Friday, February 24, 2017

A Wilderness People's Vision and Destiny

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Wilderness Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(1 Thessalonians 4:7).

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Wilderness Nation or a Nation in the Wilderness

Ezekiel chapter 20 provides both a historical account of the nation of Israel and its infidelity to their Elohim, and a prophetic word which is yet to be fulfilled. It starts with a scene that occurred on the 10th of the month of Av (itself a very significant date, as on that day siege was laid to Jerusalem by the Babylonians years before the present scene). On that day elders of Israel, yes, banished Israel which had been exiled some 120 years before, came to the prophet to seek a word. The word that they received was not an encouraging one, but a morbid account of Israel’s (and Judah’s) failures and their consequences in spite of the love and grace that Elohim had shown them.

As the prophet continues speaking for Elohim, he embarks on a future scenario, one that may just be relevant for our day and age! If that is so, it behooves us to pay close attention to this passage.

What Ezekiel describes in verses 33-44 of chapter 20 is the ultimate goal that Elohim has for His people, being one of several prophets to have done so. However, in between this future scenario, and the historical account he inserts a few verses in which he lays out a preparatory scene with accompanying conditions required by YHVH. This particular section appears to bear considerable relevance to the current emerging Israelite nation.

“As I live,’ says Adonai YHVH [literal wording], ‘surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out.”  And here we get to the crux of the matter: And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.  Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,’ says Adonai YHVH.  I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant;  I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am YHVH” (emphasis added).  From here on is a description of the goal which follows the testings:  “As for you, O house of Israel,’  thus says Adonai 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.  For on My holy mountain, on the mountain height of Israel’ says Adonai YHVH , ‘there all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, shall serve Me; there I will accept them, and there I will require your offerings and the firstfruits of your sacrifices, together with all your holy things.  I will accept you as a sweet aroma when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered; and I will be hallowed in you before the Gentiles. Then you shall know that I am YHVH, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers”. Further sanctification is to take place in the land:  “And there you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight because of all the evils that you have committed. Then you shall know that I am YHVH, when I have dealt with you for My name's sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,’ says Adonai YHVH” (Ezekiel 20:33-44). 

YHVH declares here, in no uncertain terms, that He WILL rule over His people in His land, but before that can take place the Israelites will be “processed”. This process will entail being brought to what is being called “the wilderness of the peoples” which is where Israel’s Elohim will make His people “pass under the rod and bring them into the bond of the covenant”. Those who will not “pass the test” will remain in that “wilderness” and will be barred from entering the land and living in the Kingdom which He will set up. It seems that at this juncture in history, it is this segment that calls for our attention and focus on what it means to “pass under the rod” and to “enter the bond of the covenant”, so that we will not find ourselves in a perpetual “wilderness of the peoples”.

This “wilderness” is obviously not a geographical location, but a condition and a state of being that many of us have been in for quite some time, and others are being brought into it.  These are the ones who are the strangers and foreigners in their own so-called native lands; strangers to the systems of this world, at odds with the man-made structures and demands around them, and are awaiting their release from these conditions and places. However, this release will not take place before they experience the above-mentioned processing.

The prime model before us is the literal wilderness or desert where our ancestors spent an eventful period of 40 years, after having come out of a considerable time of oppressive slavery. It is for this reason that we will be exploring that journey, trying to learn the lessons that are there for us during our time of “processing” and “preparation”, with view to the destination and destiny that Elohim has for us His people.

 When our Hebrew progenitors were in Egypt they were still looked upon as a nation, as their forefather was called from the womb to be a “goy” - one people, one nation (see Genesis 25:23). However, they were a people living within a nation and governed by that nation.  We see the evidence of this when YHVH had to obtain (via Moses and Aaron) Pharaoh’s ‘legal’ permission to take His people out (e.g. Exodus 6:10-11, 14:17). Yet even in their debased conditions the Hebrews did have elders with some type of governing authority, as is evidenced, for example, by Moses calling the elders together to tell the people about their impending exodus (ref. Exodus 3:16-17).  Then again, just before their departure from Egypt, Moses told every family elder to take a lamb for their respective houses/homes (ref. Exodus 12:21).  But it was only after departing from Egypt that, YHVH recognized and declared Israel’s national identity as a kingdom of priests and a set apart nation (ref. Exodus 19:6), but not without placing conditions upon them. At that point they were still nomads who had no permanent territory or place of residence.  Nevertheless, this declared nation-in-the-making had a recognized governmental administration during its wilderness travels; both civil and religious, as well as already recognizable elders from their time in Egypt, as pointed out above.  The Hebrew word for elder is “za’ken” and means an old person or someone with seniority. The elders were often first born males, or ones who had proven their faithfulness in family and community affairs. This we have seen previously in the family of Jacob (as exemplified by the difference between Reuben and Judah), before the brothers went to Egypt the second time (ref. Genesis 42, 43).

The wilderness nation, or nation in the wilderness, was subject to the dominion and rule of the Almighty, with Moses being His chosen leader who also judged the people’s disputes. The spiritual leadership was soon to be invested in Aaron and the priesthood.  By instating these elders, the initial foundation of a civil administration was laid. Moses, for his part, was responsible for overseeing both offices (administrative and spiritual).

In our day it is Yeshua who is gathering the people of Elohim, restoring our lost identity to us, and anointing us with the Spirit of Holiness. Thus the words of the prophets of old are being rapidly fulfilled, such as the one cited above from Ezekiel, reaffirming that YHVH intends to gather the seed of Israel from all the countries where He sowed them/us and to bring them/us back to the land of promise.

Although our wilderness experience is a ‘condition’ more than a literal wilderness, we, like are ancestors are and will be "sifted" under our given circumstances. In other words, our present time frame is one of preparation, which will no doubt continue to intensify. While “passing under the rod” meticulous attention to our spiritual state is required of us. YHVH even declared that He would bring out the transgressors as well as the rebels from within our ranks, and they will not enter with those who have learned righteousness through obedience. And again, like our forefathers, we also need to consider the setting up of functional administration which pertains to our community life, to the families within those communities, and to our individual relationships with each other and with those outside, that is, those who reside in what has been termed as "the world". 

With much less of a visible reality and structure (when compared to the situation in the wilderness), and being redeemed under the renewed covenant, how does this wilderness pattern as it was experienced then, pertain to us in this day and age in the proverbial, rather than literal, wilderness?

Being measured and tried during this time period and under the given conditions, as well as having the example of Israel’s forty years journey, how do we transition from religious congregational structures and mind set to a community minded life style and mentality (of a nation in preparation), while bearing in mind the fact that we are in a cooperative and individual “under the rod” reality?