FEARING God or Fearing GOD?

The Scriptures constantly remind us to fear God (Leviticus 25:17, for example), and we find out that such a fear is the “beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7, ESV). while the fear of man “lays a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).

Many who choose to honor God struggle over what it means to “fear” God.  Should we be afraid of him? Or does it mean we reverence him?  Or some of both?  Even believers in Jesus need to fear God in the sense that we fear his wrath, discipline, and displeasing him.  We remember, as the writer to Hebrews reminds us, that our God is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29).  Yet we can call God “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15),  a term of endearment.

The Jewish perspective about fearing God is summarized in the Jewish Encyclopedia:

Who fears God will refrain from doing the things that would be displeasing to Him, the things that would make himself unworthy of God’s regard. Fear of God does not make men shrink from Him as one would from a tyrant or a wild beast; it draws them nearer to Him and fills them with reverential awe. That fear which is merely self-regarding is unworthy of a child of God.

What many of us fail to realize, however, is the Biblical assumption that we all fear someone or something. Thus, IMO, the emphasis should not be upon FEARING God, but fearing GOD.

The idea of fearing GOD is that we fear God’s displeasure more than we fear the wrath of men; because we fear God, we fear no other gods, for our God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5) and demands to be our only God. We want to please him in all things (Colossians 1:10).

Secularists may fear science, philosophy, psychology, personal comfort, personal freedom, or a political camp. Pagans and off-target monotheists, in contrast, may fear their false gods. Even when the children of Israel turned to other gods, they are said to have “feared them,” as per Joshua 6:9-10:

“…I delivered you from the hands of the Egyptians and from the hands of all your oppressors, and dispossessed them before you and gave you their land, and I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But you have not obeyed Me.’”

The issue, then, is not the intensity of our fear, but whom or what we fear. Sometimes, it may boil down to whom we fear most.  All of us fear displeasing those we love, looking bad, or being embarrassed. And it is a good thing we do; the Scriptures encourage us toward these lesser fears, often designated as honoring authority, living graciously, or considering others. The issue, then, is a matter of priority.

Who has our top, primary allegiance?  Is it our Lord, or our peer group, our career, money, our home/car,  beauty, our favorite sport or most enjoyable recreation? Even our family must take a back seat to our allegiance to God. Matthew 10:37 makes it clear that our allegiance to the Lord must even outshine our love for our family, as crucial as that love is:

 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

Who is this God we fear? His personal name is Yahweh, meaning “The One Who Is,” “The Self-existent One,” or perhaps even,  ”the One Who Causes All to Be.”  Thus our God is self-derived, having had no beginning and without end.  He is revealed through his Son, Yeshua (Jesus); he is revealed as the one God who is three Persons (Matthew 28:19-20). He is the God of the Bible; any variation on this God is less than the true God. While many believe in one God, not all believe in the same God. Our lot is cast with God as revealed in Scripture.

So when you see the many Bible verses about “fearing God,” do not put the emphasis on the word “fear,” but on “God.” Does he have priority in your life?

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Remembering to Bless God

Remembering to Bless God

By Ed Vasicek

We have been studying I Samuel in our Sunday night Bible study. In I Samuel 1:28, we read of one who “worshiped the LORD.”  In the context, this one seems to be the very young Samuel, perhaps as young as 3 years old.

The text reads, “’Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.’ And he worshiped the Lord there.”

In Genesis 24:26-27, when Abraham’s servant was blessed in his search for a mate for Isaac, we read, “. .The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.’”

There are other similar examples throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Genesis 24:48, Exodus. 4:31, Exodus 12:27, I Chronicles 29:3, Nehemiah 8:6).

There seemed to be two elements to worshiping the LORD in the above contexts: (1) bowing down, (2) blessing the Name of the LORD for some reason. In the case of Abraham’s servant above, the reason is stated: “‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.’” The blessing defines what is meant by “worshiped.”

The Jewish people have long embraced blessing the Lord or blessing his name. Thus “worshipping the Lord” would be understand as bowing and either reciting a memorized blessing (as the young lad Samuel probably did), or spontaneously blessing the Lord (as Abraham’s servant did).

The Jewish tradition is to bless God’s Name for the food he provided, not to “bless the meal.” We should understand statements, like Jesus “blessed the bread” (Luke 24:30) to mean, “he blessed the LORD for providing the bread.” Jewish leaders have written scores of blessings for every experience of life, a few of which date back to the time of Jesus.  Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the light of fire.  (This is said before lighting candles)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. (This is said before eating bread)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the trees. (This is said before eating fruit)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine. (This is said before drinking wine)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who made creation. (This is said on seeing lightning, a high mountain or a great desert)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who made the sea. (This is said on seeing the sea)
  • One important blessing is said for new things such as:
    • Wearing new clothes for the first time,
    • Tasting a particular fruit for the first time in its season,
    • Moving into a new home,
    • The first day of a festival. 
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this season.

[Source: http://www.icteachers.co.uk]

Many of these blessings developed during the Middle Ages, and we might argue about the practicality of them. Repeated blessings can easily deteriorate into meaningless repetition. Still, the idea of looking for opportunities to bless God is a valid pursuit, which is my point.

Although there are many commands to praise the Lord in psalm and music (see Psalm 145-150), this refers mostly to (1) singing Psalms acapella, as, for example, the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-124) which were sung as pilgrims were ascending to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival, or (2) celebrating with choirs and instruments at the Temple experience itself (for most, during a festival).  Psalms may have been sung even while folks were laboring in the fields, much as slaves labored to spirituals.

Although Exodus 23:17 commands men to visit the Temple three times a year, many devout Jews made the journey only once a year, sometimes every several years, once in a lifetime, or not at all. Jews living near Jerusalem were much more likely to visit the Temple consistently for the three annual feast clusters.  The Jewish leaders elsewhere would send representatives from each village to offer sacrifices on behalf of the rest of the Jewish population in that town. Actually seeing the Temple was a rare privilege for most and should not be correlated with a church gathering. The New Testament correlation is that believers are God’s temple, both individually (I Corinthians 6:19) and collectively (I Peter 2:5).

Especially before the advent of the synagogue (about 850 years after Moses), the weekly Sabbath centered on families. Reciting the Scriptures, prayer, singing a psalm, and intentionally blessing the Name of the Lord for his blessings or his attributes were the most practical ways to worship God within the routine of life.

Our challenge, even in the Messianic era, is to cultivate these habits.  While we may practice most of the above, many of us need to add “blessing the Lord” to our list of habits. We should aim to bless  (and thank) God frequently for the many joys and even the routines of life.


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The Seed Parables and the Ecclesiastes 11 Hotbed

The Seed Parables and the Ecclesiastes 11 Hotbed

By Ed Vasicek

Ecclesiastes 11 (and maybe 12) correlated with Mark 4:1-34

Several Old Testament passages are hotbeds for New Testament Midrashim.  The Servant Songs of Isaiah (Is. 42-55) are a case in point. Psalm 2 is another example.

I have recently concluded that Ecclesiastes 11 is another candidate as a hotbed text for New Testament Midrashim, especially Jesus’ parables involving seeds.

We must be reminded that Jesus’ words in the Gospels are summaries of long lessons, probably lasting for hours at a time.  If he taught like other rabbis, he began with an Old Testament text, elaborated and explained, applied it,  and illustrated it with parables. In Mark 4, however, Jesus breaks from the typical rabbinic format.  He perhaps recites a text and then explains the text privately to his disciples. The general audience only hears the parables. Alternatively (as my son Luke suggests], perhaps everything was a parable (riddle) to Jesus’ listeners, even explanation. It is possible that Jesus’ explanation of his use of parables was correlated to Ecclesiastes 12:9-11. Both are “goads and nails” (Ecclesiastes 12:11).

Note the passages from Ecclesiastes 11 (normal font) and how Christ expanded upon and illustrated them with parables (a common rabbinic practice when giving a Midrash) with the text from Mark in italics (ESV).

Cast your bread upon the waters,
    for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
 for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

3If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie.

He who observes the wind will not sow,
and he who regards the clouds will not reap. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Again he began to teach beside the sea. And a very large crowd gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat in it on the sea, and the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land. And he was teaching them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

10 And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,
    and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.”

1And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? 14 The sower sows the word. 15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. 16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

 Ed’s comments:  Note in the Ecclesiastes text the idea that we are to sow and not wait for ideal circumstances because the destiny of that sowing is out of our hands.  If we watch the wind (because we are afraid that seed will scatter] we will procrastinate and not sow (11:4).

We are to “cast our bread upon the waters” (11:1) The idea is that we are to take risks and invest, and we also should do so knowing that losses are negated by gains. This text may have also inspired the parable of the talents.

Also worth noting are verses 2 and 3 which encourage us to diversify because things are out of our control, like rain and tree falls.  The idea of giving to many people may have also influenced the parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13).

It is not difficult to imagine Yeshua reciting the Ecclesiastes text, elaborating upon it with these parables to apply the principles of the text to his disciples; his parables (the application) would then be what the New Testament authors preserved.  Although I could be wrong, I submit this for your consideration. 

As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.

Although this does not directly apply to Mark 4, this text could have been influential in Jesus’ explanation of the New Birth to Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Added to this is the idea of wind in John 3. Remember that wind, spirit, and breath are all legitimate translations of both the Hebrew and Greek words. Also note the presence of “wind” in verse 4.

Ecclesiastes 11:6 is very likely the foundational verse for the Parable of the Sower:

In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

I would argue it is obvious that the Parable of the Sower is an elaboration of this text.

These verses from Mark 4 are also probably elaborations on the above. The theme – some things are out of our control and mysteriously controlled by God, but we must be resourceful in spreading the Word (seed) constantly abound:

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” 

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. 34 He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.

21 And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand? 22 For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. 23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” 24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. 25 For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” 

Ed’s Comments:  Solomon in Ecclesiastes talks about taking risks to show a profit, sowing seed no matter what the weather, accepting that things are under the mysterious control of God (not us),  and sowing regardless of mixed results then moves on directly to the subjects of LIGHT and JUDGMENT for all things.

Is it coincidental that Jesus then talks about a LAMP (in the context of Mark – in contrast to Matthew — thought to refer to sharing their understanding of the parables and Jesus’ words) and then follows the same sequence as Ecclesiastes and proceeds to talk about judgment?  Admittedly, Jesus does not talk about youth as does Solomon – at least not that we have recorded.

Still, the coincidences are so remote that I personally have concluded that Ecclesiastes 11 is another “New Testament hotbed.”

Of course Ecclesiastes 12 continues with some of these themes, including judgment (12:14).  It is also possible that Ecclesiastes 12:9- 12 connects to the idea of “Pay attention to what you hear….” and the growth of wisdom that comes from “the words of the wise” (Ecc. 12:11). The point I am suggesting is that a lot of New Testament teaching (esp. Jesus’ parables regarding seed) is an expansion of Ecclesiastes 11 and perhaps 12.

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Field Test: MIdrash Key in Men’s Study Group

I have heard exceptionally positive comments from small group Bible studies using The Midrash Key (and The Midrash Key Discussion and Teacher’s Guide); here are some comments from men in an inter-denominational men’s Bible study group (from Michigan):

Joe:      great value in getting back to root teachings of scripture; and how we should be living our lives based on scripture truths

Brad:   very enlightening in linking Jesus’ teaching to Jewish roots; a great reference book

Deckrow:  great indepth research and resulting orderly presentation; provided good insight in discovering the truth

Bob:     helps find source texts form the Talmud for proof of my belief system; provides the foundation for discussion with Rabbis

Doug:   major take-away is a new insightful interpretation of scripture

Short:   pulls together the content of 50 to 60 other books; exhilarating; deep drilling into God’s Word

We welcome your comments.  My email address is:  edvasicek@gmail.com

Baruch HaShem (Bless the Name),

Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

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A Jewish Roots Perspective on Palm Sunday

                             A Jewish Roots Perspective on Palm Sunday

(Read: Matthew 21:1-22)

 Disciples and Rabbis

Hundreds of sages or rabbis in the first century called disciples who would follow them to receive instruction in the Torah (the Law of Moses) and the oral interpretations of that Law propounded by notable rabbis. It was not unusual for a devout Jewish man to take a hiatus from his career for a month or two to follow a master teacher, traveling with him to minister in small towns and villages.

It seems that The Twelve followed Jesus part time for about two years and full time the last year and a half of his earthly ministry. This was an unusually long –but not unheard of – period of time.

There was nothing odd about a Jewish sage asking men to follow him as his disciples. The culture acclimated people to open their homes to traveling rabbis and their disciples. Jewish leaders established rules to regulate discipleship.  For example, a married man could not leave home to follow a rabbi for more than 30 days without permission from his wife.

When Jesus told his disciples to borrow a donkey and explain that, “the Lord needs them” (Matthew 21:3) — this was not unusual either. The Jewish ethic taught individuals to do what they could to support training disciples, thus promoting Torah study (during that time one studied Torah,  he entered “the Kingdom of God”).

As a matter of fact, the Talmud instructs the disciple to prioritize his Rabbi even above his own father:

When one is searching for the lost property both of his father and of his teacher, his teacher’s loss takes precedence over that of his father since his father brought him only into the life of this world, whereas his teacher, who taught him wisdom [i.e., Torah], has brought him into the life of the World to Come. But if his father is no less a scholar than his teacher, then his father’s loss takes precedence…

If his father and his teacher are in captivity, he must first ransom his teacher, and only afterwards his father — unless his father is himself a scholar and then he must first ransom his father. (Bava Metsi’a 2:11)   [Jerusalemperspective.com]

Thus Jesus’ command to love him more than family (Matthew 10:37) or to “let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:21-22) take on new meaning when we understand that these particular teachings were more or less already in circulation.

Messianic Claim

What singled Jesus out from the pack was his Messianic claim which was substantiated by his miracles.  The other sages claimed to be nothing more than Bible scholars who were out to train others; Christ claimed this as well, but he implied that he was the promised Messiah. Although a direct claim to be the Messiah would disqualify his authenticity to the Jewish ear (if one claimed to be Messiah, he was ruled out as a fraud), Jesus admitted to being the Messiah in John 4:25-26 privately.  Although he never mouthed the words, “I am the Messiah,” his claim was clearly understood by the religious leaders who sought his crucifixion.

PALM SUNDAY: The Crowd and Their Recognition of Jesus

The rabbis had a difficult time harmonizing how the First Testament presents the Messiah as coming “with the clouds of heaven” in Daniel 7:13 while coming on a donkey in Zechariah 9:9. They chose an either/or interpretation because they did not understand that the Messiah would come twice.  In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 98a, we read:

…it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven  while elsewhere it is written, behold, your king comes to you …  lowly, and riding upon a donkey  — if they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven;  if not, lowly and riding upon a donkey.

Palm Sunday offers us a picture of Christ as King, and, in a sense, it relates to both comings.  Let us explore this special day.

Palm Sunday was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 and Psalm 118:24-27,

Zechariah 9:9, Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! 
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! 
Behold, your king is coming to you; 
righteous and having salvation is he, 
humble and mounted on a donkey, 
 on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Psalm 118:24-27, This is the day that the Lord has made; 
let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O Lord! 
O Lord, we pray, give us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 
 We bless you from the house of the Lord.

The Lord is God, 
and he has made his light to shine upon us. 
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, 
up to the horns of the altar!

Whereas Zechariah prophesies directly of Palm Sunday, Psalm 118 is an indirect reference; it is thought to picture The Feast of Tabernacles. Yet its implications could easily be understood as prophetic. The Seven Feasts of Leviticus are prophetic of God’s program of redemption. The last of the seven, Tabernacles, is associated with the millennial reign of Jesus (Zechariah 14:17-21).  Palm Sunday was a preview – in modern terms, we might say a “commercial”– for his coming millennial reign.

The phrase “Hosanna” is a transliteration (two Hebrew words that are copied into Greek letters) meaning “save us now.” The Palm Sunday crowd connected “he who comes in the name of the Lord” with the Messiah; perhaps they thought of this Psalm and brought palm branches with them in their attempt to fulfill it.

The crowd that hailed Jesus had merged from two sources: the large group that came from Bethany, where Jesus’ had just resurrected Lazarus and the crowd of disciples from Galilee, the home of most of his disciples.

When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, I was blessed to have a class in the Synoptic Gospels with Dr. Paul Benware.  I never forget how my mind cleared when he explained that the crowd who hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday (mostly from Galilee) was not the same crowd who yelled, “Crucify Him!” (from Judea).  This information ruined some potential sermons on human fickleness!

Dr. Benware also informed us that it seems eleven of the Twelve disciples hailed from Galilee.  Only one – Judas – was Judean.

Palm Sunday was an attempt to recognize Jesus as the rightful King of Israel, the Messiah, and the “Son of David.” This title would have been clearly understand as a synonym for the Messiah. There can be little doubt that the Palm Sunday crowd believed that Jesus was indeed the promised Anointed One.

PALM SUNDAY: The Kingdom of God

So this raises the question, “How is Christ King, and what is his kingdom? I will offer eight considerations regarding the Kingdom.

1. In a sense, H]he came to set up his Kingdom when he told his disciples that the Kingdom of God was among them (Luke 17:21). His Kingdom rule within the family of faith is the Kingdom of God, in one sense of the term.  In the Jewish mind (at least within the School of Hillel), one entered the Kingdom whenever one studied Torah.

2. In a sense, his Kingdom visited earth and transcended time on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18). The Transfiguration is one of the most under-appreciated events in the life of Jesus. Peter refers to the Transfiguration as the “coming” of our Lord. Matthew 16:28 ends with a promise that some standing there would see the Kingdom, and Matthew 17 begins with the account of the Transfiguration, the fulfillment of that promise. It was a time warp into the Millennium, a preview of what will one day be for a thousand years.

3. In a sense, Jesus was crowned King on Palm Sunday by the remnant of faithful Jews who were both Jews without and within (Romans 2:29). Daniel 9:25-27 leads some scholars (Harold Hoehner, Thomas Constable, et al) to conclude that Palm Sunday occurred on March 30, AD 33.

4. In a sense, his Kingdom began when Yeshua instituted the New Covenant the evening before his death, for the New Covenant is the Kingdom covenant.

5. In a sense, the Kingdom began at Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Spirit came with power and young men dreamed dreams.

6. The Millennium. In the Lord’s Prayer, reference to “thy Kingdom come” was yet future; his presence alone did not fulfill the promised kingdom.  One day, we will hear, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever“ (Revelation 11:15). His feet will touch down upon the Mount of Olives when he returns to reign on earth (Zechariah 14:4, Revelation 19:11-16).

7. In yet another sense, the Kingdom comes when the Millennium gives way to the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21-22).

8. Sometimes the Kingdom of God may refer simply to heaven. Nicodemus may have been directed toward that Kingdom (John 3:1-21). The thief on the cross asked to be part of Jesus’ Kingdom, and Jesus agreed to allow him to participate, but he would participate in “paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The phrase “Kingdom of God” is a fluid phrase. Hillel believed one entered the kingdom whenever one studied Torah (David Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, pp. 17-21). Our best summary might be that God’s Kingdom is unfolding in various aspects, all racing toward the eternal version of that Kingdom, the eternal New Heaven and New Earth.

Although hundreds of people recognized Jesus as Messiah on Palm Sunday, they were a small minority. By the end of the 1st Century, perhaps 20% of the Jewish population had accepted Christ, but the leaders and the majority did not

[Source: An essay by Dr. Louis Goldberg found in the book, The Enduring Paradox, John Fischer, editor, Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2000, p. 114].

To those of us who follow Jesus, he is our King wherever we might be, in heaven or on earth, mortal or immortal. We are part of the Kingdom of God. Within the same week, the King of Glory (Psalm 24) would be crucified to atone for our sins; he would leave the ashes of our sins behind in the grave, and rise triumphant. His resurrection would declare him to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4).  He ascended to the Father’s throne on high from whence he shall return to reign.

What a marvelous Kingdom, and what a King! Have you bowed the knee to King Jesus?


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Special Births Connected to Christmas: Samson, Samuel, and John: the Nazirites

Special Births Connected to Christmas: Samson, Samuel, and John: the Nazirites

Judges 13:3-5, I Samuel 1:11, Luke 1:13-17

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

My favorite Christmas joke is a short one. He wanted a new car for Christmas; she wanted a fur coat. They compromised: they bought the coat, but kept it in the garage. Christmas time is obviously more that gifts, but most of us do enjoy the celebration.

Even from the Biblical perspective, the birth of Jesus and his resultant work is broader than the single night on which Jesus was born. There were countless events that prepared or foreshadowed the Messiah. Today I would like to suggest that even John – the one who prepared the way for Jesus – was foreshadowed.

Jesus commented on John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

We often associate John the Baptist with Elijah (as Jesus did in Matthew 11:14), because he came in the power and spirit of Elijah (Luke 1:17). When John was questioned as to whether he was Elijah (John 1:21), he answered, “I am not.” Even John is himself a foreshadowing of Elijah who will return “before the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).

Many modern scholars believe John was part of the Dead Sea Scroll community (the Essenes), but I am skeptical about that.  The Essenes promoted isolation and joining their commune.  John taught people to bloom where they were planted (Luke 3:10-14).

Because John was a Nazirite from birth – which meant he was permanently under a vow that was normally temporary –Jewish readers would automatically connect him to the two other men in the Old Testament who were also lifelong Nazirites: Samuel and even more especially Samson.

The great rabbi, Hillel (grandfather of Gamaliel, the rabbi who trained Paul, Acts 22:3), greatly affected how the Jews understood the Scriptures by enumerating seven rules of interpretation. One of the particular rules is called, “G’zerah Shavah” which translates to “equivalent expressions.” This rule tells us to associate texts with similar wording or ideas, particularly if something unusual is mentioned. Thus John the Baptist would immediately be associated with Samuel and Samson because of their repeated convergences.

My main idea is this: there are only three men in Scripture who were under a Nazirite Vow from birth: Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Putting them together demonstrates a pattern we associate with the birth and ministry of Jesus.

I. Similarities Between ALL Three: Samson, Samuel, and John

The rules for taking a Nazirite vow are stated in Numbers 6:1b-7 (ESV)

… When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

 “All the days of his vow of separation, no razor shall touch his head. Until the time is completed for which he separates himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. He shall let the locks of hair of his head grow long.

The three special obligations of a Nazirite include: (1) avoiding any grape product, including wine (later expanded to strong drink),  (2) not cutting ones hair, and (3) avoiding contact with a dead body.

Paul the apostle apparently took a Nazarite vow in a typical, temporary way; because he would not be able to trim his hair during the days of his vow, he probably followed the practice of first shaving his head (Acts 21:23-24). This was the typical way to practice a Nazarite vow.

But the three men who are noted to have been Nazirites for the entire course of their lives (Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist) had much in common. All three were born to childless couples. Manoah and his wife had been married for some time, and his wife is described as barren (Judges 13:2). An angel appears (a theophany). We pick up the narrative from Judges 13:3-5,

And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son [Samson]. Therefore be careful and drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Hannah and Elkanah were also childless, although Hannah was not beyond the age of childbearing. Neither was she commanded to make her son a Nazirite. I Samuel 1:11 reads,

And she [Hannah] vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son [Samuel], then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

In the case of John the Baptist, an angel appears to Zechariah while he is ministering in the temple. We pick up the action in Luke 1:13-17, “But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.  And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’”

Also note that all three prepared the way for David or David’s heir, the Messiah. Samson and Samuel were thought to be contemporary, ministering in different parts of Israel. They both oversaw the weakening of the powerful and oppressive Philistine people. Note that Samuel and Samson prepared the way for David, who would complete the conquest.

In the same way, John’s message of preparation and his service as the “voice in the wilderness” who would “prepare the way for the Lord” (see Luke 3:4) began the Messianic mission completed by Jesus in his atoning death and conquering resurrection.

Samson, Samuel, and John all died in seeming defeat.  When Samson died, he died a death that seemed to terminate an unsuccessful ministry (Judges 16); Samson never lived to see the complete conquest of the Philistines. Samuel had anointed David as king, but he died while David was on the run from Saul, the disappointing king he had also anointed (I Samuel 25:1). John was beheaded during imprisonment, struggling with doubts that Jesus really was the Messiah (John 7:18-23).

II. Similarities Between John and Samson

Both Samson and John were stirred by the Spirit to begin their work. In Judges 13:25, we read of Samson, “And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him.” Of John we read in Luke 3:2, “…the word of the Lord came to John…”

Both were noted for their boldness.  Both fell through sensuous women. Samson’s downfall was Delilah, though Samson’s own sinful behavior brought his downfall (Judges 16).  In the case of John, it was Herodias’ and her daughter’s sensual dance (she is said to be named “Salome” by Josephus) that resulted in John’s death. They manipulated Herod to have John executed (Matthew 14:1-12).

Both had pyromaniac tendencies; Samson tied the tails of living foxes to a torch and released them to burn up the Philistines’ crops. John the Baptist preached boldly about the coming Messiah who would baptize with the Spirit and “fire” (Luke 3:16).

III.  Contrasts Between Samson and John

John was given the name Yochanan (Yahweh is gracious) before his birth by the angel (Luke 1:13), while Samson, which means “daring” (according to Keil and Delitzsch) after his birth by his mother (Judges 13:24). Indeed, both men lived up to their names.

The biggest difference between them is obvious: Samson was ungodly, and God used him despite himself. In contrast, John the Baptist was godly; indeed, he was filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in the womb (Luke 1:15), a fact that argues for both the full humanity of the pre-born and the sovereignty of God, even over human will.

Jesus described John as the greatest of the prophets. Although John has his times of doubt, we could not find many who could compete with him on the spiritual level.

John’s influence was initially greater than the influence of Jesus, particularly within the Jewish community. One branch of Judaism believed that John the Baptist was the Messiah, or could have possibly been the Messiah. This school of though evolved into a religion which still exists, called  “Mandaeanism. “According to Wikipedia,

Mandaeism or Mandaeanism … is a gnostic religion… with a strongly dualistic worldview.

Its adherents, the Mandaeans, revere Adam, Abel, Seth, Enosh, Noah, Shem, Aram and especially John the Baptist, but reject Jesus of Nazareth and Christianity…

According to most scholars, Mandaeans… are Semites and speak a dialect of Eastern Aramaic known as Mandaic.

…. There are thought to be between 60,000 and 70,000 Mandaeans worldwide, and until the 2003 Iraq war, almost all of them lived in Iraq. Many Mandaean Iraqis have since fled their country (as have many other Iraqis) because of the turmoil created by the War on Terror and subsequent rise in sectarian violence by Muslim extremists… Most Mandaean Iraqis have sought refuge in Iran with the fellow Mandaeans there…

Although men like Samson, Samuel, and John were men God used in great ways, their special roles to prepare for David – and David’s heir, the Messiah – was their true calling. Despite their differences, they were preludes to what would follow.

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New Covenant Midrash: I John 2:27

Understanding I John 2:27 as a Midrash of Jeremiah 31:34

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

Much of the Second (New) Testament, I believe, is Midrash (commentary, explanation, elaboration) of First (Old) Testament passages.  Using this approach can clarify many individual passages; it increases context and offers a “context booster” when we look at a “mother text” along with its corresponding New Testament text.  I am postulating that I John 2:27 is a Midrash on Jeremiah 31:34 (ESV), which reads:

 ”And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Notice how similar I John 2:27 is:

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

“Knowing the Lord” in Jeremiah is elaborated upon as “the anointing you received” which “abides in you” (i.e., the indwelling of the Spirit by which we “know the Lord”) in I John 2:27.  Peter refers to this knowing God as being  ”partakers of  the divine nature” in 2 Peter 1:3b-4a:

 …the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature…

Needless to say, Jeremiah 31 is about the New Covenant, and the New Covenant is the age of the Spirit, etc.  What makes the “New” Covenant “new,” IMO, is not regeneration (which is seen throughout the Old Testament and called “circumcision of the heart,” Deut. 30:6; regeneration, however, does define who is under the New Covenant, cf Jeremiah 31:33).

Rather, it is the fact that (1) Messiah has come and offered himself as our sacrifice for sin (Luke 22:20), that (2) the Spirit is given (2 Corinthians 3:6), and that (3) only those who know the Lord are under the New Covenant (unlike the Old Covenant, which included both the regenerate and  unregenerate of Israel, Jeremiah 31:34).

If I am right, John is saying, “You know everything required to have saving faith (as opposed to Gnostic or false teaching), evidenced by the Spirit who is the hallmark of the New Covenant. ”  ”Everything” here parallels “all things” in 2 Peter 1:3,

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence

By “life,” Peter is referring to eternal life, not this life.  In other words, the Gospel is enough.  Those who are already regenerate, saved, and indwelt by the Spirit need not look elsewhere for another plan of salvation. Thus, unlike the recipients of Hebrews, the Christians addressed by John were ready to move on and need not revisit the entry truths of the Christian life (Hebrews 6:1).  I John 2:27  is encouraging the truly regenerate to not second guess the Gospel.  Any introspection should be about whether they have truly responded to it, not the message itself.

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Jewish Roots Apologetics: An Outline for A Useful Approach

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

When it comes to looking at the Bible from a Jewish Roots perspective, some people think such an approach is “interesting at best, novel at worst.” In reality, however, a Jewish Roots perspective is a great way to defend the conservative approach to doctrine; it also provides a simple, hands on, “in your face” apologetic (defense) of evangelical belief.

Since evangelical belief is derived from the Scriptures, how do you demonstrate the reasonableness of accepting the Scriptures?  Here is a broad outline that is obviously crying for expansion, but is useful even in its simple state.

1. The universe exists and so do I; complexity of creation and human instinct both argue simply for a creator.

2. One nation (and only one nation) stands out as God’s special nation, Israel. From it not only flow 3 of the world’s great religions, but it has continued to exist for nearly 1900 years without a homeland.  Its people were the subject of attempts at genocide — and by all reason — should not have survived.  Events occurring on the 9th of Av are logically more than merely coincidental, displaying God’s wrath –but continued interest in this people. As a matter of fact, Israel is one coincidence after another.

3. Israel came back into being in 1948. Stalin, who was anti-Semitic, could have blocked the UN resolution, but  he was either on a manic high at the time and let it ride or he thought that Israel’s existence would drive the Arabs to ally themselves with the USSR. Truman’s advisors and cabinet were against allowing the UN resolution, but Truman was for it, standing alone.

4. Israel was significantly outnumbered time and time again, but kept gaining more ground every time they were attacked.

5. This survival of Israel must occur if the Biblical end time prophecies are to be fulfilled as promised. Thus if the Bible were true, we would expect Israel to survive.

6. If Israel is God’s special nation, then the Hebrew Scriptures are therefore supernatural.  The same First (Old) Testament we embrace is the Tannakh (Law/Prophets/Writings) of Judaism.  The Second (New) Testament writers quote from the vast majority of those books as Scripture, but quote none of the Apocryphal books as Scripture. At the time of Yeshua (Jesus), every OT book was recognized with the exception of Song of Solomon which was finally decided for inclusion at Yavneh (Jamnia) by the end of the first century CE.

7. The Hebrew Scriptures predict a Messiah who would atone for sin (Is. 53) and reign (Is. 2).  This Messiah had to be cut off before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD (Dan. 9:25-27).  Yeshua (Jesus) is the only candidate.

8. Jesus founded the church and trained his authoritative emissaries (apostles) to lay the ground work, and thus their teachings were authoritative (Ephesians 2:20).

9. Although we cannot be sure that every book belongs in the New Testament canon (except by God’s providence), most were written by apostles and the rest by close associates of the apostles, thus it is reasonable to believe that they do belong.  A few books have been questioned as canonical (esp. 2 Peter and Jude), but the bulk are clearly authoritative.

10. Christianity is best understood as Trans-cultural Messianic Judaism.  Much of Christianity today has a European slant, but we need to remember that Christianity is actually a Jewish faith and is best interpreted from the Jewish perspective.

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Jewish Roots Evidence for a Futurist Interpretation of the Book of Revelation

Jewish Roots Evidence for a Futurist Interpretation of the Book of Revelation

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective


I am a believer in the concept of Biblical patterns and double or even multiple fulfillments of prophecy.  The destruction of the Templeon the 9th of AV in 586BC and again the 9th of AV in 70AD evidence the pattern-like nature of God’s dealings.

Still, prophecies usually have one “more literal” fulfillment (e.g., Isaiah 7:14). So it is possible to examine a verse, see how it was fulfilled somewhat near to the prophecy, but then see a fuller fulfillment in the future.  Thus the Book of Revelation can have several fulfillments, one that is past, one that is ideological and not tied to particular dates, and one that is somewhat more literal, sequential, and tied to the End Times. Thus the “Futurist” approach to Revelation is not necessarily mutually exclusive, but is, I believe, primary.

Does Jewish literature leave us an example, a clue in interpreting Revelation 4-19 in particular? Although many of us tie this period to Daniel’s 70th seven (Daniel 9:25ff), others see it otherwise. So what evidence is there – outside of the Bible proper – that suggests understanding Revelation 4-19 as an expansion and detailed account of the coming 7 year world tribulation?  Glad you asked.

2 Baruch is part of the pseudepigrapha, meaning it is a “falsely named” Jewish religious work; it was probably written shortly before Jesus was born. The authorship is ascribed to Jeremiah’s secretary, Baruch, which is why the document is falsely named. It certainly was not written by Baurch, but over five centuries after his time.

This passage – while an undependable source of doctrine – demonstrates what some Pharisees believed about the End Times shortly before Jesus’ first coming.  Although Jewish imagination is involved in this equation, we must remember that the initial ideas (a time of tribulation, for example) are grounded in Old Testament texts. These verses – and the idea that information about the Tribulation and Earthly Kingdom needed to be expanded upon – may prefigure Revelation, which does just that. The difference, of course, is that Revelation is inspired and dependable. Still, Revelation’s teachings ARE continuations of Old Testament themes; this is to be expect, for the same God is Lord of BOTH Testaments.

Note these similarities to Revelation: a terrible tribulation with all sorts of disasters, the ideal MillennialKingdom, and then judgment day (Great White Throne). Also note a well-defined viewpoint on perdition (in Revelation, expanded to include the Lake of Fire). The text follows.


(2 Baruch 26:1-30:5)

26 1 And I answered and said: ‘Will that tribulation which is to be continue a long time, and will that necessity embrace many years?’


26-30. The Twelve Woes that are to Come upon the Earth: The Messiah and the temporary Messianic Kingdom

27 1 And He answered and said unto me: ‘Into twelve parts is that time divided, and each one of them is reserved for that which is appointed for it. 2 In the first part there shall be the begin­ning of commotions. 3 And in the second part (there shall be) slayings of the great ones. 4 And in the third part the fall of many by death. 5 And in the fourth part the sending of the sword. 6 And in the fifth part famine and the withholding of rain. 7 And in the sixth part earthquakes and terrors. 8 [Wanting.] 9 And in the eighth part a multitude of specters and attacks of the Shedim [demons]. 10 And in the ninth part the fall of fire. 11 And in the tenth part rapine [violent seizures of property] and much oppression. 12 And in the eleventh part wickedness and unchastity. 13 And in the twelfth part confusion from the mingling together of all those things aforesaid. 14 For these parts of that time are reserved, and shall be mingled one with another and minister one to another. 15 For some shall leave out some of their own, and receive (in its stead) from others, and some complete their own and that of others, so that those may not understand who are upon the earth in those days that this is the consummation of the times.

28 1 Nevertheless, whoever understands shall then be wise. 2 For the measure and reckoning of that time are two parts a week of seven weeks.’ 3 And I answered and said: ‘It is good for a man to come and behold, but it is better that he should not come lest he fall. 4 [But I will say this also: 5 Will he who is incorruptible despise those things which are corruptible, and whatever befalls in the case of those things which are corruptible, so that he might look only to those things which are not corruptible?] 6 But if; O Lord, those things shall assuredly come to pass which you have foretold to me, so do you show this also unto me if indeed I have found grace in Your sight. 7 Is it in one place or in one of the parts of the earth that those things are come to pass, or will the whole earth experience (them) ?’

29 1 And He answered and said unto me: ‘Whatever will then befall (will befall) the whole earth; therefore all who live will experience (them). 2 For at that time I will protect only those who are found in those self-same days in this land. 3 And it shall come to pass when all is accomplished that was to come to pass in those parts, that the Messiah shall then begin to be revealed. 4 And Behemoth shall be revealed from his place and Leviathan shall ascend from the sea, those two great monsters which I created on the fifth day of creation, and shall have kept until that time; and then they shall be for food for all that are left. 5 The earth also shall yield its fruit ten-thousandfold and on each (?) vine there shall be a thousand branches, and each branch shall produce a thousand clusters, and each cluster produce a thousand grapes, and each grape produce a cor of wine. 6 And those who have hungered shall rejoice: moreover, also, they shall behold marvels every day. 7 For winds shall go forth from before Me to bring every morning the fragrance of aromatic fruits, and at the close of the day clouds distilling the dew of health. 8 And it shall come to pass at that self-same time that the treasury of manna shall again descend from on high, and they will eat of it in those years, because these are they who have come to the consummation of time.

30 1 And it shall come to pass after these things, when the time of the advent of the Messiah is fulfilled, that He shall return in glory.

30:2-5. The Resurrection

2 Then all who have fallen asleep in hope of Him shall rise again. And it shall come to pass at that time that the treasuries will be opened in which is preserved the number of the souls of the righteous, and they shall come forth, and a multitude of souls shall be seen together in one assemblage of one thought, and the first shall rejoice and the last shall not be grieved. 3 For they know that the time has come of which it is said, that it is the consummation of the times. 4 But the souls of the wicked, when they behold all these things, shall then waste away the more. 5 For they shall know that their torment has come and their perdition has arrived.’ [Source: www.pseudepigrapha.com]


The Jewish culture primed the early Messianic community to understand Revelation in a Futurist sense. Whatever understandings or paradigms we may add when interpreting Revelation is legitimately an area of debated. But in the process, we need to be careful not to abandon the futurist perspective, for that is theSecondTemplecontext of Revelation.

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A Brief Tour of Love, Jewish Roots Style

A Brief Tour of Love, Jewish Roots Style

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

Never underestimate the importance of love. Although all creation will glorify God by hook or crook (Romans 9:22-24), our love for God and others is the volitional focus of the Christian life (Colossians 3:14). There are too many passages to site, but reading I John or the Gospels (Luke 10:26-28, for example) should make the point.

I am not going to tackle the Hebrew word hesed, nor the Greek word agape. There is a place for that, but today we are going to look at love in relational fashion.

We were created to love. Love affects our entire being, even our physical health. For example:

According to new research, writing down affectionate thoughts about close friends and family can reduce your cholesterol levels… The experimental group wrote with affection about one person in their lives for 20 minutes on three occasions over a five-week period. The control group wrote mundane descriptions of their activities over the week, jobs they had done and places they had lived… The results … demonstrated that after only 25 days, the experimental group who had written affectionate notes, showed a significant reduction in cholesterol [source: www.spring.org.uk].

Another source adds,

When researchers study what makes us happy, they find that it is not personal wealth, the strength of the stock market, inflation, or interest rates that cause the ebb and flow in our personal well-being.  What makes us happy, what matters in the end, is the quality of our romantic and family bonds, our connection to our friends, and doing things for others [source: www.altruists.org].

Romantic love is one type of love; so is the love for a family member, a fellow believer, and a neighbor – even an enemy. Love can be defined as doing what is in the beloved’s best interest, including – but not limited to – our sympathetic response.

We cannot examine all the kinds of love or aspects of love in a single article. But here is my attempt to present love from different angles. Let’s begin with vertical “downward and upward” love.

I. Downward and Upward Love

The love of God for us is downward love, the love of redemption. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) God himself became man to die for our sins. We might call this downward love a sacrificial love from God himself.

Our love for God is a response: UPWARD LOVE based upon his DOWNWARD LOVE. “We love, because He first loved us,” writes the apostle in I John 4:19. Often God’s love for us in unrequited. He showers his love upon us, but we do not return any love to him. This is particularly true of the non-repentant.

The importance of love is seen within Judaism as well.  We should expect this because the two great commandments find their source in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18). In Jewish liturgy, it is common to repeat the passage from Deuteronomy 6 in Hebrew and the local language (English in our case). Additionally, we read in the Talmud:

“What difference is there between one who acts from love and one who acts from fear? — The difference is that indicated in this teaching: R. Simeon b. Eleazar says: Greater is he who acts from love than he who acts from fear…” [b. Tractate Sotah Folio 31a].

Our love for God is foundational to solid love for others. The ESV leaves I John 4:10 open ended, following the Greek: “We love because he first loved us.” The King James Version adds “him” in an attempt at smoothness and clarity, but, in my opinion, confuses the issue.  Our love for God AND our love for others finds its source in God’s love for us. I understand it as follows: “We love him, we love the brethren, we love our neighbors, and we love our enemies because he first loved us.”

II. Inward Love

Upward love based upon downward love is a good foundation, but we also need to look at INWARD LOVE. We are nowhere in Scripture told to work at loving ourselves; the idea that we love ourselves is assumed. “Love your neighbor as yourself” has little meaning if we do not already love ourselves.  Logically, if we hate ourselves, loving our neighbor as ourselves would mean hating him.

Paul’s words in Ephesians lose meaning if loving ourselves is somehow bad: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church” (Eph. 5:28-29)

Rather than focus on self-love, which is assumed in Scripture, we might focus on self-respect. The Apocryphal book of Sirach 4:28-29 is not Scripture and thus not authoritative; even so, I think these verses capture an important truth, as well as demonstrating the thinking of some Jews before Jesus’ time:

My son, in all modesty, keep your self- respect and value yourself at your true worth. Who will speak up for a man who is his own enemy, or respect one who disparages himself?

Self-respect is the fruit of doing right. When we do God’s will and conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, we feel better about ourselves and respect ourselves.  Cain is perhaps the anti-example. Because he did poorly and then resented God’s correction, he killed his brother, probably viewing him as a competitor (Genesis 4:1-8). To me it seems obvious that people who do not respect themselves put others down to elevate themselves. Cain put Abel down—literally!

III. Near Love

We have looked at upward love, inward love, and now it is time to look at NEAR LOVE. For many of us, near love begins with our spouse. We noted the Ephesians passage above, encouraging men to love their wives. The New Testament teaching about loving spouse and family is a continuation of the Jewish teaching. This passage from the Talmud communicates the ethic:

“Our Rabbis taught: Concerning a man who loves his wife as himself, who honors her more than himself, who guides his sons and daughters in the right path and arranges for them to be married … Scripture says, And thou shalt know that thy tent is in peace.” Yebamoth 62.

When you love your wife and kids, you love an extension of yourself. Paul makes it clear in the Ephesians passage that loving your spouse is loving yourself. Children are obvious extensions of you.  Although adopted children may not carry your genes, they carry your influence and – in most instances – philosophy of life.

Because we view those close to us as extensions of ourselves, it is hard to be objective about them.

Brain expert, Dr. Richard Restak, in his book, The New Brain informs us that when we reason about ourselves or someone very close to us, the emotional parts of our brain light up; when we are weighing matters involving a non-related third party, the reasoning parts of our brain go into action.

The ancient Rabbis realized that love could quell our ability to be objective and fair.

“R. Papa said: A man should not act as judge either for one whom he loves or for one whom he hates; for no man can see the guilt of one whom he loves or the merit of one whom he hates.” [b. Kethuboth 105b]


When we deal with extended family, the nature of our love varies.  I refer to this as MID-RANGE LOVE. We may experience a special love between siblings.  Perhaps this is why we call fellow believers “brother” and “sister.” This kind of sibling love is to extend to our spiritual brethren.

I would place close friends in this category. We may experience the love of camaraderie. David and Jonathan experienced an intense form of this love (I Samuel 18:1), perhaps similar to the love between soldiers fighting side by side, sharing barracks, and risking life and limb for one another.

One term for fellow believers in the New Testament is “friends.” Sometimes we grow hand in hand with a particular brother or sister and bond because we have prayed, memorized, and studied together. Here is a quotation from my book, The Midrash Key:

Since disciples would study with one another, they would have considered some fellow disciples haverim (friends). The term haver (singular) is defined as, “A student who partners with another in study to discuss a religious text and aid each other in learning. A female study partner is a haverah” (from Sitting At the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Spangler and Tverberg). This concept could unlock the meaning of the term “friends” used of the early Christians, as seen in 3 John 1:15 (NIV), “Peace be to you. The friends greet you Greet the friends by name.” The early believers were haverim!


DISTANT LOVE is our last category. This includes the command to love our neighbor, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is a concerned love that does not pass by.

Loving of enemies is even a more distant love. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus tells us, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Exodus 23:4 sets the tone for loving our enemy, which involves primarily duty, the duty we owe any human being: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.”

The great Rabbi Hillel — who died about the time Jesus became a teen  — coined his famous rule: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn” (b. Shabbat 31a).

Jesus made this idea pro-active with The Golden Rule: ““So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 7:12).


Love is a massive subject, but one thing is certain: we need to “pursue love” (I Corinthians 14:1a) because “… now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (I Corinthians 13:13).

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