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". 


*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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wilderness of Sin

After the enormous blessing at the oasis by the springs and palms of Elim, YHVH led His flock out of the desert of Shur to the next stage in their wondering. This time to a region called “Sin”.  In English that sounds quite appropriate (even though the name doesn’t mean “sin” in Hebrew), as the Israelites continued to murmur and complain against Moses and Aaron, but this time it was a food issue.  Again they accused Moses and Aaron of having taken them to the desert only in order to do away with them.  Something very important about their and our hearts is being revealed here by YHVH.  This was not only about complaining and discontentment, the Israelites’ state of mind was even worse than that; Egypt/the world still had (and has) more of an attraction than the vision and promises of Elohim.

The world of slavery had far more to offer them than their present condition: "Oh that we had died by the hand of YHVH in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full”! (Exodus 16:3), they mourned. This newly freed crowd had forgotten about the cruelty and sufferings of slavery.  They were hungry, thirsty and fearful.  Therefore they were willing to trade their freedom for a “pot of flesh”.  Notice, though, how they still believed in the sovereignty of YHVH who, as far as they were concerned, should have taken their lives in Egypt, just as long as there was food there!

What an example for our lives today as believers, those whom YHVH has transferred out of the kingdoms of this world and into the kingdom of His beloved Son! Even though we are in the desert of the nations, Yeshua is the reigning King in our lives, and His spirit is leading us to His ultimate destination.  With the above example before us, we should ask ourselves: “Am I complaining that YHVH’s provisions are not sufficient and still deeming that the world of sin and inequity has more to offer than His loving kindness and righteousness?” 

I like to repeat Jeremiah 31:2 as a reminder that in spite of the heart condition, “Israel found grace in the wilderness”.   However, YHVH’s favor was granted not because the Hebrews earned it, but because of who they were as His People.  Remember that YHVH said to Moses to tell Pharaoh: “Israel is My firstborn” and “let My people go”.  This was not about the great assembly there in the wilderness. This was about a covenant keeping Elohim, then and still today. 

So, in the present situation YHVH tells Moses:   “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you” (Exodus 16:4).  Many a time in Israel’s history YHVH intercedes on their behalf because of and for His name sake, as His righteous reputation is at stake. Even the prophets make mention of this in their writings, for example: "But I acted for My name's sake, that it should not be profaned before the nations among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:9). "Then you shall know that I am YHVH, when I have dealt with you for My name's sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,’ says YHVH Elohim " (Ezekiel 20:44; 36:22).

Even in our generation YHVH still knows who His ancient people are, and is accomplishing His purposes for His name’s sake (see Ezekiel 36:16-38), fulfilling every word that He has spoken to, and concerning them.  Although we have yet to see this great assembly of Israel in our generation, what is happening today is for the purpose of turning the hearts of the seed, progeny, children or sons of the forefathers back to their identity as Israel, since the majority of Israelites do not know yet that that is who they are.  Hence turning to the Torah is for the expressed purpose of restoring the ancestral identity.  There is a very severe warning in Malachi 4:6, that if this doesn’t take place YHVH “will curse the earth”. 

There are four curses that Israel is warned about in Ezekiel 14:   “For thus says YHVH Elohim:  ‘…My four severe judgments… the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence -- to cut off man and beast…’” (Ezekiel 14:21).  It is no light matter when the Spirit of His grace (or favor) has been given for such a time as this - hence this solemn warning.  In Revelation chapter 7 there are four angelic messengers mentioned, who are poised on the four corners of the earth to execute these very judgments (curses). But then another messenger rises, from the east - the rising of the sun.   This emissary comes with a very important message addressing the other four.  “And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our Elohim on their foreheads’" (Revelation 7:2-3 emphasis added). This seal may not be anything external at all, such as an imprint on the skin, but rather, an ‘imprint’ upon the mind.  YHVH will seal the identity, even the tribal identity, in the minds of those who belong to Him.  This is in preparation for the great exodus that is mentioned in Jeremiah 3:16-19. 

And so, YHVH rained bread from heaven, and as an extra bonus also gave meat in the evening. But for the people it did not come without a cost; more conditions, instructions and testing from Elohim:  “And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My instructions [the Hebrew word there is “Torah”] or not” (Exodus 16:4).  With the orders in regards to the provision of food for each tent or family, we see for the first time the introduction of a day of rest.  Each day they were to collect an omer of manna, while on the sixth day a double portion for the Shabbat was given, as YHVH was not about to provide that blessing on His special day, as if to say, “I’m resting, but I will bless you with a double portion on the sixth day”.  It is important to note the specified amount, of an “omer”. We know that Yeshua was that omer-wave offering so that we could be accepted by the Father (John 20:17; read also Leviticus 23:11).  The Messiah said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41).  We are privileged to be able to partake of this living bread daily and at the same time remember how we have been taken out of bondage.  Just as YHVH instructed Moses and Aaron to put an omer of manna in a jar and place it in the Tent of Testimony, so too we have an opportunity to rise every morning and collect the manna of the Word and hide it in our hearts (ref. Psalm 119:11).

Friday, April 14, 2017

Oasis in the Wilderness

As we saw in the previous Chapter, the Mara experience should be met by the kind of teshuva that rids us of any root of bitterness. Our ancestors (whose change of heart, if there was one, is not recorded) immediately after their Mara experience and the ensuing (conditional) promise: “I am YHVH your healer” (Exodus 15:26), were taken to the desert oasis of Elim,“where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms” (v. 27). It was as if YHVH wanted to assure His children of His care, regardless of their present behavior and disposition.

The beautiful oasis of Elim provided our forebears their necessary sustenance and a time for healing, “I will be your ropheh” - YHVH’s mercy, at that time, covered their rebellious hearts.  Yeshua demonstrated the Father’s heart toward the sinners when He went to dine with those whom his contemporaries particularly singled out as such (as if they weren’t), upon which occasion He stated: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).  This is the key to understanding our encounter with the wilderness.  YHVH’s goodness/mercy leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4).  “Thus says YHVH: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness -- Israel, when I went to give him rest’" (Jeremiah 31:2).  Rest is the destiny, but without repentance leading to righteousness we may not arrive.

Interestingly, Israel’s arrival at Elim sometime before the 15th day of the second month gives us a glimpse into a ‘second chance’ possibility made available by our Heavenly Father.  “On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it [Passover]. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs… But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of YHVH at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin” (Numbers 9:11-13 emphasis added). However, if we fail to respond, just as the above example of altogether neglecting the Pesach offering (Yeshua) shows, we stand in danger of being cut off from YHVH’s covenant and people, and obviously also from our designated destiny. This place of second chance is curiously a friendlier environment, which sometimes makes it even harder to remember YHVH’s commands.  

Even though not much is said about the Elim location, what catches our attention are the figures 12 and 70 and their significance. As we know:  “All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy” (Genesis 46:27).  Also, sometime later, YHVH commands Moses to, “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you.  Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Numbers 11:16-17). On and on throughout Scripture the figure 70 speaks of leadership and bearing responsibility, not to mention 70 in terms of time (“the period of fulfill[ing] the word of YHVH by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath [rest], to fulfill seventy years” (2 Chronicles 36:21).  In Jewish tradition 70 is also, symbolically, the number of all the nations of the world. The word that Jacob bestowed on Ephraim, the blessing of becoming the “fullness of the nations” (Genesis 48:19 literal translation), could mean therefore that the Israelite/Ephraimite seed was to be sown in all of those 70 nations, until the full quota is met (see Romans 11:25; Hosea 7:8), possibly even of leadership. Much later in history, a prophetic word came forth: “Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6 emphasis added). What kind of fruit will be produced by "Israel’s blossoming", and how will it happen?

Returning to the desert oasis, the 70 trees were date palms. Thus the result of "Israel’s blossoming" will produce “dates”. The date palm, from which a special type of sap is obtained and defined as honey by Scripture, is the only one of the Land’s seven special species that grows also in the desert (Israel having been scattered to the "desert of the peoples" Ezekiel 20:35). Indeed, the righteous are compared to the palm date: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree” (Psalm 92:12), while the “fruit of righteousness” is mentioned several times by the apostles (Phil. 1:11; Heb. 12:11; James 3:18). So how will Israel help produce this sweet fruit of righteousness throughout the world’s proverbial 70 nations? The answer is found in our oasis picture: by providing living water from its 12 "springs". The nation of Israel (12 tribes) are promised: “YHVH will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought [desert/wilderness conditions], and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11 emphasis added). Where are these springs of living water located, and what is the source of the water? Yeshua stated emphatically:  "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38 emphasis added). In the meantime, let’s ask ourselves: is there a present day oasis that we may enjoy according to Biblical parameters, especially if we add to it the figurative "twelve" and "seventy"?

"A Song of Ascents of David. I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of YHVH.’  Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!  Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where the tribes go up, the tribes of YHVH, to the Testimony of Israel, to give thanks to the name of YHVH” (Psalm 122:1-4 emphases added).

Here we see Israel’s twelve tribes, particularly in association with the “ascent” to YHVH’s house in Jerusalem (being a reference to the seasons of the feasts). As to the “fullness of the peoples” – the proverbial ‘prophetic’ seventy – we may read the following: "All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O YHVH, and shall glorify Your name” (Psalm 86:9 emphasis added). And – “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of YHVH’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it” (Isaiah 2:2 emphasis added).  In the meantime, however, Israel’s ‘lost and now being found’ who at this point are ‘mere’ first fruits of the “fullness”, are ascending to Jerusalem in YHVH’s high holy days. In the “compact[ed] together” experience, YHVH is making a space in time and a place for an oasis experience while being Himself the source of living water to those “first fruits” representatives of all twelve tribes.  Elim, therefore, provides a prophetic picture of the greater destiny of all Israel and also points out in a number of ways to the path leading to this destiny.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Parched in the Desert

What a time of celebration! Moses and Aaron leading the congregation, singing to YHVH of the horses and riders being thrown into the sea.  Miriam, with timbrels, leading the throng of women in song and dance.  But then, inevitably, the reality of the circumstances hits as the People of Israel make their way into the Wilderness of Shur.  Shur means “a wall” and possibly gets its name from the waters that parted and formed a “wall” during the crossing through the Reed Sea (even though the Hebrew word for that ‘wall of water’ is not the same).  Our forefathers were also walled in by high rugged mountains, as they traipsed through deep valleys and gorges. On our journey we too are walled in by our circumstances and natural restrictions, while learning to adapt to the conditions that this faith journey presents, but let us not forget that the Spirit is hovering over and leading us.
We are keenly aware by now of YHVH’s stated reason for taking our forefathers (and us) through the wilderness. But moreover, His reason is not only in order to examine their and our hearts' condition, but also so that they (we) would come to know His heart and willfully submit. In slavery one does not choose obedience, as one is totally controlled by the cruelty of an outside force.  But once that power is removed, it takes time to adjust to freedom and then to willingly obey the new master. 
It did not take long for the first signs of the desert reality to manifest:  “So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea… and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water” (Exodus15:22).  No wonder the travelers started to complain, crying out to Moses!  They were parched and near death after three days without water.  Moses their great leader, whose name means “drawn out of water”, was not able to provide them with that much needed substance, but he did cry out to YHVH. The answer came back (again) with these words: “this is a test” (v. 25). In that desert terrain the Almighty did eventually bring His people to a water source, but lo and behold - it was bitter! Our challenged forefathers did not pass the test that was before them; as it was not only the water that was bitter, but also their hearts. The memory of their slave masters lingered on, and without being able to grant forgiveness they were destined to wallow in bitterness and hatred. The environment and conditions exposed their hearts, as is indeed often the case for us as well.  In our walk on this dry path we too find ourselves complaining and murmuring about our circumstances. We had envisioned wine and roses, but then our everyday situations turn sour and we feel let down, and disappointment sets in toward our leaders and others close to us. Consequently, the thoughts and words that come out of our hearts transition into deeds/works which are far from righteous (see Galatians 5:19-21).  We raise our complaints, seeking for advice and prayer, to which the response is usually in the form of ideas such as: Pray more, fast, read Scriptures, attend all the meetings, pay your tithes, etc.  In a way YHVH rejoined similarly to our fore-parents when He placed conditions upon them:  "If you diligently heed the voice of YHVH your Elohim and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians for I am YHVH your healer” (15:26).  

At the same time, YHVH already knew that the Hebrews were not able to “sh’ma” (diligently listen/obey) and live up to His instructions, as their spirit may have been willing but the flesh was weak. And so, being compassionate, He did show Moses an “etz” - a tree or stick – which if cast into the bitter water would make them sweet. This granted the sons of Israel temporary relief. The tree that Yeshua hung on, on the other hand, symbolizes not only Messiah’s ability to transform our bitter water (nature and experience) into sweetness, but also to do much more, and that, for all eternity. Albeit meeting the need, these desert waters were still not the living waters that Yeshua promised (see John 4:14). Let us, from our vantage point, never settle for anything less than Yeshua’s tree and living water.  (Perhaps the “etz” - olive tree - of Jacob has also been thrown into the bitter waters of this world for the purpose of sweetening them.)    

The “etz” that Moses cast into the waters teaches us that the Creator places in our desert environment natural elements (such as trees, plants and more) that provide a means for maintaining health and bringing about healing. In our natural state we are still subject to ailments, and so need to learn obedience through the things that our outer man suffers.  By such processing we will come to hear His voice and know YHVH as our Rofeh (healer).

The demands to listen and obey were in fact commandments and statutes, even before the official giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai! What were some of those commands? The marking of Aviv as the beginning of months 12:2); Remembering the Exodus (12:42); No uncircumcised were to celebrate the Passover, and "Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine" (13:2). But perhaps the main ones were to fear YHVH, believe Him, and Moses and “listen/obey My voice”.  All of these were connected to what had taken place back in Egypt. Seeing that these commands were issued at such an early stage of the journey, was indicative of the importance of remembering what YHVH had enacted for the People of Israel while yet in a state of slavery. May we too never forget, as already mentioned, that “while we were yet sinners Messiah died for us” (Romans 5:8). And just as these pre-Sinai commands were to be kept also upon entering the land, so are we to keep in mind all along the journey our own emergence out of Sin’s slavery, no matter how far along we have come on our spiritual journey.

The wilderness is naturally hard on the flesh, as it is the flesh that comes in contact with the outer environment. However, the spirit-man is hidden in the Mighty One of Israel. Paul states it this way:  “For you died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in Elohim.  When Messiah who is our life is manifested, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4; see also 1John 3:2).  In other words, once we know Him, we will also know who we are.

"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were immersed into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).  We too have been immersed… into Yeshua’s body on the ‘etz’ - in His impalement, burial and now also in His resurrection. The spiritual reality of the desert-sojourners has definite applications for our lives. As emerging Israelites, we are to learn, know and understand what our ancestors experienced in their wilderness journey and learn the lessons that are there for us. 

Many believers today are returning to their “Hebraic Roots” and Israelite identity.  In so doing, they almost immediately sing “Shma Yisrael” - hear/listen/obey.  Thus, when YHVH brings us to the knowledge of our “bitter waters”, where we find ourselves judging, murmuring and criticizing others, may we remember to: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see YHVH:  looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of Elohim; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15 emphasis added). 

 It is evident that the wilderness journey is not an individual walk. One is by necessity connected to others. It is the journey of YHVH’s firstborn nation, His household, His body, and we are all members joined together as His witness people* (read: 1 Corinthians 12). 


         Twice in Exodus 13 it says that YHVH’s accomplishments for His people are to be “a sign on the hand and a memorial [or frontlets] between your eyes” (verses 9 & 16). Let us examine this curious instruction: “On the hand” in Hebrew can also mean “through (someone)”, or “by (someone)”. In other words, the “between the eyes” injunction is to keep foremost in one’s memory and expression YHVH’s deeds, and thus “through” the ones who do so will come forth the sign, testimony, and witness of: “what YHVH had done to me when I came out of Egypt” (v.8), “in order that YHVH’s Torah will be in your [our] mouth” (v. 9), and for a testimony of the “strength” of His “hand” by which “He brought us out” (vs. 9&16).   

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stepping into the Wilderness

 "Thus Israel saw the great work which YHVH had done in Egypt; so the people feared [Yir’at YHVH], and believed YHVH and His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

Everything that the Israelites experienced from the moment YHVH began to pour out his judgments (plagues), all the way to the drowning of the Egyptian army, had to do with His Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread.  The Hebrews’ faith now rested on the great work that YHVH accomplished before their very eyes.  In that moment in time, they feared YHVH the Elohim of their fathers, and now also believed in Him AND in His servant Moses. Yeshua, from a historical perspective, says the following: "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"  (John 5:46-47). 

In the future YHVH would remind Israel many times of their slavery in Egypt and of His mighty outstretched Arm of deliverance.  But as we know one cannot live by signs and wonders alone, as was proven out by our forefathers after they turned away from the Reed Sea and stepped into the wilderness. As was already pointed out, one has to have personal face to face interaction with YHVH in the context of everyday life’s circumstances in order to develop a relationship with Him, a relationship which will reveal one’s heart condition.

Up to this point the People of Israel experienced Elohim’s power and authority over an enemy that enslaved them, and the protection by the blood of a lamb when “death” passed over their homes. We too, as we continue along our journey, need to remember what our Heavenly Deliverer wrought for us through His Pesach offering - Yeshua - and the resultant defeat of the spiritual enemy who up until then kept us in slavery to sin!  While, unlike our forebears, we cannot see the enemy’s army floating in the waters of our immersion, we have received the same grace as they did, although in a different form; through the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua who is YHVH’s mighty Right Arm.  And so, although we did not cross the sea dry-shod, we had our own great launching - embracing by faith the New Covenant message, which is the gospel and apostolic teachings. And so, like the Israelites of old, we too are ready to take the next step into the desert by “believing in YHVH” and in His servants: Moses, the Prophets, Yeshua and the Apostles. 

Let us recall YHVH’s purpose for taking the Children of Israel through a hot and dry land: "And you shall remember that YHVH your Elohim led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  Our journey is, and will be no different. Going through this wilderness wasteland is a learning experience of trust and faithfulness which will eventually take us to our inheritance and rest.  But in order for this to happen, the remembrance of YHVH’s first feast of the month of Aviv must accompany us all the way to our destination. Significantly (and not coincidentally), it was the first feast that our forefathers celebrated after crossing the Jordan.  Writing to the Colossians, Paul points out that YHVH’s feasts are “shadows of things yet to come” (2:17), meaning that they are prophetic and hence are still being fulfilled now and will be in the future; in us personally, and for us corporately as a nation.

A close examination through the lens of faith, at the great work that Elohim accomplished through Yeshua, will reveal to us that we are able to turn away from our (Reed Sea) immersion and face the wilderness with confidence that He will take us to our destiny and destination. Our Heavenly Father’s judicial act in reconciling us to Himself through the flesh body of His Son, the Passover Lamb, set us free from slavery to the dark powers of this world (see Colossians 1:21-22). “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).  This all took place before we ever crossed over into the wilderness experience, while we were still slaves to sin in our proverbial Egypt. “But Elohim demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Messiah died for us” (Romans 5:8).  When the Messiah died we died, and as a matter of judicial law - all men died (ref. +Corinthians+%A1416&version=NKJV"2 Corinthians 5:14-16).  Amazingly, had the “spiritual” rulers of this age known what Elohim was going to do, “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). By the same token, had Pharaoh known that his army’s chariots would drown in the sea, would he have still dispatched them?    

The Israelites are now going to embark on their journey with only a memory of what was behind them, but with a word of hope and promise regarding a “land of milk and honey”.  Will YHVH’s ‘Passover Performance’ be sufficient to carry them through? Or is there much more to “believing in YHVH and His servant Moses” than what they had known up to this point by the shores of the Reed Sea?  If we take a look at the Hebrew word for “believe” - “aman” (alef, mem, noon) - we find it is more than just seeing and believing signs and wonders. “Aman” has living and active connotations that have to be worked into us through trials (testing), tribulations, and blessings (grace).  These hidden characteristics of “aman” are part of the equipment needed for the journey through a dry and thirsty land. 
To be continued

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Where the Sandal Meets the Desert Dust

In the previous chapter we spoke about the Torah and the Vision. But none of the instructions nor the vision itself will mean anything unless we see them in the context of our everyday circumstances.  YHVH is creating these conditions for the purpose of fulfilling both His Word and Vision, in the corporate and individual life of our nation.   

You have heard the saying “where the rubber meets the road”. I had to smile when this thought came to my mind for the title of this chapter. I looked up some definitions for this idiom. Here is what I found: 
- At the point in a process where there are challenges, issues, or problems. 
- Where the practical reality or crucial test is. 
- A place or circumstance at which the implementation of a plan or intent is to be achieved.   
There are other idioms that correspond to the aforementioned, such as: 
Brass TaxEngage with the basic facts or realities
Nitty Gritty: The specific or practical details; the heart of a matter, or the essential substance or details of a matter; crux.

If we are YHVH’s people with a divine destiny, and presently are in the wilderness, we need to grasp some cardinal issues about each day’s step by step progress (as the ‘rubber meets the road’) in the respective circumstances that He is creating before us and for us. Scripture calls this “redeeming the time”: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil…” (Ephesians 5:15-16).  When we deliberately and consciously walk in the Spirit, at least one sandal will always meet the dusty road toward the vision, or the goal which Elohim has promised. “So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). 

How do we obtain this wisdom?  YHVH’s answer is: “The fear of YHVH is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).  James says that, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of Elohim, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting” (James 1:5-6).   If we do receive His wisdom, we will also see a change of nature in our character and behavior. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). That sounds like the maturing process of the fruit of the Spirit (See Galatians 5:22).

So what is the connection between the fear of YHVH, wisdom and our journey through the wilderness?  Perhaps our ancestors can help us understand the link.  What was the first lesson that they learned after they crossed the Reed Sea into the wilderness?  “Thus Israel saw the great work which YHVH had done in Egypt; so the people feared [yir’at YHVH], and believed YHVH and His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).   “YIR’AH” is a word we should all learn. It means: to fear, revere, be afraid, to stand in awe of, be awed, reverence, honor, respect, to cause astonishment and awe, be held in awe, to inspire reverence or godly fear or awe. This one most important state of being, in our relationship to YHVH, is the first footprint that was stamped into the dust there on the banks of the Reed Sea.  From their vantage point the Israelites saw what happened to Pharaoh and his army; YHVH had cast the enemy into the depth of the sea and the water became the divide between slavery and freedom.

Our ancestors stood on the sands of the desert shore and witnessed this awesome event, and then broke into a song which we too need to carry in our hearts:   "I will sing to YHVH, for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!  YHVH is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; He is my Elohim, and I will praise Him; my father's Elohim, and I will exalt Him…” (Exodus 15:1-2).  

YHVH’s mighty works that He performed in Egypt and by the Reed Sea were clearly visible, while for us this is often not the case.  But in spite of this handicap, and perhaps because of it, we should remember to check daily if we are walking in “YIR’AT YHVH”. If so, we will receive wisdom from above to guide and cause us to understand our circumstances. "The fear of YHVH is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10 emphasis added).  Notice that not only wisdom, but also knowledge of YHVH comes with Yir’at YHVH.  This kind of knowledge of Him will help to keep us humble and obedient. We cannot love someone we do not know! 

Let us examine a number of verses which enumerate the benefits of having this “yir’ah” attitude in our relationship with the Almighty:

The fear of YHVH is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).

For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of YHVH” (Proverbs 1:29 emphasis added).

Wisdom and knowledge will be the stability of your times, and the strength of salvation; the fear of YHVH is His treasure” (Isaiah 33:6). 

“Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him that glory may dwell in our land” (Psalm 85:9).

He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them” (Psalm 145:19).

The angel of YHVH encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them” (Psalm 34:7).  

By humility and the fear of YHVH are riches and honor and life” (Proverbs 22:4).  

The fear of YHVH is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 14:27).

The fear of YHVH prolongs days” (Proverbs 10:27).  

Oh, fear YHVH, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him” (Psalm 34:9).  

The fear of YHVH is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).  

In the fear of YHVH there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge” (Proverbs 14:26-27).

Better is a little with the fear of YHVH, than great treasure with trouble” (Proverbs 15:16).

"You shall walk after YHVH your Elohim and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4).

"The secret of YHVH is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant” (Psalm 25:14).

From these verses it becomes evident that our wilderness journey will be far more successful and blessed if we take our first step into the desert with Yir’at YHVH.

“You who fear YHVH, praise him! All you seed of Jacob, glorify him, stand in awe of him, all you seed of Israel” (Psalm 22:23).

"Great and marvelous are Your works, YHVH Elohim, El Shaddai! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the holy ones! Who shall not fear You, O YHVH, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy” (Revelation 15:3-4 emphasis added).