Prophets and Seers

I assume that if you clicked on this it is because you’re interested in the subject. You’ve probably read or heard the Scripture, “he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.” It is located in 1 Samuel 9, and this is specifically verse 9. The verse itself doesn’t give a whole lot of clue as to what or why. There is practically no explanation.

For myself, I haven’t begun to understand what the hubbub is. It seems obvious. There aren’t two “classes” of prophets, as if one sees visions and the other hears words. It isn’t like God is telling us that seers are somehow based around physical or spiritual sight, but prophets are a broader term. It isn’t like the prophet is one who can “read your mail”, and tell you all about your life and the things that God says to you. These are all false understanding, even though somewhat popular and mainstream within Charismatic circles.

The text simply means what it says. The term “seer” was given as description of the “prophet” originally. Most likely, this was in reverence for “the prophet” who would come after Moses. Because of the caliber of that man, whom God gave the Law through, it’s difficult to label others under the same title. Sight in the prophetic books is emphasized consistently. Sight, defined by the prophet, is more than what you “see”. It encompasses the spiritual dimension and temporal field together.

I don’t have a good word for it. “Seeing” doesn’t cut it. It’s more than “seeing”. It is a perception, an intuition, a cosmic view of the faith, an eternal witnessing. The largeness of this word escapes me. It is a concrete concept, and yet for they who have not experienced such a view have nothing else to compare it with. This “seeing” involves both spiritual and physical aspects, seeing past them to that which is eternal and does not fade away.

We read in Haggai 2:21, “I am going to shake the heavens and the earth.” Hebrews then expands this to saying that with this shaking is the removal of what can be shaken so that the unshakable would remain. What is it that is the shakable things? We’ve been naive to suggest it is the physical or the temporary. The author tells us it is the created things. And what is not created? The whole book of Hebrews is telling us what is not created.

Why is Jesus greater than the angels? What is this eternal name that the angels don’t get to inherit? What is this rest that we enter, yet the Hebrews inheriting under Joshua did not enter? What is this Melchizedek priesthood? What is this sacrifice upon the heavenly altar? What is the Holy of Holies that we’re beckoned to enter by the blood of Jesus? What is the faith expressed through all of the saints – Hebrews 11 using specifically the Old Testament saints before Jesus? What is this “Zion” that we’ve come unto? What is this altar that we have a right to eat from, but they who eat from the altar at the Temple have no right to eat from? What is this City whose builder and maker is God, which is outside of the camp, and we’re called to leave the camp and join Jesus outside?

The “whats” here are all interlocked with both spiritual and physical things. It isn’t the “spiritual” that makes it unshakable, nor the “physical” that makes it shakable. Rather, God has chosen Zion, which is not a statement of heavenly abode solely, but is still indefinitely tied together with the land of Israel itself. There is a prophetic view, which is also the apostolic view, that can see the eternal covenant, stemming from before the creation of the world, all the way unto the age to come. That eternal covenant, taking into sight all things eternal and everlasting, is the very “sight” of the prophet.

It is the beholding of Him who sits upon the throne and is lifted up. It is the beholding of Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. It is the beholding of angels crying, “Holy, holy, holy”. It is the seeing of the throne room, and the great multitude that sits round about. It is coming unto Zion, the New Jerusalem, to the general assembly and ekklesia of the firstborn who are registered in heaven. It is perceiving God, the Judge of all. It heralds the faith once and for all given, the faith of just men made perfect. It witnesses the Messiah Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.

The prophets used to be called seers because of their larger perspective. They could comprehend that there was more to the story, and more at play in flesh and blood life. When the prophets would witness the destruction of Israel, the captivity or overcoming of the people of God, the destruction of Jerusalem, or even just the oppression by Israel’s enemies, they saw that this isn’t just a moment in history. This is God’s Kingdom and Name being overcome. This is the principalities and powers ruling over God’s people, and it isn’t because they don’t have the power or authority to be free. Rather, in their own lives and choices they have collectively and individually chosen to give themselves unto the wisdom of the world, which is the wisdom of demons, and thus their decision was made manifest by their oppression, devastation, and exile.

When we claim to eat of the table of the Lord, and yet then indulge in the table of demons, maybe not even physically, but through our practices and choices, we will reap the judgment of it. God will not be mocked; you reap what you sow. To belittle your brethren, betray, ignore or even oppress the poor, the widows, the orphans, and they who have no voice, to seek advancement by whatever means necessary, and/or to even seek the things of this world and the pleasures of “life” that is not truly life is to reject the wisdom and calling of God.

For a people who are to be a prophetic people, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, it is an absolute shame and even blaspheme that we would follow the same pattern that has been given us from the Old Testament. After being told multiple times in the New Testament that these things were written as patterns and signs for us, that we might comprehend that we should not go the same way, we have all too well gone the same exact path of apostasy. This year we’re celebrating 500 years of the protestant reformation. Yet, no one even asks whether the reformation actually went far enough. We’re 500 years into this, and even now we act more Catholic than we’re willing to consider. And with all of the so-called prophets running around, why is there no one who is speaking this, condemning the institutionalized religion that has called itself God? Many can’t understand the interchange between prophets and seers, simply because the prophets they listen to are false to the uttermost.

Why do we trust the Bible?

How can we know the Bible is the word of God? I’ve been working on a systematic theology, and I wanted to nail this down in a way that is both easy to understand, and that truly does answer the question. To give you a summary of where I’m going, I first reflected on all of the aspects of the Bible that are God truly speaking. We have things like the Ten Commandments where God thundered from the heavens, we have times where God speaks directly to angels, or where angels are sent as messengers from God, and we even have times where God speaks oracles through prophets. Yet, this still causes us to ask about the other 2/3 of the Bible…

It is from here that we can see that God speaks through visions and dreams as well, which might make our 2/3 into about 1/2 of the Bible unaccounted for. Often, we can give the history sections as God’s word, because it is history from God’s perspective. Yet, even here we’re left with prayers, songs, and letters written that don’t have an account. How do I know that the words of Paul to Timothy, telling Timothy to bring his coat and the parchments, is truly the word of God? And, honestly, even if I were to give you reason that this could be called the word of God, and I went through all of these kinds of verses, that still doesn’t answer the underlying question. How do I know that any of this is truly, and actually, the word of God?

The wisdom of God is relationship, and therefore God created. His creating all things stems directly from the very core of who He is. It isn’t a matter of debating whether He was lonely, or whether He wanted to see what would happen. God created because it is the precise logic of God’s character. From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, and from the overflow of who you are, you do. Your actions speak of the core of your being. It is not any other way with God.

Because God’s wisdom is relationship, He communicates. Because communication is a part of relationships – and not merely speaking – God communicates to His creation, through various means, and even communicates through His creation, so that, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Here we find that it isn’t only that God communicates to His creation, but that God finds ways of expression through all things. He has prepared vessels by which He communicates, and we mustn’t expect that it always be a thundering from the heavens, or a prophetic oracle, or an angelic visitation in order for it to be God speaking. Apostles and prophets have always seen the message of God streamed through history, and have spoken the word of God accordingly to the people of God.

If this be true, then we have ample reason to believe that God has communicated to us through all aspects of the Bible, not simply because He says so, but because He communicates through all. This communication, through a prepared vessel, whether an apostle, prophet, an angel, or the heavens themselves, is indeed the perfect communication of God. Therefore, we can conclude that even the Scriptures in the Bible that seem to have nothing to do with us are ipso facto prevalent to our own lives, because in them we have the eternal being communicated through the words on the page – even in the life and requests of certain men.

The final nail in the coffin for me is when we add the communication of God to us. We have the Holy Spirit within us who testifies of these truths, who bears witness to us when we read the Bible. There is an external account, and not simply our own, that breathes an “amen” from every page and every passage. How can we know the Bible is truly the word of God? Because God has communicated, and does communicate, with us.

Does God Really Test Us?

I believe we have a misnomer. It revolves around two words: testing and proving. Our English language adapts. It changes. For example, when my father was young, you could say that you feel gay, and people would understand you meant happy. If you were to say that you feel gay in modern society, happy probably wouldn’t make it onto the list of interpretations that you might be meaning. When my father was young, cool meant chilly. Now, cool means hip, or in style. Words adapt and change meaning and connotation from generation to generation. When we read our English Bibles, something that we ought to do is ask what the word actually means. When we read, “The Lord thy God put thee to the test,” does the word test mean something other than test?

Many times we have words that we use, and those words might be technically correct, but they have a connotation with them that is not correct. What we imply by using certain words or phrases is extremely important to be aware of. What does God testing us mean? I find that Job 1 gives the most solid answer. We find haSatan, the accuser, coming before God to accuse Job. God, then, says to Satan that his servant Job is a righteous man. God allows Job to undergo testing, to see whether God’s testimony about him is true. What is the point of the test?

We cannot conclude that God tested Job, and if Job were to have failed that test that he would undergo judgment. God had complete faith in His servant Job. In God’s eye, this wasn’t a test. This would be like challenging me as a grown man to tie my shoes as a test. I’ve performed this task thousands of times in my life, and it is no longer a test to see whether I can tie my shoes. This is God’s mindset. He doesn’t see it as a test. You want proof, Satan, that Job is a righteous man? I’ll give you proof. God allows the suffering to prove Job’s faithfulness and righteousness. To then say that it is a test brings false implications. We can try to justify the word by saying we’ll explain what we mean, but the fact still remains that the term simply has wrong implications. It might be possible that in 1611 when the King James translators used the word test that test did not have wrong implication. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But why perpetuate that word when we know that it does not imply the correct connotation? That connotation of God giving us a test to see whether we are able to live up to His requirement is contrary to everything that God reveals Himself to be in Scripture. There is a vast difference between testing and proving, and the difference needs to be noted.

Resting With Messiah

 

My wife and I had hopes of talking about “What Child is This” for the Christmas season. We were going to talk about the eternality of Jesus, and how we can find the roots of our messiah going back from Genesis 3:15 and then forward unto the final amen. Even John opens his Gospel by pointing out that “in the beginning” “God said let there be light, and there was light”. He couples this with Jesus being the light, and essentially is making the statement that just as God filled the darkened creation with light, so too does He now send the Son, the true Light, to fill the darkened creation.

When we started talking, we got caught on something else haha. We got caught on the fact that in the beginning, God rested, and He offers this rest for anyone and everyone who might believe. The Christmas message is about a savior who has been born, but so often we don’t understand what the statement even means. It’s like our thoughts have been reduced down to going to heaven after we die, and we don’t realize God has always been trying to get us to look up and see the reality already present.

So, instead of writing out everything we talked about, I thought I’d share our video. This is one of those subjects close to our heart, and it shows. I hope you enjoy, and hopefully I’ll be able to get back into writing on this blog during and after our advent season 🙂

Christmas and the Theology of God

I’m currently in one of the last stretches of writing out the first volume of a systematic theology. This means I’m looking forward to writing out volume 2 on the doctrine of God. Who is God, and what does He reveal Himself to be? In this Christmas season, one of the things that I find interesting is that our messages and our writings are often not reflecting who God reveals Himself to be, but rather some sort of self projected image of what we aspire to be.

It has always amazed me that when you go to church during the Christmas season, instead of talking about the birth of Christ, the messages seem to surround the cross. Baby Jesus was just born, and now we’re already trying to kill Him. Whether we talk about the shepherds, the star and magi, the son who was promised to be born, or the baby in the manger, it all seems to revolve around the savior being crucified, and not around the savior being born. What we miss in this is that we neglect the message of hope. God is with us. Not because He died, but because He is alive. He is Emmanuel.

God has revealed Himself through many diverse ways. I’ve been thinking about this, because as I’m reading through the various theology books about God, I’m finding that most of the discussion revolves around His attributes, and not around God Himself. It’s like we think in order to describe someone we must explain what they look like. But God doesn’t explain Himself in this way. Instead, He says He is a husband, He is the God of Israel, He is merciful, He blesses to thousands of generations, but curses to only 3-4. God’s descriptions of Himself are not revolving around His attributes, but around the very core of who He is.

When Jesus was born, He reveals the character of God just as much as His crucifixion. He was born in a manger, because God has always identified with they who have no place to rest their head. The angels come to the shepherds, because God has always commanded that His shepherds would take care of their flocks, even when it is dark, even when it is night, and all around us is fear and trepidation. The humility of God is revealed in this: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” 

God stripped off his outer garment, taking up the clothing of a servant of all, not finding equality with God something to be coveted, but rather cast aside His deity to become man. He took off that garment of glory in order to become one who had no excellency that humanity would find Him altogether glorious. He became human, and indeed even the servant of all, washing the feet of His creation, through the water of the Spirit, and through the eternal hope of the restoration of all things. Jesus’ birth is about the Kingdom of God. It is about how God has not abandoned us. It is about Israel restored, and Israel redeemed. It is about the eternal bliss that has always been available to us, ever since the “and God rested on the seventh day”, but we’ve always considered it something far away and outside and afterward.

This Christmas season, let us reconsider the birth of our savior. Let us take hold of these things, and instead of going straight to the cross, lets dwell here in the birth. Maybe when we can grasp some of these things, even with a mustard seed of faith, we might find Christmas to once again be revolutionary. May grace and peace be upon you all, amen.

You Aren’t Wandering – Exodus 13:17-22

In this passage, it’s nice to know that it isn’t simply about Israel. While the obvious is true, there is the less than obvious that this is about that. Our story isn’t simply “our story”, is it? Have you ever noticed that you can tell someone of something that has happened to you, or that you experienced, and it brings hope or encouragement to the person you’re talking to? It isn’t about you in that moment, is it? It’s not like your story is the epitome of freedom. No, in that moment there is now a connection being made. They realize that your story is their story, and they are at some point in that timeline that you were expressing to them. Right now, they are in the place where they’re not sure where the end is, but here you come with the conclusion, telling them things of hope and things of chivalry.

The Bible is like that.

Just when you think you’re only reading about an historical account of Israel’s exodus, suddenly you realize it isn’t simply about them. It’s about all of us, both personally and corporately. We’re wandering through this seemingly God-forsaken dessert, where the mountains erupt out of the ground, to block our view and we can’t tell what’s around that corner. Let me show you a couple pictures:

sinai-peninsula-egyptMountains3Mountains2Mountains1

Can you see from these how there is a certain distance that you can see, but beyond that in all directions is only one of these infuriating mountains? And can you see how they almost just come up out of the ground? When God says that no one can touch the base of the mountain, I assume that there was a certain point where it was obvious, like you see in that second picture.

I think this applies to all of us, doesn’t it? We have a certain amount of foresight, where I can tell by certain circumstances what the outcome will be, but we never know what exactly is around that corner. Sure, I know that I’m supposed to talk to that person about such and such, because that’s what I’m required to do according to Jesus’ words. But I don’t know their reaction, and I don’t know what will happen after I say something. Almost everything about our lives are walking through these wildernesses.

It’s agonizing, I know.

But what doe the text tell us? We have this strange thought that the people Israel were “wandering” through the wilderness, as if they were lost and didn’t know where they were going. The first verse of this passage tells us that God did not let them go by the way of the Philistines, though that was closer. The second verse tells us that God led them around the Red Sea. It ends with telling us that God directed their path as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. What more do we need to see that God is all and all in this?

I suppose that there are  many different ways of viewing it, but whichever we choose to pick, or if we decide to allow for a plethora of various meanings, I pray that this short post can at least give you some encouragement that you shall indeed reach your Red Sea, and shall cross it. And beyond that, finding freedom from your Egypt, I pray that you can be led like a bride through the wilderness (Jer 2:2) to come unto that Jordan, and cross into your inheritance at the end of the age.

A Brood of Vipers – Matthew 3:7-12

There are a few things going on here that are cultural references, and a few things that are Scriptural. So, first lets deal with this first section. When the Pharisees and Sadducees come to John, he calls them a brood of vipers and asks them who told them to flee from the wrath to come. What’s happening here?

Go back to Genesis 3:15. There are two seeds. There is the seed of the woman, who shall be the deliverer, later expressed in the term Messiah. Then there is the seed of the serpent. When you read through Genesis, you have two seeds presented at all times. There is Cain, and Abel/Seth. There is the wicked generation, and Noah. There is the nations at Babel, and Abraham. There is Ishmael, and Isaac. There is Esau, and Jacob. The seed of the serpent isn’t specific to a people group, but rather a concept. There are a people who consistently oppress and persecute the people of God, and it doesn’t matter if they are called Philistines, Egyptians, Assyrians, or Chaldeans.

Something begins to shift in the history of Israel, though. Solomon uses slave labor to build his palace and some military bases. But God said to not have slaves, because you were once a slave in Egypt. Here is the topsy-turvy kingdom: Israel, the new Egypt. Under Rehoboam it gets worse. The northern kingdom of Israel doesn’t ever have one good king. The southern kingdom of Judah has a handful. Over and over again in the prophets, what we read is that they are in outrage over the fact that the leaders are mistreating the people. In fact, such strong language is used in certain places (Jer 10:25, Mic 3:1-3, Zeph 3:3, etc) that it says the leaders of Israel are actually eating and devouring the people.

The leaders have become the seed of the serpent, at enmity with the seed of the woman and with God. Therefore, they are a “brood of vipers”.

But let’s not be hasty. It is easy to point fingers. What exactly were the Pharisees, anyway? In the first century, you could call the Pharisees the conservatives, and the Sadducees were the liberals. They were the leaders of the people. The Pharisees, in their great learning and understanding, were the ones who helped the people to understand the Law, so that Israel might follow it and obey. According to the Pharisees’ belief, if they could only reform the people of God back unto holiness and righteousness, then the Messiah would come. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were hired Roman officials – Jews who betrayed their own people. Therefore, the high priests, priests, and the scribes were often Sadducees hired by Rome to keep the people in check.

I’m not going to point out what I find to be obvious. In our Christianity today, there are Pharisees and Sadducees. There is no point in me putting names with those titles, because the truth is that if you can’t discern it, then you probably fall into one of those two camps. And John the Baptist calls them a brood of vipers. The difference between much of what is called Christianity today and the Sadducees/Pharisees is that at least the Pharisees/Sadducees understood that John and Jesus were talking about them…

What about this wrath to come?

Again, when you read the prophets, any “wrath to come” that is mentioned is associated with the Day of the Lord. There might be prophecies against certain nations (I’m thinking of Isaiah 37-39 currently) that had an immediate expectation, but the vast majority were beyond the immediate. It’s as though the prophet was beholding the seed of the serpent within these rebellious nations, and wasn’t merely prophesying concerning Assyria, Babylon, or Moab (or any other nation), but beyond them to an ultimate “seed of the serpent”, which is the mystery of iniquity, which the New Testament calls “Antichrist”. It is this one, the Antichrist/False Prophet, that we read Jesus will destroy with the brightness of His coming.

What is the coming wrath? It is the return of Jesus, and the outpoured fury upon the nations who have gathered against Israel at Har Meggido (Armegeddon). We read in passages like Ezekiel 38-39, Zechariah 14, and Revelation 19:11-21 about the destruction of this army that gathers. We read in other passages, such as Zechariah 14:16-17, Isaiah 19:21, and Daniel 7:11-14, about how there are nations who are judged, but not condemned and cast into the pits of hell with Jesus’ return.

Thus, to get back to what John is saying to the Pharisees, I think that we need to be keen on the understanding of the apostles in that first century. Peter calls Jerusalem “Babylon” at the end of his first epistle. When you read Revelation 17, the language used in regard to the 10 nations attacking the woman comes straight from the prophets in regard to Israel and Judah’s judgment. In Zechariah 14:14, there is a subtle hint that even Jerusalem/Judah itself will fight with the Antichrist against the coming of the Lord. God alone knows, but what we can be truly certain of is that God has consistently spoken that the wicked of Israel shall not endure unto the end, but shall taste of the wrath of God during that final expulsion and sifting through the nations.

We can ask the question of why this is being said here. It makes sense to say it if we’re dealing with the Day of the Lord, but this is Jesus’ first coming. I would challenge you to go to Malachi 3 and read it. Couple that with Matthew 21:33-43. Even though this isn’t the final last days dealing of God, it is quite clear that Jesus has indeed taken the Kingdom from the leaders of Israel and given it to they who will produce it’s fruit (the tax collectors and sinners of Israel, and later in Acts even the Gentiles).

“Therefore bear fruit to repentance…” Again, the concept of bearing fruit is not foreign in the consciousness of the Jewish people. John isn’t being clever and inventing something new. Even Isaiah the prophet calls Israel God’s “vineyard” (Isaiah 5) – the Hebrew word gan. God planted Israel, He cultivated Israel, and yet He only found bad fruit. Tell Me, O Israel, what I did wrong! The answer, of course, is that God did nothing wrong. Therefore, John is telling these people, “Bear fruit to repentance.” You who have consistently been that barren vineyard, or, even worse, been the ones producing bad fruit, repent of your wickedness, and turn unto the Lord. They know what tshuva means (Hebrew word/concept of repentance).

In the book of John, Jesus is speaking to the Jews round about Him. And in chapter 8, the Jews respond that they have Abraham as their father. It’s as if being genetically Jewish is all they think they need to inherit the Kingdom. They don’t even realize that Abraham was called to be the father of many nations because of his character, and not simply because of God’s sovereign choosing. Certainly God’s sovereign choosing played into it, but don’t think that God would have chosen Nimrod instead. There is a character, a certain mindset and lifestyle that reflects who God is, and it was that very thing that was being chosen.

God can raise children of Abraham from the stones.

Why?

It wouldn’t be too much for God to do so, but I think we should understand that John was pointing to that hill outside Jerusalem, where it says that the Messiah will step foot upon (Zech 14:5).

What stones are upon that hill?

They are graves.

God can raise them up out of the graves, and you will completely miss it, because you have hardened yourself, and have refused to consider that God is an actual person, and not some concept that we fiddle with.

We come back to the concept of agriculture and producing fruit. What do  you do when a tree refuses to bear fruit? You cut it down and use it as firewood. Therefore, John has no hesitation or timidity in pointing out that the ax is already at the root, just like it’s always been, and the fire of God is already upon you. This is the vision of the prophets. Everything is immanent; everything is life and death; everything is now, even while it yet might be millennia in the future. Eternity has no concept of time. Time cannot contain eternity. Eternal moments break the constraints of time, so that they who are eternal can perceive the reality of past, present, and future in a manner that affects all of past, present, and future. We’re affected by our past, and we also effect the past. We’re affected by the future, and we also effect the future.

In verse 11, John again brings up the issue of repentance. He says, “I baptize you with the water of repentance…” Baptism itself, as far as I can tell, comes from the concept of mikveh. A mikveh was the ritual of washing yourself with water to make  yourself clean. You find this in Exodus 19, that God says to Moses that the people need to wash their clothes and be made clean before Him. You find it again in Psalm 51:2, that David asks to be washed in order to be made clean. Ezekiel 36:25 speaks of clean water being poured out upon the House of Israel to make it clean – again, a reference to mikvah. In Leviticus 17:15, we have the mikvah prescribed in regard of becoming clean again after eating something that has died of natural causes or by beasts (that which you didn’t kill).

For a mikveh, you would immerse yourself in moving water. The rabbis talk about how this takes you out of your regular mode (in the air), and puts you in a state less familiar (floating submerged in water). It’s like birth, and has deep significance tied to it from a baby that leaves the womb, and now therefore is coming forth into the air for the first time. You are no longer unclean, but now as clean as a baby, you enter again into the air and society in right standing with HaShem (God).

In this last segment, when John begins to express what the Messiah shall do, again we find that much of it goes back to the prophets. He isn’t saying anything new. John is building upon what has already been said, and what is already being believed. For example, look up these verses: Psalm 1:4, Isaiah 1:31, 27:4, Jeremiah 7:20, 15:7, Malachi 4:1, and Amos 9:8-10.

I think the “Holy Spirit and fire” is not two separate things, but one. It’s like when you say it is raining cats and dogs. It doesn’t mean that it rains cats in one spot, but dogs further up the street. It’s just a saying, for one, but we all understand that they go together. In fact, the whole point of the outpouring of the Spirit in the prophets (Jeremiah 31:31-37, Ezekiel 36:21-27, Joel 2:25-32, etc) was that there was both the outpouring of the Spirit and the cleansing of the House of Israel, but also the judgment and recompense upon the nations in the Day of the Lord. You cannot escape it. This outpouring is always placed at the end of the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, at the threshold of the coming of Messiah, the Day of the Lord, when there shall be signs  in the heavens, and fire and devastation. The Spirit of supplication and grace poured out upon Israel in Zechariah 12 is the same timeframe as the previous verses:
“And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem are my strength in the Lord of hosts, their God.’ In that day I will make the governors of Judah like a firepan in the woodpile, and like a fiery torch in the sheaves; they shall devour all the surrounding peoples on the right hand and on the left, but Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her one place – Jerusalem. The LORD will save the tents of Judah first, so that the glory of the House of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall not become greater than that of Judah. In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the LORD before them. It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.”

Let us conclude, then. This passage is incredibly suggestive of end times events. That which John is speaking of cannot simply be constrained to the first coming of Jesus. And yet, there is a reality in which they were exactly constrained to the first coming of Jesus. The leaders really were cast off of their own tree – the ax already being at the root. They were cast off and wild branches were grafted in. But that isn’t for you to boast, but for you to tremble. Behold the goodness and severity of God. Goodness to you, should you continue in the ways that you have been taught by Christ, yet severity to those who harden themselves to become full of bad fruit. This is a now word, because many do neglect the most basic principles of the faith, and yet it is also a future word, because the King shall come, and when He does, we shall again see the outpouring of the Spirit and fire.

Consecrating Firstborns – Exodus 13:1-16

When we read this whole segment, you’ll notice that it begins and ends with regulations regarding the firstborn. However, sandwiched between this are verses regarding the first fruits. This has significance for a couple reasons. First, after Passover comes First Fruits, which is celebrated three days after the Passover – the day that Israel crossed the Red Sea, and that Jesus would have resurrected. Second, this is the season. It is early spring, when the flowers are blooming, the winter crops are being harvested, the animals are giving birth, and nature itself shows the reality of resurrection.

Therefore, I don’t see the consecration of the firstborn as something altogether separate and distinct from the rituals mentioned regarding first fruits and Unleavened Bread. The consecration mentioned in Exodus 13:2 is later expanded in Numbers 3:12, 8:16, and 18. The firstborn are seen at the Tabernacle performing Levitical duties. Here in verse 2, that which is consecrated is specifically that which was dealt with in the plague. Men were affected, and therefore they must be consecrated. Beasts were affected, and therefore they must be consecrated. God has spared the firstborn of Israel, and therefore the firstborn is considered holy unto the Lord.

Therefore, with verse 3, we have “Remember this day…” Why? It isn’t just the date that is commemorated, as if this event is a single event. This event is eternal. It is a pattern by which we can comprehend the glory of God, and His intentions throughout all generations. It is a prophetic perception, and not merely something that we “believe” that gives this kind of testimony. Passover is seen throughout the whole Scripture, and not just the actual event, but the eternal pattern of pesach.

Passover represents the coming out of darkness and into light, the coming out of “the house of bondage” (a phrase Moses uses frequently in Deuteronomy as well) and into the beautiful freedom of God’s House. Therefore the unleavened bread is more than just a sing of remembrance. It is more than a matter of leaven meaning “sin”. “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” was a warning regarding their doctrine, and not simply their practices. There is a spirit behind the words, and an attitude that conveys whether they are truth or only factual.

“For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread…” Seven is the number of perfection, and not simply completion. Yes, I know that that the creation was completed in seven days, but it was also made perfect. There were seven nations “greater and stronger than” Israel that they must dispossess from the land. Why? Because there was completion? No, because the Land is perfect, and from it the glory of the LORD is to go forth, but the enemy has desired to take hold of that Land. This is a perfecting of the saints. We hold the feast of Unleavened Bread through the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:6-8) – that is, from living, speaking, doing, and having all of our life governed by authenticity in Christ.

Notice the rest of that verse. it isn’t merely that we are forced to eat without leaven, and oh what a burden that is. We celebrate with a feast on the seventh day. It isn’t like God is trying to make us eat the bread of affliction (Deut 16:3), or that we’re required to eat the bread of adversity (Isaiah 30:20), or the bread of tears (Psalm 80:5), but that we’re to have a massive party and celebrate that God is not causing us to live in that any longer. The point isn’t oppression, but freedom.

In regard to explaining to the children, this particular verse is not directed at when the children ask. This is spoken to the parents to simply explain it, whether the child initiates the conversation or not. In the following verse (9), the wearing of tefillin is mentioned. The Jews have translated this verse as wrapping a leather cord around your arm (traditionally, the left arm, but it’s not specified), and a box upon your forehead. In the box are four verses, and this is one of them. Personally, I don’t quibble against the phylacteries (tefillin), but I believe that the command has to make sense in the context.

What is it about unleavened bread that has to do with the arm or forehead? It makes sense that in our mouth the command of God shall be – for we’re eating it in observance. When we’re released from bondage, it is a release from that which constrains. Therefore, the sign is upon our hand/arm because we are no longer held back, and upon our head because it takes the mindset of freedom to recognize freedom. If you hold an animal in captivity from its youth, even when you let it free, it won’t realize that it can move beyond whatever leash it was given in captivity. There must be more than a breaking of chains, but also a mental recognition and ascension unto freedom. And let us not forget the last bit of the verse, that it was “by the strong hand of the LORD” that we were let out.

In our final section (verse 11-16), we deal again with the firstborns. Here we have God again speaking regarding how the firstborn is His, not only now, but also when they inherit the Land. The means by which you can have your firstborn back is through what is called “redemption”. Redemption is not merely being free from sin, or being “saved”, or making it to heaven, or whatever other silly things we typically think. Redemption is deeply rooted in the patriarchal system. When a family member is injured, stolen, or lost, it is up to the patriarch of the family to “redeem” them – to bring them back into the family safely, whatever the cost, and whatever the need.

When we’re dealing with redemption from the Lord, we’re speaking specifically in flesh and blood manner. If you want to keep your firstborn son to continue your family name, then you must purchase him back from the priests/Levites for an allotted price. Once again, this isn’t to be “Ra ra fury fury”, but rather to in the Hebrew culture, this was an honor. It was a living means by which they could perpetuate the remembrance of what God has done for them, and such demand is a grace that should reveal to us that God is not an elitist. Yes, the Levites and priests are the only ones allowed to be near the tabernacle… except for the firstborns who are consecrated unto God.

I confess that I have not the sufficient insight to understanding why certain things are the redemption of certain animals. Nor do I fully grasp why you must break the neck of the donkey if you don’t redeem it. If any of you have some suggestions, I would be honored to hear them.

John the Baptist – Matthew 3:1-6

Matthew writes in a manner that packs a ton of information and references in just a few sentences. Remember, he’s writing to people who would have probably either met, or would have heard from second hand sources about this John the baptist fellow. First, we find that this man is in the wilderness of Judea preaching. This is important for two reasons.

We can notice verse 3, that Matthew quotes Isaiah 40. What do you find when you go back to Isaiah 40? This is the first chapter after speaking about Hezekiah being threatened by Assyria, becoming sick, getting well, and then entertaining Babylon. Isaiah prophesied to Hezekiah in chapter 39 that during the time of his children the Babylonians would come into Judah and ransack the land, the palace, and the Temple. Because this man showed them everything, they will come and devastate in order to take everything. Isaiah 40 starts by prophesying, “Comfort, yes, comfort my people…”

When we read the context of Isaiah 40, we find another one of those Matthew moments when he is saying that something is being fulfilled, but then the context of Isaiah 40 doesn’t grant this. We continue through Isaiah 40 to find that God redeems Israel, and that God comes and rules over Israel Himself. We find that the glory of God is revealed, and the nations are counted as nothing.

This is not a passage about Jesus’ first coming. This is a passage about the second coming. Yet, Matthew is saying that John the Baptist is the one preparing the way…

How can we explain this?

I would like to use timelines, charts, and other drawings to employ, but for this kind of revelation, it must be revealed by the Holy Spirit. It almost seems diminished to attempt another way of expressing it.

Time in the prophetic and apostolic mind is not linear. It cycles, and each cycle results in a deeper progression of God’s plan of cosmic redemption. So, for example, you have from the beginning the Kingdom established. When Adam and Eve took of the forbidden fruit, they were exiled from Eden, which we can liken unto that Kingdom. However, God didn’t cast them away without hope. There are progressions throughout history of how it is that God is bringing it all back together. You have two seeds spoken of in Genesis 3:15. Cain builds a city, but there is no mention of such a thing with the sons of Seth. It is with Seth’s birth that men started to call upon the name of the LORD. With Noah and the flood, we begin a new cycle, with an ‘everlasting covenant’. It is Shem who is most highly blessed at the end of Genesis 9, and Canaan/Ham that is least. Yet, when we read Genesis 10, it is the descendants of Japheth that brought about the second city mentioned in the Bible: Babel.

From Babel comes Babylon. Notice the peoples associated with this in Genesis 10:10-12. We have Assyria also mentioned, which is why in Isaiah the Assyrian often sounds like the Antichrist. As we progress in the narrative, we find Abraham being chosen. From Abraham we find Isaac is chosen. It continues to narrow down who this “seed of the woman” is, until you  have twelve chosen – the twelve sons of Jacob. Israel is the firstborn son of God (Exodus 4:22), and is the seed of the woman. Egypt in Exodus represents the kingdom of darkness in flesh. Israel represents the Kingdom of God. God delivers Israel, thus establishing His Kingdom upon the earth with the conquest of Canaan.

There is the same story repeating over and over again. Enoch (the city) is destroyed through the flood, when God delivers a people for Himself (Noah and his sons). Babel is destroyed, and God chooses a people for Himself (Abraham and descendants). Egypt collapses, and God chooses a people for Himself (Israel). Canaan is conquered, and God establishes Israel and the Land as His physical Kingdom on this earth. Jerusalem is conquered, and God chooses David to rule from there. Here it is another step in the progression. Each time the Kingdom of God is revealed more deeply and exactly.

It is no longer a foreshadowing that is spoken of here. Now we have Christ Jesus, the physical incarnate God. With John the baptist, he is preparing the way for the Kingdom of God, because the actual, physical, real, tangible Kingdom is to be established through Jesus. Now, what many commentators miss is that this is not the final progression. There still will come a deeper expression of the Kingdom with the return of Jesus, and therefore another moment when this verse in Isaiah is applicable. The establishment of the Kingdom of God is progressing in deeper and deeper expressions, until you finally come to the end of the age, with the Millennial Kingdom, and God’s glory is beheld unto all the earth, the nations themselves are coming up to Jerusalem to behold that glory, and Jesus rules – God in the flesh – over all peoples.

Many times the New Testament writers show how with Jesus’ first coming there is a fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies. But that doesn’t mean that those prophecies are now done away with and thrown to the side. There is a pattern in the Bible, which the prophecies are reiterating and expecting to continue. These patterns are not just there for us to call “dispensations”, but are instead cycles to help express the ultimate climax. There shall be an ultimate climax where history comes to a pinnacle. It won’t always be that  we’ll find cycle after cycle, world without end. Time will come to a close, and there is “an age to come”. Matthew is pointing out that with Jesus’ first coming, we do have the actual Kingdom of God being manifest, a deeper expression than before, and yet at the same time it is the exact same expression as before.

Which brings me to another point.

There is this idea that what we have in the ‘new covenant’ (New Testament) is better than what they had in the ‘old covenant’ (Old Testament), and therefore the old is obsolete. What is not understood is that the old is an expression of the eternal, one progression further than where Abraham was, but not to the point where God Himself ruled over Israel and all nations. Here is why that is important: The same Spirit that has been poured out upon us is the same Spirit that the prophets had. What you see expressed throughout the Old Testament in the saints is the exact same thing that you and I have. Saul was converted after leaving Samuel to go back home, and it says that he “became another person”. That is the exact same conversion that Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 5:17. The prophets did say that the Spirit came upon them, but it also says that the Spirit was in them (Daniel 4:8, Genesis 41:38, Numbers 27:18, etc).

The second reason that the wilderness is important in verse 1 is for the sake of verse 4. To many Christians who are not familiar with their Old Testament, this seems like just an abnormal description of John the Baptist. However, when you cross reference 2 Kings 1:8, you find that this was the exact dress of Elijah. Why is that important? Malachi 3:1 says that before the Messiah comes, God shall send Elijah as the forerunner. Once again, this is the pattern being revealed, and Matthew is showing John the baptist to be Elijah. We don’t find Malachi 3:1 quoted here (unlike in Mark 1:2-3), but we do find Jesus insert this later in Matthew 11:10.

In Matthew’s Gospel, John’s message was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” Matthew stresses the issue of repentance to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, where Mark stresses repentance for the remission of sins. Both Mark and Luke speak of that remission, but in Matthew’s Gospel, such words are strangely absent. Later in the passage, Matthew explains to us what “entering the Kingdom” is, by revealing that all Jerusalem (go back again to Matt 2:3), all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to John, confessing their sins. We then progress from that into verse 7, to speak on the unrepentant Pharisees, and verse 10 signifying the uprooting (casting off – Matt 2:6, Micah 5:2-3) of the of those without repentance.

This “all the region around the Jordan” practically quotes the same phrase from Genesis 13:10-11. This is the region that Sodom and Gomorrah was in. This only shows one more time the pattern of redemption, not only for individuals, nor even for nations, but for the land itself. The place that was inhabited by wickedness, and was left desolate through judgment, is the very place God chooses, and the very place of whose inhabitants come out in repentance before God through confession and the baptism of John the baptist. All the strings tie together somehow – even the strings we weren’t looking for.

He Shall Be A Nazarene – Matthew 2:19-23

Within this passage of Scripture, we have the word coming that Herod has passed away, and therefore it is safe to return to Judea. We also have what seems to be the human decision to go to Nazareth, where Luke claims that Jesus was for His whole life, and yet it is according to the word of God, for the prophets declared that He shall be a Nazarene. This last part has caused a lot of confusion, because you won’t find that verse anywhere in the Old Testament. It isn’t even prophesied in the apocrypha or pseudepigrapha (books outside the canon). Let’s look at the text as a whole, and then we’ll address the confusion at the end.

In the time of Herod (the one who slaughtered the children at Bethlehem), taxes were an average of about 80-90% of your income. Between Herod, Rome, and the Temple, you payed from a quarter to almost a third of your wages to each one. The Temple demanded a tithe, which was 10%, plus the money required for sacrifices, plus your first fruits, plus whatever else that you have vowed or that the feasts require. Ultimately, this would result in about 30-35% of your annual income. Herod sent out telones, which is translated ‘tax collector’, to bring in the political tax to ‘King’ Herod. As a worker for Herod, you were also allowed to take whatever allotment for yourself. So, between the Herod tax and ‘telones’ tax, you would be giving somewhere around 25-30% of your annual income to your government. Yet, remember that you government (Judea) was ruled by Rome. Therefore, there is a Roman tribute tax that you are required to give, as well as incense  when it is periodically demanded throughout the year. Whether they were Roman or under Herod, the marketplaces also would require payment to buy, sell, or trade in.

Because there was so much taxation under Herod (according to Roman historians, this wasn’t the average case in all of the Roman Empire), many of the Jews were losing their land and homes. The property inherited with Joshua was being stripped from families and given to the workers of Herod. You can’t pay your taxes, and therefore you owe the government what is rightfully yours (after all, they didn’t give you that land…). It is here that we find something interesting. What do you do if you’re one of the people during this time who loses your family land? You can’t live off of your inheritance anymore, so how do you feed your family?

In our modern society, we find the answer. You get a job somewhere. Jobs in this period of time were much different than now, but the idea is still the same. You know that in a larger city, there will be people who need to buy metal products, there will be people who need to buy clothing, need their shoes repaired, buy food for their families, etc. All of the normal everyday things that people spend their money on today was also applicable for that day and age. There are only slight differences (mostly within technology).

So, in order to feed your family, you would move to the city to find your place as a blacksmith, a carpenter, a butcher, a tailor, or some other occupation/trade that you could make income with. Joseph doesn’t take his family back to Bethlehem, which is quite obviously where he was born because that is where he went for the census and where Jesus was born (see Luke 1 and previous verses in Matthew 1-2). Joseph doesn’t go back to his family land. Instead, he dwells in Nazareth as a carpenter.

Can you see how immediately the Gospel is bringing hope to the poor?

Herod claimed to be king of the Jews, but the Magi asked where the one to be born King of the Jews had been born. This means something very important: Herod isn’t the true king. Herod’s kingdom, which has up to this point brought poverty and oppression, is going down. Maybe for the rich living in Jerusalem Herod’s kingdom is security, but for the guy who moves to Nazareth in order to become a carpenter and feed his family – the blue collar guy, or maybe even less – Herod’s kingdom resembles oppression and guilt.

Imagine what you would feel if you lost your family land… It has been in your family for millennia, over 150 generations by this point, and now that you’ve inherited it, you’ve lost it. That is a kingdom of guilt, and not freedom.

Matthew is setting the stage quite quickly as to what His Gospel is about. I said at the beginning of this study that it is about Kingdom. Yet, it is important to note that with it being about Kingdom, there are very political statements being made. Someone in the first century who would have been found with this Gospel probably would have been murdered. That kind of political outcry, of speaking that there is a Kingdom and King who has come and has been established that surpasses Herod in glory and in righteousness is impossible to tolerate if you are ascribing to Herod and the system is working for you.

And so now let us deal with the prophecy regarding Nazareth.

It is true what the Jews say. They are right in pointing out that Matthew makes a massive blunder – at least, if we give them that this is a quotation of something. If we put these words in quotes, as my NKJV has done, but which the original Greek did not have, then it is true that Matthew is absolutely deceived or a deceiver. Nowhere does it say anything about the Messiah being a Nazarene. Such words aren’t ever spoken. At best you have the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2, when it speaks of Galilee receiving a great light (which Matthew will quote in the next chapter of his Gospel).

So, what is going on here? Matthew is not putting something in quotes. He is exercising a hermeneutic principle that the rabbis are familiar with, which our Christian exegetes are very uncomfortable with. One of the talmudic principles of interpretation is to find other words in Hebrew that are similar, and to interpret the passage according to what it would say if we used other Hebrew words. For example, the word for ‘man’ is ish (pronounced EESH), and the word for ‘woman’ is ishah (pronounced ish-UH). Ish has a yod, and ishah has a hey. Ishah does not have a yod, and ish does not have a hey. Yod and hey together is yah, the condensed form of God’s name. When man and woman come together, the man donates his yod, and the woman donates her hey, and together they worship/represent Yah. But, if the man and/or woman does not have their yod or hey, then you have esh (pronounced AYSH). Esh means fire. When the man and/or woman has forsaken God, they bring fire into the relationship. Therefore, when it says that they shall be one flesh, it is speaking of the man or woman who bear the image of God.

Matthew uses this same kind of principle in his Gospel. Matthew is not saying that the Old Testament strictly declares the Messiah is supposed to be a Nazarene. He is using a word play. Over and over again, the Messiah is called “the branch” in the prophets. This “branch” is the Hebrew word netser (pronounced net-SEHR). The word Nazareth comes from this root. What Matthew is pointing out is that to be a “Nazarene” could have two meanings. First, it meant that you are from Nazareth. This is actually the only usage of the word. Second, and this is where the word play comes in, it could be used in the sense of calling someone “of the branch”.

I think it is this secondary usage that Matthew is striking at. He is pointing out that Nazareth is from the root netser, which is over and over again a term given to the Messiah. What does it mean for Jesus to be “Nazarene”, or (extremely loosely translated) “of the branch”? It stems from Isaiah 11:1 and other similar passages: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” This points back to the first verse of Matthew, that Jesus descended from David, and is therefore “the branch” of David.

For other verses about the branch to consider:
Isaiah 11:10
Jeremiah 23:5
Jeremiah 33:15
Zechariah 3:8
Zechariah 6:12
Luke 1:32-33
Revelation 5:5