Friday, February 24, 2017

A Wilderness People's Vision and Destiny

When our Israelite forefathers were called out of Egypt and out of slavery, they were not just freed from bondage; they were also given a destiny and a destination.  And although they did not know the way to the “promised land of milk and honey”, they had a promise with a vision, without which, as it says in Proverbs “the people are unrestrained [out of control, as indeed was proven out in the wilderness], but happy is he who keeps the Torah (29:18).  What do Torah and vision have in common? The Torah, as the instructions of YHVH, is the pathway toward the vision, it lights up the way, or as it says in Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.  The Word of Elohim casts light on the pathways so that His People can find their way and cooperate with YHVH’s goals for them.  However, without the vision the Torah trail will end up causing the people to wander in cycles of repetitive religious rituals.  Hence the Torah and the vision (at which the Torah aims) are equally important.
At the same time we must also remember the words of the prophet:  “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Habakkuk 2:3).  Here is where our ancestors miserably missed the mark, thinking that the promise would be fulfilled quickly and easily, and the journey would be short; flying on eagle’s wings, as it were. But because that was not the case, they were not able to keep their eyes on the (unseen) vision. Thus, their immediate needs and fears caused them to draw back from the hope and confidence that their Elohim would do what He had promised, and take them to their destined habitation.  Even though they had, on a daily basis, many visual signs they failed to trust Elohim’s word and learn the lessons which were designed for them by their desert experience.    

Then, as well as now, the wilderness is a place of preparation. It is a place for hearing the Word, for practicing and putting it into effect.  One of the Hebrew words for preparation (in its root form) is ‘kuwn” and means to be firm, stable, or be established.  If YHVH is fully engaged in the re-gathering and reconstituting of the second stick/nation of the House of Yosef, He will raise the level of testing and trials that this remnant of Ya’acov must walk through.  We may only be at the beginning of this restoration, but what becomes the most obvious is the demand upon us to walk by faith and not by sight in a (many-times) unseen reality (see 2 Corinthians 5:7).

Closely associated with “faith” is “faithfulness”. The Song of Solomon 8:5 depicts a beautiful picture of the end of the wilderness experience: “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?”  What a wonderful picture of the grand entry into the land after the long dry barren journey! This is the company of the priestly nation made up of families (even the solitary are put in families, Ps. 68:6), men, women and children.  And so it says: “And to all who were written in the genealogy -- their little ones and their wives, their sons and daughters, the whole company of them -- for in their faithfulness they sanctified themselves in holiness” (2 Chronicles 31:18). To this the Apostle adds: Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of YHVH Elohim” (2 Corinthians 7:1). 

The wilderness journey affords us daily opportunities to offer ourselves a living sacrifice on the altar of obedience of faith (ref. Romans 12:1-2; 16:26).  The Torah, that is the whole counsel of YHVH’s instructions, illumines the path to the vision. Some may think that this journey is to culminate only in a heavenly destiny with no earthly relevance. However, we cannot disconnect the Word of Elohim from its earthly fulfillments.   The following Scripture, which was addressed to the northern tribes of Israel, illustrates the fulfillment of YHVH’s Word here on earth.  Remember, having only the Torah without the vision, or having the vision without Torah, the following will be out of reach:  "I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy;  I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know YHVH. It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer,’ says YHVH; ‘I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel.  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 2:19-23 emphases added). 

Where and how do we experience and attain this level of righteousness and faithfulness which will take us to the greatest “vision” which has ever been granted to a people, a people who are to lean and rest peacefully on the arms of the King of kings and Lord of lords? “… For those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful" (Revelation 17:14).


To be continued…

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Wilderness Community


As mentioned in last week’s article (A Wilderness Nation), Moshe expressed the purpose of the wilderness journey, from YHVH’s point of view, in the following words: “Do not fear; for Elohim has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin" (Exodus 20:20).   "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” (Deuteronomy 8:2).   Fear in Hebrew has two meanings “scared, fearful, afraid” or, “to stand in awe, reverence, honor and respect”.  Both meanings are embedded in the above quoted verse from Exodus.  

Although we are called to be a priestly nation, it is not religion that should be the vehicle of expression, but rather life laid-down for the purpose of serving and administering YHVH’s Kingdom life and light in and to families and local communities. This ‘mode of operation’ requires a renewal of the mind, as most of us (especially in the western world) have been brought up in a mindset and lifestyle that highly regards one’s personal independence and individuality.  The instructions of the Torah, the Prophets, Yeshua and the Apostles, on the other hand, do not advocate this kind of world view, but the opposite - interdependence and concern for others and their needs (see for example, 1 Corinthians 12: 14-27). This approach is not one of interference and intrusion, but of encouragement and support, not only toward friends and relatives but also in regards to the unbelieving neighbor, if need be, and not just one day out of the week.

The wilderness journey was and is today a 24/7 experience of living by faith, and daily facing the unknown, both in the natural and spiritual.  During their wilderness journey, our forefathers lived as a community of Israelites on the way to a promised land that they had not seen, nor experienced.  They did not even know exactly where it was located, just as was the case with Avram who, when initially called to ‘get out’, didn’t know where to.  Some of us may think we know all about our future and how the Spirit will lead us to what we think is the ‘Promised Land’.  We may even attempt to plan the way, but in the end YHVH will direct the unknown pathways (ref. Proverbs 16:9).  As mentioned above, we have to come to a point of renewing the mind, especially as to whether we identify as congregations of His redeemed people or, conversely, as communities. We are mostly conditioned to getting together for bible studies, worship services, socials and pot-luck meals, and in many cases these have become our long standing camping grounds from where we have not moved, having perhaps mistaken the crowd for the Cloud.  We have become dependent on those one or two gatherings a week just for a break in our daily routines. This is not to say that these meetings do not have their purpose and place, but in and of themselves they do not constitute community.  The definition of congregate is “to come together; to assemble; to meet”, whereas to commune means: a body of people or families living in close proximity and sharing their livelihood together…communicating intimately with; being in a state of heightened, intimate receptivity”.  These definitions and their application may not be even common in many a home or family, let alone among family groupings and other types of assemblies. Why do I keep emphasizing these issues? It is in order to remind us about the season and place we are currently in, and for the purpose of our present conditions. The desert is a habitation that YHVH uses as a means for His aims, and so for us it is a place where we are to prepare ourselves to receive what has been promised: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of Elohim” (2 Corinthians 7:1-2 emphasis added).

To enter into the fulfillment of YHVH’s promises one has to go through ‘gates’: "Open the gates, that the righteous nation may enter, the one that remains faithful. The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:2-3).  Faithfulness, steadfastness and trustworthiness are the main ingredients for successful family and community life.  Another component is the two commandments that Yeshua left us: “You shall love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Torah and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).  

If communities or home groups will work together for specific objectives, the levels of relationships will be deepen so that the journey may progress, while also putting to the test hitherto unexplored heights of trust and responsibility. Maturity in the body of redeemed Israel is based on the ripeness of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  The rotting and dying fruit of the works of the flesh (vs. 19-21) by this stage should not even be seen, let alone giving off its unpleasant odor.
  
YHVH also uses the wilderness and its conditions to “purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me” (Ezekiel 20:38).  He will reveal what is harbored in the heart, and the thoughts that are not of Him. Overcoming the evil tendencies will take perseverance and persistence.  The apostles left us with the Father’s instructions and the tools of truth to work with.  As already mentioned, the renewing of the mind is essential to all of this.  “Renewal” means that at some time in the past (before the Fall) man’s thoughts were pure, his motives uncontaminated, and his desires untainted. Even while in the womb of our mothers, our minds were pure and undefiled. But with the polluted spirit-life of Adam, and living in an environment that expresses the nature of this kingdom of darkness, the mind cannot remain in a pure state.  A good example of that rebellious nature is seen in toddlers, or even in younger children (babies), who so naturally resist the authority of parents.  

The Tanach and New Covenant writings are replete with instructions for each of us to take seriously, remembering that we are “under the rod”.  The power of the resurrected life in Messiah is able to accomplish the renewing process of the mind, but that means a serious commitment of obedience to the Word and Elohim’s instructions, especially those that apply to the internal (heart and mind) changes: “Be ye holy”.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things…  and the peace of Elohim, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Messiah Yeshua” (Philippians) 4:8-7)  

“For I am YHVH your Elohim. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, that you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). “For Elohim did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness, and sanctification”
(1 Thessalonians 4:7).


Friday, February 3, 2017

A Wilderness Nation or a Nation in the Wilderness


When our Hebrew forefathers were in Egypt they were still looked upon as a nation within a nation, as their forefather was called from the womb to be a “goy” (one people one nation. (See Genesis 25:23). However, they were a people living within a nation, and governed by that nation.  We see the evidence of this when YHVH had to obtain (via Moshe and Aaron) Pharaoh’s ‘legal’ permission to take His people out (e.g. Exodus 6:10-11, 14:17). However, even in their debased conditions the Hebrews did have elders with some type of governing authority, as is evidenced, for example, by Moses calling the elders together to tell the people about their impending exodus (ref. Exodus 3:16-17).  Then again, just before their departure from Egypt, Moses told every family elder to take a lamb for their respective houses/homes (ref. Exodus 12:21).  But it was only after departing from Egypt that YHVH recognized and declared Israel’s national identity as a kingdom of priests and a set apart nation (ref. Exodus 19:6), not without placing conditions upon them. At that point they were still without territory, and as nomads they had no permanent residency.  Nevertheless, this declared nation-in-the- making had a recognized governmental administration during its wilderness journey; both civil and religious, as well as already recognizable elders from their time in Egypt, as pointed out above.  The Hebrew word for elder is “za’ken” and means an old person or someone with seniority. The elders were often first born males, or ones who had proven their faithfulness in family and community affairs. This we have seen previously in the family of Jacob (as exemplified by the difference between Reuben and Judah), before the brothers went to Egypt the second time (ref. Genesis 42; 43).

The wilderness nation, or nation in the wilderness, was subject to the dominion and rule of the Almighty One of their forefathers. Moshe and Aaron were YHVH’s choice to lead and to basically judge the people’s disputes, until Moshe’s father-in-law stepped in and suggested that they needed to share the responsibilities by selecting or vetting men with certain qualifications.  Thus, 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 will do what is 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 [Moshe] will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace" (Exodus 18:20-23 emphasis mine).

Just after arriving at the Mountain, in the third month, Jethro brought Moshe’s wife and children to him, reuniting the family (see Exodus 18:5). It was at that time that Jethro noticed that his son-in-law was overwhelmed with the responsibility of judging the multitudes, hence his instructions as we read above.  Moshe took the advice and chose (perhaps under the guidance of the Spirit) seventy elders from the tribes of Israel. These selected ones were most likely already elders in their tribes.  Later, after the giving of the Torah and the building of the Tabernacle, we see Moshe again calling the seventy elders for a special meeting around the Tabernacle.  On this occasion YHVH bestowed on them the same Spirit that was on Moshe as a sign to the people (of His approval), and they all prophesied (just that one time). Here is the account: “So YHVH said to Moses: ‘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 tent 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).

Thus by instating these elders, the initial foundation of a civil administration was laid, while the spiritual leadership was invested in Aaron and the priesthood.  Moshe, for his part, was responsible for overseeing both offices.

In our day it is Yeshua who is gathering the people of Elohim, restoring our lost identity to us, and anointing us with the Spirit of Holiness. Thus the words of the prophets of old are being rapidly fulfilled.  One such relevant prophetic utterance is found in Ezekiel 20:34-35, reaffirming that YHVH intends to gather the seed of Israel from all the countries where He sowed them/us and to bring them/us back to the land of promise. Moreover He continues to declare: "And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face” (v. 35).  In verses 36 and 37 He further elaborates His plan, furnishing us with important details that we need to pay attention to: "Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,’ says the Lord YHVH.   I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am YHVH”.

Whereas the above-mentioned “wilderness” may not be a physical place, like the one that our forefathers dwelt in for forty years, but rather a ‘condition’, we too, like them, are and will be sifted during that time. In other words, our present time frame is one of preparation, which will no doubt intensify as time goes by. While “passing under the rod” (again, like our ancestors), meticulous attention to our spiritual condition is required of us. YHVH even uttered that he would bring out the transgressors as well as the rebels from our ranks, but they will not enter with those who have learned righteousness through obedience. And again, like our forefathers, we also need to consider the setting up of functional administration which pertains to our community life, to the families within those communities, and to our individual relationships with each other and with those outside, that is, those who reside in the wilderness/world. 

With much less of a visible reality and structure (when compared to our forefathers’ situation), and being redeemed under the renewed covenant, how does this wilderness pattern as it was experienced then, pertains to us in this day and age in the proverbial, rather than literal, wilderness?

The above quoted Ezekiel scripture gives us a clue as to being measured and tried during this time period and under these conditions. And so, again, with that in mind, as well as with the details that are laid out before us from Israel’s forty years journey, how do we transition from a religious congregational setting and mind set to a more community minded life style, while bearing in mind the fact that we are in an “under the rod” reality?\

To be continued…

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jacob's Burial and the Crown of Thorns


In Parashat Va’ye’chi we read about Jacob’s departure from his earthly sojourn and his amazing burial. Not only was he embalmed, Egyptian style, he was also mourned for 40 days, after which his hearse went with great pomp and ceremony to the land of Canaan, accompanied by a large entourage which included “all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his house, and all the leaders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the house of Joseph, his brothers… and there went up with him both chariots and horsemen, and it was a very great encampment” (Genesis 50:7,8,9).  Next “…they came to the threshing floor of Atad which is beyond the Jordan, and they mourned there with a great and very solemn lamentation. …” (v. 10).  Interestingly “atad”, which is rendered as a proper name here, actually means “bramble”, being a type of thorn.

The midrash in the Babylonian Talmud has some interesting things to say about this episode. Here is just an excerpt: “Joseph's crown lay on top of the hearse. Behind them followed members of the royal family of Pharaoh, princes and nobles and common people, in a procession that seemed to have no end. On the border of Canaan, 31 Canaanite kings were waiting to pay homage to the patriarch [as well as Ishmaelites, according to more of the midrash]. Seeing Joseph's crown on the hearse, they placed theirs, too, alongside. A memorial service was held in which great tribute was paid to Jacob.”

Rabbi Fohrman from Aleph Beta (www.alephbeta.org) adds that, these Canaanite kings were there to originally strike the massive party that was carrying Jacob’s coffin. But when they saw Joseph’s crown laid on the hearse, they all proceeded to lay down theirs. So let’s ask: what was it about Joseph’s crown that brought about such a drastic change in the attitude of these warring individuals who were prepared to attack the entourage? These Canaanites and Ishmaelites were the descendants of two unwanted and rejected ancestors, namely Canaan in Ham’s family and Ishmael in Abraham’s. So, again, what was it about Joseph’s crown that caused these ones to lay down their own and give up their belligerent attitude? The rabbi explains that, they knew that Joseph, like them, was rejected and abandoned by his family. And because Joseph, although oppressed and afflicted, did not open his mouth (see Is. 53:7, not that R. Fohrman quotes this...), he was able to fully identify with the outcasts in a powerful and effective way, and thus disarm them by his very presence and action. In Revelation 4:10 - 5:1 we read about the twenty-four elders who fell “down before Him who sits on the throne and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying:  ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.’" 

What’s more, rabbi Fhorman informs us that the crowns around the coffin formed an arrangement which looked like thorns. Here we recall the name of the place of the burial, which was the Threshing Floor of Atad, with the latter, as mentioned above, being a bramble, a thorn. King Yeshua was coronated with a crown of thorns as He was being mocked and oppressed but, “He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).


So, whether the account in the Babylonian Talmud is true or just a conjecture, its interpretation by a contemporary rabbi (namely, rabbi Fohrman) certainly reveals a timeless truth that casts light upon the One who “was despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3), who by identifying fully with Man’s suffering was and is able to disarm all warring entities, causing them to humble themselves before Him. Philippians 2:10-11, quoting in a modified fashion from Isaiah 45:2 declares:  “… that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,  and every tongue should confess that Messiah Yeshuah is Lord, to the glory of Elohim the Father,” even some day all of Joseph’s brothers, as well as the Canaanites and Ishmaelites.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Idolatry

In the days of Eli the High Priest and his two sons Hophni and Phinehas, who were officiating in the Mishkan in Shilo, the Philistines were at war with Israel.   Shmu’el who had joined that family as a child, grew up in the proximity of the Mishkan, and when just a lad he heard the voice of YHVH declare the demise of Eli’s family.  Idolatry was running rampant in Israel at that time, including in the priesthood.  As a result YHVH caused the Philistines to make war on Israel. Over time, the Israelites had lost a number of their cities to the enemy.  On this particular occasion, Eli’s sons decided to carry the Ark of the Covenant to the battlefield, as Israel was being defeated by the enemy.  They had in mind that this holy article would bring them ‘good luck’ in the war.  Thus, the Ark itself had become an idol; just another of the gods, or an object that the Israelites were putting their trust in.  Our forefathers seemed to be prone to idol worship, adulterating their relationship with their Spiritual husband, Elohey Israel.
Is it any different today? Do we still serve idols, even as believers in the New Covenant?  Idol worship during those times was external and tangible in nature; objects that could be seen, like the Ashtarot, Baals and the many foreign gods of the nations.  In his letter to Timothy, Paul describes other types of gods that would become prevalent in the latter days: “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:  For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,  traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4 emphasis added).  The one most common idol in today’s world is humanism, which is the result of worshiping oneself and exulting in pride and self-righteousness manifested in the works of the flesh. This is illustrated in the book of Daniel by Nebuchadnezzar, who was the representative head of the statue which epitomized humanity and its achievements (ref. Daniel 2:36-38).
But this of course does not apply to us, believers in the Gospel of the kingdom… or does it?  In our day idol worship is seen as a thing of the past, definitely not pertaining to those who worship the God of the bible.  We attend church, synagogue, congregation, or a home fellowship, study the Word and give praise, honor and glory to Whom it is due.  This all seems well and good, but do we still have idols in our lives that we are concealing in our hearts?  To the New Covenant believers it is written:  Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is [oopsss..] idolatry! (Colossians 3:5 emphasis added).   Have you ever considered that when entertaining the “works of the flesh” (see Galatians 5:19-21) you were actually serving an idol and adulterating your relationship with Yeshua?  In the days of Shmu’el, the enemy was allowed to make war against Israel because of idolatry.  Is it not written: “Now all these things happened to them [Israel] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11)? 
We read in the scriptures: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves servants to obey, you are that one's servant whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)  “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (Romans 6:12), which is idolatry Yeshua spoke a truth that not only pertained to Him and the Father, but can also be applied to our relationship to Sin:  "Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him” (John 13:16).  Satan is the prince and power of the air, which is the spirit realm of the kingdom of darkness. Thus Satan, who is the “strong man” of his kingdom, sends his underlings to carry out his will – killing, stealing and destroying. These lesser entities are the ones that tempt us to cooperate with their fallen nature.  If we submit our will to their dominion, we become their servants, and in actuality we are worshiping the one who is greater than they, “Satan”.  Many are led to believe that Satan worship is some grotesque occult practice (which it is), but the evil one also masquerades as an angel of light, and his subtle tactics can fool even the most mature believers.  We need to realize that when we cooperate with the nature of sin, we are actually worshiping Satan and will experience the consequences by being defeated by our spiritual (and natural) enemies, as did Israel of old, unless we repent.  
After the loss of the Ark of the Covenant and the ensuing death of Eli and his sons, YHVH raised up Shmu’el to bring the nation to repentance.  “Then Shmu’el spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, ‘If you return to YHVH with all your hearts, put away the foreign gods and the Ashtarot from among you, and prepare your hearts for YHVH, and serve Him only; He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines’" (1 Samuel 7:3 emphasis added).  The Spirit of YHVH warns us throughout the Word that, if we entertain idols we will not inherit the Kingdom of Elohim (see Galatians 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9).  We cannot serve two masters.  When Yeshua was casting out demons, He was accused by the religious leaders for invoking Beelzebub. Yeshua’s response to them is also very important for us, helping to gain an understanding about YHVH’s Kingdom:  "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of Elohim, surely the kingdom of Elohim has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).  The evidence of YHVH’s Kingdom is our ability to cast down every evil thought and imagination that exalts itself against the knowledge of Elohim and His righteousness, peace and joy (see 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Distractions

Have you noticed that in the past few years, since the Media has given everyone a voice through the cyber entertainment world, there are more distractions, confusion, and mesmerizing influences, even to the point of gender mix-up?   However, what is more disconcerting is that multitudes of distractions are also operating in the Christian world, especially in the so- called Hebrew Roots movement.  The cyber world is full of teachers (rabbis, prophets, etc.) who are taking shots at what is happening, or will happen in the future. Some are even trying to take actions that they deem may help fulfill or advance their ideas of end time interpretations. 
The fascination and interest regarding the timing of Yeshua’s return is at epidemic proportions.   Sadly all of the above, and more, could create false hopes, accompanied by fears of apocalyptic destruction.   Instead of coming to know the Creator and Sustainer of life, these seekers reach for doctrines of escapism or knowledge that is even supposed to bring about (or hasten) Yeshua’s appearing on the Mount of Olives (Who will then ‘take care of everything’ for them, and ‘bring an end’ to all their troubles). 
One example of this kind of fascination and involvement is the building of the Third Temple. This being so because the Temple/Tabernacle/altar has to be in place so that the anti-Christ can come and set up his rule in Jerusalem (there is more to this scenario), as this is supposed to precede Yeshua’s stepping down on the Mount of Olives.  Here enters another factor: Are the individuals who are caught up with this really interested in the deep and sincere yearnings of the Jewish people for the rebuilding of the Temple, or are they propagating the idea (and perhaps even helping with this endeavor), just so that “anti-Christ” or a false messiah can (supposedly) deceive the Jews who will then suffer the consequences? This is a critical heart matter that has to be examined by those ‘to whom it may concern’. 
With all this activity, commotion, and goings on, one can miss the Spirit of prophecy (Yeshua) who is being made manifest (or “trying to”) in and through His presence in us, individually but more so corporately, in what we call His “body”.  Not to mention the fact that He is also fulfilling His promises and prophecies pertaining to and in the House of Judah - remember what YHVH said to that house in Hosea 1:7. 
The prophets of old always reminded YHVH’s people of Who Elohim is, and ‘quoted’ His own descriptions of Himself, such as in the following:   “For thus says YHVH, Who created the heavens, Who is Elohim, Who formed the earth and made it, Who has established it, Who did not create it in vain, Who formed it to be inhabited: ‘I am YHVH, and there is no other. I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth; I did not say to the seed of Jacob, 'Seek Me in vain'; I, YHVH, speak righteousness, I declare uprightness [truth/justice]’” (Isaiah 45:18-19).
Isaiah goes on to prophesy against the (religious) daughters of Babylon: “Therefore evil shall come upon you; You shall not know from where it arises. And trouble shall fall upon you; You will not be able to put it off. And desolation shall come upon you suddenly, which you shall not know.  Stand now with your enchantments and the multitude of your sorceries, in which you have labored from your youth -- Perhaps you will be able to profit, perhaps you will prevail. You are wearied in the multitude of your counsels; Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators stand up and save you from what shall come upon you” (Isaiah 47:11-13 emphases added).  These words may be applicable to some among us who are looking to “prophets” or “prognosticators” for the purpose of calculating when Yeshua will appear and what will be the signs of His arrival.*  Yeshua left us with examples of such, regarding His “appearing” in Mathew 24.  For over two thousand years some of these signs have been occurring in many of the generations (which only shows that His unseen presence has been present in all the generations).  However, He also said to His inquiring disciples, regarding His “coming” (though the term used there is, again, “perousia” – presence):  "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (v. 36).  So why do we spend so much time trying to figure out what the Father will not reveal until His determined time?
Many (spirit filled) believers have their eyes turned to these external signs and so have inadvertently strayed from the knowledge of His (Yeshua’s) Spirit that is now present in their own bodily mishkan/tabernacle.  The distraction of having to know the day and time of His appearing on the Mount of Olives, and all the accompanying signs which are supposed to take place before this happens have become an obsession, taking away from the believer the knowledge and purpose of His indwelling spiritual presence.  “And because you are sons, Elohim has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). “For as many as are led by the Spirit of Elohim, these are sons of Elohim. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption [Spirit of Yeshua] by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’" (Romans 8:14-15).  Paul again stresses the meaning of “Christ” or “anointing” in the following statement:   “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Yeshua the Messiah” (Philippians 1:19 emphasis added).  
Much of the strife and contention that is rife among believers, as well as personal inner conflicts, actually originate from an “anti-Christ” spirit which is working in their bodily ‘mishkan’, that being so because they are  blinded to Yeshua’s presence in them (read 1 John 2:18-29; 1 John 4:2-4).  The evidence of His indwelling Spirit is the manifestation of Elohim’s righteousness and our love one for another.  Yeshua makes several emphatic exhortations in regards to being watchful and preparing for His coming (e.g. Matthew 25:1 ff.), but none of those point to end time determinations or calculations.

So let us ask ourselves: Which is more important, to prepare for His coming so that His “perousia” presence in us will be revealed more and more, or to try and calculate and busy ourselves with endless end time predictions, especially when the latter is at the expense of the former?

Personally let me say that it has not been easy writing this, but since this issue has been weighing heavily on my heart, I felt that it had to come to the light, particularly as it seems to be a distraction taking away from the most weighty matter, which is “the Spirit of Yeshua in us the hope of glory” – to be displayed and made manifest in a most real and authentic way as a witness to the reality of our Creator “Father” and His more-abundant life.

The verb used in many of Yeshua’ references to His “return” is “erchomai” – arrival, whereas in 2nd Thessalonians Paul uses “parousia” – the Presence (shekina), being also the term found in the disciples’ question in Matthew 24:3

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Servant Priesthood

“YHVH sent a word into Ya’acov and it fell on Israel, and all peoples know it” (Isa. 9:8-9). Although this scripture is interposed in a negative context, its truth is doubtlessly applicable to everything that YHVH ever spoke to our forefathers. In spite of the fact that His word was imparted to them thousands of years ago, a historical perspective, as well as present day reality, both reveal that, “His word has fallen on the entire nation of Israel as a testimony to all peoples”.  Historically YHVH divided the Israelite nation into two, Judah and Joseph/Ephraim.  This in order that He would have two witness nations for a time, until He would join them again in His hand and in the land (see Ezekiel 37:19-21).

One of the many roles that Israel plays in being a witness nation. Is that of YHVH’s priesthood.  One of the “words which fell on Israel”, is, ”to be a kingdom of priests” (Ex 19:6). However, this proclamation may be read in a number of ways. The Hebrew word used in this text for “kingdom” is “mamlacha”, which can mean “priests who are under a kingly authority”, or “priests who themselves have dominion, sovereignty or royalty”. The Apostle Peter, in his letter addressing “the aliens scattered abroad” within the Gentile nations, refers to his addressees as “a royal priesthood and a set apart nation” (1 Pet. 2:9).  The noun “aliens”, or “strangers”, is translated from the Greek word, “parepidemos” which literally means “a people living alongside the heathens” (ref. 1 Pet. 1:1). It behooves us to ask, then, whom is Peter referring to? Who was the nation that was not residing on its own real-a-state?  It appears then that the Apostle is writing to Israelites who are not in their own land, but are scattered among the other nations.

Peter continues to identify these people by quoting the prophet Hosea. He addresses those he is writing to as “not My people”, being a reference to Israel of the House of Ephraim, or Yoseph (Hos. 1:10).  He goes on to say that through the redemptive work of the Messiah they are now “a royal priesthood”.  But as we know, Levi was the tribe that was selected temporarily to serve the Tabernacle and Aaron their firstborn maintained the priesthood. However, it is not that priesthood that Peter is referring to as fulfilling the divine call conferred upon the nation as a whole (ref. Ex. 19:6). Hosea already hints at this priesthood when he says to Ephraim: "Hear this, O priests! Take heed, O house of Israel! Give ear, O house of the king! For yours is the judgment…though I rebuke them all. I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me; for now, O Ephraim, you commit harlotry; Israel is defiled” (Hos.5:1-3). Why did YHVH refer to Israel (Ephraim) as a “priest”?

There was a priestly office in Israel before the Torah was given, other than the Levitical one, which is mentioned shortly before the latter order came into being.   In Exodus 19, which is one of the most dramatic chapters in the entire bible, Israel, YHVH’s national first born, arrives at the mountain of His presence in the third month. “I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to Myself” (Ex 19:4), is YHVH’s description of that part of their journey. He then goes on, elaborating on the special status they are to have among all the other nations.  And although all the earth was and is YHVH’s, these children or seed of Ya’acov were to belong to Him as His special treasure, or possession, and thus were not “their own”. Immediately following these declarations, YHVH identifies them as “a kingdom of priests”

Before YHVH descended upon the mountain in the cloud and fire, He gave orders for the consecration of the people, so as to enable them to stand before Him and hear His voice indicating their priestly role. When all of this is said and done, the people gather on the third day around the mountain, which YHVH had warned them not to touch. But they were to be present there, before Him, in order to hear His Word. One of the conditions for becoming YHVH’s kingdom of priests was to “obey His voice and keep covenant” (Ex. 19:5).

Because of man’s inherent weakness and tendency to worship that which he sees with His eyes and touches with his hands, YHVH had to send Moshe down the mountain a second time to warn the people not to touch the mountain, or break through the set boundary.  At this point YHVH commands Moshe to go down and to tell the priests to consecrate themselves (ref. Ex 19:22), repeating this charge twice. "Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to YHVH, lest He break out against them" (Ex. 19:24).

Who are these pre-Levitical priests?  Let us take a look at the ordination of the Levites. "Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine” (Num. 3:12). The Levites had replaced the firstborn’s position and role as priest. However not all Levites were to be the priest, only Aaron (the firstborn in Levi).  What made YHVH change the priesthood.  As is noted it occurred almost immediately after the Torah was given.
So with the coming of the Torah of Sinai, something changed in the heart of the people.  Paul in his commentary to the believers in Rome, he explains what happened.     Therefore by the deeds of the Torah no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Torah came the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).  With the conviction of sin and its results “death” and separation from a Holy Elohim and Father.  YHVH immediately gave Moses the Mishkan and an officiating priesthood to this day in the Nation of Judah.  However, with the New or renewed Covenant, YHVH through the death of Israel’s Messiah Yeshua gave to not just Israel, but for all the Adamic family a future and a hope.  

Let us venture back now to the day on which YHVH took the sons of Israel out of Egypt. One of the first things that He did was to take the first fruit unto Himself.  "Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine." (Exodus 13:2).  These firstborn of man and beast did not belong to themselves, rather they were YHVH’s for His purposes. These were the priests and the animals that were set aside, or separated, holy unto YHVH.

By scriptural definition a priest is a firstborn who does not belong to himself; he is YHVH’s special treasure and possession through whom YHVH will do His work.

After Messiah fulfilled His redemptive role as the Lamb that takes away the sin of the Cosmos (the present sin and death world in humanity), YHVH, in the form of the Holy Spirit, began to draw out of the progeny of Avraham a first fruit of the New Cosmic order (ref. Rom. 4:16; James 1:1,18, Heb 2:16). Ever since the initial outpouring upon the disciples on the Feast of Shavuot –Pentecost - in the third month, He has been germinating a remnant of the Abrahamic seed, which is to grow and become an expression of a Servant Priesthood after the Order of Malchizedec.  “To Him (Yeshua our high priest), who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us kings and priests to His Elohim and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev.1:5-6).

Ephraim