Archive for » July, 2011 «
“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 2 Kings 5:13 NIV
How much more – Are you waiting for God to appeal to your noble instincts? Do you withhold obedience because He hasn’t asked for some great accomplishment? That was Naaman’s issue. He wanted a big show of spiritual devotion, something equal to his own estimation of his worthiness. He was a leader of men, exalted before the Lord. He was a celebrity, a conqueror, a hero. Certainly such a man could not be expected to do humiliating things! Like wash in a muddy river (or wash the feet of his own followers).
Naaman’s problem was not leprosy. It was pride. Pride prevented him from availing himself of God’s cure. Pride blinded him to the simple life of obedience. Pride established a false estimation of his status. But at least Naaman listened. When his servants came to him with this very reasonable argument, he saw the error of his ways and did what Elisha commanded. He was the son who refused to do what the father asked but later realized his error and fulfilled the father’s request. Perhaps Yeshua had Naaman in mind when he provided the parable of the two sons. The Jordan River isn’t the mighty Tigris. It’s a common, polluted, muddy stream, not a rushing, powerful cascade. But it is just fine for washing away pride.
“How much more” is the Hebrew single word ve’af. Like most Hebrew particles, the word does multiple duty depending on the context. It can mean “also, yes, indeed” or “even.” Sometimes it’s used just to add emphasis. That’s the case here. The servants implore Naaman to look again at his situation. It’s almost as though they say, “What have you got to lose?” A word picture helps. Aleph-Pey is “the strength of the mouth.” Listen! Some words have real power. Some words communicate life. Pay attention. We have the comic expression, “Speak to the hand.” In Hebrew, the phrase might be “Listen to the speaking mouth.”
Naaman listened. That’s the point of the story. Naaman put his pride aside because he needed the touch of God. His sickness was visible. Sometimes ours isn’t. Perhaps if our sickness had the symptoms of a leper, we would deal with our pride and wash in the muddy waters of redemption. But since we don’t allow the world to see our sickness (and maybe we don’t allow ourselves to see it either), we wait for God to show up with a “big” deal assignment, something worthy of our inflated egos. We stand on the banks of the Tigris demanding God show Himself. He has waded into the water of the Jordan and wonders why we aren’t there with Him.
How much more? If we would jump to attain a transfiguration experience, why do we hold back when we’re asked to carry the cross?
Topical Index: ve-af, how much more, pride, Naaman, 2 Kings 5:13
“It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful.” Psalm 89:37 NASB
Like the moon – Read this one at night, outside, with the moon overhead. God promises David something that speaks directly to us, but you won’t see the sign of the guarantee in the light of day. You will have to step into the dark to see God’s seal. “Like the moon” (keyareah), God’s promise is seen against a backdrop of impenetrable darkness. God promises that “it” will be established forever (olam ve-ed).
What is this that will be established forever? Look back a few verses. It is God’s covenant with David and Israel. God reminds David that He has sworn by His holiness never to break this covenant. Even if the descendents of David violate the commandments and do not walk in God’s instructions, God will not abandon them. He will bring punishment but He “will not break off My lovingkindness” (hesed). How do we know this? Look at the moon!
David’s song of praise reminds us of Yeshua’s comment about the Torah. “Not until heaven and earth pass away” is pretty much the equivalent of “established forever like the moon.” These statements reminds us of the beginning, when God placed the sun and the moon in the heavens as “signs” (Genesis 1:14). Signs for what? Signs for His covenant promise, according to the word of the Lord in David’s psalm. Moon watching is a righteous act because it is a reminder of the promise of God. It reflects the covenant. In fact, it isn’t very surprising to discover that the “new” covenant uses the same word as the “new” moon, hadash, a word that reminds us that it is the same moon we have seen before, revealed once again in the night sky just as the “new” covenant is something we have seen before, now written on the heart instead of on stone.
When will God renege on His promise? When the moon falls from the sky. When will the festivals no longer matter? When the moon disappears for good. When will the Torah cease to function? When there is nothing but emptiness in the heavens above us. There is a time when the covenant will no longer apply. That time is when there is no longer a moon for a sign.
Perhaps it’s worth reviewing Paul’s statement about esteeming days, eating certain foods and observing festivals. Perhaps Paul, who is Sha’ul the Jewish rabbi, isn’t so quick to overturn a sign in the sky put there by God. Perhaps his words need to be understood in a different way. Perhaps being “moon-struck” isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Topical Index: moon, yareah, olam ve-ed, forever, Psalm 89:37
Boaz Michael (First Fruits of Zion) is in Pretoria, South Africa, teaching about the Jewish-Messianic perspective. I hear that he is feeling quite ill. Please pray for him. He is undoubtedly facing both physical and spiritual warfare.
“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Genesis 49:10
Shiloh – Tim Hegg (Studies in Torah: Genesis) points out that the crucial element in interpreting the meaning of this verse is understanding the word “Shiloh.” There are three possibilities. First, Shiloh may be a place name (“until he comes to Shiloh”). Second, Shiloh is the combination of Hebrew words meaning “which belongs to him.” This renders the verse, “until that which belongs to him comes.” Third, Shiloh is a personal name derived from the Hebrew verb, “to rest.” Hegg eliminates the first on grammatical grounds and the second on unexplainable spelling problems. That leaves the third option. According to Hegg, “Shiloh is the One who brings rest.” Hegg notes that this is consistent with the interpretation of the sages of Israel. They also thought that this prophecy had Messianic content. Both Jewish sages and Christian theologians agree. Shiloh is the Messiah.
But notice how Jacob’s prophecy describes the one who brings rest. He will be from Judah. He will be a ruler. And all peoples will obey him. The word we might expect is “people” (am), but that’s not what the verse says. The verse says amim, “peoples,” a reference to not only Israel but to all the people of the earth. According to this prophecy, recognized by Jews and Christians alike, the Messiah will bring rest and everyone of earth will bow to him. What does this mean?
Just in case you haven’t noticed, there isn’t much rest in the world today. The world is characterized by frenzy, anxiety, hurry and accelerating madness. Nor do all the people of the earth bow to the Messiah. In fact, the people of the earth can’t even agree on whether there is a Messiah or who he might be. While Jews and Christians do agree that Jacob’s prophecy is the guarantee of hoped-for resolution, everything else in this prophecy seems distant in the world we occupy. Nevertheless, God guarantees it will come to be.
It’s been a long time since Jacob. Over thousands of years, God has revealed more and more about the one who brings rest. But rest isn’t here yet. Some of us have discovered that the name of the one who brings rest is also “Salvation,” Yeshua HaMashiach, the rest-bringer. If we have experienced rest in this world of chaos, we know that Yeshua is Shiloh. We are the vanguard of those who understand Jacob’s prophecy, the ones who must work to enter into that rest in order that others may see something unexplainably different in us. Perhaps we need to listen once more to Jacob. Perhaps the frenzy of our lives, the anxiety of our concerns and the similarity we exhibit with those who still seek rest is defeating our testimony. Perhaps the world is waiting for those who rest in anticipation of the Messianic return. That would certainly make us different, wouldn’t it?
Topical Index: Shiloh, rest, shilo, Genesis 49:10
 Tim Hegg, Studies in Torah: Genesis, p. 346.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; Matthew 28:19-20a NASB
Go – Yesterday we discovered that this verse is really about conformity to the ways of God. It describes that kind of person who has experienced the effect of Yeshua’s authority, and as a result of that experience (in the past), is now discipling. Of course, that isn’t quite the same as inviting someone to church or handing out tracts or even sharing a testimony. Discipling is also related to “Go,” a word that should have been translated, “having been caused to walk (according to Torah).” So if I am going to “Go,” I will need to be the kind of person who exhibits a Torah-observant life and allow that demonstration to govern my witness to others. Then I will be in a position to disciple because then I will have something worthy of copying.
In the past, we have noticed that discipling comes before baptizing. That’s because discipling is instruction in how to walk – how to “go.” But there is another element of discipling that is unique to rabbinic thinking. Discipling is about equipping my talmidim so that they can leave me and repeat the process for themselves. In other words, the goal of the rabbi is to send his students away. He is only truly successful if he ends up with an empty nest.
The purpose of discipling is to reproduce the teacher, not simply in information but in the whole manner of life. Once that goal is accomplished, the student becomes the rabbi and is sent off to create his own community of talmidim. The goal of discipleship is never to accumulate sycophants. It is to make new rabbis. This goal is aligned with the deeper foundation principle of God’s world; the principle of distribution rather than accumulation. This means that the stated biblical purpose of the Church is to pursue being empty. The most successful church will be the one that no longer has anyone attending because everyone has been equipped to start his or her own circle of disciples.
If this is really a biblical principle, and if this is really the true biblical goal of discipleship, then we must question the preoccupation for growth that permeates Christianity. We must raise objections about bigger buildings. We must be wary of organizations that determine success by size. If the biblical principle is to move toward empty, then anything that leads us toward accumulation must be very carefully evaluated. The world’s way is bigger barns. God’s way is empty vessels.
Typical evangelism, based on a mistranslation of this verse, is accumulation oriented. Even the idea that we must tell the world of the salvation message in order to “get everyone into heaven” needs to be analyzed. Maybe walking in the way isn’t quite the same as more square footage or more souls saved. If someone were to ask you, “What are you doing to reach the lost?” would you have an Hebraic answer?
Topic Index: evangelism, Matthew 28:19, halak
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; Matthew 28:19-20a NASB
Go – Most of us know that this opening word, “Go,” is not an imperative. It is not a command. Yeshua is not telling us to “Go!” as if we are to leave here and travel somewhere else. I know this is a handy verse for motivating missionaries, but this is not what it means in the Greek text. The word, poreuthentes, is a form of the verb poreuomai, usually translated “to go, to send.” That would be fine if the verb in this sentence were a command, but it is an aorist passive participle. Before we can really decide what it means, we have to do a bit of grammar.
Aorist means that this verb is an action completed in the past. Passive means that it was an action done to someone. And a participle connects an action to another part of the sentence (it presents the bare idea of the verb as if it were an adjective describing a noun or pronoun). Yes, I know this is complicated, but it will be worth it.
Let’s apply these definitions to the text. The translation cannot be “go” because that would require the word to be in the present tense, like “I go.” Here the word is in the past tense so it must be something like “having gone.” But it is passive, which means that I didn’t do the “going.” Someone or something else caused me to go. So we should read, “Having been caused to go.” Since it is a participle, this passive action needs to be connected to some noun or pronoun. But there isn’t any noun or pronoun in this sentence. By implication, this action is applied to those who are listening even though they aren’t named. We have to assume that this action describes the listeners. It doesn’t tell them what to do. It describes what is already true about them.
So far we have this translation: “[You] having been caused to go, therefore . . .” Now we need to add the fact that Yeshua didn’t speak Greek. What happens to this translation when we read it in Hebrew? The Hebrew idea of “going” is not like the Greek idea. Especially in this verse, it is most likely that Yeshua used the Hebrew verb halak, “to walk, to go in a certain direction.” This Hebrew idea is an idiom used to describe a way of life, a way that is in conformity with God’s directions. While the Greek idea suggests a path that leads to God, the Hebrew idea suggests following a path that God has already given. In other words, “to walk in God’s way” is to live according to the covenant – the Torah.
Now let’s translate. “[You] having been caused to live according to God’s way, therefore . . .” This is a far cry from the usual evangelism translation. What this suggests is that those who are walking in God’s way make disciples. Those who are not walking in God’s way do not make disciples. They might make recruits or even converts, but since they don’t walk in God’s way, they cannot make disciples. Furthermore, we learn that we are not the ones who were responsible for making ourselves walk in God’s way. Someone or something else caused us to walk in God’s way. It’s fairly easy to see how that happened. In the previous verse, Yeshua says, “All authority has been given to Me.” He is the one who has caused us to walk in God’s way. We cannot do it on our own. His action in the past, an action completed in the death and resurrection, has had its effect on us. We have been brought near. We have been given the new heart that we need in order to follow in God’s way. That’s why we make disciples.
Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our perspective on evangelism. What do you think?
Topical Index: go, evangelism, Matthew 28:19, poreuomai, halak
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20 NASB
Citizenship - When you read this verse, doesn’t anything seem odd to you? It doesn’t matter if you read it in the NIV (“but our citizenship is in heaven.”) Both English translations say pretty much the same thing. What they say implies something that might not fit the orientation of a Hebrew thinker like Paul. The Greek word (politeuma) doesn’t quite mean what the English translations suggest, (we mentioned it here). We have to dig a bit to see why.
Politeuma is only used one time in the New Testament. It’s part of the polis family of words (our idea of politics). But rather than being about a citizen, politeuma is really about the state itself, the commonwealth or community administration that governs its members. The word politeuo means “citizen,” as we see in Acts 22:28, but the emphasis of politeuma is not on the individual who is a citizen but rather on the governing commonwealth.
Read this verse again. When we read it with the English translation “citizenship,” where does the emphasis lie? Doesn’t this translation imply that each of us is a citizen? Doesn’t the translation focus on our individual rights and calling as God’s children? Doesn’t it suggest that we should be carrying passports issued from heaven? But what would this verse suggest if the word politeuma were translated “commonwealth” or “community”? Suddenly the Greek individualism disappears. Now the verse suggests that we are all one within the commonwealth, that the most important thing is not you and me but rather the relationship we have to the governing administration of heaven. Now Paul sounds like a Hebrew rather than a Greek.
When you read this verse the first time, did this Greek emphasis on the individual citizenship bother you? Did it raise a tiny question in the back of your mind? Did you hear a little voice saying, “Wait a minute! That’s doesn’t sound very Hebraic to me. I wonder what the Greek word really means?” Probably you didn’t think like this. That’s OK. That’s why you read expositions like this one – so someone else will raise questions that often go right by us. But now your awareness has been tweaked. Now you will have to read with a sharper eye, sorting out the Greek philosophical perspective from the deeper layers of Hebrew thought.
If you step back a few verses, you will find that Paul is exhorting readers to walk according to the governing principles of the commonwealth of heaven. In other words, live as God expects. It’s fascinating to notice that there is only one commonwealth of heaven, only one heavenly administration. Everyone who belongs comes under the same legislation. One God. One Torah. One Messiah. One community of the saints.
Topical Index: politeuma, citizenship, commonwealth, polis, Philippians 3:20
For such is God, our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death. Psalm 48:14 NASB
Guide – Do you notice the paradox in this verse? First it proclaims that God is our God olam va’ed (forever and ever). Then it declares that He will guide us al-moot (to death). Did you notice that there is no indication about heaven, an after-life, eternity or a God who takes us to another realm? God directs us until we die. We follow His instructions on this side of the grave. Then . . . ???? The psalmist offers no picture of what happens next. Even though God is our God olam va-ed, the message ends at death.
Of course, one verse doesn’t make a doctrine (hopefully), but it does demonstrate that the Hebrew concept of a heavenly existence doesn’t play much of a role in life’s purpose. What matters is guidance now, here in this realm. What matters is what we do on this side of the grave. All the rest is shrouded in mystery. So the emphatic word here is nahag (yenahagenoo – he will guide us). In order to appreciate this particular word, we need a concrete picture. Nahag is typically about driving animals. The animals might go willingly or unwillingly, but they go nevertheless. In one sense, we could say that a shepherd guides his sheep, but the reality is that he drives them to places he knows are beneficial. He leads with a stick. That’s why we find the same verb describing driving chariots (Exodus 14:25) and God driving a strong wind (Exodus 10:13) or taking away people by force (Isaiah 20:4). Do you get the picture? God’s guidance isn’t always friendly suggestion. God isn’t a therapist. He’s a king and His subjects must follow His directions. He will see to it.
With this in mind, it’s not too surprising that nahag has another meaning. You can find this second meaning in Nahum 2:7. Nahag also mean “to sob, to lament.” When God drives, it often results in sobbing and lamenting, doesn’t it? When God guides, we often experience regret, remorse and tears. That’s part of being driven to His purposes. It’s a part we should expect and not disdain. Like sheep, we have all gone astray. Sometimes it takes the shepherd’s staff to get us back in line. “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Really? I think that most of the time we find that the rod and the staff are painful. Only upon deep reflection do we realize that this kind of pain is an expression of God’s care – and that comforts us.
God is our God olam va-ed. We aren’t going to get away from His nahag anytime soon. In fact, nahag will be with us until death. So get used to it. This side of the grave, God guides. I don’t expect that much will change in this regard on the other side, but since the psalmist doesn’t provide me with any information about the other side, I am content to know that this side is enough for now.
How about you? Are you experiencing God’s rod and staff guidance? How does that feel?
Topical Index: guide, nahag, Psalm 48:14