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Ruminations

Rumination #37: Why does Scripture categorize the commandments? So that you may do all that HaShem has commanded you.

Some theologies teach the categorizing of the commandments in order to explain one or more categories as no longer valid. Those categories normally go like this:

Both Supercessionists (Replacement Theology) and Dispensationalists borrow from this theological monstrosity. Some Messianics also use it, and attempt to recast it in terms of “jurisdictions.” As an example, they might say, "That commandment is not for this jurisdiction, because we are under the jurisdiction of Messiah." Make no mistake about it, whatever the supposed theological reason, it is unadulterated hypocrisy to teach against the literal obedience to biblical commandments, and then claim that somehow they still apply in some deep theological sense. These groups use man-made interpretative rules to undo the commandments of the Almighty, all the while mocking "Jews" for following man-made rules. That is hypocrisy.

Of course, Scripture itself does not use these man-made categories, and even though the theologians know that, they continue to hide from the people the real categories of the commandments. They hide them in translation traditions. But a diligent student of Scripture might uncover them as they study Psalms 119 or other passages that praise the Torah of HaShem. The categories are found in the very words used to describe the blessed commandments that come from the mouth of the Almighty. They are words like mitzvot [commandments], mishpatim [judgments], edut [witnesses], pikudim [precepts] and chokim [statutes, ordinances]. When you begin to look for these Torah words you will quickly see three categories that make up the Torah (which itself is a single unit):

If you track these words, and compare them to one another, you discover something interesting. What G-d calls a mishpat, is something which makes logical sense to the human mind. It make sense not to steal, or not to murder. On the other hand, a chok is something that makes you scratch your head and wonder what purpose such a commandment has. The chok of the Red Heifer is a perfect example of a chok. Then there all the mitzvot. These are the commandments that fill in the middle ground between the mishpatim which are logical, and the chokim that make no earthly sense.

It can be understood that chokim are the commandments that reflect the World to Come, where as the mishpatim reflect this Present World. For the lover of G-d, we reveal His glory when we live His commandments, His mitzvot, in our daily lives between these two extremes of reality. It is our duty to obey HaShem not only in the things we understand (the mishpatim) but also in the things we do not understand (the chokim), and everything in between (the mitzvot).

I have inclined my heart to perform Your chokim [statutes] forever, to the very end.
Psalms 119:54

HaShem, I hope for Your salvation, and I do Your mitzvot [commandments].
Psalms 119:166

The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous mishpat [judgment(s)] endures forever.
Psalms 119:60

We must bring together this Present World and the World to Come…

Parashat Chukat  - 'Ordinance' (Numbers 19:1-22:1)

The title for Parashat Chukat comes from the second verse of the Scripture portion:

vaydabbeir HaShem, el-Mosheh v'el-Aharon leimor.
zot chukat hatorah, asher-tzivvah HaShem lemor: dabber el-b'nei Yisra'el, v'yikchu eleicha farah adumah t'mimah asher ein-bah mum, asher lo-alah aleiha, ol.

Now HaShem spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,
"This is the ordinance of the Torah which HaShem has commanded, saying: 'Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.'"
Numbers 19:1-2

Chukat is often translated "statute" or "ordinance." Neither word fully explains the Hebrew word. These seemingly "legal" words are treated with much disrespect and bias in our English versions - for a very obvious reason. The modern man does not like anyone telling him what to do... even if the "Anyone" is the Almighty. How confused the modern man is.

History is a voice forever sounding across the centuries the laws of right and wrong. Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity.
-- James A. Forude

Eternity is a long time. OK, let's be honest - it's... forever. Well, that is what we say when we talk about eternal things like eternal life, and everlasting judgment. Does it really mean forever when the Bible says, "forever"? Some, if they are honest, may have to respond, "It depends." And the thing it depends upon for some people is where in the Bible it says it. I am not in that group. I think that the Word of G-d is consistent. "Forever" always means forever. The problem, you see, is that the theology of some does not permit the word "forever" to apply if it is found in the pages to the left of Matthew 1:1. Which takes us to the title of this parasha: Chukat - or "Ordinance."

Now HaShem spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, "This is the statute of the Torah which HaShem has commanded, saying: 'Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer...

And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening. Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin. And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them. He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean.'"
Numbers 19:1-6; 8-12

"It shall be a statute forever..."

The word chukat, is usually translated "statute" or "ordinance." From the root chok, chukat is an inscribed royal decree. In the biblical sense, it is always a Kingly decree from the G-d of the Universe for His subjects. What makes chukat most interesting is that it is a word that applies to some of the most baffling of the instructions of Scripture. From this, the sages have rightly said that chukim / chukot (plural, masculine or feminine of chok) are instructions that require no explanation - only obedience. In other words, they do not need to make sense - or, to paraphrase, "Just do it because I said so."

The chukat in question in this Scripture portion is the instruction regarding the Red Heifer. This is the one portion of Scripture that Solomon reportedly struggled to understand... and finally gave up. After all, how do the ashes of a red heifer mixed with water purify one? And why is it important to be ritually pure in this way anyway? Before we get to those questions (remember, I won't have the answer either), let's look a little more into the phrase from Numbers 19:10, "a statute forever..." - the Hebrew is chukat olam. Guess what the word olam means? Yes, it is forever, eternal, or perpetual. When Yeshua speaks about the "World to Come" in the Gospels, it is from the Hebrew phrase "olam haba." It means eternity.

So, the instruction regarding the ashes of a red heifer is an eternal statute - chukat olam. I know a few people whose theology will cause them to outright reject that statement. I know quite a few who will at least have to explain it away. They might say, "Chukat olam meant forever - until Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected." Such thinking will inevitably bring into question the eternal instructions and promises in the Gospels as well.

No, beloved - eternal is eternal. Forever is forever. So, we must somehow learn to wrap our theology around the eternal Word of G-d - instead of around centuries of errant explanations of this mystery.

The phrase chukat olam appears twenty-two times in the Torah. Nine times the phrase brit olam [eternal covenant] is used. Nearly all of these are references to things that some have routinely rejected as "Jewish things that do not apply to us." For instance, the Sabbath instructions in Exodus 31:16 are called a perpetual covenant and sign. The feasts and fast of Leviticus 23 are referred to as eternal statutes. The keeping of the Yom Kippur fast of Leviticus 16 and Leviticus 23 is called an eternal statute. Fire up your Bible program and find the English word "forever." You may be shocked to see it six times more often in the "Old Testament" than in the "New."

OK, so you may be saying to yourself, "Yeah, but these are instructions to the Children of Israel - so maybe Jewish people need to still do these things, but not me - I am a Gentile, and I am not under the Law." You will need to deal with this Scripture among many others,

One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger [ger] who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before HaShem.  One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger [ger] who dwells with you.'"
Numbers 15:15-16

And from Parashat Chukat:

It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger [ger] who dwells among them.
Numbers 19:10b

As they say, "What is good for the goose is good for the gander" - or in this case, "Good for the Jew - Good for the Gentile." Why do some people consider the loving instructions of their Father to be a burden and bad? No beloved, every word that He speaks is good. These are not legalistic burdens - they are blessed gifts given by a loving Father Who knows what is best for His children.

Of course, to those who have taken the "WWJD" acronym to its most appropriate conclusion, ("What Did Yeshua Do?"), the answer is obvious: If Yeshua did it, than it must be good. No matter what notable anti-Semites like Augustine, Origen, Justin Martyr, and others have said. One may wonder if such men are to be seated at the Master's table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the World to Come; or if they will ask to sit in the "Gentile Section."

So how do the Apostolic Scriptures deal with such things as described in the Torah as chukat olam? Well, try and find a time when Yeshua does not want to be in the Temple during a Torah instructed feast (chukat olam)! Try and twist Yeshua's words regarding His zeal for "His Father's House." For those who think that all that Aaronic priesthood stuff has been replaced, if you read last week's and this week's Scripture portion, try and imagine G-d saying, "I really mean this... at least for now." No, they are treated as chukat olam in the Apostolic Scriptures as well, if you will but learn to see them instead of discount them.

It may come as a shock how the writer of the Hebrews treats this week's passage of Scripture.

For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Messiah, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to G-d, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living G-d?
Hebrews 9:13-14

What you may not see is the verb tense for "sanctifies" - it is the present tense (eg, it does this now). In other words, when these words were written, the Temple still stood, and the writer was arguing not about opposing things (the ashes of the red heifer versus the blood of Messiah) but as comparative and qualitative. Not things abolished, but rather things pertaining to different locations and realms. Notice also, the writer is arguing about the efficaciousness of the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of the red heifer - not to discount them, but to use them as strengthening argument. In other words, since G-d's instructions worked in the earthly Tabernacle/Temple for as long as they stood - how much more will His provision in Messiah work in the World to Come. When so-called theologians argue about the Law in negative terms, they are destroying the very foundation of comparison so often used in the Apostolic Scriptures. 

Beloved, what this Scripture portion does is remind us all that we know far less about the Tabernacle/Temple sacrificial system than we may think. We have taken the biblical pictures and realities and created pat slogans and theologies instead of trying to discover what is really meant. 

Let's be honest, in most people's study of Scripture, a whole lot of ink and paper was wasted on the front three quarters of their Bibles. When you begin to truly understand the Tabernacle/Temple system and the issues surrounding offerings you will not be put off by them. Instead, you will appreciate what Messiah has done for us all the more. You will better understand what the Torah teaches regarding approaching G-d and the need for being clean and forgiven.

It is not wrong to have questions about such things. Solomon himself did. What is wrong is when we arbitrarily declare the "forevers" of the Torah to be forever annulled. We do that to our peril.

Remember, these are chukot olam - forever statutes.

Yeshua said,

Do not think that I came to destroy the Torah or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Torah till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-18

So, do you really believe in forever?

Haftarat Chukat 'Ordinance' (Judges 11:1-33)

In Torah portion Chukat, we read that after years of wandering, Israel was going to approach the Land of Israel from the eastern bank of the Jordan they avoided Edom at HaShem's instruction and simply sought passage through the land of the Amorites and Sihon their king.

Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, "Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into fields or vineyards; we will not drink water from wells. We will go by the King's Highway until we have passed through your territory." But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together and went out against Israel in the wilderness, and he came to Jahaz and fought against Israel.
Numbers 21:21-23

Of course, Israel then defeats Sihon and the Amorites. The Amorite were the conquerors of Moab and Ammonite territory. Thus some of the lands of these cousins of Israel (Ammon and Moab were Lot's sons), were taken by Israel from the Amorites. That brings us to this week's reading from the Prophets. The portion from the Prophets was chosen by the ancient sages because in Judges 11, the land of the Amorites is again in dispute by its original owners, the Ammonites.

Our haftarah opens with an introduction to the unlikely hero, Jephthah.

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah. Gilead's wife bore sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, "You shall have no inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of another woman." Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.
Judges 11:1-3

Jephthah was the son of a concubine who is most likely a Gentile. Thus he was denied an inheritance with family. He is the outcast. That is, until he was needed.

It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel. And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. Then they said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon." So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?" And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead." So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and HaShem delivers them to me, shall I be your head?"  And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "HaShem will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words."
Judges 11:4-10

Now, this portion of Scripture gets some good attention from the "Bible-story" tellers, and unfortunately in so doing, some very important points are missed. You see, this is the story of Jephthah, who makes what appears to be a rash vow. Here is what the "Bible-story" tellers focus on:

And Jephthah made a vow to HaShem, and said, "If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the HaShem's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering." So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and HaShem delivered them into his hands...

When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to HaShem, and I cannot go back on it." So she said to him, "My father, if you have given your word to HaShem, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because HaShem has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon."
Judges 11:30-32; 34-36

Do you remember this one? You know, where we all consider how rash and foolish Jephthah was for making such a vow - and how confused he was that he would then offer his daughter in human sacrifice.

Shocking. Yes, and also misunderstood. Regardless whether Jephthah should have made his vow or not, it is quite unlikely that his daughter was ever offered as korban olah [burnt offering]. She was likely korban [reserved as an offering], but in a similar manner that the Hannah offered the boy Samuel to HaShem and His service. After all, anyone who would know enough to vow korban olah would also know that:

No, the story shouldn't not focus on the "human sacrifice" side any more than the story of the binding of Isaac. While focused on the "weirdness" of what many think is going on in Judges 11, they may miss a very important lesson - a lesson that many "New Testament" readers miss in the Torah - it is the lesson of justice. This is an account of justice - and a just war. It shows how our G-d is indeed a G-d of mercy and justice.

Remember Sihon, the king of the Amorites who in Numbers had attacked Israel, and thereby was defeated himself? He was an occupier of land he had conquered from the Ammonites. Now we read about hundreds of years later how the descendants of Ammon are demanding the land back. Israel had no grievance with Ammon up until that point. They are cousins. Instead, the issue comes to a point when Ammon attacked Israel in order to drive them from the land east of the Jordan River. Watch how Jephthah approaches war.

Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, "What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?" And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, "Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably." So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, and said to him, "Thus says Jephthah: 'Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon...

"Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May HaShem, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.'" However, the king of the people of Ammon did not heed the words which Jephthah sent him.
Judges 11:12-15; 27-28

Hmm. Wonder where Jephthah, the son of a Gentile got this approach? It is Torah. Again, because most people focus on G-d's command to Israel to go into the Land and slaughter men, women and children, they miss the reason why, and the exceptions. Ammon is not included in the list. Ammon is an exception. Therefore, Jephthah knows that he does not have a mandate to simply go make war against Ammon. G-d's people are governed by a higher law than the law of conquest. G-d's law is a law of purpose and redemption. The Torah told Jephthah how to approach Ammon.

When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it. And it shall be that if they accept your offer of peace, and open to you, then all the people who are found in it shall be placed under tribute to you, and serve you. Now if the city will not make peace with you, but war against you, then you shall besiege it. And when HaShem your G-d delivers it into your hands, you shall strike every male in it with the edge of the sword. But the women, the little ones, the livestock, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall plunder for yourself; and you shall eat the enemies' plunder which HaShem your G-d gives you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations.
Deuteronomy 20:10-15

Jephthah has grounds to attack and defeat Ammon. Yet, the Torah demands that he offer peace. Of course, Ammon refuses - and then the war is executed in absolute terms. G-d is just, and has His reasons. Absolute war, waged this way, is really much more just. There is only one outcome: absolute and total surrender - and never an opportunity for the follow-on war.

However, certain peoples are not to be afforded the "peace" option. The nations occupying the Land were to be utterly destroyed. Deuteronomy 29 tells us why.

"But of the cities of these peoples which HaShem your G-d gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as HaShem your G-d has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against HaShem your G-d.
Deuteronomy 20:16-18

Think how differently Israel's history would have been if they had been as faithful to the Torah as Jephthah was. Offer peace to any hostile nation that is outside the Land. If peace is ignored, prosecute an absolute war. Drive all inhabitants of the Land out - with no exceptions.

That is justice. It seems harsh to us, but it is HaShem's wisdom. How much worse is it for the people of G-d to be led astray by the idolatrous inhabitants of the Land - and thereby untold millions in generations that followed suffered the disciplining hand of the Almighty.

Prayer Focus for Chukat -  "v'Lamal'shinim" [Against Slanderers]

A portion of the Shemoneh Esrei [aka the Amidah] prayer is somewhat controversial in Messianic circles - and for good reason. The v'lamal'shinim [Against Slanderers] stanza is one that has a definite history with believers in Yeshua. It was used against us. It is commonly referred to as the "Twelfth Benediction." It is said that it was formulated after the destruction of the Holy Temple in 70CE for the express purpose of cursing believers in Yeshua who were by then seen as traitors. This is not quite accurate. The v'lamal'shinim existed before the destruction of the Temple. There are variations of it that predate First Century believers. But, it was apparently reformulated after the destruction of Temple and in that form it was used against all Judaic sects other than Pharisees. Sadducees, Essenes, and Nazarenes [aka the Way, the followers of Yeshua], were all affected by this.

It remains an appropriate blessing. Our family does not pray this portion of the Shemoneh Esrei - not because it is a bad prayer, but rather in honor of our Master's first followers.

If you pray this prayer, consider this a prayer against the evil that you see in the world: That unrepentant spirit that defies the G-d of the Universe. That was its original intent. And with that, it is quite biblical.

And for slanderers let there be no hope; and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may all Your enemies be cut down speedily. May You speedily uproot, smash, cast down, and humble wanton sinners - speedily in our days. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who breaks enemies and humbles wanton sinners.

-- ArtScroll Translation         

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