Saturday, January 16, 2021

Thou Shalt Kill

We have been taught for many years that the sixth commandment tells us “Thou shalt not kill.” As we study Torah and learn more about Hebrew, we learn that the commandment actually says “You shall not murder.” To many, this is a seemingly insignificant change in wording. It is simply exchanging one synonym for another. Is this the case? Do the words mean the same thing? It is easy for us to simply answer “No, they are not the same” and give all kinds of linguistic explanations to justify our answer. We would be more correct than incorrect (as I doubt many of us are actually linguists) but that doesn’t always complete our argument. We must therefore be able to establish our argument with scripture. Scripture will interpret scripture.

One question that comes up often when discussing the meaning of words in Torah is “How do you know how the word is supposed to be translated?” Often, Hebrew words have multiple meanings in English. Sometimes the word doesn’t actually translate directly into English at all. This can make it difficult to determine the intended meaning of the word or phrase. This is why there are so many differences from one translation to another. So, how can we know the intended meaning? There is only one way that is accurate far more often than not. It is not difficult, but can be complex and time-consuming.

·         We must use the context in which the word is used.
·         We must then compare it to other uses of the word and the contexts of those uses.
·         Finally, we must determine if any translation would contradict either the wording or the spirit of Torah. If a possible translation of a word would cause a conflict with known scripture, it cannot be the correct translation.

 This brings us back to a concept that I learned from my fellow Elder and dear friend Michael McCann; the First Stated Principle. This means that the first time a word, phrase, or concept is used in Scripture sets the standard for future uses. Each subsequent use should be assumed to have the same or similar meaning unless there is a clear contextual reason to change it. Once again, the change cannot contradict established scripture. I will endeavor to use this methodology to explain the fallacy of teaching the commandment of “Thou shalt not kill.”

Before we move on, I would like to mention that violating the First Stated Principle is the primary cause of wrong theology in modern Christianity. It shows up as well in Judaism and Messianism(?). Unfortunately, none are immune. However, I believe that the desire to understand Torah has led most Messianics, and many studying Hebrew Roots, to begin correcting many of these misunderstandings. One of the primary tenets of Christianity that has drawn its adherents away from Torah for so long is the concept that “Jesus did away with the Law.” Many Christian theologians can argue very eloquently, using many different scriptural references to prove their point. Often quite convincingly. They do a very good job of allowing scripture to interpret scripture in a way that most Christians, and some Jews and young Messianics (meaning those who have not studied Torah long, not necessarily those young in age,) will be swayed, or at least unable to give a convincing counter-argument. They miss one vital point, however. Their entire argument, and most other arguments about the validity of Torah and its applicability today, can be destroyed with one simple verse. Malachi 3:6 states “I am YHVH, I change not.” This is simply another way of stating (with much stronger authority) the concept of the First Stated Principle.

 Now that we have that out of the way, let’s move on to our topic for this discussion. I have felt for some time that this is a topic that needed to be addressed. While many who listen to this teaching or read it online, etc. may already believe as I do, or at least similarly, there will doubtless be some who have a different understanding based on their personal theology built up over their lifetime. In studying for this teaching, I’ve even been forced to change my thoughts on a couple of things. That often happens when we study the proper way – to find the truth, not the proof. I know that there have been many over the years who have taught against the death penalty because of the improper translation of Exodus 20:13. By the end of this teaching, I think you will understand why I believe those people are completely wrong in their thinking, but at least they still believe in some punishment for wrongdoing. However, the catalyst that got me to prepare this teaching was finding out that there are now churches teaching their members that self-defense is a sin. They are using the sixth commandment to tell people that defending themselves or others (including their children and other loved ones) against a murderer is a violation of YHVH’s law. I knew that there were people who held this belief, or one similar. I read a few years back of a college professor in California who stated categorically that he would never use violence against another human being, even if it meant the deaths of his children. In case you’re wondering, he did not get my vote for father of the year. In his case, he was not attempting to follow the sixth commandment. In fact, if I remember correctly, the man was an atheist. He was simply a pacifist taken to the extreme. Where I come from we have a different word to describe his beliefs, but I’ll keep it to myself. Hearing the same ideas being espoused by a church as official doctrine, and trying to base it on scripture, truly burns my brisket and gripes my wagger.

While I used several sources for this study, two were very helpful in finding good ways to state certain topics and in finding source scriptures.

 ·         The Biblical View of Self-Defense,
·         What Does the Bible Say About Gun Control, Larry Pratt,

The Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:13 is ratzach (resh, tzadi, chet) meaning to murder, slay, kill, or to assassinate or murderer. As we can see already, there is a potential for confusion. Acceptable translations of the Hebrew text would be “You shall not kill,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not be a murderer.” This is why we must look deeper for the meaning in this case. The first thing to determine is if there are any prior uses of the word in Torah. A quick search in English shows dozens of uses of the word kill prior to Exodus 20. However, if we look for the Hebrew word ratzach, we find that this is the first usage. Therefore, all subsequent uses of the word will be heavily influenced by the intended meaning here. Since we can’t determine context from prior uses, we must now look for prior uses of similar words, or words that express the same or similar concepts. This is where those many uses of the word kill in English become relevant. If we look at their primary meanings and their uses, we begin to get a better picture of what kill means in context. The first usage is, unsurprisingly, the story of Kayin and Hevel in Genesis 4. Here, it is the Hebrew word harag. There is no doubt reading the account that this is an unjustified, deliberate murder of Hevel by Kayin. This fits the definition, to murder or to smite with deadly intent. We see that YHVH gives immediate punishment for the act. So we see that YHVH is against the deliberate murder of our fellow man.

The next word we see as kill is the Hebrew word nakaw, meaning to kill in judgment or to punish. This word is used when referring to Kayin bearing the mark that will prevent people from killing him. We’ll get to why this usage is important later. But bear in mind, it is significant, as it is both a sin and not a sin based on the context. Remember, context is crucial.

The next usage pertaining to men is the Hebrew word muth, meaning to have one executed. This word is used when Pharaoh decreed that all male babies were to be killed. It is also the same word used when YHVH was going to kill Moshe for not circumcising his son. Once again, we see context being important to the usage. Both Pharaoh’s and YHVH’s intentions are described with the same word. In this case, it refers to a decree by one in authority. Pharaoh had the authority by his position in Egypt to order executions. YHVH has the authority by His position as King of the universe to order executions.

These are all the forms of kill used in the Bible before Exodus 20 that refer to killing of men. We won’t deal with the killing of animals, although there are some who try, incorrectly, to use the sixth commandment to condemn that also. It doesn’t take much study of Hebrew to destroy that argument entirely. After seeing the words used so far, we still haven’t established a clear pattern of the meaning of ratzach. Therefore, we must now start looking for further usage of the word after Exodus 20:13 to establish further meaning and context. Throughout the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, there are multiple instances of the word ratzach. Each time, it refers to someone who kills another person deliberately, accidentally, or through negligence. These three uses make for a pretty broad understanding of the word. This is where some would claim victory in their argument that all killing is wrong. After all, if deliberate, accidental, and negligent killing are all wrong, what is left to be justified?

Now it is time to get to the other side of the argument. We’ve established that the sixth commandment has very broad application. But are there exceptions to the rule? This is where we must start letting scripture interpret scripture. Shortly before getting the commandments at Mt. Sinai, in Exodus 17, we see an exception to the rule before it is even given. Moshe commands Y’hoshua to take troops and fight against Amalek in war. As YHVH was quick to judge Moshe any time he transgressed His will, the lack of any rebuke from YHVH proves that this killing was considered righteous and justified. In fact, rather than rebuking Moshe, YHVH tells Moshe to write down the account of the war so that it will not be forgotten. Throughout the rest of the Torah, we see the Israelites commanded to wage war. They are even commanded to slaughter all the inhabitants of the Promised Land when they arrive. Throughout the Tanakh, we see Israel being sent to war by YHVH and by leaders selected by YHVH. We can clearly see that YHVH believes killing in a just war is justified killing. That is our first established exception to the rule.

Now it is time to discuss the importance of nakaw, the sin that is not a sin. As we established earlier, this word refers to killing in judgment or as punishment. We clearly see throughout the Torah that many transgressions of Torah are to be punished by death. We also see that it is the people of Israel who are to do the killing. Two good examples of this punishment being used are the Levites after the golden calf punishing idol worship, and Pinchas killing the Israelite man and the Midianite woman in front of the Tabernacle with a spear. Both instances resulted in the killers being rewarded by YHVH. And yet, this is the same word used for the killing that YHVH forbade against Kayin. It is the type of killing that Yeshua appears to speak against in the Sermon on the Mount. Many Christians use Matthew 5:38-39 as proof that Yeshua spoke against Torah and against killing – some would say all violence. However, a further study of the context (there’s that word again) of his Sermon will show what he was really speaking against. He was speaking out against personal vengeance. Punishment for crime was to be determined by the government (meaning whoever was lawfully in charge of the people. This began with the appointment of leaders by Moshe, then the priests, then judges, and then the king, carrying over to governors, etc. as they were appointed in later times.) While the people were commanded to carry out the sentence, guilt had to first be established by the proper authorities. We are not to punish wrongdoers simply because we think they deserve it. Especially if the punishment is to be death. Civil punishment is the responsibility of the people. Vengeance is not. As YHVH says in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine.”

We now come to the exception that has caused the most disagreement in this country in recent years, and the one that caused me to begin this study; self-defense (and by extension, defense of others.) As I said earlier, there are some who do not believe we have the right to take another life in self-defense. But does that fit with what Scripture says? Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about protection of life. Then we will look at some more examples of justified killing as it relates to self-defense.

First, let’s look at what the Bible says about protecting life. Deuteronomy 22:8 tells us “When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring blood-guilt on your house when one falls from it.” We are required to ensure the safety of others. Psalm 82:4 says “Rescue the poor and needy; Deliver them from the hand of the wrong.” Proverbs 24:11 says “Deliver those taken to death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.” But perhaps the best-known passages about defense of others is Ezekiel 33:6. “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and shall not blow the ram’s horn, and the people shall not be warned, and the sword comes and takes any being from among them, he is taken away in his crookedness, and his blood I require at the watchman’s hand.” Moving to the B’rit Chadasha, let’s look at 1 Timothy 5:8. “And if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the belief and is worse than an unbeliever.” In light of the requirements to protect life, does it not make sense that safety and protection for our own and our household would be a part of that required provision? Probably the best example is John 15:13. “No man has greater love than this: that one should lay down his life for his friends.” Now let’s see what is said about protecting oneself.

1 Corinthians 6:19 says “Or do you not know that your body is the Dwelling Place of the Set apart Spirit who is in you, which you have from Elohim, and you are not your own?” If our body does not belong to us, but belongs to Elohim, do we have the right to allow it to be destroyed? Only in certain circumstances. As mentioned above, John 15:13 is a great example of when this would be permitted. Otherwise, we should be protecting ourselves.  Do we have examples in scripture to defend this viewpoint? Of course we do. Let’s look at Exodus 22:2. “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is smitten so that he dies, there is no guilt for his bloodshed.” But, there is a caveat to this. Read verse 3. “If the sun has risen on him, there is guilt for his bloodshed, he shall certainly repay.” We see here that killing a thief is permissible if done in the dark, but not in the light of day. Why the difference? In the daytime, there is sufficient light to see that the thief is simply that, a thief. He has not caused or attempted to cause bodily harm or death. It is clear that he is not a kidnapper or rapist. Therefore, we do not have the right to take his life. Bloodshed is not allowed for protection of property. However, at night, it is dark. That makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, to determine if the man is a thief or if he intends further harm. A thief and a murderer look the same in the dark. This is where I had to change my attitude and opinion on something. There is a common attitude, (supported by law in Oklahoma and many other states,) that if someone breaks into your home, you should shoot first and ask questions later. “If he comes after my stuff, he’s leaving in a body bag.” I’ve been known to express this opinion in the past. As I said, it is an accepted attitude these days. Unfortunately, it is a violation of Torah; IF IT HAPPENS IN THE LIGHT. The nighttime provision still stands. So now we have to ask, what if a thief breaks in during the day and we don’t know his intention? What of the robber who claims to have a gun in his pocket, but we don’t see it? I believe that this would be covered by the implied meaning of the scripture about the thief at night. We cannot determine his intentions, therefore we must assume the worst. We must not wait for him to murder, rape, or kidnap someone before we take action. On the contrary, we must act to prevent any of these outcomes. Protection of life is paramount. That is why the punishment for someone who commits any of these acts is death. The life of the innocent should never be forfeited to the guilty.

Now that we have established the right to defend ourselves and others in our home, what about when we are outside our home? Do we have the right to defend ourselves and others? After all, we have police to handle that job. Perhaps Nehemiah can shed some light on that. Look at Nehemiah 4:8-23. This passage tells of the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the city walls. As you read, take note of who was guarding the city and what each person was carrying. Verse 13 says that people were set “according to their clans.” The people were responsible for guarding and protecting each other, not a police force or army. The same verse says they were “with their swords, their spears, and their bows.” What weapons did armies use in those days? That’s right; swords, spears, and bows. These were short range, medium range, and long range weapons. Today’s equivalents would be handguns, shotguns, and rifles. The weapons of armies in the hands of the people for protection from their enemies. Some might say that those appointed to guard the wall were a de facto police force and therefore they should be the only ones armed. Wrong again. Verse 17 tells of those who were doing the work, “working with one hand in the work, and with the other holding a weapon.” Verse 18 then states “As for the builders, each one had his sword girded at his side as he built.” The people were expected to be armed for their own protection, even though a guard force had been established. Our own Supreme Court has recognized that protection of self is a personal responsibility, ruling multiple times that the police have no duty to protect your life. Their job is to apprehend criminals, not to prevent them.

This right of self-protection can be seen again in the book of Esther in chapters 8 and 9. When the plot by Haman has been foiled, the king allows all the Jews to defend themselves with deadly force. When given that right, we see in chapter 9 that they then destroyed their enemies with the sword. We have an obligation to defend our lives and those of others with “the sword” if necessary.

“But that’s all from the Old Testament and Jesus came to do away with all that. He was a pacifist who would never condone such violence.” Is there justification for this viewpoint in the New Testament? Of course there is. We’ve already mentioned Matthew 5 and Yeshua’s exhortation to “turn the other cheek.” But let’s look at Matthew 26:51-56, Luke 22:49-53, and John 18:10-11. In these passages, we see Kefa’s reaction when they come to take Yeshua from the garden. He cuts off the ear of the slave with his sword. What is Yeshua’s reaction? He tells Kefa to put away his sword and allow him to be taken. He stops Kefa from defending Yeshua with a sword. Proof positive that the sword and the violence done therewith were condemned by Yeshua. Not so fast. It’s time to bring back that little word we used earlier, context. Was it the sword that Yeshua was rebuking? Let’s see what took place just a few short verses earlier. Luke 22:35-39 tells us much more about Yeshua’s attitude toward weapons. In verse 36 we see him state clearly “And let him who has no sword sell his garment and buy one.” A sword has become more important than clothing. Yeshua knew what was coming soon. He knew that self-defense could become a necessity for his followers. In verse 38, they show Yeshua that they have two swords. They have been carrying swords with them during their meetings with him, at dinner, and in the garden. Do we see Yeshua rebuke them for carrying weapons? No. If Yeshua told them to get swords and did not rebuke them for the equivalent of carrying weapons in church, would it make sense for him to then rebuke Kefa for having and using a sword? Only if he was schizophrenic, wishy-washy, and/or addle-brained. Thus, there must be another explanation for his rebuke. Reading on, we see Yeshua explain, giving the context for his words. He was telling Kefa to allow the events to happen because it was part of the Father’s plan. Kefa’s interference went against the will of the Father and therefore had to be rebuked. Again, it was not the sword or even the employment of it for violence that was an issue. It was simply that it was not the right time to interfere.

If we need further proof that Yeshua was no pacifist, we need only look to his public ministry. Yeshua repeatedly verbally assaulted the religious leaders quite publically, often raising an angry mob by his actions. He was willing to stir up intense feelings among those who were listening to him teach. He even had to escape from angry mobs stirred up by his rhetoric at times! The best example, however, is his treatment of the money-changers in the Temple. Overturning tables and whipping people while yelling at them is not the work of a pacifist. It would therefore by hypocritical to demand his followers be pacifists when his own actions prove he was not.

Yeshua stirred up angry mobs, whipped people, threw coins, allowed his followers to carry weapons, and even told them to sell their clothes to buy swords. The evidence simply does not support the claim that he would be against self-defense and the carrying of weapons. Once again, we cannot simply take verses out of context and apply them as proof of our preconceived ideas.

Throughout the Tanakh and the B’rit Chadasha, we see weapons and their use regarded in a positive light. King David in Psalm 144:1 says “Blessed be YHVH my Rock, Who is teaching my hands for fighting, My fingers for battle.” King David, a man of war who came to greatness through the killing of Goliath, was called a man after YHVH’s own heart. The Torah is called a sword. Yeshua says when he returns, a sword will come from his mouth. He will slay all his enemies in the ultimate righteous war. The hosts of Heaven do battle. The angel placed at the entrance to the Garden carried a flaming sword. It is clear that a weapon in the hands of the righteous is a good thing.

Now that we’ve discussed the need and justification for self-defense and the carrying of weapons, I feel we should end with a reminder of the limitations. We must always remember that vengeance is not an approved use of weapons. Vengeance is YHVH’s responsibility, not ours. Punishment is our responsibility within the rules of righteousness and civil authority. Killing in war is acceptable, but making war because we can is not.  Defending ourselves and others is a moral imperative, even if it means killing. Killing to defend our “stuff” is murder, punishable by death.

If we choose to carry and/or employ weapons, we must never rely solely on them. As anyone who is familiar with weapons knows, they are simply a tool for a specific job. We must always remember that our trust and reliance must be in YHVH. Just as it says in Nehemiah 4:20, “Our Elohim will fight for us.” For further examples see Psalm 44:6-7 and 1 Samuel 17:47.

The carrying and use of weapons is never to be taken lightly. Shedding of blood is a serious issue throughout scripture and we must always remember that. When making the decision to carry or not to carry a weapon, we must weigh all the information that YHVH has given us in His Word.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Parasha Vayishlach

 Vayishlach - He sent
B'resheet 32:4(3)-36:34

This parasha begins with Ya'akov returning to the land of Kena'an and facing his brother, Esav. This is a trying time for Ya'akov. When he left the land, he was fleeing from the wrath of Esav. He had every expectation that his brother would still hold a grudge. When his servants informed him that Esav was bringing an army of 400 men, Ya'akov feared the worst. He split his family, servants, livestock, and belongings into two camps.

At the end of the last parasha, Vayetze, we see Ya'akov refer to  the place they entered the land as "Elohim's camp", a singular designation, but then he named it Machanayim, or "two camps". This turns out to be a prophetic name since he then ended up splitting into two camps. Was he simply foreshadowing what was about to happen to his family? No, he had a different meaning in mind when he named the place. I hope you'll allow me a moment to discuss Vayetze before digging further into this week's portion.

When Ya'akov left the land many years earlier, he saw angels going up and down a ladder. We have all heard of this "Jacob's ladder" story many times. What was this about? Why were they going up and down? There is a rabbinic tradition that I believe is probably accurate. They say that there was one set of angels whose job was to guard and protect Ya'akov in the land of Kena'an. They had a specific assigned territory. When it was time for Ya'akov to leave their territory, they ascended the ladder to heaven and another group of angels descended to replace them for the journey outside the land. This second group stayed with Ya'akov during his time in the house of Lavan. When Ya'akov returned to Kena'an, there was another changing of the guard. The angels from outside the land ascended and the angels for inside the land descended and returned to Ya'akov. There were two camps of angels, each serving a specific purpose. This could be one explanation for the plural name he gave it. Another possibility, still fitting with the angels using that place as a guard post, is that he named it for Elohim's camp and Ya'akov's camp being in the same place. He recognized that this was a place where YHVH's will and Ya'akov's life were linked. It was the place where he had to put his faith in YHVH when he left the land and his life was forever changed.

Now let's get back to this week's portion and the second "two camps." Ya'akov splits everything in the hopes that if Esav attacks one camp, the other may have a chance to get away. Who knows? It might have worked. After splitting the camps, Ya'akov spends time in prayer. He tells YHVH "I’m not worthy of all the love and faithfulness you have shown your servant, since I crossed the Yarden with only my staff. But now I have become two camps." Another translation says "I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant, for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps." Once again, as is common in Hebrew thought and writing, I think there are multiple meanings to this verse. The first half of the verse shows Ya'akov being humble (becoming small) and saying that YHVH's love and faithfulness are more than Ya'akov deserves. Ya'akov left the land with only his staff and now he has enough family, servants, and livestock to fill two camps! He has been blessed far beyond what he deserves. But there is another meaning to the last part of this verse. He is also telling YHVH of his fear. When he escaped Esav, he was alone and had nothing to lose. Now, he has so much to lose that he has had to split into two camps in the hopes of saving at least part of it. He reminds YHVH in his prayer of the promises that YHVH made that "I will do you good" and would make his family as numerous as the grains of sand by the sea. This is a not so subtle cry for help. "I think he wants to kill me and my family. Do something!"

Ya'akov then ends up spending the night wrestling with "some man." After being blessed by the "man" when he refuses to give up the fight, he calls the place they fought P'ni-El (face of God). He saw the face of Elohim and lived. He survived a situation that he knew should have killed him. He recalls this moment when he faces his brother the next day. In verse 33:10, Ya'akov tells Esav "Just seeing your face has been like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me." Esav doesn't realize that Ya'akov is saying that he expected to die, but miraculously lived.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Parasha Va'era

Va'era - I appeared
Sh'mot 6:2-9:35

As we all know, last week's Torah portion, Sh'mot, taught us about Yeshua. This week, with Va'era, we will continue to learn about Yeshua, while next week's portion, Bo, will mix things up and teach us about... Yeshua. Now some of you are thinking "But these Torah portions teach about Moshe, not Yeshua. What are you talking about? Can you not read? Have you been studying so much you can't tell the difference between Charlton Heston and Jim Caviezel?" That's OK. I understand your confusion and I'll try to set things straight.

Moshe was a type and shadow of Messiah. As a promised deliverer of Israel, he set the stage for the redemption plan of YHVH. Anyone who has heard me teach before knows that I frequently refer to YHVH's use of cycles. YHVH sets a pattern and then uses that same pattern repeatedly to accomplish His goals. The patterns do not change, they are simply expanded as needed to fit the situation. This is certainly true of Moshe and Yeshua. Let's compare the two.

  • The King (Pharaoh) ordered the death of all male children
  • Both escape death by going to Egypt
    • Moshe into the House of Egypt (Pharaoh's own household and government)
    • Yeshua from the land of Israel to Egypt
  • Both returned in time as a deliverer
  • Each spent time in the desert preparing for his role
    • Moshe spent 40 years in Midian
    • Yeshua spent 40 days in the desert
  • Both were rejected by Israelite leaders, despite proof from YHVH of their identity
  • Both brought deliverance through the sacrifice of the first-born
    • Moshe through the sacrifice of the first-born sons of Egypt
    • Yeshua through the sacrifice of himself, YHVH's first-born
These are just some high points to show the connection between these two important men. I could expand on this topic more, but we would be here all day (and night, and tomorrow, and most of next week.) I encourage you to study further into this connection to get a deeper understanding of how Moshe foretold the coming of Messiah and how Messiah duplicated the pattern set forth through Moshe.

Today, I would like to discuss another repeat of the pattern set forth in these Torah portions, the Greater Exodus still to come. As this Greater Exodus could very well involve some of us living today, it is important the we understand it. Just as YHVH gave Moshe a warning of what was to come in his day, we need to look for the warning signs of what is to come again.

There are parallels between the time of Moshe and the times in which we now live. In Va'era, YHVH tells Moshe that He "... did not make myself known to them by my name, YHVH." (Sh'mot 6:3) Anyone who has spent much time around the Messianic movement, or Hebrew Roots, or whatever name is en vogue this week, has seen someone arguing over the name of YHVH. Pronunciation, usage, etiquette. We get so hung up on the linguistics that we forget to look for an understanding of what He said. To know someone's name, in this context, refers to knowing the full meaning of the one who owns the name. Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov did not yet know the full extent of YHVH's power and might. They knew only what had been revealed to them in their time as needed to fulfill their part of His plan. In fact, they had not even seen the fulfillment of His promise to them to provide the land to them and their descendants forever. All three died without taking possession of the land.

Today, we are seeing a repeat of this. We are beginning to see YHVH's name being brought back into usage among people who have never done so before. Those of us who have been Messianic for a while are used to hearing His name used, but among the Christian church, such usage has been almost nonexistent. However, if you listen to Christian music today, you will hear His name proclaimed proudly in more songs than ever. It's not just Paul Wilbur and Mason Clover using His name in a song title anymore. However, just because they are using His name, doesn't mean that they have come into a full understanding of the meaning of that name. I think this is one of the biggest detriments of discarding the Torah as mainstream Christianity has done for so long. We were so concerned with removing His wrath and judgment (the Old Testament God) that we missed his power and might. We cannot understand YHVH if we selectively choose which parts of Him we will accept and study. He is wrath and judgment, mercy and grace, wisdom, compassion, and righteousness. He is love. He is unending, all powerful, and all knowing. These are not just words to describe Him, these are attributes that only begin to define Him in ways our finite minds can start to comprehend. This is what it means to know His name. I've been studying Torah for over 15 years and I have just begun to scratch the surface of His name. His name is His reputation. When a name is used, the hearer focuses on the reputation of the one who bears that name. That is what Moshe was to proclaim to Israel and what YHVH was building through His actions in Egypt. That is what it meant for all the nations to see and know that "I am YHVH." We are called to make His name known today. By doing so, we are to be a part of restoring His reputation as the true Elohim of Israel. He cannot be known as the Old Testament God of wrath, the God of the Jews, the New Testament God of Mercy and Grace, or the Christian God. He is all of the above and so much more. It is our responsibility to continue studying, learning, and TEACHING His name, His reputation, to all the world.

YHVH states four promises to Moshe in this Torah portion.
  1. I will free you...
  2. I will rescue you...
  3. I will redeem you...
  4. I will take you as my people...
    1. I will be your God
This is the same pattern (there's that word again) that YHVH will use at the end times to bring His people back together and into His Kingdom. Read those four promises again and think about what you know of His plan for His people in the latter days. Read the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Revelation. You will see these same promises restated in various ways through the descriptions of the actions He will take.

  1. I will free you...
    1. from bondage
    2. from sin
  2. I will rescue you...
    1. from Egypt
    2. from the world
  3. I will redeem you...
    1. bought at a price (the first-born of Egypt)
    2. bought at a price (the first-born of YHVH)
  4. I will take you as my people...
    1. the mixed multitude will become the Children of Israel
    2. the House of Judah and the House of Ephraim shall become one stick in His hand
  5. I will be your God
    1. One Elohim over One people in One land
That is just the start of what is available to learn in this week's Torah portion. I have only discussed the first seven verses of this portion. Imagine how much more you will learn as you study the entire Torah portion. Keep reading and studying and leave comments below on other things you have learned this week. Next year, we'll concentrate on a different set of verses in this portion and expand some more on His reputation.

He is YHVH!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Parasha Tzav

Tzav - Give an Order
Vayikra 6:1-8:36

This Torah portion continues the discussion of the sacrifices. It begins with the burnt offering and ends with the consecration of Aharon and his sons for serving in the office of cohen. The entire portion would take up too much space for a blog entry so I would like to concentrate on the burnt offering.

Aharon is commanded to keep the fire of the burnt offering burning at all times. The burnt offering stays on the altar all night so that the fire will not go out. In this way, the altar is always prepared for the sacrifices and offerings brought by the people. This also served as an example for the priests that they must always be ready. As priests through Yeshua, shouldn't we also look to this example? We must always keep our fire burning and be prepared when someone comes to us looking for YHVH. The priesthood never took a day off. Individual priests may take time off and rotate duties, but the priesthood was always on duty. The same is true today. As priests of Yeshua, it is our duty to ensure someone is ready to assist those who wish to approach our King.

As anyone who has ever gone camping can attest, keeping a fire burning constantly creates a large amount of ash. That ash, if left alone, will eventually overcome and smother the fire that created it. The same can happen in our own lives with our spiritual fire. How many times have we seen someone come into study of Torah and burn with a blazing fire of zeal for YHVH, only to see that fire dwindle and fade away? Their faith snuffed out by their own intensity. In their desire to offer everything of themselves, they forget to take time to clean up the ashes. We all do it at times. We learn something new that draws us closer to Him and stokes our fire. It burns hotter and we feel it burning away the old "knowledge" and misunderstandings. Then we repeat the process and more misunderstanding is burned away. It is all turned to ash. But we never remove those ashes. We continue to carry them as a bitter reminder of things we have given up; of times we were deceived; of misunderstandings that kept us from truth for so long. Instead of removing them and letting ourselves be a clean altar to build our fire, we begin smothering that fire. The ashes get deeper until they take over and the fire dies.

The priests were commanded to clean the ashes out of the altar each morning to prevent such an occurrence on the physical altar. Should we not do the same spiritually? Cleaning out ashes was a dirty, thankless job. If you have ever cleaned out a fireplace, you know how unpleasant it can be. And yet, the priest cleaning the altar was commanded to do it wearing his fine linen garments. Even the seemingly trivial jobs are worthy of our finest when done for YHVH's glory. When we serve our Elohim, there is no trivial job. As I mentioned above, even if it seems like something small, it could be the very thing keeping the fire from being snuffed out.

Once the ashes were removed from the altar, the priest was to change out of his fine linen into other garments before carrying the ashes outside the camp. This illustrates a great picture of the priest doing important work in the service of YHVH with no special attention or fanfare. By removing his fine garments before walking through the camp, he is no longer visibly different. He is not drawing attention to himself when performing his duties among the people. Does this not bring to mind Yeshua rebuking the Pharisees for doing just the opposite? Trying to draw attention to themselves as they did their work. Making themselves the object of importance. In Moshe's day, the priest was just a man carrying ashes. The importance was left at the altar, where the attention was on YHVH.

However, there remained another step to be done with the fire. Just removing the ashes would not keep the fire going. It had to be kindled and fed. The priest had to add more wood to the fire and another burnt offering. In the same manner, we must continually add fuel to our fire. We must learn more of His Word so that the fire stays strong. We must give more of ourselves as the offering each day. Otherwise, it is just a campfire burning without a reason. The fire on the altar was not the end goal. The fire was not the purpose. The tasks to keep that fire going were never about the fire. Everything was about the offerings and the One to whom they were being offered. Without a fire, the offerings were just dead animals. Without a fire in us, our knowledge of Torah, our professions of belief, and even our teaching His Word, is dead.

Be a priest of Yeshua. Clean the ashes and build the fire. Daily.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

B'shallach - After he had let go

B'shallach - After he had let go
Sh'mot 13:17-17:16

I will be focusing this week on the third aliyot (they are separate for Ashkenazi and Sephardic this week - I will cover both) of Parasha B'shallach. Basically, Sh'mot 14:15-15:21. At this point, the Israelites have left Egypt and Elohim has led them to travel through the desert in a roundabout way to the Sea of Suf. Elohim had them to avoid the main highway so that the people would not see warfare and become afraid. I suspect that He also had another reason to take them on the slower route, He needed to let the Egyptians catch up. The Israelites have now been pinned against the Sea by Pharaoh's army. While the people have become very fearful and are losing confidence, they are about to witness one of the greatest demonstrations ever of YHVH's power.

Moshe has tried to calm the people by letting them know that YHVH will do battle with Pharaoh on the people's behalf. It doesn't appear that they are interested in listening. When Moshe speaks to YHVH about it, His response is to tell Moshe to stop crying and move forward! He commands Moshe to reach his staff over the sea and part the waters. Despite the Hollywood depictions, this was not an instantaneous event. The water didn't just roll away and let the people run through. Reading on, we see that YHVH sent a strong east wind that blew the waters back all night. During this time of vulnerability, YHVH (appearing as a column of fire and cloud) moved from in front of the people to behind them. We all know that YHVH has been leading the people as a column of cloud by day and fire by night. I find it interesting to note that He seems to be appearing as both when He moved behind the people. It says that there was cloud and darkness on one side (the Egyptians), but light by night on the other (Israelites). How symbolic of the ninth plague and Israel's command to be the light in the darkness. He placed Himself between His people and their enemy. He cut off their sight of their past and their troubles. Is it any different today? If we trust in Him, will He not separate us from our past troubles while leading us in the proper direction? Will He not remove any obstacle that will prevent us from reaching His promise?

Once the ground between the waters was dry, the Israelites began their journey. Many explanations have been put forth to explain this mighty miracle as something natural, or an exaggerated event. None of them can explain how the ground was dry, yet water was walled up on the left and the right of the people. An earthquake causing a tsunami may explain the water pulling back and exposing land. It can even explain the water crashing back over the Egyptians just before dawn. It cannot explain their being a wall of water on the other side of the people. It also can't explain the walls staying there all night long while the people crossed. Three million people do not cross a sea quickly, no matter who is pursuing them. There are some who say the water was only a few inches deep where they crossed. That doesn't fit the description by any stretch of the imagination. It also fails to explain how YHVH could drown all those horses and cavalry in three inches of water. It seems to me, that would also be a miracle!

As the Egyptians pursued the Israelites into the sea, YHVH caused panic among them. He broke the wheels off their chariots to slow them down. He caused so much havoc that it says "The Egyptians said, 'YHVH is fighting for Isra'el against the Egyptians! Let's get away from them!'" Isn't that amazing? The Egyptians wanted to get away from the Egyptians. So who were these Egyptians that fled? Read who YHVH said would be destroyed in the sea, and notice who is not mentioned. The chariots, their riders, and the cavalry were slated for destruction. What about the foot soldiers that would have traveled with them? The attendants and servants that would have kept the army ready to fight the Israelites? Remember that not all Egyptian soldiers joined the army voluntarily. And not all Egyptians were of Egyptian descent. Many had families who had been conquered or came to Egypt to escape famine, like the Israelites. Therefore, Egyptians could escape the fate of the Egyptians. Who do you think spread the stories ahead of the Israelites as they traveled through the desert?

Once the people of Israel had crossed the sea, Moshe reached out his hand again and the waters returned to normal depth. As mentioned above, the chariots and cavalry were all destroyed... "not even one of them was left." The Israelites saw the dead Egyptians washed up on the shore of the sea. Scripture says that seeing this mighty deed made Isra'el fear YHVH and believe in YHVH and in Moshe. After all that they had gone through and seen in Egypt, the people finally believed in YHVH and His mighty power.

The first 21 verses of Sh'mot 15 gives us the pattern for how we should always respond to the awesome works of YHVH. The people sang and danced and gave praise to YHVH. I have to wonder if the people really understood that the song they were singing was telling prophecy. They sang about events in their future as if they were a done deal. Indeed, they were. The important thing to note is that they were praising YHVH and rejoicing in things that had not yet happened. While their faith didn't always stay as strong as it should, at this point it was rock-solid. This is another one of those not-so-subtle lessons in how we should walk out our faith in Him. We should be thanking and praising Him for all the wondrous deeds He has done in our lives. For every victory we have through Him over adversities and attacks of the enemy. But we should also be rejoicing in the belief in what He will do in the future. There are so many prophecies for His people that have not yet been fulfilled. Like our people coming out of the sea, we should be dancing and singing to Him for the fulfillment we know is yet to come.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bo (Go?)

Bo (Go?)
Sh'mot 10:1-13:16

This Torah portion is named for the command that Yahweh gives to Moshe to "go" in to Pharaoh and warn him of the next plague. However, as we can see just two verses later, this word also (and probably more correctly) means "come". If we change translations in verse one, does it change the meaning of what Yahweh is telling Moshe? Of course it does! Why else would I ask the question? Let's take a look at the connotations of the different translations.

If Yahweh is saying go in to Pharaoh, we get a picture of Moshe being sent away from Yahweh into the presence of Pharaoh. This is the equivalent of me telling my kids "Go to your room" or "Go outside and play". It's clear that I'm not going outside or to their rooms with them. They are departing from my presence. Does this sound like the way Yahweh operates? I don't think so. That would be a pretty significant violation of His promise to always be with His chosen people. It doesn't seem right that He would say "I will never leave you nor forsake you, now go away."

If Yahweh is saying come in to Pharaoh, we can visualize Yahweh leading Moshe into Pharaoh's throne room. If I say "Come to the synagogue", it is implied that we will be together. Therefore, we can translate this as Yahweh saying "Come with Me to Pharaoh". I think this is a better fit with what I know about Yahweh (granted that's not as much as I would like). So, "bo" along with me as we delve deeper into this week's parasha.

As we begin this portion, Moshe and Aharon have come to give Pharaoh another warning. Locusts! Aharon warns Pharaoh that the locusts will cover the entire land, worse than has ever been seen before. We immediately see a small, but very significant, change in the dynamics of Egyptian life. Before Pharaoh has a chance to respond, his servants begin to argue with him. Imagine, servants speaking apparently rather boldly to their "god-king". What would cause them to do the unthinkable? Remember the preceding plague? That's right, hail, the first plague to kill people. Which people would have been killed by the hail? I would suggest that few regular Egyptians were out working in the fields with livestock. It would have been the servants that had to face the danger. Who had to die. These servants who had placed their trust in Pharaoh to protect them. And now, Pharaoh is still arguing with Moshe and Aharon instead of ending the plagues. How important were the lives of servants to their king? The evidence was not favorable for Pharaoh.

These servants were witnesses to opposing attitudes from two different deities. One, their Pharaoh, was seemingly indifferent to the suffering of lowly servants. He was only strongly vocal when the plagues inconvenienced Pharaoh. The other, Yahweh, who was willing to destroy an entire nation to free and protect a bunch of slaves. The lowest of the low, the most despised in all the land. These were the people important enough to Yahweh to make His presence felt with extreme prejudice. As we read through the accounts of the plagues, we see Yahweh systematically attacking various aspects of Egyptian society. He attacks them economically, psychologically, and theologically. Now he continues the trend and attacks their faith and trust in their king. I wonder how many of the mixed multitude that left Egypt were servants.

To Pharaoh's credit, he actually listens to his servants and offers to let the Israelites go and worship Yahweh. Until he hears who is going. His reaction to the news that ALL the Israelites are leaving? "Ain't happening! Yahweh will have to be with you to get all of you out of here." Who knew that Pharaoh was a prophet? Albeit not a very enlightened one, apparently. He didn't bother to listen to his own statements. With his refusal to let them go, the plagues must go on. Here "bo" the locusts. A strong east wind brings locusts that cover the entire land, destroying all plants and trees in Egypt. We now see an amazing change in Pharaoh. He summons Moshe and admits to sinning against both Yahweh and Moshe. He actually asks for forgiveness and asks Moshe to intercede with Yahweh to remove the locusts. Humility from Pharaoh! Who'd a thunk it? Yahweh responds and removes the locusts with a strong west wind. There "bo" the locusts. But He hardens Pharaoh's heart again. His plan is not yet complete.

The penultimate plague is another no-warning plague. At Yahweh's command, Moshe lifts his staff and darkness descends on the land. There is no light anywhere in Egypt, except Goshen. The Israelites have light in all their homes. I will leave you this week to ponder the significance of the Israelites being the only source of light in a darkened world. Is there a chance for His people to be a light in a darkened world again? Must we wait, or are we expected to be that light now?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Va'era (I appeared)

Va'era (I appeared)
Sh'mot 6:2-9:35

Get the video or audio of this teaching at

This is going to be one of my longer posts. This week's Torah portion has much that we can learn beyond the basics of the plague stories that we all know so well. I will be discussing two topics that I have named "The Plague Pattern" and "The Staff of God". I will go into detail about both of these topics as we go along.

But first, I want to address the beginning of the Torah portion when YHVH seems to contradict his own Torah. In Sh'mot (Exodus) 6:3 Yahweh says “…I did not make myself known to them by my name, YHVH.” Yet, His name is shown repeatedly in Torah during the stories of Avraham, Ya’akov, etc. We even see in B'resheet (Genesis) 32:9 that Ya'akov refers to Him as Yahweh. So how can they not have known His name? To understand this statement, we must understand that a name is more than just a name. It is not enough for someone to know that my name is Robbie. There are plenty of people named Robbie running around, mostly unsupervised. There is even another one running around inside my own house. Therefore, if I tell someone that I am Robbie, I haven't really told them that much about me. To make a name known is to show the full meaning of the one who owns the name. If I tell you my last name, where I live, that I am a husband and father, you begin to know more of who I am. In the context of Torah study and instruction, I can tell you that at our synagogue, I am the Gabbai (like an MC, I control the order of service, lead announcements and liturgy, etc.), I am an elder, I am a teacher, and I am the son of the head Rabbi. Now you can start to understand more of me and my authority to write this blog. Each new bit of information gets you closer to "knowing my name".

For the Patriarchs, they did not yet know the full extent of YHVH’s power and might. They had only begun to see some of who He is. While they had the promise of YHVH, they had not yet seen the fulfillment of His promise. That fulfillment would be seen by their descendants. Someone's name is his reputation. In other words, we are known by our actions. Looking back from our present day, we can see that fulfilling the promise to give the land to Avraham's descendants made His name known.

Read verses 4-8 of this chapter and you will see YHVH explaining to the Israelites how He will make His name known. He reminds them of the covenant, describes how He will fulfill that covenant, and then finishes His description with His name, showing the completion of His introduction.

According to the prophets of the Tanakh and Revelation, He will make His name known again.

Now let's get to the topics I mentioned above.

The Staff of God

This topic actually starts with last week's Torah portion. As we all know, when Yahweh spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, He got Moshe's attention through the staff that Moshe carried. As a shepherd, he would always have his staff when in the field. It made for a good teaching tool. It also shows us a pattern that Yahweh still uses today. Something ordinary, when used by Yahweh and for Yahweh, becomes extraordinary. A staff, a rock in the desert, a teenager too small to fight a giant. These are only a few examples. But there are times when even the extraordinary isn't quite enough.

In Sh'mot 4:2-4, we see Moshe's staff turn into a snake. When Moshe picks it up, it reverts back to a staff. This is important; Moshe is now holding his staff in his hand. Now read verse 17. It's OK. I'll wait.

Are you back? Good. If Moshe is already holding his staff in his hand, as verse 4 tells us that he is, what staff is Yahweh telling him to take? If you were holding a bottle of your favorite beverage (mmm... Mt. Dew) and said "Here, take this Mt. Dew", would you think I was referring to the one in your hand, or to a new one that I am giving you? If I wanted you to take the one in your hand, I would say "your Mt. Dew", not "this Mt. Dew." See the difference? Read verse 17 again. There is no use of "your". Now go to verse 20 and read the second sentence. I'm waiting again.

Welcome back. Did you see anything interesting in that verse. Whose staff did Moshe take with him to Egypt? Who's staff was needed to perform miracles in Egypt? Why did Moshe need to take God's staff to Egypt instead of his own? We already saw it turn into a snake once. Why couldn't it be used for the same purpose again? I think the better question to ask is, in who's authority was Moshe to act in Egypt?

In Midian, Moshe's staff was his tool for exercising power and control over his flocks. Moshe didn't go to Egypt to display his own power. He was given authority by Yahweh, and therefore needed a symbol of Yahweh's power. Hence, the staff of God.

The Hebrew word for staff is matteh. Interestingly, this word can be translated as rod, staff, branch, or tribe. It can refer to a rod of correction, a ruling sceptre, a lance, a walking staff, or figuratively as a support of life. In the case of God's staff in Egypt, we can see it being used for correction of Pharaoh, a ruling sceptre to show Yahweh's authority given to Moshe, and as a support of life in saving the Israelites from Pharaoh. Remember, Yahweh doesn't give us a single lesson to learn with each of His actions. Everything we read in Torah has many meanings and layers of meaning. I challenge you to spend some time rereading these chapters, substituting each meaning of matteh, and looking for new understanding. This is also a good way to find connections to other verses throughout the Tanakh and B'rit Chadasha that use the same word in different contexts.

Speaking of Moshe using the power of Yahweh in Egypt, that leads us to our next topic.

The Plague Pattern

Anyone who has studied Torah for any length of time or has heard me teach a time or two is aware that Yahweh uses patterns. The cyclical pattern is very clear and applies in micro and macro scale throughout scripture. As we continue to study, though, we can see other patterns emerging. In this Torah portion, we can see patterns in the order and types of plagues that are brought upon Egypt. The plagues in this portion are grouped into three sets of three. The final plague is a capstone that closes out the pattern while keeping itself separate.

Let's begin with the first three plagues. These three are different from the rest in that they affected the Israelites as well as the Egyptians. Within these three we can see a pattern that is unique to this set. The first plague, turning the water to blood, was duplicated by Pharaoh's magicians. It appeared from the start that Pharaoh was as powerful as Yahweh. It is important to remember that Yahweh allowed this to be seen by the Israelites. They needed to see the power of Pharaoh. The second plague, frogs, was also duplicated by the magicians. However, there was a problem. They could not get rid of the frogs. Pharaoh was forced to ask Moshe to have Yahweh remove the frogs. The Israelites and Egyptians began to see that Yahweh was stronger than Pharaoh. Now came the third plague, lice. This was the final plague to affect Israel. Pharaoh's magicians were forced to admit that they could not duplicate this feat. They had no choice but to acknowledge that this was a work of God. More importantly, Israel had no choice but to acknowledge it also.

When the fourth plague, insects (or flies, or wild beasts - the meaning of the word is unclear) comes, we begin to see another pattern. If you look at the first nine plagues in groups of three as I mentioned earlier, you will see that the first of each set starts with Moshe and Aharon speaking to Pharaoh at the river. These were very public pronouncements made to Pharaoh where everyone could see and hear them. They were public challenges to his authority and power. The second of each set is preceded by Moshe and Aharon approaching Pharaoh in his throne room. While the announcements are less public, they are more threatening to Pharaoh's seat of power. They are a direct confrontation where he is strongest. Finally, the third plague comes without warning. No proclamations are made and Pharaoh is given no chance to avoid the plague by releasing the Israelites. These plagues show Pharaoh that Yahweh can do anything he wants in Egypt, with our without Pharaoh's knowledge, and there is nothing Pharaoh can do about it.

Another pattern is seen in the types of plagues in each group and the escalating severity. In each group there is a large-scale annoyance plague, an all-pervasive plague, and a deadly plague, all increasing in intensity and severity. These do not stay in the same order in each group, possibly as a way of intensifying the fear and uncertainty gripping the land. The annoyance plagues consist of frogs, insects, and locusts. Each gets harder to deal with until the last destroys their food supply. The next group are the all-pervasive plagues. The lice, like the frogs, are everywhere. They are much smaller and nearly impossible to remove. The boils come upon everyone in a fine dust that is unavoidable. Finally, the darkness that was impenetrable. These escalated from very annoying, to painful, to terrifying. Finally, there were the deadly plagues. The first plague was turning the water to blood. We see that all the fish died. While unpleasant and rough on the seafood industry, it was not a long-term hardship for the Egyptians. The next was the livestock disease. Killing all the animals was a significant hit to the Egyptian economy and food supply. Finally, in group three, we have the hail. This is the first plague to kill humans and is therefore the worst of the death plagues. Until we get to the final plague which combines features of every group.

The last plague included an annoyance; can't go out after dark. It was all-pervasive; every Egyptian home was affected. And it was the most devastating death plague. It was a targeted killing that struck the very fabric of Egyptian society, including Pharaoh's own house. Yahweh pulled out all the stops. The message from this final plague was clear. Pharaoh tried to destroy Yahweh's firstborn, Israel. Yahweh succeeded in destroying Pharaoh's firstborn. He disrupted the line of succession and inheritance. The last plague had permanent effects for Egypt. And for Pharaoh.

The patterns don't end with the plagues themselves. Yahweh was also setting up a pattern for Israel's future. As I mentioned earlier, Yahweh will make His name known again. We read of a Greater Exodus that will take place. What patterns can you see in the prophecies of this time?