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.

Heaven and Earth Hear and Speak

Deu 32:1-3 [Moses sang,] “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. My doctrine shall drop as the rain; my speech shall drop down as the dew, as the small rain on the tender plant, and as the showers on the grass; because I will proclaim the name of Yahweh, ascribe greatness to our God.”

Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God; and the expanse proclaims His handiwork.

Luk 19:37-40 And when He had come near, even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives, all the multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works which they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King coming in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees from the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” And He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should be silent, the stones would cry out.”

(MKJV, more or less.)

God speaks first to the leaders. If they don’t listen, he speaks directly to the people. If the people don’t listen, God speaks to the whole creation, and it always responds. God wants to have a relationship with his creation through us, but he does not need to work through us. To God we are a luxury, something he goes out of his way to enjoy. He relates to us only because he so chooses.

God will have a relationship with his creation with or without us. His Word will always be proclaimed by someone or something and will always be heard. No objection, no legislation, no denial can ever change that. The question is, will we hear? Will we speak?

Because He Said So

And it will be, if you shall listen carefully to the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe and to do all His commandments which I command you today, Yahweh your God will set you on high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come on you and overtake you, if you will listen to the voice of Yahweh your God….(Deuteronomy 28:1-2)

If you will not observe to do all the words of this Law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and fearful name, Yahweh Elohim, then Yahweh will make your plagues remarkable, and the plagues of your seed great and persistent plagues; with evil and long-lasting sicknesses….(Deuteronomy 28:58-59)

These are the words of the covenant which Yahweh commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb…. (Deuteronomy 29:1)

Therefore, keep the words of this covenant and do them, so that you may act wisely in all that you do. You stand today, all of you, before Yahweh your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and your stranger that is in your camp, from the cutter of your wood to the drawer of your water… (Deuteronomy 29:9-11)

Nor do I make this covenant and this oath with you only, but with him who stands here with us today before Yahweh our God, and also with him that is not here with us today. (Deuteronomy 29:14)

(Quotes from the MKJV.)

The Law of God applies to all men in all times who would please him by their lives: civil, religious, military, and familial leaders; men, women, and children; foreign laborers; everyone near and far, and more; all who have left the world to be called by God’s name. Once we have come out of the world (aka Egypt) to serve him, he expects us to follow his rules.

We do not obey for salvation from the final death, because Israel was saved from death in Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb and baptized by their passage through the Red Sea before ever receiving this Covenant. Their faith in God’s promise saved them, not circumcision or observance of the Sabbath.

God wants us to obey his rules, because they are his rules. Although the Law was given for our own prosperity, it is not optional. How can we call him Lord and then act as if his commands are merely helpful suggestions?

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our sons forever, so that we may do all the words of this Law.”

Among the “secret things” are many whys.

  • Why should we worship this way and not that way?
  • Why does it matter if a pig doesn’t chew its cud or if a rabbit doesn’t have split hooves?
  • What difference does it make if the ashes are of a red heifer or of a Holstein?

I’ve heard two interpretations of “secret things.”

  1. Deep mysteries that are irrelevant to us, are beyond our comprehension, or that might harm us if revealed. The revealed things are those which we can sense or examine.
  2. Secret sins–victimless crimes–that God deals with privately so long as they are not flaunted. The revealed things are those which are made public and have identifiably direct victims, such as murder, theft, and adultery.

In this post I dealt with the first interpretation, but I think they are probably both correct in different contexts.

We can speculate about the things God hasn’t told us, but when push comes to shove, what matters is obedience. If we really have faith in God, we will obey his Word, especially when we don’t understand it.

About Christmas…

Is Christmas, along with all of its traditions, pagan?Deuteronomy 12:29-32:

When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations before you, where you go to possess them, and you take their place and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you do not become snared by following them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not ask about their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods, that I too may do likewise? You shall not do so to the LORD your God. For every abomination to the LORD, which He hates, they have done to their gods; even their sons and their daughters they have burned in the fire to their gods. All the things I command you, be careful to do it. You shall not add to it, nor take away from it.

(See also Deuteronomy 18:9-14.)

Regarding Christmas, there are good things and bad things, but the most important consideration for me is what pleases God. In Deuteronomy 12:29-32, God said not to learn how the former pagans used to worship their gods and then do the same for him. He told us how he is to be worshiped, and we are forbidden from adding to it or taking away from it.

Christmas is to holidays as English is to languages. They are cultural borgs, assimilating everything they touch. Some Christmas traditions are clearly biblical, while others are clearly pagan, and some are more difficult to pin down. Google the words “pagan” and “Christmas,” and you are sure to find plethora of sites declaring everything about Christmas to be purely pagan and evil. You will also find sites claiming that everything about Christmas is purely inspired by God with not a speck of yellow to mar the pristine snowy landscape. Who’s right?

I am no expert on the subject. In fact, I haven’t even read a single book on it. I’ve read a lot of articles, listened to speeches, and sat in on debates, though. So, for whatever it’s worth, I’m going to give you my thoughts on it.

December 25th

From what I’ve read, December 25th was decided on as the birthdate of Yeshua relatively early on in Church history. Unfortunately, it was still decided at least a century after the fact, and it was decided by Greeks and Romans who wouldn’t necessarily understand all the nuances of the Jewish Gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and John were all native Jews, and Luke was a proselyte at a fairly young age.

There are some people who seriously believe that Yeshua was actually born on December 25th, but they are a minority. Most believe he was actually born on some other date, either in the late spring or early fall. Competing modern traditions point to the pagan holidays of Saturnalia and the many other winter solstice celebrations to explain how December 25th earned the title.

One tradition says that most of the cultures encompassed by the Roman Empire had some kind of winter solstice celebration, which generally fell very close to December 25th. That tradition is undoubtedly correct on that point, but it goes further. It says that Roman Christians didn’t want to appear to Jewish, so instead of celebrating a new holiday at a different time of year, they melded the new ideas into their existing celebrations. In that way, they would be celebrating Christmas at the same time everyone else was celebrating Saturnalia, and they wouldn’t stand out from the crowd. This sounds like a reasonable explanation, but as far as I can tell, it is only speculation. The solstice celebrations were certainly real, but I have never heard of any solid evidence that this was the motivation for selecting this date for Christmas.

A competing tradition says that the Roman Empire instituted the formal holiday of Saturnalia in order to compete with the growing popularity of the Christian holiday. I have at least heard of some documentary evidence that Saturnalia was not officially recognized by the Emperor until after Christians had already adopted the 25th for Christmas. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Saturnalia had not already been celebrated unofficially, so it doesn’t disprove the previous argument.

Another argument against December 25th is the fact of shepherds tending their flocks in the hills at night. I have heard it argued that no shepherd in Judea would have been tending flocks outdoors at night on December 25th. The shepherds supposedly drove their flocks into barns or warmer climes, I’m not sure which. This sounds like something invented by people with no actual knowledge of sheep or shepherding.

The counter argument is that it rarely gets below freezing in that region even in December, and that shepherds routinely tend their flocks under those conditions. I have no way of knowing which is right. I know that in modern times the temperature does occasionally fall below freezing, but that it averages something closer to forty degrees Fahrenheit, but climates can change dramatically over two thousand years. Maybe it was ten degrees every night or maybe it was sixty. I have never seen any documentation of either claim.

There is also the faint possibility that December 25th was chosen because it is possible that Yeshua was conceived sometime near Hanukkah, which is celebrated beginning on Kislev 25 and is always within a few weeks of December 25th. Kislev, being a month on a foreign calendar, was changed to December and the day came to be celebrated as a birthdate instead of as a conception date. More speculation.

Absent proof of one hypothesis or the other, I’m not going to raise a stink about it. If everyone wants to celebrate Yeshua’s birth on December 25th, then I’m OK with that.

Christmas Trees

Every report I have heard says that Christmas trees were adopted from a Germanic solstice tradition. One such report said that some Germanic tribes would bring a tree inside their house as some sort of talisman against the symbolic death of the shortest day of the year. The living tree within their home helped preserve their own lives and ensured another prosperous year. I have no clue if that is correct.

Also consider the prophecy of Jeremiah 10:2-5:

So says the LORD, Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified at the signs of the heavens; for the nations are terrified at them. For the customs of the people are vain; for one cuts a tree out of the forest with the axe, the work of the hands of the workman. They adorn it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers, so that it will not wobble. They are like a rounded post, and they cannot speak. They must surely be lifted, because they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them; for they cannot do evil nor good, for it is not in them.

I doubt that Jeremiah was thinking of Christmas trees when he copied these words from God, but the parallel is too striking to ignore. The pagans are terrified of the signs of the heavens, signs like the winter solstice, in response to which they cut a tree out of the forest, bring it back to their house, and decorate it. Perhaps Jeremiah had never heard of the German people or their Yuletide traditions. Perhaps he thought he was only writing about carved idols inlaid with gold and silver.

But then again, perhaps God had a wider perspective than Jeremiah.

It seems obvious that, despite many efforts to apply Christian meaning to the Christmas tree, it is not of biblical origin. It was almost certainly adopted from some pagan religious rite. However harmless it might seem, I can’t see any way that it does not violate God’s command to not adopt pagan religious practices. Justifying it by saying we are doing it in his honor adds insult to injury. Does it help the adulteress’ case to claim she was thinking of her husband at the time?

Yule

The Twelve Days of Christmas, Yule logs, Yule Tide, and Yule everything else is unquestionably pagan. There is nothing biblical about it, and claiming otherwise is pointless.

Candles

I suspect the tradition of candles placed in the windows was adopted from Hanukkah, in which an 8 or 9 candle menorah is lit and placed where it can be seen through the house’s windows. While this tradition is not included in the Scriptures of the canon, it is not done in honor of any pagan gods. It is done solely in honor of a miracle that God performed in fulfillment of prophecies in Daniel and in preparation for greater fulfillments to come. I say light ’em up.

Gift Giving

One tradition says that gift giving was adopted from Saturnalia. Another says that it was instituted in honor of the gifts brought to Yeshua by the magi. Either one seems like speculation to me. I have never seen evidence either way.

Mistletoe

Wherever the mistletoe tradition came from, it wasn’t from the Bible or anything else surrounding the birth of Yeshua. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with a pagan religious practice either. It might be a superstition related to fertility, but not necessarily a fertility rite performed as part of any kind of worship. It could be something akin to Jacob’s striped sticks or Rachel’s mandrake.

Red and Green

Once again, I have never heard of documentation for claims of pagan origins for the colors red and green. On the other hand, I can’t imagine how it might be derived from Scripture. I suspect it is a harmless tradition based on one of the most hopeful denizens of winter: evergreen hollies.

Lest anyone think I might be turning into the Grinch, I am not interested in making anyone else conform to my opinions on Christmas. There will be no Christmas trees or Yule logs in my house, but you need to make your own decisions about it. I am not going to complain about nativity scenes or Christmas trees on public property, and I am not going to tell you you’re going to hell for your cheese log. These are just some rambling thoughts relevant to the day. They might even be wrong. As always, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Have fun. Enjoy yourself. But consider giving your traditions a little more thought as to whether or not they please God. He is, after all, the reason for this and all other seasons. Is he not?

Add your thoughts if you want. I might disagree, but I’ll try not to call you any bad names. 😉

Lamech’s Two Wives

There is not a single extraneous character recorded in the Torah (Matthew 5:18). Every word is written for a purpose, and there is nothing wasted. This is one reason why the names of wives are rarely mentioned: not because women were considered unimportant, but because their names were not significant to the point being made. So when the names of Lamech’s wives are given without further information about them in Genesis 5:19, we should immediately ask why.

As a descendant of Cain and a probable murderer, Lamech is often used to argue that God does not approve of polygamy. “See? The first recorded polygamist was also a murderer and of the line of Cain. It must be wrong!” This kind of reasoning is based on the Law of First Mention, which is a theological land mine all on its own (see here), but apart from that, they are ignoring some important details in the story.

Lamech’s wives names can be translated roughly as “ornament” and “shadow.” Ornamentation is a symbol of wealth and shadow is often used in scripture to symbolize a powerful patronage. Could Lamech’s wives symbolize wealth and power as mulitple wives often do? Perhaps one father-in-law brought him great wealth, and the other was a king or warlord. Lamech’s declaration that he would be avenged seventy-seven times was a declaration of independence from God and immunity to the vengeance of men. He believed his access to wealth and power provided him with greater protection than God.

The point of Lamech’s story is not to highlight the evils of polygamy, but rather the evils of pride and the abuse of power.

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.

Hindsight on the Patriarchs

It seems easy to pick apart the lives of Jacob and Abraham and other ancient men of God, pointing out all the things they did wrong. Hindsight works that way, although I hesitate to call it 20/20. We have to be careful to keep things in perspective. For the most part the patriarchs did the best they could with what they had, and I suspect they did a whole lot better than any of us would have. Whatever you might think of their polygamy or scheming or violence, remember this:

God called Abraham his friend and said that he kept God’s commands all his life.

God called Jacob an honest man and chose him as the founder of his chosen nation.

God called Moses the most humble man alive and chose him as the conduit of his salvation and his laws.

God called David a man after his own heart and said that he kept the laws of God all his life except in the one instance concerning Uriah and Bathsheba.

It is a humbling thought that the friend of God, the man who fought God himself for his blessing, the most humble man on earth, and the man after God’s own heart were all righteous beyond anything that you or I are ever likely to witness. Yet they still made mistakes. They still had to spend time on their faces, begging God’s mercy. What hope would we have were it not for the blood of Yeshua which covers us and seals the promise of a new covenant to come?

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
The Seven Everlasting Covenants by Monte Judah

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.