Benjamin was the only son of Jacob born in the Promised Land. He and his tribe were ninth in the marching order of Israel, and they marched with the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. (Joseph's sons) As an accomplished warrior, part of Benjamin's job was to help train the next generation in the skills of warfare. Their responsibilities included protecting the Holy Things from the Tabernacle while Israel was on the move. What an important assignment! The church could certainly use warriors like those from the tribe of Benjamin to defend our faith and holiness unto the Lord in the midst of our battles.
Since Benjamin marched ninth with Israel, he is associated with the ninth month called Kislev. This year Kislev begins tomorrow at sundown. When we look back to the history of Kislev, we can glean wisdom on how to live during this month. Benjamin is an example for us. He had two seemingly contradictory words spoken over him, but, in God's economy, they work together. Benjamin's father, Jacob, saw the warrior in him. He prophesied: "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours his prey; in the evening he divides the plunder." (Genesis 49:27) Moses saw a different side of Benjamin. "Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders." (Deuteronomy 33:12)
Through God, peace and rest can come upon us even in the midst of warfare. I believe that the war being fought by the Israelis is necessary. Hamas has violated Israel's peace, and it will not be restored until the enemy is destroyed. Israel must be on the offensive. Their peace comes in knowing that their mission is a necessity, God is with them, and once their objectives are met their future will be more secure. Praise God that other nations are supporting Israel and assisting them with resources for the battle.
Is it not fitting that even the constellation in the sky during this month of Kislev is the archer Sagittarius? Benjamin's descendants were skilled archers as it tells us in 1 Chronicles 8:40 and 12:2. They were adept warriors ready for battle. Some of the members of this warrior tribe included Saul and Jonathan, Mordecai and Esther, and the apostle Paul.
According to what took place during the month of Kislev, how can we live to fulfill our own destinies? First, we must realize that our God-given destinies will always be challenged. The enemy does not want us to succeed and has developed strategies to keep us from prospering. We must look at the ways the devil has tried to trip us up and developed a war strategy to overcome him. There is power in the Word of God. Let us stand on His promises and declare them for all to hear. Let us remember the Lord's faithfulness. Praise is also a powerful weapon that we need to use.
Below you will find verses from Psalm 89. (Verses 8, 14, 15, 20-24, 33-36) Let us use them to declare victory in our battles against the enemy: "Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and Your faithfulness surrounds You...Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; love and faithfulness go before You. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You...For You are their glory and strength...I have found David My servant; with My sacred oil I have anointed him. My hand will sustain him; surely My arm will strengthen him. The enemy will not get the better of him; the wicked will not oppress him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down his adversaries. My faithful love will be with him and through My name his horn will be exalted...I will not take My love from him, nor will I ever betray My faithfulness. I will not violate My covenant or alter what My lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by My holiness--and I will not lie to David--that his line will continue forever, and his throne endure before Me like the sun." God wants to see us live in victory. Make this Scripture personal, and declare it!
The last of the fall feasts, The Feast of Tabernacles, is the culmination of all of the biblical holy days. It is also called "The Feast of Ingathering" because it is a time of harvest. This feast is a picture of the Kingdom of God to come. But before this joyous time of celebration there is the repentance of Yom Kippur. Repentance is what leads us to joy and peace. Messiah Yeshua experienced the Cross before the resurrection. He took up this Cross for us so that we could live in His glory.
In remembering God's faithfulness to them in the wilderness, the children of Israel built temporary shelters called Sukkahs. Seven days they dwelt in their shelters to remind them that God wants us to dwell under the tabernacle of HIs peace. Though the sukkah represents the wilderness season, the branches of fruit placed on it represent the bounty of the Promised Land. This is a season of joining together heaven and earth. The wilderness is our life on earth and our journey to the Promised Land, while the Promised Land itself is the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Sukkah also represents a place to tabernacle with God. Here is an interesting fact to consider: The Sukkah, or temporary dwelling, was originally made from broken branches. The Apostle Paul writes about the Jewish people being broken branches from the Olive tree. These "branches" were broken off of the Olive tree (a symbol for the Jews) because of their unbelief. And here is the benefit to the rest of world: "Because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” (Romans 11:11) It is God's desire that all nations come to Him. Isn't it interesting that the "broken branches" are integral in the salvation of the nations? They make room for all nations to come to the Lord and then those nations draw the "broken branches" back to Him.
The prophet Zechariah gives us a glimpse of the future when the Lord will gather all the nations in Jerusalem. "On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem...The Lord will be king of the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and His name the only name...Then the survivors from all nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles." (Zechariah 14:8, 9,16)
God desires to tabernacle with everyone from every tribe, and tongue, and nation. Through the disciple John He paints a beautiful picture of life in the New Jerusalem that is so connected to the Feast of Tabernacles. "Look, God's tabernacle is with human beings. And from now on He will tabernacle with them as their God. Now God Himself will have His home with them--'God-with-them' will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and eliminate death entirely. No one will mourn or weep any longer. The pain of wounds will no longer exist, for the old order has ceased." (Revelation 21:3, 4 - TPT)
Friday at sunset began the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. It will be celebrated for seven days. Should we not join in this celebration of joy and peace in remembering that Jesus/Yeshua will reign with us for eternity and that the earth will become the tabernacle of God?
Sundown tonight begins what is called holiest day on the Hebrew Calendar—Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement. It is the final day of what the Jews call "The Ten Days of Awe." These ten days are meant for a time of reflection and returning to the Lord. The Day of Atonement is set aside as one to fast and confess sins to God. Psalm 139:23-24, written by King David, seems like the perfect prayer for this season. "Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting."
In David's time and under the Old Covenant, the high priest would have confessed the sins of Israel as he placed his hands on the head of two goats. This act was meant to transfer the burden of sin to the animals. Next, the priest would sacrifice one of the goats and a bull as an offering to the Lord. God explains what needed to happen in Leviticus 17:11. "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life." The blood of the sacrificial goat and bull would be brought into the Most Holy Place in the Temple. The blood placed on the altar was the atonement that cleansed the high priest, the people, and the sanctuary. It brought forgiveness and "covered" the sins of the people for a year, until Yom Kippur the following year. The Hebrew word "Kippur" means covering.
The second goat is referred to as the "scapegoat." After the priest confessed the sins of the nation, transferring them to the goat, a trusted man would lead the scapegoat into a rocky place deep in the wilderness to ensure the death of the goat so that he would not make his way back into the Israelite camp. I think of Psalm 103:12 in reference to this act. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
You may ask about what happens today. God took care of this very issue. Since the shedding of blood is required for the atonement of sin, a new covenant was established. Believers in Yeshua, Jesus, have a better covenant through the blood of God's own Son. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) The prophet Isaiah described Jesus as "The Suffering Servant" in Isaiah 52 and 53. Verse 12 of Isaiah 53 says that He will be given "a portion among the great...because He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors." Our high priest, Jesus, permanently took away our sins.
The Jews who do not know their Messiah are left with a dilemma. How do they find redemption without a blood sacrifice? It is my understanding that the rabbis have temporarily "suspended" the command for a blood sacrifice after the Temple was destroyed. Repentance is emphasized instead of sacrifice. Acts of charity are done in place of the commandment. We must pray that our Jewish brothers and sisters will have their blinders removed and that they will see that God has already sent a perfect sacrifice for the sins of all humanity. May they see the truth prophesied in Isaiah 53 as God's forever sacrifice for their redemption.
On the Jewish calendar, the first month of the civil year and the seventh month of the religious year coincide. The seventh month is called Tishrei, meaning beginning. Seven is the number of completion or perfection, so it is significant that the three fall feasts occur in this month. The New Year occurs on the first day of this month. The celebration, also known as Rosh Hashanah or The Feast of Trumpets, occurs at sundown on September 15 on our calendars. The shofar, an instrument made of a ram's horn, will be blown to call the Jews together so they can consider the past year and look at the year ahead. The sound is meant to awaken the souls of those who hear it so that they are prompted to return to God. The horn brings to remembrance the ram that Abraham offered to God as a sacrifice in place of his son, Isaac. It is also a reminder for God's people to remain humble in the face of a holy God.
Another name for the Jewish New Year is "The Day of Judgment." It begins the fall feasts. These feasts are meant to lead those celebrating into right standing with God. Joel 2:1 commands, "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill." The shofar is sounded 100 times at Rosh Hashanah. Not only does it call for a gathering of God's people, but it also reminds them to go to war against anything that is contrary to God's truth. We should be encouraged by the words of Joel 2:12-15. "'Even now,' declares the Lord, 'return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.' Rend your heart and not your garments, return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and He relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing...Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, and call a sacred assembly."
God is focused on our redemption. The New Year is to be a time for a reset for all of humanity after a time of self-reflection and repentance. The number of the year is one that speaks to us about the Lord's intentions. In order to follow what many of the prophets are saying about the year to come, we must understand that every letter in the Hebrew alphabet is a picture that conveys a message and has a numerical value. 5784 is the number of the New Year. The fourth Hebrew letter is "Dalet" and has a pictographic meaning of a door or portal. God created the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day, and their light separates us from darkness. These celestial bodies indicate our times on the calendar. Thus, our Creator regulates our times and seasons, and Tishrei is meant to demonstrate the linking of time and authority.
Let us look at all the numbers of this year: Five is the number of grace. Seven is the number of perfection. Eight is the number of new beginnings. And four is the number of a door. We are four years into the decade of the 80s. This number 80 is the seventeenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and is the picture of a mouth. It is called "Pey" and is associated with speech and other functions of the mouth like blowing. What does this say to us as we consider the year 5784? Remember that God created the world with His spoken word. Since we are made in His image, our sounds have power as did His. We have been given the power to bless or curse. Proverbs 18:21 tells us, "The tongue has the power of life and death..." Then we have Psalm 81:10 that promises, "...Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." God is the one who fills us with good things!
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah (The New Year) and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) are called The Days of Awe because the Jews believe their actions during these ten days can alter the decree God writes about them in His heavenly book. I believe we have a great opportunity to walk through new doors in the year to come. Perhaps this is time for us to experience growth in a new dimension—the fourth or spiritual dimension. Believers have legal access to the spirit realm. Ephesians 2:6 confirms this: "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus." Could the declaration of our faith move us into a season of creation that we have not seen before? We must embrace the promises of God by declaring them so that the door of blessing and opportunity is open for us. Let it be!
In just two weeks, the Jews will be celebrating their New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Central to their celebration is the reading of the story of Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, at the command of God. Because of his act of faith in God, Abraham has become known as The Father of Faith. He began to demonstrate faith when God first spoke to him at the age of 75. God said to him, "Go from your country, your people, and your father's household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:2-3) Abram, as he was known then, put feet to his faith and set out for the Promised Land.
Abram had another encounter with God when he was 99 years old. God said to him, "As for me, this is my covenant with you. You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations." (Genesis 17:4-5) To seal the promise God was making, He required all males to be circumcised as a sign of this everlasting covenant.
Faith was to become the key for all nations to be part of the family of God. That faith must be established through our belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and died for our sins. If we make this decision, the righteousness of Christ is given to us. Romans 4:9 tells us that "Faith was credited to Abraham as God's righteousness!" (TPT) Faith in God and righteousness go hand-in-hand. Romans 4:3, in The Passion Translation, explains this. "Because Abraham believed God's words, his faith transferred God's righteousness into his account."
Romans 4 also makes it clear that this righteousness is available to every person on the face of the earth. Look at Romans 4:10-11. "How did he (Abraham) receive this gift of righteousness? Was he circumcised at the time God accepted him, or was he still uncircumcised? Clearly, he was an uncircumcised gentile when God said this of him! It was later that he received the external sign of circumcision as a seal to confirm that God had already transferred His righteousness to him by faith, while he was still uncircumcised." (TPT)
God's promises to Abraham were ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ who is in Abraham's line. Notice that God did not select a perfect man in Abraham. We can see the mistakes that he made and sins that he committed. He learned through these and grew in faith. The ultimate test of his faith was when he was told to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. He traveled approximately 50 miles to Mount Moriah and had an abundance of time to reconsider what he was about to do. But Abraham demonstrated that he loved God more than he loved the promise. Through his commitment to follow God's command, he was rewarded with blessings that confirmed his faith in God.
We can be assured that our faith in God will be tested. That is the only way for it to grow. God wants to increase His righteousness in our "accounts" through increasing our faith. Why else would He send his Son to earth to die? "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) It seems to me that when we pass our tests, we get a double bonus: increased faith and righteousness.
"A Haven in Time"—that is what the month of Elul is called. We entered into this sixth month on the Hebrew calendar on Thursday evening. Why is Elul called a haven? It is because our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, appointed this time as one where His mercy and forgiveness are extended to us in a personal way. If we look back at the history of the children of Israel, we see that the prior two months (Tammuz and Av) are known for the sins committed against the Lord. Because of their sins of lust and unbelief, the Israelites built the golden calf and refused to enter the Promised Land. Elul is meant as a time for repentance and redemption.
Today, God reaches out to us even in the midst of our sin. His overwhelming desire for intimacy with us overrides any anger over our disobedience. During Elul, He extends the opportunity for us to prepare for the high holy days of the next month through repentance now. The Lord extends mercy in a very personal way by making Himself more accessible to us. The Jewish people say of Elul: "The King is in the field." God's desire for intimacy with us is so great that He leaves His heavenly dwelling to come to earth and make Himself accessible in the field of our lives. We have an entire month when the Lord is here to remind us of His loving kindness and love.
For me, it is particularly significant that God picked the month of Elul to send the angel Gabriel to tell Mary about God's plan to use her to birth His son. "In the sixth month, God send the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary...the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.'" (Luke 1:26-27, 30-31) "...So, the Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35) During the month of Elul, God took His first step to put into motion His plan for His Son to come to earth to live in a tent of flesh for 33 years. John 1:14 describes what happened: "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." The Passion Translation gives us a good visual of John 1:14. "And so the Living Expression became a man and lived among us! And we gazed upon the splendor of His glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father overflowing with tender mercy and truth."
God's desire has always been to dwell with us. Look back to Exodus 25. In this part of Scripture, the Lord instructs Moses to build Him a tabernacle. Verse 2 says, "...You are to receive the offering for Me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give." The purpose for the tabernacle is described in Verse 8. "Then have them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell among them."
It is hard to imagine such a loving God. The Lord made the ultimate sacrifice for us so that we could live with Him for eternity. "This is love: He loved us long before we loved Him. It was His love, not ours. He proved it by sending His Son to be the pleasing sacrificial offering to take away our sins." (1 John 4:10 - TPT)
During Elul, God gives us an invitation to experience deeper measures of HIs love. It is so fitting that the name Elul is a Hebrew acronym, "Ani L'dodi V'dodi Li" which means "I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine." (Song of Solomon 6:3) Should we not respond positively to God's loving invitation for intimacy? Let us be sure that our hearts are clean, open, and prepared to experience Him in this haven in time.
It is common for different emotions to partner with one another. For example, Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that, "The joy of the Lord is our strength." When we have joy based on the truth that the Lord is our salvation, refuge, and guide, an inner strength grows in us. On the other hand, when we look at negative emotions, fear frequently travels with doubt and unbelief. This combination was a major problem for the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt. God made promises to all of Israel that have become known as the "Five I Wills." (1) "I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians." (2) "I will free you from being slaves to them." (3) "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment." (4) "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." (5) "I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession." (Exodus 6:6-8)
God proved His faithfulness to the Israelites by bringing plagues upon the Egyptians that did not touch them. In addition, He brought them out from under the yoke of slavery with plunder. In a mighty show of power, the Lord opened the Red Sea for all of Israel to walk through and then drown the armies of Egypt. In celebration, the Israelites sang, "The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation." (Exodus 15:2) Guiding His people with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, He was with them every step of their journey. He healed the bitter waters of Marah, so that they could have drink. He brought them manna daily. He helped defeat the Amalekites. At Mount Sinai, they were given God's commandments to follow, and they made a covenant with God. "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey." (Exodus 24:7)
When the Israelites reached Canaan, at the Lord's command, Moses sent twelve leaders of the tribes of Israel into the Promised Land to investigate. After exploring for 40 days, they returned with a report. Ten of the leaders spread a bad report and doubt that led to fear concerning God's promises arose. Psalm 78:11 says, "They forgot what He had done, the wonders He had shown them." Psalm 106:13 reports, "But they soon forgot what He had done and did not wait for His plan to unfold." The bad report from the explorers caused the people to lose faith in God. They doubted their ability to occupy their God-given inheritance. Unbelief and fear overrode faith, and they refused to move forward into the land that God had promised them.
According to Rabbinic tradition, the children of Israel refused to enter the Promised Land on the ninth of Av. This refusal set into motion yearly disasters, including the destruction of the first and second temple, that all occurred on the ninth of Av. The writer of Hebrews describes God's decision concerning the future of the children of Israel who were rescued from Egypt. "So, God swore an oath that they would never enter into a calming place of rest all because they disobeyed Him. It is clear that they could not enter into their inheritance because they wrapped their hearts of unbelief." (Hebrews 3:18-19 - TPT)
The month of Av begins this week; the ninth of Av is on July 27 this year. It would be beneficial for us to remember His faithfulness in our lives, and to meditate on the promises that God has given us. If we find doubt or fear arising, we must resist it and, by faith, claim His promises. It is faith that conquers doubt. Although the Jews mourn on this day, they also proclaim God's greatness. "You turn my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise you forever." (Psalm 30:11-12)
A significant event occurred during the fourth month on the Hebrew calendar that should be a warning for all of us. The event broke the first commandment given by God to the Israelites. "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3) While Moses was on the top of Mount Sinai receiving God's commandments, God's people neglected to remember and review the miraculous events of the past 2-1/2 months. They closed their eyes to the truth and said to Aaron, the priest, "...Make us a god who shall go before us..." (Exodus 32:1 – The Hebrew Bible, 1945) They collected their gold earrings to use in the making of an idol cast into the shape of a calf. Then they told themselves a lie: "This is thy god, O Israel, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt." (Exodus 32:4 - The Hebrew Bible, 1945)
Does this behavior seem familiar? In my opinion, the Church has allowed our country's leadership to rewrite history. We have forgotten that our nation was founded upon a Judeo-Christian foundation. We now worship the idols of money, sex, self-indulgence, laziness, and materialism, to name a few. Our golden calves, so to speak, have taken over our lives, and we worship at our human-made altars.
We can learn much during this fourth month called Tammuz. The religious Jews of today are particularly mindful of the sins of their past and the repercussions that have ensued. They have designated the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av (the fifth month) as a time to fast as they recall the tragedies that beset the Jews because of idolatry. These three weeks of sorrow are called "bein ha-Metzarim" or "between the straights." On the web site, "Hebrew4christians.com" there is an explanation of why the fourth month is called Tammuz. Apparently, this is the name of an idol that was worshiped in the Ancient Near East. They write, "Sages tell us it was deliberately chosen (the name Tammuz) to remind the Jews of the judgment that comes from idolatry. It eventually led to the destruction of the Temple."
Idolatry led to the destruction of the first and second temples on the same day (the ninth of Av) in different years. Here is a lesson for all of us. As we worship idols, we destroy our temples. "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple." (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
We should use this month of Tammuz to recall the goodness of God throughout the years. The antidote to idol worship is the worship of our One True God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us step away from the idols that ensnare us and join together in a chorus of blessing to honor our Lord.
The mention of fire in the Bible brings to mind images of light, cleansing, and power, and frequently represents God. In Deuteronomy 4:23-24 we read about how Moses warned the children of Israel. "Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that He made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." If we look back to the days when God called Abram to the land of Israel, we see that He made a covenant with him and came as fire in the process. "When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. (of the animals for sacrifice) On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram..." (Genesis 15:17-18) In Abram's day it was a custom to light a torch when a covenant was being made. God was making a promise to Abram to give him the land of Israel as an inheritance. The fire moving through the pieces of the sacrifice represented God.
The glory of God was manifest through fire during all of Moses' visits to Mount Sinai. Exodus 19:18 tells us, "Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire." During one of his visits to The Mountain of the Lord, God gave Moses instructions for Aaron and his sons regarding the tabernacle altar. "The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out." (Leviticus 6:13) It was the fire that consumed the sacrifice. The prophet Elijah demonstrated the power of the One True God to the prophets of Baal and all the people of Israel. A bull was placed on the altar of the prophets of Baal and one on the altar of Elijah. Elijah declared, "The god who answers by fire—he is God." (1 Kings 18:24) A pillar of fire guided the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. This pillar of fire also gave protection to the Israelites when the Egyptian army pursued them. "Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them." (Exodus 14:19)
The familiar image of fire from the Old Testament is repeated in the New Testament. Before Jesus left the earth and returned to His Father, He instructed His disciples not to leave Jerusalem. He had a gift for them. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8) Jesus knew that many people would be coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks or Shavuot. His followers had been counting the weeks from Passover to the celebration of the wheat harvest and the giving of Torah. Another aspect was about to be added to this festival.
As the disciples waited in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 2:2-4) Fire came again, as it did throughout the history of the children of Israel, to deliver them from fear and to empower them to move into God's mission to build His church with both Jew and Gentile.
Today is that day when the Church celebrates Pentecost or Shavuot. We have also been given the gift of power through the Holy Spirit so that we can carry God's Spirit to the world. Let us keep the flames of the Spirit burning through our humility and worship of the One True God. Pray, "Lord, set our hearts on fire so that we become blazing torches to bring the nations to You."
In 1948, Iyar 5 on the Hebrew calendar, and May 14 on our western calendar, the nation of Israel was born. David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, stood in a Tel Aviv art gallery to read the nation's Declaration of Independence and declare that the Jewish State would be called "Israel." Long ago, God chose the Jewish people to demonstrate His promise-keeping character to the world.
If we look back to the time when the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land and drove out the unrighteous nations, we see that they forgot the way God provided for, empowered, and protected them. They quickly rebelled and angered the Lord to such a degree that He declared, "I will scatter you among the nations..." (Leviticus 26:33) Indeed, this is what happened several times. AD 70 was known for a huge dispersion when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and scattered the Jews around the world.
The Jewish people are tenacious and clung to the promises of God through their years of exile. Amos 9:14-15 was one of these promises. "I will bring my people Israel back from exile. They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine; they will make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them..." For centuries, the Jews made aliyah (immigration to Israel). When Germany initiated World War II, aliyah came to a holt and six million Jews were killed before the war ended. The importance of having a homeland for the Jews became obvious. So it was, in 1948, that the Jewish dream of having their homeland restored became a reality.
The young nation would immediately face a battle as five surrounding Arab nations with well-trained soldiers and abundant equipment came against them. It was only through a miracle of God that Israel prevailed. The question asked in Isaiah 66:8 was answered with a resounding "Yes!" "Can a country be born in a day, or a nation be brought forth in a moment?" Since 1948, Israel has been challenged by enemy forces on several occasions. With God's help they have prevailed and built Israel into one of the most prosperous nations in the world.
Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said it well: "In Israel, in order to be a realist, one must believe in miracles!" And the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is just that--He has been their consistent help and deliverer. He has guided them and helped as Israel transformed a once inhospitable region into a garden. According to the book Israel, 75 Years of Miracles, this small nation has "become a world leader in science and technology and in health and medicine."
We should celebrate this 75-year anniversary with the people of Israel as this nation is God's demonstration of His faithfulness and love for a people He calls His own. God continues to gather His people back from the lands where they were scattered. The covenant He made with Abraham has been kept, and the land and people will continue to thrive beyond this Diamond Jubilee.
Joan E. Mathias