Friday, December 8, 2017

Identity Matters


In the Scriptures many of protagonists’ names have meanings that either determine or are congruent with the given person’s identity. Our identity, naturally, plays a major role in our lives; gender, family, community, ethnicity, nationality and profession.  In our day and age one can also be known or identified by one’s association with a political or religious grouping, or other types of ideologies, or even by varying interests. 
At the very beginning the Creator made Man in His image and likeness; He made them male and female. This was humanity’s initial identity and had they continued to “walk” with Elohim they would have come to know themselves accordingly and would have given expression to this “image and likeness”. They truly would have been the Creator’s children, sons and daughters (‘like father - like son/daughter’).  However, having given up their original nature, our progenitors bequeathed to their seed a distorted identity which has taken on manifold expressions all through history. So much so, that the rebellion has morphed to the point of the current frightening gender confusion, attempts at cloning and other technological efforts that at times almost dehumanize what Elohim created in His image.  Darwin’s theory relegated the human species to an animalistic identity and this has evolved into a behavior and a mindset to match.  Animals in many cases have been and are domesticated or trained, and are then harnessed to tasks that serve their master.  Such is the condition we face in the world of humanity today.
A dictionary definition of identity is: ”The state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions… the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another…condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing.”
 Elohim had given man his name, and then man named the woman. Humanity continues, likewise, to name their offspring.  The Creator asked Adam to name the animals, and thus involved him with their identity-definition.  The book of Genesis sets in motion a history of identification markers.  Our “father Abraham” is but one example. Many today, even four thousand years after the fact, continue to identify themselves as people groups descended from him.  To follow the identity pattern in Genesis, as mentioned above, there are individuals whose names describe or determine their identity and who have thus been differentiated into families, tribal groupings, or nations yet all originating with Abraham, such as Ishmael, Isaac, or the tribes of Israel.  Then there are more Abrahamic relatives with national identities, such as the Midianites, Sheba and Edom.
In the writings of the New Covenant there are many references to “nationality”, simply by the usage of the term “ethnos”, which means exactly that, a “nation” or a “people group”. In English that neutral term has been translated into “Gentile” or “Gentiles”.  The usage of the term Gentile, rather than people or nation, has become synonymous with being non-Jewish, as mentioned in the last article, while Jewish equals to being a descendent of the forefathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As a matter of fact, these Patriarchs are often called Jews.  So where does this leave us, who claim Israelite identity? 
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes the “Gentiles”: “Living in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).   Peter adds more to the identity of a “Gentle”:  “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3).   Is this who we are, as redeemed Israelites in Messiah?  Or is this why the apostle says “formally you were [identified as] Gentiles” (and I might add “behaved like them”)? But now “having been brought back into covenant”, do we still identify ourselves as Gentiles, or are we truly the Israel of YHVH that manifests His nature?       
In the Israeli news this week there was a report about 50 Gypsies from France and other locations that convened for a conference in Jerusalem proclaiming Israelite identity.  Their gypsy ethnicity and their claims sparked here unfavorable comments regarding their ultimate intentions.  
Very recently I received a letter from a Jewish Messianic believer, commenting on the Israelite (two house) Movement.  Here are just a few of his “jabs”:   I viewed it as one of the many new winds that blow regularly through the Body of Messiah in these days of delusion… a rather convoluted reasoning process… Remembering the words of Thomas Paine, “To argue with someone who has abandoned reason is to administer medicine to a dead man,”… This is coveting of [identity] the first order. This appears to be nothing more than a new twist on replacement theology.

Because more and more groups around the world are claiming an Israelite identity of some sort we, along with the Jewish nation, are faced with a real dilemma. We, for example, believe in Yeshua as Messiah and claim the New Covenant writings as central to our identity and cultural expression, while the Jewish nation is guarded and protective of their identity. To many Israeli Jews, whether religious or secular, the idea of “non-Jewish lost tribes” poses a threat to their identity and uniqueness.  With all the ones that are coming to the fore as “Israelites”, it remains up to YHVH to sift out the ones who are merely jumping on the band wagon.  Yet we do need to be mindful that there is more happening out there in regards to Israelite identity, although at times to the point of “competition”. To all that we say, let the real Israelites rise up! 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Matters of Our Identity


I would like to share with you a few observations and reflections that I had after reading (most) of, Ten From The Nations by Rivkah Lambert Adler. 

This book gives a good idea of what is going on in this present move of the Spirit, which has been labelled “Torah Awakening” among non-Jews, especially Christians.  It also portrays the dangers and pitfalls that such a movement can, and does in many cases, bring to the New Covenant faith.  For those of us who are believers in the Messianic New Covenant Scriptures, the phenomenon of conversion to Judaism and abandoning Yeshua and the New Covenant writings is troublesome.  However, we had better refrain from judging the individuals who have chosen that path, as YHVH is the one who looks at the heart and is the ultimate judge.  Often this path has been undertaken by those who grew up in the Christian religion and now are simply exchanging one religious system for another, whether it be Humanism or Judaism or any other “ism”, and it may even be “Noahitism” (if I may coin a new term).

The main tenant of Judaism today is Jewish identity as defined by religious authorities, and as a result, when it comes to understanding “Israel” (the people) most think only in terms of Jewishness. Thus, the ten lost tribes, as well as father Abraham, are understood to be Jews. In Christianity the understanding is basically the same; the non-Jews are called “Gentiles”, while the Jews are Israel. 

In the State of Israel not many are aware of this Hebrew Roots occurrence.  However, at the end of Rivkah’s collection of testimonies some rabbis and other orthodox individuals share differing viewpoints about non-Jews studying and observing Torah.  But where does this leave us, who identify ourselves not as Jews or Gentiles, but as Ephraimites, or Israelites from the stick of Joseph?  The terminology found in the New Covenant writings, at least in its English translations, is “Gentiles” and “foreigners”, both of which are understood to mean non-Israelites.  We are the “no people” and “foolish nation” that are supposed to provoke the Jews to jealousy (Romans 10:19; Deut 32:21).  Many Hebrew Roots “Gentiles”, who have taken on a Jewish lifestyle and at the same time keep Yeshua as their Lord, Savior and Redeemer will never provoke a Jew to jealousy, unless it is accompanied by Elohim’s righteousness emanating from the heart and expressed in life because of the faith.  “For in it the righteousness of Elohim is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just/righteous shall live by faith’" (Romans 1:17).
On a different note, we, of the lost tribes of Israel, are now approaching the 3rd Congress, which as most of you know will be held just before Pesach 2018.  I think we need to put a strong emphasis on YHVH’s words to:“…remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15).  All the way through the 40 years in the wilderness our forefathers never celebrated the Passover, a fact that caused them to forget the One who delivered them out of slavery and brought them into relationship with Himself.  The same goes with our New Covenant Passover and deliverance out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light in Messiah Yeshua. We too are liable to forget the Almighty Father, the First Cause and Initiator of it all.

Over a month or so ago I wrote about our trip to Crete, its connection to the Bronze Age and the evidence of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt.  But the most important part of that was not about Pharaoh, nor even about the Israelites, nor the date of the Exodus, but about the centrality of YHVH the Elohim of the Exodus.  Thus we must ask:  Was the Exodus about the lamb, the blood, the firstborn, the crossing of the Sea of Reeds?  Or was it about the Elohim of the Exodus? The exhortation to the redeemed Israelites was to remember who it was that saved them and brought them out of slavery. The same goes for the New Covenant Passover and Exodus. It is not about the Romans, the religious leaders, nor is it even first and foremost about the Lamb, Yeshua. “The Father was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself” (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:19). He sent His Son Yeshua, He orchestrated all of the circumstances in order to fulfill His purposes. Additionally, it was Elohim the Father that raised Yeshua from the dead (see Romans 4:24).   Just as it was when the first Passover occurred, so was it in Yeshua’s one - it is about Elohim the Father and His mighty right arm that saves, redeems and delivers His people (us) from the slavery to sin and death. This is our Exodus. YHVH exhorted His people over and over again to remember their slavery. We too have to hear those words: "… you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt [this world], and YHVH your Elohim redeemed you from there…” (Deuteronomy 24:18).  Only after that appeal do we hear Him say: “keep my commandments”; or “therefore I command you to do this thing” (Deuteronomy 24:22).  Passover comes before Shavuot and to add, there would be no feast days or even Shabbat without it.

Let us give honor where honor is due, as did the apostles:   “Grace to you and peace from Elohom our Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.  Blessed be the Elohim and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Messiah,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:2-4).  


Egypt is not the only location connected to the Passover in the Exodus story. There is another, at the end of the journey when the new generation crossed into the land. Perhaps we too need to look at what took place at the end of the wilderness journey. Both Exodus stories (exiting Egypt and the wilderness) came to completion when the redeemed crossed water barriers (a sea and a river).  Before the crossing of the Jordan into the land, Joshua commanded the people to sanctify themselves.  Thus the New Covenant writers remind the redeemed who have come out of the world of sin and death to: “…sanctify YHVH Elohim in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15);   “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of Elohim” (2 Corinthians 7:1), and thus, as mentioned earlier, displaying the in-built righteousness gained by our Father’s action through His Son. Like our forefathers in their wilderness, we too have another Exodus awaiting, when we shall cross the proverbial Jordan, leaving the wilderness behind to enter the Promised Land.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wilderness Betrothal (and beyond) continued:


In the last article of the wilderness journey, I quoted the following scripture:  "Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I [YHVH] had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:8 emphases added). The failure of the Sinai engagement/betrothal was not due to YHVH’s unfaithfulness, but His beloved’s. She just could not overcome the power of Sin that operated within her and stand against the influence of her surroundings.  The natural fallen Adamic inclinations were working against her/them (Israel). Although some were trying their best to keep all of the statutes, laws and ordinances, the problem of the uncircumcised heart still remained.  The worship of the golden calf soon after Israel had experienced YHVH’s presence and heard His voice, is but one example.  It was no different during the days of the Mishkan in Shiloh, and when the two respective Temples stood in Jerusalem, resulting in YHVH’s action and attitude toward her, as expressed by the prophet in the above quote.  Even the redeemed New Covenant believers of today, notwithstanding the circumcised heart and ability to hear the Spirit, are still under the influence of the power of Sin, which has not been completely defeated (see Romans 7:5, 23).
Interestingly, the Jeremiah excerpt does not mention Judah as being subject to all the conditions of the divorce (“not my people”), and separation that ultimately met the destiny of Northern Israel.  Thus, since YHVH still calls the Jews “ami” (“My people”), it may be concluded that Judah is still bound to the Law Giver through the Sinai agreement. Judah was assigned by the Almighty to carry the scepter of the Torah “until Shiloh comes” (Gen. 49:10). Remember, YHVH’s purpose for giving the commandments was to reveal Sin and bring His people to the knowledge of its existence and influence (see Romans 3:20). Since this was all planned and foreknown by YHVH, He immediately told Moses to build the Mishkan and set up the priesthood.  This explains why the religious Jews of today long for the Temple to be rebuilt, as without it and its sacrificial system there is no atonement for Sin, nor the implementation of the demands that the Torah places upon the Levitical Priesthood.  This provision of grace, through animal sacrifices in set apart edifices, was to last until such a day that YHVH would usher in a more permanent solution to the spiritual heart condition of His people and ultimately for all humanity.  So when the New Covenant was brought to light through the blood of the Messiah, did Judah’s role end as Law giver? If so, then there would be no need for the Torah and the Prophets.  The apostle makes clear that the commandments and the Torah were given to lead one to the Messiah.  “Therefore the law was our tutor to Messiah, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).  
As already mentioned, Judah was given the scepter of the Torah and the responsibility to hold the commandments and the instructions for righteousness before the eyes of a sinful humanity, especially their brothers, who have become ‘gentilized’. This assignment, obviously, has not alleviated or exempted the Jews from having the same contaminated nature as the rest of humanity.  That, however, did not stop the Almighty from fulfilling His word for and through the House of Judah.  Judah was the one He chose to lead the nation, establish the Davidic dynasty, bring forth the promised Messiah and be the first stick of Ezekiel to be restored as a nation (which is so clearly evident today).   The rejected House of Joseph was prophetically labeled “Lo Ruchama” (no mercy) and “Lo Ami” (not My people) and were set aside, while the House of Judah (the Jews) remained identifiable as “Ami“ (my people).  This identity links the latter to the Sinai covenant and to the marriage contract.  
Judaism’s demand to submit to rabbinic authority is still a carryover from the days of Moses, when the people asked him to hear from Elohim for them.  “Then they said to Moses, ‘you speak with us, and we will hear; but let not Elohim speak with us, lest we die’" (Exodus 20:19).  Yeshua infers to this when addressing His followers: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.  Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (Matthew 23:1-3).   
Again, YHVH used the Jews to carry the Law and prophetic writings to the nations for the purpose of convicting the world of Sin and unrighteousness, which then leads to the need for atonement and forgiveness by the Creator. 
Throughout Church history it has been promulgated that the Gentile Church has replaced the Jewish People. The interpretation (by the ‘Church fathers’) of Paul’s letters led to casting aside of the Torah of Moses and with it also the Jewish People, along with their prophetic calling.  If that was what the apostle had in mind, then why did he make the following statements:    “What advantage then has the Jew [House of Judah], or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of Elohim…” (Romans 3:1-2 emphases added). Or “... to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the Covenants, the giving of the law, the service of Elohim, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Messiah” (Romans 9:4-5 emphasis added)… ? And there is more. This time addressing Timothy:   "All scripture [the Tanach] is given by inspiration of Elohim, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This last one, in itself, is enough to convince anyone that its author was not dismissing the Torah, Writings and the Prophets.  On the contrary.  “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of Elohim without effect?  Certainly not!  Rather, let Elohim be found true [faithful and just]” (Romans 3:1-4).  Regardless of the present heart condition of Judah, YHVH will be faithful to accomplish what is written in her prophetic destiny, just as He has and will for the House of Joseph/Israel.
So, what about the divorced House of Israel, which was cut off and sent away? Do YHVH’s purposes and plans for them still hold true?  If not, His word has failed and Elohim would be found to be a liar.  “For the gifts and the calling of Elohim are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29a) “In the same way Elohim desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for Elohim to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil [the holy of holies] Yeshua our High Priest” (Hebrews 6:17-19), and if I may add, also our Bridegroom.  
I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy;  I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know YHVH” (Hosea 2:20). 
All of these attributes of the Father were seen when Yeshua’s blood-covered body was hanging on the execution stake.  Just moments before Yeshua cried out “Eli, Eli, why have You forsaken me”. The Father took the Sin infested life of Man and immersed it into the flesh body of Him who knew no sin, so that Yeshua could take that life into death with Himself, fulfilling the judicial consequence of Adam’s disobedience.  Thus, we died with Him and were buried with Him.  The good news is that Yeshua’s flesh body did not stay in the grave.  Because we were in Him in death, we are also with Him in His resurrection. This is how we, the adulteress and harlot, have become “a virgin” as expressed by Jeremiah: “Turn back, O virgin of Israel, turn back to these your cities”(31:21).   "Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance… And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says YHVH" (Jeremiah 31:13-14).  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wilderness Betrothal – part 1


As we have seen all through the journey thus far, YHVH has been consistently giving His instructions to the ‘wondering wanderers’ through Moses. At the present juncture He uses His mouthpiece to communicate remarkable promises of being a kingdom of priests and a “segulah” people.  Moses being YHVH’s singled out messenger hears the following: "Behold, I come to you [Moses] in the thick cloud that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever" (Exodus 19:9 emphases added).   It is as if YHVH is saying “obviously they are not going to listen to Me Moses, so maybe they will listen to you and believe you”.  The condition of the uncircumcised human heart was obviously not concealed from the Almighty,  as later on in Israel’s journey He makes the following pronouncement: "Yet YHVH has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day” (Deuteronomy 29:40).  Here, under the present circumstances and spiritual condition of those standing at the foot of Mount Sinai there was not a chance that anyone would venture close or ‘take a peak’ at Elohim.  As a matter of fact, Moses brought back a warning from the Creator of Heaven and Earth that no one was to even touch the mountain, lest they would perish.  Additionally, further precaution was taken, and that was the boundary that the people were instructed to put around the mountain.
Hence, the experience by the foot of Mount Sinai was not designed for the Israelites to embark on an intimate relationship with their fathers’ Elohim.  And if we deem that we can get to know Elohim through this Sinai  Covenant, we will be sorely disappointed. Yet this Covenant does teach us a great deal about Him.  This agreement was given to prepare the way and the people for a future day when the Spirit of Elohim will take up residence in their circumcised hearts, as promised through the prophets of old (see Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 35:11, in the Hebrew).
As a matrimonial bond, the Sinai Covenant is certainly extraordinary.   For one thing, sin was part and parcel of the Israelites’ nature, meaning that rebellion with its pride and self-righteousness was rife among them. Our forefathers’ failure to keep their side of the bargain, right from the start, was very evident.  How could they, then, be joined as a bride to a Holy and Righteous Husband? Were they not forbidden to come close, nor look upon their Spouse?  YHVH, for His part, did not address them directly, using all along Moses as a mediator.  This bride’s nature did not allow her to keep the statutes, laws and ordinances to which she had committed herself.  In fact, the Ketuba-marriage contract would prove to be very problematic for Israel. Yet at the same time, once the promised New Covenant makes its appearance, the Torah will become very beneficial.  “Behold, the days are coming, says YHVH ‘when I will make a new Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them’ says YHVH’” (Jeremiah 31:31-32 emphasis added). It is through this New Covenant that Elohim will reveal Himself to His Sinai bride in an intimate way:  “I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know YHVH” (Hosea 2:20). 
But at this point the fledging wilderness people are only just embarking upon their future history with this ‘strange’ Husband who took them out of bondage on eagles’ wings, and brought them to Himself here at camp Sinai. He will remind them and their seed, over and over through all their future journeys, of His sovereign work for His Name’s sake and on their behalf, especially how He had dealt with the Egyptians and then with the Canaanite nations.
In some way Israel’s journey parallels our own; those of us who have ‘come out of our Egypt’ but are still in the ‘wilderness of the peoples’, living as we do, being foreigners/strangers in other nations. YHVH is causing us too to pass under His disciplinary rod (see Ezekiel 20:35-37).  As was stated in previous chapters, one of the purposes of the commandments of Sinai was to bring to light the horror of Sin and its consequences in our lives personally and corporately.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56).  This is why the “commandment is holy, good and spiritual”. “So did that which is good cause death in me, absolutely not, it was Sin working death in me” that is the culprit, and not the Law (see Romans 7:13).  But without the spiritual light and power of this desert agreement, we would have no knowledge of what it is that causes us, and all of creation, to groan under Sin’s rule and its consequences of “death and decay” (see Romans 3:20).
The Torah was given on what we call today Shavuot or Pentecost, a feast and a time which is celebrated by the Jewish nation for the giving of the Torah.  Christianity, on the other hand, basically celebrates only the giving of the Holy Spirit to the “church”.  But those who have received the New Covenant circumcision, the Spirit and the restored identity should also incorporate the giving of the Torah to the celebration of this feast.   Unfortunately, many are and were taught that the “Law was nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14), and therefore once embracing the New Covenant it has no effect upon their lives. This is a false notion and demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the apostle’s writing. Hence a study of Romans chapters 3 through 7 should be very beneficial in that regard.  As you are well aware, it was not YHVH’s Word (His Torah) that was done away with on that execution stake. “Therefore, my brethren, you were made dead to the law through the body of Messiah, that you might be joined/married to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for Elohim” (Romans 7:40 emphases added).  Yes, we have been crucified with our Messiah - when He died we died and have been raised with Him into newness of life (see Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15). For what purpose? In order to be married to another so that we will bear the fruit of righteousness to Elohim. 
What does it mean married to another”?  Who were we married to in the past? Was it not the One who thundered and shook the mountain, whose voice sounded like a shofar and whose appearance was accompanied by fire and smoke?  Was it not YHVH the Husband who accused Israel and Judah of adultery?  "Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I [YHVH] had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous/unfaithful sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:8 emphases added).  Thus the whole house of Jacob attested to humanity’s bondage to Sin.  As King David penned in Psalm 14 and 53, words that are quoted in Romans 3: “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after Elohim. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one’" (Romans 3:10-12).  
The scriptural usage of the two words, “adultery” and “divorce” certainly indicates what Israel’s relationship had been with YHVH.  As pointed out by the prophet Hosea, YHVH also accused Israel of harlotry.  But in spite of this behavior and the divorce, YHVH was still watching over Israel to do what He had promised: “I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven” (Exodus 32:13). Today some believe that YHVH replaced Israel with a highbred seed and thus the promised multitudes do not originate from Sarah’s and Rebekah’s wombs, compromising greatly the Creator’s integrity and credibility as the Elohim of Israel.  There are also those who go so far as to postulate that when Abraham was one hundred years old he was partially blind, like his son Isaac whose eye sight failed him later on in life, so that when he looked up at the heavens he only saw a few thousand of the brightest stars.  This only proves that the …foolishness of Elohim is wiser than men, and the weakness of Elohim is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
In order to stay faithful to His promise of multiplicity, Elohim hid the seed/life of Israel, the seed of faith, in earthen jars of human flesh and buried them under the laws of sin and death. Yet just as He multiplied our ancestors profusely in Egypt, He also continued to do so throughout the generations. His plans and purposes are immutable, regardless of what Israel does or doesn’t do.  Even if we are in unbelief and are unfaithful, “He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Today, we are in this wilderness together as one people, one nation, as were our forefathers.  For generations we have found “grace” (Jeremiah 31:2), but as this wilderness age draws to a close Ezekiel’s 20th chapter, along with many others, are being fulfilled at an increasing pace and we do not want to be found lagging behind our Shepherd and Leader Messiah Yeshua.
More on Israel’s marriage to her Elohim in the next segment.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Covenant in the Wilderness

In the previous chapter, Order and Structure in the Wilderness, several questions were posed. Rephrased they may sound something like this:
Can Elohim speak through unexpected or unusual agents or means? If so, He is He perhaps highlighting the fact that at times we rely too much on existing mindsets and preconceived ideas and expectations?
Is it incumbent upon us, as present day Ephraim, to formulate some organizational structures by way of preparing ourselves to live and act as a cohesive company, looking to the unknown day when we will become a nation again in the land?
And, is the Father expecting us to respond to Him by displaying our faith and sincerity regarding our eventual ingathering? 
But let us now move on to the next phase in the wilderness journey.
The Wilderness Nation has now arrived at one of the most significant sites and moments in their entire history (past and future).   They were encamped in front of the Mountain of Yah in Sinai.  Did they have any idea what this was really going to be all about, or were they like sheep being led by the Almighty to a divinely ordained process and experience?  In the diary of the Exodus we read about Moses exiting the camp and climbing the mountain.  Perhaps what he had in mind was that YHVH would speak from a burning bush again.  But instead YHVH spoke to him from the mountain.    "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel, ‘you have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself’” (Exodus 19:3-4). The first thing that the Divine Deliverer reminded Israel of, was what He had done to the Egyptians, their taskmasters.  One would think that after a mere couple of months they wouldn’t have to be reminded, but because their basic needs and present conditions loomed large in their minds and what with having a rebellious nature, the great testimony quickly diminished and drowned in their fears. 
That particular generation had been subjected to life-threatening slavery and bondage, so much so that they were totally unable to leave Egypt on their own accord, let alone survive three months in the harsh desert conditions.  The Egyptians had in mind to kill off this prolific people group hence they subjected them to extreme oppression.  The spiritual, mental, and physical   state of the Israelites was so bad that back in Egypt they could not even respond to Moses’ message. Additionally, their moral standards had also declined, that they had even taken out their frustrations on one another (e.g. Exodus 2:13-14).  And yet, in spite of this impossible situation the unseen and unknown Elohim of their forefathers brought these slaves out by His Spirit (“on eagle wings”).  But where was He taking them to? From YHVH’s prospective it was to Himself!  It was not about the Mountain, it was not even about the Promised Land. It was about a loving Father who is covenant-keeping and watches over His Word to perform it. 
In all of this, there is an important lesson for us to learn and remember, as we equate ourselves to our ancestors and to YHVH’s relationship to them. We too were slaves in this world - to sin and death - and the only way we could come out of bondage was by the mercy and love that the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had for them (i.e. these patriarchs). Being in their loins and of the same seed/life, as were our predecessors, we also benefit from this eternal love.  This is why in every generation YHVH could make this statement: “When I brought you out of the land of Egypt”.  Thus, in a manner of speaking, we were also in the wilderness with our ancestors.  This holds true for coming under the covenant at Mount Sinai, just as YHVH declared to our forefathers: "I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before YHVH our Elohim, as well as with him who is not here with us today” (Deuteronomy 29:14-15).  We may conclude then that, the great and awesome occasion was not designed only for the “Israelites of old”, but also for those who were far off in the generations to come, even though they were destined to lose their identity.  This is why one of the most important aspects of the New Covenant is to restore our identity as YHVH’s people who came under the Law of Elohim at Mount Sinai.  With this restored identity we can understand when Scripture says:  “But when the fullness of the time had come, Elohim sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 emphasis added).
Yeshua specifically was sent as a Kinsman Redeemer to those whose forefathers agreed to the Sinai Covenant.  Hence, as we saw above, in our generation we too are the beneficiaries of this bond. YHVH intervened in our lives and is carrying us by His Spirit to our next corporate divinely ordained destiny as His people and nation.  
But YHVH had more to say to Moses and to His people regarding His relationship to them:  “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine” (Exodus 19:5 emphasis added).  Knowing the state of the human heart, YHVH obviously took into consideration that His addressees would not be able to obey His voice and keep this conditional covenant.  So why did He make it in the first place?  Without this agreement between Israel and Elohim, it would not have been judicially possible for another covenant - that was part of His plan of redemption - to be revealed at a later time. 
And so, with their “I do” the people of Israel entered a marriage-like relationship with the Spirit of the Word, ratified by an agreement in the form of statutes, laws, and ordinances. Even though this agreement was doomed to fail from the ‘get-go’, it was going to be used by the Almighty to bring to light the hidden darkness of the heart. “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12).  Israel was going to be the bearer and witness to the rest of humanity of the reality of “sin” and its consequences. But in time, the same nation will become Elohim’s witnesses of the path leading back to the Garden of YHVH’s Delight and His kingdom.  The true reason for this official act at Sinai was going to stay hidden until a future time in YHVH’s overall plan of restoration which He is accomplishing according to His divine protocol through His chosen people, His special treasure, the “segullah” which is His possession or property.
At Sinai He signed His name to a deed of ownership, therefore the House of Jacob and the children of Israel had become “a people for His Name’s Sake”.  This title deed, or scroll of redemption, is what we see in the hand of the One sitting on the throne in the book of Revelation (Revelation 5:1). 
But when Israel failed to keep their end of the covenant, did that mean divorce? Such a severance could only take place if one of the parties would have died, or if YHVH’s Word was to declare it explicitly.   The annals of the Tanach record such a statement, specifically issued to the House of Israel/Joseph by the mouth of Hosea the prophet: Then Elohim said: ‘Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your Elohim” (Hosea 1:9).  But although YHVH cast them off and rejected them He did not abandon Israel’s northern house completely, as is evidenced by declarations that He would sow and multiply them in the earth: Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are My people!' And they shall say, 'You are my Elohim!' "(Hosea 2:23).  It is important to note here the words “the earth”, which call to mind YHVH’s words at the mountain:  “All the earth is Mine” (see above, Exodus 19:5).  In other words, the world was going to be the “field” in which He would sow the seed of Israel
Let us now take a quick look at the House of Judah.  They were preserved strictly by YHVH’s mercy, as He said: “Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by YHVH their Elohim, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen"  (Hosea 1:7). YHVH gave that house a mandate to take the Torah to the nations, as they had been given the scepter or rod - “shevet” (see Genesis 49:10) of authority to execute YHVH’s purposes for the Torah.  Moreover, Elohim also gave them leadership which was realized in and by the House of David, and then by the person of the Messiah.  Once we understand the reason for YHVH giving the Law at Mount Sinai, we will appreciate the task that the tribe of Judah was given, even though they too were not able to keep that covenant.
So what was YHVH’s purpose in giving all those commandments in the first place?
To answer this question we have to rely on the New Covenant writings.  Firstly we have to see that that Covenant was spiritual in nature:  “For we know that the law is spiritual…” (Romans 7:14a). That is a no-brainer; anything that comes from YHVH’s Word is spiritual!  When Moses came down from Yah’s presence he was aglow from only seeing the back of Elohim.  What will it be like when “on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight [literally, before His face]” (Hosea 6:2)?
Setting that aside, let us look now at the reason why the commandments were given:  “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before Elohim.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin(Romans 3:19-20 emphases added).  This seemingly brief statement is telling us something very significant about the conditions contained in the Sinai Covenant. YHVH did not only have Israel in mind; He was taking into consideration the original act of rebellion in the Garden and the partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of “good and evil”.   It was at that point that sin entered the heart/life of man, and another spiritual kingdom had legal access to rule humanity.  In spite of Israel’s calling and status before a Holy and Righteous Elohim, their heart was no different than anyone else from among the human race. This became evident all along the wilderness journey and beyond.  
Israel was called to be the prime example of Man having lost his identity as a son of Elohim, becoming the son of disobedience, but conversely Israel will also become YHVH’s prime example of the redemption of mankind’s first fruits (see James 1:18).  For Israel to have this dual function, it had to come under YHVH’s law of strict obedience to His commandments for life and righteousness. But then because of the power of Sin, it would prove to be impossible. A very revealing statement is found in Romans 5:20a: “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound” (emphasis added). The Greek word for “entered” in this context is “pareiserchomai”, which literally means to “come in alongside”.  This raises the question: alongside what? It would have to be alongside something that was already there, meaning “Sin”. It is the “same” Sin which had entered Man’s heart shortly after his creation. This is why the Law/Torah is spiritual, as its operation will also be a spiritual one, but not for the purpose of achieving YHVH’s righteousness or justification, and quite obviously only Israel was subject to this judicial order.

With this understanding as a backdrop, it may be stated that the tribe of Judah was given a ‘spiritual anointing’ to carry the scepter or rod of this Covenant of Sinai. The House of Judah actually has in hand the greatest evangelistic tool of all times, given to all Israel as a school master in order to bring them to the Messiah of the New Covenant (see Galatians 3:24).  The Torah also contains the best of any instructions for righteous living, and if lived out perfectly the promise of righteousness would have come via the keeping of its every letter (see Galatians 3:21).  “Therefore the Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). Hence, for the redeemed ones of Israel, the Torah is still a practical tool and guidance for expressing YHVH’s kingdom life and righteousness. After all, it is His Word that became flesh, dwelling in us by faith.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Administrative Order in the Wilderness Camp

After the Amalekites fled the scene and the Israelites settled back down in their tents, at the foot of the mountain, Moses’ father-in-law showed up bringing his family with him, that is Moses’ wife and sons. Before any kind of national organization could be put into place, YHVH was about to have His appointed leader attend to his own family.  Obviously this is one of the most important issues in a budding nation. Without the families being set under the divine order of the Kingdom of Elohim, the nation, which YHVH is forming will be devoid of a strong foundation. “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Messiah is head of His body; and He is the Savior of the body…  Husbands, love your wives, just as Messiah also loved His body and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:23-25). The expression of true love is not compatible with hierarchal governance, as love under-girds and does not overlord; its gives life and does not take it; love serves and is not served. Love cares for and supports the family.

Hidden in Moses’ sons’ names was a message for Moses himself.  ”Gershom (for he said, ‘I have been a stranger in a foreign land’) and… “Eliezer (for he said, ‘the Elohim of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh’)” (Exodus 18:3-4). When Moses faced his children once again, he had to recall the help and deliverance that he had been granted by the Almighty. Additionally, the restoration or reunification of that family served as a reminder to the people that, they too had been strangers in a foreign land and had been delivered from the same (above-mentioned) sword. 

As the house of Joseph in this generation, we too are included in the company of  Peter’s addressees, whom he defines as ‘paraepidemous’-aliens-strangers in the nations of our residence, living alongside the local or native non-Israelite people.   YHVH has been reminding the wanderers all along the way what His mighty right arm has done for them/us.  So for an extra boost a Midianite priest comes to them, rejoicing over the goodness of YHVH in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians (Exodus 18:9).  It seems that the Midianites were not the only ones that were impacted by Israel’s miraculous rescue and salvation.  Some of the other nations living in the vicinity heard and were filled with fear, just as was prophesied in the Song:  “Fear and dread will fall on them; by the greatness of Your arm they will be as still as a stone, till Your people pass over, O YHVH, till the people pass over whom You have purchased” (Exodus 15:16).  

Are we aware that our spiritual deliverance has also had the same effect on the rulers and principalities of this age?   When Yeshua was here in flesh and blood the demons recognized him, shuttered and even pleaded with him not to torment them.  Now that He is in us and we are in Him, how is it that those same spiritual entities are not just as afraid of our presence?  Or are they? Perhaps we are underestimating the results of the ‘finished work’! 

Returning to our historical account  – Moses’ father-in-law witnessed his daughter’s husband judging disputes in the Israelite camp from morning till night, with hundreds of people standing around waiting to hear the verdicts and decisions that pertained to their grievances. This would have taken Moses, who was heading for a ‘burn out’, away from his newly reunited family. All this made Jethro very concerned.  Moses was so busy with this work that, quite likely he did not have time to seek YHVH for wisdom as to solutions for the daily dilemmas that faced him. YHVH’s intervention took the form of a Midianite priest who stepped in, and suggested that the arbitrator needed to share the responsibilities by selecting or vetting men with certain qualifications who would come to his assistance. While not taking away from the kingship and rule of the Elohim of Israel, Jethro proposed the following regarding these potential officers:

"And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.  [This is foundational; otherwise the people would do what was right in their own eyes.] Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear Elohim, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them [the people] to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you.  If you do this thing, and Elohim so commands you, then you [Moses] will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace" (Exodus 18:20-23 emphases added).  Please notice that, subject to Elohim’s command (quoting Jethro’s above-cited words), the potential officers were not to lord it over the people, but were to teach them the statutes, laws, and ordinances or right rulings for civil order in the families, communities and tribes of the nation. These laws were a pre-cursor to the Torah that Israel was about to receive shortly from YHVH.

Moses never once protested or challenged Jethro’s advice. On the contrary, he proceeded to do as he was told. Did Moses ‘know in his spirit’ that it was YHVH’s voice speaking through a Midianite priest? Did he feel ‘deep down’ that it was time that Israel became somewhat more organized, and did the reasons postulated by Jethro make so much sense that it did not for one minute raise the thought, one that nowadays is commonplace in parallel situations: ‘This could be the work of the flesh, and not of the spirit, but perhaps after I pray about it I’ll know more’. Also, did Moses know that he and the people he was leading needed in some way to respond to the Elohim who did so much for them, and take a pro-active stance? Was this somehow a prerequisite to the giving of the Torah and the enactment of the eternal Covenant with Israel? 

Even before the great ‘Torah and Covenant event’, some of the laws were already active.  Paul infers to this principle:  “…for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of Elohim, but the doers of the law will be justified;  [citing as an example] for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves,  who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (Romans 2:13-15). 


Referring back to the above-raised questions and to the dynamics described, it may be worth our while to examine their application to the situations and condition that we are in, during this interim and indefinite time period of our wilderness sojourn.  Once again, the beginning of structure forming, delegation of administrative responsibilities, by way of it also being a pro-active response denoting willing participation on the part of the various members of the Israelite community, may all be useful examples for us to consider. This being especially so, when highlighted by the fact that all this took place just prior to one of the most significant events in the life of the People of Israel.  YHVH seems to have taken favorably to this development, in spite of the fact that in Exodus chapter 18 there is no mention of “thus said YHVH”.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Warfare in the Wilderness


Up to this point in Israel’s short journey in the wilderness, complaining, murmuring, and fear of perishing from hunger and thirst have been at the forefront.  Even after Elohim gave the Israelites their desires they still remained un-repented from harboring all those negative attitudes, and therefore were not really experiencing freedom.  We have already noted that the Hebrew people were prisoners to their fleshly desires and fears, to the point that they were even willing to go back to slavery for the sake of their pots of meat, leaks and onions.  Can you imagine the conversations that were carried on the airwaves during those days; the gossip, the accusations that were leveled at Moses and Aaron? All that in spite of the fact that Moses told them that it was not him and his brother whom they were judging and condemning, but YHVH Himself.  From their point of view Moses lied to them about going to a land of milk and honey.  Dying of thirst or starving to death was not what they envisioned.  He had already disappointed them before, and here again they were at death’s door. Thus they wanted to stone Moses and Aaron. But YHVH, again by His great mercy, charged Moses to take the rod with which he “stuck the river [Nile] and strike the rock” (Exodus 17:5), thus supplying water in the desert.*

Our wilderness journey is sometimes marked by similar behavior.  Often we tend to find scapegoats to blame for our problems or circumstances.  Yeshua, the leader and head of His nation/body maintains that "that which we do" (or even think about) regarding "the least of these, His brethren, we do it to Him".  Fear and stress about our simplest needs has us behaving at times just like our ancestors, although the Messiah left us with instructions to not worry about food and clothing: "And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious/fear filled mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things.  But seek the kingdom of Elohim, and all these things shall be added to you” (Luke 12:29-31). 

The ‘world’ and its kingdoms with the variety of their tantalizing merchandize can become objects of worship, whether overtly or covertly.  When they do, it is but a short path to sin, as these creature comforts become a (false) source of contentment, satisfaction, excitement, granting temporary peace, joy and relief.  The Word of Elohim points out that Lucifer, “the ruler of this world has made the earth tremble… shook kingdoms… has made the world as a wilderness and destroyed its cities” (Isaiah 14:16-17 emphasis added).  Thus, in spite of the lights and glitter of the world, as long as it is under the dominion of its prince, it is nothing but a dry barren desert.  But as for us, although we are in the world, we are not to be of it (ref. John 17:16). 

Because the Children of Israel carried on in their rebellion against YHVH’s headship, asking in unbelief:  "Is YHVH among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7), He brought on the scene one of their relatives to greet them with the sword: Esau’s firstborn grandson Amalek.  It is interesting to note that many years before, when Jacob was returning to the Land, Esau came with 300 men to meet him.  At that point he did not harm his brother, because he had sworn that he would not do so until after their father’s death.  Now several centuries later, Esau’s progeny felt that they had an opportunity to eliminate the seed of Jacob.  The spirit of revenge, hatred and murder was still at work in these cousins, who were about to carry out their progenitor’s oath. Once we understand this episode in the wilderness, it is not hard to know what is happening today in our generation.  With our Israelite identity restored to us while still in the wilderness of this world, we could become a target of the same spirit and people group.  Did YHVH not declare that He would have war with Amalek from generation to generation? When Israel was in Egypt they were protected by a foreign power, but now they were a (seemingly) rag tag army of people in an unprotected environment, with only a few swords and maybe some farming tools with which to defend themselves.  Notice that Amalekites went after the weak and the stragglers.

It is good for us to note what YHVH says about this cousin of ours.  Let us examine his name:  “Am” of course means “a people”, while the root m.l.k (mem, lamed, kof) forms the verb “malok”, which means “to decapitate or wring the head” (of a fowl, such as in Lev. 1:15 and 5:8), just as Haman the Agagite (of the Amalekite royal house) wanted to do to Mordechai the Jew. This should be a wakeup call in our generation, as it is this very spirit that is making attempts to cut us off from the headship of our Messiah and our Elohim.  To decapitate the body of Messiah, in a manner of speaking, is a work of the spirit of Amalek.  “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from Elohim (Colossians 2:18-19 emphasis added. See also Eph. 4:14-16, taking note especially of verse 14: “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine”, and the ‘remedy’ for that condition).  

Let us return now to the battle scene that took place in Rephidim, in the Wilderness of Sin. There we see the wielding of the rod of Elohim up on a hill, while simultaneously wielding the sword in the valley. It was Moses, with the help of his brother Aaron the Levite and Hur of Judah, whose responsibility it was to lift up the rod, while Joshua the Ephraimite led an Israelite warring team who were able to subdue their enemies only while the rod on the hill was lifted up. In later generations Israel’s Messiah would be lifted up resulting in a total victory over principalities and powers of darkness.  Like Joshua the Ephraimite, leader of the military force, we too can now go out with total confidence and be victorious while Yeshua is being lifted up. 

The battle concludes with YHVH’s declaration regarding Amalek, and with a promise that He would utterly “blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (17:14). In other words, “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2) who is "under heaven" is destined to be removed and forgotten, and so will the “sons of disobedience” who carry and express his nature in this realm (of utmost importance is Ezekiel 20:38, to which we have made reference at the beginning of this series).  The concluding verse of Exodus chapter 17 goes on to expound on this enemy and his tactics; YHVH has a “war with Amalek from generation to generation” because the usurper attempts to lay his “hand on the throne of Yah” (literal translations).   Yah chose the nation of Israel to be the head and not the tail, which puts this nation at odds with the "prince of this world". 

Footnote:

*In Isaiah 53:4 the Suffering Servant is also being referred to as being “struck by Elohim” (literal translation; the same Hebrew word as the one used here for “striking the rock”). And of course, the reference to Him as the rock occurs several times both in the Tanach and in the New Covenant Writings, as well as to Him being the source of living water.