Chukat

Chukat

Regulation

Numbers 19:1-22:1
Judges 11:1-33

“On the Face Again”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

The past three Torah portions (Beha’alot’kha; Shelakh-Lekha; Korach)[1] have dealt with the challenges that Moses encountered to his leadership, during Ancient Israel’s desert sojourn. This week in Chukat, the leap from the ordinances given by God, to approximately thirty-eight years of sojourning in the wilderness, is quite a contrast to contemplate. From red heifer sacrifices,[2] to the chronic problem of water shortages,[3] Moses striking rather than speaking to the rock,[4] and the challenge of hostile nations[5]—the narrative of Chukat covers a wide series of circumstances. Searching for a thread or a single theme, which holds everything together, has been a challenge for me, but it something that can be best achieved while in the prostrated position. There is no doubt that the quintessential example of leadership displayed by Moses is repeated one more time for our edification, that we might adequately consider where we stand before our Creator.

Before we analyze the balance of our Torah reading for this week, I would be remiss to not consider the perplexing exercise established decades earlier when the priests of Israel were given instruction about how to purify the sporadically unclean. Since twice in the opening chapter, we see that aspects of this procedure are to be a “perpetual statute” for the people of Israel and sojourners in the community, it is perhaps something that should be considered spiritually illuminating:

“The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening; and it shall be a perpetual statute to the sons of Israel and to the alien who sojourns among them…So it shall be a perpetual statute for them. And he who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and he who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. Furthermore, anything that the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening” (Numbers 19:10, 21-22).

“Perpetual statute” or “eternal decree” (ATS) reads as chuqat olam in Hebrew. What we see detailed in Numbers 19 concerning the ashes of the red heifer are not the only Torah statutes that are to be done in perpetuity. But unlike remembering the appointed times on some level,[6] which the Jewish Synagogue has done without an operating Temple or priesthood for two millennia, how are things like the instruction of the red heifer to be honored?

The Hebrew chuqah or “ordinance” is derived from the root verb chaqaq, generally meaning “cut in, inscribe, decree” (BDB).[7] The first time this term is used appears in Genesis 49:10, in the prophecy regarding the coming of the Messiah to rule with a ruler’s staff or scepter:

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff [chaqaq] from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10).

The term chaqaq describes authority with the power to make edicts. A related noun, choq, means “something prescribed, a statute or due” (BDB).[8] It is used to describe Pharaoh’s allotment of land for the priests of Egypt as directed by Joseph, when he was the viceroy of Egypt:

“Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had an allotment [choq] from Pharaoh, and they lived off the allotment [choq] which Pharaoh gave them. Therefore, they did not sell their land” (Genesis 47:22).

Considering these related terms, we can begin to understand that these statutes not only have a considerable amount of authority attached to them, but that those who follow them also receive or inherit the blessings of the Almighty as they are obeyed. Of course, many of today’s Messianic Believers ask which of the Torah’s instructions we should observe—or even can observe—in modern times. We do not live in the same circumstances, either economic or technological, that many of the Torah’s commandments were originally directed for. We obviously do not live in the Ancient Near East. However, as Messianics regularly study Moses’ Teaching on a consistent basis, we do certainly consider what they mean—and so to an extent we can “remember” them.

It is my conviction that we must all strive to adhere to the Torah commandments that Yeshua the Messiah and the Apostles followed. This obviously begins with demonstrating a love for God and neighbor,[9] and being steadfastly concerned with treating our fellow human beings with care and respect. Beyond this, today’s Messianic Believers are often widely agreed that matters like keeping the Sabbath, the annual feasts, the dietary laws, and related observances, need to be observed. The Jewish theological and spiritual tradition can certainly be consulted in these areas, as we keep these practices in community, although not to the negation of the New Covenant realities to be experienced in Yeshua by His sacrifice for sinful humanity. As we strive to be obedient to God’s Torah as the Messiah and the Apostles were, we do so with various limitations present within our Twenty-First Century world, and sometimes we are forced to speculate on what the Lord would do were He living in our time. Beseeching the Lord and being sensitive to His Spirit are absolutely required for a Messianic Believer’s Torah observance.[10]

As I examine different passages in the Torah where the Law of God is elaborated upon, I often realize that in many cases you can easily discern their symbolism. Using physical and tangible implements, or conducting certain activities, are to point one to God’s holiness and majesty. Things like the pure oil for the menorah, the purification of hands and feet before entering the Tent of Meeting, various peace offerings, the waving of the barley sheaf, the Passover lamb, the proclamation made at Shavuot, the Yom Kippur service, the celebration of Sukkot, and the blowing of the trumpets—reveal greater and deeper elements of our Biblical faith.

A great difficulty, however, arises if one is trying to understand all of these symbols without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit sent to instruct, teach, and guide us into all truth. If you get hung up on all of these ordinances and the impression that without doing them all to the letter of the Law—or at least to some of the strictest of methods prescribed by modern-day Orthodox Judaism—you are in trouble, you likely need to check yourself to see where you are in your relationship with God. Is your relationship with the Torah, or is it with the Giver of the Torah?

Within Chuqat, after Numbers ch. 19, Torah readers move a giant leap forward, approximately thirty-eight years to the time just before the Ancient Israelites were getting ready to enter into the Promised Land. Moses was almost 120 years old, and his sister Miriam died and was buried (Numbers 20:1). But with the previous generation largely now having died off, its children and grandchildren were about to fall into their predecessors’ same pattern of complaining and murmuring, with the water having dried up (Numbers 20:2). They were at the throats of Moses and Aaron, quarreling about the lack of water, and complaining about the lack of various fruit bearing trees (Numbers 20:3-5).

Interestingly, Moses and Aaron, now in their “senior season,” responded in the best manner that they have mastered over the years. They got down on their faces once again and implored the Lord to intercede. They received the answer to their question as how to proceed, and the instructions given by God were very direct:

“Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.’ So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him.”

Instead of following the Lord’s instruction as He laid forth, Moses, at this somewhat late stage in his life, made a tragic mistake. Rather than speaking to the rock as directed, he chastised the rebels and he struck the rock twice, in order to bring forth water. This resulted in God disallowing Moses and Aaron their personal entrance into the Promised Land:

“[A]nd Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, ‘Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.’ Those were the waters of Meribah, because the sons of Israel contended with the LORD, and He proved Himself holy among them” (Numbers 20:10-13).

This is a great lesson for all of us to learn. Moses was a man chosen to actually talk with God “face to face” (cf. Exodus 33:11), but at this late stage in his life he acted rashly—and it cost him dearly. Moses was denied the opportunity to enter into the Promised Land with the people of Israel. Shortly after this, Aaron died (Numbers 20:24-29). The rest of Chukat deals with the battles that erupted with the peoples who wanted to harass Israel and keep them from achieving their destiny (Numbers 21:1-22:1).

What can we learn from this text—that takes us on a wild journey from discussing the red heifer, to burying Aaron, and ends up on the precipice of Ancient Israel entering the Promised Land on the plains of Moab? Are we going to be like Moses and Aaron, and/or their generation who perished in the wilderness or are we on the road to entering into the fullness of rest provided in the Messiah?

There are regulations encountered in the Torah which cannot be observed in the Twenty-First Century, some of which are described in Chukat. Not infrequently, people within today’s Messianic community feel guilty that they cannot keep them, perhaps thinking that our God in Heaven has a ledger sheet by which He judges people. Many people, not so unconsciously, think that the Lord could literally strike them down at any moment if they are not focused on the minutiae of His instructions.

Those who have experienced the salvation of Yeshua, while surely needing to fear the Lord, should not have their spirituality dominated by a phobia of approaching Him. Hebrews 4:16 communicates how we are to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

If any of you do not adequately understand the significance or meaning of various instructions witnessed in the Torah, then just as the leaders of Ancient Israel fell on their faces before God—might you need to do the same? Do you have a heart and mind that are oriented toward His Word and toward obedience? If you do, then falling on your face before the Lord, and communing with the Heavenly Father, should be a worthwhile exercise. For, our Sovereign God knows our individual human circumstances and limitations—and He is most merciful! He knows if we are truly seeking obedience and compliance with His Word, or if we are trying to deliberately find ways around it. Are we trying to appreciate the significance of the things seen in Chukat, informing us as to His character—or think that it has no place in the Bible studies of modern Believers?

As we each do this, will we have a witness in faith in the atoning blood of the Messiah? Will we have a witness that the Holy Spirit indwells us, and that we are trying to submit our will to His will? Let us each strive toward maturity in the Lord…even if it causes us to fall on our face frequently!


NOTES

[1] Numbers 8:1-12:16; 13:1-15:41; 16:1-18:32.

[2] Numbers 19:1-22.

[3] Numbers 20:1-7.

[4] Numbers 20:8-23.

[5] Numbers 21:21-22:1.

[6] Exodus 12:14, 17; Leviticus 16:31; 23:14, 21, 31, 41.

[7] BDB, 349.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; cf. Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.

[10] For some useful thoughts, consult the article “The Significance of the Messiah Event” by Margaret McKee Huey and J.K. McKee, appearing in the Messianic Torah Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

Korach

Korach

Korah

Numbers 16:1-18:32
1 Samuel 11:14-12:22

“Budding Leadership Patterns”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

One of the most dependable features of our Creator is that He is a God of order and consistency, who can be relied upon to perform His Word without fail. Lamentably, most of fallen humanity disregards this fact. But even more tragic is the sad testimony that many who claim a relationship with Him are not always aware of His immutable nature. Thankfully, the Almighty is cognizant that humans have a fallen nature and various limitations. He has made provisions within His sovereign rule, to guarantee that His Word is performed:

“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them. The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all. Bless the LORD, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you who serve Him, doing His will. Bless the LORD, all you works of His, in all places of His dominion; bless the LORD, O my soul!” (Psalm 103:14-22).

Did you notice how the Psalmist reminds us that the key, to receiving God’s blessings and lovingkindness, is having a healthy fear of Him? A good part of such fear is trembling at the Word of the Lord, and understanding that once God has declared something, He is obligated to follow through because of His righteousness to complete it. Once a person is able to incorporate this reality into his or her heart, and respond in obedience to His will, the perplexities of life should hopefully become more manageable. By submitting and surrendering to what He has lovingly revealed in the Holy Scriptures, faithful Believers have the privilege of exercising their trust in the Lord, by taking action and completing the good works that they were created to perform. The Apostle Paul summarizes it very nicely:

“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).

This week’s Torah portion, Korach, details the tragic consequences of a group of Ancient Israelites who did not take the decree of the Lord seriously. The infamous Korah is the instigator of a rebellion against the chosen leadership of the fledgling nation of Israel, as the people painstakingly make their way from the bondage of Egypt to a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. By the time of this incident, many other examples of disobedience have already occurred. The cry for lack of meat is dealt with by God sending an abundance of quail, only to be accompanied by a severe plague which takes the lives of many doubters (Numbers 12:31-35). The incredible challenge of Miriam and Aaron, to Moses’ leadership, is shown to be a visible reminder that even the closest relatives should not question the anointing of God’s chosen (Numbers 12). Next, the ten unbelieving spies inject their doubting poison into the camp (Numbers 13). The attempt to return to the favor of the Lord is unsuccessful, as He uses the Amalekites and Canaanites to execute His judgment on the remorseful doubters (Numbers 14:41-45). Finally, the vivid example of one individual gathering wood on the Sabbath is handled in a dramatic fashion, as the congregation of Israel is required to stone him in order to learn the lessons of defiant disobedience (Numbers 15:29-36).

These recorded events establish a backdrop for the ultimate challenge to Moses’ anointed leadership by Korah and his associates, distant cousins of Levi and Reuben. Korah was not satisfied with the Divine privilege he had received to minister before God in the Tabernacle (Numbers 16:8-10), and perhaps Dathan and Abiram were wondering why they too had not received recognition for being the descendants of the firstborn son of Jacob. Whatever their motivations were, the consequences of their actions against God’s chosen are a reminder to us today that these fleshly-inspired, or perhaps even demonic rebellions, are not only going to happen—but should be expected and anticipated by those who have been called into leadership positions in the Body of Messiah.

Whether it is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16) motivating rebellion, the fact remains from Biblical and historical accounts, that rebellion is present in the hearts of people. Having the knowledge of good and evil embedded in hearts of stone, the natural inclination is often to become a god unto oneself. In so doing, men and women will find themselves susceptible to the wiles of the Devil, and as the Prophet Samuel stated several centuries later to King Saul, the insidious poison of divination germinates seeds of rebellion in the human heart:

“Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).

Korah and his ilk were no different than the many more, who down through the ages have taken the Word of the Lord lightly—or worse—viewed it with disdain and total rejection. Consider the character analysis that is portrayed in this week’s reading. Is it the character of Korah that is revealing—or the reaction of Moses to the challenge to his role—which inspires you? Consider the fact that we are given a great example of how leaders should react when various Korahs, Miriams, or even unruly mobs attack one’s God-ordained position and responsibility:

“When Moses heard this, he fell on his face” (Numbers 16:4).

Where else can a man or woman of God find solace and direction from an omnipotent Creator, who allows insurrections to occur? For those who can identify with Moses, on whatever level, his example should be taken to serious heart. Crying out to our Maker for His solution to the problems of life is our only choice when we are put in dire straights! When we do this, then in His mercy God should give us the guidance we need to handle whatever the challenge might be.

The solution for Korah’s rebellion was a graphic one. The Lord miraculously swallowed up Korah’s family into Sheol (Numbers 16:30-34), and fire burned the other dissatisfied rebels (Numbers 16:35). Additionally, a plague is sent into the camp, killing many other Israelites, who might have identified with the inclinations of the insurgents (Numbers 16:41-50). Ultimately, the Lord decided to show the sign of the budding rod to the people who had rebelled, or at least questioned, the leadership of Moses and Aaron (Numbers 17:1-13). This budding rod, a tangible reminder of His authority being placed upon these specific Levites, not only convinced the doubting masses, but eventually received the honor of being placed next to the Ark of the Covenant:

“Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrews 9:3-5).

This placement of the rod signified not only the special leadership role of Aaron and his Levitical descendants, but also their proximity and closeness to the tangible relics of God’s interaction with Israel as the chosen nation to be a light to the world (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). As Believers in Messiah Yeshua, we have each been anointed by God and have been given a great calling to share Him with all we encounter. We not only have a great responsibility to learn His Word, but let the Word have its way in our lives.

A great example of someone who understood the call of serving God is the Prophet Samuel, the last judge of Ancient Israel. He was chosen to anoint the first king of Israel, in spite of his disappointment about the people rejecting the Lord as their Sovereign King:

“But you have today rejected your God, who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses; yet you have said, ‘No, but set a king over us!’ Now therefore, present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and by your clans” (1 Samuel 10:19).

When it came time to submit to the permitted will of the people as directed by God, Samuel returned to the pattern that had been first established by Joshua when the twelve tribes first came into the Promised Land:

“Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Come and let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there.’ So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they also offered sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly” (1 Samuel 11:14-15).

You should remember that it was at Gilgal that Joshua and the twelve tribes made a significant covenant with the Lord, as they faithfully circumcised the men of Israel, despite the immediate danger of enemy attack from the existing nations occupying the land of Canaan:

“Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. He said to the sons of Israel, ‘When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, “What are these stones?” then you shall inform your children, saying, “Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.” For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”’ Now it came about when all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel. At that time the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.’ So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth. This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way after they came out of Egypt. For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the sons of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, that is, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished because they did not listen to the voice of the LORD, to whom the LORD had sworn that He would not let them see the land which the LORD had sworn to their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Joshua 4:9-5:6).

The Lord allowed the Israelites to enter into a faithful covenant as they painfully circumcised themselves upon entering the Promised Land. Samuel knew the significance of what occurred at Gilgal, and that through the other reported signs, which included the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River on dry land, that the nations at large would take notice. By returning to Gilgal to anoint and install King Saul, another significant sign was being made to not only the Ancient Israelites, but to all in the vicinity who rejected the Sovereign Creator God. By making the connection, Samuel exercised great wisdom as he knew that the patterns of the Lord were consistent and true:

“Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Come and let us go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom there.’ So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they also offered sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly” (1 Samuel 11:14-15).

Samuel exercised extremely good leadership as he was led to return to the patterns of his predecessors Joshua and Moses. Samuel was old and gray (1 Samuel 12:2), knowing that his days were numbered, and he like Moses was not a man who was beholden to any other except God. In his final recorded soliloquy, Samuel exhorted the people to return once again to the Instruction of God, as he knew that only in obedience to God would they find the joy and peace that they desired. It was not in an Earthly king that mimicked the ways of the other nations that the Israelites would find peace and security. Because Samuel was charged with executing the will of the Lord, he relented and shared these profound words of encouragement:

“Then Samuel said to the people, ‘It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers up from the land of Egypt. So now, take your stand, that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous acts of the LORD which He did for you and your fathers. When Jacob went into Egypt and your fathers cried out to the LORD, then the LORD sent Moses and Aaron who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place. But they forgot the LORD their God, so He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. They cried out to the LORD and said, “We have sinned because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth; but now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve You.” Then the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Bedan and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around, so that you lived in security. When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, “No, but a king shall reign over us,” although the LORD your God was your king. Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the LORD has set a king over you. If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers. Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king.’ So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. Then all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.’ Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:6-25).

Can you sense the passion in Samuel’s pleas? As he recalled the relatively brief history of Israel and noted the continuing pattern of disobedience, he reminded the people of the requirement to fear the Lord. It is only through a reverent fear of God and His Word that any of us have an inkling of a chance of survival, in any generation from Adam to the present. Of course, the Holy One has always shown signs to not only His people, but to the whole world, so that all will know that He is sovereign. Whether it is drying up seas or rivers, or sending rain at the appropriate times, He is in the habit of confirming with visible signs that are evident, and endorsing His chosen leaders with readily identifiable markers.

But brothers and sisters be warned! The enemy of our souls is also in the business of mimicking various signs and wonders, as an attempt to thwart the Divine will of God. We are warned incessantly about the false signs and wonders that have come, are coming, and will come in the Last Days to test not only Believers, but lead many astray into judgment. Even Yeshua Himself warns us of those coming, who are going to lead many into apostasy and despair:

“For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, NRSV).

The Apostle Paul further elaborates on this in his communication with the Believers at Thessalonica:

“Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

Here is an amplification that should surely generate the fear of the Lord in anyone who truly believes that He says what He means. Notice that the reason why people are deceived, is because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. This is critical because without the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit operating through a circumcised heart of flesh, those who have simply decided to lead a moral life are not able to discern the difference between a true sign from God and a deceiving sign from the Devil. The key is to be born from above, so that a healthy fear of the Lord is what motivates a person to seek Him with all of the heart, mind, soul and strength.

Perhaps the most sobering thing we see here is that the “strong delusion” (KJV/RSV) or “powerful delusion” (NIV) comes from God Himself. He will be the One who sends it upon the whole world. It will be the ultimate test as to whether someone truly believes upon the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, or not.

If you have a propensity to operate in the spirit of Korah, Miriam, the ten spies, or if you simply want to gather some sticks, or just generally do your own thing—are you in a rather uncertain place in your walk with God? For a season, you might get away with disobedience and obstinance, because our Heavenly Father is longsuffering and full of a compassion that no human has the capacity to demonstrate. But eventually, because His Word requires it, He is going to have to execute some form of judgment, or at least penalties. When this happens, where will you stand? I would note for you that you need not wait for the final judgment of humanity to wait for your personal judgment.

I pray this week that you will be seeking God with all of your heart, falling on your face when desperate circumstances arise, and crying out to Him for understanding. I hope that you will learn to embrace the fear of the Lord with every ounce of your being.

Our Heavenly Father is raising up Messianic leaders who have some important work to do in the days ahead. Will they follow the examples found in the Torah, and indeed all of Scripture? Will we have men and women who truly follow God and serve the community of faith? Will we have those who show mercy like the benevolent Creator we serve? Truly, my friends, we have much to consider from this week’s Torah portion.

Shelakh-Lekha

Shelakh-Lekha

Send on your behalf

Numbers 13:1-15:41
Joshua 2:1-24

“Nevertheless”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week, the Torah continues to discuss some of the challenges that Ancient Israel had with various leadership issues, as the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land proceeded. Having just witnessed a threat to his leadership from his sister Miriam and his brother Aaron,[1] Moses is now placed in a position to continue encouraging the Israelites to move forward on the journey, toward the ultimate goal of securing the land promised to them. This humble servant of the Most High had just survived accusations from his sister that resulted in her temporary bout with leprosy (Numbers 12:10). She was healed after her seven-day quarantine, and then the sojourn continued (Numbers 12:15-16). However, the memory of the challenge to his leadership was fresh on his mind, as Moses and the people stood at the threshold of entering into the Land.

It is at this point that Shelakh-Lekha begins with the infamous incidents concerning the adventures of the twelve spies,[2] who were chosen to scout out the Land of Canaan, and return with a report about the prospects for invasion:[3]

“Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them” (Numbers 13:2).

Moses, as the reluctant leader, realized that he was dealing with a recalcitrant group of people, who were not exactly content with their current status of wandering through the wilderness. Complaints and murmuring were commonplace. In spite of the miraculous interventions resolving their food issues, the Israelites constantly find reasons to not be satisfied with their conditions. Base human nature continued to drive the great majority of the people, as the instincts of survival and selfishness prevailed.

Moses, who in his desire to fulfill the unwanted call upon his life to lead Israel, simply wanted to obey the Lord and guide the people to Canaan. So, with the Land on the (near?) horizon, God instructed Moses to choose one leader from among each of the twelve tribes, who would go into the Land and come back with a report to (presumably?) endorse the incursion. Little did Moses know that the resulting report of the spies would not be what he expected. Instead, as we read in our Torah portion, we find that the opposite result from what was anticipated, occurred, as only two of the twelve leaders actually returned with a good report. The other ten got hung up on the often-used word that is heard frequently by leaders when they are attempting to impose their will upon the teeming masses. That word is “but,” or as the New American Standard renders it, “nevertheless”:

“Thus they told him, and said, ‘We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless [Yet, RSV/NRSV; But, NIV/ATS; However, NJPS/ESV][4] the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan” (Numbers 13:27-29).

In spite of all the positive aspects of the Promised Land that were seen during the forty-day excursion from north to south and east to west, the ultimate report of the ten spies focused on negative things rather than the many positive attributes of the territory. Human fear of others, and doubt about the promises of the Holy One to accomplish His word, prevailed. The ubiquitous insertion of the reservations, about the leadership decision to enter the Land, is best characterized by the conjunction “but.”

As human beings we each have varying roles as leaders and followers of families, groups, congregations, or even greater responsibilities in business or our communities. Have you ever considered how often you hear the word “but” come forth from your own heart, or listen to others respond with that same retort? If you are a parent, you can certainly relate to children using “but” as an excuse, especially if you are attempting to impose your will upon them. On the other hand, if you are in a position where you are a subordinate of someone else, you might hear yourself utilize this term when being asked to do something that was not on your personal agenda, or when you feel it is necessary to offer an alternative point of view. The challenge for each of us, regardless of what position we may find ourselves, is how we should deal with the innate human tendency to want to “do our own thing”—when we have a Creator who has clearly spelled out how we are supposed to conduct our lives in His Word. Are there principles we can learn from the leadership style of Moses, which can be applied to our daily walk with the Messiah?

Surely the examples that we have been given of how Moses dealt with his detractors are for our instruction and edification! When considering the role that Moses had as the one chosen to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, the contrast that he was first a follower of God allowed him to execute his responsibilities secondly as a leader. Moses had been chosen from birth to be the one selected for the position he reluctantly received. For the first forty years of his life he was trained in the halls of Pharaoh’s courts with great responsibility, and the incumbent authority to make things happen. Then in an impetuous moment of the flesh, he committed murder, however justified, and had to flee into the wilderness for his own survival (Exodus 2:11-15).

For the next forty years, Moses learned the skill of being a shepherd tending to the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro of Midian. During these long years in the desert, he had a great deal of time to dwell on who he was, but most importantly who the God of the Hebrews was. According to the author of Hebrews, Moses knew that he was a Hebrew, and that he had a destiny upon his life:

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Messiah greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the firstborn would not touch them” (Hebrews 11:23-28).

Imagine going from the pinnacle of power in Egypt, being a member of the royal family, to Sinai and shepherding someone else’s herds. This does not seem like a very exciting promotion, and yet through it all, the Lord molded Moses into an able leader, who would be called into an incredible relationship with Him as he guided Ancient Israel. It was during the years of self-reflection in Midian when Moses truly learned how to commune with his Creator, how to hear His voice, and how to follow His will. After all, what got Moses out into the wilderness, and into the role of a shepherd, occurred because he had let his anger overtake his reason, causing him to murder another human being. Certainly, this memory was a vivid reminder of his failings, no matter how often he justified his actions. When the Torah instruction was issued on how to punish a murderer (Leviticus 24:17), what did Moses think?

From the point of him leaving Midian, returning to Egypt, and then leading the Israelites to Mount Sinai—Moses was the primary witness to the finger of God actually inscribing “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). It is difficult to fathom how Moses must have felt, as he recognized that his impetuous action to murder an Egyptian must have influenced his entire life. Surely as a result, Moses fully understood the mercy and compassion of the Most High, who did not execute the prescribed judgment. Could these circumstances have determined permanent character changes? Is there no wonder why in the previous Torah reading, B’ha’alotkha (Numbers 8:1-12:16), the description that best exemplifies Moses is his humility?

“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).[5]

With this humility came great strength. Moses learned through the lessons of his life that he was chosen to be an instrument for the work of the Most High. In order to let this happen, he had to learn the fine art of denying his own inclinations. When he felt the tendency to say “but” when given various instructions from the Lord, he chose instead to simply repeat what he was told, even when he was probably perplexed about the various things that he was told to communicate to the Israelites.

Is this not also a characteristic of Yeshua the Messiah—sometimes regarded as a kind of Second Moses—who spoke only what the Father told Him to speak?

“For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12:49-50).

Of course, we know that when Moses did exercise his own will, as witnessed when he willfully struck the rock without following the clear instructions to speak to the rock, the consequences were devastating. Moses was ultimately a fallible human being like the rest of the population of Israel (Numbers 20:8-11). Yeshua the Messiah, in stark contrast, was Divine.

Within our Torah portion of Shelakh-Lekha, we see Moses steadily leading the Ancient Israelites, in the wake of the Miriam debacle, and on the precipice of the people entering into the Promised Land. God had already told him to send ahead the twelve spies for a scouting report, knowing full well in His omniscience that the report would be distorted by them, because they lacked the faith to believe and trust in Him. The servant-leader Moses follows His instructions and the results are recorded (Numbers 13).

The ten come back with a bad report, and immediately the infection of doubt and disbelief permeated the camp. Insurrection was on the rise, as the people murmured, complained, and asked for another leader to take them back to Egypt (Numbers 14:1-10). Moses and his brother Aaron fell on their faces before God, in prayer and supplication. There is no other place to turn but to the mercy of the Almighty, if Israel was to be spared from potential disaster:

“Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes” (Numbers 14:5-6).

The two faithful spies, Joshua and Caleb, knew what to do when confronted with the doubts and complaining of their countrymen. They tore their clothes in a physical act of displaying great sorrow for the report of their fellow spies.

It is here, prostrated on the ground before the presence of the Almighty, that men and women of God can truly cry out to Him for His protection, wisdom, grace, mercy, and compassion for not only themselves—but for others who are walking into the jaws of judgment. There is no better place to be when one is confronted with questions about what to do in certain circumstances, than on your face imploring our Heavenly Father for answers. Only God has the answers to life’s problems and challenges, and it is through a humbled heart that He will reveal how each of us should proceed in the circumstances of life.

The example of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb imploring God on their knees, must be taken seriously by anyone who has been given leadership responsibilities in the Body of Messiah. Prostrate yourself before the Holy One, and wait upon Him for the directions on what to do next! The Almighty appreciates this level of trust and dependence on Him. As you do this, you will discover that you begin to emulate the examples of many faithful people who preceded you in generations past.

Over time as you submit yourself to God, the Holy Spirit will reveal to you that leadership is all about serving, and that the Biblical model for leadership is all about humbling yourself, as the world rests squarely upon the shoulders of the Messiah Yeshua (Isaiah 9:6). Yeshua and He alone is holding up the rest of humanity by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). Yeshua is at the bottom of it all, yet because of His extreme service He is also at the very top. Via experience you will discover that in order to be called into a position of leadership like Moses, you need to learn to put yourself last and to think and pray for others ahead of yourself. You learn about the need to serve others, and the more you serve the closer you come to the ultimate position occupied by the Messiah Himself:

“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Apostles knew what service was all about, and it meant losing their lives in order to gain His life.[6] The Apostles learned that becoming servants required one to minister to the needs of the assembly with whatever was necessary. In almost all cases, it required them eventually giving up their physical lives, in order to pass on the blessings associated with pointing people to the Messiah of Israel.

Moses had a great advantage over many others in communicating with the Lord, because the Lord spoke to him face to face (Exodus 33:11). The exchanges between the Most High and Moses, as recorded in the Torah, are a unique description of a person who has been called out by Him for a huge assignment.

Today, as the Lord is molding Messianic Believers as Torah obedient followers of the Messiah Yeshua, He is surely challenging each and every one of us to exemplify the same faith and willingness to submit our wills to His will. God is training us to execute our fleshly ways, in order for the guiding power of His Holy Spirit to operate effectively through each and everyone of us. As the Apostle Paul so eloquently said,

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

As we learn to be led by the Spirit and to walk by the Spirit, we should find that the “buts” we express toward God become fewer and fewer. This is not to say that we understand all that our Heavenly Father requires of us as we walk out our various tasks and assignments. We do know, though, that He has a desire to use each one of us in the unique circumstances where we are placed. His basic principles do not change. Yeshua taught that if we are faithful in the little things like learning to serve others, or in Moses’ case, learning to serve sheep and then the nation of Israel—the Father is faithful to give us even greater things to serve:

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” (Luke 16:10-12).

As we each consider this week’s Torah portion, perhaps you can think about how often you are prompted to use the word “but” when called upon to serve the Lord. Leaders in the Body of the Messiah need to be ardent followers of God, and learn to listen to His voice for instructions on how to deal with the issues of life. If the ten spies understood this principle, then perhaps Ancient Israel could have avoided a great deal of heartache during their trek to the Promised Land.

How about us today? Are we following the model of Moses, Joshua, and Caleb—all testimonies of people who learned the way to humbly serve as leaders during their generations? Are we going to be people who fall on their faces, or people who follow after the dictates of their own self-centered hearts? The answers to these questions are personal to one and all. Everyone of us has the chance to make the right choice. Nevertheless, will we?


NOTES

[1] Numbers 12:1-16.

[2] Numbers 13:1-24.

[3] Numbers 13:25-33.

[4] Heb. ki.

For a further evaluation of this term, and its wide array of usages, consult Bill T. Arnold and John H. Choi, A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp 149-155.

[5] Conservative Bible scholars are widely agreed that given the content, this is a remark made by a post-Mosaic editor of the Pentateuch, and not by Moses himself—as the most humble man could never make such a claim.

Consult R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pp 614-634; and the entry for the Book of Numbers in A Survey of the Tanach for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[6] Matthew 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25.

B’ha’alotkha

B’ha’alotkha

When you set up

Numbers 8:1-12:16
Zechariah 2:14-4:7

“Prophets All”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As we look at this week’s Torah portion, B’ha’alotkha or “When you set up,” we are directed to the continuing saga of Ancient Israel, and some of the trials and tribulations of its sojourn through the wilderness wanderings. Among the things we encounter, Moses is given the design for the menorah or lampstand that is to be placed in the Tent of Meeting.[1] This seven-branched candelabrum is to illuminate the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant is located. Specific instructions are given for the Levites, who are dedicated to serve the Almighty.[2] It is also noted that the requirements for sojourners who have joined themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are identical to those as the native born.[3]

In one of the unique passages of the Torah, Numbers 10:35-36 are actually separated out by two inverted Hebrew letter nuns.[4] These are editorial markers that have been placed in the text by copyists, to denote that this is something which needs to be paid attention to:

V’yehi binso’a ha’aron v’yomer Moshe, “Qumah ADONAI v’yafutzu o’vekha v’yanusu mesanekha mipanekha, u’venuchoh yomar shuvah ADONAI riv’vot alfei Yisrael

Numbers 10:35-36 are certainly important verses in the Torah, communicating how Ancient Israel would move in the desert, and they implore God to protect Israel from its enemies:

“Thus they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey, with the ark of the covenant of the LORD journeying in front of them for the three days, to seek out a resting place for them. The cloud of the LORD was over them by day when they set out from the camp. Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, ‘Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.’ When it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O LORD, to the myriad thousands of Israel’” (Numbers 10:33-36).

A theological explanation, for the two inverted nuns, is obviously so that Torah readers can pay attention to the significance of these verses.[5] Textual explanations also exist, in that there is some doubt as to whether or not Numbers 10:35-36 are actually in their correct place within the Hebrew text, possibly being dislocated,[6] as the Greek Septuagint testifies to a slightly different arrangement for Numbers 10:33-36. This is not at all something, though, that communicates any difference of content:

[33] And they departed from the mount of the Lord a three days’ journey; and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them a three days’ journey to provide rest for them. [35] And it came to pass when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Arise, O Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered: let all that hate thee flee. [36] And in the resting he said, Turn again, O Lord, the thousands and tens of thousands in Israel. [34] And the cloud overshadowed them by day, when they departed from the camp.[7]

From Numbers 10:35-36, we see a significant declaration issued by Moses, indicating how critical it would be for the Israelites to appeal to the Lord and His power prior to moving the Ark of the Covenant. These verses undoubtedly communicate a sincere reverence for the Word of God, and its Divine inspiration. By remembering that God has the power to scatter the enemies of His people, each of us today must entreat the Holy One to protect us and preserve us—as opposed to us relying on our own human strength. It should not be surprising for us to know that Numbers 10:35-36 is recited, along with Micah 4:1-3 and Isaiah 2:2-4, every Shabbat in the traditional liturgy of the Jewish Synagogue before the Torah scroll is removed for reading.[8]

Following this important word, B’ha’alotkha now turns to the incessant complaints of the Israelites, and how the Lord dealt with their insurrection and demands for food and the culinary comforts of Egypt.[9] The introduction of the quail for food, and the response of Moses to the judgment that is meted out upon these recalcitrant people, gives us a real sense of Moses’ heart and love for them. Moses has a real willingness to step out for the Israelites, in spite of their negative and thankless attitudes:

“So Moses said to the LORD, ‘Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers”? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, “Give us meat that we may eat!” I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness’” (Numbers 11:11-15).

At this point in Israel’s experiences, we see that Moses is ready to offer himself for the needs of his people. The solution to the frustration that Moses felt, even though he surely served Israel without reservation, was that Moses’ leadership responsibilities would be divided among seventy elders. Moses would not have to lead Ancient Israel, presumably mostly by himself:

“The LORD therefore said to Moses, ‘Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone’” (Numbers 11:16-17).

As you consider the requirements for leadership in the camp of Ancient Israel, you can read that Moses simply knew who those were, intended to be chosen to “have experience as elders and officers of the people” (NJPS). Moses chose individuals of the highest caliber. The instructions witnessed in the Torah, for the leaders of Ancient Israel, affected later generations of Israelites as the Promised Land was settled, as well as informed the leadership structures of the Jewish Synagogue during the time of Yeshua and the emerging Messianic movement of the First Century.

After Moses chose the seventy elders who would assist with the administration of the Ancient Israelites, the Holy One then was able to pour out His Spirit upon them. As a result of this occurring, we see that various individuals in the camp of Israel began to prophesy:

“So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again. But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. So a young man ran and told Moses and said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘Moses, my lord, restrain them.’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!’ Then Moses returned to the camp, both he and the elders of Israel” (Numbers 11:24-30).

In an incredible display of God’s grace toward His people, He placed His Spirit upon the seventy elders who had been selected for leadership. Apparently, there were two who were chosen to lead, but who did not attend the initial outpouring of the Spirit upon the other sixty-eight. All of a sudden within the camp, Eldad and Medad were found prophesying in the camp, and Joshua came and reported this activity to Moses, having thought that perhaps they were out of order.

The response of Moses is quite interesting, as he admonished Joshua for his concern. Moses already knew that God wanted the seventy to help lead Israel. Moses’ response, “I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29, NIV), indicates that he was desiring all of Israel to be in a position to prophesy or speak forth God’s truth with clarity.

Being able to speak forth important admonitions, from the Lord, is something that our Heavenly Father surely desires for all of His children. In the Apostle Paul’s description of various ministry functions within the Body of Messiah—whether one is an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, or a pastor or a teacher—all are to be guided by the Holy Spirit and speak forth the Lord’s message with clarity and maturity:

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Messiah; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Messiah. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Messiah” (Ephesians 4:11-15).

The goal of these, and various other jobs to be performed within the Body of Messiah, is so that all Believers may attain unity within the faith, and be mature. All of the Believers, properly functioning together, are to necessarily point to the Head or the Source of all: Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ).

One of the critical aspects required for any leadership position, within the Body of Messiah, is the ability to speak forth God’s truth in love. The only way to do this is by allowing the agapē love of the Holy Spirit to speak through us. This requires a person not only to be born again, but also to be committed to a life of holiness and steady growth in the Lord. Just like Moses desired that all of Israel would prophesy, so too are gifts of prophecy and many others, to be present among the community of Messiah followers today.

The other Apostles also give us fair warning about the need to be able to discern what are truly genuine words originating from the Spirit of God, and what are not. The Apostle Peter warns about the need to discern between a true prophetic utterance and what is not, emphasizing how he was present at the Mount of Transfiguration when he saw Yeshua the Messiah in all of His exalted glory:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’—and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:16-21).

In this day and age, when we have been warned incessantly throughout the Scriptures that many false teachers and false prophets will arise to deceive people, we need to be mindful of the imperative to check everything we hear through the grid of the Bible. This is why it is so critical that we establish a working knowledge of Scripture, beginning with the laws of the Torah, and consistent with the actual Prophets and Apostles of God themselves. Here is an extremely worthwhile example to consider, because it is very clear that God Himself is going to send false signs and wonders to test His people, and determine if they are following Him or some other spirit:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4).

Imagine a statute of “the Virgin Mary” crying with actual tears coming from the stone or marble. To many in the world, this sounds like a tremendous sign or miracle that one might even witness with his or her very own eyes. What is one to do, especially when the people who are showing you this sign are trying to impress you?

First of all, given the fact that there have been many “manufactured miracles” witnessed in the course of Roman Catholic history, it is appropriate that a critical person question whether something supernatural has really transpired. There are many perceived supernatural or spiritual occurrences, which are actually man-made.

Secondly, just because something “supernatural” occurs, does not automatically mean that it originates from God. Those who know the Torah, or Law of God, should be instinctly aware of the Second Commandment, and its prohibition of making statutes or carved images to be used in worship:

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4; cf. Deuteronomy 5:8-9).

When you know that God does not permit graven images to be used for, or in, worship, a statue of the Virgin Mary apparently crying can be immediately disregarded as originating from Him. This is something that would violate the Second Commandment.

Can you think of any other examples of so-called “signs” or “miracles” that might occur today, but clearly do not align with the character of the Holy Scriptures, or the testimonies that it gives us of the kinds of signs we should legitimately expect to see? There are probably many supernatural occurrences you have either seen or witnessed, which are “supernatural” only in the sense that human beings are not responsible for them—and they actually come from the forces of darkness. It is a sobering and scary thought, but we each need to realize that demonic signs will actually become more treacherous, slippery, and commonplace the sooner we get to the return of Yeshua. The need to know what the Scriptures say about these things is absolutely critical, for discerning what is from the Lord, and also what is from the Adversary. Yeshua Himself warned His Disciples that false signs will be prevalent in the Last Days:

“For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you beforehand. If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go forth, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:24-26).

This is a stern warning that false messiahs and false prophets “will appear and produce great signs and omens” (NRSV) that will challenge the elect of God to discern from where these manifestations emanate. I would urge you to be warned of many false signs and wonders that do not line up with instruction of God in the Torah, or any part of the Bible for that matter. For those of us who are trying to reestablish a firm foundation for our faith, we should exhibit some skepticism when we hear about many of the “miracles” present throughout Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity today. Are they genuine, or are they deception?

We need to all know the Word of God and inculcate it into our hearts and minds every day! Certainly, Moses desired that all would prophesy. But, he also wanted all to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit, as the Spirit through His people would do the prophesying. This is available today as we submit our wills to His will. As we seek to be led by the Spirit and walk by the Spirit, we can let all of the Lord’s words come forth from our innermost being. May this be the testimony for one and all!


NOTES

[1] Numbers 8:1-4.

[2] Numbers 8:5-26.

[3] Cf. Numbers 9:14.

[4] See Karl Elliger and Wilhelm Rudolph, et. al., eds., Biblica Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Stuttgart: Deutche Bibelgesellschaft, 1977), 231; and Aron Dotan, ed., Biblia Hebraica Leningradensia (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001), 213.

[5] Cf. Hertz, Pentateuch & Haftorahs, 613.

[6] Cf. Kelley, Mynatt, and Crawford, pp 34-35.

[7] Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, ed & trans., The Septuagint With Apocrypha (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), 188.

[8] Hertz, The Authorised Daily Prayer Book, pp 473-475; Scherman and Zlotowitz, Complete ArtScroll Siddur, pp 471-473; Harlow, Siddur Sim Shalom, 139.

[9] Numbers 11:1-35.

Naso

Naso

Take

Numbers 4:21-7:89
Judges 13:2-25

“A Prayer of Peace”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, Naso or “Take,” has a diverse variety of subjects to contemplate. It begins by completing the instructions about the Levites that concluded Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20).[1] This census has been conducted to number the three Levite clans that were responsible for the Tabernacle and its transportation. The Gershonites, the Merarites, and the Kohathites have each been given specific duties and tasks.[2] Interestingly, unlike some of the other Israelites who were qualified for military service and numbered from twenty years and older, the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty to the age of fifty (Numbers 4:3). Apparently, the rigorous tasks of handling the Tabernacle required considerable strength, which is something that can be realized when one sees how the term rendered as “service,” tzavah, can also mean “army service” (CHALOT).[3] This does not necessarily mean that the Levitical priests would fight in battle, but the degree of dedication and rigor was certainly no different than being a soldier. Jacob Milgrom observes how Levites who were older than fifty did not necessarily “retire,” but instead acted as mentors, while handling some of the liturgical responsibilities of canting and reciting various psalms:

“A Levite male, in the prime of his life, during the years from 30 to 50, would be given responsibility for the arduous tasks of maintaining the tabernacle (and later the Temple). After age 50, his new tasks would require more wisdom and less physical strength: singing the Psalms, opening and closing the gates, and acting as mentor to younger Levites.”[4]

As each of us advances in age, in our service to the Lord, what new opportunities might He open up for us?

Numbers ch. 5 continues our parashah and explains in detail what is commonly referred to as the “law of jealousy.” Here, specific instructions deal with a ritual that is performed in the event a husband is suspicious of his wife’s fidelity. Numbers ch. 6 describes Nazirite vows, with the specific requirements laid forth that are to be performed by the men and women who seek to dedicate themselves to the Lord in this special ritual. At the end of this chapter, what is commonly known as the “Aaronic Benediction” is recorded (Numbers 6:22-27). Finally, Numbers ch. 7 describes what is dedicated to the Lord by each of the different tribes as the Tabernacle is finished and consecrated. A tremendous statement by Moses that indicates how intimately the Lord communicated with him, concludes this parashah:

“Now when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with Him, he heard the voice speaking to him from above the mercy seat that was on the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubim, so He spoke to him” (Numbers 7:89).

The Power of the Aaronic Benediction

I could spend a great deal of time contemplating the nuances of the Levitical census, the particulars of the “law of jealousy,” a deeper meaning of the Nazirite vow, or even different aspects of the offerings made by the twelve tribes as the Tabernacle is set apart. However, as it so happens, in the past few days a very special event has occurred with my daughter Maggie, which allows me to instead focus on the blessing that Aaron was originally commanded to speak over the people of Ancient Israel.

This past week (2006), in conjunction with our local commemoration of the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot, my fourteen year-old daughter Maggie participated in her bat mitzvah here in Orlando. As a part of her ceremony, she not only delivered a short teaching on the Torah portion, Naso, after reading the first few verses in Hebrew, but she also canted the Aaronic benediction in Hebrew. As you can imagine, this was a very special time for our family.

This event, in many ways, marks a milestone for our family. Maggie will be the first child in her generation to have gone through the formality of becoming a “daughter of the commandments.” For nearly eleven years (since 1995), our family has been faithfully involved in the Messianic movement, as we have grown in our understanding of how the Father truly wants us to conduct our lives. While we have each had baptisms, dedications, and various religious confirmations over the years (which are somewhat close to the tradition of bar/bat mitzvah), this is the first time that someone in our family will have come full circle in our return to the ways of Yeshua and His Jewish Disciples.

Maggie was just three years old when we first began attending a Messianic Jewish congregation. Her testimony, which was a part of her dedication, included her impressions about the very first time she heard a Messianic Jewish rabbi utter the Aaronic blessing over our family in the assembly when she was not even four years old. Over the years, Maggie has become thoroughly “Messianic,” as she now excels in Davidic dance.

Until I read Maggie’s testimony, I never fully realized how she was impacted as a small child by the Aaronic Benediction that was proclaimed over us weekly in our early days in the Messianic community. To me, I am extremely blessed to now know that she was sincerely moved by these proclamations. For her to have this particular Torah portion as her bat mitzvah reading is very special to our family.

In the midst of describing the census of the Levites, the law of jealousy, the Nazirite vows, and the Tabernacle dedication materials offered by the various tribes—there is a pause in the narrative of Naso that inserts this special prayer that was to be uttered by the high priest over Israel. Here is the instruction:

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus you shall bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them: The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’ So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I then will bless them” (Numbers 6:22-27).

Y’varekh’kha ADONAI v’yishmerekha.

Ya’er ADONAI panav eleikha vichunekha.

Yissa ADONAI panav eleikha v’yasem l’kha shalom.

In this prayer to be declared over the Israelites, the priest is directed to bless his listeners with specific words. He is to invoke the blessings of the Lord, by asking the Lord to bless the people and to reveal Himself to them by His peace. No other blessing can be greater, than the one of being blessed by the Heavenly Father. Human beings cannot seek a superior blessing from anything created by our Creator, although they can surely invoke the Creator’s favor upon others.

The Lord bless you, and keep you”

In the opening verse of the Aaronic Benediction, the priest issues the word, “The LORD bless you and protect you!” (Numbers 6:24, NJPS). What does it fully mean for God to “keep” His people? The Hebrew verb commonly translated “keep” is shamar, which in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice) means “to keep, watch over,” “to take care of, preserve, protect,” and “to keep > to watch, observe” (HALOT).[5] It appears some 479 times in the Tanakh.[6] In many regards, the Aaronic Benediction asks the Holy One of Israel to vigilantly keep His watch over His people. Psalm 121 comes to mind as we recognize that our Heavenly Father never slumbers or sleeps. In this psalm, the Lord is actually identified as our keeper:

“A Song of Ascents. I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel [shomeir Yisrael] will neither slumber or sleep. The LORD is your keeper [ADONAI shom’rekha]; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 121:1-8).

When you think about it, who else would you rather have as your keeper? Our Heavenly Father is an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent God who is constantly aware of everything that is happening throughout His universe. To have Him keep His watch over our every thought and deed is a remarkable reality! Asking Him to be vigilant in this regard is specifically designed to bring about His protection at all times.

“The Lord make His face shine on you,
and be gracious to you”

The Aaronic Benediction continues, stating, “The LORD deal kindly and graciously with you!” (Numbers 6:25, NJPS). Much more literally, Ya’er ADONAI panav eleikha, is translated with “The LORD make His face shine on you” (NASU). The Hebrew word panim, “face,” is used to direct hearers to note the Lord turning Himself, His attention, and His majesty toward His people.

The Holy One is to turn Himself and His attention toward His people, and in so doing, His favor or grace will be evident to those who He looks upon. Nothing can quite compare to the favor of God! In Numbers 6:25, we see the verb chanan used, related to the noun chen or “favor.” These are actually important root words for a variety of common male and female English names found today, such as John, Johanna, Hanna, Ann, Jane, or Nancy—all of which imply “God is gracious.”[7] It should be obvious that seeking the favor of God is a request that is a vital part of Aaronic Benediction.

“The Lord lift up His countenance on you”

While it might be difficult to detect in some English translations of Numbers 6:26, a version like the NIV is actually more true to the source text in rendering the Hebrew panim a second time as “face”: “the LORD turn his face toward you.” Other versions render panim as “countenance” (RSV, NASU, NRSV, ESV), with the NJPS having “favor.” Does this really matter? Is this not just a stylistic issue?

Looking through my English NASU, I found that the first time that panim was rendered as “countenance” came early in the Book of Genesis, where the text described the differences between Abel and Cain. In this passage, you can detect that panim means much more than just a face:

“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 [panim] fell. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance [panim] 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 4:4-7).

Here, we detect that one’s countenance is more like his or her essential being. Obviously, Cain’s innate personhood was being challenged by God. And so, when the Aaronic Benediction is declared and the Lord’s countenance is to be lifted upon His people, this may be interpreted to mean that His essential character be made manifest. Can you imagine what a blessing it is when people not only have the Father’s attentive looks, but most importantly, allow His countenance to then be reflected in their actions? I cannot perceive of a greater blessing than when the Aaronic Benediction actually results in people exhibiting the very character of the Most High!

And give you peace”

Finally, as a result of these awesome blessings, the Aaronic Benediction concludes with the word: “and give you peace” (Numbers 6:26). The peace of God, of course, is a complete understanding that He is in control of what is transpiring at all times. Shalom is intended to be a sense of total harmony and calmness, in spite of dire circumstances. It is a condition that is impossible to understand apart from the inspiration of trust in Him. Shalom is intended to not just be an absence of war or conflict among people, but a condition of complete balance and tranquility between God, man, and nature.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul was at a loss for words on how to describe the peace of God:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua” (Philippians 4:4-7).

This peace of God is exactly what the Aaronic Benediction declares upon Ancient Israel in our Torah portion. This is a knowing that God is in charge, despite our human inabilities to understand what He is necessarily doing in the circumstances of life. Paul reminded his Philippian friends of how Messiah followers are to be anxious for nothing, but rather plead with the Lord through their prayers and supplication.

Acquiring the Peace of the Lord

For those of you who are in need of a good model for prayer, perhaps memorizing the Aaronic Benediction for times of need might be a good beginning. Don’t leave the Aaronic Benediction to the close of your Shabbat service on Saturday morning! Claim what the Aaronic Benediction of Numbers 6:22-27 declares forth for yourself. Take great comfort and encouragement from realizing how the Holy Spirit is to fill us up and empower us, interceding for us before the Throne of God:

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

This week, as we consider the Aaronic Benediction, we can first be thankful that we have this wonderful prayer to contemplate and recite—as we cry out to the Lord for His blessings. Additionally, as Believers in the redeeming work of the Messiah Yeshua, we should be able to invoke this meaningful prayer for ourselves, as well as others, as we serve the Lord. Above all, we should always remember that more is to come as we await the return of the Messiah to Planet Earth, and the eventual establishment of His reign of total peace and shalom. What kind of service of worship must we offer to Him in the meantime (cf. Romans 12:1), to hasten the Lord’s coming?

NOTES

[1] Numbers 4:1-3, 34-49.

[2] Numbers 4:1-49; Kohathites: 4:2-20; Gershonites: 4:21-28; Merarites: 4:29-33.

[3] CHALOT, 302.

[4] Jacob Milgrom, “Numbers,” in Etz Hayim, 783.

[5] HALOT, 2:1582-1583.

[6] This figure was determined using a root search of the Hebrew Tanakh (WTT) in BibleWorks 7.0.

[7] Cf. Edwin Yamauchi, “chanan,” in TWOT, 1:302-303.

Bamidbar

Bamidbar

In the wilderness

Numbers 1:1-4:20
Hosea 2:1-22

“The God of Order and Authority”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As we turn to the Book of Numbers in our weekly readings, a noticeable shift is seen. The Torah focuses less on giving us commandments about the holiness of God, and we instead pick up the narrative of events witnessed in the second year of Ancient Israel’s wilderness sojourn. After receiving specific instructions from God about how the people are to conduct themselves, the practical application of implementing these commandments in the community is described. Bamidbar opens with the statements,

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies’” (Numbers 1:1-3).

This opening parashah of Numbers describes how the God of Israel is concerned about the proper order and conduct of His chosen people. We are given the description of the leadership of the twelve tribes of Israel,[1] a census of some of the men,[2] how the camp of Israel is arranged,[3] and the specific duties and responsibilities of the tribe of Levi as it is divided according to various family groups.[4]

As the Holy One coordinated the intended march to the Promised Land, He focused on the necessity for the people to become organized for the commencing sojourn. We see that the God of Creation, who placed the cosmos in perfect order, is a God of order and not the author of confusion. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, is he perhaps reflecting on some of the organization that we see in Numbers?

“[F]or God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the [assemblies] of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

The Lord is a Sovereign who operates on principles and practices which are reflected in the remotest parts of the vast universe, down to the sub-atomic structure of matter. Within these two extremes, influenced by the precision of time, the Creation, its creatures, and all of its associated components must operate. Since God chose one man, Abraham, and his descendants, to bring the knowledge of who He is to the rest of the world—it is imperative that His people function in a manner which embodies His attributes and perfect character.

The principle of order has been on my heart and mind for the past few weeks leading up to Bamidbar, coupled with some daily devotional readings of other Scripture passages. As I have been contemplating a wide variety of thoughts from God’s Word, what I have discovered is that when you discipline and order your time, devoting a portion of it to Him, the reception of His blessings are overwhelming. All of a sudden, you become synchronized with the Creation and your cup overflows with His favor (cf. Psalm 23:5)!

Experiencing God’s presence through the confirming unction of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) is beyond description. Amazingly at times, you sense the Lord giving you profound understanding about the minutest detail of common daily occurrences. His presence in your walk is so profound, as He illuminates your limited mind about how He sees the world, that demonstrating a great fear or awe for Him is the obvious by-product. When you perceive that everything you see or hear has His sovereign hand upon it in some way, you are compelled to simply pause and give Him all the glory, praise, and honor for choosing you as a vessel for His usage. When God starts orchestrating events and conversations that require your participation, you are required to turn to Him for His wisdom and guidance on how to react or respond. Without much hesitation, you start applying the principle of loving your neighbor as yourself,[5] by placing another’s needs ahead of yours.[6] You slow down enough in your thought processes to tap into His wisdom, as conversations may elicit responses of Divine counsel, knowledge, and understanding. The joy and satisfaction you experience, because you have been used by Him, is indeed inexpressible!

In your heart, mind, soul, and spirit—when you are directed by the Lord in all of your activities—you should be constantly affirming that there is a God who is intimately concerned about your life. It is quite humbling to know that God is concerned with you, because human beings tend to have a self-centered nature that is often at odds with His will for us. And yet, as you bring forth heartfelt confessions of your limitations, and through repentance change your ways—the attainable, but sometimes elusive, sanctification process becomes real. As you turn yourself over to the Lord, the Holy Spirit transforms your attitudes and actions to be oriented toward Him and His service.

God’s order for His Creation is extremely foundational for our lives, even for the unredeemed to recognize. After all, does not the sun rise and fall, every morning and evening? Is Planet Earth not placed the correct distance close to and away from the Sun? Is not the Moon in the correct orbit around the Earth? Are we not placed on the proper axis so that the tectonic plates shift in the proper way, so that we do not have massive earthquakes or violent volcanic eruptions every day?

To a degree, even those who do not acknowledge the Creator God of Israel have to agree that finely-tuned laws of physics and cosmology control Planet Earth and the Solar System. But for those of us who submit to God’s Instruction, and recognize Him as our Savior and Redeemer, the understanding of His intelligent design is much more profound.

Consider the basic principle of reaping what one sows.[7] This need not be deep theology, because the essence of cause and effect is realized by the scientific community—even though for the most part, they tend to focus on physical manifestations and not spiritual ones. For us as God’s people, though, who have been called to be a light to the world, the understanding is far more substantial. We can read Scripture and see that obedience to God results in blessing, while disobedience generates curses (or at least penalties)—meaning that sin has consequences. If you read Deuteronomy ch. 28, you will find an extensive list that is provided as a springboard for the related blessings and curses seen throughout the balance of the Holy Scriptures.

Without getting into the minutiae of the order that God directs Moses to articulate to the Levites, and then to the people of Israel this week, I was drawn to consider the profundity of the orderliness of God and how He desperately wants to shower the faithful with His blessings. Pondering this reality, I remembered a sermon illustration that I heard preached to me back in 1987. Since we had an unusual week of rain this week in sunny Florida (2005), the reminder of rainfall was a constant image crossing my mind. Then, in a conversation with a pastor friend, the words of Jonah 2:8 came into focus:

“Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness” (Jonah 2:8).

I recollected an analogy that was used in this short sermon years ago that illustrates what the Prophet Jonah communicated. Jonah was chosen for a specific assignment to proclaim repentance to the citizens of Nineveh. Yet by the time he recollected these thoughts, he had spent three days in the belly of a large sea monster, having had an experience that none of us can even imagine! In Jonah’s moments of distress, he cried out to the only One he knew could save him: the Lord:

“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, ‘I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. For You had cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. So I said, “I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.” Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to You, into Your holy temple. Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD.’ Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land” (Jonah 2:1-10).

What Jonah communicates is that those who regard or embrace “vain idols,” hav’lei-shav literally being “lying vanities” (YLT), forsakes the faithfulness that they should demonstrate toward God. Our required fidelity to the Lord can be interrupted when we put something ahead of Him. One’s personal idols can include just about anything that is placed before our reliance upon the God of Creation. If someone relies upon his or her intelligence, good looks, personality, resources, talents, or natural abilities—rather than relies upon the Almighty—then is such a person somehow forsaking God?

As the illustration I heard in 1987 goes, imagine the blessings and lovingkindness that the Lord is showering down upon His Creation, like raindrops falling from the sky. Now picture someone taking an umbrella, and then opening it up over his head. While God’s blessings are falling all around, the person who trusts in a vain idol has chosen to let whatever that idol might be, prevent His blessings from falling down upon him. The challenge for any person is to cast away whatever created elements we may trust in other than God—and instead raise our hands and receive whatever blessing He is trying to bestow upon us!

This is all related to God’s perfect order, because we can see it appear in our own personal lives, in our marriages and family, in our neighborhoods, cities, state and national governments, our businesses, and just about every aspect of our lives. God is a God of order, and He has providentially let these various institutions materialize to provide for civil well being, but they are all ultimately subject to His Divine providence, whether they choose to acknowledge it or not. When these institutions are out of order, then they block God’s ability to guide the affairs of humanity.

For the most part, since fallen humanity is generally ignorant, or widely blinded about how all of this works from an eternal perspective, the failure to consider God’s place in running things can result in confusion at best, and chaos at worst. But for those of us who are His children, the call to live in alignment with His Word so that we might accomplish His mission is imperative. Our general problem is that we often resort to falling back upon our mortal abilities or inabilities, and grab various umbrellas for different occasions. We limit God’s ability to bless us.

But another aspect of tapping into the order of God can be realized when we understand that His authority goes hand in hand with respecting and honoring His proper order for the Creation. In the Gospels, we find a great example of a God-fearing Roman centurion who somehow understood the principle of order, and the complimentary principle of authority. The centurion somehow comprehended that Yeshua was walking in such an orderly fashion that He had authority to heal the sick, by simply speaking a word:

“When Yeshua came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Yeshua stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Yeshua said to him, ‘See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ And when Yeshua entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, and saying, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.’ Yeshua said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion said, ‘Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me[8]; and I say to this one, “Go!” and he goes, and to another, “Come!” and he comes, and to my slave, “Do this!” and he does it.’ Now when Yeshua heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, ‘Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ And Yeshua said to the centurion, ‘Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed that very moment” (Matthew 8:1-13).

We have a significant instance where someone outside the First Century Jewish community actually benefited from his observation that Yeshua walked in an orderly manner. He recognized by Yeshua’s proper conduct that He had the authority to make things right and heal people of deadly diseases. The centurion might have thought that it would be inappropriate for a teacher of Israel’s Law, and a healer, to come into his house because he was a Roman. But that did not deter him from beseeching the Lord to heal his servant. Yeshua was very impressed with the faith of the centurion, and made some rather laudatory remarks, by contrasting the centurion’s faith in Himself with the lack of faith among His own Jewish brethren. In this case, the pleadings of the centurion were answered, and his slave was healed.

How much more should we today, who have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, be able to walk in the order of God and receive His authority to have dominion and power over the decaying world we occupy? Will our Heavenly Father raise us up as a people, who by faith will be able to execute the spiritual authority that has always been there, but has not necessarily been used? I hope that many of us will be empowered by the Lord to do so some mighty deeds in the days ahead. By obeying Him, will we receive not only His blessings, but also the ability to witness miracles?

My friends, I ask you to cast aside any idolatrous umbrellas you may have, and cling to the Rock. Allow our Heavenly Father to bless you from on high. He is the Rock of our Salvation, and in Him are the perfect peace, order, and the authority that go along with it. May we be those who understand this and apply it to every aspect of our lives!


NOTES

[1] Numbers 1:4-16.

[2] Numbers 1:17-46.

[3] Numbers 2:1-34.

[4] Numbers 3:1-39; 4:1-20.

[5] Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8.

[6] Philippians 2:3-4.

[7] 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7-8.

[8] Grk. egō anthrōpos eimi hupo exousian, echōn hup’ emauton stratiōtas.

For a useful discussion on how the preposition hupo is used in the Apostolic Scriptures, consult the article “What Does ‘Under the Law’ Really Mean?—A Further Study” in The New Testament Validates Torah by J.K. McKee.

B’har-B’chuqotai

B’har-B’chuqotai

On the mount

Leviticus 25:1-26:2
Jeremiah 32:6-27

By My Regulations

Leviticus 26:3-27:34
Jeremiah 16:19-17:24

“Double-Edged Sevens”


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah study combines the last two portions of Leviticus, B’har (Leviticus 25:1-26:2) and B’chuqotai (Leviticus 26:3-27:34). Leviticus 26:18 summarizes the basic principle of retribution, or reaping what one sows, which the Lord is often attempting to communicate to each man and woman—especially those committed to faithfully following Him:

“If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.”

The simple if/then proposition that we see, is something that must be readily grasped by each of us, without necessarily having to understand all of the profound mysteries of God’s universe. If you obey God’s instructions, then you will be blessed—but if you disobey, then you will be cursed (or, at least penalized to some degree). One does not need a great amount of formal training in the Scriptures to comprehend the basic formula of choosing life over death, or pleasantness over adversity!

In reading through our dual Torah portion, I believe that a slightly deeper level of understanding is introduced and amplified for students, when a pattern of sevens is repeated several times in the text. Such a “seven pattern” can be applied in a series of curses upon those who disobey Him:

  • “If also after these things you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins” (Leviticus 26:18).
  • “If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins” (Leviticus 26:21).
  • “Then I will act with hostility against you; and I, even I, will strike you seven times for your sins” (Leviticus 26:24).
  • “Then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins” (Leviticus 26:28).

The fourfold repetition of the statement “seven times for your sins,” as the penalties for disobedience intensify, has profound significance for those of us who eagerly want to obey the Lord and be recipients of His blessings. If you have been paying careful attention to the Torah portions from Genesis to here in Leviticus, the call upon God’s people is to be a holy nation and kingdom of priests, who have been commissioned to bring His light to the world. In Leviticus ch. 26 we discover that the pattern of seven is like a sword with a double-edge, seeking to pierce the heart in order to separate the holy from the profane, or the clean from the unclean. As Hebrews 4:12 tells us,

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

If you take a look at the wider context of what the author of Hebrews writes, you find that he is describing the profound privilege that children of God have to enter into His rest. Interestingly, it is from Psalm 95 that he largely draws his inspiration from, to exhort his audience to obey the Lord and not give up on Messiah Yeshua:

“Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, ‘AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST’ [Psalm 95:11], although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: ‘AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS’ [Genesis 2:2]; and again in this passage, ‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST [Psalm 95:11]. Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS’ [Psalm 95:7-8]. For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Yeshua the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:1-16).

The righteousness of God requires Him to follow His own Instruction for the created order with fidelity. Unfortunately, we find that many of the warnings issued by Moses, to Ancient Israel in Leviticus 26, were administered down through the ages. Within the Tanakh, we see many scenes of how Ancient Israel rebelled against the Lord, committed idolatry, aligned themselves with foreign nations opposed to Him, suffered military defeats, and even experienced exile to strange lands.

Even though the Father patiently loves each and every one of His people, showering them with His lovingkindness and mercy, He is often compelled to execute His judgment in order to drive us back into His loving arms. He intensifies the punishment phases in an attempt to turn His people back to Him. As you read the accelerating chastisements seen in this Torah portion, you will see that once the disobedient Israelites are scattered to the nations, that the Holy Land will finally enjoy its Sabbath rest:

“You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it” (Leviticus 26:33-35).

As you can read, God is very concerned about the Promised Land. Because He created Planet Earth, He knows that the very elements He designed require a level of rest in order to function efficiently. Here, we see how the Creator must fulfill His promises, but also His intimate concern for the Land promised to the Patriarchs. Now if you can imagine how much the Holy One cherishes His commitment to that “dirt” located in the Middle East, can you fathom how much He loves us, who are formed from “dirt” (cf. Genesis 2:7)? The challenge individuals face, is that unlike dirt which forms dry land, when God took those same elements and fashioned human beings, He made them in His image and likeness:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).

Ironically, this is where the problem emanates, because human beings have been given a free will to choose what they want to do. Unlike the dust of the ground—or even the animals at large—we have been endowed with a mind, emotions, and reasoning abilities. We do not just act “on instinct.” The Creator has gifted men and women with the capacity to do and accomplish much. Just consider the mandate that came forth as the Lord uttered His first command to Adam:

“God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ Then God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food’; and it was so” (Genesis 1:28-30).

From the very beginning of Creation, humanity was given the command to bear seed through reproduction, in order to fill the Earth and take dominion over it. Rule was given to the human race over all the other creatures. Humanity’s challenge was dealing with these awesome responsibilities first in the Garden of Eden, but then through the sin of Adam, outside of such a paradise in a rather hostile and unprotected environment. As a result of disobedience to later instructions, the presence of obstacles outside the Garden now were able to enact various afflictions upon the man and woman, and their offspring, turning people back toward Him:

“Then to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat from it”; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return’” (Genesis 3:17-19).

We all know the story too well, and can attest to the introduction of challenges and problems that ensue from the various “thorns and thistles” of life. However, the principles are absolute. By the time Moses receives further instructions, the Holy One attempts to give His people an advantage over those who are simply trying to understand the Creation and their relationship to it through empirical observation.

As witnessed in Holy Scripture, God’s people have a great advantage, but it comes with an equally great responsibility—because once you read and comprehend what is being stated—you then become accountable to God’s Word. Whether it was Moses declaring it in the desert, or Jeremiah reiterating it many generations later regarding the seventy years of exile that would allow the Land to have its rest (Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21), or even Yeshua amplifying these principles in His teachings—the fact of the matter is that the pattern of sevens, quite often, can either be a blessing or a curse.

Consider, for example, the simple teaching that Yeshua gave to His Disciples regarding the spiritual warfare that has enveloped the fallen world:

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation’” (Matthew 12:43-45).

When you read the wider context of where these statements are made, you will discover that Yeshua is explaining the finer points regarding the Sabbath to some of His critics (Matthew 12:1-13). In fact, Yeshua makes the provoking statement that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8), while describing why it is permissible to do good on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:12). In Matthew 12, Yeshua makes some poignant quotations from the Prophet Isaiah (Matthew 12:17-21), which point to His redemptive work:

“‘Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.’ 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 42:1-9).

As you can read, Israel has been chosen to be a light to the nations (Heb. l’or goyim). All of those who compose the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) have the responsibility of pointing people to the One True God, by demonstrating an earnest obedience to Him and thus being blessed by Him. But this can only happen by us being one with Him who is the epitome of Israel—the Messiah Yeshua—the quintessential Israelite.

In Matthew 12, a demon-possessed man confronts Yeshua, and some condemning Pharisees (possibly of the stricter School of Shammai) say that He is operating via the power of Beelzebul or Satan (Matthew 12:22-37). After Yeshua explains the difference between casting out demons by Beelzebul versus the Spirit of the God, He then explains what is often referred to as the unpardonable sin. This is when a person denies or blasphemes the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit, which must be indwelling His followers if they are to truly have salvation. Those who claimed that the Messiah operated via the power of Satan were blaspheming the work of God, and so Yeshua makes a profound statement about our accountability for the very words we utter:

“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

It is not just a matter of doing something against the Torah that will merit condemnation; Yeshua the Messiah raises the threshold for disobedience. One will be held accountable for making careless statements without understanding the foolishness of speaking from fleshly inclinations. This is why James, the half-brother of Yeshua, admonishes us to listen before we speak:

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:19-21).

More important for us to not overlook from the scene of Matthew ch. 12, though, is how Yeshua directs us to how those delivered from demons—can have seven more demons come back—if sinful behavior is not rectified and corrected:

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation’” (Matthew 12:43-45).

What is it that the Lord is specifically trying to say to us? If we are set free from a demonic influence or stronghold, we must ask our Heavenly Father to fill up the void left empty with His presence! Our nature in Adam is fallen, and as humans our propensity is to think and speak things that will probably judge us. Perhaps if we decrease, He might increase. Yeshua the Messiah is looking to spend eternity with us, and He wants us to receive all of the rewards that we can in His Kingdom! Notice how in Matthew ch. 12 He is asked about His mother and brothers, and He says that those who obey His Father may be considered part of His family:

“Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You. But Yeshua answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers? And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother”’” (Matthew 12:47-50).

Do you want to spend eternity with Yeshua? Perform and accomplish the will of our Father in Heaven. Follow the instruction manual He has given us. Do the best that you can do, to follow the directions that He has given us in order to receive His blessings. Pray for the Lord to send you His Holy Spirit, and be empowered to accomplish good works. Make sure that you are born again!

We are each created in the image and likeness of God. Think about how you are as a parent and how you interact with your children. Have you ever asked a son to do the weekly task of taking out the garbage, or a daughter to empty out the dishwasher for her mother? Can you relate to the joy you receive when your son or daughter has actually performed these tasks on their own initiative? Our Heavenly Father is the same way. When He looks down from Heaven and sees us obeying Him, He smiles down upon us and is able to bless us.

I believe that as we search the Scriptures and understand more about His Word, we will find that everything we know for a joyful and fulfilled life is embodied in it. We should be renewed every day to do the good works that He requires of us, which in turn will testify of who He is to the sinful world in which we live. If we do not obey the Lord, then the double-edged sword of His Word will have its way—whether we like it or not!

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

After the death
Holy Ones

“Holiness and the Golden Rule”

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

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week we get to examine a dual Torah portion with Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. After the death of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, the text details the requirements for the Day of Atonement that are performed annually by the high priest of Israel.[1] Reflecting on this instruction some five to six months before—or after—its yearly remembrance, should readily remind each of us of the atonement and permanent forgiveness we need for our sins of commission or omission. This is something that ultimately can only be found in the Messiah Yeshua! But rather than go into an exhaustive study on this topic, I would instead like us to focus upon the holiness that God’s people are to evidence in their lives.

The overriding premise of our text selection has to be the admonition to be holy:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’…‘Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine’” (Leviticus 19:1-2; 20:26).

Our reading does include a list of various do’s and don’t’s, which are intended to promote this requirement for God’s people. From simple ways on how to handle the harvest,[2] properly manage labor,[3] restrictions issued about the occult[4] and deviant sexual activity,[5] the wide variety of instructions are all designed to sanctify a people for the Lord and His purposes in the Earth.

As we consider the great value and strength of these instructions, as they are to guide God’s people—a sense of protection from the wickedness of the world should hopefully prevail within us. Even though the thought of participating in many of these activities is often never considered by us, the sad reality is that these depraved activities have occurred in many civilizations from the Biblical period to the present. Lamentably, even in the Judeo-Christian culture of the West, the laxity of moral codes and basic human ethics is fostering a proliferation of many of these formerly illegal actions. One could readily conclude from observing the society that surrounds us, that we are seeing some of the same things that Paul warned Timothy about:

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

When you take a look at this list of how humans will behave in the Last Days, you can see some parallels between these gross sins and the instructions Moses gave in Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. But rather than focus on all of the negative aspects of this, I would like to focus instead upon the positive commandments about how we should treat our neighbors. This is something that every Messiah follower, who has been born again from above, needs to absolutely grasp a hold of in his or her heart and mind. The uniqueness of our walk with Yeshua the Messiah, and the salvation we possess in Him, should testify that we are indeed living out the just requirements of the Torah:

“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:15-18).

Leviticus 19:18, the command to love one’s neighbor, is repeated numerous times throughout the Apostolic Scriptures (Mark 12:32; Matthew 19:19; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Even with the debate present in much of today’s broad Messianic movement over how much or how little Jewish and non-Jewish Believers are to keep of the Torah, no one on any side of the discussion disputes that this commandment is to be steadfastly followed by all.

The concept of how we should properly treat our neighbors, especially our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith, is something that is sorely needed in the emerging Messianic movement. Regrettably, it has been my experience that many who profess to be pursuing a “Torah observant” lifestyle, do not adhere to the basic ethical commandments of how we relate to our neighbors. This is very troubling, because unlike some of the more obscure commandments buried in the Torah, with little or no reference in the Apostolic Scriptures, the instruction for God’s people to treat others fairly and with love, is something that should really be second nature to us. Is not the Holy Spirit resident in our hearts to produce a love for others, especially when they wrong us? How often do we not allow God to handle those who have offended us or made us angry, taking matters into our own hands?

When Yeshua was asked what the greatest commandment of the Torah was, He responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18. Perhaps you need to review some of the key passages witnessed in the Synoptic Gospels?

“And one of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Yeshua answered, ‘The foremost is, “HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH” [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. The second is this, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” [Leviticus 19:18]. There is no other commandment greater than these.’ And the scribe said to Him, ‘Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that HE IS ONE, AND THERE IS NO ONE ELSE BESIDES HIM; AND TO LOVE HIM WITH ALL THE HEART AND WITH ALL THE UNDERSTANDING AND WITH ALL THE STRENGTH, AND TO LOVE ONE’S NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF [Deuteronomy 6:4; 4:35; Isaiah 45:21; Deuteronomy 6:5; Joshua 22:5; Leviticus 19:18], is much more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’ And when Yeshua saw that he had answered intelligently, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And after that, no one would venture to ask Him any more questions” (Mark 12:29-34).

“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND’ [Deuteronomy 6:5]. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered and said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ [Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18]. And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live’” (Luke 10:25-27).

The greatest commandments of the Torah are considered to be one’s love for God, followed by one’s love for his or her neighbors. It is commonly observed that if you love a God who cannot be seen, then you should certainly love your neighbors who can be seen. We have the opportunity every day, to visibly display love for our neighbors or brethren, by the actions we demonstrate toward them. Whether these actions are positive or negative is entirely up to us. Will we lend a helping hand when needed, or will we treat others with discord and disgust?

Loving Our Neighbors

As you dig deeper into Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, you should detect how Leviticus 19:15-18 explicitly tells us how to love our neighbors. We are commanded to judge fairly. “You shall not render an unjust judgment” (Leviticus 19:15a, NRSV) or “You shall not render an unfair decision” (NJPS). We should not fall into the trap of thinking that our neighbors are totally beyond judgment, because life being what it is, there will inevitably be times when we are called to judge circumstances, make decisions, and render some kind of evaluation about another person’s character. Of course, when we find ourselves in such predicaments, the admonition is very clear to judge fairly and equitably:

“You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15).

The Prophet Zechariah reemphasizes this premise, telling us that impartiality is critical for implementing proper justice:

“‘These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another; judge with truth and judgment for peace in your gates. Also let none of you devise evil in your heart against another, and do not love perjury; for all these are what I hate,’ declares the LORD” (Zechariah 8:16-17).

It is certain that if you judge with evil in your heart, that you will be in opposition to the Holy One of Israel. You will have exposed yourself as one who does not love the Lord, or love his neighbor as himself.

The second principle that Acharei Mot-Kedoshim declares to us relates to the chronic problem of the evil tongue. In Leviticus 19:16, the offender is referred to as a “slanderer” or “gossipmonger” (ATS):

“You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:16).

There is nothing more damaging to a person, short of physical harm, than the wickedness of defaming someone by speaking falsehoods. Sadly, this is one of the most prevalent sins among God’s people today. Within the siddur or prayer book, the Jewish Sages have included a traditional, daily prayer that people might be guarded against evil speech, and other similar acts:

“May it be Your will, HASHEM, my God, and the God of my forefathers, that You rescue me today and every day from brazen men and from brazenness, from an evil man, an evil inclination, or evil companion, an evil neighbor, and evil mishap, an evil eye, evil speech, informers, false witnesses, the hatred of others, libel, unnatural death, harmful illnesses, unfavorable occurrences, the destructive spiritual impediment, a harsh trial and a harsh opponent—whether he is a member of the covenant or whether he is not a member of the covenant—and from the judgment of Gehinnom.”[6]

The Talmud makes some very poignant remarks about the effect of the tongue on the community of Israel:

It has been taught on Tannaite authority: Said R. Eleazar b. Parta, ‘Come and see how great is the power of slander [evil speech]. From whence do we learn that lesson? From the case of the spies. Now if such [was the penalty exacted from] one who slandered wood and stone [that is, the spies spoke poorly of the Land of Israel], how much the more will be [the penalty] for one who slanders his fellow.’ [Compare T. Ar. 2:11, as follows: R. Eleazar b. Parta says, ‘Lo, it says, And the men who brought forth an evil report about the Land died (Num. 14:37). Now about what did they bring forth an evil report? Concerning wood and stones. And does not this yield an argument a fortiori: Now if they who brought forth an evil report only about wood and stones were punished, and not by a trifling punishment but by a most severe punishment, and not by a transient punishment but by one which lasts for generations, he who brings forth an evil report concerning his fellow man, in like manner how much the more so will he be punished!’]” (b.Arachin 15a).[7]

Among some Rabbis, the admonitions about avoiding slander are coupled with the command to “not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16, ATS). With this being the case, how should we react when we hear our neighbor’s name or character being slandered—meaning murdered? Should we not stand up and prevent character assassination? Sadly, I have found via life experience that various people within the Body of the Messiah largely do not know how to properly do this. We would all benefit greatly if we simply came to our brother’s or sister’s defense, when we know that they are being unjustly spoken against.

Next, we are commanded not to hate our neighbors in our hearts:

“You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17).

Many Believers talk a great deal about the “intentions of the heart.” Here in the Torah, the Lord makes sure that the issue(s) about what is present in one’s heart is amplified. We are not to hate our fellow countryman. Some may assume that this pertains only to acts of hatred, but by telling us “Do not hate your brother in your heart” (NIV), any confusion is immediately stopped. The teachings of the Apostles mention the sin of one’s heart many, many times. In fact, John equates it to a battle of light and darkness in the human soul:

“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” (1 John 2:9-11).

If a person has any hatred for a brother or sister, he or she needs to check if any darkness is present in the heart. We should not have any malice toward someone, but the reality is that disagreements do occur in human relations. The Torah gives us a very solemn warning about reproving our neighbors without incurring sin. The Apostle Paul further amplifies our understanding of how to lovingly rebuke those in the faith:

“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Messiah Yeshua and of His chosen angels, to maintain these principles without bias, doing nothing in a spirit of partiality. Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thus share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin” (1 Timothy 5:19-22).

Here, Paul gives Timothy instruction about how to properly handle a problem with an elder in the assembly. The key is to do so soberly and without falling into sin. Too often, people level charges against other people for the slightest provocation. In this account, as should be practiced with others, the necessity for multiple witnesses to a charge should be obtained. The sin of a spirit of partiality is sternly warned against. Obviously, if you harbor hatred in your heart, then you will not be able to be impartial.

Finally, Leviticus 19:18 tells us that we are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is very important that the concept of loving is coupled with the prohibition against taking vengeance. The Apostle Paul reiterates this, instructing the Romans to let God discipline those who do them wrong:

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 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. ‘BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD’ [Proverbs 25:21-22]. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21).

Paul links verses seen in Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, with teachings that Yeshua Himself made, as well as a well-known proverb:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

“If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22).

The Final Measure

When we consider the referenced verses in this week’s Torah selection, we lay the foundation for one of the most important commandments in the Bible. Many refer to this as the Golden Rule, derived from Yeshua’s statement, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12, NRSV). Remember that after loving our Heavenly Father, we are supposed to love our neighbors. As you meditate upon this word, you might ask yourself just how well you are presently loving your neighbor.

If you are married, you might start by considering your spouse as your closest neighbor. Are you looking out for his or her needs? Are you putting his or her needs ahead of yours (cf. Philippians 2:3-4)? Are you seeking ways to serve him or her? Are you coming to the defense of him or her when your spouse is being wronged? This list could go on and on. But, when considering this most crucial of human relationships, you must exercise love by putting your husband or wife’s needs ahead of your own.

After going through this exercise, you might want to consider contemplating how you love your other neighbors. This can range from those in your fellowship or those in your neighborhood that you interact with on a daily basis.

Finally, allow me to give you an important thought to meditate upon. Imagine that the Golden Rule is a measuring rod which determines your degree of holiness. If you are honest with yourself, hopefully you will conclude you are probably lacking some holiness. After all, when analyzing our human interactions with other “neighbors,” just about all of us can recall times when we were partial in judgment. What about times when we said something that could be considered slanderous? What about the times when we hated someone in our hearts because of something done to us? Is it possible we said or did something to take vengeance? Is it possible that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves?

I hope that you see the picture. If you take the time to perform some personal introspection you might conclude that this is a very convicting exercise. Obedience to the second greatest commandment may be more theory than it is reality in your life. But this is why the faithful Torah student can be blessed. Every year we have the opportunity to let the Spirit of God instruct us about loving our neighbor!


NOTES

[1] Leviticus 16:1-34.

[2] Leviticus 19:9-10.

[3] Leviticus 19:13.

[4] Leviticus 19:31; 20:6.

[5] Leviticus ch. 18.

[6] Scherman and Zlotowitz, Complete ArtScroll Siddur, 23.

[7] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary.

Tazria-Metzora

Tazria-Metzora

She Conceives
Infected One

“Clean! Clean!”

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

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

“As for the leper who has the infection, his clothes shall be torn, and the hair of his head shall be uncovered, and he shall cover his mustache and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall remain unclean all the days during which he has the infection; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46).

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

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

Speak No Evil

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

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

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

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

“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matthew 15:18-19).

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

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

Unclean and Clean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

[1] Hertz, Pentateuch & Haftorahs, 461.

[2] Grk. pseudomarturiai, blasphēmiai.

[3] LS, 717.

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

Shemini

Shemini

Eighth

“Be Ye Holy”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Separation Unto Him

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

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

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

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

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

“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation [goy qadosh]. These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19:5-6).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clean and Unclean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be Ye Holy”

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

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


NOTES

[1] BDB, 95.

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

[3] Aland, GNT, 789.

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

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

[5] Aland, GNT, 786.

[6] LS, 532.