Whether in a Messianic or traditional Jewish Synagogue, one of the most iconic markers for our Holy Day services is the reading of the Akedah, or The Binding of Isaac in Genesis chapter 22. Prior to chapter 22, God prophetically spoke to Abraham and promises that his wife Sarah would have a son in her old age stating,
“… As for Sarai your wife, you are not to call her Sarai [mockery]; her name is to be Sarah [princess]. I will bless her; moreover, I give you a son by her. Truly I will bless her: she will be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from hers. At this Avraham fell on his face and laughed - he thought to himself, Will a child be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah give birth at ninety.” (Genesis 17:15-17)
With this, we have to imagine the scene, …. In their old age, God has promised Sarah and her husband Abraham that they would be a son and that through him, the promise of the fulfillment of the covenant would flow (see: 17:7-8). Yet no sooner that this promises are made, HaShem tells our Patriarch, Abraham to take his one and only son (and the one from the promise must flow) and sacrifice him on Mount Moriah!
In reading these words, all of us can feel the conflict and misery that is welling in Abraham’s heart … it is as if he is saying,
“God, I believed you, I trusted and you have fulfilled your promise to me is giving me my dear Isaac. But now God, you want to just take him away from me, and worse - you want me to slay him as a sacrifice before you … Please God, do not make me do this.”
Although such an act of faithfulness would kill a man, Abraham nevertheless did as God had commanded him, and was prepared and willing to take the life his own son!
Yet, even in the questioning of his son, Abraham simply replied in Genesis 22:8, “… God will provide himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son, and they both went up [to Mount Moriah] together.” Now, if you are adding this the same way I am, you now feel like you have just been thrown the curve-ball of your life! First - Abraham is undone, conflicted, possibly even begging to God in his heart that they would be another way, all the while knowing there isn’t one, and then in verse 8, with calm and assurance he says to his son, “… God will provide himself the Lamb!”
Where is this calm coming from and how can Abraham have any level of peace knowing what he is about to do? Maybe it is from what we find first in verse 13 when Abraham raised his eyes and saw the substitute, a ram with its horns caught in the brush (of which God truly intended for the sacrifice) and most noteworthy with verses 15-18 in stating,
“The angel of Adonai called to Avraham a second time out of heaven. He said, I have sworn by myself - says Adonai - that because you have done this, because you haven’t withheld your son, your only son, I will most certainly bless you; and I will most certainly increase your descendants to as many as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the cities of their enemies, and by your descendants all nations of the earth will be blessed - because you obeyed my order.”
For us as Messianic-believers, the Akedah is the perfect foreshadowing of the coming of Yeshua the Messiah as “Sah HaElohim” - or, the Lamb of God who has come to take the sins of the world (Yochanan/John 1:29). Both Yeshua and Isaac’s birth was marked by the miraculous, as “only begotten sons," and the place of Sacrifice for Isaac on Mount Moriah reminds of the unbreakable covenant God has made him Abraham and his descendants forever!
Yet in all of this an obvious miracle can be so easily overlooked when we view both the “risks” and REWARDS of faithful obedience to Adonai! For me, this point is best made in the words of the song, “You Where There” by the vocal band Avalon in singing,
“So, there he stood upon that hill - Abraham with knife in hand was poised to kill - But God in all his sovereignty had bigger plans - And just in time, You brought the Lamb -‘Cause You were there,You were there - In the midst of the unclear - You were there, you were there always - You were there when obedience - Seemed to not make sense - You were there, You were always there - You were always there.”
For us in our lives, we all at one point or another have our own "Akedah Moment!” A point in time and space when God calls us to do that which does not make sense - and simply take him at his word. It would be so much easier we rationalize to just say now, or “pretend that we did not hear his voice - but we know we can’t! And in the end, like Abraham, obedience brings blessing and a hope fulfilled!
Dear friends, during this High Holy Days season - may you know that the rewards that await us in our obedience far outshines the momentary satisfactions or fears of this life or the “what if’s” that our minds might contemplate. And in the end, may you know that Yeshua is there in the midst of the unclear and when obedience in the natural, makes no sense at all.
Dear friends, ... For you, He Has Always Been There!
Avinu Makleinu is one of the most iconic Jewish High Holy Days songs of all time! This prayer (defined as, “Our Father, Our King”) is recited, following the Amidah - during the Ten Days of Awe and Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
From the beginning of this song and prayer, Jews annually recite with great feeling and emotion,
Our Father, our King, we have sinned before Thee.
Our Father, our King, no king except Thee.
Our Father, our King, deal with us kindly for the sake of Thy name.
What is so noteworthy of this song is the accurate description of our own human condition, our calling to humility and need for authentic redemption.
In the first stanza we declare that not only have we sinned against a holy God, but the inference is that we alone are responsible for your guilt.
In the second stanza however, we find an immediate shift of attention where the worshipper, instead of reverting back, hiding in their sin or justifying his behavior, instead acknowledges the Sovereignty of God and His Lordship over one’s life!
Finally, in the words “deal with us kindly for the sake of Thy name,” the faithful decrees a statement of overwhelming humility, need for mercy and desperation for the redemption of Adonai. Here we find, that in the end, the only hope we have is in the Name of the Lord. We have no power or ability to save us and if it was for the mercy and loving-kindness of Adonai, we would be utterly lost!
Yet, when we pray these words and sing them from the Machzor during these most holy days, we do so with both the HOPE and ASSURANCE that God, in Messiah Yeshua does forgive and is faithful to redeem us from our sin and brokenness!
This is best seen from the Prophet Isaiah who prophecies of the coming the Messiah,
“Who believes our report? To whom is the arm of the Adonai revealed? For before him he grew up like a young plant, like a root out of dry ground. He was not well-formed or especially handsome; we saw him, but his appearance did not attract us. People despised and avoided him, a man of pains, well acquainted with illness. Like someone from whom people turn their faces, he was despised; we did not value him. In fact, it was our diseases he bore, our pains from which he suffered; yet we regarded him as punished, stricken and afflicted by God. But he was wounded because of our crimes, crushed because of our sins; the discipling that makes us whole fell on him, and by his bruises’ we are healed.”
(Isaiah 53:1-5, Complete Jewish Bible)
As noted in the following verse (vs. 6) that we are like sheep and have gone astray from the will of Adonai, in His mercy, he sent us our Messiah, so that all (both Jew and Gentile) might have hope of eternal life and freedom from our sins and burdens.
During these Ten Days of Awe, seek the Lord whole he may be found and call upon Him while he is hear (Isaiah 55:6), knowing that when we cast our burdens on Adonai and seek Him with all our hearts, He will in fact heal us and restore us of all unrighteousness. In that Rosh Hashanah is for all of us a time of renewal, and a new beginning - may you come to know at this season, God’s great love and although your sins are as scarlet, may through the Messiah, be as white as snow!
Rosh Hashanah, 5779
As many scholars have noted, this week’s Torah Portion (Nitzavim/ Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) is thematically divided into four succinct sections, all addressing the core fundamental principles of the Jewish faith. In this, our text begins with 29:9-10 declaring,
“Today you are standing, all of you, before Adonai your God - your heads, your tribes, your leaders and your officers - all the men of Israel, along with your little ones, your wives and your foreigners here with you in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water.”
What is noteworthy of this passage is in its reminding us that the very purpose and calling of our lives is to embrace the Lord's Instruction (Torah) and never to rationalize that these words were simply given for a select few in previous generations. Despite our human inclination to skirt responsibility and place its weight on another, our Parashah serves as a reminder of how we should follow God in everything he has commanded us to do.
In looking back to those who initially received the Lord’s mitzvot (commandments) from the Prophet Moses, and for us in our collective calling, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks aptly notes,
“Their parents had entered into that commitment almost forty years before when they stood at Mount Sinai and said, ‘We will do and obey all that God has declared’ (Ex. 24:7) But now Moses has to ensure that the next generation and all future generationswill be bound by it. He wanted no-one to be able to say, ‘God made a covenant with my ancestors but not with me.”
This is a reminder to us that as believers in Yeshua all of us must stand before God and give an account for our lives and how we lead it. Likewise, we must never forget that the obligations of God’s word are for everyone, in every generation, who call upon his Name.
We cannot look back to the past and merely rationalize that all those things were for followers of Adonai before Yeshua for even he commanded that if we love him - we would keep his commandments. (John 14:15) Therefore, none of us are exempt and we all have a part to play in revealing God’s glory in these Last-Days to a broken and dying world.
In their book “Conveying a Heritage,” our leaders Rabbi Daniel Juster and his wife Patty communicates this perfectly by stating:
“The consensus of American Messianic Judaism is that Torah continues in the New Covenant, which teachers us that the Torah is written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31). The fullness that the New Covenant in the Age to Come promises the continued existence of the nation of Israel and the celebration of the feasts. The Torah is the instruction of God and refers to more than is described by the world ‘law.’ It is the design of God for every realm of life - family (Genesis 1, 2, Ephesians 5) congregation (Matthew 16, 18, 1 Timothy 3), business, government, education, artistry, ecology, and more. God also used the Torah to guide us in our Jewish life.”
In this, we should choose to see God’s Instruction - not just as something he gave to those who have long since passed, but instead to see Torah as A Legacy of Instruction that has been passed down l’dor va’dor (from generation to generation). Whether one is Jewish or has been grafted into the one new humanity (Ephesians 2:14-16), we should all joyfully embrace God’s instruction for our lives and choose to live it out in every sphere of our human existence.
In the end. we are not a people exempt from God’s instruction - but instead we have been welcomed to join in the Drama of the Ages in making Yeshua known and to faithfully obeying him in everything he calls us to do.
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