Fasting & the Shabbat ~ Yesha’yahu 58:1-14

SPECIAL NOTE: This post is a tad longer than what I have been posting of late. However, the topic was just too short I felt to break-up into a two-post series. You may want to download the PDF version below.

In my last post, we concluded our series on Justice and Judgment ~ Part 4 in Yesha’yahu 57:14-21. In this post, we look at the subject of Fasting & the Shabbat in Yesha’yahu 58:1-14.

The last section of Yesha’yahu’s book puts the final pieces in place for Adonai’s work of salvation and restoration both for Israel and for all of creation. The beginning of that restoration, from Adonai’s standpoint, is the re-establishment of proper worship. Once more, the Prophet is commissioned to shout out, and this time to call the people to repentance. Such will be the case during the time of the end. The first advent of the Lord was heralded by John the Baptist, who called the nation to repentance. Another call to repentance will precede the second advent. It is before us in this chapter. In this, we will have all the great future blessings of the converted remnant of Israel described.

1 Shout out loud! Don’t hold back! Raise your voice like a shofar! Proclaim to My people what rebels they are, to the house of Ya’akov their sins. 2 “Oh yes, they seek Me day after day and [claim to] delight in knowing My ways. As if they were an upright nation that had not abandoned the rulings of their God, they ask Me for just rulings and [claim] to take pleasure in closeness to God,

Adonai instructs Yesha’yahu to shout out the message that His people were sinning even though they came to the Temple and delighted in seeking His ways. In other words, these were people who loved to study the Word, to fellowship together, to worship Adonaiand yet Adonai indicts them. Why? Because, although they loved to learn about Adonai, they weren’t interested in obeying Him. How much is that like so many of us today. When the Ruach begins to convict us, when the Word of Adonai starts to speak to us, we usually only think of it in terms of how it applies to others.

3 [asking,] ‘Why should we fast, if you don’t see? Why mortify ourselves, if You don’t notice?’ “Here is My answer: when you fast, you go about doing whatever you like, while keeping your laborers hard at work. 4 Your fasts lead to quarreling and fighting, to lashing out with violent blows. On a day like today, fasting like yours will not make your voice heard on high. 5 “Is this the sort of fast I want, a day when a person mortifies himself? Is the object to hang your head like a reed and spread sackcloth and ashes under yourself? Is this what you call a fast, a day that pleases Adonai?

Adonai responded to His people’s challenges. He did not respond to their fasting because it was superficial and inauthentic. It led to divisions in the community and exploitative behavior toward underlings, as well as self-absorption. Adonai’s idea of fasting extended far beyond public expressions of mourning. Yeshua said the same thing in Matthew 6 when He said, Now when you fast, don’t go around looking miserable, like the hypocrites. They make sour faces so that people will know they are fasting. Yes! I tell you; they have their reward already! 17 But you, when you fast, wash your face and groom yourself, 18 so that no one will know you are fasting – except your Father, who is with you in secret. Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” ~ Matthew 6:16-18 (CJB)

6 “Here is the sort of fast I want – releasing those unjustly bound, untying the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke,

After condemning the people’s idea of fasting, Adonai defined what He understood to be legitimate and effective fasting. The emphasis is on social justice. Fasting must be connected to behavior that helps the exploited find freedom. The yoke is often an image of exploitation and bondage.

It should be noted that the only fasting that Adonai commanded was regarding Yom Kippur. All the rest are rabbinical mandates or personal acts of piety (see Leviticus 23:28).

7 sharing your food with the hungry, taking the homeless poor into your house, clothing the naked when you see them, fulfilling your duty to your kinsmen!”

What Adonai wanted was religious practice offered from truly humble hearts. Seeking to worship with false motives and with no concern for righteousness is not true worship. So, what does true religion look like? What is proper behavior for the subjects of the King? Believers are to help the oppressed (v.6), give food to the hungry, provide shelter to the homeless, and clothing the naked. As Believers, we are to “care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being contaminated by the world” ~ James 1:27 (CJB). Fasting for a day would provide some extra funding to fulfill this need.

8 Then your light will burst forth like the morning; your new skin will quickly grow over your wound; your righteousness will precede you, and Adonai’s glory will follow you. 9 Then you will call, and Adonai will answer; you will cry, and He will say, “Here I am.” If you will remove the yoke from among you, stop false accusation and slander,

The people began by complaining that Adonai did not respond to their fasting. Fasting seems self-denying, but Adonai recognized that the fasting of His people had been manipulative. True self-denial means helping others, and behavior that is other-centered rather than self-directed will be rewarded. Adonai will remove the yoke upon us mentioned in v.3.

10 generously offer food to the hungry and meet the needs of the person in trouble; then your light will rise in the darkness, and your gloom become like noon.

Light and darkness stand for prosperity and need. Faithful obedience and a turning from evil will transform darkness into light.

11 Adonai will always guide you; He will satisfy your needs in the desert, He will renew the strength in your limbs; so that you will be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails.

Abundant, comprehensive blessings of physical health, answered prayer, and continual guidance is promised to those with a heart for the poor and afflicted of society.

12 You will rebuild the ancient ruins, raise foundations from ages past, and be called “Repairer of broken walls, Restorer of streets to live in.”

The prophecy looks forward to the restoration when Adonai’s people will leave their captivity and return to the land, but the land and its cities, especially Yerushalayim. Obedience will lead to prosperity and fertility. The parched land will turn into a watered garden. Obedience and faithful piety will also lead to the strength needed to rebuild the city of Yerushalayim and its defenses. This would be fulfilled when, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people rebuilt the Temple and walls of Yerushalayim following their Babylonian captivity.

13 “If you hold back your foot on Shabbat from pursuing your own interests on My holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight, Adonai’s holy day, worth honoring; then honor it by not doing your usual things or pursuing your interests or speaking about them.

According to later rabbinic writings, the Shabbat in the postexilic period took on the idea of laying aside the day to worship Adonai. The Shabbat became one of the primary means of showing loyalty to Adonai and His statutes.

 14 If you do, you will find delight in Adonai – I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya’akov, for the mouth of Adonai has spoken.” ~ Isaiah 58:1-14 (CJB)

In the ancient Near East, cities were typically built on hills because of their natural defensibility, and armies chose hills as strategic points of control. The metaphor to ride on the heights of the land speaks of victory and security.

In my next post, we will begin to explore the issue of Sin, Confession & Redemption ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 59:1-11.

Click here for the PDF version.

Justice and Judgment ~ Part 1 ~ Yesha’yahu 56:1-8

In my last post, we began a journey to hear A Call to Seek the Lord ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 55:7-13. In this post, we will start to examine the issues of Justice and Judgment ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 56:1-8.

The appeal to observe justice and do what is right was addressed to Isra’el because Adonai’s salvation was near (56:1). There was also good news for every foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord because, in the Millennial Kingdom, righteous non-Jews will also share in the blessings of the Messiah’s rule (56:3). Gentiles, who believed in the God of Isra’el and bound themselves to Him, had a place within His covenant community in the Old Testament dispensation. Here they were assured that they would also share in the kingdom with Isra’el, including sharing in Isra’el’s regathering to enjoy Adonai’s salvation and blessings under Messiah’s righteous rule. Adonai also promises a special blessing and kingdom position to those who maintain their sexual purity (1 Cor 6:9-19).

1 Here is what Adonai says: “Observe justice, do what is right, for my salvation is close to coming, my righteousness to being revealed.”

Salvation is also equivalent to victory or rescue since it envisions release from Babylonian bondage. This verse does not call for obedience that earns salvation. Obedience is a response to the promise of Adonai’s coming deliverance, not a way to earn His favor.

2 Happy is the person who does this, anyone who grasps it firmly, who keeps Shabbat and does not profane it and keeps himself from doing any evil.

Adonai pronounces happy (see Psalm 1) those who are obedient and who avoid evil. The Sabbath commandment (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15) is singled out because it was considered the epitome of the Mosaic covenant (Ex 31:13).

3 A foreigner joining Adonai should not say, “Adonai will separate me from His people; “likewise, the eunuch should not say, “I am only a dried-up tree.”

Adonai reminds His people that foreigners who convert to the Lord are not excluded from worship. Yesha’yahu is not at odds with Ezekiel (Ezekiel 44:6-9) or Ezra (Ezra 4:1-3), because they addressed the issue of foreigners who had not converted. Indeed, Exodus 12:43 states concerning the Pesach meal that “no foreigner may eat it,” but Exodus 12:48-49 then makes it clear that if a foreigner converted and was circumcised, then he could partake of the Pesach.

4 For here is what Adonai says: “As for the eunuchs who keep my Shabbats, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant:

Eunuchs were typically excluded from worship, as it is written: A man with crushed or damaged private parts may not enter the assembly of Adonai. ~ Deuteronomy 23:1 (CJB) That law pointed out that gender and sex were divine gifts that should not be intentionally altered. However, this verse describes an obedient eunuch and thus one who had become a eunuch accidentally or who had converted to worship of Adonai after becoming a eunuch. Such devout eunuchs were invited to join in the worship of Adonai.

5 in my house, within my walls, I will give them power and a name greater than sons and daughters; I will give him an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

Eunuchs obviously could not have children and thus lacked progeny who would perpetuate their name. Adonai proclaims that He will provide a memorial for them.

6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to Adonaito serve Him, to love the name of Adonai, and to be His workers, all who keep Shabbat and do not profane it, and hold fast to my covenant, 7 I will bring them to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Adonai will not turn away anyone who desires to worship Him, even foreigners (that’s most of us, folks) and eunuchs. His house, the Temple, will be a place where everyone can come to pray.

8 Adonai Elohim says, He who gathers Isra’el’s exiles: “There are yet others I will gather, besides those gathered already.”~ Isaiah 56:1-8 (CJB)

The dispersed of Isra’el refers to those Isra’eli, who were removed from the land of Isra’el as a result of foreign invasions (Assyrian and Babylonian) that Adonai sent as punishment against His people.

In my next post, we will begin to examine the issues of Justice and Judgment ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 56:9-57:2.

Click here for the PDF version.

A Call to Seek the Lord ~ Part 1 ~ Yesha’yahu 55:1-6

In my last post, we moved forward to learn about The Future Glory of Tziyon ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 54:9-17. In this post, we are on a journey to hear A Call to Seek the Lord in Yesha’yahu 55:1-6.

This chapter consists of an invitation to Adonai’s people to experience His forgiveness. Having laid out every blessing prepared for Adonai’s people in the previous chapter, the only thing left to do was to invite Isra’el to receive the Lord’s healing and salvation from sin.

1 “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You without money, come, buy, and eat! Yes, come! Buy wine and milk without money – it’s free!

Adonai will not only freely give water, but also the more substantial drinks of milk and wine. These drinks represent spiritual as well as physical nourishment. Water speaks of life, wine of joy, milk of growth. Romans 14:17 tells us the kingdom is inside of us. Therefore, righteousness, peace, and joy are available even now. The water of life, wine of joy, milk of growth are ours for the taking. Being thirsty for His grace is the only prerequisite.

2 Why spend money for what isn’t food, your wages for what doesn’t satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will eat well, you will enjoy the fat of the land.

Adonai’s people had not been accepting the free offer of salvation represented by water for the thirsty. They had been spending their resources on things that did not bring soul satisfaction.

 3 Open your ears, and come to me; listen well, and you will live – I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the grace I assured David.

The promises to David are found in 2 Samuel 7. They include the affirmation that David’s dynasty would be established forever (verse 16). During the Bavelim captivity, though, the Davidic line of kings ruling in Yerushalayim came to an end with Zedekiah. We understand the unconditional promise to be fulfilled in Yeshua HaMashiach, a descendant of David.

 4 I have given Him as a witness to the peoples, a leader, and lawgiver for the peoples. 5 You will summon a nation you do not know, and a nation that doesn’t know you will run to you, for the sake of Adonai your God, the Holy One of Isra’el, who will glorify you.”

The promises to David are extended beyond Adonai’s people to include the nations. In fulfillment of the Avrahamic covenant (Genesis 12:3), it envisions a time when the nations will come to Adonai’s people. Isra’el’s greatest days are yet to come in the kingdom age. Nations who come down on her now will run to her then because they’ll sense Adonai is with her.

6Seek Adonai while He is available, call on Him while He is still nearby.

Why? Because in Genesis 6:3, Adonai said His spirit would not live in human beings forever. If you’re not saved, there will be a time when you may not be able to seek Him as you draw your last breath here on earth. There comes a time when all hope of salvation is lost and all that’s left is despair.

In my next post, we will continue to examine A Call to Seek the Lord ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 55:7-13.

A Call to Seek the Lord ~ Part 1

The Helper of Isra’el ~ Part 2 ~ Yesha’yahu 41:16-29

In my last post, we began to explore The Helper of Isra’el ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 41:1-15. In this post, we conclude our exploration of The Helper of Isra’el ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 41:16-29.

In our last post, we stopped at verse 15 which said: “I will make you into a threshing-sledge, new, with sharp, pointed teeth, to thresh the mountains and crush them to dust, to reduce the hills to chaff.” ~ Isaiah 41:15 (CJB)

16 As you fan them, the wind will carry them off, and the whirlwind will scatter them. Then you will rejoice in Adonai; you will glory in the Holy One of Isra’el.

The process of winnowing was usually carried out on hilltops, where the wind carried away the chaff and allowed the grain to fall to the ground. The grain was tossed into the air with wooden shovels or fans.

17 “The poor and needy look for water in vain; their tongues are parched with thirst. I, Adonai, will answer them. I, the God of Isra’el, will not leave them. 18 I will open up rivers on the barren hills and wells down in the broad valleys. I will turn the desert into a lake and dry ground into springs.

The phrase the poor and the needy here refers to Adonai’s down-and-out people whom He has punished. But Adonai will restore them, turning their dry land into a watery paradise.

In our travels through Isra’el in 2000, this is precisely what we see – a reclaiming of the desert. Adonai has undoubtedly given the Isra’el the ability to make a little water go a long way, for areas that were once dry and scorched are now beautiful and blossoming.

19 I will plant the desert with cedars, acacias, myrtles, and olive trees; In the ‘Aravah, I will put cypresses together with elm trees and larches.20 Then the people will see and know, together observe and understand that the hand of Adonai has done this, that the Holy One of Isra’el created it.

When the Zionists began to move back to Isra’el, the land seemed to be either desert or swamp. So they immediately initiated a tree-planting program. They planted eucalyptus in the wetlands, which effectively drained the water. They planted pine trees in the rocky, desert areas, whose roots would break up the rocks and produce soil. In the last 100 years, over two-hundred-fifty million trees have been planted in Isra’el.

21 “Present your case,” says Adonai, “Produce your arguments,” says Ya‘akov’s king.

As in verse 1, Adonai used legal language as He challenged the nations and their idols. Ya‘akov’s king is none other than Adonai Himself.

22 Bring out those idols! Have them foretell the future for us, tell us about past events, so that we can reflect on them and understand their consequences. Or tell us about events yet to come, 23 state what will happen in the future, so that we can know you are gods. At least, do something, either good or bad – anything, to make us awestruck and fearful! 24 You can’t! – because you are less than nothing. Whoever chooses you is an abomination!

The idols were ignorant of the future, demonstrating that they were not gods. Indeed, they were nothing.

25 “I roused someone from the north, and he has come from the rising sun; he will call on my name. He will trample on rulers as if they were mud, like a potter treading clay.”

He is King Cyrus of Persia. He is said to be from the east (come from the rising sun) because his homeland was geographically east of Isra’el. On the other hand, he could, at the same time, be from the north because that was the direction from which he attacked Bavel.

This prophecy is one of the most amazing in all of the Bible as we will learn in Chapter 45.

26 Who said this at the start, so we could know, or foretold it, so we could say, “He’s right”? In fact, no one said it; no one foretold it – the fact is, nobody hears what you say. 27 I am the first to declare it to Tziyon, to send Yerushalayim a messenger with good news.

While the idols were ignorant because they did not exist except as wood or stone, Adonai knew the future. Indeed He knew about this from the beginning. The coming of Cyrus was good news to Yerushalayim because his defeat of Bavel would mean that the exiles could come home.

28 But when I look around, there is no one – not a single one can give counsel, who, when I ask, can give an answer. 29 Look at them all! What they do is nothing! Their idols are so much wind and waste. ~ Isaiah 41:16-29 (CJB)

In other words, idols are capable of producing nothing more than hot air. Even that could only be attained by burning them.

In my next post, we begin to explore The Servant of the Lord in Yesha’yahu 42:1-9.

Click here for the PDF version.

Sukkot 5780 ~ The Ultimate Sukkah

We continue to interrupt our series on Yesha’yahu once again to consider the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This is the third and last of the traditional Fall Holy Days. In 2019, the festival of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sundown on Sunday, October 13th.

Sukkot is the third of the great annual pilgrimage festivals (Vayikra 23:33-43). Each year, all adult Jewish males were required to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Matzah, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The festival is also called the “feast of ingathering” (Sh’mot 23:16; D’varim 16:13). It is celebrated immediately after the harvest, in the month Tishri, and the celebration lasts for eight days (Vayikra 23:33-43). During this period the people leave their homes and live in a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, formed of the branches of trees as a memorial of the wilderness wanderings when the people dwelt in sukkot (Vayikra 23:43).


Typical Backyard Sukkah

Like Thanksgiving Day in the United States, Sukkot is a time of feasting, rejoicing, and giving thanks to God for His bountiful gifts (D’varim 16:13-15). It is widely believed that the Puritan colonists, who were great students of the Hebrew Scriptures, based on the first American Thanksgiving on Sukkot.

We are to “rejoice before the Lord God” during all the time of this feast (Vayikra 23:40). The tradition of the Jewish people is that they were to express their joy by dancing and singing hymns of praise to God, with musical instruments.

Sukkot (the plural form of sukkah) are temporary dwellings, many with canvas walls. The roof is made of natural materials such as bamboo, corn stalks, or other greenery, usually supported by a few wooden beams. It provides more shade than sun, but you can still see the sky through it and the stars at night.

Today, as in the Second Temple days, we still wave the lulav (palm branch) and etrog (citron) as mandated in the Torah. The lulav is made of a palm branch, arava (willow), and hadas (myrtle). The etrog is a citron. Together the lulav and the etrog are referred to as the Four Species.

Of all the feasts of the Lord, Sukkot best illustrates the fact that God would dwell in the midst of His people through the presence of the Messiah (John 1:14). He may have fulfilled His promise on the very day of Sukkot. We don’t know the exact date of Yeshua’s birth. But we do know; it indeed wasn’t December 25th. For me, there is sufficient evidence to corroborate that Yeshua’s first coming came on Sukkot.

Sukkot pictures the future kingdom God has prepared for Israel when Messiah returns (see Zechariah 12:10-13:1; Isaiah 35; Luke 1:67-80). The Prophet Zechariah described the changes that will take place in the topography of the holy land and how the Gentile nations will celebrate Sukkot along with the Jewish people (see Zechariah 14:16-19).

For Israel, the best is yet to come! The scattered people will be gathered; the sinful people will be cleansed; the sorrowing people will rejoice. And for Messianic Believers, the best is yet to come; for we shall be together with the Lord and His people, every stain washed away, rejoicing in His presence.

Sukkot has always been known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with His people. How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it entirely comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this appointed time. God himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness. The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua resides as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

All the Feasts of the Lord have their particular lessons to teach. Because of its latter-day fulfillment, Sukkot seems to be the apex of all the other appointed times of God. The goal of God’s plan is ultimately the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth. This explains why, of all the appointed times, Sukkot is said to be the premier celebration of the Millennium.

As the Prophet Zechariah has told us in Chapter 14, in the last days all nations will be gathered against Jerusalem. They will take the city and plunder it. (Zechariah 14:1, 2) The Lord will then take charge of His people; He will appear upon the Mount of Olives. By splitting this mountain, He will prepare a safe way for the rescue of those that remain. He will come with all His saints (Zechariah 14:3-5) to complete His kingdom.

The other pilgrimage feasts (Matzah and Shavuot) have been fulfilled, but the Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot finds its fulfillment during the millennial kingdom of the Messiah (Vayikra 23:33-44; B’midbar 16:13-15; 31:10; Nehemiah 8:17, 18; Revelation 20:1-6).

The remnant of the nations will turn to the Lord and come yearly to Jerusalem, to keep the feast of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19). Can’t you imagine it? The feast of the Millennium! What a party that will be! This feast will be kept by all who have come to believe in Messiah, to thank the Lord for His grace in that He has brought them out of the wanderings of this life into the blessedness of His kingdom of peace.

In the perfected kingdom of God there will be no more sinners, but only those who are righteous and holy. This is affirmed in the last clause of Zechariah’s prophecy: “there will be no merchants anymore in the house of Adonai.” (v. 21)

Thus, does Zechariah’s prophesy close with a prospect of the completion of the kingdom of God in glory. All believing commentators are agreed that the final fulfillment of Zechariah 14:20-21 lies before us in Revelation 21 and 22.

According to Isaiah, God has promised His people a new heaven and a new earth (see Isaiah 65:17; 66:22). The old creation must make way for the new creation if God is to be glorified.

Indeed, many interesting questions could be asked about our future abode in heaven, but most must go unanswered until we reach our glorious home. John closed his book by reminding us that we have responsibilities today because we are going to heaven.

Sukkot has always known as the appointed time that commemorates God dwelling with his people. How fitting for the Kingdom of God, when it fully comes to the redeemed earth, to be considered the ultimate fulfillment of this holy day. God, Himself will finally dwell with His people in all His fullness. The Sukkah of God will be among men when Messiah Yeshua tabernacles with us as the ruler of the 1000-year Messianic Kingdom!

What a celebration there will be as His people, both Jews and Gentiles, wave the lulav and chant, Ana Adonai Hoshiana! (Lord, do save us!) Amen. Come quickly, Lord Yeshua! Come and dwell in Your Ultimate Sukkah!

In my next post, we will return to our series on Yesha’yahu.

Click here for the PDF version.

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.

Click here for PDF version.

Request for Prayer, Personal References and Benedictions

Messianic Jews 13:18-25
Letter to the Messianic Jews

In my last post, we explored the Warnings in Messianic Jews 13:7-17. In this post, we conclude our examination of Messianic Jews by studying a Request for Prayer, Personal References and Benedictions in Messianic Jews 13:18-25.

18 Keep praying for us, for we are certain that we have a clear conscience and want to conduct ourselves properly in everything we do. 19 And all the more I beg you to do this, so that I may be restored to you that much sooner. 

20 The God of shalom brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Yeshua, by the blood of an eternal covenant. 21 May God equip you with every good thing you need to do his will; and may He do in us whatever pleases Him, through Yeshua the Messiah. To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 

22 Now I urge you, brothers, to bear with my message of exhortation; for I have written you only briefly. 23 Know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he comes soon enough, I will bring him with me when I come to see you. 24 Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. The people from Italy send greetings to you. 25 Grace be with you all.” ~ Hebrews 13:18-25 (CJB)

The author requests his readers to pray that he be restored to them. Imprisonment may be preventing it (verses 18-19), and he offers a benediction for them (verse 21). He fixes the direction of his brief prayer by summing up the six key points of his letter:

  1. God is a God of shalom. By reconciling sinful humanity to Himself through Yeshua, God has taken the initiative in restoring peace, integrity, and wholeness.
  2. Yeshua has been brought up from the dead. He is alive, our cohen gadol forever making intercession for us at the right hand of God.
  3. Yeshua is the great Shepherd of the sheep, both Jews, and Gentiles. This is testified to in many references in the Tanakh and the Brit Hadashah.
  4. Yeshua is our Lord (1:2-4, 8-13; 3:6), who disciplines us for our benefit (12:5-10) and expects obedience (5:9).
  5. Yeshua has come to have this role in God’s administration of world history because He gave his blood to atone for the sins of humanity (1:3, 2:9-15, 9:12-10:14).
  6. Through this blood, Yeshua also inaugurated an eternal covenant, the New Covenant (7:22, 8:5-13, 10:15-18), the Brit Hadashah promised by Jeremiah 31:30-33(31-34).

Bear with my message of exhortation; for I have written you only briefly. This supports the idea that the author is summarizing a series of sermons he previously gave orally to some of the brothers.

Verses 23-24 lend weight to the theory that Sha’ul is the author of Messianic Jews; for although he spent his last days imprisoned in Italy (2 Timothy 4:6-8), by then his co-worker and brother in the Lord Timothy, who had at one time been jailed with him, had been released, so that Sha’ul could write 2 Timothy to him. On the other hand, I will bring him with me suggests that the author was not in prison when he wrote this letter but was free to move about. See my first post in this series here for my take on the authorship.

I will close with this admonition from the author of Messianic Jews:

“Therefore, let us confidently approach the throne from which God gives grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need.” ~ Hebrews 4:16 (CJB)

In my next post, I am going to strive to do something I have never, ever done before. My posts (and past sermons) in the past have been thematic or verse-by-verse exegises. In my next series, I’m planning on doing a character study of Elijah. Depending on how that goes, I’ll probably move on to also do a character study of his protégé, Elisha.

Click here for PDF version.

Exhortations and Warnings ~ Part 2

Messianic Jews 13:7-17
Letter to the Messianic Jews

In my last post, we move on the final chapter of Messianic Jews were we study General Messianic Obligations in Messianic Jews 13:1-6. In this post, we explore the Warnings in Messianic Jews 13:7-17. [NOTE: This post is a little longer, but I did not want to break it up. You may want to click on the link below for the PDF version.]

7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke God’s message to you. Reflect on the results of their way of life, and imitate their trust – 8 Yeshua the Messiah is the same yesterday, today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by various strange teachings; for what is good is for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods. People who have made these the focus of their lives have not benefited thereby. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve in the Tent are not permitted to eat. 11 For the cohen hagadol brings the blood of animals into the Holiest Place as a sin offering, but their bodies are burned outside the camp. 12 So too Yeshua suffered death outside the gate, in order to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 Therefore, let us go out to Him who is outside the camp and share His disgrace. 14 For we have no permanent city here; on the contrary, we seek the one to come. 15 Through Him, therefore, let us offer God a sacrifice of praise continually. For this is the natural product of lips that acknowledge His name. 16 But don’t forget doing good and sharing with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your lives, as people who will have to render an account. So make it a task of joy for them, not one of groaning; for that is of no advantage to you.” ~ Messianic Jews 13:7-17 (CJB)

Stern writes that the references to your leaders in verse 7, 17 and 24 suggest that Chapter 13 was appended as a covering letter accompanying the summary of sermons constituting Chapters 1-12 and was addressed to individuals in the congregation whom the author knew personally. Perhaps they had heard him give this series of sermons orally and had requested a written summary from him. The Greek phrasing seems to imply that the leaders mentioned in this verse had died, perhaps as a result of persecution.

Imitate their trust. It should be more comfortable for the readers to emulate the faith of leaders they had known and loved than that of their distant forefathers (10:35-12:4). Compare Sha’ul at 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Try to imitate me.” The chief argument for imitating these leaders is the results of their way of life.

Verse 8 connects back to those who spoke God’s message to you.  The author implies that they acted on the message then but are forsaking it now. If Yeshua the Messiah is the same yesterday, today and forever; if His sacrificial death remains the only true atonement; if holiness, without which no one will see the Lord,” (Messianic Jews 12:14) comes only through Him; then why are you slacking off or seeking other paths to God? Regain your former loyalty to Yeshua, and behave accordingly!

Moreover, Yeshua’s being the same yesterday, today and forever means that He is still Jewish and will return as a Jew. The Messiah has not been transformed into a Gentile. Yeshua was born a Jew, died a Jew and was resurrected as a Jew. He is a Jew now, serving in heaven as a Jewish cohen gadol. He will return as a Jewish king to occupy the throne of his Jewish ancestor David. His humanity makes Him the savior of all, both Jews and non-Jews.

For me, it is essential that we put our trust in Yeshua from the mere fact that He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Do not be carried away by various strange teachings. This is evidence that verse 8 warns against seeking ways apart from Yeshua for reaching God. (Compare Galatians 1:9, 3:1; 1 Corinthians 2:2).

Okay, what is the reference to foods all about? This has nothing to do with whether Messianic Jews should keep kosher, which is not at issue in this book. Moreover, scholars agree that the early Jewish believers observed kashrut. The only question which they needed to solve concerned how Jewish believers should behave at the dining table with Gentile Believers (Galatians 2:11-16).

There are two possibilities for interpreting foods here. The more likely, based on the way in which verse 10 elaborates the subject, is that it refers once again to animal sacrifices, this time somewhat ironically – recall that those who offered ate the animal sacrifices.

The other is that some members of this community thought that eating certain foods would enhance their spirituality. This could be a reference to an early health-food craze. However, one’s spiritual condition of sin is affected by God’s grace appropriated by trusting, not by foods. People who have made these the focus of their lives have not benefitted thereby. Rather, faithfulness to God and Yeshua should be the focus of everyone’s life; this provides eternal benefits.

We, Believers, have an altar. This altar is in heaven; on the heavenly altar Yeshua the Messiah made the once-for-all sacrifice of himself. But the altar is also outside the camp, so that although those who serve in the Tent, the Levitical cohanim, representing the pre-Yeshua dispensation and nonbelievers, may eat the thank offerings and peace offerings, they are not permitted to eat the sin offerings, because the bodies of those animals are burned outside the camp. Since Yeshua was a sin offering, nonbelievers are not permitted to partake of Him unless and until they put their trust in Yeshua.

Many churches today do not allow non-believers to participate in their communion services.

In verses 11-14 the author evokes at least five images here:

  1. Sin offeringYeshua suffered death, and this had the significance of a sin offering in two ways. First, just as the cohen gadol brings the blood of the animals into the Holy Place, so Yeshua suffered death in order to make the people holy through his own blood. Second, just as the bodies of the animals used for a sin offering are burned outside the camp, so Yeshua’s death took place outside the gate of the city of Jerusalem, which replaced the camp in the wilderness.
  2. Impurity: Just as lepers and other people declared impure had to remain outside the camp in disgrace, so Yeshua was wrongfully regarded as unclean and suffered death with disgrace by being executed as a criminal on a stake outside the gate at Gulgolta.
  3. Separation: Being outside the camp in disgrace implies not only impurity but separation from the Jewish people. Yeshua is indeed separated; however, His separation is in fact not from the Jewish people, due to impurity, but unto God, due to His holiness; so that His separation from the Jewish people is wrongful, illusory and not disgraceful. Moreover, he can make the Jewish and Gentile people holy through his own blood, ending their genuine and justified separation from God due to sin. Messianic Jews, who go out to him who is outside the camp to share his disgrace, remain, like him, part of the Jewish people, even though, like Him, we may not be so regarded. Like Yeshua, we experience the pain of exclusion; but we must stand with Him and not seek respect or inclusion on any terms except God’s.
  4. Red Heifer: The reference to Yeshua’s making the people holy through his own blood recalls Messianic Jews 9:11-14, which mentions the red heifer. The body of the red heifer too was burned outside the camp; by suggestion, then, Yeshua is also our red heifer.
  5. Permanent city: Having mentioned the gate of the city, the author returns to the language of 11:9-10, 13-16; 12:22 in reminding us believers that we have no permanent city here but seek the one to come, heavenly Jerusalem. There is no implication of otherworldliness, in the sense of neglecting the needs of this world; instead, we live simultaneously in both the ‘olam hazeh and the ‘olam haba.

We are not accustomed to using the word sacrifice except metaphorically, but the author here may be referring to real, physical thank-offerings. This would be consistent not only with the context of verses 10-16 but also with the End-Time prophecies of Jeremiah 33:11, the Messianic prophecies of Malachi 3:1-4 and with rabbinic Jewish understanding. Does that mean we will be able to have BBQ’s in Heaven still? I certainly hope so!!

But for two reasons it seems at least equally likely that he is, in fact, speaking of metaphorical sacrifices, like Sha’ul at Romans 12:1-2. First, lips that acknowledge His name should offer God a spiritual sacrifice which consists of praise. Second, doing good and sharing with others are spiritual sacrifices with which God is well pleased.

Obey your present leaders and submit to them. Many who call themselves believers in the Bible are unwilling to live by this verse of inspired Scripture; possibly because of fear and distrust of authority figures or excessive individualism (read self-centeredness). They are rebellious, undisciplined, and unwilling to be part of a team to accomplish the work of the Body of the Messiah. Such people should acknowledge this attitude as sin and seek the Body’s help and counsel in overcoming it.

On the other hand, some leaders misuse this verse to exploit their charges, to brainwash or to force them to submit to unreasonable and ungodly demands.

But the verse itself encourages cooperation between leader and led for the good of the led and the glory of the Lord. On the one hand, your leaders have work to do: they keep watch over your lives. Moreover, they are not their bosses: they will have to render an account of their stewardship to the great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Yeshua (see verses 18-21). On the other hand, you who are being led can make it a task of joy for them, not one of groaning; and it is to your advantage to do so.

In my next post, we conclude our study of Messianic Jews through Prayer, Personal References, and Benedictions in Messianic Jews 13:18-25.

Click here for PDF version.

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.

Click here for PDF version.

 

Faith: The Better Way ~ Part 1b

Messianic Jews 10:26-31
Letter to the Messianic Jews

In my last post, we were going through the topic of Faith: The Better Way. We started by examining an Exhortation to Hold Firm by looking at Our Access to God in Messianic Jews 10:19-25. In this post, we continue in our mini-series Exhortation to Hold Firm by examining The Judgment for Failure to Hold Firm in Messianic Jews 10:26-31.

“26 For if we deliberately continue to sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but only the terrifying prospect of Judgment, of raging fire that will consume the enemies. 28 Someone who disregards the Torah of Moshe is put to death without mercy on the word of two or three witnesses. 29 Think how much worse will be the punishment deserved by someone who has trampled underfoot the Son of God; who has treated as something common the blood of the covenant which made him holy; and who has insulted the Spirit, giver of God’s grace! 30 For the One we know is the One who said, “Vengeance is my responsibility; I will repay,” and then said, “Adonai will judge his people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” ~ Messianic Jews 10:26-31 (CJB)

Every now and again the author of Messianic Jews speaks with a sternness that is almost without parallel in the Brit Hadashah. Few authors have such a sense of the sheer horror of sin. In this passage, his thoughts are going back to the grim instruction in Deuteronomy 17:2-7. There, if any person shall be proved to have gone after strange gods and to have worshipped them, “you are to bring the man or woman who has done this wicked thing to your city gates, and stone that man or woman to death. The death sentence is to be carried out only if there was testimony from two or three witnesses; he may not be sentenced to death on the testimony of only one witness. The witnesses are to be the first to stone him to death; afterward, all the people are to stone him. Thus you will put an end to this wickedness among you.”

These verses recap, in even stronger language, the exhortation of Messianic Jews 6:4-8, with emphasis on fearing God. There is a tendency to modernize the “fear of God” into “reverence for God” or minimize it by exalting the love of God as a higher motivation for right behavior than fear of Him. But doing so blunts the impact which the prospect of judgment ought to make (vv. 27, 30-31). There is a right reason for fearing God; there is such a thing as “holy fear” (Messianic Jews 11:7). “The fear of Adonai is the beginning of wisdom” ~ Proverbs 9:10. And, as we will later discover: Our God is a consuming fire!” ~ Messianic Jews 12:29.

Those who deliberately continue to sin (v. 26) are doing what the Torah calls sinning “with a high hand,” and for such sins, the Levitical system of sacrifices prescribed in the Torah does not atone (see Ya’akov (James) 2:10-11). Think how much worse it will be for those who highhandedly ignore Yeshua’s atoning sacrificial death (v. 29)! This is the whole point of this passage.

However, in addition, v. 26 by its very position in the overall text emphasizes the seriousness of neglecting congregational meetings (v. 25), even though the specific sin actually referred to, as clarified by v. 29, is that of disregarding the Messiah’s once-for-all sacrifice for sin and trusting in the Levitical system which only foreshadowed it.

Note: Since I also covered this passage in my series on Eternal Security, I won’t be further examining this passage as to how it relates to the topic of Apostasy.

According to Barclay, the author gives three definitions of sin. [1]

  1. Sin is to trample Yeshua It is not mere rebelliousness against the law; it is the wounding of love. Once Yeshua had come, the awfulness of sin lay not in its breaking of the law but its trampling of the love of Yeshua underfoot.
  1. Sin is the failure to see the sacredness of sacred things. Nothing produces a shudder like sacrilege. The author of Messianic Jews says in effect: “Look at what has been done for you; look at the shed blood and the broken body of Yeshua; look at what your new relationship to God cost; can you treat it as if it did not matter? Don’t you see what a sacred thing it is?” Sin is the failure to realize the sacredness of that sacrifice upon the Cross.
  1. Sin is an insult to the Ruach. The Ruach speaks within us, telling us what is right and wrong, seeking to check us when we are about to sin and to urge us on when we are drifting into apathy. To disregard these voices is to insult the Ruach and to grieve the heart of God.

Sin is not disobedience to an impersonal law; it is the wrecking of a personal relationship and the wounding of the heart of the God whose name is Abba.

We have been and continue to be redeemed once for all by His Blood.

In my next post, we complete our mini-series dealing of Exhortation to Hold Firm in the topic of Faith: The Better Way by exploring The Future Reward for Those Who Endure beginning with Messianic Jews 10:32-39.

Click here for PDF version.

[1] Barclay’s Daily Study Bible (NT) by William Barclay.