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Parasha Ki Tisa (When You Take): Battle for the Covenant

KI TISA (When You Take)
Exodus 30:11–34:35; 1 Kings 18:1–39 (Ashk.); 1 Kings 18:20–39 (Seph.); Matthew 17:1–13

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.”  (Exodus 30:11–12)

The Numbering of the Israelites, by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux

The Numbering of the Israelites, by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux

Our last two Torah studies, Terumah and Tetzaveh, have focused on the design of the wilderness Tabernacle, furnishings, and priestly garments.  This Shabbat continues with God’s instructions to Moses on the mountain.

The Israelites are to create the Sanctuary’s water basin, anointing oil, and incense. God tells Moses that He has chosen a “wise-hearted” artisan named Bezalel, along with his associate Oholiab, to lead the sacred construction project.

“See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.” (Exodus 31:2)

In order to fund the building of the Sanctuary, God commands Moses to take a census of the people of Israel and to instruct them to give a half shekel of silver.

“This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel … as a contribution to the LORD.”  (Exodus 30:13)

ancient Israeli silver coin-Rome-First Jewish War

A half-shekel coin from the First Jewish War (AD 66–70). Around the chalice it says, “Half Shekel,” and above it “Year 2.” The sprig of pomegranate side states, “Jerusalem is holy.” (Photo by Classical Numismatic Group)

Although the construction of the Sanctuary is an important and sacred task, God makes it clear that His commandment to rest on the Sabbath takes priority over this worthy goal.

We also may be working toward worthwhile achievements (and even those that are for the purpose of serving the Lord), but we must remember that God prefers us to put them on hold for a day in order to keep the Shabbat holy.

Resting and being refreshed on the seventh day Sabbath is a special sign of our covenant relationship with the Almighty God.

It is a testimony that He is the Creator.  And just as He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, so are we to work for six days and rest on the seventh.

“It will be a sign between Me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’”  (Exodus 31:17)

challah-Shabbat

It is traditional to have two loaves of challah (braided egg bread) at the Shabbat meal on Friday night. These loaves are a commemoration of the double portion of manna that the Israelites received every Friday in honor of Shabbat.

Standing in the Gap

“And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said to him: ‘Come, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.’” (Exodus 32:1)

While Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving God’s instruction, the people become impatient for his return and demand that Aaron make them a god they can see.

Aaron gives in to the pressure and fashions a golden calf, proclaiming the idol as their god:  “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:4)

When God sees the people worshiping a golden calf, He threatens to destroy the nation of Israel and to start all over again with Moses.

“‘I have seen these people,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘and they are a stiff-necked people.  Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.  Then I will make you into a great nation.’”  (Exodus 32:9–10)

An Israeli artist fashions a mosaic.

An Israeli artist fashions a mosaic.

Instead of accepting God’s offer to make him the beginning of a great nation, Moses stands in the gap and intercedes on behalf of the people of Israel.

We see in this Parasha that even though Moses prays for the people, he is so angry when he comes down from the mountain and witnesses their idolatry that he smashes the tablets of testimony that God had engraved with His own hand.

Moses then destroys the Golden Calf and the primary instigators to this idolatry are put to death.

Although God relents from destroying Israel entirely, their sin is not without consequences — 3,000 men fall under the sword of judgment that day. Amazingly enough, on Shavuot (Pentecost), which commemorates the giving of the Torah, God poured out His Ruach (Spirit) in Jerusalem soon after the resurrection of Yeshua (Jesus) and the exact same number were saved!

“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”  (Acts 2:41)

His pouring out of God’s Ruach underscores the fact that Yeshua did not come to condemn us but to save us.  There is hope for us yet.  We have been given the Spirit of God to bring us into life, not death, by leading and guiding us into all truth.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

God Gives Second Chances

Like the Israelites, some of us might go through periods of our lives where we descend into sin or fall away from the Lord, but God promises the hope of restoration and renewal if we will agree to come back into His presence in repentance to find forgiveness.

This, perhaps, is represented by God calling Moses to come back up the mountain to receive a second set of tablets, even though Moses destroyed the first set in a rage.

“Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered.’”  (Exodus 34:1)

Moses, Ten Commandments, Covenant

Moses and the Ten Commandments

God is so good!  He passed in front of Moses proclaiming to him His Divine character:

“The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness [chesed / covenant loyalty] and truth; who keeps lovingkindness [chesed] for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.”  (Exodus 34:6–7)

The more we become conformed and transformed into the image and likeness of God, in whose image we have been created, the more we will demonstrate these wonderful qualities of His chesed love, mercy, grace, patience, long-suffering, goodness, and truth.

We will become less judgmental and more merciful; we will criticize less and intercede more.

Oh, how we long to be changed — to be more like Him.  Coming into covenant with God is not about just following the rules; it is about having a deep, abiding, intimate relationship with a loving God.

A Jewish man with his tallit (prayer shawl) draped over his head stands before an open Torah ark at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

A Jewish man with his tallit (prayer shawl) draped over his head stands before an open Torah ark at the Western (Wailing) Wall.

Battle for the Eternal Covenant with Israel

Today, there is a portion of the Christian Church that believes in the doctrine of replacement theology, a fallacious teaching that contends God is no longer in covenant with the Jewish People — that He has disowned them and has replaced them with the Church.

Those who believe they are now God’s new Israel display an arrogance that starkly contrasts Moses’ humility — a man who could have replaced Israel but, instead, prayed for their survival.

The apostle Paul warned the church against the conceit of non-Jews in the family tree of God:  “Do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:18)

Rather than replacing the tree, Gentile Believers are grafted in as branches to an ancient tree whose root is still Jewish.  It is quite impossible that God has substituted another people for His Chosen because He has promised that He will never forsake or abandon His people Israel:

“For the Lord will not abandon His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance.” (Psalm 94:14)

Lion of Judah-Silver Yad-Torah

Torah and yad (Torah pointer)

Haftarah Ki Tisa: Battle for Truth

In this week’s Haftarah (prophetic) reading, the prophet Elijah has a mighty victory on Mount Carmel when he sets out to prove to the Israelites that there is no God but the God of Israel.

He challenges the prophets of the false god, Baal, to a contest.

Two altars are made:  one for Baal and one for the God of Israel.  Oxen are slaughtered and set on the altars, but they do not light a fire to burn the sacrifice.
Elijah and the prophets of Baal challenge the true God to send fire down from Heaven to burn up the sacrifice.

Elijah makes a mockery out of their false god and proves in dramatic fashion without any doubt that YHVH (יהוה – LORD) is Elohim.

Elijah's Sacrifice, by Albert Joseph Moore

Elijah’s Sacrifice, by Albert Joseph Moore

Elijah effectively starts Israel on a path away from their infidelity and back to the One True God.

But prophets of God are often not appreciated, and in ancient days many were put to death.  Instead of thanking Elijah for killing all of the prophets of Baal, King Ahab blamed Elijah for causing Israel trouble.  (1 Kings 18:17)

Ahab chose to forsake a true prophet of God, Elijah, to protect the interests of his Phoenician wife, Jezebel.  It was this pagan woman who enticed the Chosen People of God to follow her false god, Baal.

It has been said that behind every good man is a great woman, and the wrong woman can also be a man’s downfall.  We see many examples in the Bible in which a woman has powerful influence for good or for evil.

We need only to look at the examples of Eve and Adam, Sarah and Abraham, Esther and King Ahasuerus, Bathsheba and David, Abigail and David, and Delilah with Samson to see this truth.

Because of these dangers, God has warned us to not marry non-Believers, lest they turn our hearts away from God.

We see this warning played out with King Solomon, whom God gave such great wisdom to but who, nevertheless, lacked wisdom in his decision to marry foreign women.  In the end, they turned his heart away from God to worship false gods.

Godly women need to be conscious of the influence they can have over the men in their lives and use it wisely in the fear of the Lord.

Jezebel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth's Vineyard, by Sir Francis Dicksee

Jezebel and Ahab Meeting Elijah in Naboth’s Vineyard, by Sir Francis Dicksee

Queen Jezebel used her powerful influence to lead Israel into the sin of idol worship. 

Elijah helped Israel to see the error of their false beliefs.

But if we look at their lives, on the surface it could seem that Jezebel was more blessed than Elijah.  She had power, position, and prosperity, while Elijah had no lineage, no worldly position, and sometimes he went hungry.

He even despaired at times, believing no one was left who wanted to serve God.  He longed for fellowship but often felt lonely.  There were times he felt so depressed and discouraged, he wanted to die.

He certainly doesn’t sound much like a blessed man, does he?  However, we can’t take only a temporal view of life; we need not see this life as the end, for all of eternity awaits us, and we may have treasures stored up in Heaven that no eye has even seen!

“Better is the little of the righteous than the abundance of many wicked.”  (Psalm 37:16)

Elijah in the Desert, by Washington Allston

Elijah in the Desert, by Washington Allston

If we look at the lives of Elijah and Jezebel, we see that power, position, and prosperity cannot be our end goal; rather, our primary aim in life must be to stay faithful to the Lord God of Israel — in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, for better or for worse — from this time forth and forevermore!

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always.” (Proverbs 23:17)

We can see that these two people, Jezebel and Elijah, are each zealous in their own mission — one for the Lord and one for a false god — but their lives ended in vastly different ways.

While Jezebel sat applying her makeup, she was pushed out the window by her servants and fell to her death. The horses trampled her body, and the dogs savagely ate her flesh.  What a horrible end — yet, her eternal destiny is far more horrifying.

But Elijah, who endured great and severe trials in this lifetime, went up to Heaven on a chariot of fire.

An Israeli child inserts a written prayer into the crevices of the Western (Wailing) Wall, a tradition that arose after the destruction of the Holy Temple, which was situated behind this wall. (Go Israel photo by Noam Chen)

An Israeli child inserts a written prayer into the crevices of the Western (Wailing) Wall, a tradition that arose after the destruction of the Holy Temple, which was situated behind this wall. (Go Israel photo by Noam Chen)

Someday, like Elijah, we will be in Heaven and enjoy God’s Presence forever.

Life’s present troubles and trials will fade away.  There, we will be comforted on every side, as God wipes away all our tears.

So let us not despair if our lives are not perfect; if we see sinners that seem to prosper in their ways while we struggle and endure hardship.

One day God will show us His glory; and we will be forever safe with Him. In the meantime,  His presence and love will bring perfect peace in the midst of our circumstances.

So, let us put on the full armor of God, that we may be able to stand firm until that final day.  Amen.

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