Harvests are linked with God's feasts. In ancient Israel, before the yearly summer wheat harvest began, the people of God would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks). It marks the beginning of the great wheat harvest. Before the harvest actually took place, the Jews would go out into their fields and pick the best of the crop to bring as an offering to the Lord at the Temple. They used their initial harvest to make two loaves of bread that would be used as a first fruits offering or Bikoreem. Obviously, these loaves contained leaven, signifying sin. It is thought that two loaves could represent the two houses of God (Judah and Ephraim) who both fall short of the glory of the Lord. They could also stand for Jew and Gentile or the Old and New Testament. Either way, they were used as a wave offering at the Temple.
Shavuot also became a celebration of the giving of Torah. It was during this period that the children of Israel would have been at Mt. Sinai where Moses received the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments and other laws. God had commanded the Jews to count seven full weeks from the second day of Passover to determine the exact day when they would bring Him an offering of first fruits (the new grain). (Leviticus 23:15-21) After celebrating, all the people would go out to the fields and reap their great summer harvest.
Is it any wonder that God chose this festival as the time when he would pour out His Spirit on the disciples and those gathered with them in the Upper Room? The church calls this day Pentecost (meaning 50 days). At the Pentecost celebration 2,000 years ago, God was offering the first fruits of the harvest to come. He was giving a demonstration of the spiritual empowerment for those who became part of the Kingdom of God. Three thousand souls were added to the ranks of Christianity that day. It was a mighty beginning! In some circles, this day is designated as the day that the Church became the Bride of Christ. Hebrew tradition encourages the groom to bring a gift to the bride. On this day, our bridegroom, Jesus, gave to His bride, the Church, the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is only the Spirit-filled Believer that is able to go out and fulfill the commission they are given to bring life to the lost.
Here are some interesting facts to consider that make this year's celebration of Pentecost particularly exciting. In Song of Solomon 8:4 the bride says, "Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you..." I learned from Rabbi Jonathan Cahn that the word "charge" in Hebrew is "shaba." Shavuot comes from the root word shaba. Therefore, Pentecost could be called "the day of charging." We are charged to live a life of commitment to God by His Spirit. He gave us the power and authority to live an anointed life of joy, praise, and victory that impacts everyone around us.
I believe that the glory of God is magnified during times of the feasts when communities gather to glorify Him and remember what He has done. There are seasonal portals opened to the heavens where the supernatural activity of God is increased. We are called to recognize God's special seasons by setting ourselves apart to worship Him and to advance His Kingdom. I am anticipating a breakthrough. Every seven years God commands His people to rest and watch Him pour out provision and revelation in abundance. This is called the Shmita year, and we are currently in that year. In addition, both Shavuot and Pentecost fall on the same day. This rarely happens—usually only every ten years. Also, look at the year we are in. It is 2022! Two is the number of agreement, one accord, and union (as in marriage). This is a year of the double portion. Let us not miss our appointment to meet with the Lord. These "kairos" or opportune moments are opportunities to bring heaven to earth. This is our time to advance the harvest as we welcome revival to the earth.
Three days after leaving the Red Sea area the Israelites found no water in the Desert of Shur where they were walking. When they arrived at Marah the water was bitter and undrinkable, and they began to grumble. The Lord instructed Moses to throw a piece of wood (King James Bible says "tree.") into the water, and it was transformed into drinkable water. Scripture says, "There the Lord issued a ruling and instructions for them and put them to the test. He said, 'If you listen to the Lord your God and do what is right in His eyes, if you pay attention to His commands and keep all His decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you." (Exodus 15:25-26) In Hebrew it is Jehovah Rapha.
The Israelites had to learn to trust in God. He knew their faith in Him would be tested many times. Their journey to Mt. Sinai would be used to introduce them to His character. It would also be used to teach them to depend on and trust Him for all their needs. Instead of murmuring to Him they should have been praising Him for His faithfulness. They watched as the wood placed into the bitter water turned it sweet. (This is a foretelling of the future when Christ would hang on a wooden cross to take away the bitterness of our lives and heal them.) God wanted the Israelites to know that they could rely on Him when they were in need and that He would turn their obstacles into opportunities and their problems into promises. They failed the test at Marah and continued to need teaching that if they followed God's commands, they would have a blessed life.
I would imagine that the waters at Marah would not have been sufficient for the enormous number of people and livestock that were traveling together. As a confirmation of His faithfulness, God took the Israelites to Elim where there were 12 springs and 70 palm trees. It is here that they camped and were refreshed until they set out for their destination. Exodus 16:1-2 tells us that "on the 15th day of the second month (Iyar) after they had come out of Egypt" the "whole community grumbled" again because of the uncertainty of their circumstances. They desired to return to Egypt where they had food, but God desired for them to know Him as a provider. Moses told them, "You will know that it was the Lord when He gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because He has heard your grumbling against Him..." (Exodus 16:8)
It would do us well to recall who God was for the Israelites and who He still is for us today since we are crossing over into the month of Iyar tonight. During this month, the Lord came to His people and showed them His glory in a cloud. He spoke to Moses saying, "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning, you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.'" (Exodus 16:12) Thus God introduced Himself as Jehovah Jaira, the Lord our Provider.
It is so important to God that we remember Him as a provider that He told Moses, "Take an Omer of manna and keep it for generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt." (Exodus 16:32) God confirmed His personality through another act of provision. As the Israelites camped at Rephidim they grumbled again and longed to return to Egypt as they found no water. The Lord instructed Moses to strike the rock at Horeb with His staff and water came out for them to drink.
We can learn a lesson from the children of Israel and apply it to our lives, especially during this month of Iyar. Iyar is sometimes referred to as the "hinge" or "connecting" month because it is associated with the Hebrew letter VAV which is a picture of a connecting pin. Picture a hinge on a door. The door only moves because of the hinge and is what allows us to move over the threshold from one room to another. In this month we are moving from the redemption of Passover to the outpouring of God's Spirit in Pentecost. Transition is occurring and fullness will be realized. Our prosperity comes as we are obedient to God's commandments. During Iyar God gives us opportunities to trust Him. We should be praising Him for HIs faithfulness. God looks for a teachable spirit and a humble heart in us so that He can give us increasing revelation of the secrets of His covenant and blessings throughout the year.
One of the most significant months on the Hebrew calendar is Nisan. We are in it now. It is the first month on the Biblical and seventh month on the civil calendar. God told Moses that he was to create a calendar based on the cycle of the moon. "While they were still in the land of Egypt, the Lord gave the following instructions to Moses and Aaron: 'From now on, this month will be the first month of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:1-2) There are many celebrations in the month of Nisan, so it is known as one of repentance, redemption, and miracles. Rose Chodesh (Head of the Month) began when the sliver of the new moon was visible and was commemorated in every month. The new moon was a symbol of new beginnings and of rejoicing in the truth that God would provide for the needs of His people for the entire month. To demonstrate their trust in God, the Jews brought a "first fruits" offering to the Temple which was the first and best of their crops, orchards, or flocks. Rose Chodesh is still celebrated today. Festivals that were initiated during the month of Nisan were Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits.
Excitement wells up in me when I see that the 2022 Jewish and Gregorian calendar coincide. Passover Eve and Good Friday both occur on April 15 so that means Resurrection Sunday and Firstfruits also coincide. A long time ago, Satan put it in the heart of man to separate the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus from Passover. Satan hates Passover because it truly is the celebration of Jesus and the covering of His blood. During the fourth century, Emperor Constantine decided to merge Christianity with paganism, and he made it illegal for Christians to celebrate Passover. This was done by The Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. Constantine removed Jesus from the context of Passover and changed the date for the celebration of Resurrection Sunday to the spring festival of the pagan fertility goddess Ishtar, also known as Eastre.
Through the centuries the church councils continued to make celebrating Passover illegal and in A.D. 345 they even pronounced a curse on Christians who dared to commemorate Passover. Satan continues to place evil thoughts toward Jews and Passover through the hearts of humankind. Why? Because there is power in the shed blood of Jesus, and when we connect with God through Passover remembrances, He blesses us. There is a connection in the events of Passover and the One whose life was sacrificed for our deliverance. God intended for the events before and during Passover to be a foreshadow of the events of His Son's last days on earth.
Jesus is aptly called our Passover Lamb. On the 10th of Nisan each family would bring a spotless lamb into their home. During the days of Jesus, only a lamb from Bethlehem was acceptable for the Passover sacrifice in Jerusalem. The lamb was carefully examined for four days to be sure there were no defects. Jesus would have been at the Temple during these four days, being endlessly questioned by the teachers of the Law. However, they found Him faultless and without blemish. Part of the tradition after the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, was that their homes had to be cleansed of any leaven (Impurity) as a remembrance that during the first Passover the children of Israel left Egypt in such hast that their bread did not have time to rise. Jesus was filled with zeal for His Father's House. Before Passover He entered the Temple and cast out the moneychangers (leaven). On the 14th of Nisan, the lambs were led to the altar and bound for everyone to see. Jesus was led to Calvary and bound to the Cross at this same time. It was 3 p.m. when the throats of the sacrificial lambs were cut by the high priest. After completing his job, the priest would cry out, "It is finished!" Jesus, our Passover Lamb and High Priest, crucified with common criminals, likewise called out at 3 p.m., "It is finished!" In Greek it would be "tetelistai" or "The debt has been paid in full!"
There is such a strong bond between Passover and Easter that one must wonder how the Church buckled in allowing the dates to change. Perhaps in this year, where the two celebrations occur during the same time frame, the blinders will be removed from our eyes, and we will be able to see God's plans in demonstrating the details of the sacrifice of Jesus to take away our sins so that we may have eternal life with Him.
The enemy of God has always wanted to kill the seed of Messiah, the Jews. Down through the ages, evil people have risen to power who have annihilated large segments of the Jewish population. But God has never taken His eyes off His people and has redemptive plans in place. Part of the Jewish heritage is the remembrance of their sorrows and joys. They will celebrate Purim this week and remember the victory of the Jews over an evil person named Haman. God led an orphaned Jewish girl named Esther into the palace of the king at just the right time. Even though God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, we see His hand at work in the circumstances that arise.
Esther's parents were exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon where they died. She had been adopted by her cousin, Mordecai, a Jewish official living in Susa, one of the capitals of Persia. The call on Esther's life began to manifest when King Xerxes chose her as his queen. Through the help of Mordecai, she became aware of a plot to kill the Jews by the King's second in command, Haman. Esther was called upon to save the lives of her people. As Mordecai told her, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14) Esther told Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Susa to fast and pray for her for three days. She did likewise with her maids.
What Esther was being asked to do was to go before the King on behalf of her people. It was a life and death assignment because it was illegal to go before the king without being summoned. God orchestrated every step that Esther took so that she gained the favor of the King and victory over her enemy. We must understand that Esther was battling with a demonic spirit that overtook Haman and whose compelling desire was to destroy Jews. Let us look more closely at its origin: First, Haman's name means tumult, commotion, and noise. A person with a Haman spirit behaves accordingly. Second, Haman was part of a people group, the Amalekites, who have a long-standing hatred of the Jews. The Bible contains several stories of battles between the Israelites and the Amalekites.
The Israelites first encountered the Amalekites, in an unprovoked attack, when they had just left Egypt and were weary and worn out. Moses responded by sending Joshua and his troops to fight them at Rephidim. He and Aaron and Hur watched the battle from a hilltop. Joshua was only successful when Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses to the throne of God. Praise God that the Israelites won the battle. (Exodus 17:8-16) In Judges 6 and 7 we see that the Amalekites joined forces with the Midianites to oppress the Israelites. God selected an unlikely candidate from the tribe of Manasseh to overcome the enemy. His name is Gideon which means "One who cuts down." Indeed, after conquering his own fear, he went on to defeat the enemy forces. Wanting to remove the Amalekites from the face of the earth, God instructed King Saul to kill every one of them at the city of Amalek. (1 Samuel 15) He did not follow instructions so that his successor, David, would have to fight them. They raided David's camp at Ziklag, burned everything to the ground, and carried off his wives, children, and flocks, along with those of his men. After strengthening himself in the Lord, David and his men were able to overtake the Amalekites and recover everything. (1 Samuel 30)
As we see, the spirit of Haman returned multiple times through the tribe of Amalek. Haman carried anger, hatred, pride, and arrogance which compelled him to destroy the Jews who he saw as a threat. His plot to destroy them began with the casting of lots (Purim in Hebrew). Through casting of the “pur,” a date to destroy the Jews was selected. Thankfully, Haman's plans unraveled when Esther bravely approached the King and followed the divine strategy from God. Haman was hung on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.
We see the spirit of Haman manifesting throughout history in men and groups such as Herod, Hitler, and Hamas. The message of Esther is relevant for us today. The enemy of the Jews has also become the enemy of Christians. The spirit of Haman will try to defeat anyone whom God loves and blesses. Consider that we are on the earth for "such a time as this," just like Esther. God delivered the Jews during Purim. As they celebrate what God did for them, we should use this time to battle against the spirit of Haman in our culture that wants to destroy God's kingdom on earth. Let us call out to God for repentance and revival in this world. It is the Kingdom of Heaven that will overcome the kingdoms of this world.
At the end of a year, it is wise to prepare for the new year so that we can move forward into our destinies without hindrances. On Tuesday night at sunset, the last month on the Hebrew spiritual calendar began. It is called the month of Adar. In an ordinary year there is only one Adar, but this is no ordinary year. It is a leap year! The Jewish calendar is a lunar one. There is a difference of 11 days between the lunar and solar calendar. Without a leap year about every three years, the 11 days would accumulate and push Passover (Pesach) into a different season. The Torah (First five books of the Old Testament) requires that Passover be a spring festival. This year we get a double portioned of Adar—twice as much time to prepare to move forward into the new year. The preparation allows us to leap towards our destinies.
It is so appropriate that the tribe of Naphtali is the one associated with the month of Adar. Jacob's last words to his son Naphtali were, "He is a deer let loose; He uses beautiful words." (Genesis 49:21 - NKJV) What does a deer do when he has been let loose? He leaps for joy! The meaning of Adar means strength. And how do we get strength? We get it through the joy of the Lord. (Nehemiah 8:10) The Lord wants to increase our strength so that we can leap forward with power. Habakkuk 3:19 gives us a picture of what this looks like: "The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to tread on the heights."
Our goal for this month should be to accumulate strength that will allow us to leap forward into our new season and God's plans for our lives. Chuck Pierce, pastor and leader of Glory of Zion in Denton, Texas, gives us five ways to respond:
(1) Make a choice to rejoice: "Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob." (Psalm 81:1) Rejoicing reinforces strength as we can see from Nehemiah 8:10. "...For the joy of the Lord is your strength." When we look to the Lord for strength, He pours out His goodness upon us. "Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka (tears), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion." (Psalm 84:5-7)
(2) Root out depression: Our times are difficult; however, we must be intentional about fighting depression. Our faith will help us to breakthrough to joy. God makes a promise to the children of Israel in Jeremiah 31:11, 13. "For the Lord will deliver Jacob and redeem them from the hands of those stronger than they...'I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.’"
(3) Develop a war strategy: We must remember to be alert and of sober mind. "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8) We must refuse to walk in fear and take up our spiritual weapons to defeat the enemy and breakthrough to victory. "You arm me with strength for the battle; you humble my adversaries before me." (2 Samuel 22:40)
(4) Break wrong decrees: I always try to remember that there are only two kingdoms: Light and Darkness. Everything we say agrees with one or the other. It is important for us to denounce anything we say that agrees with the kingdom of darkness and replace it with words that agree with the kingdom of light. John 8:32 tells us, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free."
(5) Discover your true identity in the spiritual realm: God gives spiritual gifts to everyone. We must find our sweet spots and practice using the gifts God gave us. Paul told the Corinthians, "Each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." (1 Corinthians 7:7)
Adar I and II are before us. Let's use our extra time to follow these recommendations for success in the new year. Our lives are meant to reflect the glory of God. He has plans and purposes for us and stands by ready to empower us to leap into the new year with joy and strength. Here is a Scripture we can depend on: "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him..." (2 Chronicles 16:9) Let us look to the Lord for strength and leap forward into our destinies.
Yearly, on the 15th of Shevat, the Israelis celebrate the "New Year of the Trees" or TuBi Shevat. The day is commemorated as Israelis spend time planting trees. When the Jewish pioneers came to the land of Israel, they found parts of it void of trees. Their decision to plant the naked landscape has produced much fruit.
In Scripture we see that people are compared to trees. The Lord calls us to look to our roots and to recognize our identities through Him and the Jewish people. "Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream..." (Jeremiah 17:7-8) In both the natural and spiritual realms roots are of critical importance. Tree roots anchor a plant, keeping it in place. It is through the roots that a tree is established. Roots are like the foundation of a building: The stronger the foundation, the more secure the top. Tree roots also serve the function of holding the soil around them together and preventing erosion when heavy rains come.
The tree with the strongest and healthiest root system will grow the fastest and produce the best top. Roots are the lifeline for a plant as they absorb water, minerals, and nutrients from the soil and disperse them to the branches and leaves above. Healthy soil that is moist but well drained and rich in organic matter is a necessity for healthy roots that function properly. At times, a tree's roots secrete compounds into the soil that affect its microorganisms, helps protect the plant from disease, and encourages the absorption capabilities of the roots. In addition, roots have the capacity to store nutrients and food for any future needs of the tree. If the ground around the tree freezes, the roots can still release what is stored to the top.
When we look at roots from a spiritual perspective those who know and love the Lord are encouraged in the Bible to plant themselves by rivers of living water so that they can grow up to be like the mighty oak tree of righteousness, a "planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor," that is written about in Isaiah 61:3. We, like the tree planted by streams of water, are called to bear fruit. As we see in Jeremiah 11:16, the Lord referred to His people as a "thriving olive tree." It is through the line of Abraham that the Church inherited the promises of God. Paul's discourse to the Romans in Chapter 11 explains how Jews and Christian Gentiles are represented by different types of olive trees. Jews are represented by the cultivated olive tree while Gentiles come from the wild olive tree. The Lord willingly makes room on the cultivated tree for the branches from the wild tree (Gentile Believers) to be grafted in by removing the "rebellious" branches of the cultivated tree.
The roots of the Christian faith are firmly established in the Hebraic soil of Judaism. Christianity was birthed through Judaism. God established His covenant through the linage of Abraham that includes David and Jesus, who is called "The Root of David." And it is through Jesus Christ that we become joint heirs of God's promises. Our spiritual identity comes from our Jewish roots. Paul called this a "mystery" in Ephesians 3:16. "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promises in Christ Jesus." In Galatians 3:29 he says, "If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Since we know the function and benefit of healthy roots naturally, how should this impact us spiritually? I believe that the Church, for the most part, has disconnected from its Hebraic roots. How is she surviving? She must quickly reconnect with her roots. This can be done by improving the "soil" around her. The Church must make it a priority to bless Israel and the Jewish people. The Lord is our common "Blesser." It is imperative that we get to know Him more intimately so we can carry His Spirit wherever we go. Our goal should be to remove the walls of separation between Jew and Gentile so that we can unit as "One New Man"—a glorious olive tree ready to feed the world. Let us make this a matter of fervent prayer.
Did you know that there is an entire month on the Hebrew calendar that focuses on righteousness? It is the month we are in now. Its name, Shevat, is symbolized by the Hebrew alphabetic letter TZADIK that symbolizes "the Righteous One." This is the month to make righteousness your foundation. Why is this so important? The Bible is filled with verses about righteousness, however, just reading the book of Proverbs and learning what it says about the fruit of righteousness should be enough to make us want to pursue it. I have selected a few of these Scriptures to share with you.
Proverbs 10:6 - "Blessings crown the head of the righteous..."
Proverbs 10:16 - "The wages of the righteous are life..."
Proverbs 10:21 - "The lips of the righteous nourish many..."
Proverbs 10:24 - "...what the righteous desire will be granted..."
Proverbs 11:8 - "The righteous person is rescued from trouble..."
Proverbs 12:3 - "...the righteous cannot be uprooted."
Proverbs 12:7 - "...the house of the righteous stands firm."
Proverbs 13:21 - "...the righteous are rewarded with good things."
Proverbs 14:34 - "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people."
Righteousness means to be in "right standing" with God. Matthew 5:6 tells us, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Because righteousness involves being in right relationship with God and allowing ourselves to be conformed to His image, it is the key to our happiness and well-being. Yet, this righteousness is impossible for us to achieve as it is a gift from God that comes only through faith in His Son. Perhaps this is why one of God's names is Yahweh Tsidkenu--"the Lord Our Righteousness." "'The days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior.'" (Jeremiah 23:5-6) Jesus came to the earth as The Righteous One to live, die, and be resurrected. As Paul says in Romans 3:21-22, "But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."
What a gift! You may ask, "How does this happen?" God made us three-part beings with bodies, souls, and spirits. The righteousness of Jesus comes into our spirits after we accept and believe what Jesus did for us on the Cross. This is called being "born again," where God makes a divine exchange with us. "God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Here is what is absolutely amazing! When we sin or start a carnal lifestyle, we are still called righteous because it is the soul that transgresses. Our spirits remain ever righteous because the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) dwells forever in our spirits. As if to confirm this truth, God calls Lot, who was living an ungodly lifestyle in Sodom, a "righteous man" in 2 Peter 2:7-8.
So, in this month of righteousness let us pray that our spirits will prevail over our bodies and souls. We can encourage the righteousness that lives in our spirits to manifest as we focus on the goodness of God and meditate on "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable...anything excellent or praiseworthy." (Philippians 4:8) Let us rededicate our lives to Jesus and depend on Holy Spirit to live it out. Let us pray for our nation and the reestablishment of its righteous foundation. And let us sink our roots deep into the soil of righteousness so that we cannot be moved. Embrace this month of righteousness, dear ones, for it is the key to our future.
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.
Jesus had much to teach His disciples before He left the earth. Knowing the frailty of humankind, He promised that Father God would send the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything He said. He also promised to leave them peace: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27) When Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the disciples were launched into a new level of faith and trust in the Lord. Holy Spirit is still with us to guide and empower us. It is important for us to remember this, especially this month, the ninth on the Hebrew calendar. Called Kislev, the name of the month is derived from the Hebrew word for security and trust. While the eighth month was the month of the flood, this month is the one of the rainbow when God made a covenant with Noah and his family. That covenant is an everlasting one, meant for us today. For Noah and his family, the ark was a place of peace and rest during the storm. Jesus is now our ark during the storm, our abiding place of peace.
I love the stories in the Bible of those who were able to overcome overwhelming obstacles and win unwinnable battles through trusting in the Lord. One of my favorite accounts is of Gideon against the Midianites who invaded Israel like a swarm of locusts. When all of Israel cried out to the Lord, He selected an unlikely person to crush the Midianites. After questioning the angel of God to see if he was for real, "Gideon built an altar to the Lord and called it The Lord is Peace." (Judges 6:24) An army from four of the tribes of Israel joined Gideon to fight the enemy in the Valley of Jezreel. Wanting the Israelites to know that they had no part in the victory God was about to give them, He reduced the size of the army from 32,000 to 300 soldiers. The opposing army was so huge that it is reported in Judges 7:12 that "their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore." But here is what it says in Psalm 60:12 and Psalm 108:13, "With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies." As the Israelites blew their trumpets, broke their jars with torches inside, and gave a shout, the Midianites fled and turned on one another with their swords. What an unlikely victory!
Do you ever wonder if these types of miracles still happen? I can tell you most assuredly that they do! God is fighting for His people so that we can have peace in the battle. On October 28, Vision for Israel posted an uplifting reflection from an Israeli pilot who participated in the 1973 Yom Kippur war. War erupted on this most sacred day on the Hebrew calendar. Both the northern and southern borders were attacked on October 6, 1973, by Syria and Egypt. Since the attack took place on Yom Kippur, most of the Israeli soldiers were at home with their families. Here is the testimony of the Israeli pilot who flew over the Sinai: "I saw from the cockpit the incomparable balance of power, hundreds of enemy army tanks, and thousands of Egyptian solders approaching and fighting. On the Israeli side, there were very few military forces to provide protection for the borders. From above it seemed shocking! It could end in a Holocaust and the destruction of an entire state, the State of Israel. I did not believe what I saw...But suddenly I see an amazing spectacle! Masses of Egyptian soldiers returning towards Egypt, tanks retreating. Some of the enemy fighters raised a white flag and surrendered, and I do not understand what was happening. I'm stunned and ask myself, what's going on down there?"
The Israeli pilot heard the story from the Egyptian side: "As the Egyptians advanced toward Israel, they suddenly saw masses of Israeli soldiers. They were sure they were falling into a trap from which they wouldn't come out alive...Out of fear and anxiety they decided to surrender. I knew that there is a God in heaven, that He guards us with all His angels. Thanks to His defense and intervention we were able to win the difficult and bloody war." The formerly unbelieving pilot who gave this testimony became an observant and God-fearing Believer after the miracle he saw that day. For those of us who are facing a serious conflict, be assured that the same God who delivered Israel in 1973 will also deliver us. Let this be an encouragement for us to have increasing levels of peace and trust in the Lord amid our circumstances, especially during this month of Kislev.
Two messages from God are brought to light during the eighth month on the Hebrew calendar, Cheshvan. We see them through the story of Noah and the great flood. Cheshvan can be a month of judging or a month of grace. God demonstrated both, and He gives us a choice.
From the time of creation until the days of Noah, God observed the behaviors of mankind. He was so grieved by the wickedness of humanity that He expressed regret for making human beings. "So, the Lord said, 'I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.' But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord." (Genesis 6:7-8 - NKJ) From these verses we can glean both themes for the month of Cheshvan.
The Bible explains in Psalm 89:14 that righteousness and justice are the foundation of God's throne. Psalm 47:8 tells us that "God reigns over the nations; God is seated on His holy throne." Isaiah 5:16 prophesies, "But the Lord Almighty will be exalted by His justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by His righteous acts." How could a holy God who builds His foundation on righteousness and justice endure the evil of the people of Noah's day? He could not! "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God." (Genesis 6:9) This being the case, God gave Noah directions on building an ark to protect him and his family.
While a time of judgment was placed upon the earth, Noah experienced the grace of God. The Lord told him, "I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you." (Genesis 6:17-19) On the 17th of Cheshvan Noah and his family entered the ark and the floodgates of heaven were opened, "And rain fell on the earth 40 days and 40 nights." (Genesis 7:12) One year and 10 days later, on the 27th of Cheshvan, God instructed Noah to come out of the ark.
The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma of a burnt offering that Noah prepared for Him and established a covenant with him. A promise was made by the Lord: "Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood..." (Genesis 9:11) A sign was given: I have set My rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and all living creatures of every kind." (Genesis 9:13-14) Since Cheshvan is the eighth month on the Hebrew calendar, isn't it interesting that this number represents new beginnings.
Judgment led to grace—grace that endures to the present day. This month is a reminder that God's grace is never-ending. "Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." (John 1:16-17) God's love for us is so great that He nailed His Son to a cross so that His blood was shed for the remission of our sins. "He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Timothy 1:9-10) In view of God's sacrificial love for us, should we not follow His call on our lives to be holy as He is holy? We have a choice. Let us choose grace.
Joan E. Mathias