How to Love Others More

Have you ever had trouble loving people? Is there a co-worker who just grinds your gears? Or an in-law (or blood relative) that knows how to irritate you beyond comprehension?

We all have been there. I know I have. I remember someone I used to work for, and this individual would purposely do some really hurtful actions. I never murdered this individual, but I can sadly say I had so not-so-fond thoughts.

Most people know some of the Ten Commandments, one of which is, ‘You shall not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13, NAB) I’m working on a sermon that addresses this verse. Initially, I was intrigued. I have spent more than half of my life in church and have heard this command numerous times. The excitement of a new study excited me.

So, I set to work. Initially I began with a note pad and pen (which is my custom). However, about five minutes into my research I realized this job required something bigger. So I borrowed a white board from another room and set to work. In about ten minutes I had recorded most of the important material related to my study.18588963_10208822612382542_2713873779717572604_o

It was during this time of research that I found something incredible, and one that, I hope, will enable me to be more faithful in my love of others.

The word used for killing in Exodus 20:13 is רצח. I began looking for other usages of this, and once completed I summarized it with a basic definition of “to deprive of life.” Now, this is a very basic definition, I know. For in some instances, depriving something of life may save others. Or, it could provide the necessary sustenance for continued life. But for my study, I began to look at life in Scripture. Of course, life began in Genesis 1:20-28 with the creation of animal life and ultimately crowned with humanity. (You can check out my thoughts on the creation of האדם in a previous post.) Life, or נפש, is the key to our appreciation and ultimate love for humanity (and animal life too!).

Humans, however, are different. We were created בעלם אלוהים. And so, because humanity is the image of God, our lives are intrinsically valuable. That is, we matter because God matters. Or, God’s image in us makes humanity intrinsically worthy.

Now, it is possible to simply gloss over that. Chances are, you already did. But in the off chance that you are reading this contemplatively, humanity is intrinsically valuable.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political party that makes humanity worthy. It is the fact that they are human.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political paevelyn-paris-33498.jpgrty that makes a human being excellent. It is the fact that they are a human being.

It is not the color of one’s skin, the level of intelligence, or the physical or mental capacity that makes a human being invaluable. It is the fact that they are a human being.

Because “When God created human beings, he made them in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.” (Genesis 5:1b-2a, NAB) That is what makes a human being worthy.lechon-kirb-25696

Now, how does this help us love others more? When we stop looking at people in categories, we start to what is really there: people. She is not a Muslim, she is a human being created in the image of God. He is not queer, he is a human being created in the image of God.

When you and I begin to see God in others, our ability to love them is transformed. That is why Paul could write, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NAB) There is humanity, gloriously and wonderfully bearing God’s image.

Do my words convey my belief that people are created in the image of God? Unfortunately, not always. But I am reminded of the weight of such ill-used words in Matthew 5:21-26. The Rabbis of Jesus’ day had broken the law down to manageable loads. In fact, the commandment regarding killing was boiled down to simple murder. As long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re good! (If these were the true standards, we would be much better off!) But Jesus wouldn’t let that slide. God’s standards are infinitely higher than we could ever imagine. Murder, as expressed in Exodus 20:13, does not involve just the literal taking of life. It goes beyond that to our words, the very basis of our communication to others. Whether it is Raqa or fool, if it does not proceed from the view of love and value, we are in trouble. (By the way, this does not absolve us for confronting errors, for in the next few chapters Jesus does just that, as well as recommending it in Matthew 7:1-5.)

So, are you having trouble loving others? Just see them the way God sees them: image bearers. I am amazed at what I can overlook when I see someone as a person, uniquely, incredibly, and fantastically made בעלם אלוה’ם.

P.S. I do not mean to convey that our own sins and shortcomings do not need to be addressed. When Jesus was speaking with the woman caught in adultery, his words were, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV) While Jesus saw her humanity, he did not simply condone her sin. Likewise, it would be a mistake in the desire to love others that we would ignore sin in our own lives.

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Hebrews 1:4-14 Study Notes

Below are the notes that I have included with my message covering Hebrews 1:4-14. Some of it may be boring to you, but I find it interesting. Perhaps it will be a blessing! Please share your comments, questions, and thoughts.

 

Additional Notes for Hebrews 1:4-14

The following are notes that I have accrued in my study of this passage. I hope that it proves to be a blessing. I pray that the connections, the emphases, which the overwhelming amount of force the author of Hebrews uses to prove Jesus is Messiah will bless your heart and bring you to worship our incredibly gracious God!

 

Before diving too deep into this lengthy section, I wanted to share one point of linguistic interest. The writers of Scripture (both in the Old and New Testaments) utilized a feature call chiasm. It is a structure where the point of emphasis lies at the center in the form of an ‘x’. (Incidentally, the Greek letter that begins the word chiasm is chi, or c, which looks like an English ‘x’.)

The prologue (verses 1-4) are incredibly important to the rest of the book of Hebrews. The chiasm that the author uses looks like this:

 

So, in this structure the author is emphasizing the Son’s relationship with the Father. In Jewish thought, the struggles of accepting Jesus as divine (in other words, as God) developed into a huge stumbling block. Peter addresses this in 1 Peter 2:1-10. The fact that Jesus is God and that Jesus was crucified was just too much for some Jewish people to believe. Even though Peter provides several Old Testament references to this (see Isaiah 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isaiah 8:14).

 

On Angels

I wish we had time to cover all the wealth of information on Jewish views of the angels. The following is taken from Paul Enns work on theology. I encourage you to look up the references provided to see how amazing these angelic creatures are. And keep in mind, Jesus is better. As we move through this passage the author of Hebrews gives reason after reason why Jesus is better.

 

  • Angels are spirit beings
    • They can take the human form (Genesis 18.3)
    • They are called spirits (Hebrews 1.4)
    • They do not engage in marriage or succumb to death (Mark 12.25; Luke 20.36)
  • Angels are created beings
    • God created them by His Word (Psalm 148.2-5)
  • Angels were created simultaneously and innumerable in number
    • Created in a singular act (Colossians 1.16)
    • An unknown number exist (Hebrews 12.22)
  • Angels are a higher order than mankind
    • Man, including Jesus, was made lower (Hebrews 2.7, Psalm 8.4-5)
    • Angels are not subject to death
    • Angels have incredible wisdom (2 Samuel 14.20 yet is limited (Matthew 24.36)
    • Angels have greater power than man (Matthew 28.2, Acts 5.19, 2 Peter 2.11) and yet are limited in power (Daniel 10.13)

[Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 300-302.]

Jewish Thoughts On Angels

It seems a little odd, that while discussing the prophets and the coming of Jesus, the author then moves to comparing the angels to the superiority of Jesus. Jewish teaching on angels is quite extensive. Some believed that Michael, the archangel, exceeded the Messiah in power. They believed the Law had been given by angels (as Scripture indicates in Galatians 3:19. I also recommend reading Acts 7:53 and Hebrews 2:2 as well). They also are higher, in the created order, than humanity (see Psalm 8 for this).

On the Deity of Jesus

We have already noted the point of emphasis by the author of Hebrews concerning the Jewish views of the deity of Jesus. It was extremely difficult for them to accept Jesus as God. Now, before we look down on them for not believing, I think it would be helpful for us to remember that the Jewish people were monotheistic, i.e. they worship one God. Based on the teachings of Deuteronomy 6.4 (which is a part of the Shema) the Jewish people were taught that God was one. Now, we are going down the rabbit hole, so hold on! There is a lot to this teaching. Genesis 1-2 which recounts the creation story provides an interesting view on monotheism and the Trinity. Throughout the account the word used for God (Elohim) is plural (any time you see the ‘-im’ ending a word it is typically a plural form, i.e. the Emim and Anakim in Deuteronomy 2:10 and the rephaim (or giants) in Deuteronomy 3:11). Typically, a subject (such as God) would agree with its corresponding verb in number (meaning if the subject is one individual the verb is singular). However, in  the creation account God (Elohim) is always used with a singular verb. When we reach Genesis 1:26, however, God begins to speak about the creation of man and says, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…”. Rather than using a singular pronoun the writer carefully chooses plural pronouns.  But how do we reconcile this with the teaching found in Deuteronomy 6:4? Again, this is fascinating. The Hebrews have two words for one: ached (or eched) and yachid (there are a few other words used, but these are the two primary ones in Scripture). The interesting thing about ached, or eched, is that it does not mean one in a singular sense. Commenting on this very passage, Jewish-Christian Craig Hartman writes, “In Hebrew, verse 4 ends with echad, which appears elsewhere in Scripture to represent not a singularity of one but a unity of two. For example, a man and a woman become one flesh, yet they remain two distinct persons within that union (Gen. 2:24). That is echad.” [Craig Hartman, Through Jewish Eyes (Greenville: BJU Press, 2010), 17.] So we see that both Scripturally and linguistically, the Trinity does not violate the fact that God is one. However, imagine you are a Jewish individual with a history of idolatry (seriously, I would fill up pages with references, a quick glance through the Old Testament will yield more than enough evidence to support this). After years of fighting and defeat, bondage and captivity, monotheism began to sink into their hearts. It is understandable that when presented with the belief that a man (Jesus) was God would be met with difficulty. The Pharisees in particular had difficulty accepting this (see John 8:12-59 for an example of this. If you have access to the New King James translation, pay special attention to verse 58 and compare it with Exodus 3:14).

All of that being said (or more accurately, written) sets the backdrop of why the author of Hebrews then discusses the superiority of Jesus to the angels with a focus on the Deity of the Son. If you, as a Jewish individual, were struggling with the thought of whether Jesus truly was divine, then it would be so helpful to look at the seven references the author of Hebrews uses to encourage you to accept the Deity of Jesus.

Utilizing the stylistic emphasis of connection, the beginning of the author’s description of Jesus in Hebrews 1:2b to Psalm 2:7 connects the idea of being an heir; the throne mentioned in Hebrews 1:3c to Psalm 110:1.

 

On the Use of Seven

Each of the references is unique. In fact, the number of references is interesting. There are seven quotations drawn from the Old Testament (Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, Deuteronomy 32.43; Psalm 104:4, 45:6-7, 103:25-27, and 110:1). This mirrors the seven statements that are developed in the prologue about Jesus (He has been appointed heir of all things, He created the worlds, He reflects God’s glory, He bears God’s stamp, He upholds the universe, He made purification, and He sits at God’s right hand). The author of Hebrew, being Jewish, utilizes numbers as symbolic features. The number seven is found throughout Scripture indicating completeness. For a brief example of the different uses of seven, see: the Sabbath (God rested on the seventh day), circumcision occurred after seven days, seven days were needed for purification (see Leviticus 4:6-17, 8:11, 33, and Numbers 19:12); the Israelites were instructed to march around Jericho for seven times on the seventh day, Naaman was instructed to dip into the Jordan river seven times, every feast in the nation of Israel revolved around seven, there were seven years of plenty and seven years of famine in Egypt during Joseph’s stay, there are seven beatitudes, 7 petitions of Jesus on the cross, 7 petitions in the Lord’s prayer, 7 deacons chosen in Acts chapter 6, seven characteristics of wisdom in the book of James, and we haven’t even reached the book of Revelation! Seven has enormous importance in Scripture, and the author’s choice of using seven descriptions of Jesus in Hebrews 1:1-4 and then the following seven Old Testament quotations is rich with Hebraic symbolism.

On Hebrews 1:5

This section begins a statement that stretches all the way to the end of the chapter (verse 14). The author quotes two verses simultaneously: Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14. I encourage you to glance back at those.

As mentioned above, the author uses a literary device known as chiasm to emphasize the Father. The verses quoted can be arranged as follows:

 

 

 

Notice the structure and the emphatic position of the Father. This draws our attention to the action of God found in Hebrews 1:1, “God…spoke”.

Another interesting fact is that three groups of people referenced these two verses are regarding the Messiah: “the Qumran community, the Jewish people, and the apostolic writers.” [David L. Allen, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture Hebrews (Nashville: B&H, 2010), 171.] So from two Jewish groups and the New Testament believers, the application of these verses shows that the Messiah would be called Son of God (for a sample of the use of the phrase ‘Son of God’, see: Daniel 3:25; Matthew 4:3, 6; 8:29, 27:54; Luke 22:70; John 9:35; Acts 8:37; Romans 1:4; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:8; and Revelation 2:18).

Another interesting note is that no singular angel is ever referred to as ‘Son of God’. Now, in some passages angels are referred to as ‘sons of God’, but notice the use of the plural ‘sons’. For examples of this see: Genesis 6:2, 4 ((this passage is debated whether it actually refers to angels or to the godly line of Seth, but for the purposes of distinguishing between angels and Jesus I believe it to be helpful)); Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7).

The second reference occurs in this verse as well. This is a reference drawn from 2 Samuel 7:14. It is the establishment of what is called the ‘Davidic Covenant’ where God promised David that his seed would remain on the throne of Israel for ever.

On Hebrews 1:6

One of the interesting topics of the book of Hebrews it the author’s use of the Septuagint (hereafter LXX, or seventy, referring to the tradition that seventy Rabbis translated the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek). There are some interesting differences between the Hebrew and Greek versions of the Old Testament, and one of them is found in the reference our author uses in Hebrews 1:6. It is a quote from Deuteronomy 32:43. Now, in our English Bibles you will not see the phrase, ‘Let all the angels of God worship Him.’ But in the LXX that phrase is found. There are discussions about the validity of this, but our author uses it to prove the deity and greatness of Jesus over the angels. Another reference in Scripture is Psalm 97:7, but the rather than the normal word for angels the Psalmist uses the word for gods/God, Elohim. Either way, Jesus is God and is better than the angels, for the angels are commanded to worship Him.

Additionally, some rabbinic teaching indicates that the Messiah would worship the angels, but our author claims otherwise.

On Hebrews 1:7

This is a quotation from Psalm 104:4. In this Psalm God has created angels to do His bidding. You can check the outline provided by Mr. Enns above on what that actually entails. However, Jesus was not created for any purpose, but according to Hebrews 1:2-3 and 1:10-13 Jesus is the Creator.

I like how David Allen sums up Jesus’s superiority to the angels, “Three reasons the Son is superior to the angels. First, the Son has been inaugurated as the Davidic king by the Father at the Son’s exaltation (vs. 5). Second, this new position is a permanent position or dynasty (vs. 6a). Third, as a result of this exaltation, all the angels are called by God to worship the Son (vs. 6b); thus, he has complete authority over them.” [David L. Allen, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture Hebrews (Nashville: B&H, 2010), 175.]

On Hebrews 1:8-9

Again the comparison is made between the angels and Jesus. In verse 7 they are said to be God’s ministers or servants, but Jesus is said to possess a throne (from which we can infer sovereignty). This is a reference to Psalm 45:6-7. This Psalm, written by the sons of Korah, is a praise of the king-groom. If you look at the surrounding verses you can easily see that this is the case. But our author of Hebrews connects it beautifully to the Messiah. Note between verse 6 and 7 that this King is called God (vs. 6) but then a reference is made to His God (vs. 7). He is called God by God, given sovereign reign (as opposed to service like the angels) and is given an eternal rule (‘forever and ever’).

The anointing (from which we get the name Messiah, ‘anointed one’) of oil is an interesting concept in Scripture. In Exodus 29:7 God commands Moses to anoint the high priest and his sons. Interestingly, they served as mediators between God and Israel (Jesus also is mediator, see 1 Timothy 2:5). The Tabernacle was to be anointed with oil to signify its sanctity and holiness in Exodus 40:9. At the time of cursing for disobedience to God’s law they were forbidden to anoint themselves with oil (see Deuteronomy 28:40). David, the king of Israel (and other kings throughout Israel’s history) received anointing by oil (see Psalm 89:20). Another interesting point, besides the priests being anointed with oil, so were the kings. Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (see Revelation 19:16). Finally, to complete our small discussion on anointing with oil, prophets also received this, see 1 Kings 19:16 and 1 Chronicles 16:22. Connecting this once again to Jesus, Jesus also served as a Prophet to His people (Matthew 21:11). Jesus is the Priest, King, and Prophet of God.

On Hebrews 1:10-12

This lengthier quote comes from Psalm 102:25-27. There is a rich amount of material in these verses, and I hope that some of the intricacies prove to be a blessing to your soul.

To begin with, the author of Hebrews describes the following verses to apply to Jesus, the Son. Now, this is incredibly important, for Jesus is God. It is vital to understand that God the Father and God the Son are one. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, do not believe that Jesus is Jehovah. Similarly to the Jewish people, they see this equality as being a violation of Exodus 20:2-3. For a little more detail about the deity of Jesus, see the section bearing that name in the above section. However, our reference to this Psalm is applying to Jehovah (or Yahweh, or more courteous to our Jewish friends, Adonai). Whenever we see (most likely in the Old Testament, although some New Testament references include this) ‘LORD’ with all capital letters, it is the Hebrew word hwhy, or YHWH (from whence we get Yahweh, though the Hebrew pronunciation does not necessarily justify this or the rendering Jehovah). This word hwhy only applies to God the Father throughout the Old Testament. However, our New Testament authors constantly connect verses that use hwhy and apply it to Jesus. But if you go back to Psalm 102:25 you may not see the word ‘LORD’. While it is not included in verse 25, the context clearly applies to ‘LORD’ based on verse 22. Our author, then, connects this Messianic Psalm to Jesus which equates Jesus with Adonai.

The connection is only beginning, for the Psalmist then describes the eternality of Jesus and His involvement in creation. While creation will eventually cease to exist, Jesus never will. God made the angels along with the rest of creation (Hebrews 1:7).

On Hebrews 1:13-14

The final reference provided by our author is from Psalm 110:1. This is a Psalm of David and one that the Jewish people knew referred to David (Jesus used this passage to silence His opposition, because the words have a depth of meaning that can easily be missed, see Matthew 22:42-46).

As we have already noted, when one looks to the Old Testament and sees ‘LORD’ it is the Hebrew word hwhy, or YHWH (from henceforth, Adonai). The Adonai speaks to Lord (notice the absence of all capital letters) which is the actual Hebrew word Adonai, commonly used to refer to kings and other rulers, in addition to God Himself. The author of Hebrews connects this verse to the sovereign reign of Jesus. The picture of a King sitting on his throne with his enemies as his footstool is a common one depicting absolute victory. Unlike the angels who are servants of God, Jesus sits on the throne ruling creation. The author ends this chapter with a reference to the angels as being servants once again.

Much can be said about guardian angels with this verse. God certainly uses His angels for His glory but also for a help to us. A brief excursion through the Old Testament would yield many examples of how the angels help humanity. Matthew 18:10 gives an interesting aspect to guardian angels.

Jesus is Better: A Series through the Book of Hebrews

(Image courtesy of Riverside Community Church, http://www.riversideconnect.com/sermons/sermon/2012-03-25/hebrews-12 Accessed 25 January 2017)

 

This morning marked the beginning of my series through the book of Hebrews. We have a mid-week service at 11 in the morning on Wednesday. I get to preach about every three weeks, which enables me ample preparation time. I began praying about which direction to take, and since I follow a more topical approach in our student ministry, I chose to work my way through a book.

I love Judaism and the Jewish faith. As a Christian, I honestly do not understand how one could not love it. The entire Christian faith is built on a Jewish Nazarene. The pictures presented throughout most of the New Testament are ripe with Judaism. Following my love for the Jewish context of Scripture, I chose the book of Hebrews.

Rather than load all of my study notes, I am going to present my sermon notes as I take them to the pulpit. Please forgive the grammar as I typically attempt to write the way I will speak. I hope that as you work through it and the Scripture that you will fall in love with Jesus. He truly is better.

 

25 January 2017 Hebrews Sermon Number One

Jesus is Better

Introduction to the book of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament. The beautiful pictures painted of the exquisite religion of Abraham, Moses, the priests, the sacrifices, the covenants, deck the halls of its corridors. The highs and lows rival that of the most majestic of Bach’s or Beethoven’s musical compositions. Mystery surrounds the book, much like a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle case of Sherlock Holmes. The author is unknown, and while some information can help piece together a snapshot, it does not yield any conclusive evidence. We remain ignorant of the recipients, while most assuredly are Jewish, in regards to their location: Are they from Rome? Are they from Jerusalem?

But the mystery of what we do not know should not rob us of what we do know (an oft recited quote from one of my former pastors). We do know that the author of Hebrews was very familiar with the rituals, sacrifices, and rules of the Jewish faith. He was also familiar with the struggles that the recipients were faced with: accept a new religion or what looked like a new, an outlawed religion, or remain and return to the legal religion of Judaism. “Is Jesus really worth it?” They may ask. And with a resounding YES! the author of Hebrews gives reason after reason, matched with sober warning after sober warning, of why Jesus is better. You see, the Jewish people felt safe in their religion. It was legal, respectable in the esteem of their friends and colleagues. It cost them nothing to remain in the religion of their fathers. Judaism, though certainly not loved by the Romans, at the very least was tolerated by them. And in contrast Jesus is seen as a risk. Here this Nazarene was rejected by both Jews and Romans. He was, in the eyes of the Romans and Jewish people, a complete and utter failure. But to the disciples who witnessed His resurrection, He was Lord, God himself wrapped in human flesh. But what were they to do?

It cost them nothing to remain in the religion of their fathers.

So the writer was aiming at two groups: completed Jewish people, or Hebrew Christians; and Jewish people who were riding the fence on whether to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The author of this letter sought to encourage the Jewish people who accepted Jesus as their Messiah to stay faithful. He or she borrows many stories found within the Old Testament of how the people of Israel oft failed in their faithfulness to God. Each story is accompanied with the disastrous results of that failure. The writer also seeks to illustrate how Jesus is better than the reasons many sought to remain in Judaism. And to the individuals who were on the fence, so to speak, the author presents a very stark contrast. Over and over again we find warnings of the severest kind.

At first glance this book may seem to be for others, not for us. We don’t have the background and baggage of Judaism to battle with Christ. We have never been to Temple, never observed the sacrifices or engaged in the many feasts. We never celebrated Passover with our forbearers rejoicing in our freedom from Egyptian slavery. But oh how pertinent it is to our lives! For you see, you and I are in a constant battle every day of whether Jesus is better, or whether Jesus is worth it. Is that piece of gossip more appealing than truth that is found in Jesus? Is that impure thought, that negative word, that harsh action worth leaving for Jesus? Are friendships worth keeping? Is my financial situation bigger than Jesus? You see, in our lives we may not have to battle against returning to Judaism, to Abraham, or to Moses. But we are struggling with returning to our previous, sin-darkened lives. We are burdened of leaving Jesus over…you fill in the blank. That is why the author writes today. It was a present battle for the Jewish people; it is a present battle for us.

Overview of the book of Hebrews

The book of Hebrews is a fascinating book filled with types from the Old Testament. It is a testament to the many contributions to both the Jewish and Christian faith. The author mentions the prophets (1.1) as being the spokesmen for God, calling his people to repentance and sole allegiance to him. But he also mentions that Jesus is better, because Jesus is the express or exact image (representation of God) (1.3). He mentions the angels (1.5), those who carried out the will of God on numerous occasions. Our time could be filled this morning looking at all of the service rendered by the angelic hands and feet of God. But Jesus is better, he is the Son, not merely a messenger (1.4). And while the angels are ministers for us (1.14), Jesus is better, in that he calls us his brothers and sisters (2.11-12).

The author of Hebrews then moves on to the religious history, focusing specifically on the sacrificial system. He mentions perhaps the greatest man in Hebrew history, Moses (3.1-2). One rabbi speaks of Moses in glowing terms when he writes, “Along with God, it is the figure of Moses (Moshe) who dominates the Torah. Acting at God’s behest, it is he who leads the Jews out of slavery, unleashes the Ten Plagues against Egypt, guides the freed slaves for forty years in the wilderness, carries down the law from Mount Sinai, and prepares the Jews to enter the land of Canaan. Without Moses, there would be little apart from laws to write about in the last four books of the Torah.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 28] It is a mistake to underscore Moses’s importance to the development of both Judaism and Christianity. As the writers of Hebrews describes him, “Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant…” (3.5) But Jesus is better, and “counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (3.3). John 9.28-29 addresses how the Jewish people revered Moses. The Pharisees are arguing the Jesus has broken the Sabbath by healing a man of his blindness. And they say to the man born blind, “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where he is from.” (John 9.28-29, NKJV)

We are then taken to view the High Priest, the only one who only once a year could enter the Most Holy Place (9.7). He had to offer sacrifices for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus is better, he is infinitely aware of our weaknesses (4.15). And because Jesus never sinned, his sacrifice provided salvation for everyone who would believe (5.9).

We see Abraham, that Great Patriarch, is presented in the book (6.13). The “three founding fathers of Judaism are Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 11] As with Moses, the importance of Abraham to the Jewish people is insurmountable. We have a glimpse of how revered Abraham was in the interchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. (Read John 8.33-59) Jesus is greater than Abraham, because he has provided “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (6.19).

The priesthood, the way Israel knew God and offered to him praise and sacrifice, is brought up (7.11-19). These who knew the law and the intricacies attached to the sacrificial system were essential to the Jewish faith. But Jesus is better, because whereas “the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (7.19) Jesus was better, because death prevented other priests, especially the high priest, but “He continues forever” (7.24). “Therefore, he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (7.25).

The covenant, that Mosaic covenant upon which the entire religious system of Israel is built, is brought up by the writer (8.1-5). The significance of the covenant is described by a Jewish Bible scholar, “Because God’s commands cover both ritual and ethical spheres, ‘any crime committed is against God, whether it be ritual or civil.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 39] But Jesus is better, because unlike the first covenant that failed due to the inability of the people to keep it, this new covenant will be a complete and awesome work of grace. (8.7-13, quoted from Jeremiah 31.31-34).

The sacrifices, meant to atone for the sins of the people (see Leviticus 1.4; 4.20, 26, 31, 35; 5.6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 6.7; 7.7; 8.34; 9.7 x2; 10.17; 12.8; 14.18, 19, 20, 21, 29, 31, 53; 15.15,30; 16.6, 10, 11, 16, 17 x2, 18, 24, 27, 30, 32, 33 x3, 34; 17.11 x2; 19.22; 23.27, 28 x2; and 25.9). But the author of Hebrews reminds us how limited the atonement offered by the sacrifices are (9.12-14) and how Jesus is better than those sacrifices, because his sacrifice was made once and for all for all who believe.

The author moves toward the ‘hall of faith’ where character after character of Hebrew history is brought to describe the amazing benefits of simply faith in God. But even in the midst of that, Jesus is better, because we look to him who is “the author and finisher of our faith” (12.2).

The ending section again reminds us that Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, who makes us complete in every good deed and at the same time is the power through which we do it (13.20-21).

Conclusion

My hope and prayer as we journey together through this incredible book is that we leave no doubt that Jesus is better. It is my goal, as we enter the halls of Hebrew history, that we see the perfect picture of Jesus and relish in our footing. I want our love for Jesus to explode as we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Messiah.

 

Rabbinical Insights into Inspiration

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I have begun the task of reading the Babylonian Talmud. It is a monumental work spanning several centuries years and written in at least two languages.i Its importance to Judaism will never be overstated. To our interests as believers in the Messiah, it draws on a “long period of oral tradition ca. 450 B.C.E. To 200 C.E.”ii

I have been incredibly blessed by reading this work. Most of it is rather boring reading, to be honest. This rabbi says this, another says the opposite. And then three to four paragraphs of attempts to justify each rabbi’s position.

But hidden within the earth of wordiness are little gems such as I am going to share with you now. In a section covering the time necessary to recite the Shema (see Deuteronomy 6.4-6) I found this:

“Did David really know exactly when it was midnight? Now Moses, our master, did not know, for it is written, ‘At about midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt’ (Ex. 11.4). What is the sense of ‘at about midnight’ cited in the preceding verse? If I should say that that is language which the Holy One, blessed be he, said to him, that is, ‘At about midnight,’ is it possible that before Heaven there is such a doubt [as to the exact time of night? That is impossible.] Rather, [God] said to him, ‘At midnight,’ but Moses is the one who came along and said, ‘At about midnight.’ It follows that he was in doubt as to exactly when it was midnight. Could David then have known exactly when it was?”iii

I find several points of interest here. To begin with, in regards to the matter of inspiration, we find that God allows the individual author to shine through. When Moses wrote ‘at about midnight’ it seems that God allowed some freedom of expression. As the Rabbis conferred, if God should choose to be more specific he would have had Moses express it that way.

Another point that I find fascinating is that there is some ambiguity in the Scriptures. There are numerous times when estimations are given rather than exact numbers (Exodus 32.28; Joshua 7.4; Judges 15.11; 16.27; and Acts 2.41). This, in turn, can be applied to the rest of Scripture. It is important not to force exactness when exactness is not intended. We can find ourselves in much trouble when we attempt to force something that is intended to be taken loosely.

The last point that I get from this is to be comfortable with not having all the answers. In the context the Rabbis were discussing whether Moses knew when midnight was.iv But they were comfortable acknowledging that Moses didn’t know (or it was at the very least a possibility), and they were fine with that. There may some issues, some matters, that believers never fully grasp. Are we comfortable with not having all the answers? Are we honest to admit that we don’t know everything?

So the rabbis have much to teach us, if we would simply have ears to hear and eyes to see.

iJacob Neusener, The Babylonian Talmud, Volume I Tractate Berakhot (Peabody, Hendrickson: 2011), xv.

iiNeusener, Babylonian Talmud, xxv.

iiiNeusener, Babylonian Talmud, 10-11.

ivIt may seem such a trivial matter to discuss when exactly midnight is, particularly when we know when midnight is. But to the ardent follower of Judaism preciseness is a non-negotiable, specifically when regarding the recitation of the Shema.