A God of Relationships

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This Shabbat we will be reading the Torah portion called “Beha’alotecha” from Numbers 8:1-12:16. The Hebrew meaning of this Shabbat’s portion is “when you set up the lamp stand”. From the prophets the reading will be from Zechariah 2:14-4:7, and from the New Testament we will be reading from 1 Corinthians 10:6-13, and Revelation 11:1-19.

You might ask how are these reading decided and who makes these decisions of what will be read each Sabbath? The answer has two parts!

The reading of the Torah is as ancient as Ezra and Nehemiah. The first recorded public reading of the Torah is in Nehemiah chapter 8.

In the New Testament the practice of the reading from the Torah and the prophets was already well established. We find Yeshua invited to read from the prophet Isaiah chapter 61 in the synagogue in Nazareth.

We find Paul being invited to read in Asia Minor and in Greece in the synagogues that he attended. And in Berea (north of the city of Thessaloniki) Paul stayed for three months, and was reading and preaching about Yeshua from the Torah portions that they were reading.

In the New Testament period the reading of the Torah was in a three-year cycle. In our day the reading of the whole Torah is in a one-year cycle. This means that our readings are longer than they were in the First Century of our common era.

The Haftarah (the reading of the prophets) that is read after the Torah in all the synagogues is decided by tradition according to the subject matter of the Torah. It is normally complimentary to the Torah, dealing with at least some of the main topics that the Torah is mentioning.

Our reading of the New Testament is decided by different leaders, and it can vary from congregation to congregation because our tradition is relatively new. But there is slowly a formation of a tradition also based on the subject matter that relates to the reading of the Torah and the prophets.

It is my personal opinion that it is wise and good and spiritually healthy for all disciples of Yeshua to read the same scripture portions in both so-called “messianic synagogues” and in all the born-again churches.

Here are the reasons for my recommendations:

First, the level of proficiency of the community increases by the public reading of God’s Word every week and every year again from the beginning. Even the slow learners pick up something from hearing the Word of God being read in public.

Second, the readings from the Torah and from the prophets, and then from the New Testament, tie these three important sections of the Word of God together. It is easy to see how the Holy Spirit of God is involved in all three sections of the scriptures.

This is extremely important, because the Christian churches have worked hard to diminish the importance of the Torah and the prophets. They have done their very best to separate the so-called “Old Testament” from the New Testament. Forgetting the commandment of the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem to the Gentile brothers to go on every Sabbath to the synagogue to hear the Word of God publicly read.

You can see this so clearly both in the practice of the apostles themselves, and also in Acts 15:19-21, as a strong recommendation for the Gentile disciples of Yeshua to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day to hear the Word of God being publicly read.

We must remember that having a scroll of the Torah in the ancient world of the early centuries of our common era was a very special thing. Most Jewish communities in the Roman Empire had the five books of Moses in a scroll, but very few had the full scroll of the prophets.

We hear from historical sources that some had one scroll and others had a few scrolls, but only toward the end of the Second Century in the common era (around 280 CE) do we hear of Jewish communities that had all the cannon from Genesis to the end of 2 Chronicles (according to the Hebrew tradition of the order of the biblical books). The final decisions were made in Yavneh between 70-280 CE.

Third, the non-Jewish communities ought, in my opinion, reintroduce this biblical practice that was commanded by the apostles because of the importance of the proficiency of their communities.

The level of ignorance of the scriptures in the churches in the world is very high because, for years and years, in the Protestant churches, the only scriptures that they hear is the proof texts that their pastors use to make their own point in their sermons. The sermons are not geared for teaching the Word of God to the masses, like M. Luther was hopping would happen after the people had the Bible in their own vernacular languages. It didn’t happen and it is not happening now.

An important and additional reason for the churches to read from the Torah, from the prophets, and from the New covenant is the identification and joint union with Israel as a country and a community worldwide. Some later Catholic church fathers, together with Protestants, after the Protestant Reformation in Europe, worked hard to totally separate and condemn any respectful relationship with the Jews and their communities.

So to restore the relationship with the Jewish communities, in my opinion, is absolutely important and needed for the restoration of the church back to the Word of God — from Genesis to Revelation — and the building of a healthy and blessed relationship of the church and Israel.

The first verses of our Torah reading from Numbers 8:1 (especially verses 4 and 5) are very important for understanding the first three chapters of the book of Revelation. John, the beloved apostle of Yeshua, from the cave on top of the Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of modern Turkey, was looking into the conditions of the churches of Asia Minor, and probably was deeply disturbed by their condition and by their horrible and heretical practices.

So, he arranges the churches in the image of the menorah of the Tabernacle that Aaron and Moses built in the wilderness of Sinai. The seven churches are imagined by John as the seven lamp stands commanded by God for Israel.

The candelabra (the menorah) had seven lamp stands. It was made from one piece of gold, hammered into the shape of the menorah. All the candles were connected to the central shaft, and their were not all made the same height and length. The menorah was not molded, but it was hammered into the intricate shape.

The image of the menorah conveyed both unity and diversity. I believe that that image was a part of John’s message to the churches of Asia Minor in the end of the First Century of our common era.

The churches that were established mainly by Paul the apostle of Yeshua had developed some serious spiritual sickness and horrible heresies. The menorah picture was a symbol of unity and diversity and the importance of the suffering, the standing, and the dealing with their common and individual problems, and spiritual and moral deviations from God’s plan of salvation.

In the Torah reading this Shabbat we also have one of the very important principles of God and of His relationship to people, and especially to Israel, and rearranging the Torah to fit the people, as opposed to bending the people to fit into the Torah.

This principle is revealed in the book of Numbers at least twice. The first time is in our Torah portion God, adjusting the Passover for the people with “special needs” because they were absent or not fit to celebrate the Passover on the 14th day of Nissan.

God was not and never has been a stiff and cantankerous old man in the sky. He understood the problem in the Torah and adjusted and gave new and special examples of leadership.

“Now there were certain men who were defiled by a human corpse, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day; and they came before Moses and Aaron that day. And those men said to him, ‘We became defiled by a human corpse. Why are we kept from presenting the offering of the Lord at its appointed time among the children of Israel?’ And Moses said to them, ‘Stand still, that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you.’ Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: “If anyone of you or your posterity is unclean because of a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the Lord’s Passover. On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break one of its bones. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it.”’” — Numbers 9:6-12 [NKJV]

How I wish that the spiritual leadership of both the Jewish communities and the Christian churches had that kind of leadership that understood that people are are more important than religious traditions and theological stiff-necked legalism. God said to Moses and to these people who couldn’t keep the Passover in time, “Fine men, you can have a second chance to keep the Passover a month later and it will not be counted for you as a sin or strange practice, because the Passover and the Shabbat and the other holidays don’t belong to the Jews or to the Christians — they are ‘My times and seasons.’”

I love God’s faithfulness and His understanding of our human condition and His flexible attitude toward the times and seasons, and also God’s attitude toward our weaknesses. God’s laws and demands through the whole bible are not theocentric (God in the center of our spiritual experiences), they are anthropocentric (the human being is at the center of our relationship and our spiritual experiences).

The way to reach and have a relationship with God is by our relationship to our earthly families and our relationship to our fellow humans. There are so many examples of this principle that space doesn’t allow me to give you more than one of the examples from the New Testament:

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” — Matthew 5:23,24 [NKJV]

Every week the reading of the Torah and the prophets, and the complimentary reading from the New Testament, both remind me and enrich my soul — refreshing my faith like rivers in the desert. I hope that you, my dear brothers and sisters will read your bibles and be watered with the fresh, good, and cool water that is so much needed for today’s spiritual condition of our communities.

This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.