The seventh-day Shabbat (Sabbath) is not only central to Israel’s calendar, it is at the heart of Jewish identity. Exodus 31:13 reports Adonai commanding Moshe to “speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘Surely, My Shabbats you must guard, for it is a sign between Me and you, to your generations, to know that I, Adonai, am sanctifying you….’” Yet the observance of Shabbat has historically been shrouded in rules and customs that can separate us from the very Shabbat we are supposed to be protecting. Beautiful, elegant—some-times strict—and infused with spiritual symbolism, the Shabbat traditions of Judaism nevertheless (and unnecessarily) complicate what may arguably be the simplest thing in Scripture.

While the practical out-working of Shabbat in the modern Diaspora does take some amount of forethought, the principles set forth in the Scriptures are easy to understand and apply—if we will only hear them. Indeed, wedged in our thinking is the belief that Jewish religion and culture supercede Scripture, and that centuries of practice amount to expertise. Not necessarily.

“How do I ‘do’ Shabbat?” is the question that kills Shabbat even before it begins. Candle-lighting, Shabbat dinner and special prayers are nice, but not what this holy day is all about. To “do” Shabbat, first consider the Scriptures (see image, above), and start by simply stopping. Don’t worry about going wrong with the way you “do” Shabbat… as long as you’re not going at all…

What do you think? Post a comment below.

This “Fast Foundations” article was originally published in Messianic Jewish Issues.

(Other extra-Torah or land-dependent Shabbat prohibitions include carrying a load out of one’s house or in through the gates of Jerusalem (Jer. 17:21-22), and buying from non-Israelites who are trying to do business in Jerusalem (Neh. 10:31, cf. 13:16). There are also explicit commands for Shabbat sacrifices. As for assembling for the purpose of worship, the Shabbat itself is a sacred assembly (Lev. 23:3), but what constitutes assembly, where, and of whom is not stated. Assembly of at least some members of Israel at the Tabernacle/Temple may be implied by Numbers 10:2&10.)

When I was a boy, one of the only Jewish holidays my family celebrated was Chanukah (the other was Passover), but if you had told me that one day I would write an entire book about the Festival of Lights, I would have said you were a couple of candles short of a menorah! Now all these years later, I’m delighted about the newly released “Real Story of Chanukah,” because it truly puts the modern holiday in perspective by placing it against the backdrop of its factual history.

But what really excites me about the new book is that its message is so Messianic… not because it shows you Yeshua in the chanukiyyah, but because the real story of Chanukah is about being completely sold-out, zealous, crazy-on-fire—dedicated—to Adonai. I love this kind of message!

In The Real Story of Chanukah (which quotes at length from the apocryphal, yet historically reliable books of 1&2 Maccabees), we get to witness the struggles of a handful of average, everyday Jewish people during the intertestamental period. Against the overwhelming anti-Semitic and assimilating forces of their day, we see these valiant, devout few as they fight for the God and the Torah they love, in order to restore Israel to faithful fellowship with God. The story is just incredible—it’s vivid, moving, and, at times, almost beyond belief. And it’s within this context that I was able to unpack the Messianic message, illustrating how, according to the Scriptures, we too can and must be completely dedicated to the cause of Yeshua.

I believe that this is an important book, not just because it offers a unique perspective and insight regarding the holiday, but because the message of the story behind the holiday is an inspiring source of encouragement and exhortation… it’s Scripture put into action in peoples’ lives… it’s a commentary on the social issues of our day… it’s a warning for what we may be headed toward in the future.

If you already have a copy of the audio teaching upon which this book is based, I want to encourage you to pick up a copy of the book as well. The audio teaching covers the essential topics and story that is contained in the book, along with the emotion and dynamics that only come from a live presentation, but the book has considerably more material, and goes into detail that I wasn’t able to cover in the original teaching. In the book, I’m able to deal with other related topics that round out the entire discussion as it pertains to the issues raised by the holiday of Chanukah—and, believe me, there are quite a few.

I think my closing thoughts from The Real Story of Chanukah’s preface best sum up my reason for writing this book, and it reads as follows:

You may know next to nothing about the Feast of Dedication; you may love and cherish it as a meaningful time of year. My aim with this message is not to dash your view of Chanukah upon the rocks. Instead, my hope is that you will be stirred and inspired to abandon all that has doused your fire for God, and to be reignited with a burning passion for righteousness, holiness, and the zealous life for Adonai.

May the real story of Chanukah cause you to wholly commit yourself to God—to be restored to who He has made you to be—forsaking everything you hold dear, and even yourself… devoted and dedicated… to the death.

I think you’ll be challenged, exhorted, and inspired by The Real Story of Chanukah—the miraculous story you never knew…

It’s what everyone all over the world isn’t saying today… and why should they? After all, it’s the middle of March, and nothing around us offers even a hint that a new year has begun. Indeed, most of us haven’t even a clue that a new month has arrived (“Rosh Chodesh,” or New Moon), much less the renewal of an entire year!

Nevertheless, it’s true—the New Year is here… the New Year for Israel, that is (Exodus 12:2, “This month is to you the chief of months—it is the first to you of the months of the year.”). And yet, even world-wide Jewry doesn’t have New Year’s on its collective radar right now. No, for us, New Year’s doesn’t come around for another six long months (“Rosh HaShanah”)—or so we’ve been led to believe.

“Who cares? What’s the big deal?” you retort. “Scripture doesn’t even say that the first New Moon is to be honored any differently than the others (except the seventh)!” Indeed, why does it matter that most of “civilized” planet earth calls a random moment in time—January 1st—“New Year’s Day”? And why get all worked up just because Judaism celebrates its New Year in the Fall, instead of observing it in the Spring, according to the Scriptures?

Read more

I would like to share a recent exchange I had with one of our enews subscribers who questioned the manner in which we determined the date of Passover this year. A little background for those of you unfamiliar with the nature of the debate: it centers on the reliability of the established Jewish Calendar versus the observation of the phases of the moon, the sun and the agricultural state of the Land of Israel as opposing systems for accurately determining the dates of Israel’s calendar. This is an important issue because the dates of the calendar practically affect when to celebrate the year’s annual appointed times, such as Passover.

Our enews letter read in bold letters: “Only 2 weeks to Passover!”

Our subscriber replied, Read more

Just before the renewal of Israel’s annual calendar, the last month of the year hosts the Feast of Puriym, as birthed out of the events reported in the book of Esther.

The story of Esther and the Jews living in Persia takes place around 500 BC, near the end of Israel’s expulsion to Babylon. The historical account concludes with Esther and Mordechai’s triumph over Haman and the spirit of anti-Semitism, securing the Jewish peoples’ momentary safety in a foreign land. In short,

…Haman… the ’Agagiy, adversary of all the Jews, had devised [a plot] concerning the Jews to destroy them, and had caused pur to fall—that is, the lot—to crush them and to destroy them. But in [Esther’s uncovering of Haman’s plot and] coming in before the king, [the king responded] with the [written proclamation] letter, “Let [Haman’s] evil device that he devised against the Jews turn back upon his own head!” And they hanged him and his sons on the tree. (Esther 9:24-25)

The ensuing “days of banquet and of joy, and of sending portions [of food] one to another, and gifts to the needy” were celebrated “as days on which the Jews have rested from their enemies, and the month that has been turned to them from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to a good day.” (vs. 22) These days inaugurated an annual memorial—“Puriym—by the name of the lot”—established by Mordechai’s letter to the Jews of Persia.

Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, and what they have seen concerning this, and what has come to them, the Jews have established and received upon themselves and upon their seed and upon all those joined to them—and it may not pass away—to be keeping these two days according to their writing, and according to their season, in every year and year. And these days are [to be] remembered and kept in every generation and generation, family and family, province and province, and city and city. And these days of Puriym may not pass away from the midst of the Jews, and their memorial may not [be] ended from their seed. (Esther 9:26-28)

So by royal decree, the Jews of Persia escaped an onslaught against them, and instituted Puriym as an annual reminder to all Israel of this “good day.” Puriym is to be celebrated “the fourteenth day of the month of Adar [the twelfth month], and the fifteenth day of it, in every year and year…” (Esther 9:21)

The Silence of God

One of the historical criticisms levied against the book of Esther is that neither the name of Adonai, nor any reference to the God of Israel, is found in its text. The defense of the book’s inclusion in the canon of Scripture, however, comes from the allegedly underlying theme of divine providence, which may be encapsulated in the famous line uttered by Mordechai to the reluctant Queen Esther, “and who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for a time such as this?” (Esther 4:14)  It is therefore traditionally understood that God’s silent role in the story of Esther is what brought about the protection and salvation of the Jewish people of Persia.

But with the voice of God sounding so loudly throughout the bulk of Scripture, His “silence” in the book of Esther rings ever so conspicuously where the authoritative establishment of Puriym is concerned. Indeed, it is absolutely clear from the text that Adonai in no way authorized and implemented Puriym as a feast to be kept by Israel. Rather, it is a self-appointed time of celebration—much like that of Chanukah, another self-proclaimed feast which commemorates Israel facing and defeating a similar foe. In the end, there can be no argument that Mordechai and the Jews in Persia unilaterally imposed the annual celebration and memorial of Puriym upon their descendants forever—an appointment which was never explicitly sanctioned by Adonai. How, then, are we to handle this precarious—and somewhat presumptuous—command, which has been preserved for us in the context of Scripture? Read more