During the season of Advent we are reminded of how our Savior came to earth through His chosen mother, Mary, who was part of the nation of Israel. The Lord's plan was that He would have a people who were set apart from the rest of the world. They were to be consecrated as holy to carry and deliver His presence to the world that was in desperate need of a Savior. He chose the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) to be His and established this nation with instructions on how to live in His ways. Israel's first responsibility was to minister to God and then they were to demonstrate His love to other nations so that they too would want to be part of God's family. As a branch is grafted into a root, we who have accepted Jesus as our Savior have been grafted into the root of Israel.
God's plan to bring heaven to earth started with a promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Unfortunately, the descendants of these patriarchs were enslaved in Egypt so that God raised up a deliverer in Moses. He began to display His miraculous power as they were delivered and as Moses was leading them into the Promised Land. He gave instructions to Moses on how His people were to live in the form of the Ten Commandments. Then He instructed him to build a tabernacle and a chest made of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold that would house the Testimony (Ten Commandments). The chest was called the ark and was a symbol of God's presence. It was holy and was housed in the "Most Holy Place" of the tabernacle.
The cloud of God's presence rose from above the ark and went before the Israelites. When the cloud moved the Israelites move. God made it clear that only Aaron and his sons, priests from the Levite tribe, could carry the ark to a new resting place when the cloud moved. They were to carry it by poles that were in rings attached to the ark. The poles would rest on their shoulders as they moved. God told Moses, "I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites...The Levites are mine." "Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death." (Exodus 3:10,12) Aaron and his sons were consecrated (set apart) to serve the Lord as priests. Blood sacrifices—burnt and fellowship offerings—were made before the Lord in a seven-day ordination ceremony. (Exodus 29:35) Sacrifices had to be continually made by the priests so that they were able to carry the ark of the Lord's presence. Their job included not only carrying God's presence but delivering God's Word to the people.
Fast forward with me to the time when God ordained that His Son would come to earth. Just as He selected consecrated priests to carry His Presence in the ark, He needed a human ark, so to speak, to hold and carry and eventually deliver His Presence. As we know, He selected Mary, a virgin from the tribe of Judah, to do this. God sent His angel Gabriel to tell Mary that she had found favor with God and would carry God's son, Jesus. (Luke 2:1-7) Mary humbly stepped into the role of a priest, sacrificing her life so that she could carry and deliver God's Presence on earth. In Mary's song she glorifies God and recalls the mercy He extends to those who fear Him. She also tells about how God kept His promise to Abraham and his descendants.
God commissioned both the Levitical priests and Mary to carry His Presence. He chose to dwell in the temples of men. He still does it today. We are part of the priestly order of individuals who have been commissioned to carry His Presence and to deliver/reveal the fullness of God's glory to those around us. It requires us to draw increasingly closer to Him and to sacrifice our life styles in order to live in accordance with His standards. As priests we are to be intercessors for others and to be deliverers of God's Word. We are the ones that make the God of Israel accessible to the people of the nations. When we present the Word of God in its fullness we are revealing a mystery of God (Christ) that is written about in Colossians 1:26-27. "God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." We carry the glory of God, dear ones. Remember this truth and live to reveal His glory.
Thanksgiving is a natural element of Christian worship. It is intertwined with praise, and I believe that these two cannot be separated. Praise is the way that we respond to God's revelation of Himself. The word praise comes from a Latin word that means to value. When we praise God we proclaim His worth, give Him honor and glory, express admiration and pay Him tribute. Praise of God is a major theme in the Bible and terms used to express that praise are thanksgiving, blessing, glory and hallelujah (meaning "praise the Lord").
When we give thanks we express our gratitude to Him and our appreciation for who He is and what He has done. There is nothing like the book of Psalms to help us in our expression of thanks. In fact, the Hebrew title Psalms has the same root as hallelujah—praises. The Greek word psalmoi means songs. Therefore, Psalms are songs of praise.
Psalms were written for Israel's use as they worshiped in the temple. The book of Psalms has been called the Hymnbook of Israel. King David realized the importance of giving thanks and praise to God and appointed Levites to do so. "He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel." (1 Chronicles 16:4) 1 Chronicles 16:7-30 is the Psalm of Thanks that David wrote for them to use. The first 15 verses of Psalm 105 are the same as 1 Chronicles 16. The Levites were to help Aaron's descendants (the priests) with the service of the temple. "They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. They were to do the same in the evening and whenever burnt offerings were presented to the Lord on Sabbaths and the New Moon festivals and the appointed feasts." (1 Chronicles 23:30-31)
The verses of Psalms cover a thousand years from Moses to 5th century B.C. David wrote most of them but there were also contributions from Solomon, Asaph, the Sons of Korah and Moses. The Psalms are a reflection of these men's encounters with God and the resulting meditations of the heart that were inspired by those encounters. They give us instructions on how to worship God. God's characteristics are affirmed throughout the Psalms and include righteousness, justice, goodness, faithfulness, generosity, grace, compassion, holiness and love. We are given a revelation of God in nature and in His Word. We see that He is a covenant-keeping God. There is also a prophetic revelation of our Messiah with descriptions of how He was to live and die on earth and reign in heaven.
Thanksgiving is meant to be an attribute of every part of our lives. "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness." (Colossians 2:6-7) Praise and thanksgiving should be a part of our everyday life in addition to our corporate readings, songs and testimonies.
Through thanksgiving and praise we begin to open up the heavenly realm. "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations." (Psalm 100:4-5) Psalm 136 is a compilation of all that the Lord did for the Israelites in creating the earth, bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, and leading them through the desert into the Promised Land. After every remembrance there is a declaration: "His love endures forever." This is the greatest reason to give Him thanks and praise. We can rest in the truth that the Lord's love will never end and is always with us. Let us remember the Lord's goodness, faithfulness and enduring love as we gather around the Thanksgiving table this week. We have innumerable reasons to give Him thanks and praise. I pray that you will sense His great love for you as you give Him thanks and praise.
The 9th month on the Hebrew calendar is called Kislev and is associated with the Hebrew letter SAMEKH which pictures trust, support and coming full circle. This being the case, it is the month when we should be able to attain greater levels of peace and rest. One of the ways to do this is to give thanks to God. It is fitting that the holiday of Thanksgiving falls in this month. Set aside time to remember and recount the ways in which the Lord has been faithful to you during the past year. You may even want to share some of the thanks with those you join at the Thanksgiving table.
God uses the constellation Sagittarius (the archer) to mark the sky in the month of Kislev. Isn't it interesting that this month is linked with the tribe of Benjamin, one whose descendants were skilled in handling the bow? (1 Chronicles 8:40 and 2 Chronicles 12:2) "This is the month to receive prophetic revelation for war," says Chuck Pierce, in his book A Time to Advance.
Benjamin was the only son born to Jacob in the Promised Land. He was born between Bethel (House of God) and Bethlehem (House of Bread). Therefore, we should be watching what is happening in Israel during this month. Benjamin had two interesting prophecies spoken over his life. The first one was by his father Jacob/Israel: "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder." (Genesis 49:27) Before Moses died he assembled the sons of Jacob and blessed them: "About Benjamin he said, 'Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders.'" (Deuteronomy 33:12) These prophecies describe two components of Kislev--preparation for war and peace and rest.
We can see in Scripture that two prophets received revelation for God's people in the month of Kislev. Haggai reminded God's people of the consequences of moral defilement. The word was taken seriously, work on the temple started again, and God promised to bless them agriculturally as a sign of restored favor. Again, Haggai shared the word of the Lord—this time with Zerubbabel, governor of Judah. Through this prophet, God declared: "I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms...on that day...I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel...and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you..." (Haggai 2:21-23) This prophecy is timely for us as it was for the people of Judah. It refers to the final destruction of the kingdom of the earth before the establishment of the Messianic kingdom.
Zechariah also received the word of the Lord for the exiles who returned to Jerusalem. He reminded them of the decline in their faith and of the way they turned a deaf ear to the Lord. However, the Lord's jealousy for His people overrode His anger, and He promised to redeem and restore them. (Zechariah 7 - 8) He declared that the fasts of the 5th, 7th and 10th months would be joyful and encouraged them to "love truth and peace." (Zechariah 8:19)
The month of Kislev is to be one of tranquility and peace in us. Even though this is the month to develop war strategies God has declared that as we abide in Him, peace will flow like a river. In the midst of warfare, we are to go on the offensive, as peace will lead us.
The Lord will be stirring up dreams and visions in the night in order to draw them out of us. Pay attention to this in your life as God is giving you revelation for the future. Chuck Pierce tells us in his book that if we have irregularities in our sleep patterns it may be because of past traumas in our lives. Tune your spirit to the Spirit of God so that He can bring up what you need to deal with and heal you. Recall that this is the month to let the river of God's peace flow in you.
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that begins in Kislev and ends in Tevet (the 10th month). Join the celebration of Hanukkah. Its message of mercy in the midst of destruction is powerful. Remember that the Lord is with us. His light will never go out and "His mercy endures forever." (Psalm 107:1 – NKJ)
In the northeast section of the United States there is a six to eight week period of time where the trees put on a glorious display. Colors change from week to week. Some trees lose their leaves a few at a time while others shed their beauty all at one time. Such is the case for an October Glory Red Maple on the front island of my boss's home. When I came to work last week I was so taken by the carpet of red underneath the Large Maple. Almost every leaf had fallen, and the ground was covered in a sea of red. As I looked at the tree throughout the day, God began to use the display to make an analogy with the life of Jesus Christ.
From the moment He was born He carried the glory of Father God. The angels and the stars in the heavens declared the glory of the baby boy. The Magi, when they saw Jesus, "bowed down and worshiped Him." (Matthew 2:11) When He was 12 years old Jesus was taken to the Passover Feast by His parents. He went to the Temple courts where He amazed everyone who heard Him because of His great understanding. (Luke 2:47)
After spending 40 days in the wilderness and being tempted by the devil, He "returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit." On the Sabbath He went to the synagogue where He had been raised and read the scroll of Isaiah 61 where he declared the truth that the "Spirit of the Lord is on me." (Luke 4:18) Throughout the life of Jesus the glory of the LORD was revealed through healings, miraculous events and raising of the dead to life. People in His day were drawn to Him because He carried the glory of God.
At the end of His life, Jesus revealed the glory of God in His death. He gave everything He had to His Father, and His blood was spilled on the ground beneath Him. The centurion watching the crucifixion declared, "Surely this was a righteous man." (Luke 23:47) Like the red leaves that fell from the Maple tree, the blood of Jesus made a carpet of red. His breath was removed, and He was taken away to be buried. After three days, the Son of Man rose again and fresh glory surrounded Him. Likewise, the Maple tree will bloom again with small red flowers followed by new leaves that will repeat the cycle of glory.
As I contemplated the events of the life of Jesus, the Lord brought to my mind a song written by Chris Tomlin called "At the Cross" -
"There's a place where mercy reigns and never dies.
There's a place where streams of grace flow deep and wide.
All the love, I've ever found, comes like a flood, comes flowing down.
At the Cross, at the Cross, I surrender my life. I'm in awe of You; I'm in awe of You.
Where Your love ran red, and my sins washed white; I owe all to You; I owe all to You. Jesus."
Our Savior gave it all for us! He had nothing else to give. He accomplished what Father God gave Him to do--living a life of glory, releasing stages of beauty as He reflected the glory of heaven. He was hung on a tree that had also given its life to be used in an act of unthinkable horror, but the glory never left Jesus. It was there, on full display, for all to see. The glory of the Lord lives forever and just as the Scripture tells us "God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:9-11)
The people of Israel have a long history of difficulties, controversies and turmoil. Their enemies are relentless and have never stopped devising plans to destroy them. Presently, Iran is in the process of developing nuclear capability so that they can bomb Israel. At the same time individual Arabs who live around Jerusalem have gone on the attack by knifing Jews or driving cars into them.
On the surface, this picture does not look good. However, this is only a portion of the picture. One must widen their perspective and remember the God of Israel and His names. We must not focus on the circumstances but on who He is. God reveals His nature and character to His people through His many names. His names invite us to get to know Him. He has disclosed His names in Scripture. I am sure that the disclosure is meant to deepen our faith in God, His availability to us and His love for us.
One of Israel's greatest needs is for hope. Is it not also one of our greatest needs? Life presents us with difficulties that we feel unequipped to handle. At times we feel hopeless as we evaluate the challenges that are before us. God is well aware of these situations in our lives. Before time began, our all-knowing God recognized that His people would need an anchor for their souls, someone to trust and to turn to. He made Himself known through His name, Hope of Israel (Miqweh Yisrael).
Hope is intricately weaved with trust. Different versions of Scripture use these words together. "But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." (Jeremiah 7:7-8-NIV) "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord." (Jeremiah 17:7 - NKJ)
The question arises in me: "How can we strengthen our hope in God (the God of Hope)?" I believe there are several ways to do this: The prophet Isaiah shows us the give and take between hope/waiting and strength. "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength..."(Isaiah 40:31 - NIV) "Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength..." (Isaiah 40:31 - NKJ) Waiting on God implies hope. We wait for God's perspective on our situations, and we hope in his faithfulness, which strengthens us.
God, the Hope of Israel, sent His son, Jesus Christ, as a picture of hope. "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf..." (Hebrews 6:19-20) As we keep our eyes upon Jesus, our hope will be strengthened.
The Word of God is meant to give us hope. We read many stories of how God showed up for His people and saved them when they were in situations that looked impossible. Psalm 119:81 says, "My soul faints with longing for Your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your Word."
Worship is also meant to strengthen our hope in God. "You are holy, who inhabits the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted and You delivered them." (Psalm 22:3-4 - NKJ)
Meditate on God's names. They are ever before us to strengthen our hope. "I will praise You forever for what You have done; in Your name I will hope, for Your name is good. I will praise You in the presence of Your saints." (Psalm 52:9) Those of us who believe in Jesus as our Savior have been grafted into the Olive Tree (Israel) and "now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root." (Romans 11:17) The Hope of Israel is our Hope. Strengthen your hope.
Joan E. Mathias