All posts by Chris L. Verschage

Chris L. Verschage is the co-founder and President of Following Messiah Ministries. Chris is a writer, ordained minister, and ex-community college English & Humanities Professor, enjoys exploring various topics, particularly those dealing with the Scriptures, Judaism and Christianity. Chris' wife, Karen, is the founder and author of her own blog, Karen's Shofar. Chris & Karen have been married since 1981, and are the parents of four children and grandparents of five grandchildren.

Two Levels of Biblical Teaching: “Are You Growing in the Word?”

During the years I was growing up in the church, I really don’t remember any minister talking about the fact that there are two levels of study and practice mentioned within the Scriptures.  Three of the writers within the B’rit Chadasha (New Testament), Shi’mon (Peter), Rav Sha’ul (Paul) and the writer of Hebrews, compares them to the food that children eat as they grow and develop: breast milk and solid foods.

The Bible – Not All the Same

One of the errors that many believers commit is to believe that it takes the same amount of effort to understand any Scriptural text, regardless of their stage of spiritual development.  In fact, I have heard ministers say that the Bible is so simple that even a child could understand it.  But this is not true.  Some parts are intended for the new believer, some for the believer who has been in the faith for a few years, some for ten to twenty years,  and some for the mature believer.  The difficulty level of the various texts with the Bible varies from text to text;  they are not all the same.  For example, a child would have great difficulty reading the book of Leviticus and then explaining its various complexities, or even understanding the visions of Ezekiel, Zechariah, or even the book of Revelation.  There are many adults who have difficulties with these texts, much less a child.

So rather than misleading people by saying that all the Bible is “so easy a child could understand it,” it would be better if we compared it to an ocean.  If you are new to the faith (a beginner), there is the beach and the shallow waters of the word for you to enjoy.  For those with a little more experience, they can go further out into the word and “go swimming,” “water skiing,” or even “snorkeling” within its many teachings.  However, for those who want to really go deep in the Word of God, they will not be disappointed when they “strap on their tanks” (knowledge of Hebrew and Greek) and “dive deep beneath the surface” of the text.

Milk – The Basic Level

First of all, there are the basic teachings of the Word.  As believers, we don’t begin at the “mature level” within God’s Kingdom; instead, we are all “birthed” into His kingdom as “newborn babes,” and so in his first epistle (letter), Shi’mon (Peter) gives the following admonition to those of us who are new to the faith:

As newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted of the kindness of the Lord. (I Peter 2:2-3, emphasis mine)

In this reference, the word translated “milk” is the Greek word gala, which refers, not to “cow’s milk,” which I use to think growing up, but then realized, as an adult, that it referred to “breast milk.”  And truly, all “newborn babes” seek to be nursed and fed by their mothers.  Likewise, when we are new to the faith, we should likewise seek to be fed with the “pure milk” of God’s word.

What is the “Milk of the Word”?

People cannot just jump into difficult concepts of any discipline, even if they are biblical ones, but they must begin with the basics.  The “milk of the word” is the basic concepts of Scripture.  Just like a newborn, if we try to take on more than we can “chew” or “digest,” we will “choke” on it.  God being a good Father knows what we can handle and what is too much for us to understand.  All new believers need the basics, the “milk,” for them to grow and develop properly.

As a result, new believers should not jump right into the “deep things of God,” but they should focus on “drinking in” and “digesting” the “milk” (or basic teachings) of the Word.  But what are the “basics”?  The writer of Hebrews provides us with an answer to this question:

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ [Messiah], let us go on unto perfection (or a state of completeness and maturity); not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.  (Hebrews 6:1-3)

In these three verses, the writer identifies six concepts that constitute the basic “principles” or concepts of “the doctrine of Christ [Messiah],” or in other words, “the milk of the Word.”  They are —

  1. Repentance from dead works;
  2. Faith toward God;
  3. The doctrine of baptisms;
  4. The laying on of hands;
  5. The resurrection of the dead; and
  6. Eternal Judgment.

These six basic beliefs constitute the “milk” of the word and, therefore, should constitute the “food” (or content of study) of each new believer. Once these teachings have been mastered by the new believer, then God will begin to introduce you to deeper and deeper truths, the “meat” (or “solid foods” within His Word.

However, the problem comes, when we don’t submit to the leading of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and we refuse to move on into God’s deeper teachings.  The deeper teachings cannot just be easily taken in, but they require us to “chew” on them a bit before we can properly “digest” them, and make them an intricate part of our lives.   Just like a toddler being weaned off of nursing and being introduced to “solid foods,” the believers may not be receptive to these deeper teachings at the beginning.

But imagine what would happen to a child who refused to eat solid foods, and insisted on continuing to nurse?   For a little while that might be fine, but what if the child continues this for five, ten, or fifteen years?   We would definitely say that there was a problem here.  The child would end up being weak and malnourished, and would not grow as the child ought. Most people would be shocked at a ten-year-old child still being nursed; for example, they would question the mother, “Why is this child still being nursed?” Yet in many churches, there are numerous believers who have been in the faith for a number of years, and yet they are still struggling with the “milk” (or “breast milk”) of God’s Word and have not submitted to the leading of the Spirit when God has been trying to wean them off the “milk” and to get them to start “chewing on” and “eating” the more “solid foods” from His Word.

An example of this can be seen in the believing Community at Corinth. The congregation there should have been further along in their spiritual development than they were, and this frustrated Rav Sha’ul (Paul).

And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ [Messiah].  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto you were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able.  For you are still carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as men?  (I Corinthians 3:1-3)

God, through Rav Sha’ul (Paul), shows His frustration because He wanted to take this congregation into the deep things of God, but He could not.  Why? Because as Rav Sha’ul (Paul) notes, these believers were full of divisions and strife, and were still acting as spiritual infants, i.e., “carnal.”  This word “carnal,” is the English translation of the Greek word sarkikos (Strong’s #4559), which means “bodily, temporal, unregenerate, or animal.”  In other words, when we follow our natural, “unregenerate” or “animalistic” desires, attitudes, values, beliefs, etc., then we are being “carnal.”  The Torah and the book of Judges describe it this way: “they did what was right n their own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 21:25), and they did not follow the ways of God.

Those who are babes in the Lord act “carnal” because they have not had enough training and experience yet to have grown spiritually and to “renew their mind.”  However, there comes a point where we all need “to grow up in the faith,” and to quit acting “childish.”

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be you transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.  (Romans 12:1-2)

How do we “renew” our minds?  By studying the Scriptures, and by allowing God through His Spirit to mold and shape our values, thoughts, and desires to those which line up with the Word of God.  This happens as we “pick up our cross daily,” follow the Messiah, and submit ourselves to the leading of the Ruach (Spirit), trusting and obeying Him, and as we do these things, we become conformed more and more to His image.

However, rather than growing up and renewing their mind by studying the Scriptures and learning how to “crucify the flesh,” these believers were still following their natural human instincts and behavior, rather than submitting to the kingship of God in their lives and the leading of the Ruach (Spirit).  As long as we continue to follow our natural, “unregenerate” or “animalistic” nature, we will not spiritually grow and develop as we should, but we will, instead, remain “carnal,” which is not a state that brings joy or pleasure to God.

Not only was this a problem for the believers in Corinth, Greece, but it was also a problem for the Jewish believers as well.  In the book of Hebrews,  for example, the writer tells his Jewish audience that they should have been teachers by now, but they too were still struggling with the basics.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary [or basic] principles of the oracles [or Word] of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who [continues to] partake only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.  (Hebrews 5:12-14)

Thus, the writer of Hebrews is telling us that God’s intention for His people is that they would develop or “grow” from being a spiritual infant (or carnally-minded believer) to becoming fully mature (or spiritually minded).   As long as the believer is in the “infant stage,” he or she needs to focus on mastering the basics of the faith (the “milk”), in learning to “pick up their cross daily,” and in “renewing their mind.”  However, it is God’s design that every believer moves out of “spiritual infancy” and to properly grow up and develop by moving on and eating the “strong meat” (or more advanced level teachings) of Scripture.

But why weren’t these Jewish believers growing as they ought?  Because they were continuing to “partake only of milk,” rather than allowing God to “wean them from it,” and begin giving them the stronger “meat” or “solid food” of His Word.   For the “solid food” is not for the carnal, or the spiritual babes, but “for the mature.”  One cannot just claim to be mature, one must grow into a mature believer by practicing having “their senses trained to discern good and evil.”  We are not born being able to “discern good and evil;” if we were, we would not have to “practice” to have our “senses trained” to know the difference between the two.

Now does this mean we should go out and practice evil so that we know what it is?  Absolutely not!  No, we all know evil, it is the human default.  It is good that we need to learn.  Some may say, “I’m a good person; I’m not evil.”  But they say this because they are comparing themselves to other people.  But this is not how God judges us.  He compares us to Himself.  According to Scripture, we were created “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26; 5:1; 9:6; James 3:9); consequently, when we fail to live up to that image, to reflect that image accurately, then we are doing evil, even if we believe that what we are doing is good.

This is why God teaches us in His Word, the Bible, that on their own, there is no one that does good.

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They were all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.  (Psalm 14:2-3)

These same two verses are repeated again in Psalm 53:2-3, as well as quoted by the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the congregation in Rome (Romans 3:10-11). This same idea is also stated by Solomon in his book of Ecclesiastes:

Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and does not sin.  (7:20)

This is why it was necessary for Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) to come and die upon the cross, not only to forgive us for our sins, but to wipe our sins away, justifying us, and liberating us from the power and control of sin within our lives.  As a result, God’s Ruach (Spirit) can now dwell within the believer and can begin working on transforming the individual into becoming more and more like the Messiah, who is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) and, thereby, returning us to God’s original intent, that we be made “in His image and likeness” (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10).

So What is the “Meat” (or “Solid Foods”)?

So what then is the “meat” (or “solid foods”) of God’s Word?  If we look at the rest of the book of Hebrews, we are given an indication of what, at least in part, constitutes the “meat” (or “solid food”) of God’s Word.   From Hebrews 6:13 – 11:40, the writer of Hebrews examines how Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) can be seen in the characters and images seen and taught within the book of Leviticus.  The same could be said of the other books written by Moses as well, not to mention the rest of the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh).  After all, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) Himself taught:

You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you might have life….Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have put your hope.   For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me.   But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? (John 5:39-40, 45-47)

Consequently, then, when we examine the overall content of Scripture, it is all about Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), including the Torah itself.  For example, when we analyze the structure of the book of Hebrews, the writer of this text is implying that the Torah contains insight into the person and ministry of Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), in His first coming, His present ministry in the Heavenly tabernacle, and in His coming return and reign.   This is the “strong meat” that only those who are “spiritually-minded” — as opposed to those who are “carnally-minded” — can fully grasp and understand. This idea can likewise be seen in the writings of Rav Sha’ul (Paul):

 But the natural man (or “carnally-minded”) man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.   But he that is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him?  But we have the mind of Christ [Messiah].  (I Corinthians 2:14-16)

Here Paul is arguing that the “natural man” (one who lives by his natural, “unregenerate,” and “animalistic” nature) cannot receive (or understand) the things that are handed down or taught by the Spirit of God.  He will consider such teachings “foolishness” and cannot understand them for “they must be spiritually discerned.”  Now compare this teaching with the following:

For we know that the law (Heb. Torah) is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.  (Romans 7:14)

When we compare this verse with I Corinthians 2:14-16, then the Torah is a holy, spiritual text that the “natural man” or “carnally-minded” individual cannot receive or understand, because its deeper truths  or teachings seem “foolishness” to him and “neither can he know (or have an intimate knowledge of) them since the Torah is “spiritual” and, therefore, it can only be “spiritually discerned.”

Overall, then, what we find taught in the Scriptures is that there are two basic levels of teachings within the Bible: “the milk” (the basics) and “the meat” or “solid foods” (the more advanced level teachings).  This means that God doesn’t expect us to remain at the carnal, newborn level, but He expects us to grow spiritually until we come into the conformity of the image of the Messiah [Christ],

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ [Messiah]; that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ [Messiah].  (Ephesians 4:13-15)

May we all strive to grow up and be mature in Him.  Amen.

 

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What is a “Messiah”? (Pt. 1): A Study of the Ancient Israeli Kings

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.  So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.” (I Samuel 16:13)

What is a “Messiah”?

The word “Messiah” is the English equivalent of the Hebrew word mashiach, which means “anointed one.”  The term is derived from the Hebrew word mashach (pron. “mah-shock”), meaning “anointed.”  Consequently, when an individual was “anointed” (mashach), he became an “anointed one” (mashiach) or in English “messiah.”  The title “Messiah” (Heb. Moshiach) was given to an individual who had been chosen by God to occupy one of the three leadership positions — King, Prophet, or High Priest — over the nation and people of Israel.   After the kingdom divided, the ancient Israeli prophets foretold of One who would be a special descendant of David who would have the anointing of, not one of the national offices, but all three of them simultaneously.  In the Greek New Testament, the Greek word that’s used for this special promised  Messiah is the word Christos, or in English “Christ.”  So in actuality, the words “Messiah” and “Christ” are equivalent, synonymous terms.

Why is this Study Important?

Consequently, in order to understand what it means to call Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) “Messiah,” as well as to be His disciple, we need to trace the meaning of the word back to its origin and usage in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures).  By understanding how the word was used and understood in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; “Old Testament”), we can properly understand it within its original context.

The Importance of Context

Proper context is extremely important in understanding any historical, cultural, or theological text, and the Bible is not any different.  If you remove any text from its original context, then it becomes a pretext to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and/or error. Therefore, we will be examining this concept of “Messiah” by placing it back into its original context, examining and interpreting it within that context, and then to bring that meaning forward to see how we can apply that meaning today.

In applying the term “Messiah” (or “Christ” from the Greek) to Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), it’s important to remember that He grew up and lived His life, as well as taught and ministered, as a Middle-Eastern, Israeli Jew of the 2nd Temple era, and how the term would have been used and understood by Him and His disciples (and others) would have been how it was used and understood within the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as within that culture, religion, and time.   To apply a meaning to the word “Messiah” apart from its original contexts is to open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.

How Many “Anointed Ones” are there in the Hebrew Bible?

So in tracing the word “Messiah” back into the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), how many individuals are given this title?  In researching its use, we discover that every prophet, priest, and king mentioned in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) were all “anointed ones.”  The first “anointed one” mentioned in the Bible was Aaron,  Moses’ brother, which we will discuss further in the second part of this study.

“Messiah” – A Political & Religious Term?

Most people within the church view the term “Messiah/Christ” as a spiritual term with a spiritual meaning; however, as we shall see in this part of the study, it is also a political term with a political meaning.  Interestingly, it is not the spiritual term/meaning that dominates the writings of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; Old Testament), but the political.  As a result, we are going to look at the political usage in this part of the study (since it is what dominates).  Consequently, if the term “Messiah/Christ” is indeed a political term, as well as a religious term, then the kingdom preached by Yeshua (Joshua/ Jesus) would likewise indicate a concept that was both political and spiritual.  And as modern day disciples of the Messiah who are part of that “kingdom,” then our identity in Messiah is likewise both political and spiritual.  You can see this perspective can raise some rather interesting questions.

But in continuing on with the study, have you ever wondered, “Who made someone an ‘anointed one’ (i.e., a national leader) or how was it done?  What was the process?  Was it by election, like in the U.S.?  Was it something one chose for himself or did someone else make the decision? To answer these (and many other) questions, I would like to examine the pattern which Scripture reveals in the lives of five of Israel’s ancient kings.

Why the Ancient Israeli Kings?

In speaking about those who lived and are discussed in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; Old Testament ), Rav Sha’ul (Paul) writes in I Corinthians 10:11,

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

What Paul is telling us, for the purpose of our study, is that we can look back at the lives of these kings as “an example” of how God interacted and treated them, and what were His expectations of those He chose to be “an anointed king.”  We can also look at their lives as “our instruction” in what “an anointed one” was and how he became one.

Ancient Israeli Kings – An Overview

In the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), beginning with the book of I Samuel to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the ancient Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., there are recorded in the biblical text a total of forty-two kings.

The First Three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon) ruled and reigned over all the tribes of Israel in a United Kingdom; however, after the death of Solomon, when Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, takes the throne, the kingdom of Israel splits into two kingdoms:

  • The Northern Kingdom (called Israel; sometimes Ephraim), which had a total of nineteen kings until their captivity by the Assyrians that began in 740 B.C.E. (some sources though dated it around 733-732 B.C.E.) and was completed in 722 B.C.E. These ten tribes were scattered across the Assyrian empire and have become known as “The Lost Ten Tribes.”
  • The Southern Kingdom (called Judah), which had a total of twenty kings until their captivity by the Babylonians, which happened in 586 B.C.E. It was during their Babylonian captivity that the term “Judean” was shortened to form the word “Jew.”

Of these forty-two kings, the Scriptures mention only five of them being anointed for office: the first three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon), and then after the kingdom split, Jehu from the Northern Kingdom, and Joash (also called Jehoash) from the Southern Kingdom.

In the rest of the study, I would like to examine the experience of these five men had in becoming an “anointed one” or an “anointed king,” and to demonstrate through their experiences, that the Bible shows that there is a pattern – a specific process – that one went through in order to become an “anointed one” or a leader over the nation of Israel.

King Saul – Israel’s First King.

The story of Israel’s first king can be found in I Samuel.  The people of Israel up until this time had been under the leadership of the prophet Samuel, who was the last of the Judges (temporary military leaders), but like the High Priest Eli who had raised him (see I Samuel 1:25-2:11, 18-20; 3:1-4:1), Samuel did not discipline his sons.

Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. (I Sam. 8:1-3)

Since Samuel’s sons were corrupt leaders and could not be trusted as judges, the people began to ask for a king, so that they could be like the other nations around them.

But what was the difference between a “Judge” and a “King”?

Usually, we think of the word “Judge” as someone in black robes who sit in a courtroom and who listens to both sides of the case and oversees the trial.  However, when the Bible states that someone was a judge, this is not what it means.  In fact, the book after “Joshua” is called “Judges.”

In the Bible, both judges and kings were people raised up to assume a position of authority over the nation of Israel; however, a judge’s position of authority was temporary.  A judge was usually raised to address a specific crisis that was going on at the time.  Throughout the book of Judges, for example, these individuals were called to address some form of oppression or attack that was being waged against the nation, so a judge (in the biblical sense) was a military leader who would lead the nation in a battle or war to free it from the attacks or domination by another country.  But then once the crisis was over, the judge then would go back to living life as usual. Consequently, there was no real “human government” (in a permanent sense) that was in place during a judge’s time of rule over the nation.

However, a king was a different story.  A king was a permanent position of authority over the nation, whose reign was then usually handed down to his son, and then his grandson, etc.  With a king, there was a form of government known as a “monarchy,” in which the king reigned supreme, whose word was law, and who owned everything within his kingdom.  Samuel tried to warn the people of Israel about what having a king would mean, and what they would be giving up.

And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” (I Samuel 8:10-18)

But the people were still determined; they wanted a king.  Of course, this upset Samuel very much, because he viewed this as a rejection of him as the nation’s leader (even though his sons by this time were doing most of the judging).  However, God explains to him that it is not Samuel the people have rejected, but God:

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day; with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods; so they are doing to you also.”  (I Samuel 8:7-8)

God had chosen and placed Samuel into his position of authority over the nation, so therefore, for the people to reject Samuel and his sons as their national leaders was, in effect, to reject God.

Samuel Anoints Saul as King

God then instructs Samuel to do as they requested.  God then showed Samuel who He wanted him to anoint as their new king; it was Saul (Heb. Sha’ul) from the tribe of Benjamin.  Through some interesting circumstances, God arranges for Saul to come to the city where Samuel was staying.

After Saul and his servant spend an evening with Samuel, Samuel requests that the servant go ahead, so that he could speak to Saul alone.  Then Samuel anoints (Heb. māshach) Saul with a vial of olive oil:

Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his [Saul’s] head, and kissed him, and said, “Is it not because the LORD has anointed [Heb. māshach] you to be captain over His inheritance?” (I Samuel 10:1)

After anointing him with oil, Saul then becomes the mashiach (lit. “anointed one” or “messiah”).  Samuel then goes on to give Saul instructions on what would happen to him until Samuel would meet with him again.  One of the things mentioned that would happen to him would be that the Spirit of the LORD would come upon Saul and that he would be “changed into another man”:

And the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them [a group of prophets that Saul would meet], and shall be turned into another man. (I Samuel 10:6)

From this reference, we can note three things about the Messiah (or “Anointed One”):

  1. The term “Messiah” is a political title and is used to designate the king God had chosen to rule over the people and nation of Israel;
  2. The Messiah was designated as God’s chosen leader by the ritual of having oil poured over his head by a prophet (or a priest); and
  3. The Messiah was also designated as being “empowered” and “consecrated” (or set apart) by God when God’s Spirit came upon him.
  4. When the Spirit of God came upon Saul as the first “anointed king” (or “Messiah”), there was something new and different about Saul than what he was like before the Spirit came upon him since the text says, “he was changed into another man.”

For years, I have heard ministers argue that the act of anointing a king with oil was a symbol of the Holy Spirit; however, since the Spirit of God comes upon Saul in addition to him being anointed with oil, I would have to question this traditional interpretation. I would like to note here, though, that to question an interpretation is not the same thing as questioning Scripture.  The Scriptures are clear that they were “given by the inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16); however, when an interpretation, even a traditional one, seems to contradict or violate the writing of Scripture, then it should be called into question.

Saul was anointed with oil and he was anointed with the Holy Spirit.  He was anointed by both, not just with oil.  If he had only been anointed with oil, and not by the Spirit, then I believe the traditional interpretation would be valid, but since that’s not the case here, or even with David, as we shall see, I’d have to question the validity of the traditional interpretation.

What was the Purpose of Being Anointed with Oil?

The purpose of being anointed with oil was more than it being a symbol for the Spirit of God; it was part of the ceremony of making the individual a “Messiah” or an “Anointed One.”  Remember, the term “Messiah” (Heb. Mashiach), as it is used in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) is dominantly a political designation for a national leader, rather than a spiritual one.  Just like in the United States, a candidate can be elected to the presidency, but until he goes through the Inaugural Ceremony and is sworn into office by the U.S. Chief Justice, he does not possess the title of being “President.”  In much the same way, until the individual is anointed with oil by a prophet or a priest (which was Israel’s version of the “Inaugural Ceremony”), the individual cannot be called an “Anointed One”: in Hebrew a Mashiach, and in English, a “Messiah.”

In this inaugural ceremony, the anointing with oil, rather than symbolizing the Holy Spirit, seems to have functioned as a symbolic way of indicating that this person had been set apart by God for this national position, role, and authority.  As we shall see, these same three criteria are also repeated in the anointing of the next king, David.

David is Anointed King

When King Saul disobeys God several times, God says that He was sorry that He had ever made Saul king (I Samuel 15:11).  God then told Samuel to go to the city of Bethlehem and to anoint another king, one who would have an obedient heart:

And the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing that I have rejected him from reigning from over Israel?  Fill your horn with oil, and go, I will send you to Jesse the Bethlemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons. (I Samuel 16:1)

In this scene, we should note that it is God who is actually the One ruling and reigning over the nation of Israel.  The human king functions more like a servant to God, in that he follows what God says He wants to be done.  Therefore, Saul really was more like what we may think of as an ambassador-type position, rather than as a king as we understand the term.

Since on more than one occasion, Saul did not follow the instructions that God, the actual king, had given to Saul, God’s representative, to carry out, God took the initiative to have Saul replaced.  If Saul had been a king, in the sense that we understand the term, meaning that he was in complete control of himself and everything in his kingdom, the anointing of David never would have occurred. Therefore, we learn from this account that it is not the national leader who holds the power and authority over a nation, but God.

When Samuel does arrive at Jesse’s home, he discovers that Jesse has eight sons, but only seven of them were there at the house to meet Samuel.  Each outwardly looked like he could assume the position of king; however, God did not choose any of them (I Samuel 16:11).

When Samuel asks if these were all his sons, Jesse tells him David, the youngest, was still out in the field watching the sheep (16:11).  Samuel then has him send for David.  When David comes, the LORD instructs Samuel to anoint him:

And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.  So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.  (I Samuel 16:13)

In this narrative, we see the following:

  1. It was God who decided that Saul needed to be replaced;
  2. It was God who decided who He wanted to be the next king over the nation of Israel;
  3. The prophet Samuel poured a horn of oil over David’s head as part of the ritual to inaugurate him as the new “anointed king” (or “messiah”); and
  4. God’s selection (or empowerment and “consecration”) of him was made evident by the Spirit of the LORD coming upon him.

However, unlike the narrative with King Saul, the Scriptures do not say that David “was changed into another man,” like they had with Saul.  Is this something we can assume happened since it happened the time before, or was David not “changed”?  And if so, why not?  (Something to think about since the Scriptures are silent on this point.)

In addition, David did not acquire the throne at the time that he was anointed.  David was only a teen at this time.  Some time later, he would begin a period of several years where he would be pursued by King Saul, who would repeatedly try to kill him.  During this time, there were several people who followed David.  If this narrative had been written in Greek (as the New Testament had been), David’s followers would have been described as the followers of the “Christ” (the “anointed one”), or we would say “Christians.”  So a “Christian” is one who is a follower of “the Christ” or “the Messiah” (the “Anointed One”), and in the case of this part of the study, the chosen leader of the people and nation of Israel.

However, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is unique in that God has made Him king, not just over the people and nation of Israel, but over all the nations of the world.  There’s a prophecy of this in Daniel 7:13-14,

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven, One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.  And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away; and His kingdom is one which shall not be destroyed.

And Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) favorite term for Himself was “the Son of Man,” a reference to this passage in Daniel.  And Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), like His ancestor David, will one day ascend the throne and rule and reign over Israel and all the nations of the earth from His capital city in Jerusalem.

And just like we are waiting for Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) to ascend His promised throne, David, likewise, did not immediately ascend the throne, but it was years later when he was thirty years old and after Saul had been killed in battle.

And the men of Judah (the largest of the southern tribes) came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. (2 Samuel 2:4a)

Notice it is this second anointing ceremony that places him as king over the tribe of Judah.  Also, the text says that it was the “men of Judah” who anointed him as king.  There’s no mention of a prophet or a priest.  Consequently, there’s no way to know for certain whom the person was who actually anointed him at this time.

Also, an interesting question to ask here is, “Why was it necessary for David to be anointed again since Samuel had already anointed him as a teenager?”  The Scriptures are likewise silent on this point.  However, we do learn that after another 7½ years, David was finally anointed king over the whole house (or country) of Israel (i.e., a third anointing ceremony):

So all the elders of Israel came to the king in Hebron; and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the LORD: and they anointed David king over Israel. (2 Samuel 5:3)

Here we learn from the text that it was the “elders of Israel” who anointed David to be their king over the whole kingdom of Israel; again, there’s no mention of a prophet or a priest.  Consequently, we cannot say for certain if these men were prophets, priests, or just the political elders (or representatives) of the twelve tribes.

According to the Scriptures, David then reigned over the whole kingdom of Israel for a period of 33 years, in addition to the 7½ years he reigned over Judah, so that he reigned for a total period of 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4-5).  Interestingly, again, there’s four things I’d like to point out:

  1. Like Saul, David was chosen by God to be king over the nation of Israel;
  2. Like Saul, David was anointed with olive oil as part of the ritual to make him king;
  3.  However, even though the prophet Samuel had anointed David as king when David was still a teenager, he was anointed king again each time he was made king, first of Judah and then of all of Israel; and
  4. Like Saul, the Spirit of the L-RD came on David during his initial anointing, but unlike Saul, the text does not say that David “was changed into another man,” and the Spirit remained on David during his lifetime. God’s Spirit did not need to repeatedly come on David each time he was anointed for office.

Solomon is Anointed King

The third example of a king being anointed is Solomon, David’s son, Israel’s third king.  Near the end of David’s life, God reveals to him that his son Solomon would be the one from among his many sons who would rule over the kingdom:

Then David the king stood upon his feet, and said, “Hear me, my brothers, and my people:  As for me, I had in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God, and had made ready for the building: but God said to me, You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war, and has shed blood.  However, of all my sons (for the LORD has given me many sons), He has chosen Solomon, my son, to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel.  (2 Chronicles 28: 2-3, 5)

An interesting side-note regarding the phrase “the kingdom of the LORD” (lit. “kingdom of YHVH”) in the final verse above is that after the Babylonian exile, the Jews started avoiding the use of God’s covenantal name and using evasive synonyms instead, such as the word “heaven,” therefore, instead of saying “kingdom of the LORD” (or lit. “kingdom of YHVH”), Jews would use the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” like we see Yeshua (Joshua/ Jesus) using throughout the Gospels.  The phrase “kingdom of God” was the Greek way of expressing the same phrase, or to put it another way, “the kingdom of the LORD,” “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” are just three different ways of saying the same thing.

Now because Adonijah, another of David’s sons, tries to steal the kingdom for himself, David ends up instructing Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet to take Solomon down to Gihon and anoint him there as king (I Kings 1:32-34).

So Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoida, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon.  And Zadok the priest took a horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon.  And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save King Solomon.  (I Kings 1:38-39)

Interestingly, like Saul’s anointing, Solomon’s anointing results in him acquiring the throne immediately; however, unlike Saul and David’s anointing, there is no mention of the Spirit of God coming upon Solomon after his anointing by Zadok and Nathan.

Also note, like Saul’s and David’s anointing, there was a prophet mentioned doing the anointing; however, unlike Saul’s and David’s anointing, there’s a priest present also.

Jehu is Anointed King

The fourth king that’s mentioned as being anointed in the Scriptures is Jehu, a commander of the Northern Kingdom’s troops.  This selection by God for king happens years after the united kingdom had divided into two separate kingdoms.

According to the Scriptures, the prophet Elisha calls for one of “the sons of the prophets” (a term used for the prophet’s disciples), and tells him to take a flask of oil and to go to Ramoth-gilead (2 Kings 9:1).  Once he gets there, he is to do the following:

When you get there, look for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi.  Go in, get him away from his colleagues, and take him to an inner room.  Then, take the flask of oil, pour it on his head, and say, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I anoint you king over Israel [i.e., the name of the Northern Kingdom was also Israel].’” (2 Kings 9:2-3)

Elisha’s disciple does this, and after he anoints Jehu king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, he passes on to Jehu the instructions that God had given to Elisha, who then passed on these same instructions to his disciple to tell Jehu:

To strike down the house of your master Ahab so that I may avenge the blood shed by the hand of Jezebel – the blood of My servants the prophets and of all the servants of the
L-RD.
   (2 Kings 9:7)

Jehu thus begins his reign over the Northern Kingdom as God’s chosen assassin to kill all those who belonged to the house of Ahab, including Ahab’s son, Joram, who was presently the reigning king over the Northern Kingdom; Ahab’s wife, Jezebel; Ahab’s seventy sons; Ahab’s entire household; as well as all his close friends and priests.

In addition to Ahab’s house, King Jehu killed Ahaziah, the king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, as well as all the Ba’al worshippers, servants, and priests that were in Israel, the Northern Kingdom.  King Jehu then destroyed Ba’al’s temple and turned it into a latrine (2 Kings 9:8 – 10:28).  Although Jehu carried out the instructions of God in all those that he was supposed to kill, the Scriptures state that he did not devote himself entirely to following God but continued in the “sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had caused Israel to commit – worshipping the golden calves that were in Bethel and Dan” (2 Kings 10:29).  In spite of this, the LORD told Jehu,

Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in My sight and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, four generations of your sons will sit on the throne of Israel.  (2 Kings 10:30)

In examining Jehu’s anointing, we discover that,

  1. He was selected to be king of the Northern Kingdom by God; and
  2. like the first three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon), Jehu was also anointed with oil by a prophet, but unlike Solomon, a priest was not also present.
  3. However, unlike Saul and David, but like Solomon, there is no mention of the Spirit of God coming down upon Jehu.

Joash is Anointed King

The fifth and final king that’s specifically mentioned in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) to have been anointed king is seven-year-old Joash.

As a result of Jehu killing Ahaziah, the king over the Southern Kingdom of Judah, there was no one to assume the throne (2 Chronicles 22:9).  Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, wanted the throne for herself, so she went out to kill all her grandsons, anyone that might be a possible heir to her son’s throne.  In this way, she was very much like Herod the Great, an Edomite who ruled over Judea in the first century C.E., because like Athaliah, Herod did not want anyone to take his throne from him.  He is known in history for killing some of his own sons, whom he viewed as a threat to his reign, as well as him killing all the newborn sons, up to two years of age, in the town of Bethlehem (from the Gospel accounts), so that he might kill the newborn Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), whose birth was signaled by an unusual star and who was visited by shepherds, and then a year or so later, some magi (wise men) from the east visited Him and his family who were living in a house (Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12, 16-18).

Joash is Saved by His Aunt

However, rather than allowing Joash, one of Ahaziah’s sons to be killed, Jehoshabeath, Ahaziah’s sister and the wife of Jehoiada the priest, risks her own life to save Joash from his power-hungry grandmother, Athaliah.  (2 Chronicles 22:10).

Joash is Hidden in the Temple

Jehoshabeath, king Ahaziah’s daughter, somehow manages to smuggle the one-year-old Joash out of the palace and gets him to the Temple in safety, where she keeps him hidden in one of the bedchambers within the Temple complex for six years (2 Chronicles 22:11-12).

While hidden in the Temple, Joash was raised by his aunt and her husband Jehoiada the priest.  Once Joash reaches the age of seven, Jehoiada enters into a covenant with the Levitical priests of the Temple, the commanders of hundreds within the Judean military, and the heads of the families of Israel.  He brings them all to the Temple there in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 23:1-2).

Joash is Made King

Once they arrive, they enter into a covenant with seven-year-old Joash within the Temple.  The Levites are then assigned to protect the entry ways into the Temple, and the military commanders are assigned to stay as close to Joash and to protect him at all times (2 Chronicles 23:3-6).

Once everyone was in place, Joash is brought out of the Temple where he had been hidden for six years, and he is anointed king over the Southern Kingdom of Judah:

Then they brought out the king’s son [Joash], and put upon him the crown, and gave him the testimony, and made him king.  And Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and said, “God save the king.”  (2 Chronicles 23:11)

However, when Joash’s grandmother, Athaliah, heard the noise of the people cheering and praising Joash as king, she went out to the Temple to see what was going on.  When she saw the people, the trumpet blowers, and the singers standing all around Joash, she “tore her clothes and screamed, ‘Treason, treason!’” (2 Chronicles 23:13).

Athaliah is then arrested by the guards, removed from the Temple complex, and then taken to the entrance of the Horses’ Gate (one of the gateways into the city of Jerusalem) where she is put to death (2 Chronicles 23:14-15).

What about the Other Kings?

Out of the forty-two ancient Israeli kings, only five kings are specifically said to have been anointed with oil as part of the process to make them king over the nation.  Does this mean that the other thirty-seven kings were never anointed for office?  No, they would have been anointed with olive oil, just like the five, since that was an important part of the ceremony that made them an “Anointed One” or “Messiah.”  But for whatever the reason that detail from their inaugural ceremony was not included in the biblical record.

A Summary of the Biblical Record

Now based on the Hebrew Scriptures, concerning the five kings that it specifically discusses as being anointed with oil, what pattern do we discover within the text?

  • It is God who selects and chooses who He wants to rule and reign over the people and nation of Israel;
  • The term “Messiah” [Heb. Mashiach] is a political term used to designate the king God had chosen to rule over His people.
  • The Messiah was designated as God’s chosen leader by the ritual of having olive oil poured over his head by a prophet or a priest. (even though this was only specified for five out of the forty-two kings of ancient Israel).
  • And only the first two kings (Saul and David) is it specified that the Spirit of God came upon the “Anointed One” or “Messiah” and empowered and consecrated him for his role as a national leader.

 

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The Gospel of Hanukkah: “Does Its Message Burn Brightly in Your Life Today?” (Part 1/2)

THERE IS A GOSPEL (OR “GOOD NEWS”) MESSAGE IN HANUKKAH?  There are many people, Jews and Christians, who may be surprised to discover this, but I have been teaching this message now for many years to individuals and congregations, wherever I am given the opportunity to speak.  It’s a message that I believe that everyone in the world today needs to hear.

Now I know there are some who may question the legitimacy in sharing a “gospel message” in an event that happened 164-167 years before Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) was ever conceived.  However, I am firmly convinced by the evidence that God leaves evidence behind within history of His existence and of His dealings with humanity, and that God purposely presents us with Scriptural, historical, cultural and religious pictures of Messiah and who we are in Messiah, so that when we see them, there is no doubt that we serve a God who is holy and majestic, and who is not restricted by time, space and matter.

WE ARE A TEMPLE?

In the story of Hanukkah, Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid Greek army desecrates the Temple by offering a pig on the altar, smearing blood on the Temple walls and then ransacking it.  It was defiled and needed to be cleansed.  But this is a picture of who we are and our condition. since the Bible teaches us that we are one of God’s three Temples.

I know growing up in the church, I was taught that we, as God’s people, His Temple, replaced the Jerusalem Temple, but through my research and studies of Scripture, I found that this is NOT true.  God has since creation had two, sometimes three, different Temples:

  • God’s original Temple in heaven (Exodus 25:8-9, 40; 26:30; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44; Revelation 7:15; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:5-8; 16:1, 17);
  • God’s Tabernacle/Temple.  The Tabernacle and the two Temples in Jerusalem were patterned after the original heavenly Temple.  The first Temple, called “Solomon’s Temple,” was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., and then the second Temple, called “Herod’s Temple,” was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.

Now just because the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., did that mean that God was destroying, or doing away with, the whole Temple system?  No, He didn’t because the original Temple system that God revealed to Moses and told him to copy or create a replica of was NEVER destroyed.  It is still up there in heaven going strong.  As I indicated above, it is seen by John throughout most of the book of Revelation.

The problem, of course, is that Christianity has traditionally seen the tearing of the Temple veil as a sign that God was bringing the Temple system to an end.  However, no where in the Bible is this interpretation taught.  Instead, throughout the Old Testament, the tearing of clothing is consistently seen as a sign of mourning over a loved one’s death, NOT as an indication of bringing the Temple system to an end.  God had just witnessed the torture and death of His own beloved Son, and when He died, God did what any loving Jewish father would have done, He took the cloth over His heart [the Temple veil], and He ripped it from top to bottom, just as Jews have done throughout time, even today.  [See my article “Why Did God Tear the Temple Veil in Half?  Not for the Reasons You Think”]

  • Finally, as God’s people, we are also a Temple.

Know you not that you are the TEMPLE OF GOD, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If any man defile the TEMPLE OF GOD, him shall God destroy; for the TEMPLE OF GOD is holy, which TEMPLE you are. (I Corinthians 3:16-17; Emphasis Mine; see also I Corinthians 6:19-20)

But contrary to what many Christians may have been taught, the idea that God’s people are the Temple is not new revelation.  There’s an indication, or hinting,  of this in Exodus 25:

And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell AMONG them.  According to all that I show you, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall you make it. (Exodus 25:8-9; Emphasis Mine; see also Exodus 29:45-46; Leviticus 26: 11-12)

The word translated as “AMONG” is the Hebrew word tâvek (Strong’s #8432), which means “among” or “in the midst,” but it can also mean “in,” “within,” and “through.”  So I believe God is indicating here that His desire is not only to “dwell among” or “in the midst” of His people Israel by means of the physical tabernacle, but He also desires to “dwell in,” “within,” and “through” them as well.  In fact, it is this idea that God wants to dwell “in,” “within,” and “through” His people that we see taught in the New Testament.  Consequently, then, this idea is NOT a new revelation, but another part and aspect of the meaning of the text here in Exodus.  However, there are a couple of problems with God dwelling within His people:

PROBLEM #1: WE ARE A DEFILED AND DESECRATED PEOPLE

Like the Jerusalem Temple, who was desecrated and defiled by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid-Greek army in 165 B.C., we’ve likewise been defiled and desecrated, not by a human military, but by our own sins, transgressions, and iniquities and, therefore, are not suitable for God’s Presence to dwell.

Holiness is the essence of who God is.  All other qualities flow out from His holiness.  According to Dwight Pryor, the President and Founder of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies in Dayton, Ohio, in his teaching “Holy, Holy, Holy: The Demands of the Holy,”

The essence of the English word “holy” comes from the Hebrew root kadash, which means “to divide, to separate, to set apart, to mark off,” and it speaks of God’s “otherness” from everything else in creation because He is the Creator.  It speaks of His transcendence, His separateness, His holy and explicable otherness that sets Him apart from everything that’s “common or ordinary,” which is the antonym of holy, and that’s the word “profane.”  “Profane” is what’s ordinary, common; God is unique, distinct, different, He’s holy.  It’s the term God uses to describe Himself: “I am holy, so you are to be holy, for I am the LORD your God.”

Most believers and ministers I have heard talking about the holiness of God erroneously interpret “holy” to mean morally pure, but as Dwight Pryor points out in the first half of his study on “Holy, Holy, Holy” called “The Dimensions of the Holy,”

Holiness is not an issue that’s defined in terms of ethical categories; it’s an issue that’s defined in terms of ontological categories.  What I am saying to you is that it’s not a matter of morality, it’s a matter of “being,” of God’s very “be-ing,” God’s very existence, is what Holiness refers to.

In other words, God is not holy because He does holy things; instead, God’s very being and nature is holy, so as a result, all that He does is holy. The word “holy” (Heb. kadosh) is the one term that’s repeated three times in succession in Scripture (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4: 8), which is the ultimate expression of emphasis in the Hebrew language.  Because God is holy, He shows mercy like no other; because God is holy, He loves like no other; because God is holy, He is morally pure like no other, and because God is holy, He must judge sin.  What many people don’t understand is that God’s love, mercy, compassion, and His need to judge sin all flow out from the same unique, distinctive beingness of God, His holiness.

God cannot simply dwell in sinful people; if He came inside us as unredeemed sinners in His holiness, His fullness, and He did nothing else, His own holy nature and essence would destroy us.  This is why when Moses asks to see God’s glory, God responds by saying,

I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”  And He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”  Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.  Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face [the full impact of God’s glory] shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23)

Imagine, a Being so powerful that full exposure to His very Presence, His holy essence, would automatically destroy any human being as a result of how corrupt and sinful we are.  And I would have to agree with Dwight Pryor in this teaching that “we need to be seized by the holiness of God.  We have lost sight of this dimension of the holy” among believers today. We have so “humanized” God and “deified” humanity, that we no longer understand the difference between the two.

Since Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden, the altar of our heart has been desecrated by sin through our offering of sacrifices to idols and to other gods (the god of self, pride, greed, covetousness and material wealth, lust, slander, sexual immorality, slander, gossip, etc.).  The Bible teaches us that we were made “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26) and, therefore, to place anything else as the center or priority in our lives, even if it’s our own needs or dreams, is, in fact, an act of idolatry.

For us to become God’s Temple, His dwelling place, and for us to experience intimacy with God, the Temple of our lives and the altar of our hearts need to be cleansed, but like the Jerusalem Temple and its desecrated altar, we can’t cleanse ourselves.  We can scrub and scrub at all the defilements of our lives, but we will never clean them entirely from our lives.  Sure, we can make things look good on the outside, but not on the inside.  We can put on a front that we have it all taken care of, but it is still just a front.  In our heart and spirit, we can still hear the same words spoken to us as Jesus (Yeshua) spoke to the Scribes and Pharisees of the first century, C.E.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisees, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like white-washed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  (Matthew 23:25-28)

This is how God sees each of us who attempt to cleanse ourselves by our own efforts and strength.  We can clean up the outside, but the stains and desecrations on the inside remain.  We are like the Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean revolt, we cannot cleanse ourselves.  We need someone else to come inside of us and to clean us up.

A JEWISH DELIVERER/SAVIOR?

But God has already sent us His Anointed One, His Deliverer/Savior, to cleanse us from all our sins, transgressions and iniquities.  No, He’s not named “Judah” – but He is from the tribe of Judah, and no, He is not one of the Maccabees (“Hammerers”), who fought alongside “Judah Maccabee” and defeated the Seleucid-Greek army, but He was born in Bethlehem, raised in the Galil (Galilee), and when He was in His early thirties (about 33 1/2), He was “hammered” and nailed on the cross for us on the hillside of Golgatha.  His name is Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) of Nazareth, Israel’s Promised Messiah and the Son of the Most High.

His blood was shed on the cross to wipe away our sins, our transgressions and our iniquities and rebellious acts against God, and when we invite Him into our lives as Lord, Savior and King, and ask Him to clean us up and make us a suitable dwelling place for God, He is able to come in through the Spirit of God and to begin the cleansing process.

THE CLEANSING PROCESS

although some things occur the moment we ask for God’s forgiveness and invite Jesus (Yeshua) into our lives as our Lord, Savior, and King, there are other things that occur in an on-going process.  By listening to many TV evangelists and, even many pastors and ministers, we get the impression that every part of us is automatically cleansed instantaneously.  But that isn’t true.  The cleansing of some things just take time; we call this process of cleansing, “sanctification,” which literally means “to make holy.”

The moment we ask, He is able to remove the desecrations and stains of sin, transgressions and iniquity that separate us from communion with God, but there are many areas of our lives that are still broken or shattered, and mending and healing these areas of our spirit, mind, and emotions take some time to do.

Also, the moment we ask, He is able to remove the old altar (our stony heart) and to give us a new altar (a new heart). This is part of His Promise in the New Covenant:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

And then in Jeremiah 31, we are told,

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33, 34d)

Ask yourselves the question, if the New Covenant is that God is going to cleanse us, give us a new heart and spirit, and put His Spirit inside of us, and then write His Torah (Teachings, guidance and instructions) on our hearts, and His Spirit is going to cause us (or give us the power) to walk in His statutes, then how can some teachers and ministers be correct when they  teach that the Torah (God’s Teachings, Guidance, or Instructions) and God’s commandments ended at the cross and believers are no longer obligated to follow its teachings?  When we compare their position to what we see here taught in the Scriptures, we must conclude that this teaching regarding the Torah is, in fact, the opposite of what we see the Scriptures teach.

But looking at the Scriptures, we learn that only God has the power to cleanse and transform us, we do not.  Some erroneously teach that God does everything in the sanctification process, and that we have no part in it, and that if we do anything, then we are trying to save ourselves through “works.”  However, when we look at all that the Scriptures teach, we discover we do have a part to play.  Our part in this process is to study His Word, spend time in prayer, and listen for His voice to tell us what needs to be done and, then, of course, to do what He says to do, whether it is spoken to us from His word or by His Spirit.

As we pray and study His Word, He will restore and set up the Table of Shewbread (His Word) within our lives, as well as the Table of Incense (our prayer life).  And as we seek Him in prayer, worship, and praise, He refills the menorah (lampstand) of our hearts with the pure oil of His Ruach (Spirit), His Presence.

THE IMAGE OF THE MENORAH

Like the wicks in the Jerusalem Temple menorah (or lampstand), we are equal in that we all need to experience the light of His Spirit and the revelation of His Word.  Until we are lit by His Spirit, we live in darkness, thinking that this physical reality is the only reality that exists, but once God has re-lit the menorah of our heart and spirit, and we begin to see the light of His Presence and His revelations contained within His Word, then we become aware that there is more to reality than the physical.

Also, in the image of the Hanukkah menorah, there are many spiritual realities that are pictured within it.  For example, one of the candles is called the “shamash” (or servant) candle.  It is used to light all the other candles within the menorah, and the candles cannot get their light from any other light than the shamash candle.

The Hanukkah menorah is a picture of the Kingdom of heaven/God because in God’s kingdom, Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) is the “Shamash candle” (or Servant of God) that’s used to “light” (provide revelation and salvation) to all others. God desire has always been that we walk in the light.  In the very beginning of creation in the opening chapter of the Bible, God said, “Let there be light, and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).  So from the very beginning, we see God separating “light from darkness.”  And it is only as we “walk in the light” of His Presence, His Word, His ways and truths, that we can experience intimacy and fellowship with Him:

If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all unrighteousness.  (I John 1:7)

You see, just like in the Hanukkah menorah, we must receive the light from
God’s chosen Shamash, Jesus [Yeshua], and not from any other source (e.g., ourselves, Hinduism, Buddha, Confucius, the Dao, Mohammad, or any other spiritual or physical influence).

The Menorah is also a picture of the Body of Messiah, for we are one body, yet with many members (Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:12, 14, 18-20), and the oil used to light the menorah is a picture of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Heb. Ruach HaKodesh) that God promises to all of His people (see Joel 2:28-32) and that was (and continues to be) poured out on all God’s people who seek this gift of being fully immersed in His Spirit (Acts 2:1-4, 14-21).

So then just as Judah and the others cleansed the Temple, re-lighting the Temple menorah and putting things back as they should be, in accordance to the Scriptures, they then re-dedicated the Temple back into God’s service. In like manner, once the Temple of our lives has been cleansed of sin, transgressions, and iniquities by our acceptance of the death and bodily resurrection of the Messiah Jesus [Yeshua] from the tomb, the Temple of our lives are cleansed, and the menorah of our heart are re-lit, and He is then able to dedicate our lives back to God and into His service.

Have a blessed holiday season, and may you experience the Presence, Power, and Holiness of God and His Messiah Jesus [Yeshua] this coming year!

 

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Did Jesus Draw Courage from Hanukkah’s Account of Chana & Her Seven Sons

“At that time the Feast of Dedication [i.e., Hanukkah] took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon” (John 10:22-23)

In part 1 of this Hanukkah series, we looked at the prophetic background and the historical event that Hanukkah remembers, but in this second part of the series, I would like to explore some questions regarding this point in Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) life.

But have you ever wondered why John felt this moment in Jesus’ (Heb. Yeshua’s)  life so significant to place it here in his gospel?  Personally, I know for many years, I never thought to ask the question why something was done or said.  Like most Christians growing up, I went to church, attended Sunday School, Wednesday night Bible studies, and I listened when certain passages were discussed or preached about, but I never really took the time to wonder “Why?”  Why is Jesus (Yeshua) here in Jerusalem?  Why is He observing Hanukkah (i.e., the Feast of Dedication)?  And what is the connection between this moment in Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) life and the celebration of Hanukkah?

Unfortunately, most of these questions the Scriptures are silent.  However, I do believe that there is a connection between this moment in Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) life and Hanukkah. And as I was sitting here contemplating this moment in His life, and Him walking through the portico of the Temple during this feast, just three months before His betrayal, brutal death, burial, and bodily resurrection, I began to wonder what He was thinking during these moments as He walked through the Temple complex?  Was He thinking back over the many stories and accounts told during this feast, or was He thinking back to a particular account?  But since the New Testament does not say, it is impossible to assert anything in particular, but I would like to speculate that He might have been thinking back at others who had likewise given their lives, rather than compromise the commandments of God?

CHANA & HER SEVEN SONS

One of the stories that’s told during the Hanukkah season is that of Chana and her seven sons.  According to the account, Chana and her seven sons were devout Observant Jews who were captured and tried for being Torah-observant.  They were then found guilty by Antiochus Epiphanes and the Seleucid Greeks and then sentenced to die (their graves  are located in the cave pictured above).

First, Antiochus and his Seleucid-Greek soldiers tortured her first-born son in front of Chana and her other sons, but he refused to recant his faith in God.  So they killed him.  Then they took her second son.  He stood for his faith and said he was as faithful as his older brother.  He too then was tortured and killed.  Then they did the same to the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Finally, it came time for her youngest son to die.  The soldiers asked Chana to reason with him, so that she might keep at least one of her sons alive.  She pretended to comply, but instead, she encouraged him to be strong in his faith in God.  The youngest then went forward and proclaimed his faith in God and in His Torah.   The soldiers were so angry that they tortured him more than the others, killing him as well.  However, before they killed him, Chana yelled out to him, “When you meet Father Abraham, tell him that he was told to offer one son on the altar, but I have offered seven.”

Then according to the online article “The Inner Lights of Chanukah,” by Chana Katz, she writes, “after the last of her seven sons was tortuously killed, she went to the roof and jumped to her own death, and as the story is related in the Gemara, a heavenly voice called out that she was an “Eim Simaicha‘ (“a joyful mother”).  Other Jewish people were also killed during this time for various acts of obedience to God, such as circumcising their boys or in studying the Torah.

It is hard for me to imagine the amount of devotion to God and His Torah that Chana and her sons had to the point where they would rather be tortured and killed than to disobey God’s commandments.  It is the same type of love and devotion we see in Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego), who would rather be thrown into a fiery furnace than to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image (Daniel 3:12-18), or even Daniel, who would rather be thrown to the lions than to stop praying for thirty days (Daniel 6:10-11).  Yet all of them were willing to sacrifice their lives than to disobey God.  The difference, of course, is that Daniel and his three companions were delivered from death, but Chana and her seven sons were not.

LOOKING BACKWARD & FORWARD

I tend to think Jesus (Yeshua) during these moments in the Temple portico was thinking back to those who had died rather than to disobey God, such as Chana and her seven sons, but I also believe He was looking forward to what He would soon be facing in just a few months.  And as He was looking back and forward, I believe He drew strength and courage from what His people (the Jews) had faced in the past to help Him face what He was about to in the next few months during the upcoming Passover; that is, His own brutal death.

Some may wonder at this, but if we look just a few months in advance, we find Jesus (Yeshua) praying in the Garden of Gethsemane in anguish as He prepares for what is to happen.  In fact, when Jesus (Yeshua) and His disciples arrive in the garden, He tells them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matthew 26:38).

THE SOURCE OF HIS ANGUISH

What was it that caused Him such anguish that night?  Was it that He was about to face crucifixion, or was there another reason?  The anguish He was experiencing was so intense that it physically traumatized Him to the point where He literally sweat drops of blood.  But the question is, why?

I believe that there were two other reasons besides the cross for His anguish.  First of all, I believe He knew His own human nature.  Both the names “Yeshua” (Aramaic/Hebrew) and “Jesus” (from the Greek) are alternative forms of the name “Joshua.”  In the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), Joshua was the greatest military leader Israel had ever known.  He was the one who took over the leadership of the nation with the death of Moses and led the people into the Promised Land.  Jesus (Yeshua) was given the same name for a reason; he’s a warrior by nature, a fighter.  We see glimpses of this when He overturns the moneylenders’ tables, and then binds together a whip and chases the moneylenders out of the Temple, as well as when He stands up against the religious leaders and condemns them for their hypocrisy, their rebellion against God, and for their disobedience to the Scriptures.  And we will see this in its fullness when He comes again and fights against the world’s military (Revelation 19: 11-19).  I believe He knows if He does not pray His warrior’s heart and will into submission, when the Romans begin to mock and beat Him, He is going to want to fight back and then God’s will regarding His death could very well be jeopardized.  Consequently, He prays it fervently into submission.

Does this mean that Jesus (Yeshua) was not loving?  No, He immensely loved the Jewish people, His Jewish family and His Jewish friends.  It was the Jewish children that He said not to prevent them from coming to Him, for such as these made up the kingdom of heaven. Did He get frustrated and angry at the leaders at times?  Yes, of course, but we should remember that we tend to get the angriest at those we love the most. So I do not believe we can superficially look at these accounts of harsh judgment and criticism and think Jesus (Yeshua) did not love the Jewish people; on the contrary, He loved (and continues to love) them passionately.

But another reason for His grief and anguish, I believe, is that He knew He would face God on the cross in a way He never had before – as His judge.   Jesus (Yeshua) had lived His entire life in complete holiness, not disobeying a single commandment of the Torah. He violated certain groups’ interpretations of the Scriptures, sure, but He did not violate the written commandments themselves.   In fact, Jesus (Yeshua) even states,

When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall you know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father [God] has taught Me, I speak these things.  And He that sent Me is with Me; the Father hath not left Me alone; FOR I ALWAYS DO THOSE THINGS THAT PLEASE HIM.  (John 8:29)

Here He connects His death (being lifted up; i.e., crucifixion) as proof that He is who He claimed to be, Israel’s Promised Messiah, the Son of Man, and as proof of His complete and total obedience to God.  However, now as He approaches that moment, He will also now experience the judgment of God against sin.  Not for His sin, but for ours, as Isaiah prophesied,

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  (Isaiah 53:3-5)

His death is pictured and prophesied throughout the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures). For example, in Luke 24:27, it says,

And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He [Jesus/Yeshua] explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

Yet in this death, He would take our place and experience the complete wrath and judgment of God.  And in doing so, He would not only forgive us of our sins, but He would liberate us from the power and control of sin over our lives.  Yes, His death opened up the way of forgiveness and liberation, as well as the doorway into the kingdom of heaven, but it was also a lesson in obedience that Jesus (Yeshua) had to learn:

Who made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant [lit. “a slave”], and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.  (Philippians 2:7-8)

And so what was His reward for His life of obedience, even to the point of dying on the cross for humanity’s sin and rebellion against God?

Wherefore God also has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth: and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

Indeed, Jesus (Yeshua) has been highly exalted and made the Lord of all of creation.  Just as Joseph remained faithful to God and the Torah, yet he still suffered in Egypt to bring about God’s redemption of both Jews and non-Jews.  In like manner, Jesus (Yeshua) remained faithful to God and His Word, yet He suffered horrible pain and humiliation in His death to bring about God’s redemption for both Jews and non-Jews alike.

It is through Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) own willingness to lay down His life and suffer a slave’s death of intense pain and humiliation on the cross that God is able to use and then work through in order to “reconcile us to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

WHICH LAW?

Unfortunately, mainstream Christianity teaches that Jesus (Yeshua) died to do away with the Law of God; however, they have traditionally confused two laws: the law of God and the law of sin.  Jesus (Yeshua) did not die to do away with the Torah, the “Law of God,” but the law of sin and death.  The Torah was given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai to be a blessing, so why would He die to do away with it?  And there’s absolutely no proof in the teachings of Jesus (Yeshua), the disciples, or of Paul that any of them had any thought, intention or belief that the Torah, the Law of God, had been brought to an end by Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) death, burial, or resurrection.  Although the Greek New Testament has been misinterpreted to communicate that idea in many English translations, when one looks back into the original Greek text and puts the New Testament back into a 2nd Temple era context of the first century, C.E., one can see that this interpretation is not correct.

CONCLUSION

During this Hanukkah season, let’s remember that this feast is about remembering that we are engaged in a battle, a battle to maintain the freedom to worship God as He has commanded us in His Word.  Throughout the years, many people have already died in the fight for that freedom.  Let us not forget their sacrifice; let’s keep the battle going so that we might continue to walk in the freedom to follow God.

It is important for us to remember that the Torah (“Law of God”) was not brought to an end by the death of the Messiah Jesus (Yeshua), but instead, He came —

  1. to correct some wrong interpretations that were being taught;
  2. to give a deeper, more complete meaning to its teachings;
  3. to proclaim the Gospel of the kingdom of heaven, and
  4. to move the Torah from being founded on a “promise to the fathers” to being founded on a historical event:  His own death, burial, and resurrection.

In doing these things, He made the Torah even more meaningful and relevant to people’s lives.

So at this Hanukkah season, can we look to Jesus (Yeshua) and accept the gift that He has provided us by His death, burial, and resurrection, which is the forgiveness of sin and our liberation from sin’s power and control over our lives?  Also, we should remember that through His death and resurrection, He has opened the door for us to become a part of God’s kingdom, so that we might experience true intimacy with God and be able to have the power to walk the way of Torah with all of our heart.

In addition, can we follow Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) example this Hanukkah season and look back to the lives of Chana and her seven sons, Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego), and others, and draw strength and encouragement to remain faithful to God and His Word, in spite of the struggles and challenges that may lay before us?   As all of these people have shown us within the Scriptures, through God’s leading and His Presence in our lives, we CAN live our lives in obedience to God and His Word:

So that the righteousness of the Law (Torah) might be fulfilled in us who [continue to] walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:4).

PRAYER

Please pray with me this Hanukkah season and begin a new life of faithfulness with God.

“Father, in Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) name, I ask you to forgive me of my sins. Forgive me for not remaining faithful to You and to Your word.  Help me to become daily dependent on You to walk in obedience to the leading of Your Spirit and to Your commandments.  Help me to be strongly committed to You like the people discussed in this article, and let me demonstrate my love for You in all that I say, do, or think.   Thank You, Lord, that You’ve promised to never leave me nor to forsake me.  And I am looking forward to our new relationship and to an even greater intimacy with You.  Amen.”

If you have prayed that prayer or have been blessed by this blog article, please feel free to let me know.

 

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The Prophecy & Story of Hanukkah: Its Historical Fulfillment

In just nine days, we will be celebrating Hanukkah, “the feast of lights” or “the feast of dedication.”  In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus was down in Jerusalem for “the feast of dedication [i.e., Hanukkah], and it was winter.  And Jesus walked in the Temple in Solomon’s porch” (John 10:22-23).   Hanukkah is not like Christmas at all, even though they occur during the same month.  Instead, it is closer to our July 4th celebration.  For July 4th, we celebrate our victory over the British, and the beginnings of our country, the United States.   Hanukkah is a celebration of Israel’s victory over the Seleucid-Greeks, who tried to force them to adopt Greek culture, Greek ways, and Greek worship.  But not only does it celebrate Israel’s victory, their freedom, it also celebrates the dedication  of the Temple and themselves again back to God and to the keeping of His commandments.  So in this blog article, I would like to begin by looking at the historical account of Hanukkah, but not with Antiochus and the Seleucid Greeks, but with Daniel and the Jewish people being in the land of Babylon.

A COMPARISON OF DREAMS

In Daniel 2, God gives Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, a dream regarding the future kingdoms of this world in the form of a statue of a man made from various metals.  These kingdoms are Babylon (the head of gold), Medes & Persians (chest and arms of silver), Greece (belly and thighs), Rome (legs), and a future end-time global empire (feet of iron and clay).  As we can see, as we move down the statue, we not only forward in time from the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but the quality of the metals go down as well.

In Daniel 7, Daniel likewise has a dream regarding the same empires, but in Daniel’s dream, they appear not as a statue of a man, but as wild beasts: Babylon (a lion with eagle’s wings), Medes & Persians (a bear raised up on one side with three ribs in its mouth), Greece (a four-headed leopard with wings), and Rome (a dreadful and terrifying beast with iron teeth).  However, after the fourth beast, it mentions, not a fifth beast but “another horn,” who had “the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts” and who pulled out “three horns” (Daniel 7:8).

WHY THE DIFFERENCE IN DREAMS?

I believe the dreams present a look at the same time period differently because God presented to Nebuchadnezzar a view of the kingdoms from the outside.  From the viewpoint of people, these were wondrous kingdoms to behold; however, to Daniel God gave a view of these same kingdoms from the inside, a look at their heart and spirit, and from an internal perspective, they were “wild beasts.”

A SUBSEQUENT DREAM

In Daniel 8, Daniel is given a subsequent dream to his previous dream during the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, the king of Babylon. Daniel has a dream of two specific beasts: a ram with two horns (Medes & Persians) and a male goat (Greece).  In his dream, he says he saw the following:

And I saw him [the male goat] come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered the two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him.  So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power. (Daniel 8:7)

This prophecy of “the male goat” is a perfect picture of Alexander the Great.  He conquered the empire of the Medes & Persians (the ram with the two horns) quickly, as well as all of the known world at that time.  He won battle after battle, war after war, with no one being able to stop him. But then in verse 8, the prophecy continues:

Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly.  But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns towards the four winds of heaven. (Daniel 8:8)

According to world history, Alexander the Great rose to great power, “magnifying himself exceedingly,” but then at the age of 33, on June 10, 323, B.C., he died suddenly.  To this day, there is an ongoing debate among historians about how he died, theories include poison, murder, or a relapse of Malaria.  When asked, though, as he was dying, who would get his kingdom, he replied, “the strongest.”  As a result, his empire was fought over for forty years by his four generals (the “four conspicuous horns”).  But then continuing on in the prophecy, we learn the following:

From one of these, the small one, sprang a horn which grew to great size toward the south and east and toward the land of Splendor….It magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. (Daniel 8: 9, 11)

Then Daniel heard a voice in his vision ask, how long would this be allowed to happen, and the response was 2,300 evenings and mornings, and “then the holy place will be properly restored” (Daniel 8:14).  This prophecy of the “little horn” regards Antiochus Epiphanes and the events that the feast of Hanukkah commemorates.

HANUKKAH: A BRIEF INTRODUCTION

The historical account of the war between Israel and the Seleucid Greeks is found in the book of I Maccabees.   Although this book is in the Catholic Bible, it is not in the Hebrew Tanakh or in the Protestant Christian Old Testament. So for the convenience of readers who are not familiar with the account, I have provided the following summary.

Approximately 148 years after the death of Alexander the Great is when the historical events that Hanukkah commemorates occurred.   It begins when Antiochus IV, “a sinful shoot,” became ruler of the Seleucid Greek dynasty in 175 B.C., a region which included Israel (I Maccabees 1:10-11). Afterward, there were some Jews who saw financial advantages to adopting a Hellenistic (or Greek) lifestyle, and so they abandoned God and His Torah (Teachings, Instructions).

PLUNDERING JERUSALEM

After winning a battle against Egypt in 170 B.C., Antiochus turns his sights on Israel, particularly Jerusalem.  He plundered the city and the Temple, taking the holy items and the Temple treasures, “leaving the place a shambles” (I Maccabees 1:25).    Also, he took the women and children as slaves, stole their cattle, and then burned the city (I Maccabees 1:32-33).

MANDATING A GREEK LIFESTYLE

Antiochus then issued a proclamation that everyone was to adopt a Greek lifestyle, including the worship of the Greek gods (as well as himself as a god).   Due to his own “god complex,” he ascribed to himself the name “Epiphanes” (“god manifest”).

PERSECUTING TORAH-OBSERVANT JEWS

Antiochus also forbad the Jews from practicing any form of Judaism, such as prohibiting any of the following:

  1. Any form of Temple worship;
  2. All biblical feasts, including the weekly Sabbath; and
  3. All Torah study and observance, including the following of the dietary laws and circumcision of boys at eight days old.

Instead of obeying God and His Torah (Teachings or Instructions), they were to worship the Greek gods, eat unclean food, and sacrifice pigs on the altar.  Anyone found worshipping the God of Israel or keeping the Torah, or practicing any of its teachings, would be killed (I Maccabees 1:46-52).

INTENSIFYING THE PERSECUTION

On the 15th day of Chislev in 167 B.C., the statue of Zeus was erected above the altar, as well as other altars to him around the surrounding towns of Judah (I Maccabees 1:57-58).    In addition, any copies of the Torah that were found by the Greek soldiers were torn up and burned (I Maccabees 1:59).

KILLING WOMEN AND CHILDREN

Also, any woman who was found to have circumcised her baby was killed, along with her male infant, in accordance to the edict, and her dead baby was hung around her neck.  Also, any other member of the household who participated, along with the one who circumcised the infant, were killed as well.

SOME ENDURE – SOME DO NOT

Although the persecution was intense, there were many who remained faithful to the God of Israel and His Torah; many chose to die rather than to profane God’s “holy covenant” (I Maccabees 1:62-66).  Unfortunately, though, there were also some who did not remain faithful but chose to abandon God and His Torah, rather than endure any further persecution.  They adopted the Greek lifestyle and began worshipping the various Greek gods.

MATTATHIAS AND HIS SON REVOLT

When Antiochus’s men came to the town of Modein to make the Jews there offer a sacrifice to the god Zeus, a priest by the name of Mattathias and his sons refused to participate.   Mattathias told them:

Even if every nation living in the king’s dominion obeys him [Antiochus], each forsaking its ancestral religion to conform to his decrees, I, my sons and my brothers will still follow the covenant of our ancestors.   Heaven preserve us from forsaking the Law [Heb. Torah] and its observances.   As for the king’s orders, we will not follow them: we will not swerve from our religion either to the right or to the left.  (I Maccabees 2: 19-23)

Upon completing this statement, a Jew was going to betray God by offering a pig on the altar, but Mattathias killed the man and began a rebellion, killing as well the king’s men who were also there.   Then he ran through the town, rallying the people to join him in their fight against the Greeks.  They then took refuge in the hills (I Maccabees 2:25-28).

JUDAH ASSUMES COMMAND

After a year of fighting, Mattathias died in 167 B.C., but before he did, he placed his son Judah in charge of the war against the pagans (I Maccabees 2:66).   Judah was nicknamed “Maccabees” (“hammer”) because of how he “hammered” at the enemy.   Eventually, after two more years, Judah and his troop won their battle against the Greeks.

A SHOCKING DISCOVERY!

Upon the Greeks’ final defeat in 165 B.C., Judah and his men went to Jerusalem to re-dedicate the Temple.  However, when they arrived,

they found the sanctuary [Temple] a wilderness, the altar desecrated, the gates burned down, and vegetation growing in the courts as it might in a wood or on some mountain, while the store rooms were in ruins.   They tore their garments and mourned bitterly, putting dust on their heads.  (I Maccabees 4:38-40)

CLEANSING THE TEMPLE

After a time of mourning, Judah selected priests who were faithful to God and blameless in their observance of the Torah to clean and purify the Temple, to remove the stones that had been used to construct the altar to Zeus, as well as the stones of the Temple altar that had been profaned by the blood of the pig that the Seleucid Greeks had offered on it (I Maccabees 4:42-45).

WHAT DO WE DO WITH THESE STONES?

Judah and his men were not sure what to do with the Temple altar stones once they had been removed, so they took them outside the Temple and set them in “a suitable place on the Temple hill to await the appearance of [the] prophet [i.e., the Messiah] who should give a ruling about them” (I Maccabees 4:46).

Could these be the same stones that Yeshua (Jesus) alluded to when He rode into Jerusalem, and when the religious leaders tried to get Him to silence the crowd, He told them, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40)

REDEDICATING THE TEMPLE

Once the stones had been removed, they selected rocks that were naturally cut by the weather and sand, and built a new altar where the old one had once stood (I Maccabees 4:47).   They cleaned the Temple, replaced the vessels and items that had been stolen, and set up the items in the Temple as God had instructed in the Torah (I Maccabees 4:47-51).

INSTITUTING THE OBSERVANCE OF HANUKKAH

Then on the 25th day of Chislev (which occurs from mid-November to mid-December), in the year 165 B.C., they re-dedicated the Temple back to God and to His service.  They “made it a law that the days of dedication [Heb. Hanukkah] of the altar should be an annual celebration for eight days beginning on the 25th day of Chislev with ‘rejoicing and gladness’” (I Maccabees 4:52-61).

THE MIRACLE OF THE OIL

According to most books that are written about Hanukkah, as well as the story as it is told within most synagogues today, the celebration is observed for eight days in remembrance of the miracle of the oil.  This account is not found in I Maccabees, but in the Talmud.  According to this account, when the priests were cleaning the Temple, they were looking around for the oil used to re-light the Temple menorah (or lampstand).  However, there was only enough oil for one day.  But in obedience to the Scriptures, the priests went ahead and re-lit the menorah.  However, the next day the priests discovered that the Temple menorah was still lit.  And the next and the next, until eight days had passed, giving the priests time to make more oil, so that the menorah could remain lit.  This is why Jews during Hanukkah eat foods fried in oil in order to commemorate this miracle.

BUT DID THE MIRACLE OF THE OIL REALLY HAPPEN?

According to Rabbi Michael Strassfield, in his article “What’s Hanukkah?” outside of the Talmud, there is no mention of the miracle of the oil.  It is his belief that the miracle of the oil was invented to get the attention off of the miracle that a small band of men held off and beat a large army.  Many Jewish men died fighting the Roman troops, believing that what God had done for the Maccabees, He would also do for them.

However, according to I Maccabees, Hanukkah was instituted specifically for eight days – not because of the miracle of the oil – but because it was modeled after the feast of Tabernacles (Heb. Sukkot), which the Maccabees could not observe while they were still battling the Greeks from the mountains of Judea (Strassburg).

GOD FULFILLED HIS PROPHECY

Indeed, God did keep His prophetic word.  The “little horn” did rise to great power and for a time did gain power over the “land of Splendor” [Israel], but his time came to an end, and the Temple was, indeed, properly restored, as God promised.

If anything, the celebration of Hanukkah should remind us of the following:

  1. That our God is a faithful God who keeps His Word, even in the hardest of circumstances;
  2. The freedom to worship and honor the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by obeying His Torah from our hearts is something that must be fought for continually since today we see that freedom being slowly taken away from us.
  3. We must also remember that the Torah is not “bondage” or some “legalistic hardship,” as I hear mainstream Christianity teach, but it is a blessing from God that we have been given to teach us about God, Messiah, holiness, and what it means to be “the people of God.”

So let us always strive to remember the faithfulness of our God and to hold on to the freedom that God has given to us to walk in His ways.

 

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My Introduction to Hebrew, Jews and Judaism

When my wife and I got married, I was nineteen and she was eighteen, about to turn nineteen at the end of that month.  I was working at a Pizza place and she was working at Meijer Thrifty Acres, a store similar to that of Wal-Mart.  Sometime within the first six months of our marriage, she said that she found a bunch of records on sale at the Christian bookstore.  They were all Lamb albums.  Lamb, I discovered later, was a Messianic Jewish group. It was a type of music I had never heard before, but I found myself drawn to them, their songs, as well as the Hebrew words that were there in their songs.  I found myself listening to them over and over again.  There were times, I’m sure, I drove my wife nuts listening and re-listening to these albums as much as I did.

It was around this same general time period when the pastor of the church that Karen and I were attending discussed the difference in how Christians viewed the soul and how the ancient Hebrews viewed it.  The Christian view is that man is a spirit with a soul living in a body.  The soul being that part of a person that doesn’t die but continues to live on forever.  However, the ancient Hebrews viewed it differently,  In Genesis 2:7, it says,

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

From his teaching, he said that the Hebrew point of view was not that man possessed a soul, but that man is a soul.  In other words, in the Christian view, if we save someone’s soul, then we’re saving that part of him that will live forever, but in the ancient Hebrew view, if we save someone’s soul, then we are saving the whole person, who that person is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. In other words, every aspect of that person.

This really got my mind wondering what other differences there were between how Christians have traditionally viewed things versus how the ancient Hebrews, as well as the Jews today (the modern Hebrews) viewed them.  My curiosity was ignited, and as I began to read and study about Jews and Judaism, I discovered other things, which led to more curiosity, and more reading and studying.  However, although I was reading about them, I had never actually met one, at least as far as I knew.

Then about six months after we were married, I lost my job and she was a little more than five months pregnant.  We were fortunate enough, though, to be able to move in with her parents for a short time. During that year, I went out looking for work, and I did manage to get some temporary part-time jobs here and there, but nothing full time.  We ended up having to sign up for welfare and food stamps.  While I was still looking for work, I was told as part of the requirements for receiving food stamps I needed to attend these classes that they were putting on that would teach me the techniques and resume writing skills that I would need to help me find full-time employment.  It was at these meetings that I met an Orthodox Jew for the first time.

I remember how fascinated I was at seeing him.  Although he wasn’t that tall, he had dark hair and a bit of a beard.  We started talking, and we became friends.  Sadly, though, I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he drove a Saab.  Through our acquaintance and beginning friendship, I discovered that I liked Jewish people.  He was a very nice and polite man.  Even during the lunch break when he would try to get alone to pray with his prayer book, I followed him.  He probably wondered why this strange goy (non-Jew) kept hanging around with him, even while he was trying to pray, but I sat there and quietly watched.   And for the first time, the word “Jew” was no longer just a word to me, it took on form and life, and in a rather strange way, my friendship with him made my Bible and studies seem more real to me.

When I met him, I was at a point in my life where things were seemingly falling apart.  I couldn’t find work, I had to drop out of college for awhile, and my marriage was beginning to feel rather rocky.  God at this point felt distant, and I was doubting whether He actually loved me at all.   And then I met this Jewish man there at the class sessions.  But in the back of my mind, I thought if I could like this guy who is Jewish, then maybe, I could like Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) too.  From that “aha” moment, I had a renewed interest and reason to find out as much about Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) and Judaism as I could.   Some may wonder at what I am about to say, but the thing that has really attracted me the most to Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) has not been His divinity, but His humanity, and more specifically, His Jewishness. It was like the more about “Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) the Jew” I discovered and learned, the more I about Him I liked and the more intrigued I was with Him.

The first activity we did as “Messianic believers” was to throw a Purim party.  We had a friend who said we could use the clubhouse at their apartment complex, and so we all dressed up in costume, brought food, and had an extremely fun time celebrating Purim, which commemorates the bravery of Queen Esther (Heb. Hadassah) in saving her people from extermination.  During the celebration, I read the book of Esther, while the kids and adults sat around listening.  Little did I know that it would be the first of many presentations regarding the various feasts found in the Scriptures.

Now here it is thirty-four years later, and I find myself even more intrigued, even more passionate for Him.  In fact, my passion and love for Him grows daily.  I’ve come a long way since back then, and my marriage today now gets better and stronger with each passing day.   I never really understood what drew me to the Jewish people and Jewish studies, I just knew that I was drawn to them.  However, at the beginning of this month (November), the Lord spoke to my wife and gave her this revelation about me:

Don’t let there be any doubt or unassurance to what I have been calling you to do.  I know you love Me, I know you love My Torah and commandments.  How do I know this, My son?  I am the One who implanted it inside of you and have put this desire inside of you for such a time as this.  I want you to go and tell My story to the nations, telling them that I am real and that I am coming back, and I have not deleted anything from My Torah, says the L-rd G-d Almighty.

It was through this and other messages that the Lord has spoken to us that so many things in my life have suddenly made so much sense.  God has moved in my life through so many things to bring me to the place that I am today, and one intricate and very close person in my life that God has used has been my wife.  She has become my closest friend and companion in this journey we’ve both been called to travel. In fact, the Lord has shared with us that it was He who brought us together.  It was all part of His plan for our lives.

It was God who implanted within me my love and passion for Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), the Jewish people, as well as their culture, history, values, and beliefs.   And it was God who shared with us that it was He who put us on this journey together, a journey that He ignited through these events.  It is my hope and prayer that you will find these memories a blessing, and that God has implanted within you – as He did us – a passion for Him, His Word, and His people.  However, if He hasn’t yet,  then I pray that God will grant you to have your own series of experiences that will ignite that same passion and love within you.  May God richly bless you and direct you in your walk with Him and the Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus).

 

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