in the Balance
When the Son of Adam returns, will he find the faith on the earth?” asks Yeshua. (Luke 18:8) Not just faith (there’s plenty of that, even if often misplaced), but “the faith”--that which was passed down to him from his physical and spiritual ancestors and which he too preserved and passed along with correctives that brought it back to its original focus. Does any of us see the truth the same way he saw it? If we are to call ourselves his followers and the Second Adam’s “progeny”, we must. Have we been faithful to pass THAT down to our descendants? Though we try, most of us have to admit we fall short.

Yes, truth is hanging in the balance. But notice the double entendre in the title: truth itself is often found in the very balance between extremes. And that may be just as big a problem, as we see increasing polarization and its consequent hatred everywhere.  

We who have come to realize that Israel is not just our spiritual heritage but is in our very genes get really excited about knowing where we fit and being a part of something so ancient and so purposeful. But a sad side effect of learning something so life-changing is it often leads us to “swing wide” and reject everything we’d learned about YHWH at earlier stages of our journey. You know, “Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies!”

But is that what Jeremiah 16:19 really says? Truth requires careful precision. The salient Hebrew word is “akh”, which is occasionally translatable as “nothing but…” (e.g., “only Noah remained”, Gen. 7:23, or “just this once”, Ex. 12:17), but there is a clearer way to say “only” in Hebrew (raq); this one can be ambiguous. More often, it’s just what it sounds like—an onomatopoeic exclamation of “Wow, have we ever been told some really huge…yes, lies!” That fits better with the rest of the facts, for we know at least some of the things our parents were taught, and taught us, were true and valuable.

Yet as we interact with those “fathers and mothers” whom we left behind to cleave to things Hebraic, it can turn very polemic. Some prove very cynical and, after learning one new thing, spout venom and ridicule at those who think the way they themselves thought only a short time before, saying, in effect, “I can’t learn anything from you; you need to learn from me!”  

But is that really what our relationship with YHWH is about? And is that how we want to treat those who nurtured us to the point where we were ready for the next step? Is that the way to repay them? Must we come at them in an adversarial way? That only puts most people on the defensive. Do we value our pet doctrines more highly than the other people Yeshua died to salvage? Do we reject everything a particular person (or denomination) says just because they disagree with us on one issue? Are we out to prove them wrong and ourselves right, or to genuinely help them understand a viewpoint that gives a fuller perspective?  

A friendlier and more realistic way would be to recognize that we can learn truth together, and we can both come closer to what the apostles called “the whole counsel of Elohim” (Acts 20:27). Our attitudes toward our fellow seekers of truth are more important than who is most right.  

But how can we make peace without sacrificing essentials? We need an option that favors neither side, but rises above and satisfies both through a bigger perspective. Paul says he will show us this more excellent way—and it is love. (1 Cor. 12:31, then all of chapter 13)

After all, YHWH probably loves your “opponent” as much as He loves you! He wants those He loves to love the others whom He also loves. And it would delight Him far more if we could worship Him together than separately—which is one reason He called all of Israel together three times a year to be in His presence in unity. There were different “denominations” while the Temple still stood too, each with valid emphases, but sometimes He wanted us to see ourselves only as “all Israel”.

If we raise and investigate the issues together, “iron [can] sharpen iron”. (Prov. 27:17) Hearing from those who see from a different angle than we do can both confirm our valid insights and root out our blind spots. They can check and balance our hypotheses about what is true. And if we both come to the same conclusion, this provides a second witness to its accuracy.

But Don’t Take That Too Far Either 

Don’t get me wrong; there are things we can never compromise with. I am not saying we should accept just any doctrine or philosophy. We’re talking within the realms of Biblical thought here, not outlying religions or philosophies. We do need to strive to be right. Much critique is needed to be sure we are really getting to the facts, but hasty bridge-burning will more often than not rob us of tools we will sooner or later wish we had in our arsenal. After we dwell on only one emphasis for a while, we are bound to sense that something is missing.  

Yes, YHWH has shown immense love by allowing us back into the ancient covenant, back to our roots and back to knowing who we really are—letting us, after being made a “non-people”, again be called “sons of the living Elohim”. (Hoshea 1:10) But what about that other “behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the sons of Elohim”? (1 Yochanan 3:1) This should tell us that the two are not at odds, but are intimately connected, and the means of getting there is all-important. Moshe can take us up to the brink of the Promised Land, but only Y’hoshua (and today, the one named after him) can take us past mere accurate instruction (torah), all the way into “grace and truth”—that is, empowering and actual accomplishment. (Yochanan 1:17)

Hebraic things are our beloved heritage, but even the best things have become idols when overemphasized, if they lead us to neglect other aspects of what is also truth. Remember what Hezekiah had to do to the brazen serpent Moshe himself had made—at YHWH’s own command! (Numbers 21:8; 2 Kings 18:4) Any truth taken too far is actually another form of falsehood.

Scripture even says, “Don’t be overly righteous or make yourself overly wise; why should you bring yourself to ruin?” (Qoheleth/Eccles. 7:16) How unexpected is that?! Who but Qoheleth himself had raved so much in the proverbs about wisdom? And the entirety of Scripture is about what it means to be righteous, yet even that can get out of balance. There is a time for war, a time to tear down, as he said.  

Even religion, which has inspired the greatest and noblest things, has also been used to perpetrate some of the vilest evils in history, like the sacrifice of infants, which is religion carried to an extent that YHWH said He never even imagined, let alone wanted. (Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5; 32:35) Remember, too, Yeshua’s opinion about those who would take what they had saved up to support their parents in their old age and make it a donation to the Temple! (Mark 7:11-13)  

But don’t get too relaxed; the other side of the coin follows: “Don’t be overly wicked either, or foolish; why should you die before your time?” (7:17) Letting righteousness go too slack inevitably leads to that.  

When we take a legitimate truth out of the context of other, balancing truths and run with it in one direction, it becomes a monster. The best things can become the worst. Abuses perpetrated in YHWH’s name seem to give true faith a bad name. But they are corruptions of something YHWH created good. (1 Timothy 4:4) The doctrines our ancestors embraced didn’t come from a vacuum. They couldn’t have been twisted if there wasn’t something straight to twist. They couldn’t be taken out of context if they weren’t first in a context where they do fit and make perfect sense. Some of the things that we had rejected turn out to actually not be pagan after all… and we need them back.

For example, a once-and-for-all offering for sins that require a sacrifice, or a mediator to interpose his perfect record when ours is not as good as it should be, a just basis for forgiveness of our sin (which cannot just be waived), and regeneration that goes further than mere covering up our individual sins but provides us with an actually-changed nature. Can we really live without these and still be free and joyful? Though we may now have more accurate standards and may be obeying more actual commands, are we at peace like we used to be, having assurance that we are in right standing with YHWH, even when we fall short of the ideal? Each of these concepts is still present in Hebrew Scripture, even if they’ve been less emphasized in the circles that for centuries have known what we are just rediscovering. Our ancestors preserved them for a reason (even if in a lobsided way).  

Pagans see humans as being caught in the crossfire of contests between the god of this and the god of that, always competing with each other, and they try to placate both (or all) sides. In Elijah’s day, Baal worship was rife. Baal was the “sun god”, but too much sun brings…drought! It was poetic justice. Worshipping more than one god is too much religion; that may be part of what Qoheleth meant. YHWH, on the other hand, is the Elohim of both sun and rain, Who in His kindness brings us both in their season and in the right balance, when we acknowledge our dependence on Him and ask for them.  

A Wider Perspective

Let’s zoom out for a moment. In Numbers chapter 8, we get a glimpse of just how important it is to YHWH to keep things in balance: “All the first-born among the children of Israel are Mine, both man and beast; on the day that I struck down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, I set them apart them for Myself. And I have taken the Levites in place of all the first-born among the children of Israel.” (8:17-18) It’s as if there is a cosmic balance sheet, where what is debited must be resolved with an equal credit.

To Israel He says, “I gave up Egypt in exchange for your ransom…” (Isaiah 43:3) It seems as if He had to pay someone (the “Prince of This World”?) to extract His people since it required the deaths of so many Egyptians to accomplish this deliverance. This may be the subject of another in-depth study, but YHWH is very clear that when someone is murdered, the account is literally “in the “red”; that person’s blood cries to Him from the ground. (Gen. 4:10) The murderer’s life must be given up to even the score. Even if an animal kills him, the animal’s life must be taken in exchange, because that blood/life is owed to YHWH. (Gen. 9:5-6) Even if the murderer is not known, someone has to pay for the loss of life; the city nearest to where the dead body was found is counted responsible. (Deut. 21:1-9)

Proverbs 21:18 tells us, “A wicked person is a ransom for one who is righteous, and the treacherous [are charged] in place of the upright.” Shlomo may have had Deuteronomy 19 in mind: “If a hostile witness should rise up against a man to accuse him of treason, then both of the men who have the dispute shall stand in YHWH's presence before the cohanim or judges who shall be [in office] in those days. When the judges investigate thoroughly, if the witness turns out to [be bringing] fraudulent evidence or bringing a false accusation against his brother, you shall do to him just what he had plotted to do to his brother; thus you shall burn away the crookedness from your midst.” (19:16-19) This was even carried out in other nations with Daniel’s accusers (Dan. 6:23-24), or Haman in Mordechai’s stead. (Esther 7:9-10)

Science tells us that new energy is never created or destroyed (since YHWH first made it, of course); it only changes form. Likewise a principle of substitution is found in many parts of Scripture. All through the Torah, energy is taken from an animal so you can live or so you can draw closer to Elohim; Yeshua’s far weightier blood accomplished this in a more final way since animal blood was not really equal to human, and a fallen human’s blood is not adequate to ransom another either. (Psalm 49:7) But Yeshua’s untainted blood more than equalled the weight of our sin, so we could in turn do more than just get even, but rather "overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21)—a revolutionary improvement indeed! As the Second Adam, his life in us can cancel out Adam’s life, at least on the legal ledger, until Adam’s flesh dies and we receive new bodies—which he also purchased. Thus, in him we’ve been given a new ancestry and “new blood”. Whatever applied to our old ancestry is null and void, and the “second death” cannot affect us. (Rev. 20:6, 14; 21:8)

YHWH places much importance on equal weights and measures in physical transactions. (Lev. 19:36; Deut. 25:15; Proverbs 11:1; etc.) But in the figurative sense, this also applies to not having a double standard for guests and sojourners among us; they have the same laws as those who are native-born Israelites. (Ex. 12:49; Numbers 15:16, 29) So balance is a theme throughout Scripture on many levels.

It’s the Added Rules that Take us to the Extremes

When one side of the equation is out of balance, the other side will necessarily be off as well: “Whoever justifies the wicked does wrong to the righteous; both are equally reprehensible to YHWH.” (Prov. 17:15) 

Moshe told us, “Do not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor diminish from it, in order that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your Elohim.” (Deut. 4:2) In other words, if you take one part too far, you will by definition have to drop the practice of something else which is equally binding on us, because the laws in Torah are already in perfect balance with one another.  

Dr. J. Robertson McQuilkin, the president of Columbia Bible College when I attended there, was fond of saying, “It is much easier to go to a consistent extreme than to stay in the center of Biblical tension.” Maybe that precarious “tightrope” is part of what Yeshua meant by the “narrow way”. (Mat. 7:14) 

A few do find it, though. One way is to always ask, “What does Scripture really say—its raw words, before they are interpreted?” Though they can be taken in many fruitful directions, only what YHWH Himself actually said is binding on everyone. Any added rules are not His mandates (Matithyahu 15:9), so though something may be a worthwhile “fence” for you, keeping you one step further from temptation, it is not something you can use to judge anyone else by or obligate anyone else to.  

Where there is no law, there is no transgression.” (Romans 4:15) So why create more potential for guilt by adding more rules? “Learn not to exceed what is written, so that none of you may be arrogant on behalf of one against another.” (1 Corinthians 4:6) That is what causes factions and division. Some are better at keeping this command, others better at that one, but if we count one as more important than another, those who keep that one will think they must be holier than those who do better at the other.  

A Hebraic rule of interpretation is “If you can read it more than one way, you should”, as long as it does not infringe on another truth. So though I say a verse means this, and you say it means that, we are not as much at odds as we may think. Most of us actually believe pretty much the same things, only in different proportions. If we really think about it, we’ll probably agree that our “opponent” is not 100% wrong; he just gives more weight to one aspect of truth than we would—and less weight to what we think is more important.

The best practice is to look at everything Scripture says about a given topic before making a doctrine about it. Look at how much each aspect of it is emphasized and in what context(s), and then draw conclusions about how much weight we should put on each aspect of that idea.

Balancing One Another

Rarely do we find anyone who is always “on the same page” as us about everything. But if we are “in the same Book”, we can find enough common ground to accept, support, and encourage one another. If you aren’t mining the same page I am on today, does that give me a right to think less of you? That is the quickest way we get out of fellowship with the people we need most. Then when we get to the next “page”, we often find ourselves right where we need those very same “enemies”, and if we’ve rejected them, we’ll indeed find ourselves up the proverbial creek without the paddle they could have offered us.  

The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor… can the head say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’” (1 Cor. 12:21) Ponder the ramifications of that. Even the Head (Messiah) needs beautiful feet who can carry his good news. (Isa. 52:7) We can approach each other’s discoveries with the expectation that, despite the weeds, we can gain at least one gem from everyone who is intent on finding truth. It may not be useful here, but it does fit somewhere, and just where is what we need to figure out.

We each have only part of the puzzle, and mine may not just fill in your missing parts, but also anchor and stabilize both of us against all that militates to prevent us from getting the picture as complete as it can be, this side of the great veil. So let’s battle those spirits, not each other, so we can all keep advancing in the knowledge of the Holy One without crippling each other in the process.

As if looking back to the standards of the time before anyone had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Paul says, “In the Master Yeshua, there is nothing unclean in and of itself, but to him that counts anything unclean, to him it is unclean. But if your brother has a scruple about [what you allow yourself to do], you are not walking according to love…Don’t let what is good for you be spoken of as evil…Let us chase after the things that make for peace, and things by which we can build one another up… We who are strong ought to take up the burdens of the weak, and not please ourselves. Let each of us strive to accommodate to his neighbor for the benefit of building [him] up.” (Romans 14:14-15:2)

In other words, when all other things are equal, the right thing to do is the one that causes the fewest stumblingblocks to others who walk the same road. Choose your words and actions according to what keeps the road level or even for the one next to you; stay in balance with him by shaping your choices around him. Emphasize the part of truth he needs at the moment, not your own favorite passages. Pick the interpretation that causes the least friction with others who are also trying to take the High Road.

If we reach an impasse in our understandings, we may have to step back from each other for a while, but sooner or later, we'll need every link in the chain to get the job done. We are not in competition with each other. The real winners in this “race” are those who help each other get to the finish line.

There are Two Sides for a Reason

Yeshua “came eating and drinking”, while Yochanan spent more time fasting. Does that mean one of them was wrong? No; one had a severe message, and had to be austere, while the other was bringing the joyful solution. Could one structure fit the job of both?

The two houses of Israel will yet become “one in His hand” (Ezek. 37:19), but for a long time YHWH has had them function as two separate witnesses, emphasizing different truths, both of which are simultaneously accurate. He said the division of Israel into two houses was “of Me”. (1 Kings 12:24)

When there are many jobs to be done to bring about the Kingdom, there has to be a division of labor. The balance will not always be found in each individual, but in the interaction between them, and that is so important. A strange twist on the concept of balance is that at any given time, we may be on one side of the center aisle or the other; we won’t always be right in the middle. Sometimes on a listing ship, the only way to maintain equilibrium is to lean the other way, like when driving a motorcycle around a bend in the road. And when too many people are on one side of the deck, some of us have to move further to the other side to keep the ship from capsizing, because too much emphasis on one side of truth will sink the whole thing. But then we have to come back to a more normal stance once things stabilize.

Do we think we cannot get past Judah’s by-and-large lack of recognizing Yeshua? Paul describes this conundrum vis-à-vis the rest of Israel: “Concerning the Glad News, they [Judah] are in opposition to you, but in regard to being chosen, they are beloved for the patriarchs’ sake.” (Romans 11:28)  

A human body has separate systems of lymph and blood, which never touch each other; nonetheless both work together toward the same purpose (keeping us alive).  

One of the benefits of the two being at odds on the surface may be that, while believers in Yeshua can see prophecies about him in many parts of the Hebrew Scriptures, those same verses have many other layers of meaning that would be missed if all we focused on was Messianic prophecy, which is often actually a secondary (though definitely valid) meaning of the texts. By excluding the only aspect that Christians have seen—and possibly harped on more than they had to—the Jews have been able to draw out other worthwhile interpretations that are also needed “to keep the world alive”. So to get closer to the whole truth, we need each other’s perspective. If we are objective, we may see that this angle on it isn’t necessarily in opposition to that one; only as we see all sides do we get the whole picture.

When we remember we have different jobs, we’ll realize we have to emphasize different things than someone else will; that does not mean one is right and the other wrong, but we have to learn to fit together rather than opposing one another. If we can understand one another’s strengths, and where each fits in His big picture, we can learn to appreciate each other’s contribution to the whole. It gives us hope when we realize that YHWH is working in people we thought we could not fellowship or connect with because they do not agree with us on everything. He still has “7,000 in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal”. (1 Kings 19:18) Both sides need to hear this.

There are many more Hebraically-minded believers than we had imagined, because they were not exactly like we are. They straddle the two sides of the truth in different ways, but they are crossing over. That’s what counts, because “crossing over” is what it means to be a Hebrew; it’s the etymology of the word. Messianic Jews went one direction across the “aisle”; more and more Christians are going the other direction into a more Torah-oriented viewpoint, and that’s one way we sew the pieces of the torn garment back together: by carrying the thread across the gap and into the other’s “territory”. Encourage what each is beginning to do, rather than shaming him for what he isn’t yet doing.

Treasures New and Old

Every scribe who is discipled into the Kingdom of Heaven is like a …master of the household who brings forth out of his storehouse treasures [both] new and old.” (Mat. 13:52) Some ethics and attitudes that are taught only through story and allegory in the Tanakh are stated in clear, plain prose in the Renewed Covenant, to help those of us who might still not get it.

If I recall correctly, it was Francis or Edith Schaeffer who called Christianity “transcultural Judaism”, for Torah is designed to work in any context, not just that of the Bedouin culture of Abraham or Moses’ flock. I think it is no coincidence that YHWH even put His promised land at the center of the world—not in the far east or far west, but in the “Middle East”, right where the world’s three most populous continents converge. It was designed to influence them all, and its customs are just the right mix of eastern and western characteristics to be adaptable to—and challenge—any culture to which the call back to covenant goes out.

Those who grow up in one perspective often need to interact more with those from another persuasion to close the gaps of what they lacked in earlier instruction, and that is a good thing unless it, too, is carried too far. Swing the pendulum back to the parts of truth you’ve neglected for a long time. But don’t stay there too long either without checking back in with the other side.

Does that apply to the left and right of politics, too? That’s not my focus, but most politics derive from ethics of one sort or another, and both sides usually have a point. So that may be fruitful to pursue.

"It is good that you take hold of this, but also not withdraw your hand from that, because the one who fears Elohim will come out with both of them." (Qoheleth/Ecclesiastes 7:18) That maintains balance.

Yeshua echoed this: “Woe to you, scribes and P’rushim, hypocrites who tithe mint, dill, and cumin, but have left out those matters within the Torah that are more serious—justice, kindness, and faithfulness. Those [others] you [indeed] ought to have done, but not neglected these [either].” (Mat. 23:23)

Nothing against Torah there; it’s just where we put the most emphasis that Yeshua was railing against. It’s not what the New Testament actually says, but the way it has been interpreted, that drives a wedge between Judah and Ephraim. Everything it tells us about Yeshua is limited in scope by other things it says about him—and by what the Torah says about YHWH being one. If one Scriptural assertion appears to negate another, we may have to rule out some of the ways it could be taken. To follow any tangent very far takes one off the circle, and a circle is really just the correcting of every tangent by every other potential tangent.

Clashing Symbols

If we remember the other sides of truth which put parameters on the ones we are emphasizing, we will each be able to present our arguments with integrity and honor. When someone brings up the other side of an issue, he may not be trying to prove you wrong or get you to come around to his side, but only to bring us all to the right balance.
The very first division in human history was of Chawwah (Eve) from Adam, but that is the only way Adam could become fruitful. In fact, the description of her (traditionally translated “a help meet”) in Hebrew actually means more like “a helper who opposes”—i.e., one who by leaning against you in a corresponding way from the opposite direction actually supports you by keeping you from falling down in the direction you are leaning (much like the two sides of the letter “A”). So opposition is not always a bad thing.

Our terminology may inadvertently touch some connotative nerves, but we must give one another the benefit of the doubt rather than having knee-jerk reactions, which pretty well guarantee we will miss what they are actually saying. We assume that because they used this word, they must agree with the stereotyped meaning of that term and therefore we can pigeonhole them into a box and reject their whole philosophy hook, line, and sinker. “There; we’ve won another battle.” Yes, but we’ve lost a potential friend and ally. If it’s only the symbols that clash, they are not worth breaking fellowship over.  

If there is knowledge, its forcefulness will be diminished, because we know in part…but when the completion comes, the partial will be done away with…Now we see by way of a dim, mirrored reflection, as in a riddle, but then—face to face! I still know in part, but then I shall fully know, just as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-12)

We know in part.” That is how we come to understand the various pieces, until we see enough of the big picture to connect all the dots. We often have to learn one aspect at a time and emphasize that to learn it well, but there is always then the tendency to think that everything we’d learned before was nothing but wrong. No; it’s just on the back burner for now, while we cook the rest of the meal.

But every one of us knows only in part; none of us has the whole picture yet. So we need each other. YHWH emphasizes different aspects of truth to each person as he needs to hear them. So we should not argue about our experience; for each one it is different. If He is speaking to both of us, eventually we need to come to a point where we agree. Don’t reduce truth to one side or the other, for though truth never changes, the angle from which we see it does, even for the same person at different stages in life:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you become like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Prov. 26:4-5) Which is it? Both are in our toolbox; the context and the leading of the Holy Spirit determine which to use at which time. “A word [spoken] at its proper time—how appropriate it is!” (Proverbs 15:23)  

The Adam Qadmon (Ancient Adam) is a Hebraic concept of different aspects of YHWH’s nature that humans can share and how they interact with each other. In it, one of the corollary meanings of tif’ereth (beauty or appropriateness) is truth, and it is seen as the balancing factor between discipline and mercy. So the concept of truth being the balance is an ancient idea. Therefore we cannot neglect any part of it.  

That “golden mean” of perfect steadiness and stability that balance brings may be a greater treasure than anything else that’s golden!