Tag Archives: messianic

Etz Chayim – reaching for the Tree of Life

It has been almost a full year since I last posted on this blog. Much has happened. After almost 7 years of ‘wilderness wandering’, we finally have our own home again and are settled, albeit out in the rural wilds of north Cornwall, far away from any kind of Messianic fellowship or congregation. I am so thankful, so surprised with joy to receive such good fortune when we thought all was lost. But still I am terribly isolated and lonely and effectively alone in terms of religious fellowship.

I may have mentioned that I had been in search of some fellowship – any kind, really, but it was a very mixed bag of good and bad experiences.

I really liked the Anglican for its freedom of conscience, although there seemed to be no understanding or interest in the Jewish side of the faith and I had the particular bad fortune of being under a priest who had a real bee in his bonnet about evangelicals. The fact that I was verging on being an ‘ex-evangelical’ seemed not to temper his ire. As far as he seemed to be concerned, I was an idiot for ever countenancing such ideas. If anything, his attitude pushed me back into the fundamentalism I was trying to leave. (Freedom of conscience didn’t extend to evangelicals, as far as he was concerned.)

We also tried an independent Pentecostal group who said they were pro-Israel, but they turned out to be extremely negative, narrow-minded and fundamentalist in every way, and the Pentecostal displays of worship put some of my children off church entirely. After everything we have been through, I can hardly blame them.

In the end, I started going to a Salvation Army while my mother was living with us (only for 6 months as it turned out) and I have continued there although it’s far from ideal. Again, there seems to be no understanding or interest in the Jewish roots of Christianity, and the occasional anti-semitic sermon is never a surprise. It takes a lot of energy to keep looking, so for now I am staying put. I can’t say that I am entirely happy, but they do at least put Christianity in action and reach out to the poorest of the poor.

I had wondered recently in what way I can still claim to be ‘Messianic’ – without fellowship or a believing husband to encourage me, the feasts and fasts and even a proper observation of Shabbat has fallen by the wayside. I wonder if I can ever get it back again.

I have made a very good friend online with a woman who had a very different experience of the Messianic movement, having first converted to Orthodox Judaism and come into Messianic Judaism from there rather than as I did, through evangelicalism. We disagree on many things, but her lack of Christian fundamentalism has been an eye-opener for me.

I also have a very good real-life friend who is not a believer, but who was raised in Orthodox Judaism. We have a surprising amount of experiences in common, and her friendship has been a real balm to my soul.

I have started thinking though in terms of abandoning the trappings of religious tradition entirely and instead reaching out for and trying to find the ‘Etz Chayim’, that is the Jesus/ Yeshua who embodies the Tree of Life, and ‘Ha Derek’, the Way itself, Himself.

Coming out of fundamentalism is a very emotional and difficult thing, and in a way I am having to start again and weigh everything up to see what is good and what is bad. That’s probably not a bad thing in itself.

I am trying to get to know the ‘real’ Yeshua from a different perspective now.

I am still at home, muddling through being a wife and homemaker/ housewife, still home educating my youngest.

So what is the future of this blog?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t want to lose my Messianic identity, and I would love to be able to start again from scratch and incorporate more of the Jewish feasts and traditions into my life.

What I don’t want to do, however, is to fall back into the trap of legalism or fundamentalism. It wasn’t life-giving, it was a bottomless pit of darkness that I slipped into gradually without even realising I was doing it, and it nearly ate me up whole before I realised. What I need now is to find the good path, and the Tree of Life.

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Wounds to Dress

This blog was originally going to be talking about handicrafts and gardening and cooking and learning to ‘homestead’ through the lens of Janeway and Chakotay finding themselves marooned on New Earth in the Delta Quadrant. I thought it was a good metaphor for my isolated life in rural Cornwall. I still hope to include those aspects – part of me longs for that ‘Good Life’.

But there are other issues which have come to the fore recently – related to my self-named status as a “progressive fundamentalist” which are forcing me to look long and hard at who I am and how I got here.

I have been speaking recently with another Star Trek RP account – Christian Janeway – and I have been amazed at how much we have in common. Conversations on Twitter, and with my children over the last week, have prompted me to recognise just how damaged and damaging I became as a member of a fundamentalist church in my youth and again as a young mother, and so I thought that, in the first instance, I would write a brief summary of what that has entailed. I wasn’t expecting to bare my soul or look deeply into difficult and painful corners, but I think it needs to be done; and as I have said elsewhere many times, my two favourite forms of therapy are Star Trek and writing. Even if nobody reads this and it helps nobody else, I hope it will help me to move on.

Beginnings

When I was very young (this was in the mid 70s through the mid 80s), my parents were happily attending a lively Pentecostal church in a small town north-west of London which happened to have a US ex-pat community. Somehow my parents came in to contact with American fundamentalist Baptist missionaries to England who dazzled them with personality, charisma and authoratative confidence and persuaded them to leave the Pentecostal church – which they convinced them was at best fake and at worst, probably of the devil – and start a new fundamentalist Baptist church with them. Before long there were a number of families and additional children associated with the new church.

I was mostly too young (approximately ages 6-13) to fully comprehend the depth of what was going on, what was being preached, and how my parents were more and more controlled in every area of their lives – to  my conscious mind, all was good, these were the best days of my life – because we saw so much of them, because they often stayed at our house, we were practically living in community with them. Our whole week was in some way or another controlled by the church. It wasn’t just Sunday morning and evening, it was Sunday lunchtime, midweek dinners, Bible study evenings, prayer meetings, members’ meetings, social calls. It was completely engulfing.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that my parents’ mental health was suffering in different ways (my mother later had a mental breakdown, my father expressed it as physical ill health).

We eventually escaped the church in two stages – firstly, the American Missionaries went home on furlough for a year, fully expecting my father (who had been partially trained, for about three years for the pastorate with their organisation) to keep the church going in their absence. What actually happened instead was that my father rebelled and pretty much immediately after the Missionaries left, allowed the families to go to another church during that time.

I don’t know what ire this behaviour invoked when the absent Pastor found out – I’m sure my father would have been on strict instructions to contact somebody else here in the UK from the organisation for assistance rather than allowing the church to close; my father kept everything close to his chest so I don’t know his thought process or decision process. I probably don’t know the half of it. I do know that my father never really ever recovered from the damage they did to him.

When the missionaries returned, they were obviously furious about what had happened and again although I don’t know the details, I can only infer that they made my parents’ lives a little bit hellish and so stage two was to move away from the area altogether. The missionaries were never able to re-establish the church in that area, and were eventually re-located by their organisation.

Initial Results

Right before we moved, I had a serious bicycle accident which was probably a hit and run (my memory of it is very hazy but my bike was definitely run over), in which I sustained a head injury which has affected my health ever since. This led to my mother becoming mentally ill. Around the same time I became mentally ill myself with Anorexia. I always thought that it was linked to my head injury, which it might be, but I am beginning to suspect that it might be an after-effect of the church. I will explore that at a later date.

My parents, prior to my mother’s breakdown, embarked on a search for the perfect church. Still affected by the fundamentalist teaching they had, and despite all the damage it had done to them, the new church had to measure up in some way to the church they had left, so after rejecting several perfectly nice churches, we ended up in another strict Baptist church with its own issues. (No doubt the most serious being that the Sunday School Superintendant was ‘having an affair’ with a 13 year old child. Note it was the 80s, so that was how it was phrased at the time).

When my mum got ill, the church were pretty incredibly useless and unhelpful, not being able to deal with mental illness, so that turned out to be a blessing in disguise and we were able to leave there.

Teenage

I spent some time at a very good church during my teenage years which was gently charismatic. A nice balance, not over-the-top crazy Pentecostal. (It was a Salvation Army by the way – they’re variable, and have their own issues, but I have to say that this was my happiest time and probably the healthiest church I ever attended.) The fact that it was charismatic would have bothered my parents considerably a few years earlier but by that stage they were beginning to realise that some of the fundamentalist teachings had been wrong and harmful, so they let it go. My mother even attended there for a while.

Marriage

To cut a very long story short, I hastily married the first boy I slept with and promptly regretted it, and hastily got into another relationship (with Chakotay). I was pretty consumed by guilt and shame which I had learned under the teachings I had learned early on, and so when I started home educating my children (for totally non-religious reasons!) I soon *put myself* under the teachings of extremely conservative fundamentalist teaching again. Everything was so familiar that I lapped it all up – quiverfull teaching, headcovering, submission for godly wives, corporal punishment for children (which I totally disagree with and regret btw) etc. I literally could not find a physical church conservative enough for me!

Messianic

Probably as a result of that irrational drive to find the most conservative form of Christianity, I started looking at the Messianic movement. I actually spent ten years in Messianic Judaism (one year of which actually involved rejecting the whole thing and seriously trying to convert to mainstream Judaism – another story, for another time), and I hope that I have taken and absorbed the best and most positive aspects. The actual physical fellowship I was involved with were absolutely lovely and kind and generous and unfundamentalist! But there is in Messianic Judaism – principally online, for me, as I’m in the UK – a very fundamentalist thread which is every bit as damaging as mainstream fundamentalism (if that’s a thing).

Unfortunately, I was under those two strains of teaching for long enough (20 years in total plus the original 6 or so) for me to perpetuate some of the abuse that was visited on me onto my children. It was totally unconscious and unintended, and I am utterly mortified at the damage I have done. Icheb, my eldest, seems to have borne the brunt of it all, while the others seem largely unaffected, thankfully.

I don’t quite remember how it happened, but something snapped at some point and I realised that I was part of something really very nasty and unhealthy that was replicating some of the exact same abuses that I had been part of as a child (being told that you must separate from every other sort of Christian, that the rest of the Church is wicked and evil and not of God etc for example).

Exile

Chakotay, who is not a religious man at all (alas, my Chakotay doesn’t even go in for spirituality) tolerated all of the above, mostly blissly ignorant of what was going on in my head, but he could see that I was getting physically and mentally ill and that was affecting the children. So he unilaterally decided to move us – hundreds of miles away from where we were, to a place so rural and isolated that there was no internet. I’m still a little bit angry with him for doing that (and I have mentioned my inability to speak up for myself earlier today). But in actual fact, it was a good call. The last six years have been long and hard and lonely and painful, but removing me from that whole social circle has enabled me to re-evaluate everything and begin to heal.

In many ways, he is my hero, and I am so grateful that he is such a gentle, kind, slow-to-wrath kind of man. He is certainly not without fault, but he has been so much more gracious and godly than so many Christians I have known.

Anyway. That is enough for now. These are some of the issues I want to work through here on this blog. I hope you will stick around and I hope it will help some people to heal too.

LLAP

Kathryn

Toledot

Torah: Genesis 25:19-28:9
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7
New Testament: Romans 9:1-31

The portion Toledot means ‘Generations’, after the first words of the portion, “And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son.” Toledot includes the following stories:

  • Birth of Esau and Jacob
  • Esau sells his birthright
  • Covenant with Isaac confirmed
  • Sojourn in Gerar
  • Dispute about wells
  • Covenant between Isaac and Abimelech
  • Esau’s wives
  • Jacob steals Esau’s blessing
  • Esau’s disappointment
  • Jacob flees to Padan-Aram

Birth of Esau and Jacob

Right at the beginning of the passage, we are told that the twins Esau and Jacob struggled with each other within Rebekah’s womb, and this sets the scene for their relationship. Rebekah asks, “Why?” and the LORD tells her, “Two nations are in thy womb… and the elder shall serve the younger.”

Esau sells his birthright

The next section tells the story of Esau selling his birthright for ‘pottage’ or lentil stew. But really, it seems rather more that it is the story of Jacob taking advantage of his brother in his hour of need, but we are told “Thus Esau despised his birthright” so in other words, it is less important that Jacob obtained the birthright in a dishonest way than the fact that Esau did not value it as he should have done.

Covenant with Isaac confirmed

Next there is another famine in the land, and the LORD tells Isaac not to go back down into Egypt, so he goes to Abimelech of the Philistines to live in Gerar. He is told “Sojourn in this land, and I will be with theee, and will bless thee; for unto thee and unto thy seed, I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father.” We are reminded that these promises are not dependent on Isaac’s obedience. “Because that abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.

Dispute with Abimelech

We now have another sister/ wife narrative in which Isaac attempts to pass Rebekah off as his sister, but Abimelech sees Isaac behaving in a way that indicated she was his wife, and so Abimelech instructs nobody to touch her. Again it seems that the foreign kings are more moral than the Patriarchs!

Then we are told that the Philistines have filled in all Abraham’s wells, and Abimelech asks Isaac to move on because God has blessed him so much during his time there so he now has great wealth, “Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.”

Then Abimelech’s servants fight with Isaacs over the ownership of the wells and the water.

Then, at Beersheba, the LORD appears to Isaac and tells him he will bless and multiply him (give him children and descendents).

Looking at the chiastic structure of the portion (see Christine’s Bible study in the links below), this contention over Isaac’s wife, wealth and water are the central axis of the whole passage.

Covenant between Isaac and Abimelech

Abimelech approaches Isaac to make an agreement that they won’t do any harm to each other, apparently seeing how great Isaac has become and fearing him a little. Isaac retorts “Wherefore come ye to me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?” (I think he was teasing them a little there!) They answer “We saw certainly that the LORD was with thee.”

Esau’s wives

We then have a short paragraph about Esau marrying foreign girls, “which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah”, and although we are not told why this would be, we can assume it is related to their ‘foreign gods’.

Jacob steals Esau’s blessing

We now have the most incredible story of Rebekah collaborating with Jacob to trick Isaac into giving Esau’s blessing to Jacob instead with an elaborate rouse – sending Esau out to hunt venison for dinner while they cook a kid at home and Jacob pretends to be his hairy brother by covering himself in goat skin! Why does Rebekah do this? Is this a simple case of favouritism or is it another case, like Sarah, of trying to force events to fit the promise? It seems thoroughly immoral, but Jacob receives the blessing whether he deserves it or not.

Esau’s disappointment

Esau is bitterly disappointed, having apparently realised too late what a big mistake he had made already in selling his birthright. He begs his father to bless him too, but evidently Isaac cannot give him the same blessing as the blessing is prophetic, and so Esau receives only what is left. Esau remarks, “Is not he rightly named Jacob (meaning supplanter or deceiver), for he hath supplanted me these two times.”

Jacob flees to Padan-Aram

Of course, Esau hates Jacob for what he has done to him, so Jacob flees for his life, and Rebekah once again collaborates with him, sending him to her relatives back in Padan-Aram, convincing Isaac that it is so that he wouldn’t take a wife from among the ‘daughters of Canaan’ as Esau had done.

Esau’s response is to go to Ishmael’s family to take another wife from his family. It is not clear whether this was a good thing or just as bad as taking wives from Canaan, and we are not told whether or not this pleased Isaac. We can probably assume from silence that it made little difference. Esau will become the father of a nation (the Edomites), but the birthright, the blessing and all the promises go to Jacob.

Links and Resources

Overview of Genesis as a series of Toledot http://www.lanz.li/index.php/9-article-for-edification/12-the-toledot-structure-of-genesis

Toledot at Hebrew for Christians http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Toldot/toldot.html

Toledot at Messianic Educational Trust http://www.messianictrust.org.uk/weekly_parasha.htm

Toledot at Christine’s Bible Studey (with chiastic structure) https://christinesbiblestudy.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/genesis-2519-289-annual-cycle-toledoth-generations/

Chayeh Sarah

chaiyehsarah

Torah: Genesis 23:1-25:18
Haftarah: I Kings 1:1-31
New Testament: Matthew 1:1-17, I Corinthians 15:50-57

Chaiyeh Sarah, ‘the life of Sarah’ includes the following stories:

  • Death of Sarah
  • Rebekah chosen for Isaac
  • Laban and Bethuel
  • Isaac meets Rebekah
  • Abraham’s Sons
  • Death of Abraham
  • Descendants of Ishmael
  • Death of Ishmael

Death of Sarah

The portion begins saying Sarah was 127 years old, “These were the years of the life of Sarah”, and Sarah died.

Abraham mourns for Sarah, and purchases a parcel of land – the field in Machpelah near Mamre in Canaan – for her burial place, and there’s a funny little bit of bartering, and so Sarah is buried in the cave there.

Rebekah Chosen for Isaac

Abraham sends his servant back to his family in the old country to pick a wife for Isaac. When he goes to feed his camels outside the city he prays that God will arrange for the wife He has picked out for Isaac should come and help him with the camels, which He does – a young woman helps him, and it turns out to be Rebekah, a relative of Abraham. Rebekah is the daughter of Bethuel, and Laban is her brother.

Laban and Bethuel

Abraham’s servant asks Laban and Bethuel for Rebekah to be a wife for Isaac, and recounts his story of his prayer that God would lead the wife He had picked out for Isaac to help him with his camels’ water.

Laban and Bethuel agree, but they don’t want Rebekah to go right away, which is perfectly understandable. They invite the servant to stay ten days but he wants to go back the next day. They eventually agree, and shower Rebekah with gifts of silver, jewels, gold and clothes. Rebekah’s mother is mentioned but not named. It’s hard to imagine having to make a decision like this in just one day to let your daughter go and marry a relative they’ve never met, knowing they might never see her again. Her unnamed mother would have mourned for her I think!

Isaac meets Rebekah

There’s a little paragraph describing Rebekah meeting Isaac, which mentions that she puts on a veil right before they actually meet. I don’t know for sure – it seems a little strange – but I suspect that the veil is to signify that she is effectively married from that moment. I’d be interested if anybody can tell me otherwise.

Abraham’s Sons

Abraham takes another wife, Keturah, and has more sons by her, the names of whom are listed at the beginning of chapter 25. It also mentions concubines.  The dictionary defines a concubine as “a woman who lives with a man but has lower status than his wife or wives”. So Hagar would have been considered a concubine.  This is an ancient polygamous practice which is very peculiar and hard to understand from our modern, Western perspective.

Death of Abraham

Abraham divides his wealth, giving all that he had to Isaac, other than gifts which he gave to his other sons and then sent them away eastward. Then Abraham dies aged 175 and he is ‘gathered to his people’ and buried in the cave in Machpelah where Sarah was buried. Again, from our modern, Western perspective, this treating of children differently with such blatant favouritism is really difficult to understand.

Descendants and Death of Ishmael

The descendants of Ishmael are listed – ‘twelve princes according to their nations’, and then Ishmael dies aged 137. It says he was ‘gathered to his people’ and that he died in the presence of all his brethren. For this bit of information to be included in the Bible, we can presume that all the brothers came together again and that would have included Isaac and the sons of Ketubah and the concubines.

Links and Resources

http://torahclub.ffoz.org/portions-library/chayei-sarah/

http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Chayei_Sarah/chayei_sarah.html

http://www.messianictrust.org.uk/parashiyot/khayiy-sarah-14.php

https://christinesbiblestudy.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/genesis-231-2518-chayei-sarah-the-life-of-sarah/

 

Vayera

gen-22-13-web-watermarked

Torah:   Genesis 18:1-22:24
Haftarah:   2 Kings 4:1-37
New Testament:  Luke 1:26-38, 24:35-53, 2 Peter 2:4-11

I’m running late, as per usual! So apologies for that. I will try to  post regularly but I can’t promise the topics will be on time.

Vayera means ‘and he appeared’, and covers the following stories:

  • Abraham’s angelic visitors
  • Abraham intercedes with God regarding Sodom
  • Lot’s angelic visitors
  • The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
  • Lot delivered by his wife is destroyed
  • Lot’s daughters
  • Abraham and Abimelech
  • The Birth of Isaac
  • Hagar and Ishmael sent away
  • Covenant at Beer Sheba
  • Sacrifice of Isaac

Abraham’s angelic visitors

Abraham is visited by three ‘men’, which he addresses as ‘My Lord’. The text also says “the LORD appeared unto him’, LORD in capital letters referring to The Name, (YHVH – Jehovah or Yahweh) They are usually understood in Christian thought to be Angelic messengers, and the three in some way representing the Trinity. The angels tell Abraham that Sarah – despite her advanced age – will conceive, and Sarah laughs to herself (it’s ridiculous!) The angel perceives that Sarah laughed inwardly, and asks “Why did Sarah laugh? Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” Sarah denies it, and the angel says “oh yes you did!” (“Nay, but thou didst laugh.”)

Abraham intercedes with God regarding Sodom

The angels talk amongst themselves and decide to tell Abraham of their plans to destroy Sodom, and gives Abraham the opportunity to bargain with them – asking, what if there were 50 righteous men there, you wouldn’t destroy the place if there were 50 righteous, and then (perhaps knowing that there were very few righteous men there, Abraham gradually whittles the number down until it is just ten, and the angels agree that even if there were only ten righteous men there, they would not destroy the city.

Lot’s Angelic Visitors

Now only two of the angelic visitors are mentioned, which is curious. I should imagine there might be some significance there but I don’t know what. It seems that they visit Lot for Abraham’s sake , rather than Lot’s righteousness. The men of Sodom come and threaten the visitors. The KJV uses the very gentle euphemism “that we may know them”, but this of course means that they want sex and presumably they mean rape, and appallingly, Lot offers his two virgin daughters to them instead!

The angels tell Lot to gather up his family so they can get them out of Sodom, as they intend to destroy the place, and they somehow smite the men with temporary blindness so they can escape. Lot’s married daughters’ husbands think it’s all a joke and so Lot leaves only with his wife and his two unmarried daughters (all of whom are left unnamed).

The Descruction of Sodom and Gomorrah

So Sodom and its surrounding cities and villages are all destroyed with ‘brimstone and fire’ and they are told not to look back, but Lot’s wife (unnamed) famously looked back and was turned into a ‘pillar of salt’.

It often used to be suggested, because sex was mentioned as one of the sins of Sodom, that homosexuality was the reason that God destroyed Sodom. But we learn in Ezekiel 16:49 “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” – did you get that? Pride, greed/ gluttony, laziness, and not looking after the poor.

Lot’s Daughters

Lot and his daughters are too frightened to go and look for another city, so they hide out in a cave. Apparently the daughters are convinced that there are no other men left in the world, and so they conspire to get their father drunk so he will have sex with them and get them pregnant, and as a result they conceive children Moab and Ben-ammi who become the forefathers of the nations of the Moabites and Ammon.

I always wonder about this story, and the implication that Lot was completely innocent in this incestuous encounter. It seems unlikely.

Abraham and Abimelech

Here we have the second of the three sister-wife narratives, where Abraham tries to pass Sarah off as his sister and she is taken into the harem of Abimelech, Abimelech is given dreams by God warning him not to touch her, and Sarah is returned to Abraham along with gifts of sheep, oxen, ‘menservants’ and ‘womenservants’.

The Birth of Isaac

So miraculously, Sarah conceives when she is 90 and Abraham is 100, and Isaac (meaning laughter) is born. On the seventh day he is circumcised according to the Covenant.

Hagar and Ishmael sent away

Sarah sees Ishmael ‘mocking’, and tells Abraham to “Cast out this bondwoman and her son” which he does very reluctantly. God confirms to Abraham that he should listen to Sarah in this, promising that he will take care of Hagar and make her descendants into a nation for his sake.

Covenant at Beer Sheba

Abimelech approaches Abraham to make an agreement to treat each other kindly, and Abraham brings up the fact that one of Abimelech’s servants has taken a well from Abraham. The covenant they make is at Beer-Sheva which means ‘the well of seven’, or the ‘well of oaths’. The text mentions that Abraham calls on “the LORD, the Everlasting God”, YHWH (Jehovah) El Olam.

Sacrifice of Isaac

Here we come to the section of the parsha which makes this one of the most important readings of the Torah cycle – the ‘binding of Isaac’, or the ‘Akedah’.

God tests Abraham’s faith and obedience by asking him to take Isaac, his long-awaited son, and sacrifice him. He obviously does not tell Isaac of the plan, as Isaac asks where the lamb is for the burnt offering, and Abraham answers “God will provide himself a lamb for the burnt offering.”

Just as Abraham is about to go through with the sacrifice, God intervenes and tells him not to, and does indeed provide a ram for the sacrifice.

Animal sacrifice is so far removed from our society, it is very difficult to understand why God would desire or demand this at all, and the fact that Abraham is willing seems really off to our modern thinking. It seems to make him more of a monster than a righteous man. But we learn from this that God does not ever desire human sacrifice, and later he tells us that he does not desire sacrifice at all, but he does value obedience.

In Christian thought as well, of course, Isaac here is considered to be a ‘type’ of Christ, that is a picture or a foreshadowing of Christ – an innocent sacrifice who does not deserve to die.

And so God confirms his covenant with Abraham, reminds him of all his previous promises, and promises more blessings.

The portion ends with the list of Abraham’s brother Nahor’s descendants.

Links and Resources

http://torahclub.ffoz.org/torah-portions/genesis/vayera/

http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Vayera/vayera.html

http://www.messianictrust.org.uk/parashiyot/vayera-14.php

https://christinesbiblestudy.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/genesis-181-2224-vayeira-and-he-appeared/

 

Lech Lecha

lech-lecha

Readings

Torah: Genesis 12:1 – 17:27
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16
New Testament: Romans 4:1-24, Galatians 4:21-5:1, Hebrews 7

Note: the New Testament references are suggested by the Hebrews for Christians website. the Complete Jewish Bible and individual Messianic congregations use various different selections – there is no agreed-upon set readings.

Apologies for the lateness of this post. I have been really struggling to find enough time to sit down and look at this properly. I think I probably need to be a little bit more self-disciplined and carve out a specific time and place to study and write.

Parsha Lech Lecha (or Lekh Lekha) covers the stories of:

  • The Calling of Abram
  • Abram and Sarah in Egypt
  • Abram and Lot separate
  • Battle of the Kings
  • Covenant of the Land
  • Sarai and Hagar
  • Covenant of Circumcision

The Calling of Abram

The LORD calls Abram to leave his home in Ur to settle in Canaan, and Abram takes his whole household and all their possessions. the LORD appears to Abram again and says “Unto thy seed will I give this land.” This is the first mention and the first promise regarding the land of Israel.  From an evangelical perspective, these Bible promises alone justify the continued existence of Israel as a nation.

I have to wonder, if this were an actual historical event, how God manifests himself? In the stories below, it is often as a ‘man’ (which we usually understand to be an angel, or a messenger of God). Again, are these actual angels, or human beings speaking prophetically, and if the latter, how are we to know we can trust what they say? And if we only understand these stories as metaphor, what do they mean?

Abram and Sarah in Egypt

Abram and Sarah have to go into Egypt when there is famine in Canaan, and we get the first of three ‘wife/sister’ narratives, where the Patriarch attempts to pass his wife off as his sister in order to preserve his own life. It seems to suggest that these men (Abram and later Isaac) are deeply flawed, weak men. I don’t know what the significance of such an act might have been culturally in the time and place the stories are set in, but it is suggested that (whether or not they are true stories), it is designed to draw attention to the virtues of the women concerned. I’m not convinced about that.

Abram and Lot Separate

On returning to Canaan, Abram and Lot decide to part because they are such a big company that they would be too much for the land altogether in one place. So Abram goes up into the Plain of Jordan, while Lot goes down into Sodom. It actually says that Lot “pitched his tent toward Sodom” rather than actually living in the city. After they separate, the LORD promises Abram again that the land as far as he can see in every direction is for him and his descendants, who will be so many that they can’t be numbered.

Battle of the Kings

There is a battle between a group of 4 kings (Chedorlaomer, Tidal, Amraphel, Aioch) and 5 kings (the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorah, king of Admah, king of Zeboiim and the king of Bela/ Zoar), and Lot is carried off. So Abram is told and takes armed servants to join the fight and brings back both ‘the goods and the women and the people’.

On the journey, they meet Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem?) who blesses Abram who gives Melchizeden tithes of all they have got.

Melchizedek is an interesting character. His name means ‘Righteous King’, and he is considered (whether or not he was a real human character, and whether or not the incident really happened) to in some way represent God – the ultimate Righteous King – and to be a foreshadow or even a pre-incarnation of Christ.

Covenant of the Land

After this, the LORD appears again to Abram and makes a covenant with him, shoring up the promises he had already made regarding the land. Significantly, Abram is put to sleep while the covenant is being confirmed, and God walks through the cut pieces of the sacrificed animals alone, suggesting that this covenant is not dependent on Abram’s behaviour, but rests on God’s faithfulness alone.

Sarai and Hagar

Abram and Sarai are pretty aged in the story, and neither of them really belive that Sarai can have children to fulfil the promise of descendants for Abram, and so she gives him her maidservant Hagar. From a modern perspective this seems a thoroughly appalling abuse of power, but it seems to have been a common practice in the ancient world. Torah does not speak to the legality of such an arrangement, it does not seem to directly contravene any law, but again from our modern perspective and understanding of the NT admonition to only have one wife, it seems obvious that this arrangement can only lead to trouble, and of course it does. Hagar conceives, and when she does she mocks Sarai and Sarai casts her out. But God speaks to Hagar and tells her to return, promising that he will give her a multitude of descendants. Hagar names the place where God speaks to her ‘Beerlahairoi’, meaning the Covenant (or Well) of the God who Sees Me.

Covenant of Circumcision

The LORD appears to Abram again and makes a new covenant with him, changing his name at this time to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah, promising that Sarah will indeed have a child of her own. Sarah laughs at the idea, and so the child will be name ‘Isaac’ (Yitzak), meaning laughter. The covenant is the Covenant of Circumcision, which demanded that every male in Abraham’s household should be circumcised.

I have to say that, even when I was attending a Messianic cogregation, I had a problem understanding circumcision. I understand it as a metaphor and the idea of having a ‘circumcised heart’, but as an actual physical practice? Why on earth would God require that a piece of the body, and just such a piece of the body as the penis, be mutilated and removed? This is obviously something that is really just too far removed from modern culture. Perhaps it made sense in ancient Canaan. I am aware that circumcision is still practiced, but if female circumcision is abusive and unacceptable (which it most definitely is), how is male circumcision acceptable?

Links to Commentaries and Resources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lech-Lecha

http://www.messianictrust.org.uk/parashiyot/lechlcha-14.php

https://christinesbiblestudy.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/genesis-121-1727-parashah-lech-lecha/  Christine shows some chiastic structures in Lech Lecha, but there is also a much bigger chiastic structure spanning chapters 12 to 22 which puts the Covenant of Circumcision at the centre.

 

Noach

Torah: Genesis 6:9 – 11:32

Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 – 55:5

A note on Bible versions: I use and link to verses and passages primarily in the Authorised King James Version (KJV) simply because I prefer it – I like the sound of the language, I think it is beautiful and easier to memorise than modern versions, and I’m used to it. But if you follow the links to the passages at Bible Gateway, there are lots of versions to choose from.

I thought I would draw your attention to a blog that I found interesting and helpful in going through the Torah portions:

https://christinesbiblestudy.wordpress.com/2013/10/04/genesis-69-1132-noach-noah/

Christine talks about the original Hebrew paragraph divisions and chiastic structures in the Torah portions as “the teaching tools of scripture”. Be aware though that her view is a conservative, literalist interpretation. (The blog is no longer updating there, so you can search in the archives).

The first thing to note about portion Noach is the name. Noah is related to the Hebrew word for ‘comfort’ or rest. It is related to the name of the prophet Nahum, and the phrase ‘Nachamu ami’ – ‘Comfort ye my people‘ (well known from Handel’s Messiah). Genesis 5:29 tells us that Lamech (Noah’s father) names him, “And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed.”

Noah is thought to be a ‘type’ (that is, a foreshadowing or model) of Christ in that, through him, a remnant of humanity is saved.

The portion does not only cover Noah and the Flood, but the following:

  • The genealogy of Noah
  • Building the Ark
  • The Flood
  • The curse on Canaan
  • The genealogy of Noah’s sons
  • The Tower of Babel
  • Dispersion
  • Genealogy of Shem
  • Abram and Lot

Christine shows that the chiastic structure of Noach reveals the central Axis of the portion to be the curse on Canaan, and how that relates to the Messiah. It is a fascinating study!

For more details on Chiastic structure and the other “teaching tools of scripture” inherent in the Hebrew text, see here.

The Haftarah portion refers to Noah and the Covenant of the Rainbow which God makes with Noah, promising that He will never again flood the whole earth with water.

003-noah-sees-rainbow

Links and Resources:

http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Noach/noach.html

http://www.messianictrust.org.uk/parashiyot/noach-14.php

http://torahclub.ffoz.org/portions-library/noach/

http://www.aish.com/tp/43919117.html

http://www.chabad.org/parshah/default_cdo/jewish/Torah-Portion.htm

And although I haven’t seen the film, I thought I would share the soundtrack of the film Noah, as I listened to it while I was writing this post (which I apologise, is shorter than I would have liked, but I’m a little bit distracted by NaNoWriMo as it is November!) 🙂 Hopefully I have at least pointed you in the direction of interesting further studies.

Bereshit

The Bible begins of course with the book of Genesis, the name of which in Hebrew is taken from the first word, ‘bereshit’ meaning ‘in the beginning’, which is also the name of the first Torah portion:

Torah: Genesis 1:1-6:8

The first six chapters of Genesis are so familiar – the stories of creation, the Fall and the expulsion from Eden, Cain and Abel, the descendants of Cain, the descendants of Seth, the sinful state of mankind as the generations go on, and the portion ends with Noah, “but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord”. (Torah portions traditionally end on a joyous note, even if the preceding verses are of a sombre nature) – it can be hard to find anything new. But it is said that the Words of Torah are so multi-faceted like diamonds, that there are 70 aspects to explore.

Whether you believe, as people like Answers in Genesis do, that Genesis is to be taken absolutely literally, or whether you believe it is to be understood as allegory, there is always something new to see.

This is ‘Bereshit’ by Moshav Band. I hope it’s not too cheesy! I think the music is rather beautiful, and I love the stop motion clay animation! If you enjoy folky Israeli music, Moshav Band are worth checking out. I first heard this on Putamayo’s Israel collection which is rather lovely altogether.

Creation

That phrase ‘Ki tov’ – ‘and it was good’ – stands out for me, especially as it is repeated multiple times. I think Christians (especially any influenced by Calvinist thinking) tend to view the whole of Creation, the world, people, everything as inherently bad, totally depraved and devoid of any redeeming qualities. Celtic Christianity acknowledged that Creation was broken and fallen and in need of repairing and healing, but also saw that it was inherently and essentially good, and worthy of being redeemed!

The Fall

On the Fall and the expulsion from Eden, the whole passage brings up more questions for me than answers. I saw a post on twitter this morning claiming to be a ‘haiku’ on Bereshit:

“Here is the tree,
Don’t eat the fruit,
Yum.”

Comedy! But why? Why would God create a tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why put temptation in the garden? If God had omniscient foreknowledge that Eve and Adam would give in to that temptation, and all that would result from it, why not prevent it? Is it possible to find a convincing, reasonable answer to this if you view the episode as literal history?

Then the one positive commandment in the portion is “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” This is the basis for Victorian and modern American dominion theologies, the former justifying dominating nature and the world, and the latter advocating Christians molding the world through Christian government. (Which might be a reasonable proposition if the Christians in question were truly spiritually enlightened, but somehow horrifying if not!)

How should that first commandment be understood now? How are we to be fruitful? How are we to rule and subdue? Is it still relevant at all? Interestingly, the commandment comes before the Fall, in Genesis 1:28, which might suggest that it is not a result of the Fall, but an eternal principle?

Cain and Abel

The first murder, brother on brother! It seems shocking that the very next sin mentioned after the Fall is such a dreadful and sad one. The writer of Hebrews references the murder of Abel in chapter 12:24, comparing his shed blood with the shed blood of Christ, which “speaks of a better covenant”.

This made me wonder which covenant is being referred to, since I thought the first Biblical covenant was the Noahic covenant (covered in the next portion), but a quick search reveals that some groups (especially Dispensationalists) see 7 covenants in scripture, the first being the ‘Edenic’ covenant. Some information on that here.

As with all the links I provide, I am in no way recommending the writers or groups the links represent, nor do I agree with everything they write – I always advise caution and discernment.  Please read responsibly! Take the ‘meat’, but leave the ‘bones’.

Haftarah:

The ‘haftarah’, if you haven’t encountered the word before, is a portion of scripture from the books of the prophets which was chosen to complement and link back to each Torah portion, and they are thought to have originated during the period of Selucid occupation (before the Maccabees revolt) when the Jews were forbidden from studying the Torah itself.  I don’t plan to look at the Haftarah portions in depth this time, but if I find any good links to studies I will include them.

The haftarah for Bereshit is from Isaiah 42:5-21 (although there are various slight differences, depending on the group – for instance, Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Karaite Jews have alternate selections.)

This particular haftarah passage is considered a ‘Messianic’ text in Christian thinking, that is to say that it alludes to Jesus the Messiah (again, in case you’re not familiar with the word, Messiah is from the Hebrew word ‘Mashiach’ meaning ‘anointed’, and translated via Greek as ‘Christ’.) as ‘The Servant of the Lord’ beginning verse 1.

verse 7: To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

Is this, perhaps, the kind of fruitfulness that God is looking for in us?

Links and Resources:

Bereshit on Wikipedia

The Weekly Parashah on Hebrew for Christians

Commentary from Messianic Education Trust

The Jewish and Christian Liturgical Calendar (Catholic) pdf

Interesting Torah commentary on the conflict between Creation and Science

Wikipedia on Allegorical interpretations of Genesis

My personal feeling is that to accept both conflicting views as equally true and valid in different ways is perfectly acceptable and in line with Hebraic thinking – that ‘holding conflict in tension’.

I hope you found this first post of the Jewish year interesting and inspires you to look further.

Shalom!

New Cycle, New Year

The Jewish year ends and begins again with the festival of Simchat Torah – rejoicing in the Torah, which took place at the beginning of the week.
I didn’t manage to get round to posting anything for the High Holidays of Rosh haShanah, Yom Kippur or Sukkot, as we were moving house. But a new Torah cycle begins this week with Bereshit (Genesis 1:1 – 6:8) and in a few weeks the Church year will also draw to a close and begin again. 

So I will attempt to start posting regularly again and hope to have more time as we become more settled.

I would enjoy discussing the Torah portions and looking at different aspects and points of view with anybody interested in studying them.

Check out Chana Helen’s beautiful website of art with Jewish themes:

https://www.chanahelen.com/

(And I would love to know who painted the first painting above). If you know, please do tell! 🙂

Shalom!

Shiva: Death, mourning and hope in Jewish Tradition

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, דיין האמת
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha’olam, dayan ha-emet.
“Blessed are You, Lord, our God, King of the universe, the Just Judge.”
After 4 years of trying, hoping and praying since my last loss, and 13 years in total, and finally after giving up completely, I was unexpectedly blessed with pregnancy again.

Sadly this pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 10 weeks, my 6th loss in total.

There are no funerals for miscarriages, no burials. No family get-together, no ‘sitting Shiva’ together. It is a special kind of grief, more lonely and perhaps harder to navigate than any other type of grief, because in our culture pregnancy loss is still taboo, something we still can’t quite face or discuss openly, and thus the sufferer is largely without comfort or understanding.

The traditional period of mourning in Jewish Tradition is 7 days (thus ‘Shiva’, related to the word 7). But the reality is that grief doesn’t follow a neat progression and cannot possibly be restrained within a 7 day period.

The loss of a child isn’t ‘just’ the loss of a baby right at that moment, but the loss of all the hopes and dreams – the loss of that child’s whole life – years and decades and life events that we thought was ahead of them. And even if a mother is graced with another child, this kind of loss changes you, and you always carry that little bit of sadness with you. You never ‘get over’ loss of a child.

I thought I had completely given up and resigned myself to not having any more babies, to ending my family on a loss. Now though of course, I find old wounds re-opened and longings renewed.

But for now, I mourn. 

Mourner’s kaddish
Jewish perspective on miscarriage and stillbirth
Mourning a Jewish miscarriage 
Jewish Prayer after miscarriage or stillbirth