Clean for the Unseen

Really? Seriously? Leviticus 12 is on the level? The physical discharge after the birth of a child prevented a woman from entering the holy place and required a period of purification followed by ritual sacrifice to restore full participation in the sanctuary? The first two verses in this chapter read: The LORD said to Moses; “Say to the Israelites: ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period.’ In today’s taste of Torah, I want to briefly touch on what was going on then, and how an understanding of that can help us more deeply understand and appreciate the necessity of our future transformation.

In the days of the Mosaic Covenant, there were two different situations which caused uncleanness: moral transgression and ceremonial defilement. Moral transgressions caused spiritual defilement (moral uncleanness). However ceremonial defilement (ritual uncleanness) did not necessarily mean that the defiled person had sinned. Some practices that resulted in ceremonial uncleanness were not morally wrong in themselves, such as childbearing. So we shouldn’t automatically think “sinful” whenever we see the word “unclean” in the biblical text. “Unclean” in this context does not mean “sinful” but “impure.” And impurity restricted an Israelite from participating in corporate worship at the tabernacle. So when people moved from their sphere and into the LORD’s presence, there had to be a purifying process. In essence, that’s what’s going in Leviticus 12.

Now from Hebrews 8 we know that Israel’s temple was an earthly shadow of the heavenly sanctuary that Yeshua entered into on our behalf, to make atonement for us, to intercede for us, and to prepare a place for us. This means that the only temple in the New Covenant that requires purification to enter into is Heaven. But with a physical body that’s destined to die we’re denied access to Heaven. In the spiritual realm, perfection can’t hang with imperfection without compromising its own perfection! Post-fall corruption and eternal glory are like oil and water, they just don’t mix. In our present state we’re simply unable to be where God rules over everyone and everything.

So the imperfection and mortality of man is totally incompatible with the perfection and immortality of God. But when we put on our new resurrection clothes at the moment of death or the rapture – we’re getting rid of everything that’s subject to decay and replacing it with an outfit that never deteriorates. We’re discarding everything that is subject to death in exchange for garments that never perish. Eyeball to eyeball intimacy with the risen glorified Messiah demands a holy makeover, a complete overhaul of one’s spiritual wardrobe. And so praise God that one day soon the culmination of our regeneration will be transformation!  And we will be clean for what is presently unseen.

Designer Fire Danger

Frank Sinatra singing “I did it my way” was truly an epic vocal performance. But you and I singing “I did it my way” when serving the eternal self-existent/self-proclaimed I Am that I Am; not so good! In fact, in today’s taste of Torah; swiftly and severely, we see that playing fast and loose with the commands of God is the equivalent of playing fast and loose with the person of God.

Our portion of this week’s portion is Leviticus 10:1-3. It reads: Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.

This passage consists of two parts: The event in verses 1 and 2, and the instruction in verse 3. Concerning the event, notice that Moses doesn’t explicitly tell us exactly what the sin of Nadab and Abihu was. Most likely though it was an incense offering that in some way, shape, or form violated God’s previously given directives concerning the specifics required for proper execution of a particular aspect of priestly service. In other words they profaned something holy with something unholy. In that way they were disobedient and undiscerning. These two priests took their own censers and brought in fire that was strange in the sense that it wasn’t acceptable because it wasn’t compatible with Israel’s worship. Now the text doesn’t say where Aaron’s sons got their fire. It could have been from a common fire in the camp or from a pagan shrine. We don’t know. But regardless of this fire’s origin, because it wasn’t authorized, because it didn’t correspond with what was prescribed, it contaminated the sacrificial ritual of the LORD. To say this another way, this was a situation in which there was absolutely no room for any innovation or alteration.

And so, in verse 2, in direct response – to the direct disobedience of presenting counterfeit fire; ironically both Nadab and Abihu are destroyed by authentic fire. That’s the event.

Then in verse 3 we have the instruction. Moses told Aaron that this judgment resulted from failure to respect the LORD’S holiness, His absolute moral perfection, and His appropriate corresponding concern that there’s complete compliance with what He desires His glory to be associated with. Interestingly though we don’t see Aaron protesting this judgment. Why is that? I think it’s because he solemnly accepted the rightness of God’s action in judging his sons’ sin.

But in contrast to Aaron’s response, I suspect this is why we might emotionally struggle with the severity and intensity of this judgment: For most of us, it takes some time and prayerful reflection to faith embrace the truth that God is so radically holy it took only one sin by the first Adam to condemn the entire human race (cf. Rom. 5:12); which means God decision that rebellion in this instance requires death is totally and righteously in sync with who He is.  And on the other side of this divine attribute shekel, for most of us, it also takes some time and prayerful reflection to faith-embrace the truth that God is so radically gracious it took only one act of obedience by the second Messianic Adam to make the entire human race potentially savable (cf. Rom. 5:18)!

Now, within the context of the Mosaic covenant, the path to relational intimacy with God was holiness; holiness in the sense of being different and set apart. God is holy because He is different from us. We’re sinful and He’s not. He’s at one end of the purity spectrum and we are at the other. And in order for a sinless Being to interact with an inherently sinful being in a positive nurturing relational fashion, the reality of sin required sacrifices. Uncleanness required cleansing. And priestly service required consecration.

Today, by virtue of our confident trust in Messiah’s divine authority and finished atoning work, God has made us holy in our position before Him. When God looks at us, despite our old default pattern of living independently of Him, He’s looking at the complete obedience and moral perfection of His Son. This declaration of imputed righteousness is the essence of justification. But in the real life in real time way we roll, we must intentionally and proactively pursue holiness to enjoy intimate fellowship with God. This is progressive sanctification. And in order for that to effectively and consistently happen, we need to be singing, “I’m doing it His way!

Glory – Gaze – Plotz!

In this week’s taste of Torah, we see that the appropriate human response to a miraculous and dramatic demonstration of Divine Glory is to plotz; because to plotz is to literally collapse! Verses 22 through 24 in Leviticus chapter 9 read:  Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them. He came down after sacrificing the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the fellowship offering. 23 Moses and Aaron then entered the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people, and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Fire came from the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell facedown on the ground.

Here’s what’s happening, here’s what’s going on: God commissioned Aaron and his sons to officially begin their new responsibilities as Israel’s priests. And in conjunction with that, ceremonies were performed to consecrate the altar. Now instead of Moses functioning as the High Priest, Aaron brought various offerings, including sin offerings and whole burnt offerings both for himself and for the elders of Israel. Aaron and his sons then offered additional sacrifices on behalf of the people as well.

After completing the sequence of offerings, Aaron blessed the people with the Birkat Kohanim (the priestly blessing). However, the Glory of the LORD did not appear, which meant that there was no Divine Shekhinah; no visible manifestation of God’s presence that consumed the sacrifices. Not a good thing, why; because that caused people to be anxious because no Shekinah meant it was unclear whether or not the LORD had accepted Aaron’s offerings and had forgiven Israel for their sin of idolatry symbolized and facilitated by their construction and use of the Golden Calf.

So, Moses and Aaron then went into the Holy Place of the Mishkan, the portable dwelling place for the Divine presence, interceded on behalf of the people, and after they came out to bless the people again; it was glory – gaze – plotz! There was a sudden flash of light, which proceeded from the cloud that covered the Mishkan and fire in the form of lightening, and consumed the sacrifices on the altar (cf. Judg. 6:20-24; 13:15-23; 1 Kings 18:38-39; 1 Chron. 21:26; 2 Chron. 7:1-3).

Now here’s the thing; the miracle that caused the strong reaction of the people (v. 24) was not that fire fell on the sacrifices and ignited them. Those sacrifices were already burning.  But rather there was a shout of joy (Heb. ranan) in response to the fire that fell and consumed the sacrifices suddenly.  In this way, God manifested His satisfaction with this first sacrifice that the newly consecrated priests offered. In fact, this is the first of five times that the Hebrew Scriptures record God sending fire from heaven as a sign that He accepted a sacrifice (cf. Judg. 6:21; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chron. 21:26; 2 Chron. 7:1). And so all the ceremony that preceded this was intended to culminate in the appearance of the glory of God because essentially worship is communion with God.

When the Mosaic Law, in the Mosaic covenant, was operative as the believer’s rule of life; the high priest’s sacrificial atonement offering and effectual intercession temporarily assured the worshiper of receiving the blessing of forgiveness in God’s presence. Today, believers receive permanent assurance of forgiveness by trust in the complete and finished atonement sacrifice of Messiah Jesus.  And in light of that, no doubt when we see Him for the first time in the unimaginable forever of eternity; it will again be a case of glory – gaze – plotz!

Identifying Identity

In today’s Jewish American world, the intermarriage rate is at 58 percent, up from 43 percent in 1990 and 17 percent in 1970.  Among non-Orthodox Jews, the intermarriage rate is 71 percent. This data comes from the Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews http://www.pewforum.org/2013/10/01/jewish-american-beliefs-attitudes-culture-survey/ As a result of this phenomenon, many in the more traditional segments of the Jewish community view intermarriage as a threat to Jewish survival; in some cases even equating it with Hitler and the Holocaust. In this post, I will argue that the definition of the term “Jew” is not subjectively determined by shifting human sensibilities, but rather its true meaning is grammatically and historically extracted from the authorial intent of settled Divine revelation.

A Jewish person is a physical descendent of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 13:15-16; 15:4-5; 26:2-5, 24; 28:13-15). From the repeated statement in the Abrahamic covenant that a nation will come through the biological blood line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Hebrew Scriptures clearly define Jewish identity in terms of a specific ethnic nationality. This nationality is based on physical descent not geographical location. Therefore, it is not confined to the state of Israel alone. It includes all Jewish people wherever they live. And it includes all Jewish people regardless of their religious affiliation including Jews who recognize 1st century Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish Messiah promised in the Jewish Scriptures. So then, the way one answers the question “Who is a Jew?” is ultimately determined by what one considers as his or her supreme source of authority; namely human tradition or the inspired Word from the God of Israel Himself!

It’s truly tragic when Jewish belief in the messiahship of Jesus results in cultural assimilation to the extent that one denies or renounces their God-given Jewish identity. However, if one is thinking and acting in accordance with what God has told  Jewish people in Tanakh, that will not happen! In fact, the very opposite will take place. One’s Jewish identity is actually enhanced and magnified by virtue of trusting in Yeshua for forgiveness of sin and eternal life because now there’s not only a physical component of Jewish identity present, there’s also a spiritually redeemed component present as well.  And the truth of the matter is, for my people there is no greater way to shame and counteract the demonic legacy of Hitler than to faith embrace the fact that Messiah has come, Messiah has provided atonement, and that this same Messiah who is Jesus, our literal physical brother; is soon coming again to completely uproot and overthrow the present world order and establish His righteous Kingdom.  And in the absolute best sense of the term “Jew,” (cf. Hebrew Derivative Yehudi – One who acknowledges God’s existence and praises Him while submitting to His authority); it simply doesn’t get any better or more Jewish than this!

When I have opportunity to talk about these issues with Jewish non-believers in the messiahship of Jesus, the usual default/knee-jerk response is, “I respect your beliefs respect mine.” Which of course is politically correct deflection code for, “I think you’re dead wrong and I don’t want to talk about it!” And so if someone is not interested in having a forthright civil discussion about the most important thing to have a forthright civil discussion about; namely how to be certain of spending eternity with God, I move on.  After 42 years of most of my fellow Jews not appreciating my attempts to articulate the gospel and most non-Jews not understanding my attempts to appropriately contextualize my articulation of the gospel for a Jewish audience; I’ve learned to roll with rejection and ridicule.  In fact, in the big of picture of things, it’s really not a big deal at all because it’s not about me anyway! I’m just a deeply flawed messenger trying to be faithful in doing what I’ve been redeemed for and called to do.  Any discussion involving biblical truth is about the receiver of the message and their relationship to God. This perspective, which was courageously modeled by the Hebrew prophets; removes the bondage of human validation while simultaneously imparting the priceless peace and contentment of playing for an audience of One. Baruch Ha Shem!