4.1.11 Neighbor: Placed in Your Path
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 1.11
One Whom God Has Placed in Your Path
“No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were; as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”—John Donne (1624)
There are two natures within us, vying for dominance. One “looks out for Number One,” a concept that, as we have seen, could (and should) include one’s spouse and immediate family, for a man and his wife are “one flesh.” The other nature realizes, with John Donne, that “no man is an island,” that each individual is an integral part of something unique that God has created—the human race. In a sense, if we can aid or elevate another human being, we have improved the entire species, but conversely, if we diminish our fellow man in some way, we have wounded all of humanity.
The atheist, liberal, evolutionist, or Hindu might expand that sentiment to include all living things—because (as the theory goes) man is just another animal. We are “related” (they say) to apes and amoebas, to orangutans and oak trees, so the death of any living thing is equally tragic. A “religious” vegan (as opposed to one driven by health considerations alone) would contend that “meat is murder,” but if pressed, would reluctantly admit that humans are also “related” to fruits and vegetables—only more distantly. So every bite he takes is cause for remorse.
Being “kind to animals” is a fine sentiment, of course. But if you think about it, the honest evolutionist must disagree with it: if “survival of the fittest” is what advances the species to greater glory (it isn’t, by the way), then helping one to escape the clutches of another (even if the “other” one is man himself) impedes the process. If you “save the whales,” for example, you have hindered the march of man’s upward evolution—and perhaps unfairly disadvantaged plankton as well. If you help the poor, blind, lame, or otherwise unfortunate, you have stood in the way of “progress.” Evolutionary philosophy and environmental or social activism are mortal enemies—or would be, if atheists were consistent or logical.
Christians find themselves on the same side of the issue as the “save the earth” crowd (more or less), but for an entirely different reason: we believe that God assigned us to be the stewards of this nice planet He gave us to live on. A good steward does not rape and plunder that which has been made his responsibility. To put it in Donne’s parlance, the unwarranted death of any living thing at my hand diminishes me, for God placed the earth’s entire biosphere under Adam’s care in the Garden of Eden. It is still man’s job to look after it—to work toward its health and preservation, being good stewards of its bountiful resources.
But God never placed men in charge of other people. That’s Yahweh’s prerogative alone, and it always has been. It is clear from the Genesis record that the human race is a special creation, set apart from every other life form by the “breath of God” (the neshamah, in Hebrew—the capacity for spiritual life) that defines us as having been uniquely made in the “image and likeness of God.” Our relationships with each other were intended to be as between equals, as neighbors, all of us under the Lordship of our Creator.
Since the Messiah’s first advent, the form Yahweh has chosen to employ in His sovereignty over the human race has been the risen Christ. After the resurrection, “Jesus came and spoke to [the Eleven], saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) He didn’t make His disciples “rulers” or “masters” over mankind, but rather, teachers and mentors. The “disciples” they were to make were not to be their own, but followers of Christ.
The Eleven were to “immerse” (for that is what baptism means) these new followers in the name—the identity, character, reputation, and renown—of God. “Name” here is singular: there is but one name for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That name is Yahweh, “I am,” the Self-Existent One. First we were instructed, “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one! You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4) And later, Zechariah the prophet revealed that during the Millennial Sabbath, the King, whom we know to be the risen Yahshua, will be the “Yahweh” who sits on the throne: “And Yahweh shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be—‘Yahweh is one,’ and His name one.” (Zechariah 14:9)
My point is that in God’s order, there are only two classes of beings who may exercise moral volition—God Himself, and we who are made in His image. As far as our Creator is concerned, we humans have no business elevating ourselves over our fellows—our neighbors. Yes, there will be differences between us in terms of talent, wealth, beauty, or intelligence. But these things are gifts: the gifted are expected—required—to use their endowments to elevate their less-gifted brothers and sisters, not prop up their own pride and pretensions. In short, we are all neighbors in God’s plan, not rivals, not haves and have-nots, not rulers and subjects, and certainly not oppressors and oppressed. Look at it this way: to the scientist peering through his microscope, one paramecium looks pretty much like all the others. Before God, we have no excuse for pride, no occasion for self-aggrandizement.
What, precisely, does God mean when He uses the term “neighbor?” Later in this chapter, we’ll encounter a lawyer who tried to weasel out of his responsibility to Yahweh by restricting the use of the term—precipitating one of the best known (and most convicting) of Yahshua’s parables. In Hebrew, the word for “neighbor” is rea—a friend, neighbor, companion, fellow, an acquaintance (whether intimate or passing), associate, companion, fellow-citizen, another person with whom one stands in reciprocal relations, even a husband or lover. It is derived from a primitive verb, ra’ah, which means to keep company with or to tend a flock. It describes the feeding, pasturing, tending, or herding of domestic animals.
The Greek word is plésion, denoting one who is nearby—one’s fellow man, countryman, or one “worthy to be regarded as a friend and companion.”—Thayer. But the majority of New Testament usages of the word are found in passages quoting Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This makes the Hebrew definition (which is quite similar anyway) the definitive one. In practice, being one’s “neighbor” requires only that your paths cross—that there is some sort of connection, if only momentarily. In today’s world, in which “people run to and fro and knowledge has increased,” (Daniel 12:4) that definition has expanded, potentially, to include anyone on earth.
The last five of the Ten Commandments define our proper relationship with these neighbors. Let’s consider them one by one.
(1) “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13) Murder is the taking of the life of another human being. The Hebrew word for “murder” here is ratsach: to murder, slay, assassinate, or kill. Baker and Carpenter note: “The taking of a human life is the primary concept behind this word. It is used to indicate a premeditated murder, and accidental killing, the ultimate act of revenge, and death by means of an animal attack. Provocatively, Hosea [6:9] refers to the lewdness of the priests that led people astray as being equal to murder.”
It is important to note that premeditation or intent is not essential to the concept. That is, manslaughter through carelessness or neglect is also forbidden, although the Law of the Cities of Refuge (Numbers 35:9-34) teaches that murderers are to be dealt with differently from unintentional manslayers. That being said, the word ratsach (found 47 times in scripture) is never used to describe the slaying of an enemy in battle—something commanded by God on occasion. (The word used for being killed in battle is usually chalal, carrying the added connotation of being pierced, profaned, or dishonored.)
The Apostle John explained the ramifications of murder for us. “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” He has just equated “righteousness” with “loving one’s brother”—his neighbor. “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” In other words, it’s envy—covetousness—leading to hatred. “Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we [believers] have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (I John 3:10-15) The word for “murderer” here (anthropoktonos) was also used by Yahshua in describing Satan’s role in leading Adam and Eve into sin. That is, it speaks of something more serious that mere physical death: there are spiritual ramifications.
Clearly, “murder” means more to God than merely killing your neighbor. It is a euphemism for causing him to sin—leading to spiritual death. In fact, Yahshua informed us that hatred is tantamount to actual murder: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ [i.e., ‘You empty-headed numbskull’] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ [the word implies a judgment of godlessness as well as intellectual deficiency—something only God is authorized to pronounce—He’s talking about excommunication] shall be in danger of hell fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
“Murder,” then, includes any display of hatred toward someone else. It comes with the death penalty—literal in the Torah, and figurative or symbolic (that is, spiritual in application—which is even worse) for all of us outside of Theocratic Israel. And as if the prohibition against murder weren’t enough, we are commanded to do the converse—to love our neighbors as we do ourselves.
(2) “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14) Adultery—having sexual relations with someone else’s spouse—is a transparent euphemism for idolatry. It is a symbol of giving the affection we owe to Yahweh our God to some other object of worship—by definition, something inferior to Him. That being said, literal adultery is forbidden because it’s a breach of trust—it’s treachery—against the closest of our “neighbors,” our own spouse.
Nowhere is “loving one’s neighbor” a more serious principle than in marriage. Your “neighbor” in this case is in reality part of you, for a husband and wife are “one flesh” in God’s eyes. Thus if people commit adultery, they have in fact betrayed themselves. The fundamental commandment we keep referring to is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18) (We’ll examine that whole passage in context in a moment.) Normal godly behavior, then, would require that we “love ourselves” on some level. But adultery violates even that: if I were to cheat on my wife, I’d be cheating on myself in the process.
Perhaps that’s why Paul warned us to “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” But then he takes it one step further, pointing out something we too often forget: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (I Corinthians 6:18-20) If we sin against our own bodies by committing adultery, we sin against the Holy Spirit who dwells within us—we quench God’s influence and grieve our best and closest ally.
And then there’s the issue of the “other woman” (or man) in the adultery triangle. If we fall for their seductive wiles (or worse, if we seduce them, instigating the adulterous relationship ourselves) we have not done them any favors. Are not they our “neighbors” as well? When Moses said to “Love your neighbor,” he wasn’t talking about sexual love. To put it in terms of the familiar Greek words, the “love” required of us is agape (unconditional, sacrificial love), or at the very least, phileo (brotherly friendship)—it wasn’t eros.
(3) “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) This one’s obvious enough. A thief impoverishes his neighbor to whatever extent he enriches himself. Or even more: what a thief doesn’t realize (or care about) is that he’s not only stealing stuff; he’s also stealing intangibles like peace of mind and the motivation to work hard for a living. Whatever he stole cost his victim something—money, of course, but also the labor and skill it took to earn that money in the first place. He has also stolen time from his prey—time he would rather have spent with his family, time he can never get back.
It doesn’t matter if the victim is a total stranger. If he’s close enough to steal from, he’s the thief’s “neighbor” in God’s eyes. In Moses’ day, theft was typically somebody stealing a sheep from somebody else’s flock, or sneaking into his tent and making off with a trinket of some sort. Today, the crime can be considerably more sophisticated: maybe it’s somebody behind a computer keyboard in Albania stealing ones and zeros (adding up to real money) from a bank account belonging to a struggling preschool teacher in Kansas. The distance doesn’t matter: the thief has still hurt his neighbor, and God will hold him responsible.
Why do people steal? (Or perhaps that question should be phrased, why might thieves feel their stealing is justified?) Many would claim the reason is their poverty, but this is seldom the case: very few steal because they’re actually poor—so desperate they’ll starve if they don’t steal. Poverty is often a matter of perception, based on relative affluence. Some in America might feel “deprived” because they can’t afford to buy this year’s iPhone or the latest Air-Jordans. But there are places on this earth where owning three pigs and having a clearing in the jungle where you can grow a few yams is considered being rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
So poverty is seldom why people steal. The real reason is usually envy. The thief see a person’s lifestyle, or the things he has, and wants them for himself. So he simply takes them. It never helps, of course. A car thief with a stolen Mercedes in his possession is simply a thief with a stolen Mercedes—not a man wealthy enough to own one. And besides, it’s evidence of his crime, so he feels he has to sell it (or its parts), putting a little cash in his pocket, but bringing him no closer to what he thought he wanted—the lifestyle of a person who can afford such an expensive vehicle. Fact is, thieves almost never get to keep what they stole. At the very “best,” they must sell their booty—and cheaply, at that. Everybody loses.
What the car thief doesn’t realize is that the guy whose Mercedes he stole is likely one of three things the thief isn’t. Either he worked hard for the money (something the thief is not willing to do); or he inherited the money (one can’t choose his ancestors); or the “victim” is an even bigger, more “talented” thief than he is—someone who got rich stealing on an industrial scale from investors, taxpayers, employees, or the morally compromised (e.g. drug addicts), etc. The point is that envy leading to theft doesn’t solve anybody’s problems. It only exacerbates the sin that is already separating us from God.
Another factor is disrespect. People who respect each other do not steal from them. They obey the “golden rule,” expressed thus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” (Matthew 7:12) Nobody wants to be stolen from. Nobody wants to be unfairly impoverished. Inner city gang members carry (and use) weapons because they think it gives them the respect of their peers, when all it really does is generate fear and animosity—not the same thing at all. They think nothing of stealing—in the broadest possible sense of the word—from the public or rival gangs, not realizing that these people are their neighbors: their Creator requires them to love them.
And while I’m on the subject of disrespect, let’s discuss the sin of institutional theft. It comes in three basic flavors. (1) Political theft is when the government over-taxes and over-regulates its citizenry, only to squander the money they’ve stolen (yes, stolen) on questionable, pointless, or downright evil causes. I hate it when money I’ve paid in taxes goes to fund Planned Parenthood abortion mills, for example. (2) Corporate theft describes the process of companies taking unfair advantage of their customers, vendors, and competitors. Predatory purchasing practices, virtual monopolies, bribery, corruption, corporate espionage, and utter disregard for anything that doesn’t enhance the bottom line are just part of the picture. Do your own research on such companies as Monsanto, Microsoft, Nestle, Walmart, and anything that lives on Wall St. The pharmaceutical industry is no longer about preventing pain or curing illness, but about profitable, long-term disease management. I could go on forever, but you get the picture. (3) Religious theft is particularly hurtful because it causes people to blaspheme the God these avaricious institutions claim to represent. Virtually every religion in the world—including the “religion” of Christianity (real Christianity isn’t a religion at all, you understand)—is guilty of pressuring their adherents to contribute to the glory of their sect—and their leaders’ personal agendas—in the name of gods who don’t exist, or if real would cringe at the thought of such extortion.
Some thieves would say, “I just can’t help myself.” Kleptomania—an impulse to steal stemming from emotional disturbance rather than perceived economic need—is just as much “sin” as any other fault caused by lack of self-control. In this case, the thief is not attracted so much by the theoretical financial gain of his theft, but the thrill of having “gotten away with it.” He’s serving a false god—not mammon this time, but the almighty adrenaline rush. The bottom line, however, is that the thief’s neighbor still suffers. It doesn’t matter why you take what doesn’t belong to you: by stealing, you have broken the law of love.
And don’t imagine that shoplifting is a “victimless crime.” Just because one person with a name and address and children to feed hasn’t been singled out for harm, it doesn’t mean harm wasn’t done. You can’t logically say, “Everybody does it.” No, they don’t. Nor can you claim, “The store is big enough to absorb the loss, and besides, they’ve got insurance.” The sad fact is, big stores know that a small percentage of their clientele is going to steal inventory from them. There’s even a word for it: “shrinkage.” So they don’t “absorb the loss.” They merely estimate how much is going to be stolen from them ahead of time, and add it to the cost of everything they sell. The store won’t be a victim if they can help it—the shoplifter’s real victim is everyone who shops there.
It would probably be only a slight exaggeration to chalk up most theft to simple laziness. God’s pattern, of course, is to work six days a week to obtain what you need to live your life—setting aside the seventh day to rest and reflect upon His goodness. A life of property crime can seem like a short cut, allowing the thief to avoid the hard work our sinful natures brought upon us (Genesis 3:17-19). But in truth, there is a trade-off: thieves sometimes take outrageous risks of getting caught and punished—far outweighing the possible rewards. And it seems to me, a well-planned and executed heist of something worth protecting has got to entail more “work” than simply holding down a job and earning a paycheck.
In the end, the primary reason people steal is a failure to trust God. We have a skewed view of what is necessary and what is not. As Yahshua said, “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:31-34)
(4) “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16) The Ninth Commandment has less to do with being candid and truthful than it does loving our neighbors. Gentlemen, if your wife asks you, “Does this dress make me look fat?” by all means skirt the issue. But we are at all costs to avoid telling falsehoods about our neighbors designed to harm them.
The simplistic view of this commandment is its prohibition of perjury, but it goes deeper than that. One need not be “under oath” in a court of law to run afoul of this. It could take the form of simple gossip—idle talk or the spreading of rumors, especially about the personal or private affairs of other people. The Bible warns us incessantly against gossip. For example, “A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends.” (Proverbs 16:28) “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.” (Proverbs 11:13) Paul chastised young widows who were “not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not.” (I Timothy 5:13)
And he included gossip in a litany of sins characteristic of those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” earning them the “wrath of God.” “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers [i.e., gossips], backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:28-32) One way or another, Paul named all five of these love-your-neighbor precepts in this list, plus the First and Fourth Commandments.
What we say—or don’t say—about other people is a matter of circumstances. We must balance “Have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (I Peter 4:8, quoting Proverbs 10:12) and “[Love] thinks no evil…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:6-7) against “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25, quoting Zechariah 8:16-17) The Zechariah passage goes on to state, “Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace. Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor. And do not love a false oath.” It’s not always easy to tell the truth without going out of your way to harm your neighbor—but we are commanded to do just that.
The problem is that letting the guilty go unpunished (by refusing to testify to the ugly truth against him) is just as bad as penalizing the innocent by “bearing false witness” against him. The one whose word or behavior is in question deserves the truth, whether he’s innocent or guilty. So if required to testify, tell only what you know to be true through first-hand experience. Don’t jump to conclusions or repeat hearsay. And never invent testimony—whether intended to convict or acquit. A lie can be told either through omission or commission. That is, pertinent information withheld is just as much “bearing false witness” as is fictitious evidence presented. Remember, a criminal’s next victim is your neighbor too, just as is a man unfairly accused of a crime.
In an era of social media, “bearing false witness against your neighbor” is so easy, we usually don’t even realize we’re doing it. Everybody somehow feels they have a God-given right to express an opinion about anything anybody is reported to have done. Politicians, media stars, sports figures, religious news makers (ranging from saints to terrorists)—face it: you don’t know these people or the people who are talking about them. You have no idea if the stories are true, only partially true, cobbled together with agenda-driven creative editing and Photoshopped pictures, or out and out satire. And even if the stories were true, you weren’t there. You are not authorized to call the president a lying psychopath—even if he is one. In a way, “bearing false witness against your neighbor” can include telling the truth about them without having first-hand empirical knowledge.
Preaching to the mirror there.
(5) “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17) At the risk of over-simplifying things, this final commandment identifies a fundamental reason why people perpetrate the other four (murder, adultery, theft, and bearing false witness). They want something their neighbor has—something that they have neither earned nor has God seen fit to provide. Stealing is the most obvious outworking of covetousness: you see something you want, so you take it. The question you’d have to ask yourself is, if you hadn’t seen it, would you still want it? Would Attila the Hun covet a shiny, chrome-encrusted custom Harley Davidson motorcycle? No, but he might kill you for your horse.
James ties it all together for us: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:1-4) Actually, the entire book of James is a sagacious treatise on how to love one’s neighbor—and how not to. Here he virtually equates theft, murder, and adultery—and traces them all back to covetousness.
And a few verses later, he brings “bearing false witness” into the conversation: “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:11-12) “Brothers” and “neighbors” are interchangeable terms in passages like this. If you “speak evil” of your neighbor (provided your testimony isn’t offered to protect another neighbor) you have said, in effect, “I am above God’s law; my opinion outweighs His.” This is, if you think about it, covetousness of the worst kind—a desire to wield the authority that belongs to God alone. It is also covetousness if your “evil” testimony is simply an attempt to elevate your status above your neighbor’s by diminishing him through slander.
I don’t know about other cultures so much, but America is driven by covetousness. Advertising is the engine that, at least in intent, tells us “what we should want.” This morphs into covetousness when we desire something because someone else has it—and there’s a fine line between one thing and the other. It isn’t always “stuff,” either. It could be help with your health issues, real or imagined (or merely the desire for a more attractive body); the promise of a better life through somebody’s political agenda (invariably a gross exaggeration); things to make your life easier or more convenient (now that you’ve got so much free time you don’t know what to do with it); and even social causes designed to make you feel better about your wasted life.
Advertising is usually geared to make you want one “brand” instead of another one—you’re going to drink beer anyway (or not): but are you going to buy Budweiser or Dos Equis? Automobile ads promise you what they think you want—either performance, or safety, or prestige. (For some reason, cheap, reliable transportation is deemed a total turn off.) There is often an understated suggestion, not a promise, exactly, but a hint of some hidden benefit you are presumed to covet: if you buy our thing, you’ll get more sex, or freedom from your ball-and-chain life, or better health, or improved finances, or the envy of people you don’t even like, or you’ll get more sex. (Yeah, I said it twice: it’s a very popular motivator.)
God knows we are masters at the art of the excuse—justifying our actions with pious sounding reasons for coveting what belongs to others. One example (which we may feel free to take as a parable and apply to our own lives): “You shall burn the carved images of their gods with fire; you shall not covet the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, lest you be snared by it; for it is an abomination to Yahweh your God.” (Deuteronomy 7:25) Yahweh instructed the Israelites to wipe out every vestige of idol worship from the land. So here’s this carved image left behind by the fleeing Canaanites. The god it represents is nothing, of course—but it’s covered with gold, and it has big jewels for eyes. Let’s at least scrape off the gold and buy a sheep to sacrifice to Yahweh as a burnt offering. Or the modern equivalent: They found this old idol in an archeological dig. It’s not actually a god—it has no power—but it has great historical and artistic value. Look at the workmanship! If they put it in a museum, I’d pay to see it. Nope. That thing was used to honor a false god. It’s worse than worthless. Have nothing to do with it.
We first heard that we are to love our neighbors in the Torah. But too many Christians these days think the Law of God is obsolete (never mind what Yahshua said about its ongoing significance). The Law never delivered us from sin (for the simple reason that none of us was ever able to keep it). But Christ’s resurrection delivered us from the curse our sin had laid upon us—revealed by the Law. So Paul writes, “Now we have been delivered from the law, having died [through our association with Yahshua] to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire.” (Romans 7:6-8) So the Law, summarized as “Love God and your neighbor,” was fulfilled in the life of Christ.
Thus if we are “in Him,” we have by definition “kept the Law” via that association. (We certainly haven’t come anywhere close in our own strength.) Paul summarizes the thought a few chapters later: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
As if that wasn’t persuasive enough, his admonition about how to treat our neighbors in the previous chapter cuts right to the heart of the matter: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:9-18) You’d be hard pressed to find a more practical summary in scripture to define what it looks like to love your neighbor.
The “practical parts” of the Torah give us a clear picture of what the “Levitical parts” are supposed to look like in our daily lives. Leviticus 19 is where we find the definitive statement about “loving your neighbor” that is quoted so often elsewhere in scripture. Let us, then, look at the passage in context. Who knows? We may find a few surprises lurking here.
First, we find a command to take care of the poor among us, for they are our neighbors. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am Yahweh your God….” The principle is stated as an easy-to-follow precept for folks living within a close-knit agrarian society: if you’re blessed enough to have a field, vineyard, or orchard, leave something behind—purposely—for the poor to harvest. If God doesn’t bless you with a crop, you owe them nothing, but if He causes grapes to grow on your vines, or grain to sprout in your field, then leave some of it for the poor to collect.
In a nation as vast as America, this precept must of necessity be taken more on its spirit than on the letter: if God has blessed you, bless somebody back. Note, though, that the poor have to come out and work for it: the landowner isn’t required to pay his vinedressers and reapers to harvest the crop and deliver it to the poor—which would be the rough equivalent of the welfare system we use in this country today—something that can breed a mentality of entitlement, sloth, and greed.
The converse of blessing your neighbor (whether poor or not) is to steal from him. This could take any number of different forms: “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am Yahweh. You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning….” All of these things are examples of what it is not to love your neighbor, and they all betray an attitude of disrespect. Lying, cheating, stealing, profaning God’s name (Yahweh), even paying your bills late—these are all evidence of hatred of your fellow man and mistrust of God’s ability or willingness to provide for your needs.
An omniscient God also knows what we do, think, and say in secret—our uncharitable attitudes and underhanded dealings—even if our “victims” (the objects of our hatred) are none the wiser. “You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am Yahweh….” Total, transparent honesty is required by God. Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” It’s an election year again as I write these words, and as usual, I am appalled at the lies some of the candidates are willing to tell to one audience in order to raise funding—while telling different lies to another audience in order to secure their votes. They hardly bother to conceal their corruption anymore, because their greed and ambition is exceeded only by the ignorance of the electorate. None of what I see—from either side—is driven by reverence for our Creator. But note how incessantly God tells us the reason we are to love our neighbors here: in these nine short verses, He reminds us five times that “He is Yahweh.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Yahshua famously said, “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned.” And He was right, of course. But here in Leviticus, we learn that the issue is not quite that simple: if our neighbor is in danger (from himself or others), our love for him must compel us to evaluate and expose his behaviors and beliefs. “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor….” Truth, spoken in love, is to guide our actions. We are not to condemn—or exonerate—anyone on the basis of their demographic profile (rich vs. poor, male vs. female, one race vs. another, etc.). If we are to judge only “in righteousness,” it should be obvious that this is tantamount to seeing things through the lens of God’s revealed word, for none of us is righteous in our own strength.
Is your neighbor’s soul in peril because he worships a false god—or no god at all? Is his substance abuse, laziness, anger, sexual immorality, or dishonesty putting your brother at risk of prison or death? Then by all means, “judge him,” not in moral condemnation (since we’re all sinners, and there but for the grace of God go you and me), but out of concern for his well-being, both temporal and eternal. I’m not saying good behavior will “earn” your neighbor a place in heaven. You know better. But it’s hard for a guy to see Yahweh’s goodness after He’s driven his car off a cliff in a drunken stupor, or died of AIDS, or carried out a suicide bombing for Allah. So intervene. Assist. Advise. Admonish. Counsel. Provide whatever help you can to put your brother on the right path—always in truth, love, humility, and righteousness. We can’t force compliance, but we can—and must—point out the way to eternal life.
“You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am Yahweh….” Why do people gossip or tell incriminating lies (or even truths) about their neighbors? Is it not done in an attempt to elevate themselves in comparison? If he is guilty, then I am comparatively innocent; if she has put on a few pounds, then I am thinner in contrast. Heads up, friends. It doesn’t work like that. We don’t get brownie points for “sinning less conspicuously.”
The “bottom line” of the passage begins with an admonition that completely contradicts the world’s usual take on it: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:9-18) This is all one thought: “loving one’s neighbor as yourself” consists of “rebuking” him when he falls into sin—pointing out to him the error of his ways, so he might repent and re-enter God’s favor. To fail to do so is to carry his sin on your own shoulders (“bearing sin”), something we are specifically commanded not to do. That being said, we are not to take upon ourselves the role of avenger of wrongs, either. That’s God’s job, and His alone. Nor are we to harbor resentment in our hearts (“bear any grudge”) concerning the sins of others. This (again) is God’s prerogative alone: “I will repay, says Yahweh”—in His own way, and in His own time.
This is the converse of the way the precept “Judge not: love your neighbor as yourself” is invariably interpreted in these Last Days. The usual argument goes something like this: Okay, so I’m in a lifestyle defined by God as “sin,” but Jesus says you aren’t allowed to judge me. You are, rather, supposed to “love me as you do yourself,” which I take to mean accepting me the way I am, warts and all—because that’s what you do: excuse and justify your own sin. It would thus be “unloving” of you to point out my self-destructive proclivities. After all, God loves me just the way I am, so I must be good enough. Therefore, you are not only required to accept me the way I am, you also have to support my sin and call it “normal.” Leviticus 19:17 would beg to differ. It says that if we don’t rebuke—chasten, correct, reason or plead with, and warn—our neighbors when we see that they’re living in sin, we actually “hate our brother in our heart.” Loving your neighbor, then, means doing what you can to keep him out of trouble with God—not making him feel good about being bad.
C.S. Lewis (in Mere Christianity) sheds a bit more light on the subject: “We might try to understand exactly what ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’ means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself? Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘love your neighbor’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive.’” Neither narcissism nor self-loathing get us to the heart of the precept, for as sinners, our feelings are skewed: only God’s word can be relied upon.
Well then, how do we keep ourselves “out of trouble with God?” By constant self-examination, honestly comparing our lives to the ideals of scripture, and repenting when flaws are found. I know: it’s easier said than done. But the Bible speaks of this method incessantly: “Repent therefore and be converted [Greek: epistrephó—to return, turn around, or come back], that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19) “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.” (Revelation 3:3) “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die?” (Ezekiel 18:30-31) You get the idea. Note, however, that we can’t realistically expect our brothers and neighbors to repent of their wickedness if we ourselves are unwilling to do so. So “loving our neighbor” implies a willingness to walk honestly and humbly before God ourselves.
Elsewhere in the Torah, we find examples of how to “love our neighbor” all over the place. Later in the same chapter, we read, “If a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) Applying the lessons we’ve just learned, it is apparent that “loving” the stranger living among the Israelites did not entail embracing his idolatrous ways. Israel was commanded to drive out the idolaters from the land (Actually, God promised to go before them to cast them out: e.g. Leviticus 28:24-25.) Thus it is axiomatic that “if a stranger dwells with you,” he has embraced Israel’s God, Yahweh. (Thus the traditional Jewish prejudice against all gentiles was misplaced—cf. Acts 10.)
This should give Americans some guidance about whether or not to receive “refugees” from war-torn Islamic hellholes like Syria or Somalia. Since Islam is fundamentally incompatible with the Judeo-Christian values upon which our nation was built, these “immigrants” should first be required to forsake Islam if they wish to be considered for residency among us. That ought to be the rule, but of course, we in our apostate condition have no idea what “love your neighbor as yourself” really means. There is no provision in God’s world for racial bigotry, but we need to pay attention to the line between openness and foolishness, between mercy and suicide.
Another example: “Cursed is the one who moves his neighbor’s landmark.” (Deuteronomy 27:17) This is a corollary to “You shall not steal,” but this time what is being “stolen” is a man’s ability to earn a living—his opportunity to receive blessing from the God he serves. Land was the basis of wealth, for on it one could plant crops or graze livestock. It was also a man’s inheritance, so if you moved the landmark sixty cubits to his side of the true line, you not only stole from your neighbor, but also from his children, and theirs. Like any theft, moving a landmark demonstrates a lack of trust in Yahweh.
We should also look at this symbolically. A landmark represents truth that is inviolable, “set in stone” so to speak. It is not to be moved, for it serves as a solid foundation, a set reference point from which to gauge all subsequent premises. A syllogism (such as, “All A is C; all B is A; therefore all B is C”) is worthless if “A” is a moving target. Maslow’s classic Hierarchy of Needs placed “self-actualization” at the top of the pyramid (above physiological needs, safety, love or belonging, and esteem.) Self-actualization, in turn, involves the need for morality, creativity, problem solving, meaning, and acceptance of facts. In other words, it’s the need to know—the highest human need of all. If the “landmarks” of truth—the basis of human knowledge—are moved, no one can realize his potential.
That is why Yahweh went to all the trouble of transmitting and preserving His truth through the Holy Scriptures—so we could know where we stood with our Creator. It also explains why Satan, our adversary, is constantly trying to “move the landmarks” of truth, obscuring or shifting our understanding of scripture itself to whatever extent he can. Probably the most egregious example of all is the systematic removal of the name of God—Yahweh—from His written word: it’s presented as יהוה (YHWH) in the original Hebrew Tanakh some 7,000 times, but replaced every time in most versions of the English scriptures with a relatively anemic title, The LORD. The worst thing we could possibly do is lose track of the self-revealed name of our Creator (which means “I Am”—i.e., the Self-Existent One.) Satan didn’t just “shift the landmark” here. He tried to remove it altogether, and failing that, tried to bury it. But those of us who revere Him can still find His marker—if we search diligently for it.
I can’t help but reflect that the increasingly nasty character of these Last Days—worldwide apostasy, immorality, and general godlessness—is due to the fact that our moral landmarks have been moved. Leviticus 4 speaks of the “Sin Offering,” in which somebody (or the whole nation) discovers that they have sinned “unintentionally,” or “in error” or “by mistake.” How does that happen? The moral boundaries have been moved so far, nobody even realizes what they’re doing is sin anymore. For example, Hollywood these days depicts “waiting until the third date to hop into the sack” as the height of morality and sexual restraint—akin to chastity itself—while God, for any number of reasons, clearly forbids sex outside of marriage. What has happened? Someone has “moved his neighbor’s landmark.” And according to the Torah, whoever did this is “cursed.”
What if your neighbor is hungry or in need, even temporarily? Here’s the Torah’s provision: “When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain.” (Deuteronomy 23:24-25) God has, for all intents and purposes, shown us exactly where the line between “theft” and “receiving charity” is. It is not (as we might have expected) in being open and up front with the person whose stuff we are taking. God takes it as a “given” that if you have something worth taking—something needed by somebody—you have it because of His blessing, and should therefore be happy to share some of it, even if you don’t know you’re sharing it. It has far more to do with meeting transient needs, making emergency provisions available—than simply paying the way for somebody who (for whatever reason) has less than you do.
So a hungry person walking near your vineyard may—according to God’s law—step in and eat as many grapes as he wants. The human stomach, after all, only holds about a quart. But he isn’t allowed to take some for later, or harvest some to sell or give away. If other people are hungry, they must come to the vineyard themselves. This system, of course, points out the fatal flaw in western style welfare programs, in which the government steals what productive (or merely blessed) people have, and gives it to those who were too lazy to “go out to the vineyard” and gather it for themselves—after taking a healthy cut off the top, of course. The picture is the same with the grain field. It’s okay to pick whatever you can with your bare hands, and winnow the chaff by rubbing the kernels between your palms as you walk through the field, munching on the raw grain. (Yahshua and His disciples were known to do this very thing when they traveled from one town to another.) But the crop doesn’t belong to you: you can’t harvest it and take it home.
What might this precept look like in modern American society? The obvious permutation would be food banks and soup kitchens—stocked and run by people of compassion. Or—you see somebody running short of cash at the checkout line and putting items back: step up and buy for them what they need. Or—a guy gets mugged or forgets his wallet, leaving him stranded, without food, gas, or whatever he needs to get home: give him what he needs. Tip heavy. Work late. Go the extra mile. It won’t break you, and it could mean a great deal to the one you’re helping.
The idea of getting personally involved in our neighbor’s misfortune is a tough one for most Americans—myself included. There is a saying: “No good deed goes unpunished.” It is always inconvenient, and often expensive, but God doesn’t care: we are to help wherever and however we can: “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray, and hide yourself from them; you shall certainly bring them back to your brother. And if your brother is not near you, or if you do not know him, then you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until your brother seeks it; then you shall restore it to him….” It’s easy to pretend that we don’t see the problem. After all, we honestly miss a lot of what’s going on around us as it is. But Yahweh says that we are to keep our eyes open for problems—anybody’s problems. Note that your “brother” is described as someone you may not even know: the contact is not limited to close personal friends or relations, but potentially includes anybody whose path you have crossed.
Of course, a person’s “wealth” these days isn’t usually apt to wander off like a sheep, ox, or donkey. But there are still parallel examples: you might find someone’s purse, wallet, cell phone, or car keys left behind on a park bench or restaurant table. Do what you can to see to it they can be retrieved by their rightful owners. “You shall do the same with his donkey, and so shall you do with his garment; with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he has lost and you have found, you shall do likewise; you must not hide yourself. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fall down along the road, and hide yourself from them; you shall surely help him lift them up again.” (Deuteronomy 22:1-4) Exodus 23:4-5 makes it clear that even if your enemy has such a problem, you are to help him. As Christ commanded us, “Love your enemy.” One gets the feeling that if we do, we will end up with fewer of them.
Our relationships with our neighbors impact our relationship with God. In the context of the “trespass offering” (designed to atone for lapses in holiness) we read: “If a person sins and commits a trespass against Yahweh by lying to his neighbor about what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or about a pledge, or about a robbery, or if he has extorted from his neighbor, or if he has found what was lost and lies concerning it, and swears falsely—in any one of these things that a man may do in which he sins [see Exodus 22:7-14 for context]: then it shall be, because he has sinned and is guilty, that he shall restore what he has stolen, or the thing which he has extorted, or what was delivered to him for safekeeping, or the lost thing which he found, or all that about which he has sworn falsely. He shall restore its full value, add one-fifth more to it, and give it to whomever it belongs, on the day of his trespass offering.” (Leviticus 6:2-5)
Crime, in God’s economy, doesn’t pay. It can’t even “break even.” Though we are commanded not to steal, theft happens—people succumb to temptation. (Yes, we’re sinners—shocker.) Atonement is available, however: our sin may be forgiven. But before we look at God’s procedure for accomplishing this, let’s review man’s. Our laws in America recognize that theft is wrong, so we punish it with jail time for the perpetrator. We call this “justice,” although the victim is typically left high and dry: if he wasn’t insured for the loss, it’s tough toenails. (And if he was insured, the loss is covered by the premiums paid up front by the victim and thousands of other policyholders—not by the thief.) Or, under Islamic Sharia law, “justice” can include having one’s thieving hand cut off—which (again) does nothing to make the victim whole, but amounts to a life (or is that death?) sentence for the dumb thief, who can never work productively again. As you’d expect from a satanic religion, it’s overly harsh, pointlessly cruel, and doesn’t address the real problem: the plight of the victim.
Under the Torah, there are consequences, to be sure, but they fit the crime perfectly—neither cruel nor particularly lenient. For simple larceny (such as that described here) the thief repays to the victim what he purloined, adding twenty percent to its value for the trouble he’s caused—in repayment of his debt. Under certain circumstances (described elsewhere), he pays back double to the victim, or four times, or even five—depending upon what was stolen, how, and what happened to the booty afterward. That takes care of the thief’s relationship with his neighbor, but now he must come before his offended God with a trespass offering (described in Leviticus 5 and 7). This is to be done on the same day the victim is reimbursed, for the two acts are two sides of the same coin. The trespass offering (like the burnt offering, the peace offering, and the sin offering) is a blood sacrifice—which tells us that ultimately, the thief’s sin against God is covered (atoned) by the blood of Christ, if at all. Once restitution has been made and atonement has been achieved, the thief is forgiven.
Let’s face it: sinning against our neighbor ought to be an unpleasant experience. So God’s law makes sure the punishment pinches a bit—just to make sure we get the message. The less we sin (though we all do) the less self-inflicted pain we’ll feel. That is why we are instructed—commanded—to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Our heavenly Father would really prefer to bless us (and bless others through us) than to waste time and resources cleaning up after our messes.
Is all misfortune the result of sin? Ultimately it is (because we’re a fallen race), but as Job discovered, there’s not always a direct correlation between one’s crime and the bad stuff that happens to him. In point of fact, your temporal misfortunes are almost never due to the direct hand of God laid upon you in judgment or wrath—they’re merely evidence that you live in a corrupted world. Both Moses and Yahshua affirmed the uncomfortable (and politically incorrect) fact that “The poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’” (Deuteronomy 15:11)
This is the bottom line to a principle that is actually far more structured than it appears at first glance. It’s called the Law of the Sabbath Year. The passage begins, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts. And this is the form of the release: Every creditor who has lent anything to his neighbor shall release it; he shall not require it of his neighbor or his brother, because it is called Yahweh’s release. Of a foreigner you may require it; but you shall give up your claim to what is owed by your brother.” (Deuteronomy 15:1-3) Typically, what would happen is that someone you know gets himself into money trouble, and comes to you for help. If you have what he needs, you’d either make him an unsecured loan, or perhaps the loan would be guaranteed with collateral, perhaps even his own labor—that is, a man could sell himself into indentured servitude. Yahweh, however, made it clear that the arrangement wasn’t permanent: at the end of seven years (and the whole nation was to be on the same schedule), everything would revert back to the way it was before: no debt, no servitude. And the land was to be allowed to “rest”—no plowing, planting, reaping, or harvesting—during that whole seventh year.
In the simplest of terms, then, the Sabbath Year is a picture of Yahweh’s plan for the redemption of fallen mankind. The weekly Sabbath entailed six days of work followed by one day of rest. It was mirrored in the Law of the Sabbath Year in which six years of servitude were followed by one year of rest, capped at the end by total release from one’s debt: “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.” Our race became “indebted” to sin at the fall of Adam, and that debt will stand (that is, sin will continue to be a reality in our world) for as long as mortals still walk the earth. And how long will that be? If Peter (II Peter 3:8) and Moses (Psalm 90:4) are literally correct (as I believe they are), then, “one day is as a thousand years” means that the Sabbath Law predicts that our debt will be released for good at the end of seven thousand years—i.e., seven millennia after the fall of Adam. The debt of sin owed by the human race will be no more.
But wait a minute. What about our mandated rest on the Sabbath day, symbolically equivalent to the land’s rest during the seventh year of the cycle? That would commence at the beginning of the seventh day/year. This means that Christ’s Millennial rule will provide rest for our souls and restoration for our planet (though sin will still be possible—by individual mortals—throughout His thousand-year reign). This picture is confirmed to the letter by hundreds of prophecies scattered throughout the Bible. Simply put, the “work” of God is to believe—have faith in—the One whom He sent: Yahshua. So once Yahshua has returned in glory, free will shall be rendered rather beside the point—sort of like “deciding” to get wet when caught outdoors in a sudden downpour. Honestly, you don’t really have much choice in the matter, do you?
And if (as I have explained elsewhere) each of these seven millennia, beginning with the fall of Adam, was marked with an event or sign of crucial importance to our understanding of Yahweh’s plan for our redemption, then you can put a precise calendar date on the commencement of the seventh and final Millennium of the age of mortal man—that in which Christ will rule Personally upon the earth. Though it’s true that “no one knows the day or the hour” of Yahshua’s coming for His church (making it crucial that we remain watchful), we can know the exact date of His Second Coming, and (five days later) the beginning of His Millennial reign. (See The End of the Beginning, elsewhere on this website, for the copious details.) The Millennial Sabbath will begin on Saturday, October 8, 2033—i.e., the definitive Feast of Tabernacles, Tishri 15 on the Jewish lunar calendar.
Despite the prophetic implications, however, we should never lose sight of the fact that the Law of the Sabbath Year was designed primarily as a practical opportunity to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Owing a debt to someone is a lot like sinning against them: the debt must be paid if things are to be made right. That’s why Yahshua, in His famous “model prayer,” included: “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” and then explained, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14)
Think of it this way: if you borrow something from me, you hold what I own, while I do not. Debt has been created, an imbalance that brings with it the potential for animosity. That is, until the borrowed thing is returned, it might as well be stolen—and if it is never returned, that would define you as a thief.
But if I give you the thing, I no longer own it: you do. You are thus absolved of your crime: I have covered your guilt, though it meant a sacrifice on my part. That is what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” And in case you didn’t catch the parallel, this is precisely what God did for us: we “stole” the devotion we owed to Him through our idolatries, infidelities, murders (a.k.a. hatred of our fellow man) and covetousness—our failure to thankfully trust Him for everything we need. But although we “owe” him a debt we could never repay, He has forgiven us. All we have to do is take His word for it—receive the gift of forgiveness. So when He commands that we “love our neighbors as ourselves,” He’s only telling us to do for others what He has already done for us—leading by example.
At the risk of straying too far off the subject, I must point out that our (i.e., the world’s) entire financial structure today is based on this systematic theft called debt. It’s called “fractional reserve banking,” and it entails creating “money” out of thin air, hollow promises, and debt nobody has any intention of paying off. It began in 1694 with the formation (or should I say perpetration) of the Bank of England, who was given the authorization by the crown to issue paper currency representing assets far in excess of any actual gold or silver they might hold. In other words, money today is based on debt—the only way to pay down the debt is to take money out of circulation. (This, of course, never happens.) Whenever the central bank issues a new un-backed dollar, euro, peso, pound, shekel, yuan, or yen (etc.—there are scores of them), the effective value of each unit of currency already in circulation is diminished: it’s a hidden tax called inflation—otherwise known as stealing.
In my prophecy study, The End of the Beginning, I hypothesized that the Antichrist would ingratiate himself to nations and individuals alike by eliminating this evil system with one sweeping fiat innovation: he will simply wipe out all debt, public and private, stealing back from “Financial Babylon” (you can call it the Illuminati if you like—the worldwide central banking cartel that holds the world’s purse strings) what they previously stole from us. But this isn’t the “forgiveness of debt” it pretends to be, for it isn’t the Antichrist’s debt to forgive. While appearing to “love his brother as himself,” there will be a fatal catch. In order to avail yourself of this universal debt amnesty, you will have to pledge your allegiance to the Antichrist’s one-world government—and more to the point, to the beast and the dragon who empowers him: Satan. So instead of owning only your assets, the devil will now own your soul as well. This is the heart and essence of the 666 system, whatever form it will take. The mark of the beast, in short, will be a lie—the willing exchange of your strait-jacket for cement shoes.
Perhaps this all explains why Yahweh will allow this “hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” (Revelation 3:10) The prophetic church of Philadelphia is promised (in the same verse) to be “kept out of this hour of trial” because they have already “kept Christ’s command to persevere.” That can mean nothing other than rescue via rapture. But they (we) aren’t the last church on the list. People will come to faith after the rapture, but they will have to live through (or die in) the Tribulation’s horrors.
The crushing debt we all endure today under the central bank system (and I mean worldwide, not just in America) is sin, to be sure, but not necessarily our own. Like Adam’s sin (in a way) we all inherited the debt we now owe. But for those who survive until the middle of the Tribulation (when the Antichrist will seize the throne of Earth and institute the mark of the beast) every man’s sin will be of his own choosing. Alas, most will fail the test, but those who pass—rejecting the mark and all it represents in favor of Yahweh’s forgiveness—will form the church of repentant Laodicea. These are those who missed the rapture but subsequently took Christ’s counsel to “buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18)
Pardon the digression. We were discussing how “getting out of debt/sin” was presented in the Torah. The facts are the same, though the imagery is very different. Debts were forgiven at the end of the Sabbath year—analogous to the conclusion of Christ’s Millennial reign over Planet Earth. “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release of debts.” (Deuteronomy 15:1) The Sabbath year came with a back-up plan—a once in a lifetime opportunity called Jubilee. It’s sort of God’s way of “doubling down” on the Sabbath principle of rest and restoration. “Jubilee” is a transliteration of the Hebrew yobel, meaning “ram’s horn” (more or less synonymous with the shofar). Why this is will become apparent in a moment.
The introductory passage on the Jubilee is found in Leviticus 25. The chapter begins with a discussion of the Sabbath year cycle (reprised, as we saw, in Deuteronomy 15). Then, without taking a breath, the thought continues: “And you shall count seven sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years….” The timing is thus established: the event in question will occur after seven full Sabbath-year cycles. The number seven indicates completion or perfection—so Yahweh is multiplying that concept by itself and building upon it.
“Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land….” The “trumpet” factor may cause a bit of confusion. The ram’s horn trumpet was to be blown every year on the Feast of Trumpets—Yom Teruah. Then (as here) it signaled both celebration and alarm, a call to rejoice and/or a call to war. Occurring ten days prior to the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Trumpets is prophetic of the rapture of the church. It closes what was opened on the Day of Pentecost (see Acts 2) almost two millennia previously: they’re the two bookends of the church age.
But the blowing of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement—though it invited the same basic response—was to take place only once every fifty years: once in a lifetime, for all intents and purposes. The outcome of blowing the trumpet on Jubilee leads me to the unshakable conclusion that the Day of Atonement (and specifically, one of them that occurs in a Jubilee year) is prophetic of the second coming of Yahshua the Messiah. The events that are associated with it speak eloquently of the coming of Israel’s King to restore what was apparently lost: “And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family….” If you’re familiar with the prophecies of the End Times, you know that the Antichrist will have been, for the previous three and a half years, trying desperately to wipe out the Israelis—who have hidden out in the wilderness (as predicted in Revelation 12:6, and warned about by Yahshua in Matthew 24:15-26) under the protection of Yahweh. The “liberty” of which the Torah speaks can only be achieved, in any ultimate sense, through the return of the King.
I mentioned above my scripture-driven “theory” that the Kingdom age will begin on the Feast of Tabernacles, Tishri 15 (October 8), 2033. Is 2033 a Jubilee year (as seems to be required by the symbols of the Torah)? Would I be asking the question if God’s word wasn’t airtight? As it turns out, the last recorded celebration of Jubilee in Israel was in 133 AD, at the beginning of the revolt against Rome fomented by Rabbi Akiba and his false Messiah Simon ben Kosiba, dubbed “Bar Kochba”—Aramaic for “son of the star” (see Numbers 24:17)—by Akiba. (This would make 33 AD, the year of Christ’s passion, a Jubilee year as well. No big surprise there.) Within two years, Bar Kochba’s rebellion had been crushed by Emperor Hadrian’s forces, he and Akiba had been slain, and the Land had been all but emptied of its Jewish inhabitants. So no more Jubilees were celebrated in Israel from that point forward.
Due to a misreading of scripture, rabbinical meddling, or maybe just poor math skills, some have reassigned the date of the next (and supposedly last) Jubilee to be on the Day of Atonement, 2016. (That’s only a couple of months off as I write these words.) So if the Messiah shows up on Tuesday, October 11, 2016 (the Gregorian date of the Day of Atonement this year), then consider me an idiot. But if not—if you’re reading these words after that date and you still haven’t seen Yahshua’s return—then (although it doesn’t necessarily prove me right) please consider what the Torah actually implies: the Messiah’s second coming will coincide, by God’s design, with both an annual Day of Atonement and the beginning of a Jubilee. The next such date will mark 2,000 years (that’s forty Jubilees) since the Passion of the Christ—October 3, 2033. The Torah is quite clear: the Jubilees are spaced at 50-year intervals, whether we keep them or not. That makes calculating their dates simplicity itself. It doesn’t matter if mankind has lost track: God knows what time it is, for the schedule is His. “That fiftieth year shall be a Jubilee to you.”
Because it is the year of Yahweh’s release, certain subordinate precepts accentuate God’s agenda. For example: “In it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine. For it is the Jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat its produce from the field….” The Jubilee year followed a Sabbath year, in which no sowing or reaping was to be done—it’s like having two Sabbath years in a row. If Torah rules were observed during the previous six years (specifically, that the field or vineyard had not been carefully gleaned, leaving, rather, plenty for the poor to collect) then by the Jubilee year, the volunteer crop—that which came up of its own accord—would be sufficient for the needs of the community. But no systematic reaping was to be done. The whole community was to live as if they were the poor, completely dependent on the grace of God for their daily provision—for that is indeed what we are.
(In a fascinating prophetic twist, Israel—whom, you’ll recall, will have been driven into hiding from the Antichrist after the Gog-Magog war—will not be able to plant or harvest crops in their exile in the wilderness. How will they live? Their energy needs will be met by utilizing the vast horde of war matériel the now-destroyed forces of Magog brought in with them (See Ezekiel 39:9-10). Is it possible that their food stores will be “retasked” in the same way? The Revelation 12:6 account is similarly short on details, stating only that an unnamed “they” will feed Israel there in the wilderness for 1,260 days. All we know for sure is that the last two of those three and a half years are a Sabbatical year followed by Jubilee. God will provide.)
The heavily symbolic instructions continue: “In this Year of Jubilee, each of you shall return to his possession. And if you sell anything to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor’s hand, you shall not oppress one another. According to the number of years after the Jubilee you shall buy from your neighbor, and according to the number of years of crops he shall sell to you. According to the multitude of years you shall increase its price, and according to the fewer number of years you shall diminish its price; for he sells to you according to the number of the years of the crops. Therefore you shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am Yahweh your God.” (Leviticus 25:8-17) Purchasing your neighbor’s land to help him out of money trouble was considered a charitable act, and refusing to do so if you had the means was considered “oppression.” (It was also considered oppression to take advantage of the generosity of your neighbor, just because you could.) But you couldn’t actually buy his land—you could only “lease” it. The price of the property would be based on how long it was until the next Jubilee—i.e., how many annual crops could be expected to grow upon it. If there were 40 or 45 years left, it would be quite expensive; if the Jubilee was only three years off, not so much.
What the “buyer” was actually doing on behalf of the seller (besides providing some ready cash) was bearing his risk—and taking responsibility for providing the labor to keep the farm running—during the lease period. The money changed hands at the beginning of the transaction, and there was no guarantee of reliable rains and bountiful crops. The idea was to teach the Israelites (and through them, us) that although we are sinful and bankrupt, we are safe and secure if we have allowed Yahweh to assume our risks and take our burdens upon Himself.
“The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me. And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land….” One’s “land” is a euphemism for his mortal life. It belongs to God, and is entrusted to every man as his inheritance. But through his poor choices (called sin), he can lose this inheritance—though the loss need not be permanent. This speaks of our indebtedness to sin—a fate we have all suffered. Thus the Sabbath Year and the Jubilee seem prophetic of the same blessing—the restoration of our lives to us through God’s grace.
As we have seen, our debt will (or at least can) be forgiven at the end of the Sabbath Year—prophetically, the conclusion of God’s seven-thousand-year plan for mortal humanity, the end of King Yahshua’s earthly reign, and the beginning of the eternal state. Remember, though, that only debts to Israelites (a euphemism for believers) were to be forgiven. Foreigners in debt (symbolic of people who have no relationship with Yahweh) remain indebted, unforgiven. The caveat for believers is that in order to get our life back, we must be willing to receive it as a gift. We cannot buy it back on our own (with good works, alms, or penance, etc.), for we are, by definition, morally insolvent.
That being said, there is a way to “get one’s land/life back” before the Jubilee. The Law provides for a “redeemer,” one closely related to the indebted sinner, to “buy it back” on behalf of the one who lost it. This is not like a bank “buying the paper” on your home mortgage because they consider you an acceptable risk (something that has happened to me several times). The “redeemer” must be a close relative of the debtor—like a rich uncle, for instance—who in love, compassion, and family interest, pays off the loan so that his beloved but errant nephew may live debt free from that point forward. So we read: “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold….”
The law did make provision for someone to buy his own land or freedom back, but this is the symbolic equivalent of being blessed by God, not becoming “good enough” (a.k.a. sinless) on your own initiative: “Or if the man has no one to redeem it, but he himself becomes able to redeem it, then let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, that he may return to his possession….” Sin (debt) is sometimes symbolized in scripture as using leaven or yeast to make bread. Once the dough is leavened, a chemical reaction has taken place—one impossible to reverse. The redeemer (or the man paying off his own debt) doesn’t attempt to remove the yeast from the old loaf (or life). Rather, He provides a whole new loaf—one baked from scratch without the corrupting factor.
Our “Kinsman-Redeemer,” of course, is Yahshua the Messiah—He who bought back our lives for us with the most precious substance in existence: His own blood. Yahweh could not (according to his own law) serve as our Kinsman-Redeemer in His essential (Spiritual) state: He would have to take on the form of a human being, becoming our “near relative.” This was, to my mind, the ultimate expression of “loving one’s neighbor as oneself.”
The Book of Ruth is a poignant prophetic parable illustrating how the precept worked in practice. Of course, not everyone in Israel had a “Boaz” to whom they could turn, a rich relative able to redeem their land; nor could everyone turn their temporal fortunes around through their own efforts. So Yahweh made sure that restoration was still available, through the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of Jubilee: “But if he is not able to have it restored to himself, then what was sold shall remain in the hand of him who bought it until the Year of Jubilee; and in the Jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his possession.” (Leviticus 25:23-28)
In the end, the principles of the Kinsman-Redeemer, the Sabbath Year, and the Jubilee are identical—they are one. God wants us to know that we don’t have to die in moral bankruptcy. There is a way for our debt of sin to be repaid and restored, so we might “return to our possession,” that is, life. That “way” is Christ, who told us plainly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Note that “coming to the Father” is tantamount to having life, for Father Yahweh is the Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of life. If we don’t want the life He freely offers—something that involves release from the bondage of sin—then we don’t really want “life” at all, but some inferior substitute—a cheap knock off, a counterfeit.
Note too that the only evidence God offers by which we can know that we have received His life is our desire to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” As John put it, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (I John 4:7-11)
We’ve been talking about the Jubilee and its revelation of how our love toward our neighbors is spelled out in God’s Law. And we noted the unusual mathematical formula defining its timing: seven sevens plus one. I say “unusual,” and not “unique,” because there’s another Torah precept that uses exactly the same arrangement—which ought to suggest to us to look for some sort of spiritual parallel.
I’m speaking, of course, of the Feast of Weeks, a.k.a. Pentecost, the fourth (and central) of Yahweh’s seven mandated holy convocations or appointments—often referred to as “Feasts.” The timing of the day is stated thus: “Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to Yahweh.” (Leviticus 23:16) If you’ll recall, there were three “Spring Feasts,” on three consecutive days—the 14th, 15th, and 16th of Nisan. The first, Passover, was prophetic of the sacrifice of the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The second was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, commemorating the removal of leaven (symbolic, as we just saw, of sin in our lives—our debt to God) from the households of Israel. This second convocation was prophetic of the sojourn of Christ in the tomb as He removed our corruption from us. This day was a designated Sabbath—it was celebrated as a Sabbath day of rest no matter what day of the week the 15th of Nisan fell on in any given year. But (not surprisingly) it fell on a natural Sabbath—Saturday—in the year of the passion, 33 AD. God is not just making this stuff up as He goes along.
And the third feast is called Firstfruits—prophetic of Yahshua’s resurrection on the first day of the week. I’m wondering if the Israelites of the exodus thought this was a little odd, considering they wouldn’t actually harvest any grain for another forty years after they were told to bring a sample of their spring barley crop before Yahweh at the tabernacle as a thanksgiving offering. In retrospect, of course, we can see that Yahshua, the firstborn of the dead, was the “sample,” and we who thankfully acknowledge His sacrifice will comprise the harvest to follow.
Anyway, the Feast of Weeks is timed not from Passover or the Feast of Firstfruits, but from the convocation in between, the one that falls on the Sabbath, the Feast of Unleavened Bread—seven sevens plus one, just like Jubilee. Yahweh could have defined the schedule any number of ways—seven weeks from Firstfruits, for example. But He didn’t: He phrased it as seven sevens plus one from Unleavened Bread. It is left up to us to ponder why.
In the Gospels, we are left pretty much on our own to figure out how the Spring Feasts correlate to the passion of the Christ. It’s not rocket surgery, but it can be somewhat misleading because the popular (not technical) terms for the dates were used: Passover proper was called “the day of preparation,” and the whole week-long event was referred to generally as “Passover,” or simply “the Feast.” It can all be a bit confusing if you’re not conversant with the Torah itself. It’s pretty obvious (to me, anyway) that the reason Yahweh described the timing this way (seven sevens plus one—days this time) was that He wanted us to notice the similarities between Jubilee and what happened on the Feast of Weeks—Pentecost—following the Passion.
It was described by Dr. Luke: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4) Yahshua appeared among His disciples sporadically for forty days after His resurrection. Pentecost, then, would have fallen nine days after His ascension. As the day after the seventh Sabbath, it would by definition have been a Sunday in a year (like 33) in which the Feast of Unleavened Bread fell on a natural Sabbath—the same day of the week, by God’s design, as the resurrection.
So what does Pentecost have to do with Jubilee? Pentecost—the Feast of Weeks—marked the birthday of the church, as defined by the indwelling—the new birth, if you will—of Christ’s followers with the Holy Spirit. Jubilee symbolized a parallel concept—the perfect liberty provided by Yahweh’s plan of redemption. They are the same thing.
Above we summarized the spirit of the law of loving your neighbor (in the Christian context) with a quote from I John 4. The passage goes on to say, “No one has seen God at any time.” Obviously, he’s speaking not of God’s human manifestation, Yahshua, but rather the totality of His spiritual essence. Even so, “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.” Don’t skip over that amazing statement: Yahweh’s love is perfected—made full and complete in this world—not through the sacrifice of Christ so much, but through our response to it as we are empowered by the very Spirit of God dwelling within us. “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (I John 4:12-16) The world won’t know what God’s love is like if we don’t show it to them.
The “glue” that binds Jubilee to Pentecost, then, is the Holy Spirit. (1) “You shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you.” (Leviticus 25:10) “Liberty for all” implies that all of us have fallen into the bondage of sin. Jubilee is our release from that debt. (2) We are to show our love for our neighbors at Jubilee by “not oppressing” them. “You shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God.” (Leviticus 25:17) (3) Our love for one another is the evidence of God’s indwelling Spirit in our lives: “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” (I John 4:12-13) (4) When were we first indwelled (as a body of believers) with His Spirit? On the Day of Pentecost. “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come… they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:1, 4)
And (5) the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence is essential for the restoration of our lives as presented in the law of Jubilee, for as Yahshua told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit [both of them, is the implication—physical birth followed by spiritual rebirth], he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8) And, I might add, so is everyone who partakes of Yahweh’s Jubilee: the evidence is in our lives.
Let’s look at this from a negative viewpoint. What happens when the people abandon God and His principles? We don’t have to guess—Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem did that very thing, and the resulting conditions and consequences were recorded by the prophets. One verse that stands out in our current context (love for one’s neighbor—or lack thereof) is this indictment: “The people will be oppressed, every one by another and every one by his neighbor. The child will be insolent toward the elder, and the base toward the honorable.” (Isaiah 3:5) This is both a cause and effect of the failure to heed Yahweh’s law of love. It’s a vicious cycle: hate breeds hate, and oppression breeds oppression. The only way to break the cycle (short of death) is to forgive our neighbors, forget past grievances, and honor the God who commanded us to do these very things.
Remember, vengeance—payback—is not our prerogative. It’s Yahweh’s, who says, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy. The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, him I will not endure.” (Psalm 101:5) It’s the Ninth Commandment again—the prohibition against bearing false witness against our neighbors. Secret slander (putting a stumbling block before the blind, so to speak) is a particularly nasty tactic, because we are unable to defend ourselves against it—so God promises to deal Personally with people who do this. This is such an important principle, it was included in the American Bill of Rights, in the Sixth Amendment. Note that God links secret slander to its root cause: pride, arrogance, the idea that I am “better” than my neighbor. Yahweh would beg to differ: we are all sinners, in need of His grace. To elevate ourselves over our fellow man is to usurp the very place and privilege of God.
So as if the issue needed clarification, God says, “These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor.” Once again, “speaking the truth” implies an agenda of love. Stopping me on the street to inform me that I’m old and ugly isn’t helpful (even though it might be true), because it isn’t a character flaw, and there’s nothing I can do about it anyway. But pointing out the error of my ways to me so that I might repent while I have the chance is not intolerance—it’s love. “Give judgment in your gates [that is, exercise discernment in matters of civil governance] for truth, justice, and peace. Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor.” Give him the benefit of the doubt. “And do not love a false oath.” The Ninth Commandment again. There’s no good reason for violating this: it betrays an unwillingness to trust God. “For all these are things that I hate,’ says Yahweh.” (Zechariah 8:16-17)
King David asks, “Yahweh, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” These are loaded questions, depending (as they do) on what the tabernacle and God’s “holy hill” symbolize. The tabernacle is the very picture of the plan of God for our salvation: every detail, dimension, and specification reveals something about His intention toward our redemption. And a hill (Hebrew har—a mountain) denotes a place of majesty and power, metaphorical of the “home of God,” and in particular, Zion: a “type” of heaven. He answers his own question: “He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor does he take up [that is, accept, advance, or receive] a reproach against his friend.” (Psalm 15:1-3)
Don’t look now, but David violated pretty much all of this when he seduced Bathsheba and then had her husband Uriah killed in an attempt to cover up his crime. And don’t look so pious—you (and I) are just as guilty before God. How then can David spout such lofty platitudes if he was a sinner, caught red-handed in his transgression? The key—the path between “dwelling in sin” and “abiding in the tabernacle”—is repentance: confessing our sin and asking for God’s forgiveness. Psalm 51 records David’s post-repentance plea: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin….” If we are cleansed by God, we are clean. If we rely upon ourselves for cleansing, however, we will remain filthy, no matter how hard we scrub.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.” (Psalm 51:1-2, 10-15) Here’s a sobering thought: it is not our intrinsic “goodness” that draws people to God. It is, rather, the contrast between what we used to be—unclean and lost in sin—and what we are now: restored, cleansed, and grateful. So if we continue to walk in blatant sin after we’ve been cleansed, we have forfeited (to some degree) our right to “open our lips and praise God.”
David had declared his intention to “teach transgressors Your ways,” and I, for one, am grateful for his counsel. But the time is coming when no such “teaching” will be appropriate, or even necessary. Jeremiah writes, “Behold, the days are coming, says Yahweh, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says Yahweh….” This “old covenant,” of course, is the Torah, in which Yahweh says, “Do this and I will bless you, but if you forsake My precepts, you will be cursed.” Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 spelled out the “terms” of this covenant. Israel did indeed break their part of the contract, and as a result, the rest of the world had no concept of what Yahweh is like or what He was doing,
None of this took God by surprise, of course. Deuteronomy 30 prophetically reveals that Israel would experience both blessing and cursing, and then blessing again—conditions corresponding to their national relationship with Yahweh in one era or another. In case you’re historically challenged, Israel (as a nation) has been estranged from their God for the better part of two thousand years now—ever since they crucified their Messiah—experiencing the “cursing” predicted in the Torah. But all of that is about to change: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says Yahweh. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
What could cause such a dramatic shift in their fortunes? It’s the same thing that will make “each man teaching his neighbor” an unnecessary exercise. They will all “know Yahweh” because He will at last dwell in their midst, physically and personally. No faith will be required, because Israel—and through them the whole world—will experience the visceral presence of the King of kings first hand.
This is the same astonishing event of which the prophet Hosea spoke: “Come, and let us return to Yahweh, for He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days [read: two thousand years after the crucifixion] He will revive us; on the third day [read: during the kingdom of Christ, the Millennium immediately following the two thousand years of Yahweh’s “tearing and striking”] He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” He always “sees” us, of course, but the Hebrew word here is paneh, literally, “before His face,” or “in His presence.” “Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3) When the “former rain” fell, Yahshua came as a gentle suffering servant, the sacrificial Lamb of God. But the “latter rain” will fall with authority, sweeping away (like the flood of Noah) every vestige of rebellion and evil from the earth. Every man and his neighbor will know precisely what has happened. And the world will rejoice—beginning with Israel.
As I mentioned above, most of the mentions of “neighbors” in the New Testament are in passages quoting or explaining Leviticus 19:18—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Let us look at the context of a few of these.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Yahshua said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy….’” The “hate your enemy” part wasn’t “said” by the Torah, you understand. It was a rabbinical extrapolation, based on the idea that Israel had been instructed to drive out the seven corrupt and idolatrous Canaanite tribes from the Land, having nothing to do with them—being holy and separate from the world. But at the same time, gentiles who honored Yahweh were to be treated as brothers as they sojourned in the Land—a nuance the scribes and Pharisees completely missed.
You sensed a “but” coming? Right: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust….” At first glance, this looks like an about-face, a shift in doctrine on God’s part. But it’s not. It all depends upon what the definition of “love” is. As we learned in Leviticus 19, love is not accepting, receiving, or advancing someone’s sinful behaviors or beliefs—that is, it’s not tolerance. Rather, real love is caring enough to point out the error of your neighbor’s ways, giving him the opportunity (not to mention a reason) to repent and align himself with Yahweh’s life-saving truth.
It may seem counterintuitive to love, bless, do good to, and pray for people who hate you. But again, we must not confuse these thing with tolerating, agreeing with, supporting, or giving material aid to them. Example: the most vicious, rabid “enemy” a Christian now faces is doubtless a fundamentalist Muslim—one who believes his scriptures when they tell him to hate you, to enslave or kill you, because you don’t submit to Allah. There are only two ways the “Muslim problem” can be solved: (1) genocide—wipe them out to the last man, woman, and child, or (2) conversion—the abandonment of Muhammad’s lies in favor of Yahshua’s truth. We are to earnestly contend for Door No. 2.
Yahshua didn’t say this would be easy. Hate comes naturally to us, while love is counterintuitive to one whose heart is “desperately wicked,” which basically describes all of us in our natural state. “For if you love [only] those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) These “tax collectors” He mentions were the most universally despised people in the society to whom He was speaking. They were greedy government-sponsored thieves, backed by and working for a cruel and oppressive foreign occupying force, the Romans. Yahshua points out that even these despicable quislings are apt to show compassion and unconditional love (yes, the verb here is agapao, not phileo) to their own families and friends. It’s easy to “love” your own people. It’s considerably more difficult to seek the ultimate well-being of those who would do us harm if they had the chance. But that is what Yahshua instructs us to do.
It’s a little ironic that the Pharisees and the Sadducees—who hated each other on philosophical grounds, and hated Yahshua even more—tried to use Him as a bludgeon against each other. On one occasion, the Pharisees were delighted when Yahshua logically “proved” the concept of resurrection to the Sadducees—who didn’t believe such a thing was possible. (The syllogism was, if Yahweh is the God of the living, and He is the God of Abraham and Moses, then these patriarchs are “alive” in His presence—not dead. Thus there is life after death.) The Sadducees were, you might say, the “liberals” of their day. So the Pharisees (the “conservatives”) were encouraged to jump back into the fray, even though Yahshua had just “slammed the door in their face” when they had tried to entrap him with a “trick question” on whether or not it was proper to pay taxes to Rome. “But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together….” Like vultures over road kill, they thought.
“Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” The quote is from Deuteronomy 6:5. “This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40) The Torah contains hundreds of individual precepts, but doesn’t prioritize them—for the simple reason that to fail in one is to fail in all: a miss is as good as a mile, as they say. Yahshua’s answer doesn’t exactly “prioritize” them either, but He does point out the two most basic, foundational precepts in the Law—the two upon which the rest of the Torah are built, including the symbolic “Levitical” stuff that would come to fruition in His own sacrifice for our sins. Interestingly, He says “the Prophets” are built upon these two related precepts as well. The Bible is all one story.
Paul emphasized that same truth: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:13-15) Called to liberty? To those outside the faith, our relationship with Yahweh looks like bondage. Our love for our God compels us to love our neighbors in return, sacrificing ourselves (one way or another) for their well-being. Believers commonly give of their time and treasure to benefit people they don’t even know. Meanwhile, people who reject God’s love operate as if the road to success was paved with the corpses of the “less fit” (to put it in Darwin’s parlance).
But “liberty” in God’s love manifests itself in a counterintuitive truth that’s totally opaque to outsiders: we don’t have to “claw our way to the top.” Rather, all of our needs are met freely by our Heavenly Father, even if we don’t perceive how He does it. The “top” is where we begin. Everything we need for life and godliness is supplied to those who trust Him. But these “things” seldom include pots of gold at the end of the rainbow, or even manna from heaven. More commonly, they consist of the talents, aptitudes, and opportunities needed to earn an honest living so we might have something to give to those less fortunate—loving our neighbors as we do ourselves.
My own life demonstrates how it works (or at least can). I worked hard for a living while my wife stayed home with our children—eventually totaling eleven, including nine adopted kids, four of them with severe handicaps. Meanwhile, I led worship in our church for decades, doing what I could with what I’d been given. We were never able to put a dime away for retirement, but we never missed a house or car payment, either. God even allowed me to get “downsized” at one point, forcing me to open my own business—which turned out to be far more lucrative (albeit scarier) than being somebody’s employee. As it turned out, we were going to need every penny: raising that many kids can get expensive. Finally, I got involved in an Internet start-up that went public—and then promptly went bankrupt. I found myself forcibly retired at the tender age of 54, but (having sold my stock options before the company tanked) I had just enough money for us to live on—frugally—freeing me to pursue my dream of studying the scriptures all day long. That’s liberty in Christ. You can’t engineer or control or even predict it—you merely have to trust God, use the tools he gave you, and hold onto your hat: it can be a wild ride.
James concurs with Paul, and adds, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:8-10) He makes the point that “loving one’s neighbor as he does himself” precludes partiality and prejudice. Our assessment of our own lives, our own behavior, is invariably fair, leaning (truth be told) toward lenience and forgiveness—usually more so than is strictly accurate or honest. We are to approach our neighbors’ shortcomings with the same (or greater) degree of kindness and clemency. Their transgressions against us are to be met with ready forgiveness, and their self-destructive tendencies are to be addressed with compassion, understanding, and practical support geared toward repentance and restoration. I didn’t say it would be easy—only rewarding: it feels good to be on God’s side of the equation.
We saw above that when Yahshua was asked what He thought were the greatest commandments in the Law, He identified “Love Yahweh” and “Love your neighbor” as the Torah’s two most fundamental precepts. So when somebody asked Him the ultimate question, He pointed him back toward the Torah, for that is where the answers are—all of them. “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?…’” Christians today who find no value in the Law because Paul pointed out that it doesn’t have the power to save us—and never did—have missed the entire point. That’s sort of like saying the Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita (the most expensive passenger car in the world at the moment, at $4.8 million) is worthless because you can’t afford one. Your logic is faulty. The Torah may be beyond your reach, but it reveals the very mind of God. The information is priceless.
So the lawyer, perhaps saying to himself, “No problem—this is right in my wheelhouse,” responded precisely as Yahshua Himself would have—and did. “So he answered and said, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Yahshua] said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live….’” In Matthew 22, Christ identified these two precepts as the “greatest commandments in the Law,” the key to the whole Torah. But here, He upped the ante—implying that keeping these two precepts perfectly would “earn you” eternal life. The only problem is, no one (except for Yahshua Himself) ever has.
Since no one has ever seen God face to face in His undiminished glory, loving Him with one’s whole heart, soul, and mind is an exercise in theoretical theology, nothing more. I could tell you, “I love the Andromeda galaxy.” But it’s two and a half million light years away: even if I could point it out to you in the night sky, I can’t seriously purport to know it well enough to “love” it in any meaningful sense. The point is, the only practical way for me to demonstrate that I “love Yahweh my God with all my heart, soul, and mind” is to love my neighbor as I do myself. (Review I John 4:7-8.) In order to show my love for God, I must love what He loves, care for what He cares about, and give of my own life for the beneficiary of His sacrifice—my fellow man, my neighbor.
But lawyers look for loopholes. It’s just what they do. And this one was no exception. “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?...’” The lawyer figured that if he could restrict the definition of “neighbor” to “someone within his own narrow circle of friends, someone with whom he shared interests and social status—friends and family,” then he could make the case that he was guiltless in this regard before God—and was thus entitled to eternal life. He (in his own mind) imagined himself to be kind and respectful to his fellow scribes and Pharisees—his peers. Sadducees would have been a stretch, but okay. However, he never would have imagined that unwashed gentiles with whom he rubbed shoulders would have been included in God’s conception of “neighbor.” And the Jews’ Roman overlords? Not a chance.
This misconception was the impetus for what is perhaps the best-known of Yahshua’s many parables—the “Good Samaritan.” Because of this story, the term “Samaritan” has come to mean “someone who is merciful, kind, and generous to strangers in need.” Of course, that is not what the word meant at all to Christ’s immediate audience. It was a racial epithet: a “Samaritan” was a half-blood (part Jewish part gentile) mongrel—the product of the Assyrian invasion of Israel’s apostate northern kingdom, a.k.a. Ephraim (whose capital was Samaria), in the 7th century B.C. The Assyrians were known for their practice of mixing captive populations, a ploy designed to sever their emotional attachment to the lands the Assyrians had invaded. To get a feel for the shocking impact of the word, imagine a young Billy Graham in 1950s North Carolina telling the story of “the good nigger.”
That’s the back story. Here’s the parable: “Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side.” First we see someone in dire need, a (presumably) upstanding Jewish man. The thieves had stolen not only his money and his horse or donkey, but also his status and identity, for you could tell a lot about a man from his clothing—which they had taken.
We learned above (in Deuteronomy 22:1-4) that Yahweh had specifically instructed every Israelite to help their neighbor if their farm animals had wandered off or fallen under their load—even if that neighbor was an “enemy.” It should have gone without saying that the neighbor himself was due the same courtesy. But the priest and the Levite (two who could be presumed to be quite familiar with what the Torah had said to do, both in spirit and letter) “passed by on the other side.” They couldn’t pretend they hadn’t seen the victim’s bleeding half-dead figure crumpled up on the side of the road, for they crossed over to the other side to avoid it. Don’t touch that thing—you don’t know where it’s been. Without his clothing, they couldn’t tell if the victim was a member of the Sanhedrin, an ordinary citizen, or even a filthy Samaritan. All they knew for sure was that he was trouble, inconvenience, and expense—if he was even still alive. And if he wasn’t, merely touching his body would have made them ceremonially unclean, requiring a complicated cleansing ritual. Who needs the aggravation? We’re busy, important men. We haven’t got time for this.
“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you….’” The Samaritan didn’t know who the man was either. For all he knew, the victim was the most rabidly prejudiced Jew in the whole country—and he had no doubt met his share of them. Maybe he was a tax collector, or even a Roman official. There was no way to know. But none of that mattered in the face of such need. The Samaritan did what the Jews’ law required—he showed compassion: he loved his neighbor as he loved himself. That is, he treated him just as he would have wanted to be treated if he had been the victim of the thieves.
Thus Yahshua drove home the lesson: “‘So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (Luke 10:25-37) The lawyer could come to no other conclusion, though it blew his hoped-for loophole out of the water. The one who helped was the one who was acting as a “neighbor” was supposed to toward the man who had been mugged. What Yahshua didn’t point out was that, according to the Torah’s implications, there were other “neighbors” in view—neighbors who did not “love their fellow man as they did themselves.”
First, the thieves. If they were close enough to steal from the man, they were, by definition, his neighbors. Had they “loved their neighbor as themselves,” they would not have robbed the man, but would have been pursuing honest labor—making the whole story a non-event. The priest and the Levite too were “neighbors” to the victim by virtue of their momentary proximity, but they refused to honor Yahweh by loving him. The innkeeper (if I may read between the lines) was also the victim’s neighbor. He was not in a position to find him on the road, of course, but he did agree to “risk” a bit on the word of the Samaritan. He would take care of the man in the Samaritan’s absence, spending whatever was necessary to nurse him back to health, hoping (but not knowing for sure) that he would be as good as his word. Also, somebody needed to buy or loan the victim some new clothes, and perhaps arrange to notify his family in Jerusalem of his predicament. In short, your “neighbor” is anyone who crosses your path.
It is also instructive to analyze what the Samaritan did not do.
(1) He didn’t impoverish or enslave himself on the man’s behalf out of some misplaced sense of survivor’s guilt. Rather, he merely made a reasoned guess as to how much it would take to get the man back on his feet, invested enough time to see the man out of immediate danger, and promised to the innkeeper to make good whatever unforeseen expenditures arose in his absence.
(2) The Samaritan did not chase down and punish the thieves, nor did he go out of his way to shame the cowardly and unloving priest and Levite. He just did what he could to fix the problem.
(3) He did not lift a finger to help the poor Egyptian who fell into the hands of thieves that same day on the road between Alexandria and Memphis. He didn’t see it, didn’t know about it, and wasn’t there. Thus that man was not his “neighbor” in the Biblical sense.
(4) He didn’t begin a tax-exempt charity designed to aid the victims of thieves on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. He didn’t solicit financial help from anybody else, but just took care of the needs himself, quietly, as best he could. His charity came from his own pocket.
(5) He didn’t piously lecture the victim on the dangers of traveling alone in notoriously thief-infested territory, in effect, “blaming the victim.” Nor did he begin a “neighborhood watch” program or organize roving patrols of vigilantes.
(6) He didn’t ask or expect the victim to reimburse him—or even thank him—for his selfless service. Nor did he apologize on behalf of the robbers. He just did what was right—because it was the right thing to do.
(7) Nor did he drag the racial element into their relationship. Jews and Samaritans were notoriously distrustful of each other—and the animosity worked both ways. But it was no sin to be a Samaritan, and no particular honor to be a Jew. One could not control who his parents were. He could only choose to do right or wrong, good or evil, in the moment.
The Samaritan, in short, fulfilled the definition of love later described by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13. This is not a “stand-alone” essay, as it is often portrayed, but is rather one facet in a multi-chapter treatise on what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul’s point, in the larger context, is that doing good things in our own strength—out of a sense of duty, habit, pride, or cultural pressure—is pointless. If not done in love (the definition of Yahweh’s character), we are missing the point.
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing….” The gifts of the Spirit are not to be used for our own aggrandizement, but for God’s glory—or if that’s too “big” a concept, for mankind’s benefit. The insights we’ve been given are not to make us look smart, but to edify others. Even the selfless sacrifices we make for our fellow man are rendered worthless if they are done so that we might boast (or worse, for the tax write-off). Be not deceived: Yahweh knows our motives. The Samaritan in the parable behaved as if he understood all of this.
What does real love look like? “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails….” It is no coincidence that the “fruit of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5:22-26 parallels this description very closely. If we are being led by God Spirit, there will be evidence: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Ours will be a life free of conceit, provocation, and envy.
“But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away….” Whereas the “fruit of the Spirit” is eternal and systemic, the “gifts of the Spirit” are more ephemeral—given to us for a particular time, place, and purpose. (Those gifts, beside those listed here, would include the word of wisdom, healing, faith, miracles, discerning of spirits, helps, administrations, etc.) It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the gifts of the Spirit are fueled by the fruit of the Spirit—and that in the end, it all has but one objective: that we might love our neighbors as ourselves.
We don’t really know how to do that perfectly—yet. But eventually, we will. “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13) Don’t look now, but of these three core attributes of the Christian life, two are about to be rendered obsolete. When Yahshua our Messiah at last assumes the throne of planet Earth, our faith will be turned into sight: “belief” will be a meaningless concept, for the formerly unseen Object of our faith will be a palpable reality, impossible to deny or even ignore. And hope—our joyful and confident expectation in the eventual fulfillment of the promises of God—will likewise be superseded by the realization of our former reveries as they come to pass right before our grateful eyes.
Of these three attributes common to Spirit-filled mortals, only love will “survive” the advent of our Savior. And not only will it survive, but it will blossom into a form we scarcely could have conceived when we were restricted to “seeing Him” through the eyes of faith and hope. Caterpillars may be fascinating creatures, but they’re nothing compared to the glorious, colorful butterflies they become—when God ordains their transformation. The change is so complete and so unexpected, the butterflies can’t even comprehend it.
Another passage from Paul inextricably links our devotion to God with love for our neighbor. These things cannot be separated: the latter is the only conceivable evidence of the former. He writes, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness….” This is the “new birth” of which Yahshua spoke, given free rein in our lives. The righteousness we display in this world—that which is the result of our minds (or souls) being “renewed in the Spirit”—is shown among our neighbors, if it is at all. It is impossible to live a holy life before God while hating our fellow man.
The evidence of our new Spirit-shaped holiness, then, is a transformation in the way we treat our neighbors: “Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another….” Interesting: the reason we are to forsake falsehood is that we are all part of the same body—both of the church and the whole human race. Think about it: what would happen if the brain refused to warn the hand to withdraw from the fire, or if the eyes told the feet that the edge of the cliff was a safe distance, when it was actually only a short step away? It is not some stranger we imperil when we lie (or merely withhold the painful truth). It is our own body: no man is an island.
The caricature of “godliness” the world portrays is that believers must be meek, gentle pacifists, too soft or uncommitted to defend themselves (or their God). They say we must be non-violent, turning the other cheek, lying down so that they might walk all over us. Caricatures are based on reality, of course, but like satire, their strength is in exaggeration. Christ told us that the meek would inherit the earth; He said to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and rejoice under persecution. He described Himself as being “meek and lowly in heart” and refused to defend Himself before Pontius Pilate. But He also violently overturned the money-changer’s tables at the temple—twice—in a righteous rage, because zeal for His Father’s house consumed him (see Psalm 69:9 and Psalm 119:139).
So Paul admonishes us to find the proper balance between zeal and serenity. “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil….” Let’s face it: people can be infuriating—stupid, pig-headed, selfish, violent, blasphemous, and threatening to those who depend on us. We are told to “love our enemies” because whether we like it or not, our enemies exist—they may not be our friends, but they are our neighbors. Anger is sometimes an appropriate response to an injustice or falsehood. It fills our bloodstream with adrenaline, designed to give us the strength to cope with the problem in the moment. But we are not to let anger—even righteous fury—consume us, define us, or control us. Anger, like acid, can be useful, but handled improperly, it can corrode and destroy the vessel in which it is kept. Once anger has eaten holes in our defenses, Satan can exploit those breaches with ideas of his own. Don’t give him the chance.
We’ve seen this thought before: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need….” The contrast here is between working for what you need and simply taking it. Theft, as I’ve said before, betrays a basic unwillingness to trust Yahweh for provision. And if you’re not ready to trust Him for simple things like food, clothing, and shelter, how can you claim to be reliant on Him for more “complicated” needs, like inner peace and eternal life? God’s usual modus operandi for providing for us is to give us hands and feet, hearts and minds, making it our choice as to whether or not to make use of the talents and abilities we’ve been given. Yes, he makes grain just pop up out of the ground, and fruit to grow on trees, but we still have to sow the seed, prune the branches, and harvest the crop. Unlike spiritless animals, God has given us a role to play in our own mortal destinies. We get to share in His provision for us. Some of us should blush at the thought of having been given so much responsibility.
But notice something else: “labor” is not only a way for us to participate in God’s work on our own behalf. He also gives us the privilege of “helping Him” meet the needs of our less-blessed neighbors—those who weren’t given quite as much ability as we were. There is no shame in being handicapped. As the adoptive father of four handicapped kids, I know this beyond the shadow of a doubt. It was my wife’s honor to care for them and my privilege to work to support them all financially. The shame falls on those who are able to work, and yet prefer to live as if they were helpless, dependent on government assistance. Those who can work should work, for if they did, they would have “something to give to those who really have needs.” Refusing to work for a living if you can is a blatant violation of the principle of “loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Paul’s next admonition might sting a bit in this era of social media: “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers….” This admonition is akin to the Commandment forbidding “bearing false witness against one’s neighbor” that we saw above. How easy it is to say mean-spirited things about people we don’t even know, because somebody else we never met posted something incriminating on Facebook or Twitter. As usual, there is a fine line to be observed here. We need to carefully consider our responses. (1) Should there even be one, or should we just leave it alone? (2) Can we edify (build up) our neighbors with a well-considered answer, or are we just shoveling more bovine excrement onto an already well-fertilized field? (3) Will our response “impart grace to the hearers?” That is, will it extend kindness, favor, joy, or blessing to the one reading your comment—or merely fan the flames of his smoldering discontent?
I mentioned that it is an election year in America as I write this. So there is no shortage of examples from which I could choose. In response to a Fox News article somebody posted on my Facebook feed today about Bill Clinton’s Democratic National Convention speech, entitled, “Bill Clinton makes personal, methodical case to elect wife Hillary as ‘change maker,’ champion of the underclass,” one lady opined, “What a slimy douchebag.” Not terribly edifying, but colorful at least. Another person wrote, “‘Hillary is the champion of the underclass, but Monica, damn, she was champion of the under-desk, oh yeah!!!!’—Bubba Clinton.” Here we’ve impugned the subject of the article with a humorous, if crude, reminder of his past public indiscretions, as if to say, “Is former-President Clinton even entitled to voice an opinion?” I would presume that this response would probably fall under the category of a “corrupt word.” Another gentleman replies, “Three seconds into his speech and it was like fingernails on a chalk board; a solid reminder of why I’m not only glad he’s no longer in the White House, but how much I hope and pray his screeching wife never gets elected.” I think his position is relatively clear. What is still unclear is whether his response was “good for necessary edification.”
I’ll let you decide whether these posts were helpful or not. Not having watched the speech myself, I think I’ll forego a response. Like Mama (paraphrasing Paul) used to say, “If you haven’t got anything productive to say, keep your mouth shut.”
Paul now introduces a factor few of us would even have thought of: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption….” The revelation is that if we (as believers) allow these sorts of less-than-worthy behaviors to creep into our lives, the result will be to cause the Holy Spirit grief. Who knew that our falsehoods, grudges, petty thefts, and profane remarks would make our God feel bad? But think about it. When we did such things in the sight of our parents—or if our children did them in our presence—was not grief the inevitable result? We cringe when our kids treat each other badly. Why would we expect a different reaction from Yahweh?
When we as children disappointed our parents by mistreating our siblings or playmates, what did we achieve? Nothing. We didn’t get to keep the toy we took, our tantrums were forgotten ten minutes after we threw them (having gotten us nowhere), and in the face of evidence and truth, nobody believed our lies for very long. All we really managed to do was cut off communication with the people who love us for a little while, get ourselves put in “time-out,” or maybe even earn ourselves a spanking. As grieved as our parents were, they didn’t stop loving us, nor did our relationships with the other kids undergo any drastic or permanent change. But our negative actions precipitated negative consequences: at the very least, we lost time in fellowship—time we could never get back. And the more we misbehaved, the more time we lost. We hurt no one but ourselves.
The life of a believer isn’t very different—we’re children of God, after all. So Paul offers his summation: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:23-32) Who are we to treat well? “One another,” in other words, our neighbors. Let’s be honest: if we’re sane, we are never very bitter, angry, or malicious toward ourselves. Rather, we are invariably kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving—willing to give ourselves every benefit of the doubt. And insofar as it doesn’t impede the repentance process, this is as it should be.
If God loves us (despite our failures), we should be able to love ourselves, for this love is the primary scriptural basis of how we are to treat others: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”