By the time we arrive at this week’s Torah portion, V’yakheil, we discover that it encapsulates a description of the actions of Ancient Israel, as the people collectively fulfill the requirements for the Tabernacle construction which was the subject of the previous Terumah (Exodus 27:20-30:10) and Tetzaveh(Exodus 30:11-34:35) readings. Without any hesitation, the text reminds us about the commandment to take a Sabbath rest, even in the midst of the Israelites building of the Tabernacle and producing the various implements, accouterments, and garments as defined.
If you have been reading closely the past few weeks, you will have noticed that Shabbat (tB’v;) is of particular concern to the God of Israel. Two times (Exodus 31:12-17; 34:21), an emphasis is placed not only on the “sign” ofShabbat, but also on the importance to observe it faithfully. As the physical labor for constructing the Tabernacle finally commenced, Moses once again reminded Israel about the Sabbath. Perhaps knowing human nature, these admonitions have been placed by the Lord in these Torah portions, so that we may be reminded that having a day of rest is a great blessing to all those who remember and observe it:
“Then Moses assembled all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and said to them, ‘These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do: For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day” (Exodus 35:1-3).
Of course, it is important to note that in this section of the Torah, we find that the whole congregation of Israel, kol-adah b’nei Yisrael (larfy ynB td[-lK), was supposed to rest. By resting one day out of seven, the people would be able to focus on the Lord in a rather unique and special way on the Sabbath day, but they would most especially be able to be rejuvenated during this critical season of the Tabernacle’s construction.
Further on in our Torah portion, we witness the widescale amount of contributions and offerings that the Israelites were making to the building project. The overwhelming reaction by many, with their offerings literally ushering forth, required that Moses command the people to halt their outpouring of freewill offerings:
“And they said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform.’ So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, ‘Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary.’ Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it” (Exodus 36:5-7).
As I personally pondered the importance of Shabbat this week, and rejoiced in the recorded reaction of the people who wanted to contribute to the various construction projects, I was personally thinking about how I have dealt with this subject since I came to the Lord in 1978. I was born again at the age of 27, and committed myself to being a Believer, rather than a non-Believer—a member of God’s people—rather than a part of the world. From that year forward, I matured in my relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, and learned to live more like Him. Like many of you, it has been a “wild ride,” and I have done things since becoming Messianic that I would never have dreamed of when I first came to faith.
First, I thought back to some of the early years of my new life in the Lord when I was confronted by a relative who happened to be a proponent of Dominion theology. At the time, he was trying to persuade me that taking Sunday and devoting it fully to God was a good thing that would honor the Fourth Commandment. At the time, I was faithfully attending Sunday morning services at a church in Dallas, Texas, and then coming back on Sunday evening for a service that would include taking communion. Two times a day I would load my family into the car and proceed to the church for a teaching convocation, and then a second service which was more contemplative.
At that time many years ago, when this relative admonished me, I thought he was being extremely legalistic. After all, I was living in Dallas and the Cowboys were on a roll in the NFL! I also played men’s city league soccer, and our games just happened to be played on Sunday afternoon. I could certainly get my “time in” with the Lord between Sunday morning and Sunday evening. As I justified my other activities during the afternoon, I actually thought I was doing pretty well to be a dedicated “twice a Sunday” attendee. With the passage of time, I have witnessed that via God’s sanctification in my life that my personal attitude has changed substantially since those naïve days many years ago.
In God’s mercy to me, as I have continued to beseech Him in order to know Him and understand His ways, He has been faithful to reveal more and more of Himself to me. The Prophet Jeremiah reminds us about the rewards of seeking the Holy One of Israel.
“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile’” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).
Here, we find that our Heavenly Father does have things under control and He does have a plan for our lives! I can personally testify that if you do seek Him with all your heart, He will not only restore your fortunes, but as He has said:He will gather you back from where you have been scattered. The Lord will bring you back to Himself no matter what nefarious paths you have chosen to follow for a season. He will take you from the doldrums of sin into a place where you can be used for the growth of His Kingdom.
Today, as the Messianic movement continues to grow and affect positive change in the lives of God’s people, we encounter that many are learning to reappreciate the value of the Torah, and the significance of things like the seventh-day Sabbath. The Lord is restoring an understanding to all His people regarding how Yeshua and the early Believers obeyed the commandments—and this is exciting to witness! As I study the Torah and read passages aboutShabbat, the appointed times, and other things that the Lord wants His people to follow so that He can bless us, I am immensely blessed. I not only knownow that the Sabbath Biblically begins at sundown on the sixth day and ends on sundown on the seventh day (cf. Genesis 1:5), and not at midnight as I had always assumed according to modern reckoning. I think it is amazing thatShabbat is exactly what the Scriptures say it is—and it was there all along. I simply failed to look at it.
As I have been maturing in my walk with the Lord, I can honestly say that I delight in Shabbat and I look forward to it as the pinnacle of my week. Entering into the Father’s rest and putting down the labors of the week are more clearly understood than when I had my debate years ago with this relative. Today, I might be able to present a more comprehensive understanding of what the Sabbath is for me as defined by the Holy Scriptures, than what he tried to present to me years ago. Perhaps now he would be the one considering me “legalistic.”
My second area of contemplation this week was piqued by some other verses in our Torah portion, which describe the supernatural endowment of two individuals who had been specifically selected by the Lord to oversee the various construction projects of the Tabernacle:
“Now Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skillful person in whom the Lord has put skill and understanding to know how to perform all the work in the construction of the sanctuary, shall perform in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded. Then Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful person in whom the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him, to come to the work to perform it” (Exodus 36:1-2).
Over the past few years (2005-2010), I have spent some time at the Orlando Convention Center overseeing the construction of various “temporary tabernacles,” and I can relate to just what it takes to physically construct something and take it down in order to move it. Now these trade show, seminar, and conference booths and displays are not to be compared to the magnificence and significance of the Tabernacle, but there are some parallels. I have had to use my hands to build things that have a degree of temporary usefulness, and as a result I can identify with some of what Bezalel and Oholiab had to do.
It does take a certain amount of mental acumen when dealing with the erection of complex structures, and this is where I have been able to consider some of the talents and gifts of those like Bezalel and Oholiab. Not only were these skillful people probably able to physically make the objects of the Tabernacle, but they were also probably gifted with the ability to organize and administer the construction projects. In my work, I have enjoyed learning from the younger and more experienced artisans, who often have specially designed tools crafted for certain needs. Even though I might have some age and wisdom in other areas of life, when it comes to knowing the most efficient and safest way to construct something, I typically defer to the younger people, who I discern are more gifted and experienced for various construction projects.
Additionally, I learned another lesson this week (in 2005) via a gift that I was given for Bible research. I received a certain Greek lexicon, and I believe that receiving it happens to be well timed with a writing project that I have been inspired to pursue. In recent weeks, while going through the Torah portions, I have been spiritually stimulated by Paul’s words of being a “living sacrifice” and what it means as listed in the balance of Romans ch. 12. Pensively, as I began to lay out some of my thoughts and started to think about the terms being used, I realized that my Greek study resources were slim. In a providentially-timed gift, I was given a reference tool that should hopefully point me in the right direction.
In an ironic sort of way, just like watching the younger and more gifted builders of complex structures at the Convention Center, a gifted young teacher of the Holy Scriptures gave me a resource “tool” that will allow me to be far more effective in my studies. I was delighted that this tool was given to me at just the right time. Similar to a Bezalel or Oholiab coming along with a special tool or instrument, or perhaps one first showing you how to build something, it is a sign of maturity when you do not think too highly of yourself and are willing to listen to instruction from someone else. Even if the advice or tool comes from someone younger, I recommend to joyfully receive what is being imparted, and welcome the talents that the Lord wants to instill in you via a young person, so you can be more effective in His service.
This begins to take on even more significance when you realize that in light of the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, it is the operation of the Ancient Israelites with all of their collective talents and gifts in unison with one another that accomplishes all of what God wants. After all, where would Bezalel and Oholiab have been without the gold, jewels, brass, skins, wood, and the laborers to perform certain tasks? If the willing hearts did not give the items necessary for the project, no matter how talented the artisans were, the Tabernacle would have been a conceptual design relegated to theory rather than the reality of a completed temporary dwelling place for the Most High.
Consequently, it takes the whole Body of the Messiah to accomplish the Lord’s will. Now that I am armed with some more theological tools, I hope that my ability to write and comment about certain aspects of the Scriptures will be greatly enhanced. Just consider some of the things that Paul writes about in Romans 12, which are required of us who serve the Lord diligently:
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).
With the measure of faith I have the more I learn to walk in His ways, the more I not only appreciate His rest on Shabbat, but also to simply rest in confidence in Him for all things. Watching Him orchestrate my life today via a consistent study of the Torah and how it applies to my walk with Him, in so many regards, is fascinating. As I sit back and review Scripture through His illumination, I am beginning to realize more than ever that my actions do speak louder than words. I have seen my walk starting to catch up with my talk! Some verses that dramatically changed my life many years ago, echo the prayers that I still offer today:
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Messiah Yeshua my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Messiah, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from theLaw, but that which is through faith in Messiah, the righteousness whichcomes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11).
I am blessed that my earnest actions to know my Lord and Savior, and quite possibly the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, continues to bring me more of His rest, as I personally notice the maturation in my walk with and in Him. These actions speak volumes to me much louder than all the words I can fathom! In a like manner, I pray that you would be equally encouraged that our collective actions will be what today’s world sees and hears.
Finally, even though different measures of faith come by hearing, it is most often by our Messiah-like actions that people will observe the power of the Holy Word that is transforming us. In so doing, others should be drawn to us to hear about how God has transformed our lives by us receiving Yeshua and obeying Him diligently. This must be the testimony that we offer: whether they witness our obedience via the peace only He can give us or even whether they witness our obedience to following something like Shabbat. May we remember that we testify of Yeshua via our actions—sometimes even more than our words! Take to serious heart the immeasurable responsibility that you have.
Exodus 30:11-34:35 , 1 Kings 18:1-39, 1 Samuel 16-18, Luke 11:14-20; Acts 7:35-8:1
Only If You Go Too!
Any parent should be able to understand this Torah portion well. We have all experienced those times that our children disobey, but once in a while they do something that makes us look at them and say, “Just get out of my sight for a while!”
It is one thing when our children do this to us, but this week we read how the Hebrews crossed the line to the point that Abba told Moses he was to take the people from there, but He really did not want them in His presence anymore.
When we think back to what they had done, one can hardly blame Yah for not wanting to be with these folks anymore. Just think for a moment about this golden calf episode and you will have to admit this one is really over the top bad. To give the jewelry Yah has given you to make a tent for Him and use it to make a golden calf to worship is pretty bad. Place on top of this that as they were worshipping the calf the people were saying that it was the calf that brought them out of Egypt. Adding the lies of how the calf was formed just adds insult to injury. And by the way, did Aaron really think his brother was going to buy that one of throwing the gold in the fire and a calf popping out the other side? Now really, Aaron? It is no wonder HaShem said he did not want to go any further with these folks.
Moses finds himself in a real dilemma here though. Yah tells Moses to take the people from there, but He is not going with them. Now think about it, if Yah does not go with them then the cloud does not go with them. If the cloud does not go with them, how do they know which way to go? And what about if the cloud leaves, will the manna leave with it? And if the manna stops, what will happen to the rock that is giving them water? This calf thing is really starting to cost them, and Moses knows full well that if His presence does not go with these people they will soon be bones scattered through the desert. It is coming down to this Presence thing being a life and death situation. In the midst of it all Moses makes maybe the best decision of his lifetime when he looks to the heavens and says point blank, “If your presence does not go with us, don’t make us go from here.” Moses understands very well that the first step he takes without the presence of Yah will be the step that marks the end to him and to the people he is leading.
How much can we learn from Moses this week? Even asking that question seems a bit silly to me, but it is one we all should consider. Well maybe we should ask ourselves another question first, something like, “Just how much of life are we living without His presence already?” Stop and think about that for a moment. How many decisions do we make on a daily basis that do not involve Him? How many days do we begin without any time in His Word or without even a thought of what His plans may be for us that day?
Maybe we should not be making the same statement that Moses made, that he was not going on if Abba withdrew His presence. Maybe what we should be asking is for us to not be allowed to go one more step without His presence being restored unto us. Maybe the best thing we could do is repent for going as far as we have without His presence, doing things based not on His direction, but rather based on our own golden calf of self-reliance.
At this point in our Torah journey maybe we should not look down our noses at the Hebrews and how bad they behaved toward Abba. A more effective approach is to begin grinding up our own golden calves, and ask that not one more day be lived without His presence being restored unto us. Either way though, may we come into full agreement with Moses that if His presence does not go with us from this day forward, we should not be thinking about going anywhere! Greater exodus? Not without Him we don’t!
Tetzaveh (You shall command)
“Set-Apart Unto Him”
This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, is in many respects a continuation of the previous reading, Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), where the willing heart contributions for the materials needed for the construction of the Tabernacle and its accouterments were freely given. Now that the various elements have been offered and gathered, certain individuals gifted with “the spirit of wisdom,” ruach chokmah (hmkx xWr), begin the crafting of different aspects of what the Lord required for Ancient Israel to approach Him in worship:
“Then bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to minister as priest to Me—Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons. You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me. These are the garments which they shall make: a breastpiece and an ephod and a robe and a tunic of checkered work, a turban and a sash, and they shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother and his sons, that he may minister as priest to Me” (Exodus 28:1-4).
As you read the minute details of the garments required for the high priest in Exodus ch. 28, one theme continues to present itself as the various instructions unfold. It is apparent that the Holy One of Israel desires to have a specific group of people who are called to be consecrated unto Him as priests. The verb kahan (!hK), used in the Piel stem (intensive action, active voice), means to “perform the duties of a priest” (CHALOT, 152). It is employed throughout our parashah:
· “You shall put them on Aaron your brother and on his sons with him; and you shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve Me as priests [kahan]” (Exodus 28:41).
· “Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them to minister as priests [kahan] to Me: take one young bull and two rams without blemish” (Exodus 29:1).
· “I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests [kahan] to Me. I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the Lordtheir God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:44-46).
While reflecting upon Tetzaveh throughout this week, many thoughts came to my mind about our role as Believers, functioning in a priestly calling and being set-apart for specialized service to the Lord. Consider how the author of Hebrews writes that the Mosaic Tabernacle in the wilderness is a replica of what exists in Heaven, with Yeshua the Messiah presently interceding before the Father as our ultimate High Priest:
“Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘That you make all thingsaccording to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain’ [Exodus 25:40]”(Hebrews 8:1-5).
In the admonition given by God to Moses in Exodus 25:40, he is told to “make all things according to the pattern which was shown on the mountain.” God is very serious about His people honoring Him and fulfilling His will for proper worship. Consequently, the descriptions of what the Heavenly Tabernacle and its various components looked like, and the role, duties, and responsibilities of the high priest—are most significant for us to consider. As Believers in Yeshua, we all constitute a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6; cf. 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10), and we have a unique and sacred call to minister unto Him and serve others, representing the King of Kings in our fallen world.
A Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation
As to my knowledge, I am not a descendant of Levi and nor do I know of anyone named Cohen (or a close derivative) in my family tree—and I suspect that this is the same for many of you as well. But this does not mean that as Believers we cannot learn important things from the priestly instruction witnessed in this week’s Torah portion. The Levitical priesthood is a very specific group within the community of Israel, called to an almost lifetime set of duties before the Heavenly Father—not too unlike the way members of royalty are born and have no choice but to serve their countries. On a much lesser scale, non-Levites within Israel, which is basically everybody else, have a macro-priestly calling with general duties incumbent upon them as they serve God.
Many of us ask ourselves about the role of a Believer who is called out to “minister unto Him,” and how this applies to the great majority of followers of the Messiah of Israel. We together all compose a unique Kingdom of priests that is to serve the masses of humanity, as we testify of God’s goodness, holiness, and the salvation available in the Messiah Yeshua. The Apostle Peter attests to this reality:
“But you are a chosen race [Isaiah 43:20], a royal priesthood [Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 61:6], a holy nation [Exodus 19:6], a people for God’s own possession[Isaiah 43:21; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; 7:6; 14:2], so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy [Hosea2:23]” (1 Peter 2:9-12).
Peter testifies to the fact that all Messiah followers—be they Jewish or non-Jewish—compose “a chosen people” (NIV) who have been designated to testify to the world about the God of Israel. It does not matter whether you are named Cohen or Levi. What truly matters is that you have been “born from above” into this priestly service.
As I considered these texts and read the Haftarah selection from Ezekiel 43:10-27, I was reminded of a book that I read several years ago which addressed the very topic we are considering this week:
“‘You shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me,’ declares the Lord God, ‘a young bull for a sin offering’” (Ezekiel 43:19).
When I read the reference “to the levitical priests who are of the stock of Zadok, and so eligible to minister to Me” (NJPS), I was reminded of a book entitled The Sons of Zadok by C.R. Oliver. His insights clarified many things through his study of this topic. I remembered Oliver concluding that it was a much higher privilege to be “called out” to minister unto the Lord, as opposed to be simply ministering unto the needs of humanity. This distinction was something I had never considered before, but upon reflection and considering the Scriptural references, I was convinced that his conclusions had merit. What was notable, of course, is that these conclusions came from a Christian teacher who was certainly not proclaiming any knowledge of the Messianic movement. And yet, as a servant of the Most High, he was clearly articulating the differences.
The emphasis of Oliver’s conclusions came through his study on the life of the Prophet Ezekiel, and specifically from the text of Ezekiel 44:15-16:
“‘But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me; and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood,’ declares the Lord God. ‘They shall enter My sanctuary; they shall come near to My table to minister to Me and keep My charge. It shall be that when they enter at the gates of the inner court, they shall be clothed with linen garments; and wool shall not be on them while they are ministering in the gates of the inner court and in the house. Linen turbans shall be on their heads and linen undergarments shall be on their loins; they shall not gird themselves with anything which makes them sweat. When they go out into the outer court, into the outer court to the people, they shall put off their garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers; then they shall put on other garments so that they will not transmit holiness to the people with their garments. Also they shall not shave their heads, yet they shall not let their locks grow long; they shall only trim the hair of their heads. Nor shall any of the priests drink wine when they enter the inner court. And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman but shall take virgins from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest. Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. In a dispute they shall take their stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances. They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts and sanctify My sabbaths. They shall not go to a dead person to defile themselves; however, for father, for mother, for son, for daughter, for brother, or for a sister who has not had a husband, they may defile themselves. After he is cleansed, seven days shall elapse for him. On the day that he goes into the sanctuary, into the inner court to minister in the sanctuary, he shall offer his sin offering,” declares the Lord God. And it shall be with regard to an inheritance for them, that I am their inheritance; and you shall give them no possession in Israel—I am their possession. They shall eat the grain offering, the sin offering and the guilt offering; and every devoted thing in Israel shall be theirs. The first of all the first fruits of every kind and every contribution of every kind, from all your contributions, shall be for the priests; you shall also give to the priest the first of your dough to cause a blessing to rest on your house. The priests shall not eat any bird or beast that has died a natural death or has been torn to pieces’” (Ezekiel 44:15-31).
As I read these verses, and then followed the context of what Ezekiel was prophesying, I realized how the above passage details the operative Temple in the future Millennium—and the service of the priests who will be called out to serve. These priests will serve in the same capacity which is originally described in much of this week’s Torah portion. They will serve within an order where Yeshua the Messiah Himself is present. With the Lord’s direct oversight of this operating priesthood—I am sure that He is going to explain many aspects of priestly work and service to us that we have never even dreamed of! Perhaps at the very least in this future time, Yeshua will reveal to us instances in past history where the service of the Levitical priesthood was of absolute importance to Ancient Israel. A great part of the future age, after all, is being shown those moments where God’s hand of protection and guidance was present—without explicit human knowledge of it (cf. Ephesians 2:7).
Minister Unto Him
Our collective job as “ministers unto Him” is to continually be a light whichpoints all to the Holy One of Israel as the Source of all things. We are to be praying unceasingly, as the Lord presents all sorts of opportunities for us to share who He is and what He has done for us through His salvation and saving grace available in Messiah Yeshua. The Scriptures speak constantly of what it means to be “called out” unto Him. Consider some of the key words of admonition that Paul gives to the Thessalonicans:
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua. Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-23).
Here, Paul encouraged the saints to rejoice always, and pray without ceasing while giving thanks for all things. When you think about these comments, they are not just directed to the specific “priests” in the crowd, but instead to all who had the ears to hear. Paul himself was of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5), and was no Levite. The call to serve as priestly representatives of God is directed to all who have the privilege of knowing Him, and conveying this knowledge to the others who need it! Later, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul made some strong recommendations about rejoicing, and how Messiah followers should guard their thoughts:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Messiah Yeshua. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:4-9).
These are some important instructions about how we should conduct our lives—and even our thoughts. When Paul comments about rejoicing always, and in letting one’s prayers and requests made known toward God always, I believe he is describing the life, thoughts, and actions of a person who has been called into the priesthood as exemplified by a son of Zadok. I believe that God is calling all of His children to this level of commitment to His ways.
Having been a part of the growing Messianic community since 1995, I can clearly declare that the Lord is bringing all of His people into a priestly service with a passion that rivals the zeal of some of the ancient sons of Zadok. The Lord knows that when you come into the Messianic perspective that you will be challenged, and that we each have to make some critical decisions. Are you going to choose to minister unto Him, or are you going to fall into some of the old traps of conformity that your family and friends may want you to pursue? Are you going to be able to endure through the pressures and challenges of being part of a still-emerging movement, or quit and go back to what you might find to be more comfortable?
Dwelling Among His People
We each have to choose whom we will minister to. This week we can be reminded that the pattern has been established in the Heavenly realm and replicated in the wilderness. At the appropriate time, Solomon was blessed with the opportunity to build a more permanent dwelling for the Lord on the Temple Mount. Centuries later, after the Messiah Himself took on human flesh, He became our perfect sacrifice and now functions as our High Priest in Heaven before God the Father. The Apostle Paul writes how we function as a tabernacle for the Spirit of God, appropriating some of the concepts that are stated at the end of this week’s Torah portion:
“Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ [Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27]” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
“I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; I will also consecrate Aaron and his sons to minister as priests to Me. I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the Lordtheir God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the Lord their God” (Exodus 29:43-46).
The Lord wants us to understand that His desire is to dwell among His people, within the hearts of human beings. The only way that this can occur, though, is by each of us recognizing Yeshua the Messiah as our Savior, being washed clean from the stains of sin upon our hearts and minds, and then committing ourselves to a path of holiness and good works. We are to function as a living sacrifice, the worship of which is evidenced in our committed service to our fellow brothers and sisters (cf. Romans 12). Truly, when this manifests itself within the Body of Messiah, then we can positively impact other people who can likewise be used to further the Kingdom of God here on Earth! We can then be acceptable in His sight.
May we each be called into that place of service as He dwells among us and in us and operates through us, as we are set-apart unto Him!
Terumah – “Heave offering”
1 Kings 5:26-6:13
A Willing Life
This week’s Torah portion begins with the Tabernacle, a tent HaShem will use as a dwelling place that He may live in the midst of His people. HaShem will give specific instructions to Moses and the Hebrews regarding this tent and its furnishings. As we read through this and next week’s portions we will see the richness of this dwelling as well as shadows of Messiah and even prophecies of the soon coming Kingdom.
It begins with the building of the Tabernacle. Maybe not! It actually begins with God’s people giving. That’s correct, the people had to give before the Tabernacle could be built!
These scriptures reveal to us God’s pattern for accomplishing His plans upon this earth. Now, let’s face it. He really does not “need” people. He is well able to speak a world into existence or bring forth rocks to sing His praises. Though He is able to accomplish the job on His own, He does not. Instead He works with and through people in cooperation with them to bring forth His plans and purposes. It was true in the building of the Tabernacle; it was true in the building of Solomon’s temple; it was even true in the formation of Gideon’s army. HaShem works through and in cooperation with people.
The same principle is true today. He does not change. In these last days He is still seeking people who will listen for His call and be a part of His work, people like you and me who will search out His plans and hop on board.
A number of years ago a Southern Baptist pastor named Henry Blackaby wrote a study course called “Experiencing God.” It is still used and taught in many congregations today. For many it is just another program, but for some, it has been life defining. One of his points in the study is that we should always be looking in our world around us for what God is doing. When we see what He is doing, we ask to be a part of it. This is contrary to how many desire to work. They desire to come up with a plan and then demand that God be a part of it and bless it! I think this attitude is just slightly twisted!
The Hebrews heard from God and they responded. They gave of their possessions as well as of their time and efforts to help bring forth the Tabernacle. The end result we will read about in coming weeks. The point is, they heard, they responded, they gave, they worked and they enjoyed the results. They even did so without first reading a copy of Dr. Blackaby’s book!
Psalm 110:3 says. “Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power.” I as well as many others I know long for that day, a day in which people will volunteer for any and every job available. But what about the day we are in today? Are people as willing today as they were in the days of the Hebrews? I think not, but I do believe the attitudes are changing. More and more I see people who desire to give of their time and of their resources. They desire to be part of plans and projects, which build His Kingdom instead of man’s kingdoms. They desire to have their names associated with things that are eternal, not things that are temporary. This changing attitude should give us all hope, a hope that this is a sign we are one step closer, one day closer to the day of His power being manifested on this earth; a day in which God and man work in cooperation to declare His glory throughout the whole earth.
The Hebrews did not possess the fuller revelation of the plans of HaShem, which we possess today, but they did possess something we should take a lesson from. They possessed a willingness to give and to work until their leader Moses had to tell them, “Enough, you have given too much!” Maybe we could learn a very valuable lesson from them for our day. After all, the Tabernacle was great, but it was merely a shadow of what we are being asked to build today!
Are we building for the future, for the Kingdom, by His design? Or only for the here and now, in this world, by our personal design?
This past week, the Lord has given me much to think about as I have meditated upon our Torah portion, which is most especially known for recording the Exodus of Ancient Israel from Egypt. Determining what to share can be rather difficult, as the Exodus is probably the most important event in our faithafter the crucifixion and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah. I believe that a systematic study of the Torah has the ability to help us scrutinize and mature in our individual walks of faith. The Torah portions compile the foundation for the rest of Scripture, and teach us valuable lessons that we must integrate into our relationship with God and our understanding of His plan for the ages.
In Bo, we see the final three judgments God issues upon Egypt (Exodus 10:1-11:10), the institution of the Passover (Exodus 12:1-32), and the departure of Israel and a mixed multitude from bondage (Exodus 12:33-13:16). Many diverse thoughts came to mind as I considered these things, going through the challenges of my own workweek. In retrospect, the element that best summarizes my experience this week concerns the signs that we observe and how the Lord wants us to pay attention to what He is doing.
Since the beginning of time, the Lord has used various phenomena to get the attention of the righteous, and of the world in general. These things may be physical indicators, they may be a message proclaimed, or when reading the Bible they may be grammatical forms used in the text to make an important point. Yeshua the Messiah said, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 22:44).
Consequently, when we examine the Torah and Haftarah readings, we need to be looking for those various “signposts” that portray His redemption. Some of these things may be clear prophecies of the Messiah to come, but others may be subtle hints or patterns that can only be seen by a careful examination of Scripture. Regardless of which is the case, some distinct “signs” were used by God in order to communicate His power and supremacy to the Egyptians:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine [otai eleh, hLa ytta] among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs [otai] among them, that you may know that I am theLord’” (Exodus 10:1-2).
Signs (Heb. sing. ot, tAa) used by God may not always be good things, and not all signs need be specific prophecies or indicators of the Messiah to come. As we examine Bo, we find that three signs are scheduled to show both Israel and Egypt that the God of Israel is indeed the Creator and is superior to the elements. This would have been contrary to what the Egyptians believed, as they believed that the elements themselves were “gods.” Between the plague of locusts (Exodus 10:1-20), the imposition of a thick, tangible darkness (Exodus 10:21-29), and finally the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt (Exodus 11:1-10), the Pharaoh finally gets the message to let the people of Israel go. These signs indicate that God is not unwilling to judge the world when His demand of change goes unheeded. Pharaoh only capitulated to God’s demands when the plague of the firstborn was released (Exodus 12:30-41).
The most important sign seen, within Bo for certain, is the giving of the Passover. The Israelites are given a sign by God that will make them a distinct group of people set-apart from the Egyptians around them:
“Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover. 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 [v’hayah ha’adam l’khem l’ot, tal ~kl ~Dah hyhw] 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 youwhen 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 12:7-14).
Moses instructed the Ancient Israelites to apply the blood of the lambs upon the doorposts and doorframes of their dwellings. In so doing, the judgment that God issued upon the firstborn of Ancient Egypt does not apply to those who followed these instructions. In a summary remark that is repeated throughout the instructions of the Passover meal and Festival of Unleavened Bread, God stated that the remembrance of the Passover is a chuqat olam (~lA[ tQx), meaning “an ordinance for ever” (RSV), a “perpetual ordinance” (NRSV), or a “permanent statute” (HCSB).
Within the further instruction given regarding the seven-day Festival of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 13:7-10, 16), a rather intriguing remark is made so that the Israelites will remember how God delivered them forth with His mighty hand:
“And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt” (Exodus 13:9).
A verse like Exodus 13:9 has been interpreted throughout Jewish history as meaning that one must literally “bind God’s Word” on the hand and forehead. In Exodus 13:16 the further remark is made, “So it shall serve as a sign on your hand and as phylacteries on your forehead [l’ot al-yadkhah u’l’totafot bein, !yB tpjAjlW hkdy-l[ tAal], for with a powerful hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” The term totafot (tApjAj) can mean “bands, frontlet-bands, between the eyes” (BDB, 377), and this is why up until today, Orthodox Jewish men traditionally wrap tefillin (!yLpT) or phylacteries at specified times of prayer.
The key thrust of the Exodus 13:9, 16 instruction calls for God’s people to remember that what they do with their hands and with their minds is to be focused on His work. We certainly follow this every year when we keep the Passover, as we must work with our hands to prepare the meal. At the same time, we also have to consciously think about what the Passover and Exodus mean, and what they can teach us for our lives today. As a result, the Law of God will surely be on one’s mouth or speech, as we should want to discuss what it is telling us with others we meet.
By remembering to commemorate the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread in their future generations, is it possible that the Ancient Israel themselves became a sign to the nations around them (cf. Exodus 15:14-15)?Was not the Exodus itself a confirmation of the covenant established with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham about delivering his descendants from the bondage of Egyptian slavery (Exodus 12:40-41; cf. Genesis 15:13)? By the mere existence of Israel and their consistent celebration of the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread, they would certainly testify to the world that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is faithful.
Today, via the growth of the Messianic movement, many people are being exposed to the significance of the Passover. Jewish Believers who remembered the Passover as a part of their upbringing in the Synagogue are experiencing great fulfillment as they get to see the Jewish Messiah in the sedar meal. Evangelical Christians are discovering the great blessings of celebrating Passover, as they likewise experience enrichment and see how the Last Supper meal Yeshua conducted with His Disciples was the Passover. People around the world are returning to the ancient paths!
This can be a very confusing reality to many who have grown up in traditional Judaism and traditional Christianity. Both have taught for centuries that the Passover and Festival of Unleavened Bread only apply to the Jewish people. Christianity has largely replaced Passover with Easter, which is supposed to commemorate the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah. But nowhere does the Bible negate the command to celebrate the Passover, nor are we to ever somehow forget the Exodus. On the contrary, Paul’s words to the Corinthians were, “let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:8). When we commemorate the Passover as Messianic Believers today, the message that we are to communicate is that the Lord is blessing us for remembering an event that portrays what Yeshua has done for us. We have a dual blessing that Jews who only celebrate Passover for what it represents for Israel, or Christians who only remember the Messiah’s resurrection at Easter, miss out on.
When you read the critical passages within our Torah portion, and apply them to your daily walk of faith, do you realize that you are to be a witnesses or sign of the work the Lord has done for us? We are to testify of His transforming power in our lives by obeying Him and by being blessed for our obedience. This includes being faithful to God among our family members, within our neighborhood, or in our work environment. All people need to see the Holy Spirit emanating from us when we keep a holiday such as Passover, so that they too can learn about the saving grace of Yeshua! The challenge with this is that some of us may have to face some criticism or rejection from our peers.
My prayer for you is that you can be a “sign” via a consistent walk of faith by following the Scriptures diligently, and representing Yeshua faithfully in a world that desperately needs Him. Yeshua the Messiah is The Sign who was crucified for our sins. As we choose to follow Him, let us in return be a sign for those many others perishing without a knowledge of His saving grace. Let us remember that Yeshua Himself was like the bronze serpent raised centuries earlier by Moses to bring salvation and deliverance for all who would believe upon Him in faith:
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16; cf. Numbers 21:9).
Are you going to be a sign to others of the good news of salvation in Yeshua, the One who has provided us with final atonement for sin? What will you be doing the next time you celebrate Passover? Will you remember not only the Exodus of Ancient Israel from Egypt—but your own exodus from sin to new life in Him? Consider these things as you reflect on what Passover means to you.
“More Than Just a Number”
Bamidbar is the first Torah portion of the Book of Numbers, from which this text takes its traditional Hebrew name. The first words in this parashah describe how Israel is going to spend the next thirty-eight years “in the wilderness” (Heb. b’midbar, rbdmb). During this journey Israel will learn to depend upon the Lord and follow Him, eventually being able to occupy the Promised Land. Great trials are on the horizon, as the nurturing process will mold Israel into a set-apart people uniquely chosen to be God’s light to the nations:
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, ‘Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies’” (Numbers 1:1-3).
As you consider Bamidbar this week, you can readily appreciate why it is commonly called “Numbers.” There are many facts and figures transcribed, as Moses is requested to take a census of the male population eligible for military service. As I spent some time considering various aspects of the tabulation process, what came to my mind was the reality that the Ancient Israelites were more than just “numbers” to God. The Holy One demonstrated some concern for not only these people, but also demonstrates concern up until today—for the destinies of each one of His human children and how they fit into His plan for the ages.
Although there has been a previous census mentioned in the collection of finances for the Tabernacle (Exodus 38:26), it was not the specific reckoning of people that we see in the Book of Numbers. We get to finally see some of details of how large the Israelite Exodus was from Egypt, and obviously how they needed the Lord’s provision. We have to remember that these events took place over 3,300 years ago in the general area today known as the Sinai Peninsula. Now that we will begin to focus in on the actual people involved in the Exodus, it is difficult to imagine how, given the primitive conditions, Israel could make its trek. As the accounting begins and you contemplate the numbers, you realize that we are easily dealing with several hundred thousand people. Moving these people through a wilderness environment for a total of forty years was indeed a miraculous achievement. Here in Bamidbar, we can begin to appreciate the level of organization and cooperation that made much of this possible.
It might be difficult for us to fathom several hundred thousand people with various belongings and livestock, bivouacked in the desert. The logistical needs including food, water, and basic sanitation for this amount of people is overwhelming (even though it might not be that much bigger than a giant sports stadium filled to capacity along with thousands of tailgaters). Thankfully, God was responsible for providing the basic sustenance, water, and there were instructions in place to deal with the sanitation problems (cf. Deuteronomy 23:13). Some degree of organization had already been implemented.
In Bamidbar, we witness that the Ancient Israelites are very much structured by various tribal, clan, and family units. When the Israelites left Egypt, they had the accommodating will to depart in a kind of martial array (Exodus 13:18), requiring people to know their place within the social framework. A group of people as large as Israel does not move in this manner, without a substantial degree of cooperation among the different families, clans, and tribes. But, if we remember back to some of the early challenges experienced during Moses’ tenure of leadership, we should recall how his father-in-law Jethro was very instrumental in helping establish some specific organizational structure to the mass of Israelites:
“Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens…So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens” (Exodus 18:21, 24-25).
As this advice was instituted, the people of Israel began to have different levels of leadership, which brought additional order into the camp, and alleviated much of the stress that was upon Moses and the elders. It seems, from a practical standpoint, that by the time the census seen in Numbers takes place—thirteen months after the departure from Egypt—that the Israelites have already positioned themselves around the Tent of Meeting according to their tribes. At this point, Moses and Aaron formalize the specific directives from God, delivered in our Torah portion. Now, even more order is established between the different tribal units:
“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, ‘The sons of Israel shall camp, each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ households; they shall camp around the tent of meeting at a distance’” (Numbers 2:1-2).
After processing some of the logistical thoughts, and wondering how this mass of people could function in the wilderness, I concluded that it was simply the miraculous intervention of God Himself which ultimately had to sustain Israel.
As I reread the opening statements of Bamidbar, one expression really caught my attention. Moses and Aaron, in conducting the census, were to count each eligible male by their heads, l’gulgelotam (~tllgl), “every male individually” (Numbers 1:2, NRSV) or “one by one” (NIV). What did God mean by having these people counted “head-to-head”?
I looked up the Hebrew term gulgolet (tlGlG), frequently translated as “head,” and naturally did a word study. In my reading, it seemed to me that the Lord was really interested in each individual person who was being numbered for service. When you speak to a person face-to-face—or head-to-head as it is here—you tend to have a very sincere and intimate conversation with one. You acknowledge the most recognizable part of the person with your most recognizable part. Note how much Moses wanted to see the face of the Most High, but was denied:
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.’ Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!’ And He said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ Then the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen’” (Exodus 33:17-23).
Here, the Lord acknowledges that He knows Moses by his name, but He is not able to let Moses see His face—because according to this testimony, Moses would die. Apparently, a mortal cannot look directly upon the sight of pure holiness and live.
But as we contemplate this head-to-head experience of Numbers 1:2, we note that each of the Israelites may have had to look into the eyes of either Moses or Aaron, or at least would probably have had to see them as the census took place. Do we see a desire from the Lord to recognize each person in the camp? Certainly, the opportunity to present yourself to Moses and Aaron either at, or near the Tent of Meeting, would have been a great privilege. By this time in the wilderness journey, both Moses and Aaron had certainly distinguished themselves as anointed servants of God. Now as representatives of God, they are instructed to count each male who was twenty years old and over, who was eligible for military service.
I imagine how one would feel when it was his turn to be personally counted and be recognized by either Moses and Aaron, or at least some of those in Moses’ and Aaron’s close confidence. These were the two chosen representatives of God Himself who would hear your name, and see that it was tabulated for the purpose of the census. Thinking about this, what came to my mind was that this could have been like a graduation from school, or even a military commissioning ceremony. It could also be thought of as some kind of spiritual ordination in the minds of those who received the recognition of being counted, being listing for their responsibilities concerning the future journeys of Israel, and the battles, up ahead.
The Hebrew word gulgolet simply means “skull,” in reference “for each person” or “enrolment by head count” (HALOT, 1:191). You are probably familiar with this term because the location where Yeshua was crucified outside Jerusalem was called Golgotha (Mark 15:22; Matthew 27:33; John 19:17), derived from either gulgolet (tlGlG) or the Aramaic Gulgulta (aTlGlG), meaning Place of a Skull (likely due to some kind of rock formation). Does the counting in Numbers 1:2 reveal anything more than what appears on the surface?
The term gulgolet appears twelve times in the Tanakh: five times it appears in this Torah portion (Numbers 1:2, 18, 20, 22; 3:47), and it is seen twice in Exodus (Exodus 16:16; 38:26), when the manna was gathered for each family and when the statute for the poll or head tax was being declared:
“This is what the Lord has commanded, ‘Gather of it every man as much as he should eat; you shall take an omer apiece [l’gulgolet, tlGlGl] according to the number of persons each of you has in his tent’” (Exodus 16:16).
“[A] beka a head [l’gulgolet] (that is, half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary), for each one who passed over to those who were numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men” (Exodus 38:26).
Within the Torah portion Bamidbar, the Lord calls upon Moses to count the eligible men head-to-head:
“[A]nd they assembled all the congregation together on the first of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head [l’gulgelotam, ~tlGlgl]…Now the sons of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, head by head [l’gulgelotam], every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war…Of the sons of Simeon, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, their numbered men, according to the number of names, head by head [l’gulgelotam], every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war” (Numbers 1:18, 20, 22).
You can assume that each of the remaining tribes was also recognized and numbered by its “skulls.” The leadership of Israel, in the census taking, has some kind of face-to-face encounter with the people numbered—letting them know that they have value as appreciated members of the community. There is certainly something impressive about having a leader recognize your existence. In a representative way, the Holy One is letting Moses, Aaron, and the elders perform a vital function in encouraging the Israelites. What this said to me is that the Lord is very interested in the individual, and that He looks upon each person as a unique creation. Everybody counts to Him!
Continuing in this Torah portion, you read about the different people mentioned and realize that the men listed are not just numbers, but instead are names with distinct tribal identifications (Numbers 2). Each of them descended from named fathers, and each has been granted a position among his peers—something truly encouraging if you were an Egyptian slave only thirteen months prior. If you read and think about the names, recognize how the Father often allows people to live out the etymological meaning of their names. Realize that each individual has worth and value in His eyes, even if one does not mean very much to others. Here, the Lord appreciates the roles of the Exodus generation so much, that a special census is taken of them for posterity.
It is rather amazing to think that the Lord would have taken the time to record who these Israelites were—when many people today do not often know who their great-grandparents were, and do not have genealogical records in their possession. Was this census like a selective service registration for the military draft? How would this have affected the individual Israelites’ place in society? How would it have influenced Israel’s transition from a disparate nation of slaves into an organized nation of priests?
As I contemplated these things, I had a very sobering thought: of all the names I was looking at among the Israelites, only two of this generation actually made it into the Promised Land. We will learn in later Torah readings that only Joshua and Caleb, because of their faith, are spared from dying in the wilderness. All of the rest perish and do not make it across the Jordan River.
The Rock of Our Salvation
Remember that King David, and other Psalmists and Prophets, have often referred to the Lord the Rock (Heb. tzur, rWc):
“The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).
“And they remembered that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer” (Psalm 78:35).
I believe these passages are all about the Messiah of Israel. He is the Head. He is the Chief Cornerstone. Thinking about Yeshua, and my earlier examination of the word gulgolet, one cannot help but think about His execution—atoning for our sins:
“They took Yeshua, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Yeshua in between” (John 19:17-18).
This event is what every person must look to for salvation. We all are counted and numbered among the people of the world, but it is imperative that you be counted among the company of the redeemed! It does not matter if a person is of the numbers of the bloodlines of Israel, because ultimately only a remnant of Israel and humanity at large will probably decide to believe in the finished work of the Messiah. The author of Hebrews observes,
“For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said, ‘As I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest’ [Psalm 95:11], although His works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3).
Remember, the Israelite males who were recognized, numbered, and commissioned in Bamidbar lacked the faith in God to believe—and consequently perished in the wilderness. Only a remnant of two believed and entered into the Promised Land.
Today, many in the Messianic community believe that claiming some kind of identity in either Judaism or Israel is sufficient enough to be tallied among the redeemed. Do not be deceived! According to Isaiah’s prophecies, only a remnant avoids the judgment that will be unleashed upon the unrighteous:
“A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; a destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord God of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land” (Isaiah 10:21-23).
Brothers and sisters, make sure that you believe in the atoning work accomplished by Yeshua at the rock of Golgotha! Make sure that you are not just numbered among community of Israel because you make a profession of faith in Israel’s Messiah—but that you are actually counted among the redeemed remnant who knows Him as Lord and Savior!
Revelation 8:6-9:12; 16:1-21
Words Are Not Enough
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.
Vayeshev “And he dwelt”
Acts 7:9-16, Hebrews 11
A Salute to those Who Saw Victory
A few weeks ago Americans observed a day known as Veterans Day. On this day we honor the men and women who have given of their service and even their lives to fight for both this country, and for the cause of freedom overseas. Many of these men and women in recent years had their lives changed forever when they came home, not to crowds of admirers who stood with appreciation for a job well done, but rather crowds of people who spit upon them, yelled obscenities at them and held signs of hate and slander.
What does the above paragraph have to do with this week’s or for that matter any week’s Torah portion? I believe it has everything to do with it.
In a few days we will observe the Feast of Hanukkah. To me, Hanukkah and Veterans Day go hand in hand. The similarities are amazing.
In the Torah as well as the balance of scripture we read about men and women who went forth and performed deeds far beyond their natural abilities. Some of them even gave their very lives for the causes they fought for. Like Joseph this week, many of them were known to their families as heretics or worse. But no matter what life would throw at them, they held fast to the course they felt God had called them to. In the end, some would see the rewards of their labors. However for many it would not be until after their deaths that their work would be appreciated and honored. Just think back to the prophets for a moment as an example of this. Even today, some who gave their all have not been fully honored. Consider One we know as Messiah, or even the disciples who followed Him. Consider the people of Hebrews 11.
Just as many veterans returned to America to unfriendly and down-right mean crowds, most of Christianity has repeated history regarding the men and women of faith who lived before the time of Yeshua. Yes, they may be used for a Bible story now and then, but have these people truly been honored as they should? I think not. I have even heard people say that though these people lived a life of faith, because they did not live to know who Yeshua was that they are forever separated from God and will burn in torment. I have heard some who thought that Joseph was not living by faith when he stored the grain, but was missing God by doing this. Of course you and I are appalled by thoughts like this, but nevertheless there are people who think this way.
I, for one believe it is time for these great people of scripture to be honored for the battles they fought and won so that we today may enjoy a freedom in Messiah unparalleled through the centuries.
As we look at Hanukkah this year, let us take our eyes off replacement commercialization that has been attached to this time. Let us not be so caught up in the lights, oil and food that we forget the reason for this season. Let us take time to talk about and teach our children about the great men and women who have gone before us. Let us remember that it is because of their lives and sacrifices that we have the scripture today. Let us remember that if it were not for a band of brothers called the Maccabees that there would not have been a Jewish virgin alive in a small town called Nazareth to give birth to the One we call upon for our redemption.
December is a month of challenges to many of us who follow the Torah. It is a month that we are called to make choices and to take a stand for truth. Maybe with Hanukkah being observed at the first of the month, far separate from other holidays with pagan roots it will give us a clear time to reflect on the price many have paid for truth in the past. We will be able to gain strength and renewed conviction from their lives. In the end, who knows, maybe many of us will one day join their ranks as the people who took a chance at being a heretic, so they could one day be an humble hero!
Have a blessed Hanukkah.