“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God. You are not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Deuteronomy 14:21).
In Messiah how do we approach such a verse? What does the dietary prohibition of boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk have to do with following Messiah? In the rabbinic literature there is no settled opinion as to the meaning, purpose, or origin of Deuteronomy 14:21. The convert and translator Onkelos finds a general prohibition of eating meat and milk together. Ralbag concluded that it promoted good health. Rambam understood it to be a guard against idolatry and superstition. Ibn Ezra found the law to be beyond the grasp of the human mind, and an exercise in futility to divine a specific meaning. Yet, two rabbinic sages, Abarbanel and Chaim Luzzato, found it to be humanitarian in nature, guarding against insensitivity and cruelty. It is this opinion I will give attention to.
The imagery of this command is rather striking. It imagines a man taking a young nursing goat, killing it and cooking it in milk collected from its mother. It seems a rather unique prohibition if it is, in fact, a guard against the deepening of a callous disregard for life in the human heart. At its heart, however, this command must be concerned with compassion. After all, the female goat can be used for sacrifice, as can her kid (provided that it be at least eight days old). Why then this prohibition?
The Lord, in the Torah, often provides a prohibition against one small, seemingly insignificant act in order to shepherd us to right conduct in communal life; as an example, the protection given to the birds nest (Deut. 22:6-7; Matt. 5:19), which leads to the command for a parapet (a railing) to be constructed on the roof of one’s house to guard against a fall (Deut. 22:8), thus protecting and preserving life. When we consider the context of the prohibition in question, it leads to commandments regarding the tithe (specifically giving to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow) and to the year of release (the Shmittah). If one is disinclined to show compassion toward the livestock in his care, will he suddenly find compassion – coupled with the prescribed actions – for neighbor, stranger and enemy?
The Lord must mold and groom a heart of compassion in all of us. First, he does so by causing us to admire the life of a goat and her kid, not solely as a product but as a life. Second, by responding favorably, with compassion, to the needs of others, as we read, “Then the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, along with the outsider, the orphan and the widow within your gates, will come and eat and be satisfied, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand that you do” (Deut. 14:29). Further, “However, there should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will surely bless you in the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess” (Deut. 15:4). Yet, because of the callousness of the human heart, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I am commanding you, saying, ‘You must surely open your hand to your brother – to your needy and poor in your land” (Deut. 15:11).
Messiah, with the metaphor of the Good Shepherd, shows us how deeply he cares for the sheep of his flock, to the point of laying down his life on their behalf (Jn. 10:11). This metaphor was certainly developed by witnessing firsthand the lengths shepherds will go in order to care for and tend to the needs of their flock. Yet, from the metaphoric imagery of sheep and their care, Messiah moves us to, in much the same way the Torah does, direct action on behalf of the “least of these my brethren” (Matt. 25:31-46). In this case, however, he is not speaking as sacrificial shepherd, but rather as the righteous judge; which begs a question of deep reflection, “How will our actions toward the human other stand up to the scrutiny of the Righteous Judge?”
The Lord says, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6:6). Then, Messiah adds to this, “Those who are healthy have no need for a doctor, but those who are sick do. Now go and learn what this means: ‘Mercy I desire, and not sacrifice.’ For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but the sinful” (Matt. 9:12-13). Messiah came for the “least of these,” who are actually all of us; and from that reconciled position he sends us (Jn. 20:21) to and for the “least of these my brethren,” because he identifies with them, and desires to help them (us).
We live in an age where people either have compassion for the wildlife and not the human, or the human and not the wildlife. The Torah is teaching us to develop compassion for all of God’s creation – for both man and beast – by directing us to act justly and humanly, with charity and responsibility as stewards of the Lord’s creation. I humbly submit that we must recapture the awe of the Living God and recognize the majesty of his creation – and the life he creates.
“Now go and learn what this means…”
“Only be watchful and watch over your soul closely, so you do not forget the things your eyes have seen and they slip from your heart all the days of your life. You are to make them known to your children and your children’s children. The day that you stood before your God in Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to Me and I will make them hear My words, so that they learn to fear Me all the days that they live on the earth, and so that they teach their children” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10).
The more advanced in age you become the more, it seems, you cherish meaningful time with family. Inevitably, family gatherings become times of sharing family stories and memories, and creating new ones. The laughter, smiles and recollections of now departed family members at our gatherings keep the family connections meaningful and strong – it keeps the memories alive. I have personally discovered over the years that I have told some stories so many times that my siblings and sons can tell them in the same vivid detail – as if they themselves had lived them!
In our text above, it is this living memory that Moses is warning the children of Israel that they must be cautious to watch over. The language that Moses uses is striking, “Only be watchful and watch over your soul closely…do not forget…lest they slip from your heart all the days of your life.” Moses is warning the community of Israel to continually kindle, not only their collective memory, but also the memory of what their eyes have seen – their testimony.
Their testimony – and the communal testimony collected in the Torah – would be handed to future generations. Testimony without living memory becomes history – something preserved only in books. The Lord desires Israel to remember her experience before Mt. Sinai as a living memory, not solely preserved memory.
This requires us – each of us – to share personally our memory, our experience and the wisdom received from our textual history. This sharing is what is called “discipleship” in the New Testament, as Messiah said, “Go out and make disciples…teaching them to observe all I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28:19, 20). Messiah Yeshua/Jesus is commanding us to not only teach, but build relationships and pass to them the collective memory/testimony to which they have been born-again. Moses is telling us to disciple our children and grand-children (Deut. 4:9).
Moses, in the Book of Deuteronomy, is passing to the next generation, not only a book of “laws” as some might imagine, but covenant legacy … “Israel, this is your history, even you who did not see the Sinai revelation, you were there in promise, and this legacy is yours” … Excuse the poetic license, but this personalization of a history that we did not directly experience, but in which we were included, personalizes the totality of the testimony that we now share.
This testimony is the living chain of redemptive history from the dawn of human history, to creation history, on into eternity. It is the working of our Father in Heaven. It is a work that neither depends on us nor is it completed in us, but it is a work, that by his grace, we are included in (Eph. 2:8-10). Moses and Yeshua/Jesus are admonishing us to “watch over our soul closely” to ensure that what really matters in this life is not lost in the busyness of this life. They are instructing us to take time, sit, sharing and pass on to the next generation just what the Lord has done for us, for our forefathers, and what he will do in their lives as well – let them know the legacy they are not included in – the legacy of covenant secured by the Blood of the Lamb, Yeshua.
“These are the journeys of the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt by their divisions under the hand of Moses and Aaron. Moses recorded the stages of their journeys at the Lord’s command. These then are their journeys by stages” (Numbers 33:1-2).
As the Lord speaks the Ten Commandments to Israel from Mt. Sinai, he reminds them that it was he who delivered them out from the house of bondage, out of the land of Egypt. The remembrance of the exodus from Egypt serves as the point of departure, as well as a remembrance for a nation as it worships, celebrates, and relates to the human other, “The outsider dwelling among you shall be to you as the native-born among you. You shall love him as yourself – for you dwelled as outsiders in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34; cf. Lev. 19:18). At the close of the Book of Numbers, the Lord reminds Israel of her journeys of the past forty years – the places where she stopped, and from where she set out.
The journey begins with grace. Even with the many setbacks experienced by the children of Israel in the wilderness, the journey from Egypt began with the grace of God. The journey was then sustained by the grace of God, and it would end in the Promised Land by the grace of God.
At the beginning of every Shabbat (Sabbath) and every holiday, the Jewish people are reminded by prayer of the grace of the exodus from Egypt. It is a remembrance of being slaves, of being exiled, and of being “the other” within a society. This ever-present reminder of our history, the current reality of others, and the possibility of experiencing this condition once again, should keep the heart compassionate and eager to serve “the other” to the glory of God (Matt. 5:16).
The journey of the life of faith in Messiah also begins with grace, and it too is characterized as a deliverance/salvation from bondage – a continuation of the exodus from Egypt theme. The apostle Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves – it is the gift of God. It is not based on deeds, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship – created in Messiah Jesus for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
Of great importance in our faith life is to remember our condition when the Lord delivered us. It is easy to forget, focusing on the good feelings of the present and the victories by faith we have witnessed. But remembering our point of departure, and where we have been, will help us to see more clearly where we are going, and what we are to do along the way.
It is easy for the journey to become one of complaint for what we lack or have lost, but the Lord desires it to be a journey of faith-obedience that impacts the lives of those around us (Ro. 1:8), not just those like us, but those unlike us (Lk. 10:25-37). While we may not be able to make grandiose gestures of care – building hospitals, orphanages, houses, or paying for education – we can help with food, water, clothing, visitation and encouragement along the way (Matt. 25:31-46). More than that, we can all share simple acts of kindness, or use our voice to speak for those who lack a position from which to speak.
I pray that we use this journey, and the time graced to us, to be a bright light of the Gospel and an example of the self-sacrificial love of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus to all. From this Torah portion, let us remember the grace that we received at the beginning, the grace we continue to receive, and the grace that we will receive at our end – let us remember that we were once enslaved, hopeless, hungry, strangers in need of aid – let us remember where he found us, and where he might direct us to find others. Let us remember that it is the Messiah that we serve, and the living message of the Gospel that we are to share – a timeless message of eternal hope for all.
“Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua, stood him before Eleazar the priest and all the entire assembly. Then he laid hands on him and commissioned him just as the Lord had spoken, by Moses’ hand.” (Numbers 27:22-23).
With the appointment of Joshua as leader of Israel, the Lord – through Moses – is ensuring that the children of Israel have a leader to look to for direction, who will also lead by example. We are witnessing in these verses a succession in leadership for the children of Israel – the congregation of witness for the Living God.
Moses has led Israel from the dawn of their history as a nation; and now, at the dawn of their maturity, as they are about to enter the Promised Land, a new leader must be appointed. While his leadership lasts but a short forty years – the Torah (the Law), which the Lord delivered through Moses, has endured for 3,500 years. Such an enduring legacy – a legacy that includes the event which disqualified him from leading Israel into the Promised Land when, in his anger, goes out and says to the children of Israel, “Hear now, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” Moses was a mighty man of the Living God – a shepherd of the flock of God – yet for a momentary loss of vision and composure, he would not lead the people into the promise.
Israel was on the verge of a new era, an era that would require a different leader, for a different purpose. A leader who knew their history, but who could also adjust to the realities of the present. A new leader would ensure that Israel was not “like sheep without a shepherd,” a leader who goes “out before them and comes in before them, who leads them out and brings them in” (Num. 27:15-17).
Joshua, the trusted disciple of Moses, would lead with the authority of Moses (Num. 27:18-20). He would lead Israel from the wilderness, the field of transition, to their home in the Promised Land. He would lead them in battle. He would advise. He would be an example going out before them; and he would settle them in the inheritance. He would accomplish what Moses could not – by entering the Land of Israel.
The relationship between Moses and Joshua was also prophetic in nature. Moses, while a faithful servant in the house who spoke with his Lord face to face, would not fulfill the prophetic picture of Israel entering her rest. His servant Joshua (God is Salvation) would fulfill the prophet picture – a picture that would be realized some fifteen hundred years later.
In the fullness of time the Lord sent his Son into the world to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). His son, Yeshua/Joshua/Jesus, is the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14) full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). And while Moses gave the Word, the instruction of God, from Mt. Sinai, in the person of Messiah Jesus the grace and truth of heaven was manifest among the people of God, Immanuel (Jn. 1:17; Matt. 1:23).
Messiah Yeshua would take up the mantle of leadership. He taught and ministered with authority (power, skill, evidence of learning), as we read, “for He was teaching them as one having authority and not as their scribes” (Matt. 7:29; cf. Mk. 1:22). In this context “authority” implies ordination or the conferring of authority by the laying on of hands (Num. 27:18; 1 Tim. 4:14; Heb. 6:2). As Yeshua taught and performed miracles, the Jewish people hearing and witnessing this began to relate to him as a leader, teacher, and shepherd. Additionally, Yeshua related to them as a shepherd and teacher, as we read, “As Yeshua came ashore, He saw a large crowd and felt compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He taught them many things” (Mk. 6:34; cf. Matt. 9:36).
Still, Yeshua knew that his mission on earth would be short, as he would accomplish the work of salvation and ascend to heaven (Mk. 16:19; Lk. 24:51; Acts 1:9); so he prepared leaders to continue the mission of the Gospel as he went to prepare a place for us (Jn. 14:1-2). Those called and living today continue this chain of leadership. Not only those in the “pulpits,” but fathers, mothers, neighbors, strangers, children and people in all manner of labor continue to serve as disciple-leaders, being shepherded by under-shepherds of the flock, by the direction of Messiah Yeshua through the Holy Spirit.
While the Gospel is being witnessed to “in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts. 1:8; cf. Rev. 7:9) disciple-leaders are discipling the next generation of disciple-leaders for the cause of the Gospel in the name of Messiah Yeshua until his return. It matters not what position you may hold or duty you perform in this world, when Messiah called you to himself he authorized you to be his witness and to disciple those responding to the effectual calling of God by the hearing of the Gospel (Matt. 28:16-20).
Today many of our hearts are heavy-laden by a sense of meaninglessness or purposelessness to the events of daily life. People are looking for meaning, they are looking for purpose and somehow they feel left out of God’s plan. When each of us take to heart the message that we are all co-laborers, commissioned by Messiah, to the discipling of a new generation of Gospel workers, then we discover that our purpose is far greater than we could have ever imagined – as Messiah himself has entrusted us with his message, the purpose of his mission, and the hearts of his sheep – for his glory.
So whatever you do – art, music, numbers, media, cleaning, parenting, medicine, farming or whatever else is under the sun, do it for the Kingdom of God.
…And let us not worry about Moses, as Messiah didn’t leave him out of the Promised Land, but brought him in, to see the fulfillment of all that he wrote about (Matt. 17:1-4; Jn. 5:45-47) face to face.
“Look, I have come to you now! Balaam said to Balak. “Can I just say anything? I must speak only the message which God puts into my mouth.” (Numbers 22:38).
Balaam is summoned by the king of the Moabites, Balak, to curse the children of Israel. The fear of Israel has so overtaken him that he takes the extraordinary step of hiring a prophet (Num. 22:6-7) to curse the people in order to preserve his kingdom. Yet, even for a house full of gold and silver, Balaam can only speak the words that the Lord God puts in his mouth (Num. 24:13). While Balaam only speaks over Israel words of blessing that the Lord gives to him, as we will consider in next week’s portion, Pinchas, he does show Balak Israel’s weakness.
The portion of Balak contains some of the most beautiful and poetic text found in the Bible, as an example, “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, and your dwelling places, O Israel!” (Num. 24:5). The two chapters containing the three attempts of Balaam to curse Israel are words of prophecy, of encouragement, and they reflect the love that the covenant Lord has for his people. When we speak, what do our words reflect?
While conceptually we understand the power of language at a young age; as we age and mature we begin to understand the lasting power that language has on the human heart and mind. Most of us have experienced the effects of careless speech, or pointed hurtful speech; recognizing the echoes of those words years and decades after they were spoken, and just how much of a “curse” they can be.
From the false prophet Balaam (known in rabbinic literature as Balaam HaRasha – Balaam the wicked one) we learn a valuable lesson – to consider our language. David writes, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14). His son Solomon writes, “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Pro. 15:4). Further, the apostle Paul exhorts, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29; cf. Matt. 12:34; Eph. 5:4; Col. 4:6; Jas. 3:9-10).
Clearly there is a difference between godly speech and the use of language, and speech and language utilized by the heart and mind of the flesh that inflicts damage. This is why we must, by a continued yielding to the Holy Spirit, repent of past destructive speech and break the patterns of behavior that might lead us to its usage in the present.
How do we break these patterns? 1) By rebuking the ungodly internal chatter in the mind (2 Cor. 10:5); 2) By prayerful consideration of our words before speaking them (Jas. 1:19); 3) By considering how others may receive these words (Pro. 17:9); 4) By speaking words that conform to the revelation of Scripture, as Paul wrote, “but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion;” and 5) By sharing words, and their resulting actions, that reveal the new internal life (Col. 3:17).
“Words belong to the Lord. What this means is that whenever you take words as belonging to you, your words lose their shelter from difficulty. You have never spoken a word that belongs to you, because words belong to the Lord. We think that words are not that important because we think of words as little utilitarian tools for making our life easier and more efficient, when they are actually a powerful gift given by a communicating God for his divine purpose.” Dr. Paul David Tripp
When we remember that words belong to the Lord, we can only speak the words of blessing and care he gives us to say
– an important lesson from a false prophet.
“Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly in front of the rock. He said, “Listen now, you rebels! Must we bring you water from this rock? Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with the staff. Water gushed out and the community and its livestock drank” (Numbers 20:10-11).
Of this incident Psalm 106:32-33 says, “And they provoked wrath at the waters of Meribah and Moses suffered on account of them; because they embittered his spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips.” Moses has endured many periods of complaints from the children of Israel, but on this occasion his spirit is embittered. There could be many causes for this; the stress of leading a nation for example, or that fact that he is mourning the death of his sister Miriam (Num. 20:1).
Whatever the cause, Moses in his anger says to the children of Israel, “Hear now, you rebels, shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” He then strikes the rock twice, it gives its water and the congregation is satisfied. Still the Lord responds, “Because you did not believe in Me, to set Me apart in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you do not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
Moses did not believe the Lord? We find numerous testimonies in the Torah and the New Testament that speak to the faith of Moses, and to his longing to experience the presence of the covenant Lord more deeply. Moses has endured the frustrations of leadership with grace, patience, humility and generosity of spirit; yet, in this moment of frustration and bitterness, Moses does not heed the word from God and loses his composure and spiritual vision. As a result, he will not lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land.
The medieval Jewish commentator Rashi explained that had Moses done as the Lord commanded that the children of Israel would have learned a valuable lesson: “If a rock, which neither speaks nor hears nor is in need of sustenance, obeys the Word of God, how much more so should we.” Moses did not use this moment to glorify the Lord and lead the people to a deeper understanding of Him; but rather, scolded them and revealed a deep bitterness that had developed and festered inside of him.
The incident at the rock was about far more than thirst and a need for water. It was to be a testimony of Yeshua/Jesus in the midst of his people. The apostle Paul writes of the Rock, “And all drank the same spiritual drink – for they were drinking from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the Rock was Messiah” (1 Cor. 10:4). The Lord desired to demonstrate the power of his Word by showing that a rock, which neither hears nor feels, can do what is unnatural to it and bring forth living water when the Word of the Living God is spoken to it – enough to supply a nation. This water, from the unlikeliest of sources, can transform bitterness, anger and fear into trusting faithfulness in the covenant Lord.
In Yeshua/Jesus there is stability – strength of faith. In Yeshua/Jesus there is faith obedience to the Word of the Father – as stone hearts are transformed. In Yeshua/Jesus thirst, spiritual longing and desperation, is satisfied – as he bore our thirst on the Cross. In Yeshua/Jesus is faithful supply – as he is our living water and heavenly bread.
In this desperate moment, Moses inserted himself into the deliverance of the Lord’s people. He struck the Rock. The Lord desired to show his people that they would be delivered by the power of his Word, and by that power alone. The Word became flesh in the person of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. It is by his action and his life alone that man is saved. We learn from Moses, that when man attempts to save himself – disregarding his Word – tragedy will always result.
Speak the Word of Life, and the wells of salvation will burst forth to the glory of the Lord alone.
“But you and your sons with you are to maintain your priesthood for everything pertaining to the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the ministry of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone unauthorized who approaches will die” (Numbers 18:7).
When people consider the ministry of the Levitical priesthood, most would probably not think of it as a gift; yet, that is exactly what it is. The Lord choose Aaron and his sons to serve as ministers in the Tabernacle, and later the Holy Temple. His choosing of this particular family as servants to his sanctuary was a gift to them, and a shadow of grace. Still, this gift was not without responsibility.
At the opening of Numbers 18, the Lord warns the sons of Aaron, “You, your sons, and the house of your father with you will bear the guilt for the sanctuary, and you and your sons will bear the guilt for your priesthood” (Num. 18:1). As Torah portion Korach opens, the priesthood of Aaron and his sons is challenged by Korach and over two hundred fifty men of renown (Num. 16:2). While all of the children of Israel are priests to the Lord (Ex. 19:6), not every person, or group of people, serve in exactly the same way. Korach, the leader of the rebellion, desired Aaron’s position for himself – even though his clan of Levites handled the Ark of the Covenant every time the camp of Israel moved; while Aaron only served at the Ark once a year.
These types of jealousies were not limited to ancient Israel and the Levitical tribe or clans; jealousy is a common issue among humans, even those born-again in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. The Lord was warning Aaron and his sons, and by extension us, to protect and take seriously the gift that has been given to us; as Moses would not always be there to face down the opposition. Today, however, we often have to guard our gift from our own mishandling.
The apostle Paul identifies Gospel ministry as a type of priestly service, as he writes, “But I have written rather boldly to you on some points as a reminder – because of the grace given to me by God to be a servant of Messiah Yeshua to the Gentiles, in priestly service to the Good News of God – so that the offering up of the Gentiles might be pleasing, made holy by the Ruach ha-Kodesh (the Holy Spirit)” (Ro. 15:15-16). Messiah, by the Great Commission has given all of his followers a ministry (priestly service) by calling us all to “make disciples” from among the nations (Matt. 28:19-20).
The gift of priestly ministry is expressed differently among the multitude of members of the Body of Messiah (1 Cor. 12, 14). While some gifts and callings may seem more important or celebrated, the reality is that every gift given by the Lord through the Holy Spirit is vital to the proper functioning of the Body of Messiah as a commissioned force for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. As Paul explains, some are given wisdom, others knowledge, to some faith is given, while others work in healing or miracles or prophecy or administrations; yet gifts are not limited to those specifically mentioned (1 Cor 12:8-11). Paul encourages, “But to each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the benefit of all” (1 Cor. 12:7). While Paul encourages us to seek the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1), he does so by encouraging us to seek and grow in intimacy with the gift giver.
Paul admonishes his close disciple Timothy concerning his gift in much the same way the Lord admonishes the sons of Aaron, as he writes, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands of the elders. Practice these things – be absorbed in them, so that you progress may be clear to all. Give attention to yourself and your teaching. Persevere in these things, for in doing so you will save yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:14-16). Timothy had a responsibility to walk in the gift imparted to him, to guard it against critics (1 Tim. 4:12), to mature in it and us it to bless those in his care.
Korach was given the gift of tending to the Ark of the Covenant – which was the place of atonement for a nation, for the nation of priests. Rather than pressing into the giver of this gift he rebelliously attempted to steal the gift, position and responsibility of another. This jealousy cost not only his life, but also the lives of many in his family and those who followed him.
Brethren every born-again follower of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus has been endowed with a gift or gifts through the Holy Spirit. As we learn from Paul, this is our priestly service as regards the Gospel, and in this service we are to bless those around us. While we may look longingly at the ministry (usage of gift for heavenly purpose) of our brothers and sisters, we must keep our attention on the gift that our covenant Lord has trusted to us. We must search the Scriptures to understand how to properly apply our gift within the context of the covenant and the secular communities. And we must be thankful that the Lord has extended his grace, not only to our salvation, but also to the work specifically prepared for us (Eph. 2:8-10) and the gift that the Holy Spirit is working in us.
As you witness the gifts of other saints, admire not the gifting itself, but the faithful giver of the gift who will complete the work that he has begun in you (Phil. 1:6).
“The Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel. Say to them that they are to make for themselves fringes (tzitzit) on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they are to put a blue cord on each fringe. It will be your own fringe – so that whenever you look at them, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them and not go spying out after your own hearts and your own eyes, prostituting yourselves” (Numbers 15:37-39).
The command of the fringes (צִיצִת /tzitzit) is given after the tragic report of the spies (Num. 13 – 14). Twelve spies were sent into the Promised Land to spy it out, to see if it is as the Lord has promised. Ten of those spies bear witness to the goodness of the Land – that it in fact flows with “milk and honey,” but the inhabitants of the Land are too great for them to overcome.
Upon hearing this tragic report, the children of Israel weep and mourn all night, wishing that they had never left Egypt. They desired to return to slavery because they feared freedom. Of this, Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hertz writes, “The incident of the Spies is the turning-point in the lives of all those that had been born in slavery. By the cowardice and murmurings with which they receive the report of the Spies, they show themselves unfit for the tasks of a free nation. They must die in the wilderness. During thirty-eight years of wandering, a new generation that knew not Egypt was to be reared, in hardship and freedom, for the conquest and possession of the Promised Land.”
The spies, as part of the testimony to the goodness of the Land, bring back with them a single “branch with a cluster of grapes. It was carried on a pole between two of them” (Num. 13:23). The fruit was a witness to the promise that lay in the Land; that it was a good and spacious land. The fruit of the Land, however, could not overcome the fear in their heart. The fruit would have to come from another place – from inside them.
The command of the fringe, tzitzit, is rather unusual. The children of Israel were commanded to affix strings to the corners of their garments, but for what purpose? As with many ancient Near-Eastern cultures, identity markers on garments was not unusual. The color, placement, and length allowed a person to be identified at some distance. Yet, why does the Lord command this identifier? Although tribal identity would certainly be a factor, as they were to be a unique, priestly people, the fringes were a remembrance, so that they will “remember all the commands of the Lord and shall do them, and not search after your own heart and your own eyes after which you went whoring, so that you remember, and shall do all My commands, and be set-apart unto your God.”
צִיצִת , comes from the root צִיץ , which means “blossom.” Tzitzit could literally be translated as “blossoms.” Tzitzit are a remembrance of his commands, his commands are the blossoms, or potential fruit in our lives. Fruit, like the Tzitzit, is an identifier. Recall the words of Messiah Yeshua, “A tree is known by its fruit,” and, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are savage wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? So every good tree yields good fruit, but a rotten tree yields wicked fruit. A good tree is unable to yield wicked fruit, and a rotten tree to yield good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruits you shall know them.” By the fruit, we will know the false prophet; however, we will also know God’s people by their fruit.
For the children of Israel, the twelve (12) spies were their first interaction with the Promised Land. Rather than walking in the victory that the Lord had promised, ten (10) of the spies caused an entire generation to be lost, save two. For many people today, as we live and work in our daily lives, we are often the first contact that people have with the Kingdom of God. What do they see or experience with us? Do they taste and see that the Lord is good, by sampling the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23)? Or have we replaced the fruit of the Spirit with fear from the flesh?
The fruit of the land of Israel was symbolic of the promise of God, of what he could do and would continue to do. The wearing of Tzitzit was, for the people of God, the visual reminder of that promise. Today, however, the blossoms of the Tzitzit, and the fullness of their meaning, has settled inside of the follower of Messiah – not a replacement of, but rather, a maturing of concept. The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of the Lord’s faithfulness to renew, restore, forgive, lift up, and cleanse; really, anything to do with the renewal experience in Messiah.
Still what is the fruit for? In one sense it is for the tree – bringing forth new life; but in another sense, it is not for the tree at all, rather, for others who will benefit from it. What do people taste of God’s Kingdom when they are with you? The fruit of promise and victory, or the fruit of fear and despair?
How do we change this, or increase our fruit? Psalm 1:3, “For he shall be as a tree planted by the rivers of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and whose leaf does not wither, and whatever he does prospers.” This is the fruit, the result of mediating on God’s Word, day and night.
As Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner explains, “The tree is no mere channel, piping water unchanged from one place to another, but a living organism which absorbs it, to produce in due course something new and delightful, proper to its kind and to is time.”
Let the blossoms of the Lord’s commands mature into blessed fruit for the Kingdom of God as you walk by faith and not by sight.
“I am not able to carry all these people by myself. The load is too heavy for me! If this is how You are treating me, kill me now! If I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me please—don’t let me see my own misery!” (Numbers 11:14-15).
Unlike the other books of the Torah that record the history of the children of Israel in the wilderness, the Book of Numbers contains a very personal record of not only the peoples struggles in faith, but the leaders struggle as well. Torah portion Beha’alotecha (meaning “when you raise”) reminds us that even in covenant relationship with the covenant Lord and Creator of the Heavens and Earth, we are all still very much human and in need of his grace.
The rabbis have struggled with the Torah’s inclusion of the struggles of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, all of whom display moments of weakness in Beha’alotecha. Should the Torah have included the cry of Moses to the Lord of “kill me now” (Num. 11:14-15)? Or, Miriam and Aaron speaking Lashon Harah (evil speech) about Moses (Num. 12:1-2)? In my opinion, yes; but perhaps not for the reason you might think.
It is common today for members of a congregation or labors in a ministry to forget that a pastor (or leader, whichever language is comfortable for you) is human. They have personal struggles, areas of weakness, family concerns, economic concerns, and physical limitations just like every other human being. They have not graduated to a higher “level” of existence because of ministry calling – only a greater position of responsibility. The difference is that a pastor usually has dozens, if not hundreds, of other lives connected to him all in need of some type of continual care and counsel. When a pastor is overcome by the pressures of life and ministry, onlookers may view this as a weakness in character or a failure in vocation. For this reason many pastors are afraid to share their personal, moral or family struggles with their congregational elders or organizational overseers. Instead, many suffer in silence – their family suffering as well – which ultimately causes the congregational family to suffer, but they are just not as aware of it!
The apostle Paul demonstrates for us a proper way of handling our struggles, our shortcomings and our fears when he writes, “I pleaded with the Lord three times about this, that it might leave me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness, so that the power of Messiah may dwell in me. For Messiah’s sake, then I delight in weakness, in insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:8-10). Paul struggled with an undisclosed “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). This thorn humbled him, and caused him to rely solely on the power of God in Messiah by the Holy Spirit – not in his own strength, wisdom or eloquence.
While we should certainly avoid glorifying the source of our weakness, we must recognize that the weakness is there, and that by the power of the covenant Lord we continue in weakness in order that his power might be perfected in us. The apostle Paul experienced many of the same struggles that pastors and leaders experience today: rejection, fatigue, resistance, obstacles, etc., yet he remained faithful by being sensitive and submissive to the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6) – not to the whims of men. This pattern has not changed. Still, there is more to this.
The Torah, and the entire narrative of the Bible for that matter, does not hide or diminish the failures of the “heroes” of the faith. The text is faithful to record their failures and triumphs. Moses, as we read above, has a terrible moment of weakness as he is confronted by the daunting task of shepherding the millions of the children of Israel. He cries out “kill me now” in that frustration. The Lord, in his grace, does not dignify this cry of desperation; rather, he asks Moses to “bring me 70 of the elders of Israel whom you know to be elders of the people and their leaders” (Num. 11:16). The remedy for the stress that Moses faces is a support staff of leaders to work closely with him, similar to the advice given by his father in law Jethro in Exodus 18:17-26.
Just as the people of a congregation need to have a shepherd in their lives to guide, advise and correct, a pastor needs trusted leaders (elders) to help bear the responsibility of ministry and advise them in times of struggle. Pastors need to be told to rest, delegate, seek the Lord in prayer and worship, take care of family first, and be free, at times, to be human just as Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Joshua, David, Peter, James, John, Paul, etc., were.
Now, some of you may be tempted to say, “I’ve read this devotional and it’s all about leaders and their needs.” As a pastor and overseer myself, I can tell you that I have witnessed too many good couples in ministry quit because rather than support in a season struggle, they received correction and rejection because they appeared too human to be solid or qualified shepherds. It is imperative beloved friends to remember that the under-shepherds of the flock remain sheep of the fold themselves, and are in need of the same love, support and help that you seek of them.
Leadership does not mean never facing challenges in life, it means being transparent before the Lord enough to admit that you need help – just as Moses and Paul did! This is not a weakness! Quite the opposite, it’s one of a leaders most important qualities – knowing that you need the Lord, recognizing that he is with you, and that you are trusting him with your life, your heart and your reputation.
“Remember that the Holy Spirit lives inside you, and he battles on your behalf even when you don’t have the sense to. Remember too that in Christ you’ve already been given everything you need to be what you’re supposed to be and to do what you’re supposed to do in the place where God has positioned you. And remember that since Emmanuel is with you, it’s impossible to ever be alone in the moment-by-moment war that is pastoral ministry.” Dr. Paul David Tripp
Do not be tempted to labor alone – the Lord always provides a plurality of eldership to labor beside the pastorate.
“May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you! May the Lord lift up his face upon you and give peace!” (Numbers 6:24-26).
The opening of Torah portion Nasso reads, “Again the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Take a census also of the sons of Gershon by their ancestral households and by their families’” (Num. 4:21-22). The phrase “take a census” can be read literally as, “lift up the head” ( נָשאֹׂ אֶת-ראֹׂשׁ ). While it may not be obvious by these words, this portion is about encouragement – the lifting up of the people of God from their circumstance. Based upon the opening census of this portion, along with other censuses found in Scripture, the rabbinic sages concluded that the Lord counts that which he loves. We learn from Messiah Yeshua/Jesus that so great is the love and care of the Lord for his people that “the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30). This should be a source of great encouragement.
The theme of lifting up extends through this entire portion of the Torah; as we note major concepts related to נָשאֹׂ , “raise up.” As examples:
נָשאֹׂ אֶת-ראֹׂש , “lift of the head of the sons of Gershon,” the census of Gershon mentioned above.
The Priestly Blessing, בִּרְכַּת כֹׂהֲנִּים is also called נשיאת כפיים , the “lifting of the palms.”
The issue of marriage regarding the “spirit of jealous,” רוּחַּ -קִּנְאָה : marriage in Hebrew is נישואין
יִּשָא יְהוָה פָנָיו אֵלֶיךָ “Lift up His countenance,” יִּשָא is from נָשאֹׂ
The gifts from the heads of the tribes: prince is נָשִּיא
Additionally, the teaching of the Nazarite also lifted the people of God up. How so? No matter how poor or ordinary or unlearned a Hebrew was, even he could reach a place of sanctity by first shaving, and then simply not cutting his hair and abstaining from the fruit of the vine. We note in the New Covenant that even the apostle Paul took upon himself the vow of the Nazarite, as we read in Acts 18:18, “At Cenchrea Paul had his hair cut off, for he was keeping a vow.” Then in Acts 21 Paul pays the Temple expenses of four other Jewish believers in Messiah at the direction of the apostle James; in order for them to begin or fulfill their Nazarite vow (Acts 21:23-24, 26).
The theme of lifting up by the Lord is found throughout the Bible. We read in Psalm 30:1, “I will exalt You, O Lord, for You have lifted me up,” or James 4:10, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God, and He will lift you up.” This theme of lifting up represents a change in circumstance, in position, and condition for both the poor and the wealthy among the covenant people of God; and in each case, we find the Lord meeting his people where they are in order raise them to where he desires them to be.
Experiencing the Spirit-filled covenant life in our daily lives is not conditioned upon complex practices or elaborate prayers, but on the people of God approaching him humbled, regardless of social position or condition. The Spirit-filled covenant life in Messiah, the Risen One (Matt. 28:6), was not designed by the Lord to be out of reach for the most esteemed personage, or the most simple; rather, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:19). Again, as James reminds us, “Humble yourselves in the sight of God, and He will lift you up” (Jas. 4:10).
The Spirit-filled life is secured not by our action or performance being accepted by the Lord (Eph. 2:8-9); but rather, the work of Messiah Yeshua lifted up on the cross (Jn. 3:14-18). Dr. Tim Keller explains, “It is not the level but the object of our faith that saves us.” All of the shadows of lifting, as found in this portion of the Torah, are fulfilled in the person of Messiah – who lifts us, rescues us, blesses us, and provides gifts to utilize in vertical worship unto the Lord by horizontal lifting service to the human other (Lev. 19:18; Ro. 12:1-8).
In this day and age, as the complexities of life continue to distract, let our faith rest on the Gospel of Messiah. Let us not complicate the simple matters of faith – prayer, worship and loving action. May we continue to rest on the simple, albeit complex, truth that Messiah gave it all, paid it all, and overcame it all in order to lift us to heavenly heights in him regardless of our circumstance. Friends, may you have hope for today, tomorrow and every day the Lord blesses you with from these simple words.
“If you walk in My statutes, keep My commandments and carry them out…I will walk among you and will be your God, and you will be My people.” (Lev. 26:3, 12).
As this portion of Scripture opens, the Lord gives a series of conditional blessings, “If you walk…then I will…” (Lev. 26:3-13); further, he reveals the antithesis of the blessing, “If you do not listen…then I will do…” (Lev. 26:14-39). It is not the Lord’s desire to chasten his people, but rather to bring them back in step on his way (Heb. 12:6). In the Torah, the Lord uses the word “walk” (תלכו in Lev. 26) as a metaphor for forward movement, and internal meditation, in life according to his Word. Walking with the Living God is movement, it’s change, it’s new situations, it’s psychological renewal and at times trials – above all its personal. Walking with the Lord provides the ethical norms for every situation in life – the way of escape or right action.
The use of “walk” itself is telling. He is revealing that what we are about to do is risky, and requires patience, faith and practice. It has been said that walking is controlled falling down. At times we must focus more carefully on our steps as we traverse difficult or unfamiliar terrain. To walk with the Lord is to trust that he has prepared the way before us (Ps. 37:23); and that his statutes, instructions and laws will illuminate the way (Ps. 119:105).
In the fullness of time, the Lord sent his Word to become flesh in the person of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. Yeshua said, “Come follow me…” Follow, like walk, is a call to closeness in life. In this case, drawing close to Jesus. This drawing close is “learning from him” (Matt. 11:29) as a disciple following his teacher.
Yet, there is a sharp distinction between what we read in Leviticus and what we learn from Messiah Yeshua. The revelation of Leviticus exposes the weakness of the human heart – its sin condition – and our inability to be made righteous by our own effort. The Torah is a document of discipleship, not salvation; and through it, the Lord reveals our utter dependence on his sovereign grace, mercy, love and forgiveness. The coming of Messiah, as the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14) was an action founded in the grace of God and the love for his people (Jn. 3:16). Messiah came in order to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21).
The heart of man is so weakened by sin that he is unable to continue in faithfulness, thus he is in need of a savior. This Savior would receive “the chastisement for our peace” so that by “His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5); and as the apostle Peter writes, looking at the past action of Yeshua, “By His wounds you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24). Therefore, the curse of disobedience no longer falls upon those who are in Messiah (Ro. 8:1), as Yeshua has delivered those trusting on him – healing the spiritual wound of sin that influences the walk of man.
Still, even with our closeness to him, we must “hear him” (Matt. 17:5; cf. Deut. 18:15), and in hearing him we must walk and follow obediently, as Messiah said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15); which we keep now, not out of a motivation to be accepted, but because we have been accepted (Eph. 2:8-10). Christ not only changes the condition of our heart, by the salvation of our soul, he changes the motivation of our heart to indulge in actions that are self-indulgence to actions of self-sacrifice (Jn. 15:13). This we learn from walking in to the uncharted territory that is life with the confidence that he is walking with us because he is our Immanuel (Matt. 1:23) who sent the Holy Spirit to us in order that we are not left as orphans (Jn. 14:15-18).
“The Bible reveals the Father’s overall plan for the world and provides general guidelines for life. But how can we know His specific plans for us? Listening to God is essential to walking with God.” – Charles Stanley
Listening to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as we walk, causes us to lift up our eyes, look attentively at him, and walk in the sureness that he is ever with us.
“Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Aaron will then cast lots for the two goats – one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat. Aaron is to present the goat on which the lot for the Lord fell and make it a sin offering. But the goat upon which the lot for the scapegoat fell is to be presented alive before the Lord, to make atonement upon it, by sending it away as the scapegoat into the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16:7-10).
This double portion contains the heart of the holiness code. The Lord, through Moses, provides not only spiritual direction as regards faithful conduct among his people, but he also informs as to the proper manner by which his people will “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev. 19:18). The essence, and therefore the heart, of these chapters concerns how a forgiven people are to live in forgiveness before the Lord and with each other.
Forgiveness is the antithesis of revenge; as it excuses conduct, and the consequences thereof, which has caused harm. The message of the New Covenant is focused on forgiveness. Messiah Jesus exposes the difficulty of forgiveness by the human heart and mind when he explains, “For if you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions (Matt. 6:14-15; cf. Matt. 6:12; 18:15-35). Genuine, from the heart, forgiveness is undoubtedly a struggle, as evidenced by these conditional statements of Messiah Jesus.
Yet, the Lord did not direct us to an impossibility of forgiveness in and from our heart. He expects forgiveness to be an action of faithing toward him as we extend his grace and mercy toward others. What we extend, in actuality, is what we have received from him on our own behalf – forgiveness.
The Torah portion of Acharei Mot (after the death) reveals an ancient picture of forgiveness, in language that humanity can understand – the service of the Day of Atonement (the Day of Coverings). While the intricacies of that day are beyond the scope of this devotional, the picture of the two goats show in type what Messiah would reveal in fullness.
The two goats used on the Day of Atonement, as much as possible, were to be the same in size, age and coloring. The Lord is revealing in these two the reality that would later come in the One substitutionary sacrifice. By lot the goats would be identified: one for the Lord, the other for the scapegoat. The one for the Lord would be brought before the Tent of Meeting and offered as a sin offering on behalf of the children of Israel (Lev. 16:15). The guilt of the children of Israel would have been symbolically placed upon the head of the goat as a sin offering, and with its death, the sin it carried would die with it, thereby covering these sins before the Lord. The innocent dying on behalf of the guilty. The death of the substitutionary sacrifice was only half of the picture presented.
The goat for the wilderness also had the sins of Israel placed upon it (Lev. 16:21). This goat, before the eyes of all present, would carry the sins of Israel deep into the wilderness, far from the camp (Lev. 16:22). While the atonement happened in the solitude of the Holy of Holies, in the presence of the Living God alone, the scapegoat would be led away into the great unknown, with its ultimate welfare lost to history, a mystery noted widely among Rabbinic and Christian scholars. The sins of the people were removed from them, sent to an unknown place, lost and to be forgotten, as David writes, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His mercy for those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:11-12).
In the fullness of time, the Father in Heaven would send his Son (Jn. 3:16) to be the substitutionary sacrifice for sin, justifying those trusting on him, imputing his righteousness to the account of those being delivered – salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). What could only be imagined in the picture of the two goats was fully realized in Messiah. As the author of Hebrews explains, “The Law has a shadow of the good things to come – not the form itself of the realities. For this reason it can never, by means of the same sacrifices they offer constantly year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers – cleansed one and for all – would no longer have consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices is a reminder of sins year after year – for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:1-4). This cleansing takes place through the offering of Messiah (10:10), which cleanses the conscience of the renewed man, “So let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and body washed with pure water” (10:22).
Forgiveness in the life of faith is possible because, before the offense was committed, Messiah died for it – as he died once for all sin. As we, by the power of the Holy Spirit walk in forgiveness by faith, we walk out the picture portrayed by the Day of Atonement, pointing to the One in whom it was realized, to demonstrate that it is not we who now live, but Messiah in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). And if it is not we who live, it was not we who suffered the offense. This reality is a deep mystery. Forgiveness, and the circumstance from which it arises, is an opportunity for us to trust his grace and mercy more. Can we walk out the picture of the scapegoat, carrying that trespass away, knowing that the Lord had already suffered the loss for which we mourn, thus allowing forgiveness to be realized?
To walk in forgiveness we must: 1) have received the mercy of forgiveness through Christ, 2) recognize the fallen condition of man, 3) recognize the continuing influence of sin in and around our lives (the schemes of the devil), 4) recognize that Christ died for the sinner, 5) leave justice in the hands of the Lord, 6) choose the Kingdom of God above our own kingdom and its justice, and 7) rely on the joy of the Lord in every circumstance.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” – CS Lewis
“The one with leprosy who has the plague-mark shall wear torn clothes, the hair of his head is to hang loose, he is to cover his upper lip and cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ All the days during which the plague is on him he will be unclean. He is unclean. He is to dwell alone. Outside of the camp will be his dwelling.” (Leviticus 13:45-46).
The portions of Leviticus that address the issue of leprosy contain some of the most difficult laws of Scripture to understand. Why did the Lord demand such a separation for someone in medical distress? Was it an actual medical problem at all? Or, were the laws of the leper concerned with something else entirely?
Rabbinic authorities have concluded that leprosy is connected with gossip or talebearing, and not related to the medical condition called Hansen’s disease. The reasoning for this is found in the calling of Moses, as he attempts to excuse himself from the calling of the covenant Lord, as we read in Exodus 4:1, “But look, they will not believe me or listen to my voice. They will say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’” The Lord then gives Moses three signs to demonstrate in Egypt, one of which is not demonstrated – being in itself a sign to Moses. In Exodus 4:6-7 we read, “The Lord also said to him, ‘Now put your hand within your cloak.’ So he put his hand inside, and when he took it out, his hand had leprosy – white as snow. Then He said, ‘Put your hand back into your cloak.’ So he put his hand back in, and when he took it out it was restored again as the rest of his skin.”
Leprosy is connected to ‘they won’t believe me…’ Moses reveals how he felt about the children of Israel in this simple statement. When the Lord had Moses place his hand in his bosom, literally meaning to “place inside of you,” and bring it back out, He revealed the heart of Moses – but when the Lord had Moses reverse the procedure He revealed Himself to be the healer of men.
Scripture is replete with verses warning against spreading gossip and receiving gossip; as we read, “A talebearer goes about revealing secrets, so do not associate with a babbler (Pro. 20:19); and, “You are not to go up and down as a talebearer among your people. You are not to endanger the life of your neighbor. I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:16). The gossip, as we discover in Leviticus, hunts for opportunities to slander his neighbor, thereby endangering their life and livelihood; quite the opposite of “love thy neighbor as thyself.” The gossip separates, divides and destroys the peace of the house and community; therefore, he will be separated by dis-ease in his own body.
The separation of the leper, however, was not without mercy and time for repentance. As we read in later verses of this portion, the Torah gives instructions regarding leprosy of objects: a house, leather and even garments. These, the rabbis explained, were warnings to the owner that something in his life was out of order. It also provided visible evidence that that which he had been doing in private, in a whisper, was now exposed for all to see. If this exposure did not cause him to repent – it was not upon his possessions that leprosy would come, but upon his person – in which case he must cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ as he walks through the streets of the community. As the leper called out “unclean!” he was actualizing the condition that his whisper had placed the target of his gossip in, in the minds of his listeners – an unclean, suspicious place of separation – unbeknownst to its
target. Yet, by his pronouncement of “unclean!” everyone within range of hearing would know of his leprous condition.
Gossip, and the spiritual condition it reveals in us, is not in keeping with the ministry of Messiah Jesus, or with the scriptural revelation of the renewed man enlivened by the Holy Spirit. Gossip is a thing of the flesh, rooted in envy and spite, being watered by bitterness. Gossip does not seek the best for neighbor, stranger or enemy, in the form of self-sacrificial love, but rather seeks to destroy that which Christ has died for.
Messiah said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34); “For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander. These are the things that make the man unholy; but to eat with unwashed hands does not make the man unholy” (Matt. 15:19-20). The apostle James warns followers of Messiah as regards the dangers of the tongue, “And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is a world of evil placed among our body parts. It pollutes the whole body and sets on fire the course of life – and is set on fire by Gehenna” (Jas. 3:6).
It is self-control produced by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5) evidenced in the life of the believer that will douse the flaming tongue. Still, the tongue is only but an outward sign of the inward condition of the heart – a heart in need of regeneration. The apostle Paul exhorts us when he writes, “Get rid of all bitterness and rage and anger and quarreling and slander, along with all malice. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other just as God in Messiah also forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). By faith in Messiah, as we are progressively sanctified, the heart is cleaned of all the roots of bitterness and turmoil that spring out into unhealthy, and unfaithful, speech. We must arrest each thought, before it is announced, with the mind of Messiah who looked not on our miserable condition, but looked at each of us gracefully and with love to save us.
When we speak, let us be mindful: 1) of our words, 2) of our audience, 3) of the needfulness of our words, 4) of the impact of our words on those present and not present, 5) of our witness for Christ, and 5) our need for continued reformation of the heart by the Holy Spirit.
James teaches us, “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters; let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger – for human anger doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. So put away all moral filth and excess of evil and receive with humility the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:19-21).
How then shall we live? Not with gossip, but with grace.
“In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born…You dislike what you have done, but you don’t cease to love yourself…Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” CS Lewis
“Now it happened on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron, his sons, and the elders of Israel.” (Leviticus
The portion of Shemini is one of new beginnings. Moses has sanctified Aaron and his son,
by the command of the Lord, for the preceding seven days, as he assembled and disassembled the
Tabernacle (Ex. 40). The eighth day, in this order of time, begins the ministry of the Levitical
priesthood. Moses will now step back from the priestly duties that he assumed as the leader of Israel;
and now, Aaron and his sons will minister on behalf of the children of Israel before the Brazen Altar
and the Lord.
In our reckoning of time there are seven days to a week. Yet, time and again in the Scriptures
we find an eighth day. The eighth day is associated with new beginnings, a new season, and renewed
purpose. The eighth day is the day of circumcision for Jewish males to enter the covenant. The
eighth day was the earliest day on which a kid or lamb could be offered as a sacrifice. The eighth day
was a day of release for those who had been ritually unclean, or indebted. Messiah Jesus rose on the
first day, which is also an eighth day – the fullness of new beginnings.
As we consider more closely the content of portion Shemini, one may be tempted to see
only the new beginning for the priests of Israel, as Leviticus chapters 9 and 10 focus on them.
However, the focus of the ministry of the Levites is not the priests, but the connection between the
people and the covenant Lord. The Levites were to be a conduit for blessing, reconciliation, and
As the offerings of the eighth day were prepared and lifted up, the Torah is careful to
include this moment, “Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them.
Then he stepped down from presenting the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings” (Lev. 9:22).
The three offerings atoned for the sins of the people, brought them near, and placed them in a position of fellowship
(peace) with the Lord. From this place of sanctification, the children of Israel could receive the
priestly benediction of Numbers 6:24-26, “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face
to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift his face towards you and give you peace.”
The new beginning for the priests of Israel brought with it a new beginning for the children
of Israel, as Leviticus 9 concludes, “Fire came out from the presence of the Lord, and devoured the burnt offering
and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9:24).
The priests had faithfully completed the work of service and the people were accepted.
The Lord, through the Torah, provides us another point of mercy. When we read of the
Brazen Altar and the sanctification of the priests of Israel, some may be tempted to feel
disconnected from a life of holiness and new beginnings. While the portion of Shemini opens with
the ministry and holiness of the Brazen Altar, it concludes with a section on what Rabbi Dr. Joseph
Hertz called “everyday holiness.”
Leviticus chapter 11 addresses on issue that every human being can relate to – food. While
the particulars of kashrut (kosher laws) are beyond the scope of this devotional, the Lord is revealing
to us that every person can pursue a life of holiness by giving thought even to the most mundane of
daily chores – eating food. What will we eat? Why will we eat it? From where did it come? How was
it prepared? Where was it prepared? Does this please the Lord? While not every person was called to
be a Levitical priest, even though all the covenant people of God are called to His priesthood, and
be set-apart for that purpose, the covenant community of the Living God must still live daily lives.
How then shall we live?
Believers in Messiah are called to His example in all things. Recently I was invited to the
home of a family after a Sunday service. As I received the invitation I was given an overview of the
menu by my host, who lovingly wanted to ensure that I would be comfortable. I cherish this loving
action. I knew that there would be a wonderful time of fellowship, and as I accepted the invitation
the Holy Spirit spoke this assurance from the apostle Paul, “For the kingdom of God is not about eating
and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Ro. 14:17). It was holy time.
Each day we can choose to live a life of holiness, not one of self-righteousness. Holiness is
about position, being “set-apart.” The Lord, through Messiah Jesus, has set those, in Him, apart.
This is not conditioned upon food, clothing or any other external appearance, but on the working of
the Holy Spirit in us by grace and faith. What we then do in our everyday life is an expression of that
holy condition. The apostle Paul gives us these words of encouragement in holy living, “Therefore,
whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31); and, “Whatever you do,
work at it from the soul, as for the Lord and not for people (Col. 3:23); further, “Therefore I, a prisoner for the
Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called – with complete humility
and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of
the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).
Everyday holiness is the outworking of relationship with the Lord in moments of life that
are transcendent and those which are pedestrian. Holy living is not dependent upon occupation or
vocation, but on relationship. Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord, and in that you will
experience the thrill of knowing that the fire of God is consuming your life (Ro. 12:1), just as it did
the sacrifices offered upon the Brazen Altar, because Messiah was accepted and is now your High Priest.
In Messiah, every day is an eight day. Every day is a new beginning. Get up, by His grace,
and walk in it.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Give this order to Aaron and his sons: This is the law for the burnt offering. It is
what goes up on its firewood upon the altar all night long, until morning; in this way the fire of the altar will be kept
burning.” (Leviticus 6:8-10).
The beginning chapters of Leviticus, with their instruction regarding the presentation and
preparation of sacrifice, are the details for the ministry at the Brazen Altar introduced in Exodus 27.
The purpose of the Altar was to be a place of sacrifice – meaning “to draw near.” While the structural
details for the building of the Altar are important, we learn of a detail in this portion that is of equal
importance – the fire.
The fire on the Brazen Altar was ignited by fire that came forth from the presence of the
Lord (Lev. 9:24). This fire, as we read above, was to be kept burning continuously, as it was an
אֵשׁ תָּמִיד , “a perpetual fire.” Priests had to continually stir the coal on the Altar and clean the ash to
ensure that the sacrifice was being consumed, and the coals remained hot. This necessitated that at
least one priest had to stand watch at the Altar during the night – a time when he would naturally desire to
This continuous process at the Brazen Altar reveals an important aspect in the life of faith –
the necessity for a continuous tending to the flame that draws us close to who we are to be
in the Lord.
The apostle Paul draws on the imagery of the Brazen Altar, its sacrifice and perpetual fire
when he writes, “I beseech ye therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,
holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Ro. 12:1). David Stern captures the essence of
this picture in the Complete Jewish Bible translation of Romans 12:1, “I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in
view of God’s mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart to God. This will please him; it is the
logical “Temple worship” for you.”
This tending to the flame of the sacrifice today assumes a different appearance than two
thousand years ago. As a living sacrifice, Yeshua/Jesus followers must tend to the flame by avoiding
the temptations in life that so easily ensnare us (Heb. 12:1; similar to cleaning the ash away from the
coals); thereby walking worthily of our calling (Eph. 4:1); leading to continual prayer (1 Thess. 5:17);
studying the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15); and worshipping the Lord (Heb. 13:15) in communion
with other brethren (Heb. 10:25).
The above referenced practices are steadily incorporated into the daily lives of the believer;
each an aspect of drawing near to the God of our salvation, by daily dying to self in the light of his
glorious abiding presence. As the flames of the renewed life grow stronger, we are gradually
confronted by the reality that it is not we who keep the fire burning alone; but rather, the presence
of the Holy Spirit in us, who is “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; cf. Acts 2:3; Heb. 12:29), that
inspires and leads us on in the life of faith to the glory of the covenant Lord alone.
“The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, ‘Speak to the children of
Israel; say to them, ‘When any of you brings an offering to the Lord, you may bring your animal offering either from
the herd or from the flock’” (Leviticus 1:1-2).
How does one approach the Lord God? The answer to this question is the subject of the
Book of Leviticus. At first glance, Leviticus seems to deal entirely with subject matters lost with the
destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD – if not earlier by the sacrifice of Messiah. While the
types and shadows of Leviticus may no longer be literally normative for messianic living, the
principle subject matter of Leviticus is – namely holiness.
The word, application and practice of holiness, and “holy” for that matter, is often confused
with legalistic or self-righteous behaviors. Holy, however, simply means to be set-apart, or special, in
relation to something else. The Book of Leviticus reveals many “holy” things and persons set-apart
to the Lord, and many others that cause separation from the Lord.
Holy belongs to the language of relationship – as it designates something of importance to
its owner that is not for common usage. In the Book of Exodus, we considered the redemption
(buying back) of the children of Israel by the covenant Lord. The act of redemption created a unique
relationship between the Lord God and this people-group called Israel. To move still deeper into the
language of holy, something is holy by its chosen status. Israel was a unique people-group in the
world, as it was chosen, and therefore holy unto the Lord.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “In the Messiah he chose us in love before the creation of
the universe to be holy and without defect in his presence” (Eph. 1:4). Paul is writing to a largely gentile
audience emphasizing their new condition as “chosen” and “holy,” a status equal to that of covenant
Israel – something inconceivable apart from the revelation of Messiah. Along with the language of
election in the Body of Messiah, Paul includes sacrificial language – “without defect.” This is the
language of sacrifice, specifically that of drawing near to the Lord, as we read in Leviticus 1:1-8.
Sacrifice in the Torah was the way of drawing near to God, being reconciled with him and
dedicating oneself to his purpose. Sacrifice was a means of approaching the Lord by demonstrating
trust in his covenant promises; as the offering had to be precious, costly, and a diminishment of the
worshipper’s life. It was a means of humbling self in the presence of the Living God. Rabbi
Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, reveals this from the language of Leviticus 1:2,
“When any of you brings an offering to the Lord…” which he rightly translated as, “If any man brings an
offering of you to the Lord.” The sacrifice was intended to be you. In Christ, his choosing of you, as part
of the Body of Messiah, naturally causes one to be diminished or humbled. Consider these verses:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due
time” (1 Pet. 5:6).
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10).
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will
be exalted” (Lk. 14:11).
The burnt offering, described in Leviticus 1:1-8, is understood to be the sacrifice that “draws
close” and “raises up.” This sacrifice, which is completely consumed, is the source of Paul’s
admonition to the Roman congregations to be “living sacrifices” unto the Lord. It is the giving of
our entire life to him; which then allows us to be used as servants of love, mercy and compassion to
the world around us, as we read, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of
you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8); and as the author of
Hebrews explains, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb.
In the New Covenant life, the sacrifice, humbling, of the faithful becomes perfect when we
share in the death of Christ – the once for all sacrifice for sin – share in his resurrected life, and
receive his imputed righteous
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘On the first day of the first month, you are to set up the tabernacle, the tent of
meeting.’” (Exodus 40:1-2).
George Bernard Shaw once said, “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the
sincerest form of learning.” As the fabrication of the elements of the tabernacle were completed, the
Lord instructs Moses to consecrate Aaron and his sons for their positions as priests among the
children of Israel for a period of seven days (Ex. 29:35); on the eighth day they would begin their
ministry (Lev. 9). It was during this seven-day period of consecration that Aaron and his sons
learned, not only the service of the tabernacle – its sacrifices and offerings – but also how the
tabernacle was assembled. They learned this by observing Moses, and they would later imitate him as
they matured into their ministry. The rabbis explained that over the seven days of consecration that
Moses assembled and disassembled the tabernacle before the eyes of Aaron and his sons – a feat that
is actually physically impossible for one man to accomplish.
The priests of Israel did not flatter Moses by imitating him, rather, they fulfilled their solemn
duty and learned the pattern of ministry established in heaven. Imitation in our modern culture is
often frowned upon – as it is considered “unoriginal.” Yet, in biblical faith imitation of the Lord,
Yeshua/Jesus, and elders in the faith is considered a serious matter indeed; as Messiah said, “A new
commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another
(Jn.13:34; cf. Matt. 16:24). To fulfill this commandment, we must consider closely just how he loved us,
and how to replicate his actions of love. Additionally, we can consider these examples:
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1; cf. 1 Cor. 4:16; Eph. 5:1).
“For to this you have been called, because Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might
follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).
“Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 Jn. 2:6).
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”
(Phil. 3:17; cf. 1 Thess. 1:6).
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Messiah loved us and gave himself up for
us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2).
“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be
with you” (Phil. 4:9).
When we consider the above examples from Scripture, we find the same pattern at work in
the New Testament model, as we do in the Levitical model; and this for good reason, as the
priesthood of Messiah was the original pattern that Moses witnessed upon Mt. Sinai. Just as Aaron
and his sons watched and closely observed how to administer the ministry of reconciliation, the
Body of Messiah must also closely watch, observe and pattern itself on the examples of godly faith
that have come before – both biblical, historic and contemporary.
The key is that we must, as much as possible, follow the pattern. In Exodus 40:34, when the
tabernacle and its furnishing were properly set according to the pattern shown to Moses, the
presence of the Living God filled the tabernacle and dwelt among his people. Following that same
pattern, whenever two or more are gathered in the name of Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, he is in their
midst – the fullness of his prophetic name Emmanuel – God with us, God among us, and God in
“He made the menorah of pure gold. He made it of hammered work; its base, shaft, cups, rings of outer
leaves and flowers were a single unit. There were six branches extending from its sides, three branches of the menorah
on one side of it and three on the other. On one branch were three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a ring of outer
leaves and petals; likewise, on the opposite branch three cups shaped like almond blossoms, a ring of outer leaves and
petals; and similarly for all six branches extending from the menorah.” (Exodus 28:1-3).
From a distance, the Tabernacle of the Lord appeared to be a rather ordinary tent
surrounded by a linen fence and a camp of people. To the passerby the glory of the Tabernacle was
hidden, but to those who drew near, the glory was awesome. Beneath the covering of goat skins and
linen, behind embroidered curtains, a room of communion was created. In this small room, called the
Holy Place, a table of bread and an altar of incense sat positioned for their respective ministry.
Illuminating the room was a single lamp of seven lights – the Menorah.
The Holy Place symbolized the inner life of man in communion with God – both his prayer
life and his daily struggle for food. The ever-present bread upon the Table of Shewbread (the table of
the sent one) in the presence of the Golden Altar represented the Lord’s promised provision of
sustenance and man’s need for unceasing prayer. Lighting this room, symbolizing the inner man, was a
golden lampstand of seven lights burning the purest of olive oil. This light was the only light in the
Tabernacle, and it brought to light, thereby making it possible, the communion between man and God.
As we read above, the Menorah was of a hammered work. Its appearance was that of an
almond tree – which is known for its beauty when in bloom. Unlike some of the other furnishings
of the Tabernacle, the Menorah had no inner support structure – it should collapse, yet it stood.
This silent source of light stood under the weight and heat of burning olive oil. It stood as a
miraculous testimony of the power and resurrection found with the Lord, and symbolized the
anointed one and his complete congregation.
The almond tree, or a branch of it, was a symbol of power and authority, but also resurrection.
The staff of the high priest Aaron was made from an almond branch. As Moses and Aaron led Israel
out of Egypt, and they witnessed the miracles of heaven, it was an almond staff in Aaron’s hand.
When the children of Israel revolted against the high priest, the Lord caused Aaron’s staff to sprout
“not only buds but flowers and ripe almonds as well” (Num. 17:8). This dead branch brought forth buds,
flowers and fruit; and resurrection would then come to signify the appointed high priest of the Lord.
The apostle John writes of Messiah (anointed one), “In him was life, and the life was the light of
mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not suppressed it” (Jn. 1:4-5). As life came to
be through him (Jn. 1:3), the life of humanity is illuminated and nourished by connection to him –
much like a branch. In John 15:5-6 Messiah says, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who stay
united with me, and I with them, are the ones who bear much fruit; because apart from me you can’t do a thing.
Unless a person remains united with me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up. Such branches are gathered
and thrown into the fire, where they are burned up.”
The picture that Messiah is utilizing here is the Menorah. In ancient times, the central shaft
of the Menorah was known as “the vine,” from which the branches sprouted. Messiah is the light of
the world, and while he is preparing a place for his bride, the betrothed remains as a light in the
world. John records this picture in the first chapter of Revelation, as Messiah stands in the midst of
“seven gold menorahs; and among the menorahs was someone like a Son of Man, wearing a robe down to his feet and
a gold band around his chest” (Rev. 1:12-13, cf. Rev. 1:20). Messiah, standing among forty-nine lights, is
showing himself to be the jubilee (the fiftieth light), the source of freedom for those in him.
Still, the Menorah and its illuminating oil, bring forth beautiful light after they have endured
pressure. The Menorah was a hammered work – meaning that it was shaped by pounding – and its
beauty was brought forth by this process. The olive oil for the lamps, being the purest quality, was
brought forth by the pressure of the fingers holding the olive – very light pressure. Yet, in this we
see the transformative power of pressure applied by the hand of God. Messiah as he prayed on the
night of his betrayal, in the place of Gethsemane (olive press), sweat blood because of the strain he was
enduring (Lk. 22:44). And in his resurrection he would fulfill the type of the almond branch of
resurrection, signifying his anointed position, as those who shared in his death and resurrection are
joined supernaturally to his body, sharing in his anointing, and giving forth light as they burn with
the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Believers in Messiah are enduring terrible trial and tribulation around the world today –
being purified by process, shaped for purpose, and living as witnesses to the glory of God.
Recognizing that we are joined to the Messiah, as branches on his vine, we will share in his
sufferings in order to illuminate the inner life of humanity, turning others to see their need for
prayer and his provision, and share in his holiness. While this process may seem to be a hammering
on us, Christ endured the hammering, while we experience the merciful fingers of God – as opposed
to his wrath (Ro. 8:1). As we begin to burn more brightly, we must always remember that we shine
because we abide in him.
“When you truly know the holiness of God, you’ll burn and burn and burn and not be consumed only
because of the merits of your savior.” – Dr. Timothy Keller
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down! Hurry! Your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt,
have become corrupt! So quickly they have turned aside from the way I ordered them to follow! They have cast a metal
statue of a calf, worshipped it, sacrificed to it and said, ‘Israel! Here is your god, who brought you up from the land of
Egypt!’” (Exodus 28:1-3).
One of the most distressing moments recorded in the Torah is the sin of the Golden Calf.
When Moses appears lost the children of Israel beg Aaron to make a new “god” to go before them
(Ex. 32:1). Rabbinic sources note that it was not the Lord that the children of Israel were desiring to
replace, as deep meaningful relationship had not yet developed, but Moses; as they identified Moses
as having delivered them from Egypt (Ex. 32:1). And when the Lord tells Moses to hurry back to
the camp of Israel, he refers to them as “your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt.” In the
short span of forty days a great divide had once again developed between the covenant Lord and his
people. This was not a failure of the Sovereign Lord, but rather, the covenant community.
As I have previously suggested, in the article on Parsha T’rumah, the wilderness Tabernacle was
the cure sent before the illness of the Golden Calf. For generations of Jews and Christians, as they
read the Torah (the Law of Moses), they will first read of the way of forgiveness and reconciliation,
not the sin of idolatry. The order to this narrative gives hope to the repentant heart.
Still, the Tabernacle was a unique space – not only because it would be the site of the
condescending presence of the Living God – but also because it was a space woven together by
communal contribution. This simple action reveals the picture of covenant community, and the
responsibility we have for each other.
The hearts that eagerly gave for the creation of the Golden Calf are seen giving
wholeheartedly to the cause of the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-9). This Tabernacle would not be a mere
tent in the wilderness, but a place where the Lord of all creation would commune with his people.
Every donated item utilized according to the pattern revealed in heaven, every knot holding great
significance, and every chamber greater intimacy. While the Golden Calf brought destruction upon
those desiring it, the Tabernacle would create a community whose center was the Lord himself – a
space woven by willing hearts.
As I mentioned above, the sin of the Golden Calf was a failure of covenant community.
Aaron, the brother of Moses, when asked to create this golden idol, should simply have refused; and
those whose hearts were not for the Golden Calf could have strengthened Aaron’s position. This is
part of the strength of covenant community – correction in the face of error.
Regarding correction, at times the apostle Paul instructs us to be gentle, “Also he should be
gentle as he corrects his opponents. For God may perhaps grant them the opportunity to turn from
their sins, acquire full knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 2:25). While to Titus, Paul mentions that
severity is sometimes necessary, “For this reason you must be severe when you rebuke those who
have followed this false teaching, so that they will come to be sound in their trust” (Titus 1:13).
Moreover, at other times respectful, “Do not rebuke an older man sharply, but appeal to him as you
would to a father; treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers and younger women
like sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). Each situation, obviously, requires discernment,
consideration, counsel, and a heart focused on the love of God in covenant. When we waver in our
commitment to correcting each other in godly love and respect, we must heed the words of the
apostle James, “My brothers, if one of you wanders from the truth, and someone causes him to
return, you should know that whoever turns a sinner from his wandering path will save him from
death and cover many sins” (James 5:19-20).
Moses corrected Israel when he returned to camp, but it was too late.
The ecclesia (out called ones) of Messiah are to live and share life in faith community. As in
times of old, it is easy to become captured by a sin once we have started on the way – accountability
to covenant brethren can turn that heart back from its calf of choice, and cause them to again
wholeheartedly contribute to the fabric of the Tent of the Living God.
“Only when awe of God rules your heart will you be able to keep
the pleasures of the material world in their proper place.”
“You are to summon your brother Aaron and his sons to come from among the people of Israel to you, so
that they can serve me as cohanim (priests) – Aaron and his sons Nadav, Avihu, El’azar and Itamar. You are to
make for your brother Aaron garments set apart for serving God, expressing dignity and splendor. Speaking to the
craftsmen to whom I have given the spirit of wisdom, and have them make Aaron garments to set him apart for me, so
that he can serve me in the office of cohan (priest)” (Exodus 28:1-3).
The garments worn by the priests of Israel were to typify the glory of the Living God and
the humility of the wearer serving as priest. The Israelites were to see the purity of the Lord as he
administered forgiveness and reconciliation through the priest; seeing in the component parts of the
vestments, particularly of the high priest, that atonement and forgiveness could be extended to them,
regardless of their sin.
The high priest of Israel was to be a vision of the Lord’s splendor. He was to reflect the
glory of the Most High to Israel and the world. Dressed in ephod, breastplate, robe, tunic, turban,
belt, crown, and pants he displayed the exalted holiness of the Living God, and according to
traditional teaching, the children of Israel could look upon his glorious attire and see that they were
forgiven and receive that forgiveness (Babylonian Talmud Zevachim 88b). Imagine, if you will, the vision
of the high priests gleaming white garments adorned with stones reflecting the sunlight as he stood
observing the ministry of the Tabernacle – and the awe his presence would inspire.
Still, as the centuries passed, many of the priests of Israel fell from their lofty positions as
ministers of reconciliation. As an institution overseen by men, the ministry of the Tabernacle, and
later the Temple in Jerusalem, became ensnared by sin. Be that as it may, the glory bestowed upon
the high priest of Israel typified the glory of the high priest who was to come – Yeshua/Jesus.
Messiah Jesus would not accomplish his work of reconciliation adorned in garments of
glory, as he stripped himself of glory in order to become like us (Phil. 2:7-8; Heb. 2:17-18); rather, he
would suffer on the Cross at Golgotha adorned in naught but his flesh. As the Living God “made this
sinless man be a sin offering on our behalf, so that in union with him we might fully share in God’s righteousness”
(2 Cor. 5:21). His righteousness imputed to us by union with Yeshua/Jesus – in this union, those now
made holy in Christ, would receive the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19), “Be reconciled to God!”
(2 Cor. 5:20).
There is a modern proverb that says, “The clothes make the man.” Think about this for a
moment; many of us, especially in the western cultures of the world, have clothes for many
occasions – yard work, formal wear, office attire, church clothes, pajamas, beach wear and exercise
clothes. Each of these examples “make” us into what we desire for that moment in time – different
attire helps us to achieve a desired end. There is, however, another proverb that is related to the one
above, “The clothes fake the man;” meaning at times our attire can disguise who we are, or what our
true intentions might be.
How should we dress in the Body of Messiah?
The apostle John gives us a heavenly revelation of Messiah Jesus as he appeared among the
churches, “and among the Menorahs was someone like the Son of Man, wearing a robe down to his feet and a gold
band around his chest” (Rev. 1:13). Jesus is dressed as a king at rest. His robe is not girded about his
waist, as someone at work; but rather, he is girded with a gold band around his chest – the labor is
complete, and he is at peace. He stands among his Body of congregations. The congregations are to
do the first works, and make disciples from among the nations by spreading the message of
The apostle Paul exhorts us to “put on the Lord Jesus Messiah and make no provision for the lusts of
the flesh” (Ro. 13:14). Similarly, he writes in Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly
loved, clothe yourselves with feelings of compassion and with kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one
another; if anyone has a complaint against someone else, forgive him. Indeed, just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you
must forgive. Above all these, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together perfectly; and let the peace
which comes from Messiah be your heart’s decision-maker, for this is why you were called to be part of a single Body”
It would be, and it often is, easy for those born-again by grace through faith to lose sight of
the humble Messiah entering Jerusalem upon a donkey and suffering upon the cross of a criminal.
With so great an inheritance in Christ, we are continually at risk to making provision for the lusts of
the flesh, and becoming haughty. The priesthood of Israel should be a reminder of the dangers of
position and inheritance. Christ should remain the source of our imitation, as he said, “the Son of Man
did not come to be served, but to serve; and give his life as a ransom for the many.”
As we remind ourselves, by continual reflection upon the grace that brought so great a
salvation, we clothe ourselves, as Paul exhorted, in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and
patience – with an overcoat of love. In this attire there is no room for the man to be faked by
garments; rather, our actions of agape, loving-kindness in action, with demonstrate how we are
attired in the spiritual – in the garment of Christ himself.
The garment of Christ is what allows us to reach the unreachable, the undesirable, the
inconvincible and those sitting in unapproachable darkness. When adorned in Christ, the clothes
really do make the man – the new man – who ministers reconciliation in love that more would know
“Tell the people of Israel to take up a collection for me – accept a contribution from anyone who
wholeheartedly wants to give” (Exodus 24:3).
The portion of T’rumah (contribution) begins the intricate narrative focusing on the
construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness; instructions that will account for one-third (1/3rd)
of the Book of Exodus itself; and as Moses elaborates on the pattern revealed to him on Mt. Sinai
(Ex. 25:9), ultimately hundreds of verses will describe its construction and purpose – a purpose that
will serve Israel for nearly five hundred years.
It is easy to overlook, or even ignore, the complex details that are recorded to ensure that the
Tabernacle is built to the exact specifications of heaven. With something that long ago slipped into
the history of Israel, do we really need to consider these details at all? While it is beyond the scope of
this article, and a series of articles, to examine in detail the meaning of the elements of the Tabernacle,
we do note its importance by simple comparison.
The Torah opens in Genesis 1 with the account of creation. In this chapter we find the
beginning of all things – the heaven, the earth and all their array – described in thirty-four verses. By
comparison, the Tabernacle and its ministry, which inhabited but the tiniest speck of creation, is
detailed in fifty chapters. Why is the Tabernacle given such attention? Is it of greater importance
than creation itself? Not greater importance, just a different importance. Creation is a general
revelation of the majesty, sovereignty and glory of the Lord, as we read in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens
declare the glory of God, the dome of the sky speaks the work of his hands.” The Tabernacle is part of His
special revelation to man, specifically covenant man; and its purpose is to change the heart of man
who is living and working in His creation.
When we consider the flow of the narrative from Exodus 24 to Exodus 25, something
seems to be amiss. The rabbinic sages noted that Exodus 25 appeared to be the cure sent before the
illness of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32:1, “When the people saw that Moses was taking a long time to come
down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, ‘Get busy; and make us gods to go ahead of
us; because this Moses, the man that brought us up from the land of Egypt – we don’t know what has become of
him.” Aaron then receives contributions of gold from people whose hearts were motivated to give to
this cause – the cause to manufacture the Golden Calf.
Why place the cure before the illness, textually speaking? At times it is not necessarily what
you are saying that has the greatest impact, but rather, the order in which you are saying it. For
future generations of God’s covenant people, to read of the molding of the Golden Calf, and the
plague that resulted, might have become a stumbling block of fear in light of so great a
transgression. Nevertheless, by placing the instructions for the Tabernacle, with its furnishings,
offerings and sacrifices ministering reconciliation before the record of the Golden Calf,
demonstrated that His forgiveness, grace and mercy is greater than our transgression.
The sin of the Golden Calf began as an issue of covetousness – thus violating the tenth
commandment. This transgression led Israel to violate the second commandment – that of idolatry.
In both cases we find a heart issue. The hearts of the covenant people desired a visible god to go
before them, revealing that an idol had already crept into the “holy of holies” in their hearts and
established itself in the place of the covenant Lord. To remedy this, atonement had to be made and
the hearts of the people had to be changed – the ministry of the Brazen Altar.
When building a house, the standard practice is to first build the foundation and then add
the furnishings. As the Lord reveals the Tabernacle, He does not reveal the boards or coverings of
the Tabernacle, but what will be placed in the most sacred of locations – the Ark of the Covenant in
the Holy of Holies. This is the place where the blood on the Day of Atonement will be sprinkled,
the stones of the commandments will be set, where the light of the Lord is the only light, and where
the two cherubim, those armed angels guarding the way into the Garden (Genesis 3:24), will be still
in the presence of atonement. Here we see, in type, the changing of the heart by blood covering and
The Tabernacle is built by contributions from those who hearts moved them to give (Ex.
25:1), just as the Golden Calf was created by the stirring of motivated hearts to contribute. While the
Golden Calf led to exaltation, partying (Ex. 32:4-6) and ultimately despair, the pattern of the
Tabernacle leads to reconciliation by the symbolic death of those approaching the holy one of Israel
and ultimately joy.
The Tabernacle demonstrates to us that our first love must, in fact, be first. When the
children of Israel wholeheartedly contributed of their treasure to the construction of the Tabernacle,
they were placing their treasure where their hearts desired to be – and in that place the Lord would
“dwell among them” (Ex. 25:8). Messiah said, “Do not store up for yourselves wealth here on earth, where moths
and rust destroy, and burglars break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves wealth in heaven, where neither moth
nor rest destroys, and burglars do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
Israel shows us that any attempt to replace the covenant Lord with something of our own
creation will only end in failure and heartache. How can we determine where our treasure is? Where
our first love is? We must ask ourselves this question, “To what do we flee when things go wrong?”
Do we flee to the Lord? Or do we flee from Him?
The record of the Tabernacle reminds us that our treasure is and is with the Lord; Who
redeemed us, provides for us, and Who mercifully waits for us even while we are yet far off, “For
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
May our hearts be ever changed by the shedding of the blood of Messiah, this grace shown
to us before our need was recognized by our minds, or our hearts desired for Who it truly lacked.
“Moses came and told the people everything the Lord had said, including all the rulings. The people answered
with one voice: ‘We will obey every word the Lord has spoken.’” (Exodus 24:3).
The portion of the Torah traditionally called “mishaptim” (rulings) contains a wide range of
ethical, civil and religious laws; so many in fact, that it is difficult to find a unifying thread from the
beginning to the end of the portion. The portion immediately follows the Sinai Revelation, with its
resulting Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are apodictic in nature – that is to say they
are firm divine commands, either you will do or you will not do. The commands of Mishpatim are
understood to be casuistic in nature – meaning they address a wide range of situational case law that
may be necessary for communal life. Casuistic laws are conditional statements, if/then statements, as an
example, “If someone steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters or sells it, then he is to pay five oxen
for an ox and four sheep for a sheep” (Ex. 22:1). If the hypothesis is true, the “if” statement, the
necessary resulting action is defined for those overseeing the case by the conclusion, the “then”
In Christian theology, much of the Torah is classified in three categories: moral, civil and
ceremonial. While these categories can generally be helpful, they can also be restricting for a proper
application of God’s instruction in the life of faith. It is commonly accepted that all ceremonial laws
have been set aside (Colossians 2:14), yet in these laws we discover the tithe. While I will not
specifically address the issue of tithing in this context, the principal of tithing speaks directly to
charity and giving as developed in the New Covenant (Luke 21:1-4; cf. 2 Corinthians 8—9).
Moreover, the commands of the Torah remain normative to the Lord’s covenant people, even when
they may not be literally normative during a specific period of time.
Still, in Mishpatim the common thread that links these moral, civil and ceremonial laws
together is the fallen nature of humanity. The children of Israel, as a nation of newly freed slaves
from Egypt, needed their hearts, minds and communal relationships reformed. The Lord directed
them away from the self-satisfying motives that often influence the human dynamic. He set
limitations on the actions of humanity: you could not take something because your desired that
something; you could not take someone because you desired them; you could not kill because you
were angry; you could not steal because of need; you could not pervert justice because of wealth or
The commands recorded in Mishpatim were to reform and disciple the Lord’s people. The
apostle Paul speaks to this in his Epistle to the Galatians. The Torah was to be a guardian, a
custodian until the Messiah came (Galatians 3:24-25). Upon the Messiah’s arrival, it was time to walk
in faith-obedience to the lessons learned from the pedagogue (the Torah as teacher of God’s way),
in the freedom provided by Messiah Yeshua/Jesus by grace through faith. I have often framed
Paul’s teaching in this way. When we are children our mother and father teach us basic principles for
living: look both ways before crossing the street; don’t put your hand in the fire; treat others with
kindness. When we mature, while we may not consciously think of those lessons, they are still
engrained in our hearts and minds, and we apply them to life.
The heart is not changed, however, by the Law. The heart recognizes its need for change by
the Law when it beholds the Law-giver and seeks forgiveness. Deuteronomy 30:6 recognizes the
change of heart, and the receipt of the Lord’s sovereign grace, as the circumcision of the heart – a
change only He can accomplish. The apostle Paul notes in Romans 2:29b, “and true circumcision is
of the heart, spiritual not literal…” We can attempt, by our own self-righteous attitudes, to keep the
Law perfectly – a type of self-circumcision – and still fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23);
or we can rely on His sovereign grace to forgive, transform and guide us by His Word as we, in
union with Christ, seek to hear and obey.
Mishpatim can cause confusion, and even frustration, with its numerous commands (some
fifty-three positive and negative commandments); but for those in Christ, these commands help us
to walk in, and apply correctly, the great commandment “to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul
and strength,” and “to love our neighbor as ourselves.” As our minds are transformed by the
pedagogue (the Word of God by the Holy Spirit), we begin to recognize the deep wisdom of these
numerous conditional statements found in Exodus 21:1 – 24:18, and how they can guide us in
communal life among not only our brethren in Messiah, but also the surrounding community as
“Though a Christian is not under the condemning power of the law, yet he is under its
commanding power.” – Thomas Watson
“Do not covet your neighbor’s house; do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox, his
donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).
The Ten Commandments are the foundation of not only the Torah with its 613 commands,
but also the entirely body of theological ethics found in the Bible, both Old and New Covenants.
While the commandments themselves are said to be set on two tablets – the first addressing our
relationship with God, the second with the human other – we discover that each of these commands speaks
to the normative standard of God (what he expects of us), the situational experience among men
(communal life), and the existential motive of man (internal life). The tenth commandment, with its
prohibition of coveting addresses the connection between objects in creation and the heart of man.
The tenth commandment is the logical conclusion to the Decalogue, specifically to the
second tablet regarding communal relationships. If we guard the tenth commandment, we will not
murder, commit adultery, steal or bear false witness against our neighbor as a benefit to ourselves.
Like the last several commandments, which have guarded the sanctity of the object of the command,
the tenth commandment guards the sanctity of motives. What is our motive for doing or desiring
what we do? While there are several definitions for motive, depending on its use as a noun or
adjective, for our purpose here, motive can be understood as the hidden or cleverly covered reason
for doing something. This commandment, then, is dealing solely with the internal. It is instructing us
to guard the sanctity of our motives, which ultimately lead to our actions. Of the Ten
Commandments, it is the only one dealing exclusively with the internal thought life of man.
This is an interesting concept, and one that seems to be contradictory to how the New and
Old Testaments are taught. Often, teachers of the New Testament will suggest that the Old
Testament is more concerned with external action and appearance over that of the internal nature of
man; while the New Testament is more concerned with the internal nature of man. However, many
commands found in the Torah demonstrate a clear concern for the inner life of covenant man –
Exodus 25:1-2 and Leviticus 19:17-18, as examples.
How should we understand this command not to covet (interestingly enough there are
commands directing us to covet – Proverbs 18:22, 1 Corinthians 12:31, 1 Timothy 3:1, 1 Peter 2:2)?
First we should understand the meaning of coveting. Covet is from the Hebrew root חמד , meaning:
to delight, greatly beloved, covet, lust, or a precious thing. We see that it can be used in both a positive and
negative sense. Exodus 20:17 begins לֹא תחַמְדֹ , “Do not covet…” and continues to forbid coveting
our neighbors’ house, not meaning the dwelling place, but rather, his wife and possessions, as it
concludes, וכְלֹ, אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ , “or all that belongs to your neighbor.”
When our eyes begin to wander toward the blessing of our neighbor, and we compare his
blessing to our own, we lose the feeling of gratitude toward the covenant Lord who provided
them if we find our bless to be unsatisfactory. Without gratitude we are unable to appreciate the
good and perfect gift that has been provided leading to, not only dissatisfaction with the Lord,
but also a lack of care, concern and love for our neighbor potentially leading to murder, adultery,
theft, and false witness.
Messiah Jesus and the apostles speak as to the serious nature of negative coveting. The
apostle James speaks of enticement leading to action based on desire that is sinful (James 1:13-15).
The apostle Paul writes, “For this you know, that no one who whores, nor unclean one, nor
greedy of gain, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Messiah and God”
(Ephesians 5:5; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Colossians 3:5). Therefore, we should learn to be
content with the blessings in our life. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Let your way of life be
without the love of silver, and be satisfied with what you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I shall
never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).
To be satisfied, or content, is not our natural condition; but in the life of faith, renewed in
Messiah, it is the antidote to covetousness and a shortage of faith. Friends, we will have those
moments when we covet. Rather than allowing it become a negative, let us, in faith, allow the
Lord to produce a good work through us from that desire, instead of sin. As Paul wrote, “Not that
I speak concerning need, for I have learned to be content in whatever state I am” (Philippians 4:11).
And let us remember, where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.
“Who is like you, Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, sublime in holiness, awesome in praise, working
wonders? You reached out with your right hand: the earth swallowed them. In your love, you led the people you
redeemed; in your strength, you guided them to your holy abode” (Ex. 15:11-13).
In triumphant praise, Moses and the children of Israel sing of all they have witnessed – how
the Living God toppled the tyrant and set them free. “Who is like you, O Lord” must have thundered
as thousands of voices joined in chorus. Israel was not unfamiliar with “gods,” but the gods of their
experience did nothing to intervene on behalf of humanity – no, they stood in silence, deaf to the
cries of those worshipping them. The covenant Lord of their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
however, not only intervened on their behalf, he knew them. Still, as the triumphant praise suggests,
the children of Israel did not yet know him.
The exodus generation grew and matured under the harsh realities of bondage in Egypt –
both physically and spiritually. While the children of Israel physically suffered under the burden of
bondage, their spirits grew weary from the relentless silence found in the shadow of idols. Now,
after witnessing the defeat of the Egyptian gods by the right hand of the Living God – they were
In the days and weeks after their deliverance, the children of Israel would gradually learn
about this covenant Lord of their salvation. He would provide for them, in supernatural ways, bread
and water. He would command a rest for a weary people. And he would condescend upon Mt. Sinai
and speak the Ten Commandments – commandments that would teach a freed people to live as free
people. In all of this, the Lord revealed his abiding presence with his covenant people.
As the months after the exodus are considered, even the moments after the revelation on
Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel had not yet developed a relationship with the Lord of their salvation.
Immediately after the Sinai revelation, the children of Israel say to Moses, “You, speak with us; and we
will listen. But don’t let God speak with us, or we will die” (Ex. 20:19). Unlike the Egyptian gods, the God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was living, and he related personally to his people. While the idols of
their past stood in silence, the God that Moses proclaimed lived – and spoke directly to them as
their Lord and deliverer.
It is easy for followers of Messiah Jesus to look back and be critical of the mistakes made by
the exodus generation. They were, in most cases, very serious mistakes after all. Still, we must relate
to them as examples, as the apostle Paul explains (1 Cor. 10:6). Meaningful relationships take time to
develop – this is true naturally and spiritually. Peter, when he first met Jesus cried out, “Get away
from me, sir, because I’m a sinner” (Lk. 5:8), which was the result of catching fish! From there, Peter
would spend some three years living very close to Jesus, and yet, seemed no closer to knowing him
after all that time – in fact Peter would deny knowing Christ (Jn. 18:17, 25-27), only to be restored to
him after the resurrection (Jn. 21:15-17). Jesus allowed Peter to draw close and then step back, in
order to draw him even closer than before.
The children of Israel sang, and asked, “Who is like thee, O Lord among the gods?” We
discover a very important point in this song – to know who he is, we must remember from where
we have come, and to where he is bring us – his holy abode. The children of Israel were brought out of
bondage, and he was leading them to their inheritance. Nevertheless, where they had come from,
Egypt, remained appealing to them as the days grew difficult and the receipt of the inheritance
appeared delayed. When we grow weary, we must recall our bondage to the silent idols of our past,
in order to appreciate the living dynamic of life with the Lord in union with Christ. We have
received the living bread from heaven, the living water that satisfies the soul, and as he provides for
us our daily needs – both known and unknown, recognized and unrecognized – the intimacy of our
relationship with him grows stronger.
Who is like this God of our salvation? Amen.
“When you come to the land which the Lord your God will give you, as he has promised, you are to observe
this ceremony. When your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this ceremony?’ say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the
Lord’s Passover, because he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he killed the Egyptians but
spared our houses.’ The people of Israel bowed their heads and worshipped. Then the people of Israel went and did as
the Lord had ordered Moses and Aaron – that is what they did” (Exodus 12:25-28).
Each year Jewish people around the world gather at tables to share in the remembrance of
Passover; a tradition extending back to the very first Passover some 3,500 years ago. While the
Passover Seder has developed and changed over time, the heart of its purpose has remained the
same – and that is to remind the children of Israel that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the
Lord set us free. In essence, the Passover Seder, with its Hagaddah (the text of the Passover), is a
fifteen step illustrated sermon. It is an event where all of our human senses are engaged. We hear,
see, smell, taste, and touch the elements that represent our deliverance; and we celebrate as a
community our freedom.
The פֶּסַח (“Pesach,” meaning Passover) is a מוֹעֵד (“moed,” an appointed time). It is a season
that is associated visually with matzah (unleavened bread) and wine; and it is during the season of
unleavened bread that we cleanse our homes of חָמֵץ (“hametz,” leaven, or literally sour dough),
which is symbolic of sin in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul explains, “Don’t you know the saying, ‘It
takes only a little leaven (hametz) to leaven a whole batch of dough?’ Get rid of the old leaven, so that you can be a
new batch of dough, because in reality you are unleavened. For our Passover, the Messiah, has been sacrificed. So let us
celebrate the Passover not with leftover leaven, the leaven of wickedness and evil, but with the unleavened of purity and
truth” (1 Cor. 5:6-8). The Passover is concerned not only with the remembrance of the physical
deliverance of Israel from Egypt, but also the spiritual deliverance of the soul by the redeemer.
מוֹעֵד ,“Moed/appointed time,” comes from the root עָיד (ad) meaning “to fix upon.” By
designating appointed times and feasts, the Lord is telling us to “fix our eyes on Him,” as it says in
Micah 7:7, “As for me, I look to the Lord, I wait for the God of my deliverance, my God does hear
me.” And in Hebrews, the author tells us to “look to (or fix our eyes on) the Prince and Perfecter of
our faith, Jesus/Yeshua…” (Heb. 12:2).
It is beyond the scope of this simple article to delve more deeply into the traditional
symbolism of the Passover, it is, however, vitally important that we, as followers of the Messiah,
recognize the remembrance he instituted at the Passover Seder before his arrest. In Luke 22:17-20
we read, “Then, taking a cup of wine, he made the blessing and said, ‘Take this and share it among yourselves. For
I tell you that from now on, I will not drink the ‘fruit of the vine’ until the Kingdom of God comes.’ Also, taking a
piece of unleavened bread (matzah), he made the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, ‘This is my body, which is
being given for you; do this in memory of me.’ He did the same with the cup after the meal, saying, ‘This cup is the
New Covenant, ratified in my blood, which is being poured out for you.’”
Just as the Passover Seder has been a unifying event among the Jewish people, the
communion remembrance established during the Messiah’s Seder also unifies his body of followers
– it is our “common union” among a diverse people. As we note in the Gospels, and in 1
Corinthians 11, the communion remembrance was not instituted to be a high “holy rite,” but the
sharing of bread and wine at a table of believers – in order for us to remember that he who gave
himself for us is always with us, as he said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The
communion is to cause us to “do this in remembrance of me,” or as we learned above regarding
appointed time – fix our eyes on him.
Too many followers of Jesus are afraid to partake of communion for fear of some
overlooked sin, or a feeling of not being “good enough” to receive. This is contrary to what Messiah
expected. The elements of bread and wine are remembrances of him, and the work of salvation that
he has done on our behalf – while we were yet sinners! Still, he did not leave us in a place of sin.
Messiah Jesus knew, speaking to his Jewish followers, that bread and wine would always be upon
their table, so he established a very present remembrance of his presence among us. Every culture
where the gospel has spread has its bread and wine, and they too can be utilized to remind the
faithful that Christ, our redeemer, is in our midst and he promises to return for, receive us to
himself, and take us to the place that he has prepared (Jn. 14:1-4).
Fix your eyes on him dear friends, in this and every season. He has cleansed you of leaven
(sin), delivered you, and reconciled you to the Father in Heaven.
“Moses said this to the people of Israel. But they wouldn’t listen to him, because they were
so discouraged, and their slavery was so cruel” (Exodus 6:9).
As Exodus 6 opens, the Lord appears to Moses and announces, אֲנִי יהְוָה , “I am the Lord.”
He explains to Moses that to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob he appeared as אֵל שַׁדָּי , “God Almighty.”
In rabbinic literature, the divine, personal name of the Lord, יהוה , is recognized as a revelation of
the Lord’s compassion, mercy, love and justice; while God Almighty speaks to his power and
provision. It is in these opening verses (Ex. 6:2-8) that the Lord again acknowledges the plight of his
covenant people, and his plan to rescue and redeem them from the hands of the Egyptians. From
the land of bondage, he will deliver them to the Promised Land, where the children of Israel will
dwell in the inheritance promised to the patriarchs.
At the Lord’s direction, Moses takes this announcement to the children of Israel, but as the
Torah recounts, “they wouldn’t listen to him” (Ex. 6:9). Why would they not listen? In Exodus 5,
after Moses speaks to pharaoh, the harshness of the labor of the children of Israel only intensifies, it
does not diminish (Ex. 5:6-23). After witnessing such an escalation, Moses boldly goes before the
Lord and says, “For ever sense I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he had dealt terribly with
this people! And you haven’t rescued your people at all” (Ex. 5:23). The Lord then responds, “Now
you will see what I am going to do to Pharaoh. With a mighty hand he will send them off; with force
he will drive them from the land” (Ex. 6:1).
When we give close attention to the flow of the Torah narrative, we recognize that the Lord
had a plan – one that involved an intensification of the pressure, before the promised relief. As they
received the news of their coming deliverance, the children of Israel would not listen, in fact they
could not listen, why? The Torah notes that they had become discouraged after receiving news of a
deliverance that did not seem to come. Yet, the Torah gives a short visual explanation as to their
hardness of ear. As the Torah says, מִקּצֶֹר רוּ ח , Israel had “shortness of spirit/breath.”
We can understand מִקּצֶֹר רוּ ח in two ways – 1) they were fatigued spiritually, and 2) they
were fatigued physically (out of breath). It was this spiritual and physical fatigue that caused the
children of Israel to not heed the words of Moses. The pressure of the bondage was so great that
they gave up hope of ever being delivered.
The majority of the world’s population live with a daily struggle for the basic necessities of
life – food, water and shelter. With the urgency of this reality ever-present, the thought of a better
life, hope for a future change in circumstance, is a burden that many cannot assume. Still, the God
of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob wants to speak into that circumstance, and he desires to ease that
burden by giving those trusting in him the strength of body and spirit to overcome.
Israel didn’t know how they were going to overcome. The Lord, however, was not expecting
them to overcome in themselves, but rather, in him. Psalm 105:37 reminds us, “He brought them
forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.” Israel was
powerless to overcome, but when they trusted in the Lord, he not only enriched their lives, he
healed their fatigue of breath and spirit.
There is an old rabbinic proverb that says, “From the greatest pressure comes the greatest
treasure.” The Lord knew when he sent Moses that Israel was fatigued in body and spirit – as it was
the place that he needed them to be. We are unable to deliver ourselves from the harsh realities of
this life, or the spiritual bondage that ensnares humanity. When we recognize our limitations we look
for a Savior, a Deliverer. Messiah Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are struggling and
burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle
and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is
light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
In these short verses we recognize that all humanity has something in common with the
enslaved children of Israel – struggle and burden. Christ is the shelter from the burden and struggle.
He takes the stress of the yoke upon himself, and gives us pause to breath and learn from him. This
is not just a rest for the body, but also our soul. How do we receive this rest? “Come to me”
Let us not lose hope of a different future, it is Christ who secures the future of those who
believe on him. This hope from him will change how you live now, and how you experience what is
to come, while we wait patiently for what will be. When you are faced with those daily struggles,
stop, pray, and remember to breath in the hope of Messiah.
“The angel of the Lord appeared to him (Moses) in a fire blazing from the middle of a bush.
He looked and saw that although the bush was flaming with fire, yet the bush was not being
burned up. Moses said, ‘I’m going to go over and see this amazing sight and find out why the
bush isn’t being burned up’” (Exodus 3:2-3).
In Exodus 3:1 the Torah reveals that Moses is on the very mountain that he will eventually
lead the children of Israel to – the place where the power and condescending presence of the Lord
will be manifest – Mt. Horeb. Yet, as Moses tends the sheep of his father in law Jethro, the Lord
quietly appears in a bush, with the appearance of fire. Rabbinic tradition explains that Moses had left
the flock of Jethro in order to find one lost lamb (cf. Luke 15:4-7), and that his care for the lost
sheep indicated that he was ready to shepherd the children of Israel. Further, the Torah is careful to
record that Moses “looked and saw” the burning bush, causing him to turn aside to investigate.
As followers of Messiah, we learn valuable lessons from this event.
Daily life can be filled with many distractions, whether they be from employment, family, or
personal struggles. There always seems to be something in need of our attention; and in the
turbulence of life, our ability to discern the Lord’s voice can be overcome by many other voices.
The Bible is filled with miraculous demonstrations of the Lord’s power. For those observing
the parting of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), there was little doubt as to the Lord’s presence.
When the sun stood still for Joshua, it confirmed that the sovereign Lord heard his prayer.
When Elijah called down fire from heaven to defeat the priests of Ba’al, this also confirmed
His abiding presence. The record of miraculous events continues in the New Testament with
demonstrations of healing and resurrection, and the atoning work of Yeshua/Jesus.
Miracles are the work of the sovereign Lord, but is this how
He desires to regularly speak with His people?
The episode of Moses reminds us of the quiet, abiding presence of the Lord – the I Am
(Ex.3:14). The Lord did not begin his conversation with Moses by calling him to the bush, no,
Moses had to notice the fire. Much like the remembrance of Hanukkah, the miracle at work
here is subtle. The oil of the Menorah that lasted eight days burned but was not consumed.
To look at the Menorah one would not notice a miracle taking place, unless one first turned
to give attention.The burning bush burned, but was not consumed – a strange,
but subtle sight to behold.
Moses had to experience the quiet voice of the Lord, and learn to recognize it, before the
chatter of the children of Israel overwhelmed him. Elijah, having defeated the priests of Ba’al
in a miraculous demonstration of God’s power, fled to Horeb because of the voice of Jezebel.
At Horeb Elijah did not find the Lord in the wind, earthquake, or fire;
but in the still small voice (1 Kgs. 19:11-12).
While miracles are wonderful gifts from the Lord, and confirmations of His abiding
presence, His desire is that His people would learn to listen to His voice – in the quiet.
The episode with Moses, and even Elijah, remind us that we must give attention to life around us,
beyond what is consuming our focus. God is still working among His people, often in glorious ways,
yet we must take the time to notice, turn, and discern what He is doing in that moment.
As followers of Messiah we must learn to hear and recognize the voice of our Shepherd
before we enter the storms of life, or experience the thunder and earthquakes of His condescending presence –
and His miraculous manifestations. As Messiah said, “My sheep listen to my voice, I recognize them, they follow me,
and I give them eternal life” (Jn. 10:27). Moses knew the voice of his Shepherd, and his Shepherd
led him on the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.