Sunday, February 23, 2014

TorahBytes: Filled (Pekudei & Shekalim)

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Shemot / Exodus 40:34; ESV).

The manifest presence of God is a key component of biblical truth. According to the Bible, God is not simply a philosophical concept. He is an independent, self-defined, self-aware, active, responsive relational being with personality. As a relational being, while invisible, he isn’t cut off from human beings. Rather, he has made himself known and accessible to people. While God has revealed himself in implicit, more subtle ways, through such things as creation, which acts as material evidence for his existence and his creativity, he also has done so in more explicit, dramatic ways, through prophetic utterance and his manifest presence.

The Bible itself is the product of prophetic utterance. The most obvious examples of this are the recorded words of the prophets themselves as they spoke God’s actual words to their hearers in their day. Knowledge of God and his will is not determined by divination and fortune tellers, but by God’s intimate communication through people. This also applies to the entire Bible in that its authors wrote under the authority of God’s inspiration.

But God not only reveals himself through words, but also through observable phenomena, whereby he, who is normally invisible and nonphysical, makes himself known in some sort of physical way. The Torah mentions such occurrences, including the burning bush (see Shemot / Exodus 3:2-6) and thunder at Mt. Sinai (see Shemot / Exodus 19:19). God even manifests himself in human form on more than one occasion. He comes in this way to Abraham to announce Isaac’s birth, to warn him about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Bereshit / Genesis 18), and in his life-transforming wrestling match with Jacob (see Bereshit / Genesis 32:22-32). That God would come in a similar fashion in the Messiah should not surprise us.

During Israel’s forty years of wilderness wanderings, God’s manifest presence guided and protected them through a pillar of fire and cloud. When the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), the center of Israel’s worship, the mobile precursor to the permanent Temple built many years later, was completed, the cloud covered it and the kavod (English: glory) of God filled it. Kavod is one of the ways the Torah refers to God’s manifest presence. Where God was to be worshipped, his presence was really there. Note that this didn’t occur until every detail  of the Mishkan’s construction as given by God through Moses was fully completed. It was only then that God’s presence filled the Tabernacle.

The filling of the Mishkan foreshadows a much greater event when God’s manifest presence would fill individuals as foretold by the Hebrew prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit (Joel 3:1-2; English: 2:28-29).

Joel speaks of a day when we could experience God from the inside out due to the indwelling of his very presence through his Spirit. But as in the construction of the Mishkan, every God-ordained detail needed to be completed first. People could not be filled with God’s Spirit until we were made ready.

But we can be ready right now. For the Messiah has done everything necessary in order that we can be filled with the glory of God. The forgiveness of sins through Yeshua’s sacrificial death and the newness of life through his resurrection are all we need to be so filled. All we need to do is turn to God and put our trust in Yeshua and what he has done for us.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

TorahBytes: Give It All You’ve Got (Va-Yakhel)

Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord's contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats' hair, tanned rams' skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece." (Shemot / Exodus 35:4-9; ESV)

The people of Israel’s forty-year journey through the wilderness prior to their conquest of the Promised Land was quite the time. So much happened, both good and bad. We are privileged to learn from them and their experiences through the Scriptures. No nation has ever encountered God as they had: his power, his protection, his guidance, his ways. When we think of the people themselves, we may tend to do so only in negative terms. Even though God had made himself so dramatically real to them, they often complained and rebelled against him. But that’s not the whole story. There were actually many things they did right as we see here in God’s call for contributions for the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle).

This is a case where God’s directive to the people was not obligatory, but voluntary. It’s not often that God speaks in anything but commands as he does here. Through Moses, God invited the people to give of their possessions items that would be used for the various parts of the Mishkan. As it turned out, not only did the people adequately respond, they gave so much that they were eventually told to stop (see Shemot / Exodus 36:6).

When the request for contributions was made it was directed to those, according to the translation I am using, who were of a generous heart. The Hebrew phrase translated as “generous heart,” is “nadiv livo,” which is often translated as “willing heart.” It could be that this has an implied meaning of “generous heart,” since that is what is normally understood when we speak of willingness when it comes to the giving of things. But there is something more than generosity going on here. Also implied, possibly in the expression itself, but certainly in the context, is the ability to give. God wasn’t asking for general contributions of an unspecified nature. He lists exactly what was required and for what purpose. There were likely a great many people who were not in possession of these items. It didn’t matter if they were generous or not. God was looking for people who were both willing and able to give these items.

This reminds us that we can only give of what we have. An obvious statement, perhaps? Maybe, but we don’t always treat it as such. It’s so easy to compare what we give or don't give, do or don't do, with the contributions of others. God is not looking for us to give what we don’t have. We wouldn’t have what we have unless God didn’t first provide it. He is in no way impressed with our striving to be what we are not by giving what he has not given us.

Elsewhere in the Torah, we are told to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:5; ESV). This great commandment directs me to love God with my heart, my soul, and my might, not someone else’s. I can’t give to God what I don’t have, nor does he expect me to.

But I can give what I do have, whatever that might be. But I won’t know what that is as long as I am focused on the contributions of others. It’s your heart and your soul that God is calling for you to give with all your might, willingly.

Monday, February 10, 2014

TorahBytes: The Pain of Waiting (Ki Tissa)

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” (Shemot / Exodus 32:1; ESV)

Years ago, I was talking to someone and said to them that I suffered from a lack of faith. That’s quite a confession for someone who calls himself a “believer,” seeing that biblically, belief and faith are the same thing, as is trust. Whatever the correct terminology, I was seeking to sum up my life struggles by acknowledging unbelief. My friend said “No, your trouble is lack of patience.” I think they were right. It’s not that I have never struggled with faith; it’s that my impatience has caused me unnecessary trouble time and time again.

I hate waiting! I can’t remember a time when I felt differently. Whether I am suffering, dreading a potential problem, or even anticipating something fun and exciting, I find the waiting process awful. I remember the first time I met someone who found more pleasure in the anticipation of an event than in the event itself, it was like meeting a visitor from another planet. How can anyone enjoy anticipation, when it makes me sick! It took me a while before I realized that I had a problem, a big problem.

The people of Israel camping out at Mt. Sinai vividly demonstrate for us how serious a lack of patience can be. Moses was away for over a month meeting with God. Even though Moses, a person who had proved to be so trustworthy, said he was coming back, they couldn’t handle what they took to be a delay in his return. I don’t blame them for how they felt. Of course I don’t, I can so relate! Being in a hostile environment, journeying into the unknown, having no clue when their leader would return, they were likely overwhelmed by their uncertainty and the waiting.

Patience is the ability to endure the pain of waiting, an ability they certainly lacked. But that’s not where they went wrong. Their sin was not in the pain of waiting, but in their turning to other gods. Their real problem was their lack of faith, which was exposed by their impatience.

The distinction between patience and faith is an important one. I wonder how many people are like me, especially in thinking that we are struggling with faith, not patience. Properly understanding this distinction can help us overcome this problem.

Those of us who suffer from the pain of waiting need to come to grips with the fact that so much of life is a process. Seeds are planted a long time before the plants produce fruit. Babies and other living creatures need a period of gestation before being born, hatched, etc. Maturity takes time. Projects require design and development. None of these common processes are due to sin. God invented process. God created time. Getting used to the reality of process over time is a first step in learning to be patient, to not get offended when we experience delay, short- or long-term.

Where my friend may not have been quite correct by saying that my problem was lack of patience, not lack of faith, is that they didn’t acknowledge how faith and patience are connected. While it has been helpful for me to realize that I have difficulty waiting, at the root of this is a lingering doubt over God’s general inclination toward me. For if we realize that God is in control of our lives, that he truly loves us, and his intentions toward us are always good, then when we experience delay, when we need to wait, when we cannot immediately see how our problems will be resolved, we can take comfort in God. Impatience therefore, serves the purpose at times to reveal foundational flaws in our basic relationship to God.

Some people are afraid to pray for patience, thinking that God will bring them into the kind of difficult situations that require it. Whether or not we need to pray such a prayer, God will bring us into those situations anyway. We, like the people of Israel, will find ourselves where waiting a moment longer seems to be the most impossible thing ever. Whether our problem is lack of faith or patience, the solution is always the same. Don’t give up on God; because he will never give up on you.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

TorahBytes: Get Dressed (Tezavveh)

Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. (Shemot / Exodus 28:1-2; ESV)

In the days of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and the Temple, the cohanim (English: priests) were required to wear special clothing. In fact, according to this week’s Torah portion, to fail to do so had dire consequences. The quote I read says that these garments were “for glory and for beauty.” From what I can tell, for the most part, what the cohanim wore had no practical purpose in that it didn’t help them do their work, except perhaps provide comfort. Their clothes were designed to express whom and what they represented. For these items demonstrated to the community of Israel the God whom they served and the work they were set apart to do. The priestly garments therefore were a sort of uniform.

Uniforms indicate the role of the person wearing them. If someone confronts you saying, “You are under arrest”, but wears everyday clothing instead of the uniform of a law enforcement officer, you would be right to question their authority. Being in plain clothes doesn’t mean that they aren’t an officer. But in this case it would be necessary to produce other evidence of their authority, such as a badge. It is also possible for someone who is not actually a police officer to pose as one by wearing a uniform for some illicit reason. Clearly it’s not the uniform that makes a person a police officer; it’s that the uniform when used appropriately effectively expresses the role of the person wearing it.

We no longer live in the days of the Mishkan or Temple. The ancient Jewish priesthood can no longer function as it once did. The New Covenant Writings (the New Testament) helps us to understand how priesthood works in our day. Through the coming of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), all who put their trust in him are priests. The priestly work within a New Covenant context is not exactly the same as that under the older Sinai Covenant; it’s at a much higher level. For the priesthood under the Sinai Covenant demonstrated the separation between God and people, while we now have unhindered access to God though Yeshua.

If all true believers are priests, how are we to dress “for glory and for beauty?” Do we have a uniform to wear like the cohanim of old? In a sense, we do. But just as our priesthood is on a higher level than that of the older covenant, so are the garments we are to wear. These are the clothes of a godly lifestyle. Every day we need to put on a way of life that expresses who we are and the role we are called to play. Every day we need to purposely put on attitudes and actions “for glory and for beauty.” To fail to do so would be to misrepresent who we really are. Some think that the uniform of a believer appears automatically, that true faith results in a beautiful life without any active cooperation on our part. But as my wife, Robin, so effectively points out in her new blog (, this is not what the Bible teaches. On the contrary,

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:12-13; ESV).

Of course, there are those who try to pose as priests by pretending to be God’s representatives through deceptive self-effort. These counterfeits will be exposed eventually. But in the meantime, let us not allow hypocrites and fakers to discourage us from doing what it takes to live the godly lives to which we are called. If you are a true priest of God, it’s time to get dressed.


For further reading, see my wife’s blog posts on this subject. Her intended audience is women, but so much of what she writes applies equally to men, especially “Part 2” below: