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 of their wilderness 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 for their lives.  They were therefore 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, 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 then 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 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.  We have yet to see this great assembly of Israel in our generation.  But what is happening today in the present move of His Spirit is to turn the hearts of the seed, progeny, children or sons of the forefathers back to their identity as Israel.  We are not all Jews. In fact, the majority is made up of Israelites who do not know yet that that is who they are.  Hence turning to the Torah is for the expressed purpose of restoring our 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 to us for such a time as this.  In Revelation chapter 7 we read about four angelic messengers 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, 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”, being that we are now counting seven weeks from the waving of the omer on the day after the Shabbat of Pesach. 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 article, the Mara experience should be met by the kind of teshuva that rids us of any root of bitterness. Hence even 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.
Thus that 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). But 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 their 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 nothing much is said about the Elim location, what catches our attention are the numbers 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. Thus, the word that Jacob bestowed on Ephraim, the blessing of becoming the “fullness of the nations” (Genesis 48:19 literal translation), could mean that the Israelites/ 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?

If we go back to our 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 also grows 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 (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 that 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).

 So 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 seventy – prophetically

“All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O YHVH, and shall glorify Your name” (Psalm 86:9). 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).  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 at 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 the “first fruits” representatives of all twelve tribes.  Elim, therefore, provides a prophetic picture of the greater destiny of all Israel and also in a number of way points to the path leading to it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Parched in the Desert

What a time of celebration! Moses and Aaron are leading the congregation, singing to YHVH of the horses and riders being thrown into the sea.  Miriam, with timbrels, leads the 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 nature’s restrictions, while learning to adapt to the conditions that this faith journey presents, with the Spirit hovering over and leading us.
     
Before going on, let us recall YHVH’s stated reason for taking our forefathers (and us) through the wilderness: “to know what is in their [our] heart”, and moreover, so that they (we) would come to know the heart of Elohim 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 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. Thus 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” of Yosef 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 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.

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 observation 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 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 we have come.

 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 on the ‘etz’ - in His impalement, burial and now also in His resurrection. There was a spiritual reality for the desert travelers, which Paul says that we are not to be ignorant about. We are to learn, know and understand what our forefathers experienced in their wilderness journey, as it is applicable to our present spiritual reality. 

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).   

Friday, March 24, 2017

Stepping into the Wilderness


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Where the Sandal Meets the Desert Dust

In the last “wilderness” article we spoke about the Torah and the Vision. But none of the instructions or the visions will mean anything unless we see them in the context of our everyday circumstances.  YHVH is creating these conditions for the purpose of fulfilling both His Word and Vision in the corporate and individual life of our nation.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can see from these verses that our wilderness journey will be far more successful and blessed if we take our first step into the desert with Yir’at YHVH.

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


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

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).