Tzitzit, Part 2: Messianics, Hebrew Roots, and Torah

Regarding tzitzit, where does the commandment end and tradition begin?

Recall from part 1 that tzitzit are the tassels that God commanded the Israelites to tie onto the four corners of their garments in Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12. Tallits are the prayer shawls to which Jews attach their tzitzit.

See Part 1 here: The Torah and the Rabbis. Make sure you read that before reading this article, because I make some references here that might not make a lot of sense if you haven’t.

The Messianic and Hebrew Roots Application

Messianic Jews, Hebraic Roots believers, and Torah observant Christians have a much wider range of beliefs regarding tallits and tzitziyot than the various flavors of modern Judaism do. Most people who describe themselves as Messianic Jews will tend to adhere to rabbinic Judaism’s rules, but that is far from universal. People who describe themselves as Hebrew Roots will tend to more liberal standards.

Like Jews, Hebrew Roots people often wear tallits for prayer and special occasions and will usually follow rabbinic traditions when they do. However, many believe that tzitzit can be made of any kind of thread, wrapped and tied in any pattern, although the Ashkenazi and Sephardic patterns are very common.

Their tzitzit could be any color, but white, black, and tan are most common, so long as there is a single blue thread. Some believe that the blue (tekhelet) thread must be colored with the traditionally identified dye, while others agree with the Karaites that the dye can come from any source.

Many Hebrew Roots people believe that tzitzit should be worn visibly at all waking hours, often interpreting “four corners” to mean four points or four sides of an outer garment. They might wear a tallit katan for this purpose or they might attach their tzitzit to the hem of a shirt or even temporarily attached to belt loops. A few will wear a small rectangle of cloth suspended on one hip from the belt, called a “micro tallit”.

Where Does the Commandment End and Tradition Begin?

The Material of the Tzitzit

The written Torah doesn’t say what tzitzit should be made of. The rule in Deuteronomy 22:12 is immediately after a rule against wearing garments of mixed fibers in 22:11. Mainstream Jewish rabbis believe this is intended to imply an exception to the mixed fiber rule for tzitzit, while Karaite Jews believe it is intended to underscore the importance of the tzitzit being of the same material as the garment.

The preceding rules in Deuteronomy aren’t just about mixed fabrics, but also about mixed crops and plow animals, while the following rules are about marital troubles, sexual sins, and people who are not allowed to be mixed with Israel. I don’t believe that verses 11 and 12 make up a discrete, separate unit from these other rules, but that they are a coherent whole.

Verses 9-11 forbid certain mixtures of plants, animals, and fabrics. These commands are literal, but are also object lessons against mixing the wrong kinds of people.

Verse 12 commands the wearing of tzitzit “on the garment with which you cover yourself”. It emphasizes “covering” to remind Israel that God’s commands are given for their protection. The tzitzit say, “Keep these instructions, because they protect you from danger.”

Verses 13-21 contain instructions on how to handle a dispute between spouses of very different moral character. The married couple and their families were not careful to keep the commandments against mixing diverse types, and they reaped sorrow because of it. If only they had worn their tzitzit, they might not be in this trouble.

Verses 22-30 forbid certain sexual relationships. The Talmud contains a famous story of a man who resisted temptation because of his tzitzit. I’m sure you can find it if you search.

Verses 1-8 in chapter 23 describe who may and who may not enter the assembly of Israel. This passage looks back to verses 9-11 in chapter 22. It concludes the series by forbidding the mixing of pagan foreigners with Israelites.

Tzitzit are ultimately about relationship between people and God.

I don’t believe the command concerning tzitzit is placed here to say anything at all about the material of the tzitzit. It’s about people. Those who keep the commandments, including wearing tzitzit, are suitable marriage and community material. Those who do not keep the commandments are not suitable.

I take a position somewhere in the middle between the Karaite and Orthodox: If you permanently attach your tzitzit to your garment, then they are a single garment and should be of the same material. If they are not permanently attached, but are removable, then I don’t think it matters what they are made of.

I also don’t believe that the strings used in your tzitzit need to be specifically manufactured for that purpose. That is purely a tradition of man with no Biblical basis.

The Source of Blue

Torah doesn’t specify any particular color for tzitzit and even many rabbis will say that white is only traditional. It’s a good tradition, but you are free to use whatever colors suit you. However, I would avoid using blue, so that the single blue thread that God commanded will stand out.

The Hebrew word for blue, tekhelet, might (or might not) be derived from the name of a particular mollusk that was used to create a blue dye in the Ancient Near East. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the word can only refer to that one, particular dye. In modern English we have many color words that were originally derived from the source of a dye or some object of that color. The words have evolved to refer to the color itself, regardless of the source of dye. Crimson, for example, originally came from the name for an insect used to create a deep red dye, but very few modern English speakers are aware of that etymology, let alone adamant about restricting the use of the word to that dye derived from that original source.

Other sources of blue were known in the ancient world. For example, woad and indigo were both used to make blue dye for clothing, and the Babylonians and Egyptians used a mineral-based blue pigment for paints and construction materials. Tekhelet is the only Hebrew word used in the Bible for the color blue, and it’s used in widely different contexts. The same word is used to describe cloth used in the wilderness Tabernacle (Exodus 25-39), in the Jerusalem Temple (2 Chronicles 2:7 and 3:14), in Persian curtains and robes (Esther 1:6 and 8:15), and in the courts and markets of kingdoms around the known world (Jeremiah 10:9, Ezekiel 27:7 and 27:24).

I think it is extremely unlikely that all of these things were only ever colored with a dye derived from a particular Mediterranean snail. More likely, the name for the color had long ago lost any real connection to the snail. Many centuries after the Torah was given at Sinai, someone mandated that a particular dye be used either because they had a financial interest in the industry or they felt a particular shade of blue was more meaningful than another.

The blue thread in the tzitzit is probably intended to remind us of the blue of the sky or else the sapphire pavement of heaven described by Moses in Exodus 24:10. Is it supposed to be the pale blue we know of as sky blue or is it the deep blue of the night sky? Probably sky blue, but the text isn’t explicit. If it’s blue and it reminds you of Heaven, that I think that’s sufficient.

Knots and Windings

Torah says that your tzitzit must be twisted or wound cord. I agree with the rabbis on this, that the exact manner of twisting is unimportant. It needs to be done so that it won’t come apart during normal wear, but otherwise, do it how you like.

Some people braid their tzitzit, while others like to get creative. I usually use the Sephardic winding and knots (see part 1 for a description of Sephardic and Ashekenazic windings) because it is derived from the four-letter name of God, YHVH, and so reinforces the purpose of the tzitzit and is easier to remember.

Tallits and Beltloops

Does “corners” literally refer to corners or to extremities? In the Bible, the Hebrew word kanaph usually refers to the wings of a bird or cherub, and twice refers to the extremities of either the land of Israel or the Earth. In none of those cases, can it be reasonably interpreted as a literal corner. It either means a pointed end (wing), or the farthest reaches (earth). When it is used in relation to clothing, it usually makes sense to translate it as corner, but does it necessarily have to mean that or can it be interpreted more loosely as in the four corners of the earth?

Most historians say that the outer garment commonly worn at the time was similar to a poncho, a simple rectangle of cloth with a hole in the middle for the head and a belt or girdle to cinch it around the middle. If the standard garment had been a wrap that was wound about the body instead of draped over the shoulder, would God have commanded Israel to switch to a rectangular outer garment or would he have told them to attach tassels on four evenly-distributed points on their hems or belts?

I don’t know the answer. The literal meaning of the command is to attach them to four corners, but I think it’s reasonable to attach them to four “sides” of your whatever outer garments are commonly worn in your time and culture rather than to adopt a new and foreign form of dress.

I don’t believe that the micro tallit fulfills the requirement of the commandment because all four tzitzit are on one side of the body. Torah says that they must be seen, and this purpose, plus the instruction to attach them to four corners requires that they should be seen from every direction. For this same reason, a tallit worn only on special occasions and a tallit katan worn completely hidden from the world are also insufficient.

I attach my tzitzit to my beltloops or to my belt because otherwise I would have to start wearing a tallit katan or else alter all of my shirts. Wearing a tallit katan doesn’t seem like a huge imposition for an office worker like myself, and I can imagine myself adopting that practice at some point.

I do not agree with the rabbinic rules about the minimum length of the garment or the percentage of separation in the seam to qualify as a valid corner. These are rules adopted as practical matters over the millennia probably because someone had an argument about it in the forgotten past, not because obedience to the command actually requires it.

Tzitzit Are Intended To Be Seen

And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.
Numbers 15:39-40

Tzitzit are not a ceremonial or “Levitical” command. They are moral. They are intended to help you and everyone around you to keep all of God’s Law, not just the sacrifices.

As I already pointed out, the Deuteronomy passage shows that they help protect against joining God’s people with unbelievers. The longer tzitzit command in Numbers 15:37-41 is similarly situated between descriptions of intentional, “high-handed” sins. The passage that comes before, Numbers 15:30-36, describes a man who despised the immediate presence of God and intentionally violated the Sabbath. The passage that follows, Numbers 16, describes the rebellion of Korah. The clear intent of placing the commandment concerning tzitzit between these two stories is, first, to illustrate that we need constant reminders to keep us focused on what is right, and, second, to point out that those, who commit blatant sins in the presence of constant reminders to the contrary, are not merely weak or mistaken, but are openly rebellious.

If everyone who believes in God and keeps his commandments is wearing tzitzit, then those people who do not and those people who sin in spite of the tzitzit are clearly marked by their behavior as unsuitable for marriage or leadership within God’s people.

I Don’t Need to Wear Tzitzit Because I Know the Torah

Recently, I saw a video of a discussion in which several nominally Torah-observant believers all agreed that they had outgrown the need to wear tzitzit because they had memorized the Ten Commandments and no longer needed memory aides. I was stunned that these people appear to have read and seriously considered Numbers 15 and Deuteronomy 22 and somehow came away with the impression that they were free to ignore one commandment because they had memorized ten others.

Tzitzit are not about memorizing anything. They are not training wheels. They are about resisting temptation. Everyone is tempted. Everyone needs reminders to resist temptation.

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.
Luke 4:1-2

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment [his tzitzit], and immediately her discharge of blood ceased.
Luke 8:43-44

Yeshua, the Son of God and full of the Holy Spirit, was tempted and wore tzitzit. Only one man has ever lived a sinless life. So long as the unresurrected flesh remains to tempt us away from the path that God has laid out for us, we need every help we can get to remain faithful to our God and Savior.

I have studied the Torah for decades, yet I still wear tzitzit every day. I am still only human and need minute-by-minute reminders to keep my mind and heart focused on things above.

If you say that you have outgrown the need for tzitzit, then you are claiming to be above all temptation, and more righteous even than Yeshua.

Tzitzit Throughout the Bible

I could spend the next year writing about coverings and tassels from Scripture and probably not run out of material. Garment corners and fringes are a recurring theme in the histories and prophecies and even in the Apostolic writings. They reveal profound truths about the relationships between husband and wife, God and the world, Messiah and Israel.

I encourage you to look back at the words used in these commandments, to study other passages where they are used. Even if you are determined that tassel-wearing is a “Jewish thing” and not for you, I guarantee that you will gain valuable insights from the study.

Tzitzit, Part 1: the Torah and the Rabbis

When it comes to tzitzit, what traditions really matter?

See Part 2 here.

What Are Tzitzit?

Tzitzit are one of those distinctively “Jewish” things, like tallits and kippahs, that most Christians are aware of at some level, but don’t really understand. Tzitzit is the Hebrew name for the tassel or fringe that many Jews, Messianic Jews, and Hebrew Roots people wear on their clothing. The plural form is tzitziyot—tzitzit is singular—but most people today use the singular form for plural also, like a collective noun.

Tzitzit are also called tassels and fringes. Either of those words might be used in various places, depending on which English translation you are reading.

If you don’t know very many Jews or Torah observant Christians yourself, you’ve probably still seen some people—usually men—with white strings hanging from under their shirt or jacket on television or at the airport without giving it much thought. It’s just part of a religious or ethnic costume, so it tends to get lost in the overall picture of “those people”.

Tzitzit appear either explicitly or by implication in many passages in the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets, and in the Gospels. Despite this fact, churches rarely teach anything about them. As far as most Christian pastors and theologians are concerned, tzitzit are just one of those things that Jews wore to make sure they looked different than other nations, and since “there is neither Jew nor Greek” in Christ, we don’t need that kind of thing anymore.

Or so we are taught.

That’s really a shame, because tzitzit are connected to some really important spiritual principles. It’s also completely wrong. God didn’t give reasons for all of his instructions, but he did for this one, and it had nothing to do with looking different.

Tzitzit in the Torah

The primary passages that define tzitzit are Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12.

The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD your God.”
Numbers 15:37-41 ESV

You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.
Deuteronomy 22:12 ESV

These commands were given to Israel in the Wilderness. The Numbers 15 command was given at the beginning of the forty years, right after the 10 spies brought a bad report of the land, and the Deuteronomy 22 command was part of a recap of the whole Law delivered by Moses just before the people began their conquest of the land.

What Do the Tzitzit Commands Actually Say?

Let’s examine the Hebrew words in these passages so we know what they are really saying.

Make, in both cases, is from the Hebrew word asah, which can be reasonably interpreted to mean make (as in manufacture) or attach. Some people believe this means you should make your own tzitzit, while others believe it’s fine to buy pre-made tassels as long as you attach them to your garment yourself.

Tassel

  • In the Numbers passage the Hebrew word is tzitzit. It refers to a corner or point, and comes from tzit, which means flower or petal. A tzitzit is the pointy end of a tzit.
  • In the Deuteronomy passage the Hebrew word is gedil. It’s only used twice in the Bible, here and in 1 Kings 7:17 to describe wreaths that were carved into the tops of pillars.

Garment is from the Hebrew word beged. It is used throughout the Hebrew scriptures to refer to all kinds of clothing.

Put is from the Hebrew natan. It means to give, put, set, assign, etc.

Cord is from the Hebrew patiyl, and means strand, lace, or ribbon. It is related to the word patal, which means to be twisted, implying that a strand in this sense consists of multiple threads twisted together.

Blue is from the Hebrew tekhelet. The word might have been derived from the name of a mollusk or snail which was used to make a blue dye. Many people believe that it only refers to that blue dye and no others, but there are good reasons to believe it can refer to the color blue, no matter where the dye came from.

Corner is from the Hebrew kanaph. It refers to a wing, extension, extremity, or border. Corner is a reasonable translation in context, but wing or extremity is probably more literally accurate. Since the standard outer garment of the time was probably a large rectangle with an opening for the head, “four extremities” and “four corners” would be synonymous.

A harmonized rendering of the command from the two passages might read like this:

Make/attach tassels on the four extremities of your garments. Include a strand of blue with the tassel of the extremities. When you look at the tassels, they will remind you of all the commandments of YHWH, so that you will obey Him instead of following your own desires.

Although the commandment seems straightforward, there has always been disagreement on exactly how to apply it.

The Traditional Jewish Application

Judaism has a very long history of cumulative interpretation and application of these commands, and has developed detailed regulations on how tzitzit are to be made and worn. Most of these rules are derived from implications of the Biblical text or from practical considerations at one or another time in history. Few of them are based on explicit instructions in the written Torah.

The Materials of Tzitzit

Tzitzit should be made of white wool, and may or may not have a blue thread, depending on whether or not you believe that the specific mollusk from which the dye was originally extracted in Biblical times has been rediscovered or not. The threads that make up the tzitzit must be manufactured specifically for the purpose and may not be used for anything else.

Karaite Jews believe the tzitzit should be made of the same material as the garment to which they are being attached and that any blue dye can be used for the servant thread.

The Form of Tzitzit

There are a few different traditional methods of winding or twisting a tzitzit. The only firm requirements are that there are four white threads doubled over to make eight, and one longer thread (the blue one, if you include it), called a servant thread, is wrapped around the others. These are the two most common patterns:

The Ashkenazi Tzitzit has a double knot, seven windings, a double knot, eight windings, a double knot, eleven windings, a double knot, thirteen windings, and a double knot.

The Sephardic Tzitzit has a double knot, ten windings, a double knot, five windings, a double knot, six windings, a double knot, five windings, and a double knot.

Both methods use five double knots, one between each set of windings and one on each end to secure the whole, with the loose strings at the end twice the length of the knotted section. There are other methods, but the vast majority use one of these two.

Ashkenazi (white) and Sephardic (blue and white) styles of tzitzit windings and knots. See  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tzitzith.jpg for source information.
Ashkenazi (white) and Sephardic (blue and white) styles of tzitzit windings and knots. See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tzitzith.jpg for source information.

The Placement of Tzitzit

Tzitzit must be attached to the corners of a four-cornered garment worn on the upper body. The garment can be made of any material, but wool and silk are preferred. In order to qualify as four-cornered, the garment must have a significant split along the side seam, usually interpreted as at least half the length of the garment or 18-24 inches. A full tallit gadol satisfies this requirement by being completely open on the sides and long enough to be draped over the shoulders so that the corners hang down in front and back.

The tzitzit must be permanently affixed to the corners, by a hole placed one to two inches from the edge. Tallits have a square of cloth on each corner as reinforcement for this purpose. Jews only wear the tallit gadol during prayer times or on special occasions, such as Yom Kippur and weddings.

A tallit katan is made more like a t-shirt but with the seams joined for only a short length under the arms in order to be sure there are four legitimate corners. Unlike the tallit gadol, it is intended to be worn as an undergarment during all waking hours. The tzitzit can be worn hanging out from beneath a shirt so they are visible or else completely hidden.

Do Women Wear Tzitzit?

In Orthodox Judaism, only men are required to wear tzitzit, but women increasingly wear them also, especially in Reform Judaism. Opinions on whether or not women should wear or are allowed to wear tzitzit change with time and culture. They rarely appear in ancient and medieval art as obvious tassels, but when they do, men and women are both depicted wearing them. Claims that women never wore tzitzit until the modern era are obviously false.

An image from the Codex Rossianus, dated 1453, showing men and women both wearing tzitzit.
An image from the Codex Rossianus, dated 1453, showing men and women both wearing tzitzit.

Most rabbis believe that women are not required to wear them, but may if they desire to do so. Strict Orthodox Jewish rabbis are likely to be more opposed.

Summary and Introduction to Part Two

In this installment, I examined the text of the two commandments to wear tzitzit and surveyed Jewish traditions about making and wearing them.

I know that this will seem dry and pointless to most Christians who do not themselves believe they should be keeping Torah, but we know from Paul’s instructions to Timothy that all Scripture is profitable for doctrine and reproof.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

Joshua concurred and read the entire Torah to the native born Israelites and sojourners alike after they had conquered Jericho and Ai.

And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.
Joshua 8:34-35

If you desire to know the mind of God and the manner in which he wants his people to live, then even these seemingly minor matters should not be neglected.

In the next installment, I’ll describe the Wild West of Messianic and Hebrew Roots tzitzit and return to the Torah to add some historical and scriptural context. That is where you will see the real purpose and value of tzitzit.

Continue to Part 2.

Everything Hinges on Faith

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)

We’ve all heard that quote many, many times. It’s one of the most instantly recognizable verses in the Bible. We repeat it like a mantra and cling to it like a baby’s blanket, but hardly anybody knows what it means.

I realize that might sound a little presumptuous. Faith is a thing of the heart, and I can’t see anyone else’s heart. Right?

Yes and no. Faith is the evidence of something unseen, but things that are seen are the evidence of faith.

Faith is not believing that you’re going to get what you want. It is not believing in the existence of God or Jesus or anything else. As James wrote, even the demons believe that. (James 2:19) Surely we need to do a little better than them!

Faith is believing in the person of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Christ), believing in his name. That has nothing to do with how the personal label that we commonly refer to as “name” is spelled or pronounced. Faith is not believing that his name is Jesus or Yeshua or Yehoshua or whatever flavor you favor. “Name” in this context refers to his reputation, authority, and trustworthiness, as in “A good name is better than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1) If you believe in the name of Yeshua, if you believe in the name of YHVH, then you believe that he is who he says he is, that he means what he says, that he isn’t capricious, that he never changes, and that he keeps his promises.

Faith is trusting in God’s word. Faith equals trust.

How does your behavior toward another person change if you have faith in that person? You listen to what he says. You take his advice. How does your behavior toward God change if you have faith in him? You obey him. This is what James meant when he wrote that faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) If your faith does not lead you to greater obedience over time, then your faith is a vapor. Nothing but hot air.

What else happens when you have faith? Mountains and trees start moving. Probably not literally, but in a manner of speaking.

“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

According to Scripture, the sick, injured, and disabled are made well by faith. It doesn’t say made well if it fits into God’s plan or if the stars are aligned. James wrote, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:15)

A couple more examples:

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:22)

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:52)

There are a lot more where those came from if you need more.

This is a hard thing to accept. We all suffer. We are all sick. We all know of someone who died of an illness or injury. Nobody wants to believe that the only thing standing between wellness and suffering is a simple matter of trust, but the testimony of Scripture is crystal clear: “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.”

But we also know that many people of apparently great faith have suffered. Timothy had chronic stomach problems. King David grew feeble and died at a relatively young age. There is no question that these men had faith!

How is it possible for Yeshua to say that faith will make you well while we know that many great people of faith were not well?

I think here is where we encounter the problem of not being able to see into other people’s hearts. It isn’t necessarily that they don’t have faith–they might or might not–but that they have not yet attained the level of faith to which God is leading them in their current trial.

Personal trials–including sickness, persecution, and every other evil which the faithful suffer–are never without purpose, and that purpose is never to inflict pain simply for the sake of pain. Our God isn’t cruel or spiteful. Nothing can come against you unless God allows it, and “all things work together for the good of those who have faith in God.” (Romans 8:28)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

The purpose of all trials is the building of faith. If you have given your life to Yeshua, then you will suffer trials, if not by the hand of men, then by the hand of God. God doesn’t enjoy your pain. He hates it! But very little spiritual growth comes without hardship of some kind.

Almost anyone who has accumulated a great deal of earthly wealth will tell you that it wasn’t easy, and if it came easily, it goes easily too. It follows then that anything of eternal value–I don’t mean salvation itself, but the rewards of the faithful in Heaven–must be that much more difficult to obtain, and “difficult” is a relative concept. Some people learn multiple languages easily, while others struggle with even one language. Some people understand computers instinctively, while others can’t tell a boot menu from a Cavender’s catalog. The things that are hard for me might not be hard for you, so that you would shrug off the trials that severely test my faith.

If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can command mountains to move, but a mustard seed and a mountain might look very different from one person to another. The faith required to overcome any given obstacle depends on the person doing the overcoming. Whatever trial you are facing, it’s the trial that God has decided you need in order to develop your faith to the next level, and it’s not the same trial that I’m facing even if it looks the same from the outside.

You will always have trials because God wants you to continue to grow throughout your life. When all your troubles end, you should wonder if God has given up on you. But your goal should never be to accept pain and sickness as your sorry lot in life. It absolutely isn’t! God wants you to be well. Yeshua has already paid the price for your healing, and if you reject it, you are rejecting what he has done for you.

Your goal should not be to learn to accept your pain but to overcome it, to grow in obedience, in your relationship with the Father, until your trust in him crowds out that metaphorical mountain, and you or your daughter or your neighbor gets up and walks as you command it in Yeshua’s name.

Faith isn’t a name-it-claim-it game. You don’t get to bend reality to your every whim just because you claim to be a “child of the King.” Faith doesn’t say, “I’m healed because I said so.” Faith says, “I’m healed because God promised healing to his obedient, faithful servants, and God doesn’t lie.”

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting and praying for nice stuff, but that’s not the point of faith. If you have faith that you will get what you want, you might or might not get it, but you definitely won’t get what you need. No, your faith belongs in God and in his Word. Not just the parts you like. If you really trust God, you’ll trust his word on all of the less pleasant stuff too.

As you mature in your spiritual walk, you will continue to encounter more obstacles as opportunities for greater maturity, your heart will become more aligned with God’s, and your desires will be conformed to his. Your behavior will conform more and more to his unchanging standards. Your prayers will become more effective because you will pray more for those things that God wants you to have in the same spirit of humility as the centurion in Matthew 8 and less for those things that you want you to have in the spirit of pride that Saul evidenced in 1 Samuel 28.

The faith that gives substance to our hopes is substantial in itself. It is founded in the very name of God and results in obedience as surely as light follows the sunrise. The faith that gives evidence to our spiritual eyes that God’s promises are sure is a faith that is proven by a history of reliance on those very promises.

Just as the last time I wrote about faith, I am addressing myself more than anyone else, because my prayers aren’t always granted. Real healing is a very rare thing in my experience. I need greater faith, which means I also need greater faithfulness. If you haven’t read my blog post from last week on faith (or even if you have), I invite you to read it and join me in creating a plan for developing greater personal faith in God. And I want to add one thing to the 4-part prescription in that post: obedience. It is self-evident that if we trust God, we will do what he says. So I’m going to find something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and I’m going to do it.

The Plan

  1. Alter my environment in a way that promotes faith.
  2. Feed my faith with regular, positive input.
  3. Take some risks based on God’s word.
  4. Actively invite more of God’s light into my life and look for ways to reflect it back into the world.
  5. Identify something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and do it.

If you want to grow with me, leave a comment below. You don’t need to say exactly what’s in your plan, though you can if you want. Just tell me that you’re with me.

The Greatest Leaders

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Anyone who wants to be President badly enough to make it happen is almost certainly unqualified for the job.

None of the greatest men of God in Scripture sought power for themselves. Consider these highlights from the lives of Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and David, all undoubtedly great leaders.

Abraham

Abraham was an extremely wealthy man, a king in his own right. Everything he he did prospered, yet he was never greedy, never took power where he didn’t already have authority, never engaged in military conquest. When he went to war against the four Mesopotamian kings to rescue his nephew Lot, he refused any reward from the five Canaanite kings whose people he also saved.

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me. Let Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre take their share.” (Genesis 14:22-24 ESV)

After his wife Sarah died, he asked Ephron, a Hittite prince, to sell him a cave as a burial place. During the negotiations The Hittites called Abraham “lord” and “a mighty prince,” and Ephron offered to give him the cave for nothing. He bowed to all the people and paid more than the market value.

Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” (Genesis 23:12-13 ESV)

Moses

Adopted into the house of Pharaoh, Moses actively tried to protect his people, the Hebrews, from oppression, not as a prince of Egypt, but as a fellow Hebrew.

When he went out the next day, behold, two Hebrews were struggling together. And he said to the man in the wrong, “Why do you strike your companion?” He answered, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:13-14a ESV)

After forty years of exile in the land of Midian, God called Moses to confront Pharaoh, but he resisted. He had no desire to engage in national politics or to be the leader of his people.

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 ESV)

But Moses said to the LORD, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10 ESV)

Even after many years as the reluctant leader of Israel, he remained a selfless and humble man.

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

And Moses was very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed one of them.” …And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD.” And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. (Numbers 16:15,28-31 ESV)

Gideon

When the Midianites continually raided the land of Israel, Gideon, also known as Jerubbaal, did all he could just to protect his own family’s livelihood. Leading an army was the furthest thing from his mind when God sent an angel to call him to do just that.

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valor.” And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the LORD said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:12-16 ESV)

And when the war was over, Gideon had won a lasting peace against Midian and settled inter-tribal disputes, Israel asked him to rule over them as king. Instead, he gave them a new religion (for what it was worth) and returned to his own home.

Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian.” Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the LORD will rule over you.” …So Midian was subdued before the people of Israel, and they raised their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon. Jerubbaal the son of Joash went and lived in his own house. (Judges 8:22-23,28-29 ESV)

David

When the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the new King of Israel, instead of declaring himself and forming an army, David became the servant, personal musician, and right-hand man of the King Saul who had been anointed before him. He had a number of opportunities to seize power, but he always refrained.

He said to his men, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed.” So David persuaded his men with these words and did not permit them to attack Saul. And Saul rose up and left the cave and went on his way. (1 Samuel 24:6-7 ESV)

Years later when his son Absolom rebelled and David was forced to flee Jerusalem, he humbly accepted severe criticism from a man of Saul’s house, allowing that the man might even be right.

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man! The LORD has avenged on you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned, and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, your evil is on you, for you are a man of blood.” Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?'” And David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look on the wrong done to me, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing today.” (2 Samuel 16:5-12 ESV)

When the war was over and Absolom dead, that same man was the first to greet David on his return and begged his forgiveness. His advisor Abishai urged David to have the man killed, but David refused.

Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’s anointed?” But David said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” And the king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath. (2 Samuel 19:21-23 ESV)

Susceptibility to political ambition seems to be the greatest weakness of representative democracy. We choose our leaders by how well they appeal to our vanity and greed instead of how well they appeal to God’s Law and mercy.

I don’t have a better suggestion. I don’t have any ideas for fixing a broken political system because I am convinced that no political system can be fixed, that whether we are a democracy or a monarchy has almost no impact on whether we are cursed with great leaders or with power hungry tyrants.

Mohandas Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” However leaders are chosen in any nation and in any political system, history indicates that we almost always get the leaders we deserve. If we want better leaders, we must become a better people. If we want leaders like David and Moses, we must become like David and Moses ourselves, not seeking after power for our own purposes, but able and willing to wield power when necessary on behalf of our families, communities, and nations. We must obey God’s Law, hear his voice, and act fearlessly when we are called.

Nominal leaders are superfluous and incidental in a nation of Davids. As Gideon said, “The LORD will rule over you.”

How Quickly We Forget

God's Law prompts us to remember the great miracles He has done for us and our fathers.

There is something wrong with the human mind that we can witness God’s miracles one day and doubt him the next. Our faulty memory fills in the gaps with naturalistic explanations, with gloss and fuzz so that tragedy looms large, but promises fulfilled and prayers answered fade into obscurity.

With the pillar of fire and cloud right there in the camp, the manna appearing every morning, the plague graves still fresh, the Israelites still doubted God’s power to bring them into the Promised Land. When they heard God’s judgment of their lapse (an entire generation to die in the wilderness), they compounded their lack of faith with disobedience (attacking when God said to retreat). The end of fear–as it always is–was death.

Every one of us lives this same pattern of fear and forgetfulness. It is inherent in the fallen human condition. As a partial remedy, God gave us reminders of his actions, promises, and commands: the feast days, sacrifices, tzitziyot, etc. When we wonder what could be the point of those things today, we have only to look in the mirror.