Category Archives: Jewish/Rabbinic Studies

A Special Thank You to Rabbi Bonnie Koppell & the Jewish People

There was a time in my life when things were at their worst for me.  My marriage was a shambles, I felt like I was a failure as a father, educationally I was struggling, and I felt so far and distant from God.  I remember praying and crying out to God to just put His hands around me, to just let me know that He was there, but instead of any response, I felt nothing in return.  Even though I had seriously given my life to Messiah [Christ] at the age of fourteen, I had wandered away from God, was living in a way that was displeasing to Him, and was under a curse, as God promised in His Word when we live in disobedience to Him: “I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze” (Leviticus 26:19).

There are those who say that believers in Messiah [Christ] cannot be put under the curse of the Law.  They are wrong; I have been there.  It is a miserable place to be. No matter how much I cried out to God, it was like my words went no higher than the ceiling.  My loving wife would encourage me to pray, and I would in anger yell back, “Why?  What’s the point?  God’s not paying any attention to me,  He doesn’t care.”  She would tell me I was wrong, but that is how I felt.  My depression became so bad, I asked God to just let me die.  I was taught that suicide would send me automatically to Hell, but I thought if God ended my life, it would be okay (Yes, I was that emotionally messed up then).

It was during this dark time in my life when God began to direct me to the synagogue.  I remember the first synagogue I attended; it was Temple Beth Shalom in Mesa, Arizona. The rabbi’s name there was (and still is) Bonnie Koppell.  I learned that she was the first female rabbi in Desert Storm.  She would fly out to Iraq to minister to the troops and then fly back to the States to minister to her congregation on the weekends.   She was a very caring and loving person;  I was amazed at how dedicated she was to ministering to others. Even within the synagogue, when I would visit there, I could see it.  I remember that each Shabbat service that I attended, she found ways of including the children up on the stage with her.  She’s extremely family oriented, and I was always amazed when I heard her teach, because I would sit there wishing I had that kind of knowledge about the Torah and the Tanakh (the Hebrew Scriptures) as a whole, and I heard and saw her passion for the Commandments of God in all that she said and did.  I really didn’t understand what motivated me to be there, or why I was drawn back there several more times.  I wasn’t Jewish, and the synagogue was not part of my experience growing up.  But whenever I was really feeling down or depressed, I would go and listen to her teach.

I had never been to a synagogue before, nor had I ever spoken to a rabbi.  I had been brought up in a small wooden Pentecostal church on the south side of Lansing, Michigan, and being in a synagogue was all new ground for me.  I did not know how she or the people there would respond to me.  I had learned about all the cruel things that were done to the Jewish people in Christ’s name through history in one of my university classes, but I only felt gratitude that they were there when I needed somewhere to go. And as I sat there sitting in the congregation, I could see what a caring and learned rabbi she was.  The rabbi probably doesn’t remember me since I never had the courage to walk up and speak to her. I wondered if she thought who is this strange, shy goy (gentile; non-Jew) doing coming to the synagogue but not speaking to her.  But she never gave me any indication of disapproval or rejection from her, the feelings of insecurity and uncertainty were entirely mine.  But I will say that the warmth and welcoming atmosphere of the synagogue ministered to me in ways that still reverberate throughout my day-to-day life.

I smile when I think about the first time my wife and I attended there at Temple Beth Shalom.  It was during Purim, and we didn’t know anything about it since we had both grown up in the church.  I remember when Rabbi Koppell walked into the sanctuary, and she was dressed in a purple Middle Eastern dancing girl outfit.  I whispered to my wife, “This definitely wouldn’t happen in the churches we came from.”  Even though my wife and I didn’t know Hebrew, we both enjoyed the sound of the language as it was being read.  And as they were reading, two guys walked into the sanctuary with four bottles of wine, and started passing them around.  I later discovered that this only happens on Purim.  When we saw this, I whispered to my wife, “We are not in Kansas anymore.” I smile now at the memory, and it’s a story I still share with my college students, my introductory experience to the synagogue.  Since then, I have sat under other rabbis and have been mightily blessed by their teachings and ministry.

Although Rabbi Koppell and others I have sat under do not share my belief in Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) as Israel’s Promised Messiah, there is something we do share – a love for God and for His Word.  There are many Christians who do not understand why I love the Tanakh (or Old Testament) and the Chumash (or Pentateuch) as much as I do, but they’ve not walked in my steps.   There is no doubt in my heart that it was God who wrote His Word on my heart and on my mind.  I love reading it, studying it, and practicing what I can.  Many years ago at the Jewish bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona, I bought a tallith (a prayer shawl), which I still use to this day.  When I put it on for the first time, it was like I could literally feel the arms of God embracing me, holding me, and telling me He was there.  I never wanted to take it off. It was so refreshing.  I felt like a man who was dying of thirst and then finally coming to a large oasis.  I drunk in His Presence every chance I could and I still do to this day.  I’ve also recently purchased tefillin (phylacteries) from Israel, and I am learning how to use them.  I will admit they do offer their own challenges to me since they are something I did not grow up using, but they are a part of who I am now, and they are part of living the Kingdom lifestyle that God has placed on my heart to do.

My wife and I have also placed mezuzahs on our front and back door.  Not to mention, we are looking forward to celebrating Hanukkah next month. Some Christians have wrongly accused me of trying to work my way to heaven or of leaving “the true faith.”  In my heart, I embrace all of God’s Word because of my love for God and because it was an intricate part of the Messiah Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/Jesus’s) life and because it was part of what He studied, learned, and lived, I also want to study, learn, and live it as well.  For me, it is not about salvation, or about what happens to me after I die.  I no longer ask myself the question, “Do I need this to be saved?”  To me now, that is no longer the question on my heart.  I know that my salvation is secure in Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), so that it’s no longer an issue. But the question that I now ask is, “Will it make God happy?  Will it put a smile on His face?”  To me, that is the important question now.   I love God, and making Him happy is the only important thought to me. So obedience to God’s Word is what I do because God says if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.  There is one verse in the Bible where I really hear the heart of God:

Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever.  (Deuteronomy 5:29)

God’s heart is not to use His commandments to beat us up with them or to condemn us with them, but His heart’s desire is to bless all His people, Jews and non-Jews alike.  But to walk in His blessings, whether we are a Jew or a non-Jew, we must walk in trust and obedience to His Word, including His commandments. If we want intimacy with God, we cannot live in disobedience.  I know this experience (Big time!)  Intimacy comes only when we begin to walk in obedience to all His Word, not just our favorite parts.  It was a lesson I began to learn from Rabbi Koppell at Temple Beth Shalom.

 If I had the opportunity to speak to all the Jewish people in the world, I would tell them, “The God of the Bible is real; He is not something people have made up, and He loves you more than you can possibly know.  And I know this, because He is the One who has shared His love for you in my heart.  Also, He has not changed His mind regarding the Torah.  It is infused with His Spirit and His Life.  He has promised that if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul, that He will remember the covenant which He made with your fathers and He will reveal Himself to you.
“I know that I am only one Christian, but I am so very sorry for all the evil things – the Pogroms, the Inquisition, the forced conversions, the Holocaust, etc. – that have been done to you in the name of Christ.  I want you to know Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) had nothing to do with those things, every evil act against you broke His heart, and those who did them did not represent His mind and desire.  He is an Orthodox Jew who loves His people with a love that cannot be compared.  He enjoyed picking up each Jewish child holding them in His arms and blessing them.  And it was horribly wrong not only what they did to you, but also in attaching His name to their evil acts.  And I, as a Christian, am horribly ashamed and embarrassed at what was done to you in His name.  In all the sincerity that I have, I want to ask you for your forgiveness.  I pray God’s blessings on all of the Jewish people in this world.  It is time to speak comfort to Zion.  It is time to tell the Jewish people what a blessing you are to me, my family, and to this world.  Without you, there would be no Torah, no Prophets, no Writings, no Moses, no Joshua, no David, no Solomon, no Psalms, many of my Sunday School lessons as a child would not have existed, nor would there be any Rabbinic writings, no beautiful prayers, like Aveinu Malkeinu, and no rabbis, like Moshe Maimon, RaSHi, Solomon Schechter, and Rabbi Koppell.  And for me and my house, there would be no Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), no early disciples, and no New Testament.  And for all that and more, my family says, ‘Thank you’ from the bottom of our hearts.
Finally, I continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for the Israeli Knesset, for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for the Rabbinic Community in general, and for every Jewish person on the face of this planet.  In addition, I continue to pray for Rabbi Koppell, her family, her ministry, and the people at Temple Beth Shalom that God would pour out His love and His blessings on each and every one of them.  And that He would also pour out on all of them His greatest blessing, a relationship with the Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/ Jesus). Omein.”
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The Gospel of Hanukkah: “Does Its Message Burn Brightly in Your Life Today?”

A MESSAGE FOR ALL PEOPLE

There is a gospel (or “good news”) message in Hanukkah?  There are many people, Jew and Christian, who are 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   Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 when we see them, there is no doubt that we serve a God who is holy and majestic, and who is not restricted by space and time.

WE ARE A TEMPLE?

According to the Scriptures, we are created to be the Temple of God.  This is first indicated at a remez level of interpretation in Exodus 25:

And let them make Me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.  According to all that I show thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.  (Exodus 25:8-9)

The making of the physical tabernacle is the p’shat meaning, or the simple, grammatical meaning, of the text.  Growing up in the church, I was only taught, like most other Protestant Christians, to understand the Bible at its simple, grammatical meaning, or what is known in Judaism, as its p‘shat level.  We were not taught that there are other levels of understanding.  I discovered the p’shat level is only taught because the Catholic Church had abused allegorical interpretations to the point where the interpretations were beyond reason.

However, in Judaism, there are four levels of interpretation that are taught: p’shatremez, d’rush, and sodh.  These same four levels are used in the New Testament, for example, they’re used in the teachings of Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), the writings of Paul, and in the teachings of the other disciples as well.  Each of these levels presents us with levels of understanding of the text, and remez, d’rush, and sodh levels of interpretation are there to deepen our understanding of what is said or taught, but they cannot violate its  p’shat meaning, or the simple, grammatical meaning of the text.  These constraints, or rules for interpretation, keep the interpretation within reason of the context and passage, unlike the abuses that were seen for centuries within the Catholic Church.

However, when we go back and examine the two verses from Exodus 25, there is a hinting or indication within the text of a deeper reality, a deeper truth, called in Hebrew a remez, that the tabernacle represents or pictures for us.  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, as we will see, this remez level interpretation is then taught explicitly at the p’shat level within the New Testament.  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 G-d’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  Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 may be many areas of our lives that are broken or shattered, and mending and healing these areas of our spirit, mind, and emotions may 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 (and commandments) 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, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 [ Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus)] 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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.

BE THE TEMPLE OF GOD

However, this is where I feel where many leaders and believers are stumbling.  Most of them are good as far as getting people to come to Messiah to be cleansed, but it’s moving or transitioning from “being cleansed by God” to being taught to actually “become the Temple (or dwelling place) of God” where the problem is.   It seems “natural” for us to sin and to continue needing “cleansing” from God, but it does not seem natural for us to live holy and upright lives before God.  And yet God requires this of us in both the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and the New Testament. It is evident that this is a major problem area because there are as many, or even sometimes more, problem areas in the lives of many believers as there are outside in the unsaved world, which is not what we would normally expect.  Therefore, I believe that’s an indication that there’s a problem here.

The main focus of many TV evangelists, for example, is on “the love of God,” or “Health, Wealth, and Prosperity.”  What you do not hear hardly anything about is the “Holiness of God,” or that as believers in the Messiah, we have been called to live a life of holiness.  In fact, living a life of holiness is so important to God that the Scriptures teach us that “holiness, without which no man (or person) shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).  Yet how many churches and pulpits are quiet regarding this topic?

Obviously, since many believers in Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) today reject the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; Old Testament), specifically the Torah (Law of God), the very Scriptural basis and foundation which teaches us about the need to being “holy, for the LORD our God is holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45; Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 20:7-8, 26), then we can understand why this idea is not being taught.  In fact, I’ve heard many believers say that since they are “sinners saved by grace,” they cannot be holy, and to even attempt to be holy is a waste of time and effort.  They say this in spite of the fact that G-d commands us to be holy, not only in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; Old Testament), but also in the B’rit Chadasha (Renewed Covenant; i.e., New Testament), such as in the following:

For God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. (I Thessalonians 4:7)

Or another we find is the following:

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (I Peter 1:15-16)

As we can see in both the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; Old Testament) and the B’rit Chadasha (New Testament), we are called by God to walk in holiness.  It is a consistent message throughout; God has not “changed His mind,” nor has He “changed the program” as far as His expectations of us.  It is God’s desire for all His people to live holy and upright lives, and to run after His Torah, His Teachings (or Instructions) and to keep it.  In fact, this is the word that God has spoken to my wife and I not long ago:

I want My people to be upright and holy people who follow and run after My Torah and keep it.  This is what makes your LORD God happy and blessed.  I want for all My children to be blessed and sanctified to where they have no doubt that I love them.

On another account, God spoke to us about the need to live obediently and “not to play with fire,”

My laws and ways/commandments are not burdensome or heavy. They are easy to those who choose to obey them and want a close relationship with Me.  Don’t taste, play, or pretend you will be all right by doing wrong and sinning for a time, and then come back running and expect the door will be opened for you.  Playing with danger is destructive and dangerous, and you will get burned, and you don’t ever just hurt yourself but the ones you say you love the most. Don’t fornicate and commit adultery, it hurts Me.  I say again, keep your eyes and hearts steadfast on Me, says God, and don’t prostitute yourself around for I hate sin, and sin will destroy you and all relationships.  Trust is so hard to rebuild.  Hear My words and do them.  I love you.

So then, since God’s desire is for all His people to live in holiness before Him, and unfortunately, this is not a topic that is discussed much by believers anymore, let me go ahead and ask the “million-dollar question,” “What does it actually mean to ‘be the temple of God’”?  How do we live so that we are conscientious of our new identity as His Temple, His dwelling place?  As I sat here contemplating this question, a few of the following thoughts came to mind.

THE TEMPLE WAS A PLACE SANCTIFIED AND CONSECRATED FOR SERVICE TO GOD AND GOD ALONE.

When we look at our own lives, even how we live behind closed doors, are we living for God, are we serving Him, or are we living and serving our own needs?  Who really is on the throne of our hearts and lives?  For too many years, I would go to church on Sunday, pay tithes, even help out ushering or singing in the choir, but then Monday through Saturday, I was living my life, following my dream, my wants, my needs.  Was I living as a Temple of God?  Obviously not.  I came to the awareness in my life that there’s more to living in service to God than just going to church and doing those things I did once, twice, or even three times a week.  I became “hungry and thirsty” for intimacy with God – not just “to be saved” – but to experience God in a tangible way and to experience and walk in “His righteousness.” With all my heart, I wanted (and continue to want) to know and understand what it means “to be holy, even as the LORD [my] God is holy.”

THE TEMPLE WAS GOD’S DWELLING PLACE

The Temple was where God’s Presence dwelt and was experienced.  It was by His Presence that God consecrated His Temple (Exodus 29:45).  One day, which I believe will be soon, God’s Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt, and then all those commandments which deal with the Temple will once again be able to be followed and obeyed. But according to the Scriptures, not only did God’s Presence consecrate the physical tabernacle, and then later on, the Temple in Jerusalem, but it is also God’s Presence that consecrates us and separates us from all other people in this world to be His living Temple:

For then how can it be known that I have found favor in Thy sight, I and Thy people?  Is it not by Thy going with us, so that we, I and Thy people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?  (Exodus 33:16)

According to Moses here, it is the Presence of God in the lives of His people that distinguishes us, separates us, from all other people on the face of the earth.  It is not what list of faith statements that we believe, or what church or synagogue we happen to attend, or even how much money we have donated to various ministries, but the thing that makes us distinct as the people of God is His Presence in our lives.  Without His Presence truly being in our lives, and we experiencing Him in a real and tangible way, then we really aren’t any different than any “unsaved” individual.  It is His living, holy Presence in us that makes the difference.  And an even greater gift is that He has chosen us to be His own special possession:

For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all peoples who are on the face of the earth.  (Deuteronomy 7:6)

As God’s chosen people, He desires to dwell within each of us, as well as within us corporately, as His living Temple.  This same idea was taught by Paul  in I Corinthians 3:16, “Know ye not that ye are God’s Temple, and the Spirit of God dwells in you? (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament)  Have you ever stopped and asked yourself the question, “Is God’s manifested Presence dwelling within me, consecrating me for His service?  Am I living as His Temple today, or are there areas of my life that I am still holding back from Him?”

THE TEMPLE WAS WHERE THE TORAH WAS KEPT AND STUDIED

The Torah, the “Law” of God, was placed in the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies (which was the heart of the Temple).   And when reading the Torah, the five books of Moses, it is taken from the Ark and read.  In much the same way, all of the Scriptures should be written on our hearts and minds, and when we recite and live its words, it should come from the “ark” of our hearts where it had been stored.

The problem is, of course, that there are many people who have not been storing God’s Word within their hearts and minds.  Tragically, a great many believers in America do not even crack their Bibles to read them, much less store them in their hearts and minds.  The problem with this is far reaching and can even interfere with our relationship with God.

From the Scriptures,  it is clear that not every human being belongs to God or are a part of His kingdom.  But only those who have accepted the gift of His Son’s death, burial, and bodily resurrection for them, and who then continue to seek intimacy with God and to walk in obedience to Him are in His kingdom.  Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) taught us in the Gospel of John that the way we remain in His love was through our obedience to His commandments, His teachings:

By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.  Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments (or teachings), you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments (or teachings), and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:8-11)

Unfortunately, when many believers read about Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/Jesus’) commandments, they have been taught that refers to the two commandments He quoted from the Torah: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.  However, it was God, the “I Am” (Exodus 3:14), who gave to Moses and Israel the Torah on Mount Siani, and in the Gospel of John, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) identifies Himself as the same “I Am” (John 8:58).  Consequently, then it was the same Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), in His pre-incarnate state, who gave to Moses and the children of Israel the Torah and the commandments on Mount Siani, and then centuries later, it was the same Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), in His incarnate human form, who is ministering and teaching in the Gospels.  In other words, the words of the Torah and the commandments found in the first five books of the Bible should be as much in red letters as the words of Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) in the Gospels.  Why?  Because the same individual is speaking in both places.

Therefore, I am convinced, based on my own research and study, that when Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is referring to “His commandments,” it involves everything taught within the Scriptures – not just the two commandments He quoted.  In addition, I need to also point out that it is not our obedience to the commandments that saves us, or justifies us before God, for we are saved by grace through faith in the Messiah’s death and resurrection, but our obedience to His commandments/His Teachings is expected of those who have been redeemed and are a part of His Kingdom.  Our obedience to His commandments is like a thermostat; it measures our passion and love for God.

In fact, in John 14, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) told His disciples,

He who has My commandments (or teachings) and [continues to] keep them, he it is who [continues to] love Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him….If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word (or teachings); and My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him.  He who does not [continue to] love Me does not keep My words (or teachings); and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me. (John 14:21, 23-24)

When we observe and keep what Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) taught from our hearts based on our love and commitment to Him, then the thermostat of our heart indicates that we love Him, but if we do not keep and observe His teachings, then the thermostat of our heart indicates that we do not, in fact, love Him, even though we may be saying that we do with our words.  I added the phrase “continue to” in brackets in the above verses in order to indicate the verb tense that’s used in the original Greek text, which was a continuous or repeated action, not just a one-time occurrence.

Our level of intimacy with God is dependent on our level of obedience to His commandments.  This is something that I learned through experience. When I wasn’t living in obedience to God, God felt distant, far away, and it seemed like there was a “bronze ceiling” between Him and me.  There was no sense of His Presence in my life or any sense of intimacy with Him at all.  however, when I seriously committed myself to living in obedience to Him and His Word from my heart, there was a definite change.  I began to experience God in a way I never had before.

What about you?  Have you ever considered that the same Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) whom you read about in the Gospels is the same one who gave to Moses and the children of Israel the commandments on Mount Siani?  If that’s the case, then how can the teachings in the Gospels be in conflict with the teachings and commandments given by G-d to Moses, which I have heard some ministers teach, when they come from the same source?

It is the Torah (His Teachings or Instructions) that God wants written on our hearts.  This is something we see within the Psalms:

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.  The law (Heb. Torah) of his God is in his heart; His steps do not slip. (Psalms 37:31)

It is also seen in the writings of the prophet Jeremiah,

“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 (Heb. Torah) within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:33; see also Hebrews 8:8-12)

What about in your own life?  Is the Torah written on your heart? Do you spend time studying His Instructions and learning how to walk it out in your life? There are a couple of verses in Psalm 119 that I have used as a prayer.  They are the following:

Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law (Heb. Torah)… Teach me Your statutes.  Make me to understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders. (Psalm 119:18, 27)

Have you ever thought that there were “wonders” hidden within God’s Torah  (Teachings or Instructions) that He is keeping only for those who are willing to dig to find them.  Why?  Because “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but it is the glory of kings to search it out” (Proverbs 25:2).

I have spent many years digging in the Scriptures, but this past fall, God has specifically told us that we are to embrace the commandments He taught within the Torah:

Keep My Torah and My commandments because that is where you will find the rest and comfort you so much are searching after….You do good to be on My side and to follow My Torah and My commandments.  Do you know My beloved children that when you obey Me, you are doing what honors Me and pleases Me the most…. Remember to keep My Sabbaths and be careful to keep My commandments because they are still very important to Me, says God.  I haven’t changed, My people, they are important to Me for such a time as this.

God has made it clear to us that He has not changed His mind about His expectations of us, and it is clear to my wife and I what He has called us to live and to embrace.  We did not grow up keeping the Torah, but we are learning.  There were some things we had learned before, but now the learning is going deeper than we’ve ever gone before, and yet we are excited for the journey ahead, because we know who it is that is directing our path.

THE TEMPLE WAS A PLACE OF WORSHIP

In addition, as God’s Temple, we are to be a place of worship.  But what is “worship”?  Is it just singing songs from a hymnal or singing choruses in church?  What is it?  Some may be surprised to discover that there’s more to worship than singing songs, choruses, or hymnals.  According to the book Prayer and Worship,

Our English word worship comes from two roots.  Weorth means “honor” or “worthiness,” and scipe means “to create” (Dawn 1995, 76).  To worship someone or something is to create an expression of honor or to attribute worth to the object of worship.  So when we acknowledge God’s infinite value in our lives, we lift our souls to Him in praise and we offer our bodies to Him as living sacrifices.  We could say this is essentially “worth-ship” (153).

God wants us to live a lifestyle of worship as His people and as His holy nation (Exodus 19:6; I Peter 2:9).  God has revealed Himself to us, and we are to respond to Him, and “in the process, we are transformed” (Prayer and Worship  153).   Further on, the writer explains that “Transformation, renewal, and living in the center of God’s will – these all combine to produce a lifestyle of worship for the believer” (154).

In consideration, then, we need to ask ourselves, “Do I live a lifestyle of worship before God, or have I limited worship to singing only a few songs on Saturday or Sunday?”  “Am I continuing to be transformed and renewed?”  “Am I living in the center of God’s will?  Do I even know what God’s will for my life even is?”  Am I presenting my body, like Paul writes in Romans 12, as “a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [my] reasonable service,” my reasonable act of worship before Him?

THE TEMPLE WAS “THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD”

In Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) renowned teaching, the “Sermon on the Mount,” He taught the crowds, “Ye are the light of the world, a city cannot be hid on a mountain situated” (Interlinear Greek-English New Testament).  The phrase “light of the world” was a common expression for the Temple, particularly during the feast of Tabernacles, when the Temple was all lit up with lights and could be seen for miles.  Also, the Temple was as large as a city, employing some 3,000 workers and, of course, it was located on the Temple Mount, so that people had to ascend up to go to it.   Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) was teaching the Jewish crowds who had come to hear Him that they were the Temple of God, the “light of the world.”  He also taught them in this sermon, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  What about your works?  Do they glorify God?  Are you being that light that Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) taught that we should be?

THE TEMPLE WAS “THE HOUSE OF MEETING”

Finally, the Temple was where people came to meet God.  Wherever we go, we are to present individuals with an opportunity to meet Him.  The question we should ask ourselves is, “Am I living in a way so that they can see Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) in me, or does my life only reflect me, my wants, my needs, my dreams?”  Because if people do not see Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) in us, or if we do not tell them about Him, then how will they have the opportunity to meet Him?  What changes would you need to make in your life so that your life could become that “House of Meeting” between individuals and the Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus).

SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In looking at all these thoughts and questions about the Temple, I must ask myself, “Am I being the best Temple that I can be for God?” There are areas where I can see improvement in my life this past year, but there are other areas that still need work.  I have not arrived, but I am striving to move forward.  I am not content in simply being “a sinner saved by grace,” nor am I content in just doing the minimum for God. Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) gave His all for me, and the least that I can do is give Him my all in service to Him and to His Kingdom.  I have not attained where God wants me to be yet, but I am further along than I used to be.  God is continuing to work in my life by His Spirit, and I continue to see the changes He is doing in my life.  But what about you?  Are you being the best Temple that you can be for God at this point in your life?  Are there areas in your life where God has changed you, transformed you?  Are there areas where you still need work?

SO FOR THIS HANUKKAH SEASON, HOW ABOUT TRYING TO DO ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING:

  1. If you have not been living your life as God’s Temple, pray and ask Him to come into your life and dedicate yourself to Him for His use. Seek Him each day and strive to be His Temple in your day-to-day life.
  2. Write down those areas this year where you’ve seen spiritual growth and development, and then thank Him for Him working in your life.
  3. Write down those areas where you still need work, and submit them to Him, and open those areas of your life to Him and to His Spirit.
  4. Pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the faith, who like Chana and her seven sons, as well as the others who through the years have died for their commitment to God and to His Word.
  5. Try reading Luke 1:26-38, the account of the angel Gabriel coming to Mary and letting her know that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, which many researchers believe occurred during the Hanukkah season.

Have a blessed holiday season, and may you experience the Presence, Power, and Holiness of God and His Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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)

Have you ever wondered why John felt this moment in Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/Jesus’) 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) here in Jerusalem?  Why is He observing Hanukkah (feast of Dedication)?  And what is the connection between this moment in Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/Jesus’) 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 Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/Jesus’) life and Hanukkah.  And as I was sitting there 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  located in a cave is 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, or even Daniel, who would rather be thrown to the lions than to stop praying for thirty days.  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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) praying in the Garden of Gethsemane in anguish as He prepares for what is to happen.  In fact, when Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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. Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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.  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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 thinkYeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 G-d on the cross in a way He never had before – as His judge.   Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 [Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus)] 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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,Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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, Yeshua (Joshua/ Jesus) 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 Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/Jesus’) 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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. Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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. Siani to be a blessing, so why would He die to do away with it?  And there’s absolutely no proof in the teachings of Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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 Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) 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  Yeshua’s (Jesus’) 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 blog, 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 me know.

 

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The Story of Hanukkah: Its Prophecy & Historical Fulfillment

I was hoping to get this done during Hanukkah, but unfortunately, Hanukkah happened during my last week of the semester when I had to spend the time getting everything graded and final grades calculated.  But now that all that is done, I would like to begin 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 (Joshua/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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