Are We Asking the Right Questions?

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The bible is often incorrectly defined as being made up of two separate books: the Jewish, or Hebrew bible, and the New Testament. For myself, and others like me who believe that all of God’s word is for everyone, the Bible is one book- it starts in Genesis and ends with Revelation.
The study of God’s word is the most important thing that anyone can do, and unlike getting a degree in History or Finance, it is something that never ends and always results in a new and deeper understanding of what God is telling us about who he is, who we are and how we should be.

The usual result of studying something is that we ask questions, and questions are good. Yes, I believe there are “stupid” questions, but we can learn even from those.

My question for all of us today is this: Are we asking the right questions?

During the years I have been “blogging” this ministry, I have seen so many people ask questions that, in my opinion, are not seeking to know God better, or to understand what God wants from us, but are along the lines of Gnostic thinking.

NOTE: Gnostic thinking is when we believe that our spiritual understanding, maybe even our salvation is strengthened through “special” knowledge.

What I mean by “right” questions is this:  are these questions leading us to becoming better people or just better trained in identifying details in God’s word?  Are we learning more about what God wants us to become or are we becoming more interested in finding out hidden things, being smarter and having more knowledge than someone else?

The kinds of questions I see cropping up all the time deal with details about what I believe to be unrelated to salvation. For instance, the biggest argument I see is how to pronounce God’s holy name, the Tetragrammaton. This devolves into the same argument with Yeshua’s name. I also see people arguing over whether or not the “day” begins at night or at dawn? When does the lunar Sabbath start? Did Yeshua really have a Seder or did he celebrate the day before the “real” Seder? Is Satan a man? Is the earth really flat? How long did Yeshua walk the earth?

These, and many other questions, are interesting- no doubt about that. They can serve as fodder for debate and discussion, but are they important? How does knowing when the Shabbat starts save our souls?

The answer I will get from those types who absolutely love to nit-pick details from the bible (straining gnats) is that it is very important to know these things. One argument I have heard is that we are to call on the name of the Lord, but how can we if we don’t know how to pronounce it? If we don’t know his “real” name then we may be calling on the enemy of God!

Really? How many times are we told throughout the bible that God knows the heart? If God knows my heart, and I am calling out to him with a contrite spirit, repentant and asking for forgiveness do you really think that God is so petty and self-centered he will reject me just because I don’t pronounce his name exactly as Moses heard it?  In the bible there are many different names used to identify God, and if we believe that the bible is what God told people to write down, then these different names are all given to us from God. That means God is OK with us using any one of them, and since the original Hebrew didn’t have vowel points, we can’t really know exactly how to pronounce them. As such, it seems to me that any way we pronounce it will be fine with God so long as we are calling out from our heart.

I believe that knowing exactly when a Holy Day starts is not as important as celebrating it.

I believe that calling on God and praying to him using any name we have always used to identify God is fine with God. He is concerned with our attitude not our pronunciation.

I believe that God wants us to know and worship him better and isn’t concerned with the details of when the day begins or whether or not the calendar we use is accurate. If someone celebrates Pesach on the wrong day because the calendar they have misled them, I do not believe God will reject their worship.

The bible constantly tells us that God is not interested in the ‘blood of bulls and sheep’ but in the attitude of worship we bring before him. He was very specific in his instructions regarding the sacrificial system, the building of the Tabernacle, the measurements of the Temple that Ezekiel saw in his vision, and I believe all those details mean something. Yet, knowing what that “something” is will NOT save your soul. Knowing what God wants from you and acting in that way WILL save your soul.

When I am interested in learning some detail of the bible I always ask myself my own Acid Test question: “How will this affect my salvation?”  If it isn’t knowledge that will direct me closer to acting the way God says I should act, then it is not that important.

For example, knowing what importance the number “40” has in the bible will not save my soul, but knowing Abraham was credited righteousness because of his faith will save my soul.

Knowing exactly when the Shabbat begins and the absolutely correct date on the calendar will not bring me any closer to being the type of person God wants me to be, but faithfully observing the Shabbat, no matter when I observe it, will bring me closer to the proper worship of God and demonstrate my faithfulness, which will affect my salvation.

I know that there are many at this very moment who are yelling at me in their heads, telling me that everything in the bible affects salvation. I respectfully disagree, but understand why they feel that way- it is the only justification they can have for continuing to be Gnostic. If you ask me, the legalism that Shaul identified as misleading those Gentiles who accepted Yeshua as their Messiah has taken a new form today within the Christian world.  Judaism has long suffered with this problem which is from following the Talmud as though it was God-given scripture, despite the fact that Halacha is rabbinic regulation. This is what Yeshua was against and did not want us to be encumbered with. Many Christians who are trying to live their lives and worship God more in accordance with the Torah are in a way disrespecting the Torah by becoming too interested in the details and missing out on the meanings. They are learning facts and figures and ignoring spiritual guidance and growth.

Spiritual growth doesn’t come from knowing facts, it comes from having faith. Faith doesn’t need justification or confirmation- that is how faith works. And faith absolutely affects our salvation.

Let’s close with this… I absolutely do NOT have any problem with wanting to know everything there is to be found in the bible. What I do have a problem with is thinking that knowing everything in the bible is essential. I also have a problem with people arguing over how much they know more than someone else, especially when it leads to those people accusing others of being faithless or ignorant or- worst of all- not really saved just because they disagree with what the other person believes.

When it comes down to it, all God wants is what we are told he wants in Micah 6:8:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.

If you know nothing more than that and live your life that way, you will be OK.

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.