Friday, April 21, 2017

Wilderness of Sin

After the enormous blessing at the oasis by the springs and palms of Elim, YHVH led His flock out of the desert of Shur to the next stage in their wondering. This time to a region called “Sin”.  In English that sounds quite appropriate (even though the name doesn’t mean “sin” in Hebrew), as the Israelites continued to murmur and complain against Moses and Aaron, but this time it was a food issue.  Again they accused Moses and Aaron of having taken them to the desert only in order to do away with them.  Something very important about their and our hearts is being revealed here by YHVH.  This was not only about complaining and discontentment, the Israelites’ state of mind was even worse than that; Egypt/the world still had (and has) more of an attraction than the vision and promises of Elohim.

The world of slavery had far more to offer them than their present condition: "Oh that we had died by the hand of YHVH in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full”! (Exodus 16:3), they mourned. This newly freed crowd had forgotten about the cruelty and sufferings of slavery.  They were hungry, thirsty and fearful.  Therefore they were willing to trade their freedom for a “pot of flesh”.  Notice, though, how they still believed in the sovereignty of YHVH who, as far as they were concerned, should have taken their lives in Egypt, just as long as there was food there!

What an example for our lives today as believers, those whom YHVH has transferred out of the kingdoms of this world and into the kingdom of His beloved Son! Even though we are in the desert of the nations, Yeshua is the reigning King in our lives, and His spirit is leading us to His ultimate destination.  With the above example before us, we should ask ourselves: “Am I complaining that YHVH’s provisions are not sufficient and still deeming that the world of sin and inequity has more to offer than His loving kindness and righteousness?” 

I like to repeat Jeremiah 31:2 as a reminder that in spite of the heart condition, “Israel found grace in the wilderness”.   However, YHVH’s favor was granted not because the Hebrews earned it, but because of who they were as His People.  Remember that YHVH said to Moses to tell Pharaoh: “Israel is My firstborn” and “let My people go”.  This was not about the great assembly there in the wilderness. This was about a covenant keeping Elohim, then and still today. 

So, in the present situation YHVH tells Moses:   “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you” (Exodus 16:4).  Many a time in Israel’s history YHVH intercedes on their behalf because of and for His name sake, as His righteous reputation is at stake. Even the prophets make mention of this in their writings, for example: "But I acted for My name's sake, that it should not be profaned before the nations among whom they were, in whose sight I had made Myself known to them, to bring them out of the land of Egypt” (Ezekiel 20:9). "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 YHVH Elohim " (Ezekiel 20:44; 36:22).

Even in our generation YHVH still knows who His ancient people are, and is accomplishing His purposes for His name’s sake (see Ezekiel 36:16-38), fulfilling every word that He has spoken to, and concerning them.  Although we have yet to see this great assembly of Israel in our generation, what is happening today is for the purpose of turning the hearts of the seed, progeny, children or sons of the forefathers back to their identity as Israel, since the majority of Israelites do not know yet that that is who they are.  Hence turning to the Torah is for the expressed purpose of restoring the ancestral identity.  There is a very severe warning in Malachi 4:6, that if this doesn’t take place YHVH “will curse the earth”. 

There are four curses that Israel is warned about in Ezekiel 14:   “For thus says YHVH Elohim:  ‘…My four severe judgments… the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence -- to cut off man and beast…’” (Ezekiel 14:21).  It is no light matter when the Spirit of His grace (or favor) has been given for such a time as this - hence this solemn warning.  In Revelation chapter 7 there are four angelic messengers mentioned, who are poised on the four corners of the earth to execute these very judgments (curses). But then another messenger rises, from the east - the rising of the sun.   This emissary comes with a very important message addressing the other four.  “And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, ‘do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our Elohim on their foreheads’" (Revelation 7:2-3 emphasis added). This seal may not be anything external at all, such as an imprint on the skin, but rather, an ‘imprint’ upon the mind.  YHVH will seal the identity, even the tribal identity, in the minds of those who belong to Him.  This is in preparation for the great exodus that is mentioned in Jeremiah 3:16-19. 

And so, YHVH rained bread from heaven, and as an extra bonus also gave meat in the evening. But for the people it did not come without a cost; more conditions, instructions and testing from Elohim:  “And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My instructions [the Hebrew word there is “Torah”] or not” (Exodus 16:4).  With the orders in regards to the provision of food for each tent or family, we see for the first time the introduction of a day of rest.  Each day they were to collect an omer of manna, while on the sixth day a double portion for the Shabbat was given, as YHVH was not about to provide that blessing on His special day, as if to say, “I’m resting, but I will bless you with a double portion on the sixth day”.  It is important to note the specified amount, of an “omer”. We know that Yeshua was that omer-wave offering so that we could be accepted by the Father (John 20:17; read also Leviticus 23:11).  The Messiah said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41).  We are privileged to be able to partake of this living bread daily and at the same time remember how we have been taken out of bondage.  Just as YHVH instructed Moses and Aaron to put an omer of manna in a jar and place it in the Tent of Testimony, so too we have an opportunity to rise every morning and collect the manna of the Word and hide it in our hearts (ref. Psalm 119:11).

Friday, April 14, 2017

Oasis in the Wilderness

As we saw in the previous Chapter, the Mara experience should be met by the kind of teshuva that rids us of any root of bitterness. Our ancestors (whose change of heart, if there was one, is not recorded) immediately after their Mara experience and the ensuing (conditional) promise: “I am YHVH your healer” (Exodus 15:26), were taken to the desert oasis of Elim,“where there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms” (v. 27). It was as if YHVH wanted to assure His children of His care, regardless of their present behavior and disposition.

The beautiful oasis of Elim provided our forebears their necessary sustenance and a time for healing, “I will be your ropheh” - YHVH’s mercy, at that time, covered their rebellious hearts.  Yeshua demonstrated the Father’s heart toward the sinners when He went to dine with those whom his contemporaries particularly singled out as such (as if they weren’t), upon which occasion He stated: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13).  This is the key to understanding our encounter with the wilderness.  YHVH’s goodness/mercy leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4).  “Thus says YHVH: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness -- Israel, when I went to give him rest’" (Jeremiah 31:2).  Rest is the destiny, but without repentance leading to righteousness we may not arrive.

Interestingly, Israel’s arrival at Elim sometime before the 15th day of the second month gives us a glimpse into a ‘second chance’ possibility made available by our Heavenly Father.  “On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it [Passover]. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs… But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of YHVH at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin” (Numbers 9:11-13 emphasis added). However, if we fail to respond, just as the above example of altogether neglecting the Pesach offering (Yeshua) shows, we stand in danger of being cut off from YHVH’s covenant and people, and obviously also from our designated destiny. This place of second chance is curiously a friendlier environment, which sometimes makes it even harder to remember YHVH’s commands.  

Even though not much is said about the Elim location, what catches our attention are the figures 12 and 70 and their significance. As we know:  “All the persons of the house of Jacob who went to Egypt were seventy” (Genesis 46:27).  Also, sometime later, YHVH commands Moses to, “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you.  Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Numbers 11:16-17). On and on throughout Scripture the figure 70 speaks of leadership and bearing responsibility, not to mention 70 in terms of time (“the period of fulfill[ing] the word of YHVH by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath [rest], to fulfill seventy years” (2 Chronicles 36:21).  In Jewish tradition 70 is also, symbolically, the number of all the nations of the world. The word that Jacob bestowed on Ephraim, the blessing of becoming the “fullness of the nations” (Genesis 48:19 literal translation), could mean therefore that the Israelite/Ephraimite seed was to be sown in all of those 70 nations, until the full quota is met (see Romans 11:25; Hosea 7:8), possibly even of leadership. Much later in history, a prophetic word came forth: “Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6 emphasis added). What kind of fruit will be produced by "Israel’s blossoming", and how will it happen?

Returning to the desert oasis, the 70 trees were date palms. Thus the result of "Israel’s blossoming" will produce “dates”. The date palm, from which a special type of sap is obtained and defined as honey by Scripture, is the only one of the Land’s seven special species that grows also in the desert (Israel having been scattered to the "desert of the peoples" Ezekiel 20:35). Indeed, the righteous are compared to the palm date: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree” (Psalm 92:12), while the “fruit of righteousness” is mentioned several times by the apostles (Phil. 1:11; Heb. 12:11; James 3:18). So how will Israel help produce this sweet fruit of righteousness throughout the world’s proverbial 70 nations? The answer is found in our oasis picture: by providing living water from its 12 "springs". The nation of Israel (12 tribes) are promised: “YHVH will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought [desert/wilderness conditions], and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:11 emphasis added). Where are these springs of living water located, and what is the source of the water? Yeshua stated emphatically:  "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38 emphasis added). In the meantime, let’s ask ourselves: is there a present day oasis that we may enjoy according to Biblical parameters, especially if we add to it the figurative "twelve" and "seventy"?

"A Song of Ascents of David. I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of YHVH.’  Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!  Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where the tribes go up, the tribes of YHVH, to the Testimony of Israel, to give thanks to the name of YHVH” (Psalm 122:1-4 emphases added).

Here we see Israel’s twelve tribes, particularly in association with the “ascent” to YHVH’s house in Jerusalem (being a reference to the seasons of the feasts). As to the “fullness of the peoples” – the proverbial ‘prophetic’ seventy – we may read the following: "All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O YHVH, and shall glorify Your name” (Psalm 86:9 emphasis added). And – “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of YHVH’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it” (Isaiah 2:2 emphasis added).  In the meantime, however, Israel’s ‘lost and now being found’ who at this point are ‘mere’ first fruits of the “fullness”, are ascending to Jerusalem in YHVH’s high holy days. In the “compact[ed] together” experience, YHVH is making a space in time and a place for an oasis experience while being Himself the source of living water to those “first fruits” representatives of all twelve tribes.  Elim, therefore, provides a prophetic picture of the greater destiny of all Israel and also points out in a number of ways to the path leading to this destiny.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Parched in the Desert

What a time of celebration! Moses and Aaron leading the congregation, singing to YHVH of the horses and riders being thrown into the sea.  Miriam, with timbrels, leading the throng of women in song and dance.  But then, inevitably, the reality of the circumstances hits as the People of Israel make their way into the Wilderness of Shur.  Shur means “a wall” and possibly gets its name from the waters that parted and formed a “wall” during the crossing through the Reed Sea (even though the Hebrew word for that ‘wall of water’ is not the same).  Our forefathers were also walled in by high rugged mountains, as they traipsed through deep valleys and gorges. On our journey we too are walled in by our circumstances and natural restrictions, while learning to adapt to the conditions that this faith journey presents, but let us not forget that the Spirit is hovering over and leading us.
We are keenly aware by now of YHVH’s stated reason for taking our forefathers (and us) through the wilderness. But moreover, His reason is not only in order to examine their and our hearts' condition, but also so that they (we) would come to know His heart and willfully submit. In slavery one does not choose obedience, as one is totally controlled by the cruelty of an outside force.  But once that power is removed, it takes time to adjust to freedom and then to willingly obey the new master. 
It did not take long for the first signs of the desert reality to manifest:  “So Moses brought Israel from the Red Sea… and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water” (Exodus15:22).  No wonder the travelers started to complain, crying out to Moses!  They were parched and near death after three days without water.  Moses their great leader, whose name means “drawn out of water”, was not able to provide them with that much needed substance, but he did cry out to YHVH. The answer came back (again) with these words: “this is a test” (v. 25). In that desert terrain the Almighty did eventually bring His people to a water source, but lo and behold - it was bitter! Our challenged forefathers did not pass the test that was before them; as it was not only the water that was bitter, but also their hearts. The memory of their slave masters lingered on, and without being able to grant forgiveness they were destined to wallow in bitterness and hatred. The environment and conditions exposed their hearts, as is indeed often the case for us as well.  In our walk on this dry path we too find ourselves complaining and murmuring about our circumstances. We had envisioned wine and roses, but then our everyday situations turn sour and we feel let down, and disappointment sets in toward our leaders and others close to us. Consequently, the thoughts and words that come out of our hearts transition into deeds/works which are far from righteous (see Galatians 5:19-21).  We raise our complaints, seeking for advice and prayer, to which the response is usually in the form of ideas such as: Pray more, fast, read Scriptures, attend all the meetings, pay your tithes, etc.  In a way YHVH rejoined similarly to our fore-parents when He placed conditions upon them:  "If you diligently heed the voice of YHVH your Elohim and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians for I am YHVH your healer” (15:26).  

At the same time, YHVH already knew that the Hebrews were not able to “sh’ma” (diligently listen/obey) and live up to His instructions, as their spirit may have been willing but the flesh was weak. And so, being compassionate, He did show Moses an “etz” - a tree or stick – which if cast into the bitter water would make them sweet. This granted the sons of Israel temporary relief. The tree that Yeshua hung on, on the other hand, symbolizes not only Messiah’s ability to transform our bitter water (nature and experience) into sweetness, but also to do much more, and that, for all eternity. Albeit meeting the need, these desert waters were still not the living waters that Yeshua promised (see John 4:14). Let us, from our vantage point, never settle for anything less than Yeshua’s tree and living water.  (Perhaps the “etz” - olive tree - of Jacob has also been thrown into the bitter waters of this world for the purpose of sweetening them.)    

The “etz” that Moses cast into the waters teaches us that the Creator places in our desert environment natural elements (such as trees, plants and more) that provide a means for maintaining health and bringing about healing. In our natural state we are still subject to ailments, and so need to learn obedience through the things that our outer man suffers.  By such processing we will come to hear His voice and know YHVH as our Rofeh (healer).

The demands to listen and obey were in fact commandments and statutes, even before the official giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai! What were some of those commands? The marking of Aviv as the beginning of months 12:2); Remembering the Exodus (12:42); No uncircumcised were to celebrate the Passover, and "Consecrate to Me all the firstborn, whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine" (13:2). But perhaps the main ones were to fear YHVH, believe Him, and Moses and “listen/obey My voice”.  All of these were connected to what had taken place back in Egypt. Seeing that these commands were issued at such an early stage of the journey, was indicative of the importance of remembering what YHVH had enacted for the People of Israel while yet in a state of slavery. May we too never forget, as already mentioned, that “while we were yet sinners Messiah died for us” (Romans 5:8). And just as these pre-Sinai commands were to be kept also upon entering the land, so are we to keep in mind all along the journey our own emergence out of Sin’s slavery, no matter how far along we have come on our spiritual journey.

The wilderness is naturally hard on the flesh, as it is the flesh that comes in contact with the outer environment. However, the spirit-man is hidden in the Mighty One of Israel. Paul states it this way:  “For you died, and your life is hidden with Messiah in Elohim.  When Messiah who is our life is manifested, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4; see also 1John 3:2).  In other words, once we know Him, we will also know who we are.

"Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were immersed into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:1-2).  We too have been immersed… into Yeshua’s body on the ‘etz’ - in His impalement, burial and now also in His resurrection. The spiritual reality of the desert-sojourners has definite applications for our lives. As emerging Israelites, we are to learn, know and understand what our ancestors experienced in their wilderness journey and learn the lessons that are there for us. 

Many believers today are returning to their “Hebraic Roots” and Israelite identity.  In so doing, they almost immediately sing “Shma Yisrael” - hear/listen/obey.  Thus, when YHVH brings us to the knowledge of our “bitter waters”, where we find ourselves judging, murmuring and criticizing others, may we remember to: “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see YHVH:  looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of Elohim; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15 emphasis added). 

 It is evident that the wilderness journey is not an individual walk. One is by necessity connected to others. It is the journey of YHVH’s firstborn nation, His household, His body, and we are all members joined together as His witness people* (read: 1 Corinthians 12). 


         Twice in Exodus 13 it says that YHVH’s accomplishments for His people are to be “a sign on the hand and a memorial [or frontlets] between your eyes” (verses 9 & 16). Let us examine this curious instruction: “On the hand” in Hebrew can also mean “through (someone)”, or “by (someone)”. In other words, the “between the eyes” injunction is to keep foremost in one’s memory and expression YHVH’s deeds, and thus “through” the ones who do so will come forth the sign, testimony, and witness of: “what YHVH had done to me when I came out of Egypt” (v.8), “in order that YHVH’s Torah will be in your [our] mouth” (v. 9), and for a testimony of the “strength” of His “hand” by which “He brought us out” (vs. 9&16).