TorahScope

Tazria-Metzora

Tazria-Metzora

She Conceives
Infected One

“Clean! Clean!”

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

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

Speak No Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unclean and Clean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

[1] Hertz, Pentateuch & Haftorahs, 461.

[2] Grk. pseudomarturiai, blasphēmiai.

[3] LS, 717.

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

Shemini

Shemini

Eighth

“Be Ye Holy”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Separation Unto Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clean and Unclean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be Ye Holy”

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

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


NOTES

[1] BDB, 95.

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

[3] Aland, GNT, 789.

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

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

[5] Aland, GNT, 786.

[6] LS, 532.

Tzav

Tzav

Give an Order

“Kindness, Justice, Righteousness”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

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

[2] Leviticus 6:8-13.

[3] Leviticus 6:14-23.

[4] Leviticus 6:24-30.

[5] Leviticus 7:11-20.

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

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

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

Vayikra

Vayikra

He called

“A Witness Who Keeps Silent”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

V’yakheil

V’yakheil

He assembled

“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

By the time we arrive at this week’s Torah portion, V’yakheil, we discover that it encapsulates a description of the actions of Ancient Israel, as the people collectively fulfill the requirements for the Tabernacle construction which was the subject of the previous Terumah (Exodus 27:20-30:10) and Tetzaveh (Exodus 30:11-34:35) readings. Without any hesitation, the text reminds us about the commandment to take a Sabbath rest, even in the midst of the Israelites building of the Tabernacle and producing the various implements, accouterments, and garments as defined.

If you have been reading closely the past few weeks, you will have noticed that Shabbat is of particular concern to the God of Israel. Two times (Exodus 31:12-17; 34:21), an emphasis is placed not only on the “sign” of Shabbat, but also on the importance to observe it faithfully. As the physical labor for constructing the Tabernacle finally commenced, Moses once again reminded Israel about the Sabbath. Perhaps knowing human nature, these admonitions have been placed by the Lord in these Torah portions, so that we may be reminded that having a day of rest is a great blessing to all those who remember and observe it:

“Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, ‘These are the things that the LORD has commanded you to do: For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day” (Exodus 35:1-3).

Of course, it is important to note that in this section of the Torah, we find that the whole congregation of Israel, kol-adah b’nei Yisrael, was supposed to rest. By resting one day out of seven, the people would be able to focus on the Lord in a rather unique and special way on the Sabbath day, but they would most especially be able to be rejuvenated during this critical season of the Tabernacle’s construction.

Further on in our Torah portion, we witness the widescale amount of contributions and offerings that the Israelites were making to the building project. The overwhelming reaction by many, with their offerings literally ushering forth, required that Moses command the people to halt their outpouring of freewill offerings:

“And they said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the LORD commanded us to perform.’ So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, ‘Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.’ Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it” (Exodus 36:5-7).

As I personally pondered the importance of Shabbat this week, and rejoiced in the recorded reaction of the people who wanted to contribute to the various construction projects, I was personally thinking about how I have dealt with this subject since I came to the Lord in 1978. I was born again at the age of 27, and committed myself to being a Believer, rather than a non-Believer—a member of God’s people—rather than a part of the world. From that year forward, I matured in my relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, and learned to live more like Him. Like many of you, it has been a “wild ride,” and I have done things since becoming Messianic that I would never have dreamed of when I first came to faith.

First, I thought back to some of the early years of my new life in the Lord when I was confronted by a relative who happened to be a proponent of Dominion theology. At the time, he was trying to persuade me that taking Sunday and devoting it fully to God was a good thing that would honor the Fourth Commandment. At the time, I was faithfully attending Sunday morning services at a church in Dallas, Texas, and then coming back on Sunday evening for a service that would include taking communion. Two times a day I would load my family into the car and proceed to the church for a teaching convocation, and then a second service which was more contemplative.

At that time many years ago, when this relative admonished me, I thought he was being extremely legalistic. After all, I was living in Dallas and the Cowboys were on a roll in the NFL! I also played men’s city league soccer, and our games just happened to be played on Sunday afternoon. I could certainly get my “time in” with the Lord between Sunday morning and Sunday evening. As I justified my other activities during the afternoon, I actually thought I was doing pretty well to be a dedicated “twice a Sunday” attendee. With the passage of time, I have witnessed that via God’s sanctification in my life that my personal attitude has changed substantially since those naïve days many years ago.

In God’s mercy to me, as I have continued to beseech Him in order to know Him and understand His ways, He has been faithful to reveal more and more of Himself to me. The Prophet Jeremiah reminds us about the rewards of seeking the Holy One of Israel.

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile’” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).

Here, we find that our Heavenly Father does have things under control and He does have a plan for our lives! I can personally testify that if you do seek Him with all your heart, He will not only restore your fortunes, but as He has said: He will gather you back from where you have been scattered. The Lord will bring you back to Himself no matter what nefarious paths you have chosen to follow for a season. He will take you from the doldrums of sin into a place where you can be used for the growth of His Kingdom.

Today, as the Messianic movement continues to grow and affect positive change in the lives of God’s people, we encounter that many are learning to reappreciate the value of the Torah, and the significance of things like the seventh-day Sabbath. The Lord is restoring an understanding to all His people regarding how Yeshua and the early Believers obeyed the commandments—and this is exciting to witness! As I study the Torah and read passages about Shabbat, the appointed times, and other things that the Lord wants His people to follow so that He can bless us, I am immensely blessed. I not only know now that the Sabbath Biblically begins at sundown on the sixth day and ends on sundown on the seventh day (cf. Genesis 1:5), and not at midnight as I had always assumed according to modern reckoning. I think it is amazing that Shabbat is exactly what the Scriptures say it is—and it was there all along. I simply failed to look at it.

As I have been maturing in my walk with the Lord, I can honestly say that I delight in Shabbat and I look forward to it as the pinnacle of my week. Entering into the Father’s rest and putting down the labors of the week are more clearly understood than when I had my debate years ago with this relative. Today, I might be able to present a more comprehensive understanding of what the Sabbath is for me as defined by the Holy Scriptures, than what he tried to present to me years ago. Perhaps now he would be the one considering me “legalistic.”

My second area of contemplation this week was piqued by some other verses in our Torah portion, which describe the supernatural endowment of two individuals who had been specifically selected by the Lord to oversee the various construction projects of the Tabernacle:

“Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the LORD has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the LORD has commanded. Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it” (Exodus 36:1-2).

Over the past few years (2005-2010), I have spent some time at the Orlando Convention Center overseeing the construction of various “temporary tabernacles,” and I can relate to just what it takes to physically construct something and take it down in order to move it. Now these trade show, seminar, and conference booths and displays are not to be compared to the magnificence and significance of the Tabernacle, but there are some parallels. I have had to use my hands to build things that have a degree of temporary usefulness, and as a result I can identify with some of what Bezalel and Oholiab had to do.

It does take a certain amount of mental acumen when dealing with the erection of complex structures, and this is where I have been able to consider some of the talents and gifts of those like Bezalel and Oholiab. Not only were these skillful people probably able to physically make the objects of the Tabernacle, but they were also probably gifted with the ability to organize and administer the construction projects. In my work, I have enjoyed learning from the younger and more experienced artisans, who often have specially designed tools crafted for certain needs. Even though I might have some age and wisdom in other areas of life, when it comes to knowing the most efficient and safest way to construct something, I typically defer to the younger people, who I discern are more gifted and experienced for various construction projects.

Additionally, I learned another lesson this week (in 2005) via a gift that I was given for Bible research. I received a certain Greek lexicon, and I believe that receiving it happens to be well timed with a writing project that I have been inspired to pursue. In recent weeks, while going through the Torah portions, I have been spiritually stimulated by Paul’s words of being a “living sacrifice” and what it means as listed in the balance of Romans ch. 12. Pensively, as I began to lay out some of my thoughts and started to think about the terms being used, I realized that my Greek study resources were slim. In a providentially-timed gift, I was given a reference tool that should hopefully point me in the right direction.

In an ironic sort of way, just like watching the younger and more gifted builders of complex structures at the Convention Center, a gifted young teacher of the Holy Scriptures gave me a resource “tool” that will allow me to be far more effective in my studies. I was delighted that this tool was given to me at just the right time. Similar to a Bezalel or Oholiab coming along with a special tool or instrument, or perhaps one first showing you how to build something, it is a sign of maturity when you do not think too highly of yourself and are willing to listen to instruction from someone else. Even if the advice or tool comes from someone younger, I recommend to joyfully receive what is being imparted, and welcome the talents that the Lord wants to instill in you via a young person, so you can be more effective in His service.

This begins to take on even more significance when you realize that in light of the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, it is the operation of the Ancient Israelites with all of their collective talents and gifts in unison with one another that accomplishes all of what God wants. After all, where would Bezalel and Oholiab have been without the gold, jewels, brass, skins, wood, and the laborers to perform certain tasks? If the willing hearts did not give the items necessary for the project, no matter how talented the artisans were, the Tabernacle would have been a conceptual design relegated to theory rather than the reality of a completed temporary dwelling place for the Most High.

Consequently, it takes the whole Body of the Messiah to accomplish the Lord’s will. Now that I am armed with some more theological tools, I hope that my ability to write and comment about certain aspects of the Scriptures will be greatly enhanced. Just consider some of the things that Paul writes about in Romans 12, which are required of us who serve the Lord diligently:

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

With the measure of faith I have the more I learn to walk in His ways, the more I not only appreciate His rest on Shabbat, but also to simply rest in confidence in Him for all things. Watching Him orchestrate my life today via a consistent study of the Torah and how it applies to my walk with Him, in so many regards, is fascinating. As I sit back and review Scripture through His illumination, I am beginning to realize more than ever that my actions do speak louder than words. I have seen my walk starting to catch up with my talk! Some verses that dramatically changed my life many years ago, echo the prayers that I still offer today:

“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Messiah, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).

I am blessed that my earnest actions to know my Lord and Savior, and quite possibly the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, continues to bring me more of His rest, as I personally notice the maturation in my walk with and in Him. These actions speak volumes to me much louder than all the words I can fathom! In a like manner, I pray that you would be equally encouraged that our collective actions will be what today’s world sees and hears.

Finally, even though different measures of faith come by hearing, it is most often by our Messiah-like actions that people will observe the power of the Holy Word that is transforming us. In so doing, others should be drawn to us to hear about how God has transformed our lives by us receiving Yeshua and obeying Him diligently. This must be the testimony that we offer: whether they witness our obedience via the peace only He can give us or even whether they witness our obedience to following something like Shabbat. May we remember that we testify of Yeshua via our actions—sometimes even more than our words! Take to serious heart the immeasurable responsibility that you have.

Ki Tisa

Ki Tisa

When you take

“Compassion Personified”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion is entitled Ki Tisa, and we see how the Israelites continue to receive instruction from God via Moses, who continues to remain on Mount Sinai. For the past two weeks in Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) and Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10), we have seen much instruction regarding the Tabernacle service and how different offerings were to be contributed toward its construction. Now, additional instructions are given, including: taking a census,[1] a laver for proper cleansing at the Tent of Meeting,[2] prescriptions for the anointing oil,[3] and the ingredients for the holy incense.[4] After this, Moses is given directives about those who have been specifically anointed with the Spirit of God in wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and the required skillset to construct the Ark of the Covenant and all of the related implements.[5] The Lord also speaks of the significance of the seventh-day Sabbath,[6] as this special weekly day of rest is to be set aside as a unique “sign” between Israel and God, designating this community as His chosen people.

As Moses was handed the two tablets of stone which had been inscribed by the very finger of God, he began to make his descent toward the camp of Israel, which was impatiently waiting below. Apparently, the forty-day period he was on the mountain was too long for the people to wait. In the interim, they had lost faith in God and in Moses’ ability to return from Mount Sinai:

“Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him’” (Exodus 32:1).

Amazingly, within less than forty days, the Israelites departed worship of the Lord and pressured Aaron to make a god for them to worship. With the offerings of gold rings and earrings by the people, Aaron himself fashioned a golden calf and proclaimed a feast unto this golden idol:

“He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, ‘Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD’” (Exodus 32:4-5).

As this rebellion erupted, God was incensed with the actions of His chosen people, and He responded by stating that He was ready to eliminate all of them, and start over with the offspring of Moses:

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation’” (Exodus 32:9-10).

At this point, we get a glimpse into the heart of Moses, who beseeched God to remember His covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through interrogative questions. What would it communicate to the Egyptians if the God of the Hebrews simply delivered His people into His safety only to wipe them out?

“‘Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, “With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth”? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.”’ So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:12-14).

In an interesting statement by the Lord, it is recorded that He “repented” (RSV) or changed his mind about what He wanted to do to the Israelites. The Hebrew verb nacham, appearing in the Nifal stem (simple action, passive voice), means “be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent” or “comfort oneself, be comforted” (BDB).[7] The LXX renders this with the Greek verb hilaskomai, meaning, “to make him propitious to one, conciliate him, win his favour” (LS).[8] Yet, even while God is said to have changed His mind or repented, elsewhere in the Torah we see how “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent [nacham, Hitpael][9]; has He said, and will He not do it?” (Numbers 23:19). God actually repented from His stated intention to eliminate the people of Israel when witnessing their idolatry; God as an Eternal Being with a definite plan for Creation cannot repent or deviate from His plan. Why the tension between Exodus 32:14 and Numbers 23:19? Is it because we are limited mortals and are unable to see things fully from His perspective? Or was it because the Lord was refining Moses for further service, seeing if he truly was the able leader of Ancient Israel that he could be in reminding God of His duty not to wipe out the idolatrous people?

One thing we know for certain is that witnessed in many of the mythologies of the Ancient Near East, if various gods and goddesses saw disloyalty being committed by their people—they would exterminate them without a second thought. The Lord God of Israel, quite to the contrary, is compassionate, understanding, and merciful—especially when we entreat Him! Some might even observe how one of the primary reasons that God even created the universe, the Earth, and humanity was to display His attributes which center on grand compassion.

The Golden Calf Incident

Moses returned from the mountain with the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, and with Joshua he found Aaron and the remaining Israelites in idolatrous revelry (Exodus 32:15-18). The scene was too much to bear, and in his anger Moses broke the two tablets that God gave him as he approaches the golden calf (Exodus 32:19). Moses shoved the idol in the fire and reduced it to a powder (Exodus 32:20a). He took this power and mixed it with water, forcing the revelers to drink a bitter mixture (Exodus 32:20b). At this point, after Aaron’s poor justification that the golden calf just “made itself” in the fire (Exodus 32:21-24), the indignant Moses declared that all of those true to the God of Israel must join to him:

“Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control—for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies—then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Whoever is for the LORD, come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered together to him.  He said to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Every man of you put his sword upon his thigh, and go back and forth from gate to gate in the camp, and kill every man his brother, and every man his friend, and every man his neighbor.”’ So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day” (Exodus 32:26-28).

The drama of the moment subsided as the Levites went through the crowd, and slew three thousand people who were participating in the riotous festival (Exodus 32:28-35). Moses interceded to God for the Israelites with one of the most self-sacrificial offers that is ever recorded in the Scriptures: He unabashedly offered his own life for the lives of the Israelites. He was even willing to have his name erased from the Book of Life:

“But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” (Exodus 32:32).

Moses completely understood his role as an intermediary between God and Israel.

Face to Face

Now as the days proceed, Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with the Lord “face to face.” The Israelites began to respect Moses, because as he departed for the Tent of Meeting, the people stood at their tents and watched him enter in. As they watched the pillar of cloud descend upon the gathering place, the people arose and began to worship the Lord at the opening to their own tents. We are then told that Moses spoke with the Lord “face to face,” as a person would speak with his friend:

“Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses. When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent” (Exodus 33:7-11).

A very interesting request from Moses is then recorded. While interceding for the people of Israel, Moses expressed a great desire to get to know the Almighty on a much deeper level:

“Then Moses said to the LORD, ‘See, You say to me, “Bring up this people!” But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, “I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.” Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people’” (Exodus 33:12-13).

Moses pleaded that God would reveal His ways to him in order for him to really know Him and find favor in His sight. This plea of Moses is somewhat reminiscent of what the Apostle Paul would later communicate to the Philippians regarding a Believer getting to know Yeshua intimately as Lord—ultimately to the point of emulating His ministry even in death:

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Messiah. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Messiah, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).

Of course, this heartfelt request of Paul comes after he has listed all of his worldly accomplishments and personal passion for the Lord. He realized, just like Moses centuries earlier, that getting to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is really what life is all about! A committed man or woman of faith must pursue an understanding of God with all of the heart, mind, soul, and strength.

At this point, the Holy One made a promise to Moses about revealing Himself, and He showed Moses His glory:

“Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!’ And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ Then the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:18-23).

As you read these words, the Lord clearly states, “You will not be able to see My face, for no human can see My face and live” (ATS). An unholy mortal cannot look upon the sheer holiness of the Creator and survive. Sinful flesh cannot bear to view the awesomeness of pure holiness. Moses, however, was allowed to see the proverbial “back” of God and His glory, as He passed by. Throughout the Scriptures we are certainly encouraged to seek the face of God, but since this statement about seeing God’s face appears so definite, in our mind’s eye when we consider who we are seeking—it is probably better to visualize seeking God’s presence or intimacy, or His favor or His compassion.

A Second Chance

After the Lord had decided not to eliminate Israel, He commanded Moses to hew out two more tablets of stone to replace the two which were broken in anger over the discovery of idolatry in the camp. In an answer to Moses’ petition, the Lord came down to meet Moses and revealed His glory to Him, uttering some profound words which described His Divine character:

“Now the LORD said to Moses, ‘Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.’ So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations’” (Exodus 34:1-7).

What we see described of God in Exodus 34:6-7 are the attributes of a Creator who is full of great compassion, longsuffering, and faithfulness toward His human creations. In His self-description, we find a God whose character is beyond our sinful imagination to comprehend. These are characteristics—because God is infinitely perfect—that He will always exemplify toward men and women of any generation. They are not just “New Testament” concepts, as many people may falsely think—but are demonstrated time and time again in the “Old Testament.” They are, however, chiefly embodied in the revelation of the Messiah of Israel, who was incarnated as a man so that there might be a permanent solution provided for the human sin problem.

The Compassion of the Cross

The Father’s compassion toward us is absolutely epitomized by the sacrificial death of His Son, who absorbed in Himself the capital punishment of the Torah due upon each of us (cf. Colossians 2:14). When I consider the gruesome sacrifice of the Messiah upon the tree, I can only be reminded of the prophetic declaration of Isaiah—but in so doing I am deeply saddened by how many have not believed the report of the good news:

“Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:1-5).

The Psalmist also reminds us that it is impossible for a mortal man to redeem another from the power of death and being left to the realm of the dead in Sheol. Only God Himself can provide the ransom required for redemption:

“No man can by any means redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him—for the redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever—that he should live on eternally, that he should not undergo decay…As sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd; and the upright shall rule over them in the morning, and their form shall be for Sheol to consume so that they have no habitation. But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Selah” (Psalm 49:7-9, 14-15).

God Himself had to offer Himself in order to redeem fallen humanity, something which because of His compassionate nature He did in the person of Messiah Yeshua. This is an awesome thing to consider. As we get to know Him more, we realize just what a sacrificial heart He has for His Creation.

The Prophet Micah summarizes, in similar terms, the attributes of God that we witness in Exodus 34:6-7, making the following declaration:

“Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity and passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in unchanging love. He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sin from to the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old” (Micah 7:18-20).

Micah states that God will not retain His anger forever because of His attribute of “steadfast love” (RSV) or “mercy” (NIV), chesed. The Lord will have compassion on us and forgive us for our iniquities and sins, casting them into the depths of the sea.[10] The Lord is fair and just, and He will not just summarily wipe out His people.

What a gracious God we honor, worship, and glorify! May His love for us become a part of who we are as we continue to know Him. Ultimately, we can understand how the Father’s compassion was personified in the glorious work accomplished by Yeshua on the cross at Golgotha (Calvary)—and surely also in many more acts to come as we eagerly await the Messiah’s return. The ability of God to continue to demonstrate love and compassion toward us is unfathomable by the human mind, as observed by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans:

“For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? OR WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? [Isaiah 40:13; Job 15:8; Jeremiah 23:18] For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:30-36).

We cannot fully understand what true godly compassion is; it is beyond our human ability to compute. We need to simply be thankful that through the Father’s compassion personified in the Son, Yeshua—through faith we can get a glimpse of who God truly is and by His grace continue to seek Him. We need to demonstrate such love and compassion to others, and by loving them and showing them His goodness, hopefully the Lord will allow us to be used to draw others unto Him!


NOTES

[1] Exodus 30:11-16.

[2] Exodus 30:17-21.

[3] Exodus 30:22-33.

[4] Exodus 30:34-38.

[5] Exodus 31:1-11.

[6] Exodus 31:12-18.

[7] BDB, 637.

[8] LS, 379.

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

[10] It is from Micah 7:19 that the Jewish custom of tashlikh, throwing crumbs or small pieces of bread into a body of water at the time of Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah, is derived. For more information, consult the relevant sections of the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

Tetzaveh

Tetzaveh

You shall command

“Set-Apart Unto Him”

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


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minister Unto Him

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dwelling Among His People

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

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

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

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

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


NOTES

[1] CHALOT, 152.

Terumah

Terumah

Contribution

“The Heart of the Matter”

Exodus 25:1-27:19
1 Kings 5:26-6:13


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, details the construction of the Tabernacle which the glory of God occupied during the Ancient Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. This temporary dwelling place was used by Israel until the First Temple was constructed in Jerusalem by King Solomon. As you read through the details of the Tabernacle’s materials and its construction, you can marvel at the minute particulars that come forth from the instructions of the Master Builder. The finest natural materials are utilized, which are all thought to have significant symbolic interpretations. But regardless of the specificity of the blueprints and materials, two overwhelming themes bubble to the surface as you read the account:

“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution’” (Exodus 25:1-2).

From the title of our parashah, terumah, meaning “contribution, offering, for sacred uses” (BDB),[1] you find that the Holy One of Israel is looking for people who have a strong heart’s desire to offer valuable contributions for the construction project. God was looking for a people who would love, honor, and respect Him enough so that they would be entirely willing—from the heart—to offer up their valuable resources in order to build the Tabernacle and fashion all of its furnishings and accoutrements, for the priestly service. We learn from some later comments that the response to the request was overwhelming to the point that an order was issued to stop the outpouring of freewill gifts:

“And they said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the LORD commanded us to perform.’ So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, ‘Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.’ Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more (Exodus 36:5-6).

From the beginning of the wilderness journey—after witnessing the miracles of the defeat of the Egyptians, the provisions of manna, quail, and water, hearing the voice of the Lord bellowing from Mount Sinai, and receiving the Ten Commandments—the Ancient Israelites were prepared to give freely of their possessions for the assembly of the Tabernacle. The God of Israel articulates the second theme which is evident not only in this Torah portion, but throughout the Holy Scriptures, as He makes His great desire made known to Moses:

“Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).

The Lord has a strong desire to dwell (Heb. verb shakan)[2] among His people. This is an important statement because even though He desires for a sanctuary or mishkan to be built, our Heavenly Father is really stating that He desires to just dwell among His people. Even though there is a construction project for a specific structure to represent His holiness, He actually says that He wants to dwell among human beings. From this wording, you get the impression that the Holy One just wants to walk among His people in a similar fashion to the way He established the relationship He had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden:

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).

As you ponder the theme of dwelling with the Creator, we see the intimate relationship that God is attempting to establish with His chosen ones. He desires a people whose hearts yearn for Him and with whom He can dwell! The rest of the account in Mishpatim simply concerns details that have significant meaning, and which convey the majesty and dignity of the Tabernacle and priestly service—serving as tangible manifestations of His heart’s desire.

When you take a look at the associated Haftarah portion in 1 Kings 5:26-6:13, you discover that in spite of the impressive construction project developed by Solomon and Hiram during their time of relative peace, the overwhelming theme is still God simply wanting to dwell with His people. For whatever reasons, it is apparent that humanity needs physical structures in order to imagine spiritual and relational principles. The Creator knows this attribute, and consequently fulfills this need by orchestrating both the wilderness Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple to be constructed.

The Good Shepherd

The most significant point that the Lord is trying to convey from Mishpatim regards the melding of one’s heart attitude, and His intended residence among His people. Probably the most vivid analogy, that is used to communicate the essence of this relationship, is the image derived from the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep. The Holy One is often described as a Good Shepherd who is constantly walking among His sheep tending to their needs. Recall how when the Patriarch Jacob communicated some of his final blessings, he referred to God as a shepherd (Heb. verb ra’ah)[3]:

“He blessed Joseph, and said, ‘The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day’” (Genesis 48:15).

Later, when blessing Joseph specifically, another reference to God as the Great Shepherd is witnessed:

“But his bow remained firm, and his arms were agile, from the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel)[4], from the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; may they be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers” (Genesis 49:24-26).

Of course, most Bible readers are eager to remember David’s reference to God being his Shepherd in Psalm 23:

“A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd [ADONAI ro’i], I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3).

Less well-known words come from Qohelet, as he summarizes his life experience:

“The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd [nittenu m’ro’eh]. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:11-14).

The Prophets are also replete about referring to God as a Shepherd:

  • “Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, with His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him and His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd [k’ro’eh] He will tend His flock, in His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes” (Isaiah 40:10-11).
  • “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock [k’ro’eh]’” (Jeremiah 31:10).
  • “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity. Therefore He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has borne a child. Then the remainder of His brethren will return to the sons of Israel. And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD [v’amad v’ra’ah b’oz ADONAI], in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth” (Micah 5:2-4).

And of course, perhaps most important, Yeshua referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd to His Disciples, as He explained the mission and purpose of His ministry:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd [Egō eimi ho poimēn ho kalos][5], and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:11-16).

The author of Hebrews summarized his treatise by calling the workings of the Holy One, the works of the Great Shepherd:

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

Earlier in his work, the author quoted extensively from the Prophets in order to communicate many of the principles relating to the wilderness Tabernacle and how it applies to Believers’ lives through the inauguration of the New Covenant:

“Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘SEE,’ He says, ‘THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN’ [Exodus 25:40]. But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first[6]…had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says, ‘BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD, WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH; NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT; FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT, AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD. FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. AND THEY SHALL NOT TEACH EVERYONE HIS FELLOW CITIZEN, AND EVERYONE HIS BROTHER, SAYING, “KNOW THE LORD,” FOR ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM. FOR I WILL BE MERCIFUL TO THEIR INIQUITIES, AND I WILL REMEMBER THEIR SINS NO MORE’” (Hebrews 8:4-12; cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34, LXX).

In Hebrews chs. 8-9, the author gives his audience a description of the wilderness Tabernacle, and the distinction made between it and “the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11). This is what Yeshua entered into in Heaven, as He performs the required priestly duties, as our intermediary between God the Father and humanity at large (Hebrews 4:14-15). The author of Hebrews quotes directly from the Prophet Jeremiah, who describes that the New Covenant that God will make will write the Torah onto the hearts of the people by His Holy Spirit:[7]

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

These conclusions come after Jeremiah has described the work of God as Shepherd to scatter and then gather His flock:

“Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare in the coastlands afar off, and say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him and keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock’” (Jeremiah 31:10).

Hear O Israel

One of the awesome works of our God, as the Good Shepherd, is that He will supernaturally transcribe His Torah onto the hearts of His sheep, as He is their God and they will surely be His people. As this transformative action occurs in every heart, of every man and woman of God who recognizes Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel, he or she can fully live forth the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

The imperative here is that each individual is to love the Lord God of Israel with all of his or her heart, and to see that the principles of God’s commandments are embedded within his or her mind. This can be conducted by a number of crucial exercises and disciplines. The Father knows human beings’ propensity to wander and to avoid following His commands, and so in order to help inscribe His Instruction upon the heart and mind, He has detailed some basic guidelines to help with the process. This includes a daily routine of waking up and thinking about Him, and instructing our children about Him and His love for us. Going to sleep at night, our final thoughts should be focused on the Lord. Everything that we put our hands to, or every thought that we consider, should be viewed through the grid of His understandings. In the Shema, we are even told to put the commandments of God on the very doorposts of our houses and gates, so that we will be reminded as we leave our home and return—of the imperative need to focus all of our attention, love, and loyalty to Him!

As you read and reflect upon the Shema, you almost get the impression that the Holy One of Israel wants as much of our attention just as your husband or wife would. He wants our hearts to be turned toward Him so that we will be one with Him in thoughts, deeds, and actions. We can yearn for such intimacy with our Creator that many of our spiritual forbearers in the faith have modeled for us. Figures like King David knew the Lord intimately, and his Psalms reflect the great love he had for Him. Psalm 19 is an excellent example for us to consider:

“For the choir director. A Psalm of David. The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me; then I will be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:1-14).

Here, we see how King David has such a desire for intimacy with the Lord, that he does not even want his thoughts to be unacceptable in His sight. I pray that each of our hearts would be as sensitive!

The Tabernacle of David

Today, our gracious Heavenly Father surely continues to look for people He can indwell with His intimate presence. We are each called to be a tabernacle for Him to occupy. We know that the Prophet Amos in the Seventh Century B.C.E., and James the Just First Century C.E., both affirm a rebuilding of the Tabernacle of David as a key part in the eventual restoration of the Kingdom to Israel. Amos first decrees,

“‘Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,’ declares the LORD. ‘For behold, I am commanding, and I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground. All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, those who say, ‘The calamity will not overtake or confront us.’ In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,’ declares the LORD who does this. ‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, and they will not again be rooted out from their land which I have given them,’ says the LORD your God” (Amos 9:8-15).

Amos’ prophecy looks forward to the restoration of the fallen Tabernacle of David. This includes the return of a sizeable part of Israel (mostly from the Northern Kingdom) that had been sown into the nations, as well as many of the nations themselves being integrated into the holy community. As God let him see into the future, Amos knew the time would surely come when the captivity of Israel would be over, and His people will return to the Promised Land to rebuild cities, plant vineyards, drink wine, make gardens, and eat their fruit.

At the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, upon hearing the testimony of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter regarding the salvation of Jewish people and various Greeks and Romans coming to faith in the Messiah of Israel—James the Just makes a distinct connection between the non-Jews coming to faith and Amos’ prophecy. Rather than capitulate to the demands of a few hyper-conservative Pharisees that such non-Jewish Believers be ordered to keep the Mosaic Torah (Acts 15:5, Grk.), James instead acknowledged that the words of the Prophets were in play. He places the salvation of the non-Jews in the First Century within the scope of expectations regarding the eventual restoration of all Israel:

“After they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, ‘Brethren, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. With this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, “AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, SO THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,’ SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM LONG AGO. Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath” (Acts 15:13-21).

The difference between what Amos prophecies is that James says “so the rest of humanity may seek the Lord—even all the Gentiles who are called by My name” (Acts 15:17, HCSB). Luke’s transcription in Acts does not follow the Hebrew text of Amos, but the Septuagint rendering which reads with hoi kataloipoi tōn anthrōpōn for the Hebrew sh’eirit Edom. The LXX Rabbis understood Edom to be connected to adam, also the Hebrew word for “mankind, people” (HALOT)[8] and rendered it in Greek as “those remaining of humans” (NETS), referring to God’s faithful remnant that would come forth out of humanity’s masses. James makes a connection between the salvation of Israel and those of the nations coming to faith in Israel’s Messiah.

James would have had to recognize that a critical part of Israel’s restoration would have been an obedience to God’s Torah by all coming into the fold. In Ezekiel 37:24, we are told that when all Israel is restored “they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.” As James was considering the salvation of the nations, he was reflecting on the restoration of the Tabernacle of David described by the Prophet Amos. Why force the non-Jewish Believers to keep the Torah, when prophecy should be allowed to take its natural course? The nations were to come to Zion to be taught God’s Instruction (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-3), and the promise of the New Covenant was that the Torah would be supernaturally transcribed on redeemed hearts as a special work of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-27).[9]

Today, almost two millennia later, we have yet to see the complete fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy. The presence of today’s Messianic movement, and the unique work it has in seeing Jewish people brought to saving faith in the Messiah Yeshua and evangelical Christians brought into a tangible appreciation of their Hebraic Roots—leads me to believe that “the words of the Prophets” (Acts 15:15) are going to become increasingly more important to recognize in the days to come. As we all begin to truly understand this, we need to allow ourselves both individually and corporately to be a people who can be filled up with the Spirit of God, serving as a living sacrifice that faithfully emulates the Lord Yeshua (cf. Romans 12:1-2). If we are truly able to do this, then we can all compose that holy nation and separated people, truly accomplishing the mission of God, which the Apostle Peter says we will be:

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Messiah Yeshua. For this is contained in Scripture: ‘BEHOLD, I LAW IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED’ [Isaiah 28:16]. This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone’ [Psalm 118:22], and, ‘A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE’ [Isaiah 8:14]; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 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 2:4-10).[10]

When we can all truly understand how every redeemed man and woman in Yeshua is a part of “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (NIV), then we can marvel in our privilege to serve the Lord fully—most especially in terms of declar[ing forth] the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (NIV)! When the world at large can see us demonstrating the Lord’s goodness toward them, as we testify of the salvation He has provided, then we can really begin to see the complete restoration of David’s Tabernacle.[11]

As we contemplate these awesome truths, we must reflect upon our own hearts, wondering in which capacity we can serve God and make a difference in our generation. We need to search our hearts and consider what the meditations of our hearts are. What motivates us? Do we wake up with His thoughts on our minds? Do we go to sleep considering His ways? Are we training up our young people according to His precepts? Everyone will be accountable for their actions, deeds, and thoughts.

In the end, it comes down to being a matter of the heart. May our hearts be His and His be ours!


NOTES

[1] BDB, 929.

[2] Appearing in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice) in Exodus 25:8, shakan means, “settle down, abide, dwell” (Ibid., 1014).

[3] Largely meaning “pasture, tend, graze” (Ibid., 944).

[4] Heb. m’sham ro’eh even Yisrael.

[5] John 10:14 includes one of the many “I am” sayings, where there is a deliberate connection being made between egō eimi and the Lord’s declaration in Exodus 3:14, ehyeh asher ehyeh, “I AM WHO I AM,” rendered in the Septuagint as egō eimi. The intention is to clearly associate Yeshua the Messiah as being the “I AM,” the LORD God in human flesh.

For further consideration, consult G.M. Burge, “‘I am’ Sayings,” in Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), pp 354-356.

[6] Grk. Ei gar hē prōtē ekeinē; “for if that first were faultless” (YLT).

Editor’s note: While many translations provide “covenant,” the subject matter is actually the priesthood/tabernacle/ministry-service of the Levites (Hebrews 8:1-3). Feminine nouns that can be associated with hē prōtē do include diathēkē or “covenant,” but can also include skēnē or “tabernacle,” hierōsunē or “priesthood,” or leitourgia or “ministry.”

For a further evaluation, consult the article “What is the New Covenant?” by J.K. McKee.

[7] For an examination of some of the issues circulating around the Messianic movement concerning the reliability of the Epistle to the Hebrews, consult the article “The Message of Hebrews” and the commentary Hebrews for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[8] HALOT, 1:14.

[9] For a further evaluation of the events of the Jerusalem Council and the Apostolic decree, consult the commentary Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.

[10] Cf. Kurt Aland, et. al., The Greek New Testament, Fourth Revised Edition (Stuttgart: Deutche Bibelgesellschaft/United Bible Societies, 1998), pp 788-789.

[11] For some further thoughts on what might compose the Tabernacle of David, consult the author’s article “Restoring David’s Tabernacle,” appearing in the March 2007 issue of Outreach Israel News.

Mishpatim

Mishpatim

Rulings

“Rules Unto Others”

Exodus 21:1-24:18
Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

As we turn to Mishpatim this week, we are reminded that the Israelites have just received the Ten Commandments and have heard the terrifying voice of the Lord as He shook Mount Sinai. We recall that the Israelites were so frightened by the sound of God’s voice, that they requested that Moses be their exclusive intermediary to receive the further instructions about how to conduct their lives. As they trembled at a distance, the fear was so great that they thought they would die if they had to continue to hear the voice of the Almighty:

“And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die’” (Exodus 20:18-19).

Apparently, the presence of God was so awesome that the Ancient Israelites relinquished their individual rights to hear Him directly, by choosing Moses to be their intermediary. In this capacity, Moses received instructions about how men and women should conduct their lives with respect toward one another. At the end of Mishpatim, we see the commitment of the Israelites to keep the commandments that Moses delivered to them:

““Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!’ So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words’” (Exodus 24:7-8).

In many ways, as you read Mishpatim and its listing of rules, ordinances, and judgments—the thought comes to mind that these practical instructions are quite consistent with what we often call “the Golden Rule,” treating others as we would have them treat us (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). Examining Mishpatim gives us the annual opportunity to rethink many of the basic instructions on how we should treat others, when human interaction creates inevitable conflict.

Interestingly, the first rulings that Moses focused on relate to the treatment of slaves (Exodus 21:2-11). Here, the Ancient Israelites, having just been freed from the bondage of slavery in Egypt, are given specific instructions about how to lovingly handle the relationship between a slaveholder and slave.[1] Hopefully, with memories ripe with remembrance of this condition, they will be able to relate to people confined to this humble station in life. The Holy One definitely communicated grand attributes of compassion and lovingkindness to all members of humanity, no matter what their relationship might be one to another.

A New Creature

The instructions in our parashah relate to a variety of interactions that typically occur in any society, especially given the fallen state of man. We are reminded that in spite of us being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; James 3:9), we have inherited a sin nature from Adam (Romans 5:12). Because we are fallen creatures, we require redemption. The nature that we have all inherited in Adam must be replaced by a redeemed nature only available through the salvation of the Messiah Yeshua. Once a person can understand who he or she is in Adam, confessing and repenting of sin, and dying to oneself—then and only then will you be able to receive the new nature provided as the Ruach HaKodesh or Holy Spirit takes up residence inside of you. You are finally able to be born again! You become a new creature in the Messiah, just as the Apostle Paul describes to the Corinthians:

“Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Messiah and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Messiah, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).

To many of you this may sound very basic, but if you will recall, even the exemplary Torah teacher and Pharisee Nicodemus did not understand some of these foundational concepts. For whatever reason, Nicodemus could not comprehend the concept of being “born again,” even though he was considered a leader among his people:

“Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?’ Yeshua answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?’” (John 3:9-10).

Many of us are familiar with this passage from the Gospels, and yet have we ever considered the thought that even the foundational teachings of the Torah are frequently not understood by its teachers? It has long been recognized in Biblical Studies that being “born again” or “born from above” was used in Second Temple Judaism to describe proselytes. The Talmud records, “R. Yosé says, ‘A proselyte at the moment of conversion is like a new-born baby’” (b.Yevamot 48b).[2] Yeshua the Messiah simply took the terminology “born again,” and rather than apply it to proselytes to Judaism—applied it to His followers. This might not always be obvious to some of you, so think about whether the Torah teacher you listen to on a regular basis is really familiar with its basic instructions regarding holiness and proper living.

It is critical for us to consistently turn to Moses’ Teaching in order to learn more and more about our human condition and how we should conduct ourselves. The main reason that the Torah exists is to help define sin for humanity, and regulate the behavior that the Lord expects His people to demonstrate in the world.

We must each be thankful for the opportunity to be reckoned as the sons and daughters of the Living God, via our adoption in Yeshua. But for whatever reasons, we frequently need to be reminded of our responsibilities, even after we have inherited new life in the Messiah. Paul comments about the awesomeness of Believers’ adoption into God’s family in his letter to the Romans:

“For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Messiah, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:15-23).

Just as Paul writes, we as Believers in Yeshua do not walk in a spirit of slavery, but instead in a spirit of adoption as children of the Most High. Hallelujah for His mercy to us! Yet, we each eagerly await the complete redemption of Creation, including our total selves at the resurrection. But, let us now turn to the Torah portion and see what our Father wants us to consider, as once again His Instruction communicates basic life principles to His sons and daughters.

Civil Laws

As you read through Mishpatim, you are reminded of some of the basic instructions about how we should treat one another when the inevitable problems of human interaction occur. We see detailed, various ordinances about personal injuries (Exodus 21:12-36), property rights (Exodus 22:1-15), sundry laws (Exodus 22:16-23:9), as well as the stipulations to keep the Sabbath (Exodus 23:10-13) and observe the three festivals of ingathering (Exodus 23:14-18). The basic yardstick of instruction is essentially “the Golden Rule.” When God’s people face challenges today, these various instructions surely articulate and inform us on how He would have conflicts resolved.

Interestingly, as you read these rulings, you will note that a tenor of fairness, equality, and compassion seems to permeate the statements. If the Spirit of God resides inside of you, then when you read these various ordinances, the Spirit should bear witness that the remedies and treatments for various violations of conduct seem perfectly equitable. Over many centuries, these very statements have been incorporated into the civil laws of societies influenced by the Judeo-Christian values established in Holy Writ. This is not to say that all of these laws are reiterated exactly, but that the essence is certainly there in our Western judicial system. (Even pagan societies that do not acknowledge the God of Israel have benefited from the Torah’s moral message.)

The difference between when these commands were originally given to Israel and today is that we live in a post-resurrection era that has made the understanding of these rulings much clearer, through the teachings of Yeshua and His Apostles. We do not stone children for striking or cursing their parents, because Yeshua has atoned for this penalty (cf. Colossians 2:14). However, when you encounter statements that speak of capital punishment, you realize how important God considers adherence to the commandment regarding how parents should be honored (Exodus 21:17).

When you couple these kinds of statements with other reiterations about: keeping the Sabbath, the appointed times, the first-born offerings, not bearing false witness, properly treating the poor, widows, orphans, speaking out about leaders, lending money, etc., you begin to realize that at times throughout your life you have probably not followed these rulings too well. You have probably broken all the rules. As a result of breaking these rules, you are therefore guilty and need to pay restitution. Some of the restitution principles are articulated in this parashah, but when you are completely honest with yourself, you begin to realize that you have probably not paid the price perfectly for your various transgressions.

The Almighty God Himself is most aware of each and every transgression we have committed. He knows the when, where, and to what degree each of us has sinned. He knows that each person is indeed bankrupt in trespasses and sins. Eventually, in spite of our various mortal attempts to keep all of these commandments, especially coupled with the remaining instructions that are seen throughout the Bible, one should hopefully come to the logical conclusion that he or she cannot possibly avoid the penalties that ultimately lead to death and eternal separation from God. If you really think through all of these things seriously, the final conclusion would be not too unlike what many cried out to the Apostles at various times: Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:33). An inability to keep God’s Law is to show us the need for a Savior (cf. Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:4, Grk.).

Yeshua’s Upgrade

Yeshua came to Earth and was sacrificed at Golgotha (Calvary), paying the penalty for our sins and offering a permanent atonement. But long before being executed, He spent time with His Disciples and others, trying to help them understand some of the basic principles of His Father’s Instruction. Yeshua’s teachings bring a great depth and dimension to what we are constantly learning in the Torah—some of you for the first time. Many of the things Yeshua says are almost impossible for a person who has nothing more than a natural, fleshly mind. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, a natural person is incapable of receiving things from the Spirit:

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM [Isaiah 40:13]? But we have the mind of Messiah” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).

Consequently, we have a great number of people throughout the ages who have attempted to understand and comment about the teachings of Yeshua and the Apostles—with many now trying to understand the Torah. Unfortunately, many have not dealt with the reality about coming to the end of themselves and being born again from above, in order to have the spiritual capacity to even understand the basic teachings of the Bible. This, you can imagine, can create a tremendous amount of confusion, as one will be most prone to misunderstand the essentials of salvation, holiness, and accomplishing God’s mission for His Creation.

When one reads the words of Yeshua, and His clarification about and/or elaboration upon the Torah principles that are seen in a reading like Mishpatim, many are befuddled. Consider the instruction that deals with the loss of an eye or a tooth (Exodus 21:24, 27). Read how Yeshua applies this in His Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH’ [Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21]. But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

In Mishpatim, some commandments are given about how one is supposed to be compensated for the loss of an eye or a tooth, or whatever else has been lost. Some of these circumstances will arise due to fallen human nature. Out of anger or passion, a person might strike someone and cause an eye or a tooth to be lost, and so the Torah issues instruction on how restitution is to be made. But Yeshua remarks about the spiritual causes of such a loss. The natural inclination when injured is to injure back, but the Messiah instead directs people to receive another blow and turn the other check. If love for one’s fellow human beings is imperative, what is going to convict a person who has lost his temper and control of his emotions more? The perfect restitution for the infraction, or a response out of love that indicates how physical harm can ultimately do little damage? As Yeshua continues in this particular passage, He expresses the meaning of true love established by the Torah:

“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHRBOR [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:40-48).

Yeshua tells those in His audience to give up shirts, walk extra miles, give freely, love their enemies, and pray for those who persecute. Why? Because then and only then will you be “sons of your Father who is in heaven.” He concludes with the stellar requirement that one is to be perfect, just as the Father in Heaven is perfect. Yeshua knows this is impossible for human beings to attain in their own strength, and yet He clearly declares it as a requirement for following Him. Following Yeshua’s teachings are virtually impossible without the Holy Spirit and His atoning work covering our lives. The status of being excellent in the Lord, much less perfect—requires total commitment, steady spiritual refinement, and consistent discipleship in maturity.

We have much to consider this week as we reflect on the ordinances and precepts that God has established for His people. May we hold fast to those rules, so just like the Israelites in the wilderness, we too can claim what the ancients claimed:

“He took the Book of the Covenant and read it in earshot of the people, and they said, ‘Everything that HASHEM has said, we will do and we will obey!’[3] Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and he said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that HASHEM sealed with you concerning all these matters’” (Exodus 24:7-8, ATS).

Today, as Believers in Yeshua, we can experience the fullness of the things that the ancients only heard about. While Moses only sprinkled animal blood on the people, the author of Hebrews testifies that the blood of Yeshua Himself inaugurates the New Covenant—where the commandments of God are to be written upon our hearts and we can have great confidence to go to the Father:

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Yeshua, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

We should not only have a new heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27), washed by the blood of the Messiah—but we should also have our hearts and minds made clean, eagerly able to perform God’s service. May we all be blessed in this understanding as we consider His rules, and live them out as a testimony of what He has done for us!


NOTES

[1] This is definitely a section of the Torah that can only be adequately understood when read against its Ancient Near Eastern background. For a further discussion, consult the article “Addressing the Frequently Avoided Issues Messianics Encounter in the Torah” by J.K. McKee.

[2] The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. MS Windows XP. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005. CD-ROM.

[3] Heb. kol asher-diver ADONAI na’aseh v’nishma.

Yitro

Yitro

Jethro

“Divine Service Toward Others”

Exodus 18:1-20:23[26]
Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6[6-7] (A); 6:1-13 (S)


by Mark Huey
mark@outreachisrael.net

This week we continue our examination of the Book of Exodus, coming to a Torah portion that includes one of the most significant sections in the entire Bible, as we witness God giving His people the Ten Commandments. After some of the initial trials of the journey into the wilderness as considered last week in B’shalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16), with a lack of water and food, and a battle with the Amalekites—in Yitro the people of Israel come to the base of Mount Sinai and receive instruction from God. Most readers understandably focus their attention upon the reception of the Ten Commandments, transcribed by the very finger of the Most High onto stone tablets (Exodus 20:1-17).

Without any doubt, the Ten Commandments are very important, because it is upon such aseret ha’devarim or Ten Words that the remainder of the Torah’s commandments are somehow based. Yet in one of the most well-known statements made by the Messiah Yeshua in the Gospels, it might be said that the very basis of the Ten Commandments themselves are the Torah’s instructions to faithfully love God and one’s neighbor:

“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 22:37-40).

When we understand how the Ten Commandments have a tendency to point disobedient persons—not only within Ancient Israel but throughout human history—back to remembrance and obedience, the words of Yeshua make perfect sense. But rather than focus on the significant volume of material that has been accumulated on the Ten Commandments,[1] as well as the critical importance of loving God and one’s neighbor, there is another topic within Yitro which precedes the reception of the Ten Words. In the opening chapter of our parashah, Exodus 18, the character and actions for whom this reading is entitled are described. The individual named, of course, is Jethro (Yitro), the father-in-law of Moses. The ancient advice that he gave to Moses, and consequently what it means throughout the Biblical narrative and for us today, is something that we need to consider.

A society with specified rules, regulations, and statutes can implode and fall into disarray if its people fail to heed the guidelines issued for proper leadership. There are far too many historical examples of societal failures that we can reflect upon. Needless to say, Ancient Israel itself, in spite of what is issued in Yitro, did not always implement the godly instructions on whom to regard as those in authority. So as a Messianic faith community which truly desires to be in compliance with Holy Scriptures, what principles do the leadership instructions of Yitro deliver to us, who want to be successful in a time when God’s people are witnessing significant restoration?

The Big Picture

When you often study the Torah, the corresponding Haftarah selections can be used to prompt some major introspection. This week, some of the selected verses from the Book of Isaiah reminded me of the concept of Divine order. After all, the Holy One of Israel is a God of order, and it is through His order that He is going to accomplish all the things that He has providentially ordained:

“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

As you review this classic passage from Isaiah, the Prophet is looking forward to a time when the Son of God will actually be born as a human being. He will be given the awesome titles of: pele yoeitz, El gibor, avi’ad, sar-shalom, or Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince of Peace. These titles, in and of themselves, leave no doubt in my mind that Yeshua the Son is indeed Divine, God in the flesh.

In an interesting choice of words, the Prophet states that “the government will rest on His shoulders,” and “There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace.” All rule and dominion will clearly rest upon Yeshua the Messiah.

When I consider the visual picture of the government of God’s Kingdom resting upon the shoulders of the Prince of Peace, I envision a scene of Yeshua in all of His glory, with the government literally resting on His shoulders. Now in order to conceptualize this, I picture the governmental structure like an upside down pyramid with its pinnacle held up by the Lord. In my mind, this represents the order of God by Yeshua serving His people. It notably includes the Messiah at the bottom, rather than at the top; He holds everything up by His supreme power.

According to the author of Hebrews, Yeshua is presently seated at the right hand of the Father, the Son being the One who sustains the Creation—certainly with this governmental structure resting securely upon Himself:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (Hebrews 1:3-4).

When I couple this mental image with the conceptual reality that Yeshua has clearly stated, “He came not to be served, but to serve and offer Himself up as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28), the idea of serving means to humble oneself, and often be at the bottom of the heap. But with all of these mental images of the Messiah and His dual role as the Servant-King—the One who has led by His service and ultimate sacrifice for sinful humanity—I am drawn back to our Torah portion this week, and the advice Moses received from Jethro.

Jethro’s Wisdom

We need to understand that the insertion of the episode we read with Jethro comes at a very strategic time for Moses and the Ancient Israelites. The deliverance from Egypt and the battle with the Amalekites were behind them. Jethro brought Moses his wife Zipporah and their two sons Gershom and Eliezer, to the Israelite camp (Exodus 18:1-7). Jethro heard of the great salvation acts (Exodus 18:8) and was convinced that the God of Israel was the One True God (Exodus 18:9-12). But, this highly respected elder witnessed the leadership model Moses was using, and he had the wisdom and the impetus to make some astute recommendations. As the text indicates, Moses was exhausting himself with meeting the ever-present requests of thousands, not to mention all of their unspoken demands:

“It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?’ Moses said to his father-in-law, ‘Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws’” (Exodus 18:13-16).

Jethro immediately detected that Moses was wearing himself out, and that he had to do something to avoid fatigue and the impossible task of resolving all the disputes within the community of Israel. The logical advice was to develop a way to duplicate his authority, and choose capable leaders who could handle varying degrees of responsibility. Jethro’s advice was two-fold: (1) Moses was supposed to continue in his position as the intermediary between God and the people, but (2) he was to raise up those who would learn the commandments and precepts of the Lord, being able to apply them at the various levels to which they would be assigned:

“And Moses’ father-in-law said to him, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me: I shall give you counsel, and God be with you. You be the people’s representative before God, and you bring the disputes to God, then teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk, and the work they are to do. Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them, as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to his father-in-law, and did all that he had said” (Exodus 18:17-24).

Moses was certainly not going to give up his unique relationship with the Holy One. After all, Moses had a special call upon his life that was apparent to those who knew him. Maintaining his relationship with God was critical to continue functioning as the leader of the emerging nation, as they would be taught God’s statutes and laws. And as we know, the Lord continued to give Moses an incredible amount of revelation that is recorded throughout the Pentateuch. However, since this channel of communication needed to be maintained, it was important to delegate the work of administration to others who were qualified to handle various day-to-day administration responsibilities within the community of Israel. Jethro established the essential criteria Moses would use, for selecting those who would be capable of handling various responsibilities:

Within Exodus 18:21-22, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised four important attributes for the leaders who would be raised up within Ancient Israel. They were: (1) to be able or accomplished, (2) God-fearing, (3) truthful, and (4) hate dishonest gain. In many respects, these same virtuous character traits were to define the elders and deacons that Timothy and Titus were to appoint, respectively, in their administrative capacities in Ephesus (1 Timothy 3:1-12) and on Crete (Titus 1:5-9). Whether we look to our Torah portion Yitro, or Paul’s instructions within the Pastoral Epistles, I believe we will discover that servant-leaders of God’s people need to all be of impeccable personal quality, as they not only teach, guide, and mentor others—but also help to implement solutions for the problems that they face.

Able and Accomplished

When you go back and contemplate Jethro’s advice and the qualifications he articulated for the leaders within Ancient Israel, there is no doubt that subsequent generations of God’s people were informed by these early stipulations. Jethro stated that the selected leaders must be able or accomplished (Exodus 18:21a), with the text employing the word chayil, meaning “ability, efficiency, often involving moral worth” (BDB).[2] “The basic meaning of the noun is ‘strength,’ from which follow ‘army’ and ‘wealth’” (TWOT).[3] We see that those chosen need to be as dependable as one would want the army to be, defending the nation from hostile forces. This would mean that leaders must be disciplined, strong, and courageous to handle any of the challenges that might threaten Israel’s welfare.

When you consider some of the instructions issued to Timothy in Ephesus, as he served as Paul’s authorized representative to help fix the negative effects of the false teaching that had circulated, there is an amplification of what it means to be able. Within the mid-to-late First Century, the Messiah followers out in the Mediterranean basin were largely meeting in small communities that typically gathered in homes. In Ancient Ephesus, the false teaching (cf. 1 Timothy 1:4-7) had influenced some of those in leadership, and so Timothy had to see that new elders and deacons were appointed. The Apostle Paul directed his disciple Timothy to choose new leaders from among those who were mature in the faith, and who demonstrated godly character within the home:

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the [assembly] of God?); and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-6).

God-Fearing

Jethro told Moses that he should appoint leaders who fear God (Exodus 18:21b). Fearing the Lord is a concept witnessed throughout the Holy Scriptures, perhaps epitomized by Proverbs 18:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Within the Tanakh, the references one sees regarding how to fear God give readers the distinct impression that a fear of God leads to a great respect for Him, and consequently how He expects His people to live and conduct themselves. Here are two significant examples from Psalms:

“Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity, and his descendants will inherit the land. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant” (Psalm 25:12-14).

“Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the company of the upright and in the assembly. Great are the works of the LORD; they are studied by all who delight in them. Splendid and majestic is His work; and His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonders to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever. He has made known to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever; they are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (Psalm 111:1-10).

These Psalm passages can really intensify our understanding about the kind of fear for God that leaders of His people are to demonstrate. A healthy fear of God is a true indicator that a leader not only believes that He is real and exists, but also that consequences of disobedience and disbelief are severe. A healthy fear of God is important for good leadership, because those who fail to fear God will often fall into sin. Jude reflected on this reality in his letter composed in the late First Century, because those without a fear of the Lord had entered into the Believers’ love feasts with intentions to do great harm:

“But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 10-13).

Discerning that a leader has a healthy and true fear of God is extremely important. By evidencing a godly fear, the leader will rely upon the Lord for His wisdom and counsel, for the difficult decisions which need to be made.

Truthful

Jethro told Moses that he should appoint leaders who respected the truth (Exodus 18:21c). In the Hebrew Scriptures, the term emet has a variety of meanings, including: “reliability, sureness,” “stability, continuance,” and “faithfulness, reliableness” (BDB).[4] The Greek Scriptures likewise reflect this, often employing pistis, meaning: “persuasion of a thing, confidence, assurance,” “good faith, trustworthiness, faithfulness, honesty,” and “an assurance, pledge of good faith, warrant, guarantee” (LS).[5] Emet is frequently translated with pistis in the Septuagint, and these meanings are all employed in the Apostolic Scriptures. Leaders are required to not only know the truth, but to be able to teach it well because they have experienced it in their lives.

Given the influence of various troublemakers on the island of Crete, the leaders Titus was to appoint needed to be able to be steadfast with the truth of the gospel:

“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word[6] which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:7-11).

The emphasis on being able to “hold firmly to the trustworthy message” (NIV), of the good news of salvation in Yeshua, is evidenced in actions like being able “to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (HCSB). On the island of Crete there had been various troublemakers and errorists who had circulated controversial ideas for their own self-serving purposes, which was quite problematic especially given the low estimation that Cretans had in the ancient world (Titus 1:12).

Jethro’s words would be comparable to telling the people of Israel to choose leaders who truly understood God’s Law. Moses was told, “enjoin upon them the laws and the teachings, and make known to them the way they are to go and the practices they are to follow” (Exodus 18:20, NJPS). These leaders were to clearly be trained to know the truth, and consequently discern error and lead the assembly through a proper interpretation and application of instructions when various situations would arise. By knowing the Word of God, leaders can be able to discern His will and character when crises erupt—but they should also clearly have a relationship with the Holy One Himself, being filled with His presence to guide their hearts and minds.

Hating Dishonest Gain

Jethro’s fourth requirement was that Moses should choose leaders who hated dishonest gain (Exodus 18:21d). Most frequently, we associate this with honest people who are not consumed with a love of money (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10). These are persons who are absolutely convinced that life should operate according to a system of equal weights and measures, so when it comes to judicial matters they will be absolutely sure that those accused or being subjected to review receive proper justice. The concept of treating others as you would have them treat you is inherent in their nature (cf. Matthew 7:12).

In Exodus 18:21 the Hebrew word betza is used to describe “ill-gotten gain” (NJPS) or a “bribe” (RSV). It can mean “gain made by violence, unjust gain, profit” (BDB).[7] The first time it is used in the Torah is when Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Midianite traders as a slave.[8] When we see this term used in the narrative of Yitro, is a connection being made back to this event? Certainly, able leaders in the community of Israel were not to accept bribery or any kind of “dirty money.”

The false teachers Timothy had to face in Ephesus included many who simply wanted to get rich. The Apostle Paul informs his dear friend about how love for money (philaguria) is a significant cause of evil:

“But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. But flee from these things, you man of God; and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:9-11).

Rather than pursue money, Paul instructs Timothy and the Ephesians to instead “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” These are all attributes of a leader who can be responsible for the children of God, and are also to be found in the lives of all Messiah followers who are mature and are accomplishing the Lord’s tasks in the world.[9]

Divine Service Toward Others

In this day of restoration, how important is it that we should heed the leadership qualifications advised of Jethro to Moses? As he had surveyed the assembly of the Ancient Israelites, Moses would have to discern who was capable of handling the different levels of responsibility. Some were given responsibility over thousands, and others responsibility only over hundreds, fifties, or tens (Exodus 18:21e). Each leader, however, had to be godly. The magnitude of responsibility was most likely a by-product of age and experience. Today, we need to consider these principles, and others elaborated on throughout the Holy Writ, as we look for capable, godly men and women to lead the Body of Messiah in some formal or full-time capacity.

We obviously need to be very careful regarding those who are placed in positions of leadership, especially given the many Biblical, extra-Biblical, and historical examples of abuse of religious power. If we are mindful of this, then we will be less apt to make the tragic mistakes of recognizing those who are not qualified or fit to lead.

Too often, this is a major factor given much of the contention that manifests within in the Messianic community. Too often, I have witnessed people who have—through the force of their personality—self-anointed themselves to be the leader of a group. When you really take a serious look at their personal qualifications, you realize that they have more in common with Ancient Israel’s opponents or the false teachers Timothy and Titus had to face in Ephesus and Crete—then they do Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles, but most especially the Messiah Yeshua. Unfortunately, I think we are all aware of how problematic leaders will be a constant bane in the Body of Messiah until the Lord returns.

Perhaps if we considered the substance of what is described in this week’s Torah and Haftarah readings, we could begin to minimize many of the problems inherent with poor, unqualified leadership. Moses certainly listened to the wise counsel of his father-in-law, and implemented a leadership model that has stood the test of time.

But lest we forget, as one takes on more and more responsibility within the Body of Messiah, no one “climbs” the proverbial ladder to the top—but rather descends further down to the center of the government which rests upon the shoulders of Yeshua. As you get closer to Him, the Servant of all, you realize that it is by your service to others that you descend down deeper to where all the muck of life floats. Down there, closer to Yeshua, you not only sense His presence, but you require it in order to handle the greater responsibility that you have been entrusted.

In the end, according to the Biblical model of leadership, you will get closer and closer to “the bottom,” in your service capacity as a follower of the Most High. You learn the simple axiom that through service you lead. Relying upon the Lord’s example, you learn to properly navigate through all of the “stuff” that settles down at the bottom. By walking in and being led by the Spirit of God, all of the junk does not seem to affect or influence you as much as might have previously. As you grow in faith and maturity, your leadership abilities that manifest are closer to those of the Messiah Himself. Humiliation and insults do not hurt as much as they once did, as you recognize the supreme sacrifice of the Son of God—who endured the agony of the cross so that we all might be saved (Philippians 2:8)!


NOTES

[1] Consult the author’s reflections on the Ten Commandments, compiled for the Ten Days of Awe between Yom Teruah/Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, in the Messianic Fall Holiday Helper by Messianic Apologetics.

Also consult the relevant chapters on the Ten Commandments appearing in Torah In the Balance, Volume I by J.K. McKee.

[2] BDB, 299.

[3] Carl Philip Weber, “ḥayil,” in TWOT, 1:271.

[4] BDB, 54.

[5] LS, 641.

[6] Grk. pistou logou.

[7] BDB, 130.

[8] “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit [betza] is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood’?” (Genesis 37:26).

[9] For further examination on the instructions regarding leaders in 1 Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:5-9, and some of the situation-specific circumstances in Ephesus and Crete, consult the article “The Message of the Pastoral Epistles” and the commentary The Pastoral Epistles for the Practical Messianic by J.K. McKee.