We want to look at Miriam. You may know her as Mary. I want to take a closer look at the Scriptures to see what the Scriptures tell us about her versus the legend which she has become. Many of the views of the Catholic Church regarding Mary only go back as far as the 19th and 20th centuries, so they are rather new. But is this how Miriam would have wanted her legacy to be told?

The Appearance of the Angel

Miriam was a devout Jewish girl from the tribe of Judah. Luke tells us in chapter one that in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the city of Nazareth. The sixth month would be the month of Elul, which is August-September on our calendar. He was sent to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph. The angel began his dialogue with “Hail, favored one.” Hail, chairo in the Greek, means “cheer, rejoice, be glad;” in other words, it would be the same as us saying hello. “Hello, favored one! The Lord is with you.” She pondered in her fear what was this all about. Any one of us would be wondering the same thing if suddenly an angel appeared to us. We may even think, “My time is up!” But he tells her not to be afraid, “For you have found favor with God.” So many people in the bible had this same experience and were told the same thing that they have found favor with God: Yeshua (His son), Daniel, Joseph (Jacob’s Son), Esther, the Patriarchs, just to name a few.

The angel goes on to tell her that she would have a son, but this son would be great. You know how mothers all think their children are great, but this one God is calling great. He will be the Son of the Most High and He will have the throne of his father David and His name will be Yeshua (God saves) and He will reign over the house of Jacob (Israel) forever and His kingdom will have no end. The angel goes on to explain how this will all happen and Miriam tells the angel, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.” And with that the angel departs. Now, as we see here the angel never calls Miram great or the mother of God or exalted. This frightened young girl calls herself a bondslave. Let’s look at the next thing that the Scriptures tell us about Miriam.

Elizabeth Greets Miriam

Miriam goes to visit her cousin who is also expecting a child. When Miriam greets her cousin, the child John leaps for joy and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Why? Because John had the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon Him which He received from Yeshua at that encounter. You could say that Yeshua and John met womb to womb and when they met in person, John‘s spirit knew exactly who Yeshua was. Elizabeth, overtaken by this experience, cries out, “Blessed among women, are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Elizabeth confirms to Miriam exactly what the angel told her about her Son. And of course, anyone who is about to have the Son of the Most High is blessed. Elizabeth goes on to say, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Now I think this is where we all get confused. Elizabeth calls Miriam the mother of her Lord, and Yeshua was Lord, but Miriam is not the mother of God, for God has no mother, no beginning or end. To call her this is not right because we put her on the same level as God, and this is definitely not right. Let’s see how Miriam responds to her cousin.

The Magnificat

Miriam says, “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Psalm 35:9). For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave (Psalm 138:6); for behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear Him (Psalm 103:17). He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart (Psalm 98:1; 118:15). He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble (Job 5:11). He has filled the hungry with good things (Psalm 107:9); and sent away the rich empty handed. He has given help to Israel His servant. In remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever (Genesis 17:7,19Psalm 132:11).”

We see here that Miriam was quoting the scriptures in this dialogue, and once again we see that Miriam calls herself a humble bondslave. Yes, she was very blessed by God, but so is everyone who is faithful to God. We don’t exalt Abraham the father of faith, who God called His friend, and exalt him above all; or Moses, who saw God face to face, and make him above all; or any other person, for we are all the blessed of God who Paul refers to as the saints, which means “set apart” or “sanctified” in the Greek.

We see Miriam doubt and question her son throughout scripture, and like any mother was extremely afraid when they lost Yeshua on their way back from Jerusalem. They even came to get him because they thought he had lost his mind. We see her at the cross and at the upper room on the day of Pentecost, seeking God in prayer, and I’m sure that on the day of Pentecost she received the Holy Spirit like all the rest. Miriam was a humble person who only wanted to serve God. She had her faults like every other person, and like every other person she needed a Savior and needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the Scriptures does it tell us that Miriam was without sin. If she was, the Scriptures would for sure tell us. The only one without sin was Yeshua, and the Scriptures do tell us that in 2 Corinthians 5:21,1 John 3:5, 1 Peter 1:18-19. Romans 3:23 does tell us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I think if we look at Miriam as someone other than an ordinary person, a human being like us all, we do her a great injustice because if she could tell us she would say that she was just a humble servant doing her part for the kingdom, and because she can not tell us that, the Scriptures do.

Let’s take Miriam’s example and let’s be humble servants of our Lord Yeshua in bringing about His kingdom.

The Prayers of Thanks

November is the traditional month for celebrating Thanksgiving. Over the years we have forgotten what this day is all about. It’s no more about the history of the first European settlers in 1620 who came on the Mayflower. It is no longer about the harsh winter that they had to endure where many died. It is no longer about the celebration they had in 1621 after their first harvest. The celebration lasted three days. 90 American Indians and 53 pilgrims attended. The pilgrims were used to having a day of thanksgiving and prayer, thanking God for their blessing and victories. The pilgrims were a people of prayer and fasting. In 1623, after prayer and fasting and 14 days of rain resulted in a larger harvest, they once again had a thanksgiving day, but this time it was not the church that called for the day but the governor. From this a National Day of Prayer was instituted which we still have today.

President John F. Kennedy issued Proclamation 3560 on November 5, 1963 stating, “Over three centuries ago, our forefathers in Virginia and in Massachusetts, far from home in a lonely wilderness, set aside a time of thanksgiving. On the appointed day, they gave reverent thanks for their safety, for the health of their children, for the fertility of their fields, for the love which bound them together and for the faith which united them with their God.” Our American history is full of prayer and thanksgiving and faith in the One true God. We are Judeo-Christians because we share the Scriptures of the Jewish people. It is their faith that we have been grafted into. Romans 11:17 says, “It is as if some of the branches from an olive tree have been broken off. You non-Jewish people are like the branch of a wild olive tree that has been joined to that first tree. You now share the strength and life of the first tree, the Jews.”

But it seems over the last decade or two we have really taken a wide swing away from this foundation, both in our government and in our private beliefs. Our schools no longer teach the truth about this day or any day in our history. We now have a culture that is becoming farther and farther from the truth of our foundation not only with our Constitution but with the Word of God. We cry out, “Separation between church and state!” which has been so misconstrued over the decades. Our forefathers never separated themselves or this country from God and the Constitution. The people, the church and God were as a three braided cord. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “ A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” But we have begun to unravel that cord and we have begun to see more and more division in this land. A house divided will fall, that is what Yeshua (Jesus) told us in Mark 3:25. We see more and more violence and contention and we are losing our foundation and the reason this country was formed. Let us not forget that God birthed this country and it was the One True God who brought us through our toughest times. He gave us the victory in the Revolutionary War and in the Civil War and every war. He brought us through thick and thin. God was there and our country knew it and they had their times of thanksgiving and prayer. Today we do not win our wars. We do not have victories. We have suffered through many hard days. Homelessness and murder are at their all time highs. Drugs and alcohol are destroying our society. Sex and violence is everywhere, from on our TVs to the big screen and we are living out what we are seeing. We have turned to other gods and beliefs.

How long will we continue in this downward spiral? We say, “God bless America” as if it is some kind of mantra or formula that pleases the gods. God is not blessing us and the situation in this country speaks toward that fact. But we do not come and bow our hearts to the One True Living God, the Creature of all things, seen and unseen. We do not accept the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. Last year, 2016, 90,000 Christians were martyred for their faith. Anti-Semitism is on the rise like we haven’t seen since before the Holocaust. We call evil good and good evil.

We MUST pray. We MUST come and humble ourselves. We MUST repent of our sins. We MUST awaken our souls to the One True Living God. You may agree with me or you may not. I can only pray that eyes and hearts will be open to see truth.

This Thanksgiving let us turn off the TVs and let us leave the shopping for a day and let us celebrate Thanksgiving with our family in a time of prayer and thanksgivings, reading the Word of God. In love let us sit down to those blessings that God has bestowed on us and say Grace. God, Family and Country: the three-stranded cord that cannot be easily broken. United we stand!

Is the Cross Politically Correct?

Today, we have become so politically correct and so sensitive to words that even in our congregations and our churches we have compromised our beliefs and our words so we do not offend anyone. Tolerance is the word of the day, and yet we do not have tolerance for everything or everyone: it’s like pick and choose depending on who you are or what you believe. “Everyone must get a trophy, everyone must win, we can not have anyone left out. Watch your words! Are they degrading, or harsh, or something I just don’t want to hear? Give me a place to run to, give me a safe place from words and life!” But is this really life? The world we live in is a dangerous place. The Bible tells us that there is good and evil, there are those who will be saved and those who will not be saved, there is a heaven and there is a hell. But to so many people these statements are politically incorrect.

So I ask, do we live by the Word of God or do we live to please those who cannot or will not believe in a God who would not include all? It is sad to say, but many believers will say, “I can only believe that God in His mercy and grace will save all those who are good.” Many say, “God is a God of love and He would not send anyone to hell.” Many say, “Well, I am a good person and God would not send me to hell.” Many even would say, “I go to church, God would not send me to hell.” I have even heard believers say, “There are many ways to get into heaven. They may have been baptized, they may have said a prayer, belong to a certain denomination, go to church, or even read their Bible.” Many even would say, “My pastor tells us that we can still do this or that. He even does those things himself.”

So the question is, have we moved away from the cross of Calvary? Have we taken a step backwards? Is the cross even politically correct? In our society today, we do not like the thought of pain or torture. We do not like the sight of blood and death. We do not want to hear about it. We have become calloused to it, we resent it even. We want to run to our safe place, we want comfort, we want to close our ears and we do not want to listen. We close our eyes and we do not want to see. We have become weak, we have become soft.

We see death and we ask, “Why? Why does a loving God allow this?” Today’s believers do not even want to see a crucifix because we say, “Yeshua has risen, He is no longer on the cross. Quick, take the sight of it away from me! We want to live in the resurrection, not the death.” Without His death, we would have no need of the resurrection. It was through that grief that He bore our sins. It was through His death on the cross that He paid our debt. “Yes, we will accept that, but not the cross.” But this same cross, this instrument of pain and suffering and death which our Messiah Yeshua carried to His death, this cross is exactly what Yeshua tells us that we need to pick up in order to follow Him. We say, “NO, NO! I do not want to die. I have my life and I want to keep it. I have my business, I have my home, my car, all those things that I love and enjoy. I will not give them up, I will not die.” When a person hears that he is going to die, that is his response. There is a process that a man goes through when he hears that he is going to die. There is anger and denial and a sorrow and a letting go of this world which has to take place, and then hopefully they reach a place were there is peace. We in our nature cling to life. This is why God gave us eternal life through Messiah Yeshua, because He is the God of life. And yet Yeshua tells us to pick up that instrument of death and follow Him. Now, I know that I have heard many people who have an illness or some misfortune that they have to live with say that this is their cross in life, so they pick up their cross and go on in life. But is this what our Messiah meant? What are we dying to? Ourselves? To sin? The world? Let’s look at all the Scriptures where the Word tells us we have to die.

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26)

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)

“For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Messiah, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:6-8)

“In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Messiah Yeshua.” (Romans 6:11)

“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

“I have been crucified with Messiah and I no longer live, but Messiah lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

“Those who belong to Messiah Yeshua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24)

“May I never boast except in the cross of our LORD Yeshua Messiah, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

“I also consider all these things as loss for the majesty of the knowledge of Yeshua the Messiah, my Lord, him for whose sake I have lost everything, and I consider it all as rubbish that I may gain the Messiah.” (Philippians 3:8)

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Yeshua the Messiah, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)

“Therefore, since Messiah suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1-2)

So we see that we are to die to the world, to ourselves, to sin. The question is, have we died to this world? Have we died to ourselves? Have we died to sin? 1 John 2:15-17 tells us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” Have we looked into the mirror and then walked away and forgot who we are? Have we truly laid aside the old self and put on the new? I’m sure if we were honest with ourselves we would have to say, “No, I have not died to myself. I have not put on the new. I still watch those worldly shows. I still use language I shouldn’t. I still live like the world and sound like the world and even look like the world.” How we need the cross before us! How we need the shed blood of Yeshua to cleanse us of our sins daily, and the only place for that blood to fall on us is at the foot of the cross.

We need to see the cross every day, and every day we need to crucify our flesh. Do not think that an image of our Yeshua on the cross is wrong. It was that image that paid our debt, and we need to be eternally grateful for the life that Yeshua gives us. As a disciple of Yeshua, a follower of our Messiah, we must walk in His footsteps. We must follow Him to the cross and we must deny ourselves and crucify our flesh so that we too may have life. “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Yeshua Messiah the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 1:5-2:3)

The cross may not be politically correct, and in this world we may not all win, but as for our Father, He has made the way for all of us to be winners. But to win we must first die. Do you need to come back to the cross? That is where the cleansing flow of the blood of the Lamb is. Come on bended knee and the love of Messiah will wash you clean.

Sukkot Sabbath: Going Up to Jerusalem

Three times a year, at set times, the men of Israel were commanded to make pilgrimage to the place where God would put His name. This place was Jerusalem, and particularly, the temple. The three times for pilgrimage corresponded to three of the Appointed Times which God commanded to be observed: Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles). The current portion is taking place during the feast of Sukkot, so that is where we will here focus our attention.

God instructs the people of Israel, saying, “Three times a year all your males are to appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. For I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your borders, and no man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the Lord your God” (Exodus 34:23-24). Because God was going to expand the size of the land of Israel and people would be living far away from Jerusalem, God made it so that three times per year the people should come up to the temple to worship God and bring sacrifices. This would serve to remind the people who it was that they served, and that the reason they were able to prosper and enjoy the land was because of God’s favor. It would also bring the entire nation of Israel together to remind them that they were one nation, one family, worshipping the one true God.

Deuteronomy records that the Feast of Tabernacles is one of these times when the men of Israel are to come up to Jerusalem, and it includes some additional instructions: “Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed” (Deuteronomy 16:16). The Feast of Tabernacles takes place during the time of harvest in the land of Israel, and so the people were to bring the fruits of their harvest to give to God. The land was not to be considered their own, but God was letting them use it, and so out of thankfulness they were to give the first portion to God in addition to any other offerings which the individual desired to give.

Today, the command to appear before the Lord is not possible to fulfill, because there is not a temple service taking place in Jerusalem. The reason the command was made was so that the men of Israel would come up to the temple and offer sacrifices, but since there is no priesthood and no temple, these sacrifices cannot be made, and thus the command to make pilgrimage is not able to be fulfilled.

The prophet Zechariah, however, prophesies of a day when not only Israel, but all of the nations on earth will make pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles: “Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain on them” (Zechariah 14:16-17). So we see that people from every nation will be celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. Of that day it is also said, “And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war” (Isaiah 2:3-4).

This is the fulfillment which the Feast of Tabernacles looks forward to. As the final feast of the year according to the religious calendar, it represents the Kingdom. It is a time of great joy and celebration, and in fact God commands that this time is to be rejoiced in: “And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter and your male and female servants and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your towns” (Deuteronomy 16:14). Our joy will reach its ultimate fulfillment when God Himself will be our tabernacle in the New Jerusalem: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them'” (Revelation 21:3).

If we will be celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles in the Kingdom of God, then why should we wait to experience the joy and power of God in this Appointed Time? It is a time which God has set aside for expressing our joy in Him and giving thanks for all that He has done for us and given to us, especially His own Son, Yeshua (Jesus) our Messiah. Let us celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and rejoice as we look toward the day when Yeshua will return and draw us to Himself, and He will tabernacle among us for eternity.

God’s Love

The Scripture tells us that, “God so loved mankind that He sent his only begotten Son to die for us so that whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life” (John 3:16). We want to take a closer look at this subject of God’s love. I think that this has become such a cliche that we don’t really consider the full weight of this statement.

What is the Basis For God’s Love?

In Ephesians 3:17-19, Paul tells the Ephesians that his prayer is “For Messiah to dwell in your hearts through faith, being rooted and grounded in love, so that you may be fully able, with all the saints, to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of His love and to know the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.”

Paul tells us here many things that we need to look at. For us to understand this love of God, we must first have Messiah in our hearts. When we accept Yeshua (Jesus) as our Lord and Savior, we so often do not exactly realize this, that God’s love for us goes so long and high and deep. Paul says in Romans 8:32-36, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

We see here that first and foremost God is for us, and because of that He gave His own Son for us. He has shown His love for us in that while we were still sinners Messiah died for us (Romans 5:8). There is no greater love than one who gives his life for another (John 15:13). So because God demonstrated such great love to the point that it cost Him His own Son, we can have the reassurance that because of this investment in us that He will never renege on His commitment to us, in that nothing will ever separate us from that love.

Romans continues with, “ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We not only can not be separated from God, but now we are more than conquerors. Conquerors of what? Of the penalty of sin, which is death.

What did the Scripture say? “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.” Because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Yeshua, the accuser of the brethren, Satan, can no longer accuse us because the blood of Yeshua covers us and protects us (Revelation 12:10-11). Because Yeshua died for us when we were still sinners, literally His enemy, we can have the faith to trust Him in all things. He has proven to us that He can be trusted and that he has our interest in mind.

So when days are hard and those times of testing come, we can rest in the knowledge that God is for me and He will let me be more than a conqueror in my situation. His peace can now rule in our hearts because He has invested in my well being, and it did not stop on the cross, for Yeshua has risen and now intercedes on my behalf before the throne of the Almighty God, my Father (Hebrews 7:25). So when the rulers and principalities and the forces of darkness attack me, He is there to fight on my behalf, for He is a mighty warrior dressed for battle (Jeremiah 20:11).

In Philippians 4:13, Paul tells us that we can do all things in Messiah who strengthens us. This means we can have victory in our struggles and in our tribulations and even in our daily lives because we can walk in faith, the faith that moves mountains, the faith that brings deliverance, the faith that brings victory all because of God’s love for us.

Today, what are you going through? If you think there is no hope, you are mistaken. If you think God does not love you, you are mistaken. If you think the windows of heaven are closed to you, you are mistaken, because Yeshua our intercessor is not on the outside but inside making intercession for you right now as you are reading this. And the best thing of all, He loves you so much that He died for you and nothing is going to separate you from that love. No failure, no sin, no lack of faith, He loves you and nothing will change that.

If you never accepted God’s love do it now. Receive the free gift of God’s love in the sacrifice of Yeshua His Son and have faith, believing in the power that is in His shed blood to save you from your sins.

Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement

God told the people of Israel that one day each year, the high priest was to make atonement for the tabernacle, and it was only at this time when he would be able to enter the Most Holy Place where God’s glory resided. The rest of the people also had a role to play: they were to humble themselves in fasting and prayer. What is this day all about, and what value does it have in the life of we who have put our faith in Yeshua (Jesus) for our atonement?

God tells the people of Israel, “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute” (Leviticus 16:29-31). God set this day aside to be for the atonement of the sins of the people. The high priest would offer sacrifices for himself and the people in order to atone for the sins they had committed. Then he would enter into the inner part of the Holy of Holies, the place where God’s presence would rest. The high priest would anoint the mercy seat with the blood of the sacrifice in order to make atonement for it.

The phrase “you shall humble your souls” has been interpreted to mean that those who observe the day are to refrain from food and water, marital relations, and showering, from sundown on the ninth day to sundown on the tenth day, as a sign of humility before God. This behavior is accompanied by a mood of repentance and reflection on the sins which one has committed over the past year. Since God commanded no work to be done during this time period, it gives one plenty of time to contemplate and meditate on the changes which God wants to see take place in one’s life. While every day should be a day where we take stock of where we stand with God, the Day of Atonement provides a day specifically set aside by God for this distinct purpose.

God reproves the people through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet on their conduct during this holy day. Apparently the people were only going through the motions of repentance and sorrow over their sins: “‘Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?’ Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers. Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high” (Isaiah 58:3-4). Merely observing this day as if it were a ceremony is not what God desires from His people. He gave His people the Day of Atonement for them to receive atonement for their sins and to spend the day with God so He can reveal what hidden sins or attitudes need to be repented of in the coming year. The Day of Atonement is supposed to be an impetus toward action in the following months rather than a mark on the calendar to be crossed off: “Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7).

What value does this day have for believers in Yeshua? We know that Yeshua has paid the price for our sin and we are forgiven by His shed blood, which He brought into the heavenly Holy of Holies of which the earthly is a shadow and reflection. In Yeshua, the true meaning of this day is revealed. Far from meaning the day is now unimportant, the Day of Atonement is renewed in the light of Yeshua. God said that the observation of this Appointed Time was to be a “permanent statute.” If this is the case, then surely this is something we should pay attention to. Even though the actions associated with the tabernacle are not possible in our day and age, the Day of Atonement provides us with a time to rededicate ourselves to God and evaluate where we stand in Him. While the actions of repentance and evaluation of where we are in relationship with God should be a part of the believer’s daily walk, the Day of Atonement is set apart by God for a type of yearly check-up for us to humble ourselves and dig deep into our hearts, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal our shortcomings and where we can draw closer to God in holiness.

The Day of Atonement is a gift from God, and it is to our own spiritual benefit to observe it in the manner God has dictated through Scripture, giving thanks to Him for our High Priest Yeshua, whose shed blood is the only source of atonement and cleansing for our iniquity.

Ha’azinu: Jeshurun Grew Fat

God instructs Moses to read the people of Israel a song about their past and their future. In it he describes God’s love and care for the people and how after they enter the land and become comfortable, they will turn their back on God and worship idols. Let’s look closer at the mistake they made so that we will be sure not to follow their example.

The song of Moses describes, in poetic language, God’s election of Israel to be His special possession. It tells of the future, when the people would enter the land just as God has promised them. When they entered the land, God would fulfill His promises to bless and prosper His people, and Israel would enjoy the blessings which God allowed them to experience: “He made him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field; and He made him suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock, curds of cows, and milk of the flock, with fat of lambs, and rams, the breed of Bashan, and goats, with the finest of the wheat—and of the blood of grapes you drank wine” (Deuteronomy 32:13-14).

But because of their comfort and their decadence, they would forget about God and turn to the idols which their neighbors worshiped. Because of the ease and comfort in which they were living, they would forget the times when they relied on God for their every need: “But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked—you are grown fat, thick, and sleek—then he forsook God who made him, and scorned the Rock of his salvation… You neglected the Rock who begot you, and forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:15, 18). The name Jeshurun means “upright one,” and it is a name God calls Israel in several Scriptures, three of which take place here in the last few chapters of Deuteronomy. In this verse, we see the name “upright one” contrasted against the actions of rebellion which they have turned to.

God had brought the people of Israel into the land, and He was pleased to bless them with the abundance that lay within its borders. But Israel forgot about God and grew proud in their hearts. They believed that somehow they had merited God’s favor, or perhaps they thought that the blessings would always continue as they were now, regardless of the peoples’ behavior. God had previously instructed them that feeling comfortable was the first step toward this wickedness: “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land… and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

While the song of Moses is directed toward, and prophetic of, the downfall of Israel when they entered the promised land, we must learn about this so we are careful not to follow in their example. We must guard ourselves so that we do not grow comfortable in our luxury. While many of us wouldn’t consider ourselves as living luxurious lives, for the most part we do not have to worry about food, water, and shelter. Our basic physical needs are provided for and so we turn to other more artificial needs to pursue with our excess funds and time. But Yeshua warns against this behavior, telling us of a rich man who harvests many crops and only thinks of himself: “Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:18-21).

James also gives a fiery warning to those who use their money only to provide comfortable lives for themselves: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! … You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter” (James 5:1-3, 5).

The song of Moses provides us with an example of what happens when we grow comfortable and self-indulgent. This is true with physical wealth, and it is also true in our spiritual walk. We must never believe that we are owed anything or that we deserve any type of blessing, and we must not assume that God will bless our path if it is not the path He wants us to be on. Let us give thanks to God, for He is the one who desires for us to enjoy the gifts which He has given us, both physical and spiritual, not by using these gifts lavishly upon ourselves, but by sharing joyfully with our brothers, sisters, and neighbors.

Nitzavim + Vayelech: Circumcision of the Heart

Many Christians believe that physical circumcision has been replaced by a spiritual circumcision of the heart. It is evident from the New Testament that for Gentiles who believe in Yeshua (Jesus), circumcision and conversion to Judaism are not necessary for salvation, and in fact these things are discouraged. But what about Jewish believers? And what does it mean that a person’s heart is circumcised?

The first mention of physical circumcision in the Bible is God instructing Abraham that he and his descendants are to circumcise their sons as a lasting sign of the covenant between them: “And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations” (Genesis 17:10-11). This passage doesn’t say anything about circumcision of the heart, but is very specific in stating that it is circumcision of the flesh, and that it is to continue throughout the generations of Abraham’s descendants, even going so far as to call it an “everlasting covenant” (verse 13). Circumcision was a visible sign of Abraham’s obedience, which as Paul tells us stemmed from his faith in God (Romans 4:11).

The first time circumcision is related to anything non-physical is found in Leviticus 26, which predicts a future day when, after Israel has strayed from the covenant and recognizes their sin, they will be restored: “If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me… or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham” (Leviticus 26:40-42). Here, the people are referred to as having “uncircumcised hearts.” If circumcision was instituted with Abraham as a sign of faithfulness, then the uncircumcision of their hearts indicates their rebellion and refusal to obey God. This is also alluded to in Jeremiah 4:1-4.

We see this symbolism again in this week’s portion where Moses is speaking to the children of Israel about the same future day of exile and restoration. He uses similar language to refer to the disobedience of the Israelites, but he includes a prophecy about how God will remedy the situation: “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live… And you shall again obey the Lord, and observe all His commandments which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 30:6, 8). Here we find another clue that circumcision of the heart has to do with obedience and faithfulness. In this time of restoration, everyone whose heart is circumcised by God will be able to obey God faithfully and keep all of His commandments.

There is another allusion to this in the words of the prophet Ezekiel: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Again we see that the circumcision or restoration of the heart is related to obedience and following God’s commandments.

Paul echoes these words regarding being circumcised in the flesh without being circumcised in the heart. He tells his Jewish readers, “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Torah; but if you are a transgressor of the Torah, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (Romans 2:25). Although the outward circumcision is a sign of faithfulness, if it is not accompanied by a faithfulness and obedience from the heart, then it is not the circumcision which God desires. Paul continues, “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?” (verse 26). If a Gentile believer, who is not required to be circumcised, lives his life in obedience to God and His commandments as they apply to him, then he will show that his heart is circumcised, which means that he is obedient to God.

The chapter concludes with Paul saying, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29). Inward circumcision does not invalidate outward circumcision, but outward circumcision is supposed to be a sign and a reminder of the covenant which God made with Abraham because of his inward circumcision. Paul is not saying that Gentile believers become or replace Jews, but he is saying that not everyone who claims to be a Jew is truly acting in a Jewish way (meaning obeying God and keeping His commandments through the power of the Spirit).

Therefore, let us make sure we have allowed God to circumcise our hearts as we seek to know Him and imitate His obedience to the Father, for “in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Messiah” (Colossians 2:11).

Ki Tavo: Blessings and Curses

When God was preparing the people to bring them into the land which He had promised to give them, He warned the people that in order to inhabit the land, they would need to obey God and keep His commandments. If they disobeyed, God would bring curses upon the people, and if they continued in their sins through all of these curses, they would be exiled among the nations. While the literal interpretation of the effects of the peoples’ sin is only relevant to the physical inhabitation of the land of Israel, the underlying truth remains the same for every believer in Yeshua who has been grafted in.

Moses begins by telling the people, “Be silent and listen, O Israel! This day you have become a people for the Lord your God. You shall therefore obey the Lord your God, and do His commandments and His statutes which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:9-10). By putting His name upon the people of Israel, God chose them to be a special nation of His own possession. Because of this, they needed to obey Him and do His will in order to continue to be blessed according to His will.

We see that if they do not obey God and keep His commandments, then the people will be cursed: “‘Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen'” (Deuteronomy 27:26). If by transgressing the Torah the people would be cursed and eventually exiled from the land, were the people of Israel doomed from the start? We know that it is not possible to never sin. Was God simply setting the people of Israel up to fail? “But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:15). Was God sitting in heaven waiting for them to make a mistake so that He could punish them?

No, for we also know that God is merciful and He blesses those who obey Him to the best of their ability while not trusting in their own actions to gain any merit in the sight of God. We see through Scripture that in the times when Israel has a leader who removes the idols from the land and trusts in God, the land and the people are blessed. “All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:2). This doesn’t mean that during these times nobody in the nation of Israel committed any sin at all, but it means that as for the most part the people were making a genuine effort to put their trust in God and obey Him.

While in some Christian circles we tend to shy away from the thought of meriting any type of reward or punishment based on our obedience to God, we see that this theme is carried over into the New Testament. Yeshua (Jesus) tells us near the end of Revelation, “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy; and let the one who is righteous, still practice righteousness; and the one who is holy, still keep himself holy. Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12). Here we see that the way one has behaved and the deeds he has done play a large role in how one is determined as righteous or unrighteous, and the measure of a person’s deeds will be returned to him in some way.

This is not in conflict with the concept of salvation as a free gift to those who believe. The same mouth that said, “The Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done,” also said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” The belief seen throughout the Scriptures is never a belief which is merely an assent to the existence of God and the sacrifice of His Son. It is a living and active belief which results in obedience. As James tells us, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (James 2:18).

We as believers in Yeshua have become joined to Israel in being a people for the Lord our God. As such, we are called and expected to behave in accordance with God’s will for us. This doesn’t mean that we resort to a legalistic view, where salvation is only attainable by meeting a certain standard of obedience. But God has told us that we will be rewarded if we continue to obey Him in love, not because we are relying on our deeds to gain us a reward, but because it is through our actions that we reveal what is within our hearts. May God bless us all as we seek to know Him and His Son through every part of our lives.

Ki Tetze: Straying Livestock

Yeshua (Jesus) commands in Luke 6:31, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” The essence of this commandment is also found in the Torah, where God provides specific examples of how we are to treat our neighbor as we would like to be treated.

God tells the people through the mouth of Moses, “You shall not see your countryman’s ox or his sheep straying away, and pay no attention to them; you shall certainly bring them back to your countryman” (Deuteronomy 22:1). The people of Israel relied heavily upon agriculture and tending livestock. If one or two of a person’s livestock had begun to stray away and the owner did not notice, God says that one who sees this has to stop and prevent the animal from straying away and becoming lost, which would pose financial loss to the one who lost the animal. The temptation in this case would be to either ignore the straying animal and continue on your way, or some may even be tempted to take the animal and claim it as their own. To stop what you are doing and help out your neighbor takes a self-sacrificing spirit.

He continues: “If your countryman is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall remain with you until your countryman looks for it; then you shall restore it to him” (Deuteronomy 22:2). If you find the animal but do not know who the owner is, it is now your obligation to keep that animal until you can discover who the owner is. This would require the person who found the animal to pay the expenses of feeding it, to expend the labor required to take care of it, to house it, and so on. This extra care was not only required in the case of lost livestock, but for anything at all that your neighbor has lost and you have found: “Thus you shall do with his donkey, and you shall do the same with his garment, and you shall do likewise with anything lost by your countryman, which he has lost and you have found. You are not allowed to neglect them” (Deuteronomy 22:3). This was not just something special the people were to do if they were feeling particularly generous, but it was the behavior which God expected.

Yeshua’s command to treat others the same way we would like to be treated has become what is called the Golden Rule. In practice, we sometimes would prefer the negative of this phrase: “Do not do unto others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.” When we practice the commandment in this way, there is no special responsibility upon us except to stand out of the way of our neighbor and not get on their nerves or cause them any grievous harm. On the other hand, the true command which is to do unto our neighbor what we would want them to do to us implies a greater force of action. Instead of just staying out of our neighbor’s life, we are called to involve ourselves in their life and sacrifice our own desires in order that they may be blessed. While it would be easier to just ignore their straying animal, we are to love them by doing what we would want them to do to us. Even when it costs us greatly and requires us to change our own lives, this is the way which God desires us to show love.

Yeshua illustrates this same lesson when He speaks of the judgment of the sheep and the goats. “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ … The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me'” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40). If God has commanded that we are supposed to take care of our neighbor if he has lost an animal, how much more are we to take care of our neighbor’s own physical needs when he is not able to provide for himself.

Treating others the way we want to be treated involves more than just being polite to people who we don’t particularly like. It requires an involvement and an eagerness to sacrifice ourself for the sake of others: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Let us not stand idly by in the shadows waiting for the opportunity to show love to come our way, but let us meet our neighbor and show him love in the same way which God has shown to us.

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