Who is “Israel”? What Jews and Christians Need to Know (Part 1)

WHO IS “ISRAEL”?  This is not just a random, general question for me, but it lies at the very heart of the calling that God has placed upon my life.  By the time you finish this article, I think you will know what I mean.  I have a personal stake in fully understanding this question as I will explain.  But it’s not only important to me, it should be important to every Jew and Christian in the world since it lies at the heart of who we are, our identities in God.

MY OWN PERSONAL STRUGGLE

I did not grow up a Torah-centered life, nor did I grow up in a Jewish home, but in a very conservative Christian home.  I grew up attending a small Pentecostal church on the south side of Lansing, Michigan, and then when I was twelve, my parents began attending an Assemblies of God church close to our home.  However, over the years, the Lord has called my wife and I to an “Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.” Except for our belief in Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah, by all outward evidence, we are living a Jewish life, at least to the best of our knowledge.  There are many things we still need to learn, particularly about being “Orthodox,” but these are things that God has called us to learn, and so we continue to strive to learn them.

But growing up, I remember the more I studied the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, the more I loved it.  I actually got into an argument many years ago with someone in our Sunday School class, because he tried to argue that people could not keep God’s commandments, and I disagreed with him.  I told him we could keep them, but most of the time, we choose not to do it.  I also absolutely disagree with Christians who say that God gave us His commandments just to “show us what horrible, sinful people we really are,” I don’t know what Bible they are reading, but I sure don’t see that taught or indicated in the first five books, or even in the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures.  I also was asked to leave one church, because I had just started wearing my prayer shawl that I had just bought from the Israel Connection, a Jewish bookstore, when it was still open in Scottsdale, Arizona. The pastor told me that if I wanted to wear it, I should go to the synagogue or a Messianic service, but I was not allowed to wear it there at his church.  My wife and I did not return.

God’s law is also an act of love and grace.  He did it because He wanted us to know who He was, what He is like, what He’s not like, and how we are to interact with Him and with one anther.  And nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures do we get any indication of God’s Word being “bondage,” “legalism,” or that it has been “annulled,” “set aside,” or been completely fulfilled so that we no longer have to obey it.  Yeshua (Jesus) has been the One who has called my wife and I to this life, and He is the One who is directing us to walk “the ancient paths” of His Kingdom ways, as He invited Israel to do through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:16).  Now having laid out my general background and reason why this study is so important to me, let me ask the question.

WHO IS “ISRAEL”?

This seems like it should be an easy question to answer, doesn’t it, but it’s really not since there are many different groups, other than the Jewish people, who are claiming to be “the true Israel.”  However, my only question is, “How does God define ISRAEL?”  Many people are not aware that God Himself defined “ISRAEL” in His own word; consequently, the only definition that matters is His.

WHEN DID ISRAEL BEGIN?

First of all, I think it is important for us to remember when Israel began.  Although God called Abraham into covenant with Him, and then his son, Isaac, He laid the foundation for what Israel was to become through their lives.   Technically, though, we would have to agree that there couldn’t have been any such thing as “Israel” until God actually renamed Jacob as “Israel” (Genesis 32).   In chapter 32, Jacob was really nervous about meeting his brother Esau again, because he hadn’t seen him since he pretended to be Esau and tricked his father into giving him his older brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:1-40), rather than it going to Esau.  And he was really nervous when his servants told him that Esau was coming towards him with 400 men (Genesis 32:6), so he divided his family into two companies, hoping that one of them would at least survive (Genesis 32:7-8).

Jacob then spends some time in prayer to God, asking Him to deliver him from the hand of his brother Esau (Genesis 32:9-12).  Then he selected a large number of animals, and he divided them up into at least three groups, and to each group, he gave to a servant.  He told the servants to take the animals as a present and to give them to Esau, and by doing so, he was hoping to appease him.  He also made sure to tell the servants not to go together, but to have a large space between them (Genesis 32:13-20).

JACOB WRESTLES ALL NIGHT WITH GOD

That night, as he was on guard alone, in case one of Esau’s men would try to sneak into the camp, he ends up wrestling with someone in the dark until the breaking of the day.  And when the stranger saw that he was not prevailing against Jacob at all, the Scriptures say he touched the hollow of his thigh, and by doing so, he was able to put it out of joint (Genesis 32:24-25).  Obviously, this was not any ordinary man since he was able to do this by simply touching his thigh.  At this point, the man says to let him go, but Jacob responds, “I will not let you go, except you bless me” (Genesis 32:26).  The man then asks him his name, and then when Jacob tells him, the man says,

Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince have you power with God and with men, and have prevailed.  (Genesis 32:28)

When Jacob asked him his name, he would not tell him, but he blessed Jacob there.  This scene is where Jacob is renamed as “Israel.”  From this scene, I think we can logically infer the following about Israel:

  • Although Jacob had done some unscrupulous things in his past, he had repented and he is trying to reconcile with his brother by making amends;
  • During this process of repentance, Jacob wrestles with a stranger and is given a new identity as “Israel.”  “The man” says Israel is “as a prince” has “power with God and with men,” and he has “prevailed.”

In Hosea 12, there seems to indicate that the man was God, but then there’s the indication that it was an angel:

In the womb he took his brother by the heel, and in his maturity he contended with God.  Yes, he wrestled with the angel and prevailed: He wept and sought His favor.  He found Him at Bethel, and there He spoke with us.  (Hosea 12:3-4)

Consequently, based on this account, Israel is “one who wrestles with God.”  And how many of us like Jacob also wrestle with God in one way or another.

GOD CREATES ISRAEL

Then in Genesis 35, we have what seems to be God renaming Jacob as Israel all over again for a second time, but there’s more to it here than merely a renaming.  When Jacob came out of Padan-aram, God again appeared to Jacob and blessed him. (Genesis 35:9)  And God said to him:

Your name is Jacob: Your name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be your name:

“and He called his name Israel.  And God said to him,”

I am God Almighty (Heb. El Shaddai): be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins; and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land.  (Genesis 35:10-12)

First of all, in looking at what God told him after renaming him “Israel”:

  1.  God identified Himself as “El Shaddai” (God Almighty) or “the God who is more
    than enough.”
  2.  God told him to “be fruitful and multiply.”  This indicates that this is not just a renaming, but a creation account since the only two times prior to this that this phrase was used was during the initial creation account in Genesis 1 (Genesis 1:22, 28), and after Noah, his family, and all the animals came off the ark, indicating a new creation after the flood (Genesis 8:17; 9:7).

In the book of Isaiah, God says to the people and nation of Israel:

But now thus says the LORD that created you, O Jacob, and He that formed you, O Israel, fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are Mine.  (Isaiah 43: 1)

During the biblical period, the act of naming something or giving it a new name was an act of showing one’s ownership of that thing or person.  For instance, when Adam gave “Woman” the name Chavah (trans. as “Eve” in English), he was showing his ownership of her since she was his wife.  When God renames Abram into Abraham, and Sarai into Sarah, He is showing His ownership of them.  They now belonged to Him, and the same is true of Jacob here into “Israel.”

We even see this in the New Testament, when Yeshua (Jesus) renames Simon into “Peter,” He is showing His ownership of Peter as belonging to Him, and the same is true of us as modern believers, since in the epistles we are told that Yeshua (Jesus) purchased us with His blood (I Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; 2 Peter 2:1), and therefore, He is going to show His ownership of us by giving us a “new name” (Revelation 2:17), as well as give us three other names: “the name of My God,” “the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem,” and “My new name” (Revelation 3:12).  Notice that although Yeshua (Jesus) and the Father are One (John 10:30), Yeshua (Jesus) refers to Him after His resurrection as “My Father and your Father, and to My God and Your God” (John 20:17), and here in this passage, He also refers to Him as “My God,” and He’s even been given “a new name” by God, demonstrating God’s ownership of Him.  And these three names will also be given to those who overcome.

ANALYZING GOD’S DEFINITION OF ISRAEL

  • After giving him the name “Israel,” God then defines “ISRAEL” as “A NATION and A COMPANY OF NATIONS shall be of you.”  ISRAEL is then defined as –
    • A NATION (Heb. goy; Gk. ethne).  One of the interesting things I noticed when comparing the Hebrew with the Greek is that the Hebrew word goy is in the singular, and it means “a nation,” but the Greek word ethne is in the plural and means “nations,” and it’s where we get the English words “ethnic” and “ethnicity.”    This word, though, refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  However, in defining Israel, God doesn’t just stop there, but He adds to the definition the following element.
    • A COMPANY OF NATIONS” (Heb. q’hal goyim; Gk. sunagogai ethnon) And like the word “nation,” the Hebrew word q’hal is in the singular, and the Greek word sunagogai is in the plural.  Again, I wonder why the change from the singular to the plural.

In Hebrew, the word q’hal [H6951] can be translated to mean “assembly, company, congregation, or multitude.”  The most popular translation for this word is the word “congregation” since it is translated that way 86 times.  Now in all the online sources that I found available, the Greek word sunagogai [G4864] was translated “gatherings,” and it is the source from which we get the word “Synagogue.”

The next word is the Hebrew word “goyim” or the Greek ethnon, and in both languages, it is plural and means “nations” or “gentiles.”  Both translations are equally valid.  So then this phrase q’hal goyim in the Hebrew or sunagogai ethnon in the Greek could be translated as any of the following:

      • An assembly of nations (or gentiles);
      • a company of nations (or gentiles);
      • a congregation of nations (or gentiles);
      • a multitude of nations (or gentiles); or
      • gatherings of nations (or gentiles).

Obviously, which of these is chosen depends on the preference of the translator since any one of these could be argued as a valid choice.  What I do find interesting is that even though the Greek word sunagogai is in the plural, most English translations seem to follow the Hebrew instead, which is singular.

  • ISRAEL – A COVENANT PEOPLE WITH GOD

Throughout the Scriptures, Israel is seen as a people who are to live their lives in accordance to the covenants that God had made with them.  For example, there was the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15, 17); the Sinai covenant (Exodus 12 – Deuteronomy); the Levitic /Priesthood covenant (Numbers 25:11-13); the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16; I Chronicles 17:7-14); the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34); and the coming covenant of peace (Ezekiel 34:22-31; 37:15-28).  The whole history of Israel is of them being a covenant people.  And just as God has called Israel to be His covenant people, He has also called me to live my life in accordance to His covenants as well.

  • ISRAEL – GOD’S SERVANT, HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE

In the book of Isaiah, we learn the following about Israel from God:

But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, descendant of Abraham, My friend…you are My servant, I have chosen you and not rejected you. (Isaiah 41:8, 9b)

Israel is God’s chosen servant, who began as we saw with Jacob, whom the LORD Himself had chosen.  Israel is the descendant of Abraham, “My friend,” a covenantal term, demonstrating that Israel are God’s covenantal people.

  • ISRAEL – GOD’S FIRSTBORN SON?

Another interesting thing about “ISRAEL” is that God identifies ISRAEL as “My son, even My firstborn son.”  God is giving Moses instructions on what He is to say to the Pharaoh when he meets him, and He says,

And the LORD said unto Moses, When you go to return to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.  And you shall say to Pharaoh, Thus says the LORD, Israel is My son, even My firstborn.  (Exodus 4:21)

Now Moses has not even seen the Pharaoh yet, and here God is identifying Israel as His “son, even [His] firstborn son.”  Obviously, if God is identifying Israel as His son, then God already has an on-going relationship with Israel right here.  Then how could the covenant at Mt. Sinai be the relationship covenant since God is already in a relationship with them before Moses even goes to see the Pharaoh or before any of the plagues or before the Exodus from Egypt has even begun?

But isn’t it rather interesting that when it came time for Israel to leave Egypt under Moses’ leadership that Israel was comprised not only of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but there was also a “mixed multitude” of Gentiles that came out with them:

And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.  And a MIXED MULTITUDE went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle. (Exodus 12:37-38)

Notice that Israel did not leave Egypt alone.  They left Egypt comprised of both the physical descendants of Israel AND the “mixed multitude” of Gentiles, just as God defined Israel in Genesis 35: “a nation and a multitude of nations.”  And after they cross the Jordan River, they continued to grow in the amount of “mixed multitude” of Gentiles that were part of Israel; for example, with Rahab and her family, Ruth, Doeg the Edomite, etc.  And more recently, me and my wife.

ISRAEL – THOSE WHOM GOD HAS CREATED, FORMED AND REDEEMED

Just as we read earlier, God created a whole new being called “Israel.”  Before God created him, Israel did not exist.  But He also formed him in that he made him from someone who already existed, Jacob.  So Israel was both “created” and “formed.” God refers to this in this verse.

But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! (Isaiah 43:1)

Here we learn that God not only redeemed Israel, but he was called by name.  Israel belongs to God; they are His people.  But not only did God call “Israel” by name, but I believe this implies that everyone who will comprise His people, Israel, He will also call by name.  We speaks more about this six verses later:

Everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.  (Isaiah 43:7)

And then, in the next chapter, we learn,

But now listen, O Jacob, My servant; And Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you, Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.  (Isaiah 44:1-2)

Again we learn that Israel is God’s servant, they have been personally chosen by God.  He made and formed each one of them, as He has the rest of us, but we should remember Paul’s description of the “unsaved Gentile world,”

remember that you were at that time separate from Christ [Messiah], excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  (Ephesians 2:12)

ISRAEL – GOD’S COVENANT PEOPLE

Throughout the Scriptures, Israel is seen as a people who are to live their lives in accordance to the covenants that God had made with them.  Each of these covenants build on one another, they do not replace any of the earlier covenants as Christianity teaches.  For example, there’s the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 15, 17); the Sinai covenant (Exodus 12 – Deuteronomy); the Levitic /Priesthood covenant (Numbers 25:11-13); the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:12-16; I Chronicles 17:7-14); the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34); and the coming covenant of peace (Ezekiel 34:22-31; 37:15-28).  The whole history of Israel is of them being a covenant people. And each of us, who are in Messiah, are also called to be His covenant people.  We do not keep one covenant, but in some way, we keep them all.

ISRAEL – GOD’S SERVANT, HIS CHOSEN WITNESSES

Another thing that God says about Israel is that they are God’s servant, His chosen witnesses.  “You are My Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show My glory” (Isaiah 49:3).  Six chapters earlier, God describes Israel as His witnesses:

“You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen.  In order that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He.  Before Me there was no God formed, and there be none after Me.  I, even I, am the LORD; and there is no savior besides Me.  It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, and there was no strange god among you.  So you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD.  (Isaiah 43:10-12)

God has chosen Israel to be His witnesses of who He is, what He is like, what He’s not like, and what He has required of us.  As Micah writes,

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8)

There is so much about God and His Word we would not know, if not for Israel and the Jewish people.

WHAT GOD HAS SAID ABOUT YOU & ME

And the same callings, responsibilities and privileges that God has given to Israel, He gives to all those who are His, because He makes us all a part of Israel.  Now does that mean I believe that the believer in Messiah has in some way replaced the Jewish people? (Replacement Theology) Absolutely not!  Nor do I believe that God has placed Israel on the “back burner,” and that God is only working through “the church,” referring to some religious entity that is different than Israel (Dispensationalism).

Instead, I believe that we are engrafted into Israel, that we are to be One (Heb. echad) like God Himself.  We are to be One (‘echad) with Him, and we are to be One (‘echad) with one another, just as Yeshua (Jesus) prayed the night before His crucifixion (John 17:22-23).  And not only is God’s desire for us all, Jew and Christian, to be One, but that  we who are not of Jewish descent partake with them (the Jewish people), as Paul wrote in Romans 11,

And if some of the branches [Jews] are broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, was GRAFTED IN AMONG THEM, and WITH THEM partake of the root and fatness of the Olive Tree [Israel].  (Romans 11:17)

ISRAEL” is the name of God’s Kingdom that He began with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God’s intention is that we would all be part of ONE FAMILY, just as Rahab and Ruth, two Gentile women, became a part of the family of ISRAEL.   Now does that mean that I completely endorse everything that the present state of Israel does?  No, but by the same taken, I also don’t endorse everything that my own country, the United States, does either.  But we need to understand what God wants ISRAEL to be, and I believe when the Messiah returns, ISRAEL will become all that He wants them – and us – to become.

WHAT GOD HAS SAID TO MY WIFE AND I

When my wife and I went to ISRAEL, and are planning on going again, we want to learn from the people there, to be their friends, just as we hope that they will also learn from us, and want to be our friends as well.  But this is our attitude not only when we go to ISRAEL, but wherever we go.  But God has told us in prayer and in revelations to us over the years that there are certain things that He expects of us.  The following is a list of many of those things of where we are now, but He didn’t with all of this.  It has accumulated over the years.

  • He has chosen us and called us by name;
  • It was He who created us and formed us;
  • It was His plan from the very beginning that we should get married to one another;
  • He was the One who called us to be His witnesses to the nations;
  • He is the One who has given us the insights and revelations about Him and His Kingdom;
  • He has saved us, redeemed us, and kept us safe many different times;
  • He told us that He wants and longs for a relationship with us to be a holy one, because He can’t live in an unholy Temple.  It is detestable to Him, and He will puke us out;
  • He told us that Paul remained a believing Pharisee all of his life, and that there’s many things that Paul has written that Christians do not properly understand because of many different things;
  • He told us that He does not believe that many Christians love Him because they do not talk about Him with others, they are more passionate about football and sports than they are about Him, and they do not keep His commandments;
  • He has told us that we are not to celebrate Christmas, Easter, Lent, or Halloween.  These were never His holidays at all;
  • He has told us that we are to observe His Shabbat;
  • He has told us that we are to observe all of His feasts;
  • He has told us to keep the purity laws;
  • He has told us that we are to eat only kosher, those foods that He said in His word His people are to eat, and we are not to eat anything that He has called unclean;
  • He told me in prayer that I am to live as closely to the life of an Orthodox Jewish man as possible without violating His Scriptures;
  • He has told me to wear tzitzit, to pray wearing a prayer shawl, and to wear a kippah;
  • He has called me ben Torah, the son of His Torah, and my wife bat Torah, the daughter of His Torah;
  • He is calling my wife and I to Israel; and
  • He has told us that we are to teach all people, Jew and non-Jew alike, to believe in Yeshua (Jesus) and to be baptized (or immersed) in water for the remission of sins, AND we are also to teach them to obey the Torah, the writings of Moses, and the rest of the Bible as well.

Many Christians have questioned whether I’ve really heard from God, but it was the LORD Yeshua (Jesus) Himself who audibly spoke to me in my bedroom early one morning.  It was He who has called us to do these things.  Many people don’t believe me when I tell them that the Lord audibly spoke to me, but it is true, and I know it is true.  So if we were not to do what He has told us to do, then we would be breaking His commands to us, and it would be sin to us.  Of that, I have no doubt.

I am also sure that Christianity is wrong when it comes to the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, and many of Paul’s ideas about the law.  God’s desire is that we would be filled with His Spirit, and that we would love living out His Torah, keeping the Sabbath and His feasts, and all of His other commandments, and that His Word, including all of His commandments, would reside within our minds and in our hearts.  He wants His words in the inside of us, in our guts.  He does not want His word sitting on a shelf collecting dust, as it does in many homes today of people.

But we are all ISRAEL, if we are physically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or whether we have been engrafted into ISRAEL when we put our faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah.  All of us in ISRAEL have the privilege and the responsibility to love God; to love His word, the Torah; and to love one another.  If a Jew, Paul says, does not obey God and listen to the prophet “like unto Moses” (i.e., the Messiah Yeshua), then he is in violation of the Torah.  And like the Jew, if the Christian, or any other person, does not obey God’s word, including the commandments that He gave to Moses, then he too is in violation of God’s Word.

The division we see between ISRAEL and the Church isn’t really there.  It is a man-made division.  There have always been those who said they were God’s people, but they did not live their life in obedience to Him.  This is true of people in ISRAEL and it is true of those who identify themselves as being in the church.  They didn’t love God and they didn’t keep the Torah as God instructed them to do.

WE NEED TO GET READY FOR THE COMING OF MESSIAH AND HIS KINGDOM

But if we are going to be ready for the return of the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, and the establishment of His Kingdom here on earth, we need to begin living in obedience to all of God’s word, not just some parts we happen to decide that we like.  If we don’t, we won’t make it.

There are many people in our churches today who think that when they die or when the Lord returns that they will be going to heaven, but they are going to be sadly shocked and surprised when they discover too late that they will not be going to heaven at all, but they will be spending eternity in the lake of fire and brimstone.  The time is quickly coming to an end, and just as God shut the door of the Ark, and then destruction fell upon the earth, so the door of salvation is about to be closed, and soon, the time will come when it will be too late, and the door will be closed.  And once closed, it will not be re-opened.  Sudden destruction will fall, as it did the days of Noah and in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all who didn’t make it will be destroyed.

Think about it and make the right choice.  We know what God has called upon our lives, and we are not going to stop now.  We will continue.  We can only ask that you think about it, seek God, ask Him what you should do, and follow His directions.  If you hear a voice that directs you to violate His commandments or to go against His Word, please know that this voice that you hear is not God’s voice since God does not violate or oppose His Word.

Blessings and Shalom be to all of you.

 

 

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Does Paul Teach a “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” in His Epistles? (Part 1/2)

With movies like Thief in the Night (1972), Distant Thunder (1978), Image of the Beast (1981), The Prodigal Planet (1983) or the more recent Left Behind: The Movie (2005) series, as well as the many books written about the Lord’s return, they have presented a scenario to readers in which there are two comings of the Lord: one secret coming, called “the Rapture,” and one public coming, called “the Second Coming.”  However, even though this idea that there are “two comings” is popular within the church today, it actually only goes back to the thirteenth century, A.D., and those who embrace this teaching use biblical references, like I Thessalonians 4-5, to support their teaching.  Therefore, my question, and hopefully yours as well, is whether or not the context of this passage actually supports their derived interpretation?

WHAT IS “CONTEXT”?

The term “context” refers to that which goes along with the text that we are examining.  The immediate context would refer to those words, phrases and sentences which come immediately before and after the text that we are examining.  However, there are other contexts that we often have to keep in mind as well, such as the historical context (What was going on in history at that time?).

WHAT WAS THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT?

The believers in Jesus, Jews and non-Jews alike, were being persecuted by Rome.  As a result, there were many believers who were concerned that if they were to die as martyrs before the Lord returned to set up His Kingdom that they would miss out on His millennial reign.  Therefore, Paul wrote this passage to comfort them that they would not miss out on it.

Understanding this, we can better understand the focus of the passage, which is on the resurrection of the dead.   He writes,

But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which asleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.  For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.  (I Thessalonians 4:13-15)

As we can see, Paul is comparing the Lord’s own bodily resurrection with the resurrection that those believers who died being faithful to Him will experience at His return.  However, in contrast to this, there are ministers, Bible teachers, and TV evangelists who are teaching that “the rapture” and “the resurrection of the dead” are two different events, but this violates the clear context of what Paul is saying here.   By his comparison, Paul is clearly identifying the event he’s about to describe as “the resurrection of the dead,” and not as a separate event.

THE SECOND COMING & RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD

Then Paul writes the following:

For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.  Wherefore comfort one another with these words.  (I Thessalonians 4:16-18)

Obviously, as we can see, this event happens at the time of the Lord’s return.  So in his description here, we see that “the dead in Christ” will rise first, and then “we which are alive and REMAIN shall be together” with those believers “in the clouds to the meet the Lord in the air.”  This word “remain” here is important because the believers at this time are being tortured and martyred for their faith.  They are undergoing tribulation in their lives. So the context of this verse written by Paul is one of suffering and martyrdom, not one in which God is promising an escape from suffering and martyrdom, as taught by the “pre-trib preachers.”  Therefore, this is NOT a promise to keep the people in Thessalonica from experiencing tribulation and martyrdom because they are already experiencing it.  Therefore, to use this verse to say that God is promising to keep us from the persecution and suffering of the 7-year tribulation period is to take this passage out of context.

SO WHAT IS THE “BLESSED HOPE”?

So what is the “blessed hope,” and what is the promise given that we are to “comfort one another with these words”?  Is it the comfort that we will be resurrected before the tribulation and our martyrdom?  No, because that would violate the historical and textual context of the passage.  These believers are already undergoing martyrdom, they are already in tribulation, so how could that be the “blessed hope” or the promise?  Instead, the promise, or the “blessed hope,” is that “the dead in Christ [Messiah]” will not miss out on the coming Millennial reign of Messiah. They will be there, and they will experience it.  That is the promise or “blessed hope” we see Paul giving here.  This is the promise we are to comfort one another with, even today.

It is important to remember when interpreting any text, including the Bible, that it CANNOT mean anything differently today than it did when it was written.  And clearly to impose a “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” scenario on this passage is a clear violation of this basic principle.

THE LORD’S RETURN & THE RESURRECTION = “THE DAY OF THE LORD”?

An interesting thing about those who teach a “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” is that they don’t continue reading into chapter 5 of I Thessalonians.  For in the very next two verses after the alleged “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” passage, Paul writes,

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I write unto you.  For yourselves know perfectly that THE DAY OF THE LORD so comes as A THIEF IN THE NIGHT.  (I Thessalonians 5:1-2; Emphasis Mine)

By stating this, Paul is saying here that “of the times and the seasons” in which the Lord will return and the resurrection of the dead will happen, he does not need to teach them anymore about that because they know perfectly well that “THE DAY OF THE LORD” will come as “A THIEF IN THE NIGHT.”  Paul here is identifying the Lord’s return and the resurrection of the dead believers, as well as the catching up of the true believers who are still alive during this time of persecution and tribulation, to be “THE DAY OF THE LORD.”

The term “THE DAY OF THE LORD” is very specific in the Bible, and it is used to designate a time when God’s judgment is poured out on people who are living in disobedience and rebellion to Him and to His commandments.  And Paul says that this time of judgment will catch people unprepared, like “a thief in the night.”  He then writes,

For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then SUDDEN DESTRUCTION comes upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and THEY SHALL NOT ESCAPE. (I Thessalonians 5:3; Emphasis Mine)

This time of judgment is going to catch the majority of the world unprepared.  They won’t see it coming, nor will they be ready for it.  Instead, the destruction will be sudden, and they shall NOT escape.  This also goes along with what Yeshua (Jesus) teaches about the day of His return as well.

And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.  They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. (Luke 17:26-27)

Notice that like Paul describes, the flood in the days of Noah caught people totally unprepared.  They were living their life the same as any other day, until the flood came, but by the time they realized what was happening, it was too late, and they were all destroyed.  The same thing happened in the days of Lot with Sodom and Gomorrah.

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.  Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed [i.e., He returns]. (Luke 17: 28-30)

Again, we see the same thing:  the people of these two cities were living their life completely oblivious to the judgment that was coming until it was too late, and then they were all destroyed.

“THE DAY OF THE LORD” – A DAY OF NO ESCAPE?

As we can see, in every example that Yeshua (Jesus) gave, as well as in Paul’s statement, there is no opportunity for anyone to get saved once the flood happens or the fire and brimstone fell from heaven.  So the question I have is if “the rapture” (i.e., the resurrection of the dead) happens before the seven year tribulation or even in the middle of it, then there’s time for people to get saved after it happens, but this violates the clear pattern here.

But what will happen on that day?  In the following Old Testament Scriptures, it provides us with a fuller sense of what events will happen on that day.

THE LORD RETURNS FIRST GOES JORDAN

In Isaiah 63, we find the following prophecy:

Who is this that comes from Edom (now Jordan), with dyed garments from Bozrah? This that is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?  I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save.  Wherefore are You red in your apparel, and Your garments like him that treads the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with Me; for I will tread them in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury; and their blood shall be SPRINKLED upon My garments, and I will stain ALL of My raiment. For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart, and the year of My redeemed is come. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore Mine own arm brought salvation to Me; and My fury, it upheld Me. And I will tread down the people in Mine anger, and make them drunk in My fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth. (Isaiah 63:1-6)

We know that this prophecy is about Yeshua (Jesus), because He is “glorious in His apparel,” He speaks “in righteousness” and is “mighty to save.”  But in the Second Coming, Jesus is coming to bring the wrath of God and judgment against the nations.  He’s not coming back as “the Lamb of God,” but as “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.”  He’s coming back as a Mighty Warrior, who is going to kill many of Israel’s enemies in battle.

It is believed that after the Anti-Christ and his forces attack Jerusalem, that there will be many people who will escape to Jordan, specifically to Petra.  And then some of the military will pursue them, and as they are attempting to attack the people there, Yeshua (Jesus) will return and defeat the military forces coming against His people, Israel, who are there in hiding.

But we also see, in the passage above, the word translated as “SPRINKLED” in the King James is the Hebrew word Nazah [H5137], which means “to spurt, to gush, to squirt, to spatter.” So as Yeshua (Jesus) is doing battle with these military forces, beginning in Bozrah in Jordan and making His way back towards Jerusalem, their blood is going to “spurt, gush, squirt, and spatter” all over His clothes until He “will stain ALL of My raiment.”

HE WILL THEN RETURN TO HEAVEN TO GET US TO JOIN HIM IN THE BATTLE

Then at some point in His movement towards Jerusalem, He will return to heaven, get us and then lead the way back into battle.  And it is at this point in the battle that the Apostle John prophetically sees Him:

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He does make war.  His eyes were a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns; and He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. And He was clothed with a vesture DIPPED in blood: and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should smite the nations: and He shall rule them with a rod of iron: and He treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16; Emphasis Mine)

In this passage in Revelation, the word translated as “dipped” is the Greek word bapto [G911], which means “to immerse” or “to dye by dipping.”  After doing battle in Bozrah and then heading back to Jerusalem, He then returns to heaven, gets us, and as John saw, His clothes were covered in blood, and when we put Isaiah 63 with Revelation 19 together, we can see the actual order of events and understand where the blood came from.

And then after coming to get us, He then leads the armies of heaven and us into battle.  In the last chapter from the book of Isaiah, we gain another perspective of this same event:

For behold, the LORD will come in fire and His chariots like the whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the LORD will execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh, and those slain by the LORD will be many. Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the gardens, following one in the center, who eat swine’s flesh, detestable things, and
mice, shall come to an end altogether,” declares the LORD.  (Isaiah 66:15-17)

So not only will the LORD be coming with some of His armies on white horses, but others, apparently, will be coming riding in flaming chariots, much like the one that took Elijah into heaven. And just as we described in the earlier Isaiah 63 passage, Yeshua (Jesus) will be coming to “execute judgment by fire and by His sword on all flesh,” and we are told here that “those slain by the LORD will be many.”

Our Warrior-King is coming! And what I found interesting is how God describes who will be slain here by them going “to the gardens, following one in the center,” which may have reference to some pagan or idol worship, but also by what things they eat: “swine’s flesh, detestable things, and mice,” all things forbidden by God in His commandments.

THE FINAL BATTLE WILL BE AROUND JERUSALEM

And this final battle will be there in and around Jerusalem. And just like in the day that Joshua son of Nun fought and the sun remained in its position until the battle was completed (Joshua 10:7:12-14), so the sun will do so again with our New Testament “Joshua” (”Jesus” is the Greek form of “Joshua”), for as we read in the last chapter of the book of Zechariah:

Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall cleave (or split) in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove to the north, and half of it toward the south.  And you shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yes, you shall flee, like as you fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with You. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark: but it shall be one day which shall be known to the LORD, nor day, nor night; but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light…and the LORD shall be KING over all the earth: in that day shall there be ONE LORD, and His name ONE. (Zechariah 14:3-7, 9; Emphasis Mine)

ARE WE PREPARING FOR OUR COMING WARRIOR-KING?

Are we ready for our coming Warrior-King, for this coming war, and for His Kingdom which shall be established for one thousand years afterwards? And after this war, when the Lord will set up and establish His Kingdom here on earth, we are told that –

from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall ALL FLESH come to worship before Me, says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:23).

Notice that God does not say here, “All Israel,” or “All Jews,” but “All Flesh,” so this means both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) will be required to do this.  Also, in Zechariah 14, “all the families of the earth” will be required to come up to “Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of Hosts” during the Feast of Tabernacles, and any families that do not do this will be punished with drought or no rain (Zechariah 14:16-21).

Are we talking about this? Are we preparing for it? Are we learning what’s involved in this? It doesn’t seem like the dominant American church is taking any part of this seriously, but instead we are ignoring it all, and just going around like the Lord’s return isn’t for a long time yet, and not just around the corner,  and we’re just on with “business as usual.”   Clearly, we are not taking God or His Word very seriously.

BUT FOR THOSE OF US WHO ARE PREPARING AND WATCHING –

However, for those of us who are watching and paying attention, and striving to faithfully serve the Lord in our lives, the Lord’s return will not catch us unprepared, like “a thief in the night,” but instead, he says,

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you as a thief.  You are all the children of light, and the children of day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.  Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.  For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that are drunken are drunken in the night. (I Thessalonians 5:4-7)

Here Paul, like Yeshua (Jesus) had done earlier (Matthew 24:44), he tells us to “keep watch” of the signs of the Lord’s return, and we are to “be sober,” and not drunken with wine or anything else that the world has to offer us to dull our spiritual senses.

But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for a helmet, the hope of salvation.  But God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.  Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also you do.  (I Thessalonians 5:8-11)

And part of what we need to do to “keep watch and be sober” is to put on our “breastplate of faith and love,” and to put on our heads, “a helmet, the hope of salvation.”

WHAT DOES PAUL MEAN HERE BY “WRATH”?

However, Paul says, “God has not appointed us to wrath.”  Those who endorse a Pre-Tribulation rapture try to connect the word “wrath” here with the tribulation period by reading selections like the following:

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that [continue to] sits on the throne, and from the WRATH of the Lamb: For the great day of his WRATH is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Revelation 6:15-17)

Therefore, they argue, if God’s “wrath” is being poured out during the seven-year tribulation period, and Paul says, “God has not appointed us to wrath,” then the believer has to be removed before the beginning of the tribulation period, and therefore, a “Pre-Tribulation Rapture.”  The problem with this interpretation of this verse is that beyond the use of the word “wrath,” there is nothing in the context of I Thessalonians 5 to connect Paul’s discussion here with the Tribulation period described in the book of Revelation.  And one shared word is not enough textual evidence to logically derive the meaning given to in I Thessalonians 5:9-10 by the Pre-Tribulation teachers and supporters.

LET’S PUT THE WORD BACK INTO CONTEXT

However, to truly understand the intent of Paul’s statement in this statement, let’s look at the whole passage:

But God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. (I Thessalonians 5:9-10)

With the clause “whether we wake or sleep,” Paul is indicating that he is still discussing the Lord’s return and the resurrection of the dead; he has not changed topics to discuss another event called “the 7-year Tribulation.”  Also, in this same passage, the word “wrath” and “salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” are set up as opposites.

Therefore, if “salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” as Paul states, results in us living “together with Him,” then the “wrath” being spoken here would result in the opposite effect, “separation from Him,” or what is popularly known as “Hell,” or the ultimate separation being “the Lake of Fire and Brimstone.”  However, there’s no indication here that the word “wrath” makes any reference to the 7-year Tribulation, except if one purposely imposes that meaning onto the text.

CONCLUSION

Consequently, then, there is no textual evidence in I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 to indicate a secret Pre- or even Mid-Tribulation “rapture,” as opposed to the public Second Coming which Yeshua (Jesus) and His disciples repeatedly taught throughout the New Testament.  The dominant American church would be doing people a greater service by teaching people how to prepare for the coming persecution during the tribulation period.  This way, if they are prepared for persecution during the tribulation, and the Lord comes before or in the middle of the tribulation, then great, but if He doesn’t return then, which is what, I believe, the evidence indicates, then people will be prepared for what is ahead.  But oftentimes, people who believe that they will not be here for the tribulation, or will face persecution, are not taking the time to prepare for those things at all, and if I am right, then they will be caught totally off-guard and unprepared for what they will need to face.

Therefore, I believe the use of this portion of Scripture to support such a teaching as a “secret rapture” or “secret coming of the Lord” is clearly based on individuals taking things out of context and imposing their own meanings into the text.  This is a violation of several of the rules of how any text, including the Bible, should be handled and interpreted.

In part 2 of this study, I want to examine 2 Thessalonians 2, and not only examine what more Paul has to tell us regarding “the Day of the Lord,” but also what advice he gives us on how we should stand in that day.

 

 

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Where Are We on the Prophetic Clock of Matthew 24?

When I was in my late teens during the end of the 70’s and the early 1980’s, there was a great deal of interest in end-time events.  I remember going with my girlfriend, who then became my wife, to various churches, so that we could watch the various Thief in the Night movies.  By doing this, we ended up watching all four of the movies in the series: A Thief in the Night (1972), A Distant Thunder (1978), Image of the Beast (1981), and The Prodigal Planet (1983).

WHAT HAPPENED TO OUR PASSION FOR HIS RETURN?

But when I look at the dominant American church today, I don’t see the same desire and interest in end-time events any more.   Instead of any passionate interest in the Lord’s return, I see many churches focusing on the false “Health, Wealth & Prosperity Gospel,” and/or on learning how they can Live Their Best Life Now.  As a believer, I certainly hope that this life is NOT my best life now since heaven and the Lord’s coming Kingdom is supposed to be where I live my best life.  My life here is supposed to be dedicated to me living my life in service to my King and His Kingdom, not spending all my time worrying about my own needs and wants.

WHERE ARE WE ON THE PROPHETIC CLOCK?

But in looking at the prophetic clock and the events given and described in Matthew 24, where are we today?  The signs are all around us that we are closer now than we’ve ever been before, but the days ahead are not going to be getting better, but instead, they are going to be getting much darker for everyone, particularly the true believers in Yeshua (Jesus).  In explaining this, let’s look at Matthew 24.

After prophesying about the destruction of the Temple, His disciples come to Him, and they ask Him, “Tell us, when shall these things be?  And what shall be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matthew 24:3)  He then responds, by saying,

Take heed that no man deceive you.  For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.  And you shall hear of wars and rumor of wars: and see that you are not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes in divers places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24: 4-8)

In the first part of His description, the focus of the events are global, and deal with international conflicts.  And these verses have been read and discussed now for decades, but in the second half of His description of events, the focus changes. The focus is no longer global in scope, but individual, and how His followers would be treated by others.

And although I am not sure how many people have taken note, it is evident that we are now past this first segment of verses and are now in the second half of the events that Yeshua (Jesus) gives to describe what events will lead up to the time when, He says, “and then shall the end come.”  So let’s examine these events where we now find ourselves.

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for My name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9)

Although we are just in the beginning stages of us being hated for His name’s sake in the United States, there are many countries in the world where all of these elements of this verse are already a dominant reality for most believers.  There are many stories of Christians who have been beaten up, imprisoned, tortured, whipped, raped, set on fire, beheaded, or even crucified for their faith.   In comparison to these brothers and sisters, we, in the United States, really don’t know what persecution like this is like, but I have a feeling that the tide in the U.S. may be soon changing.

And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.  (Matthew 24:10)

In the United States, the first phrase of this verse has already become a glaring reality.  As far as U.S. culture is concerned, the “biggest sin” we can commit today is “offending” someone.  Notice that after this, Yeshua (Jesus) said that we will experience betrayal and hatred.  The Lord recently shared with us that there’s coming a time when our family members will betray us and turn us in to the authorities, so that they will be able to get food and live.  Once this happens, this we too may be experiencing the affliction, torture, and death as our brothers and sisters in other countries.  Now is the time to prepare.  We don’t want to continue to put it off until it’s too late for us to study the Scriptures and get as much of them into our hearts as possible.

And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.  (Matthew 24:11)

Although there have been many false religious leaders who have deceived many people, I don’t believe this verse is referring to them.  I believe this is yet to happen.  I believe that the coming wave of deception is going to be so pervasive and so convincing that, as the Bible says, “If it were possible, even the very elect would be deceived” (Matthew 24:24).

And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.  (Matthew 24:12)

It’s extremely important that we note the negative correlation Yeshua (Jesus) makes here between “iniquity” and love.  The more iniquity (or sin) increases, the more love decreases.   But what is “iniquity”?  In the Greek, this is the English translation of the Greek word, anomia.

And it is this same Greek word anomia that is used in I John 3:4, “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law (Gk. anomia).”  In this verse, the phrase “the transgression of the law” is used to translate the Greek word anomia, the exact same word that’s used here in Matthew 24:12.  So since the Bible identifies the word “iniquity” as “the transgression of the law,” let me substitute John’s definition into the Matthew passage:

And because [the transgression of the law] shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.

How many pastors, Bible teachers, and TV evangelists have been erroneously preaching that “Yeshua (Jesus) has freed us from the law,” that “the law is bondage and legalism,” and the more the church has turned away from it, the colder they have become to God.

God says, “If you love Me, you will keep the commandments,” but these Christian leaders are teaching, “because we love God, we don’t follow these commandments any more.”  Anyone with even a surface-level knowledge of the Bible would realize that these men are teaching in direct opposition to God’s own instructions and teachings.  Obviously, then, for a believer to turn his or her back on the commandments of God, they are only embracing iniquity and will result in experiencing a gradual decrease of their love for God and for others.

Therefore, for any minister or Bible teacher to encourage believers to ignore or turn away from God’s commandments in the “Old Testament” (or Hebrew Scriptures) is only promoting iniquity and leading the people away from God and onto the road that leads to destruction.

But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.  (Matthew 24:13)

But notice God’s promise here.  It will be those who “shall endure to the end” who “shall be saved.”  Yeshua (Jesus) didn’t say that He would air lift us out of the world during this time, but that those who “endure” through it would be the ones who would be saved.

And this gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.  (Matthew 24:14)

And finally, while all hell is breaking out on the earth, the gospel of the Kingdom shall still go forth.  The threat or reality of imprisonment, persecution, torture, and even death will not prevent the message from going around the world today, no more than it did in the first century, A.D., when the Apostles and the disciples who lived at that time were likewise persecuted for His name’s sake.  May He be praised forever and ever!  And may we be bold during these coming days and hold to our confession of faith!  Amen!

 

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PRAISE – A Technique in Critical Thinking to Enhance Biblical Study

In God, whose word I PRAISE, In the LORD, whose word I PRAISE” (Psalm 56:10, NASB; emphasis mine)

STUDYING THE BIBLE – A FORM OF PRAISE?

DID YOU KNOW THAT READING AND STUDYING THE BIBLE IS A FORM OF PRAISE?  PRAISE happens when we elevate God in our lives.  It’s not just part of a church worship service, but PRAISE should be something that we live each and every day.  For example,  some ways we can PRAISE God is by telling others about Jesus, being a friend to the homeless, really listening to others, giving people a shoulder to cry on, and showing Christ’s love and compassion to those who are in need.  In all these ways, we elevate God, or PRAISE God, by being His voice, His hands, and His feet.  Another way, we can PRAISE God is by loving Him “with all of our mind,” but how do we do that?  We elevate and show Him PRAISE by reading and studying His Word.

HOW DO WE STUDY THE BIBLE?

But how do we study the Bible?  Do we just read it over and over again until we finally figure it out, or how do we do it?  And are we just to blindly accept whatever we read, or can we critically think about what we are reading?  In my two-part series, “Critical Thinking & the Bible” (Part 1 and Part 2), we discussed how God does not expect us to turn off our brains when we enter a church or read our Bibles, but we are to love God with all of our mind, and this includes our ability to engage in critical thinking.  But once we cross that hurdle, the next question that many believers have regarding the Bible is “How do I approach the Bible?  What can I do to help me understand it?”

It’s important to remember when looking at any text, not just the Bible, that not all reading materials are the same.  Some things we read for their entertainment value, like novels, short stories, poetry, etc., but there are other things we read for their instructional value, like college textbooks and the Bible.  And even among non-fictional materials, the difficulty level will vary from text to text.

SOME ERRONEOUS ASSUMPTIONS

Part of the reason why people find the Bible difficult to read and study is because they have some erroneous preconceptions about it.

The Bible is one book.  Many people erroneously view the Bible as a single book, but it’s not.  The word “Bible” comes from the Koine Greek word τὰ βιβλία (tà biblía), “the books.” The Bible is, in fact, not one book but a collection of books and epistles (a special form of letter), written over a time period of 1,500 years by 40 different authors.  In a real sense, the Bible is a portable mini-library of different types and forms of writings, and yet, in spite of that, the Bible presents a single overall narrative and perspective throughout.

The Bible is Two Separate Revelations.  There are many people who have been taught that the Bible is comprised of two separate revelations: the Old Testament and the New Testament.   However, this is not true.  What we see in the New Testament is actually God working on aspects of the Old Testament, which had not yet been addressed or completed.  Also, according to the Old Testament, there’s another covenant coming when Jesus returns, which will address other aspects and parts of the Old Testament, not to mention the 500 Messianic prophecies which have yet to be fulfilled; consequently, then, for people to say that the Old Testament has been completely fulfilled is obviously not the case.

 The Bible is Full of Stories.  Many people approach the Bible, like they would a novel, thinking that it’s the type of reading one does for entertainment, only to discover not far into it, that there are many different types of writing all mixed together.  And then they’re confused, wondering how all of these things are connected.  The fact is that the Bible was never intended to be read for entertainment, but for instruction.  Someone once said that the word BIBLE means “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” and although the concept of the Bible as containing “instructions” is correct, but a good deal of it, I would argue, is not, in fact,  “basic.”

The Bible – Our Textbook Manual?

In many ways, the Bible is “an instruction manual,” like a textbook, since it contains information that we are to learn through study and research.  In fact, the Hebrew word that’s repeatedly used throughout the Old Testament for the Scriptures is Torah (pron. “toh-rah“), which is usually translated as “law,” but it means “instruction, teaching, guidance, or directives.”  Consequently, the Bible has not been designed by God to be merely read, but to be analyzed and studied, and then incorporated into our lives.

From the beginning, God has used an educational paradigm.  He is the Teacher, we are His students (which is what the word “disciples” mean), the Bible is our textbook, and life is our classroom.  And in life, God allows us to go through various situations to “test us” to see how much of the “textbook” (the Bible) we have learned and made a part of our lives.  And just like in school, we are rewarded (blessed) when we do well on the “tests,” but we are penalized when we don’t do well.

PRAISE – A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH

As a reading specialist for eight years and as a college English instructor for twenty-five years, I have taught the same basic approach to literally thousands of students (about 6,000 students in total) on how to study various forms of writing in order to help them heighten their understanding of any topic, issue, or idea.  And I apply many of these ideas to my own study of the Bible, and I want to share them with you here, in the hopes that it will help you in your study of the Scriptures.  As students of His Word —

we want to RAISE our knowledge of the material,
we want to RAISE our understanding,
we want to RAISE our ability to discern truth from fiction/deception, and
we want to RAISE our effectiveness in communicating God’s Word to others.

And because we are studying the Bible, we should begin with prayer; therefore, when we add the “P” to “RAISE,” we get the acronym that I like to use for this approach, PRAISE.

P – PRAY.

We should always begin our study of the Word with prayer.  Unlike other books, we have the privilege to ask the author personally to guide us in our reading and understanding of the text as we are studying His Word, “our textbook.”  In your prayer, you may want to include Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful [extraordinary, miraculous, astonishing] things from Your law [Heb. Torah],” and Psalm 119:34, “Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law [Torah], and keep it with all my heart.”

R – READ.

Once we pray, we should read our selected passage the first time just to get a feel for the text.  Then once we read it, we should write down a couple of thoughts about what we read.  Then as we’re reading it the second and third time, we need to ANNOTATE the text.

What does it mean to “ANNOTATE” the text?   To annotate means to “add your own notes and comments in the margins of the text.”  The more we can actively interact with a text, the easier it is to not only understand the text, but also the easier it is to remember it.  Now there are two types of annotations: CLOSE READING and ACTIVE READING.

CLOSE READING.   In CLOSE READING, the goal is to try and understand what the author is saying.  This isn’t the time yet to interject our own feelings and thoughts, but just to understand the view point of the writer.  So in this first step, we want to write down what the author is saying in our own words (called a summary).
Also,  you may want to write down anything that sticks out for you or that you consider “memorable.”  And finally, you might also note any vocabulary you don’t know, any interesting wording or poetical language, or any particular themes you see within the text.

ACTIVE READING.  In ACTIVE READING, you want to directly and actively interact with the text, so now is the time you want to write down your own thoughts, comments, questions, arguments and any connections you may feel with the text.

The more you can connect with the text and interact with it, the easier it is to learn it and to memorize it.  Consequently, these are very helpful steps to take.

A – ANALYZE

What is “ANALYSIS“?  ANALYSIS is the process of breaking down a topic, chapter, or passage into its smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it.  And this process involves the following four steps:

Break something down into its smaller component  parts.  (Dissecting)  The easiest way to learn something is to break it down into smaller “chunks.”  The idea of analysis isn’t just to gain a surface level knowledge of something, but to go deeper, beyond the surface, to a much more intimate knowledge of the text.

Examine, identify, and understand each of the parts.  Once you’ve broken it down into its smaller “chunks,” the first thing you want to do is to examine, identify and understand each of the parts.  Who wrote this particular book?  Who was the intended audience?  What was going on at the time?  What was the author trying to accomplish in and through this piece of writing?  What does this particular part say?  What do the words mean in English?  What do they mean in the Hebrew or the Greek?

Examine, identify, and understand how the parts relate to one another.  Once you have done this to each particular part, then examine, identify and understand how the parts relate to one another.  What’s the relationship between part A and part B?  By putting these parts together the way that the author did, what is the author trying to say?  What does their relationship imply or suggest?

Examine, identify, and understand how the parts work together to formulate the whole.  Finally, examine, identify and understand how all the parts work together to formulate the overall message of the text.

As we can see, analysis involves much more than just a passive knowledge of the text.

I –  INTERPRET.

An assumed part of the process of analysis is “INTERPRETATION.”  To INTERPRET means to ascribe (or give) meaning, purpose, or significance to something.    It answers questions like –

  • What does this mean?
  • What is the meaning and/or significance of the this idea, phrase, image, or symbol to the overall piece?
  • What purpose does it serve in the text, chapter, or passage?
  • Why did the writer use this idea, phrase, image or symbol?  What was he or she trying to say by doing so?
  • What assumption(s) can be inferred (or logically drawn) from its use?
  • Do most people understand this item in the same way?  Why or why not?

So as we go through the process of analysis, we also provide our interpretation.  Obviously, the more we learn about the text, the more accurate our interpretation becomes.  In addition, we begin to see things implied and suggested in and through the text that the casual reader completely overlooks.

S – SYNTHESIZE.

What do we mean by “SYNTHESIZE“?  To SYNTHESIZE means to recombine the separate elements that we’ve now learned through the ANALYSIS and INTERPRETATION into a complete whole using our new understanding as a guide.  In essence, in ANALYSIS and INTERPRETATION we took things apart, but in SYNTHESIS, we are putting together again. but we are using our new understanding that we’ve gained as we do so.

E – EVALUATE.

The final step in this process is EVALUATION.  What do we mean by “EVALUATE“?  After going through this process, let’s now bring what we’ve learned forward to our day and time to our own lives and to our world today.  For example, as students of the Word, we want to EVALUATE our conformity (or lack of conformity) to the Word.  In what areas of our life are we conforming to what the Bible teaches?  And in what areas are we not conforming?  What do we need to continue to work on?

“BUT ISN’T THE BIBLE SUPPOSE TO BE EASY TO UNDERSTAND?”

There are many pastors, ministers and Bible teachers who have continued to teach the half-truth that “the Bible is so easy a child could understand it.”  And there are some parts that are easy on the surface to understand, but there are also other parts where this is far from the truth.  For example, I’ve yet to see a child read the book of Leviticus, Ezekiel’s visions,  Zechariah, or even Revelation and be able to sit down with me and give a comprehensive overview of the text.  And God designed His Word that way.  Some parts are for us when we are a spiritual baby, and then as we begin to grow spiritually, other parts of the Bible begin to open up to us and make sense.  Not all of the Bible is “milk” (the basics; I Peter 2:2); there are the parts that make up the “meat”(advanced level studies; I Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:12-14; ), and these parts are not digestible until we’ve “cut” our “spiritual teeth.”

PRAISE – OUR GOAL AS GOD’S PEOPLE

So as God’s people we are to live our lives in PRAISE of Him, and using this approach, we can gain a deeper understanding of God and His Word by this method of PRAISE.  So let’s not PRAISE Him in word only on Sunday mornings, or during our worship services, but let us PRAISE Him every day of our lives by how we live, by how we interact with others, by how we share Him, His Kingdom, and our “Kingdom Manual” with others and, of course, let us PRAISE Him in how we approach and study His Word.

 

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New Testament Vs. Old Testament: Another Look at 2 Corinthians 3

There are many people who give me a strange look when I tell them that I am a WHOLE BIBLE CHRISTIAN.  Many of them have heard of “New Testament Christians” or “New Covenant Christians,” but what does it mean to be a “Whole Bible Christian”? Quite simply it means that I am a Christian who believes that all of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is for all people for all time.  Regardless of people’s nationality, ethnicity and race, age, sex, or background, the whole Bible is for them.

Of course, one of the questions that pop up in speaking to people about being a “Whole Bible believer” is, “How do I handle the Old Testament?” For centuries, there’s been a debate in Christendom about how to understand the “Old Testament.”  Some people believe that most of the Old Testament is for today, except for ceremonial laws and rituals; others believe that all of the Old Testament is for today, except for the law; and then there are still others who completely reject all of the Old Testament today.  However, I believe the real problem is in our understanding of what constitutes the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament.”

WHAT IS THE “OLD TESTAMENT” & “NEW TESTAMENT”?

The first thing we need to understand is that there’s not “one testament” or “one covenant” in the “Old Testament,” but at least SEVEN (some would argue 8-10, depending on how covenant is defined).  Therefore, the name itself is misleading, since it does not appropriately communicate the reality of what is discussed within its pages.  In saying that, I should also explain that there’s not one biblical verse or passage that defines the “Old Testament” as the first 39 books in the Bible or the “New Testament” as the last 27 books of the Bible.  The designations “Old Testament” for the first major portion of the Bible, and the “New Testament” for the second part of the Bible is completely man-made, it’s not given by God at all.

HOW DID JESUS REFER TO THE “OLD TESTAMENT”?

In fact, at no point in time does Jesus ever refer to the first part of our Bible as the “Old Testament.”  He clearly makes a distinction between oral interpretations that were being taught, such as in the “Sermon on the Mount” (“you have heard…”; Matthew 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43) and the written Scriptures themselves.  Jesus NEVER, EVER corrected or changed the Scriptures.  What He corrected and changed were people’s interpretations, but not the Scriptures themselves.

When Jesus refers to the Scriptures, in most cases, He makes it clear that He’s dealing with a WRITTEN text, for example,

  • “It is written…” (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; 21:13; Luke 4:4, 8, 12; John 6:45)
  • “What is written in the law?” (Mark 10:26)
  • “Haven’t you read…” (Matthew 19:4)
  • “Have you never read…” (Matthew 21:16; Mark 2:25)
  • “Did you never read in the Scriptures…” (Matthew 21:42)

He also refers to them by the term “Scriptures”:

  • “the Scriptures” (Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24; 14:49; John 5:39; 7:38)
  • “this Scripture” (Luke 4:21)
  • “the Scripture” (John 10:35; 17:12)

Thirdly, He refers to them by the sections that comprise the Scriptures:

  • “Did not Moses give you the law?” (John 7:19)
  • “the law and the prophets” (Matthew 5:17; Luke 16:16)
  • “the prophets and the law” (Matthew 11:13)
  • “the law, the prophets, and the Psalms” (Luke 24:44).

Finally, He referred to them by the name of the one who wrote the words He’s commenting upon:

  • Moses (Matthew 19:18; Mark 1:44; 7:10; 10:3; Luke 20:37; John 5:45-46; 6:32;
    John 7:22-23).
  • Isaiah (Matthew 12:14; Mark 7:6)
  • David in “the book of the Psalms” (Luke 20:42)

But at no point in time does Jesus ever call it the “Old Testament.”

ABOUT THE TWO MAIN DIVISIONS IN OUR BIBLES

As I mentioned, the designations “Old Testament” for the first major part of our Bible and “New Testament” for the second major portion of our Bible is completely man-made, not a designation from God at all.  So when Paul and the writer of Hebrews uses the term “New Testament” and “Old Testament” or “first covenant,” there’s a huge confusion and/or misunderstanding as to what is being referenced.

THE ACTUAL MEANING OF THE TERMS “OLD TESTAMENT” AND “NEW TESTAMENT”

The term “Old Testament” is the English translation of the Greek Palaios Diatheke, which literally can be translated as “the older covenant” or “the older testament,” or the “covenant/testament that’s been around for a long time.”  And the term “New Testament” is the English translation of the Greek Kainos Diatheke, which literally means the “Renewed Covenant/Testament.”

In the Greek language, there are two different Greek words for “new”: neos and kainos.  The way most Christians think and talk about the “New Testament” is if the Greek had been Neos Diatheke, rather than Kainos Diatheke.  Let me explain.  If I go out and buy another car, so that I now have two cars, then I’ve made a numerical change.  I had one car and now I have two cars.  This is Neos.  It speaks of a numerical change, or it can be used to refer to the most recent thing.  On the other hand, if I fix up my car, remodel it and give it a new paint job, and show you what it looks like now, and say, “Hey, what do you think of my new car?”  This is kainos.  This speaks of a QUALITY CHANGENOT a NUMERICAL CHANGE.

Consequently, what we have in the “New Covenant” is NOT a whole different covenant, that would be neos, but what we have is the same covenant with improvements; this is kainos.  So when ministers and TV evangelists are preaching, and they say that God has replaced the Old Testament with the New Testament, giving us a whole new Divine program, they are, in fact, giving you a distorted understanding of the New Testament since it’s based on the wrong meaning of “new.”  Rather than “replacing” the “Old Testament,” He deepened it, developed a portion of it, and He modified and improved a few things here and there, but He did not “replace” it.

THE PROPHECY OF THE NEW COVENANT

Now that we understand what the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament” are NOT, let’s look at how Paul uses these two terms in 2 Corinthians 3 to gain a better grasp of these two terms.  In order to understand this chapter, we need to first understand the prophecy of the New Covenant, found in Jeremiah 3!:31-34.

Behold, the days come, says the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them, says the LORD.  (Jeremiah 31:31-32)

In this prophecy, God specifically identifies the two groups that God is going to make this “new covenant” with: “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah.”  But who are they?  The “house of Israel” refers to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and “the house of Judah” refers to the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  After Solomon died, his son, Rehoboam, became the king, and the tribe elders came and asked him to lighten the tax load that Solomon heaped on them to pay for all his building projects.  Rehoboam refused, and as a result, the Kingdom split into two parts: the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah).  And we know that Israel violated God’s covenant over and over again.  Let’s continue.

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel (the original kingdom now in two parts); after those days, says the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

What is God promising to do?  Is God promising to get rid of His law?  Is He promising that He’s going to accept us, regardless of how we live our lives?  No, not at all.  What He’s promising here is that He’s going to take this “law” that was written on tablets of stone, and He’s going to write it in our “inward parts” and “in our hearts,” and as a result of this, we will now have a new relationship with God: “I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”  Let’s move on to the final verse.

And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.  (Jeremiah 31:34)

Now as a result of Jesus’s death and resurrection, our sins have been forgiven when we ask God to forgive us of our sins, ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, and then repent of our sins, meaning that we turn away from our sinful lifestyle and begin living in obedience to God.  But this verse has not been completely fulfilled yet.  Why?  Because are still needing to tell our neighbor to “Know the LORD.”  Evangelism is still very much needed and required.  This verse will not be fully fulfilled, until evangelism will no longer be necessary, because “they shall all know Me.”

Therefore, we are in an age of transition.  The “Old Testament” is in the process of aging, but the “New Testament” has not been fully realized.

PAUL’S USE OF THE “OLD TESTAMENT” AND “NEW TESTAMENT”

Now that we understand the prophecy of the New Covenant, which functions as one of the main backdrops to this passage, we can now begin to discuss Paul’s use of these two terms: “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, Paul writes the following:

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be he epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in TABLES OF STONE, but in FLESHY TABLES OF THE HEART. (2 Corinthians 3:2-3; Emphasis Mine)

Notice that Paul is contrasting two tables: one “tables of stone” and the other, “fleshy tables of the heart.”  The “tables of stone,” Paul will later identify as the “Old Testament” (2 Corinthians 3:14), and we can see that the “fleshy tables of the heart” is a reference to God’s promise in the new covenant of Jeremiah 31.  Then, three verses later, Paul writes,

[God] also has made us able ministers of the NEW TESTAMENT [covenant]; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. But if the MINISTRATION OF DEATH, WRITTEN AND ENGRAVEN IN STONES, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of countenance; which glory was to be done away.  How shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?  For if the MINISTRATION OF CONDEMNATION be glory, [how] much more the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious?  (2 Corinthians 3:6-9)

Now let’s examine what Paul is saying about the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament:”

“OLD TESTAMENT”

“NEW TESTAMENT”

“the letter kills” (2 Cor. 3:6) “the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6)
“the ministration of death” (2 Cor. 3:7) “the ministration of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:8)
“the ministration of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:9) “the ministration of righteousness” (2 Cor. 3:9)

To understand the backdrop of this chapter, we need to have read and understand Exodus 20, 24, 32, 34 and Acts 2; these five chapters are needed, along with the Jeremiah passage, to properly understand the point that Paul is making here.

In these two passages, Paul refers to the “Old Testament” as that which had been written on “tables of stone” (3:3) and as “written and engraven in stones” (3:7).  This then identifies the “Old Testament” as the “Ten Commandments.”  These Ten Commandments are the ONLY commandments that were audibly spoken by God for all the nation of Israel and the “mixed multitude” of Gentiles (Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4) to hear who were down there at the base of Mt. Sinai.  It is also the ONLY commandments that God personally wrote upon the tablets of stone.  And it is this “covenant” that Paul is contrasting with the New Testament.

This means that the “Old Testament” does not refer to the Five Books of Moses, since these books were not written on “tables of stone.”  Nor does it refer to the whole “Old Testament” since it likewise was not written on “tables of stone.” They were all written on scrolls by different writers.  God expected His people to read and study the scrolls in addition to what was written on the tablets of stone.  The scrolls did not change; they all still need to be read and studied.  What changed was the location of where God was going to write what had been on the “tablets of stone.”

We also need to remember that both the “Old Testament” (the Ten Commandments) and the “New Testament” (the Ten Commandments written on our hearts and mind) were and are written by the Holy Spirit, and the content of both (the Ten Commandments) is the same.   Nowhere does God say that He’s changing the content of the Ten Commandments, but what He changed was where He was going to write it.

A CHANGE IN RELATIONSHIP

By writing the Ten Commandments on the inside of us, it would bring about not only a change in our relationship with God but a change with His covenant as well.  When the Ten Commandments were written on the “tablets of stone,” they were located outside of us and, therefore, they were an “outer motivator,” or a “have-to,” but when God wrote them on “the tablets of our hearts and minds,” our relationship to them changed.  They were no longer on the outside of us, they were now on the inside of us.  Therefore, they were no longer an “outer motivator,” but they became an “inner motivator,” and they went from being a “have to” to becoming a “want to.”  It was this system of using the commandments as an “outer motivator” that was “done away” or “replaced,” not the law itself.

But in another New Covenant passage, God not only promises to write His Ten Commandments upon the “tablets of our hearts and minds,” but He says that He would give us His Spirit so that He could empower us to walk out the commandments that God wrote upon our hearts, the Ten Commandments.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you, and CAUSE you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments, and do them.  And you shall live in the land that I gave to your fathers; and you shall be My people, and I will be your God.  (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

How can the New Testament “annul” or “replace” the law of God when God says that He’s going to write the law – the Ten Commandments – on our hearts and minds, and here that one of the reasons why He’s giving us His Spirit is so that it was “CAUSE” us “to walk in My statutes,” and so we’ll “keep My judgments, and do them.”

THE “MINISTRATION OF DEATH” VS. THE “MINISTRATION OF LIFE”

So again, looking back at the chart I’ve made using the terms Paul uses for the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament,” why does Paul refer to them in this way?

“OLD TESTAMENT”

“NEW TESTAMENT”

“the letter kills” (2 Cor. 3:6) “the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6)
“the ministration of death” (2 Cor. 3:7) “the ministration of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:8)
“the ministration of condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:9) “the ministration of righteousness” (2 Cor. 3:9)

Paul is contrasting here the experiences of the two Pentecosts: The first Pentecost where God originally gave the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, and the Pentecost experience we see in Acts 2.  In Israel, Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot; the Feast of Weeks) is when the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai is remembered.  As I said, the Ten Commandments is the only portion of the law that was spoken audibly by God to the entire nation of Israel, it’s the only portion of the law that was written by God Himself, and it’s the only portion of the law that God promises to write on our hearts and minds.  But when Moses brought the Ten Commandments, which had been written on tablets of stone, down the first time, the people were involved in worshiping the golden calf (Exodus 32), and as a result, 3,000 men were killed that day in judgment from God.

God intended His laws to bring blessing and a fulfilling life to His people, but because of the sins that they were flagrantly committing down in the camp, it brought only death to 3,000 instead.  However, if we contrast that with what happens in Acts 2, then what we find are not people pulling away from God and flagrantly sinning, but people of Israel pressing in to God, praying and seeking His face, and as they are all doing this, the Spirit of God comes down, He removes their stony heart, gives them a new heart of flesh, and then writes His law – His Ten Commandments – on their hearts and mind, filling them with His life, His Being, and they then begin to speak in other tongues.

The people hear all of the commotion outside, and Peter then gives his first sermon to explain what was happening.  As a result, 3,000 people are saved, i.e, given “life.”

So the difference between the two has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, since He was involved in both, nor is it due to the words of the Ten Commandments (the law), since the same words are used in both.  But the difference was on what happened when it was first given to the people.  Whether it brought “life” or “death” was dependent on whether the people were living in rebellion against God (Exodus 32) or they were pressing in to know and experience God (Acts 2) – not on the words of the Ten Commandments or the Presence of the Holy Spirit since He’s the writer in both scenarios.

“THE VEIL OVER MOSES’S FACE”

Another part of this passage that gets horribly misrepresented is “the veil over Moses’ face.”  To properly understand this, we need to read the passage of Scripture in Exodus 34 that deals with this topic.  After the golden calf incident, Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai again to get a second set of tablets, because He broke the first set during the incident with the golden calf.  We are told that Moses was on the Mount with God for “forty days and forty nights” and during this time, “he did neither eat bread, nor drink water” (Exodus 34:28).  And it says, “he wrote upon the tables the WORDS OF THE COVENANT, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” (Exodus 34:28).  We are specifically told here that the Ten Commandments are, in fact, the “words of the covenant.”

Upon coming down from the Mount, it says that Moses didn’t realize that as a result of him speaking with God, that it had effected the skin of his face: “the skin of his face shone” with the glory of God (Exodus 34:29).  And seeing his face shine like that scared the people:

And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come near him.  (Exodus 34:30)

So what does He do?  He wears a veil while he’s out with the people, but then takes off the veil when he goes back up the Mount to speak with God.

And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai.  And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.  But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out.  And he came out, and spoke unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.  And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.  (Exodus 34:32-35)

In this passage, why does Moses wear a veil?  It’s to cover his face.  Why?  Because it is shining with the glory (or Presence) of God, and this glory scares them.  Therefore, so the people would not be afraid of God’s glory or Presence, Moses wears the veil when he’s down there with the people, but when he goes back up into the Presence of God, he removes the veil.

Now let’s compare this with what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3.

For if that which is done away [the Ten Commandments as an outer motivator] was glorious, much more that which [continues to] remain is glorious.  Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a veil over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remains the same veil untaken away in the reading of the OLD TESTAMENT, which veil is done away in Christ.  But even to this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.  Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.  (2 Corinthians 3:111-16)

Moses put the veil on his face, because the people were afraid of the glory of God; they were afraid of the effect of what God’s Presence had on the facial skin of Moses.  Now did the veil have anything to do with Moses’ “plainness of speech”?  Also, Paul says that Moses put “a veil over his face,” so “that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” But according to the Exodus passage, he put the veil on his face because of the fear of the people.  Maybe, what Paul is saying here is that what was abolished was our fear of God and His Presence, NOT His commandments.

Paul says here that “the same veil” is “untaken away in the reading of the OLD TESTAMENT.”   Could the “veil” be seen by Paul as an image representing our fear of God, our fear that if we don’t obey Him we’ll be punished, or our fear of what will happen to us, if we get too close to God?  Or perhaps, could the veil represent whatever  might separate us from the Presence of God (represented by the face of Moses)? But Paul says that “in Christ,” the “veil,” i.e., our fear of God, is done away.  But “even to this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart.”  The fear is still covering their hearts, their fear of getting too close to God, but then he says, “when IT shall turn to the Lord.”  Is the “IT” their heart?  So when we turn our hearts to God, then Paul says, “the veil shall be taken away.”

CONCLUSION

But when we compare this chapter to the material that provides the backdrop for it that Paul assumes we’ve all read and know intimately, we cannot come away from it with the understanding that God has done away with His law.  Such an interpretation is extremely superficial, and only reveals that the person who says this has not spent the time needed in the background material to properly interpret and understand the material.

In the New Testament, the Ten Commandments, the covenant of God, has now been written on the new heart and spirit that God has given to us.  And because His Spirit has also been given to us, not only do we have all we need to walk out the commandments, but now the veil, our fear of God, has been removed, so that we can develop that close, intimate relationship with Him that God has always desired.   So rather than teaching us that the Law of God is not for Christians, this is pointing us in the directly opposite way, to God, His Presence, and His commandments.

 

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Was Jesus and His Family “Tzaddik Nazarites”?

I am asking this question due to Eusebius’ description of James (actually “Jacob”) in his book on early church history.  Eusebius (260-340 C.E.), who was born in Palestine and was the bishop of Caesarea, is commonly known as “The Father of Church History,” since he was the first to trace the rise of the early Christian church in its first three centuries.

In his book, he quotes an earlier historian, Hegesippus, whose writings have been largely lost to history.  But in his history, Hegesippus, provides us with this description of “James the just.”

James, the brother of the Lord, who, as there were many of this name, was surnamed the Just by all, from the days of our Lord until now, received the government of the church with the apostles.  This apostle was concentrated from his mother’s womb.  He drank neither wine nor fermented liquors, and abstained from animal food.  A razor never came upon his head, he never anointed with oil, and never used a bath.  He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary.  He never wore woolen, but linen garments.  He was in the habit of entering the temple alone and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people, so that his knees became as hard as camel’s, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. And indeed, on account of his exceeding great piety, he was called the Just, and Oblias (or Zaddick and Ozleam) which signifies justice and protection of the people; as the prophets declare concerning him. (Book 2, chapter 23, lines 4-7)

Now according to this description, James was a Nazarite from birth, just like the Samson, Samuel the prophet, and John the Baptist.  In addition, he was a vegetarian, since he didn’t eat meat.  Now when he writes that he “never used a bath,” I’m wondering if he meant that he never used any of the “public baths,” which were associated with Greek and Roman idols?

Now if James was called “the Just” because of all this, could it be that Joseph was the same way?  In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph is also called “Just” (Matthew 1:19).  And, of course, the ultimate in “Just” men is the Lord Jesus Himself.  So is it possible that all the men in Jesus’ family were not only “Nazarites,” but also “Tzaddiks” who were “just”?

A Tzaddik is a technical term that “carries the meaning of doing what is correct and just” (“What is a Tzaddik?” Chabad.org)  He goes to great pains to make sure that everything is done exactly the way that God commanded, even if it jeopardizes his own life.  For example, in the Scriptures, we learn that Jesus’ family went down from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover every single year.  Not only was this journey expensive, it was extremely dangerous since there were thieves waiting to rob unsuspecting travelers (remember, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan?)  Most people made it down at least once in a lifetime, or perhaps, a few times more.  But for jesus’ family, it was an annual journey!

Another interesting thing about Jesus’ family was that Mary was the political activist in the family; whereas, Joseph was more religiously wired.  When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he talked to her about political things: Her Son, Jesus, would be given “the throne of His father David,” and He would “reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His Kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32-33), but when the same angel, Gabriel, goes to Joseph, he doesn’t say any of these things to him.  Instead, he gives him a spiritual reason why he is to name the baby “Jesus:” “and you shall call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Can you imagine the scene?  The family gathering of an Orthodox Jewish family, and perhaps by the standards of the day, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family of Tzaddik, Nazarite men, the daughters we’re really aren’t told anything about them, but then there’s this political activist mother in the midst of them all.  For her, who probably expected so much from Jesus, “a liberated homeland for her people,” based on what the angel had told her, the crucifixion of Jesus would’ve indeed been “a sword piercing her heart” (Luke 2:35).

And if this was the character and nature of Joseph and his household, then I can’t think of a single Jesus film that’s been made that comes even close to representing this view of Jesus and His family.  what about you?  Can you think of a film that comes close?

Of course, all of this is speculation based on what information is provided in the Bible and in the writings of Eusebius.  But what are your thoughts on this?  Do you also see this as a possibility, or do you disagree?  I’m curious to hear your ideas on this.  Because the better we understand Jesus and His family, His home life, I think we have a deeper insight into the person of Jesus, and the character and nature of His original movement.

 

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“Circumcision: What does the Bible teach about it?” (Part 2)

What does the Bible say about circumcision? In part 1, we examined what the book of Genesis teaches us about it, and discovered that the first half of the book deals with Gentiles (non-Jews), and there were three specific Gentiles (non-Jews), all descendants of Seth, Adam’s third son, who were said to “walk with God,” prophesied, and experienced something miraculous in their life: Enoch, Noah, and Abram.

The second half deals with the descendants of Abraham.  In this part, we noted that Israel came into existence when God renamed Jacob as “Israel,” and that the word “Jew” was not possible, until the birth of Judah, Jacob’s fourth son, since it’s a shortened form that’s derived from his name.  But the term “Jew” did not begin to be in use until the Babylonian exile, when those from the southern kingdom of “Judea” started being called “Jews.”

Finally, we concluded that Genesis taught that one did not need to be circumcised to be a worshiper of God, but it was required to be a part of the Abrahamic covenant, and to be ONE with the family of Israel.  We are now continuing  in our study through the rest of the Pentateuch.

CIRCUMCISION IN THE BOOK OF EXODUS

Israel’s Relationship with God

The book of Exodus builds upon what we’re taught in the book of Genesis.  There’s a very interesting comment made at the end of Exodus chapter 2:

Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died.  And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God.  So God heard their groaning; and GOD REMEMBERED HIS COVENANT WITH ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB.  And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.  (Exodus 2:23-25; Emphasis Mine)

In Genesis 15, when God entered into covenant with Abram, He prophesied to him the events of the Exodus, and it was now time for God to make good His promise to bring the people of bondage and to take them to the land He had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.   In other words, the Exodus didn’t just happen, but it was the literal fulfillment of what God verbally promised Abraham in Genesis 15 during his vision.

It should also be noted that there’s no example in the Bible of God beginning a relationship with the use of a covenant.  Instead, our relationship with God begins with Him calling us to repentance, just as He called Abram to public repentance by leaving his old life behind: his country, his family and relatives, and his father’s house, all of which were involved in pagan worship and practices.

Once Abram repents by leaving it all behind, there’s a time when Abram gets to know God more BEFORE he enters into covenant with God in Genesis 15.  One of the purposes of a covenant is to move the relationship to a deeper level,  to intensify and strengthen it.  God does not begin the relationship in Genesis 15, nor in Genesis 17, but He is moving it forward.

And just like God called Abram to repentance by leaving his old life behind, God requires the same of all his seed.  And in the book of Exodus, God calls the children of Israel and the mixed multitude of Gentiles (non-Jews) who joined them to leave their old life in Egypt behind.  There is a leaving that God requires of anyone who desires a relationship with Him.   Therefore, it is critical that we understand that the purpose of circumcision was not to establish the relationship between an individual and God, but it was an outward sign that this individual had been sanctified, or set apart, for God’s use.

For example, in Exodus 4, look what God tells Moses he is to say to Pharaoh:

And the LORD said unto Moses, When you go to return into Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in your hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.  And you shall say unto Pharaoh, Thus says the LORD, ISRAEL IS MY SON, EVEN MY FIRSTBORN: (Exodus 4:21-22)

Notice that God identifies Israel as “My son, even My firstborn.”  Obviously, for God to identify Israel as “My son, even My firstborn,” God must already be in an intimate covenant relationship with Israel.  Many have been erroneously taught that Israel’s relationship with God began at Mt. Sinai, but this statement contradicts this teaching.  Since God and Israel are already in a relationship, even before the ten plagues or the exodus from Egypt, then Israel’s relationship with God couldn’t have possibly begun at Mt. Sinai.

AN AMBIGUOUS PASSAGE

So Moses is to tell Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, ISRAEL IS MY SON, EVEN MY FIRSTBORN; however, the following verse, verse 23, is rather ambiguous as to who is being addressed.  On the on hand, it seems to be a continuation of what Moses is to tell Pharaoh, but then we get to verse 24, and all of a sudden, verse 23 seems to indicate that God has changed the direction of the conversation, and He is speaking now to Moses:

And I say unto you, Let My son go, that he may serve Me: and if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your son, even your firstborn.  And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the LORD met him, and sought to kill him. (Exodus 4:23-24)

As we can see, these two verses raise many questions: “Who is the ‘you’ here: Pharaoh or Moses?” “Who is the ‘him’ that the LORD met at the inn: Moses or his son?” “And why does the LORD seek to kill him?”  Then in the next two verses, we read the following:

Then Zipporah [Moses’ wife] took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband are you to me.  So He let him go: then she said, “A bloody husband you are, because of the circumcision. (Exodus 4:25-26)

These two verses also raise questions: “Why did Zipporah circumcise her son?  Why didn’t Moses do it?” It might be that since Zipporah and her family were descendants of Midian, who was the fourth son of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2), that they may have followed the practice of descendants of Ishmael, circumcising their sons at the age of thirteen, rather than at eight days old.  But it’s apparent that Moses did not circumcise his son at the appropriate age.  Also, we’re not sure if Zipporah circumcises her son to save Moses’ life or to save her son’s life.  But this scene seems to suggest that by Moses not circumcising his son, he was keeping him from serving God.   And it seems God was going to kill him for his disobedience.

And of course, this raises an important question, “If by Moses not circumcising his son could keep his son from serving God, then how does that fit in with the example of men from Seth to Abram who ‘walked with God,’ served Him, and were yet uncircumcised?  The Bible does not give us an answer to any of these questions, but the narrative of the Exodus simply continues.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE “UNCIRCUMCISED”?

If the point of being CIRCUMCISED is to be a part of the Abrahamic covenant, to become ONE with the family (now tribes) of Israel, and to be an outward sign that we have been sanctified, or set apart, for God’s use, then what does it mean to have “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS“?

And Moses spoke before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS?  (Exodus 6:12; Emphasis Mine)

And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I am of UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me? (Exodus 6:30; Emphasis Mine)

Certainly in making these statements, Moses is alluding here that there’s something even deeper about CIRCUMCISION than what we’ve learned so far.  In the Gospels, Jesus teaches us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:45); therefore, “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS” is the result of an “UNCIRCUMCISED HEART.”  And we also see this in a passage in Leviticus:

If they confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against Me, and that also they have walked contrary to Me; and that I also have walked contrary to them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their UNCIRCUMCISED HEARTS be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.  (Leviticus 26:40-42; Emphasis Mine)

Here we can infer that an “UNCIRCUMCISED HEART” is proudful, arrogant, stubborn, unyielding, unrepentant, and disobedient.  Consequently, “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS” would be those that speak words reflective of these attitudes.  So if “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS” reflect an “UNCIRCUMCISED HEART,” then why would Moses, who is described in the Bible as the humblest of all men, describe himself as having “UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS” after Israel refused to listen to him?

I think many times we read over the biblical accounts, but we don’t stop to really consider what is being said and why.  And as a result, we end up missing the deeper lesson that God has for us in these accounts.

PASSOVER – THE FULFILLMENT OF THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT

I think it’s wondrous that the event that freed the children of Israel and the mixed multitude from slavery was the Passover.  By having the Passover happen on the same night that Genesis 15 happened, 430 thirty years earlier to the day, God is connecting the two events.

Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years.  And it came about at the end of four hundred and thirty years, TO THE VERY DAY, that all of the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.  (Exodus 12:40-41; Emphasis Mine)

Nor is this my interpretation of this statement.  Paul also makes this connection as well in his epistle to the Galatians:

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise..  For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.  (Galatians 3:17-18)

God keeps His promises.  What He promised Abraham, He fulfilled to the very day.  And we are taught in Scripture that Passover is one of the LORD’s feasts (Leviticus 23:2, 4-5), and it is to be observed FOREVER.

And this day shall be to you for a memorial; and you shall keep it A FEAST TO THE LORD throughout your generations; you shall keep it a FEAST by an ordinance FOREVER.  (Exodus 12:14; Emphasis Mine)

Obviously, if it is to be kept as an ordinance FOREVER, then it could not have possibly ended at the cross, as many today teach.

PASSOVER AND CIRCUMCISION

And it is also during His instructions regarding Passover that God again gives instructions regarding circumcision.

And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, This is the ordinance of the Passover: There shall no STRANGER [Heb. nekhar] eat thereof: But every man’s servant that is bought for money, when you have CIRCUMCISED him, then shall he eat thereof.  (Exodus 12:43-44; Emphasis Mine)

  • Nekhar (Strong’s #5236):  That which is foreign, a foreigner, strange, a stranger.  It is used of a foreign god, of feign altars, a foreign country, and everything foreign.

A FOREIGNER [Heb. toshav] and a hired servant shall not eat thereof.  In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth aught of the flesh abroad out of the house; neither shall you break a bone thereofAll of the congregation of Israel shall keep it. (Exodus 12:45-46; Emphasis Mine)

  • Toshav (Strong’s #8453):  A non-native settler, inhabitant, a foreigner, an alien, an emigrant.  Someone who sojourned and inhabited in a foreign country where he was not naturalized.

And when a STRANGER [Heb. ger] shall sojourn with you, and will keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males BE CIRCUMCISED, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no UNCIRCUMCISED person shall eat thereof.  ONE LAW shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the STRANGER [Heb. ger] that sojourns among you.  (Exodus 12:47-49; Emphasis Mine)

  • Ger (Strong’s #1616):  It denotes a stranger, foreigner, alien, pilgrim, sojourner, guest, visitor.  The patriarchs were called by this term while they sojourned in the land of Canaan, and the majority of their descendants were called by this term while they were in Egypt (Exodus 23:9).  In fact, Moses named his son Gershom to commemorate his stay in Midian (Exodus 18:3).  This classification meant that one enjoyed certain civil rights but not property rights.  Much of the law of Moses applied to those who preferred to live among the Israelites.

Now in consideration of these three Hebrew terms for non-Jews, I found a couple of things interesting.  (1) The terms Nekhar and Ger are translated by the same term, “STRANGER,” even though they are the furthest apart, and Toshav, which is closer to Ger, is translated as “FOREIGN.”  (2) Regardless of the classification, God makes it clear that an “uncircumcised person [specifically a man, since women did not get circumcised] were not to eat the Passover sacrifice.

DID THE NEED FOR CIRCUMCISION END AT THE CROSS?

The majority of Christians would argue that the law, including the need for circumcision, ended at the cross; however, there’s a problem with that point of view.  And that is, during the Millennial reign of Christ would Jesus is ruling on this planet and the physical presence of God will also be on this planet, dwelling within His Temple, the law, the Temple, the Levitical Priesthood, the animal sacrifices, the feasts, the Sabbath and new moon celebrations will all come back in full force, including the requirement of circumcision.

In fact, God is very specific in Ezekiel 44:9, that no uncircumcised person is allowed in His Temple:

Thus says the LORD God; NO STRANGER, UNCIRCUMCISED IN HEART, NOR UNCIRCUMCISED IN FLESH, shall enter into My sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.

Now does this mean that Christians will not be in the Millennial Kingdom?  No, we will be there, but it does mean that we have been circumcised, we will not be allowed into the Temple.  We will be able to go as far as the outer courtyard, but no further.  And we will not be able to eat of the Passover sacrifice, unless we have been circumcised.  So ask yourself the question, if all these laws are in full force on earth when God and Jesus are in charge of everything – and everything is being done their way – then does it make any sense at all to say that Jesus died to do away with something that He’s only going to bring back when He returns?  Jesus died to do away with the law of sin, NOT the law of God.

Our problem in Christian church is that we have looked back to the cross (which we should do), but we have failed to look forward to the coming Kingdom Age of the Millennium and to form doctrines that are consistent with these two ends of the spectrum.  And there are many, many Christians who are continuing to do the same thing.  And until we start looking at both ends of the spectrum, we will continue to get it wrong.

CIRCUMCISION IN THE BOOK OF LEVITICUS

And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be CIRCUMCISED.  (Leviticus 12:3; Emphasis Mine)

So again, here in the book of Leviticus, God is just re-affirming the fact that male infants are to be circumcised on the eighth day.  But then, seven chapters later, we are met with another question:  If UNCIRCUMCISED LIPS are words that come from an UNCIRCUMCISED HEART, then what does it mean to have UNCIRCUMCISED FRUIT FROM A TREE?

And when you shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then you shall count the fruit thereof as UNCIRCUMCISED: three years shall it be as UNCIRCUMCISED unto you: it shall not be eaten of.  (Leviticus 19:23; Emphasis Mine)

Remember to be CIRCUMCISED is an outward sign that has been set aside for God’s use and purpose, so if the FRUIT OF A TREE is UNCIRCUMCISED, then it’s not been set aside by God to be used for His purpose.  And as His people, we, likewise, are only to eat what He has declared to be CLEAN or CIRCUMCISED.  If God does not permit us to eat it, then it is wrong for us to do so.  He is the King; He sets the rules, NOT US.

CIRCUMCISION IN THE BOOK OF NUMBERS

Now in the book of Numbers, there’s to be one practice regarding offering, whether they are made by Jews or by a STRANGER (or Ger):

And if a STRANGER [Heb. ger] sojourn with you, or whoever be among you in your generations, and will offer an offering made by fire, or a sweet savor unto the LORD; AS YOU DO, SO SHALL HE DO

After stating this, God proclaims this legislative policy to reaffirm the equality that’s to exist between the children of Israel and the non-native Gentile (or Ger):

ONE ORDINANCE shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the STRANGER [Heb. ger] that sojourns with you, an ORDINANCE FOREVER in your generations: AS YOU ARE, SO SHALL THE STRANGER [Heb. ger] be before the LORD.  ONE LAW and ONE MANNER shall be for you, and for the STRANGER [Heb. ger] that sojourns with you.  (Numbers 15:14-16; Emphasis Mine)

Just as the Passover laws are to be the same for both the native-born children of Israel and the Ger (“Stranger”; Gentile, non-Jew), so we find the general principle here in regard to the other laws as well.

CIRCUMCISION IN THE BOOK OF DEUTERONOMY

Then, finally, in the book of Deuteronomy, we again see the connection being made between CIRCUMCISION OF THE FORESKIN to be an outward sign of the CIRCUMCISION OF ONE’S HEART.

CIRCUMCISE therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.  (Deuteronomy 10:16)

The opposite of having a CIRCUMCISED HEART is to be proudful, arrogant, stubborn, stiff-necked, unyielding, unrepentant, and disobedient.   These are qualities and characteristics that take us away from God, NOT to God.

AN END-TIME PROMISE

Near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, God gives the children of Israel and the mixed multitude of Gentiles with them a promise that God is still working on fulfilling today, but it will reach its complete fulfillment during the Millennium:

That then the LORD your God will turn your captivity, and have compassion upon you, and will return and gather you from ALL THE NATIONS, wherever the LORD your God has scattered you.  If any of yours be driven out unto the THE UTMOST PARTS OF HEAVEN, from there will the LORD your God gather you, and from there will He fetch you: and the LORD your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will do you good, and multiply you above your fathers.  (Deuteronomy 30:3-5; Emphasis Mine)

And the LORD your God will CIRCUMCISE YOUR HEART, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and that you may live.  And the LORD your God will put all these curses upon your enemies, and on them that hate you, which persecuted you.  And you shall return and obey the voice of the LORD, and do all His commandments which I command you this day.  (Deuteronomy 30:6-8; Emphasis Mine)

CONCLUSION

So in ending our study of CIRCUMCISION within the Pentateuch, we’ve discovered that it involves so much more than simply a surgical procedure.  Men and boys who are CIRCUMCISED are identifying themselves with the Abrahamic Covenant, the family and people of Israel, but they are also identifying that they have been sanctified, or set apart, by God for His use and purpose, and are, therefore, pledging to live with CIRCUMCISED HEARTS AND MINDS (bare, open, soft and pliable) before God all the days of our lives.  To do anything else would be to defile our CIRCUMCISION.  The rest of the Bible may develop these ideas more, expound and elaborate upon them, and perhaps even add to them, but it cannot CONTRADICT them or OPPOSE them.

Now in saying this, some may wonder if I am saying that Paul was in error in his teachings about CIRCUMCISION?  But as you will see, Paul’s position was as a result of things that were going on during the first century, C.E., which had nothing to do with what God taught in His Word here in the Pentateuch.  And because most Christians do not study the Bible as a whole, since many believe that “the law” or the “Old Testament” ended at the cross, or is not to be a part of the Christian experience, they end up with a distorted view of Paul and his writings, as I will show when we get there.

 

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