torah (Galatians 3:13; cf. 4:4-5), the penalties and guilt incurred from our common disobedience to the Law. The great value of the salvation that born again Believers possess in Yeshua is precisely because it is freely offered, and no human activities can be performed to acquire it. However, following salvation we are surely expected to demonstrate our faith via obedience to the Lord, as the Torah’s instruction is to regulate our behavior, attitudes, and physical actions. (Do not overlook how Leviticus 18:5 in Galatians 3:12 is quoted from a section of the Torah that relates to sexual conduct.)

James the Just addresses the connection between true faith and its fruit, which is evidenced in works. But keep in mind that these works are primarily works of grace and mercy (cf. James 1:27) that come from a person who has been perfected by the Holy Spirit:

“Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.’ You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS [Genesis 15:6],’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-26).

If you have become a willing vessel for the Spirit of God to use for His good pleasure, then by faith you should be submitting to His will for your life and allowing Him to operate through you. As a result, the good works that He has prepared for you in which to walk will be evident:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Additionally, it is critical that we diligently hearken to His voice when His indwelling Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. Jeremiah implored his ancient listeners to listen to the voice of God in order to understand and know Him. Thankfully, we can recall that our Messiah Yeshua also affirms the reality that redeemed, Spirit-filled Believers will hear the voice of God because He knows them.” In fact, Yeshua was almost stoned for His description of how His sheep or His faithful followers hear His voice, which is, in no uncertain terms, the voice of God:

“The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Yeshua answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.’ The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him” (John 10:24-31).

Our challenge, as we deal with the controversial issues of the day, is to cry out for wisdom and for a heart which listens more intently to His voice. In so doing, I believe He will conform us to His image over time, and in the process, allow each of us to extend lovingkindness, justice, equity, and true righteousness as we yield to His work. Offering ourselves together as a living sacrifice for His righteousness (Romans 12:1-2) is better than all the sacrifices listed in Tzav that we could make!

However, there are some distinct “offerings” that faithful men and women must bring before His altar in Heaven. These include prayers for God’s people being persecuted all around the world, who live in countries where belief in Yeshua (Jesus) is outlawed or taboo. As Messianics, we should especially offer intercessory prayers for the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and abroad. We also must pray for our own Messianic community as it struggles to be salt and light, working toward excellence and perfection (not so easily at present). As we listen intently to the Lord’s voice, He will surely instruct us in all things, but do not be surprised if your pleadings turn to groans or even cries:

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:22-28).

Do you now understand why Jeremiah is often known as “the Weeping Prophet”? From the revelation he received, and the Voice he heard, he knew that the judgment of God was coming in just a matter of time to the rebellious Southern Kingdom. In a like manner, as we study the Scriptures understanding the ways of the Lord—while coming to know Him more fully—I pray that as we learn to listen to His voice, we also know that judgment is coming to our modern world because His righteousness requires it.

Our problem is that, by His grace, we do not know when the judgment or the Day of the LORD will erupt in its fullness (Jeremiah 25:31; Acts 17:31; Revelation 14:7). But we do know that He delights in our acts of lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness. May these commanded attributes be evident in our faith-exercised, as we hearken to His voice and demonstrate His goodness to all!


NOTES

[1] Leviticus 6:1-7; 7:1-10.

[2] Leviticus 6:8-13.

[3] Leviticus 6:14-23.

[4] Leviticus 6:24-30.

[5] Leviticus 7:11-20.

[6] Grk. all’ ho poiēsas auta zēsetai en autois.

Editor’s note: It might be better to take the conjunction alla here not as adversative, but rather as “forming a transition to someth. new,” including another “matter for additional consideration” (Frederick William Danker, ed., et. al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, third edition [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000], 45), hence the rendering of it as “yet,” and not the more common “but.”

James D.G. Dunn, Black’s New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Galatians (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), pp 175, 176 fairly observes, “It needs to be stressed that this is essentially a positive view of the role of the law.” He further states, “it is highly pertinent to note that in context Lev. xviii.2-5 emphasizes the distinctiveness of Israel’s way of life from that of the surrounding nations.” The sexual instructions seen in Leviticus 18, of course, would be among the non-negotiable requirements the non-Jewish Believers had to follow in order to enter into the ekklēsia, as issued in the Apostolic decree (Acts 15:19-21).

Vayikra

Vayikra

He called

“A Witness Who Keeps Silent”

Leviticus 1:1-5:26[6:7]
Isaiah 43:21-44:23


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As we begin to examine the Book of Leviticus, the Torah student gets an opportunity to study the sacrificial system that was instituted by the Lord to cover the transgressions of His people. In Exodus, the Ancient Israelites have just completed the construction of the Tabernacle, and have witnessed God’s glory descend upon it. The weight (Heb. kavod) of His presence was so intense that Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting in order to communicate directly with the Almighty (Exodus 40:34-35).

There is little doubt that at the close of the Book of Exodus, Moses’ credibility and reputation with the people of Israel was at its pinnacle. Moses’ revealed God’s instructions on how to build the Tabernacle and all of its accoutrements, and they were followed to precision. The result had to be an awesome sight to these former Egyptian slaves, who were privileged to participate in the construction projects. From a distance they were all eyewitnesses to the pillars of fire and cloud that were guiding them by night and day, but now the manifestation of God’s presence was preventing access to the awesome structure.

It is at this point that the Torah prescribes the sacrificial system that Moses was given directly from God in the Tent of Meeting. Without any significant interruption in the text, it appears that the Lord, from His new location in the midst of Israel, began to address the need for the individual atonement of the sins of the people:

“Then the LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, “When any man of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.” If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall offer it, a male without defect; he shall offer it at the doorway of the tent of meeting, that he may be accepted before the LORD. He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf.” He shall slay the young bull before the LORD; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer up the blood and sprinkle the blood around on the altar that is at the doorway of the tent of meeting’” (Leviticus 1:1-4).

In these opening verses of Leviticus, we discover that the sacrifices for transgressions are intended to be quite personal. The one who is guilty of sin is instructed to place his hands on the head of the animal that has been chosen from the herd, onto which the sin guilt will be transferred. The individual is told that “He is to slaughter the young bull before the LORD” (Leviticus 1:5, NIV), and then Aaron and his sons are to take the blood and offer and sprinkle it in the appropriate places. Can you imagine the impact this ceremony would have on you if you were required to participate in this ritual? If you have ever slaughtered an animal—which the great majority of modern-day people have never done—you might have some understanding of the significance of what was mandatory. But can you visualize actually placing your hands on an innocent animal’s head with the knowledge that your sin has required a blood atonement, in order for you to be restored to a right relationship with God? From an economic standpoint, what would happen if you had to slaughter your prize bull in order to affect a degree of reconciliation with the Creator?

Many of these thoughts are difficult to fathom, but as you read through the Book of Leviticus, the variety of offerings and their significance for the array of sins of commission and sins of omission, can be a bit overwhelming. It is understandable that many, especially in the nearly two thousand years since the Second Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, have had a tendency to not really comprehend what is being communicated in passages such as these. Since Yeshua’s atoning work for sinful humanity at Golgotha (Calvary), the propensity for His followers to focus on His permanent sacrifice has understandably outweighed the study of the Book of Leviticus in most Christian teaching. As a result, the ability, to personalize the gravity of sin and what was required to restore a right relationship with God, has been largely mitigated. Many Believers simply claim the “blood of Yeshua” when they transgress the Father’s will—if they are even aware of what it is—at too many times resulting in very little, if any, spiritual growth toward maturity. While none of us should ever be found degrading or downplaying the eternal salvation available in the Son of God (cf. Hebrews 10:29), how can we appreciate such salvation if we do not first appreciate the sacrificial system of Leviticus?

This is one of the primary reasons that the Lord today has convicted many Believers to return to a consistent study of the Torah. By actually reading through this Torah portion, Vayikra, and meditating upon some or all of the sins which require atonement, one should be able to analyze areas of his or her life where some “fine tuning” would be appropriate. Who among us is not personally guilty of various sins of commission or omission at times? Even if we have experienced the transformative power of the good news, having received the Lord Yeshua into our hearts—are there not areas of our lives which need (significant) improvement? How frequently do we fail to really consider the gravity of the words of 1 John 1:8-10?

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).

I trust that many of you reading this commentary have taken care of the bulk of the sinful habits and behaviors that might have once been present in your life. But, among those areas that you know do need to change, have you been completely honest with yourself? Does sin truly have no influence at all over you?

Interestingly, I have seen 1 John 1:8-10 described in the past as a “Christian confessional bar of soap,” as God is able to forgive us and cleanse us of all our sin and guilt if we ask Him. Our sin nature inherited in Adam, can still at times have a tendency to negatively influence us, our decisions, our thoughts and demeanor, and how we conduct ourselves in the workplace and in family life. The Apostle John describes some of the significant benefits of a true salvation experience, as we are to have each become redeemed children of God who are experiencing victory over sin and lawlessness:

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:1-10).

Here, we see that John clarifies the concept of sin and the fact that when we are in Him and abiding in Him we do not sin. But the problem is that in our spiritual journey, the sanctification process takes time, and a knowledge of just what sin is—and what righteousness is—is mandatory in order for us to mature. Take this one example from Vayikra as a starter in your personal appraisal:

“Now if a person sins after he hears a public adjuration to testify when he is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise known, if he does not tell it, then he will bear his guilt” (Leviticus 5:1).

Have you ever been in a predicament when you were a primary eyewitness to some sinful circumstances that were being investigated or adjudicated by some authority? This could be a civil or criminal offense from a minor misdemeanor to a felony. Perhaps you did not want to be involved in the investigation or prosecution, because of your relationship to the offender. Or perhaps you were concerned about your potential loss of time. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, you might have justified your decision to act ignorant to the circumstances. By doing so, did you know that you were not only disobeying secular law, but also God’s Law?

Perhaps by thinking and meditating on many of the different implications from this single commandment, you can hopefully become a better corporate citizen to the community where you live. If you do not come forward, then the Torah of Moses says that you will bear the guilt of the offender! I urge you to consider this, and recall some instances in your life when you should have stood up to say something.

What if you are an employee at a company and you witness some people stealing some of the company pens and paper for their own personal use? What if the owner of the company asks all the employees to report any known offenders? Are you going to come to the employer and report what you have witnessed? Or are you going to remain silent and bear the guilt of the offender? At least consider the possibility that if you do not come forward and say something, that all employees could be penalized if the situation remains unresolved. Do you really want to lose pay, vacation time, or be laid off because of someone else’s transgression?

On a spiritual level when we witness our brothers or sisters in sin, there is an admonition that allows us to deal with them in love. In his final statement in his epistle, James gives us a strong encouragement to go to fellow members of the faith community, in order to save them:

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

This is a strong parallel passage that echoes the words of Yeshua, when He was instructing His Disciples about how to deal with issues of sin in the community:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED [Deuteronomy 19:15]. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly; and if he refuses to listen even to the assembly, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17).

The problem we face on all of these levels throughout the world is that most people do not know the ramifications of a Torah commandment like Leviticus 5:1. If we understood the guilt of our lack of performance to testify, when we have personal knowledge of some offense, then perhaps we would follow the instructions. In so doing, our culture may improve as offenders are duly prosecuted. Companies would avoid the loss of assets from internal theft. Our assemblies and congregations would function more righteously as the “sin in the camp” is properly handled. Most importantly, those who refuse to confront flagrant sin that they have personal knowledge about, would not be burdened with the guilt that should rest upon the offender, rather than the one who keeps silent.

If you take the time to reflect upon all of the different offerings in this portion, I am confident that you will be able to identify with some of the different sins of commission or omission, and perhaps let the indwelling Spirit convict you of where you need to confess, repent, and be restored to His grace. The following is an appropriate summary I would ask you to reflect upon before our Heavenly Father:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘If a person acts unfaithfully and sins unintentionally against the LORD’s holy things, then he shall bring his guilt offering to the LORD: a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation in silver by shekels, in terms of the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering. He shall make restitution for that which he has sinned against the holy thing, and shall add to it a fifth part of it and give it to the priest. The priest shall then make atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and it will be forgiven him. Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment. He is then to bring to the priest a ram without defect from the flock, according to your valuation, for a guilt offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his error in which he sinned unintentionally and did not know it, and it will be forgiven him. It is a guilt offering; he was certainly guilty before the LORD’” (Leviticus 5:14-19).

Comprehending the sacrificial system of Leviticus more fully is a blessing to those who take the time to meditate on the ramifications of intentional or unintentional disobedience. By doing so, it gives the revelatory power of the indwelling Spirit the opportunity to expose areas of your life which need to be dealt with through confession and repentance. As a result, those who are seeking the truth, while being led and taught by the Holy Spirit, have an opportunity to develop a deeper and more profound walk with the Lord as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:11-13). And, unlike the Ancient Israelites who would have to offer various animal sacrifices over and over again—we can walk in the assurance that with the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah and His permanent sacrifice—that an everlasting solution to the guilt incurred by sin is available to all those who place their trust in Him!

V’yakheil

V’yakheil

He assembled

“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”

Exodus 35:1-38:20
1 Kings 7:40-50 (A); 7:13-26 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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.

Ki Tisa

Ki Tisa

When you take

“Compassion Personified”

Exodus 30:11-34:35
1 Kings 18:1-39 (A); 18:20-39 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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,[1] a laver for proper cleansing at the Tent of Meeting,[2] prescriptions for the anointing oil,[3] and the ingredients for the holy incense.[4] 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.[5] The Lord also speaks of the significance of the seventh-day Sabbath,[6] 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).[7] The LXX renders this with the Greek verb hilaskomai, meaning, “to make him propitious to one, conciliate him, win his favour” (LS).[8] 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][9]; 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.[10] 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!


NOTES

[1] Exodus 30:11-16.

[2] Exodus 30:17-21.

[3] Exodus 30:22-33.

[4] Exodus 30:34-38.

[5] Exodus 31:1-11.

[6] Exodus 31:12-18.

[7] BDB, 637.

[8] LS, 379.

[9] In Numbers 23:19 the verb nacham appears in the Hitpael stem (intensive action, reflective voice), meaning “rue, repent of” (BDB, 637).

[10] 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.

March 2017 Outreach Israel News


OIM Update

March 2017

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,

Mark Huey


Purim, Haman, and Anti-Semitism

by J.K. McKee
editor@messianicapologetics.net

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.

Tetzaveh

Tetzaveh

You shall command

“Set-Apart Unto Him”

Exodus 27:20-30:10
Ezekiel 43:10-27


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, is in many respects a continuation of the previous reading, Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), where the willing heart contributions for the materials needed for the construction of the Tabernacle and its accouterments were freely given. Now that the various elements have been offered and gathered, certain individuals gifted with “the spirit of wisdom,” ruach chokmah, begin the crafting of different aspects of what the Lord required for Ancient Israel to approach Him in worship:

“Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me. These are the garments which they shall make: a breastpiece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me” (Exodus 28:1-4).

As you read the minute details of the garments required for the high priest in Exodus ch. 28, one theme continues to present itself as the various instructions unfold. It is apparent that the Holy One of Israel desires to have a specific group of people who are called to be consecrated unto Him as priests. The verb kahan, used in the Piel stem (intensive action, active voice), means to “perform the duties of a priest” (CHALOT).[1] It is employed throughout our parashah:

  • “You shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve Me as priests [kahan]” (Exodus 28:41).
  • “Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them to minister as priests [kahan] to Me: take one young bull and two rams without blemish” (Exodus 29:1).
  • “I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests [kahan] to Me. I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God” (Exodus 29:44-46).

While reflecting upon Tetzaveh throughout this week, many thoughts came to my mind about our role as Believers, functioning in a priestly calling and being set-apart for specialized service to the Lord. Consider how the author of Hebrews writes that the Mosaic Tabernacle in the wilderness is a replica of what exists in Heaven, with Yeshua the Messiah presently interceding before the Father as our ultimate High Priest:

“Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘SEE,’ He says, ‘THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN’ [Exodus 25:40] (Hebrews 8:1-5).

In the admonition given by God to Moses in Exodus 25:40, he is told to “make all things according to the pattern which was shown on the mountain.” God is very serious about His people honoring Him and fulfilling His will for proper worship. Consequently, the descriptions of what the Heavenly Tabernacle and its various components looked like, and the role, duties, and responsibilities of the high priest—are most significant for us to consider. As Believers in Yeshua, we all constitute a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6; cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10), and we have a unique and sacred call to minister unto Him and serve others, representing the King of Kings in our fallen world.

A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation

As to my knowledge, I am not a descendant of Levi and nor do I know of anyone named Cohen (or a close derivative) in my family tree—and I suspect that this is the same for many of you as well. But this does not mean that as Believers we cannot learn important things from the priestly instruction witnessed in this week’s Torah portion. The Levitical priesthood is a very specific group within the community of Israel, called to an almost lifetime set of duties before the Heavenly Father—not too unlike the way members of royalty are born and have no choice but to serve their countries. On a much lesser scale, non-Levites within Israel, which is basically everybody else, have a macro-priestly calling with general duties incumbent upon them as they serve God.

Many of us ask ourselves about the role of a Believer who is called out to “minister unto Him,” and how this applies to the great majority of followers of the Messiah of Israel. We together all compose a unique Kingdom of priests that is to serve the masses of humanity, as we testify of God’s goodness, holiness, and the salvation available in the Messiah Yeshua. The Apostle Peter attests to this reality:

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE [Isaiah 43:20], a royal PRIESTHOOD [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], A HOLY NATION [Exodus 19:6], A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION [Isaiah 43:21; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY [Hosea 2:23]” (1 Peter 2:9-12).

Peter testifies to the fact that all Messiah followers—be they Jewish or non-Jewish—compose “a chosen people” (NIV) who have been designated to testify to the world about the God of Israel. It does not matter whether you are named Cohen or Levi. What truly matters is that you have been “born from above” into this priestly service.

As I considered these texts and read the Haftarah selection from Ezekiel 43:10-27, I was reminded of a book that I read several years ago which addressed the very topic we are considering this week:

“‘You shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me,’ declares the Lord GOD, ‘a young bull for a sin offering’” (Ezekiel 43:19).

When I read the reference “to the levitical priests who are of the stock of Zadok, and so eligible to minister to Me” (NJPS), I was reminded of a book entitled The Sons of Zadok by C.R. Oliver. His insights clarified many things through his study of this topic. I remembered Oliver concluding that it was a much higher privilege to be “called out” to minister unto the Lord, as opposed to be simply ministering unto the needs of humanity. This distinction was something I had never considered before, but upon reflection and considering the Scriptural references, I was convinced that his conclusions had merit. What was notable, of course, is that these conclusions came from a Christian teacher who was certainly not proclaiming any knowledge of the Messianic movement. And yet, as a servant of the Most High, he was clearly articulating the differences.

The emphasis of Oliver’s conclusions came through his study on the life of the Prophet Ezekiel, and specifically from the text of Ezekiel 44:15-16:

“‘But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood,’ declares the Lord GOD. ‘They shall enter My sanctuary; they shall come near to My table to minister to Me and keep My charge. It shall be that when they enter at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering in the gates of the inner court and in the house. Linen turbans shall be on their heads and linen undergarments shall be on their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat. When they go out into the outer court, into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers; then they shall put on other garments so that they will not transmit holiness to the people with their garments. Also they shall not shave their heads, yet they shall not let their locks grow long; they shall only trim the hair of their heads. Nor shall any of the priests drink wine when they enter the inner court. And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman but shall take virgins from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest. Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. In a dispute they shall take their stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances. They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts and sanctify My sabbaths. They shall not go to a dead person to defile themselves; however, for father, for mother, for son, for daughter, for brother, or for a sister who has not had a husband, they may defile themselves. After he is cleansed, seven days shall elapse for him. On the day that he goes into the sanctuary, into the inner court to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin offering,” declares the Lord GOD. And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel—I am their possession. They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. The first of all the first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from all your contributions, shall be for the priests; you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house. The priests shall not eat any bird or beast that has died a natural death or has been torn to pieces’” (Ezekiel 44:15-31).

As I read these verses, and then followed the context of what Ezekiel was prophesying, I realized how the above passage details the operative Temple in the future Millennium—and the service of the priests who will be called out to serve. These priests will serve in the same capacity which is originally described in much of this week’s Torah portion. They will serve within an order where Yeshua the Messiah Himself is present. With the Lord’s direct oversight of this operating priesthood—I am sure that He is going to explain many aspects of priestly work and service to us that we have never even dreamed of! Perhaps at the very least in this future time, Yeshua will reveal to us instances in past history where the service of the Levitical priesthood was of absolute importance to Ancient Israel. A great part of the future age, after all, is being shown those moments where God’s hand of protection and guidance was present—without explicit human knowledge of it (cf. Ephesians 2:7).

Minister Unto Him

Our collective job as “ministers unto Him” is to continually be a light which points all to the Holy One of Israel as the Source of all things. We are to be praying unceasingly, as the Lord presents all sorts of opportunities for us to share who He is and what He has done for us through His salvation and saving grace available in Messiah Yeshua. The Scriptures speak constantly of what it means to be “called out” unto Him. Consider some of the key words of admonition that Paul gives to the Thessalonicans:

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-23).

Here, Paul encouraged the saints to rejoice always, and pray without ceasing while giving thanks for all things. When you think about these comments, they are not just directed to the specific “priests” in the crowd, but instead to all who had the ears to hear. Paul himself was of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5), and was no Levite. The call to serve as priestly representatives of God is directed to all who have the privilege of knowing Him, and conveying this knowledge to the others who need it! Later, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul made some strong recommendations about rejoicing, and how Messiah followers should guard their thoughts:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:4-9).

These are some important instructions about how we should conduct our lives—and even our thoughts. When Paul comments about rejoicing always, and in letting one’s prayers and requests made known toward God always, I believe he is describing the life, thoughts, and actions of a person who has been called into the priesthood as exemplified by a son of Zadok. I believe that God is calling all of His children to this level of commitment to His ways.

Having been a part of the growing Messianic community since 1995, I can clearly declare that the Lord is bringing all of His people into a priestly service with a passion that rivals the zeal of some of the ancient sons of Zadok. The Lord knows that when you come into the Messianic perspective that you will be challenged, and that we each have to make some critical decisions. Are you going to choose to minister unto Him, or are you going to fall into some of the old traps of conformity that your family and friends may want you to pursue? Are you going to be able to endure through the pressures and challenges of being part of a still-emerging movement, or quit and go back to what you might find to be more comfortable?

Dwelling Among His People

We each have to choose whom we will minister to. This week we can be reminded that the pattern has been established in the Heavenly realm and replicated in the wilderness. At the appropriate time, Solomon was blessed with the opportunity to build a more permanent dwelling for the Lord on the Temple Mount. Centuries later, after the Messiah Himself took on human flesh, He became our perfect sacrifice and now functions as our High Priest in Heaven before God the Father. The Apostle Paul writes how we function as a tabernacle for the Spirit of God, appropriating some of the concepts that are stated at the end of this week’s Torah portion:

“Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE’ [Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27] (2 Corinthians 6:16).

“I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me. I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God” (Exodus 29:43-46).

The Lord wants us to understand that His desire is to dwell among His people, within the hearts of human beings. The only way that this can occur, though, is by each of us recognizing Yeshua the Messiah as our Savior, being washed clean from the stains of sin upon our hearts and minds, and then committing ourselves to a path of holiness and good works. We are to function as a living sacrifice, the worship of which is evidenced in our committed service to our fellow brothers and sisters (cf. Romans 12). Truly, when this manifests itself within the Body of Messiah, then we can positively impact other people who can likewise be used to further the Kingdom of God here on Earth! We can then be acceptable in His sight.

May we each be called into that place of service as He dwells among us and in us and operates through us, as we are set-apart unto Him!


NOTES

[1] CHALOT, 152.