The Promise of a Lamb: The Connection Between Abraham and the Cross

The secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” ++ (Psalm 25:14)

A HIDDEN COVENANT?

There is a “hidden” covenant alluded to in Psalm 25 since it is “the secret of the LORD” that He will “show” those who “fear Him”?  The word translated “secret” is the Hebrew word sodh, and it carries with it the idea of “secrets” or “mysteries” that is often shared between those who are in a close, intimate relationship.  But what is this “secret” or “mystery” and which “covenant” does it deal with?  And why will the “covenant” need to be “shown” to them?  Aren’t all of God’s covenants clearly discussed and described in Scripture?

A FRIEND’S CHALLENGE

It was back in the late 1980’s, and I was beginning to get pretty heavy in studying the Jewish Roots of the Christian faith.  This was before I had ever heard of the Messianic Movement or of any any such groups.  All I knew was that the Lord was revealing things to me from the Torah (five books of Moses), and I was seeing how they made the whole Bible come alive for me in ways like I had never experienced before.  And I was so excited about these discoveries that I was trying to share them with family and friends.

Everyone around me thought that I had lost my mind, including a close friend of mine, who challenged me to go back and re-read the book of Galatians in the New Testament.  I decided that I would go above and beyond that.  I got out my Greek New Testament and my dictionaries and concordances, and I went verse-by-verse, and I re-translated the entire book from the Greek language to English, but I tried to do it from the mindset of an Orthodox Jew, which Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) was, from the first century.  It was during this process that I stumbled across God’s “hidden” covenant.

A PROMISE?

The term that caught my attention was “promise.”  It is a term that’s repeatedly used by Rav Sha’ul (Paul) in his teachings and writings.  For example,

And now I am standing trial for the hope of THE PROMISE made by God to our fathers; (Acts 26:6; Emphasis Mine)

What “promise” is he referring to, and who are “our fathers”?  I wondered.  But then as I continued my translation of Galatians, I came across this portion of the letter:

What I am saying is this, the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. (Galatians 3:17)

There it was again, “the promise.”  I began to wonder, what was this “promise”?  Obviously, it was not part of the covenant that God made with Israel at Mount Siani since it came 430 years before that event.  I kept reading.

For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. (Galatians 3:18)

In both Romans and Galatians, the one individual that Rav Sha’ul (Paul) refers back to repeatedly is Abraham.  The promise that he spends so much time talking about and discussing has to do with a promise that God gave to Abraham.  But what promise?  The following is what God’s Spirit revealed to me as I researched this further.

GOD’S CALLING OF ABRAHAM

In my previous post, “The Life of Abraham: An Important Lesson for Every Believer,” I mentioned that we see four principle stages illustrated in the life of Abraham: God’s calling of him, a time of development of that relationship, God entering into covenant with him, and then, afterwards, God requiring obedience of him as a way of walking out and expressing that relationship.  I also mentioned that any individual who seeks a relationship with God will go through the same basic stages.

In God’s calling of Abraham, there’s an illusion to this promise, which comes at the end of God’s promise to bless him:

And I will bless those who bless you, and the ones who curses you I will curse.  And in you shall all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Notice it says that “all the families of the earth,” meaning Jew and non-Jew alike, will “be blessed” in “you” (Abraham).  Have you ever wondered, “How do I find my blessing from God in Abraham?”  I did.  This same verse is quoted by Rav Sha’ul (Paul) in the book of Galatians:

And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles (non-Jews) by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Nations shall be blessed in you.”  So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. (Galatians 3:8-9)

So this last line in Genesis 12:3 is in some way connected to the gospel (or “good news”) preached by Yeshua/Jesus, the early disciples, and by Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul).  But the connection was still unclear.  It wasn’t until I got to chapter 15 of Genesis that God revealed to me the connection.

GOD’S COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM

As i mentioned in my previous post “The Life of Abraham,” the covenant process begins with a question about how Abraham would know that God would indeed give him the land.  Although I did not get real detailed in that post, I need to now in order for you to see “the promise” and its connection to the good news proclaimed throughout the B’rit Chadasha (“New Testament”), particularly in the writings of Rav Sha’ul (Paul).

THE COVENANT PROCESS

In response to Abram’s (later changed to Abraham) question, God instructs him to get the following animals: a three-year-old heifer, a three-year old she goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtle dove and a young pigeon.  Except for the two birds, He instructed him to cut the animals in half lengthwise and to put one half of the body on one side and the other half of the body directly across from it, making an aisle in the middle between the two parts.  The two birds were not cut in half but remained whole.

This particular covenant was well known to Abram, and, in fact, it is also used partially again by the officials of Jerusalem and Judah in Jeremiah 34:18-20, but they violated the covenant, in contrast to God who always keeps His covenant.  But according to some researchers, elements of this covenant process is still used by some tribes in Africa.

The two parties would then make a figure eight as they walked between each of the pieces, making the sign of infinity, and then they would meet in the middle.  This walk is known as “the walk of death” since this is a life and death agreement that the two parties are making with one another.  Then when they meet in the middle, the two parties would then exchange vows and curses.  Again, this was an UNBREAKABLE covenant, and if Person A did violate the covenant, then PERSON B was to chase down and kill Person A in a physically violent and painful way as symbolized by the cut up animals that each of them had just walked through.

During the exchange of vows, for example, they would —

  • Exchange coats.  A coat was a symbol of one’s status and authority.
  • Exchange belts.  A belt contained one’s weapons, and in exchanging them, they would say, “I shall teach you and protect you”.

After making these vows of what they would do to bless the other, then they would exchange curses of what would happen if the other would break the covenant, including killing the other in a physically violent and painful way as previously stated.

THE PHYSICAL MARK (OR SIGN)

After the exchange of vows and curses, there would be physical mark that was made.  Usually, each of the two parties would cut their right hand and then bind them together to formulate them into one new family.  As their right hands were bound together, they would raise it and swear by the blood of their tribes and families, an oath was made, followed by the statement, “I will never leave you or forsake you, so help me God.”

SIGNS OF MEMORIAL

After this, this some stones would be set up as a memorial or marker of the covenant that had been made that day.

COVENANT MEAL

Upon completing the covenant process, then the two groups would enjoy a meal together, further making the two parties one, since the same food becomes part of the bodies of both parties.  During this meal, the elders would feed one another and say, “This is my body, take eat,” meaning “I’ll die and let you eat my flesh before I will let you starve.”  And then, they would feed each other wine, representing the essence of life, saying, “Everything that I have is yours, even my sons, daughters, food, possessions, everything.”

A SPECIAL CREATION?

This is what Abraham was expecting to do with God.  However, when the time came for Abraham and God to participate in the covenant ritual, the Scriptures state, that God placed Abraham “in a deep sleep” (Genesis 15:12). This same phrase is used in Genesis 2 when God places Adam “in a deep sleep” and then creates Eve (Heb. Chavah; Genesis 2:21).  In using this phrase, there is an indication in the text that God is about to do some creative work here.

In a vision, Abram saw a burning furnace and a flaming torch pass between the pieces.  Both Jewish and Christian commentators agree that these two images represent God.   But what I found interesting is that the Scriptures says, “In the same day, the LORD made a covenant with Abram…” (Genesis 15:18a).

Now every text that I have seen written on this portion of Scripture has stated that by God walking between the pieces alone, He was changing the essence of the covenant from a conditional one to an unconditional one since Abram did not take part in the covenant process.  In essence, this covenantal process was just an elaborate way for God to tell Abram, “I promise.”  However, I believe that there is more here than what they see.

WHY DIDN’T GOD ALLOW ABRAM TO PARTICIPATE?

The one question I had was, Why didn’t God allow Abram to participate in the ritual with Him?  I discovered that if He had, then when Abram died, then the covenant would have died with him.  However, since God is an eternal Spirit and does not die, then by God walking through the pieces, He makes this covenant eternal, just as He, Himself, is eternal.

WHAT ARE THE LEGAL RAMIFICATIONS?

But if God walked through the pieces Himself since Abram was “in a deep sleep,” what were the legal ramifications for God, since the text says, “On that day, God entered into a covenant with Abram”?  I believe that the commentators are wrong when they say that this is just an elaborate promise.  I believe that God walked through the pieces not only for Himself, but also for Abram.  In essence, He became Abram’s legal proxy.  So by doing this, God took upon Himself not only His own legal obligations to satisfy the requirements of the covenant, but Abram’s as well.

  1.  What did this mean for God?  First of all, by doing this, God was promising to keep
    and to maintain the promises He made to Abram and to his seed.  Also, it meant that He was promising to give Abram and his seed all that He is, His Spirit, His characteristics and strength, His possessions and resources, as well as God’s enemies now became Abram’s.  We see the same thing happen when two people get married, another type of covenant.  What was mine, became my wife’s, and what was my wife’s became mine.
  2. What did this mean for God as Abram’s Legal Proxy?  It meant that God was taking upon Himself the responsibility to make sure that Abram and his seed maintained and kept the covenant.  This explains the giving of the Torah at Mt. Siani, the sending of the Prophets and their constant plea for the people to return to the Torah, the need for the B’rit Chadasha (“new covenant”), and for the giving of the Holy Spirit (Heb. Ruach HaKodesh), so that “the seed of Abraham” could be empowered and equipped to walk in obedience to the covenant.But it also meant that if Abram or Abram’s seed should break the covenant, that God would have to die a physically painful and violent death represented by the cut up animals that He walked between.  God had walked these pieces alone.  Abram was “in a deep sleep,” so God took upon Himself in this legal act to suffer the penalty of death for the sins of Abram and his seed.

But not only that, but Abram’s assurance of the Promised Land, as well as all the other promises God made,  was also based upon the act of God walking between the pieces, His act and promise of legal proxy.

ON WHAT DAY DID GOD MAKE THIS COVENANT WITH ABRAM?

What I found really interesting was on what day this covenant was made – Passover.  Although it was made 430 years before the day became known as “Passover” in Exodus 12, it was on this “self-same day” as when this covenant was made.  For before God walked between the pieces, God prophesied the following to Abram:

Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years.  But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions. (Genesis 15:13-14)

Did this happen?  Yes, the book of Exodus begins by describing how after Joseph died, there arose a king who did not know Joseph and enslaved the people of Israel.  And it then goes on to describe how God liberates His people from Egypt using Moses as His mediator. And it is in Exodus 12, after the last plague against Egypt, the death of the firstborn, that the Scriptures say,

And it came about at the end of the four hundred and thirty years TO THE VERY DAY, that all of the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:41; Emphasis Mine)

On the very day that God promised Abram that his descendant would “come out with many possessions,” God liberated His people in the Exodus from Egypt.  Rav Sha’ul (Paul) also refers to this in his letter to the congregation in Galatia,

What I am saying is this, the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.(Galatians 3:17-18)

Therefore, the covenant that God made with Abram happened on Passover – before it was called Passover, and He fulfilled His promise to Abram on the same exact day that He made it, although 430 years later.

DID ABRAM AND HIS SEED BREAK THE COVENANT?

But what about the promise that God made when He walked between the pieces?  Did Abram or any of his seed violate and break the covenant?  The answer is yes, they did.  We know from the testimony of Scripture that Abram’s seed, or descendants, did, in fact, break the covenant on numerous occasions.  One of them being the sin of the golden calf, described in Exodus 32.  Consequently, if Abram and His seed did break their covenant with God, then the question we would wonder if how is it possible for God, who is an eternal Spirit, to keep His covenantal obligation to to die a physically painful and violent death?

It should also be remembered that the Scriptures state, “On that day, God entered into covenant with Abram.”  So the covenant was made between God and Abram and his seed.  So since it was Abram’s seed, or descendants, who violated the covenant on a number of different occasions, then justice would demand that someone representing the seed of Abraham should likewise pay the penalty of those violations.

GOD’S SOLUTION.

God’s solution to this dilemma is found in the writings of the B’rit Chadasha (“New Testament”), and it is commonly referred to as the incarnation.  God sends an angel to a young virgin girl named Mir’yam (Mary) in the village of Nazareth:

Do not be afraid, Mary: for you have found favor with God  And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus [Heb. Yeshua].  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His Kingdom will have no end. (Luke 2:30-33)

Through the incarnation, the child born to Mary would be both God and a Jew, a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thereby representing both sides of the covenant in Genesis 15, God and Abram and his seed.  Just as the first anointed one mentioned in Scripture is Aaron, the Priest, and then later the various kings, Saul, David, and Solomon, so the Messiah came first to be a priest, offering Himself as a sacrifice for the sins committed by Israel and the nations, in fulfillment of God’s promise of walking between the pieces, and then in the next coming, He shall indeed comes as King and reign over Israel and the nations.

This is why Yeshua/Jesus had to die such a physically violent and painful death, and why it had to happen on Passover, on the very day that God walked between the pieces, although two millenniums later. This is why Rav Sha’ul (Paul) states in Acts 13:32-33,

We tell you the Good News: what God promised our fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus (Heb. Yeshua)

Rav Sha’ul (Paul) refers to this promise again in his trial before King Agrippa, as I stated previously,

And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today. (Acts 26:6)

Finally, Yeshua/Jesus Himself refers to the fact that Abraham witnessed His coming and His death:

Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing My day; he saw it and was glad. (John 8:56)

Question:  “When did Abraham see the day of Yeshua/Jesus?”

Answer: “When he saw in a vision God passing between the pieces.”

Question:  “What about the non-Jewish world?  How do they have a part in this?”

Rav Sha’ul (Paul) answers this question.  He writes,

Understand, then, that those who believe are the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7)

If you belong to the Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)

Notice that Rav Sha’ul (Paul) did not write, “If you belong to the Messiah, then you are heirs according to the promise,” but “If you belong to the Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed,” and it is when we are part of the seed of Abraham, having accepted God’s fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant in and through Messiah, that we then become “heirs according to the promise.”

So by belonging to the Messiah, whether one is a Jew or a non-Jew, we are made a part of this renewed covenant that God has fulfilled in and through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah.  And in addition, the promise of God’s own Spirit, living on the inside of those who are part of this renewed Abrahamic covenant, is also made available to all who will believe:

He redeemed us in order that the blessings given to Abraham might come to the Nations through the Messiah Yeshua, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14).

And it was Shi’mon Petros (Peter) who said in his sermon on that first Shavuot (Pentecost) after Messiah’s death, burial, and resurrection, when Shi’mon Petros (Peter) and the other disciples of Yeshua/Jesus had received the baptism (the full immersion) of the Holy Spirit (Heb. Ruach HaKodesh)::

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Yeshua HaMoshiach (Yeshua/Jesus the Messiah) for the forgiveness of sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, and for all whom the Lord our God will call. (Acts 2:38-39)

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

What will you do with God’s gift, the fulfillment of His promise to the fathers?  Will you accept it and begin to enjoy intimacy with God, the living of His Spirit on the inside of you, and His other blessings as part of the fulfilled Abrahamic covenant?  The covenant is open to all who will come, whether Jew or non-Jew.  And with each person that comes to God, accepting His fulfillment of His promise to Abraham, then God’s promise to Abraham comes closer to its complete fulfillment:

And in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

If you wish to receive this promise, pray the following:

Father, forgive me of my sins.  I accept the gift that you have given, the fulfillment of your promise to the fathers by Yeshua (Jesus) coming and dying on the cross for my sins, and I ask you to come into my life and fill me, so that I might experience the intimacy and blessing of covenant that Chris has described in this article.  I, like Abraham, want to have such a close relationship with you that I too might be called “a friend of God.”  Thank you Lord for your gift, in the name of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus).  Amen.

If you prayed this prayer and have asked God to make you a part of His fulfilled Abrahamic covenant, please email me at followingmessiah@gmail.com, so that I might pray with you once more and answer any further questions that you might have.


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Christian, Messianic, Orthodox Jew: Does the Terminology Matter?

REALLY?

I am appalled at how we use “names” or “titles” to distinguish or separate ourselves from one another.  Even within Christianity itself, people identify themselves according to their own denomination or even by what church they attend to distinguish themselves from another church within the same denomination.  It’s ridiculous.  I asked a pastor friend of mine once, why these churches within the same denomination on the same side of town didn’t work together to do an outreach to that part of town?  His response shocked me.  He said, it was because there were simply too many egos involved.  People, he said, would argue over who got what people and who would get the credit for what.

EGOS AND TITLES VS. LOVE

When we are more concerned with our egos and titles, rather than working together to demonstrate God’s love to those around us, there’s something very wrong at what we are doing.   I mean, does it really matter whether we call ourself “a Christian,” “a Messianic,” “an Orthodox Jew,” “a Conservative Jew,” “a Baptist,” “a Nazarene,” “a Lutheran,” “a Pentecostal,” “a Catholic,”or some other man-made title?  It should be remembered, as I said, that all religious titles are just man-made entities used to distinguish one group from another.  Personally, I really don’t believe what name a person uses to describe themselves matters.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT

What does matter is whether or not the individual is in God’s Kingdom.  I believe we could eliminate a lot of division between denominations, religious branches, and groups if we would just focus on what’s really important – on whether we are entering and actively participating in the kingdom of God.

Let me give an example of what I mean.  A few years ago, Moore, Oklahoma, was devastated by a couple of tornadoes, tearing down homes and businesses.  People from all over the United States came to lend a helping hand with food, supplies, labor, etc.  People in Texas didn’t say, “Well, those people in Oklahoma are not part of our group in Texas, so as a result, we are not going to help them.” No, all divisions, and even competitiveness between states in sports, were all put aside.  All that mattered was that there were Americans who were in trouble and needed help.

What would happen, for example, if people in God’s kingdom took on that same mind set.  What if they could put aside their church and denominational differences and work together simply because they saw other Kingdom people in trouble or they saw some need around them?  Can you imagine the impact that would have when people, outside of God’s kingdom, could witness that kind of love and unity at work – rather than the division, conflict, fighting and criticism that is often seen?

WHAT I AM NOT SAYING

Now let me be clear what I am not saying here.  I am not saying that all religions are equal, nor am I advocating that people should just believe or do whatever they want.  God is King, and as such, it is He who sets the standards for what is right or wrong, not us.  A kingdom is a monarchy, not a democracy.  Consequently, in a kingdom, people do not have the right to choose or vote upon which laws they want to follow and which ones they can simply ignore.  In a religion people can, but in a monarchy, they cannot.  The word of the king is law, and it is up to the citizens of that kingdom to follow and adhere to the laws of that kingdom.

KINGDOM VS. RELIGION

Contrary to what many people have been taught, God really is not interested in establishing a religion on this planet.  This world all ready has way too many religions as it is.  For example, God did not give His commandments, judgments, and decrees to Moses simply so that they could be used to formulate a religion, but people did turn them into a religion.  Nor did Yeshua/Jesus come to this earth, teach for three-and-a-half years, die a gruesome death on a cross, and then rise bodily from the dead, so that people could turn His teachings and life into yet another religion, but people did.  But contrary to people’s consistent turning of God’s work into religions, God’s central focus and desire is on establishing His Kingdom here on earth – not on us continuing to take His kingdom efforts and using them to formulate yet another denomination or religion.

THE PROBLEM – THE NEED FOR CONTROL?

You see, religion takes us away from the kingdom, not towards it.  Throughout Yeshua’s/ Jesus’s years of ministry, He proclaimed THE KINGDOM of God, NOT the RELIGION of God. Man’s deepest need is found in God’s KINGDOM, not in the formation of another religion. For example, Yeshua/Jesus began His ministry proclaiming,

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel (or good news).  (Mark 1:15)

What was the focus of the gospel?  The kingdom of GodNOT the religion of God.  You see, people enjoy formulating something into a religion, because then they can control it. They can decide what to believe and what not to believe.  For example, how many branches and denominations of Christianity have decided which parts of the Bible is “for today” (i.e., what they’ve chosen to believe and practice) and which parts aren’t?  The fact is, there is no where in the Bible where human beings are given the right to decide what part of the Bible they will accept and what part they can reject.   But when people turn something into a religion, then they can take that right upon themselves.

When it comes right down to it, it’s a control issue.  We like control.  What we don’t like is the idea that someone other than ourselves has any control or power over us at all.  We want to be the ones who control our own lives, our own beliefs and values, and even our own destinies.  But the idea that there is a real God out there, who objectively exists outside the minds and imaginations of people, who wants us to turn over the control and right of our lives into His hands, even to a loving, benevolent God, is not acceptable to the majority of people.  If we give God the control of our life, then He will have the right to indicate what our values and beliefs should be, how we should live, and even how we should treat others, etc., and deep down inside, that just goes against our natural human beliefs and desires.  Am I saying that giving our lives to God is bad?  No, I am saying it goes against our natural, carnal human nature.

I mean, think about how often in America, for example, we focus on having things done “our way.” For example, there was Frank Sinatra’s renowned song, “I Did It My Way.” or Burger King’s theme song, “Have It Your Way.”  We even feel that the most American thing that we can do is pull ourselves up by our own “bootstraps” and to do things ourselves.  Consequently, we are taught and trained within the American culture to be completely independent and self-reliant.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT?

Some may wonder, What is wrong with that?  Shouldn’t we want to be “independent and self-reliant”?  Of course, the problem with this is that in being “independent and self-reliant,” we are the ones in control, not God.  Many American Christians may question this by saying, “We believe in God; We go to church.”  But when you begin to really dig down at how they view themselves, you discover that most American Christians view themselves first and foremost as “Americans, who happen to be Christians, seeking to live the American dream until they die, and then hope after they’ve died that they will go to heaven.” However, that’s a whole different mindset than viewing yourself as “a citizen of God’s Kingdom, serving the needs and desires of your king, until the time of your king’s return or until you die and enter into His Presence.”  The latter is a Kingdom mindset and perspective of oneself, which is not the dominant one held by most people.

The values and beliefs of America and the American dream are NOT, in fact, synonymous with Kingdom living.  In fact, in many ways, they are in direct contradiction to one another.  And during my own lifetime, I have noticed that the contrast between the two have been growing larger and larger.  In viewing our own self-identity, the question we each need to ask ourselves is, Whose values and beliefs am I embracing: the values and beliefs of my nation or God’s?

Does this mean I ignore my country?  No, it means that we realize that as believers, we are first and foremost citizens of God’s kingdom, and secondly, citizens of the nation where we have been born and live.  For example, I’ve heard people say that God is on America’s side or that He is on this party’s side or even that God is on the side of some team.  But this is not the correct perspective.  The correct question is not whether God is on the side of the United States (or any other nation, party, or team), but whether the United States (or any other nation, party, group or team) is on the side of God?  It is God who sets the standard of what is right or wrong, not our birth nation, party, group, or team we happen to belong to.

THE BIBLE – NOT SIMPLY A RELIGIOUS TEXT?

Also, the majority of people view the Bible as just another “religious text,” or just a “list of do’s and don’ts.” However, this really is a gross misrepresentation of the Bible.  In fact, the Bible is God’s Kingdom Manual.  It is in His manual that He presents and discusses all aspects of Kingdom life and living, including His own identity, character, and revelation of Himself as our Creator and King, a description of His kingdom, as well as His laws and guidelines regarding all aspects of Kingdom life, such as agriculture, politics, social values and norms, relationships (between men and women, family dynamics, working relationships, and other social interactions), and yes, there are even some religious aspects to kingdom life and living.

SO IS YESHUA/JESUS IMPORTANT TO THE KINGDOM?

Now some may wonder, Is Yeshua/Jesus important at all to God’s Kingdom, or is He just something that Christianity added?  The answer to this question is He is absolutely central and important to the kingdom!  Why?  Because He came to teach us more about the Kingdom, to correct erroneous ideas about it and its teachings that were being taught at that time, to proclaim to all God’s invitation to come into His Kingdom, and to provide the way into the Kingdom through His death and resurrection.  It is only through Messiah Yeshua/Jesus that we have access into the Kingdom and to the person of God Himself.

As a result of Yeshua’s/Jesus’ faithfulness, even to the point of dying on the cross, God has set Him as ruler over all that He, God the Father, has created, both in heaven and on earth. This is what Yeshua/Jesus meant when He said prior to His ascension to the right hand of Power:

All authority (or “power” KJV) has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28: 18)

Notice that “all authority has been given” to Him “in heaven and on earth”?  But “given” to Him by whom?  God the Father, the Supreme King over all that He has created.  Many ministers argue that Yeshua/Jesus was not given “a promotion in status,” since He was already God or “Lord.”  However, those who argue this position are only looking at Yeshua/Jesus in His Divinity, not His humanity.  As a human being, more specifically, as the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus only had authority over those who resided in His own country, Israel. However, after His death, burial and resurrection, there is a change in His authority.  Prior to His ascension, we learn He now has authority over all of God’s creation, both in heaven and on earth, and it is only after receiving this authority from God the Father that He now sends His disciples out to all nations.

Shi’mon Petros (Peter) likewise refers to God’s choice of setting Yeshua/Jesus in authority over all things in his sermon in Acts 2:36:

Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him [Yeshua/Jesus] both Lord and Christ [Messiah] – …

Notice, again, it was God who made Him “both Lord and Christ [or Messiah].”  The term “Lord” was commonly used by Caesar since he had control over an entire empire, involving many different countries.  It is also used of God, for God rules and reigns over all of His creation, including all the nations and peoples of the world.  The word “Lord” means “Owner” or “Master,” and since God is the Creator, He likewise has the right of ownership and control over all that He has created.  However, God has also given to us as individuals the right of free choice.  We have the right to choose Him or to reject Him.

In addition, though, as the Supreme Ruler over His creation, God has the right to decide who will rule and reign over His kingdom, and He has already made that choice, the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.  Rav Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] communicated this same idea this way:

Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ [Heb. Yeshua HaMoshiakh] is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:9-11)

I used to think when I was growing up and I heard ministers say, “Won’t you make Jesus the Lord of your life?” that each time a person said, “Yes,” it was like each person was casting a vote for Him, and if we got enough votes, then Yeshua/Jesus would then be Lord. But then, in my late thirties it hit me as I read Acts 2:36 and Philippians 2:9-11 that God has already placed Yeshua/Jesus in the position of being Lord.  There is no vote.  The decision has already been made.  He is Lord over all of humanity right now, whether a person happens to believe this or not.  Our belief in (or denial of) His Lordship does not change His position as “Lord,” rather it determines our relationship to Him and to His Kingdom.

WHAT IS “SALVATION”?

Salvation entails more than simply having membership in the “right church or synagogue,” or regularly attending services or giving your tithes.  It also entails more than carrying your Bible around or knowing facts from it that you use to quote at people. Instead, salvation involves an inner transformation that occurs when one willfully and heartfully gives their life completely over to the Lordship of Messiah (Christ).  Rav Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] communicates this in Romans 10:

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (non-Jew); for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him; for “Whosoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.” (Romans 10:9-13)

In the Bible, God’s Kingdom Manual, the heart and the mouth are continually connected, for it is taught that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45; Matthew 6:34).  As a result, we must not only “believe in our hearts,” but we must also “confess Him with our mouths.”

WHAT ABOUT THE TORAH?

Does belief in Messiah Yeshua/Jesus do away with or in any way annul God’s Torah, His commandments, judgments and decrees?  Absolutely not!  The Torah is God’s revelation of Himself and describes kingdom life and living.  It is, in essence, the Constitution of God’s Kingdom.  I’ve got friends who were not born in the United States and became citizens or who were students from other countries who came to the United States to study.  Both of them have told me that even though they obey U.S. laws, it did not automatically make them U.S. citizens.  Instead, the U.S. has a specific program that people have to go through to become U.S. citizens.

In like mannet, just because someone obeys God’s commandments, judgments, and decrees, it does not make him or her a citizen of God’s kingdom.  God has a special program that people have to go through to become kingdom citizens: they must willingly and heartfully accept the gift of Messiah Yeshua’s/Jesus’ death on the cross for their sins and His resurrection, as well as His Lordship over their lives (see above under “What is ‘Salvation’?”).  Consequently, there is no conflict between one’s faith in the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus and obedience to the Torah, God’s commandments, judgments, and decrees.

IT’S OUR DECISION

Consequently, then, in closing, it is our decision whether-or-not we are going to acknowledge and submit to whom God has placed as the authority over all of our lives or not.  If we accept the gift of His death on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, as well as declare our loyalty and allegiance to Him as “Lord” and to His Kingdom, then we are “saved” and become a part of His Kingdom.  Believers in the first century understood the connection between making Yeshua/Jesus Lord and swearing their loyalty and allegiance to Him and to His Kingdom.  However, that political aspect has been forgotten in today’s world.  So once we are “born again” into His Kingdom, then we need to demonstrate and walk out His Lordship over our lives each day by submitting to God’s kingdom teachings and expectations – found from Genesis 1 to the end of Revelation – and to the leading of His Spirit.

But as long as we continue to reject His offer of salvation, then we are outside of God’s Kingdom, since to reject Yeshua/Jesus is to reject whom God has placed as Lord over us, and this is, in fact, then, to reject God Himself.  For example, Yeshua/Jesus said to the masses:

He who believes in Me does not believe in Me, but in Him who sent Me….And if anyone hears My sayings, and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.  He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.  For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. (John 12:44, 47-49)

We cannot reject Yeshua/Jesus and then expect to be accepted by God in His Kingdom.  We must accept Yeshua/Jesus as Lord to be accepted by God into His Kingdom.  In addition, note, it is what God the Father told Yeshua/Jesus to say that’s recorded in Scripture and that will be used to judge each individual on the day of judgment – not which church, synagogue, or denomination they happen to belonged to.  God will want to know if we lined up to His teachings or didn’t we? And these teachings not only include what is in the New Testament (Heb. B’rit Chadasha) but also what is in the Tanakh (or “Old Testament”).

Again, we are the ones who must choose whether we will accept or reject His Lordship over our lives.  This is why Yeshua/Jesus told Nicodemus,

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name (or person) of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

God gave us the gift of His Son.  We choose what to do with that gift.  In fact, the word translated “believes” doesn’t just mean “to mentally acknowledge,” but it entails us “trusting,” “being reliant upon” and “submitting and obeying” Him.  In other words, it’s not enough just to submit to Him “mentally,” but we must completely, totally, and willingly bend our knees and submit to Him each day from our hearts.  Merely going through the motions will not do it.  Also, this is not just a one-time decision, but it is a decision we must make each and every day.

Also, note that “he who does not believe has been judged already.”  Why?  “Because he has not believed in the name [or person] of the only begotten Son of God.”  But for those who do believe, John writes,

But as many as received Him [Yeshua/Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

WHAT IS YOUR DECISION?

So what is your decision?  Will you accept His sacrificial gift and His offer of the Kingdom, or will you reject it?  The choice is yours to make.  The choice is not what religion is right or wrong, or what denomination to belong to, or even what title to call oneself, but on whether you will accept God’s conditions on what it takes to enter into His Kingdom.  God tells each of us, as He told the children of Israel at Mount Siani:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

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The Life of Abraham: An Important Lesson for Every Believer

There’s an error being taught in many churches, which is that the Tanakh (or “Old Testament”) teaches “works righteousness;” whereas, the New Testament (Heb. B’rit Chadasha) teaches “salvation through grace through faith.”  The fact is, that “grace through faith” is God’s modus operandi and is seen throughout both the Old and New Testament, not just the New Testament alone.  And this truth is clearly seen when one examines and studies the life of Abraham.

GOD CALLS ABRAM

First of all, God’s relationship with Israel did not begin at Mt. Siani, but with Abram.  God speaks to Abram (later called Abraham), after his father death in Haran (Genesis 11:31-32):

Now the LORD said to Abram,  “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you; and the one who curses you I will curse.  And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Notice here that God does not use the term “covenant,” but He promises Him these things.  As a result of these promises, Abram then leaves Haran to go to the land which the LORD promised him.  This is where God begins the process of building his relationship with those who would constitute the people of Israel.

GOD REAFFIRMS HIS PROMISE WITH ABRAM

It is not until three chapters later that God enters into covenant with Abram.  The chapter begins,

After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” (Genesis 15:1)

Abram responds to the word of the LORD by questioning the LORD.  Apparently, sufficient time has passed to where Abram is questioning whether the LORD’s promise of children is actually going to happen.

And Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus [Abram’s servant]?”  And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house [his servant] is my heir.” (Genesis 15:2-3)

Abram here is telling the LORD, since you haven’t kept Your promise to give me offspring, then the only one who is going to end up inheriting from me is Eliezer, my servant.  I am sure waiting all this time has been frustrating for Abram, but notice that the LORD does not get on Abram’s case for his statement here.  Instead, He reaffirms His promise and then takes Abram outside for a visual to assist His faith.

Then behold the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”  And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:4-5)

It is immediately after these two verses, when we find the statement,

Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

This same verse is quoted by Rav Sha’ul Paulus [Paul] three times in the New Testament (Heb. B’rit Chadasha), Romans 4:3, 22, and Galatians 3:6, and once by the brother of Yeshua/ Jesus, James (Heb. Ya’acov), James 2:23.   Why do both Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) and Ya’acov (James) quote this reference in Genesis?  Because it is the first time that the root form of the word “faith” appears in Scripture; therefore, this first occurrence establishes its basic, fundamental meaning.

GOD ENTERS INTO COVENANT WITH ABRAM

Immediately after making this great faith statement of the Scriptures, God promises Abram that He would also give him the land (Genesis 15:7).  What has intrigued me about Abram is that he can believe God for a son (an heir), but when God promises him the land, he wants some assurances:

And he said, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I shall possess it?” (Genesis 15:7)

This question prompts God entering into covenant with Abram.

So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtle dove, and a young pigeon.”  Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds.” (Genesis 15:9-10)

Now when it came time for Abram to enter into this covenant process with God, notice what it says in verse 12:

Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram;… (Genesis 15:12).

Abram did not participate in the covenant ritual at all.  The Scriptures are clear, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram.”  Instead, five verses later, we read,

And it came about when the sun was set, that it was very dark, and behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a flaming torch which passed between these pieces. ON THAT DAY the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land.  From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates:….” (Genesis 15:17-18; emphasis mine)

There’s a lot more to this covenant than meets the eye, but what I want to focus on in this article is that both Jewish and Christian theologians agree that the “smoking oven and flaming torch” represent God, who passed through the pieces alone.  Abram did not participate as I said.  God did it for him.  Isn’t this a picture of God’s grace?  The fact is, if Abram had participated in the covenant, then when Abram died, the covenant would have become null and void.  However, by God performing this covenant by Himself, the covenant remains eternal since God does not die, being an eternal Spirit.  Therefore, the promise of the land to the descendants of Abram (Israel) is likewise eternal.

GOD REQUIRES OBEDIENCE

It is AFTER this covenant of grace found in Genesis 15 when God requires two things of Abram:

Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty [Heb. ‘El Shaddai]; Walk before Me, and be blameless.” (Genesis 17:1)

The first thing that God requires is that Abram live “blameless” before him.  You see obedience is to be an outward expression of our relationship with God.  Our obedience does not result in relationship, but our relationship with God should result in us obeying God.  And it is our obedience to God that results in us being blessed by God.

LEGALISM VS. OBEDIENCE

There is another error that’s commonly taught, which is that the blessings of God come upon those who simply believe.  This, however, is not seen or taught in Scripture.  The blessings of God ALWAYS follows obedience.  Now obedience does not mean just going through the rituals, but it means obeying God from our hearts.  If our heart is not involved, then it is not true obedience.   Consequently, you can have two people do the same exact thing, and for one person, it will be empty ritualism, and for the other person, it will be obedience.  What distinguishes the two is the heart:  Is the person motivated by their love of God?  Therefore, from the outside, there’s no way to watch someone and know whether their behavior is legalism (or empty ritualism) or if it is obedience.  Only God knows.

THE MOUNT SIANI CONNECTION

I personally believe that the covenant given at Mt. Siani is a further development and explanation of what God meant when He told Abram to walk “blameless” “before Me.”  There isn’t any further explanation of what God meant by walking “blameless.”  It is implies through the lack of discussion that Abram understood, at least to some extent, what this requirement entailed.

GRACE AND OBEDIENCE

In addition, it is important to note that this requirement to live blamelessly before God came AFTER the covenant of grace, seen in Genesis 15.  Obedience did not come BEFORE Grace, but AFTER WARDS.  FIRST GRACE, THEN OBEDIENCE.  That is, and has always been, the biblical model.

THE COVENANT OF CIRCUMCISION

Although there is a lot more in this chapter I could touch up, what I want to focus on instead is that in addition to the requirement to walk blamelessly before Him, God also gives Abram the following requirement:

God said further to Abraham (his new name now), “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.  And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.  And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations,… (Genesis 17:9-12a)

Notice that circumcision is also required in addition to walking blameless before God. These two things are required of Abraham AFTER the grace covenant of Genesis 15.  This issue of circumcision is an interesting one, but one which cannot be handled in just a few lines.  So I will hold off for another time.

THE BIBLICAL PATTERN

Consequently, when we study the life of Abraham, we discover the development of an interesting pattern:

— God’s Call
— A time of development of one’s relationship with God
— God’s covenant of grace with them
— God’s requirement of obedience

Again note that the requirement of obedience FOLLOWS the covenant of grace; it does not precede it.  This same pattern is seen repeatedly throughout the Scriptures.  For example, it is seen in the life of Moses and the children of Israel, it is seen in the life of David, and it is even seen in the life of Yeshua/Jesus and His early disciples.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Consequently, then, although I have found the repetition of this pattern throughout the Scriptures, there are some things I have yet to figure out.  For example,

  • At what point do we recognize God’s call on our life?  When we first feel convicted and start thinking about God or is it when we go to the altar to give our lives to Him?
  • At what point do we enter into covenant with God?  What is that moment in the life of the believer?
  • What is “getting saved”?  Is it responding to God’s call or is it entering into covenant with God?  Or is entering into covenant with God something that occurs after “we get saved” in our walk with God?  If so, what is that? and when does it happen?

As you can see, these questions can provoke a lot of discussion.  But even though I am still struggling with these questions in my own mind, I do know that obedience comes as a result of my relationship to God; it does not bring about that relationship. Therefore, the doctrine that the Tanakh (or Old Testament) teaches “works righteousness” definitely cannot be seen or proven in the life of Abraham.


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Marriage: A Picture of Covenant (Part 1)

Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant” (Malachi 2:14).

COVENANT – A COMMON MISPERCEPTION

In the last article, I introduced the idea that our relationship with God is rooted and founded on covenant, and even though this is seen throughout the Tanakh (“Old Testament”) and the B’rit Chadasha (“New Testament”), the focus of the covenant is not really understood by many people.  Many articles have been written looking at the process of covenant, and all of the various steps that were involved in the making of covenant.  As a result, many people view covenant as a “legalistic process” that detracts one from one having a relationship with God.  But in looking at covenant in this way, they’ve miss the point.  Just as a marriage ceremony may be quite elaborate and detailed, the focus of the ceremony is not about all of the elaborate details, but about the movement of a couple’s relationship to something much more deeper and intimate, and the same is true of covenant.

AN UNFORGETTABLE MOMENT

As the quote from Malachi above points out, marriage is a type or picture of covenant.  It’s a life-changing moment in the lives of people, and this was true for me as well.  I’ll never forget the moment.  Karen and I were making minimum wage jobs at the time, and we could not afford an elaborate wedding.  In fact, it took both of us contributing several payments to afford our wedding bands.  To be able to make our wedding more affordable, we decided to get married in my apartment, which I had rented just shortly before.  It gave us a chance to fix it up, even though neither one of us spent the night there until our wedding night.

The day of our wedding was Friday, December 12, 1981, at 11:00.  We were married in front of our sliding glass doors, which had those long white, free-swinging, vertical Venetian blinds.  In the middle of it, we had placed two artificial blue bells with white ribbons for decoration.  Our apartment was very small, so we only had room for the immediate family, and we had rented a nearby VFW Hall for the reception.  When the moment came for Karen to come out of our soon-to-be bedroom, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.  We had recorded my dad playing the Wedding March on his accordion, and as the tape played, it was still the best moment of my life.

Our marriage ceremony was rather simple in comparison to some I’ve attended, which were much more elaborate.  But regardless of the simplicity or elaborateness of the wedding, the focus of the ceremony is on the couple and their relationship.

MARRIAGE – ROOTED IN THE CREATION OF ADAM

In order for us to understand the depth and context of marriage as God intended it, we must understand it within the context of the creation of Adam.

Thus God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;…” (Genesis 1:26a).

First of all, the word translated as “man” in the Hebrew text is the word ‘Adam.  ‘Adam was created in the “image” and “likeness” of God.  It then goes on to say in verse 27,

And God created man (‘Adam) in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female created He them.

What is interesting about this verse is that it is written in poetic form, and you can even hear the poetic rhythm of the verse in English.  If we break the poetic form down, we discover that the first two lines are repetitions of one another; it is just for the most part that the word order has been changed.

And God created man in his own image
in the image of God created He him…. (Genesis 1:27a)

Why say the same thing twice?  I believe that as we learn later in Scripture, “by the mouth of two or three witnesses a thing is established.”  This teaching began as a means of establishing truth in a murder trial (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6), but then, a couple of chapters later, it was applied as a principle for establishing something as truth for any type of crimes (Deuteronomy 19:15). But then, by the time period of the Second Temple period of the first century, C.E. (i.e., the time period of the “New Testament”), it was used as a general principle for establishing something as truth (Matthew 18:16; John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; and Hebrew 10:28).  So by repeating it, God is establishing this truth as a reality, that “man (or Adam) is created in the image of God,” but also, repetition is used for the sake of emphasis as well.  So God is not only establishing this truth, He is emphasizing it.

A BIT OF ANALYSIS

The following section gets a bit analytical, but the analysis, I believe, is important.  By taking the time to analyze what I am reading, I have found important details and truths seen in the biblical text that most people just skim over.  The ability to analyze various types of texts takes a lot of time and practice, so please do not get discouraged if you have not seen any of the following before.  Be encouraged to know this type of analysis is possible, and it will deepen your knowledge of the Word as it has mine over the year.

I believe one of the things that should be taught within the church is analysis.  Instead, though, we spend more of our time focusing on getting our quota of chapters read for the day or we hear people repeatedly say, “The Bible is so simple a child could understand it,” but this implies that there’s no depth to the Scriptures or that none of it is difficult to comprehend.   However, anyone who has read the book of Leviticus, the visions of Ezekiel, or even the book of Revelation are well aware this is not true.  So let’s begin this process of analysis by looking at the first two lines of Genesis 1:27,

…in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:27b)

These two lines are the most poetical part of the verse, even in the English.  The poetical structure that’s used here is known as Hebraic parallelism.  This is where the one line develops or further defines a word or concept in the following line.  Let’s look, for example, at Psalm 103:1,

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all that is within me, bless His holy name.

Notice, for example, the phrase “Bless the LORD” in the first line is equated with “bless His holy name” in the second line.  Both phrases begin with the word “bless,” but then, by writing this in parallel form, David here is equating the phrase “the LORD” with “His holy name.”  I believe the equating of these two phrases could be used as a basis for an interesting discussion about how God and His name are one.  For one thing, just as God is holy, so is His name, and, as a result, we are to treat it as such.

But also note that in the first line, the concept of “soul” is further defined in the second line as “all that is within me.”  This could likewise raise an interesting discussion about how the Hebraic concept of “soul” in the Tanakh (“Old Testament”) = “all that is within me” – differs from the Greek concept of soul, which is “the immaterial part of us that lives forever.”  So in examining this brief example, we can see that David makes use of this poetical structure to not only encourage us to “Bless the LORD” and “His holy name,” but to also define for us the Hebraic concept of the “soul.”

This same technique is being used here in lines 2-3 of Genesis 1:27,

…in the image of God created He him;
male and female created He them.

In these two lines, we see repetitions used again.  For example, “created” in the second line is equivalent to “created” in the third line, and “He” in the second line is equivalent to the “He” in the third line.  That is pretty easy to see.  However, where it gets really interesting, though, is in the next two pairs:

in the image of God” = “male and female
him” = “them

In these two subsequent pairings, we can see that the phrase “in the image of God” in the second line is made equivalent to the phrase “male and female” in the third line, and the word “him” [i.e., Adam] in the second line is made equivalent to the word “them” in the third line.  Adam was created “in the image of God” which was comprised of both “male and female,” and the “him” was, in reality, a “them.”  This may surprise many people to learn, but this idea is again reiterated and made more explicit in Genesis 5:2,

He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day that they were created.

Again, the word translated in English as “Man” is the Hebrew word ‘Adam.  They, “male and female” was “created” by God and “blessed” by Him, and it was He who named them ‘Adam, or “Man.”  So here, again, we can clearly see that the Scriptures are teaching us that in ‘Adam,  there was “male and female”…”in the day that THEY were created” [emphasis mine].  This tells us that the woman was not an afterthought in the creation process, but she was right there in ‘Adam, just like the man.

A REMEZ – A HIDDEN ALLUSION

In the rules of interpretation that we see illustrated within the Scriptures, including the B’rit Chadasha (“New Testament”), there is an interpretative form that’s known as a remez, which means that a deeper reality or truth is in some way being hinted at, illustrated or in some way alluded to within the text.  In this case, we can gain the remez understanding of the text by examining the following two statements:

  • Adam was created “male and female”
  • Adam was created “in the image of God”

Consequently, then, we can see that “the image of God” is seen in the composite unity of “male and female.”  Adam was created to reflect the “image and likeness of God” in the earth, and that image and likeness was comprised of “male and female.”

DOES THIS MEAN THAT GOD IS BOTH A “HE” AND A “SHE”?

No, absolutely not!  To possess gender (“He” or “She”), one must have a physical body, but “God is Spirit” (John 4:24).  However, it does mean that the One God contains within Himself both masculine and feminine traits and qualities, and yet He is One Spirit. And it should be noted that in both the original Hebrew and Greek texts of Scriptures, God is consistently referred to by the pronoun “He.”

However, what is interesting to me is that the Hebrew word for “Spirit” is in the feminine form, and if we look at many of the characteristics or traits of the Ruach Hakodesh (“Holy Spirit”), they are characteristically “feminine”:  He guides us, teaches us, comforts us, encourages us, etc., but as I previously stated, this does not mean that God is “feminine,” and should be called “She,” but it does indicate, as I said, that God does possess what we would traditionally characterize as “feminine qualities.”

But at the same time, He also possesses what we would traditionally characterize as “masculine” qualities and traits.  For example, He’s our “Heavenly Father,” who loves and cares for us, but He is also assertive, aggressive, He makes war (see Exodus 15), He conquers, etc.   Also, another picture of God’s “masculine” traits and qualities can be see in the B’rit Chadasha (“New Testament”), where God’s Spirit is pictured as “seed”:

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in Him; and He cannot sin, because He is born of God. (I John 3:9).

The Greek word that’s used here for “seed” is the word sperma; it is from this Greek word that we derive the English word “sperm.”  Please do not take this reference to “sperm” or “seed” literal to mean something physical; remember, God is Spirit, not physical, so this illusion must likewise be seen spiritually.  But notice the interesting parallel, we are “born of God” when God’s “seed” (His Spirit) enters into us, and physical human life is produced when the male “seed” (or sperm) enters into the woman.

Consequently, we can clearly see, then, what God is in Spirit – One being consisting of both masculine and feminine traits and qualities – He created Adam in flesh.

THE FORMATION OF THE WOMAN

Before we get into what all this means, let’s look at the next important step in God laying the foundation for marriage, the formation of woman.  In Genesis 2:18, we read,

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him?”

While we were dating and even engaged, my wife would write this verse on the back of the envelopes of the letters she wrote me.  I think she was hinting.  But there’s been a lot of discussion about the meaning of the Hebrew word k’negdo (translated as “suitable”).  It comes from the root word nagad, which means “in front of,” “in sight of,” or “opposite to.”  Through the use of this word here in verse 18, it implies a coming change to this single entity called “Adam” so that a part of him will now be “in front of” of him or “in sight of” him or “opposite to” him, in contrast to being an intricate part of him.

RIB OR SIDE?

Then in verse 21-22, we read,

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man (Heb. Adam), and he slept; then he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place.  And the LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man (Adam), and brought her to the man (Adam). (Genesis 2:21-22)

The Hebrew word translated as “rib” is the Hebrew word tsela, a feminine form of the noun, and it can be translated as either “rib” or “side.”  Obviously, there’s a big difference between just removing a “rib” as opposed to removing an entire “side” from Adam.

I remember seeing this same discussion many years ago in the movie Yentl (1983).   After her father’s death, Yentl (played by Barbra Streisand), an Ashkenazi Jewish girl in early 20th century Poland, masquerades as a man, so that she could go to the Yeshiva to study Talmud and other rabbinical writings and studies, and when asked for her name, she chooses for her “male role” her late bother’s name, Anshel.  Once she arrives at the Yeshiva, “Anshel” becomes friends with one of the other rabbinical students by the name of Avigdor (played by Mandy Patinkin).  It is during one of their daily walks and arguments with one another that “Anshel” enters into an argument about how this word tsela should be translated and the importance of that meaning for relationships between men and women.  “Anshel” attempts to argue the position that it should be translated as “side,” indicating the equality of the two genders; whereas, Avigdor maintains the traditional translation of “rib.”  But the fact is, as this scene illustrates, the Hebrew word tsela can be translated either way.

In this particular case, I believe the evidence supports the idea of “side,” rather than “rib.” Since Adam was made “male and female,” and “a part of Adam” was to stand “in front of” him, “in sight of” him, or “opposite to” him,  I strongly favor the word “side” over the traditional translation of “rib.”

THE MAN’S RESPONSE

Additional evidence for this position can be seen in examining the man’s (Adam’s) response when God brings him the newly formed woman.  It is in scene where this same deeper truth is again alluded to within the text:

And the man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23)

Notice the man (Adam) did not just say, “This is now bone of my bones,” which is what you would expect if all that God removed was “a rib,” but instead, he says, “This is now bone of my bones, AND flesh of my flesh” [emphasis mine].  This indicates the removal of more than just a “rib” bone.

It is also after this statement that we see in the Hebrew a word change for the man.  Biblically, whenever someone’s name or word used to refer to them is altered or changed, it indicates some important change has occurred within the individual; for example, we see this in such name changes as ‘Avram (“Abram”) to ‘Avraham (“Abraham”), Hoshea (or Oshea) to Y’hoshua (“Joshua”),  Shi’mon (“Simon”) to Petros (“Peter”), etc.

She shall be called Woman (Heb. ‘ishah), because she was taken out of man (Heb. ‘ish).  Therefore, a man (‘ish) shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife (‘ishah), and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)

What is interesting about the term “Adam” in the Hebrew is that it is a plural noun, which further indicates Adam being a single entity comprised of a plurality,  which the Bible describes as being “male and female.”  However, the terms ‘ish (“man”) and ‘ishah (“woman”) are both singular nouns.  Adam, originally consisting of a plurality, has now become two separate single entities, or what we now know today as “a man” and “a woman.”

It is after this separation of the original Adam into two entities, the man and the woman, that we read the traditional line that’s recited in most weddings:

Therefore, the man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

In other words, as a result of this separation occurring, the man (Heb. ‘ish; “the masculine aspect or side of Adam”) is to “cleave” to his wife (Heb. ‘ishah; “the feminine aspect or side of Adam”), and the two together are to “become one flesh.” It does not say that they are to remain as two separate entities under one roof, but out of their desire, passion, and love for one another, they are to “cleave” to one another, and through this process of “cleaving,” they are to “become one flesh,” or to put it another way, they are to reconstruct the original Adam, who was made “in the image and likeness of God.”

I know this is deep, but this is an important truth that we need to understand if we want to understand the biblical view of marriage and the truths taught in the rest of Scripture.  One rabbinical teaching that reflects this same idea is the statement, “A man cannot be a man without a wife.”  Now in English, this statement is often misunderstood as being “chauvinistic;” however, in Hebrew it makes complete sense: “A man (‘ish) cannot be a man (Adam) without a wife (‘ishah).  In other words, ‘ish + ‘ishah = Adam.

In other words, each man and woman are not the full image of God, but half of His image, and in the marriage relationship, these two parts of His image are being joined together to formulate the full image.  This process of “joining together” the two halves of His image is a process that occurs throughout the marriage relationship, it does not just instantaneously “happen” because the man and the woman says, “I do.”  Although the relationship of the couple began to evolve when they were dating, it is after the wedding ceremony when this process really becomes deeper and more intensified.

THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE

The primary purpose of marriage, then, is not the propagation of the human race, as I’ve heard often argued, although it is one of the purposes.  Rather in and through the marriage bond, a man and a woman are to come together in “oneness” (Heb. echad) in every area of their lives (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, financially, and socially).  Why?  So they reconstruct the original Adam who was made “in the image and likeness of God.” So that through their unity, the “image of God” may be seen in the earth through their relationship, their passion, their desire, and their love for one another. However, in many marriages, the “image of God” is not being seen.  Why? Because the more that a man and a woman seeks to be their own individual beings, the more they oppose God’s desire that they become “one flesh” and, therefore, reflect “His image and likeness.”

Another reason for this is because it teaches us that the “image of God” is seen when we come together as a “corporate unity.”  For example, in Psalm 133, it teaches us that –

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious [anointing] oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon, coming down upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing – life forever.

Notice, that unity is “good” and “pleasant,” and that it is compared to the anointing and the blessing of God.   We also see this emphasis on unity (or oneness) in John 17, when Yeshua/Jesus prays,

I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who [continue to] believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.  (John 17:20)

Notice that the prayer of Yeshua/Jesus is that we, as His followers, may be one with God and with one another, even as He and the Father are One.   And it would be through our oneness with God and one another that the world would finally believe that God was the One who sent Yeshua/Jesus the Messiah.  Consequently, all the divisions and schisms in the church work in opposition to the desire and prayer of Yeshua/Jesus.   And where do we begin to learn about the importance of corporate unity?  The marriage relationship.

DOES THIS MEAN THAT THE WOMAN SHOULD DO WHATEVER THE MAN SAYS?

To bring about this oneness, does this mean that the woman should “submit” and just do whatever her husband tells her?  No, this is a common misinterpretation and misapplication of certain teachings of the Bible regarding the marriage relationship.   God does not indicate in His Word that He expects the woman to become a “door mat” and simply lie down and let the man walk all over her, nor does this mean that she should lose her own identity, while he maintains his.  Instead, this process of “joining together” the two halves of God’s image into One equally involves the effort of both the man and the woman.  Both of them together need to work on “melting together” their identities, their desires, their needs, their wants, their goals, etc., to formulate this new single creation.   Both the man and the woman may lose certain aspects of themselves within this process, but they also both gain something through this process: the knowledge, gifts, talents, and strengths of the other.  If this is done God’s way, rather than our own way, it is a “win-win” situation for both the man and the woman.

Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) explains this process by using the word “subject.”

and be subject to one another in the love of Christ [Messiah]. (Ephesians 5:21)

It is after this verse that he goes into more depth as to what constitutes this process of “subjecting” ourselves one to another.  However, it should be said that some have abused the Scriptures by emphasizing Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord,” while ignoring verse 21 above, as well as what is taught in verses 25 and 28-29:

Husbands, love your wife, just as Christ [Messiah] also loved the church [His Bride] and gave Himself up for her;…So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.  He who [continues to] loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ [Messiah] also does the church, because we are members of His body.

If we look at the Scriptures as a single whole revelation, rather than just the parts that we tend to like, than we see that this process of subjection is to one another as we subject ourselves to God and His Word is venue by which God will bring about the oneness He desires in our lives and in our marriage relationship.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

Why is it so important that married couples should seek oneness, rather than separation. I believe it’s for several different reasons, but the most important three is

  • Through our oneness with one another, we will fulfill God’s desire for marriage – that our marriages become a physical picture or representation of Him within the earth;
  • Through our oneness with one another that we will present within and through the depth, passion, and love expressed for one another in our marriage unions, a picture of the type of relationship that God desires with us.  Throughout the Scriptures, God refers to Himself as our “Husband” and His people as “His Bride.”  I want to examine this idea further in the next article because by looking at our relationship with God within the context of marriage, we gain a better perspective and understanding of what type of depth of relationship that He desires from us; and
  • Through our oneness with one another, we will experience a depth of self-fulfillment and satisfaction that we would not have initially believed possible.

IS MY MARRIAGE PERFECT?

In examining these goals and what I have described as God’s desire for marriage, some may wonder if my wife and I have attained this ideal of marriage.  No, but it has gotten a whole lot better, particularly over the last few years.  There are many times when we get angry, frustrated, and say or do something we shouldn’t, or even try to exert our own will in the situation, rather than seek the oneness that God desires. However, I will tell you, my marriage continues to improve with each passing day.  Indeed, I would describe it as “a fine bottle of wine that has finally fermented and has reached that age where it is enjoyable to the taste.”  But even though there are areas in our marriage that we are still working on (e.g., selfishness, pride, stubbornness), we know the goal that God has presented within His Word, and we continually seek to move towards it each and every day.

GOD CARES ABOUT YOUR MARRIAGE

Just as God cares about my marriage with Karen,  He also cares about yours.  Perhaps, your marriage is closer to that of a “war zone,” as opposed to a loving, passionate union of two people seeking to “become one.”  We can relate.  There were many years where “a war zone” would have been a perfect picture of our relationship with one another,  but once we actually allowed God to come into it,  He began working with each of us individually and then with us together, and we now have a marriage we wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.  In regard to our marriage, God spoke to us prophetically through His Spirit, and this what He said,

Yes, you have been very unstable minded, but that was due to you and your wife being unstable with one another, says God.  I could not do what I have needed to do with your lives a mess, says God Almighty.  I cannot and could not be a Holy God living inside a temple that was living in such disharmony and confusion as the two of you were.  Things were not good, but your minds and hearts yearned to do what was right in My eyes, but you two were like fighting bears and lions, trying to tear each other apart from the very core of your being.  You could not see Me through all of your discord and disharmony, says God, and you were so unhealthy while trying to serve Me. (“God’s Calling of My Husband and I into Ministry”)

Disharmony, division, on-going fighting and hostility in a marriage will not only make your lives miserable, but it keeps you from seeing God and from Him using you and your spouse.  Consequently, we need to strive for Oneness with one another.  As a result,  we know from experience that if you invite God into your marriage and into each of your lives, read and study His Word, and submit yourself to the leading of His Spirit, He will transform your “war-torn home” into a loving environment that you and your spouse will continually crave and desire, and that He can bless and use.

Therefore, all marriages are important to God because He designed them to be so much more than what most of us live and experience in our day-to-day lives.  But I want to invite you to take the first step to bring a change to that, invite the LORD into your lives and home.  Say this prayer with me (or something similar):  Is this prayer some “magic formula” that will suddenly make things better?  No, but it is the first step.  Remember, learning to do things God’s way is a process, but it is a process that always begins with repentance and submitting ourselves to God and His Word.

PRAYER

Lord, my marriage and life is a shambles.  We are continually fighting and tearing one another apart.  I have tried to bring peace to it, but it hasn’t worked.  Lord, I want the kind of marriage that’s taught here in your Word and that Chris has described.  Lord, I know that You are not a respecter of persons, and that if you can change Chris and Karen’s marriage, I believe You can change mine.  

Lord, I invite you now to come into my life and into my marriage.  I open every door of my life to You.  Forgive me of my sins.  Lord, I embrace your gift of salvation that Yeshua/Jesus provided for me by dying on the cross.  Lord, I ask You to please change whatever needs to be changed; remove whatever needs to be removed, and please add whatever needs to be added to my life and my marriage.  I submit myself entirely to You, Your Word, and the leading of Your Spirit.  

Thank You, Lord, for what You are about to do.  In Yeshua’s/Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you have prayed this prayer, I would like to hear from you.  Please email our ministry at followingmessiah@gmail.com, so that we can pray with you again and begin you on your journey to a new life and marriage.
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The Gospel of the Kingdom: A Basic Introduction

“But He [Yeshua/Jesus] said to them, ‘I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose”Luke 4:43.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

The kingdom of God/Heaven was the central theme of everything that Yeshua/Jesus did and taught, but not only that, but according to Him in Luke 4:43, it was the purpose for which He was sent.  But what is “the kingdom of God/Heaven”?  If we look through the Bible, we will not find it defined anywhere in the text.  However, throughout the Scriptures, God is referred to as King.  For example,

Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to Thee do I pray. (Psalm 5:2)

The LORD is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land. (Psalm 10:6)

I am the LORD, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King. (Psalm 43:15)

In Hebrew, the word for “King” is melekh, and what a King does is He malaks (rules or reigns), and His malak is His malkhuth (or Kingdom).  In other words, in English, the word “kingdom” is a noun (it’s a place), but in Hebrew, it is much more dynamic; it is an active verb (an action).

THE CLOSEST EQUIVALENT

The closest equivalent to the phrase “the kingdom of God” is found in I Chronicles 29:23:

And of all my sons (for the LORD has given me many sons), He has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel.  [emphasis mine]

The phrase “the kingdom of the LORD” is the English translation of the Hebrew malkhut YHWH.  The four letters, YHWH, denote God’s covenantal name, and by the time of the Second Temple period of the first century, C.E., the name YHWH was only used by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur (“the Day of Atonement”).  Consequently, to make reference to God, other terms – referred to as “evasive synonyms” – were used in place of His name, for example, “heaven,” “God,” or “Power.”  Therefore, the phrase “the kingdom of YHWH” in I Chronicles should be seen as equivalent to the terms “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven.”

LAW OF FIRST MENTION

One of the rules that is used when interpreting Scripture is known as “The Law of First Mention.”  This means that if we want to understand the basic, primary meaning of any term, we must examine it the first time we find it used in Scripture, and then from that point forward, see how the idea is developed and built upon; however, later developments of the idea may never violate or contradict its original base meaning.

THE FIRST MENTION OF THE KINGDOM

The first reference to God’s Kingdom is found at the end of “The Song of Moshe (Moses)”:

And the LORD shall reign forever and ever. (Exodus 15:18)

The phrase “shall reign” in English seems to denote a future time period; however, the phrase in Hebrew is much more dynamic and active: YHWH yimlokh l’olam v’ed (“YHWH reigns forever and ever”).  It is not that YHWH (“the LORD”) shall reign, but that He has reigned, He is reigning, and He shall ever reign forever and ever.

What is interesting about the context of this first reference is that it occurs in a song sung by Moshe (Moses) to God glorifying Him over the victory that He had just demonstrated by His defeat of the kingdom and military of Egypt.  In other words, the context is a political one, rather than a religious one.  God’s Kingdom is political, it has a king, who rules and reigns over His dominions (all that He has created), and He rules and reigns over those within His kingdom through the use of His teachings, commands and laws found throughout the entire Bible (from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Revelation).

A COMMON MISUNDERSTANDING

A common misunderstanding that many people have is that if they can obey all of God’s laws, then those acts of obedience will result in them being citizens of God’s Kingdom. But this is not true on several levels.

First of all, God never intended anyone to obey every single command in Scripture.  There are some commands for Kings, some for the High Priest, some for the priests, some for farmers, and some for men and some for women.  Now, I am not a king, so I am not expected to obey those laws; I am also not the High Priest, the Priest, or a farmer, for example, so I am not expected to fulfill those laws.  And since I am a man, I am not expected to fulfill those laws that are intended for women.  I am only expected by God to fulfill those laws that specifically deal with me.

Secondly, we can obey every single command that does apply, and God is still not obligated to make you a citizen of His Kingdom.  Even in the United States, if an immigrant comes to the U.S. and obeys every single law, his obedience to those laws will not make him a U.S. citizen.  Instead, the U.S. has its own process by which immigrants can become legal U.S. citizens, and the same goes with God’s Kingdom.  Obeying God’s commands will not make you one of His citizens, He has a special process in place by which each individual can become a legal citizen of His Kingdom.

PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS!

The first problem we face in reconnecting with God and His Kingdom is to realize that human beings are born outside of God’s Kingdom.  Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) were placed in the Garden of Eden, which is a picture of God’s Kingdom.  However, when they sinned against God’s rule and reign over their lives, they were sent out from the Garden, which then becomes a picture of them being cast out of God’s Kingdom.  They had rejected His rulership and, therefore, since God is a God of love, He honored their desire for self rule.  Love does not impose its self on others, and if people choose separation from God, He will honor that desire.

Secondly, we cannot earn our way back into the Kingdom.  There isn’t anything that we can do, on our own power and abilities, to work our way back in.  Why?  Very simply, because we are dead.  Dead people cannot do anything; they’re dead.  And spiritually, we are dead.  When Adam and Chavah (Eve) sinned (broke God’s laws), they lost their intimacy with God; in fact, the Bible says when God asked Adam where he was, Adam answered,

I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself. (Genesis 3:10)

Adam and Eve (Chavah) were now afraid.  There was no fear in them before they broke His commands, but now that they had, something inside of them had changed.  They were now afraid of God, they hid from His Presence, and they felt guilt and shame.  The Presence of God that once indwelt them was now gone, and they were no longer connected to the source of life, so they died spiritually.  As a result, they were cast our of the Garden (Genesis 3:23) since God cannot dwell with anything sinful or unholy. Being cast out of the Garden then was a picture of being cast out of God’s Kingdom.

Thirdly, God created us “in His image and likeness” (Genesis 1:26), and when man sinned, that image was distorted, twisted, and corrupted.  Consequently, we no longer reflect God’s “image and likeness” accurately, nor do we have the power to do so because we are spiritually dead.

COVENANT – GOD’S RESPONSE

God’s responds to man’s need is through the use of His covenant.  Unfortunately, many in Christianity only see the covenant in terms of being a “legal process,” rather than understanding that covenant is all about relationships.  Biblically, covenants were made (1) to deepen or intensify an already existing relationship; (2) to resolve relational differences or conflict; and (3) to restore a broken relationship.

Yeshua/Jesus is that covenant.  He came proclaiming the good news of God’s Kingdom, which is that the doorway to intimacy with God and being restored to God’s Kingdom was now open and available through the person of Yeshua/Jesus Himself, and that doorway would be opened for all who would come in faith believing, Jew and non-Jew alike.

Unfortunately, there are many people – Jew and non-Jew – who do not understand the relationship between the covenants that God established in the Tanakh (or “Old Testament”) and the death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua/Jesus (That’s a discussion for another article).  Most Christians mistakenly view His death as “setting aside,” “doing away” or “putting to death” the previous covenants; however, this is not the case.  He did not set any of them aside, He did not do away with them, nor did He annul any of them, but He filled up (and continues to fill up) their meaning, He re-established them on a historic event (His life, death, burial, and resurrection), and He becomes the new point of entry into these covenants.

By accepting the gift of Yeshua’s/Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection for our newness of life, we enter into covenant with God: We enter into intimacy with God, We experience His indwelling Presence, forgiveness, and liberation from the power and control of sin that was over our lives, and we enter into greater intimacy, love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace from a loving, Heavenly Father that’s more than any of us could ever possibly imagine, but we also enter into the privilege and responsibilities of one who is in covenant with God, meaning, i.e., that we now become active members of His Kingdom.

THE KING HAS STANDARDS

The Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, has laid down in the Gospels His standards for those who will make up His Kingdom.  For example, He teaches us in Luke 14, the following standards:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

To be “poor in spirit” means to be someone who acknowledges your need of Him in your life, that you are incomplete without Him.  Proud, arrogant people who will not come to Him, who will not acknowledge their need for Him, and who will believe that they can live their lives without Him and/or that they are better off without Him will not be those who will make up His kingdom.  Another example of a standard is the following:

If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)

Yeshua/Jesus here is using a hyperbole to make the point that He needs to be first place in our lives, and our love for Him should exceed that of our love for our parents, wife, children, siblings, and even our own lives.  “Hate” does not mean have bad feelings towards them, but if a choice has to be made, you would choose Yeshua/Jesus rather than any of your family or even your own needs and desires.  He then reiterates this idea of dying to our own needs and wants with the following:

Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:27)

There is a definite cost to being Yeshua’s/Jesus’ disciple.  He illustrates this by saying:

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.”  Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  Or else while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace.  (Luke 14:28-32)

There is a cost to following Yeshua/Jesus and being His disciple.  This was true of the first century, and it is true today.  He then reiterates the point:

So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all of his own possessions. (Luke 14:33)

All that we possess, even our very life, we must be willing to hand over to Him for Him to use in accordance to His discretion, for His glory and honor.  However, these (and other) standards are often not taught in many churches because they believe that one can accept Yeshua/Jesus as their Savior without making Him Lord.  “Making Him Lord” is a higher level of commitment to Messiah, they say.  However, this clearly violates Scripture.  Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) writes to the congregation at Rome:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus [Heb. Yeshua] as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.  For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9)

As we can see, our salvation is dependent on us accepting Yeshua/Jesus as Lord.  It is not another step, it is THE STEP.  But the word “accepting” doesn’t mean “to mentally accept something to be true,” as we would use the word today, but it means that the reality of that statement must permeate every aspect of our being, so much so that it flows out of our mouths, “for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).

BELIEF IS NOT ENOUGH

You see, belief is not enough.  In English, the word “believe” usually denotes “mental agreement,” and although “mental agreement” might be a beginning step, it is not what the Bible means by “believe.”  Biblically, the word “believe” denotes our continuing active trust in and reliance upon God, and there’s a big difference between “mentally agreeing to something said about someone” and “trusting” and “relying upon” that individual.

For example, I can ask you, “Do you believe I would ever hurt you?” and there are many people who know me and would say that they “believed” that, but if I asked them if they would loan me their credit cards, not too many (very few, in fact) would loan them to me.  Why?  Because it doesn’t cost anything to mentally accept something to be true, but trust always costs.

Consequently, it is not enough to mentally accept the possibility that there is a God or to even say we believe in what the Bible says, or even just to say the words “Jesus is Lord,” but that reality must be true in every area of our lives.  If Yeshua/Jesus is truly living in us as Lord, then His image and likeness should flow out of us in every aspect of our lives.  But again, Yeshua/Jesus is a gentleman; He will not invade or take any part of you by force, but you must willingly hand each and every part of your life over to Him to use for His glory and honor in whatever way He sees fit.

“I AM NOT IN CHARGE”

By bending our knee to the Lordship of Messiah and making Him the ruler and king of our lives, we are acknowledging before God and ourselves that we are not in charge of our lives.  He is.  This is what it means to give our lives to Messiah.  Our lives now belong to Him for His use, His glory, and His honor.   This life, this body, and its needs no longer belong to me; they now belong to Yeshua/Jesus.  I am now a steward of them, but I no longer own them.

KINGDOM PEOPLE – OUR CALLING

We have been called to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to God (Exodus 19:6; I Peter 2:5, 9).  This is not a calling just upon the Jewish people, but upon all people, languages, tongues, and ethnic groups that God brings into His kingdom in and through the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus, the Son of man:

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like the Son of Man was coming,and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him, and to Him was given dominion, glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)

Some skeptics or doubters might argue that it is only my opinion that the “Son of Man” spoken about here is Yeshua/Jesus.  But they would be wrong.  Yeshua/Jesus proclaimed it of Himself at His trial in response to the High Priest, who adjured Him “by the name of the living God, that You tell us [the Sanhedrin] whether You are the Christ [Messiah], the Son of God.” And this was His reply:

You have said it yourself; nevertheless, I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven. (Matthew 26:64)

Yeshua/Jesus is the Son of Man, and His return is very soon, and we must prepare for His coming and the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth.  It will be a time unparalleled in human history.   And as His people, we are to represent Him and His Kingdom, and live out the teachings, laws, commands, values, and beliefs that He has handed down to us throughout all of His Word, from Genesis 1:1 to the end of Revelation.  For the Scriptures teach us,

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome (or grievous).  (I John 5:3)

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A Romantic Get-Away with a “Bed Bug” Ending: A Lesson about Sin?

“BED BUGS” –

It is the one thing we never thought would ever happen to us.  I remember growing up and saying to people before they went to bed, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite!”  But what I didn’t know growing up was that there really were things called “bed bugs.”  My wife and I both thought that this expression was just something people said about some imaginary creature, much like the “boogie man.”  But since last year, we’ve had a harsh wake up to reality – “bed bugs are real!”

A FEW DAYS OF ROMANCE

After the end of the semester last May in 2015, I had this idea to take my wife of thirty-four years on a romantic get-away, a second honeymoon.  Our kids are all grown with jobs of their own, and so I thought it would be a great time for my wife and I to get away to have some much needed alone time.  We both grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and I had gone to Mackinaw Island, Michigan, when I was seven years old, but she had never been there, and so I thought it would be fun to go there together.  The island is about nine miles around and is located east of Mackinaw Bridge.  There’s no bridge out to the island, so the only means to get to it is by ferry, and since there are no cars on the island, the only way to get around is by walking, riding bicycles, or by horse and carriage.

We spent the day there and had a lot of fun.  We went to Fort Mackinaw, a British fort from the days of Colonial America, enjoyed the various re-enactments, went bike riding around the island, and yes, we made it all nine miles.  We also went in and out of the many shops that sell fudge, and I am firmly convinced that we have tried every type of fudge imaginable, including one called “Superman Fudge.”  There were also many different tourist shops that sold a variety of different things, including all types of T-Shirts.  And then on the mainland, we saw the Colonial fort, went through the various tourist shops there, saw an old lumber mill, and even went zip lining.  Overall, it was a great trip.

“INVASION!”

It was about a month afterwards when my wife started waking up with bites all over her arm.  The red bite marks went from her shoulder down to past her elbow, and they were extremely painful.  She described the bites as fiery red and felt like she was burning from the inside out.  We didn’t know what it was, but day after day, she would wake up with these bites, and it was becoming more painful by the day.  Finally, she called the doctor. The doctor asked her where she was being bitten, and when she told her “in bed,” she responded, “that’s not good.”

After hanging up, my wife went to our bed and pulled off the sheet, and as soon as she did, a bunch of little brown bugs started scurrying to the corners of the mattress.  She yelled for me, and when I saw them, I went and grabbed a sandwich baggy to try and capture some of them in it, so we could show them to the doctor.   We were pulling back the corners, finding bugs, and we flipped over the mattress and saw even more bugs.  The more we looked, the more we found.  Finally, my wife was even more horrified when we found bed bugs crawling up and around our curtains.

My wife just stood there in disbelief and horror.  We’d been married for 33 years and NEVER have we ever had any issues with these type of bugs before.  She called the doctor back up and told her we had caught a few of them in a baggy, and she asked her doctor if she wanted her to bring them in to show her.  The doctor replied with an abrupt, “No, don’t come in” and told her she would send her a prescription to Wal-Greens.

We immediately then took the bedding and the drapes and threw them in a black trash bag and took them outside to the trash container, and then came back for the mattress and the box springs, as well as the bed frame.  The doctor also told us to call Terminex. Although we attempted to eliminate the problem, it did not solve it.  To summarize a very long process, we tried every imaginable solution possible to rid ourselves of this problem with no success. Finally, we bit the bullet and called Terminex, who told us they had a three-treatment plan for ridding homes of this impossible pest.  They explained we would have to move everything out of the house and into the garage, shed, and storage units in black bags so they could treat the house.  However, on hearing this, it just seemed too overwhelming and difficult for us to do since we had so much stuff, so we tried other solutions with no success.

A 15-MONTH WARFARE!

We have been battling these pests for the past fifteen months.  Every time we thought we had them beat, they showed up in another room of the house.  Once we moved our bed and curtains out of our bedroom, we discovered that instead of killing the bugs, they simply moved to our kids’ bedrooms and followed us to the living room.  No matter how much we cleaned, vacuumed, or what furniture we threw away, the bugs did not go away.

A SECOND CALL

This month we moved our children and their things out of the house and up to Michigan. And during these long months, we have been reducing the amount of things in our home little-by-little.  Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we called Terminex again.  When the man came out to our home to inspect it the second time, we learned some things about bed bugs.  He said that the bed bugs were coming from the Middle East and that up until Desert Storm, the U.S. had been completely devoid of any bed bugs at all. However, since that time, bed bugs have been spread throughout the United States.

Bed bugs can be picked up by anyone at any location: hotels/motels, theaters, restaurants, in essence anywhere someone can sit down.  Once someone sits down who has bed bugs, the bed bug falls off of them onto the place where they were sitting, and then the next person sits down and the bed bug gets on them and then goes to their home.  The one advantage he said we had over many individuals is that we now know what these pests look like. They do not look the same throughout their life cycle, but they change color and appearance, depending on the particular stage of development.  Tomorrow, July 25th, they will begin the process of treating our home, and we will finally put an end to this horrible nightmare.

In looking back at this whole experience, I feel bad about the fact that I had taken my wife to this place, but even though my intent was good – to give us a fun getaway as a couple – it ended up becoming a 15-month nightmare.

BED BUGS –  WHY LORD?

For the last few nights, my wife has been waking up with bed bug bites on the right side of her back.  The pain has been such that my wife has had great difficulty sleeping, so my wife has been crying out to the Lord and asking Him, “Why?  Why would you put us through this horrid experience?  What is it that we are supposed to get from this?” Although she has been tearfully making this prayer for several nights now, she has not received any reply.

BED BUGS – A PICTURE OF SIN?

Last night, July 23, at about 1:30am, I woke up and could not get to sleep.  I started going back and reading over things that the Lord has spoken to us about regarding our lives and things He is calling us into.  And He brought to my remembrance the fact that God often gave the ancient prophets visuals to use when they preached to help communicate what He wanted them to say, or He had them go through certain experiences that they used for the same reason.  Even Yeshua/Jesus used experiences that the people were familiar with as illustrations in His own teachings.

It is ironic to me that, according to the man from Terminex, “the Middle East is the hotbed of bed bug activity,” and that is where God is sending us for at least the next three months.  Was He getting us ready for a “buggy” future?  What was the purpose for this? God shared with me that in many ways, bed bugs are a lot like sin.  Just like bed bugs, sin is all around us, and we may not be aware at first that we’ve allowed it into our lives.  It may start out as something innocent, a prank, a behavior we’ve learned or “picked up” from a friend, family member, or someone else, or even just a little thing, something that we think shouldn’t be “a big deal,” but then over time we begin to feel the effects of it.  It grows worse and worse, until it becomes a battle that we are continually fighting, but like our battle with bed bugs, the more that we fight it, the more it seems to win and gain the upper hand.

INFESTED LIVES

Like bed bugs, sin has infested our lives.  In many ways, we are not aware of how badly sin has infested it.  We look around and compare ourselves with criminals or other “bad people,” and we think, “I’m not that bad.”  But God does not compare us with other people; He compares us with Himself.  Why?  Because according to Scripture, God created us in His own image and likeness:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness:….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26a, 27)

God created humanity, man and woman, in His image and likeness, so that they would physically reflect and represent Him on the earth.  As a result, then, God is the standard by which we will be judged since we were made “in His image and likeness.”  However, after Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) disobeyed God, their disobedient act resulted in God’s original image and likeness to be distorted, twisted, and even changed.  And since that time, we could say that humanity has inherited a virus (another type of “bug”) that has been passed down from generation to generation.

A COMPUTER ANALOGY

If we were to use a computer example, we could compare it to a computer manufacturer who was coming out with a brand new computer on the market, and they were ready to go into mass production.  However, the night before, unbeknownst to anyone, a competitor broke into the factory and damaged a part of the model’s mother board.  The next day, the factory went into major production and created thousands upon thousands of computers based on the damaged model.  Consequently, all those newly created computers carried the same damage as the original model.  In much the same way, humanity has carried the same damage within each of us – a distorted, twisted, and changed image and likeness – as was formed within Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) when they disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden.

WE CAN’T CHANGE OURSELVES

Unfortunately, as the Bible teaches, we cannot fix ourselves.  And just like with the bed bugs, we tried throwing out our mattress, bedding, furniture, and even cleaned and scrubbed all that we could with no avail, and so it is with sin, we can try to “clean up” our ways, our thoughts, how we speak, and what we do to try and get rid of the sin in our lives. And for a time we may even think that we have been successful, but then something will happen, and we’ll discover sin again growing in another “room” or part of our life.  And no matter how many self-help programs we go through, how many times we struggle to quit, we come to the ultimate conclusion, we can’t do this on our own.

For example, consider the following passages:

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5)

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Psalm 14:2-3; Psalm 53:2-3)

These same lines from Psalms 14 and 53 are quoted by Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) in Romans 3:

For we have previously charged that both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) are all under sin, as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:9-11)

Teaching, laws, legislation, etc., may seem to help solve the issue for a time, but it doesn’t because the problem is not an external one, but internal.  It is a problem of the heart.

“FORGIVEN SINNERS?”

The message of the Bible is consistent that we have all been affected by the “bed bugs of sin.”  We are all called to walk “the narrow way” that leads to life and to avoid the infested “broad way” that leads to death and destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).  But the problem I see among many Christians today is that they have given up fighting against the “bugs of sin” that has infected each of their lives and have come to accept the fact that this horrible, parasitic bug called “sin” is just a part of who they are.  I’ve heard them tell me and others, “We are no different than anyone else.  After all, we are just forgiven sinners.”

What they don’t seem to realize is that if they are truly no different than someone who does not know Yeshua/Jesus as their Lord and Savior, then God has really made no difference in their life. If they are not different, then what do they have to offer any one else?  People who do not have Messiah (Christ) in their life are spiritually dead, according to Scripture, but God says in His Word that those who have Messiah (Christ) living in their lives have been made “spiritually alive.” Shouldn’t there be a difference between someone who is spiritually dead and someone who is spiritually alive?   If not, there’s something wrong.

SLAVERY OR FREEDOM?

I’ve heard many Christians say, “No matter how much I try, I just can’t quit sinning.  I might stop for a time, but then it happens again, and then again.” Yeshua/Jesus taught, “I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).  You see, a slave can be forgiven, but he or she will still remain a slave.  Forgiveness does not “free a slave,” it just forgives them of the wrong that they have done.  And there are many Christians who are “forgiven slaves of sin.”  They’ve been forgiven, but not liberated.  They are still enslaved since they can’t quit sinning, according to their own testimony.  But Yeshua/Jesus did not die just to “forgive” people of their sins, He died and rose again from the dead to free and liberate them from the very power and control of sin.  Yeshua/Jesus Himself taught,

A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. (John 8:35-36)

Consequently, if we have been truly set free from the control and power of sin, then sin is no longer our master or a “have to,” but if we do sin after being freed from it, then it is because we chose to return to our slavery, we chose to do it.

WE NEED LIBERATION & TRANSFORMATION – NOT JUST FORGIVENESS

What all people today – Christian and non-Christian alike – need is to experience God’s forgiveness and liberation from sin’s power and control over their lives.  The Lord has done all that’s needed for us to experience His forgiveness and liberation.  The problem is that the “bug of sin” has so infested the hearts and minds of the modern church that they have lost sight of God’s message of a new Exodus from the slavery of this world and sin into the “Promised Land” of His Kingdom, an exodus where we can leave the hurt, pain, and lashes of shame, guilt, depression, and worthlessness behind, and we can experience the forgiveness, liberation, indwelling Presence, love, and power of God and His Kingdom.  Rather than the message of the Exodus and the power of the cross, the modern church has substituted human programs to try and meet people’s needs.

Therefore, it isn’t enough that we are forgiven, we must be liberated from the control and power of sin, and then changed and transformed within each of us.  As Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) writes,

If so be that you have heard Him [Messiah], and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus [Yeshua]; that you put off [or remove] the former conversation [conduct, behavior] the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Ephesians 4:21-24)

Notice that God does not expect His people to remain what they were.  We are to change and be transformed so that we can become like Him, righteous and holy, but not by our own efforts and willpower, but by us receiving some new things from God.

A NEW HEART & A NEW SPIRIT

The first thing that we need from God is “a new heart and a new spirit,”

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Notice that God’s intent is to give us “a new heart and a new spirit.”  And it is only after receiving these new gifts that He also will cause us to live in accordance with His commandments. Obviously, then, there’s a problem when someone says they’ve received this “new birth,” but they still cannot live in obedience to God since this contradicts God’s promise here in Ezekiel 36.

Also, the problem here, of course, is that we cannot give ourselves this “heart transplant,” only God can.  He is the only one who can give us a new heart and a new spirit, and He is the only one who can cause us “to walk” or live out His statutes and judgments, i.e., His commandments.  This means that God never intended for any of us to do this on our own.

YESHUA/JESUS – OUR “SIN BUG TERMINATOR”

Yeshua/Jesus came to earth to deal with the “sin bugs” within our lives and to be our model of how to walk out the way of true obedience to the Father.  He, like Terminex, has been sent to destroy the “bugs” that have infested our lives.  Although Terminex destroys bed bugs and other insects, Yeshua/Jesus has been sent to destroy the control and power of sin that has infested our lives through His death and bodily resurrection.  Only He can liberate us from sin’s hold and power and bring us into the freedom and reality of His Kingdom.

THE SOLUTION: GOD’S THREE TREATMENT PROGRAM

Also, like Terminex, God has a three treatment program for dealing with what troubles us. However, instead of bed bugs, God’s three treatment program is made to correct the core issues of our lives, to transform us into what He had originally intended.

And there are three that [continue to] bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. (I John 5:8)

In this verse, I see an allusion to the three main stages of the Exodus, which, I believe, provide us with biblical pictures of God’s three treatment plan to free and liberate us from the slavery of sin and to bring us into the glorious reality of His kingdom.  Although I am not going to go into great depth on these three stages in this article, I am planning on discussing them more in depth in the next article.  In overview, though, God’s three treatment plan involves –

  • THE BLOOD.  The blood represents the first stage of our Exodus journey, our “Passover Experience.”  Yeshua/Jesus, our “Passover Lamb was sacrificed for us,” so that we can apply His sacrificial blood to the door posts and lintels of our heart and lives, so that God’s judgment may “pass over” us and that we may begin to experience the liberation from our “Egypts” of sin.
  • THE WATER.  The water represents the next stage of our Exodus journey, our “Red Sea Experience.”  Just as the children of Israel needed to “pass through the waters” to escape Egypt, so we need to “pass through the waters” to leave behind the control and power of sin in our lives.  The water represents not only the waters of immersion (or baptism) but also the water of the Word.
  • THE SPIRIT.  The Spirit represents the third stage of our Exodus journey, our “Siani Experience.”  Just as God brought His people to Mount Siani to reveal Himself to them and to write His Word upon their hearts and lives on the original Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot), so God will also give His Spirit to those who ask Him, which He poured out upon the original disciples on the Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost.  The Spirit leads us and empowers us to walk in obedience to God and His Word.

These three elements, as we will discuss more fully in the next article, are used by God to purify us of the “bugs of sin” that has infected humanity from the beginning.  These are not one-time events, but daily experiences.   As we’ll discuss, we’ll see this same pattern of experiences repeated over and over again throughout the Scriptures and even in our lives today.

HAVE YOU BEEN LIBERATED?

What about you?  Are you experiencing God’s three treatment plan to prepare you for His return and coming kingdom?  Are you being successful in defeating the “bugs of sin” that has infested your life, or are you losing the battle?  If you are losing the battle and find yourself failing God over and over again, then call out to Yeshua/Jesus, our Divine Terminex Savior, who will come and liberate you from the “bug infested sinful life” that you’ve been living and He will make you clean and whole, and set you free from bondages and torments of this life.  He has a wonderful plan for you.  Will you trust Him to provide it for you?

PRAYER

If you would like to experience God’s liberating power, please pray this prayer with me:

Lord, sin has infested my life, and I’m tired of losing the battle.  Please forgive me of my sins, and come into my life.  Lord, I give you every room and crevice of my life.  It is yours, Lord, to have and to use in any way You choose.  Clean me up, Lord, and make me whole, and help me to follow You faithfully from this time forward.  Thank you, Lord, for your death on the cross and Your resurrection.  And help me to learn what I need to know to get ready for Your soon return.  In Yeshua’s (or Jesus’) name, Amen.

If you have prayed this prayer, I would like to hear from you.  Thank you for visiting this site, and I pray God’s blessing on your journey with Him.


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Critical Thinking & Faith (Pt. 2): What is “Biblical Faith”?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1)

by Chris L. Verschage

In the first part of this series “Critical Thinking & Faith,” we discussed that most people have a long historical misperception of what biblical faith is.  It is NOT

  • merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements;
  • merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works; or
  • “a Divine Force”

However, in this second part of this series, I would like to build on our previous study by exploring the question, “What is ‘Biblical Faith’?”

Some Basic Principles in Interpretation

Before exploring what “Biblical Faith” is, let’s establish some basic principles of interpretation.

  • When examining the Scriptures, we need to keep things in context.  To take any verse or passage out of its original context and you open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.  Too many people think that just because it is the Bible, they can take all the rules of how to properly handle a text and “throw them out the window.” But you can’t.  The same rules apply.
  • When examining any biblical concept, we need to remember that we should always examine the concept first in the Tanakh (or Old Testament), and then in the New Testament.  God did not write the New Testament first and then the Tanakh/Old Testament, but the other way around.  Unfortunately, many Christians have been taught to read their Bible backwards – New Testament and then Old Testament –  which causes interpretational problems and misunderstandings when they get to the Tanakh or Old Testament.
  • To understand the basic, foundational meaning of any term, concept, or idea, you need to find where it is first mentioned or used in Scripture.  In Hermeneutics, this principle is known as “the Law of First Mention.”

Genesis 15 – It’s First Occurrence

The first occurrence of the word “faith” in its basic root form is in Genesis 15.  In Genesis 12, God calls Abram to leave his country and his father’s house, and He promises to make of Abram “a great nation” (Genesis 12:2).  Implying, of course, in that promise, is that Abram would have many children.  Abram gladly responded to this since he and his wife, Sarai, were childless.

In Genesis 15, it has now been several years, and he and Sarai still do not have any children.  It’s clear from the chapter that Abram has come to the point in his life when he has accepted that he is not going to have any children and that his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, is going to inherit everything from him (Genesis 15:2-3).  But in spite of this, God then reaffirms His promise to Abram and takes him outside to give him a visual to help build his faith:

And behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be your heir; but he that shall come forth out of your own bowels (or body) shall be your heir.  And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell (or count) the stars, if you are able to number them: and He said unto him, so shall your seed (descendants) be. (Genesis 15:4-5)

Now let’s think about this logically.  If we consider my student’s definition again from the first part of this series that “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith,” and so if this is true, then why did God take Abram outside to provide him with a visual to build his faith?  And what was Abram’s response to this visual that God was providing him?

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted to him as righteousness.  (Genesis 15:6; emphasis mine)

Abram “believed.”  His belief was based on the evidence of what He had heard and what He saw, and it was also based on the relationship that He had experienced so far with God. In other words, it was based on various forms of evidence.  This same verse is quoted (in full or in part) by the Apostle Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul Paulus; see Romans 4:3, 9, 22; Galatians 3:6) and by James (Heb. Ya’acov; see James 2:23).  Why is this verse used by both Paul (Rav Sha’ul) and James (Ya’acov)?  Because this is the first use of this concept, and as such, it establishes the foundational meaning of the term.

What Does It Mean “Believed”?

In English, the word “believed” means “mental agreement,” but in the Hebrew, the word used here is ‘aman (Strong’s #539), and it means “to trust; to believe.”  In fact, in the Greek translation of this verse, it uses the Greek word for “trust,” rather than “believe.” You see “trust” has a cost, but “belief” (or mental agreement) does not.  An example of this can be seen in the story of a man who tight-roped his way across Niagra Falls.  On the other side, there was a great crowd cheering him on.  When he reached the other side, people clapped and cheered.  He then asked them,

How many of you believe that I can make it back across to the other side?

Everyone raised their hands.  He then asked, “Who would like to get on my back?”  No one volunteered.  There was no cost to their belief, but there was a great cost to anyone who would trust him to carry them across on his back.  The same is true of biblical faith.  So one meaning of “faith” is trust.

Faith is not merely mentally accepting the concept of God, but it is trusting God with your life.

Abram was trusting God with his future, the hope that his family line would continue.  He was not merely acknowledging the possibility that God could exist, nor was he mentally agreeing with the idea that God does exist.  Instead, he was trusting God to come through and keep a specific promise that God had made to him.  He was trusting God to bring to pass the promise of children during his lifetime. And those who know the story of Abram (later Abraham) is that he ended up having eight (8) sons.

  • Ishmael from Hagar (Genesis 16)
  • Isaac from Sarah (Genesis 21), and
  • six (6) sons from Keturah: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Genesis 25:1-2).

These eight (8) sons Abraham fathered prior to his death.  Most people have heard of Ishmael and Isaac; however, there are many people who have not heard about Abraham’s other six (6) sons by Keturah.  In Leslie’s (also known as “Tikkunknitter”) blog article “Chayei Sarah: Keturah & Life Beyond Boundaries,” she writes,

My own search for Keturah turns up only bits and pieces. I am intrigued by a referencer to the “Yakult Midrash,” which suggests that each of Abraham’s three wives descended from a son of Noah: Sarah, a daughter of Shem; Hagar, a daughter of Ham; and Keturah, a
daughter of Japheth. How tidily this medieval   
midrash connects the entire family which    
  survives the Flood with the entire family of tribes
who people the 
mideast; how remarkably      
  generous, how “modern”. I suppose I am not
  surprised to find that the approach of this
  midrash is similarly employed in the roughly
  contemporaneous map of the world contained in
  the 15th-century Nuremburg Chronicle, in which Noah’s three sons support the perimeters of the (known) world. (Tikkun Knits: Knitting Together Jewish Thought, Life, and Social Action, November 1, 2007)

Although we do not know much about Keturah and her six (6) sons, we do read several references regarding the descendants of one of her sons, Midian.  For example, it was Midianite traders who pulled Joseph out of the pit his brothers had thrown him into, and then these same Midianite traders turned around and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites, who then took him into Egypt (Genesis 37:28).  Now it is possible to interpret this verse to mean that Joseph was actually sold three different times: once to the Midianites, then to the Ishmaelites, and then to Potiphar the Egyptian, rather than the one time we see in most movies about Joseph’s life.  But then after 215 years after Joseph dies, we read in Exodus 3:1 that Moses marries Zipporah, whose father is “a priest of Midian.”

These are only a couple of biblical references to the people of Midian, the descendants of Abraham and Keturah.  Did God keep His promise to Abraham during his lifetime?  Yes, He did.  What does this teach us about “faith”?  That faith is not a noun, it’s not a thing that we mentally accept to be true, but it is a verb, an action that you take based on the trust you have in someone.  In other words, faith is an action, it is something that you do.  This is why James teaches,

What does it profit, my brethren, though a man says he has faith, and has not works?  can faith save him?…Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.  Yes, a man may say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works…But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?…For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (James 2: 14, 17, 18, 20, 26)

How can an action be an action when there’s no action?  Obviously, it can’t.  Also, let’s logically think about this.  The Hebrew word ‘aman (trans. “believe”) also means “to trust.”  Do we normally place our trust, our confidence, in someone we don’t know anything about?  No, of course not.  If a total stranger walks up to you and asks you if he can borrow your credit cards, are you going to give them to him?  Of course not!  However, if a family member or friend you knew extremely well came to you with a need, and you knew from being around them and from the evidence of their life and choices that this person was extremely trustworthy and responsible, would you loan your credit card to them?  You are more likely to.  Why?  Because based on the evidence you saw and knew over several years, you knew that person was trustworthy and, therefore, could be trusted. Based on this, then,

Faith assumes (and is derived from) the existence of evidential proof.  And without the existence of evidential proof, there can be no faith.

Have you considered faith in this light before?  Is your faith in God based upon evidential proof?  What are the promises that you trusting God to accomplish during your lifetime? In considering your level of trust in God, have you ever considered the following: How far are you willing to trust Him?  Are you willing to put your life, your future, in His hands?  Are you willing to trust Him with all that you own?  your finances?  What about the lives of your children?  Is there a line that you are not willing to cross in your trust of God?  And if so, where is that line in your life?  These are questions that I believe each of us need to answer for ourselves.  And if you are having problems trusting or believing God, perhaps the real problem is that you haven’t seen enough evidence yet.

The Bible – Our Source of Proof?

Did you know that the Bible claims that it is a source of “proof” or “evidence”?  In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul (Rav Sha’ul) writes:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. [emphasis mine]

The word translated “rebuking” in this modern English version is translated as “reproof” in the King James Version.  In English, “reproof” literally means “to prove again,” just as “revision” literally means “to see again.” In other words, during the biblical writers, including Paul’s (Rev Sha’ul’s) lives, God proved Himself trustworthy through the situations that they experienced.  As we read and study the Scriptures, it “proves again” to us that God is worthy of our complete and total trust in Him by offering us the examples of God’s character and personality, and how He intervened in these people’s lives.

The Greek word that’s used here is elegchos, and it is a legal term, which means,

Conviction, only [used] in 2 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 11:1.  It implies not merely the charge on the basis of which one is convicted, but also the manifestation of the truth [or evidence] of that charge.  The results to be reaped from that charge and the acknowledgement, (if not outwardly, yet inwardly) of its truth on the part of the accused are referred to as well.  (“Lexical Aids to the New Testament” 1712)

In order to convict someone legally in a court of law, there must be evidential proof that’s offered. Without the offering of any evidential proof, there can be no conviction.  This means that Paul is telling us here that “All Scripture” – both the Old Testament and the New Testament – provides us with the evidential proof AND the manifestation of that truth seen through the lives of those discussed in the Scriptures to give us the conviction and the assurance to know that God is who He says that He is, and that He is worthy of our complete trust and faith in Him.

Personal Experience is NOT Proof?

There are those who argue that personal experiences are not evidential proof since they are usually biased and subjective.  However, this is a position of convenience, rather than one of fact.  Personal experience and personal observation are considered in any court room as evidential proof.   People have been sent to prison, and even to death row, based on the personal experience and observations of “eye-witnesses.”  To argue that personal experience and observation cannot be seen as evidential proof contradicts their use in court room trials for centuries.  It’s inconsistent.  If it is evidence in the court room, then it should be considered evidence outside the court room.

However, someone always raises the objection that a person’s experience or observation can be wrong, and people have been innocent who were sent to prison.  However, that possibility great decreases with the increased amount of eyewitnesses.  Biblically, a person should never receive the death sentence UNLESS there’s been at least two or three eyewitnesses to the crime.

If anyone kills a person, the murderer is to be put to death based on the word of witnesses.  But no one is to be put to death based on the testimony of one witness. (Numbers 35:30)

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6)

One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done.  A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15)

In many cases, if biblical teaching had been followed, there’s a lot of people who would not have been erroneously placed on death row and killed since there was not “two or three witnesses” to the crime.  Instead, they should get life in prison, or whatever time period deemed appropriate for that particular crime.  This principle was so entrenched into Jewish culture that be the first century, C.E., it became a basic principle for the establishment of any truth or fact.  For example, Yeshua/Jesus taught His disciples,

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private.  If he listens to you, you have won your brother [back].  But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses, every fact may be established. (Matthew 18:15-16; emphasis mine)

Did you note Yeshua’s/Jesus’ quote of Deuteronomy 19:15?   He based His own teachings on the Torah given by God to Moshe (Moses).   A great many of His teachings, in fact, were based on it (see John 5:45-47).

“Faithfulness” – The Other Side of Faith?

In exploring the concept of “faith” then, we discover that “Trust” is only one side of the meaning of “faith.”  What many people do not know is that there is another side.  The other side is “faithfulness.”  Biblical faith not only means “trusting God,” but it also means “being faithful to God.”  The Hebrew word ‘emunah, the complete form of the word for “faith,” is built off of the word for “mother” (em), and is rooted in intimacy and relationship.  The first occurrence of the word ‘emunah is actually found in the book of Exodus.  The children of Israel have crossed the Red Sea, and they are about to engage in their first battle as a free people, with the Amalekites.  Joshua led the forces, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur oversaw the battle from a nearby hilltop.  The Scriptures state,

And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.  (Exodus 17:11)

Moses could only stand there for so long, holding the rod of God in his hand (Exodus 17:9), but as long as he held the rod up, Israel would prevail.  So what happened?  Did Israel end up losing?  No, Moses got some help.

But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they [Aaron and Hur] took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up [or held up] his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side, and his hands were steady [Heb. ’emunah] until the going down of the sun. (Exodus 17:12)

The Hebrew word ‘emunah is translated here into English as “steady,” it can also be translated as “firmness, steadiness;” “steadfastness” (Isaiah 33:6); and “faithfulness, trust, honesty” (Psalm 37:3; Proverbs 12:17; Isaiah 25:1).   According to the “Lexical Aids to the Old Testament”:

This word [‘emunah] has as its key idea faithfulness or certainty.  It is especially important in expressing God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 33:4; 89:49), a key divine attribute in the OT. (1599)

Faithfulness, trust, honesty, and steadiness are all terms that center around and are foundational to sustaining strong intimacy and relationship.   If someone is not faithful, honest, or steadfast in their commitment to the relationship, it will not last.  And how many times have we heard of a relationship falling apart because there was no longer any “trust” in the relationship?

Not only is ’emunah rooted in intimacy and relationship, but as I’ve mentioned earlier, it assumes the existence of evidence.  How many people will really trust someone they don’t know?  The amount of trust is dependent on how trustworthy the person is, or to put it another way, it is based on the amount of evidence they’ve demonstrated to prove that they are, in fact, trustworthy.  The same is true of “faithfulness,” “steadfastness,” and “honesty.”  We measure all these things based upon the evidence provided.  Without evidence, how can these characteristics truly be evaluated or determined?

This is one of the reasons for the Bible as discussed earlier.  It provides us with the evidence that God is ’emunah: faithful, steadfast, true, honest, and reliable. In fact, the Hebrew word ’emunah is used to describe God in Deuteronomy 7:9,

Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful [Heb. ’emunah] God, which keeps covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations.

A major attribute of God is that He is ’emunah, and He expects it to likewise be a major characteristic of our lives as well:

Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith [Heb. ’emunah].  (Habakkuk 2:4; emphasis mine)

Just as ’emunah is a characteristic of God, it should characterize the lives of “the just” as well.  We should strive to be His children and disciples,  and to imitate Him.  This is why God wants us to operate on faith, so we can learn to be imitators of Him.  In fact, the latter part of this verse –  “the just shall live by faith” – is quoted by the Apostle Paul (Heb. Rav Sha’ul) in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, as well as by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 10:38. Interestingly, Martin Luther and others have credited this idea of “the just [living] by faith” to the Apostle Paul, even though, Paul (Rav Sha’ul) himself was, in fact, quoting the Jewish prophet Habakkuk.

Faith in the New Testament

The word translated “faith” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word pistis (#4102 in Strong’s Concordance), and literally means “to persuade” or “to be persuaded.” It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, ‘emunah (#530), and according to the concordance, as we’ve discussed, “This word has as its key idea of faithfulness or certainty.”  The term “faithfulness” refers to one’s actions or behavior, and it is easy to see why pistis “being persuaded” then would be seen to be an equivalent term to ’emunah or the idea of “certainty.”  In fact, according to the concordance, the Greek word pistis is derived from the Greek word peitho (Strong’s #3982), which means,

to entice or persuade; to seek to persuade or solicit the favor of; to prevail by persuasion;  to be persuaded.

So based on this definition, then, in order “to have faith,” one needs to be convinced or persuaded that something is true.  How does this happen if one does not have evidence? In fact, when one becomes so “fully persuaded” that it motivates that person into action, then that moment of action is what the Bible calls “faith” (Gk. pistis).   Let me give a couple of examples to illustrate this point.

The Roman Centurion

In the Gospels, a Roman Centurion comes to Yeshua/Jesus with a request, a servant of his is deathly ill and he wants Yeshua/Jesus to heal him.   It should be remembered that the relationship between the Jews and the Romans were much like Al Qaida and the United States: there were Jewish Zealots trying to kill as many Romans as possible, just as Al Qaida is trying to kill as many from the U.S. as possible.  Obviously, then, this Roman Centurion was not going to just stroll up to a group of Jews, unless he had been given guarantees from people he knew and trusted well and could assure him that Yeshua/Jesus was not a Zealot or a possible threat.

However, what amazed Yeshua/Jesus when He volunteered to go to this man’s house to heal his servant was this Centurion’s response (and it is his response we need to pay close attention to as well):

Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: but just speak the word, and my servant shall be healed.  For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.  When Jesus heard it, he marveled, and said to them that followed, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matthew 8:8-10)

Using analysis, let’s take this passage apart to understand his response, how does it illustrate what we’ve been saying about the biblical view of faith, and why did Yeshua/Jesus marvel at his response.

  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, was “a man under authority.”  Due to his position and experience as a Roman Centurion, he understood how authority operated.  The power of authority always flowed from the top down.  I am sure there were many times as a soldier, he operated under the command of Caesar, even though he never saw Caesar give that command personally.  And I am sure there are many soldiers today who have operated under the command given by a general that they never met.  In stating this, he was implying his understanding that Yeshua/Jesus was under, or in submission to, the authority of God.
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, had authority over something.  As a Centurion, he not only operated under the authority of Caesar, but he, himself, had authority over a hundred men, plus slaves and servants.  He gives examples of his own experiences of telling people to “come” or to “go,” and they do it without him having to watch them do it.  Just as he operates under the authority of Caesar whom he has not seen, he also does not need to see his servant or one of his soldiers doing something to know that it will get done.  Why?  Because it was often a death sentence if it wasn’t done.  By him saying, “But only say the word, and my servant will be healed,” and then him following up with examples his experiences of his own authority over others, he is implying through this that Yeshua/Jesus himself has authority over sickness and disease.  What Yeshua/Jesus marvels at is the Centurion’s ability to make the connection between how authority operates and the healing ministry of Yeshua/Jesus since this was a connection that the Jews did not make; since they often needed to see Him come and place His hand on the person for them to believe the person was healed; whereas, this Roman Centurion did not.  He just needed the word spoken.
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, expressed his authority by speaking.  Both the Roman Centurion and Yeshua/Jesus expressed their authority by speaking words.  The Centurion expressed this by saying, “I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9).   And like him, Yeshua/Jesus also expresses His authority by speaking when He told the Centurion, “Go.  As you have believed, let it be done for you” (Matthew 8:13).
  • The Roman Centurion, like Yeshua/Jesus, did not need to see it being done to know that it was done.

In comparing the two, we can see that the Roman Centurion’s faith was based on the evidence of the testimony of those he knew (which is why he went to Yeshua/Jesus) AND upon the evidence of his own personal experiences and observations as a Centurion within the Roman army.  Consequently, his faith was based upon two different forms of evidence.  Notice also that Yeshua/Jesus does not rebuke or correct him for basing his faith on that evidence, but instead, he praises him for it.  With that being the case, how can faith be as my student defined it: “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith.”  Apparently, this student, and those who believe this erroneous definition, need to reconsider their definition in the light of what the Bible actually teaches.

A Woman With An Issue

In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, there is a narrative about a woman who suffered from a twelve-year problem with her menstrual cycles; she kept bleeding.  Whether the bleeding was completely ongoing (non-stop) or it stopped for a few days and then restarted, the text does not specify.  However, this problem caused her great concern, so naturally, like many women today would do, she sought medical aid:

And the woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any. (Luke 8:43)

Unfortunately, medical science did not have an answer for her.  And because of the cultural practices of the time, this problem was not only an obvious health risk, but it kept her from having a relationship with her husband (if she had one), as well as kept her from attending any worship services at the Temple.  In essence, it kept her ostracized from both her family, friends, and even from participation in any religious services.

What I want to show by the following text is that the woman came to a logical deduction based on the evidence.  And she was so convinced, so fully persuaded, by the evidence that it propelled her to act.

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem (lit. “twisted coil”) of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.  But Jesus turned around, and when he saw her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; your faith has made you whole.”  And the woman was made whole from that hour.  (Matthew 9:20-22)

I’d like to point out a couple of things regarding this narrative.  First of all, it is evident from the text that this woman had either heard Yeshua/Jesus teach and saw him heal (a primary source; personal observation) or she had heard others discuss his teachings and healings (a secondary source).  She would not take the time or the energy to seek him out in her weakened condition if one (of both) of the two had not occurred.

Secondly, why did she believe, according to the text, that if she only “touched the hem” (literally “the twisted coil”) that hung on the corners of his clothing that “she would be healed”?  On what is she basing this conclusion?  She’s actually basing it on something from the Scriptures, a written text:

But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings;…. (Malachi 4:2)

Jewish men wear what is known as a “tallith” or “prayer shawl.” On the four corners of the prayer shawl are twisted coils with five knots (the knots representing the five books of Moses), and the corner where each of these twisted coils (or in Hebrew, tzitzit) are tied is called “the wing.”  The text states that when the “Sun of righteousness” shall “arise” (or appear), there would be “healing in his wings” or in the twisted coils that hung from the corners of his prayer shawl.  And as the Greek bears out, it is to this specific location on Yeshua’s/Jesus’ garment that she was reaching.  Consequently, it can be logically concluded that she was so fully convinced, so fully persuaded by what she saw or experienced (a primary source) or what she was told by friends and family (a secondary source), as well as what the Scriptures taught (a secondary textual source), that Yeshua/Jesus was the promised “Sun of righteousness” (a term for the Messiah) that she went out looking for Him to get healed as she logically concluded from the evidence.   And it was this resulting action based upon the given evidence that the Bible calls “faith.”

Faith = Action Based on Persuasive Evidence

I mention these two narratives to reiterate my point that the Bible does not teach that “faith is believing something where there is no evidence,” but what we see from these texts is that faith is being so “fully persuaded” or “so fully convinced” that the conclusion drawn from the available evidence is correct that it motivates us into action.  “Belief,” as it is understood in English, as mentioned earlier, is defined as “mental agreement” and does not necessarily include action, but in the Bible, faith that does not include action is invalid or “dead” (Remember James?)  So again, “faith” from a biblical perspective is an action that occurs as a result of being “fully persuaded” by the evidence presented.

In fact, one New Testament writer, the Apostle John, argues that his experience that he’s sharing is based on evidence that he was able to verify with his senses:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life;…. (I John 1:1)

John says it is something that he has heard, seen with his eyes, and handled with his hands.  So how is this “faith,” as John describes the basis of his testimony, “based on no evidence at all”?  Again, it is inconsistent to argue that personal observation and experience is not evidence when it is considered evidence in our American courtrooms. Interestingly, in fact, in the beginning of the book of Acts, which was written by Luke, a Greek medical physician, he makes the following statement:

To whom also he [Jesus] showed himself alive after his passion [crucifixion and burial] by many infallible proofs, being seen of them [his followers] forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.  (Acts 1:3; emphasis added)

What’s interesting about this verse is the phrase “infallible proofs,” which is the English translation of the Greek word tekmerion (#5039).  This Greek word means “demonstrative, infallible, or convincing proof.”  So again, if faith is not based on “any evidence,” then why does this Greek physician, who fully understood the idea of medical proof, or what we now call “forensic evidence,” use this term in reference to the Messiah’s bodily resurrection?  Or to put it another way, if faith is based on “no evidence,” then why the reason for “demonstrative, infallible, or convincing proof”?

Consequently, then, faith, as it is presented in the New Testament, is not based on “no reason or no evidence,” but is a logical conclusion drawn from some form(s) of persuasive evidence.

But I don’t Believe the Bible

I have heard some try to argue that since they don’t believe in God or that the Bible is the Word of God, it is not evidence since they don’t accept it.  However, their acceptance or rejection of it is not relevant to it being evidence.  For example, several years ago I was in a slight mishap in Tennessee during a bad snow storm.  The roads were badly iced over, and pulling out of a shopping center after buying some new windshield wipers at only 10 miles per hour, I hit an ice patch and slid into this white car.  We got out of our respective cars and expected them.  Her bumper was scratched and slighted dented, and her right tail light was broken.  We exchanged insurance information and then went our way.

The following year, I was given jury duty in a court trial dealing with a woman who was allegedly hit by a man driving a semi at 50 miles an hour.  The woman took the stand and gave her testimony (her experiential evidence), as well as her lawyer offering other corroborating evidence to support her testimony.  However, in examining her evidence, I discovered something rather interesting.  She was driving the exact same type of car I had accidentally slid into the year before.  According to her, the semi driver rammed into her at 50 miles per hour, yet there was absolutely no damage to her rear fender and tail lights.  I wondered, How could a semi, going 50 mph, do less damage than I did to a similar car going only 10 mph?  I had to conclude from my own experience and observation that she did not have the better argument.

But just because I rejected her testimony does not mean that her testimony was not evidence.  It had been given as evidence in a court of law, and it was recorded in a legal document for all to examine and read later.  Just because I chose to reject it does not change that fact that it was evidence.  In much the same way, the Bible’s testimony regarding God is evidence, and whether one accepts its testimony or not does not change the fact that it is evidence.  My only question is, What are you going to do with that evidence?  Are you going to honestly consider it, to weigh it, and to evaluate its truths?  Or are going to reject it?  The choice you make is entirely yours.

The New Testament – A Book of Arguments

Therefore, since one must be “fully persuaded” from the evidence in order for “faith” to occur, the New Testament is full of various forms of argumentation.  For example, consider the following types of arguments:

  • Narrative Essays. Matthew, Mark and Luke are narrative discourses with an explicit thesis. Matthew’s thesis is found at the beginning of the book, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1); Mark’s, like Matthew’s, is also located at the beginning of the text, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;…” (1:1).  Thus, both texts were written for audiences that would accept the intended message (or are “One-Sided Arguments”).  If these texts were used in schools or by those who home school, these texts could be used to discuss the role of the thesis and how these particular texts use narration as a means to back up and support the given thesis.
  • A Narrative Essay with a Delayed Thesis. The Gospel of John, like Matthew, Mark and Luke, is a narrative discourse but unlike their’s, it has a delayed thesis (found near the end of the book in John 20:31).

But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name. (NASB)

A delayed thesis implies that the designated audience was, in fact, in opposition to the intended thesis.  This is why it is “delayed,” so that by the time the audience hears it, it is too late to shut the argument down since the evidence or support for the argument would have already been presented.  In fact, historically, the Gospel of John and the epistle of I John was written in opposition to Gnostic believers and their teachings.

According to the online article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Gnosticism was “a form of utter pessimism [that] bemoan[ed] the existence of the whole universe as a corruption and a calamity, with a feverish craving to be freed from the body of this death and a mad hope that, if we only knew, we could by some mystic words undo the cursed spell of this existence.”

These Gnostic groups, which predate Christianity by several hundred years (they were problematic for the Jewish community as well), associated itself with Christian thought and terminology and are the ones responsible for many writings that sought to displace the original movement, including the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the Gospel of Judas.  These writings served as the basis for the novel and movie, The Da Vinci Code.  The Gnostics argued against a bodily resurrection since anything material to them was evil, so how could a holy God appear in a literal human body?  Consequently, Yeshua/Jesus only appeared to be human, they taught.  This is why the Apostle John makes the following arguments,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  (John 1:1-2)

The Gnostics would not have had a problem with this, until John got to verse 14.

And the Word became flesh and took up residence among us.  We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son of the Father.

This is why we find John continually pairing up the divinity of Messiah with His humanity.  John is presenting his argument of the Messiah being both fully God and fully a sensual man who lived, taught, and died in a real, physically material body.  This is not an argument that the Gnostics could accept.  Consequently, John continues his argument with them in his first epistle:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed, and have touched with our hands (notice the sensual evidence) concerning the Word of life – that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – what we have seen and heard we also declare to you,… (I John 1:1-3a)

From the very beginning here, John is connecting the humanness of Jesus with His divinity as the “Word of Life” and the “eternal life that was with the Father.”  He continues these pairings throughout, and then near the end, he also writes,

This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.  But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. (I John 4:2-3a)

Imagine the interesting research paper that could be written after examining these Gnostic writings, the movie The Da Vinci Code, as well as John’s two argumentative texts.

  • Definition Arguments.
    There is a definition argument presented in I Corinthians 13 regarding the nature of love that’s supported with a series of synonym phrases, and another well-known definition argument in Hebrews 11, regarding the essence of faith, that’s supported with a series of narrative examples. Both can be used to illustrate how definitions can be supported and elaborated upon within one’s research or writings.
  • Precedent Argument.
    In Acts 5:34-40, Gamaliel, a renowned teacher in Judaism, uses a precedent argument to persuade the Sanhedrin (like the Israeli Supreme Court) on how they should approach and handle the arrested followers of the Nazarene. In much the same way, President Bush used a precedent argument to persuade the congress and the American public on the approach that should be taken in response to the destruction of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, by Al Qaida terrorists.  An interesting activity would be to compare and contrast the two speeches in regard to their audiences, purpose, structure, and effectiveness.
  • “Other Forms of Argument”
    In addition to these forms of argument, there are other forms of argument that are used in the New Testament that are often not included in argumentative textbooks.  For example, one form of argument is called in Hebrew kal v’khomer (“light and heavy”; philosophers call this type of argument a fortiori, “with even greater strength”).  This form of argument states that “if X is true of Y, then how much more X must be true of Z (where Z is of greater weight than Y).”  Here are some examples:

What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?  Of how much more value then is a man more than a sheep?  Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.  (Matthew 12:11-12)

Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse or barn; and God feeds them: how much more are you better than the fowls? (Luke 12:24)

But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  [How] much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through him.  (Romans 5:8-9)

As we can see in these examples, the argument presented is signaled by the phrase “how much more.”  And sometimes, like in the final example, the word “how” is there by implication.

The point is that there are many different types of arguments used throughout the writing of the New Testament.  If, in fact, as my student stated at the beginning of this series, that “faith is believing in something when there is no evidence,” then why are all of these various forms of argumentation being used?  It seems apparent that as far as the New Testament writers were concerned, faith indeed is a logical conclusion based on reason and requiring an evidential basis.

Where is the Evidence Today?

What many people today crave is to know that God is real, that He is not something that we, as human beings, have made up or created as Freud taught, to be a “mental crutch.”  Unfortunately, for far too many churches, the power of God is no longer there within it.  They don’t believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, or in a God that continues to speak to His people prophetically.  Instead, they have made God mute and have replaced the power of God with man-made social programs that attempt to draw people into their doors.  But a silent God and man-made social programs will not feed the hunger of people.  They want to experience the reality of God.  They want to know the miraculous, healing, dead raising and demon stomping God that they see and have read about in the Scriptures.

What does the Church need today?  It needs to rediscover the God of the Bible.  They need to rediscover the awe and wonder of being in the Presence of a Holy God, and they need to experience the majesty of His miraculous power.  But until the Church admits the fallacy of replacing the Biblical God with one of their own creation, this will not likely occur.

But what the world, those outside the church?  What do they need?  Faith?  I actually do not believe that the problem with the modern world is that they lack faith since in my opinion, it takes more faith to believe in evolution than it does to believe in creationism. Instead, I believe that they lack the evidence they need to build their faith in God and His Word.

And so I say to the modern Church, it’s time for you to rediscover the God of the Bible and to give the world the evidence they are so hungry for.  Because when that day happens, and the world finally sees the evidence of a real miracle-working God at work inside and outside a worshipping, Bible-believing congregation, then congregations around the world will be standing room only with people pressing in to hear the Word of God both in the sanctuary and outside around the building.  May that day come quickly.  Amen.

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