Elisha ~ Part 16

In my last post, we continued to explore the ministry of Elisha by looking at 2 Kings 5:19b-27 where we learned that Geichazi Lies to Himself, Na’aman and Elisha. In this post, we continue with 2 Kings 6:1-7 were we learn that Elisha Restores a Student Ministry.

1 The guild prophets said to Elisha, “As you can see, the place where we are living in order to be with you is too small for us. 2 Please allow us to go to the Yarden; each of us will collect a log there, and we’ll build a place there for us to live.” He answered, “Go ahead.” 3 But one of them said, “Please, won’t you come with your servants?” He answered, “All right, I will”; 4 so he went with them. When they arrived at the Yarden, they cut down trees; 5 but as one was felling a tree trunk, the head of his ax fell in the water. “Oh, no!” he cried. “My master, it was a borrowed one!” 6 The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” He showed him the place. Then Elisha cut a stick, threw it in there, and the iron ax-head floated to the surface. 7 “Lift it out,” he said. So, he put out his hand and took it.” ~ 2 Kings 6:1-7 (CJB)

Elisha Saves the Day and 
Restores a Student Ministry

Elisha wasn’t only a traveling preacher and a miracle-working prophet, but he was also the overseer of several schools of guild prophets where young men called to ministry were trained and encouraged. We know there were schools in Gilgal, Beit-el, and Yericho (2 Kings 2:1-5) and in Samuel’s hometown of Ramah (1 Samuel 19:22-24). Both Eliyahu and Elisha were concerned that the next generation knows the Lord and understand His Word, and this is our commission today (2 Timothy 2:2).

Our passage today picks up the story from 2 Kings 4:44. God had blessed the school at Yericho, and it was necessary to enlarge their quarters. The students studied together when the prophet visited them and ate together (2 Kings 4:38-44). Likewise, we need to ensure that when God is raising a new generation of servants, we as veteran ministers of God take time to teach them.

But new growth brings new obligations, and the facilities at Jordan had to be enlarged. Schools today would do fund-raising and hire architects and contractors, but in Elisha’s day, the students did the work. Not only that, but the leader of the school went with them and encouraged the work. Elisha had a shepherd’s heart and was willing to go with his flock and share their burdens.

Iron tools were precious and scarce, which explains why the student had to borrow an ax so he could help prepare the timber. Not only were tools scarce, but they weren’t constructed with the strength and durability of our tools today. Moshe gave a special law relating to damage that might result when an ax head flew off the handle (Deuteronomy 19:4-5), so it must have happened frequently. If the law of borrowed animals also applied to borrowed tools (Exodus 22:14-15), then that poor student would have to reimburse the lender for the lost ax head, and that would probably upset the budget for weeks to come. Without the ax head, the student couldn’t work and that would add to somebody else’s burdens. All in all, the sunken ax head caused a great deal of trouble.

The student was quick enough to see where it fell and honest enough to report the accident to Elisha. The Yarden isn’t the cleanest river in the Holy Land (5:12), and it would be very difficult for anybody to see the ax head lying at the bottom. The prophet didn’t “fish out” the ax head with a pole. He threw a stick into the water at the place where the ax head sank, and the Lord raised the iron ax head so that it floated on the surface of the river and could be picked up. It was a quiet miracle from a powerful God through a compassionate servant.

There are some spiritual applications that we can learn from this incident, and perhaps the first is that whatever we have has been “borrowed.” Paul asked, “And what do you have that you did not receive as a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Whatever gifts, abilities, possessions, and opportunities we have are from God, and we will have to give an account of them when we see the Lord.

This student lost his valuable tool while he was serving the Lord. Faithful service is important, but it can also be threatening, for we might lose something valuable even as we do our work. Moshe lost his patience and meekness while providing water for the people (Numbers 20:1-13), and David lost his self-control while being kind to his neighbor (1 Samuel 25:13). God’s servants must walk carefully before the Lord and take inventory of their “tools” lest they lose something they desperately need.

The good news is that the Lord can recover what we have lost and put us back to work. He can restore us and make us efficient in His service. The important thing is to know that you have lost it, and when and where you have lost it, and honestly confess it to Him. Then get back to work again!

In my next post, we continue to explore the life of Elisha. In this post, we will pick up the story of Elisha in 2 Kings 6:15-23 where we learn about the God Who Shows Mercy.

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Elisha ~ Part 15

In my last post, we continued to explore the ministry of Elisha by looking at 2 Kings 5:15-19a where we learned about Na’aman as he Serves the Lord. In this post, we continue with 2 Kings 5:19b-27 were we learn that Geichazi Lies to Himself, Na’aman and Elisha.

19b Na’aman had gone only a short distance from him, 20 when Geichazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, ‘Here, my master has made it easy on this Arami Na’aman by not accepting from him what he brought. As Adonai lives, I’ll run after him and get at least something from him.’ 21 So Geichazi hurried off after Na’aman. When Na’aman saw someone running after him, he got down from his chariot to meet him and asked, ‘Is everything all right?’ 22 ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘My master sent me with this message: ‘Two young men have just now come to me, guild prophets from the hills of Efrayim. Would you be kind enough to give them a talent of silver [sixty-six pounds] and two changes of clothes?” 23 ‘By all means, take two talents!’ said Na’aman, pressing him. He tied up the two talents of silver in two bags and gave them, with the two changes of clothes, to two of his servants, who carried them ahead of Geichazi. 24 On reaching the hill, he took the bags from them and put them away in the house. Then he let the men go, and they left. 25 He went in and stood before his master. Elisha asked, ‘Where have you been, Geichazi?’ ‘Your servant hasn’t gone anywhere,’ he said. 26 Elisha said to him, ‘Wasn’t my heart there with you when the man left his chariot to meet you? Is this a time to receive silver and clothing — and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female slaves? 27 Therefore Na’aman’s tzara’at will cling to you and your descendants forever.’ He left Elisha’s presence with tzara’at as white as snow.” ~ 2 Kings 5:19b-27 (CJB)

While Na’aman was seeking to live the truth and please the Lord, Elisha’s servant was wallowing in deception and unholy desires. “Do not covet” is the last of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17), but when you break this one commandment, you tempt yourself to break the other nine. Geichazi had been decaying in his spiritual life, and this was the climax. Now his covetousness took control, it led to lying, and it finally resulted in Geichazi becoming a leper. The disease on the outside typified the decay on the inside.

Geichazi Lied to Himself

When he refused the gifts, Elisha hadn’t been “easy” on Na’aman but had taught the young believer a difficult lesson. Geichazi measured his master’s conduct the way the world would measure it, not the way God measured it. He believed he would be a better and a happier man if he took some gifts from Na’aman and that he had the right to do it. “Be careful to guard against all forms of greed, because even if someone is rich, his life does not consist in what he owns.” Luke 12:15 (CJB)

Surely Geichazi knew that Na’aman’s salvation and healing were wholly by the grace of God and that taking gifts might give the Syrian general the impression that he could do something to save himself. When he returned to Syria, Na’aman would have to account for the missing treasures, and this could only weaken his testimony.

Geichazi took the Adonai’s name in vain when he said as Adonai lives, for he had sin in his heart and was planning to sin even more. We get the impression that Geichazi had no fear of God in his heart and privately used God’s name carelessly. Had he revered the name of God as commanded in Exodus 20:7, he would not have been controlled by greed.

Geichazi Lied to Na’aman

Na’aman’s caravan wasn’t too far away, and Geichazi was able to run and catch up with it. Na’aman did a noble thing when he stopped his chariot and stepped down to meet Elisha’s servant. Perhaps Elisha had another message for him, or perhaps there was a need to be met. For a Syrian general to show such deference to a Jewish servant was certainly an indication that God had wrought a change in his heart. Na’aman greeted him with “Is everything all right?” (literally ~ shalom) and Geichazi replied “Yes.” But all wasn’t well! When a man’s heart is filled with greed, and his lips are filled with lies, he is far from enjoying shalom, which means “peace, well-being, fulfillment, prosperity, safety.”

In carrying out his evil plan, Geichazi not only used God’s name in vain but by using Elisha’s name, he lied to Na’aman when he asked for gifts for two guild prophets from the hills of Efrayim. We must not criticize Na’aman for believing Geichazi‘s lies, for, after all, he was a young believer and lacked the discernment that comes with a maturing spiritual experience. My master sent me was a deliberate falsehood, although unknown to Geichazi, his master knew what he had done. Na’aman not only gave Geichazi more than he requested and wrapped it neatly, but he also assigned two of his servants to carry the gifts for him. When the three men arrived at the hill, Geichazi took the bundle and sent the men back, lest somebody recognize them and starts asking questions. Geichazi was near his master’s house, and he had to be careful not to let him know what he had done.

Geichazi Lied to Elisha

Acting very innocent, Geichazi went and stood before his master, awaiting orders; but he found himself on trial! God knew what Geichazi had done, and He communicated it to His servant. The scene reminds us of how Y’hoshua interrogated ‘Akhan (Joshua 7) and Kefa interrogated Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), all of whom had coveted wealth and lied about it.

Elisha not only saw what his servant had done, but he saw into his servant’s heart and knew why he did it. Geichazi longed to be a wealthy man with land, flocks and herds, expensive clothing, and servants to obey his orders. He wasn’t content to labor by the side of Elisha the prophet; he wanted to have security and comfort. There’s certainly nothing wrong with being wealthy, if that’s God’s will for your life, for Avraham and Yitz’chak were wealthy, and so was David. But it is wrong to get that wealth through deceit and to make that wealth your god. Geichazi used the ministry God gave him as a means of deceiving Na’aman, and that is contrary to God’s will. God judged Geichazi by giving him leprosy and promising that at least one of his descendants in each generation would be a leper.

Geichazi had hoped to leave great wealth to his descendants, but instead, he left great shame and sorrow for years to come. Geichazi could no longer be Elisha’s servant; he had lost his ministry. That is a lesson we all need to bear in mind.

In my next post, we continue to explore the life of Elisha. In this post, we continue to examine 2 Kings 6:1-7 were we learn that Elisha Restores a Student Ministry.

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Elisha ~ Part 14

In my last post, we continued to explore the ministry of Elisha by looking at 2 Kings 5:11-15, where we learned about Na’aman as he first Resists and Then Trusts the Lord. In this post, we continue with Na’aman as he Serves the Lord in 2 Kings 5:15-19a.

15 Then, with his [Na’aman]whole retinue, he returned to the man of God, went and stood before him, and said, ‘Well, I’ve learned that there is no God in all the earth except in Isra’el; therefore, please accept a present from your servant.’ 16 But Elisha answered, ‘As Adonai lives, before whom I stand, I will not accept it.’ And despite his urging him to take it, he refused. 17 So Na‘aman said, ‘If you won’t take it, then please let your servant be given as much earth as two mules can carry; because from now on, your servant will offer neither burnt offerings nor sacrifices to other gods, but only to Adonai. 18 Except this, and may Adonai forgive your servant for it: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon — when I bow down, may Adonai forgive your servant for this.” 19 Elisha said to him, ‘Go in peace.’” ~ 2 Kings 5:15-19a (CJB)

Na’aman Serves the Lord

Like every new Believer, Na’aman still had a lot to learn. He had been saved and healed by trusting in God’s grace, and now he had to grow in grace and faith and learn how to live to please the God who healed him. Instead of hurrying home to share the good news, Na’aman returned to the house of Elisha to thank the Lord and His servant. That meant traveling another thirty miles back from the Yarden River, but he must have rejoiced during the entire trip. It was natural for him to want to reward Elisha, but had the prophet accepted the gift; he would have taken the credit to himself and robbed God of His glory. He also would have given Na’aman, a new convert, the impression that his gifts had something to do with his salvation ~ NOT!

Na’aman was starting to grow in his understanding of the Lord, but he still had a long way to go. Elisha refused his gifts, but Na’aman asked if he could take some native soil with him to Syria to use in his worship of Adonai. In those days, people had the idea that the gods of a nation resided in that land, and if you left the land, you left the god behind. However, Na’aman had just testified that Adonai was God in all the earth! However, taking that soil was a courageous act, because his master and his friends would surely ask Na’aman what it meant, and he would have to tell them of his faith in the God of Israel.

In his second request, Na’aman showed unusual insight, for he realized that the king would expect him to continue his official acts as the commander of the army. This included accompanying the king into the temple of Rimmon, the Syrian equivalent of Ba’al. Na’aman was willing to perform this ritual outwardly, but he wanted Elisha to know that his heart would not be in it. Na’aman anticipated that his healing and his changed life would have an impact on the royal court and eventually lead to the king’s conversion. I know from personal experience that instead of criticizing Believers who serve in public offices, we need to pray for them because they face tough decisions.

It is interesting that Elisha did not lecture him or admonish him but just said, Go in peace. This was the usual covenant blessing the Jews invoked when people were starting on a journey. The prophet would pray for him and trust God to use him in his new ministry in Syria. Na’aman’s tzara’at was gone, he still had the treasures, he carried soil from Israel, and he knew the true and living God.

In my next post, we continue to explore the life of Elisha. In this post, we continue to examine 2 Kings 5:19b-27 were we learn that Geichazi Lies to Himself, Na’aman, and Elisha.

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Elisha ~ Part 13

In my last post, we continued to explore the ministry of Elisha by looking at 2 Kings 5:1-10, where we learned about Na’aman who both Needed and Sought the Lord. In this post, we continue with Na’aman as he first Resists and Then Trusts the Lord in 2 Kings 5:11-15.

11 But Na‘aman became angry and left, saying, “Here now! I thought for certain that he would come out personally, that he would stand, call on the name of Adonai his God and wave his hand over the diseased place and thus heal the person with tzara‘at. 12 Aren’t Amanah and Parpar, the rivers of Dammesek, better than all the water in Isra’el? Why can’t I bathe in them and be clean?” So he turned and went off in a rage. 13 But his servants approached him and said, “My father! If the prophet had asked you to do something really difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So, doesn’t it make even more sense to do what he says, when it’s only, ‘Bathe, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Yarden, as the man of God had said to do; and his skin was restored and became like the skin of a child, and he became clean.

15 Then, with his whole retinue, he returned to the man of God, went and stood before him, and said, “Well, I’ve learned that there is no God in all the earth except in Isra’el; therefore, please accept a present from your servant.” ~ 2 Kings 5:11-15 (CJB)

Resisting the Lord

If Na‘aman began his journey at Dammesek, then he had traveled over one hundred miles to get to Samaria, so another thirty miles or so shouldn’t have upset him. However, it did, for the great general became angry. The fundamental cause of his anger was pride. He had already decided in his own mind just how the prophet would heal him, but God did not work that way. Before sinners can receive God’s grace, they must submit to God’s will, as Scripture says: The scornful He scorns,but gives grace to the humble.” ~ Proverbs 3:34 (CJB)

The Lord had already been working on Na‘aman’s pride, and there was more to come. King Yoram was not able to heal him, the prophet did not come to court or even come out to greet him, and he had to dip in the dirty Yarden River, not once, but seven times. Moreover, he a great general and second in command over the nation of Syria! People want to be saved from their sins by participating in a religious ritual, joining a church, giving money to the church, reforming their lives, doing good works, and a host of other substitutes for putting faith in Yeshua. “He delivered us. It was not on the ground of any righteous deeds we had done, but on the ground of his own mercy. He did it by means of the mikveh [1] of rebirth and the renewal brought about by the Ruach HaKodesh.” ~ Titus 3:5 (CJB)

Na‘aman had another problem: he preferred the rivers back in Dammesek to the muddy Yarden River. He thought his healing would come from the water, so it was logical that the better the water, the better the healing. He would rather have his way and travel over a hundred miles than obey God’s way and go thirty-two miles! He was so close to salvation and yet so far away!

Trusting the Lord

Once again, the Lord used servants to accomplish His purposes (vv. 2-3). If Na‘aman would not listen to the command of the prophet, perhaps he would heed the counsel of his servants. Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord. ~ Isaiah 1: 18a (ESV). Elisha did not ask him to do something difficult or impossible, because that would only have increased his pride. He asked him to obey a simple command and perform a humbling act, and it was unreasonable not to submit. Faith that doesn’t lead to obedience is not faith at all.

When he came up from the water the seventh time, his leprosy was gone. His flesh was like that of a little child. By his obedience, he demonstrated his faith in God’s promise, and the Lord cleansed him of his leprosy. Na‘aman gave a clear public testimony that the Lord God of Israel was the only true and living God and was the God of all the earth. He renounced the false gods and idols of Syria and identified himself with Adonai. What an indictment this testimony was against the idol-worshiping king and people of Israel!

In my next post, we continue to explore the life of Elisha. In this post, we continue with our look at Na’aman in 2 Kings 5:15-19 as he Serves the Lord.

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[1] Bath or pool with a flow of fresh water; used in Orthodox Judaism to this day for ritual purification. CJB.

Hanukkah – 5779 (2018)

Should Christians Observe Hanukkah?

WARNING: This post is longer than normal.
You may want to click here for the PDF version.

Today we’re going to focus on the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. We’re going to learn a lot about Hanukkah. I’ve entitled this teaching “Should Christians Observe Hanukkah?” By the end of today’s lesson, I hope that you will agree with me that the answer is a resounding, YES!!

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is an annual festival celebrated on eight successive days, during which no eulogies are delivered, nor is fasting permitted. It begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding, approximately, to December in the Gregorian calendar. This year (2018), Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 2nd. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, and Feast of the Maccabees.

As an aside, the name Hanukkah can also be read as a combination of the two words “Chanu k’h” which means “they rested on the 25th” – an allusion to the “resting” that occurred after the Jews were victorious in their battles.

Hanukkah is not one of the feasts or festivals commanded in the Torah in Leviticus 23 (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach, and Shavuot) but, like Purim and Yom HaShoah (The Day of Remembrance for those who died in the Holocaust), it is Rabbinically prescribed.

To learn some of the details of the Hanukkah story, we have to turn to the apocryphal books of I & II Maccabees. While the books are not a part of the traditional Hebrew or Protestant canon of Scripture, they are considered authoritative accounts and are useful historical documents which can be read for example of life and instruction of manner, yet not for the establishment of doctrine.

History of Hanukkah

To fully understand this holiday, we need to go back to a tumultuous time in the history of Israel to the Hellenistic period around 168 BCE. A few generations earlier, the Greeks had come to world power under the remarkable leadership of Alexander the Great. After his untimely death, there was a scramble for political power among four generals, resulting in the division of the Hellenistic empire. Eventually, the Syrians, under the leadership of Antiochus IV, gained power and control over Israel.

Seeking to unify his holdings, Antiochus enforced a policy of assimilation into the prevailing Hellenistic culture. Many Jews in Judea had converted to the Hellenistic way and openly advocated adherence to it. However, there were a significant number of traditional Jews who were appalled at the changes in their society. An ultimatum was eventually given: either the Jewish community must give up its distinctive customs (Shabbat, kosher food laws, circumcision, etc.) or die.

In 168 BC, on a date corresponding approximately to December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, the temple was dedicated to the worship of the pagan god Zeus by order of Antiochus, who forbade the practice of Judaism. An altar to Zeus was set up on the high altar. Antiochus also ordered that a pig be sacrificed on the holy altar and insisted on being called ‘epiphanies’ which means “God manifest.”

Pushed to their limit, the Jews revolted. Chapter two of 1 Maccabees introduces the man credited with leading the revolt: 1In those days Mattathias, son of John son of Simeon, a priest of the family of Joarib, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Modein. 2He had five sons … [including] 4Judas called Maccabeus. …6He saw the blasphemies being committed in Judah and Jerusalem, 7and said, “Alas! Why was I born to see this, the ruin of my people, the ruin of the holy city, and to live there when it was given over to the enemy, the sanctuary given over to aliens?8 Her temple has become like a person without honor;9 her glorious vessels have been carried into exile. Her infants have been killed in her streets, her youths by the sword of the foe.10 What nation has not inherited her palaces and has not seized her spoils? 11 All her adornment has been taken away; no longer free, she has become a slave. 12 And see, our holy place, our beauty, and our glory have been laid waste; the Gentiles have profaned them. 13 Why should we live any longer?”  The rebellion had begun.

In 165 BC, Judas Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem, he had the temple purged, and a new altar put up in place of the desecrated one. The temple was then rededicated to God with festivities that lasted eight days. A year later the Rabbis designated these days as Yomim Tovim (Holidays) on which praise and thanksgiving were to be said.

The Miracle of the Oil

When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary, they defiled all the oils, and when the Maccabees defeated them, they searched and found only one remaining jar of oil with the seal of the Cohen Gadol (the High Priest). According to tradition, just a one-day supply of non-desecrated olive oil could be found for the rededication, but that small quantity burned miraculously for eight days. Jews commemorate this event by lighting candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

The rabbis decreed that the eight days beginning with the 25th of Kislev should be days of rejoicing; that Hallel (praise) be recited and that lights be lit in the entrance to their homes each of the eight nights, in order to publicize the two-fold miracle: the miracle of the oil as well as the miraculous military victory.

Why Is Hanukkah Celebrated for Eight Days?

Questions have arisen over the years about the actual miracle of the oil. If there was enough oil in the flask that was found to last one day, then the miracle of the oil enduring was really only a miracle for the latter seven of the eight days. Yet, we know that the Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days! What is the reason behind the eight-day celebration?

The Jewish sages offer three possible answers:

  1. Those who were preparing the Menorah for lighting knew that it would take eight days until new oil could be obtained. They, therefore, divided the flask into eight parts, so that at least the Menorah would be lit every day, albeit not for the entire day. A miracle occurred and the small amount of oil that was placed in the Menorah each day lasted a full day. Hence, there was a miracle on the first day as well.
  2. On the first night, the contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for one entire day. However, after filling the Menorah, it was discovered that the flask miraculously was still full. This miracle repeatedly occurred for each of the days. Hence, there was a miracle on each of the eight days.
  3. On the first night, the entire contents of the flask were emptied into the Menorah. This would enable the Menorah to be lit for a whole day. When the Menorah was checked on in the morning, it was discovered that none of the oil burned up, and the Menorah was still full, although the flame was lit. This miracle occurred for each of the days. Hence, the first day when the oil did not burn up was miraculous as well.

I’ll leave it to you to determine which of these three explanations or some other is the correct answer to the question.

When and How Does One Light the Candles?

Unlike the Shabbat candles that are always lit before sundown, the Hanukkah menorah is lit after dark by the head of the household, usually in connection with a festive meal. There is also a custom of using an extra candle, the Shamash to light the other candles. For messianic believers, the Shamash is symbolic of Yeshua, the Light of the World.

To be kosher, the eight candles of the menorah must be in a straight line with the Shamash, or middle candle, a little bit above them. Any menorah that is fancily shaped in a circle or square…is not permitted to be used since the candles must be in a straight line and none may be higher or lower than the others, except for the Shamash. There must also be enough space between one candle and another so that the flames of each are not intermingled.

On the first night of Hanukkah, one candle is lit, and on each successive night, another candle is added until by the eighth night all the candles are lit. When one lights the candle on the first night, one lights the candle on the extreme right. The following evening he adds one immediately to the left and kindles it first. He then turns to the right and kindles the light of the previous night. He follows the same procedure each night always adding from right to left but always lighting from left to right. The reason for this method is that the additional light recalls the greatness and growth of the miracle.

[Go to the last page for the traditional Hanukkah blessings and prayer.]

Foods Associated With Hanukkah

Like most of the other festivals, there is specific food associated with the celebration of Hanukkah. There is a custom to eat dairy products and cheese on Hanukkah. This tradition stems from the heroism of Yehudis, of the Chashmonean family. Yehudis, a beautiful woman, was taken by the leader of the Greek troops. While she was with the Greek officer, Yehudis fed him a dish cooked with cheese so he would become thirsty. Once he became thirsty, she gave him wine to drink so he would become drowsy. When he fell asleep, she took his sword and beheaded him. She then carried his head back to Jerusalem and displayed it, so that the Greek troops would become demoralized. Her plan worked, and the soldiers retreated.

There is a custom as well to eat foods cooked in oil. The reason for this tradition is because by eating these foods, we are reminded of the miracle that occurred with the oil. Two of the most common foods associated with this tradition are “Latkes,” potato pancakes and “Sufganiot,” which are doughnuts (or flour pancakes), both of which are fried in oil.

The Dreidel – The Hanukkah Top

On Hanukkah, there is a custom to play with a four-sided top. It is said that the Jewish children of Judea, during the Hellenistic period, wanted to study the Torah, but the anti-Semitic policies of Antiochus made this problematic. They came up with a creative answer: they would study the scrolls in the streets until a foreign soldier came. Then they would quickly hide the scroll, bring out the dreidels, and pretend to be engrossed in a game of tops! When the soldier left, the Torah study would begin again.

What Do The Letters On The Dreydel Stand For?

The letters will vary depending on where you are. In the Diaspora, the letters are “nun” “gimel” “hay” “shin” which stands for “Nes gadol haya sham”– “A great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the “hay” is replaced with a “peh” which stands for “poh,” so that the sentence reads “A great miracle happened here.”

Traditionally, Hanukkah was one of the only times that rabbis permitted games of chance. Before play begins, each player puts a certain number of coins, candies, or another object into a “pot.” One player then spins the Dreydel. Each of the four sides of the Dreydel bears a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and the side that lands up when the Dreydel stops spinning indicates which part of the pot the player will receive. The Hebrew letter nun indicates “nothing”; the letter gimel, “all”; hay, “half”; and shin, “put in” or “match the pot.” Children also play by guessing which letter will appear when the Dreydel stops, with the winner claiming the pot.

More recently, the custom of giving gifts has found its way into the celebration of this joyous festival. Each day a new gift is given to the children. This appears to be Jewish response to the Christmas gift-giving custom.

Hanukkah – A Spiritual Holiday

There have been many times that oppressive nations sought to destroy the Jewish people, and they were miraculously saved from their designs. Upon two of these occasions (Purim and Hanukkah), the Rabbis saw fit to establish an annual holiday commemorating the miraculous salvation, providing us with an opportunity to remember Adonai’s kindness and thank him for His salvation. Hanukkah is observed spiritually, with expressions of thanks and praise to Adonai.

The oppressive acts of Antiochus and the Syrian-Greeks were of a different nature. Had the Jews agreed to abandon their customs and beliefs, and become integrated into the Greek lifestyle, they would have been left alone. Their oppressors sought only to destroy them spiritually. And so, when Adonai granted the Maccabees victory over the Syrian-Greeks, he was preserving the spirituality of the Jewish nation. Our appreciation for this gift, the opportunity to serve Adonai and recognize him as our God, is best acknowledged through spiritual expressions of His praise.

Hanukkah is a holiday on which we celebrate our freedom from religious oppression. The Syrian-Greeks’ tyranny of the Jews was not physical. They did not want to annihilate the Jews. They did, however, want to destroy Judaism. They applied whatever pressure they could to “convince” the Jews to abandon the ways of their fathers. Many Jews indeed succumbed to this demand. Hellenism made inroads into the Jewish communities. At times, the pressure to give in to popular culture was overwhelming. Ultimately, the Jews withstood this pressure and fought with all their might against it. The Jews were victorious. Today, all that we know of the Syrian-Greeks is from history books, while Judaism lives on. When we look at the olive oil burning brightly on Hanukkah, we should be reminded that the olive is a symbol of the courage our spiritual forefathers had. They withstood the pressure to deviate from the word of God. We should allow the light of the olive oil to inspire us to stand steadfast against the force, whatever it may be, to deviate from the word of God.

The Significance of Hanukkah to Messianic Believers

So now, we come to my original question, should Christians observe Hanukkah? Although the story of Hanukkah is contained in the apocryphal book of I Maccabees, it is foretold in the Book of Daniel 8:21ff. Daniel has seen a vision, and the Angel Gavri’el is giving the interpretation. Surprisingly, the most explicit mention of Hanukkah in the Bible is in the Brit Hadashah in John 10:22. This brings us to the first reason believers in Yeshua should celebrate this holiday – it appears that Yeshua may have celebrated it! At the least, He observed the celebration in the same Temple that had been cleansed and rededicated just a few generations earlier under the Maccabees.

Because Hanukkah is a celebration of deliverance, it has also become a time to express messianic hope. The festival commemorates a time when the true worship of God was restored in Jerusalem. Indeed, all believers in Yeshua have significant reasons to remember this Feast of Dedication. Messiah, our deliverer, has come!

I started this teaching by asking should Christians observe Hanukkah? The answer is a resounding, YES!

Hanukkah Candle Lighting

Blessings before you light the candles

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hallowed us by your commandments and allowed us to light the Hanukkah lights.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who worked miracles for our fathers in days of old, during this season.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who kept us alive, sustained us and privileged us to reach this season.

Light the candle(s)

We light these candles because of the miracles, deliverance, and wonders you performed for our fathers by means of your holy priests. During the eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are sacred. We look at them in order to remember to thank you for your miracles, deliverance, and wonders.

Hanukkah Prayer

We praise you for the miracles, for the deliverance, for the great deeds and victories, for the battles you fought for our fathers in those days at this time.

In the days of the Hasmonean, Mattityahu ben Yochanan, the great priest, and his sons, when a wicked Hellenistic government rose up against Israel, your people, to make them forget your Torah and to break the laws you gave, you with great mercy stood by them in the time of their distress. You championed their cause, defended their rights and avenged their wrong. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the ungodly into the hands of the godly and the arrogant into the hands of the students of Torah. You made a great and holy name for yourself in the world, and for your people Israel you performed a great deliverance. Whereupon your children entered your sanctuary, cleaned the Temple, purified your house, kindled lights in your holy courts and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah for thanksgiving and praise to your great name.

And for all these blessings, we will thank you always and praise your name faithfully, God of salvation and deliverance. Deserving of praise are you, O Lord, gracious One, to whom it is pleasant to give thanks. AMEN

Elisha ~ Part 12

In my last post, we continued to explore the ministry of Elisha by looking at 2 Kings 4:42-44, where we learned about a Grace Satisfies the Hungry in 2 Kings 4:42-44. In this post, we learn about Na’aman who both Needed and Sought the Lord in 2 Kings 5:1-10.

1 Na‘aman, commander of the king of Aram’s army, was highly respected and esteemed by his master; because through him, Adonai had brought victory to Aram. But although he was a brave warrior, he also suffered from tzara‘at [commonly translated as leprosy]. 2 Now on one of their raids into Isra’el’s territory, Aram carried away captive a little girl, who became a servant for Na‘aman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, ‘I wish my lord could go to the prophet in Shomron! He could heal his tzara‘at.’ 4 Na‘aman went in and told his lord, ‘The girl from the land of Isra’el said such-and-such.’ 5 The king of Aram said, ‘Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Isra’el.’

He set out, taking with him 660 pounds of silver, 6,000 pieces of gold and ten changes of clothes. 6 He brought the king of Isra’el the letter, which said, ‘When this letter reaches you, you will see that I have sent my servant Na‘aman to you so that you can heal his tzara‘at.’ 7 When the king of Isra’el finished reading the letter, he tore his clothes. ‘Am I God, able to kill and make alive,’ he asked, ‘so that he sends me a man to heal of tzara‘at? You can see that he is only seeking an excuse to quarrel with me.’ 8 But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Isra’el had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king: ‘Why did you tear your clothes? Just have him come to me, and he will know that there is a prophet in Isra’el.’

9 So Na‘aman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, who said, ‘Go and bathe in the Yarden seven times. Your skin will become as it was, and you will be clean.’ ~ 2 Kings 5:1-10 (CJB)

Elisha was a miracle-working prophet who ministered to all sorts of people who brought him all kinds of needs. In Chapter 5, we will see Elisha healing a distinguished commander, judging his servant, and helping a lowly student get back to work. It may seem a long way from the high head of the army to a lost ax head, but both were important to God and God’s servant. Like our Lord when He ministered here on earth, Elisha had time for individuals, and he was not influenced by their social standing or their financial worth.

However, as important as the miracles are in this chapter, the theme of ministry is even more critical. The Lord not only gave new life to Na’aman, but He also gave him a new purpose in life, a new ministry. He would return to Syria (Aram) as much more than a commander, for now, he was an ambassador of the true and living God of Israel.

Na’aman Needed the Lord

The king of Syria was Ben Hadad II, and as commander of the army, Na’aman was the number two man in the nation. However, with all his prestige, authority, and wealth, Na’aman was a doomed man because under his uniform was the body of a leper. It appears from verse 11 that the infection was limited to one place, but leprosy tends to spread, and if left unchecked, it ultimately kills. Only the power of the God of Israel could heal him.

Although Na’aman did not realize it, the Lord had already worked on his behalf by giving him victory over the Assyrians: Adonai is the covenant God of Israel, but He is also Lord of all the nations and can use any person, saved or unsaved, to accomplish His will. The Lord also did a gracious thing when He permitted Na’aman to bring the captive Jewish girl into his house to be his wife’s servant. The girl was a slave, but because she trusted the God of Israel, she was free. Even more, she was a humble witness to her mistress. Her words were so convincing that the woman told her husband and he, in turn, informed the king. Never underestimate the power of a simple witness, for God can take words from the lips of a child and carry them to the ears of a king.

Na’aman Sought the Lord

Na’aman could not leave Syria without the king’s permission, and he also needed an official letter of introduction to Yoram, king of Israel. After all, Syria and Israel were enemies, and the arrival of the commander of the Syrian army could be significantly misunderstood. Both Na’aman and Ben Hadad wrongly assumed that the prophet would do whatever the king commanded him to do and that both the king and the prophet would expect to receive expensive gifts in return. For that reason, Na’aman took along 660 pounds of silver, 6,000 pieces of gold and ten changes of clothes. The servant girl had said nothing about kings or gifts; she only pointed to Elisha the prophet and told her mistress what the Lord could do. Unsaved people know nothing about the things of the Lord and only complicate that which is so simple (1 Corinthians 2:14). We are not saved by bringing gifts to God, but by receiving by faith His gift of eternal life.

This was King Yoram’s opportunity to honor the Lord and begin to build peace between Syria and Israel, but he failed to take advantage of it. Although 3:11 suggests that Yoram and Elisha were not close friends, the king did know who Elisha was and what he could do. He also surely knew that Israel’s task was to bear witness to the heathen nations around them (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). However, Yoram’s concerns were personal and political, not spiritual, and he interpreted the letter as a declaration of war. Alarmed by the thought, he impulsively tore his clothes, something that kings rarely did; but his mind was blinded by unbelief and fear, and he did not understand what the Lord was doing.

The prophet was in his home in the city of Samaria, but he knew what the king had said and done in his palace, for God hides from His servants nothing they need to know (Amos 3:7). His message to Yoram must have irritated the king, but at the same time, Elisha was rescuing Yoram from personal embarrassment and possible international complications. Yes, there was a king on the throne, but there was also a prophet in Israel! The king was helpless to do anything, but the prophet was a channel of God’s power.

Elisha knew that Na’aman’s pride had to be humbled before he could be healed. Accustomed to the protocol of the palace, this esteemed leader expected to be recognized publicly and his lavish gifts accepted with exaggerated appreciation, because that is the way kings did things. However, Elisha did not even come out of his house to welcome the man! Instead, he sent a messenger (Geichazi) instructing him to ride thirty-two miles to the Yarden River and immerse himself in it seven times. Then he would be cleansed of his tzara‘at.

Na’aman had been seeking help, and now his search was ended.

In my next post, we continue to explore the life of Elisha. In this post, we continue with Na’aman as he Resists and Then Trusts the Lord in 2Kings 5:11-15a.

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Elisha ~ Part 11

In my last post, we continued to explore the ministry of Elisha by looking at 2 Kings 4:38-41, where we learned about a Grace Removes A Curse in 2 Kings 4:38-41. In this post, we learn about Grace Satisfies the Hungry in 2 Kings 4:42-44.

Grace Satisfies the Hungry

42 A man came from Ba‘al-Shalishah bringing the man of God twenty loaves of bread made from the barley firstfruits and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, ‘Give this to the people to eat.’ 43 His servant said, ‘How am I to serve this to a hundred men?’ But he said, ‘Give it to the people to eat; for Adonai says that they will eat and have some left over.’ 44 So he served them, and they ate and had some left over, as Adonai had said.” ~ 2 Kings 4:42-44 (CJB)

I do not know about you, but I know I have seen this passage numerous times as I have read through the Scriptures. However, it was not until I began to write this post that I realized the significance with Yeshua feeding the 4,000 and the 5,000 in the Brit Hadashah.

In the northern kingdom of Israel, where Ba‘al-Shalishah was located, there was no official temple dedicated to Adonai, and many of the faithful priests and Levites had left apostate Israel and moved to Judah (1 Kings 12:26-33; 2 Chron. 11:13-17). Since there was no sanctuary to which the people could bring their tithes and offerings, they brought them to the nearest school of the prophets where people faithful to the Mosaic Law would share them.

The firstfruit offerings of grain could be roasted heads of grain, fine flour baked into cakes, or even loaves of bread. All of this would be most welcome to the guild prophets, and indeed the Lord honored the people who refused to bow down to the golden calves at Dan and Bethel. Typically, the firstfruits were reserved for God (Leviticus 23:20) and the Levitical priests (Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4, 5). Though the religion in the northern kingdom was apostate, the man who brought the loaves to Elisha was a representative of the Godly religion in Israel. As a man of God, Elisha qualified as a recipient of these gifts.

There were one hundred hungry men in the group, and though the Lord honored the gifts the man brought, they could not feed all of the men adequately. The situation parallels that of Yeshua and the talmidim. Geichazi question ‘How am I to serve this to a hundred men?’ sounds like Andrew’s question about the five loaves and two fish, “But how far will they go among so many?” ~ John 6:9 (CJB)

However, Elisha knew that the Lord had this difficult situation well under His control. He commanded his servant to set out the bread and grain, and when Geichazi obeyed, there was not only plenty of food for everybody, but there was food left over. The Word of the Lord had announced and accomplished the impossible.

Elisha provides for his prophets, just as he had for the widow. Each of these events establishes the authority of Elisha with the prophets as well as his ability to care for them.

Elisha did not preach a sermon, but the miracle assures us that God knows our needs and meets them as we trust Him. Today we have freezers and supermarkets to supply us with food, and there are food banks to help those who are poor. However, in Elisha’s time, people prepared and consumed their food a day at a time. That is why Yeshua taught us to pray, give us the food we need today ~ Matthew 6:11 (CJB). Out of the riches of His grace, the Lord meets our every need.

In my next post, we continue to explore the life of Elisha. In this post, we meet Na’aman who both Needed and Sought the Lord in 2 Kings 5:1-10.

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Elisha ~ Part 10

In my last post, we continued to explore the ministry of Elisha by looking at 2 Kings 4:29-37 where we learned about a Second Great Miracle in 2 Kings 4:29-37. In this post, we learn about Grace Removes A Curse in 2 Kings 4:38-41.

Grace Removes A Curse

38 Elisha went back to Gilgal. At the time, there was a famine in the land. The guild prophets were sitting before him, and he said to his servant, ‘Put the big pot on the fire, and boil some soup for the prophets.’ 39 One of them went out to the field to gather vegetables and came upon a wild vine, from which he filled the front of his cloak with wild squash. On returning, he cut them up and put them into the stew; they didn’t know what they were. 40 Then they poured it out for the men to eat; but on tasting it, they cried, ‘Man of God! There’s death in that pot!’ And they couldn’t eat it. 41 But he said, ‘Bring some flour. He threw it in the pot, then said, ‘Pour it out for the people to eat.’ This time there was nothing harmful in the pot.” ~ 2 Kings 4:38-41 (CJB)

This story, along with one we will look at next, gives a glimpse into the life of the bands of guild prophets (students) and how God provides for them in times of need. The prophets’ way of life, at least on some occasions, demanded that they forage for their food. They partly supported themselves by such foraging and partly by gifts from pious Israelites.

Elisha is the leader of the band of students at Gilgal near Jericho, where they gather before him for instruction, encouragement, and direction. The famine probably refers to the seven-year famine described in a later encounter with the Shunammite woman (8:1-6). Elisha assumes responsibility for the preparation of the meal, asking Geichazi his servant to make a stew for the men.

Vegetables were scarce, so some of the students went looking in the fields for herbs they could add to the stew. The student who came with a cloak filled with gourds was not knowledgeable about such matters but just brought whatever looked edible. Nobody knew what these gourds were!

The toxic ingredient is generally considered the yellow gourds are known as colocynths, popularly referred to today as apples of Sodom. They can be fatal. [1]

What were the shreds of evidence that there was poison in the pot? The bitter taste of the stew was perhaps the first clue, and the men probably suffered stomach pains and nausea. There had been death in the water at Jericho (2:19-22), and now there was death in the pot at Gilgal. Remember, this was a time of famine and food was scarce. Elisha dropped some flour into the pot, and the Lord removed the poison from the stew.

The flour itself did not make the noxious stew edible, but a miraculous cure was accomplished through the flour. Like Eliyahu, Elisha used flour to demonstrate the concern of God for man. Flour was believed to possess magical power able to remove evil magic. It is often used in magical incantations and rituals in the ancient Near East, but not quite in this way. Sometimes a flour paste is used to make a figurine that is then used in a magical ritual. Other times the flour is sprinkled in a circle around something that the ritual is to be performed on. As is often the case, Elisha is using procedures that would have some familiarity with the world of magic, but never quite in a typical way or with the ritualistic elements. [2]

Elisha neutralized the poison with another miraculous deed. The lesson was that God’s power could protect His people from careless dangers even in a severe famine.

In my next post, we continue to explore the life of Elisha. In this post, we learn that Grace Satisfies the Hungry in 2 Kings 4:42-44.

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

[2] Ibid.

Elisha ~ Part 9

In my last post, we continued to explore the ministry of Elisha by looking at 2 Kings 4:18-27 where we learned about the Great Women’s Sorrow. In this post, we learn about a Second Great Miracle in the life of this Great Woman in 2 Kings 4:29-37.

A Second Great Miracle

29 Then Elisha said to Geichazi, ‘Get dressed for action, take my staff in your hand, and be on your way. If you meet anyone, don’t greet him; if anyone greets you, don’t answer; and lay my staff on the child’s face.’ 30 The mother of the child said, ‘As Adonai lives, and as you live, I will not leave you.’ He got up and followed her. 31 Geichazi went on ahead of them and laid the staff on the child’s face, but there was no sound or sign of life. So, he went back to Elisha and told him, ‘The child didn’t wake up.’ 32 When Elisha reached the house, there the child was, dead and laid on the bed. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to Adonai. 34 Then he got up on the bed and lay on top of the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands. As he stretched himself out on the child, its flesh began to grow warm. 35 Then he went down, walked around in the house awhile, went back up and stretched himself out on the child again. The child sneezed seven times, then opened his eyes. 36 Elisha called Geichazi and said, ‘Call this Shunamit.’ So, he called her; and when she came in to him, he said, ‘Pick up your son. 37 She entered, fell at his feet and prostrated herself on the floor. Then she picked up her son and went out.” ~ 2 Kings 4:29-37 (CJB)

The woman and the servant must have ridden very fast to get to Mount Karmel in time for Elisha and Geichazi to return home with her the same day, and the animal must have been exhausted from such a strenuous trip in the harvest sun.

Why did Elisha send Geichazi ahead? He was probably the younger of the two men and could run faster and get to the house much more quickly. It was important that somebody get back to guard the corpse so that the father would not discover it and have it buried. Geichazi laid his staff on the boy’s body, but nothing happened. (Was this because of what was hidden in his heart?) The woman rode the donkey and Elisha followed after her, but we are not told that he received special power as Eliyahu did when he ran before Ach’av’s chariot (1 Kings 18:46).

Once again, the door was shut on a miracle (4:4; and see Luke 8:51). First, the prophet prayed, and then, following the example of Eliyahu (1 Kings 17:17-24), he stretched himself out over the corpse. He got up and walked in the room, no doubt praying and seeking God’s power, and then he lay on the boy a second time. This time the boy came back to life, sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. The text does not explain the significance of the sneezes unless it was God’s way of expelling something toxic from his lungs. You would think that Elisha would have been overjoyed to take the boy downstairs to his mother, but instead, he called Geichazi, who in turn called the mother.


Image Courtesy of Google Images

However, the story does not end there. We will meet this Great Woman again in 2 Kings 8:1-6 when Elisha announced the coming of a seven-year famine, he also advised the woman to relocate, so she went to dwell with the Philistines. When she returned to claim her property, Geichazi was speaking with the king and telling him about the resurrection of the boy, and his mother showed up in the palace! The king authorized the officials to return her property to her along with whatever income she had lost because of her absence. The death of the boy turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Only God’s grace can impart life, whether to a barren womb or a dead boy, and only God’s grace can impart spiritual life to the dead sinner (John 5:24; 17:1-3; Ephesians 2:1-10). It was God who gave the boy life, but He used Elisha as the means to do it. So, it is with raising sinners from the dead: God needs witnesses, prayer warriors, and concerned saints to bring that life to them.

“The Holy Ghost works by those who feel they would lay down their own lives for the good of others and would impart to them not only their goods and their instructions but themselves also if by any means they might save some. O for more Elisha’s, for then we should see more sinners raised from their death in sin.”  ~ Charles Spurgeon [1]

In my next post, we continue to explore the life of Elisha. In this post, we learn that Grace Removes A Curse in 2 Kings 4:38-41.

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[1] Quoted in Bible Exposition Commentary – Old Testament by Warren Wiersbe

Bible Verses and a Prayer for Thanksgiving

A very appropriate word for this week…

Heather C. King - Room to Breathe

  • 1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV
    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
        his love endures forever.
  • 1 Chronicles 29:13 NASB
     Now therefore, our God, we thank You, and praise Your glorious name.
  • Psalm 7:17 NIVI will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
        I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.
  • Psalm 9:1 NASB
    I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart;thanks1
    I will tell of all Your wonders.
  • Psalm 28:7 NASB
    The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;
    Therefore my heart exults,
    And with my song I shall thank Him.
  • Psalm 30:12 NASB
    That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.
    Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
  • Psalm 69:30 NASB
    I…

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