Following Messiah: A New Calling, A New Marriage, A Whole New Journey

“Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” — Yeshua/Jesus (Matthew 4:19)

IMAGINE –

Imagine being on the boat with Simon and his brother Andrew, working the nets with their father, and then here comes the Rabboni (“Lord” or “Master”; see Mark 10:51; John 20:16) Yeshua/Jesus walking down the beach, and He watches you out there for a few moments, and then He calls out, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).  What do you do?  Do you drop everything to follow Him or do you keep on working?  According to the Scriptures, Simon and Andrew “immediately left the nets, and followed Him.”  But what if, instead of Simon and Andrew, that was you in the boat or me?  What would you or I do?  Would you leave your job to follow Him, or would you give Him reasons why you couldn’t leave your job right now?

MY CALLING

I was the first one to be approached with God’s calling.  I was uploading material onto a website that sought to rip apart an argument that I had found on another website.  After completing it, I was quite content and happy with what I had done, and so I went to bed.  As I laid there gloating in my accomplishment, I heard Yeshua/Jesus audibly speak to me:

You know I didn’t call you to do that.  I’ve given you revelations about the Kingdom, and it’s time now to share them.  (November 14, 2014)

He then gave me three titles of books He wants me to write regarding the kingdom.  I laid there in awe that I had audibly heard His voice.  It had a very nice, gentle, and loving tone, and after hearing it, I could easily see why He was a regular reader in the synagogue in Nazareth, where He grew up (Luke 4:16).  However, although the Lord had audibly spoken to me, my wife was anything but thrilled about the idea.

MY WIFE’S HEALING

Throughout my wife’s life and almost all of our married life together, my wife has suffered from a learning disability.  The problem was that she knew in her mind what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t seem to get it out or it came out all wrong from what she was thinking.  It was like there was some sort of disconnect or “bad wiring” in her brain.  We would get into fights frequently, because whenever I asked her to explain her views or something she read, she couldn’t do it, and then she’d get angry at me and accuse me of trying to make her look dumb or stupid.  It was a horrible cycle that was repeated over and over again.

However, in February 2015, we were preparing to go to a writing conference down in Texas. My wife had been struggling with severe depression and anxiety, and she felt lower than she had ever felt in her life. She laid there on the bed, and then broke down and cried out to God.  It was then that she said she felt this hot burning sensation in her forehead.  She cried as it continued.  I stood there, not really sure what to do, so I asked, “Can I get you some aspirin?”  She told me it didn’t really hurt, that God was healing her.

I didn’t understand the extent of the healing until we arrived at the Conference.  In the afternoon break, we went off to grab something to eat, and I was telling her about a short story I had been working on.  She asked me to read it to her.  She didn’t usually do that, but I went ahead and read it to her.  What happened next when I finished reading the story to her just blew my mind.  For the first time ever, my wife retold to me the story point-by-point in detail.  I just sat there with my mouth hanging open.  I could not believe what I was hearing.  After that, there was no doubt in my mind that God had truly healed my wife and had done a marvelous work in her life.

MY WIFE’S CALLING

My wife, Karen, received her own personal calling from the Lord while she was at a women’s conference for the Assemblies of God church here in the state of Oklahoma. While she was sitting there listening to the speaker, God spoke to her and told her that He wanted her to go forward for prayer, but not for salvation but to receive the same calling of ministry that He had placed on my life.  She told me that He was calling her to join me in partnership in ministry.

OUR CALLING AS A COUPLE 

After my wife and I had received our own individual callings from the Lord into ministry, He then called us as a couple, to serve Him together.   And in obedience to that calling, I have resigned from my full-time teaching position at Oklahoma City Community College, and we’ve made the decision to leave everything behind and to follow Him wherever He may lead us.  I formally handed in my resignation letter on Monday, May 23, 2016, and began to announce our decision to go into full-time ministry.  For the most part, we have been given support for our decision to begin this new journey; however, there have been a few who believe we’ve lost our minds.  But this decision did not come about simply because we had a feeling this is what God wanted, nor was it a one-time calling, but on several occasions, Yeshua/Jesus has spoken to us and has told us that this was His plan for us.  For example,

I love you so much, my children. I need you to choose Me rather than the world so that I can reach the ones who really need Me to help them.  I want for them to know I’ve heard their cries and haven’t forgotten them.  Time is close at hand, and they need to hear My word, My teachings.  They need to know that I do love them and want for them to prosper and be in good health.  There isn’t anything that is too hard for your God to handle. (September 29, 2015)

Go, and I will be with you, says God.  But you say, “Go where?”  I say, “Follow Me into all the world and make disciples of all nations, and I will make you fishers of men,” says God Almighty.  Do not fear what others will say of you.  They will call you all sorts of things.  They will call you nothing that they hadn’t called Me first, so let this, My child, My son, comfort your very soul.  Trust your wife; know that she hears from Me and hears My voice and teachings.  I have chosen her to be your helper in just a time as this to go along with you and help to proclaim Me to the world, too.   I love you and desire for the both of you to love Me and trust Me with your whole hearts, mind, and soul.   I want for you to go and tell My story to the nations, telling them that I am real and that I’m coming back, and I have not deleted anything from My Torah, says the Lord God Almighty.  (November 2, 2015)

There is no doubt in our minds that God has called us into full-time ministry.  The Lord has made Himself clear that this is His desire for our lives.  And even though we are sure of His calling, this is still very new to the both of us.  Karen did spend two months on one of the small islands in the Bahamas (Cat Island) with her brother and his wife, who were missionaries out there at the time,  but the only time I’ve been outside the United States was when we spent one night on the Canadian side of Sault Ste. Marie and once when we drove from Detroit, through Canada, to Niagara Falls, New York.  Obviously, then, we are not but any imagination expert “world travelers,” but we are two people who dearly love the Lord and His Word.

Our Lord and Rabboni has called us to go into the nations and to represent Him and His Kingdom, and He has not only told us that He intended for us to be together, but that He has had this calling on our lives since early in our childhood:

Karen, You and Chris were meant to be from the beginning.  I have been with you, and I have been loving you and taking care of you all of your lives.   My Spirit is inside each of you to bring about healing and restoration of My people, says God Almighty.   You have all that you need from Me, says God.  Trust Me when I say, “Go and preach My words among the peoples and nations.”  This is no small potatoes.  This is the big stuff.  You, Chris, have had My calling on you from an early age.  I have been watching over you both because I knew that I could trust you to do what I need for you to do.  (November 2, 2015)

This is truly humbling when the Lord gave us His personal invitation to follow Him, and that He told us that He’s been watching over us our entire lives to bring us to this moment because He knew He could trust us to follow through with what He needs for us to do.  I have not always been obedient by no means, and I have gone through times of depression and doubt in the past as well, but over the past ten years or so, the Lord has been radically changing me, the way I think and look at life, but for my wife, as I’ve pointed out, it’s only been a little more than a year.

FROM THE VERGE OF DIVORCE

There were several moments in our past when my wife and I were on the verge of divorce.  In fact, there were a couple of times when she had packed my bag, set it next to the door, and told me to leave.  Fortunately, we worked things out moment by moment.  Yes, there was a lot of yelling, screaming, and fighting.  We were like two rams standing on the same path wanting our own way, but neither side willing to compromise or give in to the other.  In fact, God Himself compared us to fighting lions and bears:

Choose today to seek Me and to trust Me.  Yes, you have been very unstable minded, but that was due to you and your wife being unstable with one another, says God.  I could not do what I have needed to do with your lives while it was a mess, says God Almighty.  I cannot and could not be a Holy God living inside a temple that was living in such disharmony and confusion as the two of you were.  Things were not good, but your minds and heart yearned to do what was right in My eyes, but you two were like fighting bears and lions, trying to tear each other apart from the very core of your being.  You could not see Me through all of your discord and disharmony, says God, and you were so unhealthy while trying to serve Me. (November 7, 2015)

God couldn’t accomplish what He wanted to do in our lives because of the continued arguing and fighting.  He had to fix us and our marriage before He could use us to do His will.  But we want everyone to know that God can radically change a marriage by changing the people in that marriage.  And we are witnesses to the miraculous transformation that God can accomplish within a marriage.  For me personally, a lot of my problems boiled down to the fact that deep down, I did not believe that God really loved me.  In fact, in my late twenties, I remember feeling so depressed, abandoned, and alone, I asked God to simply let me die.  I was so unhappy with my own life, our marriage was falling apart, I had been fired from a couple of jobs, and even as a father, I felt worthless, so at that point, I felt death was preferable to any of this.  However, I also believed that suicide was wrong, but for some reason I thought if God took my life, then that would be okay.  However, He did not do that.  He began ministering to me through His Word.  It was not a quick process, but one that took several years.

MY REMINDER OF GOD’S LOVE

The clincher though for me came in July 2007.  Karen and I had been walking around the track at the local YMCA, and I started having pain in my chest and arm, not severe pain, but just enough to know it was there.  I also had to stop several times to catch my breath just to walk around the track even once.  We decided to make an appointment to see my doctor.  He asked a number of questions about the symptoms and about my family history. When I explained that every male on my dad’s side of the family as far as I knew, except my dad, had died of heart disease or a stroke, he sent me to a heart specialist.  The heart specialist asked similar questions and then scheduled me to get an angiogram.

During the angiogram, while I was laying there on the table, not sure what it was that I was looking at on the monitor, I heard the heart specialist ask me,

Why are you alive?  There’s no reason why you should be in the condition that you are.  With the amount of blockage in your heart, you should either be dead or have had a severe, debilitating stroke.  I just don’t understand why neither of those had not happened to you.

Definitely, not the news I was expecting to hear.  I learned that the front artery of my heart was 100% clogged, and the two back ones were 90% clogged.  They kept me in the hospital and rearranged the surgery schedule in to get me into surgery the very next day.

For the surgery, they were planning on doing a triple bypass; however, when they got in there, I learned that they found two more blockages, so I ended up receiving a five bypass at the age of 45.  During the surgery, while my wife and family were in the waiting room, I learned that God showed up and my wife was slain in the Spirit.  God ministered to her there in the waiting room.  After some time, my wife opened her eyes, got up,  turned to my mother and told her that God had told her that I was going to be all right.  My mother responded, “I know.  You were breathing for him.”

After surgery, the heart specialist came out to speak to my wife.  My wife told me that when the doctor came out of surgery, he was shaking his head.  She wondered what was wrong.  He said,

I don’t understand it.  With that much blockage in his arteries, his heart should have been damaged, but there was no damage whatsoever.

Although I have a scar down the middle of my chest from the operation, it is a daily reminder to me of God’s love and that He has a purpose for my life.  If He didn’t love me or didn’t have a purpose for me being here, then He would have just let the blockage kill me as the heart specialist had expected.  But I praise God every day for His mercy and grace. The “old me who doubted God’s love” died on the table that day.  It was a new me who is absolutely convinced of His love for me and everyone else that got up off of that table.

So if you are in a bad marriage or you feel that no one cares about you or loves you, we want you to know, God loves you and in Him, there is hope.  Yeshua/Jesus can change your marriage, the same as He did ours.  He may begin with one of you, but then as you pursue Yeshua/Jesus with all of your heart, mind, and soul, He will change the other partner as well.  I wish I could say that I was the one God started with, but that would be a lie.  God began with my wife, and through her continued attempts, prayer, and study, God used her in the process of changing me.  I cannot begin to tell you where we would be if she had not allowed the Lord to use her, but we would definitely not be where we are today.  Let me assure you, Yeshua/ Jesus can radically change your marriage relationship and can bring love, peace, joy, and harmony, where there was nothing but anger, resentment, pain, and discord.  We indeed serve a great and mighty God!

CALLED TO SERVE

So considering where the Lord has brought us, it means the world to us to receive His call to work for Him in the fields of this world.  He has called us to follow Him into the nations, and that He will use us to bring others to Him.  What a gift!  And on top of everything else, He has shared with us that He now feels that we are at the point in our lives when He can trust us with this.  This really humbled us, but we were particularly excited when He told us where He was first sending us:

For I have separated you and have called you out for such a time as this, says God.  Be not afraid, humble yourselves unto Me, and I will make you fishers of men.  Follow Me, says God, for I know you love Me and want to do what I have been speaking to you.  I am not far from you, My child, for I want to do exceedingly great things through you and your husband.  Trust Me, and know that I have called you out and have placed My blessings upon the both of you to go and tell My people Israel that I love them and need for them to love Me also, for such a time as this, says God Almighty.  (November 5, 2015)

Again, we are very humbled by this call.  I have had a strong love for the Jewish people and the Torah for at least 26 years now.  I have attended several different synagogues and have had the privilege to present to churches teachings regarding several of the feasts, including Passover, Pentecost (Heb. Shavuot), Purim, Hanukkah, as well as teachings regarding the coming Millennial Temple.  Some may be wondering if I am Jewish, but as far as I know, I am not.  So to be called by God to first go to Israel is truly awesome! However, the Lord has also made it clear to us several times that this will not be an easy venture:

Remember, I’ve told you it will get hard, and you will need to trust Me, saith the Lord God Almighty.  Don’t let fear and doubt overtake you, but keep strong in the words that I have spoken, and there is nothing by any means that can harm your dwelling place with Me. (November 2, 2015)

I know this won’t be easy, but what is easy, My child?   Do understand that My time is short before I am returning, says God… (November 5, 2015)

Although we are leaving the country on August 1, 2016, and are planning on our ministry beginning in Israel, the Lord has also told us that we would be ministering to non-Jews as well.  Whether we will be ministering to them in the land or outside the land, we don’t know yet.  But whatever the case, He will be leading and guiding us all along the way.  It is for this reason that we have entitled our ministry, Following Messiah.  People need to know that the time of the Lord’s return is quickly arriving and the time is short, and God wants all of His people prepared, including His people Israel,

I love My people Israel with a love that only a Father can.   They need Me so very much, and I long for them, My children. (November 5, 2015)

My heart cries out to My children, My people, says God.  Yes, My people are Israel, and I have set them apart for such a time as this, says God Almighty.  Go and proclaim Me to all the House of David and tell them to prepare their hearts and clean themselves before coming to worship Me, for I am a Holy God, and I am God Almighty, which is and always have been and always will be Holy, for I know nothing about being unholy because that is not even an option for Me. (November 7, 2015)

You have been chosen to be used for Me today for such a time as this, and I want to do a new thing in you so that My people Israel will become One with Me as I am with you.  I love My people Israel, and I desire for all My people Israel to know and to love Me too.  I have called you, My daughter of My Torah, to be set apart for My use to do this in such a time as this, so I say, Trust Me, Follow Me, and I will make you to arise and soar high amongst the eagles, says God Almighty. (November 11, 2015)

God loves His people Israel.  They were the first people that He brought into His kingdom; who received His Torah, His commandments; who gave us the prophets, and most wonderful of all, they gave us Yeshua/Jesus.  God has not replaced the Jewish people at all. He dearly loves them and yearns to be in an intimate relationship with them.  But He also desires to be in an intimate relationship with all people –  Jew and non-Jew alike – and for each of us to be a part of His kingdom.  We should never doubt His love for each of us, or the fact that He yearns for us each and every day, His children, to be one with Him and to be one with one another.

We are One great big happy family enjoying the fruits of the true engraftation; we are all One tree, says God.  I have no favorites.  I love you children all the same with a love that’s greater than you all could ever imagine, says God Almighty.   I love it when My people, My children, come to Me in worship and praise to lift up My holy name in honor of the One who has redeemed you and has set you on high to soar like the eagles.  My Father and I have created everything for you, My children, to be able to see and to understand how great and mighty and awesome of a God we are…My heart cries for My people to see Me and My Father as one and the same.  As I and My Father are One, so I yearn for My children to be One and the same with Us also.  (November 5, 2015)

God has planned this moment, this journey, in our lives from before the beginning of time, and He has given us a simple message to share with others: He is real, He exists, and He loves them more than they can possibly imagine.  He has also told us that we are to let people know that time is short and that He is coming very soon, so we as His people need to wake up and to prepare ourselves for His arrival, and finally, that He has not changed His mind about anything that He has spoken in the Bible, nor has He set aside, annulled, or eliminated any part of His Torah and His commandments.

HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT US

This is a whole new journey for us, so please pray for us.  We are currently working on establishing our ministry as a non-profit, as well as getting ready to sell our home and some of our other possessions.  Although we have moved several times in the U.S., we have never moved to a whole new country.  So pray God’s blessings through this process, as well as His blessings, protection, and provision for us as we go to do His will for our lives.  Thank you for your prayers and may you be prepared for the Lord’s soon return.

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What’s “Critical Thinking”? And Can We Do THAT in Church?

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”  (Proverbs 19:2)

 by Chris L. Verschage

A Beginning Question

What is “Critical Thinking”?  This is a question I ask near the beginning of every English Composition class I teach.  And every semester, I discover that people have an incomplete view (or an erroneous view) of what “critical thinking” is.  And the thing that I find most surprising is the belief among many Americans that “critical thinking” and biblical faith are mutually exclusive.  This misguided idea has been around for quite a while since it was even expressed by Benjamin Franklin, who said, “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” Although Mr. Franklin was extremely intelligent about some things, this apparently did not include biblical faith.  This common misconception is, unfortunately, becoming the accepted view of the mainstream, even those who have grown up in many churches.

Two Examples

For example, recently, while I was in-between classes, I happened to speak with two students on two different occasions in the area outside my office next to the pop machines.  On one occasion, I spoke to a female student who told me that her church taught against them asking questions.   Consequently, she was surprised when I was willing to answer questions that she had regarding the Scriptures.   On another occasion, I spoke to a student who was an ex-Catholic and had left the church, because, he said, they refused to let him ask questions regarding God or the Scriptures growing up.  And so, as a result, he saw the church as a “brainwashing institution” that he wanted nothing to do with.

Asking questions is the beginning step to critical thinking, and it’s one of the main ways that we learn.  And by preventing people from engaging in this normal cognitive function, it results in people getting hurt, and in them leaving the church and God, which is what happened to this second student.  He ended up leaving the faith and becoming an angry atheist.   Although during our conversation, he continued to try and show me how intellectually superior he was to Christians, I believe his resultant atheism was motivated more from him seeking revenge against those who had emotionally hurt him at the church he had been attending than in his rationalistic rejection of God.   And unfortunately, there are many more examples of people who have been hurt by some church for its “anti-critical thinking” position.

However, to be fair in our discussion, it should be noted that not all churches teach against the use of critical thinking.  There are many good pastors in America and elsewhere that encourage their congregants to engage in critical thinking and to ask questions as they go through a particular study and/or during their own private studies.

 A Common Misconception

A prominent common misconception among many people, including college students, is that Critical thinking is doubting everything.   They believe by going around doubting everything, it indicates they have a free, independent mind.  But this view of critical thinking is a logical fallacy that I point out to my students when I teach.   Doubting everything doesn’t make someone any more a critical thinker than someone who believes everything.   A critical thinker is someone who is willing to examine all sides of an issue or idea and to objectively weigh the evidence presented.   Those who believe everything don’t take the time to objectively examine and weigh the evidence since they accept it all, but those who doubt everything also don’t objectively examine and weigh the evidence since they doubt everything; consequently, both extremes fail to engage in critical thinking.

 What is “Critical Thinking”?

So then what is “critical thinking”?  Many people hear the word “critical,” and they automatically think that it means being “negative” or “judgmental,” but instead, critical thinking, in its most basic sense, is “thinking about thinking.”

It’s thinking about why we do what we do, say what we say, and think what we think.  It’s also thinking about why others do, say, or think what they do, including thinking about what we read, asking questions about it, and analyzing the text.  For example, in reading the Bible, we might ask the questions:   “What is the Bible?” “Why is it broken down into two ‘Testaments’? What is a ‘Testament’?” “What does it mean to call God or Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) ‘Lord’?” “What is a ‘Messiah’ (‘Christ’)?  Was that Yeshua’s (Joshua’s/ Jesus’) last name or did it mean something?” These are just a few of the thousands of questions that people may ask as they begin to study the Scriptures.

But critical thinking does not just involve asking questions.  That’s where it begins. It also involves the ability to analyze; to examine the relationship between ideas; to examine the causes and the effects of what people think, say, or do; to properly interpret a text using the rules of interpretation (called Hermeneutics); to do further research; to synthesize material from a variety of sources; and to evaluate those sources and the information provided.  These are many of the ideas and the techniques I teach to my college students every semester.  But instead of critical thinking moving people away from God and the Bible, as some erroneously believe, it can also be used to help give people a more in-depth knowledge of the Scriptures, greater faith, and a more intimate relationship with God. The two keys, though, is (1) in teaching people what critical thinking actually is, instead of what many people think that it is; and (2) in teaching people how to use it to help our understanding of what we are reading or listening to, instead of misusing it as a cover for one’s own doubts, fears, or past hurts.

The Bible – A Place for Critical Thinking

There are many people who are surprised at the idea that God created the Scriptures to be a place where our critical thinking could be practiced, tested, and even strengthened, rather than a place where critical thinking is set aside.  God desires to engage us spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically and even socially.   God is not interested in us being robots who just follow commands, but He wants to engage us, to dialogue with us, which is part of His desire to build a relationship with us.

However, too many Christians and churches have reduced their understanding of God and the Bible to just a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” or to a “list of beliefs” that people are “to simply accept without questioning,”  preventing them from learning how to move into the depths and riches of biblical study that God has intended for us to discover in order for Him to bless us.

For example, in Acts 17 when Paul and Silas went to Berea and taught in the synagogue there, it says,

Now these [Jewish and non-Jewish individuals] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so. (17:11)

The Jewish and non-Jewish men and women who attended this synagogue were receptive to the Gospel message proclaimed by Paul and Silas, but they also did not just accept it simply because two great evangelists came to town, named Paul and Silas, and taught this message, but they searched and examined “the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.”  In other words, they not only listened to the message, but they analyzed it, broke it down into its various parts, and then sought proof [evidence] from the Scriptures that what they were teaching was in agreement with what they saw taught throughout the Tanakh (i.e., Old Testament).  And what was the result of their analysis and research into the evidence of the Scriptures:

Many of them therefore believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men. (Acts 17:12)

The implication of the text is that if the Gospel message had contradicted the Tanakh (Old Testament) Scriptures (which they were examining), then they would have rejected the message, but since many of them believed, then we can logically conclude that the Gospel message, as it was proclaimed by Paul and Silas, was in agreement with what the Tanakh (Old Testament) teaches.

 A Divine Command

Not only do we see examples of individuals engaging in critical thinking, but we are even commanded to use our thinking skills and abilities, including critical thinking, in expressing our love for God.  For example, in Mark 12:29-31, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus)  responds to a scribe’s question:  “What is the foremost (or greatest or most important) commandment of all?”  His response was the following:

Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One.  And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, and with all your strength, and the second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no other commandment greater than these.  [emphasis added]

In this command, we are commanded to love God “with all [of our] mind.”  How are we to do this, if we are not allowed to use our mind in the study of His Word, in prayer, or in His service?   The sad reality is that although there are ministers who encourage critical thinking in the study of the Scriptures, there are many ministers who deny their congregants the opportunity to worship and honor God with their minds by not allowing them to use their mind, to ask questions, or in other words, to use their critical thinking skills.   However, based on what I see taught with in the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, I firmly believe that God wants us to use our minds in the study of His word, in prayer, in fasting, in serving Him, and in serving others.

Critical Thinking vs. “the Carnal Mind”

So let’s examine a passage to give an example of how critical thinking can be used to deepen our knowledge of Scripture.  In Romans 8, Paul discusses what he calls “the carnal mind.”  Now there are many people who erroneously believe that critical thinking is a synonym for “the carnal mind.”  However, Critical Thinking involves a systematic approach to analyzing, breaking something down, and examining the issues, viewpoints, ideas, and behaviors of whatever it is we are examining; whereas, the “carnal mind” deals, not with a systematic approach, but with the condition of one’s heart.  The “carnal mind” does not deal with how we think, or the techniques we use when we think, but what we set our thoughts upon.  To be “carnally minded” means that we have set our minds to thinking and focusing on the things of “the flesh” – those desires and wants we have that run contrary to God and His Word – rather than the “things of the Spirit,” or those things that are in agreement with God and His Word.   For example, in Romans 8, Paul writes,

For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:6-8)

So let’s deepen this discussion by using some critical thinking by inferring what it means to be “spiritually minded.”  An inference is a logical conclusion we draw based upon what we know about what we do not know.  In this instance, we want to use what we know (what Paul says about being “carnally minded”) and use it to infer – or draw logical conclusions from the text – about what we do not know (what it means to be “spiritually minded”).  We can do this by setting up a table like the following:

Carnally Minded

Spiritually Minded

It is death. It is life and peace.
It is enmity (or in opposition) against God. It is in agreement or union with God.
It is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. It is subject to the law of God, and indeed, it can’t do anything else.

Consequently, when we realize that Paul establishes these two positions as being diametrically opposed to one another, then we can logically deduct what it means to be “spiritually minded” by formulating the opposite of what Paul says about being “carnally minded.”

And if we look at what we have inferred from the text, then it raises a rather interesting question about what much of today’s Christianity teaches.  Many teach that we cannot be subject (or obedient) to the law of God, but from our chart, this is only true if we are “carnally minded.”  If we are “spiritually minded,” on the other hand, then we will be “subject (or obedient) to the law of God.”  Consequently, this seems to suggest that much of Christianity today is operating on a mindset that’s “carnally minded,” rather than “spiritually minded.”

A Major Shortcoming

So, indeed, one of the major shortcomings I find in many ministries is that they do not encourage people to engage in critical thinking when it comes to things not only taught by the dominant American culture, but also when it comes to teachings they hear in church and to what they read in the Scriptures.  Maybe, it’s because they don’t want people coming to the same conclusions as we did above since that would raise many interesting questions that some ministers may not want to address.  Critical thinking is not an innate skill, but it’s a skill that must be taught and repeatedly practiced.

Is God Threatened?

There are those who have embraced the erroneous idea that God is somehow threatened if people ask questions, express doubts, or express their criticisms.   God is not up there in heaven nervous about the fact that someone asked a question, nor is He angry at us because we are having trouble grasping a concept in Scripture.   God desires to engage our hearts and our minds, which means He wants to engage our critical thinking, our reasoning, and our rationale.  God is no way threatened by our use of logic and reasoning, and He most certainly is not threatened nor offended if we come to Him, with our questions, our confusions, our pains and hurts, and even our anger and frustration.  In fact, God has even invited us to reason with Him, “Come,” God says, “let us reason together,…” (Isaiah 1:10).

 Job — An Example

Job had been put to the extreme test of devotion.  He had lost His wealth, His seven children, and even His health, all so the adversary, Satan, could try and prove him disloyal to God.   However, in spite of it all, Job stood firm in His faith in God, but Job did have his questions after all of this.  He wanted an explanation since he felt he had been unjustly treated.   In Job 31, Job asserts his integrity, and in 31:35, he makes the following proclamation:

Oh that I had one to hear me!   Behold, here is my signature;  Let the Almighty answer me!   And the indictment which my adversary has written.  (NASB)

Job here not only proclaims to his three “friends” his innocence, but he calls upon God to show him his supposed wrong doing.   Job 32 begins with this statement:

Then these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes.  (New American Standard Bible, Job 32:1)

I’ve heard many ministers come down on Job because the Bible says that “he was righteous in his own eyes.”  However, I believe this is a superficial reading of the text and they criticize him unjustly.  This statement is merely noting that Job did not believe he had committed any wrong-doing to deserve these series of calamities that he had experienced. And according to the book of Job, he hadn’t done anything wrong.  In fact, these calamities came on him because Satan was trying to get him to reject God.  But instead of rejecting God, Job held firm in his faith.

Therefore, the text is not saying, as these same ministers have tried to argue,  that Job was “self-righteous.”  Instead, Job was experiencing the same confused emotions that many of us would go through after experiencing some major trauma in our lives.  In fact, Job was wondering if God had somehow lost sight or control of his life and circumstance.  Many people, like Job, who have undergone a bad experience, or even a traumatic experience, have wondered, “Where was God through all of this?  How could He be in control of my life and something like this happen to me?”  So rather than saying that Job was “self-righteous,” it indicates how truly human Job was considering the recent events that had occurred in his life.

However, at the end of the book of Job, God does come, but He doesn’t sit down with Job and provide Him with an explanation, as we would’ve liked to have seen; instead, since Job challenged God, God returns and challenges Job:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel with words without knowledge?  Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”  (Job 38:1-3)

Then beginning in Job 38:4 through to the end of chapter 39, God shoots question after question at Job wanting his response in regard to his knowledge of how everything around him in the heavens and the earth had been created and formed.

I have heard many ministers explain this exchange as God putting Job “in his place,” and rebuking him for thinking that he was sinless.   I disagree.  I don’t believe that is what is happening at all.   Job is a middle-eastern man from a middle-eastern culture, and in that region, it is common to have people respond to a question with a question.  And therefore, God in this exchange was, in all reality, responding to Job’s most urgent concerns.

In fact, I was listening to Dwight A. Pryor, the President and founder of the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, a man and teacher I greatly admire, and he was talking about a time when he was in Texas, and he saw an ice cream truck going down the street, so he went up to buy an ice cream from the guy driving the truck.  When the man started speaking, he noticed he had an Israeli accent, and he asked him, “Are you, by chance, from Israel?”  The man nodded, and he asked him, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”  The man smiled and agreed.  Dwight asked him, “Why is it that Israelis answer a question with a question?”

The man thought for a few minutes, and then shrugged his shoulders and said, “Why not?”

In the Gospels, we find another example of this sophisticated form of question dialogue as a means of exchanging information.  At the age of twelve, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) and His parents had gone down to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and instead of going back with them, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), without their knowledge, stayed behind in Jerusalem.   After three frantic days of looking for Him, they finally found Him involved in a discussion with the teachers of the law (Heb. Torah), exchanging question for question:

And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions.  And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.  (Luke 2:46-47)

Notice, He was “asking them questions” and they were “amazed at His understanding and answers.”  The questions He asked were, in fact, His “answers.” This form of dialogue of exchanging question for question was a very sophisticated form of rabbinic dialogue that  Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) was engaged in at only twelve years of age.  However, in like manner, I believe God in the book of Job is answering Job’s questions the same way, in the form of questions.   Rather than rebuking Job for his questions, God is majestically reaffirming to Job, and to all of us, that in spite of appearances, He is still on the throne, and He is still in control.   Job asked for an intellectual exchange — to reason with God — and God did not rebuke him for wanting to reason with Him, but wonderfully and majestically responded.

Obviously, if God felt that it was wrong for us to use our human reason with Him, He would not invite us to use it with Him.  As I mentioned earlier in Isaiah 1:10, God says, “Come, let us reason together….”   We must remember that it was God who gave us the ability to think, to analyze, to compare and contrast, to weigh ideas and consider, and to synthesize information and to evaluate it.   Why would God give our minds these abilities and skills, if He did not intend for us to use them?

 Why the Parables  — Another Example?

Another biblical example of God desiring us to use our minds, our critical thinking skills, can be found in Matthew 13.  In this passage, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) tells the crowd the parable of the Sower:

“Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears,  let him hear.”  (Matthew 13:3b-9)

After telling the crowd this parable, the disciples came to Him privately and asked Him the question:  “Why do You speak to them in parables?”

Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) responded to their question by saying that God had not granted them the privilege of receiving the mysteries concerning His kingdom.  When I read that, it bothered me.

To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. 12 For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. 13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says,

You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;  (Matthew 13:11-14, NASB)

I wondered, “Why?  Why would God not want all of us to know and understand His mysteries, to understand Him?  Why would He hide that information from people?”  I just don’t get it, I thought.  But then as I read His answer, I was surprised by it: “because their minds were dull:”

15 For the heart of this people has become dull,

With their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes,
Otherwise they would see with their eyes,
Hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return (or repent),
And I would heal them

16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:15-16, NASB)

In this statement, the Greek word translated “heart” is kardia (Strong’s #2588), which literally means “heart,” and it is from this same Greek word, we get the word Cardiac, like in a “cardiac arrest” which deals with the heart.  But this word can also refer to one’s mind, or one’s “thoughts and feelings” (“Greek Dictionary of the New Testament”).  The Greek word kardia corresponds to the Hebrew word Lev, which also means “heart” and “mind.”  And since the Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is a Jew, speaking to His Jewish disciples, it’s unlikely He would have been carrying on this discussion with them in Greek, but in Hebrew.

Consequently, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is saying that the “heart” (or mind) of this people has become “dull.”  They’ve stopped thinking about the Scriptures, about what they mean and their importance to their lives; instead, they’ve become completely reliant on someone else to tell them what to think and believe.  Therefore, since they’re not wanting to engage God mentally, God is honoring that desire by not challenging them at all.  And as a result,

with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes; and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return (or repent), and I should heal them. (Matthew 13:15)

By them not seeking to engage God through prayer and the study of His Word, they had, in fact, closed their minds and hearts to Him, which resulted in them not being healed or even saved.  After explaining this, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) builds on this with his explanation of the parable of the sower.

In this parable what I find interesting is that there is only one sower and one seed.  Most Christian ministries today would have four different sowers with four different seeds to meet the needs of each of the four different grounds.  But Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) in His parable only has one sower and one seed for the four different types of ground.

In His explanation of the first ground, the ground beside the road that was barren, He says,

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heartThis is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. (Matthew 13:18-19)

The Greek word translated “understand” is the word Sunieami (Strongs #4920), which means “to put together, i.e., (mentally) to comprehend; by impl. to consider, understand, be wise.”  In other words, while the Word is being taught, if someone does not understand (or comprehend) it, then the evil one is right there removing “the seed” from “the ground” or life of the individual.  If you contrast the barren ground (ground #1) with the fruitful ground (ground #4), you discover that the difference between the two is understanding:

And on the one whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundred-fold, some sixty, and some thirty. (Matthew 13:23)

Notice that it’s only individuals who have received the Word and understood it who ended up bearing fruit for the kingdom.   So  this indicates a process: (1) we must hear it, then (2) we must understand it before (3) we can properly apply it.   And it is only after we’ve applied it, that we will experience the blessings of God.   Hearing it alone is not enough, nor is hearing and understanding it enough.  Instead, we must hear it, understand it, and apply it, and only then will we experience God’s promised blessings.  For James says,  that if we only hear the word without doing it, we only end up deceiving ourselves (James 1:22).

Belief is Not Enough

Consequently, then, simply telling people to just “believe what the Word says,” even if they don’t understand it, only opens the door for the Adversary to come in and remove the Word from their heart and lives, resulting in their lives being “barren” and unfruitful for God.  But what many people don’t realize is that people who hear the Word, understand it, and even believe what it says, but they don’t take the time or effort to apply it to their lives, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) says their lives will still remain “barren” and unfruitful for God.

On the other hand, those people who do hear it, understand what’s being taught, believe it,  and then apply it to their lives,Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) teaches that they will produce an abundance of fruit for God’s kingdom, “some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-19).    It should likewise be noted that “understanding” here means more than mere “mental acceptance.”  It requires the allowance of people to read a text, analyze it, ask questions, consider options, and then to formulate a conclusion.  In other words, it involves “critical thinking.”

What about those who aren’t so smart?

Does this mean that only those who are intelligent enough to think deeply will be blessed by God?   I am not saying that; rather, I do believe that if we want to walk in the blessings of God and His Word, we do need to invest our time and effort in not only reading the Bible but also in understanding it.   It’s important that we remember that we, as believers, are not all at the same level of understanding.  However, as long as we are sincerely seeking God, reading His Word, spending time in His Presence, and we are trusting Him to show us how to apply His Word in our day-to-day lives, and we follow through by obeying what He teaches us to do, then He will bless us for our obedience.

Conclusion

God is looking for a people who heartfully and sincerely want to spend time with Him and to serve Him.   This is often reflected in the amount of time we spend in His Presence and in studying His Word.  We need to understand that there is a big difference between someone reading a passage and just seeing it as something to check off for the day, and someone who truly desires to spend time in the Word of God, struggling with the reading or even seeking to understand it as thoroughly as possible, so that they then can ask God to show them how to apply it to their life.

Finally, we need to remember that critical thinking is not the enemy of the believer. Critical thinking is a systematic approach that we can use to study the Word, analyze it, and come to a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for what it teaches us about God and His Kingdom.  Rather than telling people to “simply believe,” we need ministers and teachers to instruct people on how to use critical thinking effectively within our churches.  I believe one of the reasons there are kids who grow up in church and then leave the faith when they get to college is because colleges are teaching them to use critical thinking, but they use it to show why the Bible cannot be true.  We need to teach our kids the same critical thinking skills, but use those skills to show our kids why the Bible is true, and in so doing, we will better prepare our kids with the techniques and evidence they will need to face an unbelieving world.  It is our choice.  Someone is going to teach our kids critical thinking skills.  Don’t you think it should be us?

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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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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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