Does God Keep Secrets?

Gnosticism. Many of you have heard of this, and many of you probably have a better definition than the one I am going to give, but essentially it is the heretical idea that the world was created by an imperfect spiritual being, and there is a hidden, special knowledge we must find in order to be saved.

Too many people who are NOT Gnostic still try to figure out what special meaning, or hidden messages there may be in God’s Word.

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We see this all the time: people use the numerical value of the Hebrew letters to create some quirky relationship or algorithm to show what something really means (there are some numerological relationships that are legitimate), or they pull passages out of context to form a message that doesn’t exist on its own, or sometimes they just interpret something the way they want to in order to justify that it means what they want it to mean.

The Bible does confirm that God has secrets: we are told in Deuteronomy 29:29 that

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

And Yeshua told us in Matthew 24:36, regarding the End Days:

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” 

So clearly there are things God doesn’t want us to know, which begs the question: “If God doesn’t want us to know something, should we try to figure it out, anyway?”

If you’re asking me (and even if you’re not), I would not want to try to figure out something that God doesn’t want me to know. If for no other reason, it is disrespectful to God. If you have a secret, and a friend or acquaintance keeps bothering you to find out what it is, doesn’t that tend to piss you off a little?  Don’t you feel somewhat insulted that they ignore your feelings and keep trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do? Don’t you think God might, even with his compassionate understanding and tremendous patience, get a little impatient with people that keep trying to get him to reveal that which he doesn’t want to reveal?

In the Gospels, now and then Yeshua told things straight from the shoulder (especially when chiding the Pharisees), but he also taught using parables very often, which confused many people. Why would he do that? Is it possible that God wanted to keep secret the things of the Kingdom so that people wouldn’t understand what he was saying to them?

I believe that Yeshua talked in parables because we have Free Will; let me explain what I mean. Having the ability and opportunity to make up our own minds inherently requires us to think about what we do. Of course, so many people do without thinking, but that doesn’t change the fact that God allows us to decide for ourselves, and we are so easily led astray (just like sheep, right?) that he didn’t just give us a simple and easily understood lesson about the Kingdom of God, but instead he is making us think about it. God wants us to decide to be a member of his kingdom, and not because someone told us we have to be or we should be. He wants us to decide, for ourselves, that we want to be in his kingdom.

The warnings about following Yeshua are plain enough- if you want to join with Yeshua you need to deny yourself and pick up your execution stake, then you can walk with him (Luke 9:23.) In other words, being a follower of Yeshua is no walk in the park.

If you find yourself asking many questions, that is fine. I also like to know as much as I can about the Bible, God and what he wants from us. and I have nothing against the study of the Bible, which should be accompanied by a study of the historical and cultural mores of the times to properly understand what is written. We need to know the cultural and historical meaning of the words used, and their connotation at that time.

But I stop asking when it comes to things that are not clearly stated. The clearest statements we have and all we really need to know is what Yeshua said (love God and each other) and what God had Micah (6:8) tell the people what he expected from them- to love mercy, to act justly, and to walk humbly with God.

When we start dissecting passages and using numerology to justify what we think God is saying, we are treading a dangerous pathway that will only lead us to Gnosticism, which is the express route to faithlessness. Yes- Gnosticism is, to me, the path to faithlessness because the more we try to understand what we aren’t told, the less we are accepting of what we have been told. 

Read the Bible every day; learn what God wants from you; study the people, the times, the languages in order to better understand what is written; but do not try to learn what God has kept hidden for himself, and that would be anything that isn’t written down. If God wants you to know something that isn’t clearly stated, he will give you a revelation.

We should all just trust God to tell us what we need to know, and we shouldn’t pry into his personal business.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

When is Study of the Bible Too Much Study?

No video today.

Let me start off by saying, absolutely, that the study of the Bible is a life-long quest and is what we should all be doing. We should be reading and analyzing and trying to understand what message God has for each one of us within the words of the text. 

That being said, I am asking, “When does it become too much studying?”

Too much of anything can be bad for someone, and too much studying, even of the word of God, can end up misleading us from what God wants us to know. 

Most everyone reading this probably knows about Gnosticism, and how that belief in hidden messages and secret knowledge being the pathway to salvation is considered a “bad” thing.  Another “bad” thing is legalism, i.e. only through absolute obedience to the laws and rules is how we are redeemed, and that faith is not necessary. 

I have seen many people who are good students of the Bible become lured away from understanding what is in the Bible because they want to understand absolutely everything in the Bible. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but what I mean is that their desire to know what every little detail means leads them to see only the individual trees and they lose sight of the forest.

Doesn’t God tell us in Deuteronomy 29:29 that those things he wishes us to know he will reveal, but the secret things of the Lord are his alone?  The writer of  Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) says that knowledge and work and everything is useless. Do you know why he says that? It’s because Kohelet wanted to understand why God does what he does and to know what God knew. That’s why everything under the sun was useless to him- it is impossible for any of us to fully understand God. 

I once read that any god that can be understood by the mind of man is not worthy of the worship of man.  How true that is, and how unfortunate that so many people just don’t understand the implications of that statement. 

What is the difference between faith and lack of faith? Well, that is an open question, isn’t it? For the purpose of this message, faith is accepting that we can’t understand some things and so we should focus on what we can, and weak faith is ignoring what we can understand and focusing on that which we don’t.  In other words, God will let each and every one of us know what he wants us to know, and what he doesn’t want us to know will remain unknown until such time, if any, when God will reveal it to us. For me, faith is accepting that we won’t understand everything, whereas lack of faith (or a weaker faith) is to delve into minutia that isn’t going to edify or help anyone to know what God wants them to do. 

Didn’t Micah tell us that all God requires of us is to love mercy, act justly and walk humbly with God? Didn’t Yeshua say to love God and each other are the most important commandments, and that by following these everything else will just fall into place?? There is no commandment that says we must understand why God tells us things, or exactly what God’s purpose is when he tells us to do something. 

What God requires of us is faithful obedience and faithful acceptance that whatever he tells us is for our own good. When Yeshua said we need to come to him like a child he meant without needing to know “why” or with excess questioning, although anyone who has ever reared a toddler knows that endless questioning is part of their makeup.

I am sorry if this isn’t as “cut-and-dried” as I would like it to be. I am not saying we shouldn’t study the Bible, and I agree that understanding only comes with judicious study, as well as listening to others with knowledge to share. What I am trying to say is that when our desire to know what something means gets in the way of simply accepting that there are some things which aren’t necessary to know, some things which we will never know (such as the Chukim laws), then our “study” of the Bible has gone too far.

I am saying that faithfully believing God will let us know what he wants to reveal to us, if and when he does, is better than forcing ourselves to know everything we possibly can.  Too much knowledge can lead to misunderstanding if it is for the wrong purpose, meaning for prideful desire to show others how “spiritual” we are, how knowledgeable we are, or how much better we know the “Word” than they do.

I pray that this message is getting through, and I am sorry that I haven’t been able to phrase it better. We all should never stop reading and studying the Bible, as well as extra-biblical sources, but only in order to know what God wants from us. We should not try to understand God, or try to know what he knows, or (especially not) try to see hidden messages or find secret truths within the numbers or words. That leads to Gnosticism and a system of legalism. 

Never stop reading and studying the Bible and remember it’s more important to know what is in there than where it is. If you have a question about a meaning or passage, bring it first to God and ask for the Ruach HaKodesh to give you understanding. If God wants you to know, he will reveal it, and if it isn’t revealed then faithfully accept that you don’t need to know it.

God will let you know what you need to know, when you need to know it. That’s what he did with Moses, that’s what he did with David, with the Prophets, and that’s how Yeshua taught both the people and his Talmudim. 

If it was good enough for them, it should be good enough for us. 

Straining Out the Gnats

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In Matthew, Chapter 23 Yeshua is addressing the crowds and talking about the hypocrisy He sees in the Pharisees. He discusses how, in essence, they are more concerned about looking superior in people’s eyes then they are concerned with doing what is righteous in God’s eyes. They go through the motions of being righteous but they do not have righteousness as their goal. Instead, they seek the praise of men instead of acceptance by God.

Today I want to talk about one of the better known verses, Matthew 23:23-24:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. 

I see this all too often in the discussion groups I am a member of. There are many well-learned and knowledgeable people in these groups and I respect their understanding and years of study. However, when I see a discussion on a specific topic devolve into insulting accusations and judging of each other, I have to ask myself: is the topic a camel or a gnat?

Now don’t get me wrong: I enjoy discussing anything that has to do with God, Yeshua and the bible as much as anyone else, but what happens too many times is that the discussion turns ugly. People stop trying to edify each other or work to better understand God’s meaning because pridefulness rears its ugly head.

We are told not to judge others because how we judge others will be used to judge us. OK- everyone knows that, but how many people really understand what it means?  I am sure all of us have seen someone who thinks they are God’s own spokesperson, judging others and telling them that they are wrong, or that they will go to hell, that they are apostate, are demonically controlled….whatever. They accuse and abase people who may only need to be gently led into the truth of the Torah. But by being superior and judgmental, they are no better than the Pharisees Yeshua accused of hypocrisy. They turn people away from God by declaring themselves as an example of a godly person then acting in a way that is completely opposite of what they say they represent.

And why do they do this? Is it justified to call someone a sinner because they may say it is OK to wear a polyester blend? Or because someone else says it is fine to use the name “Jesus” in prayer? Is there anyone out there, really, who is authorized by God to determine who is going to hell and who isn’t? Are any of you in the place of God?

Oh, yes, I know what the prideful will say: “We are told that we will judge the earth and I am only judging you righteously.” Yes, there are those who will judge the earth…but not yet!

Who are we, any of us, to tell someone else today what God will decide about them later? Are we in the place of God? Are we above the messengers of God?

Let’s look at Y’hudah (Jude) 1:8-10:

But even the archangel Michael, when he disputed with the devil over the body of Moses, did not presume to bring a slanderous judgment against him, but said, The Lord rebuke you!” These men, however, slander what they do not understand, and like irrational animals, they will be destroyed by the things they do instinctively.…

King David tells us in Psalm 8 that God made us just a little lower than the angels. Well, if an archangel, the highest of all the angels, is willing to submit himself to God’s authority by not judging one who anyone and everyone knows is certainly deserving of judgement (Satan), then who are we to do so to each other?

I am not against discussing details and minutia that is in the bible. I mean, c’mon- I’m Jewish! If any of God’s creatures loves a good argument, it’s a Jew, right? So what am I kvetching about? It’s the pridefulness of people which a discussion will bring out when one is not paying attention to the more important things- compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and respect.

The gnat of a topic is strained while the sin of pridefulness is swallowed.

When someone says that they are ‘judging righteously,’ I hear nothing more than, “I know better than you and you need to acknowledge that by agreeing with me!” Maybe that person does know better, but does that give them the right to judge me? As a person? As a believer? As a child of God? Do they have the insight to see my heart? Do they have some special gift that can reach out across the Internet and know my inner desires?

No, it doesn’t. No one has that ability, unless God gives it to them, and I am pretty sure from what I have read about God that He wouldn’t give them that ability so that they can abase and insult people.

Again…don’t get me wrong. I am NOT saying we should allow others to sin without telling them about it. Far be it that we ever do that- their blood is then on our heads. NO! We must advise people when we see them sinning, or when they have a dangerously wrong interpretation of the Word of God. What I AM saying is that we must do this compassionately, with forgiveness for their ignorance (“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”) and also for their inappropriate response (if you get one) when we tell them.

We need to have the spiritual maturity to know when someone’s mind won’t be changed, and the emotional maturity to accept that they have a right to their own opinion. I have ended discussions nicely when I see that we are at loggerheads. In doing this I have been accused of being afraid of the truth, or stubborn, or lukewarm. I regret to say that I have been called worse things than that, all because I asked people to stop talking about something that we disagree on.

To bring it all together, let me finish by reiterating that discussion is valuable when it edifies people and can serve to help everyone involved better understand God’s word. My concern is that we all need to be aware of our innate pridefulness and remain humble with each other, discussing with love and respect for each other, as well as for God’s word, and to also remember that we are not to judge the world- not yet.

Therefore, we need to be careful when we enter into discussions about God, bible, or how to best obey the commandments. We need to be compassionate, understanding, forgiving and spiritually mature in our handling of both learned and neophyte Believers.

Any topic is only a “gnat” because the way we treat each other is a “camel.”

Speak truth to each other with humility and compassionate understanding, and until God Himself assigns us a throne in heaven we should follow the example of the archangel Michael and submit to God’s authority to judge others.