The Apostles and the Law

“You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law. (Acts 21:20)

 After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples begin to live out their new found faith in Messiah. It is important for us to examine how they lived in order to determine if they continued to follow Torah. Again, not as a means of salvation, but, did they keep it as an expression of their stance as a community of God. We will begin with the book of Acts and progress into the theological teachings of the letters from the apostles in a following post. Is there evidence that the first apostles had torah observance as an expression of their religiosity? If so, this tells us that early apostolic thought was not that the Torah was “done away with” after the resurrection of Messiah.

Immediately in the book of Acts, we find support for, not only Torah observance from the apostles, but also from the Lord Himself. Prior to His ascension, Jesus tells the apostles to “tarry in Jerusalem” until the coming of the Holy Spirit. This would’ve been a great time for Jesus to demonstrate to His new church that the law was “done away with.” However, this is not what we read in the New Testament. What we find is that Jesus, the one who baptizes with fire, choses a holy day as prescribed in the Torah, as the day for the Holy Spirit to come. Jesus sets it up this way. He purposefully tells the apostles to stay in Jerusalem till the coming of the Spirit. He knew it would come at Pentecost. All Jewish males were required to be in Jerusalem according to the law, and Jesus commanded His new church to be in the place that the law required. If Jesus was anominal (without the law or doing away with the law) He should have chosen a different city from which to establish His church and not the capital of the Old Testament, and the place where the law states that God will “establish His name.” Especially since this particular Holy Day celebrates the giving of the Law to Israel. This would’ve been an awesome opportunity for Jesus to distance Himself from Torah; however, He does not. He continues in torah observance for His church even after His ascension and resurrection. This tells us that Jesus still has respect and honor for the law and that the law has a place in the life of a believer. This theme continues. We see a constant undertone in the life of all the apostles where their lifestyle centers around torah observance while walking in the power of the Spirit.

In chapter 3 of Acts, we find Peter and John (two of Jesus inner circle of disciples) going up to the Temple at the “hour of prayer” which is the ninth hour. It is interesting to note the particular time that these two apostles pick to go to prayer. The law commands that two sacrifices were to be made daily, one in the morning and one in the evening (Exodus 29:39). The evening offering was usually offered at the ninth hour. Hence, all the faithful in Jerusalem would pack the temple precincts at this time for prayer according to the Torah. Who do we find in the middle of all this? Two of Jesus closest disciples. John Lightfoot notes, “This is certain, that the ninth hour of the day (which with us is three o’clock in the afternoon) was the ordinary hour as for sacrifice, so also for prayer too. As to the hours of sacrifice, Josephus gives us this account: ‘in the morning and at the ninth hour they offer sacrifices on the alter twice a day.” (1) The fact that John and Peter where in the temple precincts praying with every other Torah obedient Jew in Jerusalem makes a statement about their stance on the law. This also applies to the newly appointed deacons.

When we get to Acts chapter six, we find Stephen going to trial. What is he accused of? He is charged with “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” (Acts 6:11) Stephen is accused of being “anominal.” (Not observing the Torah) What is interesting about this is that it was all a lie. The first part of that verse tells us “ Then they secretly instigated men who said.” thus, they were making up a lie. This means that there was no grounds for the accusation. Hence, Stephen must have been Torah observant in some regards because if he was not, they wouldn’t have had to lie about him. In fact, when they pick up stones to kill him, he accuses them of not keeping Torah. He states, “you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7: 53) Stephen tells them that they received the revelation of how to live as God’s chosen people and they rejected it. Then, they, full of rage, picked up stones to kill him. Why? Because he was right.

In Acts chapter 10, Peter has a vision that is filled with multiple images and illusions that some have used to justify the eating of unclean foods. This subject is one that I will cover in an additional post, but one interesting point I would like to bring up now. Peter had been walking in the power of the Holy Spirit for awhile prior to this vision. If Jesus were “doing away with the dietary laws”, as some theologians would have us believe as recorded in the gospel of Mark (another post that will come later on Mark 7:19) Let’s suppose that Jesus did declare all foods clean back in the gospel of Mark. What should we find Peter doing at this time in his apostolic career? Eating whatever he wanted and teaching others to do the same. What we find in the book of Acts is exactly the opposite. Peter states, “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” (Acts 10:16) One might argue that the fact that Peter didn’t “get it” until now is difficult to imagine. Peter was raised a Jew and if Jesus was teaching the disciples to “do away with the law”, as dense as he was on occasions, Peter would’ve gotten that, for sure. It would’ve been a no-brainer for him and for any other Jew. (In fact, the Sanhedrin could’ve had actual charges to bring against Jesus had he broken the dietary laws of Torah, they wouldn’t have had to bring in liars. They would’ve had real charges.) To sum it up, we find Peter here still adhering to a torah observant lifestyle.

Once again, in Acts chapter twelve, we find the apostles in Jerusalem during the Holy Days. It is the feast of unleavened bread and it was commanded in the Torah that all males go to Jerusalem. Again, we find the apostles in the middle of the torah observant crowd preaching the gospel.

In chapters 13 and 14 we find Paul and Barnabas going out on their first missionary trip. We see them going to synagogue on the Sabbath day. Thus, we find them observing the Sabbath, a huge torah observant trait. Why wouldn’t these apostles, sent by God, have told these converts to have church on Sunday because Jesus changed all that with his resurrection? The reason we find it absent from the text is that this particular theology didn’t exist at this time. (again, another post that will follow) What we are demonstrating throughout the book of Acts is that, the apostles led an underlying torah observant lifestyle,

The Jerusalem council takes place in Acts 15. When one is discussing the Jerusalem council, it is important to put the whole thing in its proper context. The context of the council is not, what is the role of torah in the life of the believer. The context of the council ia, how does one get saved. Salvation is what they are discussing and not the law. Evidence of this is found in the first verse of the chapter. It states, “ But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1 italics added for emphasis) Why was there so much disputing? Does it make any sense that if the Law had been “done away with” as is so commonly taught, someone here would have said so, and the dispute would have been resolved quickly and easily? If the believers in Christ were not obligated to follow the Law, why didn’t they just say “well, this is awfully silly. None of us have to follow the law! Don’t you know that it’s been done away with?” But no one says this. Instead they are trying to figure out the laws the Gentile believer must follow in order to be saved ([see verse 1]) Once we understand that they are not discussing the role of Torah in the life of the believer. Things begin to make sense.

The law is only mentioned because it is being misused as a vehicle of salvation. This is what Peter clarifies when he states, “Now, therefore, why are you putting to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:10-11 italics for emphasis) Peter is telling us exactly what we have been saying throughout this series, that the law was never intended to be a vehicle of salvation. But it does have a role in the life of the believer. This is what James clarifies when he states, “but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” (Acts 15:20-21) What James means by this statement is that the Gentiles need to turn from a polytheistic worldview to one of monotheism. All of the activities described for the Gentiles to turn away from are forms of pagan worship. It would’ve been easy for the polytheistic culture of the Greeks and the Romans to lump Jesus into a category with all the other gods. The apostles were moving them into a monotheistic worldview. What is amazing about these recommendations is that many of them are from the Torah. As noted Jewish scholar David Stern notes, “Abstain from things polluted by idols, defined in v. 29 as food sacrificed to false gods, especially meat. Fornication, any form of sexual immorality. In the first century pagan world sexual unions outside of marriage were regarded very lightly, along with homosexual behavior, temple prostitution and other improper practices…And blood. This could be either literal, referring to drinking animals blood, or failing to remove it from meat, or figuratively, a metaphor for murder.” (2) Also, in the Torah, God tells Noah, “ But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (Genesis 9:4) So, it would appear that the recommendations for the Gentiles, again in order to be saved, was to turn ones heart completely toward God which is demonstrated by doing some things that are listed in Torah. (see below for details) Furthermore, common sense tells us that these can’t be the only four things of the Law that are required of Gentiles, because then Gentiles would be free to murder or to lie or to steal or to hate their neighbors, or to practice homosexuality, or witchcraft – all of which come directly from the Torah but are not mentioned here as the “necessary things” (vs. 28) These four laws have something distinctive about them that sets them apart from other Laws such as hatred or homosexuality, which we believe to be the worship of idols.

James goes on to suggest that after the Gentiles have turned from a polytheistic worldview, that they should go to synagogue and learn the torah as the standard of holiness. Avram Yehoshua, a torah observant Jew and teacher in Israel writes, “This is probably the most interesting sentence in this passage. “For Moses of old time has in every city those who preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” What does Moses being taught in the synagogues have to do with anything? We believe that verse 21 is the logical extension of verse 20 and verse 11 (that the Gentile is saved in the same way as the Jew.) The Gentile didn’t need to be circumcised in order to be saved (more on that later.) But the Gentile did need to be told what would disqualify him from membership in the kingdom of God. (v. 20) Then he was directed to the synagogue to learn all of the rules of the Kingdom that pertained to him (v. 21). Not every law of God pertained or applied to the Gentile, just as every law of God didn’t apply to Jesus. He didn’t need to keep the laws pertaining to offering up the daily sacrifice (Exodus. 29:38-42) because He wasn’t the High Priest in the Jerusalem Temple. But Jesus kept all the laws that applied to Him. The Gentile would learn Torah as they walked with Jesus. No one, least of all James, expected the Gentile to learn Torah overnight. The Gentile would assemble in the synagogue on the Sabbath (see Acts 13:42; 13:44; 18:4) to learn the Torah of Moses, gradually. This verse tells us that James assumed or understood that the Gentile was to go to the synagogue to learn the Law of Moses. In declaring to everyone at the council that the Gentiles were to go to the synagogues on the Sabbath Day to learn Christ’s commandments, we see that James was thinking about Torah specifically in relation to the Gentile. They would learn it every Sabbath. With that, he shows us today that Torah should be a part of every believer’s life. James was establishing the place of the Law for those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:31). He was presenting Torah as a lifestyle of sanctification for the Gentile just as it is for the Jew (e.g. Peter, Paul, etc). (3)

 

To re-cap, the Jerusalem council met to discuss the question of “how are the Gentiles to be saved?” They determined that the law was never intended to be a vehicle of salvation. Furthermore, the Gentiles that were turning to God, were encouraged to keep some of the commandments of torah (thou shalt have no other gods(Exodus 20:3), do not engage in temple prostitution (Duet 23:17) and stay away from blood(Lev 17:10). If the intention of this council was to “do away with the Torah” because Jesus fulfilled the law, then they failed miserably. Far from doing away with it, the apostles established it as a measuring line for holiness. This was the original intention of the law. To provide a standard of holiness for God’s chosen people.

The apostle Paul begins his second missionary journey in chapter 16. The first thing that Paul does in preparation for this journey is circumcise Timothy. The reason for this being “because of the Jews” in that area. This demonstrates that Paul continued to have a reverence for Torah. Later in his life, Paul will be accused of taking an uncircumcised man into the Temple, an action which would’ve violated temple customs. In order to live above reproach, he circumcises Timothy. At a minimum it demonstrates his respect for the law. (As regards to Titus’ uncircumcision, it would appear that Paul wouldn’t circumcise Titus in order to placate Judiazing Christians who purported that circumcision was necessary for salvation, again this was the reason for the Jerusalem council.)

In chapters 16 and 17, we again see Paul, as was his custom, going to synagogue on the Sabbath. Again, Paul is observing Shabbat. More information is available on Paul observance of the law in chapter 18.

Two interesting events take place in chapter 18 that gives us insight into Paul’s torah observance. First, he is accused, by the Jews, of “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.” (Acts 18:13) Let us recall that this is the same accusation that was brought against Stephen. Paul never gets the chance to refute these charges, but he will later while on trial in Jerusalem. Secondly, Paul takes an interesting vow that required him to shave his head. (Acts 18:18) The only vow that demanded the shaving of the head in scripture is the Nazirite vow of Numbers 6:1-21. Commenting on this passage, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states, “Paul had evidently taken a Nazirite’s vow which he began to terminate at Cenchreae by cutting off his hair (Acts 18:18), and which was completed formally in Jerusalem with other Christians under Nazirite vows (Acts 21:23).” (4) This proves a great deal about Paul’s personal convictions about the Torah. It was more to him than a tool of evangelism, more than just being a “a Jew to the Jews”, it was his lifestyle and culture. It was not his vehicle for salvation, but, he continued to observe it as a lifestyle of holiness. As noted Jewish scholar David Stern notes, “No matter what the details of Sha’ul’s (Paul’s Hebrew name) vow were, this proves that he did not abandon the Torah; on the contrary, even when he became as a Gentile among Gentiles he continued to observe Jewish practices. See also Acts 13:9, I Corinthians 9:20-22 (5) This fact is further demonstrated when the scripture states “I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem.” (Acts 18:21 KJV) This is a quote from Paul who desired to go to Jerusalem for an upcoming holy day. If he was not concerned with Torah, the feast in Jerusalem wouldn’t matter to him. Scripture paints a different picture of the apostle. Mainly, that he continued to be torah-observant.

An interesting phrase is used in Acts 20 that, on the surface, seems to inaugurate Sunday worship instead of Sabbath. This verse states, “ On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7) There are several reasons to believe that this was not a traditional Sunday morning worship service. First, Paul continued to preach until midnight. This is either the longest recorded sermon ever, perhaps lasting around 14 hours, or, something else may have been happening. Perhaps the phrase, “On the first day of the week“, had something to do with it. “We have reasons to believe that Luke uses consistently in his narrative the Jewish time reckoning. According to such a system…the first day began on Saturday evening at sunset, the night part of Sunday preceding the day part. The evening of the first day on which the meeting would then corresponds to our Saturday night…In light of these indications it would appear that Luke respected the Jewish liturgical calendar and used it quite consistently when reckoning time” (6) ( Consequently, the meeting took place on Saturday night after the close of the Sabbath. It is interesting that at this time of day, Jesus did ministry as well. (see Mark 1:32)) Perhaps Luke’s numerous mentioning of Torah, proofs that he, himself, was a torah observant Christian. It would seem unlikely that Luke would follow around Paul and not participate in the things that Paul was doing. This evidence suggest at a minimum, Luke’s knowledge of torah, and at a maximum, his participation, along with Paul, in torah observant events. Nevertheless, it does seem to de-bunk the theology of Sunday worship beginning here. On the contrary, it occurred in a meeting after the Shabbat.

Further evidence for the Torah observance of Paul and his traveling companions is found later in chapter 20 where it states, “for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.” (Acts 20: 16) Again, Pentecost is one of the feast that required Jewish males to be present in Jerusalem. Because of his torah observant lifestyle, Paul was hastening to be in Jerusalem. Was he present in Jerusalem at all the feasts? No, but, he lived torah as his lifestyle and when it was possible for him to “keep” a commandment, then he kept it. When the work of an apostle kept him from Jerusalem during the feast, then he honored the higher calling on his life. Nevertheless, Paul was mindful of the Holy days and desired to keep them according to Torah. Additionally we find in chapter 20, “And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.” (Acts 20: 6) Here we see Luke and those with him make specific mention to the feast of the unleavened bread (which starts on the day of Passover.) We also see Luke make specific mention to the fact that they did not leave Philippi until after the days of unleavened bread. By this it can be determined that they were keeping the feast of the unleavened bread, else there would be no reason to tell us that they waited until the days were over.

Another example of Paul’s torah observance is found in Acts 23:2-5: And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, [thou] whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the *law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people. (KJV) The word “law” used in verse 3 is the Greek word “paranomeo” (Strongs 3891) which means “to break the law, Torah”. Paul, who is usually so bold and unwilling to compromise calls the High Priest a “whitewashed wall.” However, upon finding out that he is a High Priest, he backs down saying: “it is written, thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” Did it make the High Priest any less wrong? No. But we see Paul clearly unwilling to disobey a Commandment found in the Torah. (Leviticus 5:17, 18; Exodus 22:28)

There are some other references to believers as being torah observant. In his defense, Paul describes Ananias, the one who laid hands on him to receive his healing and subsequent, baptism in the Holy Spirit, as “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.” (Acts 22:12) This means that a believer, other than an apostle, was a torah observant Christian. Furthermore, the book of Acts mentions, “The Fast” in Acts 27:9. No doubt, this is a reference to the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kipur in Hebrew), a day when the devout Jews would fast. (See my article on the blog entitled, “The Day of Atonement.”)

 

Perhaps the strongest evidence for torah observance among the apostles and the first Christians comes from Acts 21. Several references exist both to the church in Jerusalem’s stance on torah and the apostles stance, as well. First, Paul and James meet and James and the elders in Jerusalem glorify and rejoice with all that God is doing among the Gentiles. Secondly, James shares with Paul about the ministry in Jerusalem. James states, “ “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law. (Acts 21:20) This verse demonstrates that the first believers of Christ, were saved by grace but joyfully and willingly chose to live out the holy standard of the law as a lifestyle. This was the essence of the church in Jerusalem. It is also important for us to understand exactly how many people were living according to this lifestyle. If this is just a few radical fundamentalist, then a case can be made that this was not the stance of the first church. A cursory glance at the text dispels all doubt. “It is estimated that the population of Jerusalem in the first century C.E. was approximately 100,000 to 120,000 people. In Acts 21:20, the Greek text literally tells us that “tens of thousands” (Greek word for myriads) of Torah observant Messianic Jews lived in Jerusalem. Using the least case scenario, at least 20,000 people in this population were Torah-observant Messianic Jews.” (7) This tells us that the bulk of, if not all the Christians in Jerusalem, were torah-observant Christians. In point of fact, torah-observant was not the minority opinion, it represented the bulk of all Christians living within the first 30 years of the resurrection of Messiah. This gives us insight into their theology and how they practiced the faith. Exactly as we have maintained the relationship with the torah.

Then, James tells Paul that they have heard rumors that He was “ they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.” (Acts 21:21) This was an accusation that was made of Paul earlier in his career, as we have already noted, and an accusation that was made against Stephen. James, however, is confident in Paul’s’ torah observant lifestyle, that he asks Paul to take some Christians who had taken a Nazirite vow, to the temple to offer the appropriate sacrifices and pay for the purification rites. This Paul willing does. Why? The only motive that is mentioned in the text is to prove his own torah observance to those who were torah observant, all of which, are Christians. While in the temple, Paul is again accused of anomonism (a torah-less-ness lifestyle) and is almost killed by unbelieving Jews. This leads to his arrest and eventual trip into Rome. To sum up Paul’s stance on Torah, perhaps we should let his own words speak for himself. “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.” (Acts 28:17) and in another place he states, “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets.” (Acts 24:14) . If the ministry of Christ was truly to abrogate all of the torah in the lives of the believers, then that ministry failed. It is evident from this review of the book of Acts that the apostles continued to observe Torah while maintaining the stance that they were saved by grace. Yet, the law remained the standard for the Holy People of God. This stance completely agrees with our stance as set forward in the beginning article, The Law and The Believer. Therefore, the bulk of the evidence in the lives of the apostles points toward torah observance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endnotes

**All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of the Holy Bible, Crossway Bibles, Wheaton IL, 2001. Unless otherwise stated.

1. Lightfoot, John, Commentary on the New Testament form the Talmud and Hebriaca, Hendrickson, Publishers, 2003, volume 4, page 37.

2. Stern, David, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, Maryland, 1992, page 277.

3. For further discussions on the Jerusalem council and torah observance in general, the reader is encouraged to visit Avram Yehoshua web site, www.seedofabraham.net and also to see his book entitled, Set my People Free. Much of what is written here as been gleaned from his work.

4. Bromiley, Geoffrey, The International Standrd Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, MI, 1979, Page, 502.

5. Stern, page 291.

6. Bacchiocchi, Samuele, From Sabbath to Sunday, The Pontifical Gregorian University Press, Rome, Italy, 1977, page 105.

7. Freidman, David, They Loved the Torah, Lederer Books, Baltimore, MA, 2001, page 74.

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Revival is a Mess

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” (Pro 14:4 ESV)

     Revival is messy business. So many issues are bound to arise out of a movement of God. There is no coincidence that John Wesley prayed, “Lord, send revival without all the defects, but if this is not possible, send revival anyway. We must have revival.” (1) Wesley, knew all to well, that revival brings out issues. I think there is an obvious spiritual reason for it.

     The last thing that the devil and the demonic hordes of hell want is for revival to take place. Why? Because a true revival develops multitudes of people that remain faithful to God because of their experiences in revival. Revival raises up ministers for the Kingdom of God that have a lasting impact on the world. We could quote numerous sources from Azusa Street and the Toronto revival where this point is amply illustrated. (2) Nevertheless, revival changes people. It changes the most notorious sinners into saints, and it changes saints into anointed and powerful men and woman of God. Obviously, this is something that hell would like to avoid. Hence, it does all that it can to prevent it from occurring. Some of us may be experiencing this now, in this present time. We must, however, press on. Revival is going to come, so we must press on in prayer. ( Please see my post from last year about praying for revival. Many great revivals have been birthed in prayer, Red River, Azusa Street, and the Welsh revival.)

     Even after revival begins, hell does all that it can to destroy and stop it. Again, the historical references here are too numerous to list. We can begin with Clara Lum stealing William Seymour mailing list after his marriage. Prior to that, Evan Roberts was deceived by the Lewis-Penn couple and locked away for years ending the Welsh revival. The recent Brownsville, Florida revival was ended over division that originated from a so-called prophetess. Lastly, the events of the Lakeland revival with Todd Bentley are all obvious examples that the forces of hell move violently to stop revival. Therefore, we must be prepared.

     We must remain transparent with one another and maintain lines of communication. We must remain connected to each other in covenant relationships. We must have humility to allow God to control everything that is happening. We can not allow doctornal issues to separate unity of the Body. What matters most during revival is that people are experiencing the Presence of God in such profound ways that it changes who they are as individuals. Nothing should ever be done to hinder this work of the Holy Spirit. This is what matters most. We must be flexible to allow God to change our own religious paradigms. Revival happens when God works outside of the box of how we feel He should operate. We must be open to God doing things that make us somewhat uncomfortable without attempting to control or change what is happening. The Holy Spirit must have complete control to change any order of any service regardless of who the speaker or worship leader might be. We must never allow pride to justify harboring an area of sin.

     Humility, above all else, is key to revival. My dear friend, Brian Vandiver, had a wonderful experience where humility became a living entity to him. I believe this is huge. This is what is necessary for the continuing of revival. Humility and a spirit of repentance. Frank Bartelemann Of Azusa street once wrote that, “the depth of revival will be determined exactly by the depth of the sprit of repentance.”(3) We must be willing to be convicted about stuff and be able to confess that to each other without a fear of judgment or condemnation. Neither of which exist in the Kingdom of Christ. When the power of God shows up, it will change the saints. We must allow the presence of God to convict us and bring us to repentance about whatever issues might exist. Randy Clark, one of the leaders of the Toronto revival wrote, “Revival is not just abut power. It is not even primarily about power. More importantly, it is about love and humility. Are we willing to allow the Holy Spirit to do whatever it takes to break us of our pride, our need to control, out of self-seeing motives in ministry? Are we desperate enough for Him to let Him completely have His way in us.”(4) Revival has a transforming effect on people and transformation can get real ugly. Can we please remember that each of are human beings and are fallible. Let us operate out of a spirit of love, mercy, and grace.

      It is important to remember that persecution will follow revival. Again, there are too many historical examples to site. The Los Angeles Times blasted the Azusa Street revival. Fox news blasted the Lakeland Revival. In old days, drunken mockers would come to disrupt services. During revival, hell ramps up its efforts to instill in us the “fear of man” so as, to shut down the revival. We must not allow this to happen. It can be combated by being transparent about our fears and discussing them with one another and with God. Through our relationships with each other and with God, we can overcome them.

     There will also be different manifestations of the Spirit. We must be willing to accept this while praying for discernment to see where demonic spirits may be attempting to operate during a meeting. However, we must allow an environment that permit’s the unique expression of a person individuality and their relationship with God without prejudice. Frank Bartlemann writes, “But we can be cautious without being critical. We can be discerning without being destructive. Oh, let us have an open mind lest we be among those who cling to tradition and miss God.” (5)

     We must also take care of each other and watch for potential burnout. When revival fires are burning, people don’t get much sleep, and they tend to eat poorly. I remember Todd Bentley’s doctor telling him that he had the body of a sixty year old man, when Todd finished revival. We must watch each other and take care of each other. Roberts Liardon has some good advice in this arena, He writes, “Mature revivalist much learn to care for their physical bodies. You can live out of your spirit, operate in the anointing, and get the rest you need. If you don’t disaster is pending…A revivalist must know how to lead and rest in order to remain a vital instrument of God.” (6)

 Endnotes

1. Clark, Randy, There is More! Reclaiming the Power of Impartation, Global Awakening, Mechanicsburg, PA, 2006, page 123.

2.  Here the reader is referred to the above mentioned book by Randy Clark. Suffice it to say here that Heidi and Rolland Baker powerful movement in Mozambique has roots in the Toronto Revival. Secondly, the reader is referred to a book which is a collection of William Seymour’s newsletter that came from the Azusa Street revival: Hyatt, Eddie, (editor) Fire on the Earth, Creation House Publishing, 2006.

3. Bartlemann, Frank; Azusa Street; Whittaker House, New Kinsington, PA, 1982, page 19.

4. Clark, page 186.

5. Bartlemann, page 173.

6. Liardon, Roberts, God’s Generals, Whitaker House Publishing, New Kensington, PA, 1996, page 88-,89.

The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath

“And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.   So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27-28 ESV)

Having discussed previously that the Law has a role in the life of every believer(see the law and the believer), let’s discuss exactly what that role is.  In the aforementioned passage, Jesus makes some statements about the Sabbath and who is the ruler or “lord” of the Sabbath.  As we define exactly what Jesus is saying, this will gives us some insight into the keeping of the Sabbath, and subsequently, into the keeping of the law.  The idea presented here is that, it is up to each individual believer to determine, through their relationship with God, exactly how they are going to “keep” each commandment. The Law was given to us and we are the “lords” of that law.  It is to serve us and not us it.  Therefore, every believer, through their consciousness before God, must determine how they are going to “keep” the commandments.  First, let’s discuss this passage and draw conclusions from what Messiah is telling us.

The most common interpretation of this passage is as follows:  “In what sense now is the Son of Man Lord of the Sabbath day?  Not surely to abolish it–that surely were a strange lordship, especially after just saying that it was made or instituted for man–but to own it, to interpret it, to preside over it , and to ennoble it, by merging it into the Lord’s Day, breathing into it an air of liberty and love necessarily unknown before, and thus making it the nearest resemblance to the eternal sabbatism.” (1, please see footnote for additional information)  What we can infer from this traditional Christian commentary is that the passage “Son of Man” is a Hebrew idiom in which Jesus is referring to Himself.  With this interpretation, we completely agree.  Jesus was the “Son of Man”, the God-man, who put on flesh and dwelt with us, and who came as Messiah to give us the complete interpretation of the Law. (as was previously discussed in the post “Jesus and the Law”)   However, if we delve deeper into the Hebrew of this passage, we can come up with an additional interpretation, that will shed some light not only on the Sabbath, but, on who we are as a people of God.

“In Hebrew, ‘son’ can mean not only a male offspring, but also ‘descendant’, citizen, member and even  disciple…Actually its range of meaning is even wider than we indicated”  ‘son of a house’ is one who is such a close friend that he is like a member of the family; ‘son of death’ is one who deserves to die, or who has been condemned to die; ‘son of Gehinnon’ (hell) is someone who is bound for hell;…and there are many other idiomatic usages in Hebrew of the word “son”.” (2)  So, if someone was considered a son of something, then, it meant that they had the characteristics of that particular lifestyle.  Well, son of man, basically means that a person is a human being.  It is the most common designation that God uses when he is talking to the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel.   Repeatedly, God calls Ezekiel, “son of man.”  This gives us a different and unique interpretation of the aforementioned passage.   Jesus is telling us that first, the Sabbath was created for us.  Meaning, that God gave us the Sabbath (Exodus 16:29) for our own benefit and that we as “lord” of the Sabbath determine exactly what activities are prohibited and what is permissible based upon each ones consciousness before God.  We do not serve the Sabbath, the Sabbath, was given to us by God and as lords of the Sabbath we determine how we celebrate it before God.  As Paul writes, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. “  (Colossians 2:16 ESV)  With this interpretation, noted Jewish scholar David Stern agrees.  He writes, “It may be, therefore, that Yeshua’s comment in v. 28, that the Son of Man is Lord of the Shabbat, does not refer only to himself but to everyone, since Hebrew ‘ben-adam’ (literally, son of man) can mean simply ‘man, person’ with no Messianic overtone:  ‘people control Shabbat’ and not the other way round.” (3) Also, with this interpretation, that Talmud agrees as well, “Rabbi Yonatan ben-Yosef said:  ‘For it (Shabbat) is holy unto you.’ (Exodus 31:14)  That is, it is committed into your hands, not you into its hands!”(4)  Additionally, David Friedman gives us both interpretations.  He writes, “I understand Yeshua to be saying that collectively; men rule over the Sabbath,  Yeshua, as a special “Son of Man” (in Second Temple language, son of man denoted an apocalyptic figure, or the Messiah) had authority from God to teach the Jewish people about correct Sabbath priorities.” (5)  Hence, Jesus has the authority to tell us that we are the ‘lords’ of the Sabbath because He is the “Son of Man.”

If we can spring-board off of the Sabbath and apply this principle to the law, we determine the role of the law in the life of the believer.  We do not serve the Law, the Law serves us.  It is up to each individual believer to determine which commandments they are capable of keeping and how they will keep those commandments in their own individual relationship with God.  It matters not to me how one keeps the commandments.  What matters is that we believe that we ought to keep them as an expression of love toward God.  Paul agrees with this when he writes, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but obeying God’s commandments is everything.” (I Corinthians 7:19, ISV)  We were not created for the Law, but, as God’s chosen and special people, the law was given to us.  Therefore, it is our obligation as holy people, to determine how we are going to “keep the commandments of God.”

Endnote

1.  Jamieson, Robert; Faussett, A.R.; Brown, David, A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Hendrickson Publishing, Peabody Mass, 2002 second printing,  page 70.  Of course, we completely disagree that Jesus was here changing the Sabbath to Sunday worship, which seems to be the inference from this passage, as is also noted in the Matthew Henry commentary.  We will discuss the changing of the day of worship by the church in another post.

2.  .  Bivin, David, Blizzard, Roy, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994, page 55 & 127.

3.  Stern, David, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Clarksville, Maryland, 1992, page 89.

4.  The Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85b, as quoted in Stern, page 89.

5.  Friedman, David, They Loved the Torah, Lederer Books, Messianic Jewish Publishers, Baltimore, MY, 2001, page, 16.

Jesus and the Law

Matt 5:17-20: [17] Think not that I am come to destroy the law (nomos; Torah), or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. [18] For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [19] Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [20] For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus  came to be our example.  He demonstrated to us what a man, in right relationship with God, can accomplish by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, his comments on the law are of the utmost importance.

The word used here for “destroy” is the Greek word “katuloo” (Strong’s #i2647) its meaning is “to loosen down, to disintegrate to demolish, or to halt.” Messiah is telling us here what He has not come to do.  He has not come to loosen down, stop, or disintegrate the Law.  Yet, this is the position that Christianity has taken for thousands of years.  How often have we heard that the “law was done away with.”  This position is totally untenable when we examine what Jesus is saying in this passage.  The first verse totally disengages the church’s position.  The law must have a place in the life of the believer.  For years, theologians and preachers have told us that Jesus fulfilled the law, therefore, it no longer applies to us.  But that is not what Jesus is saying here.  This position is saying thatr by fulfilling the law he abolished the law.  Not so, He is telling us that it has a place.  To further discuss this, let us look at the word for “fulfill.”

The word used for “fulfill” is the Greek word “plerroo” (Strong’s #4137).  It’s meaning, is to “make replete, to fill up,  or to fulfill as in cram to the tap.”  It is the verb that Paul uses regarding the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5:18 where he states, “be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  This gives us a sense of what the word means. It means that as Christians we should be crammed to the top with the Holy Spirit.  So, what could the  possible meaning be in this context of Matthew 5:17?  “Rather than being destroyed it now existed as God originally intended.  It had come to an end in one form, but continued in another, more perfect form.” (1).  It would appear that Messiah is here restoring the Law to its original intention as a lifestyle of holiness for the priesthood of all believers.  The Law had been perverted into a system of works that became a vehicle of salvation.  Jesus was clarifying that He was the only means of salvation, but this did not destroy the law.  As the IVP commentary states, “Jesus opposed not the law but the illegitimate interpretation of it that stressed regulations more than character.” (2)

If fulfill means “to do away with” then we have Jesus saying one thing (Do not think I have come to abolish the Law) while immediately contradicting Himself (I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.)  “To fulfill” obviously can’t mean “to do away with.”  Jesus reveals the essence of the Law by saying things like “You have heard it said of old that one must not murder, but I say to you that if you hate your brother in your heart that you have already murdered him.”  Jesus was clarifying and amplifying the Commandment (Law) not to murder by showing Israel what the essence of the Commandment is.  He didn’t throw out the commandment not to murder by telling us the essence of the Commandment.  But what He did do was sweep away any thoughts that one could keep that Commandment perfectly, even if one had not literally murdered someone.

In Hebrew terms, Jesus is using rabbinical terms of the time to explain His position.  “Destroy and fulfill are technical terms used in rabbinic argumentation.  When  a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of scripture, he would say, ‘You are destroying the Law!’  Needless to say, in most cases his colleague strongly disagreed.  What was ‘destroying the Law’ for one sage, was ‘fulfilling the law’ for another.” (3)  Of course, neither rabbi in the argument would ever think of negating any commandments of scripture, they were just technical phrases from rabbinical schools of thought to be seen figuratively and not literally.  The church has taken a literal position and tossed out the Law for the believer.

While many people say that Christ fulfilled the commandments at the cross (therefore we are no longer required to obey them)  we know this cannot be true, as Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law to love our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we are “free” to hate them because Christ fulfilled the Law for us.  When does He say the Law will pass?  “When Heaven and Earth pass away.”   This has not yet happened.  The Law is still in effect.

An additional Hebrew idiom can be found in phrase, “I have come”.  “When Jesus says “I have come” the English reader immediately pictures Jesus leaving his heavenly throne and, as the Servant of the Lord, coming to the earth.  But “I have come” may often be a Hebrew idiom denoting intention or purpose.” (4)  Thus, we can translate “I have come” to mean something completely different than the incarnation.  My purpose or My task rather than “this is the reason that I left heaven.” With this purpose in mind, John Lightfoot gives us an additional perspective on this verse,  He writes, “It was the opinion of the nation concerning the Messias, that he would bring in a new law, but not at all to the prejudice or damage of Moses and the Prophets:  but that he would advance the Mosaic law to the very highest pitch, and would fulfill those things that were foretold by the prophets, and that according to the letter, even to the greatest pomp.” (5)  Is this not what we see Jesus doing in this entire passage of scripture.  Elevating and establishing the Law, rather than abolishing it.

Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.  Our righteousness in keeping the Law must go deeper than the superficial external followings of the Scribes and Pharisees.  Does that mean the Law is done away with?  Well, how did Christ explain this? Rather than telling us not to murder, he tells us not to hate.  Rather than tell us not to commit adultery He tells us not to lust.  The requirements of God through Christ don’t just teach us to follow the Law, they reveal the heart of the Law that one must strive for in Christ.  To not murder is “easy” for most believers.  But to abstain from hate is impossible for most, and that is why we need His blood of forgiveness and His spirit of life, to help us to overcome our carnal nature and receive His nature, so that we can do both the external and internal Law of God.  The Pharisees followed the Laws of God – in their actions.  But their hearts were far from God (Mat 15:8,9; Isaiah 29:13)  Obedience to God is about action (thou shalt not kill) as well as heart (thou shalt not hate.)  Our righteousness must include that of the Pharisees (the external points of the Law) and go beyond it (the heart of the Law, as Jesus revealed it to us.)  Our obedience to God must be an act of the will motivated by a love for God.  Additionally, verse 19 seems to suggest that obedience to the law is a requirement for those who are in the “Kingdom of God.”  In fact, those who support the abolishment of the law are still in the kingdom.  They are called “the least” but they remain in the Kingdom.  Obviously then, obedience to Torah is not a means of salvation.

Let’s close with a lengthy quote from John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible which sums up our position:
“The moralist, the Pharisee, who obeys the Law externally, does not love it, nor delight in it (Romans 7:22) but obeys it from fear of its threatening; and from a desire of popular esteem and from low, selfish views, in order to gain the applause of men and the favor of God.  Only a man restored to God will delight in the law of God, as it is fulfilled by Christ, who has answered all the demands of it.  It is in the hands of Christ, held forth by Him as a rule of holy walk and conversation; and it is written upon man’s heart by the Spirit of God, (Jeremiah 31:33, Heb 8:10) to which the righteous man yields a voluntary and cheerful obedience (Psalm 119).  He serves the Law with his mind, freely, without any constraint but that of love.  He delights in the law, and the delight is mutual and reciprocal: the law delights in him, and he delights in the law; and they both delight in the same things, and particularly in the perfect obedience which the Son of God has yielded to it.”

Endnotes

**All definitions of Greek and Hebrew words are taken from the Strong’s concordance**

**All scripture quotations are taken from the New King James version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, Nashville, TN.**

**Much appreciation if given to my wife Rina as the foundation of this article came from her work**

1.  Bivin, David, Blizzard, Roy, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1994, page 113

2.  Keener, Craig S., The IVP Bible Backgournd Commentary:  New Testament, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1993, page 57.

3.  Bivin and Blizzard, page114

4.  Ibid, page 92

5.  Lightfoot, John, Commentary on the New Testament form the Talmud and Hebriaca, Hendrickson, Publishers, 2003, page 99.

The Law and the Believer

“ One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.” (JPS)

It has been my personal conviction for several years that the commandments of God did not became null and void after the resurrection of Messiah.  Personally, I feel they still have a role in the life of every believer and in the church.  Theologians over the past thousand years would agree that the Law has a role in the life of a believer  and have sought to determine which commandments were morally binding versus the ones that were ceremonial.  I feel this position is a grave mistake for two different reasons.  First, God Himself, when giving the Law, never made a distinction between that which is morally binding and that which was only ceremonial and symbolic.  When we begin to dissect which commands are binding for us morally but not binding for us ceremonially, we have in effect, to quote the old rabbis, “destroyed the Law.”  We are making distinctions that God has not made in Torah (the Hebrew word for law).  Secondly,  when we vanquish a particular commandment because it is ceremonial, we lose the prophetic and spiritual aspects of executing this commandment.  Here is what I mean:  Scripture is filled with seemingly ceremonial acts that moved the spiritual world which, in turn, impacts the physical realm.  For example, Jacob has a dream in which the Angel of God tells him that all of the flocks will become spotted and speckled and God has ordained this to take place.  On his part, Jacob performs a seemingly ceremonial act.  He takes rods and strips of pieces of bark, making them striped, and places them in the watering trough.  It is my conviction that this ceremonial act was actually a prophetic action displaying Jacob’s faith in the dream and the message of the Angel.  This prophetic and ceremonial act of faith, moves the spiritual realm, and the flocks bore stripped spotted young.  When we, as the people of God, make void the commandments of God because we feel it has no benefit for us today, we negate the spiritual and prophetic blessings that obedience brings.  Having said all of that, I believe that the Law has a role in the life of a believer and it is the object of the next series of posts to determine exactly what that role is.

We must speak bluntly from the outset:  the Law was never intended as a vehicle of salvation. God never gave the Law to Israel so they could be “saved” by their own ability to obey the commandments.  This is works based theology and it is unbiblical from Genesis to Revelation.  The Law is filled with God’s acts of grace and the people’s response of faith or, as in some cases, the seemingly, lack thereof.  Nevertheless, obedience to the Law for a mechanism to earns one’s favor with God is not the divine intention.  Again, let me reiterate, that my position has neither been, nor will it ever be, that keeping Torah merits one favor with God.  We don’t keep the Torah so as to get into the Kingdom.  On the contrary, we keep Torah because we already have the favor of God and we keep Torah because we are already in the Kingdom.  This was the divine intention of the giving of Torah to Israel.  Let’s review the circumstances surrounding the giving of the Law.

Israel is in bondage to Egypt.  They are slaves and are being cruelly mistreated and oppressed.  God, in his mercy and grace, hears their pleas and chooses Moses, a most unqualified candidate who doesn’t even want to go, to deliver Israel.  God gives Moses some supernatural ammunition in the form of three signs which work well with the Jews but not so well with Pharaoh.  This leads to much more oppression from the Egyptian and a loss of the trust of the Jews in Moses.  (So much for the theology that miracles and supernatural signs save people)  God cries out to Moses, and in His Grace, delivers a series of plagues which desecrate all of the Egyptian gods and destroys the most powerful kingdom in the world.  Israel is delivered.  How?  By the last plague.  God was going through Egypt to destroy the firstborn sons.  If Israel wanted to be exempt, they had to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost, then God would “pass-over” that house.   Here in the Old Testament, an act of faith on the part of the people followed by an act of Grace by God.  Israel was not delivered from Egypt by the high moral standards of their conduct. They were not delivered because of their works, they were delivered and saved by the blood of the Passover Lamb.  Likewise, we in the New Testament church, as saved by the blood of the Lamb of God.  This is the only means of salvation available to mankind.   An act of faith on the part of the people to believe in the blood of the Lamb followed by an act of grace from God to pardon all our sins.  It is important to note, that God had not given Israel the law before they were saved.  No, that only followed after they were saved.  This is a deadly blow to works based theology because if God was works oriented, He would have given Moses the law to give to Israel and when they were “good enough by their works” He would’ve saved them and no shedding of blood would’ve been necessary.   The apostle Paul understood this all to well when he writes, “I do not set aside the grace of God;  for if righteousness come through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Gal 2:21)

God leads the children of Israel out to Mount Sinai, and some fifty days later around the feast of Pentecost, God declares His intention for Israel.  God’s desire has been and continues to be, “a Kingdom of priest.” (Exodus 19:6)  Peter echoes this same sentiment in the New Testament when he states, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9)  God’s proposal was for the entire nation of Israel to minister to God.  Why?  Because they were already chosen, they already had God’s favor and blessing, they were already in His Kingdom.  God had chosen them as His Special People, the Divine Presence was with them, “a cloud by day and a fire by night.”  No other nation in the world enjoyed that favor.  Then., God delivers to them His commandments.  Why?  Because God’s Special People have a holy standard in which to order their lives by.   This standard of holiness is what separated the Jews as God’s special people from the rest of the world.  Their keeping of God’s commandments made a proclamation to the world that they were, in fact, the people of God.  It should be no different today.  Our actions should proclaim to the world God’s holiness and our favor with Him.  When we obey God out of our love for Him we release the supernatural power of God in our lives.  “If you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” (Duet 28:1)  Please understand, we must make a choice.

God created all of us with a free will.  Why?  It is the only way that love can exist.  Love requires a conscience choice.  The only way for love, devotion, and worship to happen, is that the believer must have the ability to reject or to accept the Lord.  We have this ability.  Hence, when we moved into the Kingdom by our faith in what Jesus has accomplished, we remain agents of free will who need to choice to obey the holy standards of the Kingdom.  When we do this, we release supernatural power over our lives, when we reject it, we don’t.  This is not works theology, this is the theology of using the free will to turn our lives into an expression of our love and devotion  to  God, not only by our words but by our actions.  When we do not, “And My Name is blasphemed continually every day.” (Isaiah 52:5)  John echoes the same sentiment when he writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” (I John 5:2)  Paul also makes a similar statement, “You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law?” (Romans 2:23).  Then he quotes the aforementioned passage from Isaiah.  We do not make our boast in the keeping of the Law, this is the spirit of self-righteousness, we make our boast in being the holy people of God by His grace and justified by our faith.

The Law was never intended to be a vehicle of salvation, it was intended to be the unifying cultural pattern in which the people of God declare their love of Him to the people of God could become more like Him.   Practicing righteousness and choosing to love Him over the flesh, the world, and the devil.  The Law was intended to unite the people of God under one cultural umbrella which allowed for the unique expressions of each individual.  (see future post entitled, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”)

It is the purpose of this series of posts to demonstrate through biblical and historical evidence that this was the faith of the first century church and has, subsequently, been lost.  It is my personal conviction that God is restoring this position to His Church.  In conclusion, the law is a standard of holiness for believers to choose, it is a unifying cultural factor for the church, and it releases supernatural power over our lives.  It is my position that history and scripture will support this idea.  In order to demonstrate it, we must look at the misguided theology of the last thousand years of biblical interpretation in order to restore what has been lost and debunk was has been accepted as the norm.  We will begin with Jesus, then move into the lives of the apostles, then, to the historical evidence of the first-second century church, and lastly, examine where it was in history that the church rejected the law of Moses, the law of God’s people.  “ One law and one ordinance shall be both for you, and for the stranger that sojourneth with you.” (JPS)