Tree of Life Messianic Congregation

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Agent of Salvation

20221224 Parashat Miketz – Agent of Salvation

Torah Portion                         Genesis 43:26-34

Haftarah                                Zechariah 3:6-10

Brit Chadashah                      Acts 10:24-33

The tenth reading from the book of Genesis is named Miketz, which means “the end.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream” (Genesis 41:1). The portion begins with Pharaoh’s portentous dreams, Joseph’s interpretations and his subsequent rise to power over Egypt. When a famine strikes the land of Canaan, his brothers come to Egypt seeking grain, but they do not recognize Joseph, who engineers a means by which he can test their character.

The story of Joseph is a multi-faceted tale of hubris, jealousy, hate, betrayal, success, seduction, unjust imprisonment, and finally redemption.  But there is also an underlying story of a man who wronged by his family and how he reacted to it.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his older brothers at the age of 17.  His life was like a roller coaster ride for 20 years.  Joseph eventually became the second most important man in Egypt.  Egypt was the most powerful nation in the world at that time so that would make Joseph, the former slave and ex-convict the second most powerful man in the known world.

Against that backdrop we see a drama unfold that could have destroyed a family and the future nation of Israel.  When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt a second time to buy grain during the massive famine that engulfed the entire Mediterranean area, they had no idea what they were getting into.  They again came face to face with the brother that they had wronged some 20 years earlier.  Joseph recognized his brothers, but since he was dressed in the fashion of an Egyptian ruler, they had no idea who he was.

Joseph had arranged to eat a meal with his brothers.  It would be the first time he saw Benjamin in 20 years.

Genesis 43:26-30 When Joseph came home, they brought him the offering in their hand into the house, and they bowed down to the ground to him.

Then he asked if they were well, and said, “Is he well—your elderly father that you told me about? Is he still alive?” “Your servant, our father, is well,” they said. “He’s still alive.”

Then they knelt and bowed down. Then he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother whom you mentioned to me?”

Then he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.” Then Joseph hurried out because his compassion grew warm and tender toward his brother so that he wanted to cry. So he went into an inner room and wept there.

Joseph had manipulated events in order to force his brothers to bring Benjamin with them.  Now that he had all of his brothers together he had the perfect opportunity to throw them all in prison for their evil deeds.  All but Benjamin were guilty, were they not? And yet, there was something far different inside Joseph.  Most men would have relished the opportunity for revenge.  But Joseph wept.

Most men would harbor deep seated hatred for those who had caused him so much pain.  But Joseph wept.

There was nothing in Joseph’s heart and mind as important than his family.  These men had abused him terribly 20 years ago and Joseph’s response was to cry.

Joseph now knew that the God of Abraham, Isaac and his own father Jacob had directed his path in order for him to be the agent of salvation for his family.  Instead of hate and revenge, Joseph showed nothing but love and forgiveness.

Yeshua has been called Mashiach ben Yoseph, Messiah son of Joseph for the many parallels between their lives.  Yeshua lived a sinless life, resisting many temptations.

He taught us the power and necessity of forgiveness.

Matthew 5:22-24  But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be subject to judgment.

And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca’ shall be subject to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be subject to fiery Gehenna.

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go.

First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Yeshua is telling us that our offerings, our good deeds, our piety are not acceptable if we don’t make things right with our brother.  Brother in this context can mean family, friends, acquaintances in the Congregation.  Our relationship with our neighbors, our fellow man is important.  It is the second most important commandment of God.

Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul, taught us in Galatians.

Galatians 5:13-15  Brothers and sisters, you were called to freedom—only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole Torah can be summed up in a single saying: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not destroyed by one another.

Again in His letter to the congregation in Rome Rav Shaul gives us some good advice.

Romans 12:9-18  Let love be without hypocrisy—detesting what is evil, holding fast to the good.  (10)  Be tenderly devoted to one another in brotherly love; outdo one another in giving honor.

(11)  Do not be lagging in zeal; be fervent in spirit. Keep serving the Lord,  (12)  rejoicing in hope, enduring in distress, persisting in prayer,  (13)  contributing to the needs of the kedoshim, extending hospitality.  (14)  Bless those who persecute you—bless and do not curse.  (15)  Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.  (16)  Live in harmony with one another; do not be proud, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own eyes.  (17)  Repay no one evil for evil; give thought to what is good in the eyes of all people.  (18)  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people.

I like that last verse.  “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in shalom with all people.”  Your relationship with people often depends on you.  I realize that some folks are just not easy to get along with.  You have to walk on eggshells when you are around them.  But that is what we are called to do.  That is part of that living sacrifice that Romans 12:1 calls us to be.

With those thoughts in mind let me go on to the hard part of this teaching.

Both within and outside the Messianic Movement today are people that have decided that they will no longer celebrate Christmas.  The reasons for such a stance are varied and generally settle on these main points.

  1. Disagreement on the actual date of Yeshua’s birth. Possible dates include Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, Shavuot, and 1 Nisan.


  1. Christmas merged with an older pagan holiday to coincide with the Winter Solstice.


  1. Christmas trees are falsely maligned as objects of worship as described in Jeremiah 10, or pagan sexuality.


  1. Santa Claus has replaced Jesus as the reason for the season.


There may be other reasons than those enumerated, but for our purposes today those are sufficient.

Do we know the real date for the birth of the Messiah?  There are many theories and calculations as to when he was born.  Does His possible birth on December 25 or during Sukkot, or Rosh Hashanah or even in the springtime affect your salvation?  If Yeshua was born on the 4th of July, would any of us be less redeemed and covered by the Blood of the Lamb?  No it would not.  The date of Yeshua’s birth is not a salvation issue.

Some point out that Christmas was chosen on December 25 to coincide with the Winter Solstice, which is celebrated by many non-Believers.  While that may be true, does that in an of itself make Christmas a ‘pagan’ holiday?  I would ask you to consider the names we ascribe to the days of the week.  All the days of the week use names honoring some ancient deity.  Are we pagans because we use those names?  No!

What about the names of the months?  Our calendar is based on a Roman calendar that was established around 753 BCE.  Seven of the twelve months are named after Roman gods or Roman emperors.

However, it’s not just the Gregorian calendar that reflects false gods, but the Hebrew calendar shows blatant compromise as well. Does being born in one of those months make you a pagan?  Obviously not.

Many people point to Jeremiah 10 as a prohibition against Christmas trees.  Let’s look at what it says.

Jeremiah 10:2-4  Thus says Adonai: “Do not learn the way of the nations or be frightened by signs of the heavens—though the nations are terrified by them.  (3)  The customs of the peoples are useless: it is just a tree cut from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman with a chisel.  (4)  They decorate it with silver and gold, and fasten it with hammer and nails so it won’t totter.

If you take these verses literally you see a person cutting down a tree, carving it into an image, and then gilding it with gold and/or silver.  The Asherah poles in ancient Canaan, and possibly, the totem poles of the Pacific Northwest are examples of that.  No one that I know of “worships” a Christmas tree.  Many are thrown away or disassembled and stuffed in a container after Christmas.  Strange way to treat a god.

The last point is one to which I thoroughly agree.  Santa Claus and the whole Santa Claus culture has highjacked what should be a wonderful time of celebrating the birth of our Messiah.  Growing up, Santa Claus was never part of our culture.

So what do we do about all this?  What should be our reaction?

Nowhere in the Bible is Christmas mentioned.  Neither are there any instructions as to how to celebrate Hanukkah or Purim.  And yet, we observe them.

Christians who celebrate the birth of the Messiah on 25 December do so out of a desire to honor the Messiah.  Do they have it all right?  Can we as Jews, Messianic Jews, or grafted-in Believers say with certainty that our form of worship is perfect?  I would say not.

Joseph, after 20 years in Egypt had an Egyptian name.  His wife was the daughter of an Egyptian priest.  He had two sons from a pagan wife.  Joseph dressed like an Egyptian.  He walked and talked like an Egyptian, and yet he was still tied to his Hebrew family.  His family was important enough to risk his position to embrace them.

How important is your family today?  Are you willing to cast them aside because they celebrate Christmas like every other Jesus-loving Christian?  How are you ever going to win your family to the True salvation of Messiah with an arrogant attitude of superiority because we worship on the Sabbath?

We don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter because of Santa Claus and the easter bunny.  You will never win them over by saying they are pagans.  No, you win them over by showing your love for them. Remember that time when Jesus said he came to bring a sword that would divide families? Well He didn’t mean bringing war to family gatherings and holidays.  Be like Joseph, the agent of salvation for his family.

Outside of your relationship with Yeshua HaMashiach, there is no relationship more important than your own family.  Please don’t ostracize your loved ones because they don’t believe like you do.  We have both ends of the spectrum here at TOL.  There are families that came out of a particular denomination, and yet they still retain a loving relationship with their families and former congregants.  Do they have different beliefs?  Absolutely they do.  But they still show love to each other.

Sadly, we have some folks who are so dogmatic about what they NOW believe, they cannot show love and tolerance to their own family members: refusing to gather with them during this Christmas season, refusing to have anything to do with their loved ones.  With all my heart I am asking you, if you fit into that description, please reconsider.  God gave us our families for a reason.  You may be the only one who can bring them to salvation.   Be that agent of salvation for your family

I think Paul had it right.

1 Corinthians 9:22  To the weak I became weak, so that I might win over the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all means possible I might save some.

Our objective is not to show off our “superior” style of worship.  Our major purpose is to win the lost at any cost.

In this dual season of Hanukkah and Christmas may the light of the Messiah shine through each of us.

Living Water or Broken Cisterns

20220730 Parsha Mattot-Massei – Living water or Broken Cisterns


Torah Portion Numbers 30:1-8
Haftarah Jeremiah 2:5-13
Besorah John 7:32-39

The name of the forty-second reading from the Torah is Mattot, which means “tribes.” The name is derived from the words of Numbers 30:1, which says, “Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel.” Numbers 30 discusses the laws of vows and oaths. Numbers 31 tells the story of Israel’s war with Midian. Numbers 32 relates the story of how the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Mannaseh came to inherit the land east of the Jordan River. Except in biblical calendar leap years, Mattot is read together with the subsequent Torah portion, Massei, a word that means “journeys, on the same Sabbath. It comes from the first verse of the reading, which begins with the words “These are the journeys of the sons of Israel” (Numbers 33:1). Massei is the end of the continuous narrative of Torah that began in Genesis with the creation of the universe. The narrative does not resume until the end of Deuteronomy, when Moses dies.

Last week I spoke from the Haftarah Portion, and I will do the same this week. We will examine the words of the Prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah, known as the weeping prophet, warned the people of Jerusalem of their impending judgment by Babylon’s invasions in 598 BCE and 587 BCE. His ministry was solely to plead with the Jewish people to repent and return to the Lord. Interesting notes about his personal life are that he was called by God at a very young age, subsequently forbidden to marry, beaten and abused by his embarrassed family as well as the Judean regime, and left to die in the bottom of a well. He lived and died alone, without any recognition of his prophetic accuracy. Jeremiah preached doom and gloom messages, but his ultimate intent was to inspire repentance and restoration.

For all of Jeremiah’s lamentations, it has always been interesting to me to note something about Jeremiah’s writings. When God called him to be a prophet, God made an incredible statement.

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I set you apart—I appointed you prophet to the nations.”

When does life begin? According to that scripture, it appears that life begins even before conception. God said even before you were formed in the womb, I KNEW YOU. And I believe that He also has plans for you and me. Whether you were planted in a Jewish or gentile family, God does not make mistakes. Be the man or woman God formed you to be and run with it. Don’t question God. He knows what He’s doing.

Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet to the nations, not just Judah in 627 BCE. He prophesied to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for 40 years, warning them of the impending judgement that was about to fall. His message was simple and straightforward. Repent. Repent. Repent.

We have already read this portion of Jeremiah, but it bears repeating.

Jeremiah 2:4-5 Hear the word of Adonai, O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel. (5) Thus says Adonai: “What fault did your fathers find in Me that they strayed so far from Me? They walked after worthless things, becoming worthless themselves?
(6) They did not ask ‘Where is Adonai, who brought us up from the land of Egypt and led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and rifts, through a land of drought and distress, through a land where no one travels, where no one lives?’
(7) Yet I brought you into a fertile land, to eat of its fruit and goodness. When you came, you defiled My land. You made My heritage an abomination.
(8) The kohanim did not ask, ‘Where is Adonai?’ The Torah experts did not know Me. The shepherds rebelled against Me. The prophets prophesied by Baal and went after unprofitable things.

Bnei Israel saw the miraculous interventions of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob time after time. Yet they forgot. That is why the observance of Passover is so important. Why do we do it every year? So we do not forget the wonderful miracles God wrought on our behalf. We should never forget, nor let our children forget, who we are and what Adonai has done for us.

The priests drifted away, busy with their rituals and liturgy. The Torah teachers became experts in dividing the words but forgetting who wrote the words. Even the shepherds, the common everyday people like you and me turned against God. The so-called prophets were corrupted and prophesied in the name of Baal.

We can sometimes get so wound up in our routine, even our religious routine, that the prayers, the liturgy, Bible reading becomes just that….routine. Something we can do without even thinking. It’s like formulaic prayers we say at meals, or bedtime. Take a step back and think about what you are doing and what you are saying. When I say you, I mean me too. I have to remind myself what those Hebrew words mean and to whom I am speaking. Continuing with Jeremiah…

Therefore I will plead with you again!” It is a declaration of Adonai. “I will contend with your children’s children. Cross to the coasts of Kittim and see! Send to Kedar, and observe carefully. See if there has been anything like this.

Has a nation changed its gods—even though they are not gods? Yet My people have exchanged their glory for worthless things. Be appalled at this, O heavens! Be utterly horrified and dumbfounded.” It is a declaration of Adonai.

My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me—the spring of living water—and they dug their own cisterns—cracked cisterns that hold no water.

I don’t think I have to tell you the importance of water. It is the most precious commodity in all the world. It is important in part, because you must have water to make coffee.

So what is a cistern? Cisterns are a substitute for clean running water. Ancient cisterns were a necessary survival tool, peppered throughout all throughout Israel, the most impressive of which are in desert regions like the fortress of Masada. The problem with cisterns is that they leak, losing all that precious rainwater. If you have a really good cistern and it doesn’t leak you will have problems of stagnation.

Cisterns themselves are not good, nor bad, but they must not replace the preferred life-giving source of fresh running water. Today we still dig cisterns, as coping mechanisms, to shore us up during personal tragedies. We rely on friends, family, government to bail us out of our dry spells. What we really need to stay close to Ruach HaKodesh, drinking from the well who never runs dry.

Now, let’s address what Living Water actually means. Many Believers will tell you that it is simply refreshing from God, to renew them in their daily walk. That is not even close to the depth of significance intended for this phrase.

The Living Waters
1. Come from the Throne of God (Zech 14, Rev 7 & 22)
2. Everlasting life to those who receive Yeshua (John 4)
3. Ruach HaKodesh to the Believer (John 7)
4. Justice for those who suffered the Tribulation (Rev 7)
5. Healing of all the nations (Rev 22)

ADONAI calls Himself the spring of Living Water, but Yeshua does not. As Yeshua speaks to the Samaritan woman in John 4:14, He does not tell her that He IS the Water,

John 4:13-14 Yeshua replied to her, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty. The water that I give him will become a fountain of water within him, springing up to eternal life!”

Nor does He claim to be the Living Water in John 7:37-39.

John 7:37-39
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Yeshua stood up and cried out loudly, “If anyone is thirsty, let him COME TO ME AND DRINK. 38 Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, ‘out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now HE SAID THIS ABOUT THE RUACH, whom those who trusted in Him were going to receive; for the Ruach was not yet given, since Yeshua was not yet glorified.

Yeshua says that He will give to anyone who is thirsty, but He is referring to the Ruach HaKodesh.

The Water itself comes from the Throne of God, as described in Revelation 22:1-2.

Revelation 22:1-2
Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life—bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s street. On either side of the river was a tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Rev 7:14 Then he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

15 For this reason, they are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His Temple. The One seated on the throne will shelter them.

16 They shall never again go hungry, nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat.

17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne shall shepherd them and guide them to springs of living water, and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


Where else do we see Rivers of Living Water referenced, besides John and Revelation?

Zechariah 14:8-9 Moreover, in that day living waters will flow from Jerusalem, half toward the eastern sea and half toward the western sea, both in the summer and in the winter. Adonai will then be King over all the earth. In that day Adonai will be Echad and His Name Echad.

Before the calendar was changed under Babylonian influence, the seventh month of the Hebrew year was Ethanim.

King Solomon dedicated the Temple to ADONAI in the month of Ethanim, because he understood the significance of the moedim outlined in Leviticus 23. This wise king was deliberately inviting the Holy Spirit of God to inhabit the Temple during the month when God Himself established a time of holy convocation, signifying the presence of the Holy One with His people.

Ethanim is when we are instructed to celebrate 3 crucial feasts. The Feast of Trumpets is the first day of Ethanim. The Day of Atonement is the 10th day of Ethanim, and the Feast of Tabernacles, which symbolized God walking with us, begins on the 15th of Ethanim. Those three feasts announce the very Messianic experiences of Yeshua’s return, the Day of Judgement, and the Millennial Reign.

The importance of the distinction between the Hebrew word for the 7th month, Ethanim, and the Babylonian word, Tishri, is dire. Ethanim was the 7th month, with specific biblical meanings attached to the number seven. Tishri, the current word used for the “Jewish” calendar is a Babylonian word meaning, “Month of the beginning,” which completely transformed the Hebrew calendar, forcing Tishri to be the first month of the Hebrew year, rather than the seventh month.

But the most tragic part of losing the Hebrew word Ethanim to a pagan Babylonian word, Tishri, is not the calendar sequence; it is the symbolism that comes from the word itself. Ethanim has several meanings: “perpetual” and “permanent,” like the Kingdom of God. It also means flowing water. Put the books of Zechariah, John and Revelation together, and you have the perpetual and permanent rivers of water, flowing from the Throne, moving from the base of the Throne to the east and the west.

When ADONAI is lamenting B’nei Israel and their rejection of Living Water for broken cisterns, it is more than a simile describing their rejection of spiritual refreshing. They literally rejected their Covenant identity established by ADONAI. They redefined the terms by which the presence of God came to them in the 7th month of the Hebrew year. They chose Ba’al over ADONAI, because the COEXIST movement told them to.

Those moedim cement the identity of the Judeo-Christian culture. They outline prophecy for the events that surround the coming and the return of the Messianic Kingdom. Our daily scripture reading must NEVER become mundane or routine. Give us this Day our Daily Bread, is not about food, but about feeding our souls with the Word of God. The ones who reject the Living Waters reject eternal life and embrace eternal damnation. As Believers, whether Jew or Gentile, our misunderstanding of the Living Waters as prophetic guidelines will give a foothold for compromise and false grace.

I was explaining to Pat about the theme of the drash this week. She observed that I was preaching to the choir. She’s right. This message is directly pointed at the choir, not the unbeliever. This isn’t a missionary attempt to redeem a people who are neck deep in hedonistic lifestyle choices, but instead to sound the alarm for a bored people who are satisfied with the status quo of FaceBook, instead of the Good Book.

Wake up and repent!

We, as Messianics, are all guilty of condemning and accusing the unbeliever or the casual cultural Christian, while our own righteousness is as filthy rags. Jeremiah wept as he watched the Chosen Ones become eternally damned because of their casual negligence of the mandate of holiness that God gave them.

Do we sometimes forsake the source of living water? Let me ask you this. When something in our lives goes sideways, who is connected to the other end of our 911 call?

There is only one way to fill that void and that is relying on the living water of Ruach HaKodesh. If you have not yet asked Yeshua into your life, do it today. There is no better time. If you are a Believer, don’t wander off away from the life-giving water that Ruach gives. Broken cisterns will always disappoint, but Yeshua never will.

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.

All for the Good

20211204 Parsha Miketz – All For The Good

Torah Portion   Gen 41:1-7

Haftarah         Zech 4:1-7

Brit Chadashah       1 Thess 5:12-18

The tenth reading from the book of Genesis is named Miketz, which means “the end.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream” (Genesis 41:1). The portion begins with Pharaoh’s portentous dreams, Joseph’s interpretations and his subsequent rise to power over Egypt. When a famine strikes the land of Canaan, his brothers come to Egypt seeking grain, but they do not recognize Joseph, who engineers a means by which he can test their character.

The life of Joseph demonstrates God’s sovereign hand in human lives. Though the world seems to follow a completely random course around us, God is actually working out His purposes in the midst of it. From Joseph’s point of view, there was no reason to suspect that God had his best interests in mind.

Joseph had been kidnapped and betrayed by his own brothers, sold into Egypt as a slave, falsely accused of attempted adultery and imprisoned in a dungeon. His life seemed to be following Murphy’s Law of “if anything can go wrong, it will.” So far, everything had gone wrong.

Joseph stubbornly clung to an unshakable confidence in the God of his fathers. Even though everything had tumbled down around him, He kept looking to God and believing that God was working through the chaos. There are those that say he never fell into depression or despondency because he always believed that he was right where God had placed him.  I would like to think that was true.  The Bible doesn’t comment either way regarding Joseph’s state of mind.  It does say that Joseph asked Pharaoh’s cup bearer to speak kindly to the Pharaoh so that he could get out of prison.

Before the Covid shutdown we were studying from the late first-century compendium of instructions to Gentile believers entitled the Didache.  The Didache says, “Accept the things that happen to you as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass” (Didache 3:10).

Similarly, Paul says, “Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

This can be compared to the Jewish folk story of a rabbi from the days of the Apostles named Nacham. Everyone called him “Nacham This-Too” because, no matter what happened, he would always say, “This too is for the good.” Amazingly, God honored his faith by continually providing miracles for Nacham.

Once it happened that Nacham This-Too was serving as an ambassador to Rome. He was presenting the Roman Emperor with a gift from the people of Judea in an attempt to bribe him into reversing some anti-Jewish legislation. While en route to Rome he stopped at an inn. While he slept, the inn-keeper stole the precious treasures meant for the emperor from Nacham’s chest and replaced them with sand! Nacham went to Rome, unaware that he was carrying a box of sand. When the emperor opened the chest and saw the sand, he ordered Nacham to be put to death. Nacham simply replied, “This too is for the good.” Just then Elijah the prophet appeared in the guise of a Roman officer and suggested that perhaps the sand was “magic sand.” The emperor agreed to test the theory, and indeed, when his troops hurled the sand at their enemies, they prevailed in battle. The emperor immediately released Nacham, reversed his decree against the Jews and rewarded Nacham with great wealth.

The story of Nacham This-Too is a good illustration of Joseph’s story. Like Nacham This-Too, Joseph refused to be pushed around by life’s circumstances. Instead he looked to God for strength and encouragement, and he kept on believing.

The story of Joseph is well known by Jews and Christians alike.  It would make a great TV series complete with intrigue, betrayal, despair, success, attempted seduction, despair, success, more intrigue, mystery.  This story has it all.  But with all of Joseph’s problems from the time of his enslavement to his ascension to the second highest position in Egypt we must not lose sight of the purpose.  This was all in God’s plan.  He provided a way for His chosen people who at this time consisted of just one extended family to escape a deadly famine in the Negev.  This family was to grow miraculously from 70 souls to a couple million in just over 400 years.  The story of Joseph from prison to power was all to the good.  It mean the salvation of the Jewish people.

Today we are in the midst of the Hanukkah celebration.  Have you ever thought that if there was no Hanukkah, there would be no Christmas to celebrate?  And before you get mad and walk out because I mentioned that dreaded C word, I am talking about the circumstances of the birth of Yeshua, on whatever day you choose to observe it.

The Jewish people were systematically being annihilated by the evil Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes.  What Jewish culture was not being lost through Hellenistic assimilation was violently being destroyed by Antiochus.  Israel was slowly but surely dying out as a nation of people who were following Torah.  The picture was bleak.  Finally, when a few remaining patriots had had enough, they rose up and rebelled against the Greek tyranny.  During several years of guerilla warfare punctuated by hardship and many deaths, the Jewish patriots never lost their faith.  God brought them several miraculous victories against overwhelming odds.  Eventually, their faith was rewarded and the Greeks left Israel.

The celebration of Hanukkah was a reminder of God’s faithfulness and salvation.  What followed in the wake of the tragic Greek tyranny was an invigorated Jewish state.  I wouldn’t exactly call it a revival, but the people restored a measure of Torah observance and slowed the march of worldly assimilation.  The Greek occupation and tyranny was all to the good.  Salvation came to the Jewish people.

Roughly 165 years after the rededication of the Temple there was another revolution born.  The birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem was possible because there remained a Jewish state and a Jewish people.  However, all was not good with Israel.  The Greek hegemony had quickly been replaced by Roman rule.  Israel was still under the boot of a brutal and often unpredictable regime.  Rome allowed the Jews to practice their religion subject to certain restrictions.  Rome exacted outrageous taxes that were collected at the tip of a sword.  Any rebellion was quickly ended in a forest of crucifixes.  Temple worship and administration had devolved into political appointments and corruption.  The sacrificial system was just another way for the religious hierarchy to oppress the people. But even in this environment of suppression there were those faithful few who looked for their long awaited Messiah.

One night in Bethlehem, You pick whatever date makes you happy, the Savior of the world was born to a young teenager who had travelled from Nazareth for several days on a donkey in order to reach Bethlehem as demanded by the Roman authorities.  In any sane world, Miriam would have been in her home in Nazareth until her baby was born, it was not a sane world.

But out of all the shame and whispers that accompanied the timing of her pregnancy, coupled with a very uncomfortable donkey ride which ended with no decent place to stay, it was all for the good.  For Salvation had come not only to Israel but to the entire world.

It is often very difficult, if not impossible to look at bad situations in which we find ourselves see the good in it.  And I wouldn’t dare to presume that I can be the Pollyanna that finds the silver lining in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.  Sometimes and perhaps most times we will not find out the good that came out of a bad experience until days, months, or even years after.  We may never find out.  That flat tire you had in the driveway or on the way to work could have saved you from a catastrophic accident.  The illness that put you in the hospital could very well be because there was a doctor or nurse that needed you to encourage them or lead them to the Lord.

At a time when I didn’t know if my fingers would ever heal after cutting them off in a table saw it was hard to project a happy ending.  It would be weeks before I found that not only was there was no infection, I could actually bend my fingers.  That was a miracle because the doctor did not reconnect any tendons or ligaments.  What was the good in that accident?  I can’t tell you other than an agnostic doctor got to see firsthand the mighty healing work that God can do.  In the thirty-one years since that accident I have had countless opportunities to testify of God’s healing power.  Would I do it again?  Not on your life.  But I know it was all for the good.

So what do we do when we find ourselves in a prison of despair and defeat?  Do we break out in a rousing chorus of “Tomorrow, tomorrow”?.  Maybe that might help you a bit.  But what does the Bible say?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  Rejoice always,  (17)  pray constantly,  (18)  in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua.

In the 16th chapter of Acts Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in prison.  Rather than grumbling and complaining, the Bible says that they were praying and singing hymns.  I don’t know what hymns they were singing but I’m fairly certain they were not singing “nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen”.  I think they were singing hymns of faith, songs of victory, melodies of praise.

How about this for a song of praise and victory?

Psalms 108:2-6  My heart is steadfast, O God. I will sing, sing praises with all my soul.  (3)  Awake, harp and lyre—I will awaken the dawn!  (4)  I will give thanks to You, Adonai, among the peoples, I will sing praises to You among the nations. (5)  For Your love is higher than the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.  (6)  Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, let Your glory be above all the earth.

Paul and Silas did not let circumstances defeat them.  They had such a trust in God’s faithfulness that they could sing while shackled in a filthy prison.  I would say those were pretty bad circumstances.  But it was all for the good.  What happened a few verses later?  An earthquake opened the prison doors and loosed all the prisoner’s chains.  Paul could have escaped but he had other things to do. Most importantly, he led the jailer and his entire household to faith in Yeshua.  We don’t know how many prisoners became believers because Paul and Silas were thrown into that dungeon.  It was all for the good, a jailer and his family received salvation.

If you haven’t had a prison experience, either literal or figurative, then hang on.  Because you will someday.  That’s not very encouraging I know, but my job is to be realistic and equip you for the day when you have a Joseph experience.  We all will, if we live long enough to see Yeshua return because that will mean we went through seven years of the tribulation.  Right now, today we need to purpose in our hearts to get into God’s word, trust in God, pray, trust in Him, be thankful for all we have as Believers, did I say put your trust in God?  That’s how we get through the hard times.  And remember, it is all for the good.  Because if we trust in God and do His will, I believe we will come out on the other side victorious and perhaps brought salvation to someone along the way.  Stay strong.  It’s all for the good.



And It Was Winter

20211127 Parsha Vayeshev – And it was Winter

Torah Portion           Gen 37:1-8

Haftarah                  Amos 3:1-8

Brit Chadashah       John 10:22-30

The ninth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayeshev, which means “and he dwelt.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now Jacob [dwelt] in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1). Despite the portion’s name and first verse, the story is actually about Jacob’s son Joseph and how he was removed from the land of Canaan and dwelt in Egypt. The narrative follows Joseph from Canaan to Egypt to prison. In addition, this week’s reading contains the story of Judah and Tamar.

Generally speaking, I normally begin the weekly teaching with the Torah Portion and work my way to the Brit Chadashah (New Testament).  Today I want to throw a curve ball and begin reading in the book of John.  Tomorrow evening we will begin the eight nights of Hanukkah and end on Monday night with a party here together.

John 10:22  Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem.

I have heard discussions from various factions within Messianic Judaism regarding celebrating events that are not mandated by Torah.  The two main targets of these folk are Hanukkah and Purim.  Purim not so much, but Hanukkah is in their crosshairs because the custom of celebrating it is not in the accepted canon of the bible but in the book of Maccabees.  Purim is a couple of months away and Hanukkah begins tomorrow night so let’s talk about Hanukkah.  Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah.

I’ve heard several people tell me they are excited about Hanukkah because this is the first time they have ever celebrated it.  At the risk of being boring, I’d like to give you the Cliff’s Notes version of Hanukkah for the ones just entering into the wonderful world of Messianic Judaism.

After Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided into four parts.  The part that ruled over Israel was the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes whose throne was in Assyria.  He forbade any expression of the Jewish religion on pain of torture and then death.  He sacrificed a pig on the altar at the Temple and erected a statue of Zeus in the holy place of the Temple.

Torah-faithful Jews rebelled with Pinchas-like zeal against their Greek oppressors, but also waged a civil war against the large population of Hellenistic Jews who embraced Greek debauchery. After several years of guerilla warfare, led by Judah, the Levite they called the Maccabi, the Greeks gave up and left Israel.  The Temple was horrifically defiled, so the survivors set about cleansing it and restoring it.

They were desperately trying to get it ready for the feast of Sukkot but the task was too great.  So they settled on a late Sukkot and an eight day celebration, well after the temperate harvest-time.  The problem arose that there was only enough purified oil for one night.  The priests filled the lamp of the menorah and miraculously the menorah lights burned for the entire eight days and nights until more oil could be processed. That is why Hanukkah is called the festival of lights as well as the feast of dedication.  And Yeshua was in Jerusalem for the festival!

The Bible says it was winter.  I don’t know how you feel about winter, but I am not a fan.  I lived in northern Illinois for about 8-9 years when I was young.  Winter for me means cold, dark, dreary days.  All the vegetation dies back.  There is very little life.  For me, winter feels like death.  Winter meant death to countless soldiers in the armies of Napoleon and Hitler as they tried to invade Russia.  In my mind’s eye the images of snow swept plains in the Doctor Zhivago movie gives me shivers just thinking about it.  Retain that description of winter as we proceed through the Parsha.

Hopefully you won’t get whiplash from this jumping back and forth, but let’s go back to Joseph.  You know the story of the technicolor coat that Jacob had given him, and his dreams portraying his family bowing down to him.  His brothers didn’t relish the idea that their young brother would be over them.  Possibly Joseph was also displaying the arrogance of a cocky teenager.  Anyway, out in the fields far away from home his brothers conspired to kill him.  Judah intervened and instead they just threw him in a pit before selling him to traders heading to Egypt.

Can you imagine what was going through Joseph’s mind when he was thrown in the pit with no way to climb out.  His own brothers were leaving him to die of thirst and exposure in the wilderness.  Regardless of the season, Joseph was experiencing winter.

A day later a rope was tossed down to Joseph and he rejoiced because he as saved.  Or so he thought.  He was not saved but instead sold into a life of slavery.  His fall from being the favored son of a rich and powerful patriarch to a lowly slave bound for Egypt was enough to crush any man.  Joseph was experiencing winter.

God showed Joseph His favor and Joseph became the manager of the household of an influential member of the Egyptian government.  Everything seemed good until Joseph found himself cast out of his position and thrown into prison, due to the treachery of Potiphar’s wife.  Joseph was experiencing winter.

The nation of Israel went through similar trials, being enslaved in Egypt.  Their sons killed so they would not be a threat to Pharaoh, cruelly used by Pharaoh to build the cities of Egypt.  Israel was experiencing winter.

Fast forward a thousand years, Israel had escaped Egypt, experienced trials in the wilderness, conquered Canaan and became an influential nation under David and Solomon.  Then they began their slide into idolatry and disobedience.  The kingdom split into Israel and Judah. Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and 100 years later the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.  Judah was exiled to Babylon.  The Jews were experiencing winter.

However, God remembered His promises and the nation of Israel was restored, never to the prestigious heights attained under Solomon, but still a nation.  Being small and relatively powerless, Israel was repeatedly overrun and ruled by several nations leading up to the Seleucid period.  The atrocities committed against the Jewish people are too heinous to detail here this morning.  But we can say that Israel was experiencing winter.

The Grecian yoke thrown off by the Maccabees was quickly restored under Roman rule.  The Romans were not as concerned with destroying Jewish religious practices and customs as were the Greeks, but Rome ruled Israel with an iron fist.  Israel was once again experiencing winter.

This was the world that Yeshua grew up in.  There was constant and sometimes deadly bickering between the various religious factions.  In fact, there were some 22 different sects of Judaism active during some part of Yeshua’s Life.  As if Jewish political opponents killing you wasn’t enough, they always had the Romans to contend with. The Roman empire was much more resilient than the Greeks so there was little hope for freedom from Rome.  As the writer of John said.  It was winter in Jerusalem.

I have described several scenes throughout the Bible where individuals and nations were brought low.  They were cold, dark, dreary, teetering on the brink of disaster.  Though they may have thought that eventually, spring will come, would it come soon enough to prevent their demise.  The icy winds of despair still chilled them to the bone with little hope of rescue.

Have you ever felt that way?  I’m sure you have because I know a bit about some of your lives.  Perhaps you or some family member or friend is in a snowbank right now.  There is no light or warmth, no hope.  It may not be you right now that is feeling that way, but we need to be cognizant of those situations that confront others we know and love.  Because they may not always feel like they can reach out to anyone.

Look at these two verses again.

John 10:22-23  Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem. Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon’s Colonnade.

Look at two things.  Hanukkah and Yeshua.  Hanukkah was a celebration of survival of unspeakable horrors.  It was a celebration of the mercy of God in granting Israel salvation from their oppressors.  It was a celebration of rededication of the Worship of the one true God.  It was a cause of hope.

However, Hanukkah was only a celebration that, no matter how well intended, was insufficient in battling the demons of despair and depression.

When Solomon dedicated the first Temple the record shows that the glory of God filled the Temple.

1 Kings 8:10-11  Now when the kohanim came out of the Holy Place, the cloud filled the House of Adonai, so that the kohanim could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Adonai filled the House of Adonai.

The Hebrew word used here for glory is kavod.  It means weight.  The glory of God was so powerful that the priests could not stand under the load.  That temple housed the Ark of the Covenant where God had said he would dwell with the people.  The people had abused the ark and the glory of God’s presence had lifted.  But at the dedication God had restored his presence.

Five hundred years of failure of the Jewish people to follow God’s Torah resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE.  Nearly a hundred years passed before the Temple was rebuilt.  But there was a difference.  The Ark had been lost. And God’s presence was not there as it was in Solomon’s day.  They had a Temple, priests rebuilt furnishings, but no presence.

But John tells us that on that cold day in Jerusalem during the festival of Hanukkah God’s presence returned.

Yeshua was walking in the Temple!  Roughly a thousand years after God’s glory settled on the Temple, God’s Son was in the Temple.  There was no weight of God’s glory forcing men to the ground.  But the words Yeshua uttered while surrounded by his critics would start in motion God’s plan for the salvation of man.

John 10:27-30  My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me.   I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. And no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

The religious leaders wanted to stone Yeshua because he said I am ben-Elohim, the Son of God.

With that encounter things in Jerusalem or in the entire world for that matter would never be the same.  Yeshua was walking in the Temple.

Is it winter in your life today?  I extend that question to all of you here in this building as well as to any who are watching on social media.  Are you cold and miserable?  The bible says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Do you feel like your Temple is empty?  Well Yeshua is walking in the Temple.  He is walking in your temple today if you will let him.  Even if you are already a Believer, we go through periods of winter.  There’s no shame in that.  Open up the door of your temple and invite Him in.

20211016 Parsha Lech Lecha – Blessed To Be A Blessing


The third reading from the book of Genesis is named Lech Lecha. It means “go forth.” The first verse says, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth (lech lecha ) from your country.'” Section Lech Lecha introduces Abraham and tells the story of his pilgrimage in pursuit of God.

In verse one we see that God told Abraham to get up and leave his homeland, his family, his friends and go.  He didn’t give Abraham an itinerary.  There was no destination mentioned.  It was simply a command for Abraham to get up and go.  Leave your comfort zone and I’ll let you know later where you are going.

How many of us would have enough faith to follow God?  We have been raised all our lives with the concept of the sovereign God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  But Abraham didn’t have that foundation or background.  He had nothing to go on.  However, something stirred within Abraham that made him obey the voice of this foreign God.  How was he to know is this the real deal or not?  We don’t know how God spoke to Abraham, but it must have been very persuasive for him to leave everything and follow a God that was heretofore unknown to him to an unknown land for an unknown purpose.

This morning I would like to focus on verses 2 and 3.

GEN 12

Genesis 12:2-3  My heart’s desire is to make you into a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing.  (3)  My desire is to bless those who bless you, but whoever curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

All the other translations that I read did not mention anything about my heart’s desire.  The text would just say “I will bless you”.  So I don’t know how the translators came up with that heart’s desire language but I like it.  The key word that we will look at this morning is “bless”.  In Hebrew it is ‘barak’.  ברך .  You are familiar with the root word because we use it every day for various blessings.  Baruch atah Adonai…..

Looking at this verse we can see some important things.

  1. God will bless us!

So how did I get from God saying He will bless Abraham to saying that God will bless us?  Well, it’s because the covenant is for Abraham’s seed too.

Genesis 17:7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

We are the seed of Abraham.  If we are Jewish, then we are physical descendants and if we are Gentiles, then we are spiritual descendants of Abraham.

Galatians 3:29  And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed—heirs according to the promise.

Therefore, we are heirs of the covenant that God made with Abraham.  The promises that God made with Abraham are promises to each and every one of us, if we believe that Yeshua is the Messiah.

Paul spoke of being grafted in in his letter to the kehila at Rome.

Romans 11:17-24  But if some of the branches were broken off and you—being a wild olive—were grafted in among them and became a partaker of the root of the olive tree with its richness,  (18)  do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, it is not you who support the root but the root supports you.

(19)  You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  (20)  True enough. They were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear—

(21)  for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.  (22)  Notice then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who fell; but God’s kindness toward you, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off!

(23)  And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.

(24)  For if you were cut out of that which by nature is a wild olive tree, and grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

He is speaking to the Gentiles here not to be arrogant that they were grafted in because the Jews were cut off in unbelief.  Because, he says, the Jews can be grafted back in if they put their faith and trust in Yeshua.  We are all the same in God’s eyes.

Ok, so now what’s the purpose in this blessing?  Surely God didn’t bless Abraham just because He liked him.

  1. The purpose of God’s blessing is to be a blessing to others.

Yeshua told the story of a selfish rich man. God requires much of us as recipients of the promise!

Luke 12:16-21  And Yeshua told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man produced good crops.  (17)  And he began thinking to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do? I don’t have a place to store my harvest!’

(18)  And he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do! I’ll tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I’ll store all my grain and my goods.

(19)  And I’ll say to myself, ’O my soul, you have plenty of goods saved up for many years! So take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry.”’

(20)  But God said to him, ‘You fool! Tonight your soul is being demanded back from you! And what you have prepared, whose will that be?’  (21)  So it is with the one who stores up treasure for himself and is not rich in God.”

God has a purpose for each one of us.  I’ve said many times that God expects us to work in His kingdom and not live of spiritual welfare.

Luke 12:48b  … From everyone given much, much will be required; and from the one for whom more is provided, all the more they will ask of him.

We have been given the gift of redemption and the privilege of communion with Yeshua for eternity.  So, yes, God expects a lot from us.

And while there is a universality to this principle of blessing, there is a specific application. There was a specific blessing in mind, which was Yeshua HaMashiach.


We cannot say that now that Yeshua has come, the covenant, and its responsibilities are gone. We must continue to bring the good news of Yeshua to others, to bring them under the blessing of the New Covenant. It is not enough to know that Yeshua is the Divine Messiah, for even the demons in hell concede that. We are called to grow within the vine, then serve others, then sow to expand the harvest.

Listen to what Yeshua said.

John 12:32  And as I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to Myself.”

We who have received the blessings of Life in Yeshua, have a responsibility to bring this same Messiah to others.

Acts 3:6  But Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you—in the name of Yeshua ha-Mashiach ha-Natzrati, get up and walk!”

Peter got it.  After all his failures, he finally figured out his purpose in life.  He was to bring the Besorah, the Good News of Yeshua to a world that was lost in sin.  So how do we fulfil our responsibility of our blessing.

  • We are a blessing by giving our time, talent, and treasures.
  1. Prayer

2 Thessalonians 3:1  Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread quickly and be glorified—just as it is with you.

I have often heard people say that they don’t have any talent, or resources, or abilities that would be useful for the Kingdom.  Some have told me that they have physical challenges that prevent them from doing a lot for the Lord.  Let me tell you, just about the most important thing you can do is pray.  Pray for me, pray for Tree of Life, pray for your neighbor.  Just pray.  Prayer important and it is powerful.


The kingdom of God is advanced by the tithes and offerings of the Body of Believers.  It always has been and always will be until the end of time.

2 Corinthians 9:7  Let each one give as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion—for God loves a cheerful giver.


Luke 8:3  Joanna, the wife of Kuza, Herod’s finance minister; Susanna; and many others—were supporting them out of their own resources.

During the ministry of Yeshua here on earth there were people who saw that He was sent by God and wanted to be a blessing.  Even people who were in the household of Herod were supporting the ministry and needs of Yeshua and His disciples!


  1. Giving of ourselves.

Many of you know that one of my favorite verses in the Bible is found in Romans 12:1.

Romans 12:1  I urge you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice—holy, acceptable to God—which is your spiritual service.


Your spiritual service, avodah and kavana.  Your purpose in worship and service to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:58  Therefore, my dearly loved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord—because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Nothing that we do for the Lord is without value.  Remember that even a cup of water given in His name is notable.


  1. Through our connection with Yeshua we are to be a blessing to the whole earth.

God gave Abraham this promise for the purpose of bringing blessing to the whole earth.  Of course we see that this blessing for the whole earth is not from us, but through us by the blood of Yeshua the Messiah.  We are His emissaries, His sent out ones.

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh,

We often talk about being holy, separated, apart, dedicated.  Use whatever word suites your purpose.  But in God’s overall plan, we have a supporting role.  In fact, since Yeshua has now ascended, we have a leading role in the advancement of the Kingdom, but advancement is not the end of the command. We are to teach and disciple the ones who have found the Messiah.

The world was not an afterthought but was part of the original plan.

Galatians 3:8-9  The Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, proclaimed the Good News to Abraham in advance, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed through you.”  (9)  So then, the faithful are blessed along with Abraham, the faithful one.

Yeshua commissioned us to bring this blessing to the whole world.


Acts 1:8  But you will receive power when the Ruach ha-Kodesh has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

So, in closing, let’s look back at the title of this lesson.  Blessed to be a blessing.

We have certainly been blessed through our salvation in Yeshua.  What do we do with that blessing?

Simply put, we bring the good news of Yeshua to the world.  How we do it is as varied as how many of us there are in this room.  None of us is identical and our ministry to others will be just as diverse.  How you bring the good news is up to you, just use your blessing to be a blessing.

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