Friday, December 25, 2015

My People (Ami)

Shalom Fellow Israelite,

As we know from the first chapter of Hosea, YHVH told Northern Israel that they would become for a time “not My people”, but that at the same time they would also increase in numbers and become nations.  It is there that YHVH does not only call them “My people”, He also adds an additional qualification to their identity: “sons of Elohim” (Hosea 1:10).  But what about the writings of the New Covenant? Do they attest to these ‘Old Testament’ prophecies? Did the apostles, for example, know who the faith people from the nations were?  Did they view them as being the same “My people” who have been destined by the Word to become the “sons of Elohim”?  Is YHVH actually bearing witness to His own words and words and faithfulness to keep covenant?

For millennia YHVH hid the faith people in the nations, blinding them to their true Israelite identity while, as pointed out above, multiplying them.   But now, in our day, He is connecting the dots of His truth and is raising a witness based on the words of the Tanach, which is also confirmed by the Brit Chadasha, so that the world might know that He is still the Elohim of Israel and that the Spirit-led believers from the nations are those same “My people” who are called “sons of the living Elohim”. “And because you are sons, Elohim has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’  Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of Elohim through Messiah“ (Galatians 4:6-7).  

If, as many believe, we are in the “last days” then we should take note that it is these days that YHVH is referring to, when He says that He will turn the hearts of the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob back to the knowledge of their ancestral heritage (see Malachi 4:5-6), and therefore to their identity.  According to Jewish understanding, only the true Messiah can bring the lost (“My People”) back to their Elohim and to the covenants and restore them to the land of promise.  Are there today those who are having this experience of knowing their true identity, and at the same time are holding to the witness as to who their Messiah is?  Yes, every day out of the Christian world there are those who are discovering their “Hebrew” roots and are claiming to be “His People”.  But this is only the beginning.

“My people”, or “My people Israel”, is repeated over 240 times in Scripture, as YHVH is very emphatic about identifying those who belong to Him.  But as such, how are we to conduct ourselves and express this identity? According to Elohim’s instructions we are to have an intimate knowledge of Him, walking out His ways and commands, believing what is true about His faithfulness and righteousness.  First and foremost we are to have “yir’aht YHVH” (fear of YHVH), reverence, respect and yes, even fear (as this word can also mean “terror”).  “Yir’aht YHVH”, as expressed in Proverbs 9:10 is "…the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One will bring understanding”.  How much of this fear, wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the Holy One do we have in our lives?  We must keep in mind at all times that we are His people and the sheep of His pasture and that we do not belong to ourselves, and take stock of how well do we know this One whom we call our Elohim, or even our Father.  Isaiah 26:3’s message tells us that “perfect peace have those whose eyes are on YHVH”.  It appears that the most important knowledge that we are to seek and obtain is the knowledge of the Almighty, Creator, Shephard and Father of us all, and our kinsman redeemer Yeshua. Even though knowledge of the creation, the world, and of the human condition increases, it seems that just the opposite is taking place among some of “My people” (as was pointed out last week).  If we lack the wisdom, knowledge and understanding of Who He is, and why He calls us “My people”, we may have to face severe consequences.   We can take our lesson from our forefathers: “Now all these things happened to them [My People] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Often when Bible teachers seek to emphasize the importance of their teachings, two scriptures are brought up.  I would like to combine these two into one message, as I believe these verses are referring to the descendants of the same “My people” today. This, therefore, is my combined rendition of Isaiah 5:13-14 and Hosea 4:6: “My people have gone into captivity and are destroyed because they have rejected knowledge of Elohim and have forgotten the instructions of their Elohim’s Torah.  Thus YHVH has rejected them as His priests, as well as forgetting their children.   Their honorable men are famished and multitudes of His people are dried up from thirst.  Therefore Sheol has enlarged itself and opened its mouth beyond measure.   Their magnificence [glory] and multitude in jubilant pomp and ceremonies shall descend into it” (Isaiah 5:13-14; Hosea 4:6).  

The above-quoted pronouncement against His people is not a diminishing word, but one that stands before all of us in every generation of those who claim to be identified as “His people”.   We cannot always rely on His great mercies to carry us along while we rebel against His instructions in the Tanach and in the New Covenant writings.  Some of “My people” are still sitting in Babylonian institutions with shepherds who are leading them up their own mountains in an effort to keep them well fleeced.  But when “My people” (regardless of where they are ‘siting’) realize that they are parched from thirst, even though their knowledge has increased, they must ask:  what kind of knowledge (nourishment) are we being served? 

Our ancestors were called Hebrews by the other nations, but YHVH only recognized them as “My people” and the Children of Israel – B’ney Yisrael.  “Thus says YHVH, ‘Israel is My son, My firstborn.  So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me’” (Exodus 4:22-23).  Notice that those words were referring to over a million Hebrews whom YHVH was recognizing as His “son” (not sons) - one son, one firstborn, one nation, one people.   They were one nation in the womb of Rebekah, and they are still one nation today, even though temporarily divided into two and scattered throughout the world.   Nonetheless, the Father through the Spirit of Yeshua (see Galatians 4:6), is working in a faithful remnant to reconstitute and restore the stick/goy of Yosef.  But it takes the renewing of the mind to accomplish this task, because in our host nations we have been totally enculturated and have taken on national identities that are not ours. Let us pick up the challenge that was put forth by Paul when he addressed the non-Jewish Ephesians, saying to them: “formally you were of the nations…“ If that also applies to us, then what, or who are we now?

Shabbat Shalom,


Friday, December 18, 2015

Drunk on Knowledge

Subsequent to last Friday’s letter a few more thoughts came to me.  You will probably remember the Isaiah 29 scripture that we looked at last week:Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; they stagger, not with intoxicating drink.  For YHVH has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes… “ (v. 9). As I was pondering what it is that is putting people in this condition today, I realized that it is an over-dose of knowledge. Not that knowledge is bad in itself, but it is the usage or misusage of “knowledge” which may be deceiving people. While thinking that being well-informed is keeping them alert and in the “know”, the very opposite may be the case.   

Daniel’s prophecy, concerning the end of days, where it says that many will run to and fro and knowledge will increase (Daniel 12:4) should make it clear to us that this increase of knowledge is not necessarily the knowledge of the Creator, Yeshua the Messiah, the Gospel of the kingdom, or the Word of YHVH. If it were, it would humble a person very quickly.  But knowledge that stems from the Tree of Knowledge will, as Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, have a very negative effect:  “Now concerning things offered to idols: We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.  And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).  The ‘food’ or ‘fruit’ from this kind of knowledge can produce pride and self-righteousness, morphing into idols in our hearts (see Ezekiel 14 )

With the advent of the computer and cyber possibilities, we can now store knowledge and in an instant it can be at our finger tips.   In some ways the enticement for this knowledge can mesmerize a person to the point of “drunkenness” and addiction, leading ultimately, as one community leader observed, to emptiness.  What’s more, it can also turn into a source of entertainment.  But enjoyable as it might be, it has no lasting benefit and causes one to seek/surf for more.  None of the knowledge from the Tree of Knowledge edifies. On the contrary, it will do what it did in the Garden of Eden, “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6 emphases added), and ultimately fell victim to the inevitable separation from the Creator.  Again Scripture warns about the idol of knowledge that can corrupt the mind:  But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Messiah” (2 Corinthians 11:3). 

We have to acknowledge that our minds have been corrupted by this world’s knowledge, largely without us even knowing or being aware of it, and thus as YHVH’s people we have to be cautious and keep our minds in check.  “If then you were raised with Messiah, seek those things which are above, where Messiah is, sitting at the right hand of Elohim. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).  Notice it does not say “of the earth”, but “on the earth”, which Paul then elaborates on, in a following verse: “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). And there is more that can be added from Romans 1:29-31, and Galatians 5:19-21.  Thus exhorting us to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of Elohim” (Romans 12:2).  

Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, makes a strong indication of what the will of Elohim is for those who are in the Messiah and have His Spirit: For this is the will of Elohim your sanctification that… each of you should know [have the knowledge and understanding] of how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor… For Elohim did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4a, 7). Therefore, in this way “our hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attain to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of Elohim, both of the Father and of Messiah, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).  Thus, it is in the fruit of Tree of Life i.e. the Word of YHVH (the Scriptures) that the nourishing knowledge of Elohim and Messiah Yeshua is to be found.

Last week we took note of the label that YHVH had given to Israel, calling them an “undesirable [or undesired] nation” (Hab. 2:1). Interestingly, the same word for “desired” (“nichsaf”) is used in the two main Hebrew translations of the New Covenant, in Luke 22:15, where during the seder meal, prior to His execution, Yeshua said to the disciples: “With desire I have desired [nichsof nichsafti] to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of Elohim." Notice the duplication of the verb for the purpose of accentuating the point. Isaiah 62 addresses Zion’s vindication and acceptance with glorious descriptions and adjectives. Among them is “heftzi-ba” – my desire is in her”. Although not identical with “nichsaf”, it conveys the same idea.

And so, what is to transpire on the road from being “an undesired nation” to becoming “my desire is in her”? One main station on our journey was when we partook of Yeshua at Passover, in accordance with His great desire to “eat with us”. But where to from there? As we saw above, knowledge and the incessant pursuit thereof may not only intoxicate us and set us off course, but it can also have the effect of puffing up, while the command “to be gathered” and “to gather” goes unheeded. (Zephaniah 2:1-3). As voiced by Zephaniah (again from last week), to be gathered together can only take place when the gathering, of the low-laying branches and twigs, occurs while in a stooped posture of lowliness, humbleness, and the knowledge of the Truth. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

In Face of the Odds

The other day I had to go and buy myself a new study bible, as the old one was falling apart.   Upon arriving home and opening it, I started reading a text that caught my eye.  At first I didn’t know where this excerpt was from but the following is what captured my thoughts:  Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with intoxicating drink.  For YHVH has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.  The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, ‘Read this, please.’ And he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’  Then the book is delivered to one who is illiterate, saying, ‘Read this, please.’ And he says, ‘I am not literate.’ Therefore YHVH said: ‘Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men. Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden’" (Isaiah 29:9-14).

Where are the true prophets today?  Where are the seers?  YHVH is fulfilling His word even in the midst of this world’s chaos.  But because YHVH is looking at the heart and not at external behavior, we cannot fool Him into thinking that all the loud or even contemplative forms of worship are pleasing to Him.  In Ezekiel 14 the prophet warns of the idols that Israel has set up in their hearts and then come before Him to worship Him.  This is why in many Shabbat or Sunday gatherings you will hear very little prophecy read from the Tanach, and if it is read many will not understand because it is sealed.  Preachers want to call people to repentance and revival etc. Yet many are not just sleeping, but are “drunk”, and when in that state it is almost impossible to shake them out of their stupor. 

With such a grim picture before us, the question may arise in our hearts and minds: Is YHVH really in the process of waking up and raising a nation that’s been lost, scattered, in oblivion as to its identity, and what’s more, according to the promise, is supposed to be not only great in numbers but also in its spiritual stature and become YHVH’s kingdom nation here on earth? What’s more, how ‘on earth’ is the gathered and identified part of the family (namely Judah), who is in oblivion as to its brother’s existence, going to become one with the former? Common sense would say, “Totally impossible”; “highly unlikely”; mere “pipe dream”.  Those “settled complacently on their dregs say in their hearts, ‘YHVH will not do good or evil’”. Further they murmur:   “It is useless to serve YHVH; what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before YHVH of hosts?”; "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (Zephaniah 1:12; Malachi 3:14; 2 Peter 3:4).

Zephaniah goes on to say that these skeptics will be visited by YHVH and they will be held accountable (the verb being “pakod”) for these statements of unbelief, and continues with a description of the Day of YHVH being “a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of devastation and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness” (1:15), being only a partial list.

What a dilemma? How are we to respond to these words, while at the same time we are also facing the world’s fast deteriorating conditions? If we go back to Zephaniah, in chapter 2, verse 1 Elohim is addressing an “undesired nation”, telling them to… yes…. “be gathered together”, using a double verb (hitkoshashu vekoshu) which means that He is driving a hard and emphatic message, as we can see from the warning that follows:   “Before the decree is issued,  or the day passes like chaff, before YHVH's fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of YHVH’s anger comes upon you!” (verse 2).  But there are more instructions, with hope imbedded, which follow: Seek YHVH, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of YHVH's anger” (verse 3)

The humility mentioned above is right in line with the verb for being gathered ( This is the only instance where this verb is used for gathering people. Normally it refers to gathering sticks and twigs lying low on the ground. It was used to describe our ancestors’ stooped position (and condition) when they gathered straw (which is, not coincidentally,”kash”) in Egypt, just before their deliverance. It was used in 1Kings 17:12 regarding the widow from Zarephath who in her destitute “gathered” two sticks in order to prepare the last meal for herself and her son, just before Elijah came in and saved the day.

Shortly before deliverance from dire straits in Egypt and a rescue in Zarephath (which means “smelting”, “refining”, “purifying”) by Elijah, we find the protagonists “stooping in humility”, and if this is not clear enough, we go back to the direct address in Zephaniah 2:3, that we looked at above. Let’s read it again:  “Seek YHVH, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden in the day of YHVH’s anger.” Be encouraged, as the long account of the impending judgment segues into:  “In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds in which you transgress against Me; For then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain.  I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people, and they shall trust in the name of YHVH. The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness and speak no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed their flocks and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid" (3:11-13).  The rest of this chapter, all the way to the end of Zephaniah, crescendos into a joyful portrayal of the days to come.                                                                 

Shabbat Shalom,

Ephraim and Rimona