For many people, the centrality of the good tidings or “gospel” is the life and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that this sacrifice is the central piece in the Master’s plan to redeem and reconcile the world back to the order He intended. But to truly understand the full scope and sequence of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must diligently seek—within the scriptures—to know the mind, heart, and intentions of God.
There is no doubt that this sacrifice is the central piece in the Master’s plan to redeem and reconcile the world back to the order He intended. But to truly understand the full scope and sequence of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must diligently seek—within the scriptures—to know the mind, heart, and intentions of God.
When one zooms out and views the word and plan of God in its entirety—from Genesis to Revelation—there seems to be a deeper, more intricate myriad of themes within which the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus play a central role. Obviously, we know that Jesus came for the redemption of all humanity and creation. Yet, a subtler, yet centralized, theme is the rise, fall, and restoration of Israel and their role in this redemptive process. In fact, this theme takes up a prominent part of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. All Israel hold a special place in God’s heart. Though many might agree with this statement, they may not readily admit that Israel still has a central role to play in the redemption of humanity and the restoration of all things. Israel are still God’s chosen people, and this is difficult for many to not only grasp but accept. In fact, this claim is often met with strong resistance, even among those who profess an unadulterated belief in God’s word. Despite what we may or may not feel about Israel, the important question is this: what does God have to say about Israel? What does He think and feel about Israel?
Before we can set out to answer this question, we must first examine our own stance and disposition concerning the word of God, whether we believe it to be inerrant in this matter or not. Our journey through the scriptures will be a struggle if we do not hold God’s word, in its entirety, to be true. We must start and be guided by the premise that it is God’s word, not man’s, that establishes the truth—past, present, and future. It is for this reason that our study of Israel, as with any Biblical endeavor, must set off with this question in mind: Is God’s word true, eternal, and will it accomplish what it says He will do? Is His word true and reliable, even if it does not align with our logic, our culture, our feelings, and our assumptions? We need to contend with this because God’s word, at some point, will challenge our conventional wisdom, our notions of what is right and wrong, good and evil. So the question stands: Do we take God His word… His ENTIRE word?
Through His messages to the prophets, God made clear that His word would accomplish what it was set out to do, and it is this word that He calls His people to live by through faith, despite our surrounding circumstances and contexts. It is this word that is the foundation, the very substance of our faith. As Paul states in Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (10:17). Outside of the word of God, there is no faith, for it is the word of God that paints the picture of the realities that have been, that are, and more importantly, that have yet to be. In fact, it is the realities of what has and what is that continue to direct our attention to what will be. This is why there is so much repetition in the scripture, so much remembering because what has been is a shadow of what will be. Thus, if we ignore even one jot or tittle of the word, if we dismiss any of the events in God’s story–be they relevant to us or not–then we erase details within the picture, within this future spiritual reality on which our faith is set. Thus, we must start with the premise, as Abraham did, that God’s word is true and that it is worth acting upon whether we see its fulfillment in our lifetime or not.
Before starting our journey, let us reassure ourselves of the reliability of God’s word. There are a few examples that are worth taking note of to establish or re-establish our bearings.
In the book of Numbers, we find a powerful example through the false prophet Balaam. Balaam was called by Balak, the king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon Israel, hoping this might lead to victory over Israel:
“See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land…”
Inside, we sense that Balaam knew that he could not contradict the word of God, so in his response to Balak’s request, we find the unshakeable truth that God’s word cannot and will not be tainted:
“Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (Numbers 22:18).
Balaam shares this with Balak, but Balak insists that he come anyway, convinced he would find a way to circumvent God’s word. At the request of Balak, Balaam makes several attempts to curse Israel but only blessings are allowed to come forth from his mouth. In his second attempt, God utters, through the mouth of Balaam, the following prophecy:
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent. Has He said and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed and I cannot reverse it.”
No matter how many attempts he makes, Balaam cannot contradict what God has declared, thus confirming the following truths:
God cannot lie.
He does not need to repent for what He has spoken.
What He has said, He will do.
What He has spoken, He will make good.
What He has blessed (concerning His people) CAN NOT be reversed.
Despite man’s futile attempts to contradict God’s words and promises, His words will carry out what He sends them to do. The prophet Isaiah confirms this truth, likening God’s words to rain which is sent to the earth for the purpose of producing fruit. Just as the rain falls from the heavens and returns when its purpose is accomplished, so is the word of God:
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, but make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent.”
Again Isaiah states,
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus verifies these words, stating,
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
Even beyond this present heaven and earth, God’s words endure. They have to because even when the current heavens and earth pass, God’s word will continue working out His eternal purposes. This is why His word endures and, according to Peter, is incorruptible:
1 Peter 1:23
“…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.“
It is this incorruptible seed by which we are born and by which we live. It is for this reason that Deuteronomy commands–and Jesus echoes this command– that, “man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord”(Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
With this in mind, we know that one of the central promises God made in the Bible was to His servant Abraham. The book of Hebrews beautifully restates this promise:
“For when God made a promise to Abraham because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ’Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’ And so after he patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.“
The words of Hebrews echo the words of Balaam, namely that it is impossible for God to lie. God’s words, His promises are immutable. To solidify His word to Abraham (as if He needed to), God even swore by Himself and confirmed it with an oath, and it is impossible for God to break His oath. The apostle Paul assures us that even when it appears that His word has faltered, “Indeed, let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Certainly, from our limited perspective, history seems to suggest errancy in God’s word, but what do we believe? When we consider the state of Israel and her so-called “failed history” God’s word seems to have fallen short but is this true? Could it be possible that, despite what we judge with our own eyes, our ears, and our understanding, God’s word is accomplishing exactly what He said it would?
Again we set off on this journey, we must do so constantly reading the scriptures through this lens: what God said, He will bring to pass. This is the faith that God asks us to cling to–the faith that clings to the assurance of His word. This is the faith that God uses to open our eyes, revealing the substance behind the shadows we are looking at. It is faith that gives us the confidence that what He promised He is able to perform.
“For now I know that you revere God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” —Genesis 22:12
Throughout the scriptures there are various ways in which this word “yada” is used, but the overall implication is that it has very intimate connotations both in how we know something or someone, and how we are known.
In Genesis we see this word being used by God to express His knowledge of Abraham’s heart based on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice that which is most important to him. Through this act of obedience, God came to know the intimate devotion and faith within the heart of Abraham. It was revealed that Abraham not only believed that God’s promise would come to be, but that it would come about even when the command of God seemed to be stripping His very promise away. Abraham had an incredible amount of faith, and this faith he possessed was demonstrated in the act of offering up his son, even when he knew that he needed that son for the promises to be filled. We know that it would have been easy and even appropriate for Abraham to rationalize his way out of this, for him to say, “I don’t really need to do this because God knows my heart and my intention. On the contrary, Abraham’s way of expressing his devotion and trust in God was to do exactly as God told Him… to carry out the command.
Sure, because God knows everything—even the depths of our hearts, and every action we will perform—He could have said to Abraham, “I know that you love Me and believe My promises, so I am not going to ask you to sacrifice your son because I know that you would do this for Me.” He didn’t say this, and I cannot fully explain why God asks us to do these things, despite the fact that He already knows what would happen and what lies within our hearts. The only thing I can think of is that for some reason or another the act itself is important to God; it pleases Him, and it seems to be something He likes to experience with us. It is equally (or ought to be) equally important for us because it is a confirmation that the faith, trust, and devotion we have in our hearts are more than mere feelings, assertions, or intentions. The action confirms what we profess to “feel” or possess in our hearts. According to James, these actions complete our faith:
“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was completed” (James 2:22).
What is important to note here is that it’s not just any action that confirms this for God, but it’s obediently carrying out the exact command that God asks us to do because this makes evident that we have faith that His exact word is true and right and beneficial for us, whether we understand or agree with it or not. Abraham was not permitted to modify the plans of God to accommodate his desires, preferences, understanding, comfort, or even his fears. Abraham did not say, “I know God told me to offer up my son, but I’m sure He would still appreciate it if I offered a ram instead because He knows my heart.” Nor did Abraham lean on his own understanding because if he had, it would have been easy to say, “I know God told me to sacrifice my son, but God is love and He is against murder, so what He said must not be true, or He must just want me to think about what this spiritually means.” We have to believe that Abraham struggled because what God asked him to do presented a variety of conundrums, but regardless, he did exactly as God commanded knowing that God had the power to work it all out in the end… and God did work it out in the end.
This is where faith and works intersect, as a way for us to demonstrate to God that we wholeheartedly believe that every word that comes from His mouth is not only true, but given to provide and bring life. Throughout the gospels, Jesus demonstrated and modeled this faith and obedience (he showed us its perfection). He came to this earth to teach and obediently live out the word of God (John 7:16; 4:34; 8:55; 12:44-50; 14:24, 31; Matthew 4:4). Jesus demonstrated exactly what it means to listen and to obey because He always did exactly as He was instructed by the Father. He did not deviate to the right or left, but obediently followed the path God laid out for Him. Even more, Jesus lived each command obediently, not only because He understood the physical implications of each command, but He understood the deeper spiritual truths behind each command.
There are many words that God has spoken or commanded us that seem irrelevant, obsolete, or even contrary to His nature, but the measure of our faith lies in our confidence that if He said it, then it is true. The measure of our confidence in this truth, then, is whether we are willing to obey it despite our every inclination not to. Our obedience confirms our confidence and faith in the truth of God’s word, just as Jesus’ obedience confirmed the truth in and His devotion to God’s word and commandments. Thus, the obedience we live is not our own, but that of Christ (1 John 2:6), and Jesus was fully obedient to the word of God (John 15:10) because he knew that His commandment is life (John 12:50). In doing so, not only will we “know” God as Christ knew Him, but God will know us with the intimacy that He knew Abraham. After all, as we read in Matthew 7:21-23, knowing Christ is not the only essential thing, but Him “knowing” us seems to be of greater importance. How then will He know us? Through our doing the will of the Father (vs. 21). What is the will of the Father? The will of the Father is embedded in law, the prophets, and the rest of the scriptures, magnified in the obedience of Jesus Christ.
In the end, the essential question may not be did you know Me, but does He know “yada” us? Or, what does He know of us? If God knows us the way that He “knew” Abraham, then we will not even have to bother with the first question, because it will be made evident through both our faith and obedience in His word. In other words, if God comes to know us the way that He knew Abraham, then it is clear that we know Him.
The word sh’ma in Hebrew is such a beautiful and instructive word, speaking to the very heart and nature that God desires from His children. For the people of Israel are to be characterized not only by their attentiveness to God’s instruction, but also by their steadfast obedience to those very instructions. Sh’ma is a double command to “hear”—with attention, interest, and understanding—and to obey. In living the divine life, both aspects of the command are not only necessary, but without exception. In other words, to have one without the other leaves the follower susceptible to either irreparable negligence or inaction. In this week’s Torah portion, we bear witness to the fullness and reality of this command, carried out by Moses and the people… Continue Reading Vayyakhel PDF