Category Archives: Living Torah

Joy through Obedience

well-watered-gardenIn a previous blog, I talked about God wanting to bless us with happiness, as He says in Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in YHVH, and He will give you the desires of your heart”.  What brings us the greatest joy on this Earth, though?  We know it is not “seeking after our own pleasure on His holy day” that YHVH speaks against in Psalm 58.  YHVH is speaking about His Shabbat, and He goes on to say in a positive way: “if you call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken”.

This is one of my favorite passages from all of Scripture, and one of the most amazing promises YHVH makes, to bless us to the highest degree possible!  Can we be truly blessed by YHVH if we are not following His instructions in the Torah?  Consider the example of the remnant of Israel who returned from Babylon: they were back in Israel for almost 100 years before they re-discovered the Torah scrolls and the people asked for them to be read.

In Nehemiah 8, when the people came together as one in the city center, they appealed to Ezra the scribe to read the Torah Scriptures to them.  When they heard the words of the Torah, they were convicted of their sins and they bowed their faces to the ground and began to mourn and weep.  It is obvious from their reactions that they did not just come to listen to the scrolls for entertainment or casual curiosity, but rather they wanted to know the truth of the Torah commands they had broken before the captivity.  They came to hear, listen and then obey what they heard.  This is the meaning of Sh’ma in connection with the greatest of the Torah commandments: “Hear oh Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One” Deut 6:4.  We are to hear YHVH’s word, take it deep down into our hearts, and then act on it by obeying what He says.

Going back to the promise from Isaiah 58, YHVH says that if we obey and honor Him, He will cause us to ride on the high hills of the earth.  When YHVH first brought His children out of Egypt, He also said He would make them ride in the heights of the Earth (Deut 32:13).  We know from the other passages that He meant He would give them prosperity, fruitfulness, and blessings in the land.

In Habakkuk 3:18-19, the prophet says: “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on His high hills”.  God describes Himself as one “Who treads the high places of the earth” (Amos 4:13).   YHVH created us in His image, and He wants us to keep growing closer to Him so that we can walk on His high hills and experience those same high places where He roams in both His earthly and heavenly realms.

YHVH’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours, but He has given us the ability to draw closer to Him through keeping His Torah and His appointed times (Sabbaths and feasts), coming into His presence more and more so that we can enjoy intimate fellowship with Him.  When we walk in our own paths and fail to follow YHVH’s guidance, we are like dry plants in a desert.  I would much rather be a “follower of the way”, keeping YHVH’s commands and enjoying His blessings to be “like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isa 58:11).  Give it a try – walk with YHVH and follow his instructions and the blessings of joy will flow through your life like a never-ending spring.

Does God care about Genes or Jeans (Part 2)?

least of these

In Part 1 of this blog last week, I talked about who are YHVH’s children and those who should keep His Torah, and concluded that it is not Abraham’s biological descendants, but rather those who are His spiritual descendants.  The true children of YHVH’s covenant are those are following His will and trusting Him, keeping His Torah and striving to be pleasing to Him in every part of their lives.  That covered the “genes” part of this 2-part series.  This week I want to focus on what God sees when He looks at us: we know from Scripture that He looks on the inside of us and does not focus on our outer appearance or the level of recognition we merit from the world.  In other words, He doesn’t care whether we wear threadbare jeans vs. classy suits, or how many degrees we have achieved or awards we have won.

What is YHVH truly looking for when He looks deep down inside of our souls?  From Hebrews 4:12, we know that He “discerns the thoughts and intents of our heart”.  But what are His criteria in evaluating our hearts – does He look to see how perfectly we are following His Torah, or how diligently we are working to serve our congregation?  Psalm 58 gives us a beautiful window into YHVH’s heart, and we know that our hearts should line up with His heart as we seek to renew ourselves more into His image every day.

God is conveying a very strong message through Isaiah when He tells Him to shout it out with a shofar blast. (Isa 58:1)  He chastises His people for their false piety – they are trying to impress God by putting on sackcloth and ashes, and afflicting themselves severely when they fast.  The only ones they are impressing are people around them though, not YHVH.  He desires them to fast from their hearts when He says:

“..this is the kind of fasting I want: free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help”. (Isa 58:6-7)

If these concepts sound familiar to New Testament readers, that’s because they are.  Listen to what Yeshua said when He was speaking to the goats on His left and the sheep on His right:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited Me into your home.  I was naked, and you gave Me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for Me. I was in prison, and you visited Me.’  “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see You hungry and feed You? Or thirsty and give You something to drink? Or a stranger and show You hospitality? Or naked and give You clothing? When did we ever see You sick or in prison and visit You?’  “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these My brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to Me!’

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed Me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give Me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite Me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give Me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit Me.’  “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help You?’  “And He will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these My brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help Me.’  “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

What, then, is truly important to Abba Father when He looks into our souls?  From Yeshua’s words in Matthew 5:7, we know that He desires for us to be pure in heart, not obeying Him out of obligation but because we sincerely want to please Him from the depths of our heart.  And what does He say about those who are pure in heart?  ‘They shall see God’.

This takes us right back to the essence of our relationship with Yehovah – if we want to know Him intimately, we need to align our hearts with His, which means we will automatically do the things that please Him: feed the poor, take care of orphans and widows, shelter the homeless, etc.  In your life, try not to focus on the outward things, but look deep inside your heart.  In the ‘intents and desires of your heart’, after stripping away everything superficial, do you see what YHVH is looking for?

Does God care about Genes or Jeans?

Foreigner keeping TorahIn our recent blog series, Nancy and I made a strong case from the Scriptures that Torah (instruction) has not been done away, but is still just as valid in today’s world as it was in the Temple sacrifice period before Yeshua’s first coming.  In this week’s blog, I would like to focus on to whom YHVH’s Torah applies, and explain why Torah is intended for every person on this Earth, Jew and non-Jew.

In Romans 9, Sha’ul explains to his mostly non-Jewish audience why some of the Israelites are not being saved and brought into God’s Kingdom, while many people who are not Israelites by birth are being redeemed and brought into the body of Messiah by faith.  “Well then, has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel? No, for not all who are born into the nation of Israel are truly members of God’s people! Being descendants of Abraham doesn’t make them truly Abraham’s children. For the Scriptures say, ‘Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted, though Abraham had other children, too’.  This means that Abraham’s physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham’s children”. (Rom 9:6-8)

In the rest of this passage, Sha’ul goes on in Verse 23 to say that God shows mercy to those to whom He desires to show mercy (i.e. He draws them to the truth of Yeshua as the Messiah) and hardens the hearts of others so that they will not listen to the truth.  He then quotes from Hosea, speaking of how the Gentiles (non-Jews from the nations) were “not a people” but now YHVH loves them and calls them His children.  In Verse 24, Sha’ul says that the ones God selects as His children are taken from both the original descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as those who are “gentiles” (not descended biologically from the fathers of Israel).  He also quotes Isaiah 10:22-23 in saying that only a remnant of Israel will be saved: “Though the people of Israel are as numerous as the sand of the seashore, only a remnant will be saved”.

Since we have established in our previous blogs that the Torah is for all of Abba Father’s children to observe, then the agreement between Old and New Testament Scriptures becomes crystal clear.  Sha’ul quotes Isaiah once again in Romans 10:20 in making his point that the Gentiles will be drawn to YHVH, the true God of Creation, and become part of the “Commonwealth of Israel”: I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me” (Isa 65:1).   And again in Romans 10:21 he repeats that many of Israel’s genetic descendants will turn away from YHVH and reject His Messiah: “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Isa 65:2).

The real clincher for me in terms of making the case that YHVH wants to draw all people into His covenant is in Isaiah 56:6-7: “Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”.  YHVH is clearly speaking of the non-Israelite (Gentile) people of the nations whom He will accept as part of His family, no less His children than the native Israelites.  In the preceding verse (Isa 56:5), YHVH also says: ”Even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off“.

In summary, it is clear that YHVH accepts all of His created humans as His children, whether they are genetic descendants of Israel or foreigners from pagan nations, as long as they keep His Sabbaths and are faithful to His covenant.  This is essentially a restatement of the Torah, as these are YHVH’s key instructions to His people: to keep His Sabbaths (which include His feasts) and live by his Kingdom laws.  It all boils down to Yeshua’s words from Matthew 6:33, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness – this is the essence of His Torah, where He teaches us how to do this – how can we do any less if we truly love Yehovah our Creator, Lord and Redeemer?  In the nest installment of this 2-part series, I will cover the “Jeans” part of the “Genes or Jeans” equation.

How can We Love?

if you love Me keep me commandmentsIn the first blog of this series, Nancy explained why Torah is still valid in YHVH’s Kingdom on Earth today.  Last week’s blog talked about becoming all that YHVH intends for us to be in this life, including following the loving instructions He gave in His Torah.  This week, I would like to show you why faulty Scripture translation and unclear terminology can confuse us and distort our perception of the truth.

Many Christian churches and denominations use Ephesians 2:8 as their banner verse and state at the core of their doctrines that we are “saved by grace and not by works, lest anyone should boast”.  In many cases, they have taken these words out of context and to such an extreme that they no longer believe we should follow the law (Torah) as that would mean that we are trying to earn our salvation by our works.

However, when we remember that Torah is better translated as instruction than law, we realize that Torah was something God created to help guide us through life in a more joyful, fulfilling way, not something He designed as a set of laws to burden or frustrate us.  Using a more accurate translation of Ephesians 2 (CJB), and moving down from Verse 8 to Verse 10, we see that YHVH has a purpose for our lives that goes far beyond salvation.  Verse 10 says: “For we are His workmanship, as we have been created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we would walk in them, the good works”.

From this verse and many others in the Scriptures, we know that these good works relate to following God’s will and keeping His commandments (Torah).  Remember what Yeshua said: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).  And what are Yeshua’s commandments?  They are the same as Abba Father’s commandments (the Torah), as Yeshua said He only does what the Father does.  We also know that Yeshua did not do away with the Torah, which Nancy explained well in the first blog of this series – she paraphrased Matthew 5:18 “…until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or tittle of the Torah will pass away”.

She did a great job of explaining why the Torah is still in effect, but she asked me to go a little deeper into the history of the Scripture translations and interpretations.  To point out one of the many areas of the New Testament where there are glaring differences among different translations, let’s look at Romans 10:4, which is often cited as justification for the law being done away with.  In the original King James Version, this verse reads “For Christ (Messiah) is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth”.  This indeed could be (and has been) interpreted to mean that when Messiah Yeshua came on the scene, he replaced the law so that it is now obsolete.  However, let’s look at a Messianic translation (the Complete Jewish Bible) which has re-translated the ancient scrolls from a Jewish cultural and religious perspective.  Here is the CJB translation of Romans 10:4: “For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts”.  This sheds a very different light on this passage.

Earlier in Romans Chapter 10, Sha’ul was talking about how Israel had set up their own system of righteousness, based on what they referred to as the “Oral Law”, but which was actually created by Rabbis who interpreted the Torah based on their own point-of-view and biases.  What Sha’ul is saying in Verses 1-4 of Romans 10 is that the Jewish people (directed by the leaders) had made up their own form of righteousness, whereas Yeshua came to show them the true righteousness they could have by following Him.

Now we can see the vast differences in doctrine from one translation to another; but the burning question is: why are they so different in their spiritual concepts and principles?  I certainly do not profess to be an authoritative expert on Bible translations or exegesis, so I have consulted true scholars in this area.  In  “The Jewish Gospel of John”, author Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg helps us dig deeper into the meaning of John 1:17, which in the ESV says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.  From his studies, Eli gives us new insights into the dichotomy of law and grace as we know it today from mainstream Christian doctrines.  He says that up until the time of the Reformation, Christian leaders debated among themselves the importance of keeping the Torah (law).  However, when the Protestant Christian movement started, they wanted to emphasize the truth that salvation comes to the believer by faith alone, and not by their works.

The reason for this at the time was because they wanted to contrast this new doctrine with the Catholic dogma that burdened members with so many requirements that it seemed almost impossible to be truly forgiven from their sins.  This was very similar to the religious leaders at the time of Yeshua, who weighed the people down with so many of their man-made laws that they could never hope to be truly righteous before YHVH.  Mr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg says that the Protestants were so insistent about their new doctrines that many Scriptures (both in the Gospels and in Sha’ul’s letters) were actually re-translated into very different interpretations than were originally intended.  About the passage in John 1:17, Eli says that it would be more accurate to translate it as: “For the Torah was given through Moses and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”.  The obvious difference is the addition of “and” between the two phrases, now giving the meaning that Torah came through Moses, and Yeshua has now given us grace to keep the Torah, because He has taken away the penalty of the Torah by forgiving our sins and sending them off into the desert to be forever forgotten.

If we were to summarize what Yeshua added to our ability to keep the Torah in one word, it would be “love”. In teachings such as the “Sermon on the Mount”, he clarified and explained the Torah so it would be easier to understand and follow.  And then with His incredible sacrifice on the Cross, He saved us from all our sins and set us free from bondage to hasatan.  As it says in Scripture, He first loved us, so let us love Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15).

How Can We Live?

The key to your lifeIn last week’s blog we examined why Torah is still valid.  This week, I would like to add some additional thoughts and clarification on this subject.  Understanding what YHVH expects of us is important.  Some may argue that YHVH loves us no matter what.  That is true, but just as parents love their children, they still have household rules and expectations.  It is more than just obeying YHVH; it is about becoming all that He intends for us.

Peter and I became aware of our Hebrew roots and Torah about twelve years ago.  At the time, we were in our late forties and our children were all grown.  We attended church regularly, were involved in Bible study, and participated in various outreach programs.  We considered ourselves to be mature Christians.  When we began seriously looking into our Hebrew roots and Torah, we realized that we were finally at the grownups’ table.  It was an epiphany for us.  We were finally off the milk and into the meat (1 Cor 3:21).

Faulty translation and unclear terminology can confuse us and distort our perception of the truth.  Peter will expound more fully on these topics in next week’s blog.  For now, however, it is important that we know that YHVH’s purpose in establishing His kingdom on earth is to have relationship with us.  Torah is more than just law; it is instruction and guidelines as well.  YHVH’s desire is to have relationship with us and His Torah shows us how to draw ever closer to Him.  Those who think there is no need for law, ignore it and drift away from YHVH.  Those who try to keep the law “perfectly” do not understand that the Torah is meant to “perfect” us; that is, to make us whole and complete.  They focus on the letter of the law and also drift from YHVH.   The word “perfect” in Hebrew is shalom shalomShalom means wholeness and completeness, reaching full potential.

YHVH calls us to be holy, just as He is holy (Lev 20:26).  To be holy means to be set apart from those who do not follow YHVH.  Ultimately, we are to be set apart from demons and anyone else who is adamant about operating in the kingdom of darkness.  The Israelites were called to be set apart.  They were to follow Torah and be a light to the nations.  For the past 2,000 years, people from other nations have been called to follow Yeshua (the living Torah) and have been grafted in to the olive tree known as Israel.  They, too, are to be set apart and learn how to live in YHVH’s kingdom.

Romans 11:17 can be a touchy subject for Jews and non-Jews alike. We are all called to follow and obey YHVH, regardless of our ethnicity (Gal 3, Col 3 CJB).  YHVH keeps His promises.  If He has made promises that are specifically for physical members of the twelve tribes of Israel, He will keep them.  If He has made promises to anyone else, He will keep those promises also.  It is helpful to remember that we are spirit-beings who reside in a physical body (James 2:26, 1 Thess 5:23).  Galatians 3:26-29 CJB points out that our trust and obedience are what matters; not our ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status.

It is crucial that we always keep in mind the big picture.  YHVH is working through the process of salvation and kingdom building on earth that began either before or at creation (Rev. 13:8).  Everything in Scripture is about that process.  YHVH reveals only what is necessary at each phase of the process since YHVH’s enemy, hasatan, is ever vigilant about destroying or interrupting YHVH’s work (John 10:10, 1 Pet 5:8).  YHVH’s kingdom is already established in heaven and hasatan was exiled from YHVH’s heavenly kingdom for trying to take it over.  Now hasatan is trying to do the same with YHVH’s kingdom on earth.

YHVH created the earth and its inhabitants to be a reflection of His heavenly kingdom.   It has always been about establishing His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Humans are created in YHVH’s image and likeness (Gen 1:26).  However, we are fallen since the sin of Adam and Eve.  Therefore, YHVH often has to work through and around our ignorance and stubbornness.  We, in our limitedness, tend to lose sight of the big picture and focus only on the latest phase of YHVH’s plan.  As more of His plan and process are revealed, we tend to think that anything that came before is automatically obsolete.  If we are capable of taking one verse of Scripture out of context, then we are certainly capable of taking one action of YHVH’s out of context.  YHVH is not doing away with former phases; rather, He is building on to former phases.

In summary, our focus is to be on loving and obeying YHVH, so that we can become all that YHVH intends for us to be in His kingdom.  YHVH is in control and will keep all His promises.  As always with YHVH, He will exceed even our wildest expectations.  Dayenu!  Now that is truly living!