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.
Tomorrow, we celebrate a day called "Memorial Day." The end of the Civil War, in 1865, was the impetus for the establishment of the country's first national cemetery. Also, John A. Logan, who was the leader of the Northern Civil War Veterans called for a day to commemorate the sacrifices of the veterans of the Civil War. This holiday evolved as one to remember all American service people who died in any military conflict. Originally known as Decoration Day, it became an official federal holiday in 1971.
It is because we want to honor, respect, and recognize our soldiers that we remember them. Because of their sacrifices we live in a land of freedom. We cannot take these freedoms for granted. We must recall the reasons for their sacrifices and live God-honoring lives. Our history is rich with stories of how God established our ancestors to be shining lights for Him. He knows how important it is for us to recount the times when He showed His mighty hand on our behalf. Over 200 times the Bible uses the word "remember." The Lord does not want us to forget the way He cared for our forefathers or the covenant that He made with them. Generations later God still keeps His covenant and tells us to remember.
In Exodus 6:5 God assures the Israelites that He remembers the covenant He made with them. This remembrance brought Him to lead the Israelites out of bondage. They saw many signs and wonders including the opening of the Red Sea so that they could walk to the other side, the drowning of the Egyptians who pursued them, and the provision of water, bread, and quail in the wilderness. It was so important to God that the Israelites and subsequent generations remember what God did for them and the covenant He made with them that he designated a time at the beginning of each year to retell the story of His faithfulness. We call this remembrance Passover. God told His people, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you..." (Deuteronomy 15:15) "...for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt." (Deuteronomy 16:3) "Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you." (Deuteronomy 32:7)
The stories of the Lord's goodness and faithfulness were to be shared regularly; one generation was to tell the next generation, and they in turn would tell the next one. "Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles and the judgments He pronounced..." (1 Chronicles 16:12) It is not only important to tell of what God did, but to teach His commands to the next generation. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commands that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
Like the soldiers we honor on Memorial Day, let us give honor to God for all the victories He has given to our ancestors and to us. We want to learn the lessons our ancestors learned so that we do not repeat any mistakes that they made. We want to remember the faithfulness of God. God's willingness to send us a Savior and a Redeemer point to His commitment to our futures. The events of the past are meant to give us hope for the future. Through respecting the Lord, remembering His covenant, and making a commitment to live a life that honors Him, we set into place a future rich in the abundant blessings of the Lord. Let us remember His love and faithfulness.
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.
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.
Sprinkled throughout the Old Testament are signs that point to Jesus, the Messiah. In the New Testament we see the fulfillment of these words. Some of the most astonishing words were spoken to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. "For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." (Luke 2:11-12 - NKJ) Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus the prophet Micah made two statements that pointed directly to the Savior and the places that would be impacted by His birth. "As for you, watchtower of the flock (Migdal Eder), stronghold of Daughter of Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem." (Micah 4:8) "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." (Micah 5:2)
Is it not fitting that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem (Joseph's hometown) to register for the census that was being taken? As they neared Bethlehem, they would have passed Migdal Eder (The Tower of the Flock) which sat in the middle of the six miles between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. There were special sheepherders, called Levitical Shepherds, at this location. They would have come from the tribe of Levi and were chosen and trained to care for the flock of sheep that produced the sacrificial lambs for the Temple. The Tower had two levels and two purposes. Midgal Eder was initially used as a military tower to defend Bethlehem. The shepherds used the second story as a watch tower to look out for the sheep and protect them from predators and wild animals. The first story of the Tower had another purpose. Shepherds would bring the pregnant ewes into the Tower for birthing. Babies were swaddled at birth so that they did not harm themselves. Then they were laid in a manger until they calmed down.
One year-old male lambs would be herded to Jerusalem for Passover on a day called the Day of Lambs. Here the priests would inspect them and choose those without spot or blemish. During Passover, a lamb was needed for every household. Jenee Baldwin wrote in "The Dawson Creek Mirror" on December 25, 2019, that 250,000 sheep would have been needed each year to accommodate Passover. Every firstborn male lamb was marked as holy and set aside for sacrifice. When born, only the lambs born at Migdal Eder would be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger.
The need for blood sacrifices came about in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned. Blood was required to cover sin. A covenant was made with cutting and shedding of blood for life is in the blood. The flocks at Migdal Eder were considered sacred. They were meant to atone for sin and make peace with God. The birth, life, and death of Jesus is linked with the lambs destined for the Temple. He was born among the Temple flocks, wrapped in priestly cloths after being born in a stable, and placed in a manger (a feeding trough). Prophecy was fulfilled at His birth. He was a sign from God that the "Perfect Lamb of God" came to end animal sacrifices for He was the ultimate sacrifice.
After the three-year ministry of Jesus was completed, the Lamb of God was nailed to a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. His blood was spilled while the priests would have been slaughtering the Passover lambs. Jesus was born to die and restore our covenant with God. "And this will be a sign to you," the angel said to the shepherds. The sign still speaks to us today! Jesus came to give us everlasting life. John the Baptist called it out: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) Our celebration of Christmas is intertwined with Passover. God's gift to us is one that keeps on giving. Eternal life has been imparted to us who accept and believe and receive the Sign.
The historical event called Chanukah or Festival of Dedication should speak to the Church in this season. The chaotic, volatile, and corrupt days we are living in are similar to those that the Jews were experiencing in 165 BC. When the Assyrian army invaded Jerusalem darkness began to overcome light. Jews were forbidden by the Assyrians from practicing their faith. Called "Hellenization," the invaders' goal was to absorb the Jews into the Greek culture. Some among the Jews were embracing the alternative lifestyles and living outside of Godly boundaries. This led to persecution of those Jews who were trying to live according to God's ways. Those who were faithful to God's laws were caught in a trap.
The final straw came when the priests were required to bow down to idols and the altar of the Temple was defiled as a pig was sacrificed on it. A priest named Mattathias and his son, Judah, were so distressed by this unconscionable act that they gathered a small army of men who engaged in guerilla warfare for three years. On Kislev 25 they were able to overtake the Assyrian army and reentered the defiled Temple. Chanukah commemorates the rededication of the Temple. After the Levite priests relit the lampstand (Menorah), they discovered that there was only enough oil to burn for one day. It took the priests eight days to make fresh oil, and miraculously, this is how long the lampstand burned. The Lord intervened to keep the lights burning. Hence, Chanukah is also called The Festival of Lights (Hag ha-urim).
Symbolically, the Chanukah Menorah has eight candles with a ninth one in the center. Called the "Servant Candle" or "Shamash," its job is to light the other eight candles. The Shamash is the first candle to be lit during Chanukah and is then used each night to light the other eight candles. The prophet Isaiah foretold of a man of God who would come as a servant. "See, my servant will act wisely, He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at Him—His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and His form marred beyond human likeness—so He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand." (Isaiah 52:13-15) It is no accident that the middle candle is called "The Servant" and is used to light the others.
Jesus, the Servant of God, is "the true light that gives light to everyone..." (John 1:9) He told a crowd of people, "I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) The position of the Shamash on the Menorah is significant. Not only is it in the center, but it sits higher than all the other candles. The higher a light sits, the greater its impact. We see how Isaiah prophesied about the lifting up of the Servant. Jesus confirmed His position and His calling in John 12:32. 'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." In verse 36 Jesus gives this admonition to His followers: "Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light."
The candles of the Menorah were lit with anointing oil, a sign of separation and holiness. The name Jesus Christ is significant in both Hebrew and Greek. Messiah (Hebrew) and Christos (Greek) mean the Anointed One. Our Lord provides the oil of anointing and the light! He is the Shamash that ignites our flames and lights up our lives. Do you see the prophetic significance of the Menorah for the Church? The eight-day celebration of The Feast of Dedication should speak volumes to us. Let us remember the themes of Chanukah: Dedication, The Faithfulness of God, and The Victory of Light over Darkness. Let us also pray for our Jewish brothers and sisters who will light the first candle on their Menorahs tonight. May their eyes be opened to the truth that the Servant Candle is a representation of their Messiah who calls them to faith in Him.
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving and a time to look back at God’s consistent faithfulness to America. Those who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to begin a new nation were guided by the Lord to establish a place where He would be worshiped, and freedom of religion would be practiced. One of the meanings of the noun pilgrim is "a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons." Our national holiday had its origins from the 1621 autumn feast held by the Pilgrims and the local Indians. The feast was meant to celebrate the harvest and the blessings of the past year. Included in the first Thanksgiving were 53 Pilgrims made up of four women, 14 young boys and girls, 13 infants and young children, and 22 men according to David Barton, the founder of Wall Builders. They joined 90 Indian warriors from the Wampanoag tribe. For three days they dined on game, vegetables, corn bread, and berries. In between eating, they engaged in competitions including running, wresting, and shooting. As students of the Bible, the Pilgrims sought to apply its principles. They spent time thanking God for delivering them from a land of persecution and bringing them to America where the native people taught them how to survive and prosper in their new land.
Looking back to the time when the Pilgrims were instituting a way of life in the "New World," we can see that their civil government started with the Mayflower Compact. Their belief in equality for everyone was demonstrated when all the passengers on the ship signed the Compact. Jon Hamill, a descendant of a Pilgrim and co-founder of Lamplighter Ministries, described the atmosphere when the original signers of the Compact gathered together: "The move of the Holy Spirit was with them. In fact, when they wrote the Mayflower Compact...they said, 'In the presence of God, and one another.' They honored the presence of God, knowing that God had sent them apostolically across the waters to found a nation in freedom, to found a nation in covenant with Christ."
There is no doubt that a Christian heritage formed the basis for our country. As America prospered, those from other nations began to take note of her successes. Dr. Ben Carson, in his book, America the Beautiful, shares that in 1831 a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville came to decipher the secrets of America's success. He wrote, "I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...in her fertile fields and boundless forests, in her rich mines and vast world commerce, in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if American ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
Alexis also wrote, "The religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention...In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reign in common over the same country." I think we can see evidence that 400 years after the first Thanksgiving and the enactment of the Mayflower Compact, our foundations are under attack. Religion and freedom are marching in opposite directions. The model for the laws incorporated into our Bill of Rights and the basis for all education—the Bible—has been cast aside. We must ask ourselves why many of today's pulpits are not flaming with righteousness and the goodness of America is compromised. The foundations of America must be rebuilt! It is time for us to embrace the legacy that the Pilgrims left for us. This Thanksgiving we should be on our knees in repentance for our cavalier attitude toward God and His Word. It is time for us to shore up our foundations with prayer and declarations from the Bible. Jesus told His disciples, "Men always ought to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1 - NKJ) We must thank God for our Christian heritage and be faithful in our prayers for our nation and the church.
The Poconos, an upland region of the Allegheny Plateau, was named by the Munsee Indians, a subtribe of the Lenape Indians. Its original name was “Pokawahne,” which means "Creek Between Two Hills," referring to the Delaware River. The land is an optimum habitat for Hemlock trees who thrive in moist soil, shaded areas, and steep gorges and ravines. Cornell University scientists call the Eastern Hemlock the "foundation specie" of the Poconos forest. It grows along with mixed hardwoods like maple and black birch and is considered the cornerstone of the hardwood forests. Because of this, the Hemlock tree is the PA state tree. The dominant Hemlock exerts a major influence on all other living things that share its environment, including plants, animals, birds, and fish. One can smell the fresh, clean air when they are in a forest dominated by this tree. The unique soil and water conditions make a home for native rhododendron, spicebush, viburnum varies, ferns, Mayflower, and the evergreen groundcover called Partridgeberry. Those who study ecosystems in the USA note the many benefits of the Hemlock tree:
1. Giver of aesthetic beauty
2. Contributor to good air quality (Hemlocks filter pollutants by capturing and storing large amounts of
CO2 and releasing O2 into the environment.)
3. Provider of food and habitats for birds and animals
4. Improver of water quality (Shallow roots filter runoff and keep water clean by preventing sedimentation and filtering pollutants. Decomposition of acidic needles changes the makeup of soil and water.)
5. Provider of shade for the streams and aquatic life (Shade keeps the water cooler and more
oxygenated and keeps snow from melting until later in the spring, maintaining cooler temperatures.)
6. Source of shade for native plants
Sadly, our Pennsylvania native tree is under attack from a small, aphid-like insect brought into our country from Asia. The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA) was discovered in the United States in 1951. By 2002 the HWA had infested Hemlock trees from Georgia to New Hampshire. In 2002 the Hemlocks in the Poconos were showing signs of decline from the HWA infestation. The insects suck the sugar from the veins of the trees so that they are unable to produce new growth. The foliage becomes pale and grey in appearance and eventually dies. Researchers have found that the decline of the Hemlocks cause decomposition of the forest floor. In addition, water temperatures are increasing, allowing algae to grow in the streams. This negatively affects the trout that need clear, cool, unpolluted water to survive.
Last week, as my husband and I walked through the Pocono Mountain area called Dingmans Ferry, God began to show me an analogy between the Church and the Hemlock tree. Just as the Hemlock is the foundation specie of the Pocono forest, the Church should remain the foundation or cornerstone of our nation. That is how the Church was positioned when The United States was established. The roots of the Church are planted in the love of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:17) and must remain here. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that our foundation comes from the Spirit of the Lord that rises from the stump of Jesse. "The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord...In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:2, 10)
Like the HWA attacks the Hemlock to keep it from growing, we have an enemy who is attacking the Church to keep Her from growing. The Psalmist asks a question: "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3) It is true that those with a liberal agenda scheme to destroy the moral foundation of our nation. However, our God is aware of what is happening. He loves justice. He longs "to be gracious to us and to be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress...He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure." (Isaiah 33:2, 6) The future of our world is dependent on us (The Church) being salt and light. Our prayers make a difference! As children of God, we should be transforming the environment around us so that we exert a major influence on those who live around us. We are the Foundation for our nation!
"Be joyful at your festival," it says in Deuteronomy 16:14 about the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. How could we not celebrate this festival that is a picture of the Lord sitting at our table of rejoicing with us? Some prefer to say that the Lord will tabernacle or dwell with us. I find the details of all that happens during Sukkot particularly fascinating this year, because it is a Shemitah year—a year of rest. Leviticus 25 shares how God's people are to live during the seventh year. "When you enter the land, I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord," (Verses 2-4) "You may ask, 'What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?' I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years." (Verses 20-21) Here we have God's promise to be faithful to us as we are faithful to His Word.
A report written by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz in Biblical News on March 16 explains an interesting application of this requirement as it pertains to the Pool of Siloam, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the water libation ceremony (Nisuch Hamayim) performed in the Temples in Israel. The water libation ceremony is part of the oral tradition handed down from Moses. Water was collected daily from the Pool of Siloam in golden vessels and brought to the Temple. This ceremony was one of extraordinary joy as those who escorted the priests to the Pool would sing and play musical instruments. When all the people returned to the Temple, water and wine were poured on the altar as a sacrifice that accompanied their worship of God. When the libation ceremony was repeated by the worshipers every day, the excitement built until the seventh day when the joy and celebration was at its height.
It is significant that Tabernacles is celebrated at the end of the dry season. Israel has no rain for approximately six months. The pouring out of the water on the altar is a significant sacrifice every year. Prayers asking for the rains to come during the next six months are part of the libation ceremony. Those prayers were answered by God in a dramatic way this past year. It is reported that two years ago a contingent of Kohanim (priests), Levites, and Jews descended to the Pool of Siloam in the Old City of Jerusalem to collect water for the libation ceremony. They were shocked that there was barely enough water to fill their golden vessels. The good news is that after six years of drought, God blessed Israel with such an abundant rainy season that the Pool of Siloam is overflowing. The Sea of Galilee was also at its lowest level in many years and has recovered to such an extent that it is within 12 centimeters of being full.
Bountiful crops cannot occur in the sixth year without bountiful amounts of water. Here is where God made good on His promise: "I will send such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years." (Leviticus 25:21) We can count on the faithfulness of God. He is a promise keeper who loves to bless us with "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine." (Ephesians 3:20)
God is beyond understanding! He is faithful to His promises and made that clear to His people when He was teaching them not to worry. "Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds." (Luke 12:24) Our world is in turmoil with cataclysmic and destructive events, evil agendas to destroy our families and our nation, and increases in sickness and death. Israel is in the thick of a battle for her life, and yet God provided rain for the Pool of Siloam. How much more does He care about us? Be joyful! One of the Hallel Psalms read at the Feast of Tabernacles is Psalm 118. The end of this Psalm is so encouraging: "The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar...Give thanks to the Lord, for He is Good; His love endures forever." (Verses 27 and 29)
Joan E. Mathias