Shadows of Jesus in Joshua

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

 

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

Moses and Joshua are two such types of the Messiah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Curse and Curses of the Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Contempt of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hadn’t noticed that before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the songs we sing in our churches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Verses 1-8 ESV)

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

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

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

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

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

Wow! What a God our Savior is!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Storming the Gates of Hell

We don't always need to build siege engines or march around the walls to assault the Gates of Hell. Sometimes all it takes to rescue the people, whom God is calling, is a little patience, kindness, and understanding.
Jamie Carper in the studio at WAIF FM in Cincinnati, Ohio. 1960-2018

My brother Jamie died last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me start with an example from my own experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moab was a wicked nation…but remember Ruth.

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

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

The End of the Law

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4) Did Jesus come to put an end to the Law? Or is he the aim of the Law?

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:4

I can’t tell you how many times someone has quoted this verse to me as “proof” that Jesus (also known as Yeshua) annulled God’s Law. At first glance, it looks like a killer argument. QED. How much clearer could it be?

Eh. Not so fast.

Remember that not a single word of the Bible was written in English and, by the very nature of human languages, no translation can ever be perfect. The key word in this verse seems to be “end”, so lets take a look at the original Greek.

τελος γαρ νομου χριστος εις δικαιοσυνην παντι τω πιστευοντι

The first word, telos, is the word translated into English as “end”.

Thayer’s Greek Definitions defines it thusly:

1) end
1a) termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be (always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time)
1b) the end
1b1) the last in any succession or series
1b2) eternal
1c) that by which a thing is finished, its close, issue
1d) the end to which all things relate, the aim, purpose
2) toll, custom (i.e. indirect tax on goods)

Termination of the Law would seem to be a reasonable translation, but Thayer gives us a number of other options too, including “aim” and “purpose”. “The aim of the Law” also seems pretty reasonable to me. Coincidentally, the English word “end” can be interpreted either way as well.

But is telos used in the sense of “aim” and “purpose” anywhere else in Scripture? Several places, in fact, by Paul, James, and Peter.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
(James 5:11)

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:8-9)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
(1 Timothy 1:5)

In the above three quotes, I bolded the English words used to translate the Greek word telos. Can the Lord ever be terminated (James 5:11)? Is our faith terminated by our salvation (1 Peter 1:8-9)? Should we stop avoiding pointless controversies once we have attained love (1 Timothy 1:5)? Of course, not! In these cases, translating telos as “termination” would be absurd.

So there is ample precedent for translating telos as aim or purpose instead of end, but how can we know for certain which one Paul meant in Romans 10:4?

Easy. Jesus said so.

Do not think that I have come to abolish (καταλυσαι: tear down, destroy, dissolve, overthrow) the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill (πληρωσαι: make full, complete, carry out, perfect) them.
(Matthew 5:17)

Does it really make sense for Yeshua to say “I have not come to tear down the Law, but to put an end to it”? No. If we interpret Romans 10:4 to mean that Yeshua ended the Law, then we make his own words in Matthew 5:17 into nonsense. However, if we interpret Romans to say “The aim of the Law is Christ…”, it agrees with Matthew perfectly: Yeshua did not come to terminate the Law, but to perfect it.

“The end of the Law” means exactly the opposite of what many people today claim that it means.

And if my word isn’t good enough, here’s what a few venerable Christian commentaries have said concerning Romans 10:4:

  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown: For Christ is the end — the object or aim.
  • Matthew Henry: The design of the law was to lead people to Christ.
  • Geneva Bible: The law itself points to Christ, that those who believe in him should be saved.
  • Adam Clarke: The law is our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ; it cannot save, but it leaves us at his door, where alone salvation is to be found.
  • Albert Barnes: It also means the design or object which is had in view; the principal purpose for which it was undertaken.
  • John Wesley: The scope and aim of it. It is the very design of the law, to bring men to believe in Christ for justification and salvation.

QED, indeed.

So, let’s have an end of this foolish controversy so that we may allow the Law to fulfill its manifold purposes: to teach men about sin and their need for a Savior, to illustrate the identity and purpose of that Savior, and to show us how to love God and one another. All of these together are the telos of the Torah.

 


I recorded a video to go with this article. You can watch it on YouTube or PewTube.

In Yeshua’s Instructions There Is Neither Jew nor Greek

let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (17)  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.

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 5:19

Some people insist that Yeshua’s (Jesus) words in this verse don’t necessarily mean that we should be keeping and teaching Torah (aka God’s Law) either because 1) Yeshua said people who throw out Torah “will be called least in the kingdom” and therefore must still be in the kingdom or 2) these words were spoken to Jews alone and were not intended for Gentile Christians at all.

On point one, I agree completely. Those who have put their faith in Yeshua for their eternal salvation are part of the kingdom of heaven even if they reject God’s Law and teach others to do the same, provided they do so from an honest misunderstanding of scripture and not from rebellion against God.

However, on the second point, we have a more serious difficulty. I’ll set aside whether or not the statement is factual or not for the moment and move on to the implications. This one verse (19) is part of a longer bit of oratory known as “The Sermon on the Mount”, all of which was addressed to a single gathering of people. No portion of the sermon was separated out as being addressed to one subset of the gathering more than another subset. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some other lines from the sermon:

  • v3 – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • v11 – Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
  • v13 – You are the salt of the earth…
  • v14 – You are the light of the world…
  • v22 – I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment…
  • v28 – I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
  • v37 – Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.
  • v41 – If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
  • v44 – I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…

There’s much more, but I’m sure you recognize most or all of the passages listed above. I hope the problem is already apparent to you: If verse 19 is intended only for Jews, then verses 3 and 44, etc., are also intended only for Jews, and Gentile Christians are free to hate their enemies and retaliate against those who persecute them.

Almost everything Yeshua is recorded to have said in all four Gospels was addressed to Jews. The idea that anything he only said to Jews was only intended for Jews requires that non-Jews ignore almost the entire text of the Gospels. How absurd!

The Apostles wrote that we ought to live according to Yeshua’s instructions. He himself said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

And here is one thing that Yeshua instructed:

(14) You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  (15)  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  (16)  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (17)  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.  (18)  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.  (19)  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.  (20)  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:14-20

Many translations put a break and a topic heading in between verses 16 and 17, but these two statements are placed together for a reason. Verse 16 speaks of “good deeds”, and verse 17 defines those deeds: Following God’s commandments as detailed in the Law and the Prophets.

This was addressed to a group of people who were probably mostly Jews with a few Gentiles, but they were intended for everyone who might wish to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

So go do them, and, when you have accumulated some practice and understanding, teach them. I think I have some articles around here somewhere on how to do that.

God’s Loving Graciousness

God is love.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We hear these statements all the time. We smile, nod our heads, and enjoy the warm fuzzies.

But do we know what they mean?

We think we do. We assume we do…. But remember what happens when we assume? Yep. You guessed it.

I didn’t want to assume that I knew what Moses and John and other Biblical writers meant by “love”, so I spent some time over the last few weeks looking at the various Hebrew and Greek words that are translated into English as love and how they are used in Scripture.

Most of us who grew up in a Christian church have probably heard more than one sermon about the difference between agape and phileo. Agape is supposed to be unconditional, godly love, while phileo is a lesser, brotherly love, but I think that might be making too much of it.

(Just FYI. I’m not an expert in any Biblical languages. I have only a small knowledge of Hebrew and rely extensively on concordances, dictionaries, and commentaries.)

In many cases, “like” is a perfectly adequate translation of phileo in the Greek Scriptures with no need to add anything mystical to it, while agape is closely analogous to the English word “love”. Certainly *unconditional* love would fall within the scope of agape, but to say that agape always refers to that kind of love is an overstatement.

Genesis 34:3 says that Shechem loved Dinah, whom he had just kidnapped and raped. The translators of the Septuagint, who understood ancient Greek far better than anyone alive today does, chose to translate the Hebrew word for love in this verse as agapao, the verb form of agape.1 Clearly Shechem did not have unconditional love for Dinah.

Since the Apostolic writings were essentially exposition on the Torah and the Prophets in the context of Greek and Roman culture, I think we can get a very good idea of what these words meant to them by looking at their corresponding Hebrew words in the Old Testament.

There are essentially 3 Hebrew words that are frequently translated as love in the Old Testament.

  • אהב (H157), pronounced as ahab
  • חשׁק (H2836), pronounced as chasak2
  • חסד (H2617), pronounced as chesed2

Ahab is usually translated as “love”, and its meaning is almost identical to the English: a strong, favorable emotion linked to desire, longing, and affection. Accordingly, it can refer to the love of God for his people, a father for a son, a man for his wife, and anyone for his favorite food. Ahab has a wide range of meaning. It can be used in almost any context in which you would use the English word love.

Here are some ways in which this word is used in the Old Testament3:

  • Genesis 27:4 – The food that Isaac loves (ahab).
  • Genesis 34:3 – He loved (ahab) the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.
  • Leviticus 19:18 – Love (ahab) your neighbor as yourself.
  • Deuteronomy 11:1 – Love (ahab) YHWH your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.
  • Isaiah 61:8 – God loves (ahab) fair and honest judgment.

Chasak is a more difficult word to translate, but the concept doesn’t seem to be very difficult to understand. (Did I mention that I’m not a scholar of ancient languages?) Essentially, chasak is an attachment to something, whether of one physical object to another or, in a metaphorical sense, an emotional attachment to do or have something. It’s translated into the Greek equivalents of the English words choose, elect, smith (as in a metal smith), and take.

Here are some examples of chasak in the Old Testament:

  • Genesis 34:8 – Shechem longs for (chasak) Dinah.
  • Exodus 38:17 – The pillars of the court are fastened (chasak) by silver.
  • Deuteronomy 7:7 – God set his love (chasak) on Israel.
  • 1 Kings 9:19 – Solomon desired (chasak) to build.
  • Isaiah 38:17 – In love (chasak) God delivered.

The third word, chesed, is closer to what people usually mean when they talk about the Greek word, agape, but different Bible translators favor different English renditions. Some of the most common translations are “loving kindness”, “steadfast love”, and “mercy”. It is usually translated into Greek as eleos, instead of agape or phileo.

I’m going to give you more examples of chesed from the Old Testament, because frankly I think it’s a much more interesting and profound word, and I’m going to spend more time talking about it:

  • Genesis 19:19 – You have shown me great kindness (chesed) in saving my life.
  • Genesis 24:49 – Show steadfast love (chesed) and faithfulness to my master.
  • Genesis 47:29 – Promise to deal kindly (chesed) and truly with me.
  • Exodus 15:13 – In your mercy (chesed) you led the people whom you redeemed.
  • Numbers 14:18-19 – YHWH is slow to anger, and of great mercy (chesed).
  • Deuteronomy 5:10 – Showing steadfast love (chesed) to thousands of those who love (ahab) me and keep my commandments.
  • Deuteronomy 7:9 – The faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love (chesed) with those who love (ahab) him and keep his commandments
  • Judges 1:24 – Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly (chesed) with you.
  • 2 Chronicles 35:26 – The acts of Josiah, and his kind deeds (chesed).
  • Jeremiah 33:11 – YHWH is good, for his steadfast love (chesed) endures forever!
  • Daniel 9:4 – God keeps covenant and steadfast love (chesed) with those who love (ahab) him and keep his commandments.
  • Jonah 4:2 – You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (chesed), and relenting from disaster.

Kindness is a dominant theme in the use of chesed throughout the Bible, but kindness is both too simple and too broad of a concept. Chesed is a special sort of kindness. In every case, the person who shows chesed to another is in a position of relative power.

Let me give you two examples from the Old Testament texts and two illustrations from Biblical relationships.

Two Examples of Chesed in the Old Testament

When Joseph was young, he would have loved (ahab) his father. He probably felt affection for him, enjoyed being in his presence, and did good things for him. However when Joseph was the Prime Minister of Egypt and Jacob was very old, their positions were reversed. Joseph held all the power, while Jacob was feeble and completely dependent on his son. Then Jacob begged Joseph’s mercy (chesed) in not allowing his bones to remain in Egypt after his death.

The translators of 2 Chronicles 35:26 had difficulty translating the chesed of King Josiah. Different translations render it as good deeds, goodness, mercy, kind acts, etc., but these differences are minor. The intent is clearly to show that Josiah showed exceptional mercy to his people.

Two Illustrations of Chesed from Biblical Relationships

It’s good if a man loves (ahab) his wife, and it’s even better if he loves (chesed) her. This is what Paul meant when he said that men should love their wives as the weaker vessel. Husbands have spiritual authority and physical dominance of their wives, and they need to keep that in mind so that they will be mindful to give chesed. It’s easy to be kind to your peer or to someone with more power. It’s something else to be kind to someone who is relatively weak and vulnerable.

Although God loves (ahab) us, he also shows us loving kindness (chesed) in deigning to provide for us, protect us, and raise us from our sin and poverty. God loves (chesed) those who love (ahab) him. God shows chesed to man by forgiving, protecting, and healing, but man never shows chesed to God because no man has ever been in a position of power over God.

Chesed and the Grace of God

If I had to summarize the meaning of chesed in a single English word, that word would be grace. Not in the sense of the physical grace of a ballerina, but the regal grace of a king who treats his subjects with kindness and understanding. He has the power, the authority, and the right to destroy those who offend his law, but he shows grace by commuting sentences, by hearing and embracing his poorest subjects, and by granting mercy and honor to weaker rivals.

When the Apostles wrote of God’s grace, this is what they meant.

The Greek word usually used to translate chesed in the Septuagint (a 2200 year old Greek translation of the Old Testament) is eleos, and this Greek word is almost always (and accurately) translated into English as mercy.

On the other hand, the Greek word translated as grace in the Apostolic writings is charis.2 Grace is an excellent translation of this word into English, as it appears to carry the same dual meaning of physical elegance and regal forebearance in Greek as it does in English.4

So why did the Apostles use charis instead of eleos to express the concept of Hebrew chesed?

Perhaps it was an idiomatic use that had been adopted by Jewish scholars when discussing biblical concepts among themselves in Greek. Or perhaps they consciously used charis because of the additional dimension of elegance in the meaning of the word.

Regardless of how the word Greek charis was used in everyday speech by the Greeks of the first century, the Apostles used it very much like Hebrew chesed was used in the Old Testament scriptures: to refer to the loving graciousness that one person in a position of power willingly shows to another in an inferior position.

Read these Apostolic passages as if they were written using the Hebrew word chesed instead of the Greek word charis:

John 1:17 – For the law was given through Moses; chesed and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Interestingly, this is the wording used in Proverbs 16:6 – “By mercy (chesed) and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil.” Chesed gives this verse so much more depth of meaning. God Law was revealed through Moses, but God’s grace to forgive was revealed in the person of Jesus. (And I can already see I’m going to have to write another article on the topic of “grace and truth”.)

2 Corinthians 8:9 – For you know the chesed of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

Although he had all power and authority in Creation, he came down from his throne to live among his subjects in order to elevate them.

Ephesians 3:8 – To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this chesed was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ…

Paul wrote that his appointment as the Apostle to the Nations was an undeserved kindness granted by God.

It seems to me that God’s mercy & loving kindness, as described throughout the Old Testament with the Hebrew word chesed, is the very essence of divine grace, and it is glaringly obvious that grace was not a new concept in the first century. Yeshua’s death on the cross wasn’t God’s first act of Grace. Rather, it was the apex of his grace, the most personal, painful, and heart-wrenching extension of his loving kindness to mankind.

The grace of a king is manifested in the mercy that he extends to those who have violated his law, and he rightly expects them to be grateful and to stop doing whatever it was that caused them to come under his Law in the first place. How must it seem to Yeshua when those for whom he suffered and died in order to earn that pardon use it as a license to ignore his law instead of as an opportunity to start over with a clean slate?

God’s grace, his chesed, is not the suspension of his Law, but the suspension of his judgment for violating it. That suspension will not be extended indefinitely to people who abuse it.

God's grace consists of his willingness to forgive and heal those of us who have rebelled against his Law.

1 The language of the New Testament (Koine Greek) is a little different than the language of the Septuagint. I don’t think that difference has any significant impact on this point.
2 In both Hebrew and ancient Greek transliteration, the letter combination of ch is pronounced like kh. There is no ch sound (as in church) in either language. Why tranliterators chose to use ch instead of kh, I don’t know. They should have asked me first.
3 Most of the Bible quotes in this article are taken from the ESV, but I also used the KJV, LITV, and others when the ESV’s translation of a word seemed especially obscure.
4 See these comments on the secular and Biblical usage of charis: https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/518/Charis.htm

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)

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.