Tag Archives: Torah

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/

Advertisements

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!

Parsha Terumah

Torah: Exodus 25:1-27:19
Haftarah: 1 Kings 5:26-6:13
Brit Chadashah: 2 Corinthians 9:1-15
Matthew 5:33-37


Apologies for the delay this week – it has been ridiculously busy and I just haven’t managed to stop and look properly at this study, so this will be very brief.

For more details, there are several different good commentaries on the Torah portions – Hebrew for Christians, Ardelle Brody (send an email to ardellebrody at gmail dot com requesting her weekly commentaries by email), The Rabbi’s Son and the Messianic Trust who are based in Exeter are all good places to start. Good secular sources include Wikipedia which is often surprisingly good, and then (non-Messianic) Jewish sites that are helpful include My Jewish Learning. They all have different ways of looking at the Parsha which is good as you will see lots of different angles.

Terumah means ‘gift’ or ‘offering’, and the portion deals with the bringing of contributions by the Israelites for the building of the Tabernacle in the desert, the ‘Mishkan’, which is built to exacting specifications – all of which can be shown to symbolically represent aspects of Christ, the Gospel story and the plan of salvation.

Recommended books on this topic include: ‘The Tabernacle: Shadows of the Messiah’ by David M Levy. I have a couple of others as well, but as seems to be the case for most of the books I want to get hold of at the moment, they’re in storage and I can’t even find the details!

Thanks to anyone who is following or reading, and apologies once again for the inconsistency and randomness of postings.

Hopefully there will come a day – in the not too distant future – where we’re settled and stable and I don’t have to just muddle through as best I can in the mess. But for now, please bear with me. 🙂

Parsha Mishpatim

Torah: Exodus 21:1-24:18
Haftarah:  Jeremiah 34:8–22 and 33:25–26
Brit Chadashah: Matthew 5:38-42, 17:1-11

Moses Receives the Tablets of the Law (1868 painting by João Zeferino da Costa) source: Wikipedia

Moses Receives the Tablets of the Law (1868 painting by João Zeferino da Costa) source: Wikipedia


Summary

This Torah portion, Mishpatim, meaning ‘Judgements’ is probably the most law-rich portion there is, containing laws on agrigulture, civil law, liability, finance, family purity, the sabbath and the festivals, slaves, property, justice and mercy. At the end of the portion, Moses makes a sacrifice, sprinkling the blood on the people in a symbolic ritual confirming the Covenant and their agreement to it. At the end of the portion, we are told that “To the Israelites, the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire”

The selections in Matthew are: firstly, part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus expands on the requirements of Torah, saying “Do not resist and evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” and so on. (Read to the end of chapter 5) And then the second passage is the Transfiguration, linking Moses’ time on Mount Sinai with Jesus’ time on the mountain with Peter, James and John.

The passages in Jeremiah refer to a time during the reign of King Zedekiah when the people had remembered the Covenant, repented and set slaves free, but then had forgotten it once more and enslaved them again, and a warning for the consequences of this. The Haftarah ends with God confirming the Covenant and his care of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “For I will restore their fortunes and have compassion on them.”

Notes

The symbolic sprinkling of blood by Moses of the people is mirrored by the declaration of the witnesses at Jesus’ trial by Pilate “Let his blood be on us and on our children” when Pilate declares Jesus innocent and washes his hands symbolically and literally, absolving himself of responsibility of condemning this innocent man. Ironically though, in Scripture the covering of blood represents not guilt and shame but rather washing and cleansing. In Hebrews 9:22, the writer tells us that “without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins.” 1 Peter 1:2 alludes to all believers being sanctified by the ‘sprinkling’ of Jesus blood, and in Hebrews 12:22 -24 we are told that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, and refers to the ‘Blood of Sprinkling’. The passage in Hebrews 12 goes on to offer a warning, which ends with an allusion to the Parsha: “Our God is a consuming fire.”

Application

There are many things that can be taken away from this portion. The whole of the longest psalm, Psalm 119, is about studying and loving the laws of God. Messianic believers tend to make a big deal about Sabbath and the Festivals, often forgetting and neglecting the laws of justice and mercy and social responsibility – what Jesus refers to as the ‘Weightier matters of the Law’. For Christians, the question of the New Covenant should be uppermost. What is the New Covenant? What does it mean? What are we agreeing to when Jesus’ blood is sprinkled over us? The people responded: “We will do everything the LORD has said; we will obey.” – Exodus 24:7 Are we prepared and willing to make such a declaration? And what will it mean for us? Do we imagine that the obedience under the New Covenant is less demanding and easier than the Old? Do we view God as a terrible, consuming fire as well as the meek and gentle Jesus or do we prefer to ignore the wrath in favour of His love and mercy?

“How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” Hebrews 2:3

No More Grumbling!

rejoice

As I have told you, times are challenging at the moment for us, and I have been feeling very discouraged.

But this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, features the topic of grumbling quite prominently, and so I am encouraged to put a guard over my mouth and my virtual pen, to only ‘speak life’; in other words, not to grumble and moan but to look for the good in everything, to give thanks in everything and to be grateful for the goodness and mercy that is all around me.

So today I thought I would share some of the things for which I am most grateful.

– My husband, my children, my family
– We have a roof over our head, we are not out on the street, destitute.
– Running, hot water and a shower!
– Plenty of food, and a grocery delivery service!
– My husband has a job where he is happy, and he gets up faithfully early every morning and goes to work, and comes home, and never complains!
– Sunshine and rain in due season
– The books that I have not in storage.

I’m sure there is much more if I would spend some time thinking about it.

Are you making gratefulness and thankfulness a habit, even when it is hard? Even on my darkest days, I can usually find at least 5 things to be thankful for, even if it is just my bed at the end of the day, running water, food to eat, a bit of sunshine and a good conversation.

What are you grateful for today?