September 2017 Outreach Israel News


Update

September 2017

During the “Season of Repentance” from the first of Elul until Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, there are forty days to reflect on where one stands in his or her relationship with the Messiah of Israel. For the past twenty-two years, since our family embarked on a Messianic lifestyle, this has always been a time devoted to personal introspection and self analysis, as the Deuteronomy Torah portions come to a close. In addition, the Sages and Rabbis long ago developed a series of Haftarah selections that are known as the seven portions of consolation, from the prophecies of Isaiah: Isaiah 40:1-26; 49:14-51:3; 54:11-55:5; 51:12-52:12; 54:1-10; 60:1-22; 61:10-63:9. If you take the time to read and meditate upon these passages, you will discover that they are comforting to the soul, as the Day of Atonement approaches.

In recollection, I can also remember the first time that the commandments of Leviticus 23 had an impact on our walk with the Messiah, and in particular, the meanings of the Hebrew moedim (appointed times) and miqra (holy convocation). Upon the realization that as non-Jewish Believers in the Messiah of Israel, we had been grafted into the olive tree of Israel (Romans 11:17), the blessing of participating in the appointed times had special meaning. All of a sudden, it made sense to willfully choose to meet with the Almighty when He commanded His people to meet with Him. It was almost like discovering the “day timer” of our Creator, and finding out when He chooses to meet with His followers. It was not just the weekly Sabbath, but special set-apart dates throughout the year, which followed the Hebrew calendar, that bore importance. Upon reading that the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement were perpetual, it became a privilege to not only be invited, but to participate:

“Speak to Bnei-Yisrael, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you are to have a Shabbat rest, a memorial of blowing (shofarot), a holy convocation. You are to do no regular work, and you are to present an offering made by fire to ADONAI.’ ADONAI spoke to Moses, saying: ‘However, the tenth day of this seventh month is Yom Kippur, a holy convocation to you, so you are to afflict yourselves. You are to bring an offering made by fire to ADONAI. You are not to do any kind of work on that set day, for it is Yom Kippur, to make atonement for you before ADONAI your God. For anyone who does not deny himself on that day must be cut off from his people. Anyone who does any kind of work on that day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You should do no kind of work. It is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It is to be a Shabbat of solemn rest for you, and you are to humble your souls. On the ninth day of the month in the evening—from evening until evening—you are to keep your Shabbat’” (Leviticus 23:24-32, TLV).

It is my strong recommendation that during this season of reflection and return to the Holy One of Israel, that all of us as Believers in the Messiah of Israel take advantage of the opportunity to participate in this time of focusing our attention upon Him, upon one another, and what we will be doing in the next year. After all, according to the author of Hebrews, there are rewards for those who seek the Almighty One by faith: “Now without faith it is impossible to please God. For the one who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, TLV).

This month, J.K. McKee has written an article which deals specifically with the subject of “The Messianic Mission.” Being a part of today’s Messianic movement is a big responsibility and one that we do not take lightly! I pray that you will be challenged to truly be a part of this end-time move of God!

In addition, we are praising the Lord for all of the Internet traffic being generated on the Messianic Apologetics website and mobile app! New audio and video podcasts are being posted every day, as information gets restored after our recent server upgrade. We are very encouraged at the feedback we are receiving, and the new exposure we have had. Outreach Israel and Messianic Apologetics want to be sure that we are a voice of reason and stability, providing fair resolution and consensus, as pressures continue to mount against people of faith from the world, as anti-Semitism and growing anti-Israel sentiments are on the rise. We want to especially thank those of you who have faithfully supported our efforts over the years. We continue to need your financial support in order to dedicate the time and energy required to continue in the work that the Lord has assigned us. We especially need many of you to sign up for a regular monthly contribution via PayPal at www.outreachisrael.net.

Finally, I would be remiss to not mention the natural disaster that has ravaged South Texas as a result of the flooding from Hurricane Harvey, and Florida from Hurricane Irma. We know from our experience of having lived in Central Florida (2000-2012) and having endured a number of hurricanes, that lives are being impacted in a variety of ways. It is our prayer that God will use all of these circumstances to draw people unto Himself, and that other approaching weather events will turn people to the Messiah for salvation, hope, and restoration.

ADONAI bless you and keep you! ADONAI make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you! ADONAI turn His face toward you and grant you shalom!” (Numbers 6:24-26, TLV).

Blessings,
Mark Huey


The Messianic Mission

by J.K. McKee

Why are any of us involved in today’s Messianic movement? The answers that we might provide to this question are likely varied, and they each involve a number of distinct life circumstances and encounters. Hopefully the main answer that each of us would have to this question is: God wants us here. If you are a Jewish person raised with a knowledge that your ancestors definitely stood at the base of Mount Sinai, hearing the Ten Words from the Almighty, then you have found your promised Messiah and may be considered a completed Jew. If you are a non-Jewish person, likely raised in an evangelical Protestant home, then you have connected with your Hebraic Roots in the ancient Scriptures of Israel, your Jewish Roots in the Synagogue, and have joined with your Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters in an important move which will culminate in the return of Israel’s Messiah.

My family has been involved in the Messianic movement since 1995, has been called into full time Messianic educational ministry since 2003—and in the process we have encountered many valuable, but also varied, approaches to what the Lord is doing in this hour. For many of today’s Messianic Jews, the modern Messianic movement has been a significant lifeline, not only as a faith community where they do not have to give up on their Jewish heritage as Believers in Israel’s Messiah, assimilating into the larger pot or tossed salad of non-Jewish Christianity—but where they can anticipate being part of a significant salvation historical trajectory, involving not only the salvation of many more of their fellow Jews, but the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel as anticipated by the Disciples (Acts 1:6). For many of today’s non-Jewish Believers, specially called by the Lord into the Messianic movement at this phase of its development, the Messianic movement has provided them a venue to not only tangibly partake of things like the Passover seder or a weekly Shabbat rest, but for them to connect with the Tanach (Old Testament) and the ways of Yeshua and His first followers in a very significant manner.

The Scriptures direct us regarding the truth of how, “Without a prophetic vision, the people throw off all restraint” (Proverbs 29:18, CJB/CJSB). At the close of the 2010s, it is fairly witnessed that many people across the Messianic spectrum have their own view(s) about what the Messianic movement is all about, or will become. Far too frequently, the perspectives that people have regarding the future vision, mission, or purpose of the Messianic movement are a bit too individualistic, meaning that they do not tend to take into account what God is doing with the corporate Body of Messiah. Many of us are conditioned by a modern Western mindset which is so hyper-individualistic, that we think that our faith in God only concerns our individual selves and God—and not our individual selves, our fellow brothers and sisters in the Messiah of Israel, and God’s Kingdom purposes for this hour. In Romans 12:1, the Believers were actually admonished to look at themselves not as individual living sacrifices, but as individuals making up a corporate living sacrifice: “I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (TLV). If there is any big difference between Judaism and Protestantism, it is that the former will emphasize the interconnectivity of the people of God involved in the purposes of God, as they anticipate the world to come.

The Prophet Habakkuk was communicated Divine messages from the God of Israel, who directed him to record His word, with it stressed that what was to take place would take place: “Write down the vision, make it plain on the tablets, so that the reader may run with it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time. It hastens to the end and will not fail. If it should be slow in coming, wait for it, for it will surely come—it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:2-3, TLV). This chazon or vision would only take place at the Lord’s pre-determined “season” (YLT), yet it would be up to the people of God to have the perseverance for God’s plan to take shape on God’s timetable. Many of us, Jewish and non-Jewish alike—with our many gifts, talents, and skills endowed by our Creator—are indeed part of the end-time move of God. But it is also required of us to know how we got to this point in history, so that we can be effective and not grow weary, with the work and labor that are necessary as we see this unique and special Messianic movement enter into its own.

The First Century Believers

One of the most significant “revelations,” as it were—not only to evangelical Protestant people investigating their Jewish Roots, but even Jewish people reading the Apostolic Scriptures or New Testament—is that Yeshua of Nazareth and His first followers were all Jewish. Many evangelical Protestants, when they read the Gospels, at least subconsciously transfer a Western (particularly conservative, Southern American) experience into what the Messiah and His Disciples are saying and doing. This is reflected in a great deal of contemporary Christian preaching and teaching, which contemporary Jews—even those who are open-minded to hearing new ideas—consider to be largely irrelevant and unimportant to them and their religious and cultural heritage. However, the accounts are vast and diverse from many of today’s Messianic Jewish Believers, that when they finally read the sayings of Yeshua and His interactions with the Jewish religious leaders and ancient contemporaries, that Yeshua was obviously acting and speaking very similar to many of the Rabbis of His time. For certain, Yeshua spoke and acted with the same authority and presence as one of the Prophets of Ancient Israel. Yeshua also frequently employed colloquial expressions such as “Whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, CJB/CJSB), which may require some investigation with Second Temple Jewish literature.

So what has been the disconnect between many of today’s Jewish people, not frequently seeing the Jewishness of the Gospels and Messianic Scriptures—and most especially today’s non-Jewish evangelical Protestant Believers not seeing the importance of a spiritual heritage going back to Second Temple Judaism, Mount Sinai, and the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The factors that play into this are broad and diverse, some of them involving an ignorance of Biblical history, some of them involving poor and errant decisions made by religious leaders in the past, and some of them involving a close-mindedness and prejudice that need to be jettisoned.

One of the biggest mistakes that does not get challenged enough is that the First Century C.E. followers of Yeshua of Nazareth were not the Sunday, church going “Christians” that many people automatically assume them to be. The first group of First Century C.E. followers of Yeshua of Nazareth were Judean and Diaspora Jews, raised in a society that recognized the One God of Israel, and were trained in the Scriptures of Israel, the Tanach (an acronym for Torah/Law, Nevi’im/Prophets, Ketuvim/Writings) from birth. They remembered the weekly Shabbat or seventh-day Sabbath, the annual appointed times or moedim (~ydI[]Am) of Leviticus 23, they followed the kosher dietary laws, and they circumcised their sons. Many of them were also fiercely protective of their integrity as a community, wanting to keep pagan influences out.

The second group of First Century C.E. followers of Yeshua of Nazareth were mainly Greeks and Romans, who were raised in a polytheistic society that worshipped the gods and goddesses of classical antiquity. Because of their paganism, they were frequently derided by the Jewish community for their sexual immorality (cf. Romans 1:26-28). Many of them were notably attracted to the Jewish Synagogue, its morality, and its monotheism, and as God-fearers were among some of the first non-Jews who would receive Israel’s Messiah. Many of them were attracted directly to Israel’s Messiah from paganism (1 Thessalonians 1:9). And many of them, when encountering Israel’s Messiah, found it difficult to adhere to the four, non-negotiable requirements for entry into the assembly as issued by the Jerusalem Council: abstinence from idolatry, fornication, things strangled, and blood (Acts 15:20, 29). Clearly if followed, the Apostolic decree would serve the purpose of seeing the new Greek and Roman Believers severed from their old spheres of social and religious influence, hence making their new sphere of social and religious influence one where the Scriptures of Israel were honored (Acts 15:21).

The First Century ekklēsia or assembly, in the Land of Israel, was exclusively Jewish, and centered around Jerusalem. James (Jacob) the Just, Peter, and John were recognized as being pillars of the Judean community of Jewish Believers (Galatians 2:9). As James would report of many of the Jewish Believers in and around Jerusalem, “{Look at} how many myriads there are among the Jewish people who have believed—and they are all zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20, TLV). While some of this may have involved some of the fierce Jewish nationalism and Zealotry of the mid-First Century, what is seen is that belief in Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah hardly meant casting aside one’s Jewish heritage. In later centuries, Church leaders considered that if a Jewish person professed faith in Jesus, that he or she would become a “Christian,” and have to give up on his or her Jewish heritage completely.

In view of the Great Commission given by Yeshua to go out and make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:19-21; Acts 1:8), Bible readers’ understanding of the First Century Believers widely comes from the letters of Paul, with significant background often witnessed in the Book of Acts. Paul had a distinct assignment from the Messiah to go out into the Mediterranean, and witness to Jews, Greeks, and Romans (Acts 9:15). The assemblies planted by the Apostle Paul, often first involved his traveling to a city where there was a Diaspora Jewish synagogue, he would declare the good news of Israel’s Messiah, where a group of Messiah followers from among Jews, God-fearing Greeks and Romans, and perhaps also pagans from the local community, would steadily form. Sometimes after a period, Paul and his company would be forced to leave the local Jewish synagogue, but not always. Each of the assemblies and groups of Messiah followers established or influenced by Paul, had their own advantages, disadvantages, and challenges. While Paul is seen to have a significant Jewish heritage and pedigree (Philippians 3:5-6), he is also one seen to emphasize the centrality of placing one’s faith or trust in the sacrificial work of Yeshua (Galatians 2:16; Philippians 3:9).

First Century Warnings Gone Unheeded

While the good news or gospel message of salvation in Israel’s Messiah going out to the whole world, was a critical imperative issued by the Lord Himself to His first followers—the good news going out to the whole world was actually a critical component of the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom. The steadfast word of Isaiah 49:6 proclaims, “It is too trifling a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved ones of Israel. So I will give You as a light for the nations, that You should be My salvation to the end of the earth” (TLV). Yeshua the Messiah did not simply come to restore Israel proper, but also to be the or goyim or “light to the nations.” The restoration of Israel’s Kingdom is something which is to affect the entire world.

Ancient Israel’s obedience to God’s Instruction, and hence their being blessed, was to serve as a testimony to others and consequently to draw others to the Lord (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). At the construction of the First Temple, Solomon prayed that foreigners would hear of it and come to a knowledge of the God of Israel (1 Kings 8:41-43). Themes of Israel being a light to the nations, the Messiah being a light to the nations, and the restoration of Israel affecting the entire world, are all detectable throughout the Apostolic Writings and the evangelistic works undertaken in the First Century Mediterranean. In Ephesians 2, those of the nations who came to faith in Messiah are described as being a part of the Commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-12), “brought near” (Ephesians 2:13; cf. Isaiah 57:19), and being “fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19, PME). Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah, purged of the effects of sin, were to come together as one in Him, forming a one new man or one new humanity (Ephesians 2:12), able to accomplish the purposes of God in the Earth.

A figure like Paul believed that those of the nations, having received the Jewish Messiah, were indebted to help their fellow Jewish Believers in the First Century in their material needs (Romans 15:27). As he puts it, “For it is not relief for others and hardship for you, but as a matter of equality. Your abundance at this present time meets their need, so that their abundance may also meet your need—so that there may be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14, TLV). Jewish and non-Jewish Believers were to come together as one in the Lord, equals in the Messiah (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 2:11), and pooling all of their gifts, talents, and resources—becoming steadily inter-dependent, reliant, and mutually respectful of each other.

While it can be recognized that in the Second-Fourth Centuries, some terrible, and indeed damning, anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish statements were made by leaders of the emerging Christian Church, as Roman Catholicism began to form—it has to also be acknowledged that the warnings issued by a figure like the Apostle Paul, in Romans chs. 9-11, were largely not heeded. When Paul wrote the Romans, he recognized that more people from the nations were receiving Israel’s Messiah than his fellow Jews. This, he concluded, was a part of God’s plan, and that “by their transgression salvation has come to the nations, to make them jealous” (Romans 11:11, PME). With non-Jewish people receiving the Jewish Messiah, and hence benefitting from promises originally given to Ancient Israel, Jewish people should be provoked to jealousy to want what these various Greeks, Romans, and others have—which they had an ancestral claim to. Yet, Paul had to warn against possible arrogance issued by non-Jewish Believers to the Jewish people who had widely dismissed their promised Messiah. As he says in Romans 11:18-21,

“[D]o not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, it is not you who support the root but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ True enough. They were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear—for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you” (TLV).

Non-Jewish Believers, by their faith in Israel’s Messiah, might be grafted-in to Israel’s olive tree (Jeremiah 11:16-17; Hosea 14:1-7), but that does not give them any right to be arrogant or boastful over the Jewish people who have widely dismissed their Messiah. Instead, as Paul directs in Romans 11:30-31, “For just as you once were disobedient to God but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, in like manner these also have now been disobedient with the result that, because of the mercy shown to you, they also may receive mercy” (TLV). The non-Jewish Believers were told to be vessels of mercy and kindness to Jewish people who had not yet encountered their Messiah, in an effort to see them saved from their sins!

Unfortunately, in the many centuries of Christianity that have taken place since Paul wrote some of these words, his instruction has never been fully implemented, at least until today… Today, via the emergence of the modern Messianic movement in the past half-century or more, we have seen Jewish people come to faith in their Messiah in significant numbers, and we have seen non-Jewish Believers embrace their faith heritage in Israel’s Scriptures. Most importantly, we have seen the words of Ephesians 2, Romans 9-11, and even Yeshua’s prayer of John 17:22—“The glory that You have given to Me I have given to them, that they may be one just as We are one” (TLV)—take on dimensions which have not been seen since the First Century. Much of original setting and issues, witnessed in the Apostolic Writings or New Testament, does not seem so abstract any more—because Messianic congregations and fellowships indeed have Jewish Believers and non-Jewish Believers present within them, with each sorting out what it means to place their trust in Israel’s Messiah, desiring to see Him return and reign from Jerusalem.

Breaking With Judaism

While in the First Century C.E., there was a noticeable and sizable number of Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah, following the death of the Apostles and many of their second generation successors, the numbers of Jewish Believers dramatically decreased. Some of this was caused by the outcome of the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. to the Romans. Anti-Semitism flared up significantly in the Roman Empire, and did not help the burgeoning assemblies of followers in Israel’s Messiah, especially among Greek and Roman Believers who may not have been too keen on Jewish sensitivities. By the Second and Third Centuries, though, leadership of the now emerging Christian Church was almost entirely non-Jewish, and far from the Apostle Paul’s direction of Romans chs. 9-11 being heeded, supersessionism or replacement theology began to take significant hold. It was widely believed that God had rejected Israel and the Jewish people, replaced Israel with a new “Church” entity, and had transferred His promises to Israel to this new entity. Here is a small summary of some Second Century Christian views of the Jewish people:

“This is He who was put to death. And where was He put to death? In the midst of Jerusalem. By whom? By Israel…O Israel, transgressor of the Law, why have you committed this new iniquity” (Melito c. 170).

“Inasmuch as the former [the Jews] have rejected the Son of God, and cast Him out of the vineyard when they slew Him, God has justly rejected them. He has given to the Gentiles (outside the vineyard) the fruits of its cultivation” (Irenaeus c. 180).

“Thus has the ‘lesser’ people—that is, the elder people—overcome the ‘greater’ people. For [the lesser] have acquired the grace of divine favor, from which Israel has been divorced” (Tertullian c. 197).

“Let the Jews recognize their own fate—a fate which was constantly foretold as destined to occur after the advent of the Christ. This fate was on account of the impiety with which they despised and slew Him…Thereafter, God’s grace desisted among them. And, ‘the clouds were commanded not to rain a shower upon the vineyard of Sorek,’—the clouds being celestial benefits” (Tertullian c. 197).[1]

Witnessing the fall of Jerusalem to Rome, a widescale Jewish dismissal of Yeshua of Nazareth, and scores of Greeks and Romans recognizing Israel’s Messiah in some way—far from being moved with mercy and empathy for the Jewish people, Christian leaders of the Second-Fourth Centuries instead believed that God was finished with them. If you were a Jewish Believer in Yeshua in the early Second Century, you would find yourself not only a minority in the ekklēsia, but you would not find your commitment to your Biblical and ethnic heritage in the Torah something to be too honored. Concurrent with the idea that God was finished with Israel, was also that He was finished with the Law of Moses and its rituals. Christian leaders like Justin Martyr did think that Jewish Believers could continue to practice things like circumcision or the Sabbath, and that non-Jewish Believers could join with them in fellowship, although the former were weak-minded:

“‘There are such people, Trypho,’ I answered; ‘and these do not venture to have any intercourse with or to extend hospitality to such persons; but I do not agree with them. But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses, from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the people’s hearts, along with their hope in this Christ, and [wish to perform] the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety, yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren” (Dialogue with Trypho 47).[2]

In such an environment—where one’s ethnic and cultural heritage in Israel’s Scriptures would be barely tolerated—it was far easier for Jewish people to not have anything to do with the emerging Christianity of the Second-Fourth Centuries. Of course, even though various religious leaders and ecclesiastical authorities would have their negative words to issue against Judaism and the Jewish people, there were many individual non-Jewish Believers who would, in various ways, be drawn to the Jewish community and Synagogue. Church councils, however, would make it illegal for any Christian person wanting to commemorate the Resurrection of Yeshua in association with the Passover, or remember the seventh-day Sabbath.

The Council of Antioch (341 C.E.) decreed that anyone caught celebrating the Lord’s resurrection (“Easter”) at the same time as the Jewish Passover would be excommunicated from the Church, and be considered to be causing destruction to his soul:

But if any one of those who preside in the Church, whether he be bishop, presbyter, or deacon, shall presume, after this decree, to exercise his own private judgment to the subversion of the people and to the disturbance of the churches, by observing Easter [at the same time] with the Jews, the holy Synod decrees that he shall thenceforth be an alien from the Church, as one who not only heaps sins upon himself, but who is also the cause of destruction and subversion to many; and it deposes not only such persons themselves from their ministry, but those also who after their deposition shall presume to communicate with them (Canon 1).[3]

The Council of Laodicea (363 C.E.) decreed that Christians should not rest on the Sabbath, but instead observe “the Lord’s Day”:

Here the Fathers order that no one of the faithful shall stop work on the Sabbath as do the Jews, but that they should honor the Lord’s Day; on account of the Lord’s resurrection, and that on that day they should abstain from manual labor and go to church. But thus abstaining from work on Sunday they do not lay down as a necessity, but they add, ‘if they can.’ For if through need or any other necessity any one worked on the Lord’s day this was not reckoned against him (Canon 29).[4]

These kinds of sentiments, most lamentably, have not gone away, and are still alive and well in the hearts and minds of many of today’s evangelical Protestant theologians, ministers, and laypeople. Yeshua, the Messiah and King of Israel, decreed the ongoing continuance of the Torah or Law of Moses and its commandments—albeit centered around His interpretation and application (Matthew 5:17-19)—yet throughout too much of Christian history, many purported followers of Israel’s Messiah have wanted little to do with Israel’s Scriptures and its instruction.

Today’s Protestants would be fair to recognize that the forced conversions and baptisms of Jewish people, often on the threat of death by Roman Catholic leaders, is a Middle Aged tragedy that does not reflect on the love of Jesus and the character of those truly born again. Likewise, the social oppression and discrimination of the Jewish people throughout European history, for certain, is something that today’s evangelical Protestants would likewise eschew and treat with disdain. At the same time, even though Protestants have been keen to recognize the anti-Semitic stain of Medieval Catholicism on the Jewish people and Jewish-Christian relations—social and religious anti-Semitism are still alive and well throughout many denominations and theological traditions of Protestantism. Many of today’s evangelical non-Jewish Believers are of the mindset that they have replaced Israel and the Jewish people in the intentions of God. They actually consider the Scriptures of Israel, the Tanach, to be something foreign and alien—and no different than some of the Church Fathers of the Second-Fourth Centuries, would at best tolerate today’s Jewish Believers remembering the Sabbath or circumcising their sons as some part of their (backward) cultural heritage.

A Movement Reborn

With the death of the original Messianic Jewish Disciples and their second generation successors, and the emergence of Roman Catholicism by the Fourth Century C.E., the numbers of Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah for many centuries were scant at best. Catholicism, in no uncertain terms, demanded that Jewish people who profess belief in Yeshua of Nazareth, quantitatively abandon their Jewish heritage. Perhaps during the Middle Ages, various religious and political authorities were ignorant of the Scriptures, and were grossly misguided. But, their negative legacy has left its impact.

While hardly perfect, the Protestant Reformation was a necessary and required step forward. Seeing the corruption and opulence of Roman Catholicism reach intolerable levels, figures such as Martin Luther and John Calvin were used by the Lord, in the Sixteenth Century, to help the Body of Messiah return to a foundational grounding in the Holy Scriptures, and that faith in the Messiah alone is what provides salvation to a person. The Reformation exposed many of the non-Biblical and pagan traditions of Catholicism, and helped to formulate an ideology where individual people did not have to rely upon Catholic priests and rituals in order to have redemption. To be sure, when individual people can read the Bible for themselves, many unique and diverse interpretations arise—hence the wide number of Protestant theological schools and denominations.

Because of the diverse number of Protestant denominations—with huge dividing lines emerging by the Seventeenth Century between Calvinists and Arminians—there have been different approaches witnessed in the relationship that Protestant Christians have had with Judaism and the Jewish people. Many have continued to promote supersessionism or replacement theology, the belief that God is finished with Israel and the Jewish people, and that “the Church” has inherited all of Israel’s promises. At the same time, there have been Protestant Christians who have interpreted the Tanach or Old Testament more literally than not, and who several centuries ago made efforts to oppose anti-Semitism, establish dialogue with their Jewish neighbors, and reach out to the Jewish people with the good news of the Messiah. From the period of the American Revolution, the Great Reform Bill of 1832, and even the Napoleonic Wars—the Jewish community in the West was afforded social emancipation and equal rights along with their Protestant Christian neighbors. Exchanges of theological ideas and religious literature, which had been limited or even prohibited before, was now permitted.

The Nineteenth Century saw the rise of the different Protestant evangelistic societies, aimed at seeing Jewish people come to faith in Israel’s Messiah. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, the Hebrew Christian movement saw many Jewish people express faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The Hebrew Christian movement was mainly an association of enclaves of Jewish Believers, who attended mainline Protestant denominations and who were integrated into Christianity, but who did maintain some cultural association with their Jewish heritage and traditions. The Hebrew Christian movement certainly was an important step forward—especially with the Zionist movement, promoting a Jewish homeland in the Middle East also arising in the late Nineteenth Century—but there were many limitations. The Hebrew Christian movement encouraged a large amount of intermarriage between Jewish and non-Jewish Believers, and since fidelity to a Torah lifestyle was perceived in only cultural terms, many of the children and grandchildren of the Hebrew Christian movement assimilated into non-Jewish Christianity, eventually forgetting their Jewish heritage.

The modern State of Israel was created in 1948, in the aftermath of the Second World War and Holocaust of Nazi Germany. As Isaiah 66:8 declares, “Who ever heard the like? Who ever witnessed such events? Can a land pass through travail in a single day? Or is a nation born all at once? Yet Zion travailed and at once bore her children!” (NJPS). This is commonly viewed as being a prophecy detailing the establishment of modern Israel. Certainly with the State of Israel on the scene, many things shifted spiritually, as many Christian people who looked forward to a Jewish homeland being recreated—as a definite sign of the Messiah’s approaching return—were vindicated. Other Christians, holding on to replacement theology, viewed the State of Israel as only important for Jewish self-determination, but nothing involving prophecy or the Second Coming. Many of them now consider the State of Israel as a great danger to world peace.

Much of what we are witnessing today, in the Messianic movement, can trace its path back to the late 1960s, and Israel’s recapturing of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967. Many are of the opinion that with Jerusalem and the Temple Mount fully in Jewish hands, that the “times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) were concluded, and that some end-time countdown has started, eventually to culminate in the Messiah’s return. Once again, many things shifted spiritually, the most significant being the transition of the Hebrew Christian movement into the Messianic Jewish movement. The Messianic Jewish movement, unlike many of its Hebrew Christian forbearers, would be a movement which would hold its congregational services on Shabbat, it would observe the Biblical festivals and Jewish holidays, it would keep (some form of) kosher, it would circumcise its sons, and it would encourage participation of Jewish Believers in the Jewish community. Most importantly, the Messianic Jewish community would maintain fidelity to the commandments of the Torah as a part of the prophesied New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27), not just as something as a part of their ethnic or cultural heritage.

The 1970s-1990s saw a significant expansion of Messianic Jewish congregations throughout the world, with congregations in Israel, Europe, the former Soviet Union, North and South America, Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere. The main bulk of the Messianic Jewish movement is in the Diaspora, and in North America at that. Common estimates to our present time is that there are over one-hundred thousand Messianic Jewish Believers. The salvation, and the unique testimonies, of today’s Messianic Jewish Believers who have come to faith in Israel’s Messiah, is a sure sign of fulfillment of Romans 11:15: “For if their rejection leads to the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (TLV).

The Messianic Jewish mission has always been rightly focused around Jewish outreach, Jewish evangelism, and Israel solidarity. But the Messianic Jewish mission would not be possible without a strong basis of support, both spiritual and material, from non-Jewish Believers, who have been called to join in common cause and unity, with today’s Messianic Jewish Believers. From the 1990s to our present, large numbers of non-Jewish Believers have entered into the Messianic movement. The main, overarching reason for this, is that these people have come to a conscious recognition of the Jewishness of Jesus the Messiah. Messianic Jewish rabbis and teachers frequently go to evangelical churches during the season of Passsover, to teach on how the Last Supper meal of Yeshua was actually a Passover seder. Wanting to experience “Jesus in the feasts” of Israel, is the significant magnet for non-Jewish Believers entering into the Messianic movement. And, just as a massive salvation of Jewish people is to be anticipated in the end-times, so too it is prophesied that the nations will come to Zion to be instructed in God’s Law, resulting in worldwide peace (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3). This is a conscious reality present in today’s Messianic movement as well.

What is the Messianic Jewish movement? You will certainly receive a wide number of answers from the people involved in it today! The workbook Messianic Judaism Class offers the following fair summation:

“Messianic Judaism is a movement that gets its motivation from the Spirit of God…[It involves] Jewish people following Yeshua while retaining their Jewish lifestyle, traditions, and culture. It is not a new sect of Christianity. There are a few churches from Christian denominations that have adopted a Messianic Jewish flavor, but in these cases it is them who are joining us. Messianic Judaism has never been Jewish people joining Christianity. There are many people who class themselves ‘Jewish Christians’ who are Jews who have joined Christianity, but that is not Messianic Judaism.”[5]

Those who are involved with today’s Messianic movement might indeed benefit from a shared Judeo-Protestant spiritual heritage—but they are part of something that surely transcends Christianity. It is something that focuses one’s spiritual attention on Israel, the Jewish people, and on the return of the Messiah to Jerusalem. It is something that has definite origins in the experiences of Yeshua and His first disciples.

The Messianic Mission and Our Future

All of us, who have been called into today’s Messianic movement, have a distinct witness of the Spirit that we are involved in something very, very big. We know that the Holy Scriptures, Genesis-Revelation, are relevant instruction for each follower of Israel’s Messiah. We know that God’s promises to, and purposes for, Israel, remain true. We know that we are part of an end-time move of God, which is going to culminate in the Messiah ruling and reigning over this planet. So significant are God’s promises to Israel, that He declares that the rules of space-time which govern the universe would have to be altered, in order for there to be no seed of Israel:

“‘Thus says ADONAI, who gives the sun as a light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars as a light by night, who stirs up the sea so its waves roar, ADONAI-Tzva’ot is His Name: Only if this fixed order departs from before Me’—it is a declaration of ADONAI—‘then also might Israel’s offspring cease from being a nation before Me—for all time’” (Jeremiah 31:35-36, TLV).

Yeshua Himself declared in His Olivet Discourse on the end-times, “Yes! I tell you that this people [this race, PME; hē genea] will certainly not pass away before all these things happen” (Matthew 24:34, CJB/CJSB), a sure word on the continuity of the Jewish people to the time of the end. In spite of the anticipated disobedience of Ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 31:16-17) and a reduction of their numbers (Deuteronomy 28:62-64), the Lord promised a regathering of His people to the Promised Land (Leviticus 26:38-45). There will be a great victory and a vindication by the Lord, for His people (Zechariah 12:1-9), resulting in a great salvation (Zechariah 12:10-13).

Although more is coming in the future, we have seen the rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948, the recapturing of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, and the emergence of the Messianic Jewish movement in the late Twentieth Century.

Many of those, who are involved in Messianic Jewish congregations and fellowships, have the distinct impression that not only are we part of something special and important—which will culminate in the return of Israel’s Messiah—but that the Body of Messiah is actually getting a “second chance” to do things the way that the original Disciples and Apostles wanted them to take place. As my own local congregation, Eitz Chaim of Richardson, Texas, considers itself: “Our community seeks to be like the first Jerusalem congregation where both Jew and non-Jew are as one new man, equal before G-d (Acts 2).” While we are all equal in the Messiah, whether we be Jewish or non-Jewish, we are hardly all the same—but we have far more in common than not. Our differences of background or perspective on the issues of life, from our shared Judeo-Protestant heritage, will need to be considered as we anticipate the challenges coming for the final stretch of human history.

The Messianic movement is a restoration movement, as we recapture a First Century theology and faith experience, in the Twenty-First Century. As the Messianic movement gets larger and expands, it is a sure sign that we will be getting closer and closer to the Messiah’s return. The original Messianic Jewish pioneers emphasized a mission of Jewish outreach, Jewish evangelism, and Israel solidarity. Today, this is a mission which must remain at the forefront of what the Messianic movement is, because it decisively places each of us on the salvation-historical trajectory of Romans 11:26-27: “in this way all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB. AND THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM [Isaiah 59:20-21], WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS’ [Isaiah 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34]” (PME).

Getting closer to the Messiah’s return, it is hardly an enigma why many non-Jewish Believers have been called into the Messianic movement as well, with a dual mission now having emerged, as these people need to be trained and educated in the importance of their Hebraic and Jewish Roots. But seeing non-Jewish Believers come to an appreciation of their faith heritage in the Tanach Scriptures and practices of Yeshua, should not only be for the purposes of their personal enrichment and enlightenment; it must be done with the expressed intent of joining into the purposes of Jewish outreach and evangelism, and standing with Israel and against anti-Semitism. Frequently, the presence of non-Jewish Believers—who understand their faith heritage in the Tanach and in Judaism—can at times be most vital for the purposes of seeing Jewish people come to Israel’s Messiah. I can testify to how the extended family members of my Messianic Jewish friends, who do not know Yeshua, have asked me, a non-Jewish Believer, about my faith and why I am in the Messianic movement—more than they would have the courage to ask their relatives about Yeshua, who are Jewish Believers. But in order to answer their questions and communicate properly, I have had to learn a great deal about not only the Tanach and Second Temple Judaism, but also the Jewish experience and struggle throughout history since.

Being a part of the Messianic mission, joining into the Messianic Jewish outreach to Jews who need to know the Messiah of Israel, and seeing all Believers educated and trained in the practices of the Messiah of Israel—is something which will give you a dynamic faith, challenging your heart and mind in new and wonderful ways! You will have your spiritual hunger satiated, and your spiritual thirst quenched. We sincerely hope that each of you has indeed been called to join!


NOTES

[1] “Jew, Jews,” in David W. Bercot, ed., A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), pp 375, 376.

[2] The Post-Nicene Fathers, P. Schaff, ed.; Libronix Digital Library System 1.0d: Church History Collection. MS Windows XP. Garland, TX: Galaxie Software. 2002.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] James Appel, Jonathan Bernis, and David Levine, Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book (Copenhagan, NY: Olive Press, 2011), 10.

Ha’azinu

Ha’azinu

Hear

Deuteronomy 32:1–52
2 Samuel 22:1–22:51

“The Rock of Salvation”


by Mark Huey

This week we are in the midst of the Fall festivals of the Lord. The Ten Days of Awe are ending, and Yom Kippur is about to take place. The annual Torah cycle is nearing completion. Final preparations for the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot are being made. The time to contemplate some of the final words of Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our Teacher, could not be better, as the message of Sukkot is that the Lord desires to take up residence with His people, “tabernacle” with them if you will, during the Millennial reign of Messiah Yeshua—and beyond into the Eternal State.

Before Ha’azinu begins, we witness how Moses’ time as the leader of the Ancient Israelites is coming to a quick conclusion. Yet, there is a definite message that God wants to give the people of Israel, in the form of a song that speaks of the destiny that is to befall them.[1] Before Moses dies, he was specifically asked to record this song that will detail the future history of Israel. What was recited is not very good, as God’s people would prostitute themselves with other gods and break the covenant that they have made with Him. As a result, God will be angry and temporarily turn His face away from Israel, who would then be consumed by many evils and troubles. The scene opens with the following,

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, the time for you to die is near; call Joshua, and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.’ So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves at the tent of meeting. The LORD appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood at the doorway of the tent. The LORD, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them; so that they will say in that day, “Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?” But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods. Now therefore, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to the sons of Israel; put it on their lips, so that this song may be a witness for Me against the sons of Israel. For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant. Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.’ So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the sons of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:14-22).

The Lord had some very specific reasons about why Moses was to write a song. The Almighty appeared in a pillar of cloud and gave Moses a word that would be a witness to the rebellious behavior to be anticipated in the future. Moses was instructed to teach this song to the people of Israel, who will fall into sin after his death:

“Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands.’ Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were complete” (Deuteronomy 31:28-30).

The song Moses was to compose would become a witness against Israel, not only for the time period after Moses’ death, but also b’acharit ha’yamim or “in the days to come” (RSV), the Last Days or the end-times. When you read or contemplate this song or poem, it has multiple meanings that surely transcend time, and speak into the common problems associated with people in general rejecting God. Surely implied, within the song of Deuteronomy 32:1-43, is the need for all who hear to turn back to the Lord in repentance and obedience to His Instruction:

“Give ear, O heavens, and let me speak; and let the earth hear the words of my mouth. Let my teaching drop as the rain, My speech distill as the dew, as the droplets on the fresh grass and as the showers on the herb. For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation. Do you thus repay the LORD, O foolish and unwise people? Is not He your Father who has bought you? He has made you and established you. Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations. Ask your father, and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you. When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel. For the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The LORD alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him. He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field; and He made him suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock, curds of cows, and milk of the flock, with fat of lambs, and rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the finest of the wheat—and of the blood of grapes you drank wine. But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you are grown fat, thick, and sleek—then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread. You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this, and spurned them because of the provocation of His sons and daughters. Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be; for they are a perverse generation, sons in whom is no faithfulness. They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation, for a fire is kindled in My anger, and burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap misfortunes on them; I will use My arrows on them. They will be wasted by famine, and consumed by plague and bitter destruction; and the teeth of beasts I will send upon them, with the venom of crawling things of the dust. Outside the sword will bereave, and inside terror—both young man and virgin, the nursling with the man of gray hair. I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces, I will remove the memory of them from men,” had I not feared the provocation by the enemy, that their adversaries would misjudge, that they would say, “Our hand is triumphant, and the LORD has not done all this.”’ For they are a nation lacking in counsel, and there is no understanding in them. Would that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would discern their future! How could one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, and the LORD had given them up? Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves judge this. For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters, bitter. Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the deadly poison of cobras. Is it not laid up in store with Me, sealed up in My treasuries? Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them. For the LORD will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free. And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge? Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you, let them be your hiding place! See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand. Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, as I live forever, if I sharpen My flashing sword, and My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, and I will repay those who hate Me. I will make My arrows drunk with blood, and My sword will devour flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired leaders of the enemy.’ Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance on His adversaries, and will atone for His land and His people” (Deuteronomy 32:1-43).

The song of Deuteronomy 32:1-43 is not exactly something to be read, recited, or even sung without a strong degree of sobriety—recognizing that it is largely a rebuke of the sins of Israel. Immediately following, we see how Moses and Joshua went before the camp of Ancient Israel, and the people were admonished to observe God’s Torah, as it is to serve as their living body of instruction for entering into the Promised Land. In spite of the sin that is anticipated to come, there will still be a wide degree of faithfulness and obedience to the Lord:

“Then Moses came and spoke all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he, with Joshua the son of Nun. When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, he said to them, ‘Take to your heart all the words with which I am warning you today, which you shall command your sons to observe carefully, even all the words of this law. For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life. And by this word you will prolong your days in the land, which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess’” (Deuteronomy 32:44-47).

While contemplating the song of Deuteronomy 32:1-43 during this season of repentance, two important statements kept coming into my mind—because they contrast the consistency of our God, with the frailty of our human condition before Him. The first passage concerns how the Hebrew term tzur or “rock” is mentioned, as the Lord is the One who has been consistently just with the people of Israel:

“The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. They have acted corruptly toward Him, they are not His children, because of their defect; but are a perverse and crooked generation” (Deuteronomy 32:4-5).

Moses asserted that God, as the Rock of His people, never changes. This is one thing that all of us who follow Him today can surely rely upon! Moses went on to state how loving God has been toward Israel, and how He has taken care of them:

“For the LORD’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions. The LORD alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him” (Deuteronomy 32:9-12).

After describing this loving relationship with Israel in poetic terms, the contrast is made between the Rock and “Jeshurun,” a term of endearment for the nation of Israel:

“But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you are grown fat, thick, and sleek—then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation. They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons who were not God, to gods whom they have not known, new gods who came lately, whom your fathers did not dread. You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth. The LORD saw this, and spurned them because of the provocation of His sons and daughters. Then He said, ‘I will hide My face from them, I will see what their end shall be; for they are a perverse generation, sons in whom is no faithfulness’” (Deuteronomy 32:15-20).

In this second passage of interest, Yeshurun is a name that means “upright one,” and is a “poetic name of Israel, designating it under its ideal character” (BDB).[2] But as we learn in this song, the beloved Israel will scorn the Rock of its salvation, and neglect the Rock who gave birth to it. Israel will forsake God, and as a result He will hide Himself from them. Sadly, this pattern will repeat itself for generation after generation. However, as the instruction of Ha’azinu continues, describing the consequences of neglecting and turning away from the Rock—there will come a definite future time when the vengeance of the Lord will come to deal with the enemies of Israel:

“Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves judge this. For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison, their clusters, bitter. Their wine is the venom of serpents, and the deadly poison of cobras. Is it not laid up in store with Me, sealed up in My treasuries? Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them. For the LORD will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone, and there is none remaining, bond or free. And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge? Who ate the fat of their sacrifices, and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you, let them be your hiding place! See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand’” (Deuteronomy 32:31-39).

Moses reminded the Ancient Israelites in his message to the people, that there is no other rock like the Rock, the LORD God. Moses’ message in Ha’azinu concluded with a word of hope, in that God will avenge His people from the attacks of their enemies:

“Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, as I live forever, if I sharpen My flashing sword, and My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, and I will repay those who hate Me. I will make My arrows drunk with blood, And My sword will devour flesh, with the blood of the slain and the captives, from the long-haired leaders of the enemy. Rejoice, O nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance on His adversaries, and will atone for His land and His people” (Deuteronomy 32:40-43).

This is a guarantee from some of Moses’ final words that the Holy One of Israel will be the Rock, which in the end will fully avenge the blood of His servants and restore Israel to its fullness. Down through the history of Israel, we can detect how the themes of Ha’azinu would have surely given tremendous courage and strength to those who diligently followed God, in the midst of turmoil, and even in the midst of many others rejecting Him. The Prophet Isaiah seems to have used the words present in our Torah portion, to encourage his own generation to pursue the Lord in righteousness:

“But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants; and they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams of water. This one will say, “I am the LORD’s”; and that one will call on the name of Jacob; and another will write on his hand, “Belonging to the LORD,” and will name Israel’s name with honor.’ Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to Me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none (Isaiah 44:1-8).

It can be very easy to read through the song of Deuteronomy 32:1-34 and get a little depressed and upset. While this song surely lauds the great power of God and His supremacy, it is also a strong rebuke of those who are rebellious toward Him and who seek after other objects of worship. How are we to understand and apply its message? We need to each make sure we understand how the Lord “will atone for His land and His people” (Deuteronomy 32:43). The atonement (Heb. verb kafar) to be issued is notably not one that the descendants of Israel themselves are to alone benefit from, but also the nations at large (cf. Romans 15:10). As you contemplate the Rock of your salvation, Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), whoever you are make sure that you have His shed blood for your sins covering your life! Have the confidence of knowing that a resolution to the problems of sin and rebellion to the Holy One has been provided in the Son of God.


NOTES

[1] Please note that the Song of Moses referred to in Revelation 15:3 is most probably the Song of the Sea of Exodus 15, something employed in the daily liturgy of the Jewish siddur.

For a further discussion, consult the article “The Song of Moses and God’s Mission for His People” by J.K. McKee.

[2] BDB, 449.

Nitzavim-V’yeilekh

Nitzavim

Standing

 Deuteronomy 29:9[10]-30:20
Isaiah 61:10-63:9

V’yeilekh

And he went

Deuteronomy 31:1-30
Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27

“Choose Life”


by Mark Huey

The annual Torah cycle has begun to wind down. On typical years, this Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shuvah or the Sabbath of Repentance (or Return), and it usually falls between Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. During what is intended to be a season of repentance, the Ten Days of Awe from 01-10 Tishri, provide followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob an annual opportunity to reflect upon their relationship with Him and their required return to Him and to His ways.

The Holy One of Israel desires to have a meaningful relationship with His people. As followers of the Lord, we have each been called out of the world to be a treasured possession unto Him. This is what Moses declared in Deuteronomy 26:18-19:

“The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession [l’am segullah], as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people [am-qadosh] to the LORD your God, as He has spoken” (Deuteronomy 26:18-19).

Please note that being a “treasured possession” of the Almighty has some incumbent responsibilities—notably that His people obey Him. The results of obedience to God are praise, fame, honor, and ultimately composing a holy nation which can be used to proclaim His goodness to a sinful world:

“‘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).

If you consider yourself to be a follower of the Most High, and recognize that you are His “treasured possession,” then I would urge you to consider the great responsibility He has truly given to you. As we all compose “a kingdom of priests” (cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 9), we have the job of interceding for the lost of Planet Earth. I believe that this season is an excellent time to review your relationship with the Almighty. As you turn to Him in confession and prayer, recognize that He willingly accepts a broken spirit and contrite heart. Turn to Him for forgiveness of sin and iniquity, so that you can be fully restored to Him and be able to serve Him more effectively:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

The Apostle John tells us as Believers in Yeshua, that we have the additional assurance that through heartfelt confession, our transgressions are forgiven:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

For Shabbat Shuvah, I pray that all who read this commentary will take some time to go before our Heavenly Father and confess sins of commission or omission. I also pray that we will all be reconciled one to another, as we allow the Holy Spirit to enact a special work on our hearts and minds.

As we turn to this week’s Torah reading, we find that Moses is now 120 years old, and ready to pass on the mantle of leadership to Joshua, before his death:

“And he said to them, ‘I am a hundred and twenty years old today; I am no longer able to come and go, and the LORD has said to me, “You shall not cross this Jordan.” It is the LORD your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the LORD has spoken’” (Deuteronomy 31:2-3).

Joshua has been the faithful servant of Moses for nearly forty years. His service goes back to his youth:

“Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘Moses, my lord, restrain them’” (Numbers 11:28).

He led the Israelites in the battle against Amalek after departing Egypt:

“So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (Exodus 17:13).

Joshua accompanied Moses to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments from God:

“Now the LORD said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction.’ So Moses arose with Joshua his servant, and Moses went up to the mountain of God” (Exodus 24:12-13).

Joshua, along with Caleb, came back from Canaan with a good report:

“But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land” (Numbers 14:38).

God instructed Moses to lay his hands on Joshua in front of the Israelites, to indicate that he will follow in Moses’ position and lead the people into the Promised Land:

“Moses did just as the LORD commanded him; and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses….Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he will cause Israel to inherit it” (Numbers 27:22-23; Deuteronomy 1:38).

Now as our Torah reading begins, Moses realized that Joshua was ready to inherit the leadership responsibilities for Israel. It is at this point that Moses exhorted the people to “be strong and courageous,” prior to entering the Promised Land:

“‘Be strong and courageous [chizqu v’imtzu][1], do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.’ Then Moses called to Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous [chazaq v’ematz], for you shall go with this people into the land which the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall give it to them as an inheritance. The LORD is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:6-8).

In a comforting word, Moses said that God will not fail Israel or forsake Israel. In order to reaffirm Joshua’s position, Moses turned to Joshua and repeated the words of encouragement to “be strong and courageous.” Joshua had been a firsthand witness of God’s guidance and deliverance of Israel for nearly forty years. Observing and serving Moses had prepared him for leadership for some time. But still, Moses was led to encourage him directly. In fact, at the end of this statement Moses added the words, “Do not fear or be dismayed.” Moses had told the same thing to the Israelites earlier, when recounting the mission of the twelve spies to venture into Canaan:

“See, the LORD your God has placed the land before you; go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has spoken to you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 1:21).

We need to remember that God’s people, in spite of the written record of Scripture and testimony of Biblical witnesses, do have the tendency to become fearful and dismayed. Moses, more than anyone else, knew this from his personal observations over the previous forty years. Moses was very concerned about the destiny of Israel. At the end of this parashah, Moses reiterated these same words to Joshua. This time Moses also added the request to put the scroll of the Torah next to the Ark of the Covenant so that it will remain a witness against Israel:

“Then He commissioned Joshua the son of Nun, and said, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the sons of Israel into the land which I swore to them, and I will be with you.’ It came about, when Moses finished writing the words of this law in a book until they were complete, that Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying, ‘Take this book of the law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may remain there as a witness against you. For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the LORD; how much more, then, after my death? Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:23-29).

Remember that Moses has already prophesied what would happen to Israel if and when they acted corruptly. Here, he once again called upon Heaven and Earth to be witnesses against the people. If you will recall, these are the same two witnesses that Moses called upon when he gave Israel the choice of life and death:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants” (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Heaven and Earth still testify against God’s people, and the choices of life or death—blessing or curse, favor or penalty—still remain to those of us who live in this generation. God’s Word can stand against us as a third witness of what will happen when we choose to obey, or disobey, Him. Much like Ancient Israel would face neighbors who tried to lead them astray from God, so do we face obstacles and temptations that can likewise take us away from Him.

Before Deuteronomy 31 concludes, Moses added a prophetic statement based on his observations of Ancient Israel for the previous forty years:

“For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 31:29).

As the shepherd of Israel since the Exodus from Egypt, Moses knows how the people will react after his death, even with the anointed leadership of Joshua. Moses was able to look to the future and make a reference to the evil that will come upon them in the Last Days. Certainly today, we are seeing much of what Moses foresaw coming to pass, when many are doing evil in the sight of the Lord. But let us not forget that God’s people have always been given a choice.

Today, we can choose to follow and obey the Lord, or choose disobedience and suffer the consequences. This is one of the huge reasons that a season of returning to the Lord is so vitally important to us. This is a time for individual and corporate confession and repentance. We can be spiritually strengthened and resolve ourselves to another year of service and devotion unto Him.

In spite of the propensity to wander, the promises of God to restore His people are replete throughout the Bible. Interestingly enough, when you consider the Haftarah selection for this week, you find that the Hebrew term shuvah, used for the designation Shabbat Shuvah, comes from the first word in Hosea 14:

“Return, O Israel [shuvah Yisrael], to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips.’ Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds mercy. I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like the lily, and he will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. His shoots will sprout, and his beauty will be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon. Those who live in his shadow will again raise grain, and they will blossom like the vine. His renown will be like the wine of Lebanon. O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a luxuriant cypress; from Me comes your fruit. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them” (Hosea 14:1-9).

In this oracle concerning the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the prophecy of Moses about evil is echoed. The Northern Kingdom departed from the Torah, pursued evil, and suffered the consequences of disobedience toward God. This included the punishment brought upon them by the Assyrians, as they were largely exiled, scattered, and assimilated. Hosea pleaded with these people to return to the Lord! Hosea exhorted them to ask God for forgiveness while confessing their sins. Hosea reminded them not to rely on the work of their hands or their own strength. Hosea invoked the reality that as orphans, they would find their pity only in the Holy One.

God will respond to these pleas by declaring that He will heal the affliction of the people and take them back in love. As His anger will turn away from their disobedience, He will cover them like dew and the boughs of a cypress tree. Returning to God will result in blessings of new grain, new wine, and abundant fruit. Hosea confirms that confession and repentance have great rewards to all who return to Him. Hosea’s final admonition is that the wise will consider his words and the discerning and righteous will walk in His ways, while sinners will stumble.

These are encouraging admonitions to consider in association with Shabbat Shuvah. However, just reading or hearing these words will not benefit anyone unless he or she acts upon them. But in order to act, one must have faith in the testimony of Moses. And, one must be strong and courageous to overcome any of the thoughts or doubts that prevent a person from exercising his or her will to confess, repent, and return to God.

It is my prayer that God would give each of us the strength and courage to be honest with Him in this season of repentance. I pray that the confession of our lips will touch His heart, and that He will restore us into His loving arms. The author of Hebrews specifically tells us that Yeshua is the same yesterday, today, and forever—not only speaking of His timelessness—but also in His ever-present compassion and mercy:

“For He Himself has said, ‘I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU [Deuteronomy 31:6],’ so that we confidently say, ‘THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME? [Psalm 118:6]’ Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Messiah Yeshua is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:5b-8).

May we entreat and receive the Lord’s mercy always!


NOTES

[1] Or, “Be strong and resolute” (NJPS).

Ki-Teitzei

Ki-Teitzei

When you go out

Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19
Isaiah 54:1-10 (or finish at 52:13)

“Love Thy Neighbor”


by Mark Huey

Ki-Teitzei is traditionally considered during the month of Elul, as one is preparing his or her heart for the Fall high holidays. It is during this forty-day season of repentance or teshuvah, which lasts from 01 Elul through the Ten Days of Awe (01-09 Tishri) preceding Yom Kippur (10 Tishri), that many of our Jewish brethren turn, or in some cases return, to the God of Israel, and review their personal relationship with Him. For a Messianic community which studies the Torah portions on a weekly basis, this is a good example to follow. In some respects, this forty-day period is almost like an annual inspection of one’s soul to determine where a person stands in his or her relationship not only with the Almighty, but with one’s fellow human beings.

The Book of Deuteronomy is an important review of the Torah—and a great tool for instruction—as hearts are being prepared for not only the Day of Atonement, but also the season of joy that envelops the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. While Believers in Yeshua do not necessarily approach the Fall high holidays in the same way as non-believing Jews, the fact remains that meditating upon God’s Word is of great personal benefit. The Psalms are replete with statements to this regard:

  • “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
  • “I will meditate on Your precepts and regard Your ways” (Psalm 119:15).
  • “And I shall lift up my hands to Your commandments, which I love; and I will meditate on Your statutes” (Psalm 119:48).

Last week in Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9), the text dealt with the theme of justice in national civil matters, as instruction for judges, kings, priests, and prophets was described. This week, Ki-Teitzei deals primarily with matters that pertain to individuals, their families, and their neighbors on a more personal level.

As you read through these chapters of Deuteronomy in Ki-Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19), you are confronted with a wide array of instructions, including but not limited to: family laws,[1] laws of kindness,[2] laws about the holiness of the camp,[3] how to handle fugitive slaves,[4] laws prohibiting prostitution,[5] interest on money lent,[6] vows,[7] gleaning in neighbors’ fields,[8] divorce,[9] pledges,[10] treatment of workers,[11] individual responsibility,[12] avoiding injustice to the stranger,[13] instructions relating to orphans and widows,[14] judgments short of capital punishment,[15] kindness to animals,[16] the laws of levirate marriage (for a deceased brother),[17] flagrant immodesty,[18] honest weights and measures,[19] and finally remembering Amalek.[20]

This is a wide breadth of topics to consider. I would encourage you to take the time to read and consider these passages, because these commandments have helped to inform and guide many of the civil codes and social structures founded in the Judeo-Christian world. While there is a diversity of instructions witnessed in Ki-Teitzei, the overall theme we witness focuses on how one should handle affairs between people from all walks of life, namely, one’s family and neighbors. Where the emphasis appears on how to love God, these commandments give us a clearer understanding about how we are to love our neighbors.

Consider the question of the lawyer or Torah teacher to Yeshua, asking for His opinion about the greatest commandment:

“One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment. ‘The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18].’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).

Here, the greatest commandments tell us that we are to love God unconditionally, and then we are to love our neighbors unconditionally. Yeshua responds to the lawyer by first quoting from the Shema:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Yeshua then amplifies His answer by stating that the second commandment is the application of the first. As one begins to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and might, it will manifest itself tangibly by evidence of loving one’s neighbor. If you turn to where loving one’s neighbor is first detailed in Leviticus 19:9-20, you will notice that many of the actions that are described in this passage are also a part of this week’s Torah portion. Just listen to how some of this week’s themes come forth in Leviticus 19:9-20:

“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together. Now if a man lies carnally with a woman who is a slave acquired for another man, but who has in no way been redeemed nor given her freedom, there shall be punishment; they shall not, however, be put to death, because she was not free” (Leviticus 19:9-20).

Do you hear some of these same themes further articulated in Ki-Teitzei? Proper gleaning of crops, payment of wages, how to sow crops, and dealings with virgins and others, are just a few of the topics considered in this passage from Leviticus. Ultimately, the overwhelming theme of Leviticus ch. 19 is the concept of loving your neighbor as yourself. By demonstrating fairness and love when dealing with your neighbor—or even your enemy—on a wide variety of personal issues, you demonstrate obedience to this commandment. Consider how this week’s Torah reading lists some commandments with how to help one’s neighbor with a lost animal:

“You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman. If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him. Thus you shall do with his donkey, and you shall do the same with his garment, and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman, which he has lost and you have found. You are not allowed to neglect them. You shall not see your countryman’s donkey or his ox fallen down on the way, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly help him to raise them up” (Deuteronomy 22:1-4).

Putting others’ needs before your own is definitely an indication that one loves his or her neighbor.

Another example comes from the concept of equal weights and measures. The essence of honesty is expressed as God extends a reward for equality, but regards inequality as an abomination:

“You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a full and just weight; you shall have a full and just measure, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. For everyone who does these things, everyone who acts unjustly is an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

Consider this: Do you truly love your neighbor if you have unequal weights and measures? Yeshua’s saying, commonly called “the Golden Rule,” essentially summarizes the command to love one’s neighbor. The concept of doing to others as you would have them do to you is a major theme of Yeshua’s teaching in His Sermon on the Mount:

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

Here in this passage, Yeshua brings great understanding to His listeners about some of the critical components of loving one’s neighbor. The parallel account in Luke’s Gospel offers us some different dimensions of what it means to love one’s neighbor that must be considered:

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:27-36).

Earlier, I discussed how meditating upon the Torah is beneficial to the soul. But what about meditating upon the words of Yeshua—the Word of God made flesh? After all, many times throughout Gospels, Yeshua helps clarify what is meant by what Moses originally directed in the Torah. The question asked of the Lord in Matthew 22:35-40 cited earlier, where Yeshua made His declarations about the greatest commandments, was preceded by another question about one of the passages from this week’s Torah portion. Here, the Sadducees question Yeshua about remarriage in light of Deuteronomy 25:5:

“When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed’” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

This is how Yeshua deals with them asking about this:

“On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Yeshua and questioned Him, asking, ‘Teacher, Moses said, “IF A MAN DIES HAVING NO CHILDREN, HIS BROTHER AS NEXT OF KIN SHALL MARRY HIS WIFE, AND RAISE UP CHILDREN FOR HIS BROTHER” [Deuteronomy 25:5]. Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. Last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her.’ But Yeshua answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: “I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB” [Exodus 3:6, 15, 16]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.’ When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. But when the Pharisees heard that Yeshua had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘“YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND” [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:23-40).

The Sadducees, who denied anything supernatural such as the resurrection (Acts 23:8), asked the Lord about a hypothetical case where a widow ends up marrying seven brothers. They were actually trying to trick Yeshua into saying something that would discredit Him. The Sadducees’ shock comes when Yeshua admonishes His questioners with the succinct statement that “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” This profound statement was meant to shock the Sadducees into reconsidering their perverse thinking, as the Patriarchs were still to be considered as “living,” presumably in some kind of disembodied temporary state until the resurrection.

Yeshua taught that what matters the most is evidenced in our heart attitude toward God and toward one another. It is critical that such love is evidenced by us. If one is unable to demonstrate love toward a human being who can be seen—then how can we truly love a God whom we cannot see? This is why I would like to close with some thoughts on love from the Apostle Paul. Here in 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes regarded to be the famous “love chapter,” Paul describes the essence of agapē love. Each of us needs to consider whether our love for our neighbor is evidenced by this type of love:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

If we cannot say that we love our neighbor by these standards, is it possible that we cannot love others as we would have them love us? This is something for each of us to think about as we evaluate our relationship with God in this season of repentance. I pray that we would be continually conformed to the loving image of His Son, who not only loved His neighbors—but died for everyone so we all could live!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 22:13-23:1-6.

[2] Deuteronomy 23:7-9.

[3] Deuteronomy 23:10-14.

[4] Deuteronomy 23:15-16.

[5] Deuteronomy 23:17-18.

[6] Deuteronomy 23:19-20.

[7] Deuteronomy 23:21-23.

[8] Deuteronomy 23:24-25.

[9] Deuteronomy 24:1-5.

[10] Deuteronomy 24:6-13.

[11] Deuteronomy 24:14-15.

[12] Deuteronomy 24:16.

[13] Deuteronomy 24:17-18.

[14] Deuteronomy 24:20-21.

[15] Deuteronomy 25:1-3.

[16] Deuteronomy 25:4.

[17] Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “Levirate Marriage.”

[18] Deuteronomy 25:11-12.

[19] Deuteronomy 25:13-16.

[20] Deuteronomy 25:17-19.

Shoftim

Shoftim

Judges

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Isaiah 51:12-52:12 (or finish at 53:12)

“Required Words”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Shoftim concentrates on justice and what God required of the Ancient Israelites, as they enter into the Promised Land. Our absolutely righteous and just Creator was very concerned that His chosen people maintain justice, as they established a governing system in Canaan. For without righteous justice, God knows that any society will fail, due to the human proclivity toward evil inherited in the fallen nature.

Here in this parashah, Moses touches upon a wide variety of ordinances to help insure proper balance in Israel. These include the requirements for a judicial system,[1] specific guidelines for a government led by a king or regent,[2] inheritance for the priesthood,[3] prohibitions against various forms of false worship,[4] how to deal with true or false prophets,[5] the establishment of cities of refuge,[6] laws regarding boundaries,[7] regulations for military warfare,[8] and how to handle the discovery of a slain person in any tribal territory.[9] God is very specific about these different areas of concern, because He recognized that conflict is inevitable and that people need rules in order to resolve it. By detailing these ordinances from God, Moses has given Israel some foundational guidelines for handling the different issues that will arise in the life of the nation.

We must be mindful that Ancient Israel did not get a pass on the inherent human nature that gravitates toward selfishness and corruption. This is one of the reasons that the Torah was communicated to Israel. Undoubtedly, down through the ages, many judicial codes or customs that have been established among many other societies, can trace their roots to some of these very texts. It is through adherence to many of these specific ordinances that have been incorporated into different national civil codes, through which different cultures and ethnic groups have been able to maintain various degrees of civility.

As the people of Israel prepared to enter into the Promised Land, Moses will no longer be the person to turn to for resolution of conflict as he did in the wilderness. As the different tribes inherit their specific territories, it will be incumbent upon each tribe to appoint judges to handle the levels of conflict that are inevitable in human affairs. As the teaching seen in Shoftim begins, Moses lists a number of commands and criteria for the people who are to be appointed by the various tribes to function as judges and officers to handle disputes between people. In this reading, Moses describes the criteria and attributes for a judicial system and the appointment of judges:

“You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20).

The first requirement is that the people select from among themselves judges and officers or magistrates, who do not distort or “pervert” (NIV, ATS) justice. Distorting justice perverts God’s intention for His people to be holy and prosper.

Years earlier, while in the desert sojourn, Moses was advised by his father-in-law, Jethro, to appoint judges to help with the workload of mediating disputes between the Israelites. In the following passage, some basic criteria are established for those who are chosen to be judges:

“It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws.’ Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I will give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said” (Exodus 18:13-24).

The three basic criteria that Jethro counseled Moses to discern in a judge are that these are: (1) to be individuals who fear God, (2) they are committed to truth, and (3) they are those who hate dishonest gain. In many respects, these are similar character traits that Moses now gives to the people of Israel in Shoftim, as they were to find judges who would preside over conflict in each of the cities that would be established in the new tribal territories.

The first attribute that a judge must have is a healthy fear of the Lord. In selecting judges, one must understand how “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Fear generates wisdom, which in turn gives one knowledge and understanding about who God is. Without fear of the Lord, one can become a kind of god unto himself, or at least some kind of potentate who can make rulings and decisions entirely unchecked. By fearing the Creator, one recognizes that His justice is absolutely perfect in all of its ways. The goal is then to attempt to emulate His perfect justice. By fearing the Lord, one will not distort justice or be partial toward the wealthy or the poor. This is told to us earlier in Exodus, because various temptations can have a tendency to pervert justice:

“You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute. If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him. You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just. You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:1-9).

In order for these things to be accomplished, the second attribute that a judge must have is to be a person of truth, and recognize that truth comes from the Word of God. By studying and applying the established principles of God’s Word, a judge will not rely upon his own standards, but rather the standards of the Holy One. The Psalmist describes it this way:

“He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. All the paths of the LORD are lovingkindness and truth, to those who keep His covenant and His testimonies” (Psalm 25:9-10).

In order to administer justice, one must know the truth that is embodied in the testimonies of the Almighty.

The third attribute that is required of a judge is that he hates dishonest gain. Moses elaborated, “and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:18). In this statement Moses indicated that even the wise and righteous will be blinded if they are bribed. The need to hate dishonest gain is of paramount importance.

The bottom line that we see in these Scriptures is that God requires His judges to exercise, to the best of their human ability, a justice that is a reflection of His perfect justice. By placing these criteria upon the judges selected for the different cities, Israel, or any subsequent society, has the best chance of administering justice in a fair and equitable manner.

As I reflected on these matters of justice and how the Lord desires His judges to not pervert justice, there is a passage that comes to mind in this week’s Torah reading which speaks to the ultimate justice that all people must contend with in their lifetime. This is the reality that eventually the Lord would send a future prophet whose words must be heeded. The Scripture declares,

“It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:19).

The words of the passage are of utmost importance to all who are seeking a relationship with the God of Israel. Consider them in their entirety:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.’ The LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him’” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

In this passage, Moses declared that God will send a prophet like him from among the people of Israel, whose words must be followed. It is from this passage that the ultimate justice for humanity is embodied. Moses says that a future prophet will make declarations that must be believed.

As Moses described this future prophet, it is categorically clear that the “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable” (Deuteronomy 18:19, NRSV). This future prophet will speak words from God, in His name, that must be complied with—or else God Himself will issue judgment.

The Apostles understood the significance of the future Prophet whose words must be heeded, or they would not be saved. After Shavuot or the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter explained to those gathered that Yeshua the Messiah was the Prophet who Moses testified about:

“But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Messiah would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Yeshua, the Messiah appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren; to Him you shall give heed [Deuteronomy 18:19; Leviticus 23:29] to everything He says to you. And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ And likewise, all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and his successors onward, also announced these days. ‘It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed” [Genesis 22:18; 26:4]. For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways’” (Acts 3:18-26).

Peter declared that Yeshua is indeed the future Prophet whom Moses refers to in this week’s Torah portion. His words must be heeded! If they are not, then the Almighty will require it of all those who hear. What this means is specified by the words of Peter, as he stated, “everyone who does not listen to that prophet will be utterly rooted out of the people” (NRSV). Peter makes it clear that failure to believe in the words of Yeshua will bring eternal damnation, and banishment from God’s presence. This is far more serious than what a human judge might decree. This has eternal significance.

When you take this to heart, and read and consider the words of Yeshua—recognizing that He is the future Prophet that Moses speaks of in Shoftim—you realize that the Messiah’s words must be believed or you will face eternal separation from the Holy One. Statements like the following must be believed:

“Yeshua said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.’ Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Yeshua said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him’” (John 14:6-21).

Yeshua alone is the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through belief and faith in the shed blood of the Messiah. Other truthful words indicate that the Messiah via the Holy Spirit will take up residence in the hearts of His followers. We also see that Yeshua is in the Father and that He is in His followers. Those who truly know Him and love Him will embrace words like this.

According to the statements of Moses, the Lord will require His children to believe the words of this future Prophet. Do you believe Yeshua’s words? These are actually the required words of more than a prophet, but indeed, are the words of the very Son of God!

How seriously do you take the words of Moses? I suspect that if you are a committed Messianic Believer, probably reading through the Torah portions every week, that you take Moses’ Teaching very seriously. While many of you read the Torah portions so that you can have a foundation established in your heart and mind for understanding the remainder of Scripture, other Messianics read the Torah portions as the only part of the Bible that they think is important. Is this a problem? Other than the fact that there are key Biblical doctrines that are elaborated on elsewhere than the Pentateuch—it is a serious problem when it comes to understanding Yeshua. Only encountering the Torah, without encountering Yeshua, leaves one devoid of the reality of eternal life.

If one does not understand the work of Moses, one cannot understand the work of the Messiah. If one believes Moses, a further step must be taken to absolutely believe the Messiah. The Messiah’s words are the words that all people will be required to heed. As our Lord clearly declared,

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?’” (John 5:46-47).

For those without faith, it is impossible to believe His words. Yet, God requires belief in them. In all of this, God’s justice is perfected. May we all cling to the words of the Messiah, but most importantly, we must cling to Him, for in Him and Him alone we have eternal life!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 17:1-13.

[2] Deuteronomy 17:14-20.

[3] Deuteronomy 18:1-8.

[4] Deuteronomy 18:9-14.

[5] Deuteronomy 18:15-22.

[6] Deuteronomy 19:1-13.

[7] Deuteronomy 19:14-21.

[8] Deuteronomy 20:1-20.

[9] Deuteronomy 21:1-9.

August 2017 Outreach Israel News


Update

August 2017

Typically each year, the 9th of Av on the Hebrew calendar arrives in late July or August, with an annual reminder that the enemies of Israel continue to harass and spew hatred toward the Jewish people. This year is no different, as deadly disputes with Muslim worshippers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem remind Believers around the world to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). According to Rabbinic tradition, on this day shortly after deliverance from bondage in Egypt, the ten spies who returned from surveying Canaan conveyed a bad report because they feared the inhabitants. This lack of faith had serious immediate consequences that included the death of every man over twenty years of age (other than Joshua and Caleb), during the forty-year delay wandering in the desert, before entrance to the land promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:

“Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, ‘We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.’ But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.’ So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.’ Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!’” (Numbers 13:31-14:2).

Still, the long term ramifications of troubles on this day, including most significantly the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E. and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E., have been recorded. Hence, the Jewish people have observed a day of fasting on Tish B’Av throughout the centuries, and thankfully, the recent turmoil is subsiding as of this writing.

The Ninth of Av essentially begins the countdown to the month of Elul that with the first ten days of Tishri constitutes the forty-day “Season of Teshuvah” (Return or Repentance) prior to Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. Interestingly this year, the 29th of Av occurs on August 21, and in the continental United States, there will be a total solar eclipse that traverses the country from Oregon to South Carolina. Some prophecy teachers are hyping people with some wild end-time prognostications about what this means from a Biblical perspective. Do not fear! This scientifically predictable event is simply a celestial occurrence that astronomers can accurately calculate from the consistency of God’s created order, repeating patterns year after year and even century after century: Who commands the sun not to shine, and sets a seal upon the stars” (Job 9:7).

Instead, Believers should marvel at the majesty of the Creator God, and perhaps use this unique solar eclipse as an opportunity to share the good news with those stirred up by the hyperbolic conjectures!

In addition, we are praising the Lord for all of the Internet traffic being generated on the Messianic Apologetics website and mobile app! The increase in website hits this past month has required www.messianicapologetics.net to recently be upgraded to handle the higher volume. As we have experienced in the past, what initially seems to be an obstacle, is really turning into an opportunity! One of our long term goals has been to see that there be an associated video or audio podcast associated with every written post on Messianic Apologetics. We are using our recent server transfer as a prompt from the Lord to see that this comes about. Please continue to pray that the upgrades will enhance the outreach of our ministry efforts!

Finally, Outreach Israel and Messianic Apologetics want to be sure that we are a voice of reason and stability, providing fair resolution and consensus, as pressures continue to mount against people of faith from the world, as anti-Semitism and growing anti-Israel sentiments are on the rise. We want to especially thank those of you who have faithfully supported our efforts over the years. We continue to need your financial support in order to dedicate the time and energy required to continue in the work that the Lord has assigned us. We especially need many of you to sign up for a regular monthly contribution via PayPal at www.outreachisrael.net.

“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).

Blessings,

Mark Huey


A Spiritual Scavenger Hunt

by J.K. McKee
editor@messianicapologetics.net

 

Every single one of us, as a redeemed man or woman of faith, has been on some kind of life journey that has led us to the salvation of Yeshua the Messiah, and hopefully into a place of contributing to the purposes of the Kingdom of God. One of the questions that I frequently ask myself, as a person who has been involved in the Messianic movement since 1995, very much is: How did I get here? A follow up question to this is: What does God actually want me to do here?

I truly came to dynamic saving faith on August 8, 1995. While this concerned dealing with some demonic issues from my family’s past, as well as some issues involving the death of my father in 1992[1]—within several months of repenting of my sins and being born again I was in the Messianic movement. My mother Margaret, and her new husband Mark Huey, had gone on a Zola Levitt tour to Israel in December of 1994, where they had the impression that when returning to the United States, they needed to be focusing on the Biblical feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23). And, by the Fall high holidays of 1995, we were attending a Messianic Jewish congregation, and getting acclimated to things like the weekly Shabbat, a kosher-style of diet, and various mainline Jewish traditions and customs.

One of the things that was very appealing for Mark and Margaret Huey, entering into the Messianic movement, was the fact that my mother was an Arminian, and my new stepfather was a Calvinist. While we all came from a broadly evangelical Protestant background, this new blended family knew that it was going to have to chart a new spiritual course. Throughout the second half of 1995 and into 1996, we tried attending Shabbat services on Saturday, while also going to Sunday Church. By the Spring of 1996, we had fully crossed over to the Messianic Jewish congregation. Not only was our faith in the Messiah being enriched and enlivened at new levels—with there being significant “hands on” spiritual activities to be considering—the Jewish community is one which indeed likes to talk about significant issues. Fellowship times either before or after the service, or getting to know new friends at their homes, was a substantial blessing. We were a family that liked to talk about the Bible, things of the Lord, and current events.

Our full transition into the Messianic movement was also enjoined in the Spring of 1996 by our family encountering a number of—at the time—compelling voices, “quasi-Messianic” we would say now, who were making significant predictions about the end-times, the return of Yeshua, and the Middle East peace process. In the Summer of 1996, my parents made a point to attend both the MJAA Messiah conference in Grantham, PA and the UMJC conference in Sturbridge, MA, mainly with the purpose of getting acclimated to this movement we were getting involved with. But when they returned home to Dallas, they got plugged in more and more to the prophecy teachings and predictions. Certainly for a new family, with three who had lost their father several years earlier, the thought that Yeshua was soon going to return, was something that grabbed our attention. In fact, it grabbed our attention for a number of years!

At the beginning of 1997, our family moved out of Dallas to a small farm   north of the city. Over the course of 1997, while we continued to maintain our connections to the local Messianic Jewish congregation, my stepfather helped host a series of prophecy conferences. In March of 1997, I launched my first website, where I posted a number of opinion articles on both end-time prophecy and Messianic themes. On August 15, 1997, I started the website Tribulation News Network or TNN Online. And, in forecasting the future with the close of the Millennium and Y2k impending, my stepfather actually got involved with a shortwave radio operation based out of Central Honduras. In the Spring of 1998, and with some end-time concerns being present, my family sold its major assets and sent two containers with all of our possessions to the island of Roatán in the Bay Islands of Honduras.

It was my stepfather’s plan in 1998 to go back and forth between Roatán and the mainland, doing work for the shortwave radio venture and some real estate consulting in the Bay Islands. We would then see what the global-prophetic situation in the world would be. None of this came to pass. For eight months (April-December) we rented a number of picturesque homes on Roatán, with our two containers still on the dock waiting to be opened. Due to the intervention of Hurricane Mitch in October-November 1998, one of the deadliest storms on record, we knew it was time to return to the United States. An opportunity opened for my stepfather to do some consulting work for a ministry in Oklahoma. We are thankful that we did not lose anything due to Hurricane Mitch!

I am most especially thankful that even though my high school career was not what others would have wanted it to be, that I did finish my senior year through a homeschooling correspondence program, and that in the Fall of 1999 I was able to enroll at the University of Oklahoma. As we returned to the United States in 1999, any end-time preoccupation, fear, or paranoia did get removed from us, and we instead returned to witnessing what God was doing through an increasingly expanding and diversifying Messianic movement. As I was finishing up the first year of my college studies in 2000, my parents accepted an offer to consult with another ministry out of Central Florida. This venture ended in 2002, but by this time we had become a part of an independent Messianic assembly in the Greater Orlando area.

Throughout my college studies at the University of Oklahoma, my TNN Online website, Theology News Network, was something which definitely kept my attention, and it also kept me away from associating with the wrong crowd. I was working on my bachelor’s degree in political science, and as a result took classes not only in political philosophy and theory, but also in histories ancient and modern relevant to Biblical Studies, and was able to take some modern Hebrew and classical Greek. Being on my own for these years, with my website as a hobby, did get me to focus on what being part of the Messianic movement meant to me. I was not really a part of a Messianic congregation or fellowship, and so I instead would spend Shabbat often in Bible study or in writing for my website. I did try to be a part of various on campus ministry groups, which had some success for a season, but eventually did not work out too well by the time I graduated. While there were sincere evangelical Christian people at OU, it was obvious that the Messianic movement, its focus on Israel, and reconnecting with the Tanach or Old Testament, were just too foreign. And, I do have to admit that I was not always too kind or graceful in response to criticism I would receive. It was good that this happened while I was in college, and not when I entered into full time ministry.

In the Fall of 2002, my parents launched Outreach Israel Ministries, which at the time had a very broad vision of incorporating many different possible ventures. When I graduated from college in 2003, I returned to Central Florida, TNN Online became a division of OIM, and our ministry began releasing its first series of educational resources. For the most part, these books, bearing titles like Hebraic Roots: An Introductory Study and Introduction to Things Messianic, were written with the intention of helping aid many non-Jewish Believers, like our family, in getting acclimated to the Messianic movement.

To be sure, as we got started in the first full two years of ministry, in 2003-2005, we had a lot to learn. Mark Huey and I did some speaking trips throughout the U.S., Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom. In 2005, I started attending the Orlando campus of Asbury Theological Seminary, where I would work on my M.A. in Biblical Studies. As a result of our major travels in 2004, where we encountered all sorts of people identifying with the label “Messianic”—Jewish Believers, non-Jewish Believers, people part of Messianic Judaism, people part of break-off sects and new sects bearing provocative labels[2]we realized that we had a huge amount of work ahead of us, and that even some of our own attitudes and viewpoints needed to change. As a result of the first few semesters of attending Asbury Seminary, where I was able to reconnect with much of my Wesleyan upbringing, I was having, for the first time, to deal with the Holy Scriptures and the world of the Bible in a much more complex and detailed way. In learning new skills involving Biblical exegesis, Hebrew and Greek, and accessing technical commentaries and resources—I found myself being much better equipped to defend many of my convictions as a part of the Messianic movement. I also realized in 2005-2006, that a number of the things that our family picked up in our early days entering into the Messianic movement, were in serious need of reevaluation, even dismissal, being rather simple and downright unsupportable.

My seminary experience from 2005-2008 is something which I have not commented about too frequently among Messianic people, precisely because I know that on the whole many Messianic people are skeptical, if not hostile, to religious studies education. I did not attend seminary to “convert” people to my Messianic beliefs. I attended seminary to acquire skills, and be able to join into a larger conversation of Biblical Studies. And this is something that I was able to do. When I graduated in Spring of 2009, I was blessed to receive the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek. But immediately following seminary, our ministry would have to start absorbing all of the new knowledge and resources that I had access to, and things certainly started to change.

One of the biggest things that shifted for us in 2009 was seeing that our ministry books be transferred out of spiral combs and into printed paperback books. It was at this time that I was able to totally dedicate all of my time to ministry work, and as titles were prepared for paperback release, updates reflecting my seminary training and degree would be steadily reflected. Yet as we all know, God has a unique way of being able to “jump start” things…

As the 2000s came to a close, and in particular as my youngest sister Maggie started finishing high school, our family knew that our time in Central Florida would be concluding. In the Summer of 2009, my mother, Maggie and I went on a college scouting trip out to the University of Oklahoma. I had not been back since my graduation. When the three of us walked into the Armory at OU, where the Naval ROTC unit was based, we all received the distinct impression that Maggie was going to OU. Of course, this did not affect me directly; I would be returning to Central Florida and be continuing my work of editing our books for paperback release, and working on new Bible studies. In the late Spring of 2010 we again went on a roadtrip out to OU, as Maggie had been accepted and was getting ready to start college in the Fall. My work was continuing.

Our family had originally believed that were we to move out of the Orlando area, that we would move northward to Jacksonville, where we have extended family. In late August 2010, my mother and I went to Jacksonville to help move my grandmother from her assisted living unit into a new memory care unit. While we were there, my stepfather Mark was on a trip visiting friends and other family members. I remember distinctly walking out of the Allegro in Orange Park, and telling my mother that I would seriously consider moving back to Dallas rather than move to Jacksonville. This was quite a change, because neither one of us ever wanted to live in Dallas again. Yet, with my sister Maggie now at the University of Oklahoma, and knowing that there was a vibrant and significant Messianic community in the DFW Metroplex, we definitely started feeling the pull West.

We announced our intention to relocate to North Texas in the Fall of 2010, but we had no idea that it was going to take us over two years to do it. For my part, I knew that I had to gear up, seeing that all of our books were prepared for paperback release—and that if the Lord wanted us to go through any major theological changes, namely in the form of refining and expanding our teachings on various issues, now would be the time to do it. While 2011-2012 were hardly easy years for me, 2011 was a significant year for some theological transitions. 2012 was spent formatting all of our ministry books for both paperback and eBook release. At the end of 2012, my parent’s house in Kissimmee, FL finally sold, and by December we were all living in North Dallas once again—in the same exact zip code where we had originally moved in 1994, no less!

The Spring of 2013 was widely spent getting reacclimated to the DFW area, after being gone for fourteen years. What was most important to us was getting reconnected with the Messianic friends we knew from our early days in Messianic Judaism, back in 1995-1998. By the late Summer of 2013, we quickly got plugged into Eitz Chaim Messianic Jewish Congregation, as we had been good friends with the main leaders, David and Elizabeth Schiller, in the late 1990s. Because EC is an assembly which encourages participation from members, by the Winter of 2014 we had all taken the New Members class, our family began helping out with the different festivals (in particular the congregational Passover seder), and by the Fall of 2014 Mark Huey had been asked to become a shammash (deacon), by the Fall of 2015 being further elevated as an elder. I had given several teachings on Shabbat, and had renewed my own friendship with David that I had back in 1996-1997 when I was in my teens.

2014-2015 were important years not just in terms of transitioning to a new life back in North Texas, to take on new theological and spiritual challenges, and to consolidate ourselves—they were also very important as we began to discern what our own long term purpose would become as a family ministry. While we all agree that moving back to Dallas was the best decision we ever made, because we are human, no place on Earth is entirely perfect. Things in the United States shifted immeasurably with the legalization of homosexual marriage in the Summer of 2015. When this happened, I actually felt in a similar manner to how I did in 1996-1997, when we were encapsulated with end-time prophecy. If anything, American society crossed a Romans ch. 1 “red line,” and we were all shown a “road sign” that End Game is approaching. I myself have had the distinct supernatural impression that with as many things that I have researched and written on, that I would have to be targeted with my life, and would not be able to have all of the same opportunities that those who preceded me had. In June of 2015, the tnnonline.net domain was actually stolen from me during the few hours that the domain was needing to be re-registered, and so I made the necessary upgrade from TNN Online to Messianic Apologetics. This was a vital change for the future!

Mark and Margaret Huey like to frequently describe the journey our family has been on as a “spiritual scavenger hunt.” We went from one place and experience…to another place and experience…and so on… The journey of human life is always something that is ongoing. We learn new things every day through our experiences and interactions, with both the Lord and other human beings, as to how to be more effective in His service. But as far as the bulk of experiences that our family has had—in moving from place to place, in being called into Messianic education, and in interacting with broad and diverse sectors of this emerging faith community—on the whole our “spiritual scavenger hunt” is over. Much of what we are involved with today concerns our effectiveness as Messianic people, fine-tuning our strengths and abilities, and with new stages of development which are likely to equally excite and frighten us all.

Our family was first called into Messianic ministry to help others from evangelical backgrounds, adequately transition into a Messianic lifestyle—extending grace and mercy to others who were not similarly called (at present), and making sure that this was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit in their lives (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). Our ministry experiences to the present day included things that we could both anticipate and not anticipate. Like everyone, we have had our good days and our bad days, we have had to firmly stand up for the truth of God’s Word, and we have had to admit where we have made mistakes and correct them.

Salvation history is on a decisive trajectory: “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26ff). This is something that involves not only a massive salvation of Jewish people, but will culminate in the return of Israel’s Messiah—and with it the completion of not only many prophecies regarding the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom, but will involve Yeshua Himself reigning over this planet. Today in the Messianic community, we see Jewish people coming in substantial numbers to Messiah faith. We also see non-Jewish Believers embracing their Hebraic and Jewish Roots in substantial numbers. Together, we should not only be united as “one new humanity” (Ephesians 2:15, NRSV), purged of old hostilities and mistrust of the other—but we should be employing the virtues and strengths of our shared Judeo-Protestant heritage for what is to be anticipated in the future.

If there is anything that I have learned on the spiritual scavenger hunt, it is that suspicion, division, and rivalry begin when we fail to communicate with one another, and when we do not even bother to consider the vantage point or perspective of someone else. A figure like Paul knew better than this, when going out to reach the diverse groups of people in the First Century Mediterranean (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). My many writings and studies to date bear significant attention to detail. For some, this is just information overkill. For others, it is a documented record of wanting to not only hear multiple witnesses in a case (Deuteronomy 19:15), it demonstrates a deep seated commitment on my part to be fair, and even what it means to “love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10, NRSV).

Your journey into the Messianic movement is not the same as my family’s journey. Your journey may have been less, or even more, difficult. Like all people in this unique and special move of the Holy Spirit, there are things we have had to give up. I personally take a great deal of comfort from Yeshua’s word, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundred times as much, and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29, TLV). Yet, each one of us needs to maintain a sense of purpose, a steadfast will, and a consistent resolution to accomplish the Messianic mission—and to arrive at the culmination of history. May we stay true to the call!


NOTES

[1] Some of my experience in coming to salvation is covered in my articles “The Assurance of Our Salvation” and “Why Hell Must Be Eternal.”

[2] These provocative labels included, but were not limited to, the Two-House and One Law/One Torah sub-movements.

Re’eih

Re’eih

See

Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Isaiah 54:11-55:5

“Tests from Within and Without”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week, Re’eih continues Moses’ admonitions to the people of Israel by listing a number of commandments that when obeyed will result in God’s blessings, but when disobeyed will result in God’s curses. The opening verses spell out the dire warnings and establish this theme for the balance of our Torah portion:

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28).

Moses continually reemphasizes the necessity to obey the commandments, statutes, and ordinances of the Lord. Without a doubt, Moses was most concerned about the propensity for the Ancient Israelites to follow after strange gods. In the months just prior to when these words were issued, Moses witnessed how readily the men of Israel succumbed to the temptations of the Midianite and Moabite women, as they had enticed them into the sexual sins of Baal-Peor. The judgment of God on those who succumbed to these vile enticements was devastating. Between execution by sword of the flagrant violators and the plague that erupted, many Israelites died and were buried on the plains of Moab (Numbers ch. 25).

In contrast, Moses was also able to witness a miraculous victory over the Midianites, when the people obeyed God and slaughtered their enemies without losing a single combatant (Numbers 31:48-49).

This vivid contrast, of the curses of disobedience and the blessings of obedience, was undoubtedly fresh in the mind of Moses as he continued to plead with the people. But now that the time had arrived for Israel to cross over the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, Moses expanded upon the types of temptations that will meet the Israelites upon their entry into their inheritance. While the influence of idol worshipping nations and their obvious debauchery is readily apparent, it is in this section of the Torah that Moses introduced Israel to even more insidious temptations that will be used by God to test them. Moses specifically warned about the eventuality of various individuals arising in their midst, who will be either adding to or taking away from his teachings:

“Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:32).

Moses stated in absolute terms that the commands he had relayed to Israel come from the Lord (cf. Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:8). Moses foresaw the inevitability of different people radically altering the meaning of his words—especially those which were imperative for the Israelites to avoid idolatry and sexual immorality—and this was most troubling to him. He followed this warning with a list of some of the different types of people who will be sent to test the hearts of Israel, describing how they will alter God’s commands:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you” (Deuteronomy 13:1-11).

The first group of people, that Moses warned about, are false prophets and dreamers who will arise. Apparently, God is going to send these individuals into the midst of His people, throughout the ages, in order to test their hearts. What each of us needs to be conscious of is the fact that these deceived individuals will largely come from within the ranks of the faithful. There will be some commonality between the deceivers and those who will be deceived, making the deceivers various individuals who at times one might least expect to be agents of evil.

This is a very difficult subject for anyone to consider. Have you ever encountered people who sincerely think that they are speaking for God—but are in actuality quite deceived? Many, at times, may not even know that they have been deceived, but truly believe that they speak for God. They might have “heard a voice” or “had a vision” or “received a call,” which they will swear is definitely from the Most High. Such self-deceived prophets can be some of the most difficult to encounter, because they speak their words with great personal conviction and authority. If you have ever been exposed to people like this, you can probably understand how convincing they are to the naïve and spiritually immature. But this does not excuse any of us from blindly following words, which may take us away from the Instruction of God—and most especially the salvation of Messiah Yeshua.

To make things even more difficult, some of the false prophets and dreamers will actually be known for various “signs and wonders,” that accompany their messages. Once someone has personally witnessed a so-called sign or wonder, the perceived credibility of the prophet or dreamer is elevated in the eyes of the witness. People then naturally have a tendency to let their spiritual and mental defenses down, and they begin to believe the words of the false prophet. Critical thinking skills and healthy skepticism then get jettisoned.

Once a degree of credibility for a false prophet or dreamer is attained, insidious teaching is introduced. This can be very confusing to many (supposed) Believers, because visible signs and wonders are difficult to refute. But the evidence that God is moving, should not be in signs and wonders. The evidence is found in whether or not people are being drawn to God—or to a human being. Is this not what Yeshua Himself warned His Disciples about?

“For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).

False signs and wonders are just a part of God’s testing program for the saints. But did you notice that Yeshua said that even His chosen ones can be susceptible to false signs and wonders? This is a dire warning to any of us who are truly seeking God, as we all must constantly be on guard and alert. Interestingly, as a way to combat these temptations, Moses repeats aspects of an admonition that we saw in Ekev last week:

“You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 10:20).

Moses repeats elements of this command once again, when challenged by the words of false prophets, who will knowingly or unknowingly direct people away from the true worship and service of the Holy One:

“You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4).

It appears that by following the Lord, fearing Him, keeping His commandments, listening to His voice, serving Him, and clinging to Him—that one should be able to avoid most of the pitfalls of the deception that will inevitably come to every generation of those who follow Him. While the Torah says that false prophets and dreamers will be dealt with by just retribution, there is another group of tempters who will come, and hit much closer to home. These are one’s immediate relatives, who are once again sent to test our allegiance to God:

“If your brother, your mother’s son, or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul, entice you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods’ (whom neither you nor your fathers have known, of the gods of the peoples who are around you, near you or far from you, from one end of the earth to the other end), you shall not yield to him or listen to him; and your eye shall not pity him, nor shall you spare or conceal him. But you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people” (Deuteronomy 13:8-11).

These admonitions are very severe. Moses describes that the temptations to deviate from God’s Instruction may come from people like your blood brother, your natural son, your natural daughter, your cherished wife, or your best friend. They might not exhibit the same dedication that you have to the Lord, and may therefore tempt you to follow after other gods or objects for your spiritual affection. The requirement to deal with such temptation is unbelievably personal in nature. Not only are you not to yield to the temptations issued or listen to them, but you are also not to spare or conceal the attempts of the tempter to steer you toward idols. The original instruction in the Torah is that those deceived were to be the ones who first put the tempters to death. This exemplifies, at least, how serious deception can be.

God is absolutely concerned about the subtle ability of loved ones to turn people away from loving Him. Remember that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15). God expects us to love Him more than we do our own family members.

For many, this admonition is difficult to swallow. After all, our parents, spouses, children, and siblings are the closest tangible living beings who warrant much of our attention and love. The concept of actually initiating punishment upon them, if and when they take us away from the wholesale love of the Creator, does not make logical sense. In fact, in the balance of the Scriptures, we do not have one recorded event where capital punishment is executed upon a loved one, because their influence enticed someone away from the worship of God. Is killing one’s son or best friend what Moses is actually saying—or is he using this as an hyperbole, to make a point that absolute love and commitment toward God is what is required? Even the idea of entering into a form of self-imposed exile or banishment away from one’s loved ones, who are deceivers, is tough to think about.

If we examine our own hearts honestly enough, we may also see that we tend to personally choose to love ourselves more than we love God. Do we ever punish ourselves for not loving God as much as we should?

How should we understand some of the difficult words that we see in our Torah portion? As I thought about these words, I could not imagine that our Heavenly Father truly wants us to put to death, those in our immediate family who have somehow been used to (temporarily) draw us away from Him. Certainly as Believers in Yeshua, who have been redeemed from our sins and recognize that He has absorbed the required capital penalty upon Himself in our stead (cf. Colossians 2:14), there has to be an important lesson that we can learn here.

Since my initial salvation experience in 1978, I have been investing a great deal of time in prayer for those in my family who do not know the Lord. In my commitment to Yeshua, I have hoped and prayed that my testimony of change would encourage my loved ones to consider who He is. Somehow I think, these instructions of Moses must be understood in the light of what the Messiah clarifies in His ministry and sacrifice for fallen humanity. Certainly since stoning my loved ones is not an option, perhaps Yeshua’s words can bring clarity to what Moses instructed Ancient Israel.

Consider Yeshua’s statements about His mother and brothers, while ministering to those in desperate need of deliverance from evil spirits:

“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Yeshua answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:46-50).

Yeshua knew that Mary and His half-brothers were trying to speak with Him. And yet, here He stated that the true “mother and brothers” are those who do the will of His Heavenly Father. Those who do the will of the Heavenly Father will actually be more closely “related,” as it were, to the Messiah than blood relatives. Yeshua expanded the breadth of God’s family to those who seek to perform His will.

Perhaps you can understand this principle when you consider some of the relationships you have with others who you are spiritually connected with. Lamentably, I can think of many Believers whom I feel closer to in the Messiah, than some of my own blood relatives. This does not give us an excuse for “stoning” our relatives with our words of unfair condemnation or rebuke, but instead should be a greater incentive for us to pray and intercede for their salvation. We need to remember that our patient God of love desires that no one should perish, but rather come to the knowledge of the truth through repentance:

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

As I ponder these words, I am personally convicted that my time in prayer for my loved ones has waned in recent years. Perhaps by looking at these passages from the Torah, the Holy One is prompting me to increase with fervency my petitions for their repentance?

Most of us can identify with the challenges of praying for loved ones, especially if the fruit of our prayers is lacking. Let me encourage you to spend some more time in prayer for their redemption. Furthermore, consider what it truly takes for you to be considered Yeshua’s disciple:

“But He said to him, ‘A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, “I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.” Another one said, “I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.” And the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” And the slave said, “Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said to the slave, “Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.” Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear’” (Luke 14:16-35).

Yeshua used a parable to describe the complete surrender that is required by the faithful, to become a disciple of His and enter into His Kingdom. There are some important parallels between this and what we see in this week’s Torah portion.

In this parable, the master who prepares a large banquet is like our Heavenly Father, who is calling all who will listen, to come and partake. In many respects, this is an invitation for all who would hear, to become a part of His Kingdom. Note that this host sends out his servants to invite all who would hear, that they are to attend the meal. This could be compared to the Lord using various servants like Moses, and also the Prophets, to make declarations about what is required to maintain a proper relationship with the Creator God. Or to personalize this parable and make it applicable to our own walks of faith, this can mean that each one of us is called out to invite others into God’s Kingdom. Are we not all called to be witnesses of the hope that is within us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15)?

In this parable, the results of inviting different people to the banquet are explained. As is noted, many have excuses for not attending. Some are caught up in the business affairs of the world. Others have recently married, and are more concerned about their honeymoon and relationship building with their new spouse. If you have ever shared the good news of the Messiah, you know many of the excuses that people use to avoid what is required to come to a true salvation experience.

The host tells his servants to take the invitation to the people on the highways and byways of the world. We see from this how if those who are near and dear to you do not respond to the invitation, then the Heavenly Father will extend His invitation to those who are lame, blind, and crippled. The less fortunate ones, those who are down and out—who know that they are in desperate need—are those who will definitely respond to the invitation. Generally speaking, this has been the history of the gospel as it has been proclaimed since the time of the Apostles.

Then Yeshua brings another difficult word to His listeners, which in some respects is reminiscent of what Moses speaks about in this week’s parashah, about how to deal with close family members. However, Yeshua’s words are not only about the temptations that come from loved ones who might turn you away from the Father, but even your own personal proclivity to wander away from placing Him first in your life. It is in the context of inviting people into the banquet, or by extension into the Kingdom of God, that Yeshua makes it perfectly clear what is required to become His disciple. It is on this point that too many people balk:

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

But what is this just supposed to mean? Just like Moses says that family members or close friends who take us away from God were to be stoned—could Yeshua likewise be using shock language? He probably is, as “hatred” for people is not a personality trait of the Holy One. Yet, the truth of the matter is that the presence of any human being in our lives—a spouse, a child, a sibling, or a parent—can impede our relationship with the Lord. What Yeshua says is that a person must place his or her love and allegiance to Him as Messiah, above his or her love for one’s family members—or even one’s very own life.

Of course, this does not occur until you realize that before a holy and righteous God, you are totally bankrupt in your trespasses and sins. Remember that there is no one who is righteous:

“What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one’” (Romans 3:9-12; cf. Psalm 14, 53).

We do not have the human ability to perfectly follow the commandments of God—and this is why we all need a Savior. Paul did not mince words when he included “both Jews and Greeks” as those who were “under sin.”

Being honest with yourself is critical no matter what your heritage is. For those who think that they might be righteous of themselves, because they “follow the commandments,” the clarifying words of Yeshua to the people gathered around the adulterous woman need to be recalled: “He who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). Obviously, if you realize your sinful nature, you will not even consider picking up a stone to unwarrantedly condemn another.

Thankfully, our example for living is found in Yeshua the Messiah. He endured the same human difficulties that we all face, but was able to overcome them because He lacked the fallen nature that we have inherited in fallen Adam:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

When we consider what Yeshua had to go through for us, enduring great trial, we likewise need to be reminded about the need to count the cost of discipleship:

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14:27-35).

Here, Yeshua essentially says that it may cost you all that you have in order to follow Him. It will certainly cost you your entire life, your various habits, your creature comforts, and how you relate to others—if you are going to be a true disciple of the Messiah of Israel. Understanding what Moses has to say this week in Re’eih, and what Yeshua declared to His listeners, can be summarized by the Messiah’s last statement: “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (NLT). Thankfully, as Believers filled with the Holy Spirit who is to be instructing us, while challenging us, following the Lord should not be as difficult as we think.

The Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear that when we come to the end of ourselves and take on the life of the Messiah, that we have, in essence, exchanged our life for His:

“For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Messiah; and it is no longer I who live, but Messiah lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:19-20).

Notice that it is through the knowledge of the Torah that one is to die to the Law. It is not God’s Instruction that becomes nullified in the life of a person, but it is violation of the Torah that affects one’s spiritual death. Paul clarifies this reality, stating:

“I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me…Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua” (Romans 7:9-10; 8:1).

Thankfully, each one of us has been released from the condemnation of the Torah through the atoning work of Yeshua. On its own, all the Torah can do is show us how sinful we are before God, and condemn us. When we die to the Law, we do not die to its standard of holiness and proper conduct, but to its penalties pronounced against us as unrepentant sinners. This comes through the regenerative work of Yeshua, which reconciles us to the Father, and now enables us to obey the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit.

We must identify with the sacrifice of the Messiah, and trust in His work to cover our sins. By faith in the blood atonement provided by the Son of God, each one of us can become a servant of the Most High, and allow the Holy Spirit to walk out Yeshua’s life through us. This is a great mystery, of course, but it is clearly what the whole counsel of God’s Word communicates.

To connect this with what I opened up with from Deuteronomy, we must recognize that the Apostles were fully aware that lawlessness was at work in their generation. They constantly battled with false teachers and false prophets, who deceived the early Messianic Believers. Paul specifically warned the Thessalonicans about the ultimate man of lawlessness, the antimessiah/antichrist, and the strong delusion that God Himself would send to see if His people would at all be loyal to Him:

“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:7-13).

We are once again reminded that at some future point in time, a man of lawlessness will be empowered by Satan himself to deceive the world. But note that people will not necessarily be deceived by his signs, exclusively. These people will be deceived because they did not wish to believe in the truth of salvation. The salvation experience that requires one to be fully humbled before a holy and righteous God, never took place in the lives of these people.

This is a frightening prospect, because there are many professing Believers today who claim to be followers of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), but who may not have the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit present in their lives to actually substantiate it. (Thankfully, it is not our job to determine their salvation—but only God’s.) Those who are led astray in the final days, however, are actually going to be sent a “strong delusion” (2 Thessalonians 2:11, KJV) by God Himself. We need to be brought to our knees to pray for anyone who might be led astray by this—or any deception. Even if the antimessiah/antichrist does not arrive on the scene for quite some time, there is undoubtedly a deception opposed to the Messiah Yeshua—growing in today’s world—which will eventually culminate in the arrival of the beast system. For as the Apostle John reminds us, “many antimessiahs have appeared” (1 John 2:18).

Let me conclude with this admonition as you ponder these words: Check to see that you are in the faith! Remember how the Apostle Paul steadily reminded his fellow followers of the Messiah with these words:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Messiah Yeshua is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test” (2 Corinthians 13:5-6).

For all of our lives, we are each going to be tested from within and without. My prayer is that no one who reads or hears these words will fail the test!

Ekev

Ekev

Because

Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Isaiah 49:14-51:3

“What God Ultimately Requires: Faith”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Ekev falls on the heels of the last exhortation seen in last week’s Torah portion, V’et’chanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11), where Moses commands the people of Israel to faithfully observe the instructions, statutes, and judgments that he has delivered to them from God (Deuteronomy 6:25-7:11). Deuteronomy 7:12 begins with the statement, “Then it shall come about…,” ekev tishme’un, employing the word ekev, which is a conjunction meaning “to the end,” or “result, reward” (CHALOT).[1] Sometimes it can be rendered as “if” (NJPS) or “because” (ESV). Its usage indicates the results of obedience to the list of instructions given.

The opening verses of our parashah this week describe many of the blessings that are to come from listening to and performing the commandments of God:

“Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the LORD your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle. The LORD will remove from you all sickness; and He will not put on you any of the harmful diseases of Egypt which you have known, but He will lay them on all who hate you. You shall consume all the peoples whom the LORD your God will deliver to you; your eye shall not pity them, nor shall you serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you. If you should say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I; how can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them; you shall well remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt: the great trials which your eyes saw and the signs and the wonders and the mighty hand and the outstretched arm by which the LORD your God brought you out. So shall the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, the LORD your God will send the hornet against them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you perish. You shall not dread them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you. But the LORD your God will deliver them before you, and will throw them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will deliver their kings into your hand so that you will make their name perish from under heaven; no man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them” (Deuteronomy 7:12-24).

As you read this opening section from Ekev, you should marvel about what a great and awesome God Ancient Israel truly had, as its Provider, Protector, and Champion against all other gods and principalities. But while rejoicing in all of the wonderful things that the Holy One promises to do for His people, there is one nagging caveat or requirement that should really gain the attention of someone who has read these words. It appears from a straightforward reading of these verses that the God of Israel requires His people to keep His commandments in order for His blessings to be manifested toward them. Does this require obedience to the Torah, so that God’s people might receive His blessings? Let us read it again to see if this is what it says, and consider the implications for our lives today:

If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the LORD your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers” (Deuteronomy 7:12, NIV).

God told Israel that if the people adhered to His Law then He would remember them. He specifically said that He “will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love which he swore to your fathers to keep” (RSV). Can you detect the conditional nature of these blessings, based on Israel’s obedience to His commandments? Is the God of love requiring obedience for Him to pour out His blessings? Or, is He telling Israel what the formula is for avoiding the penalties and curses of disobedience?

If you are a parent, then you should understand that our loving Father is absolutely concerned about the welfare of His children, just as you would be toward your own children. Just as you would institute rules for the well being and care of your family, so has the Lord likewise instituted rules for the well being of His people. God’s admonitions are designed to emphasize the importance of obedience to His Instruction. Moses served as God’s mouthpiece, as he was used to affirm how He gave Ancient Israel the Law, because He wants the very best for His chosen. In a way, just as older children in the family sometimes have to institute a parent’s rules, so does Moses institute the rules for his fellow Israelites.

After forty years of intimacy with the Creator, Moses surely knew the Lord and His ways. But he also knew the nature of the Israelites, as he had guided them through the wilderness sojourn. Moses had seen an entire generation perish in the desert because of rebellion and unbelief, in spite of the visible presence of the Most High in their midst. Even with the daily provision of manna for bread, quail for meat, water from various rocks, protection and victory over enemies, and a myriad of other miracles during the desert journey—Moses had witnessed the unbelief and the consequences of disobedience. Moses grieved over the fact that he would not be able to make the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land.

Moses’ concern for Israel’s obedience is heightened by his knowing about a future scattering of Israel due to future disobedience. Just a few chapters earlier in Deuteronomy, we can read a statement that describes what Moses has already perceived:

“The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you” (Deuteronomy 4:27).

When you combine this realization with the fact that Moses also knew that his days were coming to an end, the urgency of his appeal is better understood. With some of his last activities on Earth, he continued to exhort Israel to obey God’s commandments in order to receive His blessings. The heart of a shepherd over his flock is evident. Almost to his last breath, Moses continued to repeat the words of instruction that lead to the promises of blessing and happiness.[2]

As the narrative continues, Moses recalled the horrific incident of the worship of the golden calf.[3] This tragic event resulted in Moses breaking the tablets that contained the Ten Commandments. One can only imagine how terrible this display of disobedience was indelibly etched in Moses’ mind. But without breaking stride, Moses went to describe how a loving God, by His own finger, etched the Ten Commandments on two new tablets.[4] By recalling this seminal event in the early history of the wilderness journey, Moses was appealing to the Israelites to take note of God’s forgiving love for His people.

It is at this point that Moses issued a rhetorical question to the people, and then answered it. This is a question which has been probing my spirit throughout the week:

And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the LORD your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the LORD’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13, NJPS).

The Hebrew verb sha’al, appearing the Qal stem (simple action, active voice), can notably mean “to make a request for something specific, to claim, demand” and “to beg for, demand, wish” (HALOT).[5] It is these admonitions that summarize not only what God requires of His people, but also how they can do certain things to fulfill these requirements. If we consider the wider scope of what God asks of us, it is actually not that difficult—especially if we are Believers empowered by the Holy Spirit:

“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven” (Deuteronomy 10:12-22).

One of the encouraging things about reading and studying the Bible is when God’s Word takes you to your knees. When you identify with Ancient Israel in this historical setting on the plains of Moab, statements like these, when taken to heart and meditated upon, can have a profound impact on your walk with the Messiah Yeshua. Questions like these might erupt in your heart, spirit, soul, and mind:

  • Do I fear the Lord?
  • Do I walk in His ways?
  • Do I love the Lord?
  • Do I serve the Lord with all my heart and soul?
  • Do I keep the Lord’s commandments and statutes?

Are these requirements applicable to you today? If they are, what are you to do?

If you are totally honest with yourself, you probably realize that you fall short of these things—in some capacity—on a regular basis. Certainly, there are times when you might be able to say “Yes and Amen” to these expectations, but can you honestly say you achieve each one of these things consistently?

What happens when your fear of God is minimized? What happens when you do not necessarily walk in His ways, but instead decide to do your own thing? What happens when you place your own selfish interests ahead of His, indicating that you love yourself more than you love God? Do you serve God out of guilt or condemnation, or because your heart and soul are tuned exclusively into serving Him? What happens when you deliberately disobey some of God’s commandments and statutes?

No one, no matter how hard he or she tries, is humanly able to keep all these things. And yet, these requirements are necessary if we are to receive the blessings of God. Some wonder if God is trying to play some kind of trick, or worse, think that He has singled out Israel as the one group of people which is destined to fail according to these requirements.

When you analyze what God asks us to do, you have to come to the logical conclusion that you are either humanly incapable, or in some cases, not fully willing, to comply with the Lord’s demands. Once you realize that His requirements are beyond your ability to achieve, you can either turn to Him for answers and ask for mercy and His Divine empowerment, or disregard God and live in a life of obstinance and rebellion against Him.

I urge every one of you to turn to the Lord! You can turn to Him in prayer, and through the confession of your sins, admit that you fail in complying with His Instruction. I believe that our Heavenly Father delights when we are honest with ourselves. With a broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, we can turn to His Word, and discover that this is just what the Lord is looking for in His people. King David, a man after God’s own heart, stated it quite eloquently in Psalm 51—after he had been confronted with his own sins of adultery and murder:

“For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation; then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. By Your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on Your altar” (Psalm 51:1-19).

While our sins may not be on the level of adultery and murder, the fact still remains that when we are honest with ourselves, we are people who largely do not comply with the simple things that God asks us to do. Sometimes, we may think we are right with God because we are obeying Him in part, and that this constitutes us having a holy and righteous heart. This is especially true today in a Messianic community that largely emphasizes outward observances, but may be lacking in emphasizing ethics and heart attitude. Perhaps some more thoughts from the heart of God, as given by the Prophet Jeremiah, will give us a fuller picture:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

If the heart is so deceitful, what is one to do? I believe that Moses gives us a part of the answer in his narration by indicating a number of key things that Israel should have been doing as they recognized the hardness of their hearts. Moses knew that the Ancient Israelites were going to fail the test, and would eventually be scattered to the nations—but hope is not lost. In Deuteronomy 10:12-22, Moses gave some important advice to the people, in spite of the fact that they will be punished.

First, Moses told the people of Israel to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16). God is aware of the hardness of people’s hearts and that they must be circumcised—or torn in two—to have a heart of flesh that can serve Him. This is a difficult command to visualize because it is more than just tearing an outer garment as a sign of grief. What it requires is an honest personal assessment of just how hard one’s heart is toward God and others. By tearing away the calloused places of the hardened heart, we become more sensitive to the ways of our Creator.

If we do this, then we can do the second thing that Moses commanded, which indicates that a heart is being softened (Deuteronomy 10:20). We can begin to loosen our necks to the ways of the Lord. A hardened heart is one that is full of pride, and a stiff neck is one that will not bow to the will of God. This is a despicable combination, but sadly one that has prevailed throughout the centuries among many who have claimed to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The third thing that Moses declared, that the people of Israel should have been doing, was to show love for the alien who resides in the Promised Land, because they had once been aliens themselves in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19). God knew that Israel should be able to identify with an alien people who lived among them. By loving and empathizing with these people, it would have a softening effect on those uncircumcised hearts. How do any of us identify with the strangers in our communities today, i.e., the downtrodden, the oppressed, and those in despair? Do we show any level of concern for their circumstances?

While these first three remedies might be accomplished to some visible degree, as softened hearts and pliable necks seek to love and welcome the sojourner within the community, Moses went back and restated, in so many words, some of the original expectations as more requirements are issued (Deuteronomy 10:20-21). Once again, Moses told the people of Israel that they are to fear the Lord. This requirement never goes away. Almost like a broken record, the refrain to fear God is incessantly declared for all to hear. Israel is to revere God and recognize His sustaining power and awesome display of love that continues down through the ages. This is why Proverbs tells us,

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).

Clearly from this statement, we can conclude that fearing the Lord and recognizing His existence is the beginning of wisdom. Without our reverence and appreciation for Him as the Supreme Being, and for all that He has done and that He is doing, our knowledge is minimal. Certainly, without fearing the Holy One, our ability to understand Him and His ways is greatly impaired.

Moses also reminds us today about the requirement of service to God (Deuteronomy 11:1). By serving God you display a willingness to let Him use you in the circumstances of life in which you find yourself. Through your service to the Lord, in whatever capacity, you put His interests ahead of your own, and you learn to be sensitive to what His wishes are for your usefulness in the work of the Kingdom. Additionally, you are to cling to Him for all that you are worth. In reality, you do not have anywhere else to turn but to Him for all things in life. By clinging to Him for your life, health, provision, and daily bread—you learn to be solely dependent upon Him for all that life requires. The Psalmist gives us a brief explanation of some of the benefits of clinging to the testimonies of the Lord:

“I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Your ordinances before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I shall run the way of Your commandments, for You will enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:30-32).

When you read these words and the statement that God will enlarge one’s heart—as we cling to His testimonies and follow the way of His commandments—the benefits of obeying Him become apparent.

If these actions appear similar to the other requirements listed earlier, you are hearing correctly. For the most part they are the commands to fear God, serve God, cling to God, and swear by Him. There is no doubt that one can never get away from the commandments that God has issued to His children.

Thankfully, Moses’ exhortation is only part of the answer. If absolute obedience is required for communion with God, then no person can ever commune with Him since no one has ever been humanly able to obey perfectly. The Apostle Paul candidly tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all fall short of compliance to God’s commandments in some regard, no matter how many sacrifices we make. In reality, we will never be able to remember all of our transgressions and iniquities that separate us from a holy and righteous God.

What are we to do? This is an age-old dilemma that followers of the God of Israel have struggled with since the days the Torah was formally given via Moses. How are we going to honestly comply with its direction, recognizing that there are times when we have disobeyed them?

Thankfully, the Lord knew what He was doing when He directed Moses to deliver His Instruction to Israel. God knew that not one human being, stained by Adam’s transgression, would be able to totally satisfy His requirements.

Why did God do this? Is it because He knew that a part of his plan was to bring forth the Messiah, who in time would be able to perfectly fulfill His requirements? Keep in mind that Adam and Eve were promised a Redeemer who would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15), the first reference to the Messiah in the Bible. Even prior to the time of Moses, faithful followers of God were anticipating a Redeemer to come. Our Heavenly Father, in His mercy to humanity, has consistently been speaking to various people so that they might know that an Anointed One was going to arrive and defeat the works of Satan. Consider that Moses tells us in Ekev that what proceeds forth from God’s mouth is what we need for life:

“All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your forefathers. You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3).

Yeshua Himself quoted these verses in His refutation of Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4). Yeshua did this because He knew and was able to perform His Father’s will. He was humble and able to be completely obedient to Him, in spite of His extreme hunger. He did not command stones to become bread, but submitted to His Father.

Do you understand that God is constantly in the process of humbling and testing His children, in order to determine what is in their hearts? In this simple illustration, Moses reminded the people of Israel that God was intentionally letting them go hungry so that He could demonstrate His provision through the miracle of the manna in the wilderness. But then, He dropped the ultimate in brain twisters. God told Israel the spiritual fact that people are not to live by bread alone, but more importantly, by everything that proceeds from His mouth. We know from the Messiah’s own words that what ushers forth from the mouth is indicative of what is in the heart:

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” (Luke 6:45).

Certainly down through the ages, a loving God has brought forth words which exemplify His loving concern for His own. And yet, in so many words, God’s mouthpiece Moses declares words that to the natural mind do not often add up. First, God requires impossible obedience. Secondly, God requires additional impossible obedience to overcome the disobedience. All along the way, Moses joins his statements with declarations that Israel will not be able to comply with these words, and will be scattered to the nations. Just what is God trying to do? Is He trying to confuse His people?

I do not believe that God is trying to confuse His people, but that He repeats His intentions over and over again because too many are hard of hearing. He is trying over and over again to demonstrate, from the Instruction delivered by Moses to the admonitions of the Prophets, that the only way to fully commune with Him will be through a Redeemer sent by Him. Something else has to be factored in if we are to properly obey Him and receive His blessings, because we are humanly incapable of obeying Him perfectly.

This is a difficult word for fallen humanity to stomach, let alone believe. After all, it takes a great deal of faith to believe that someone else can pay the debt for all of the sins you have committed. And yet, this is the very pattern that was established by faithful ones down through the ages. Remember that it was by faith that Abraham was considered righteous:

“Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

This is the same thing that the Prophet Habakkuk states:

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

The pattern for becoming righteous by our faith has been established and confirmed by the Prophets. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we see that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen:

“And what is faith? Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities that we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1, NEB).

Faith is something that has nothing necessarily tangible to hold on to, in order to activate it. It is a belief in something that is hoped for, such as the Promised Redeemer. It is a conviction in something that cannot be seen or touched. There is probably no adequate way to describe faith, unless you have faith in something larger than yourself. When it comes to communion—and ultimate reunion with the Creator in eternity—you must have confidence that you have faith in the right thing. Certainly, if you are honest with yourself, you do not want to have faith solely in the human works you have done to seemingly gain approval with God.

One of the most important examples of faith comes from the Patriarch Abraham, when he willingly offered up his son Isaac as a sacrifice, at the simple request of God. Abraham had so much faith in God, believing that God could raise people from the dead, that he was willing to offer up his promised child as a sacrifice. The author of Hebrews attests to the great degree of faith that Abraham had:

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED’ [Genesis 21:12]. He considered that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type” (Hebrews 11:17-19).

As you can see, this week’s Torah reading has taken me through a diverse range of Scriptures, as I have dealt with the teaching of Moses and the requirements that he declared to Ancient Israel at this point in the Book of Deuteronomy. I believe this has been a good exercise in returning to the basics of faith that we have received, not only in the Torah and the Prophets, but also in the Apostolic Writings. In these texts we see Torah obedient followers of Yeshua the Messiah, who were filled with the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit, and were empowered to not only obey God more fully—but also expand His Kingdom through the spread of the good news.

Through the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua at Golgotha (Calvary), the Apostles were able to see that their faith in Yeshua’s work is what made them finally acceptable before a holy and righteous God. This did not, however, keep any of them from stopping the Torah obedient life in which they had been reared prior to His arrival. In a like manner, as many of us in the Twenty-First Century return to our Hebraic Roots, it is critical for us to understand that we likewise need to be following the Torah with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. This is not to be an obedience that precedes faith in God—but comes as a result of us believing in God and being empowered by His Spirit, accomplishing the good works He desires of us (cf. Ephesians 2:8-10) via the promise of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. Hebrews 8:7-13; 10:14-18). With the Comforter and Teacher indwelling a heart that has been circumcised by the Lord, we should understand more clearly what Moses says when we read this section of Deuteronomy.

Through the comforting promptings of the Spirit, we can each appreciate what truly fearing and revering the Lord is all about, as we pursue Him in prayer and supplication. We should desire to walk in His ways so that we can please Him, as we are being conformed to the image of the great example we have in Yeshua. We can learn to love Him more, as we understand the greater depths of His love for us. We can seek to serve Him with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Finally, we can each seek to obey His commandments so that He can bless us according to His Word, recognizing that in Yeshua, our sins are forgiven as we confess and repent from our misdeeds.

Those of us who follow the Torah today as Messianic Believers cannot forget Yeshua. Not surprisingly, the issues that the Messianic community faces largely surface among those who tend to deemphasize Yeshua’s place in a person’s life. A fervent belief in Yeshua is absolutely imperative for a person who wants to study and understand the Torah properly. If we lose sight of the goal of the Torah being Yeshua (Romans 10:4), then we will be unable to correctly fear the Lord, walk with Him, love Him, serve Him, and obey Him properly. If we do not have a steadfast belief in Yeshua and in His accomplished work, then our good works will all be performed in vain.

As this Torah portion so eloquently explains, people do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Do you feast on His Word to fulfill you every day? Do you “feast” on Yeshua, allowing the Lord to empower you to perform His work here on Earth? I pray that you do so. Enjoy your feast of His Word on this Shabbat, remembering that our God requires faith in His Word to please Him!


NOTES

[1] CHALOT, 281.

[2] Deuteronomy 8:1-20.

[3] Deuteronomy 9:1-29.

[4] Deuteronomy 10:1-22.

[5] HALOT, 2:1372, 1373.

Messianic Fall Holiday Helper

The Fall holiday season of Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanahYom Kippur, and Sukkot—also including Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah—is a very special, sacred time of year for God’s people. It is considered to be the most holy time of year in Judaism. As such, this season can teach us all important things about the great value of corporate repentance of sin, and an annual inspection of our individual spiritual maturity. We can learn lessons about the Lord’s ongoing plan of salvation history, especially the Second Coming of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and the future establishment of His Millennial Kingdom!

The Messianic Fall Holiday Helper is a valuable compilation of resources designed to assist you, your family, and your Messianic fellowship for this season. We have included a selection of articles summarizing the role of mainline Jewish tradition, and reflective articles that focus on day-to-day observances of the Ten Days of Awe and the eight days of Tabernacles. Messages from customary books of the Tanach (Old Testament) like Deuteronomy and Ecclesiastes, which are often studied and discussed during the Fall high holidays, have been offered. A few FAQs on the Fall high holidays have also been provided. Finally, some significant liturgy derived from Conservative Jewish sources—including a template for both a Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur morning service—is available.

If you have ever wondered what role the Fall high holidays should play in the life of a Believer, then the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper is definitely something for you. You will be blessed by what you can learn during these convocations!

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 20-page excerpt

V’et’chanan

V’et’chanan

I pleaded

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-26

“Call Upon Him!”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

V’et’channan is one of the most compelling Torah portions in the entire annual cycle. With a reiteration of the Decalogue[1] and the Shema[2] being just two of the many words that are declared, the commentaries written about this critical juncture in the sojourn of Ancient Israel are voluminous. One could spend days dissecting the grand significance of the Decalogue and the Shema, as these two critical pieces from the Bible have doubtlessly molded the thoughts and views of countless followers of the Creator God since. While these studies are definitely beneficial and recommended for the ardent student of the Torah, the aspect of this week’s reading, that seemed to settle in my spirit, is the comment that Moses made regarding the opportunity that God’s people have to call upon Him:

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7).

There should be no doubt that this week I am being influenced by the distressing affairs that are currently going on in our world. These are troubling times for many who follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From my limited perspective, if there were ever a time to call upon Him, this is such a time. The fact that these particular Scriptures just happen to be studied this week is not by chance, because our Sovereign God is intimately aware of the circumstances of His Creation. The question that keeps coming to my mind is just how we should all be calling on our God as we each deal with the various challenges of this hour.

As born again Believers, each of us should already know that since we have a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father, via the work of the Risen Savior Yeshua, with us being granted the indwelling presence of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit)—that we can have the confidence to approach the Lord with our requests (Hebrews 4:16). These following words from David, who knew the Lord and is often referred to as one after God’s own heart, should have much more meaning to you as you experience the presence of the Spirit of God in a redeemed heart of flesh by your faith in the Messiah:

“The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds. The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them. The LORD keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever” (Psalm 145:17-21).

One can definitely see a connection between how Deuteronomy 4:7 speaks of those who “call on Him,” and Psalm 145:18, those “who call upon Him in truth.” The noticeable difference, between these two phrases, is how Psalm 145:18 adds the requirement that God’s people call upon Him b’emet or “in truth,” also rendered as “in integrity” (HCSB). Surely, with a knowledge of God’s truth, and a comprehension of His holiness and awesome power, we will be able to properly issue our requests—and most especially our pleas for His mercy and intervention—to Him.

Personally, I have been praying for many different situations this week. Messianic Believers always have the current events present in the Land of Israel, and the proverbial “mess” in the Middle East to pray about. This past week (for 12 August, 2011), though, there has been the growing “mess” in the global economy, and specifically the U.S., to pray about. Uncertainty about the future is running rampant, especially as the value of homes, property, one’s investment portfolio, and confidence in government(s) plummet “down the tubes.” Many people want direction regarding these, and other challenges.

I am reminded that it is often in the broken moments of life, that God finally has the opportunity to reveal Himself. It is when questions seem to go unanswered, that people can come to the end of relying on themselves, and turn to their Creator for mercy, comfort, and even redemption. There is something truly wonderful about seeing that you are nothing without the Lord. When you can honestly confess that you need to totally trust in Him, and recognize that what He is doing or allowing is for your ultimate good—it is then that the understanding witnessed in the Shema can be realized:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

To love the Lord your God with all of oneself, means that you totally accept what He is doing in you and your environment. While you might not completely like what is going on, and you might want it to change, the fact remains that He as Supreme Creator is still in charge. He knows the beginning from the end. He is not confounded by the horrific circumstances that have caused turmoil for someone’s financial holdings or stocks this week.

In V’et’chanan, we see a prophecy of how in the Last Days, those who are scattered of Israel will return to the Lord, and be gathered back to the Promised Land. Within this word are ever-critical admonitions about how His people are to turn to Him with all their beings, and how He is astutely faithful to His covenant:

“The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the LORD drives you. There you will serve gods, the work of man’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice. For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:27-31).

As you can read, our compassionate God will remember His promises to the ancients. This is one promise we can all rely upon, something which faithful followers have always turned to throughout the remainder of Holy Writ:

“Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria to this day” (Nehemiah 9:32).

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Yeshua our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Yeshua the Messiah, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

I would urge you to please take the time to regularly cry out for all of those who truly need Him. Are you one of those people? We live in a world today, where circumstances appear to be getting worse and worse, and are completely out of our control. This is when the Lord can move. Please take the time to call upon the Lord. Pray for all of those being affected by what is happening today, because He is the only One who can bring true shalom, true peace and tranquility, to those whose lives are being turned upside down and into chaos. May we be among those who know that we can call on Him in this time of need!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 5:1-21.

[2] Deuteronomy 6:1-12.