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Archive for October, 2010

The other day a friend called to ask me about why Jews no longer offer animal sacrifices on the altar. The easy answer was that the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. God commanded the people to make their sacrifices only in the Temple in Jerusalem. That’s why crowds flocked to Jerusalem from all over the world three times a year to take part in the most important of the seven festivals. These festivals are all connected to atonement and salvation and all required a blood sacrifice. When the Temple was destroyed there was no longer a sacred altar upon which to make a sacrifice. The people, exiled and scattered, could no longer offer their sacrifices.

Her next question was, “so what do they do for salvation?”

Some Christians believe Jews try to be saved by obeying the 613 rules they find in the Old Testament. In reality most Jews believe they can only be saved by faith in God (the Father) and trust Him with their lives and circumstances. They obey out of gratitude and because God expects it from His chosen people. My thoughts went to the Day of Atonement, which we celebrate by fasting and praying. Some may think this is a work, but we are not trying to work our way to heaven. We know we are already there, forgiven by the Blood of the Lamb. The Day of Atonement is my way of honoring Him who made the ultimate sacrifice. But for the Jew, it is different and, I believe deeper because the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) actually begins ten days earlier on their New Year’s Day (Rosh Hashanah)!

 The ten days separating these two feast days are called the “Days of Awe” which designate the first ten days of the year are to be spent in deep meditation and expectation of the year to come. At the top of the list one would contemplate humility along with much soul searching, then and most importantly, repentance. I can’t simplify it much more and it would take a volume to fully explain it, but the “Days of Awe” culminate on the Day of Atonement. So what about Jews and salvation? Do you think David, the apple of God’s eye, is in Heaven? Of course he is.

From Romans, chapter 11[Amplified]:

26And so all Israel will be saved. As it is written, The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob. 27And this will be My covenant (My agreement) with them when I shall take away their sins. 28From the point of view of the Gospel (good news), they [the Jews, at present] are enemies [of God], which is for your advantage and benefit. But from the point of view of God’s choice (of election, of divine selection), they are still the beloved (dear to Him) for the sake of their forefathers. 29For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable. [He never withdraws them when once they are given, and He does not change His mind about those to whom He gives His grace or to whom He sends His call.] Just as you were once disobedient and rebellious toward God but now have obtained [His] mercy, through their disobedience, 31So they also now are being disobedient [when you are receiving mercy], that they in turn may one day, through the mercy you are enjoying, also receive mercy [that they may share the mercy which has been shown to you–through you as messengers of the Gospel to them].

    32For God has consigned (penned up) all men to disobedience, only that He may have mercy on them all [alike].

    33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unfathomable (inscrutable, unsearchable) are His judgments (His decisions)! And how untraceable (mysterious, undiscoverable) are His ways (His methods, His paths)!

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Shema Israel

Last night I watched Lesley Stahl’s report on the excavation site at the City of David in Jerusalem on 60 Minutes. I thought it was a new program, but unfortunately it got political. From then on it was the same old program. The more she talked, the more offended I got. Her obvious anti-Semitism gleamed like a train roaring through a darkened tunnel. My letter to CBS was not complimentary. Any time talk of dividing Jerusalem arises I tend to lose it. Recent history (1948-1967) proved that even in our modern world, a divided Jerusalem is not a peaceful Jerusalem. 

On the other hand, I thought the mayor of Jerusalem made some good points in spite of Ms. Stahl’s attacks; most importantly, that the Jews will never give up Jerusalem. I stand with Israel. There is only one Jerusalem. Let the others have their Mecca’s and their Medina’s, but leave Jerusalem for the Jews. They were given the land, not once, but twice; once by God Himself, and once by the Brits (who obviously thought they took God’s place). Immediately after the Brits pulled out Israel was attacked and had to defend themselves. East Jerusalem was snatched from them, yet they faithfully stayed and in 1967 finally got their own land back through another war. Since then the world amputates a little piece of their land each year in the name of political peace. Has giving land made any difference? Then what’s difference; why give any more?

Last week my daughter-in-law’s parents sent me this beautiful wood plaque, the Star of David. Her father, Gene made it and engraved the words, Shema Israel, on it. Hear (and do) Oh Israel, for the Lord your God is One God. The world must understand that Israel does not stand alone, but stands with God, Creator and Sustainer of the universe and everything in it.

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NOAH (NOACH)

 

Noah's Ark

This week’s parsha, named Noach (Noah for Christians learning about Jewish heritage), is from Genesis 6:9 – 11:32. As a child, and later as a Christian Sunday School teacher, I studied both these stories. First, we learned the story of Noah and the ark, then the story about the Tower of Babel. The focus in Noah’s ark was the fact that the animals came two-by-two and that Noah, his family and the animals were shut in the ark when God closed the door. No one else could get in because only Noah was righteous and his family got to come along because they belonged to him. After they landed on Mount Ararat, there was a rainbow to remind God of His promise to never destroy the earth again by water. From the first time I learned about the rainbow (about age 7) I could never look at one and not think of God’s promise.

 Tower of Babel focused on God stopping the Tower from reaching heaven by confusing people’s speech and that’s how the different languages were born. The building of such a tall tower in ancient times impressed me, even as a child. However, the thing about the languages and about God stopping the progress by confusing them never really made much sense. I wondered why he didn’t just smack them and be done with it. My opinion didn’t change much over the years.  However, I must confess that I am simplifying my later studies of these two events. I’ve used many commentaries; one of my favorite is Beacon Bible Commentary. I learn so much more studying the Chumash! This Jewish commentary illuminates many interesting and vital details never taught in Sunday Schools or Bible Colleges. Pardon me for the constant comparisons, but it’s difficult to dismiss as I read detail after detail that reinforces the sovereignty of Yahweh.

 One question I misunderstood was why God decided to destroy man. My Bible (Genesis 6:13) said “through men the earth is filled with violence” (Amplified Bible). I had been taught that God destroyed life on earth because men were evil. Idolatry, orgies, and other sexual perversions were often stressed as the reasons. That made sense so I believed those sins were the reason God decided to destroy His creation. My Chumash translate the original Hebrew word as robbery instead of violence. Yes, robbery! The original Hebrew word in Genesis is robbery. I’m sure robbery can involve violence and many other aspects of evil as I had in my imagination, but this just underscores the righteousness of God. Robbery means that you couldn’t count on keeping anything you called your own. In a world like Noah inhabited, the strong would take from the weak. The poor and the weak, the very ones Yeshua came to save, would have no hope. Another detail I missed was that the first seven days of rain were a gentle rain to give those about to die another chance to repent. Many Jews believe that if the world had repented then, the rain would have remained gentle and the repentant people would have been saved, much as repentant Nineveh was saved in the time of Jonah. God’s grace is displayed throughout Scripture, even as He is destroying evil. These are only two small examples of the richness of studying the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith.

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Rolling the Torah scroll back to Genesis

 

We celebrated Simchat Torah this Sabbath at our congregation. Simchat means joy in Hebrew – so it means Joy of Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible). Jews read through the first five books of the Bible on a particular schedule every year. Our congregation has a real Torah scroll that is about 150 years old. It is made of real animal skins with the words of the Bible (1st 5 books) hand written in Hebrew with a quill and ink by an official Torah scribe. It takes a year to copy one scroll. They cost about $50,000. Each week the cantor takes the scroll out of the box (Ark) and unrolls it a little to position it to the section for that day. By the end of the year, all the parchment has been moved from one spindle of the scroll to the other. At the end of the Jewish year, for Simchat Torah, we roll the scroll back to the beginning in a meaningful ceremony to get ready to begin with Genesis again.

After rolling the scroll back to its beginning we take it outside and parade the Torah (God’s Word) around the neighborhood in an expression of our joy. This year we had banners for all the 12 tribes, along with an American Flag, an Israel flag and a Jerusalem flag. It was an amazing parade, filled with deep meaning for all of us. Imagine watching a parade for God’s Word. People driving by honked and cheered. It does my heart so much good to see God’s Word honored and uplifted. I hope you are blessed just imagining it.

David carried the banner of the tribe of Benjamin, the tribe from which Israel’s first king descended (Saul). Paul, who penned most of the New Testament, also descended from the tribe of Benjamin. I stood and watched from the steps of our meeting place and wondered if it looked a little like this when King David (of the tribe of Judah) led the men carrying the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. King David was dancing and praising God every step of the way. My Spirit joined the others as I remembered the words of David’s Psalm 145, “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise Your name for ever and ever.”

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