Bible Studies from the Original Context



Nugget #229: The Power of the Truth

The Power of the Truth
I will never forget many years ago as a beginning Hebrew student when my Hebrew teacher made a copy of Psalm 121 from the T’nakh and we sat on a park bench on campus and she taught me to read this Psalm.  (I still have that piece of paper and always keep it in in my Bible.) This is my very favorite Psalm and I have it memorized in both English and Hebrew. Because this lesson made such an impression upon me, I wanted to share these verses with you today. Please see the graphic below with the Hebrew verses and English underneath.
First, my teacher went through the Psalm and circled all the occurrences of the root: שמר  This root is very important and it means: “keep, watch, guard, preserve, retain” and sometimes “observe”.  There are 6 Hebrew words in this Psalm with this root!  I have made them bold above and also, the English equivalent is in bold font. When we carefully examine the Hebrew text, it often comes alive with many details that we did not see in the translation. My favorite phrase is in verse 4, “guardian of Israel” – sho-mehr yisrael –  שׁוֹמֵ֗ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל.  When you read the Psalm, it is very evident that God Himself is the Guardian of Israel. God can and has guarded and protected Israel in the past using miracles.  He can still do so today and there have been many miracles in Israel since 1948.   However often He works through people that He has called to the work of guarding and protecting.
In 1909, the Jewish pioneers that had returned to Israel formed Ha-Shomer (‘The Guard’) which was a network of men who watched over the early farms and settlements.  Ha-Shomer was the earliest forerunner of the Haganah (הַהֲגָנָה) meaning ‘the Defense’.  The Haganah was established in 1920 and operated until the nation of Israel was founded in 1948 when it became the Israel Defense Force (IDF).  The IDF still retains some of the founding principles of Ha-Shomer – to guard and protect the citizens of Israel. It is the most solemn duty of a government to protect it’s citizens.
I love the book of Isaiah.  He must have lived in a time much like today, because he wrote, “And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.” (Isaiah 59:14)  Isaiah’s situation was bleak because it seemed that truth was defeated.  The Hebrew word אֱמֶ֔ת (emet) means both ‘faithfulness’ and ‘truth’ and is etymologically related to the word, אָמֵֽן, (amen).
This past week I was blessed to attend the AIPAC conference in Washington, DC with over 18,000 pro-Israel delegates. One thing that we learned is the simple power of speaking up with the truth about Israel. The media constantly projects an anti-Israel bias and it seems the main agenda in the UN is not to stop the terrorist nations, like Iran, North Korea and Syria, not to mention groups like Hamas and Hezbollah (who kill thousands of innocent people), but rather the UN’s prime directive is to delegitimize the only democracy in the Middle East – Israel. As I read the news reports, it seems that truth has ‘fallen in the street’ concerning Israel – just like in Isaiah’s day.  I am not sure what one person can do, but I decided that speaking the truth would be a good start. The greatest speaker at AIPAC was the US Ambassador to the UN, and former governor of my state, South Carolina – Nikki Halley. I was so proud to be a South Carolinian and to hear her very pro-Israel views!  I know the Lord is the “guardian of Israel” and I do pray constantly for the people of Israel. However, I am also blessed to be able to follow the examples of Joseph, Moses and of course Queen Esther, who petitioned the ruler of the nation on behalf of the nation of Israel. One person can make a big difference and speaking the truth is always the right thing to do. I am so thankful to live in American where we can visit our Congressmen and Senators and express our pro-Israel stance to them. Please continue to pray for Israel and make your voice heard through letters.  One person can make a big difference.

Nugget #228: Fulfill Your Calling

Fulfill Your Calling!
This week’s Torah portion is the final one from the book of Exodus and details the building of the Tabernacle (Heb: הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן – HaMishkan) The root of this word (שכנ ) is also present in the word שכינה (Shekinah) – which refers to the presence of God – esp. in the Tabernacle and in the Temple. First, God commanded Moses to ask the Israelites for an offering of building materials. Several times in the text the emphasis is made upon the ‘willing offering’: “The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the LORD.” (Ex. 35:29a) The people gave so much that Moses gave a commandment to restrain their giving. (see Ex. 36:6) Remember they had been slaves in Egypt for over 400 years, yet they gave over $35 million (today’s estimated value) in goods that they “spoiled” from the Egyptians. God actually had ordained the circumstances so that the Egyptians gave the Israelites what they would need to give the offering back to Him to build the Tabernacle. They did not give anything that God had not first given them!
Not only did God give the children of Israel the materials for the Tabernacle, but He also gave them the wisdom to make it. First, He gave Moses explicit instructions on Mt. Sinai. And then, God gifted some very skilled people, lead by Bezaleel and Aholiab, to put everything together and actually build the Tabernacle. God told Moses that He had both called and qualified Bezaleel to build the Tabernacle: “And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the LORD hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship.” (Ex. 35:30-31) God specifically states that He has gifted Bezaleel to do this task with the necessary wisdom and skill. God gave Bezaleel help in the person of Aholiab and others described as the “hearts of all that are wise hearted”  (Exodus 31:6).  In Exodus 35:25-26, we learn that God also gave wisdom to the women of Israel to create the special fabrics of the Tabernacle.  So Bazaleel was the head craftsman and overseer of a group of dedicated and gifted men and women who together built the Tabernacle.
God called Bezaleel and his helpers to build the Tabernacle and gave them gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding to do the task. However, the Tabernacle was not built until they all did the work:”And Moses called Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whose heart the LORD had put wisdom, even every one whose heart stirred him up to come unto the work to do it.” (Ex. 36:2) Although necessary, the offering alone did not produce the Tabernacle. The calling and gifting of Bezaleel and his helpers alone did not produce the Tabernacle, but they had to actually do a lot of work before the Tabernacle was a reality. God calls people to many different tasks, but we can be assured that  whatever task God calls us to, He will give us exactly what we need to accomplish it.  However, the work will not be accomplished unless we fulfill that calling and do the work! Has God given you a special calling? Let’s be sure to fulfill it!

Nugget #227: Overcome Evil with Good

Overcome Evil with Good
Mystery!  A constant theme of the book of Esther is that ‘things are not always the way they appear’.  The name “Esther” is from the word mistar ( מסתר) and means ‘hiding place’. [Note: Esther’s Hebrew name is Hadassah (הֲדַסָּה) (Esther 2:7) and means “myrtle” – (which is one of the four plants in the Lulav used during Sukkot.)  Esther hid her Jewish identity per Mordecai’s instruction (Esther 2:10)  The book of Esther has an element of suspense and the characters in the Purim story are different from what they at first appear to be and thus it is longstanding Jewish tradition to celebrate Purim by dressing in costumes.
Historical Background
During the years that I lived in South Africa, my pastor always taught us that we must correctly give the historical background before we teach the Bible – otherwise the true meaning of the text is lost. One can draw hundreds of applications from a text, but the true meaning to the people it was originally written to is the most important meaning!
Esther is a beautiful piece of literature with Esther being the lead protagonist (hence the book bearing her name) and Haman being the antagonist. Esther was an orphan and Mordecai, the other protagonist in the story, was her older cousin that had adopted her as his own daughter. (Esther 2:7) The king of Persia, Ahasuerus, had appointed Haman as the Prime Minister and had given him great power. Esther 3:2: “all the king’s servants that were in the king’s gate, bowed, and reverenced Haman: for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence.” Haman became incensed at Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him and obsessed with how to get even. His negative feelings towards Mordecai quickly escalated to all of the Jewish people when Haman discovered that Mordecai was Jewish: “wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus, even the people of Mordecai.” (Esther 3:6  
Haman pledged to King Ahasuerus the equivalent of $3.8 billion USD to the King’s treasuries if he would sign the evil decree guaranteeing the destruction of all the Jewish people in the entire kingdom of Persia on the 13th of the month of Adar (the last month in the Hebrew Biblical calendar). Haman is specifically called “the Jews enemy” (Esther 3:10)  It sounds like the headlines from today’s newspaper as very powerful, anti-semitic rulers in Persia (known today as Iran) are still plotting to destroy the nation of Israel and are very blatant with their threats! [Note: Haman’s evil decree was signed into law by Ahasuerus on the 13th of Nisan (the first month on the Biblical Hebrew calendar) – which is one day before Passover Eve. (see Esther 3:12) So on the Eve of celebrating the birth of the nation, the Jews of Shushan are told that in exactly 11 months (the 13th of Adar) they will all be destroyed.]
Was Haman’s hatred of Mordecai (and the Jews) only because Mordecai would not bow to him? Esther chapter 3 introduces us to Haman, “After these things did king Ahasuerus promote Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite.” (Esther 3:1) The Agagites were descendants of King Agag, the Amalekite king that King Saul had spared, by disobeying God, approx. 600 years earlier. (see 1 Samuel 15:8)  Because of his disobedience, God took the kingdom from Saul and gave it David. Why was God’s punishment so severe? The Amalekites had been a constant security threat to Israel since the time of Moses: “And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Ex. 17:14)  Why were the Amalekites so opposed to Israel?  They were the descendants of Jabob’s twin brother Esau: And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau’s son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek.” Genesis 36:12 God knows all things of course, and He told Rebekah, even before Esau and Jacob were born, that they would always be in conflict: “the elder [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob].” (Genesis 25:23) Later God gave Isaac a prophetic blessing concerning the relationship between the descendents of the two brothers: “Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee.” (Genesis 27:29)
So, ultimately, Haman is a descendant of Esau. The first time we are introduced to Mordecai  (Heb: מָרְדֳּכַ֥י) is Esther 2:5: Now in Shushan the palace there was a certain Jew, whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.”  So now we understand the enmity between Haman and Mordecai is a fulfillment of the prophecies that God foretold would exist between the descendents of Jacob and Esau. We also see that if Saul had obeyed God and killed king Agag, there would be no Haman 600 years later to threaten the Jewish nation.
God Gives Second Chances
How would God save the Jews from Haman’s evil decree?  Miracles? Armies?  Sometimes even miracles and armies are “in disguise” – as is the case in Esther. Just one person is sufficient when that one person is in God’s hand!  God had been working behind the scenes and had all the players in place – like a great chess match! Since a Benjaminite (King Saul) was responsible for this mess to start with, God was going to use two Benjaminites to ‘right the wrong’ because Mordecai and Esther were of the tribe of Benjamin. Most people know the story how that Queen Esther went before King Ahasuerus, at the risk of her own life, revealed that she was indeed Jewish and that fulfillment of Haman’s evil decree would mean the destruction of both her and her people. Because of his great love for Esther, King Ahasuerus listened to her and evil Haman was hung on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
Overcome Evil with Good
Persian law, however, was very strict! Once a decree was signed by the king, it could never be reversed. (Esther 1:19; 8:8) Therefore although Esther went before Ahasuerus, and Haman was now dead, his evil decree was still in effect and the death sentence still loomed upon the Jews unless … For the first time in the story, Ahasuerus does a good deed. He gave to Mordecai and Esther, Haman’s estate, and he gave to Mordecai, Haman’s position as Prime Minister of Persia. Then he instructed Haman to write a new decree that would override Haman’s evil decree and would permit the Jews to defend themselves if attacked on the 13th of Adar. So in one stroke, God turned certain annihilation into a day of deliverance and salvation and, “The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour.”  (Esther 8:16)  The 13th and 14th of the month Adar, which Haman had chosen to be days of destruction for the Jewish nation, became instead days of “gladness and feasting” and became the holiday of Purim. (Esther 9:19)   Esther and Mordecai overcame Haman’s evil decree with a ‘good decree’ that saved the Jewish people. Sometimes bad decisions simply cannot be ‘undone’. However we can make new decisions that are greater than the bad ones. The apostle Paul summarized this idea very well: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Hebew Nugget #226: Learning to Wait upon God


The verse we are focusing on is Exodus 24:12, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.” Note the English phrase, “come up”, is translated from the Hebrew word  עֲלֵ֥ה (ah-leh) (Strong’s #5927) which means, “to go up”. God knew that in order for Moses to obtain the complete revelation that He had for Him, Moses needed to disengage from his surroundings so that he could focus completely upon God. So, God commanded Moses to come up to the top of Mt. Sinai.  


The phrase, “be there” in verse 24 is translated from the Hebrew phrase, הְיֵה־שָׁ֑ם  – (h’yeh sham). In the previous verses, the elders of the children of Israel had offered sacrifices to God. However here, no mention is made of building an altar, or offering sacrifices.  Moses waited six days (verse 16) atop Sinai before God called to him from the cloud on the seventh day.  What did Moses do during those six days?  He was not reading the Bible because he had not written it yet!  He was not reading commentaries as there were not any.  He was not talking to anyone because he was alone.  God said He wanted Moses to just “be there”. Moses waited and meditated upon God. Patience is a lost art in our society today. Everyone wants everything to happen instantly. However if we truly want to know God, we must learn patience and to wait upon God. 


Moses experienced God face to face as Deut. 34:10 tells us, “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”  This phrase, “face to face” (Hebrew: פָּנִ֖ים אֶל־פָּנִֽיםpanim el panim) is repeated three other times in the T’nakh: Ex. 33:11; Num. 14:14; Deut. 5:4.  The Bible tells us clearly that no other prophet in Israel ever knew God the way Moses did. Certainly Moses’ “waiting ability” had much to do with his closeness to God!  Our modern society has programmed the younger generation to need constant external stimuli so they are always on the smartphone – texting, tweeting, facebooking and seeing what is trending. This behavior has produced an entire generation with no original thinkers – everyone believes what is trending or what they are told to believe by someone else, by the news agencies (which are not reliable), or by the ‘movement’ they identify with. Few people think their own original thoughts and even fewer think deep thoughts about God! However, the only time we can do deep thinking (ie, Biblical meditation) is when all external stimuli are turned off.  Biblical meditation means to deeply ponder and pray over Biblical truths. We have produced a generation that does not know how to wait on God like Moses had to wait and because of that, we do not experience God like Moses experienced Him either.


Time our most precious gift: So what did Moses do while waiting on God? Well, he was giving to God his most precious possession: time! God puts a high priority upon our fellowship with Him and wants a close relationship with us.  He is a person, and as with any person that we are close to, we must invest time in our relationship with them or we drift apart. No one today has time for anyone anymore. Everyone is “busy”. In the old days, people used to visit their friends. Then the phone came and they replaced visits with calls.  Then calls were replaced with emails. Now we are fortunate if we get a simple text. Our generation which has all the technology, has almost zero true communication. Tragically, the same is true with our relationship with God. He does not want to hear from us once a week while we are running out the door to work! He created us for fellowship and He will never give us peace without this deep relationship with Him!  


Note the final phrase in Exodus 24:12, “that thou mayest teach them.” God’s purpose in giving the Law to Moses was so that he could in turn, teach it to the children of Israel. The best Bible teachers are those who spend time knowing God. I do not mean knowing “about” God by reading a book. I mean, “knowing God”. The only way to truly know someone is to be with them a lot! Like He did to Moses, God will sometimes place us in a ‘desert place’ of life so that we can be removed from things that are distracting us from seeking Him.  He may remove us from family, friends, activities, or even our job or ministry. He desires to speak with us and He desires that we listen to Him. Only then will our words have power and relevance to our hearers. Do not despair if you find yourself in a ‘desert place’ of God’s making, but rather move forward to God. “Be there!” with Him and trust that He has designed this circumstance especially for us so that we may draw closer to Him. Moses is our example. He knew God ‘face to face’.  I sure want to know God that way! Don’t you?

Hebrew Nugget 225: Life in the Secret Place


This week’s Torah Portion, יִתְר֨וֹ (Yitro, the English translation is ‘Jethro’), covers Exodus 18, 19 & 20. Chapter 18 speaks about Yitro (Jethro), Moses’ father-in-law who is the “priest of Midian” according to Exodus 2:16.  Remember that Moses had lived in Jethro’s clan for 40 years in the land of Midian, in Arabia, before returning to Egypt after the burning bush episode.  Now Jethro, along with his daughter, Zipporah ( צִפֹּרָ֖ה), who is Moses’ wife, comes to visit Moses. Jethro gives Moses some sound advice and then departs again “into his own land” (Ex. 18:27).

Israel was exactly three months out of Egypt when they entered the wilderness of Sinai according to Ex. 19:1.   Verse 3 says, “And Moses went up unto God…”.  The Hebrew: וּמֹשֶׁ֥ה עָלָ֖ה אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים 

Transliterated as Moshe ah-lah el-HaElohim.  The very important verb ah-lah (עָלָ֖ה) is used which means literally ‘to go up’.  

Notice the beautiful words that I am calling God’s preamble to the giving of the law in verse 4: “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.” (Ex. 19:4).  The Hebrew word for eagle is nesher and we see it here in the plural, nesherim (נְשָׁרִ֔ים ).  God’s view of the Ten Commandments (and eventually the Law) was God’s way to prepare the children of Israel to come to Him as the eagles came to Him.  God did not mean for the focus of Israel to be on the Law itself, but rather, on Him!  God’s Word is extremely important because it is the path to God.  But we worship God, not His Word. He seeks a personal relationship with each of us, not just a knowledge of His word.

As we read the passage carefully, I count that Moses went up to Sinai (and back down to the people) a total of four times by the end of chapter 20.

Ex. 19:1 “Moses went up unto God”

Ex. 19:7 “Moses came and called for the elders”

(obviously he had come back down)

Ex. 19:8 “Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD”

(obviously he had gone back up to Sinai)

Ex. 19:14 “Moses went down from the mount unto the people”

(in order to sanctify them as God commanded)

Ex. 19:20 “Moses went up” (ie, to God on Sinai)

[This time, Sinai was on fire and there were earthquakes – signaling volcanic activity]

Ex. 19:25 “Moses went down unto the people”

[Again, God sends Moses down with further cautions to the people of Israel to not touch the mountain] 

In Exodus 20, God verbally gives the Ten Commandments, speaking them out loud for all the camp of Israel.  The two tablets of stone also known as the Two Tablets of the Covenant – Sh’nei Luchot HaB’rit 

( שני לֻח֥וֹת הַבְּרִֽית), are not given until chapter 31.  The people are now in fear and awe of God – which they had not been before despite the plagues and miracles that God had performed for them in Egypt. 

Notice verse 21, “And the people stood afar off, and Moses DREW NEAR unto the thick darkness where God was.”  There was something very special about Moses.  First, he had a great godly fear and respect of God, yet he was NOT AFRAID to approach Mt. Sinai when the people were afraid.  The people on the other hand, did not have the godly fear of God (evident in their worship of the golden calf that we will see in a few more chapters), yet they were AFRAID of God.  Their fear was same that Adam and Eve had in the garden after they sinned.  Remember what Adam said in Genesis 3:10,  “And he [Adam] said, I heard thy voice [God’s] in the garden, and I was afraid.

Secondly, Moses did not think of any sacrifice as ‘too much trouble’ to get closer to God. Think of him walking up and down Mt. Sinai now FOUR TIMES! Remember that he was 80+ years old!  [He had to be very fit by the way!]  He had such a desire for God, that he did not think of this as bothersome!

God wanted the Israelites to be close to Him as is evident by His words in Ex. 19:4, “I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.”  As we continue to study Moses life, we see that He realized a closeness to God that few people do and this passage gives us a glimpse as to why – Moses took TIME to be close to God! Time is the greatest gift we can give to anyone.  Not money or other gifts, but just time. Moses took time to listen to God and God listened to Moses. If we want to be close to God, it is simply a matter of spending more TIME with Him – reading His Word and in prayer. (The same is true of our family and friends too. Time is always the greatest gift!)

Jewish tradition attributes Psalm 91 to Moses. Who else could pen those majestic words except that man who lived in the secret place?  “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1  That is where I want to be also!  Don’t you? 

Bible Studies from the Original Context

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