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.

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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.

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Elisha ~ Part 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Na’aman Needed the Lord

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

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

Na’aman Sought the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

Hanukkah – 5778 (2017)

Should Christians Observe Hanukkah?

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

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

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is an annual festival celebrated on eight successive days, during which no eulogies are delivered, nor is fasting permitted.  It begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding, approximately, to December in the Gregorian calendar.   This year (2017), Hanukkah starts at sundown on December 12thHanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, and Feast of the Maccabees.

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

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

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

History of Hanukkah

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

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

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

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

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

The Miracle of the Oil

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

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

Why Is Hanukkah Celebrated for Eight Days?

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

The Jewish sages offer three possible answers:

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

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

When and How Does One Light the Candles?

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

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

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

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

Foods Associated With Hanukkah

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

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

The Dreidel – The Hanukkah Top

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

What Do The Letters On The Dreidel Stand For?

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

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

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

Hanukkah – A Spiritual Holiday

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

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

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

Significance of Hanukkah to Messianic Believers

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

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

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

Hanukkah Candle Lighting

Blessings before you light the candles

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

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

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

Light the candle(s)

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

Hanukkah Prayer

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

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

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

Sukkot 5778

The Ultimate Sukkah

We interrupt our series on Revelation once again to consider the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.  This is the third and last of the traditional Fall Holy Days. In 2017, the festival of Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles, begins at sundown on Wednesday, October 4th.

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).  In fact, it is widely believed that the Puritan colonists, who were great students of the Hebrew Scriptures, based 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 certainly 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 fully 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 dwells 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 just 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.  In fact, 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 Revelation by looking at Revelation 6:8-9 ~ The Fourth Bowl.

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The Lamb and The Redeemed

Revelation 14:1-5
The End Times

In my last post, we examined a Summary of Revelation Chapters 11-13 and an Introduction to Revelation Chapters 14-16. In this post, we move on the Revelation 14:1-5 to consider The Lamb and The Redeemed.

“Then I looked, and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Tziyon; and with him were 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of rushing waters and like the sound of pealing thunder; the sound I heard was also like that of harpists playing on their harps. 3 They were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living beings and the elders, and no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who have been ransomed from the world. 4 These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; they follow the Lamb wherever He goes; they have been ransomed from among humanity as firstfruits for God and the Lamb; 5 on their lips no lie was found — they are without defect.” ~ Revelation 14:1-5 (CJB)

Yochanan describes seven visions in this chapter. These visions seem to be given here to provide us with “the big picture,” and the following chapters give us more of the details. As the details unfold in later chapters, we see that the visions presented here do not necessarily appear in chronological order.

The 144,000

Then I looked, and there was the Lamb standing on Mount Tziyon; and with him were 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. The Lamb and His faithful followers are set over against the beast and his followers of the preceding chapter.

  • The Lamb’s followers have His name on their foreheads (v. 1; 7:3-4), even as the beast’s followers are marked with his name (13:16-17).
  • They do not speak lies (v. 5), in contrast to the lying wonders of the beast (13:14).
  • They have not defiled themselves with women (v. 4), in contrast to the prostitution of the beast (17:5).
  • They were faithful to Yeshua in contrast to the adultery of Babylon, which includes the apostate church.

Who are the 144,000? They are probably the same as the 144,000 of Revelation 7:4. As discussed earlier, most believe that the 144,000 are the elect of Israel (most likely Jews) sealed by God halfway through the seven-year tribulation period. They are the firstfruits, in contrast to the general harvest (vv. 15-16). They may be referred to as firstfruits because they were the first to be saved during the Tribulation period.

At the beginning of this chapter, we see the Lamb standing on Mount Tziyon. He is with the 144,000 on the earth. Mount Tziyon is another name for Jerusalem. There are many passages in the Bible, especially in Psalms, which tell us that Tziyon is God’s chosen place on the earth “For Adonai has chosen Tziyon, He has wanted it as His home. This is My resting-place forever, I will live here because I so much want to.”:  ~ Psalm 132:13-14 (CJB) Although this is the only reference to Tziyon in Revelation, it seems to confirm several Tanakh passages that suggest that Jerusalem will be the center of Yeshua’s earthly kingdom when He returns (see Isaiah 2:3-4; Psalm 48:2).

I heard a sound from heaven like the sound of rushing waters and like the sound of pealing thunder; the sound I heard was also like that of harpists playing on their harps. 3 They were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living beings and the elders, and no one could learn the song except the 144,000 who have been ransomed from the world. In the vision Yochanan is having, this particular scene is taking place in heaven as 144,000 have been ransomed from the world. The ministry work of the 144,000 has been completed. We cannot be sure, but we can assume that many of them died throughout this seven year period. Maybe the majority of them perished in the last 3 1/2 years. Whatever one may think as to what happened on earth, this scene in heaven is one of great comfort. We see them all, 144,000 strong, not one missing; they are now safe with Yeshua. What they lived through during their days on earth cannot be fully comprehended at this time, but this much is known, they lived during a time when the worst of hell was unleashed in the land. The world’s reasoning ability is entirely lost regarding the miracle working beast, except those who have come to salvation in Yeshua. Gary Cohen and Salem Kirban relate: [1]

Here we see that these 144,000 who were “redeemed” from the earth are admitted to special heavenly privileges. They alone are here seen able to learn the new song which proceeds from the heavenly harpers. Why are these so privileged, and not others? We are not given the answer. It is God’s sovereign will, we know this, and that is enough. This is a heavenly scene for the four beasts, the twenty-four elders, and the throne belong to the celestial chambers and not the earthly (chapters 4-5). This is part of the Heavenly Mount Tziyon and the Heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22). The words, “redeemed from the earth” (v. 3), also fit this being a heavenly picture.

Verses four and five tell why the 144,000 were so honored in heaven and so privileged: These are the ones who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; they follow the Lamb wherever He goes; they have been ransomed from among humanity as firstfruits for God and the Lamb; 5 on their lips no lie was found — they are without defect. The 144,000 in this passage stand in sharp contrast to the followers of the beast. Falsehood and deceit will abound everywhere, but the 144,000 keep undefiled. They will live in a time of hell’s greatest lies. Many Jews will identify themselves with the man of sin and idolatry, but the 144,000 follow the Lamb and live according to God’s Word.

The use of the term virgin in verse four carries a deeper meaning than just keeping them physically pure. As is seen in 2 Corinthians 11:2, a virgin can symbolize one who has a sincere and pure devotion to Yeshua. The 144,000 are separated from the pollutions and conceptions of the earth. They are virgins unto God. They keep themselves separated from spiritual fornication and spiritual adultery.

David Stern explains: [2]

These are not male celibates, despite the explicit mention of women. Rather, they are people of both sexes who are faithful to God and his Son, as the rest of vv. 4-5 makes clear. Fornication is a common biblical metaphor for idolatry—for several examples from the Tanakh see Ezekiel 16, 23 and Hosea 1-5.

This is a great message for everyone today. God wants all who belong to Him to live holy lives. The most significant witness and the most awesome power comes from living a righteous life. We need to pray that God will make us a godly people. The harvest is about to come (Revelation 15:1). The 144,000 will be the firstfruits for God and the Lamb. The 144,000 will be the earnest of a larger group of saved Jews who will also participate in the millennial kingdom. In the remaining verses of this chapter, there is a series of messages from what appears to be seven different angels. The events that are described do not follow a particular chronological order. As has been the case throughout this interval period (chapters 10-14), we are only given pieces of the puzzle. But, with each piece of information, we see the picture becoming clearer.

Special Comparative Note on Chapter 14:1-5 [3]

Historicist Approach:

Most Historicists view the 144,000 as the same as those presented in Chapter 7. Recall they saw them as symbolic of the entire true Christian church down through the ages.  Elliott opines that the new song is the blessed doctrine of the Reformation. They also concur with David Stern’s assessment of the term virgins.

Preterist Approach:

 Preterists agree the 144,000 are the same as those presented in Chapter 7.  Recall they saw them as the Jewish Believers who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Futurist Approach:

Tenney sees this chapter as an illustrative parenthesis. Ryrie opines “this chapter is something like a table of contents of the remainder of the book.” Futurists agree the 144,000 are the same as those presented in Chapter 7. They are divided over the location of Mount Tizyon between its earthly or heavenly location.

Idealist Approach:

Idealists appear to agree with the Futurists as the purpose of this Chapter and the locale of Mount Tizyon. Most, however, seem to favor the heavenly locale as they were ransomed from the worldThey also concur with David Stern’s assessment of the term virgins.

In my next post, we will explore a Revelation 14:6-7 studying The Everlasting Gospel.

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[1] A Layman’s Commentary on Revelation by Don Jones.

[2] Jewish New Testament Commentary by David Stern

[3] Material in this post is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg. Notations in brackets, if any, are my comments.