Sunday, April 27, 2008

TorahBytes: Self Love (Kedoshim)

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Vayikra / Leviticus 19:17,18; ESV)

When God speaks we need to listen carefully to what he is actually saying. We must be careful not to introduce concepts into his Word that he did not intend. Such a concept is a popular one regarding "Love your neighbor as yourself." Somehow this commandment has been used to extract the concept of self love. I have heard it said, "How can we love another person, if we do not first love ourselves?" This may sound logical, but God never commands us to "Love ourselves." I accept that "Love your neighbor as yourself" assumes we are already concerned about ourselves. But that is not the same thing as concluding that we need to love ourselves before we can love others.

There is a similar directive in the New Covenant writings, where Paul reminds husbands to love their wives.

...husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it (Ephesians 5:28,29; ESV).

You might disagree with Paul when he says, "For no one ever hated his own flesh." Are there not people who do hate themselves? Do not some people purposely harm themselves? Are there not people whose low view of themselves cripple their ability to truly love others? Of course there are. But do we help these people by pointing them to "love your neighbor as yourself" as a way to show them that they need to love themselves? Did God intend that his words should lead us to believe that we are to love self first, before we can love others? Do those of us who naturally put ourselves first need to be told that loving self is one of God's priorities, so that we can live life as he intended? Are we not already so self focused?

It's really something how we can take a commandment designed to call us away from our natural selfishness and twist it into a most selfish concept.

Low self esteem and self hatred are destructive and should be addressed if we are to be the people God has called us to be. But we will only see ourselves correctly as we come to a right understanding of who God is and who we are before him. As we accept his truth, his love, and his forgiveness through Yeshua, we will be free to be what he intended us to be.

"Love your neighbor as yourself" directs us to treat others just as we want to be treated. Far from being a self focused statement, it is a call to really care about those around us.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

TorahBytes: Strange, but True (Aharei Mot)

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. (Vayikra / Leviticus 17:11; ESV)

On March 28, 2008, the World Evangelical Alliance released "The Gospel and the Jewish People - An Evangelical Statement" in which they clarified their interpretation of the evangelical understanding of the Bible and the Jewish People. According to the WEA, "…it is only through Jesus that all people can receive eternal life. If Jesus is not the Messiah of the Jewish people, He cannot be the Savior of the World (Acts 4:12)."

I was not surprised when almost immediately following the release of this statement I saw on the web two strong critiques by Jewish (non-Messianic) leaders. Both focus on how Judaism and Christianity are mutually exclusive. I have to admit that the way Judaism and Christianity have developed over the centuries makes this true. But that the biblical connections between what became known as Judaism and Christianity are so intimately entwined, makes that truth a great tragedy.

The whole foundation upon which Christianity stands is Jewish. Every theological concept in the New Testament is rooted in the Tenach (Old Testament). I can't say the same for every interpretation of New Testament concepts. Christians at times have made incorrect deductions due to a lack of respect for the Tenach as well as introducing certain cultural elements that have confused and eclipsed biblical truth, thus making Christianity foreign to the Jewish people.

At the same time the Jewish community's rejection of the messiahship of Yeshua (Jesus) and his followers, plus a reaction to unbiblical variations of Christianity and anti-Semitism, have contributed to the development of a Judaism that not only finds Yeshua and faith in him distasteful, but has also removed from the Jewish psyche elements in the Tenach that connect with true biblical Christianity.

One of those elements is the use of blood as a means of guilt removal. Blood in the Torah was the key element for the spiritual maintenance of Jewish society. I would expect that most people, including Jewish people, would find this concept irrelevant or repulsive. Killing an animal and sprinkling its blood on an alter is foreign to most of us. But to remove this concept from the Jewish Bible doesn't leave us with much - at least not much with regard to how we can live in right relationship with God.

I know for many Jewish people, Judaism, including the Scriptures, is all about staying true to the traditions, living a good life, raising a decent family, and supporting certain causes. In themselves, these are well and good, but are they really what makes up the core of the Jewish religion? It may be the core of Judaism as we know it, but is it the actual core of the religion God gave us?

The use of blood for the removal of guilt was central to the life of ancient Israel, but ever since the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E., it has been absent. Interestingly the Temple was destroyed soon after the Messiah came. Its destruction was not simply a step in the development of Judaism. Rather it had become obsolete, since the Messiah had fulfilled its purpose.

It is understandable that the idea that the Messiah would accomplish what the Temple foreshadowed is a strange one to most Jewish people. But why is it strange? Is it because it has no place in the Jewish religion as God intended it, or because both Judaism and Christianity have not properly understood it?

According to Moses God provided blood as his means to remove our guilt. The constant sacrificing of animals was designed to fix that concept in our hearts and minds in order to prepare us for the Messiah's perfect sacrifice. Strange as it may seem, it's true!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

TorahBytes: Defiled No More! (Mezora)

Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, lest they die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst. (Vayikra / Leviticus 15:31; ESV)

This is perhaps one of the most important statements in the Torah in helping us to understand the implications of the New Covenant. Vayikra (the Book of Leviticus) contains detailed instructions regarding how the community of Israel was to deal with spiritual uncleanness.

The term unclean in Hebrew is "tamei". It does not mean unclean in the sense of being dirty, but rather it is the defilement of spiritual purity. When someone or something is "tamei," they are unfit to be in God's presence or to be used in God's service. Not only did the defiled person risk death by being in God's presence, their defilement also defiled God's dwelling.

I will explain. God's plan and purpose for creating the people of Israel was to make himself known to the world. God instructed the people of Israel through Moses to construct a tent-like structure called the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), which would later become a permanent structure called the Temple. The Mishkan and the Temple represented God's dwelling place. The various inner sections of these structures, while providing, in some sense, access to God, actually illustrated the barriers that existed between us and him.

Much of the sacrificial system was to deal with the issue of defilement. On one hand it allowed people to engage God by undergoing ritual cleansing, but at the same time it continually reminded them how they, as an example of the condition of all people, were unfit to intimately engage God.

Many of the things that defiled a person, which in turn threatened the purity of God's dwelling, were unintentional, including certain diseases, bodily emissions, and child birth. While immorality was also defiling, it was necessary to learn that human defilement was involuntary. Being unfit to approach God was part of our natural human state.

The Torah's teaching on defilement, therefore, describes our predicament before God. Even though the people of Israel were called to be God's people, human nature derived as it is from our first parents is unable to engage our Creator as he originally intended.

It is this predicament that the Messiah came to resolve. He, who in his nature, was completely undefiled, took on our defilement, so that we can approach God freely and fully. The New Covenant book of Hebrews details how Yeshua purified God's heavenly dwelling of which the earthly Mishkan was a model. Our defilement defiled God's dwelling place and kept us alienated from him. But the sacrificial blood of the Messiah, the Son of God, removed the effects of our defilement, making all who trust in him eternally pure, and thus absolutely fit to be in God's presence.

It is no wonder then that not long after Yeshua's coming the Temple was destroyed. There is no longer any need to go through the motions of purification or to be reminded of our defilement, since Yeshua has made us pure once and for all.