Friday, April 14, 2017

Oasis in the Wilderness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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