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about your family, faith and future.
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I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
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               Sonya Contreras

The Lamb of God as Told by a Scribe

Church Easter Program, 2019

My name is Hezekiah. I come from the line of descendants who were scribes, Ezra The Scribe, being the first. 
The Hebrew word “Soferim” originally meant “people who know how to write.” The word became synonymous with “wise man” and later, “teacher.” Although some would assume, erroneously, we must be a rabbi to be a sofer, that is not required by Jewish law.
Our main objective is to teach the Torah to the Jewish youth. 
By teaching the youth, we hope to raise Judaism to a higher intellectual level. There was a great need to instruct and revive the Hebrew language after Israel returned from our captivity in Babylon.

I was trained under a master scribe in the sect of Pharisees.
No learned man could reside in a town without a scribe. Although indispensable, we will never become rich, because they think we will no longer write. So we are the worst paid of all Jewish professions.
They do not understand the devotion we, as scribes, have to the Law. So every scribe covets, may I use the word without judgment, a position in the cities where we can provide for our families comfortably.

I looked forward to instructing boys in the sacred writings. We are honored people. God has deemed that we should receive His Word. But with that honor comes responsibility. I must know the law so well that no boy under my tutorage would fail to love the law, or so I thought, until I began to teach. 
When I finished my apprenticeship, instead of a city, I found myself in a village of Nazareth. 
When I walked the one street in its small village, I wondered what learned man would come here.I was shown to a small abode, almost falling down.
What a God-forsaken place!

The servant seemed anxious to leave. I dusted off the over-turned table before putting my bag and cloak on it. No lamp had been left for my use, and one chair.
I waited until the servant left, before I sat.
The chair broke under my weight. I would later realize it was the first of many “happenings” I would receive as a “teacher” to energetic boys.
After brushing myself off, I tried to regain my dignity, even though alone.  I threw the broken chair in the dead fire ring. Then as an afterthought, for that was my only chair, I retrieved it from the cold ashes. 

That day, the learned man did not make an appearance. I learned later, he did not even live here. He used Nazareth as a stopping place on his travels. His house was furnished and supplied with servants to be prepared for his visits. 
But the servant arrived with two others who brought benches for my students. He also brought a lamp and a loaf of bread.
I smiled. At least I would have dinner tonight. and a light.

The next day brought my students.
I stood before them, looking at eight pair of eyes staring back at me. My mind went blank.
I was use to solitude. Writing for long periods. Not talking to anyone. 
What was I to do?
One boy greeted me, “Morning, Sofer.”
I smiled. Sofer, right, teacher. Of course.
I should teach.
Our method of teaching was to read the book of the Law, then explain it.
I began. 

I was absorbed in the reading, when I looked up from the scroll and realized seven boys were gazing through the open doorway.
The eighth boy had a look of such longing in his eyes, I had to glance back at the scroll to remember what I had been reading. I glanced again to see if I had seen it right, yes, that look was a longing like he wanted to hear from the Law Giver. 
I never saw such devotion, even among my peers and teachers.

When class was over, seven boys fled out the door. But the last pupil approached my table, where I was re-rolling the scroll. 
He placed his hand on the scroll, gently, reverently.
I stopped myself from yelling at him, for the scrolls were sacred. No common man should touch them.
But when I looked into his eyes, they held such devotion, I swallowed and stopped rolling the scroll.
I knew why I had come to Nazareth. To teach this boy about the Law.
But as the days went by, I found that it was not for me to teach, but for me to learn with him.

He asked questions.
Not like the questions the other boys asked.
One boy asked, “How much of the Torah could you write in a week?”
What a question! We’re not at a horse race to speed through the material. We’re on a heavenly mission, to write God’s Word!
But to answer the youth, I responded, “one sheet per week, one column per day, six lines per hour and three letters per minute. But that’s not exact, mind you. And careless scribes will be quicker still.”
Another boy asked, “My uncle visited from a city, he said scribes count to the middle of the Torah, forwards and backwards, to make sure they had written everything correctly. Is that true?”
I smiled. Sofer did also mean “one who counts letters.”

The Torah contained 304,805 Hebrew letters. “We often say,” and I paused long enough to make sure they were listening, “once the Torah is complete,ifthe Sofer counts 152,403 words from Genesis to Leviticus 11:42, the third letter of the word would be “gahon” (belly). Then we start at the back of the Torah and count backward 152,403 words, we should reach Leviticus 11:42, at the same letter. This is the middle letter of the Torah.” I smiled. “I will leave it to you to know if that saying is true or not.”

One boy was more interested in how the scrolls were made than what was in it. Maybe because I wouldn’t let them touch them.
After plaguing me with questions every day, I spent a day explaining how the Torah was made.
I thrilled to my topic. “Our ink must be indelible. The parchment was specially prepared. The lines were traced and squared so the writing is straight and uniform.”
“Why the lines and squares?”
“Each Torah has 245 columns with 42 lines and 304,805 letters.”
I looked at the boy.
He did not seem impressed. “But what do you use to write?”

Ahhh. “The materials for writing the Torah are also sacred.  The parchment must be made from the skin of a kosher animal, blameless, spotless. The calf skins to be used in a Torah are forbidden to be used for anything else. The hide is soaked to soften it, sometimes dog dung is rubbed into the hide to loosen the hair. Then the hair is removed by scraping.”
The boys laughed at the dog dung part. “How can you use something unclean on something so sacred?”
I looked at them. I did not know. When I was taught, I was absorbed in the sacredness of the task, not in how it looked with the rest of the Torah. I had no answer.
Instead of answering, I furrowed my brows to discourage any more interruptions. “When you work on a Sefer Torah, your feelings are very important. The person making the skin must say out loud that this ‘hide is being prepared to make a Sefer Torah.’” I paused. My audience had lost interest. There was so much more I could tell. 
I asked the boy who had started this discussion, “Why did you want to know?”
He shrugged. “We ate chicken last night. I wondered if that was what your quill was made of.”
I smiled. “The writing quill was usually of a goose or sometimes turkey feather, the longest from the bird’s wing tip. The point must be shaped and cut perfectly to construct the letters well. Nothing could be metal, because metal was a material for every day and war, and the Torah must be special.”
The boy seemed to absorb the information. 
The next morning, I found a pile of feathers on my desk.
Some teachers receive bread or fruit for their efforts, it seemed I must receive the discarded pluckings of a—I looked more closely, they were selected feathers. I picked one up and judged its quality. The tip was not cut yet, but it would make a fine pen. I smiled. Maybe my students were listening.

But this other boy, he asked questions like he was searching for connection. He thirsted to know the Laws of the Torah, as if he would know the God behind them. He couldn’t get enough of the lessons, either, I had to send him home many times, so his mother wouldn’t worry. 

He asked, “What made Abraham the “Friend of God”?
I knew this student too well to just answer that he sacrificed to God. Because what did that really mean? I had just read how Abraham had offered his own wife, twice, to save his own skin. So what did make Abraham the Friend of God?
My brows furrowed, as they do when I think hard, and instead of answering, I asked him, “What do you think?”
He scrunched up his forehead, then smiled. “God wanted man to be His friend. And Abraham was willing to listen.”
I patted him on the shoulder and nodded. “I think you’re right.”
But the answer stuck with me for a long time. Was I willing to listen to God?

When we got to our history of how Rahab was accepted into our midst, I cringed with disgust. We are a chosen race. A special people. This outsider became one of us. But it was part of our history, and I must tell it.
When this boy came afterwards, I thought I could guess his questions, I had a few of my own about God allowing Rahab into our special people. Instead, he asked, “This woman, Rahab, seemed chosen by God to save our people.”
I hadn’t considered that. “She only saved two spies.”
The boy hesitated. “What are we saved to do?”
I almost stuttered. Didn’t he know I labored over writing the Torah, preserving its very letters so that our people would know it. 
But he wasn’t finished. “Shouldn’t we be a light to the world of what God has given us, not to horde it in some dark room where people cannot read the words God shared with us?”
All that was within me wanted to hit the child. To allow God’s Sacred words to be touched and handled by dirty hands of a foreigner!
I swallowed, perhaps I hadn’t been clear before, I explained slowly.

“Before a scribe begins his writing, every day, he has a ritual bath, because writing the Torah is a holy commission. Before starting a new scroll, we must recite a formula consecrating his intent to write for a holy purpose. 
“Even our tools are tested to make sure they are fit. We write, “Amalek” on a parchment. Then we cross it out with many strokes to fulfill the commandment of blotting out the name of Amalek, our enemy from Deuteronomy 25.
I was warming up to the subject. “Whenever God’s name is written, we declare out loud our intention to honor God by writing the holy name.
Writing God’s name is the most important part of writing a Torah. On a day when I’m going to write God’s name, I go to a special pool of natural running water to make myself pure. It directs our hearts and minds to our task. I write God’s name with a special quill and ink that has never been used. Sometimes, when it is difficult to go to the pool every day, I save up all the times I have to write God’s name. I write everything else on a page, but not God’s name. Then once or twice a week, I go to the pool and take out my special tools and spend the day writing God’s name. It is easier to really direct my heart toward each writing of God’s name that way.” I looked up expecting him to be pleased by our careful attention to God’s name. 
Instead, he seemed disappointed. It was almost as if he was the teacher when he encouraged me, “That is good.”
But I felt like the rebuked pupil when he continued, “But didn’t God give His Word so that all may come to know Him?”
I was stunned. We are a special people. Didn’t our Laws set us apart as unique to Him. If he wasn’t in such earnest, I would have screamed, “Blasphemy!” But because I couldn’t answer him. I scrunched up my brows, I would have to think on these things.
He nodded, and turned to go. As if in an afterthought, he turned back and smiled. “Wouldn’t it be great, if all the world were friends with God?”
I nodded. But that thought was too much for me.

The Passover time was coming. This boy was twelve. His family, like all other good Jewish families would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate. Most would camp outside the city, for the city could not hold that many people. 
The Passover is a special time for our people. A time of remembering our bondage in Egypt, and our freedom gained by God. The meal symbolized our suffering with the bitter herbs, the unleavened bread—all eaten under a solemn ceremony.
I had joined my peers at the Temple to celebrate. It was like a reunion, of sorts.
But I felt ostracized, because I only taught in Nazareth. Especially when others laughed and asked, “Where’s that?”
But as the days of Passover were completed, I felt I must explain this boy who had changed how I thought about the Law and about God. But how could I do it?
If they could only talk with him, maybe they would realize how important my position was in this little obscure town!

The scribes would not write on a Holy Day. And so, we sat gathered at the temple, talking amongst ourselves. I don’t even remember what about. Maybe how many angels could stand on the head of a pin, I don’t know. 
But I heard footsteps in the marble hallway. They were hesitant, yet—
I quickly stood and left the room. “Jesus. What brings you to the temple?”
He smiled. “I had a few questions for you.”
I put my arm around his shoulder. “Come. You can ask your questions to the scribes.”
He hesitated only a moment before coming with me.

I coughed to gain the group’s attention, then pointed to Jesus. “This is one of my pupils. He has a question to share.” I realized I hadn’t even heard his question. I knew from experience it would be good. I swallowed hoping I hadn’t made a mistake. I nodded for him to continue.
“Would it be wrong to offer a sin offering, if I had no sin?”
I coughed. This was not what I expected. We all sinned. We all must offer the sacrifice. I looked at the other scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. Was this a mistake?
One stroked his beard. “An interesting question.”
I let out a breath. This would be better than discussing how many angels could fit on a head of a pin. Of course, we all knew this was a hypothetical question, for we all needed the sin offering. Although, some of us more than others.
Before we could grow tired of such a question, he asked another one. “How is man made clean by shedding blood?”
That question always bothered me. I was interested to hear their answers, too.
They spoke that the lamb must be spotless, without blemish, firstborn, like the Passover in the past. It was the substitute for what we could not do.
But I knew that did not answer How in his mind. We told only the mechanics of the law, but we neglected to see the spirit in the law.
It left me unsettled that even these leaders couldn’t answer this boy’s questions.
When they had discussed it at some length, Jesus in his characteristic way, he said, “God is great, isn’t He? He has a plan we can’t understand or even anticipate.”
His response, so typical of him, left the scribes silent. Some humored him with a laugh and a smile, but most tried to hid under their prayer hats and beards.
I was use to his questions. But I never grew use to the uncertainty that his questions brought.

He came with me the following days and brought many questions. I lost track of time. I was not the only one who stumbled to answer his questions.
I could feel proud to have taught him. But I didn’t. 
He had taught me many things.
I didn’t realize the time until his parents rushed into the room.
Mary was frantic. She looked like she hadn’t slept for many nights. 
“Son, why have You treated us this way? Your father and I have been looking for you.”
Passover was over. The caravan must have left days ago. Time had flown like a bird away from me. No wonder they were frantic!
But as long as I live, I will remember his answer. Not disrespectful, but informative. “Why were you were looking for Me? Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?”
Those words puzzled me. I did not understand his answer until much later.

I was finished teaching him. He must learn his father’s trade.
I had a new group of boys who would learn their Jewish heritage and Law. I missed him.
For he challenged me to make my faith real, not just mechanically following rules, but to see the God behind the rules.
There was never another student like him.

When his father died, he came to see me. I put my arm around him. He was too old to hug, but he let me. “I am sorry.”
He nodded. “Makes me miss my Father more.”
I nodded, only partly understanding what he said. But I knew, because it was him, he meant it on a deeper level. I wished for a better understanding of God to be able to comfort him. I could not, so I squeezed him tighter and hoped that would help.

The learned man no longer required that I stay in Nazareth. As I gathered my quills, ink and scroll, I realized my life had been changed by this boy’s questions. I no longer looked at the scroll and its written law as the means for attaining my holiness, I could never attain to the holiness required by God. But I wanted to know the Law Giver.
I returned to Jerusalem. I wasn’t sure I was ready for the big city anymore. At the beginning, I thought I was. But now I knew I wasn’t. But perhaps I would find another student, whom I could inspire to know the Law in a better way.

As I followed the Jordan River, I had almost reached Bethany when I noticed a crowd gathered around a man. As I got closer, I saw a group of scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. They never left the temple. What were they doing here?
I recognized one whom had apprenticed with me.
He motioned for me to come to him. “Listen.”
The man was dressed in camel skins. His hair long, like a wild man.
If there was anything I had learned from my pupil was not to think looks showed what was in the heart. 
The scribes questioned him, “Who are you?”
He answered, “I am not the Christ.”
“Are you Elijah?”
He shook his head.
“The Prophet?”
“Who are you that we may answer those who sent us?”
He answered, “I am ‘a voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”
The scribes were indignant at his lack of respect toward them. “Why are you baptizing, if you’re not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
I felt caught between what he said and what the scribes said.  
John laughed. 
His laughter made them madder.
It was the power and pride of our position, I think, that made them respond so.
“I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

On the following day, we gathered again to listen. 
He pointed to someone behind us. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
When I turned, I gasped. I knew him. He was my student! 
John the baptizer baptized him that day. When he came from the water a dove rested on his shoulder. And I heard rumblings like thunder, yet on a cloudless day. I could hear words from this thunder. “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”
After having him for a student, I was willing to believe anything that the sky would tell me about Him.
But the other scribes and leaders weren’t so willing, nor would they even admit they heard anything except thunder. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe I was becoming a friend of God who was willing to listen.
I followed him. I would see greater things than these.

He was on a mountain where his voice carried to all. He spoke of being light.
It reminded me of his desire to tell the world about the God we know. His next words caught my attention.
Do not think I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”
I nodded. I could see that. He was careful with the Law. But the scrolls themselves didn’t hold the preciousness, it was what was written onthose scrolls that held his heart.
I almost missed his next words.
 “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.”
That set all our scribes’ to listening. 
The Yod (Jot) is the most common letter—used 31,530 times in the Torah.
 The Tet (tittle) is the least common letter—used only 1,820 times in the Torah.
Was he the one who would fulfill all our longings for a deliverer?
I believed him. I had heard enough of his deep questions, and saw the longing in his eyes to believe him.

But the other scribes would not believe.
Jesus rebuked us. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people…because you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers,…whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated. Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold?”
Many of the scribes were indignant at the reprove. “How dare he challenge them!”
Instead of taking insult, I remembered his questions about why we were given God’s word. Was it to put it in a dark place protected from harm, or to shout it to the world? Our responsibility went beyond writing the Torah, and even teaching it to youth—to telling the world. 
I hung my head. The rebukes were true. Why hadn’t I questioned what we were taught? Shouldn’t I have known better?

I sought him afterward. 
He embraced me and seemed excited to see me.
I was hesitant to question him, after all I was supposed to be his teacher, but I put my pride aside and asked. “What should I be, if not a scribe?”
His eyes seemed to penetrate my soul. “My dear Sofir, it’s not the position of scribe that is evil, it’s only the misuse of the position, which I condemn.”
I was humbled by his words. We held the Law up, not so we could teach, but so we could lord over the people. It was to our shame. I saw that. And felt the wrong.
I had been away from the other scribes. We were highly honored and worked with God’s Word. But instead of sharing with the people, we had set ourselves as god. Now our own arrogance wouldn’t allow truth to penetrate. Our pettiness and pride brought damnation.

I followed Jesus. And drank from his words. They were like water to a thirsty soul. I smiled, so like when I had taught him. Only now I understood why it held such sway over him. They weren’t just words. They were power. It was His Father’s Words. He knew the Law Giver.

As Jesus’s ministry grew, I did not like to see my own scribes ridicule and belittle him. They would not search the Scriptures to see its fulfillment before their eyes! They only showed their arrogance and lack of understanding.

It was Passover again. I had taken the supper with the other scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, although I did not feel a part of them anymore.  
I sat silent. Remembering Jesus’s question of long ago when he was twelve. “Should a man without sin offer a sin offering?” I knew him as a child. He was what any parent would want—perfect, without sin, blameless.
I started comparing the Passover Lamb to Jesus. And remembering what John the baptizer had said about him being the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus was the first-born, of the Father’s Son.
He was male.
The Passover lamb must be one year old—in its prime; Jesus was in his prime.
The lamb entered the house of the family four days before the 14th, the Passover; Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey that same day.
The High Priest inspected the lamb.
Anytime during those four days, if there was any blemish found on the lamb, it could not be used.
Hadn’t the Chief Priests and rulers of the Temple inspected and interrogated Jesus, but could find no fault in Him? In fact, after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The parallels seemed too many. I didn’t like where this was leading.

I started listening to what the scribes were saying. They weren’t remembering the Exodus of our People, instead they were discussing how to rid themselves of Jesus!
I knew they would not listen to me. Who was I, but a lowly scribe from Nazareth?
My dinner churned. I left before I lost my dinner. I could not sleep, but nor could I stop my mind from thinking of the Passover Lamb.

When I returned the following day to the Temple, it was empty.
I followed the crowds out of town and up a hill.
I scarcely could keep my feet moving, for I knew what I would see.
When I looked to the top of the hill, my heart wretched.
Three crosses stood. 
I stumbled to the top of that hill, through the crowds who watched.
My Passover Lamb had spilled out his blood to save me.
I did not want to see.

The parallels of the Passover Lamb kept going through my mind.
When we cooked or ate the Passover lamb, no bones could be broken. None of Jesus’s bones were broken, even when the soldiers came to ensure his death. They pierced his side.
The Passover lamb had to be consumed entirely. Nothing was to remain.
Jesus’s body was taken from the cross that evening, because it would be the Sabbath, although that wasn’t normal for a crucifixion.

That night I could not sleep. But nor could I find solace by reading the Torah. It all pointed to Jesus. He fulfilled the prophecies of a deliverer. Not one to destroy the bonds of Roman government, but to destroy the bonds of sin in the hearts of man. 
He was the Lamb, not like the lamb sacrifice we must make each year, but a substitute for ALL substitutes. He became the Lamb for sin for all time. 
And it all pointed to what I should have stopped. How could my own people have killed the Son of God? Yet, I had not stopped them. It was my sin for which he died. 
Without the Lamb of God, there would be no sacrifice for me.

A week later, I heard his disciples were meeting. They had seen Jesus. He had risen from the dead.
Although I couldn’t imagine, I wanted to. I hurried to the room where the disciples had met him before and crowded with all the others who wanted to see him. 
Jesus appeared and explained the Scriptures; that now, in hindsight, could be seen clearly.
I came to truly know the Lamb Sacrifice and His Father Who wrote the Torah which I so reverenced.
I believed.
I no longer had to follow all the rules of a scribe to know the God of the Torah. I only had to accept the Lamb Sacrifice provided. 
But you can be sure, I still love the Torah.
And the prophets.
And the writings of the disciples. Because they are the love letters given to me of the Father and God of my Savior Who died for me. 

I’m still a sofer. Can you take the teacher out of someone who loves it?
But now, I do not elevate the paper on which the Words of God are written.
But I present the words to people, so they can meet the Law Giver and the Law-Fulfiller, like I have done, and be set free from sin to live a life that truly pleases God.


Do not skip this song. It will complete the story. Click on the picture.

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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