Toldot

Toldot

History

“Generational Choices”

Genesis 25:19-28:9
Malachi 1:1-2:7


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Over the past few weeks, Torah readers have witnessed several parashot focusing on the life of Abraham and his progeny. This week the saga continues, as some of the trials of Isaac are detailed. Interestingly, the title of “History” or “Generations” (Toldot) can give one pause to consider many of the realities, and perhaps uncertainties, of family growth. While we can notice how the descendants of Abraham began to multiply, we should take greater notice of how Abraham had passed on the knowledge of his relationship with the God of Creation and His promises to his progeny.

In Toldot, we clearly see how the Almighty was establishing His chosen people among the nations of the world through His choice of Isaac, and later Jacob. It is instructional for us to learn that, as modeled, how all of us make generational choices is critical for furthering the truths we have inherited through God’s blessings originally promised to Abraham millennia ago.

Last week, if you will recall, our Torah portion Chayei Sarah (Genesis 23:1-25:18) actually concluded with a brief description of Abraham’s death and his burial, by what the text specifies as “his sons”:

“And these are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. And Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. Then his sons Isaac and Ishmael [Yitzchaq v’Yishma’eil banyv] buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, facing Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth; there Abraham was buried with Sarah his wife” (Genesis 25:7-10).

This is an interesting depiction of Abraham’s internment, because if you will recall, following the death of Sarah, Abraham married Keturah and had six additional sons:

“Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. And she bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah…Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east” (Genesis 25:1-2, 5-6).

Here we see the names of six additional sons, yet Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, and only gave gifts to his other sons (Genesis 25:6). This was a critical decision Abraham made as he was approaching his death. Abraham knew that God had promised the inheritance of the Land of Canaan to his son by his wife Sarah (Genesis 17:19, 21). Abraham also remembered that God had made some promises to Ishmael, in order for him to be fruitful and be a great nation (Genesis 17:19-21).

There are no recorded promises made to the other six sons, so when Abraham’s death approached, he gave them some gifts and sent them eastward. By the time Abraham died, Ishmael had probably already fathered many of the twelve sons that were expected (cf. Genesis 25:16-18). When you couple these grandsons with the six sons from Keturah, was Abraham at all concerned about a potential threat to Isaac and his children? Keep in mind that although Abraham was told by God that he would be fruitful (Genesis 22:17), the example of his lack of judgment in fathering Ishmael via Hagar is one that is not looked at that favorably throughout the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 4:25).

Even though Ishmael was present at the burial of Abraham, the fact that Abraham continued to favor Isaac, and gave all that he had to him (cf. Genesis 25:5), indicates that Abraham lived his final years in close proximity to Isaac and Rebekah, so that the inheritance of livestock and goods could be completed. Even though Abraham had a second family, as it were, with Keturah, preference was definitely made toward Isaac, the son of promise. I would submit that the most important thing in Abraham’s mind was to impart to Isaac and his children the special relationship that he enjoyed with the God of Creation.

The Next Generation

One of the main features of our parashah this week is how Isaac and Rebekah had to wait twenty years, before she became pregnant with the twins Esau and Jacob. Isaac was forty when he married Rebekah:

“Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham became the father of Isaac; and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife” (Genesis 25:19-20).

A few verses later we see that Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born:

“And afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:26).

Having been married for twenty years, Isaac and Rebekah lived together childless. They also got to experience the stigma and disappointment of being childless, which in the Ancient Near East would often be viewed as something less than a misfortune. Even in more modern times, while some married couples may choose to wait a number of years before starting a family, they normally do not expect to have to wait two decades!

In many ways, Isaac and Rebekah having to wait was a repeat of some of the pain endured by Abraham and Sarah, as they waited a seemingly interminable amount of time before the birth of Isaac (cf. Genesis 18:11-12). Perhaps when the whole family got together, Abraham may have comforted Isaac and Rebekah with stories of how he and Sarah had to wait for Isaac to be conceived. If this took place, could they have been cautioned not to make the mistake of forcing God’s timing, as was the case with the pregnancy of Hagar that produced Ishmael (cf. Genesis 16:3)?

The Scriptures do not give us any great detail about what transpired during the two decades Isaac and Rebekah waited for their own children, but we do know that in God’s time, Isaac’s entreaties for a pregnancy were answered as Rebekah became pregnant with twins (Genesis 25:21). But, even after a twenty-year wait for children, Rebekah’s pregnancy appeared to have complications. From the very womb, the twins inside of her are said to have been struggling for dominance. Rebekah’s pleas to God were answered when He spoke to her about the situation:

“But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is so, why then am I this way?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; and two peoples shall be separated from your body; and one people shall be stronger than the other; and the older shall serve the younger’” (Genesis 25:22-23).

In what appear to be some very intriguing words, Rebekah wanted to know why “the children clashed together[1] within her” (Alter). She received an answer to her plea from God, and many Bible readers—especially those who follow current events in the Middle East with the Israeli-Arab conflict—feel that Genesis 25:22-23 definitely informs them about this. Perhaps a bit more significant for the narrative here, Rebekah would have been relieved to receive an answer from the Holy One that the conflict she felt during her pregnancy was by His design, and not because of anything that she did. Similarly, if you have ever heard the voice of the Creator respond to one of your urgent pleas, then you are likely able to recall His response whenever you need guidance and encouragement.

In a moment of great stress, the Lord told Rebekah that within her womb were two peoples who were already struggling with one another. Can you imagine what she thought when she delivered her two boys, and the first one came out ruddy and hairy, with his younger brother actually grabbing the firstborn child’s heel?

“Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob; and Isaac was sixty years old when she gave birth to them” (Genesis 25:25-26).

Certainly as a follower of Abraham and Isaac’s God, she had probably heard about the curses that were first uttered to the serpent, Eve, and Adam in the Garden of Eden. Recall what God’s first promise of the Messiah to come actually was:

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (Genesis 3:15).

What was God communicating to His followers when He said that the seed of the woman would “bruise him on the heel”? In the scene of Esau and Jacob’s birth, the younger son being born held on to the heel of his older brother. Having just experienced the pain of childbirth, one can only imagine what Rebekah might have thinking. We may never know for certain what went through Rebekah’s mind, but we do know from the rest of the Biblical narrative that the line of Jacob eventually gave rise to the Messiah (Matthew 1:2ff; Luke 1:33). And as the Apostle Paul attests, women are to take special note of how they are to “be saved through the child-bearing[2]” (1 Timothy 2:15, YLT), Yeshua, a direct reference back to Genesis 3:15.[3]

Further on in Toldot, the twins are described in contrasting tones:

“When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Genesis 25:27-28).

We see an interesting picture here of the distinctions between these two children of Isaac and Rebekah, and how their parents treated them. Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” (NIV). On the other hand, “Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents” (RSV). It appears that Esau was the “stronger” of the two, or at least was more outgoing as a warrior/gatherer, while Jacob spent time in tents attending to various household chores.

As Esau and Jacob grew up together, Rebekah certainly witnessed the obvious differences between her two sons. The older son was a man after the flesh (cf. Hebrews 12:16), and the younger was inclined to remain at home. Within a period of time, a challenging dichotomy developed in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. It is stated that Isaac loved Esau, because he had “a taste for wild game” (Genesis 25:28, NIV). On the other hand, it is stated that Rebekah loved Jacob.

Rebekah had been given a very strong word from the Lord during her pregnancy that “the elder shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23, RSV). She knew that Jacob was definitely more inclined to household responsibilities. She was living in the reality that Isaac, the firstborn son of Abraham and Sarah, was to receive the promises of God. She could definitely have thought that the promises to Abraham and Isaac were ultimately going to be bestowed upon Jacob, the younger of the twins. After all, she had imbedded in her memory: Was not the older to serve the younger?

Birthright Transfer

Continuing in the narrative of our Torah portion, we encounter more, which specifically informs us about the character of Esau and Jacob. A very unique event occurred, confirming how Esau was largely a mortal man after the flesh, with little concern for spiritual matters. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a meal. Even if Jacob’s intentions were not entirely honorable in this scene, Esau’s actions in agreeing to the transaction were neither wise nor responsible, either:

“And when Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.’ Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ And Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me’; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright’” (Genesis 25:29-34).

Some Jewish Rabbis think that this event took place at the time of Abraham’s burial,[4] but there is no direct Biblical evidence that indicates this as the specific time when Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. What should grab our attention a little more is why Esau agreed to sell his birthright for a meal. What does it mean when “Esau came in from the field and he was famished” because he says “I am about to die” (Genesis 25:29, 32)? Is this just because Esau was out hunting too much? Or had Esau gone out and committed some ungodly deeds, stirring up some problems for himself? Jacob was obviously at home conducting his affairs, and for some reason or another might had an inclination that if Esau were given the birthright, he might have either misused or squandered it.

In securing Esau’s birthright of the firstborn for a meal, Jacob was treating Esau in a manner consistent with a second meaning derived from his given name Ya’akov,[5] which can mean “supplanter” (Genesis 27:36). Here at this propitious moment, Jacob sold his brother a bowl of soup, knowing that Esau would give him his birthright:

Apparently, this transaction is considered by God to be valid, because Esau verbally swore to Jacob that the birthright was to be his (Genesis 25:33). How powerful can spoken words be, which reveal what is truly in one’s heart (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45)? Is it possible that Rebekah had revealed to her son Jacob, that as the younger his older brother would serve him? Or is it possible that while Jacob conducted his affairs in the family tents, that he decided he wanted to inherit the birthright blessings? He certainly knew the (irresponsible) inclinations of his twin brother Esau. Did Jacob have a plan of eventually taking the birthright from Esau? We do not know for sure. When Jacob offered a meal to his brother, Esau notably did not refuse, having readily (and stupidly) accepted the proposal for the exchange.

In the First Century, the author of Hebrews admonishes his audience why Esau could accept the exchange without any immediate reservations. Esau is specifically considered to be an ungodly and immoral man, who was quite foolish and who made a rash decision:

“See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17).

This view of Esau being a base man of the flesh is seen earlier in the works of the Jewish philosopher Philo. He describes Esau as an evil man, versus Jacob who was wise and who concerned himself with virtue:

“Now that the wicked man is destitute of a city and destitute of a home, Moses testifies in speaking of that hairy man who was also a man of varied wickedness, Esau, when he says, ‘But Esau was skillful in hunting, and a rude man.’ [Genesis 25:27.] For it is not natural for vice which is inclined to be subservient to the passions to inhabit the city of virtue, inasmuch as it is devoted to the pursuit of rudeness and ignorance, with great folly. But Jacob, who is full of wisdom, is both a citizen and one who dwells in a house, that is to say, in virtue. Accordingly Moses says of him, ‘But Jacob is a man without guile, dwelling in a house’” (Allegorical Interpretation 3.2).[6]

Although Jacob was by no means imperfect, it is ultimately Esau who is to be considered to be an immoral or godless person (cf. Genesis 28:6-10). Because Esau did not have a spiritual inclination toward his Creator, he despised his birthright (Genesis 25:34). Esau was willing to sell it to satisfy some momentary hunger or cravings. The ArtScroll Chumash perhaps validly notes, “For what did he give up his precious birthright?—for a pot of beans!”[7]

The Blessing of Isaac

A number of years later, with Esau and Jacob a bit older, Esau now had an interest in securing the blessings of his father Isaac. But as the narrative details, he had already been inclined to intermarry with some of the local women, and was a practicing polygamist:[8]

“And when Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:34-35).

The marriages of Esau to Judith and Basemath were grievous for Isaac and Rebekah to witness: “they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (RSV). Probably realizing how Abraham’s servant had to be sent back to his home country to select a wife for Isaac (cf. Genesis 24:1-7), the two parents understood how important it was for their sons to at least try to marry someone who had a similar background. They knew that they had inherited the blessings via the marriage of Abraham to Sarah, and in their hearts they wanted the same blessings for their sons. But Esau had married local women, who were undoubtedly involved in the worship of other gods and other unacceptable practices. Yet, with this in mind, it is interesting that as Isaac was growing old, he was still inclined to give Esau a chance to receive his blessings (Genesis 27:1-4). Even if Esau had displeased his parents in his marriage choices, he still remained their son and they still loved him.

As Isaac’s eyes began to fail him, he thought he was going to die, and so in a last minute appeal to his son Esau, he made the request of one final savory meal: “prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die” (Genesis 27:4). Isaac does tell Esau that before he died, he wanted to bless him. Of course, as the record indicates, Rebekah overheard this request and she went into high gear to circumvent the bestowing of Isaac’s blessing on Esau (Genesis 27:5-14). She probably remembered the clear words from God “that the older will serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23), and so now in a very premeditated way, Rebekah decided that she would intervene to see that Jacob receives the blessings of Isaac instead.

Without going into great detail, we should all know that the deception was successful and that Isaac blessed Jacob as he would a firstborn son (Genesis 27:15-29). In essence, the successful trade of the birthright status years earlier, had now come full circle as the firstborn blessings, usually designated for the one actually born first, was bestowed upon Jacob rather than Esau. Right after Jacob had stolen his brother’s blessing, Esau returned to prepare the meal his father actually wanted, so that he might receive the firstborn blessing (Genesis 25:30-31). Instead, he found out that he was too late (Genesis 25:32-34), and he cried out for restitution with a gut-wrenching plea:

“Then he [Esau] said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob [Ya’akov], for he has supplanted [aqav] me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.’ And he said, ‘Have you not reserved a blessing for me?’ But Isaac answered and said to Esau, ‘Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?’ And Esau said to his father, ‘Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.’ So Esau lifted his voice and wept” (Genesis 27:36-38).

Esau was crushed. He finally realized that he had not only lost his birthright to Jacob, but now the grand blessing of his father Isaac had also been taken away from him. His weeping was an indication of great human sorrow. In his mercy and love toward his son, Isaac did bestow a word upon Esau—but only after he realized that the blessing of Abraham, which he had inherited, was already passed on verbally to his son Jacob. Isaac was not about to change what had already been stated over Jacob and his descendants, and so he can only tell Isaac this:

“Then Isaac his father answered and said to him, ‘Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling, and away from the dew of heaven from above. And by your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.’ So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself, ‘The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob’” (Genesis 27:39-41).

(I do not know about you, but I do not honestly know if I would have really wanted something like this pronounced over me…)

Generational Blessing

Realizing that it was Esau’s intention to murder Isaac (Genesis 27:42-45), Rebekah again decided that she knew best, recognizing how the best thing for Jacob was for him to relocate out of the region. She knew how she could get Isaac to agree to this. Rebekah implored her husband Isaac, blaming her frustration on Esau’s wives from the daughters of Heth, to send Jacob back to the old country to secure a wife from among her relatives:

“And Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?’ So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. And may God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you; that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham’” (Genesis 27:46-28:4).

We see here from Isaac how the blessing of Abraham was bestowed upon Jacob: “may El Shaddai bless you, make you fruitful and make you numerous, and may you be a congregation of peoples[9]” (Genesis 28:3, ATS). Isaac himself did not know when he would again see Jacob, so he passed on this final blessing before Jacob left. Of course, no one at the time realized that Isaac would live to a ripe old age of 180, and that his two sons would have to reunite to bury him (Genesis 35:28-29).

Considering the Generational Choices

What have we learned, as we are reading about the early generations of the family chosen by God to be a major example of faithfulness toward Him?

First, we witness that the Lord challenges each generation with trials that are designed to test our faith. Whether it is waiting upon God’s blessing for opening the womb, or being sent into hostile territory to deal with the ravages of famine (Genesis 26:1ff), the ability to trust in God for His plan and provision is imperative. As we have seen in recent weeks, both Abraham and Sarah—and now Isaac and Rebekah—have dealt with these challenges in different and yet similar ways.

Next, we can see that each generation has some critical choices to make in order to help insure that the blessings of the Holy One are passed down to succeeding generations. We are modeled the concept of encouraging our children to marry spouses from people with the same faith and relatively familiar backgrounds, so they can have the best chance of marital success. Abraham did this for Isaac in retrieving Rebekah to be his wife (Genesis 24). In a like manner, Jacob was sent to Rebekah’s family to secure a wife (Genesis 27:46-28:2). By following this pattern, each successive generation made choices for their children that increased the probability that their descendants perpetuated the truths regarding the God of Abraham and His promises.

For those of us living today, it is our responsibility to heed the successes and failures of those who have preceded us, notably the examples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Sarah and Rebekah. Just like these spiritual forbearers, we should be ever conscious of the need to make good generational choices, as we are given responsibility for those who come after us. We should be positively influencing the future choices of our offspring. Among the many things this involves, is there anyone better equipped to advise and encourage the next generation about marital choices than the parents who raised them? Of course, in order to assist in this process, the one Torah commandment that deals specifically with the direct relationship between children and parents, should be inculcated into each successive generation:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12; cf. Deuteronomy 5:16).

May we all take an active interest in the lives of our children, and also other young people in the community of faith who look to us as mentors. Let us do so by not only giving them upstanding marital advice and council, but most especially exemplifying what it means to have a dynamic relationship with the God of Israel through His Son, Yeshua the Messiah. In so doing, it will not only be the faithfulness of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs that they are guided by, but most importantly the faithfulness of the One who died for our sins and has provided us full reconciliation with the Father![10]


NOTES

[1] Heb. ratzatz.

[2] Grk. dia tēs teknogonias.

[3] For further reading, consult the article “The Message of the Pastoral Epistles” and the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[4] Cf. Scherman, Chumash, 127.

[5] Cf. J. Barton Payne, “aqav,” in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:691-692.

[6] Philo Judaeus: The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged, trans. C.D. Yonge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1993), 50.

[7] Scherman, Chumash, 128.

[8] For a review of this subject in the Bible, consult the article “Is Polygamy for Today?” by J.K. McKee.

[9] Heb. qehal amim.

[10] Consult the article “The Faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah” by J.K. McKee.

V’yeira

V’yeira

He appeared

“Difficult and Hesitant Questions”

Genesis 18:1-22:24
2 Kings 4:1-37 (A); 4:1-23 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, V’yeira, gives us yet another peek into the exemplary life of the Patriarch Abraham. Strong emphasis is placed on how he conducted his life and handled some of the major challenges among the people he encountered. In our reading, we see how the Lord appeared to Abraham in the form of three men, announcing to him how Sarah will have a son,[1] and we are informed from this episode how hospitality is a hallmark of Abraham’s character. Abraham has such an intimate relationship with God, that he feels comfortable enough to implore Him for mercy for any righteous inhabitants living among the perversion found in Sodom and Gomorrah.[2] After the judgment issued upon Sodom and Gomorrah,[3] Abraham’s migrations in the Negev desert and ultimate settling in Beersheba are chronicled, with details about his interactions with Abimelech.[4] During this time, we are told about the birth of Isaac and his circumcision on the eighth day,[5] Sarah’s laughing reaction to the birth,[6] and Sarah’s issues with Hagar the mother of Ishmael.[7]

One of the most significant scenes witnessed in V’yeira is the binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-18), commonly called the aqedah[8] in Jewish theology. This is often highlighted by commentators because it is probably the most trying test issued to Abraham by God. Believers in the Messiah of Israel obviously make a connection between Abraham’s willingness to offer up Isaac, and our Heavenly Father offering up His only Son, Yeshua, for the sin of humanity (cf. Hebrews 11:19). As you can imagine, there are some important things that you can meditate and reflect upon as you study the Torah this week.

These various scenes are certainly instructional, as we should focus our attention on Abraham’s life experiences, and consider to what degree we are affected or influenced by them. One particular issue encountered in V’yeira this week is a bit providential, as we read about the figure of Lot and the Divine judgment enacted upon Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why is the scene of Sodom and Gomorrah so important? I believe it is important to consider this week, primarily because of what is currently transpiring in our world. This week there is presently a dispute over a planned Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem (12 November, 2006). Here in the United States, we have heard allegations issued against an American congressman and a prominent evangelical pastor, associated with homosexual discrepancies. Recognizing the fact that we really are having to read about Sodom and Gomorrah, you have to wonder if God is trying to get our collective attention about an issue that affects every human being. When the Lord originally told Adam and Eve to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28), this was intended to occur between one man and one woman coming together in a monogamous marriage relationship (Genesis 2:24).[9] Anything that skews this, be it men and women engaged in homosexual activities—or even unmarried men and women engaged in heterosexual activities—undeniably mars the Creator’s original intent.

Within modern Israel, the forces of evil are working overtime to discredit, denounce, and disgrace—if not eliminate—what is supposed to be a Torah-centered Jewish culture. The challenge, of course, is that the State of Israel was largely founded by secular Jews, whose main concern was to establish a country run by Jews and for Jews,[10] but whose laws are not always informed by either the Torah or Jewish religious law and tradition. Homosexuality is not a crime in modern Israel, unlike Ancient Israel.

The debate over whether or not the homosexual community in Israel can rally this week occurs in proximity to us reading not only about the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, but the reasons why God thought it necessary to decimate the two cities. In a country that upholds the Hebrew Scriptures as some basis for its existence, what does this say about the Israelis? To an extent, it says that people who live in Israel are no different or any less sinful than those living in the Jewish Diaspora, or anyone else on Planet Earth for that matter. The homosexual issue is fairly black and white when we read about it in the Scriptures, without room for any shrouded “gray” opinions. God does not mince any words when He declares that homosexuality is an abomination (Leviticus 18:22). As much as we may believe that the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) has atoned for the sin of homosexuality (cf. Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 9:12)—and that God loves homosexual people—it is still absolutely unacceptable.

The more you review the history of humanity, and in particular the Bible, it is reasonable to conclude that every generation from Adam and Eve to the present has a degree of wickedness and perversion—which continues to be passed down and compounded generation after generation. Consider the fratricide of Cain (Genesis 4:8), the devolution of man’s reason to always think evil that precipitated the Flood (Genesis 6:5), the rebellion of Nimrod at Babel (Genesis 11), and many other sins and crimes against the Creator that are too numerous to list. While many sinful activities are often only manifested in the form of negative or mean-spirited attitudes, from one person or group of people toward another—physical sins which merit some kind of high penalties or capital punishment understandably get our attention. Certainly, when the world of humankind is devastated by an ecological disaster like the Flood in Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32), or cities like Sodom and Gomorrah are laid waste by a sudden catastrophe like in V’yeira, the need to recognize their significance cannot be overstated!

When we start reading Genesis 19 and the actions that take place in Sodom, with Lot and the angels who visit him (Genesis 19:1-3), what immediately jumps out at us is how sexually decrepit a society like Sodom really was. No one’s privacy, especially in the most intimate of areas, is at all respected.[11] The angels as newcomers go to Lot’s house, and people from all over the city encroach on Lot’s dwelling—demanding that they be sent out to them for their physical indulgence:

“Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; and they called to Lot and said to him, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them’” (Genesis 19:4-5).

It is difficult to imagine that all from the city gathered to have relations with “the strangers.” The Hebrew describes this as kol-ha’am m’qatzeh or “all the people from the extremity” (YLT). Whether this represents all of those in Sodom going to Lot’s house, or those from all sectors of Sodom is unimportant. The fact of the matter is that when the messengers arrived at Lot’s house, word got out that some visitors were in town, and this spread all throughout the city. A huge mob of sexually debauched men were ready to encroach upon them, screaming “Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them!” (NLT). Even if we disapprove of homosexual activities today, most gays and lesbians in the Twenty-First Century do not act like this, and tend to maintain a high degree of sensibility.

As bad as the sinful behavior was in Sodom, Lot had not been tempted to become a homosexual during his time in the area, unlike most of the people. This is noted by a comment that comes forth from the lusting crowd as Lot prepares to protect his guests:

“‘Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.’ But they said, ‘Stand aside.’ Furthermore, they said, ‘This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.’ So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door” (Genesis 19:8-9).

Lot’s relatively new residency in Sodom allowed him to still be considered an “alien” or “foreigner” (HCSB)[12] in the community. Despite the threat of physical harm against him, Lot stood his ground and protected his visitors. Oddly, Lot was willing to sacrifice his two virgin daughters to the mob, rather than allow his two visitors to be sexually violated. Whether he actually would allow them to take his two daughters, or that this was a cue from him to God’s messengers standing by to employ some supernatural powers, cannot be known. The homosexuality of Sodom was so bad, though, that Lot’s daughters were refused.

The morning after Lot protected his visitors, they told him that the city would be judged. Lot was to take his family away from the city in order to avoid certain death and damnation along with the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. At this point, we find that “righteous Lot” actually hesitated before departing[13]:

“Then the two men said to Lot, ‘Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.’ Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, ‘Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.’ But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the LORD was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, one said, ‘Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away.’ But Lot said to them, ‘Oh no, my lords! Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; now behold, this town is near enough to flee to, and it is small. Please, let me escape there (is it not small?) that my life may be saved.’ He said to him, ‘Behold, I grant you this request also, not to overthrow the town of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I cannot do anything until you arrive there.’ Therefore the name of the town was called Zoar. The sun had risen over the earth when Lot came to Zoar” (Genesis 19:12-23).

We find that Lot not only hesitated when warned to flee, but that the messengers actually had to grab his hand and the hands of his wife and daughters in order to lead them away from the city. How could “righteous Lot,” who so bravely protected these two angels from certain gang rape by the men of Sodom, been reluctant to leave Sodom? We might think that despite the obvious perversion of the Sodomites, Lot had become comfortable or tolerant of their abominable acts. Maybe he just had too much property and holdings in the city to easily leave. Or, is there something else we can conclude from the account of Genesis 19? Here we find that when the messengers arrive in Sodom, they find Lot in the gate:

“Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground” (Genesis 19:1).

The fact that Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom is significant. In ancient times, the gate of a city was where the elders or leaders of a community customarily spent their time discussing various political, economic, judicial, military, and various other matters. Of course, in the Ancient Near East all of these matters were closely entwined, as many cities were generally responsible for protecting themselves from marauders from without, and dissension from within. Here at the gate, the well being, and if necessary, the survival of the city was debated and discussed, with decisions agreed upon and implemented.

Since the text mentions that Lot was actually sitting at the city gate of Sodom, it is fair to conclude that Lot was among the leading or influential voices of the city. It is possible that in some way Lot was trying to reform Sodom—in spite of the difficulty—by his testimony of the Living God that he served. No doubt, Lot would have naturally received some respect among his peers from the incident that had transpired a number of years earlier, when Sodom was overrun by the allied kings, who plundered the city (Genesis 14). One notable event took place after Abram had rescued Lot and his family from the ransacking armies. Abram told the king of Sodom that his God was responsible for delivering Lot:

“The king of Sodom said to Abram, ‘Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.’ Abram said to the king of Sodom, ‘I have sworn to the LORD God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, “I have made Abram rich.” I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share’” (Genesis 14:21-24).

Whether this testimony to the king of Sodom elevated Lot in the estimation of the Sodomites is not known, but the record remains that Lot was among those gathered at the gate of Sodom when the angels arrived. I think that it is possible that Lot was doing his best to communicate the holiness of the Most High God to his neighbors (even if he did make mistakes like trying to give his two virgin daughters to the mob). Perhaps Lot already had a history of demonstrating a degree of righteousness when he was condemned for being a judge over the Sodomites (Genesis 19:9). He certainly advocated heterosexual unions, as his daughters were betrothed to the young men of Sodom (Genesis 19:12). When you combine these insights with the fact that Abraham’s request for salvation for the righteous of Sodom (Genesis 18:27-32), resulted in only Lot’s family being spared, we see compiled together something that is both encouraging as well as sobering. Lot was surely considered “righteous,” but he definitely had made some serious errors. Let us not forget how the very reason that Lot ended up in Sodom was so there would be no division with his uncle (Genesis 13:8-12).

There is certainly a great deal of drama witnessed from what transpires in Genesis ch. 19, the scene of the angels going to pull Lot and his family from the sinful locus of Sodom, followed by God’s judgment via fire and brimstone. We immediately think that Lot living in this town has made him one who was totally compromised with the world and its ways. To a degree, Lot certainly was. But we need to temper this with recognizing how ultimately, the Apostle Peter actually refers to Lot as a righteous man, who personally suffered because of the lawless activities he saw occur around him:

“[A]nd if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:7-10).

From the Creation of the world and the Fall of humanity, there have been significant problems with “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Sin manifests itself on many different levels, but the scene of something like Sodom and Gomorrah, and its homosexual roots (cf. Romans 1:20-32), are not easily forgotten. While there are any number of severe sins to be considered, all worthy of extreme judgment according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), what we read about in V’yeira is to be taken as a sign of a much more severe judgment to come to those who are unrepentant (2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7; cf. Revelation 21:8).[14]

How do Messiah followers today react to this, who largely live in Western societies where traditional sexual mores are being assaulted on so many different levels? How are we to respond to the growing number of men and women who proudly declare to willing media outlets their sexual preferences? While the Scriptures testify that this is not a new thing among humans, what should we be doing in the various “gates” where the Lord has us uniquely positioned?

The only answer I can give you—beyond maintaining our own personal integrity—is to simply point people to the eternal redemption that is found only in Messiah Yeshua. We must demonstrate this by our faithfulness to the Lord and to His ways every day. Our behavior must be impeccable. Our prayers should be for the salvation of those who are turned over to the lust of their flesh, rather than to harshly condemn their actions. Consider some of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, living in the midst of a culture that looked quite favorably on homosexual and lewd heterosexual activity. He urges restraint in how we may judge and condemn other people:

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:1-4).

Let me recommend that we do not judge or eternally condemn the homosexuals in Jerusalem, or the congressman or pastor of recent note—or anyone for that matter engaged in any unacceptable sexual activities (gay or straight). We need to instead pray for their salvation, deliverance, and complete repentance.

The fact is, my friends, each one of us at one point or another in our lives, has at the very least had inappropriate sexual thoughts (cf. Matthew 5:28). Some of you have been involved in pre-marital sexual activities, have been caught in an extra-marital affair, or may have had issues involving pornography. If we look at gay and lesbian sin as somehow being worse than unacceptable heterosexual activities, then we have not at all been fair. Furthermore, even if we have been relatively sexually pure in our lives, this does not mean that there might not be other areas which need improvement. If we are sexually pure, but we are thieves or swindlers, we have still violated God’s Law and are condemned by it. If we are faithful in the marriage bond, but treat our spouse with verbal contempt and abuse, we have broken Torah.

Consider the list of sins summarized by the Apostle Paul, which litters every sector of human culture all over the globe—in both ancient times and up until today:

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:28-32).

These sins and their commensurate penalties should cause us all to seriously pause for a moment and make sure that we have our accounts in order with the Lord. Too frequently in today’s Messianic community, the only sins that tend to stir people can be when we think of various Christians who do not keep the seventh-day Sabbath/Shabbat, the appointed times of Leviticus 23, or eat kosher. The sins that got First Century Jews stirred up about the pagans around them were actually those of idolatry and lewd sexuality (Wisdom 14:12; 2 Maccabees 6:4). Is it possible that in desiring to see “Torah” restored to God’s people, some of today’s Messianic teachers and leaders have an unbalanced emphasis? Are we not to be appropriate beacons of upstanding behavior in all areas of life?

The very fact, that in our time many formerly conservative Christian denominations and churches have embraced the homosexual agenda,[15] has been a cause for many individuals to return to a spiritual foundation in the Old Testament or the Tanakh. While there have always been Christian theological traditions which have respected the Law of Moses for ethical and moral instruction, today’s Messianic movement has the unique capacity to give such Believers much more in terms of their Hebraic Roots, and in really living like our Jewish Savior Jesus and His Apostles. How might Messianic Believers like you and I be positioned, either now or in the near future, to answer their questions as they are convicted by the Holy Spirit that they need to commit themselves to a faithful reading of Moses’ Teaching every week?

I urge you to take this before our Heavenly Father in prayer, as He refines you for some important service in the days to come!


NOTES

[1] Genesis 18:1-16.

[2] Genesis 18:17-33.

[3] Genesis 19:1-29.

[4] Genesis 20:1-18; 21:22-34.

[5] Genesis 21:1-8.

[6] Genesis 21:6-7.

[7] Genesis 21:9-21.

[8] Cf. Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Midrashic Literature (New York: Judaica Treasury, 2004), 1105.

[9] Cf. Mark 10:7-8; Mathew 19:5; 1 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:31.

[10] If you have never done so, do be sure to read through, at one point or another, Theodor Herzl’s seminal work, The Jewish State (1896).

[11] It is useful to remember that while there was a high degree of homosexuality present in Sodom and Gomorrah, many of those who were homosexual were probably bisexual, at least for the purposes of having children.

[12] Heb. verb gur.

[13] The verb appearing in Genesis 19:16 is mahah, appearing in the Hitpael stem (intensive action, active voice), meaning “hesitate, tarry, delay” (HALOT, 1:552).

[14] For an analysis of the false teaching known as annihilationism, consult Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), and the article “Why Hell Must Be Eternal” by J.K. McKee.

[15] Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website “Romans 1:26-27.”

Lekh-Lekha

Lekh-Lekha

Get yourself out

“Go Forth and Receive Blessings”

Genesis 12:1-17:27
Isaiah 40:27-41:16


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Perhaps one of the most often quoted and well known Torah passages, about the unique relationship between the Eternal Creator and Abraham—often considered to be the “father of faith” (cf. Romans 4:11-16)—is found in the opening passage of the parashah we are considering this week:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran” (Genesis 12:1-4).

Here in the command to “Go forth,” Abram is called out of the relative luxury of Ur, as he is one who was firmly embedded in the local culture with his extended family. We get the impression that he was a well-to-do businessman, living in a city adjacent to the lower Euphrates River (modern-day Iraq) as it flowed into the Persian Gulf.

Without any apparent or recorded hesitation, Abram was commanded by the Holy One to leave his home and relocate to a more remote location, at the age of seventy-five and without a physical heir to his estate. When we encounter God’s request as Bible readers, we think that this must have been met with some skepticism, or at least curiosity. Yet, Abraham responded obediently, and for the next century from the Torah’s record (cf. Genesis 25:7), it is abundantly clear that Abram/Abraham was a unique man whose impact upon the future generations of those who have sought the Creator is immeasurable in human terms.

Great lessons for God’s people today can be appropriated as we read about and significantly consider the exemplary life exhibited by Abraham. Throughout his experiences with God, he was asked to simply follow Him, and step out in complete and total trust and faith. Unlike those of later times, who had the collective wisdom and communal history of hearing about how the Lord had interacted with their people in the past, Abraham was having to chart unknown territory. God simply interjected Himself into Abraham’s life, and he had to place his total confidence into this unseen Deity. The Holy One was undoubtedly testing Abraham’s heart to confirm that he was going to be entirely loyal to Him. His wholehearted belief in the words and promises of God is summarized in how his trust (Heb. verb aman) was considered to be righteousness:

“Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. And He said to him, ‘I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it’” (Genesis 15:6-7).

This critical juncture in Abraham’s life describes that he absolutely believed in the Almighty and took Him at His word. His confidence to recognize that the Creator had his best intentions in mind, in transplanting him from his home country to a relatively unknown and unseen Promised Land, had to be immense. It is not like when any of us has to move from one city to another city, or one region to another region, when already we have a fairly good idea about the place we are relocating to. Abraham knew nothing about where he was going, except what God had told him. He heard the voice of the Lord and believed without any hesitation.

Time and again throughout the course of history, followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have had to respond to whether or not they are truly going to serve Him. They face various tests and trials permitted by Him, as they are forced to demonstrate their loyalty and obedience to the Lord and His ways. The examples of how this works are seen throughout the Scriptures, and are too numerous to list—but just about everyone who has expressed a belief in God has had to go through some kind of testing at one point or another in their life. The challenge for each of us is to simply pass the tests, just like Abraham—because having to repeat a test because of unbelief, or even disobedience, is never something that anyone wants to do. Therefore, it is critical for God’s people to develop an inherent faith component that gains encouragement and fortitude from examples like that of Abraham.

In Genesis chs. 15&16 we read about how Abram’s trusted servant Eliezer of Damascus will not be his heir,[1] the agreement struck with God between the animal pieces,[2] the cohabitation with Hagar giving birth to Ishmael,[3] and God’s announcement that Sarah will give birth to a son.[4] Genesis 17:1-8 summarizes what has become known as the Abrahamic Covenant, including God’s promises to multiply Abraham’s seed, making him fruitful, and giving Him the Land of Canaan for perpetuity:

“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, And I will multiply you exceedingly.’ Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’”

Genesis 17 is doubtlessly loaded with so many things to digest, that all I can do is stand amazed at its future implications for the generations that followed! When we study the life experiences of Abraham, and the others who came after him, I am greatly encouraged that I am doing the right thing when I consider what the Torah teaches me about faith. The author of Hebrews later asserts how Believers in the Messiah of Israel have a tremendous cloud of witnesses behind them in history, whose previous life examples are to serve as a testimony of how we are to continue the legacy they began:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Yeshua, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

The life of faith is not often something easy for any generation to demonstrate. Even today, knowing that the Savior has come and has been sacrificed for human sins, each of us still has to step out in total confidence and place ourselves in the Lord’s hands. As important as it is to live forth the proper actions of faith, it is ultimately our belief in Yeshua’s accomplished work at Golgotha (Calvary) that ultimately reckons us righteous:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:8-10).

When the Sages considered an appropriate Haftarah selection for this Torah reading, they focused on some words from the Prophet Isaiah. Here, in another often known and beloved passage, Isaiah speaks about how God provides strength and vigor to those mortals who look to Him for deliverance. God’s people are to wait upon Him, as they seek after Him for provision and steadfastness:

“Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:27-31).

I find this to be a beautiful passage, which gives those pursuing God hope that there is a way and a time for everything! May we be found trusting, faithful, and patient when we need to go forth in order to receive the blessings of our faith and obedience to Him. Perhaps more importantly, may we be able to pass on a positive legacy to those who come after us, that they should likewise seek the Lord in all things.


NOTES

[1] Genesis 15:1-6.

[2] Genesis 15:7-21.

[3] Genesis 16:1-6.

[4] Genesis 16:7-16.

Noach

Noach

Noah

“Walking by Faith”

Genesis 6:9-11:32
Isaiah 54:1-55:5 (A); 54:1-10 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Each year when we reconsider this Torah portion, which deals with the account of Noah, we are faced with another five chapters of Scripture that cover a great deal of human history. As you can imagine, there is much that can be and has been said, as people down through the ages have hypothesized about what transpired from the time from Adam and Eve to Noah, and on to Abraham. While most of this speculation is interesting reading, many of the assumptions have a tendency to muddy the waters of what God is trying to communicate to us who are trying to take this material and reasonably apply it to our lives today. Oftentimes, hungry Torah students spend a considerable amount of time munching on various “nuggets”—mostly pure conjecture—and can overlook the serious spiritual questions that arise concerning God’s judgment upon the world via the Flood. One of those serious questions regards the personal character of Noah, who is stated to be a righteous, blameless man who walked with the Lord:

“But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God” (Genesis 6:8-9).

We live in a world that incessantly belittles the record of Genesis chs. 1-11, the Creation account of Adam and Eve and Noah’s Flood. Seeds of doubt can be planted by modern science or “the enlightened,” which can germinate into unbelief or full blown apostasy from belief in God. At the same time, there is also a deliberate ignorance on the part of some Bible readers to never even listen to the critiques of modern science, at least being aware of why liberal Jews and Christians consider this part of the Torah to largely be mythology. Believers in the God of Creation are not to be double-minded people (cf. James 1:6-8), who on the one hand may consider multiple witnesses in terms of establishing facts that directly affect their personal or family lives (i.e., Deuteronomy 19:15), but on the other who keep their ears completely closed to those who attack the Bible. Nowhere are we ever told that we are to have a “blind faith”; the testimony of nature does have to be weighed into what we believe, just as the testimony of Scripture must be considered.

 

The Fallout from Creation

While pondering Noach in conjunction with last week’s Torah portion, Bereisheet, you may have found that the lack of details regarding this period of human history can be quite thought provoking. Certainly, no one studying the Torah wants to question the wisdom or immanence of our Creator, but instead we should each want to have an unwavering faith in Him.

In the Creation account, almost like an annual spiritual examination, we have the yearly reminder that God created the Heavens and the Earth out of what is termed in Hebrew tohu v’bohu, “welter and waste” (Genesis 1:2, Alter), perhaps meaning “astonishingly empty” (ATS). We have to consider that when God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3), that out of the darkness came illumination. We have to believe that in six yamim—with us not knowing exactly what constituted an actual “day” at this time[1]—that the Almighty prepared the Creation for human habitation. This would include not only the plants, animals, and sealife needed for the human race, but also would involve the formation of mineral deposits, metals, precious stones, and diverse energy sources needed for the advance of civilization.

In terms of people themselves, in reviewing Creation we have to recognize that God not only crafted the first man out of the ground, but that He gave him a unique consciousness or nishmat chayim (Genesis 2:7), something which the animals do not possess. When Adam and Eve began their lives together in the Garden of Eden, a serpent deceived the woman into eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.[2] And Adam, knowing of his wife’s indiscretion, voluntarily chose to disobey the command of God.[3] From the Fall of humanity, significant fallout ensued as the man and woman were ejected from the Garden.[4] Curses were placed upon the serpent, the man and the woman, and only future Divine intervention will fix the problems.[5] There are a great deal of events, which are subject to various interpretations and applications, found here.

In Noach, the main feature is that a great Flood judged all of humanity except Noah and his family. For a person like me, without faith in God and the veracity of His Word—especially coupled with the confirmations found in the words of Yeshua the Messiah that treat it as an actual event (Matthew 24:37-39)—I can see how it would be difficult for some to believe that a massive ecological disaster destroyed the inhabited world. Skepticism, combined with human logic, has definitely persuaded the unbelieving world to discount the account of Noah as a story at best, an invented fable at worst, or a repackaged version of Ancient Near Eastern works like the Epic of Gilgamesh.[6]

It is useful for us to examine Genesis chs. 1-11, evaluate how important it is that we treat these events with a high degree of historical reliability, and explore the different perspectives of “origins.” But, these questions are largely those asked by Twentieth and Twenty-First Century people, and were not necessarily asked by the Ancient Israelites. When the Torah was being compiled 3,300 years ago, the main issues at stake were how the people of God were to be instructed by Him in the ways of righteousness and holiness. This is how a Torah portion like Noach would have been considered by Yeshua and the Apostles.

 

The Faith of Noah

In the time between Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden to the figure of Noah, it is recorded that great evil grew on the Earth. Genesis 6:5 relays how bad things became: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Mayhem was rampant in human society, so that the only option was for God to wipe out all people (Genesis 6:6-7). Genesis 6:13 specifies that “the earth is filled with violence.” Of all those on the Earth, though, only Noah and his family were deemed righteous so that they alone would be spared (Genesis 6:8-9) and would be able to repopulate the planet.

If God really was intending to judge human civilization, then Noah and his family would need to make some kind of preparation in anticipation of such judgment. We know the story all too well, as Noah was instructed by God to build a massive ark which would be carrying many animals:

“Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks. Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish. But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds after their kind, and of the animals after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every kind will come to you to keep them alive. As for you, take for yourself some of all food which is edible, and gather it to yourself; and it shall be for food for you and for them.’ Thus Noah did; according to all that God had commanded him, so he did” (Genesis 6:13-22).

It is probably safe to acknowledge that in recognizing that the days of mankind would be one hundred and twenty years (Genesis 6:3), that about a century had to pass between the Lord’s decree that He would blot out the world of humans and for Noah and his sons to build the ark. The Apostle Peter asserts how God “preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly” (2 Peter 2:5). It is doubtful that Noah was a “preacher” in the sense of actively and forcibly declaring the judgment of God to crowds gathered a kind of “evangelist”; it is more likely that kērux[7] is to be taken in the sense of a “herald” (ESV), who via his actions and experiences in encountering people who witnessed his building of the ark, would tell them what was to come.

The faith Noah would have to exhibit, in building such a massive boat—with only his three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth really committed to the project—and with around a hundred years or so to wait between the declaration of judgment and the catastrophe arriving, had to be immense. When many of us consider natural disasters today like hurricanes or tornadoes, we usually see them on the local news or the Weather Channel, and we know that they are coming in a matter of minutes, hours, or days. We do not have to exhibit any “faith” that they will come; we just have to prepare and act accordingly. Noah had to place his trust entirely in the Creator God that His word would come to pass. He had to respond to this word with steadfastness, and at least hope that as people witnessed the construction of his vessel they would inquire as to why anyone would see the need for it.

Numerous times throughout the Holy Writ, we see that faith in the Holy One is required for us to please Him. While much of the time, the faith that He requires of us is simply so that we would place our lives entirely in His hands, and that we would have trust knowing that His good intention is better than anything that we could do—the example of Noah’s having to wait for the judgment is something we all need to really consider. Perhaps no better passage summarizes this necessity for faith than the realization that without faith it is impossible to please God, or be rewarded for seeking Him. The author of Hebrews expresses this reality when he couples the necessity of faith with the faith exhibited by Noah:

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Hebrews 11:6-7).

 

Walking by Faith

As you have been reading Noach, this week’s Torah portion, I am sure that you have been considering many important questions. The account of Noah is one of the most well known in the Scriptures, as it affected early human history and the surety of God’s judgment on sin and evil. The Flood and the reasons for it affected later generations of God’s people, and Yeshua the Messiah specifically makes reference of it in terms of the future judgment to be dispersed at His Second Coming (Matthew 24:27-39; Luke 17:26-27).

There are many potential applications of the need to endure in one’s faith, just like Noah had to do in anticipation of the expected Flood. Perhaps you have been given the impression, in your own life, of various things that all you have to do is wait for. You will not have to wait a century like Noah did for the floodwaters to arrive. But still, it can be difficult—especially in our very fast paced, industrialized Western society—to really wait on the Lord. Given the motif of judgment seen in the account of Noah, one of the areas where it is quite impossible for many people to trust in God, is in the area of retribution. When many of us have been wronged by other people, especially those whom we may have had a close relationship with at one point, it is imperative that we not try to enact any kind of revenge. Repayment for evil done to us is something that only the Lord is allowed to enact. The Apostle Paul’s direction needs to be heeded by all of us:

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay’ [Leviticus 19:18], says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

While some of us need to exercise faith in the Lord, to have confidence that our bills or financial debts can be paid, so we can have a good steady job, or simply that we would know that our lives serve a greater purpose—placing those who have wronged us entirely in His hands can be downright impossible sometimes. Have you been cheated in business? Have you been through a divorce or an ugly breakup with a good friend? Have you had significant disagreements over doctrine or theology with anyone? You may have been murdered in someone else’s heart before, or have had negative words and lies unleashed about you. But if someone is to one day be consumed by God’s wrath; it is God’s job to exercise it—not ours! While it may be difficult to serve one’s enemies and demonstrate kindness to them (cf. Proverbs 25:22; Romans 12:20), it is most imperative for born again Believers to be tempered by the Holy Spirit, and completely turn one’s enemies over to the will of the Lord.

Ideally, we should strive as best as we can to be at peace with all (Romans 12:18), but sometimes this peace may only be an armistice, where we are not active in fighting an adversary, opponent, or competitor. Do you have the strength and confidence in the Lord, and in what Messiah Yeshua has accomplished, to really give all of your foes over to Him? Or, are you still insecure in Him so that you need to actively go and fight your enemies? Walk by faith, and seek the path of peace. Just like Noah, persevere and place your trust in our Heavenly Father’s words to you. Be concerned about accomplishing His purposes for your life, and avoid unnecessary fights and conflicts!


NOTES

[1] Editor’s note: The Hebrew term yom has a variety of potential uses in the Tanakh Scriptures, primarily meaning a “day of twenty-four hours” (Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2 vols. [Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2001], 1:399), but there are most certainly instances when yom means “a period of time” such as a “year” (Ibid., 1:400), or simply “division of time” (BDB, 398) that may or may not be specified.

[2] Genesis 3:1-7, 13.

[3] Genesis 3:6-7, 12, 17.

[4] Genesis 3:23-24.

[5] Genesis 3:14-19; cf. 1 Timothy 2:15, Grk.

[6] For a further discussion, consult the article “Encountering Mythology: A Case Study From the Flood Narratives” by J.K. McKee.

[7]a herald, pursuivant, marshal, public messenger” (H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994], 432).

October 2016 OIM News


OIM Update

October 2016

As the Fall feasts of the Lord arrived this month, a variety of personal, providential circumstances during the month of Elul could not be ignored. Unexpectedly, the impetus for this series of events began with a bicycle accident that interrupted my 5 or 6 day-per-week eighteen-mile bike ride, designed to burn calories and get a good cardio workout. Thankfully, a broken collarbone from the accident ended up revealing some serious blockage in my heart arteries, during the pre-operation phase, delaying surgery to repair the break. So, during this season of repentance from the first of Elul through Yom Kippur, I have had some time to seriously reflect on not only my heart’s physical condition, but most importantly the intentions and motivations of my spiritual heart.

Initially, while praying about my broken bone—before discovering the arteriostenosis in my heart—I was led to some of the Psalms of King David which speak about how fearfully and wonderfully human beings are made in their mother’s womb:

“For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).

After the discovery of my heart blockage, the focus of my prayers soon added the heart of flesh which was given to me when I was born from above (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26):

“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28).

Despite the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, I was reminded that my heart of flesh still struggles with the old nature, which at times can return even as the sanctification process proceeds. During this present season of repentance, passages like the following came to mind:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

This past month, I was invited by a good friend to attend an evangelical Christian men’s retreat via the auspices of the Tres Dias movement, which just happened to conclude on Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah. The timing was perfect for this season of reflection, and so I joyfully attended the three day retreat. As a result of the confluence of all these events, I was prompted to write this month’s lead article entitled, “A Messianic Heart,” in order to share what the Lord was showing me through this confluence of circumstances.

Significant progress continues to be made with Messianic Apologetics expanding its outreach via social media. During the past year, J.K. McKee has made efforts to be quite active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. We appreciate your efforts of partnering with us via our ongoing Technology Fund, as we make upgrades to our computer equipment and abilities. This past month, the transfer of information from the old Messianic Apologetics website to the new WordPress based site steadily continues. We are also pleased to announce that audio teachings are now available via a new Messianic Apologetics channel on both iTunes and Podomatic, which you can download via your iPhone or Android.

Advancing His Kingdom, until the restoration of all things…

Mark Huey


A Messianic Heart

by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

In recent weeks, circumstances surrounding the physical condition of my heart have led me to research not only information on coronary heart disease, but have also prompted me to consider what it means to have a “Messianic heart” for the Creator God. While it has been enlightening to learn about the physiology of how a physical heart functions and how arteries can become blocked, it has been much more profitable to search my spiritual heart and seek the Lord’s face during the annual season of repentance from the first of Elul to Yom Kippur. Providentially, during those forty days I was introduced to a ministry which displayed unconditional love to the attendees of a three day retreat that concluded on Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah or the Feast of Trumpets. The timing “coincidences” were much too obvious for me to ignore. So with renewed vigor from dodging a potential tragedy of a “widow maker” termination of my physical life, the thought of what it means to truly have a Messianic heart, or a heart like Yeshua the Messiah, came frequently into my mind.

Quite frankly, because I have never desired to be a cardiologist, but instead, have devoted a considerable amount of time throughout the past forty or so years to read and study the Holy Bible—I am much more comfortable seeking insight on “the heart” from God’s Word, rather than medical journals. After all, I know that the heart muscle is merely an organ created to pump blood throughout the circulatory system. But since the Hebrew terms for heart, lev and levav, are mentioned nearly 1,000 times in the Tanakh, and the Greek term kardia some 157 times in the Apostolic Writings, in many ways, the Holy Scriptures can be considered a heart manual. I concluded that I could personally gain much more from using this personal “wake up” call to search my own heart, to ascertain if I had the “heart of Messiah,” and was over time being conformed more to His image (Romans 8:29). For most assuredly, the Jewish tradition during the annual forty-day season of repentance accentuated by the Ten Days of Awe culminating on Yom Kippur, is an opportune time to ask the Holy One to search our own hearts, as was emphasized and modeled to Israel by King David and recorded in these Psalms:

“Examine me, O LORD, and try me; test my mind and my heart. For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth” (Psalm 26:2-3).

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24).

Needless to say, the memory bank of Scriptures which included the word “heart” flooded my mind, as I sought the Father’s face for answers to the many questions I had about my own heart—but most especially the motivations that came forth from within my heart. Of course, many of the Scripture passages which deal with the heart are found in the Psalms and words of King David, who according to Samuel’s comments to King Saul, was a “man after God’s own heart”:

“Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not endure. The LORD has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart [ish k’levavo], and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (1 Samuel 13:13-14).

One discovers in the interactions between the Prophet Samuel and King Saul, that the young David, who is eventually anointed king over Israel, is not chosen for his appearance or stature. Rather, from the Lord’s perspective—as One who looked upon David’s heart—David was chosen for qualities that only God Himself could truly see:

“But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).

The choice by the Holy One to make David the king over Israel—with David notably being a progenitor of the Messiah, the ultimate Son of David—is quite curious, given the testimony found in Scripture about David’s imperfect life. Yet, one can get a glimpse of David’s heart from the wealth of Psalms he composed, where he poured out his heart to the Lord. Perhaps the thing about David’s heart which indicated a strong desire to please God, is the consistent communion that reflected a sincere yearning to repent of anything which impeded his relationship with Him. David’s remorseful and repentant heart can be found in Psalms 32 and 51, purportedly after David was caught in his sin with Bathsheba. When you read these Psalms, hear David’s heart and his desire for restoration, knowing that the Lord had every right to turn His face away and bring just punishment for the iniquities he committed:

A Psalm of David. A Maskil. How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah. I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, otherwise they will not come near to you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the LORD, lovingkindness shall surround him. Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart” (Psalm 32:1-11).

“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).

When you read and meditate upon these Psalms and other Psalms of repentance (such as Psalms 6; 38; 102; 130; 143), you find that being honest with the Holy One of Israel is imperative for revealing the inconsistencies in our hearts. The Lord wants His people to be honest with themselves, and totally transparent with Him in order to receive the forgiveness He freely offers—despite the natural condition of the heart before one is born from above, as noted by the Prophet Jeremiah:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

However for whatever reasons, despite his recorded sin, King David modeled a significant method of returning to the Almighty, and had a “Messianic heart” which desperately desired communion and intimacy with His Maker throughout his life. Certainly this stellar attribute is one of the primary reasons that the Holy One chose David to be a major ancestor of Yeshua the Messiah.

When one fast forwards to the post-resurrection time, after the early Believers were indwelt with the Holy Spirit, there is some absolute confirmation of this approach to the Holy One by the Apostle John. He succinctly summarizes the need to recognize and admit or confess one’s sin, with the confident knowledge that people will be forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness:

“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:6-10).

There are some serious questions for modern-day Believers who have been given a heart of flesh, and indwelt with the power of the Holy Spirit as promised in Ezekiel 36:26-27:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

These questions might include:

  • Do I sincerely want to be a man or woman after God’s own heart?
  • Do I want a “Messianic heart” like King David?
  • Am I willing to be honest with myself (and God), and confess my sin?
  • Am I going to repent of my sin and return to the Holy One with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength?
  • Am I more “Messiah like” (conformed to Yeshua’s image) today than I was a year ago?

One way to ascertain progress on the road to sanctification in the Messiah, is by listening or recalling what comes out of the mouth in conversations, and at different times when the emotions are moved. There is a significant by Yeshua in the Gospel of Matthew that gets to the core substance of the matter. When one truly remembers what words have come out of the mouth over the past year, one should be able to discern the condition of his or her heart. In so doing, one might need to choose to continually circumcise the heart, and stiffen the neck no longer (Deuteronomy 10:16). Here is how Yeshua explained to the religious people of His era what they needed to hear, in order to truly understand the hardness of their hearts and their own self-deception:

“Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Yeshua from Jerusalem and said, ‘Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, “Honor your father and mother” [Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16], and, “He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death” [Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9]. But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,’ he is not to honor his father or his mother.” And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men”’ [Isaiah 29:13, LXX]. After Yeshua called the crowd to Him, He said to them, ‘Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.’ Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ Yeshua said, ‘Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man’” (Matthew 15:1-20).

In this unvarnished explanation to His Disciples, Yeshua detailed how the heart of people can be literally heard in the very words men or women utter. But rather than remember what others have said, think back to the words which have come out of your own mouth that have revealed some hardness of the heart toward others. This introspective self-analysis can be extremely beneficial, if one is truly honest. If there is some recollection of hateful or impure thoughts which manifested as actual words ushering forth from the mouth, then follow the example of King David or the Apostle John. Confess the sin, confident that the Lord will forgive and cleanse the repentant heart from all unrighteousness. If some words were directed at someone within earshot, then take the time to humble yourself and ask the offended person for forgiveness. You will be amazed by the reception of others who might have taken an offense to something which was said inappropriately or in the heat of the moment. In many regards, this exercise will be strengthening your resolve to have a “Messianic heart” that is committed to loving others unconditionally.

Additionally, noting that confessing our sin one to another is beneficial (James 5:16) for physical health and the well-being of the soul, it is also imperative to have a Messianic heart that forgives others for any offense which has been received. Yeshua’s instructions found in Matthew 18 on how to confront others in sin, or resolve conflict between His followers, is concluded by some thoughtful instructions on how to forgive others for any offense they may have committed against another personally. In the summation of the need to forgive from the heart, Yeshua utilizes human examples to emphasize the ultimate forgiveness available from our Heavenly Father:

“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Yeshua said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.” And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, “Pay back what you owe.” So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you.” But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:21-35).

From these few examples, one witnesses how a Messianic heart—one after God’s own heart—confesses sin, seeks forgiveness from sin, repents of sin, and forgives others of sin. Given the intrinsic fallen nature that human beings have inherited from Adam, the only way to overcome our lost estate is to be born from above (John 3:16), and receive the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Born again people receive a new heart of flesh that has God’s Torah written upon it as promised in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27). As the Apostle Paul communicated it to the Corinthians, if this monumental transformation has taken place, then people can be regarded as new creatures in the Messiah, serving as His ambassadors with a ministry of reconciliation toward their fellow human beings:

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Messiah according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Messiah, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).

Imagine being the “righteousness of God” in the Messiah, simply because of faith in His accomplished work at Golgotha. If God has forgiven us of our sin, how much more should we forgive others—who whether deliberately or inadvertently, sin against us? But in order to do so, followers of the Messiah must have a Messianic heart that exudes unconditional love without reservation.

Let me conclude these thoughts about a Messianic heart with some words issued by the Apostle Paul, another redeemed sinner, who like King David, was forgiven the sin of murder (Acts 22:4). In his letter to the Philippians are some comments which have always prompted me to continually strive to be everything God has created me to be in the Messiah. In this passage, after earlier in the epistle describing the ultimate humility epitomized by the Lord Yeshua (Philippians 2:5-11), Paul confesses his own lack of confidence in his background and natural abilities:

“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Messiah, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Messiah Yeshua. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Messiah Yeshua. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (Philippians 3:8-16).

Instead of relying upon his own strength and human abilities, Paul encourages every Believer to heed his words: “The righteousness that I have comes from knowing Messiah, the power of his resurrection, and the participation in his sufferings. It includes being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:10, Common English Bible). Paul’s exhortation is to develop a heart just like the Messiah, by continually focusing one’s attention on that goal. Achieving that goal is a lifelong process which comes through pursuing Him with all of one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength on a regular basis. In the annual season of repentance, Messiah followers have ample time to spend reflecting on many aspects of where their hearts are located. If we discover some areas of hardness which need confession, do so believing that forgiveness is available, and that reconciliation with the Father is attainable. If we need to resolve differences with others, do so with a cheerful heart, knowing that this is a part of the ministry of reconciliation that pleases our Heavenly Father. Look to Him and Him alone for the results of any of these acts of humility and contrition.

I am so very thankful for the recent circumstances which have led me to consider just where my heart is Messianic or Messiah-like, and where it is falling short of the goal. I praise my Heavenly Father for being so merciful to me, and orchestrating all of the circumstances of the past month to help me focus on where I currently am in my walk with the Messiah! My prayer is that in so doing, some of the things stated above and the Scriptures cited may be used by the Holy Spirit to inspire others to take the time to take a spiritual inventory on where they are in regard to obtaining a Messianic heart. Hopefully in your own sincere examination, many hearts will be changed for the better, so that whatever heartbeats remain in our numbered days, they will be spent diligently working to advance His Kingdom, until the Messianic restoration of all things…

Bereisheet

Bereisheet

In the beginning

“Return to Foundation”

Genesis 1:1-6:8
Isaiah 42:5-43:10 (A); 42:5-21 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

With the joy of celebrating the Fall high holidays and Simchat Torah immediately behind us, we now have the privilege of once again returning to the weekly Torah portions for regular spiritual nourishment. For Messianic Believers such as myself, who have been taking advantage of the discipline of consistent Torah study over the past decade (1995-2005), the arrival at “In the Beginning” presents yet another opportunity to dig deeper into the mysteries of God, but also important lessons for life. Genesis 1:1-3, as we all know, are some of not only the most well-known verses of the Bible, but they present us with a considerable degree of questions to be asked and subjects to be probed:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”

Also foundational for understanding the Holy Writ is the uniqueness that human beings possess among all of God’s creatures. This is established in Bereisheet when God asserts His intention to make the man and woman in His image:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27, NRSV).

Much theological discussion and application has centered around the creation of people in God’s image, b’tzelem Elohim, precisely over human dignity, value, and the distinct abilities that we possess like sentient consciousness, a mind and reason, and complex memory—in contrast to the animals.[1] The Psalmist actually describes that humanity has been created a little lower than God, not a little higher than the animals:

“What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God[2], and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:4-6).

God made us as His unique image-bearers so that we could not only reflect key attributes of Him as our Creator, but also that He might commune with us and demonstrate His great love and generosity to us. Even with the introduction of sin into our world, as we encounter in the first Torah portion, He has always demonstrated great bounty to His human creations (cf. Acts 14:15-17).

Wisdom and Light

I believe it is important to review the first five books of the Bible, the Torah,[3] if we want to please our Heavenly Father—but most importantly to know His plan and intentions for His Creation. The Jewish people, who were entrusted with the oracles of God (Romans 3:2), understood the need to at least try to understand the mind of God, and accordingly developed a systematic way of studying the Torah. Today’s broad Messianic community, aside from its many internal differences in emphasis in how the Torah may be approached or applied, on the whole still follows the annual Torah cycle. Jewish Believers who have recognized Yeshua as their Savior continue to partake of this edifying tradition from their upbringing, now being able to recognize the Messiah in the Torah. Non-Jewish Believers embracing their Hebraic Roots and being enriched by their heritage in Judaism, get to see how Moses’ Teaching foretells of the Lord Jesus and how He was truly Torah obedient. The wisdom, in a repetitive study of this often overlooked part of the Bible, should be self-explanatory.

Acknowledging the importance of the weekly Haftarah too is something which we can all benefit by, as God’s plan does not just involve the Books of Genesis-Deuteronomy, but continues in the Prophets and Writings. In this week’s corresponding Haftarah selection, the Prophet Isaiah makes it abundantly clear how God’s people—most exemplified in the ministry of the Messiah Yeshua—have a responsibility to be a light to the world and be conduits of His goodness to all:

“Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it, ‘I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison. I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim them to you’” (Isaiah 42:5-9; cf. Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23).

Followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—but most especially Messiah followers—are to be a light to the nations of the world. Yeshua said that we are to be out making disciples of Him (Matthew 28:19-21). With these as our primary responsibilities, would it not then be prudent to have a deeper working knowledge about the foundational building blocks of our faith, starting with the Torah?

I relish the opportunity to see what the Holy Spirit is going to teach me during my next journey through the Torah this year. Inevitably, I have discovered in past yearly readings that it is often never the same. After all, if we are diligently pursuing a closer relationship with the Almighty with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength—then where we are today in our respective walks with Him should be further along than from where we were one year ago. Hopefully, with each passing year (and this should be true even if you do not put as much concentration into the weekly Torah portions as I do) we have each grown more mature in our personal faith, and can increasingly handle a greater degree of God’s light within our hearts. This should be most especially present in our attitude and demeanor, and in how our love and affection are most concerned with the things of the Lord. The Apostle John details,

“The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2:9-17).

John describes three levels of maturation in a person’s walk with the Lord, defined in terms of: a child, a young person, and a parent. Those who are “little children” of the faith do know the Heavenly Father, but how far they have progressed in knowing His ways and His intention for their lives is uncertain. Those who are “young people” (NRSV) in the faith have matured to a point where they are able to overcome the Adversary, and they can take on a large degree of spiritual challenges. Those who are “fathers” or parents in the faith have matured to a place where they “know Him who has been from the beginning.” While this is a very high level of spiritual development, it doubtlessly includes a person who has been taught and disciplined from the Scriptures, and is able to understand what the Lord’s purposes are from the beginning. Such “parents” within the Body of Messiah have an important responsibility in teaching and mentoring the younger Believers in what it means to live a godly life.

The Severe Challenges of Sin

Much of the attention of those who read through Bereisheet (Genesis 1:1-6:8) is understandably focused on some of the issues and controversies of Genesis chs. 1-3. While these things are important to consider, we should never overlook the main events of the Fall of humanity, the introduction of sin, and some of the immediate consequences of Adam and Eve’s ejection from the Garden. And, for some reason or another, Messianic Torah readers can have a tendency to overlook the fact that with the birth of Cain and Abel, we see the definite example of at least one person who had some rather serious problems:

“Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.’ Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it’” (Genesis 4:1-7).

The infamous account of Cain and Abel is the first recorded fratricide, as Cain’s inability to control his urges caused him to murder his brother (Genesis 4:8-11). We can certainly speculate as to the specific circumstances or reasons as to why Cain murdered Abel, but the general circumstances are simply seen in the fact that every person is affected by the disastrous consequences of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit. A part of the curse issued against humanity to Eve was, “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16b). When you look closer, this is not at all a good thing, as the Hebrew teshuqah or “urge, craving, impulse” (CHALOT),[4] is precisely what appears in the Lord’s admonition to Cain: “Sin couches at the door; its urge [teshuqah] is toward you, yet you can be its master” (Genesis 4:7b, NJPS). Just as the curse would inaugurate an ungodly battle of the sexes, with the woman wanting to dominate the man and the man wanting to control her—so does sin want to dominate all people, and people need to be able to control the influence of evil over their lives.

For all to read in the first Torah portion, as we encounter the Cain’s violent and most heinous action against his own brother, Abel, is what can sometimes be the epitome of unredeemed and sinful man. Many Christian readers think that the reason Abel’s offering from the flocks was accepted before the Lord (Genesis 4:4), but Cain’s offering from the fruit of the ground was not accepted (Genesis 4:5), has to do with how a blood sacrifice is necessary to cover sin, and it is obvious that plants cannot do this. Yet as we encounter later in the Torah, various grain and cereal offerings, as well as those of oil and wine, become an important part of the Levitical institution and in the Ancient Israelites demonstrating their thanks to God for His provision. The Lord would not have rejected an offering of plants simply because they were plants.

What might be more notable is how Abel presented “the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:4), and Cain only “brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3). This would mean that Abel gave God the finest of his flocks, and Cain may have given God some rather standard or even sub-standard produce.[5] Lamentably, Cain did not understand how our Creator expects the best of us. But even more lamentably, Cain took God’s disapproval of his offering before Him most personally, and he lashed out in great violence, slaying another of his own flesh and blood. He could have instead simply asked God for forgiveness, and made an effort to present the best of his crops at a future time.

In our human condition, we each have the potential to be as sinful as Cain. Thankfully, though, as we read the Scriptures and understand the history of our planet, none of us ever has to be like Cain or any of his successors. But in order not to fall into the pattern of Cain: we must master sin. We must each make the conscious choice to overcome any temptations or negative spiritual influences that surround us. If we are born again Believers filled up with the Holy Spirit, the ability to overcome the power of sin should be something that is accomplished much easier than some of the figures we encounter in the Scriptures, who either did not look to the Savior to come, or chose to reject Him when He arrived.

Recognizing this, perhaps we can better realize why the Jewish Rabbis often spend an inordinate amount of time referring to the good inclination versus the evil inclination in their teachings.[6] Human beings need to choose good over evil! Even those who have recognized the salvation available in the Messiah Yeshua need to be disciplined, so that they can never fall prey to temptation. James the Just gives us a critical admonition we should never forget:

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (James 3:13-15).

Return to Foundation

One of the main reasons that I appreciate studying the Torah, on an annual basis, is because I know it challenges me not only to rest upon the foundation of our faith, but that I have to consider whether or not I have heeded its warnings. Am I going to act like Cain? Will I be able to overcome a culture of sin, representing a culture of righteousness? While there is a tendency at times to want to read a Torah portion like Bereisheet and find some ethereal or symbolic meanings in the Creation, the most important lessons to heed are often staring right at us from the text. How many of us fail to recognize these lessons, and are allowing some kind of sin or ungodliness get the better of us?

As we prepare to begin another year of focusing on the Torah, I encourage you to really seek the Lord and His ways. Do not settle for a mediocre level of spirituality, where you are only looking through the Holy Writ for information. How can you better emulate what the Torah teaches? How can you better understand God’s plan from the beginning, and live forth as His light in a darkened world?

May we all take refuge in Him as we learn not only more about Him, but as we learn to be closer to Him, this year! Let us establish a right foundation, as we aim to accomplish His purposes and shine forth Yeshua’s goodness and salvation in a world marred by sin.

With the joy of celebrating the Fall high holidays and Simchat Torah immediately behind us, we now have the privilege of once again returning to the weekly Torah portions for regular spiritual nourishment. For Messianic Believers such as myself, who have been taking advantage of the discipline of consistent Torah study over the past decade (1995-2005), the arrival at “In the Beginning” presents yet another opportunity to dig deeper into the mysteries of God, but also important lessons for life. Genesis 1:1-3, as we all know, are some of not only the most well-known verses of the Bible, but they present us with a considerable degree of questions to be asked and subjects to be probed:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”

Also foundational for understanding the Holy Writ is the uniqueness that human beings possess among all of God’s creatures. This is established in Bereisheet when God asserts His intention to make the man and woman in His image:

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27, NRSV).

Much theological discussion and application has centered around the creation of people in God’s image, b’tzelem Elohim, precisely over human dignity, value, and the distinct abilities that we possess like sentient consciousness, a mind and reason, and complex memory—in contrast to the animals.[1] The Psalmist actually describes that humanity has been created a little lower than God, not a little higher than the animals:

“What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God[2], and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:4-6).

God made us as His unique image-bearers so that we could not only reflect key attributes of Him as our Creator, but also that He might commune with us and demonstrate His great love and generosity to us. Even with the introduction of sin into our world, as we encounter in the first Torah portion, He has always demonstrated great bounty to His human creations (cf. Acts 14:15-17).


NOTES

[1] Editor’s note: For some useful discussions and subjects for consideration, consult Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), and J.P. Moreland & Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000).

[2] Heb. m’at m’Elohim.

The Greek Septuagint did render this as brachu ti par’ angelous or “a little less than angels” (LXE), but nonetheless the lot of humanity is cast with the Heavenly host and not with the animals.

[3] Also more commonly referred to as the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, or the Chumash.

One term that our ministry will often employ, Moses’ Teaching, is derived from John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

[4] William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), 396.

[5] Cf. Nahum M. Sarna, “Genesis,” in David L. Lieber, ed., Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2001), 25.

[6] BDB notes how the term yetzer is used “in sense of impulse: [yetzer ha’tov] and [yetzer ha’ra] of good and bad tendency in man” (Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979], 428).

[1] Editor’s note: For some useful discussions and subjects for consideration, consult Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Man (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2005), and J.P. Moreland & Scott B. Rae, Body & Soul: Human Nature & the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000).

[2] Heb. m’at m’Elohim.

The Greek Septuagint did render this as brachu ti par’ angelous or “a little less than angels” (LXE), but nonetheless the lot of humanity is cast with the Heavenly host and not with the animals.

[3] Also more commonly referred to as the Law of Moses, the Pentateuch, or the Chumash.

One term that our ministry will often employ, Moses’ Teaching, is derived from John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology: Israel’s Gospel (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

[4] William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), 396.

[5] Cf. Nahum M. Sarna, “Genesis,” in David L. Lieber, ed., Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary (New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2001), 25.

[6] BDB notes how the term yetzer is used “in sense of impulse: [yetzer ha’tov] and [yetzer ha’ra] of good and bad tendency in man” (Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979], 428).

Ha’azinu

Ha’azinu

Hear

“The Rock of Salvation”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Moses’ approaching death has inspired him to make some very emotional appeals to the people of Israel, seen in the words of Deuteronomy 32. He knew how his days of leading Israel were soon coming to an end. As any good shepherd would be, he was very cognizant of his sheep’s proclivities. For forty years he had observed the Israelites’ behavior in a variety of circumstances, and he knew their inclinations. As is true of most sheep, they were prone to wander. Moses attests to this in some of his final statements:

“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?…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 31:27, 29).

With Moses getting ready to depart, he delivered some final instructions about what was to be done with the sefer ha’torah that had been compiled during his tenure of leading Israel. The teaching he had delivered from the Lord had been written down as a witness that could be referred to in the future—especially as it would remind Israel of their responsibilities before God, and what would happen if the people or their descendants disobeyed Him:

“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” (Deuteronomy 31:26, 30).

The written testimony of the Lord, which has been communicated through Moses, was to be a permanent witness for His people to seek instruction and guidance. In one of his final acts, a song is delivered by Moses to the people of Israel, making up most of our Torah reading for this week (Deuteronomy 31:1-43).[1] After this message is communicated, Moses again admonishes Israel to take his words very seriously:

“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 32:45-47).

Ancient Israel was commanded to seriously heed what Moses has told them, because their aged leader wants them to “live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess” (NIV). Thankfully, this song—as well as the entire Torah—have been memorized and studied over the centuries by many followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Millions of people the world over have taken to serious heart the Biblical axiom of choosing the ways of the Lord—the ways of life!

A Song of Moses

In a distinctively didactic ode, the song witnessed in Ha’azinu not only reviews some of Israel’s past history, but also prophetically declares what will transpire to Israel in the days following its entrance into the Promised Land. Moses’ words describe what will happen as “Jeshurun” waxes fat and forgets the commandments of God.[2] The required chastisement is softened, but perhaps only very little, by promises made to vindicate Israel in the future.[3] Veiled references to the future period when Assyria and Babylon will be used to punish Israel are seen.[4]

As you read the song Moses delivers in Deuteronomy 32, his words wax eloquently. One of the significant themes seen is how the Lord is referred to as the Rock or tzur. The Hebrew term tzur appears in a number of distinct places to refer to God, and in one place to describe the pitiful “rock” of false gods:

  • “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:4).
  • “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” (Deuteronomy 32:15).
  • “You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18).
  • “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” (Deuteronomy 32:30-31).
  • “And He will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they sought refuge?’” (Deuteronomy 32:37).

When we look at how the term tzur is used, we get the impression that just as granite or limestone gives the presentation of firmness or majesty—so is our God steadfast and reliable. In delivering his song to Israel, Moses wants the people to look to the Lord as a Rock they can rely on. He wants them to have vivid recollections of their past, present, and future relationship with Him—so that they might persevere through the foreordained rough times. As you reflect on these significant verses in this Torah portion, are you reminded of any past saints who used these very verses in troubled times, to comfort them through affliction?

One who immediately comes to my mind is a young King David, as he avoided the efforts of King Saul to exterminate him. In 2 Samuel 22, we see that in a time of great turmoil, David turned what is communicated by the Deuteronomy 32 song to find solace:

“And David spoke the words of this song to the LORD in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said, ‘The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. For the waves of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me; the cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, yes, I cried to my God; and from His temple He heard my voice, and my cry for help came into His ears’” (2 Samuel 22:1-7).

This incident resulted in what became Psalm 18:

“For the choir director. A Psalm of David the servant of the LORD, who spoke to the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said, ‘I love You, O LORD, my strength.’ The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me. The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears. Then the earth shook and quaked; and the foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry” (Psalm 18:1-7).

The words of King David should encourage us to rely upon the Lord as our Rock—for strength, direction, protection, and deliverance!

Testimony to the “Rock”

As I ponder these thoughts, I am reminded of an important testimony that my wife Margaret often shares. She has mentioned many times the tragic loss of her first husband, Kimball McKee, who died at 41 due to melanoma cancer. She frequently recalls some of the last words that Kim uttered to her in the hospital room just before he fell into his final coma. As a born again Believer and devoted evangelical Christian, Kim would often refer to Jesus Christ as “the Rock.” In his walk with the Lord, frequently reading the Old Testament, the image of the Messiah as the Rock of Salvation was seriously impressed upon his heart.

During his final days, the cancer had spread to Kim’s brain stem. Just before slipping away, Margaret was in his room, and Kim sat straight up and wide awake in his bed. He pointed through Margaret to an image that he was seeing beyond her. Kim looked straight into the eyes of his wife, and told her “I can see the Rock and hear the music!” Right at that point the ICU nurse came in and ushered Margaret out of the room. These were his last words. The monitors indicated that he had triggered a code blue and he was immediately put on a respirator. He was dying, but according to his last words, he had seen the Rock of his Salvation who was waiting for him with the chorus of Heaven playing, very similar to what Stephen experienced (Acts 7:55-60). While Kim doubtlessly wanted to live, the words of Paul, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23, RSV), were realized for him in 1992. Two days later, Kim McKee was released from the respirator and went to be with the Messiah Yeshua.

When Kim was buried next to his parents, his grave marker included the epitaph, “Jesus Christ, the Rock of my Salvation.” As Margaret, John, Jane, and Maggie frequently remind me—they will all one day be able to touch the resurrected body of Kim McKee again, when Yeshua returns “with all His saints” (1 Thessalonians 3:13) at the Second Coming. Some of the most inspiring words we can remember, even if we do sincerely believe that our loved ones who knew the Lord are in Heaven with Him now, regard how the power of Heaven will come to Earth at the time of resurrection. As the Apostle Paul says,

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Yeshua the Messiah; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21).[5]

Thinking about the inspiring testimony of Kim McKee, we can be encouraged by how in the future—all of us as redeemed saints—will one day surround the throne of God and will be singing praises to the Rock (Revelation 15:3-4; cf. Jeremiah 10:7). The Rock of our Salvation is the Lamb of God sacrificed for our sins. As John the Immerser confessed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Being a part of the company of redeemed from all ages and time periods, and being reunited with our loved ones and ancestors—should cause us to be so overwhelmed with joy, that we simply want to praise our Creator!

It is immensely beneficial for each of us to take some special time this week to reflect upon these foundational truths which are so imperative for our faith. Whether we get lost in the eloquence of a beautiful song that speaks of the marvelous works of the Lord throughout the ages, or whether we praise Yeshua for His work of redemption—the most important thing is that we understand how God has interjected Himself into our lives so that we might have salvation. The Lord Yeshua is the Rock of our Salvation!

In these days of reflection and returning to Him, come to the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. His arms are wide open. Turn and run to the One who is the Rock of our Salvation!


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] Deuteronomy 32:15-17.

[3] Deuteronomy 32:36-43.

[4] Deuteronomy 32:21-27.

[5] For a further discussion, consult the article “To Be Absent From the Body” by J.K. McKee. Also useful is Bruce Milne, The Message of Heaven & Hell (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002).

V’yeilekh

V’yeilekh

And he went

“The Importance of Obedience”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As the Book of Deuteronomy begins to come to a close, our annual cycle of Torah study begins to wind down. It is during these final words of Moses to Ancient Israel that we find some of his most compelling pleas. For the preceding discussions in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses has been summarizing the events of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Now, as Moses’ life is about to end,[1] his final exhortations to Israel are riddled with emotional appeals for the people to choose life (cf. Deuteronomy 30:19-20)!

For those of us studying these words today, who believe that by faith in Yeshua we are a part of Israel—we consider Moses’ admonitions to apply to us and be just as relevant, as they are to the physical descendants of those who stood beside Joshua preparing to enter the Promised Land. God’s people are required to obey Him in order to be blessed. Yet, over the centuries, many theologians and philosophers of religion have done their best to get around the Biblical requirement that God’s people obey His commandments. Liberal branches of Judaism relegate following the Torah to only be a part of Jewish culture. Varied branches of Christianity like to say that Jesus “fulfilled and thus abolished the Law,”[2] or that the Torah was “nailed to the cross.”[3] Others simply do not take the time and effort to examine what the Torah says, and then falsely conclude that God’s Law has no relevance for modern people.

I have found that all of these—and other arguments—are generally superficial. They are excellent tactics of our enemy to cause people to disobey the Lord, and at the very least, experience a very stifled and ineffective faith. It is my hope and prayer as a Messianic Believer that we would not find ourselves trying to make up excuses for ignoring the Scriptures. While there are certainly questions on applicability of various commandments in the Twenty-First Century, a widescale dismissal of Moses’ Teaching is unjustified.

Simply Obey

Messianic Believers today have some distinct advantages over the Ancient Israelites. We can read the words of Deuteronomy and recognize that many of Moses’ prophetic statements have already been fulfilled to some degree.[4] From a Twenty-First Century perspective looking back in history, we can review tangible evidence from the record of Scripture in how obedience to God brings blessings, while disobedience results in curses:

“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. The LORD your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the LORD, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. Then the LORD your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the LORD will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul” (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

Certainly if you follow the history of Israel since the time of Moses for the past 3,300 years, you can see how God has been faithful to enact punishment on those who have disobeyed Him. Sadly, in spite of the warnings of either Moses or the Prophets, God has sent Israel into numerous exiles into the nations of the Earth.

We can be thankful that there is an anticipated time when scattered and dispersed Israel will return to the Holy One with all of its heart and soul. In our era, especially since the creation of the modern State of Israel, the restoration and gathering back to the Promised Land has become a reality. More is to be anticipated to be sure, but it is to all likely be preceded by a more concentrated return of individuals to God and to His ways first. The Lord is clear to say that obedience to His commandments is not at all something to be difficult or overbearing:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-16).

Many Christians today investigating the Messianic movement, and seeing its emphasis on the Torah, often do not know what to do. Many have been inappropriately told or taught that following God’s Law is a complete impossibility. But the Lord Himself says that it is absolutely doable. The problem is often with our human volition, and our widespread tendency to make a choice leading to death and adversity. We often do not want to commit the little time and effort it takes to obey our Heavenly Father the way He asks.

Post-Resurrection Choices

The Apostle Paul understood how bad choices can lead to negative consequences, especially among many of his fellow Jews who had denied Yeshua as the Messiah in the First Century. If you will recall his comments throughout Romans chs. 9-11, Paul addresses many of his heartfelt concerns regarding his fellow Jewish people, who would be most familiar with the words of Moses:

“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Messiah for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises” (Romans 9:3-4).

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:1-2).

Paul knew that his own Jewish people, who had inherited the promises of God, and who exhibited a sincere zeal for His ways, did not largely comprehend the very essence of what the Torah was intending to communicate. Many deliberately blinded themselves to the message of the gospel, and were unable to see how the Torah’s focus had always been the Messiah Yeshua:

“Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination [telos] of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: ‘Whoever does these things will live by them’” (Romans 10:3-5, TNIV).

Here as Paul addresses the zeal of his people, he references a concept that is found in Leviticus 18:5: “So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the LORD.” If you can keep the commandments as they have been given perfectly, then you will have a blessed life and will never have to suffer the Law’s capital punishment. The problem is that if you disobey just one commandment, you have broken the entire Law and are subject to its penalties—which is what all of us have done (Romans 3:10). As James the Just reminds us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). What this human reality forces us to do is to entreat the mercy of the Lord, and it intensifies one understanding how the goal, acme, or aim of the Torah is to point people to the Messiah Yeshua and the salvation He provides. If in our quest to be obedient to the Lord, we find that we have erred—born again Believers can now have the comfort in knowing that they have been redeemed from any of the curses of the Torah.

Such a righteousness is based on faith—the same faith that Abraham exhibited when he believed God’s promises to him (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). Paul’s writing continues, as he specifies,

“But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven [Deuteronomy 30:20]?” (that is, to bring Messiah down), or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Messiah up from the dead).’ But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart [Deuteronomy 30:14]’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Yeshua as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:6-10).

Here, the Apostle Paul describes a word of faith which confesses with the mouth that Yeshua is Messiah, and believes in the heart that He has been raised from the dead. The righteousness of faith is focused around His completed work at Golgotha, recognizing that He came and paid the price for our sins. Yeshua the Messiah fulfilled the Law perfectly for us, and paid the debt that we had incurred before the Father as Law-breakers. Nowhere does the Torah itself claim that by following its commandments a person will merit eternal life; at most the Torah promises a blessed life for those who follow its commandments on Earth. Eternal communion with God can only be a reality via the accomplished work of His Son.

Still, even though the Torah does not provide eternal life, obedience to its statutes and decrees is required if we intend to be the holy and separated people that God desires. The Apostle John reminds us that believing that Yeshua is the sacrifice for human sin is one thing; in order to signify that such a belief within us is real, we must demonstrate it via acts of obedience:

“[A]nd He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:2-6).

An indication that one truly knows Messiah Yeshua, is if one chooses to keep His commandments. If one does not keep His commandments, then John indicates that one is a liar who does not have the truth. This is very serious. If a person claims with his or her mouth and “believes” in the heart that Yeshua is the Messiah, and yet does not expel any effort to keep (any of) His commandments—notably those of loving God and neighbor—there is an obvious disconnect. Perhaps such a confession of faith was just some kind of lip service and not a true heart confession? Thankfully, only our Eternal God can truly judge the heart intention of any person.

How debilitating has it been for today’s Christianity to often leave obedience out of the gospel message? While none of us can “earn” salvation, our being cleansed from sins and spiritually regenerated is to follow with our being obedient to the Lord. How can today’s Messianics become a force of positive change, helping to not only see many Jewish people come to faith in Messiah Yeshua—but many Christians turn toward a path of diligent obedience to God?

These, and many other questions, should be reflected upon during this season of reflection and repentance, as we consider the themes of the Fall high holidays. As we each meditate upon the issues before us, and consider a future time when we will be standing before our Creator, may we each be encouraged to choose the eternal life provided in Messiah Yeshua with all our hearts, minds, and souls!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 31:1-13.

[2] Consult the exegetical paper “Has the Law Been Fulfilled?” by J.K. McKee, examining Matthew 5:17-19.

[3] Colossians 2:14 specifically says “the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us” was nailed to the cross. This comprises the capital penalties pronounced upon sinners who break the Torah, which Yeshua by His sacrifice absorbed in His death; it does not take away the standard of sin contained in God’s Law.

[4] Deuteronomy 31:14-22.

Nitzavim

Nitzavim

Standing

“Prophecies Here and Now”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

The events of Nitzavim occur near the end of Moses’ declarations to the Ancient Israelites, and contain some extremely profound prophecies. I believe that we are witnessing the fulfillment of some of these prophecies today. From the creation of the State of Israel in the Middle East to the emergence of the Messianic community of faith, elements of these profound realities are forecast in this Torah portion. In this season of repentance in the month of Elul, as we are preparing our hearts for Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, I find it very encouraging to consider some of these passages.

As this section of the Torah commences, Moses specifies how the broad-sweeping influence that the covenant God has made with Israel affects every level of society. As you should notice from the opening verses of our parashah, the different groups of people range from the leaders of Israel, to wives and children, to those who perform menial labor, to those who are aliens or sojourners in the camp. We see how the God of Israel is an all-inclusive God, who wants all of humanity to be blessed by the covenant which has been established with His chosen nation. Perhaps most important for us to consider is that the agreement made between Himself and Ancient Israel is not only made with them, but is considered to have been made with future generations:

“You stand today, all of you, before the LORD your God: your chiefs, your tribes, your elders and your officers, even all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the alien who is within your camps, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, that you may enter into the covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath which the LORD your God is making with you today, in order that He may establish you today as His people and that He may be your God, just as He spoke to you and as He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the LORD our God and with those who are not with us here today” (Deuteronomy 29:10-15).

Remember that the group of Israelites which Moses addresses here are the second and third generations who have experienced the desert sojourn. The Exodus generation which first departed from Egypt—except Joshua and Caleb—have largely all died in the wilderness due to believing the bad report of the ten spies (Numbers 14:26-30). Their children and grandchildren are being admonished to obey the Lord and to keep His covenant. It is not just enough for the people to acknowledge His faithfulness in delivering Israel, but each successive generation of Israel has the responsibility of obeying His commandments.

Thinking about this, what might we really need to be considering today? What is most significant for us in the Twenty-First Century is the closing comment with how God’s covenant is made “with the future generations who are not standing here today” (Deuteronomy 29:15, NLT). The message of Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy has relevance for us living now, as much as it did to its first recipients as Israel was preparing to enter into the Promised Land.

Moses was a prophet who had a unique relationship with the Creator, and so as he nears the end of his life, many of the words he delivers in Deuteronomy have tremendous prophetic significance for our times. He was very concerned for Ancient Israel, because already several times in Deuteronomy, he has said that they will not obey the Lord in the future—and will be punished and scattered accordingly:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. 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” (Deuteronomy 4:26-29).

“Moreover, the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known” (Deuteronomy 28:64).

This week in Nitzavim, Moses once again communicates that Israel is going to be severely chastised for not obeying God and maintaining its covenant with Him. Moses again tells Israel that the people will be cast into other lands to live:

“Therefore, the anger of the LORD burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and in fury and in great wrath, and cast them into another land, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 29:27-28).

We see how Moses has reiterated a tragic future for the Ancient Israelites as a by-product of their collective, future disobedience. Plagues and diseases upon Israel, and a curse upon the Promised Land, are just some of the penalties that will be incurred (cf. Deuteronomy 29). At the same time, not all hope is lost, because as Deuteronomy 29 comes to a close, we see Moses communicating a profound truth which all generations can take great encouragement from:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).

There are many secret things that only God knows, but Israel as God’s chosen people have been revealed things by Him—in order that they might follow His Instruction and be blessed. With such knowledge given to Israel by the Creator, they have a serious responsibility to be a blessing to others and be able representatives of Him in the world. The classic problem—as witnessed throughout the Tanakh, sadly—was that Ancient Israel was largely unable to follow God’s Law. Even in spite of Moses’ and the Prophets’ warnings that if Israel disobeyed the Lord, punishment would come—disobedience still too frequently prevailed.

Following this, Deuteronomy 30 begins with one of the most important end-time prophecies regarding the future of Israel. This word not only considers how Israel will be scattered into the nations, but also how a future obedience of Israel will result in its return and restoration to the Promised Land:

“So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:1-6).

This prophecy is to take place at a distant future time, when a scattered Israel remembers the words Moses delivered in Deuteronomy chs. 28 & 29, and as is declared, “you [will] come to your senses while you are in all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you” (HCSB).

If you are familiar with the broad history of Israel, then perhaps you can think about how the various blessings and curses Moses details have impacted the Jewish people—no matter where they have been scattered down through the centuries. Furthermore, the blessings listed in ch. 28 are noticeable in certain societies which have either directly or indirectly adhered to the morality and ethics of the Torah. On the other hand, the predominance of any disobedience to God, in and among the nations, is likewise readily discernible. Even if you do not know that much about the history of Ancient Israel or Judaism, the axiom of how obedience to God merits blessings and disobedience to God merits some kind of penalties—is quite easy to witness, if not just on a personal level.

In many respects, the prophecy of Deuteronomy 30:1-6 may have a direct correlation to much of what we are now witnessing with the emerging Messianic movement. Since the late 1960s, more Jewish people have come to faith in Messiah Yeshua than since the First Century. Also important is how since the 1990s, many evangelical Christians have been exposed to their Hebraic Roots and have started diligently studying the Torah of Moses. For the first time since the early decades of the Apostles’ ministry, Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are coming together as one in the Messiah, and are submitting themselves to a regimen of considering Moses’ Teaching every week (cf. Acts 15:21). Many Messianics think that Moses’ prophecy of “…calling them to mind in the nations where the LORD your God has banished you…” (Deuteronomy 30:1b) is occurring in our day.

It is very true that our generation has witnessed a community of Messiah followers come forth who recognize Yeshua as the Savior of the world, and are considering a very high role for the Torah to play in their lives. While recognizing that Torah-keeping does not merit one eternal salvation, the emergence of a Torah observant sector of Believers does make one realize that God’s Instruction is to mold men and women in ways of holiness and good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Any born again Believer naturally wants God’s blessings, and God’s blessings can only come by a diligent and faithful obedience to Him. Yeshua may have been sacrificed to take away the capital penalties of the Torah (Colossians 2:14), but He still bids His followers to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-19).

People around the globe today are desiring to fully return to the Lord, and are letting His Torah teach them about His holiness and what it means to be a part of a treasured people. Our own family—where two generations recognize the Torah as relevant instruction for Messiah followers—I believe is very much influenced by how “the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29, NIV). While we do not know all of the future details of Moses’ prophecy coming to pass, today’s Messianic movement is doubtlessly going to be involved in the future return of scattered Israel to the Holy Land (Deuteronomy 30:4-5).

Many have rightly concluded that the formation of the State of Israel is a definite fulfillment of this prophecy. Many “outcasts” have been gathered from the ends of the Earth and brought back to reside in Eretz Yisrael. The remarkable achievements of the State of Israel are easily seen in how a primitive desert land can be turned into a productive and vibrant economy, and Israel today is one of the leading technological innovators in our world. We have already witnessed some prophetic fulfillment of Moses’ words—although it is notable that most of Israeli society today is secular, and many do not acknowledge the existence of God. But as we move closer and closer to the Messiah’s return, not only will more begin to acknowledge who God is, but they will also recognize Yeshua as their Savior. It should be our persistent prayer that the main essence of Moses’ prophecy comes to fruition in the lives of all modern Israelis:

“Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6; cf. 10:12-16).

Apparently, one of the challenges that Moses knows will plague Israel throughout history is the inability for them to willfully circumcise their hearts. At some future time, God will circumcise the hearts of Israel so that they will love Him, obey Him, and be empowered to perform some mighty deeds. Paralleling this, to be sure, are the words spoken by the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, in detailing the forgiveness provided in the New Covenant—and the supernatural ability to keep God’s Law:

“‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28).

These two passages specifically describe how God will transform the hearts of His people, writing His Law onto them via the power of His Spirit. As those who have placed our trust in Yeshua the Messiah, we believe that His sacrificial work has already inaugurated this within the hearts of His followers (Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:8-12). At the same time, the expectation of the New Covenant involves not only a cleansing from sins, but God’s corporate people being brought back into the Promised Land. When all this is going to take place is unknown. It is safe to say that as the Messianic movement grows and matures, that the full realization of the New Covenant is going to come to fruition.

As our Torah reading for this week closes, Moses summarizes all of his teachings to one simple choice: life or death. Now that Israel has been given the Torah, will they choose an existence of being in God’s plan and favor—or one dominated by separation and exile from Him?

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. 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, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

Moses’ summary statements bring his previous prophecies to a fitting conclusion—especially for those of us living today. Every single one of us can experience either life and prosperity, or death and adversity. We can love the Lord and walk in His ways, or we can choose not to follow Him and suffer the consequences of disobedience. God gives each of us a free will to make these choices.

If you choose obedience to God, He promises His blessings. If you choose anything else, He promises penalties. As God puts it, Heaven and Earth are witnesses against all who originally listened to Moses in the wilderness prior to crossing the Jordan—and all who are reading and having to consider these passages today. Heaven and Earth have not gone away, and neither have these Divine principles. Now that these prophecies are becoming real to many, perhaps it is time to be serious about whether you are going to choose an existence dominated by the power of life or death!

The Prophet Isaiah affirms how eventually the prophecies of Moses will be fulfilled. In this week’s Haftarah selection, the reality of these end-time events coming to pass is amplified, as Isaiah looked forward to the times which Moses’ prophecies direct us to:

“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations” (Isaiah 61:10-12).

The future time which Moses talks about is seen through a different set of eyes, as Isaiah sees righteousness and praise springing up before all nations—an emphasis on the worldwide effects of Israel’s restoration. While we might still be some distance from this taking place, each one of us can experience the essential reality of the New Covenant in our lives today, and we can individually play a role in seeing God’s goodness demonstrated to all in the world. As more and more of us commit ourselves to returning to the Lord and to His Instruction, the restoration of His Kingdom will accelerate.

I pray that whether we are the final generation—or even if these things occur ten generations from now—we will all experience the fullness of God’s Kingdom, and know the eternal life available through faith in the Messiah Yeshua!

Ki-Tavo

Ki-Tavo

When you enter in

“A Faithful Treasured Possession”

Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8
Isaiah 60:1-22


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

Ki-Tavo is frequently remembered for the lengthy lists of blessings and curses that are promised to Israel as a result of their obedience or disobedience to the Lord. In this season of repentance, which traditionally comes during the month of Elul as we approach the Fall high holidays, reflecting on such blessings and curses can be a sobering exercise. After all, God has declared many times throughout the Scriptures that Israel is a chosen people who have been designated as His own possession among all the peoples of the Earth—who are to in turn be a blessing to all they encounter. Here in our parashah this week, after we see instructions on how Israel should honor the Lord with offerings of first fruits and tithes,[1] Moses summarizes that the people are declaring their willingness to follow and obey Him fully:

“You have today declared the LORD to be your God, and that you would walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and listen to His voice” (Deuteronomy 26:17).

This commitment receives a positive response from the Lord, who reiterates and amplifies just how treasured a possession Israel will be:

“The LORD has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, 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 to the Lord your God, as He has spoken” (Deuteronomy 26:18-19).

Being “the chosen nation” above all the nations of the world has some rather incumbent, serious responsibilities. Israel is required to be an example of a consecrated people, which fully submits itself to the will of God. He requires specific actions from His people to affirm that they are indeed His, and that they can truly be as prominent as He desires them to be.

Moses gives explicit instructions on what must be done once the Israelites have crossed the Jordan and entered into the Promised Land. In a very dramatic way, the Israelites are ordered to travel to the area around Shechem to perform a solemn ceremony on Mounts Ebal and Gerizim. There, the Levites will position themselves between the two mountains with six tribes on each side, and make loud declarations about curses that will come upon them as a result of deviant behavior.[2] Declarations about blessings as a result of obedience to God will be made,[3] but so will the consequences of disobedience be specified.[4] As all of these statements are ushered forth, the people will be expected to proclaim Amein, issuing their agreement with what is said. Just imagine a scene of hundreds of thousands of people declaring forth Amein to words that will determine their future (cf. Joshua 8:30-35)!

As we review the different statements that Ancient Israel was to make when they entered into the Promised Land, there are some things that should really strike us. Moses said that if Israel was to diligently obey the Lord, that His blessings will just “overtake” them:

“Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).

The lengthy list of blessings offered by the Lord (Deuteronomy 28:3-12) culminates in the ultimate elevation for Israel to always be the head and never the tail among those in the world:

“The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I charge you today, to observe them carefully” (Deuteronomy 28:13).

All that is required to attain this status is simply obedience to God. But as the testimony of Scripture is clear, this is much easier said than done. The narrative and the tone shifts, because there is a much longer list of curses that will come upon Israel if the people choose to disobey God. Moses summarizes,

“But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15).

As you read curse after curse (Deuteronomy 28:16-65), you realize that these negative words touch almost every aspect of human life. After reading through these curses a number of times, you can understand why frequently—when this part of the Torah portion is often read in Jewish synagogues—it is traditionally read quickly and in an almost inaudible tone. So severe are the curses upon Israel that the Rabbis have sought to minimize even the contemplation of the possible curses. And yet, in this time of personal and corporate repentance, is it not an ideal time to consider some of the consequences of disobedience? Just consider some of the concluding remarks about just how the people of Israel will act once the effects of disobedience have taken their hold:

“So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see” (Deuteronomy 28:66-67).

Once all of the curses have taken their toll, life will be so miserable that one will not be comfortable with either the day or the night. There will be no assurance of life at all. One’s existence will be in a sphere dominated by the power of death—a routine marked with incessant fear and loathing—especially since the people will have been scattered into the nations as a result of their disobedience.

With all of this being witnessed in our parashah this week, is there not a great incentive to be obedient to the Lord? Surely, as a part of His people today—even though we have experienced redemption in Messiah Yeshua—should we not recognize that we can only be blessed if we expel the effort to follow and obey? Sadly, much of religious history is marked by people who have made more of an effort to disobey God, or bend the rules with trying to do as little as possible, then people who have strived to love Him and His ways. Lamentably, the Lord has been quite true to His Word to enact curses and penalties upon disobedient people throughout the ages.

 

The Faithful Remnant

Pondering this sad reality, I was also reminded that, thankfully, there has always been a faithful remnant of people throughout history who have chosen to diligently obey God to the best of their ability and understanding.[5] As a result, these people of faithful obedience have received the promised blessings, and have prepared the way for each successive generation. In His sovereignty the Lord has always had a group of people who are faithful to perform His Word, making a concentrated, positive difference in society—whether they be Jews or Christians. As the writer of Hebrews states it, faith is foundational to acts of obedience:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible…And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:1-3, 6).

Apparently, over the ages, it has been the faith of many men and women—who beyond a shadow of a doubt can be counted among the “treasured possession” of God’s people—that has caused them to be obedient to the Lord. They have been responsible for demonstrating acts of kindness and mercy to others, fulfilling what James the Just calls, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27).

Considering the requirement of faith as a critical ingredient for generating obedience, my thoughts turned to some of the words of the Apostle Paul which address the requirement of God’s people to function as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). Paul specifies how each person has been given a particular allocation of faith, requiring all Believers to work and serve together in the Kingdom of God:

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).

Reading this, I also had to recognize how Paul further says that faith is the means by which we receive salvation—not our human works:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But, too many people stop reading at Ephesians 2:9, because nowhere in his letters does Paul ever negate the need for the children of God to have good works. Instead, he asserts how Messiah followers have been created for good works, which come as a natural result of our faith demonstrated in action:

“For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

James the Just is also noted for his description about how faith and works are to compliment one another. A true follower of the Messiah of Israel is to have a dynamic, active faith, that manifests itself in the appropriate deeds:

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

 

More Faith

In these days of contemplation and repentance, as I have considered the different blessings and curses contingent upon obedience or disobedience to God—all I can do is entreat Him to give me more faith. I ask the Father to increase my faith, so that I can have a heart desirous of serving Him. In a day and age when temptation is rampant and is at clear odds with the will of the indwelling Holy Spirit—I beseech the Lord to reveal more and more of Himself, so that I can endure the trials and tribulations that have been thrust upon me in life. I want to live in accordance with His ways.

It is a great blessing to be given a significant measure of trusting faith. This gift results in one not only desiring to be obedient to the Lord, but it places one’s total confidence in His will for the future. It lets me know that I, personally, am a treasured possession of His—who He loves and who He truly cares about!

What about you? Have you been turning your heart and attention toward God in this time of contemplation, in anticipation of the Fall high holidays? What about your actions toward your neighbors? Have they been consistent with what is expected of able Messiah followers? If not, I would recommend that you go before the Lord and truly seek Him with all of your being—remembering that He is faithful to reveal Himself to those who truly seek Him:

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

May you be found to be one of His faithful treasured possessions!


NOTES

[1] Deuteronomy 26:1-19.

[2] Deuteronomy 27:1-26.

[3] Deuteronomy 28:1-14.

[4] Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

[5] Editor’s note: Of useful consultation would be the many people described in Robert G. Tuttle, The Story of Evangelism: A History of the Witness to the Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon, 2006).