Grafted In Bible Study
Table of Contents
Table Of Contents
Lesson 1 Abraham: Pages 3-20
Lesson 2 Issac and Jacob Pages 20-37
Lesson 3 Moses Pages 37-53
Lesson 4 What is Torah? Pages 53-66
Lesson 5 Torah, a Wedding Contract
“Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.”
As Christians, do we know exactly what we have been grafted into? We have heard of our Judeo-Christian heritage, but what does that really mean to us on an everyday level? We hear much about faith and grace, but rarely about our roots. We will all agree that we all came from Adam and Eve, but we do not always think about the fact that we believers have Abraham as our father. We will be looking at our forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the pillars of our… church?
“And the Scriptures, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’”
The Bible tells us that “Abraham is the father of those who are of faith” (Romans 4:11-12, Galatians 3:9). Who is our father Abraham? Abraham was the tenth generation from Shem, the son of Noah. In Hebrew, his name was Avram until God changed it to Avraham. The name Avram means “exalted father,” or “the father is exalted.” Variations of this name have been found in Akkadian texts dating back to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries BCE. Scripture states that Avraham was from the city of Ur of the Chaldeans. Originally, this was believed to have been in southern Iraq. After excavating this area, they found no record of the Chaldeans in the city of Ur until the first millennium BCE. So scholars believe that Ur may have been in upper Mesopotamia, which may have been started by people who had once lived in southern Iraq. Upper Mesopotamia would have been much closer to Haran, which the text of Avraham is centered around.
Terah, Avram’s father, packed up the family and headed for Canaan, but instead went to Haran (Genesis 11:31-32). While in Haran, God spoke to Avram and said, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
The first phrase here in Hebrew is lekh lekha, which means “to go forth,” in the sense of separating oneself or taking leave of. It is not clear why Terah detoured to Haran in the first place. He never did go on to Canaan, but God made it clear to Avram that he was to separate himself from his father and move on. When God called Avram, He made several promises to him:
1. “I will make you a great nation.” This nation would be great not only in number, but also in significance.
2. “I will bless you.” This meant financial and material prosperity.
3. “I will make your name great.” In the Near East, a person’s name was equal to who that person was. Avram would not only have fame, but would be greatly esteemed.
4. “You shall be a blessing.” Avram himself would be a blessing to those he came in contact with.
5. “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” God gives Avram His protective care. Anyone who does harm to Avram will now have to deal with God.
6. “And all the families of the earth shall be blessed through you.” God goes from the realm of blessing Avram himself to blessing those he comes in contact with and finally to all humanity.
In the late Apostolic Era, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus offered the following explanation of Genesis 12:3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
Rabbi Eliezer expounded, “What is meant by the verse, ‘And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed’? The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Abraham, ‘I have two goodly shoots to engraft on you: Ruth the Moabitess and Naamah the Ammonitess.’ All the families of the earth, even the other families who live on the earth are blessed only for Israel’s sake. All the nations of the earth, even the ships that go from Gaul to Spain are blessed only for Israel’s sake.” (b.Yevamot 63a)
Rabbi Eliezer used the passage to explain how two Gentile women—Ruth the Moabite and Naamah the Ammonite—came to be regarded as part of Israel and even mothers of the Davidic kings. The Torah specifically says, “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation…” (Deuteronomy 23:3). How could Ruth and Naamah be mothers of the kings of Israel?
Rabbi Eliezer explained that they had been grafted into Abraham.
This creative re-reading of the passage is consistent with other traditions about Abraham which portray him as actively involved in leading idolaters to worship of the LORD. Abraham could be likened unto a tree of faith. Rabbi Eliezer likened his converts to branches removed from trees of the nations and grafted into the tree of Abraham’s faith. Abraham’s converts find blessing in his faith: all the families of the earth will be blessed as they are grafted into him.
Paul used Genesis 12:3 as the programmatic text for his unique gospel message of Gentile inclusion through Messiah. In Galatians 3:8 he quoted Genesis 12:3, saying, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘all the nations will be blessed in you.‘” To Paul, the phrase “all nations will be blessed in you” was the gospel. He equated those words with the good news of the kingdom.
Let’s look at Romans 11: 17-21, “But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”
Paul compared the nation of Israel to an olive tree. He compared the nations to wild olive branches taken from other olive trees (other nations) and grafted into the olive tree of Abraham’s family. He probably derived the analogy from the same intentional misreading of the Hebrew of Genesis 12:3 that Rabbi Eliezer employed. (Rabbi Eliezer may have acquired the interpretation from the Jewish believers. Rabbi Eliezer once admitted that he enjoyed the teachings of the disciples of Yeshua.)
In Paul’s version, Gentile believers in Yeshua are grafted on to the olive tree that symbolizes Abraham’s family. The “grafted-in” Gentiles became members of the family, so to speak. The analogy vividly illustrates the blessing of Abraham to the nations: “All the families of the earth will be grafted into you.”
In the same passage, Paul warned the Gentile believers not to become arrogant over the natural branches (Jews and proselytes). Rather, they should remember that, as engrafted branches, they are the guests.
He admitted that some of the natural branches had been removed from the tree because of their unbelief. However, even this unbelief he explained away as a necessary and temporary state to allow time for the nations to come to faith—a preliminary to the final redemption.
Who are the natural branches that have been removed? Paul makes it clear that those branches represented Paul’s own Jewish contemporaries who intentionally rejected the good news about Yeshua and the kingdom. As noted above, Paul told his readers, “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). In other words, Paul warned his readers not to be too quick to count the Jewish people out on the basis of faith or disbelief in Yeshua. He said, “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will those who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:24).
For Avram the personal blessings would have been easy enough to believe, but becoming a great nation? This took great faith!
So we see that the first thing Avram did after God called him was to have faith. He took God at His word. He picked up his belongings and he, with his wife Sarai, along with his nephew Lot, set out to “go forth” to the land of Canaan (Genesis 12:4-5). Many wonder why Avram took his nephew Lot with them. It was a custom that the oldest uncle would care for a deceased brother’s children, as 1 Timothy 5:8 tells us, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Haran was Lot’s father who had died. Avram was seventy-five years old.
Though God had made promises to Avram, He never mentioned land ownership to him. This made the journey all the more suspenseful, requiring much faith. God kept His word and Avram prospered. He prospered to the point where he and his nephew had to part company.
Now with Lot out of the picture, Avram is now totally severed from his father’s house. God once again reaffirms His promises in
Genesis 13:14-18. It is believed that God had Avram stand on the highest point in central Israel, which is Gebel-el-Asur, which is five miles northeast of Bethel. There he could see the Mediterranean, the hills of Hebron, and even the Transjordan. God tells Avram to raise his eyes and look out from where he was. In Ancient Rome, the transfer of property was done by sight. This is not yet proven for the ancient Middle East, but certainly walking about the land was. This was a symbolic act, which is called hazakah in Hebrew. Joshua 24:3 records this, “Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac.” In Nuzi (an ancient Mesopotamian city), the former owner would lift his foot from the property, and the new owner would set his foot on it, symbolizing the transfer of ownership. The Egyptians and the Hittites had a practice where periodically the king would tour his kingdom to renew his sovereignty over the land. Ruth 4:7-9, Deuteronomy 11:24, and Joshua 1:3 all have a form of this tradition. God now has promised Avram the land.
Avram moves to Hebron and erects his third altar to God. It was quite customary in the Ancient Middle East to set up sacred sites. Hebron has occupied a place of extraordinary importance in Jewish tradition as one of the four holy cities along with Jerusalem, Safed, and Tiberias. Hebron was the first city Avram settled in, the first he bought land in, and the burial site of three patriarchs and their wives. For seven years, it was the capital of Judah and Israel under King David.
The Scripture narrative now reveals to us a side of Avram that we do not usually think about when we think of him, but this theme has carried throughout Scripture for anyone who is redeemed of the Lord. A war broke out amongst the kings of the area, and they took Avram’s nephew Lot captive (Genesis 14:12-20). When Avram heard of this, he immediately gathered his servants and went to rescue Lot. The Scriptures tell us that Avram, against all odds, rescues Lot and all the other people with him plus all of their possessions. Here Avram is depicted as a “mighty warrior,” one who is “more than a conqueror.” In this narrative, Avram is, for the first time, called a Hebrew, possibly meaning “one who is from the other side,” or “one who is on the opposite side of the rest,” alluding to his religious nonconformity. Certainly it shows that God was continuing His promises to Avram by giving him this great victory and elevating his name throughout the land.
What happens to Avram next is something he would remember and ponder for the rest of his life. As Avram is returning home from the battle, he meets a man who blesses him. Avram realizes this is not just a man, but a heavenly representative named Melchizedek. The narrative tells us that He is the King of Righteousness from the City of Peace and that He is a priest to the Most High God. The Hebrew phrase that he uses is El Elyon in order to distinguish from the Canaanite gods, who were also called El. What is interesting here is that Melchizedek is from the City of Peace. The Canaanite area was a hostile area without peace. The city of Salem at that time was a Canaanite city, so how could this be?
Avram was getting a glimpse of the Messiah, the Priestly King who would come. Melchizedek was a foreshadowing of Messiah, the City of Peace was the city of Jerusalem where this Priestly King would rule and reign forever. One thousand years later, King David sat on the throne in Jerusalem and wrote Psalm 110, “The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” The Lord sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:1-4) Again looking toward the day of the coming of the mighty, victorious Priestly King Melchizedek (Yeshua). Two thousand years later, the writer of Hebrews also talks about this Priestly King Melchizedek Hebrews 7:1-3.” “For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.” Yeshua Himself talks about Avram looking forward to His day and seeing it (John 8:56). So Avram, recognizing who this heavenly being was, gave Him a tenth of all the spoil of the battle. This is the first revelation to Avram about the coming Messiah; the second is yet to come.
Once again God speaks to Avram, but this time Avram speaks back the words, “I have no heir.” Avram addresses God in a rarely used term: “O Lord God.” Avram brings his request before God as one who wants to still trust and believe, but “Lord, help my unbelief!”
God quickly reassures him and promises him a child. That’s all Avram needed to hear, and once again he believed God. God goes one step further this time and He cuts a covenant with Avram. Later in the study, we will look at this covenant much closer, but for now we will say that God puts His promises into a legally binding agreement that still stands today. God opens the dialogue with, “I AM the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans.” This royal proclamation will also be used in another famous treaty with Moses. Both times God says He was giving His people the land.
Avram now enters a time that will surely test his faith. After not having the fulfillment of an heir, Sarai offers Avram her servant. This was a very common practice in the Near East. What seems to be ironic is that Hagar is an Egyptian, and her name is a play on words in Hebrew, meaning, “stranger” and “harsh treatment.” Remember, God has revealed to Avram that his people would be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years (Genesis 15:13); but for now, it’s Hagar who is getting the harsh treatment. The sin of Avram now multiplies. Their attempt to help God keep His word fails, and Hagar gets the fallout of the failure. She runs away and an angel of the Lord visits her and tells her to go back, but not before giving her a promise that her offspring would be too many to count (we see the fulfillment of this in Genesis 25:12-18). Right or wrong, Hagar was going to bless Avram with a child, and so God was going to bless her. God’s revelation to Hagar certainly fulfills God’s promise to Avram that through him the families of the earth would be blessed and that whoever blesses Avram shall be blessed. God names the child Ishmael, meaning “God hears.” Some would think that this was given in response to Avram and Sarai’s prayer for a child, but this is not so; Hagar reveals to us another side of God. She calls Him El-Roi, “the God who sees,” or “all-seeing God.” It was Hagar who cried against the injustice, and God heard her. He says to her, “For the Lord has paid heed to your suffering” (Genesis 16:11). It is worth noting that the offspring of Ishmael were not always enemies to Israel. The Bible records different marriages to Ishmaelites (Genesis 25:13, 1 Chronicles 2:17). They are not listed as people who were conquered by David, but rather even as friends (1 Chronicles 27:30).
We have seen Avram, who believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3) as a mighty man of war, blessed of God, and a friend of God, but also one who has many faults and weaknesses. Avram is ninety-nine years old and God appears to him once again reaffirming his promises.
He changes Avram’s name to Avraham, meaning “Father of a multitude of nations,” for Avraham would be the father not only to the Jews and the Ishmaelites, but also the Edomites and Midianites (Genesis 25 & 36) and to all who would live by faith (Galatians 3:7). He gives the land of Canaan as an everlasting covenant and says that He will be their God. Each time, God goes one step further, and to prove it, He gives Avraham a sign of this covenant: circumcision. (Romans 4:10-11).
Paul believed that being Jewish (i.e., circumcised) could not be a prerequisite for salvation, but he needed evidence from the Torah. He did not have the authority to arbitrarily make rulings or declarations as if he was God’s voice on earth. Everything needed to be established and proven by Torah. Observant Jews like Paul, trained in rabbinic logic, view life through the lens of Torah. Any new idea or ruling must be weighed and measured on the basis of “Where do we find this in the Torah?”
Paul found justification for his gospel of Gentile inclusion (without circumcision) in Genesis 15:5-6. “And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” God declared Abraham righteous on the basis of faith prior to his circumcision.
Nevertheless, Paul’s letters contain “some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). In the days of the apostles, some people misused Paul’s interpretation of Genesis 15:6 to claim that “faith alone,” independent of producing good works or a righteous life, was adequate for salvation. James the Righteous, brother of Yeshua, addressed this error directly in his epistle to the Diaspora:
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says [in Genesis 15:6],
“And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God [in 2 Chronicles 20:7]. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. (James 2:18-24)
Paul also recognized that some people had misunderstood his message.
He attempted to bring a correction in his epistle to the Romans:
Do we then nullify the Torah through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Torah. (Romans 3:31)
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)
Then God said, “As for your wife Sarai, she shall be called Sarah.” The Hebrew meaning of the name Sarah is not clear, but it could possibly mean “prince” or “ruler” and is often paired with the word melekh, meaning “king.” God promises Avraham that the promised child would come from Sarah and that she would give rise to nations, and rulers of people would come from her. The name Sarah certainly was a reference to Israel, for the name Israel is from the Hebrew verb stem s-r-h. As we see in Genesis 32:28 God changed Jacob’s name to Israel. Avraham immediately asked about his son Ishmael; what would become of him? God puts things in order: He first addresses His covenant. “This time next year, you shall have a son.” God names the promised child Isaac, Yis’chak, meaning “He laughs,” and God tells Avraham that through this child He would continue His everlasting covenant with him. God, who is faithful to His promises, does tell Avraham that Ishmael would be a nation of twelve and God would bless him. Avraham was one hundred years old and Sarah was ninety. Avraham then took every male in his household, including Ishmael, and circumcised them. Ishmael was thirteen years old at the time. The apostle Paul uses Hagar and Sarah to show the two covenants that were made between Avraham and Moses (Galatians 4:21-31).
When looking at the allegory of Sarah and Hagar in Galatians 4:21-31, we must first understand the concept of an allegory. Allegories were used by the apostles to represent ideas or principles in a story. Its meaning points to other things which are mystical, spiritual, or even literal. These stories are called Midrashes in Jewish teachings. It’s like a fictitious way of speaking to point to things that are real. It equates them to real life situations and people to show “types and symbols” of past things or things to come.
In the allegory of Sarah and Hagar, Paul does just this; he uses Hagar to show that she represents the covenant given at Mount Sinai. He says that her children are in bondage, but Sarah represents the new covenant and her children are free like Isaac, who was the promise. The promise of what? In this case, salvation.
Paul in no way was saying that we should no longer live by the Torah; if he was, then he was saying that we should never love God and our neighbor as ourself, for this sums up the Torah. If he was saying we are not under the law, then it is legal for us to murder and steal and covet, for this is all in the Torah. Yeshua Himself expanded the Torah in Matthew 5:17-48. He said that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (verse 17). Paul never teaches that the Torah is bad, but that it is holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12). Our salvation is only in Yeshua and we serve God now out of love. Yeshua tells us that if we love Him then we will keep His commandments. Where are those commandments recorded? In Exodus 20. What Paul was saying is that for salvation, we are free. Free to sin? No! Paul tells us in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Paul gives us the meaning to his allegory. Hagar represents the works of the flesh, the law written on stone tablets, and Sarah represents the works of the Spirit, the law now written on our hearts. Galatians 5 is all about walking in the spirit verses walking by the flesh. He tells us what those deeds of the flesh are in Galatians 5:19-21, “ Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” And the fruit of the Spirit are But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. verses 22-24. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:16, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond-slaves of God.” We are now free to be slaves to the one true God out of love and the fear of the Lord. We are children of the promise—the promise of salvation. But oh, how we need to live by God’s ways for life, for Yeshua said that He was the way, the truth, and the life.
So we see Sarah and Hagar: an allegory, a midrash, on how to live life.
Once again God pays a visit to Avraham. As Avraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent, he looked up and saw three men approaching him. He quickly gets up and offers these men his hospitality. The writer of Hebrews knew the importance of entertaining strangers, as it tells us in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Avraham is our example; at least four times in the New Testament it says that we believers are to be hospitable. The Talmud says, “Hospitality to strangers is greater than welcoming the divine Presence.” Avraham offers his hospitality in the way it should be shown with a meal as Genesis 18:5-6 tells us, “ I will bring a piece of bread, so that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it, and make bread cakes.” Regarding Genesis 18:5-6, the Talmud says, “Such is the way of the righteous; they promise little but perform much.” Avraham’s hospitality was fit for angels. He had Sarah use the finest of wheat flour, the type that was used later for meal offerings. He selected a calf which was a rare delicacy and a sign of princely hospitality. He provides curds (the fatty part of the milk which was like yogurt). Milk was highly esteemed in the ancient Near East and was offered to gods. It was a source of vitality and possessor of curative powers. Early exegesis as represented by Josephus, Targum Jonathan, and the Talmud would not accept the notion of angels partaking of food, so they understood the phrase to mean that they only gave the appearance of eating. But Avraham must have known that, that was not true and that is why he offered it to them. Avraham’s hospitality pays off when Sarah is told that she will have a son.
We now get a glimpse of Avraham the intercessor. Amos 3:7 says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” We found this to be true with Noah ten generations earlier, and now we see it also with Avraham. This sets up a dialogue that is not seen again till Moses. Avraham was truly a friend of God. Yeshua said in John 15:15 that “We are now called friends of God.” Avraham walked with God as a redeemed person. When Avraham hears of the coming destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, he pleads with God for these people’s lives. Maybe it was because of his nephew Lot, or maybe it was because he himself had recently gone to battle for these people to free them from their captors. Avraham, though, does not plead for the wicked, but for the righteous. The Psalmist wrote the same plea: “Do not take me away with the wicked” in (Psalm 28:3).
The Talmud makes the comment, “Whoever is merciful to his fellow beings is, without doubt, of the children of our father Avraham; whoever is unmerciful to his fellow beings certainly cannot be of the children of Avraham our father.” As we see in James 5:16, “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” Avraham’s prayer did avail much. God spared Lot and his family, the only righteous in the land (2 Peter 2:7-9). Avraham now journeys to the region of the Negev to learn a lesson in lying. King Abimelech of Gerar had Sarah brought to himself after he learned that she is Avraham’s sister. Why would Abimelech want Sarah, who is nearly ninety years old? According to rabbinic fancy, “Her flesh was rejuvenated, her wrinkles smoothed out, and her original beauty restored.” This is, no doubt, consistent with the miraculous renewal of her vitality by divine grace so she may bear a child. God quickly intervenes in a dream to Abimelech. God calls Avraham a prophet (Genesis 20:7). This is the first time the Hebrew word navi is used. It’s origin is uncertain, but it is believed to be connected with the Akkadian word nabu, meaning “to call.” The Assyrian kings were entitled “the one who called,” that is, called by the gods. The form navi in Hebrew could either signify the one who receives the divine call or one who proclaims, a spokesman. The prophet is the spokesman for God to man, but intercession before God in favor of man is also an indispensable aspect of his function. We see this with Moses, Samuel, Amos, and Jeremiah. We had previously seen Avraham take this intercessory role, so now God deems him a prophet. Avraham learns that deception is not of God. We have seen Avraham as the friend of God, the intercessor whose prayers avail much, and once again weak and human. Now twenty-five years later, Avraham and Sarah receive their reward in answering God’s initial call to “go forth:” they are in the land, though as strangers. They have prospered beyond belief and now they have a son, an heir to all of the promises that God has made to them. Time to celebrate!
Eight days come, and now it’s time to circumcise. Isaac is the first to be circumcised on the eighth day, thus fulfilling the covenant of God. When Isaac was weaned, which could have been anywhere from age twenty-four months to even four or five years old, Avraham had another celebration. This was quite common since weaning marked the first significant stage in the life cycle. But Abraham finds out quickly that the celebration turns into sorrow. According to rabbinic interpretation of the Hebrew word metsahek in Genesis 21:9, Ishmael was ridiculing the fuss made over Isaac and asserting his own claim to being the firstborn with the right to a double portion of the estate. Ishmael was right.
Sarah knew the law of the land. She tells Avraham to “cast out the slave-woman and her son.” The laws of Hammurabi and of the still earlier Lipit-Ishtar implicitly make inheritance rights a legal consequence of the father’s acceptance of the infant as his legitimate son. The key to Sarah’s demand lies in a clause in the laws of Lipit-Ishtar where it is stipulated that the father may grant freedom to the slave woman and the children she had borne him, in which case they forfeit their share of the inheritance.
We see this in Judges 11:1-3, “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. And Gilead had fathered Jephthah. Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless men gathered around Jephthah, and they went wherever he did.” By giving Hagar and Ishmael their freedom, they no longer have the right to the inheritance, and Sarah finally would be rid of this terrible mistake that confronted her each day. God tosses His vote toward Sarah. He speaks to Avraham in a night vision and tells him once again that Isaac would be his legal heir. But God is a compassionate God, and He has already told Hagar and Avraham of the future of Ishmael. Ishmael is now sixteen years old. Avraham, putting his faith in God once again, sends them away with a container of water and some bread. The Hebrew word for “sent her away” is shillah. It is used in the context of divorce as well as the emancipation of slaves. Apparently Hagar lost her way, because Avraham would not have sent them out without enough provisions. But just as with the last time, God heard Hagar. Once again God promised He would be with Ishmael. We will now see that Isaac, just like Ishmael, was saved at a critical moment by an angelic voice from heaven. The time has now come for Avraham’s final testing of faith. In Hebrew it is called the Akedah, meaning “to bind.” Avraham has lost one son, and he is about to lose another. The narrative tells us that it is some time afterward that God calls out to Avraham. God tells Avraham to take his favored son Isaac, whom he loves, and to “go forth,” lekh lekha. This is the same phrase that God used when He first called Avraham to leave his father. God tells him to go to the land of Moriah and offer a burnt offering on the mount that He would show him. Just as in the beginning, Avraham found himself on a journey to a place he was not sure of, again to build an altar and a sacrifice. This mighty warrior and great intercessor now has no one to come to his rescue. He makes no plea, but carries out God’s command, trusting Him every step of the way (Genesis 22).
Mount Moriah is a stretch of land between Mount Zion to the west and the Mount of Olives to the east. The name MarYah is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew name for God, YHWH. In fact, the name MarYah literally means “Master YHWH.” In the Aramaic translation of the New Testament, this term is used 239 times in various quotations of passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Other translations of the name are “land of worship” or “high land.”
The most well-known tradition related to Mount Moriah is the binding of Isaac by his father Avraham in Genesis 22. We see that according to the Aramaic English Standard Version, Abraham called that place “Mar-Yah Will Provide” after the provision of a sacrificial ram (Genesis 22:14).
This site was later bought by David for 600 shekels of gold from Orna (Araunah), the former king of the Jebusites, who had a threshing floor at this location. It was there that David built an altar to the Lord and sacrificed to God (1 Chronicles 21:25, 2 Samuel 24:18-25, 2 Chronicles 3:1). Thus the Temple Mount was purchased and so legally belongs to Israel.
In King Solomon’s temple, it was here over Araunah’s threshing floor at the peak of Moriah that the ark of the covenant sat. Let stop to take a closer look at Mount Moriah before moving on.
Legend has it that Melchizedek—the King of Salem and priest of God Most High—brought out bread and wine on Mount Moriah. “And he blessed Avram, saying, ‘Blessed be Avram of God Most High, creator of heaven and earth‘” (Genesis 14:19).
The location of Jacob’s dream is traditionally identified as Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:10-18) although it is not explicitly stated in the text where the dream took place. It is also traditionally believed that the summit of Mount Moriah is the “Foundation Stone”—the symbolic fundament of the world’s creation—and reputedly the site of the Temple’s Holy of Holies.
The Samaritans did not believe that Mount Moriah was the place of Isaac’s binding, thus not the correct place of worship as some scholars reference the conversation Yeshua had with the Samaritan woman at the well, where He stated that the Samaritans were inaccurate in their knowledge of the worship of God (John 4:20-24).
Acknowledging the intended similarity between the sacrifice of Isaac and the crucifixion of Yeshua they make the connection that Moriah would be the same location where Jews made sacrifices at the Temple of Solomon. Isaac carrying the wood for the sacrificial fire as Yeshua carried the cross; the reference in Hebrews 11:17-19 to Abraham believing God would raise Isaac from the dead; Isaac being Abraham’s “only” son and Yeshua being God’s only begotten Son; all make the correlation between the two events point to Moriah being the Temple site.
Mount Moriah is also a central location in Islam. Muslims know this mount as Mount Marwah and they believe it to be located near the Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia instead of the location accepted in Judaism and Christianity. There has been a historical account of rams’ horns preserved in the Kaaba until the year 683, which are believed to be the remains of the sacrifice of Ishmael. From a Muslim point of view, the well-known site of Mount Marwah, the hill just outside the perimeter of the Kaaba in Mecca, may be identified with the biblical Moriah.
The Quran states that Abraham saw a vision of himself sacrificing his son. Among early Muslim scholars, however, there was a dispute over the identity of this son. The argument of those early scholars who believed it was Isaac rather than Ishmael was that “God’s perfecting his mercy on Abraham and Isaac” referred to His making Abraham His friend and saving him from the burning bush, and to his rescuing Isaac. On the contrary, the other parties held that the promise to Sarah was of a son, Isaac, and a grandson, Jacob, excluded the possibility of a premature death of Isaac. Muslims considered that visions experienced by prophets are revelations from God, and as such it was a divine order to Abraham. The entire episode of the sacrifice is regarded as a trial of God for Abraham and his son, and both are seen as having passed the test by submitting to God and showing their awareness that God is the Owner and Giver of all that we have and cherish, including life and offspring. The submission of Abraham and his son is celebrated and commemorated by Muslims on the days of Eid al-Adha. During the festival, those who can afford and the ones in the pilgrimage sacrifice a ram, cow, sheep or a camel. Part of the sacrifice meat is eaten by the household and what remains is distributed to the neighbors and the needy.
Let’s continue on with Avraham and Issac. The length of the travel caused the testing of Avraham to become even more intense. He had plenty of time to think about what was going to happen; by the time they arrived, Avraham could truly carry out God’s will freely. On the third day of the journey, Avraham looked up and saw the place from afar. The land of Moriah would become the future city of Jerusalem, and the mount that the Lord pointed out to Avraham would become the future site of the Temple. According to rabbinic legend, Avraham and Isaac could see a cloud hovering over one of the hills, but the two attendants with them could not. So now they knew the spot that they were to go to. Avraham takes the wood and places it on Isaac. We know that Isaac is old enough to carry this wood and old enough to understand what is happening here. Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice just as later down in the centuries Jesus, the greater Isaac, would carry the wood for His own sacrifice. Isaac asked Avraham, “Where is the sacrifice?” Avraham responds in faith, “God will provide.” The word for “provide” in Hebrew is also a common way to say “see.” So Avraham could have been saying, “We shall see,” or “God will see to it.” Whichever way it was, Avraham was trusting God, something he had learned to do so well. Avraham begins to bind Isaac. The Hebrew word is aqad, the stem of which is -k-d. It is a technical term for the tying together of the forefoot and the hind-foot, the two forefeet, or of the two hind-feet of an animal.
The moment has now come and I’m sure many things flashed through Avraham’s mind as he lifted up that knife. “Avraham, Avraham!” What words of endearment on God’s part! Because Avraham and God shared a special friendship. Avraham was right; he knew that God would provide. A ram lies stuck in a thicket, which becomes the sacrifice, but there is more to this. Avraham names the place Adonai Yireh, meaning “on this mountain the Lord will be seen.” Avraham once again receives insight into the coming Messiah, that one day He would be sacrificed in this place and that He too would be resurrected just like his son Isaac. God once more blessed Avraham. All the nations will be blessed through his descendants. The Kingly Priest in Melchizedek and the replaced sacrificial lamb have now shown Avraham the complete message of the Messiah. The Messiah would speak of this day when He said, “Avraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it, and was glad.” Yeshua here uses that word for “seeing” (John 8:56).
(We have placed a handout that compares Yeshua and Issac in our transcript. If you like, after the recording you can read it, or you can print out the whole transcript.)
The Comparison of Yeshua and Isaac
Son of Abraham
Only beloved son
Named by God
Messages of birth delivered by angels
Three days very significant
Three day journey—Genesis 22:4
Three days in grave—Luke 24:13-21
Two men went with them
Carried the wood for their own sacrifice
Offered as a sacrifice
John 1:29, Matthew 27:35
Both offered on a hill of a Mount
Both were bound
Both willingly allowed themselves to be offered as sacrifices
Both received back from the dead
Servant gets bride for son
Ephesians 5:22-32, Revelation 21:2,9
Servant offered ten gifts
Romans 6:23, 12; 1 Corinthians 12
When Sarah hears about Avraham sacrificing Isaac, she dies from the shock (Genesis 23:1-2). Avraham buys the Cave of Machpelah (that is, Hebron) for a burial site, which still stands today and in which the three patriarchs and their wives are buried. After her death, Avraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. Many scholars and sages believe this was Hagar. She bore him six more children (Genesis 25:1-6). Paul addresses this in Romans 9:6-7 to clarify that only Isaac continued the covenant.
This is where we leave Avraham. Scripture says that God has given each person a measure of faith. I believe our father Avraham planted his seed of faith and it became a tree of righteousness.
This is our heritage of faith.
Avraham: the Pillar of Faith
“And they that know Thy name will put their trust in Thee: for Thou, O Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee.”
Not too much is said about Isaac. The greatest moment in his life was on that altar (Genesis 22). It took great trust in God and his father Avraham to let himself be bound as a sacrifice on that altar. Isaac, (Yis’chak), was well aware of his miraculous birth and the promises that were going to be handed down to him one day. To this day, it is customary for the Jewish father to pass down traditions and beliefs to the next generation. It is also customary for the father to bless the children, and we see Avraham doing this, but not before he does his parental duty in finding Isaac a wife. Her name is Rebekah. Rebekah also has the same experience that Avraham had: she is asked to leave her homeland and her father’s house and go to a land that she was not familiar with. since the future of the covenant would come through Rebekah, her faith also would have to be tested. She agrees to go, and once again, we see this custom of blessing in Genesis 24:60, “And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, Become thousands of ten thousands, and may your descendants possess The gate of those who hate them.” We see Yis’chak returning from Beer-lahai-roi where he would later settle (Genesis 24:62). It was probably part of an oasis to which sheep-breeders would come for water and pasturage. It says that Yis’chak was out walking when he looked up and saw the caravan coming (verse 63). The Hebrew word here rendered as “out walking,” la-suach, is not clear in its meaning. The present rendering is based on the Arabic saha, meaning “to take a stroll.” Another tradition has Isaac chatting with his friends, a translation derived from the Hebrew siah, meaning “to talk.” This word siah can alternatively be translated as “a shrub,” which has led some to place him as strolling among bushes. The most popular rabbinic understanding has him praying or meditating. Whatever he was doing, he was going to meet Rebekah. Genesis 24;67 tells us, “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and he took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her; so Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” The act of taking Rebekah into his mother’s tent symbolized that she was the successor to Sarah as the matriarch of the family. Not too much is recorded about the first twenty years of their marriage. Issac appears to be just a transition between his father Avraham and his son Ya’akov. This lack of presence in the Scriptures certainly does not diminish his role as a patriarch and a pillar of the church. The scriptures tell us that Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. She too was barren of children. This may have taken place to show that like his father, Isaac was a man of prayer and that God was a God who answers—and He did answer. Rebekah finds herself having much difficulty in her pregnancy, so she inquires of the Lord as to the problem going on inside of her (Genesis 25:22). Interestingly, Isaac and Rebekah lived in Beer-lahai-roi at the time; this was the same place that Hagar had her encounter with God when He revealed to her about her son. It’s here that Rebekah is told that she is having twins and that her younger son will receive the birthright. And so twins were born to Isaac. We will discuss these two boys later.
Genesis 26 starts by saying, “There was a famine in the land….” Here comes another test for Isaac His first impulse is to go to Gerar and then to Egypt, just as his father had done before him, but God intervenes and tells him not to go. God re-establishes His covenant now with Isaac, but only if he stays in the land. This meant to Isaac that he would have to trust God for food for his family as well as for his livestock. Could God still prosper him in times of famine? “Yes” Isaac travels in the region of Gerar during the time of the famine. Just like his father, he lies about his wife, calling her his sister; the similarities are so great between Avraham and his son. Both had to learn that honesty is the best policy. Isaac prospered and became very wealthy, but God kept him on course by allowing him to encounter many difficulties with the people of the region mainly over wells. Even though Isaac was asked to leave the region of Gerar, the king himself comes to see Isaac to make a treaty on behalf of the people. With Isaac’s wealth and fame, and being the son of Avraham (who was a powerful and well known man in these parts, and whose wells they were disputing over), the King of Gerar wanted to be sure that his kingdom was safe and that this powerful man would not retaliate against them in the future. So he comes to Isaac and makes a treaty with him, an alah; this is a curse which accompanies a treaty sealed by an oath. The men sit down to eat, which is the custom when making a treaty, and they both exchange oaths and the curses that go along with this treaty if either one should violate it. Isaac now moves to Beer-sheba, which is where Avraham settled after the episode with the binding of Isaac, where God visits him again and reaffirms the covenant one more time. As is the custom of his father, he builds an altar and calls out upon the name of the Lord. Finally, God blesses Isaac’s servants with a well that was not fought over, and he names the well Shibah. Isaac is walking in the covenant, a wealthy prominent person like his father Avraham, trusting God and living out the promises one at a time.
Three worldviews of Isaac
Judaism: 37 years old at binding
- Dedicated as a sacrifice and so could not leave the God-given land
- Oldest to live of all 3 patriarchs
- Name was never changed
- Blind in old age due to the tears of the angels at his binding falling in his eyes
Christianity: Isaac a type of Messiah
- Church stands on both the Son of Promise and father of the faithful
- Isaac = Liberty, Ishmael = Slavery
- Islam: Prophet of Islam
- Described as father of the Israelites and a righteous servant of God
- Isaac, along with Ishmael, important for Muslims for continuing to preach the message of monotheism after their father Abraham.
- Isaac‘s name is mentioned 15 times in Qur’an. the Qur’an states that Abraham received “good tidings” of Isaac, a prophet of righteousness, and God blessed them both.
- This is where we will leave Isaac and now concentrate on his two sons. The Scriptures say, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever” (Psalm 52:8). It is this olive tree that we are grafted into.
This is our heritage of trust.
Yis’chak: the Pillar of Trust
“And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Jacob was one of the twins born to Isaac and Rebekah. The name is derived from the Hebrew word akev, which means “heel.” This was very prophetic in fulfilling the prophecy of Genesis chapter three, which was the first Messianic prophecy. We now find out who “the heel” is that Satan would bruise. Jacob, “the heel,” would later become Israel. We see that the people of “the heel” were called to bring light to the darkness (which is contrary to the kingdom of Satan) and would suffer, and of course the Messiah Himself would come from “the heel” and would suffer. His Hebrew name, Ya’akov, stems from the Semitic root -k-v, meaning “to protect.” Shortened from Ya’akov-El, “May El protect,” the name Ya’akov is a prayer for protection for this newborn babe, and we see that this has been the prayer throughout the history of this people.
Jacob is a quiet man, quite the opposite from his twin Esau, but right from birth he knew what he wanted. Holding on to his brother’s heel at birth gained him the name “the supplanter” (Hosea 12:3). Did Jacob know from birth his destiny, or was he really a supplanter? If you recall, his mother was told the future of this child before he was born (Genesis 25:23). The struggle for seniority and favor carried into their adult lives. Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah favored Jacob. Scripture tells us that God also favored Jacob over Esau as Romans 9:11-13 tells us, “For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
Just as it is written: “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” .
This brings us to the selling of the birthright (Genesis 25:29-34). The birthright belonged to the firstborn. The firstborn son, along with the firstfruits of the soil and the male firstling of the herd and flock, belonged to the Lord. The firstborn son had responsibilities and obligations to the family and to his father. He was second-in-command in the family circle, so he also had rights and privileges that the others did not have. He would receive the greater blessing from the father and receive a bigger portion of the inheritance (a double portion of the inheritance for the firstborn is documented at Mari and Nuzi in the Middle Assyrian laws and in biblical law, as Deuteronomy 21:17 says, “On the contrary, he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved wife, by giving him a double portion of everything that he owns, for he was the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.”
According to ancient Near Eastern documents, the father had the right to disregard the birth order in determining his heirs. In Genesis 49:3-4, 1 Chronicles 5:1, and Genesis 48:17-19 we see this to be true. We also see examples of this in documents from Nuzi, Alalakh, and Ugarit. An heir was also able to barter away his future inheritance. This transfer of inheritance rights is illustrated in a Nuzi tablet that records how a man parted with his future inheritance in return for three sheep received immediately from his brother. So we see Esau selling his birthright for some stew. We must note that Esau was well aware of the covenant blessings that would have been passed down to him; maybe he was not interested in the spiritual issues which allowed him to so easily give up his birthright. This could be why God favored Ya’akov over his brother.
The following is a sad example of what family life is like when we fail to communicate with one another. Isaac and Rebekah will take their favoritism to the grave. It is now time to give the parting blessings, and Isaac is determined to give his blessing to his elder son, but Rebekah knows that God has promised it to Jacob; so their failure to communicate creates a deception that each one of them will have to live with for the rest of their lives. Isaac asked Esau to prepare them a meal. This was closely connected with the act of imparting this final blessing. It was part of the ritual. Issac’s loss of vision was not only physical, but in this case spiritual as well. Rebekah and Jacob manage to trick Isaac into imparting the blessing to him and not to Esau. Isaac begins his blessing by saying, “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth”
(Genesis 27:28). He blessed his son with nothing but the best of God. He blesses the fruit of the land and he blesses Jacob with political and military power and authority. He adds from the original covenant, “Cursed be those who curse you and blessed be those who bless you.” But to Isaac and Esau’s amazement, they find out that they have been had. Once a blessing is given, there is no taking it back. In verse 36, Esau resorts to bitter sarcasm that expresses itself in wordplay. He reinterprets the name Jacob, “to supplant,” and he makes a pun on the words bekhorah, “birthright,” and berakha, “blessing.” In using his father’s word laqach, “took away,” he uses the Hebrew stem l-k-h, which can mean “to take away,” or “to purchase.” He was actually saying that he sold his birthright, which apparently Isaac did not know. The lack of faith on the part of Rebekah and Jacob will now set up a lesson in faith for Jacob’s life. He flees for his life and never again sees his mother; but before he goes, Isaac confirms Jacob’s title to the birthright and he is recognized as the true heir to the Avrahamic Covenant. Unlike his brother, Jacob must not marry outside of the family. He travels to Paddan-aram, to his uncle’s house. During his travels, his journey of faith begins. His travels bring him to an unknown place where he spends the night. The Hebrew word used is makom, which is frequently used to insinuate a sacred site. While Ya’akov is sleeping, he receives a dream, a revelation. It was customary throughout the ancient world for someone to sleep in the area of a sacred temple in order to induce a deity to reveal its will, so the writer makes it clear that Ya’akov was not familiar with this place
Genesis 28:10-12 tells us, .”Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
The Hebrew pronoun for “it” is identical to the pronoun for “him.” Therefore Genesis 28:12 could read, “And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on him. And behold the Lord stood above him.” Just as Abraham saw a glimpse of the Messiah in his life, Jacob now gets a glimpse of the Messiah when he sees the ladder with angels descending and ascending on it. Yeshua interprets the pronoun in Genesis 28:12 in the same way as He applies it to Himself when He says, “Truly I say to you, you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
So where do we see Yeshua ascending and descending?
*For further information regarding Yeshua ascending and descending we have placed this information in the transcript. You can go back and read the transcript or you can print off a copy of the transcript.
1 Peter 3:18-20
1 Timothy 3:16
Will descend again
Heaven opened up
God now comes on the scene of Jacob’s life. In his dream, he sees a stairway of ascending and descending angels. The Hebrew word sullam in this passage is rendered here as “stairway;” this is unique to the Bible. It may be derived from the stem s-l-l, “to cast up a mound,” or maybe it’s connected with the Akkadian word simmiltu, “steps.” Sullam could therefore be a ladder or a stairway ramp. The inspirational stimulus for the image seems to be a ladder of ascent to heaven known from Egyptian and Hittite sources in which both divinities and the souls of the dead are provided with ladders to enable them to ascend from the netherworld to the abodes of men and the gods. Another explanation lies in the Babylonian ziggurat, the temple tower familiar from the Tower of Babel story. God reveals Himself to Jacob by using His divine name YHVH to distinguish Himself from the pagan gods who were called El. Here God confirms Jacob as the third patriarch and the heir to the Avrahamic covenant. Once again, God gives His word that “the heel” Jacob and his descendants would be the recipients of the land on which he was sleeping. Amazed that God would still have anything to do with him, he names the place Bethel. He takes the stone he was sleeping on and erects a pillar. Pillars (matzevah) would be set up to honor different gods, and the Torah makes it clear that this is idolatry; however, there were some pillars that were set up which were not idols, such as for burial markers or as a memorial to witness an occasion. Here we see him setting up the pillar as a witness to the dream and God’s promises to him. He pours oil over it to dedicate it and makes it a sacred place by naming it. The symbolic act of anointing with oil was used in the ancient Near East when making treaties or business deals. We see Jacob making a vow as if this were the case between him and God. An eighth century BCE Aramaic treaty inscription from As-Safira in Syria terms each upright stone on which a treaty is inscribed a ntsh. This is the Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew word matzevah, both words being derived from the same stem n-ts-v. That Syrian text designates these identical stones as bty-lhy, “abodes of the gods,” when they serve as witnesses to the treaty.
It’s clear that matzevah is the generic term for an upright stone slab, irrespective of its function; beit Elohim, “God’s abode,” is a specific subcategory of the matzevah. It is so called because it symbolizes the divine presence that monitors the fulfillment or infraction of the terms of a treaty or vow. That the expression beit Elohim/El in this special, technical sense once had a far wider currency is proved by the fact that it found its way into Greek usage. Hellenistic writers mention “bethels,” baituloi, as certain sacred stones supposedly possessed by divine or demonic powers. Exodus 23:24 says, “You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their memorial stones in pieces.” There is plenty of evidence for a pagan god who would either have been believed to be the deified sacred stone or the watchful divinity thought to reside in the stone of testimony. Of course, in the mouth of Jacob the term beit’ Elohim means that the stone is a testimony to the Divine Presence.
It goes on to say that he gave a tithe. The institution of tithe-giving to temples and to royalty is well-attested throughout the ancient Near East. Avraham had earlier paid a tithe of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem. Ya’akov vows to pay a tithe to God for all of his future blessings. At this point, it is not known who Ya’akov will give this tithe to.
After this memorable experience, Jacob continues his journey. The literal translation is, “He lifted up his feet,” a phrase found nowhere else. Most likely it means that the going was now easier. Jacob comes upon a well, the same well that Avraham’s servant came upon; but the servant came with riches and a caravan, while Jacob was poor and all alone, the reason being that he could not receive from his father’s inheritance until he died. It was unheard of for a child to ask for his inheritance before his father died; this would have been disgraceful, as we see in the parable of the prodigal son. Jewish people love a good story, so should Yeshua have been any different? It wasn’t anything new or different that Yeshua spoke in parables. Rabbis in His day taught in this manner. In fact, the parables that Yeshua told were very common parables in that day, but Yeshua put a new twist to His stories. His had eternal meanings, and the endings were not always the way people thought they should end. Yeshua was a master storyteller, and He always held His audience’s attention; He always got a response. Let’s look at one parable in particular; we call it “The Prodigal Son.” It should be called “The Compassionate Father and His Two Lost Sons.” This age-old parable has been the topic of many sermons, but let’s place this story in its proper setting.
To get the true impact, we must look through Jewish eyes and hear through Jewish ears. These are the eyes and ears that heard it first. The Pharisees and scribes have just been complaining that Yeshua was eating with sinners, so Yeshua tells them a story.
He said, “A certain man had two sons. And the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my portion of my inheritance.’” In the Middle East, this statement would have been a great insult to the father. This was not heard of. No one in that culture would have ever said this to their father. It was like saying, “Father, I want you dead,” or as we would say, “Drop dead!” This would have brought great sorrow to this family. Because of their community living style, he would have been cut off from the community. We here in the west do not understand the impact of this request. But don’t run to the next line yet! You see, according to the traditions of the Middle East, the older son should have stepped in and dealt with his younger brother. This was his obligation to the family as the elder brother, but he remained silent. By now, Yeshua’ listeners are shocked. They can’t believe what they just heard. They thought for sure that this father was going to disown his son! Well, this story only gets worse. The father willingly divides the inheritance with a double portion going to the elder son. According to Jewish law, if a father wants to give his children their inheritance before he dies (an act that he would have initiated), they could not sell that property until he dies so that he could still make a living from it. The younger son in the parable did not even give his father that security!
Yeshua tells a parable in Matthew 21:28-32 about two other sons who were asked to work the vineyard. One said, “Yes,” but then didn’t go, while the other said, “No,” and later did go. It showed that it is never too late to make the right decision, and so could have these two sons, but their relationships with each other and their father were not good. The younger son leaves and goes far away from his family—so far away that now he is in a land that does not live like he lives: he is in a pagan land. “This son is not even living like a Jew! He is slopping pigs!” I can hear the crowd gasp as they heard Yeshua say it. Now, a great famine has brought him to poverty and even starvation. These pods that the pigs were eating were carob pods. These were identified as the food of the poor.
In Isaiah 1:20, the writer uses a play on words: chereb, which is a sword and charob, the food for the poor. Like Israel in the book of Isaiah, the poverty caused the son to repent. The saying, “When poverty causes the people to eat carob pods, then they seek God in repentance,” was a popular saying at the time of Yeshua. This is exactly what the boy did. He came to his senses. He repents due to his circumstances but not from his heart. The son now reveals his heart: “I will return to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned and am not worthy to be your son. Make me one of your hired servants.’” A hired hand was one who received pay, unlike a bondservant who did not. So this son devised a plan where he thought he could work for his father and receive pay but not be part of the family. He still thought of his father as a banker rather than a father.
There were several parables during Yeshua’ time that dealt with wayward sons and fathers calling their sons to come back home. Here are just a few titles: “The Compassionate Father and His Runaway Son,” “The Compassionate Father and His Lost Son,” and “The Compassionate Father and His Obstinate Son.” So we see that the audience was well-acquainted with what Yeshua was telling them. But in Yeshua’ parable, the Father does not try to convince the child to return; He just patiently waits for him. Now is the time for the father to make it right—yes, the father. In the Middle East, this son would have been cut off from the community. He would no longer have been accepted or allowed to live among them. So the father sees him in the distance far from the village and he runs out to him. First the younger son humiliates the father with his request; then the older son humiliates the father by not being the mediator for the family; finally, the father humiliates himself in the community by running out to the son. It was disgraceful for an elder person to run, but this father put aside his pride to accept his son back. This story is so full of tradition and customs that the crowd was on a roller coaster of emotions. They could not believe that this man would have accepted this boy back, and as a son, nonetheless. The younger son begins his speech, but he stops short of asking to be a servant because he truly repents when he sees his father’s actions toward him. The Rabbis believed that if you took the first step in repentance by making an opening as small as an eye of a needle that God would make the opening so wide that wagons full of soldiers and siege battlements could go through it. God is that loving. When people reject a relationship with their Creator, they, like the younger son, are saying to God, “Drop dead!” They want to travel to a faraway country and live their lives as if God did not exist. God, like this father, patiently waits for your return, always looking to see if you will take that first step toward repentance. Then He can run out to welcome you by putting on you His robe of Salvation, His ring which is the sign of the covenant, and shoes on your feet symbolizing that you are an heir and not a slave. So this father celebrates and calls the whole community together to show them that he has reconciled with his son and that they should accept him back. The father now has his younger son back, but what about the elder son who may not have left physically but left a long time ago in his heart?
The elder son looks at the father as his boss and himself as his father’s servant. He can not see that his father has a great love for him and that he has extended his grace to him all along knowing that he has no regard or respect for him as a father. Yeshua ends His story here. He lets His audience come to the conclusion for themselves.
So let us continue with Jacob. Once at the well, Jacob discovers that he is in the right place at the right time. He meets Rachel, his cousin. He kisses her. This is the only instance in the Bible of a man kissing a woman who is neither his mother nor his wife. Even until today, Orthodox Jews will not even embrace or shake your hand if you are not of their immediate family. Jacob is welcomed by Rachel’s father and even offered a job. Everything was going great for Ya’akov… or was it? God now begins to do His work in Jacob. His love for Rachel has caused him to make the ultimate sacrifice of working for Laban for seven years. The seven year service was in lieu of the “bride-price” known as mohar in Hebrew and terhatum and biblium in Akkadian. The groom would pay the father a set price for the loss of her service and offspring, which will now belong to him. The biblium consisted of a ceremonial marriage gift to the bride’s family. We see this in Genesis 24:53, when Avraham’s servant gave them gifts. Once a woman was betrothed, she had the status of a wife “.And the servant brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.”
Once the seven years end and the wedding ceremony is over, Jacob finds out what it is like to be deceived. The older sister had rights and privileges, one of which was being married first. What could Jacob say? He begins to see that same lesson that his father and grandfather had to learn: honesty is the best policy. The bridal week was seven days of feasting. This practice still remained during the second temple period, and even until today, many Jews celebrate for one week. It is known as sheva berakhot, named after the seven benedictions which are recited each day over a cup of wine after the festive meal. The perseverance of Ya’akov causes him to sacrifice another seven years for Rachel. God gives Jacob eleven sons and one daughter (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah, and Joseph) during his stay in Haran.
Jacob is now ready to go back to his father’s home. God reassures him that He will be with him. Jacob’s patience and perseverance have paid off. God has blessed him with his family and with flocks and herds. Jacob consults his wives and they pack up and leave without saying goodbye. God was already beginning to prepare Jacob to meet his brother Esau. When Laban learns of their departure, he hurries to catch up with them. With God’s intervention, Laban does not retaliate, but makes a pact with Jacob So now come, let us make a covenant, you and I, and let it be a witness between you and me. (Genesis 31:44)
Let’s take a closer look at cutting a covenant
1. A Standing Stone
A covenant is marked with a monument. First Jacob set up a stone as a sacred standing stone (matzebah) as he had done at Bethel. It functioned as a monument to memorialize the covenant, and it may have served other ritual purposes, like the stone at Bethel.
2. An Altar
A covenant ordinarily requires an altar. Jacob told his relatives to gather stones. They piled them into a heap that functioned as an altar. An ancient Israelite altar consisted of a heap of uncut stones. Laban named the heap Jegar-sahadutha, which apparently means “witness-heap.” Jacob named it Gal’ed which means “witness-heap” in Hebrew. Laban said, “May this heap (gal) be a witness (ed) between you and me.” They set up a pillar and called it mitzpah, which means “watchtower” or “overlook.” Laban said, “May the LORD watch (tzafah) between you and me.” This etiology accounts for two place names in Transjordan: Gilead and Mizpah.
3. Terms and Conditions
A covenant includes terms and conditions binding upon both parties. During the ceremony, both parties formally rehearse the terms. In this case, Jacob and Laban agreed not to pass the witness heap into each other’s land to do one another harm. Laban made Jacob swear not to mistreat his daughters or take any other wives.
4. Invocation of a Deity
A covenant requires a deity to function as a warden, holding both parties responsible to their obligations and punishing them for breach of trust. Laban said, “May the LORD watch between you and me.” He said, “God is a witness between you and me.”
A covenant requires both parties to take an oath. Laban swore by “the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father.” Jacob swore by “the fear of his father Isaac.”
6. A Shared Meal
Jacob offered a sacrifice by cutting it up into pieces, thus we get the term “to cut a covenant.” A covenant ceremony concludes with a meal shared between the covenanting parties. Jacob hosted his kinsmen from Laban’s household. They ate of the sacrifices he had offered. The shared meal represents mutual good will between the two parties.
(We will see in detail later the covenant process at Mt. Sinai.)
Jacob returns to the land of his father just the way he left it: with the presence of angels (Genesis 32:2). He names the place Mahanaim, meaning “the two camps,” for Jacob divided everyone into two camps in preparation for meeting his brother. The location of Mahanaim has not been identified, but it has a history in the life of the Jewish people. It was one of the Levitical cities of refuge. Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, was crowned king there. David fled there when he was fleeing from Absalom, and in Solomon’s day it was a district capital. Even though Ya’akov knows that the angels of God are with him and that God Himself said He would protect him, Jacob was greatly frightened and filled with anxiety over meeting his brother. After he divides his family and flock into two camps, Jacob goes off to be by himself. He, like his father, was a man of prayer. He begins by identifying God with Avraham and Isaac. He reminds God of what He has said over the last twenty years, covering his exile from beginning to end. After establishing the facts with God (which was more for Jacob’s benefit than God’s), he gathers together an overwhelming gift for his brother and sends it ahead in waves so that his brother does not have time to really think about what is happening. Jacob crosses the ford of the Jabbok with his family and all his possessions, getting into position to meet his brother, not knowing how he will react. Again Jacobis left alone. Suddenly, a man appears on the scene, and he begins to wrestle with Ya’akov. Not knowing who he is wrestling with, he continues until daybreak. Finally he realizes that it must be one of those angels that appeared to him at Mahanaim and has been watching over them as they traveled. Jacob, a man of persistence, would not allow the man to leave him until he blessed him. The angel struck him on the hip bone, which caused Jacob to walk with a limp from that time on. The angel asks him his name and then proceeds to change his name to Yisrael. Just as his grandfather had a name change, so did he. Remember, names were significant and had great association with a person’s personality or destiny, so Jacob, who once was a supplanter, will now be Yisrael. The name Yisrael is associated with struggle and triumph in the face of overwhelming odds, but it can also mean “Prince of God.” A variant of the key verb in this passage yakol, meaning “strive,” or possibly “perseverance,” is found in Hosea 12:4, “In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel, and in his vigor he strove with God.” So in essence, Jacob was a man with great perseverance, and though his life was a struggle with many difficulties and problems, he prevailed and was granted victory. He was entitled a prince, a patriarch! This was certainly the highlight of Yisrael’s life. The man/angel could have been the archangel Michael whose name means “who is like God” and who is the defender of Israel. Yisrael names the place Peniel, literally meaning “Face of God.” The idea of seeing God’s face and living obviously goes this far back in time, for God told Moses explicitly that man can not see His face and live. Yisrael knows that he has been with God Himself and He has made a radical change in him. Now Ya’akov/Yisrael is ready to see his brother. Day breaks and Yisrael looks up and here comes Esau. Despite all his fears, Esau embraces his brother and the healing of the past begins. Yisrael, still not sure of his brother’s sincerity, denies his request to travel together, so they part their ways. Yisrael, now back in the land of Canaan, sets up an altar of thanksgiving to God who has brought him back safely. Arriving in Shechem, he purchases a portion of land hoping to settle there with his family. Yisrael, the one who must struggle with difficulties, does so once again as he finds himself with the misfortune that comes to his daughter Dinah Genesis 34:1-2 tells us, “Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force.” Bringing disgrace to this family, her brothers take revenge, despite Shechem’s offer to marry her. Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s full brothers, devise a plan to slaughter all the men of this city. Yisrael, more concerned about his own well-being, addresses the issue with them, but the moral issue of what was done to their sister was more important to the brothers; yet God says, “Vengeance is mine.” On Yisrael’s death bed, he censors Simeon and Levi from his blessing for their acts of violence. Yisrael now leaves for Bethel as God commanded him. Jacob, after twenty years of serving Laban, now leaves with his wives and children and their livestock. This is like a scene from the Exodus. Like Moses leaving Egypt and heading out to return to Mount Sinai, Jacob is headed toward Bethel (the house of God), the place where he had the dream of the angels ascending and descending. This was the place where Jacob vowed to God that if He would protect him and prosper him and bring him back to this place, he would give Him a tenth of all he had. Well, the time had come, and Jacob was having his own exodus; but instead of Pharaoh pursuing him, it was his father-in-law. What Jacob did not know was that Rachel had taken her father’s idols; but what he did know was that they were returning to Bethel, the place he called the house of God. Genesis 35:2-3 tells us that Jacob instructs his household to put aside all foreign gods. He told them to purify themselves and change their garments. We also see this behavior in Exodus 19:10: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments.’” How important was all of this? Like at Mount Sinai, Bethel was a holy place.
Jacob knew that one could not enter into the house of God without renouncing any allegiance to any other god.
In today’s world, we do not think about idolatry, and yet Paul tells us that immorality, evil desires, and greed are all forms of idolatry (Colossians 3:5). Basically, idolatry is anything that keeps you from walking in holiness and having an intimate relationship with God. It could be TV, sports, or the internet that keeps a person from prayer and God’s Word.
It’s like 1 John 2:15-16 tells us: “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but is from the world.”
Jacob tells his household to purify themselves. Paul tells the Corinthians in
2 Corinthians 7:1, “We must cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit.”
1 John 1:19 tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 Peter 1:22 says that obedience to the truth purifies our souls.
After telling his household to cast off their idols and purify themselves, Jacob tells them to change their garments. The Torah speaks a lot of changing our garments in relationship to purity. This can mean immersion/baptism.
Paul tells us to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).
He again tells us to “put on the Lord Yeshua the Messiah and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14).
We are to “lay aside the old self and put on the new, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”
We are to “lay aside the old self and put on the new” (Colossians 3:9-10),
and we are to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience… and beyond all these things put on love” (Colossians 3:12-14).
How shall we prepare to enter the house of God? We must repent, be purified in Messiah, and change our garments, which is the taking off of the old self and putting on the new. As we know, Rachel did not take Jacob’s advice, and she lied to her father; and as the story goes, Jacob tells Laban, “Let the curse fall on whoever has your idols.” And so the curse fell on her and she died. The wages of sin is death. Let us prepare to go up to the house of the Lord by following not only Jacob’s advice but the Lord in whom we seek. Once again, Yisrael is fleeing the wrath of another. He remembers his vow to God, which he made in Bethel twenty years ago, and tells everyone to rid themselves of any foreign god. We see this same act of purification when the people were going to meet with God at Mt. Sinai.
Exodus 19:10 says, “The Lord said to Moses: ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes” And when they were going to cross the Jordan into the promised land. “Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:5). God does appear to Yisrael and once again blesses him. God also once again renames Ya’akov to Yisrael. He gives the blessing of fertility, nationhood, kingship, and territory. Yisrael is the true heir to the Avrahamic Covenant. Yisrael sets up a pillar and not only pours oil over it, but pours out a libation (Genesis 35:14). The Hebrew nesekh usually means a wine offering and is found nowhere else in Genesis.Yisrael now comes to a most difficult time: saying goodbye to Rachel. She is about to give birth to Israel’s twelfth and final son Benjamin, and in so doing, dies. Rachel, the one who Jacob persevered fourteen long, hard years for, is now dead.
This is where we will leave Yisrael. He is walking in the covenant of his forefathers. Scripture says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3), and “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:5). This was Jacob; the testing of his faith produced a man of character, perseverance, and hope: Yisrael.
This is our heritage to persevere.
Yisrael: the Pillar of Perseverance
Who is next? Who will God pass this covenant on to? Who will be God’s chosen? First of all, we see that it is God who does the choosing. He chose Avraham in the beginning and Isaac over Ishmael. God said, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Romans 9:13). We see this with Yeshua. He said, “You have not chosen Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). And that it is by no merit of ours, “Not by works that any man should boast” (Romans 9:10-12, Ephesians 2:9). Scripture tells us that Abraham received the promises of the covenant by faith before any work of his own, such as circumcision (Romans 4:1-3, 9-10).
This is God’s, unmerited favor, His goodness, His mercy. We are saved by faith. We see that it was through faith that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob entered into the covenant and received the promises. It was God that called them and brought them to this faith. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is a God of mercy; there is no shadow of turning with Him. So now we have seen in the Old Testament that God’s grace was in operation. God has not changed, His ways are still the same. But when faith comes, obedience always follows.
“By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than enjoy the passing pleasure of sin, esteeming the reproach of Messiah greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” Hebrews 11:24-26
We have seen that the patriarchs not only had revelations of the coming Messiah, but their lives paralleled His; and we see this to be true with Moshe’s life. We want to look at a few of these parallels in his life.
We start with the text in Hebrews 11. We see here that Moshe rejected the pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Messiah as greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. The question at hand is when did Moshe have this revelation of the reproach of Messiah? Nowhere in the five books of the Torah do we see that he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter—only here in the Apostolic Scriptures; and where in the Torah do we see that Moshe considered the reproach of Messiah except here in Hebrews?
Did Moshe have a foreknowledge about the coming redeemer who would die for the sins of the world? What we are seeing here in the Apostolic Scriptures is that the writer can see for himself the reflection of the Messiah Yeshua in Moshe. Here is another life which is being lived out without the one living it even knowing that he is a type, or better yet, an example—which in many ways we, as believers, should be the same example—of Messiah’s life. The passage tells us that Moshe chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God. The Midrash Rabbah sheds some light on this subject. “Now it came about in those days, when Moshe had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors” (Exodus 2:11). What is the meaning of, “looked on their hard labors”? It means that he looked upon their burdens and wept, saying, “Woe is me, for you would that I could die for you!” There is no labor more difficult than brickmaking, and he used to shoulder the burden and help each one (Exodus Rabbah 1:27). Both the author of Hebrews and the Midrash appear to have a common source, and that source may have been the oral teachings of Moshe himself. Even though the Torah never tells us these things, we are told that he saw the people’s hard labor and that he killed the Egyptian. The tradition in the Midrash was that Moshe longed to die on behalf of his people. Like Moshe, Paul tells us in Romans 9:3 that he wished that he was cursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of his own people. Moshe, instead of taking the power and throne of Egypt, humbled himself, stripping himself of his royalty; he took on the form of a slave, being found in appearance as a Hebrew; he humbled himself even to the point of death. Paul tells us this same thing in Philippians 2:8 of Messiah.
Moshe did so because he had a conviction of the unseen God and confidence in the things hoped for, such as the promises of God. He took on the burden, affliction, and suffering of his people, willing even to die for them, because he crucified his flesh and forsook the world by rejecting the riches and power that the world had offered him. We must remember that when Moshe was born, his mother saw that he was beautiful. What did she see in her child that made her know he had to live? Maybe like each of the matriarchs she too, knew that her child was destined to be the receiver of the covenant, even their deliverer, and maybe even their messiah. Moshe was drawn out of the water by Pharaoh’s daughter and given the name Moshe. This concept of being drawn out of the water has an implication of salvation, just like Yeshua, whose name means salvation.
So Exodus 2:11-12 tells us that Moshe struck down the Egyptian. Stephen tells us his version, which again is the same Apostolic rendering as the book of Hebrews. It is not that Moshe had foreknowledge of the reproach of Messiah; rather, he took on the reproach of Messiah when he identified with the Hebrew people and attempted to redeem them. According to Stephen, Moshe intentionally left Pharaoh’s household to try to bring salvation to his people. Stephen explained that Moshe believed “God was granting them deliverance through him” (Acts 7:25). He said, “And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian” (Acts 7:24). Moshe is perceived as a murderer and therefore a sinner like everyone else, unworthy of God’s grace and the salvation that comes through him. The Bible tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and that includes Moshe.
Moshe struck down the Egyptian while defending the life of his fellow Israelite. Saving someone from an attacker is not the same as a cold-blooded murder. Leviticus 19:16 says, “You shall not stand over the blood of your neighbor.” This means you shall not idly watch him die when you are able to save him. Stephen explained that Moshe struck down the Egyptian as the first act in his attempt to redeem Israel. He said, “And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25). “He went out the next day and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other. And he said to the offender, ‘Why are you striking your companion?’ But he said, ‘Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’” (Exodus 2:13-14).
Stephen explained to the Sanhedrin how Moshe took on the reproach of Messiah. He pointed out that Moshe, like Messiah, was sent as a ruler and judge over Israel and was rejected by his kinsmen.
“On the following day, Moshe appeared to the Hebrew slaves as they were fighting together and he tried to reconcile them in peace, saying ‘Men, you are brethren, why do you injure one another?’ But the one who was injuring his neighbor pushed him away, saying, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? You do not mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday, do you?” (Acts 7:26-28).
Stephen interpreted the prophecy of Moshe, “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brethren” as a prophecy concerning Messiah. By citing this prophecy, Stephen reminded the Sanhedrin that Moshe set the pattern for Messiah. Just as they had rejected the Messiah, Israel also rejected Moshe when they said, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us?” Stephen contended that their rejection of Yeshua did not discredit His Messianic claims.
The same had happened to Moshe: this Moshe whom they disowned, saying, “Who made you a ruler and judge?” is the one whom God sent to be both a ruler and a deliverer with the help of the angel who appeared to him in the thorn bush (Acts 7:35).
Like Moshe before Him, Yeshua called on the people of his generation to repent of hatred, fighting, and murder. “He supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him, but they did not understand” (Acts 7:25).
“Then Moshe was afraid and said, ‘Surely the matter has become known.’ When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he tried to kill Moshe, but Moshe fled from the presence of Pharaoh” (Exodus 2:14-15).
The Torah tells us that after Moshe had killed the Egyptian and realized the matter was public knowledge, “Moshe was afraid… Moshe fled from the presence of Pharaoh.” Stephen concurred with this remark: “Moshe fled and became an alien in the land of Midian” (Acts 7:29).
The writer of Hebrews, however, objected to that literal reading.
Moshe is shown in Hebrews 11:27 as having no fear for his life for it says. “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he persevered, as though seeing Him who is unseen.”
Moshe was willing to suffer and die for his people. It was faith—not fear, that motivated him to leave Egypt . The Midrash claims that Moshe was afraid not of Pharaoh, but of the fact that the Hebrews had not accepted him as their deliverer, and he was afraid that they were not ready to be delivered. Moshe feared God more, and he went out by faith, trusting in God.
We see this also with Yeshua in the garden when He asks the Father to remove the cup from Him. People also say that Yeshua was afraid of suffering and dying, but like Moshe, this was not true. Yeshua said that no man takes His life, but He lays it down freely (John 10:18).
***To read further about the comparisons between Moshe and Yeshua, we have put a handout in our transcript. You can go back and read the transcript or you can print the transcript out.
The Comparison of Moshe and Yeshua
Fled to wilderness
Shepherds of Israel
Exodus 3:1, Numbers
John 10:10-11, Matthew 9:36
Knew God face to face
Exodus 3:1-10, Deuteronomy 34:10
Moshe like God/Yeshua was God
Did signs and wonders
Teachers of Torah
Matthew 22:16; John 3:2
Gave people bread from Heaven
Faithful to God
Mediators of the covenant
Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20,
Offered to die on behalf of people’s sins
We saw Moshe reject all that Egypt has to offer and go with the people of Yisrael (the “heel,” the ones who will struggle and triumph in the face of overwhelming odds, the people of perseverance). This is where we will pick up his story, Moshe the great deliverer and lawgiver. There has never been a person whose life so parallels the Messiah. So let us continue in Exodus 2:23 which tells us that the people of Yisrael were crying out in their bondage and God heard them and remembered His covenant with Avraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the fulfillment of the word spoken to Avraham by God, that the people would be slaves for four hundred years and then God would bring them back to the land He had promised them. God did remember His covenant and appointed a leader to bring them back. He calls Moshe.
In Exodus 3, we find Moshe tending his father-in-law’s flock, and he comes to Horeb. Many texts seem to identify this location with Sinai, but there are also indications that they may not be identical. Thus, while reference to Mount Sinai appears frequently, mentions of Mount Horeb are rare and there is no reference to the wilderness of Horeb as there is to that of Sinai. Furthermore, an impression of some distance between the two is gained from the story of the water crisis at Rephidim as told in Exodus 17:1-7. Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. So the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water so that we may drink!” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people were thirsty for water there; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why is it that you have brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, “What am I to do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. Then he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”
The divine Spirit is said to have been manifest before Moshe, closeby “on a rock at Horeb;” yet Rephidim was the last station of the Yisraelites before entering the Wilderness of Sinai. We may be dealing with different strands of tradition, or Horeb may have been the name of a wider region in which Mount Sinai, a specific peak, was located; perhaps that peak eventually lent its name to the entire area. Horeb means “desolate, dry.” Its location has not been identified.
Once in Horeb, God speaks to Moshe in a burning bush. In Hebrew, the word is senah, and it occurs both here and in Deuteronomy 33:16 where God is poetically named “the Presence in the Bush.” Senah is most likely word play with Sinai, a hint of the Sinaitic revelation foreshadowed in verse 12. The bush in question has been variously identified as the thorny desert plant Rubus Sanctus, which grows near wadis and in moist soil, or the Cassia Senna shrub, known in Arabic as sene. Moshe is drawn to the bush, and when he turns to look, God calls to him: “Moshe, Moshe!” In the Bible, repetition of a name often characterizes a direct divine call. “Here I am,” Moshe replies. The Hebrew word used here is hineni, the standard, spontaneous, unhesitating response to a call. “Remove your sandals from your feet,” God commands. In the Ancient Near East, removal of footwear (here probably sandals of papyrus or leather) was a sign of respect and displayed an attitude of humility. Priests officiated barefoot in the sanctuary; to this day they remove their footwear before pronouncing the priestly benediction in the synagogue service. “I am the God of your father…” This epithet, frequently used in the Book of Genesis, all but vanishes in Yisrael during the period of the Exodus, to be replaced by “the God of the Fathers,” the plural form referring to the three patriarchs. We go from the theophany at the burning bush to the divine call. God tells of the promise to bring the people back to their land and He goes as far as to describe the land. “Come,” God commands directly, “I will send you to Pharaoh, and you shall free my people.” God has now appeared to Moshe and has called him to be the deliverer. Moshe, not full of faith, questions God’s calling on his life. As with his forefathers before him, God reaffirms that He will be with him. That’s not good enough for Moshe; he obviously does not know God very well, and he asks for His name. “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,” is God’s reply; it is a phrase that has variously been translated as, “I Am That I Am,” “I Am Who I Am,” and “I Will Be What I Will Be.” It clearly evokes YHVH, the specific proper name of Yisrael’s God, known in English as the Tetragrammaton, meaning “the four consonants.” The phrase also indicates that the earliest recorded understanding of the divine name was as a verb derived from the stem h-v-h, taken as an earlier form of h-y-h, “to be.” Either it expresses the quality of absolute being, the eternal, unchanging, dynamic presence, or it means, “He causes to be.” YHVH is the third person masculine singular; ehyeh is the corresponding first person singular. The latter is used here because name-giving in the ancient world implied the wielding of power over the one named; hence, the divine name can only proceed from God Himself. In the course of the Second Temple period, the Tetragrammaton came to be regarded as charged with metaphysical potency and therefore ceased to be pronounced. It was replaced in speech by Adonai or Lord and rendered into Greek as Kyrios. Often the vowels present in Adonai would accompany YHVH in later written texts. This gave rise to the mistaken form Jehovah. The original pronunciation was eventually lost; modern attempts at recovery are conjectural. God’s response to Moshe’s query cannot be the disclosure of a hitherto unknown name, for that would be unintelligible to the people and would not resolve Moshe’s dilemma. However, taken together with the statement in Exodus 6:3, the implication is that the name YHVH only came into prominence as the characteristic personal name of the God of Yisrael in the time of Moshe. This tradition accords with the facts that the various divine names found in Genesis are no longer used, except occasionally in poetic texts; that of all the personal names listed hitherto, none is constructed of the prefixed yeho-/yo- or the suffixed -yahu/-yah contractions of YHVH; that the first name of this type is Yokheved (Jochebed), that of Moshe’s mother. Ibn Ezra points out that Moshe, in direct speech, invariably uses the name YHVH, not Elohim (God). Without doubt, the revelation of the divine name YHVH to Moshe registers a new stage in the history of Yisraelite monotheism. God’s continued dialogue requires some notice. First in Exodus 3:16, God says, “I have taken notice;” the root word being paqad, which echoes the dying words of Joseph as recorded in Genesis 50:24. This promise was handed down from generation to generation. God clearly wants Moshe to take the time to go through the promises that He has made, specifically the promise made to the patriarchs of the giving of the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and the Jebusites. God now was ready to fulfill this promise. Second, the dignified departure from Egypt promised in Exodus 3:21-22 was foretold in the original covenant with Avraham: “I will execute judgement on the nation they shall serve, and in the end they shall go free with great wealth” (Genesis 15:14). This promise was fulfilled at the time of the Exodus. Early Jewish exegesis as reflected in Jubilees 48:18 and Philo of Alexandria as well as in the Talmud looked upon these spoils as well-deserved compensation to the Yisraelites for their long years of unpaid forced labor. It is also possible to interpret the development as being in accordance with the law of Deuteronomy 15:13-14 that requires the master to provision his slave liberally at the time of emancipation.
God now begins His deliverance and the fulfillment of His promises. Moshe takes his wife and his son and heads toward Egypt. When camping for the night, a strange but very significant thing happens to them. Verses 24-26 of chapter 4 is a fragmented narrative, but there are some conclusions that can be made. The phrase “sought to kill” in
verse 24 echoes “who sought to kill you” in verse 19; “her son” in verse 25 recalls “his sons,” “my son,” and “your son,” in verses 20, 22, and 23, and the Hebrew for “encountered him” (va-yif-gesh-ehu) in verse 24 is identical with that for “met him” in verse 27. Besides these shared expressions, there is the issue of circumcision; following the reference to the firstborn, an artfully wrought literary framework for the entire narrative is provided, one that encompasses the struggle for liberation from Pharaoh’s oppression. That struggle begins with Moshe’s setting out to return to Egypt (verse 20), and its successful conclusion is signaled by the death of the Egyptian firstborn (12:29-36). This latter is followed immediately by the law requiring circumcision as the precondition for participating in the paschal sacrifice (12:43-49), which in turn is followed by the law of the firstborn (13:2, 11-15). The effect is a thematically arranged chiasm:
***To see the image you can go back and read the transcript or you can print it out .
In addition to the literary structure, there is also a functional correspondence between the blood of circumcision and the visible sign of the blood on the paschal sacrifice. In both instances, evil is averted on account of it
(4:26, 12:7, 13, 22-23).
The inseparable tie between circumcision and the Passover is plainly set forth in 12:43-49 and is also unmistakably operative in chapter 5 of the book of Joshua. It is related there that after crossing the Jordan into the promised land, a mass circumcision ceremony was performed as a prelude to the first celebration of the Passover feast inside the country (verses 2-11).
Rabbinic exegesis gave midrashic expression to this association in interpreting Ezekiel 16:6: “When I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you ‘Live in spite of your blood.’ Yea, I said to you, ‘Live in spite of your blood.‘” The Hebrew phrase be-demayikh hayi, emphatically reiterated, was interpreted by the rabbis to mean “survive through your blood (plural)”; that is, the survival and redemption of Israel was assured because of the two mitzvot—that of circumcision and that of paschal sacrifice.
Genesis 17:9-14, it should be noted, made circumcision the indispensable precondition for admittance to the community of Israel.
But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant. (Genesis 17:14)
During the apostolic era, many believers insisted that Gentiles also needed to receive circumcision. In other words, they believed that Gentiles needed to become Jewish before they were eligible for the kingdom. They probably argued their case on the strength of Genesis 17. The LORD says that circumcision is incumbent upon “every male among [the household of Abraham],” even a non-Jew “who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants… shall surely be circumcised” (Genesis 17:10, 12-13).
The apostles ruled against this opinion. They argued that God-fearing Gentile believers did not need to undergo circumcision unless they wanted to become Jewish and physically become part of Abraham’s household in a literal sense. Paul dedicated many passages of his epistles to this argument.
Some Christian interpretations teach that the commandment of circumcision has been canceled. Some say that circumcision was only a temporary commandment, but the Torah says that it is “an everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:13). Some teach that the true meaning of circumcision is spiritual circumcision of the heart and that God never intended the commandment literally, but the Torah says, “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin” (Genesis 17:11).
Where do people get the idea that circumcision no longer applies? The idea comes from a common misreading of the epistles of Paul, particularly the Epistle to the Galatians. Paul’s arguments concerning circumcision and Gentiles are explored in detail in other publications. Here, suffice to say that Paul argued that Gentiles do not need to undergo circumcision or conversion to become Jewish in order to attain salvation through Yeshua the Messiah. The arguments Paul puts forward in his epistles, however, are often misunderstood to imply that Paul dismissed circumcision for both Jews and Gentiles. For example, some people thought that Paul was “teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs” (Acts 21:21).
If Paul taught Jews not to circumcise their children, he was an apostate from Judaism. Of course, he did not teach Jews to abandon circumcision or Torah. He only argued against compelling Gentiles to receive circumcision as a means for attaining salvation and covenantal status. He even went so far as to discourage all Gentile believers from circumcision, but he encouraged Jewish circumcision. He personally oversaw Timothy’s circumcision, but he did not require Titus the Gentile to receive circumcision.
In sum, the brief narrative in verses 24-26 underscores the paramount importance of the institution of circumcision and the surpassing seriousness of its neglect. We see Zipporah adamantly against having to perform this ritual. Zipporah was familiar with the rite of circumcision; the practice was widespread among the ancient Semites and was prevalent in Egypt. Verse 25 says, “She took the flint knife and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his legs with it.” It is unclear whose leg she touched with it. It may have been symbolic for the genital organs of the child. The act might signify: See, the foreskin has been cut off; the requirement of circumcision has been fulfilled! Or it may well be a reference to placing a bloodstain on the child because the Hebrew verb used here (rendered “touched”) is the same as that used for daubing of the blood of the paschal lamb on the lintel and doorpost in 12:22 (rendered “apply”). In both cases, the purpose would be the same: the blood would act as a protective sign against plague; the Destroyer would not smite.
She uses the term “a bridegroom of blood.” This is the traditional English rendering of the unique Hebrew phrase hatan damim, for which, so far, no parallel has been found in Ancient Near Eastern literature. If hatan possesses its usual meaning of “groom,” it would hardly be applicable to Moshe, who by now has been married for some time. Conceivably, it might be a term of endearment addressed to the child, but the meager evidence for such a usage stems from rabbinic, not Biblical, times. Hatan damim may be a linguistic fossil, pre-Israelite or Midianite, the meaning of which has been lost. However, it can hardly be coincidental that in Arabic the stem h-t-n denotes “to circumcise” as well as “to protect.” This latter is also its meaning in Akkadian. Hence, the enigmatic phrase could convey, “You are now circumcised and so protected by means of the blood—the blood of circumcision.” Curiously, p-s-h, the Hebrew stem behind Passover, can mean “to protect” also. Now Moshe was able to continue on to Egypt knowing that he was with God and God was with him.
Even though Moshe is a main character in the wilderness wanderings and the giving of the law, for the purpose of this study, this is where we will end with him. We see, once again, God’s grace in His election and calling of Moshe, but we begin to see another trend, and quite possibly, we have seen it all along. Even though God extends His grace and it was through faith that all have entered in, it was through obedience that they continued in their walk of faith.
The Bible says much about Moshe. Because he was the central figure in the wilderness and such a great prophet and deliverer, the Bible even says that all were baptized into Moshe and that he was the giver of the law (even though he was only the mediator), but one would come after him that was even greater; He would be the new mediator of the Renewed Covenant. “Moshe was indeed faithful in all his house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken of afterward” (Hebrews 3:5). Avraham was the father of faith, but Moshe was the father of faithfulness. Moshe is truly a pillar of the church.
This is our heritage to be faithful.
Moshe: the Pillar of Faithfulness
We have seen by the lives of these great men that they truly possessed the qualities that God requires of us today. We also see that they came to God just like each one of us comes today: in faith. They were all called by God and chosen by Him to fulfill His purpose. God imparted His grace to each one of them, and each of them were obedient to God because of their great faith in Him. As we have said, “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Even today, God is referred to as the God of Avraham, Yis’chak, and Ya’akov. We also have seen that God is a covenant God. Today it is so common to make a covenant with someone and then break it; but when God makes a covenant, it is forever. God’s purpose is to have a redeemed people who will walk by faith and be faithful to Him. We see this all through Scripture. Most believers, if not all, would say that the Avrahamic Covenant is still in effect today because Scripture tells us that through faith we are the seed of Avraham and we now receive the blessings from that covenant. If this is so, then God would also have to be (and He is) faithful to every Jew, because He promised to Avraham, Yis’chak, and Ya’akov that His covenant with them would be forever. Part of the condition with Avraham was the “cutting of the covenant,” which means if any one party would violate the covenant, they would be done away with (as the “cutting up” of those animals that were sacrificed, Genesis 15:9-21). This will be discussed in further lessons. God would self-destruct if He would not keep His word. The theory that the Church replaced Yisrael can not be true because of the covenant with Avraham, and soon we will see the same to be true with Moses and the people of Yisrael. This now takes us to Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Mosaic Covenant.God is building a spiritual house which started with Avraham and it will continue until the Messiah returns, for He is the Cornerstone, and God Himself will dwell there (Ephesians 2:19-22).
You came down on Mt. Sinai and spoke from heaven; You gave them right rules and teachings, good laws, and commandments. You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, and You ordained for them laws, commandments, and teachings through Moses Your servant.
The location and identity of Mount Sinai has been hotly disputed over the years. A significant part of the debate is this mountain’s relationship to Mount Horeb—whether they are the same location or two different places altogether. Currently, the most widely accepted location is in the Sinai Peninsula; in fact, the peninsula is named as such because of the Mount that is believed to be there. But is this the true location of Mount Sinai?
When Moses fled Egypt, we are told that he escaped to Midian. Scholars believe that Midian was located in the northwest Arabian peninsula on the east shore of the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea. It was there that Moses shepherded the flocks of Jethro, who became his father-in-law. The Midianites were descendants of Abraham through his wife Keturah, whom he married after the death of Sarah.
One day when Moses was pasturing the sheep on the west side of the wilderness, he came to Horeb—the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1). It was there that Moses encountered the burning bush. Exodus 3:12 tells us “And He said, ‘Certainly I will be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you; when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” Once again we see God speak to His servant, telling him that He is sending them and that He will be with them, and He will bring them back.
As we see in Exodus 19, Mount Sinai is the mountain on which Moses received the Ten Commandments. While at first glance this may seem to contradict the previous promise that God would bring them to this mountain (referring to Mount Horeb), upon closer examination, we see strong evidence which supports the claim that they are in fact at the same location. The name Horeb has been known to mean “glowing/heat,” while Sinai is considered to have come from the name Sin, which was the deity of the moon in Sumerian culture. This could mean that there were two peaks of that mountain range, one associated with the sun and the other associated with the moon. John Calvin believed them to be the same mountain: Sinai being the eastern side of the mount and Horeb being the western side. Scriptural references linking Sinai and Horeb are abundant in Deuteronomy (4:10, 4:15, 5:2, 9:8, 18:16) as well as other places in Scripture (1 Kings 8:9, 2 Chronicles 5:10, Psalm 106:19).
If this is true that Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are the same place, we see a problem with the traditional placement of Mount Sinai in the Sinai peninsula. There is no evidence of the Midianites living there, but rather they are seen living east of the Gulf of Aqaba in the Arabian peninsula. By looking at scripture, we can see evidence for the idea that Mount Sinai is in Arabia.
In Exodus 18, we see Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, coming to meet Moses. This takes place in the chapter right before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Since Jethro was a Midianite priest, it would make sense that Mount Sinai is indeed somewhere in Midianite territory.
Exodus 19:18 tells us, “Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently.” This has led some scholars to search for volcanoes, which they found in northwestern Arabia.
Galatians 4:25 tells us, “Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem.” This would seem to agree with the idea that Sinai was in Arabia; however, at the time Paul wrote the letter, the territory known as Arabia encompassed a large portion of the southwestern Middle East, including both modern-day Arabia and the Sinai peninsula.
Taking this evidence into account, scholars have found a few other plausible locations which may be Mount Sinai. One which has gained a large amount of support is Jabal al-Lawz in Arabia. At this location, researchers saw that the top appeared to be scorched, which would support what we saw before in Exodus 19:18. This location is near to where Jethro lived. A rock was found here that appears to be split open with evidence of water erosion. Other altars and formations have been found which would seem to also support this location. However, other researchers have rejected this location for various reasons. When the people had arrived at Mount Sinai, God spoke to Moses and said, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4). Here God begins to reveal His ultimate plan for His redeemed people. It is clearly God making the move as He once again extends His grace and mercy. God is calling a people to be His own special treasure, His segula, His pride and joy, His special love, the apple of His eye. God is in love with His people; He speaks words of endearment. He reaches out in love and goes on to say, “If you faithfully obey me and keep my covenant, if you have no other gods before me and if you serve only me then I will be your God and you shall be My people.”
What a deal! But He doesn’t stop there: “You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (verse 6). This shows the national sovereignty and the fulfillment of Yisrael’s mission. The function of the priest within society was to serve as the model for Yisrael’s self-understanding of its role among the nations. The priest was set-apart by a distinctive way of life consecrated to the service of God and dedicated to ministering to the needs of the people.
Yisrael understood that they were to be a light to the nations among the Gentiles. Why? To bring them truth. The Bible tells us that salvation is through the Jews. God entrusted them with His teachings and a knowledge of His ways to be a light to lead the nations to Him. God “cut” a covenant with Avraham and it was passed down to Isaac and then to Jacob and finally to the whole nation of Yisrael. God gave them what we call the Ten Commandments, taken from the Hebrew phrase Asert HaDevarim that appears in Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 4:13. The Hebrew means “the ten words,” which the Jews of ancient Alexandria in Egypt translated literally into Greek as deka logoi (the English rendering of this being “Decalogue”). These words were not DOs and DON’Ts as we have been taught, but words on how to live as a people who were to be set apart and a light to the nations. It was a way of life for God’s redeemed people, the Bride, to stay in fellowship with their Groom, the one who has now betrothed them to Himself. This is all about a marriage covenant, a relationship. It included all the blessings given to Avraham and now even more. We will see as we study this covenant that God adds to it not only blessings for keeping the covenant, but also curses or penalties for not keeping it. Before, it was all God, but like any marriage, it takes two to keep it going. Chapters 21-24 are called the Law of Moses or the Book of the Covenant, in Hebrew sefer ha-berit. Exodus 24:4 & 7 recount Moses writing and reading the commands to the people.
This is a picture of how God’s community of people ought to relate to one another. These “laws” were not given so that they could survive the wilderness, but they were given to show the nations how God’s people were to relate to one another. People say that the Torah or God’s teachings were for then and not for now, but even our laws in this country were taken from the Torah.
In 1 Corinthians 9:1-14, Paul addresses the issue of pay for those who make a living by the gospel, which is still used today. Verses 8-9 are a reference from the Law of Moses. We, the grafted-in church, are to be set-apart, a light to the nations, and there is only one way to do that and that is God’s way. Yeshua Himself lived by these ways, and we will see this in further chapters.
Acts 28:23 tells us how as Paul brought light to the Gentiles, he used the Law of Moses and the prophets (the Torah) to lead them to Yeshua. The Torah is definitely for today!
What is the Torah?
The Torah is usually referred to as the first five books of the Bible. Christians refer to it as the Law of Moses. The Torah can actually contain all of the Hebrew writings, or what we call the Old Testament. This course is intended to teach not only the truth of the Torah but why Christians should be living by it. First, we must understand the truth of the Torah: what it is and what it is not. Throughout this study we will answer these questions. We will start with what the Torah actually is.The word Torah comes from the root word yara, which means “to shoot,” such as shooting a bow and arrow in order to hit the target, or in other words, to “hit the mark.” On the spiritual level it means “teaching” or “instruction.” So we could say that the Torah teaches us how to hit the mark concerning God and His righteousness. We can then broaden the Torah to include the New Testament, for it also shows us the way to righteousness and it also is instruction and teaching. Paul tells us in
2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness.” At the time Paul is writing this, there is no other Scripture except the Hebrew writings. His writings and the others currently in the New Testament were not canonized as Scripture until hundreds of years later.
Psalm 19:7-10 tells us that the Torah of the Lord is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous. Nowhere is the concept of Torah denoted as law. This is an incorrect rendering of the word Torah.
What the Torah is Not
If the Torah is not Law, then what are the Ten Commandments? Though the Ten Commandments are DOs and DON’Ts, they are not considered as laws to God, but as guidelines for His redeemed to walk in. As you will see, the Ten Commandments were not given by an angry God waiting for one of us to get out of line so He could punish us, but a God who was in love with His people and wanted us to remain in fellowship with him. The word yara, as we have seen, means to “hit the mark.” The word chata means “sin,” which is to “miss the mark:” two different words with opposite meanings. The Torah is the instructions on how to hit the mark, thus also the Ten Commandments are instructions on hitting the mark. The word Law is an incorrect rendering of the meaning of Torah. The word Law was used as its meaning because people of non-Jewish descent who did not know the clear meaning of Torah or its historical giving at Mt. Sinai incorrectly drew that conclusion from the Ten Commandments. While there is much speculation regarding the exact physical location and identity of Mount Sinai, there is no doubt that the events which took place there are an essential part of our spiritual foundation. All throughout scripture, we hear mention of sin.
Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death.” Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So if all have sinned and the wages of this sin is death, then we better understand all we can about it. So what is sin? The word for sin in Hebrew is chet, which means “to miss the mark.” It is an archery term meaning to miss the bullseye. What is this bullseye? It is the Torah. So in order to better understand sin, we must first take a look at what the Torah is. The root word of Torah is yarah, meaning “to pour, shoot, teach.” Another word which comes from this root is moreh, meaning “the early rain, archer, teacher.” From these definitions we get the imagery that the believer’s walk is like an archer shooting a target. When we sin, it is as if we are missing the target of righteousness. The traditional understanding of the Torah is the 613 commandments laid out in the first five books of the Bible; yet even before the covenant at Mount Sinai, we see evidence that the Torah was a standard meant to be lived out by followers of the one true God. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
If there was no way to measure wickedness, then there would be no cause to blame them. However, “Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
We see many of the commands given to those at Mount Sinai were already a lifestyle lived by their fathers. We see that the Sabbath
(Genesis 2:3), the Appointed Times (Genesis 1:14, where “seasons” is the word moedim, meaning “appointed times”), and clean/unclean meats (Genesis 7:2) are present long before Sinai. Abraham displayed his great faith through obedience: “Because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (Genesis 26:5). There are many more examples of this standard of righteousness expected of all of God’s creation, even before the physical giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
These laws are all important for being able to continue hitting the mark—each one, no matter how minor, holds weight: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Torah until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Throughout the years, Torah scholars have searched for a central motif—a single command that summarizes the entire Torah. We see one such attempt in the Jewish Talmud:
Rabbi Simlai said, “613 commandments were given to Moses—365 negative mitzvot (commandment), the same as the number of days in a year, and 248 positive mitzvot, the same as the number of parts in a man’s body. David came and reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15), Isaiah to six (Isaiah 33:15), Micah to three (Micah 6:8), Isaiah again to two—“Observe and do righteousness” (Isaiah 56:1). Then Amos came and reduced them to one, “Seek me and live (Amos 5:4)—as did Habakkuk, “The righteous one will live by his trusting [or by faith] (Habakkuk 2:4). (Makkot 23b-24a, abridged) (Jewish New Testament Commentary, by David Stern, p. 565)
These men were not advocating a rejection of the instructed Torah in favor of one or two teachings; rather, they were attempting to display the true motivation behind the keeping of the rest of the commands. This should bring to mind Yeshua’s response when He was asked which commandment was the greatest: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’” (Matthew 22:37). Paul also alludes to this when he says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Torah” (Romans 13:8). The command to love does not replace the other teachings; in fact, it refers back to and relies upon the Torah for instruction on just how we are to go about showing our love both to God and our neighbor. What other standard of love can we use than the one given us by God?
God knew that we would miss the bullseye every now and then, and so He made the way for us to be redeemed, and that way was through Yeshua’s sacrifice on the cross. It is called God’s grace. This is not something new, for God’s grace goes back to the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve first missed the mark. But let’s make it clear: just because we have grace, as Paul tells us in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
So what do we need to do to keep hitting the mark? Well, that is what the Torah is all about. The Torah is our protector. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 119:11, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against thee.” When we treasure something, we keep it safe. Well, God told us that we are His treasured possession
(Deuteronomy 7:6, Exodus 19:5).
So God gave us His word to protect us. He also gave us His Holy Spirit to help us. The whole Word of God separates us from the world. The Holy Spirit helps us to be separated. The Torah was given so that God’s people would be different among the people in the world. They would be the light in the darkness. They would be as different from the world as day is from night.
One example of this distinction is the instruction of not eating pork. Did God have anything against pigs? No, these were His creation; yet He tells us not to eat pork. Why? So that we will be separated from the world. It is an act of obedience. It is called holiness.
God created the Sabbath on the seventh day. Why does He tell us to rest as He rested? Because it is what separates us from the world. Six days we labor and on the seventh day we rest. Again, it separates us from the world who cannot rest from their labors because they are constantly going after worldly appetites that God’s people restrain from on their day of rest. Again, holiness and separation are what keep us different from the world. It is in keeping the whole Word of God that we are made holy and blameless and clean. The writer of Proverbs tells it correctly:
How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. For its profit is better than the profit of silver and its gain than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who hold her fast. The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By knowledge the deep were broken up, and the skies drip dew. My son, let them not depart from your sight. Proverbs 3:13-21
The Ten Commandments are not for the purpose of wrath, but for the purpose of love. We are loved by God and so we are treasured in His eyes, and He keeps us well-guarded and protected from the consequences of our sin, which is death. For God so loved ME that He sent His only begotten son that whoever believes (an action word; we must put that belief into action by living out God’s commandments) in Him should not perish (John 3:16). What we believers always miss is that in this passage, Yeshua tells Nicodemus first that he must be born again: born of the Spirit, who is our counselor, who leads us in the truth of God’s holy word—the whole counsel of His word. He protects us from missing the mark because he convicts us of our shortcomings and our sin and shows us our need for our Savior. It is in repentance (which in Hebrew means “to turn back to Torah”) that we can get back on the path that leads to life. What did the living Torah, Yeshua, say? “If you love Me, then keep my Torah (commandments)” (John 14:15).
Up and Coming
As we go on, we will discuss this historical and meaningful giving of the Torah. For now, we will look at Paul and see what his definition of the Torah is and then we will look at what the Torah does for us.
The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much pure gold;
Sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.
We see that the Torah is perfect, sure, right,
pure, clean, true and righteous.
There are two principles that must be taken into account when seeking to understand Paul: first, look at the harmony of the scriptures (scripture cannot contradict scripture), and second, look at the context in which the passage is written as well as the context of the whole book.
Let’s take a closer look!
1. The Torah is not to be observed in order to gain justification before God. This is the whole point of Galatians. Romans 3:20a says, “By the works of the Torah, no flesh will be justified in His sight.” The Torah was meant to be a lifestyle for somebody who is already justified and redeemed.
2. Torah helps man to recognize his own sinfulness. Romans 3:20b goes on to say, “For through the Torah comes the knowledge of sin.” The Greek word here for “knowledge” should actually be rendered as “recognition.” Through the Torah, people can see the sinfulness of sin (this function of the Torah concerns those who are not yet redeemed).
3. Torah helps to bring about God’s wrath (Romans 4:15). If any person attempts to earn justification by trying to obey the Torah, then for him the Torah will serve only to condemn, for no one can achieve justification by the Torah, because no one can succeed in keeping the Torah perfectly.
4. Torah acts as a protector (Galatians 3:24). How? In Paul’s day, well-to-do families would hire a person to care for their child while on the way to their teacher. He was responsible for the child’s safety. In the same way, the Torah hems us in for our protection rather than our imprisonment, preserving the mental, moral, and social environment into which an individual was born and raised. The person was protected until the Spirit of God would lead him to the teacher, Messiah.
In a letter to Timothy, Paul says this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work.”
How Does the Torah Protect Us?
Let’s look at the word Torah. The meaning of this word is “teaching” or “instruction.” There are many such torahs in the Torah, which is the first five books written by Moses in the Bible. If we broaden the scope of Torah, we could include the historical writings: the psalms, poems, and prophets, or what we refer to as the Old Testament or better yet, the Hebrew Scriptures. Let’s go one step further and broaden the scope of the Torah to include the “New Testament,” or the Scriptures of the renewed covenant. God’s Word is one as He is One.
Let’s look at the word mitzvot. The English rendering of this word is “judgements, commandments and ordinances.” These words emphasize the legal aspect of the Torah. This gives the Torah its rendering as “Law.” It is not a law to be obeyed in order to gain righteousness or salvation, but rather it functions as a protective barrier just like any law governs a people and protects that people in society.
The Torah, through its judgements, commandments, ordinances, and teachings, is designed to put a hedge around people to protect them. This hedge of protection operates in two ways: first, for the children on the way to the teacher as in Galatians 3:24 tells us, “ Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Messiah came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.” and second, it protects God’s redeemed community.
Let’s look at the first way. The Torah, as we saw earlier, is like one who cares for a child on the way to a teacher. This is called a pedagogue (note that the Greek word paidagogos differs from the modern English usage of “pedagogue”), which was like a bodyguard. So the Torah helps to create a safe environment. The person who lives within its confines will be relatively safe. This does not make the person automatically saved, but it will protect him on the way to the moment of salvation. You might say that this would be like the person who attended your church, or was part of your family, but had not yet accepted the Lord. The Torah will show them what they are missing until that life begins for them as one of the redeemed. As for the second way, if the Torah helps protect the lives of those not yet part of the redeemed community, how much more is it a safeguard for God’s holy ones, those who believe?
The Torah with its judgements, commandments, and ordinances deals with two types of kingdoms: light and darkness, life and death, holy and unholy, clean and unclean.
The picture is an illustration of these two kingdoms. Within the borders lies blessings or curses. It is important, then, to know the boundaries of these two kingdoms; this is the importance of the Torah (using the Torah in its full meaning, Old and New Testaments). The Torah is a safeguard, a protective hedge, keeping us so we do not step over the boundary; for there are no gray areas: you are either in the kingdom of light or in the kingdom of darkness. The Torah tells us clearly what is clean and what is unclean, what is holy and what is not holy, what is life and what is death. God meant the Torah to be a protection for the redeemed community. This is truly a picture of God’s grace. Inside this protective hedge lies the blessings of God. Psalm 19:10-11 tells us, “The statutes that God laid down for us are sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, and righteous altogether. By them your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.” The Torah is a training manual for the redeemed, a lifestyle full of blessings when observed. All this gives a positive look at the Torah. It shows a God full of love and grace who cares for his redeemed people. God wants to remain in fellowship with His people and only sin, which is disobedience to the Torah, keeps us from that fellowship and puts us in the Kingdom of Darkness.
So we see the function of the Torah for the believer; now let’s look at the function of the Torah for the unbeliever. We already discussed the Torah as one who protects you on your way to the teacher (Galatians 3:19-29). It also helps reveal sin (Romans 7:7). If the Word of God is complete, then it must show you that you need God and His redemption in your life. The Torah reveals the Messiah to an unbeliever (Luke 24:27, Galatians 3:24). We also already discussed how the Torah brings about God’s wrath. This is what happens when you step over the protective borders of the Torah through sin: you enter into the kingdom of darkness where there is death. So in actuality, we bring God’s wrath upon ourselves and even condemn ourselves all on the basis of the Torah. The Torah helps to reveal what unbelievers are missing (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). As believers, we are to be witnesses, a light in the darkness and this is done through our lifestyle, living out the Torah; like Paul said, “We are living Epistles.”
Torah’s function for the Redeemed.
As we saw in 2 Timothy:16-17 all scripture is profitable. This includes the Torah.
We see as babes in Messiah the Torah is our spiritual food. 1Peter 2:2-3 says, ”Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, and like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.
And the Torah is our spiritual food as we see In Matthew 4:4 Yeshua said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out through the mouth of God.”
The Torah is wisdom as we see in 2 Timothy 3:15, it says, “And that from a babe you have known the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through the faith which is in Messiah Yeshua”
Let’s look at a few scriptures that tell us the function of the Torah for the unredeemed.
Romans 7:7, “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? Far from it! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
Galaltians 3:24 speaks of the Torah as a guardian leading us to Messiah. “ Therefore the Law has become our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we may be justified by faith.
We see in John 12:48 that the Torah, God’s word, will judge us. “The one who rejects Me and does not accept My teachings has one who judges him: the word which I spoke. That will judge him on the last day”.
Deuteronomy 4:5-8 speaks of us as witnesses to the unbeliever. “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you are to do these things in the land where you are entering to take possession of it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole Law which I am setting before you today?
– A legally binding agreement between God and His people
– Redemption in the Old Testament is marked by the ratification of covenants in which God affirms His will for His people.
– Those legal agreements are the base upon which all relationships with God are built and maintained.
– The very existence of the nation of Israel is connected to a series of covenants with God.
– Hebrew word for covenant is brit
– Several types of covenants between people in Bible times
– Wedding covenants
– Treaties bound together two or more nations
– Covenants in the Bible itself represent agreements between men and God
– Ancient covenants have a great deal in common with those found in the Bible
1. Common language
A. Ancient Near East Mari covenants dating from the 18th century BCE contain the phrase “to kill an ass in peace.” The statement in Ezekiel 34:25 & 37:26, “to make a covenant in peace” is the same.
B. Hebrew word brit had its equivalent in Akkadian, the language of many Mari documents.
C. The ancient Suzerainty Treaties (International Covenants) employed such phrases as “stipulations,” “oath,” “blessings and curses,” and “witnesses.” These same terms are essential to many of the important covenants in the Tanakh (the Torah of Moses, prophets, and other writings or what we call the Old Testament).
2. Religious features
A. Another feature of many ancient Near Eastern covenants was the religious elements. Most if not all of them had religious sanctions of some kind.
B. Animals were sacrificed both to the gods and for mutual consumption of the covenant parties. The meal, therefore, was a religious act.
a. One common practice was for an animal to be sacrificed and all its parts cut in half. The symbolism illustrates a grave consequence for the party who failed to uphold the terms of the covenant. They would say, “Just as this beast is cut up, so may the party who failed be cut up.” The man who would recite this would declare his fate if he broke his treaty obligations.
b. Example: God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15)
I. God had Abraham cut the sacrifice in halves, then God walked between the halved animal parts. Normally both parties making the covenant would walk between the halves of the animals being sacrificed, but in this case it was only God. God was making an unconditional covenant with Abraham. Abraham had no obligations on his part other than to receive it by faith. All the responsibility of this covenant was God’s.
C. Another common feature to the ancient Near Eastern covenants was the use of covenant signs. When an ancient covenant was made, an appropriate sign often accompanied the event. This generally took the form of an outward, visible symbol that served to remind the parties of the covenant and its terms.
a. Example: Noah
I. The sign of the covenant with Noah was the rainbow. This signified that mankind would never again be destroyed by a rain (Genesis 9:12-13). The bow, from God’s perspective, was upside down which signified, in ancient times, that the battle was over.
b. Example: Abraham
I. According to Genesis 17:11, circumcision was the sign of the covenant with Abraham, showing that this covenant would be passed down through Abraham’s seed.
c. Example: Moses
I. Exodus 31:12-13 indicates that the sign of this covenant was the Sabbath.
3. The Suzerainty Treaty
A. This was a national covenant between a nation and its vassal or dependent nation. Scholars have discovered that the format for many of these ancient treaties, such as those from the 13th and 14th century BCE Hittites, closely parallels the format of the Torah
The Suzerainty Treaty
The Suzerainty Treaty is an ancient Hittite treaty. It goes back to the 13th-14th century BCE. When we look at the Torah, it is set up as one of these covenant treaties. The question is, how could the Israelites be familiar with this kind of treaty when they were slaves in Egypt? The answer must be that Moses would have been familiar with these treaties growing up and being educated in Pharaoh’s court. During this time, the Hittites and the Egyptians fought for the land that had been promised, and would soon belong, to the Israelites. Let’s look at what makes up one of these covenants/treaties:
1. Preamble – a basic introductory paragraph of the covenant
2. Historical prologue – the acts of the great king, what he has done for the vassal nation
3. Stipulations – the main bulk of the treaty/covenant, the expectations of the vassal nation
4. Blessings and curses – rewards for compliance and penalties of noncompliance with the covenants
5. Witnesses – the signatures of certain prominent figures who are party to the enactment of the covenants
6. Means of succession (optional) – provision in the covenant for determining who will take the place of the great king
7. Provision for depositing the covenant (optional) – discusses where the covenant or copies of the covenant will be stored
Now let’s compare it to the Torah according to Deuteronomy:
1. Preamble (Deuteronomy 1:1-5) – gives basic introductory remarks about the book of Deuteronomy
2. Historical prologue (Deuteronomy 1:6-4:49) – a recounting of what the Great King (God) has done for Israel
3. Stipulations (Deuteronomy 5:1-26:19) – the bulk of the book, known to laymen as the “law;” more accurately, the stipulations given by God, the Great King, to Israel for the maintenance of this covenant
4. Blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 27-30) – the consequences for Israel of keeping or breaking the covenant.
5. Witnesses (Deuteronomy 30:19) – God calls upon heaven and earth to witness this covenant
6. Succession (Deuteronomy 31:1-8) – God provides for Joshua to follow Moshe when he dies
7. Deposit/Reading (Deuteronomy 31:9-13) – Provision made to store the covenant in the Ark and to read it publicly at a certain time
Several unique features of the Suzerainty treaty may shed more light on the Mosaic Covenant:
1. The treaty made a distinction between those who were parties to the treaty and those who were not. The covenant alone distinguished between people dealt with by force and those according to normal peaceful procedures—those under the covenant enjoyed peaceful interaction with the Sovereign. This thought takes us back to an earlier point about the relationship between the covenants with Abraham and Moses. Specifically, it reminds us that the covenant with Moses was designed to help the recipients enjoy the blessings promised under the Abrahamic covenant.
2. Another characteristic of the Suzerainty treaty is that the treaty/covenant implies the existence of a community. God did not make the Mosaic covenant with a single individual, but with a nation. This nation was bound together with a common purpose and will. Moreover, the purpose and will of this nation was to be in complete harmony with God’s purpose and will. The covenant was meant to help facilitate that end. In order for it to function properly, the whole community of God’s people had to be united in living that covenant.
3. The third characteristic of the Suzerainty treaty is love. In the secular treaties, the graciousness of the king initiated the covenant and he agreed to enter into such a covenant with a people who were in many ways subservient to him. Likewise in a Biblical covenant, it was the graciousness of God that caused Him to institute all of His covenants.
4. The last characteristic is the provision for renewal. When the covenant makers died and new generations took over, covenants were often renewed. When covenants were renewed, new documents were prepared which brought up to date the stipulations of the earlier documents. We see evidence of this in the Tanakh. For example, when Moses and his generation died, there was a covenant renewal, such as the one recorded in Joshua 24:24.
When a covenant was renewed, the stipulations were sometimes altered to fit the needs of the generation that was renewing the covenant. However, One covenant does not set aside another; one does not invalidate another so as to nullify its stipulations. Rather it renews, expands, adapts, updates. This is the point Paul makes in Galatians 3:17.
1. When an individual enters the kingdom of God by faith, he also enters the Abrahamic Covenant. The Scriptures are clear in their teachings on this truth: this is the only relationship necessary for salvation. However, in order to live out that salvation, the individual must live according to God’s covenant with His redeemed. This, then, is where the Mosaic covenant comes in. “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!” (Exodus 24:7). This covenant is where the believer enjoys his relationship with God through his obedience.
2. The Torah, then, was designed as a covenant both between the individual members of that community and between those members and God (the other party in the covenant). God’s plan for this community was that it would be light to the nations (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). When the nations saw this light they would be drawn to it and join the covenant community, not start their own.
3. Deuteronomy 7:7-11 and 10:15 make it clear that love is what motivated God to make the covenant at Mt. Sinai. In turn, He desired love in return from His people – whom He, by virtue of regeneration, made capable of both receiving and returning love. The stipulations, laws, and decrees that He taught them were not only descriptions of their identity as the people of God, but also the genuine expressions of the love of their “new-creation” hearts for their Redeemer. This applies to everyone He calls His own.
The Torah is not a law code, but rather a covenant. The explicit covenant formulation of Exodus 19-24 and Deuteronomy stands as strong, direct evidence that this is a treaty/covenant and not a code of laws. This shows that the Torah is the grace of God!
The Torah: A Wedding Contract
The Torah is set up as a marriage contract. In Jewish traditions, this contract was signed by the two parties entering into marriage. In Hebrew it’s called a ketubah. Ketubahs are still used today.
In any marriage, you first have to be engaged. Exodus 6:6-7 describes this engagement, or the betrothal, between God and His bride. It is the basis for the marriage contract or Ketubah.
- “I will bring you out.”
- “I will deliver you.”
- “I will redeem you.”
- “I will take you for My people.”
To break off a betrothal would take divorce proceedings. God set apart His bride. This phrase, “to set apart,” is sanctification.
Setting Apart His Bride
The exodus from Egypt was God delivering His bride and setting her apart from every nation. He made her His special treasure (Exodus 19:5-7). God tells his bride that she is His special possession among all peoples. In Hebrew the term is segulah. A segulah was a special treasured item or items that a king had that was very special to him and was guarded and taken care of. God speaks of His bride being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, holy meaning set apart.
Exodus 19:10 & 14 tells that the people cleansed themselves before God met with them. This cleansing is still used today. It is called the mikvah. The mikvah is a pool of fresh water. The people would immerse themselves in this water for ceremonial cleansing. This tradition is still used today by the bride, and many times the groom, before they get married.
Another Jewish wedding tradition which is still used today is the chuppah. The chuppah, or “canopy,” was used to cover the bride and groom. The actual wedding service takes place under this canopy. In Exodus 19:9, God was their canopy. He said, “Behold I shall come to you in a thick cloud.” Other references to the chuppah are Joel 2:16 and Psalm 19:4b. The canopy was symbolic of a house. To God, this represented that He was their eternal home. Exodus goes on to tell us that God had them build the tabernacle, which was a copy of our heavenly home.
The Ketubah, or the marriage contract, was read and signed during the wedding ceremony. So what was the marriage covenant between God and His bride? The Torah! God lays out the contract in Exodus 6:6-7 and ends in Exodus 20-24. God ratifies this agreement in Exodus 24:1-8 with the reading and the sprinkling of blood.
With This Ring I Thee Wed
No marriage agreement is complete without an outward sign. Where is the ring? Exodus 31:12-17 tells us, “You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations as a perpetual covenant.” The Sabbath was, and still is, the outward sign of the covenant, the Ketubah of the bride and the groom, Yeshua. Matthew 5:17-20 tells us clearly that Yeshua gives His approval of this ketubah. Then He backs it up in chapters 5-7 on his Torah teachings, which we call the Sermon on the Mount.
The Marriage Feast
Don’t forget the banquet! That’s coming… Revelation 19:7-9 tells us, “Let’s rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has prepared herself.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Then he *said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
The Renewed Covenant
The prophet Jeremiah speaks of a day when God would renew His covenant with his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Understand that God was not going to nullify His previous covenants, but rather renew them. It was quite common with ancient covenants to make changes to them. This time, God was going to write His covenant on the minds and hearts of the people. He would restore them spiritually; in other words, they would be “new creations” and He would once again call them His people; this time, they would be redeemed and blood-washed.
This new covenant would be ratified by Messiah Himself, and the sign of this covenant would be His blood (Matthew 26:28). Note that this does not nullify any other covenant, it only adds to the previous ones; it has been renewed with additional promises. The concept is sort of like how we make amendments to legal documents today. God was adding His son now to the agreement, which gave us even more promises and blessings.
If faith was the condition for the promises of Abraham and obedience was the condition for the promises of Moses, then what was the condition for the blessings of the renewed covenant? The Bible tells us clearly that we are saved through our faith in the Messiah and that it is a free gift. Yet Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). We see here the two previous covenants at work: our faith saves us, but our love motivates us to be obedient to God’s commandments.
Paul speaks about the continuation of the covenants in Galatians 3:17, “What I am saying is this: the Law, which came 430 years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.”
Conditional (What people Do) and Unconditional (What God does) Elements in the Renewed Covenant.
Ezekiel 36:27 says, “ And I will put My Spirit within you and bring it about that you walk in My statutes, and are careful and follow My ordinances.”
Jeremiah 31:33, “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Ezekiel 36: 28, “ And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”
Jeremiah 31:34b “for I will forgive their wrongdoing, and their sin I will no longer remember.”
Ezekiel 36:31 speaking of repentance, “Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight for your wrongdoings and your abominations.”
Ezekiel 36 25, “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.”
So this is the renewed covenant as spoken in Jeremiah 31:33-34, “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their wrongdoing, and their sin I will no longer remember.” with Ezekiel 36:26, “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.”
Yeshua and the Torah
So what exactly did Jesus say about the Torah? First, we must establish that Yeshua was a Jew. His name was Yeshua. He dressed like a Jew, He went to the synagogue and prayed like a Jew, He even ate kosher like a Jew. We have this Hellenistic idea of Yeshua, that He was something other than a Jew. Yeshua kept the Torah. We must remember that at the time of Yeshua and the apostles, the Hebrew scriptures were the only canonized Word of God. The Bible says Yeshua was the word made flesh (John 1:14). What word is this? Of course, it is the Torah, the only word of God at the time when John was writing his Gospel and Epistles.
Nothing Yeshua ever said or did contradicted the Torah; perhaps it may have shed more light or revelation onto a particular subject in the Torah, but it never contradicted it. In Luke 2:47 we read how the teachers of the Torah were amazed at what Yeshua knew about the Torah when He was twelve. Yes, Yeshua even received His Bar Mitzvah just like other Jewish boys. Yeshua used the Torah to rebuke the devil in Matthew 4, and He followed the Torah correctly in the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). Yeshua’s main concern was that the Torah was interpreted correctly. Matthew 5:17 deals with exactly that.
We must remember that Yeshua was a Jewish rabbi (meaning teacher), and He taught Jewish people who were accustomed to the teachings of the rabbis. This way of teaching was called rabbinical thinking. The rabbis also used stories when they taught. In rabbinic and Jewish thought, certain words meant certain things which we today would not understand unless we would put the Hebrew customs and traditions back into the Bible along with the correct Hebrew interpretations. Matthew 5:17-19 is exactly one of these situations. This passage has been misinterpreted throughout the years because of our lack of knowledge in rabbinic thought. Yeshua said, “I did not come to destroy the Torah but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished! Therefore, whoever nullifies one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” When someone was accused of misinterpreting a certain Scripture, the others would say that person was destroying or abolishing that particular Scripture/command, but to say they were fulfilling that Scripture was saying that they were correctly interpreting it. Paul also was a Jewish rabbi who understood rabbinic teaching and understood what Jesus was saying. He instructed Timothy in the same manner in
2 Timothy 2:15, urging him to show himself as an approved workman to God by “analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth” (Amplified Bible).
Yeshua had a love for the Torah because it was the Word of God and He was the living Torah (The Hebrew Scriptures and the Apostolic Scriptures). To do away with the Torah would be to do away with Him. Jesus, the living Torah, is the same yesterday and today and forever. Heaven and Earth will pass away, but not one part of a single letter of God’s Word will ever pass away, for Yeshua the living Torah is forever.
The Torah Can’t Be For Me!
“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation (this is the wall that divided the Gentiles from the Jews in the outer court of the Temple), having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances (Colossians 2:14 tells us of these ordinances) so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.”
“Also, you Gentiles are like branches of a wild olive tree that were made to be part of a cultivated olive tree. You have taken the place of some branches that were cut away from it and because of this, you enjoy the blessings that come from being part of that cultivated tree.”
The Temple Warning
In 1871 two archeologists discovered what is called the Soreg. The soreg was a warning that was posted in the temple area. It said, “No foreigner is to enter the barriers surrounding the sanctuary. He who is caught will have himself to blame for his death which will follow.” Let’s look at Paul once again in Ephesians 2:11-22 but this time let us look at His whole thought. “Therefore remember that previously you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the people of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who previously were far away have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the hostility, which is the Law composed of commandments expressed in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two one new person, in this way establishing peace; and that He might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
We were separated from God, but through the Messiah yeshua we have been brought near, but only because we have been grafted in.
So if we have been grafted in and made one, then what exactly have we been grafted into and made one with? Paul says that the Israelites had the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Torah, the service of God, and the promises, and that Messiah is over all (Romans 9:4-5). But didn’t God replace Israel with the church because they did not accept Jesus? Paul answers that with “No!” Romans 11:26-32 makes it clear that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Aren’t you glad that when God promises you something He doesn’t renege because you were not faithful? (2 Timothy 2:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, Hebrews 10:23).
So if the Jewish people are going to be saved, and we have been grafted into the promises and blessings of the covenants, then should we be making blood sacrifices? No, this is what the renewed covenant is all about.Yeshua was the fulfillment of all the sacrifices, He was the Passover Lamb, He was our Atonement; no longer the blood of goats and bulls, but His blood washes us clean. He made reconciliation with us and the Father. But He did not do away with God’s Word. He is the Bridegroom, and we are the Bride (Jews and Gentiles alike). Throughout the Scriptures it says, “to the Jew first and then the Gentile.” The promises of Abraham have to still be in effect or else we could not be grafted in. The promise to Noah has to still be in effect, or else the next time it rains, beware!
The promise to David has to still be in effect, or else Jesus will not be sitting on His throne in Jerusalem. If all of that is still in effect, then the promises given at Mt. Sinai must also be in effect.
Peter tells us that, “We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation set apart as God’s special people (the Bride)” (1 Peter 2:9), to the Jews first and then to the grafted-in Gentiles, not replaced, but as one redeemed people, the people of God.
As Paul writes, “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?” (Romans 11:34).
We have been given the blessings of God to enjoy, but we must then keep the covenants, and all of God’s statutes in order to receive those blessings. As Deuteronomy 30:19 tells us, “I offer you this day life or death, now choose life…” Yeshua the living Torah, said His words were life in
John 6:63, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” And we need to respond as Peter did and say “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Let’s then be careful to do all the words the Lord has commanded us to do.
Once again Paul tells us
“ I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection brought reconciliation to the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” Romans 11:13-18
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Messiah Yeshua Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” Ephesians 2:19-21