Torah and Mitzvah

Torah ScrollsI learned a little Hebrew today. Thought it was worth sharing.

Torah” = “Law” in Christian Bibles, but in a Jewish bible it’s almost always translated “teaching.” As Christians, we typically talk about the Old Testament law as the means by which God showed us, how much we needed a Savior. (“Cause we couldn’t live up to everything the “Law” required.) Therefore, we think of the “Law” as a condemning sort of thing. If we could think of it more like Jesus did, like our Jewish friend do, I think we’d be thinking more accurately.It may be subtle, but it makes a difference. Let me show you:

Psalm 1:2 – “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.”

but if we read it the way our Jewish friends do, it’d say:

Psalm 1:2 – “The teaching of the Lord is His delight, and he studies that teaching day and night.”

Our Jewish friends, think of the “Law” well the “Torah” very differently. The Torah is a blessing – not a condemnation. It’s God “teaching” which helps us to live life more fully. Their attitude toward “Torah” is much more in line with it’s intent, and therefore more in line with God.

In much the same way, “Mitzvah” is translated “commandment.” We hear that word as burdensome – as something which comes from a domineering authority figure. But our Jewish friends hear it differently – in a positive way. They say things like “I had the opportunity to do a mitzvah today when my neighbor needed some help.” It’s not a burden, but an opportunity to honor God in a special way.

Bottom line: I think our Jewish friends have it right. If we could learn to think of these terms like they do, I think much of the weight of our faith would be lifted and we could live in freedom by rejoicing in His “Torah” (teaching) and looking for opportunities to perform a “Mitzvah” (commandment).

Remez

“May the force be with you.” It’s a classic quote. With those 5 little words I have referred you to a concept found in the Star Wars films. Almost anyone in our culture would recognize the reference, without mentioning the film itself. Jesus often did the same thing.

hiddenA practice called a “remez” (meaning “hint”) was practiced by most rabbis (including Jesus) during Biblical times. The Jewish educational system required that every young boy memorize the Law. Many went on to memorize the entire Old Testament. Their culture was so steeped in the Scriptures, that they could quote a part of a verse knowing that others would recognize the end. According to FishingtheAbyss.com, there are “30 – 50 (potentially more) remezim of Jesus recorded in the gospels.”

Here’s an example: Ever wonder why the Pharisees hated Jesus so much? Although He did say some things to them that were not very flattering, sometimes it’s what He didn’t say that bothered them the most.

Check out Mathew 21:16

But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
” ‘From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise’?”

Why would that make them so angry? It doesn’t sound so bad. But check out what the rest of that verse says. He was quoting Psalm 8:2

From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

The Pharisees knew the end of the verse He was quoting – and Jesus knew it too. He called them “enemies!” No wonder they got so mad.

Anyway, the “remez” is an interesting practice. We’ve got to know the whole of Scripture in order to understand the intricacies of the things Jesus said (and didn’t day).

Here are a few other places Jesus used the “remez.” Look ’em up. It’s pretty cool stuff.

Matthew 21:13 hints at Isaiah 56:7 (Jesus isn’t as mad about them selling stuff in the temple area as much as He is concerned that this was the only place the Gentiles could worship and they were not being allowed to do so.)

Matthew 27:46 hints at Psalm 22:1 (Check out Psalm 22:13-18 – Jesus was telling them He was the Messiah.)

Luke 11:20 hints at Exodus 8:18-19

Luke 19:10 hints at Ezekiel 34 (Revealing Himself as the Messiah)

Mark 15:34 would have been an obvious “remez” to the Jews present at the time. Hinting at Psalm 22-24 (Messianic Psalms)

OK – so that should be enough to get you started. The bottom line for me is this. If we could approach the Scriptures with the context of Jewish culture, we’d have a much greater understanding and these sorts of nuances wouldn’t fly over our heads. I may be strange (and some of you know it’s true) but I’d sure like to be able to talk about the Scriptures as easily and with as much nuance as I do about Star Wars.

Jesus in the Passover – Maundy Thursday

I had the pleasure of leading our congregation through a Seder/Passover meal a couple of years ago. I put together a little booklet called a “Haggadah to explain the symbolism behind each element of the meal. I made the booklet into a slide show for anyone interested. I’d encourage everyone to step through it and truly think about depth of Jesus’ participation in this meal as the actual Passover lamb. You can also download the booklet and print it out here along with an extra leaders guide: Christ in the Passover (It has a few extra meaningful notes in blue.) For a better understanding of the fact that Jesus deviated from the normal Passover meal during the 3rd cup (Cup of Redemption), I’d also encourage you to read this blog I wrote about Jewish wedding customs.

Click on the first pic and the rest will come up in “book” form.

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Jesus – for the Jews or Gentiles?

Jesus Clearly the answer is that He came for both, but I still have some questions about Jesus which were raised by something I learned last night.

Matthew 10:5 – Jesus sends out the disciples to tell people that the Kingdom is near, but He tells them to only go to the Jews.

Matthew 28 – Jesus sends them out again, but this time to everyone. All nations, tribes, and tongues.

What changed?

Check Matthew 15:21-28:

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” 25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Remember that the Jews hated the Canaanites, and this was not only a Canaanite, but also a woman. She called Him “Lord, Son of David” before the Jews had recognized Him as the Messiah. You’d think Jesus would commend her for her faith and all, but instead He basically says, “I’m here for the Jews, not for you.” Then she worships Him and recognizes Him as God and Jesus calls her a dog. Did you catch that? Jesus called her a dog. That’s not the way I always pictured Jesus, but that’s exactly what He did. Her answer is something like: “But what if the Jews don’t want what you have? Can’t I just get a little of what’s left over?” At this point Jesus commends her faith and heals her daughter. By the way, remember that when Jesus speaks to the disciples (Jews) he says, “You of little faith. . .” but when He talks to her he says, “You have great faith!”

Now, clearly there has been some sort of change that we see played out in these verses. God’s plan for the Jews has now been extended to the Gentiles. Or maybe it’s a whole different plan. But here’s the deal: I don’t understand some things: Did Jesus change His mind because of this woman? For that matter, if God is sovreign, can He change His mind? If not, why did Jesus think that He was just for the Jews at first and then later realize (like He didn’t know) it was much larger than that? Did He really believe He was just for the Jews or did He know it was gonna get bigger? Was He just saying that at first even though He knew that His crucifixion was gonna be for the Gentiles too?

One thought I have to help answer this question is that in Chapter 10 when He first sends them out, Jesus is talking about the prophesied Jewish Kingdom. Maybe that’s why He didn’t want them to go to the Gentiles – I mean – you know – the Gentiles wouldn’t care about a Jewish Kingdom anyway. But what about this woman? This still doesn’t explain this change we see take place in Him in this incident. Clearly it’s still a “Jewish Kingdom” message that He is speaking to her about, but it is inferred by His words and actions (healing the daughter) that she has somehow entered into this kingdom like a dog under the table.

Another thought is that God’s agenda for the Gentiles and what would soon become the church began here in these verses. This means that God has a Kingdom agenda that He is working for the Jews and simultaneously, He has this church thing going for the Gentiles. But is this the beginning of that?

Throughout the Scriptures, we see that salvation comes by faith. Clearly, this woman has faith when the Jews hadn’t even come to that yet. Is this why Jesus says later, “Go and make disciples of all nations”? I dunno – it’s all a bit confusing for me. Maybe some of you can help me figure this one out.

Hans? You’re a big seminary student – what insight can you bring?