Friday, July 30, 2021

Miphla'tee (My Refuge)


In talking with several fellow believers, I found out that all of us have recently been ‘digging’ more deeply into the book of Isaiah, one of the oldest of the prophets. As I was reading chapter 13, it reminded me of an article I wrote a few months ago about Israel’s rise during Babylon’s Demise. But this particular chapter (13) highlights a very interesting comparison between what the rich merchants of the world aspire to do in creating their own Babylonian empire, and what YHVH is ‘up to’. “For your [Babylon’s] merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery” (Revelation 18:23). The Greek word for sorcery is of course “pharmacia”.  But in Isaiah 13 YHVH is describing another scenario which He casts for Babylon.

 “And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans' pride, will be as when Elohim overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Isaiah 13:19).    Behold, the day of YHVH is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it” (Isaiah 13:9).

Thus I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud, and abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold, and mankind than the gold of Ophir” (Isaiah 13:11-12).

Sometimes I wonder, as we hear of how the rich merchants of the world and their political appointees are scheming to depopulate the world, while at the same time YHVH is basically saying the same thing, who is it that will actually carry out this plan?  The Almighty, who is sovereign, may even use those very same conniving ones to accomplish His purposes. “Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely” (Psalm 141:10).  

The daily News reports declare that the natural catastrophes that are befalling the world are caused by global warming, with some ‘rumors’ going around that the powers-that-be have been manipulating the weather.  However, here is what YHVH says: “Therefore I shall make the heavens tremble, and the earth will be shaken from its place at the fury of YHVH of hosts in the day of His burning anger” (Isaiah 13:13 emphasis added).  So who is really in charge? 

“Wail, for the day of YHVH is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty.  Therefore all hands will fall limp, and every man's heart will melt.  And they will be terrified, pains and anguish will take hold of them; they will writhe like a woman in labor” (Isaiah 13:6-8).  

Even though we are living in a world that is about to be shaken, if it is not already, we have a refuge, a strong tower, a solid rock, One who is faithful to carry us again to Himself on eagles’ wings (see Exodus 19:4).  We are to be YHVH’s witnesses every day, bearing a testimony of His goodness and faithfulness. It is therefore imperative that at this time in particular we get to know YHVH’s many attributes.  This will be especially important in the days and weeks ahead, as while His judgments fall on the wicked the conditions on earth will grow darker and darker. Many of the psalms are, and will be, encouraging and up-building during these troublesome times.  For example it is good to know that YHVH is my… quoting from Prayer Psalm 18:  … El Chizkee (my Strength).  O YHVH, You are Sal’ee (my Boulder), and M’tzuda’tee (my Fortress), and Miphla’tee (my Refuge); Elee (my God), Tzu’ree (my Rock), in whom I seek refuge.   You are, M’gee’nee (my Protector/Shield), and Keren Yish’ee (Horn of my Salvation), Misga’bee (my Stronghold).  I will call upon You, YHVH - Elohey Yisrael, for You are worthy to be praised, for You are my all in all, in this way shall I be saved from my enemies” (1-3), and from all troubles and distresses. 

From Prayer Psalm 46:  You, Elohey Ya’acov, are Miphla’tee (My Refuge), and Chizkee (my Strength), a very present help in trouble. For You, El Shaddai (Almighty), will make desolations in the earth, You will break the bow and cut the spear in two; You will burn the chariots in the fire, thus making wars cease to the ends of the earth.  When You utter Your voice, the earth will melt, the nations will rage, and the kingdoms will be moved.  But I pray, YHVH - M’gee’nee (my Protector/Shield), even though the earth be shaken and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea and its waters roar and be troubled; and even though the mountains shake with its swelling, I will not fear; because You, El Ne’eman (Faithful God), are with me”.

May we learn, like never before to lean on and draw near, to the One who says that He will never leave us or forsake us (see Hebrews 13:5). 

Friday, July 23, 2021

Good, Bad and In Between


Good, Bad and In Between

 In the desert one would not expect to find edible fruit. Indeed there is no mention of such in Israel’s 40 year desert journey, except when it is alluded to at Elim, where there were seventy palm trees (Exodus 15:27). However, there is one (proverbial) fruit that can grow anywhere, regardless of climate and topographical conditions, and seems to be present in our recent weekly Torah portions. 

 In this week’s Parashat Va’etchanan we hear Moshe’s cry to YHVH, saying, among other things: Pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon” (Deuteronomy 3:25).  Moshe longs to see the “good land – ha’aretz ha’tova”  and “this good mountain – ha’har ha’tov” . Tov (tova, fem.) – good – in various forms appears in Parashat Va’etchanan fourteen times, more often as a verb – “it will be good” – “yitav”. By comparison “bad” or “evil” – rah – makes only a single appearance.

 Let’s examine the “goods” that meet us in this Parasha and find out where they take us to. In 4:22 Moshe laments that he “must die” and cannot cross over, while “you shall cross over to possess the good land” (italics added). But in order to “prolong your days in the land which YHVH your Elohim is giving you for all time”, “you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well – yitav - with you and with your children after you” (4:40b,a). “It will go well” for us in the “good land” provided we keep YHVH’s commandments! What’s more, for matters to “go well” – yitav – it is also expected that we honor father and mother! (5:16). Another addition of “goodness” is found in 6:3: "Therefore hear, O Israel, and be careful to observe itthat it may be well – yitav - with you…” Yes, we have heard this before, but wait… now it comes: “and that you may multiply greatly as YHVH the Elohim of your fathers has promised you -- a land flowing with milk and honey” (italics added).

 Wow!!! My goodness, so much “goodness”, albeit with some conditions, but yes, much “tov” is ahead! But is there more? Yes… "Houses full of all good things – kol tuv - which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant -- when you have eaten and are full“ (6:11).

Moshe recounts the great scene by Horeb’s mountain: "Then YHVH heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and YHVH said to me: 'I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 'Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well – yitav - with them and with their children forever!” (5:28-29). The future generations are also included in the “goodness”! It will “go well” - things will be “good” for them! Hold on, just a minute, let us read again the beginning of the above excerpt: “YHVH said to me: 'I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right – heytivu - in all that they have spoken’”. In other words, what the people said was “good” in YHVH’s sight (way back then, at Horeb), but what is He referring to? What was so “good” about what they have said, and what did they say?

 "So it was, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders.  And you said: 'Surely YHVH our Elohim has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that Elohim speaks with man; yet he still lives.  Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of YHVH our Elohim anymore, then we shall die.  For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living Elohim speaking from the midst of the fire, as we haveand lived?  You go near and hear all that YHVH our Elohim may say, and tell us all that YHVH our Elohim says to you, and we will hear and do it’” (5:23-27). It is to this that YHVH responds with:

“…They are right – hey’tivu- they did ‘good’ - in all that they have spoken” (v. 28)

 Have the people really spoken well? Did they not say that “we have seen this day that Elohim speaks with man; yet he still lives”? And, “For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living Elohim speaking from the midst of the fire, as we haveand lived?”

So was YHVH really content for Moshe to be His spokesman, with the rest of Israel staying at arm’s length from a loving Father? Yes, they “spoke well”, but only in as far as where their hearts were at at that time. YHVH’s next exclamation makes abundantly clear His heart’s longing: “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well – yitav - with them and with their children forever!”  “Oh, that they had such a heart… ” but (alas) this was not to be, not any time soon… 

 With this kind of “they have spoken well”, or did ‘good’, in saying what they did, we turn back to last week’s Parasha, to where Moshe recalled the episode with the spies:  “And everyone of you came near to me and said, 'Let us send men before us, and let them search out the land for us, and bring back word to us of the way by which we should go up, and of the cities into which we shall come.'  The plan pleased me well…” (1:22—23a). The plan pleased Moshe well, or literally, “it was good in my sight” Moshe confesses. But was it good in YHVH’s sight? We don’t know, since Moshe makes no reference to Him here. But does not YHVH say very clearly in Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:2: “Send men to spy the land of Canaan…”? Or more accurately: “Send for yourself men to spy the land” (italics added). When Moshe, according to his own admittance, looked well upon the idea of sending spies, just as they were about to go over into the land and take it, YHVH deigned, He condescended, knowing his servant’s heart at that point, just as He did in the case of the people’s request to have Moshe as their intermediary. Abba knows the heart of His children and He is patient, though at times that which is “good in their own eyes” is to their demise, just as it was with that generation of our forefathers, and just as it was with Moshe, who instead of turning to the Almighty when it was time to leave the wilderness, “found it good” to listen to the voice of man. He had already listened to the voice of Jethro when appointing prematurely heads and leaders and officers (Exodus 18 and Deut. 1:12-16, when the people confirmed that it was a “good” thing to do), as they were about to enter the land, where the Torah instructions would have been totally sufficient.

 “Good” can thus turn into “bad” instantly, as we saw in the case of the spies, a turn that changed the course of history in a very short time. In the beginning (4:22) we read Moshe’s statement of not being able to enter the “good” land. But he did not stop there. Moshe goes on saying: "Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of YHVH your Elohim which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which YHVH your Elohim has forbidden you.  For YHVH your Elohim is a consuming fire, a jealous Elohim.  When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil – RAH - in the sight of YHVH your Elohim to provoke Him to anger. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed” (4:23-26). Just like that… tov can morph into rah when one steps on to the slippery slope of good and evil.

 Good and Evil. The tree is “good for food and pleasant to the eyes and… desirable to make one wise…” and oh, how poisonous!

Friday, July 16, 2021

Connecting Dots


In last week’s article, we attempted to explain the two names - Jacob and Israel that were (and still are) attached to the one nation/goy which was in the womb of Isaac’s wife Rebecca.  YHVH decided to stake His claim and name upon this natural, human, fleshly, down to earth people group, in spite of their corrupt nature. "For YHVH's portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:9).  He also gave them an inheritance, a land, and covenant promises.  However, being His namesake-family the realization of all of those blessings was contingent upon their faithful witness to His righteousness and justice.  As we know from history, the people of Jacob failed to live up to those conditions and suffered the consequence of their behavior.  Isaiah sums it up in three verses: “Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned YHVH, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.  Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint.  From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts, and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil” (Isaiah 1:4-6).  This is why this flesh and blood nation (Jacob) cannot inherit the Kingdom of Elohim (see 1 Corinthians 15:50).  Nevertheless, the promise to receive YHVH’s Kingdom still remains within the context of Elohim’s “will” for His called out nation/Jacob.  In the same chapter Isaiah gives them/us a flicker of hope:  "Come now, and let us reason together," says YHVH, "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool” (1:18).  

There is no possible way for this transition to take place unless YHVH acts sovereignly to make this a reality for His chosen nation.  Thankfully, the prophets of old heralded “good news”, such as: "Behold, days are coming,’ declares YHVH, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…’” (Jeremiah 31:31 emphasis added). Another one is Ezekiel 36, which is replete with the “I will” of YHVH (see verses 22-31). 

Because YHVH’s word stands forever and will not fail, He has already brought to pass many of the promises that He made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, in spite of their progeny’s dire condition.  "The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins...  for the gifts and the calling of Elohim are irrevocable” (Isaiah 59:20; Romans 11:26-29).  In the letter to the Galatians we note that the children of the inheritance are kept under the elemental laws of the universe, as well as the Torah of Moses until the time when the Almighty would send His son/seed into the family of Jacob as a kinsman Redeemer.   But when the fullness of the time came, Elohim sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law/Torah, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law/Torah, that we might receive the adoption as sons…” (see also Romans 9:4)… And because you are sons, Elohim has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’"  (Galatians 4:4-6).  Paul is connecting the dots for us regarding both our natural identity, as Jacob’s posterity, and our spiritual identity as “sons of Elohim” in Messiah Yeshua, at which time we will express the true nature of the “Israel of Elohim”  (Galatians 6:16).

"For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you.  In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,’ says YHVH your Redeemer.  For this is like the days of Noah to Me; when I swore that the waters of Noah should not flood the earth again, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, nor will I rebuke you.  For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says YHVH who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:7-11).  

In His end time dissertation in Mathew 24 Yeshua mentions that the coming of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah (verse 37). Could it be that the above Isaiah scripture is also hinting at that day? As at His coming He will take out of the nations His redeemed remnant. Is this why He goes on saying, “one will be taken and one will be left” (verses 40-41)?  Some believe that this is pointing to the greater Exodus.  Just as He was in the midst of the Hebrews when He brought our ancestors out of Egypt, so again He will be in the midst of them/us when He brings them/us back a second time. 

Seeing that today’s state of affairs is comparable to the days of Noah, when sin and iniquity abounded, so too we may be witnessing at present conditions not unlike those when YHVH acted to extricate His chosen people from their bondage in Egypt. “Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as YHVH your Elohim did for you in Egypt before your eyes?  To you it was shown that you might know that YHVH, He is Elohim; there is no other besides Him” (Deuteronomy 4:34-35).  Are we ready for this if it were to happen in our day?  Or is it already in progress, before our eyes?

Friday, July 9, 2021

Jacob or Israel?

 Our patriarch Jacob was given the name Israel in a very dramatic occasion, but in spite of the pronouncement, “your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel…” (Gen. 32:28), unlike Abraham and Sarah whose name change remained consistent, Jacob’s was not. At times he is called Israel, and at other times it is back to Jacob. What’s more, his progeny, while many times called “Israel”, at other, numerous times, is also referred to as “Jacob”. Is there a significance to the usage of each of these names/titles, respectively? Or are they just used randomly?

Let’s start with “Jacob”.  We know that this name is tied to one of the two children in the womb of Rebecca their mother.  When Elohim called him and his brother “goyim” (plural for two nations), He announced that Jacob would be His “called” or “chosen” goy/nation from the (natural) seed of his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac.  Jacob had twelve sons and all of them form the nation/goy as a whole. Thus, I always read “Jacob” as a reference to all the sons/tribes (except, of course, when the context is clear that it is Jacob the man, who is being spoken of).  Jacob received his new name, Israel, after wrestling with “a Man”. The new name that he was given refers to a spiritual connection to Elohim, and also to his eventual calling to become the Israel of Elohim (see below).  However, no matter how many nations or people groups in the world are from that linage today, the name “Jacob” still refers to the one nation, including all of its thirteen tribes. So when I read the scriptures, and Jacob is mentioned or is being addressed, I think of all his natural progeny, as that goy/nation from Rebecca’s womb.

But what about the name “Israel”?  Its first usage, as mentioned, is in Genesis 32:28 with the explanation given for “Israel” -“for you have striven with Elohim and with men and have prevailed’".  Why did YHVH choose this particular name, or should I say this “identity title” for this man Jacob cum-nation?  If seen as a title does it distinguish Jacob from all the other nations? The answer is “yes”, as YHVH places this nation into a status of belonging to Him. Over and over He declares in Exodus that the Hebrews are to be “MY PEOPLE”.  “And YHVH said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings’” (Exodus 3:7).  YHVH can make that claim because of their forefathers’ status as a “firstborn” in the family of Adam, Noah and Shem.   

If we examine the etymology of “Israel” we find it to be in future tense for “a prince who will rule with Elohim”, or “Elohim will rule” in or through Jacob.  Thus Jacob, from the natural linage of Abraham and Isaac, is destined, as a nation, to be a prince, and is also defined as ruler or leader. "And YHVH shall make you the head and not the tail, and you only shall be above, and you shall not be underneath” (Deuteronomy 28:13).  However, as is written, these promises, would only come to fruition after YHVH would send to the family/nation a kinsman redeemer.  This is why, as far as the nation is concerned, it would have to wait until this kinsman redeemer would come and set up the everlasting kingdom in the house of Jacob, uniting the two houses of Israel and restoring the “falling succah of David” (Amos 9:11 literal translation). 

But the question still remains, when the Word of Elohim uses Jacob and then, at other times, Israel, is there a significant difference between the two? Before we can answer this question let us do a short historical review.

Although not named “Israel” themselves, in Genesis whenever their father is mentioned (in relationship to them), Jacob’s sons are called the “sons of Israel”.  However, when Israel laid his hands on Ephraim and Menashe, “he blessed Joseph, and said, ‘the Messenger before whom my father’s Abraham and Isaac walked, the Elohim who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the messenger who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and may my name live on in them” (Genesis 48:15-16 emphasis added).  In other words, Israel just anointed Joseph and his two sons with the name, “Israel”.  In so doing he conferred upon them a firstborn princely office or leadership position, making them heirs to the promise in the family/nation.  Later Ephraim would forfeit his leadership to Judah, because of unfaithfulness.  “Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph” (1 Chronicles 5:2). Now that Judah was given this princely role in the nation, he also could hold the title “Israel”.  The scriptures confirm this in Isaiah 8:14: "Then He (YHVH) shall become a sanctuary; but to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, and a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem”.  With the disappearance of the northern house of Israel, it was Judah who mainly carried on with the known Israelite identity. 

The prophetic destiny of the house of Joseph is seen in two parts, under the blessing to Menashe (meaning forgetfulness) the nation would forget their identity, but in Ephraim (doubly fruitful), YHVH would multiply them in the nations until a certain fullness. Then the Father would send His “seed/son”, Yeshua, (see Galatians 4:4) to His natural chosen family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in order to redeem and restore them, so that they could receive the promise of the Spirit, that is the Kingdom.  This is why the angel who appeared to Yeshua’s mother, Miriam, said:  "And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Yeshua.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the YHVH Elohim will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end" (Luke 1:31-33 emphasis added).  

In this most auspicious promise, which speaks of YHVH’s kingdom being established on earth, with His Son Yeshua as the reigning King, the nation/house He is to rule over is called… Jacob. But why not Israel?

In the thousands of references to both Jacob and Israel, there are numerous times when they are mentioned in one breath, without there being a specific qualitative distinction made between the two. The “seed of Jacob” and the “seed of Israel” (literal translation) are mentioned, for example, in Psalm 22:24, where the “seed of Jacob” is exhorted to “glorify” YHVH, while the “seed of Israel” is to “fear” Him.

In David’s “last words” (2nd Samuel 23:1), “the anointed of the Elohim of Jacob”, as he refers to himself, in the same breath calls himself “the sweet psalmist of Israel”.

Elohim of Jacob, Elohim of Israel is constantly mentioned together, just as are the people of Jacob and/or of Israel. “YHVH has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel for His special treasure” (Psalm 135:4).

As we know, most of Jacob’s life is a testimony of a very ‘earthy’ person. Even his very name attests to his character of ‘supplanting’, Ya’acov does not only mean “following” or “holding on to the heel” (of his brother in the womb), it is also connected to the condition of the heart, as stated by Jeremiah: “the heart is deceitful above all things” (17:9). “Deceitful” is what most translations render for the Hebrew “akov”, which is crooked and twisted, and forms the root for “ya’akov”. Jacob simply typifies human nature bound by sin, like all the rest of humanity. The name/title Israel, which as mentioned above, connects him to Elohim and defines his calling, in and of itself was not able to enact the needed transformation in the heart of that man, nor of any other. But being a prophetic pronouncement, it gives hope to all who are ‘enrolled’ in the same people group, with each being no different than their ancestor Jacob cum Israel.

By the alternate and synonymous usage of both names, we are reminded that we too are “sons of man” and “sons of Elohim”, though “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be [or HOW we shall be as ISRAEL], but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1st John 3:2). “As He is…” - YISRA’EL (see Is. 49:3, where the Messiah also identifies Himself as Israel). The consonants without the vowels (which are appended externally to the letters/consonants) can also be read as: Yashar-El, that is, El is upright. When we will see Him as HE IS – we too will be like Him, that is YESHURUN - the one who has been straightened out into uprightness.