This was all too rare, and usually the kings took the people with them, whether they stayed on the path or left it.
The fact that there is a plan to wander from also offers us the hope of a remedy: it is possible to turn around and head back toward the right way. But first we have to know where we got off track.
So how did we lose our way? What distracted us?
Seven Wrong Turns
Often one turn led to another, and we got further and further from the intended course, but though our wrong turns were many, most of them fall into just a few basic patterns:
1. We Wanted a More Scenic Route
No sooner had Israel left Egypt and crossed the Reed Sea than the complaints started. This bread that YHWH provided just wasn’t as exciting as the food in Egypt had been and every day it was the “same old same old”.
Then there were the religions of the other peoples they encountered, which were more attractive to the libido. (They were fertility rites, which of course included sexual trysts with the priests and priestesses.)
Later, surprisingly enough, it was just religion, even when it was directed to YHWH; it still got us focused on the wrong things. If we read carefully, many of the rituals given to Israel weren’t given until they showed, by being too interested in neighboring peoples’ ceremonies, that they had too much time on their hands and needed “busy work” to keep them out of trouble. But it took on a life of its own and took up too much of our time and attention. We wanted more emotional experiences or sensational signs and wonders, when what YHWH really intended to give us were principles by which our interaction with one another could run more smoothly.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spice things up a little, and yes, there are lively and eye-catching ceremonies included in some of His commands, but when that becomes the main focus, we start following signs that lead us to the more exciting roads when they aren’t the ones that get us where we are supposed to be going.
By the time of the Second Temple, religion was how people vied for position and power in society. Y’shua, who lived in those times, pointed out that that religion took up so much of their time and resources that they began neglecting their fellow children of YHWH in the name of supposedly honoring YHWH:
“You completely reject the commandment of YHWH, so that you can keep your own tradition. Because Moshe said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ and, ‘Whoever curses father or mother, let him die the death’, but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that might have assisted you is a drawing-near [offering]…’, and you allow him to no longer do anything for his father or his mother.” (Mark 7:9-12)
In other words, religion used up the resources that were meant to support their elderly parents, and this is just one example of many.
2. We Got Our Directions from Too Many Sources
Hand in hand with religion is our proclivity to make things more complicated that they have to be. The road became so full of signs and billboards that pretty soon it was hard to see the directional signals.
Yes, there is a place to beautify the commandment, to go beyond the call of duty, but that is just the point. We can’t say that the embellishments are everyone’s duty, but so often that is exactly what occurred. And before long, the added moralizations ended up replacing the actual commands, at least in our focus. Why? Because they are easier to measure and therefore to think we have done our job, when we may have only just begun.
But that becomes oppressive and stifling, especially to those who can’t really afford all the trappings. Those who require more than YHWH required “load men down with hard-to-carry burdens, and you yourselves don’t even touch the burdens with one of your fingers!” (Luke 11:46)
In the complicating, Y’shua said, we lost sight of the basics: justice and mercy. YHWH doesn’t want to be worshipped in a way that makes us treat His other children with such disregard. The way He wants us to love Him is by loving one another. When we stopped doing that, He decided His house was just too full of leprosy, and the Temple was torn apart stone by stone and its inhabitants sent away. (See Leviticus 14:34-46)
To fill the void, Judah came up with a different structure—a way to carry Torah observance into exile. In some ways this was very helpful; we might have lost it altogether otherwise. But the main problem was that the authority shifted from the Levites (as the Torah commanded) to the Rabbis, and they are nowhere to be found in the Torah. The Talmud also often took precedence over the Torah itself. Now that Judah has been allowed to go back to the Land, many of these temporary measures could be done away with for the sake of reinstating the real thing, but all too seldom has this occurred.
But we’re not here to pick on Judah. The rest of the tribes got much further off track.
We also gave our commentaries equal authority with the primary text, and often even higher authority. Paul’s writings were given the same status of “Scripture” as the prophets and even the Torah, but even the prophets point to the Torah as primary. (e.g., Isaiah 8:20)
Even if Paul did not have an agenda of subverting the Torah, still Peter said unstable and unlearned men were twisting Paul’s words. (2 Peter 3:16) He wasn’t careful enough to avoid being misunderstood. Even if his thoughts were based on Torah, he wrote in the complex style of Greek philosophy.
Maybe this was necessary to bring these people from the convoluted thought patterns they were used to back to something more straightforward. But when some people tried to get a handle on Paul’s complicated writings, looking through a Gentile grid, they “majored on the minors” and brought pagan assumptions about worship and the supernatural into the picture. Yaaqov (James) tried to rein him back in and put things in simpler terms. But when the political winners wrote the historybooks, the Romans, with all of their biases, took Paul’s words to mean something very different from what he probably meant, because it had gotten onto the wrong foundation, and this is what turned into the Christianity we are more familiar with today.
The New Testament as we have it now is a translation of a translation of a translation, for it came to us from Hebrew minds, and in some cases written in Hebrew, then translated to Aramaic, then Greek, then English (often with the added intermediaries of Latin and German)! Something is bound to get misconstrued in a such a “whisper down the alley”!
How else would we get from Yeshua saying that the body will eventually purge itself of any impurities that may have gotten onto our food from unwashed hands to the scribe’s marginal note (which somehow got incorporated into the text itself) that says that Yeshua was declaring all foods to now be clean? We can only read it that way if we give the New Testament primacy greater weight than the Torah, though the latter is still in force.
3. We Took the Path of Least Resistance
Another example: Very near the beginning of his career as a prophet, Isaiah expressed YHWH’s frustration with those who were overdoing their religion as we saw above. He said some pretty shocking things:
"`What use to Me is the abundance of your slaughterings?' says YHWH. `I am overstuffed with the ascending [offerings] of rams and the fat of overfed beasts, and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, sheep, or he-goats. When you come to appear before My face, who has required this from your hands--to trample down My court? Do not bring any more empty tribute-offerings. And incense--it's disgusting to Me! [New] moon, Sabbath, [and] summoning of assemblies, I cannot endure! Even the festival assembly is a waste of breath. My soul hates your [new] moons and appointed times. They are a burden to Me; I am tired of putting up with them." (Isaiah 1:11-14)
The prophets’ job is to point people back to the Torah, not away from it. Anyone who heard him directly would have been familiar with the parameters within which this had to be interpreted. Isaiah went on to clarify where the focus of YHWH’s regrets really is:
When you spread out your hands, I will conceal My face from you; also, when you increase the number of prayers, there will be no listening from Me. Your hands are full of blood! (1:15)
But later generations took it to mean YHWH was doing away with the covenant He had established and replacing it with something else. Not recognizing that the Hebrew idiom “not this, but that” actually means “this is more important than that”, Paul’s words about the Torah got oversimplified because they sounded like an easier road than all those animal offerings and …
But how could YHWH simply nullify something He had said was for the people of Israel forever?
But therein lies the next clue.
4. We Forgot Who We Were
Notice, I have been saying “we” when speaking of Israel, but making references to people who have taken the New Testament as their point of reference. You see, Israel is the intended audience in the New Testament, too. Y’shua said he had “come only for the lost sheep of the House of Israel”. (Mat. 15:24)
Jeremiah, who first clearly introduced the concept of a “renewed covenant” (a more precise way to translate B’rith Hadashah than “new testament”) specified exactly who was party to that covenant with YHWH: the House of Judah and the House of Israel. Nobody else is mentioned.
Wait a minute. We know Judah is the Jews, but who is this House of Israel?
Prophecy studies (another big, spicy distraction) leave out this one giant key. To “rightly divide the Word of truth”, we have to recognize the distinction the prophets made between the House of Judah and the House of Israel. They’re not poetic synonyms, but two different entities. This is the biggest missing link that solves so many problems of Biblical interpretation in one fell swoop.
It is the northern Kingdom, which split from Judah after Solomon. When YHWH sent them into exile because of their idolatry, these ten tribes assimilated with the nations. Most eventually lost their identity completely. That’s one reason Abraham's descendants can't be counted! No one knows who most of them are anymore!
But 700 years later, we suddenly see Y’shua’s followers out hunting for Gentiles—where? In the synagogues! Why? Because those apparent “Gentiles” felt this pull back to where they could learn something of the Torah, since they had an inkling that they had to be somehow connected with Israel.
The apostles soon reported that many were “returning to YHWH from among the Gentiles”. (Acts 15:19) Hoshea had already used that phrase “among the Gentiles” to describe where exiled Israel would now be found (8:8), because that is what they had asked for. Those who were "once far off" (Eph. 2:13) were being brought near again – and, again, Daniel had already defined "those who are far off" as a PART OF ISRAEL who had been driven away because of their unfaithfulness. (9:7) They were not new to the covenant, but people who had once been under the covenant, but had then alienated themselves from it.
“Lost sheep of the House of Israel” also had a particular meaning, already defined by Jeremiah (50:6). He also defined the target of the “fishers of men” Yeshua said his disciples would be. (16:16) By not being familiar with what he was alluding to, we ended up redefining the terms, whether we wanted to or not.
When we started allowing for broader definitions of terms the prophets meant in a specific way, we could apply it in any way we wanted. We trusted in our own sense of direction rather than the directions we’d clearly been given already.
But the focus on regathering Israel again got lost in the push to spread what was turning out to be seen as a new religion, rather than a call back into the same covenant they had abandoned. And again we had collective amnesia. When our ancestors again forgot they were Hebrews, they lost track of what the Gospel really is.
It wasn’t about starting something new to replace something old and worn out; it was about getting back to the original.
This means the Torah is for us too. The rules of the road DO apply to us.
But many who heard it got some of the ideas mixed up with religious ideas from the pagan context they had grown up in.
5. We Forgot Who Was Walking With Us
Judah stayed closer to the Torah than most of the other tribes, but after exile they brought back many practices from Babylon, not the least of which was the avoidance of pronouncing our Elohim’s name, and this created the need for many circumlocutions that complicated matters tremendously, obscuring the path further.
YHWH got lumped into a category of “deities” or “god” when His name simply means “the one who is (and was and will be)”. He is “holy”, which means “in a category of His own”.
When a name as generic as “God” (aside from its own pagan baggage) got substituted for YHWH’s unique name, how could people avoid being confused? We hear it today when “Allah” is also translated as “God”, and people assume Muslims must be operating from the same set of assumptions.
It also didn’t help that the Greek versions used the same word, kurios (“Lord”) for both YHWH and Y’shua, only adding to the confusion.
6. We Left the Caravan and Tried to Go It Alone
We gave Yeshua superhuman status and since no one could ever live up to his reputation, we decided we could no longer trust anyone else and chose to just follow him and no one else. Thus we downplayed the very human leaders who, nonetheless, are necessary if Israel is to be an orderly, unified entity. By giving the wrong weight to one leader, our respect for all other leaders got out of balance. We started overemphasizing the individual’s relationship with YHWH. “Personal salvation” became nearly the only thing.
Yes, each person needs to make the commitment to YHWH his own. You can’t be “grandfathered in” to the blessings of Israel if you yourself are disregarding his rules, just because your parents had great faith. But the focus in Scripture is on the relationship of the people as a whole with YHWH, not each one’s part in it, as important as that is in its place.
We started trusting our own sense of direction instead of following the instructions we had been given from the start. This way, we forfeited not only order (having no authority structure) but also the wisdom that comes from a whole community pooling our minds when there are problems to solve.
7. We Forgot Where We Were Going
By forgetting who we were and democratizing our religion with such a universal outlook, we lost sight of the fact that YHWH ties our covenant to a specific place as well. Yes, we can pray from anywhere, but King Solomon even asked YHWH to give a special blessing to those who faced toward Jerusalem when they petitioned Him, because it has a special place in His heart.
It is interesting that the term “oriented” means “facing east”, and that is exactly how people saw the world in ancient Israel. South was also called “the right hand”, because that’s where it would be when you orient yourself (redundantly) to the east. But in exile, we got used to other people’s prioritization of north as the cardinal direction among the four. And that’s just symptomatic of the larger problem of forgetting where our home was.
Ever since Avram, YHWH’s plan has been to give us a Land to live in as His people and His friends--a very simple goal indeed, even if not always easy. But Moshe warned that down the road we would forget this, because we would become accustomed to it and therefore bored yet again. But the covenant is centered on His people living in this Land—the one where Avram built his altar (Gen. 12:1ff). But we have taken our eyes off the prize, and made our relationship with YHWH about other things, whether security, wealth, power, morality, or promises of heaven—at the expense of the original plan. We have forgotten that it is about a Land and a people.
The Church did not give us a clue, but told us it had to do with a different type of salvation. Although the sign that read “salvation” directed us straight ahead—due east—and all the maps showed us the right way, someone stood by the road and told us there was a detour. He told us we were supposed to be heading for Heaven, so we got off onto the Road to Nowhere and, of course, we ultimately came to a dead end.
But it is time for our focus to come back to that Land. The plans of most politicians for that Land are to have the Israelites give it away again--the opposite of YHWH’s plans--because they are based on wrong assumptions.
So How Do We Get Back on Track?
Right along with his “guilty” verdict, Isaiah gave us the answer:
Wash off and make yourselves clean! Take away the evil quality of your practices from in front of My eyes! Stop doing injurious things; learn to do right: Demand justice, set the oppressor straight, vindicate the fatherless, contend for the case of the widow. Walk, now, and let [your words] be proven', says YHWH. (Isaiah 1:16-17)
That may be a little harder than a blank-check forgiveness, but it is what is necessary to restore balance and justice in the relationships we’ve left in tatters. This is the way to “walk”; the “path” is a metaphor, but this is the raw purpose behind it.
Then he goes on to a statement that has really been misconstrued and buried beneath much overgrowth:
`If your sins are like scarlet, they can become as white as snow; if they are as red as crimson, they can become like wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18)
That's how it is in Hebrew. It doesn’t say, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white”, yet because it is so often rendered that way, we miss the point of what he was saying. He is not saying that “becoming scarlet” is the problem; he is saying that is the solution!
Sin simply means "missing the target"—i.e., getting off the path. It isn’t always something dark, evil, and heinous. It just means we aren’t where we are supposed to be.
While we may start out able to hit the target, if we slack off, we gradually lose our skill, and it often takes an error as glaring as completely missing the wall the target was on to awaken us to the fact that we are this out of practice, and jars us back to facing how far off course we have come. That way, the fact that we've missed the mark can become a positive thing.
Wool is not truly white, so this may not be a parallelism after all. The contrast seems more between natural material and dyed material. If we mark the places we have erred with a bright red, impossible-to-ignore attention-getter, we can more easily hone in on where the target actually is, and find it again. We had to be jarred by the fact that though we were very religious, half of what we were doing was pagan, and only when that was made so obvious that we had to admit it, could we get back on track.
What is the plan for recovery?
First, pay attention to the signs in the heavens. “Navigate by the stars”, so to speak, by watching the seasonal markers. Bring your first and best to YHWH, on the right days as counted from the new moon. Make your life revolve around His calendar.
YHWH established recurring patterns in the earth. Get in synch with the pattern, and you’ll be swung back to the right road. The specifics are laid out in Torah, which is the guidebook and road map all in one.
Look at the patterns by which YHWH has worked before. How did He free us from bondage in the past? Before He delivered us, He gave us a place of safety to gather.
Living in a community—a microcosm of Goshen—can prepare us for the day we all converge on the right road. When it gets crowded, we need to stay in order, and if we start to do this when the “traffic is light”, the easier we will find it in heavy traffic to follow the flagmen who are authorized, not just anyone who wants to redirect us.
Studying the “map” found in the Torah will teach you how to recognize the difference. This will help us overcome that condition of having “no understanding” (in other words, being lost). We have to know how to discriminate—for, contrary to politically-correct belief, not all things are equal. Sunday is not equal to the Sabbath as a day of rest, nor is Friday. Christmas is not equal to Sukkoth as the season of joy. The New Testament is not equal in authority to the Torah.
We may not necessarily have to retrace every one of our steps in reverse order to where we got off the road. But we do have to get off the rabbit trails and back onto the same road and be going in the same direction toward the same goal our ancestors started toward.
Sometimes it takes rather complicated directions to undo all the wrong turns, and the rest of this web site will help with the details of getting back on track in each of these areas. We aim to clear away the obstructions and set up the signposts so Israel can find its way back together.