Sunday, November 27, 2016

Servant Priesthood

“YHVH sent a word into Ya’acov and it fell on Israel, and all peoples know it” (Isa. 9:8-9). Although this scripture is interposed in a negative context, its truth is doubtlessly applicable to everything that YHVH ever spoke to our forefathers. In spite of the fact that His word was imparted to them thousands of years ago, a historical perspective, as well as present day reality, both reveal that, “His word has fallen on the entire nation of Israel as a testimony to all peoples”.  Historically YHVH divided the Israelite nation into two, Judah and Joseph/Ephraim.  This in order that He would have two witness nations for a time, until He would join them again in His hand and in the land (see Ezekiel 37:19-21).

One of the many roles that Israel plays in being a witness nation. Is that of YHVH’s priesthood.  One of the “words which fell on Israel”, is, ”to be a kingdom of priests” (Ex 19:6). However, this proclamation may be read in a number of ways. The Hebrew word used in this text for “kingdom” is “mamlacha”, which can mean “priests who are under a kingly authority”, or “priests who themselves have dominion, sovereignty or royalty”. The Apostle Peter, in his letter addressing “the aliens scattered abroad” within the Gentile nations, refers to his addressees as “a royal priesthood and a set apart nation” (1 Pet. 2:9).  The noun “aliens”, or “strangers”, is translated from the Greek word, “parepidemos” which literally means “a people living alongside the heathens” (ref. 1 Pet. 1:1). It behooves us to ask, then, whom is Peter referring to? Who was the nation that was not residing on its own real-a-state?  It appears then that the Apostle is writing to Israelites who are not in their own land, but are scattered among the other nations.

Peter continues to identify these people by quoting the prophet Hosea. He addresses those he is writing to as “not My people”, being a reference to Israel of the House of Ephraim, or Yoseph (Hos. 1:10).  He goes on to say that through the redemptive work of the Messiah they are now “a royal priesthood”.  But as we know, Levi was the tribe that was selected temporarily to serve the Tabernacle and Aaron their firstborn maintained the priesthood. However, it is not that priesthood that Peter is referring to as fulfilling the divine call conferred upon the nation as a whole (ref. Ex. 19:6). Hosea already hints at this priesthood when he says to Ephraim: "Hear this, O priests! Take heed, O house of Israel! Give ear, O house of the king! For yours is the judgment…though I rebuke them all. I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from Me; for now, O Ephraim, you commit harlotry; Israel is defiled” (Hos.5:1-3). Why did YHVH refer to Israel (Ephraim) as a “priest”?

There was a priestly office in Israel before the Torah was given, other than the Levitical one, which is mentioned shortly before the latter order came into being.   In Exodus 19, which is one of the most dramatic chapters in the entire bible, Israel, YHVH’s national first born, arrives at the mountain of His presence in the third month. “I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to Myself” (Ex 19:4), is YHVH’s description of that part of their journey. He then goes on, elaborating on the special status they are to have among all the other nations.  And although all the earth was and is YHVH’s, these children or seed of Ya’acov were to belong to Him as His special treasure, or possession, and thus were not “their own”. Immediately following these declarations, YHVH identifies them as “a kingdom of priests”

Before YHVH descended upon the mountain in the cloud and fire, He gave orders for the consecration of the people, so as to enable them to stand before Him and hear His voice indicating their priestly role. When all of this is said and done, the people gather on the third day around the mountain, which YHVH had warned them not to touch. But they were to be present there, before Him, in order to hear His Word. One of the conditions for becoming YHVH’s kingdom of priests was to “obey His voice and keep covenant” (Ex. 19:5).

Because of man’s inherent weakness and tendency to worship that which he sees with His eyes and touches with his hands, YHVH had to send Moshe down the mountain a second time to warn the people not to touch the mountain, or break through the set boundary.  At this point YHVH commands Moshe to go down and to tell the priests to consecrate themselves (ref. Ex 19:22), repeating this charge twice. "Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to YHVH, lest He break out against them" (Ex. 19:24).

Who are these pre-Levitical priests?  Let us take a look at the ordination of the Levites. "Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be Mine” (Num. 3:12). The Levites had replaced the firstborn’s position and role as priest. However not all Levites were to be the priest, only Aaron (the firstborn in Levi).  What made YHVH change the priesthood.  As is noted it occurred almost immediately after the Torah was given.
So with the coming of the Torah of Sinai, something changed in the heart of the people.  Paul in his commentary to the believers in Rome, he explains what happened.     Therefore by the deeds of the Torah no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the Torah came the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).  With the conviction of sin and its results “death” and separation from a Holy Elohim and Father.  YHVH immediately gave Moses the Mishkan and an officiating priesthood to this day in the Nation of Judah.  However, with the New or renewed Covenant, YHVH through the death of Israel’s Messiah Yeshua gave to not just Israel, but for all the Adamic family a future and a hope.  

Let us venture back now to the day on which YHVH took the sons of Israel out of Egypt. One of the first things that He did was to take the first fruit unto Himself.  "Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine." (Exodus 13:2).  These firstborn of man and beast did not belong to themselves, rather they were YHVH’s for His purposes. These were the priests and the animals that were set aside, or separated, holy unto YHVH.

By scriptural definition a priest is a firstborn who does not belong to himself; he is YHVH’s special treasure and possession through whom YHVH will do His work.

After Messiah fulfilled His redemptive role as the Lamb that takes away the sin of the Cosmos (the present sin and death world in humanity), YHVH, in the form of the Holy Spirit, began to draw out of the progeny of Avraham a first fruit of the New Cosmic order (ref. Rom. 4:16; James 1:1,18, Heb 2:16). Ever since the initial outpouring upon the disciples on the Feast of Shavuot –Pentecost - in the third month, He has been germinating a remnant of the Abrahamic seed, which is to grow and become an expression of a Servant Priesthood after the Order of Malchizedec.  “To Him (Yeshua our high priest), who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us kings and priests to His Elohim and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev.1:5-6).


Friday, November 4, 2016

Overview of the Second Bney Yosef National Congress

Overview of the Second Bney Yosef National Congress

The dedication of the First Temple in Jerusalem took place on the 7th month, during Succot, and beyond, with additional seven days of celebration (ref. 1 Kings 8:65, 66). Similarly, the celebration of Succot was restored in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, but following that celebration, on the 24th day of the 7th month the returning remnant from Babylon donned sackcloth and ashes and took stock of their disobedience to YHVH and His Torah (ref. Nehemiah 8:16 ff).

These two monumental events in the lives of our forefathers were echoed in some small way in the 2nd Bney Yosef National Congress which commenced immediately after Succot (on the 24th day of the 7th month), on the hills of Ephraim in the town of Ariel. Yes, the event was almost an overflow of the joy of the Feast, and went on for the next 5 days. Yet, it was also a time of humbling and repentance for the Israelite family gathered from 14 countries; from as far as the islands of Indonesia and Fiji, to the southern tip of Africa and all the way to North and South America and other continents and countries in between. Fourteen representatives gave brief reports on their countries of origin, and thus we were privileged to meet and hear from lesser known people groups, such as an Australian Aboriginal lady, Indonesian Papuans, and a Peruvian sister, not to mention videos and reports from Uganda, Pakistan, Finland (whose representatives were not able to attend this time), Mizoram and Kashmir in India, and some relevant historical data regarding China and Myanmar (Burma). However, we were exhorted by the moderator of the Congress to drop the ‘hyphen’ from our national description. In other words, we were not to see ourselves as Indonesian-Israelites, South-African-Israelites, Swiss-Israelites etc. but rather as all belonging to the one nation Israel, irrespective of current national origin.

This family reunion required of us to stretch the tent pegs of our hearts and minds in order to encompass our brothers and sisters whose culture, mentality, language, customs etc. were vastly different from ours.  “How does a global family walk together as one?” was one of the last subjects addressed and discussed. What are some of the prejudices we still cling to and how do we get rid of them? In order to get to our desired destination we had to trace the steps of our people by examining their/our history, and its defining moments. We also had to ask ourselves how those defining moments may define our present and future. This session led to a deep time of collective repentance, following a survey which probed deeply into some of the origins of Israel’s sinful ‘tendencies’.  Later we learnt that as repentant Israelites, the Gospel’s accomplishments are fully available to us if we only make ourselves ‘available’ (open and receptive) to It’s benefits.

The magnificent Presence of the Almighty during the periods of worship, led to impromptu prayers even during these times, with His spotlight shinning brightly into the recesses of the hearts, there to touch each of us at the core. The historical process of YHVH’s relationship with Israel, as His Bride, was well demonstrated by a two part ‘epiphanic’ dance of two brides; each looking for her Messiah in her own way, while at the same time the one (the ‘church’) tries to coerce the other (Judah) to become like her. The beautiful reconciliation of the two demonstrated a glorious oneness with the emergence of a single, ‘golden’, bride. The participation of several from Judah during the Congress, and especially our beloved Hanoch, and several more visiting and having meaningful dialogs (on the last day), signals the hope that the day of union is already in the foreseeable future.

The second part of the dance, performed at the going out of Shabbat, demonstrated both the wedding and the coming down of the heavenly Jerusalem, now in the form of an open Hupa that until then was covered up. This expression of the wedding feast and union with the Bridegroom, followed in the footsteps of Shabbat’s presentation on the man-woman/husband-wife relationship.  Here we had more than a teaching. The Spirit was seeking to convey to us the intimacy that we have (or ought to have) with our Bridegroom, and hence, for the married couples, with one another as husband and wife. An opportunity was given for a time of restoration of relationships, of rekindling the love – the Hupa was made available for individuals and couples to go in and rededicate themselves, and even seal it off with wine and bread. “Dance with Me Oh Lover of My Soul” was sung and played as a very appropriate finale, especially when it was repeated the next night, upon the closing of the Congress, at which time most of the couples took the opportunity to ‘apply’ the heart’s lesson of intimacy and closeness of “bride” and “groom”, as they danced with each other being locked in an embrace of arms or eyes.

And as if that were not enough, another ‘cherry’ on our ‘wedding cake’ was ending the hotel’s Biblical Gardens tour by the Mishkan replica, where an awesome sense of worship enveloped all.

We stand in awe at how the Spirit directed and led both the planning of the Congress, and then the procedures during the event. It was nothing short of our Bridegroom’s wooing His Bride (His Israelite family) to follow after Him, AND also to meet Him unashamedly eye to eye, as He is retracing our steps back to the Garden of His delight, whether it be in our hearts and/or in our relationships, while our task is to "prepare the way of YHVH; Make straight in the desert a highway for our Elohim” (Isaiah 4:3).