Nazareth and the Royal Line

Nazareth and the Royal Line

By Ed Vasicek

Although the Christmas tree has pagan origins, Christians have embraced its beauty for centuries as an important centerpiece of Christmas décor. I suggest that the Christmas tree branch should stir us most. Why is that?

Although we associate Christmas with Bethlehem, our Lord was conceived and reared in the small village of Nazareth in Israel’s northern province, Galilee. This is where Mary and Joseph grew up and lived. This is where an angel appeared to Mary and announced that she would mother the Messiah. This is where Joseph received a vision in a dream, assuring him that Mary truly had conceived while yet a virgin. The espoused couple travelled to the original city of David, Bethlehem, leaving what might be called the new village of David’s heirs, Nazareth.

A number of authorities have postulated that the name “Nazareth” was derived from the Hebrew word for “branch,” netzer. Paul Wallace (John’s Rabbi) writes,

When the Scriptures tell us that Jesus was a Nazarene (Matthew 2:23), they [are referring to]…the family line of David. Isaiah 11:1 predicts the coming of the Messiah. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, from his roots a Branch (netzer) will bear fruit.”

John Gill (commenting on Matthew 2:23) adds,

“a branch shall grow out of his roots”; a prophecy owned by the Jews themselves to belong to the Messiah, and which was now fulfilled in Jesus; who as he was descended from Jesse’s family, so by dwelling at Nazareth, he would appear to be, and would be “called a Nazarene, or Netzer, the branch”; being an inhabitant of…Netzer, so called from the multitude of plants and trees that grew there.

Although Gill’s explanation for the name of this village is viable, another (and I believe better) explanation is advanced by Wallace. He quotes Abrgil Pixner (With Jesus Through Galilee, p. 16) , who suggests, “One can justly assume that…Nazareth (Little-Netzer) acquired its name from a Davidic clan, that presumably came from Babylon around the year 100 BC.” Thus netzer refers to David’s direct descendants.

It is also possible that some of the descendants of David first moved to Bethlehem — David’s original home town — and then later migrated to Nazareth, perhaps joining other family members who had come from Babylon. Or perhaps they had all come, more recently, from Bethlehem.

When Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem for a census (Luke 2:1), it is unlikely that they returned to Bethlehem simply because David had been born there a full thousand years earlier. Luke’s brief summary for the reason of their journey to Bethlehem is just that: a brief summary of what might otherwise be an involved (and tedious) explanation.

For centuries after David, his descendants lived in Jerusalem (called the “city of David” in the Old Testament, see 2 Samuel 5:7  for an example), not Bethlehem (call the “city of David” by the Christmas angel, Luke 2:11). Keener comments:

Pottery samples suggest a recent migration of the people from Bethlehem area to Nazareth around this time; Joseph’s legal residence is apparently still Bethlehem, where he had been raised (Craig  Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, p. 183).

A later census schedule, beginning in 6 AD, required land owners to return to their home towns (where they owned land) every 15 years for purposes of taxation and accounting. In light of this, we can postulate that Joseph owned land — probably inherited — from when his forefathers (well after the return from Babylon) lived in Bethlehem [see Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament, and also G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, p. 266).

Although this may come as a surprise, most of us reading this article have descended from David—although we probably have none of his genetic material. We are neither ruling descendants nor direct descendants. Why would I say such a thing?

Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines, thus producing a vast set of heirs. Solomon’s daughters would have married into the royalty of neighboring nations. This was a common practice at the time, and helped form political alliances. Some of these granddaughters (born outside of Israel) would have been sent even further away from center.

Considering this, all longstanding Europeans (except for more recent immigrants) are descended from the 8th century AD Emperor Charlemagne (see here(link is external)), it is just as likely that Europeans, Middle Easterners, many Africans and many Asians have descended from Solomon, since Solomon descended from David, and David descended from Abraham. Abraham truly is the father of many nations. When you read about the patriarchs in your Bible, you are likely reading about your forefathers!

Lest you misunderstand me, I am not saying most of us are Jews or Hebrews. I am saying that some of our ancestors were. Without getting into the complexities of genetics, the only way to keep a line traceable is through the male Y chromosome.

The fact that perhaps all or most Jews were descended from David does not mean they were all royalty. The royal line is passed down from firstborn son to firstborn son. Thus it becomes important to note that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn (Luke 2:7).

Jesus descended genetically from David through the non-ruling Davidic line of Mary, but the virgin-conceived boy was legally Joseph’s son. Joseph—also a descendant of David, but through the ruling line—must have been the oldest son in the line of David. Since the line of David had not been recognized (politically) for centuries, Joseph supported himself in the construction trade, working with stone and wood. (The word “carpenter” only captures some of the meaning of the Greek term.)

Still, there may have been some special respect given to the essentially powerless ruling line of David. The following quotation from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) notes that Jesus was somehow legally privileged (probably because of His royal family). Also worth noting is the information about “the 40 day warning.” This may be the reason for the tone of gloom we see in John 7:1 and John 11:16.

[I]t was taught: On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf. But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!—Ulla retorted: “Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not a Mesith [enticer], concerning whom Scripture says, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him? With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].”

Jesus had four brothers and several sisters (Matt. 13: 55-56). Evidence and logic suggests to me that Jesus’ four brothers and sisters were younger than he; he was Mary’s firstborn (Luke 2:7), not her only born. Joseph kept her a virgin only until Jesus was born (Matt. 1:25).

Since Roman Catholics believe that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, they have pictured Joseph as an older man and sometimes account for Jesus’ brothers as actually Joseph’s children from an earlier marriage (he was postulated to be a widower). The argument that Joseph was dead before Jesus began His ministry is sometimes used to support this theory.

Modern Catholics are more prone to suggest that the term “brothers and sisters” is to be taken in a looser sense as “relatives.” We choose the more straightforward understanding, that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were the natural offspring of Joseph and Mary and were younger than Jesus.

If Nazareth was a haven for the royal line, then it is probable that several false claimants to the messianic throne may have surfaced in that community, explaining the skeptical nature of the town’s inhabitants toward Jesus.

Wallace comments:

Nevertheless we find this phrase from the future disciple Nathaniel, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46). Excavations show that Nazareth was only a village of about 150 people at the time. It may be that the inhabitants had some arrogance attached to their Davidic lineage that was despised by other Galileans. Perhaps Nathaniel was saying, “Oh no! Not another one!”

Since the prophecy of Daniel (Dan. 9: 25) established the time when the Messiah could be expected, and since the Messiah was a ruling descendant of David, perhaps several rabbis from Nazareth sincerely wondered if they were the Messiah? Jesus, on the other hand, seemed an unlikely candidate to His fellow Nazarenes. They even tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:16-30).

Although most residents of Nazareth thought Jesus an unlikely Messiah, we who have believed in Him are willing to accept the scandal and rejection associated with His name. We dare to believe that God became a man and entered our world two thousand plus years ago. We believe that He was born to die that we might live. We believe He arose from the dead after atoning for our sins upon the cross.

This Christmas season, while you are appreciating your beautifully decorated Christmas tree, think of the Branch (netzer) of David who came to earth for you! What a gift!

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The Groaning Tent and The Exodus

The Groaning Tent and The Exodus

By Ed Vasicek

A man went to a psychiatrist with a problem.

“Doc,” he explained, “I keep being plagued by two recurring dreams.  One is a dream that I am a wigwam.  In my other dream, I dream I am a teepee.  Doc, you gotta’ help me.  Am I going crazy? Is there something wrong with me?”

“Relax,” consoled the psychiatrist. “There is nothing wrong with you. You’re just two tents.”

The subject of tents was something Paul the Apostle took seriously. He was a skilled tentmaker by trade. Because tents were not far from Paul’s mind, he was in familiar territory when he compared life’s temporary nature to tent dwelling.

Most of us agree that this life has its good points, but frequently life is less than great.  We seek to give thanks in all things (I Thessalonians 5:18), but sometimes it takes quite a bit of effort to do so, especially when our health is an issue.

Paul tells us that our current life is like dwelling in a tent (temporary and insecure), but our future life is compared to dwelling in a building (permanent and secure).  We have an eternal dwelling awaiting us in heaven. Keeping our eyes on heaven might make us “other-worldly,” but being conscious of our future destiny helps us cope with this present world!

In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul reminds us that we live not only in a tent, but also in a groaning tent.  One day our groaning tent will be replaced with God’s building in glory. I believe Paul is using imagery from Israel’s Exodus experience to illustrate this truth.

First, notice that being trapped in mortal bodies makes us groan (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)

When Paul wrote his letters to the various congregations, he assumed they were fluent in the Old Testament.  After all, the Old Testament was the only Bible the early church possessed, even in gentile congregations. The New Testament was not yet written, and the books that had been written by this time had yet to be collected.

When the original recipients read about believers “groaning” in this tent, they would have correlated this “groaning” to the Jews who groaned while slaves in Egypt. Exodus 6:5 reads, “Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.”

Unlike some branches of Christendom specializing in denial, do you see how realistic a picture the New Testament paints?  Eras of life can be characterized by groaning – whether our burden be physical, spiritual, or emotional. Groaning is part of the bundled package of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Although our souls have been redeemed, the redemption of our bodies is yet future, so the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf as together we (and all creation) groan and await the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8: 22-26).

Paul (Sha’ul) writes:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life…(2 Corinthians 5:1-4, ESV)

Paul compares our bodies to the tents the children of Israel dwelt in for forty years. Many of us have camped in tents, pop-ups, trailers, or cabins. Although we enjoy roughing it, we are usually glad to get back home. Most of us are not content with a nomadic existence.

God, on the other hand, was perfectly content for his Shekinah to dwell in a tent, the Tabernacle. The Shekinah moved along with his people, according to Deuteronomy 1:33,

[God]  “…who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go…”

But God’s Shekinah was transferred from a tent (tabernacle) to Solomon’s beautiful, stationary temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). In the same way, we are looking for a heavenly dwelling, a permanent resurrection body (like the temple).

The Bible describes believers as pilgrims, nomads, strangers; we want to set down our roots permanently, but this world keeps changing — and so do we. We want security rather than a run of security marred by trauma, loss, and trials.

Our presence in heaven apart from our bodies is being temporarily “naked,” but when Jesus returns to the clouds, those of us with him in heaven will be awarded new bodies (I Thessalonians 4:13-17).

Meanwhile, back on earth, our bodies keep renewing themselves. Did you know that our bodies are really a pattern? Dr. Richard Swenson (M.D.) comments:

“…90 percent of our atoms are replaced annually. Every five years, 100 percent of our atoms turn over and become new atoms…’We are continually being recreated from dust and returning to dust,’ explains David M. Baughan, M.D. ‘We are not objects or machines that endure, we are patterns that have the capacity to perpetuate ourselves…’” (More Than Meets the Eye, Navpress, pp. 17-18)

In simplified colloquial language, God keeps our pattern on file, and one day he will create new immortal bodies for us — minus the effects of the curse.

Second, notice that the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee of our immortality (5).

Devout Jews pray the Amidah prayer daily, thus evidencing that the Jews have and many still do believe in the bodily resurrection.  Here is part of that prayer: 

He sustains the living with loving kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, supports the falling, heals the sick, releases the bound, and fulfills His trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth!  [source:]

The belief in the bodily resurrection is at least as ancient as the first written book of the Bible, the Book of Job (19:25-27):

For I know that my Redeemer lives, 
and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, 
yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, 
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. 
My heart faints within me!

When Paul wrote these words, only Jews and Christians believed in the resurrection of the body. Because most other religions believed only in a shadowy, spiritual existence beyond the grave, Judaism and Christianity must have seemed quite fantastic.

We would argue that our faith is fantastic because we have a fantastic God!  We await not only heaven, but also our resurrection bodies. How long will we be without bodies in glory? The answer may be as irrelevant as time is irrelevant in glory. We may be so enthralled with the fascinating joys of heaven that — before we notice—  we will return with Yeshua to the clouds and receive our new bodies.

The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of heaven and these new bodies:

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee (vs. 5).

Just as the Red Sea wind (Hebrew, ruach = spirit, or breath or wind) foreshadowed Israel’s eventual conquest of the Promised Land, so the Spirit (Greek, pneuma = spirit or breath or wind) opens the way for what is to come.  Thus the Holy Spirit is both the divine finisher (in matters of sanctification) and the one who leads the way toward what is to come!

Exodus 15:10, “You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.”

Our mortality will be “drunk down” by immortality. In verse 4, Paul wrote, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”  Just as the sea swallowed the Egyptian army alive, so our mortal state will be swallowed up, leaving nothing but our immortal state (illustrated by the Hebrews who survived).

As our bodies age, deteriorate, decay, or are plagued by disease — remember: one day all believers in Jesus will receive new bodies. No more health care. No more pain. No more imperfection. The presence of the Holy Spirit in your life serves as a divine reminder of your destiny!

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Mechanical Religion Midrash

Mechanical Religion Midrash

Isaiah 58:1-8 with Matthew 6:1-4, 16-23

In my first book, The Midrash Key, I argue that many of Yeshua’s teachings — including sections of The Sermon on the Mount — find their origin in Deuteronomy or Leviticus.

Our Lord gathered a large crowd together for the Sermon on the Mount, so we know it was much longer than the eleven-minute summary found in the Gospel According to Matthew. Two hours would be the bare minimum, but he probably taught all day. We only have the summary the Gospel writers preserved.

Today I am suggesting that another part of The Sermon on the Mount (particularly Matthew 6:1-4, 16-23) finds its origin in Isaiah 58:1-8.  I believe Jesus commented and developed themes from this text. See if you agree with me.

The theme of this section is “God detests mechanical religion.” In other words, God does not want our lip service, he want our hearts, our selves. He has no tolerance for mechanical religion; he will not be controlled or manipulated.  We can obey him, but we can do him no favors. We owe him total allegiance by birth.

How we live on a daily basis is also a spiritual issue. When it comes to being a follower of   Yeshua (Jesus), we are not allowed to segment ourselves.  We may be more “secular” in our jobs or among our lost family members than we would be with fellow believers, but we still must adhere to Christian ethics and conduct.

The main idea seems to be this: The type of worship or religious practice that pleases God comes from a sincere heart and is directly connected to the way we live every day.

I. A Contrast in TRUMPETS (Isaiah 58:1-2)

God trumpets displeasure, while hypocrites trumpet attention. Verse one (ESV) reads:

 “Cry aloud; do not hold back; 
lift up your voice like a trumpet; 
declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.”

The people were so absorbed in the hustle and bustle of their lives that they could not hear the voice of God, even though God trumpeted forth his word. The idea of blowing a shofar to quiet the crowds to listen to a warning of some sort is probably in mind. But the people could not hear.

Jesus developed this theme, and suggests the Pharisees could not hear because they were too busy in the noisy practice of advertising their own (supposed) religious dedication.  Jesus confronts them:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”  (Matt. 6:1-2)

I think the common word “trumpet” connects the texts, based upon Hillel’s rule of G’zerah Shavah in which similar expressions or words are meant to be connected in interpretation.

If the only similarity between Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6 were the trumpet idea, it would be hard to argue the case. But there are more similarities we need to examine.

While God was trumpeting his displeasure, they did not hear because they were too busy tooting their own horns. Such mechanical religion is hypocrisy. Isaiah 58:2 expresses a similar frustration:

“Yet they seek me daily 
and delight to know my ways, 
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
 and did not forsake the judgment of their God; 
they ask of me righteous judgments; 
they delight to draw near to God.”

An important figure of speech comes into play. When Jewish people give, it is called “righteousness”  (tsadeq) in Hebrew. Thus, the Isaiah 58:2 passage could be considered as discussing giving, a theme Jesus developed in its context. Yeshua tells us that doing a “righteousness” (giving) for the purpose of receiving attention also neutralizes the reward for one claiming to serve God.

We will return to this theme later in our text below.

The type of worship or religious practice that pleases God comes from a sincere heart and is directly connected to the way we live every day.

 II. A Contrast in FASTING (Isaiah 58: 3-5)

 The Law commanded fasting only on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16:29), but left room for voluntary fasts.  The practice of fasting is associated with brokenness or praying for a desperate need.

For many, this translates to skipping a meal for a day or part of a day to examine one’s heart, repent, or pray. Twinges of hunger remind the faster to pray.

The institutionalizing of fasting can be dangerous: it can lead to empty and meaningless religious ritual. The people in Isaiah’s day used fasting in an attempt to manipulate God  (3):

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? 
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” 
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, 
 and oppress all your workers.

We discover God was more concerned about their daily conduct than their religious gestures.  Fasting made them grouchy, and instead of becoming godlier, they became impatient and even violent with others.  They were not fasting to draw close to God: they were trying to control God through fasting, and apparently hated every moment of it. Verse 4 and 5 make this clear: 

“Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
 and to hit with a wicked fist. 
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, 
 a day for a person to humble himself? 
Is it to bow down his head like a reed, 
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? 
Will you call this a fast, 
 and a day acceptable to the Lord?

The hypocrites in Yeshua’s day misused fasting to gain social prestige.

 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. [Matthew 6:16-18]

Who are we out to impress?  We cannot impress God.  When others want you to play the “I’m spiritual” game, we should refuse to join in. It is fine and freeing if we are not concerned that others view us as “spiritual.”  Proverbs 20:6 read, “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?”

Essentially, the hypocrites of Isaiah 58 and the hypocrites of Matthew 6 embraced the concept of misusing means to honor God and turning them into self-serving mechanical religion.

Again, the common theme of fasting does not strongly prove that Jesus is drawing from Isaiah 58. But coupled with the theme of “trumpeting,” the argument gains a little momentum.

The type of worship or religious practice that pleases God comes from a sincere heart and is directly connected to the way we live every day.

III. A Contrast in COMPASSION  (Isaiah 58:6-8)

Isaiah 58:6 urges the religious hypocrites around him to cease exploiting others.

 Is not this the fast that I choose: 
to loose the bonds of wickedness, 
to undo the straps of the yoke, 
to let the oppressed go free, 
 and to break every yoke? 

Isaiah 58:7-8 describes the fast God demands, and it involves doing good. God wants us to fast from abusing or neglecting others: 

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house; 
when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, 
and your healing shall spring up speedily; 
your righteousness shall go before you; 
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

This theme is not mutually exclusive. The trumpeting theme is intertwined within Matthew 6:3-4, where Jesus admonishes us to give discreetly:

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

We are to give to bless others and honor God, not for personal attention. Whether we get attention is not the issue: the issue is whether we seek attention.

In my opinion, some believers end up garnering more attention by throwing a wrench in the works (book keeping, etc.) because they demand to be anonymous.  In addition, others may lose the blessing of being able to say “thank you.”

The issue is motive, nothing more. We need not go out of our way to give secretly, we just need to be careful about going out of our way to give publicly. Being like everyone else (when it comes to giving) is perhaps the most discreet approach.

The Jewish ethic is also interesting. A common Jewish viewpoint is that publishing one’s name (as a contributor) motivates or shames others into giving, thus resulting in more funds for the need.

The focus in both of these ethics differs: Jesus is focusing upon our rewards in heaven; the Jewish ethic focuses upon a successful campaign, fundraiser, or benevolence project.  

Yeshua’s focus is definitely the eternal in Matthew 6:19-21,

 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

He also urges us to develop a good (healthy) eye in Matthew 6:22-23,

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

A “good eye” or “bad eye” is a Jewish idiom for “generous” or “stingy.”  The ESV of Proverbs 22:9 paraphrases the “good eye” as the “bountiful eye” to help clarify the meaning:

“Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”

The type of worship or religious practice that pleases God comes from a sincere heart and is directly connected to the way we live every day. Having a “good eye” is not something one does, it is part of who one is.


To my way of thinking, the similar themes and wording of Isaiah 58 suggest that Jesus was expositing and applying this Isaiah text (as midrash) in Matthew 6.  Whether he recited the Isaiah passage first and then commented, we will never know in this life. Whatever our view of the relationship of these two passages, we can agree that Jesus and Isaiah are not tolerant of merely mechanical religion.

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How Did Romans Get Into Isaiah?

How Did Romans Get Into Isaiah?

By Ed Vasicek

Having studied the Jewish Roots of the New Testament, I have concluded — along with others — that many New Testament passages are actually expositions of Old Testament texts.  Sometimes this even shows itself in the form of a broad outline, as in the case of Romans.

Paul quotes the Old Testament over sixty times within the Book of Romans, over twenty of those quotations come from the Book of Isaiah. In addition to this, there are likely several expositions of Old Testament passages not quoted.

In this article, I would like to offer evidence that Isaiah 59-66 is really “Proto-Romans,” the source of Paul’s broad outline of Romans.

A rough alliterated outline of Romans rounds off the chapters, but captures the general flow of the book.: sin (chapters 1-3), salvation (4-5, actually beginning with 3:24), sanctification (6-8), sovereignty (9-11), and service (12-16).

 The first three divisions come primarily from Isaiah 59, I will argue in this article. All quotations are from the ESV.

What about the other two divisions of Romans? The section in Romans about sovereignty are suggested by these verses:

(1) Isaiah 63:17 “O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways
 and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
 Return for the sake of your servants, 
the tribes of your heritage.”

 (2) Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
 we are the clay, and you are our potter; 
we are all the work of your hand.”

The fifth division of Romans (service) might be an exposition and application of Isaiah 61:6a, “But you will be called the priests of the Lord;
 You will be spoken of as ministers of our God…”  How do we serve?  By presenting ourselves as living sacrifices and aligning our lives to please God as his ministers (servants)!

 The focus of this article is Isaiah 59. Here we see the doctrine of sin, salvation, and sanctification, themes which Paul will develop further in Romans. Like Romans 1-3, Isaiah 59 makes the case:  we are sinners, lost, and helpless; we need a redeemer who will first intervene for us and who will then empower us by his Spirit.

Ready? Let’s look at these three main themes.

 I. SIN (Isaiah 59:1-15) corresponding with Romans 1:1-3:23

This Isaiah passage describes the behavior of the Jewish people during the reign of King Manasseh. What Paul does with this passage and other similar passages is to extend these examples as samples of behavior common throughout the human race, thus condemning not only specific sins, but the bent of human nature.

Isaiah informs us that sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2):

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation
 between you and your God, 
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

When Queen Esther hosted her second party with King Ahasuerus  and Haman, she revealed that Haman was out to exterminate her people.  The king’s wrath was kindled, and he called for Haman to be removed and executed.  The text tells us that, “…As the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face… “Esther 7:8b.  In this instance, the offender’s face was hidden from the king. In Isaiah, the King hides his face from the offenders.

Isaiah paints a gloomy picture of entrenched sinfulness. In many ways, Isaiah 59:3-15 sounds like Paul’s diatribe against mankind’s sinful disposition in Romans 1-3. Please take a moment to peruse these verses in Isaiah. Do you sense that the human race is being prosecuted in court, akin to Romans 1-3? I do.

Paul quotes from Isaiah 59:7-8 within Romans 3:9-18, quoted passim:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
 not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Both Paul and Isaiah make the point that mankind is not only lost, but extremely lost.  If mankind were barely lost, one might postulate that good works might make a difference.  But if mankind is horribly lost, then how could beings — who already owe total obedience — atone for their infractions?

Mankind is spiritually bankrupt (depraved) and incapable of providing redemption:

He saw that there was no man,
 and wondered that there was no one to intercede… (Isaiah 59:16a)

Paul cries out in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We are hopeless sinners, needing help “from the outside.”

II. Salvation (Isaiah 59:16-20) corresponding with Romans 3:24-5:21

We quickly discover in Isaiah 59 that man cannot save himself.  Isaiah 59:16 reads:

He saw that there was no man, 
and wondered that there was no one to intercede; 
then his own arm brought him salvation,
 and his righteousness upheld him.

In Revelation, we could conclude that God’s own “right arm” is the Lamb, seated at his right hand. But God’s right arm is not only seated next to him, his right arm is part of him! Although often understood as a figure of God’s strength, the “right arm” of God could (possibly) be an illustration of the Trinity; the Son is part of God’s own being!

Even Isaiah 53:1 makes good sense interpreted this way:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

The midrash (elaboration) of this could be Luke 10:22

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

In Revelation 5:1-5, we see only the Lamb is capable.

Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Because man is helpless and has nothing to offer on behalf of his redemption,  God himself had to do the job of redemption (16b). Does this sound like a familiar concept, namely Romans 8:3?

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh…”

The traditional Jewish belief is that Jewish or human suffering atones for sins. This belief cannot be correct on a spiritual level, because an acceptable sacrifice must be both pure and more than merely human. Psalm 49:7-9 says,

Truly no man can ransom another, 
or give to God the price of his life,  for the ransom of their life is costly 
and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.

No, both Isaiah and Romans echo the idea that man is so totally lost and helpless that we humans are incapable of providing redemption. God has to do it. Hence the Messiah must be the God-Man.

God is the Redeemer.  Isaiah 59:20 is cited in Romans 11:25-26

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
 he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; 

“and this will be my covenant with them
 when I take away their sins.”

The salvation of “all Israel” refers to “all Israel at the time Messiah comes to establish his Kingdom on earth,”  explained further in Zechariah 12-14 (esp. 12:8-10 and 13:8-9).

Paul writes this partly to expound upon the questions that naturally arise from Isaiah 63:17, quoted in the introduction.  One such question would be, “If God is hardening the hearts of the Jewish people, will he fulfill his promises to them?” The answer in Romans is, “yes, he will completely fulfill them.”

III. Sanctification (Isaiah 59:21)  corresponding with Romans 6:1-8:39

Isaiah 59:21 reads,

“As for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever.”

Sanctification in this text is via the New Covenant. The most unique aspect of the New Covenant is that only the regenerate are included in it. One entered the Old Covenant by birth; one enters the New by second birth. If  you were born into a Jewish home, you were born into the Old Covenant. Some under that covenant were regenerate, some were not.

Although the entire nation of Israel will be regenerated at the advent of the Kingdom (Jeremiah 31:34), the distinguishing mark between the two covenants is the inclusion of only the regenerate (under the New Covenant).

We enter the New Covenant by faith in Jesus, and we are therefore to live New Covenant lives now by reckoning ourselves crucified with Christ and risen to spiritual life.

The Holy Spirit and the Word are primary in the realm of sanctification, as we see here.  Thus as we focus our mind on the Word (one of the primary “things of the Spirit”), we become holier. Romans 8:4-11 passim reads,

…in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace… You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. … If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Modern attempts to substitute the Word for something that does not take mental concentration or stress — like music, pop psychology, rituals, or  good works — cannot produce the same quality fruit as comes from spending time in the Word.  It is the process of studying the Word that makes us holier, not how relevant a portion of Scripture seems to us.  If we want to be like a tree planted by rivers of water, we need to spend much time in the Word (Psalm 1), and all portions of the Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

We could further analyze the idea of the “word being in their mouths.” Does this mean the Scriptures, prophetic utterances, or both? Since the text implies a deposit of words passed down to the generations (i.e., this seems to refer to the same words), I would argue that Scripture is meant.


I believe Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, worked hard to produce Romans (and his other epistles).  He began with First Testament texts, and, in this case, developed his broad framework from Isaiah, especially chapter 59.  His mind was extremely active during this process.

Rather than mere dictation, God “… set me [Paul] apart even from my [his] mother’s womb …” (Galatians 1:15) to prepare him for his special ministry, including authoring Romans.   Yet, at the same time, God supervised Paul’s work, assuring that Paul said exactly what God wanted said (to the very word, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Finding the “mother texts” for later New Testament midrash (elaboration) helps increase context and sharpens our interpretational skills. It also reinforces the truth that God’s plan is not reactionary, but premeditated before the foundation of the world.

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It is HERE! The Amazing Doctrines of Paul as Midrash!!!!

Yes, Ed Vasicek’s newest, long-awaited, and most crucial “must read” book is out!

Available as both a traditional book or kindle!

The Amazing Doctrines of Paul as Midrash may be one of the more important books you will ever read!  It is written with sections to accommodate both the layman and the academic.  If you are interested in Jewish Roots,  theology, defending solid doctrine, or simply better understanding the Bible — this book is for you.

Many of Paul’s teachings are “up for grabs” in our day.  By using the principle of midrash, Vasicek makes a simple but compelling case for salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Messiah Yeshua alone, a future for the physical descendants of Jacob, the unity and diversity of God’s people, and  addresses a number of other crucial issues — from a Jewish Roots perspective!  He brings in the First Testament sources for Second Testament teaching, as well as insights from the Talumd, the Targums, Dead Sea Scroll Community, and Orthodox Judaism.

Discover why the Jewish Roots approach offers the best safeguard against theological error or lack of clarity! The Amazing Doctrines of Paul presents a tight case but a simple one  – it’s not rocket science after all!

Endorsed by (theologically) conservative pastors, scholars, and laymen, this book is a must read!

Chapter topics include: The Deity of Messiah: Every Knee Shall Bow,  God’s Wrath Revealed  from Heaven Midrash, Objective Salvation,  Making Messiah’s Work Ours through Repentance and Faith Apart from Works, Justification,  The Spirit and the Armor, God’s Hesed (Steadfast Love),  End Times Midrashim, The Mystery: Jewish Unbelief and Gentiles in the Church — and more!

Order through Amazon right now!  Click HERE!




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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.


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:

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)   []

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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