About the Author

Rev Aaron Eime is the deacon of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, the first Protestant Church in the Middle East. Aaron studied at the Hebrew University in the Masters Program with the focus towards Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation of Bible. Aaron also studied Psychology and Sociology at Queensland University in Australia in the Social Work Program. He is a dedicated Bible teacher exploring the Hebraic Roots of the Christian Faith. He has taught Internationally in many countries including Europe, North America, Hong Kong and China. Aaron is the Director of Research and Education at Christ Church. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and 3 children.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Majestic Pride

Wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible teaches us that ‘Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall’ (Proverbs 16vs18). Pride is listed as one of the seven deadly sins. Pride is usually accompanied by a negative connotation and is not a quality to be sought after in a person. We don’t usually describe someone as full of pride and mean it as a good thing. 

In a recent study of Daniel we were looking at the Vision of Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. There Daniel explains both the dream and the interpretation of the King of Babylon’s vision. An image of multiple metals with the Head of Gold (being Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom) proceeding to lesser quality elements of Silver, Bronze, Iron and Iron mixed with Clay. Each metal being a Kingdom replacing the previous Kingdom. Finally an unmade stone destroys the last remaining Kingdom and grows to fill the earth. Despite clearly hearing the correct interpretation and future, Nebuchadnezzar proceeds to build a large image made solely out of Gold. Not just the head of Gold like in his dream, but the whole body. This shows his pride and arrogance in the face of the God of Heaven. 

Pride גֵּוָה ‘Gevah’ in Hebrew. The Rabbis note that Man was made last in Creation, in order that if he became too proud he could be reminded that even a mosquito preceded Adam. Which is humbling when you think about it. Adam was also made from dust. Which interestingly can be read in multiple ways, on one level it is humbling to be reminded that we are made from dust, as is everything else. So we are no better than anything else for we all come from the same stuff. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. However on the other hand (you have to read the Bible with two hands), from the earth comes everything for life, all food, our shelter and clothing, plus every material of beauty. Which makes the Earth itself very special. And we can be reminded that we come from such a necessary and important material. As the Word of God says. ‘When saw that He had made the world He called it Good’. 

It was pride deep in the heart of the Morning Star (הֵילֵל), Lucifer in Latin and also known as Satan (Isaiah 14vs12) that fermented a rebellion in Heaven, leaving Heaven corrupt to the stain of sin. Accordingly in Jewish thought, Heaven itself is no longer perfect. Sin had started there and left its mark. Revelation reminds us that there is a War in Heaven. Micheal and his angels fight the Dragon and his angels (Rev 12). Thus when praying for peace on Earth, Jewish people also pray for peace in Heaven. Finally God in the end of time will renew both Heaven and Earth. If Heaven was already perfect and uncorrupted then there would be no need to make a new one. 

Pride often has the opposite affect to the intention of the person with the Pride. For example, Nimrod builds Babel. Nimrod becomes the father of rebellion. He knows God flooded the world last time there was abundant evil so he seeks to build a tower tall enough to be above the potential food waters. Also he seeks to build a tower so that man is in one place and not scattered, yet in the end that is exactly what happens, the people are indeed scattered across the face of the Earth, the opposite to Nimrod’s intentions. Subsequently Babel becomes a symbol and word of confusion. 

Yet for all the negative connotations of the word Pride in Man, Pride is a characteristic of God Himself. Psalm 93 declares that ‘The Lord is King, He is robed with Majesty ..’ (Psalm 93vs1)

This is the English translation, the Hebrew actually says the Lord is clothed with Pride. The Translators took the word Pride and made it Majestic. They had their reasons of course. How is it that the Lord God is dressed in Pride and with what sort of Pride? Obviously not the same pride that we often fill our hearts with. The Psalm continues to describe the Creation, the Throne of Heaven and the House of God, and the Lord is higher than all these wondrous things. We, the decedents of Adam, cannot be prideful for our pride too often leads to evil intentions, but the Lord can. He can even wrap Himself in Pride. He made the World and He can boast in its beauty, but not us. After all, when He had made the world He did say its was Good. He can sit on the Throne in Heaven and be majestic and His pride leads only to good intentions and for the benefits of Man. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Vanity in a Sukkah?

The holidays are coming thick and fast in Jerusalem these days. Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, the first and eighth day of Sukkot as well as the regular weekly Sabbaths have made it feel like every second day is a Sabbath. We are currently in the 3rd of the Great Pilgrimage Festivals, the Feast of Tabernacles. Jews and Christians from the nations have gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate with joy the last of the Appointed times of the Lord. Sukkah’s have appeared all over the city in a myriad of colours, sizes and materials. There are many traditions and interpretations to the meaning of the command ‘Dwell in Booths for seven days’ (Lev 23vs42). Sephardi Jews traditionally eat and sleep in the Sukkah, as they tended to hail from warmer Middle Eastern countries, and Ashkenazis traditionally only take their meals in the Sukkah, as they tended to hail from the colder European countries. 

What is written in the text of the Bible and what is actually done in practice today are often different. And Sukkot is no exception. In Leviticus, the text instructs us in the gathering of 4 species of produce from the Land. What Jewish People carry today and call the Lulav לולב and the Etrog אתרוג are not what you find in the Bible. Leviticus says to gather fruit from splendid trees עֵץ הָדָר branches of palm trees תְּמָרִים and leafy trees עֵץ־עָבֹת and willows of the brook עַרְבֵי נַחַל. It is a later Talmudic tradition that identifies those today as the fruit of a citrus plant אתרוג (Etrog), a frond of a date palm לולב (Lulav), leaves of the myrtle tree הדס (Hadas) and the branch of a willow ערבה (Arbah). The palm, myrtle and willow are tied together and collectively called the Lulav. 

Its been said before in this blog that the Bible is Divine Language. Every word is Holy and has meaning, the sounds of the words are Holy and have meaning, and the words that are not in the Biblical text are just as important as those that are there. We gather the 4 species without explanation for their meaning or why, and then we are told to ‘Rejoice before the Lord’ (Lev 23vs40) but are promptly not told how. This gives great scope to search for meaning in the 4 species and there are many traditions and explanations for these items. 

One tradition revolves around the aspects of taste and scent in the 4 species. According to Jewish tradition there are 4 types of disciples in the world. 4 is a prominent number in Judaism. There are 4 points to a compass, 4 corners of the earth, 4 winds in the heavens, 4 cups of wine at the passover, various angels have 4 faces guarding the Throne of God, 4 soils in the parable of the Sower, there are 4 types of disciples and 4 gospels. The fact that there are 4 gospels demonstrates the Jewishness of the New Testament. 

The Hadas (myrtle) has a scent but no taste, the Lulav (date palm) has taste but no scent, the Arbah (willow) has neither taste nor scent and the Etrog (citrus) has both taste and scent. Taste and Scent are synonymous with Heart/Faith and Actions/Deeds. And both are needed to be the right type of disciple of the Lord. If you have good deeds and great actions but no Faith it profits you nothing. Similarly when we say we believe in God and do nothing it likewise profits us nothing, for even the demons believe (James 2vs19). We need both Faith and Actions. During Sukkot, the Lulav (the three plants) is held in the right hand and the Etrog in the left. When our children ask us what we are doing holding onto a lemon all the time, we can use this explanation that we are trying to be like the Etrog, trying to be the good disciple by putting our Faith into Action. 

Sukkot is a 7 day Festival. From Exodus 34vs22 it is also known as the Feast of Ingathering, revealing its agrarian origins as a harvest festival. The harvests of the year have been collected. The storehouses are full. We have the most abundance we have ever had through the year, from here on in its winter and the supplies only diminish until we can harvest again. But at this point in time we have the most we will ever have for this year. So its time to celebrate, be joyful and to share and be generous. Leviticus notes several offerings and sacrifices we return to God in gratitude. 

On the 8th day the Jewish People celebrate Simchat Torah שִׂמְחַת תּוֹרָה “Joy of the Torah”. This marks the end and beginning of the yearly reading cycle of Bible in the Synagogue. The annual cycle of reading the Torah became predominant in the Middle Ages. The Jewish People held to a triennial cycle in the Second Temple Period. During Sukkot the Scroll of Ecclesiastes is read in the Synagogue. What is the connection? Sukkot is a festival of Joy, yet the book assigned to be read this holiday appears on the surface to be rather depressing and lacking a sense of Joy. 

Ecclesiastes 1vs2 trumpets an almost infamous verse, ‘Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless’. Most certainly the Hebrew can be read in that direct way, that the Preacher is declaring all things to have no meaning, that all is indeed vanity. There are however, no punctuation marks in Biblical Hebrew. Thus we can also read the verse as a question. ‘Meaningless, meaningless is everything meaningless?’. Perhaps Solomon is asking ‘Are you sure that everything is meaningless?’ Which now changes the direction of the whole book. 

Ecclesiastes 1vs14 declares that man’s labour below the sun has no value or ultimate benefit, it is a chasing after the wind. Recall though that what is not there in the text is just as important as what is there in the text. Hence if what man does under the sun is meaningless, then by extension what man does above the sun must have infinite potential and full meaning. Things we build on this world will fade, our efforts eventually grow old and decay. However treasures stored in Heaven remain forever. 
Taken in context of the Sukkoth holiday with its traditions, we have the concept of material abundance, blessings and full supply. Yet it is in our abundance, when we have everything we are reminded that that is all vanity and meaningless. We are commanded to leave our homes, our security and material comforts to go to the Sukkah and there to rejoice at what is truly meaningful. Such as being the right type of disciple. Thus just like an Etrog with both Taste and Scent, we should couple both our labour below and above the Sun together. Pondering as we look up into the stars of Heaven through the roof of the Sukkah knowing that service to the King of Heaven has infinite value and is anything but Vanity and Meaningless.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur 5777, the most sacred of days in the Jewish Calendar has begun. Stores have closed, the roads are silent of moving vehicles, even the traffic lights have stopped working and flash intermittently in orange as they themselves rest from directing cars. Israeli television ceases broadcasting with Netflix joining in the solemness of the day by withholding all program streaming. Surprisingly for such a Most Holy Day the Bible provides few details on how Israel is to conduct herself on this day. In Leviticus 16vs29-30 we read, In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and you shall not do any work … For on that day He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord.

Yom Kippur is a Sabbath (Lev 23vs32) and no work is done. Like all weekly Sabbaths the day is 25 hours long. The regular weekly Sabbath is such a good day that we steal an extra hour from Sunday. Sunday, the first day of the week is thus only 23 hours long. On Yom Kippur the Bible records that we are instructed to gather in Assembly and Afflict the Soul. Despite God’s seriousness of destroying people who perform work on this day, or do not afflict themselves (Lev23vs30) there is little information on what to actually do when we Assemble and exactly how to effectively Afflict the Soul. Traditionally, no food or drink is taken, no bathing is allowed, white clothes are worn to reflect on the verse in Isaiah that our sins will be as white a wool (Isaiah 1vs18) and married couples refrain from intimacy. There are three prescribed daily prayers in Jewish tradition, a fourth is added during Shabbat, and on Yom Kippur there is a fifth prayer. The liturgy during Yom Kippur is more extensive than usual, requiring a special prayer book to collate the prayers together. One of the special prayers for Yom Kippur is called Al Chet meaning “All Sins”. It is a confession of 44 sins, a large portion of them having to do with the Tongue. 

Leviticus 23vs26 notes that the day is actually called יום הכיפורים Yom HaKippurim. It’s plural. Literally the Day of Atonements. Leviticus 16 provides some more details on this plurality. The first person to be atoned for is the Priest (Lev 16vs6). Once the Priest is atoned then the community is atoned through the goat of the sin offering (Lev 16vs9-10), and lastly the Temple itself is atoned for (Lev 16vs20). The Day of Atonement provides for the Priest, the People and the Temple. In that order. But how did it work? Which sins are forgiven? Was repentance required, which is not mentioned in the text or did the ritual cover everything? According to the Rabbis in the Mishnah (a collection of 2nd Temple Period Jewish commentary), a contrite and repentant heart was of utmost importance. No one could intentionally sin and expect the ritual act to make everything right. Rituals assist in directing thoughts, confessions and prayers.  They promote boundaries. But without the Intention of the Heart, a ritual is devoid of meaning. We should remember that it is God Himself who institutes ritual and also Commands that the Torah be written on our hearts (Deut 6vs6). 

The Book of Jonah is read and studied during Yom Kippur in the synagogue. Serving to remind people that repentance can be done on any day, not just Yom Kippur. And also that salvation belongs to the Gentiles too. God is the King of the Universe, not just the King of Israel.

Yom Kippur is for making atonement with Heaven. For the sins committed between Man and God. But what about the sins committed between Man and Man? Good question. Yom Kippur falls on the 10th of Tishri. Tishri is named after the Babylonian god of creation/beginnings. The Hebrew Bible records the name of the month as being the Seventh month. Just as days of the week were simply named Day One, Day Two, so too were the months. During the Babylonian captivity the Jewish community integrated elements of the Babylonian calendar including the names for months. They also changed the New Year from being Aviv (modern day Nisan) in the Spring to being in the Fall. Thus Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year now occurs in the Fall whereas the Hebrew Bible records the year to begin in the Spring (Exodus 12vs2). According to tradition; Adam and Eve were created on the 1st of Tishri. 

The 10 day period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is known as the 10 days of Awe. Getting right between Man and Man is conducted with urgency in the Days of Awe, asking forgiveness from the sins we have done to our fellow Man. Interestingly we spend one day getting right with God and 10 days getting right with Man. Similarly in the New Testament we can note the emphasis on forgiving our fellow man in the Lord’s Prayer, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And also in Jesus’ urging to make right with our brothers before coming to the Altar of God (Matthew 5vs23). Getting right with God is incredibly important. God said that this Yom Kippur was to be a lasting ordinance that is to be celebrated for all generations. However, the Lord doesn't want that at the expense of broken human relationships. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The God of Jacob

Psalm 46 is a beautiful and comforting prayer. The Psalm begins with a powerful reminder that God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of trouble (verse 1). Treasured words to pray and reflect when life throws us a curve ball. 

The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our Fortress (Psalm 46vs7). Here we see a common Hebrew parallel, where the Lord Almighty is paired with the descriptive title as the God of Jacob. Which begs a question: Out of all the people in the Bible for God to name Himself by, why choose Jacob? Are there not other characters whom might be better suited with better qualities in which to pair God’s Name with? Perhaps a good king like Hezekiah or Josiah the reformer. 

What is the character of Jacob? He is usually not one that we would hold up as a role model for ourselves. He is not an obvious hero type like David, someone who is noble and brave and stands up to the enemy? David faced giants and defeated them. He battled and stood against kings of all types. On a tender note, it is David who wrote psalms and prayed with heartfelt intent. After all, it is through David that we designate the lineage of the Messiah. Messiah is to be of the House of David, not the House of Jacob. 

Rather, Jacob is swindler, a liar and a charlatan. He steals a birthright from his own brother and then cowardly flees the family. Jacob lacks the courage to face his crime. To square the circle while Jacob is away serving his Uncle Laban, the deceiver himself gets deceived by Laban. Jacob is a fearful man, often paired in the text with the word fear, announcing his reasons for fleeing Laban as ‘I was afraid ..’ (Genesis 31vs31).

And yet, God identifies Himself as the God of Jacob. It is in that choice of Jacob against other Biblical figures that the we learn something of God’s character. We learn that He is not deterred by our failings or weaknesses. Instead it’s the reverse. It’s in those weaknesses that He is strong and can show His strength. When we are afraid we can hear the call of the Lord, “Do not Fear! For I am with you!”

Examining Jacob’s relationship with God in the Biblical text we discover that Jacob is not a compliant figure. In comparison to someone like Abraham, who obeys immediately the directions of the Words of Heaven, God doesn't give much direction to Jacob. God and Jacob wrestle together, however God does not communicate His intentions or directions to Jacob. Jacob is rarely saved out of his problems, he has to struggle though them, often without a rescue from God. And he has no great military victories like his grandfather Abraham. 

However, we see that God pursues Jacob, no matter how far he runs away, giving reassurance often in dreams and visions, often walking behind the scenes in Jacob’s life. We see that redemption sometimes works itself out in a lifetime and is not always instantaneous. 

To a character that is fearful, highly flawed and struggling, we find God drawing near, reassuring and boldly declaring, “I am the God of Jacob”. This reveals a great deal about the character of God. He is concerned with the struggler, the fearful and the burdened. He sees us in our weakness, loves and guides us anyway, and declares Himself proudly to be ours. Psalm 47vs4 declares, “He is the Pride of Jacob, whom He loved”. And that is a very comforting thought indeed. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What is written and how do you read it?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is unique to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10). Often misunderstood as a story about helping the needy, the primary point of this parable was to define the ‘Neighbour’ that the Torah commanded one to Love (Leviticus 19vs8). However, before the parable is used to explain a teaching there is a discussion between Jesus and an expert in the Torah. These opening questions are almost always overlooked. 

As is common in the Jewish world of teaching, Jesus is asked a question. He is asked by the expert, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (עולם הבא ‘Olam HaBa’ the World to Come!). It’s a very important question, one that everyone on the planet should ponder. Seeings as how Jesus has been asked this, the most important of questions, now would have been a perfect opportunity to answer… “Believe in Me, the one who has come from the Father to save the World.”  After all, that is the message of the Church through the ages. 

Western Christianity, under the heavy influence of the early protestant reformers like Luther and Calvin, who were lawyers as well as theologians, has too often reduced Christianity to a legal transaction. That is, we are sinners, sinful from the womb, dead in our sins and we are saved and redeemed by the payment made through the blood of the Messiah. This is very true of course, but the transaction is only one part of the message and teaching of the Messiah. Christianity and the Faith in the Messiah is so much more. 

When asked how to guarantee a place in the World to Come, Yeshua responds with a very important question of His own. “What is written in the Torah and how do you read it?” (Luke 10vs26). That question is for all of us. How do you read what is written? How we read the Bible influences our behaviour in the world. The expert in the Torah responds by quoting the Greatest of Commandments, to love God and to love your neighbour. Jesus replies that he has answered correctly. So how do you love God and your neighbour? How do we read and understand the command to Love? 

After Paul reduces the Faith to three words, Faith Hope and Love, he declares that the greatest of these is not Faith, it’s Love. Absolutely, Faith in the Messiah is important, very much so, and yet Scripture declares that Love is even more important. How do we read what is written? We are commanded to Love the Lord our God with all our Heart, all our Soul and all our Strength. From this we can deduce that Love is a choice. It is not an emotion, not something beyond our control. If love was simply an emotion then the commandment makes no sense. God does not say, Love the Lord your God .. but only if you feel like it, only on weekends, only after two cups of coffee in the morning, only if you manage to fall head over heels in love with God. Love is a command and we can choose to obey that command or not. God Himself thinks we can do this and choose wisely, for He says in Deuteronomy 30vs11 “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.”

Faith may indeed be a gift from God, however Love is a choice and from the Parable we learn that too often we hide behind rules in choosing not to love, especially in not loving our Neighbour. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan the Priest and the Levite have excellent excuses as to why they cannot assist the beaten, bleeding man on the side of the road. They are going to the Temple. God has commanded that they be unblemished, untainted by death and disease.  They must be clean before the Lord. They choose not to assist, not to act in love and they have biblical reasons for not helping. Just like the Priest and Levite, we too often hide behind rules and Christian legalism. We chose not to love our Neighbour by convincing ourselves that “it’s not my department, that’s a job for another ministry but not mine, it’s not my calling or my ministry’s calling, God wants me to look after my family first…” 

Those are not the attitudes, nor choices, the Lord would have us make. Jesus uses the parable to teach in context of His initial question, “What is written and how do you read it?” Jewish preaching and teaching is always practical. We have been shown by the Messiah how to read the command to Love, the Greatest of Commandments.  Now we need to “Go and do likewise!"

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Shalom, Peace.

The Bible is a very special book. Obviously! We call it the Holy Bible and that title is imprinted on the front of most Bible covers. In Jewish thought the Bible is indeed Holy. It’s even more than that, it’s Divine Language. The Language of God is so special and powerful, it can create worlds, speak blessings, demand wrath and prophesy the future. No word or sound in the Bible is superfluous. Words in the text of the Bible are not just there to fill up space on a parchment. They are chosen for a reason and interestingly the words that are not used are considered just as important as the words that are used. 

According to Jewish exegesis there are at least 4 ways to read every verse, text and word of the Hebrew Bible. The first level of reading Bible is called P’shat פְּשָׁט. This is the direct literal, or simple, plain meaning of the text. Simply what the basic text says is what it means. The rule to Hebraic understanding of Bible is that all other forms of exegesis are valid as long as they do not contradict the P’shat, the literal meaning of the text. 

The second level is called Remez רֶמֶז. This refers to the allegorical nature of the words, the symbolic meanings of things. While not often used in application by Paul, there is the example in Galatians 4 of allegorizing Hagar and Sarah into symbolic mountains of Sinai and Jerusalem. This never went against the fact that there was a real Hagar and Sarah. 

Following the Remez is the D’rash דְּרַשׁ from the verb ‘to demand’ which calls the reader to exegete the text and make it applicable in action. An example of a D’rash is when Paul quotes “Don’t muzzle the oxen while it is treading the grain.” in 1 Timothy 5vs18 from the book of Deuteronomy 25vs4. The plain text is an agrarian commandment for farmers but Paul applies this to the wages of a pastor. Paul’s use of the text does not undermine the P’shat, the literalness of the text, of what you do if you have a bovine grinding your wheat. 

Lastly, there is the Sod סוֹד, the mystery nature behind the text. The Sod is a part of understanding the Bible that only the Messiah will explain when He comes. We automatically begin all study of the Bible admitting that we will never know everything. A humbling beginning. We see Paul refer to this when he says, ‘Now I show you a mystery ..’ 1 Corinthians 15vs51. For Paul, who sees the post resurrection gospel, some of the mystery in the Hebrew text is explained in the person of Jesus. 

Enabled with this multi-layered background to the Biblical text, let’s examine one simple word of the Messiah. After His Resurrection, Jesus appears to His disciples as they gathered behind locked doors (John 20) and says, ‘Peace’. One simple word, Shalom in Hebrew שָׁלוֹם. Now quite literally Shalom does indeed mean peace, but according to its Hebraic context also means so much more. Shalom comes from the verb ‘to pay’. שָׁלם (Shalem) means Paid, masculine singular in the past tense. שָׁלם (Shalem) also means whole. So when I go to the market in Jerusalem and want a whole roast chicken, I use the word שָׁלם.  That means the whole thing including the neck, and even some of the feathers still attached :)

Before Jesus was in that room with His disciples, they were scared, nervous, uncertain of current events and unsure of the future. Then He appears. It’s a miracle, the resurrection is true and certain. In that context Jesus proclaims שָׁלוֹם Peace! How did He bring Peace? He had Paid it, and He had Paid it in full, the whole amount. All of that wrapped up in one word. Shalom שָׁלוֹם

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Unity Attracts God's Presence

The Jewish People have just finished celebrating Shavuot. Shavuot in the Hebrew Bible is a purely agrarian harvest festival that during the Second Temple Period become theologically attributed to the Giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai. It is at this time in the Jewish calendar that we ask ourselves this question: What was the purpose of the Exodus? If your first reaction is to say it was to get the Israelites to the Promised Land then you'd be mistaken. If the purpose of the redemption from Egypt was to get a bunch of Hebrews into Canaan, then God would have given better directions. He would have said to Moses, 'Get over the river, hang a left, when you come to the Mediterranean turn right and you can't miss it.' Pretty simple, turn left then right. The point of the Exodus is to bring the people to Mt Sinai. And what happened at Sinai? Pentecost happened (Shavout in Hebrew). Not just the giving of the Torah, but the fact that God revealed Himself to His people for the first time. 

What did the Hebrews know about God while they had been in Egypt for 430 years? To be honest, not very much. They had no Temple, they had no priests, they had no prophets and they had no Bible. What they had were a few campfire stories about the Creation of the world, then the world went bad and then there was some guy with a big boat and a rainbow, followed by a wandering nomad called Abraham and now they are all here. They knew they had a God but they didn't know much about Him. Then with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm He redeems His people from darkness and brings them to Himself at Sinai and reveals Himself. The first commandment isn't actually a commandment, it’s God’s business card. He says, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out the land of Egypt ...” Redemption always leads to Revelation. Notice the Israelites were saved from Egypt and then given the Torah. The Torah doesn't save you, they were already saved from Egypt. The same theology is in the New Testament. ‘While I was a sinner, Christ died for me.’ (Romans 5vs8). I didn’t hear about Jesus and then He died on the cross, He already had. 

We all have our personal Exodus stories of how God redeemed us from darkness, but He never left us there. That was never the end of our history. He always follows up revealing His character and Will to us.  

Thus if the purpose of the Exodus is revelation and an encounter with God, why does it take God 50 days before He actually shows up and reveals Himself? If it was that important, surely He would have come sooner. Good question I hear you ask. Exodus 19vs1-2 says that during the third month after they had left Egypt, the Israelites came to Sinai and made camp. What is interesting about verse 2 is that in the Hebrew text it says Israel made camp twice. 

Jewish people read the Bible with a fine tooth comb, so the question is raised, Why does the text mention they made camp twice? Is that not redundant? A closer look reveals that the first time they made camp the verb ‘to camp’ was in the plural. The second time they make camp the verb switches to singular. They camped as one, and only then does God show up. What we learn from this is that unity is something that attracts the Almighty. The Rabbis comment by saying that Israel finally stopped fighting amongst themselves, they stopped squabbling over who has which tent and who gets which portion of food, they stopped arguing with each other and got it together. They were united for the first time since they left Egypt, they were one, and unity is something that attracts God. This occurred at Shavuot (Pentecost in the Greek). 

Acts 2 and the Pentecost in Jerusalem similarly reflects the Pentecost of Mt Sinai. Acts 2 describes the disciples being all together and notes they were of one accord. Just as the people were in the desert, here the text is very careful to mention that the disciples were united. It’s in their unity that the Holy Spirit came and God showed up. 

If unity is so important to attracting the presence of God this begs the next question, What then is unity? Unity is not something theological or ideological. It’s not one-two-three everyone think like me. Unity in the biblical sense is behavioural. Colossians 3vs12-14 instructs us to clothe ourselves with compassion for each other, with kindness, humility and gentleness, and patience. To bear with each other despite the offence and to forgive each other. To wrap all this in love and this will be our unity. Unity is functional, practical, revealed in behaviour and a magnet for attracting God. When Jesus Himself prays for us it is so that we might be one, to be united. There is no force greater than a united community. And we will have the promise of Jesus that He will be with us, His presence, until the end of the age. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Mystery and the Trinity

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the honour of Kings to search a thing. Proverbs 25vs2

Mystery, the Hebrew Bible loves mystery and to hold things in tension. The Bible describes mystery as the Glory or Honour of God (the same word in Hebrew). Many times in the sacred texts a prophet speaks, or the Lord declares a thing or a prayer is prayed by one of the heroes of the Bible and then left unanalyzed and not expounded. The ancient Hebrew mind is content to dwell on the mystery and the Bible will often allow a mystery to pan out over thousands of years before it can be explained. King David says in the Psalms ‘I meditate on your Word, day and night’, he doesn't say he solves it. In contrast the Greek (Western) mind does not do well with Mystery. We have the constant compulsion to solve everything. The Western mind dislikes an unsolved mystery.

To highlight a difference between Hebrew and Greek thought, the Hebrew word for Womb is רָ֫חֶם Rechem, this is also the word for Mercy. By comparison the Greek word for Womb is  ὑστερικός Hysterikos, from where we derived the words hysterical and hysterectomy. One thought describes a mysterious secret place that is warm, compassionate and full of mercy, the other alludes to hysteria and suffering and something to be removed. So also is the difference in approach to Mystery. 

God is a mystery, and no greater concept of God is more mysterious than the concept of the Trinity. In the Christian calendar last Sunday was Trinity Sunday. The day assigned to the preaching of God and His mysterious trinitarian nature. Most preachers are happy that Trinity Sunday only comes around once a year. For if you talk about the Trinity for longer than 5 minutes it’s highly likely you are now entering into heresy. Describing the nature of God is not rocket science, it’s more difficult than that. We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t fully describe the majesty of God. The word trinity does not appear in the Bible and only first came into use in the 3rd Century by Tertullian of Carthage (present day Tunisia). While the word Trinity is not in the Bible the mystery of God’s nature is. The Apostle Paul reminds us that for us there is one God and one Lord in 1 Corinthians 8vs6. We only have one God, so what do we do with this Father-Son-Spirit thing? The nature of God truly is a mystery. And those early mysteries are indeed found in Hebrew Bible.

The opening verse of Genesis initiates the mystery. God (אֱלֹהִים Elohim) which is a plural subject whose actions are described by a singular verb Created (בָּרָא Bara). This is grammatically incorrect to have a verb in singular form in conjunction with a plural subject. Despite its grammatical incorrectness for most of the Hebrew Bible this is how God’s actions are described. But not always! In Genesis 20vs13 for example, Abraham declares that Gods (using a plural verb form הִתְעוּ) caused him to wander from his father’s house. One would think that if this was a mistake in the text it would have been corrected after several thousand years. And yet this example and others of plural verb forms have been preserved as the text has been copied and handed down, guarding the mystery but not explaining it. 

Yeshua (Jesus) tells his disciples in John 16vs12 that He has many things still to explain to them, but they cannot bear it at present and must be patient. 

One of my favourite allusions to the Mystery occurs in the Prophet Isaiah 48vs12-16. The passage begins with a powerful Hebrew word שְׁמַע ‘Shma’. Shma means listen or hear in the imperative form. Hebrew was predominately an oral language and when you heard the word Shma you thought of the Oath of Loyalty to the King of the Universe known as the Shma from Deuteronomy 6vs4. ‘Hear Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord Alone’. It’s a powerful start to the passage and demands attention.

שְׁמַע אֵלַי יַעֲקֹב, וְיִשְׂרָאֵל מְקֹרָאִי:  אֲנִי-הוּא אֲנִי רִאשׁוֹן, אַף אֲנִי אַחֲרוֹן 
(Listen to Me Jacob and Israel whom I called. I am He, I am the First I am also the Last) NASB

Here in Isaiah 48vs12 the person commanding us to listen then defines himself as the First and the Last. This begs the question: Who is the First and the Last? Well we know that Yeshua calls Himself that, but only at the end of Revelation. While Jesus was on the planet He titled Himself as the Son of Man, an allusion to the eschatological figure in Daniel 7. At the time of the prophet Isaiah we do not initially know who belongs to the title, the First and the Last. However this being continues to describe himself through to verse 16. The First and the Last laid the foundations of the world, ordered the universe, is supernatural in power, when He calls the Heavens and the Earth they stand up for Him. The answer to the question, Who made the Heavens and the Earth? is of course, God. In Isaiah the First and the Last creates the World and thus the First and the Last must be God. Case solved right? No! not so easy, the Mystery now begins to unfold.  

קִרְבוּ אֵלַי שִׁמְעוּ-זֹאת, לֹא מֵרֹאשׁ בַּסֵּתֶר דִּבַּרְתִּי--מֵעֵת הֱיוֹתָהּ, שָׁם אָנִי; וְעַתָּה, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה שְׁלָחַנִי וְרוּחוֹ.
(Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place I was there, and now the Lord God has sent Me with His spirit) NASB

Isaiah 48vs16 starts softly with a call to ‘Come close and listen’, then the word Shma appears again, linking the passage together with the previous verses. לֹא מֵרֹאשׁ בַּסֵּתֶר דִּבַּרְתִּי ‘Not since the beginning have I spoken in secret?’ The question is asked! The word for Speak is the same word as Word, דִּבַּרְ, which is also the same word for Thing. So the Word is a Thing. Then in Hebrew we have מֵעֵת הֱיוֹתָהּ. Which literally means “from the time that was, or from the beginning”. שָׁם אָנִי means “I was there”. וְעַתָּה means “and I am there now”. אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה שְׁלָחַנִי means “My Lord Yahweh (God) has sent me. Suddenly we learn that the Lord God (Yahweh) is not the First and the Last. וְרוּחוֹ means ‘and His Spirit’ and is also sent’. 

We have multiple powerful personalities present in these few verses. The Mystery is that the First and the Last is not the Lord God, but instead it is Yahweh who sends Him along with the Spirit of God. The First and the Last is a supernatural being, capable of creating the world, existing before time and serves God. The Prophet Isaiah does not go on to elaborate who He is. The Mystery is the Glory of God to conceal and the honour of Man to seek. Yeshua could not explain it to us for we could not bear it, but when we see Him we will know Him as He is.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Resurrection before the Crucifiction

The 8 day Feast of Passover (Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread) has ended for 2016. This has been a time of eating, drinking, singing and prayers. Even the non-religious Jewish people will have engaged in many of the prayers at Passover. In Jewish tradition the Exodus represents the greatest act of Redemption undertaken by the Lord for His people. In this season we will have remembered that with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm God redeemed a people for Himself. Once we were slaves and now we are free. Many families have formed their own traditions in connection to this special time. For my family, we have the tradition of watching The Prince of Egypt together at Passover. 

The first day of Passover began with the Seder, the evening meal and the liturgical retelling of the Exodus as part of the action of remembering. Following Passover is the 7 day Feast of Unleavened Bread. By the time of Jesus the two festivals (Passover and Unleavened Bread) and the traditions around them had merged into one long 8 day festival simply termed Passover. Eight days became the time frame of celebration for festivals, like Hanukkah and Tabernacles. Each day of the festival has portions of Scripture to read and study and prayers to pray. Interestingly, the Haftorah portion of Scripture (the reading from the Prophets) that is read on the last and eighth day to end the Passover is full of messianic hope of a future Redeemer. It is Isaiah 10vs32-12vs6. Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of God resting on the Branch of Jesse (the Messiah). 

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (19th Century Rabbi) once made the connection between the first and last days of Passover. ‘The first night of Passover is our festival commemorating our redemption from Egypt by the Holy One, Blessed be He, this was the first redemption, carried out through Moses, our teacher, who was the first redeemer: it was the beginning. The last day of Passover is our festival commemorating the final redemption, when the Holy One, Blessed be He, will redeem us from the last exile though our righteous Messiah, who is the final redeemer. The first day of Passover is the Moses festival, the last day of Passover is the Messiah’s feast.’

Obviously there is a connection with the Christian festival of Easter and Passover, with many in the Church both historically and presently calling Easter the ‘Christian Passover’, which is also an 8 day holy week, Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Both festivals carry a historical hope for the community. Jesus was killed at Passover and Easter Sunday rejoices at His resurrection. While there is a historical connection, we find that this year Easter occurred 3 weeks prior to Passover.  Thus we managed to celebrate a resurrection before a crucifixion. Strange, so how did that happen?

The Jewish calendar follows the lunar cycle, while the Christian calendars (both Julian and Gregorian) adhere to a solar cycle. The date of Passover is set from the Biblical text to be the 14th of Aviv, now called Nisan. Jesus celebrates Passover in Jerusalem and then is crucified, becoming the Passover lamb. Because the Gospels indicate that He was resurrected early Sunday morning, redeeming the world, the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE decided that Easter needed to always fall on a Sunday. Thus cementing in motion the divergent calendars we have today, however it was not always so. 

The early believers in Messiah were all Jewish and Gentile God-fearers. They read and studied the Hebrew Bible and followed the Torah and Jewish Festivals just as Jesus had done. This included the celebration of Passover on the 14th of Nisan. The early believers had no problem continuing the Jewish liturgical/calendrical/scriptural practices of their forefathers. This continued well into the 4th Century, that is 300 years after Jesus. Gentile Christians who followed the lunar calendar and celebrated Passover according to the Jewish Calendar were known as Quartodecimans (latin for the fourteenth of Nisan). Initially there was no hostility towards those who chose to continue to observe Passover and those who chose to observe the ‘Christian Passover, the Feast of the Resurrection’. Tension grew over time and as the number of Jewish believers became significantly a minority. Western Christianity had the weakest linkage to the early Jewish church in Jerusalem. Culturally the West followed a solar calendar and with differences in language and thinking to the East, led to the build up of antagonism towards Jewish practise and Jewish people, culminating into ‘Replacement Theology’. 

The name Easter first appears in the 7th Century to describe the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection. Easter is indeed a derivative of a pagan goddess associated with Spring festivals. While no one worships the goddess Ishtar at Easter it is for this reason the Orthodox Christian traditions in the East still call the festival of Easter by its Greek name, Pascha, which is the Greek translation of Pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. 

In losing the connection of Easter/Pascha to the Hebraic source we arrive at our current scenario where we celebrate a resurrection before the time of a crucifixion. The Passover reminds us of the redemptive activity of God, both in the past through Moses and the Messiah, and in the future redemption of the world with the return of Jesus. In contrast, the Easter culture gives us bunnies, eggs and chocolates. Celebrating the Easter resurrection is very important. It would be remiss, not just ignorance, to neglect the connection to Passover and to supplant a memorial of redemption that God commanded to be observed for all time. 

‘This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord, an ordinance forever’ Exodus 12vs14 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Prayer is Reflexive

The Psalms are the Prayer Book of the Jewish People. The English title, the Psalms, is derived from the Greek translation of ‘Psalmoi’ meaning instrumental music. In Hebrew the word Psalm is derived from the verb to Pray and the Psalms are indeed at their essence prayers. They are also songs and poems and have been incorporated into public and private worship for close to 3000 years. The Psalms have become part of the liturgy in both Judaism and Christianity. From the Second Temple Period the Psalms have been part of the daily prayer life of the Jewish People. They had become a recognizable collection of material by the turn of the Common Era that was distinct from other sections of Scripture. Jesus says to his disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24vs44). Today the Psalms are prayed daily, weekly, monthly and at special feast days in the religious calendars. All 150 Psalms are prayed every month in the Jewish calendar. So every psalm is said at least 12 times a year. Prayers are personal as well as communal. You can pray them alone, but also pray them together. 

The word ‘Prayer’ in English is derived from a Latin word ‘Precari’ which means to beg, or to entreat. Subsequently, too often prayers represent mostly petitions and requests to God. The Hebrew word for prayer is Tefilah which comes from the verb L’HitPallel. The verb to pray in Hebrew is a reflexive verb. A reflexive verb is something that you do to yourself. Example, the Hebrew verb to dress or to wear clothing is Lilbosh. The reflexive form of this verb, to dress oneself is L’HitLabesh. Yet how can prayer be reflexive? We pray to God and not to ourselves, right? Doesn't He listen? Even Jesus prays! The Hebraic concept of prayer contains within itself the concept of self analysis and self evaluation while in communication with God. The goal therefore is not to try to influence God, rather the opposite, to let God influence you. Perhaps prayer is more listening than speaking. 

Question - Does God need our prayers? The answer is of course, no. He does not need our prayers. Whether we pray to Him or not He will still be God, He will still rule and He will still have His Will done. Does God want our prayers? The answer is a definite yes! He loves to hear our prayers, He wants us to talk to Him and probably more importantly He wants to talk back. Our prayers as they say, are like sweet incense before the Throne of God. 

Within the Prayer Book of Psalms we can see the full gambit of human emotion. There are Psalms of praise and adoration through to prayers of sadness and despair. Some Psalms just don't end well at all, they just stop at rock bottom, such as Psalm 88 which ends in utter darkness. God has emotions, just like we do. We are made in His image and as we have emotions, so too does the Lord. He gets angry, He gets jealous, He loves, He weeps and He laughs. God is in greater control of His emotions than I am. God made us and He knows us better than we know ourselves. And so He has provided us with a prayer for every emotion that we might come across. He knows that we will have days where we are in distress and days when we are sad, and He has prayers that reflect that. There will be other times to shout, dance and rejoice, and there are prayers for those times too. 

Some people find it difficult and uninspiring in praying the same prayers over and over again. Praying as a routine can indeed lose its meaning and a spontaneous prayer life perhaps seems more preferable. However, the Rabbis have a saying, If you prayed today because you prayed yesterday, then you haven't prayed. This reflects that Prayers must always come from the heart of the person praying. Whether they be spontaneous and free form prayers or liturgical prayers and psalms. Jesus prayed both types of Prayers and even taught His disciples a liturgical prayer. 

You can tell people’s theology and how they think and feel by how they pray. It’s not what goes in your mouth that is important (says Jesus), instead it’s what comes out (Matt 15vs11). One of the things that comes out of our mouths are our prayers, how and what we say to God. Our prayers and prayer life reflect our thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Prayer is reflexive, we should listen to our own prayers as they will reveal things about ourselves. About the things that are bothering us, the issues on our hearts and minds, and how they are affecting us and perhaps our response to those issues. God doesn't need our prayers (although He does desire them). Who truly needs to pray? We do. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

God in Search of Man

What is it that makes Israel distinctive amongst all the nations? It’s not that they have to wear funny clothes, the little skullcaps (kippah) or blue and white strings showing from underneath their shirts (tzitztit). Many nations and religions have a national dress required of them. For example, if I am Sikh then I have to wear a turban on my head, if I am a Buddhist monk then I have to wear orange robes, if I am female Wahhabi then I wear a full Niqhab. If I am a Bishop then I wear a ridiculous looking hat called a mitre. We can see that having strange clothing is not a mark of distinctiveness. 

What about having a special diet? Does the inability to consume cheeseburgers at McDonalds make someone special in the history of the world? Do the kosher rules for food make Israel distinct amongst the nations? Not really, as many other nations have food restrictions of their own. For example, in India I can not eat cow as it is a special animal for Hindu peoples and taboo for consuming as food. While bacon is a forbidden product in Israel it is similarly forbidden in Islamic countries. These days the modern Western nations have developed a special food restriction, its called gluten intolerance, so when I go to the United States I can’t eat bread. Strangely fulfilling the verse that ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’. 

Many nations, like Israel, have or have had in the past, sacred places, religious calendars and prayers books. Prayer books and calendars do not mark Israel as separate and distinctive. What makes Israel different from amongst all the nations is the Tabernacle. It is that God dwells with them. When God, with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand, redeemed a people from slavery under the Pharaohs, He commanded them to build Him a Tabernacle, for He wanted to dwell with His people. Amongst all the mighty nations through history only Israel has a God that declares He will live with them. Other nations had gods but their gods lived on top of mountains like Olympus, or even on whole different worlds across the rainbow bridge in Asgard, or lived amongst sacred groves of trees guarded by crazy white bearded druids, or hidden deep under the earth guarded by three headed dogs. To get to their god they had to embark on a quest, a long journey with possible perils. The reality was that they would most likely not succeed in meeting their deity. Israel’s God by comparison was very close, not far away and very accessible. The God of Israel said He wanted to dwell with His people. 

The Book of Exodus describes the redemption of Israel from Egypt and takes 11 chapters to do so, then it embarks on a detailed 15 chapter explanation on how you construct a tent. I have heard it said that God is in the details, and I would agree. Exodus 26 tells us which material to use to cover the tent, and it is animal skin. The probable source being the Manatee from the Red Sea. Thus setting up a pattern that God would dwell inside skin. Further, it would take 9 months to build the structure of skin for God to live in. (Exodus 19 tells us the Israelites start construction of the Tabernacle in the 3rd month of the first year, and Exodus 40 tells that they finished in the first month of the second year, which is nine months construction time) 

The concept of biblical incarnation is not one derived from Pagan culture. It is deep seeded within the sacred history of Israel. God always wanted to be close to His Creation. From walking in the cool of the evening, conversing with Man, to dwelling within the midst of the community inside a structure of skins, to the prophecies of the indwelling of the Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2) of the present day. And it is this that separates Israel out from amongst all the nations of the world. It is this wondrous tradition that enters the Christian Faith through the early Jewish Believers in Messiah. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

God's Bible College

The book of Numbers in Hebrew is called B’Midbar, which means ‘In the Desert’. It is given this name because the book opens by declaring that God spoke to Moses in the desert (Numbers 1vs1). Given the premise that nothing in the Bible is insignificant, it stands to reason therefore that the statement declaring God spoke to Moses in the desert becomes quite significant. A midrash from the Jewish sages states, the Torah was given through the context of three things: Fire, Rain and the Desert. God descended through a cloud of lightning, thunder and rain to Mount Sinai; when He spoke to Moses the Bible explains fire came out of His mouth (Deut 4vs33); and He delivered the Torah in the desert.

Genesis depicts the desert as a place of exile, with little human habitation, a place of wild animals, bandits and in subsequent Jewish thought, the abode of demons. The desert does not appear to be an area people would naturally flock to. There is no water or anything else of substance to offer humans. Yet it is to the desert that God sends His heroes. On one hand the desert represents a desolate, violent and lawless area. On the other hand, the desert context is spiritually positive with God delivering His Torah to the world. What’s the connection between God and the Desert?

The word ‘Midbar’ in Hebrew means ‘Desert’. The same consonants that form the word ‘Midbar’ מדבר also form the word ‘Medaber’ מדבר which is the Hebrew word for ‘Speak’. There are no vowels in Hebrew thus ‘Midbar’ and ‘Medaber’ appear the same in Hebrew. Further, the root of ‘Midbar’ מדבר is ‘Davar’ דבר which is the word for ‘Word’ and actually creates the verb ‘To Speak’. This completes the picture quite nicely. Where does God speak? He speaks in the Desert. 

The desert is a place free from distractions, a place free from the idolatry so often prominent in cities. In the quiet of the desert you can hear God’s voice. And so God sends all His heroes there. Moses goes to the desert, Elijah spends time in the desert, David escapes from Saul there, Israel wanders through the wilderness and even Jesus is driven by the Spirit into the desert. Jesus knows He is special at a young age, but He needs to learn to hear God’s voice, so the Spirit compels Him to go to the desert. The place where God speaks. 

A friend of mine (David Pileggi) often calls the Desert, Gods Seminary. And it’s truly an apt description. The desert is a place of preparation. Often the people God calls are not yet equipped and need a place of training. It’s interesting to see that the place where God speaks, where he trains His heroes for the tasks ahead, is also the place of the enemy. Jesus goes into the desert to hear the voice of the Lord and at the same time has to fight the Devil. Similarly, we also need to learn to hear the voice of the Lord. Often not from a place of rest but from a place of testing (not a literal desert). It is a comfort to know that there is someone in Heaven who had to struggle with that too. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Did Yeshua ever declare He was Messiah?

Perhaps one of the more frustrating things about the Gospels is that Jesus never seems to tell people He is the Messiah. When people actually figure it out He often gives instructions to be quiet and not to tell anyone. Which on the surface seems incredibly self-defeating for your mission if your mission is to be the Messiah and for people to follow you as such. 

Linguistics is the scientific study of languages in three major aspects: language form, language meaning and language context. It is in the Hebraic context, the use of and meaning of the language of Jesus (Hebrew), that Jesus does indeed share His Messiahship and mission, and He does so at the beginning of His ministry. Right at the start! 

Luke 4 details the introduction to the ministry of Jesus, setting the scene in His hometown synagogue of Nazareth. Jesus (Yeshua), obviously a trained Bible reader, is handed the Isaiah portion for the Haftorah reading from the Prophets. After reading from Isaiah 61 He delivers His first recorded teaching, a one line sermon. Chapters and Verses were not introduced into the Biblical text until the 13th Century (for Chapters) and 16th Century (for Verses). In the English translation we can easily note that Yeshua, in reading Isaiah 61vs1-2, does not finish the last sentence, drops a sentence from the text and even adds a sentence altogether. If I stood up to read a portion from the Gospel of Matthew, and as I read I inserted some Psalms, a little bit of Pauline text and finished with a dose of Revelation, I might be asked to justify why I did not read the text as it was plainly written? What Jesus does though is perfectly applicable to His Jewish context and linguistic hermeneutic. He is ‘allowed’ to do what He did, due to the way Hebrew language is constructed and how it is used and applied to Biblical interpretation during the 2nd Temple Period, the time of Jesus. Remember, Jesus’ comment on this passage ‘Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4vs21). The real question we should ask ourselves then is, what was fulfilled in the scripture? 

The prophetic portion begins with רוּחַ אֲדֹנָי יֱהֹוִה עָלָי יַעַן מָשַׁח יְהֹוָה אֹתִי, ‘the Spirit of the Lord is on me’. Luke connects everything to the Spirit. Jesus is born of the Spirit, and now He is anointed by the Spirit, whereas Matthew focuses on the royalty of the Messiah. Matthew has the visit of the Magi, the majestic gifts and the proclamation as King. Luke presents the poorer side of Jesus, with more details of the Messiah at a younger age. Now after coming out of the desert, having been sent there by the Spirit, Luke presents the ministry of Jesus beginning with the Spirit of God on Jesus. 

Connecting the next portion of the sentence is the Hebrew word Ya’an, often translated as ‘because’. The literal Hebrew word for ‘because’ is ‘Ki’ and doesn’t sound anything like ‘Ya’an’. ‘Ya’an’ comes from an old root word, and is not often used, meaning to pay attention, implying the purpose of something important to be heeded. It is used linguistically to stress the importance of what follows. A modern day schoolteacher would make use of the word ‘Ya’an’ to inform the class that what follows in the instruction is fundamental and needs the class’ full attention. What follows in the Isaiah passage is quite important, which is מָשַׁח יְהֹוָה אֹתִי. Literally the verb L’Mashiach means to anoint/make a Messiah/make an anointed one. The Messiah is indeed an anointed one. Our translations express this sentence as ‘God has anointed me.’ All kings of Israel and some prophets were anointed. Each king is essentially a ‘little messiah’. However another way to say this in English is ‘God has made me Messiah’. After Yeshua reads this portion He sits down and as all the eyes of the synagogue are on Him, He states, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’. Jesus did say that He was the Messiah. He was quite clear and He declared it right at the start! 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Compassion of the Messiah

The Feeding of the Five Thousand is a very familiar miracle of Jesus. Quite possibly because apart from the Resurrection it is the only miracle occurring in all four of the Gospels. After hearing of the death of His cousin, John the Baptist, Jesus seeks some solitude near Bethsaida. In doing so Jesus reveals to us some of His humanity. His cousin and colleague in ministry has been brutally murdered and He needs some time for prayer, reflection and to work through emotions. However, crowds gather and follow after Him. Instead of demanding some quiet time to Himself, when Jesus landed on the shore ‘He saw a large crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things.’ Mark 6vs34. 

This passage reveals one the greatest characteristics of the Messiah, His compassion. Hemla in Hebrew, compassion, is one of my favourite words. The Gospels are finely crafted texts. The words chosen are very important and certainly are not superfluous. Compassion is linked to the Sheep and the Shepherd in this miracle. 

Early Jewish Believers looked on Yeshua (Jesus) as the new Moses, the one that had been prophesied to come. Deuteronomy 18vs18, ‘I will raise up for them a prophet like you’. Thus some of the characteristics of Moses would be found to be similar in the coming prophet ‘like Moses’. The Gospels pair Compassion, Sheep and Shepherds together, drawing from a long oral tradition concerning the first Moses and link them with Jesus the Messiah. 

Question ~ why was Moses allowed to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt? That’s a pretty big assignment for anybody to undertake and it would take someone of special character to participate. Out of all the available heroes God could choose, He chose Moses. So what are the characteristics of a Hero of God? When we look at the characteristics of Moses, we see that he is a murderer - Moses slew an Egyptian. We also see that he is a liar - Moses covered up the body and tried to hide what he had done. Next we discover that Moses is a coward. Once the truth is out that he has committed murder, he flees to Midian instead of facing the consequences. Moses then spends the next 40 years in Midian, he marries the daughter of a pagan priest, raises a family and becomes wealthy tending stock animals. In those 40 years he neither returns to Egypt to discover the plight of the Hebrew slaves nor appears to dwell on the Israelite captives. So that’s the Hero type? A selfish murderer, liar and coward? Not exactly the qualities we would look for in a hero!

So when was Moses ready to lead the people? When did God find His hero equipped for the task? For help in answering this question there is a midrash on Moses that we could draw on. And it links into the Gospel’s depiction of Jesus as He supplies the miracle to the multitudes. A midrash is a method of Jewish exegesis to help answer difficult questions raised by the text, or to fill in gaps not described in the Biblical narrative that are perhaps only hinted at. The word Midrash comes from the verb ‘to seek, study, inquire’ and the actual word Midrash occurs twice in the Hebrew Bible. Example: in 2 Chronicles 13vs22 we read ‘in the midrash of the prophet Ido.’ 
The midrash recounts the story of an important incident that occurs while Moses is watching the flocks one day in Midian. One sheep wanders away from the rest of the flock. You actually see this midrash played out in the Dreamwork's animated movie The Prince of Egypt. Instead of abandoning the foolish sheep to its self-inflicted state to be torn apart by wild animals, Moses (with the voice of Val Kilmer) goes off in search of the lost one. He climbs over rocks and through briars, scuffing his arms and legs in the process. In the end he finds the lost sheep lying exhausted under a rock. As he bends down to carry the sheep back on his shoulders, then suddenly the bush nearby catches fire, and God speaks to His hero. God could see the compassion in the heart of Moses for the one lost, foolish sheep and He knows that His hero is ready to lead the People of Israel. Moses is finally ready. Moses has added the quality of Compassion in his heart, and that is the quality God is looking for in His heroes. 

When you look at other heroes of God in the Bible, we see their flaws, their sins and failings, but we also see the characteristic in them that made them heroes. If you want to be a hero of God, then you need compassion too.