Tree of Life Messianic Congregation

A Fellowship of Jewish and non-Jewish Believers in Yeshua

Month: January 2022

Under Law or Under Grace?

20220129 Parsha Mishpatim – Under Law or Under Grace

Torah Portion                   Exodus 23:20-28

Haftarah                          Jeremiah 34:14-17

Brit Chadashah                       Galatians 3:23-29

The eighteenth reading from the Torah is named Mishpatim, which means “judgments.” The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading,

וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְפָּטִים אֲשֶר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם׃

 Ve-E-Le   Ha-Mish-Pa-Tim   A-Sher   Ta-Sim   Lif-Nei-Hem

which could be literally translated to say, “And these are the judgments which you will place before them” (Exodus 21:1). The first three chapters of this Torah portion deliver a legal code of laws and commandments that form a nucleus for the Torah’s laws. The last chapter tells the story of how the people of Israel consented to keep these laws and entered into a covenant relationship with God through a series of rituals conducted by Moses.

Last week we looked at a couple of ways to characterize the Covenant between God and Israel.  Was it a code of conduct imposed on a subjugated people or was it a marriage contract between a loving husband and his bride?  We saw that it was perhaps a little bit of both.  It was indeed a Suzerain treaty format with God as the Sovereign and Israel as the Vassal.  But it was also a marriage with the Torah serving as the Ketubah.

Today, I want to dig a bit deeper into the characteristics of the Torah, God’s written instructions, His standard of holiness.

This week’s Torah Portion contains a lot of laws and commandments.  When Christians talk about the “Law”, they are probably thinking about lists of dos and don’ts.  But we must remember that the Torah also contains stories from creation through the days of Moses.  All that preceded Moses is a valuable commentary that is much more than just a legal code.

But, I have to admit, there are a lot of laws and commandments in the “Law”.  The word Torah actually means “instruction.”  Have you ever bought your kids something that comes in a big box with a gazillion parts in it?  What is the most important piece of information that is included in that box?  Not the warranty. That’s right, it is the instruction manual.  Without it you would be lost and perhaps never get the toy assembled properly.  In the same way, the laws and commandments found in the Torah are God’s instructions for how He wants His people to live.  The Torah is the user’s manual for life.

This week’s Torah portion contains a lot of laws. Exodus 21-23 reads like an ancient legal code. Of the 613 commandments that the sages traditionally derive from the Torah, more than fifty of them are found in this week’s portion.

For some reason, many Christian teachers seem to view the laws of the Torah as if they are a bad thing. It is commonly taught that the law is the opposite of grace. You might hear someone say, “We are no longer under the law. We are under grace.” The implication is that since we have received the Messiah, we need not concern ourselves with the laws in the Old Testament. We can call this idea “Grace vs. Law.”

But before anyone begins to think that the Law is not good, let’s look at some of the innovations brought about by the law.  These items were not practiced in the Ancient Near East in 1446 BCE.  One that immediately comes to mind that we will see in an upcoming Parsha, is the treatment of women captives after winning a battle.  Contrary to the prevailing custom of the day, Israelite soldiers were not allowed to ravage women captives.  If they found one that they were attracted to, they had to take her home and treat her with respect.  After a month in which she was able to mourn her captivity, he could marry her but she had certain rights not granted to women captured by other nations.

The treatment of slaves was also much better than other countries.  There were provisions that allowed slaves to be free after 7 years.

Involuntary manslaughter was dealt with by having cities of refuge that allowed sanctuary against family avengers.

Women could inherit property just like men.  Unheard of in that era of human history.

There were laws that prevented perpetual slavery and indebtedness.  Property was reverted back to the original clan at the Jubilee years.  (Every 50 years)

So we see that the Law, far from being a repressive burden was actually progressive for its day.

Let’s think about the Grace vs. Law idea. What do we mean when we say that we are not under the law? Does that mean we do not have to keep God’s rules? For example, does it mean that we can commit adultery and theft? Of course not. No one would say that. So what does it mean?

The Grace vs. Law concept is derived from the writings of Paul. In his epistles, it seems that Paul pits the two in opposition to each other. He often says things like

“Now before faith came, we were being guarded under Torah—bound together until the coming faith would be revealed.” (Galatians 3:23)


“But if you are led by the Ruach, you are not under law.” (Galatians 5:18).

One might misunderstand these statements to mean that Believers in Yeshua do not need to keep God’s rules. Of course, that would be absurd. Paul realized that some people might misunderstand his teaching, so he cautioned us not to suppose that grace gives us free license to sin against God:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)

Do we then nullify the Torah through faithfulness? May it never be! On the contrary, we uphold the Torah.  (Romans 3:31)

If Paul was not teaching believers that they did not have to keep God’s rules, what was he talking about? In Paul’s day, many of the Jewish believers taught that before Gentiles could be part of the kingdom of heaven, they needed to become Jewish. The idea that a Gentile must become Jewish before being saved is what Paul calls being “under the law.” Paul believed that Gentiles became sons of Abraham and part of the people of God through faith in Messiah. They did not need to earn that status by becoming legally Jewish. They did not need to first come “under the law” in order to enter the kingdom.

The Bible does not actually teach the idea of Grace vs. Law. Grace is God’s free gift of salvation for those who believe in His Son. Law is His loving instruction for how His people should live. Grace vs. Law is a false dichotomy. They are not opposed to each other. They are meant to work hand in hand.

The Law of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Grace of the Brit Chadashah (New Testament) ultimately serve one purpose and one purpose only.  That being the process of bringing us into right standing before God.

In doing so, there is a duality in the Law.  Paul says that the Law acts as a guardian, mentor or tutor guiding us to faith in the Messiah.

Galatians 3:23-25  Now before faith came, we were being guarded under Torah—bound together until the coming faith would be revealed.  (24)  Therefore the Torah became our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we might be made right based on trusting.  (25)  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

It would be like having a tutor or overseer to guide us through the years of our education.  At the end of the process, when we have graduated high school or university, there is really no need for the daily guidance of our tutor.  We are now on our own and not under his tutelage.  The Torah serves as that guide pointing us to the time of graduation when we have come to understand the principle of salvation and have accepted Yeshua as our savior.

So, do we fire our tutor, the Torah, or does he remain our friend, guide and companion as we go forward.  Of course, we keep Torah in our lives.  Can you imagine the confusion of not knowing what is right and wrong?  For me that would be like trying to participate in a game of cricket.  I know it looks sort of like baseball, but not really.  The scoring is absolutely incomprehensible.  I would need someone to teach me the rules of the game if I ever wanted to be competitive.

Life sometimes is like that rhetorical game of cricket.  How do you compete and excel if you don’t know the rules?  Torah provides those rules even though you are a Believer, there are still rules.  We have to know God’s standards of holiness if we want to continue walking with the Lord.  What did Yeshua say about that?

John 14:15  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

John 14:21  He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me. He who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.”

John 15:10  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

To what commandments was Yeshua referring?  It was the commandments of the Law.  Yeshua didn’t come and bring a new Law with Him.  No, He said that He didn’t come to change the law.

Matthew 5:17-18  “Do not think that I came to abolish the Torah or the Prophets! I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.  (18)  Amen, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or serif shall ever pass away from the Torah until all things come to pass.

Yeshua didn’t change the Law.  He didn’t say it was alright to eat pork or shellfish.  He didn’t say we could change the day of Shabbat, disrespect our parents or cheat on our spouses, lie or cheat.  Yeshua didn’t nail the Law to the cross.  He clarified the Law.  He gave us a better understanding of the Law.  We already had the letter of the Law, but Yeshua gave us the Spirit of the law.  It is like studying the Legislative Notes of the Law, which give the reasoning behind the law and gives a sense of the intended purpose of the Law.  Yeshua’s teaching gives us a clearer picture of what God intended when He gave us the law on Mount Sinai.

Are we under the Law or under Grace?  Like the analogy from last week, it is a bit of both.  We are under Law because the Law has not been repealed.  Hello!!! The Law will never be repealed.  The Law is STILL God’s standard of Holiness.  God never changes and neither does His standard of Holiness.  Sin is still sin.  Lying, cheating, stealing, fornication, homosexuality is still sin.  So, yes we are still under the Law.

But we are also under the mantle of grace because 2000 years ago, Yeshua lived a sinless life and became the perfect sacrifice for the atonement of our sins.  Because of God’s grace we are no longer under the penalty of death.  We have eternal life with the Messiah.  We are no longer condemned because we couldn’t follow Torah perfectly.  We have an advocate in Yeshua that brings us into the throne room of God through grace.

We don’t observe Torah in order to be saved.  Observance of Torah will not save you.  We observe Torah BECAUSE we are saved.  Because of the grace of God and the sacrifice of Yeshua we are saved and therefore we observe Torah.

Torah is a Law of Grace and Grace is how we are saved.  We need both.

A Covenant for all Times

20220122 Parsha Yitro – A covenant for all times

Torah Portion                                                Exodus 19:1-8

Haftarah                                                        Isaiah 6:1-7

Brit Chadashah                                            Matthew 19:16-26

The seventeenth reading from the Torah is named Yitro, which is the literal Hebrew behind the name Jethro. The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people” (Exodus 18:1). The portion tells the story of Jethro’s visit to the camp of Israel, then relates the great theophany at Mount Sinai, where God gives Israel the Ten Commandments and invites the people to enter a special covenant relationship with Him.

Today I’m going to look at the Ten Commandments and the language leading up to them with two different lenses.  Many scholars consider the language surrounding the Ten Commandments as being what is called a Suzerain Treaty.  What is a Suzerain Treaty.

A Suzerain treaty was a document or peace treaty between a strong entity, (suzerain, king, conqueror, etc.) and a lesser entity, sometimes called a Vassal, and usually was the loser in a war.  Over the years Israel had most likely been a signatory to several such treaties.  We don’t have any surviving copies of treaties between Israel and Assyria or Israel and Babylon for example, but there are other treaties that survived the ravages of history dating back to the time of the Hittites, 1400 BCE, so we know what they looked like.

The typical Suzerain treaty consisted of several sections.

  1. Preamble – identified who the Sovereign was.
  2. Historical prologue – described in detail the circumstances of the previous relations between the two parties, listing the many great things the suzerain king had performed for the benefit of the vassal.
  3. Stipulations and obligations were varied depending on the situation, the condition of the vassal nations, and the whim of the suzerain.
  4. Provision for deposition and periodic reading of the covenant
  5. List of witnesses
  6. Blessings and curses – Blessings accruing to the vassal for obedience to the treaty and curses or penalties for disobedience.

I don’t have the time this morning to go into a detailed description of all the parts of a Suzerain Treaty, but we can identify how the Ten Commandments and Deuteronomy fit the pattern of the typical Suzerain Treaty.

The preamble – Exodus 20:2a “I am Adonai your God”

Historical prologue – Exodus 20:2b “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This section is greatly expanded in Deuteronomy 1:9 – 4:20

Stipulations – As the Lord’s vassals, the corporate nation of Israel and, individually, the people were forbidden from forming an alliance with any other foreign deity. Enmity against the true God or showing disrespect for their Suzerain, was also forbidden. Lack of respect indicated a rebellious attitude, and the Suzerain would not tolerate it. Hashem knew that fraternizing with ideas and material things of the foreign nations would turn the minds of the people away from Him, so He included stipulations regarding just these situations. Paralleling the requirement of the vassal to appear before the Suzerain on a regular basis, we find that the Decalogue stipulates that each week the vassal was to appear before the Lord and hear the reading of the words of the covenant. This would show enduring confidence in the Suzerain as their Lord and Master. It was understood that the word of the Sovereign Lord and Master could not be changed in any way. Tribute could be defined as taking the form of tithes and offerings, and sacrifices as set forth in the ceremonial laws.

The remainder of the 10 Commandments was the core of human behavior that was expected by the vassal Israel.  These rules were given so that God’s Chosen people had a framework from which to live their daily lives in peace, harmony and mutual respect.

Deposition and witnesses– the two identical copies of the commandments were to be placed in the Ark of the Covenant.  One copy was for Israel and the other for God.

Blessings and Curses – These were spelled out later in the Book of Deuteronomy and were to be reinforced by the tribes gathering on two mountains and shouting the blessing and curses.

The covenant that God made with Israel there at Sinai was an eternal covenant.  It was not one that God would break.  The people broke it many times but God never did.  The times of exile and punishment were a direct result of their own disobedience and had been clearly delineated in the terms of the covenant.

Unfortunately, with the coming of the Messiah and his work on the cross, there are those that say that the Law of Moses is no longer in effect.  We are now under the law of Yeshua the Messiah.  Certainly, there are things in the law that are no longer being observed such as sacrifices because the Temple doesn’t exist.  But that is only a pause.  Temple sacrifices will be reinstated.  Yeshua said that:

Matthew 24:35  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.

The law is here to stay.

But let’s go back to Sinai and take another look at the circumstances leading up to the giving of Torah.  Perhaps we need to even redefine the relationship between God and Israel.  Was it a relationship between a Sovereign and a subservient people?  There are those that point to the format of the Suzerain Treaty and believe that to be so.

I think there is another relationship between God and the family that was led out of Egypt.  First Fruits of Zion have several articles from which I am drawing today.

In Exodus 6:7, the LORD told the children of Israel, “I will take you for My people, and I will be your God.” This phrase was an adaptation of an expression from the sphere of marriage. The ancient Near Eastern wedding formulation was “You will be my wife; I will be your husband.” In the Hebrew Bible, it is common to speak of marriage as “taking” a wife. God likened Himself to a suitor and the people of Israel to the young woman He was courting. He was not content to simply redeem them from slavery; He wanted to take them as His very own people and enjoy an intimate relationship with them, like that of a husband to a wife.

Exodus 19:5  Now then, if you listen closely to My voice, and keep My covenant, then you will be My own treasure from among all people, for all the earth is Mine.

This is covenantal language. God wanted to enter into a covenant with Israel. A covenant is a contractual arrangement that specifies the terms and conditions of a relationship. The marriage metaphor is a good way to understand the covenant at Sinai. The sages speak of Exodus 19 as God’s betrothal of Israel. At the foot of Mount Sinai, God officially asked for Israel’s hand in marriage.

He spoke to her lovingly. He reminded the people of how He had carried them out of Egypt, as if on the wings of an eagle, and how he had brought them to Himself. He promised to make them His own special treasure above all other peoples. He said, “You shall be my own possession” (Exodus 19:5). The Hebrew word that the NASB translates as “possession” is the word segulah (סגלה). Some versions translate it as “beloved treasure” or “peculiar treasure.”

In the ancient Near East, the term segulah was used to describe a king’s prized trophy. When a king’s army vanquished an enemy, the king kept the most valuable items for his own treasure. A precious object like this was called a segulah. In Exodus 19:5, the word is used as a term of endearment for Israel. God says that He will make the Israelites into His specially prized treasure. He says that even though He owns the entire earth, Israel will always be His special people.

This can be compared to a king who had conquered many lands and possessed great wealth. His treasuries were filled with valuables, but he had one precious gemstone that he valued above all others. Rather than leave it in the treasury with the other valuables, he had it hung on a golden chain and wore it around his neck every day.

That’s the way God looks at Israel and each of His children.

In a traditional Jewish wedding, the bride and groom are married beneath a canopy called a chuppah, just like here where we bless the children, only much more elaborate.  The word is used several times in the Bible.

Joel 2:16  Let the bridegroom come out from his bedroom and the bride from her “chuppah” or chamber.

Psalms 19:6  It is like a bridegroom coming out of his bridal chamber (chuppah).

The chuppah represents the new house being formed by the union of bride and groom.

Was there a chuppah at Mount Sinai?  The cloud of glory over the mountain can be compared to a chuppah.  A similar image appear in the prophecies of Isaiah.  Isaiah says that in the Messianic Age, God will spread a canopy of cloud over Jerusalem.

Isaiah 4:5  then Adonai will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her convocations, a cloud by day, and smoke and shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all, glory will be a (chuppah).

Mount Sinai itself is sometimes likened to a chuppah.  Exodus 19:7 says that the people stood “beneath the mountain”.  This would be like a bride standing beneath a chuppah.  Ok, so don’t take that literally, it is a symbol of a chuppah to give us a picture of a wedding at Sinai.

Exodus 19:20  Then Adonai came down onto Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. Adonai called Moses to the top of the mountain, so Moses went up.

God descended on Mount Sinai in the middle of smoke, lightning, and symphony of trumpet or shofar blasts.  The mountain shook before Him. The writer of the book of Hebrews described it as “a blazing fire, and…darkness ad gloom and whirlwind.” Hebrews 12:18.  So terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am quaking with fear.” (Hebrews 12:21)

It was the grand entrance of the groom into the chuppah.  God knows how to make an entrance.

In a traditional Jewish wedding, a marriage contract is read aloud to the bride and the groom as part of the covenant ceremony.  This written contract is called the ketubbah (כתבה).  The ketubah spells out the terms and conditions incumbent upon the man and the woman.  After the ceremony, witnesses sign the ketubbah.  In Jewish tradition, the ketubbah is displayed in the home as evidence that the marriage is legal.

In the wedding at Mount Sinai, the Torah is the ketubbah.  It is the legally binding covenant contract between Gd and His bride, Israel.

From atop Mount Sinai that day, God spoke the Ten Commandments to all Israel. This can be compared to the reading of the ketubbah in a wedding ceremony.  (Similarly, according to Exodus 24:4, Moses will read the book of the covenant to the assembly of Israel.)

This is a different way of looking at the commandments o the Torah.  We should not think of them as rules imposed by an impersonal government.  They are more like the wedding vows joyously taken by a blushing bride on her wedding day.  If we understand the Torah as a ketubbah, we see that it is far more than an ethical system or moral list o dos and don’ts.  Instead, it functions as the sacred marriage covenant between God and His people.  It lays out the parameters for the relationship and outlines the expectations.  Its specific instructions and stipulations are designed to make the marriage happy, fruitful, and functional.  It defines the obligation of both the husband and the wife and describes how they are to treat each other.

So is Torah a legal document handed down by a conquering king?  Or is it a legal document jointly entered into by two parties that love each other?

I think it can be a little bit of both.  God gave us the Torah as a roadmap and to document His standard of holiness.  Paul said without Torah, we would not know what God expected of us.

But Torah is also a gift of grace.  It teaches us God’s ways and lets us know thousands of times that He loves His bride.  He loved us so much that He gave his only son to die for us so that we can be forever in right standing before him.







The Presence of God Never Departed

The sixteenth reading from the Torah is named Beshalach, which means “When he sent.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which can be literally translated to say, “And it happened when Pharaoh sent out the people.” The reading tells the adventures of the Israelites as they leave Egypt, cross the Red Sea, receive miraculous provision in the wilderness and face their first battle.

This Parsha has one of the most spectacular stories in all the Bible.  The crossing of the Red Sea.  Who doesn’t remember Moses (Charlton Heston) stretching his staff across the water and seeing the wind begin to part the water.  You can almost feel the sea breeze hitting you in the face.  I was nine years old when I watched the Children of Israel excitedly cross over the sea on dry ground.  (On the movie screen, not in real life).  I’m not THAT old.

As exciting as that was, there were other events that led up to the crossing that, while they didn’t make the front page of the Israelite Gazette, they were important nonetheless.

The first event was really a non-event.  Coming out of Egypt into the Promised land was only a few day’s journey.  If they followed the main trade route along the Mediterranean Sea they could be been in Canaan in less than a week.  However, there were some issues.

Exodus 13:17  After Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them along the road to the land of the Philistines, although that was nearby, for God said, “The people might change their minds if they see war and return to Egypt.”

The coastal highway was guarded by Egyptian garrisons as well as the road led through Philistine territory. God did not want the military confrontations to dissuade the people. Besides, He had some important things to teach them in the wilderness before they arrived at Canaan. He wanted to deliver them at the Red Sea, teach them about His provision and give them the Torah at Sinai before leading them to the land.

The non-event turned out to be a detour toward the desert.  In that first week after leaving Egypt, the Children of Israel would experience a terrifying existential threat from the most powerful army in the world.  God had led them in one direction only to bring them back to seemingly face utter destruction.  But before the crossing, there are two verses that I want to bring to your attention.

Exodus 13:21-22  Adonai went before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead the way and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light. So they could travel both day and night.  (22)  The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night never departed from the people.

In the following 49 days, the people would face annihilation, starvation, thirst, and war.  But they seemed to have forgotten a very visible symbol of God’s presence.  He said he would provide them with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire to guide them.  We don’t knw what the cloud or fire looked like.  Perhaps the cloud was a huge cumulo-nimbus thunderhead with lightning flashing throughout it.  Was the pillar of fire simply lightning?  We don’t know.  But there is one characteristic of the pillars of cloud and fire.  They were ever present.  The Bible says the pillars never departed from the people.

The cloud and fire were symbols of God’s presence with the people that was a precursor to when at Sinai, God made his dwelling place between the cherubim above the Ark of the Covenant.  He was reminding them that He was there with them.

Of course B’nei Israel were slow learners.  They saw the problems but didn’t look to the cloud and fire.  The Egyptian army was about to strike and the people cried out to Moses.  His answer?  Stand still and witness your salvation.  Stand still?  With the whole Egyptian army poised to push them into the sea, God’s cloud came between the Egyptians and God’s chosen people.  It must have been some kind of cloud, because the Egyptians could penetrate it.  God was in that cloud.  He didn’t abandon His people.

After crossing the Red Sea and watching the destruction of the Egyptian army,  Israel soon ran out of provisions.  They complained and God heard their cry.  He provided quail and this strange stuff called Manna.  The manna was a miraculous substance that fell with the morning dew.  As the dew dried the flakes of manna remained.  They were to gather the manna for their daily needs.  It could be baked, boiled, roasted.  If they tried to get lazy and keep some for the next day it spoiled overnight except for Shabbat.  Then the manna lasted two days without spoiling.  The daily outpouring of manna lasted until they crossed the Jordan River forty years later.  In hunger, God did not abandon His people.

Almost immediately another crisis confronted Israel.  They ran out of water and when they came to an oasis, the water was not fit to drink.  Complaining loudly to Moses was the order of the day so Moses went into his tent and brought out bottled water for everyone.  What?  You don’t believe that?  Well what really happened was even more unbelievable.  God told Moses to cut down a tree and throw it into the water.  The water immediately became pure and drinkable.  The bitter water full of contaminates and minerals was transformed instantly into a lifesaving liquid.  In thirst, God did not abandon His people.

When traveling through a desert, you have to be able to make it from one oasis to the next watering hole.  If you don’t find water, you end up like so many cartoons we see of a guy in tattered clothing crawling on hands and knees chasing a mirage.  Same thing happened to Israel.  They didn’t find that next watering hole.  They were thirsty again.  But this time there wasn’t even bitter water.  There was nothing but rocks.  God told Moses to take his staff and strike a rock.  Immediately water gushed out of the stone in such proportions that the entire assembly was able to drink their fill.  There is some speculation that the rock followed them throughout their desert wandering supplying Israel with life giving water for the duration of their wanderings.  Israel never seemed to lay hold of the concept that God was there with them and would take care of them.

Some 1500 years later Yeshua was still teaching that message.

Matthew 6:31-34  “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  (32)  For the pagans eagerly pursue all these things; yet your Father in heaven knows that you need all these.  (33)  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  (34)  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

God did not depart from His people even though in the ensuing years the people departed from God.  He was still there.  The pillar of cloud was gone as was the pillar of fire, but God never forgot His people and His covenant with them.

If we look through the pages of the Book of Judges, 1&2 Kings, 1&2 Chronicles we see a population of people who quickly settled into a domestic life of farming, sheepherding, and general business.  They settled in towns, and in small communities with the hope of developing a good sustainable life for them and their children.  Unfortunately, in the conquest of Canaan, they didn’t eradicate the source of sin that caused God’s judgement to fall on the Canaanites.  The People of Israel forgot the crossing of the Red Sea, the miracle of manna, the water that followed them through the wilderness.  They forgot the many battles against formidable enemies resulting in victory after victory.  In the words of Yeshua in the Book of Revelation, they had forsaken their first love.  The 1500 years after coming to the Promised land was a rollercoaster ride of idolatry, sin, oppression, repentance, revival, and victory.  They just never were able to stay focused on God’s promises in Torah.  There were a few years of peace but much more of war and turmoil and exile.  Through it all, though, the hand of God was directing the affairs of men.  He did not abandon His people.

Sometimes I think we are not unlike the Israelites.  No, we don’t bow down to idols as such.  But we get so involved in our daily lives that we can lose perspective of what is really important.  In my earlier years I was consumed by my career.  Everything revolved around that next promotion or assignment that would lead to the next promotion.  Family suffered, spiritual life suffered even though I was busy in music ministry wherever I was stationed.  It is easy to lose your focus.

One of my rabbi friends wrote that during the recent rabbi’s conference they were in a group discussion and taking the time to pray for each other’s needs.  He said that the time spent together was beneficial but still had an air of heaviness hanging over them.  One of the other rabbis then voiced what many were thinking.  When will this end?  He was speaking of the seemingly endless virus variations, everchanging government mandates that never really produced any improvement in the situation.  It was one of those honest moments that we really need to confront sometimes.

I feel like that too.  When will this ever end?  When will we get back to normal?  What is normal anyway?  Where is the cloud or fire to give us some direction?  Am I alone in that sentiment?  I wouldn’t think so.

But we don’t have to be depressed or down in the dumps.  No, I haven’t seen a pillar of cloud or fire lately, but we are not without guidance.  We have the Ruach HaKodesh to give us direction.  We need to remind ourselves of that fact on a daily basis.

Yeshua said that when He went back to the Father, he would send a comforter.

John 14:26  But the Helper, the Ruach ha-Kodesh whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything and remind you of everything that I said to you.

The Greek word is paracletes and has been variously translated helper, counselor, and comforter.  The Ruach is the contemporary cloud and fire.  Maybe it is not as visible, but it is every bit as powerful if you will let it.

We can rest assured that even when we wander off the reservation, God’s spirit is there with us.  One of my favorite verses was a Psalm of David.

Psalms 139:7-10  Where can I go from Your Ruach? Where can I flee from Your presence?  (8)  If I go up to heaven, You are there, and if I make my bed in Sheol, look, You are there too.  (9)  If I take the wings of the dawn and settle on the other side of the sea,  (10)  even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.

If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed this morning, you have lots of company.  Speed bumps, detours, cancellations are all part of our modern life.  Fortunately, we don’t have to deal with marauding Philistines or Ammonites.  But it is still a dangerous world we live in.  You don’t have to face it alone.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us to:

Hebrews 13:5-6  For God Himself has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you,”  (6)  so that with confidence we say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What will man do to me?”

That’s a very strong assurance.  The Creator of the universe promised never to leave us or forsake us.  Just reach out to the Lord this morning. His Holy Spirit is just as close as your next breath. The presence of the Lord will not depart from us.

Life or Death, the choice is yours

20220108 Parsha Bo – Life or Death The choice is yours


Torah Portion                   Exodus 10:1-9

Haftarah                          Jeremiah 46:13-20

Brit Chadashah               John 1:29-34

The fifteenth reading from the Torah is named Bo (בא), which means “Come or in context can mean Go.” The title comes from the first words of the first verse of the reading, which say, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘[Come or Go] to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart” (Exodus 10:1). The portion begins by concluding the narrative of the ten plagues, the tenth of which is the slaying of the firstborn. To avoid the plague, the Israelites are given the instructions for the Passover sacrifice and the laws of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Pharaoh finally consents to let Israel go, and they leave Egypt.

This particular Parsha has several very well known incidents within it that are foundational to our belief system as Jews, Messianic Believers and Christians.  One’s understanding of the events surrounding Passover, or Pesach depends entirely on your perspective regarding the Messiah.

The Jewish person will look at this and see only the idea of Passover in the Passover lamb whereas the Messianic would look at this as being the Passover, of course, and also the Passover Lamb being Yeshua.  Generally, the Christian would look at this and agree that the Passover Lamb is Jesus, but they don’t really internalize the story of Passover as being personal for themselves. To most Christians, it is a Jewish holiday. The Jewish people look at Passover as extremely personal, and we put ourselves in the place of the early Israelites as if we were actually there too.

Today I would like to put these views together into a cohesive story that would include the Jewish view of things, the Messianic view of things, and the Christian view of things.

For the Jew, the story of the Passover is a historical observation that is remembered every year.  It tells the story of Moses being called by God to lead the Israelites to freedom.  A perfect livestock lamb was slain to provide blood that was to be splashed on the door posts and lintel of their dwellings.  If the people did what Hashem commanded, then the angel of death would pass over their homes and no harm would come to their first born.

Most Egyptians chose not to follow God’s commandment.  They suffered the consequences of losing their first born.  The edict was carried out from the lowest hovel to the palace of Pharaoh.

Did the relief from death apply to others outside the Israelites?  We can’t know for sure, but scripture tells us that there was a large amount of people called the “mixed multitude” that were also with the Israelites when they left Egypt the next day. It seems most likely that anyone who went with B’nei Israel would have also had faith enough to cover their doorpost with the markings prescribed by the Israelite God.  So I think it is possible that the population as a whole could have avoided the tenth plague if they put the blood on the door posts.  They had a choice.

The sages tell us that only 20% of the population of Israel chose to leave Egypt.  Why would that be?  Did only 20% of the Israelites follow God’s commandments?  Did the other 80% fail to heed Hashem’s warning and as a result decided not to follow Hashem into the desert because they too had lost their first born?  We don’t know, but it is an interesting question.  The Egyptians, the mixed multitudes and all of Israel had a choice to make.  They could follow God’s commandment and have life or disregard His commandment and suffer the consequences of death.

When the sun rose over Egypt on the 15th of Nisan, there were two emotions present in the land.  In all of Egypt there was wailing and crying over the loss of their first born children.  But in Goshen there was a different sound.  It was the sound of preparation and excitement.  For you see, when the Israelites killed the lambs and splashed blood on their doorposts, they were slaves in a foreign land.  But when light dawned on Goshen, the people of Israel were no longer slaves.  They were a nation of free men and women.  The blood made the difference.  It was their choice.  They chose life.

Today we hear much about choice.  A woman’s right to choose.

In the coming weeks, the US Supreme Court will be looking at some cases involving. abortion. I think it’s incumbent upon each and every one of us who are Believers to be in prayer about this, because this is very, very important to our nation. Since the landmark decision of Roe V. Wade in 1973 over 63 million babies have been killed in the United States in abortion clinics. The most evil organization that I can think of in the United States right now is Planned Parenthood. These guys make the Holocaust, Stalin, Genghis Khan and Molech look like choir boys when compared to how many babies have been murdered in Planned Parenthood clinics.  In Israel, one must get a 3-panel committee’s approval for abortion, but once it is approved, it is covered by government funding until the age of 33.  Out of a population of over 8 million, over 20,000 abortions are performed in Israel annually.  I cannot help but wonder if troubles in the US, as well as Israel, are somehow connected to our utter disregard for the most innocent among us.  Clearly, the abortion industry and their supporters in government chose to put the wrong blood on the door posts.

The drash delivered on Christmas morning, regarding the date of Yeshua’s birth, had over 2600 views on social media.  Some people agreed, some disagreed and some shrugged and said “whatever”.  But that figure of 2600 views was a wakeup for me.  Most of my drashes or sermons have been targeted to those of you who are sitting here in this building.  As a result, they are focused largely on Believers and the lives you lead.  This week, I felt the urging of the Ruach HaKodesh to change the focus and speak to the hundreds that watch this service at home.  Many have not accepted Yeshua as their personal savior.  I am speaking both to Believers and those who are not. Jew and Gentile. Christians and Muslims. To anyone who has ears to hear.

We have often discussed the problems people have as they live their lives.  Many are burdened with addictions, depression, bad habits, destructive relationships, the list goes on.  Somewhere in our lives, each of us is faced with a choice.  A life changing choice.  Maybe you chose to smoke that first cigarette, or pop some kind of pill, or entertain that first kiss that you knew would lead to destruction.  You started hanging with people who support your choices, because it was fun or exciting or to escape the discomfort of your reality.  It doesn’t really matter how, when or where these decisions were made.  Bad choices bring about bad results.  In computer language, garbage in, garbage out.  Eventually, bad choices which result in bad consequences will destroy your life, your job, your family.  Let’s face it.  Our choices can make us just as much a slave to sin as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.  You may have experienced many plagues in your life with no Moses to lead you out.

But there is a way out.  I said I would connect the dots between Judaism, Messianic Judaism and Christianity.  Jews look at the Passover lamb as a historical fact.  The death of the lamb was necessary to provide blood for the door posts.  Jewish tradition does not ascribe any messianic significance to the lamb.

However, for traditional Christians, and for us as Messianic Believers, we look at the lamb differently.  The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah as a lamb.

Isaiah 53:7  He was oppressed and He was afflicted yet He did not open His mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, like a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

While Yochanan the Immerser, (John the Baptist), was preaching and immersing repentant Jews in the Jordan River, he saw Yeshua approaching and declared him as “   the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. John 1:29.

Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul, spoke of Yeshua this way: “ for Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed.” 1 Cor 5:7

Peter equated the blood of Messiah to the Passover Lamb.

1 Peter 1:19  but with precious blood like that of a lamb without defect or spot, the blood of Messiah.

For those of us who are Believers in Yeshua HaMashiach, Jesus the Messiah, the Passover lamb takes on a monumental significance.  The Passover Lamb in Egypt was significant because it separated those that believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, from those who did not.  The Passover Lamb in Egypt did not save anyone from their sins.  It was a vehicle to physically save the Israelites from the horrors of losing their first-born children.  But they still were not absolved of their sins. They were then set free from the bondage of Pharaoh.  But they still had their sins.

The difference is that the lamb could not remove their sins.  Only the blood of one born of God who lived a sinless life could be the agent who removed their sins and our sins.

Hebrews 10:4  for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

This passage was speaking of the sacrifices of the temple system.  Those sacrifices were but a covering.  David prophetically spoke of the Messiah and sin.

Psalms 103:12  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

East to the west.  That means that your sins are gone from one infinity to another.  There is no circling back like the north and south.  There are North and South poles that can be measured geographically.  But there are no east or west poles.  Your sins are gone.

This morning all of us need God’s forgiveness.  If you are a human like me, you have sin in your life. It is easy to become a slave to addictions, bad habits, evil thoughts, …whatever is troubling you.  You don’t have to live a life of slavery.  The Israelites started their Passover meal with the roasted lamb as slaves.  But Baruch Hashem, praise God, when the sun came up the next morning, they were no longer slaves.  They were free.  Just like them, we need to be set free.  Every day, we need to paint the doorposts of our hearts with the blood of Yeshua. Yeshua’s sacrifice only needed to happen once to absolve the world of sin, but we have to choose His sacrifice every day. Apply His blood to your addictions.  Splash His blood on the doorposts of your home and every aspect of your life.  You can wake up to a new day as a free person, free from the sins that weighed you down.

Let us all pray this prayer together right now.

Heavenly Father, forgive me of my sins, my failings, by bad choices.  Cover the entrance to my heart with the blood of Yeshua the Messiah.  I invite Yeshua into my life, into my home, into every part of my being.  I want Him to be my Lord and Savior.

I know, it is just a simple prayer, but I believe that if you sincerely prayed that prayer, or something similar to it, your sins are washed away.  You are no longer a slave.  Make your preparations for the promises of God for your life.

When was Yeshua really Born?

20211225 Parsha Shemot – When was Yeshua (Jesus) born and does it matter.


Torah Portion – Ex 2:1-10
Haftarah – Isaiah 27:7-13
Brit Chadashah Matthew 1:18-25

Shemot is both the title for the second book from the scroll of the Torah and the title of the first Torah portion therein. Shemot means “names.” The English-speaking world calls this book Exodus. The Hebrew title for the book comes from the opening phrase of the book: “Now these are the names (shemot) of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob” (Exodus 1:1).

The English name Exodus comes from the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. The Greek title for the book is Exodus Aigyptou, which translates as “Departure from Egypt.” The name Exodus is an abbreviated form of that title. Exodus means “departure.” The book of Exodus tells the story of the children of Israel enslaved in Egypt and their miraculous redemption through the hand of Moses, the story of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the construction of the golden calf and the construction of the Tabernacle.

As we read the first week’s reading from the book of Exodus, we find the children of Israel in slavery. It seems at first that the God of their forefathers has forgotten them. But God has not forgotten His promises. He remembers His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and brings a Redeemer to their children’s children, for the sake of His name, with love.

Today is a day celebrated around the world as the birthday of another Redeemer. The Redeemer we call Yeshua. But many if not most educated people today readily admit that Yeshua, Jesus was not born on December 25th. When was he born? Alternate dates include Rosh Hashanah or Sukkot. Sukkot being the most popular among Messianics. Sukkot is popular because it is the Feast of Tabernacles, and it would fit that Yeshua was tabernacling with us. However, this doesn’t work because Sukkot is one of the Regalim, the required feasts where every male was supposed to be in Jerusalem. Joseph would not have broken the law to be in Bethlehem rather than in Jerusalem. As a side note, the Romans would not have ordered a census on one of these holy days because it would have most certainly cause resistance if not outright revolt among the Jewish populace.

I would like to propose another date. This date is based on a careful study of God’s word coupled with contemporary, extrabiblical sources and an interview with Rabbi Jonathan Cahn. Before I begin, I would like to lay out some ground rules.

1. Please hear me out to the end. Don’t get up and walk out because you disagree.
2. Listen with an open mind and heart.
3. Please do not throw rocks or rotten vegetables.

I don’t remember when I came to the realization that Yeshua was not born on December 25. But I do remember many years ago when I first began studying Messianic Judaism under Rabbi Michael Rudolph. He spoke of an alternate date for the birth of the Messiah. We were deep into another subject when he said that he thought Yeshua was born in the springtime when the lambs were being born. Unfortunately, he didn’t elaborate because we had course requirements that precluded further discussion regarding the birth of the Messiah. Over the years I have heard the various hypotheses as to the actual day Yeshua was born.

One thing that hurts my heart as a Messianic leader is the invective spewed by some regarding the celebration of the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter. Has the celebration of Yeshua’s birth been hijacked and cheapened by secular commercialism? It most certainly has. But I think calling it a pagan holiday and denigrating friends and family for wanting to celebrate Christmas must stop. Christmas is no more pagan than you are for being born on a Sunday, named for the worship of the sun, or in January, named after the Roman god Janus, July named Julius Caesar, proclaimed a god. If you are somehow convinced that you should not celebrate the birth of the Messiah on December 25th, then by all means, don’t do it. But in the process, please don’t sever ties and poison relationships with family and friends. Those relationships are God given for your blessing and possibly as your own mission field. You can’t win someone to the Lord by insulting them. Ok, that’s enough of me fussing you out. Let’s get on with the study.

After a lot of study, I’ve settled on a date. Please stay with me and at least have an open mind. Let’s begin. There are several clues to which we can point.

Year – What year was Yeshua born?

We have to go about setting the year based on the death of the king of Israel. His name was Herod the Great. He was a great builder who remodeled the Temple over the course of 46 years. He built up the area known today as the Temple Mount. Herod was a great builder and engineer, but he was also a sociopath. He killed anyone who he considered a threat to his throne. We know with certainty that he died in 4 BCE based on the writings of Josephus as well as other contemporary historians.

Shortly before he died, he issued an order to kill all the male children in Bethlehem aged 2 and under. This was based on the time that the Magi from the east visited him in his winter palace in Jericho and inquired about the one born king of the Jews. Two years had elapsed from the birth of Yeshua until Herod heard about this birth from the wise men. So, to be sure that he did not have a rival to his throne, Herod issued his murderous edict. That would have placed the birth of the Messiah in the year 6 BCE.

Another clue would come from Luke 2:8.


Luke 2:8 Now there were shepherds in the same region, living out in the fields and guarding their flock at night.

The Talmud obliquely discusses the care of sheep and when shepherds would be taking care of them. It says that the shepherds would be in the fields with their sheep from some time in the spring until the latter rains began during the fall of the year. Shepherds would not be in the field with their sheep during the winter in Israel because it would be too cold and rainy.

The breed of sheep most likely to have been encountered during this time period was the Awassi. It is a breed especially adapted to the harsh environment of the Middle East. Unlike many other mammals, sheep are seasonal breeders. That means they breed only once a year and the offspring are born in the springtime, mid-March to late April. That is the only time that shepherds would have been out in the fields guarding the sheep is during the lambing period. Springtime.

Another interesting fact is that the area around Bethlehem was well known for providing lambs for Temple sacrifices. The shepherds were well acquainted with the halachic requirements for sacrificial lambs. It was to these sacrificial lamb shepherds that the angel appeared announcing the birth of the Lamb of God.


All the major events surrounding the life of Yeshua occurred in conjunction with one of the Appointed Times of the Lord, the Moedim, feasts of Israel.

Yeshua was killed as the sacrificial lamb on Pesach, Passover. He rose from the dead on the First Fruits. The giving of the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh was on Shavuot, or Pentecost.

There was also another event tied to Yeshua’s life that fell on a specific date. Today we call it Palm Sunday, when Yeshua rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. So how is that a Jewish holiday? It is connected to Passover.

Exodus 12:3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month, each man is to take a lamb for his family one lamb for the household.

The lambs for Passover were to be a year old. They were selected from the flock that had been born the previous year. The month referred to in this passage is Nisan, the 10th day was when the lamb was selected and brought into the home. During this time the lamb would be inspected to ensure that it was without defect. It was on the tenth day of Nisan that Yeshua rode the colt into Jerusalem, the city of God, home of the Temple. He did not leave Jerusalem proper until his arrest by the Temple guards and the eventual crucifixion. The Lamb of God was brought into the Home of God on the day specified in Exodus.

Keep in mind that Yeshua’s first coming was centered around the spring feasts.

So what other springtime date is important? The first of Nisan.

Exodus 12:2 This month will mark the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year for you.

The first of Nisan is the actual God-given Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah came to be known as the Jewish New Year as a result of calendar assimilation during the Babylonian captivity. (Where are all the pagan trash talkers now?) But on God’s calendar, it is the first of Nisan.

• God’s New Year
• Exodus from Egypt
• Passover on the 15th
• “Nes” means “miracle,” so it’s Miracle Month
• Aaronic priesthood initiated
• Temple sacrifices initiated
• First incidence of Fire from Heaven
• First time the Divine Presence rested with B’nei Israel

It should be no surprise to you by now that I’m proposing the 1st of Nisan as the birth of Yeshua. If I was a better writer, I would have strung this out for a big finale, but I’m not a great writer.
Let’s look at some more clues.


Yeshua died on Passover which is always a full moon. The full moon was said to be the fullness of that month. Yeshua died on the fullness of Nisan. He fulfilled God’s plan of salvation on that date.

The Magi

The Wise Men or Magi were actually prophesied in Isaiah.

(Isaiah 60:1) Arise, shine, for your light has come! The glory of Adonai has risen on you.
(Isaiah 60:6) A multitude of camels will cover you, young camels of Midian and Ephah, all those from Sheba will come. They will bring gold and frankincense, and proclaim the praises of Adonai.

There’s so much packed into that verse. “Your Light has Come” The star. Multitude of camels bringing gold and frankincense. It is exactly what happened. Now these guys didn’t make it to the birth. They were a couple of years late. So all the nativity scenes…yeah they got it wrong. But they did come. We read in Matthew…

Matthew 2:1-2 Now after Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, magi from the east came to Jerusalem, (2) saying, “Where is the One who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

The Star

Astronomers tell us that in the spring of 6 BCE there was a great convergence of the planets which to the ancients appeared a stars. This particular astronomical event occurs only once every 6000 years. Jupiter aligned with other planets in the constellation of Aries. Jupiter was known as the King Star. Aries the ram represented the Jewish people. So the Magi deduced that this King Star (Jupiter) being seen in the Aries constellation meant that a king of the Jews was being born.


Luke 1:5 In the days of Herod, King of Judah, there was a kohen named Zechariah from the priestly division of Abijah. Elizabeth, his wife, was from the daughters of Aaron.

There were 24 divisions of priests ordained by King David. Priestly duties were on a rotational basis throughout the year. Abijah was the eighth group and Zechariah was on duty in the temple when an angel appeared to him and announced the conception and eventual birth of a son. This would be Yochanan, better known in English speaking circles as John the Baptist. If we knew when the division known as Abijah was on duty, we could work back to know when Miriam, mother of Yeshua visited Elizabeth and pinpoint the time of Yeshua’s birth. Well as it happened the Dead Sea Scrolls provided the clue. They gave us a time for when the actual rotation began. When the Temple was destroyed, we know what division was on duty, and then by backtracking, we can know with reasonable certainty that Yeshua was born on 1 Nisan.

There are several other clues, but I would like to end with these final indicators.

The Tabernacle

Exodus 40:2 “On the first day of the first month, you will set up the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting.

The first day of the first month could only be the first of Nisan. This was a little less than a year after the Torah was given to the people at Mount Sinai. They had been working on building the Tabernacle from that time. Finally, the tabernacle was complete and ready for dedication on the first of Nisan. That was when God came down and dwelt among His people.

It was about nine months of building and preparation to build the tabernacle. It was about nine months for the building and preparation of a baby named Yeshua. Nisan is the month of new beginnings. The Rosh Chodesh (the new moon) of Nisan is called the head of the months. Yeshua was born at this time of new beginnings.

If the Tabernacle construction started at the time of Shavuot, when ADONAI gave the Torah to B’nei Israel, and the birth of the Tabernacle was just over 9 months later, then likewise, Miriam would have been covered by the Ruach haKodesh (Holy Spirit) around Shavuot, which is the same time that Messianic Believers and Christians alike, celebrate the Pentecost, giving of the Holy Spirit.

Does it matter what day Yeshua was born? I think that in some ways yes and some ways no. The Spring feasts all point to the first coming of the Messiah. The Fall feasts represent His second coming. It just makes so much more sense that the Lamb of God was born when the Passover lambs were being born.

I believe that what is more important than what day we settle on or disagree on for the birth of the Messiah is that there WAS a birth of the Messiah. He was born of a virgin, in Bethlehem. He lived a sinless life so that he could be that sacrifice lamb that whoever believed in Him could be saved from a life of sin.

For a believer, every day is like the birth of the Messiah because we are a new creation, His mercies are renewed every morning. Everyday should be celebrated as the birthday of the Messiah, because He is born anew every day in the lives of those who are His followers.