A Mensch For The Ages

The Yiddish word mensch refers to a person of integrity, someone who is responsible, someone who has a clear sense of right and wrong, someone who is the sort of person other people look up to. In other words, someone we would call a “good guy.”

Today’s Shabbat taste of Torah features a mensch for the ages. And that mensch is Noah. And the specific section we want to grab hold of is Genesis 6:9-14, 17-18, and verse 22. It reads: 9 These are the family records of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among his contemporaries; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah fathered three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth was, for every creature had corrupted its way on the earth. 13 Then God said to Noah,” I have decided to put an end to every creature, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; therefore I am going to destroy them along with the earth. 14 “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and outside. 17 “Understand that I am bringing a flood — floodwaters on the earth to destroy every creature under heaven with the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will die. 18 But I will establish My covenant with you, and you will enter the ark with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives. 22 And Noah did this. He did everything that God had commanded him.

Here’s the situation. Here’s what’s happening. As violence increased on the earth God determined to destroy the human race with the exception of those few people to whom He extended grace. Think about this for a moment. Only six chapters into the Bible and the world is already described as being filled with corruption and violence; chamas in Hebrew! And these two words, corruption and violence give us, respectively, the character and expression of the sin in view here; its cause and its effect (v. 11). Corruption led to violence. Corrupt behavior, badness, always leads to exploitation and cruelty in one form or another. A life that is wrong with God always becomes a life that is wrong in relation to its fellow human beings. And in Genesis 6 we see that there were two major reasons for the flood: the sins of the sons of God (vv. 1-4) and the sins of humanity in general (vv. 5-8).

However, Noah stands in direct contrast to the time in which he lived. The Hebrew Scriptures describe Noah as tzadik (righteous) and tamim (blameless). In fact, this is the first time the words “righteous” and “blameless” appear in the Bible! Noah obeyed God even though he saw no evidence of the coming flood. And for that reason Noah is one of the truly outstanding examples of faith in biblical history. Hebrews 11:7 says, By faith Noah, when he was warned about things not yet seen, with reverent regard constructed an ark for the deliverance of his family. Through faith he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Noah’s absolute faith in God resulted in uncompromising obedience. He prepared for things to come. He did not live for the present. He continued to believe the promises of God, even when everyone else disbelieved them. He received a new world after the Flood; a righteous spiritual inheritance received by faith.

Like Noah, you and I need to be people who do not lean on our own understanding when deciding how to respond to situations that humanly speaking don’t seem to make a lot of sense (cf. Prov. 3:5)! Instead, we need to roll with Noahic Nike Theology, “Just Do It!” Just do it in terms of trusting wholeheartedly in the Word of the Lord and obeying it. At the end of the day it comes down to faith. And essentially faith is confidence that things yet future and unseen will happen as God has revealed they will (cf. Heb. 11:1). This is the basic nature of faith. But it’s also more than that. Faith in this context is a way of viewing all of life. Faith not only encompasses what lies ahead, it also encompasses the past. It involves accepting God’s viewpoint as He has revealed it in the entirety of His Word (cf. Heb. 11:3). It extends to how things began and how things will end.

As in the days of Noah, when our world is continually and increasingly corrupt and violent (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13), we need to exercise confident trust in the Person of God by courageous obedience to the Word of God. That’s the legacy of Noah. That’s the life of faith. And that’s what being a mensch is all about.

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Back to the End of Eternity Past

It’s time for the annual Scriptural re-boot in the yearly cycle of Torah readings. We’re going back to the end of eternity past. Or to say that another way, we’re beginning at the end of pre-creation past. Our starting point is the starting point; Genesis1:1. Bereishit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz. These first seven words in the Hebrew Bible give us a summary statement of when God began to create. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is a topic sentence that introduces the whole creation account that follows (1:2-31). And since there is no beginning or ending with God this is not the beginning of all things. What this beginning refers to has to be defined from the context. And the context here is the establishment of our world and beyond as we know it.

Why did the Spirit of God empower Moses to give this cosmology to the Israelites? Basically, He did it to encourage them to trust and obey Yahweh as they were wandering in the wilderness while in route to Canaan to take possession of their Promised Land. He wanted to prepare the Israelites for their ordained future by informing them of their theological past. Through Moses, the main point the LORD emphasized, is that the same God who created Israel also created the universe! The point being, He is the sovereign and ultimate authority and therefore He is worthy of unquestioned covenant loyalty. The same God who brought order, fullness, and rest to the material world is also fully capable of doing the same thing in the spiritual world of His people. That’s the why, in terms of authorial intent.

We now come to the what in this verse; what does it say and what does it mean? And here we just want to quickly touch on three key words: Bereishit, Bara, and Elohim. Bereishit means “beginning,” but by itself, it tells us nothing as to when the beginning was. It simply refers to the first phase of a step. But again from the context, this is speaking of the beginning of the universe as we now know it.

The verb bara, translated “created,” always describes the divine activity of fashioning something new, fresh, and perfect. It can be used to describe creation out of nothing (cf. Gen. 1:27), and it can describe the forming of something in the sense of reforming or renewing something that already existed (Ps. 51:10; Isa. 43:15, 65:17).

The Hebrew word translated “God” (Elohim) is a plural noun. The plurality adds intensification to the name El. In this context the name Elohim represents the Creator’s transcendent relationship to His creation. It also indicates majesty and stresses God’s sovereignty and incomparability – He is the “God of gods.” It emphasizes the fact that the God referred to here is the fullness of deity, the only true God. And while Elohim, in and of itself, does not prove that God is a Triunity, it does leave the door open for later biblical revelation that develops the concept of a plurality in the Godhead.

Now when we put the whole thing together, this verse is critically important because it contradicts six popular philosophies: 1) Atheism – because God does exist. 2) Pantheism -because God is distinct from His creation. 3) Polytheism – because “created” is singular in the text. (This is in direct contrast to the creation accounts in other ancient Near Eastern cultures). 4) Radical Materialism (the idea that matter is eternal) – because matter had a supernatural origin. 5) Naturalism – because creation took place when someone outside nature created. 6) Fatalism—because a personal God freely chose to create. God did not need to create the universe; He chose to create it. Why, because God is love. All that He does is the expression of His nature, and His nature is to love. And love is best expressed toward something or someone else, so God created the world and people as an expression of His love.

Which brings us to a big picture life application principle we can glean from the book of Genesis as a whole: Only through trust in God and obedience to God can we enjoy a personal relationship with God and realize our own fulfillment as human beings.

Genesis reveals that God originally intended people to have an intimate relationship with their Creator. God made man as a special creation (2:7). He made man with special care (2:7). He made man in His own image (1:26-27). And He consistently demonstrated concern for man’s welfare (3:9).

But not only that; after God’s relationship with Adam was broken by the Fall (ch. 3), God took the initiative to re-establish the relationship with man that He had created man to enjoy. He provided atonement for man’s sin until He would finally remove it.

But not only that; those who now possess spiritual salvation, were chosen by God before His creation of the world to be “in” Messiah in the sense that Messiah is the representative of the one who is chosen (Eph. 1:3-4). This means that salvation comes to such an individual when they trust that Jesus is who He said He is (Divine Messiah), and did what He came to do (Sacrificial Sin-Bearing). And that is not something to be afraid of; rather it is something for believers to rejoice in.

It’s always a blessing when we’re given a fresh start with the opportunity to begin again. Today as the repeated cycle of Torah study portions resumes from the beginning, let’s reconnect to a practice of trust and obedience that’s characterized by courageous dependence on God’s grace resources for living in a way that truly nurtures our relationship with the One who brought all things into being (cf. John 1:1-3).

Accommodated Requests

During the weeklong festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles), the regular Parsha (Torah portion) for Shabbat is suspended, and a special Parsha pertaining to the holiday is read in synagogues around the world. The scripture is Exodus 33:12–34:26. This is appropriate because one of the striking themes in this section is the sheltering presence of God.

In Exodus 33 there’s a re-establishment of fellowship which leads to a renewal of the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 34. Breaking God’s covenant resulted in the Israelites’ experiencing disruption of fellowship with God. It did not terminate their relationship with God, but it did hinder their fellowship with Him. And of course this is true in our lives as well. When we sin as Messiah followers we do not cease to be God’s redeemed people, but certainly our fellowship with the Lord suffers big time!

Now God’s withholding of fellowship from Israel created problems for Moses as Israel’s mediator. This was Moses’ thought process. If God was not going to enter into a covenant relationship with Israel as He had already described (13:21-22), how could Moses lead the nation (cf. 3:11, 13)? And it is this very issue that prompts Moses to make the first of three requests which appear in verses 13, 16, and 18 of Exodus 33.

Verse 13 reads, “Now if I have indeed found favor in Your sight, please teach me Your ways, and I will know You and find favor in Your sight. Now consider that this nation is Your people.”

Here Moses is seeking reassurance that God Himself would lead Israel in the wilderness. How does the Lord respond? In verse 14 God assured him that He would continue to go with His people; which meant that God would continue to provide the rest that His Shekinah Glory presence inspired.

Moses’ second request is found in verse 16. It says, “How will it be known that I and Your people have found favor in Your sight unless You go with us? I and Your people will be distinguished by this from all the other people on the face of the earth.”

Now Moses is asking that God would confirm him as God’s chosen mediator among the Israelites. Plus, he’s also pleading that God would confirm the nation as His chosen/covenant people. In verse 17 the Lord said,”… I will do this very thing you have asked, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.”

The third request from Moses is in verse 18. “Please, let me see Your glory.” Here we have an earnest desire for a greater perception of God’s essential being than what Moses had previously experienced. In the context of Israel’s restoration of covenant fellowship this would enable Moses to serve God more effectively. But in response to this request, God explained that no one can view Him directly and live. It’s kind of like looking directly at the brightness of the sun. It destroys our ability to see.

So because of inherent finite human limitations, the Lord accommodated Moses. He granted Moses a greater revelation of Himself, even though it was a limited revelation. And this revelation helped Moses fulfill his duty as a mediator by giving him a greater appreciation for the person of Yahweh (cf. 2 Cor. 12:4); which is something that people in positions of spiritual leadership desperately need (cf. Phil. 3:8-10).

Right here, right now, is there a principle here we can apply to the rhythm of our lives? There is. And it’s this: Because of the mediating ministry of the Lord Yeshua, we can and should approach God anytime and anywhere to share our deepest concerns.

Moses prayed on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord decided not to destroy Israel completely. Nevertheless, the Lord told Moses He would withdraw His presence and not go with the children of Israel as they continued their journey to the promised land (Ex. 33:3). However, Moses continued to plead with God on behalf of Israel, and once again God listened to His servant (Ex. 33:12-17).

Far too often, as believers, we don’t fully appreciate how truly accessible God is. Because of Messiah’s perfect sacrifice, we can come into God’s presence anytime and openly and honestly pour out all our stuff just like Moses did. We don’t need a special place. We don’t have to wear special clothes. We don’t have to purify ourselves with certain rituals. We don’t even have to use to certain words. In fact, according to Romans 8:26, God understands even when we don’t use any words at all!  So, “…since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens— Jesus the Son of God . . . let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help (Heb. 4: 14,16).

Today as we remember the sheltering presence of the Shekinah Glory in the wilderness, let us also remember that the divine response to our prayers in the wilderness of our life journey requires no accommodation whatsoever on God’s part.