Why the Good Die Young (Maybe)

Billy Joel had a hit song with the title, “Only the good die young.” We have heard this phrase used many times over the years, and always wondered if it was based in truth. After consideration, I think it may be a valid conclusion.

If you prefer to watch a video, I am not doing one today. Please keep reading- this will be short.

The premise for my argument has a few “givens”:

  1. God has a plan for everyone;
  2. God has given each of us the talents and gifts to achieve his plan;
  3. God isn’t concerned with how others would feel if you were dead.

Working with these foundational premises, the idea that God wants us to achieve something for his glory means that, once we have achieved it, he will either give us a new job to do or “take us home.” Consequently, those who are godly early in life, and who perform wondrous activities for God’s glory, might just beat their own deadline, and as such get called to God sooner than what any human would consider being “fair.”

How many times have you heard or known of a young person who was so angelic he or she made everyone they met love them? Or maybe you have read about a child being killed in an accident and thinking, “How sad- taken away at such a young age. Why would God allow that?”

My point is that maybe, just maybe, God didn’t allow it but caused it. Maybe that young person, or that wonderful adult, had performed all that God wanted that person to perform, and as such their reward was to be with God?

Shaul (Paul) tells us in Philippians 1:21 that he would rather be dead:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have complete boldness, so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. So what shall I choose? 

Of course, he isn’t really saying he would rather die, but he certainly won’t be upset by it! He is living his life to perform God’s work, and when that work is done, he will be done, as well. God even tells Shaul that he has a job to do in Rome (Acts 23:11). And we know that once that job was done, that was it for Shaul. At least, that was it for this life.

So when you read or hear or know of someone who is a wonderful, godly person dying, don’t feel bad for them or think they were “cheated”- be glad for that person! It might be that they have fulfilled what God wanted them to do and now are receiving the reward they deserve. On the other hand, when you feel called to do something, don’t hesitate because you think that doing God’s will may kill you-you will be fine, and so will the ones left behind. And you may have more than one thing God wants you to do.

Shaul was a pretty smart fellow, and he knew it is better to be with God than on the earth; I believe he is right, don’t you?

Thank you for being here; I welcome any comments or questions (so long as you are nice) and if you like what you read, please share me out. Don’t forget to click on the SUBSCRIBE button in the right-hand margin.

Until our next time together, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

 

(Oy gevalt- now I am going to have the song in my head all day!)

Parashah Nitzavim 2018 (You are standing) Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30

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The previous parashah ended with the blessings and the curses, and this one continues from there. Moses advises the people that everyone listening to him is subject to this covenant and he then prophecies that when the people turn to their own desires and sin, all the curses will fall upon them and they will be a byword to the other nations, asking “Why has this happened?”, to which the answer will be because they rejected God and his commandments.  

But as with all prophecies of destruction for disobedience, Moses assures the people that once their hearts turn back to Adonai, no matter how far he has scattered them, he will bring them back to their own land and bless them. 

Moses ends with the decree that these laws are not too hard to do, and he offers them the options of live or die, blessings or curses, and the suggestion that they take the blessings.

My message today is regarding what Moses says about those that bless themselves in their heart (Deut. 29:18-20), meaning those that hear the word and purposefully disobey, thinking that because God promises to regather the people they will be selected with the others. Moses assures that person that this will not happen; indeed, the one who persists in indulging himself (or herself) in evil will certainly not be blessed or forgiven. That person will be cut off from the people and all the curses of the covenant will fall on his head. 

When I read this I thought of all those that have been taught that once they are saved, they are always saved. Shaul (Paul) refutes this in his letter to the Romans. In that letter he says (Romans 6:15-16):

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law, but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that when you offer yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey, whether you are slaves to sin leading to death, or to obedience leading to righteousness?

The sins we commit can be forgiven through the Messiah’s sacrifice, but that is only those sins we have committed to that point, i.e. to the exact moment we confess, repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name.  Whatever sins we commit after that are on our head until we repent of that sin and, again, ask for forgiveness. 

If we sin and continue to sin, without asking forgiveness, then we are- by definition- unrepentant. There is no doubt in my mind after reading the Bible over and over for 20 years and more that God will not forgive an unrepentant sinner, whether they know they are unrepentant or not.  We may feel sorrow in our heart for doing something wrong, but if we do not confess that wrongdoing and ask forgiveness, it is NOT automatically given. We need to have a contrite and humbled heart when we repent and ask forgiveness, but we need to do it all: heartache, repentance (T’shuvah), request for forgiveness (in Yeshua’s name.)  

I also thought of all those who have been taught that Yeshua did away with the law; all those poor souls who blindly follow the blind. Even if they think they are obeying God, they are not. And this is a form of blessing themselves in their heart and they WILL be held accountable. The covenant Moses made was not just with who was there, but those who were not there, as well (Deut. 29:13-14). In other words, this covenant is for all who claim to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Not just the Jews, but all people: those there at that time and those who are not there. 

What this means for you is that you need to make sure you read the entire Bible- Genesis through Revelation- and accept that if you worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob then you are also under this covenant. You may not like hearing that, you may want to argue (as if it will do you any good with God) that God didn’t mean Gentiles who accept Yeshua as their Messiah ( remember that Yeshua taught the Torah) or that Believers aren’t under the law but under Grace (remember what Shaul said to the Romans) or even that Yeshua did away with the law. 
Which is a total lie: Yeshua is the living Torah, the Word that became flesh so how could he have done away with himself? Duh! 

The Torah is still valid: God said these commandments were to be throughout all your generations. That means forever. And those that join themselves to God’s chosen people are not only able to enjoy all the rights of natural born Jews, but they are also subject to all the laws natural born Jews are subject to, and that means the Torah. 

What it boils down to is this: God gave the Jews the Torah to learn and teach the rest of the world, and those that obey are blessed while those that disobey are in BIG trouble. 

The Pharisees were teaching performance-based salvation, and Yeshua gave us faith-based salvation. We obey God’s commandments as a love-response to God’s goodness and because we are obedient children.

Grace is not a license to sin, it is the means by which we can avoid the eternal consequences of our sin; however, faith doesn’t overrule obedience. 

Is the “Israel of God” a What or a Who?

Don’t forget to look for the publishing of my newest book, “Parashot Drashim- A Commentary on the Weekly Torah Readings for Both Jews and Gentiles” due out in September.   

If you would prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.

“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation.  Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.”

This is the ending of the letter Shaul (Paul) wrote to the Messianic community he had started in Galatia.  His letter was written for a specific purpose, which has been terribly misunderstood, pretty much since the time he wrote it. It has been used as a polemic against circumcision, as well as justification that Torah observance is just for the Jewish people.  

The worst usage of this line has been by Replacement Theologists, who claim that “Christians” are now the Chosen people of God, who rejected the Jewish people as his because they rejected his son.

Poppycock.  But that is for another time. 

I always found this one line to be very confusing, and have tried to figure out what he could have possibly meant by writing that. I am glad to say that finally, after having read this particular letter too many times to count, a revelation came to me recently about what it could mean.  

That’s one of the best things about reading the Bible over and over: suddenly, one day what you couldn’t understand for years will be made clear to you. I like to think that this happens when God thinks you are ready for it. 

So, nu?  What’s the big revelation? I’ll let you in on it…Shaul wasn’t talking about a who; he was talking about a what!

Let’s go back to the reason for writing this letter. The members of this congregation were being “Judaized”, meaning the Gentile converts to Judaism were being told they had to undergo B’rit Milah (circumcision) in order to be saved. This was under the system called “Legalism”, which was being proliferated by Believing Jews who were infiltrating the new Messianic communities composed of Gentile Believers. Shaul was never against obedience to the Torah; he was against this legalistic approach to it.

Let’s stop here for a moment to make sure we’re all on the same page. Legalism was the belief that no one could be “saved”, i.e. found to be righteous in God’s eyes, unless they obeyed the Torah commands. Under legalism, faith is secondary to performance. Shaul’s constant battle against Legalism is why he has been so misunderstood. Shaul never said not to obey the Torah at all, he said not to obey the Torah as the means to become righteous. 

This letter was to get the Galatians back on track by obeying the Torah as a result of faithful obedience and not resulting from a system of performance-related salvation.  That’s why he said being circumcised was useless to them if they were doing it to be legalistically obedient. He never said they shouldn’t be circumcised, just that they shouldn’t do it as a means of gaining salvation.  

I always have known there was a battle going on in Galatia; the new Believing Gentiles were wrestling with legalism vs. faith. I understood that this dynamic was the reason Shaul contacted them. And my revelation came when I suddenly remembered what “Israel” means.  We are told this in Genesis 32:29 (taken from the Soncino issue of the Chumash)- 

And he said: ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” 

The comment notes in the Chumash state that the name “Jacob” meant “the Supplanter,” who prevails over others by deceit. “Israel,” on the other hand, is said to be a title of victory, probably “a Champion of God.” The children of Israel, the Israelites, are Contenders for the Divine, conquering by strength from Above. 

Remembering what “Israel” means I realized why Shaul called the Galatians “the Israel of God”: he was identifying them as ones battling with both men and God. They were being wrestled with by men who wanted them to be legalistic in their actions, and with God who wanted them to show faithful acceptance and not try to earn their salvation through performance. The Galatians were just like Jacob: on the one side they had to deal with men (as Jacob had to deal with Esau) and on the other side they had to deal with faith in God (Jacob wrestling with the angel, representing his faith in God to save him from Esau.) 

The “Israel of God” could be used to describe each of us as we struggle with our faith in God and Messiah Yeshua against worldly pleasures and our naturally sinful tendencies and desires. Christians also wrestle with the (usual) teaching that the Torah is only for Jews against the faithful obedience that God has required of all who worship him. 

To the Replacement Theologists out there, sorry; the “Israel of God” is not meant to be Christians. It isn’t really who someone is, it is what condition someone (or some people) are suffering through. And that condition is wrestling with our iniquity and with God’s will for our lives. Obedience to Torah is only one form of this battle between flesh and spirit, which was the message Shaul was addressing to the Galatians.

As we wrestle with our salvation, being pulled between earthly desires and spiritual fulfillment, we also go through that same “Israel” experience the Galatians did. Let us fight the good fight so that we, too, can be the “Israel of God”- one who has conquered by strength from above. 

A Conversation with Shaul of Tarsus

Before we begin, please watch for my latest book, Parashot Drashim A Commentary on the Weekly Torah Readings for Both Jews and Gentiles coming out soon. 

I really recommend the video for this one. To watch the video of this interview, click on this link: Watch the video.

Steve: Today we have a special guest. He is a classically trained Pharisee who studied under the great Rabbi, Gamaliel. He is a Benjamite, and like his namesake from that tribe, received a calling from God to lead God’s people.  His letters to the Messianic communities he organized throughout Asia make up the majority of the New Covenant writings, and also have contributed to much confusion regarding Gentile observance of the Torah commandments. 

I am sure you have guessed by now who we have in the studio today: that’s right, it’s that little ol‘ tent maker from Tarsus, Shaul. 

Shaul, welcome to Messianic Moment. 

Shaul: Todah, Steve. It’s a pleasure to be here. 

Steve: My first question is this: how do you feel about most every Bible titling Acts 9 as “Paul’s Conversion on the Road to Damascus?” 

Shaul: I hate it!! First off, my name is not “Paul”- that is a Greek form of my name. Your name is Steven- how would you feel if I called you “Esteban?” That’s your Spanish equivalent, but it’s not your name, is it? Next, I never converted to anything. My whole life, before my acceptance of Yeshua and afterward, I lived as a Pharisee. The only difference was that when I learned (the hard way, I should add) the truth about Yeshua I stopped persecuting my brothers in Messiah and joined them in helping other Jews come to faith. Eventually, I went mainly to the Goyim (the Nations) to bring them to faith, as well. But I never stopped talking to my fellow Jews.

This whole idea that there were Christians when I was organizing the kehillot throughout Asia is ridiculous. That term was just starting to be used at the end of the First Century. There were two religions when I was a kid: Judaism and Paganism. When Yeshua came, there were still only two religions: Jews who accepted him as Messiah, Jews that didn’t (but they were all still Jews worshiping as Jews do), and the Pagans. When I was walking all over the world, there were Jews who rejected Yeshua, there were Jewish Believers, there were the Gentiles who did T’shuvah and accepted Yeshua (converting to Judaism), and (you guessed it)…Pagans.  The Believers didn’t “officially” through practice become a different religion from Judaism until Constantine made it that way.

Steve: Thank you for clearing that up for us. Now, let’s get right to the question that comes up often, and one you had to deal with throughout your ministry: Do you, or do you not, believe Gentiles that accept Messiah Yeshua need to obey the Torah? 

Shaul: Oy vez mear! Again? OK- let me try to answer this for you in two parts. First off, we need to remember that the Gentiles I talked to were pagans whose religion was based, in essence, on hedonism. They could drink to excess, have sex with anyone (and anything) they wanted to, and eat themselves into oblivion. The most basic, self-centered and physically pleasurable experiences a human can have were the foundation stones of their religion.  For those that were willing to repent of their sins and turn to Yeshua for forgiveness, the culture shock was tremendous. Even the most fervent of those doing T’shuvah would find it difficult to go from hedonistic pagan to observant Jew overnight.  That’s why the Elders in Jerusalem only had them do 4 things immediately. We all figured they would get around to the other 609 commandments in Torah as they became more accustomed to living a holy lifestyle. So, what I was against wasn’t the Torah, but trying to force feed it to these new converts all at once.  

Steve: That makes sense, but there are so many things you wrote about, such as in Romans where you say uncircumcised or circumcised makes no difference, and also in the first letter to the Corinthians, it seems you told them they can eat whatever they wanted to.  What’s with that? 

Shaul: Look- the most important thing I wrote to the Corinthians was in the passage you guys have annotated as Chapter 9:19-22.  I told my congregation in Corinth that I would be whatever I had to be and say whatever I had to say to get out the Good News of Messiah. So what I really mean is that the ends justify the means- no matter what I say, so long as I bring people to Messiah and help them find the forgiveness and salvation that is offered by God through his Grace in Yeshua ha Maschiach, so be it! As for what to eat and the other things, you need to consider that there were many Believing Jews who did not agree with me , or the Elders, that the Gentiles converting to Judaism needed to have some level of dispensation (Oy! I hate using that word, but it fits here) with regards to their observance of Torah. As I said earlier, following Yeshua was a real game-changer for them.

So, nu? Where was I? Oh, yeah…what I wrote in my letters

So what I was against wasn’t Torah, but the idea that you needed to obey Torah to be saved. Again, we all figured that they would eventually learn all the commandments, so I just took them bit-by-bit., but too many people misunderstood what I was doing and that led to them thinking that Gentile Believers didn’t need to obey what’s in the Torah. Never did I say that or mean that. Never!  

Steve: I understand. Yet, even today there is still confusion with your letters to your Gentile Believers regarding what they need to do and don’t need to do. Can you please explain again for us this whole idea of being “under the law?”  

Shaul: No problem. Let’s start with this: righteousness, from God’s view, is sinlessness. If you have no sin you will be perfectly righteous. That means if someone could live the Torah exactly as it says, never violating so much as a stroke of the Torah, then that person would be righteous, or as you like to say today, he would be “saved.” Here’s the problem with that- no one can live the Torah perfectly! If someone could, then we’re all screwed because there would be only three people in heaven: God, Yeshua and that one jerk who ruined it for everybody else. 

Now for the second thing.  Pretty much all the Jews at that time didn’t accept the fact that no one could ever live the Torah perfectly and believed righteousness was only possible through perfect Torah observance. This is what the Pharisees I was (am still am) a member of taught the people. Let’s call that school of thought “Legal Righteousness”, which is almost the opposite of what God offered through Messiah, which we can call “Faithful righteousness.”  It was this “faithful righteousness” that Avraham Avinu demonstrated.

So, because we can’t live the Torah exactly, God sent his Messiah to help us overcome ourselves. Messiah Yeshua was, is, and always will be the ONLY human being who was both “legally” and “faithfully” righteous because he lived the Torah exactly and had total and perfect faith in God. That’s why God sent him to us!- so that through his righteousness we could be seen as righteous, also. Righteousness is not possible for us except through the Messiah, and especially so after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s why more than ever it is faith in God and Messiah Yeshua that saves us, not special knowledge or traditional practices. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore God’s commandments. 

Steve: I can see that a little more clearly now. Let me restate this for our audience… you are not against following the Torah and did not tell your congregations they don’t need to. You only said what they needed to hear in order to keep them on the right path, which would result in a gradual conversion to Judaism. Is that right? 

Shaul-: Tov Meod– you got it!!  And I was against those that were confusing my congregations with the legal righteousness the Pharisees were teaching. I always expected that my people would eventually observe the Torah because Yacov was right. 

Steve: I’m sorry…Yacov? 

Shaul: Yeah, Yacov. You know, James. He said that faith without works is dead, which means that once you faithfully believe in God, you have to show that by your change of lifestyle. If someone truly doesn’t want to sin, and the Torah is the User Manual for not sinning, then by definition someone who has really done T’shuvah will live in accordance with the Torah. I told my people they could take it slowly because if I shoved Torah down their throats, they would have upchucked it and gone back to their old ways. 

Steve: It seems that you constantly fought against that- every letter in the New Covenant that you wrote to a congregation was addressing the problems they were having with adjusting to giving up their paganistic ways and becoming Jewish. 

Shaul: Exactly. Oy- what a mishigas they made of things. I had to constantly keep them on track, and these Yiddisher nudniks that kept telling them they had to obey everything really got my goat. If you read Galatians you will see just how mad I was. I would’ve paid the Mohel, myself! 

Steve: Yes, frustration castration, right?

Shaul: Absolutely!

Steve: Well, our time is almost up and I really want to thank you for coming all this way to answer these questions for us. Is there anything you would like to add before we close?

Shaul: Just this…listen, people, keep your eyes on the finish line. Once I learned the truth, I fought for the rest of my life against people trying to figure it out and believing that they just had to know what everything meant in order to be righteous. That’s how I started out, and believe-you-me, none of that matters. All that matters is what Yeshua said- love God and love each other.  When people love each other they don’t care about anything except the way they feel when they are together, and they only want to make the one they love happy. You wanna know how to make God happy? Do what he says.  Too many people today want to know everything: did Yeshua exist before people, how does God pronounce his name, which commandments don’t matter anymore, and many other things that all boil down to nothing more than a new form of some Greek-thinking, Gnostic legalistic drek. All that matters is this: do you believe in God? Do you believe that Yeshua is the Messiah? If you say “Yes” to both of these, then love God and each other and don’t sweat the small stuff. It won’t help you to stay saved, but it can lead you to wrong thinking. 

Steve: Well, words from the wise to the wise. Let those that have ears listen.  Thank you, again, Shaul, for being here with us and we look forward to seeing you again in the Olam Haba. 

Shaul: Zeit gesunt, Bubbie. 

Steve: If you liked this program, please comment and let us know. You can also suggest a guest for future interviews. In the meantime, l’hitraot! Baruch ha Shem!!

What Did Jesus Really Nail to the Cross?

 

If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.

One of the things I have heard often is the statement that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, the law was nailed to it with him.

This is similar to the statement that because Jesus fulfilled the law, it has been done away with.

These statements are both based on what Shaul (Paul) said in Colossians and what Yeshua said in Matthew, respectively. Both of these statements are also uniformly and completely incorrect.

Today I am only dealing with the statement Shaul made, so let’s actually see what Shaul said was nailed to the cross in Colossians 2:13-14 (from The Complete Jewish Bible):

You were dead because of your sins, that is, because of your “foreskin,’ your old nature. But God made you alive along with the Messiah by forgiving you all your sins. He wiped away the bill of charges against us. Because of the regulations, it stood as a testimony against us; but he removed it by nailing it to the execution-stake. 

Before we discuss what was nailed, we need to first understand the context in which this letter was written. It was written to reinforce the message of the Good News that was first brought to the Colossians by Epaphras. This letter is written by Shaul to Gentile Believers in order to remind them how their faith in Yeshua has saved them from their previous sinful lifestyle, which condemned them to death. Throughout the letter he reminds them of the Good News message that salvation comes through continued faith in Yeshua and continued worship of God. Shaul was, essentially, giving them a pep talk to help them stay the course of faithfully following Torah, believing in God and Yeshua. I believe that all his letters have, in one way or another, a reminder that a legalistic observance of Torah as the means of earning salvation will never work, but faith in Yeshua (while still obeying Torah) is how we are able to overcome our sinful nature and be saved.

Now that we know what the context of this letter is about, we can see that when Shaul was talking about the “bill of charges against us” he meant the sins they had committed. When he says “Because of the regulations” he meant to identify the Torah and God’s commandments; this is also seen in the letter Shaul wrote to the Roman Believers where he stated that the Torah created sin, he meant that because the Torah tells us right from wrong it identifies what is sinful. And in this letter when Shaul refers to the “regulations” that create the bill of charges (or sometimes called “trespasses” in other bibles) against us he is talking about the Torah.

Now for the really important part- what was (and is) being nailed to the execution-stake? It is only the bill of charges; it is our trespasses; it is those specific sins we each have against us. It was (and is) NOT the Torah; it was (and is) not the Law; it was (and is) not anything other than the list of existing sins that stand between those people and God. When we confess our sins, repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name, those sins- and ONLY those specific, already committed sins- are what get “nailed to the tree.”

In other words, the sins we have already committed are the only things “nailed to the cross.” Nothing else is nailed, especially not sins we commit after those sins were wiped clean.

When we first confirmed our belief in Yeshua, confessed and repented of our sins asking forgiveness in his name, we received that forgiveness. Those existing sins that were listed against us, and only those sins, were nailed to a tree.  Everything that happens after that is still valid and against us until we again confess, repent and ask forgiveness in Yeshua’s name. Then that list is “nailed to a tree.”

There are a lot of trees out there with a lot of paper nailed to them.

Yeshua was nailed to an execution-stake once, and that was all that was needed. His death doesn’t save us- it is because of his resurrection that we can find forgiveness through his sacrifice. His resurrection proved that his sacrifice was accepted. As such, each time we sin we need to ask forgiveness because the sins we commit from one forgiveness to another are going to be held against us unless and until we repent.

The only thing that was “nailed to the cross” was the existing list of sins. There has never been a person who didn’t sin after being forgiven; we all are sinners who always will sin. As I often say, we can never be sinless but we can always sin less.  And when we sin, we must repent of that sin and ask forgiveness through Yeshua’s sacrifice.

The Torah is still valid and the regulations, mitzvot (laws) and instructions regarding the festivals are all still required for any and all people who confess that they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

What we really need to nail to the cross are the wrongful teachings.

Was I Saved Before I Knew About the Torah?

A wonderful movement in Christianity that is gaining momentum is the Hebrew Roots movement. Basically, this is made up of Christians (mostly Gentiles) who are discovering the roots of their faith, the “real” Jesus (Yeshua) and the truth that the Torah has not been done away with, but is still valid for them, and all who accept the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the Messiah God promised to all, Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah.

But some of the wrong attitudes inherent in “Constantine Christianity” are being seen in this new movement.

To Give Candy or Not to Give Candy: That is the Question

Tomorrow night is Halloween, and all good Believers know this is a pagan and demonic celebration.  But what about the little children, too young to know anything more than this is a time to dress up and get free candy? How do we witness to them? And can we even be an effective witness to a child, whose parents are putting out Jack-O-Lanterns, decorating the house with black cats and witches and dressing up in costumes?

Click on the link below for my feelings about it:

 

PS: in this clip I refer to the days of the week being named after Greek and Germanic Gods, but the names are of Roman and Germanic Gods.

Parashah V’etchanan (and I sought..) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

Moses asks God to allow him to enter the land, and God says, pretty much, “Enough already! Stop whining about this because I told you that ain’t gonna happen! But, I will do this- after you anoint Joshua climb up to the top of Mount Pisgah, and I will let you see the land.”

Some believe, as I do, that not only did God show Moses the land, but also the future. He showed Moses the eventual degradation of the people into idol worship, the consequent dispersal into the Diaspora and exile to Babylon, ending with their return to Israel. I believe this because of the warning Moses gives right after he observes the land, which is not so much the warning of a possible future as it is the narration of events from one who has seen it happen.

This rest of this parashah holds nearly everything that is important to the Jewish people, and thereby the world:

Deuteronomy 5:6-19: Moses reviews the Ten Commandments;

Deuteronomy 6:4:        Moses teaches us the Shema;

Deuteronomy 6:5-10:  Moses teaches us the V’ahavta;

Deuteronomy 6:16:      Moses teaches us a lesson that is used more often in Christianity (from my experience) than in Judaism: Do not test the Lord, your God.

Clearly, there is in just those 4 lessons more than I could write in a single post, unless that post was something like 15 pages or more. Don’t worry- this won’t be.

Actually, the message I have today is not about any of those passages. It is from Deuteronomy 4:5-8, which is what Moses told the people before he told them all those other things:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

I often state that the Torah is not just for the Jews, but for the entire world. The Jews received it so to learn it and live it (just like it says here), so that they may be an example to the world.

Shaul says pretty much the same thing, but to a different audience, in Romans 11:11

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Moses is telling Israel to obey Torah so that when the other nations see the wonderful rulings, peacefulness, social closeness, morality and compassion of the people, and how God is always close at hand to help and protect them, they will be jealous and want to be part of it. And Shaul, some 1500 or so years later, tells the Messianic communities that their living in faith to Messiah Yeshua will eventually be an example to the non-believing Jews how much better it is to accept Yeshua and make them jealous for their own Messiah.

Here we have the same message faithfully believe God and do as He says being told to Jews and Gentiles first going into the land, and centuries later to Gentiles and Jews who have been living in the land. And the reason is the same: to incite, through jealousy, those living outside of God’s plan to choose to accept God (and His Messiah.)

There are many passages in the bible that confirm this message, and it is unfortunate that much of Christianity has perverted and misused the writings of Shaul to dissuade people from hearing the proper message. Shaul says he is delivering the Gospel to the Jew first, then the Gentile (Romans 1:16); I believe this means if the Good News of the Kingdom of God is not presented in a way that is acceptable to a Jewish person, it isn’t the correct message for a Gentile.

Still and all, we can be confident in this: God’as plan will win out in the end!  Torah will be written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33) and we no longer ask our brother (and sister) if they know the Lord, because all will know Him.

In the meantime, what should we do? Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Live your life as an example to those who have rejected God and/or Messiah Yeshua to show them how blessed and peaceful it is to be living as God has told us we should.

Most everyone knows that God’s house has many rooms, but what many don’t know is that there is a really big pool in the backyard, which is always refreshing, so to you who are suffering the emptiness, despair, heat and discomfort of living a worldly life…C’mon in- the water’s fine!!!

 

 

Parashah Chukkat (Regulations) Numbers 19-22

This parashah starts with the regulations about the Red Heifer ashes being used to cleanse people defiled by contact with a dead body. We then find ourselves in the 40th year of the desert travels, with Miriam dying, leaving Israel with no water (we will come back to this soon.) Aaron and Moses are told by God to strike the rock to give water, but in his anger Moses strikes it twice, and claims that he and Aaron are the ones giving them water (Numbers 20:10):

He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?

This statement made God angry because they did not give the proper credit to God and make Him holy in the sight of the people, and their punishment was severe- Moses and Aaron were prohibited from entering the land of Canaan.

The rest of this parashah tells us of the death of Aaron, describes the sin of rebellion that caused God to send snakes against the people, and the successful military battles of the people against Arad (this battle is out of place, chronologically, as it had preceded the battle referred to in Numbers 14:40-45), ending with their conquering Og, the King of Bashan and Sichon, the king of Heshbon and taking all their lands (which later were the lands in which Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh settled.)

As I have complained about so many times…where do I start? There is just so much in this one parashah to talk about. But I did promise to come back to the point about there being no more water after Miriam died, so let’s start there.

Miriam is considered to be one of the three good leaders of Israel and Jewish legend says that due to her merit, the rock which brought forth water accompanied Israel as long as she lived. Reference to this rock is made by Shaul in 1 Corinthians, 10:3-4:

They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was the Messiah.

This is confusing: Jewish legend has it that Miriam was the Rock that produced the water, and here a well-trained, knowledgeable Pharisee is saying that it wasn’t Miriam, but Yeshua who was the Rock travelling with Israel through the desert. The bible isn’t supposed to contradict itself, so what do we make of this seeming contradiction? I looked this up in the Jewish New Testament Commentary, by Dr, Daniel Stern: he related many of the different ways the term “Rock” has been used to describe God and Messiah, both in scripture and in songs, but in the end he confessed he didn’t know why Shaul (Paul) used it this way in his letter. Maybe we will never know what was in Shaul’s mind at the time, just like I don’t think we will ever know what he meant when he wrote about the “Israel of God” at the end of Galatians, either.

But we can say that this is not a biblical contradiction because Miriam being the Rock is not specifically stated in Torah- it is just a legend. And Shaul referring to the Rock as Messiah is nothing more than a descriptive analogy which doesn’t contradict any specific event in Torah.

This issue does present us with a midrash from today’s parashah: do we always need to understand what we read in the bible? The commentary in the Chumash states that the ordinance regarding the Red Heifer is so mysterious that even King Solomon was unable to fathom it’s meaning. In Jewish history, Johanan ben Zakkai told his students, “…but the law concerning the Red Heifer is a decree of the All-holy, Whose reasons for issuing that decree it behoves not mortals to question.”  In other words, God said it is to be that way and that’s all we mere mortals need to know.

And that is, in my opinion, the main reason people reject God and create their own religions: we want to know why. We HAVE to know why! It is a compulsion, and I believe that it is based on the desire for power. As they say, knowledge is power, and people want to be more powerful than the next guy, so if I understand God better than you I am above you, more powerful than you, and deserve to lead you.  Selfish, self-centered, egotistical behavior…all innately human. The good news is that this need to know why drives us to scientific investigation and, thereby, is the root cause of the discovery of useful and wonderful inventions, as well as all the medical and technological advancements we have made over the centuries.

On the other hand, that alone may be reason to question if needing to know the “why” of everything is actually a good thing. Technology has taken us over, medical advancements have cured diseases but the cost of discovery is so high no one can afford the cure! We know how to read the human genome, and how to use stem cell technology, but the more we learn about our genetic make-up, the closer we come to thinking we are like God because we are able to heal, and even create life. That is NOT a good attitude to have.

Maybe we should try to be more humble, less inquisitive and more accepting of God’s omniscience so we can be more obedient? Isn’t it time to redirect our footsteps from the path of discovery to the ways of worship?

I think we should, but I  don’t see it ever happening. Human nature is inquisitive, curious, and we all want to be self-determining. We want to be in charge, we want to know what it is all about, and we want to have control over our lives. It is the reason we were thrown out of Eden; it is the reason we sinned with the Golden Calf; it is what killed Dathan, Abiram and Korach; it has been the bane of humanity and the foundation of sin since humanity was created. And I don’t think it is going to end until humanity ends in the Acharit HaYamim (End Days.) Once we are no longer shackled with this mantle of sinful flesh and are resurrected into our eternal, spiritual bodies will we be able to enjoy and find peace in being humble and obedient to God, constantly worshiping Him. Humility and obedience is just not part of our DNA, and no amount of Recombinant DNA, cloning, stem cell technology or biological research will ever put it there.

We need to work at being humble and accepting what God said to do as simply something we should do. To paraphrase from the great poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Ours not to reason why; ours but to do and live!

So do what God says (that’s the stuff in the Torah, in case you weren’t sure) and do so without asking why, without kvetching about it, and without trying to figure out what it all means.  Really- understanding what God means won’t get you any more “saved” than the next person, and a Gnostic search for meaning just might end up pulling you further from your salvation than bringing you closer to it.

To Torah, or Not to Torah: OY! What a Question!

I don’t know where to start on this one, or where it may end. I could probably write a book about this (hmmmm??), but I want to keep it simple, so here I go…

As I have said often, eating ham will not send me to Sheol (the Hebrew word for Hell), and not eating ham will not guarantee me a place in heaven. My sins are forgiven by the sacrifice of Messiah Yeshua, so the Torah, which tells me what is a sin and what isn’t a sin (Shaul says in the book of Romans that the Torah actually created sin, in that it defined it) helps me to act in ways that please God, but no longer really keeps me from death because my sins have been, and will continually be, forgiven through Yeshua. Therefore, there is an argument that can be made that it is no longer absolutely necessary to keep the Torah.

BUT…just because we can make an argument doesn’t mean that the argument we make is valid.

The Torah is composed of many things: it has historical information, it has constitutional regulations, it establishes a system of societal laws and statutes that include torts resolution and a penal code, it outlines a health code, it is a marriage certificate between Jews and God, and it also outlines the procedures for how we are supposed to worship God. These laws, statutes, and regulations are commandments, not suggestions- they are direct and absolute requirements.

The justification (this term means, specifically, being forgiven of our sins) we receive through the sacrificial system defined in the Torah is no different that the justification we receive through the sacrifice of Yeshua. The process is still the same: sin, recognize and accept your sin, do T’shuvah (repentance), present your sacrifice to God and God will accept the blood of the innocent sacrifice (remember that the life is in the blood) as a substitution for your lifeblood. That is the process outlined in Torah, and never, ever did anyone think or say that because we could always sacrifice to be forgiven that the Torah isn’t that important. Never has any Jew ever thought that.

Yeshua’s sacrifice did not do away with the sacrificial system, He only replaced the part where we have to bring the sacrifice to the Temple in Jerusalem. Everything else is the same- we sin, we own up to our sin, we repent, we sacrifice (this is the part Yeshua has provided for us) and then we ask God to forgive us by means of substituting the sacrifice’s blood for our own.

So where did someone come up with the idea that because Yeshua’s sacrifice is the only sacrifice we need that we can now do away with Torah? God never said that we could do away with Torah, and Yeshua never said we could do away with Torah, and Shaul (Paul) never said we should do away with Torah. The sacrificial system that provides salvation from sin is no different after Yeshua than it was before Him- it’s just that Yeshua is the substitute we can use instead of bringing a lamb or pigeon to the Temple. No difference otherwise, so what was valid as the way to live before Yeshua came, died and was resurrected, is still valid as the way to live

Oh wait a minute!! Shaul certainly sounded like Torah wasn’t important. I believe that this is where the ‘No Need For Torah” idea started, as a misinterpretation of Shaul’s letters to (mostly) Gentile communities of Believers (there were no churches as we know them today in the First Century.) Shaul never once thought that Torah was unimportant, and he lived it as best as any human could his entire lifetime.  Despite what humans have entitled “Paul converts on the road to Damascus” that you read as the chapter title to Acts 9, Shaul never converted to anything.  When you read his letters you see he did, in fact, go to synagogues.  he did talk to Jews, but he made it his main ministry to go to the Gentiles. He established Gentile filled Messianic communities, and what he taught was what is in Torah. The misinterpretation is rooted in the fact that his main argument was never against observance of the Torah, it was against observance of the P’shat, the literal meaning of the words, in order to achieve salvation. Shaul was not against Torah, he was against the teaching that a legalistic observance would save one’s soul. That was what the Pharisees and most of the Jewish training and understanding of the Torah was at that time- if you do what it says in the Torah, just going through the motions (so to speak) then you can be saved. In fact, if we could perform all the laws and commandments in the Torah (as Yeshua did) then we would be saved: through perfect performance we can find salvation in Torah alone.

The problem is we can’t perform Torah perfectly, so to observe Torah as the means of our salvation, is a lost cause. That is the message Shaul was relating to the Gentiles who were under stress from their old life (to remain pagans) and also from their new life, from Jews who wanted them to do everything in the Torah because if they didn’t they couldn’t be saved.

This is the same drek I get today as a Messianic Jew: Christians who have been taught Torah isn’t needed now that they have Jesus tell me if I still live as a Jew I am not really saved because I am not “under the blood”, and Jews tell me if I believe in Jesus (their understanding is that I must have converted to Christianity) then I am not a Jew anymore. Both of these teachings are absolutely wrong- as a Jewish man who believes Yeshua is my Messiah, the one God promised my people since the beginning, then I am not a Christian, and I am more than just a Jew- I am a completed Jew, in that I have come full circle, from innocence in Eden to sinfulness in the world to Messianic forgiveness through Messiah, and thereby able to commune with God, again and forever more.

So, nu? What do we have? What we have is what we were given from the start- the Torah. The Torah is how God tells us to live, and defines right from wrong, righteousness from sinfulness, and provides the means by which we can be absolved of our sins in order to come into the presence of God. Yeshua is the Messiah God sent so that we can still find forgiveness after the Temple, which is where the Torah said we had to ask for forgiveness, was destroyed. No Temple, no forgiveness, but Yeshua took care of that by becoming the Temple, Himself,and providing the innocent blood (His own blood) for us. So, Torah is still valid, Torah is still necessary, and Torah is still God’s commandment to us all.

We should all try to follow Torah: not in order to be saved, but because it is what God tells us to do. We will receive blessings for obedience and we will not be blessed if we don’t (Deuteronomy 28.)  If we ignore Torah, we are ignoring God- like it or not, that is the truth. Do we need Torah to be saved- no. Do we need to obey Torah to be saved- no. Should we try to obey Torah, anyway- yes, absolutely. Why? Because it is what God tells us to do.

If God tells you do to something, what other reason do you need to do it?