Sprinkled throughout the Old Testament are signs that point to Jesus, the Messiah. In the New Testament we see the fulfillment of these words. Some of the most astonishing words were spoken to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." (Luke 2:11-12 - NKJ) Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus the prophet Micah made two statements that pointed directly to the Savior and the places that would be impacted by His birth. "As for you, watchtower of the flock (Migdal Eder), stronghold of Daughter of Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem." (Micah 4:8) "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)
Is it not fitting that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem (Joseph's hometown) to register for the census that was being taken? As they neared Bethlehem, they would have passed Migdal Eder (The Tower of the Flock) which sat in the middle of the six miles between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There were special sheepherders, called Levitical Shepherds, at this location. They would have come from the tribe of Levi and were chosen and trained to care for the flock of sheep that produced the sacrificial lambs for the Temple. The Tower had two levels and two purposes. Midgal Eder was initially used as a military tower to defend Bethlehem. The shepherds used the second story as a watch tower to look out for the sheep and protect them from predators and wild animals. The first story of the Tower had another purpose. Shepherds would bring the pregnant ewes into the Tower for birthing. Babies were swaddled at birth so that they did not harm themselves. Then they were laid in a manger until they calmed down.
One year-old male lambs would be herded to Jerusalem for Passover on a day called the Day of Lambs. Here the priests would inspect them and choose those without spot or blemish. During Passover, a lamb was needed for every household. Jenee Baldwin wrote in "The Dawson Creek Mirror" on December 25, 2019, that 250,000 sheep would have been needed each year to accommodate Passover. Every firstborn male lamb was marked as holy and set aside for sacrifice. When born, only the lambs born at Migdal Eder would be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.
The need for blood sacrifices came about in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. Blood was required to cover sin. A covenant was made with cutting and shedding of blood for life is in the blood. The flocks at Migdal Eder were considered sacred. They were meant to atone for sin and make peace with God. The birth, life, and death of Jesus is linked with the lambs destined for the Temple. He was born among the Temple flocks, wrapped in priestly cloths after being born in a stable, and placed in a manger (a feeding trough). Prophecy was fulfilled at His birth. He was a sign from God that the "Perfect Lamb of God" came to end animal sacrifices for He was the ultimate sacrifice.
After the three-year ministry of Jesus was completed, the Lamb of God was nailed to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. His blood was spilled while the priests would have been slaughtering the Passover lambs. Jesus was born to die and restore our covenant with God. "And this will be a sign to you," the angel said to the shepherds. The sign still speaks to us today! Jesus came to give us everlasting life. John the Baptist called it out: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) Our celebration of Christmas is intertwined with Passover. God's gift to us is one that keeps on giving. Eternal life has been imparted to us who accept and believe and receive the Sign.
Shepherd and author Phillip Killer gives us insight into the basic tools of the shepherd in the Middle East. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, he shares how he used to watch the African herdsmen tending their sheep with only a "long slender stick and a rough knob-kerrie." (A short stick with a knob at the top) Shepherds in the making take immense pride in selecting their first rod and staff. A young sapling is selected to be carved and whittled down. The enlarged base of the sapling is shaped to fit perfectly in its owner's hand.
Phillip Keller says about the rod: "It is an extension of the owner's own right arm. It stood as a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation. The rod was what he relied on to safeguard both himself and his flock in danger. And it is, furthermore, the instrument he used to discipline and correct any wayward sheep that insisted on wandering away." Remember how Moses was called out of shepherding sheep by God to confront Pharaoh? He used his shepherd's rod to demonstrate the power of God. Miracles were manifest not only to convince Pharaoh of God's purpose for His people but also as a tool of reassurance for them. Ultimately, Moses shepherded God's flock out of Egypt.
Psalm 23:4 explains that our Good Shepherd uses His rod and staff to comfort us. Comfort comes as we realize that the rod of God is an extension of the Shepherd. Jesus, our Messiah, the Word of God, is God's rod. Messiah came as the Word of God. This is explained in John 1:1-2 and 14. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us..." As the Rod of God, Jesus is an extension of who God is. This was prophesied by the prophet Isaiah. "A shoot (rod) will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him..." (Isaiah 11:1-2)
Based on John 1, Scriptures are God's rod, "an extension of His mind and will and intentions to mortal man," according to Phillip Keller. We are kept in the comfort of the flock of the Lord through the Shepherd's rod. We are disciplined with this same tool. The Word of God should come swiftly to correct us and keep us walking in the right direction. Another interesting use of the Word is referred to in Ezekiel 20:37. "I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant." As Keller explains, "A sheep that passed under the rod was one which had been counted and looked over with great care to make sure all was well with it." Every evening and morning a shepherd counts his sheep, calls them by name, and checks to see that his body is healthy and free from pests. Since the rod is an extension of the Lord, it is always ready to be used as an instrument of protection.
Just as Jesus used the rod of the Word against Satan in the wilderness, we who believe in Jesus Christ have the Word as an extension of our being, ready to use when attacks come from the realm of darkness. The Word is powerful to shape us so that we fit into the hand of the Lord to be used as an instrument of direction and authority. Here is another aspect of the Lord, God's Son, we need to consider. Father God shaped His son to be a rod in His hand. It was necessary for Jesus to become a sacrifice in God's hand so that He could make a way for us. God's Son became the sacrificial Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd.
Is it any wonder that God included shepherds in the story of the birth of Messiah? Like their sheep, they passed under the rod of God. They were recognized and called to participate in the story of the birth of Jesus, the Good Shepherd who loves and cares for us all. With His rod, He watches over us, cares for and directs us, and will ultimately bring us safely into our heavenly home. We must remember that we play a part in the story of the Lord as an extension of His hand. Here is a question for us: "What do we have in our hands?" Like the shepherds when they told the story of the birth of Jesus, let us hold onto the Word and make it a priority in our lives so that we can amaze those around us with the truth of the Rod of God.
It is said of Abraham that he left his home "with only a promise and without even knowing ahead of time where he was going. Abraham stepped out in faith." (Hebrews 11:8 - TPT) He is called "The Father of Our Faith" since he was the first one in his family line to believe God and take action because of it. However, it is some of the women of faith I want to focus on, starting with Sarah. Hebrews 11:11 tells us, "And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered Him faithful who made the promise." Here is how the Passion Translation says this: "Sarah's faith embraced God's miracle power to conceive even though she was barren and was past the age of childbearing, for the authority of her faith rested in the One who made the promise, and she tapped into His faithfulness." This is a word picture for us!
In her devotional 31 Degrees of Blessing for Your Life, Pat King says, "Faith is our God-given downloader and connector to His promises." The power of the Word of God is released through faith. Mary's encounter with the angel Gabriel is one that demonstrates her faith in God. He told Mary that the Holy Spirit would fall upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her so that she would carry the Son of God in her womb. Gabriel affirmed Mary's faith by telling her that her relative Elizabeth was pregnant after being called "the barren one." Then he declared, "Not one promise from God is empty of power, for nothing is impossible with God!" (Luke 1:37 - TPT) Mary's response is telling: "As His servant, I accept whatever He has for me. May everything you have told me come to pass." (Luke 1:38 - TPT)
God uses Elizabeth to affirm Mary's faith in Him. Prophetically she reveals to her, "Mary! You are a woman given the highest favor and privilege above all others. For your child is destined to bring God great delight...Great favor is upon you, for you have believed every word spoken to you from the Lord." (Luke 1:42, 45 - TPT) Then Mary released a prophetic song where she glorified the Lord for what He was doing. The song ended with a remembrance of God's promise to Abraham. "He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors." (Luke 1:54-55) Mary understood that through the Christ child she carried, God was demonstrating His faithfulness to the promise He made to Abraham who willingly bound his son Isaac for sacrifice. "'I swear by myself,' declares the Lord, 'that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me.'" (Genesis 22:16-18)
I believe Mary had heard the story of Abraham and Isaac and believed that God, who was faithful to Abraham, would be faithful to her. Perhaps she would have recalled the Psalms that were handed down through the generations. "For God's Word is something to sing about! He is true to His promises; His Word can be trusted, and everything He does is reliable and right." (Psalm 33:4 - TPT) "...And He is famous for His faithfulness toward all. Everyone knows our God can be trusted, for He keeps His promises to every generation!" (Psalm 100:5 - TPT)
The Christmas season should remind us of God's miracle power and His faithfulness to His promises. Are you waiting on the Lord to fulfill a promise in your life? We must focus our faith on Him, the One who made the promise. We must trust in who He is, not on what He will do. Let faith connect us to the Faithful One and to His promises. Tap into His faithfulness!
The historical event called Chanukah or Festival of Dedication should speak to the Church in this season. The chaotic, volatile, and corrupt days we are living in are similar to those that the Jews were experiencing in 165 BC. When the Assyrian army invaded Jerusalem darkness began to overcome light. Jews were forbidden by the Assyrians from practicing their faith. Called "Hellenization," the invaders' goal was to absorb the Jews into the Greek culture. Some among the Jews were embracing the alternative lifestyles and living outside of Godly boundaries. This led to persecution of those Jews who were trying to live according to God's ways. Those who were faithful to God's laws were caught in a trap.
The final straw came when the priests were required to bow down to idols and the altar of the Temple was defiled as a pig was sacrificed on it. A priest named Mattathias and his son, Judah, were so distressed by this unconscionable act that they gathered a small army of men who engaged in guerilla warfare for three years. On Kislev 25 they were able to overtake the Assyrian army and reentered the defiled Temple. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Temple. After the Levite priests relit the lampstand (Menorah), they discovered that there was only enough oil to burn for one day. It took the priests eight days to make fresh oil, and miraculously, this is how long the lampstand burned. The Lord intervened to keep the lights burning. Hence, Chanukah is also called The Festival of Lights (Hag ha-urim).
Symbolically, the Chanukah Menorah has eight candles with a ninth one in the center. Called the "Servant Candle" or "Shamash," its job is to light the other eight candles. The Shamash is the first candle to be lit during Chanukah and is then used each night to light the other eight candles. The prophet Isaiah foretold of a man of God who would come as a servant. "See, my servant will act wisely, He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at Him—His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness—so He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand." (Isaiah 52:13-15) It is no accident that the middle candle is called "The Servant" and is used to light the others.
Jesus, the Servant of God, is "the true light that gives light to everyone..." (John 1:9) He told a crowd of people, "I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) The position of the Shamash on the Menorah is significant. Not only is it in the center, but it sits higher than all the other candles. The higher a light sits, the greater its impact. We see how Isaiah prophesied about the lifting up of the Servant. Jesus confirmed His position and His calling in John 12:32. 'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." In verse 36 Jesus gives this admonition to His followers: "Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light."
The candles of the Menorah were lit with anointing oil, a sign of separation and holiness. The name Jesus Christ is significant in both Hebrew and Greek. Messiah (Hebrew) and Christos (Greek) mean the Anointed One. Our Lord provides the oil of anointing and the light! He is the Shamash that ignites our flames and lights up our lives. Do you see the prophetic significance of the Menorah for the Church? The eight-day celebration of The Feast of Dedication should speak volumes to us. Let us remember the themes of Chanukah: Dedication, The Faithfulness of God, and The Victory of Light over Darkness. Let us also pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters who will light the first candle on their Menorahs tonight. May their eyes be opened to the truth that the Servant Candle is a representation of their Messiah who calls them to faith in Him.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving and a time to look back at God’s consistent faithfulness to America. Those who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to begin a new nation were guided by the Lord to establish a place where He would be worshiped, and freedom of religion would be practiced. One of the meanings of the noun pilgrim is "a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons." Our national holiday had its origins from the 1621 autumn feast held by the Pilgrims and the local Indians. The feast was meant to celebrate the harvest and the blessings of the past year. Included in the first Thanksgiving were 53 Pilgrims made up of four women, 14 young boys and girls, 13 infants and young children, and 22 men according to David Barton, the founder of Wall Builders. They joined 90 Indian warriors from the Wampanoag tribe. For three days they dined on game, vegetables, corn bread, and berries. In between eating, they engaged in competitions including running, wresting, and shooting. As students of the Bible, the Pilgrims sought to apply its principles. They spent time thanking God for delivering them from a land of persecution and bringing them to America where the native people taught them how to survive and prosper in their new land.
Looking back to the time when the Pilgrims were instituting a way of life in the "New World," we can see that their civil government started with the Mayflower Compact. Their belief in equality for everyone was demonstrated when all the passengers on the ship signed the Compact. Jon Hamill, a descendant of a Pilgrim and co-founder of Lamplighter Ministries, described the atmosphere when the original signers of the Compact gathered together: "The move of the Holy Spirit was with them. In fact, when they wrote the Mayflower Compact...they said, 'In the presence of God, and one another.' They honored the presence of God, knowing that God had sent them apostolically across the waters to found a nation in freedom, to found a nation in covenant with Christ."
There is no doubt that a Christian heritage formed the basis for our country. As America prospered, those from other nations began to take note of her successes. Dr. Ben Carson, in his book, America the Beautiful, shares that in 1831 a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville came to decipher the secrets of America's success. He wrote, "I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...in her fertile fields and boundless forests, in her rich mines and vast world commerce, in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if American ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
Alexis also wrote, "The religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention...In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reign in common over the same country." I think we can see evidence that 400 years after the first Thanksgiving and the enactment of the Mayflower Compact, our foundations are under attack. Religion and freedom are marching in opposite directions. The model for the laws incorporated into our Bill of Rights and the basis for all education—the Bible—has been cast aside. We must ask ourselves why many of today's pulpits are not flaming with righteousness and the goodness of America is compromised. The foundations of America must be rebuilt! It is time for us to embrace the legacy that the Pilgrims left for us. This Thanksgiving we should be on our knees in repentance for our cavalier attitude toward God and His Word. It is time for us to shore up our foundations with prayer and declarations from the Bible. Jesus told His disciples, "Men always ought to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1 - NKJ) We must thank God for our Christian heritage and be faithful in our prayers for our nation and the church.
"Be joyful at your festival," it says in Deuteronomy 16:14 about the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. How could we not celebrate this festival that is a picture of the Lord sitting at our table of rejoicing with us? Some prefer to say that the Lord will tabernacle or dwell with us. I find the details of all that happens during Sukkot particularly fascinating this year, because it is a Shemitah year—a year of rest. Leviticus 25 shares how God's people are to live during the seventh year. "When you enter the land, I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord," (Verses 2-4) "You may ask, 'What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?' I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years." (Verses 20-21) Here we have God's promise to be faithful to us as we are faithful to His Word.
A report written by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz in Biblical News on March 16 explains an interesting application of this requirement as it pertains to the Pool of Siloam, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the water libation ceremony (Nisuch Hamayim) performed in the Temples in Israel. The water libation ceremony is part of the oral tradition handed down from Moses. Water was collected daily from the Pool of Siloam in golden vessels and brought to the Temple. This ceremony was one of extraordinary joy as those who escorted the priests to the Pool would sing and play musical instruments. When all the people returned to the Temple, water and wine were poured on the altar as a sacrifice that accompanied their worship of God. When the libation ceremony was repeated by the worshipers every day, the excitement built until the seventh day when the joy and celebration was at its height.
It is significant that Tabernacles is celebrated at the end of the dry season. Israel has no rain for approximately six months. The pouring out of the water on the altar is a significant sacrifice every year. Prayers asking for the rains to come during the next six months are part of the libation ceremony. Those prayers were answered by God in a dramatic way this past year. It is reported that two years ago a contingent of Kohanim (priests), Levites, and Jews descended to the Pool of Siloam in the Old City of Jerusalem to collect water for the libation ceremony. They were shocked that there was barely enough water to fill their golden vessels. The good news is that after six years of drought, God blessed Israel with such an abundant rainy season that the Pool of Siloam is overflowing. The Sea of Galilee was also at its lowest level in many years and has recovered to such an extent that it is within 12 centimeters of being full.
Bountiful crops cannot occur in the sixth year without bountiful amounts of water. Here is where God made good on His promise: "I will send such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years." (Leviticus 25:21) We can count on the faithfulness of God. He is a promise keeper who loves to bless us with "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine." (Ephesians 3:20)
God is beyond understanding! He is faithful to His promises and made that clear to His people when He was teaching them not to worry. "Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds." (Luke 12:24) Our world is in turmoil with cataclysmic and destructive events, evil agendas to destroy our families and our nation, and increases in sickness and death. Israel is in the thick of a battle for her life, and yet God provided rain for the Pool of Siloam. How much more does He care about us? Be joyful! One of the Hallel Psalms read at the Feast of Tabernacles is Psalm 118. The end of this Psalm is so encouraging: "The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar...Give thanks to the Lord, for He is Good; His love endures forever." (Verses 27 and 29)
Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) is considered the holiest day on God's calendar and begins this year on the eve of September 15. It is called a Mo'edim or divine appointment with God. There is no day like it, and it is celebrated by the Jewish people with fasting and prayer. On the first day of the seventh month (Tishrei) on the Hebrew calendar, the shofar is blown to signify the beginning of the new year and the "Ten Days of Awe," a time of remembrance, contemplation, and repentance that culminates on Yom Kippur.
God initiated this special day to be one like no other. It was the only day when He allowed the High Priest of Israel to enter the Most Holy Place in the Temple by rending the veil. It was on Mt. Sinai that God gave Moses instruction on how to live by giving him the ten commandments, the laws concerning servants, personal injuries, property protection, justice and mercy, the Sabbath, and the annual festivals. After a covenant was made between God and the Israelites, He gave them instructions on how to make a sanctuary for Him. The Ark of the Covenant was to be placed in the Most Holy Place and was protected from everyone with a barrier or thick veil. It was constructed of acacia wood overlaid with pure gold. Two cherubim were made with hammered gold and connected to the cover of the ark at either end. The wings of the cherubim spread upward so that they overshadowed the cover. (Exodus 25:10-22)
Leviticus 23:26-28 gives instructions on how to live on Yom Kippur. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Be careful to celebrate the Day of Atonement on the tenth day of the same month—nine days after the Festival of Trumpets. You must observe it as an official day for holy assembly, a day to deny yourselves and present special gifts to the Lord. Do not work during the entire day because it is the Day of Atonement, when offerings of purification are made for you, making you right with the Lord your God.’” (NLT) The Lord made it clear to Moses that his brother, Aaron the high priest, could not go into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain at any time or he would die. He could only enter once a year, and first he had to bring a sin and burnt offering. He had to bathe with water before putting on his garments made of pure linen. He had to take with him a censer of burning coals from the altar, two handfuls of finely ground, fragrant incense, and blood from the sacrificial bull and goat to sprinkle on the front of the atonement cover. The blood was to cleanse the Israelites from their sin. (See Leviticus 16)
Did you ever wonder how this blood sacrifice on the mercy seat between the wings of the cherubim came about? We must look back to original sin that came from Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:24 tells us this: "After He drove them out, He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life." The cherubim of the ark were patterned after those placed at the entrance of the Garden of Eden. God would not be content to leave things this way, however. He has always desired face-to-face communion with all His children. God had a plan to remove the veil or barrier between us and Him. It was the shed blood of Jesus that permanently overcame the barrier.
Today we look at the blood of our Messiah as the sacrifice that makes the way for us to go behind the veil. His sacrifice gives us permission to go there anytime and as often as we desire. Hebrews 10:19-22 confirms our position of favor. "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain that is His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings..." On Yom Kippur let us remember the invitation that God gives to us all year long through the blood of His Son. Let us honor the sacrifice that has been made for us by pursuing a relationship with the Lord.
Can you imagine asking God to give you a son year after year? That is what Abraham and Sarah did. And it was not until Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 years old that their desires were fulfilled. What a test of faith and perseverance they endured! But God had a plan and a perfect time for the birth of Isaac. Abraham and Sarah would know for sure that only God's power and love brought about the birth of their son Isaac. As God was announcing His plans, He said, "But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year." (Genesis 17:21)
Now imagine how much Abraham and Sarah loved Isaac and how they protected him from difficulties and controversies because he was their only child. Is it possible that Abraham loved Isaac more than he loved God? We do not know, but we do know that God tested Abraham's faith. "Take your son, your only son—Yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will show you." (Genesis 22:2 - NLT) Scripture tells us that Abraham got up early the next morning to prepare for the journey in immediate obedience to God. The trip from Beersheba to Moriah was about 50-60 miles and took three days. When they arrived, Abraham instructed his servants to remain a distance from their final destination. He said, "I will worship and then we will come back to you." (Genesis 22:5) Abraham placed the wood on his son while he carried the fire and knife.
At their destination, Abraham built an altar, tied his son, and laid him on the wood. As Abraham lifted his knife to kill Isaac, an angel of the Lord called to him and told him to stop because He could see Abraham feared God. God had provided the ram in the thicket. It was caught by its horns. The ram was sacrificed instead of Isaac, and Abraham called the place, "The Lord Will Provide," (Jehovah Jireh). Genesis 22:14 tells us, "And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.'"
The story is of particular interest to the Jews at the beginning of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah). Genesis 22, called the Akedah in Hebrew, or the "Binding of Isaac," is read. They link the blowing of the ram's horn to the ram that was provided to Abraham for sacrifice in place of Isaac. As the shofar is blown, it reminds them of Abraham's obedience. The Jews believe that Abraham's descendants are pardoned based on his merit.
God's promise to Abraham that his descendants would come through Isaac may have helped Abraham go through with the binding of Isaac and raising of his knife to kill him. Hebrews 1:19 suggests this: "Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death." In any event, the story of Isaac reminds us of God's mercy, grace, and provision for sin. We see continuity between the Old and New Testament. Father Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to Father God, and Father God was willing to sacrifice His only son Jesus to redeem us from our sins. The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is a prophetic picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
May I suggest that we reread the story of the Binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 during the Jewish New Year. As we do, let us remember how the Lord taught Abraham that forgiveness of sin does not come through our sacrifice but through that of the Lord, Yeshua, Jesus. Let us also repent for our sins, bless the Lord for His provision, and pray that the Jewish people will come to know the truth of their Messiah in this New Year.
God's three main feasts--Passover Pentecost, and Tabernacles--are shadows of Messiah. The Fall Feasts prophecy the Lord's second coming and paint a picture of Christ's return to bring His Bride unto Himself. Each feast has a specific spiritual transaction for us that draws us closer to God. Passover brought redemption, Pentecost brought the Holy Spirit, and Tabernacles looks forward to the second coming of the Lord.
The cycles ordained by God are for rest and refreshment and increasing intimacy with the Lord. All of them are wrapped around the number seven and occur weekly, monthly, and yearly. As we align ourselves with God's cycles of life, His blessings are poured out upon us. When we keep God's divine appointments we will walk in a blessed lifestyle. Let us keep in mind that God's intent is for His church to celebrate His feasts forever. Leviticus 23:37 talks about the fall feasts and says, "This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, wherever you live." Sadly, many Christian churches today have moved far away from God's appointed times of rest and celebration except for the weekly one. Is it not time for us to change our mindset? Paul gives us advice in Romans 12:2. "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..."
Just as the Church has Advent, a time of preparation to celebrate the birth of Messiah, the high holy days of the Fall Feasts begin in the sixth month on the Hebrew calendar, called Elul. From the beginning of Elul until the 10th day (Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement) in the seventh month called Tishrei, there is a time of preparation for meeting the King. Preparation includes repentance, forgiveness, and submission to the Lord. The first day of Tishrei begins the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) or "The Head of the Year." At the beginning of this New Year the shofar will be blown to announce the year 5782 and the beginning of the Sabbatical year called The Shemitah.
The importance of the number seven in God's world is demonstrated by the times of rest that He appoints for His people. Like our rest on the seventh day of the week, we are also to rest and celebrate during the Fall Feasts in the seventh month of the year. Once every seven years a Sabbatical year occurs where God directs His people and their land to rest. There is a dual purpose in this year to improve the condition of the land and to increase the faith of those who follow God. It is so appropriate that the meaning of the seventh year of rest, Shemitah, is release. Here are some of the benefits of releasing the land and our care to the Lord: When the farmer "fallows" (leaves bare) his field, he is setting it up to produce a healthier and larger crop in the season to come by increasing the nutrients in the soil, increasing moisture in the sub-soil, and disrupting the life cycle of pathogens. As we follow God's directions in Scripture by resting at His designated times, we also set ourselves up for an increase in faith and trust in the Lord. I find it interesting that Genesis 22, the story of Abraham's obedience to God when he was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, is read at the celebration of Rosh Hashanah. This story introduces us to the concept of substitutionary atonement for those who trust in God to provide for every need.
The Jews will be celebrating the New Year 5782 beginning at sunset on September 6. They will rest from their daily work to celebrate the faithfulness of God in their lives and in the lives of their ancestors. Their time will be spent in contemplation, repentance, and prayer. Through the grace of God, Gentiles have been grafted into "The Vine," God's family. Romans 11:17 confirms this: "...Though a wild olive shoot, you have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root…” Joining in this celebration could only be a blessing for us. If we position ourselves before the Lord to follow HIs times and seasons listed in the Old Testament, there will be an increase in intimacy with Him, and He will help us determine a direction for the year to come.
God still calls us to remember what He has already done through His Son, Jesus, and to rehearse for what is yet promised. We have an opportunity to prepare for the Jewish New Year and pray for the fulfillment of God's promises that all Israel will be saved, and that the world will come to know our Messiah as Savior.
There is no question that America's origins are rooted in a passion to recover and live out the Christianity of the New Testament." So writes Eddie Hyatt in his book, America's Revival Heritage. He continues: "The first generation of immigrants to America were normally vibrant in their faith and passionate in their vision for a revival of New Testament Christianity. Their children and grandchildren, however, while retaining many of the outward forms of worship and doctrine, tended to lose the vitality and vision of their parents and grandparents. As former generations passed from the scene, the original passion for Christian reform and renewal passed away with them, and succeeding generations were left "having a form of godliness but denying its power.'" (2 Timothy 3:5)
As we celebrate the 245th anniversary of the birth of our nation, we can see that the concerns raised by Eddie Hyatt about the vitality of our faith continue. The activity of many of our churches confirms Hyatt's assertion that passion for the Lord and His ways is waning. A segment of our society is attacking anything that interferes with their liberal point of view. Their agenda includes erasing the truth of how our nation was founded. They find faith in Jesus and His Word offensive. They seem to know that if they rewrite history, they can control the future.
Here is the truth: America was founded for the glory of God. Public education was instituted to teach our children the fear of the Lord and the ways of the Word of God. Our mandate from the Lord is to grow in our relationship with Him and our understanding of His ways so that we can spread the Gospel around the world and bring light to the darkness. Those who wrote the Declaration of Independence got their words and ideas from the Bible. This document has impacted human rights around the world according to Mr. Hyatt. We should note that 27 of the 56 founding fathers were trained as ministers. And, the motto of the American Revolution—"No King but King Jesus"—had an obvious spiritual emphasis.
John Adams, one of our founding fathers, left no doubt where the ideas for our Declaration of Independence came from. He said, "The general principles on which the founding fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity." We, as the people of God, must be at the forefront of the movement to protect our history and to acknowledge that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was active in intervening on our behalf. He used Bible-believing people to fight for the independence of our nation and established a godly way of life that would spread the Good News of His love and care for us.
I grew up in the 1960s and remember when prayer and Bible reading were outlawed in public schools. The Church let it happen, and it continued unchallenged. Those who initiated the fight against Christian practice in schools through the Supreme Court were not satisfied with their judicial win. Hyatt writes, "...These radical secularists now seek to remove any vestige of Christian influence from the public square. An undeniable part of their strategy is to rewrite and reinterpret America's past and to disseminate their revisions through a government-run educational system."
Psalm 33:12 tells us this: "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people He chose as His inheritance." We must do what we can to be sure that our history is not rewritten and that our future in America is secured through prayers and living godly lives. Here is how Eddie Hyatt summarizes this: "A government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, can only be sustained by a people who are continually revitalized in their faith and in their commitment to moral principles. This means that a nation that was birthed out of Spiritual awakening can only be sustained by a people who are continually awakened and revitalized in their faith...We will either have revival or we will have revolution; we will either have Spiritual awakening or we will have societal chaos. Both history and Scripture teach us that the future of America rests squarely on the shoulders of the professing Christians of this nation." There is no doubt that we are in a battle for the soul of our nation. We must renew our passion for the Lord and cry out for a Spiritual awakening that will transform America back to its intended purpose!
Joan E. Mathias