Wednesday, February 7, 2018

It Takes Two To Make One

In an interview with Kelly and John Mills, on BYNA’s online radio program - Reunion Roadmap - several of Kelly’s songs were aired. One of them, “Two By Two”, was about the many symbolic duplicates in Scripture that point to Israel’s two parts - the House of Judah and the House of Joseph; two trees, two witnesses, two lamp stands etc. One such pair, that was not mentioned and is frequently omitted from other references to the ‘two’, is the ‘two nations/goyim’ – the two separate people groups (Ephraim and Judah) who have had different prophetic destinies.  Obviously in Scripture there is an emphasis on the two separate (historic) kingdoms.  In this article I want to stress the importance of still differentiating Bney Yehudah from Bney Yoseph, as two distinct national groupings.  At times these two are viewed as two separate religious groups: Judaism and Christianity.   Coming from this perspective, conversion from one to the other is seen as a unifying factor.  However, religion has not and never will be a unifier.   According to Scripture the only unifying option is (ultimately) becoming one nation, one kingdom on the one land that YHVH covenanted to our forefathers (see Ezekiel 37:22).
The early Jewish Zionists understood that unity was based on their national identity even 100 years before the formation of the State.   At that time there was a concerted effort by a small remnant to bring the national identity of the Jewish people to the forefront of their conscience.  Peretz Smolenskin (1840-1885), for example, declared that the Jews were “not a religious grouping but a people.”  Another of these Jewish forerunners was Leon Pinsker (1821-1891), who wrote Auto-Emancipation.  
The nation of Joseph/Ephraim has not had the privilege of being YHVH’s known people through the generations, but we do have the birthmark of the “faith of our father Abraham” as a ‘starter’ (see Romans 4:16). This faith has succeeded in granting us a spiritual identity. But because genuine faith often morphs into religion, it has clouded over the natural heritage.   At the same time, having said this, we cannot underestimate the fact that the lost tribes’ impaired vision was by YHVH’s design, as according to His promises the seed had to be hidden during the period of its sowing.  In this way YHVH had a set time and a season for the fulfillment of His Word (see Isaiah 55:10-11).  But in the harvest the true sheaves of His sowing will be seen and then brought back to Zion’s threshing floors, so that: "The nations also will know that I, YHVH, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore" (Ezekiel 37:28).  
Initially YHVH ordered the prophet to take two etzim/sticks and to write on them.  But rather than focus on the symbolic act that Ezekiel was charged with, let us view this scenario from YHVH’s perspective and see what He is showing us through the prophet’s actions. We must bear in mind that it is He who is taking these two groups and identifying them as two separate peoples or nations. Judah, having been the first one to be ‘taken’, experienced its regeneration (at least in the natural) in the form of Zionism (as noted above).  As we know, it was soon after establishing the Jewish national identity that YHVH started gathering the second nation/people and identifying them as the “Ephraimite nation,” or Bney Yoseph.
Once YHVH identifies them, He begins to   ^l. dx'a,-la, dx'a, ~t'ao br:q'w") "…draw them near to one another…”  (Ezekiel 37:17 emphases added). (As mentioned, the prophet’s symbolic act in the past was a prophetic display of what YHVH is Himself doing in our day.)  Thus, YHVH is breathing life into the dry bones of the House of Joseph through the New Covenant, bringing them to their true identity as His people and reconstituting them as the second nation, just as Hosea prophesied: “on the third day I will raise them up” (6:2).  
Even as in Ezekiel’s day when the people were asking the prophet, “What are these?” so too today many are asking the same question: ‘What are these two houses of Israel that we are hearing about?’   Please notice the usage of “these” and not “this,” meaning that there are two separate entities and that “drawing near” or becoming aware of one another is an essential phase in the unification process.  At that stage the witness of the two is to be “before the eyes of the people” (ver. 20), that is after the two nations have drawn near each other they become clearly visible. It is then that the prophet continues to deliver a very powerful message of what YHVH is ready to do: "…say to them,  “Thus says Adonai  YHVH, ’Surely I will take the nation of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will ‘put them upon [or ‘on’ - literal translation] the nation of Judah, and make them one stick (nation), and they will be one in My hand…  and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; at that time they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again” (Ezekiel 37:19,22 emphases added).  
Again keep in mind that the focus is not on the symbolic act of the two sticks in the prophet’s hands (which was acted out some 2700 years ago), but for us now. It is all about what YHVH is doing with the Houses of Joseph and Judah as two nations.  Thus (from the above scriptures), we can infer that they will remain two distinct nations and kingdoms until they are both back in the land.  Knowing this, both need to respect where the Almighty has the other at this time, while He is overseeing their respective prophetic destinies until He makes them one nation and one kingdom in the land.  
At present the nation of Joseph/Ephraim is a nation within the nations while being gathered, restored, and raised up from oblivion.  From the vision of the dry bones, which precedes the description of the two sticks/etzim, we learn that the first stage of the dry bones coming to life is to “hear the word of YHVH” (ref. Ezekiel 37:4). The apostle Paul, writing to these dry bones in the valley of the shadow of death of this world, declared the good news of their Redeemer Messiah Yeshua; the reason for His coming, His death, and the greatest news of all, that YHVH raised Him from the dead.  This covenant of resurrection life (Jeremiah 31:31) was YHVH’s answer to His own question to Ezekiel: “Can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3).  Once the bones are infused with resurrection life they also need sinew, flesh and skin, which grow on them by means of hearing (and doing) the Word of YHVH from the Torah of Moses, the Prophets, and the New Covenant writings (see Ephesians 4:16).   

As we look toward the 3rd Bney Yosef National Congress, we recognize that at this time there are three main unifying factors in the House of Joseph/Ephraim.  The first is being re-identified as YHVH’s people (the Jews were never called “not my people,” but those of the House of Joseph/Ephraim were).  The second is the reconstitution of our Ephraimite national identity while still in the nations.  The third unifying factor is our love toward and hope of returning to the lands promised to our forefathers.  We gather in these national congresses as a “family” and not as loosely connected strangers.  We may have a hundred different ideas on how to walk out our personal lives in the Spirit of Messiah Yeshua and the Torah, but this doesn’t change the fact that we all have been redeemed by the same life of a Kinsman Redeemer (whom our Heavenly Father raised from the dead). What’s more, we share the same forefathers, the same covenant promises, and the command to love one another. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Then Will Come The...End?

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

So, when will the “end” come? ? ? ?  This is the billion dollars (euros, yen, shekels, yuan etc.) question which has aroused countless speculations throughout the generations, and especially in ours.*

The conditional prerequisite for the “end” to come is that “this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the entire world as a witness to all the nations”. What Yeshua meant by “this Gospel of the Kingdom” and His definitions of it is an extensive topic which we will not cover here. However, in Acts 1:3 we are told that after His resurrection the Messiah spent His forty days on earth “speaking (to His disciples) of the things pertaining to the kingdom of Elohim”. It is quite significant, therefore, that just before He was taken up these ones asked Him: “Master, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Yeshua’s answer seems to be quite cryptic: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). Thus when the Spirit came upon the disciples at Shavuot with signs and power, it was, as Paul puts it, “the kingdom of Elohim… [which is] righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). In this way, these Jewish/Israelite disciples of Yeshua became living witnesses of the beginning of the restoration of the Kingdom of Elohim to Israel (in accordance with Yeshua’s answer to them in Acts 1).

Now back to our Matthew 24:14 text.  If “this” Gospel of the Kingdom (as Yeshua calls it) is the restoration of the Kingdom of Elohim to His people Israel, then this is what should be preached in all the nations as a witness to them. Even though the Gospel has gone around the world up to the most remote areas, and that for centuries, has it been “this” Gospel of the Kingdom (i.e. the restoration of Elohim’s Kingdom to Israel)? Yeshua underscores the witness that this Gospel is to be to the world’s nations. What or who is the witness or witnesses? In what way is the Gospel of the Kingdom a witness, if it is not by the fulfillment of Elohim’s word to His chosen people among whom He had said that He would set up His Kingdom (see Ex. 19:6; 1Chor. 28:5; Luke 1:32-33)?  Revelation chapter 11 describes a ‘monumental’ double witness, depicted as two olive trees and two lamp stands. Could this have anything to do with the double witness of Israel’s two houses that are being restored in order to display and be a witness of YHVH’s Kingdom on earth? Is it possible, then, that the Hebrew/Torah awakening which is taking place all around the world is the tool to spread “this Gospel” to all the nations so that the “end” can come?

*The Greek for “the end” in the above text is “telos”, with the same root that is used in “teleo”, which means “to be brought to an end, completion”.  The latter is used in John 19:30, in reporting Yeshua’s last words on the cross - “it is finished/completed/fulfilled/covered in full payment”. In the Aramaic Peshitta the word that’s used for “end” (in Mat. 24:14) is “shulama” (similar to the Hebrew “shalom”). This could be implying an “end” in a sense of completion or fulfillment. However, if the original text was in Hebrew (and not Aramaic), there is no way of saying in Hebrew “the end” (as is used in our text) while employing one of the root derivatives of sh.l.m. Hence the Hebrew translation of the Greek is “ketz” which is more like “termination”.
In the 14th century Hebrew copy of an (heretical) version of the book of Matthew ( known by the name of its copier, Shem Tov, the "end"is "tachlit", not only in chapter 24:14, but in all other references to "end". "Tachlit" is indeed a more comprehensive term, meaning completion and fulfillment, but also an ending. A similar term, based on the same root, is used in Psalms 119:96 for "perfection" - "tichlah". The usage of this term in the text that was available to Shem Tov points to a different understanding of "end", and seems to complement the aim of the gospel message as was pointed out above.  

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Word and The Womb

All through scripture the womb of mothers seems to conceal a mystery.  We have spoken and written much about the “seed” (not seeds), with life issuing forth from the sperm of the father, but what happens in the womb is the beginning of the formation of the life that has been preordained and selected by the Word of Elohim.  Here is what YHVH said about Sarah, Abraham’s wife: "And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her…   …Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him(Genesis 17:16-19 italics and emphasis added). This promise YHVH “remembers even to a thousand generations (Psalm 105:8). What’s more, Sarah carried the promised son in a womb that to all intents and purposes was ‘dead’. 
Isaac too was called and predestined to have child - a seed that would carry on the predetermined destiny of YHVH’s plan.  Rebecca, his wife, was barren for 20 years before she conceived.  She was greatly surprise when she found that there were two separate distinct seeds/nations growing in her womb, and that only one of them was chosen by YHVH to carry the blessing of an everlasting covenant.  So out of the two nations/goyim/seeds which one was chosen, was it Esau or Jacob?   YHVH said: Jacob I have loved; But Esau I have hated” (Malachi 1:2-3).  Paul writing thousands of years later in regards to YHVH’s choice says: nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘in Isaac your seed shall be called...’ …but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.  For this is the word of promise: ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, by our father Isaac…   that the purpose of Elohim according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls,  it was said to her, ‘the older shall serve the younger.’  As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated’" (Romans 9:7-13).  
Because YHVH keeps His promises and will not lie, He states: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).  YHVH is a covenant keeping Elohim!  
In the womb of Rebecca Jacob was called a nation (Genesis 25:23), while in the womb of His mother Yeshua was called to restore the government of the kingdom to the nation called Jacob (Luke 1:31-33).  Jeremiah declared that he was called before his bones were formed to be a prophet to the nations (Israel and Judah, and also to other nations): "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5).  Of John the Immerser it was said: “He will be great in the sight of YHVH, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb” (Luke 1:15).   Likewise Paul also declared that he was called from the womb (Galatians 1:15-16).  
Perhaps we too, even while yet in our mothers’ wombs were called for such a time as this. Our very being is bearing witness to the reality and fulfillment of “all that has been spoken through the prophets of old” (see Acts 3: 19-21).   It is an awesome thought that we were chosen by the Almighty Creator of humanity even before our bones were formed: “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O Elohim! How great is the sum of them (Psalm 139:13-17 emphases added). 
YHVH’s thoughts were written down by the prophets of old and are now being realized or revealed in and through us, not just as individuals but as the one nation that was in the wombs of our mothers, Sarah and Rebecca. If there is anything that will stir up our national Israelite identity and love for the promised land it will be the understanding of who we are, based on “the sum of YHVH’s thoughts” toward us from “His book”.  Hence, the attitude of underrating the literal Israelite identity, occasionally expressed by some Torah teachers and others, is rather disconcerting.  We just had a reminder in the title of Genesis’ last Parasha – “Jacob Lives”, although the narrative actually reports the death of the patriarch. Interestingly, a popular song which has been around for decades is:  “Am Israel Chai-Od Avinu Chai” - The People of Israel lives-Our Father Still Lives (being Yehuda’s answer to Joseph’s question, see Gen. 43:27-28 listen and watch: 
Let us not extinguish the life of the forefathers.  After all YHVH identifies Himself as their Elohim.  
Here we may ask: Is this present Israelite national restoration a religious move? Is it a move that is destined to become geopolitical? Is it both or neither? YHVH told Moses to tell Israel, “’And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.'  These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel" (Exodus 19:6). Echoing the everlasting covenant to the forefathers, the words of the prophets also reiterate the same message, as do the words of the Apostle Peter who spoke to the “strangers and aliens” living in the non-Israelite nations.  Even though YHVH sowed or scattered His precious chosen seed among the nations, He intends on gathering and bringing it in its multiplied form back to the lands that He has set aside in the everlasting covenant. In this generation the strangers and aliens in the Gentile nations are us.  But we will not be so when we return to our own ordained territories (read Genesis 15:18-21).  In line with that which was declared in Exodus, Peter defines us as a “royal priesthood”, a “set apart” or “holy nation”.  We already have a king who is enthroned in Zion, and a kingdom government that is within us.  Is all this just an abstract concept that has but a vague connection to the prophetic declarations just mentioned, and to the prayer of our Kinsman Redeemer: “Your Kingdom [Father] come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?  Almost the entire Bible is about YHVH’s dominion over all of creation and more specifically over a nation chosen while still in the womb of a mother. 
This present move of the Spirit, to restore the non-Jewish side of Jacob’s family - the house of Joseph, is in fact Messiah’s mandate and prophetic assignment from the Father (read Isaiah 49: 5-6). If that is the case, we should be cognizant of the fact that our enemy will counterfeit and oppose YHVH's great plan of redemption and restoration, in an attempt to prevent His will from being accomplished.  Indeed, the reality of a restored national identity is being opposed on every level, spiritual as well as physical.
If we, as the “not My people” (Lo Ami) who are now called “the sons of the living Elohim” (see Hosea 1:10; 1 Peter 2:9-10), do not connect our origins  back to the womb of Rebecca, and to Jacob’s destined calling as YHVH’s holy set apart nation, we will still be playing our instruments of worship on the banks of the Rivers of Babylon.   Worse than that, heaven will retain or delay Yeshua, and YHVH just might choose another generation and let us perish in the wilderness. 
“Thus says YHVH who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you: 'Fear not, O Jacob My servant; and you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen… Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been upheld by Me from birth, who have been carried from the womb: Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you ... For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your seed, and My blessing on your offspring; They will spring up among the grass like willows by the watercourses  Remember this, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me!'” (Isaiah 44:1-3, 21; 46:3-4, scriptures have been rearranged).

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful; For He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  Have we seen the “Himself” in us, O offspring of Jacob?

Friday, December 8, 2017

Identity Matters

In the Scriptures many of protagonists’ names have meanings that either determine or are congruent with the given person’s identity. Our identity, naturally, plays a major role in our lives; gender, family, community, ethnicity, nationality and profession.  In our day and age one can also be known or identified by one’s association with a political or religious grouping, or other types of ideologies, or even by varying interests. 
At the very beginning the Creator made Man in His image and likeness; He made them male and female. This was humanity’s initial identity and had they continued to “walk” with Elohim they would have come to know themselves accordingly and would have given expression to this “image and likeness”. They truly would have been the Creator’s children, sons and daughters (‘like father - like son/daughter’).  However, having given up their original nature, our progenitors bequeathed to their seed a distorted identity which has taken on manifold expressions all through history. So much so, that the rebellion has morphed to the point of the current frightening gender confusion, attempts at cloning and other technological efforts that at times almost dehumanize what Elohim created in His image.  Darwin’s theory relegated the human species to an animalistic identity and this has evolved into a behavior and a mindset to match.  Animals in many cases have been and are domesticated or trained, and are then harnessed to tasks that serve their master.  Such is the condition we face in the world of humanity today.
A dictionary definition of identity is: ”The state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions… the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another…condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing.”
 Elohim had given man his name, and then man named the woman. Humanity continues, likewise, to name their offspring.  The Creator asked Adam to name the animals, and thus involved him with their identity-definition.  The book of Genesis sets in motion a history of identification markers.  Our “father Abraham” is but one example. Many today, even four thousand years after the fact, continue to identify themselves as people groups descended from him.  To follow the identity pattern in Genesis, as mentioned above, there are individuals whose names describe or determine their identity and who have thus been differentiated into families, tribal groupings, or nations yet all originating with Abraham, such as Ishmael, Isaac, or the tribes of Israel.  Then there are more Abrahamic relatives with national identities, such as the Midianites, Sheba and Edom.
In the writings of the New Covenant there are many references to “nationality”, simply by the usage of the term “ethnos”, which means exactly that, a “nation” or a “people group”. In English that neutral term has been translated into “Gentile” or “Gentiles”.  The usage of the term Gentile, rather than people or nation, has become synonymous with being non-Jewish, as mentioned in the last article, while Jewish equals to being a descendent of the forefathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  As a matter of fact, these Patriarchs are often called Jews.  So where does this leave us, who claim Israelite identity? 
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes the “Gentiles”: “Living in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19).   Peter adds more to the identity of a “Gentle”:  “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3).   Is this who we are, as redeemed Israelites in Messiah?  Or is this why the apostle says “formally you were [identified as] Gentiles” (and I might add “behaved like them”)? But now “having been brought back into covenant”, do we still identify ourselves as Gentiles, or are we truly the Israel of YHVH that manifests His nature?       
In the Israeli news this week there was a report about 50 Gypsies from France and other locations that convened for a conference in Jerusalem proclaiming Israelite identity.  Their gypsy ethnicity and their claims sparked here unfavorable comments regarding their ultimate intentions.  
Very recently I received a letter from a Jewish Messianic believer, commenting on the Israelite (two house) Movement.  Here are just a few of his “jabs”:   I viewed it as one of the many new winds that blow regularly through the Body of Messiah in these days of delusion… a rather convoluted reasoning process… Remembering the words of Thomas Paine, “To argue with someone who has abandoned reason is to administer medicine to a dead man,”… This is coveting of [identity] the first order. This appears to be nothing more than a new twist on replacement theology.

Because more and more groups around the world are claiming an Israelite identity of some sort we, along with the Jewish nation, are faced with a real dilemma. We, for example, believe in Yeshua as Messiah and claim the New Covenant writings as central to our identity and cultural expression, while the Jewish nation is guarded and protective of their identity. To many Israeli Jews, whether religious or secular, the idea of “non-Jewish lost tribes” poses a threat to their identity and uniqueness.  With all the ones that are coming to the fore as “Israelites”, it remains up to YHVH to sift out the ones who are merely jumping on the band wagon.  Yet we do need to be mindful that there is more happening out there in regards to Israelite identity, although at times to the point of “competition”. To all that we say, let the real Israelites rise up! 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Matters of Our Identity

I would like to share with you a few observations and reflections that I had after reading (most) of, Ten From The Nations by Rivkah Lambert Adler. 

This book gives a good idea of what is going on in this present move of the Spirit, which has been labelled “Torah Awakening” among non-Jews, especially Christians.  It also portrays the dangers and pitfalls that such a movement can, and does in many cases, bring to the New Covenant faith.  For those of us who are believers in the Messianic New Covenant Scriptures, the phenomenon of conversion to Judaism and abandoning Yeshua and the New Covenant writings is troublesome.  However, we had better refrain from judging the individuals who have chosen that path, as YHVH is the one who looks at the heart and is the ultimate judge.  Often this path has been undertaken by those who grew up in the Christian religion and now are simply exchanging one religious system for another, whether it be Humanism or Judaism or any other “ism”, and it may even be “Noahitism” (if I may coin a new term).

The main tenant of Judaism today is Jewish identity as defined by religious authorities, and as a result, when it comes to understanding “Israel” (the people) most think only in terms of Jewishness. Thus, the ten lost tribes, as well as father Abraham, are understood to be Jews. In Christianity the understanding is basically the same; the non-Jews are called “Gentiles”, while the Jews are Israel. 

In the State of Israel not many are aware of this Hebrew Roots occurrence.  However, at the end of Rivkah’s collection of testimonies some rabbis and other orthodox individuals share differing viewpoints about non-Jews studying and observing Torah.  But where does this leave us, who identify ourselves not as Jews or Gentiles, but as Ephraimites, or Israelites from the stick of Joseph?  The terminology found in the New Covenant writings, at least in its English translations, is “Gentiles” and “foreigners”, both of which are understood to mean non-Israelites.  We are the “no people” and “foolish nation” that are supposed to provoke the Jews to jealousy (Romans 10:19; Deut 32:21).  Many Hebrew Roots “Gentiles”, who have taken on a Jewish lifestyle and at the same time keep Yeshua as their Lord, Savior and Redeemer will never provoke a Jew to jealousy, unless it is accompanied by Elohim’s righteousness emanating from the heart and expressed in life because of the faith.  “For in it the righteousness of Elohim is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just/righteous shall live by faith’" (Romans 1:17).
On a different note, we, of the lost tribes of Israel, are now approaching the 3rd Congress, which as most of you know will be held just before Pesach 2018.  I think we need to put a strong emphasis on YHVH’s words to:“…remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15).  All the way through the 40 years in the wilderness our forefathers never celebrated the Passover, a fact that caused them to forget the One who delivered them out of slavery and brought them into relationship with Himself.  The same goes with our New Covenant Passover and deliverance out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light in Messiah Yeshua. We too are liable to forget the Almighty Father, the First Cause and Initiator of it all.

Over a month or so ago I wrote about our trip to Crete, its connection to the Bronze Age and the evidence of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt.  But the most important part of that was not about Pharaoh, nor even about the Israelites, nor the date of the Exodus, but about the centrality of YHVH the Elohim of the Exodus.  Thus we must ask:  Was the Exodus about the lamb, the blood, the firstborn, the crossing of the Sea of Reeds?  Or was it about the Elohim of the Exodus? The exhortation to the redeemed Israelites was to remember who it was that saved them and brought them out of slavery. The same goes for the New Covenant Passover and Exodus. It is not about the Romans, the religious leaders, nor is it even first and foremost about the Lamb, Yeshua. “The Father was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself” (ref. 2 Corinthians 5:19). He sent His Son Yeshua, He orchestrated all of the circumstances in order to fulfill His purposes. Additionally, it was Elohim the Father that raised Yeshua from the dead (see Romans 4:24).   Just as it was when the first Passover occurred, so was it in Yeshua’s one - it is about Elohim the Father and His mighty right arm that saves, redeems and delivers His people (us) from the slavery to sin and death. This is our Exodus. YHVH exhorted His people over and over again to remember their slavery. We too have to hear those words: "… you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt [this world], and YHVH your Elohim redeemed you from there…” (Deuteronomy 24:18).  Only after that appeal do we hear Him say: “keep my commandments”; or “therefore I command you to do this thing” (Deuteronomy 24:22).  Passover comes before Shavuot and to add, there would be no feast days or even Shabbat without it.

Let us give honor where honor is due, as did the apostles:   “Grace to you and peace from Elohom our Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.  Blessed be the Elohim and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Messiah,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:2-4).  

Egypt is not the only location connected to the Passover in the Exodus story. There is another, at the end of the journey when the new generation crossed into the land. Perhaps we too need to look at what took place at the end of the wilderness journey. Both Exodus stories (exiting Egypt and the wilderness) came to completion when the redeemed crossed water barriers (a sea and a river).  Before the crossing of the Jordan into the land, Joshua commanded the people to sanctify themselves.  Thus the New Covenant writers remind the redeemed who have come out of the world of sin and death to: “…sanctify YHVH Elohim in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15);   “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), and thus, as mentioned earlier, displaying the in-built righteousness gained by our Father’s action through His Son. Like our forefathers in their wilderness, we too have another Exodus awaiting, when we shall cross the proverbial Jordan, leaving the wilderness behind to enter the Promised Land.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Wilderness Betrothal (and beyond) continued:

In the last article of the wilderness journey, I quoted the following scripture:  "Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I [YHVH] had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:8 emphases added). The failure of the Sinai engagement/betrothal was not due to YHVH’s unfaithfulness, but His beloved’s. She just could not overcome the power of Sin that operated within her and stand against the influence of her surroundings.  The natural fallen Adamic inclinations were working against her/them (Israel). Although some were trying their best to keep all of the statutes, laws and ordinances, the problem of the uncircumcised heart still remained.  The worship of the golden calf soon after Israel had experienced YHVH’s presence and heard His voice, is but one example.  It was no different during the days of the Mishkan in Shiloh, and when the two respective Temples stood in Jerusalem, resulting in YHVH’s action and attitude toward her, as expressed by the prophet in the above quote.  Even the redeemed New Covenant believers of today, notwithstanding the circumcised heart and ability to hear the Spirit, are still under the influence of the power of Sin, which has not been completely defeated (see Romans 7:5, 23).
Interestingly, the Jeremiah excerpt does not mention Judah as being subject to all the conditions of the divorce (“not my people”), and separation that ultimately met the destiny of Northern Israel.  Thus, since YHVH still calls the Jews “ami” (“My people”), it may be concluded that Judah is still bound to the Law Giver through the Sinai agreement. Judah was assigned by the Almighty to carry the scepter of the Torah “until Shiloh comes” (Gen. 49:10). Remember, YHVH’s purpose for giving the commandments was to reveal Sin and bring His people to the knowledge of its existence and influence (see Romans 3:20). Since this was all planned and foreknown by YHVH, He immediately told Moses to build the Mishkan and set up the priesthood.  This explains why the religious Jews of today long for the Temple to be rebuilt, as without it and its sacrificial system there is no atonement for Sin, nor the implementation of the demands that the Torah places upon the Levitical Priesthood.  This provision of grace, through animal sacrifices in set apart edifices, was to last until such a day that YHVH would usher in a more permanent solution to the spiritual heart condition of His people and ultimately for all humanity.  So when the New Covenant was brought to light through the blood of the Messiah, did Judah’s role end as Law giver? If so, then there would be no need for the Torah and the Prophets.  The apostle makes clear that the commandments and the Torah were given to lead one to the Messiah.  “Therefore the law was our tutor to Messiah, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).  
As already mentioned, Judah was given the scepter of the Torah and the responsibility to hold the commandments and the instructions for righteousness before the eyes of a sinful humanity, especially their brothers, who have become ‘gentilized’. This assignment, obviously, has not alleviated or exempted the Jews from having the same contaminated nature as the rest of humanity.  That, however, did not stop the Almighty from fulfilling His word for and through the House of Judah.  Judah was the one He chose to lead the nation, establish the Davidic dynasty, bring forth the promised Messiah and be the first stick of Ezekiel to be restored as a nation (which is so clearly evident today).   The rejected House of Joseph was prophetically labeled “Lo Ruchama” (no mercy) and “Lo Ami” (not My people) and were set aside, while the House of Judah (the Jews) remained identifiable as “Ami“ (my people).  This identity links the latter to the Sinai covenant and to the marriage contract.  
Judaism’s demand to submit to rabbinic authority is still a carryover from the days of Moses, when the people asked him to hear from Elohim for them.  “Then they said to Moses, ‘you speak with us, and we will hear; but let not Elohim speak with us, lest we die’" (Exodus 20:19).  Yeshua infers to this when addressing His followers: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.  Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do” (Matthew 23:1-3).   
Again, YHVH used the Jews to carry the Law and prophetic writings to the nations for the purpose of convicting the world of Sin and unrighteousness, which then leads to the need for atonement and forgiveness by the Creator. 
Throughout Church history it has been promulgated that the Gentile Church has replaced the Jewish People. The interpretation (by the ‘Church fathers’) of Paul’s letters led to casting aside of the Torah of Moses and with it also the Jewish People, along with their prophetic calling.  If that was what the apostle had in mind, then why did he make the following statements:    “What advantage then has the Jew [House of Judah], or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of Elohim…” (Romans 3:1-2 emphases added). Or “... to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the Covenants, the giving of the law, the service of Elohim, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Messiah” (Romans 9:4-5 emphasis added)… ? And there is more. This time addressing Timothy:   "All scripture [the Tanach] is given by inspiration of Elohim, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). This last one, in itself, is enough to convince anyone that its author was not dismissing the Torah, Writings and the Prophets.  On the contrary.  “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of Elohim without effect?  Certainly not!  Rather, let Elohim be found true [faithful and just]” (Romans 3:1-4).  Regardless of the present heart condition of Judah, YHVH will be faithful to accomplish what is written in her prophetic destiny, just as He has and will for the House of Joseph/Israel.
So, what about the divorced House of Israel, which was cut off and sent away? Do YHVH’s purposes and plans for them still hold true?  If not, His word has failed and Elohim would be found to be a liar.  “For the gifts and the calling of Elohim are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29a) “In the same way Elohim desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for Elohim to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil [the holy of holies] Yeshua our High Priest” (Hebrews 6:17-19), and if I may add, also our Bridegroom.  
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” (Hosea 2:20). 
All of these attributes of the Father were seen when Yeshua’s blood-covered body was hanging on the execution stake.  Just moments before Yeshua cried out “Eli, Eli, why have You forsaken me”. The Father took the Sin infested life of Man and immersed it into the flesh body of Him who knew no sin, so that Yeshua could take that life into death with Himself, fulfilling the judicial consequence of Adam’s disobedience.  Thus, we died with Him and were buried with Him.  The good news is that Yeshua’s flesh body did not stay in the grave.  Because we were in Him in death, we are also with Him in His resurrection. This is how we, the adulteress and harlot, have become “a virgin” as expressed by Jeremiah: “Turn back, O virgin of Israel, turn back to these your cities”(31:21).   "Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance… And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness, says YHVH" (Jeremiah 31:13-14).  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Wilderness Betrothal – part 1

As we have seen all through the journey thus far, YHVH has been consistently giving His instructions to the ‘wondering wanderers’ through Moses. At the present juncture He uses His mouthpiece to communicate remarkable promises of being a kingdom of priests and a “segulah” people.  Moses being YHVH’s singled out messenger hears the following: "Behold, I come to you [Moses] in the thick cloud that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever" (Exodus 19:9 emphases added).   It is as if YHVH is saying “obviously they are not going to listen to Me Moses, so maybe they will listen to you and believe you”.  The condition of the uncircumcised human heart was obviously not concealed from the Almighty,  as later on in Israel’s journey He makes the following pronouncement: "Yet YHVH has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day” (Deuteronomy 29:40).  Here, under the present circumstances and spiritual condition of those standing at the foot of Mount Sinai there was not a chance that anyone would venture close or ‘take a peak’ at Elohim.  As a matter of fact, Moses brought back a warning from the Creator of Heaven and Earth that no one was to even touch the mountain, lest they would perish.  Additionally, further precaution was taken, and that was the boundary that the people were instructed to put around the mountain.
Hence, the experience by the foot of Mount Sinai was not designed for the Israelites to embark on an intimate relationship with their fathers’ Elohim.  And if we deem that we can get to know Elohim through this Sinai  Covenant, we will be sorely disappointed. Yet this Covenant does teach us a great deal about Him.  This agreement was given to prepare the way and the people for a future day when the Spirit of Elohim will take up residence in their circumcised hearts, as promised through the prophets of old (see Deuteronomy 30:6; Ezekiel 35:11, in the Hebrew).
As a matrimonial bond, the Sinai Covenant is certainly extraordinary.   For one thing, sin was part and parcel of the Israelites’ nature, meaning that rebellion with its pride and self-righteousness was rife among them. Our forefathers’ failure to keep their side of the bargain, right from the start, was very evident.  How could they, then, be joined as a bride to a Holy and Righteous Husband? Were they not forbidden to come close, nor look upon their Spouse?  YHVH, for His part, did not address them directly, using all along Moses as a mediator.  This bride’s nature did not allow her to keep the statutes, laws and ordinances to which she had committed herself.  In fact, the Ketuba-marriage contract would prove to be very problematic for Israel. Yet at the same time, once the promised New Covenant makes its appearance, the Torah will become very beneficial.  “Behold, the days are coming, says YHVH ‘when I will make a new Covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah… not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them’ says YHVH’” (Jeremiah 31:31-32 emphasis added). It is through this New Covenant that Elohim will reveal Himself to His Sinai bride in an intimate way:  “I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know YHVH” (Hosea 2:20). 
But at this point the fledging wilderness people are only just embarking upon their future history with this ‘strange’ Husband who took them out of bondage on eagles’ wings, and brought them to Himself here at camp Sinai. He will remind them and their seed, over and over through all their future journeys, of His sovereign work for His Name’s sake and on their behalf, especially how He had dealt with the Egyptians and then with the Canaanite nations.
In some way Israel’s journey parallels our own; those of us who have ‘come out of our Egypt’ but are still in the ‘wilderness of the peoples’, living as we do, being foreigners/strangers in other nations. YHVH is causing us too to pass under His disciplinary rod (see Ezekiel 20:35-37).  As was stated in previous chapters, one of the purposes of the commandments of Sinai was to bring to light the horror of Sin and its consequences in our lives personally and corporately.  “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56).  This is why the “commandment is holy, good and spiritual”. “So did that which is good cause death in me, absolutely not, it was Sin working death in me” that is the culprit, and not the Law (see Romans 7:13).  But without the spiritual light and power of this desert agreement, we would have no knowledge of what it is that causes us, and all of creation, to groan under Sin’s rule and its consequences of “death and decay” (see Romans 3:20).
The Torah was given on what we call today Shavuot or Pentecost, a feast and a time which is celebrated by the Jewish nation for the giving of the Torah.  Christianity, on the other hand, basically celebrates only the giving of the Holy Spirit to the “church”.  But those who have received the New Covenant circumcision, the Spirit and the restored identity should also incorporate the giving of the Torah to the celebration of this feast.   Unfortunately, many are and were taught that the “Law was nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14), and therefore once embracing the New Covenant it has no effect upon their lives. This is a false notion and demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the apostle’s writing. Hence a study of Romans chapters 3 through 7 should be very beneficial in that regard.  As you are well aware, it was not YHVH’s Word (His Torah) that was done away with on that execution stake. “Therefore, my brethren, you were made dead to the law through the body of Messiah, that you might be joined/married to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for Elohim” (Romans 7:40 emphases added).  Yes, we have been crucified with our Messiah - when He died we died and have been raised with Him into newness of life (see Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15). For what purpose? In order to be married to another so that we will bear the fruit of righteousness to Elohim. 
What does it mean married to another”?  Who were we married to in the past? Was it not the One who thundered and shook the mountain, whose voice sounded like a shofar and whose appearance was accompanied by fire and smoke?  Was it not YHVH the Husband who accused Israel and Judah of adultery?  "Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I [YHVH] had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous/unfaithful sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:8 emphases added).  Thus the whole house of Jacob attested to humanity’s bondage to Sin.  As King David penned in Psalm 14 and 53, words that are quoted in Romans 3: “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after Elohim. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one’" (Romans 3:10-12).  
The scriptural usage of the two words, “adultery” and “divorce” certainly indicates what Israel’s relationship had been with YHVH.  As pointed out by the prophet Hosea, YHVH also accused Israel of harlotry.  But in spite of this behavior and the divorce, YHVH was still watching over Israel to do what He had promised: “I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven” (Exodus 32:13). Today some believe that YHVH replaced Israel with a highbred seed and thus the promised multitudes do not originate from Sarah’s and Rebekah’s wombs, compromising greatly the Creator’s integrity and credibility as the Elohim of Israel.  There are also those who go so far as to postulate that when Abraham was one hundred years old he was partially blind, like his son Isaac whose eye sight failed him later on in life, so that when he looked up at the heavens he only saw a few thousand of the brightest stars.  This only proves that the …foolishness of Elohim is wiser than men, and the weakness of Elohim is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).
In order to stay faithful to His promise of multiplicity, Elohim hid the seed/life of Israel, the seed of faith, in earthen jars of human flesh and buried them under the laws of sin and death. Yet just as He multiplied our ancestors profusely in Egypt, He also continued to do so throughout the generations. His plans and purposes are immutable, regardless of what Israel does or doesn’t do.  Even if we are in unbelief and are unfaithful, “He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
Today, we are in this wilderness together as one people, one nation, as were our forefathers.  For generations we have found “grace” (Jeremiah 31:2), but as this wilderness age draws to a close Ezekiel’s 20th chapter, along with many others, are being fulfilled at an increasing pace and we do not want to be found lagging behind our Shepherd and Leader Messiah Yeshua.
More on Israel’s marriage to her Elohim in the next segment.