Israel Day Two

No post for Day One. Very long day for most, some even longer as they journeyed from the West Coast to Toronto to catch our 11 hour flight to Tel Aviv on El Al, Israel’s national airline.

There’s nothing like El Al’s unusual effective security. Very pleasant flight.

20151018_095705~2It was about 8:30 am local time when we left the terminal and our tour officially began.
FB_IMG_1445276451559Thanks to Tony Hendrick for this photo.

We had a full day of touring, beginning with the beautiful biblical nature reserve, Neot Medumim, where we learned how understanding various plant life illumines Scripture. I didn’t know how much you can do with hyssop. Or how deep cisterns really are. After lunch we visited the ancient port of Ceasarea, where we learned of the power and prowess of Herod the Great and the relevance of Roman oppression at the time of Yeshua.

Great dinner at our hotel in Tel Aviv. As was breakfast this morning, including all you can eat halva! Yum!!

I had various technical difficulties with this blog. I wanted to post some other photos, but instead of delaying further, I will post this now. I will post today’s events hopefully tomorrow.

 

 

We are about to start our morning with a tour of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where Ben Gurion declared to the world the reestablishment of the Jewish homeland.

The Meaning of the Shofar

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Fall Feasts

In the third book of the Bible, Vayikra/Leviticus chapter 23, verses 23-44 is a description of three special observances that were to occur each year around September/October. The first is often referred to as “The Feast of Trumpets,” and became known as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It begins this year the evening of September 13. Ten days later is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, beginning the evening of September 22. Five days after that is the Festival of Sukkot (Tabernacle or Booths), beginning the evening of September 27.

These three observances are intimately connected in that the first two provide intense preparation for the third. In the midst of the busy fall harvest time, the people of Israel were to stop for a day of reflection to remember God. This was to get the people’s attention so that they would be ready a week and a half later for a full day of humiliation and repentance on Yom Kippur. The restoration provided by that most solemn day enabled the people to engage the over-a-week-long celebrations associated with Sukkot.

We fool ourselves into thinking that we can rush into thanksgiving festivities without taking the previous two weeks to get ready first. We are so busy with so many distractions. Yet God wisely knows that he needs to get our attention first by reminding us of things we so easily forget.

A Time to Remember

The Feast of Trumpets was to be “a memorial” (v. 24) marked by “blowing.” Most translations fill in what it was to be blown, even though the passage nowhere states explicitly what instrument was to be used. Traditionally it is the “shofar” (English: ram’s horn). Also, while the act of blowing was to function as a memorial, we are not told what it was we were to remember. The connection of this day with the other days mentioned above allows for a general reminder of the things of God, but the use of the shofar in particular brings to remembrance some key biblical events and ideas.

The Meaning of the Shofar

I am going to share several passages that reference the shofar and provide some suggestions as to what therefore we should remember when it is blown. In most English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, the word shofar is translated either as horn or trumpet. Horn, of course, is better, since it clearly shows the difference between the use of a hollowed-out animal horn and a man-made metallic trumpet. In each of the following cases, I have replaced whatever English word was used with the original Hebrew word, shofar.

The Covenant on Mt. Sinai: Redemption and Revelation

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud shofar blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder (Shemot/Exodus 19:16-19).

The blowing of the shofar reminds us of God’s rescue from bondage, his commitment through covenant faithfulness, and the gift of his Word.

The Walls of Jericho: No Obstacles Are Too Great for God

So the people shouted, and the shofars were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the shofar, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city (Joshua 6:20).

The falling of the great walls of Jericho following the sounding of the shofar reminds us that when we are in God’s will, doing what he wants us to do, nothing can stand in our way.

God Alone Is King: Let Us Boldly Acclaim His Rulership

God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a shofar (Tehillim/Psalms 47:5)

As the shofar blast proclaim God’s rule, so should we, boldly and without fear.

God Is Worthy of Praise

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the shofar
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord! (Tehillim/Psalms 98:4-6)

The shofar reminds us that God is worth celebrating. We make a big deal over far lesser things. So let us make some joyful noise about God!

The Voice of the Prophet: We Need To Speak Up More

“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
    lift up your voice like a shofar;
declare to my people their transgression
    to the house of Jacob their sins. (Isaiah 58:1)

As the voice of the prophet is clear and distinct, the shofar encourages us to not hold back, but to speak up for God and his ways, clearly and unashamedly.

God’s Alarm: It’s Time To Wake Up

Blow a shofar in Zion;
    sound an alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
    for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near (Joel 2:1)

The shofar was used as a practical device to get people’s attention. In this passage it is as an alarm to warn God’s people of his coming judgement. One of the great Jewish thinkers of all time was Moses Maimonides. He was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt, who lived between 1135 and 1204 AD. What he said with regard to what people should think of as the shofar is blown goes along with this:

Wake up, wake up, sleepers from your sleep, and awake slumberers from your slumber. Search your deeds, repent, and remember your Creator.

Some of you might catch how these words sound similar to other words written long before Maimonides, from the New Covenant Writings:

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and [Messiah] will shine on you.” Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:14-16)

The shofar, God’s alarm clock, is to alert us as to the nature of the times in which we live. It is so easy to allow cynicism and apathy to lull us to sleep. It’s much easier to go along with the flow, submitting to the pressures of the culture, than to pursue the things of God day by day. As I write this, the world remembers the September 11, 2001 tragedy, which many at the time said was a “wake up call.” But how many of those same people hit the alarm and drifted off to sleep again. Since then the world has experienced alarm after alarm. Eventually it will be too late. Which brings us to the next one.

The Last Shofar: The Coming of the Lord

Then the Lord will appear over them,
    and his arrow will go forth like lightning;
the Lord God will sound the shofar
    and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. (Zechariah 9:14)

The day will come, when God himself will blow the shofar to signal the return of Messiah to call creation to account, and judge the world. No more opportunities to go back to sleep. No more chances. This is reiterated in the New Covenant Writings. Since it was originally written in Greek, we don’t know if it is referencing a trumpet or a horn, but the connection with the shofar is clear as is the point it makes:

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:50-55)

As the final blast marks the end of life as we know it, it also signals the beginning of the age to come, when death and all its effects will be no more. For some it will be a time of absolute dread, but for others the greatest moment of our lives. How can you be assured of eternal life? Here too, the shofar shows the way.

Substitution: Life for Life

He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns.  And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (Bereshit/Genesis 22:12-14)

The Hebrew word here is not actually shofar, but a synonym, “keren.” This reference from the first book of the Bible is foundational for everything else the shofar reminds us of. God’s requirement for the offering of Abraham’s son Isaac was fulfilled through the provision of a ram. All through Scripture the sacrificial system, as established by God, reminded the people that an offering of an innocent animal was a satisfactory substitute for sin. While this is foreign to most of us today, it is God’s way, all the while pointing the people of Israel to the perfect and final offering of the Messiah on our behalf. His life was accepted in place of ours, so that all who trust in him would live forever. It is no coincidence that among all the things that happened to him during his unjust arrest, trial, and execution that he was mocked by the Roman soldiers by their placing a crown of thorns on his head. Yeshua, like the ram of Abraham’s day, found himself caught in a thicket, and offered in our place, so like Isaac, we too may go free.

The shofar gives us so much to think about, but it is all meaningless unless we are in right relationship with God. By accepting Yeshua as God’s provision, everything else becomes clear. The shofar sound not only will reverberate in our ears, but the fullness of its meaning will find its way into our hearts.

Listen to the shofar now:

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

Why Go to Israel?

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As you may already be aware, this October, my wife, Robin, and I are leading a tour to Israel. But why? Visiting Israel at least once is a desire of many Bible believers. Who would not want to go and see the places where so many events of the Bible transpired? After hearing and reading about Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, and so on, and then to stand in these places, touch them, listen to the sounds, and smell the smells, how couldn’t the ancient past come alive, impacting the Bible with fresh meaning? Sounds like enough reason to go to me. But there’s even more to it than that, especially in how we have designed this particular tour experience.

 

Seeing the sites does indeed make the Bible come alive, but it seems to me that something more needs to happen. Maybe I am wrong, but even though most of us accept that the Bible is true – that its stories really happened – in our minds Israel and the Bible tend to live in the realm of myth. Touring Israel can easily become an overly romanticized, sentimental journey to a spiritual Disneyland, instead of an immersion into God’s practical and enduring reality.

 

The reestablishment of Israel after 2000 years of exile testifies to God’s ongoing faithfulness to his word and to his people. That is why a key component of this tour is connecting with some of what God is doing in the Land of Israel today as we get to know believers and various ministries there. Our hope is that we will come home not only knowing God and the Bible better, but also with a sense of connection to God’s work in Israel that will be with us for the rest of our lives.

 

Biblical truth is not a collection of abstract concepts, but a living, practical, on-the-ground reality. This tour, “God’s Faithfulness Then & Now,” will thrust us into the fullness of the Big Picture of God’s Epic Story.

We have just completed a promotional video, which you can see here. Please share it with friends by email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Special thanks to Dan Woods of Blue Mansion Media for producing this.

 

For more information about the tour, including a printable brochure and reservation forms, click here.

To make a reservation, contact Glenda by phone (toll-Free): 1-800-667-5559 (outside North America: 1-604-853-0751), ext: 365; or by email: glenda@mennotvl.com.

Why I Am Not Neutral

Not Neutral image“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, Author, Nobel Peace Laureate

Recent events, including the Israel/Gaza conflict, have helped to me to rethink what is the proper biblical response to social issues. Up until recently I have wrongly associated the need to demonstrate authentic love toward everyone, including our enemies (see Matthew 5:43-48), with neutrality.

A correct understanding of godly impartiality is illustrated through the heavenly messenger who appeared to Moses’ successor Joshua in preparation for entering the Promised Land. When Joshua first encountered this person, Joshua confronted him with the question, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13; ESV). The response is instructive, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come” (Joshua 5:14; ESV). God is supremely impartial and objective. His is always the side of right. The question we need to ask ourselves not whose side he is on, but are we on his side. Right has a side.

When we face the messiness of life, it may sound spiritual to be neutral. It may indeed be spiritual, but not a spirituality rooted in the Bible. In Buddhism, for example, to disengage from life’s concerns in pursuit of bliss is a value. Spirituality based on the God of the Bible is anything but that. Biblical spirituality is a call to engage, to get involved, to make a difference. Joshua wasn’t instructed to chill out, to “let go and let God,” as if faith is an alternate state of being, disconnected from life’s harsh realities. Faith is hearing God and obeying him. In Joshua’s case it was to lead the people of Israel in the acquisition of the Promised Land. Joshua’s faithful obedience to God resulted in dramatic consequences. Some benefited, others suffered. Decisive actions lead to definite results.

Neutrality will never produce the justice God requires. As we read in Proverbs.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
   hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
   does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
   and will he not repay man according to his work?
(Proverbs 24:11-12; ESV)

Effectively helping victims of injustice requires taking sides. If we are not willing or able to differentiate between abusers and victims, we will not be able to alleviate unjust suffering.

Following Yeshua (Jesus) calls us away from neutrality. He said:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39; ESV)

Yeshua’s coming forces people to be decisive with regard to what it means to truly follow God. Because of Yeshua, no one can afford the luxury of sitting on the sidelines.

One passage that is often used to fuel disengagement is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians 6:1-8. Paul here confronts the believers regarding how they are handling their grievances with one another. This passage is often wrongly used to prevent believers from effectively resolving conflict. Paul’s words in verse seven, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” are taken to mean that victims should always absorb wrongdoing. But that is not what is going on here. I discuss this more fully in a recent TorahBytes message (Expressing Concern – http://www.torahbytes.org/74-41.htm), but for our purposes here, let it suffice to say that Paul’s admonition to learn how to personally get along with each other should not be confused with the need to confront injustice. In fact, these words earlier in the passage should call us to be anything but neutral in the face of social issues:

Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! (1 Corinthians 6:2-3; ESV)

“How much more!” Paul says. Not less. While there is a time to tell people in conflict to stop acting like children and stop fighting, that is not the appropriate response in all situations. Not all problems can be solved by simply holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” or “Give Peace a Chance.” But whatever the problem, we will never find lasting solutions unless we stop being neutral and get on the right side of issues.

What does this mean for you and me?

That neutrality is not godly is clear, but how to determine which issues are worthy of our attention and how to deal with those issues is no easy task. Determining what God requires of each of us has to do with our calling and gifting along with the level of responsibility we bear and our sphere of influence. No one can effectively carry every legitimate care and concern in the world. We cannot even be expected to pray for every important issue there is. Each of us therefore, needs to be sensitive to the leading of God’s spirit in our hearts and lives that we would give ourselves to the things God is calling us to. Ultimately we all must answer to God. So as I share my concerns with you, I am content to encourage you to consider what I am saying, hoping that your response will be based, not on my will for your life, but God’s will.

What this has meant for me is that I have realized that I can no longer remain neutral over issues relating to the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. Until recently, my claim to neutrality has been based on my call as a Bible Teacher. Even though I have regarded that an aspect of my God-given task is to help people see the central role of Israel in the plan of God, I have continually emphasized (and rightly so!) that the term “Israel” in the Bible is the people, not the Land. The Land is the land of the people of Israel. Moreover, Israel in the Bible should not be immediately and necessarily associated with the modern State of Israel. Be that as it may, the Bible is clear that God’s commitment to the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob includes the Land. Therefore if I am called and equipped to teach the Bible, I must also teach what the Bible teaches regarding the Land.

As I do so, I am keenly aware that this, like any other issue, needs to be approached with love, compassion, and mercy for all. But as I have tried to explain, these virtues don’t lead to neutrality, but definitive godly justice.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not the only topic I will address. As I am given opportunities to teach and write, my prayer is that I will provide what is most helpful to God’s people at the time.

I have no plans to become obsessed with this issue. I still believe “all Scripture for all of life” (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In fact, it has been this pursuit that has kicked me off neutrality’s fence. My heart is to engage life as God intends. I hope I am calling you to do the same. This has to include every important personal and societal issue covering every aspect of life, Israel included.

Toward A Biblical Understanding of Israel & the Middle East

Map of IsraelWhile deserving of a much fuller discussion, I offer here an overview of what I understand to be the Bible’s perspective on the people and Land of Israel.

Brief biblical overview of Israel and the Land

The nation of Israel (as a people) was specially and purposely formed by God (Isaiah 43:1; 44:2).

The granting of the Land of Israel, as defined in Scripture, is an essential aspect of God’s unconditional eternal promise to the people of Israel.

  • God’s promise of the Land to Abraham is unconditional (Genesis 12:1-2; 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:5; 15:17-21; 17:8; 22:17).
  • Moses prophesied the restoration of Israel to both God and the Land (Deuteronomy 29-30).
  • Restoration of Israel to the Land is affirmed by the Prophets (Isaiah 11:11-12:6; 27:12-13; 43:5-7; Jeremiah 16:14-15; 23:3-4; 23:7-8; 31:7-10; Ezekiel 11:14-18; 28:24-26; 36:24; Amos 9:14-15; Zephaniah 3:18-20; Zechariah 10:8-12).

Israel’s covenant relationship with God as established through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is not dependent on their descendants’ obedience to God (Jeremiah 31:35-37; Romans 11:28- 29).

The Abrahamic and Sinai covenants are related but distinct (Galatians 3:15-18). The Jewish people’s lack of faithfulness to the Sinai (Old) Covenant resulted in the promise of a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34), which was established the Messiah (Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25). Both the Old and New Covenants are rooted in the Abrahamic one. Neither abrogates it (Romans 11:28- 29; Galatians 3:17-18).

Under the Sinai Covenant, restoration to God and to the Land was based on the unconditional Abrahamic covenant, not the conditional Sinai one (Leviticus 26:40-42).

“Israel” in the New Testament is never made synonymous with “The Church.” [1]

The “mystery of the Gospel,” which is the incorporation of the Gentiles into the spiritual blessings anticipated by Israel through faith in the Messiah is no reflection on the continued relevance of the covenant promise of Land to the people of Israel (Ephesians 3:6).

Individual salvation for Jewish people (as is true for all people) is only through faith in the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 4:12).

The church has a special responsibility to pray and work towards the spiritual restoration of the people of Israel (Romans 9:1-5; 11:30-32)

Israel’s covenant relationship to the Land is not undermined by the New Testament.

Gentile domination of Jerusalem is regarded as temporary (Luke 21:24).

  • When the apostles expressed their expectation of a literal kingdom, Jesus cautioned them regarding the timing, not the essence of their inquiry (Acts 1:6-8).
  • The New Jerusalem is intimately associated with physical Israel (Revelation 21:12-14).
  • While exile from the Land and/or non-Israelite rule over the Land is a sign of God’s disfavor over the people of Israel, God has never given the Promised Land to any other nation as a “possession” (Luke 21:24).

While God chooses from time to time to judge the people of Israel via foreign domination of and exile from the Land of Israel, unfaithfulness to God on the part of the majority of the people of Israel does not disqualify them from resettling the Land.[2]

Reflections

God’s covenant relationship with physical Israel is primarily about the people of Israel. The Land constitutes only one aspect of God’s promises to the people of Israel.

We can expect that through the Gospel and in the name of the Messiah, the people of Israel will be restored to both God and the Land.

There are no prophetic events that must necessarily precede the restoration of Israel to God and the Land.

The essential nature of faith in the Messiah for individual salvation does not undermine or lessen the reality of God’s purposes among the people of Israel, the Land of Israel, or the nations.

The concept of a modern Jewish national home within the boundaries of the Promised Land is biblical.

God’s covenant relationship with physical Israel doesn’t automatically justify the current return to the Land, Zionism, or necessarily endorse the policies of a particular Israeli government or Israeli political party.

Insofar as it is proper for believers in Messiah to speak into the policies and social issues of any nation (Matthew 28:18-20), so it is proper for godly people of good will and wisdom to speak into the policies and social issues of all the nations, organizations, and individuals involved in the current Middle East conflict.


[1] “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) need not mean “The Church”; “But a Jew is one inwardly” (Romans 2:29) is a reference to authentic spirituality, not a redefinition of “Jewish” that includes Gentile Christians.

[2] The return from Babylon occurred, not because of increased faithfulness on Israel’s part, but because the predetermined 70 years were completed. The whole second temple period was marked by foreign rule and oppression except for the Hasmonean period (140 – 37 BC).