Friday, February 24, 2017

A Wilderness People's Vision and Destiny

When our Israelite forefathers were called out of Egypt and out of slavery, they were not just freed from bondage; they were also given a destiny and a destination.  And although they did not know the way to the “promised land of milk and honey”, they had a promise with a vision, without which, as it says in Proverbs “the people are unrestrained [out of control, as indeed was proven out in the wilderness], but happy is he who keeps the Torah" (29:18).  What do Torah and vision have in common? The Torah, as the instructions of YHVH, is the pathway toward the vision, it lights up the way, or as it says in Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”.  The Word of Elohim casts light on the pathways so that His people can find their way and cooperate with YHVH’s goals for them.  But without the vision the Torah trail will end up causing the people to wander in cycles of repetitive religious rituals.  Hence the Torah and the vision (at which the Torah aims) are equally important.
 At the same time we must also remember the words of the prophet:  “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Habakkuk 2:3).  Here is where our ancestors miserably missed the mark, thinking that the promise would be fulfilled quickly and easily, and the journey would be short; flying on eagles' wings, as it were. But because that was not the case, especially because of their disobedience, they were not able to keep their eyes on this (unseen) vision. Thus, their immediate needs and fears caused them to draw back from the hope and confidence that their Elohim would do what He had promised, and take them to their destined habitation.  Even though they had, on a daily basis, many visual signs they failed to trust Elohim’s word and learn the lessons which were designed for them by their desert experience.    

Then, as well as now, the wilderness is a place of preparation. It is (or can be) a place for hearing the Word, for practicing and putting it into effect.  One of the Hebrew words for preparation (in its root form) is ‘kuwn” and means to be firm, stable, or be established.  If YHVH is fully engaged in the re-gathering and reconstituting of the second stick/nation of the House of Yosef, He will raise the level of testing and trials that this remnant of Ya’acov must walk through (see 1 Corinthians 15:58).  We may only be at the beginning of this restoration, but what becomes the most obvious is the demand upon us to walk by faith and not by sight in a (many-times) unseen reality (see 2 Corinthians 5:7).

Closely associated with “faith” is “faithfulness”. The Song of Solomon 8:5 depicts a beautiful picture of the end of the wilderness experience: “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?”  What a wonderful picture of the grand entry into the Land after the long dry barren journey! This is the company of the priestly nation made up of families (even the solitary are put in families, Psalm 68:6), men, women and children.  And so we read: “And to all who were written in the genealogy -- their little ones and their wives, their sons and daughters, the whole company of them -- for in their faithfulness they sanctified themselves in holiness” (2 Chronicles 31:18).

The wilderness journey affords us daily opportunities to offer ourselves a living sacrifice on the altar of obedience of faith (ref. Romans 12:1-2; 16:26).  Some may think that this journey is to culminate only in a heavenly destiny with no earthly relevance. However, we cannot disconnect the Word of Elohim from its earthly fulfillments.   The following scripture, which was addressed to the northern tribes of Israel, illustrates the fulfillment of YHVH’s Word here on earth.  Remember, having only the Torah without the vision, or having the vision without Torah, the fulfillment of the prophecy will be out of reach:  "I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know YHVH. It shall come to pass in that day that I will answer,’ says YHVH; ‘I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth. The earth shall answer with grain, with new wine, and with oil; they shall answer Jezreel.  Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are My people!' And they shall say, 'You are my Elohim'"
(Hosea 2:19-23 emphases added). 


Where and how do we experience and attain this level of righteousness and faithfulness that will bring us to the fulfillment of the greatest “vision” to have ever been granted to a people, a people who are to lean and rest peacefully on the arms of the King of kings and Lord of lords? “… For those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful" (Revelation 17:14).  And they shall be priests of Elohim and of Messiah, and shall reign with Him a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6b).


To be continued…

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Wilderness Community


Moshe expressed the purpose of the wilderness journey, from YHVH’s point of view, in the following words: “Do not fear; for Elohim has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin" (Exodus 20:20).   "And you shall remember that YHVH your Elohim led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart” (Deuteronomy 8:2).   Fear in Hebrew has two meanings “scared, fearful, afraid” or, “to stand in awe, reverence, honor and respect”.  Both meanings are embedded in the above quoted verse from Exodus.  

Although we are called to be a priestly nation, it is not religion that is to be the vehicle of expression, but rather life laid-down for the purpose of serving and administering YHVH’s Kingdom life and light in and to families and local communities. This ‘mode of operation’ requires a renewal of the mind, as most of us (especially in the western world) have been brought up in a mindset and lifestyle that highly regards one’s personal independence and individuality.  The instructions of the Torah, the Prophets, Yeshua and the Apostles, on the other hand, do not advocate this kind of world view, but the opposite - interdependence and concern for others and their needs (see for example, 1 Corinthians 12: 14-27). This approach is not one of interference and intrusion, but of encouragement and support, not only toward friends and relatives but also in regards to the unbelieving neighbor, and not just one day out of the week.

The wilderness journey was and is today a 24/7 experience of living by faith, and daily facing the unknown, both in the natural and spiritual.  During their wilderness journey, our forefathers lived as a community of Israelites on the way to a promised land that they had not seen, nor experienced.  They did not even know exactly where it was located, just as was the case with Avram who, when initially called to ‘get out and go’, did not know the way or the destination.  Some of us may suppose that we know all about our future and how the Spirit will lead us to what we think is the ‘promised land’.  We may even attempt to plan the way, but in the end YHVH will direct the unknown pathways (see Proverbs 16:9).  As mentioned above, we have to come to a point of recognizing the need for mind renewal, especially as to whether we identify as assemblies of His redeemed people or, conversely, as communities. In the past we were mostly conditioned to getting together for bible studies, worship services, socials and pot-luck meals, and in many cases even now these have become our long standing camp grounds from where we have not moved, having perhaps mistaken the crowd for the Cloud.  We have become dependent on those one or two weekly gatherings just for a break in our daily routines. This is not to say that these meetings do not have their purpose and place, but in and of themselves they do not constitute community.  The definition of “congregate” is “to come together; to assemble; to meet”, whereas “to commune” or “communing” means: “a body of people or families living in close proximity and sharing their livelihood together…communicating intimately with; being in a state of heightened, intimate receptivity”.  These definitions and their application may not even be common in many a home or family, let alone among family groupings and other types of assemblies. Why do I keep emphasizing these issues? It is in order to remind us of the season and place we are currently in, and for the purpose of reviewing our present conditions. The desert is a habitation that YHVH uses as a means for achieving His aims, and so for us it is a place where we are to prepare ourselves to receive what has been promised: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of Elohim” (2 Corinthians 7:1-2 emphasis added).

To enter into the fulfillment of YHVH’s promises one has to go through ‘gates’: "Open the gates, that the righteous nation may enter, the one that remains faithful. The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:2-3).  Faithfulness, steadfastness and trustworthiness are the main ingredients for successful family and community life, and may I add, also for successful maneuvering through the wilderness.  Another component are the two commandments that Yeshua uttered: “You shall love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Torah and the Prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).  

If communities or home groups will work together for specific objectives, the levels of relationships will deepen so that the journey may progress, while also putting to the test hitherto unexplored heights of trust and responsibility. Maturity in the body of redeemed Israel is based on the ripeness of the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  The rotting and dying fruit of the works of the flesh (vs. 19-21) at this stage should not even be seen, let alone give off its unpleasant odor.
  
YHVH also uses the wilderness and its conditions to “purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me” (Ezekiel 20:38), as we have read above.  He will reveal what is harbored in the heart, and the thoughts that are not of Him. Overcoming the evil tendencies will take perseverance and persistence.  The apostles left us with the Father’s instructions and the tools of truth to work with.  As already mentioned, the renewing of the mind is essential to all of this.  “Renewal” means that at some time in the past (before the Fall) man’s thoughts were pure, his motives uncontaminated, and his desires untainted. Even while in the womb of our mothers, our minds were pure and undefiled. But with the polluted spirit-life of Adam, and living in an environment that expresses the nature of this kingdom of darkness, the mind cannot remain in a pure state.  A good example of that rebellious nature is seen in toddlers, or even in younger children (babies), who so naturally resist the authority of parents.  

The Tanach and New Covenant writings are replete with instructions for each of us to take seriously, remembering that we are “under the rod”.  The power of the resurrected life in Messiah is able to accomplish the renewing process of the mind, but that means a serious commitment of obedience to the Word and to Elohim’s instructions, especially those that apply to the internal (heart and mind) changes: “Be ye holy”.

"Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things…  and the peace of Elohim, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Messiah Yeshua” (Philippians 4:8-7)  

“For I am YHVH your Elohim. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, that you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). “For Elohim did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness [or sanctification]

(1 Thessalonians 4:7).