A Prophecy Against the Valley of Vision ~ Part 1 ~ Yesha’yahu 22:1-11

In my last post, we learned of A Prophecy Against Dumah and Arabia in Yesha’yahu 21:11-17. In this post, we learn of A Prophecy Against the Valley of Vision ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 22:1-11.

1 A prophecy about the Valley of Vision: Tell me what is wrong with you, that you have all gone up on the roofs.

From later in the prophecy, it is clear that the Valley of Vision is a reference to Yerushalayim, even though this name is not used elsewhere of the city. It could be satirical; that is, the Valley of Vision was blind to the divine purpose. Or perhaps it could be a reference to Hinnom, where divinatory practices took place.

Gone up on the roofs may be a reference to divination or false worship. There is ample evidence in the prophetic books of Israelites burning incense on the roofs of their houses (Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5). It could also refer to their getting a better perspective on the withdrawal of a besieging army.

2 You city full of noise, confusion, and boisterous excitement, your slain did not fall to the sword, nor did they die in battle. 3 All your leaders fled together and were captured without the use of a bow; all from you who were found were captured, even though they had fled far away.

The inhabitants were jubilant because the attacking army had withdrawn from its siege. The reference to those who died apart from battle may be a reference to those who starved or contracted the disease during the siege.

From a historical perspective, the events of verses 2-3 occur during the 701 BCE campaign of Sennacherib. The Ashurim king led a massive army of mercenaries and conscripts from throughout his empire. During the invasion of Y’hudah, they will, according to Sennacherib’s Annals, “lay siege to forty-six fortified cities, walled forts, and countless villages.” King Hezekiah was bottled up in Yerushalayim“like a bird in a cage.” Any of his officials who attempted to escape and many were executed. [1]

4 This is why I said, “Don’t look at me, leave me alone to weep bitterly, don’t try to comfort me over the destruction of my people.”

Yesha’yahu did not share the joy of the city. After all, although the siege was lifted, people died.

5 For it is a day of panic, trampling, and confusion from Adonai Elohim-Tzva’ot [the Lord God of Hosts] in the Valley of Vision. With walls crashing down, they cry for help to the mountains. 6 ‘Eilam picks up the quivers, with cavalry and horsemen, and Kir uncovers the shields.

‘Elam (located on the Iranian plateau east of Bavel) and Kir appear to have fought along with the Ashurim. There is no consensus on the exact location of the country of Kir. Because of its association with Aram in Amos 9:7, several attempts have been made to place it either in northern Syria or in the western desert (west of the Euphrates). Its mention here with ‘Elam also suggests proximity to that country east of the Tigris River.
7 In time, your choicest valleys Yerushalayim by chariots, and the cavalry take their posts by the gate; 8 thus is Y’hudah’s protection removed. That day you looked for the armor in the House of the Forest.

The House of the Forest is likely the same as the storehouse in the palace complex known as the House of the Forest of L’vanon (1 Kings 7:1-12). Weapons were stored there. The people should have been looking to God for help, but they put their trust in their weapons instead.

9 You saw how many breaches there were in the City of David; you collected water from the lower pool,

Based on the discovery of the Siloam Tunnel inscription, it seems clear that Hezekiah constructed a water tunnel over eighteen hundred feet long from inside the walls of Yerushalayim to the Gihon Spring in the Kidron Valley. In this way, he was able to ensure a safe and continuous water supply for Yerushalayim during the Ashurim siege. The lower pool was one of two reservoirs used to hold and channel water. It was designed to provide irrigation flow to the terraced areas along the slope of the Kidron Valley, and it eventually drained into the Pool of Shelah, modern Birket el-Hamra. [2]

10 you surveyed the houses in Yerushalayim, tearing some down to fortify the wall. 11 You also built a reservoir between the two walls for the water from the Old Pool, but you didn’t look to Him who made these things; you had no respect for Him who fashioned them long ago. ~ Isaiah 22:1-11 (CJB)

Refortifying the wall with construction materials taken from demolished homes and building an emergency reservoir within the city are taken again by the prophet as a sign of individual self-reliance. They should have been looking to God for help. After all, he was the One who created it long ago.

Are you putting your faith in God OR others and yourself?

In my next post, we will continue to learn about A Prophecy Against the Valley of Vision ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 22:12-25.

Click here for the PDF version.

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

[2] Ibid.

The Prophecy Against Egypt ~ Part 2 ~ Yesha’hayu 19:11-25

In my last post, we examined The Prophecy Against Egypt ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 19:1-10. In this post, we continue to explore The Prophecy Against Egypt ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 19:11-25.

As we pick up the passage in verse 11, Adonai-Tzva’ot is still speaking.

11 The princes of Tzo‘an are utter fools, Pharaoh’s wisest counselors give stupid advice. How can you say to Pharaoh, “I’m a sage, descended from kings of old.”

Tzo’an was a famous city (also known as Tanis), formerly a capital of Egypt. It is mentioned in this verse because it was the residence of Pharaoh’s wisest advisers. Egypt was known as a center of wisdom in the ancient Near East. This prophecy mocks their wisdom.

12 Where are they, then, those sages of yours? Let them tell you, so all can know what Adonai-Tzva’ot has planned against Egypt!

The ignorance of the wise men of Egypt is revealed by their ignorance of God’s plans for their country. That sounds vaguely familiar.

13 The princes of Tzo‘an have been fooled, the princes of Nof (Memphis) have been duped, Egypt’s clan chiefs have led her astray. 14 Adonai has mixed up their minds with a spirit that distorts judgment, so they make Egypt stagger in whatever she does, like a drunk staggering in his vomit.

Egyptian leaders and wise men are pictured as drunk, in a state of heightened confusion. The image of a drunkard staggering and passing out, representing the demise of God’s enemies, frequently occurs in the Prophets.

15 Nobody in Egypt will find work to do – neither head nor tail, neither [tall] palm frond nor [lowly] reed.

The expression neither head nor tail, tall palm nor lowly reed points to a totality of verse 14. Nothing can protect Egypt against God’s devastating judgment. True to this prophecy, to this day, the Egyptian economy remains unstable.

16 On that day, Egypt will be like women trembling with fear because Adonai-Tzva’ot is shaking his fist at them.

On that day points to a future but unspecified time. It was an insult to say that Egypt’s troops will be like women (Jeremiah 50:37; 51:30). {Ladies remember the culture at the time.}

17 Just mentioning the land of Y’hudah to the Egyptians will throw them into panic; they will be afraid because of what Adonai-Tzva’ot has planned for them.

Egypt was always militarily superior to Y’hudah, so Y’hudah was tempted to depend on Egypt for military support, but this verse envisions Egypt fearing Y’hudah, a shameful reversal for this proud nation. That was certainly true in the Six-Day War in 1967.

18 On that day, there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Kena‘an and swear loyalty to Adonai-Tzva’ot; one of them will be called the City of Destruction.

While Hebrew settlements were known from the postexilic period on, it is more likely that this verse refers to a conversion of at least some Egyptians to God. The five cities cannot be identified and may be a symbolic number for “a few.” But the City of Destruction (also known as the City of the Sun) is well known. It was Heliopolis, closely associated with the worship of the sun god. That the worship of Adonai would be taken up in this city is a sign of a radical transformation.

19 On that day, there will be an altar to Adonai in the middle of the land of Egypt, as well as a standing-stone for Adonai at its border.

As a sign of an Egyptian conversion to the worship of the true God, there will be an altar set up in the center of the land and a memorial pillar at the border. The land will be dedicated to the worship of the true God.

20 It will be a sign and witness to Adonai-Tzva’ot in the land of Egypt; so that when they cry out to Adonai for help because of the oppressors, He will send them a savior to defend and rescue them.

The language of this verse is reminiscent of that in the book of Judges. Here, however, sending someone to rescue a repentant nation from an oppressor describes the situation in future Egypt.

21 Adonai will make himself known to Egypt; on that day; the Egyptians will know Adonai. They will worship him with sacrifices and offerings; they will make vows to Adonai and keep them.

After the days of confusion and confounding, there will come a time when Egypt will acknowledge the sovereignty and reality of the Lord, for God’s plan is to include Egypt in the millennial kingdom.

22 Yet Adonai will strike Egypt, both striking and healing, so they will return to Adonai. He will listen to their prayers, and he will heal them.

Egypt‘s conversion will be after that country experiences God’s judgment; healing will follow striking.

23 On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Ashur. Ashur will come to Egypt and Egypt to Ashur, and Egypt will worship with Ashur.

The highway is a favorite metaphor in Yesha’yahu for the removal of alienation and separation (11:16; 33:8; 35:8; 40:3; 49:11; 62:10). Ashur and Egypt had been enemies for many years, but this fantastic passage envisions a time when travel will be free and easy between them, and they will be united in the worship of God.

24 On that day Isra’el will be a third partner with Egypt and Ashur, a blessing here on earth;

Isra’el was a land bridge between Egypt and Ashur. Both of these nations had tried to control Isra’el to get a foothold against the other. Here Isra’el is added to Ashur and Egypt in an intimate relationship of love and worship of the Lord.

25 for Adonai-Tzva’ot has blessed him: “Blessed be Egypt my people, Ashur the work of my hands and Isra’el my heritage.” ~ Isaiah 19:11-25 (CJB)

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for on that day to be fulfilled in my lifetime. Come, Lord quickly.

In my next post, we continue to explore A Further Prophecy Against Ashdod, Egypt, and Cush in Yesha’yahu 20:1-6.

Click here for the PDF version.

The Woes of Cush (modern Ethiopia) ~ Yesha’hayu 18:1-7

In my last post, we examined of A Prophecy About Dammesek in Yesha’yahu 17. In this post, we explore The Woes of Cush (modern Ethiopia) in Yesha’hayu 18:1-7.

The passage about Cush is not called a prophecy as the previous chapters have specified, but the opening word Woe signals a type of judgment speech. The land of Cush was south of Egypt, roughly identical to modern Ethiopia.

1  Woe to the land of whirring wings beyond the rivers of Ethiopia;

The land of whirring wings is possibly a reference to the multitude of insects that infest the Nile Valley. However, given the context of ambassadors by sea in verse 2, this more likely refers to the many fast boats made of bundled papyrus that sped their way up and down the Nile.

2 they send ambassadors by sea, across the water in papyrus-reed boats! Go, swift messengers, to a nation tall and bronzed, to a people feared far and near, to a strong and conquering nation whose land is divided by rivers!

Yes, there would have been a great deal of diplomatic activity during this period. There is some question, however, who is sending these ambassadors and to whom they are being sent. Given the desire of the Ethiopians to gain full control over Lower Egypt and the Delta, they may well be sending messengers to Assyria seeking assistance or at least a recognition of their legitimacy to rule in Egypt.

Since the Assyrians were neither tall nor bronzed, then the ambassadors may also be spreading the word to the Ethiopian people to join in the effort to unite Egypt.

The nation whose land is divided by rivers is an apt description of Mesopotamia, the “Land of Two Rivers,” the Tigris and Euphrates.

3  All you inhabitants of the world, you who live on the earth: when a banner is hoisted on the mountains, look! When the shofar is blown, listen!

Despite human diplomatic efforts, a decisive moment will occur in the future when an army gathers for battle. The banner marks the rallying point, and the trumpet signals the start of the war.

4  For Adonai has said this to me: “I will look on from my place and do nothing, like heat shimmering in the sun, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.”

God was calmly in control and did nothing in contrast to the frantic efforts of diplomacy.

5  For before the harvest, when the flowering is over, and the bud becomes a ripening grape, he will cut off the branches with pruning-knives, lop off the twigs and take them away.

It is the wise farmer who knows the correct times of the year to cultivate and prune his vines to ensure maximum yield. The grapevines in Isra’el first bloom in May and the fruit will begin to ripen by August. There are two calculated pruning’s:

  1. in the fall before the vines become dormant, the unproductive bunches from the previous year are removed,
  2. and once the grapes appear, excess leaves and tendrils are cut away to encourage higher yield and even ripening.

God will thus bide His time until the appropriate moment to make His pruning of nations on earth.

6  They will all be left to the vultures in the mountains and to the wild animals in the fields; the vultures will feed on them in summer and the wild animals of the fields in winter.

The cuttings from the grape vines were often used for fuel, but in this example, they are left as food and nesting for vultures and wild animals.

7  At that time tribute will be brought to Adonai-Tzva’ot from a nation tall and bronzed, from a people feared far and near, from a strong and conquering nation whose land is divided by rivers, to the place where the name of Adonai-Tzva’ot lives, Mount Tziyon. ~ Isaiah 18:1-7 (CJB)

Even now, there is hope for Isra’el as Iran threatens its annihilation as well as our own in the United States.

In my next post, we will begin to explore A Prophecy Against Egypt in Yesha’yahu 19.

Click for the PDF version.

A Prophecy About Dammesek ~ Yesha’yahu 17:1-14

In my last post, we completed our examination of A Prophesy Against Mo’av ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 16. In this post, we examine in A Prophecy About Dammesek in Yesha’yahu 17.

The next prophecy is directed against Dammesek was and still is the capital city of Syria. From the time of Shlomo (Solomon) (1 Kings 11:23-25) to the mid-eighth century, there was fighting between Isra’el (the northern tribes) and Syria. Because the Syrians were the instigators of the alliance with Isra’el against Y’hudah (chapter 7), they would be judged first.

1 This is a prophecy about Dammesek: “Dammesek will soon stop being a city; it will become a heap of ruins.

The Syro-Ephraimitic War, which raged during the middle 730’s BCE, ended with King Tiglath-Pileser III invading Syria and Isra’el and devastating both of these rebellious states (734-732). The Syrian kingdom ruled from Dammesek by Retzin (see 7:1-9), had been Isra’el’s principal political and economic rival. He had meddled in Isra’el and Y’hudah’s internal affairs and had encroached on their territories for over a decade. This widespread destruction also included both the reduction of much of the city of Dammesek to rubble as well as the redistribution of its territories in Syria as well as in Transjordan and the Galilee. [1]

2 The cities of ‘Aro‘er will be abandoned, given over to flocks lying down undisturbed. 3 Efrayim will have no defenses, Dammesek will cease to rule, and Aram’s survivors will share the fate of Isra’el’s finest sons,” says Adonai-Tzva’ot.

Efrayim is another name for the ten northern tribes. It was Dammesek and Efrayim who allied, saying to Y’hudah, “Join with us. The Assyrians are coming.” But the Lord spoke to Yesha’yahu, saying, “Don’t look to a man. Seek Me.” Here, the Lord, through Yesha’yahu, is reiterating the fact that, because they forgot the Lord, Isra’el, along with Syria would be destroyed.

4 “When that day comes, Ya‘akov’s glory will wane, and his full body grow thin,

When that day points to a future but unspecified period. The first image of the destruction of Isra’el is a diseased body.

5as when the harvester collects the standing grain, reaping the ears of grain with his arm; yes, as when they glean the grain in the Refa’im Valley.

The second image of destruction is a reaper picking grain. Refa’im Valley and its farms extend southwest of Yerushalayim. The meaning of its name is ominous: “Valley of the Departed.” Yet, it provided much of the food for the inhabitants of the city and also was heavily gleaned by the poor.

As corn was harvested in this fertile valley, the once-thriving nations of Syria and Isra’el would one day be laid bare.

6 Yet gleanings will be left, as when beating an olive tree— two or three olives at the very top, four or five on its fruitful branches,” says Adonai, the God of Isra’el.

The third image of destruction concerns the harvesting of an olive tree. The tree was shaken, and the fallen olives were eaten. But this image also shows that, though the devastation will be extensive, it will not be total. A remnant, represented by berries that stayed attached to the tree, will survive. Like the grain harvesters, the workers who beat the branches of the olive trees to gather the fruit were told to leave a portion for the foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Deuteronomy 24:20 (CJB)

7 On that day, a person will heed his Maker and turn his eyes toward the Holy One of Isra’el. 8 He will pay no heed to the altars made with his own hands; he will not turn toward what his fingers made, the sacred poles and standing-stones for sun-worship.

On that day also points to a time beyond the judgment. Indeed, the judgment of God will cause the remnant to turn from false worship to the worship of the true God who created them. Asherah (referring to the sacred poles) was a Canaanite goddess of love and war.

9 When that day comes, his strong cities, which others abandoned when Isra’el advanced, will be like abandoned woods and forests; they will be laid waste.  

The destruction will turn cities into abandoned woods and mountaintops. The reason for their abandonment is the Isra’eli, who, as verse 10 explains, have sinned by forgetting God.

10 For you have forgotten the God who saved you, failed to remember the Rock of your strength; so, you plant pagan-style gardens and set out vine-cuttings for a foreign god. 11 Though you make them grow on the day you plant them, and in the morning, your seedlings flower; the crop will vanish the day disease comes, a day of incurable pain.

To remember God involves more than a mental activity; it implies trusting, obeying, and worshiping Him. To forget Him points to Isra’el’s disobedience.

12 Oh, the terror-stricken uproar of many peoples, roaring like the roar of the seas, and the rushing about of nations, rushing and surging like wild, wild waters! 13 Yes, the nations will roar like the mighty ocean, but He will rebuke them, and far will they flee, driven like chaff by a mountain wind, like whirling dust in advance of the storm.

Though the nations rage like the roar of the seas, God’s rebuke will quiet them by driving them away. Chaff was light, and wind blew it away, so God’s rebuke will blow away the tumultuous nations.

14 As evening falls, you can see terror; before sunrise, they have ceased to be. This is the lot of those who plunder us, the fate of those who prey on us. ~ Yesha’yahu 17:1-14 (CJB)

God’s judgment comes quickly, in a single day (in the evening… before morning). The victim of the nations (God’s people) speaks here in the first person (us).

I wonder how many of us are facing seemingly insurmountable odds or tremendously tricky situations. We try to figure out what kind of relationships we can form, what kind of adjustments we can make, what kind of schemes we can employ – yet all the while the Lord says, “I’ll take care of it. Trust in Me.”

In my next post, we will explore The Woes of Cush (modern Ethiopia) in Yesha’hayu 18.

Click here for PDF version.

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

A Prophecy Against Mo’av ~ Part 2 ~ Yesha’yahu 16:1-14

In my last post, we began to examine A Prophesy Against Mo’av ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 15. In this post, we complete our examination in A Prophesy Against Mo’av ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 16.

At the time Yesha’yahu was prophesying, war clouds were gathering in the north. The formidable, seemingly invincible Ashurim empire was preparing to move out in its attempt to conquer the world. That is the scene as Yesha’yahu continues to prophesy concerning the countries that would be affected by this invasion and by the judgment that was falling due to their hard-heartedness and rebellion against a God who desired to draw them to Himself.

The prophecy against Mo’av is the second in a series of prophecies against nations that were immediate neighbors of Israel. Mo’av was in Transjordan opposite Jericho and on the east bank of the Dead Sea. The Bible and other sources record a long history of conflict between Isra’el and Mo’av whose origins go back to the incestuous union between Lot and his daughter (Genesis 19:30-38).

1 Send lambs for the ruler of the land from the crags toward the desert to the mountain of the daughter of Tziyon.

The land from the crags toward the desert is commonly identified as Sela in most English translations. Sela (widely recognized as the cliff fortress of Petra) was in Edom, so the Mo’avi refugees apparently will go that far. Then they will send gifts (lambs) to Tziyon. Many eschatologists believe that Petra which still exists in modern-day Jordan will become a refuge for Tribulation saints.

2 The daughters of Mo’av at the fords of the Arnon are like fluttering birds pushed from the nest.

The Valley of the Arnon is in places three miles across and is a significant barrier to traffic north and south. The fords refer to the point where the north-south highway crosses the wadi at Dibon. This would be a natural crossing point for the Mo’avi fugitives as well as an extremely strategic site.

3 “Give [us] counsel! Decide [to help]! Make your shadow [over us] like night in the middle of noonday. Hide [our] outcasts! Don’t betray [our] fugitives!

The request for shelter as well as shade is a request for protection, and it implies that Mo’av will be willing to become a vassal state of Y’hudah.

4 Let our outcasts live with you! Protect Mo’av from the attacks of robbers!” For when the extorting ends, the spoiling ceases, and those trampling on the land are destroyed, 5 a throne will be set up by grace, and on it, in the tent of David, will sit an honest judge, seeking justice and pursuing righteousness.

The prophecy evokes the picture of a just descendant of David ruling on the throne forever. The language is a reminder of the Davidic covenant in 2Sam 7:12-16, and it hints at the expectation of the Messiah.

In response to Mo’av’s request for shelter, the prophet can only lament its destruction. The following part of the prophecy is similar in wording and imagery to Jeremiah 48:29-39.

6 We have heard about Mo’av’s pride, how very proud they are; about their haughty arrogance, their insolence, and bravado.

In keeping with a significant theme throughout the book of Yesha’yahu, the heart of Mo’av’s sin is described as pride.

7 Therefore Mo’av will wail for Mo’av – they will all wail! You will sigh, stricken by grief, for the raisin-cakes of Kir-Hareset.

Raisin cakes were a delicacy mentioned in Song of Solomon 2:5 along with apples as providing sustenance for lovemaking, though it may not have been an aphrodisiac. Hosea 3:1 suggests that raisin cakes were associated with pagan rituals.

 8 For the grain fields of Heshbon are withering, also the vineyards of Sibmah, whose red grapes overpowered rulers of nations— once they reached as far as Ya‘zer and trailed out into the desert; their spreading branches even crossed the sea. 9 Therefore I will weep for Sibmah’s vine as I weep for Ya‘zer; I will water you with my tears, Heshbon and El‘aleh; because the shouts of battle are falling on your summer fruits and harvest;

Recapping the area of devastation, the prophecy describes the physical and economic ruin of the northern section of Mo’av. This includes the tableland cities of Heshbon and Ya‘zer at the north end of the Dead Sea. Both Sibmah and El’aleh are listed as part of the Heshbon district and were at one time part of Reuven’s allotment. [1]

10gladness and joy are removed from the fruitful fields. No revelry in the vineyards, no happy shouting, no one treading grapes in the winepresses – I have silenced the vintage-cheers.

Because of the devastation, joy, singing, and wine will vanish from the land of Mo’av.

11 This is why my heart throbs like a lyre for Mo’av, and everything in me for Kir-Heres. 12 Even when Mo’av is seen growing weary of worshipping on the high places and entering their sanctuaries to pray, they will have accomplished nothing.

Mo’avi worship is ineffective. His sanctuary refers to the temple of Chemosh, who was no god and therefore could not respond to prayer.

13 This is the word Adonai spoke against Mo’av in the past. 14 But now Adonai has said, “Within three years [and not a day more], as if a hired worker were keeping track of the time, the glory of Mo’av will be brought into contempt, despite its large population; and the surviving remnant will be few and feeble.” ~ Yesha’yahu 16:1-14 (CJB)

The concluding comment about the Mo’avi prophecy declares that it had been delivered at an earlier time, but from this moment Mo’av had only three more years. Presumably, a hired worker would count the time until his work was over with great attention and precision.

Most scholars associate this Mo’avi devastation with the Ashurim king Sargon’s campaign against the people of northwest Arabia in approximately 718 BCE. [2]

In my next post, we will continue in our study of A Prophecy About Dammesek in Yesha’hayu 17.

Click here for PDF version.

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

[2] HCSB Study Bible.

Shavuot (Pentecost)

God’s Appointed Times

We will take a break from our series on the Yesha’yahu and return to God’s Appointed Times ~ Shavuot (Pentecost). In 2019, Shavuot will be observed by Jewish Believers beginning at sundown on Saturday, June 8th. Christians will be celebrating Pentecost on Sunday, June 9th. Essentially, Jews and Christians will be celebrating on the same weekend, albeit for slightly different reasons.

Scriptural Basis

15“‘From the day after the day of rest — that is, from the day you bring the sheaf for waving — you are to count seven full weeks, 16until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days; and then you are to present a new grain offering to Adonai. 17You must bring bread from your homes for waving — two loaves made with one gallon of fine flour, baked with leaven — as firstfruits for Adonai. 18Along with the bread, present seven lambs without defect one year old, one young bull and two rams; these will be a burnt offering for Adonai, with their grain and drink offerings, an offering made by fire as a fragrant aroma for Adonai. 19Offer one male goat as a sin offering and two male lambs one year old as a sacrifice of peace offerings. 20The cohen will wave them with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering before Adonai, with the two lambs; these will be holy for Adonai for the cohen. 21On the same day, you are to call a holy convocation; do not do any kind of ordinary work; this is a permanent regulation through all your generations, no matter where you live.” (Vayikra [Leviticus] 23:15-21)

Basic Description

Shavu’ot was one of three festivals (Pesach/Matzah & Sukkot being the other two) appointed by Adonai where all Jewish males were to go up to Jerusalem. Shavu’ot means “weeks.” It comes exactly fifty days after Pesach. In Greek, we have come to know it as Pentecost. Pentecost means “fifty.” It was an agricultural festival to celebrate the latter fruits of the spring harvest. Recall that Yom HaBikkurim (First Fruits) immediately following Pesach celebrated the barley harvest and, as Believers, we recognize it as the resurrection of Yeshua – the first fruit from the dead. Shavu’ot celebrates the thanksgiving for the wheat harvest symbolized by the two loaves of challah.

Observance

The two loaves of challah were brought into the Temple and with great ceremony, waved in every direction before Adonai. In addition, blood sacrifices were offered to cover the sin of the people. Since sacrifices can no longer be made with the destruction of the Second Temple, the modern Jewish observance of Shavu’ot has changed. Rabbis calculated that Moshe received the Torah at Mount Sinai on Shavu’ot. Hence, the rabbinic name for Shavu’ot is Zman Matan Torateynu (the Time of the Giving of the Torah).

The custom of decorating the synagogue in greenery, flowers and baskets of fruit to symbolize the harvest aspect of Shavu’ot; the practice of marking the holiday with a meal featuring dairy products in recognition of Scripture being described as the pure milk of the Word (I Peter 2:2); and the inclusion of the Megillah (scroll) of Ruth in the service are all the primary reminders of Shavu’ot’s agricultural prominence.

But Ruth’s story sounds another theme, one more relevant to the celebration of Shavu’ot by modern Jewish people and Messianic Believers. When her husband dies, Ruth – a gentile – elects to stay with Naomi, her mother-in-law, telling her “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16) binding herself willingly to the people Isra’el. Ruth’s story is one of commitment to the Jewish people freely made and to the covenant with God that is the core of the Jewish religion and experience. Like Ruth, the gentile woman who was in the lineage of Yeshua, we have voluntarily said to our fellow Messianic Jewish believers your people will be my people, your God will be my God.

Shavu’ot celebrates the most important moment in the Mosaic covenant – the giving of the Torah to Moshe and its acceptance by Isra’el at Sinai. Shavu’ot has come to be dedicated to the idea of Torah study and Jewish education. Traditional Jews stay up all night on the first night of this festival studying the Torah. In keeping with the theme of Jewish education, Shavu’ot has traditionally been the time when many Jewish schools mark graduation.

Messianic significance abounds in this festival. From God’s perspective, the time of great harvest when large numbers of Jewish believers and later Gentiles came into a personal relationship with Him was initiated at Shavu’ot immediately after Yeshua’s resurrection (Acts 2:40-43). The two leavened loaves of Shavu’ot may, therefore, symbolize Jew and Gentile presented to God and now part of His family. God set us free from slavery to sin by placing His Spirit in us to enable us to live as He intended (Romans 8:1-4). Hence God visibly placed His Ruach HaKodesh in Yeshua’s followers on that important Shavu’ot centuries ago (Acts 2:4).

The coming of the Ruach HaKodesh served as the completion of Pesach, the completion of our atonement, in the sense that through the Ruach, God gives us the power we need to overcome our tendency to do evil.

The theme of Shavu’ot can be best summed up by the word revival. Isra’el was called to praise God for the first fruits of the ground, knowing that these early fruits assured the latter harvest. This also applies to the spiritual Kingdom of God. The first fruit of believers at Shavu’ot virtually guarantees a revival in the latter-day spiritual harvest for Messiah. Now we can understand why God included Shavu’ot in the three required festivals for every Jewish male. He had gathered Jewish men from throughout the region to hear the Good News of Yeshua in their own language. They would take that message back home with them to tell their families and friends. As Pesach speaks of redemption, Shavu’ot speaks of revival. The message of Shavu’ot is one of great hope and joy. It was a message heard and accepted by 3,000 Jewish people on that special Shavu’ot (Acts 2:41). Note that 3,000 Jewish people died because of their rebellion of worshipping the Golden Calf at the giving of the Torah.

When Is the Biblical Feast of Shavuot?

Many people desire to know the actual Biblical date for Shavu’ot. It is the only feast that God did not say fell on a specific date in the Hebrew calendar. Rather He gave a formula for calculating the day. Though the traditional Jewish community will celebrate Shavu’ot according to that traditional calculation, there is a difference of opinion on the matter. In the first century, the Pharisees and Sadducees differed on the date that Shavuot was to be celebrated. The question arose over which Sabbath does Firstfruits (see Vayikra 23:9-14) take place after the day after Pesach, which is generally considered a Sabbath or the regular seventh day Sabbath, i.e. Saturday during the week of Pesach?

The Pharisees claimed the correct day was the day after the first day of Matzah, the sixteenth of Nisan. The Sadducees taught that the correct day was Sunday, the day after the weekly Sabbath. Since the writings of the Pharisees survived and developed into traditional Judaism, their opinion is accepted in modern Judaism.

But who is biblically correct? Remember, the Scriptures state, “you are to count seven full Sabbaths until the day after the seventh week; you are to count fifty days.” (Leviticus 23:15-16).

For it to be the day after the seventh Shabbat, the initial Sabbath would have to be the weekly Sabbath. So, it would appear the Sadducees were right. Consequently, I believe that the Sadducees got this one correct. Amazingly, the year that Yeshua died, the sixteenth of Nisan fell on the Sunday, which is the day after the Sabbath for the Sadducees as well. God worked it out that neither group would have a reason not to recognize Yeshua as the Firstfruits of the Resurrection.

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

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A Song of Praise ~ Yesha’yahu 12:1-6

In my last post, we concluded looking at The Branch of Yishai (Jesse) ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 11:10-16. In this post, we examine A Song of Praise on Yesha’yahu 12:1-6.

As we have previously learned, Yesha’yahu’s name means Adonai is salvation, and salvation is a crucial theme in this song. Then we read that the Lord Yeshua HaMashiach is both our God and our Salvation, the Holy One of Isra’el in the midst of us.

Yesha’yahu concludes chapters 6-12 by foreseeing the day when God’s people will praise Him for the abundant joys of his salvation.

1 On that day you will say: “I thank you, Adonai, because, although you were angry at me, Your anger is now turned away; and You are comforting me. 

On that day points to a future date with Isra’el’s regathering and reunion and the righteous reign of the Lord Yeshua HaMashiach. The Jewish remnant will have come through the time of tribulation on earth (known as the trouble of Ya’akov in Jeremiah 30:7), seen their Mashiach, repented, and received Him by faith. Cleansed and established in their promised kingdom, the nation will praise the Lord and worship Him among the Gentiles. In addition to an application to Yesha’yahu’s day, there is also a prophetic application of this passage.

2 “See! God is my salvation. I am confident and unafraid; for Yah Adonai is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation!”

Yah is a shortened form of the divine name Yahweh, God’s covenant name that He revealed to Moshe at the burning bush (Exodus 3:14-15).

3 Then you will joyfully draw water from the springs of salvation.

In a relatively dry land like Isra’el, water, and the refreshment it brings was an apt image for salvation. The picture of water bubbling up in the spring evokes freshness and abundance.

Jon Courson offers a fascinating insight into this verse: [1]

“Whoever drinks of that water will thirst again,” Jesus said to the woman at the well (John 4:13). The crazy thing about the water in the world is that it only makes you thirsty. If you draw from the wells of materialism or hedonism, you’ll have to return because you’ll just want more. If you’re thirsty today, don’t go back to the old watering holes. They won’t satisfy you. Come to the Lord and drink again.

4 On that day you will say, “Give thanks to Adonai! Call on His name! Make His deeds known among the peoples declare how exalted is His name.

The praise of God serves as a testimony not just within God’s people, but also to the nations. They were also recipients of God’s blessing through Avraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:1-13). The story of salvation must be told, even beyond the community of Isra’el (Psalms 67:2; 70:4; 98:2).

5 Sing to Adonai, for he has triumphed— this is being made known throughout the earth. 6 Shout and sing for joy, you who live in Tziyon; for the Holy One of Isra’el is with you in his greatness!”  ~ Yesha’yahu 12:1-6 (CJB)

This beautiful picture of the kingdom comes to a close with a song of praise, and we enter a new section of the Book of Yesha’yahu. In chapters 13 through 23, we come to a passage called the book of burdens in which judgments are pronounced upon the nine nations surrounding Isra’el and Y’hudah. In my next post, we’ll begin the journey through this section in Yesha’yahu 13 by learning about A Prophecy Against Babylon ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 13 1-9.

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

The Remnant of Isra’el ~ Yesha’yahu 10:20-34

In my last post, we continued to learn more about The Woes of Ashur in Yesha’yahu 10:12-19. In this post, we conclude our exploration of Yesha’yahu 10 by learning about The Remnant of Isra’el in verses 20-34.

The Remnant of Isra’el

20 On that day the remnant of Isra’el, those of the house of Ya‘akov who escaped, will no longer rely on the man who struck them down, but will truly rely on Adonai, the Holy One of Isra’el. 21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Ya‘akov, to the mighty God. 22 For, although your people, Isra’el, are like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with justice.

The remnant will turn their trust to God rather than a foreign power. God had promised Avraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand of the sea (see Gen 22:17; 32:12; 41:49), but because of their punishment, only a remnant would survive, and even that would be an act of God’s grace.

23 Adonai Elohim-Tzva’ot will bring about this decreed destruction throughout all the land.

The divine decree that a city should be destroyed is a familiar motif in the ancient Near East. Though there is not always a reason that could be cited as “righteous,” the concept presented here is very familiar.

24 Therefore Adonai Elohim-Tzva’ot says: “My people living in Tziyon, don’t be afraid of Ashur, even when he strikes you with a stick and raises his staff against you, the way it was in Egypt.

The present Assyrian threat is compared to bondage in Egypt. This comparison evokes memories of God’s deliverance of His people at the Red Sea (Exodus 14-15).

25 For in but a little while, my fury will end; and my anger will have destroyed them.” 26 Adonai-Tzva’ot will wield a whip against them, as he did when striking Midyan at the Rock of ‘Orev; as his staff was over the sea, he will raise it, the way it was in Egypt.  

‘Orev was a Midianite leader who oppressed the Israelites during the period of the judges. The forces of Gideon defeated him and executed at a rock that was given his name in Judges 7:24-25). The reference to God’s staff in Egypt recalls the crossing of the Red Sea. Moshe raised his staff, representing God’s presence. God caused the sea to divide, allowing the Israelites to escape the Egyptian army (Exodus 14:21-31).

27 On that day his burden will fall from your shoulders and his yoke from your neck; the yoke will be destroyed by your prosperity.

The yoke is an image of political domination frequently used by the prophets.

28 He has come to ‘Ayat and passed through Migron. He has stored his equipment at Mikhmas. 29 They have crossed the pass, then lodged at Geva. Ramah is shaking, Giv‘at-Sha’ul has fled. 30 Cry, shriek, Bat-Gallim! Listen, Layish! Poor ‘Anatot! 31 Madmenah is in flight, the people of Gevim take cover. 32 This very day he will stop at Nov; and he will shake his fist at the mountain of the daughter of Tziyon, at the hill of Yerushalayim.

The prophecy in these verses describes the march of the Assyrian army from the north to the very doorstep of Yerushalayim. While some have suggested that this illustrates an actual attack on Yerushalayim, it cannot be equated with the Assyrian advance that took place in 701 BCE because the army made a different route. This leads certain scholars to propose a second, later Assyrian campaign on Y’hudah, but this is doubtful. The journey described in these verses is unlikely to be one taken by an actual army since the terrain would be difficult to cross. The best understanding of these verses is as a visionary image of an attack, not a description of an actual attack. The route described is the most direct route “as the crow flies,” indicating that not even natural obstacles could slow down the army’s advance. [1]

33 See how Adonai Elohim-Tzva’ot lops off the branches with terrible violence! The ones standing highest are chopped down, the lofty are laid low. 34 He will hack down the forest underbrush with an axe, and the L’vanon in its splendor falls. ~ Isaiah 10:20-34 (CJB)

The prophecy ends with a sudden reversal. Assyria marched on Yerushalayim, but the army met with destruction. They will become trees (the final line implies a cedar from L’vanon) that will be felled by none other than God Himself. The Assyrians had been the ax in God’s hand against His people in verse 15, but God will wield an ax against them.

In my next post, we begin to explore Yesha’yahu 11 by learning about The Branch of Yishai (Jesse) ~ Part 1.

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[1] HCSB Study Bible.

The Sign of Immanuel ~ Part 3 ~ Yesha’yahu 7:13-25

In my last post, we continued the story in The Sign of Immanuel ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 7:7-12. We learned that Achaz had put his fate in an alliance with Assyria rather than in God. In this post, we conclude our exploration of The Sign of Immanuel ~ Part 3 in Yesha’yahu 7:13-25.

17 Adonai will bring the king of Ashur [Assyria] on you, your people and your father’s house. These will be days worse than any you’ve known since Efrayim broke loose from Y’hudah.”

The Neo-Assyrian Empire was inaugurated soon after Tiglath-Pileser III’s accession to the throne in 745 BCE and was not to be overthrown until 612 BCE when Nineveh fell to the alliance of the Medes and Babylonians. At its height, it included all or part of the modern countries of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Isra’el and Egypt. Ashur’s reputation as an aggressive regime is supported by extensive documentation and stands as its historical legacy. Its strategy of psychological warfare included terrifying rhetoric, brutal destructions and carefully chosen examples of cruel torture. Its expansion was fueled by the potential for economic gain, which would come through the plunder, tribute, and tariffs that would result from control of trade and the trade routes

But it was not just Aram and the northern kingdom of Isra’el that would experience Assyrian devastation. Y’hudah would also suffer God’s punishment. As later events showed, paying Tiglath-Pileser III to take care of Achaz’s northern problem was not the smartest strategy. From that point on Achaz paid a heavy tribute as Ashur’s vassal.

18 Yes, when that day comes, Adonai will whistle for the fly in the farthest streams of the Nile in Egypt and for the bee in the land of Ashur.

Part of the lore of beekeeping maintained that a swarm could be lured out of its hive to another location by a whistling sound. Attacking armies are compared to flies and bees in Homer’s Iliad as well. [1]

19 They will come and settle, all of them, in steep vadis and holes in the rocks and on all thorn bushes and brambles.

This verse continues the imagery of bees by listing the places where bees are naturally inclined to make their hives. Such locations were also places of refuge for the desperate. However, Y’hudah’s enemies would find them there.

20 When that day comes, Adonai will shave – with a razor hired beyond the [Euphrates] River, that is, with the king of Ashur – the head and the hair between the legs and get rid of the beard as well.

While many translations suggest the shaving of the entire head, the forehead seems to be indicated explicitly by the Hebrew word. In Mesopotamia shaving off half the hair was used as a punishment intended to bring public humiliation. Additionally, a style of the haircut was used to designate a slave. Most commentators believe that the hair between the legs is a euphemism for pubic hair. [2]

21 When that day comes, a man will raise a young cow and two sheep. 22 Will they produce in abundance? No, he will [have to] eat curdled milk. Indeed, everyone left in the land will eat curdled milk and [wild] honey. 23 When that day comes, wherever there once were a thousand grapevines, worth a thousand pieces of silver, there will be only briars and thorns.

It is difficult to determine whether the text refers to a thousand vines that would be bought or sold for a shekel each (an exorbitant price), or, more reasonably, to a vineyard housing a thousand vines whose annual produce would bring a thousand shekels. The latter understanding would find support in Song of Songs 8:11. In short, the farmers faced near total disaster.

24 One will go there [to hunt] with bow and arrow because all the land will be briars and thorns. 25 You won’t visit hills once worked with a hoe, for fear of the briars and thorns; it will be good only for pasturing cattle and being trampled down by sheep. ~ Isaiah 7:17-25 (CJB)

Cattle and flocks could be devastating to agricultural land. Their movements would trample the soil, and their grazing would defoliate it, eventually leading to massive erosion of the topsoil and depletion of water sources.

In my next blog, we learn about The Assyrian Invasion in Yesha’yahu 8:1-10.

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

[2] Ibid.

The Sign of Immanuel ~ Part 2 ~ Yesha’yahu 7:7-12

In my last post, we looked at The Sign of Immanuel ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 7:1-6. We learned that Aram and Isra’el had formed an alliance and were coming to the south to conquer Y’hudah. In this post, we continue the story in The Sign of Immanuel ~ Part 2 in Yesha’yahu 7:7-12.

Yesha’yahu said to King Achaz:

7 “This is what Adonai Elohim says: ‘It won’t occur, it won’t happen. 8 For the head of Aram is Dammesek and the head of Dammesek Retzin. In sixty-five years Efrayim will be broken and will cease to be a people.

The reference to 65 years is puzzling. If this prophecy is dated to 735 BCE or thereabouts, then it would point to approximately 670 BCE, but Assyria soundly defeated the northern kingdom in 722 BCE. Of course, that is “within 65 years,” but perhaps the reference is to some unknown event among the survivors of the northern kingdom around 670 BCE. It is also possible that the deportations of Israelites and the importation of foreigners into their former region happened around that time.

9 The head of Efrayim is Shomron, and the head of Shomron is the son of Remalyah. Without firm faith, you will not be firmly established.’

The challenge that the prophecy presented to Achaz was that he should trust God and not Assyria as he faced a threat from Retzin and Pekach. Their confederacy was not going to be successful.

We know what God says always comes to pass. Sha’ul writes: Moreover, my God will fill every need of yours according to his glorious wealth, in union with the Messiah Yeshua. ~ Philippians 4:19 (CJB) We can either believe that or reject it. If we reject it, His promise still stands – but we’ll go through all kinds of unnecessary tension. Yeshua said He’s coming back for us (John 14:3). Even if you don’t believe that He’s still coming back, but if you don’t believe it when you look at the situation of the world today, you’ll be filled with fear. It’s far better to rest in the promises of God.

10 Adonai spoke again to Achaz; he said, 11 ‘Ask Adonai your God to give you a sign. Ask it anywhere, from the depths of Sh’ol to the heights above.’

There are a number of cases of signs being given by God in the Tanakh. The most similar examples are found in 1 Samuel 2:34 and 2 Kings 19:29. In these instances, the sign relates to the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy. The purpose of this sign in our text was to give Achaz even more reason to have confidence in God rather than Assyria to rescue him from Retzin and Pekach.

12 But Achaz answered, ‘I won’t ask, I won’t test Adonai.’”  ~ Isaiah 7:7-12 (CJB)

Although Achaz’s response sounds holy, in reality, it was hypocrisy because, in 2 Kings 16, we read that Achaz had previously taken a journey to Assyria to make his peace pact with the Assyrians. Because he sought the king of the Assyrians, he didn’t think he needed a sign from the King of the universe.

In my next blog, we will conclude our exploration of The Sign of Immanuel ~ Part 3 in Yesha’yahu 7:13-25.

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