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.

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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.

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[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.

The Unfaithful City ~ Yesha’yahu 1:18-31

In my last post, we examined Yesha’yahu 1: 10-17 to learn that God Has Had Enough. In this post, we continue in Yesha’yahu 1:18-31 to learn about The Unfaithful City.

“18 ‘Come now,’ says Adonai, ‘let’s talk this over together. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; even if they are red as crimson, they will be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you will be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of Adonai has spoken.’

21 ‘How the faithful city [Yerushalayim] has become a whore! Once she was filled with justice, righteousness lodged in her; but now murderers! 22 Your silver is no longer pure; your wine is watered down. 23 Your leaders are rebels, friends of thieves. They all love bribes and run after gifts. They give no justice to orphans; the widow’s complaint doesn’t catch their attention.’ 24 ‘Therefore,’ says the Lord, Adonai-Tzva’ot, the Mighty One of Isra’el, ‘I will free myself of my adversaries, I will take vengeance on my enemies. 25 But I will also turn my hand against you! I will cleanse your impurities as with lye and remove all your alloyed base metal. 26 I will restore your judges as at first and your advisers as at the beginning. After that, you will be called the City of Righteousness, Faithful City. 27 Tziyon will be redeemed by justice; and those in her who repent, by righteousness. 28 Rebels and sinners together will be broken, and those who abandon Adonai will be consumed. 29 You will be ashamed of the sacred oaks you desired; you will blush at the gardens you chose; 30 for you will be like an oak whose leaf fades, like a garden without any water. 31 The strong will be like tinder and [the idol’s] maker like a spark; both will burn together, and no one will put them out.’” ~ Isaiah 1:18-31 (CJB)

As we learned in my last post, the people were full of blood and sin, apathy and iniquity – and yet Yeshua might say, “My blood will wash you clean if you’ll just come before Me and admit your need of My work and mercy in your life.”

That’s what we’re to do. “If we acknowledge our sins, then, since He is trustworthy and just, He will forgive them and purify us from all wrongdoing.” ~ 1 John 1:9 (CJB) All He asks from you and me is, to be honest before Him and say, “I know this isn’t right, Father. I need Your mercy. Deal with me. Help me. Change me.”

God’s people were not always corrupt. The formerly faithful city – Yerushalayim – had become corrupt. The worship of false gods, idolatry, is often described as a form of adultery. Dross and watered-down wine are symbols of impurity. The rulers of Y’hudah were corrupt. They sought their financial advantage and neglected the rights and needs of the socially vulnerable (the widow and the orphans).

Many of the worshipers in the Temple participated in these evil practices and thereby encouraged the decay of the nation. The rulers maintained a religious facade to cover up their crimes, and this practice was allowed by them. It seems we may have the same problem now in our denominations these days.

God will not let the guilty escape their punishment. The judgment is not just punitive; it purifies. The people started a faithful city (v. 21), and after their cleansing, they will again be a Faithful City.

The people of God sinned by their idolatry that often took the form of worshiping false gods with foreign rituals. One common form of this false worship involved sacred oaks that were probably connected with the worship of a Canaanite fertility goddess called Asherah, the mother of Ba’al.

What would God do if the people did not repent? He would send a fiery judgment that would purge the dross and burn up those whose rebellion had made them His enemies (vv. 24-31). Yesha’yahu closes this first message with a promise of hope that one day Yerushalayim would become a City of Righteousness, Faithful City.

In my next post, I will explore Yesha’yahu 2:1-5 ~ The Mountain of the Lord.

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God Has Had Enough ~ Yesha’yahu 1:10-17

In my last post, we examined Yesha’yahu 1:1-9 ~ The Rebellion of God’s People. In this post, we continue in Yesha’yahu 1: 10-17 to learn that God Has Had Enough.

10 Hear what Adonai says, you rulers of S’dom! Listen to God’s Torah, you people of ‘Amora! 11 ‘Why are all those sacrifices offered to me?’ asks Adonai. ‘I’m fed up with burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened animals! I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats! 12 Yes, you come to appear in my presence; but who asked you to do this, to trample through my courtyards? 13 Stop bringing worthless grain offerings! They are like disgusting incense to me! Rosh-Hodesh [New Moon festival], Shabbat, calling convocations – I can’t stand evil together with your assemblies! 14 Everything in me hates your Rosh-Hodesh and your festivals; they are a burden to me – I’m tired of putting up with them! 15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; no matter how much you pray, I won’t be listening; because your hands are covered with blood. 16 Wash yourselves clean! Get your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing evil, 17 learn to do good! Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend orphans, plead for the widow.’” ~ Isaiah 1:10-17 (CJB)

In these verses, God expressed His revulsion at the religious practices of His people. The disgusting thing about His rebellious people is that they were also a religious people (Isaiah 1:10-15). They attended the Temple services and brought a multitude of sacrifices to the Lord. However, their hearts were far from God, and their worship was hypocritical. In other words, they were too heavenly minded and no earthly good.

Sacrifices alone can never please God. God wants our inward obedience (1 Samuel 15:22), a broken heart (Psalm 51:17), and a godly walk (Micah 6:8).

Though God will not punish the people with total annihilation as He did the cities of S’dom and ‘Amora, it is not as if they did not deserve that fate. Their rulers were like the inhabitants of those depraved cities who denied hospitality to strangers and engaged in perverse sexual acts.

God had commanded His people to offer sacrifices in Leviticus 1-7, but the sacrifices of His people were reprehensible to Him. They were not offered with pure motives of sincere repentance. Rather, they were offered with hands covered with blood.

The Temple was considered a sacred space that was protected by closely monitored, restricted access. Admission to the general public was granted only when a sacrifice needed to be offered and then only to the outer court. Entrance to sacred space for anything but holy purpose would be sacrilegious trespassing. Recall the account of Yeshua cleansing the Temple of the merchants and the money-changers in Matthew 21:12-13.

In the ancient world, incense was valued as an accompaniment to sacrifice. Its sweet scent effectively masked any of the unpleasant odors resulting from the performance of the rituals. It was expensive and commanded in Leviticus 2:1.

Keyed to the use of a lunar calendar, ancient Israel marked the first day of the month with Rosh-Hodesh. It is “new moon” phase festival day every twenty-nine or thirty days. As on the Sabbath, all work was to cease (see Numbers 10:10), and there were sacrifices to be made. What had been designed as a means to praise and honor God, however, was not bringing any pleasure to him.

Why wouldn’t God hear the prayers of His people? Because their sacrifices, times of worship, and even prayers were not acceptable because their hands were covered with blood. That is, they sinned and did not repent but still participated in worship. God did not tolerate such hypocritical behavior.

Sometimes we wonder why our prayers aren’t answered. We go to church regularly. We lift our hands in praise. We tithe. But God says all of that is irrelevant if we’re harboring sin in our life. If we’re compromising, if we’re trying to be righteous through our efforts or energy, if we’re failing to realize our need to come before God in brokenness, God won’t answer our prayers – not because He’s mad at us or because He doesn’t like us anymore, but because He’s saying, “There’s something wrong in your relationship with Me. If I continue to answer your prayers, you will persist in those things, and they’ll destroy you. So you’re not going to sense My presence. You’re not going to have answers to your prayers so that you might seek Me.” [1]

This passage gives a prescription for change – repent. Transformation involves a cessation of evil activities as well as the requirement of good deeds. The good deeds are defined as social justice, particularly resisting oppressors and promoting the interests of the vulnerable (the orphans and the widows).

“The religious observance that God the Father considers pure and faultless is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world.” ~ James 1:27 (CJB)

In my next post, I will explore Yesha’yahu 1:18-31 ~ The Unfaithful City.

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

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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Eliyahu ~ Part 9

In my last post, we explored Eliyahu’s confrontation with the Prophets of Ba’al in Eliyahu’s Finest Hour ~ Let the Fire Fall in 1 Kings 18:30-40. In this post, we learn that the Rain Returns to Israel in 1 Kings 18:41- 46.

Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain

41 Then Eliyahu said to Ach’av, “Get up, eat, and drink because I hear the sound of heavy rain.” 42 Ach’av went up to eat and drink, while Eliyahu went up to the top of the Karmel. He bowed down to the ground and put his face between his knees. 43 “Now,” he said to his servant, “go up, and look out toward the sea.” He went up, looked, and said, “There’s nothing there.” Seven times he said, “Go again.” 44 The seventh time, the servant said, “Now there’s a cloud coming up out of the sea, no bigger than a man’s hand.” Eliyahu said, “Go up, and say to Ach’av, ‘Prepare your chariot, and get down the mountain before the rain stops you!” 45 A little later, the sky grew black with clouds and wind; and heavy rain began falling; as Ach’av, riding in his chariot, made for Yizre’el [Jezreel]. 46 The hand of Adonai was on Eliyahu; he tucked up his clothing and ran ahead of Ach’av to the entrance of Yizre’el.” ~ 1 Kings 18:41-46 (CJB)

Two final miraculous events occur on this day: (1) the coming of the rain as a result of Eliyahu’s prayer and (2) Eliyahu’s supernatural strength in leaving the scene and passing Ach’av’s chariot before the storm. Typically, the act of preceding the king’s chariot could have been a friendly overture. It was an act of honor to the king and a tribute to the runner to be permitted to run before the king. But if this was Eliyahu’s intent, it was lost on Ach’av and was his word that stopped the rain and only his word could start it again (17:1). He was referring to the power of his prayers, the words that he spoke to the Lord (James 5:17-18). It had been a long and disappointing day for King Ach’av, and Eliyahu sent him to his retainers to get something to eat. Eliyahu went to the top of Carmel to pray and ask the Lord to send the much-needed rains.

Eliyahu’s unusual posture was almost a fetal position and indicated the prophet’s humility, his great concern for the people, and his burden for the glory of the Lord. Unlike the answer to the prayer at the altar, the answer to this prayer didn’t come at once. Seven times Eliyahu sent his servant to look toward the Mediterranean Sea and report any indications of a storm gathering, and six of those times the servant reported nothing.

Imagine how disappointed the servant and Eliyahu must have been.

The prophet didn’t give up but prayed a seventh time, and the servant saw a tiny cloud coming from the sea. This is an excellent example for us to follow as we “watch and pray” and continue to intercede until the Lord sends the answer. We have to be persistent in our prayers.

The little cloud wasn’t a storm, but it was the harbinger of the rains that were to come. Eliyahu commanded the king to mount his chariot and return to his palace in Yizre’el as soon as possible. We aren’t told how he broke the news to Izevel that Baal had been publicly humiliated and declared to be a false god, and that the prophets of Baal that she supported had been slain. But neither the drought nor the famine had brought Ach’av and Izevel to repentance, and it wasn’t likely that the fire from heaven or the coming of the rain would change their hearts (Rev. 9:20-21; 16:8-11). All the evidence notwithstanding, Izevel was determined to kill Eliyahu (19:1-2).

Strength for the Journey

Soon the heavens were black with clouds, and great torrents of rain began to fall on the land. The Lord not only proved that he was the true and living God, but He also put His approval on the ministry of His servant Eliyahu. Eliyahu had neither chariots nor retainers to drive them, but he did have the power of the Lord, and he ran ahead of Ach’av and reached Yizre’el ahead of the king. This was quite a feat for an older man and in itself was another sign to the people that God’s mighty hand was upon His servant.

Yizre’el was between fifteen and twenty miles from the Karmel area. This fifteen-acre site was situated at the southeastern entrance to the Jezreel Valley between the Hill of Moreh and Mount Gilboa. It was here that Ach’av had built a winter capital. Excavations have unearthed a sizeable royal enclosure from this period occupying a significant portion of the mound. [1]

God had chastened His people with drought and famine but had cared for His special servant Eliyahu. God had sent fire from heaven to prove that He was the true and living God. Now He had answered the prayer of His prophet and had sent the rains to water the land. You would think that Eliyahu would be at his very best spiritually and able to face anything, but the next chapter records just the opposite. As great a man as Eliyahu was, he still failed the Lord and himself.

In my next post, we continue to explore the Biblical story of Eliyahu. In this passage, we encounter The Enemies Message of Danger in 1 Kings 19:1-4.

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

Eliyahu (Elijah) ~ Part 1

In my last post, we concluded our exploration of the Letter to the Messianic Jews. In this post, I am starting a new series with a new format. I have never done a character study before, but I want to do one on the prophet Eliyahu (Eliyahu).

Introduction

Eliyahu ~ Who is this guy and what gives him the right to confront the King of Israel? Once you meet him, you’ll never forget him. He is best known for his confrontational leadership style and incredible spiritual victories, Eliyahu was characterized by an unwavering tenacity. Despite experiencing periods of fearfulness, hopelessness, and depression, Eliyahu remained steadfast. The result? God used him to tear down Israel’s alters and idols and change the moral and political landscape of his day. Eliyahu is one of the most unforgettable men of the Bible. On the one hand, he dared great exploits for God. On the other hand, he experienced fear, loneliness, and dark depression. Despite Eliyahu’s flaws, God used him mightily and took him to heaven before he died.

Background

We first meet Eliyahu (“I AM is my God”) in 1 Kings. Eliyahu from Tishbe, an inhabitant of Gil’ad, said to Ach’av (Ahab), ‘As Adonai the God of Isra’el lives, before whom I stand, there will be neither rain nor dew in the years ahead unless I say so.’” 1 Kings 17:1 (CJB). Other than being identified as a Tishbe from Gil’ad (Gilead), his parentage and early history are unknown. Gilead was located east of the Jordan River and settled by the tribes of Manasseh and/or Gad. Tishbe is situated near the Wadi Chorath.


Graphics courtesy of Wikipedia

Eliyahu shows up on the scene during the reign of King Ahab (Ach’av) and Queen Jezebel (Izevel, we meet her in 1 Kings 19) in the Northern Kingdom of Israel in approximately 918-908 BCE.

My fascination with Eliyahu is best summoned up by this description by Henry H. Halley:

Elijah’s rare, sudden, and brief appearances, his undaunted courage and fiery zeal, the brilliance of his triumphs, the pathos of his despondency, the glory of his departure, and the calm beauty of his reappearance with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration make him one of the grandest characters Israel ever produced. [1]

That doesn’t include my belief that Eliyahu is one of the two witnesses in Revelation 11.

Before we get into an in-depth look at Eliyahu’s ministry, I want to lay a brief background of who he was dealing with in King Ahab (Ach’av) and Queen Jezebel (Izevel). Six chapters are given to Ach’av’s reign, while most of the kings of Israel are covered in only part of one chapter. The reason is that the story of Ach’av is mostly the story of Eliyahu. Eliyahu was God’s answer to Ach’av and Izevel. God sent Eliyahu to eradicate Baalism, a cruel religion.

Ach’av

Ach’av is a good mystery, combining in himself qualities both good and evil, but, primarily evil. His life and reign include: his marriage to Izevel, a heathen princess; his alliance with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, by the marriage of his daughter Athaliah to Jehoram the son of Jehoshaphat, by which union the two kingdoms were brought into peaceful relations with one another for nearly eighty years; his building enterprises; his prowess and success in warfare; his attitude in the matter of Naboth and his vineyard; and his contacts with Eliyahu.

Izevels character was uniformly and consistently wicked, but Ahab’s was not. That he never abandoned the worship of God is seen in the names of some of his children: Ahaziah, ‘God supports’; Jehoram, ‘God is exalted’; Athaliah, ‘God is strong’; and in the fact that his attendant, Obadiah, was, both by name (‘worshipper of God’), and confession a servant of God. His sin was not that he forsook God for Baal, but that he tried to serve them both.

Like a football at training camp, he was tossed about between Izevel and Eliyahu, between what was wrong and what was right.

Izevel


Photo borrowed from Patrick Hawthorne from SGM.

Izevel must be reckoned among the wickedest of women; in a class with Potiphar’s wife and Lady Macbeth, and with all who have used their femininity to seduce, and to oppose and persecute truth and those who proclaim it. She was reckless, fierce, and licentious, fanatical and subtle; a proud heathen Canaanite, who, when she came into the stream of Israel’s history, cursed it beyond recovery. Her arrogance, her thirst for power and her heartless cruelty, have given her a unique place in history. So obsessed in her attempt at killing Eliyahu or other prophets, Eliyahu thought he was the only one left.

With this background information, in my next post, we will begin to explore the Biblical story of Eliyahu.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Halley’s Bible Handbook, Deluxe Edition.

Exhortations and Warnings ~ Part 1

Messianic Jews 13:1-6
Letter to the Messianic Jews

In my last post, we wrapped up with the topic of the Trust and the Believer in Messianic Jews 12 by exploring a Final Warning Against Apostasy in Messianic Jews 12: 18-29. In this post, we move onto the final chapter of Messianic Jews were we study General Messianic Obligations in Messianic Jews 13:1-6.

1 Let brotherly friendship continue; 2 but don’t forget to be friendly to outsiders; for in so doing, some people, without knowing it, have entertained angels. 3 Remember those in prison and being mistreated, as if you were in prison with them and undergoing their torture yourselves. 4 Marriage is honorable in every respect; and, in particular, sex within marriage is pure. But God will indeed punish fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money; and be satisfied with what you have; for God himself has said, “I will never fail you or abandon you.” 6 Therefore, we say with confidence, “Adonai is my helper; I will not be afraid – what can a human being do to me?” ~ Messianic Jews 13:1-6 (CJB)

As he comes to the close of the letter, the writer to the Messianic Jews turns to practical things. Here he outlines five essential qualities of the Believer’s life.

  1. Let brotherly friendship continue. The very circumstances of the early Kehilah sometimes threatened brotherly love. The very fact that they took their religion as seriously as they did was in one sense a danger. In a Kehilah which is threatened from the outside and desperately in earnest on the inside, there are always two dangers. First, there is the danger of heresy-hunting. The very desire to keep the trust pure tends to make people eager to track down and eliminate the pagan and the person whose trust has gone astray. Second, there is the danger of stern and unsympathetic treatment of the person whose nerve and trust have failed. It is a great thing to keep the trust clean; but when the desire to do so makes us critical, harsh and unsympathetic, brotherly love is destroyed, and we are left with a situation which may be worse than the one we tried to avoid. Somehow or other we have to combine two things – an earnestness in the trust and kindness to the person who has strayed from it.
  1. There is hospitality. Some people, without knowing it, have entertained angels. This matter-of-fact statement (like those of 1:5-2:16, 12:22) takes for granted that angels exist. Do they? Science cannot answer such a question, because science doesn’t deal with metaphysics. Modern first-hand reports, of which there are many, are no more conclusive; since those inclined to disbelieve in angels explain them away and are not convinced. The writers and characters of the Bible considered angels real, reporting encounters with them as straightforwardly as we would describe driving off in a car; therefore, whoever can accept the Bible as God’s revealed Word should have no difficulty acknowledging the reality of angels.
  1. There is sympathy for those in trouble. Remember those in prison and being mistreated. It is here we see the early Kehilah at its best. It often happened that the Believer landed in jail and worse. It might be for their trust; it might be for debt, for the Believers were poor; it might be that pirates or brigands captured them. It was then that the Kehilah went into action. It was a renewal weekend where I heard other Believers visiting the prisons that I gave up and fully accepted all the Lord had for me. I thought the recent movie “Paul” depicted this quality excellently.
  1. There is purity. Marriage is honorable in every respect; and, in particular, sex within marriage is pure. First, the marriage bond is to be universally respected. This may mean either of two almost opposite things. (a) Some ascetics despised marriage. Some even went the length of castrating themselves to secure what they thought was purity. (b) There were those who were ever liable to relapse into immorality. The writer to the Messianic Jews uses two words. The one denotes adulterous living; the other denotes all kinds of impurity, such as unnatural vice. Into the world, the Believers brought a new ideal of purity. Even the heathen admitted that.
  1. There is contentment. The Believers must be free from the love of money. We must be content with what we have, and why should we not be for we possess the continual presence of God? Messianic Jews quote two great passages – Joshua 1:5 and Psalms 118:6 – to show that Believers need nothing more because we have the presence and the help of God. Nothing that humanity can give us can improve on that.
Adonai is my helper; I will not be afraid.

In my next post, we explore the Warnings in Messianic Jews 13:7-17.

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The Fourth Seal: The Fourth Horseman

Revelation 6:7-8
The End Times

In my last post, we continued our journey in Revelation 6 as the third of the seven seals was opened.  In this post, we look at the Fourth Seal which reveals the Fourth Horseman.

The Fourth Seal 

7 When he broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living being say, “Go!”  8 I looked, and there in front of me was a pallid, sickly-looking horse. Its rider’s name was Death, and Sh’ol followed behind him. They were given authority to kill one-quarter of the world by war, by famine, by plagues and with the wild animals of the earth. ~ Revelation 6:7-8 (CJB)

7 For peoples will fight each other, nations will fight each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various parts of the world. 8 all this is but the beginning of the ‘birthpains.’” ~ Matthew 24:7-8 (CJB)

The pale horse represents death, the natural result of war and famine.  When civilization collapses, the wild animals of the earth will once again regain their dominance and add to the suffering and death already experienced.

When he broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living being say, “Go!”  8 I looked, and there in front of me was a pallid, sickly-looking horse. Its rider’s name was Death, and Sh’ol followed behind him. They were given authority to kill one-quarter of the world by war, by famine, by plagues and with the wild animals of the earth.  Death comes as the result of four means: war, famine, plagues, and wild animals.  The outcome of all of this will be the death of one fourth of the world’s population.  This could be as many as one and a three-quarter billion people.  Remember, these judgments are the result of conditions outlined in the little scroll, brought about by man’s rebellion and the curse of sin both on mankind and this planet.  Now, add to this the rule of the Antichrist and his part in the carnage and bloodshed by opposing God.  He does all this by trying to exterminate all Jews and any others who may believe on Yeshua.  This will become increasingly more apparent later.

These four horsemen, called into action at the very beginning of the tribulation period, are never recalled.  The blasphemous philosophy associated with the worship of a man under the white horse, the belligerent policies that lead nations into war under the red horse, the baneful blight experienced under the black horse, all culminate in the pale horse and his stirrup-rider rampaging over a quarter of earth to the very end of the tribulation.  If one fourth part of the earth is directly affected by these judgments the death toll must be very high indeed.  While the text does not state that one quarter of the population of earth will die there is no doubt that death will ride triumphantly across earth in these dark days of the tribulation.  The Lord’s solemn words come to mind: Indeed, if the length of this time had not been limited, no one would survive; but for the sake of those who have been chosen, its length will be limited” ~ Matthew 24:22 (CJB). If this is but the beginning of the ‘birthpains,’ then earth has much to endure in the night of her travail.

Special Comparative Note on Chapter 6:7-8 [1]

 Historicist Approach:

Historicists date the fulfillment of this prophesy from 248 to 268 or 296 CE.  During this period of time, every province of the Roman world was afflicted by barbarous invaders and military tyrants as the Empire approached its dissolution.  As many as 5,000 persons died daily in Rome and many towns became depopulated.  Gibbon documents that half the human population of earth was killed in this period.

Preterist Approach:

Because of the internal fighting and starvation of the Jews, conditions described in this passage are reminiscent to the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE according to Preterists.  God also utilized these conditions at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE according to Ezekiel.  “For here is what Adonai Elohim says: ‘Even if I inflict my four dreadful judgments on Yerushalayim — sword, famine, wild animals and plagues — to eliminate both its humans and its animals’’’ ~ Ezekiel 14:21 (CJB).

Futurist Approach:

Futurists view these first four seals to the future Great Tribulation spoken by Yeshua in Matthew 24:21. “For at that time there will be Great Tribulation, the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again!” (HCSB)

Idealist Approach:

Idealists see the first four seals as symbolically repeated throughout history with the militarism and lust of conquest displayed in a fallen world.  The reference to the authority to kill one-quarter of the world emphasizes the fact that we are not at this point yet, but only recurring instances of geographically limited judgments.

In my next post, the Fifth Seal is broken.

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[1] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

 The First Seal: The First Horseman

Revelation 6:1-2
The End Times

In my last post, we concluded our study of Revelation 5.  In this post, we begin our journey in Revelation 6 as the first six of the seven seals are opened.  As you can quickly see, we will be taking each seal individually as the Four View interpreters have much to say about each.

Chapter 6 begins the account of the events that take place on the earth during the seven years of tribulation.  Futurist interpreters believe that these events begin immediately after the rapture of the church in chapter 4.  The sequence of seals marks a progression during the tribulation period.  It is interesting to note that these signs follow in the exact same order as the signs that Yeshua speaks of in Matthew 24, where He is responding to His talmidim questions regarding the signs that will foretell His return and the end of the age. (These parallel verses from Matthew 24 will be included as we explore each seal.)

The First Seal

Next I watched as the Lamb broke the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living beings say in a thundering voice, “Go!” 2 I looked, and there in front of me was a white horse; its rider had a bow and was given a crown; and he rode off as a conqueror to conquer.” ~ Revelation 6:1-2 (CJB) Continue reading ” The First Seal: The First Horseman”