Majority Retort

Today’s Torah taste is Numbers 14:4-10. It reads: 4 So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” 5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. 6 Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 “If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us– a land which flows with milk and honey. 9 “Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” 10 But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel.

In this passage God’s covenant people fail to believe the faithful spies. After the leaders of the twelve tribes went into Cannan as spies, they reported back to Israelites the Land’s prosperity and the might of its inhabitants. Against the advice of Joshua and Caleb they became fearful and rejected the Lord’s Land gift. This resulted in God judging the older Exodus generation with death in the wilderness. And it resulted in giving the Land to the younger generation after forty years of wilderness wandering was completed.

There was no good reason for Israel not to trust God to lead them victoriously into Canaan. Since the nation left Sinai God demonstrated His supernatural power to the Israelites. He provided manna and the Spirit. And He bestowed the gift of prophecy on the 70 elders.

So Moses and Aaron try to persuade the people to enter the land. They pray for the nation when the nation is rebellious. Joshua and Caleb warn the people against turning back. They correctly identify their actions as rebellion against God and fear of the Canaanites. They remind the people that God is with them. Yet despite all this the community violently rejected their pleas to trust and obey God. In fact God Himself had to step in to prevent the people from stoning Joshua and Caleb.

What can we glean from this incident? Is there something here that has a bearing on how we live? Does it point to trials we can expect when we unashamedly put ourselves out there as Messiah followers? There is, it does, and it’s this: If we vocally express a minority conviction that clearly reflects what God has communicated in His Word, we shouldn’t be surprised if we experience some kind of push back from the majority who have little or no regard for the portion of God’s Word that has spoken to us. This phenomenon is self-evident across the board both within and outside biblical communities of faith. The majority opinion is not always right. Truth is not determined by cultural consensus, even if that culture claims to be evangelical. It’s determined by the totality of God’s Word!

Involvement in Messianic ministry is an expression of a minority conviction that clearly reflects what God has communicated in His Word. More specifically; recognizing the mandate of Jewish evangelism and the centrality of the Jewish people in the redemptive/ prophetic program of God is an expression of a minority conviction that clearly reflects what God has communicated in a significant portion of His Word!

In the predominantly non-Jewish Christian world, not only should we not be surprised by apathy and indifference towards such convictions; but also we should not be surprised by an increasing degree of resentment.  As we move ever closer to the unprecedented anti-Jewish persecution preceding Messiah’s return, most claiming to be aligned with the Jewish Messiah will not be living God’s will with respect to their attitudes and actions towards the Jewish people.

So how should we respond to people who don’t share or even resent our minority convictions? Well, like Paul told Timothy when Timothy had to deal with false teachers; we should initially respond with sincere patience and gentleness, reflecting the fruit of the Spirit. And since the Spirit lives in us, that kind of response is doable for us. And certainly in the days ahead, this is a response that we’ll increasingly need to demonstrate when expressing a minority conviction that results in a majority affliction.

Trading Insecurity for Maturity

The book of Numbers begins and ends with an official count of God’s covenant people. In between these two numberings are the wanderings of these same people in the wilderness. Twelve spies were sent to check out the Land God promised. Ten of these twelve spies came back with a very negative report. They said the people living in the Land were so numerous, and had such a strong military, that there was no way the Israelites could take possession of this territory. So despite God’s assurances of victory, His people rebelled by refusing to take possession of the Land promised to them. As a result nearly forty years were spent wandering in a desert wilderness.

Much of what we see in Numbers is a vivid contrast between the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of His people. God judged Israel’s disobedience, and, He also faithfully led them through the agonizing detour they had created for themselves. So despite Israel’s initial failure to enter and possess the Promised Land, which resulted in the death of the first post-Exodus generation in the wilderness, Yahweh demonstrated His commitment to the Abrahamic covenant by preserving and preparing a second post-Exodus generation to enter and possess the Land of promise.

Now in Numbers 8 through 10 there’s clear examples of obedience. Moses obeys Yahweh in commissioning the Levites to the service of the Tabernacle. The lampstands are arranged in the Tabernacle. The Levites are cleansed and dedicated. Israel obeys Yahweh in observing the Passover. Israel obeys Yahweh in departing from Mt. Sinai. But in chapters 11 and 12 there’s clear examples of disobedience. Yet Israel still experiences the LORD’s provision and guidance! Israel’s complaining results in fire from Yahweh, but it’s quenched by Moses’ intercession. Israel’s craving for meat instead of manna provokes Yahweh’s anger, but it also causes a display of God’s gracious provision. And the jealousy of Miriam and Aaron toward Moses is answered by an affirmation of the genuine humility Moses displayed.

Which brings us to today’s taste of Torah in Numbers 12:1-3. It reads: Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); 2 and they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the LORD heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)

What’s going on here? In short, God’s exaltation of Moses in chapter 11 caused Miriam and Aaron to be jealous. God gave the 70 elders assisting Moses the gift of prophecy. And God gave the Spirit to the 70 elders who assisted Moses. And so in chapter 12 we see how these 70 elders caused Miriam and Aaron to be envious of Moses because of his exalted role as the Lord’s special mediator. Most likely Miriam and Aaron felt marginalized. Miriam was a prophetess. And as a prophetess she had led all the women in a song when they crossed the Red Sea (cf. Ex. 15:20-21). Aaron was a high priest. But now God gave the 70 elders the privilege of mediating His word. And no doubt that was a bitter pill to swallow.

What does this have to do with us? Well, like Miriam and Aaron, jealousy can cause us to rationalize. It can make us distort the truth. It can even cause us to engage in acts of violence. It destroys relationships. It leads to sin. Jealousy is not just a rebellious unbeliever thing; it’s a deeply embedded human thing! It’s woven into the fabric of our Adamic DNA. It basically says two things: “I want what they have, and I don’t want them to have it!” It’s selfishness on steroids. And this is why we must not allow jealousy to cause us to sin against God and our fellow human beings.

In 1 Corinthians 3 some of the Corinthians allowed envy to divide their congregation. How did Paul respond to this? He responded the same way he responded to all the sinful practices in Corinth; he said to the Corinthians, “Pursue love!” In other words practice other-centered love, sacrificial love, Messiah like love. This is the only way to counteract the spiritual poison of jealousy. The fact of the matter is, the only Person who has the right to be jealous and carry out vengeance is God, because only God deserves our undivided devotion.

When we have feelings of jealousy we need to ask God to help us pursue love. We need to ask God to not allow our feelings of jealousy to cause us to sin against Him and fellow human beings. In short, we need to disciple up already! This requires a commitment of the Spirit-empowered will to release our emotional grip on jealousy, resentment, and volatility. When we do that, we’re able to demonstrate in real time/real life that it’s actually possible to live in the moment with genuine contentment. In light of all that God is, and in light of all that He has done on our behalf; that’s what it looks like to trade insecurity for maturity.

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.

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.