God Hates His People

God hates his people.

Or at least that’s what many churches teach. They quote Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in which he said, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent.” (Acts 17:30) Then they quote Yeshua’s statements along the lines of “You have heard it said thus, but I tell you differently.” And they conclude that God’s Law no longer applies and at least partly consisted of God winking at sin all along. The Law was incomplete and Jesus fixed it. Or worse, that God played Keep-Away with eternal salvation by setting the Jews up with an impossible standard even while he told them that it wasn’t that hard.

God loves his people! His word is true! Obedience brings Life! God never changes!Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. That’s not hyperbole. They literally don’t understand what they’re saying. I have to wonder if those theologians have ever actually read their proof texts. Neither Yeshua nor Paul was addressing the Law of God in those passages. Yeshua was correcting traditions of men, which misrepresented the Law, and Paul was speaking of total ignorance of the Law, which, for the sake of your faith in him, God overlooks until you are able to learn it.

The idea that God deliberately hobbled his Law by “winking” at certain sins or hobbled his people by making them dependent on an impossible standard for their salvation means that God hates the very people whom he claims to love.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall always rebuke your neighbor, and not allow sin on him. (Leviticus 19:17)

If God compromised his Law in deference to the prevailing culture (you know, that Egyptian culture of idolatry and incestuous marriage), then, by his own standards, he hated Israel even while he proclaimed his love. If the church is right, that God established sin in his Law or lied about his real expectations, then God is a liar and a hater of mankind.

What man is there of you, if his son asks a loaf, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks a fish, will he give him a snake? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask Him? (Matthew 7:9-11)

Which, of course, means that Yeshua was also a liar and evil. His execution was deserved, and we have no hope of salvation.

Ever.

The entire history of God’s interaction with man has been a long, cruel joke. The manna was poisoned, and the Passover lamb was infested with parasites.

But I don’t believe any of that!

I believe that David knew of what he spoke when he said that “The Law of YHWH is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of YHWH is sure, making the simple wise. The Precepts of YHWH are right, rejoicing the heart; the Commandments of YHWH are pure, giving light to the eyes.” (Psalm 19:7-8) I believe that when Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” he meant all of his commandments, and not only the ones that he had to tell us twice.

I believe that God loves his people, that his Word is true, that obedience to his Word brings life, and that he never changes. What was a sin three thousand years ago remains a sin today. What was not a sin three thousand years ago is still not a sin today.

Because God is love, and a loving Father doesn’t give his son a stone when he asks for bread. (Matthew 7:9)

Out of the Poverty of the Heart…

Leviticus 13-14, in the Torah portions called Tazria and Metsora, describes the process for diagnosing, treating, and cleansing of a disease called tzaraat. (Most English Bibles translate this word as “leprosy”, but that’s incorrect since the Biblical condition doesn’t really align with what we know of as leprosy or Hansen’s Disease.)

Levitics 14:2 says “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest,” and then gives instructions to the priest for completing the cleansing of the leper. When the leper’s skin condition has cleared up, he is to take an offering to the priest who will perform the necessary rituals to make him ritually clean again.

This is the passage that Yeshua cited after he healed a leper in Luke 5:12-14.

While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”
(Luke 5:12-14)

Notice that Yeshua did not say “Be healed”, but “Be clean”. Having declared the man clean, Yeshua told him to go to the priest as required by the Law, except that the Law says the man goes to the priest after he has been healed of the disease in order to be declared clean so that he can rejoin the congregation of Israel.

But if Yeshua had already cleansed the man of tzaraat, why would he need to go to the priest?

Jewish tradition says that tzaraat is caused by lashon hara or evil speech, especially against a person in divinely appointed authority, such as a priest or prophet. If the tradition is correct, tzaraat is the physical manifestation of a spiritual condition. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart.” (Matthew 15:18)

It seems to me that, if the disease in the skin is caused by a disease of the heart, then the heart must be healed before the skin can be made whole again. When Yeshua said “Be clean”, he wasn’t referring to the tzaraat, because, even as Yeshua himself confirmed, only a Levitical priest can declare a leper clean. Yeshua was referring to the man’s heart. In effect, he said “Be cleansed of your bitterness, resentment, and every other kind of hatred that causes one man to speak ill of another.”

Yeshua did not say “Be healed” because he was addressing the man’s spiritual condition, not his skin condition. Once the man’s heart was made whole, the tzaraat was cut off from its roots and his skin was healed as well. His physical healing was a happy side effect.

No one acts for long in opposition to who they really are. If you let a person talk and walk long enough, he’ll eventually show his true colors.

out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34

When Yeshua looks at us, he never sees only our outward appearance or even the things we do and say. He sees straight into our hearts. That’s how we need to look at people. We need to see with His eyes.

We need to see that when people say ugly things, it’s because there’s something ugly on the inside that needs to be healed. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad people. It could mean they’re hurting, sick at heart and longing to be told, “Be clean.”

It usually takes time and spiritual discernment to tell which. “The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later.” (1 Timothy 5:24) Don’t be hasty to judge a person’s heart. Let your default position be in understanding and kindness.

The Secret of the Passover Water-Bearer

The secret of the Passover water-bearer is revealed in the unnamed servant and the woman at the well.

And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, his disciples said to him, “Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?” And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says, Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ And he will show you a large upper room furnished and ready; there prepare for us.” And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
(Mark 14:12-16 ESV. See also Matthew 26:17-19 and Luke 22:7-13.)

This passage reads almost like something from a spy novel with undercover agents and secret codes. What was going on? Who was this man they met? And who was the master of the house who was apparently expecting Yeshua and his disciples?

Two theories dominate most commentaries:

  1. Yeshua was giving another demonstration of his divinity. By knowing exactly who would be where in Jerusalem and which house still had a room available at the height of tourist season, the disciples could see that he had knowledge that only one with powerful spiritual connections could have.
  2. Yeshua wanted to eat the Passover in peace with his disciples. He had secretly made arrangements ahead of time and sent only two of his disciples to a clandestine meeting to secure and prepare the Passover so that they wouldn’t draw attention. In this way, they could celebrate Passover without being disturbed by worshipers, miracle seekers, or detractors.

I don’t have any strong feelings against either of those ideas–they both have merit–but I think there is something more going on. Passover involves washing, cooking, and baking, so surely there was more than one man in Jerusalem porting water in preparation for the coming festivities. There must have been thousands! Why did Yeshua single out that characteristic and not another, like the color of his turban or the style of his cloak?

Although these ideas are plausible, and might even be true, I’m going to give you two additional, interconnected, more significant ideas.

In Mark 14, an unnamed servant, who carries a pitcher of water, leads two of the disciples to the master’s house, where they will prepare to share the Passover with their friends.

Why a pitcher of water? Who was the man and how did he know they were coming?

Whenever you see something inexplicably odd in Scripture, it’s a sign that you should stop and take a closer look. I think a good place to start looking is in other places where we see pitchers of water and unnamed servants.

  • Genesis 24 – Abraham’s servant recognizes God’s intended bride for Isaac because of her pitcher of water.
  • Numbers 5:11-31 – A clay pitcher is used to mix holy water and dust from holy ground to wash away the curses written against the woman accused of adultery.
  • John 4:1-43 – The woman at the well abandons her water jar to tell her neighbors about Yeshua.
  • 2 Corinthians 4 – We are clay jars into which the life and death of Yeshua have been poured.

There are others, of course, but I think this sampling is sufficient to learn something significant.

An unnamed servant is often a metaphor of the Holy Spirit, for example in Genesis 24 when Abraham sends his servant to find a bride for Isaac. How does the servant know which of the many young women of the town is the right one to bring back for Isaac? She is the one who is carrying a pitcher of water from which she will give a drink to him and all of his camels. Abraham is God, the Father, while the servant is the Holy Spirit, Isaac is the Son, and Rebekah is Israel, the Messiah’s bride.

So the servant in Mark 14 may be an image of the Holy Spirit, but what does the pitcher of water mean?

Bear with me for a bit.

By calling the servant–and the whole situation–a metaphor, I don’t mean to say that the events of Genesis 24 and Mark 14 didn’t actually happen as described. I mean that real events are often orchestrated by God to be prophetic metaphors of future events or of greater truths. In Mark, the man leads the two disciples to the Master’s house. Who is the Master? As in the Genesis story, He is God, the Father, and the house is the Kingdom of Heaven. No one can know the way to the Father unless the Spirit opens his eyes.

But having one’s eyes opened to the way is not enough. Yeshua said that he is the door and no one comes to the Father except through him. So where is Yeshua in this story? He is there at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end.

Bear with me a while longer, if you will.

Water is often a metaphor of spirit. Depending on the context, it can be the Holy Spirit or the spirit of a person or even of a people.

The water in this story is held in a clay pitcher.

Earthenware vessels take a prominent role in the sacrificial system. If a sin offering (Hebrew: khatat, which literally means just “sin”) is boiled in a clay pot, the pot had to be broken afterward (Leviticus 6:28), much like Yeshua’s body was broken for us as he took our sin upon himself. The clay pot is his body, the sin offering is our sin, and the water is his spirit, which transforms the sin offering into an atonement for sin.

There is another transformation–and another earthenware vessel–described in the trial of the woman suspected of adultery in Numbers 5. The woman undergoes an elaborate ordeal in which curses against her are written on a scroll and washed off into a vessel containing sanctified water and dirt from the holy ground of the Tabernacle. She then drinks the mixture. If she is guilty, she’ll die of a wasting disease. If she is innocent, the curses are erased by the water and dirt from the pitcher, not just physically from the scroll, but also spiritually from her soul.

In this procedure, we are the accused woman and Yeshua is, again, the vessel. His life was poured out on the cross in order to “blot out the handwriting of ordinances that were against us” (Colossians 2:14). We too are clay vessels, and into us, God has poured “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”, as well as his very life and death so that we can, in turn, give his light to the world while standing firm beneath the hardships and persecutions that the world throws against us for the sake of our faith in Yeshua. (2 Corinthians 4)

In John 4, there is yet another woman and an earthenware vessel. Yeshua and his disciples encounter a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well–Why does that sound familiar?–and when she realizes that he is the prophesied Messiah, she abandons her pitcher there at the well. She exchanges her pitcher of mundane water that must be replenished daily in order to continue sustaining life for another, Yeshua, that gives eternal life and never runs out. She runs home to tell all of her friends and family about the man who gave her living water, and they all believe in him too.

What has all this to do with the Passover water-bearer? Here is the meaning:

As in the story of Rebekah, the unnamed servant (the Holy Spirit) has gone to the well in search of a bride for the Master’s son. At the well he finds Peter and John who are two witnesses standing in for the twelve disciples, as well as for the two houses of Israel. They are the Bride of Messiah.

The servant doesn’t speak to them directly or on his own behalf, but carries his water pitcher on his shoulder, lifting up Messiah Yeshua so that they are able to follow him through the throngs that fill the streets for the coming festivities to the Master’s house, to the Kingdom of Heaven and the wedding feast of the Lamb.

God’s graphic prophecies are multidimensional, and if you turn them to look at them from a slightly new angle, you can often see another layer.

The servant is also you and me.

We are the woman at the well who has abandoned her old, empty life at the feet our Messiah and exchanged it for another, full of eternal life in Him. Our task, our Great Commission, is to lift Yeshua up high, like she did, so that all those who are called can see him in us. The world must be able to watch us walk among the world’s billions and see the life and death of Yeshua in our every word and deed. Our walk must be righteous to match the innocence which has been imputed to us by his shed blood, so that those who are ready and seeking him will find him.

The worthy servant of God goes out into the world with the Spirit and the Word to guide the broken, the sorrowful, the meek, and the hungry to the freedom from sin and death that is only found in our Passover lamb, Yeshua.

So, go, and live worthy lives that “draw all men unto” Him (John 12:32) and “be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2) to tell others of the living water that has redeemed and animated us.

Why Do We Need Yeshua?

Let’s play a game.

You’ve probably played this one before. It’s called word association. I’ll give you a series of words. After each word, you respond with a word of your own, the first word that comes to mind.

Ready?

  • Circumcision
  • Law
  • Commandment
  • Precept
  • Statute
  • Obedience

Fun, right? Well… that depends.

If you’re like most western Christians, you probably responded with some pretty negative stuff like ouch, rules, judgment, obsolete, or legalism. When I talk about obedience to God’s commandments, most people want to tell me about Jesus and how he fulfilled the Law so that we don’t have to.

“Don’t you know that we’re not under the Law anymore?”

I’ll set aside the mountains of bad exegesis and indoctrination behind that reaction to just say, I get it. I understand where you’re coming from. Before you go any further, let me tell you what I really believe.

I know this won’t be the last time–I’m sure I’ll write more articles with this same basic theme–but I’d like to get this down as succinctly and vividly as possible.

I don’t believe that anyone can earn their eternal salvation.

I don’t believe that keeping God’s Law (aka Torah) can make anyone righteous enough to pass muster at the final judgment.

There is one–and only one–Way of Salvation, and his name is Yeshua. You might know him as Jesus. If you truly believe in him (trust him to keep his word and to be faithful to deliver you in the end), you will be saved.

But I still believe in keeping the Law.

(Did I just heard somebody choke.)

“If we’re still supposed to keep God’s Law, why do we need Jesus?”

Good question! I’m glad you asked.

Let me draw you an illustration.

The Bible defines sin as breaking God’s Law, and we all sin. Except for Yeshua, there are no exceptions. Every single man and woman who ever lived has sinned, including you and me.

Imagine that God is up in the sky and we’re down here on earth. Our sin breaks our wings and puts a giant impenetrable barrier between us and God. He is up there, we’re down here without hope, and there is no way we will ever be able to get back to him. God is perfect and we’re not. Even in death, released from all fleshly ties, our spirits will only sink even further beneath the weight of our sins.

It doesn’t matter if we keep the Sabbath, observe Passover every single year, offer sacrifices, honor our marriages with lifelong fidelity, pay every tithe, and on and on and on. It doesn’t matter how perfectly we live, no amount of obedience will ever let us climb high enough to remove the stain and weight of our failure.

Satan, that serpent from the Garden, will still be there at the end to accuse us before God’s throne, and there will be no question of our guilt because God knows everything we have ever done. We can hide our sins from ourselves, our children, and even our mothers, but we can’t hide them from God.

In fact, he knew all along what we would do; he knew we would fall for Satan’s tricks and lock ourselves out of God’s presence. Fortunately, because he is just and merciful, he also set in motion a redemption plan so that we wouldn’t be completely without hope. From the very first sin in the Garden, God promised that a Redeemer would come to crush the head of that serpent and to set us free again.

God sent Yeshua, the only perfect man, to suffer and die for sins he didn’t commit. His blood washes away the stain of sin from our spirits and bridges the barrier that we erected, allowing us to be reunited with the Father.

Keeping the Sabbath, loving our neighbors–even our enemies–caring for widows, praying, fasting, and worshiping… all of these things are good and wonderful, but they can’t repair the damage we’ve already done.

Baruch HaShem! Bless the name of God! Honor and love the King by keeping his commandments. Just understand that the only way to heal the rift between you and God is by throwing yourself on the mercy of Messiah Yeshua and pledging all your allegiance to him.

Humility Before a Great, Incomprehensible God

A personal prayer from Ben Franklin

There’s an interesting little chiasm in Leviticus 8:1-5. (See here for more information on chiasms.)

  • Lev 8:1-2 – God instructed Moses on how to carry out the ordination of Aaron and his sons.
    • Lev 8:3 – God told Moses to assemble the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
      • Lev 8:4a – Moses did as God commanded him.
    • Lev 8:4b – Moses assembled the congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
  • Lev 8:5 – Moses told the congregation what God had commanded regarding the ordination ceremony.

The ordination ceremony involved killing animals, burning some parts, washing others, handling some organs, and boiling and eating yet other parts. There was bathing, anointing with oil, and splattering and dabbing with blood. Read all of Leviticus 8 for the full ceremony.

If you or I were to put together a ceremony for ordaining a new priesthood, I doubt it would involve bloody toes, eating boiled meat, or sitting outside a tent for seven days. God’s instructions for this event seem almost arbitrary, but Yeshua assured us that every letter is significant. God is never arbitrary. Every command has a reason, even if he doesn’t always explain it to us.

In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography he admitted to a lifelong tendency toward pride. He tried various exercises to overcome it, but in the end settled for simply hiding it behind kindness and carefully chosen words, which wasn’t a bad strategy. If every prideful person followed his example, ours would be a better world by far.

Unfortunately, Franklin’s pride in his own intellect led him to reject most of the Bible as a factual record of God’s relationship with mankind because so much of what God did and said seemed to him to be arbitrary or nonsensical. If he couldn’t see the utility in a particular command, he rejected it personally, even while generally respecting the beliefs of others.

Feeding the poor, ensuring justice for the accused, respecting the name of God, et cetera… These things made sense to Franklin, so he kept them. But the Sabbath, dietary laws, and others, he found to be devoid of practical purpose. He certainly isn’t alone. Most modern Americans share his opinions on these matters. Most of them, however, can be at least partly excused because of their lack of knowledge of the Scriptures and training in basic logic. Old Ben didn’t have those excuses.

Franklin believed in God and that God had created the universe and mankind. Reason ought to have informed him–as it did most of his contemporaries–that a being of sufficient intellect to have created the universe with all of its physical laws and intricate living systems must of necessity be in some respects far beyond our own ability to comprehend. A man of overwhelming curiosity, Franklin was acutely aware that he could never hope to understand even a fraction of the physical universe in his lifetime, so it would be a mystery to me how he could have concluded that everything about God and his commandments should be so easily grasped.

I say “would be a mystery to me,” because it would be if it weren’t for his admission to excessive pride.

Contrast Franklin with Moses.

Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth. (Numbers 12:3)

When God asked the impossible, Moses obeyed. When God commanded the absurd, Moses obeyed. He might have been embarrassed or inconvenienced or baffled at times, but he still obeyed.

Ben Franklin was a good man–a great man even–but because of his pride, all of his intelligence, experience, and wisdom was worthless compared to Moses’ humility. Two thousand years from now, if Yeshua tarries, Benjamin Franklin will likely have been forgotten by all except the most ardent historians. The name of Moses, on the other hand, will still be as large as ever.

It’s good to consider the “why” of God’s commands. Think about them, meditate on them, debate them. All of these things can bring insight if done in good order. But the one thing we must never do is to reject them simply because we don’t understand or like them. God’s wisdom is as far above ours as ours is above a worm’s. Probably much farther.

Second guessing God’s instructions brought on the fall of the entire human race in Eden. You are mistaken if you think you can get away with it now.

5 Ways to Reconcile with God

 

The five sacrifices in TorahNumbers have a lot of significance in Scripture and five is one of the biggest. There were five ranks of Israel as they marched out of Egypt, five pillars of the Gate of Truth in the Tabernacle, five volumes of the Torah, five ingredients of the holy anointing oil, five stones in David’s pouch, and five sacrificial offerings by which we can draw closer to God.

This week’s Torah reading (Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1-6:7) is primarily concerned with the five sacrifices. I haven’t spent a lot of time studying the sacrifices, so this post is pretty much off the top of my head. Even so, there are hints at some intriguing patterns:

Olah, the burnt offering.

  • Except for birds, the animals are to be killed and butchered by the one bringing the offering.
  • Birds are to be killed by the priest, who twists the heads off, breaks the wings, and spreads the whole animal out on the altar.
  • The flesh and entrails are wholly burned.
  • The blood is sprinkled.
  • The hide is preserved. Perhaps this isn’t the image God intended us to get, but I can’t help thinking of my hide having been saved from eternal fire.
  • It is voluntary to the individual Israelite.
  • It teaches us faith and obedience. We don’t necessarily know why God said to do this, only that he did. It is up to Israel to trust and obey without understanding.

Minkhah, the grain offering.

  • Must be unleavened grain. In the Scriptures, leavening usually represents sin.
  • Part is to be burned.
  • The remainder goes to the priest.
  • It is voluntary.

Zevakh Shelamim, the peace or thanks offering.

  • Done out of gratitude to God.
  • Portions of the fat are to be burned.
  • Some of the meat goes to the priest.
  • The rest of the meat forms the main entree of a feast for friends and family of the one who brought the sacrifice. It’s an occassion for a party.
  • It is voluntary.

Chatat, the sin offering.

  • Brought for sins of ignorance, not rebellion or deliberate sin.
  • The high priest offers a bull for himself.
  • If the whole community sins in ignorance, the priest offers a bull.

Asham, the guilt offering.

  • Brought for sins against our fellow men, not for sins against God.
  • The form of the offering depends on the financial state of the offerer.
  • Notice that there is no Levitical sacrifice for deliberate sins against God, “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” There is only one remedy for such sin, and that is the blood of Yeshua activated in our lives by sincere repentance.

Another thought I had is that each of these offerings probably lines up with one of the five volumes of the Torah. Possibly also with one of the five volumes of the Gospel. (I am including Acts with the Gospels.) They might line up this way (or they might not):

  • Olah – Genesis – Discovering God
  • Chatat – Exodus – Salvation from the ignorance of the world
  • Zevakh Shelamim – Leviticus – Learning to worship
  • Asham – Numbers – Growing through pain out of rebellion
  • Minkhah – Deuteronomy – Fulfillment and standing on our own

(Thanks to Jon Behrens at Restoration Messianic Fellowship for the five central characteristics of the five books.)

A final thought on the gory nature of sacrifice. If you’ve ever slaughtered an animal, you’ve had occasion to witness the startling redness of fresh blood, like red paint, and the profound realness of the transition from living creature to inanimate meat.

We are real people, not just spirits. We are flesh and blood. That’s the way God made us, and it is how we are supposed to be. We could spend all our time contemplating spiritual matters and thinking about doing good things, and there is a certain amount of value in that. Whoever said, “You are what you believe you are,” was right to an extent. But if we neglect the corporeal side of our beings, we become what someone else said: “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” We need such reminders that our different parts are intimately linked, that physical actions have spiritual consequences, and vice versa.

“The life is in the blood,” indeed.

Men Who Fear God: Yitro’s Rules for Leadership

Jethro's qualities of leadership

Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.
(Exodus 18:21)

In this passage, Jethro (Hebrew: Yitro) had observed Moses working himself to death by attempting to address every complaint of the millions of Hebrew refugees by himself. He wisely suggested that Moses needed some help and gave some specific instructions on how to select his helpers. His instructions were essentially the same as those Paul gave to Timothy and Titus many centuries later:

Therefore an overseer must be

  • above reproach
  • the husband of one wife
  • sober-minded
  • self-controlled
  • respectable
  • hospitable
  • able to teach
  • not a drunkard
  • not violent but gentle
  • not quarrelsome
  • not a lover of money
  • manage his own household well
  • keeping his children submissive
  • not a recent convert
  • well thought of by outsiders

(From 1 Timothy 3:2-7)

…able men… These men were to be “able” or chayil. They must have proven their ability by success in business, community, family, and war. They should be men of both knowledge and ability. They don’t need to be supermen, but their families should be well ordered, their businesses more successful than not, and their personal finances in order. Untried men should not be placed in positions of authority.

…men who fear God… Ability alone is not enough to make a great leader of God’s people. He must also be a man of God. He should have high personal standards, a healthy prayer life, and not embroiled in sordid controversies. There are many fine atheists and agnostics in the world–at least by the world’s standards–but they are not qualified to lead God’s people.

…who are trustworthy… Not men who are apt to deceive their way into office. The pathological dishonesty of the vast majority of modern politicians is obvious to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear. They lie and they lie and they lie, bolder every year, yet they remain in office. That we continue to elect such men and women into leadership is proof of the old adage: We get that government which we deserve.

…hate a bribe… Offices with power are rife with all sorts of opportunities to advance one’s own interests. It is a good thing to desire to lead God’s people, but not to desire it overly much. Remember Yeshua’s words: The first will be last, and he who would lead must serve. Any system resembling a democracy, unfortunately, must favor dishonest seekers of power and fortune.

There are no perfect people in the world. Everyone has flaws. Everyone has weak moments when we make poor choices, set a poor example, and think terrible thoughts. But it’s one thing to be flawed and something else entirely to be a liar, a thief, or a murderer.

One Law or Two?

Are there separate laws for Jews and Gentiles or One Law for both?

I teach that there is one Law for all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, that those who have been grafted into Israel are subject to the same statutes and moral standards as those who were born into Israel. One common–and reasonable–objection is that if the law didn’t apply to gentiles prior to Yeshua’s incarnation, why should it apply after? Wouldn’t that mean a change in the Law itself?

For now, I’m going to set aside the distinction between such terms as Jews, Israelites, and Church. It’s an important distinction, but I’ll get to that in a separate article. In this article, I use the term “Jew” as shorthand for the people known as Jews in the time of Jesus and their heirs, because that’s how the term is used in the Apostolic writings.

If I wrote of every scriptural evidence that the Law applies to more than only the Jews, I would have to write a book. But then if I had the time to write a book, it would have to be a different one. So I’ll settle for a handful of evidences.

Evidence 1: Romans 3:9-11,19-21 (9) What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, (10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; (11) no one understands; no one seeks for God… (19) Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (20) For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (21) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it…

The phrase “under the Law” does not refer to those who are obligated to obey it, but to those who have violated the Law and are therefore under its judgment. The Law testifies against the sinner, thereby making him accountable for his sins. Paul wrote that “both Jews and Greeks are under sin.” But how can a Greek be “under sin” apart from the Law if, as Paul also wrote, “through the Law comes knowledge of sin?” He did not write, “Through one law comes knowledge of sin to the Greeks and through another Law comes knowledge of sin to the Jews.”

Some will say that there are two different laws at work here, one for the Jew and one for the Greek. Don’t let the necessary improvisations of the English translators fool you. The same Greek word nomos was translated as law in every case, and there was no capitalization or punctuation in the Greek. Every use of nomos in this passage refers to the same Law as verse 21 makes clear. There is one Law for both Jew and Gentile.* The Israelites were only the vehicle through which God gave his Law. Verse 2 says that they were entrusted with the oracles (utterances or revelations) of God, not that they were the only people to whom those oracles were addressed. If it’s still not clear enough to you, read the next two verses:

Romans 3:22-23 (22) …the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

There is no distinction between Jew and Greek in our guilt before the same Law, just as there is no distinction in our salvation through faith.

Evidence 2: Galatians 3:8-14 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (9) So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (10) For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (12) But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (14) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Although I would like to focus on verse 13, I copied much more of this passage to give you a good idea of the context. The Letter to the Galatians was not written to Jews, but to Galatians. They were Gauls, Greeks, Romans, and other mixed gentile nuts. There were probably some Jews there too, but they weren’t Paul’s primary audience. Paul warned this mixed multitude of new believers against relying on the Law for their salvation, so we can be sure that he meant the Law of Moses. He told them that Yeshua set them free from the curse of that Law, but if the Law did not apply to the Gentiles of Galatia, how did they come to require salvation from its curse? Of course, the Law did apply to them. It wasn’t given only to be a witness against the Jews, but against the whole world! (See Romans 3:19.)

Evidence 3 & 4: 1 Timothy 5:18-19 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (19) Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

These are just two examples among many of Paul’s teaching of Torah to Gentiles. To what scriptures was Paul referring? Deuteronomy 25:4 and Deuteronomy 19:15. Since Torah doesn’t apply to Gentiles, why would Paul burden them with its instructions? His words make good sense, of course, but Paul explicitly founded his advice in the Law. He would later write to Timothy that all of scripture, including the Torah, is worthwhile to study and to teach. All of it. And going by Paul’s example, it’s not just good to study, it’s good to do.

Just ask James:

Evidence 5: James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

James 4:11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

James was specifically addressing the Twelve Tribes in Diaspora, so this doesn’t directly counter the original objection. But if the objection is correct, and Christians have no responsibility to keep the Law at all, then they should remove this letter from their Bibles altogether because it wasn’t addressed to them anyway. All this talk of law would probably only confuse them. On the other hand, I know that many people teach believing Jews that they must abandon Torah when they come to faith in Yeshua. James, the head of the church in Jerusalem, obviously disagreed. Faith in Yeshua (aka Jesus) does not abrogate the responsibility to keep the Law, but rather establishes obedience as effectual for the holiness of all believers.

Evidence 6: 1 John 3:4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

John, in addressing some common early heresies, defined sin as living without the Law. One could object that John meant living without any law and not specifically the Law of Moses, but I think that seems a little silly after Evidences 1-5. I think we can all agree that he wasn’t talking about Roman civil law or Jovian ecclesiastical law.

I have already gone beyond the “handful” of evidences I intended, but I really should add a few from the older scriptures for the benefit of any Jews who might be following along.

Evidence 7: Isaiah 56:1-7 Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. (2) Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (3) Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” (4) For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, (5) I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (6) “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– (7) these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

This is just about as plain a statement as you could want. Those non-Israelites who join themselves to God must never say that they are separated from his people, the Israelites. Just as Paul would write hundreds of years later: under God there is no difference between Jew and Greek. If gentiles worship the true God and keep his commandments, then they will be invited into his house. The implication is that, if they do not keep the Sabbath, they will not be invited, and their offerings and sacrifices will not be accepted.

Perhaps this is why David wanted to teach God’s Law to everyone. He was a man after God’s own heart, after all.

Evidence 8: Psalm 119:46-47 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.

Although he used two words, “testimonies” and “commandments”, the context indicates he meant them to be synonyms. If you aren’t as sure as I am, that’s understandable. Look a little further into Psalm 119, and maybe you will be convinced.

Evidence 9: Psa 119:118-119 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain. All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies.

David wrote that God spurns all who go astray from his statutes. Not just the Israelites or the Jews. “All the wicked of the earth.” Since he did not want to be spurned, discarded like dross, he chose to love God’s testimonies. These lines are even clearer than the previous ones that “testimonies” was used synonymously with “commandments” and “statutes” throughout Psalm 119, and that all three apply to gentiles as well as to Jews.

Appropriately enough for the topic, I will conclude with a tenth scriptural evidence that the Law of God applies to all people, though there are many more to be found.

Evidences 10: Zechariah 14:18-19 And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

Sukkot (the Feast of Booths) memorializes Israel’s time in the wilderness and prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. One could spiritualize this passage to avoid the issue–and the allegorical interpretation might not be entirely incorrect–but the literal meaning is quite clear. The day will come when any nation on earth that does not keep Sukkot will also not receive rain.

Sukkot, which means “tabernacles” or “booths”, is a festival that happens every Fall. It memorializes the time that Israel spent wandering in the wilderness living in sukkot and is the most likely time when Yeshua was born, hence the prophecies of the Messiah coming to tabernacle among his people. The manger probably wasn’t a feeding trough, but a tabernacle, a temporary shelter constructed in obedience to the command to live in sukkot for one week every year. Although it isn’t kosher by rabbinic standards, we set up our tents in the yard every year and try to sleep in them as much as possible for that week.

So, keep Torah (the Law) or not. Just don’t say that God never intended for non-Jews to keep it. The Apostles disagree.

*Be careful not to conflate the Sinai Covenant with the Law itself. The Law was included in the Covenant–Jeremiah says that the New Covenant also includes the Law–but it isn’t identical with the Covenant.

God Does Not Forget the Humble

Exodus 1:13-14 – And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage… The Hebrew word translated as ‘rigour’ in v13 in the KJV is perek. Strong said that it comes from a root that means to break or fracture. So the Egyptians were not simply using the Hebrews for their labor. They were trying to keep them weak by breaking their spirit through cruel and pointless labor.

(The hard labor to which Israel was put may explain some of the disparity between the numbers of men and women who came out of Egypt. The nature of much manual labor tends to shorten the lives of men significantly, even today. Robert Sheaffer wrote, “As for contemporary American society: women live an average of seven years longer than men. Twenty-four out of the twenty-five jobs ranked worst in terms of pay and working conditions by the Jobs Related Almanac have one thing in common: they are all 95%-100% male. Of those killed in work-related accidents, 94% are men.”* If that is true for modern America with OSHA rules and modern safety equipment, it must be doubly true for slaves constructing bronze age megaliths.)

There were five genocides recorded in Scripture, that were either ordered by God or perpetrated directly by God’s hand. Each of them was precipitated by severe injustice, usually combined with sexual immorality.

  1. Noah’s flood – Tyrants who were particularly abusive toward women. Possibly sexual immorality involving demons. Completely destroyed by God except for one family.
  2. Sodom & Gomorrah – Extreme hostility toward travelers. Sexual immorality. Completely destroyed by God except for one family and one small community.
  3. Egypt – Severe mistreatment of slaves, infanticide. Brother-sister marriages were encouraged, although that isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Population decimated, economy and military destroyed by God.
  4. Canaan – Child sacrifice, hostility toward travelers. Selectively destroyed, displaced, or subjugated by Israel at God’s command.
  5. Nineveh – Unspecified systemic violence. They repented and God relented.

The victims in each of these injustices were essentially defenseless. (Sodom was already guilty before the angels arrived to witness the fact.) God acted for them and removed the perpetrators. In the case of Canaan, he used the Israelites as his tool.

In Psalm 10, David alluded to the connection between the dispossession of the Canaanites and their injustices.

v1 Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
v2 The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.
v3 For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth.
v4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
v5 His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them.
v6 He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity.
v7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
v8 He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.
v9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
v10 He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.
v11 He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it.
v12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble.
v13 Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
v14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
v15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
v16 The LORD is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
v17 LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear:
v18 To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.

Every biblical genocide ordered by God was prompted by ubiquitous injustice, and the plagues of Egypt were no exception. The same principle works in families. Tyranny will break family bonds as surely as it breaks those within and between nations. God executes justice for those who are unable to defend themselves. Justice might not come when we would expect it, want it, or even recognize it, but it inevitably comes. A father (or mother for that matter) who deliberately provokes his children or a husband who cruelly uses his greater strength against his wife will eventually pay a price.

(See also Numbers 3:39, 3:43, and Ephesians 6:4.)

* Robert Sheaffer. “Feminism, the Noble Lie.” The Domain of the Patriarchy. http://www.debunker.com/texts/noblelie.html.

Read the Bible Just Like You’d Read Any Other Book

The late R. C. Sproul once said that you should read the Bible like you would read any other book. There is plenty in that statement to argue with if you’re looking for argument—The Bible isn’t like any other book!—but if you step back and try to understand what Sproul meant by it, you’ll find a fundamental truth to Bible study instead.

Read the Bible like you'd read any other book. -R.C. Sproul

If you pick a random book off a shelf at the library, how do you approach reading it? You ask several questions before you start:

  • Who wrote it?
  • For whom was it written?
  • What is it about?
  • What kind of literature is it?
  • When was it written?

Most people don’t even think about these questions consciously. They ask and answer them all in a few seconds subconsciously as part of the process of deciding whether or not to read the book. But consciously or not, we all ask these questions, because we need to know what kind of book we’re holding before we can know how to read it. You wouldn’t read a chemistry text book the same way you’d read a mystery novel or a book of poetry. If you try to read William Blake’s “The Tiger” as if it were a how-to guide for constructing jungle carnivores, not only will you fail to get a tiger, but you will fail to get the point.

The Bible—or rather the individual components of the Bible—is no different from other books in this respect. You have to know what kind of book you’re holding before you can know how you ought to read it.

Who Wrote It?

Although the Bible’s authors were inspired and guided by God, they still wrote in their own peculiar styles and from their own perspectives. The culture, religion, politics, and attitudes of an author will influence how he expresses himself and can add a significant depth to his words that might not be obvious otherwise.

For example, this verse from Ecclesiastes sounds like it’s about farming or some other hard manual labor:

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me.
Ecclesiastes 2:18

It’s a great and satisfying thing to build something that will last for generations, but this verse is talking about more than houses and even temples. It takes on whole new dimensions of meaning when you realize that it was actually written by a fabulously wealthy scientist-philosopher-king. There are many kinds of hard labor and the struggles of a righteous ruler for the sake of his people are as real as the bloody knuckles of a stone mason, even if they are not as visible to the naked eye.

The Bible was written by at least 40 different authors across more than 1500 years. They were scholars, priests, lawyers, kings, warriors, shepherds, and fishermen. Their professions, backgrounds, and current events gave each of them a different perspective on the world. We don’t know the names of every Biblical author, but, where there is doubt, there are usually sufficient clues to tell us what kind of people they were. At the very least, we can know that they were Hebrews in an agrarian society with no electricity, no running water, and no transportation that wasn’t powered by muscle or wind.

The one thing we must never do is read the Scriptures as if they were written by Americans in modern English.

For Whom Was It Written?

The identity of the intended audience of a text is just as important as the identity of the author.

Good relationships require good boundaries.

This statement will have very different—though related—meanings, depending on whether it was addressed to marriage counselors, property surveyors, or salesmen.

Paul’s letters were primarily written to specific groups of former gentiles who had no cultural background in the Scriptures and had only begun earnestly studying after their relatively recent conversion. James’ letter and Peter’s first letter, on the other hand, were written to Greek-speaking Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire. They were familiar with the teachings of the Pharisees and had heard the Old Testament scriptures read and taught in their local synagogues every Sabbath since they were children.

Unlike Paul and Luke in the New Testament, who wrote mostly to former gentiles, almost all of the Old Testament authors wrote for the benefit of Israelites with a thorough knowledge of their own culture, Scriptures, and prophecies. The people to whom Jeremiah preached and wrote knew the Torah well. They saw the Temple and the daily offerings with their own eyes. They had a deep cultural inheritance of the promises of God to Israel, of Messianic theology and expectations. A letter written to the people of Jerusalem in 700 BC is likely to be very different in content and expression to one written to recent converts living in Rome in 60 AD.

Keeping the background of a text’s intended audience in mind, especially when reading Paul, can aid understanding by eliminating some possible interpretations as being very unlikely and make other interpretations almost self-evident.

What Is It About?

Everything we read has a topic. Each discrete sentence or passage is about something or it wouldn’t exist, and the Bible is no different. If we want to know what a Bible passage means, we need to know what topic the author was discussing and to be careful about applying the words more broadly than the author intended or to the wrong topic altogether.

For example, if a paragraph says that gold is the worst of all elements and should never be used by anyone for any reason, you might be very confused if you didn’t know that the topic under discussion is the construction of tools that must not transmit electrical charges. It doesn’t mean that gold is unsuitable for any purpose whatsoever, only that you shouldn’t make solid gold screwdrivers for electricians.

Some topics have a narrower focus than others. For example, Daniel’s prophecy about the four beasts is about the rise and fall of kingdoms and not at all about winged leopards and horned monsters. We might be able to draw from it some valid lessons for studying history and politics, but we would be adding meaning to the text that Daniel didn’t intend. Once you start interpreting a passage beyond its original topic, you are on treacherous ground where the text can be twisted into any shape imaginable.

What Kind of Literature Is It?

Different genres of literature can have very different rules of grammar, structure, and interpretation. When reading in English, we all understand that a poet has more artistic license to exaggerate and distort the literal truth for the sake of the art than does a clinical researcher when describing the methodology and findings of his latest study.

Nobody accuses William Blake of lying for describing the tiger as being forged by a master smith. We all know that he was just using picturesque language and didn’t really believe that tiger brains come out of furnaces.

The Bible contains a variety of literary genres, frequently within the same book, and we need to apply the same kinds of mental filters when reading the Bible as we would when reading other books. Here are some of the broad categories of biblical genres:

  • History – Tends toward factual with heavy emphasis on names, dates, and places, but often leaves out details such as cultural information that wouldn’t need to be explained to the original audience. Sometimes presented as stories and dialog, sometimes as bare factual data.
  • Law – Heavy on formulaic literary structures, but often omits the cultural context of a law unless it’s directly relevant to how the law is to be obeyed. Frequently contains bits of history, but not always in chronological order.
  • Poetry & Wisdom – Rhymes, allegory, hyperbole, and dramatic imagery that isn’t necessarily meant to be understood literally.
  • Correspondence – Informal and personal with advice and theological exposition. Always omit details that both correspondents would have taken for granted, like cultural context, personal histories, and the contents of previous letters. Expect ambiguity and normal, conversational language.
  • Prophecy – Dreams, visions, allegories, et cetera, full of symbolism that might (or might not) have obvious meaning to the author’s original audience. Some prophecy is straightforward prediction of future events, but much is deliberately obscured so that it’s meaning is only clear in hindsight or to those who understand the symbolism.

There is frequent overlap between these genres. For example, Genesis contains all five in various places and the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 is History, Poetry, and Prophecy simultaneously.

You can almost always tell what genre you are reading by the context, but it can be obscured by translation. For example, the original texts might be arranged in meaningful ways, such as word order, white space, etc., or might contain rhymes and puns that are lost in translation. Most literally translated English Bibles attempt to preserve these elements, but it can be very difficult—often impossible—to translate poetry and allegory without losing much of the original art.

When Was It Written?

Some books and passages contain explicit statements concerning their time of writing: “In the seventh year of the reign of So-and-so, son of So-and-so…” A good Bible timeline can help you place these writings in the correct historical context.

Most English Bibles are arranged in roughly chronological order, so if a book doesn’t say when it was written, you can get a good idea by where it falls in the Table of Contents. There are exceptions, of course. The book of Job might have been written earlier than Genesis, for example, and all of the books of history, including the Acts of the Apostles, span long periods of time in which other books were begun and completed.

The time when a passage was written can sometimes have a dramatic impact on the meaning. For example, a prophecy of a future event is meaningless without knowing what “future” meant to the author. The Old Testament prophets contain many prophecies about the kingdoms of Judah, Israel, and the surrounding nations. If a passage talks about the future reunification of the two kingdoms, was it written before or the Assyrian conquest of Israel? Before or after Ezra and Nehemiah returned from Babylon? The answer to that question could change our understanding of the author’s intent.

The Bible Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

A thorough treatment of each of these topics could fill multiple volumes and probably has, but I did say at the start that this isn’t a masters course in Biblical hermeneutics. If you have the time and resources to invest in that kind of study, more power to you. For most of us, a little thoughtful common sense will have to suffice.

Just remember that the Bible didn’t spring into existence from nothing. It was written by real people, for real people, in the midst of real events. You can read the Bible like it’s just another coffee table book full of platitudes free of context, and you’ll still get some value out of it, but if you want real understanding, if you want to know what meaning the original authors intended to convey, then you need to have at least a passing understanding of who wrote each particular book or passage, to whom they wrote it, when, and why.

You can get most of that information from the text itself. Where the text is unclear, a good Bible Encyclopedia can be helpful, but remember that even the experts disagree about many dates, authors, etc., of some books. Believe what the text says and take what the experts say with a large grain of salt.


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