Seeking God’s Righteousness

I’ve been reading a book called Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curty Landry and one of his comments about what we’re supposed to “seek first” caught my eye. This book is about how understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform your faith. It’s amazing to me how much we can miss when we read the Bible in English with a Western cultural mindset. And it’s equally amazing how much it can deepen our understanding of God and His ways to dive-in to the roots of our faith.

One of the things Landry talks about is how our interpretation of words and stories in the Bible can change based on whether we approach them through a Western philosophical lens or a first-century Jewish one. An example is how we see the word “righteousness” in Matthew 6:33.

When we read “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we in the Western world tend to think this means we have to be righteous in the sense of being a “law-abiding citizen” of heaven. But a Jewish person listening to Jesus would have thought of the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, which changes how you interpret this verse. Let’s take a look at that.

Righteousness in Hebrew

Tzedakah is about justice, righteousness, and truthfulness (Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon, entry H6666). It’s associated with God’s fairness and is also tied to acts of charity and giving. At my Messianic congregation, this word is written on the box where we put tithes and offerings because tzedakah is so closely connected with righteous giving.

In his article “God’s Kind of Righteousness,” Lois Tverberg points out that “tzedakah means more than just legal correctness – it refers to covenantal faithfulness, often resulting in rescuing those in distress and showing mercy to sinners.” It’s quite a bit different than what most of us think of when we think “righteousness,” but it’s very much in line with God’s character.

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How the Lord Meets with Us: Examining Jesus Christ’s Role as Intercessor

After writing last week’s post about coming to the Father through Jesus, I started studying the words “intercessor” and “mediator.” Interestingly, I found that in Hebrew the word used for “intercession” also means to encounter, come between, and meet with. It’s used in a variety of contexts, but I focused on the ones that related to how God interacts with us here on earth.

There are multiple ways that God can interact with humans. Two of those interactions involve rewarding good and punishing evil. We see the word for “intercession” used in both these contexts. This confused me at first, but as I studied it I found something that is very exciting and encouraging about how the two meanings connect.

Meeting With Punishment

The Hebrew word paga (Strong’s H6293) means “to encounter, meet, reach, entreat, make intercession” (BDB definition). Here’s one place it’s used in Exodus, when Moses and Aaron were talking with Pharaoh.

They said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, and sacrifice to Yahweh, our God, lest he fall on us with pestilence, or with the sword.” (Ex. 5:3, WEB)

“Fall on us” is translated from the word paga. We might paraphrase, “Let us worship God, or He’ll meet us with punishment.” It seems strange to have the same word as “intercession” used for meeting someone with pestilence or sword. Intercession tends to be seen as a more positive thing. If we head over to Isaiah’s writings, though, this starts to make more sense.

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Putting God in a Clay Pot: How Much Does the Lord Understand You?

Do you ever feel like God doesn’t really know what you’re going through? That He doesn’t get how hard it is to be human or that He expects too much of us?

I think this is an easy thought pattern to fall into. My problem is something different (we think). Other people don’t understand, and maybe God doesn’t either. Sure Jesus was human but that was 2,000 years ago. Things have changed.

Truth is, though, things haven’t changed that much. “There is no new thing under the sun” because human nature stays the same (Ecc. 1:9). And even if things have changed so much that being human is fundamentally different than it once was, God has still taken steps to make sure He understands us. Evidently connecting with us is very important to Him, because He’s done some pretty incredible things in order to get inside our perspectives and also to share His mind with us. Firstly, He made us. Secondly, He experienced human life by Jesus living as a human. Finally, He indwells His people today through His spirit.

Made

If you make something you understand it. You know all the ingredients in the cookies, you know the hours put into shaping clay into an urn, you know the measurements and materials required to machine that part. God understands us even better than that, for He created all the materials we’re formed from and then fashioned us in His own image. Read more

The Joy Of The Lord

I think most of us have learned there are multiple words for love in the Greek language. With seven words devoted to this concept, we assume it must be important. But did you know something similar is going on with the word “joy”?

In the New Testament the primary Greek word for joy is chara or its root chario. The Greek parts of the Bible also use agalliao, euphrosure, and (more rarely) skirtao and apolausis. Hebrew has even more words for joy. The primary one is samach and its close relatives simcha and sameach. Other words for joy include chadah, sus, alats, giyl, and alaz. The words for “shout” like ranan and rua also carry a joyful meaning in certain contexts. That adds up to more than a dozen words in the Bible to describe joy!

Clearly, joy is an important concept for Biblical writers and for the cultures they lived in. This type of joy isn’t just a happy feeling, though. It’s a state of being that we can have as a result of being in relationship with God. As a fruit of the spirit, joy is present in all spirit-led Christians. This joy can be bubbly, enthusiastic, and happy (and often is), but it can also be a quiet, enduring outlook that flourishes inside us even when we don’t feel outwardly merry.

Joy Is More Than Happiness

To those in less than pleasant circumstances, commands to rejoice (like Deut. 26:11: 1 Thes 5:16) often feel insensitive. “If you knew what I was going through,” we might say, “you wouldn’t tell me to feel happy.” Nevertheless, joy is something God expects and commands from His people.

It’s a similar situation as what happens with love. God is love, and He commands us to love others even when it doesn’t make sense from a human perspective. Biblical love is also something more than our modern concept of warm feelings toward someone. It’s much deeper. In much the same way, joy goes deeper than feelings of happiness. Read more

How To Find Peace With What God Expects: Learning From Moses’ Five Questions

Have you ever heard someone say that if you’re doing what God wants you to do you’ll know because you’ll have peace with it? This is one of those Christian-ish sayings that sounds good at first, but doesn’t always hold up to more rigorous scrutiny.

Take Moses for example. When God called him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt Moses did not feel peace with this mission. In fact, he tried to talk God out of picking him five times in this conversation. I find it interesting that God wasn’t angry with the fact that Moses didn’t have a peace with his calling at first. The Lord only got angry when Moses begged Him to send someone else.

God doesn’t need us to feel like we can handle what He asks us to do (He’ll help us out with that). He just needs us to be willing to trust where He’s leading and walk forward with Him. That’s part of what His responses to Moses’ five questions can teach us.

First Question

Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11, WEB)

It’s a reasonable question, one we would expect from the man later described as “very humble, more than all the men who were on the surface of the earth” (Num. 12:3, WEB). In fact, if Moses was the sort of person who thought he was perfectly qualified and able to do this God probably wouldn’t have chosen Him. Our Lord has a practice of choosing “the lowly things of the world … that no flesh should glory before God” (1 Cor. 1:28, 29, WEB).

He said, “Certainly I will be with you. This will be the token to you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Ex. 3:12, WEB)

God’s answer to the human question, “Who am I?” is “I will be with you.” It’s not about who we are when we’re called to do something for God. It’s about who He is and His power to work in and through humble, teachable people. Read more

Fighting For Truth Within God’s House

Dear friends, although I was making every effort to write to you concerning our common salvation, I considered it a necessity to write to you to encourage you to contend for the faith delivered once and for all to the saints. (Jude 1:3, LEB)

Way back in the first century, Jude had planned to write fellow believers concerning their common salvation. However, he had to change the topic because “certain men have slipped in stealthily” (v. 4) to spread destructive heresies.

When we read an instruction to “contend for the faith,” we typically think of preaching to the world and fighting for God’s truth in an ungodly society. But Jude is talking about the need to do this inside the church. And if they were dealing with problems like this back in the first century, you can be sure we’ll be facing them today as well.

A List of Wickedness

Jude said that we need to fight for the faith even inside the church because of ungodly people who sneaked in. As the letter unfolds, he explains in detail what sort of things these people were doing. It’s a long list, but I think it’s an important one to look at in detail. Read more