Friday, September 29, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 14

Under the New Covenant, the Torah (the directives of God) dwell in our hearts. That is because the God of the Torah himself dwells there. Obeying God is not something we strive after, but rather something we live out. At the same time, living out a life of obedience is not automatic. We need to learn to cooperate with the reality of God in our hearts. We do this by getting to know God through prayer, the Scriptures, and the fellowship of other believers.

If God truly dwells in us it may seem illogical that we would need to learn to obey him. We may be tempted to think that we need to do such things as turn off our minds so that God can flow through us. The less we get involved in the process, the better, so to speak. But this conclusion disregards that God's desire is that we become more like him as his children. This includes a learning and decision-making process. We are not designed to be machines, but sons and daughters of God who need to mature in godliness.

Having the Torah in our hearts is a major step in our maturing process with God, but it's still only the beginning of the overall process of conforming us to his likeness. Our own desires, our thinking, our decision making, and so on all need to actively become one with his. God calls us to participate in this. He wants it to be genuinely us.

So as we get to know God, we discover what godliness really is. As we do, if the Spirit of God truly dwells in us, then we long to be godly, doing everything he wants us to do.

This includes discerning how to apply his directives in our own day. Next time (after this week's TorahByte message) we are going to look at a biblical example of this.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 13

Unlike the Sinai Covenant, the New Covenant is not a collection of rules that we are called upon to strive after. Under the New Covenant we do not live under the ongoing threat of condemnation. Rather, under the New Covenant we live a life based on acceptance by God, having been forgiven though what Yeshua has done on our behalf.

Under the New Covenant the ways of God are the expression of this acceptance. Having been given a new heart that desires to please God, we long to live according to his ways.

While the standard of the two covenants are similar and some of the practical outcomes the same, their approaches to living are radically different. The case can be made that the righteous standards of the New Covenant are greater than that of Sinai. The level of holiness is deeper and our consecration more intimate. Yet the two systems are altogether different from one another. The Sinai Covenant was designed to reveal our sins, so that we would understand our need for the New. The New enables us to live the life that Sinai sought to impose.

Under the New we want to learn God's ways and obey him, but we can do so without the fear of failure. The consequences of failure have been assumed by the Messiah. There is no penalty left for us to pay.

One of the greatest differences between the Sinai and the New is that the New is not a system. It is not under the control of a earthly priesthood. It decentralizes how we are to relate to God. Under the New Covenant there is no physical Temple. We are the temple of God - both individually and corporately. As we gather we bring God and his reality to each other.

Under the New Covenant we no longer have a set code of rules to be accountable to. Instead we have the presence of God's Spirit living inside us bringing us understanding and conviction as to his ways. This comes to us in concert with the Scriptures, which is the written revelation of the reality which now lives in our hearts.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 12

The Sinai Covenant includes many references that give the impression that it will be in force forever. For example concerning keeping the Temple lampstand lit, we read, "This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come" (Exodus 20:21). As I have already pointed out directives such as this one – apart from any other reason – cannot be done today since there is no temple. This is an example therefore that when God speaks of "forever" or "for the generations" to come, he means that as long as the covenant is in force, these things are to be followed. It is similar to the marriage vow, "Till death do we part." When my wife and I were married, we promised to be faithful to one another forever, but this "forever" is limited to each of us being alive. Should one of us pass away before the other, the vow we made to each other is no longer in force.

As a people we broke the Sinai Covenant. God's response to our unfaithfulness was to establish the New Covenant as described in Jeremiah 31. While the Sinai Covenant was in force, the people of Israel we obliged to keep its directive throughout our generations. But now we are under a New Covenant, not like the older one (Jeremiah 31:32).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

TorahBytes: Turning from Idols (Ha'azinu)

We will never again say "Our gods" to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion. (Hosea 14:4; English 14:3)

The book of the prophet Hosea concludes with a challenge to the people to return to God. Through Hosea God provides the people with the details of what returning involves. This includes a commitment to never again worship idols along with an acknowledgement that our deepest needs are only truly met in God.

The history of the nation of Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures is designed as an example of what any nation would be like when called into relationship with the God of the Universe. Through the centuries Israel was continually drawn to idol worship or , according to Hosea's terminology, the work of our hands. Idol worship was common in the days of ancient Israel as it continues to be in much of the world today. When God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, he began to teach them his ways. As the rest of the world remained in spiritual darkness, God instructed his people in the way of truth and life.

But since the hearts of the people were not yet transformed, the work of their hands continued to draw them. On one hand it might sound strange to think that anyone could reckon something that we ourselves have made as a god. But think about it. God is the source of life, and as the source of life, he is also the source of meaning, of comfort, of healing, and of hope, but do we not often tend to look to material things (that which our hands have made) to be all this for us?

We may not literally bow down to money and what money buys in the same way that some bow down to idols, but do not our hearts bow down just as much? If we would examine what in our lives chiefly determines our decisions, would we not find that it is usually some human-made thing?

When we give our hearts to things, we become servants to them. It may be difficult to accept that inanimate objects have the power to make us do their bidding, but is this not what happens? And material things are ruthless taskmasters. They will hold us in their clutches and show no concern whatsoever for our well being. They will use us until death, all the while making us think that we were the ones in control.

Understanding this helps us to see why God contrasts idols with the acknowledgement that it is only in him that the fatherless find compassion. The reason for our being easily drawn into the worship of things, is that we long for something to satisfy the deep longings of our hearts. Being fatherless is one of the most profound negative foundational experiences people can have. So many of our problems have been traced back to our relationships to our fathers. But whatever our relationship might be with our earthly fathers, all people share some level of spiritual fatherlessness, due to our separation from God.

Our fatherlessness drives us to find satisfaction in the things of our own making. God's desire through the nation of Israel was to teach all nations that only he could satisfy the longings in our hearts.

Even when we accept Micah's admonishment, turning away from idols and acknowledging God as our only true Father, we still have a tendency to not always look to him to meets our deepest needs. It takes a lifetime to be fully free from idolatry. We shouldn't be surprised when we find ourselves still giving ourselves to the works of our own hands, whether they be material objects, our relationships, our traditions, our jobs, and so on.

Yet the verse that follows gives us hope:

I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. (Hosea 14:5; English 14:4)

When we turn away from idols and turn to God, he is involved. He will heal us of our waywardness and pour out his love upon us. God's involvement becomes our motivation to continue to put away our remaining idols and look to him more and more for everything.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 11

I have always been struck by hearing non-Jewish followers of Yeshua say things like, "We (referring to themselves) don't need to make sacrifices any more." The fact is Gentiles were never obliged to do the sacrifices in the first place. This was something specifically given to the people of Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai.

From what I can tell this kind of thinking arises out of a wrong theological notion that believers comprise "The people of God" in the following technical sense. It is assumed that just as the people of Israel were the people of God in under the Old Covenant, so believers in Yeshua comprise the people of God under the New. While there is truth in this and there are many areas of commonality in the people of God concepts found under both covenants, the Church (which the term to describe the gathering of believers of all nations in Yeshua) is not the New Covenant version of Israel.

The choosing of Israel has everything to do with the Church in that God chose Abraham's physical descendants in order to draw people from all nations (including Israel) to himself through the Messiah. Israel as God's people were chosen for a particular purpose – a purpose which has been fulfilled to some extent through Yeshua, but has not yet come to its fullness. The Church is a trans-national spiritual community of believers. Both Israel and the Church co-exist. They are intertwined in some way be are not equivalent. Not is the Church the replacement of Israel.

I didn't want to get into the whole issue of Israel and the Church here. I just wanted to point out that Jews and Gentiles come into the New Covenant from very different backgrounds. The issue of the continuance of Old Covenant practices is one for Jewish Believers only. As I have explained previously, while there are many directives that were given to Moses that are for all people, the Sinai Covenant as a Covenant was given only to the people of Israel. The reason why Jewish people don't need to sacrifice anymore is because of what Yeshua has done. Non-Jews don't have to sacrifice because they never had to in the first place.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 10

I want to summarize and elaborate a bit before we move on.

The term "Torah" is used in several ways in the Scriptures, as well as in traditional and contemporary usage. The term means "direction" or "teaching" and is commonly translated as "law". While the five books of Moses and the Sinai Covenant in particular are called "Torah", because they contain God's directives it is more correct to say that they contain Torah than they are the Torah.

Judaism actually has a broader view of Torah than that which is found in the books of Moses and the Sinai Covenant. The Orthodox understanding is that Moses was not only given that which he wrote down, but along with it, he also received revelation from God that was passed down orally through the centuries. The oral revelation is called the Mishnah. Since the Mishnah provides help in interpreting what was written down, it too is understood as Torah. While I don't believe that the oral traditions are from God, but rather a justification of rabbinical interpretation of the Scriptures, there is something in the rabbis approach to Torah that is correct. What they assert is that whatever God has revealed is actually Torah.

Torah is something we encounter whenever we encounter God's genuine revelation. Remember Torah is God's direction for our lives. Whether we read "Do not murder", or we read God's response to King David's mismanagement of his life, we encounter Torah.

That why it is not wrong to call the books of Moses, the Sinai Covenant or the whole body of Scripture, Torah. It is all Torah in the sense it is through these writings that we learn God ways. We learn God's ways through direct commandments and by the stories of people, both the bad and good examples.

Where we need to be careful is when we assume that each and every directive is for all people for all time. This is not being sensitive to what God is saying to whom and when.

Under the New Covenant we relate to God's commandments differently than how the people of Israel did under the Sinai Covenant. Under the New Covenant we seek to do God's will as those who are already forgiven. Our standing with God is already established because of what the Messiah has done on our behalf. Our acceptance with God is not based on our performance, but on our relationship with him through Yeshua by faith. Our keeping of his directives is not derived from a striving after godliness, but rather as a response to our being acceptance by him because of what he has done for us.

The New Covenant is different from the Sinai Covenant. It is not based on the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial ceremonies of the Temple. Instead it is based on Yeshua's priesthood. The older covenant was to shadow what the newer one has accomplished. There is no sense in seeking to reestablish the older forms since they no longer exist and they detract from the fullness of what the Messiah has done.

To embrace the Torah of God is to discern how God is directing his people to live under the New Covenant today. To do so we need to emerge ourselves in the whole Bible and be true to how it teaches believers in the Messiah to live.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 9

I would like now to follow up on what I was saying in Part 7. One of the major differences between the Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant has to do with our standing before God. Under the New Covenant our relationship to God begins with our sins forgiven. We start off with an acceptance that is not dependant on our actions, but upon God's accomplishments through the Messiah. On the other hand the Sinai Covenant demonstrated that while we were called to a right relationship with God, our sins were an obstacle to that relationship.

The Sinai Covenant gives us an understanding of the holiness of God. God's holiness is a way to describe his otherliness – his God-ness, so to speak. We needed to learn how great the chasm was between humankind and our Creator. The idols of the nations were images created in the image of man and beast. Our tendency through time has been to fashion our concepts of God after our own finite and earthly imaginations. Through the giving of the Torah to Israel, God painstakingly provided us with the only accurate picture of himself. It was necessary for us to understand and accept how far we were from the kind of relationship with him that we needed. The purpose of the Sinai Covenant, therefore, was to prepare us for God's salvation in Yeshua.

While much of the intent of these two convents are similar in that they show us how to live godly lives through stated norms of behavior, the approach to God's directives are completely different. The standards set by Sinai demonstrate our separation from God, while those of the New Covenant are the fruit of our being accepted by him. The Torah as revealed through the Sinai commandments was a set of principles to strive after, while the Torah of the New Covenant is the fitting expression of the hearts of those who have been made right with God.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

TorahBytes: Isaac and Ishmael (Rosh HaShanah)

But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." (Bereshit / Genesis 21:1-34)

This week's Torah portion is special for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, also called the Festival of Trumpets, referring to the blowing of the shofar or ram's horn. It is a time to remember who God is and who we are before him. In ancient times, outside of the Land of Israel, it became customary to observe the major festival days twice due to the uncertainty over the accuracy of the calendar. This tradition continues in many Jewish communities today. Each Jewish holiday is allocated its own special Torah reading.

The reading from Bereshit (Genesis) for the first day of Rosh Hashanah includes the birth of Isaac. The reason why this was chosen appears to be due to its continuation that is read on the second day of the holiday. The story of Isaac is connected to Rosh Hashanah because of the reference to the horns of the ram that were caught in a thicket. The ram was the substitute for Isaac, when God stopped Abraham from sacrificing him. The symbol of the ram's horn in the Isaac story became associated with the blowing of the ram's horn at Rosh Hashanah.

Getting back to the earlier part of Isaac's life, we encounter a situation that is relevant to one of the hot topics of today's political scene - the relationship between Jews and Arabs. I understand that the Islamic version of this story is different from that of the Torah. But for the sake of what I would like to discuss today, I will focus on the Torah's version only.

Abraham and his wife Sarah knew that God was going to give Abraham his own son one day through whom God would bless the nations of the world. As they grew older and Sarah still did not get pregnant, she devised a scheme that Abraham agreed to. It seems that this was in keeping with a custom of their day, right or wrong. They decided that they would attempt to have a child through Sarah's servant Hagar. Thus Ishmael was born.

It would be years before God would speak to Abraham to let him know that this was not his plan. God had determined that the child through whom his promises would be fulfilled would be born through Sarah after all. Thus Isaac was born.

The coexistence of these two boys caused conflict in Abraham's household. Much to Abraham's distress, Sarah demanded that both Hagar and Ishmael be sent away, because, in her words, "that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac."

God instructed Abraham to do what Sarah demanded. And so Hagar and Ishmael were sent away. As it turned out God took care of them and blessed Ishmael and his descendents.

One might want to try to understand the current Arab/Israeli conflict via this story. Perhaps there is some merit in doing so, but I think that there is a more important lesson to be learned here. God loved and blessed Isaac. God loved and blessed Ishmael. God loves each one's descendants. God didn't direct Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away because he preferred one over the other. In fact he consoled Abraham in his distress over his son Ishmael (Bereshit / Genesis 21:11-13).

The real issue here has to do with Abraham's inheritance - an inheritance from God through which he would bless all people one day: the blessing in which people's alienation from God would be resolved; the blessing of salvation which would be offered to all people through the Messiah.

The difference between Isaac and Ishmael reveals to us how to receive Abraham's inheritance. Ishmael is the natural son born out of human wisdom and strategies. Isaac is the miraculous son of promise. He is received into the world by faith in God - a God who does the impossible - a God who calls us to rely on his directions and not on our own devices.

Similar to what Sarah said, that which is born out of our own efforts will never share in the inheritance of that which is born out of God's promises. Whatever is God's will concerning the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael - all of us need to learn this lesson. In order to truly participate in the blessings and inheritance of Abraham, we must live our lives relying on God and his word and not upon ourselves, our own plans and schemes.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 8

One of the crucial issues regarding how to apply the Torah to our lives today has to do with whether or not it was intended exclusively for the people of Israel or for all peoples.

This issue is partly resolved by understanding that the Torah and the Sinai covenant are not one in the same, but rather that the Sinai Covenant contains the Torah. The Torah predates the Sinai Covenant as well as continues beyond it.

The discussion of what aspects of the Sinai Covenant are the eternal Torah that are applicable to all people is helped by understanding that the non-Jewish people were never directed to keep the Torah as given the Jewish people. This was made clear through the decision made by the leaders at the Jerusalem council:
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood (Acts 15:19,20).

Some people try to surmise that the intent of this decision was to ease non-Jews into Moses-style Torah observance, by referring to this statement which immediately follows the above:
For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath (Acts 15:19,20).

These people assert that as the Gentiles hear the Scriptures read, in particular the five books of Moses, they will follow God's directives therein even though that is contradictory to the discussion and decision made by the council. That James who worded the decision did not intend for the Gentiles to embrace the Sinai Covenant is clarified by his comment to Paul years later:
You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality (Acts 21:20-25).

James is clear that there was a distinction between how the Torah (at least as expressed through the Sinai Covenant) was to be applied to Jews and to Gentiles.

This is all to say that God didn't intend for all people to follow his directive as contained in the Sinai Covenant.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 7

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)

One of the key elements of the New Covenant as described through Jeremiah is the forgiveness of sins. It appears that it is this that is the basis of all the other elements, which are the internalization of the Torah, a right relationship with God, and that the nation will all truly know God.

While forgiveness of sins was a feature of the Sinai Covenant, there is a finality in Jeremiah's words that we do not find in the older covenant. We do not get a full understanding of this until after Yeshua's arrival. What he accomplished doesn't simply give us a better spirituality, but a transformed one, due to his satisfying of God's demands and taking on himself the consequences of our sins.

By assuming our sins and their consequences, there is no longer any penalty for us to face. That is why Paul can write, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in the Messiah Yeshua" (Romans 8:1). Our relationship to God in Yeshua is one were there is no basis of condemnation at all. The Torah can no longer accuse us of wrongdoing, since the penalty for those wrongs has been completely satisfied.

Because we are off the hook, so to speak, there is no longer any barrier between us and God, which in turn ensures that we can enjoy the benefits of the New Covenant that Jeremiah lists.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

TorahBytes: The Basis of Restoration (Nizzavim & Va-yelekh)

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you (Devarim / Deuteronomy 30:1-3).

God through Moses anticipated that the people of Israel would be unfaithful to their covenant with God. The day would come when the nation would be dispersed to the four corners of the earth. But this was not to be the end of the story, for God also anticipated another day, further in the future - when we (I speak as a member of the Jewish community) would be restored to the Promised Land.

Moses speaks of that day as one when we would take to heart the words of God and return to him, resulting in our restoration to the Land.

Yet there are those who insist that this works the other way around. They say that it is necessary that we must return to the Land first before we experience a spiritual renewal. In other words we won't know the Messiah until we are back in the Land of Israel. Passages such as Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones (see Ezekiel 37) and Zechariah's prophecy of seeing the Pierced One (Zechariah 12:10-14) suggest that the revelation of the Messiah will come to the whole nation in the Land at a particular moment of time.

Do these predictions contradict what Moses said? Not necessarily. It does seem to be clear that a great spiritual awakening will happen to the people of Israel in the Land. Yet Moses tells us that God will restore us to the Land as we return to him. It seems to me that both are true. Whatever things may happen in the future, Moses provides us with the basis of restoration, which is turning to God. If you accept the whole Bible, both Old and New Covenant writings, then you know that truly turning to God is only experienced through the Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth. It was a Jewish follower of Yeshua who said to leaders of his own people, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

If this is true, then how is it that the modern state of Israel came to be? You may or may not be aware that for the most part modern Israel was founded as a secular state. In fact many religious Jews protested its establishment believing that only the Messiah could bring about the return to the Land. They saw modern Israel as the presumptuous efforts of apostates.

Still, modern Israel was born, and against all odds it has not only survived, but has thrived. Does this then mean that God has been restoring the people to the Land in spite of Moses' words requiring a return to God first? Not necessarily.

You may not be aware that the interest in returning to the Land of Israel after 2000 years coincided with a great turn of Jewish people to Yeshua. There were thousands of Jewish people in Europe during the 1800's who believed in Yeshua. Could it be that God, in keeping his word through Moses, responded by opening the way to return to our homeland? It is also noteworthy that when ancient Jerusalem came into Jewish hands as a result of the Six Day War in 1967, it was during another significant turning of Jewish people to Yeshua, this time primarily in North America.

Is it possible then that God’s favor has come to his ancient covenant people because we have been turning back to him? While the percentage might seem small, God has often blessed the whole nation as a result of the faithfulness of a few. That most of those who have returned to the Land are not the same ones who have turned to God through Yeshua is not an issue when we understand that God deals with Israel as a nation. Also, whatever we have experienced so far, both in our return to God and our restoration to the Land, is only a foretaste of greater things to come.

God has blessed the whole people of Israel because of the faithfulness of a small remnant among us. As we have begun to return to him through the Messiah, so he has begun to shine his favor upon us as a nation again.

Yet the state of Israel and the Jewish community worldwide is in peril. As a people we are hurting and confused. What is our solution, if it is not in God? Where is our salvation, if it is not in Yeshua the Messiah? Sadly many of those who know the truth of God's salvation in Yeshua are keeping that salvation from us in the name of biblical prophecy, when the fulfillment of those prophecies will only come about as we take God's word to heart and turn to him in Yeshua the Messiah.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 6

I don't want to give the impression that our approach to the Scriptures and the Torah in particular is one where we are free to pick and choose according to our personal preferences. While it would be seem simpler to either accept or reject the books of Moses and the Sinai covenant, that really isn't an option. As I have already explained, we cannot keep the Sinai Covenant is due to the destruction of the Temple and the termination of the sacrificial system. This alone forces us to discern what is applicable to our own day.

The destruction of the Temple does not mean that we are left with remnants of the Torah, since Torah is actually more than what we find contained in Moses' writings.

One of the passages that has helped see that there is more to Torah than the commandments of the books of Moses is Vayikra / Leviticus 18. Here we see a list of illicit intimate relationships, including, but not limited to incestuous ones. After the list is given we read, "Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled" (18:24). This means that God was holding the non-Jewish nations to a particular standard apart from them knowing the details of God's revelation to Moses. We don't know if they knew these details or not. Either way, their engagement in such practices resulted in harsh judgment. Their being called to account was not due to the establishment of the Sinai covenant, but rather according to eternal principles of God.

Israel on the other hand was given a much broader standard to live by on the basis of the promises to the ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well as their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. These things were not shared by the other nations.

So we see that God has always had a standard for all peoples even though there may be differences in those standards depending on his dealings with that particular nation.

Therefore as we look into this further, we need to discern what are the eternal principles that God continues to set for us.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 5

It is difficult to break free of the concept that the Torah is equivalent to the books of Moses and/or the Sinai Covenant, since this understanding is so common in both Jewish and Christian circles. But once we can accept that Torah is contained in the writings of Moses and contained within the Sinai Covenant, then we are free to explore what Torah really is. Once we do that we can better understand what it means to internalize it as part of the New Covenant as prophesied by Jeremiah.

Torah is God's direction. It is his understanding of how we humans should live life. In one sense then all of his revelation is Torah. This might sound contradictory to what I have just written regarding Moses and Sinai, but it isn't really. God has revealed his ways to us not just by statutes and regulations such as what we find in the books of Moses. He has revealed these ways also through the narratives and poetry of the rest of Scripture. Even the specific regulations of the Sinai covenant are to be understood, not isolated from the rest of the Bible, but how we see them lived out in the historic passages, as interpreted by the prophets and elaborated upon by the Messiah and his followers. God's ways are best discerned through the careful study of the whole Bible. That is how we learn to walk in his ways. That is how we learn Torah.

The rabbinical view that Torah is a set of 613 commandments confuses the biblical perspective on this. By turning Torah into a legal code we find ourselves quibbling over its details rather than interacting with God and his directions for living as we seek to apply them in our day.

In Yeshua's "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5 – 7), we see how the religious leaders of his day had failed to properly understand God's intent in several of his directives. He never contradicts God's actual commands, but instead the interpretations of the Torah teachers of that day. That is why he says several times, "You heard it was said, but I say to you" rather than "You know it was written, but I say to you." Throughout the New Covenant writings we read how Torah was being misunderstood and misapplied by the Jewish leaders of that day. Yeshua and his followers, as those through whom God was establishing the New Covenant, were providing God's perspective on Torah, which would result in its internalization just as Jeremiah prophesied.

To be continued…

Monday, September 04, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 4

As we begin to look what is meant by the internalized Torah as prophesied by Jeremiah, it is important to understand what Torah is or rather what it is not. Many people associate the term "Torah" with the Law of Moses, meaning those regulations given by Moses. They would include what we call "The Ten Commandments", the other regulations given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, plus all other directives given by Moses while he lived. This would also include various directives gleaned from the Book of Genesis, which traditionally was authored by Moses. The five books of Moses, from Bereshit (Genesis) through Devarim (Deuteronomy), are referred to as "The Torah."

While the books of Moses are called "The Torah", it is not entirely correct to say that they are equivalent. Torah is actually contained in these books, rather than being one and the same. Certainly Jeremiah was not saying that the books of Moses would be internalized.

Some also equate Torah with the covenant given at Mt. Sinai. To them the giving of the Torah and the Sinai covenant are one and the same, but this too cannot be the case. There is an interesting reference to God's laws centuries before Moses came on the scene. It was when God was confirming his promises to Isaac, Abraham's son. It is a reference to Abraham's obedience to God:
I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws. (Bereshit / Genesis 26:4,5)
According to this, Abraham kept God's requirements, commands, decrees, and laws. This language sounds very post-Moses. We don't read of God giving Abraham a list of directives to follow. We do read of some examples of his obeying God, but not too much of his overall lifestyle. At least not until this comment. I understand that for the rabbis this is proof that Abraham was Torah observant even before it was revealed to Moses. This is to them a proof text for Orthodox Judaism.

I don't think that is what is going on here. This reference simply tells us that Abraham was a godly man, following in God's ways as he understood them. It is likely that an understanding of how to follow God was well known on the earth from Adam to Noah to Abraham. This would explain how Noah could be called righteous and blameless (Bereshit / Genesis 6:9). There was always a standard of righteousness known, which Noah and later Abraham followed.

This understanding of God's ways was separate from his covenant with the people of Israel given at Mt. Sinai. While the Sinai covenant included what God calls " my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws" that Abraham followed, they are not one and the same.

So when Jeremiah later on predicts a time when a New Covenant would be made that is not like the Sinai one and that this New Covenant would include the internalization of God's Torah, he is not necessarily referring to a spiritualized Law of Moses or Sinai covenant. He is speaking of a new way that would internalize God's directives which existed as external regulations within the Sinai covenant.

Understanding that neither Sinai nor the Books of Moses equal Torah, but instead contain it prevents us from trying to apply the details of the Sinai covenant to our lives under the New Covenant. What we need to determine therefore is what are those things that God has internalized, so that we can truly obey him in our day.

To be continued…

Sunday, September 03, 2006

TorahBytes: Delineation of Responsibility (Ki-tavo)

The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir and the cypress together, to adorn the place of my sanctuary; and I will glorify the place of my feet. (Isaiah 60:13)

The prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures paint a picture very different from the ones that cover the front pages of our daily newspapers. One such example is found in this week's Haftarah. Isaiah speaks of a time when the nations, including those who historically (and currently) are antagonistic toward Israel will bless her and worship her God. There is even a reference to Lebanon, which tells us that some of the best that Lebanon has to offer will be used to adorn God's house in Jerusalem.

The ongoing antagonistic situation between Israel and her neighbors makes it difficult for us to see how the words of the prophets will come to pass. I hesitate to speculate how God will accomplish his purposes in the world. I know he will do what he says he will do, but how he does what he does is beyond my understanding. The Bible contains many examples of God's working out his purposes in the lives of individuals and in nations. If we would read these stories from the perspective of the people involved at the time, I think we would see that they rarely were able to anticipate how God would do what he said he would do. Even those who believed he would do what he said he would do, were often amazed at how he did it.

So as we read the predictions of the prophets, we need to be careful not to speculate over how God will do what he said he would do. What we need to do are those things that God has told us to do. He will take care of the things he said he would do.

Understanding this delineation of responsibility doesn't mean that God doesn't want us to know what he is going to do. For example, in this case he wants us to know that Israel's enemies will experience a change of heart. He wants us to know that the nations of the world will one day submit to him. But we also need to know why he has revealed such things to us.

Before we try to answer that question, there is a very important part of the overall picture that we need to see first. It is something that is also found in this week's passage. Not only will Israel's enemies experience a change of heart toward Israel and Israel's God, but Israel herself will also experience a radical transformation. For example, referring to the people of Israel:

Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. (Isaiah 60:21)

When Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East relate to Israel in the way Isaiah describes, it will be with an Israel who truly knows God. It will be an Israel of a changed heart. An Israel who shines with the light of God.

So God will bring about radical changes among all the nations of the world including Israel. That's what he is going to do. But what is our part? What in the meantime are we supposed to do?

First, we must pray. Yeshua taught us to pray like this: " Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." God's will for the Middle East is found in the writings of the prophets. God's will is not being done in the Middle East of today. We need to pray that the changes God said he would do, will happen. But as we pray, let us remember to pray for all parties involved: for both Israel and the other nations. It is not God's will that anyone perish, but that all may come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Second, we need to accept that only the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, can establish peace and that this predicted change of heart will only come about as we introduce people to him. All other works and strategies will only accomplish so much. Until the nations, Israel included, receives Yeshua the Messiah, things will continue in a way much as they are now.

Sadly there are others, who while claiming faith in Yeshua, think there is an alternate way of salvation for Israel without him. Equally tragic is the tendency to think that while accepting that Yeshua is the only path to peace and to God, he will make that happen without our being involved in the process.

While God is the author of salvation, he has determined that we will experience that salvation through the preaching of the good news of Yeshua's coming. It was a small group of Yeshua's Jewish followers two thousand years ago, who were told to teach the nations about him and his ways.

The events of our days might discourage us. That the nations involved in these events are resistant to the truth and love of God offered us in Yeshua might also discourage us. That is precisely why we need to know that God will do what he said he will do. Knowing that, we can be encouraged to keep on doing what we need to do - the proclaiming of the reality of Yeshua the Messiah to all people.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Is the Torah for Today - Part 3

Last time I explained how the loss of the Temple and the sacrificial system mean that however one views the Torah, it cannot be followed as was originally intended when God gave it through Moses on Mt. Sinai. Any attempt to be faithful to its teachings must include some sort of accommodation to the absence of this central element.

The establishment of the New Covenant actually anticipated the ending of the Sinai sacrificial system. Yeshua's sacrifice fulfills what the sacrifices represented. I think it is correct to view the sacrifices as foreshadowing what Yeshua did on our behalf in his dieing for our sins. I am aware that not all sacrifices were specifically about issues of sin and guilt, but that fact that in so many cases the lose of life was an essential part of genuine worship was to impress us with the Messiah's need to give himself up in our place.

I can understand the logic of some who, having accepted Yeshua's sacrifice as the fulfillment of the Torah sacrifices, seek to uphold the rest of the Torah. What Yeshua did, in effect, satisfies that sacrificial requirements, so that we no longer have to offer animals. Our faith in him is as if we are doing everything the sacrifices represented. For these people the fulfillment of the sacrificial system has no implications regarding whether or not the rest of the Torah is still in effect.

But if we look at the promise of the New Covenant given via Jeremiah, we see that it is a covenant not like the one given at Sinai (Jeremiah 31:31,32):

"The time is coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make
a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of

It will not be like the covenant I made with
their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the

The New Covenant, according to this promise, was going to be different from the Sinai one. The reason why it was to be different is because we (the Jewish people), broke the Sinai covenant.

The fulfillment and termination of the sacrifices, then are part of that difference. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews comments on this difference. He spends considerable time contrasting the administration of the Sinai covenant under Moses with the New Covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah and established by Yeshua. A major issue for the writer is that Yeshua, acting as priest on our behalf, is not from the Levitical priesthood established at Sinai, but of a different order. He concludes, "For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the Torah (English: Law)" (Hebrews 7:12).

Note that the writer asserts that there is a "change of the Torah". While this along with what Jeremiah prophesied assert that the New Covenant implies a change of Torah, it does not mean Torah is done away with. Jeremiah would go on to say that the Torah would be internalized (31:33). Exactly what the implications are of an internalized Torah is the essence of this discussion, which will continue following this week's TorahBytes message.