Be Not Unequally Yoked, Remove the Thorns

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By Joshua Spurlock

Crop of Heavy Work by Heinrich von Zugel

I remember once having a small splinter in my finger, which needed to be removed. The problem was I really didn’t want it removed for fear of the pain it would cause.

Nevermind the fact that the splinter also hurt, or the possibility of an eventual infection that could hurt far worse if it wasn’t removed. I was afraid of taking the sliver from my flesh with those metallic tweezers. Thankfully, mom knew better.

HaShem (the LORD) knows better, too. In Parashat Masei (Bamidbar / Numbers 33:1-36:13), HaShem warns that, in the same way a piece of foreign wood could harm our bodies if not removed, bad influences could likewise harm our souls.

“And the LORD spoke to Moses [Moshe] in the plains of Moab [Moav] by the Jordan [Yarden] at Jericho [Yerikho], saying, “Speak to the people of Israel [Yisrael] and say to them, When you pass over the Jordan [Yarden] into the land of Canaan [Kenaan], then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you and destroy all their figured stones and destroy all their metal images and demolish all their high places…But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those of them whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall trouble you in the land where you dwell.”
– Bamidbar (Numbers) 33:50-52,55, ESV

HaShem knew the temptations that would result from having these close relationships with the idolaters would be too much for the people of Yisrael to withstand.

Sadly, in spite of HaShem’s warning, Bnei Yisrael (Children of Israel) believed they could get away with being unequally yoked with the idolaters in the Promised Land. They built close relationships with them, even marriages, and it cost them dearly.

The generation immediately after the great leader Yehoshua (Joshua), Moshe’s successor, succumbed easily to the influence of their neighbours (Cf. Shoftim / Judges 2:10-11).

“So the people of Israel [Yisrael] lived among the Canaanites [HaKenaani], the Hittites [HaKhiti], the Amorites [HaEmori], the Perizzites [HaPerizi], the Hivites [HaKhivi], and the Jebusites [HaYevusi]. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods. And the people of Israel [Yisrael] did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God [Elohekhem] and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel [Yisrael]…”
– Shoftim (Judges) 3:5-8a, ESV

Insider Standards

As Shaul (Paul) says, bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33), and he warns us against being tied to unbelievers.

“Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ [Mashiakh] with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?”
– 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, ESV, Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:5

Yet here we are, living in the world, surrounded by unbelievers. What, then, is our answer to this dilemma as we await the harmony of the Messianic Era? Should we grab pitchforks and drive the nonbelievers from our neighborhoods and workplaces? No.

First of all, we ourselves must get into the yoke with the Lord Yeshua, learn from him and walk with him, walking as he walked (Yokhannan Alef / 1 John 2:6).

As Messiah Yeshua says,

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
– Mattityahu (Matthew) 11:29-30, ESV

Only then are we qualified to remove the thorns.

“He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
– Luke 6:39-42, ESV

We must first remove the speck from our own eyes before we can be of assistance to other believers.

As for unbelievers, Shaul makes it clear that we cannot just have nothing to do with all the worldly people out there. We may need to interact with immoral people in Olam HaZeh (This World). We may even need to see them regularly and build business relationships with them. But we should be careful about who we allow to build deep relationships with us.

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church [Kehillah] whom you are to judge? God [Elohim] judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
– 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, ESV

So who is put out?

It is the so-called believer who is rebelliously practising these sins. They are among us. It’s one thing to build acquaintances with those in the world, something even Yeshua (Jesus) seems to do (Cf. Mattityahu / Matthew 9:10). But those closest to us, the servants of Messiah Yeshua—“family of believers”—must be held to a higher standard.

Dealing Gently With Splinters

If a believer refuses to repent of one of the sins for which one is to be cut off from the assemblies of Messiah, they are to be treated as an outsider to the community until they repent.

This doesn’t mean that other sins aren’t dangerous and shouldn’t be addressed, but there are some that are especially insidious, which must be removed from the assembly for the love of the Body of Messiah. Getting to that serious stage takes time, however, and the Lord Yeshua instructs his servants to first provide the wayward with multiple opportunities to repent.

As the Lord Yeshua says,

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church [Kehillah]. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
– Mattityahu (Matthew) 18:15-17, ESV

Shaul elucidates on this matter, teaching us that our goal should be to rescue and restore our brother or sister, rather than to get rid of a difficult person. And we are to go about this gently and in love.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
– Galatians 6:1, ESV

And as Yaakov (James) says,

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
– Yaakov 5:19-20, ESV


“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
– Mishlei (Proverbs) 10:12, ESV

The Torah (Instruction/Law of HaShem) likewise tells us to be sure to correct our neighbour in the Kingdom, but to do it in the right way: in love. This even includes the way you think about the wayward believer in your heart.

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
– Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:17-18, ESV

It is noteworthy that, after Yeshua’s instructions about reproving fellow believers, He instructs Kefa (Peter) that he should be willing to forgive those who wrong him again and again, seven times seventy times, if necessary (Cf. Mattityahu 18:21-22). Reproof does not justify resenting the one who sinned.

This is how we are to deal with those closest to us, those within our “family of faith.” But what about outsiders? While we shouldn’t reject them or run away from them, we should be careful about how close we get to them.

In the World, Not of the World

Shaul’s words and Yeshua’s actions both encourage us to be open to interacting with nonbelievers, but that doesn’t mean we should get too close. One of the primary concerns about relationships with pagans throughout the Tanakh (Torah, Prophets, and Writings—a.k.a. the Hebrew Scriptures) is marriage.

Regardless of what one says about building shallow relationships with nonbelievers, marrying one is certainly out of the question according to Scripture. HaShem repeatedly warns against the intermarriage of Bnei Yisrael with the idolaters around them, because marriage changes the person you are—two become one.

“Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous [Kana], is a jealous God [El]), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.”
– Shemot (Exodus) 34:12-16, ESV

Of course, it’s more than just marriage. Notice the word “covenant” in the passage above. It’s clear that close relationships with the world are dangerous. It can be a slippery slope difficult to discern from within.

Mishlei Shlomo (the Proverbs of Solomon) address this issue as well.

Shlomo HaMelekh (King Solomon) says,

“Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”
– Mishlei 22:24-25, ESV

The truth is that friendship changes us like marriage does, if only on a slower and smaller scale. In light of that, one should limit the time they spend with habitual sinners, lest the believer’s own sensibilities to the sins be dulled. What was once appalling can all too easily become comfortable.

That is the biggest danger, because it’s not just the friend that one tends to mirror, but the friend’s culture, too.  And the culture of a pagan is a culture that opposes HaShem and His Way. Therefore, one cannot walk in step with HaShem’s enemies and be the friend of Elohim.

“You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God [Elohim]? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God [Elohim]. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us’?”
– Yaakov (James) 4:4-5, ESV

Of course, we should be ready at all times to explain our faith to the lost—both to friends and enemies alike.

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ [Mashiakh] the Lord [HaAdon] as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ [Mashiakh] may be put to shame.
– Alef Kefa (1 Peter) 3:14-16, ESV

As Shaul notes, one cannot go out of the world. Relationships with the worldly are a necessary part of life, and we are to be a light to them (Cf. Mattityahu 5:14-16). HaShem has not called us to isolation, but to seek and save the lost; to let the light of Messiah Yeshua shine without being conformed to the pattern of the world (Romans 12:2).

Thorns in Your Eyes

While we can be very careful with whom we allow into our lives, we can also run the risk of throwing our doors wide open to all sorts of evil by the entertainment we permit.

Would you interact with the persons in your movies or television shows? Would you want your children to be friends with the musicians to whose music you are listening?

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father [HaAv] is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God [Elohim] abides forever.”
– Yokhanan Alef (1 John) 2:15-17, ESV

So take stock of where you stand, and with whom you are standing. Are you drawing closer to the world, or closer to HaShem? Do you have splinters that need removing? In whose ways are you walking?

May you build healthy relationships with the lost souls around you, close and loving relationships with the true brothers and sisters in the faith, and a deeper intimacy with HaShem in the grace of our Lord Yeshua.

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