Thursday, August 16, 2018

BY THE GATES OF SHALEM (Salem)



The path to the unveiling of Jerusalem

In a recent article entitled Whose Tent? we made mention of the encounter our forefather Abram had with Malchi-Tzedek King of Shalem, when the former returned from his successful rescue mission of nephew Lot and his possessions (ref. Genesis 14:12-16).  In this exploit, Abram not only freed Lot and his goods, but also the rest of those taken captive and their property. By his action Abram proved to be the faithful kinsman redeemer that he was designated to be. This, then, is what qualified him for the momentous encounter with One greater than himself, namely Malchi-Tzedek King of Shalem, priest of the Most High Elohim.

Malchi-Tzedek literally means “My King Righteousness”*. The name of this King depicts him as the very epitome of righteousness. Moreover, his domain - “Shalem” – stands for perfection, completeness or wholeness.  Psalm 110:1-4 and Hebrews 6:20-7:3 point to the identity of Malchi-Tzedek, who appears to be a pre-figuration of Yeshua, a Priest of the Most High God (El-Elyon), whom Abram had no problem recognizing (cf. John 8:56).  The Kings’ Highway, where the two met, is also called the Valley of Shaveh – meaning the Valley of Equality or Worth. Psalm 16:8 helps to shed more light on the meaning of “shaveh”, by using it as a verb – shiviti – I have set before me – YHVH. This place of ‘equality’ where the King of Shalem and Abram met is where everyone is of “equal worth, or value”, when they stand before the King-Priest.

The encounter of the two is described thus: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of the Most High El. And he blessed him and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of the Most High El, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be El Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.’ And he [Abram] gave him a tithe of all” (Gen. 14:18-20).  The bread, wine, blessing and paid tithe sealed a covenant; A covenant that tied Abram and his progeny not only to their role and call, but also to the site where this significant episode took place (as indeed is seen later on in Scripture, where it is portrayed as YHVH’s “residence” of choice.  See 1 Kings 11:13, 32, and especially 36). 

The righteousness embodied by Malchi-Tzedek soon found expression in Abram. Shortly after his encounter he is said to have “believed in YHVH (concerning his future offspring) and it was counted to him as righteousness” (15:6). The apostle Paul points out that the imputing of righteousness was granted to Abram while still uncircumcised, so “that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, AND the father of the circumcision to those who are not only of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11b-12 capitals added).

But now let us return to Shalem. In the midst of a very worldly scenario involving power struggles and greed, the appearance of Malchi-Tzedek, who is definitely not of the milieu or mindset of those with whom Abram had just been dealing with, is nevertheless anything but ethereal   The location and the interaction of the two interlocutors, although of a totally different nature, are just as tangible and real as anything that went on thus far. In fact, the gate where this meeting had taken place can be still seen today in what became, later on, the City of David, to be known as Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim in Hebrew.

When still under the direct rule and dominion of Malchi-Tzedek that place embodied the fullness of perfection, hence “Shalem”, but later on when it came under a different sort of rule and authority it was no longer in its perfect state, and therefore became the “heritage of peace-perfection-fullness”, awaiting the fullness of its prophetic designation, and thus named “Yeru-Shalayim”. We all are still waiting for Yerushalayim to become “Shalem” once again. Thus, while the promise stands, “Shalem” has morphed (though many times in Scripture it is Yeru-shalem) into Yeru-shalayim, with a plural ending, underscoring the greatness and fullness of the “shalem”.  Could this plural ending be also a prophetic statement about the two Jerusalems – the earthly one, and the one which is to come from above?

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from Elohim, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle (Mishkan) of Elohim is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. Elohim Himself will be with them and be their Elohim” (Revelation 21:1-3).

Thus, even when there are a new heaven and a new earth, there is still a Jerusalem. In order for there to be a heavenly Jerusalem, there must also be an earthly one that represents the heavenly city, according to the principle of ‘first the natural, than the spiritual’ (ref. 1 Cor. 15:46). Moreover, this New Jerusalem does not remain in heaven, but it descends to earth. Which location will it come to if not to that of the earthly one? This is the same Jerusalem named YHVH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS (Jeremiah 33:16), with the King of the city being the One Who IS Righteousness – Malchi-Tzedek. Thus the place unites with its ruling monarch.

Out of the many scriptures with promises regarding Jerusalem, let us cite Zechariah 8:3: "Thus says YHVH: 'I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of YHVH of hosts, the Holy Mountain.'” No wonder Yeshua lamented over Jerusalem, desiring to gather her children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (ref. Matthew 23:37). Can we then afford to ignore: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!  If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth -- If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psalm 137:5-6)?  Thus, those who “seek” or “ask for the peace (shalom) of Jerusalem and “who love” her are promised: “they shall be peaceful, serene, or carefree” (Psalm 122:6 literal translation).

It, therefore, behooves us to return to our ‘launching’ point, to the place of Heaven’s choice, where the righteous King-Priest revealed Himself to our father Abraham in a covenantal bond that will not fail or end!  This city, although not perfect as of yet, was also where the greatest of all atonements for humanity was affected to the fullest, enabling those who have embraced it (the atonement) to prepare the site even now for the coming down of perfection, both in the person of our King, and His city – the heavenly Jerusalem.
*Tzedek in Hebrew is actually “justice”, while “tzdaka” is “righteousness”. But in actuality, in Hebrew, these terms are inextricable one from the other.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Kedem


Kedem*

In investigating biblical history and our place in it, how far back can we go?   We had already glimpsed at the family of Noah and the tent of Shem, but that still does not bring us to the ‘end’ of the backward track, that is to the beginning which in a manner of speaking is also the end (Revelation 22:13). The idea of looking at the past in order to go forward is very intriguing.  Since we have been tracing the human race and the Word of YHVH back to Noah, let’s also take a closer look at Adam and Eve, keeping in mind that this journey is founded on the scriptural basis that, “the Kingdom of Elohim has been in every generation” (ref. Psalm 145:13), albeit in seed form (according to Yeshua’s parables of the Kingdom. See Mark 4:31).  Going all the way back to the Garden of Eden also reminds us what we have lost and what is being redeemed.  If Tish’a Be’av is a time of mourning the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem, should we not also mourn the loss of Eden? But if the answer is “no”, than we should ask ourselves why is it that we do not mourn the loss of Eden? Is it because it is being restored to us in some way?  Eden and YHVH’s Kingdom are undoubtedly connected, with the difference being that Eden is the garden where the ‘trees of righteousness’ are growing,  while the government/Kingdom  is the expression of the fruit of those trees (see Romans 14: 17; Galatians 5: 22).
Obviously Elohim is sovereign over all His works, and even though His Kingdom is a spiritual one, He desires it to be made manifest “on earth as it is in heaven” (see Matthew 6:10) - through His created Man (male/female).  Elohim assigned or delegated to Man to have dominion and rule over all living things (see Genesis 1:26, 28).
In Genesis 1:27 we read:  “And Elohim created man in His own image, in the image of Elohim He created him; male and female He created them.”  Created - bara - is used three times in this verse.  In Hebrew “boreh” (creates) is used exclusively for Elohim. Boreh cannot be applied to man. Man can only discover and form things, or re-arrange them.  In order to understand what is meant by man being created “in Elohim’s image and likeness”, we have to ask: What is Elohim’s image and likeness?   Moses reminded Israel that when they were at Mount Horev: "YHVH spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form-- only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12 emphasis added).  Yeshua further elaborates: "Elohim is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24).  According to Psalms 36:9 Elohim is Light and Life.  Thus, if Man was created in the image and likeness of his Creator, we would have to conclude that he was created a spiritual entity, with the potential to develop into a full expression of a son of Elohim.  He would also have had all the qualities and attributes of his Heavenly Creator/Father.
Scripture likens Adam to a natural seed (see 1 Corinthians 15: 38; 43) with a spiritual DNA, if you will, but first, as with all seeds, it has to have an outer shell to protect it until it is time for it to be sown, falling to the ground, and begin its growth process. 
Elohim had already prepared the place (the earth) into which this special seed would be ‘sown’.  As mentioned, this spiritual Man needed an outer casing for his protection. Additionally, this tangible external form was needed so that he would be able to relate to the physical world and all the other living entities that he was to name and have dominion over. YHVH Elohim, therefore, formed (yatzar) from the soil (aphar) of the earth an animal-like body into which He “blew,” or planted, man’s spiritual life (the ‘seed’s embryo’).   Thus, the physical body became the outer shell in which this precious spiritual being was encased, destined to multiply until it would fill up the whole earth.  To reiterate, the breath of life that was breathed into the formed body was this spiritual entity - Adam himself - entering the earthly substance and becoming a living being (nephesh chaya).   Man (male and female) was/were now able to express in the created (tangible) world his/their spiritual essence through this body, as long as they walked in obedience to YHVH.  
Along with the spirit that now entered a flesh body was also Elohim’s determining anointed word to humanity’s progenitors to “have dominion and rule over all living things”.   In other words, they were to establish Elohim’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, bringing life and light to their domain as they were walking with Elohim, their Creator.  Wow, what a wonderful world to be living in! And to make it even better, Elohim placed the pair in a special location, a garden which they were to tend, but to also enjoy and partake of its delightful plants and trees.  Indeed, everything was pronounced by Elohim as “very good”!   Yet in the midst of the lovely garden YHVH Elohim planted a tree that was not only “good” but also “evil”, and charged the man not to eat of its fruit. 
The question we might ask at this point is: What happened to make this idyll environment collapse in one moment, after ‘only’ one act of disobedience - partaking of the fruit of the banned tree? Notwithstanding, the Creator did warn Man (before the woman was taken out from his side) that, such an act of disobedience will bring about death (ref. Gen. 2:17). 
And so, at some point the woman (again, who ‘came into being’ after the warning had been issued to the man), had an encounter with a serpent. That creature questioned Elohim’s words regarding what He had said about eating the fruit of the trees in the garden, and especially the one “in the midst of the garden”. He not only voided the death warning connected to the latter, but also continued to falsify Elohim’s intention regarding this tree and its fruit (ref. Gen. 3:1b, 4): “it will make you wise, intelligent and you will be like Elohim, knowing good and evil.” That is, now you will be in a position of a king and a judge having the ability to know and especially determine what is good and what is evil (in your own eyes). The tested woman looked at the forbidden fruit of that tree, and it was indeed “pleasing to the sight and good for food”. But this of course did not end there, she partook and “also gave to her husband who was with her(v. 6 emphasis added). 
After eating the fruit man and woman’s eyes were opened (to see that they were naked). But did they really gain the ability to discern good and evil? Or was it that at this point they merely became aware of the ‘concept’, and hence acquired a propensity for judging? What’s more, seeing that their relationship with the Creator was now severed, they also lost the genuine Godly wisdom without which there can be no true judgment and discernment.  This act not only spelled death to their relationship with Elohim, but became a killer of relationships ever since. 
YHVH who is great in mercy, loving kindness and quick to forgive, gave Adam and Eve only one chance. This act of violation and its consequences, therefore, was not about Elohim’s characteristic of long suffering (or a seeming lack thereof).  There is something more to this episode than meets the eye.  I believe that Paul was privy to a mystery hidden in the Gospel of the Kingdom that he taught from the Torah of Moses and the Prophets (ref. Acts 28:23).  In his letter to the believers in Rome and Corinth, the Apostle makes statements that allude to a plan of YHVH that this formed, earthy man would fall to temptation and disobedience (see Corinthians 15:42-44), subjecting the entire creation to futility and decay: For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of Elohim. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of Elohim”  (Romans 8:19-21 emphasis added). 
(To be continued). 
*This idea is well illustrated by the biblical Hebrew word that denotes east – kedem. Kedem also means past, antiquity and that which was, AND that which is ahead of us.  Another similar word is “achor” or “achar”, with some of its derivatives being “acharey”, “achoranit” or “achrit”, which like “kedem” means both back or backwards but also the “future end”, such as “acharit ha’yamin” – the latter days, or days to come  (e.g. Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30;  Isaiah 46:10 to cite but a few). In Job 23:8 both terms are used together: "Look, I go forward (kedem) but He is not there, and backward (achor), but I cannot perceive Him.” Interestingly, the garden of Eden is also mentioned in relationship to “kedem”, as it says in Genesis 2:8 “YHVH Elohim planted a garden eastward (mi-kedem) in Eden…” and in 3:24, after expelling Adam and Eve from the garden: “He placed the cherubim at the east (mi-kedem) of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword…”.  Therefore on our path backward to the future we may call out with Jeremiah “Turn us back (hashiveynu) to You, O YHVH, and we will be restored (ve’nashuva); Renew our days as of old –  ke’kedem” (Lamentations 5:21). Notice that “turn” and “restored” are both rooted in “shuv” that is, making “teshuva”.

Friday, April 20, 2018

3rd BNEY YOSEF NATIONAL CONGRESS REPORT



 The concluding session of the 3rd Bney Yosef National Congress brought us tearfully ever closer to Bney Yehuda. Following a sequel of divine arrangements, we watched a video clip with an accompanying song about (mostly orphaned) Jewish children who after the 2nd World War were discovered hidden in Christian institutions. A young rabbi who was on a quest to find them did so by singing out loud the Shma. When the children heard the familiar sounds they came scurrying out of their rooms, making their way back to their identity and freedom.   The recently emerging Ephraimites, who are leaving organized religious institutes, are also being identified by their response to the call “Hear Oh Israel”. Thus the video clip made for a symbolic and significant conclusion to the four day gathering on the hills of Ephraim at the Eshel HaShomron hotel.  (Link to the said clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GKGyI88ZkS8).

The stage for this momentous finale was already set on the previous day when we heard from an observant young Jewish woman, who is the editor for Rabbi Harry Rozenberg, who was scheduled to speak that afternoon.  Shira, came with the Rabbi in hopes of meeting someone she had encountered a few days before in a taxi ride to Jerusalem. The woman that she met impacted her so much so that, she made the trip to Ariel, where she did in fact meet her.  At the same time Shira did not know what to expect and who exactly would be the Rabbi’s audience. About an hour into Rabbi Rozenberg’s presentation Ephraim stood up and motioned to him to take an interlude, as something was about “to happen”. This made Shira very nervous. It was 3PM (time of the daily sacrifice in former days), and the one hundred strong group stood up facing Jerusalem and sang the Shma to Shira’s utter amazement. With tears streaming down her face she related that her mentor, Rebbitzen Esther Jugreis had told her about rabbis who after the second world went looking for the Jewish children who where hidden in Christian institutions by sounding the Shma.  As she continued, she shared that she was impacted not only by the singing of the Shma, but also by singing out loud the last line (“blessed be the glorious name of His kingdom forever” – literal translation), which traditionally is done only at the end of Yom Kippur. Hence, the fact that we sang it as we did signified to her “Redemption” (the completion of atonement). Little did she know how applicable that observation was to the ‘orphans’ of Ephraim, who had been hidden in the Church!  During the interlude that followed, the atmosphere continued to be charged with excitement and a sense of a breakthrough. Aside from several women surrounding Shira, and some of the men around Rabbi Harry, the rest were also engaging enthusiastically with each other, as suddenly the whole room was abuzz with bubbling excitement. This spontaneous joy reminded us of a wedding celebration.

Rabbi Harry Rozenberg laid out his broad view on the emergence of Israelites all over the world, in what he sees as a “global Israel” to ultimately fill up the whole world. “Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6b).   Other Israeli speakers, who well represented and presented Jewish response to the Torah awakening and rediscovered identity, were Hanoch Young and Dr. Rivka Lambert Adler. Hanoch emphasized the importance of Ephraimites connecting to the land by coming and also by bringing others so that the land can connect to them.  Dr. Rivka spoke about the Jews’ responsibility to help educate those in the nations who are experiencing the Torah awaking, and for this to take place in a spirit of mutual respect.  She also highlighted the need to understand how the Jewish people relate to the Torah and how they give it expression in everyday life.  Ephraim interjected with a visual demonstration of the two sticks in the hand of the prophet, that when stretched out to the side cannot see one another as the head is in the way, but when each arm moves forward slightly they begin to get a glimpse of one another over the vast chasm of time and history that has been separating the two families. 

As a prelude to the Congress about 45 of us went on a prayer-intercession tour along the border fences in the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights. We purposed to proclaim and pray for the lands yet to be liberated which right now are under the Jordanian, Syrian and Lebanese regimes, namely Gilead, Bashan and Lebanon. At each stop, where we blew Shofars, prayed and read appropriate scriptures, we felt the anointing going out with the Word over the mountains, hills, ravines and valleys of that particular portion of the land. One of the highlights of the trip was the connection made to the Covenant of The Cut Pieces, when Abram cut asunder several animals while YHVH Himself walked between the parts.  As we drove up through the deep cut in the earth, that divides western Israel from its eastern part, we felt as if YHVH Himself was walking with us between the divided territories of His land, reinforcing the ancient covenant with our forefather Abraham.  

The dedication of the high priest in that week’s Parashat Tzav opened up Dr. John Conrad’s Shabbat address on the contemporary function of the Levites; a very eye opening message indeed which was illustrated by a very accurate anatomical analogy.  Many commented afterward that they recognized some of the traits and functions of the Levites in their own lives.  On Sunday morning Pete Rambo presented an essential message which concluded with prayer, taking us all the way back to one of the defining eras in the relationships of the House of Judah to the rest of Israel’s tribes. Solomon’s grandiose building projects were largely carried out and financed by those tribes at a very high cost of life, labor, and time. That deep wound requires healing by means of recognition, repentance and forgiveness. May Abba direct many in the Ephraimite camp to take notice of this important requirement, if relationships between the two houses are ever to be healed and restored! Saying this, it may be added that for the full restoration to happen, there is also a need to look back at sibling rivalries between individuals as well as whole tribes, as recorded in Scripture.

As in past congresses, so too in this one there were a number of round table discussions, following specific presentations. It seems that with each congress these discussions become more focused, clearer and engaging. Thus identity issues were well articulated by Tzefanyah Pappas and stimulated lively discussions. The discussion that followed Mark’s presentation on realities of the State of Israel, centered on possible Ephraimite responses to the discovery of their national identity and nationhood. On a personal note, we both missed Tzefanyah’s presentation, and Ephraim was not there for Pete’s, Tzefanyah’s or Mark’s. As our vehicle was stolen from the hotel’s parking lot the previous night, Ephraim had to take care of other matters, while Rimona too had to deal with several issues related to this incident. This unfortunate circumstance, however, did not disrupt the flow of the Spirit’s anointing on the presenters nor the round table discussions.   

For the first time we also had a discussion that “plunged” us directly into the topic at hand, and that was on the subject of the Biblical Portrait of Woman, during which time we covered an extensive amount of material aiming at re-visiting the more traditional and prevailing stance. Additionally, this material was also meant to project on the identity of Israel as the Bride of Messiah.  Ephraim as a budding people group and nation, with his unique history as “not my people” and having obtained “no mercy”, is waking to the realization that the indwelling Spirit of YHVH’s kingdom will blossom within its ranks into a multifaceted cultural expression.  One of those areas is the proper place and function of both males and females in the redeemed community.   

The love of Abba certainly graced us by the presence of His Spirit, and that was especially evident during the early morning prayer gatherings. We were carried by the momentum of months of dedicated prayer undertaken by a team, and individuals. Especially moving was the session of praise and worship in front of the Mishkan (full size tabernacle) led by Solomon Lopez. Solomon was the music coordinator together with Pieter and Andrea Hoogendoorn, Barry Philips, Rene Bronco Svetina, Heinz Suter, Albert Schuler, Silas Rambo, and Ed Boring, all of whom made up the worship group.  As a special bonus, James and Liz Block came for a quick visit on Shabbat to meet Solomon with whom they had had a working relationship for years, but had never met face to face.  The anointing upon each of them blended together, leading to a special worship time, honoring the Father and Yeshua.

We were greatly encouraged by a short teaching on the “boomerang” that was composed by Kate Snyder who was not able to attend, and was therefore presented by our non-tiring moderator, Ed Boring. The boomerang’s two specifically designed wings work in tandem. When at the point of turning back, these wings build up accelerated energy for the return flight.  Hence the boomerang’s characteristics provided a very interesting and intriguing imagery of Israel’s two houses journey home.

It was no coincidence that the Congress took place just before Pesach – the time of the nation’s formation, an occasion that is still very much alive and in focus in the memory and tradition of the Jewish people. Mike Clayton gave us a poignant reminder of this feast’s significance and its ramifications on Ephraim’s relationship with Judah. Thus, the many who stayed in Jerusalem after the Congress celebrated the seder with each other, with other Ephraimites or with Jewish folk. During the intermediary days they availed themselves of the many activities in the city and continued to cultivate relationships with local people, as well as with each other, and even formulated plans for the future. 

We want to thank all of you who participated in the 3rd Bney Yosef National Congress, and also the many who prayed and encouraged us over the time of preparation and during the Congress itself. 

As we count our way to Shavuot, may the Elohim of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’acov bless you in all your ways to the glory of His kingdom and His Messiah.

Ephraim and Rimona

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”.
Addendum:
In the 14th century Hebrew copy of an (heretical) version of the book of Matthew (http://adamoh.org/TreeOfLife.lan.io/SDAcomms/Hebrew%20Gospel%20of%20MATTHEW%20by%20George%20Howard%20-%20Part%20One.pdf) 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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0zzQSa_7Fw). 
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!