31 December 2010 (Sheshi/Kippur)|
Day #290, 5934 AM
First Steps for New Believers
Understanding the Old Testament Primer
New believers typically find the Bible daunting. It's a wholly different world to the one unbelievers are familiar with. So where to start? There is, of course, no substitute for starting at Genesis and working your way through to Malachi - and tempting though it may be to leave out 'boring' parts like chronologies and genealogies, there is a purpose for them, even if they may not be readily apparent at first. One thing I know new believers find hard to get stuck into are the Books of the Law (Torah) in the Five Books of Moses. They are, admittedly, a little heavy both because much of the practice therein has been fulfilled in Christ but also because there is an awful lot to understand in a cultural context which is alien to the modern world. Understanding that culture is very important, though.
The Pentateuch (as the first five books are called) is best studied in manageable chunks over a longish period of time in conjunction with studies of other parts of the Old Testament and New. One mistake you absolutely must avoid is thinking that most of the Old Testament is irrelevent and that you should only focus on the New Testament. You can't properly understand the New Testament without the Old. And the Old Testament is much more than the very popular Psalms which have brought comfort to millions over the genetations - even these can't be properly understood without understanding the Torah background from which they flow.
One very helpful chapter of the Old Testament has been suggested, with some merit, to be a useful summary of the Torah. If we remember that it is only a summary (and at a particular junction of time, at that), and if we promise to return to a detailed study later, then I want to recommend we take a look at the 18th chapter of Ezekiel. For a quick overview of the mind and heart of our Heavenly Father (Yahweh), this is an excellent place to start. So let's do that today.
1. Everyone belongs to Yahweh and Sin Kills You
The sovereignty of Elohim (God) is the beginning of everything. This establishes our ground of reality. We are not our own. Furthermore, sinning - missing the mark, breaking His commandments - is not inconsequential. All sin leads to death (Rom.6:23) and so the solution to sin must be equally radical - that is why Yah'shua (Jesus) had to die for us to purchase our lives back again (1 Cor.15:3; 1 Pet.2:24).
"Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die" (Ezek.18:4, NKJV).
Next Yahweh tells how how a man can escape this death by walking in the emet of truth of Yahweh's commandments - commandments which are forever. Let's look at the list that Yahweh gives. These are an excellent guide-rail for staying in the truth and in life.
2. Some Fundamental Rules
Twice Yahweh speaks through His prophet outlining what is expected of those who love and serve Him. If you will follow these simple rules, while trusting in Yah'shua (Jesus) for your salvation, you will be on the right track. Let's list them concisely:
"'But if a man is just and does what is lawful and right; if he has not eaten on the mountains, nor lifted up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, nor defiled his neighbour's wife, nor approached a woman during her impurity; if he has not oppressed anyone, but has restored to the debtor his pledge; has robbed no one by violence, but has given his bread to the hungry and covered the naked with clothing; if he has not exacted usury nor taken any increase, but has withdrawn his hand from iniquity and executed true judgment between man and man; if he has walked in My statutes and kept My judgments faithfully -- he is just; he shall surely live!' says Yahweh-Elohim" (vv.5-9)
"If he begets a son who is a robber or a shedder of blood, who does any of these things and does none of those duties, but has eaten on the mountains or defiled his neighbour's wife; if he has oppressed the poor and needy, robbed by violence, not restored the pledge, lifted his eyes to the idols, or committed abomination; if he has exacted usury or taken increase -- shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him" (vv.10-13).
Like I said, some of the things here are summaries - there are obviously lots more mishpatim or Judgments (right-rulings, i.e. justice) and chukim or Statutes (ordinances of Torah). These include the moedim or times when we are supposed to assemble in congregations to worship Yahweh.
- 1. Do what is lawful - in other words, there are laws, rules and commandments to be obeyed - they are called statutes and judgments;
- 2. Do what is right - someone who does what is right is righteous...and the laws determine what right behaviour is;
- 3. Don't commit idolatry - don't worship any other being (god or human) except Yahweh, or put anything (lawful or unlawful) between you and Yahweh;
- 4. Don't commit adultery - marriage is sacred;
- 5. Don't break the Niddah Law - don't have intercourse with your wife when she is having her menstrual period;
- 6. Don't oppress anyone - keep your pledges (promises), take care of the poor and needy by feeding and clothing them, don't steal, don't rob with violence, don't charge interest if you loan money (usury);
- 7. Do your duties - a charge especially to sons who must be heads of households when they grow up and marry.
Were you surprised to find sexual separation during menstruation as important? Or usury? Some people are surprised by this list because many don't think that things like the niddah law (menstruation) and usury are nearly so important. But they are! Here Yahweh here lists it as being of great importance! And that is one thing you discover as you study the Old Testament, namely, that Yahweh has different VALUES to the world. There will be many things you will at first react to because you don't understand. Just remember Who the Sovereign is and Who sets spiritual values. Indeed, the word chukkim implies a sense that some of the things Yahweh tells us to do don't make sense but that we must do them anyway, in faith. He will reveal the sense of them as you walk in this trusting.
The second part of the 18th chapter talks about much the same themes but in regard to the relationship of father and son:
3. Sons are Not Responsible for the Sins of Their Fathers
Though fathers can, and do, have a terrible influence on their children sometimes, each soul is responsible for his own choices. No parent is, in any case, perfect but we are never so disadvantaged by a bad home environment and upbringing that we can't choose to live as Yahweh wants us to. Yahweh won't accept any 'pity party' stories. We can choose not to imitate a bad father (or mother) and do what is right, and Yahweh will hold us accountable for that choice.
"Yet you say, 'Why should the son not bear the guilt of the father?' Because the son has done what is lawful and right, and has kept all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (vv.19-20).
4. Repentance Restores Life to the Sinning Soul
The life spoken of here is physical life. The death penalty followed the breaking of certain laws. Under the New Covenant, not only is our life restored to us by trusting in Yah'shua (Jesus) but even more important, in many respects, we are saved from eternal death and separation from Yahweh. The Old Covenant did not deal with the latter.
"'But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?' says Yahweh-Elohim, 'and not that he should turn from his ways and live?'" (vv.21-23).
5. There is No Such Thing as Karma or Acquired Merit
One of the huge and vital difference between the Truth and all false religion is that salvation is not something you can earn from Yahweh. You can earn points after you have been saved (to determine what kind of a reward you will get in the afterlife) but never before. As fas as salvation is concerned, it's not a question of keeping a spiritual bank account of good and bad deeds and hoping that by the time you die your good deeds will outweigh your bad ones and so qualify you for heaven. That is paganism and all false religion. If you do not repent of your sins and get right with Yahweh by trusting in His Son Yah'shua, none of your good deeds will count for anything. The fact that you were righteous once does not count for anything if you turn to iniquity. You have to get right with Yahweh once more. There is, moreover, no 'reincarnation' to give you a second chance (Heb.9:27). This is a critical teaching to understand and it is stated clearly in the Bible!
"But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die" (v.24).
6. Yahweh is Always Fair (even if you don't think so)
The chapter concludes with an essential understanding of Yahweh and of man. First, we are emphatically told, that Yahweh is always fair. Second, that He actually cares, i.e. He is NOT vindictive. He takes no pleasure in punishment. He would rather all came home to Him as children to their Father.
"Yet you say, 'The way of Yahweh is not fair.' Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of Yahweh is not fair.' O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?
"'Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,' says Yahweh-Elohim. 'Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,' says Yahweh-Elohim. 'Therefore turn and live!'" (vv.25-32).
I hope you will agree that this is a wonderful summary of the Gospel essentials. Throughout your study of the Bible you will find many more surprises and will have to make many more adjustments in your thinking, feeling and behaviour. The carnal part of you will on occasion want you to accuse your Heavenly Father of being unfair. It only appears that way because of our finite understanding. The mark of your faith is whether of not you yield to that and turn your back on Him or not. He does not promise that everything makes sense at first but one thing I can absolutely promise you is that it will make sense as you grow in Him. And that's the thing. As a new believer you start as a small child and must grow into adulthood. Be patient and simply trust in, and obey, the One who loves you!
 The Old Testament: Is It Necessary Any More?