Monday, December 3, 2018

A Historical Perspective on Hanukkah


The prophet Daniel (in the 6th century B.C) foresaw the rise of the Greek empire, its ultimate division into four parts and especially pointed to the regime of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who came to power in 175 B.C. (see Daniel 11:1-4; 21-25). It was against this king and his vicious edicts that the Maccabean family led a revolt during the years 167-160 B.C, with good reason. The religious prohibitions against the Jewish population in Israel at that time were very severe, resulting in horrendous penalties upon anyone who dared to violet those edicts.  The course of the militant rebellion was short, resulting not only in religious freedom, but also in achieving autonomy for the Jews from the Greek/Seleucid control. From then on the Maccabees, who were a priestly family, took upon themselves the leadership of Judea and acted in various capacities, but refrained from the judiciary and kingly duties (while they did sign a pact with Rome which opened the way for the latter to begin to influence the fledgling state). However, in the year 104 B.C. John Aristobulus I and then his brother Alexander Jannaeus declared themselves kings, thus establishing a royal dynasty, while still holding the position of the high priesthood, as did their successors. Things began to spiral downhill from there, resulting in a moral, spiritual and national decline of the “kingdom”, such as we see a century later at the time of Yeshua. Clearly the family who so miraculously won against all odds a war with a superpower failed to uphold the very principles they had fought for, and betrayed the people of Israel-Judea.

Although these chronicles of the revolt are not part of Scripture, but as we saw above there was a definite reference to what was about to transpire in Judea a couple of centuries beforehand.  Since the commemoration of the re-dedication and cleansing of the Temple (in the year 138 B.C.) is what Hanukkah is (or should be) all about, let us turn to another biblical text (from around 520 B.C) which is solely focused on the Temple of Elohim and its place in the life of the people of Israel, that is the book of the prophet Haggai.  This short book has quite a few things to say about the House of Elohim and its holiness. Moreover, as the historical date of the Hanukkah celebration is the 25th of the 9th month (Kislev), Haggai makes reference 3 times to the 24th of the 9th month (all of which are on the same year, “the second year of Darius”, chapter 2:10, 18, 20) being almost 400 years before the Hanukkah events. In fact, in 2:18 he says “Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of YHVH’s temple was laid -- consider it:” (emphasis added). Haggai lived during the time of the return to Zion, after the 70 year exile in Babylon, at which time the second Temple was being built. That prophet was greatly concerned for the new House of Elohim, its sound foundations and for the proper care and attitude on the part of those who would be attending to it. 

In the book that follows Haggai, Zachariah, the same year (Darius’ 2nd) is being referred to again, with prophecies that pertain to Jerusalem, to Zion AND, once more, to YHVH’s House. But here it is YHVH Himself who declares His zealousness for those places, and His word of promise concerning them: "Proclaim, saying, 'thus says YHVH of hosts: "I am zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with great zeal.  I am exceedingly angry with the nations at ease; for I was a little angry, and they helped -- but with evil intent.”  Therefore thus says YHVH: ‘I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it,’ says YHVH of hosts, ‘and a surveyor's line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem. Again proclaim, saying, 'Thus says YHVH of hosts: "My cities shall again spread out through prosperity; YHVH will again comfort Zion, and will again choose Jerusalem’" (Zach. 1:14b-17).

A few centuries later, Yeshua demonstrated His zealousness for the then existing House of Elohim. Matthew 21:12-13: “Then Yeshua went into the temple of Elohim and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves, and He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you have made it a 'den of thieves.'" He also said to the merchants: “Do not make My Father’s House a house of merchandise” (John 2:16).  “And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple” (Mark 11:16).

It was at the very same scene and location that Yeshua also added, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’  But He was speaking of the temple of His body (John 2:19-21). “The temple of His body”!? Yes, Yeshua’s body, given for us (see Luke 22:19). If we follow this line of thinking a step further, Scripture also tells us that we too are the “temple of the living Elohim”.  Therefore Paul exhorts: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Messiah with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever?  And what agreement has the temple of Elohim with idols? For you are the temple of the living Elohim, as Elohim has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among themI will be their Elohim, and they shall be My people.’ Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate,” says YHVH. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters,’ says YHVH Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 emphasis added). 
   
We took a long journey around YHVH’s House or Temple, but isn’t this the essence of the celebration of this time of year? May this Hanukkah indeed be to us a feast of light as we celebrate the One who is “the Light of the world,” and who told us that “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12), and that, like Him, we too are to be “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). With cleansed temples, surely His light through us will “so shine before men, that they may see your/our good works and glorify your/our Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).


Friday, November 2, 2018

From Hebrew Roots to Hebrew Fruits – thoughts to ponder


Having had a background in botany, I learned in higher education (that is growing up on a farm) that roots grow mostly underground and can’t be seen.  Some trees and plants do have roots above ground, but in order to draw sustenance they too reach deeply into the soil.  As things are, most roots are hidden underground at all times. With this in mind let me ask: What about “Hebrew Roots”?  Is it an “underground movement”? Are roots all that there is to the olive tree (etz) of Jacob (ref. Jeremiah 11:16-17; Romans 11: 17ff)? If there are roots (healthy ones that is) there most likely will also be something growing above ground.
In Ezekiel 37 we read about two (olive) trees - “etzim”- the etz of Judah, and the etz of Joseph/Ephraim.  These two trees have the same Hebrew roots, having both come from the same seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When their progeny was in Egypt they were known as Hebrews.  But when they exited that foreign soil, YHVH identified them as Israel and transplanted them into their own native ground. Later, even though the Elohim of Israel divided them into two separate plantings, their roots were still Hebrew. Yet according to His designated plan, at some point in the future, they will come forth out of the ground, grow and be identified by Him as two trees (etzim). 
Biblical history recounts what happened to the two trees when they were cut down and their branches scattered throughout the earth.  Those branches also took root, but in foreign soil and spread in many nations.  Some of those roots were nourished and some were not.  The ones that YHVH preserved and took care of are known as having a Jewish identity.  But the others became wild and have lost their distinctiveness in the forest of humanity.  Yet their roots are still the same, Hebrew, which by the grace of Elohim many are discovering today.  Obviously from the roots there has to come forth a visible plant, growing into a fruit bearing tree. Are these the trees of righteousness that YHVH has destined to bear fruit for the healing of the nations? Or conversely, are they the two olive branches from which oil drips into the menorah (ref. Zach. 4:11, 12)?
However, we should not be uninformed in regards to the enemies that may lurk underground, in the darkness of the soil, known as cut-worms.  These little white critters (masquerading as angles of light) love to chew away at the roots.  Most of these worms are found in the top soil, close to the base of the trunk.  If there are enough of them they will kill the tree, especially a sapling. 
More problems to contend with are roots of other trees that are growing too close, like the boxthorn (the bramble of Judges 9:15) for example. The roots of this shrub are so thick that other trees can hardly survive in its vicinity, as the boxthorn draws all the moisture and nutrients from the soil.  Such are many doctrines in the religious systems of man, which are prone to kill the two trees, distorting the two ensigns which are being raised up as YHVH’s end-time witnesses.  
Additionally, there are also Hebrew roots that have been placed in pots of religious institutions, and if kept there will not be able to mature into full grown trees and produce Hebrew fruit, as their roots will become bound up in the ‘pot’.  Although plants in pots make for a lovely sight, a constrained and controlled environment limits the plant from developing to its full potential.   Then there are ‘farmers’ who are assigned to tend the trees, but are not trained in horticultural righteousness and are feeding the trees poison while also contaminating the soil.  There are some that do excessive digging around the tree and thus damage the roots. Indeed, has there not been at times a wee bit too much “digging” thus endangering the safety of the roots, sometimes even to the point of chopping them off?
Should not the “planting of YHVH” be given more liberty and freedom to come forth naturally or should I say supernaturally, so that the upper and visible part may mature in health? The ground in which Hebrew roots flourish is in their native soil, being nourished by the Word, covenants and promises of their Husbandman.  YHVH meant for roots to go deep into the soil and be strong enough that the tree will not blow over in times of severe storms, but certainly not to remain in root form only. 
Our hope, over the past few years regarding the Hebrew Roots Movement was that it would begin to identify to a trunk of a tree that YHVH defines as a nation: "…and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again” (Ezekiel 37:22). Let us remember that having our roots identified is only the beginning of becoming that fruit-full nation of which Yeshua is the Husbandman and Kingdom Ruler. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

As in the Days of Noah



Parashat Bresheet ends with enumerating mankind’s genealogies, as well as with a preamble to the next episode, that is to Parashat Noach. Rabbi Fohrman of alefbeta.org highlights the words of Lemech, Noah’s father, whose reason for naming his son is explained in chapter 5 verse 29. Rabbi Fohrman then goes on to point to chapter 6:6 and 7, as some of the same words, and in the same order, are used there too, but in regard to YHVH’s judgments of humanity. These similarities can only be seen in Hebrew. Hence we will go through them one by one.
Upon Noach’s birth Lemech says, “(This one) will comfort us – y’na’cha’mey’nu – (concerning) our work – ma’a’seynu – and the toil – um’eetza’von (of our hands, because of) the ground – ha’a’da’ma (which YHVH has cursed)” (5:29). In 6:6, 7 it declares: “(And YHVH) regretted – va’yi’na’chem – (that) He had made – asah – (man on the earth) and He was grieved – va’yit’atzev - … (so YHVH said, ‘I will destroy man… from the face of the) earth – adama.”  Let us review our words as they appear in both texts: “Comfort” which is also “regret”, “work” which is also “make”, “toil” which is also “grief” and “ground which is also “earth” (the roots for each of these four terms being: n.ch.m, a.s.a, e.tz.v, and a.d.m).

Now that we had a short Hebrew lesson, let’s ask ourselves one or two questions: Were Lemech’s words prophetic? Did YHVH consider Lemech’s monologue to be so important as to replicate his words? What is going on here, and is this repetition of any significance?

Well, if we read each of the two texts in their respective contexts, we will see that they are actually very different from each other. Thus, the usage of the same terms but with two different messages seems to highlight the big gap that exists between the two ideas that are being conveyed here. This linguistic technique is often used by Scripture to draw the readers’ attention to an important subtext.

Let’s examine Lemech’s reasoning for naming his son a “comforter”. Apparently life was not easy in the post Edenic times: toiling, working, eking out a living was ‘no fun’. The earth, the source of income, was resisting man’s efforts. The pay check didn’t meet all of the needs, work hours were long, very little leisure and pleasure; the effects of the curse were truly evident.

Is there a way for a hard working person to ease his/her burdens in this never ending race to sustain himself/herself and the family? At last a firstborn comes into this world (his father is a youngster of 182). A beautiful baby – what joy! Additionally, when he grows up some, he will be of great help to his hardworking father in easing the heavy burdens! Perhaps he will even be a great leader in the community; will be gifted with ingenuity and may even come up with some agricultural/ecological solutions that will make the ground yield more produce and lessen the toil! Little Noach’s birth signaled hope in the drudgery of Lemech’s everyday routines.

It is so easy to identify with Lemech, isn’t it? Our day to day routines also wear us down. Legitimately we look forward to relief, to some comfort, and indeed thankfully quite often there is a supply via family, friends, ministry, promotions which bring financial relief, change of local or national government that seems more favorable, health improvements, change of location etc. We are blessed in all sorts of ways.

From here let’s move on to the next episode, described in the first 5 verses of Genesis chapter 6 and also in verse 11, introducing us to a very different reality from the one that was just described (and decried) by Lemech.  

Oh, wow, wee! What do these verses reveal? A world that is turning topsy-turvy: The “sons of Elohim” marry the “daughters of man”; the fallen (giants) come into being and appear to be very powerful (“of renown”). The mind of man (“the thoughts of his heart”) is occupied in “doing evil continually”.  Apparently those thoughts and imaginations were able to give birth to some very perverse activities which had an overall effect on Elohim’s created world.  He therefore had to take some extreme action in order for this chaos and disorder to come to an end. It was no use reforming or fixing what had taken place. The creation was so corrupt that the only solution would be to re-create it. And just as it was originally created out of water, so will it now be demolished by water and come forth “new”. This now will form the backdrop against which we will be viewing the unfolding plan described in 6:6, 7.

Although echoing the words of Lemech, what it says about the Almighty Creator in these verses bears no direct connection to Lemech’s demise or potential solution for his problems. Quite the opposite! If fact, could the repetition of those words be intended to point to the gap between Lemech’s reality and world (which may have applied to many of his contemporaries too), and the real world which was going to be snuffed out of existence because it was no longer workable? Yes, the wonderful son of Lemech was a “comforter”, but not for the purpose of releasing dad out of his ‘blues’. Lemech’s son had a far greater task apropos the conditions of the then-existing world and the grand-scale calamity that was about to take place, though it still seemed far off… This son was a “comforter” in that he was the only righteous person in a most evil and corrupt generation who did not succumb to the surrounding influences, but with endurance and patience set his mind to the rescue task that was set before him. Moreover, in the midst of all the perversions and violence he also spoke up, withstanding the potential harm he could have brought upon himself. (Peter calls him “a preacher of righteousness” see 2 Peter 2:5.)

Thus the Matthew 24:37-42 (and Luke 17:26 ff) text comes to our aid in regards to our own day, so that our awareness may rise as to the context of our lives and motivate us to act accordingly: "But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then two will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.”

However, we find in Scripture also a counter picture - of a “new” world.  In the beginning of Parashat Noach the term “corrupt” (spoiled, marred, ruined – sh.ch.t) is repeated several times (see 6:11,12,13,17). That word describes a world that was beyond repair. Is this true also of our world? It too may be irretrievably corrupt. Perhaps this is why Peter says that this world is “reserved for fire” (2nd Peter 3:7). But, you know what? The solution once again will come by a “flood”, and so it is written: “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of YHVH as the waters cover the sea”. The same text also emphasizes, in contrast to the days of Noah, that “they shall not hurt or destroy/ corrupt/ mar/ spoil – sh.ch.t. – in all My holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9b, 9a).

Perhaps you too are sensing that the “days of Noach” are upon us. May be it is time to get busy building the ark (tey’vah), while also “preaching righteousness”. What does “building an ark” and “preaching righteous” mean? They may be different things to different people. That’s alright. There is a possible hint in the very construction of the ‘original’ ark, since in His instructions YHVH incorporates the root k.f.r. (covering – atonement such as “kippur”) twice; once as the verb for covering, and then as the very material that was to coat the wooden structure (ref. 6:14). All the same, we all need to know from the Master Builder and King of Righteousness what any of this may mean for each of us. By YHVH echoing Lemech’s words He made them mean almost the opposite of their speaker’s intention. And as easy as it is to empathize with Lemech, it is not him that we want to emulate, but rather to wake up and gain awareness of what our heavenly Father has for us in this generation, as Noach did in his.

Please note - if this conclusion seems to be portraying YHVH somewhat harshly, as though He is disinterested in personal needs and plights, let us not forget that the ark, with its potential to grant safety to many, ended up protecting and saving (solely) its builders. Even if Elohim appears sometimes to be neglecting, it is only because He is redirecting.

                                                                                                            Rimona 10/19/2018

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.