Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
What you see is what you get… Not!
The sign read “ come in and see the world’s largest man- eating alligator!” One woman passed by the sign and informed her husband that she had no interest in seeing this exhibit because she was afraid of “scaly creatures.” She thought she knew exactly what she would see if she went in to take a look.
A little boy tugged at his daddy/s pant-leg and cried “ Daddy I want to see the monster alligator!” He envisioned a huge dinosaur-type animal if only his daddy would take him behind the curtain.
Each of the two individuals described took the sign at face value with preconceived ideas about what they would see. They both expected to see a huge alligator that had eaten a man or men. Yet, they were both wrong. The boy’s father took him behind the curtain down a long hall to a small room. The little boy looked around in utter disappointment when all he was a 450- pound man sitting at a table eating alligator meat. When the father demanded his money back from the man at the door, he was met with the remark, “ Hey, we didn’t lie! The sign said man-eating alligator and that’s what you saw!”
The man and the little boy felt cheated and disappointed. Why? Because they took the sign at face value according to their idea without considering any alternative meaning. Of course, the little boy did not have the ability to think abstractly at his age and consider other possibilities, but the father could have obtained more insight had he pondered other possible “gimmicks” or asked targeted questions about the exhibit.
Today we are going to examine the misconception that what you see or read can always be taken on a superficial or literal level when it comes to interpreting scripture. The scenario I just mentioned was real. I remember it from childhood while walking through a flea market. But I want to share a more poignant experience from my adult life that illustrates the crux of this message.
On the way to Iowa to attend my graduation from my master’s program as a Nurse Practitioner, I enjoyed the beautiful terrain. It was so nice to take a break and just take it all in. I was impressed with the Tennessee mountains that were beautifully clothed in various types of trees and other plants. They stood in defiance as the highway slithered through the mountain passes like a ribbon in the wind. As I drove, I kept seeing sighs for Ruby Falls. My first thought was that this was some sort of tourist trap, and I would wind up seeing some sort of animation of a woman named Ruby falling off the mountain! But as I neared the end of my day, I decided to stay in a hotel that night and check out this attraction in the morning. I wanted to know for sure what this “Ruby Falls” was all about.
The next morning, I drove to the park and paid the toll for the tour. I became very curious as I was directed to an elevator that went down 260 feet into the heart of the mountain. That was my first surprise. Then a guide took me through a maze of stalactites and stalagmites, narrow passages, and areas that I could barely fit through from side to side. I negotiated dampened inclines and small natural bridges for over a mile. Finally, I approached a pitch- black area from whence a sound like a huge wind was emanating. I made a comment about how a fan could be hooked up this far back in a cave before I realized that was a very illogical thought! I laughed at myself on that one!
All of a sudden, the area was illuminated with artificial lighting, and I was in awe of what I saw. At the back wall of the mountain so deeply underground was Ruby Falls; a magnificent waterfall of about 75 feet cascading down into an underground stream that eventually flows into the Tennessee River. As I followed the trail back to the elevator shaft and returned to the surface, I realized how we humans often totally misunderstand the true meaning of what we see and hear because of our preconceived notions, beliefs, and experiences. The sign advertising the falls was very clear. The mountain that harbors this treasure looks like any other. I could have chosen to simply drive by and never taken the time to explore what this advertisement was all about. Had I done that, I would have missed yet another of G-d’s wonderful works of art; another of His secretes that can only be discovered through exploration and effort. Had I not hesitated long enough to consider my idea about Ruby Falls could be wrong, I would have missed the insight provided by the Ruach on the importance of seeking, asking, and knocking when it comes to G-d’s Torah. How sad that is for those who do not take such time and make the effort to see the hidden gems in G-d’s Torah. Opportunity missed is opportunity lost.
We make this mistake on many areas of our lives, but I want to emphasize how we do this with the Bible every time we rush through it just to say we read it every year. Sometimes I hear people say that G-d’s message is an easy one; that salvation is now and for always if we just profess His Name. I hear folks who say whatever we don’t understand will given to us through a “word” from another or from G-d if we need to know it. The truth of the matter is that such individuals are just lazy. After all, does G-d really expect us to study, explore, and ask questions in search of the full meaning and context of His Word or should we sit and wait to absorb it through osmosis or by repeating a mantra? Let’s look at the evidence and answer this question once and for all.
First, let’s look at one pf my favorite psalms: 119. I am going to discuss a few selected explanations of this psalm from…. Now listen up Christians, Matthew re we wrote the Exposition of the Old and New Testaments. His work has a high moral tone and simple piety, and it is one of the most popular works of its type. Henry was a Presbyterian. His commentaries are of an exegetical nature unlike many of his contemporaries. That is, he attempted to explain the ideas as they are conveyed in the Bible from the Biblical Jewish context in which they are written instead of trying to put his own thoughts of how he through they should have been explained.
Clark was a congregationalist minister, and founder of the Christian Endeavor Society. He was also a famous commentator. With this in mind, no one can say that I am presenting this information only from a Messianic Jewish perspective.
Psalm 119 is replete with its admonishment to study Torah as David pleased with YHVH to reveal the Torah’s deepest secrets. Verse 1: “ Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the L-rd. Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in His ways.” Henry said that here we are taught to own ourselves under the highest obligations to walk in G-d’s law. Hmmm. But aren’t Christians taught that the law is dead? There is something not “kosher” here! Henry goes on to say that the tempter would possess men with an opinion that they are at their liberty whether they will make the Word of G-d their rule or not, that though it ay be good, yet it is no so necessary as they are made to believe. We are to make it our business to be mindful to obey the commands and precepts of G-d’s Torah.
How can we be expected to obey laws, commands, and precepts if we don’t know what they are? Henry says that it is our duty to be respectful and to conform to all of the commandments of G-d. Those who have a sincere respect for any command should have the same respect for all of the commands because they come from the same Authority. This means respect for all the commands and statutes in the Old and New Testaments, to those that concern the outward and inner man, the head, and the heart from those that forbid the most pleasant and gainful sins to those that require the most difficult and hazardous duties.
One cannot possibly respect that with which one is not familiar. We must diligently study G-d’s Word as it is stated in Deuteronomy 6:4-11. The same may be said for our marriage relationships. We don’t really know our mates when we take our vows. Sometimes we never get to really know them. However, we take a vow, committing to teach each other, to love and nurture each other through a lifetime of experiences, whether pleasant or difficult. How then, can we do any less with the Word of G-d and our relationship with Him? Unfortunately, we are now living in a society of which a growing majority no longer teaches or recognizes G-d and His authority over man and the universe.
Back to the psalm. Verse 7 begins “I will praise thee with an upright heart, when I learn thy righteous ordinances.” Clark comments that the general subject of this psalm is the Law of G-d considered as a rule of life; as sanctifying the soul; as a support in trials; as imparting happiness to the mind in its contemplation, and obedience to it. He goes on to say that it is amazing that in the 176 verses there is very little repetition, that there are shades of new thought throughout, and various phases expressed in describing the excellence of the law of G-d. I hope any Christians who are listening picked up on the fact that Clark was a Christian. He was definitely correct in his comments. Continuing with Psalm 7: “ With my whole heart I seek Thee; let me not wander from they commandments. I have laid up Thy word in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee. Blessed be thou, O L-rd; teach me thy statutes.” In verse 18; “ Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Verse 32: : I will run in the way of thy commandments when you enlargeth my understanding.” How can this be accomplished but through diligent, continual study of G-d’s Word? Verse 33: “ Teach me O L-rd, the way of thy statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding that I may keep the law and observe it with my whole heart.”
Notice here that this understanding comes along with study and observance. Too many people in the charismatic realm states a belief that G-d gives them what they term “ revelation knowledge.” But the truth is that we must keep seeking, asking, and knocking as we follow the King’s Highway. G-d will provide us with wisdom from above to use knowledge for which we have sought from Him for His glory alone and not for our self- aggrandizement. Just as the cliché “freedom isn’t free” applies to many contexts, we must include knowledge, wisdom, and salvation. Just as I could not speak about Ruby Falls until I actually went to see and experience it, we cannot know G-d’s word without a humble and sincere effort to learn G-d’s Torah. We must build from a firm foundation that comes from more than cracking the book for a few minutes and perusing s few chapters daily as some Bible programs advocate. Psalm 119:97 reads” “Oh how I love thy law! I meditate on it all day. I am wiser than my foes because your commands are mine forever. I have more understanding than all my teachers because I medicate on your instructions.”
In Job 28:12 he asks, “ Where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? In verse 23 he answers, “ G-d understands the way to it, and he knows its place. G-d said to man, ‘ behold the fear of the L-rd, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.’” This fear is a reverent fear of one in authority over us whom we seek to please. I loved my earthly father dearly. I wanted to please him but occasionally fell short when I did something he told me not to do for my own benefit. I only got spanked twice in my life that I remember but having him angry at me devastated me. If I had only listened to him and not done what he warned me against doing, I would not have had my bottom warmed and my feelings hurt. It is no different with G-d. In Proverbs 2 we read, “ My son, if you will receive my words and store my commands inside you, paying attention to wisdom inkling your mind toward understanding-yes, if you will call for insight and raise your voice for discernment, and if you seek it as you would silver and search for it as hidden treasure- then you will understand the fear of Adonai and find knowledge and understanding.”
In a 16- year study of 11 religious and 11 secular kibbutzim by researchers at Hadassah University and Ben-Gurion University in Israel revealed that religious Jews of all ages are half as likely to die from any cause during the study as Jews who do not practice their faith. We are admonished not to rely on our own understanding of what we initially read, think, or hear, but to rely on G-d’s word in all our ways so that he will strengthen our paths and reveal His truths. Proverbs Chapter 4 tells us to listen to YHVH’s instructions, to pay attention in order to gain insight and then not to abandon what we have learned. “ Keep my commandments and live; gain wisdom, gain insight; don’t forget or turn from the words that I am saying. Don’t abandon wisdom; then she will preserve you; love her, and she will protect you.” Then verse 7 which is one of my favorites reads “ The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom! And along with all your getting, get insight!”
The reason I have brought these scriptures to your attention is to show you that G-d used many scriptures throughout His Torah to stress the importance of diligent, continuous study of His word with a humble heart. We cannot hope to be given wisdom from above with a “drive-by” reading of G-d’s instructions. Just as I would have missed the beautiful , spiritual experience of Ruby Falls had I not taken the time to really see what it was all about, a half-hearted attempt to learn and live G-d’s Word will result in less than the best for our lives and may even cost us our souls (Proverbs 2:21-22).
There are many other scriptures that direct us to study, seek, and search out the ways of YHVH. The few I mentioned were discussed to show this concept of prayerful study, exploration, learning and living G-d’s Word is found in the entire Bible and has never been abrogated. The last I want to mention is found in 2 Peter:1:10: “ Therefore brothers try even harder to make your being called and chosen a certainty. For if you keep doing this, you will never stumble. Thus, you will be generously supplied with everything you need to enter the eternal Kingdom of our L-rd and Deliverer, Yahshua the Messiah.” He goes on to talk about how easily those who are not knowledgeable in the Word will be led astray by false prophets and teachers. Indeed, we are seeing more of this in contemporary society, and it will get worse until Yahshua returns.
We may think of G-d’s Word similar in some ways to the “magic eye” posters that were popular in the 80s. In order to see the hidden image beyond the chaos of multiple tiny images, you had to “defocus” and stand back a way before the image or theme of the diagram came into view. The foreground becomes a blur, and the deeper image becomes clear. Some people who saw these diagrams in storefronts would become frustrated and walk away, never discovering the theme or image that was the focus of the diagram. How sad it is to know the same thing happens when it comes to reading and learning G-d’s Torah. They miss the deep, hidden treasure that lies beneath each verse as they rush through a reading just to say they read the Bible in a year. How sad it is to know that millions will miss the experience of a progressive relationship and understanding of G-d and His love for us that can only come by looking beyond what seems to be obvious and immersing ourselves in prayerful study and choosing the goal to nullify our egos and live for G-d.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart