Yeshua, Our Great Atonement

Whenever you see the numbers 4 or 40 in scripture, I suspect that you will find some lesson about the Messiah nearby.

  • The fourth day of creation brought lights to rule the heavens.
  • Esau, a type of antichrist, married two Hittite women when he was forty years old, a pre-figuring counterfeit of Jacob.
  • Jacob was mourned for forty days.
  • Israel ate manna, bread from Heaven, in the wilderness for forty years.

There are probably dozens of other examples, but Noah and the flood is one of the best known. The rains fell for forty days and nights. One clear connection between the Flood and the Messiah is in the salvation of Noah and his family, as well as the means of that salvation.

There are three words in Genesis 6:14 that are directly connected with the atonement of Yeshua.

  • Gopher – גּפר (gofer)
  • Cover – כּפר (kafar)
  • Pitch – כּפר (kofer)

Since vowel points weren’t added to Hebrew for two thousand years after the Torah was first written down, the only difference between these words in print is the gimel (hard g sound) in gopher versus the kof (k sound) in the other two words. Otherwise all three words are spelled the same. The puns are clearly intentional.

What makes this even more interesting to me is that kafar (cover) and kofer (pitch) are also identical in spelling to the Hebrew for atonement: kippur. (The F and P sounds are represented by the same Hebrew letter, peh.) Kippur is the root of kapporet, which is Hebrew for mercy seat*. See Exodus 25:17 and 30:10 among many other verses.

These particular words (gofer, kafar, kofer) were used in Genesis 6:14 as a deliberate allusion to atonement.

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. (ESV)

Make yourself an ark of atonement wood. Make rooms in the ark, and atone it inside and out with atonement.

Noah’s ark was covered with pitch to shelter the survivors from God’s wrath, while Moses’ ark was covered with the mercy seat to be a buffer between us and God’s overwhelming presence. The first ark contained God’s chosen people and miraculously provided sustenance. The Ark of the Covenant contained emblems of God’s Law (the stone tablets), guidance (Aaron’s staff), and sustenance (manna), all given to God’s people and carried by them through the Wilderness.

Messiah Yeshua is the atonement which carried Noah through the flood by which the earth was cleansed of violence and tyranny. Ultimately, he is the atonement, which carries us through Death itself to be resurrected and to stand before the Judgment Seat of God. He will cover us and carry us through that as well.

Back to the numbers…

Noah’s Ark protected its inhabitants through forty days and nights of rain that eventually covered the whole earth, crushing and drowning millions, possibly billions of people. How can such unimaginable destruction contain a teaching on the Messiah?

One of the most profound truths of the Messiah is that he not only saves us from death, but he saves us by and through death.

We cannot approach God directly in our sinful, corrupted state. We need atonement to cover up our stench. The blood of bulls, goats, lambs, and doves was offered on the altar and on the mercy seat as a temporary atonement, but Yeshua’s blood atones for our sins more completely than that of any animal. His blood makes a permanent atonement that cleanses not only our flesh, but our spirits from all taint of sin.

Through Yeshua’s death, we have been enabled to live eternally, but we must pass through death ourselves to obtain it, just like Noah and his family had to pass through the rains in order to be saved from the destruction that took the rest of the world.

Messiah is the atonement which carried Noah through the flood by which the earth was cleansed of violence and tyranny. Ultimately, he is the atonement which carries us through Death itself so that we may be resurrected to stand before the Judgment Seat of God. He will cover us and carry us through that as well.

Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
Revelation 7:15

Yeshua doesn’t always save us from trials, but he does save us through them. Our faith and mettle is tried continually by flood and fire and death, and his atonement will never fail us. We will come through the other side one day with a trove of refined spiritual gold, silver, and jewels in exchange for our own faithfulness.

* “Mercy seat” is a terrible translation of kapporet. Although the cover of the Ark of the Covenant could be considered the seat or center of God’s mercy, “covering” would be a much better translation.

The Holistic Nature of Scripture

To resolve apparent contradictions and other points of confusion, realize that Scripture is a palace, not a line. Read and understand it accordingly.

When God made mankind, he put them in the Garden and told them they could eat from every plant, right?

Genesis 1:29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”

Genesis 1:1-2:3 is a summary of creation week. Genesis 2:4-25 tells the same exact story but from a different vantage point. It’s hazy regarding the passage of time, leaves out some details, and adds some others. That doesn’t mean the two accounts are contradictory, only that they have different foci.

There is one problem, however. There is an apparent contradiction between Genesis 1:29 and 2:16-17.

Genesis 2:16-17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Which is it? Can man eat every plant or not? The answer is yes!

There is no contradiction. The confusion is not in the words, but in the reader who treats them like a mathematical text. Genesis was written to be understood by ordinary people. It’s bare meaning had to be accessible to shepherds and farmers, so it was written in the same basic language that they themselves used.

When a subsistence farmer says, “Let’s get all these fields planted,” does he mean every single field in existence? Of course not. Does he even mean all of his own fields? No again. He only means all the fields that are supposed to be planted at this time, and he expects that everyone to whom he is speaking will understand that.

The ancient Hebrews knew the story of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When they heard or read, “I have given you every plant that grows on the earth,” they didn’t need to hear “except for this one” to understand that there was at least one exception.

We don’t need to hear it either. Instead, we need to understand that God and his words recorded in the Scriptures are holistic. They are a unified whole (echad in Hebrew) with depth and height and breadth. We cannot understand the words of Paul or John without understanding Moses and Isaiah, because the latter are a foundation and framework for the former. Likewise, since we do not live within the cultural context of Moses or Isaiah, we cannot completely understand their words either without Paul and John to finish the walls and trim.

Scripture is a palace, not a line. Read and understand it accordingly.

Blessing Israel – It’s Personal

Blessed are those who bless you, Israel, and cursed are those who curse you. Numbers 24:9b

And this he said of Judah: “Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries.”
Deuteronomy 33:7

Through the prophet Balaam, whom Balak had hired to curse Israel, God said, “Blessed are those who bless you, Israel, and cursed are those who curse you.” Christian America has largely taken this as a directive to contribute to Israel’s national defense, but is that a good interpretation?

The political entity of Israel today is primarily made up of Jews, whether physically descended from the southern kingdom of Judah or adopted by custom or conversion from among the nations. In the passage quoted above, Moses blessed Judah with the ability to defend himself with God’s supernatural assistance. Their survival does not depend on powerful military hardware or better tactics. Their relationship with God and obedience to his commands is a much more effective weapon. There is really very little we can do to help them militarily because any assistance we provide is superfluous. At times it might even be counterproductive.

The actual well-being of Israel is of secondary concern to most Christians. They don’t promote the idea of a military alliance with Israel because Israel needs it; they promote it because they need it themselves. They want the blessing that God promised to those who bless Abraham. There’s nothing wrong with that–we should all desire blessing from God, especially that which derives from blessing others–but they should realize that there are many other means by which they can bless Israel: justice in international courts, open trade, charity, and scientific cooperation, to name a few.

Our government in the United States (and pretty much every other government, including the State of Israel) is really only good at one thing: destruction. It seems to me that one good way to bless Israel would be to keep our government out of it unless something needs to be blown up, and there’s precious little outside of North America that we have any business blowing up.

Let private individuals do whatever they feel led to do on Israel’s behalf. Pray for Israel and the peace of Jerusalem, invest in Israeli companies, contribute to charities that help believers in Israel, etc. If you really want to blow something up, join the IDF.

I would ask one special favor of you, though: As one who has been grafted into the tree of Israel, an adopted child of Abraham, you can bless me (and therefore yourself) by using your own hard earned money to do those things, not mine or that of your other neighbors. Keep the US government and our tax money out of it. You, personally, should bless Israel in whatever way God leads you to, without forcing anyone else to give with you.

Forced charity isn’t really charity, after all. It’s just extortion with a smile.

The greatest blessing of all is the Good News of the Risen Messiah. If you really want to bless the Jews and the State of Israel, teach them to bless the name of Yeshua and to keep the commandments of God. There is no better early warning system, no better missile defense, no greater offensive capability than armies of God fighting on your behalf.

Shadows of Jesus in Joshua

There are shadows of the multiple roles of Messiah revealed in the anointing of Joshua to succeed Moses.

 

The role of the Messiah is a complex subject, and like most complex subjects, you can often convey more information with a story than with a simple list of facts. And for this topic, just one story won’t do the trick. Fortunately, the Scriptures are full of them–Isaac, Joseph, David, etc.–like multiple shadows cast by the same man struck by light sources at different angles. Each character shows a different facet or role of who Messiah is supposed to be. Sometimes the same character plays several roles.

Moses and Joshua are two such types of the Messiah.

Moses set the people free from slavery, led them through the Red Sea after a three day journey, taught them from a mountain top, and guided them to the border of the Promised Land. He even told of another “prophet like me” to come.

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.’
Deuteronomy 18:15-18

After Moses died, Joshua took the people across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He led them in war and destroyed their enemies. He fulfilled the promises that God made to Abraham to give that land to his descendants. He even had the name of the Messiah: Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) literally means “salvation”, but it was a common diminutive form of the longer Yehoshua (Joshua’s Hebrew name), which means “YHWH saves”.

There is an interesting set of phrases in the anointing of Joshua as Moses’ successor in Deuteronomy 31. (There are a number of interesting things going on in the structure of that chapter. See here: A Chiasm in Deuteronomy 31.) Take a look at these two verses:

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it.”
Deuteronomy 31:7

And the LORD commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”
Deuteronomy 31:23

Notice that when Moses commissioned Joshua in verse 7, he said “You will go with this people,” but when God commissioned him in verse 23, He said, “You will bring the people of Israel.” It is a subtle difference that is easy to miss and even easier to dismiss as inconsequential, but there is a difference, so we know that there must be a reason for it.

Consider the idea of the two Messiahs as illustrated in the stories of Judah and Joseph (mentioned here May It Please Our Lord, We Will Be Servants of God and here The Betrayal of Mashiach ben Yosef).

Messiah ben Yosef comes to serve, to teach, and to suffer for his people, while Messiah ben David comes to throw off the yoke of foreign oppression and to lead his people to victory.

Moses’ told Joshua to “go with this people”. This implies that he must be one of them. He must not elevate himself above his fellow Israelites, but lead by example. Yeshua did exactly that. He lived among the people as a man, he experienced our pain and our temptation, spoke with us, ate and drank with us, he taught us how to live according to Moses’ instructions, and lived those instructions perfectly. Finally he died the most humble of deaths for us. As Messiah ben Yosef, the suffering servant, he truly “went with” his people.

God, on the other hand, told Joshua to “bring the people of Israel”. To bring a people anywhere requires authority and power. A commoner doesn’t bring his people anywhere unless he first earns or captures a place of influence over them. Yeshua didn’t need to take control, because the Father caused him to be lifted up (John 3:14). He was resurrected and elevated to the right hand of the Father, preceding his people into eternal life. He was made to be King, not only of Judah, but of the whole re-united Kingdom of Israel, wherever her people might be. He was the first across the River of Death and Resurrection into the ultimate Promised Land and will one day take the rest of us with him.

When Yeshua returns, Paul wrote that those who died believing in him will be resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Yeshua does not need to return to the grave to bring them out. He will command it, and they will rise because they are his subjects. He will also send fishermen to draw out those of Israel who are ready to receive him and hunters to flush out those who are hidden (Jeremiah 16:16). These too might have no choice in the matter, and it will not be a pleasant experience for all involved–there are sins to be recompensed and character flaws to be rectified–but they belong to the King, and he will not lose a single one of those whom God has given him.

Like Moses, Yeshua will lead his people out of bondage again, and, like Joshua, he will bring them back to the Promised Land as the Father promised through Moses and the Prophets. But he will not come again as the suffering servant. Our debt has been paid in full; his blood is fully sufficient to remove the stains of all our sins, and his resurrection has opened the way for us to follow.

Instead of him humbling himself to become like us, we will be exalted to become like him. Yeshua will always be our King, but by God’s grace, we will finally be made subjects worthy of him.

One Step to Save America

Our men are anemic and our women base. What’s worse is that they seem to be proud of it. They put their filth on banners and scream obscenities in the street at everything virtuous. I see images on social media of people deemed admirable by pop culture, and I am repulsed when I’m pretty sure they mean for us to be attracted.

You should watch a few hours of MSNBC and MTV, and then read Isaiah 3. I have been convinced for a long time that Isaiah 3 very closely matches our society here in America and in most of the European cultural demesne:

  • Our most capable men are so discouraged by injustice and a system designed to crush masculinity and patriarchy through legislation and public shaming that they are focusing on their own little worlds and hiding from the rest of the world.
  • Their absence left a vacuum that has been filled by children (Remember the political rallying cry of “But it’s for the children!”), women, and ineffectual men.
  • Injustice is the rule rather than the exception in our “justice” system. Political and bureaucratic oppression of those who might otherwise inspire others to greatness. Active and purposeful destruction of the family: divorce, family courts, and child “protective” services.
  • Physical appearance is everything, while character is nothing. Loose women who flaunt their independence and licentiousness are admired and called strong, while conservative women who keep a low profile and dedicate their lives to their children and husbands are made bitter by years of maltreatment and scorn.
  • The glorification of the perverse and the demonization of the virtuous. The cultural elite have declared war on righteousness and their primary tactic is the destruction of the individual conscience.

There are two things that we seem to be missing in spades: backbone and humility. Besides Yeshua, who in the Bible were exemplaries of backbone and humility? Some examples that immediately come to my mind are Moses, David, Deborah, and Abigail.

Moses was called the most humble man that ever lived, yet he stood up to Pharaoh and led millions through hardship and war. He begged God to spare the people despite their unfaithfulness, he answered their every call for help, and then he directed them in the destruction of entire armies and cities.

David constantly wrote of his own unworthiness and refused to attack the king who God said he would replace and who had tried to kill him. He sang, danced, and played the harp, yet hardened men of war flocked to his side, and he was Israel’s greatest general and king. He killed hundreds of men by his own hand and ordered the deaths of many thousands. He wept for his people on one hand, but never shrank from doing what was necessary to protect them on the other.

Deborah stayed out of the limelight except when she was called, and then she led a nation in justice and war by the respect of its people and the blessing of their God. When men failed, Deborah stood in their place and glorified God for the destruction of Israel’s enemies.

Abigail loved her husband in her deeds even if she despised his behavior and character. When his life was threatened by a powerful warlord bent on revenge, she didn’t step aside and gain her freedom. She confronted the warlord and saved her husband’s life. When God took her husband a few days later, she became a queen and an example for women in all ages.

America and the west has very few Davids and Abigails. Those we have are banned from the public square. But if we are to survive, then we must turn the tide. We must repent and turn back to God’s Law en masse. We have to stop making excuses for why God’s Law no longer matters.

“Oh, Jesus has already forgiven all the sins I will ever commit, so all that preachiness is straight from the Devil.”

Yeah, you just tell him that when you meet him. Do you remember what he said about peole who reject God’s Law? I quoted it last week:

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ -Yeshua (Matthew 7:23 ESV)

The solution to Israel’s problem in Isaiah 3 is repentance. Only then does the tide turn, and “In that day the branch of Adonai will be beautiful and glorious!” (Isaiah 4:2)

I don’t know exactly where you are in your life, but I know that you’ve been telling yourself that God doesn’t really care about something you’ve been doing. “Has God really said…?” you keep asking yourself, but you already know the answer. I know because I do the same thing. We all do. But don’t ask God to tell you what to do in a matter on which he has already spoken.

America isn’t Israel, of course, but many who are of Israel are Americans, and the burden truly to transform our society rests squarely on us. We can’t expect those who are lost in rebellion to turn around without someone to lead them.

Do you want a Moses to lead you in revival? Then become Moses.

Do you want an Abigail to show you how to be a wife and mother of great honor? Then become Abigail.

Take that one thing in your life that you know can’t possibly please God and commit to doing it differently. Pray earnestly and consistently for God’s help and be willing to accept that help when he sends it. He will show you the answers if you are willing to see them, and his answers to your personal issues frequently come from unexpected places. Don’t tell God how he is allowed to communicate.

Moses didn’t become Moses overnight. He spent a long time working out his issues in the desert before God sent him to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. David had to fight his lions and bears before he faced the giant, and Goliath wasn’t his greatest foe.

Don’t expect too much from yourself too quickly. You will fail at times, but it will be okay. Just keep moving forward, one step at a time, patiently but surely, supporting one another without condemnation, and relying solely on God’s Grace for your salvation and certain victory. God will honor your faith and obedience.

Fear God and keep his commandments. There is no other way to make America or any other nation great again in any way that matters.

Fear God and keep his commandments, for there is no other way to make America great.

The Curse and Curses of the Law

A few thoughts on The Curse of the Law and the many individual and national curses within the Law…

The Curse of the Law is the eternal condemnation warranted by every individual who fails to live by God’s standards of behavior. Since nobody except Yeshua has ever lived a sinless life, this curse would apply to everyone alike if God had not made a way for us to escape it. No amount of obedience to the Law can ever deflect the curse. Once the soul is stained with sin, no amount of obedience without faith in God can ever cleanse it.

The Grace of God is his willingness to forgive our sins and make a way for us to be reconciled to him, IF we repent of sin (behavior that is contrary to the Law) and put our full faith and allegiance in him. Yeshua takes our curse upon him, and his blood cleanses what we could not. This happens outside the provisions of the Law because the Law was never intended to provide a way of permanently restoring a man’s soul to God. (This is what Paul meant when he wrote “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” in Romans 3:21.)

The Curse of the Law and the individual curses contained in the Law are different things. The former is eternal and only individual, while the latter are temporal and both individual and national.

A person who has been forgiven his sins and has been brought into relationship with God is not free to behave in any way he pleases. Absolution from a crime is not a license to commit more crimes.

Yeshua said that not a single mark will be removed from the Law, and that includes the various curses for individuals who commit serious crimes and the national curses for failing to keep God’s Law collectively.

These are curses in the here and now, in the temporal world, not the world to come. A promise of resurrection and eternal life in the future doesn’t mean there are no (or should not be) consequences for idolatry, murder, and sexual perversion today. Crime must be punished (cursed) by God’s people or else God’s people will eventually suffer national punishment (curses) that will be much more severe.

The Law actually predicted that Israel would fail to maintain God’s standards and would suffer the consequences. Those national curses are still in effect today as most of Israel remains in exile among the nations and will only finally return in full when the nation returns to obedience.

The Contempt of God

Fear God. There is no other way to have a healthy relationship with him.

You can read the Bible in many ways. You can read it silently or aloud, or you can listen to someone else read it. You can take it in pieces, by verse, section, or chapter, or you can take it in great big chunks, whole books at a time.

I recommend all of those. Your brain will process the text differently each time, partly because it’s entering by a different route.

My wife and I were driving home from visiting her family this last weekend, and to pass the time we listened to an audio version of the Gospel of Luke, pausing now and then to talk about some point or other. It’s about a five hour drive, so we got most of the way through the book before we got home.

One great thing about listening to the Bible this way is that it lets you see broader trends that you might otherwise miss.

For example, Luke liked to present dichotomies. Do this, not that. This thing, not that thing.

The humble, poor, kind, and obedient, not the rich, proud, disdainful, and disobedient. The worshipful prostitute, not the inhospitable Pharisee, Simon. Treasures in heaven, not treasures on earth. Rock, not sand. The one grateful leper, not the ten who were ungrateful.

I hadn’t noticed that before.

There is one example of these comparisons that connects to another pattern I heard in Luke: Foreign cities that have never heard the Gospel will fare better in the final judgment than will Israelite cities that refused to heed the great miracles that were done there.

People usually had intense emotional reactions to Yeshua’s miracles. They ran the gamut from joy to terror.

Except in Nazareth, Yeshua’s home town. At Nazareth, Yeshua did a few miracles, but their apathy and disbelief kept him from doing much more. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they said.

And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24 ESV)

Even demons had a more positive response than did Yeshua’s own family and friends. In Luke 4:34, a demon acknowledged his power and position: “I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” Then it obeyed him. In 8:28, another demon called him “Son of the Most High God” and begged him for mercy. In 9:42, yet another demon, who respected none of Yeshua’s disciples, immediately obeyed his command to leave.

What was the biggest difference between Nazareth and those demons? Familiarity.

The people of Nazareth knew Yeshua when he was a child. They grew up with him, and they saw him playing with other children. They knew his parents, his grandparents, and his siblings. They were comfortable with Yeshua, because they thought they knew him.

The demons, on the other hand, really knew him in a way that no mortal ever could. They didn’t like him, as I’m sure many of his neighbors did, but they knew the reality of his raw, unparalleled power, and they were terrified of him.

The people of Nazareth had no fear of the Holy One of God, the Son of the Most High, and so he could do nothing for them. Wherever the people feared God and the growing reputation of Yeshua–at Nain in chapter 7, for instance–he raised the dead, healed the sick, and drove out unclean spirits.

The only difference between Nazareth and Nain was the level of familiarity and comfort that the people had toward Yeshua. The people of Nazareth saw him as an odd but friendly boy, while the people of Nain had heard the amazing stories that were spreading across the countryside, and they were afraid. They approached him on the road eagerly, but nervously. When he healed their sick and raised their dead, they were astonished. They were both joyful and even more fearful than before.

Perhaps we don’t see the miracles they saw because we don’t see the God and Messiah that they saw.

Consider the songs we sing in our churches.

He touched me. He guides me. He’s my hope, my support, my rest. I love him dearly, and I’ll follow him everywhere. Yadda yadda.

There’s nothing wrong with those specific words; they’re all great sentiments. There are many Psalms that sound very similar. The problem is that they’re all sentiment and no fire. They’re all “Me and Jesus,” and very little glory and majesty.

Why don’t we sing more hymns like Psalm 9 (written by David)?

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

When my enemies turn back,
they stumble and perish before your presence.
For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.

You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.

But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
And he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness….

(Verses 1-8 ESV)

Or Psalm 76 (of Asaph, also from the ESV)?

In Judah, God is known;
his name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.
There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah.

Glorious are you, more majestic
than the mountains full of prey.
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
they sank into sleep;
all the men of war were
unable to use their hands.
At your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
both rider and horse lay stunned.

But you, you are to be feared!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth. Selah.

Surely the wrath of man shall praise you;
the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.
Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them;
let all around him bring gifts to him who is to be feared,
who cuts off the spirit of princes,
who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.

Wow! What a God our Savior is!

God’s power is truly incomprehensible and it is all concentrated in the one man we know variously as Jesus and Yeshua. As Asaph wrote, our God, YHWH Elohim, is to be feared even by the most powerful men on earth. They are nothing to him. He brushes them aside like gnats.

We must never be overly familiar and comfortable with God. He is a consuming fire and a jealous God who will not stand by forever while his name is profaned and his people ignore his laws. Eventually, there will be an accounting, and every person will be repayed according to his deeds.

Many preachers today love to talk about how forgiving and gracious God is (And they’re right!), but they mistake his patience for apathy. They tell their flocks that God no longer cares about sin, that anything you do after the cross will never count against you. It’s all just love and bacon pancakes from here to the streets of gold.

Sin is a non-issue with God, but religious people make it a major issue. This is because they do not understand the new agreement. -Creflo Dollar

The Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. -Joseph Prince

In 2005, we were the first church in America to endorse marriage equality. We’re doing justice. -United Church of Christ

What nonsense! “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) I know that those preachers have read the Bible, but they are truly the blind leading the blind, because they haven’t even seen what is so clearly written.

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. -Yeshua (Luke 13:5 ESV)

Yes, our Lord is patient. Yes, he is forgiving. No, your good works will never earn you a place in heaven. But none of that means that his standards of behavior have slackened by a single letter.

God’s Law still stands today as the eternal measuring stick for those who would call themselves his people. There is no division in that Law. There is one Law for one People, and unless you repent, you too will hear those dreadful words one day:

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ -Yeshua (Matthew 7:23 ESV)

Trust in God’s faithfulness to forgive, in Yeshua’s blood that removes the stains of sin from our souls, but never forget that God is a force more powerful than anything today’s cosmologists have yet imagined, and he has rules for his house.

Go ahead and memorize Psalm 23–it’s beautiful and definitely worthwhile–but memorize Job 38 and 39 along with it.

Until we learn to fear God in all his power, I fear that we will never see his true power in our lives.

Tearing out the Tares

One vital point in understanding the parable of the wheat and the tares is that the two plants are very difficult to distinguish until they bear fruit.

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed [tares] among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the [tares] appeared also.

And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have [tares]?”

He said to them, “An enemy has done this.”

So the servants said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?”

But he said, “No, lest in gathering the [tares] you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the [tares] first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

Matthew 13:24-30 ESV
(I changed “weeds” changed to “tares” in this quote for clarity.)

When I was growing up, I heard this parable taught many times in Sunday School. The point made most often was this: Watch out for those tares. They look like real Christians, but that’s only a disguise on the outside. God knows what’s really in their hearts, and at the judgment, he will be able to tell them apart. The wheat will go to heaven, while the tares will go to hell. So don’t be like the tares. Be a real Christian, all the way through.

That’s good advice and all true as far as it goes, but it’s not complete. What about the man’s instructions to his servants?

Don’t pull out the tares, lest in doing so, you root up the wheat along with them.

I quoted the full parable in Matthew 13 at the top of this article from the English Standard Version, but I think this is one of those few cases where the ESV is clearly wrong. Certainly a tare is a kind of weed, but it’s a specific kind of weed, and that fact is important to the parable. I changed that word in the quote to make sure that point isn’t lost.

Fausset’s Bible Dictionary says this about the tare:

Darnel; at first impossible to distinguish from wheat or barley, until the wheat’s ear is developed, when the thin fruitless ear of the darnel is detected. Its root too so intertwines with that of the wheat that the farmer cannot separate them, without plucking up both, “till the time of harvest.” The seed is like wheat, but smaller and black, and when mixed with wheat flour causes dizziness, intoxication, and paralysis; Lolium temulentum, “bearded darnel”, the only deleterious grain among all the numerous grasses. (Fausset’s Bible Dictionary)

The landowner in Yeshua’s parable didn’t want his servants to weed out the tares because of three distinctive features:

  1. The tares are nearly indistinguishable from the wheat throughout most of their lifecycle. A worker, being unable to tell the difference, might pull up wheat and tares indiscriminately.
  2. The roots of the tares intertwine with those of the wheat, so that, even if correctly identified, removing them might still remove neighboring wheat plants.
  3. When they begin to ripen, the tares finally become evident to even the most untrained worker. All of the plants can be cut together and the tares separated out by hand.

Besides the Sunday School lesson I referenced above, what can we learn from this?

There are three kinds of believers that can be described as tares:

  1. Hypocrites who appear like saints to everyone else, but who harbor secret sins.
  2. The licentious who justify their behavior using alternative translations or interpretations of Scripture.
  3. Heretics who profess extra-Biblical revelation or who rely on obscure, mystical interpretations of Scripture to support a belief that could never be derived from a plain reading of the text.

Did you notice that I worded each of those to influence your opinion against the people being described?

Christians (and Jews and every other religious group…maybe I should just say “people”) have a long history of attacking their own over seemingly minor disagreements. We let our emotional attachments to our own opinions trump reason, knowledge, and love, and in the end, all we accomplish is destruction. We are like the servants in Yeshua’s parable, but instead of asking him what we should do, we take it upon ourselves to pull up what we perceive to be tares.

Let me give you some examples of the three types I listed above.

Secret Sins

A deacon at your church is respected and liked by the congregation. He has served honorably for many years. But recently you saw him exchange envelopes with a strange man in a restaurant. Was it a drug deal? A blackmail payoff?

This man looks like wheat to everyone else, but now you’ve seen something that makes you wonder if he might be a tare. Should you expose him?

What has he actually done? Did you see drugs, money, photos…anything actually bad at all? In reality, all you saw was two men exchanging envelopes. It could be a contract, landscape design, or project specs. You don’t really know anything at all.

God’s Law doesn’t authorize us to snoop in other people’s private lives. (See “So Shall You Purge the Evil from Your Midst“.) If someone is flaunting their sin or if it becomes public knowledge somehow, that’s another story, but if someone has sin in their closet that nobody knows about except him and God, then leave it be. You don’t know what unwarranted damage you might cause by meddling where you don’t belong.

Differences of Opinion

Reasonable and well-meaning people will have different opinions on what God’s instructions mean. That’s normal. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

One person believes they should never eat meat sacrificed to idols, while someone else believes it’s okay as long as you don’t participate in the ritual itself. They both might feel very strongly that they are right and that the other person is engaging in legalism or idolatry. They both love God with all their hearts and do all they can to help their neighbors, but based on this one issue, they are ready to excommunicate each other.

They have both identified the other as a tare, when in reality they are both wheat. Being wrong about something doesn’t condemn a person to hell or make them into a wolf in sheeps clothing. It just means that they’re wrong about something.

We all believe things that other people don’t, even things that seem to us to have clear and incontrovertible support from Scripture. Investigate why others believe the way they do, and you will almost certainly find that they have good reasons, and aren’t in rebellion against God. When we find ourselves on the opposite side of an issue from knowledgable and godly people, we need to step back and acknowledge that we might be wrong. That doesn’t mean you have to change your mind. It only means that you need to extend a little grace to your brothers and sisters in Yeshua when the Bible isn’t quite as black and white as we would like it to be.

Religious Dogmas and Esoteric Theories

Infant baptism or only adults? Sprinkling or immersion? Trinitarianism or unitarianism? Yeshua or Yahusha? Cessationism or continuationism? Young earth creationism or theistic evolution? There are countless more examples of controversies within Christendom that have no real impact on how we look or behave.

If you keep the Sabbath and don’t bow down to any graven images, does it really matter if you believe that God does or doesn’t have semi-autonomous parts? Nope.

If you don’t murder or steal, what practical difference does it make if you call the Messiah Jesus, Yeshua, or Yahusha? Zilch.

Does believing that the earth is 6000 years old or 5 billion years old matter if you honor your parents and respect your neighbor’s property? Not a bit.

Does reading the Bible in English make you any more or less a Christian than reading it in Latin? Christ didn’t read the Scriptures in either one, so I can’t see how it could.

These are matters of vain philosophy and imagination. They are myths and just-so story telling. Yet so-called devout Christians have killed each other over these issues because they refused to heed the parable of the wheat and the tares. In attempting to uproot what they believed was a tare, they caused hatred and division in the Body of Messiah. They destroyed lives, both innocent and guilty, and they continue to do so today by accusing their brothers and attacking one another over relatively trivial matters.

Deuteronomy 29:29 says “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” The secret things that belong to God are sins that are done in secret as well as those things that God has not chosen to reveal to us in any detail.

The Bible hints at many things that are not explained in depth and never addresses many others. For example, there are a number of instances in the Old Testament in which an angel is referred to as God. There are seven spirits of God. In mystical language, John said that Yeshua is God, and then there is the Holy Spirit, but the Scriptures also say that God is one. So is God one, three, or seven? We are created in God’s image, yet God doesn’t have a body. We have a body, so how can we be made in the image of a God that doesn’t? I don’t know the answers to these questions, and the plain fact is that neither does anyone else. God is God, and he is beyond human comprehension. He has not chosen to give us a detailed description of himself or his anatomy, and if he had, we shouldn’t expect to understand it anymore than an amoeba would understand ours.

Only pride insists otherwise.

When we insist, in the guise of stamping out heresy, on attacking one another over questions to which nobody could possibly know the answers or that don’t have any practical application, then we are like hamfisted workers, carelessly tearing out good wheat with bad tares because we think we know better than our master.

In our zeal to purify the Body of Messiah, we have tainted it by filling our hearts with hatred.

There are things that are clear in Scripture. In the context of the parable, we might say that thistles are easy to tell from wheat. Someone with spiritual eyes to see and hands to touch will never confuse the two. If you can uproot what is clearly evil without harming what appears to be good, do so. This is also part of our master’s instructions.

Open homosexuality, murder, theft, idolatry… Only those who are are in active rebellion against God and his Law will defend them. These things mark the truly reprobate from the righteous, and we are commanded by God to remove them from our communities to prevent their spread. We aren’t authorized to go looking for them in people’s closets, but if they are revealed, then we have to deal with them.

Speculations about esoteric matters that have not been revealed to us can be interesting, even enlightening at times, but are more often simply a waste of time. As long as they don’t lead people to reject what has been revealed or to behave contrary to God’s commands, they aren’t worth fighting over and driving off good people.

In the end, even every stalk of grass will be known by its fruit, and sometimes we just need to let them all grow and leave it to the Master to sort them out.

The master wanted his servants to wait for the harvest because there are things they don’t know. They can’t see the roots of those tares. They can’t see the DNA that truly defines one from the other. There’s a good chance they can’t even tell the difference between the wheat and the tares by looking directly at them.

Those things that God has not chosen to reveal to us are his business, not ours.

The Pursuits of Righteousness and Blessing

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you. They shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.
Deuteronomy 28:1-7

Deuteronomy 28 is infamous among students of the Torah for its short list of blessings for obedience to God’s commands and very long list of curses for disobedience–you have to skip ahead to Isaiah 60 to get a fuller picture of the blessings.

A chiasm in Deuteronomy 28:2-7 that highlights the blessings of obedience to God's Law.This chiasm in verses 2-7 caught my eye as I was reading this chapter last week:

  • V2 – You will be overtaken by blessing.
    • V3 – You will be blessed wherever you are.
      • V4-5 – Your labors will be blessed in the fields (agriculture) and cities (manufacturing).
    • V6 – You will be blessed wherever you are going.
  • V7 – Your enemies will be overtaken by curses.

If we are careful to keep all of God’s commandments, then blessing will overtake us, while curses overtake our enemies. We will be blessed whether we work in the fields or in the cities, whether we are going out into the world, or coming home to Israel. Whatever our professions might be, our labors will be rewarded.

I want to tell you three things about this chiasm and about the whole chapter in general.

First, I want to address the apparent imbalance in the amount of text given to blessings and obedience.

The curses aren’t given in more excruciating detail than the blessings because God is all lightning and brimstone with no patience for human foibles. To the contrary, God is extraordinarily longsuffering and generous in his forgiveness. He takes no pleasure in the suffering and death of the wicked, but longs to bless them through their repentance. No, there are other reasons for the lack of detail in the blessings.

True blessing is harder to perceive than curses. Defeat, poverty, disease, and barrenness…those things are easy to see and understand. But blessing is more and more subtle than victory, riches, health, and fruitfulness. Blessing comes also as love, contentment, honor, and purpose. This is one possible reason why the blessings for obedience aren’t enumerated: because they aren’t so easy to name and might look different to each recipient. Every child understands the threat of punishment, but most children will never understand the true value of their parents’ blessings until they are parents themselves.

Second, notice how this chiasm begins and ends: with pursuit and capture.

In the opening, we are overtaken by blessings in our pursuit of righteousness. In the closing, our enemies are overtaken by curses (defeat) in their pursuit of cursing us. This is related to the disparity of text dedicated to blessing and cursing.

Blessings are good things, by definition, and there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to be blessed in every way possible. Good health, profit, wisdom, children… These are all things that we should desire, but they must be kept in proper perspective. Balance can never be achieved by pursuing blessing, only by pursuing righteousness.

The light of God’s Word and Love desires to shine through us into the world, but it can’t do that if we are only focused on ourselves. The ultimate goal of every righteous man must be to become an effective conduit of God’s Light into his community and even the whole world. By every mitzvah–every good deed–that we perform, we show God’s love to one another as well as to him, because as Yeshua pointed out, to love God and to love one’s neighbor are together the cornerstone of the whole Law.

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
Matthew 22:40

Through pursuing greater righteousness (not for salvation, but out of love and gratitude toward our Creator and Messiah), we will be overtaken by the blessings of God, while those who pursue rewards for themselves and curses for their enemies will be overtaken by curses themselves.

Third, see where the blessings will come and how: in the city and in the field, in the fruits of agriculture and in the fruits of manufacturing, whether you are coming or going. 

The point is that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living nor where you do it. It doesn’t matter if you are a farmer, builder, teacher, or accountant, whether your work is done on the road or at your kitchen table. What matters is who you are (Israel, both native and grafted in) and how you execute your labors (according to all of God’s commands).

It’s good to get your hands in the dirt, but no one is more righteous for being a farmer rather than a pastry chef. It’s also good to desire and to work for good things, so long as they never supplant God as our ultimate focus. By blessing God and our brothers and sisters, we bless ourselves.

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.
Matthew 6:33

Blessings come in many guises, but they come to all people who love God and keep his commandments before all else.

Storming the Gates of Hell

We don't always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.

Jamie Carper in the studio at WAIF FM in Cincinnati, Ohio. 1960-2018

My brother Jamie died last week.

He fought cancer for almost two years, holding on long enough to provide as much financial security to his family as he could, and to spend a few of his last few days with his parents. Having settled his affairs and given a little comfort to mom and dad, he finally let go.

But the impact his life had on the world is here to stay.

For more than thirty years he promoted Christian music of all kinds and sometimes performed himself. He was part of the worship team at church for almost his entire adult life. As a DJ, sound man, musician, and organizer, he helped untold artists gain an audience and touched uncountable lives in ways great and small.

I knew all of that before, but until now I had no idea how deep and how signficant his influence had been.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been contacted by several people who told me about the enormous impact that Jamie had on their lives simply by being a friend and introducing them to spiritually healthier music choices without being judgmental about who and where they were at the time. At his memorial last Saturday, one person after another spoke about how they were in a bad place in life until Jamie opened his home or his studio or just treated them respectfully like real human beings. The love he showed to friend and stranger alike drew people in a better direction and changed their lives.

He was a good man and remains so today in the care of the Father.

Hearing those very personal stories reminded me of this conversation that Yeshua had with Peter:

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:15-19 ESV

I’m not going to get into all the many and divisive interpretations of this passage. (Although you have to appreciate the fortuitous coincidence of Jamie’s primary focus being on rock music and it’s many close relatives.) Instead, I want to talk about a way that you and I can assault the very Gates of Hell in our daily lives. I’m not talking about casting out demons or praying in tongues. I’m after something more immediate and relevant to each and every one of us on any given day.

Let me start with an example from my own experience.

If you spend enough time on social media, you’re bound to encounter people with some pretty strange opinions. For example, there is a significant number of people who believe that the earth is flat and that NASA and the United Nations have been conspiring to fool us all into believing it’s round. They believe that this conspiracy somehow keeps people from believing in God.

There are also people who believe very strongly that the proper spelling of Jesus’ name is a matter of eternal salvation. If you don’t spell it Yahashuwa (or whatever), then you’re not calling and believing on the right name, and so you’re not saved.

I think that’s absurd nonsense, and I have very little patience for people who push those ideas. I’ve tried arguing with them, mocking them, and ignoring them, but in the end, I usually unfollow them so I don’t see them anymore.

But I learned something very important this past week from my brother’s many friends: Even people who say and believe stupid stuff need to be heard and loved. They’re already working hard to cut themselves off from the rest of the body of the Messiah, and they don’t need my help. Making them invisible doesn’t take away their loneliness and confusion.

Now maybe I won’t be able to convince many of them that the earth is round or that Jesus loves them no matter how they pronounce his name, but Jamie didn’t stop reaching out and loving people just because 99% of them didn’t respond. The few, with whom he was able to connect and develop a lasting relationship, were ready for what he had to offer, but they didn’t necessarily advertise themselves. Jamie had to talk to them all in order to find the few who were ready. They responded and they were snatched right out of the very bowels of hell because Jamie didn’t fear to stroll through the gates, listen to a bit of music, and share some food and conversation.

Sodom was a vile city that needed to be destroyed, but righteous Lot lived there. What would have happened if God had said, “I don’t need to go in there. I’ve already heard the stories. Let’s just burn it all.” Lot would have been lost.

Jericho needed to fall, but we can’t abandon Rahab.

Moab was a wicked nation…but remember Ruth.

We don’t always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.

God is love, and upon this rock he will build his kingdom from a multitude of lonely, hurting people, and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against you and me loving them as Yeshua loved us.