Jacob Meets Esau

Jacob knew he was walking into great danger as he returned to the land of Canaan.

jacob-bows-before-esau

VAYISHLACH

The eighth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayishlach (וישלח), which means “and he sent.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Genesis 32:3 [verse 4 in Jewish-published Bibles]). Jacob prepares to meet Esau as he returns to the promised land, but first he has a mysterious encounter with an angel in the darkness, who changes his name to Israel. The portion follows Jacob’s adventures in the land of Canaan, including the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel.

Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. (Genesis 32:3[4])

After some twenty years of labor, Jacob was finally free from Laban’s mistreatment. Only God’s direct intervention saved him from Laban’s ire. As this Torah portion begins, the confrontation with Laban is over, and Jacob leaves his father-in-law behind in peace.

But something was still bothering Jacob. One angry relative was now behind him, but Esau was still ahead of him. He knew that Esau wanted him dead. Jacob must have felt like he had escaped the frying pan only to fall into the fire.

To escape Esau, Jacob had fled to the homeland of his mother, Rebekah. She had told him, “Stay … until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there” (Genesis 27:44-45). Rebekah’s message never came. Esau’s anger never cooled. Jacob knew he was walking into great danger as he returned to the land of Canaan.

Hoping that his brother’s heart had softened, Jacob sent messengers ahead to announce his homecoming to Esau. The messengers returned with bad news. “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” (Genesis 32:6). Quite a welcoming party! Jacob’s heart sank. He felt certain Esau was coming with armed men to slaughter him.

This is what dealing with our past mistakes is like. Through the course of life, our sins and bad decisions leave broken relationships and emotional messes behind us. Ordinarily, we do exactly as Jacob did. We run from the problems and hope they will go away. We hope the passage of time will heal the hurts we have caused. Perhaps forgetfulness and distance will absolve us. It rarely works that way. Inevitably, the wheel of life brings us back around to confront our past. Sometimes the problems have not diminished at all. Instead, time and neglect has only aggravated them. When Jacob left Canaan, he had only Esau to worry about. Now, upon returning, he faces Esau and four hundred armed men.

The solution is to deal with our mistakes when we make them. When we do wrong to someone, we should immediately do everything in our power to make amends. When we make a mistake, we should acknowledge it, correct it, and do our best to fix it. Yeshua taught that you should “make friends quickly with your opponent” (Matthew 5:25) lest the situation escalate.

There is one opponent, however, that we can never mollify. The adversary, that old serpent haSatan, has a case against each of us. His job is to record our sins and transgressions and bring charges against us in God’s court of law. He does not take bribes, and he never forgets. No matter how long ago it happened, he remembers. He has a claim against us that we can never escape. Just as Jacob eventually had to face Esau, we will eventually have to answer to his charges. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all face judgment. (Click to Source)

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Balak (Destroyer) – “Consistent Blessings” – June 22, 2013

Balak (Destroyer)

Numbers 22:2-25:9
Micah 5:6-6:8

“Consistent Blessings”

Many Bible readers are quite familiar with elements seen in this week’s Torah portion, Balak, even if they do not remember the chapters or verses where they appear. One of the main features seen in Balak is God using an animal to verbally communicate to a human being:

“And the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, ‘What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?’ Then Balaam said to the donkey, ‘Because you have made a mockery of me! If there had been a sword in my hand, I would have killed you by now.’ The donkey said to Balaam, ‘Am I not your donkey on which you have ridden all your life to this day? Have I ever been accustomed to do so to you?’ And he said, ‘No’” (Numbers 22:28-30).

You may have heard the account of Balaam’s donkey referred to, and someone quite seriously—or half-jokingly—say something like: If God can speak through Balaam’s a**, He can certainly speak through me! Even if you laughed at this, such an expression is certainly true, because many Believers can often recall points in their lives when the Holy Spirit used them in circumstances which in many cases were beyond their mortal comprehension. When they did not know what to say, the presence of the Lord took over, and communicated the proper words.

The focus for most people when they remember this section of Scripture is upon the miraculous incident of the donkey speaking to Balaam. Yet as memorable as it is to think about Baalam’s donkey, too many forget the larger series of events in which this takes place. Baalam was some kind of prophet, who was to be hired by Balak king of Moab, who wanted him to curse the people of Israel (Numbers 22:2-6). However, the Lord would explicitly forbid Baalam from cursing Israel:

“God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed’” (Numbers 22:12).

Baalam is permitted to see Balak, but he is not permitted to speak any words except those that God specifically would give to him:

“But the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, ‘Go with the men, but you shall speak only the word which I tell you.’ So Balaam went along with the leaders of Balak” (Numbers 22:35).

Balaam will only be permitted to speak the words that are given to him by God Himself (Numbers 22:38). This is a very interesting restriction, because even though Balak hires him (Numbers 22:41), what is spoken forth by Balaam are not curses upon Israel, but rather great blessings. While Balak expects Balaam to issue damning cries and laments upon the Israelites, Balaam instead declares great words of admiration, blessing, and prosperity (Numbers 23:1-30). As you read through the various utterances, one sees that Balaam is a mouthpiece for the God of Israel. Each of his three attempts to curse Israel (Numbers 23:7-10, 18-24; 24:3-9) turn out to be pronouncements of the Lord’s great favor toward them.

Balaam’s First Attempt

The first attempt by Balaam to curse the Israelites comes from atop a hill overlooking the camp of Israel, after seven bulls and rams are offered up on seven altars (Numbers 23:1-6) prepared by Balak and Balaam:

“He took up his discourse and said, ‘From Aram Balak has brought me, Moab’s king from the mountains of the East, “Come curse Jacob for me, and come, denounce Israel!” How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? As I see him from the top of the rocks, and I look at him from the hills; behold, a people who dwells apart, and will not be reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!”’” (Numbers 23:7-10).

This first utterance can be essentially summarized by the statement, “How can I damn whom God has not damned, how doom when the Lord has not doomed?” (NJPS). Balaam has spoken only what the Holy One has instructed him to say, and Balak is horrified. Shocked, he tells Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have actually blessed them!” (Numbers 23:11).

Balaam’s Second Attempt

A second attempt is offered from another place, only where Balaam will not be able to see the entire camp of Israel. Again, seven bulls and seven rams are offered up before Balaam can speak (Numbers 23:13-17):

“Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘Arise, O Balak, and hear; give ear to me, O son of Zippor! God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; when He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it. He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; nor has He seen trouble in Israel; the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them. God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox. For there is no omen against Jacob, nor is there any divination against Israel; at the proper time it shall be said to Jacob and to Israel, what God has done! Behold, a people rises like a lioness, and as a lion it lifts itself; it will not lie down until it devours the prey, and drinks the blood of the slain’” (Numbers 23:18-24).

Once again, Balaam blesses rather than curses the people of Israel. In his declarations, the overriding thought is directed to the attributes of the Creator God. Balaam makes the categorical statement, “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind” (NRSV). Not only is Balaam respecting Israel’s God in making these statements, but he declares forth how the words He causes him to speak will not be revoked. Unlike human beings, who will often say things that they will later renounce or alter—God’s words about blessing Israel, spoken forth through Balaam, are not things He will renounce or alter. If anything, all Balak can witness is that things are going to be very good for Israel—by extension meaning that things are likely to be very bad for him!

Balak realizes that he has made a mistake in hiring Balaam, telling him to just stop speaking: “Do not curse them at all nor bless them at all!” (Numbers23:25). But it is too late, because Balaam responds and reminds Balak, “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the Lord speaks, that I must do’?” (Numbers 23:26). Balaam still has more to say about Israel.

Balaam’s Third Attempt

Balak realizes that Balaam has not finished speaking, so instead he takes him to another place where he can prophecy from, saying, “I will take you to another place; perhaps it will be agreeable with God that you curse them for me from there” (Numbers 23:27). For a third time, seven bulls and seven rams are offered up. This final time, Balaam issues a very special word, moved by the Spirit of God, that would impact not only future generations of Ancient Israel—but even Judaism until this very day:

“He took up his discourse and said, ‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, how fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, like gardens beside the river, like aloes planted by theLord, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from his buckets, and his seed will be by many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, and will crush their bones in pieces, and shatter them with his arrows. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, and cursed is everyone who curses you’” (Numbers 24:3-9).

Certainly, one can see a bit of irony in how at the third time Balak asks Balaam to curse Israel—Balaam does exactly the opposite! Balaam can only declare how Israel has been blessed by God in abundance, and how He has been there to defend and guard His chosen people. Balaam was originally contracted to curse Israel, but was supernaturally prevented from doing so. It is easy to see in the Scriptures how devastating this would have been for King Balak. But, consider how even today the Mah Tovu is a traditional prayer that is used in the Jewish liturgy of the morning Shabbat service. These words, originally spoken by a pagan non-Israelite—speaking of the goodness of Israel’s ancient tents and dwellings—remind pious Jews every week of the harmony that should be present in their lives on the Sabbath:


Mah-tovu ohalekha Ya’akov
mishkenotekha Yisrael

How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!(Numbers 24:5, NIV).
This liturgical tradition of today’s Synagogue, whether one is Orthodox or Conservative, intends to instill a connection between God’s goodness and orderliness, and reverence that people are to show Him in the assembly place. The opening prayer when one enters into the sanctuary begins with exclaiming Numbers 24:5, and is then supplemented from various Psalm quotations (NJPS below):
How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! (Numbers 24:5).

But I, through Your abundant love, enter Your house; I bow down in awe at Your holy temple (Psalm 5:8).

O Lord, I love Your temple abode, the dwelling-place of Your glory (Psalm 26:8).

As for me, may my prayer come to You, O Lord, at a favorable moment; O God, in Your abundant faithfulness, answer me with Your sure deliverance (Psalm 69:14).
As you review the verses of the Mah Tovu prayer, perhaps you will discern that there is a thematic connection to be made between Israel being fair or goodly, and what the Prophet Micah declares is required by God of His people (Micah 6:8). Micah simply says that people are to do three things: (1) perform justice, (2) love kindness, and (3) walk humbly before the Lord. Is it possible that within the Jewish liturgical tradition, the Sages simply took Micah’s description of mah-tov (bAJ-hm), “what is good,” and found some important verses from Psalms that would get people to continually remember that God requires much more than simply tents in straight lines? And by extension in more modern synagogues, would it help them demonstrate more than just reverent respect when the rabbi speaks?

When you consider the Mah Tovu verses from Psalms—or better yet, when you search intently into the counsel of Scripture about what doing justice, exhibiting lovingkindness, and walking humbly entails—there is much to inculcate into the mind and soul. This is to be a conformation process, where via the sanctification provided by the Holy Spirit, you can be transformed into the image of the Messiah Yeshua. The Apostle Paul taught, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). While the prophet-for-hire Balaam may have originally declared that Ancient Israel was “goodly,” being good and proper involves far more than just being blessed by God. Being blessed by God requires proper obedience and behavior becoming of Him.

In order to prove, analyze, or examine what the perfect will of God is, His children must have their minds renewed by the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. The Spirit should be working in concert with a consistent, almost repetitious study of the Holy Writ. When Balaam type-figures, pagan persons, or irreligious individuals see you today—are the only things they can say about you are that you are blessed by the One you serve?

Balaam’s Words to Balak

After Balaam makes this third, and rather significant blessing upon the Israelites—as he was “contracted” to do—Balak is furious. Balak sends Balaam away, but not without receiving a final prophecy delivered to himself. This prophecy against Moab has a message that will resonate to the end-times:

“Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam, and he struck his hands together; and Balak said to Balaam, ‘I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! Therefore, flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but behold, the Lord has held you back from honor.’ Balaam said to Balak, ‘Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the Lord speaks, that I will speak”? And now, behold, I am going to my people; come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come’” (Numbers 24:10-14).

This prophecy was one that Balak did not bargain for, but by the end of the series of oracles, Balaam had no choice but to utter forth genuine words from God:

“He took up his discourse and said, ‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, and the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, while Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, and will destroy the remnant from the city.’ And he looked at Amalek and took up his discourse and said, ‘Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.’ And he looked at the Kenite, and took up his discourse and said, ‘Your dwelling place is enduring, and your nest is set in the cliff. Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; how long will Asshur keep you captive?’ Then he took up his discourse and said, ‘Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, and they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; so they also will come to destruction’” (Numbers 24:15-24).

In these the final words delivered by Balaam, generations of Israel could take comfort in knowing that foes like Moab would be defeated. Evil kings like Balak would be humiliated, and God’s chosen nation would stand supreme. But this is not something that Israel itself would be responsible for, as instead someone coming forth from Jacob would accomplish it:

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, and tear down all the sons of Sheth” (Numbers 24:17).

We believe that this reference is to Messiah Yeshua, the King of Israel. It is only by recognizing Him as the vindicator of Israel, that those who would cause harm to God’s chosen nation can be discredited and conquered. But as our Torah portion from this week shows, individuals like Balaam had no choice but to recognize the supremacy of Israel and how God has blessed His people. When that future day comes when Moab, Edom, Amalek, Kain, Asshur, and any other enemies of Israel face a hopeless battle against the Lord—will many from those nations turn in repentance and acknowledge the King of Kings? If Israel does its job as is expected by the Mah Tovu prayer, then surely many will bow their knees in worship to Yeshua as Savior and be counted among the redeemed (cf. Philippians 2:9-11)!

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Torah Commentary – Emor “Say” – Time for Review – Joined To HaShem

Torah Commentary

Emor “Say”

 seven-feastsbmp

Leviticus 21:1-24:23

Ezekiel 44:15-31

2Corinthians 1-6

 

Time for Review

 Anyone who has read the Torah knows that many commandments and instructions are repeated many times.  The simple reason is that our Creator knows us very well.  He understands the way we think and the way we tend to forget, unless things are repeated and maybe even then.

 In Leviticus 23 we see a review of the Feasts.  Let’s look at each one briefly as a review.

 Shabbat – Because of His work in our lives we should enjoy rest, both spiritual and physical.  We are to cease from endless striving for our redemption.  Yeshua has accomplished this for us and we rest in Him.  We are also to give our bodies physical rest on the Shabbat.

 Passover – We remember the slavery we were once living and celebrate our being set free to live a new life.

 First Fruits – As Yeshua was the first to be raised from the dead, we will also be raised from this life and enter into His likeness.

 Unleavened Bread – Leaven is a type of sin.  We are to be conformed into His sinless image through obedience to His word.

 Pentecost – We celebrate the instructions He has given to us and the Spirit He has placed in us to enable us to walk in those instructions.  The work of Passover in not truly complete until we have been given a new way of life in Torah.

 Feast of Trumpets – Life is a wonderful gift, but we look for a day of complete restoration.  One day the shofar will sound, His family will be gathered into His presence and we will forever be with Him.

 Day of Atonement – While in this life we should “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.”  We are to live our lives unto Him, knowing that one day we will all give an account for the way we lived.  On that day we will stand alone, not with friends and family.  On that day it will not matter what anyone else thinks, it will only matter what He knows.

 Tabernacles – The day of final and complete redemption!  The day when all the work of this life will be over.  Sin will have been dealt with for all eternity.  We will be His people and He will be our Elohim!  He will “Tabernacle” in the midst of His people and of His Kingdom there shall be no end.

 You may have noticed the Feasts tend to switch back and forth from the here and now to the hereafter.  I believe there is good reason for this.  The Feasts are another reminder to be like Abraham.  Although he was in this world he was never attached to this world.  He was always looking for a city whose builder and maker was Elohim.  The Feasts should cause us to live this life in fear and reverence of a Holy Creator and to always keep an eye toward the Eastern Sky and eternity.

 With the world situation the way it is today, I am reminded of the Jewish people who lived through the Warsaw ghettos.  When asked if they had kept Shabbat in the ghetto they said, “It is not that we kept Shabbat, but Shabbat kept us.”  I wonder if one day we will be overheard saying that during the tribulation it was not that we kept the Feasts, but the Feasts kept us?

 

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Torah Commentary – Bo “Come” – Words Are Not Enough – January 18, 2013

Torah Commentary

Bo “Come”

Exodus 10:1-13:16

Jeremiah 46:13-28

John 19:13-37

Acts 13:16-17

Revelation 8:6-9:12; 16:1-21

Words Are Not Enough

jesus-crucifixion

Pharaoh is a very interesting character in scripture. He is the epitome of how callous and hardhearted man can be.

For years I have heard many people say, “If only God would do a miracle in my family, if He would do something they could really see was from Him, then they would believe.” Is this a true statement? Furthermore, is “belief” true redemption?

Let’s look for a moment at the “confessions of faith” that Pharaoh made. In Exodus 9:27 he admits he has sinned. He states that Adonai is truly superior to him. He confesses that he has been wrong and even asks Moses to pray for him. In Exodus 10:16 he again confesses he has sinned against God and this time goes a step further, confesses that he has sinned against Moses, and again asks for prayer.

According to the way most of us have been taught through the years about “being saved,” Pharaoh is a good candidate to have come to the front, fill out a card, say a three-line prayer and go out the side door with, “Someone will call you and give you more information.” Within moments his name would be posted on the board of those “saved” in this church and his name sent off to denominational headquarters. Pharaoh would of course be asked to attend the “New Believers” class where he would be taught how to blend into and submit to the system of the congregation. No doubt due to his wealth he would be taught very quickly about the place of “The Law” in his life. He would be taught that the “Law” was done away with, except for tithing! Because of his position of power in his community and his ability to lead a whole country, he would no doubt be placed on a fast track to a position of Deacon, Elder or whatever other leadership position the congregation had. All on this would happen without a true change of heart, lifestyle or eternal destination. Pharaoh would just be another statistic on someone’s earthly record book, but would not make the book that truly counts, the Book of Life.

Before we go on, please do not think the above paragraph was written to be humorous, as a satire or to make fun of any church or denomination. Read it again, I think you will find a sobering and grievous amount of truth.

Truth is, miracles do not change people’s hearts. Think about how many miracles were done in Egypt. Did they change Pharaoh’s heart? How many miracles were done at the hands of the prophets? Did they change people’s hearts? How many miracles did Yeshua or His disciples do? Did they change people’s hearts? The answer to these questions is no. Miracles do not change hearts; miracles simply show forth the glory, power and majesty of the One True God. The miracle is to bring a person face to face with His glory, in a way forcing a decision to be made. Read Mark 5:1-15 and see the response of the people in verse 16 for an example of this. Hearts change when people make a decision to repent from their attempts to be God. People change when a confession is backed up with true repentance, which leads to submission to HaShem and to His word.

So what truly is redemption? Is it not a confession of faith, a request for forgiveness and a request for others to join around them in prayer? Yes, true redemption does contain these things, but without the fourth ingredient Yaakov (James) would say in his book that faith without actions is dead.

Pharaoh had all the right words, but in the end he did not have the actions to back up those words. I fear too many people today who have “come to Jesus” in churches, special meetings, crusades and the like may have only been given half the truth and are no better off eternally than Pharaoh was. You may say, “Mike, that is for God to straighten out.” That may be true, but are you willing to continue to tell people only half the truth of the gospel and just hope and pray it all works out, or would it be better to tell them the whole truth up front? In the end you may not have as many notches on your spiritual gun belt now, but the ones who have responded know the truth, the truth that can set them free.

So what is truth? All that HaShem said. All that Moses and the prophets taught. And all that Yeshua taught. How much simpler can it be than this? In the end, truth is the fact of One God who does not change, One Book that does not lie and One Family that in the end will stand as a testimony to this eternal truth.

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Bo (Go) – “A Perpetual Feast Forever” – January 18, 2013

Bo (Go)

Exodus 10:1-13:16
Jeremiah 46:13-28

” A Perpetual Feast Forever”

fulfilled_lawThis week’s Torah portion, Bo, very much summarizes the major theme of the Book of Exodus. We witness not only the final plagues dispensed upon Egypt (Exodus 10:1-11:10), but we see the institution of the Passover as a memorial meal (Exodus 12:1-32, 42-51) to be remembered by the future generations of God’s chosen people:

“For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance” (Exodus 12:12-14).

In Bo, the final three judgments upon Egypt are executed (locusts, darkness, firstborn), and the people of Israel are finally released to begin their journey to the Promised Land (Exodus 12:33-41). This reading gives us the first regulations about the Spring festivals of the Lord, and how His people are to commemorate the salvific events they memorialize.

Each year when Bo is considered, the reference to Passover being a “permanent ordinance” or “eternal decree” (ATS), chuquat olam (~lA[ tQx), always creates some interesting recollections that you might be able to identify with. For years, prior to becoming Messianic, every time I read this text I paused and thought about the words “you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance.”

Reading Recollections

In the past, while reading through these passages, I remember going back and rereading what is stated about Passover two or three times, and thinking about what the text actually meant. After all, the words “you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever” (Exodus 12:14, RSV) are fairly easy and direct to understand. The problem I had was not in understanding the plain English text. Rather, the problem was in heeding the words spoken. I was confused because the commandment to remember the Passover was very clear—and Passover is by no means some obscure ritual to memorialize. Like many who have been confronted by the simple text, I first turned to my teachers for an explanation. Of course, that is where my problems were compounded.

Many years ago in the 1980s, I was at the mercy of dispensational Christian pastors and Bible teachers, who were largely repeating what they had been taught at Bible college or seminary (in this case, Dallas Theological Seminary). Because of their dispensational presuppositions—reading some parts of the Bible as only applying to Israel, and other parts as only applying to “the Church”—the command to celebrate Passover was not something that apparently applied to me. My dispensational teachers told me that Passover was something that the Jewish people did, but it was not something that Christians today were required to do, because there was a much more meaningful observance that I could participate in called Easter. To a relatively young and naïve Believer, their argument was very persuasive. As I recall, the logic went something like this:

Remember that Jesus was our Passover Lamb. He came and was sacrificed for us. Should we not be thankful for His ultimate sacrifice and come together on the day which celebrates the resurrection of Christ?

Of course, this justification for remembering Easter instead of Passover made good sense. Further questions I asked elicited more reasons to go along with this practice, as I was also told by my dispensational teachers:

You need to understand that this has been going on for centuries, and certainly the ecclesiastical authorities who instituted these events knew what they were doing. The Jews will continue to do the Passover and the Christians will continue to do Easter. Just celebrate Easter and do not worry about what the Jews are doing. We live in the Church Age!

Even though this sounded like a good argument at the time, regardless of the explanation I heard, inevitably, whenever I read these verses in Exodus, the same nagging question arose in my spirit: What does the Scripture mean when it says “forever” or “eternal”?

Maturing Messianic

Sometimes, it is funny how you remember certain things in the past that prompted you to dig more into the Word of God for greater explanation. For example, the word “forever” (Heb. olam, ~lA[) seems to really stand out (BDB, pp 761-763; CHALOT, pp 267-268; HALOT, 1:798-799). As I was maturing in my study and pursuit of the truth, the Lord chose to reveal more about Himself. As a seeker, I was definitely finding Him by consistently and honestly asking Him—just as Jeremiah promises:

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

James the Just’s admonition, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5), was also something that I prayed. I did not want to find some kind of forgotten truth in the Bible, but then misuse it in the sight of those who were not ready to hear, and were not necessarily convicted by the Holy Spirit at the time the same way I was. As one who believed, and still believes, in the sovereignty of God—there is a pre-determined time for people to come to a fuller knowledge of Him.

At another reading of verses like Exodus 12:14—something dramatic occurred. One night while reading this passage, the concept of “forever” repeated itself over and over again in my spirit. All of a sudden, another thought came immediately to mind:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, he was referring to the Scriptures as they knew them in the First Century, the Hebrew Tanakh (Genesis-2 Chronicles [or Malachi]). Paul told the Romans a similar thing regarding the Scriptures:

“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

I by no means thought that the writings of the Apostles were not Scripture, but I did think that perhaps too many Christians I knew were forgetting what else composed Scripture. Why did too many people just overlook God’s revelation in the Old Testament, when the Apostles themselves did not? While thinking through Exodus 12:14 on Passover one year, a radical thought came to my mind:

Is it possible that the very concept of obeying this commandment “forever” was something that would be profitable for teaching and training in righteousness? Why would many people overlook the Passover, and what it teaches us about the sacrifice of Jesus?

Oftentimes when you have these types of internal debates, you are actually being instructed by the Holy Spirit. Remember that according to Yeshua, it is the Holy Spirit who has been sent to teach His followers all things:

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

This train of thought was really stretching me away from some of the dispensational doctrines that I was being taught. When I considered this those many years ago, without any significant change with regard to the word “forever,” I simply pondered these thoughts in my heart, waiting for further instruction. At the time, I was not quite ready for the transition to a Messianic lifestyle, nor would I have been led to pursue the issue further. However, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it is clear now that I was definitely being set up for the next stage in my walk. In the 1980s I was thinking about things that would significantly aid me during my spiritual pursuits of the 1990s.

The Seder Experience

In the early 1990s, just like what has happened to thousands of other evangelical Christians in recent years, I was asked to attend a sedar (rds) meal to remember the Passover. Because of a tour to Israel my wife Margaret and I had been on in 1994, we were very open to the Jewish Roots of our faith, and in considering the role of the appointed times for more than just “enrichment.” This sedar was being held at the Messianic Jewish congregation which we had started attending. For the first time in my life, I was going to keep the commandment to remember the deliverance from Egypt in a very tangible way!

The very Torah portion that we are looking at this week, Bo, was being discussed in the context of a Passover remembrance. The whole sedar experience was something to behold. As the leader of the sedar went through a written presentation or haggadah, the details of the deliverance from Egypt were thoroughly discussed. Of course, the parallels between the blood of the lamb and the Messiah Yeshua, being the ultimate blood sacrifice, were mentioned in great detail. Even the (later) Jewish traditions regarding the unleavened bread or matzah (hCm), and how it was to be handled, all seemed to point to the work of the Messiah at Golgotha (Calvary).

Throughout the evening I thought about the commandment to remember the Passover forever. I considered the history of the Jewish people and how they had faithfully honored this commandment for millennia. It was apparent that this, and other remembrances of the appointed times, had kept them a unified and a separated people. And now here I was, a non-Jew participating in the very same celebration that was given not necessarily to just the Jewish people, but to all who serve the God of Israel.

Some of my questions from decades earlier started to resurface in my thoughts. Now, however, I was in a Messianic environment that would discuss some of the historical realities of why centuries of Christians had largely overlooked the Passover. I was finally exposed to some of the decisions made by ecclesiastical councils from the Fourth and Fifth Centuries, which forbade the Christian Church from observing the appointed times. This information, coupled with other data from my Torah studies that was being regularly assimilated, significantly altered the lifestyle of myself and my family.

As a family, we now consider it a great honor and important responsibility to remember the Passover—just as these passages remind us. We believe that we are some of the “generations” that this commandment was directed to. Of course, as we have discovered via experience, you do not get to the point where you believe that remembering the Passover is really for you until you have moved toward a Messianic lifestyle that seeks to consciously follow the Torah and its commandments. Furthermore, making the transition from a neutered Easter celebration to a full-fledged Passover remembrance is not always easy. Should you make this transition, there is a definite need to extend the Lord’s love and grace to others who do not share your conviction. Rather than look at yourselves as being spiritually superior, invite your evangelical Christian family and friends to your Passover table. Allow them to experience the goodness of Passover the same way that you have!

Who do you serve?

How might you figure into all of this? Have you ever really celebrated Passover? If you have, do you remember your first time at a Passover sedar? Did you sense that you were obeying one of God commands, for all of His people for all time? Did you sense the Lord’s presence at this sedar meal, and learn important things about your salvation in Messiah Yeshua? Do you think it would be beneficial for Believers today to remember the Passover, and for all of us to learn how we are beneficiaries of Ancient Israel’s deliverance from Egypt?

By keeping Passover you will certainly be establishing a good example of obedience. You could also use this celebration as a backdrop for additional instruction about how God has miraculously acted throughout history, and how there will be a future deliverance of His people in the end-times. We live in interesting days when our firmly held beliefs and convictions in Him will be challenged by the world. We need to be convinced about who we are serving. By honoring and following His Instruction, we send clear signals that we are worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and not someone or something else.

The Joshua generation that was allowed to enter into the Promised Land faced some of the same challenges that we face today. They had the words of Moses to contend with, as well as fresh memories of their parents and grandparents who were denied entrance into Canaan because they did not believe and obey the Lord. At the end of Joshua’s life, he reminded the people of Israel about all the things that God had done for them over the centuries:

“Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:14-15).

For us today, these same words need to be considered. Will we serve the Holy One of Israel with diligence—correcting previous mistakes of the past—or will we continue to be denied the blessings of remembering Passover? Hopefully, our answer will echo Joshua’s admonition to Ancient Israel to serve the Lord. Today, we can visibly display our allegiance to the Lord by continuing to make the Passover celebration a perpetual feast forever! We can see people enriched in their faith, and understand all of the great lessons that the Passover and Exodus teach us.

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V’eira (I appeared) – “Proclaim His Power and Might”

V’eira (I appeared)

Exodus 6:2-9:35
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21

“Proclaim His Power and Might”

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Our Torah portion for this week begins with us seeing the Lord summarize His covenant faithfulness with His people, as He prepares to act in delivering them from Egypt:

“God spoke further to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Lord; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them. I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant’” (Exodus 6:2-5).

Throughout V’eira we see God reign down various judgments upon Egypt (Exodus 7:14-9:35). Even though Moses and Aaron constantly return to Pharaoh with the Divine plea, “Let My people go” (Exodus 7:16; 8:1, 20f; 9:1, 13), his heart continues to be hardened (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 34-35). Reading through our parashah, it seems that God’s two spokespersons are actually losing ground in their role as His agents to deliver the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians. If you will remember, as the previous Torah portion, Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1), came to a close, Moses himself was perplexed about this dilemma. The people of Israel were in worse shape than when the requests to Pharaoh began. The complaints and criticism were bearing down on Moses and Aaron:

“Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done harm to this people, and You have not delivered Your people at all’” (Exodus 5:22-23).

Moses was frustrated. He knew he had been called to this assignment, yet every verbal attempt to get the people released ended in greater harm for Israel. Then, God responds with a strong word that establishes the tone for the rest of what we will see during Moses’ and Aaron’s encounters with Pharaoh. The Lord makes the following statement that closes Shemot, and opens V’eira, definitively declaring what He was about to do:

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he will let them go, and under compulsion he will drive them out of his land.’ God spoke further to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the Lord; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them. I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned. Furthermore I have heard the groaning of the sons of Israel, because the Egyptians are holding them in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord”’” (Exodus 6:1-8).

Here in these words, the Lord establishes just who He is and just what He is about to do with Moses and Aaron, with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, and with the Ancient Israelites. Remember how the Almighty has established a unilateral covenant with His chosen people. It is the Lord who swore the inheritance of the Promised Land to them multiple times (Genesis 12:7; 15:18; 17:4; 26:3; 28:4), and yet for some reason or another, they still do not believe that the deliverance is coming:

“So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9).

The people of Israel continue to groan, and we recall from last week that God hears their cries and groans, remembering His covenant:

“Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Exodus 2:23-24).

As the groaning increased with the loss of straw for the Israelites to make bricks, the Lord implements His plan for their deliverance. But as we read, this deliverance is not immediately enacted. Instead, we are told about eight different signs and judgments that are designed to judge the various gods of Egypt, and communicate to Egypt and to Israel His might and power. The Lord will be displaying, for the sake of Egypt and Israel, that He and He alone is the One True God who possesses absolute sovereignty.

In a series of dramatic encounters, Moses and Aaron begin to beseech Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave. The first sign is Aaron throwing his staff on the ground where it becomes a snake. Shortly thereafter, the Egyptian magicians do the same thing with their staffs, but soon discover Aaron’s staff/snake swallowing their staffs/snakes (Exodus 7:8-13). Next, Aaron touches his staff to the Nile River and the water turns to blood. Then, the magicians again match the miracle and turn water into blood (Exodus 7:14-25). Third, Aaron waves his staff over the Nile River and a plague of frogs come up and cover the land. Interestingly, the Egyptian magicians are again able to duplicate the feat (Exodus 8:1-15). Each time as another sign takes place, Pharaoh’s heart is hardened. Finally, Aaron touches his staff to the ground, and some kind of gnats or lice invade Egypt:

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become gnats through all the land of Egypt.”’ They did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt. The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said” (Exodus 8:16-19).

The magicians of Egypt could no longer counterfeit the signs and judgments. They clearly proclaimed that what they saw with the gnats was obviously the “finger of God.” A comparison could be made that just like God had taken the dust of the ground to form Adam (Genesis 2:7), He now took dust and He brought forth these gnats. This inconvenience was spreading over all the land of Egypt, but in short order the Holy One was going to separate His people from the judgments to come:

“Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, as he comes out to the water, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me. For if you do not let My people go, behold, I will send swarms of insects on you and on your servants and on your people and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians will be full of swarms of insects, and also the ground on which they dwell. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people are living, so that no swarms of insects will be there, in order that you may know that I, the Lord, am in the midst of the land. I will put a division between My people and your people. Tomorrow this sign will occur”’” (Exodus 8:20-23).

Moses and Aaron continue delivering the plagues on God’s behalf, but now as swarms of insects came over Egypt, the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were living, was not affected (Exodus 8:24). And yet, even after this plague subsides, the heart of Pharaoh was still hardened (Exodus 8:25-32).

Next, the distinctions between the Egyptians and Israel become more evident. The livestock of Egypt is separated out for death. But the Lord decides to preserve the livestock belonging to Israel (Exodus 9:1-7). The plague of sores or boils comes upon the Egyptians, and the Israelites are spared, and again the heart of Pharaoh is hardened (Exodus 9:8-17). We then get a peek into what God is actually doing to Pharaoh and Egypt, as these signs and judgments are being executed:

“But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).

The Lord uses these events so that His power and greatness will be proclaimed throughout the whole world. Little did the Ancient Israelites know how true this would be, as we still remember the Exodus and its awesomeness today! The Exodus is one of the most important controlling narratives for how people read the message of the Bible, redemption in Messiah Yeshua, and how God always has worldwide intentions when He performs significant acts of salvation history.

Finally, as our reading for this week comes to a close, the Egyptian people begin to get the message that the God of Moses and Aaron is not playing games. They are warned about a devastating hailstorm that is about to come (Exodus 9:18-35), and some of the Egyptians take heed to protect themselves and their livestock from certain death:

“‘Now therefore send, bring your livestock and whatever you have in the field to safety. Every man and beast that is found in the field and is not brought home, when the hail comes down on them, will die.’ The one among the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord made his servants and his livestock flee into the houses; but he who paid no regard to the word of the Lord left his servants and his livestock in the field” (Exodus 9:19-21).

You would think that Pharaoh—the leader of Egypt—would be getting the message that the Lord means business, but instead he continues to harden his heart against Him (Exodus 9:35). Again, we see God making a distinction between His people and the Egyptians:

“Only in the land of Goshen, where the sons of Israel were, there was no hail” (Exodus 9:26).

Our Torah portion ends with this sad testimony:

“But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned again and hardened his heart, he and his servants. Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not let the sons of Israel go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses” (Exodus 9:34-35).

We too often have to read about the sad story of individuals like Pharaoh—because even when seeing the physical results of Divine judgment, they are incapable of changing their hearts and crying out for help. They often willingly choose the judgment of God, in order to appear humanly strong, rather than cry out to Him for mercy.

Some reading this may have a problem with what appears to be a hardening of the heart by the Almighty Himself. Keep in mind that Pharaoh was the leader of Egypt, one who believed himself to be a god, and one who was presumably perfect. Because of these things going against him, he may have not even had a chance at redemption. As the Apostle Paul comments, we discover that God, who is full of mercy and compassion, actually raised up Pharaoh so that His fame and power could be demonstrated and proclaimed around the world:

“What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion’ [Exodus 33:19]. So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth’ [Exodus 9:16]. So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires” (Romans 9:14-18).

Paul reminded the mixed group of Believers in Rome of the example of the Egyptian Pharaoh, in describing the justice of God. Now, for those of us today who read these words and consider them for our spiritual edification, what can they possibly mean to us, over three millennia removed from the Exodus, and almost two millennia from Paul writing the Romans?

Do we really take seriously the fact that the Lord uses various trials and tribulations to declare His name and His power throughout the Earth? When we read about the events that had to occur for Ancient Israel to be delivered, do we at all praise Him for it? If we have faith in His past actions on behalf of His people, we can be confident that the Lord will be with us through whatever we face today. To Him be the glory and the power and the honor forever and ever!

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Torah Commentary – Va’era “And I appeared” – Shadows of Yesterday, Substance of Today

Torah Commentary


Va’era “And I appeared”
Exodus 6:2-9:35
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
Romans 9:14-17
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1tissot_the_rod_of_aaron_devours_the_other_rodsShadows of Yesterday, Substance of Today

Egypt was the greatest and most awesome nation that had ever existed. They had wealth, power, and military stature. No country would have dared to come against the might of Egypt in the days of their glory. But all this would change the day that God opened his appointment book and proclaimed that a new day for His people was about to begin.

What Pharaoh and the people of Egypt never understood was the reason they had been blessed and where those blessings had come from. They had attributed their greatness to the blessings of the god of the Nile River, the god of frogs, the god of this or that object or creature. They failed to see that the blessings they had enjoyed had come from the God of the Hebrews. Egypt had merely been the place He had chosen for His purposes.

The day came when the true God, the God of Israel, chose to reveal Himself to the Pharaoh and to all of Egypt. Each time one of their sacred gods fell, they were given a choice. They could choose to continue worshipping the false gods of their making or turn to the one true God. With each plague the choice was given, and with each plague the choice was made. In the end, Egypt would be but a memory, a memory of another culture who did not understand that their purpose was never about them, but it was all about Him and His people.

As I read through the plagues which came upon Egypt, I do so with mixed emotions. There is a sense of excitement, knowing that just as surely as HaShem brought his people out of a pagan land, a pagan system, and back to Himself, He can and indeed is doing so again in our day. To read about the first exodus in light of the fact that we are seeing the birth pangs of the second and greater exodus sends chills up my spine. However, I also feel a sense of sorrow. It is a sorrow which Moses also possibly felt. Moses was not only a major part of freeing his family from slavery. He also witnessed the destruction of a land he had called home for the first forty years of his life, the country where he grew up. Moses had helped to build the society and culture he was now seeing destroyed before his eyes. In this, I am sure he felt great sorrow.

For over two hundred years America has been a great country. I guess some could say it has been the greatest country that has ever existed in six thousand years of history. It is a nation once based upon scripture and the knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It has been a homeland for both physical and spiritual descendants of the patriarchs. America was once known for her moral convictions, which were based on the Ten Commandments. America was known for her efforts to preach the gospel to the four corners of the earth.

Yes, America has been a great country, but somewhere in the journey, America, just as did Egypt, has forgotten her purpose and forgotten her God. Because of this fact, the excitement of the days we live in are tempered with the sorrow of watching a land and country that many of us have called home fall to the same destiny as Egypt of old.

The sorrow of the death of the past must however give way to the excitement and thrill of the inheritance which has been promised. For the Hebrews in Egypt, most never grasped the fact that the events they were seeing before their eyes were events destined to take them home. In fact, they had forgotten that Egypt was not home; it was not their inheritance. Egypt was only a place for them to multiply and grow stronger. Israel was home! Israel was their inheritance!

Today, the system of Egypt is not limited to a country, but rather has spread to the complete world which is falling apart before our eyes. It is not the gods of frogs and rivers, but rather the gods of pagan worship, materialism, power, or worship of the creation and not the Creator, which are being destroyed one by one. For those who have eyes to see, we understand that it is God who is arising. It is He who is destroying the false gods of the world. It is He who is preparing to take His people from the four corners of the earth where He has driven them and return them to their home, their inheritance.

The words of Exodus 6:8 were spoken to the Hebrews of Moses’ day. And they are being spoken to the people of Israel today. They are words calling His people home, calling us to our inheritance. Let us not make the mistakes of the Hebrews then and not realize what God is doing. Let us not be so firmly tied to our own Egypt’s that we fail to see and hear His plans being proclaimed in our midst. Instead, let us embrace with great excitement the walk of exodus being revealed to us. Let us listen to the call. Let us realize we’re also headed home. But let us never take joy in the plagues of judgment which are upon a world which has refused to turn from their gods and to the True God.

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