Assessing God’s Blessing

One of the nuances of meaning for the word assess is determining the importance and value of something. The focus of today’s taste of Torah is determining the importance and value of what is known as the Aaronic benediction. The text is Numbers 6:24-26. It reads:

24 “The LORD bless you and protect you;
25 The LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (NET).

The context of this blessing is the purification of Israel. And why is corporate purification needed? This large scale cleansing is necessary because the nation is preparing to move out toward the destination of their Promised Land. And so in this situation one of the central duties of the Levitical priests was to be a channel of blessing for God’s covenant people. God gave this benediction to the spiritual representatives of the people to offer up for the  people what was required for their sanctification, their being set apart for God. The reason being it was God’s will to bless all His people. And the priests were the mediators of this blessing from God to the Israelites.

Now in terms of the literary structure what we have here is a threefold or a three-in-one type blessing. It consists of three segments and each segment contains two parts. In each segment the second part is a specific application of the general request stated in the first part.  And so the way that these two parts come together is that desire is expressed for Divine action to result in human benefit.

When the blessings are individually examined in their textual order, it’s apparent they become increasingly emphatic. The first blessing is the most general (v. 24). God’s blessing is His goodness poured out. The priest called on Him not only to provide for His people but to defend them from all evil.

The second blessing is more specific (v. 25). God’s face is the revelation of His personality to His people. In a fire-like manner this revelation radiates His glory; consuming evil, bestowing light and warmth, shining with the intensity of the sun, promoting life while God’s graciousness is the manifestation of His favor and grace in the events of life.

The third blessing is the most specific (v. 26). Lifting up the Divine countenance refers to manifesting power. The priest called on God to manifest His power for His people. And this in turn would produce shalom (peace). And this shalom is not just peace in sense of absence of aggravation.  It is the sum of all God’s blessings.  It’s a sense of rightness in one’s relationship with the LORD coupled with tangible benefits.

This is the blessing God commanded the Kohanim (Jewish High Priests/descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses) to pronounce. In the Jewish tradition it’s called the Birkat Kohanim which means priestly blessing.  And in order to pronounce this blessing, the priests lifted their hands with palms outstretched while facing downwards. This pronouncement of blessing was both a responsibility and a privilege.

Today, as Messiah followers, we have this same responsibility and privilege of pronouncing spiritual blessing . And this is something that’s not only true of a distinctive group of spiritual leaders.  It’s true across the entire spectrum of the Body of Messiah.  All believers have been redeemed by Yeshua’s blood (cf. Eph. 1:7).  All believers have been made “a kingdom and priests to serve our God” (cf. Rev. 5:9-10). Therefore, all believers have access to the presence of the triune God; which means that we can pronounce blessing on one another in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit).  Like Rav Sh’ual the apostle Paul we can say, “The grace of the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Ruach HaKodesh be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14 CJB). In essence, that’s what it looks like to be assessing God’s blessing.

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Being Before Doing

In today’s taste of Torah we see Yahweh choosing before instructing. Numbers 3:5 – 9 reads; 5 The Lord spoke to Moses: 6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him. 7 They are to perform duties for him and the entire community before the tent of meeting by attending to the service of the tabernacle. 8 They are to take care of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting and perform duties for the Israelites by attending to the service of the tabernacle. 9 Assign the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they have been assigned exclusively to him from the Israelites.”

When God outlined His plan for worship at Mount Sinai, He chose the tribe of Levi to exclusively focus their energies on helping the Israelites worship appropriately. God exempted the Levites from military confrontation with Israel’s enemies. He did this because He chose the whole tribe to assist the priests, (which consisted of Aaron’s family within the tribe of Levi), in the service of the sanctuary. During the wilderness wanderings, the Levites carried the tabernacle and its furnishings (Num. 1:47-54). They also guarded this sanctuary (1 Chron. 9:19), taught the Israelites the Law (Deut. 33:8-11; Neh. 8:7-9), and led them in worshipping the Lord (2 Chron. 29:28-32).

Now following His choice of the Levites to serve in those specific capacities, God then proceeded to instruct the priests and Levites how to conduct their lives (cf. Num. chs. 5-9). And that instruction was intended to facilitate genuine authenticity because now it was clear what the righteous alignment between character and conduct needed to look like.

This issue of authenticity is critical if we are to have any hope of positively impacting people born between 1980 and 2000 collectively known by demographers and sociologists as Millennials. The defining events of Millennials have been the 9/11 attack and large scale mass shootings. Emerging technologies have made their preferred means of communication texting and social networking.  Millennials tend to have a low regard for most authority structures, seeking opportunities to collaborate. They are often distrustful of organized chains of command; and therefore are motivated by authenticity rather than authority. In other words they gravitate to people who appear to be authentically practicing their personal faith. They’re drawn to people who are able to open their Bible and explain their worldview; pointing to the reasons for their convictions and actions.

Here’s the deal: Despite whatever dreams and goals we never realized, we have processed enough life to significantly bless and mentor somebody who has processed less. It seems to me that this kind of big picture perspective helps us avoid despair over what might have been, and live in the land of what is for the glory of God. Specifically, we can tell Millennials we’ve learned that the comparison game is dead in the water because it measures the wrong thing. It makes the reference point of evaluation fellow sin corrupted human beings for whom Messiah died rather than Messiah Himself. It focuses on the physical appearance, monetary wealth, intelligence, and accomplishments of both redeemed and unredeemed individuals instead of the character traits of the Redeemer. Its ladder is leaning against the wall of imagined personal self-fulfillment instead of the wall of integrity before God and enjoyment of God.

The point is, all of us this, and more, is what we could call Menschkeit 101. It’s having real deal appeal. It’s living in community with some degree of meaningful accountability. It’s a new level of maturity because there’s no longer an underlying insecurity  that produces jealousy, resentment, emotional volatility, and a hyper-critical spirit. It’s demonstrating in real time/real life that it’s possible to live in the moment with genuine contentment. In short, it’s being before doing.

Show Me Your Heart!

“Show me the money!”  These famous words from the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire quickly became part of the lexicon of pop culture.  When people say, “Show me the money,” either want to know how much they will be paid for doing something, or they want to see why something is valuable enough to pay top dollar for it.

Today’s taste of Torah broadly deals with the subject of material provision and material giving. However it’s not a matter of “Show me the money,” it’s a matter of “Show me your heart!” The passage is Leviticus 27:30, and 34. It reads: 30 “Every tenth of the land’s produce, grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord. 34 These are the commands the Lord gave Moses for the Israelites on Mount Sinai.

Here’s the big-picture context: In the previous chapter, Leviticus 26, there’s a listing of the blessings and curses associated with Israel’s obedience and disobedience toward the requirements of the Mosaic covenant. These were God’s vows to His people in the sense of clearing stating up front His promises both positively and negatively.

In Leviticus 27 the focus is on the vows that God’s people were to honor as part of their covenantal relationship with the LORD. It deals with the specifics of what human faithfulness in this historical setting needed to look like.  And what we see in this closing section of Leviticus is that all that the land produced, whether seeds or fruit; one tenth was reserved for the LORD (v. 30). God gave these commands, along with many others, to the Israelites through Moses at Mount Sinai (v. 34) so that they would dwell at peace with Him in the Land. In this theocratic agrarian culture and society, giving back to the LORD ten percent of one’s harvest was intended to be an expression of consecration.  It was intended to be a worshipful recognition and designation of what rightfully belonged to Him.  In fact, there were actually three tithes associated with the Mosaic Law. Ten percent was given to the Levites to maintain the Temple worship (Num. 18:21-24; Deut. 14:27). Ten percent of the remaining ninety percent was to be donated to maintain the festivals and sacrifices of the LORD (Deut. 12:5-7, 10-19; 14:22-26). And ten percent was collected every third year for the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). So the total actual tithe under the Law was not ten percent but closer to twenty three percent.

Today however, God has given very different directions to guide the giving of believers living under the New Covenant (cf. 1 Cor. 16; 2 Cor 8—9; Phil. 4). He has not specified a percentage that His people must give. He wants us to give joyfully, sacrificially, and proportionately to the degree He has materially blessed us.  Teaching believers to give as God instructed the Israelites living under the Old Covenant often has the effect of decreasing giving instead of increasing giving!  Many believers erroneously think that when they have given 10 percent they have satisfied God by fulfilling their obligation. But such thinking reflects an underlying desire for a spirituality and mode of worship that can be numerically quantified and micromanaged. This is why we gravitate towards rules rather than relationship.

The truth of the matter is God owns all things. He is the creator, sustainer, and giver of everything.  And so when we give, we’re simply returning a portion of that which already belongs to Him anyway.  For the believer, giving is reflective of one’s love for God (cf. Matt. 6:19-21), and it’s an expression of one’s faith in God (cf.  Jam. 2:15-17). This is why it’s not about, “Show me the money.” It’s about, “Show me your heart!”

Divine Dis!

Today’s taste of Torah is about the penalty of defaming the name from which we came. The text is Leviticus 24:13-16; 23. It reads: 13 Then the LORD spoke to Moses: 14 “Bring the one who has cursed to the outside of the camp and have all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then have the whole community stone him. 15 And tell the Israelites: If anyone curses his God, he will bear the consequences of his sin. 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD is to be put to death; the whole community must stone him. If he blasphemes the Name, he is to be put to death, whether the foreign resident or the native. 23 After Moses spoke to the Israelites, they brought the one who had cursed to the outside of the camp and stoned him. So the Israelites did as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Those verses point to an episode where the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father was involved in a fight with an Israelite.  And in the course of the fight he “blasphemed the name [of the LORD] with a curse “(v.11). In response to this the LORD demanded death by stoning as punishment in accordance with His righteous standard.

The “Name” in view here (v. 11, 16) is Yahweh; the name by which God manifested His nature to His people. And although we’re not told what this man said that deserved death, we do know that he made derogatory remarks about the LORD in a way that incorporated God’s name in a vile expression of profanity.  His language was  irreverent and disrespectful.

We also see here that the nature of the man’s sin was two-fold. Not only did he blaspheme the divine name, he also cursed the divine person.  And when the witnesses to this event placed their hands on the head of the offender (v. 14) it symbolized the transference of the blasphemer’s curse, which had entered their ears, back onto the blasphemer’s head for the purpose of punishment. Clearly, the LORD takes the setting apart of His name from the profane very seriously!

Now given that the death penalty in this passage is not operative because the New Covenant has replaced the Mosaic Covenant as the believer’s rule of life, what are some applications we can legitimately glean from this? First, in terms of how we live and speak, we should treat the LORD’s name as if God’s reputation is at stake!  His name is a holy name. It’s a name above every name. And it’s a name before which every knee will bow.  Second, since blasphemy is so prevalent in our culture today, we need to warn blasphemers that God will hold them accountable for all of their words. We need to tell non-believers who blaspheme that judgment is certain unless they trust Yeshua as their substitute sin-bearer.  And thirdly, while we leave vengeance to God, we also pray for His name to be revered and His will to be accomplished on earth. And certainly a major part of God’s will being accomplished on earth is for many to receive forgiveness for blasphemy through Messiah’s grace rhapsody (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9).  Because defamation of the Name is one of the reasons Jesus came.

Blood: Proof of Death/Source of Life

Today’s taste of Torah is a one verse morsel. The passage is Leviticus 17:11 and it reads;  ‘For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’ These words are part of a chapter that deals with the sanctity of blood; specifically laws for blood sacrifices. In the preceding verse it’s stated that Israelites and non-Israelites who ate blood would be judged (17:10). And the reason for this judgment is that life is in the blood and God assigned blood for atonement (17:11-12). So to pour out blood is to pour out life. And the punishment for violating God’s laws regarding blood was premature death.

With regard to blood atonement sacrifices, the sacrifice of a substitute sin- bearer served as a graphic object lesson that the penalty of sin is death. Plus, this killing of a substitute, also said something significant about God’s character. You see the objection could be raised, “Why doesn’t God simply forgive as an act of good will instead of requiring such a drastic payment? Why doesn’t He just cut people some slack?” Well, the fact is, even if God could somehow overlook sin against Himself as an act of so-called good will, He is still bound by His nature to preserve justice in the universe. To ignore or gloss over sin would destroy the whole meaningfulness of the concept of justice! Bottom line, what it ultimately comes down to, is God’s position of official administrator of the judicial system governing the entire universe and His prerogative to exercise that role as He sees fit! But really we shouldn’t be surprised by this. In the Hebrew Scriptures He has clearly and repeatedly said that, “The soul that sins will die!”

However, there’s a positive aspect associated with the death required in atonement. This action can further be interpreted as the animal giving its life to the offerer so that the offerer can continue living! In other words there’s an exchange of life happening here. The animal took the life of the offerer by identification and because the offerer’s life was sinful the animal died. But conversely the animal gave its life to the offerer so that the offerer could continue living! And it is this exchange of life that completes the atonement process.

Now the New Covenant concept of atonement refers to the aspect of Messiah’s work, particularly His death, which makes restoration of fellowship between an individual believer and God possible. In His death Yeshua took the place of the sinner (Heb. 2:9), bore the curse of God’s judgment (Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21), satisfied God’s just demands (Rom. 3:25-26), provided forgiveness (Matt. 26:28; Luke 24:47), peace and reconciliation with God (Rom. 5:11; Col. 1:20), and eternal life (Rom. 6:23; 1 John 5:11-12) to everyone who believes in the Lord Messiah. And so, these are the atonement realities that thoroughly demonstrate that Messiah’s blood which He willingly shed was not only proof of His death but also validation of Him as the source of never-ending life.