Parashah Chayei Sarah 2018 (The life of Sarah) Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

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This parashah begins with the end of Sarah’s life. Abraham buys a burial cave and after the mourning period, he has Eliezer, his servant and guardian of all he owns (like Joseph was for Potipher’s household) go back to Abrahams’ old village to find a wife for Isaac from amongst Abraham’s own family. God goes ahead of Eliezer and Rebekah, the daughter of Abraham’s brother, Nachor, is the one God has chosen. After she is brought back and joined with Isaac, the parashah ends with a note about the other sons Abraham had through his second wife, Keturah- 6 more sons. Finally, we are told of Abraham’s death and burial. The last lines of this parashah give us the names of the sons of Ishmael, who become 12 nations.

I need to confess some pridefulness on my part in that I have always thought that the numberless amount of descendants that God promised Abraham would beget (Gen. 15:5) are the Jewish people. I never really thought of anyone else that came from Abraham’s loins as being part of that number. Oh, yes- I recognized that the Arab peoples were brothers, way, way back somewhere since they also came from Abraham, but I always thought the descendants that counted were just the Jewish people.

Lately, I have had discussions with other people who claim they are one of the tribes sent into the Diaspora and are just now tracing themselves back to their Israelite tribe. The 10 tribes that have been dispersed throughout the world have also lost their origins, having been assimilated into the culture and bloodlines of the geographical locations to which they went. And these locations are worldwide, from Asia through Africa, in Europe- all over!

We all know that Abraham had 2 sons, Ishmael and Isaac- one became the Arab nations and the other the Jewish nation. But do you recall that in this parashah we are told of 6 other sons that Abraham had? He gave them all gifts and sent them on their own way, and since his first two sons grew into nations that numbered (and still do) in the millions, it only seems reasonable to believe that God’s promise to make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens would also be fulfilled through these other 6 sons. That means that we know of at least 24 tribes from Ishmael and Isaac, alone, and who knows how many more tribes from the other 6 sons?

Over the past 5 Millennia, that’s a heck of a lot of people! Even when we consider that some of the Semitic tribes have been destroyed, such as the Assyrians and Babylonians, that still leaves plenty of descendants.

My point is that God’s promise to Abraham may not have been restricted to just the Jewish descendants. There may be more “sons and daughters of Abraham” around than I ever thought there were. My “special” condition, being a Jewish descendant of Abraham, may not really be oh-so-special, after all. And I confess I felt a little let down by that realization; on the other hand, after I thought it over a bit more, I started to think this is a good thing.

God promised Abraham his descendants would be more numerous than the stars, more than the grains of sand on the beach, and when we think about that promise as including the adopted children of Abraham, that fits in perfectly with what we are told in the Bible.

John 10:16– “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd” 

Gal. 3:29– “For if you belong to Messiah, you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” 

Isaiah 56:6-8“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants, everyone who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” 

Psalm 86:9– All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name.

Hosea 2:23– “I will sow her for Myself in the land. I will also have compassion on her who had not obtained compassion, and I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they will say, ‘You are my God!'”

That verse in Hosea is, contextually, dealing with the regathering of Israel, but the adopted sons and daughters will be the regathered, as well.

There are many other verses throughout the Bible, Old and New Covenants, which indicate God’s plan to bring all the nations- not just those that are the direct descendants of Abraham- into his salvation.

I have met many people over the years, especially those that have seen my testimony, who have stated they wished they had been born Jewish. Others have come to me or have posted that they are just now finding out that their grandparents were Jewish (many European and Sephardic Jews hid their Jewish lineage for fear of being persecuted or killed.)

The truth I have now accepted is that being a “Jew” is not so special, after all, since I have many brothers and sisters who are all children (either directly or adopted) of Abraham, throughout the world. And they are, indeed, as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

The conclusion I have come to is this: being a Jew by birth is not what is special. What is special is to accept Yeshua as my Messiah and to live my life as my Messiah did, worshiping the Holy One of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through obedience to his Torah.

Parashah Vayyera 2018 (And he appeared) Genesis 18-22)

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This parashah has so much stuff in it we could review it for months! It starts with the three angels coming to Abraham and telling him that Sarah will give birth to a son the following year and that they are there to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  The next event is how Lot protected the angels and they saved him and his family, although his wife turned back to look and turned to salt. His two daughters plied their father with wine and slept with him, each becoming pregnant and giving birth to the Ammonite and Moabite nations.

Next, we read about Abraham and King Abimelech, where Abraham (for a second time) lied about his relationship with Sarah to protect his life. After Abimelech took Sarah to wife, his entire family was cursed with infertility, and only after he returned Sarah (and Abraham prayed for them) did their fertility return.  Later Abraham and Abimelech make a pact regarding a well and form a treaty between them.

Then Sarah bore Isaac and when Ishmael, about 13 years older, began to pick on Isaac Sarah had Abraham eject Hagar and Ishmael into the desert. However, God took care of them and Ishmael grows into a mighty hunter and father of nations.

The parashah ends with one of the most important chapters in the Torah: we call it the Akedah. Abraham’s faith is tested by God, who demands Isaac be offered up as a burnt sacrifice to God. Abraham immediately obeys and only at the last second does God call out to Abraham to stop, and a ram caught in a bush is the sacrifice used instead of Isaac. This is why we use a ram’s horn for the shofar, to memorialize the ram that was substituted for Isaac. This chapter is one of the most Messianic chapters in the entire Bible.

There is one part of the Akedah that I want to talk about today, the one line that represents so much in our worship of God and our desire to know him better. That line is Genesis 22:2:

And he said, “Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.” 

Abraham does so immediately. He leaves not knowing exactly where he is to go, is shown Mount Moriah (I could go on and on about the importance of this mountain, but that is for another time) and builds an altar there. He binds Isaac and places him on the wood, then raises his hand to kill the boy before burning him up completely. It is only when he is about to strike that God tells him to stop.

I checked a number of different Bible versions, such as the NIV, KJV, CJB, JPS Tanakh and even an old Dartmouth bible I have, and every one of them, except the NIV, use the word “offer”. The NIV is the only one I found that uses “sacrifice” instead of the word “offer”, or “offer up.”  We all know that God is hateful of human sacrifice, especially of the child sacrifice that was practiced by the Semitic peoples at that time. The hard-to-answer question that is always posed when reading the Akedah is why would God tell Abraham to sacrifice his son?

An answer may be found when we really read the command God gave to Abraham: to offer up his son as a burnt sacrifice. Now, it is important to be careful when interpreting the Bible that we use proper context, not just of the words within the sentence and sentences within the paragraph, but also of the meaning of the words. We must not use current definitions, but the definition of the word(s) at the time it was written. So, when we read the word “offer”, what did it mean to Abraham? Did it mean the same as it means today? The Wikipedia definition is: “present or proffer (something) for (someone) to accept or reject as so desired.” That means we present something to someone, and then wait to see if they will accept it or not.

I would like to submit that when God said he wanted Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt sacrifice, he never intended to accept it. This was a test- we all know that. But Abraham (apparently) did not know it was just a test. If he did, I suspect that after tying up Isaac and laying him out on the wood, he would have taken the knife, raised his hand and held it there himself, praying to God to please show a sign that this offering is acceptable to him. Then if God showed it was, he would have completed that act. But Abraham did not hesitate to kill Isaac- only God’s calling out to him stopped Abraham’s hand.

So what went wrong? Did Abraham miss the point? Did God purposefully mislead Abraham into thinking he had to go through with it? The fact is nothing went wrong- God intended to test Abraham’s faith, he told Abraham that he only wanted Abraham to offer up Isaac but Abraham, in his zeal to be obedient, took it one step further than God intended it to go, which is why God had to call out to him to stop.

The question for us is: do we go too far sometimes? Do we act out our own idea of what God is telling us to do? I have had experiences with many people were insulting and accusatory, telling me that I am spiritually empty and don’t know God’s word at all simply because we disagreed on a biblical interpretation. When I pointed out they weren’t acting very “Christian” with their attacks and attitude, they told me God commands us to be truthful with each other and they were just telling the truth. In my opinion, what they are doing is going further than God wants regarding how we tell the truth to each other. They aren’t being truthful, they are being prideful- their angry and insulting remarks are not the result of knowing the truth of God’s word, but of their frustration with me because I don’t agree with them. They know they are right!- and they can’t stand someone not agreeing with them.

God told Abraham to offer up Isaac, and Abraham took it one step further because that is what he knew “to offer up” meant. It was a natural mistake and thank God that God corrected him before it was too late. We also often take things one step too far, innocently or on purpose, and like Abraham’s mistake, it is because we are overtaken by our own desire to please or obey. God looks more to our heart than he does to what we actually do. We can obey a commandment, but if we do so without the desire to please God or are just going through the motions, God will not accept that. On the other hand, if we sin by disobedience, but not on purpose or through abject rejection of God, then he is willing to forgive us, which he has proven throughout history.

We need to listen to God and to listen carefully. If something seems a little “off” like Abraham must have thought when God told him to offer up Isaac, ask God for clarification. I am not suggesting you delay or ignore what you believe God is telling you to do, simply that if it doesn’t feel “right” in your spirit you should ask God to help you understand exactly what he is asking you to do.

And remember, as Job learned, that we don’t always know why God does what he does and we are to always trust God to do the right thing. But because we all have human frailties and pridefulness within us and we are born with iniquity, even the most spiritually mature person can make a mistake or misunderstand God.  When we think God is telling us to do something, we should always make sure we know exactly what he wants of us.

God is gracious, patient and understanding; I believe that if your heart’s desire is to obey and serve the Lord, to ask for clarification will not be a problem.

Shabbat Shalom!

Parashah Lech Lecha 2018 (Get yourself out) Genesis 12-17

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Abram (he’s not yet called Abraham, but soon will be) is told to leave Haran (his father has recently died) and take everything and everyone with him. He leaves Haran and settles in the area around Shechem. He did have to go to Egypt due to a famine, where he sins by lying about Sarai, saying she is his sister so he isn’t murdered by Pharaoh to take Sarai from him. This happens twice, and each time God intervenes to protect Sarai, in the end making Abram wealthy from the gifts he received from those kings that took her to be their wife.

Eventually, he and Lot have to separate because there isn’t enough pastureland for both of their herds, so Abram gives Lot first choice. Lot goes to the Jordan Valley near Sodom and Abram goes west of the Jordan.

Sodom and Gomorrah are attacked by the surrounding kings, and Lot and all his possessions and family are also captured, but when Abram hears of it, he takes a small force of some 300 men and using guerilla tactics attacks the larger force at different areas simultaneously, making them think they are being attacked by a much larger force and defeats them. He returns the possessions and people and tithes 1/10th to Melchizedek.

The parashah ends with God renewing his covenant with Abram, renaming him Abraham and Sarai Sarah, and promising not only that he will become a great nation but that all the land he sees will belong to his descendants forever.

This message is going to be one of those that is all about the Torah and the laws and commandments within it still being valid, even to this very day and beyond. It may seem a little off-topic, but it isn’t.

At the very beginning of this parashah, God promised Abram that he will become a great nation and the whole world will be blessed by his descendants in Genesis 12:2-3:

I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

God says that all people on the earth will be blessed through Abraham, but he doesn’t say how. We can go through the number of blessings the world has received through Jewish art, music, scientific discovery (even today Israel is one of the most advanced countries in the world in both technology and medicine), but that is not all there is. The blessings to the world through the Jewish people have been numerous- if you want to get a small sample, do a search on the Internet for “number of Nobel prizes won by Jews” to get just a taste of the ways in which God has blessed the world through his people.

And I believe these things, as wonderful as they are, are not the most wonderful blessings the world has received.

I know what you are probably thinking right now:

“He must be talking about the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus) who came from the Jewish people, who came through Abraham!”

Well, you are correct about the Messiah being the greatest blessing the world has ever received, and that he did come through Abraham, but that is not the blessing I am talking about.

The blessing I am talking about came long before the Messiah: I am talking about the Torah.

The Torah was given to Moses for the Jewish people to learn so that they could become a holy people unto God. But that’s not all it was to be used for: the Jewish people are to be a nation of priests for God. God tells this to Moses in Exodus 19:6:

Now if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, you will be My treasured possession out of all the nations—for the whole earth is Mine. And unto me you shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you are to speak to the Israelites.

To recap, first God promises Abraham the world will be blessed through him, and then the Torah is given to Moses so that the Jewish people (from Abraham, of course) can be a nation of priests. I say that they are a nation of priests to the world because as God’s people, when we consider that the entire earth and all that is on it belongs to God, his priests would, naturally, teach and lead what belongs to God. So, naturally, as a nation of priests, the Jewish people would teach the rest of the people on earth how to worship God and how to treat each other, which is what the Torah is all about.

Finally, the Torah promises us blessings for obedience in Deuteronomy 28:1-12. These blessings deal with nearly every aspect of our life.

God said he would bless the world through Abraham, and that was done with two things: the Torah and the Messiah. The Messiah did not overrule or do away with the Torah but confirmed and enhanced it by teaching more than just the written word (P’shat)– Yeshua taught us the spiritual meaning (Remes) behind the written word through the use of a drash, or parable. The Torah is God’s blessing to the world that preceded Messiah, and Messiah is the ultimate blessing to the world. However, Messiah did not overrule or do away with the laws in the Torah, he confirmed and demonstrated how to live them the way God intended for us to do, both physically and spiritually.

To finish today’s message I will leave you with this advice: if you want to receive the blessings that God promised to the world through Abraham, consider Deuteronomy 28.


Parashah Shelach Lecha 2018 (Send out) Numbers 13 – 15

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The people have been travelling in the desert for a little more than 2 years and have come to the border of the Promised Land. Moses, per God’s command, sends out spies to reconnoiter the land; one member from each of the 12 tribes. They come back 40 days later and of the 12 men, only Caleb from the tribe of Judah and Joshua from Ephraim give a favorable report. The other’s announce that they saw fortified cities and the Nephalim there (giants who were traditionally fallen angels) and that they could not possibly conquer those peoples. They spread fear and disappointment among the Israelites to the point where the people wanted to stone Moses. God tells Moses he will destroy these people and make a new nation out of Moses, but Moses intercedes (again, as usual) for the people. God relents what he was thinking of doing and decides to kill the 10 men by plague who started this rebellion, and that everyone over the age of 20 would die in the desert for their part of the rebellion. The people decide to attack anyway, and get their tuchas waxed. The parashah finishes with a man gathering sticks on Shabbat being stoned for his blatant disregard for God’ commandment, and the wearing of ztit-ztit  (fringes hanging on four sides of the garment) so that people will see this on other’s garments and remember to obey God.

Should we discuss the importance of the number 40, here in 40 days of spying and 40 years of wandering? Or maybe we can discuss how could people remain so faithless after 2 years of living with wondrous miracles happening every day (cloud, fire, manna)? The faithfulness of Joshua and Caleb is also something that could have deep meaning for us, in that we need to show faith is still alive even when living among faithless people.

I would like to talk about something that we see in this parashah but isn’t actually part of the story.

It came to me as I was reading about how God said he would make a nation out of Moses. My thought went right to: really? Moses is already in his 80’s, and I know that God can certainly give Moses more children at this age. But to make a nation out of him? It took some 400 years living in one of the most fertile areas of Egypt for the family of Jacob (initially numbering about 63 people) to grow into the nation Moses was leading.  Was God really willing to put everything on hold for another 400 years or so before the people entered the land?

As I was asking myself this question I thought about the idea of predestination. First off, I do not believe in predestination, but I do believe in predetermination. The difference is the former implies we have no choice and there is no real free will, whereas the latter means we have been chosen but we have free will so we can choose to accept or refuse. The “glitch” in predetermination is this: if God has chosen me for something and I refuse to do it, then what?

The answer is what Mordecai said to Hadassah (Esther) when she refused to see the king to intercede for the people (Esther 4:14) :

For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place,{underlining added} but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

God had predetermined that Hadassah would be the means for him to save his people from the enemy of the Jews, Haman. She had the option to do nothing to help, and some people won’t like hearing this but the fact is that at first that’s exactly what she did. Her message back to Mordicai the first time he asked her to intercede was that the king normally will kill anyone (meaning wife) not called to him. Essentially, she was saying, “No way!” Then Mordecai pretty much threatened her with discovery and death herself, and then she realized she didn’t have much of a choice.

Now, back to the parashah. Moses could have told God “Fine with me- I’ll get busy with Zepporah tonight.” And then the bible we know today would be different, but the end result would be the same.

That’s the point. God promised the land of Israel to the descendants of Abraham. It was predetermined that Moses would lead those descendants into the land. If the ones Moses had with him chose not to enter, so be it. God would raise another nation out of Moses to enter, but one way or another the children of Abraham would have that land.

This is the reason that throughout history God’s promise that Abraham’s seed would be in the land has been dependable.  It doesn’t matter when something God wants to be done gets done, the point is that it WILL get done, sooner or later.

How many people do we read about in the bible who refused to do God’s calling and never changed their minds? No one, you say? You don’t recall anywhere in the bible reading about someone who God had determined to do something wonderful but never accepted the calling? Of course not. I am sure there were many who fit that description, but because they did not accept the call, they never made it into history.

God’s will is insurmountable. His will will be done; if you are called to do it and do so, you will receive wonderful blessings for obedience. If you are called to do it and refuse, you just keep on going as you are and someone else will be raised up to take your place.

This is why it is so important for us to keep our eyes open and our ears cleaned out. When we hear God’s calling on our life we need to be willing to answer with “Whatever you say, Lord.” or we will be missing out. This doesn’t mean a faithful worshiper of God will be refused his or her place in eternity- not accepting the call from God doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be damned. It just means that the wonderful things that God had planned for you will go to someone else. I don’t know about you, but I would rather take God’s blessings than give them away.

I confess to you that my biggest fear in life is to not hear or ignore God’s calling, if and when I have one. Right now I believe this ministry is what God wants me to do, and I pray for its success (for his glory) and also that I am right when I think this is his calling for me. I really do fear that I may miss the calling God has for me.

Pray that you hear the calling God has for you, and even more so, pray for the strength to accept and fulfill that calling if, and when, you hear it. It’s one thing to hear the phone ringing and another thing altogether to be willing to answer it.

Parashah Chayye Sarah (Life of Sarah) Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

In this parashah both Sarah and Abraham come to their deaths, and Isaac gets a wife. Abraham has told his servant to make sure that his son never goes back to the place where they came from, and this theme is repeated throughout the bible.
What’s so bad about going back to Egypt?

Parashah Vayera (And He Appeared) Genesis 18:1 – 22:24

Abraham is visited by God and the angels that save Lot when Sodom is destroyed. Sarah gives birth to Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael get the boot, and later Abraham takes Isaac to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him

SPOILER ALERT– he doesn’t.

But what we are going to talk about are the angels of the Lord: are they just angels, or does God show up in the middle of the message they bring?



Rosh HaShanah 2017 Message

Rosh HaShanah began Wednesday evening (the only holy day to occur the same night as the new moon) and the traditional reading is the Akedah, Genesis 22, which is the story of the Binding of Isaac. Even though we have Ha’azinu (the Song of Moses) as this Shabbat’s Parashah, I am going to talk about the Akedah.

The story, as I am sure you all know, starts with God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Abraham sets off the very next morning to do so, and they walk three days until they come to Mount Moriah, where Abraham takes Isaac, binds him, places him on the wood and is about to slaughter him with a knife when the angel of the Lord calls and stops Abraham. God tells Abraham this was a test of his loyalty and faith; Abraham sees a ram with it’s horns stuck in a bush and sacrifices the ram to God. Then he and Isaac go back home.

NOTE: because it was a ram that was substituted for Isaac, the shofar is usually a ram’s horn to honor that ram.

This reading is considered a Messianic passage by both Jews and Christians, alike. From the Christian (and Messianic) viewpoint, we see the father of the nation of Jews sacrificing his only son (Isaac, who is the “son of the promise”) as a foreshadow of the Father of the Universe sacrificing His only son, Yeshua.

From the Jewish side, I have seen too many different messages from this to even start to say this one is what it means, or that one is why it is considered messianic. The only thing agreed is that the Akedah it is the most read passage in the Torah, since it is repeated daily before the Shacharit (morning) prayer and again on the second day of Rosh Hashannah. In some circles it is even thought that Isaac did die and was resurrected, but the bible is clear he did not die.

I am just going to say the Akedah is considered a Messianic passage by Jews, and leave it at that.

The point I want to make today, though, has nothing to do with it’s messianic foreshadowing. What I want to talk about is how sometimes we hear from God, and we know what He wants from us, but then things change just as we are doing what we thought He wanted us to do!

For instance, in the Akedah (which means “binding”) Abraham was sure that God told him to sacrifice Isaac, but at the last moment God changed that. Abraham was told why things changed, that this was only a test of his faith, but often we may not be told why things suddenly change. They just will.

By the way, God didn’t even tell Abraham to substitute the ram- Abraham took that upon himself to do. I believe it was a thanksgiving sacrifice, for I am certain Abraham was very, VERY thankful to God that the sacrifice of Isaac was not required.

If, and when, we hear God’s calling in our lives, (hopefully) we answer that calling. But what about when after we answer it we find out that what we are doing isn’t working out? Here’s an example: where I have been worshiping, a place I know God called me to go, we are going to be disbanded in a few months. This is currently a Hebraic Roots church which is a sovereign Assemblies of God church; the first Senior Pastor left almost immediately after I joined to pursue his corporate calling (Ezra International) and the current Senior Pastor is quitting to pursue a Masters his employer (Bridges for Peace) is paying for. This leaves the church with no one who has Senior Pastor credentials with the A of G. That means the church will revert to an A of G district church, and that means we can kiss goodbye Friday night Shabbat. It is almost a foregone conclusion that they will go back to Sunday mornings, and even if they send a pastor with a heart for Israel, it is impossible to consider that this will remain a Hebraic Roots congregation. So you see, I am very sure that my calling to this church is about to take a significant turn from what I thought it would be when God told me this is the place for me.

And it has been the place for me. What God sent me here to do wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, but it turns out that I have been exactly what was needed at that time. And now that time is over. Abraham was looking forward (not in the way of hopeful expectation) to having to kill his only son, and knew that is what God wanted from him.  Both Abraham and I found out that what we thought God told us we were to do didn’t end up being what He had planned for us to do.

When you find yourself following God’s calling in your life and suddenly you have to make a U-Turn, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are under attack from the enemy; it doesn’t have to mean you misunderstood what God was calling you to do; and it doesn’t mean that you have fallen from Grace.  It just might mean when you heard God call you to do something, you thought there was more to it, but there was only what He had planned, and you’ve done it.

Just like Abraham thought God called him to kill Isaac, but all God needed was to test his willingness to kill Isaac.

Just like I thought I could come to this place and only be in the congregation, without the responsibilities or burden of being in leadership, but I ended up holding three positions on the Council and working with the Pastor leading the congregation in liturgy and delivering the weekly messages.

What about you? Have you found yourself in a position where you could have sworn God called you to, and now it seems that you might have been wrong about it? Are you currently experiencing troubles (tsouris) in your life that you can’t explain, and you are doubting your calling with God? Are you thinking , “Maybe I’m not doing what God wants of me?” You could be right, or you could be done with what God really wanted of you and you just don’t know that yet. Maybe you are being pruned and the real reason for your current troubles is that you aren’t trying to listen to God because you think you already know what He wants?

Overall, the only way to know what God wants for you is to ask Him to show you. Always expect the unexpected from God because He doesn’t have to tell you any more than what you need to know, when you need to know it. That means things may change at any time, so be alert, be watchful, be ready.

And always be listening to the Spirit.

Faith vs. Legalism

As a Messianic Jew I am not liked by anyone. My Jewish brothers and sisters tell me that because I believe “in Jesus” (almost none of them really understand what that means) I am no longer Jewish; on the other side, because I follow Torah (as best as I can) and maintain a “Jewish” worship and lifestyle, my brothers and sisters in Messiah tell me I am legalistic and not really saved because I am “under the law” and not “under the blood.”

Both are just so very, very wrong.

Shaul (AKA Paul, that nice Jewish tent maker from Tarsus) tells us in Romans, Chapter 4 all about legalism and faith. He begins at the beginning, with Abraham, and identifies how the Tanakh confirms that Abraham was considered righteous because he believed what God told him would happen. That faithfulness, demonstrated by Abraham believing in what hadn’t yet happened, was why God credited him with righteousness. There was no task he accomplished, or behavior he performed, other than believing.

But that wasn’t all: Abraham did more than just believe. He did all the things that God told him to do, without hesitation or complaint. He left his father’s house, he left his neighbors, his home…everything he knew and was comfortable with, and took everyone and everything he owned to…he had no idea where.

When God told him to cut up animals and lay them out, he did that and remained out in the heat of the day, shooing away the birds.

When God said to circumcise himself and everyone else, he did it that day.

When God said to take Isaac and sacrifice him, he left early the very next morning.

Whatever God said to do, he did.

So, even though Abraham’s righteousness came from trusting faithfulness in what God said, he also spent his life doing what God told him to do.  We call that obedience.

Going back to Romans 4, Shaul points out that circumcision had nothing to do with Abraham’s righteousness because the righteousness was credited before he was circumcised; because of that, Gentiles who are not circumcised can be saved without undergoing the procedure, but if one chooses to do so, as an act of obedience, it doesn’t mean that person is being legalistic.

The difference between legalism and faith is simply the reason for performing the act: if I do what is in the Torah because I want to obey God, that is not legalism. If I do what is in the Torah to make me righteous, I am being legalistic. Of course, if I can obey Torah perfectly, I will be made righteous by doing so; the problem with that scenario is that no one can obey Torah perfectly. Therefore, there has to be a better way. We call that way “Grace”, God’s forgiveness for our sins, which is possible through believing in Yeshua, whose sacrifice replaced the need to bring a sacrifice to the temple in Jerusalem to have our sins forgiven.

This is why Yeshua had to die: because the temple wasn’t going to exist, which means the sacrificial system God created for us in the Torah would no longer be available, Yeshua’s sacrifice replaced needing the temple to receive forgiveness of sin.

If I live my life trying to obey the Torah because it is what God said I should do, and I do it to please God and out of respect for Him, then I am not being legalistic: I am being obedient. Just as Abraham was obedient. Do any of you doubt, even for a nano-second, that if God had given the Torah to Abraham back then, that Abraham would not have tried to be 100% in compliance with everything in the Torah? Of course he would have. And not to be considered righteous, but simply because God told him it is what he should do.

The Torah is NOT just for Jews- it was given to the Jews, who God said are His nation of priests to the world, to live it as best they can in order to be an example to the rest of the world how they should live. If you don’t want to worship the God that is in the Old Covenant writings, then ignore the Torah. But if you choose to ignore God’s commands, for whatever reason, I don’t think we will be playing Cribbage in the Acharit Hayamin (End Days) together.

It all comes down to what is in your heart: believing Yeshua is the Messiah and being faithfully obedient to Torah as a “labor of love” will result in receiving His Grace; obeying Torah just to earn your way into heaven is a direct route to somewhere, but not where you will want to be.

Parashah Tetzaveh (thou shalt command) Exodus 28:20 – 30:10

This reading deals with the consecration of the Priesthood. It goes into great detail about the manufacture of the robes, breastplate, and how to consecrate the clothing, the person and the altar, including the altar for incense, with the blood of the sacrifice. The priests are consecrated for 7 days, as are the other items dealing with the priesthood.

Chapter 29, verse 5 talks about how to dress Aaron, who at that time was the Cohen haGadol (High Priest), in the garments designated for that office so he can officiate as the High Priest. In the Chumash (commentary on the Torah) it states that the Talmud explains this verse as meaning, “When the priests are clothed in their garments, the priesthood is upon them; when they are not clothed in their garments, their priesthood is not upon them.”  The Chumash adds that this Rabbinic dictum is to indicate that the priests are no different than anyone else, and only while they were officiating in their garments, in the Sanctuary, were they then distinct from the rest of Israel.

I have the utmost respect for the Rabbinic wisdom often found in the Talmud, although I don’t always respect everything that the Talmud says. In this case, when I read this Talmudic explanation, my spirit screamed out to me,”The clothes don’t make the man!”

There are other requirements for the priests, beside what they wear, and these have to do with the priests family life and personal character (Leviticus 21); there are similar requirements for anyone in a position of authority within the community, whether spiritual or legal. It is true the clothes are representative of the office, but the person in the clothes must be the same person, with the same character and piety, and demonstrate that separation, or holiness, whether they are clothed or naked.

Of course, the high priest shouldn’t be streaking through the neighborhood, but you know what I mean.

As Believers, we should be demonstrating our anointing as priests by acting and speaking in ways that show we have the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit of God, indwelling and leading us. Whether we are dressed “to the Nine’s” for a special service, or lounging around in our “civvies”, our actions, words and thoughts should be as holy as if we were standing before the altar in the Sanctuary, dressed in our ephod, wearing the breastplate and leading worship. And all those who have accepted Messiah, who worship God and honor the Torah are adopted children of Abraham (Galatians 3:29), and (as such) members of the nation of priests that God separated from the rest of the world to lead all the Goyim (nations) to salvation (Genesis 22:18; Exodus 19:6.)

It is true that the clothes do not make the man (or the woman), but they can be indicators of who and what they are; in the case of a military uniform, it tells us what rank that person holds, indicating thereby his or her level of authority, just as the policeman’s or fireman’s uniform indicates their authority and function. However, our real “priestly” uniform is not visible- the indicator of our spiritual rank is not able to be seen by humans, but it is highly visible to the demons of the enemy: they can see the Mark of Messiah on our foreheads. They know who we are, but since humans can’t see that insignia, we need to demonstrate who and what we are through our actions, or as the bible would say, by our fruits.

How well are you showing the fruits of your spirit? Shaul (Paul) tells us what they are in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

I see today’s parashah lesson as this: there are clothes that indicate our level of authority within the community, whether it be the civil or spiritual community, but the person wearing those clothes should be the same person at all times. The official clothes should only be an outward statement of the inner being; we can wear albs and talitot (prayer shawls), collars and whatever “priestly” clothing that is expected of a person in a position of religious leadership, but what really matters is that people see our spiritual clothing, and that is shown in our deeds, our words and our lifestyles, how we treat our family and friends, and (maybe even more importantly) how we treat those who abuse and sin against us.

To use the same type of metaphor Shaul used in describing the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), each day put on a shirt of charity (which you would give to anyone in need), pants of humility (to show your willingness to serve others), shoes of justice (to guide your steps), wrap around your shoulders the talit of holiness (to show your observance of God’s authority in the world), and top it all off with the hat of  subservience (to show your total devotion to God.)

Now there’s a wardrobe that will never go out of style.