NOTE: This message was delivered on the Shabbat of July 19, 2014, at Kehilat Sh’ma Yisra’el. You may also listen to it, if you wish.
When Rabbi Erez invited me to speak last week, I taught out of the weekly Torah reading and tied that in to a parabale of Yeshua, the Parable of the Unjust Ruler. In that teaching, I made mention of another of Yeshua’s parables, the parable of the week, so when I was asked to teach again this week, I felt it would be wise to give the parable of the weeds a fuller treatment than I did last week.
Whenever one spends time on the parables of Yeshua, some natural questions arise. One of the first questions that comes up is, what is a parable exactly?
Well, we get this definition from:
A short religious allegory. The Old Testament contains only five parables. A large number of parables are found in post-Biblical literature, in Talmud and Midrash. The Talmudic writers believed in the pedagogic importance of the parable, and regarded it as a valuable means of determining the true sense of the Law and of attaining a correct understanding thereof.
Now, that’s interesting, but I think it’s important to point out that parables are not relating literal, specific events. For example, with the Parable of the Unjust Ruler, there was probably not a specific ruler or widow those events happened to.
You see, a parable is a teaching tool; it’s a story invented by the teacher to illustrate a lesson. It’s a way of taking an abstract concept and making it relatable to the listeners and their lives. They take something that’s hard to understand, and relate it to something nearly everyone can understand.
This defines nearly all of Yeshua’s parables, the bulk of which teach us something about the Kingdom of Heaven. Since none of us in this life have witnessed the Kingdom of Heaven personally, Yeshua’s parables help us understand what that unknown experience will be like by teaching us about it through situations most of us can understand and relate to. It was even prophesied that Messiah Yeshua would teach by the use of parables, as we read in:
Listen, my people, to my teaching; turn your ears to the words from my mouth. I will speak to you in parables and explain mysteries from days of old.
And Messiah Yeshua was not the first to use parables as a teaching tool; He spoke through the prophets in parables as well, as we find in:
The word of Adonai came to me: “Human being, propound this riddle, tell the house of Isra’el this allegory, say that Adonai Elohim says this:
Now, one of HaShem’s most challenging commands to us is the command to forgive others, and several of His parables focus on how that forgiveness might look as a theme. The parable of the weeds is no exception to that theme. We know that Yeshua regards forgiveness not as merely a good idea, not as a suggestion or an option, but as an expectation, a command. In fact, Yeshua taught in his Gethsemene Prayer that the forgiveness we receive from the L-RD will be in direct proportion to the forgiveness we extend to others.
The hardest part of this teaching is how we might be able to extend such forgiveness to those who don’t merely offend us by their rude behavior, but who are responsible for violent acts and crimes, who take the life or health of a loved one, who by violence rob others of their peace of mind.
Given the recent events in Yisra’el in recent weeks, especially with the current ground offensive that began, gaining a greater understanding of how to practice forgiveness as it relates to the unrepentant is an especially timely topic.
I mean, it’s one thing to forgive the person who rear-ended your car during rush hour. That’s somewhat easy. It’s another thing to forgive the sexual predator who victimized one of your children, to forgive the rapist or the murderer. Or the terrorists who repeatedly hurl bombs in your direction, even as the world is telling you to ignore it.
These are all serious issues. And what they bring to light is the problem presented by the presence of evil in the world. This question of why evil exists has been asked for almost as long as people have sought to know God.
Rabbi Harold Kushner made a name for himself with his book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Christian teachers like Pastor Greg Boyd wrestle with this question in his book, God At War: Satan And the Problem of Evil.
And really, no matter where you look, whenever anything terrible and tragic takes place, from the Holocaust to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the question that eventually comes to the lips of most people—whether they are believers or not—is, “How can God allow such a thing? How can a creation God declared ‘very good’ contain the possibility for such tremendous acts of evil?”
Now, one could spend a lot of time rationalizing these questions away without ever addressing them seriously, but that’s not why we’re here today. Rather than try to reason it out for ourselves, let’s go to the One who has real answers.
Yeshua has a parable that explains why there is evil in the world, so let’s establish a common frame of reference for our discussion. Let’s take a look at the parable of the weeds in:
Yeshua put before them another parable. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while people were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, then went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads of grain, the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants asked him, ‘Then do you want us to go and pull them up?’ But he said, ‘No, because if you pull up the weeds, you might uproot some of the wheat at the same time. Let them both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest-time I will tell the reapers to collect the weeds first and tie them in bundles to be burned, but to gather the wheat into my barn.’”
Now, at first, this appears to be a little abstract from our main question about the existence of evil. Yet it explains a lot of our questions when properly understood. Fortunately, this is one of the parables Yeshua Himself explained directly to His disciples and for our benefit, so let’s read on in:
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. His talmidim approached him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world. As for the good seed, these are the people who belong to the Kingdom; and the weeds are the people who belong to the Evil One. The enemy who sows them is the Adversary, the harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up in the fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all the things that cause people to sin and all the people who are far from Torah; and they will throw them into the fiery furnace, where people will wail and grind their teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let him hear!
Now, Yeshua offers up these explanations rapidly, but let’s slow down and apply them to the question of the existence of evil.
First and foremost, what this parable reveals is that we are mistaken when we attribute works of evil in the world to God. As John, Yeshua’s apostle, writes, “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all,” and Yeshua underlines this point in the master’s response to his servants’ question about the appearance of weeds. “This is the work of an enemy,” he says.
In a direct allusion to the Garden of Eden and the creation story, Yeshua says that the master in this tale sowed good seed. God’s intent in creating this world was to be in fellowship with us; it was the work of the Adversary, not the L-RD, that brought evil into existence. And this understanding is consistent with the rest of the Torah, the prophets and the writings, as well as the New Covenant writings. As we read in:
II Samuel 22:29
“For you, Adonai, are my lamp; Adonai lights up my darkness.
So the L-RD is the source of all light, and he transformed darkness into light. He is the source, therefore, of truth in the middle of deception. We also read this in:
Woe to those who begin by pulling at transgression with a thread, but end by dragging sin along as if with a cart rope. They say, “We want God to speed up his work, to hurry it along, so we can see it! We want the Holy One of Isra’el’s plan to come true right now, so we can be sure of it!” Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who change darkness into light and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter!
This theme of darkness being the work of the enemy is carried over into the prophets, but is this the classic excuse? Is this simply a reason to say, “the devil made me do it,” whenever we mess up, backslide, or strike out in anger? Not at all.
The enemy may be the source of evil in the world, but do we bear responsibility for cooperating with it? We read this in:
For you used to be darkness; but now, united with the Lord, you are light. Live like children of light, for the fruit of the light is in every kind of goodness, rightness, and truth—try to determine what will please the Lord.
Did you catch that? We weren’t just in the darkness before knowing the L-RD … we were darkness. It wasn’t just in us, it was our nature, our substance.
Only through the work of Yeshua are we now changed; we are no longer darkness, but light. This idea is further supported by Yeshua’s own words; when confronted by men seeking to do evil to him in:
Yeshua replied to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me; because I came out from God; and now I have arrived here. I did not come on my own; he sent me. Why don’t you understand what I’m saying? Because you can’t bear to listen to my message. You belong to your father, Satan, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. From the start he was a murderer, and he has never stood by the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he is speaking in character; because he is a liar—indeed, the inventor of the lie! But as for me, because I tell the truth, you don’t believe me.
In this passage, as in the parable of the weeds, Yeshua makes it clear that we either belong to the Kingdom of the L-RD, or we belong to the Adversary. When we choose to follow Messiah Yeshua and obey His Torah, we become light, we become wheat, we become children of His Kingdom. But does that mean all around us change with us? No.
As Yeshua describes in the parable of the weeds, we exist in the world alongside the children of the Adversary, even though we are children of the L-RD. So why does the L-RD allow evil to continue? Why doesn’t he just expunge it from existence, not allow it to continue to grow and to do further damage?
Well, he tried that approach once, didn’t he? That’s what the flood of Noah was all about! There was absolutely no one left in the world who was following the L-RD, except for Noah; so God vowed to destroy all flesh and start from scratch.
How well did that work? Did it put an end to evil, to sin, so that Messiah never had to appear? No, it didn’t, did it?
And in later episodes with Moses, God expresses a desire to wipe out the sinful, to destroy all flesh and start fresh, and only the prayers of Moses, seeking to protect God’s name among the surrounding nations, causes the L-RD to reconsider.
The problem of evil in the world is more complex than any weed-pulling can solve. Evil feeds not only itself, but it feeds off of each of us through sin. We’re entangled with it. Just as we studied recently in the Balak-Baalam incident, when Yisra’el was alone in the desert, relying on HaShem, no perversity could be found in her and no curse could be spoken against her. So Baalam’s solution was to entangle the men of Yisra’el by tempting them with the women of Mo’av, in hopes of creating perversity among them.
And as we all know, there was limited success to that strategy as over twenty-four thousand died as a result of the Ba’al-Peor incident.
You see, simply by living in the world, we can become entagled with sin ourselves. That’s why the master, in the parable of the weeds, tells his servants not to pull out the weeds. He tells them, ‘No, because if you pull up the weeds, you might uproot some of the wheat at the same time. Let them both grow together until the harvest.”
This is why there’s no bolt of lightning to strike us down immediately when we sin. HaShem doesn’t work like that. If he did, all flesh would perish. We’d all be uprooted. In this life, we’re too intertwined with evil for God to purge it effectively; that which is good would be uprooted as well.
So, what does this all mean?
Well, nothing in the Bible exists on its own, does it? We cannot just select one verse, or one passage, and expect to understand it completely. We need context. And every question we have about this verse or that passage of the Bible is best answered not through human reasoning or finding a book by a learned rabbi or pastor, but by seeking out the meaning of the verse or passage in context to the verses around it.
Forgiveness is not a light topic. Yet neither are those violent acts which wound us so deeply that forgiveness seems impossible on the level of our flesh. So how do we bring these disperate ideas into alignment? How do we forgive the unforgivable? How do we maintain both forgiveness and personal safety at the same time?
Often, we do not properly understand the context of what Yeshua said. As a result of missing the context, we misunderstand and misinterpret his meaning.
Let’s use an illustration. Let us imagine a scenario where a man and a woman have decided to divorce, because the wife feels the husband is a direct physical threat, either to her, her children, or both.
Misunderstanding Yeshua’s context, what we often hear taught on divorce comes from:
“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a get.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, makes her an adulteress; and that anyone who marries a divorcee commits adultery.
Well, that seems pretty cut and dried, doesn’t it? Yeshua explains elsewhere that Moses allowed for divorce in the Torah because our hearts were hard, but that it was not his perfect will for us to divorce, once we are married. Here, he teaches that the only exception is marital infidelity.
As a result of sticking to the letter of the gospel account, rather than exploring the context, teachers and pastors for centuries have consoled women to stay in abusive marriages because their husband had not cheated on them, even though they’d beaten them, hospitalized them, or worse.
This technical, one-excuse-for-divorce argument has caused some abused spouses to seek out infidelity, just to have an excuse their church will recognize, in order to divorce an abusive spouse. And it has cost many other abused spouses their lives, or the health, lives and safety of their children, because they stayed in out-of-control abusive relationships until their spouses finally did kill them or their children.
None of that is necessary, however. Any rabbi worth his salt will tell you that the preservation of life comes before all the rules of the Torah, with one exception, and that is the command against worshiping other gods.
I mean, it just makes sense, doesn’t it? Generally, I eat kosher. But if someone puts a gun to my head and says, “Eat this ham steak or I’m pulling the trigger,” then like it or not, I’ll eat the ham so that I can be alive to deal with the unclean violation of a kosher diet.
Life is precious to God, so this is an understanding Yeshua would have had as well.
So where does this idea come from, that preserving life comes before all the commands, except the command against worshiping false gods? There are many sources, but here’s one from:
Rabbi Pinsker, Acharei Mot, Weekly D’var Torah
In the Talmud, the ancient rabbis debate how we know that pikuach nefesh—the preservation of life—is a mitzvah and that it takes precedence over all the other Torah commandments … In order to preserve a life, we may, for example, violate Shabbat observance or the laws of kashrut. In the volume of the Talmud called Yoma (85b) the Rabbis attribute this principle to our two little words vechai bahem— “‘You shall live by them—and not die by them.’” In other words, the Torah is given not to cause the loss of life, rather it is given that we may live, and therefore by logic we cannot be expected to endanger human life through the keeping of the Torah.
So, we don’t obey the Torah to such ridiculous extremes that we risk our own lives. That’s the idea here. If the choice is eating pork or getting shot… eat the pork. It’s a no-brainer, right?
That sounds good, but is there evidence that Yeshua had this same understanding as well? There is! We read this in:
Then Yeshua said to them, “I ask you now: what is permitted on Shabbat? Doing good or doing evil? Saving life or destroying it?”
In Luke’s account of Yeshua healing on the Sabbath, Yeshua by implication here refers to the idea that preserving life is one of the highest commands in the Torah, and that which is done to preserve life takes precedence over lesser commands.
This is not an example of Yeshua doing away with the Torah, but merely acknowledging the importance of maintaining life over the importance of maintaining Sabbath observance.
So does that mean we should toss out all of the Torah under the heading of maintaining life? Of course not!
Usually, obeying the rules of the Torah do not put our life on the line. But in defending Himself against an alleged violation of the Oral Torah standard of Shabbat observance (though not the written Torah standards) Yeshua does say that the L-RD desires mercy, not sacrifice.
Where does this come from? It comes from:
For what I desire is mercy, not sacrifices, knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
What is the L-RD really saying here? Well, according to:
Strong’s G1656 eleos
1) mercy: kindness or good will toward the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them
So eleos is kindness shown by helping the miserable and afflicted, as opposed to what? According to:
Strong’s G2378 thusia
1) a sacrifice, victim
So, ultimately what the L-RD is saying is, in our Torah observance, He wants us to be moved toward mercy, kindness toward those in misery. He desires that! Not a human sacrifice, not the taking of a life in extreme observance of the Torah.
What does this mean?
Well, I think it means that while Yeshua was completely serious about not desiring that any who are married should be divorced, at the same time, it is apparent that the preservation of life comes before maintaining a marriage that is already shattered by acts of violence, by actions that in and of themselves desecrate the vows of fidelity, love, and respect of one’s spouse, even if no sexual infidelity has yet taken place.
If the choice is “break the vows of marriage by filing for divorce, or die at the hands of your violent and unrepentant spouse,” that should be as much of a no-brainer as “eat pork or die.”
Life is precious to God, and maintaining the lives he has given us is more important than observing lesser commands.
So, if one finds themselves in a relationship that threatens their life and safety, please know that we serve a God who understands that. Know that we serve a God who knows when a marriage is broken, even before those who are in it know it’s broken.
Know that while Yeshua desires you to stay married when you marry, he also does not ask you to give up your life or the lives of your children as a victim to a spouse’s violence.
Yes, Yeshua said, “except for marital infidelity,” but part of his context for that statement, part of what he knew most Jewish people of his era also understood, is that the preservation of your life would also take priority over staying married when a marriage is already destroyed and has become life-threatening for either you or your children. We serve Yeshua, who cares for the well-being of children so much, He said, in:
and whoever ensnares one of these little ones who trust me, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the open sea!
So, in the same way, Yeshua absolutely teaches us that unless we forgive those who have offended and wounded us, we will not be forgiven, and in the same way we forgive others, we also will be forgiven.
That’s true. It’s absolutely true. Yet what is the requirement for forgiveness? Repentance! Even the rabbis understood that!
For, as we read in:
Babylonian Talmud, Mishnah, Yoma 85B
If one says: I shall sin and repent, sin and repent, no opportunity will be given to him to repent. [If one says]: I shall sin and the Day of Atonement will procure atonement for me, the Day of Atonement procures for him no atonement.
So repentance is required for forgiveness. Not just an “I’m sorry I got caught” sort of repentance but the sort of repentance that says, “I recognize how wrong my actions were, and I have no intention to repeat them, for I now see them as they are and they horrify me.”
A repentance that requires a complete turning away from any sort of entertaining of the temptation to slip back into the same sin again.
So are we to forgive others, no matter how often they repeat the offense? Yes.
But are we to forgive the unrepentant? Are we to forgive those who are plotting how to injure us again, even as they sit in front of us apologizing?
We are to forgive them, yes. But how should our forgiveness of the unrepentant look?
Are we to sit down to an unsupervised dinner with the person who murdered a loved one, even if the murderer has shown no remorse? No.
Are we to permit a known child molester to babysit our children? Of course not!
We are commanded to forgive, but it is not to be a brainless forgiveness, is it? God desires mercy, but he does not desire a human sacrifice to prove it!
If a person genuinely repents, we are to forgive, and show that forgiveness in the same way we want to be treated. There is no room for compromise on that front.
But if we are faced with someone who has not repented, we should forgive so that we do not allow bitterness and resentment to take root in our lives; but we should also remain cautious around the unrepentant, lest they find another opportunity to do evil to us.
We should keep our eyes open. Because the natural question is, how can we know when someone who repents is genuine or not?
Pray for discernment. And give it time. Those who have not repented genuinely will reveal themselves before long; be cautious with them. But if repentance is genuine, we must forgive others as we have been forgiven.
It’s still a confusing topic, I know. But why is it confusing? It’s confusing because we all know people in our lives who can go through all the right steps, adopt all the right tones of voice and body language, who can sit face-to-face with us and seem to genuinely repent, and yet still be deceptive, still harbor evil intentions rather than the fruits of the Spirit.
Why is that? The reason for this is all explained in the parable of the weeds; we who believe and obey the L-RD are all wheat—children of the Kingdom of God; but we’re mixed in with weeds—children of the Adversary. And the children of the Adversary, as Yeshua pointed out, are like their father; they seek to deceive and destroy. Prayerful discernment is needed.
So when we read of the latest actions going on in Yisra’el, should we forgive those in Palastine who seek to harm those in Yisra’el? Absolutely. But forgivess should not be confused with the idea of trusting the unrepentant. Just as one would never jump into a den of lions, simply because HaShem protected his prophet Daniel in that same situation one time, a situation he was forced into and never chose himself, we also should not put HaShem to a foolish test by trusting those who seek to do us harm yet lack repentance.
May Yeshua guide us all in dealing with those who are in our lives, giving us wisdom about who to forgive fully, because their repentance is genuine, and who to forgive at a distance, because their repentance is not genuine, but a trick, an attempt to gain naïve trust from us, so that they can do us further damage.
Help us, L-RD, to discern the wheat from the weeds. And help us, when dealing with the children of the Adversary, to still forgive those who wrong us; or at least to forgive them enough so that we do not allow ourselves to grow bitter and untrusting toward even those who are also children of Your kingdom, and who have done us no wrong.