Bible Studies from the Original Context

Hebrew Nuggets

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The Journey Home

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When God Leads Along a Desert Way
This is Passover week and so we are considering the original Exodus from Egypt as recorded in Exodus chapter 13. The children of Israel were slaves in Egypt and their life there was bitter. They cried to the Lord (see Exodus 2:23-24) and God raised up Moses to deliver them. God sent nine plagues upon the land of Egypt and still Pharaoh would not let Israel go. God promised Moses that after the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, then Pharaoh would let them go.

However, when God did lead Israel out of Egypt, He did not lead them via a direct route to Canaan. “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” Exodus 13:17-18 

This Hebrew phrase simply means, “And God circled the people along a desert path.” After all this time of waiting, God did not lead them in a direct route out of Egypt, but rather, He seemingly led them “in circles” into the desert area surrounding the Red Sea. The Hebrew word מִּדְבָּ֖ר (mid-bar), which means ‘desert’, is often translated as ‘wilderness’ in the Authorized Version of the Bible. 

Why did God lead the children of Israel to the desert? Scripture indicates that the desert is God’s top school of learning to trust Him. Remember that God had also sent Moses to the same desert 40 years prior to learn of His ways. When the time was right, God appeared to Moses in the burning bush in this same desert and told him that he would lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and would return and worship God “upon this mountain” (Ex. 3:12). Just as it took Moses 40 years to learn to trust God in the desert, it also took the children of Israel 40 years to learn the same lesson.
Since the desert is a place of limited physical resources, it is God’s choice place to put His children in order to develop a dependence upon Himself and hence to develop their faith in Him as their all sufficient provider. The Bible is full of examples of how God patiently time and again met the needs of the children of Israel in the desert. Due to the limited resources of the desert, it is also a place of great miracles! The parting of the Red Sea is the greatest miracle in the entire T’nakh! If God had lead Israel directly into Canaan, there would be no Red Sea miracle! This great miracle occurred in response to the children of Israel’s inability to fight the Egyptians. They had no weapons. God Himself fought for them! Think of the other miracles that Israel experienced – The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The manna. God provided miracle after miracle for the children of Israel in the desert. Note also that the desert, the place of limited resources, was also the place of God’s greatest victories! The same Red Sea that became a miraculous path of escape for Israel became a tomb for Egypt! God used a seemingly circuitous delay at the Red Sea to win the greatest victory for Israel!
Today God can (and does!) put His servants into ‘desert situations’ to teach them the same principles of faith that He taught Moses, and the children of Israel. So if we find ourselves in a desert of God’s making, (like maybe a worldwide corona virus pandemic), let us not fret, but rather rejoice that God is wanting to increase our faith and lead us to victory. And watch out for the miracles! They will appear!

Our Fortress in Times of Danger

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No trip to Israel is complete without a trip to Masada! Located on top of a rhomboid shaped mesa on the edge of the Judean desert, Masada towers above the Dead Sea valley at an elevation of 13,000 ft. Isolated from its surroundings by deep gorges on all sides, it is a natural fortification. King Herod recognized what a natural fortress Masada was nad built his fortress on top between 37 and 31 BC. Tormented by constant fear of being deposed from his throne, he was a man consumed with anger and hate – eventually killing his own wife and sons due to fear that they would cost him the kingdom.

Herod was not the first king of Judah to climb the ‘snake path’ to Masada’s top. According to 1 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18, David hid from Saul atop Masada. Masada (מְצָדָה) is a Hebrew word that has been adopted into the English language “as is” without translating. In Psalm 18:2, the phrase, “my fortress” is one Hebrew word: מְצוּדָתִ֗י (m’tzu-dati). According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), it is derived from the word מְצָד (m’tzad) which means “mountain-height”; “summit”; “fortress”; “castle”. 1 Samuel 22 tells the story of David taking his parents from Bethlehem to the land of Moab so they would be safe from Saul. Moab lies in modern day Jordan – just across the Dead Sea from Masada. With his parents safely in Moab, David went to Masada to find protection from Saul.

However, God sent the prophet Gad to David with a warning, “And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah.” 1 Sam. 22:5 The English word “hold” is the Hebrew – מְּצוּדָ֔ה (m’tzuda) which is what we call today Masada. Although Masada is a natural fortress, God did not want David to trust in the fortress of Masada, but in Him! The TWOT says, “Man erects his fortress out of stone to protect himself from external dangers. Nevertheless with great strategy a stronghold may be taken; (e.g. David captured the stronghold of Zion as mentioned in 2 Sam 5:7). God himself was the stronghold in whom David trusted throughout his trials (Ps 18:2; 91:2).”

The actions of King David and King Herod are somewhat indicative of their forefathers. David was the true king of Israel – a son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Herod was an Idumean from Edom; a descendant of Esau. Remember the ancient choices of Jacob and Esau as recorded in Genesis 25:29-34. Jacob choose the spiritual, while Esau chose the physical. Herod looked at Masada and tried to create a fortress to protect himself from physical harm. David, however, looked at the God who made Masada to protect him!

Masada is an incredible place to visit and I hope if you go to Israel you go there. Remember to take your Bible and while on top, read Psalm 18 out loud and remember – that the God that made Masada is the God that protects us. Truly, a “mighty fortress” is our God!! Amenֵ

Hearing God’s Voice in the Desert

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“And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is. His name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” – Exodus 3:13-14

God’s appearance to Moses in the ‘burning bush’ is a timeless story. I have written Nuggets in the past about God’s name that He revealed to Moses on this day, but in this Nugget I am going to focus on the geographical aspect of the story – where it happened (ie, the Desert!) A few years ago I took a very interesting class on Bible Geography and the teacher, Dr. Jonathan Lipnick, said to us, “The physical setting of the Bible plays a major role the theology of the Bible.  To understand the God of the Hebrew Bible, you must understand the place where He has that relationship with His people. The Bible would not be the book we know if it were situated anywhere else.”  This is a favorite quote of mine and is so very true!

The scene of Moses and the ‘burning bush’ occurred in the desert of Midian according to Exodus 2:15. This is where Moses had lived as a shepherd for forty years since fleeing Egypt. Even then God was preparing Moses to lead Israel as his intimate knowledge of the land would be extremelly important when he led the children of Israel back to this very spot!  (Exodus 3:12)

The Hebrew word for desert is מִדבָר– midbar. It is often translated as ‘wilderness’ in the KJV, but it is a desert wilderness, not one with trees.  Scripture indicates that the desert is the setting for many Biblical narratives and often God’s choice place to speak to His servants and to give them a greater vision – either of Himself or of the work He has for them to do. In general, the desert is a still and quiet place.  The desert of Israel is certainly my favorite place!  Its sweeping and majestic landscapes are a great place to reflect on God. Many prophets, Moses being one, received revelations from God while in the desert. David and Paul also spent much time there and their writings are integral to the Scriptures.


The Hebrew word for ‘speak’ in the present tense is  מְדַבֵּ֛ר (pronounced m’dah-bear) and has the same consonants as the Hebrew word midbar (מ-ד-ב-ר), but the vowel marks are different and hence, it sounds different.  I think that it is most amazing that the same Hebrew letters are used for two words that at first seem so different – the desert being a place where we normally do not hear people speaking. But from the Bible narratives, it seems that God speaks the MOST in the desert!  It is not that God is more real in the desert than in other places.  God is everywhere present.  It is just that we are so easily distracted from knowing God due to the many distractions of life.  In the desert, we detach from the noisiness of everyday life that demands our attention and can focus on God.  It is then that God can speak to our heart.  

Moses is one of the greatest servants of God. God’s calling to Him was very special. I think it is amazing that God spent 40 years quieting Moses’ heart in the desert before He spoke to Him.  Bruce Feiler in his amazing book, “Walking the Bible”, speaks of the children of Israel as being for the most part, ‘desert people’. It makes sense that the land of Israel is almost 1/2 a desert area.  Perhaps God has caused the Jewish people to be ‘desert people’ as Feiler states, because they were also the people who heard God’s voice and wrote it down since both the T’nakh and the New Testament were penned by Jewish hands.

We have been speaking of literal deserts in the land of Israel, but maybe we today feel like we are in a desert of sorts in the circumstances of our personal life. If we find ourselves in a desert of God’s making, let us not fret, but rather rejoice that God is wanting to speak to us!  Perhaps He has a new path for our life to take.  Our perhaps He wants to confirm our current path.  Regardless, if we maintain a quiet heart like Moses did, I am sure we will hear God’s Word to us. 

Guidance for the Journey (N292)

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The Cardinal Directions in Hebrew
And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward (צָפֹנָה), and southward(נֶגְבָּה), and eastward (קֵדְמָה), and westward(יָמָּה): For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.” – Genesis 13:14-15 Hebrew terms are often very ‘organic’ meaning that they derive from a physical reality. This is especially true of the words for the cardinal directions as we will see in this study. I do believe that Hebrew (or a paleo-Hebrew) was the original language spoken by Adam and Eve so many Hebrew words date back to antiquity.

The Hebrew word translated above as “northward” – צָפֹנָה (tsafonah) derives from Mt. Tsaphon in modern Syria and north of Canaan where Abram was. Although we have no record of Abram visiting Mt. Tsaphon, he probably knew of its location from his travels. The area called ‘Canaan’ to which Abram traveled is much larger than modern Israel and included what is often referred to today as the Levant. The Arabic name for Tsaphon is Jebel Aqra and is located at the border of Syria and Turkey near the mouth of the Orontes River and directly on the Mediterranean Sea.. There is actually a good Wikipedia article here and I quote, “From its importance and its position at the northern end of Canaan, it also became a metonymand later the word for the direction “north” in the Hebrew language.”

Metonym is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept.” (For example, “the White House” is a metonym referring to the US Government.)

The word ‘southward’ in the verse from Genesis 13:14 is from the Hebrew נֶגְבָּה (negbah). The Negev is the large desert region that lay south of Canaan and is part of modern Israel. Note on the map at left that Beersheba is located in the Negev. The phrase, “Dan to Beersheba” occurs 7 times in the T’nakh referring to the north/south limits of ancient Israel. Today the city of Be’er Sheva, (בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע ) as it is called in Hebrew, is known as the “capital of the Negev”. The southernmost city of modern Israel is Eliat, a resort city on the tip of the Red Sea. However, Eliat was not a city of ancient Israel.

The word ‘westward’ in the verse from Genesis is from the Hebrew word יָמָּה (yamah), and means literally “to the sea”, referring of course, to the Mediterranean Sea. The Hebrew word for “sea” is yam (יָם). In the T’nakh, the Mediterranean Sea is called the “Great Sea” – HaYam HaGadol( הַיָּם הַגָּדוֹל). In Modern Hebrew it is called HaYam HaTikon (הַיָּם הַתִּיכוֹן) meaning the “Middle Sea”.

Finally, the word ‘eastward’ in our verse is from the Hebrew word, קֵדְמָה (kedmah). The root of this word is ק-ד-מ. Many words come from this root. For example, קָדוֻם (kadum) meaning ‘ancient’; הַקְדָמָה (hakdama) meaning ‘preface’; מוֻקְדָם (mukdam) meaning ‘early’. If you think about it, these words have the idea of events in the past. However, there are several words whose meanings have a ‘future’ time element: קָדִימָה (kadima) meaning ‘forward’; קִדְמָה (kidma) meaning ‘progress’; קְידֵם (kidem) meaning ‘promoted’; מִתְקַדֵם (mitkadem) meanng ‘advanced’ and of course, קֵדְמָה (kedma) meaning ‘eastward’ – towards the sunrise and towards the future.

Compass Points in Scripture
The importance of the east as the main point of orientation is probably related to direction of the rising sun. The Garden of Eden was located in the East, “And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden.” (Gen. 2:8). After Adam and Eve’s sin and consequential ejection from Eden, God protected Eden so that they could not enter again and eat of the tree of life in their fallen state: “So he [God] drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” (Gen. 3:24) We can assume from this verse that the entrance to Eden also faced the East. After murdering his brother, Cain moved ‘east of Eden’: “And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” (Gen. 4:16) The phrase, ‘east of Eden’ often means alienation from God. In Genesis 11, we have the building of the tower of Babel on the plain of Shinar. Gen. 11:2 says, “And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there.” Since ‘they journeyed from the east’, we know the builders of Babel (ie, the human race) were moving westward. The tower of Babel is often prophetically linked with Babylon, thus we can assume the early inhabitants of earth lived in the area of Mesopotamia. Somewhere in that general area would be where Eden was located. From Israel, the east was the place where destructive winds originated (Ps. 48:7; Ez. 27:26) To the ancient prophets, the east was a symbol of Babylonian exile.


As already mentioned, from Israel, the west was the location of the Sea which sometimes prophetically represented evil and death (Dan. 7:2, 3). The west was also the place of darkness since obviously the sun sets in the west. (Ps. 104:19-20). However, if we view the west from the total world picture, we must remember that Abram left the east and traveled west to Canaan in obedience to God. (Gen. 11:31) Israel is always the place of blessing.
The north is the place of God’s celestial dwelling (Isa. 14:13; Job 37:22). However, the enemies of Israel also come from the north (see Daniel 10-11). Since the south of Israel was the Negev, a desert without life, it could be thought of as a place with no blessing (Isa. 30:6). However, almost every person that God used in a great way was first sent to the ‘school of the desert’ so it was often used by God to create character in His servants.

How Do You Find Your Way?
We have discussed the cardinal directions and their importance in Scripture. But even if we know our directions, north, south, east and west, we can still get lost. The best way to get to the right place is not with our GPS (which often gets you to the WRONG place), but it is to travel with someone who has been there before and knows the way.
In these trying days, it is often difficult to know the correct path in life. The best way to know is by relying on the Lord. He promises to lead us like a shepherd if we will follow like a sheep!
Is. 30:21 And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.
Psa. 37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
Psa. 25:9 The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.
Psa. 32:8 I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.
Psa. 78:52 But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guidedthem in the wilderness like a flock.
Is. 58:11 And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.

Needed: Spiritual Vision Check

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Needed: A Spiritual Vision Check Reading Numbers 22 you will note that the Hebrew word דֶּ֖רֶךְ (‘deh-rech‘ meaning ‘way’ – Strong’s #1870) is used 8 times [verses 22, 23, 24, 26, 31, 32, 34].  Often it has the Hebrew letter bet ( ב) as the prefix to indicate ‘the way’ or ‘in the way’ – בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ (b-derech). These verses contain the famous story of Balaam’s talking donkey.  Balak, the king of Moab, had sent an emissary to Balaam in Mesopotamia asking him to come to Moab and to curse Israel. In Numbers 22:12, God clearly commanded Balaam, “Thou shalt not go with them [Moabites]; thou shalt not curse the people [Israel]: for they are blessed.”  At first Balaam said ‘no’ to the Moabites, but when they returned a second time, God permitted Balaam to go with them.  Balaam had entered God’s permissive will which is evident by God’s admonition in verse 32, “I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me.”  This verse sums up this passage about the way of Balaam – it was perverse or contrary to God’s way because he was intent to curse Israel.  If one’s intent is to harm or curse Israel, then their way is contrary to God’s way!   As we continue reading ch. 22 and then esp. through ch. 24, the second ‘theme’ becomes apparent as we count the number of times the word ‘see’ appears in the text.  First, the donkey ‘sees’ the angel of the Lord in verses 23, 25 and 27.  The Hebrew root for ‘see’ is ראה (rah-ah – Strong’s #7200).  Then God ‘opens’ the donkey’s mouth so that she speaks to Balaam. Here the Hebrew word for ‘open’ is פתח (pah-tach) which literally means ‘open’.  Then God ‘opens’ Balaam’s eyes in vs. 31.  Here the word translated as ‘open’ is גלה (gah-lah – Strong’s #1540).  The Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says, “When God revealed himself to Balaam it is said that Balaam’s eyes were “uncovered,” “opened” (Num 24:4, 6). It appears that in this manner Balaam saw something which he otherwise could not see.”  From this point forward, Balaam refers to himself as “the man whose eyes are open” (cf. Num. 24:3, 15)  There are least 24 occurrences of the word ‘see’ (in various forms) in this chapter!  So it is all about spiritual vision!    God’s will was clear.  Israel was NOT to be cursed.  However Balak had offered Balaam great riches if he would curse Israel.  Also, we have further insight from Deut. 23:5 that Balaam truly did WANT to curse Israel: “Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee.” Balaam blessed Israel four times when he really wanted to curse them because God overruled and turned the curses into blessings! One of the greatest prophecies in the T’nakh about the Messiah was given by Balaam in Numbers 24:17: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Seceptre shall rise out of Israel ..”  I personally think this prophecy guided the ‘wise men from the east’ to travel to Jerusalem and worship the newborn king of the Jews many thousands of years later (as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew). Those wise men would have been of the same area as Balaam.   Despite all that God did to help Balaam find the right way, in the New Testament [2 Peter 2:15, Jude 11, Revelation 2:14], he is used as an example NOT to follow. Primarily these verses refer to Balaam’s doctrine, but we could make a secondary application that Balaam’s way was to curse Israel.  God is against anyone who is “cursing” Israel, but of all people, Christians should know better!!  The modern “BDS movement” is clearly against the Scriptures!     I want to end on a positive note because God works out all things to our good and His glory! (Romans 8:28)  One good thing we can glean from this story is that God would NOT let Balaam curse Israel!  God overruled each time and caused Israel’s enemies to bless her with great blessings!  God is still on the throne and looking out for His ancient people, and although many ‘Balaks’ and many ‘Balaams’ have come on the scene down through the centuries, no one is able to curse or destroy Israel. God is still telling these peoples the same words he told Balaam, “thou shalt not curse the people [Israel]; for they are blessed!” – Numbers 22:12  Every single person or nation who have gone ‘against God’ concerning Israel has met with destruction.  I do not want to be like Balaam whose way was perverse before God.  I want to be on the same page with God and I want to be a blessing to those He has blessed!  

Needed: Friends of Zion

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The Hebrew word for friend is חֲבֵר (chaver).  The root:  ח ב ר means to ‘join, connect’.  Friends are people who are joined together around a similar interest or cause.  A written composition is a חיבור (chi-vur) because words are joined together.  An author, writer or composer is a מחבר  (m’cha-ber) because they join together words, ideas and music.  A society, or association is called חברה (chev-rah). Societies and clubs are composed of people whose interests join them together.  Nations who have similar interest are called allies.    One of my favorite verses is from Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  The Bible defines friendship as a commitment based on a relationship, not a convenience.  In Bible times, friends often made a covenant to help each other. (A good example is David and Jonathan)  The modern view of a friend is far from the Biblical model. Friends are viewed as the people they ‘use’ to help them advance or provide themselves some benefit.  It is a very “consumer view” – ie, what can this person do for me.  There is no thought of loyalty and sacrifice in such friendships.   The Bible, however, declares the crucible of friendship to be commitment during adverse or trying times.  The way a society views friends will also affect other organizations, employer to employee, and even at a national level.  Two Nations who are “friends” are said to be allies.  A nation should also be committed to seeking the BEST for their ally.  Not to using their allies.   Traditionally Israel has been the ally of the USA – the ONLY true ally in the Middle East!  Terrorists are NOT allies and are NOT friends!   Nations that support terrorists are NOT allies.  And the enemy of my ally should be my enemy too!!  However it seems the modern “consumer view” of friends has now infected the relationship between the USA and Israel.  The proposed “deal” with Iran is surely NOT something that a true ally or a true Friend of Israel would agree to – much less propose.  Iran is NOT a friend of Israel, but is the sworn enemy.  Consistently their leaders vow to “wipe the Jews off the map”.  Iran is also NOT a friend of the USA either!  Contrary to what the leaders of the USA think, Iran is NOT a friend nor ally of the USA.  Iran sponsors international terrorist groups!  Since when do we negotiate with terrorists?  The proposed “deal” with Iran that the USA is proposing is not only bad for Israel, but it is bad for America too. It is bad for me and bad for YOU!   What can we do?  Well, just ONE PERSON can actually do alot if that ONE PERSON really believes in something.  First of all, we can all pray.  Also, we can all call, write or email our congressional representative.  The one “saving point” is that the “deal” must pass the US Congress.  So we who love Israel and who love America need to let our voice be heard.  The prophet Isaiah was such a patriot and he loved Israel!  I will close with his words: “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest.”  -Isaiah 62:1   “The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” – Psalm 87:2

A Hearing Heart

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A Hearing Heart

In 1 Kings 3:3, God appeared to King Solomon in a dream as he offered sacrifices in Gibeon and said, “Ask what I shall give thee.”  Solomon’s request is recorded in verse 9: “Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart.”  God told Solomon that his prayer was answered and hence Solomon became the wisest man. God also gave Solomon many things he did not ask for as well.  Re-read 1 Kings 3 for the full story.  The English phrase ‘understanding heart’ in verse 9 is translated from the Hebrew phrase 

– לֵ֤ב שֹׁמֵ֙ע  – lev sh’ma – which literally means ‘a hearing heart’.  As stated already, the word sh’ma means ‘hear’, but since effective hearing means that one must also understand what is being heard, hence the KJV translators use of “understanding heart”.  Sh’ma also carries the idea of obeying what one  hears so that if you don’t obey, you don’t really hear.  I think a ‘hearing heart’ is exactly what God wanted not just Solomon, but all the children of Israel to have and hence, His constant use of the word ‘lev‘ (heart) in Deuteronomy. 

The word ‘heart’ (Hebrew – לְבָבְ –le-vav) occurs 43 times in the book of Deuteronomy – more than any of the other books of the Torah!  The other books of the Torah tell the ‘story’ of the Jewish people, from God’s promise to Abraham until they are standing on the shores of Jordan ready to cross over to the land God gave them.  However, Deuteronomy retells the story somewhat, but it adds one important factor – the emphasis on the heart.  God wanted the children of Israel to know that the motives of the heart were more important than their actions.  

The sh’ma is found Deut. 6:4-6 and is part of this week’s Torah portion. 

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”  

 שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד׃ 

 וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ  

This passage is known as the sh’ma (שְׁמַ֖ע) because this is the first Hebrew word of the passage. Sh’ma (Strong’s #8085) which means ‘hear’ and the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) defines it as listening in order to obey.  

On the second line of Hebrew text note the word   לְבָבְ – le-vav (‘heart’ – Strong’s #3824) which occurs 47 times in the book of Deuteronomy – more than any other book of the T’nakh!  The other books of the Torah give us the history of the Jewish people from God’s promise to Abraham until they are standing on the shores of Jordan ready to cross over to the land God gave to them.  However, in Deuteronomy, Moses retells the story somewhat and adds one very important factor – the emphasis on the heart.  Although our actions are important, the motives of the heart that underlies our actions are the most important. 

In the New Testament gospel of Matthew, a lawyer (meaning an expert in the ‘law of Moses’) asked Jesus a very important question. Matthew 22:36: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”  Jesus’ reply is most important because He quoted to the lawyer the sh’ma: “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Mat. 22:38-40 Perhaps the lawyer was thinking of which of the 613 commandments in the law should he most concentrate on ‘doing’.  Jesus helped him to understand the same lesson that Moses taught in Deuteronomy – that our motive for our acts must be love for God and for others.  Without love, our actions are no good and become meaningless rituals.

The Seer Who Could Not See

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Walking Against God’s Will.  As we saw last week, Israel had begun the final leg of the journey to Canaan land. Traveling northward along the King’s highway, they would pass directly through the land of Moab. Balak, the king of Moab, felt threatened by Israel so he sent an emissary to Balaam in Mesopotamia asking him to come to Moab and to curse Israel. In Numbers 22:12, God clearly commanded Balaam, “Thou shalt not go with them [Moabites]; thou shalt not curse the people [Israel]: for they are blessed.” Notice in verse 13, Balaam did not give the whole story to the Midianites.  He only said, “the LORD refuseth to give me leave to go with you.”  He did not tell them the most important thing – that God had absolutely forbidden him to curse Israel because they were blessed!  You will note that the Hebrew word דֶּ֖רֶךְ (deh-rech – meaning ‘way’ – Strong’s #1870) is used 8 times [verses 22, 23, 24, 26, 31, 32, 34].  Often it has the Hebrew letter bet ( ב) as the prefix to indicate ‘the way’ or ‘in the way’ – בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ (b-derech). Verse 32 clearly shows us that God’s way and Balaam’s way were at odds: “I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me.”

Spiritual Vision Check. A secondary ‘theme’ in this Torah portion becomes apparent as we count the number of times the word ‘see’ appears in the text. First, the donkey ‘sees’ the angel of the Lord in verses 23, 25 and 27.  The Hebrew word for ‘see’ is רָאָה (rah-ah – Strong’s #7200).  Then God ‘opens’ the

donkey’s mouth so that she speaks to Balaam. Here the Hebrew word for ‘open’ is פָתָח (pah-tach) which literally means ‘open’.  Then God ‘opens’ Balaam’s eyes in Num. 22:31. Here the word translated as ‘open’ is גָלָה (gah-lah – Strong’s #1540).  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says, “When God revealed himself to Balaam it is said that Balaam’s eyes were “uncovered,” “opened”. (Num 24:4, 6) It appears that in this manner Balaam saw something which he otherwise could not see.”  From this point forward, Balaam refers to himself as “the man whose eyes are open” (cf. Num. 24:3, 15)  Spiritual vision is a key theme with at least 24 occurrences of the word ‘see’ (in various forms) in Numbers 22.

Curses Become Blessings. God’s will was clear. Israel was NOT to be cursed.  However, Balak had offered Balaam great riches if he would curse Israel.  Further insight from Deut. 23:5 shows that Balaam truly did WANT to curse Israel: “Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee.”  This verse explains why Balaam blessed Israel when he really wanted to curse them because God overruled and turned each curse into a blessing! Balak was furious! Balaam’s four prophecies about Israel are true because God gave them.  One of the greatest prophecies in the T’nakh about the Messiah was given by Balaam in Numbers 24:17: “I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Seceptre shall rise out of Israel ..”  This prophecy probably guided the wise men from the east (the same area that Balaam was from) thousands of years later that Matthew speaks about in his Gospel, to worship the newborn king of the Jews.
Etymology of the word ‘Prophet’. According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT), the word for prophet, נָבִ֣יא (navi), is derived from the Hebrew root, נבע, “meaning to bubble up, “boil forth,” hence, “to pour forth words, like those who speak with fervour of mind or under divine inspiration, as prophets and poets.” It occurs 277 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. The plural is נְבִיאִ֔ים (n’vi’im) and is also the second division of the T’nakh. 1 Samuel 9:9 gives some etymology about the word ‘prophet’: “Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to enquire of God, thus he spake, Come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer.” The Hebrew word translated as ‘seer’ in this verse is רֹאֶֽה – ro-eh, from the root for the word ‘to see’.  The seer or the prophet was the one who could see the way to go during hard times.  He could see God’s vision when no one else could.  Because He saw God’s vision, he often also saw God’s coming judgments.
The Seer Who Could Not See. Matthew Henry says that Bishop Simon Patrick (1626-1707) and also many Jewish scholars of his time, thought that Balaam had been a great prophet referring to Balak’s accolade in Num. 22:6, “he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.”  Although God gave him many chances, and showed him a great miracle in letting his donkey speak, Balaam never repented.  He never aligned his way with God’s way and died trying to help the Midianites to destroy Israel when God clearly told him that Israel was blessed. Numbers 31 speaks of the children of Israel’s destruction of both the Midianites and of Balaam.  This event is also recorded in Joshua 13:21-22, “Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, did the children of Israel slay with the sword.”  Sadly note that at the end of his life, Balaam was not called a prophet or seer, but a soothsayer.  There are several Hebrew words translated as ‘soothsayer’ in the T’nakh, but the one used here is קּוֹסֵ֑ם (ko-sem).  TWOT says that ko-sem referred to one who practiced divination and, “The major prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and the minor prophets Micah and Zechariah all mention קָסַם [ko-sem] in a derogatory sense.” In the New Testament, Balaam is used as an example NOT to follow: 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 11; Revelation 2:14.
Don’t Ignore God’s Word!  All of Balaam’s problems started when he ignored God’s Word concerning Israel in Gen. 12:3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee.” By attempting to curse Israel, Balaam actually put himself under God’s curse! Although God showed him the truth, he did not repent and his life spiraled downwards. God is still on the throne and looking out for His ancient people, the Jewish people.  And although many ‘Balaks’ and ‘Balaams’ have come on the scene down through the centuries, none have been able to destroy Israel, but rather, eventually they have met with destruction.  I do not want to be like Balaam whose way was perverse before God.  Just this week I have been praying through Psalm 119 which has 176 wonderful verses about God’s Word. I want my way to align with God’s way: “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!” (Psalm 119:5)

Take the King’s Highway Home (N238)

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 Esau’s Inheritance.  The book of Numbers is partly a narrative of Israel’s desert wanderings interspersed with the laws and requirements of the offerings and also, rules for dividing the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy recounts (and summarizes) the events of the desert years and here we find God’s command to Moses to begin the final leg of the journey home to Canaan: “Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness [desert]by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed [circled] mount Seir [Edom] many days. And the LORD spake unto me, saying, Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward. And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore: Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession.” (Deut. 2:1-5) We have to go to Genesis for the backstory to Esau’s possession. When Jacob returned to Canaan to live, Esau, “went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob.” (Gen. 36:6) Two verses later, we learn the location of the land where Esau fled: “Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.” (Gen. 36:8)  The Lord warned Israel that He had given Edom to Esau and He would not give any of this land to them.
Numbers 20, where we are studying this week, gives some extra details that Edom denied Moses’ request for passage: “Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders. And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.” (Num. 20:17-18)  Note that Moses said Israel would use, “the king’s high way” to pass through Edom. The Hebrew says: דֶּרֶךְ הַמֶּלֶךְ – “derech ha-melech”. The word הַמֶּלֶךְ (ha-melech) means “the king” while דֶּרֶךְ (derech) means ‘way’ or ‘path’ hence the phrase, “king’s high way” in the AV.
 
Two Major Trade Routes. Two vitally important trade routes criss-crossed the land of Canaan joining three major continents: Africa, Europe and Asia. The King’s Highway extended from Egypt (in Africa) across the Sinai Peninsula, northward across Transjordan, past Damascus and onwards to Mesopotamia (in Asia) and the Euphrates River. The Via Maris (Latin for “way of the sea”) is the modern name for an ancient trade route linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria and Mesopotamia.  Its earlier name was “Way of the Philistines“, a reference to a passageway through the Philistine Plain (which today consists of Israel’s southern coastal plain and the Gaza Strip). It was the most important route from Egypt to Syria in the Fertile Crescent and followed the Israeli Mediterranean coastal plain before crossing over into the plain of Jezreel and the Jordan valley. Together with the King’s Highway, the Via Maris was one of the major trade routes connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia on the western edge of the Fertile Crescent. 
The Via Maris (purple), King’s Highway (red), and other ancient Levantine trade routes, c. 1300 BCE (Wikipedia)
The Long Road Home.  According to the Biblical record, during the Exodus from Egypt, God instructed Moses to purposefully avoid the Via Maris route:“And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.” Exodus 13:17-18 The Lord knew that by following the shorter Via Maris route, Israel would encounter the Philistines. Instead, He led them into the desert so that He could save them from Egypt at the Red Sea.
After the 40 years of the desert wanderings, Moses would now finally lead Israel up the King’s Highway until they crossed over the Jordan river into Canaan. In modern JordanHighway 35 and Highway 15 follow The King’s Highway, connecting Irbid in the north with Aqaba in the south. The southern part of the route crosses several deep wadis, making it a highly scenic if curvy and rather low-speed road. (see photo at the top)  The Lord picked the King’s Highway as Israel’s long road to their new home – Canaan. He knew it was in the desert, far from water; but He was the water of life. It was far from food – but He supplied their food. It was steep and hard to climb; but He would give them strength. It was curvy and one could become easily lost; but He was their guide. Yes, the Lord choose the King’s Highway on purpose to teach Israel that He would supply all they needed on the long walk home.  The Lord wanted to develop in the children of Israel the faith in Him that they at first lacked (hence wandering in the desert for 40 years). The desert is always the best school for developing faith because it is a place where we truly must trust the Lord for even basic needs. Is your life path hard and steep? Confusing? Lacking in even basic resources? Don’t despair!  The Lord may be sending you this direction on purpose to increase your faith. Remember if you only walk on the flatlands of the Via Marias, yes you will reach your destination faster and easier, but you won’t arrive with as much faith!

Happy Father’s Day (N237)

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When God gave the Ten Commandments, He was establishing the foundation for society and truly “western civilization” and esp. the laws of the United States are built upon them.  Their importance cannot be denied (although many people try to do so in this day).  The Ten Commandments are generally divided into two lists of five commandments each.  This bodes well with the “two tables of stone” (Heb:      שְׁנֵ֖י לֻח֥וֹת אֲבָנִֽים -snei luchot avahnim) that they were originally written on.  The fact that the Ten Commandments were contained on two stone tablets is also conveyed in the term: ‘two tables of testimony’ –  שְׁנֵ֨י לֻחֹ֤ת הָֽעֵדֻת֙  (snei luchot habrit) mentioned in Exodus 34:29 and in the Passover song, “Echad Mi Yodea”.
The traditional Jewish division is to divide the ten into two lists of five to be paired with the two tablets of stone. According to the Jewish sage, the Ramban, the two lists of five commands are two sides of the religion and divides into themes – five laws dealing with our relationship to God and five social laws. But why is the command to honor parents located in the section that deals with belief and God? The Ramban writes: “for as I [speaking of God] have commanded you in My honor, (referring to the first four commands), so I command you in the honor of My partners in creation (ie, our parents).”  He adds, “It is correct for a person to recognize and repay, in some measure, the good which has been offered to him … A person should realize that his father and mother are the cause of his existence in this world; therefore it is appropriate that he render them all the honor and do them all the service he can. For they brought him into the world and labored greatly on his behalf.”  The phrase “our fathers” is only one word in Hebrew: אֲבֹתֵ֔ינוּ – ah-vo-tei-nu.  It occurs 80 times in the Bible.  The direct reference is to the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but it also refers to all the forefathers of the Jewish people – ie, the preceding generations.
The fifth commandment begins with the word ‘Honor’ (Hebrew: כַּבֵּ֥ד – kabed). The Hebrew root is kaf-bet-dalet (כבד) and means ‘honor, respect, glorify’.  It also means ‘to be weighty or heavy’.  The fifth commandment is also the only one with a promise of long days.  On this Father’s Day weekend, let us be sure to honor and thank our father’s!  They gave us life and made us what we are!
Bible Studies from the Original Context

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