Is God’s Name Really a Name?

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I will unquestionably be opening a can of worms with this post, so to all reading this (or watching the video) I ask that you please do not shout back at the monitor or bang your fist on the table shouting “NO! NO! NO!” until the end.

I think this will blow a lot of people’s minds. I know it did mine.

Let’s start with the simple question: What is a “name?”  When I searched on line for an answer, it said, “a word or set of words by which a person, animal, place, or thing is known, addressed, or referred to.”

In the ancient days, many names were more than just a means of identifying someone. Some of the names were almost prophetic in that they described who the person was. Jedidiah is someone beloved by God; Joshua is God’s salvation; Abraham is father of multitudes; Emmanuel means God is with us.  These names didn’t just identify the person but also indicated what we should expect from them during their lifetime.

What about God’s name? There are many names that are used to identify God: God (of course), El, Yah, Shadai, and the Holy Name that is called the Tetragrammaton (I will use the term ‘Tetra” in this discussion just to make it easier to type) which is Y-H-V-H, or also shown as Y-H-W-H.

Most people believe this is God’s Holy Name, the very one he told Moses to use when Moses asked to know what name to tell the people in Exodus 3:13-15. But they are wrong! This is what God told Moses:

Then Moses asked God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What should I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also told Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.…  (Berean Study Bible) 

So God didn’t give a specific name, he gave a description of who he is when he told Moses to say “I am has sent me to you.”

I have looked in the JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh (one of the most respected interpretations of the Tanakh today), my Chumash (The Pentateuch and Haftorahs) edited by Dr. Hertz (Soncino Edition) and also my Tikkun.

NOTE: For those who may not be familiar with the Tikkun, it is a book of the Torah scroll with the Torah Hebrew (a very different font of Hebrew), the modern Hebrew with vowel points and the English translation with commentary of the scriptures. It is used for preparation of chanting the Torah when reading the weekly parashah.

In every one of these highly authentic Jewish volumes, the word used for God in this passage is Elohim (generally meaning is “God is judge”) and he doesn’t use the Y-H-V-H anywhere in this passage. What is used is: אה’ה אשר אה’ה, which means “I am who I am.”

So, nu?  What’s this mean? It means that the Tetra is not the name God gave to Moses to identify who he is to the children of Israel. So now we have to ask, “Where did the Tetra come from?”

It was first used in Genesis 2:4. The very first appearance of the Tetra in the Torah is right after God finished making the earth, in the second half of verse 2:4. The Hebrew says: ב’ומ עשות ‘הוה אלה’מ which in English is translated as ‘When the Lord God..”, which tells us the Tetra is translated from the Torah as “Lord.” The word we use for the Tetra in Judaism is “Adonai”, which means “Lord.”

The Tikkun explains what the Tetra means: it is really an acronym. Each of the letters represent a word, and those words are (I will transliterate): Hah-yah  Ho-veh  veh-yee-yeh, which means “He was, he is and he will be.”

So after all the hullabaloo about the correct spelling of God’s name and how it should be pronounced, we find out that what we have always thought to be God’s Holy Name isn’t really a name! It is an acronym for words that describe the eternal nature of God.

And that fits with God’s command to Moses in front of the burning bush that the name he gave to Moses is how he should be remembered in every generation.  God was not giving Moses a name we should use to call him but how we should remember and refer to him. Remember at the beginning the definition of a name can also mean how we refer to someone? God doesn’t want us to have a specific name for him, he wants us to refer to him for who and what he is. He is our eternal Lord. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And that is what he told Moses he wants us to call him.

People are given a name we can call them during their lifetime, but because God has no lifetime he is known only by his eternal nature.

He is and he was and he shall be: that is what the Tetra means. It is not a name as we define what a name is, it is a memorial to remind us that God is eternal.

And from the very first time we see the Tetra in the Torah it is interpreted as “Lord”, who are we to change it?

So where do we go from here? I suspect that those who absolutely must use the Tetra and pronounce it as they believe it should be pronounced will continue to do so. I hope at least some will reconsider their understanding and verify what I have said here. And there may be some who will start to use “Lord” or “Adonai” as we Jews have been doing forever.

Others may just wander around the house muttering to themselves, “What should I believe? What is right? Who can I trust?”

I can answer that last one: trust God and trust his word. Trust that the interpretation Jews have been using for thousands of years is more dependable (and probably more accurate) than the one many Gentile’s just now learning about God and Yeshua are using.

And always, always, ALWAYS go to the Jewish versions of the Torah and Tanakh (Old Covenant) to see what the Hebrew says. The Torah is absolutely dependable to be the exact same way it is today as it was when it was first written. If you knew all the different ways the Torah is verified when a new one is written you would be able to trust that it is absolutely dependable. The Hebrew, that is- the interpretations are subject to individual bios and predetermined understanding.

I have been reading and studying the bible for over 20 years and after all this time I just now learned that what I have always known to be the Holy Name of God isn’t a name at all. OY! I just love the exciting and new things we learn from God’s word when we really look at it.

What Constitutes Using God’s Name in Vain?

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Just about everyone who knows anything about God has heard it said that we must not use the name of the Lord in vain. This is the 3rd commandment given by God on Mount Sinai.

But what does it really mean, to not take the name of the Lord in vain?

I have looked through “Strong’s Concordance”, the “JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh”, my Soncino edition of the Chumash, and the “Complete Jewish Bible” to find an answer. What I found were, from these different sources, all different versions. And when this commandment is repeated later in Deuteronomy the Hebrew is identical but the English interpretation was a little bit different.

I “Googled” the term “in vain” and this is what I got:

Vain is from Latin vanus “empty,” and in English it originally meant “lacking value or effect, futile”; we still say “a vain attempt” using that sense, and the phrase “in vain” means “without success.” Normally, though, vain means “conceited, too proud of oneself.”

There is an additional part of this commandment which (apparently) doesn’t get as much attention; God further states that he will not hold anyone taking his name in vain guiltless. Clearly, God doesn’t take this lightly.

Lightly….that is the way the JPS Tanakh interpreted the commandment. In other words, don’t just throw God’s name around like it doesn’t mean anything. Don’t use it in an oath, don’t use it as a way to demonstrate importance and don;t use it flippantly.

The Chumash states that this commandment deals with oaths and vows, in that we shouldn’t use God’s name for vanity or falsehood. His name must not be used to testify to anything that is untrue or empty or in a manner that renders it useless by joining it with anything that is insincere or unimportant.

The rabbinical tradition states the name of the Lord is not to be used or uttered unnecessarily in common conversation. The only valid use of God’s name is when taking an oath in a court of law.

God’s name is the Tetragrammaton, the four letters that are printed in the Torah that God first gave to Moses. Those letters are Y-H-V-H (Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh) and Jews pronounce it as Adonai, which means “Lord.” There are no vowels in Hebrew so we don’t know how it was originally pronounced, but that is God’s Holy Name, his “first name” (if you will) and the one that definitely is the one he means when he gave the third commandment.

We use the term God, but that isn’t really a name- it is a descriptive label. Lord, HaShem, Adonai, Father, Creator…all these “names” for God are really labels, in a way- they are what he is and what he does, but they aren’t his name. If we use any of those in a false oath or a lie, we are still violating the third commandment.

I see all too often God’s Holy Name, the 4-letters, being used left and right, being plastered on someone’s Face Book page, and being pronounced in (at least) 5 different ways, each person adamant that they are saying it correctly. Not to sound bigoted, but the ones using God’s name are, overwhelmingly, Gentiles. And in my opinion people who constantly use God’s name are being disrespectful to God. No Jewish person would think of using the Tetragrammaton as a Face Book avatar, or in a banner for a discussion group, or in conversation.

I understand that Gentiles have grown up using God’s name and calling on Jesus constantly, in everything they do, in their prayers, as an expletive, and as a means of getting someone’s attention in a conversation. Since most of the Torah is ignored by the Christian world, this commandment is often known but not obeyed. I understand that is how they were brought up, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. Not to God.

The name of the Lord is to be respected and used only when absolutely necessary, as in making a sincere oath or when swearing to a truth in a court of law. That is what Jews have done since God told us not to use it vainly.

Let’s not forget that using something vainly also infers a conceited attitude. I have seen, way too often, arguments by people who are using God’s holy name as a means of showing off how much they know. They argue that their years of study justify their pronunciation and they flagrantly announce God’s name every chance they get. They are using God’s name to show how much they know, with no respect for the name or who’s name it is. That is the ultimate “use in vain” as far as I’m concerned.

One of the great methods for preventing sin that the Rabbis have created is called placing fences around the law. To prevent trespassing (violating) the law they put a “fence” around it. For instance, to make sure we do not to boil a calf in its mother’s milk (Lev. 11) we will not boil any calf in milk at all (first fence.) But that may not be enough, so let’s not have meat and dairy together (second fence.) A fence around the fence around the fence around the law. It is a good way to prevent accidentally violating the commandments, but the downside is that it is also a snowball rolling downhill, and the good idea became a terrible burden on the people, which is the argument Yeshua had when he talked against the traditions of the Pharisees. Traditions are not bad, but the ones that add to God’s laws so much they become an additional burden, are.

To those that are thinking about Joel 2:32, or Romans 10:13, or 1 Cor.1:2, or whatever other verse you find that tells us we should “call on the name of the Lord” it doesn’t mean we are commanded to use the Tetragrammaton. To “call on the name of the Lord” does NOT mean that we are to use his actual name, the Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh: it means to ask him for something, to open our hearts to him and approach him with a humble and contrite spirit in repentance. It is more of a metaphor than a commandment, and it is not justification for using the holy name of God.

I will never try to pronounce the Tetragrammaton. I respect the Lord too much to try to get on a “first name” basis with him. The tradition not to use the holy name of God that Jews have followed for millennia is, for me, a really good one. It is not burdensome and is (in fact) an excellent way to avoid accidentally violating the Third Commandment. I think that if you also do not ever write, use or pronounce God’s holy name you will be blessed.

Try it- what could it hoit?

Parashah Yayyechi 2017 (and he lived) Genesis 47:28 – 50:26)

This week we come to the end of the book of Genesis.

Jacob blesses Joseph’s children, and adopts them. He later blesses each of the 12 Tribes, then acob dies. The book ends with Joseph’s death and his request to make sure his bones are brought back to the Land when the children of Israel return.

When Jacob blesses Judah, we have a messianic prophecy of the coming of Yeshua…or do we? Where as Christianity sees this as a messianic prophecy, Judaism rejects it as such,,,but why?

Special Reading for Sukkot- Chol Hamoed (Weekday of the Festival) Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

This reading is from the parashah Ki Thissa, and recounts Moses asking God to stay with the Israelites as they travel through the desert. Moses also asks God to show His Glory, which God agrees to do but Moses can only see His back as He passes by. God tells him He will put him in a cleft of a rock and cover Moses’ face as He passes because no one can see God’s face. As God passes He declares (what in Judaism is called) the “13 Attributes of God’s Nature” to Moses, and (consequently) to us. The reading ends with God reiterating commandments regarding idolatry, ransom of the first-born, not allowing intermixing with other cultures, the Shabbat, the festivals of Shavuot, Bikkurim (First Fruits) and Sukkot and certain Kashrut (Kosher) laws.

The way Moses prayed when he asked God to forgive the sins of the people is one of the most identifying aspects of Jewish prayer: we pray communally, not individually. Moses certainly was not one of the sinful, rebellious types that were rampant within the million or so Israelites he was leading, but yet when he asked God to forgive the sins that they (not him, but they) committed, he included himself with them. Jewish prayer is communal, we know that in God’s eyes we are one entity, one nation, one people, and when one of us sins we are all covered with that sin. It is one of the things that is really unique about the Jewish relationship with God. This is not meant as an attack or accusation, but most every Christian prayer I have ever heard is on an individual relationship with God; it is a one-to-one, personal relationship that doesn’t include anyone else, take responsibility for anyone else, or even acknowledge anyone else as part of that relationship. When a Christian prays for forgiveness it is only for themself.

In Judaism we pray differently. Yes, we ask God for forgiveness of our own sins, but we also always take responsibility for the sins of the nation. On Yom Kippur we recite the Ashamnu prayer which translates as “We are guilty”; the prayer “Act for the Sake of” ends with asking God to act for His sake if not “our” sake; the Al Het (All Sins) prayer is a recitation of every sin you could ever think of, and we ask for forgiveness of each one, but (as I said) it is not “For the sin I committed in Your sight”, but it is “For the sin WE committed in Your sight”, and what is repeated throughout this prayer is:

ועל כלמ, אלוה סליחות, סלח לנו, מחל לנו, כפר-לנן  (Forgive us all sins, O God of forgiveness, and cleanse us.)

Jewish prayer and relationship with God goes way beyond just “You-and-me.” And even though we pray as a nation, we still have a personal relationship with God: being one people doesn’t mean we aren’t each uniquely loved and known by God.

After Moses has interceded for the people and gained God’s forgiveness, God hides Moses in the rock cleft and passes by announcing His 13 attributes (these definitions are from my Chumash):

1. and 2.- The Lord, the Lord. The Rabbis interpret this as meaning God is the same before we sin, and the same after we sin, indicating that change must be from the sinner’s heart because God is the same all the time;

3. God– the allmighty Lord of the Universe;

4. Merciful– full of affectionate sympathy for the sufferings and miseries of human frailty;

5. Gracious– assisting, helping, consoling the afflicted and raising up the oppressed. In Man these attributes are temporary but with God they are inherently eternal.

6. Long-suffering– slow to anger and not rushing to punish the sinner but affording opportunities for the sinner to retrace his evil courses;

7. Abundant in goodness– plentiful in mercy and blessing beyond what Man deserves;

8. Truth– eternally true to himself pursuing His plans for the salvation of mankind and rewarding those who are obedient to His will;

We need to take note that the Hebrew used here is “v’rav chesed v’emet“: loving-kindness (rav chesed) comes before truth (emet), indicating that we are always to tell the truth, but to tell it in love.  We see this message often in Yeshua’s teachings and the Epistles of the New Covenant…Gee, I wonder where they got it from?

9. Keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation– remembering the good deeds of our ancestors and reserving reward to their descendants;

10. Forgiving iniquity– bearing with indulgence the failings of Man;

11. (forgiving) Transgression– deeds that spring from malice and rebellion against God;

12. (forgiving) Sin– the shortcomings of Man due to heedlessness and error; and

13. Will by no means clear the guilty– no matter how willing or how strongly God desires to forgive us our sins, He is also holy and will not allow the impenitent to go unpunished.

 

So nu…  there you have it! You want to know God? Here He is. This is what God wants us to know about Him, and for me that is all I need to know about Him. I think the most important attributes we human beings (and especially worshipers of God) need to remember above all are long suffering and willingness to forgive. The old saying, “To err is human; to forgive, Divine.” is absolutely in line with Torah.

We are to imitate God, but (of course) we can’t imitate God- He is eternal, spirit, holy and ineffable. But we can imitate some of His attributes, such as His forgiveness, His charity, His love for others, His desire to help the needy and to prosecute the guilty. Love of righteousness and hatred of evil: these things we can imitate, and I believe God wants us to do exactly that- imitate those of His attributes which we can imitate!

God gave us this “To Do” list, so let’s get to work on it.

 

Parashah Shemot (the Names) Exodus 1 -1 6:1

Wow. That’s about all there is to say when reading this parasha; in fact, when reading the next couple of parashot. Wow!

The seeds of the Nation of Israel have been planted in Goshen, seventy souls, and they begin to multiply. Joseph dies, and so, too, the generation of Joseph’s brothers. Later a new ruler, one of ancient Egyptian heritage (the Pharaoh who showed such kindness to Joseph was of the Hyksos and they were replaced by previously ousted Egyptians) is fearful of the multitude of Israelites, so he makes them slaves. As a way to maintain their numbers, he orders the death of the male children but the midwives refuse to do so and make excuses why they can’t get there in time to kill the children. The Israelites continue to prosper, despite the hard labor they are under.

One day a child is born who is kept aside, hidden for three months, then released to God’s care in a basket floating down the river Nile. His sister, Miryam, follows in the reeds (extremely dangerous when you consider that the Nile Crocodile, which can grow to 20 feet or more, likes to sunbathe in the reeds) and when a daughter of the Pharaoh finds the child and shows compassion, Miryam offers to get a Hebrew woman to nurse him. So, Moshe (Moses) is nursed by his own mother for years, and when he is returned to the daughter of Pharaoh he is old enough to have learned of his true heritage, which he remembers during his years under Egyptian study and while living in the Palace.

Moshe as an adult sees an Egyptian TaskMaster beating a Hebrew and in a fit of anger, kills the Egyptian, thinking no one will ever know. But he is discovered, and flees for his life. Living in Midian he takes a wife and becomes a shepherd. He has a son and when he is 80 years old, he sees the burning bush and receives his calling from God.

He didn’t take to it right away, but Moshe does go to Egypt and God has his older brother, Aaron, also go with him. Moshe asks Pharaoh to release the children of Israel. Pharaoh refuses, and to show even more disregard for the people and their God, he orders that they maintain their daily quota of bricks but refuses to give them the straw needed, forcing them to take what little time they have to themselves and use it to gather the straw they need.  The people, understandably, were not too happy with Moshe and Aaron, and this parashah ends with Moshe asking God why He has made things even worse than before when He said He would free the people.

There is a small part of this I want to talk about today- it is in Chapter 3, verses 21 and 22. Here is what the Chumash has:

“And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians. And it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty: (22) but every woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment; and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians. (Italics added)”

In Deuteronomy 15:12 we are told that when a faithful servant leaves the master that the servant is to be equipped liberally by the master. Therefore, God is saying that the parting from the Egyptian peoples, not the royalty, but the people, should be friendly and compassionate.

Most interpretations are that the despoiling of the Egyptians is thought to be the overdue compensation for centuries of unpaid labor, and there is certainly some validity to that interpretation. However, we are told in Deuteronomy 23:8 that we “shall not abhor an Egyptian.” The hebrew word often translated as “spoil”, נצל , is found 212 times in the Tanakh, and in 210 of those times it is translated as to snatch from danger, to save. The Chumash, therefore, says the proper translation of the end of verse 22 in this chapter is to save the Egyptians, not despoil them. The fact that the children are to be the ones wearing these ornaments and jewels demonstrates that this is an act to be remembered throughout the generations.

I was amazed when I read this, and I believe this is a hermeneutically proper usage of the word “נצל” because God is a God of forgiveness and compassion, and even though there is a very strong argument that the Israelites were due compensation for their labors, it is more important to forgive and reconcile than to revenge and repay. The Israelites were going to save the Egyptians by asking them to provide their former slaves with gifts as they leave their service. How does this “save” the Egyptians? By letting them send away the Israelites with good feelings, with a clean slate, so to speak, and by letting the Israelites have the reminders of the generosity of the Egyptian people so that they will know it was the Pharaoh, not the people, who persecuted the Hebrews.

Saying that the Hebrews despoiled Egypt is to me an anti-Egyptian (if you will) interpretation, no different than the underlying anti-Semitic interpretation of the New Covenant writings, in which it sounds like the entire Jewish nation rejected and hated Yeshua, when in truth the people loved, listened to and followed Him. There were probably tens of thousands of followers of Yeshua at the time of His death and after His resurrection, yet the interpretations of the New Covenant books and letters make it sound like the entire nation wanted Him dead. It was only the political powers that were against Yeshua, not the people, not “the Jews”. It was the leaders, not the led.

This was true of the persecution of the Jewish people under Pharaoh during the time of Moses, and it was true of the persecution of the new Believers, the Messianic Jews, in Jerusalem during the first and second centuries.

Throughout the bible we see how the people suffered as a result of the sins of their leaders, we see this in the (subliminal) anti-Semitic teachings in the Christian world where so many Christians have been taught that Torah is invalid and doesn’t apply to them. Today, thank God, many Christians are becoming more aware of the fact that their Jewish roots are still valid, that Torah is still valid, and that it is not true that Yeshua died a Jew and then was resurrected as a Christian. The Epistles of Shaul are not polemics against the Torah, but apologetics for it. Yes, things will change, but the word of God does not change. Yeshua said that the world will pass away but His words will never pass away (Mark 13:31), and all of His words were in keeping with the Torah. More recently, we have had world wars, terrorism, James Jones, Charles Manson, etc.  People suffering for the sins of their leaders.

What this passage reminds us is this: leaders don’t always speak for the people. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? I mean, if that’s true then we elect people based on what they say they stand for and what they will do, but that doesn’t mean when they are in power they will keep their word. Oh, really? Duh!!

We have to be the leaders, not them. For a government, or for that matter, a company, an organization, even a sports team, to be true to it’s standards, the leadership must be subject to the people, not the other way around.

Gee, doesn’t that sound familiar? Didn’t Yeshua say as much when He told His Talmudim:

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,…”   Mattitayu 20:26

The government in Moses’ day was hereditary; the government in Yeshua’s day was comprised of appointed leaders by a despotic ruler, and the legal leadership (Sanhedria) were mostly political “hacks” appointed by Herod and not true Levites. Today, we have elected officials.

But, when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter if the ones in charge are there by heredity, by appointment, by election or by military coup: the leaders must be subject to the led. The organization, whether political or social or laic, must be an inverted triangle.

That is what God wants, that is how the bible shows us we should be organized. If you are in a position of leadership, you should lead by being an example, not an exception. You must lead by taking care of your people, with compassionate guidance, and by taking the responsibility for what happens. Rulership sucks- you have to do what the people want, and when that happens and something goes wrong, you have to take the responsibility for it. It’s essentially a “lose-lose”or a “win-win”: there is no middle ground.

We are beginning a new year today- although I think it is silly to teach that this is the time for making resolutions to change for the better. We shouldn’t make that an annual thing, it should be a daily thing. In any event, today’s lesson from the Word of God should encourage us to be both more understanding of those in leadership positions, and more attentive to what they do. We need to make sure that our leaders do what they said they would do, and that they be held accountable. The truth is that we, the people, are the leaders and the “leaders” we place in charge of us are just there to help facilitate things. But it’s our responsibility to make sure they do as we expect, and if they don’t, it’s our responsibility to place someone there who will.

I also confess I am as much to blame for this as anyone- I don’t follow politics much at all. I need to change, too.

I guaranty that if we start to successfully impeach and/or vote out of office those government officials who don’t do as we want, the ones that are there will realize their greatest shield against losing their job, which is our apathy, is no longer effective. And the ones we vote in will know they got there because their predecessor didn’t do what he or she was supposed to do and if they don’t, they will be out on their tuchas, too!

I am not preaching anarchy, I am preaching responsibility. As I said, we see throughout history how the people suffer for their government’s actions. If that is to be the case, then we should (at least) make sure those actions are what we want them to be.

God wanted the Egyptians to have the opportunity to be absolved of the horrible things their leaders did. The people certainly suffered much before the Jewish nation was set free, and to ask for gifts upon leaving the service, and to have the Egyptian people give those gifts willingly and generously, did save the people from the wrongdoing of their leaders.

Don’t accept what your government, corporate or (especially) religious leaders tell you without carefully reviewing and justifying the validity of what they say. Too often, for too long, people have been misled by the leaders they trust, so always make sure that you are aware of what you are being told.

Ultimately, it’s your butt on the line so you better make sure the ones you expect to keep it safe are doing their job.

Parashah Tetzaveh (Command) Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

This parashah describes the way the priestly robes are to be manufactured, and the process for the anointment and consecration of the priests (Aaron and his sons), as well as the rules for their share of the sacrifice, and about the incense.

In the description of the breastplate, the Urim and Thummim are mentioned. According to the Chumash (Soncino Edition) the words are translated as “The Lights and the Perfections”, possibly to imply “perfect lights.”  There is still to this day the question of just what the Urim and Thummim were: were they a kind of dice, or is it a term for the breastplate, being one and the same with the precious gems?

They are mentioned also in Leviticus, Numbers and 1 Samuel. But after the reign of David they are no longer being used for determining God’s will; in fact, they aren’t mentioned at all.

So what were they? I would like to submit that what they are is less important than what they represent, which is the need to ask for God’s opinion and judgement on important matters. We know that whatever the Urim and Thummim were, when important matters of state or judgement was needed this “thing” was used to determine God’s will. In Joshua, after the failure to attack Ai, God commanded Joshua to call forth all the families and draw lots to determine the person at fault for the sin Israel committed. We read in other places about the use of lots to determine the outcome, always with the underlying understanding that it is God who is making the lot come out as it should. This could have been the Urim and Thummim.

In the “real” world, we “know” that the use of dice or some other form of determining a result from a random process is all luck and statistics-with each throw of the dice you have a 1 in 12 chance of a certain number coming up. It’s just dumb luck.

That doesn’t explain why the lots used in the Bible were always accurate. The party that was chosen never said, “It’s not me- I didn’t do it! Throw those dice again.” No, indeed- those chosen by lot confessed. If you knew that you were going to be killed because of the results of the Urim and Thummim, wouldn’t you lie through your teeth to prevent it?

I don’t think it is important to know what the Urim and Thummim were because the point is that they were used to ask for God’s guidance before taking action. That is what we need to remember. And that is, I believe, why we don’t hear about them after the days of David. What happened after David’s rule? The kingdom split in two, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Shomron) began a long and ugly degradation of it’s worship, immediately prostituting itself to the Semitic gods of the area and eventually being destroyed by God. The Southern Kingdom of Judah did the same, although it was a longer decline due to a number of righteous kings, but in the end they also were destroyed by God. Not totally, like the Northern tribes, but it was devastating and lasted from about 750 BCE up to the 1950’s.  Not once during this time do we hear of anyone consulting the Urim and Thummim: it is like America today. First we took God out of the schools (1962 Supreme Court decision from a New York suit) and then in 2003 they removed the monument to the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Courthouse, taking God out of our system of judgements.

The use of the Urim and the Thummim remind us more than just that we need to ask God for His guidance in (not just) important matters, but it also reminds us that God is in charge, that what might seem to be a random chance event may be God determining the actions of men, all designed to accomplish His will. No one will be able to accept this unless they faithfully believe God is in charge. However, when we leave God out of our decisions, when we ignore His will, and when we tell Him, basically, to “mind His own business”, He will do just that. He will not keep us in His will, He will not influence our outcomes, and He will leave us to our own devices.

Not a good idea. We are totally incompetent, self-centered and foolish. I like to say the ultimate proof that God exists is to look at the history of Mankind: if there wasn’t a compassionate, all-powerful and protective God watching over us, how could we have possibly survived this long?

We must look to God for guidance in everything we do. We must trust that He is not just willing to help us, but is (in every way) able to guide us away from sin and self-destruction towards righteousness and everlasting life. He tells us throughout the Tanakh that He gets no pleasure from people dying in their sin, but wants us all to do T’Shuvah, and live. The Urim and Thummim were more than just a method for determining His will, they represent the understanding and acceptance that God is in charge, that God is willing to help, and that God wants us to ask Him for guidance. So much so, that He even provided the means to ask Him.

I am not suggesting that you carry a pair of dice or a “lucky” coin and toss them every time you need to make a decision. What I am saying is that we need to seek God’s guidance in everything we do. Heck, maybe tossing a silver dollar and leaving it up to God to determine the course of action we should take isn’t such a bad idea, after all. It worked for the Patriarchs, it worked for Joshua, who knows? Maybe it will work for you?

Whichever way you want to seek God’s will in your life is not as important as the fact that you do seek His will before you make important decisions. As a Believer, as a country, and as a people we need to seek the Lord’s will and guidance in what we do. And this needs to be done at all levels, from the lowest to the highest, because the highest human level is still way, way, way below God. Way below!

By the way, asking God for guidance is no excuse to do nothing and blame God for not answering you. We are to seek His guidance, and we are to walk in faith. The need for action was already determined when the Urim and Thummim were consulted, so do not use asking God’s guidance and waiting for an answer as an excuse to sit on your tuchas and do nothing.

Ask and He will answer, walk in faith and He will guide you.

Parashah Mikketz (It came to pass) Genesis 41 – 44:17

The famous, prophetic dream that Pharaoh had is revealed in this parashah. The cows and the corn, the 7 years of abundance to be followed by the same number of years of terrible famine.

Famine was not uncommon in the Middle East; Abraham saw famine, Yitzchak saw famine, Ahab saw famine (and no rain, too, for 3 years) and even in modern times there was the famous famine that was world wide from 1920 -1924.

I believe God is in charge of everything, and also that sometimes things just happen. Just because God can make everything run the way He wants it to run, that doesn’t mean He does. In the case of today’s Parashah, though, I would like to offer my reason to believe why this particular famine was directed by God: simply because it served so many of God’s purposes, some of which He had already told us about.

When this parashah takes place, the “nation” of Israel numbered about 70, give or take children and in-laws. God promised them to become a great nation. We know that they already were pretty awesome in the eyes of their immediate neighbors, assuming that with their slaves and such they were somewhat formidable to a small town or village, but to be considered a nation as we define one, they weren’t there by any stretch of the imagination. And they were living in a world where the strong took what they wanted. They were exposed on all sides to any number of aggressive enemies.

At this same time we have Joseph in jail. He has been there for nearly 12 years already, forgotten by the Cupbearer and not likely to be remembered any time soon.

God’s plan had to get Joseph out of jail, Israel and his entire family out of constant threat of annihilation, and the children of Israel into a place where they can grow from a large family into a nation, safely and securely.

I can just see the Lord, sitting on His throne, stroking his beard of snow-white wool, asking Himself, “What to do? What to do? AHA!!! A famine. Oh, yes, I love a good famine! And dreams- that’s the ticket! Let’s give Pharaoh two dreams- that’ll rattle his bones, and then we can get this show on the road.”

So now the plan starts to take shape. Pharaoh’s dreams are directly from God, so only a man of God can interpret them. The magicians have no chance, and the confusion and concern awakens the Cupbearer to his own negligence of forgetting Joseph, which he quickly admits to Pharaoh. Now, after God has given Joseph the insight he needed to impress Pharaoh and give God’s plan some more momentum, Joseph is in the position God needs him to be in to have the ability to call his family down to Egypt.

Not letting sin go unpunished, God provides also the opportunity for Joseph to have his brothers suffer recompense for the sin they committed against him, which was merciful when you consider that their punishment and suffering was an emotional one whereas Joseph suffered physically. Yet, through God’s design Joseph is out of jail, the seed of the nation of Israel is planted in good soil, protected by the most powerful nation in the known world, and watered with the kindness that Pharaoh showed to Joseph and that Joseph had for his brothers.

That’s how God did it. He designed the famine to bring Joseph to power, Israel to Egypt, the nation to fruition. And later, in Sh’mot (Exodus) we see God’s plan for the nation to receive the promised land fulfilled, as well. In this Parashah we see the promise to Abraham that his descendants will be many and they will suffer for 400 years in slavery being fulfilled before our eyes.

If there is one thing we can learn from the Bible, it is that God’s plans will always come to be. What God wants done, will get done, and what God says He will do, is so absolutely trustworthy that His prophecy is already history.  We can trust God absolutely, without reservation, and that trust is necessary to strengthen our faith. Faith is believing in what we cannot see or prove, but we have trust in what we know. Faith is given and trust is earned. God has demonstrated, historically, that His word is true and dependable. The science of archeology has shown us that the Bible is, if nothing else, historically accurate. That’s enough to earn our trust that the stories are true. It is through this trust of the accuracy of the historical events that we can justify (at least, initially, in our walk with God) our faith to believe those events were by Divine design. Once we take that leap of faith and accept God is in charge, that Yeshua is the Messiah, and (finally) take that most important step- decide to live our life a slave to God and not a slave to sin (for, as Yeshua said, we are all slaves to something)- then we can ask for (and know we have received) forgiveness through Yeshua’s sacrificial death. We can also request and receive the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and begin our walk with God. After that your faith will grow in leaps and bounds if you continue to be fertile soil for the seed of the Word being sown within you.

I have said that God will never give us “scientific proof” of His existence because it is through faith we are saved, and scientific proof (meaning that the event can be reproduced at will) is the antithesis of faith. But once you are faithful, and you prove to God your T’Shuvah, He will absolutely let you feel His presence, see His goodness, and He will reveal Himself to you in so many different ways that you will have unquestionable proof He exists; thus, your hope for salvation will be confirmed and you will know that it will really happen. He will let you know Him, intimately, and you will experience His love. As you continue to grow in spiritual maturity, you will know more and more His trustworthiness and see His awesome power and compassion in your life, and in the lives of others.

God is in charge: whatever happens, whether designed by Him or simply allowed to run it’s own course by Him, is by His will and by His power. Trust in the deeds, have faith in the promises, and be secure in the hope of eternal joy and peace you will have once this world is no more.

Parashah Vayetze (He went out) Genesis 28:10-32:2

There is always, when we refer to the Word of God, just so much in here.

We could talk about God’s repetition of His covenant: first to Abraham, then to Yitzchak, and now this third time to Jacob. This was the last time (that I can recall) God repeated this covenant directly to anyone. Jacob is the last of the Patriarchs. In all our prayers that reference the Patriarchs it is always, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There must be something in that.

We also have a lesson about the need to live honest lives and receiving retribution, in that we reap what we sow. We see this in how Jacob fooled his father to gain the blessing, then Laban fooled Jacob to gain more of his servitude, then Rachel fooled Laban to get the family gods. There is a lot for us to learn about human nature and how God intervenes to use our nature to fulfill His plans.

The thing that struck me, and what I would like to talk about today, is Genesis 28:16. Right from the start of this Parashah I sensed a message in what Jacob said when he awoke from his dream about that place being a house of God, and he wasn’t aware of it.

The Soncino version of the Chumash has a footnote about this, which states popular belief is that the presence of God was restricted only to particular, or sacred, places. Many people still see the church, synagogue or some place of worship as a holy location, more sacred than the home, or some “normal” place.

We see this here, and we see it also when Naaman was cured of leprosy by Elisha (well, actually by God through Elisha) in 2 Kings. Naaman takes soil from the land to bring back to Aram so that he can worship the God of Israel. He assumes the dirt is especially holy, placing a geographical restriction to God’s abilities and presence. I think it is still a practice of people making a trip to Israel to bring back some of the dirt of the Land.

God is not restricted to geography. He is everywhere, all the time. I read once the Rabbi’s of old used to say that God could not “go down” to a place or “go up” from somewhere because He was already there.

I have known Conservative Jews who are Kosher in their homes, but at Denny’s will go for the bacon lover’s special. I know other people who say they worship God but ignore those laws they don’t want to follow, explaining that they are no longer valid for one reason or another.

Hypocrites! Liars! Faithless and foolish people.

Don’t get me wrong, in that I think I am an example of righteousness- oh no! I do not follow every commandment, either. I try to follow them, and there are some, I confess, I do not want to follow. I know this, and the difference between me confessing I sin voluntarily and those I am talking about above is that I acknowledge the laws are just and right and I am the one who is wrong and sinful. These people do not confess their weaknesses or their sin; what they do is attack God’s laws as old and no longer valid in today’s world, or unjust, or misogynistic, or unfair to certain types of people. Or worse!- they say Yeshua did away with “the Law.”

They do not say they are in the wrong for failing to obey God, but instead declare that God is in the wrong for asking them to do these things! Oy!! What a bunch of  meshuganahs!

Jacob demonstrated that age-old idea that God is not omniscient when he thought he was in a uniquely holy place after awaking from his dream. God is everywhere, all the time; He always has been and always will be. He is right here, within arm’s length. Just reach out to Him; His hand is always open and reaching out to you. You don’t need to go to a building to get close to God. You don’t need to travel to Ha Eretz (the Land) to be close to God. All you need to do is acknowledge Him, reach out to Him, and be willing to be led by Him, through the Ruach (spirit) we receive that indwells after we have acknowledged and received the Messiah He sent, Yeshua.

I do not like and have no patience for the hypocrites who blame God for their lack of faith. I say lack of faith because disobedience is a symptom of faithlessness, just as obedience is sign of faithfulness. Remember that Yeshua said if His Disciples loved Him then they would obey Him. After we sing the Sh’ma in services we repeat the Ve’ahavta, which tells us we should love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, all our soul and all our might. It is in Deuteronomy 6 and in Numbers, as well, Go find it and see for yourself.

God is everywhere, and if you profess to worship Him then when you fail to do what he says, please don’t be a hypocrite and blame Him for your failure. When we sin, we need to confess it. I believe, after worshiping God for nearly 19 years, and reading the Bible dozens of times, and training to be a Messianic Minister, that God would prefer an honest confession of my failure to obey any one of His commandments, then to hear me rationalize my failure by blaming His laws to be outdated or unfair.  King David said, in Psalm 51, that a contrite heart God will not turn away. A prideful and arrogant heart will not provide a pathway to forgiveness, and will separate us from the salvation that God has provided.

The Enemy convinced Eve (and through her, Adam) to sin by saying that God’s law was unfair. He taught them how to rationalize God’s commandment to fit their desires. Let this be a warning to you: if you are being taught any commandments are outdated or unfair,  you know one thing absolutely- you know who the teacher is. I wouldn’t stay in that class if I were you.

God is everywhere, His laws (ALL His laws) are just as valid today as they were when He gave them to Moshe, and they are valid for all our generations- none have ever been changed. Even the laws regarding sacrifice are still valid, which is the very reason we can’t perform them- they are supposed to be done at the Temple and the Temple is not there anymore.

Do not listen to those who teach that any of God’s laws are invalid or don’t apply, or were done away with when Yeshua was risen. That is from the depth of Sheol and those teachings will not bring you closer to God but will serve the Enemy of God. Read the Bible, accept His sovereignty and His rule, and listen to Him.

Yeshua said we are all slaves to something; either to God or to sin. Choose your Boss wisely.