Observing Purim ~ 2019

Introduction

Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction in the reign of the Persian King Ahasuerus, or Xerxes I, as recorded in the Book of Esther. Held on the 14th and 15th days of the Jewish month of Adar, it is celebrated by feasting and merriment, almsgiving, sending food to neighbors and friends, and chanting the text of Esther. Although this is not a time appointed by God for remembrance, it is perhaps the most joyous day of the Jewish year, with masquerades, plays, and drinking of wine even in the synagogue.

In 2019, Purim is celebrated on March 21st & 22nd.

Setting

The story of Esther takes place in Sushan, an ancient royal city of the Persian Empire, approximately 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf in modern Iran. It is the traditional burial site of the prophet Daniel. The events took place in approximately 465 BCE after the Jewish people were allowed to return to Jerusalem from their Babylonian captivity by King Cyrus.

Significance for Today

The Book of Esther is a story of teamwork that shaped a nation and a study of survival of God’s chosen people. The relationship between Esther and Mordecai vividly portrays the unity that Yeshua prayed for His disciples to experience. The success of their roles, even their very survival, depended upon their unity.

The Book of Esther reminds us that God destroys those who try to harm His people. From this, we are reminded that He is faithful to destroy HaSatan and that His sovereign purposes ultimately prevail.

The Book of Esther has been called the ‘secular’ book of the Bible. It is the only book that does not mention or even allude to God. However, His imprint is obvious throughout. Esther’s spiritual maturity is seen in her knowledge to wait for God’s timing to make her request to save her people and denounce Haman. Mordecai also demonstrates maturity in seeking God’s timing and direction for the right time to have Esther disclose her identity as a Jew.

As we have been learning as we discover the Jewish roots of our faith, having a firm foundation of the Tanakh opens the Brit Hadashah up to a deeper understanding of our faith.

Jewish Observance of Purim
  1. Listen to the Megillah: To relive the miraculous events of Purim, we are to listen to the reading of the Megillah (the Scroll of Esther) twice: once on Purim eve and again on Purim day.
  2. Give to the Needy (Matanot La’evyonim): Concern for the needy is a year-round responsibility, but on Purim, it is a special mitzvah (commandment) to remember the poor. Give charity to at least two, (but preferably more) needy individuals on the day of Purim. Giving directly to the needy best fulfills the mitzvah. If, however, you cannot find poor people, place at least several coins into a charity box. As in the other mitzvahs of Purim, even small children should fulfill this mitzvah.
  3. Send Food Portions to Friends (Mishloach Manot): On Purim, we emphasize the importance of Jewish unity and friendship by sending gifts of food to friends. Send a gift of at least two kinds of ready-to-eat foods (e.g., pastry, fruit, beverage), to at least one friend on Purim day. Men should send to men and women to women. It is preferable that the gifts are delivered via a third party. Children, in addition to sending their gifts of food to their friends, make enthusiastic messengers.
  4. Eat, Drink and be Merry: Purim should be celebrated with a special festive meal on Purim Day, at which family and friends gather together to rejoice in the Purim spirit. It is a mitzvah to drink wine or other inebriating drinks at this meal.
  5. Special Prayers (Al Hanissim, Torah reading): On Purim, we recite the Al HaNissim prayer in the evening, morning and afternoon prayers, as well as in the Grace After Meals. In the morning service, there is a special reading from the Torah Scroll in the synagogue.”And (we thank You) for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time – in the days of Mordecai and Esther, in Shushan the capital, when the wicked Haman rose up against them, and sought to destroy, slaughter and annihilate all the Jews, young and old, infants and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar and to take their spoil for plunder. But You, in Your abounding mercies, foiled his counsel and frustrated his intention, and caused the evil he planned to recoil on his head, and they hanged him and his sons upon the gallows.”
  6. Torah Reading of “Zachor”: On the Shabbat before Purim, a special reading is held in the synagogue of the Torah section called Zachor (“Remember” – Deuteronomy 25:17-19), in which we are enjoined to remember the deeds of (the nation of) Amalek (Haman’s ancestor) who sought to destroy the Jewish people.
  7. The Fast of Esther: To commemorate the day of prayer and fasting that the Jewish people held at Esther’s request, we fast on the day before Purim, from approximately an hour before sunrise until nightfall.
  8. The “Half Coins” (Machatzit Hashekel): It is a tradition to give three half-dollar coins to charity to commemorate the half-shekel that each Jew contributed as his share in the communal offerings in the time of the Holy Temple. This custom, usually performed in the synagogue, is done on the afternoon of the “Fast of Esther,” or before the reading of the Megillah.
  9. Purim Customs: Masquerades and Hamantashen: A time-honored Purim custom is for children to dress up and disguise themselves-an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments. This is also the significance behind a traditional Purim food, the hamantash-a pastry whose filling is hidden within a three-cornered crust.
Summary of the Story

The Book of Esther tells of the deliverance of the Jewish people of Persia from destruction and of the institution of the feast of Purim as the annual commemoration of this event. Esther is an orphaned Jewish maiden raised by her older cousin Mordecai. (As an aside, there is some dispute amongst the various Bible translations as to whether Mordecai was Esther’s uncle or cousin. Irrespective, she was an orphan and Mordecai raised her as his daughter.) She is selected from among the most beautiful maidens of the Persian Empire to be the queen of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), replacing the banished Queen Vashti. Angered by Mordecai’s refusal to pay him homage, Haman, the king’s ambitious chief minister, plots to destroy Mordecai and all his people. He persuades the king to issue an edict authorizing a massacre of all the Jews in the realm on the ground that they do not keep the king’s laws. Mordecai urges Esther to persuade Ahasuerus to rescind the decree. Esther, risking execution by appearing unbidden before the king, exposes the intrigues of Haman, after that Ahasuerus orders Haman hanged and appoints Mordecai as his chief minister. The king then reverses his edict, allowing the Jews to destroy their enemies throughout the empire. On the appointed day, they carry out bloody vengeance. Finally, to celebrate their delivery, Mordecai and Queen Esther decree the annual feast of Purim.

Click here for PDF version.

The Throne of God and Yesha’yahu’s Commissioning ~ Part 1 ~ Yesha’yahu 6:1-7 

In my last post, we concluded our examination of the last of The Six Woes and Judgments of Isra’el ~ Part 3 in Yesha’yahu 5:22-30. In this post, will look at Yesha’yahu taken to the Throne of God in Yesha’yahu 6:1-7.

Most prophets record a time when God called them to their ministry. Moshe received God’s call at the burning bush (Exodus 3). Jeremiah heard God tell him that he had been chosen from the womb to deliver a message of judgment and salvation to the nations (Jeremiah 1:4-10). Ezekiel experienced an incredible vision while he was in exile in Babylon (Ezekiel 1:4-3:27). Yesha’yahu received his commissioning vision in the Temple, but in his vision, the Temple was transformed into the Throne Room of Heaven itself.

1 In the year of King ‘Uziyahu’s [Uzziah] death, I saw Adonai sitting on a high, lofty throne! The hem [most translations use train] of his robe filled the Temple.

‘Uziyahu is believed to have died in 739 BCE. This is a critical juncture in history. In 740-738 BCE Assyrian King Tiglath- Pileser III made his first campaign into the west. This is the beginning of a serious military threat that will eventually bring about the downfall of the northern kingdom, Isra’el, the destruction of the capital city of Samaria (along with many other cities of Isra’el and Y’hudah) and the deportation of large segments of the population. The Assyrians are on the brink of establishing the empire that will dominate the ancient Near East for over a century.

Second Chronicles 26:8 tells us that ‘Uziyahu was known worldwide as a king who brought peace and prosperity. He was an inventor. He built up his army to be a powerful force. He was a man who walked with the Lord and was strengthened by the Lord.

The Essentially Holy Place (Holy of Holies) was viewed as the Throne Room of the Lord, so it is logical that the vision is set in the Temple complex. The Ark of the Covenant is portrayed as the footstool of His Throne.

The word translated train by many refers to the hem. It is the richly decorated and distinctive border around the high priestly robe (see comments on Exodus 28:31-35). The hem was used as a mark of identity for people of rank such as priests and kings.

2 S’rafim [Seraphim] stood over him, each with six wings — two for covering his face, two for covering his feet and two for flying. 3 They were crying out to each other, “More holy than the holiest holiness is Adonai-Tzva’ot! [1] The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

The s’rafim were angelic creatures of great power and importance. Their name means “burning ones,” and the implication of fire evokes thoughts of danger and mystery. Covering their eyes shielded them from the brilliance of the divine glory. Covering their feet may have been a posture of submission.

More holy than the holiest holiness [2] is an emphatic or superlative phrase which points to God’s character. He is completely separated from anything profane or sinful. His sovereignty is underlined by the fact that His glory filled the whole earth.

4 The doorposts shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe to me! I [too] am doomed! – because I, a man with unclean lips, living among a people with unclean lips, have seen with my own eyes the King, Adonai-Tzva’ot!”

In Amos 9:1 the shaking of doorposts or thresholds indicates the beginning of demolition. If this was the case, the smoke could be the result of destructive forces at work.

In the presence of such holiness, Yesha’yahu felt the weight of his sinfulness. In the first five chapters, he was saying, Woe unto you. Woe unto you. Woe unto you. But when he saw the Lord, he said, Woe to me. That’s always the way it is. When Kefa realized who Yeshua was, he fell in his boat and said, Get away from me, sir, because I’m a sinner! ~ Luke 5:8 (CJB) When Yochanan saw the Lord on the Isle of Patmos, he fell as though he were dead (Revelation 1:17).

6 One of the s’rafim flew to me with a glowing coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Here! This has touched your lips. Your iniquity is gone; your sin is atoned for.” ~ Isaiah 6:1-7 (CJB)

God prepared Yesha’yahu by cleansing his lips, the instrument by which he would execute his prophetic task. He did this symbolically by having one of His s’rafim touch the prophet’s lips with a burning coal. Fire can purify (Numbers 31:22-23), and this burning coal was taken from the altar where sacrifices were offered to atone for sin (1 Chronicles 6:49).

As the coal touched the area where Yesha’yahu was plagued, it wasn’t to burn him up but to build him up. It cauterized the flow of iniquity from his lips. When we come to a place of saying, “Lord, woe is me. This area of my life is undone. My mind is impure. My speech is cutting. My eyes are wandering. My hands are evil”—whatever might be your area of weakness, the Lord will send a coal from off the altar. If you’ll humble yourself before Him and be open to Him, He’ll cauterize that area – just as He did with Yesha’yahu. [3]

I have always struggled with the idea of having a burning coal applied to my lips. I can recall having my tongue stuck on a freezing flag pole as a kid and getting it unstuck was no fun. When I grew older, I developed a bad case of being a “potty-mouth.” It wasn’t until the Ruach got ahold of me and pointed out scripture that I was convicted of my sin.

In my next blog, we will move on to Yesha’yahu’s Commissioning in The Throne of God and Yesha’yahu’s Commissioning ~ Part 2.

Click for the PDF version.

[1] See the Glossary page above.

[2] Unlike English, Hebrew does not have an equivalent phrase for good, better, best. Consequently, the phrase more holy than the holiest holiness (literally Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh in Hebrew) serves that purpose.

[3] Jon Courson’s Application Commentary Old Testament Volume 2.

I Am Curious

Does anybody use the PDF version I provide?

The Six Woes and Judgments of Isra’el ~ Part 3 ~ Yesha’yahu 5:22-30 

In my last post, we continued to unpack the next three woes of Isra’el in Yesha’yahu 5:18-21. We covered the next three of the six woes Yesha’yahu declares to Isra’el. In this post, will conclude our examination of the last of The Six Woes and Judgments of Isra’el ~ Part 3 in Yesha’yahu 5:22-30.

The sixth and final woe returns to the earlier issue of alcoholism and twisting justice for money.

22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, men whose power goes to mixing strong drinks, 23 who acquit the guilty for bribes but deny justice to the righteous!

The Bible Background Commentary has this to offer regarding the issue of strong drinks in this period.

A wide variety of alcoholic beverages was available in the ancient world. Wine (from honey, dates or grapes) and beer were the most common. What is classed today as “hard liquor” (requiring a distillation process) was not yet known. The two terms used in this verse may refer respectively to grape wine and date wine, but it is difficult to be certain. The mixing that is mentioned here involves mixing in herbs, spices or oils. [1]

Because people have given themselves over to wine and strong drink, people no longer think clearly. Woe to a society which has come under the bondage of strong drink.

True justice (see Leviticus 19:15) is expected of kings, officials and local magistrates. In fact, in the book of Judges and prophetic literature (Yesha’yahu 1:23) describes a society in which “laws are enacted but ignored.” At that time and true today, an efficiently administered state depends on the reliability of the law and its enforcement. The temptation for judges and government officials to accept bribes is found in every time and place (see Proverbs 6:35; Micah 7:3). Taking bribes becomes almost institutionally accepted in bureaucratic situations as competing parties attempt to outmaneuver each other (see Ezra 4:4-5; Micah 3:11). However, at least on the ideal level, arguments and penalties are imposed to eliminate or at least lessen this problem. Exodus 23:8 forbids the taking of bribes and the perversion of justice as an offense against God, the weak and innocent, and the entire community (see Amos 5:12).

Two judgment speeches (verses 24 and 25) follow the woes.

24 Therefore, as fire licks up the stubble, and the chaff is consumed in the flame; so, their root will rot, and their flowers scatter like dust; because they have rejected the Torah of Adonai-Tzva’ot, they have despised the word of the Holy One of Isra’el. 25 This is why Adonai’s anger blazed up against His people, why He stretched out His hand against them and struck them [so hard that] the hills shook, and corpses lay like trash in the streets. Even after all this, His anger remains, His upraised hand still threatens.

“You brought judgment and destruction upon yourself,” God says, “but My hand is outstretched still.” Look at that hand. It’s not stretched out to strike you down. As I look at that hand, I see the scars where a nail pierced and penetrated the palm (or wrist as some people believe) and I realize that His hand is stretched out not to come down on me but to reach out and save me.

God’s hand is stretched out. The mistakes we’ve made personally, as a church family, as a community, and as a country have been forgiven and covered by the blood of Yeshua if we’ll simply respond and say, “Thank You, Lord, for reaching out, for stretching out Your hand on the Cross, for absorbing My sins. I repent. I change direction. I’m turning away from my old paths to walk in Your way.”

God comes to the vineyard of our nation and looks for the fruit of thanksgiving, rightness, holiness, love, mercy, and compassion, but all He finds is sour grapes and wild fruit. What is the solution? Repentance. Nations don’t repent. People repent. Therefore, it’s time for us to accept our part in the corrupt state of our society. It’s time for us to change our activity and pray on behalf of our country.

26 He will give a signal to faraway nations, he will whistle for them to come from the ends of the earth; and here they come, so fast! – 27 none of them tired or stumbling, none of them sleeping or drowsy, none with a loose belt, none with a broken sandal-strap.

The signal or banner was used as a means of calling out an army of a territory or indicating the place where a muster was taking place, or a camp was located. It often featured an insignia of the tribe or division. The word translated whistle can also refer to a hiss.

 28 Their arrows are sharp; all their bows are strung, their horses’ hoofs are like flint, and their [chariot] wheels like a whirlwind.

The Assyrians did not shoe horses, so horses with hard hooves were the more desirable, especially for the rocky terrain of Isra’el. The bow was the main offensive weapon of the Assyrian army. Arrowheads were made of various materials including bone, horn, and various metals. Chariots could accommodate four people and had heavy six or eight spoke wheels.

 29 They will roar like lions – yes, roaring like young lions, they growl and seize the prey and carry it off, with no one to rescue. 30 On that day they will growl at them, like the sea when it growls – and when one looks toward land, one sees darkness closing in; the light is dissipated in the obscuring overcast.” ~ Yesha’yahu 5:22-30 (CJB)

The lion would typically roar as a warning in a territorial confrontation. The growl is appropriate to the seizing of prey. Both images are reflected here. Because of the Lord’s allowance, the Assyrian army would descend on Isra’el in a flawless military maneuver.

In my next blog, we will move on to Yesha’yahu 6 covering his visit to The Throne of God and Yesha’yahu’s Commissioning.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The IVP Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament.

The Six Woes and Judgments of Isra’el ~ Part 2 ~ Yesha’yahu 5:18-21

In my last post, we began to explore the SixWoes and Judgments of Isra’el in Yesha’yahu 5:8ff. We covered the first two of six woes Yesha’yahu declares to Isra’el. In this post, we continue to unpack the next three woes of Isra’el in Yesha’yahu 5:18-21.

18 Woe to those who begin by pulling at transgression with a thread but end by dragging sin along as if with a cart rope. 19 They say, “We want God to speed up his work, to hurry it along, so we can see it! We want the Holy One of Isra’el’s plan to come true right now, so we can be sure of it!”

Liberalism and looseness are the third woe. Their sin was one of cynicism. With a tone of disbelief, they challenged God to act. People plunge into sin and then mistake the mercy, patience, and long-suffering of God for apathy, impotence, or even approval. Our Father is incredibly long-suffering, and the wheels of His judgment turn slowly. He waits for us to repent and to come to our sensesbut eventually, we will find ourselves ground up in the inevitable wheels of justice.

Augustine of Hippo says of verse 18: [1]

“Every man braids a rope for himself in his sins. Who makes the rope long? Who adds sin to sin? How are sins added to sins? When sins that have been committed are combined with other sins! Someone committed a theft. To ensure that no one may find out he committed it, he seeks out an astrologer. It would be enough to have committed the theft; why do you want to join a second sin to the first? Then you have two sins. When you are forbidden to go to an astrologer, you rebuke the bishop. Now there are three sins. When you hear it said of you, ‘Cast him out of the Church,’ you reply, ‘I will go to the party of Donatus.’ Now you have added a fourth sin. The rope is growing. Beware of the rope!”

20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who change darkness into light and light into darkness, who change bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter!

Relativism and existentialismthe lack of absolutesis the fourth woe. How many times have we heard sayings such as?

“Dark is light, and light is dark. Sweet is bitter and bitter is sweet. You can’t say what’s right and wrong for everyone. What’s right for you may or may not be right for me. The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. Just do whatever you want.”

They classified actions as an evil that God would call good and vice versa. While the principle is broader than judicial, such moral confusion was particularly reprehensible in the courtroom as we will see in verse 23.

21 Woe to those seeing themselves as wise, esteeming themselves as clever. ~ Isaiah 5:18-21 (CJB)

The fifth woe is intellectualism. The human issue is one of autonomy. Many self-proclaimed intellectuals are agnosticsbut the Bible says it is the fool who has said in his heart that there is no God (see Psalm 14:1). This would be like an ant defiantly declaring that he doesn’t believe in man. I could yell and jump up and down in front of him to prove my existence, but his perspective is so puny, his intellect so small, his perception so restricted that he doesn’t see me. Does that mean I don’t exist? No, it means he’s too small to see me. The only way I would be able to save that ant from destruction would be to become an ant. That’s what God did with us. God said, “I love you so much; I’ll become one of you to talk to you about life and death, heaven and hell, sin and salvation.” That’s how much our Lord loves us.

In my next blog, we will conclude our examination of The Six Woes and Judgments of Isra’el ~ Part 3 in Yesha’yahu 5:22-30.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The Church’s Bible – Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators.

The Six Woes and Judgments of Isra’el ~ Part 1 ~ Yesha’yahu 5:8-17

In my last post, we examined The Parable (or Song) of the Vineyard in Yesha’yahu 5:1-7. In this post, we begin to explore the SixWoes and Judgments of Isra’el in Yesha’yahu 5:8ff. Today, we will cover the first two of six woes Yesha’yahu declares to Isra’el.

The previous passage described Isra’el as a vineyard that produced worthless grapes. The six woes that follow illustrate why Isra’el was so worthless with judgments to follow.

8 Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, until there’s no room for anyone else, and you live in splendor alone on your land. 9 Adonai-Tzva’ot said in my ears, “Many houses will be brought to ruin, large, magnificent ones left empty; 10 for a ten-acre vineyard will produce only five gallons of wine, and seed from five bushels of grain will yield but half a bushel.”

The first woe pronounced upon Isra’el deals with corrupt capitalism. Capitalism can become corrupted just as surely as socialism, communism, or any other form of government. Here, God is saying essentially, “People have taken over properties, homes, and fields to build their empires.” And, because they were motivated only by money, God indicts them. “You’re not going to get away with this indefinitely,” He says, “A day of reckoning will come when all of your efforts to increase your empire will backfire. The land won’t produce. The resources won’t be released.”

Expansion of real estate holdings in the ancient world was usually at someone else’s expense. Bad harvests over several seasons could necessitate giving up ownership over the property to pay off or work off debt. In Isra’el this was a theological as well as an economic crisis. Since God had given them the land as a benefit of the covenant, each family considered its landholdings as its little share in the covenant. Therefore, what otherwise would be a financial tragedy (often with an oppressive dimension) also served to deprive family members of their part in the covenant. Additionally, the decision-making body in any community was comprised of landowners (as it was originally in the United States).

A vineyard would typically be expected to yield at least one thousand gallons of wine per acre. Harvests of grain in irrigated areas across the ancient Near East yielded a normal seed to crop ratio of about one to ten (though higher yields are attested in the literature). Therefore, a bushel of seed would usually be expected to yield ten bushels of grain. Here the ratio is reversed as ten to one.

11 Woe to those who get up early to pursue intoxicating liquor; who stay up late at night, until wine inflames them. 12 They have lutes and lyres, drums and flutes, and wine at their parties; but they pay no attention to how Adonai works and never look at what His hands have made. 13 For such lack of knowledge, my people go into exile; this is also why their respected men starve, and their masses are parched from thirst. 14 Therefore Sh’ol has enlarged itself and opened its limitless jaws – and down go their nobles and masses, along with their noise and revels. 15 The masses are lowered; the nobles are humbled – proud looks will be brought down. 16 But Adonai-Tzva’ot is exalted through justice, God the Holy One is consecrated through righteousness. 17 Then lambs will be able to feed as if they were in their own pasture, and those wandering through will eat from the ruined fields of the overfed. ~ Isaiah 5:8-17 (CJB)

The second woe is hedonismthe pursuit of pleasure above all else. So too, our own country seems to be in a relentless pursuit of hedonism. Nothing can stand between us and our pleasure. We spend fortunes on alcohol, tobacco, and gambling; on bigger houses and faster cars, but don’t have money or time to help the poor.

As God’s people indulged themselves with drink and food, so Sh’ol will open its large mouth and swallow them. Sh’ol refers to the grave and in some contexts signifies the underworld. The idea of Sh’ol swallowing its victims did not originate with the Hebrews but may stem from the Canaanite story that describes the god of death swallowing his victims.

In my next blog, we will continue to examine The Six Woes and Judgments of Isra’el ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 5:18ff.

Click here for the PDF version.

The Parable of the Vineyard ~ Yesha’yahu 5:1-7

In my last post, we examined The Branch of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 4:2-6. In this post, we look at The Parable (or Song) of the Vineyard in Yesha’yahu 5:1-7.

Grapes were among the basic staple products of the ancient Near East, and therefore the care necessary for a vineyard was well known. In the rocky and hilly terrain of Isra’el special care had to be taken to preserve the soil and the moisture necessary to produce good fruit. As the rocks were cleared from the hillside, the stones were used to create terraces to level the ground. This would prevent water drainage and soil erosion. More stones were used to build huts and watchtowers that would be used to protect the crop when it neared harvest time. Constant weeding between the rows of the vine was necessary to prevent weeds from springing up and sapping off the water supply in the soil. Various irrigation techniques were used to assure enough groundwater. If the ground did not have adequate moisture or if the vines were not pruned back, the resulting crop would be small and sour. Finally, some of the stones were also used for winepresses and cisterns on the site so that the grapes could be processed without risking damage during transportation.

Perhaps one of the most impacting teachings of Yeshua dealt with a vineyard. In John 15, Yeshua told His talmidim that He was the vine, they were the branches, and that they must abide in Him and cling to Him if they were to be fruitful in their lives. Where did Yeshua get this illustration? I believe He got it from His Father for here in Yesha’yahu 5, God the Father, through the prophet Yesha’yahu, also talks of the parable of the vineyard.

This song has been identified as a parable, an allegory, and a love poem. Whatever its precise genre, its message is clear and compelling. It uses imagery to make the point that the people of God deserve the punishment coming their way. While previous oracles have hinted at hope beyond the judgment, this poem does not.

1 I want to sing a song for someone I love, a song about my loved one and His vineyard. My loved one had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug up its stones and cleared them away, planted it with the choicest vines, built a watchtower in the middle of it, and carved out in its rock a winepress. He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only sour, wild grapes. ~ Yesha’yahu 5:1-2 (CJB)

The loved one in the song turns out to be none other than God Himself, and His vineyard stands for His people (v. 7). The singer continues by describing the labor that went into preparing the vineyard. To create a vineyard was no easy matter. There was a period of a few years that passed from clearing the area of stones, planting expensive vines, and building a tower and a winepress. Similarly, God expended great effort in creating the right conditions for Isra’el to flourish as a godly nation. But despite all the work, the vineyard produced worthless grapes. This signified that the people of God did not live up to their promise of being an obedient and blessed people who would also bless the nations around them.

3 “Now, citizens of Yerushalayim and people of Y’hudah, judge between Me and My vineyard. 4 What more could I have done for My vineyard that I haven’t already done in it? So why, when I expected good grapes, did it produce sour, wild grapes? 5 “Now come, I will tell you what I will do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge, and [its grapes] will be eaten up; I will break through its fence, and [its vines] will be trampled down. 6 I will let it go to waste: it will be neither pruned nor hoed but overgrown with briars and thorns. I will also order the clouds not to let rain fall on it.” 7 Now the vineyard of Adonai-Tzva’ot is the house of Isra’el, and the men of Y’hudah are the plant He delighted in. So, He expected justice, but look – bloodshed! – and righteousness, but listen – cries of distress! ~ Yesha’yahu 5:3-7 (CJB)

This passage is an awesome indictment against the nation of Isra’el, for, in it, the Lord essentially says, “I have blessed you. I have worked with you. I have given so much to you. You are My vineyard, but as I look for fruit in your nation, I find nothing but wild, bitter grapes.” God had indeed blessed the people of Isra’el. He had brought them into a land that was flowing with milk and honey. He had blessed them exceedingly abundantly. But, although they enjoyed the gifts of God, they forgot all about God Himself.

I see a very real parallel between the people of ancient Isra’el and our own country. God has blessed us greatly as a nation. He has blessed us with great freedom and incredible prosperity. And yet we have forgotten Him. We think it is our Constitution, our democratic government, or the free enterprise system that has made us great. We think we have done this by our ingenuity, creativity, or hard work. We congratulate ourselves, all the while forgetting God.

What were the wild grapes that the nation produced instead of the good grapes that God sought for? In the six woes that follow, Yesha’yahu named the sins that brought judgment on the land.

Are we no different than those ancient Israelites?

In my next blog, we will begin to explore the Woes and Judgments of Isra’el in Yesha’yahu 5:8ff.

Click here for the PDF version.

The Branch of the Lord ~ Yesha’yahu 4:2-6

In my last post, we concluded our examination of God’s Judgment on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim in Part 3 covering Yesha’yahu 3:16-4:1. In this post, we look at The Branch of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 4:2-6.

After saying the times are going to be dark and difficult, brutal and bloody in the previous passage we explored, here in verses 2 through 6, Yesha’yahu says there’s hope – for Isra’el will experience a tremendous awakening. Thus, for the people of Isra’el, the day of the Lord begins as a dark day indeed.

But this is not surprising, for the Hebrew reckoning of any day begins with the setting of the sun. For many of us, our day begins with the rising of the sun, but I like the Hebrew way of thinking better because it begins in darkness and works toward the light. The day of the Lord begins in darkness – judgment, wrath, trouble, plague, problems, war, worry, disease, destruction. But then the Son comes. Yeshua HaMashiach comes back. That’s why Yeshua says, whoever holds out till the end will be delivered. Matthew 24:13 (CJB)

2 On that day, Adonai’s plant will be beautiful and glorious; and the fruit of the land will be the pride and splendor of Isra’el’s survivors. Most modern English translations of on that day, Adonai’s plant translate it as in that day the branch of the Lord.

The history of the interpretation has followed two distinct paths. One views this phrase as a Messianic title of the promised Davidic ruler, the other interprets it as a sign of God’s blessing on nature and considers the branch to be parallel to the fruit of the land. But the two interpretations may not be mutually exclusive since in Hebrew parallelism the second idea is often not strictly synonymous but expands the thought of the first idea. That day is a future day, a time that comes after the judgment described in 2:5-4:1.

3 Those left in Tziyon and remaining in Yerushalayim will be called holy, and everyone in Yerushalayim written down for life. 4 When Adonai washes away the filth of the women of Tziyon and cleanses Yerushalayim from the bloodshed in it with a blast of searing judgment,

The remnant will be holy. Holiness means set apart or consecrated for service to the Lord. Such a relationship implies an obedient lifestyle. Verse 5 explicitly states that Tziyon’s blessed future condition will be accomplished through judgment. It is an act of the grace of God. God’s people must wash themselves (see 1:16), but it is God who makes them clean.

5 Adonai will create over the whole site of Mount Tziyon and over those who assemble there a smoking cloud by day and a shining, flaming fire by night; for the Glory will be over everything like a hupah [wedding canopy]. 6 A sukkah [1]will give shade by day from the heat; it will also provide refuge and cover from storm and rain. ~ Yesha’yahu 4:2-6 (CJB)

After the Exodus from Egypt, God guided Isra’el through the desert by a cloud and flame (see Exodus 40:38), which represented God’s mysterious and powerful presence with His people. Yesha’yahu used this language to teach that the future remnant will again enjoy an intimate and assuring relationship with God after the judgment.

Yeshua is coming back. He’s going to purge the people of Isra’el of their unbelief. Oh, what a glorious day that will be!

In my next blog, we will move on the explore The Parable of the Vineyard in Yesha’yahu 5:1-7.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] A sukkah is a temporary dwelling associated with the Feast of Tabernacles to remind us of the tents that the Israelites lived in during their Exodus from Egypt.

God’s Judgment on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim ~ Part 3 ~ Yesha’yahu 3:16-4:1

In my last post, we continued our look at God’s Judgment on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim ~ Part 2 beginning in Yesha’yahu 3:8-15. In this post, we conclude our examination of God’s Judgment on Y’hudah and Yerushalayim in Part 3 covering Yesha’yahu 3:16-4:1.

In ancient society, a woman’s wardrobe was frequently a barometer of society. In this passage which is about to unravel, the women dressed seductively. The little cymbals they wore on their feet caused others to turn and see them. The jewelry, headbands, and costly material were all meant to entice. And because of the moral vacuum of their society, not only would their beauty be lost, but they would have to deal with some brutal consequences – not because God would punish them but because, by ignoring His ways and His Word, they would bring a plague upon themselves.

16 Moreover Adonai says: “Because Tziyon’s women are so proud, walking with their heads in the air and throwing seductive glances, moving with mincing steps and jingling their anklets.

The proud daughters of Tziyon stand for the city and the inhabitants of Yerushalayim (1:8), not just its female inhabitants. Though clearly, the inhabitants included its share of rich, snooty women, the fact that such a female personification clearly describes the city in Yesha’yahu 3:25-36 confirms the view that the daughters should not be restricted to the female population.

Anklets were solid rings usually made of bronze. The same word is also used of the irons used to hobble camels. Some burials of the Iron Age evidence arm and ankle rings still on the body.

Kefa wrote: “Let it be the inner character of your heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit. In God’s sight, this is of great value.” 1 Peter 3:4 (CJB) That kind of beauty is never lost, ladies.

17 Adonai will strike the crown of the heads of Tziyon’s women with sores, and Adonai will expose their private parts.” 18 On that day Adonai will take away their finery – their anklets, medallions and crescents, 19 their pendants, bracelets and veils; 20 their headbands, armlets, sashes, perfume bottles, amulets, 21 rings and nose-jewels; 22 their fine dresses, wraps, shawls, handbags, 23 gauze scarves, linen underclothes, turbans and capes. 24 Then, there will be instead of perfume, a stench; instead of a belt, a rope; instead of well-set hair, a shaved scalp; instead of a rich robe, a sackcloth skirt; and a slave-brand instead of beauty.

God will humiliate these proud women who represent the city and inhabitants of Yerushalayim. Their physical appearance will be spoiled, and their finery will be removed. They will end up wearing sackcloth, ugly and uncomfortable. While this language should be understood figuratively of the city of Yerushalayim, it also has a literal significance. Wealthy, beautiful, well-dressed women would be reduced to such a state during the coming military siege.

The Hebrew in verse 17 for private parts is hard to translate. Some Bibles translate it as referring to a “bald head” which in that culture would have been as equally humiliating as exposing their private anatomy.

25 Your men will fall by the sword and your warriors in battle. 26 Her gates will lament and mourn; ravaged, she will sit on the ground. 1 On that day, seven women will grab hold of one man and say, “We will supply our own food and wear our own clothes. Just let us bear your name; take away our disgrace.” ~ Isaiah 3:16-4:1 (CJB)

War will severely reduce the male population of Yerushalayim. Presumably, these seven women have lost their husbands and sons and are therefore left socially defenseless even though they are not without means. This was a common aftermath of war. It was contractually and legally the husband’s responsibility to provide food and clothing. These women are not looking for financial provision and would certainly be willing to bypass the usual conventions of the bride price. Not only would the women be affected by the dark days that lie ahead, but the men of Yerushalayim would die, and the entire city would fall. That is why God sent Yesha’yahu with this word of warning.

In my next blog, we will move on the explore The Branch of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 4:2-6.

Click here for the PDF version.