Enemies Within and Without

Every external trial is sent for an internal purpose.

The enemy within your gates must be defeated before you can effectively engage the enemy without, but sometimes the enemy outside is sent to expose and defeat the enemy hiding within.

In Psalm 86, David began with a parallelism that lays out a cause and effect relationship between the state of his heart and God answering his prayers.

  • V1 – Incline your ear, O YHVH. Hear me.
    • For I am sorrowful and destitute.
  • V2a – Preserve my soul
    • For I am pious.
  • V2b – Save your servant
    • Who trusts in you.
  • V3 – Be merciful to me, O Lord
    • For I cry out to you daily.
  • V4 – Gladden the soul of your servant
    • For unto you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
  • V5 – You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love
    • To all who call upon you.

David went on to ask God to help him become a more righteous man, to thank Him and glorify Him for His steadfast love and deliverance. Only then did he come back to the problem at hand: A group of lawless and violent men were conspiring against David, and he needed divine protection.

This Psalm is remarkable for more than just the parallelism at the beginning. In it, David touched on every major point of The Lord’s Prayer as taught by Yeshua in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. I have listed some of the correlations here but I am sure there are more:

  • v8,12 : Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
  • v9 : Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  • v1 : Give us this day our daily bread, and
  • v5,6,15,16 : forgive us our trespasses,
  • v11,17 : as we forgive those who trespass against us, and
  • v2,11: lead us not into temptation,
  • v2,13,17 : but deliver us from evil.
  • v10,12 : For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.

Not only does David foreshadow the Lord’s Prayer, but also the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:

  • v1 : Blessed are the poor in spirit
  • v4 : Blessed are they who mourn
  • v2 : Blessed are the meek
  • v11 : Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • v17 : Blessed are the merciful (David did not pray for their destruction, but their repentance.)
  • v2 : Blessed are the pure of heart
  • v17 : Blessed are the peacemakers (See above)
  • v14 : Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

Is it any wonder that, despite all of his many sins and flaws, David is called a man after God’s own heart?

Like all of us, David continued to battle his sinful nature throughout his life, recognizing that he needed to have victory over the battle in his own heart before he could hope to have any real victory over external forces. This Psalm is an excellent pattern for every believer.

No matter how righteous we think we are, no matter how close to God we believe ourselves to be, our personal righteousness is a relative thing and will always be nothing compared to Yeshua’s. The trials that God sends are designed, in part, to remind us of this. The prayers of a righteous man are powerful, but righteousness that isn’t continually progressing becomes unrighteousness in time. This is a call to ever greater sanctity in our hearts and behavior, for there can be no victory in the world without victory in the heart.

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Happy New Year

L'shana tova from Brenham, Texas!Why is the Feast of Trumpets (aka Yom Teruah or Yom ha-Zikkaron) also called Head of the Year (Rosh Hashanah) when God specifically said that Nisan is the first month of the year? Every calendar has multiple years. We have fiscal years, school years, birth years, tax years, etc. The ancient Hebrews were no different. But what, specifically, makes this day a “new year” day?

There are two reasons, one mystical and one practical. Traditionally, Adam and Eve were created on Rosh Hashanah, so we blow the horns in honor of the world’s birthday and in remembrance of the Voice of God that caused the world to come into being. More scripturally, the year of Jubilee begins in the seventh month (this month, now called Tishrei). Every seventh year in the seventh month, debts were forgiven, Hebrew slaves set free, and the land given one year of rest from active agriculture. Every fiftieth year in the seventh month, all land returned to the original owners, the families to whom the land was granted in the time of Joshua. (See Leviticus 25)

Technically, the release of slaves and land begins at Yom Kippur, which is the 10th day of the month, making it simultaneously the most solemn and the most joyful day on God’s calendar. Regardless, the month of Tishrei is still the first month of the year for the purposes of the Jubilee, so the first day of Tishrei is considered the first day of the year.

L’shana Tova! Happy New Year! May you find freedom in Yeshua this year and every year.

An Unbelievable Kindness

I have frequently heard it said that the Law was given as a sort of object lesson, to prove to Israel–and by proxy all mankind–the futility of attempting to earn salvation by keeping the Law. While that isn’t quite correct, it isn’t very far off the mark either.

Paul wrote that the law was given to serve as a witness against us in our sins much as a No Trespassing sign is a Teshuva, Repentance...An unbelievable kindness.witness against the trespasser who cannot claim that he didn’t know he was on private property when it was clearly marked. Despite the clearly marked boundaries of Torah, despite God’s assurance that his laws are not too difficult for us, we all still fail. We are all trespassers, and without God’s grace to forgive us, we would all be condemned to die under the Law by the Law’s own testimony. The real object lesson that demonstrates to us that we cannot be saved by the Law is the destruction of the Temple.

In Paul’s day, he spent a significant amount of time and ink arguing against those who claimed that the new gentile converts could not be saved without undergoing the full ritual conversion of becoming a Jew. Paul continued to keep the Law, circumcising Timothy and sacrificing at the Temple, but he clearly understood that those things were mere shadows of the spiritual reality. He wasn’t alone. Many other Jews understood this, but unfortunately they appear to have been in the minority. The Temple eventually had to be destroyed before God’s grace would be widely accepted.

I recently listened to a 2006 discussion of Yom Kippur and teshuva by Rabbi Meir Schweiger. Addressing the matter of atonement without the Temple, he said:

This is an unbelievable kindness…to allow me the opportunity to once again be in relationship with him.

Perfect obedience to the letter of the law cannot save you, but it can point you in the right direction. Salvation is found in the “unbelievable kindness” of God’s mercy in providing a sacrifice whose blood atones for all who trust in him and commit heart-felt teshuva.

There’s Obedience and There’s Obedience

From Rabbi Zev Leff’s comments on Devarim:

Failure to see the mitzvot as an expression of the totality of God’s will, and not as just disjointed commands, leads to the distortion of mitzvot themselves. One year I received an urgent call just before Yom Kippur from a woman in my congregation. Her husband had been told by his doctor that he was suffering from a condition which could prove life-threatening if he fasted. Nevertheless he was determined to fast. I spoke to his doctor and consulted another observant doctor to confirm the diagnosis. There was no doubt that fasting would endanger his life.

I called in the man and explained to him that he must eat on Yom Kippur. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Rabbi, you’re a young man and I’m about three times your age, well into my 70s. Since my bar mitzvah I have not eaten on Yom Kippur, and I do not intend to start now.” I replied that I could not force him to eat on Yom Kippur, but that as soon as he left my office, I would instruct the gabbai never to give him another honor in our shul. When he asked why he deserved such treatment for being strict with respect to Yom Kippur, I told him that we are prohibited from honoring idol worshipers.

“What idol worship am I guilty of?” he demanded to know. I explained, “The God of Israel has decreed that you must eat on Yom Kippur. If some other god has commanded you to fast, it is irrelevant to me if you call it Zeus, Kemosh or Yom Kippur – all idols are the same.”

A Late Tashlikh

Tashlikh is supposed to be done on Rosh Hashanah, but I think Yom Kippur is really a much better time for it. The idea is that you take stones that represent your sins, and you throw them into the sea or whatever body of water you can find, preferably water that is moving toward the sea. Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, and while we can do little things to make our wrongs right, only God can really make them go away.

He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.

Like Egypt’s chariots and like the army of locusts before them. Beyond reach, beyond memory.

I have two stones on my desk, and I have written something on each of them. Maybe they won’t seem like much to you. However, to me they represent the two sins which have dominated my life over the past year. On one stone I have written, “Jonah,” and on the other, “Pharaoh.”

Jonah ran from his calling. While I haven’t been running from mine, I haven’t exactly embraced it either. I have some writing to do, and I have neglected it all this year.

Pharaoh raged against God. I allowed anger and hatred to set the tempo and the terms for this past year. I made some difficult and harsh decisions. I made the right decisions–I don’t think there was any way to avoid it–but I could have done it with more grace and civility.

So now I’m going to go throw my good buddies, Jonah and Pharaoh, into the pond a few blocks away. Then I’m going to try to set some past wrongs aside and concentrate on turning some very unpopular thoughts into electronic bits.