Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mercy or Wrath

In his commentarial writings (re the Tanach/Old Testament), Paul describes in Romans chapter 9 his great burden for "his kinsmen according to the flesh who are Israel" (referring to the whole house of Israel and not just to Judah, that is, the Jews). He explains there that out of the seed of Jacob will come forth vessels of mercy, but also vessels of wrath. Paul uses the analogy of the "one lump" (Jacob) of clay: "Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if Elohim, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles [nations]?" (Romans 9:21-24. See also Jeremiah 18:4-6).

Paul then goes on to specifically clarify who these called-out ones are from the nations, by drawing from the prophet Hosea: "As He says also in Hosea: 'I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved'" (2:23). "And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, 'You are not My people,' there they shall be called 'sons of the living Elohim'" (1:10). It is clear, of course, who the prophet was addressing. Paul then switches back to Isaiah and draws our attention to even more details: "Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: 'Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved; for He will finish the work and cut it short in righteousness, because YHVH will make a short work upon the earth'" (Isaiah 10:22; Romans 9:21-27 emphasis added).
Here Isaiah uses the word "remnant." Thus, out of the multitudes of the descendents of Jacob, YHVH will have only a certain number of "lost Israelites/"wild olive branches" upon whom He will bestow mercy. He will bring (or graft) that quota, through the new covenant in Messiah, back into the olive tree of Israel, as there is only one root (Jesse/through Yeshua) out of the twelve that connects them to the covenants with the forefathers.

In their writings, when quoting the prophets, the apostles always kept the original text in its context. They knew who were the called, chosen, and foreknown of YHVH. They all understood that the promised seed would come out of Sarah's dead womb, and that YHVH's chosen nation would also be birthed by another barren mother, Rebecca (see Romans 9: 9-10).

Paul sums up his explanation at the end of chapter 10 by quoting (again) from Isaiah 65: "I was found by those who did not seek Me; I was made manifest to those who did not ask for Me. But [literally, moreover] to Israel He says [or, He says to Israel]: 'All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people'" (Romans 10:20-21; Isaiah 65:1-2). Notice that the translators' preconceived idea has led all of them to translate the Greek word deh, as it appears here, as "but" (whereas in the previous verse, where that word is also to be found, different Bible versions have rendered it in a variety of ways). Thus, it seems that one could read Romans 10:21: "Moreover, he says to Israel…" – meaning that the ones who "did not seek" Him (mentioned in verse 20) are the same ones that are cited in this verse (21). Knowing the history of the northern kingdom, this shoe certainly fits.

Then without taking a breath, Paul continues (in the next chapter), combining what he had said in Romans 9 and 10: "I say then, has Elohim cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite (notice he did not say Jewish in this context, because he is identifying himself with the whole house of Israel) of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. Elohim has not cast away His people whom He foreknew" (Romans 11:1-2). This statement connects us back to what the apostle said in chapter 8: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified" (Romans 8: 29-30).

It is commonly and traditionally contended that Romans chapter 9 through 11 make up a kind of parenthesis in Paul's letter to non-Israelite Gentiles in Rome. But if we can switch from Constantinian ('universalistic') thinking, we will notice that Paul was sent to the nations in order bring in the "mercy vessels" out of the multitudes of the sand-of-the-sea Israelites; some of whom were appointed for wrath and some for grace. This is why the apostle makes his point by quoting from the Torah: "For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.' So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of Elohim who shows mercy" (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15-16).

Ephraim 06/08/2010

Friday, January 20, 2012

Letter to the Returnees

Letter 463 (letter to returnees) 30/07/2010
This week, as we looked at the first 16 verses of Isaiah 65, it became unmistakably clear that a very serious message and call is issued in this text to the descendants of the northern kingdom. The relevancy of the message would have been appropriate only to those who were beginning to come out of their state of "a nation that did not call My name" (Isaiah 65:2), that is those who had been in oblivion regarding their identity and were just beginning to discover it. Hence, it would have been mainly directed at the first century addressees of the apostles' messages, and later down the road, to those who now are likewise finding out their Israelite heritage.

So, what is it that YHVH is saying to these returnees, who are no doubt gleefully celebrating their newly found identity? He first defines them as "rebellious" (verse 2), but also as very religious, self righteous, and sanctimonious (verses 3-5; something He would not have found necessary to say to the nations that were steeped in idol worship and didn't know any better). The fact that YHVH is addressing those whom He had called His own is further made clear by His strong rebuke of them, and of their fathers : "Behold, it is written before Me: I will not keep silence, but will repay -- even repay into their bosom -- your iniquities and the iniquities of your fathers together,' says YHVH, 'who have burned incense on the mountains and blasphemed Me on the hills; Therefore I will measure their former work into their bosom'" (verses 6-7). In verse 9 He calls them by name: "I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah an heir of My mountains." He then goes on to qualify what are some of the traits of this people: "But you are those who forsake YHVH, who forget His holy mountain" (verse 11). One does not forsake or forget someone or something that one had not been acquainted with or connected to in the first place. Again, it is obvious that YHVH is speaking to His own! In His address He intermingles descriptions such as: "My elect shall inherit it, and My servants shall dwell there. Sharon shall be a fold of flocks, and the Valley of Achor a place for herds to lie down, for My people who have sought Me" (verse 9-10), with the negative ones we have looked at above. And so, within the same people group are to be found His servants, His elect, a people who have sought Him, but also the blasphemous ones, the idol worshippers, those who are forsaking and forgetting Him, and the hypocrites who are 'holier than thou.' YHVH then goes on to describe the blessings that are awaiting His faithful and obedient ones, contrasting them with the very severe judgment that is to be the lot of the others.

Paul makes reference to this chapter in his commentary to "his kinsman after the flesh," in Romans chapters 9 and 10. He mentions that within YHVH's chosen people there are those on whom He will have mercy and those on whom He will not (9:15-18). There are many who have not understood this latter statement. Often it has even been viewed as 'unfair.' But if read in the context of Isaiah 65:1-16 it becomes much clearer. Finally, if we are those mercy vessels, then we must pay close attention to what Isaiah is saying to us in the aforementioned chapter.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Chasing Vultures 16/07/2010

"So He [YHVH] said to him [Abram], 'Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.' Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other… And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away" (Genesis 15:9-11 emphasis added).

While reading the above verses from Genesis this week, a parallel from our own lives had occurred to me. In Romans chapter 12 it says that we too are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to our Elohim (v. 1). And as I was thinking of the fact that (literal) sacrifices require a knife or sword, to cut through bones, another scripture came to mind.

"For the word of Elohim is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13 emphases added), just like the animals that Abram divided in half, whose every part was laid open before YHVH.

However, these sacrifices can also catch the attention of 'other entities. In our case the vultures may be equated to the wicked one's messengers (ref. Matthew 13:4, 19). Have you ever noticed that on days that you really want to offer yourself up to YHVH and you use the knife/sword of the Word, suddenly some of your daily experiences produce an unusual quantity of thoughts and emotions of pride, self-righteousness, bitterness, strife, contention, self-pity, impatience etc.? The power of sin bombards you with the lust of the eyes and lust of the flesh. The temperature of temptation rises to uncomfortable heights.

Cooking in your own sweat you now find yourself complaining that YHVH hasn't shown up to take what you wanted to offer Him. And so you spend your day fighting off these "scavengers," like your father Abraham. However, finally the sun goes down and in your exhaustion you fall into a deep sleep - resting at last. Perhaps it is then that YHVH comes to you and says "well done good and faithful servant, I accept your sacrifice."

When you awake at dawn there seems to be a new sense of life and peace, and you are ready to offer the morning sacrifice of praise.
"I praise You, YHVH - Elohey Yeshua’tee (God of my Salvation),
I praise You, Elohi (my God), in Your sanctuary; I Praise You in Your mighty firmament! I praise You, Boreh Olam (Creator of the Universe), for Your mighty acts; I praise You, El Shaddai (God Almighty), according to Your excellent greatness!" (from Psalm 150)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

( war...war)

(war…no war…war…)

For the past few months we have been hearing rumors that a war is supposedly 'due' to occur in Israel this summer. Hezbollah has thousands of rockets, soldiers, and weapons in the towns and cities of the southern Lebanon. Cargos going to Gaza are no longer subject to the former stringent control that Israel has thus far subjected them to, so that the local weapon industry can now enjoy relative ease (not to speak of the hundreds of underground tunnels which serve to smuggle just about anything into Gaza from Egypt). Iran continues with its nuclear program. And so, let us ask again, will we have war this summer? In the past week some interesting analysis has come up as to why it appears that there will NOT be a war in and around Israel, at least this summer.

1. Hamas needs time to reestablish its political influence in the upcoming direct talks between the PA (Palestinian Authority) and Israel. It also needs to bring under its wings the other terrorist groups that float around freely. But more importantly, if the PA does start making headway towards a Palestinian State in the (so called) West Bank, Hamas could lose its supporters there.
2. Hezbollah, even though prepared to go to war, cannot do it alone. They need the backing (not just supplies) of Syria, Iran, and to a lesser extent Hamas. They also want to gain more influence in the Lebanese government, which is putting some restraints on them at present because this summer their economic growth (due to tourism) has sky rocketed, and a war would put an end to it.
3. As crazy as the Iranian leader may be, he is not dumb. Iran cannot afford a war with the United States. That is unless the US decides to strike first, in order to protect its oil interests, as President Bush did in 1991 when Saddam Hussein was of the opinion that he could just walk into Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and take over.

Don't be naive in thinking that all the US war equipment in the
Persian Gulf is there to protect Israel. The scenario could be similar to the ones in past Gulf wars, providing US strikes first (which will be encouraged and financed by the so called moderate Arab States), that is on the condition that Israel stays out of the conflict. But at the same time, those Islamic nations, like the Saudis, would love to see Iran and Hezbollah finish Israel off. Thus, the US, because of its need for oil is falling right into the hands of the Islamists.

The oil disaster in another gulf is linked directly to what is going on in the Middle East. Last summer we pointed out, based on words penned by the prophet Habakkuk that Islam is spreading throughout the Western nations. These Muslims are the hunters with the "net" (chrem) mentioned in Habakkuk chapter 1 and Malachi 4:6 (where it is translated "curse"). They are making their way into the nations that are financially indebted to the oil-rich countries. Thus the hunters may grab their catch/booty from the "net".

"'Woe to him who increases what is not his -- how long? And to him who loads himself with many pledges. Will not your creditors rise up suddenly? Will they not awaken who oppress you? And you will become their booty" (Habakkuk 2:6-7). Many Western countries have made pledges (to repay debt) and are now financially indebted to, for example, the Saudi king. Hence these countries' leaders must bow and kiss the hand of their master (and President Obama is not the first one to do so). "The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender" (Proverb 22:7).

YHVH's judicial system is in operation, and hence He says: "I will also gather all nations, and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; and I will enter into judgment with them there…" (Joel 3:2). Because Israel is the scapegoat in the above scenario, we will have to be alert watchmen, keeping our eye on the prophetic future. "Look among the nations and watch -- Be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you" (Habakkuk 1:5).