Good from Bad: Forgiving & Forgiven

The celebration of the incarnation, Deity becoming humanity to save us from our calamity, is in the rear view mirror.  2015 is rapidly coming into view. And a taste of Torah resumes. Today’s Parsha is a classic case of something good coming from something bad.  And as far as what the application of this story looks like, how forgiving enables us to be forgiven.

Our text is Genesis 45:3-8; and 14-15. It reads: 3 Joseph said to his brothers,” I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers,” Please, come near me,” and they came near.” I am Joseph, your brother,” he said,” the one you sold into Egypt. 5 And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. 7 God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. 8 Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 14 Then Joseph threw his arms around Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 Joseph kissed each of his brothers as he wept, and afterward his brothers talked with him.

Here’s the background to this situation. Pharaoh appointed Joseph administrator over all of Egypt in order to save Egypt from a severe famine, and Joseph was successful in accomplishing that. This was a famine that affected much of the encompassing region. And so the surrounding nations looked to Egypt as their primary supplier of food.

Now when Jacob sent his sons to Egypt for grain, Joseph recognized them but chose not to reveal himself.  Instead he wisely tested their integrity through a series of character challenges.  And part of this testing was Joseph deliberately planting a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag causing Benjamin to be in danger of having to remain a slave in Egypt.

This brings us to Joseph’s brother Judah.  Judah could not handle returning to his father without his youngest brother, Benjamin.  He knew that if he did that, it would probably kill his father.  Plus, Judah and the other brothers now realize that their situation is directly related to their evil behavior of selling Joseph into slavery, and they are filled with remorse over the way they had wickedly sinned against him.

And so Judah approaches Joseph privately and explains how it was difficult to bring Benjamin in the first place since he is the only surviving son of his mother Rachel, and that his father is very attached to him. He explains that he guaranteed the boy’s safety and that he is desperate to take his place as a slave (cf. Gen. 44:18-34).  But at this point, Joseph is no longer able to control his emotions after seeing his brothers’ repentance. And so he demands that everyone immediately leave his chambers except his brothers.  He wanted to be alone with them when he revealed his true identity.

Now in order to understand how all of this is a demonstration of something good coming from something bad we have to look at the big prophetic picture. When Joseph was placed in charge of Egypt’s food supply, it wasn’t just about God providentially preserving the lives of the Egyptians and the nearby world from starvation. It was also about His preserving the promise He made to Abraham, which included Israel being a blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise of global blessing would be passed down through Isaac, not his brother Ishmael (Gen. 26:3–5); through Jacob, not his brother Esau (Gen. 26:13–14); and the promise of Messiah would exclusively come through the line of Judah, not his other 11 brothers (Gen. 49:10). The point is, God sovereignly chose Joseph to ensure that His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob of not only land but also salvation to all nations through Messiah would be fulfilled through the line of Jacob’s son, Judah.

Now a real life in real time principle we can glean from this incident is that when someone has wronged us, we are to forgive unconditionally even though that person may not admit it was wrong or even ask for forgiveness. 

Joseph had forgiven his brothers for their terrible injustices long before he met them that day.  If he had not, he would have been consumed with bitterness. He would have seen this reunion as an opportunity to take revenge. Even though Joseph had to test his brothers to get answers to his questions, he was not retaliating.

Forgiveness is an act of the will. Is it difficult to forgive people who have wounded us deeply? Of course it is. Will we still have feelings of hurt, disappointment, sadness, and even anger? Of course we will.  Perhaps you’ve had a family member tell you, “I don’t do forgiveness.” That can be emotionally devastating!  And yet it is precisely at these moments that we must determine to affirm in our hearts that we have indeed forgiven those who have hurt us even if they never have or likely never will ask for forgiveness.

Now an interesting thing happens when we do forgiveness to the tune of 70 X 7 (Matt. 18:22). Not only are we forgiving we’re also being forgiven! Yeshua said, “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing” (Matt. 6:14-15).

What does this mean? Well, the key to understanding its intended meaning and application is to recognize that these two verses are directed to believers, not unbelievers. Believers are already forgiven of their sins once and for all in a judicial sense (Heb. 10:17) when they are justified by faith in Messiah (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).  But daily moment by moment forgiveness in order to maintain fellowship and spiritual intimacy with God is still critically necessary (1 John 1:9).

Here’s the deal: We cannot remain in a state of relational communion with God while also retaining an unforgiving Spirit toward those who have wronged us (Matt. 18:21-35).  And so when we make a conscious choice to let go of the toxic bitterness of heart toward another individual, a bitterness which poisons and deadens our soul, something good, relational restoration with God Himself, comes from something bad.  And that’s tov meodvery good!

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Desecration Restoration

When people say the bible may be true for you but not for me, they miss what Christmas and Chanukkah are meant to be. Christmas becomes a commercial extravaganza. Materialism on steroids gives birth to a secular celebration built around pious platitudes, Santa Claus, reindeer, and of course the obligatory exchange of cards and presents.

Perhaps you’re saying, “Dude, lighten up!  You sound like Ebenezer Scrooge on steroids Where are you going with this?” Well, actually I got nothing but love for the yuletide chotskies but here’s my point. When the mall trumps the manger, when more thought is given to monetary debt that has to be paid rather than spiritual debt that has already been paid; the best this holiday can offer is a platform from which to express love for family and friends. But left to its own devices, it will not and cannot point people to the incarnation: Deity becoming humanity to save us from our calamity!

Now for those Jewish people who have chosen to drink the cultural kool-aid, Channukah has become a kind of Jewish version of this distortion of Christmas. For example, the practice of gift giving at Channukah, one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday, is a relatively modern Jewish tradition. It developed in response to the older tradition of gift-giving at Christmas. In fact, historically Channukah was always regarded as one of the minor festivals on the Jewish calendar.

So why the increased significance in recent decades?  What caused Channukah to become such a big deal? Well, this is the season when Jewish children and Jewish adults become most acutely aware that they are different. Children try to understand why everyone else is involved in a celebration that doesn’t include them. And Jewish adults often still struggle with the seasonal discomfort caused by being so obviously separate and apart from the sociological mainstream.

Now the best way to deal with this religious/ethnic/cultural angst is not assimilation; rather it is a Scriptural/God-centered view of both the holidays and ourselves. As in all things, in order to be truly comfortable in our own skin and experience genuine contentment, we need to continually have the mindset that we’re playing for an audience of One, and that One is God. So at the end of the day all that really matters is what He thinks of us and whether or not our main concern is living in a way that pleases Him.

So if Channukah is not about needs felt and chocolate gelt, what is it? It’s about this. It’s about God being faithful, faithful to keep His prophetic promise of desecration restoration. It’s about the Jewish Temple being made usable again for Levitical Priestly service. It’s about God keeping His Word.

The term Channukah is not in the Hebrew Scriptures. This festival began during the time between the Older and Newer Covenant, an age also known as the inter-testamental period. However, in Daniel 8:9-14, Daniel talks about someone referred to as the Little Horn. This little horn was a genuine historical figure named Antiochus the fourth. He was king over Syria from 175 to 164 B.C. He added the name Epiphanes which means the manifest God because he believed himself to be just that-God in human flesh. The Jewish people living at this time changed one consonant in his name, and instead of calling him Anticohus Epiphanes they called him Anticohus Epimanes which means Antiochus the mad man. So in Daniel 8:9-14 we’re told what Anticohus’ activities are and how long they’ll last.

It reads: 9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the commander of the army of the LORD; it took away the daily sacrifice from the LORD, and his sanctuary was thrown down. 12 Because of rebellion, the LORD’s people and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground. 13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled–the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, the surrender of the sanctuary and the trampling underfoot of the LORD’s people?” 14 He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.” In other words – at that time – the Temple will be rededicated and made usable again for Levitical priestly service.

Here’s what’s going on. Alexander the Great has conquered the land of Israel and made it part of his Greek empire. When Alexander dies his empire is divided into four separate kingdoms. And two of these kingdoms affected the history of Israel. Those kingdoms were Syria and Egypt. In fact Israel became something of a political football between Syria and Egypt. And so after being under Egyptian control – Israel fell under Syrian control in 198 B.C.

Now Antiochus made two major military campaigns against Egypt. In the first campaign despite gaining a great deal of spoil, he was unable to take possession of Egypt. In his second campaign he was on the verge of taking control of Egypt but then the Romans came in and forced him to retreat. As you can imagine Antiochus was not a happy camper. So he lashed out on Israel making Israel the reason for his military failure. He ruthlessly slaughters men, women, and children. He invades the Temple. He forbids circumcision; he doesn’t allow observance of Shabbat, or the keeping of dietary laws. In fact he commanded that only pigs be sacrificed in the Temple. And he actually cooked a pig on the altar and poured its broth on the holy scrolls of the Law. But of even greater significance -Antiochus Epiphanes had a statue of his god Zeus Olympus, which was fashioned after a man, carried into the temple. He demanded that Jewish people bow down and worship that image! Why? Because his purpose in all of this was to humiliate the Jewish people by desecrating the Temple and assimilating the Jewish people into the Syrian empire.

However, the good news is that Antiochus’ plan would not be realized. The LORD raised up a group of godly courageous Jewish men led by the priest Mattathias and his five sons, and they rebelled against the Syrians. They began a guerilla style war against Antiochus and his Syrian army. And in one of the greatest military upsets of all time, the Syrians were defeated and driven from the land.

Now following this victory the first order of business for the Jewish people was the cleansing of the desecrated Temple. The killing of a pig and the statue of the heathen deity Zeus Olympus in the Temple of the true and living God made the Temple unusable. One problem though; there was no sanctified oil to light the Temple to make cleansing possible. And that problem was compounded by fact that the oil had to be prepared by the priests within the Temple. So, it appeared that the Jewish people were confronted by a dilemma that could not be resolved. What would they do?

Well, according to Jewish tradition, one small jar of oil was found. And it should have lasted for only one day. But miraculously that little bit of oil lasted for eight days. Eight days, until a new supply could be prepared and consecrated. And this you see was the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Channukah also known as the Feast of Lights or the Feast of Dedication, which John 10:22 records Messiah Himself celebrating.

Now when we look back at the Daniel 8 prophecy of Temple restoration, we find the historical fulfillment of this prophecy in the Apocryphal books of 1st and 2nd Macabees. And while those books are not divinely inspired Scripture, they do give us a reliable history of the intertestamental period. And from there we can piece together that on September 9th 171 B.C. the godly High Priest Onias III was murdered – and that on December 25th 165 B.C. the Temple was rededicated. So here’s the deal. When the total number of days between these two events are added up, the events which mark the initial desecration and the ultimate restoration, it comes out to exactly 2,300 days; the precise length of time after which God promised that the sanctuary would be cleansed! The point being, Daniel’s prophecy of Temple desecration and restoration was literally fulfilled!

 

 
Channukah is about God being faithful. And because God is faithful – faithful in keeping his prophetic promise of desecration restoration, there was light in a rededicated Temple made usable again for Levitical priestly service.

So, what does all of this have to do with us? Actually, quite a bit! First, if you’re a believer, if you’re putting your faith your trust your confidence in the person and work of Yeshua Ha Masiach, the hope of Israel and the light of the nations, if you’re depending only on Him for forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and your only way of getting into Heaven; then Channukah should direct you to 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 where Rav Sh’ual the apostle Paul says “… do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
I want to be absolutely clear on this point.  The unimaginable forever of eternity is a completely settled issue for the believer. If you have come to God by grace alone through faith alone in Messiah alone,  your union  with God can never ever sever!  However, communion with God in the sense of spiritual intimacy, relational nurture, power, and peace, can burst like a bubble!  When we allow unconfessed sin in our lives to fill our heart, when we autonomously and rebelliously live as if God doesn’t exist,  we become a desecrated temple that is grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit.  When we’re in such a state, we are in need of restoration and rededication. Why? So we can be made usable again for New Covenant priestly service.

Now, if you’re not a believer in Messiah just yet,  in a very significant sense you also are a desecrated temple. Hang in with me for a moment.  Please listen.  Your true identity, what fundamentally defines you as a human being is not your sexuality, it’s not your nationality, and it’s not even your level of functionality.  Your essential identity, what makes you -you, is that you are an image bearer of God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The God of Israel.  Your existence testifies of His existence.You can confidently affirm that, “I AM that I Am made me who I am!” But  because of sin, living autonomously  and rebelliously as if God doesn’t exist, that Divine image is defaced but not erased.  You still retain intrinsic worth and value as an image bearer of God. In fact, you’re an excellent candidate for Messiah’s desecration restoration program – the Gospel; the good news that Yeshua died for our sins and rose from the dead.  Your present spiritual condition doesn’t have to be the final act of your life script.   The way things are now is not the unalterable final word.  You are redeemable.  You can personally experience darkness made bright by the Messianic light of life not only during this holiday season, but also until the end of time and beyond.

Happy Channukah!

Legal Worship

The 613 commandments comprising the Mosaic Law perfectly mirror the absolute moral perfection of God. And any resistance to personally implementing these divinely inspired directives directly stems from our Adamic propensity to autonomously and rebelliously act out.  When the transcendent Sovereign to whom we are ultimately accountable says, “You will,” our automatic post-Eden response says, “I most certainly will not!” In a nutshell that’s human depravity. Not only do we need something outside ourselves to be rightly related to God so we can live eternally in the presence of our infinitely holy Creator, we also need something outside ourselves so we can consistently behave in a way that’s truly pleasing to the One, “… in whom we live move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Now in contrast to the Mosaic covenant, the promise of the New Covenant prophetically looked ahead to a day when the LORD would not only write His Torah (instruction) on tablets of stone but also on human hearts (cf. Jer. 31:33). And so this new delivery system meant that the impartation of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) was being promised (cf. Ezek. 36:27). Because without the Spirit’s divine empowerment, divine commands basically function like a judge in the Olympics. They evaluate and grade our performance, but in and of themselves they do not and cannot change our actions.  For that reason, and because of the state of our present humanity, we need a supernatural resource uncorrupted by sin since the essence of sin is living independently of God as if He doesn’t exist.

It’s common knowledge that within both the messianic and the non-messianic Christian world the Law is a continually controversial topic.  And the crux of the issue is this: Are the commands given to ancient theocratic Israel the present day believer’s rule of life? In other words, in some way shape or form, are these Mosaic imperatives currently intended to function as a means of sanctification? Do they help us become more like Jesus in character and conduct? Most would answer this question with some expression of, “Yes, the Law operates in this manner.” However, such a conclusion reflects a flawed hermeneutic and in some cases misapplied Jewish loyalties.
With regard to hermeneutics, attempts to demonstrate that the Mosaic Law Code is operative today often presuppose a replacement paradigm that is exegetically untenable.  In this model the church is said to be the new Israel despite the preponderance of Scriptural evidence to the contrary which clearly demonstrates that there is a distinctive origin, nature, purpose, and prophetic destiny that defines these two presently parallel yet disparate entities.

 

Another hermeneutical consideration relevant to this discussion is the fundamentally all-inclusive nature of the Law. It is regarded as a holistic unit of revelatory instruction where the violation of one ordinance is equated with violation of the entirety of its ordinances (James 2:10). This means that delineations such as the moral, civil, and ceremonial aspects of the Law are man-made categories imposed upon the text rather than valid distinctions inductively derived from the text. It also means that God does not give one the option of picking and choosing what commandments they will obey. Obedience and disobedience is defined in absolute all or nothing terms. And this creates an interesting dilemma. Given that a significant portion of the Mosaic Law regulated the myriad of procedures associated with the Temple, Levitical Priesthood, and the entire sacrificial system; and given the fact that those institutions have not been functioning since the destruction of the second Jewish temple in 70 AD, even if one sincerely desired to keep the Law in its totality, today, it is simply impossible to do so!

 

Concerning the issue of Jewish loyalties and whether or not adherence to the Mosaic Law is a biblically required expression of messianic Jewish identity, the following points are pertinent:
• Jewish identity is not based on the Mosaic covenant. It is based on the Abrahamic covenant. The Mosaic Law was the covenant life instruction God gave to His covenant people miraculously redeemed from Egyptian slavery. Furthermore, Messianic Jews never cease to be part of the collective body of Jewish people by virtue of their dual identity as members of both the physical descendants of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the believing Jewish remnant (Rom. 11:1-5).

 

• The only aspects of the Mosaic Law that are mandatory for both Jewish and non-Jewish believers are those commands from the Law that are repeated in the New Testament as part of the Law of Messiah or the Law of Spirit and Life (cf. Gal. 6:2; Rom. 8:2).  As to what the “Law of Messiah and the Law of Spirit and Life” actually consist of, the organization of material in this article is quite helpful: http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/christia/dutiestoc.htm.

 

• While it’s important for Jewish believers to publicly identify as Jews as a testimony of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise of saving some of His covenant people in each and every generation (cf. Rom. 11:5); there is much freedom and room for individual convictions and preferences as to what the expression of one’s Jewish identity actually looks like.

 

Interestingly, this freedom and room for individual convictions and preferences can translate into observance of the Law for the purpose of worship. Here’s how it works. One is free to exercise their convictions and preferences with respect to the Law provided that one understands that their choosing to practice aspects of the Law does not contribute in any way toward their sanctification, but rather is a way of engaging in devotion focused on the person of God as revealed in the Word of God flowing from a heart of sincere and passionate gratitude. In fact, I think this freedom to incorporate aspects of the Law into one’s lifestyle for what could be broadly termed as a doxological purpose also extends to non-Jewish believers as well. I don’t see anything in the Scriptures that would prohibit that.  And so then perhaps this worshipful use of the Law is actually part of what Paul spoke of when he said that, “… the law is good when one uses it lawfully” (1Tim. 1:8).

Bad Blood to Good Blood

Sometimes bad blood within the same blood can become good blood. We’ve all heard the phrase, “blood is thicker than water.” That expression is often used to imply that family ties (blood) are always more important (thicker) than the ties you make among friends (water). However, we all know that the members of one’s bloodline are fully capable of making relationships dysfunctional and even toxic. Interaction becomes strained. And people who share a common family history become alienated from one another. And they feel the need to set up protective boundaries.

Today’s taste of Torah features bad familial blood turning good. It demonstrates that whatever the history is between two individuals, reconciliation that terminates hostility, is both desirable and attainable.

Our portion of today’s portion is Genesis 33:1-4. And the incident depicted here is Jacob and Esau agreeing to bury the hatchet that has driven a deadly wedge between them. It reads: Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming toward him with 400 men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two female slaves. 2 He put the female slaves and their children first, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed to the ground seven times until he approached his brother. 4 But Esau ran to meet him, hugged him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. Then they wept.
It was time for Jacob to confront his past. More than twenty years had come and gone since he pretended to be his brother Esau in order to secure the first-born blessing from their father. The last time Jacob had seen Esau, Esau was filled with murderous rage, vowing to kill Jacob (cf. Gen. 27:41). So it’s easy to see why Jacob felt anxiety at the prospect of seeing his brother again, especially upon learning that Esau was headed his way with 400 men!

Now Jacob, being the man of strategy that he was, divided his family and the people with him, along with his flock, herds and camels, into two camps. That way, if Esau attacked one camp, the other would survive (Gen. 32:8). Well, it turned out that none of this was necessary. Esau warmly embraced his brother. For Esau, with the passage of time, the pain of betrayal was replaced by a willingness to forgive. And Jacob wasn’t the same person either. As the story unfolds we see that Jacob approached Esau with generosity and humility (Gen. 33:10-11). And in response to that Esau received Jacob in a spirit of graciousness.

Perhaps before you became a Messiah follower some regrettable events transpired between you and someone you’re physically related to. And as a result there’s some bad blood in your bloodline. But now, because of your identification with Yeshua, you’re not the same person you were before. You look at things differently. And you sincerely want to talk to your unbelieving relatives about the gospel. Here’s a principle we can take away from today’s Parsha that will help us do that: Do not be intimidated by the past!  

Yes, it’s true that no one knows you like your relatives. They have seen and know your selfishness, your fits of anger, your unkind attitudes, and a boatload of other sins as well.  And all of that can make witnessing to people who know you very well very intimidating. So what do you do? You view yourself as God views you – forgiven!  If you have wronged your relative, be quick to confess and demonstrate how knowing Jesus as Messiah makes a difference in your life. Compliment them for what they have meant to you. Express your concern for them. And talk about the good news that Messiah has come and Messiah has provided atonement.

Here’s the deal: The same God that brought you to Jesus can save your most hardened relative. There’s never been a person His heart did not love. And there’s never been a person His arm could not reach. And that’s why the Lord we worship, and the Lord we serve, can turn bad blood into good blood.