Messiah Yeshua was crucified on the altar of Israel’s oppression for the sake of Israel’s freedom.
Many of us are familiar with the legend of the oil, the retelling of which ignites a passionate belief in the reality of miracles. We tell of the great Maccabees who, in Israel’s time of oppression, took courage and fought against the pagan overlords of their time. We should never forget the sacrifice of so many who refused to denounce HaShem, choosing instead to face vile torcher and cruel deaths for the sake of the Name--Kiddush Hashem. However, it is often forgotten that this inspiring remembrance was originally celebrated for eight days as an emulation of the feast of Sukkot—which in that year and for the years prior, had been banned by their oppressors. This was a feast of re-dedication, a time when Israel returned to G-d, having been refined in fire.
It is important to remember that while the Maccabees cleansed—purified—the Temple, they were unable to purify—cleanse—the defiled stones of the altar—Antiochus had sacrificed a pig to Zeus on the Temple altar. After the retaking of the Temple the Maccabees realized that the altar stones, being porous, could not be purged and purified, so, the stones were to be placed “in a convenient place on the Temple mount until there should come a prophet to explain what should be done with them.” 1 Maccabees 4:44-47
The stones of the altar numbered twelve, representing the entire nation of Israel both individually—tribes—and as a whole—the complete altar—having been made echad--complex unity--through the sacrificial system instructed by AdoShem--G-d. The efforts of the Maccabees could only cleanse—purify—the Temple superficially, their actions were a sign of Him who was to come, The Mashiyach. The Maccabees inability to cleanse the altar illustrates the fact that our—humanities—works/actions cannot bring us into right relationship with G-d. Messiah would not simply cleanse physical things—the altar stones, He would also provide, through the sacrifice of His own soul—body, mind and spirit—the means by which we could all be purified—cleansed—and made holy before G-d. Messiah Yeshua was crucified on the altar of Israel’s oppression for the sake of Israel’s freedom.
The wise rabbi Shaul of Benjamin teaches that we—who have accepted Messiah Yeshua as King--are a Temple of G-d, both individually--1 Corinthians 3:16—and corporately--1 Corinthians 3:16. We are a type of altar, joined together into one--echad. Though previously defiled, now, through Messiah Yeshua we are purified, cleansed, swept clean, made whole: reconciled to G-d through the sacrificial death of His Son.
Chanukah is not about the physical Temple that our forebears attempted to purify. It is about the stones of the altar that they could not cleanse and the promise of the one who was to come, the one who would purify all things.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Messiah came to talk to us directly. He doesn't want to be fobbed off to some prophetic intermediary.
The sum of this passage is almost too simple to accept. That, for a little while—a short time--Yeshua became lower—positionaly, not less than G-d, but G-d with us--Emmanuel—that is, G-d within Himself—than the messengers: both the prophets of old—as stipulated in Hebrews 1:1—and the Messengers/Malachim—angels, angelos, elohim—who had participated as mediators of the Torah/Word of G-d prior to Yeshua’s having been born into time. Yeshua, who is ha-Dvar—the Word—thus becomes the sole mediator between G-d and man, in that His sacrificial suffering unto death and His resurrection bring those who believe, face to face with G-d. In short, if you want to hear from G-d, accept His gracious offer and speak directly to Him. If we are in Messiah we now have no need of chasing angels and prophets to mediate on your behalf. G-d wants to engage with us intimately and personally through His Son Yeshua. Our modern Charismatic/evangelical need to hear from G-d through human and angelic mediators is anti-Christ. Yeshua the Christ/Messiah has come to speak to us directly, He loves us that much. He doesn’t want to be fobbed off to some prophetic intermediary. Don’t spit in His face by seeking out mediocre substitutes.
The death from which Messiah resurrected, cancels out the power of death—previously held by Shatan/Satan—and gives hope to those who live with the physical reality of death on a daily basis—us. The conclusion being, that because He has suffered, we can be free from the fear of death—the power of death—because the power of death is not death itself but rather fear of the second death. In Messiah we need not fear what comes next because what comes next is, as the text states, the Olam Haba—world to come—which is, through Messiah Yeshua, subject once more to humanity, just as the earth once was, before we—humanity—invited death into the world through its agent, Satan.
In Messiah we are assured of life everlasting, not because we won’t die but because having died we will live in Him. Therefore—which is how this chapter began—we need no longer surrender to the power of death because the power of death is the fear of the unknown but the promise of G-d is that we are known in Him and that through His Son we will exist in right relationship with Him for all eternity. In addition to all this future hope, we have the assurance that He has suffered in every way as a human being and has endured. Why is this reassuring? Because we know that He identifies with us and is suffering in us when we suffer and like Him we are being brought to eternal completion, made perfect in what we suffer, just as He was. We now know His Glory, though our eyes fail us, our hearts—the convergence of our entire being—see beyond the power of death to the Olam Haba—world to come. This is love, this is what remains. For while we live in this fallen world we have faith, hope and love but in the world to come we have need of love alone. Thus faith is belief against doubt, in the Olam Haba there will be no doubt. Hope is the assurance of things unseen, in the Olam Haba all will be revealed. But love, love is eternal. G-d is love.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Faith is born in the heart, doubt is manufactured in the mind.
Why did Yeshua send the disciples off without Him? What was G-d’s purpose in this miraculous sign? Why did the disciples choose not to go back when they faced the storm? It is only in Matthew’s account that we read of Peter walking on water, why is that?
It seems that Peter was the only disciple with enough chutzpa to walk out to Yeshua. John had the love down, Matthew was about the numbers and Peter is obviously the go getter.
This event might cause consternation in both the conservative and charismatic schools of faith. Those who struggle to accept the miraculous try to find scientific explanations for what has occurred, while those who wish to access heaven and release the power of G-d might be frustrated by Peter’s lack of control of the situation. Of course, seeking to gain control of spiritual forces through the practice of certain spiritual disciplines in order to access heaven, amounts to witch craft and explaining things away is G-dless. Both these approaches are idolatry. So what is really going on here? Let’s observe carefully and pray for The Teacher’s help.
“Immediately Yeshua compelled the disciples to get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.”
“Immediately”--eutheos; becomes a repeated and central concept in this story. John 6:15 tells us that following the feeding of the five thousand the people intended to make--compel--Yeshua to become king. The reason for Yeshua’s forcefulness in sending His disciples away is most likely related to the disciples own desirers regarding His reign. If they had stayed they may have joined in with the crowd urging Him to take His place as King. Therefore the first “immediately” refers to an example of Yeshua’s pre-emptive protection. Immediacy has a fierce urgency about it, Yeshua is never slow to protect the ones He loves from choices that might harm them, even when the ones He loves are blissfully unaware. It is interesting to note that while the crowd compelled Him to become king, He compelled His disciples to leave. His kingdom is not off this world but as we are soon to witness, it is in this world.
“After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; later that night He was there alone.”
Some English versions mistakenly render “later that night,” as “that evening.” In fact the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand happened as evening approached, therefore it is impossible after so much time passing, for it to still be evening at the time of Yeshua’s praying. It is therefore better to render the Greek as meaning “later that night,” approximately 12am-1am.
Matthew writes of Yeshua praying, only here and in the garden of Gethsemane. He places emphasis on the solitude of these moments which show the extremes that Yeshua faced. Here Yeshua has been surrounded by those who would have made Him king—which was not G-d’s will at that time—and has sent them away so that He could be alone with the Father. In Gethsemane He is abandoned by those who had promised to be faithful to Him and is left alone with the Father. In both cases it seems that in intimate relationship with the Father He gains the strength for what comes next. There is an important message in this for each of us. Where do we go for solace? To who do we turn for strength?
“But the boat was already a long distance—many stadia—from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind opposed it.”
By the time Yeshua had sent everybody away and had found a sacred space to pray, the boat was already a long way off, not yet half way across the lake but already battered by the waves and amidst the storm. If it were me I would have swung the boat around and headed back to Yeshua but then I’m prone to anxiety so perhaps I’m not the best example of alternative thinking in this situation. It seems that the disciples were either not sure how bad the storm would get—unlikely given that they were seasoned sailors—or they were determined to be obedient to Yeshua. I favor the second option. This is an act of courageous obedience on the disciple’s part. We are often quick to disown the disciples of Yeshua in their weaknesses, surely we should also hasten to venerate them in their triumphs. It is interesting to note that they were heading back to the west side of the lake—closer to Yeshua’s home town and toward Jerusalem.
“And in the fourth watch—between 3am and 6am—of the night Yeshua came to them, walking on the lake.”
Yeshua was aware of the storm much earlier in the night. So why did He wait? Perhaps He was proving the disciples? Not testing them to see if they were faithful, He was already aware of their character, rather He was taking this opportunity to show them that they were faithful. This is possibly one of the reasons for His gentle rebuke to Peter regarding his small of faith—not the nonexistence of Peter’s faith, he had faith, he simply lacked it in greater volume.
G-d is pictured walking on the waters in Job 9:8 and Psalm 77:19, in the later He is walking amidst a storm. Yeshua is Emmanuel—G-d with us. Yeshua is revealing Himself here as G-d; firstly by doing what only G-d is recorded as having done and secondly by simple stating—verse 27—“Take courage, I AM, don’t be afraid.” This results in the disciples worshipping Him at the conclusion of thise episode.
The text almost matter of factly states, “He came to them, walking on the lake.” Matthew clearly has no intention of dwelling on what to him was a natural progression: walking on water was just the next sign in the ordinal march toward the revealing of the King Messiah Yeshua.
It was in the morning watch—3am to 6am—that G-d manifest His power to Israel at the Red Sea. Exodus 14:24
“When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost’(Apparition or spirit is understood here from a Hebrew cultural perspective, it does not refer to the disembodied spirit of a human being—which is the common modern understanding of this English term) And they cried out in fear.”
It is clear from the text that the disciples were afraid because they had presumed that this was a spirit or apparition, possibly—but not certainly—an omen of doom. They were not afraid because Yeshua was walking on water—at this point they weren’t even sure it was Yeshua. Of course it is natural for human beings to assume that when something defies the laws of science or seems to be humanly impossible, it is an apparition or of supernatural origin. The lesson soon becomes, “what is impossible for human beings is possible with G-d—perhaps even possible in G-d.” The storm had caused them concern, but the appearance of the apparition had left them terrified.
“But immediately Yeshua spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I—literally “I am”; do not be afraid.”
Notice the second “immediately,” here Yeshua responds with immediacy in order to counter the disciple’s reactionary fear. He doesn’t let them stew in their misunderstanding of the situation. He speaks to the inception of their fear, “Take courage, I AM; do not be afraid.”
Why should we take courage? Because Yeshua is I AM, G-d with us. Why should we not be afraid? Because our fear was based on our failure to understand that G-d is in control, and that we are not.
“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’”
As I stated earlier, “Peter has plenty chutzpa—courage and tenacity!” Peter initially takes Yeshua at His word and exhibits great courage. Why does Peter appear to use a subjective question to determine whether this is truly Yeshua who is speaking to him? The answer comes in the question itself, it’s rhetorical, Peter calls Yeshua “L-rd,” it’s as if he were saying “Yeshua, if you’re who I know you are, ask me to come out to You.”
“And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Yeshua.”
Yeshua called, “Bo—Come,” and Peter didn’t think twice, you could say he responded to Yeshua immediately. I am reminded of a Shabbas melody whose words say, “Bo achim l’shalom Mal-a-chay…” Come in peace Kingly messengers…”
“But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”
Perhaps he said, “Adonai, Hoshanah!” L-rd, save me now!
Like Peter we all take our eyes off Yeshua at times, focusing on our present circumstances instead of seeing the eternal nature of our Messiah, who is before us. There is no shame here, just an opportunity for a lesson. Faith the size of a mustard seed moves great obstacles. Small faith is the beginning of a journey, it is a stepping stone to great faith, born of Messiah.
“Immediately Yeshua stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of small faith, why did you doubt?”
Here is the final “immediately” of this concise account. Peter began to sink and immediately Yeshua stretched out His hand and took hold of him. Yeshua doesn’t wait until we’ve sunk, He sees us begin to sink and immediately He takes hold of us.
While it is true that Yeshua observed small faith in Peter, the emphasis is on the phrase, “why did you doubt?” Yeshua knows why Peter doubted. The question is one that Peter is meant to ask himself. We too need to question our doubt and find the motivation behind it. Faith is born in the heart, doubt is manufactured in the mind. Many modern proponents of healthy mind teaching neglect to remember that the Hebrew Levav—heart—refers to the core being, where heart, mind and spirit converge. It is to be understood in a similar way to nefesh—soul, which indicates the whole of our parts. So we understand that the soul encompasses the whole and the heart is where the parts of the whole converge. When the Scripture says that “the heart is wicked above all things,” it is also addressing the mind. It is not a case of the mind being superior to the heart, rather the heart and mind are both wicked above all things. Humanity is inclined toward evil, we will not overcome this inclination by controlling our own minds and thus our wicked hearts. We will overcome only when we submit all control to Yeshua. That is, when we realize that He is in control regardless.
“When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.”
The lesson’s over, now, the vehicle, which is creation herself, obeys the Master of the universe and is immediately quiet, having been utilized once again to bring Him glory.
“And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son—Ben Elohim!’”
“Even the wind and waves obey Him.”(Matthew 8:27) The witness of this sign is the seed that births a greater faith in the Levav—heart—of the disciples. If Peter, who had faith enough to begin to walk on water, is said to have “Small faith,” then the faith of those who wouldn’t even get out of the boat was smaller still. Now, having identified the Messiah as King of creation, their faith grew and they worshipped Him.
May the storms and failures of our own journey with G-d produce such great growth spurts as we witness the present acts of G-d in our lives and the lives of those around us.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
There is a parallel universe, but it is not the sum of science fiction and quantum physics.
It is not uncommon to hear Nicodemus being slighted by preachers, who claim he was a sneaky and cowardly Pharisee, ashamed to admit publically that he believed in Yeshua. This is almost solely based on the present passage and the fact that Nicodemus came at night. The same, neglect to recognize the other instances in Scripture where Nicodemus proves himself to be more than willing to act on his faith in Yeshua: Yochanan/John 7:50-51, 19:49
As we examine the text of Yochanan/John 3:1-21, we must put aside our bigoted view of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the sect of Judaism that most identified with Yeshua’s teaching. They believed in the resurrection of the dead, in angels, demons, healing, signs and wonders. They hoped for a Great One—Rabbi, a Mashiyach—Messiah and King to redeem the people of Israel. It is far too easy—if not purely anti-Semitic—to disregard all Pharisees as anti-Christ’s. By far they were the closest theologically to the teaching and actions of Messiah. So why did some of them oppose Him? Why does one preacher oppose another, though they both share the same message? It is because they sought glory for themselves rather than for the message. Nicodemus and his like-minded friends (Pharisees) sought the glory of G-d and found Messiah Yeshua. Next time you’re tempted to disparage the Pharisees, remember that you share their beliefs and take care.
“There was a Pharisee named Naqdimon, a ruler among the Yehudim.”
Nicodemus was a Greek name used by Jews of the first century in its Hebrew form, Naqdimon. In Greek it derives its meaning from two words, the first meaning “victory,” and the second, “People.” The subsequent combining of these terms might render its meaning either, “Victory for my people,” or, “Victory over people.” In Hebrew the meaning for Naqdimon is, “Innocent blood.” Both meanings of his name shed some light on the present text and on his personal spiritual journey. As a leader of Israel—that is part of the
Sanhedrin (70 members, 70 being the Hebrew number for the nations)—he sought victory for his people from their physical and spiritual oppression. As a Jew he was a man of innocent blood. This could be likened to Yeshua’s description of Nathaniel, “a man in who there is no guile.”
“He came to Yeshua by night…”
Much has been made of these few simple words, almost all of it demeaning to Naqdimon. There are many possible answers as to why Naqdimon sought out Yeshua at night:
· He may have wanted to converse with Yeshua on a deeper level than was possible among the crowds of Passover
· Perhaps he wanted to keep his position in the Sanhedrin secure so that he could advocate for Yeshua along with the other Pharisees who believed in Him
· It is possible that he had Yeshua’s safety in mind
· Or that it was simply the coolest and most convenient time of the day in the Israeli spring
The least convincing possibility is that he was a coward and cared only for his own betterment in the Sanhedrin and the ruling class of Israel.
“Great One, we know that You are a Rabbi come from HaShem: for no one can perform these signs that You do apart from the manifest presence of G-d.”
“And he shall send them a savior, and a Great One—Rabbi, and he shall deliver them.” Yeshayahu/Isaiah 19:20
Naqdimon begins his conversation with Yeshua by stating that he and his compatriots believe Yeshua is from above. This amounts to an open admission of Yeshua’s Messianic status. Naqdimon believes and is seeking the mechanism for his belief.
As evidence for their belief, Naqdimon calls to attention the signs (miracles) of Yeshua. He calls them signs because they are clear signs of the specific miraculous actions that the coming Messiah must perform as proof of His identity. Yeshua is about to preach to the choir here, only it’s a choir that has the sheet music but doesn’t know how to read it.
“Yeshua answered, ‘Amen, amen—of course true! I tell you that no one can see the Malkut Shamayim—Kingdom of Heaven—without being born anew from above.’”
Notice that Yeshua agrees with the assessment of Naqdimon and his fellow Pharisees. “Amen—of course true! You got that right!” Naqdimon had rightly assessed the divine origin of Messiah, he knew that Yeshua was from above. What he didn’t realize was that Yeshua had come so that Naqdimon and his friends could also be born anew through Yeshua, from above.
“Can anyone enter a second time into their mother’s womb and be born again?”
What surprises me most about this response from Naqdimon is that he hears a parable--mashal—from Yeshua, but instead of interpreting it as a parable he takes it literally. As “The teacher of Israel,” Naqdimon was familiar with using, listening to and interpreting metaphorical and allegorical parables and sayings. Why then did he jump straight passed the obvious metaphor and go with a literal interpretation of The Rabbi’s answer? I know in myself that I only do this when I am unable to absorb the consequences or perceived impossibility of what I know the answer to be. Perhaps Naqdimon could just not see how G-d might impart life renewal to Israel.
“Amen, amen—of course true! I tell you all, no one can enter the Malkut Shamayim—Kingdom of Heaven—without being born through water and The Spirit—Ruach ha-Kodesh.”
Again, Yeshua doesn’t tell Naqdimon that he’s got it all wrong. He simply points to the first instance, being physical birth and affirms that both it and spiritual rebirth are necessary. All are born through the breaking water of the mother but something more is needed if we are to enter G-d’s Kingdom. We must be born of G-d’s Spirit, born anew, from above. We can also find in the words “water” and “Spirit” the baptisms of both John the Immerser and Yeshua. Water represents the baptism of repentance and The Spirit the baptism of Spirit and Fire from above. Without Yeshua’s baptism of death and His resurrection we are unable to receive the Spirit. In Him we have access to the mechanism for our Salvation, His very own Spirit, and the Spirit of the Father in us. G-d’s Spirit births in us the desire to repent--tishuvah—turn around. Then only through Messiah are we able to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit who births us anew from above into a life reconciled to G-d.
“What is born physically is understood physically and what is born of The Spirit is understood by our spirit.”
Naqdimon has an earthly understanding. Messiah wants to impart to him and his fellows an understanding from above.
“Marvel not that I said to all of you, you all must be born again from above. The wind/spirit/ruach, blows
where it chooses, and all of you hear the sound it makes, but can’t tell where it comes from, or where it’s
going: so is every one that is born of the Spirit—Ruach ha-Kodesh.”
Being born anew from above is the work of G-d, it is not achieved through human labor—physical effort in birthing a child. We are not able to earn new birth by our own efforts. We are reborn through the catalyst of Messiah’s death and resurrection in the Spirit of G-d.
“Naqdimon said, ‘how can this happen?’ Yeshua responded, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t know these things?’”
Naqdimon still doesn’t understand and if we’re honest, neither do we. Fortunately it is not our own understanding that we are relying on, but rather, G-d’s understanding. Yeshua calls Naqdimon, “The teacher of Israel.” This indicates that Naqdimon had a very high position among the Rabbis of Israel. His coming to faith was strategic to the move of G-d through the leaders who later believed.
“We speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen, in yet all of you don’t accept what we have testified to.”
Some believe the “we” Yeshua is referring to is the unity of the G-d-head—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some think He is referring to Himself and His disciples, still others believe He is referring to the Patriarchs and prophets of Israel. We can’t possibly know for certain.
In verse 12 it seems that Yeshua is simply saying, “I’ve spoken to you in earthly metaphors and you people don’t get it. How are you going to understand the literal reality of the heavenly things I tell you about?”
“No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven, the Son of Man—a Messianic title.”
Wait a minute, didn’t Enoch and Elijah ascend into the heavens? Perhaps they ascended into the second heaven? Or perhaps it is significant that Messiah has come with revelation of G-d Himself, from heaven, whereas Elijah and Enoch were born first of water—natural birth—Messiah has always been G-d and came down to be united in flesh, fully G-d and fully man. Regardless of the possible solutions to this conundrum, the point is that Yeshua is the only begotten son and His is a unique and all-encompassing revelation of G-d with us.
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. That whoever believes in Him may have everlasting/perpetual/eternal life.”
The snake was the source of Israel’s punishment for disobedience. By looking to it each Israelite was admitting their sin and recognizing that only G-d could save them from destruction. In the same way we must look upon Him who became sin for us, in this simple action of turning--tishuvah—our heads to gaze upon the Cross of Messiah, upon His tortured body and unfathomable sacrifice, we find rebirth in His Spirit, poured out without measure upon those who will simply acknowledge His Kingship. It is here, that in a very real sense, we are living both within and outside of time. There is a parallel universe, but it is not the sum of science fiction and quantum physics.
“For G-d so loved the world…”
This is perhaps the most famous quote in Christendom, and for good reason.
“That He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have everlasting life. For G-d did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
Clearly G-d desires that every human being come into right relationship with Him. He is loving, merciful, compassionate, self-sacrificing—literally, and just. Elsewhere we read, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
“Those who believe in Him are not condemned…”
This means our belief in Him has put condemnation behind us, as is written elsewhere, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Messiah Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1
“Those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of G-d.”
The statement “condemned already,” is qualified by, “because they have chosen not to believe in the name of the only Son of G-d.” Because G-d is just, all must be presented with the One True Son of G-d and His saving work and must then willfully choose to reject Him, only then does anyone stand condemned.
“And this is the judgment: the light—Yeshua—has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The judgment of G-d is just, because He has offered light to those living in darkness. Many, having seen the true light of G-d, Yeshua, have chosen to remain in darkness. Those who are determined to do what is wicked are unwilling to have their deeds exposed, though they are aware of their need the thought of dwelling in perpetual light is abhorrent to them, they have truly become sons and daughters of the evil one.
Those who see their need for light have already been motivated by the Spirit of G-d to begin to do what is true, thus they welcome the opportunity to dwell in that light perpetually. Thus their deeds have been done in G-d. That is, their salvation comes, not by their works but through the work of the Spirit and the sacrifice of Messiah. We are saved by grace, G-d chose us and in response, we have chosen Him. Condemnation is found in the simple act of refusing to choose G-d.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Without humility no one can come to G-d.
This miracle, found only in John’s gospel, is unique in many ways: the young man has been blind from birth, Yeshua uses inanimate matter in the healing process, and the healing generates a wide range of responses from observers and an argument over halakhah that involves the parents of the recipient and the religious leaders—Pharisees. John is concerned with revealing the D’var—Word—of Adonai made flesh and also uses terms like light, dark, day and night, to show the stark contrast of the Messiah’s light against the night of this world, thus conveying the deeper meaning in the metaphor of light and its relationship to sight and revelation—lifting of a veil—throughout his gospel. John is hoping to make the Deity of Messiah plain for all to see. He wants us to understand what it truly means to behold Emanuel—G-d with us.
There are also aspects of this miracle that affirm the cultural and spiritual miss beliefs of the Jewish people and their leaders at that time—of course, before we become too critical we should remind ourselves that we continue to hold many of the same miss beliefs in the Christian church to this day: disciples suggest that personal or parental sin is the cause of the young man’s blindness, some of the Pharisees again accuse Yeshua of working on the Sabbath—the added action of mud making helps to fuel their zeal, excommunication is threatened against the young man’s parents and so the list goes on.
John tackles a wide range of issues in this concise but diverse account. If we are to understand it well, we will need to ask both the obvious questions regarding the healing itself and the deeper questions of religious culture and colloquial presumption. My hope is, that having studied this passage we will be able to avoid the conclusion, “It’s clear as mud.” Though on second thought, perhaps in this case at least, the idiom denotes significant clarity.
“Blind from birth.”
This statement is significant, as testified to by the healed man himself in verse 32 of the same chapter. This is intended to set up the many Messianic overtones of the healing. For years prior Israel had been awaiting a Messiah for who one of the significant signs of his validity would be the giving of sight to the blind. Yeshayahu/Isaiah 29:18, 35:5, 42:7
This question is not without foundation. There are clear examples both in Scripture and in life, of personal sin that results in illness. In the case of humanity’s fall, sin entered the world and can therefore be linked to all sickness to some degree. However this does not always mean that personal sin has caused illness. Therefore the disciples question can be seen as presumptuous, given that not all cases of illness are the direct result of personal sin.
There is substantial evidence indicating that the commonly held perception at that time, regarding illness, was that those who were severely ill had committed some great sin or had parents who had sinned and therefore were reaping the curse of the four generations as outlined in the Torah. To this the rabbis added arguments such as those regarding the ante-natal behavior of Esau and Jacob—found in later texts which recorded the oral traditions and debates of the first century A.D. such as Bereshit Rabbah 63:6 on Gen 25:22—some suggesting Esau’s sin in the womb as being the reason for his later loss of birth-rite. Needless to say, the question of the disciples was not unwarranted, given the social and religious connotations associated with severe sickness in the Judaism of the first century A.D.
“Neither… but this happened so that the works/signs of G-d might be displayed in him.”
Yeshua is not saying that it’s not possible for personal sin to result in severe sickness. He is simply saying that it’s not the only option, that there are times when people get sick for other reasons. In this case the reason is that the purpose of G-d be made manifest. That is, a sign/work/action, that reveals the true identity of the Messiah as one who causes the blind to see—in fulfillment of the afore mentioned Messianic passages of Isaiah.
“As long as it is day…”
It is here that John begins to juxtapose concepts of light and darkness, right action and sin, day and night. These themes become a metaphor for the stark contrast between blindness and sight. The conclusion will be that spiritual blindness is the greater danger. Only Messiah can act in this world to bring sight to that blindness and only those who are willing to accept that they are blind are able to receive sight. While Yeshua is with them, He is the Light of the world.
“He spit on the ground and made mud and put it on the blind man’s eyes.”
(Okay, gross. Seriously, if you spit in the dirt and rub it in my eyes I’ll throw up.)
If, as is clear from Scripture, Messiah Yeshua did not need to use anything other than the word of His mouth or the intention of His will to heal, why did He make mud? Was He emulating an occult practice? Certainly not, He’s the same G-d that forbids such practice. Was He using a microbial herbal healing technique, perhaps knowing that the mud and saliva somehow combined to become a natural healing balm? It is noteworthy that Yeshayahu/Isaiah—the prophet Yeshua quotes most—healed Hezekiah with a fig poultice, however there is no real correlation here. Why then, did Yeshua act out this show of ritual in full view of those observing the miracle? The most obvious answer is that it was intended as a living parable, like those performed by the prophet Ezekiel. (Ezekiel 4:9-12)
So what specifically is Yeshua saying through this action? Firstly we should ask, “What is the gospel writer’s agenda in writing?” John is concerned essentially with the theme of G-d’s coming down and dwelling among us. John uses the terms, Word and Light to describe Emanuel—G-d with us. He begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with G-d and the Word was G-d.” He goes on to emphasis that, “The Word—logos--(G-d’s very essence/intention/breathe/saliva) became flesh (Adam) and dwelt among us.” Yeshua—G-d with us—is the person who embodies the very intention/essence/saliva of G-d, He is a physical symbol of the issued mouth essence of G-d (Ruach—breathe), combining this essence with the soil (adamah—earth) is a recreation—in allegory—of the first created Adam—human-being. After sinning and allowing sin to enter into the world, the first Adam was unable to heal in this way but Yeshua is not the first Adam. We are told by rabbi Shaul—Paul the Apostle—that Yeshua is the last Adam. (1 Corinthians 15:45) This physical parable then is most likely meant as a sign/work of the Messiah, a representation of His physical being and His status as G-d with us. He is the Shiloach—Sent One--who Yeshayahu/Isaiah prophesied would open the eyes of the blind. He has come down as the essence (Saliva) of G-d and has been joined to the adamah—earth/soil—and has become the last Adam (Fully G-d and fully man), G-d with us, Emanuel. Only He is capable of a miracle of such significance.
“‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (Shiloach),’ (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”
In order to fully understand this statement of Yeshua we must first gain an understanding of the Hebrew word Shiloach, which John chooses to transliterate into Greek as Siloam and explaining that it means Sent.
This pool gains its name from the Hebrew Shalach—go or send—and is closely related to the Hebrew Shilach—Shiloh—meaning sent one. Hebrew readers will recognize this word from the title to the Torah portion B’shalach—go forth. We should begin with the term Shilach—Shiloh—because it was known in ancient Judaism to represent the Mishiyach—Messiah. We find the first reference to this term—which is a Proper Noun/name—in Bereshit/Genesis 49:10:
“The scepter shall not depart from Y’huda, nor the rulers staff from between his feet (that is from his issue, children’s children) until Shilach/Shiloh (the sent one) comes: and the people will be obedient to Him. (Shiloh)”
It is unfortunate that English versions like the NIV utterly miss translate this text giving nonsense excuses like, “Difficult to translate.” Without the proper noun/name Shilach—Shiloh, this text is void of meaning. I suggest buying yourself an NASB or similar English translation if you are not a Hebrew reader. At very least you will then be able to ask the right questions of the English text.
The meaning then is grounded in the fact that Shilach--Shiloh, Genesis 49:10 speaks of is the Sent One, the Mashiyach/Messiah, Yeshua. Once we understand this we move to the next key text, this text mentions the derivative term shiloach—Siloam, Yeshayahu/Isaiah 8:9
“This people have refused the softly flowing waters of Shiloach—the sent one—and rejoice in Rezin and Remaliah’s son. (Meaning the false ruler and his false deities)”
Israel are seen here as both presently and prophetically rejecting the cleansing (waters) of the Sent One--Shiloach—who is the Messiah Yeshua—G-d with us.
With this understanding as our foundation we now look at the present text and the rich meaning displayed in Yeshua’s command for the blind man to wash in the waters of Siloam--Shiloach. Yeshua is effectively saying:
“Go, wash in the gently flowing waters of the Sent One.” Yeshua is Shilach, He is Shiloach and He is sending the blind man to the waters of the Sent One so that he might gain his sight (A sure sign of the fact that Yeshua is the Messiah—see previous Isaiah passages.) Thus the blind man, in obedience, does the opposite of the people of Yeshayahu/Isaiah 8:6 and so, he receives sight, both physical and soon, spiritual. The blind man himself is sent by the Sent One to be a tributary, a little sent one. Why? Because while it is day we must do the works of Him who sent us. Night is coming when no one can work, unless, the Light of the World lives in us, so that we might become light in the night. The once blind man now returns home as a sent one who will shine his light in the darkness. This is G-d’s desire for each of us, we have all been blind and are in need of the Sent One—Yeshua--and His cleansing, so that we might receive true spiritual sight, thus avoiding the deeds of darkness and disbelief. Some see baptism or Mikveh in the washing. Needless to say, rabbinical teaching would have seen the very act of washing as a defilement of the Sabbath—this of course is not a Torah understanding, it is simply a law of men.
When the blind man came home seeing he was meet with a divided response from those who knew him. Some were so confused by this miraculous event that they doubted he was the same man who had been born blind. Others were certain it was the ex-blind beggar they had known for so long. The man himself was adamant, “I am the man!” The people respond, “How were you healed then?” If this was that blind guy, something pretty amazing was happening and they genuinely wanted to know what that was.
“The man they call Yeshua made some mud and put it on my eyes and sent me to wash in the pool of Shiloach, as soon as I had done this I could see.”
This is the first in a progressive chronology of statements that show the man’s journey to salvation—John, the writer of this gospel, is rightly called the Evangelist by early Church fathers.
Here, the man has not yet seen Yeshua, he barely even knows who He is, so he says, “the man they call Yeshua.” This statement shows the distance between the man and Yeshua even after his healing. He is referring to Yeshua, not even as an acquaintance but rather as someone that others talk about. This is step one in the man’s journey to identifying and understanding who Yeshua is.
“Where is this man?”
The now seeing beggar responds, “I don’t know.” Yeshua has obviously left the location of the healing. The man upon receiving his sight, is so excited that he goes straight home to show everybody what a wonderful miracle has happened to him. He has not yet seen Yeshua.
“They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees.”
There is no need to see this as an act of malice. The people were socially and religiously accustomed to seeking the advice and opinions of the Pharisees—who were entrusted as the leaders of their synagogues and as shepherds of Israel.
“The day on which Yeshua made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was the Sabbath.”
This is obviously important to the discussion that follows. Throughout His ministry Yeshua is criticized by the Pharisees for His actions on the Sabbath--Yeshua keeps the Torah but He does not bow to the Oral traditions concerning the Sabbath. The making of the mud in addition to the actual healing was of particular concern in light of rabbinic Oral tradition.
The Pharisees asked how the man had been healed and upon finding out, they were divided in their opinions of Yeshua and the event itself. Some of them felt that He had broken the Sabbath Law—of course He had only broken their man made laws, others were convinced that because Yeshua had worked such a great miracle that they should not be so hasty to condemn Him. Neither argument was valid, the Torah warns that false prophets may work great miracles, so the fact that this healing was miraculous was not proof of Yeshua’s standing as a prophet of G-d.
As is the proper thing to do they turn to the man who had been healed and ask him, “What do you have to say about Him?” To which the man replies, “He is a prophet.” This is the second stage in the development of the man’s relationship to Yeshua. Here he has progressed from speaking of Yeshua as one who others speak of, to naming him a prophet. The full impact of what has happened to him is beginning to set in and he is starting to see glimpses of who Yeshua really is.
Finding it too hard to accept that the man was ever blind, the Pharisees send for his parents to get confirmation. The parents acknowledge that he has been blind from birth but they are as confused as everybody else as to how he can now see. They are not willing to enter the debate, sighting his being of age—that is older than thirteen—as reason for questioning him and allowing his testimony to stand for itself. His parents were scared of being kicked out of the synagogue. This does not mean they would be kicked out of all synagogues—there was no Great Synagogue because the Temple was the central place of Jewish Worship at that time—but it was a significant threat, given that the local synagogue acted as a type of community house as well as a subsidiary place of worship and Torah study.
The Pharisees, beside themselves with frustration, send for the man a second time—at this point they were conducting what was effectively an illegal trial of both Yeshua and the healed man. The use of the idiom, “Give glory to HaShem!”—which means tell the truth or swear on the Bible in our modern vernacular. This is in fact a way of saying, “Stop lying and admit you weren’t blind,” or “Admit that this Yeshua is a false prophet!” They—that is the group among them that didn’t accept the miracle—had already decided that Yeshua was a Sabbath breaking sinner despite the lack of real evidence.
It’s here that the once blind man begins to truly find his vision and shine the light found in Yeshua, and not without a good dose of Jewish chutzpah to boot.
“One thing I do know, I was blind and now I see.”
In other words, “When you guys are able to exhibit this kind of power, I might pay more attention to you!” The Pharisees are looking for ammunition so—having just called him a liar to his face—they ask again how it all took place. The once blind man responds, “I told you already, weren’t you listening? Why do you want to know more? Do you want to become his Talmidim—disciples?” It’s safe to say that enraged them. They say, “You are this man’s disciple, we are Moses disciples.” I don’t think the man would have been at all offended by being called a disciple of Yeshua at this stage—though he was not. What is unusual is the claim by the Pharisees that they were Moses’ disciples. This designation was not common at the time and denotes a desperate scratching at straws on their part. It’s one of those, “No! you are!” type arguments that people who have no idea what to say next usually use.
“We know that G-d spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where He comes from.”
What they mean by this is that the Messiah is prophesied to come from Bethlehem and as far as they knew Yeshua was from Nazareth. Of course the truth is that they knew where He came from—the Galilee—they had very little respect the am ha-aretz—people of the land, that is, uneducated farmers and fishermen. They probably considered Yeshua to be somewhat of a hillbilly.
The sardonic rebuke of the man is a delight to read, perhaps being born blind and suffering all his life had birthed in him an immunity to the fears and obligations of Israel concerning her hypocritical religious leaders. On the other hand, maybe he was just a sarcastic guy? If so, he probably had some kiwi (New Zealand) blood in him from the diaspora.
The healed man draws their attention to the catalyst for understanding the Messianic significance of this miracle, he says, “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of one born blind. If this man were not from HaShem He could do nothing.” This is a pointed observation that reveals the sign of G-d regarding the opening of the eyes of the blind, something that would alert Israel to the Messiah’s presence—as prophesied by Yeshayahu/Isaiah. This is also the third step in the man’s journey into relationship with Yeshua. Here, he says Yeshua is, “from G-d.”
The disbelieving group among the Pharisees, who are not used to being disagreed with by commoners, are more than insulted by the man and resort to name calling, “You were born from sin and are soaked in it, how dare you lecture us!” Actually the man had been following proper halakhic protocol with his well-argued rebuttal, they were just sore because his argument was more convincing. Had this been recorded in the Talmud, the man’s argument would have been sighted by future rabbis as the dominant view. Seeing that they were not going to win this argument the Pharisees threw him out—probably out of the synagogue. I’m not sure that this would have worried him too much, he had been spending a lot of time on the streets begging for food up till now and may not have found much solace in the synagogue.
After hearing that the man had been thrown out Yeshua found him—this means Yeshua had sought him out, an intimate and thoughtful gesture. The man’s father and mother had forsaken him and he had been kicked out of the local synagogue, this is a pivotal occasion in his journey into G-d’s light. Yeshua asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man—a Messianic title.” The man responds, “Who is he Sir, tell me so that I may believe in him.” This is the fourth stage in the journey of relationship, the man calls Yeshua—whom he is seeing for the first time—Sir/master, a term of respect. The Greek Kyrios is used and can be translated lord or L-RD, there is no Greek equivalent for YHVH—L-RD, so the same Greek word is sometimes used to denote the Holy Name. Here however, “Sir” is the correct translation, given the context.
“Yeshua said, ‘You have now seen Him, in fact, He is the one speaking with you.’ Then the man said, ‘L-RD I believe.’ And he worshipped Him.”
Remember, the man is seeing Yeshua for the first time, both physically and spiritually. This is the final stage of the man’s journey into saving relationship. He has been blind, he has been washed in the life giving water of the Sent One, he has known of Yeshua, he has identified Him as a prophet, he has realized that Yeshua was sent from G-d, he has respectfully called Him sir/master and now he sees Him for who He really is, “L-RD”. The Greek word kyrios is used here by John—a Jew—to represent YHVH. We must not put more weight on the Greek language than we do upon the cultural religious psyche of the writers of the gospels. The fact that the Greek language is unable to convey the nuances of the Hebrew designations for G-d does not mean the deeper meaning was not intended by the author—inspired by G-d. A beautiful picture of what has just occurred between Yeshua and the healed man appears in the words of the Psalmist:
“Though my father and mother forsake me, the L-rd will receive me.” Tehillim/Psalm 28:10
Yeshua sums up this parabolic healing event by clarifying for those present that He has come to fulfill the words of Yeshayahu/Isaiah (Isaiah 6:10, 42:19). This is an opportunity for those studied in the Tanakh—Old Testament--to recognize His claim to Messianic authority and repent, but He knows that they will remain blind, while those who realize their blindness will receive their sight through Messiah just as G-d had prophesied through the prophet.
Apparently some Pharisees were following Yeshua around—not necessarily the same ones that interrogated the healed man. They realized He was warning them of spiritual blindness and in pride wanted to show themselves spiritually insightful, so they asked, “Are we blind to?” Yeshua’s response is a harsh rebuke, “If you were blind you would not be guilty of sin; but because you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” Yeshua is saying that only those who admit their blindness/sin can be freed from it and given spiritual sight. Those, who in pride, claim that they can see are in fact still blind and are unable to receive sight from Yeshua. Without humility no one can come to G-d.
We live in a world that Messiah Himself has called night. While He was here physically He was the light, now He is here metaphysical by the power of G-ds Holy Spirit, living in every believer. The Sent One has filled those of us who believe, in order that we might be sent ones who shine His light in this dark world. If we claim we have not been blind, then we, like the Pharisees are unable to see. However when we admit our blindness the Sent One will restore our sight by coming to us and then sending us out to be the softly flowing waters of Shiloach to a parched and hopeless world. May He bare light in us, that we might be light to others, shining our light in order to reveal the path that leads to Him.
© 2013 Yaakov Brown
Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,