YHVH as Game Designer

July 4th, 2014

The last chapter of the Book of Daniel (12:4) is one of several prophecies which are said to be “sealed”, “until the time of the end,” when, among other things, “knowledge shall increase.” Sometimes it seems that we might today be getting very close to the unsealing of those prophecies, for a number of reasons.

The “nature of the Godhead” has been a source of conflict, division, and even war for the better part of two millenia at this point. Is He “three persons”, or only One? “Fully God and fully man,” or can we even wrap our minds around the distinction? This author has long stated that I will not “break fellowship over mathematics,” whether one has difficulty with differential calculus, or, more to the point, even how 3 == 1. After all, the Hebrew word echad, as in, “YHVH our Elohim, YHVH is echad,” (Deut. 6:4) can mean the cardinal number “one”, or even “unity.”

Is there a way to reconcile what seems totally contradictory? Or to begin to at least establish a picture of something now that might have eluded description in a way mere mortals could comprehend for centuries? I suggest that as “knowledge has increased,” that might be more achievable now than it has ever been. And while no analogy, or metaphor, is ever quite perfect, our familiarity now with computers, computer languages, hardware, operating systems, and even computer GAMES may now give us a bit of insight into that mystery that has divided believers since certain ‘creeds’ were written – and too often enforced at the point of a sword.

How can YHVH be “outside time” as we know it? How did He (Gen. 1, and later, John 1:1) speak the world into existence? We know that the “power of the tongue,” is immense, and that our vows really matter. Now we even know that computer languages, and programs written in them, can be likewise used for great good, or tremendous evil. It is no longer a giant leap to imagine a programmer ‘speaking’ (or writing) a whole virtual world into existence.   It is what game designers do.

When the designer(s) [it takes more of us, clearly, to do something far less sophisticated, and infinitely less complex than His creation!] sit down to create a new adventure-type game, a number of things must happen. The torah, or instruction, about how the game is to be played, and what the rules are for that particular virtual universe, must be laid out. What kinds of creatures populate the world? What are their strengths and weaknesses?  What are the “Laws of nature” there?  How does one “win”?

And all of that follows other, “lower-level” aspects of the design, everything from the nature of the operating system to the type of graphics system and computer hardware required. The first step truly might be likened to something analogous to “let there be light,” after which the rest of the creation follows.

Once the “Yah as Game Designer” metaphor is clear, certain other pieces begin to fall into place. How can the Creator be “outside of time?” That one’s easy: He just hits the ‘pause’ button. Those who populate His universe never know any difference. He can look “forward” or “behind” in time just as easily, run “simulations”, or do any number of things with His world that earlier theologians cannot have imagined, and modern ones might find disturbing. Thankfully, our Elohim has made it clear that He does NOT like to “break the rules” that He Wrote; He is in fact, the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, whether we understand His notion about “time” or not.

How might such a Designer choose to interact with those inside His creation? An array of choices present themselves, both in Scripture, and now, even our imaginations. He might choose to talk to them in dreams and visions, or via ‘messengers’ (malakim), or even from within a burning bush or a thundering mountain. But the form that would be most familiar to people who have ever played a modern “adventure” game would be to enter into His creation as a player, just like those within that universe. Would that character be both “fully man” and yet echad with the Designer Himself? Certainly it could truthfully be said that He “does the will of the One Who sent Him.” And just as certainly, it would be true that ‘no one has seen Him’ – indeed, those within that virtual world have no real conception of what the Creator might be, other than perhaps the knowledge they were somehow ‘created in His image.’

Finally, how could such an incredible Designer even begin to describe Himself to the inhabitants of the world He created?  That, too, should be obvious.  In terms, and with concepts, from His  ‘game’ itself; including by describing Himself as a Father, or King, or Master, or Husband.

Certainly, no analogy is perfect, and the most sophisticated virtual universe men have ever assembled pales in comparison to what YHVH has created for us.  And yet the imitations, limited as they might be, are now good enough — in movies, or flight simulations for example — to be real enough for training, or even for propaganda and deception.  That, too, is something that fits with any number of Biblical prophecies.

It may very well be that as “knowledge has increased,” we find ourselves more able to at least conceive of how some of the Scriptures which once seemed confusing and even contradictory can really reflect a better, albeit still limited, understanding of the nature of our reality, and what YHVH is teaching us.  That, in turn, might help us to focus on the ‘weightier matters‘ of His Word, rather than disputing among ourselves over “doubtful things.”  If time does indeed draw short, and  the kind of tribulation we can see coming is only the ‘beginning of sorrows’ — then we’ve all got far more important things to do than “argue about the math.”

Torah portion “Chukat” (Numbers 19-21)

June 29th, 2014

Join Mark Call for two related, but different looks at this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, from Numbers chapters 19 through 21.

The first recording is the regular Erev Shabbat teaching, from the Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship, and is again an overview of the entire parsha:

SSM Chukat 2014

The longer teaching from Shabbat concentrates on specifics from the parsha in more detail.  What could possibly the connection between the confusing story of the red heifer, and Moses not being allowed to enter the land?  And what does it say to us today?

TT CooH Chukat 2014 – Pictures, Metaphors:   Just do it, whether we understand or no

Korach – Leadership, rebellion, and community (as we “come out of her”)

June 22nd, 2014

Join Mark Call for two related, but different looks at this week’s Torah portion, Korach, from Numbers chapters 16 through 18.

The Shabbat morning teaching concentrates, on some specifics from the parsha, in more detail, and with, as usual, topical references relevant to current events and the “Come out of her” connection.

Bokker Shabbat teaching – Korach

This is the regular Erev Shabbat teaching, from the Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship, and is again an overview of the entire parsha. This week it includes a more extended look at the news of the week, as well, for reasons that will hopefully be clear:

SSM Erev Shabbat Teaching – Korach

The Romans 13 Twisting

June 19th, 2014

 

There is one particularly pernicious “twisting” of Scripture that probably tends to turn up in “Sunday Churchianity” more than any other. When Kefa (aka “Simon Peter”) wrote in the second letter that bears his name (II Peter 3:15-16) that “in the writings of our beloved brother” Shaul or Paul are many things that are “wrested” or “twisted…by the unlearned and untaught,” he may already have had a vision of what a paganized, co-opted church would do to Romans chapter 13 in just a millenium or two.

Here is the standard, “Authorized” English rendering of the “letter to the Romans”, verses 1 and 2. Unfortunately, there is so much historic and translation-bias “baggage” in the way that passage is rendered, AND TAUGHT, that the worst “twisting” Peter warned about has already happened:

 

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

For this reason, the Modern, Politically-Correct, 501c(3) State-Church Approved, Officially-Authorized Version of that verse (arguably it’s about the ONLY verse that still even HAS Washington’s Stamp of Approval) pretty much boils down to, “when Big Brother says ‘JUMP’, you must say, ‘How high, master?’ “.

The trouble is, that popular “teaching” – that to obey the State is to obey God – is just plain WRONG, and antithetical to the message of the rest of Scripture. Especially when the state tries to pretend that it IS “god”, or “another master,” imbued with the power to overwrite not only His Written Word, but its own “supreme law” by imperial edict anyway.

Why? Isn’t that a bit of hyperbole? At least, unless the State tries to require people to commit acts that directly violate Scripture.

You mean – like murder? Theft? Dishonest weights and measures? Subsidizing what He calls “abomination,” and calling it ‘licensed marriage’? Leaving aside the obvious objections, like just “in Whose Name” do we claim to be working, anyway? And, Who do we truly serve? Caesar, or YHVH? There’s a big difference between walking in obedience to the REAL King, Creator, and Elohim of Scripture, and those false self-proclaimed “gods” who would like to take His place. While YHVH may allow bad kings, conquerors like a Nebuchadnezzar, or even a “Beast” government to chasten those who walk in rebellion to Him, it is always clear that His “remnant” must have discernment.

Paul ALSO said, and it was in that very same letter to the Romans (v 6:16), well before those troublesome Most Twisted Verses, to be very careful just WHO you “submit yourself” as a servant to obey. For, “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?

It would seem that, just as Scripture emphasizes consistently throughout, that we have a CHOICE about Whom we obey, Whom we worship, Whom we serve. Paul is hardly contradicting himself, or his heavenly Master. Note that in the well-known “spiritual battle” line from the same author’s letter to the Ephesians, Shaul uses the same word to describe those we fight, or wrestle, AGAINST:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powersG1849 against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Furthermore, remember that several apostles were among those who were arrested and jailed for FAILING to obey those “higher powers” that were “ordained of God.” Something is wrong with the claim here. Check out the story in Acts chapter 5. Following their arrest for “resisting the power,” rather than, “receiv[ing] to themselves damnation,” they were freed by an “angel of the Lord.” When confronted directly for their very un-Romans-13-like behavior, “Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

And Scripture is replete with other examples of men – and women – of God who did not submit to some “higher power,” whether in the form of a state, or its priests. Particularly a pagan state that saw itself as ‘god’. The Hebrew midwives in Egypt, commanded by Pharoah to kill male babies, “feared God,” disobeyed the king, and, “therefore God dealt well with them.” They were even rewarded with “households.” Young David did not allow King Saul to do to him what that “higher power,” unquestionably ordained by the Almighty, would have wanted to do to him, either. Indeed, the litany of kings who “did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD” alone should prove that the “Clergy Response Team” twisting of Romans 13 sounds more like something they would have written than YHVH Himself.

The context, consistency, and totality of Scripture reveal the lie. But there’s another way to debunk the Caesar-Approved Spin on Romans 13. Just look even briefly at the language. Even in the Greek rendering of the original letter, the key word in the verses is “exousia”, repeated several times. The primary Strong’s definition (Number G1849) says it means “power of choice,” or “liberty” of “doing as one pleases.” Other verses use the word to indicate “authority,” but the context makes clear that such authority can be used either for good, in the service of YHVH, or for evil, as in the “power of darkness.”

In I Cor. 8:9, the same word ‘exousia’ is rendered this way:

But take heed lest by any means this liberty G1849 of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

Like all power, authority, and liberty – there is a way to use that “exousia” in accord with the Word, in accord with the will of YHVH, and another way which is in opposition to Him. To “rightly divide the Word,” includes understanding that proper context!

Let’s try it THIS way, and see if the apparent meaning changes any:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher liberties. For there is no liberty but of God: the liberties that be are ordained of God.

Whosoever therefore resisteth the liberty, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

It certainly seems to put a whole different spin on the text, doesn’t it?

Whether the text is talking about “power” OR “liberty” – the key point remains. Whether for good, or for evil, it’s all about Who we serve.

Shalach (Numbers 13-15)

June 15th, 2014

Join Mark Call for two related, but different looks at this week’s Torah portion, Shalach, from Numbers chapters 13 through 15.  From what is arguably histories “first recorded  vote” (which says much about the consequences when man decides that “democracy can out-vote YHVH”) to tzitzit, there’s a lot to consider in this parsha.

The first recording is the regular Erev Shabbat teaching, from the Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship, and is again an overview of the entire parsha:
SSM – Shalach teaching

The longer teaching from Shabbat concentrates on some specifics from the parsha, in more detail, and with, as usual, topical references relevant to current events.  In particular, this time, Mark takes a look at the two men who were “out-voted,” their leadership styles, and what they have to teach us as we face similar threats today.

Shalach – Shabbat teaching

Are there parts of Scripture that just don’t matter?

May 16th, 2014

 

Every now and again we run across a Torah portion that just doesn’t seem applicable any more. While most people who have begun the process to “come out of” a church that denies the eternal Truth of His Word – that not one word has been “done away with” so long as heaven and earth abide, and that He does not change – sometimes we still seem to struggle with the relevance of a section that clearly just applies to someone ELSE, and another time.

Parsha “Emor”, from Leviticus chapters 21 through 24 seems to be a prime example. Most of us are not Levites, or priests, and neither the tabernacle nor the temple currently exists. What difference does it make to us, then, why, or particularly how, they were to be “set-apart” (“qadosh,” or “holy”) – “because I AM set apart”?

This author contends that the more tempted we are to ignore something in Scripture, the more we should recognize that there’s a lesson in there, perhaps all the more important because we are NOT paying attention. At the very least, He wrote it down for us for a reason, and it might very well be that the reason it does NOT seem important is precisely because we aren’t learning the lesson.

Leviticus chapter 21 is all about the priests who are the “sons of Aaron.” They are to be “set apart,” and literally live according to a higher standard than people who do not come into the presence of YHVH, and perform His special tasks. They are specifically limited in their choice of wives, must not be maimed, blind, mutilated, or even physically blemished, and are not to be “defiled” in any number of ways – particularly when it comes to contact with death. Why?

I will suggest that at least PART of the answer lies in that last qualifier – although Scripture puts it first. At the end of the discussion (Lev. 22:31), YHVH again states what we SHOULD by now know: “You shall keep My Commandments (“mitzvoti”) and DO them,” followed by His “signature” – “I AM YHVH!” The very next verse reminds us that we are to honor, not profane, His Set-Apart Name. Not so much by worrying about whether or how to pronounce it properly, but recognizing His character as His Word demonstrates, and honoring Him no less than we would a father, Who is also a King.

And a bit more evidence surfaces in the repetition of His appointed times in the chapter which immediately follows: “…these are My appointed seasons!” Note that He never calls them “Jewish feasts,” and they’re certainly not claimed by modern Xtianity, but always uses the first-person specific; “These are MY appointed times,” you are to “keep My moedim”, and it’s “forever,” “throughout your generations,” and in all your dwelling places, too. Yes, by now we should understand that nowhere in Scripture does He EVER change His set-apart times, His Sabbaths, or tell us that they’re no longer applicable. But there seems to be more to it, in THIS context, this time, in this place in Scripture.

Even the repeating patterns of numbers in the dates seem to make the point!

Notice that He starts, this time as in so many other reminders, with His Sabbath, which repeats every seven days, just as He told us was the pattern of His creation. As an exercise, just COUNT how many times in Lev. 23 two specific numbers – 7 and 1 – show up. And how many multiples of seven we see as well!

So much about His set-apart times serve to teach and remind us of His work, His plan, and His instruction…from the completed action of creation and deliverance from bondage, to lessons of forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation. His act of creation “ex nihilo” — from nothing – involved separating light from darkness, and then breathing life into lifelesness. And while He then ‘rested’ on the seventh day of creation, another understanding of that rest might be to appreciate, or to interact with His completed work. It’s all about life, and having it “more abundantly” through Him.

His Sabbaths and appointed times have been described as having been set apart in TIME to meet with us, while the mishkan (tabernacle) and temple were physical SPACES inside this creation set aside to meet with us, even to dwell among us.

Doesn’t it make sense that those who were set apart to be priests for Him, and to enter into those places in both space and in time where YHVH put His Name would need to be as set apart from death as humanly possible as well? No wonder the “higher standard” that Leviticus 22 speaks of would so emphasize separation from everything having to do with death. It’s about LIFE.

What can we learn from these verses in a world which now all too often does the opposite? A world which denies His Name, “chooses that in which He does not delight,” and morbidly worships death?

Ezekiel 44 completes the story. Israel went astray from Yah (verses 10-13) because their priests “ministered unto them before their idols.” Then, as now, it is vital that we are taught, “the difference between the holy and profane, and …discern between the unclean and the clean.

If we believe that it is possible one day to be priests and kings for Him, of the “order of Melchizedek,” isn’t it important that we understand what priests are supposed to teach?

Ultimately, the lesson remains that we are to choose between life and death, and know how to make that choice.

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…” (Deut. 30:19)

Choose life.

Torah portion “Behar” (Lev. 25)

May 15th, 2014

Join Mark Call for the regular Erev Shabbat Teaching for parsha “Behar”  (Lev. chapter 25)

 

 

The first link below is to the regular Erev Shabbat teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship:

 

SSM Behar 9 May 2014

Mark’s “in-depth” look at both some key aspects of this Torah portion, and the things that apply directly to the things we can see going on around us today can be found in the related teaching on Shabbat:

Talking Torah session – Behar – 10 May 2014

 

Torah portion “Emor” (Lev. 21-24)

May 5th, 2014

Join Mark Call for the regular Erev Shabbat Teaching for parsha “Kedoshim”  (Lev. chapters 19-20)

 

 

The first link below is to the regular Erev Shabbat teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship:

SSM Emor 2 May 2014

 

 

 

Mark’s “in-depth” look at both some key aspects of this Torah portion, and the things that apply directly to the things we can see going on around us today can be found in the related teaching on Shabbat:

Talking Torah session – Emor  3 May 2014

“Wouldn’t it be loverly?”

April 29th, 2014

 

In the famous Broadway musical, “My Fair Lady,” Professor Henry Higgins teaches the cockney flower girl Eliza Doolitle to “speak proper English,” based on his studies of language and phonetics. The case of the young woman whose inability to speak properly locks her into a lower strata of society is, at least to some extent, a bit similar to the understanding of the Biblical instruction about something called “tzara-as.” Eliza Doolittle eventually learns to speak properly, and is blessed as a result of her efforts. The Bible seems to focus on the case of those who do NOT, and suffer for that failure. And while that Hebrew word is generally mistranslated into English as “leprosy”, the disease now called by that name (aka “Hansen’s Disease”) may not be the same malady outlined in Scripture at all. See Leviticus, or Vayikra, chapters 13 and 14 for the extensive details.

 

The similarity between stories about speech, for good or for evil, is more than “skin-deep”, however. And while I won’t try to demonstrate in this short article all of the reasons why I have finally become convinced that the standard midrashic teaching about “tzara-as” – that it is very much a spiritual problem, once manifested as a physical plague – is valid, a few of the main arguments do help make the point: Tzara-as is directly linked to the problem of gossip, or the “evil tongue,” rendered “lashon hora” in Hebrew.

 

It is often said that speaking lashon hora about someone is the equivalent of “murder by the tongue,” and that the fallout from this particularly pernicious act destroys not ONLY the intended victim who is being spoken about, but also one who speaks it, and all those who listen and perhaps pass it along.

 

And the quantity of ink in the Bible devoted to the use, and abuse, of language, the tongue, and speech is literally awe inspiring. After all, our Creator literally spoke the world into existence, and offers dozens of warnings and examples.

 

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Proverbs 18:21

 

“…I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.” (Psalm 39:1)

 

…Your tongue devises destruction,
Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. You love evil more than good,
Lying rather than speaking righteousness. SELAH

You love all devouring words,
You deceitful tongue.” (Psalm 52:2-4)

 

…the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!

…And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

…But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (Yakov 3:5-10 – aka “James”)

Perhaps at the top of the list of important things we speak from our lips are vows, the entire subject of Numbers chapter 30. It has been my contention for some time that the biggest issue in marriages today may well be that the world has ignored the lessons taught there. And the situation with public servants, from police and military to elected “public servants” who take an oath before God is perhaps even more malignant. Lies, broken vows, deception coming from the mouth, and gosssip can obviously not only kill individuals, but evidently whole societies as well.

 

Furthermore, the description of the plague which once resulted from the Evil Tongue sounds more than a bit like death as well. The pallor, the rotting skin, and the immediate result – that the perpetrator would be cut off from people, sent outside the camp, and forced to declare “unclean, unclean” to anyone that might try to come near – all speak of the contagion associated with the scourge, and the curses that result.

 

It all sounds quite unpleasant. So much so that people are often inclined to dismiss the whole subject of “leprosy” with the arguably misguided observation that “it doesn’t matter” anymore because ‘modern medicine’ has cured the problem anyway.

 

But the problem is that the plague described in the Bible as tzara-at is NOT really modern leprosy at all. And neither are we in the Land of Promise any more. Is it just possible that the punishment of tzara-as for evil speech – like so many of the other curses, chastenings, and warnings of His Word – is intended for our BLESSING as well? Is it just possible that, being in exile “for cause” as a result of continuing idolatry that we now suffer a different kind of plague, and an even more severe punishment

for the increasingly evil forms of speech which pervade society?

 

The lesson for the “metzora” (one who suffers tzara-as) is ultimately so clear, and so consistent with the other remedies in Scripture. T’shuva; repent from the evil action that got us into this situation. If lashon hora is the cause of that plague, and the only kind of speech permitted to the victim once sent away into exile is to shout “unclean, unclean” to any who come near, the lesson is to “tame the tongue.” Even the resolution of the malady is reminiscent of the terminology of death, albeit in reverse: Following his healing, and cleansing via the process conducted by the priest, the metzora is RE-gathered to his people.

 

Before she learns to speak properly, “My Fair Lady,” Liza Doolittle speaks a bit of lashon hora herself about her strict taskmaster, and ultimately benefactor, Professor Henry Higgins, in a famous song. “Wouldn’t it be loverly?” she opines, if evil were to befall him.

 

When we look at society today, it is not calling evil, “good,” and good, “evil,” that characterizes the common speech, it is the glorification of foul mouths and evil tongues. From TV sitcoms to “gossip shows” the idea of gossip as something to be proud of pervades the culture. It should come as no surprise that it is gossip which literally tears so many churches and communities apart. Perhaps that is a “measure for measure” reward from YHVH, too, for a society and “Church” that teach His Word has been “done away with”, and doesn’t matter any more anyway. As His Instruction so clearly says, those lies, and that Evil Speech, bring curses.

 

As we begin to “come out of her” and separate ourselves from the “unclean things” that bring curses, we must learn to not only “walk the narrow path” that leads to Him, but guard our speech as well. Speak blessings, and not cursings. Honor our contracts, vows, and commitments. We evidently no longer have the “blessing” – even if it amounts to very “tough love” – of looking in the mirror and seeing our external coverings – from houses, to clothes, to the very skin of our bodies – begin to rot off when we are speaking evil. Perhaps, in hindsight, and given what is so clearly coming, it would be easier if the consequences were more obvious, more immediate, and arguably less ultimately fatal.

 

If YHVH has removed this particular type of “chastening” (remember – those He loves, He chastens!) as a result of our repeated rebellion to Him, and our praising of other gods with our lips instead of Him, during this time of exile, we must learn to guard the words of our mouths, and speak blessing or keep silent. If we are to build communities which will be pleasing to Him in the difficult times ahead, and “be counted worthy” to escape the plagues which are coming, we may have to do it without the kind of “direct feedback” that was once given His people.

 

Perhaps we must learn to pray as Job did again. “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred.” (Job 6:24)

 

Tzara-as has appropriately been described as an outward physical manifestation of an inward spiritual wickedness. But we don’t have it any more. “Wouldn’t it be loverly” if we did?

 

Torah portion “Kedoshim” (Lev. 19-20)

April 29th, 2014

Both the weekly Torah teaching from the Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship and the Talking Torah sessions are now available on-line, for Torah portion “Kedoshim”.

 

SSM (Erev Shabbat) — review of entire portion

Talking Torah session – “Come out of her” – teaching on specifics from the portion, and application to current events