Tree of Life Messianic Congregation

A Fellowship of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in Yeshua

Month: March 2018

Cities of Refuge

The Torah portion for today describes a rather strange phenomenon that doesn’t exist today in this form. The institution of Cities of Refuge was implemented by God to show mercy in a world where sometimes mercy and a second chance was in short supply.

Thomas Dorsey was a black jazz musician from Atlanta who was known in the early 1920’s for the suggestive lyrics he combined with original music. Then God touched his life and in 1926 he gave up the suggestive music and began to write spiritual music. In 1932 times were hard for Dorsey as they were for nearly everyone trying to survive the depression. Perhaps it was because of his past music and his also his musical style some said his music was too worldly. The most difficult night of his life came one night in St. Louis when he received a telegram telling him that his pregnant wife had suddenly died. Dorsey was filled with grief and his faith was shaken, but instead of wallowing in self-pity, he expressed his agony the only way he knew how. He wrote this song. . .
Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand.
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light; Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

In spite of Dorsey’s checkered past he experienced God’s presence during that crises. That song which came out of his pain and grief has comforted and challenged thousands of people since then because if we are honest, most of us have had a moment, or two or three when God’s presence was all that could get us through.
Let’s be honest about something else as well, we don’t really deserve all God’s faithfulness, because if we are honest, all of us will have to admit we haven’t always been faithful to Him.
I know that about you because I haven’t always been faithful either. But I’m glad to tell you this morning that, “God Gives Second Chances.” I’ll show you what I mean. Let’s read our Joshua 20 together this morning.

In addition to our Torah Portion, we see in Joshua 20:1-9 how the Cities of Refuge were put into law.

Then Adonai spoke to Joshua saying, (2) “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael saying, ‘Designate your cities of refuge, about which I spoke to you through Moses. (3) So the manslayer who kills any person by mistake and without premeditation may flee there. They will be your refuge from the avenger of blood. (4) When one flees to one of those cities, he must stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and state his case in the hearing of the elders of that city. Then they are to take him into their city and give him a place to live among them.

(5) Now if the blood avenger pursues him, then they will not hand the manslayer over to him, since he killed his neighbor without premeditation and did not hate him beforehand. (6) So he will stay in that city until he can stand trial before the congregation, or until the death of the kohen gadol in those days. Then the manslayer may return to his own city and to his own house, to the city from which he had fled.’” (7)

So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. (8) Across the Jordan east of Jericho, they designated Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland from the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan from the tribe of Manasseh. (9) These were the appointed cities for all Bnei-Yisrael and for the outsider who is dwelling among them, so that whoever kills any person unintentionally might flee there and not die by the hand of the blood avenger, before standing trial before the congregation.
Here is a map of the cities as set up by Joshua.

In the ancient middle east the laws of the land were somewhat primitive by today’s standards. The ancient law was called LEX TALIONIS and basically it was the law of retribution. It’s the old “eye for and eye, and tooth for a tooth” mentality. That sentiment still exists to some degree in the Muslim areas of the world today.
The law went something like this. If you were working with someone and unintentionally killed that person, then his clansmen (sometimes called the avenger of blood) could apprehend you and put you to death. Today we would call that involuntary manslaughter. An example would be a negligent driver texting or perhaps impaired by alcohol getting into an automobile and crashing it into another vehicle or a tree resulting in the death of someone else. The penalty today can be severe, but it is never the death penalty.
God gave Israel a way to mitigate the customs of the land while still maintaining the idea that life is precious and the taking of life, even accidentally is serious. Life was hard in those days. Just because a baby made it all the way to birth didn’t mean that it would survive to adulthood. Disease and lack of adequate food often took its toll on family life. So the idea of losing one’s life due to the negligence of another was particularly odious. You can see why this practice was in effect.
But God is a merciful God. He set up these cities so that one who was involved in a deadly encounter could flee to there and find refuge. There were some conditions though that helped prevent the cities of refuge from becoming the refuge of murderers. The party had to present his case to the town council. Then if his case was compelling enough and didn’t involve actual malice aforethought, or as we would say, the death was not premeditated, the individual was granted a temporary asylum until a proper trial could be conducted or until the High Priest died.
If the person was tried and found guilty of murder rather than manslaughter, then he was turned over to the avenger and put to death. However, if the city leaders found that he had no malice or intent to cause the death of another person, he would be granted asylum.
What that meant was that the person had to stay within the confines of the city. If he left the city walls, then he was no longer protected. So we can see that even though there is mercy, there still are consequences.

What does all this have to do with us today? There are no cities of refuge, although there is a movement afoot to become sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are nothing more than attempts by the Democrat party to shelter lawbreakers until such time that they can somehow either legally or illegally vote and preserve the power base of the Democrats.
No, we have a much better refuge than that. We have Yeshua HaMashiach as our refuge. When we have fallen short, and we all do, we can go to the Son of God, our refuge and find forgiveness. We can find peace. We can find a second chance. Even though, because of what we have done, we have consequences, we can find refuge.
God made a way that his banished can find an opportunity to have right standing before the Almighty.
The cities of refuge were established before they were needed. Yeshua was slain before the foundations of the earth. God knew that we would need a savior.
The cities of refuge were available to Jew and gentile alike. Salvation from Yeshua is available to all. Whosoever.
The cities of refuge were always open to those who needed it. Yeshua is always available to meet the needs of those in trouble.
Do you need a place of refuge today? He’s waiting for you. In ancient Israel, a man had to stay in the city until the High Priest died. He was safe. Our High Priest is alive forever more and will not die. So we have refuge as long as we stay anchored in Him.


Today’s Torah portion is one of those passages that we tend to skip over or speed read through as we put our brain on pause. There are names we can’t pronounce and places we can’t locate on Google earth. And what difference does it make anyway. It certainly doesn’t look like international borders today. So why study it?
Well there are some important lessons about the character of God that can be learned from dividing up the land. Here are a few.
Order, not Chaos
I’ve said many times that God is not the author or confusion. He does not sew discontent. In this chapter we see evidence of that again. Israel is about to go into the promised land and drive out the inhabitants and divide it among the various tribes. God is taking an active role in the process. He actually told Moses who he wanted on the steering committee. He names each individual. Then he gives them some guidelines. The leadership was not left to chance or arguments. No confusion as to who was chosen. God said it, that was the end of it.
Fair and equitable
Israel had already taken a census in order to determine how many people were in each tribe. So now they were to partition the land and portion it out according to the size of each tribe. The larger tribes received more land while the smaller tribes received less. So we see that on a per capita basis, every person or family received an equal share.
Peter recognized this characteristic of God in the home of the Roman Centurion, Cornelius.
Acts 10:34-35 Then Peter opened his mouth and said, “I truly understand that God is not one to show favoritism, (35) but in every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.
Our creator does not love the Billy Grahams and Mother Theresas of this world any more than he does the vilest sinner. He loves us all. He proved it by sending his son to die for our sins. You know the famous verse John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Yeshua truly made everyone equal. He elevated the status of women. Paul put it this way.
Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.
Today we hear a lot of noise about discrimination. You are all familiar with the buzz words, black lives matter, blue lives matter, white privilege, cultural appropriation, illegal immigration. The list goes on. Seems like you can’t take a breath without offending someone. But rest assured. With God we are all equal. And no one is more equal than anyone else. Because we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. No one gets a free pass. We all come to salvation only through the shed blood of Yeshua HaMashiach.
God Set Boundaries
Boundaries are very important to our very existence. Without boundaries society would devolve into chaos and anarchy. All civilizations whether primitive or modern have had some kind of boundaries under which they functioned and carried out their daily lives. It may have been something as simple as making sure the chief gets the best cut of meat after the hunt. It was still a rule that helped the group function.
Of course, today we have evolved and I use that term guardedly, we have evolved into a very complex society wit mountains of rules and regulations. Just look at the tax code to get an idea of the absurd manner in which we live today.
Hashem had a different take on rules. If we look at what He gave us at Mount Sinai, we see 613 rules. These instructions covered civil, moral and ceremonial aspects of their society. It was God’s standard of holiness. The Torah has been condensed into what we call the Ten Commandments. Those Ten Commandments are as appropriate today as they were 3500 years ago. There is not one of those commandments that we can point to and say “oh that’s outdated and no longer applies”. Some people try to do that, but they are only deluding themselves.
So God gave the Israelites physical boundaries that we see in today’s reading and he gave them societal boundaries in the 613 laws of Torah. There were some further instructions regarding boundaries.
Don’t Move the Boundary Markers
Deuteronomy 19:14 “You must not move your neighbor’s boundary marker that the first generations marked out, in the inheritance you will receive in the land Adonai your God is giving you to possess.
Property rights were very important to the Israelites and it is borne out in the above verse. It speaks to us about honesty and integrity.
Deuteronomy 27:17 ‘Cursed is the one who removes his neighbor’s boundary marker.’ Then all the people are to say, ‘Amen.’
This is one of the curses that were shouted from one mountain to the other when Israel entered the land further cemented their relationship with Hashem by repeating both blessings and curses which were tied to their obedience of Torah.
Many of us own property and the corners of our property is marked with an iron rod driven into the ground by the surveyor. The corners at my place are further marked with a big post placed immediately next to it so it is easy to find. It would be against the laws of the State of Texas and well as the Law of God to move the boundary marker into my neighbor’s property so my property would be bigger.
What about the spiritual and moral boundaries that are given to us in the Bible? Are we guilty of moving the boundaries?
There are those in our churches and synagogues today who are doing exactly that. They have moved the moral boundary markers. No longer is it an abomination to live a homosexual lifestyle. Modesty has been thrown out the window. Honesty has been replaced with extensive contracts because a man’s word and handshake is no longer good enough.
Some denominations are now ordaining people of the LGBT persuasion. Ministers are being indicted for all manner of crimes from assault to embezzlement. The boundary markers have been moved.
This morning I want to caution us all to leave God’s boundary markers in place. When the Bible says there will be no liars in Heaven, I believe God means it. When Romans Chapter one describes behavior that is called an abomination, I believe God means it.
But when we live within the boundaries that God has given us we have blessings beyond imagination.
Live within His boundaries and be blessed.

Warrior Mentality

20180310 Parsha 123 Warrior Mentality

The parsha for this week is the entire chapter 33 of Numbers. It begins with a recounting of the travels of the Israelites from the Exodus to their present location, the Plains of Moab.
Many of the locations we remember from earlier Parashot because something noteworthy occurred there. Let’s recap some of these events, as they lead up to B’Nei Israel becoming ready for their transition from Egyptian Exodus to Conquering Canaan.
1.Pillars of Cloud and Fire
2.Red Sea Crossing
3.Healing of Marah Waters
4.Manna and Quail
5.Ten Commandments
6.Korah’s Rebellion
7.Zeal of Pinchas

After B’nei Israel left this first campsite, the Lord attended them in a cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:20–22).

They had witnessed all the plagues of Egypt, but were still unsure of their security with G-d as Father. In many ways, their understanding of Him was nearly like a fairy tale, an oral narrative that had been passed down the generations since Abraham. They were taking their first steps as a nation, the same way a child takes unsteady steps toward a patient father. The pillars served as a constant guide, like a night light warding off the things that go bump in the night.

Israel passed through the Red Sea, laden with the riches of Egypt, and the promise of a future. (Ex. 14; Num. 33:8).

In a miracle that should have been the sealing of their faith, the nation of Israel is born through the parting of the waters. They left Egypt laden with the riches of and every necessary thing that would help them build the Tabernacle that would house the Holy One of Israel.

The Lord healed the waters of Marah when Moses threw the Tree into the water. (Ex. 15:23–26).
Allowing their flesh to cloud their minds, they complained of thirst, not trusting Adonai to provide for them. The waters of Marah were as bitter as their souls, yet Adonai made it sweet again when Moses threw the Tree bringing life and healing to the water and the people.

G-d used Manna to lay the foundations of Shabbat, as they were to collect it for 6 days, a double portion on the 6th day, then rest on the Sabbath. (Ex. 16).
The Lord established many things on the journey to Canaan, and his Holy Shabbat was one of the alterations to their lives that they were instructed to honor. He used Manna to teach them what Shabbat was, and to prove to them that He is their portion.

G-d called Moses up (with Joshua) to the mountain to receive the two tablets of stone with the ten commandments written by the finger of God. (Ex. 19–20).
God called Moses and Joshua up to Mt. Sinai to give firm boundaries to the Hebrews, establishing the Law which would become the code by which they would be identified through all generations. The Law laid the foundations that led the way to understanding the need for blood to cover sin, so that we could know why we need Yeshua HaMashiach to be our savior and redeemer.

Israel spent 38 years here, where everyone over the age of 20 from the original exodus from Egypt died, numbering 1.5 million Hebrews. Also Korah’s Rebellion.
Kadesh Barnea saw a lot of action, as the Hebrews spent nearly all of their desert experience in this location. Miriam died here, as did the rest of the ungrateful and grumbling generation who refused to believe the goodness of God. Significant events here include Korah’s Rebellion, where Adonai firmly established the sanctity of the priestly line through Aaron. Spies were sent out to neighboring kingdoms, resulting in a distinction between the original unfaithful generation, and the younger generation that was ready to overcome the enemies of G-d.

Where contention existed between the Israelites and G‑d, Pinchas sought to replace it with love, as G‑d says, “Pinchas… has turned My wrath away from the children of Israel.’
The Israelites have been wandering about in the Middle Eastern desert for 40 years. Everyone over the age of 20 who came out of Egypt was condemned by God to die in the wilderness because of their lack of faith. They chose to believe the report of 10 faithless spies who convinced the people that they could not take the land God had promised them. Only two men remained from that generation, Joshua and Caleb, and now they are beginning a new phase of the journey.
Pinchas embodied the zeal that filled the hearts and minds of the younger generation, who were ready to do whatever it took to bring healing to the nation and restore relationship to G-d. Their zeal paved the way for the Hebrews to occupy Canaan and claim their promised birthright.

God’s chosen people were on the cusp of realizing the promise given to their father Abraham some 600 years earlier.
Then Adonai appeared to Abram, and said, “I will give this land to your seed.” So there he built an altar to Adonai, who had appeared to him.
600 years is a long time to wait, but here they were. There had to be a lot of emotions swirling around the people at this time. I’m sure they felt apprehension, maybe fear, eager anticipation, anxiety. Just about every human emotion would have been present as this teeming mass of people prepared for the next step in God’s plan for their lives.

They were preparing for war. This is not a pretty passage of scripture. I’m sure it makes some people uncomfortable the think that God is telling Joshua to go into the land and drive out all the inhabitants. Don’t leave anyone alive in the land. They must all be driven out or killed.
There is a practical application for us today. Whether you want to admit it or not, we are at war.
We are at war with those who demand that our children leave their Bibles and their Godly values at the door of the school building.
We are at war with those who say it is ok for a man to go into a women’s restroom and put our women and children at risk.
We are at war with the forces of evil that push violence, sex and perversion on our youth every day in the form of TV, movies, and social media.
We are at war with those hateful regimes that strive to annihilate the nation of Israel. Not a week goes by but what we read about some terrorist killing or attempting to kill innocent people in Israel for no other reason other than they are Jewish.
We must vigorously battle those political voices in this nation that constantly denigrate people of faith and morality. That also includes those screeching voices on TV that ridiculed our Vice President because he said he listens to the voice of Jesus.
I could go on and on about who and what we should be confronting this morning, but I think you get the picture.
We cannot sit idly by on our CAT, sigh and say oh how terrible. You know what a CAT is don’t you? It’s a Complacent American Tukis. No, we need to get up on our feet.
The children of Israel lost a golden opportunity to conquer the land of Canaan because of fear and unbelief. An entire generation of people lost their lives because of their unwillingness to take up the sword and follow Adonai Elohim Tzva’ot, the Lord God of Hosts into battle and certain victory.
When an army prepares to go into battle what do they do?
They train, making sure that they are strong, fit, and capable of waging war against the enemy.
How do we train for war? Praying and reading God’s word. We cannot be overcomers if we are weak, out of shape, ill prepared believers.
What else does the successful army do before battle? They equip themselves.
The apostle Paul had something to say about equipping ourselves for spiritual combat.
Ephesians 6:10
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
This is a very important point here. Be strong IN THE LORD. Not in ourselves. If we rely on our own puny resources we are bound to fail. Remember, we are not battling flesh and blood but powers and principalities. Spiritual battles require spiritual leadership.
If we are to be successful in battle, we need the proper equipment. Paul says to put on the whole armor of God. Half measures lead to defeat and failure. Spiritual battles require 100% effort and dedication.
What is the full armor of God?
Belt of Truth – What was the purpose of a belt in ancient times? The same as today, it holds stuff up. The belt was important to the Roman infantryman. It held his money and possible ID. It also was a place that could keep his Sword at hand.
Breastplate – protected the soldier from frontal attack. It protected the soldier’s heart . Righteousness protects our hearts today. We need to constantly guard against those that would steal our hearts away from the one true God.
Feet strapped with cloth and leather to protect against the elements. Allowed the soldier to move over rough terrain. We need our feet protected so that when we walk over sharp rocks, thorns, and stinging creatures, the obstacles don’t slow us down or distract us from the battle. We need to be ready for anything the enemy can throw up against us.
The shield of faith is essential for when the enemy throws flaming arrows at us in the form of fear and doubt, we can fend them off. Without faith we are powerless.
The helmet of salvation. Knowing the Messiah is the crown jewel of our lives here on earth. An injury to most of the body parts already mentioned can be serious but normally, not fatal…. The brain can be particularly vulnerable in battle. But salvation and God’s grace is always effective.
The sword of the Spirit. The Ruach HaKodesh was the power that propelled the 70 to start speaking in foreign languages. It was that power that gave Peter boldness. It was that power that sustained the early believers during the lean years in Jerusalem.
I would like to point out one other thing associated with this parsha. Paul told the kehila at Ephesus, that when they had done everything they knew how to do in order to stand against evil, Then Stand.
I am a big fan of Winston Churchill. He said one time that we should never, never, ever give up. Of course he was speaking of surrender to Nazi Germany, but that would apply today to the forces of evil that so forcefully surround us today. Never, ever surrender because “greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world.

We all have our own personal Canaan lands to conquer. Now is not the time to be complacent or to give up our guns. Don’t lay down your armor.