Darren Aronofsky made a valiant effort to tell the story of Noah in a fashion worthy of Hollywood. His 2014 film, starring Russell Crowe as Noah, certainly has its flaws. No one would dispute that the filmmakers took considerable liberties with the biblical account. Nevertheless, this telling of the story captures something that people often overlook: Noah, like all the rest of us, walked hesitantly through life trying to understand what he had been created and commissioned to do. With the hindsight of four millennia we assume that our Creator held a conversation with Noah at the start of the project in which He explained everything that Noah needed to know about the task of saving humanity in a giant boat. And yet Russell Crowe’s portrayal is something entirely different. He shows us a very human Noah who, like us, hears from the Lord only imperfectly, and must move forward one step at a time as he receives additional information through various means, including the wise counsel of his elders. And there is something else: we learn that Noah and the people with him were active participants in the story, and that the outcome very much depended on their decisions and actions. The Lord God indeed had a plan, and an ideal way for that plan to be implemented, but then, as now, it is imperfect human beings who shape and carry out that plan.
This is the first Shabbat (Sabbath) of a new Torah cycle. Each year, Jews and Messianic believers in Yeshua go through the Torah (the Books of Moses) and the Haftorah (selected passages from the other books of the Tanakh (Old Testament)) in weekly portions. The portion for this week is Beresheet, “In the Beginning”.
The world’s first truly global conflict, known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War and in America as the French and Indian War, was a disaster for France. By the war’s end in 1763, France had ceded the vast territories of Canada and Louisiana to England and Spain. And yet it was not a complete disaster; the Treaty of Paris which ended the war left France with its most prized possession: the Caribbean sugar island of Guadeloupe. Great Britain had won control over both Guadeloupe and Canada during the war, and in the peace negotiations the British deemed Canada more strategically valuable to their empire. But Guadeloupe had proven more valuable economically, producing more income for France than all the fur collected by trappers and traders in Canada, and all the sugar produced by Britain’s own island colonies. King Louis XV, therefore, was quite willing to trade a vast empire for this small island.
A similar transaction appears in Scripture, when the Lord explains what He is ready to do to redeem a people He deems more valuable than all the nations of the earth:
The “Jewish” High Holy Days begin at sundown on September 24, 2014, with Yom Teruah, the Feast of Trumpets. It is also called Rosh HaShanah, the Head of the Year. Many people call it the “Jewish New Year”. But what exactly is this festive day? And should Christians even care about this “Jewish” holiday?
According to Hebrew understanding, Yom Teruah is the day God completed His work of creation by making human beings, the crowning achievement of His work. In the agricultural cycle of the Ancient Near East, where the Bible was written, this day points toward completion of the growing season when the long-expected “latter rains” come. It is the completion of the civil year, a tradition even the United States government has adopted. These are all good reasons for God to command His people to set this day apart by blowing trumpets and observing a special Sabbath day of rest.
Yet there are some confusing things about Yom Teruah. This “Head of the Year” happens on the first day of the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. One would expect that the New Year would be in the first month, but God Himself directed that the first month would be in the spring (Exodus 12:1-2). That month, called Nisan or Abib in Hebrew, is the month of three great feasts of the Lord: Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits. In that time long ago God delivered His people Israel from bondage in Egypt. Yet the First Month is not the same as the Head of the Year in the Seventh Month, Tishrei. Both months have prophetic significance according to God’s plan for the redemption and restoration of His creation. Through the Feasts celebrated in these months the Lord tells a prophetic story. In the First Month He redeems and delivers His people, and in the Seventh He restores them. One might say He is pressing the reset button to get things back to the way they were before sin caused all this trouble. But why is this “Jewish” feast of Yom Teruah, or any of these “Jewish” feasts, important to Christians?
The answer to that is quite simple: These are not Jewish feasts.
Here are some things that seldom come together in the same sentence: genealogy, Israel’s tribes, Apostle Paul, Moses and Aaron, Ruth and Boaz, the Holy Spirit, and Torah. What could these all have in common? They all come together in the Feast of Weeks, known in Hebrew as Shavuot, and in Greek as Pentecost. Together they reveal to us is God’s plan to bless every family and nation on earth.
This paper was presented on September 8, 2012 at a conference hosted jointly by Healing Tree International and Israel Arise at Hershey, PA, and again on May 25, 2013, at a fellowship hosted by Proclaiming Justice to the Nations in Franklin, TN.
Most people have experience the peculiar phenomenon of the pink elephant in the living room, that awkward situation in which a group of people are confronted with an obvious, but uncomfortable, issue. Because it is obvious everyone knows or suspects what the others are thinking, yet because it is uncomfortable no one is willing to address it. Therefore the issue goes unresolved and the relationships within the group, however cordial, remain tense, fragile, and shallow.
My purpose is to address the pink elephants that keep Jews and Christians from cooperating in a spirit of mutual trust and support, touching on areas of disagreement and misunderstanding that have bedeviled us for centuries. The intent is not to pour salt old wounds, but to move through the uncomfortable territory and arrive at common ground where we may stand together as one people united in the service of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This journey is beset with many openings for offense. Given the likelihood that I shall stray into one of those openings, I ask in advance for pardon, for no offense is intended. I am confident that if we persevere together, we will overcome the awkwardness and find the common ground which we desperately need in this critical hour.
This is the final part of a series comparing the words of Yeshua and Paul regarding the Law (Torah) of God.
Salvation: The Great Question
What especially upset the Jewish establishment was the message Yeshua and His followers preached that salvation comes by grace through faith, not by works. In keeping with the division of the world between Jews and Gentiles, the prevailing understanding of the day was that anyone who wanted to be reconciled to God and learn His ways needed to convert to Judaism. Formal, legal conversion required circumcision, mikvah (baptism), and presentation of a sacrifice at the Temple (when possible). Gentiles who went through that process were called “proselytes”. Sadly, the conversion process also involved complete immersion in the Jewish traditions to the point that the proselytes adhered more to the doctrines of the men who had instructed them than the Torah itself. That is why Yeshua included an indictment of this process in His confrontation with the Pharisees:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:15 NKJV)
This is the third in a series comparing the words of Yeshua and Paul regarding the Law (Torah) of God.
The Very Jewish Paul
Was Paul hopelessly confused on the question of the Law of God? No, not at all. The confusion comes when we attempt to view him as a man who walked away from Judaism after he met Yeshua on the road to Damascus. That is not true. Paul remained an observant Jew until the end of his life, as we know from his own words:
But Paul said, “I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.” (Acts 21:39 NKJV, emphasis added)
But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!” (Acts 23:6 NKJV, emphasis added)
It is a perilous thing to start taking God at His word. He tends to change one’s paradigms in most uncomfortable ways. When once we begin studying the Bible with the same amount of devotion with which we study our bank accounts, or the record of our favorite sports team, or the latest offerings from Hollywood, we find that what we have held to be true all our lives is often not quite so. Take, for example, the message of one of the world’s most cherished Christmas carols, Away in a Manger. For the most part this pleasant song is a wonderful hymn to our Savior Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus Christ) Who humbled Himself to become one of us. But then we come to the last lyric:
Bless all the dear children
In Thy tender care;
And take us to heaven
To live with Thee there.
And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: “Arise, devour much flesh!” (Daniel 7:5 NKJV)
The stirring rendition of Russia’s national anthem during the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi continues to echo through my mind. And yet the image of eager, innocent Russian children singing the praises of their Motherland, carries with it a haunting question: why must the best national hymns belong to the world’s most aggressive empires?
As if the world needed more proof of this, the Olympic athletes had hardly left Sochi before Russia was pressing its weight on neighboring Ukraine in support of a popularly-elected, but corrupt, president. As events of the past week have shown, the issue now is not whether Russia will intervene in Ukraine, but when or if Russia will leave Ukraine to work out its own problems. Speaking as a historian and student of such things, it seems that there are only a few key questions facing the international community: Please click here to continue reading