Saturday, October 29, 2011

First Fruit

In Parasha of “Mishpatim”, we find the ordinance of first fruit: "The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring into the house of YHWH your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk” (Shemot – Exodus - 23:19). In today’s world, there is very little significance to first fruit or to firstborn; in some circles separating milk from meat seems to be more the order of the day (if indeed that’s what it means). In the eyes of YHWH and in His plan of redemption, the principle of firstborn, or first fruit, is of paramount importance. In his epistle, Ya’acov (James), after addressing the 12 tribes, writes: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruit of His creatures” (James 1:18). Also Rav Shaul writes: “For if we are in the Messiah we are a first fruit of a new creation order”, (ref. 2Cor. 5:17; Rom 8:23). Ya’acov’s mention of the twelve tribes is no mere coincidence, for they are the ones who had been designated as first fruit, even before Messiah’s redemptive work had been executed. The concept of first fruit already had its beginning in the days of Cain and Abel, and later in the covenant that YHWH made with the line of those chosen for the position of firstborn in humanity: Noah, Shem, Ever, Avraham, Yitzhak, and Ya’acov.

When Moshe was told by YHWH to bring His people out of Egypt, he was sent to Pharaoh with the message that, “Israel is My son, my firstborn” (Shemot 4:22). Later, after killing all the firstborn of Egypt, YHWH announced to Israel: "Consecrate to Me all the firstborn; whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and beast; it is Mine" (Shemot 13:2). "You shall set apart to YHWH all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be YHWH’s” (Shemot 13:12).

The Hebrew word for firstborn, in Shemot 13:12 is “peh’ter”, meaning to separate, or first open. Other meanings for the same root are: remove, set free, depart, split, and break through. The injunction to “set apart” or to “dedicate”, in this verse, is from the same root as the noun “Hebrew”. (Note: generally, the root for to set apart or to consecrate is, and for firstborn it is This unusual choice of words, here in Shemot 13:12, seems to highlight the idea of breaking through and passing over, while being given, or recognized as belonging to, YHWH. This makes the Hebrews, whose name is derived from their forefather, Ever, a firstborn nation dedicated and set apart unto YHWH their God.

But what does it actually mean to be a firstborn or a first fruit?

According to the Torah statute it means to belong to YHWH. Those who are His, are identified as His property by being stamped (literally, or figuratively), or marked out through circumcision. This principle of possession is articulated in the oft-occurring expression: “for My namesake”. The notion of ownership and possession, commonplace in the world, applies no less to YHWH’s relationship with His people. "But YHWH has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day.” (Devarim 4:20); ”for YHWH'S portion is His people; Ya’acov is the place of His inheritance.” (Devarim 32:9).

We were visiting some friends who have two little boys, 3 and 5, this past week, and were told the following story: When the boys’ grandmother had visited them she said to the 3 year old: “Because I love you, you are the apple of my eye”. The older brother became indignant, and in defense of his younger sibling said to the grandmother: “If you love someone you don’t call him fruit!” YHWH, like that grandmother, calls Israel, as a sign of endearment “the apple of My eye”. But whereas in the case of the little boy it was very clear why a dotting grandmother would so call her grandson, it is less clear in the case of Israel, in fact it begs the question: What is so lovable about a stubborn, rebellious, idolatrous, adulterous people, who are actually more like a speck in the eye? Is it for their namesake that YHWH persists in His love, or is it because they are His beloved first born? (See Ez. 36:22-32)

Moshe seemed to understand this Torah ordinance. For when YHWH was about to judge Israel, he reminded Him concerning His own inheritance: "O Adoni YHWH, do not destroy Your people and Your inheritance whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand…. Yet they are Your people and Your inheritance, whom You brought out by Your mighty power and by Your outstretched arm” (Devarim – Deut.9:26,29). Later Daniel and Ezra interceded for YHWH’s people in the same way (see Daniel 9 and Ezra 9). True intercessors for Israel always understood this principle of the firstborn or first fruit. It was the most effective prayer in addressing the Almighty.

It is not only the ‘possession’ who is marked for the sake of identity, but the ‘possessor’ too is stamped for the sake of His beloved. In Isaiah, YHWH points out that Zion is engraved on the palm of His hand: “See, I have inscribed, engraved, etched you on the palms of My hands” (Is. 49:16). Is there a more direct illustration of this than Yeshua’s “burrowed through” hands, described so graphically by King David in Tehilim – Ps. 22:15-16? YHWH’s unalterable love for His possession is seen in the death of the Messiah. May we respond to Him as beautifully as the Shulamite does in the Song of Songs: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised. (Song of Songs – Shir Hashirim - 8:6-7).

The Messiah is seen standing on His feet of burnished bronze, as though they had passed through a furnace of fire, and with a winnowing fork in His hand. He has gone out to the nations for the harvest, to bring in and process the first of the first fruit company, which will ultimately be placed in a basket and taken on the 8th day to the place that is called by YHWH’s name (Devarim 26:2; Shemot 22:29-30).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Myth

The other day we took a little trip to Jerusalem’s Western Wall. No, it wasn’t for praying purposes, but in order to ‘journey’ underground, along the 488 meters (approx. 550 yards) of the Western Wall, which is almost the entire length of the western side of the Temple Mount compound built by Herod. Our guide was a religious young woman, and very knowledgeable about the area. However, while questioning her about the First Temple, she said that there was no physical evidence that it had ever existed. I couldn’t believe my ears! I then proceeded to tell her about our visits to Joshua’s altar on the Mount of Curse (Eval). Again, she was refuting the authenticity of that site too. In my shock, I told her that her fellow orthodox Zionist settlers, who live in the area of Shechem, stake their claim for being there on such archeological evidence. She sat down for a moment on the mother rock of Mount Moriah, and confessed that she too believed that the altar was truly dated to Joshua’s time, but…. After returning home and pondering for a while why this government employee would try so hard to explain away her own biblical history, I was struck by a word - “myth”. A myth, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is a traditional story presenting supernatural beings, ancestors or heroes that serve a primordial types in a primitive view of the world; a fictitious or imaginary story, person, or thing; a false belief.

The enemy of the Word of God has basically one weapon that he uses for blinding and binding the people; deceiving his victims into believing lies. This is why Yeshua called him “the father of lies”. "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).

If the so-called peace process, or land for peace, is going to succeed, an atmosphere of deception, against some basic truths must be created. One such deception in particular, which is very subtle, has to do with the most important issues of legal and legitimate claims to Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem; in other words, the entire land of Israel. The world, using its most educated experts in the professions of archeology and history, has come to the conclusion that there is no physical evidence of an ancient people called the Hebrews; no Exodus from Egypt; no First Temple in Jerusalem; no Joshua’s altar, etc. rendering any historical claim to the land null and void. If they manage to convince enough people in this generation to believe their lie, our children and grandchildren may just learn that the stories of the Torah are nothing more than mythology, and the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’acov will simply join the ranks of the rest of the gods of the Greek beast.

The Islamic religious authorities of the Temple Mount (the Wakf) dumped 900 truckloads of debris, which were hauled from the Temple Mount area, into the valley below. Our government (and the powerful Antiquities Department) purposely turned their back on this, and as a matter of fact arrested a student of archeology, for taking (“stealing”) from the dump precious artifacts of the Second and possibly First Temple Periods. Why is there such a blatant attempt to get rid of any, if not all, of these facts and evidence?

The land of Israel, our inheritance, is being contested like never before. Why? For the same reason that our identity is being warred against. This piece of real estate here in the Middle East is just as important to God’s plan of redemption as are the people. We cannot separate one from the other. Whether we find one archeological object or not, we still have the Word of Truth as written down by Moses and the prophets. This will stand as the one eternal testimony that God is who He says He is. Our heavenly Father wants us to be His witness on this earth, and has given us His Spirit for this purpose, to lead and guide us into all truth; a truth which will prove to be more than mere ‘head knowledge’, but rather will become a revelation of Him, through a people living in His land.

We, who have found our true spiritual identity in the Messiah and now also in ‘the natural’, as the seed of Israel, are also being challenged by the enemy; he wants us to continue to live as if we are not who God says we are. YHVH says that this nation, Israel, is to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation in the land, one that will show forth His righteousness and justice, as light to the other nations. Yeshua has come to set up His Father’s kingdom in us, the restored House of Jacob. Thus, to know who we are and to be sure of our calling, are vital matters. This truth of our identity as a redeemed first fruit people puts us back into a position that was lost in the Garden. We now stand, individually and corporately, through faith in what is true, as a beacon of light and as a sword in the hand of our God to destroy all the strongholds in the heavenly places. The lies and deceptions that have covered our souls like filthy rags are being removed in and through the death and resurrected life of our Messiah, who is replacing the lie with truth.

“Beware lest anyone deceive you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the myths of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to the anointing of Messiah (Colossians 2:8), Who is “the living way, truth and life”.