Tag Archives: Ezekiel

Ezekiel and Paul on Messiah and Torah

destruction_of_the_templeFor they have committed adultery and there is blood on their hands and they have committed adultery with their idols; and even their children, whom they had borne for Me, they passed before them to be consumed. Moreover, they have done this to Me: They defiled My Sanctuary on that day, and they desecrated my Sabbaths, when they slaughtered their children for their idols they would come to My Sanctuary on that very day to defile it! Behold, they have done this in My Temple!

Ezekiel 23:37-39 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)

Tales of the Messianic Era series

Sorry. This is a long one. I was dozing in bed this (Sunday) morning when a few thoughts pulled together for me. This “mediation” is the result.

It seems that, according to the prophet Ezekiel (and many other prophets in the Tanakh), God really, really cared about the Israelites keeping His Sabbaths (the weekly Sabbath and the Moedim or Holy, appointed times), but Paul seems to think they don’t matter. Of course, the traditional Christian resolution is that Ezekiel lived on one side of the cross and Paul on the other. Jesus changed everything.

But did he?

I won’t be seeing my Pastor again for one of our conversations for another week or so, but in our review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, and specifically the chapter covering Galatians 2:15-16, Pastor asked me to read all of Galatians 2 as well as Romans 3 and 4, and Colossians 2 to prepare for our next discussion.

I can see where he’s leading.

Not too long ago, I reviewed an episode of the First Fruits of Zion TV show called The Torah is Not Canceled. The episode is based on a particular interpretation of the following words of the Master:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls 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.

Matthew 5:17-19 (NASB)

crossYou can click the links I provided to get the deeper analysis from my review or by watching the episode, but the basic idea is that Jesus is saying he did not come to neglect the Torah or to teach others to neglect it, but rather to teach it correctly and to obey Torah himself. Of course, this too is on the “wrong side of the cross,” so my Pastor could just say that after his death and resurrection, Jesus changed his teachings. But that would be really confusing for him to teach one way before his death and then completely change things after the resurrection. Christian doctrine demands that he did so, but it defies not only logic, but the overall narrative of the Bible as God’s message to the Jewish people and the rest of the world.

In Ezekiel and many other places in the Old Testament, we see God caring very much about whether or not the ancient Israelites obeyed His commandments. There were dire consequences for them neglecting the mitzvot including exile and death.

Now the Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not observe what the Lord had commanded. So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you have done this, and you have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you, and will give it to your servant.

1 Kings 11:9-11 (NASB)

But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness. They did not walk in My statutes and they rejected My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live; and My sabbaths they greatly profaned. Then I resolved to pour out My wrath on them in the wilderness, to annihilate them. But I acted for the sake of My name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, before whose sight I had brought them out. Also I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands, because they rejected My ordinances, and as for My statutes, they did not walk in them; they even profaned My sabbaths, for their heart continually went after their idols.

Ezekiel 20:13-16 (NASB)

God expects obedience to His commands by Israel’s Kings, Prophets, and the nation as a whole. Disobedience carries dire consequences.

Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established.

Matthew 5:17-18 (DHE Gospels)

messiah-prayerJesus tells his disciples and his critics that he has not come to disobey the mitzvot or to teach others to do so but rather, to teach others to obey the mitzvot and to obey them himself. Further, he says that heaven and earth will pass away before even the tiniest detail of the Torah passes away. Since heaven and earth continue to exist, long after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, logically, I have to conclude that the Torah still applies to the Jewish people as it did the day Jesus uttered those words.

But then, what do I do with the following?

I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

Galatians 2:21 (NASB)

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

Romans 3:21-30 (NASB)

Of course, Paul immediately says in the next verse, “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.”

From my point of view, Paul isn’t “undoing” the Torah (Law) but rather, he’s saying (and this is how I read his entire message to the churches in Galatia) that Torah obedience doesn’t justify anyone before God.


…that doesn’t mean God disdains the Law that He Himself created or that Jesus unplugged Jewish obedience to God from God’s overall plan. Jesus said that the Torah wouldn’t pass away, not even in the smallest detail, until heaven and earth passed away.

So the “anti-Torah” portions of Paul’s letters either mean Paul was hopelessly conflicted about the Torah or that Christian tradition has erroneously interpreted Paul for a very long time now.

As you probably guessed, I read Ezekiel quite recently and I “discovered” some startling things about the future; about the Messianic Age that is yet to come:

And He said to me, “Son of man, thus says the Lord God, ‘These are the statutes for the altar on the day it is built, to offer burnt offerings on it and to sprinkle blood on it. You shall give to the Levitical priests who are from the offspring of Zadok, who draw near to Me to minister to Me,’ declares the Lord God, ‘a young bull for a sin offering. You shall take some of its blood and put it on its four horns and on the four corners of the ledge and on the border round about; thus you shall cleanse it and make atonement for it. You shall also take the bull for the sin offering, and it shall be burned in the appointed place of the house, outside the sanctuary.

Ezekiel 43:18-21 (NASB)

temple-of-messiahHere we see the future Temple, the one that will exist in the Messianic Era. God is describing the sacrifices that will be offered by the Levitical priests in the future Temple, just as those sacrifices were offered in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert and in Solomon’s Temple. In Ezekiel 44:15-31, God is describing the ordinances that apply to the Levitical priests, which mirror those originally given in the Torah.

And then we have this:

‘Thus says the Lord God, “The gate of the inner court facing east shall be shut the six working days; but it shall be opened on the sabbath day and opened on the day of the new moon. The prince shall enter by way of the porch of the gate from outside and stand by the post of the gate. Then the priests shall provide his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate and then go out; but the gate shall not be shut until the evening. The people of the land shall also worship at the doorway of that gate before the Lord on the sabbaths and on the new moons. The burnt offering which the prince shall offer to the Lord on the sabbath day shall be six lambs without blemish and a ram without blemish; and the grain offering shall be an ephah with the ram, and the grain offering with the lambs as much as he is able to give, and a hin of oil with an ephah. On the day of the new moon he shall offer a young bull without blemish, also six lambs and a ram, which shall be without blemish. And he shall provide a grain offering, an ephah with the bull and an ephah with the ram, and with the lambs as much as he is able, and a hin of oil with an ephah. When the prince enters, he shall go in by way of the porch of the gate and go out by the same way. But when the people of the land come before the Lord at the appointed feasts, he who enters by way of the north gate to worship shall go out by way of the south gate. And he who enters by way of the south gate shall go out by way of the north gate. No one shall return by way of the gate by which he entered but shall go straight out. When they go in, the prince shall go in among them; and when they go out, he shall go out.”

Ezekiel 46:1-10 (NASB)

The Prince, that is, Messiah, will offer the traditional sacrifices in the Temple, and he shall, along with all Israel, observe the New Moons and Sabbaths in accordance with the commands of God in the Torah. This is all supposed to happen in the future Messianic Age, on the “right side of the cross,” and apparently in direct contradiction to what Paul wrote in Colossians 2:16-17.

So we have a few options to consider. If the traditional Christian interpretation of Paul is right, then in spite of all of the evidence in the Old Testament to the contrary, and especially Ezekiel, Jesus “undid” the Torah of Moses for the Jewish people. But that doesn’t make sense. Not only would Paul have to contradict the Old Testament prophets, but he’d have to contradict Jesus and even himself. The scriptures between the Old Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and the different letters of Paul don’t match up.

If that option doesn’t work, where can we turn?

The only other direction to move in (unless we want to dismantle Christianity) seems to be the fact that the traditions Christianity have been using to understand the New Testament and probably the whole Bible need a bit of reworking. You can’t ignore one part of the Bible in favor of the other. If Paul seems to contradict the Old Testament prophets and Jesus himself, then either Paul is wrong and our New Testament is hopelessly flawed (in which case, we have to dismantle Christianity), or we’re seriously reading things in the wrong way. We don’t understand Paul and we are forcing an interpretation on him that doesn’t fit and that Paul himself would never recognize.

Apostle-PaulWe know from Ezekiel that the Messiah and all Israel will once again offer sacrifices at the Temple, that all of the Sabbaths and New Moons will be observed, that the Levitical priesthood will be restored, and that the Torah mitzvot will be performed correctly by the Jewish people. From Matthew, we know that not one tiny detail of the Torah will pass away until heaven and earth pass away. And from Paul we learn that no matter how important obeying God is by observing the Torah mitzvot, behavioral obedience doesn’t justify anyone, Jew or Gentile, before God. Only faith justifies through God’s grace.

But we still have one little problem. If the Torah is still fully in effect for the Jewish people, what about Jewish disobedience? We have a long record in the Tanakh of the ghastly consequences for such disobedience. While the nation of Israel exists again today, it is still a largely secular nation. Also, many, many Jewish people still choose to live in the diaspora (exile) rather than making Aliyah to Israel and living in the Land, which is also a commandment. Many, many Jews in Israel and all over the world do not observe all or even some of the mitzvot.

What is God’s response to all of this?

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

Acts 15:10-11 (NASB)

We see a couple of interesting things here. First of all, Peter calls the Torah “a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” If that’s true, then why do we see so many complementary references to the Torah in both the Old and New Testaments? The answer, I believe, is the long history of Israelite disobedience to the mitzvot which resulted in God’s terrible wrath upon Israel. Faith and obedience to God in the Torah is wonderful, but the consequences of faithlessness and disobedience are disastrous, a yoke that Israel has not been able to bear.

But Peter also said something else. It wasn’t the words he used but the order of them. He said that “But we believe that we (Jews) are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they (Gentiles) also are.” As a Jewish person and an apostle, you’d have expected Peter to say that the Gentiles are saved in just the same way as we Jews are. That’s how it was expressed on previous occasions including Acts 10:45.

I think this might be the answer:

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” — in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:10-14 (NASB)

clinging_to_torahI believe Paul is saying a couple of things here. First, he is continuing with his central theme in this letter that no one is justified by obedience to Torah in and of itself. If anyone depends on their Torah obedience to justify them before God, then they will be judged by God based on their obedience alone. Since we have a long history of Israel disobeying Torah or not obeying it completely, any disobedience carries with it the curses God proscribed for disobedience, namely things like famine, exile, war, and death.

There is evidence that some first century Jewish people, including some Jewish believers, thought that they could only be justified before God by obedience to the mitzvot (Acts 15:1-2 for example). I think the “light bulb” went off over Peter’s head as he was speaking in front of the Council in Acts 15. I think he understood the Gentiles were saved by faith but it suddenly dawned on him that the same “mechanism” that saves Gentiles also saves Jews…faith, not observance of the mitzvot alone and not being ethnically Jewish.

So what did Jesus “nail to the cross?” Not the Torah. We have too much evidence that says the “curse of the Law” isn’t the Law itself. I believe what he “nailed to the cross” were the curses for Jewish disobedience of Torah. The “yoke” that Israel has never been able to bear. This is the freedom the Jewish people experience in Messiah. And through Messiah, the blessing of Abraham has come to the people of the nations so we too can receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

I found a rather helpful individual comment on the blogosphere that I think helps illuminate this point:

I would like to add to this that Yeshua removed the curse of the Torah not by making this curse in itself invalid or inapplicable, but by introducing an atonement which exceeds the means of atonement provided by the legal system of the Torah. For in and through his sacrifice we can be justified from all things, from which we couldn’t be justified by the Torah of Moses (cf. Acts 13:39). In becoming a curse for us by being hanged on a tree, Messiah provided a means of atonement which results in eternal and definite forgiveness for those who truly repent, and in this manner he redeemed us from the curse of the Torah (Gal. 3:13).

More: Derek Leman has recently written a blog post on a related topic called Physical and Spiritual Election.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 3: The New Covenant

The New Covenant is a concept originally derived from the Hebrew Bible. The term “New Covenant” is used in the Bible (both in the Hebrew Bible and the Greek New Testament) to refer to an epochal relationship of restoration and peace following a period of trial and judgment. It is often thought of as an eschatological messianic age or world to come, and is related to the biblical concept of the kingdom of God. Generally, Christians believe that the epoch of the New Covenant began at the first coming of Jesus, who began his ministry saying “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. (Mark 1:15) They believe the New Covenant (along with the concept of the kingdom of God) defines and describes the ongoing relationship between Christian believers and God, and that it will be in full fruition after the second coming of Jesus; that is, it will not only be in full fruition in believing hearts, but in the external world as well. Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, and that his blood shed at the crucifixion is the required blood of the covenant. As with all covenants between God and man described in the Bible, the New Covenant is considered “a bond in blood sovereignly administered by God.” (from O. Palmer Robertson’s book “The Christ of the Covenants”) The connection between the blood of Jesus and the New Covenant is seen at the Last Supper where Jesus institutes the rite of Communion saying “this cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood”. (Luke 22:20)

-from New Covenant

In Part 2 of this series, I addressed the blessings for the nations that we find in the Abrahamic Covenant. Now we progress to the New Covenant that we find in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. Remember, I’m learning all this as I go, so I’m not acting as a teacher, but as a student.

Talking about the New Covenant is tricky because of all the covenants in the Bible, this one has been so intensely seized upon by Christianity and reworked as a substantial part of the church’s “replacement theology.” As you can see from the description above, the New Covenant as viewed by the church, has precious little to do with the Children of Israel and everything to do with Christianity. And yet, that’s not what the New Covenant actually says:

The days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. –Jeremiah 31:31 (ESV)

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. –Ezekiel 36:22-23 (ESV)

The House of Israel and the House of Judah are the focus of the New Covenant. The people of this covenant, like the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, are the Jewish people, not the non-Jewish people of the world (i.e. Gentile Christians). As you may recall from Part 1 of this series, based on Derek Leman’s material, we know that, like the Abrahamic Covenant, the people of the New Covenant are the Jewish people, but this covenant also has blessings for the people of the nations.

However, because of the long history of supersessionism in the church, it’s more difficult to identify the New Covenant blessings for the nations while preserving the essential and primary promises for the Jewish people. When examining this covenant, it’s important for us to remember that once the Jewish people, or for that matter the Christian church, are called by God, His calling cannot be reversed: .

“The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable ” (Romans 11:29). It is on this basis that we can declare today that unbelieving Jews are still God’s people, even though they have rejected the Messiah. In the same way, mainstream Christians are still God’s people, even if they have generally rejected the Jewish people as God’s continuing covenant people and the Torah as God’s blueprint of faith for the Jewish people .

-Boaz Michael

But to try to “balance” the scales somewhat between the Christian and Jewish viewpoint on this covenant, I have chosen what I consider to be a very Jewish perspective on the New Covenant, Jews for Judaism:

The term “new covenant” would be meaningless unless what Jeremiah meant by it was the renewing of the old covenant, which will thereby regain its full original vigor. The covenant of old is of eternal duration, never to be rescinded or to be superseded by a new covenant (Leviticus 26:44-45). The covenant between God and Israel is frequently referred to as everlasting (e.g., Genesis 17:7, 13, 19; Psalms 105:8, 10; 1 Chronicles 16:13-18).

The Christian position concerning Jeremiah’s covenant is the complete opposite of what the Jewish Scriptures teach. Hebrews 8:13 states: “In that he says, a new covenant, he has made the first obsolete. Now that which is being made obsolete and growing old is near to vanishing away.” In stark contrast to this statement, the Scriptures state: “The works of His hands are truth and justice; and His precepts are sure. They are established forever and ever, they are done in truth and uprightness” (Psalms 111:7-8); “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

Since Jews for Judaism is an “anti-missionary” organization and thus, not exactly “friendly” towards Christianity, I can’t expect them to define how the nations are blessed by this covenant with the Jewish people, but they are very clear (and in my opinion, very correct) that the people of this New Covenant are the Jewish people. Further, they are correct that the New Covenant is actually a renewal of the covenants God previously made with the Jewish people and that nothing from the prior covenants was invalidated or eliminated.

A more benignly worded description of the Jewish view of the New Covenant is from Wikipedia:

The Jewish view of the mere wording “new covenant” is no more than a renewed national commitment to abide by God’s laws. In this view, the word new does not refer to commitment that replaces a previous one, but rather to an additional and greater level of commitment. (Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament) Because Jews view the Mosaic covenant as applying only to Jews and any New Covenant merely a strengthening of the already existing one, Jews do not see this phrase as relevant in any way to non-Jews.

But having established that the New Covenant is directed at the Jewish people and renews and expands Israel’s national commitment to the Torah, where do we find that it has any blessings at all for the nations?

Perhaps part of the answer is here:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” –Jeremiah 33:14-16 (ESV)

Here we have the Messianic promise, which is certainly a hope of the Christian church, but again, the complete focus of this promise is upon the Jewish people. This recalls the Davidic Covenant we see in 2 Samuel 7 but does nothing to illuminate the blessings to the Gentiles. About the only references I can find that even mention the non-Jewish peoples are those saying we will know that God is the Lord when we see a restored Israel (Ezekiel 36:37-38, 37:28).

Is the secret elsewhere or is traditional Judaism right in saying that the New Covenant is only for the Jews with no blessings for the Gentiles?

It seems that the next part of my journey takes me to other Prophets:

Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” –Isaiah 56:1-8 (ESV)

“Holds fast my covenant?” Which covenant and what part of it? And are these foreigners “converts” or people of the nations outside of Judaism?

We know that Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah in Matthew 21:13 when he said, “My house will be called a house of prayer,” but he was addressing and rebuking the money changers in the Temple courts at the time. Regarding the prophet’s statement, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered,” Jesus seems to have uttered something parallel.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. –John 10:14-16 (ESV)

We also have other Prophets who seem to describe blessings for the nations:

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide for strong nations far away; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. –Micah 4:1-5 (ESV)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” –Zechariah 8:20-23 (ESV)

Path of TorahThe problem with all this is that prophesies are not covenants, though I suppose they could be used to describe some of the blessings of covenants. When we examined the Abrahamic covenant, there seemed to be a very clear picture of the blessings it contained for the nations as well as those reserved for Israel, but in trying to examine the New Covenant, there seems to be no direct connection between the covenant with Israel and the blessings for the nations. It has to be inferred by reading from the other prophets.

Another problem is that what these prophets are saying all seems to be “future tense” even from our point of view in the 21st century. Virtually none of the events being described has happened yet, unless you want to count the existence of the modern state of Israel as the prophesied “in-gathering” of the Jewish people from exile. I suppose we could consider that the Torah has gone forth from Zion by way of the Christian church since even the Rambam once mentioned that Christianity and Islam has spread the knowledge of ethical monotheism to the four corners of the earth.

But can the prophesies we read in Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah be reasonably connected to the New Covenant from Jeremiah and Ezekiel and more importantly, can all this then be attached to what we read in the Gospels and Epistles. Can we attach these prophesies to the blessings of the New Covenant, and can they then be logically joined with the coming of the Jewish Messiah and his command to make disciples of all nations? (see Matthew 28:18-20)

We’ll take a look at all that in Part 4 of The Jesus Covenant.

Drawing Near

Kohen GadolThe name of this week’s Torah reading, Korach, provokes an obvious question: It is written: “The name of the wicked shall rot,” and on this basis, our Sages state that a person should not be named after a wicked man. Why then is an entire Torah reading named Korach? For with this title, Korach’s identity is perpetuated forever, since the Torah is eternal.

Among the explanations given is that Korach’s desire was, in essence, positive. Korach wanted to be a High Priest, to experience the absolute closeness with G-d that results from entry into the Holy of Holies. Indeed, when Moshe responded to Korach, he did not tell him this objective was unworthy. On the contrary, as Rashi relates, Moshe said he shared the same desire; he also wanted to be a High Priest.

Moreover, at Mount Sinai, G-d told the Jewish people that they are “a kingdom of priests,” and our Rabbis interpret this to refer to the level attained by a High Priest.

Rabbi Eli Touger
In the Garden of Torah
“Korach’s Positive Import”

A third gentile wanted to convert so he could become the High Priest, and wear the Priestly garments. Shammai said no, but Hillel accepted him. After studying, he realized that even David, the King of Israel, did not qualify as a cohen, not being a descendant of Aaron…Hillel’s welcoming personality complements his saying: “Love people and bring them close to Torah.” (Avoth 1).

from -Hillel, Shammai and the Three Converts
citing Shabbos 31

“My job is not to distance anyone, but to draw them closer. If a person needs to be rebuked, let someone else take care of that.”

-from a letter of the Rebbe
quoted by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Bringing Closer”

I write a lot about praying, about reading Talmud, Chasidic stories, the Bible; and I write a lot about living out the life that God gave us, not just praying, reading, and studying. But what’s the point? Why do we do this? Why do I do this?

Why did the convert in the story about Hillel want to be a High Priest?

The motives are all the same. We want to draw closer to God. Even Korach, the subject of this week’s Torah Portion is said to have had good motives, though a bad way of expressing them. We all want to draw closer to God.

But what does that mean? I’m not sure anyone really knows.

What would we do if we were really close to God? You probably think you know the answer. You probably think it would the the most wonderful, peaceful, loving experience of your entire life. But do you know what you’re really asking for?

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” –Exodus 20:18-20

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. –Revelation 1:17-18

Do not be afraid? Are you crazy? who wouldn’t be afraid?

Sure, Abraham spoke with God “face-to-face” and Moses talked with God at the top of Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights, but that was Abraham and Moses. The Bible doesn’t relate tales of every one who encounters God having a perfectly comfortable and casual conversation and in fact, in the two scriptures from which I just quoted, we see that the more typical response of a meeting with the Divine was to expect to die in the next second or two. Why do we want to get closer to God?

We think we want to get closer to God when we imagine God is some sort of “cosmic teddy bear” who is all comfy and cozy and we can sit on His lap like kids telling Santa Claus what we want for Christmas. But it doesn’t work that way as we’ve seen in abundant measure. So why do we want to grow closer to God, abandoning all common sense and reason, desiring to have such an intimate and terrifying experience?

In Jewish mysticism, it’s believed that we contain a spark of the Divine; something of God, within each of us. That spark is always striving to return to the source. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball underwater in a swimming pool; the more you try to drive it downward, the more it pushes back toward the surface. The more darkness we pour into our being, the more sorrow and sin we find in the world, the more the Holy fire within us seeks out the conflagration of God.

From this life and light proceeds the divine “spark” which is hidden in every soul. Not all men succeed in rising to this close union with God at prayer, because this spark is imprisoned in them. “Yea, even the Shechinah herself is imprisoned in us, for the spark is the Shechinah in our souls.

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

Ezekiel's VisionIn yesterday’s morning meditation, I said that meeting God requires our “time, effort, and an unquenchable need to learn“. It’s that unquenchable, insatiable, unstoppable drive; like a spark seeking the fire, that pushes us forward, over the edge of the abyss, sometimes without our conscious will, pressing us across the threshold from our familiar world into the Presence of the Throne of God. This is what drives mystics to leave the universe and seek higher Heavens in vision and in spirit. This is what we see in the Merkabah or the Ezekiel’s chariot event and this is what John experienced in the vision he recorded in Revelation. Daniel’s visions all but drove him insane.

Most of us won’t have such intense encounters with God, but we seek something of Him nonetheless. It’s why we pray. It’s way we read the Bible. It’s why we study Talmud and Kabbalah. It’s why, night after night, we seek Him in our dreams and day after day, we call to Him to be with us along our way.

You shall teach them diligently to your children and you shall speak of them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire, and when you arise. –Deuteronomy 6:7

This small portion of the Shema is part of what Jesus taught as one of the two greatest commandments; the commandments that are the “containers” for all of the Torah and the Prophets. Perhaps this is a clue telling us how we draw closer to God.

We know that Korach’s intentions were good, but intentions are not nearly as meaningful as the actions we take. His actions ultimately cost the lives of over 14,000 people. And while the actions of the convert who approached Hillel with the desire to become High Priest didn’t result in tragedy, he still was given the opportunity to learn a hard lesson in what it means to draw nearer to God.

Interestingly, the letter from the Rebbe quoted by Rabbi Freeman seems to speak somewhat of Hillel who, unlike his contemporary Shammai, did not rebuke the foolishness of the three converts but rather, welcomed them and gave them the time and the room to discover their mistakes. We make our own mistakes in trying to draw nearer to God. A lot of the errors we make have to do with arrogant presumption and the idea that the life, death, and life of Jesus Christ turned God the Father from a horrible, vengeful creature into everybody’s favorite uncle. Fortunately, God, like Hillel, gives us time and room to discover our errors.

It’s in our sincere attempts to encounter God that we actually discover when we’re walking the wrong path. Like Moses who saw only God’s “back” but not His “face”, when we’re ready, we realize just how vast and overwhelming even a momentary glimpse of God’s awesome glory is when it breaks into our world. However, to meet with God, we must make our humble efforts to seek Him out, in the pages of the Bible, in the halls of study, in the realms of prayer…and then we must wait.

From a mystic perspective, it is explained that Korach’s desires reflected the spiritual heights to be reached in the Era of the Redemption…The rewards of that age cannot, however, be attained prematurely, but only as a result of our Divine service. It is only through our selfless devotion to the Torah of Moshe and the directives of “the extension of Moshe in every generation” the Torah leaders of our people that we can elevate ourselves and the world to the point that “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.”

-Rabbi Touger

Good Shabbos.