Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part VII)

Before Moses left the Tent of Meeting to meet up with YHVH for the second time, he was instructed by Him to cut two stone tablets (like the ones he had broken), and carry them up the mountain the next morning.  But while the first tablets originated from YHVH and were hewn at the top of the mountain, these new ones were going to originate from the bottom of the mount and be brought up to YHVH, where He would inscribe on them once again the ten words (Exodus 34:1, 2, 28). As we will see, Moses is about to have a completely different experience from his former forty day stay on the mount.  YHVH had already agreed to reveal to him His glory - “kavod”, His goodness - “tuv”, and His favor - “chen”, all of which constituted, as it were, the backside of His glory (see Ex. 33:18ff). 

Just before we accompany YHVH’s faithful servant on his ascent up the mountain, let us take note of some of the differences between the previous scene and this one. YHVH sealed the first covenant with the blood of bulls. Immediately after that Moses, Aaron and the elders all went up the mountain, where they ate and drank and saw Elohim (see Exodus 24:8-11).  Following the golden calf episode and the breaking of YHVH’s stone tablets, the mountain became off limits, this time to everyone except Moses (34:3).  It seems that the first episode had a potential of launching an intimate relationship between Israel and their Redeemer, but instead ended with a colossal failure which speaks volumes of their condition and ability to observe the covenant. Moses, having interceded on behalf of the people, is now called back up to witness the “favor” and the “goodness” of YHVH and much more.  

Moses’ earlier plea is about to be answered. The Almighty promised him that He would call out His name and make His glory known to him (33:19-23), and now the time has come. Thus, when Moses arrived at the mountain top, the cloud came down and surrounded him while YHVH passed by in front of him calling out His name: "YHVH, YHVH Elohim, merciful  - “rachum”, and gracious/favor - “chanun”, longsuffering - “erech apayim”, and abounding in goodness/grace - “chesed”,  and truth - “emet”… (Before we go on let us recall another text:  “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory -“kavod”, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of  “chesed” – goodness/grace and “emet” - truth” John 1:14.)  …keeping “chesed” – goodness/grace for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6-7).  Moses was so overwhelmed with what he had just seen and heard that all he could do was to make haste and bow his head toward the earth and worship (v.8).  Through this encounter Moses was assured of his Master’s faithfulness and favor, and so proceeded to ask on behalf of the people: If now I have found grace in Your sight, O Lord (Adonai), let my Lord (Adonai), I pray, go among us, even though we are a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your inheritance" (Exodus 34:9).

What we are witnessing here is the kind of worship and intercession that Elohim desires - worship or adoration in “spirit and truth”, as a result of knowing Him and seeing Him as He is. This is the worship that He will respond to and expects from His people (refer back to last sentence in part IV). In other words, worshiping Him for who He is, not for what He does for us, nor causes to happen.  Moses saw His intrinsic and quintessential glory and “met up” with YHVH’s very character and nature.  Again, unlike the previous meetings with Elohim, Moses’ skin was set aglow by this encounter. After he returned to camp he had to cover his face, removing the cover each time he entered the tent to meet up with Elohim (ref. 34:29-34).   

Immediately following this incredible declaration and manifestation of His name and disposition YHVH, hearing Moses’ plea for His people, declared that He would make a covenant with him and with them.  But hang on, what is going on here? Is YHVH referring to the same covenant that Israel has just messed up, or is He?  "Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of YHVH. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you” (Exodus 34:10).  While it seems that He is referring to conquering the land and destroying its inhabitants, and indeed shortly Israel was going to have some awesome experiences while taking their inheritance, yet for a covenant to be legally in effect it had to be sealed with blood.  When we examine closely the full content of the said “covenant” and YHVH’s real intent, we find that it has more to do with forgiveness of sin, iniquity and transgression, including marvels and awesome wonders.  What covenant was sealed by blood and accompanied by wonders (of healing the sick, blind and deaf and raising the dead)?  It appears that the signs and marvels promised here point to Yeshua and the “miracles, wonders, and signs which Elohim did through Him” (Acts 2:22), and his followers. However, the capstone of Yeshua’s life was the shedding of His blood that sealed this second covenant of Sinai and atoned for the sins of the people so that they could become the royal priesthood and holy nation that YHVH declared them to be.

In the meantime, in order for Israel’s Elohim to dwell in their midst, the Israelites would need the instructions that were given to Moses at his first forty day stay on the mount (instructions which He repeated during the second ascent). Thus, if the “current” covenant that YHVH has just announced to Moses is indeed linked to the new covenant as declared by Jeremiah (31:31), then the Ten Commandments and the Torah remain valid.   Yeshua declared: "For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Torah till all is fulfilled… "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me” (Matthew 5:18; John 5:46).

 Moses’ climactic epiphany of Elohim on the mountain has made it possible to now leave that location, and carry out the instructions to erect a portable “holy place” instead, signifying that the Almighty’s presence is not limited or bound to exclusively one spot. And so He came to dwell in this portable sanctuary, and later in a stationary one, His desire all along was to abide in a people – individuals who together form a holy abode for His presence. But this would have to wait until the second “covenant of Sinai” could come to its completeness (more on this in Hebrews chapters 8-10).  Until then YHVH is committed to carry and move His people Israel along, under the shadow of His wings to their prophetic destiny ‘beyond the mountain’.

“How precious is Your “chesed”, O Elohim! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.  For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light. Oh, continue Your “chesed” to those who know You, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart” (Psalm 36:7-10).  

Friday, May 10, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part VI)

After the display of outright rebellion against the Redeemer and His covenant (a covenant that Israel consented to), their leader went with fear and trembling before a wrathful and angry Elohim, to intercede on behalf of Israel.  Moses and Joshua entered the tent of meeting, pitched outside the camp, and waited to see if the cloud would descend and land in front of the entrance.  YHVH’s words were still ringing in Moses’ ears:  "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book. Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you… Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin" (Exodus 32:33-34).  This did not bode well with Moses, who knew what the consequences may turn out to be. YHVH’s recent proposal, to destroy the people of Israel and to start all over again with his seed, was fresh on his mind (Ex. 32:10).

Fortunately the cloud did come down and positioned itself in front of the tent, while Moses intoned the following:  "See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people.' But You have not let me know whom You will send with me. Yet You have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found grace/favor in My sight.'  Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace/favor in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people" (Exodus 33:12-13 emphasis added).  Moses was not ignorant of YHVH’s “grace”, as he understood the deliverance, the “eagles’ wings”, the manna, the water from the rock, and the total provision for the people of Israel.  Yet there was still something missing in his relationship with the Almighty. He did not have that quite assurance that YHVH would totally forgive them and would not forsake them. The grace that he had in mind was still somewhat shaky. 

When the people first arrived at the mountain, Israel’s Deliverer presented Himself to His “subjects” in an awesome and overpowering way that left them in fear and trepidation. This initial impression, upon the initiation of the first Sinai covenant, was at the foundation of their relationship with their Elohim. Signed and sealed by the blood of the bulls that Moses sacrificed and sprinkled on the people, this covenant had been a conditional agreement. It is worthy to note that this overwhelming display of sight and sound did not instill in the people a desire to walk in obedience to their Deliverer. Their attitude was similar to that of children who grow up in families where strict laws and punishments are enforced.   

In his quest for a deeper relationship with Elohim, Moses suspected that there was another “face” to this Master of the Universe, and so his intercession continued:  "If Your Presence (panim – face) does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.  For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found favor/satisfaction/appeasement in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate (palah - distinguished, marked out), Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth" (33:15-16 emphases added). What was Moses driving at here? Was he reminding YHVH that these people, this nation, was His own testimony as to Who He was/is?  Moses remembered full well what Elohim had said to him during the negotiations with Pharaoh, at the time when the Hebrews were extremely upset at he and Aaron for making their burdens even more difficult. 
Here is what Elohim said to Moses at that auspicious time: “And Elohim spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I am YHVH.  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as Elohim Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name YHVH I was not known to them.  I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers.  And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.  Therefore say to the children of Israel: 'I am YHVH; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your Elohim. Then you shall know that I am YHVH your Elohim who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.  And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am YHVH'" (Exodus 6:2-8).  In this declaration YHVH repeats His name five times.  It is necessary to take to heart this entire dialog, when we intercede for Yah’s people.  But more important will be the next episode, as YHVH is about to call Moses back up the mountain.  

Just before the cloud lifted from the tent of meeting, Moses made his last plea: "’Please show me Your glory.’  Then He said, ‘I will make all My goodness (tuv) pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of YHVH before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’  But He said, ‘You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live’" (Exodus 33:18-20). 

Moses no doubt was greatly relieved by YHVH’s positive response to allow him to get a glimpse of the glory of His presence.  But for that to happen YHVH needed to put him in the cleft of a rock, and additionally also to cover him with His hand and only after His glory passes by would He lift off His hand, so that Moses would see His… back.  This event is encouraging for us, who have been placed in the cleft of the Rock of our salvation - “Yeshua” -  so that we too may get a glimpse, and even more than a glimpse, of the glory of the great goodness (tuv) of our Elohim,  for it is the goodness of YHVH that leads to repentance, and if I might add, to obedience (see Romans 2:4).  (To be continued)  

Friday, May 3, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part V)

At this point in time in the wilderness journey (ref Exodus 33-34) it doesn’t look like the people of Elohim will be progressing “beyond the mountain”.  They had just demonstrated their complete unworthiness, unfaithfulness, and infidelity to their Redeemer.  No other people had ever heard the voice of the Almighty Creator, let alone witnessed His signs and wonders, and yet so quickly walk off, turning instead to rebellion, stubbornness, and insolence as the nation of Israel.  YHVH, understandably, was ready to destroy them had it not been for the intercession of one man, Moses.  Elohim even proposed to this Levite that He would make a nation out of him.  This is all a little bit puzzling, because YHVH already knew what was at stake. Had He indeed destroyed the seed of the twelve tribes of Israel, that is, except the Levitical, He would have actually proven Himself to be just like them, and would have been unfaithful to His covenants and promises to the forefathers and to Himself, as He called Himself after the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Such a scenario, of course, would have been implausible.  In 2 Timothy 2:13 there is a very revealing and categorical statement regarding YHVH’s character: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”  YHVH has to remain faithful to His word, for He is the Word.  Moses did not have to remind the Almighty as to Who He was/is.

Please note that, the first time that Moses went up the mountain YHVH gave him the ten words on two tablets of stone, sealing the first Sinai Covenant.  However, the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf actually annulled this covenant. They were now totally at the mercy of the Almighty’s judgments. They had promised to “do and obey” His instructions.  Hence, the act of smashing the tablets by Moses was not just due to his anger, but was also a response stemming from knowing what their rebellion meant from YHVH’s perspective.  Elohim was fully aware of what was in their hearts, and actually used this opportunity to reveal it to them.

This first Sinai Covenant was not meant to make the people righteous but, as written: “to bring… to the knowledge of sin” (ref. Romans 3:20). The end result, therefore, could only be the consequence stated in the contract: “If you do all these commandments you will live” (Deut. 5:33), but if not, you will die.  YHVH had no other choice but to carry out His portion of the contract by declaring that He would not go with Israel, for if He did they would be consumed by Him (ref. Exodus 33:3). Upon hearing this, the people removed their gold jewelry, symbolic of their repentance, and wept. 

Moses, for his part, took up the tent and pitched it outside the camp and had a ‘pow-wow’ with the cloud. Apparently Moses’ tent, or another special tent, was used during the journey for a meeting place (before the Mishkan), but only outside the camp.  It was there where the people would go, to see Moses and inquire of YHVH (see Exodus 33:7). Upon their return to their tents they would wait for Moses to enter the tent and for the cloud to descend in front of the entrance, then everyone would worship at the opening of their respective tents (v. 8-9). (This was most likely the same tent that Moses and Jethro went into upon the latter’s arrival, ref. Exodus 18:7.) 

Moses’ tent was named “the tent of meeting” (Ohel Moed), being pitched, as mentioned, outside the camp. Later, after the tabernacle (Mishkan) was erected it became the “Ohel Moed” in the midst of the camp.  Why was the first tent always pitched outside the camp, while the Mishkan was situated in the midst of the camp? Initially YHVH could not be present in the heart of the camp because sin had not been atoned for. Only after He instituted the priesthood and the sacrifices within the tabernacle could His presence be in the middle of the camp (although hidden away inside the Holy of Holies).

This little phrase here, “outside the camp” is important to ponder, especially in light of Hebrews 13:11-13, where it says: “For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Yeshua also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (emphasis added).  

 As mentioned above, Moses had a ‘discussion’ with the cloud, setting the stage for his next aliyah (ascent) up the mountain.  There is much to say regarding Moses’ intercession but far more about the response of the Holy One of Israel.  (To be continued)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part IV)

Continuing to explore the wilderness journey of our ancestors, and by implication ours too, we find that one of the reasons that we seem not to be able to move beyond the mountain, is that we are still stuck on a major issue; the disappearance of our leader. “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him’” (Exodus 32:1). This was the response of the Sons of Israel when their leader went up into the cloud and disappeared for what turned out to be a forty day period. They, therefore, took matters into their own hands. Today as messianic believers, we too have a Leader who went up into the clouds over two thousand ago, with the promise to return. Are we responding to this ‘delay’ in a manner similar to that of our forefathers?

Over the two millennia of Christianity there has always been an expectation of Yeshua’s imminent return. Generation after generation of believers have turned to their leaders in an attempt to resolve the dilemma, or question, regarding their Lord’s promised return to set up His kingdom. At such times of expectations, clouded by uncertainty, doubt and unbelief can easily set in
and cause major disappointments. Leaders, like Aaron, must somehow preserve the faith of their flock, either in man or in Elohim. In the case of the Israelites, one would have thought that all the signs and wonders that YHVH performed during the first part of the Exodus would have been sufficient to carry them through each of the future stages of their journey. A careful reading of the words used when they cried out to Aaron is very revealing: This Moses, the man who brought us up out of Egypt” smacks of cynicism, bitterness and unbelief.

Apparently all the miracles that they saw firsthand did not sustain their faith, nor cause a deep reverence and fear of YHVH.  In the land of their sojourn they were accustomed to tangible, material gods/idols, like Aaron’s rod (that no doubt left a deep impression upon them). Aaron, knowing this about the people and in order to maintain unity, order and his leadership position, responded to their need by asking them to hand over their most precious possessions, articles made of gold. Those items were the jewelry with which they adorned themselves, being part of their own (self) image. Thus, in a sense, they corporately produced a golden calf, an Egyptian god, which they now perceived as the god that took them out of Egypt.  The irony of this situation speaks for itself. But to make things worse, Aaron made a proclamation, saying: “Tomorrow is a feast to YHVH” (Exodus 32:5). Moses’ brother dared to name an image of a calf, Yod Hey Vav Hey! Or at least, described it as being a representative of Elohim. “Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:6).

A mere 40+ days had elapsed from when they first heard the voice of Elohim, establishing the fact that He was the One who had brought them out of their bondage in Egypt. Moreover, He emphatically commanded them to have no other gods before Him, especially graven images which were absolutely forbidden. To that He added not to take His name in vain (see Exodus 20:2-7). Yet, in such a short time the people of Israel violated every one of these commands. Paul makes mention of this scenario, and its relevance to his generation (and all others): “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play...’” “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:6-7, 11-12).

The greatest threat to our relationship with an unseen Elohim and a Messiah who is not physically present, but yet is working in us by His Spirit, is “religion”. Religion is a spiritual system imported from Babylon and Egypt, which our ancestors reverted to in exchange for the faith and genuine relationship with their Creator and Savior. Religion keeps us in this world’s reality and traditions, worshiping the works of our hands or our intellectual abilities, all of which can produce pride and self-righteousness. This type of worship is in fact a form of humanism, being centered on Man. The gold and silver is handed to leaders in order to build adequate edifices and to offer peace offerings to the media gods. We gather together to be entertained by the most charismatic and dynamic expositors, and love to listen to predictions of future events that will produce what is deemed to be the scenario of Yeshua’s return. Would-be prophets keep us in hope and faith that their predications will help us remember and not forget our Messiah, as He waits in the heavens.

Being steeped in this type of atmosphere, our love towards each other grows cold, as the religious mind set propels us instead into focusing on being ‘right’, while others (by inference) must be ‘wrong’ regarding prophetic or theological matters. We look for an ‘Aaron’ who will build us a golden calendar to follow, so as to prevent us from falling into error, thus making it easy to judge our brothers and sisters and, again, break relationships with those who will not bow down to the Aaron of our choice. Religion uses the plum-line of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil for its temple building, while ignoring YHVH’s instructions as to how He desires to be worshiped.   (To be continued)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part III)

As we continue to take a closer look at our ancestors’ Mount Sinai experience, let us go back to Moses’ first encounter with YHVH on the mountain in Exodus 19.  Elohim calls him up, telling him to inform “the house of Jacob and the children of Israel” who they are as an “am segula”, with a very specific calling to be a kingdom of priests and a set-apart nation to Elohim.  This calling comes with a condition that YHVH’s voice is to obeyed and His covenant observed (ref. Exodus 19:5-6).  What covenant is He referring to?  Since the Sinai agreement had not yet been given, could He be referring to the one mentioned in Exodus 6:4-5? Here is what it says: "I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant.”  Again, what covenant did He remember?  “On the same day YHVH made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘To your seed I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates’” (Genesis 15:18). Fast forward, four thousand years later; to date there has not been a treasured priestly people living on the entire covenanted land ruled by Elohim’s kingdom government. 

The one message that all the prophets of old were proclaiming and the fulfillment of which they were hoping to witness, was a massive exodus out of all the nations, made up of the redeemed seed of the forefathers. But where lies the destination of such an exodus? Obviously, based on the pattern of the first exodus and according to the prophets it would be, once again, the covenanted land. This, however, cannot take place unless the lost tribes regain their Israelite national identity and become cognizant of the fact that the ultimate covenant that YHVH desires to fulfill is the one He made with Abram, when He walked between the cut pieces, and later reiterated at Sinai. It is commonly thought that Solomon ruled these areas, and/or that the return of the Jewish people to the present land is the fulfillment of this first covenant, being a prelude to Yeshua’s second coming once the temple is built. 
However, in preparation for Yeshua’s first coming the Almighty began the process almost 500 years beforehand, by raising Cyrus and Darius the Median kings, who amazingly decided to dispatch the Jews, from the house of David and Levi and the tribe of Benjamin, to Jerusalem, and to encourage and support their endeavors to restore the city and rebuild the temple.  And so we see that the times are in YHVH’s hands as He brings about the necessary changes for His segula people, preparing them and the land. We don’t like to think that it could take another 500 years for this expected exodus and for the “glory of all lands” (Israel) to be inhabited by YHVH’s am segula… but then again, the times are in His hand!
What does it mean to be an “am segula”?  Peter quotes the same Sinai scripture in his first letter, making some additions: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9).  In ancient times each king had a special singular and unique treasure of his most precious riches.  He also had his most trusted and capable special force protecting it.  Yeshua also makes mention of this precious treasure in a couple of parables, when He refers to the pearl of great price and to the treasure buried in a field (ref. Matt. 13:44-46).  What does it mean for us once when we realize that we are YHVH’s segula, His treasure, His pearl?

In the eyes of the Almighty Israel is still His kingdom-people.  We cannot separate, add to, or take away from what He has covenanted with the forefathers. It is all one big package deal - land, people, nation, and kingdom government.  Regardless of where the Israelites are (geographically and spiritually), nor who is living on their land or occupying it, YHVH still watches over them and His “eyes are always on it [the land], from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year” (Deut. 11:12). But the condition remains the same, “and it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love YHVH your Elohim and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul…” (v.13) that, you will be allowed to live in the land and possess it.
How are we perceiving our lives in terms of bearing a testimony to being YHVH’s “segula”?  We have written much about the importance of identity, as mentioned even in the previous article of this series, but if we are indeed going to take on the identity from YHVH’s perspective, as Ephraim or Israel, we must recognize that “we do not belong to ourselves” and that we are here for the namesake of the One who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  Do we have a keen sense of how our Father-King is looking at us? In another article we mentioned Ezekiel’s warning (in chapter 20), that out of the many who will be called out, no small number will remain in the wilderness of the people/nations outside the covenant land.  So like our Israelite forefathers at Mount Sinai, do we hear “if you will obey My voice and keep my covenant then you will be to Me…”?  How many times did our forebears want to return to Egypt? How many times do we give in to the pull of the world? 
Unfortunately we are not much different than them.  But ‘fortunately’ YHVH takes into account that we are still a stiff-necked people.
To be continued

Friday, February 15, 2019

Beyond the Mountain (part II)

What was YHVH’s purpose for bringing the Israelites to Mount Sinai?  Without understanding His reason for revealing Himself to His people there, as He did, we will continue to camp by that mountain. We will be studying all the details of the commandments, statutes and ordinances, collecting offerings - “trumot” - for the purpose of building a sanctuary for Him and then working hard at doing the mitzvot. We will also keep trying to decide how to carry out what we are hearing.  Because the original Hebrew script is so complicated, the poor lay person would feel the need to rely on rabbis and theologians for interpretation.  As a result, all this effort will end up becoming a hierarchal religious system, devoid of the relationship YHVH had intended for us to have with Him. So let us examine the reason that Elohim brought us to the Mountain, so that we may move on. There are two statements in Exodus that not only show YHVH’s intent, but also demonstrate His absolute devotion to carry out His plans for His people (past, present and future). 

“And Moses went up to Elohim, and YHVH called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself  (Exodus 19:3-4 emphasis added).   Notice “I brought you to Myself”.  The following verses demonstrate YHVH’s attitude and intentions toward His people, who were to be to Me a special treasure, to Me a kingdom of priests and a set apart nation” (19:5-6 emphases added).  The Almighty was looking to prepare a place for Himself, as seen from a statement in Exodus 25:8:  "And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them” (emphases added). His intentions were not to dwell in a building, but within a nation of priests and kings. 

The above statements highlight YHVH’s place in the relationship even though the called out ones were stiff necked and disobedient, a trait that seems to haunt us even in this generation.  We have to be careful that we do not become so enamored with discovering our Israelite identity and being called a treasured possession of the Most High and a priesthood, that we forget our first love: "You shall love YHVH your Elohim with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).  It is very easy for us to be living for ourselves, using our relationship with Abba for our sake, rather than existing for Him and for His name’s sake. 

The one rabbi who had a clear understanding of YHVH’s perspective of the Sinai covenant, was rabbi Shaul. In his commentaries he explains the purpose for giving the “Law”.  “For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law.  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses” (Romans 5:13-14). Thus in spite of “sin not being imputed" it did reign and mankind was obviously suffering the consequences (as is evident in the early Torah narratives).

So what is it that took place at Sinai that changed everything? And why is it so important that we as believers today understand our relationship to the Torah. For societies to be functional, in antiquity as in our own day, they obviously had to have laws and moral and operational codes. Unknowingly they even observed and upheld some of YHVH’s laws (see, for example, Gen. 26:5). However, there was not a clear spiritual demarcation line. By and large Man’s attempts to set up codices of law stemmed directly from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

YHVH’s commandments of “you shall” and “you shall not” are based on the Spirit of His Word, with the intent of convicting humanity of Sin.  “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7 emphasis added).  “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin(Romans 3:20 emphasis added).  Sin could not be atoned for until after YHVH gave the Law, and because in giving it He knew that His laws would be violated, He immediately made provision for a sacrificial system and gave instructions for constructing the Mishkan and the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, in order to facilitate the sacrifices.

YHVH’s intent was to have a people for His name sake, so that He might dwell not just among, but IN, them.  But as long as the heart/spirit of His people was still corrupted by the fallen spiritual condition it was impossible for His Spirit to unite with theirs.  It was therefore necessary for YHVH to prepare the people by this first agreement, or should I say contract, which both parties signed, thus setting in motion His future plan that would make it possible for Him to dwell in them.  Through Moses and the blood of oxen the first Sinai covenant was inaugurated.

 Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to YHVH.  And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins, and half the blood he sprinkled on the altar.  Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, ‘All that YHVH has said we will do, and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, ‘this is the blood of the covenant which YHVH has made with you according to all these words’" (Exodus 24:5-8).

Now you might be asking “what is meant by the first Sinai Covenant”…..?
 To be continued

Friday, February 1, 2019

Beyond the Mountain

“Beyond the mountain”. There are several thoughts that come to mind in regards to this concept.  The first of these concerns the sequence of events that took place while our ancestors’ sojourned from Egypt to Mount Sinai.  Having departed Egypt on the 15th of the first month (Aviv, ref. Numbers 33:3), they arrived at the wilderness of Sin on the 15th day of the second month (ref. Exodus 16:1), where they rebelled against Moses because of lack of food.  After the miraculous appearance of the manna, and the ordinance of the Shabbat they moved on and camped in Rephidim, where they once more complained, this time about water shortage and where they were also attacked by the Amalekites (ref. Exodus 17:8).  Such a short time has elapsed, yet so many attacks, both from within and from without! Is this a sign (for us) that the enemy does not want us (too) to get to the ‘mountain of Torah’? There is no mention of a departure date from Rephidim, but it is recorded that they arrived in the wilderness of Sinai in the third month on the same day that they had left Egypt, which was the 15th of the month.  Although no details are specified as to where they camped, it would appear from other references they were near the “Mountain of Elohim”. 
Immediately upon their arrival, YHVH called Moses to come up to the mountain, so that He could deliver a message to His people. Notice that this took place before He descended upon the mountain in the great display of fire, earthquake and sounds. The introductory message delivered then, which from YHVH’s perspective has never changed, was an identity message (in addition to having already called them Israel, His firstborn nation while they were still in Egypt. Ref. Exodus 4:22).
“And Moses went up to Elohim, and YHVH called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:  'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  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.  So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which YHVH commanded him.  Then all the people answered together and said, ‘All that YHVH has spoken we will do.’ So Moses brought back the words of the people to YHVH” (Exodus 19:3-8 emphases added).  
YHVH then told Moses to consecrate the people, for in three days (which would have been the 18th of the third month) He would descend upon the mountain.  In obedience they preformed all that they were charged with, washing their clothes and preparing themselves.   Yet it appears that they were not really ready for what was about to take place.  Having been used to gods or idols of some kind, it is no wonder that they became fearful at the sounds and sights that brought the Elohim of Israel from the unseen world into a reality that they could not even begin to relate to.  Notice that their response to YHVH’s first message “we will do” (v. 8) changed after experiencing the awesome Presence and “seeing the voices” (according to the Hebrew) of the Almighty. Now they added “nish’ma – we will hear/obey” - but under the condition that Moses alone would address them (ref. Exodus 20:19).   It is easy to say “we will do”, but that does not necessarily mean that the importance of obedience is recognized, because “doing” can also turn out to “doing it my way”. 
This kind of mind set pretty much typifies religious systems in general, as we pick, choose, alter and ultimately make up our own rules and regulations, ones that we desire to follow.  Thus YHVH’s instructions and commandments are being quickly laid aside, especially when we fail to live up to them.  Throughout the history of Israel this has been, and indeed still is the case today.  The main reason for failing is only realized when we acknowledge and recognize the commandments of Elohim. It is through and by the commandments that we arrive at the knowledge of sin, which is the power that works in our heart causing us to rebel (see Romans 3:20).
Elohim, of course, did not think for a moment that this mob-being-formed-into-a-people was capable of doing, hearing or even keeping any of His commandments, as He knew what was in their uncircumcised hearts. This is evidenced if comparison is made between the ordinance of Passover, just before their journey begins, and Moses’ speech toward the end of the journey. Let us lay those two side by side. "… It [keeping the Passover] shall be as a sign to you on your hand [that is, the “doing"] and as a memorial between your eyes [the thoughts and motives], that YHVH’s law may be in your mouth [speech]” (Exodus 13:9).  However, in Deuteronomy 5:29 at the end of the 40 years journey, YHVH has this to say: ”Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments.” YHVH was obviously making an observation regarding the heart condition.  Later on Moses adds: “Yet YHVH has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day” (Deuteronomy 29:4).  These are but a few of the instances in which the true state of the heart and its motives were exposed during the wilderness journey.
It seems that as soon as our forefathers heard YHVH’s instructions, their response was to follow their own inclinations, not obeying or trusting His word.  Let us go back to the Mountain and see if walking through the events will help us understand what YHVH’s intents were then and continue to be - applicable for us today so that we can move beyond Mount Sinai and take with us our true identity, as well as His instructions for a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
(to be continued)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

One New Man?

Shalom Fellow Israelite,
In the early nineties we joined a local congregation in the town where we were living at the time.  At one point, because of some questions that arose, I decided to explain to the pastor the subject of the historic division of the two houses of Israel (Isaiah 8:14) and their future restoration to form the one house of Jacob again. I brought up the fact that YHVH placed a wall of partition between the two (see 2nd Chronicles 11:4), while each one continued in its respective specified prophetic destiny. After about two hours of going through the Tanach and New Covenant books, the pastor responded as follows: "I can't refute the scriptures you presented but WHAT GOOD IS IT? We are all ONE NEW MAN in Messiah." Through the years this One New Man has become a defining doctrine of the Messianic churches, somewhat like the Catholic belief that the Church is the Israel of God. If this doctrine is a true picture of the ‘no Gentile’ and ‘no Jew’ identity, then why are the Jewish believers still identifying themselves as Jews, and the non-Jews as Gentiles? There seems to be something missing in this all-encompassing One New Man interpretation. From all appearances and with the (unfortunate) prevalence of envy, strife and contention maybe at this time it is still just a "One New Baby"?  (See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3). 

Labelling ourselves now “New Man” takes us away from the prophetic Scriptures that pertain to the history and calling which is upon the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Taking on this identity before its time will rob us of our identity as Israel - YHVH’s people. Moreover, it also blurs the “identity of Elohim” Himself as the Elohim of Israel (see Exodus 3:6, 15), and the testimony of His faithfulness in keeping covenant with the forefathers of His People.

I would like to suggest that, the One New or Renewed Man is parallel with the term “the sons of Elohim” who will be revealed when all that has been spoken by the prophets of old is fulfilled (Ref. Acts 3: 19-21; Ezekiel 37:19-28). Yeshua, as the Redeemer of all Israel, must complete His task of bringing the whole house together again, as well as back to the lands that were promised in the covenants.

In His first coming as the suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53), He broke down the “wall of partition” through his atoning death, as stressed by Paul (see Ephesians 2:14). However, the problem that still exists between the Ephraim and Judah is seen in Isaiah 11 where the prophet points out the envy and jealousy that prevails between them. Nevertheless, the prediction still stands that these two are to become “sons of Elohim” (Hosea 1:10) and one nation in His hand and in the land (see Ezekiel 37). Hence are these Israelites indeed the same sons of Elohim mentioned in Romans 8?  Is the whole creation still groaning because of an identity issue?

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Egyptian Idolatry

We do not generally envision the poor enslaved Israelites in Egypt to have been at fault for their hard conditions, nor do we attribute their spiritual condition in the wilderness (other than the fiasco of the golden calf) to some kind of idol worship and connection to the Egyptian gods. But Ezekiel chapter 20 makes it very clear that our ancestors defiled themselves with the gods of Egypt. YHVH says in no uncertain terms: "… they rebelled against Me and would not obey Me. They did not all cast away the abominations which were before their eyes, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt” (verse 8). According to the same verse all this had taken place “in the midst of the land of Egypt.” What's more YHVH 'admits': "Then I said, 'I will pour out My fury on them and fulfill My anger against them...'" (emphasis added). YHVH refrained from doing so, that is from literally exterminating His people, because "I acted for My name's sake, that it should not be profaned before the Gentiles among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt" (v. 9).

Aside from Ezekiel, another scripture writer verifies this. One who was a first eye witness to his brethren's condition. It is none other than Joshua, who makes mention of this fact not only once, but twice. (Then there is also Amos in 5:25-26, whose short account is repeated in Acts 7:42-43.)

As Joshua was about to exist the stage of life, he was recalling the history of the People, reminding them Whom they were to serve, while at the same time also exhorting and challenging them: “Now therefore, fear YHVH, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve YHVH!” (Joshua 24:14 emphasis added). The “other side of the River” refers to the pre-Abrahamic days, but “in Egypt” is quite a strong and clear indictment, which is less excusable.

The other episode, during which Joshua had to deal with this painful subject, occurred much earlier. It was upon the Israelites’ entry to the land. There, in Gilgal, those born in the wilderness got circumcised, an action which was also designed to: “roll away the reproach of Egypt from you. Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal” (Joshua 4:9). The “rolling” of the “reproach of Egypt” is “galot” – literally to roll or roll off, while the similarity to the name “Gilgal” is quite apparent. The verb “galo” or “galot” shares the same root as “gilool” or “giloolim” (plural). This is what the “idols of Egypt” are called in the above-mentioned Ezekiel 20 scripture. The “giloolim” are “balls”. What kind of “balls”? They are what the Tanach calls dung balls, using another word having the same root – glalim.

So what is the connection of “dung balls” to the “idols of Egypt”? One of Egypt’s venerated and deified creatures was the scarab beetle. Scarab is a dung beetle, which when it swarms and collects provender it does so by forming it into a ball, rolling it around to its destination. When Joshua’s altar was discovered on Mount Eyval (the mount of curse) in the 1980’s, several of these man-made scarabs were unearthed. This was clear evidence that our forefathers venerated this item of the “reproach of Egypt” and carried it around, and even passed it on to their children who entered the land of Israel. In fact, Chuck Missler contends that these scarabs or beetles were the “swarms” – arov in Hebrew – which made up the fourth plague. https://www.khouse.org/articles/2000/263/

The ten plagues that YHVH inflicted upon Egypt were not only intended against Egypt’s sovereign, Par'oh, but also against the “gods” of that land. At the time of the last plague, YHVH made the declaration that the gods of Egypt were the object of His assault (as well as that land’s living beings). Indeed, as you probably know, each of the plagues was a directed against one of Egypt’s idols (refer to the above link).

As a matter of fact, even before the season of the ten plagues had begun, we see YHVH already proving His might against one of Egypt’s deities. YHVH exerts His authority and declares: “And the Egyptians shall know that I am YHVH, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt…” (Exodus 7:5). “Stretching out” in this case is “ne’to’ti” (the verb being “nato” – its root is noon, tet, hey, n.t.h). This verb denotes leading or pointing direction, and thus in verse 9, when A’haron is told to cast his rod, this article is designated by “ma’teh,” originating from the same root. A’haron and Moshe were to represent YHVH’s authority over Egypt’s ruling powers, both the natural ones as well as the supernatural. Indeed, when A’haron casts his rod in front of Par’oh it turns into a serpent, which in Hebrew is “tannin”, literally an alligator. Thus YHVH demonstrated His power over one of Egypt’s most powerful symbols. In fact, in Ezekiel 29:3 Par’oh himself is addressed as the “great tannin” (translated “monster”), that is the great alligator (for the same idea see also Ez. 32:3). The very rule and authority of Egypt is therefore symbolized by this creature that inhabited the Nile, and was the first to be challenged by Elohim. (For more on the alligators and their role in Egypt’s Pantheon see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sobek)

It is not a mere coincidence that the plagues that are to strike this world and its systems, as described in Revelation, seem to mirror the plagues that befell the Egyptians, before YHVH brought Israel out from their midst. However, the fact that the Israelites themselves were not free from the same type of idolatry should not be overlooked, especially if we refer back to the Ezekiel 20:33-38 “transitional” passage. In verses 38 and 39 we read the following: “As for you, O house of Israel,’ thus says the Lord YHVH: ‘Go, serve every one of you his idols -- and hereafter -- if you will not obey me; but profane My holy name no more with your gifts and your idols.’” Would it surprise you to find out that the word there for “idols” is again “giloolim”? How revealing! Thus, if our forebears’ sojourn in Egypt and their emergence from that place is in some way equivalent to our day and age, we ought to consider the idolatry that prevailed in Israel’s camp.

No matter what these idols look like, or what form they take, or how they are being worshiped, spiritual entities do not just disappear or vanish. They are still at war with Elohim and His people, and they are still able to cling to us. Even though they do not take the form that they did in ancient Egypt, they have not ceased from being “abominable dung balls” that we are required to forcibly remove from ourselves. The Gilgal experience is not over.

As a side note we may take into consideration the fact that at the site of the greatest international interfaith convention – that is where the attempt was made to raise a tower to the heavens and to be “as the Most High”, in Bavel - Mitzrayim (the progenitor of the nation of Egypt who was also Nimrod’s uncle) would have been present. Thus the beliefs, with the entities that accompanied them, were transported from that cradle of humanity’s rebellion, to the entire known world of the day. Babylon has always played her part as the enemy’s representative, and still does, in each epoch of human history. It is from her, which is doomed to destruction, that we are to flee (while shedding off the ‘dung balls’ as we go so that we may run faster without being “unencumbered by sin”), lest we fall with her. This is summed up well in Revelation chapter 18.