Saturday, November 28, 2015

The House of God

Last week's Torah portion comes from Genesis 28:10 - 32:2.

When I was a young girl my dad occasionally drove my family by a beautiful, large church where "The house of God and the gate to Heaven," was engraved above the front doors. I thought it was impressive! I loved the sound of the words and how important they made the church seem. Later, I found that same phrase in Genesis.

Genesis 28:17 (KJV)
17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

It was spoken by Jacob as he awoke from his dream of the ladder that led up to Heaven upon which angels ascended and descended. However, he was not in front of any building whatsoever. He continued with this:

Genesis 28:18-19, 22 (KJV)
18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

Jacob called the place Bethel, which means "the house of God." He even set up a pillar of stones and stated that the place would be "God's house." He also declared that he would give a tithe (tenth) unto God.

Where was this place?
Based on Jacob's descriptive words, the location cannot be any other place than Jerusalem. Yet the only identifiable Bethel in the Bible is a town north of Jerusalem and west of Ai. However, the ancient Jewish sages struggled with this problem also. In the Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 88a states "Jacob called Jerusalem Bethel."  

Not only does Jacob's words imply Jerusalem, but the Scriptures themselves indicate that the "House of God" is indeed the Temple which was built in Jerusalem.

1 Kings 6:37 (KJV) 
37 In the fourth year was the foundation of the house of the LORD laid, in the month Zif:

Psalm 23:6 (KJV)
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Isaiah 2:2 (KJV)
2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

So is Jacob's Bethel Jerusalem? This is a question that only God Himself can probably answer. However, it should make us sit up and take notice about our use of the phrase "house of God and gate to Heaven." Considering the importance and uniqueness given to the true "House of God," no church building can make this claim. No church can call itself "the gate to Heaven." This should also remind us of the importance of Jerusalem. This is the place from which Yeshua will one day rule! There will never be another city like it!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Torah Before Moses?

This week's Torah portion comes from Genesis 25:19-28:9.

Genesis 26:2-5 (KJV)
2 And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of:
3 Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee; for unto thee, and unto thy seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father;
4 And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

God appeared to Isaac and told him to live in Canaan and not to go down into Egypt. God would be with him and bless him. God affirmed that the promises made to his father Abraham would be carried out also to Isaac and to his descendants. This was great news not only for Isaac and the Jewish people, but for all the nations of the earth as well, because through Isaac's seed (Messiah Yeshua) the whole world would be able to partake in the relationship between God and His people.

Verse 5 gives the reason for why Isaac would be so blessed. Abraham obeyed God's voice, kept His charge, His commandments, His statutes, and His laws!

But what charge, what commandments, what statutes, and what laws did Abraham obey? Traditional Christianity has long claimed that the Torah was only given to Moses and was somehow fulfilled (meaning set aside) by Yeshua's death and resurrection. However, if Christianity has been wrong about when the Torah was given, couldn't it be wrong about believers being able to set aside the "Mosaic Law?"

The Hebrew words used in verse 5 are: mishmeroti meaning "my charge or safeguards," mitzvotai meaning "my commandments," chukotai meaning "my inscribed statutes," and torotai, meaning "my instructions." This last word translated into English often becomes Law or Torah. Abraham obeyed the Torah! Although it is true that the Torah in its full sense was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, God's people were aware of many of God's desires prior to Moses. The seventh day Sabbath was revealed in Genesis 2. The rules of clean and unclean food were known by Genesis 8. And circumcision began in Genesis 21. So whatever parts of the Torah that Abraham knew about, he obeyed. And God was pleased by his obedience. If God was please by a Saturday Sabbath, the eating of clean foods, and circumcision, why would that change? How could Yeshua's death and resurrection change God's laws, especially those of a God that never changes?

Malachi 3:6a (KJV)
6 For I am the LORD, I change not;

May God one day see our obedience in the same way that He saw Abraham's!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Women of Virtue

This week's Torah portion comes from Genesis 23:1 to 25:18, titled Chayei Sara or "The Life of Sarah."

Sarah, Abraham's wife, may seem to us to be a very flawed woman. She was impatient, full of doubt, less than kind, and acted as if she were blameless. Yet the book of Hebrews calls her a woman of faith.

Hebrews 11:11 (KJV)
11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

Just as we found about "righteous" Lot, Sarah was not a perfect example of faith. Yet God deemed her faithful and was used as an example of a faithful woman. This should give believing women hope and encouragement that even though we are not perfect, God can use us and view us as faithful women!

Proverbs 31:10-31 is a description of the Eshet Chayil, the woman of virtue. This passage is sung or read by the husband over his wife during the Erev Shabbat, the candle lighting service at the beginning of the Sabbath. It is a call for believing women to become virtuous by their actions. Let us strive to follow after Sarah's example of faith and the ideal captured in Proverbs 31!

Proverbs 31:10-31 (KJV)
10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Glimpse of Messiah

This week's Torah portion comes from Genesis 18:1-22:24.

As I was reading about Abraham's command to sacrifice his son Isaac, I reflected on how the Bible truly is all about Messiah. Two thousand years before Yeshua even came to the earth, God was preparing his people to understand what Messiah was all about. Abraham's sacrifice shows us a vivid picture of the sacrifice God would make in order to save His people from their sins.

Genesis 22:2 (KJV)
2 And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Isaac was Abraham's son of promise, born late in his parents' life, and loved deeply by his mother and father. Yet, he was to be sacrificed as an elevation offering upon one of the mountains in the land of Moriah. Can you imagine the heartache this command of God must have caused Abraham? He had waited so long to have this son, how could he carry out this command?

Yet, Abraham prepared to do so.

Genesis 22:9, 10 (KJV)
9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.
10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

At this point the angel of the Lord stepped in and stopped Abraham from carrying out the command.

Genesis 22:12 (KJV)
12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

Although this was a test about Abraham's faith and obedience to God, we see little hints about its further meaning. Look at the following similarities between Isaac's ordeal and Yeshua's.

Isaac was Abraham's son; Yeshua was God's Son. Isaac was taken to Mount Moriah to be killed as a sacrifice; Yeshua was killed on Mount Moriah.

Next, notice the interesting statement made by Abraham:

Genesis 22:5 (KJV)
5 And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

The comment Abraham made to his young men about his and Isaac's returning to the men was either a lie, or Abraham truly believed that Isaac would be coming back with him to the men. The only way that this could have been a true statement was if Abraham believed that Isaac would be raised from the dead. This would also seem to indicate that Abraham had such faith in the promises that God had given him about having descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky that he was willing to do whatever God commanded him even if the command seemed counterintuitive.

The similarity here between Isaac and Yeshua is unmistakable. Although Isaac was actually never killed, Abraham thought that Isaac would be dead. Hence it was as if Isaac had been raised from the dead. Yeshua, of course, was raised.

Notice this as well:

Genesis 22:8 (KJV)
8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

Abraham indicated to Isaac that God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice. This must have been a painful statement for Abraham to make knowing that Isaac would be the "lamb." In the same way, God provided Yeshua as the lamb of sacrifice for mankind's sins. This must have been difficult for Him, as well.

The one noticeable difference between the accounts is that Abraham was finally commanded not to kill Isaac.

Genesis 22:13 (KJV)
13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.

For Yeshua, there was no possible substitute. He was the only one qualified to die in the place of sinful mankind. He was the only one who fully and perfectly satisfied the righteous Law of God.

Lastly, we read in Hebrews that Isaac was to be viewed as a "type" of Messiah, a precursor to help God's people understand what was to come.

Hebrews 11:17-19 (KJV)
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,
18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:
19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

Despite what it must have cost God emotionally, He actually gave up His Son so that His people could be saved. For those of us who are saved, this gift is beyond comprehension. Our only response can be deep gratitude!