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12 Sources of Life in the Promised Land

In Deuteronomy 8:7-9 God lists twelve things that the Hebrews would find when they finally arrived in the Promised Land.

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.
(Deuteronomy 8:7-9 ESV)

Why does he pick out these things in particular? What about the pastures or the fish in the Kinnereth? Honestly, I can’t tell you why God didn’t specify other things, and I can only guess at what He meant by the things He did list. One thing I can say for certain is that His selections were not random. God does nothing without a good reason. In fact, He usually has more reasons for everything He does than we could possibly comprehend. One clue that they are not intended to be understand merely as a random sampling of the Promised Land’s good qualities is their chiastic arrangement:

A. Brooks of water/Fountains and springs out of the valleys and hills. (Water that comes from the ground.)
………B. Wheat/Barley (Raw ingredients for making other food.)
………………C. Vines (Fruit from which another product is extracted.)
………………………D. Fig trees/Pomegranates (Fruit trees whose produce is usually eaten raw.)
………………C. Oil olive (Fruit from which another product is extracted.)
………B. Honey/Bread (Processed foods, one the product of the labor of bees, the other the labor of men.)
A. Iron from stones/Bronze dug from the hills. (Metals that come from the ground.)

It could be argued that chiastic structures such as this are simply poetic devices. While it is true that they can be found in the literature, both religious and non-religious, of many cultures, we believe that the Bible was inspired by God, and it seems unlikely that God would employ such devices without purpose. Let’s examine each of these items to see if there is further meaning that can be drawn out.

1. Brooks of Water

The Hebrew word translated as “brooks” is nahal (נחלי) and refers to the seasonal creeks that are commonly called wadi today. Like the arroyos of the American Southwest, these brooks are dry for much of the year, only filling up after a good rain, and only flowing steadily during the rainy season in winter.

  • In Genesis, Jacob wrestled all night with God at a ford of the brook Jabbok. (Genesis 32:23-32)
  • Throughout the Torah, histories, and prophets, brooks are used to mark the borders of various lands.  (E.g. Numbers 34:5, Deuteronomy 3:16, etc.)
  • Brooks are also another sort of border, but a border to be crossed. They mark a transition from one phase to another. (E.g. Genesis 32:23, Deuteronomy 2:13 & 2:24)
  • Job referred to his friends as brooks, meaning that they are an unreliable source of support, providing water only in the rainy season, and having nothing useful to offer when life is harshest. (Job 6:15)
  • Brooks are places of hidden water that must be uncovered. Frequently, if you dig at the lowest point of a dry creek bed, you can find water. Large trees can thrive next to a seasonal creek either because they are able to withstand long droughts or because their roots can reach the water that is below the surface. (E.g. Genesis 26:19, Job 40:22, etc.)
  • Elijah was fed by the ravens at the brook Cherith. (1 Kings 17:3-7)

If I had to take some meaning from these things, I would say that brooks of water are symbolic of seasonal refreshment or relief after a long struggle in preparation for the next long struggle. Life in the Promised Land was never intended to be a life of ease, but one of predictable rewards after honest, hard work.

2. Fountains and Springs from the valleys and hills

The Hebrew word translated as “springs” in the English Standard Version is tehom (ותהמת), which is frequently translated as “depths” or “the deep”. They are underground reservoirs (e.g. Genesis 7:11) and the deepest places of the seas (e.g. Exodus 15:8). These are mysterious places that men cannot visit, measure, or know, the domain of God alone. In connection with “fountains” (Hebrew ayin (עינת), which can also be translated as “eye”), this seems to describe natural springs. Short of a major engineering project, there is nothing you can do to create a spring. It comes out of a mysterious source below the ground or it does not.

I suspect this refers to one of two things:

  • Supernatural provision from God that flows regardless of the season. Sometimes God simply provides for us, whether we have worked for a reward or not. The sages say that wealth does not necessarily come to those who work hardest, but to those who are most ready for it.
  • The moving of the Holy Spirit. As Jesus (aka Yeshua) said in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The Seven Species of Deuteronomy 8:8 (image from Wikipedia)

3. Wheat

A good wheat harvest is the result of prolonged hard work. It is a source of wealth and, since it stores well, also of ongoing nourishment.  In more spiritual terms, it is the result of sustained evangelistic efforts, of preaching, teaching, and living exemplary lives. It sprouts long after the barley and is harvested later still. (See Exodus 9:32.) Wheat is a picture of delayed rewards multiplied many times and of the righteous in the last days before the final harvest. (See Matthew 9:37-38 & 13:30.)

4. Barley

Barley sprouts and is harvested earlier than other grain crops. It was used as a standard to measure the value of land and other property. (See Leviticus 27:16.) Barley has always been considered an inferior crop, courser and of poorer taste and nutritional value. At times it was thought only good for animal fodder. Revelation puts the price of a measure of barley at one-third that of wheat. (See Revelation 6:6.)

Despite its humble status, Yeshua used barley loaves to feed the multitude in John 6:9. Barley sustains the people until the later grains are ripe, makes a more plentiful food for the poor, and has been used to brew mild alcoholic beverages since long before the Hebrews left Egypt. Barley is a picture of the simple, first adopters of faith. It is the Hebrew rabble that first left Egypt, David’s Mighty Men who were debtors and running from trouble, and the twelve disciples who were commoners and a tax collector.

5. Vines

The grape vine is associated with family, children, lineage, and inheritance. It is the source of growth in progeny and ideology. It is a picture of unbroken inheritance. Psalm 80:8 speaks of nations in terms of vines. Genesis 49:11 contains a prophecy of the Messiah coming from Judah’s line. On the surface, it tells of Judah’s rich inheritance in the land. On another level, it appears to says that the Messiah will come from Judah’s descendants, his vine. Princes in times of peace rode on donkeys, and Zechariah 9:9 says this is how the Messiah will appear. Judah binding the ass to his vine is an image of the future King of Judah entering Jerusalem on the colt. (See Matthew 21:1-11.)

But the vine is more than an image of physical descendants.

In Deuteronomy 32:32, Moses gave another dual prophecy simultaneously calling the Israelites and their enemies the heirs of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this prophecy, God predicts the apostasy of Israel and their defeat at the hands of their enemies.

For their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison; their clusters are bitter;
(Deuteronomy 32:32 ESV)

On the one hand “they” in this verse refers to Israel who has adopted the ways of those perverse people and inherited much of their fate with it. But on the other, “they” refers to Israel’s enemies who are even more the spiritual descendants of Sodom and possibly even the physical descendants who have misunderstood their victory over Israel as evidence of their own strength rather than God’s discipline of the people He loves.

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of a grape vine used to illustrate a spiritual or ideological inheritance is found in a lengthy teaching that Yeshua gave just before His death:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”
(John 15:1-6 ESV)

6. Fig Trees

Fig trees are an image of prosperity, contentment, and security, the well-deserved product of honest business. They provide sweet fruit, income, and shade long after the work required to establish them has been completed. The man who dwells beneath his own fig tree has no wants or worries. (See 1 Kings 4:25, 2 Kings 18:31, etc.)

7. Pomegranates

Vines, pomegranates, and figs go together in scripture for a total picture of peace and prosperity (See Numbers 13:23 and Numbers 20:5.), and appropriately so. All three are symbols of fertility and prosperity, but of these three, because of its large number of seeds, the pomegranate is more associated with fertility than the others. (Figs are also considered fertility symbols, but not as strongly as pomegranates.) Tradition places the number of seeds in the fruit at 613, which is also the traditional count of individual commands in the Torah. The implication is that keeping God’s commands makes one fruitful, both in body and in enterprise.

Like the fig tree, most of the labor is required long in advance of the extended reward.

8. Olive Oil

Olive oil brings to mind the anointing of priests, prophets, and kings, and is symbolic of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It was used to fuel the Menorah in the Tabernacle, which is also a picture of the Spirit. Olive oil is a source of light, while the Spirit is a source of enlightenment. The oil was used in cooking, as a base for perfumes and incense, as skin care, and for countless other uses.

9. Honey

(Note: An alternate interpretation of “honey” is the date palm because of its syrupy juice.)

Honey was the sweetest thing known to the ancient Israelites. The idiom “land of milk and honey” was frequently used to describe a near paradise. It was used as a gift, as a special treat, and those who over-indulged were thought decadent and corrupt. Honey has two distinct qualities: First, it is very sweet. Second, someone else does all the work to produce it. Honey, like all of the sweetest things in life, is best taken sparingly lest we lose our taste for anything less, and fall into the habit common to all libertines of constantly searching after the next high.

There is nothing wrong with honey and fine things; they are a gift from God. But they are a gift that is easily abused. Remember that most things worth having don’t come easy.

10. Bread

Since wheat, barley, and olive oil are already listed, it seems odd to add bread, but there is a difference. The raw ingredients have nearly indefinite shelf lives if they are protected from vermin, but no so bread. It goes moldy or stale very quickly. On the other hand, the raw ingredients aren’t easily eaten or digested on their own. They require a certain amount of processing. The end product was treated as the single most important part of any meal.

Bread was a fundamental element of hospitality. Abraham offered bread to his three divine visitors (Genesis 18:6), and Abigail presented David with two hundred loaves of bread as part of a peace offering to prevent the death of her husband (1 Samuel 25:18).

The Showbread Table in the Tabernacle held twelve loaves of bread, one for each of the tribes of Israel. It is a picture of the Messiah, who called himself the Bread of Life.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
(John 6:35 ESV)

His body, striped by the centurion’s whip and pierced by the crown of thorns and the nails of crucifixion, is illustrated to this day in the matzoh eaten at every traditional Jewish of Passover. Just as bread made with grain and oil was fundamental to the Hebrew physical diet, so is the Bread of Life fundamental to our spiritual life. There is no spiritual life without Yeshua.

The last two things prophesied to be found in the Promised Land are a little more enigmatic. All of the previous items were things that you put into your body: water and food. The following are metals that are transformed or taken out of something else, and I believe the sources of the ores might be as significant as the ores themselves. Forgive me if I seem to be indulging in so much speculation in these last items, because I am. My opinions here are not cast in iron or set in stone, and they are certainly not so well polished as a brass mirror. (Also, please forgive the bad puns. I can’t help myself.)

11. Iron from Stones

Stones have a very complex representation in Scripture. Spiritually calloused and rebellious people are said to have hearts of stone. Stones can represent individual people or groups of people. They are the foundations (as altars), media (as tablets), and witnesses of covenants. They are instruments of punishment, markers of wealth, ornaments, and most significantly, they are used to represent the Messiah.

Iron is very similar to stone, but where stone is hard, iron is unbreakable. Where stones can be symbols of wealth, iron signifies strength, power, and punishment. It is unyielding, impenetrable, and forged into weapons of war.

I imagine two possible meanings of “a land whose stones are iron”:

  • The Lord disciplines those He loves, and His harsh discipline transforms hearts of stone into hearts of iron.
  • Even the common people of Israel are iron to their enemies.

12. Bronze Dug from the Hills

(Note: The word for bronze is sometimes translated as copper or brass.)

Hills appear to be as symbolically versatile as stones. They are places of refuge from disaster and points of connection between Heaven and Earth. They are platforms for prophecy and divine pronouncement. Armies gather and fight in the hills. Finally, hills are symbols of strength and permanence.

Bronze, unlike iron, is used extensively in the Tabernacle and Temple, and is usually taken to symbolize judgment and the process of purification. (Think of the bronze laver, in which the priests were to wash before serving in the Tabernacle.) It also has military uses, in weaponry and armor. Bronze and iron were often paired in prophecy to represent a harsh and unforgiving land or a hard and unrepentant people.

I have only one good thought about the bronze:

Hills can be dangerous, wild places with any number of hiding places for shelter or ambush. Primarily, they are a place where people in fear of the wrath of God flee in search of futile protection. Bronze, however, is an image of God’s refinement of his people. Through God’s judgment and Law, His people are brought out of the hills into which they have fled, exposing their sin to that refining fire. God’s people have been scattered throughout the world, many forgetting even that they were ever chosen. But God knows them and where they have hidden themselves and been hidden. He has prophesied their repentance and has promised to bring them back again from all the places they were driven.

God knows you. He knows all your hidden sins, and you can’t hide from His law or His call.

America is not Israel, and we cannot automatically claim all of the promises made to the Hebrews simply because we worship the same God. But believers in Yeshua of whatever ancestry are none-the-less God’s people, grafted into the tree of Israel. We are not in the Land of Israel, but I strongly believe that God’s Laws are universal and founded on Natural Law. The promises God gave to Israel for obedience are in large part an expression of cause and effect. If any person keeps His law with a right heart, they are bound to benefit in many ways, although trying to keep God’s Law with evil intent or in a misguided attempt to earn your salvation will likely do you more personal harm than good.

Throughout history, nations that keep more of God’s Law benefit from it, while those nations that reject it suffer by their rejection. We can learn from the principles described in this passage. In keeping God’s Law–not for salvation because that’s impossible–we will undoubtedly become a stronger, healthier, wealthier nation.

Eating Meat Sacrificed to Idols

James and the elders in Jerusalem told the new gentile converts not to eat meat sacrificed to idols (Acts 15 & 21). Paul told them there is nothing wrong with eating so long as you don’t do it in front of anyone who believes it’s wrong (1 Corinthians 8 & 10). And then Yeshua castigated two churches in the Revelation for teaching people to eat food sacrificed to idols (Revelation 2). Or at least that’s what many of us have been taught. More likely, you haven’t been taught anything about it at all except that all rules about what you can and cannot eat have been thrown out.

Actually, James and Yeshua were talking about something that is–and remains–very clearly wrong while Paul was talking about a fine point of law about which intelligent and reasonable people could easily disagree.

Temple sacrifices, both biblical and pagan, involve killing an animal, performing some ritual with its blood or carcass and then eating some or all of the animal. A sacrifice was often occasion for a community feast. The Greeks had a word for the sacrificial animal and the ensuing roast: eidolothuton. That’s the word that Yeshua and the Apostles used when they talked about meat sacrificed to idols. As far as the ritual goes, the religion of the Jews and that of the Greeks would have looked very similar to people in the first century. However, there is one major difference: sacrifices made to Yahweh in the Temple in Jerusalem actually accomplished something real, while sacrifices made in any of the thousands of pagan shrines did absolutely nothing but keep people distracted from the truth and enslaved to sin. God absolutely forbade his people from participating in the eidolothuton. He called it adultery. James and Yeshua reaffirmed that prohibition.

Then Paul came along and started telling people that it was alright to eat the eidolothuton so long as they understood that it was just meat with no supernatural significance. Some will tell you that this is because Yeshua did away with all the rules about what you can eat and what you can’t. Since Yeshua said otherwise many years after Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, that doesn’t really make sense. So what did Paul really mean?

Here’s what Paul was actually trying to tell the Corinthians:

There is no spiritual significance to meat sacrificed to idols beyond that attributed to it in the minds of those who participate in the sacrifice. It has no actual power in itself and can do you no spiritual harm or good through eating it as mere food and not as a religious observance. If you eat a steak that once happened to belong to a bull sacrificed to Z–s, what of it? If you aren’t eating it as a sacrificial animal, but merely as a steak, then there’s no problem. You could even eat it in the god’s temple. So long as you have no thoughts to honor the false god (or the true God for that matter) through the eating of sacrificial meat, then you aren’t actually participating in the eidolothuton, and you’ve committed no sin.

If you buy a rack of lamb in the market, don’t worry about whether or not it was sacrificed to an idol. If you don’t know one way or another then it can’t possibly do you any harm.

However, many people who have lived their whole lives in pagan idolatry could never eat such a meal without thinking that they were somehow honoring the idol. If they were to see you in the temple of Z–s, eating the eidolothuton, might they think that you too believe there is spiritual power of some kind in the actual flesh of the sacrificed animal? If they are led astray, thinking it now acceptable to participate in an idolatrous ritual as a religious observance, then you have done him a severe disservice. I would rather never eat meat again than cause someone who misunderstood my actions to revert to idolatry.

Paul was not making a statement about clean vs unclean meat and was certainly not dismissing any part of God’s Law. He kept Torah all his life, even to the point of taking a Nazirite vow and bringing sacrifices to the Temple after he had been preaching to the gentiles for many years. He wrote to the Corinthians was to clarify the law, not to annul it.

“If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Numbers 20:10-12 And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said to them, Hear now you rebels. Must we bring water for you out of this rock? (11) And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he struck the rock twice. And the water came out plentifully, and the congregation and their animals drank. (12) And Jehovah spoke to Moses and Aaron, Because you did not believe Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.

John 19:34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a lance, and instantly there came out blood and water.

We are meant to see a parallel between this rock and the Messiah, and Paul points it out in 1 Corinthians 10:4.

…they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.

There are several traditions concerning this rock that may or may not be true. For example, some say that the rock actually followed the Israelites around the desert and that it really was a pre-incarnate appearance of the Messiah. Others say that Moses’ first strike drew blood from the rock. Only his second strike drew water. Make of that what you will.

I had another thought while reading this passage. There are two ways in which Yeshua’s people strike him: legalism and licentiousness. Both attack him through disobedience. Legalism replaces God’s commands with man’s or elevates the words above the one who gave them through Moses (which is essentially the same thing since the greatest commandment of all is to love the Lawgiver with all your being). Licentiousness simply dismisses God’s commands as irrelevant, elevating the subject above both the words and the master.

In one way or another, we are all probably guilty of both. Some say that anyone who works on Sunday or drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes is a degenerate sinner destined to burn in hell. Others say that Jesus set us free from all the old rules, that now it’s all about following your conscience. Consider what Yeshua and Paul had to say about these two nomological errors:

Mark 7:7-9 However, they worship Me in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” (8) For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men, the dippings of pots and cups. And many other such things you do. (9) And He said to them, Do you do well to set aside the commandment of God, so that you may keep your own tradition?

Romans 6:1-4 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may abound? (2) Let it not be! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (3) Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? (4) Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father; even so we also should walk in newness of life.

It doesn’t matter if you wander too far to the left or to the right. Either way, you will still end up in a ditch. Whether we replace God’s laws with man’s traditions or with rules of our own making, we still sin. Yeshua told us plainly what he expects of us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.” At another time he said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

If we love God, we will obey his commandments. That is not just a commandment on it’s own. It’s a statement of fact: If you love God, you will obey God.

Matthew 5:19 Therefore whoever shall relax one of these commandments, the least, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven. But whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven.

Yeshua’s words should send chills down the spine of today’s Christians and Jews. They have good reason to be afraid. Fortunately, God is merciful and forgives those who repent. Obeying God’s Law (aka Torah) isn’t very complicated, but it can take a long time to learn it and to break old habits. Fortunately, Yeshua gave us a very good starting point: The second greatest commandment is very like the first. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” John wrote some very practical advice along these lines:

1 John 4:20-21 If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if he does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (21) And we have this commandment from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

To learn how to love your brother (Don’t presume that you already know! Our culture hides many hateful things under the guise of love.), I suggest you first read the Letter that James wrote to the exiles of Israel. (James 1:1-5:20) After that, go back to Moses. He wrote several books on the subject.

Legalism replaced God's Law with man's. Obedience to God's Law is not legalism.
Legalism replaces God’s Law with man’s, while licentiousness ignores God’s Law. Reject both. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Update July 1, 2009: As the rock gave water even when Moses disobeyed God’s instructions, to an extent, so too does God give his Spirit to both legalists and antinomians. Yeshua said that those who do not keep Torah or do not teach others to do likewise will be called the least in Heaven, implying that they would at least still be there. Walking in a roadside ditch will still get you to the right place. It will just be a slower and more difficult journey.

Even As Christ?

Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself as the glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

A husband is to love his wife, being willing to give up his life if necessary to allow her to become more “holy and without blemish.” What if she doesn’t want to become unblemished? What if she wants him to give up his life so that she can be more comfortable or more “appreciated?”

Although the answer can be found in Paul’s writings, we have something better. In Revelation 2 and 3 Yeshua told us exactly what he would do in such a case:

Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and will remove your lampstand out of its place unless you repent….

Repent! But if not I will come to you quickly, and will fight with them by the sword of My mouth….

But I have a few things against you because you allow that woman Jezebel to teach, she saying herself to be a prophetess, and to cause My servants to go astray, and to commit fornication, and to eat idol-sacrifices. And I gave her time that she might repent of her fornication, and she did not repent. Behold, I am throwing her into a bed, and those who commit adultery* with her into great affliction, unless they repent of their deeds….I will give to every one of you according to your works….

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth….

That doesn’t sound like the eternal, all-enduring love I’ve always heard preached in our churches. God is patient and forgiving, but only to a point, and only with those who are truly repentant.

*Adultery? Then the woman is married, but to whom? I say she was married to Yeshua. In Biblical usage, adultery can only be committed between a married woman and a man who is not her husband. Those who commit adultery “with” her are not the male perpetrator, but co-adulteresses with Jezebel. Yeshua would not be so harsh with her if he was not claiming the place of her husband. Therefore, this Jezebel was an accepted member of his corporate bride, and Yeshua is threatening to divorce her with all her co-conspirators.

Seventh Day or First?

Yeshua said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. We don’t live in order to keep the Sabbath. Instead we are commanded to keep the Sabbath in order to live more fulfilling lives. Some have taken Yeshua’s statement to mean that we are free to alter the Sabbath as we see fit, even to disregard it if we choose.

If a command is given for our benefit, does that mean we have the authority to disregard it as if to refuse a gift or favor that we don’t want? Of course, not. If that were so, it wouldn’t be a command anymore. They aren’t called the Ten Suggestions.

Think of it this way: The Sabbath was made for man as paved roads are made for cars. In many cases, cars are required by law (i.e. commanded) to remain on roads. Certainly a car can drive off the roads, but they’ll last longer and stay in better shape if they don’t. What would happen if drivers just decided that since roads were made for cars and not cars for roads, then he is free to reject the roads whenever it suits him? There’d be a lot of really upset property owners, with mud tracks and ruts cut through their fields and lawns. Cars would get stuck, would wear out faster, and get more flat tires. Everyone would be more unhappy.

The Sabbath is the same way. God set the Sabbath on the seventh day and commanded us to keep it for a reason. If we all choose our own sabbath or do it our own way, we will lose most of the benefit that God intended for us. Everyone will be more unhappy. The Sabbath was made for you, but it wasn’t made for you to break it however & whenever you want.

Circumcision and Blood

Regarding circumcision, someone recently asked me,

If God is so loving, why base his entire covenant with His Chosen on violence especially against the most helpless? The whole point of Jesus’ ministry was to replace that law with a new standard of gentleness and forgiveness, so why seal it with still more violence? It just doesn’t add up to me.

His covenant was (and is) based on redemption and restoration. Circumcision is only a sign of that covenant. There is a lot of blood involved in God’s interaction with mankind. I don’t completely understand that, but I recognize a few hints. First, for whatever reason Adam chose death over life, and that decision has affected everything. The violence is already there by the actions of people, and the controlled violence of blood covenants serves in part to restrain the uncontrolled violence of mankind’s natural tendencies. Second, blood has some kind of cleansing property in a spiritual sense in that it allows God to interact with people who would otherwise be too repulsive to him. Third, blood symbolizes the life-and-death nature and permanency of covenants. It’s a solemnizer.

Yeshua fulfilled God's Law in three ways.I can understand your confusion regarding the apparent disparity between Jesus’ message of love and the necessity of his violent death. It never added up for me either. However, the problem is in our perceptions of Jesus’ ministry and purpose. He didn’t come to replace the law with a new standard. In fact, he said the exact opposite: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy [kataluo: to tear down], but to fulfil [pleroo: to build up or to carry into effect]. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” If fulfilling the law is the same as annulling it for everyone else, then Jesus’ statement here was meaningless: “I am not come to destroy, but to abolish.”

Jesus mission in regards to fulfilling the Law was three-fold. First, he completed or built up our understanding of it through his teachings on the two central commands of Torah: love God and love your neighbor. Second, he fulfilled (and will fulfill) various prophecies embedded in the Law. Third, he fulfilled the requirement of blood to allow us to approach God (or God to approach us) despite our spiritual stench. This is a physical manifestation of a spiritual law that we don’t have to understand in order to take advantage of. Something like quantum theory. The laws that govern the interactions of subatomic particles are incomprehensible to most of us, but still necessary for life. The thing that we have to acknowledge is that nothing other than the mercy shown through his blood (and no other action, inaction, or attitude) would be entirely sufficient to restore us to a right relationship with God.

For what it’s worth, you’re in good company. Moses’ wife was none too happy about circumcision, either. “Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.” Blood is a mysterious thing that science can never quite understand, and violence does solve some problems.

More info:

Blood Draws Near by Jon Behrens
Circumcision and Cutting a Covenant by Walter Snyder

Torah vs Yeshua?

Luke wrote:
Luk 16:29-31 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Although that conversation was ostensibly about being generous and kind, it was also a roundabout reference to eternal salvation and the resurrection of the Messiah. Through this parable, Yeshua was hinting that those who reject the testimony of Moses will also reject the Messiah and his testimony.

John wrote:
Joh 5:42-47 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

Yeshua was accusing the Jewish elite of not having the love of God, and he referred them to the writings of Moses (the Torah) as evidence. They were trusting in the Torah for their salvation, but they never obeyed (John 7:19) or even believed what was in it. The spirit of the Law is love of God and mankind, and its primary aim is the redemption of mankind by the Messiah as the ultimate embodiment of that love. Therefore, if your life is in line with the Torah, then you are aiming at the Messiah. The converse is also true. If your life is not in line with the Torah, then you are not aiming at the Messiah.

Paul, or someone very like him, wrote:
Heb 10:28-29 He that despised [does away with, sets aside, disregards, nullifies, rejects, refuses -Thayer’s Greek Definitions] Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

In other words, if anyone who rejects the Torah deserves to die without mercy, how much more does anyone who rejects the sacrifice of Yeshua deserve to die? This is a light and heavy argument which requires that the first premise be true before the second can be true. If rejection of the Torah does not call for death, then the second premise is meaningless. Zero multiplied by anything is still zero.

I’m not saying you have to obey–or even try to obey–the Torah to be saved. I’m saying that it’s very difficult to hit a target if you don’t know what it looks like. I’m also saying that if you really are aiming at the right target, Yeshua, then you are already obeying Torah, and your life will show it.

A Husband and A Leader

Excerpted and adapted from on-line discussions in February and March, 2005. My apologies if it’s a little hard to follow. You’re only getting one side of several conversations.

I coasted through the first ten years of my marriage, pretty much just trying to be my wife’s boyfriend, but God says that I am responsible for the spiritual well-being of my house, and that he will hold me accountable for them. So about five years ago I decided that I was through being a boyfriend, and it was time to become a husband. Things are frequently difficult, uncomfortable, or downright heated–the price I pay for developing habits based on the standards of our hedonistic culture. Now my family is no longer stagnant and spiritually dead. I am learning to lead instead of to drift with the emotional current of the day. My son is growing up in a scripture-based home instead of a feelings-based home..

A rudder, under the command of a helmsman, serves a ship by controlling its direction. A viceroy, under the command of a king, serves his people by creating and enforcing laws. A sergeant, under the command of an officer, serves his men by instilling purpose and discipline. A husband, under the command of God, serves his family by leading and teaching them….

A leader does what is necessary. He takes action and accepts responsibility. He promotes the well-being of his charges. A follower follows the leader’s lead. In the context of marriage, a wife subjects her own will to her husband’s. She supports his calling–whatever that may be–working to encourage and strengthen him. She may have a separate calling of her own, but that is subordinate to her role as wife and mother….

A leader doesn’t wait around for everyone else to line up behind him before taking action. He just starts moving. His moral justification doesn’t come from behind, but from ahead, because he is also a follower of Christ. God’s created order is for men to be the leaders of their families. If they are not following that order, then they are not following Christ’s example, because he was obedient to the Father above all else….

Shouldn’t all government be after the pattern of Christ and the church? Shouldn’t all kings rule as servant leaders? What is the difference between David ruling over Israel and a father/husband ruling over his family? A king rules in order to serve his people, but he never relinquishes his authority as king. Without that authority and all of the power that comes with it he could not serve his people effectively as a servant leader. Although Yeshua does not usually force us (my apologies to Calvin) to do his will–at least not in the present–but he demands our obedience none-the-less. There are more parallels:

  1. Mankind was created to serve God and the woman was created to serve the man. (Gen 1-3, 1 Cor 11:9)
  2. God (the Word made flesh) gave men laws to order and protect his people, and a man governs his own family to order and protect his house. (Gen-Deut, 1 Tim 3:4-5, 1 Tim 5:8)
  3. Yeshua gave up his own life in order to return the Church to a state of perfection and obedience, and then serves her by ruling over her, and a man serves his family by protecting and guiding them even to the point of giving up his own life for them so that together they can serve God in obedience to their calling, which is firstly his calling. (Rom 1:5, 1 Pet 1:2, Rev 2-3, Gen 1-3, 1 Cor 11-9)

… Never does Yeshua submit himself to the Church. Never. He is a servant to the Church (and all of mankind) as its ruler, provider, and kinsman-redeemer. He grants the petitions of believers only at his own discretion.

It was never my goal to get my wife to submit to my leadership. It was always my goal to become a better leader. It just took me a little while to learn that you can’t force people to act as if you already are a good leader. It is the husband’s job to lead and the wife’s job to follow. If the husband is leading, then it’s not his responsibility if the wife refuses to follow. If the wife is following, then it’s not her responsibility if the husband refuses to lead. They each need to do their part regardless of what the other does.

I told my wife that I’m not drifting anymore. This is where I am going, and if you want to be a part of my family, you’ll have to go with me. Of course, there are many things on which my wife and I have come to disagree, but I don’t think that level of detail is necessary here. We discussed our respective roles before we married and were in basic agreement at that time. Our current differences are the result of allowing my family to drift instead of taking an active role at the helm from the very beginning. My values have changed, and my wife’s values have changed. Unfortunately, they have drifted in opposite directions…

I quit accepting my wife’s feelings and opinions as equally authoritative as my own. Not because my opinions are any better than hers, but because I have to make the final decisions. I will consult my wife and I will value her feelings and opinions, but God put authority over the wife onto the husband, and not the other way around. He created us. He knows how we will best live. I decided that I will set the tone and direction of our activities and the moral standards of my house. I quit being afraid of making a wrong decision when I realized that making no decision was even worse. I do not like the prospect of facing God having made wrong decisions for my family, but I am terrified of facing him after having given up my family to whimsy and deception. I will not be the worthless servant who buried his master’s gold in the ground.

You can’t change your spouse; you can only change yourself. As I wrote earlier, my job is to love and to lead my family, and my wife’s job is to support me. I can’t force her to do that, and I wouldn’t even want her “support” if it had to be forced…. Whatever the outcome, I know that through the exercise of love, patience, and faith, I will be a better man on the other side.

The Two Kingdoms of Heaven

There are at least three parts to every kingdom: the government, the nation, and the country. The government is the king and his agents, the nation is the people under the king’s authority, and the country is the physical land under the king’s control. Yeshua often spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in seemingly contradictory ways: the Kingdom existed before he came, he brought the Kingdom with him, and the Kingdom was still to come.

Can all of these be true or was Yeshua just talking in riddles? The answer is “Yes!” All of these are true, and Yeshua was speaking in riddles.

The Kingdom of Heaven has always existed, exists wherever true believers are, and will be finally established some day with Yeshua as King. The key to understanding the New Testament references to the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) is to understand the three parts of a kingdom and how they can sometimes exist independently of each other.

The Kingdom of Heaven has always existed, exists wherever true believers are, and will be finally established some day with Yeshua as King.The Kingdom of Heaven, as all other kingdoms, ultimately belongs to the King of Kings. It is his to give and take away as he sees fit.

Yeshua prayed, “Our Father in Heaven…deliver us from evil, for the Kingdom is yours…”1 In other words, the Kingdom is a meritocracy and God can remove unworthy leaders in favor of the worthy. Yeshua, having more merit than anyone who has ever lived or ever will live, has been given the kingship forever.2 His viceroys and regents, however, are still elected and rejected by the Father as necessary, based on their merits3 and the needs of the Kingdom.4

The first dominion of Heaven is the nation of Israel. I don’t mean the secular State of Israel, which is another government altogether. Firstly, the nation is made up of a remnant of physical Israel, genetic descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob.5 Secondly, the nation is made up of the mixed multitude of believers who have been grafted into the tree of natural Israel.6 So everyone who calls on the name of God and believes on the name of Yeshua7 is a citizen of the nation of Israel regardless of where or when they live.

The second dominion of Heaven are the places of the Kingdom, both here on Earth and in Heaven itself. It includes the Promised Land in the Messianic Era, which Yeshua will rule from Jerusalem,8 as well as the Heavens in which the angels live and which Yeshua rules from the Crystal Sea.9 Anyone who is a citizen of those lands is also a citizen of Israel under the authority of Yeshua. (Which is not to say that anyone who is physically located in those places at any particular moment must be a citizen.)

The practical outgrowth of citizenship in the true nation of Israel is both responsibility and reward: obedience to the king’s laws10 and healing from the curses of disobedience. Fortunately, his yoke is easy, his burden is light,11 and his rewards are beyond your imagination.12 The only things you have to lose by submitting to his rule are not worth keeping.

1 Matthew 6:8-13.
2 John 1:49, John 12:12, & Acts 2:36.
3 The qualities that God seems to hold highest are selflessness, mercy, justice, and generosity.
4 Matthew 11:11-13, 13:44-46, 16:17-19, 20:20-28, 21:43, 23:1-37, & Luke 22:28-30.
5 Jeremiah 31:31-37, Ezekiel 37:15-28, Matthew 10:5-7, 15:22-28, 19:28, & Romans 9:1-11:11.
6 Exodus 12:37-38, Luke 2:32, Romans 11:12-32, Ephesians 2:8-18, & Revelation 5:8-10.
7 The name of God and the name of Yeshua are not the vocalizations and symbols by which we reference them in conversation and print, but the nature of who they are. When we call on the name of God, we are calling on his nature as just, merciful, and all powerful. When we believe on the name of Yeshua, we are believing in his ability and sufficiency to save us from the penalty of our sins.
8 Psalms 2:6-7, 53:6, 78:67-70, 110:1-7, 132:10-14, Isaiah 2:2-4, 18:7, Micah 5:2, Revelation 3:12, 21:10-22:5, & etc.
9 Revelation 4:6.
10 Matthew 5:19, 19:17, John 14:15, 14:21, 15:10, & 1 John 2:2-6.
11 Matthew 11:28-30
12 Revelation 21-22.

Why I Keep Torah

Over the last decade, as I have delved deeper into the Scriptures and spiritual things, I have become more and more convicted that I need to keep Torah, the laws of God as delivered through Moses. But even as I have obeyed God’s voice and laws, I have had to defend myself against ever increasing accusations of legalism, judaizing, and whatnot.

The most important thing to understand is that Judaizing really has very little to do with the keeping of God’s laws and everything to do with the keeping of man’s laws. Judaism teaches that the rabbis have the authority to change the Torah, and elevates the oral tradition of the Pharisees above the written laws of God. Some of the teachings of the Pharisees have value, but all of them should be regarded with skepticism and weighed carefully against actual Scripture. I do not teach that anyone need (or even should) obey the Jewish rabbis or the mountains of man-made law that they have heaped upon the Torah. I teach that we should obey God’s laws, because “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

Paul wrote that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) He defined “all scripture” as the scriptures that Timothy had learned as a child, in other words, the Greek Septuagint, including the Torah. If Paul did not mean that the Torah is still valid for doctrine, then why did he say it? In fact, Paul often explicitly based doctrine on Torah:

  • Romans 7:1-6 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 are based on the law of the levirate (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) among others.
  • Romans 7:7 is based on Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 is based on Deuteronomy 25:4 and other laws regarding the Temple services.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:34 is based on Genesis 3:16.
  • Galatians 4:22-31 is based on Genesis 16-17.

He taught other doctrines based on the Torah and the Prophets besides these, as did Yeshua. Obviously neither of them thought or taught anyone to abandon the Torah as a valid source of doctrine.

The New Covenant does not replace the old so much as it overlays it. Abraham’s covenant did not overturn Noah’s covenant, which did not overturn Adam’s covenant. Hebrews says that the high priesthood was transferred (the Greek word translated as “changed” in the King James Version is closer to “transferred” in today’s English) to Yeshua and that there was a transfer of the law also. This transfer isn’t a change in the requirements of the law, but a transfer of our allegiance. Like Paul, we are under the law for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21) rather than under the law for the law itself. We are not to be lawless, but to continue to keep Torah as a sign of our allegiance to our Messiah. Yeshua said that he did not come to abolish the law, and Paul continued in that same vein when he wrote that we do not make the law void through faith, rather we establish it.

The Torah is an expression of God’s character in that it defines his standards of behavior. If God never changes (Malachi 3:6), then neither do his standards. The Torah says that no one can add or remove anything from its rules. (Deuteronomy 4:2 & 12:32) If any prophet were to preach against the Torah, leading people away from the proper worship of God, then the Torah commands that he be stoned. If Yeshua taught against Torah, then he was a sinner and ineligible as the Messiah. If Paul taught against Torah, then he too must be disqualified as a prophet of God. If Stephen taught against Torah, as only false witnesses were able to testify, then his punishment was just. (Acts 6:13-14) Since no true witnesses could be found to testify either against Stephen or Yeshua, the only logical explanation is that they never did teach against Torah. Even the Temple sacrifices only appear to have been suspended and not forever done away with. Ezekiel prophesied that the daily sacrifices will resume under the direct supervision of Yeshua our Messiah. (Ezekiel 40:41-43, 46:20) We are not made whole or justified by such sacrifices, but we never were, because Yeshua’s death was sufficient for all human rebellion from the beginning of time. (Hebrews 11, Revelation 13:8)

Jeremiah prophesied specifically that the Torah would carry over into the New Covenant, only transferred from tablets of stone to hearts of flesh. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) In that prophecy, God based the continuity of his covenant with the nation of Israel on the heavens and the earth. As Yeshua said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Well, heaven and earth are still here, and all has not been fulfilled. The Messiah has not yet returned the second time, Israel and Judah have not yet been reunited in the land, and men still have to teach each other about God.

All scripture is inspired of God and profitable for doctrine. None of it has been annulled. Obedience to God’s laws is required under both the old and the new covenant. Through faith I will continue to establish the Law (Romans 3:31) and repudiate lawlessness. Through faith in Yeshua and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I will continue to try to live closer to God’s standards of perfections every day that I am able. So long as one man tells another to know God, so long as the earth continues to move through the heavens, I will continue to put my faith in God and his eternal standards rather than in the love of transient men.