Parashah Chukkot (Statutes) Numbers 19 – 22:1

Where do I even start? The Red Heifer rules? The death of Miriam? The death of Aaron? The defeat of Sihon and Og? What about the incident at Meribah, which made God so angry with Moses and Aaron that He refused to let them enter the Land? And the snakes, which caused Moses to make the brass snake that we hear about later in 2 King, 18:4 (I speak of that in my book.)

The Chumash speaks of the Red Heifer regulations as the most mysterious in the Torah; in all scripture, for that matter. That which defiles everyone involved in the making of it also purifies all those who partake of it. The lesson the Rabbis give us is simply that there are many things that we can not understand, and it is not our understanding that is required by God, but our faithful obedience.

This can also be seen in the sin of Moses at the rock at Meribah. There are a few different commentaries, but (essentially) the way Moses acted showed faithlessness in front of the people, and for that God was not given all the honor He expected Moses to give Him. In Judaism it is believed that the greater the man, the stricter the standards by which he is judged.  This is repeated, in a way, in James 3:1-2 where it says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The total and complete obedience of Gods commands are what God expects and demands from us. Moses did not just speak to the rock to show God’s miraculous intervention, he struck it (twice!) with the staff that God told him to take with him. That staff represented the miracle that God caused (Parashah Korach)  and I believe that God wanted Moses to take it, not to strike the rock, but to have it there to remind the people of God’s choice of Moses and Aaron as His representatives and their leaders. Moses used the staff in a totally wrong way, which brought no honor to God at all.

In Chapter 21, verses 4 – 9 (inclusive) we are told of another time the people grumble against Moses. This is at the end of their journey- Miriam and Aaron have died- yet after all these years of God’s miraculous intervention and provision, they still kvetch about everything! Oy! No wonder God was so angry that he sent snakes to kill the people. Yet, when they repented, He told Moses to make a brass serpent and place it high on a pole, high enough that all the people, no matter where they were in the camp, could see it. And when they were bitten, they only need look to the snake and they would not die.

Yeshua said, in John 3:14, that He would be lifted up like the snake in the desert. I see a double-prophecy in this statement, one prophecy to be fulfilled currently and the other aspect to be a far-future event. The current meaning was that Yeshua was going to be placed up on a pole, i.e., He was to be crucified. The future meaning of this prophecy would be that Yeshua (Jesus) would be worshipped instead of God, as the snake (called Nehushtan) was in 2 Kings during the time of King Hezekiah. When Moses placed the snake on the pole, it was to represent the salvation of God- the people still suffered for their sin (they were still being bitten by snakes, and that doesn’t feel very good) but instead of dying they could look to the representation of God’s salvation, the brass snake, and the consequence of their sin (death) was avoided. Today, and for many years, the image of Yeshua, a graven image on a pole (cross) that is displayed in some churches, is worshipped in lieu of God.  Just as the representation of Gods salvation was turned into an idol during the time of Hezekiah, today the “church” has turned Yeshua into an idol- an image and a person to be prayed to directly for salvation and to answer prayers. Yeshua told us to pray in His name; He was telling us to pray to God and to invoke His name. It’s somewhat like when someone wanted to enter a Speakeasy during Prohibition days, when they were stopped at the door they would say, “Joe sent me”, or some other code, that gave them recognition and entry.  When we pray to God, praying in the name of Yeshua is a means to gain entry, to have our prayers recognized and seen as righteous: not because of who we are, but by the righteousness of Him who we are referring to when we come before the Lord. The snake stopped being a representation of God’s salvation and replaced God as an idol, in and of itself. An idol is anything that we worship instead of God. So, too, today the image and the very personage of Yeshua has become an idol, something that is prayed to instead of God. Just as He said He would be.

God, and God alone, is who we worship, who we pray to, and who we obey. God, and no other. Yeshua is our Messiah and, as such, he sits at the right hand of God. At the right hand of God, NOT on the throne of God! So we should pray to God, and ask what we ask in the name of Yeshua; as intercessor to God, not as His replacement.

From all there is in this parashah, let’s remember this: God is the only God, God is supreme, and whatever God tells us to do, whether we understand why or not, we should do. That means E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G God tells us to do, as much as it is possible for us to obey.

And if you want to know everything that God tells YOU to do, read the Torah. Read the Mitzvot (commandments), read the Chukkot (regulations/statutes) and read the Mishpatim (rules).  All of the laws, rules, statutes, commandments, and regulations in there are expected to be obeyed by anyone and everyone who worships El Elyon, Adonai, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the father of Jesus.

There is just so much in this parashah, but if I were to put it in a nutshell, so to speak, I would say that the lesson here for us is to recognize that God isn’t concerned with how well we understand His laws and regulations, just that we show Him our love and worship through obedience.

Yeshua said that if we love Him we will obey Him: like Father, like Son.

Power of Prayer or Power of God?

I was waiting at the hospital yesterday for Donna to finish a procedure and the TV had on one of those “daily” shows, which was talking about a “miracle” kid whose parents state that he has survived because of the power of prayer. Although I was intently playing on my laptop, I stopped to listen for a bit.

They even had a medical doctor who was confirming that study after study has shown people who believe in the power of prayer have remarkable results. He went as far as to say medicine and religion are a powerful combination. It’s about time someone who works in a scientifically-based profession is willing to speak up for prayer.

It was then that I thought- is it really “prayer” we should be giving the glory? Isn’t prayer just a spiritual conduit to God? Shouldn’t we really be saying that it was the power of God that caused the miraculous survival, and not the power of prayer? The family that was being interviewed, and the young man who was the one surviving, knew who to credit as they constantly said it was God who has done this. Yet, don’t we hear often about how powerful prayer is, and it almost seems as though it is prayer that is given the credit. I am afraid that some people are giving the glory to prayer instead of the one being prayed to.

The inherent danger I see in this is that not everyone prays to God; at least, not the God of Abraham , Isaac and Jacob. If people believe that prayer is their salvation, to whom are they praying? Is it God? Is it Allah? Is it the Enemy? Is it just a generic activity, some “New World” idealism that we are able to heal ourselves through some mystical biofeedback mechanism called “prayer?” All of these are viable concerns, don’t you think?  The Enemy has the power (and will have the authority) to perform miraculous signs, so if I am just praying for something to happen, not praying to anyone in particular, and it happens, could it have come from the Enemy? He will do good things for you if it can lead you to trust him enough to accept his mark.

We need to stay focused on the giver of salvation and not (so much) the means. We say we are “saved by the blood of Yeshua”, but in reality we aren’t saved by his blood, we are saved by the fact that He gave it on our behalf. We are not saved by Yeshua, but by God. It was God who resurrected Yeshua (because He was a proper sacrifice) and because Yeshua performed works and lived (and gave) His life in order to make it possible for God to save us; we are saved, ultimately and wholly, by God. Yes, the blood was important, as was the life Yeshua led to make the blood acceptable. The suffering, the passion, everything about Yeshua’s life and death was what made the salvation through His sacrifice possible, and it is because of Yeshua that we can be saved. But it was, it is, and it always will be God who saves us through His Messiah, Yeshua.

In a nutshell, it isn’t prayer or blood or anything other than God who saves. Read the Psalms, listen to the Prophets, and hear what Yeshua is telling us.

The problem with humans is that we always try to complicate things, and add our own meaning. Remember the snake in the desert (Numbers 21)  that Moshe made at God’s command? When people were bitten by the snakes God sent as punishment for their rebellion, if they looked at the bronze statue they would not die. The snake didn’t save them, it was God- the snake was nothing more than a symbol of His mercy. Later, though, we read about how the Israelites worshipped the snake (2 Kings 18) and even gave it a name, Nehushtan. The snake was to be a symbol, just like the blood of Yeshua and the Cross, but these have become almost like idols to many people today. Didn’t God say not to bow to other gods, yet in the Catholic church they bow and worship a graven image on a wooden cross! I know they don’t mean to do wrong, but isn’t that exactly what God said not to do? No graven images, of anything? No bowing down to anyone or anything else? When did they miss that part? Do you think Yeshua is happy that many Christians (forget the Catholics, this is Christian-wide) pray to Him not to intercede with God, but instead of God? Yeshua is the Messiah of God, not the replacement. He is Lord, yes, but not the Lord. His Father is who He worshipped, and still worships, and still gives the glory, and to Yeshua God still is “The Man.”  We pray to Yeshua to intercede, to ask of God, so when we pray to God in Yeshua’s name we are doing what Yeshua would do, aren’t we?

When you talk to people about the power of prayer and the wonderful things that Yeshua did, please make sure that you do not create stumbling blocks by making prayer, blood, even Yeshua, an “idol” that replaces God’s true part in the plan of salvation.  Prayer, by itself, is useless; you must be praying to God, the one, true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If you pray to Him, you are to pray in the name of Yeshua. That is the promise Yeshua made- when we pray in His name; that doesn’t mean pray to Him to deliver you, it means pray to God, the one who grants your prayer, the one who is the giver of salvation, the one who is Judge. Pray to God and not to anyone or anything else, and ask Him to answer your prayer, and ask it in the name of Yeshua. Don’t pray to someone else to ask Yeshua to ask God. That’s just silly: why pray “retail” when the manufacturer of your salvation says you can get it “wholesale.”

Maybe I am being over-cautious. Maybe I am making something out of nothing, but I believe we should always be vigilant and careful not to create idols and stumbling blocks in our spiritual lives. In John, Yeshua said that whatever we ask Him to do He will do when we ask in His name, but that doesn’t mean to pray to Him instead of God because Yeshua then adds that it is so He can glorify the Father. It is still all about God. And the easiest way to avoid misdirected prayer is to keep focused on God, pray only to God and ask that God grant your prayer by invoking the name of Yeshua.

You have to decide if you want to pray to a saint, or Yeshua or to God. It is going to be your decision, and you will have to square it away with God, individually. As for me, I pray to God and I ask that He grant my prayers in the name of Yeshua Ha Maschiach. That has worked for me.

Prayer is powerful only because of the one to whom the prayer goes, so when you are talking about how powerful prayer can be, please remember to give the glory not to prayer but to the one who answers your prayers.