Friday, February 15, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part II)

What was YHVH’s purpose for bringing the Israelites to Mount Sinai?  Without understanding His reason for revealing Himself to His people there, as He did, we will continue to camp by that mountain. We will be studying all the details of the commandments, statutes and ordinances, collecting offerings - “trumot” - for the purpose of building a sanctuary for Him and then working hard at doing the mitzvot. We will also keep trying to decide how to carry out what we are hearing.  Because the original Hebrew script is so complicated, the poor lay person would feel the need to rely on rabbis and theologians for interpretation.  As a result, all this effort will end up becoming a hierarchal religious system, devoid of the relationship YHVH had intended for us to have with Him. So let us examine the reason that Elohim brought us to the Mountain, so that we may move on. There are two statements in Exodus that not only show YHVH’s intent, but also demonstrate His absolute devotion to carry out His plans for His people (past, present and future). 

“And Moses went up to Elohim, and YHVH called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself  (Exodus 19:3-4 emphasis added).   Notice “I brought you to Myself”.  The following verses demonstrate YHVH’s attitude and intentions toward His people, who were to be to Me a special treasure, to Me a kingdom of priests and a set apart nation” (19:5-6 emphases added).  The Almighty was looking to prepare a place for Himself, as seen from a statement in Exodus 25:8:  "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (emphases added). His intentions were not to dwell in a building, but within a nation of priests and kings. 

The above statements highlight YHVH’s place in the relationship even though the called out ones were stiff necked and disobedient, a trait that seems to haunt us even in this generation.  We have to be careful that we do not become so enamored with discovering our Israelite identity and being called a treasured possession of the Most High and a priesthood, that we forget our first love: "You shall love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).  It is very easy for us to be living for ourselves, using our relationship with Abba for our sake, rather than existing for Him and for His name’s sake. 

The one rabbi who had a clear understanding of YHVH’s perspective of the Sinai covenant, was rabbi Shaul. In his commentaries he explains the purpose for giving the “Law”.  “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses” (Romans 5:13-14). Thus in spite of “sin not being imputed" it did reign and mankind was obviously suffering the consequences (as is evident in the early Torah narratives).

So what is it that took place at Sinai that changed everything? And why is it so important that we as believers today understand our relationship to the Torah. For societies to be functional, in antiquity as in our own day, they obviously had to have laws and moral and operational codes. Unknowingly they even observed and upheld some of YHVH’s laws (see, for example, Gen. 26:5). However, there was not a clear spiritual demarcation line. By and large Man’s attempts to set up codices of law stemmed directly from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

YHVH’s commandments of “you shall” and “you shall not” are based on the Spirit of His Word, with the intent of convicting humanity of Sin.  “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7 emphasis added).  “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin(Romans 3:20 emphasis added).  Sin could not be atoned for until after YHVH gave the Law, and because in giving it He knew that His laws would be violated, He immediately made provision for a sacrificial system and gave instructions for constructing the Mishkan and the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, in order to facilitate the sacrifices.

YHVH’s intent was to have a people for His name sake, so that He might dwell not just among, but IN, them.  But as long as the heart/spirit of His people was still corrupted by the fallen spiritual condition it was impossible for His Spirit to unite with theirs.  It was therefore necessary for YHVH to prepare the people by this first agreement, or should I say contract, which both parties signed, thus setting in motion His future plan that would make it possible for Him to dwell in them.  Through Moses and the blood of oxen the first Sinai covenant was inaugurated.

 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to YHVH.  And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that YHVH has said we will do, and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘this is the blood of the covenant which YHVH has made with you according to all these words’" (Exodus 24:5-8).

Now you might be asking “what is meant by the first Sinai Covenant”…..?
 To be continued

Friday, February 1, 2019

Beyond the Mountain

“Beyond the mountain”. There are several thoughts that come to mind in regards to this concept.  The first of these concerns the sequence of events that took place while our ancestors’ sojourned from Egypt to Mount Sinai.  Having departed Egypt on the 15th of the first month (Aviv, ref. Numbers 33:3), they arrived at the wilderness of Sin on the 15th day of the second month (ref. Exodus 16:1), where they rebelled against Moses because of lack of food.  After the miraculous appearance of the manna, and the ordinance of the Shabbat they moved on and camped in Rephidim, where they once more complained, this time about water shortage and where they were also attacked by the Amalekites (ref. Exodus 17:8).  Such a short time has elapsed, yet so many attacks, both from within and from without! Is this a sign (for us) that the enemy does not want us (too) to get to the ‘mountain of Torah’? There is no mention of a departure date from Rephidim, but it is recorded that they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai in the third month on the same day that they had left Egypt, which was the 15th of the month.  Although no details are specified as to where they camped, it would appear from other references they were near the “Mountain of Elohim”. 
Immediately upon their arrival, YHVH called Moses to come up to the mountain, so that He could deliver a message to His people. Notice that this took place before He descended upon the mountain in the great display of fire, earthquake and sounds. The introductory message delivered then, which from YHVH’s perspective has never changed, was an identity message (in addition to having already called them Israel, His firstborn nation while they were still in Egypt. Ref. Exodus 4:22).
“And Moses went up to Elohim, and YHVH called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.  So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which YHVH commanded him.  Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that YHVH has spoken we will do.’ So Moses brought back the words of the people to YHVH” (Exodus 19:3-8 emphases added).  
YHVH then told Moses to consecrate the people, for in three days (which would have been the 18th of the third month) He would descend upon the mountain.  In obedience they preformed all that they were charged with, washing their clothes and preparing themselves.   Yet it appears that they were not really ready for what was about to take place.  Having been used to gods or idols of some kind, it is no wonder that they became fearful at the sounds and sights that brought the Elohim of Israel from the unseen world into a reality that they could not even begin to relate to.  Notice that their response to YHVH’s first message “we will do” (v. 8) changed after experiencing the awesome Presence and “seeing the voices” (according to the Hebrew) of the Almighty. Now they added “nish’ma – we will hear/obey” - but under the condition that Moses alone would address them (ref. Exodus 20:19).   It is easy to say “we will do”, but that does not necessarily mean that the importance of obedience is recognized, because “doing” can also turn out to “doing it my way”. 
This kind of mind set pretty much typifies religious systems in general, as we pick, choose, alter and ultimately make up our own rules and regulations, ones that we desire to follow.  Thus YHVH’s instructions and commandments are being quickly laid aside, especially when we fail to live up to them.  Throughout the history of Israel this has been, and indeed still is the case today.  The main reason for failing is only realized when we acknowledge and recognize the commandments of Elohim. It is through and by the commandments that we arrive at the knowledge of sin, which is the power that works in our heart causing us to rebel (see Romans 3:20).
Elohim, of course, did not think for a moment that this mob-being-formed-into-a-people was capable of doing, hearing or even keeping any of His commandments, as He knew what was in their uncircumcised hearts. This is evidenced if comparison is made between the ordinance of Passover, just before their journey begins, and Moses’ speech toward the end of the journey. Let us lay those two side by side. "… It [keeping the Passover] shall be as a sign to you on your hand [that is, the “doing"] and as a memorial between your eyes [the thoughts and motives], that YHVH’s law may be in your mouth [speech]” (Exodus 13:9).  However, in Deuteronomy 5:29 at the end of the 40 years journey, YHVH has this to say: ”Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments.” YHVH was obviously making an observation regarding the heart condition.  Later on Moses adds: “Yet YHVH has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day” (Deuteronomy 29:4).  These are but a few of the instances in which the true state of the heart and its motives were exposed during the wilderness journey.
It seems that as soon as our forefathers heard YHVH’s instructions, their response was to follow their own inclinations, not obeying or trusting His word.  Let us go back to the Mountain and see if walking through the events will help us understand what YHVH’s intents were then and continue to be - applicable for us today so that we can move beyond Mount Sinai and take with us our true identity, as well as His instructions for a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
(to be continued)