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.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Yom Kippur 5778

It is Yom Kippur in Jerusalem 5778, the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. There are no vehicles on the road and like many other Israeli children, my family has already partaken of the time honoured tradition of riding your scooter down the main street after prayers. This day is observed even by secular Jews, who throughout the rest of the year wouldn’t venture near a synagogue, will find themselves in prayer today. Even the United Nations officially recognised the importance of Yom Kippur in 2015 and decided never to hold any official meetings on this day.

Contrary perhaps to some, this is not the saddest day in the Jewish year. That honour goes to the day called Tish B’Av and the destruction of the Jewish Temples. The Scroll of Lamentations is read on Tish B’Av and records much sadness and loss. According to many Orthodox Jews, today is a happy day. While the central themes are atonement, repentance, fasting and prayers, the day is also about forgiveness and life in the World to Come. Forgiveness and Life are indeed something to be happy about. During the synagogue service, the Scroll of Jonah is taken from the Ark and is read and discussed throughout the afternoon. 

Why read Jonah on the holiest day of Yom Kippur? There are a few things to learn from Jonah. Jonah endeavoured to escape God’s providence. He ran in the opposite direction but ultimately was unsuccessful in getting away from the Divine Will. Repentance also reminds us we cannot escape the consequences of our actions and the Divine Judgement ahead of all of us. God spared Nineveh and this also reminds us of the fruit of true heartfelt repentance, Forgiveness from Heaven! Note that the people of Nineveh were saved and forgiven without animal sacrifices and without a Temple and priests. Mercy is shown to the Gentiles. 

Jonah also presents the hope of resurrection. Jonah is swallowed by a giant fish (the whale) while trying to escape God’s call. Remember we don’t get to make the Call we just have to answer the Call. Jonah answered it inappropriately. In Chapter 2 of Jonah, we find him praying in heartfelt anguish and penance. It’s where we find him doing the praying that’s interesting. 

ויאמר קראתי מצרה לי אל־יהוה ויענני מבטן שאול שועתי שמעת קולי׃ (Jonah 2:2)

Jonah 2vs2 says that God heard Jonah from the ‘Belly of Sheol’. In verse 1 we are told that Jonah is in the belly of the fish. But then God hears him from Sheol. Sheol is the place of the dead. Translated often in English as the grave, or the pit. Sheol is where everyone goes after they die. Except for Korah and his family when the earth opened up under them and they went alive down to Sheol in Numbers 16. This would infer then to a Jewish hearer … and remember the Bible is an Oral book. You heard the Word of the Lord more than you read it. During the 2nd Temple Period and at the time of Jesus, the printing press hadn’t been invented yet. This would infer to a Jewish hearer that Jonah was dead. He had died after being eaten by the fish. Yet there he is praying! And repenting! Even after he is dead. How can this be, and what can we learn from this?

Jesus also gives us teaching about the afterlife in the Gospel of Luke in which two men die; a rich man and a poor man, whom he calls Lazarus (after His friend in Bethany). Interestingly, in the Latin Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible), the name of the rich man is Nineveh. In the parable we find both men communicating, seemingly cognizant of what is around them and even of each other, they even appear to be able to move. Yet they are indeed, according to the parable, very dead. Death is never the end. You can even think, move, talk, pray, and in Jonah’s case, even repent. 

Jesus also declares to a wicked and adulterous generation that they should look for the sign of the prophet Jonah in Matthew 12. What is the sign? Ressurection! Jonah was dead, eaten by the fish. While in Sheol he prayed, sort after the Lord, and repented. God wasn’t finished with Jonah (and Jesus wasn’t finished with Lazarus either), and in a powerful display of love and mercy, He resurrected Jonah to answer the Call and save Nineveh. 

Yom Kippur is a joyful day then, of hope of the resurrection and a place in the World to Come. We believe in this hope, and trust that the Messiah is preparing a place in the World to Come, rooms in His Father’s house, with our names inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life. This makes it a most joyful day indeed. Now, time to go outside and scooter some more :)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Love the Lord your God

Love as it has been said is a many splendid thing. It is something so simple and beautiful we all seek its possession, yet its complexities astound the most able of philosophers. It cannot be adequately defined, yet as a topic it is one that is most written about, talked about, and sung about. History is replete with poets, kings, priests and peasants chasing after love, often discovering its elusiveness. Something so sort after is too often something that cannot be grasped. Elusive as love can be sometimes, there is however one love affair we must all have. And that is a love affair with the Creator, our Maker and Redeemer. Proverbs provide us with some wisdom of love, Psalms speak of God's great love and the greatest of commandments is to Love God. That which defies definition appears as one of the greatest of commandments, to love God and to love your neighbour.

When asked the question 'What is the most important commandment?' Yeshua replies with the Sh’ma recorded in Deut 6vs4-5. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love God with all your Heart, Soul, and Strength. It should be immediately noted that this is an imperative, not a suggestion. We are commanded to Love, thereby indicating we have a choice in the matter. The choice either to obey or not to obey what has been commanded. Love according to the Bible is a choice. Love is not an emotion nor is it something that you fall into without freewill. Thats something else. Lust is an emotion but Love is a command from the Lord. Technically then, you can love anyone, even as Jesus says, our enemies. 

We are commanded to Love God with all our Heart, Soul and Strength. It is usually obvious to see a connection between Love and the Heart, perhaps even with Love and the Soul, but what is the meaning of Strength? How do I love God with my strength? 

What did Strength mean to 1st Century Jews? Here the Targums help. Targums are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible. Most people spoke a vernacular Aramaic over a Hebrew for everyday language in 1st Century Israel. Aramaic became dominate after the return from Babylon. While Hebrew did remain in use, it was not the most common tongue. Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible were read aloud after a reading of the Hebrew version in a synagogue. The first recording of this taking place occurs in the book of Ezra, following the return under the Decree of Cyrus. One such Aramaic translation is called the Targum of Onkelos. The Targum of Onkelos translates Deut 6vs4-5 as .. 'you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your property.

Strength to the hearer in the 1st Century meant your property. Your strength was everything you have. Your time, your spouse, your money, your house and possessions. How will you love the Lord your God? You will love God with everything you have and you will hold nothing back. And this is a choice we have to make as we respond to the Command of the Lord. Will we indeed love God in this way? Or will we choose something else? 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Freedom comes with Instructions

Shalom from Jerusalem and Hag Shavuot Sameach! Today is the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) in the Jewish Calendar. Originally a harvest festival with a strong Temple focus, this is one of the three Pilgrimage feasts requiring all able bodied men to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem. Since the destruction of the Temple the significance of the festival has shifted to a more theological focus, that being the receiving of the Torah. Last night the Jewish people stayed up late reading and studying the Book of Ruth. 

Why is Ruth the scroll that is assigned to be read during Shavuot? Perhaps the tradition came about because the scene of Ruth and Boaz takes place during a harvest in Bethlehem. Or perhaps for the attribution of the birth of King David in Bethlehem to have occurred on the eve of Shavuot. Thus a reading of the beginnings of the House of David might be deemed fitting for the Feast. In the New Testament, whenever the text mentions ‘The Feast’ but then doesn't actually say which one, it refers to the Feast of Shavuot. For example, in the Gospel of John in Chapter 5vs1 we read, ‘Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Jews’ but we are not actually told which festival is in mind. 

Shavuot (Pentecost) occurs 50 days after Passover. Shavout essentially concludes the Exodus of Egypt, it finishes the redemption of Israel from slavery. Passover reflects freedom and liberation, while Shavuot denotes the giving of the Torah. It’s interesting that the chronological history of the Bible has the Jewish People being saved and freed from Egypt, and then given the Law. This teaches us many several important aspects of Freedom. Firstly, the Torah does not save you. The Israelites were redeemed before the giving of the Torah. Paul reminds Peter by saying, ‘We know that a man is not justified by observing the Law.’ Galatians 2vs16. The Israelites were saved from Egypt without knowing what the Torah was, they were brought to Mt Sinai and then given the Torah. Redemption and Salvation came first, then the instructions from Heaven. 

Secondly, we learn that freedom, liberation and redemption are empty without instruction. Freedom itself has rules. When someone says, ‘We are free in Christ,’ that does not mean we have license to do whatever we want. Although I suspect that some people actually want to think that is what that means. The phrase, ‘Everyone does what is right in his own eyes’ that we find in the Judges is not a positive one. The Freedom obtained from Egypt leads us to the desert and eventually to Sinai and the Torah. Not initially to the Promised Land of milk and honey. Freedom first actually takes us to the wilderness. It was in that wilderness that the Israelites themselves contemplated returning to Egypt, putting themselves back under Egyptian taskmasters, even if only for the cucumbers. Freedom brings us through dependence on God, to the instruction and teaching of God. Freedom from sin does not brings us to a place of no law, actually it brings us to a place of Obedience to God. 

The Messiah Himself teaches that, ‘If you love me, you will keep my Commandments’. Liberty needs meaning, or it fades away and too quickly we will find ourselves trapped back under the yoke of slavery and the bondage of sin. That meaning we find in the teachings and instructions of the Messiah and of God. How to live, how to love, how to behave with each other and who we truly are. True freedom comes with instructions. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Cost of Redemption

Passover 5777 approaches, coinciding once again this year closely with Easter and Holy Week. This year our community at Christ Church in Jerusalem will journey to the Dead Sea to celebrate our Seder along the shore of the lowest point on Earth. At 430 metres below sea level, the Dead Sea area is the lowest elevation on the earth’s surface that a human can stand up and breath. Any where else and you’d be underground. 

God gave the Jewish people Feasts and Festivals, each describing how God acted in the World through history. From the book of Leviticus these times are called the Appointed Times of the Lord. Now if you knew that God had made an appointment with you and you knew the time of that appointment, its a strong bet that we would do everything we could to show up on time. God instructs Israel to write the date of Passover, the 14th of Nisan, into their calendars and to celebrate the great redemption that God performed for Israel. They were not to forget it. 

Passover is an amazing story of salvation. The Exodus shows us what redemption looks like. There is the freedom from slavery and being saved from death. Salvation comes at a time when we know very little about God. We are not saved because we know lots about God. Redemption comes before the giving of the Torah. The model of Moses is part of the story showing that the next redeemer figure - the Messiah - must be greater than Moses. God uses slaves to bring judgement on the gods of Egypt and earths mightiest empire of the day. Its the weak defeating the strong. Inherent in the tradition of Passover is that messianic redemption comes at Passover. Thus there will be a place for Elijah, the fore runner of Messiah, at the Seder table. 

The redemption during the Exodus came at a cost. Redemption always does. An unfortunate idea has permeated Western Christianity that redemption (or Salvation) is free. Another unfortunate idea that has emerged from the West is our almost absolute individualism. Its about me and Jesus. And that focus on ourselves has separated us from our historical and global community. Me-vangelicalism too often places us the sole focus of God’s love almost to the exclusion of others. Yes it is very true that God loves me, but He also loves the guy standing next to me just as much. All of us are of intrinsic value to God. Passover reminds us that God saves a people to be a people, and that redemption comes with a price. To redeem something means to buy back that which you already formally owned. 

The cost was the death of the first born. There were ten plagues that struck Egypt. The word plague in Hebrew is ‘Macah’ and it means Strike or Punch. These were the ten punches that God smote Egypt and its gods with. The last of the strikes was the death of the first born. The Israelites had to obey to ensure God would pass over them. The blood they placed on the doorposts and lintels would cover the whole household. Anyone who was inside the house would be spared the Angel of Death. Israelite slaves would invite their Egyptian overlords into their homes for this night, saying ‘Of all nights, you must come come and eat with me tonight’. When the Israelites left Egypt many of the Egyptians joined them in the Exodus, perhaps through the redemption they experienced from the Lord’s Passover. 

Why the first born? Why focus on the biological determinate of being born first, which would not be the first born’s fault. Why not choose to slay those with bad intentions or evil thoughts of the heart? Which would therefore be any of the parents or children in the family and not inherently those born first. Exodus tells the Israelites to consecrate every first born from the womb. The first offspring from every womb belongs to the Lord. God slays only the first born, that which already belongs to Him. God pays the cost of redemption, it was not free. And the price was steep. A whole nation mourned that night. God took that which was already His (Israel) and paying the price for it from His own, the First Born. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kings and Prophets

For the last 6 months I have been studying the books of the Kings and looking at the tension between the Kings and the Prophets. To every king there is a prophet. Sometimes there are multiple prophets to the same king. More often than not they are in opposition to each other. As too often occurs, the kings do not walk in the ways of the Lord and then the prophets appear on the scene to chastise them and return the people to the worship of the Lord. The one exception is Solomon, who does not have a prophet at all. Why not? Maybe he was too wise for a prophet? That might say something about the nature of wisdom. Perhaps if Solomon did have a prophet in his court to challenge him when the need arose, perhaps then his reign would not have ended in a divided kingdom. The Book of Kings shows us that in amongst the consistent idolatry of the northern Kingdom of Israel, the battles with foreign armies, and the clash of religions, God continues to warn and woo his people to return to Him. He never gives up on the North. 

The split of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah occurs following the death of Solomon. Several  attempts were made to repair the relationship, and in one occasion the kingdoms did reunite briefly. Ahab, the King of Israel, marries his daughter Athaliah to Jehoram, king of Judah. Athaliah is also the daughter of Jezebel and leads Judah into idolatry. The kingdoms were united ever so briefly, but it was pagan. We also note that for 6 years a non-Davidic king ruled in Jerusalem. After Ahaziah (who is a descendent of David) is killed by Jehu in 2 Kings 9 (because Ahaziah has an alliance with evil King Ahab whom Jehu has also killed) then Athaliah ascends to the throne in 2 Kings 11, slays the rest of her children and brings Baal worship to Jerusalem. She is, after all, the daughter of Jezebel. I guess it is what we would expect her to do. Athaliah, who is not a descendant of David, rules the Kingdom of Judah in Jerusalem for 6 years. Her end comes at the hands of the high priest Jehoiada and the return of Davidic kings with the enthronement of the 7 year old, Joash. 

2 Kings 3 depicts the transition of the prophetic role from Elijah to Elisha. Elijah is about to depart the world in a whirlwind and flaming chariot. In verse one Elijah is attempting to distance himself from Elisha who refuses to leave his masters side. So they travel together to Bethel. In verse two a company of prophets who were living in Bethel come out to meet them. We have to recall that Bethel is one of the major centres of Israelite idolatry. Golden calves had been established in the false temples of Dan and Bethel since the days of Jeroboam. Yet what we find in Bethel is not a mention of the false idolatry but rather of a school of prophets. This leads to many questions. Out of all the places to establish a school of prophecy in Israel, it’s in Bethel? What were they doing there? Why there? Did they challenge the false temple that was so obviously in front of them? The text doesn't give any details. We are left to ponder the role of this school of prophets. 

In verse four Elijah and Elisha travel to Jericho. Elijah, the great opponent to the prophets of Baal, now travels to a city that God had cursed through Joshua during the initial conquest of the Land. Why would he do such a thing, what was wrong with other cities in Judah? Joshua 6vs26 reveals a curse laid against the rebuilding of Jericho. A curse that ends up happening in 1 Kings 16vs34 when the city is rebuilt despite the prohibition to do so. In this cursed city, that God instructs not to be rebuilt, we find a school of prophets. Again, no information on their function and role in the community is given. 

Lastly, in verse 7, Elijah and Elisha journey across the Jordan. This sends them to the territory of their enemies, Moab and Edom. It is in this land that the chariot and whirlwind will come. It is here that the mantle of prophet moves to Elisha. All this does not occur in the Kingdom of Judah, or anywhere near the Temple of God in Jerusalem. Why not? What’s wrong with holding a religious prophetic transition ceremony amongst the Jewish people and in Jewish lands? Why travel to pagan enemy territory to do the hand over from Elijah to Elisha? 

Light shines brightest when the darkness is at its most dark. We see from these verses that God places His prophets where the darkness is at its greatest. Right next to the pagan false temples and the houses of rival worship are the prophets of God. In a cursed city that was forbidden He sends his heroes and establishes a prophetic school. Into the mortal enemy lands God will place his heroes. Elisha’s first miracle will occur in the lands of Moab. This describes something wonderful of the character of God. He never gives up on His people or the world that He created. And God is not afraid of the darkness, He will send His light to shine there all the more brighter. 

We have been taught by the Messiah to be Lights to the Nations and Salt of the Earth. Leviticus tells us to be Holy like God is Holy. So we should see what God does and then we should endeavour to try to imitate His character and behaviour. Wherever it is the darkest, God is shining His light. That’s where He sends His heroes and His prophets. It’s possible that is where He might send us. And if He does send us into the Darkness, we don’t need be afraid. God is already there shining His light through us all the brighter. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A Great Miracle Happened Here

We are in the Season of Miracles here in Jerusalem. Christmas and Hanukka both began on Christmas Eve, with lots of trees, doughnuts, menorahs and gift giving all joined together. It’s true that Hanukka and Christmas often coincide close together, however the last time there was a direct overlap of these holidays was in 1978. And Christ Church was once again packed with Israeli visitors for Christmas Eve. Approximately 2500 of them braved the cold conditions and came to listen and celebrate a miracle. 

Christmas and Hanukka share some interesting similarities. Both have become heavily commercialized, attractive and popular due to cultural and business pressures. Both come with terrible post-holiday traffic. Both come with special foods, warm spiced wine for Christmas and doughnuts and latkes for Hanukka. This year, the ultra-orthodox Minister of Health in Israel told us doughnuts were unhealthy and recommended we only eat one on Hanukka! Both have had many traditions that are not part of the story introduced to them. Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December and Hanukka is celebrated on the 25th of Kislev. Both have extended Feast days. Hanukka is for 8 days and Christmas has a season of 12 days. Both holidays recall a Great Miracle done by the God of Heaven for His people. The Miracles require more than just one day to fully appreciate and internalize, so we have 8-12 days to ponder and dwell on the mystery. 

Most people would ascribe the Miracle of the Virgin birth and the advent of Messiah as the Miracle that is being celebrated at Christmas. Note that people are not celebrating the Birthday of the Messiah rather the Birth of the Messiah, as the actual day of birth is not recorded. It was not a Jewish tradition to record birthdays during the 2nd Temple Period. However, the Gospels do indeed record His birth and the celebration of that event was added to the Calendar. And I know I have said it before on this blog but it’s worth mentioning again - Christmas does not replace a pagan holiday of the Winter Solstice. This is a mantra I have heard so many times from Christians and secular alike. It’s a false claim that has become unfortunately set in stone. None of the early Church Fathers make a mention of the date or pagan holiday replacement. The Greeks predate the Catholics as the closest to the original Church and obviously did not choose to replace the Winter Solstice, which falls on the Dec 21st, as Greek Christmas is on the 7th January. And the Armenian Orthodox (who are actually the very first nation to embrace Christianity in the year 271 AD) have their Christmas in Jerusalem on the 18th January. 

Most people would ascribe the Miracle of the Oil as the Miracle that is attributed to Hanukka. Hanukka comes from the verb ‘to dedicate’, and celebrates the rededication of a purified Temple following a successful Jewish revolt against the Seleucid Greeks. The events are recorded in the Books of the Maccabees, of which there are 4 Books of Maccabees. Interestingly, the Jewish people celebrate Hanukka, an event recorded in Books that are only preserved in Catholic and Orthodox Christian Bibles. If you actually read the Books of the Maccabees you note an absence of one major event - there is no Miracle! There is no mention of Oil or how the Menorah burned with Light for 8 days as new Oil was produced. Why not? What happened?Why did they miss including such a special event that is now synonymous with Hanukka? So when did the Oil appear in the story of Hanukka? Actually, the Miracle of the Oil appears very late in the 6th Century in the Talmud, that’s 600 years after the Maccabees. The real Miracle in the Books of the Maccabees is that a small non-trained Jewish army defeated the mighty Greeks, one of the most well-equipped, well-funded Superpowers of the day. God once again fought for His people. 

The Rabbis and Sages did not agree with the Messianic theology of the Maccabees. The Maccabean nationalism believed they could hasten the redemption of the Messiah through violence and that they themselves played a part of the messianic agenda of God. They even killed their Jewish opponents who disagreed with them. The Maccabees slaughtered the Pharisees in mass crucifixion. A death penalty they had adopted from the Greeks and Romans. In revenge the Rabbis failed to mention or write about the Maccabees during the Mishnaic period (that’s between 100 BC and 200 AD), trying to downplay the disastrous nationalistic fervour of the Maccabees which had resulted in successfully getting rid of the Greeks only to invite the invasion of the Romans and subsequent destruction of the Temple. It was only much later that the Rabbis of the Babylonian Talmud sought to replace the Miracle of a military victory with a Miracle from God. They did a play on words with the Maccabees. In Hebrew the Maccabees descend from the HaShmonim family. Shemen in Hebrew means oil. Ha-Shemen means ‘the oil’ and sounds similar to HaShmonim. Thus was born the Miracle of the Oil, 600 years after the military victory over the Greeks and the rededication of the Temple. 

The Gospels record Jesus being in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication. As that was indeed what was being celebrated, the rededication of the Temple and the relighting of the Menorah in the Temple. Josephus (Jewish Historian) records the Feast as the Festival of Lights, as the focus was on the rekindling of Light in the Temple. Light in Jewish tradition symbolizes the presence of God. God was once again with His people. The military victory of the Maccabees was indeed a Miracle and it is worth recording and celebrating. God has many times in the past fought for His people and He will do so again. For the sake of His great Name. 

In the Prayer Book of the Jewish people today there is only one Prayer for Hanukka. Which shows you how unimportant the Rabbis are actually trying to make it. And it has no mention of the Miracle of Oil at all, rather it mentions the many miracles God has done for His people through the ages. I apologize if this disappoints some people who really like the idea of the oil miracle. However, we, both Jews and Christians, have taken many traditions and added them to the stories we celebrate. Christmas trees, Santa Claus, the three Wise Men have imbedded themselves in the Christmas Story. The Gospels record no trees, Santa was actually a generous 4th Century Bishop, and we are not told the number of Magi from the East. The truth is that God has done Great Miracles for us and our forefathers. The greatest Miracle was the Messiah. And we are indebted to recall all the wondrous Miracles God has done. We are in a Season of Miracles. The world is in a bit of a mess and we need to pray for God to continue to do more Miracles for us this year. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukka.