Salvation, Sanctification, and Ordination

Leviticus 14:1-32

The person who has been healed of leprosy is to present himself to the priest at the Temple. The Temple provides two birds, a piece of cedar, a piece of scarlet cloth, a branch of hyssop, and an earthen jar. Someone is to put into the jar a small amount of water from a natural source of “living” water. Next, the priest has someone else kill one of the birds so that its blood drips into the jar and mingles with the water. The priest takes the second bird and dips it, along with the cedar, cloth, and hyssop, into the bloody water. He sprinkles the healed leper seven times, pronounces him clean, then lets the bird go free.

Our High Priest was dressed in scarlet, nailed to a wooden cross, offered vinegar on hyssop, and buried in an earthen vessel. He was willingly killed by the hand of another so that we could be washed in his blood and set free from our sin. Like the healed leper, there is nothing we can do to save ourselves and join the kingdom of the Messiah except place ourselves at his mercy. The birds are Yeshua who was killed for us, rose from the tomb, and ascended to heaven. We are the leper sprinkled seven times as a sign of completion, as if to say, “It is finished.”

After being sprinkled with the bloody water, the cleansed leper shaves his entire body and washes his clothes and body. He then moves into the camp, but doesn’t enter his own tent for seven days. At the end of the seventh day, he shaves his entire body and washes again, then he is finally clean.

A new believer is declared clean by our High Priest, but must still work at cleaning his life before he can assume any kind of authority or official role in the kingdom. Only after he has proven himself should he be called a bishop, elder, or deacon.

On the eighth day, the cleansed leper takes to the Temple two male lambs and one female yearling lamb, three omers of flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. The priest kills one lamb as a guilt offering and one as a sin offering. After the sin offering, the priest anoints the right ear, thumb, and big toe of the leper with lamb’s blood. He then waves the oil and anoints the leper with oil on top of the blood. The remainder of the oil is poured over his head. Finally, the priest kills the third lamb and burns it along with the flour.

The cleansed leper offers three lambs and measures of oil and grain on the eighth day. Eight is the number of new beginnings, and the leper has already begun his new life. The two birds sacrificed on the first day are provided by the Temple, and these sacrifices are offered only after he has been cleansed. No offering or sacrifice we can make has anything to do with our salvation. Anything we do is done only in response. Once our guilt and sin have been removed, we are commanded to hear Torah (the ear), do Torah (the thumb), and walk in Torah (the toe). The anointing oil is placed on top of the anointing blood. Learn the Word, be filled with the Spirit, and then teach the Word. I’m not sure of the meaning of the burnt offering at this point. Perhaps it means that by the time we are able to teach, we should be mature in our faith with nothing left of our flesh but ashes.

Four of the five types of sacrifices are made in the cleansing of a leper: guilt, sin, grain, and burnt. The final sacrifice of the thanks offering is not commanded, but it is expected, and will be blessed. Following the rules can be a good thing, but it is God alone who heals and saves. Be sure to give glory where glory is due.

And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back and glorified God with a loud voice. And he fell down on his face at His feet, thanking Him. And he was a Samaritan.

And answering, Jesus said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were none found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner? And He said to him, Rise and go; your faith has cured you

Peter’s Passover

Passover ripples forward and backward in time

Over many years in Sunday School, in church, and at school (I went to a Christian school.), I remember hearing the story of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12) many times, almost as often as I heard about the non-escape of Paul and Silas in Acts 16. But in all that time, I don’t recall ever hearing that God orchestrated–and Luke portrayed–this escape to be a mirror image of the Hebrews’ escape from Egypt.

I don’t think there was any grand conspiracy of silence involved. Maybe it was taught, and I missed it, but I think it’s more likely that most of my teachers were unaware of the parallels themselves. But once you become very familiar with the story of the first Passover in Exodus, the connections are very difficult to miss. Check out this startling list:

Peter’s Passover Israel’s Passover
Herod persecuted Yeshua’s followers. Pharaoh persecuted the Hebrews.
Herod killed James (“Jacob” in Hebrew). Pharaoh killed the infant sons of Jacob.
Peter was arrested and imprisoned during Passover. Passover commemorates the enslavement and redemption of the Hebrews.
The congregation of believers prayed for Peter’s deliverance. The Hebrews cried out to God for their deliverance.
There were sentries outside Peter’s cell door. The Egyptians were outside the blood-marked doors of the Hebrews.
An angel, who lit up Peter’s cell, appeared to lead him out of prison. An angel in the form of a pillar of fire led the Hebrews out of Egypt.
The angel woke Peter and told him to get up quickly. God told the Hebrews to be prepared to leave Egypt quickly.
Peter’s chains were removed by a miracle. The Hebrews’ chains were removed by a series of miraculous plagues.
The angel told Peter to dress and put on his sandals. The Hebrews were told to eat the Passover with their sandals on and staffs in hand
The angel and Peter walked out past the guards with no resistance. The Hebrews walked out of Egypt with the full cooperation of the Egyptian people.
God caused the gates into the city to open to let Peter pass. God caused the Red Sea to part to let the Hebrews pass.
Peter said, “Now I am sure the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod and all that the Jewish people were expecting.” Jethro heard all that God had done in rescuing Israel from Egypt.
Peter went to the house of Mary (“Miriam” in Hebrew) where there was a prayer meeting in progress. Miriam led worship and prayer after the Hebrews crossed the Red Sea.
There was a disturbance in Herod’s court when Peter’s absence was discovered. Pharaoh was angry and regreted that he had let the Hebrews go.
Herod killed the guards who allowed Peter to escape. God killed Pharaoh’s charioteers in the Red Sea.
The neighboring kingdoms depended on Herod for food. The neighboring kingdoms depended on Pharaoh for food during the famine of Joseph’s time.
The people who heard Herod’s speech praised him as a god. The Egyptians worshiped Pharaoh as a god.
An Angel of the Lord killed Herod. God drowned Pharaoh in the Sea.

We usually think of the Passover as a one-time event (God delivered the Hebrews from Egypt) that prophesied another one-time event (the death and resurrection of Yeshua). Done and done. But that’s not really the way that God works. He builds everything around themes, applying the same patterns over and over, almost like ripples across the surface of time.

Passover also appears in the destruction of Sodom:

  • Abraham washed the feet of his guests and offered a meal with unleavened bread.
  • Lot offered a meal of unleavened bread to the angels.
  • Lot and his family sheltered in his house while angels caused mayhem in Sodom.
  • The angels lead Lot and his family to safety while God destroyed Sodom.

In the binding of Isaac:

  • God led Abraham on a three day journey into the wilderness.
  • Father Abraham left his servants (his disciples) behind while he and his son go on ahead to the altar.
  • Isaac carried the wood for his own death.
  • The near death and subsequent resurrection of Isaac.

And in John’s Revelation:

  • A series of plagues devastate the world (Egypt).
  • Those covered in the blood of the lamb are saved from or through the plagues.
  • The redemption of the 144,000.
  • The saints sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb.

There are probably other echoes of Passover in Scripture that I haven’t seen yet or can’t remember right now. My point is that it is a mistake to call one of God’s feasts “fulfilled” as if it’s no longer relevant. God wasn’t done with Passover when the Red Sea closed over the Egyptians. In fact, He was only just getting started. Nor was He done with it when Yeshua rose from the grave, as we can see in Peter’s escape from prison and in Paul’s use of Passover themes to teach holy living.

Yeshua’s death and resurrection wasn’t an echo of the Passover in Egypt, but the other way around. Egypt was an echo of Calvary, and it wasn’t the only one, either before or after. We can expect another Passover and another Exodus at the Day of the Lord described by the prophets.

Just as the plagues and the march out of Egypt weren’t a walk in the park for anyone, not even the Hebrews, so the Exodus to come won’t be pleasant. And like all great events and disasters, thorough preparation can make things much easier. We keep Passover every year as a memorial of what has already happened and so that we will be able to recognize God’s patterns when we see them in the world around us.

God’s feasts aren’t arbitrary, nor are they only historical. They are ongoing training that we can use to better understand His character and His plan, and to be better prepared for the future. If we are taken off guard at how events unfold, there’s no real excuse. God showed us what will happen, and then He told us and showed us again, and commanded us to learn it and rehearse it.

If you’ve never kept Passover before, it’s not too late. You can start this year, and don’t worry about getting all the details right. God doesn’t expect anyone to get it perfect or else He wouldn’t have told us to keep doing it year after year. But you do have to start somewhere.

Hebrew for Christians has a lot of good information on Passover at their website here. Don’t get overwhelmed. Take it one piece at a time and progress as you can. Find some believers near you who are hosting a Passover seder and ask if you can join them. Who would say no?


Here are some great resources you can use to explore Passover with your family:

A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays.
Great for families with small children who want to replace secular and pagan holidays with God’s days:
A Christian Passover Seder.
A guide to a semi-traditional Passover celebration for believers in Yeshua.

Vayikra: Approaching God

Yeshua's blood covers our imperfections and allows us to approach God.Leviticus (Vayikra in Hebrew) gets a bad rap. It’s usually dismissed by preachers and Sunday school teachers alike as tedious and irrelevant, full of blood and obsolete rules.

But God doesn’t waste words.

Vayikra begins with a series of word plays:

Leviticus 1:1-2 And the LORD called unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you bring an offering unto the LORD, ye shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

There are two distinct word plays that I want to talk about. Let’s look at the less obvious one first.

This Torah portion–in fact, this entire book–is named “Vayikra” which means “called” or “summoned”, but there is something missing from the English translation. This isn’t the fault of the translators necessarily because the thing that is missing could not be translated directly. The Hebrew word vayikra in verse one is spelled strangely. Although Hebrew doesn’t use capital letters like we use in English, it does use cases. It has a standard case, an upper case, a lower case, and even an inverted case. In this case, the final letter in vayikra, aleph, is in lower case, almost like a subscript.

There is another instance in the Torah where vayikra is spelled strangely: “And God met Balaam.” (Numbers 23:4) This vayikra has no aleph at all. The rabbis say (and the KJV translators seem to have agreed) that this is because vayiker implies a chance encounter while vayikra is a deliberate summoning.

The rabbis go on to say that Moses used a small aleph in Leviticus 1:1 because he wanted to de-emphasize the fact that God sought him out from among all his peers to lead Israel to freedom and to deliver the Torah. Balaam’s encounter with God was made inevitable by the path he and Balak had chosen.

Moses’ encounter, on the other hand, was pre-ordained. The small aleph is Moses’ way of saying, “Yes, God chose me, but that doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else.” We are all called. The questions to be answered are, how do we respond to our calling and what are we to do with it?

The second word play is more apparent, although the English translation still obscures it a little. Did you notice in the above paragraph how I used the word “case” so many times in a row that it almost became irritating? The Hebrew scriptures, especially prophecy, do this frequently. It’s a trick God uses to flag a particularly important idea or an idea that isn’t immediately clear in the plain text. The Hebrew words for “called unto”, “bring”, and “offering” all have the same root, kar, which refers to coming near. Putting the Hebrew words in, this passage looks something like this:

Leviticus 1:1-2 And the LORD vayik’ra unto Moses, and spake unto him out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man of you yik’rib a kar’ban unto the LORD, ye shall yik’rib your kar’ban of the cattle, even of the herd, and of the flock.

To make the sense even more clear in English, “YHWH told Moses to approach him and spoke to him from out of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If anyone of you would approach God with an approaching, you will approach with an approaching from the animals of your herds and of your flocks.'”

So what is the message that is barely hidden here? It is the central theme of the entire book of Leviticus/Vayikra: drawing near to God. Although Leviticus describes a sacrificial system and priesthood that most people today view as obsolete and even barbaric, it also describes the only way that we might be restored to a close relationship with our Creator. Our restoration requires innocent blood to cover (atone for) our sins. (“Why” is another question entirely and might be beyond our ability to understand.)

We must first acknowledge our guilt and our inability to approach God on our own merits. Then we must accept the atonement that God has provided for us in his inestimable grace in the person of his Son, the Lamb of God. (Genesis 22:8 and John 1:29) The blood of Yeshua takes away our sins so that when God summons us we may draw near without being destroyed.

As in so many other cases, God has presented us with a choice. He told us to choose between life and death, blessings and cursings. In the Garden he provided the means of our destruction and on Calvary he provided the means of our salvation. We have but to choose and to surrender to the consequences.

Balancing Torah

Did Elijah violate Torah by sacrificing on Mount Carmel?

God wants obedience. He said that if we love him, we will keep his commandments. Yet, Moses and Elijah both appear to have disobeyed God and were honored for it.

Although God had said that the only place authorized for making sacrifices was at the place where he would “put his name” (Deuteronomy 12:11), Elijah built an altar at the other end of the country. After he put the sacrifice on it and soaked it with water, he asked God to light it for him, and God did, sending fire from heaven to consume it, stones, water, and all. (1 Kings 18:18-40)

Moses came down from Sinai after forty days to find the people worshiping and sacrificing to the golden calf, and God said, “Step aside, Moses. I’m going to destroy these people and start over with you.” Moses refused and appealed to God’s reputation (His name) to convince him not to destroy Israel. “What will the Egyptians think of you?” God honored Moses’ disobedience and spared the nation. (Exodus 32:7-14)

The truth is that neither Moses nor Elijah were actually disobedient. If you have been keeping Torah for long, then you have probably realized that there are times when you must stretch or appear to violate one law in order to keep another. For example, it’s good to work on the Sabbath in order to free a trapped animal or to heal an injured man or feed the hungry. Not only is it not a sin to rescue someone on the Sabbath, but it would be a sin *not* to! Sometimes it takes a great deal of wisdom to weigh the competing priorities. The same thing is going on in both of these stories. There are important elements in both passages that aren’t made explicit in the text but that make all the difference in understanding what was going on.

When Elijah offered a sacrifice on Mount Carmel instead of at the Temple, in Jerusalem, he appeared to be in violation of this commandment. But he didn’t actually make the sacrifice. He only went half-way. He killed the animal and laid it out on the altar, but then he waited for God to finish the job. He stretched the letter of the Law, but he didn’t break it.

On the other hand, there can be no compromise with Baal or his prophets. We are commanded not to tolerate them, especially not in the Promised Land. Israel was supposed to have driven out all of the Canaanites and destroyed all of their shrines so that they would not be tempted to take up their false religion (Exodus 34:10-17). But Israel neither drove them out nor destoyed their holy places, with the end result that the northern Kingdom of Israel was thoroughly infested with idolatry from the very beginning.

Elijah picked a fight with the priests of Baal in the heart of the land they thought of as their own, but which actually belonged to God. He rebuilt one of the abandoned altars of God’s and proved who was the real owner. He understood God’s character well enough to know which rule took precedence in that situation and how far the one could be bent in order to preserve the whole.

When Moses stood in God’s way on Mount Sinai, he understood that God’s destructive power couldn’t really be constrained by a mere man. So why would God say such a thing? By telling him to move when clearly no movement was necessary, God was subtlely teling Moses that he had the authority to intercede on Israel’s behalf. For God to make promises of salvation to Israel and then to destroy them would itself be a violation of Torah, so Moses knew that it wasn’t really what God wanted to do. It was a test of Moses’ faith in God’s promises and of his willingness to sacrifice himself on behalf of the people, and Moses passed both tests.

God gave Moses authority over and responsibility for the people of Israel. He was their judge, teacher, and protector. He was the man whom God used to free them from captivity. When they fought the Amalekites, Moses’ upraised arms enabled their victory. When they complained against God, his intercession saved them from destruction. Moses, by divine appointment and as a type of the Messiah, was a spiritual covering for Israel. When God threatened to destroy them, Moses was duty-bound to intervene even against God himself. His role as Israel’s leader took precedence over any possible role as the progenitor of a new people, and he honored God by putting his own life on the line to save his disobedient, ungrateful people.* “God,” he said, “if you will destroy these people, then destroy me too, because otherwise I will have failed them, you, and myself.” Like Elijah, he had a heart that understood God’s.

I pray that YHWH will bless me with such understanding, with such love, with such a relationship with him, that I will know how to obey him even when obedience seems impossible, how to honor his calling, his people, and his Torah. Baruch HaShem!

*What a great example for all leaders and husbands! Moses put his own life in jeopardy because his love for God and his people demanded it.

Wise and Unwise Associations

Unwise associations can dramatically affect your entire life!

God gave Solomon wisdom beyond anyone else alive. He was wiser than all the sages of the east or of Egypt, the two great centers of knowledge in the world at that time. He was probably the wisest man ever to live save Moses and Yeshua. You’ve probably heard the story of the two women who both claimed to be the mother of a baby. He famously resolved the dispute by threatening to cut the baby in two, knowing that the child’s real mother would rather give him to the other than see him killed. Harsh, but effective.

Solomon wasn’t always so wise. The book of Ecclesiastes documents his journey of discovery through almost every mistake there is. I’ve heard it said that much wisdom comes through experience. Solomon seemed to be determined to prove that correct. He made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot from them, finally concluding in this definitive statement:

The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man. For God shall bring every work into the judgment concerning every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

There are two stories in the first few chapters of First Kings that illustrate Solomon’s transition from fool to sage.

Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David until he had finished building his own house and the house of the LORD and the wall around Jerusalem. The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the LORD. Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. (1 Kings 3:1-3 ESV)

It’s clear that by this time, Solomon was already a good king. He loved God, kept the commandments, and served his people. But he wasn’t perfect. The high places where Solomon offered sacrifices were vestiges of the pagans whom Israel had displaced. Rather than destroying them as God had ordered, the Israelites incorporated these sacred groves and hilltops into their own religion. Rather than finish the job, Solomon continued this practice.

It was on one of these pilgrimages that God came to him in a dream and offered to give him anything he asked. Solomon’s answer is one of the most beautiful expressions of godly humility anywhere in Scripture.

And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:6-9 ESV)

Truly “the meek shall inherit the earth.” God granted this request for wisdom and gave him incalculable wealth as well.

1 Kings goes on to describe Solomon’s administrative appointments, his scientific and philosophic accomplishments, and the accumulation of his vast wealth.

And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom. (1 Kings 4:34)

The historian then juxtaposed the story of Solomon’s alliance with Pharaoh to his alliance with Hiram, King of Tyre.

And the LORD gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him. And there was peace between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty. (1 Kings 5:12 ESV)

The writer points out that this second alliance was wise, where the former was not. They were very different in both substance and outcome. The agreement with Pharaoh marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter to create stronger ties and to discourage conflict between the two peoples, while that with Hiram was a short-term agreement to exchange goods and services. It didn’t necessitate violating any of God’s commandments, such as the one explicitly forbidding alliances of marriage with pagan nations, nor did it create any permanent, binding ties between the two peoples.

There’s nothing in Torah against making business or military arrangements with foreign powers, but there are clear instructions against alliances involving marriage and the compromise of God’s prescribed religious institutions. Hiram brought material for the building of the Temple, while Pharaoh’s daughter brought idolatry.

The vital difference between one treaty and the other is summed up in the phrase “in the world, but not of the world.” Most of us won’t be making decisions that drastically change the course of history, but we all make agreements or sign contracts that will effect the rest of our own lives and often the lives of everyone around us. Sometimes it can be very difficult to tell the difference between negative and positive associations. Experience, prayer, and a knowledge of God’s instructions are all vital. Ask yourself, is this choice likely to bring me closer or further from God’s standards of behavior. For example, the alliance with Hiram allowed Solomon to build the Temple and centralize national worship. If the right decision still isn’t clear, then it’s probably a safe bet to assume that whatever association you’re contemplating won’t be good for you.

What Is the Difference between Grace and Following the Law?

Choosing to continue in sin is rejecting Grace!

This is from a conversation I had on Google+ today, but I thought it deserved to be preserved here at American Torah.

———-

Paul wrote “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'” in Romans 7:7. The word for “law” is nomos, which is the same word used throughout the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew “torah”.

John wrote, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness.” in 1 John 3:4. His word for “lawlessness” is anomia, which literally means “non-law” or “a condition of being unlawful”. It’s the same word used by Matthew to describe people who break Torah. The KJV renders that phrase “for sin is transgression of the law.”

We have inherited a terrible misunderstanding of the phrase “under the law” as well as of James’ discussion of law and faith. This misunderstanding generates a “nomophobia” among many Christians, in which any mention of “law” or “torah” triggers a fight-or-flight reflex.

In reality, Torah and grace work together. Grace is God’s forebearance of our sins, His willingness to forgive us for our shortcomings. However, the word “sin” has no meaning without Torah for, as John pointed out, sin is Torah-lessness. Everyone sins. Except for the one man, Yeshua, every person who ever lived has violated Torah. Yet, by God’s grace alone, we don’t have to be condemned because of it.

Even after being born again into life with Yeshua, we continue to sin. Very few Christians would disagree. Paul wrote about this struggle in Romans also. Yet, how is it possible to break a law that doesn’t apply to you? Can an Australian break an American traffic law without stepping a foot out of Australia? That’s absurd! But that’s the gist of the argument that says it’s possible for a Christian to sin against a law that no longer applies to him. They might equivocate on the definition of “sin”, but I think Paul, John, and James do a pretty good job of establishing it’s meaning. And a very few people might assert that it’s impossible for a Christian to sin, but that’s so obviously unscriptural it hardly needs refutation.

There are three ways a person can live and only one of them leads to life.

1. Live without the law and perish without the law.
2. Live under the law and be judged by the law.
3. Live under God’s grace and be forgiven of one’s sins.

In none of these cases is a person free to behave as he chooses. The first person does what he wants and earns eternal damnation. The second person tries to earn his salvation through his behavior and inevitably fails. He too earns eternal damnation. The third person recognizes his inability to live a perfect life and throws himself at the mercy of the Heavenly Court. Then, having been granted grace by God who is eager to forgive, he doesn’t throw it in the trash by going on to live as if God had no standards whatsoever. He’d soon find himself in the same boat as the lawless pagan. Instead, he shows his gratitude for God’s grace and his love for his Creator by studying God’s instructions and applying them to his everyday life, “working out his salvation in fear and trembling.”

In summary, there is no difference between grace and following Torah. Indeed, to reject Torah is to reject grace also.

Things Which Ought to Remain Unknown

Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Some things aren't meant to be revealed.

Exodus 22:18 – Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Samuel told Saul that “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” (2 Samuel 15:23) Other than the obvious rebellion of doing something forbidden, the connection used to escape me. How is rebellion like witchcraft?

The Hebrew word translated “witch” is kashaf. Maybe the past couple of weeks spent pondering biblical references to headcoverings has got me in a rut, but when I read Adam Clarke’s comments on this verse, something clicked.

It is very likely that the Hebrew…cashaph, and the Arabic cashafa, had originally the same meaning, to uncover, to remove a veil, to manifest, reveal, make bare or naked…The mecashshephah or witch, therefore, was probably a person who professed to reveal hidden mysteries, by commerce with God, or the invisible world.

If Clarke was correct, then the connection would seem to be in the uncovering of things that should remain hidden. Necromancy, fortune telling, and spiritism are all areas of knowledge that God said not to delve. There are times when a head–and a truth–should be covered or uncovered. Like uncovering a head as if to disdain the authority represented by the covering (my fellow veterans will understand this idea very well), witchcraft removes the cover of Torah, which God put in place to protect his people. It is a rejection of his providence and authority. Hence, rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.

The Covenant Foreshadowed in Jethro and Zipporah

The relationship between God and Israel is often portrayed as a marriage by the prophets.

If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples. Exodus 19:5

For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name. Isaiah 54:5a

Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Jeremiah 2:2

The covenant at Sinai is universally recognized by theologians as a marriage contract. If a marriage is a serious, lifelong commitment–and we know that it is–how much more serious must a marriage be between a God and a nation?

I had thought that the covenant at Sinai was the first real indication that the relationship was to be a marriage. But while studying this last week’s Torah reading (Exodus 18-20), I noticed some remarkable patterns just prior to the covenant, and I had to share it with you. The Scriptures are full of hidden gems like these–the Torah more than most other portions–and finding them are among my favorite aspects of study. Sometimes you have to work to find them, and you need to be careful not to read anything into them that is counter or foreign to God’s intent. But despite the effort, they’re worth it!

This post will be a little different than what I usually do at AmericanTorah. It’s a little…um…geeky? I don’t have any particular exhortation and no direct life application this time, just some really cool stuff about how the Bible is put together “under the hood”, so to speak. Bear with me. I think you’ll like this.

If you haven’t read it recently, I suggest you read Exodus 18 now and then come back. I’ll still be here…

Now, while it’s fresh in your mind, did you notice a lot of repetition in the text?

  • Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law…Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law…Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law…
  • Zipporah and her two sons…Zipporah and her two sons…Zipporah and her two sons…
  • The LORD delivered them…the LORD delivered them…the LORD delivered them…

Whenever God repeats something, you can count on it being important, so let’s take a closer look.

The first thing I noticed is that Jethro tells Moses three times that he has come to bring Zipporah and her sons to Moses in the Wilderness.

  1. v2 Now Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, had taken Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her home…
  2. V5 Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness where he was encamped at the mountain of God.
  3. V6 And when he sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her,”

Then he and Moses take turns–again three times–saying that God brought Israel out of Egypt.

  1. V8 Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the LORD had delivered them.
  2. V9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the LORD had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians.
  3. V10 Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.

Verses 2-10 comprise a chiasm in which Jethro bringing Zipporah out to meet Moses is juxtaposed with Moses bringing Israel out to meet God with the meeting of Jethro and Moses in the center. Chiasms and parallelisms often act like margin notes embedded in the text in order to highlight thematic connections or to hint at deeper meanings for those who care to dig.

One thing that this chiasm seems to be telling us is that Jethro and Zipporah are–at least in some ways–like Moses and Israel. Another pattern that seems to point to the same idea is in the Hebrew word translated as “father-in-law”. The word is khatan and doesn’t mean exactly father-in-law. It would probably be more accurate to translate it as just “in-law”, as it can refer to anyone related only by marriage. In this passage, Jethro is introduced as Moses’ in-law in verse 1, so why does it keep repeating? In fact, Jethro is called “Moses’ in-law” twelve times! (See verses 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 14, 15, 17, 24, and 27.)

Twelve. As in twelve tribes of Israel.

Jethro only brought one small family–a mother and two sons–out to meet Moses at Sinai, while Moses brought twelve entire tribes out to meet God. To symbolically balance this discrepancy, Jethro’s relationship to Zipporah is pointed out once for each of the tribes of Israel.

But if the relationship to Zipporah is the focus, why use the word for “in-law” to make this point when “father” would have been simpler. Because Moses isn’t the father of the Hebrews. He is, however, a relative. In the marriage at Sinai, Moses acts as the closest male relative of the bride, Israel, presenting her to God. He is God’s khatan, His “in-law”, and he is related to each of the twelve tribes of Israel in the same way.

So yet another repetition is used to highlight the parallels between Jethro and Zipporah on one side and Moses and Israel on the other. All of this was done to build a prophetic picture. Remember that God doesn’t do anything significant without revealing it to his prophets first, and Moses was among the greatest of prophets.

If you look back at verse 8 where the two protagonists meet at the center of the chiasm, you’ll see something else odd. Jethro and Moses greet each other, talk, and disappear into the tent. Moses hadn’t seen Zipporah or his children in over a year, but he doesn’t appear to have taken any notice of them. He and Jethro carry on as if they aren’t even there. In all likelihood, Moses did greet his wife and sons, but it just wasn’t recorded in this passage. Why not? Because something very similar was about to happen on Mount Sinai.

When Israel gathered around the foot of the mountain, God told them to spend three days preparing themselves first. (Hmm. There was a paired repetition of three statements in the chiasm.) At the end of that period, God spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel with thunder and lightning, but it was too much for them! They were afraid they would die, so they asked Moses to speak to God for them. (Exodus 20:19) So Moses ascended the mountain to speak to God alone within the cloud, just as Jethro met with Moses alone in the tent.

That God arranged this prophetic meeting between Jethro and Moses shows that he knew all along what Israel was going to do. He knew that their hearts were still too hard to accept his Law and that he would have to work through Moses, but that didn’t stop him from making a permanent covenant with them. And just like Israel, he knew from the very foundation of the world that our flesh would rebel against his rule, that our hearts would be hard and our minds corrupt, yet he still committed–even in the Garden–to sending his own Son to shed his blood to seal a covenant of life with us.

Clearly when I said I didn’t have any specific exhortation to make, I was wrong. I don’t always know where these things are going when I first sit down to write.

This fact comes back to me over and over in all my studies: God knows us and yet he still wants us. God knows how you will fall even before you take your first step, but he loves you anyway. What a crushing, humbling truth to comprehend! I know me too, and all I can say is “Why, God? Why would you want me?” But who cares? The “why” is not our concern! Our job is to fall on our faces, humbly accept the forgiveness and mercy that he offers, and then to obey.

All the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” Exodus 19:8

God knew exactly how you would fall before you took your first step, and he still sent a redeemer to die for you.

In the Presence of God, Destruction is Inevitable

 

Exodus 20:20 “And Moses said to the people, Do not fear, for God has come to test you, and so that His fear may be before your faces, so that you may not sin.”

If we are meant to fear God, why did Moses tell the people not to fear?

Many times our lives pass through the same cycle that Israel experienced in Torah. We find ourselves in the wilderness again and again. Each time, God brings us there to test and refine us. Whenever a person is confronted by God, he may respond in one of two ways: He could fall back as in John 18:6 or he could fall on his face as in Genesis 17:3. In the presence of God, destruction is inevitable. Those who resist fall back and are destroyed, given over to death. Those who surrender are destroyed also, but are resurrected to new life one step closer to the perfection which God desires for us.

Life is hard enough already, and the constant tests and refinement to which God subjects his people sometimes seem unbearable. Relax. Surrender and you will find peace. You will never be perfect in this life, but you can draw ever closer to your Creator and find peace in the continuous cycle of death and rebirth which is intrinsic to true Life.

Those who resist fall back and are destroyed, given over to death. Those who surrender are destroyed also, but are resurrected to new life one step closer to the perfection which God desires for us.

The stars, they circle and dance in the sky. Tinkling bells flow in harmony, spin and scatter and come ’round again. The stars in the sky, they circle and dance.

You are a singularity, a star alone like no other. The stars they glitter, they sing and dance and draw into you. In all their brightness and glory they cannot compare to you. You draw all things into you. Dwelling on the mountain fastness, far in deep darkness and none can approach your greatness, your fierceness and fury. In darkness you outshine them all, and nothing escapes the gravity of your majesty, your love for us, the merest specks in a vast nothingness, outshone by the dimmest of stars, but the focus yet of all your energy, your radiative purity, washing all that comes near, blotting out the dimness in which we glory, making us infinite through you, your transcendent power transmitted to us instantaneously no matter the distance, the space we occupy. These are nothing to you, beside you, Creator, Destroyer, Remaker of worlds. We submit ourselves to you, surrender to your inevitable will. We are nothing in nothing. May all we are and all we will ever be, be subsumed in your all encompassing sphere. May our horizons grow from the illusion of infinite expanse to the infinite reality of constriction within you. May our death in you be our reawakening in life and love and everlasting spirit.

Peace we find in sublimation to your infinite mass.

Every Journey Begins with a Single…Day?

He said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.” On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.
Exodus 16:23-30

Before Israel arrived at Sinai, before God had spoken a single word from the mountain top or carved a single letter on the stone tablets, he said, “How long do you refuse to keep my mitzvot and torah?” God expected Israel to obey his laws, specifically the Sabbath in this case, before he had a covenant with them, before Sinai.

Before that, God commended Abraham for heeding his call, keeping his charge, his commandments (mitzvot), his statutes (khukot), and his laws (torot). Most people interpret that to mean the seven Noahide laws, but Noah certainly had more laws than those.* How else would he know what animals were clean and unclean? God’s Law (also known as the Torah) existed from the beginning. How else did Abel know what kind of animal to sacrifice, and how should Cain have known that his sacrifice would be unacceptable? How did Judah know about Levirate marriage?

God’s laws are eternal and not tied exclusively to any particular covenant, although they are included as terms of the covenant with Israel at Sinai. When you enter your neighbor’s house, he expects you to observe the rules of his house: don’t play football in the living room, don’t put your feet on the furniture, don’t open the refrigerator without an invitation, etc. This doesn’t mean that he invented those rules the moment you walked in the door. They were always the rules of his house because they are a part of his character. He doesn’t have anything against your shoes in particular; he just doesn’t like it when people put their shoes on his sofa. God’s laws are the same; they are a reflection of his character. They differ from our own because where our personal rules evolve with our character over time, God’s do not. One can make a case (a very weak case, in my opinion) that God invented the laws concerning tabernacle rituals and the Levitical priesthood arbitrarily or only for the specific nature of the Israelites, but one cannot make the same case regarding Sabbath, animals that are acceptable for food and sacrifice, acceptable and unacceptable relationships, and behavior toward your neighbors. God’s standards in those matters all clearly existed before Sinai and will continue to exist so long as heaven and earth remain.

There are passages in the Apostolic scriptures that appear at first reading to disagree, especially the writings of Paul: Romans, Galatians, Colossians, etc. When I tell people that I believe we should keep the Torah, they quote these scriptures to me as if they think I haven’t read them before. The bare truth is that most of those people never got passed a Sunday School level of Scriptural understanding. Torah contains the key to advancing that understanding if they would be willing to examine it a little more closely.

First, it lays out its dualistic nature.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. Deuteronomy 30:19

Torah is both a law of life and a law of death. It’s both, depending only on how you use it. If you keep it, trusting in God’s grace to cover our flaws and inevitable failures, you keep a law of life and liberty. If you refuse to keep it, whether by trusting in your own power to keep it or by simply refusing to even try, you will instead be yoked under a law of sin and death.

Second, Torah states unequivocally that nobody is authorized to change it in any way.

And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. Deuteronomy 4:1-2

It doesn’t get much plainer than that. The orthodox Christian view of the Bible for almost 2000 years is that it must agree with itself. No part of the Bible contradicts another part, and the clear passages must be used to understand the less clear. In various places, Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul all reiterate the point of Deuteronomy 4:2 in fairly unambiguous terms. Take Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, for example:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19

And Paul’s in Romans 3:

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. Romans 3:31

We must think very carefully about those passages that appear to be teaching in direct contradiction to the words of Moses, Jesus, and Paul, resisting the urge to interpret them in a way that makes large portions of the Scriptures to be meaningless or worse: lies.

One rule of thumb that seems nearly self-evident is that the more time and text God spends on any particular subject, the more important it probably is to him. Using this rule, mankind’s obedience to the commandments must be among God’s top two or three priorities. Among the commandments, some appear to be more important than others.

  • Love God.
  • Love your neighbor.
  • Keep the Sabbath.

Among others.

To get back to the Sabbath, judging by the amount of text devoted to the topic, God cares very deeply about it, whether we understand why or not. It was among the first rules that God gave to Israel after they left Egypt, and He said that it will always be a special sign of God’s people. Keeping it on the seventh day as God commanded can be difficult at times in a culture that doesn’t cooperate–not difficult in the sense that it’s laborious, but in that lifelong habits are difficult to change and the rest of the world won’t rearrange its schedule to accommodate you. But I assure you that making a concerted effort to keep a seventh day Sabbath will be worth the inconvenience.

If you are unsure about whether or how much of God’s Torah you should keep, consider starting with the Sabbath. Don’t worry about getting it perfect and don’t worry about all of the complex rules that the rabbis have piled onto the simple day of rest that God prescribed. If you haven’t done it before, just start with this: between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday, don’t do anything that feels like work to you. If there is something you feel that you must do, relax about it. Don’t get yourself fired from your job or put anyone in danger, but take it slow and easy. After you’ve done this for a few weeks, come back to the blog and let me know how it’s going.

Shabbat shalom from American Torah!

* Although based on Biblical principles, the Seven Noachide Laws are a man-made code imposed on the Biblical text. They were probably not codified until thousands of years after the Flood.