Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Is Permanent Permanent?

We saw in the “Valid Identification” entries, Part 1 and Part 2, that we are Israel.  Then we confirmed that YHVH’s Word Never Changes; and we saw what His Word says about Shabbat.  Now, let’s take a look at a few words that are repeated several times in Torah and consider what they mean to us today.

The phrase to which I would like to draw our attention is “let this be a permanent regulation through all your generations.”  Some translations use the term “perpetual statute,” “lasting rule,” “standing ordinance,” or “abiding law.”  The clear point being emphasized here is the instruction in view is meant to be remembered and observed for all time.  Let us agree then, that since YHVH’s Word does not change, then anything he marks with this phrase should certainly be taken seriously.

This phrase accompanies dozens of verses in Torah.  This entry cannot provide an exhaustive list of those references or, especially, provide extensive commentary on each of them.  So, I will encourage you to do your own study of this phrase, and confine myself to a few significant examples.  That is, at least I consider them to be significant.  Once I started noticing the recurrence of this phrase, it became important to me that I understand what is being required in each passage.

One of the first places I noticed this phrase was in Vayikra (Leviticus) 23, where the Feasts of the LORD are clearly laid out in annual order from first to last.  This chapter begins with “The designated times of YHVH which you are to proclaim as holy convocations are my designated times.”  This opening statement makes it clear that these “designated times” – moedim – belong to YHVH, and anyone who belongs to YHVH should be careful to give attention to his designated times.

A major point I want to highlight here is that Torah quotes YHVH here as declaring that these are HIS designated times.  They are not Jewish – and I direct your attention again to the explanation of the origins of that term in Valid Identification, Part Two.  Furthermore, even though these instructions are being imparted to all of B’nei Yisrael, YHVH nevertheless labels them HIS, which makes it technically inaccurate even to ascribe them solely to Israel.

Since YHVH is, in fact, addressing B’nei Yisrael in this passage, it is certainly not wrong to say that He expects Israel to observe the designated times he is proclaiming.  Remember that we have been grafted in to the tree of Israel (Romans 11).  We are children of Israel.  Therefore, these instructions belong to us, too.  And, by the way, what a great joy it is to keep the Feasts of the LORD!  More on the Feasts in later entries.

Another place where the subject phrase enters our view is in B’midbar (Numbers) 15.  It comes up in two passages – 15:15-16 and 15:38-40.

The first of these two passages is this:  “For this community there will be the same law for you as for the foreigner living with you; this is a permanent regulation through all your generations; the foreigner is to be treated the same way before YHVH as yourselves.  The same Torah and standard of judgment will apply to both you and the foreigner living with you.”

I know I have gone to great lengths to explain that we are “no longer foreigners” (Ephesians 2:19) and have become “joint heirs” (Romans 8:17); that, in fact, “we are Israel.”  The passage above seems to be a strong reminder to B’nei Israel that these instructions are YHVH’s eternal instructions, meant for all who call on His NAME.  We are not to think that we somehow have exclusive rights to HIS instructions.

But I have often heard people say that Torah does not apply to us.  This passage negates that argument in two ways.  One, it says Torah applies to “the foreigner living with you,” AND it says it is a “permanent regulation through all your generations,” so it has not passed away.  It is still in effect.

Possibly the most profound aspect of this particular instruction is that it also brings to mind YHVH’s desire for purity, holiness, cleanliness.  Many times he reminds us that he cannot abide mixture – he does not want us to worship him the way we worship any other gods.  And he calls on Israel to destroy utterly any practices that contravene his Torah.  Therefore, the foreigners in their midst must be held to the same standard.

The second passage of interest in B’midbar (Numbers) 15 is at the end of the chapter:  “Speak to the people of Israel, instructing them to make, through all their generations, tzitziyot (tassels/fringes) on the corners of their garments, and to put with the tzitzits on each corner a blue thread.  It is to be a tzitzit for you to look at and thereby remember all of YHVH’s mitzvot and obey them, so that you won’t go around wherever your own heart and eyes lead you to prostitute yourselves; but it will help you remember and obey all my mitzvot and be holy for your God.”

Many believers wear tzitziyot.  You may not see them, since they are often worn inside, out of public view.  The idea being that this instruction is meant to be a personal reminder of YHVH’s mitzvot, not particularly a public declaration of one’s loyalty to his mitzvot.  Torah is not meant to be a flogging stick by which we punish those we judge to be in violation of its tenets.

For me, the “discovery” of this phrase about “permanent regulation,” which came on the heels of a new understanding of the status of Torah and my identity in Israel, was earthshaking.  It was as if internal flags, which had been there all along, suddenly popped up out of the text and smacked me in the forehead.  I mean, how many different ways can we interpret “let this be a permanent regulation through all your generations”? 


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

He'll Take Care of the Rest

So, a foundation has been laid for our exploratory journey.  We have come to understand our identity as Israel.  We have seen the difference between Hebrew and Greek mindsets, and the impact this will have on our study of scripture.  We have accepted that Torah is still in effect, and is in fact central to our ability to draw near to YHVH.

This entry’s title is borrowed from Keith Green.  One of these days, I would love to devote an entry to sharing the impact his ministry had on my life.  But for now let it suffice to give him credit for the entry title, and explain why I chose it.  By the way, his name above is a link to his song with the same title.  Check it out!

Let’s just get this one important disclaimer out of the way:  There is absolutely no evidence, and no reason to believe, that Keith Green had my little interpretation in mind at all when he wrote and recorded “He’ll Take Care of the Rest.”  In fact, the lyrics themselves do not particularly lend themselves directly to my illustration, but please bear with me.

In Green’s song, “the rest” is essentially what is left when you have done what you can do.  He provides biblical examples to demonstrate how God miraculously “takes care of the rest” when we are obedient.  This is a powerful thing for us to remember as we fulfill the assignments YHVH gives us.  He will often take us beyond our current knowledge, skills, and abilities when we are doing his will.

My mind (being the way it is) put a little twist to the title phrase.  “Rest” – in English – besides meaning what is left over, can also mean “cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.”  Soon after this song came out, in 1977, I had this thought about the idea of God taking care of “the rest.”  It relates to Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  In the promise from Yeshua, I realized that rest is a gift from the hand of the Father.

Now, the next car in this train of thought came many years later; about thirty years later, in fact.

Once I was taking a closer look at Torah, with Kingdom (Hebrew) eyes, one of the first questions that arose for me had to do with Sabbath.  I had spent many years – decades, actually – believing and teaching others that because of Jesus every day was Sabbath.  Our rest is in him.  This was one of the ways I explained how to “keep the Sabbath holy.”  I was also taught and believed that the first day of the week was Sabbath.  Furthermore, I thought that the “seventh-day Sabbath” was Jewish.

As I read Torah I came to a sudden realization.  It seemed sudden because it was seriously startling when several things came together as one revelation for me.  First of all, Sabbath was established in the beginning for all of creation.  B’reshit (Genesis) 2:3, “God blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy, because on that day God rested from all his work which he had created, so that it itself could produce.” Not a Jewish thing.  Not even just a humankind thing.  It is for the benefit of all creation, ordained by YHVH himself from the beginning.

Another thing that “dawned” on me was the place Sabbath holds in the Ten Commandments.  I will leave aside for the moment the whole lapse in logic that allows us to think on the one hand that Torah has been defeated by Jesus, while on the other hand still holding as sacred the Ten Commandments.  We will just take as granted that we all accept the Ten Commandments as being in force.  If that is the case, then the fourth commandment should almost make our heads explode.  Except for the fact that we have conveniently redefined “Sabbath” to something it is not, this commandment is quite clear.  “Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.”  I do not read any stuttering in this commandment.  YHVH established the seventh day as set apart and holy at creation.  The seventh day is what we should be keeping holy.

Of course, some people will want to debate whether the day most of the English-speaking world calls “Saturday” is, in fact, “the seventh day.”  The idea is that we cannot be certain that our reckoning has stayed true over the millennia, and it actually seems most unlikely to have done so.  Therefore, we cannot know that we are “keeping” the right day!  I can surely see the “common sense” of that argument.  Nevertheless, in our current way of counting days – all over the world – “Saturday” is the seventh day.  Also, those who have been keeping the seventh day holy for all these years are presently observing it on “Saturday.”  The alternatives are to choose another day you think is the real seventh day (how would you know?) or not to keep it holy at all.  I choose keeping it holy.

People may say that Yeshua did away with the need to keep the Sabbath.  Well, scripture is abundant in evidence that Yeshua himself kept the Sabbath, and that believers in the early church also kept the Sabbath.  Yeshua never instructed us to stop keeping the Sabbath.  If Yeshua is to be our chief example for how to live, then Sabbath-keeping should be included.

Keeping the Sabbath holy has nothing to do with when, where, or how we gather for corporate worship.  I have heard some folks disparage “Sunday worship” as if coming together for worship on Sunday morning is, in itself, somehow violating the commandment to keep Sabbath holy.  Scriptural instructions about Sabbath do not indicate anything at all about corporate worship.  Prayer, Bible study, and worship are things each of us should be doing daily in our walk with YHVH.  We can gather corporately any time.  The early believers apparently met every day for a while.

It is true that scriptural evidence shows that the Jews came to synagogue on Sabbath for Torah-reading and discussion.  Coming together on Sabbath is still common Jewish custom.  It is an appropriate time to get together.  It helps us all to remember.  There are many interpretations and opinions about what we should and should not do on Sabbath.  Biblical instruction is confined mostly to “do no ordinary work.”  Isaiah 58:13 gives a bit more definition, “If you turn away your foot from the sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words.”  

There is, indeed, much more that can be said about Sabbath.  The point is, keeping Sabbath was one of the first truly tangible things we began to do in response to what we were learning.  We are still learning what it truly means, even though we have already learned much about it.  But I have to say, that once we began keeping Sabbath, it was as if the floodgates burst open.  Suddenly, we were gaining new insights almost faster than we could assimilate them.  That is how it happened for us, anyway.  How can I not encourage everyone to do the same?

I have come to understand at a whole new level that “He’ll Take Care of the REST.”  He ordained it from the Beginning.


Monday, December 19, 2016

His Word Never Changes

I confess that, early on, we were watchful and tentative about our exploration of “Hebrew Roots.”  We had made the decision to explore, but I think we were still wearing a lot of “protective gear” (figuratively), just in case we encountered something toxic.  We felt the need to keep our guard up; to wear hazmat suits and carry lots of sanitizer.  We reserved the right to run away.  Two primary things drew us forward:  1) the spirit of those with whom we were meeting, praying, singing, sharing – they bore witness with our spirits; and 2) clear evidence in the Word of God, despite decades of training and practice in alternate interpretations.  Truthfully, we sought the LORD continually as we stepped onto this path; and we still do.

Once we had made the decision to search and study, we first examined and then accepted the idea that Torah had not ceased to be applicable to our relationship with YHVH.  There are several passages that make this clear.  One of the most persuasive (to me) is Matthew 5:17-20, in which Yeshua, in the midst of one of his most beloved “Kingdom Treatises” – the Sermon on the Mount – declares that he did not come to abolish Torah or the Prophets.  He goes so far as to say that until heaven and earth pass away, nothing about Torah will change, and that those who disobey Torah and teach others to disobey Torah will be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.

What disturbed Yeshua was not Torah itself, but how it was abused and misinterpreted by the “scribes and Pharisees.”  The leaders were binding the people up with extra laws beyond Torah.  Yeshua wanted the people to be free from the legalism and harsh restrictions placed on them by the additional laws imposed by the religious leaders.  By adding these laws, the leaders were in fact violating Torah.  In D’varim (Deuteronomy) 4:2, they are instructed not to add anything to or take anything away from Torah.

When the apostle Paul discusses these things, which he does on several occasions, his point is always that we are free from the CURSE of the law.  The bulk of his letter to the Romans is about the importance of Torah and Israel.  He makes a thorough case for the endurance of Torah and its role in understanding Messiah’s victory over sin and death, from which we are now free.  In the midst of this discussion, he states in Romans 7:14, “For we know that the Torah is of the Spirit; but as for me, I am bound to the old nature, sold to sin as a slave.”  Sin is the enemy; not Torah.  Torah helps us understand the nature of sin.

We know that we are not saved by Torah or by the observance of Torah or by any obedience we might accomplish.  It is faith that saves us, which is in itself a gift of God.  “By grace you have been saved through faith, and even this is not your accomplishment but God’s gift. You were not delivered by your own actions; therefore no one should boast.  For we are of God’s making, created in union with the Messiah Yeshua for a life of good actions already prepared by God for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)  What is the “life of good actions already prepared by God for us to do”?  Torah.

Hebrews further explains salvation through faith.  Nearly all of those listed in the eleventh chapter – the Hall of Faith – walked with YHVH before he had delivered Torah through Moshe at Mount Sinai.  It was their FAITH that brought them into relationship with YHVH.  Leading up to this list of the Heroes of Faith, in the tenth chapter, the author quotes Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 31:32, the voice of YHVH, “…I will put my TORAH on their hearts, and write it on their minds…” – speaking of the time after the arrival of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) in power.  Far from saying the Torah will be done away with, he says he will place it even deeper into our beings.  As Paul wrote to the Romans, “Torah is of the Spirit,” then he proceeds to explain the benefits of living and walking “by the Spirit.”  In order to walk according to the Spirit, one must walk according to Torah.  Not in a legalistic way; not according to a fleshly understanding, but according to an understanding enlightened by the Ruach haQodesh.

Torah does not save us.  Faith saves us; and we are set free by Yeshua’s victory over sin and death through the shedding of his blood.  And the infilling of the Ruach haQodesh empowers us to die daily to the ruination of sin.  Chapter fifteen of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a brilliant discussion of dying to sin so that we can live by the Spirit.  “Come to your senses! Live righteously and stop sinning!” (15:34).  Yeshua gave us the example of righteous living when he demonstrated life according to the unaltered Torah.  He himself is The Living Torah.

We made the apparently radical decision to start reading Torah as a living, powerful thing, instead of seeing it as a book of history only.  Let’s face it.  If we truly thought Torah was put to death and is no longer efficacious, why would we even let it remain in our Bibles?  We cannot remove it because YHVH himself has ordained it as enduring instruction for our life with him.  Once we start seeing Torah – reading, studying, discussing – as applicable to our present daily lives, it begins to come alive with beautiful and amazing truth.  As the Casting Crown song proclaims, the “Word Is Alive.”

Choose Life!