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.

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). 

Footnote:


         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).