The Commandments of God

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” John 14:21 (ESV)

There are roughly 613 instructions regarding how to live like a child of God in the Torah. The New Testament contains approximately 1030 commands for walking in a Godly fashion. It’s something to think about.

A Poem

Here’s a poem by Ben Witherington III that I greatly appreciated.

 

We demand the evidence,

A clear and certain sign,

We show no bit of reticence

Ask God to please divine.

 

Here a little miracle,

Or there a stellar light

To shine upon our darkness

And give us all insight.

 

But what if God’s not hidden,

Not remote or too aloof,

What if we’re just blind

And cannot handle proof?

 

What if all the world’s a stage

And the play’s long been going on,

But we’re not paying attention

Or listening to the song?

 

What if the heavens shout ‘glory’

And the rocks and all the trees

But we’re too damn distracted

To fall down on our knees?

 

What if believing leads to seeing

Not the other way around,

What if believing’s our 3-D glasses

To see the more profound.

 

In a world of truth decay

We perish for lack of hope

We settle for compensation

For that which helps us cope.

 

A visionary person

Is one who believes the most,

She sees the path before her,

But she trusts the Holy Ghost.

 

If you ignore all the evidence,

Then you cannot handle proof,

Only open hands receive it,

Only open minds find truth.

BW3 2/17/07 (Ben Witherington III)

Words for Torah

In Psalm 119:129-136 the psalmist uses seven different words to describe the Torah: today we look at the second word. It is “word/s” (devar). Psalm 119:130: “The unfolding of your words gives light;it gives understanding to the simple.”

Jesus Creed » Bible words: Word

It is great to read a traditional evangelical scholar focusing on Psalm 119! The reason I wanted to highlight this is that Scot McKnight has recognized the seven words used as synonyms for torah. Too often this reality is ignored when we Christians read the psalms.

We all ought to go through the Psalms and Proverbs on the lookout for the following words:

  • word
  • instruction
  • teaching
  • commandments
  • precepts
  • light
  • truth

I think it would revolutionize our concept of the way Torah (throughout Scripture) is supposed to interact with our day to day life. (I think it might change our understanding of a few other things as well, but I’ll look forward to hearing about that from you.)

Gazelles

Have you ever wondered why Jewish boys were prohibited from reading the Song of Songs until age 13?  I distinctly remember the first time I heard this as a young adolescent.  Guess what I went home to read that evening?  I also recall my disappointment…”is that all there is to it?”  Now, of course, I realize that a lot went over my head (isn’t God masterful?).

Rabbi Akiva said,

The entire world, all of it, is not equal in worth to the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel. Why? Because all other books in the Writings are holy, whereas the Song of Songs is holy of holies. (Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Section 136 – Song)

So while I have a more mature appreciation of Shir HaShirim these days, one phrase has continued to puzzle me–until today.

Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. Song of Solomon 4:5 (ESV)

And then I ran into this fascinating insight on the Blue Cord biblioblog:

…He (Marvin Pope) notes that in Akkadian, anpu means “nose,” just as its cognate ap does in Hebrew. But in Akkadian, it also means “nipple.” Hebrew probably also had this meaning, but it is not preserved. So, just as the face of the gazelle slopes down to the nose, so does the breast slope down to the nipple. It is not only a wonderful image but a great play on words as well.

So there you go, you’ve always wondered and now you know.  I have a totally new appreciation for gazelles.

Blessings

The practice of blessings in our life has been pretty dramatic; although, in another way, it has been very subtle. I suppose the best way to describe it would be to say that the cumulative effect of the subtle changes has been significant.

The concept of bestowing blessings is incredibly old. The first instance we find that relates to humans is in Genesis 1:28, where it says,

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Isn’t it interesting that blessing is immediately tied with the idea of a commission or a charge to do something? Noah blesses Shem and Japeth and curses Canaan, God blesses Abraham, Melchizedek blesses Abraham, and another intriguing example is when Bethuel and Laban bless Rebekah before she leaves to go marry Isaac. The Scripture reads:

“And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “Our sister, may you become thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess the gate of those who hate him!” Genesis 24:60

Isn’t it interesting that this blessing is also a prophecy? When Jacob blesses his 12 sons, the same thing is true; in fact, repeatedly in Scripture we find that the blessings bestowed upon people (and the curses) come true.

There are quite a few examples of the practice of giving blessings in Scripture, but one question we might ask is whether that practice continued into the New Testament, and we find that indeed it did.

Jesus blesses the children in Mark 10:16,

And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

This passage is also significant because it affirms that the “laying on of hands” is synonymous with the idea of giving a blessing. Acts gives us an interesting story that confirms that the giving of blessings is not restricted just to apostles or patriarchs. When Saul was in Damascus (Acts 9:17) recuperating from his experience on the Damascus Road, God uses the blessing of a man named Ananias to heal Paul of his blindness and to impart the Holy Spirit.

Paul instructs Timothy not to be hasty in the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 5:22), which indicates that while Timothy was to continue the practice of giving blessings, he was to take it seriously and not consider it something casual. Also, we see in 2 Timothy 1:6 that Paul gave Timothy his commission through a blessing and the laying on of hands.

The Jewish people have preserved this practice for centuries, and it seems that Christians probably ought not to have let if fall by the wayside either.

A couple of things to note here: 1) the Bible indicates we are a nation of priests or as the Apostle Peter puts it a “royal priesthood”, 2) for centuries the Jews have considered the family table to be a sort of mini-altar where the father of the family functions in a manner reminiscent of the Levitical priests in the Temple.

Just as the priests of old were also teachers, worship leaders, servants on behalf of the people of Israel, the husband/father of a family is to be the “head” or “source” of spiritual activity and awareness in the family. As part of that role, he is to blaze the path forward, walking always in the ways of God. Another aspect of that role is blessing his wife and children, providing both his direction (as discerned from his personal relationship with God and study of Scripture) and the benefit of his “blessing.” This blessing appears to be a unique method of direction and guidance which God desires to release into the lives of His beloved people through the leaders that He has ordained to serve those same people.

When I first began to contemplate that God might wish to speak into and transform the lives of my wife and children through the words that I speak over them, through the laying on of my hands, this seemed a very intimidating thing. In fact, for some time after I was convinced that we ought to be practicing something of this sort I procrastinated for some time until I felt very confident that the state of my life and walk with God was something that my wife and children ought to respect, but more importantly that didn’t cause me to feel like a hypocrite when laying my hands on them and trusting God to speak His words through me for and to them.

So the concept of blessing my family calls me as the husband/father to a very high level of faithfulness. Similarly, it has been fascinating to see the effects that viewing me in this role had on Elisa and the kids. This is difficult to describe, but I would say that beginning to observe the Sabbath and the practice of blessing my wife and children brought about the second most significant change Elisa and I have ever experienced in our marriage. It has been amazing.

Why Community?

A community that heals is a community that believes the gospel provides forgiveness of all sin, a guaranteed future of perfect community forever, and the freedom now to indulge the deepest desires of our hearts, because the law of God is written within us—we have an appetite for holiness.

Either we can live as unique members of a connected community, experiencing the fruit of Christ’s life within us, or we can live as terrified, demanding, self-absorbed islands, disconnected from community and desperately determined to get by with whatever resources we brought to our island with us.

The calling of community is to lure people off the island onto the mainland where connection is possible and to provide it. Only then do we truly bear the image of the Eternal Community who created us to enjoy connecting.[1]


[1] Crabb, Larry. Connecting. Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997. p 31

Evangelism

When God forgives us for violating his design, he pours his life into us; and that restores our capacity to connect, first with him, then with others. He makes us alive with the actual life of Christ. The energy with which Jesus heard and obeyed the Father, the impulses that lay behind everything he did…are in us.  The impulses that energized Jesus’ life on earth are actually in us. That’s part of what it means to be alive in Christ.

Non-Christians do not have that life. They are still dead in sin, separate from God, controlled by a very different energy….

At the core of non-Christians, however, is the same capacity for relationship that exists at the core of Christians. Everyone was designed to connect. In non-Christians, though that capacity is functionally dead, there is a haunting memory of what once was, a lingering appetite for what could be.

When a person possessing the life of Christ pours that life into non-Christians, the memory gets clearer, the appetite deepens. When the Spirit of God then whispers, “This is what you’ve been looking for,” he draws non-Christians to Christ, to the source of the connection for which they long.

In Christ, peope are then forgiven and quickened, adopted as members of the family of God and provided with the nature of that family.[1]


[1] Crabb, Larry. Connecting. Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997. pp 29,30

Avinu Shebashamayim

For those who regularly pray from the siddur, I believe you will find this of interest. I have often pondered the specifics of how The Lord’s Prayer fit in to the liturgy of Messiah’s day. Over on the FFOZ blog, Aaron Eby has made a compelling case that the Lord’s Prayer was prayed at the end of the Amidah in place of the standard conclusion known as Elohai Netzor.

The essence of his point is that Elohai Netzor was composed by Mar, son of Rabina, and taught to Mar’s disciples, as was the case with many Sages who used their own custom concluding prayer, and taught it to their disciples. As disciples of Yeshua, it would seem fitting then that we would conclude ha Tefillah with His prayer.

Rosenzweig & the Shaping of Thought

In his essay about Franz Rosenzweig, Rudiger Lux writes the following as a summary of the third section of Rosenzweig’s climactic book The Star of Redemption. The third section is titled Gestalt or “The Form”:

In The Form he (Rosenzweig) poses the questions: Does all that happened in the past culminate only in the present, in the moment of perception? Is there nothing that gives direction and character to this stream? Is there nothing left but the unredeemed instant? For this final part Rosenzweig chooses as his sub-title, “Against the Tyrants”. The present kingdoms have no remaining form, because the redemptive future shines already into the present. Rosenzweig saw this anticipation of the eternal kingdom realized in the communities of synagogue and church, in their alternation of everyday life and day of rest, their liturgy and their festive year cycle. Both synagogue and church have their basis in the revelation of God’s name: “I am there and I will be there.” (Ex 3:14). (emphasis mine)

In the writings of Franz Rosenzweig, I believe I may have stumbled on to the great shaping influence behind the thinking of Dwight A. Pryor. I shall have to write and ask him.

But what a powerful phrase, “the redemptive future shines already into the present.” And “all that has happened in the past culminate(s) in the present, in the moment of perception.” Wow!

Rosenzweig (1886 – 1929) grew up in a marginally observant Jewish family, almost converted to Christianity and then had an epiphany during Yom Kippur services at an orthodox synagogue. He later expressed his failure to follow up on his intent to convert like this:

“It [conversion to Christianity] seems unnecessary and for me impossible now. I remain a Jew….We agree on what Christ and his Church mean in the world: no-one comes to the Father but through him (Jn 14:6). No one comes to the Father – but it is different when somebody does not have to come to the Father because he is already with him. And this is so for the people of Israel….”

Rosenzweig understands the meta-narrative of Life/Existence and of Scripture as having three movements, Creation, Revelation & Redemption, as expressed in the Past, Present and Future. For Rosenzweig, God is revealed through creation by acts which are always already there, in regard to realities of the future that are breaking in on the present. In other words, “the kingdom of God is at hand.” As Dwight Pryor likes to say, “we are to live not just redeemed but redemptive lives.”

May the Kingdom of God break into our lives daily.

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.”