The declaration of a man’s righteousness is made by those who observe his right action, while the right action itself is the declaration of right faith.
An examination of Yaakov/James 2
2:1-4 Fellow Ye’hudim—Jews, practice the faith of our Lord Yeshua, the glorious Mashiyach—Messiah, without showing favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your synagogue wearing gold rings and fancy clothes, and also a poor man comes in dressed in rags. 3 If you show more respect to the man wearing the fancy clothes and say to him, “Have this good seat here,” while to the poor man you say, “You, stand over there,” or, “Sit down on the floor by my feet,” 4 then aren’t you creating distinctions among yourselves, and haven’t you made yourselves into judges with evil motives?
Yaakov continues to address the Messianic Jewish community of the Diaspora. He begins this portion with a reminder that halakhah—the way we walk—in Messiah is lit with Yeshua’s Glory. Therefore we are to walk as people who are aware of our own identity. We are Talmidim—students—of our Glorious Messiah, having been shown favor we are to reject the practice of favoritism. The key to right action, that is, present halakhah, is the very nature of Messiah Himself. The Jewish writer of Hebrews gives us a beautiful glimpse into the vast glory of the Mashiyach—Messiah—when he writes:
“Ha-Ben—the Son—is the radiance of HaShem’s—G-d’s—glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful d’var—word.” – Hebrews 1:3
Yaakov is reminding his dispersed countrymen that obedience to the Torah—instruction--requires the just treatment of all people within the Jewish community. This is not a foreign practice, it has simply become a neglected one in the Diaspora.
“Do not pervert justice or show partiality—undue favor for one over another. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.” D’varim/Deuteronomy 16:19
The real issue being addressed here is the motive of the human core/heart—that is the point from which all the parts of our being emanate rather than the heart in opposition to the mind. Perhaps money was needed for the running of the synagogue, the purchase of Torah scrolls etc.? Whatever the reason for showing favoritism, the Torah clearly instructs against the practice.
It is worth noting that in many English translations of the Bible we read “meeting,” or, “assembly,” where the Greek word should translate correctly as synagogue. Translators have attempted to make this very Jewish book of Yaakov sound more universal by hiding words beneath generic terminology. It is important to understand that this letter was being written to a functioning Messianic synagogue around 50 A.D. That means that a majority of the Jewish community in question were Messianic believers and had continued to worship as Jews in a traditional Jewish way within the revelation of Messiah Yeshua.
2:5-9 Listen, my fellow Jews, hasn’t HaShem—G-d—chosen the poor of the world to be rich in faith and to receive the Kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you despise the poor! Aren’t the rich the ones who oppress you and drag you into court? 7 Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name of Him to whom you belong? 8 If you truly attain the goal of Kingly Torah—instruction, in conformity with the passage that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show favoritism, your actions constitute sin, since you are convicted under the Torah as transgressors.
“The meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.” - Tehillim/Psalm 37:11
“Blessing comes from G-d for the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” – Mattitiyahu/Matthew 5:3
The Kingdom which He promised to those who love Him. The receiving of the Kingdom is simple, it is given to those who love Him. Do you love Him—G-d, in Messiah? Then the Kingdom is given to you.
Yaakov goes on to challenge the contradictory nature of the synagogue members, not in order to condemn but in order to facilitate learning and reconcile them to the Kingdom Torah—instruction. The Kingdom or royal Torah here cannot be contextually or historically interpreted in light of the Pauline/Shaul’s writings because Shaul wrote his epistles some 20 years hence.
Yaakov’s audience is Jewish, when they hear the word “Torah” they recognize the Torah of Moses. Yaakov then, is linking the Kingly glory of G-d’s Messiah with the Torah of Moses. Therefore the Kingly Torah as understood through the lens of the pivotal verse, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is a unity of belief and action born in the freedom of Messiah’s teaching. The point being that Yaakov is not inventing a new kind of Torah, he is revealing the Torah filled with Messiah and driven by the Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit. Yes, there are parts of that same Torah which will become obsolete at the point of final judgment and our entry into the Olam Haba—world to come, but as Messiah himself has said, “I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away not one yud or Masoretic mark or even one cantillation notation will be disappear from the Torah until all things are accomplished.” – Mattitiyahu/Matthew 5:18
“Zayit Ra’anan says… ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, says, “you sin in this world because the yetzer (evil inclination) governs you; but in the Olam haba—world to come, I will take it—yetzer ha-ra—away from you;” as it is said in Ezekiel 36:26 “I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”’” – Midrash Yalkut Shim’oni (medieval)
When we abide in the Torah within Messiah we do well, recognizing the discipline and instruction of G-d. On the other hand, when we give in to the yetzer ha-ra—fallen nature, we cloud our ability to see the Kingly Torah—which brings liberty. When we willfully break the Torah we deceive ourselves and are in danger of believing the lie that we are no longer secure. The irony here is that in showing favoritism we perceive the loss of G-d’s favor. So, on the contrary we must show others the favor that G-d has shown us in Messiah.
2:10-11 For a person who keeps the whole Torah, yet stumbles at one point, has become guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For the One who said, “Don’t commit adultery,” also said, “Don’t murder.” Now, if you don’t commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the Torah.
It is important to note that the two commandments mentioned here are to do with the love of one’s neighbor. It is often the case that as we journey with G-d we begin to become complacent. On a historical level the physical separation of the Messianic Jews in the Diaspora from the Jews of Israel was a living metaphor for their journey away from right action. When we become complacent in our faith we can fall into the trap of considering some commandments more important than others, thus we justify sinful action based on a sort of sin hierarchy where murder is bad but lusting after my neighbor’s wife is just what men are prone to do. Yaakov reminds his Jewish brothers and sisters that when we say to G-d, “I’ll keep most of your commandments but I don’t agree with this one, so I’ll just ignore it,” we are already guilty.
2:12-13 Keep speaking and acting like people who will be judged by a Torah which brings liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy toward one who doesn’t show mercy; but mercy triumphs over judgment.
Many believers hear the word judgment and crape their pants. “Oh no,” some say, “I’ve stuffed up, now I’m in trouble, perhaps I stuffed up badly enough that I will lose my salvation this time?” Yaakov is not speaking of the judgment of those who have not received Messiah. He is speaking of the judgment of the righteous in Messiah. Our judgment is one of discipline and reward, not condemnation. The statement of judgment then, is to be understood as a warning and regarded as a disciplinary measure to bring us back in line with right belief and action—which are a unity. The wonderful result of accepting G-d’s mercy is that we will in turn show mercy to others, thus Mercy triumphs over judgment—that is mercy triumphs over a judgment of condemnation. Mercy triumphs in the judgment that brings discipline and freedom, thus we have the Torah that brings Liberty. Again, this is understood as the Torah of Moses filled with the illumination of Messiah and lived in the Ruach ha-Kodesh, not by our strength but in His strength.
2:14-17 What good is it, my fellow Jews, if someone claims to have faith but has no actions to prove it? Is such faith able to save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food, 16 and someone says to him, “Shalom! Keep warm and eat hearty!” without giving him what he needs, what good does it do? 17 Thus, faith by itself, without actions, is dead.
Here Yaakov is speaking of a divisive faith, a faith that compartmentalizes life. The action of a pumping heart is the proof that a man is alive, when the heart ceases its action the body is dead. The predisposition of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, is to help those in need, in order to fail to help the destitute we must first resist the Ruach ha-Kodesh, for a believer this is known as grieving (not blaspheming) the Spirit. The conclusion then is this, isolated faith is dead. In a believer however, the failure to act causes conviction of spirit and therefore revives the body. It is as if the heart has stopped temporarily for lack of vigor and then the Spirit pulls out the shock panels and gives us a jump start.
The words, “faith by itself without right action is dead,” are a precursor to the final words of this portion of Yaakov. It is important to note that faith in unity with right action is life. The blood, the heart and the oxygen are all required in order to unify the living body.
2:18-19 But someone will say that you have faith and I have actions. Show me this faith of yours without the actions, and I will show you my faith by what I do! 19 You believe that “God is echad—one”? Good for you! The demons believe it too — the thought makes them tremble in terror!
“Really?” Says Yaakov, with incredulity. “You’re able to exhibit faith without acting righteously? Okay, but I will exhibit faith by acting in unity with the Holy Spirit.”
Then he pulls out the big guns, “You say, Shema—hear, listen, perceive and understand, Oh Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is Echad—One, a unity.” Good for you, so you recite the Shema three times a day, mozel tov! The demons know the words of the Shema also, they believe that G-d is One, and it scares the crap out of them. You see, belief is subject to inclination. If your inclination is evil--yetzer ha-ra—then your belief is redundant.
2:20-22 But, foolish friend, do you want to be shown that such “faith” apart from actions is barren? 21 Wasn’t Avraham avinu—Abraham our father--declared righteous because of actions when he offered up his son Yitz’chak—Isaac—on the altar? 22 You see that his faith worked with his actions; by his actions his faith was made full/complete/perfect.
Notice that Avraham’s actions were born of faith. It is a mistake to understand this text as meaning that actions are the proof of faith, they are not. Right action is the fruit of faith, the evidence of healthy roots, and just as a fruit tree is imperfect without fruit, so faith without right action is barren. Yaakov uses the word complete/full/perfect, here in unity with the word One/echad from the previous verses. He is showing that G-d, Who is One, Completes or makes One, faith and action.
2:23-22 and the passage of the Tanakh—Old Testament--was fulfilled which says, “Avraham had faith in HaShem—G-d, and it was credited to him as righteousness (right action).” He was even called G-d’s friend. 24 You see that a person is declared righteous because of actions and not because of faith alone. 25 Likewise, wasn’t Rachav—Rahab—the prostitute also declared righteous because of her actions when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another route? 26 Indeed, just as the body without a spirit is dead, so too faith without right action is dead.
So, Avraham’s faith/belief/trust, was credited to him as right action. Now we see right action as the recompense/payment/credit/reward of right faith/trust/belief. The declaration of a man’s righteousness is made by those who observe his right action, while the right action itself is the declaration of right faith. It was Rahab’s faith in the G-d of Israel that motivated her to act to save her children and protect her family. She rightly believed that G-d was able to destroy the city of Jericho. Therefore her genuine faith bore the fruit of right action.
Finally, “Just as the body without the spirit is dead, so to faith without right action is dead.” The spirit and faith correlate to one another and the body and action are also a pair. From this we can conclude that both these combinations—faith and works as well as spirit and body—become unclean when separated. To a Jew a dead body—according to the Torah—is unclean, so Yaakov is making a startling, even defiling insinuation. “If your faith lacks right action you are spiritually unclean and if your actions lack true faith then your actions are unclean. I know you’ve been living in the Diaspora among Greeks for some time now but don’t be misled by Greek philosophy,” says Yaakov, “they seek to divide and conquer, or have you forgotten that we Jews understand life as a unity, a functioning being of many parts, all interconnected. ‘Shema Yisrael, Adonai, Elohaynu, Adonai echad!’”
In Messiah Yeshua there is no separation of faith and works. There are faith-works and there is working-faith. When Shaul/Paul says, “You are saved by faith alone, and not by works, that no one might boast,” he is rebuking boasting—which is work without faith. We are better to understand Paul this way, “It is by faith unified that you are saved and not by works—deeds devoid of faith—so that no one should boast about having earned their own right standing with G-d.” Shaul is definitely not contradicting Yaakov, a man whose authority he both submitted to and respected. On the contrary, Shaul affirms Yaakov’s teaching. Of course this should come as no surprise, given that the Ruach ha-Kodesh inspired the words of both men.
I will conclude this way, concerning faith and right action: what G-d has made one, let no man separate.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
There is no longer room for theology—thinking about G-d devoid of living in Him, because the life we now live in Messiah is a life beyond theology and its limitations.
An examination of Yaakov/James 1
1:1 Yaakov—James, a bond-servant of HaShem—G-d—and of the Lord Yeshua ha-Mashiach: To the twelve tribes (of Israel) who are dispersed--galut/golah, Jews in Gentile lands—throughout the known world: Shalom.
Most commentators agree that of the four Yaakov’s mentioned in the Brit ha-Chadashah—New Testament, the brother of Yeshua is most likely to be the Author of this book. A writing date of approximately 45-50 A.D. makes this the earliest of the writings of the Brit ha-Chadashah, with the possible exception of the letter to the Galatians.
Bond-servant can refer to a slave, paid servant or servant who has chosen to remain in his master’s service. I suspect that Yaakov is intending his reader to understand him as a willing servant of G-d in Messiah.
This letter is clearly written to Jews living in the diaspora—known world, outside the land of Israel. The Jews in question are probably Messianic—followers of Yeshua--but there is room for the suggestion that Yaakov is also addressing non-Messianic Jews. With regard to the dispersion or diaspora of the Jewish people there had been numerous occasions up until this point for such dispersion. On each occasion Jews were eventually able to return to the land of Israel--Eretz Y’israel. However a number of Jews remained in the lands of their exile, deciding not to return to Israel they instead continued a Synagogue-central form of Judaism in their new home lands. The closest exile recorded prior to the writing of Yaakov in approximately 48 A.D. was the exile of Messianic Jews who had been persecuted by Shaul—Paul—in Jerusalem, the account of this particular dispersion is found in Acts 8:1; 11:19.
Greetings? (As translated from a Greek form in most English versions) A Jew doesn’t say “Greetings,” he says, “Shalom.”
1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, ha-acheim sheli—my dear brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the proving of your faith produces maturity. 4 And let endurance bring completion, so that you may be mature and whole, lacking in nothing.
We could read, “Consider it pure joy my fellow Israelites.” Our joy is not found in the trial itself but rather in the knowledge of G-d’s greater plan and the hope of the Olam Haba—world to come. Our Joy is in knowing that G-d disciplines those He loves and that we are being brought to maturity in the midst of our trials. We are not being asked to dance and sing happy songs when we discover that we have cancer, on the contrary, we are being asked to consider our hope as a form of solace in the midst of the trials of life—which come to all people, not just believers: the difference for believers is that we have met the advocate of our souls--nefesh, entire being—and that He suffers with us. As the great poet says, “it’s funny how those who suffer together have stronger connections than those who are most content.”
It is important to distinguish here between “trials,” and “Temptation.” Yaakov chooses to use two related but different Greek words in this passage to help explain the difference between the trials G-d allows and the temptation we perpetrate through self-deception. Trials--peirasmos—from G-d prove our faith and build us up to maturity. Temptation--peirazo—which is born of our fallen nature or the evil inclination/yetzer ha-ra, results in sin and when it is complete it ends in both physical and spiritual death.
1:5-8 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of HaShem, Who gives to all generously—without demanding His gifts back, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without being indecisive, for the one who can’t decide is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 That person doesn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
In short, indecision equates to refusal. The first step is acknowledging that G-d is King, a double minded person can’t return/repent, because upon beginning his journey he is already planning to go back. He asks G-d for wisdom, but doesn’t consider G-d faithful enough to give it and so he leaves empty handed, not waiting to find out Who G-d really is.
1:9-11 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.
Unlike the double minded person, the humble person is certain of his true position before G-d and is therefore able to consider it pure joy to undergo both his present and future trials. The rich person is more inclined to rejoice in his wealth, causing him to lose sight of HaShem, thus he is taken by surprise when the sun wither’s his wealth. However a dropped flower retains some potential in that its seed may bring new life. There is hope for all in Messiah.
1:12-15 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone (with evil). But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Perseverance doesn’t mean enjoyment. Some have suggested that we just praise G-d when our loved ones suffer or die, that we should rejoice mindlessly in situations of trial and desperation, what utter nonsense—and all in the name of G-d. Perseverance is the act of holding on to G-d in the midst of trial, the voice that says, “This sucks Father, but I choose to trust You anyway!” Glad handing believers will one day suffer through trials in disillusionment because of the terrible lies they have convinced themselves of regarding divine deliverance from all suffering. The prophets and Messiah Himself resist this idea with their very lives. We remain as light in a fallen world filled with trials.
May all trial bring us to glory, for perseverance—not built on our own strength but upon Messiah’s strength—results in the fruit of glory, eternal life, that is, the crown of life. What is the one requirement for receiving “the crown of life?” It is given to, “Those who love Him.” Do you love Him? Then it’s a done deal. You will receive the crown of life that is life everlasting!
Regarding temptation we see here that in cases of lustful desire temptation is self-deception. G-d cannot tempt with or be tempted by evil, therefore it is when we give in to our own fallen nature that we seed sin and if we allow sin to perpetuate itself in us then the eventual outcome will be both physical and spiritual death. “The devil made me do it,” just won’t cut it.
1:16-18 Do not be deceived, my beloved fellow Israelites.17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
Every good thing—including the good inclination--yetzer tov—comes from G-d and is in opposition to the temptation that seeds sin and births death. That which is complete/perfect/full, comes from El Elyon—supreme G-d, the father of lights. The lights of the heavens, once worshipped themselves are subject to the G-d of Israel, He is the supreme King of all things. The good He gives does not waver, it is not indecisive like the action of the one who cannot receive wisdom. On the contrary, by His loving and gracious will He has given the ultimate gift, the gift that connects us again to Truth. He has imparted Himself, G-d with us, ha-D’var Emet—the word of Truth. Truth Himself has brought us out of darkness.
The Messianic Jews of both Eretz Yisrael and the diaspora had the opportunity to be first fruits of this filling of the Torah, once implanted in the soil of life, it is now implanted within their very being.
1:19-22 This you know, my beloved Israelites. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of G-d.21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
It is in our nature to push for our own agenda in life. We often neglect the helpful conversation of others in order to pronounce our own knowledge. We are—in our fallen state—inclined to allow the temptation to promote our own point of view to give birth to the sin of rash words and when confronted in truth we respond in anger. Even those filled with the Spirit of G-d must be tempered by the Instruction of G-d in this present world. We must instruct ourselves with these words and make a habit of choosing firstly to listen then respond with care and if challenged, to repeat the process so as not to allow human anger to birth unrighteousness.
Filthiness and wickedness are born of lust and pride, neither of which can receive anything because they compete within us and leave us undecided, we are then unable to choose the good. Humility, the act of recognizing of our own spiritual poverty, is the only state in which we are capable of receiving the implanted word of truth, which is able to save our entire being. This Word of truth is Messiah Himself, the very essence of the Torah/Instruction of G-d.
“Being doers of the Word and not hearers only.” This statement has been said to be contrary to the writing of Paul/Shaul and perhaps Yochanan/John. It is however consistent with the teachings of both writers and in addition it is probably a platform for there words, given that this book was written some 10 to 20 years prior to other New Testament writings. Yaakov is not saying that your actions save you, in fact he has just said prior to this that it is the humble receiving of the Word/Messiah that saves you. Instead Yaakov is simply saying, “Don’t return again to the bondage of self-delusion. Let the implanted word birth right action. Your actions will be the fruit of your new condition. If you allow the Word of Turth to send His roots deep into your being then you will no longer be those who observe the Tree of G-d from outside you will now become part of the very tree Himself. Your action is born of your being in Him.”
Only those who do not receive the Word of Truth with humility will find themselves in a situation where their actions prove them devoid of Truth. This is self-deception.
Some believe, and I agree, that this letter of Yaakov was a favorite of John and Paul prior to the writing of their gospels and letters to the early gatherings of believers.
1:23-25 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the complete Torah—law, the Torah—Law—of liberty/freedom, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
The mirror analogy is central to our understanding of this teaching. What kind of use of a mirror would cause a person to immediately forget what they looked like? The answer is, a fleeting use, a passing gaze, long enough to determine the basic outline of one’s features and nothing more. This is the kind of use that results in forgetting one’s self. On the other hand Yaakov suggests—as all great Hebrew poets might—that to gaze intently into the complete Instruction, the Torah of freedom and to dwell in its reflection, continually responding to what we see, will bring blessing in all we do.
In this analogy it is our eyes that hear and the intention of our gaze that either neglects or accepts what we hear/see. When we gaze intently into a mirror we see not only our imperfections and flaws—causing us to seek a covering for them—but we also see our inherent value. The Complete Torah of Messiah reveals our sin for the purpose of covering it and shows us our worth so that we will not deceive ourselves into thinking we are worthless. The mirror of G-d’s Complete Instruction is one into which we should gaze intently until all is complete. Yeshua said, “Not one notation or mark will be removed from the Torah until all is fulfilled.” The reason for this is made clear here in Yaakov’s letter, we need the Torah as instruction in Messiah, it is a guide for those who have the Word—Messiah—implanted in us. No longer is it seen as the punitive Law of those who merely glance at it, for us it has become our very worth and our discipline. The result of which—as Yaakov states—is maturity in Messiah.
We await the completion of all things, the day when all that exposes sin will evaporate from the Torah, leaving only that which is good. Messiah Himself the Word will be all that remains of the Torah. In the Olam Haba—World to come—we will return--tishuvah—to the state of Adam and Eve prior to the fall. We will again know only the good. Yetzer ha-tov—the good inclination, is the current indicator of a time yet to come when there will be no need to distinguish between good and evil, because there will be only good. In order for this to happen evil must be eternally incased in itself, this being eternal damnation (not temporary hell). In the Olam haba we will have no need of a mirror that exposes our faults because in Messiah in G-d we will be without fault. Until then we have the Complete Torah of Truth as our present help and guide. The Complete Torah of Truth is the written Torah revealed by the Living Word Messiah Yeshua our King.
1:26-27 If anyone thinks himself to be spiritually enlightened, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s spiritual enlightenment is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion—system of beliefs by which we live our lives—in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Three central Jewish spiritual teachings are alluded to here:
Firstly, Judaism did not have a word for theology prior to the Hellenization of Israel by the Greeks. This means that Judaism always taught faith in action rather than the use of the mind alone to philosophize over G-d concepts. A Jew cannot separate good concepts from G-d actions: the center of the Jew, being the heart, is not to be understood as the heart devoid of the mind, rather it is the intersection of all parts of the being made echad—one. Therefore hypocrisy is anti-Jewish, anti-G-d and anti-Messiah. One who thinks--that is theologizes, talks of G-d consciousness but does not birth it—that he is righteous, but doesn’t keep his tongue in check, deludes himself and his religion is worthless. Again, this affirms Yaakov’s previous warning not to allow lust to give way to temptation, sin and death. Our idle words are worthless, on the other hand our worthwhile actions are the very words of life.
Secondly, Yaakov reminds us that religion is not the problem, we are. He is reminding Jews in the diaspora to maintain a pure observance of the Torah in Messiah. He is not saying that observance brings salvation—he has already said that humbly receiving the implanted word brings salvation—on the contrary, he is calling the Jewish diaspora to return to their true identity as Jews in Messiah. Many lived in nations that worshipped false deities, practicing abominations against G-d on a daily basis. Yaakov reminds his fellow Jews of their worth as G-d’s chosen people.
Thirdly, Yaakov asks that his Jewish brothers keep themselves separate from the pagan practices that surround them. The Torah gives specific instructions for the care of Israel’s widows, her poor, her orphans and the foreigner living among her. Yaakov is calling the Jews of the diaspora back to these guidelines as a starting point for the all-encompassing loving action of the gospel. From the beginning G-d has asked Israel to be separate, called out ones, set apart, which is the very essence of what it means to be Holy. Here Yaakov reiterates this well-known Torah concept, connecting it to the Mashiyach—Messiah. In doing so he endears himself to both Messianic and non-Messianic Jews alike. Honoring the tradition of his culture and belief he then goes on to fill it with hope for the future. That hope is born in Mashiyach, the one we had long awaited.
The first chapter of Yaakov begins a book of unified spiritual-physical reality. We will see throughout this book the three concepts of shamor—observance--v’zakhor, remembrance--v’halakhah—and action. These concepts are a unity--echad, they are not able to function properly outside of their connected circle of existence. The Word of life—Messiah—in us, reminds--zakhor—us to observe--shamor, in turn our observance--shamor—causes us to remember--zakhor—what G-d has done, what He is doing, and what He will do. Both our observance and our remembering are action--halakhah—in and of themselves, but they also motivate action and so become intrinsically linked to one another. This is Halakhah, the way we walk. There is no longer room for theology—thinking about G-d devoid of living in Him, because the life we now live in Messiah is a life beyond theology and its limitations. We are worthy because we have worth. G-d has set our value in the life of His Son Yeshua. You are loved with an everlasting love.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
He does not accuse us in our weakness—that’s ha-Satan’s-Satan's-job, on the contrary, He suffers with us.
An examination of Mattitiyahu/Matthew 26:36-56
Mat 26:36 Then Yeshua came with them to a place called Gat-shemen—Olive Press, Gethsemane: and
He said to his Talmidim—disciples, “Sit here, while I go and pray—a stone’s throw away—over there.”
Gat-shemen was at the base of the Mount of Olives across the kidron valley. The other gospels tell us
that Yeshua went there regularly—probably with His Talmidim. The point being that He was not seeking
to hide from what was to come, in fact He was making it easy for Yehuda—Judas—and the religious leaders’ and their Temple guard to find Him.
Yeshua asked His disciples to stay close to Him, He was only going a stone’s throw away, He was unsettled and knew He would need comfort. Those who pronounce Bible verses as if they were magic incantations in order to ward of depression and anxiety, have foolishly neglected the very real struggle of Yeshua’s humanity while He pleaded with G-d in the Garden of Gat-shemen: what we read next is like a blow by blow of the build up to what is now known as an anxiety or panic attack, born on a platform of deep depression and—I think you’ll agree—for good reason.
The meaning of Gat-shemen, olive press, has obvious connotations regarding the ministry of Yeshua. He will soon rise from the dead and promise the Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit—to His followers. The Spirit could only be imparted after His death and resurrection. Oil is used as a symbol of the Ruach ha-Kodesh throughout the Tanakh—Old Testament. Yeshua of course, is crushed and poured out for us. So that we might partake of the oil of His Spirit.
Mat 26:37 And He took Kefa—Peter--Yaakov and Yochanan—James and John the two sons of Zebedee—and began to be dejected and weighted down with sorrow.
Kefa, Yaakov and Yochanan were with Yeshua on several pivotal occasions during His ministry (Luke 8:51, Matthew 17:1-9): there was clearly a unique and important corporate relationship at play here. There is a beautiful allegorical meaning in the names alone: Kefa—the rock, Yaakov, who would be Israel—he who overcomes in G-d, and Yochanan—the L-rd is gracious. Therefore, the Rock—G-d our Rock and Salvation (Yeshua) makes a way for us to overcome through Yeshua and in so doing reveal’s His graciousness to humanity. Yeshua began to become dejected and sorrowful—a description of depression. This from our Messiah. Why then do so many criticize those who suffer from mental illness, depression, anxiety and so one? Surely these experiences in and of themselves cannot be sin, after all Messiah experienced many of these same feelings and emotive responses and yet remained sinless. He is, as the prophet says, “a man of sorrow, familiar with grief.” He does not accuse us in our weakness—that’s ha-shatan’s--Satan's--job, on the contrary, He suffers with us, having known even greater suffering than we could ever imagine—not simply physical death but in addition and beyond all other suffering, He took upon Himself the sin of all humanity, a darkness unparalleled.
Mat 26:38 And He said to them: “There is excessive anguish in my soul, I feel like I’m dying. Wait for me here; and be alert, keep watch with me.”
I know these lines, I've used them myself, He’s saying, “I am overwhelmed with deep anxiety, I’m feeling like I’m slipping into a black abyss engulfed by darkness, the weight is almost too much to bear and I really need you to be there for me in case I lose it completely. I physically feel my body failing—sweaty, pallid, weak, nauseous, heart racing, blood pressure rising, on the verge of passing out—Please stay alert so I know I can call on you if it all becomes too much for me.” Don’t miss understand, He is fully human, this does not make Him any less G-d with us, in fact it affirms His qualification as the Messiah.
“My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me.”
Mat 26:39 Moving away a short distance, He fell on his face, and prayed, and said: “My Father, if it can be so, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I choose, but as You choose.”
Yeshua’s prostrate position is one of utter humility and submission, many prophets of Israel had fallen in grief and supplication as forerunners of Messiah. Yeshua is here proving the truth of the Hebrew writer’s words:
“Who in the days of his flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death, and having been heard for His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet learned obedience by the things which He suffered; and having been made perfect, He became unto all them that obey Him the author of eternal salvation--Yeshua.”
Yeshua is speaking of the third cup of the Pesach—Passover--Seder—order—that He has only recently presented to His Talmidim (v.27), this is the cup of redemption related to the death of the firstborn at the time of Israel’s exodus. This cup is a metaphor for Messiah’s death and the shedding of His blood as a covering for the sins of humanity: sin being our captivity and Messiah, our freedom.
Mat 26:40 And He came to His Talmidim, and found them asleep: and He said to Kefa: “So! Couldn’t you watch with me one hour?”
Yeshua’s Talmidim had just eaten a large Passover meal with a number of glasses of wine, they were under a great deal of stress due to the violent opposition of the religious leaders and it was now late in the evening, surely this is a recipe for sleep? Why does Yeshua single out Kefa? Perhaps it is because Yeshua knows what the future holds for Kefa, after all, he is going to be the leader of the early Church, one who will first deny Yeshua three times and then repent three times with the words I love you. This, the man who had vowed he would die for Yeshua’s sake, Kefa, who was chief among the three specially selected Talmidim who Yeshua had taken with Him in to the deeper part of the garden. “Kefa, you’re one of my closest friends and a leader of the Talmidim, couldn't you at least have kept awake and watching with me in my grief?”
Mat 26:41 Wake up, and pray, lest you fall succumb to trial. The ruach—spirit—is prepared, but the flesh is infirm.
It seems likely that these words are said specifically to Kefa, although it is also possible that the other Talmidim awoke with the conversation and heard these words. Yeshua is clearly describing the juxtaposition of spiritual will and human weakness, but even more deeply than this He is perhaps referring to the Spirit of G-d at work in humanity verses the fallen nature—flesh.
Mat 26:42 Again He went away the second time, and prayed, and said: “My Father, if it cannot be that this cup pass, except I drink it, Your will be done.”
Again, the ultimate act of submission and humility. Yeshua, knowing that His relenting to His Father’s will is about to bring the greatest suffering of all time upon Him, none the less chooses G-d’s will over His own good. How could I refuse such a Messiah, how could I ever doubt His love for me?
Mat 26:43 And He came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.
Mat 26:44 And He left them, and went again and prayed the third time, and used the same language—said something similar or the same.
This time, Yeshua leaves the Talmidim sleeping, an act of loving care, even amidst great suffering Yeshua shows His deep love for others. He then prays similar words to His former prayer. This is the third time He has prayed, three being a Hebrew numeral symbolic of G-d having confirmed or firmly decided something—from a human perspective. Notice that Yeshua is wrestling greatly with His calling, this shows His genuine humanity and the truly great sacrifice He is being asked to make. This does not come easily, it is purchased—like the blessing of Yaakov as he wrestled the Angel of the L-rd—with great struggle and anguish of soul and in the end it is the Angel Himself who will die in order to pass on the blessing that both Yaakov--Israel--and the nations are crying out so desperately for.
Mat 26:45 Then He came to His Talmidim, and said to them: “You've slept enough now, taking your rest. Behold, the hour is come: and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Mat 26:46 “Arise, let us go. Behold, he that betrays me has come.”
I see this simply as a statement of fact, “You’re rested now, let’s go, I have an enemy I must face.” Notice that throughout this passage Yeshua has refused to hide Himself from those who sought Him. Firstly He went to a garden that He frequented, a garden used by many a Jewish pilgrim during Pesach—Passover—as a camping ground: secondly He goes out to meet His accusers, not waiting for them to find Him. He chooses to lay down His life, it will not be taken from Him.
Mat 26:47 And while He was still speaking, Yehudah—Judas—the betrayer, one of the twelve, arrived; and a great multitude with him, with swords and clubs, from the presence of the chief priests and
elders of the people.
While they were still speaking infers that they had not yet left the garden. Those who came to arrest Yeshua were not Romans, they were religious leaders accompanied by the Temple guard, sent by the Sanhedrin to accompany Yehudah with the intent to arrest Yeshua.
Mat 26:48 And Yehudah the betrayer had given them a sign, saying: “the one I kiss is the man: seize Him.”
Notice the term sign, Yeshua had given many signs of G-d’s genuine love for Israel and all humanity throughout His ministry. Here He is betrayed by a sign that is a fictitious show of love, a public forgery. There is a precedent for betrayal by kiss in the books of the prophets:
“And Joab said to Amasa, Is it well with thee, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand: so he smote him therewith in the belly, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died.”
2 Sh’muel—Samuel 20:9-10
Amasa, an innocent general of David’s armies is betrayed by the kiss of Joab—whose character proves to be corrupt many times over as the narrative proceeds. There are many correlations here: David is a type
for Messiah, Amasa is also an innocent Messianic type and of course Joab is a type for Yehuda—Judas, both perform unjust and uncontainable acts of betrayal.
Mat 26:49 And forthwith he approached Yeshua, and said: “Shalom, Rabbi;” and kissed him.
Mat 26:50 And Yeshua said to him: “Chaver shilee—My dear friend, is it for this you have come?” Then they came up, and laid their hands on Yeshua, and took Him.
In Yochanan’s account Yeshua’s deity is reflected here with the words, “I AM He,” but Mattitiyahu decides to focus on this intimate betrayal. The Scripture is the best commentary here:
“Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.”
Mat 26:51 And one of them--Kefa—with Yeshua stretched out his hand, and drew a sword, and struck a servant of the Cohen ha-gadol—high priest, and cut off his ear.
We know from Yochanan’s gospel that the servant in question was named Malchut—royalty or Kingly from the Hebrew root Melekh. This is both ironic and poignant, he is a servant—in fact the Scripture later identity’s him as a brother in law of the High Priest—of the present religious leaders and yet his
name reflects royalty, his ear is cut off and then restored: Yeshua is now present as a humble servant--the ultimate High Priest--being lead to His death--cut off—but He will raise from the dead--restored—and return as King over all creation, thus restoring creation—in future tense—to its original glory in G-d. Kefa is the hero we would all be cheering for if this were a movie, I for one would have been screaming for him to cut the other ear off and then attack Yehudah, but Yeshua sees beyond the short plot of this
life and ahead into the meta narrative of eternity.
Mat 26:52 Then Yeshua said to him: “Return the sword to its place; for all they that live by swords,shall die by swords.”
Some quote this verse as a foundation for pacifism, this is not Yeshua’s intention: there is a difference between living an intentional life of violence and the act of defending ones country or loved ones. Yeshua allows for self-defense and just warfare in His response to the Talmidim in Luke 22:36. Add to this the fact that He is G-d with us and that G-d has not changed and we see in the Tanakh, great precedent for just violence and killing verses unjust violence and murder.
Mat 26:53 “Do you suppose that I cannot ask of my Father, and He would now assign me more than sixty thousand messengers?”
Yeshua emphasis the fact that He is in complete control of the situation. This is a willful act of love on His part. His Talmidim will eventually understand this but at this time they are afraid and want nothing more than to see their Messiah and Rabbi delivered from His enemies.
Mat 26:54 “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled, that say it must be this way?”
This does not mean that there are specific Scriptures describing every detail of these events—although the kiss of Yehudah’s betrayal is clearly prophesied in Psalm 41:9, it simply means that in order for the prophecies of Yeshua’s unjust trial, death and resurrection to be fulfilled, the current events must take place, Yeshua must be betrayed and sentenced to death in order for Him to be able to raise from the dead and redeem humanity.
Mat 26:55 At that time Yeshua said to the multitude: “Have you come out, as against a cut-throat, with swords and clubs, to take me? I daily sat with you, and taught in the temple, and you did not apprehend me.”
Mat 26:56 And this occurred, that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then the disciples all forsook Him and fled.
This section of Scripture transitions with the fears of isolation Yeshua had felt in the garden now coming to fruition. His closest friends forsake Him, running from danger in order to save themselves, all their protests of loyalty and death defying devotion swept away in the dust of Israel’s ravines. Yeshua is left alone with His captors, an innocent lamb brought to slaughter.
“Couldn't you watch with me one hour?”
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Only a fool sees contradiction where mystery is intended.
An examination of Yochanan/John 14:16-31
John 14:16-17 “I will ask Ha-Av—the Father, and He will give you another Advocate--Parakletos, Helper, comforter, Intercessor, one who comes alongside, that He may be with you l’olam vayid—forever; 17 that is the Ruach ha-emet—Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you—the Talmidim, disciples.”
The Talmud says:
“What is the Mashiyach’s name?... Some say: His name is Menachem—Comfort—the son of Hezekiah, since it is written, ‘because the comfort—Menachem—that could relieve my soul, is far from me’” (Lamentations 1:16).” (Sanhedrin 98b)
The Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit, paraclete—is not a New Testament invention, the Torah speaks of Him often, as do the prophets and writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Tanakh—Old Testament, the Ruach ha-Kodesh is described as being with prophets, kings and reverent Israelites and, in rare circumstances, it is said that He fills or is in certain individuals (Yosef, (Bereshit/Genesis 41:38), Betzal’el, (Shemot/Exodus 31:3)). However, we should not confuse filling with indwelling. We can fill a glass jar with sand, which can then be poured out, but if we use that same sand to form another jar it becomes an intrinsic part of the glass itself. Yeshua is offering Israel something new, the indwelling of the Ruach ha-Kodesh. In the past we could be filled or with or have the Spirit dwell in us temporarily, now, in Messiah we are to be indwelt—that is, an eternal unity with the Ruach ha-Kodesh, not of our own efforts but by way of a gift, one that can only be received through the catalyst of a humble returning to G-d.
It is interesting to note the cultural terminology, “Ruach ha-emet—Spirit of Truth”: the words, “ha-d’var emet—the word of truth” are written on many Torah Ark—cabnets that house the Torah scroll—doors throughout the world to this day. The Torah Ark contains the Instruction of G-d for His people. Effectively Yeshua is saying that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Torah. Perhaps you’ve heard the term, “keep the spirit of the law,” this expression encourages us to remember the motivation behind the law, so as to avoid miss applying its literal meaning. Put simply, The Spirit of G-d will live in us, His instruction will direct our actions. We must simply say, “I do,” the groom cannot say it for us. For those who receive the Ruach Ha-Kodesh, Instruction is no longer a punitive burden to bear, He has now become a guide who walks alongside us, hence the term ho parakeklemenos—one who walks alongside.
John 14:18-20 “I will not leave you as orphans--comfortless, without a care giver; I will come to you.19 After a little while the world will no longer see Me, but you will see Me; because I live, you will live also. 20 In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”
Messiah will not leave us as orphans, without comfort. This is the juxtaposition to the Comforter—Holy Spirit. His Talmidim will soon become disillusioned by His leaving them, so He is preparing them with these words of comfort. Yeshua knows that the short time they are without His physical presence will be extremely traumatic for them, however He also knows that unless He leaves they will never receive the salvation--Yeshua—they need. This is like a parent who leaves a sick child and rushes out to buy lifesaving medication. The child feels abandoned for a short time—which may seem like an eternity—but upon the parent’s return the medication is administered, thus saving the child’s life. The parents love is proved in the leaving, though it seems cruel to the child at the time it soon becomes clear that it was love that motivated the action. False love is only concerned with the moment, the temporary, but true love seeks an eternal outcome.
Here we are taught by Messiah that in Him we are able to receive—accept what is given— the Ruach Ha-Kodesh, as a permanent indwelling, “I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” This means that after Yeshua’s resurrection and ascension to the Father, He and the Father together will impart the gift of the Spirit to those who humble themselves to receive Him. Without humility—that is, agreeing that we can’t redeem ourselves—we cannot receive Him, this is the predicament that the world finds itself in because the world seeks to earn the favor of whatever god it chooses. In this respect even the name of the G-d of Israel can be miss represented as a force rather than a person, He then becomes—from the world’s perspective—a vindictive G-d whose favor must be worked for. Messiah imparts the Spirit of HaShem, whom He gives to those who will receive Him. It is through the refusal of this gift that the world becomes blind of its own choosing.
For those who do receive Him Messiah promises an intrinsic relationship of G-d and humanity. The Ruach ha-Kodesh will not only fill us, be temporarily in us or be with us, as in the past: He will now become an inseparable part of our being. When the Holy Spirit is continually dwelling in us through Messiah, He cannot be separated from our blood, our mind, our heart or any part of our being because—as the Scripture says—we have become new creations. This is what it means for G-d to make a home in us—as stated in the following verses. In light of this, it is important to note that Yeshua has also said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” He has made a home for us and in us.
John 14:21-23 “He who has My instructions--mitzvot—and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”22 Y’huda T’oma—Judah Thomas—said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” 23 Yeshua answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word--d’var, logos, teachings, halakhah; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”
It’s almost as if T’oma—Thomas is saying, “But the world, or at least Israel, has heard your teachings, you’re really just asking us to return to the spirit of the Torah, why wouldn’t they eventually be able to see you?” T’oma may be thinking that observance of Yeshua’s instructions would help anyone to see Him, however Yeshua clarifies this saying with the words He has already used prior to this, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word—d’var.” Notice that love comes first, the keeping or obeying of Messiah’s word—essence, ethos, logos, halakhah—proceeds from a love motivation and not the other way around. Like faith and works, love and action are a cycle that begin with the Love of G-d.
John 14:24 “He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.”
Again we see where disobedience finds root. Notice that the choice not to love Mashiyach comes first, this is followed by disobedience. G-d doesn’t send people to eternal punishment, people choose to go to eternal punishment. G-d is Just, all will have an opportunity to receive or refuse the gift of His Son. It is clear from Messiah’s words however that all will not receive Him. There remains a judgment, a day of reckoning for humanity and for the adversary and his minions.
Yeshua then reminds us that His words are the words of the Father. G-d is three persons but He is not three separate persons.
John 14:25-26 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you.26 But the Advocate--paraclete, Helper, comforter, Intercessor, one who comes alongside, the Ruach ha-Kodesh, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance--zakhor—all that I said to you.
Almost every Jewish observance begins with the lighting of two candles which symbolize a two-fold concept, a sum if you like: shamore v’zakhor—observance and remembrance equal halakhah—the way we walk. Yeshua is teaching us that the way we walk—our halakhah—is birthed in the Ruach ha-Kodesh, Who teaches us how to zakhor—remember—what G-d has done, remember what G-d is doing and remember what G-d has promised He will do—all of these aspects of remembrance are the result of G-d’s character in action. The Scripture says, “Who was and is and is to come.”
John 14:27-31 “Shalom—peace, wholeness, structural soundness—I leave with you; My shalom I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. 28 You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.30 I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has no hold on Me; 31 but so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father instructed Me. Get up, let us go from here.
Shalom—Peace—does not come to those who refuse it, it comes only to those who receive it. Mashiyach Yeshua—the Prince of Peace—does not force Himself on anyone but to those who will receive Him He promises that He and the Father will make an eternal home in that person. This peace is not a temporary gift that will fade with time and disappear—the world gives gifts like that. On the contrary, this gift of G-d is eternal, “I do not give to you the way the world does, so take heart and don’t be troubled or fearful.”
As I said earlier, His going away has greater purpose. When Yeshua says, “the Father is greater than I,” I am reminded of the Hebrew word Gadol, which gives the sense of width, volume, territorially larger. The Father is obviously outside of Messiah because G-d is one and everything exists and has it’s being in Him. Yeshua—G-d with us—is by necessity inside the Father, therefore the Father is greater. This does not diminish the G-d head in any way. Yeshua remains G-d while submitting to the Father, only a fool sees contradiction where mystery is intended.
The ruler or prince—not king—of this world has no hold over Messiah. It’s Yeshua who calls the shots. As is said elsewhere, “I lay down my life that I might take it up again, no one takes it from me.” (John 10:17-18)
Notice how this passage ends, Yeshua has been telling His followers that love must precede obedience and in ultimate fulfillment of this Yeshua says of Himself, “so that the world may know that I love the Father, I do exactly as the Father instructed Me.”
The final words, “Get up, let’s go from here,” leave me with the sense that all that has gone before is intended to wake us up to a new eternal perspective. We go from here with our King. We may go into temporary suffering with Him but it will not end there, we go from here toward the Olam Haba—world to come, we go to our eternal home in Him, both now and forever.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.