Zechariah, Elizabeth, Christmas, and the Law of God

It’s Christmas time!  (No, I don’t observe Christmas, but the telling of Yeshua’s (Jesus’) birth in the gospels is always fun to read!)

The gospel of Luke tells of the priest Zechariah, his wife Elizabeth, and how they became the parents of the one called “John the Baptist.”  (See Luke 1:5-24).  At the beginning of the story this comment is made about them.

“And they [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”  Luke 1:6 (ESV), [parenthetical comment mine].

I’ll admit that I had read this verse many times over the years before it hit me what it was saying.  ‘Blameless’ under “the law”???  That’s not possible, is it?  At least it isn’t possible according to most teachings.  But there isn’t any confusion about what the verse means.  They were walking blamelessly.

The confusion stems from a false idea that the law of God was given so that people could attain salvation.  But nowhere in the Bible is any such comment made or alluded to.  The law of God defines God’s standard of righteousness, and details His grace, mercy, loving kindness, and forgiveness.

Zechariah and Elizabeth could walk blamelessly because they walked according to how God said to live, and when they messed up, they sought His forgiveness and, if required, offered a sacrifice.

They were ‘blameless’ not because of perfection, but because they adhered to what God said in all aspects of life, including doing what He said when they did something intentionally or inadvertently wrong.

We need to get rid of this idea that the law of God can’t be followed.  That idea has been eroding the foundations of the church for long enough!

We can walk blamelessly, and Yeshua (Jesus) opened up that possibility to all people.  But to do so one has to first commit to completely following God and His ways.

I don’t mean that everyone has to suddenly learn and follow all the law of God upon “accepting Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord and savior.”  Paul addresses this in most of his letters, as does the council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15:1-35).

The walk in righteousness is a process.  Paul understood that to suddenly require someone to follow the entire law of God will lead to legalism every time.  (Legalism is the thought that one needs to follow God’s law to acquire salvation).

God’s law is perfect and is His unchanging standard of righteousness.  But there are really only 5 fundamental things required of new (gentile) believers.  Yes, I said ‘required.’  They are listed in the letter written to the gentiles by those at the council in Acts 15:1-35.  Well, they list 4 things, abstain from: blood; meat from animals strangled; from food offered to idols; and from fornication.  The fifth thing is assumed from the context: the regular hearing of God’s word.

So, walk can walk blamelessly.  And with joy knowing that Yeshua (Jesus) walks with.

Shalom!  – Yosef

 

How to Boil a Kid in its Mother’s Milk

Don’t get excited, ‘kid’ here means a baby goat.  And yes, people in ancient times would boil a kid in its mother’s milk.  Some scholars say that this was done by some ancients in the middle east in their worship of their gods.  Yehovah (the LORD) told the Israelites several times to not copy the nations’ practices in worship to Him.

“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” Deuteronomy 14:21 (ESV)

This command gave rise to Judaisms’ complex set of rules about dealing with meat and milk products.  They started with this command, and in their wish to not even accidentally break, or even appear to break, this command, fences upon fences were built around this command until it looks like what it does today, where dairy and meat products should (ideally) be stored in separate refrigerators and served on separate dishes, hours apart.  Silly you say?

Well, at the other end of the spectrum we have Christianity taking a simple command such as “don’t eat blood” and building theology upon theology upon it stating that any “Old Testament” laws are not to be followed as “we are not under law, but under grace.”

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do.  You shall not add to it or take from it.”  Deuteronomy 12:32 (ESV)

God is clear that He doesn’t want us to add to or take from His words.  Judaism loves to add to it (and I doubt any Christians out there will disagree with this, though Jews would), and Christianity loves to take away from His word (and I doubt any Jews would disagree with this, though Christians would vehemently disagree).

How do Christians take from His word?  Well, lets start with the command for not eating blood.  That is actually also found in the “New Testament” in a letter written to all Gentile churches (Acts 15:22-29).  The letter also mentions that you shouldn’t eat meat from a strangled animal.  (Ever hear either of these talked about during a sermon?)

[I’m not ‘bashing’ Christianity here, but there is a need to point out some facts.  I praise and thank God for my Christian brothers and sisters.]

Historically, Christianity started divesting itself of anything “Jewish”, including the “Law of God”.  This started as early as in the 2nd century AD.   Over the decades, this ‘divestment of all things Jewish’ went deeper and became thoroughly entrenched in Christian theology.  So much so that much of Christianity understands the apostle Paul’s comment about Christians “not being under law, but under grace” to mean that all “Old Testament” laws have been done away with (or fulfilled – the result is the same).

That is certainly ‘subtracting from’ God’s word in a big way.

Before wondering what, if any, of God’s “Law” is still to be followed today, first start following what Yeshua (Jesus) and the apostles said, including the “don’t eat blood” injunction.  And understand that the “Law of God” is not bad – even Paul states this.  But remember that Yeshua (Jesus) stated that “his burden is light and his yoke is easy.”  That saying is a Hebraism in reference to the “Law”  and following God.

Also, obedience to God is not to be misconstrued with being “under the law.”  Paul even refers to the anti-Christ as “the lawless one”.  2 Thessalonians 2:8-9.

“And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”  Matthew 7:23 (ESV)

Yeshua (Jesus) said those words to apparent Christians.

So, be aware of adding to or taking away from God’s word, and don’t try a recipe for boiling a kid in its mother’s milk!

Shalom,

– Yosef

If Pigs Could Be Clean – Deuteronomy 14

In Deuteronomy 14 we are given a list of animals that God says we can eat and some general rules with which we can determine ourselves if an animal can be eaten.  This list gives rise to the ‘kosher’ food industry, but really the section is about clean and unclean animals.  Kosher takes in much more then that and isn’t the topic of this post.

In the passage, pigs are singled out as one of the animals that meet half the requirements needed to be clean (and therefore eatable).  And throughout history, eating pork has been one of the activities used as a measurement to show that one is not Jewish.  (Another is not keeping the Sabbath, but that is for a different post.)  And, judging by most Christian breakfasts or pot-lucks, I wonder if that isn’t still true today.  I digress.  Here are a couple comments on the topic of whether or not Christians should pay attention to the ‘kosher’ laws.  This is not meant as a counter argument against all the reasons Christianity has for eating pork.  Just a couple things to think about.

  • The idea of clean and unclean animals predates the giving of the ‘Law’.  Noah took on two of each animal and 7 (pairs) of each clean animal.  See Genesis 7:1-3.
  • In defense of eating anything, people like to point out that God gave ‘all things’ for food.  And this is true.  However, near the end of the ‘clean animals’ (kosher) lists (Deut. 14 and Leviticus 11), God makes the comments that we are to be holy for He is holy, and that the list is for us to learn to distinguish between clean and unclean.
  • Peter also tells us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).  One way of being holy is to only eat ‘clean’ animals.
  • Learning to distinguish between clean and unclean is training for leaning to distinguish between Godly and ungodly.

I realize that the whole issue of eating clean seems an anathema to Christians as Christians are ‘under grace, not under law.’  Well, that saying will be discussed later as it is a greatly misunderstood statement.  Mostly, though, I will just point out that neither Yeshua (Jesus) nor the apostles, nor anyone in the early Jerusalem church, ate pork or taught that it could be eaten.

However, before even discussing the ‘kosher’ laws with Christians, the question, “do you eat blood?” should be asked.  And when it is asked, a reply such as, “I’m not under the law!” is inevitably given.

There is a much ignored verse in the book of Acts.  In Acts 15 there is the account of the ‘Jerusalem council.’  The results of that council is a letter written and agreed upon by all apostles, elders (of the Jerusalem church) and Paul.  It is address to all Gentile churches.  Part of that letter states:

“…but [we] should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.”  (ESV) Acts 15:20

So, before even wondering about clean / unclean, one needs to learn what is meant by not eating meat from a strangled animal and refraining from blood.

  • Yosef

 

 

 

Deuteronomy 4 and 5: Hearing and Doing

In Deuteronomy 5, we have Moses retelling about both the giving of the “10 Statements” (10 commandments) and the 10 Statements themselves.  About the only time one hears about the “10 Commandments” in our culture now is when some people get upset that a government institution is removing them from public view.   Are they even important any more?  Should we pay attention to them?  Here are a couple points to ponder.

The 10 Statements themselves are the only words written by Yehovah (the LORD) Himself!

That fact should make them very, very important in your thinking.

How the 10 were given is also significant.  God’s voice was heard by several million people.  Group psychology would dictate that out of such a large group, if the event didn’t actually happen, someone would have said so.  Yet nowhere in any historical accounts is this episode doubted.  This is a powerful testimony to the truth of the Bible!

The 10 can be summed up, but not replaced, by this statement from Yeshua (Jesus). The 10 build on this statement.

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV)

Further on in Deuteronomy 5 we see the Israelites responding with the comment, “we will hear it [God’s words] and do it.”  This is, unfortunately, a far cry from how Christianity looks at God’s word.  If this statement were to be uttered by many in the churches today, it would read like this:

We’ll hear it [God’s words], and if we understand it and agree with it, and we don’t consider it ‘law’, then we might do it if it fits into our “statement of belief.”

When did God ever say that we had to understand and agree with what He asks before we should obey it.  Every chance we have of doing something commanded in His word is a chance to worship and love Him!  Let’s start with obeying the 10 Statements.  Read them (found in two places, in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5).  Think about them!  Discuss them with others (comment in the blog)!

When we hesitate to ‘do’ the Word of God, or talk with others about it, we are robbing ourselves of a chance to worship God and of a chance to grow in sanctification. 

Nowhere in scripture, be it the “old” or the “new testament”, does God ever get upset with someone who is following His word!  Nowhere!  We do, however, find Yeshua (Jesus) getting upset at those who were ‘adding’ to His word.  What do you think Yeshua (Jesus) would say to those subtracting from His word?  Here is what God says:

“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it…” Deuteronomy 4:2 (ESV)

I think Yeshua (Jesus) would be just as confrontational with Christian leaders who subtract from God’s word just as he was confrontational with the Pharisees who were adding to God’s word!  Christianity as a whole takes away from God’s word!  Am I wrong?  Think “Old” Testament.  Even that name, “old”, implies it should be disregarded.

… Oh, and to those protesting the removal of the 10 Statements (commandments) from public view, I ask, are they posted in your church?  Your house? Anywhere you abide?  If the answer is ‘no’, then you have no business protesting or being surprised that the government is removing them from public spaces!

– Yosef

(Okay, this post is a bit confrontational.  It’s not meant to offend, but to challenge!  If you have a different opinion on the topic, please share it!  Or if you agree, let me know!)

10 Commandments Series – 2: “You shall have no other Gods before me.”

“You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I Yehovah (the LORD) your God am a jealous God…” Exodus 20: 3-5 (ESV)

Without knowing who is speaking (see part 1) the above statement would be fairly useless.  But we know who is speaking because He just told us.  And it is followed by this:

“…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:5-6 (ESV)

Well, there is a quite a bit in these verses.  This post will deal with the ‘have no other gods before me’ part.  The rest of the verse, in my opinion, deals with a culture and how it raises its children.  Back to ‘not having any other gods before me.’

If you have been in Christian circles for any length of time then you have most likely heard this verse quoted and then everyday activities listed that can become as ‘other gods’ in our lives.  That is not how I am going to approach the subject, though there is validity to much of what is said in those discussions.  Rather,

Tradition!  Tradition.  (pause)  Tradition!!! Tradition.  (think “Fiddler on the Roof” and the song “Tradition”.  If you haven’t seen the film, you are missing an excellent film.)

There is nothing wrong with traditions as long as they are honoring to God, either directly or indirectly by not going against His word.  God left us a huge amount of room to make our own traditions around His word.  If you study God’s “Appointed Times” (the “Feasts” – see Leviticus 23)), you will see only a few things that are required.  The rest we get to make up!  And boy have we!  (Unfortunately, much of what was ‘made up’ is ‘get rid of it all together – but that is for another post.)

When the Israelites were entering the promised land, God made it very clear that they were not to copy anything the peoples were doing.  They weren’t even to look into their practices (see Deuteronomy 12:29-32).  God repeatedly stated that He did not want the Israelites to copy anything the peoples of the land were doing, nor worship Him in that way.

“And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you… ” Leviticus 20:23 (ESV)

“Learn not the way of the nations…” Jeremiah 10:2 (ESV)

“… and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? – that I also may do the same.’  You shall not worship Yehovah (the LORD) your God in that way…” Deuteronomy 12:30-31 (ESV)

To put that in today’s language, the verse says,

Don’t bring any part of pagan practices into your worship or traditions, and then think that I’m okay with that simply because you put the phrase, “In Jesus’ name” on the practice; or think that I’m okay with it because I have been silent about it for generations.  It’s not okay. Time and phrases do not change the Word of God!

We need to check our own traditions and practices and, whenever it stems from pagan practices, get rid of it!  God gave us already a bunch of ‘holidays’ around which we can form all sorts of traditions, and when we do so, the nations will see that we are ‘set apart’ (holy).

Honoring God is also a form of worshiping Him.  Obeying is a form of worshiping Him.  Be like Yeshua (Jesus) and only follow those traditions that truly honor God the Father!

So, can you think of any traditions that are common in Christianity (or Judaism) that violate this command of God?  I can think of quite a few…

  • Yosef

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