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’s 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 YHVH’s 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 where the Israelites are (geographically and spiritually), nor who is living on their land, 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). However, 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 the kind of life we are living 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 have mentioned Ezekiel 20’s warning 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 our forefathers.  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 mitzvoth. 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 has 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 italics and 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).  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.”  His intentions were not to dwell in a building, but within a nation of priests and kings. 

The above statements highlight the 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, even some of YHVH’s laws were practiced and upheld (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 instatement 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 an 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 receiving the miracle 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 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. This introductory message, 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 to experience what was about to happen.  Having been used to gods or idols of some kind, it is no wonder 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” 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.