When a new year is about to take place, do you look to the past to see what has happened and then to the future to determine what you could accomplish? I think the practice of setting informed goals helps us in being able to chart the course for our lives. Perhaps this is what God was thinking when He established a yearly cycle for His people beginning with Nisan. This first month was planned for the deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery to the Egyptians and victory in taking the Promised Land where freedom would be theirs.
Presently, we are at the beginning of the month of Nisan. If we look at the book of Exodus during this time period, we see how God was showing the Israelites His power by sending plagues and natural disasters upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians. We can relate to some of those plagues. East Africa and South Asia are battling billions of locusts that are destroying their crops and livelihoods. And, of course, thousands have died around the world from Coronavirus. The disease is taking its toll on our physical bodies, our economies and our way of living life.
When God was about to send the plague of the death of the firstborn throughout Egypt, He told His people to begin a new cycle of life. Nisan was to be the first month of the year for them. He told Moses the following: "Tell the whole community of Israel that on the 10th day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household...The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the 14th day of the month, when all the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs… This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord's Passover." (Exodus 12:3, 5-7, 11)
After the Isralites selected their lamb, slaughtered it on the 14th of Nisan and spread the blood on the door frames, they were to stay in their homes until morning. They would be protected by the blood of the lamb. The destroyer would pass over the doorways covered by the blood; the Lord would protect them. After 430 years of bondage in Egypt, the children of Israel were set free to begin their journey to the Promised Land. A Passover meal has been celebrated ever since this first one. Jesus celebrated it with His disciples before His crucifixion. Today Christians call this meal communion.
I would like to suggest that the quarantine that we are now experiencing may have the unexpected outcome of bringing us freedom from the bondages of our age. God's people are meant to be different from the rest of the world. This time alone is a time of rest where we can repent of our worldly lives, remember the Lord's deeds for all humankind, and look to Him, our Redeemer, to lead us on paths of righteousness and to a life filled with purpose. When we accepted Jesus as our Lord, the blood of the Passover Lamb (Jesus) was placed over our hearts. And Jesus demonstrated and admonished us to practice taking the meal called communion so that we remember Him.
My husband and I have come to understand how important our daily practice of taking communion is to our relationship with the Lord and for our protection and healing. Daily we remember the Lord's benefits by declaring the beginning of Psalm 103. "Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." Then we remember that Jesus is our Passover Lamb and that "He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) The Lord wants to set us free from the bondage of this world and lead us into our promised lands. Let's use this time of seclusion to draw closer to Him and watch as He leads us triumphantly out of bondage and into a life of victory and Kingdom authority.
Humility is the key that opens the door to favor. This is so vibrantly demonstrated in the story of Queen Esther. Her entire life was laid down to honor God. As an orphan she was raised by her cousin Mordecai. Together, they were carried into exile from Jerusalem to the citadel of Susa, located in the Persian empire. Today this territory is in southwestern Iran. Esther's true Hebrew name was Hadassah, meaning myrtle. This low-growing tree can be found in high places. Like the meaning of her true name, Hadassah was moved from her lowly surroundings to the high place of the king's palace where she was groomed, along with other beautiful women from the kingdom, as a possible queen for King Xerxes. She took on the Persian name of Esther (meaning star) to conceal her Jewish identity.
Hadassah submitted herself to Hegai, the head of the king's harem. For one year she was refined with beauty treatments of perfumes, cosmetics and the oil of myrrh (an oil used to prepare bodies and representing purification and dying to self). At the completion of her time with the harem, Hadassah would be taken to the king's palace to spend one night with him. Afterward she would take up residence with the king's concubines and would not see him again unless summoned by name. Can you imagine how Hadassah must have felt with all that she faced? And yet, she was cooperative and loving so that she won the favor of those who cared for her. Hadassah was a perfect picture of her Hebrew name and blossomed while preparing for one night with the King. It is interesting to note that the flowers on the myrtle tree are white (representing purity) with purple borders (representing royalty) and are extremely fragrant. This humble woman of God was crushed to produce a sweet fragrance. She was destined to win the king's favor and became Queen Esther, the star! She rose to a high place in the kingdom of King Xerxes through her beautiful humility.
In the outskirts of the palace, at the king's gate, Esther's loyal caregiver, Mordecai, kept vigil. She was in regular contact with Mordecai and continued to follow his instructions. During her tenure as queen, King Xerxes appointed a man named Haman to a position higher than all the other nobles in the kingdom. He was an Agagite, a descendant of Agag who was an enemy of Saul and the nation of Israel. Isn't it fascinating that Mordecai was from the tribe of Benjamin like Saul? The ancient battle between the Jews and Agagites was renewed. Mordecai refused to kneel down to Haman. In a fit of anger, Haman decided to kill Mordecai and all the Jews in the kingdom on a set date. They "cast the pur" (lot) to select the 12th month (Adar) and the 13th day on the Hebrew calendar, and a decree explaining this edict was sent to all the provinces.
Can you see how God positioned Esther for "such a time as this?" She proved her faithfulness to Him. Once again, she would need to take up a position of humility and die to self in order to save her people. She was asked to petition the king and plead for mercy for the Jews. Esther would be risking her very life by revealing her heritage as a Jew and by approaching the king without being summoned. She agreed to approach the king in the inner court and gave Mordecai the following instructions: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish." (Esther 4:16)
Esther prepared for her assignment by humbling herself before God. She needed His favor more than anything else. I wonder if she knew that her Persian name was a prophetic sign for her life. This wise and brave woman would "shine like the brightness of the heavens" (Daniel 12:3) as she laid down her life to become a light in the darkness to save the Jews. The day set aside to annihilate the Jews became a day of celebration called Purim. King Xerxes extended his gold scepter to Esther. Haman's evil plot was exposed, and he was put to death. The days meant for slaughter became days of victory for the Jews. A decree was written: "...And these days of Purim should never cease to be celebrated by the Jews, nor should the memory of them die out among their descendants." (Esther 9:28) We have much to learn from Hadassah/Esther. Humility brings the favor of the King of kings and leads us to a shining victory!
In the final chapter of Isaiah, the Lord asks a key question: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?" (Isaiah 66:1-2) The glory of the Lord comes wherever He rests and brings with it revival.
When we look back to 1 Chronicles 21 and 22, we see that King David purchased the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite so that he could build an altar to the Lord and sacrifice burnt and fellowship offerings on it to stop the plague that was killing the people of Israel. As he sacrificed, "The Lord answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering." (1 Chronicles 21:26) After this, David said, "The house of the Lord God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel." (2 Chronicles 22:1) David made extensive preparations for the construction of the temple because his son, Solomon, called a man of peace and rest, was the kind of person God wanted to build His house.
All the officials of Israel were summoned to assemble at Jerusalem where David announced his plans. Solomon was commissioned to build the house of the Lord and to lead God's people in His ways. First Chronicles 28:12 tells us that David "gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind." The temple was built on Mt. Moriah, where the Lord appeared to David. There was great rejoicing and a spirit of unity with the people of God as they gave and gathered all the supplies needed for building the temple. On the day when it was dedicated "fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offerings and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple." (2 Chronicles 7:1-2)
The temple made with hands was eventually destroyed. But God had a plan for a new type of temple. Paul explains it: "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands." (Acts 17:24) He told the Corinthians, "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (1 Corinthians 3:16) In Chapter 6, Verses 19-20, he gives more details: "...You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body." The Spirit of the Living God took up residence in the spirits of His people. Wherever the Spirit dwells there is glory and potential for revival. For this to happen our souls must bow to our spirits so that the Holy Spirit has priority and we follow His leading.
Around the world there are churches contending for revival and wondering what it will take for God to dwell in their presence. Sid Roth, in his book The Incomplete Church, asks some interesting questions: "What would the church be like today if we started from scratch and just followed the Scriptures? What would happen if we removed all tradition from Judaism and Christianity, and Jews and Christians came together as one? Let me introduce you to the Glorious Congregation--the emergence of the One New Man--Yeshua!"
God is looking for a house where He can come and dwell. He is looking for a people who will dwell in unity. (Psalm 133) "For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of two, thus making peace...In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit." (Ephesians 2:14-15, 21-22) Sid Roth says, "His objective is to 'gather together in one all things in Messiah.' (Ephesians 1:10) When the wall between Jew and Gentile is removed, the spiritual temple, God's dwelling place, will be restored, and this One New Man will release resurrection power to the Church that Paul calls 'life from the dead.'" (Romans 11:15) As we worship together in unity, God's glory will return. How I hunger for such a day! Will you join me in prayer for God to knit us together as One New Man so that His glory can be released in our midst?
Fruit trees were very important in the Jewish culture. In fact, on the 15th of Shevat (the 11th month) they celebrate "The New Year for Trees," known as Tu b'Shevat. Tomorrow is that day, sometimes called Rosh Hashanah for Trees. We see in Deuteronomy 20:19 that people are compared to trees. The chapter includes instructions on how to go to war. God's people were not to cut down fruit trees when they laid siege to a city. The question is asked in Verse 19, "Are the trees people, that you should besiege them?" Fruit trees were planted so that their fruit could be eaten.
The main reason this holiday was established was so that God would be correctly honored with the fruit the trees produced. Leviticus 19:23-25 tells us this: "When you enter the land and plant any kind of fruit tree, regard its fruit as forbidden. For three years you are to consider it forbidden; it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all its fruit will be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. But in the fifth year you may eat its fruit. In this way your harvest will be increased. I am the Lord your God." The purpose of the new year is for calculating the age of trees for tithing. Each tree is considered to have aged one year as of the 15th of Shevat. If you plant a tree any time before the 15th of Shevat it begins its 2nd year on the 15th. But if you plant a tree two days later, for example, it does not reach its 2nd year until the 15th of Shevat the following year.
What does this mean for us? When Jesus spoke to His disciples, He told stories to make His point. It was common for Him to talk about trees and compare them to humanity. In Matthew 7:15-20 He warned His disciples to watch out for false prophets. How were they to recognize them? They would do so by the fruit they produced. Good trees bear good fruit, but bad trees bear bad fruit. He repeats this theme of judging a tree by its fruit in Matthew 12:33. "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree will be recognized by its fruit."
In Psalm 1 we are compared to fruit trees and told that the Lord blesses those who delight in His law and meditate on it day and night. "That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers." (Psalm 1:3) Verse 6 tells us that "The Lord watches the way of the righteous." The prophet Jeremiah repeats this theme. "But 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. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
What we take in impacts our fruit. We need to be all about producing strong roots through our faith and commitment to the Lord, for strong roots produce good fruit. What we partake of can produce nourishment which strengthens us. Let's be aware of what we are eating and drinking. It is the Word of God and the Living Water that strengthen our roots and help us to grow in righteousness. Righteousness needs to be our foundation.
We must ask ourselves, "What kind of fruit are we producing?" Are we producing a crop that will feed the next generation? What kind of "trees" are planted in our fields? Are they bearing good fruit, or do they need to be cut down? The Lord is our Righteous Savior (Jeremiah 23:6)—Jehovah Tsidkenu—"The Lord our Righteousness." As we partake of Him, our Daily Bread and our Living Water, we will produce a bounty of good fruit.
What adjectives go through your mind when you think of a snake? How about evil, poison, death, craftiness and betrayal? For me, it is all of these. I don't even like to look at snakes and avoid the snake house at the zoo. Interestingly, snakes are also a symbol of fertility, life and healing. But I have been following the most recent news on the virus that started in Wuhan, China. The Coronavirus is so named because it appears like a crown under a microscope. Its "protein codes" are most similar to those carried by bats and snakes. Researchers believe there is a strong possibility that the virus jumped from bats to snakes and from snakes to humans. This is because there were snakes in the fish market where scientists believe the virus started. The Coronavirus is transmitted through the air. Its method of movement is called zoonotic transmission because people acquire the virus directly from an animal.
My research on the Coronavirus was taken from two scientific journals. On January 22, 2020, "Scientific America" and "New Scientists Newsletter" wrote about the virus. Here is something interesting that I found: The snake is the host for the virus however, the virus must go through genetic mutations in order to infect humans. The Taiwanese or Chinese Krait is a highly venomous snake and is what was being sold in the Wuhan market. The medical community is still trying to learn more about the virus since so many people have been infected with it. They are looking for ways that it can adapt to both cold-blooded and warm-blooded hosts.
As I was praying about this dire situation, I remembered that the children of Israel were also impacted by snakes. After they were freed from bondage in Egypt, Moses led them through the wilderness as instructed by God. The Israelites began to grumble and spoke against God and Moses. They said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" (Numbers 21:5) I am in dismay as I read this. Where is their gratitude? Where is their respect? God did not take kindly to their insolence. "Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, 'We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.'" (Numbers 21:6-7)
God did answer the prayer of Moses, giving him unique instructions. "'Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.' So, Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived." (Numbers 21:8-9) What was God trying to do with this solution? I believe He was pointing us to Jesus. Just as the bronze snake was lifted up on a pole Jesus would be lifted up on a cross. The pole represented the Cross and the bronze snake judgment. God provided a means for deliverance through admission of sin and faith in His way to redeem His people from death.
The children of Israel were condemned to death because of their sin. The serpent was a symbol of their sin and death. All who looked on the representation of sin with eyes of faith were healed. We too have been condemned to death by God because of our sin. Jesus came to save us by becoming sin on the Cross. God ordained that all who look at Jesus in faith will be redeemed from death. "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
(1 Corinthians 5:21) Let us take time to thank and worship the Lord for His amazing sacrifice. Even before the time of Moses, God had a plan to redeem us. "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life."
In his books and devotionals, Rabbi Jonathan Cahn enlightens us about the times and seasons and patterns of life in ancient Israel. He studies these patterns because they are a harbinger for the United States. We, like Israel, were established as a godly nation, and God judges both of us in a certain way.
The Lord's desire is for us to have relationship with Him and to live lives that reflect His nature. He chose one man to form a nation to represent Him. "For I have chosen him (Abraham), so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just…” (Genesis 18:19) As the children of Israel were being led to the Promised Land, God told them, "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples of the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession. The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other people, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath, He swore to your forefathers that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commands.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-9)
Reading through Scripture, we learn that the children of Israel frequently broke covenant with God and strayed from His commands. He always warned them of the consequences of their disobedience. Then He gave them a time period of grace in which He held back the full force of His judgment and wrath. If the nation did not return to a godly way of living during the grace period, God's judgment fell. Rabbi Jonathan's January 2020 devotional tells the story of Israel's northern kingdom and how God warned them to return to Him and follow His ways. The nation did not take the warning seriously and used up their grace period without changing. God lifted His hand of protection from over them and allowed the Assyrians to destroy them.
After looking at different times in the Bible when God extended grace to the children of Israel, Jonathan has discerned that God's period of grace for America may be ending in the year 2020. Our spiritual and moral decline is noticeable and flies in the face of the nation's Judeo-Christian foundation. Jonathan points out that the year 2020 is the 400th year since the Mayflower journeyed to the shores of America and the pilgrims made a covenant with God. 400 is a number of significance in the Bible where situations for Israel changed.
Jonathan also points out the significance of the number 19 in the Bible. In the year 605 B.C. the Babylonian army invaded the kingdom of Judah to make their first strike—a limited one—against them. Nineteen years later (586 B.C.) when nothing changed, the Babylonians returned in full force and destroyed Judah. (Jeremiah 52:12) On September 11, 2020, it will be 19 years since the terrorist attack on the twin towers.
Could this be the year when our nation will see calamity and destruction? Or, could this be a year when revival will hit? As we begin the year 2020, I believe it is our obligation to pray for a national turning to our Godly roots. Let us pray that God will revive each of us and that we will be part of a company of Christians leading the people of America back to our Judeo-Christian foundation.
Yearly, on Christmas Day in Washington Crossing, PA, the story of George Washington and his troops crossing the Delaware River to march to Trenton is re-enacted. The Continental Army attacked the Hessian garrison on Christmas in 1776. They overcame freezing rain, snow, ferocious winds, an ice-choked river and a long, cold march to Trenton to win the battle against the Hessians. The victory helped to bolster the sagging morale of the army so that they continued to fight the British and their allies.
One year later, the troops were in Valley Forge from December 1777 to June 1778. When they arrived, the cold and hungry troops built log huts to live in during the months to come. There is a legend that one of the soldiers at the Valley Forge encampment was a Jew who encouraged George Washington. Author Stephen Krensky was so inspired by this story that he wrote a book called Hanukkah at Valley Forge. Interestingly, in the year 1777, the first night of Hanukkah fell on Christmas Eve. The story is told that the lone Jewish soldier waited until the other soldiers were sleeping before he set up his Menorah. He lit the first candle and wept. As he was walking around the huts, George Washington saw the soldier and stopped to ask him why he was crying.
The Jewish soldier explained that he was crying out to God for the success of the troops. He had experienced persecution in his hometown in Europe and came to American to escape from it. He assured Washington that he would be victorious in his campaign because God is on the side of the righteous, just as He was with the small band of men led by the Maccabees who overtook the large Greek army. It was God who granted them a miraculous victory because of their faith in Him. This story served as an inspiration for Washington to move forward against the British. Doesn't this sound like the fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6? "I will make you a light for the Gentiles that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth."
The legend continues that the same Jewish soldier was at home in the Bronx in New York a year later. On the first night of Hanukkah, the veteran placed a Menorah in his windowsill with one candle lit. After hearing a knock at the door, he opened it to find George Washington on his front step. Washington said to him, "There is that fabulous light, the Hanukkah light! That flame and your remarkable words kindled a light in my heart on that dark and bitter night. We were in a tight situation then, and your words encouraged me so! They spurred me on with new hope. You will soon be awarded a Medal of Honor from the United States of America for your bravery in Valley Forge, but tonight you will receive a personal memento from me." The General then placed a gold medal on the table. Engraved on it was a Menorah with one candle burning. These words were inscribed on it: "As a sign of thanks for the light of your candle. George Washington."
Here we have the Jewish vet reminding Washington of the faithfulness of God. The size of the army coming against these small bands of soldiers was not important. What was and is important is the abilities of our God and His delight in helping us. Scripture talks about quite a few battles where the armies of the Israelites were so much smaller than the armies of their enemies. One example is when the Assyrian army came against King Hezekiah and his people. Here is what he told them: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him. There is greater power with us than with him." (2 Chronicles 32:7)
Tonight, Jews all over the world will be lighting the final candle on their Menorah and will remember the faithfulness of God and His miraculous power to help them re-take the temple in Jerusalem. There will always be forces of evil who attempt to defeat and discourage the people of God. But here is the truth from John 1:5. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." Our Lord still fights for us when evil attacks. Be confident in the Lord's faithfulness and His miraculous power on our behalf.
Like last year, this year our celebration of the birth of Christ occurs in the middle of Chanukah. When events on the Jewish calendar converge with events on the Church's calendar, I like to look at the similarities between them. Both these events land in the month of Kislev, the ninth month on the Jewish calendar. Since Kislev is associated with the Hebrew letter SAMEKH, which pictures trust and support, it is time for us to do just that in our relationship with the Lord.
The constellation Sagittarius, the archer, appearing in Kislev, reminds us that this is the month to develop our warfare strategies for the season ahead. We must "fight against empires and cultures,” as Chuck Pierce says in his book, A Time to Advance. And, it is important that we trust God to guide us and give us mercy. Psalm 23:5-6 says, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
During the time when the Temple was overtaken by the Syrian-Greek army the flame of the candelabra had been extinguished and the altar defiled. There was little hope for the future; times were dark. Likewise, at the time when Christ was to be born the darkness of oppression covered the people. But God had a plan. With His help, warfare strategies were developed to overcome the enemy.
A group of Jewish patriots called the Maccabees had hope and developed a battle plan to retake the Temple. They bravely fought and defeated the Greek army to free their people from tyranny and re-establish worship in the Temple. As they set about to cleanse it, they realized there was only enough purified oil for the lampstand to burn for one night. Miraculously, it burned for eight. God arranged for the light to continue burning and followed them with goodness and mercy.
God's plan to overcome darkness and bring freedom for the oppressed was to ultimately be done through Christ Jesus. He came to shine His light in the darkness and to defeat Satan and the kingdom of darkness. His battle strategy includes us, His Church. Victory is promised through the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony and not loving our lives as much as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)
As we look back in history, we see that God has always been faithful to His people. He is trustworthy and sent Jesus as the Lord of Hosts, Light of the World, Prince of Peace and Redeemer to help us develop battle strategies and lead us in triumphant procession (2 Corinthians 2:14) and who "made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God..." (2 Corinthians 4:6) It is time for us to develop our strategies for the New Year and to look to the One who leads us in victory and follows us with goodness mercy.
The Lord's appointed festivals are first described in the book of Leviticus, Chapter 23. The Feast of Tabernacles is particularly unique because it last for seven days and God's people are instructed to live in temporary shelters for seven days as their ancestors did when they were brought out of Egypt. Leviticus 23:40 tells us, “On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees--from palms, willows and other leafy trees--and rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days." Here is how Deuteronomy 16:15 describes this joyful festival: "For seven days celebrate the festival...for the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete." Reading through the Old Testament, one can see how faithful the Israelites were to follow the law when it came to celebrating the feasts. The exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple settled in and "began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it..." (Ezra 3:2) In the seventh month they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. (Verse 4)
In my opinion, the most interesting reading concerning the Festival of Tabernacles occurs in Nehemiah 8:14-16. "They found written in the Law...that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month...'Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees to make temporary shelters'--as it is written." The unique part of the festival celebration with Nehemiah is that they cut branches from the olive tree and the wild olive tree. What a picture of the apostle Paul's dissertation on grafted in branches!
Israel is frequently referred to as an olive tree. The people of Israel are the branches. Paul recognized that many of his people did not receive the good news of Jesus as Lord. (Romans 10:16) Because of it, "God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that could not see and ears that could not hear..." (Romans 11:8) "Because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” (Romans 11:11) Paul uses an analogy, describing the Jews as olive branches and the Gentiles as wild olive branches. "If some of the branches have been broken off, (Jews) and you, though a wild olive shoot, (Gentiles) have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourselves to be superior to those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you." (Romans 11:17-18)
One day the olive tree will flourish with the natural branches and the wild branches both grafted in. We read in Ephesians 2:15 that God's "purpose was to create in Himself one new man..." Jew and Gentile will live together in peace, both reconciled to God. As the Jews in Nehemiah's day laid the branches of the olive tree and wild olive tree on the top of their temporary shelters they would have been looking up at a picture of the future. One day Jew and Gentile together will worship the King of kings during this festival. (Zechariah 14:16-19) When and how this will come to pass is unclear. What is clear is that we will be worshiping The Lamb together in joyful celebration. What a day this will be!
The journey of the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years is recalled during the celebration called The Feast of Tabernacles, Ingathering or Sukkot. That celebration will begin at sundown tonight and is the greatest harvest feast of the year. The Jews build and dwell in temporary shelters called sukkahs or booths. The tops are open and covered with tree branches that allow those dwelling in the booths to see some of the stars in the sky. For seven days they have their meals or sleep in these temporary shelters. The Jews are taught to pray that God will send rain for the coming year since none falls between May and October.
In Israel, the borders of the Sea of Galilee have shrunk because of drought. Much of the land is desert and, its inhabitants are keenly aware of their need for water. On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles the Temple priests performed the Water Libation or Pouring Ceremony. During this time, impassioned prayers were lifted to God by worshipers for abundant rain. It is significant that water was collected from the Pools of Siloam (meaning sent or sending forth) and brought to the Temple in Jerusalem where the priest would pour it out, along with wine, onto the altar. While this pouring was taking place, the people and the priests sang Isaiah 12:3-6. "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say, 'Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.'"
For those of us who know Jesus as Savior, this Scripture is particularly meaningful. Yeshua is the Hebrew word for salvation. For us to have the abundant life that He offers we must draw deeply from the "wells of Salvation." The wells of Yeshua will never run dry. In fact, here is what He proclaimed: "Then on the most important day of the feast, the last day, Jesus stood and shouted out to the crowds--'All you thirsty ones, come to me! Come to me and drink! Believe in me so that rivers of living water will burst out from within you, flowing from your innermost being, just like the Scripture says!' Jesus was prophesying about the Holy Spirit that believers were being prepared to receive..." (John 7:37-39 - TPT)
Just as the Israelis cry for the physical rain, we must use this season to cry out for the rains of the Spirit to saturate us. Yeshua has already poured out blood and water from His side as He hung on the Cross. He was poured out like a drink offering so that we could have eternal life. He wants us to draw deeply from Him for deep calls unto deep.
Joan E. Mathias