4.2.1 Israel: God's Family
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 2.1
Israel: God’s Family
The entire Old Testament (excuse the first eleven chapters of Genesis), and a fair amount of the New, swirl around something called “Israel.” It is my purpose here to explore Israel as a symbol—not what it is, but what it means.
It is clear that Yahweh is interested in the entire human race—not just the Jews. He created all of us for His glory, His fellowship, and as the intended recipient of His immeasurable love. So why did He set apart Israel for His special attention, the object of His focus—seemingly to the exclusion of every other people group? The Bible mentions other nations, of course, but always in reference to Israel. We would hardly be aware of the Midianites, the Hittites, or the Amorites, for example, were it not for their interaction with the offspring of Jacob. Such mighty ancient empires as Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome are but a footnote in God’s eyes, no matter their significance to secular historians. They are mentioned in scripture only because of their brushes with God’s “chosen people.”
It should be self-evident, then, that what we consider noteworthy and what Yahweh considers important are two vastly different things. When we see power, wealth, beauty, and success—or military might, the acquisition of territory, and the subjugation of nations—we tend to stand in awe. God, on the other hand, looks at the heart of a single individual who loves and trusts Him like a little child, and He finds the mighty men of the earth completely irrelevant in comparison. He is clearly not using the same standard of measure we are.
Yahweh’s apparent preoccupation with Israel demonstrates the point: they have never been a numerically significant nation. Today the Jews number only about two tenths of one percent of the world’s population (that we know of), and we have no evidence that they were ever more populous, percentage-wise—even during their “golden age,” three thousand years ago. And yet, God’s Word reveals that the Messiah will rule the entire world with a rod of iron for a thousand years, seated upon a throne in Jerusalem—in the land of Israel. If Israel is not a great and mighty nation—and hasn’t been since the days of David and Solomon—then why is Christ planning to rule the nations from among her midst? The answer is in the symbol. It’s not in what Israel is; it’s in what she represents: the Family of God.
Thus we come back to that most pregnant of concepts—the “chosen people.” Israel was first called “chosen” when they were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses said, “You are a holy people to Yahweh your God; Yahweh your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. Yahweh did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because Yahweh loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, Yahweh has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
Does this imply (as later Jews would conclude) that Yahweh didn’t “set His love” on people other than Israel? No: you have to take the statement as a whole. The reason, he says, that Yahweh’s love was poured out upon Israel had nothing to do with Israel per se, but everything to do with God keeping His unilateral promises. They were not populous or powerful or even particularly pious. They just happened to be the descendants of one man whom Yahweh had sworn to bless—whom He had chosen to set apart from the nations, for no discernable reason.
Abraham’s father Terah had moved his extended family—two sons named Abram and Nahor and their families—from the Sumerian city Ur of the Chaldees (on the southern Euphrates River near the Persian Gulf) to a place in today’s Northern Syria. This was about 600 miles northwest, following the course of the Euphrates River. They named the place Haran, after Terah’s third son, who had died in Ur. Genesis 11:31 implies that Terah’s original plan had been to go all the way to Canaan (modern-day Israel), but they apparently “ran out of gas” midway through the journey. So after Terah died in Syria, Yahweh told Abram to finish the journey to Canaan—without his brother Nahor.
He said, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” God didn’t just throw a dart at a map. He knew precisely where He wanted Abraham’s family to settle. This implies continued guidance on the journey. “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3) This is the promise upon which the entire destiny of Israel was built. Yahweh (no doubt in the form of a theophany—an anthropomorphic manifestation) made this covenant more or less unilaterally. The only “condition” Abram had to meet was to get up and move to a location known only to God—another three hundred miles away, as it turned out.
It hardly needs stating that one does not do something like this unless he is convinced that the One issuing the instructions has the authority to do so—that He actually is God. When Abram was later told (by the same God) that his own physical progeny would be as numerous as the stars you could see in the heavens, we are told, “[Abram] believed in Yahweh, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6—repeated for our benefit in James 2:23, Galatians 3:6, and Romans 4:3). That “belief” was set in stone before Abram even began his journey. We are (quite rightly) inspired by Abraham’s amazing display of faith in the almost-sacrifice of his son Isaac—the son of promise. But that was “merely” the climax, the crescendo of the story: Abraham’s signature belief in the efficacy of Yahweh’s word began the moment he was chosen.
We too are chosen by Yahweh—not for the same destiny as Abraham, of course, but chosen to be recipients of God’s love. Why, then, do so many of us refuse to respond in belief—which is the only thing accounted as righteousness—when we first encounter the evidence of His awesome love?
Israel’s “chosen people” status was never forgotten. It became the heartbeat of the nation, seldom stated but always there in the background. When Solomon became king, he prayed, “Now, O Yahweh my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (I Kings 3:7-9) Leading a nation is one thing, but Solomon was rightly awed with the responsibility of leading this particular nation: “Your people, whom You have chosen.”
Yahweh, speaking through His prophet Isaiah, says “The beast of the field will honor Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My people, My chosen. This people I have formed for Myself. They shall declare My praise.” (Isaiah 43:20-21) “I will preserve a remnant of the people of Israel and of Judah to possess my land. Those I choose will inherit it, and my servants will live there.” (Isaiah 65:9 NLT) These are prophetic passages, yet to see complete fulfillment. In other words, Yahweh’s “choosing” of Israel is an ongoing proposition: He has not changed His mind, despite their failure to believe their God (as their father Abraham did) over the centuries. His plan, from the very beginning, has been to restore Israel to a place of honor and blessing—just as soon as they (as a nation) learn to honor Him through His Messiah, Yahshua.
So far, so good. But then we turn to the New Testament, and we see someone else—the body of Christ, the church—being referred to as God’s “chosen people.” Sort of. Peter’s first epistle begins, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect [i.e., chosen] according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.” (I Peter 1:1-2) The book is quite clearly written to believing Christians dwelling in provinces of the Roman Empire outside of Judea. But it presupposes a knowledge of, and respect for, the Jewish scriptures—the Tanakh, which was at that point all they had of “the Bible.”
So are these “elect ones” chosen because they are Israelites, though dispersed abroad, or because they are Christians, believers in the deity of Yahshua the Messiah? Bearing in mind that Christianity was considered a Jewish sect at this point in history, the evidence points clearly to the latter scenario: they are chosen because they are in Christ. Israel (as a nation) isn’t even mentioned in the epistle. (“Zion” is once, but only within a prophetic reference to Yahshua as the “Chief Cornerstone.”) The entire focus of the book is on Christ, and how we are to comport ourselves in light of His authority (be holy, love one another, abstain from fleshly lusts, submit to one another in love, be patient in suffering, etc.).
Having defined his audience first and foremost as believers in Christ, Peter drops the next bombshell. He says, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” (I Peter 2:9-10) If we didn’t know better, we might (from this one snippet) conclude that the church has replaced Israel in the heart of God. But we do know better, from hundreds of passages elsewhere proclaiming the undying love and eternal plan of Yahweh for the nation of Israel. Nobody’s getting dumped here.
So are Christians (like Israel) a chosen people? Yes, because we have been born from above in the Holy Spirit. What makes us a “holy priesthood”? Our unrestricted contact with God through prayer—something Israel’s Levitical priesthood symbolized (as we shall see), although biological Israel as a nation could never have dreamed of such direct and unfettered access. What makes the church a “holy nation?” Again, we are related by the New Birth: we are brothers, sisters, and distant cousins all of whom are set apart from the world by virtue of our common faith in Christ’s sacrifice. A “special people”? Like a choir, we are all privileged to sing the same song of praise to our deliverer, whether in unison or harmony (and if I may stretch the metaphor, we dwell in light sufficient to read the heavenly sheet music together as the Spirit directs). We used to have nothing in common—we were gentiles and Jews, men and women, rich and poor, simple and sophisticated, slave and free. But now we Christians are a chosen “nation” in our own right, called out from among the others, united by the mercy we have all received, and defined by our common reverence for Yahweh and His Christ.
Paul concurs with Peter: “Therefore, as the elect [chosen people] of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:12-17) This time, there is no question that his audience is primarily comprised of gentile believers. Colosse was in Asia Minor, not far from the more affluent city of Laodicea (of Revelation 3 fame).
Of course, it is not particularly surprising that all of the Christian attributes entreated by Paul here would not be at all out of place applied to Israel in the Old Testament. After all, Yahweh and Yahshua are one person, one nature, one God, though different in form. “Israel” is by definition a biological category: Israelites (Jews, if you will) are all related by blood. But they represent something larger, something beyond Abraham’s DNA. In Yahweh’s symbol lexicon, Israel is a metaphor for God’s family. One need not be physically related to Abraham in order to be part of this symbolic assembly—but having a relationship with God is essential.
In fact, during the Millennial Kingdom (as it was during Joshua’s day) gentiles who honor Yahweh and His Messiah will be embraced as citizens in Israel: “Thus you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance, says the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 47:21-23) God loves Israel beyond measure, but He is not a racist.
Isaiah too prophesied that both “branches” of the family (the biological children and their adopted siblings, so to speak) would live side by side in harmony: “Yahweh will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers will be joined with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob.” (Isaiah 14:1) Real Christians, for that matter, already do.
Not to stray off-topic, but this is all a blatant slap in the face to so-called “Christian” denominations who have chosen in these Last Days to align themselves with the Muslim Palestinian cause, against Israel. It’s called the “BDS” movement—meaning boycott, divest, and sanction—tactics meant to purposely harm God’s chosen people. What is it about “they will cling to the house of Jacob” that they don’t understand? The literal restoration and redemption of Israel is by far the most often-repeated prophecy in the entire Bible. But of course, that definition implies that they need to be restored and redeemed. As a nation, Israel hasn’t been—yet.
Anticipating Israel’s disastrous blunder in rejecting their Messiah in 33 AD (you know, when they declared, “His blood be upon us and our children”) Hosea tells us what Yahweh will do in response. Remarkably, it’s not all bad news. “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah.” Note first that both “houses” are included—the north and the south, Judah and Ephraim (even though the ten northern tribes had been scattered to the four winds seven centuries before Christ was even born. “I, even I, will tear them and go away. I will take them away, and no one shall rescue. I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense….” So far, this isn’t looking too good for Israel. Lions aren’t known for their mercy or tenderness, but for their ferocity and strength. Note too that the “Lion” wouldn’t devour or destroy them exactly, but would claw them within an inch of their lives and drag them out of their home, only to leave them helpless and alone to lick their wounds for a while. Is this not precisely what Yahweh did to Israel in the wake of Yahshua’s crucifixion?
But there is a way out of their “wounded, abandoned, and vulnerable” predicament: they must “acknowledge their offense.” That is, they must confess to being guilty of shedding the blood of the Son of God—they must admit that Yahshua of Nazareth, the One they had crucified back then, was actually the Messiah after all. Don’t look now, but that epiphany will transform them into “Christians,” for all intents and purposes: people who receive the sacrifice of Yahshua the Messiah as the only possible means of reconciliation with Father Yahweh. (I’m obviously not referring to simply following so-called “Christian” liturgy—half of which is derived from Babylonian pagan practice. I’m speaking in conceptual, not cultural terms.) “Then they will seek My face. In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” (Hosea 5:14-15)
Prophecy tells us that during the Tribulation, Israel will suffer unprecedented “affliction,” first at the hand of dar al-Islam and then under the Antichrist—both of which will drive them back into the waiting arms of Yahweh. (See, for example, Ezekiel 39:22.) Israel’s affliction and the acknowledgment of their offense are thus linked. It is no coincidence that Christ said immediately before His crucifixion, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh!’” (Matthew 23:37-39, quoting Psalm 118:26) He’s describing the same affliction and longing described by Hosea.
If you’ll recall the requirements of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippurim, the sixth of the seven holy convocations), the heart of the precept was that Israel was to “afflict their souls.” Thus Hosea is actually describing the ultimate Day of Atonement here. To reprise Yahweh’s words to Moses on the subject, “The tenth day of this seventh month [that’s in the autumn] shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to Yahweh. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before Yahweh your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 23:27-29) The Hebrew word translated “afflict in soul” (anah) also means to answer or respond.
Respond to what? What would compel Israel, all at once as a nation, to be suddenly “afflicted in soul”—after a couple of thousand years of being “torn” and then virtually abandoned by their God? Whatever it is, it would have to be vitally important in God’s eyes—of the utmost significance in His plan of redemption—for it to have been included among the seven prophetic Convocations He instructed Israel to observe annually throughout their generations. It would have to rank right up there in importance with the crucifixion (Passover, #1), the removal of our sin (the Feast of Unleavened Bread, #2), the resurrection (Firstfruits, #3), our indwelling with the Holy Spirit (Pentecost, #4)—each of which has already been fulfilled—plus the rapture (the Feast of Trumpets, #5), and the establishment of the Kingdom of God upon the earth (the Feast of Tabernacles, #7). What’s conspicuously missing in that list? It can only be one thing: the second coming of Christ—scheduled (logically enough) just prior to the commencement of the Kingdom age: the Day of Atonement, #6. External national affliction will morph into internal, personal “affliction of the soul” when the Israelites are confronted with the undeniable reality of Yahweh’s Messiah.
The only thing separating the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles, it turns out, is the little matter of the ultimate battle against the forces of evil. The prophet Zechariah describes the scene: “It shall be in that day that I [Yahweh] will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem.” That’s Armageddon, in case you missed it. “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced.” And that would be Yahshua. “Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.” That refers to the national mourning at the death of King Josiah, the last godly king of Judah. “And the land shall mourn, every family by itself.” (Zechariah 12:9-12) And it goes on in that vein, describing the “affliction of soul” that will occur in Jerusalem when Yahshua personally returns in glory to the Mount of Olives (see Zechariah 14:4, Acts 2:9-12). This, in short, is a prophetic reference to the definitive Day of Atonement—the second coming of Christ and the inevitable response of Israel: mourning, introspection, affliction of the soul, and finally, a positive response to their Messiah.
So since the Day of Atonement is by law supposed to be celebrated on the tenth day of the Hebrew lunar month of Tishri (the seventh month—falling in the Gregorian September or October, depending on where we are in the intercalary cycle), we know precisely on which day of the year Christ’s second coming will fall. (By the way, of the four convocations we have seen fulfilled so far, all four of them fell on the exact dates of their Levitical mandates, in the year 33 AD.) Gee, it’s too bad we don’t know what year He’s coming, isn’t it?
Oh, wait. We do know. (Or at least we were told. Whether or not we were paying attention is another matter.) Back in our Hosea passage, we were cut off in mid-thought. (There’s a chapter break in our Bibles, but it’s all one discourse in the original text.) Yahweh (through Hosea) had just said, “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face. In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me.” Hosea goes on to say, “Come, and let us return to Yahweh; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3) If we pick up on the imagery, this “former and latter rain” is a prophecy of two Messianic advents—like two separate rainy seasons in Israel, one in the spring and another in the autumn.
Let’s see: “two days” after the crucifixion would be resurrection day, April 3, 33. And the “third day” would be Monday, April 4, a.k.a. the third day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread that year. Was the nation of Israel particularly “stricken” during Passover that year, only to be “revived” and “raised up” a couple of days later? No. On the other hand, the church (such as it was, a tiny handful of shaken disciples) certainly felt “stricken” while their Lord lay in the tomb, and they were most definitely “revived” on the third day—when news of Christ’s resurrection spread like wildfire. But Hosea can’t have been speaking of the church, for they were not “raised up” in any sense of the word. On the contrary—they were persecuted for centuries. Besides, they had not “left Yahweh,” nor had they (excuse Judas Iscariot) any “offense” to acknowledge. And remember, Hosea had specifically referred the prophecy to Judah and Ephraim—the whole house of Israel. So, as in the creation account, the “days” of which Hosea speaks mean something other than one full revolution of the earth in the presence of the sun.
If the “days” to which Hosea refers mean something else, what is it? We are given the divine formula by both Moses (in Psalm 90:4) and Peter: “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (II Peter 3:8) Applied to Hosea 6:2, this would mean that the “two days” of Yahweh’s “tearing and striking” would actually represent two thousand years (beginning in 33 AD), and the “third day” would be the millennium that will commence in 2033.
So let’s test the hypothesis against the historical record: have Judah and Ephraim suffered Yahweh’s anger and neglect for the past two thousand years (i.e., since the year of the passion?) Most certainly. Even though He has miraculously held them together as a people (albeit in exile), only a fool would deny that the Jews have borne the brunt of the world’s irrational and unrelenting hatred for almost two thousand years now. Nobody even knows why they hate the Jews—they just do. This persecution in itself has tended to keep them separate from the world, though the Jews (unlike the Muslims) have characteristically made every effort to assimilate into the societies in which they sojourn, generally becoming valuable and productive members of these respective cultures.
Putting the pieces of the puzzle together, then, it would seem evident that Christ will return in glory to planet Earth on the definitive Day of Atonement, Tishri 10, two thousand years after His passion. On that day, Israel will at last, as a nation, recognize and receive Him as their Messiah. That works out on the Gregorian calendar to October 3, 2033. And the kingdom of Christ will commence five days later (after the “battle” of Armageddon), on the definitive Feast of Tabernacles (a Sabbath, as required by scripture), October 8, 2033.
That leaves only the date of the fifth convocation, the Feast of Trumpets, in question. It is prophetic, I am quite certain, of the rapture of the church, for the rich symbology is identical, and exclusively so. It was to be celebrated annually by Israel on the first day of Tishri (i.e., ten days before Yom Kippurim). But this is the Feast of which Yahshua said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” (Matthew 24:36-37) We know the rapture can’t fall on September 24 (Tishri 1), 2033 (ten days before the definitive Day of Atonement), for (among a dozen other reasons) Paul informed us (in II Thessalonians 2) that the Antichrist (a.k.a. the man of sin, a.k.a. the son of perdition) would be revealed only after “He who restrains” (which can only mean the Holy Spirit) had been “taken out of the way.” Since the Holy Spirit indwells the church—this “taking out” is one way to define the rapture. The antichrist’s reign of terror will have begun over three and a half years before September 24, 2033; in fact, it will have been his “covenant with many” (See Daniel 9:27) that “officially” kicked off the Tribulation some seven years previously—the event that will “officially” reveal his identity to anyone familiar with scripture.
There is a ten-day gap between the annual celebration of the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. I have no idea if that is significant. (After all, the day had to fit into the calendar somewhere.) If a day is equated to a year, this would place the rapture on Saturday, September 16, 2023. But we are never specifically instructed to use that formula (though come to think of it, God did at least once—see Numbers 14:34). Just remember: “But of that day and hour no one knows.” A 2023 rapture date is a plausible hypothesis, nothing more. Far be it from me to “set dates” where God said not to.
So all we know for sure about the timing of the definitive Feast of Trumpets is that (1) it will happen on the day of the year mandated by Yahweh (Tishri 1); (2) It will precede the second coming by a gap of several years (at least seven, minimum). And (3) the rapture will come as just as big a surprise as Noah’s flood did—even though “everybody” knows it’s coming. We are to get ready and remain ready from now until it happens. We in the church are simply instructed to remain watchful, expectant, and faithful, loving our fellow man and fulfilling the Great Commission—prepared for Yahshua’s coming for us at any given moment. In other words, our instructions haven’t changed at all, just because it has become obvious that the Last Days are virtually upon us.
Keeping the seven annual holy convocations, commonly known as the “Feasts of Yahweh,” was a task assigned only to Israel. Leviticus 23, the first place all seven of them are listed as a group, begins, “Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: The feasts of Yahweh, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts.’” (Leviticus 23:1-2) Only Israel was instructed to rehearse these rather complicated rituals year by year. In fact, this could be said of the entire Torah: Israel alone was commanded to do these things. Hittites and Amorites, Assyrians and Babylonians, Greeks and Romans, Russians, Chinese, and Americans were all “given a pass.” Sort of. While only Israel was told to do these things, their significance is universal—what they mean applies to everyone. It would thus behoove us to pay attention.
It is a constant source of fascination to me that so many of the Torah’s precepts require a priesthood and a temple or tabernacle, and yet because Israel failed to keep them, Yahweh—several times—removed them from the Land, allowed the temple to be destroyed, and scattered the priesthood to the four winds. In other words, He made it impossible to do what He had required them to do. As the prophet lamented, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me. Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against Me. I will change their glory into shame. They eat up the sin of My people. They set their heart on their iniquity. And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, and reward them for their deeds.” (Hosea 4:6-9)
At the same time, Yahweh saw to it that the Instructions themselves were meticulously recorded and preserved. It is as if Israel had been chosen to be the cast of a Broadway play, acting out the Great Playwright’s drama on the stage for all the world to see. But since they refused to take their cues and recite their lines, all we’ve got now is the script. Ah, but what a play it is—the story of how our Creator would reconcile a fallen human race to Himself, how He planned to “undo” our sins and buy us back from the bondage into which we had sold ourselves. It’s a story of love, sacrifice, redemption, and the miraculous transformation of despair into inexpressible joy—and indeed, of death into life.
What’s hard for us to see is that the “play” wasn’t about Israel (not exclusively, anyway) but about the entire human race—and what it would take to save us. Nobody honestly thinks that Raiders of the Lost Ark was “about” Harrison Ford, or The Sound of Music was “about” Julie Andrews. Israel too is “only” playing a part—that of humanity. The “plot twist”—the thing upon which success or failure depends—is free will. Our hero, the human race (played by Israel) becomes conflicted: will he choose to follow the narrow path to God, or will he remain on the broad highway that leads to destruction? Never let it be said that Yahweh doesn’t know how to write a “nail-biter.” The suspense is killing.
If you’ll allow me a little blue-sky speculation, let us follow this rabbit trail for a moment. Our “working hypothesis” so far is that Israel represents all of humanity—or at least those among us who will in the end choose to follow Yahweh and His Messiah. In other words, Israel in scriptural symbology represents God’s family. At the same time, Israel is a literal, biological clan to whom Yahweh has made a number of promises in the past (both good and bad) based on what they, as a nation, would choose to do with His word. The classic “blessings vs. cursings” passages are Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. Both of them promise a whole series of escalating misfortunes (okay, catastrophes) for Israel if they would not follow Yahweh’s Instructions. Alas, these things now read more like a history book than a prophetic text: it has all come about just as Yahweh warned them it would.
One could make the case that these promises of blessing and cursing God made to Israel have also applied to other nations, depending upon their reverence for Yahweh and His Christ. (Compare, for example, 1940s Germany with 1940s America. God’s blessings remained upon the United States until we turned our collective backs upon the God who had blessed us so richly, sometime in the mid-to-late twentieth century.) Today, there is no such thing as a “Christian nation,” in the sense of being culturally and politically dominated by Judeo-Christian values. Although there are small pockets of spiritual reawakening in the world, most countries are in various states of decline and corruption, even though true Christian faith is still surviving—nay, flourishing—in the least likely of places. There’s nothing like a little persecution to make the church grow like a weed. It’s a lesson Satan never seems to learn.
Israel always means Israel. What remains to be seen is how much of what Yahweh told to Israel also applies (in principle, at least) to the remainder of His children. For example, God’s promises of Israel’s eventual national redemption and restoration are by far the most oft-repeated prophetic theme in the entire Bible. Careful exegesis leads us to the unshakable conclusion that these promises mean literal Israel. The entire nation of Israel will be repatriated to the Land of Promise during the Last Days and Kingdom age; if that included all of the redeemed among the gentiles, the rest of the world would be left deserted—and the land of Canaan would be as overcrowded as New York City or Hong Kong. It would also make it impossible to identify the “nations” with whom Israel will relate during the Kingdom.
Israel is said to have been “brought back from the nations among whom they had been scattered because of their idolatry and unbelief.” But the church was never scattered because of her apostasy (though that sort of thing would have been well deserved at times). It was only driven “from Jerusalem to Samaria to the ends of the earth” by persecution for her faith, something that eventually spread Christianity to every corner of the globe. In a very real sense, the church can’t be scattered and regathered, because her home base is the whole world. Rather, the admonitions Christ gives to the apostate church run along these lines: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” (Revelation 3:2-3) The parallel between Israel and the church in this regard, then, is that repentance will result in blessing, while failure to remain watchful can result in nasty surprises. In other words, the admonitions to Israel are quite specific, while their symbolic applications to the rest of God’s family tend to be more generalized.
If there were still any doubts about the error of “Replacement Theology,” they should have been put to rest for good with the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. For the first time in 1,813 years, Israel had a legitimate political presence in the Promised Land—one recognized by the nations of the world (excuse their livid Muslim neighbors). Ironically, it would not have happened if six million Jews hadn’t been murdered by the Nazis during World War II—gaining the cause of Zion a sympathetic ear among the nations for one brief moment in history (a moment that has, alas, long since passed). The neighboring Muslims attacked Israel with genocide on their minds in 1948, 1955, 1967, and 1973—and each time, against incredible odds, the Israelis fought them off, gaining territory and prestige with every step. Without Yahweh’s help, of course, they would have been pushed into the sea, and a few of them even admit this most obvious of facts. But to this day, Israel (as a nation) has yet to reconcile their miraculous existence with the holy God who told them to the point of ennui that this would happen. What’s standing in the way? It’s the religion of Judaism, ironically enough—the twisted, hollow caricature of the amazing relationship Israel once shared with Yahweh some 3,500 years ago—something Yahshua Himself calls "the synagogue of Satan."
So there is no question that literal Israel has a part to play in coming events. It’s not all a metaphor. It is left up to us to figure out what the scriptures are talking about at any given moment. Merely being aware that Yahweh habitually communicates via symbols is a tremendous advantage. If He did not, most of the Torah, and half of the rest of scripture, would be incomprehensible gibberish, or at the very least evidence of God’s twisted sense of humor. But He Himself told us that this would be his modus operandi: “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable.” (Psalm 78:1) “[Yahshua] did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to His own disciples he explained everything.” (Mark 4:34)
So (as we can observe from scores of recorded incidents) what is specifically true of Israel often reveals a principle which is generally true of the rest of us. Obedience results in blessing. Rebellion precipitates ruin. The sacrifices demanded of Israel are pictures of God’s own sacrifice on mankind’s behalf. But Yahweh doesn’t really want the sacrifices per se (which explains why He’s okay with letting Israel languish for millennia on end without a temple or priesthood. What He really wants—and said so (see Micah 6:8)—is our justice, mercy, and humility.
The trick is sorting out the prophetic texts that are specifically addressed to Israel. Do they (or can they) somehow apply to the rest of God’s family as well, though in a more generalized sense? Here’s a provocative example. Zechariah the prophet begins by saying, “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness….” So he’s definitely referring to Israel here. But is there more to it? He subsequently launches into a glimpse of Israel’s coming reawakening to Yahweh’s reality—the casting off of their idols and the repentance of their false prophets. I have no doubt that the events of the Tribulation will have a similarly eye-opening effect on a large minority of those gentiles “left behind” by the rapture—the potential “members” of the church of repentant Laodicea.
In the end, one cannot revere Yahweh without receiving His Messiah. So a few verses later, the prophet says, “‘Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, against the Man who is My Companion,’ says Yahweh of hosts. ‘Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered….” The “Shepherd,” obviously, is Christ. And the “sword” is the persecution that drove the “sheep” to the four corners of the earth. But who, precisely, are these “sheep”? Yahshua referred to Israel as His sheep (Matthew 15:24). And they were scattered, first in 70 AD and again, more completely, in 135. But He also referred to His own followers (a group overlapping but by no means coterminous with Israel) as sheep who listen to His voice (John 10:27). We too were scattered—driven by persecution to the ends of the earth.
“Then I will turn My hand against the little ones….” This translation is a bit misleading, because the word “then” isn’t there in the text—no timeline or order of events is implied. It’s apparently a restatement and clarification of what He said above about the scattering of the sheep. “Little ones” doesn’t mean children (or short people, for that matter), but rather those who are insignificant, ignoble, or lowly. Again, you could make the case that either Israel, the church of the Tribulation (“Laodicea”), or both are indicated. After all, Daniel was told that the “power of the holy people would be completely shattered.”
Here’s the punch line—and I do mean punch. “And it shall come to pass in all the land,’ says Yahweh, ‘That two thirds in it shall be cut off and die, but one third shall be left in it….” The “land” here is the Hebrew eretz, which is often used to denote “the Promised Land,” but actually means anything from land to earth, the Earth, ground, territory, or even dust—soil. We (okay, I) generally take this as a prophecy that during the Tribulation, two thirds of the Jews dwelling in Israel will perish in the mayhem of the times (whether by Muslim hands or the Antichrist’s) but a remnant, one third of them, will survive and return to Yahweh. I don’t think it refers to the whole population of the Earth, because Yahshua told us that if Yahweh hadn’t “shortened the days” of the Tribulation, “no flesh would be saved.” In Revelation, we are told of two separate events in which first a third, then another quarter of the Earth’s population will perish—together totaling half of us—and these two causes don’t include scores of ways to die during the Great Unpleasantness. The data seem to indicate an eventual death toll of far more than two-thirds of the world’s eight billion souls (give or take). My guess is that about 90% of humanity will perish.
The real question here is whether or not the math carries over from Israel to the rest of God’s family. In other words, could this two-thirds death toll statistic also apply to the late-comers to faith, the gentile church of repentant Laodicea? After all, Zechariah’s final description fits them perfectly: “I will bring the one third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, “This is My people,” and each one will say, “Yahweh is my God.”’” (Zechariah 13:1, 7-9) Compare that to what Christ told the Laodiceans: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich…. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:18-19) The imagery is identical: trial by fire, purification in the crucible of adversity. It proves nothing about the Israel-symbol question, of course, but it does give me hope that perhaps the Antichrist’s stranglehold on the world won’t be quite as firm as I’d imagined it.
John’s vision of the Tribulation’s carnage against “left-behind” neo-believers is dire indeed. He writes, “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!...’” Because this multitude of martyrs comes from “all nations,” they are by definition not restricted to Israel, but are the slain of the church of Laodicea—those who had received Yahshua’s counsel to “buy gold tried in the fire.”
The angel described them like this: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:9-10, 14-17) In other words, they’re dead, but alive forever—their mortal bodies have perished, but their souls will rejoice in the presence of the Lamb of God for eternity. Note that the “Shepherd” reference once more takes us back to Zechariah’s imagery.
I have always been horrified at John’s description of the “Beast from the sea,” a.k.a. the Antichrist, because of the sweeping success he will have in separating people from God. We read, “So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’… It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.” This is precisely how the neo-Christian martyrs were described—a worldwide throng. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:4, 7-8) The pessimist in me tends to gloss over that caveat at the end, and mourn at the idea that virtually “everybody” will follow the dragon and the beast. But (given the eternal reality of the “narrow gate” that leads to life) perhaps it’s not quite as bad as I imagined.
We are not told, whether in hard numbers, statistics, or percentages, how many names are “written in the Book of Life.” And frankly, it’s none of our business. God our Shepherd knows who are His, whether many or few. That being said, the concept of Israel symbolically representing “God’s family” in the context of Zechariah 13 has me bubbling with new hope. I’m not stressing over the “death toll,” which is going to be horrendous however you parse it. After all, we all die—our mortal bodies are neither designed nor intended to live forever. All I’m “worried” about is how many (or few) of us will choose Yahweh and His Messiah while there’s still time. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
So here’s what I’m thinking. (1) Israel is a symbolic representation of God’s entire family—a microcosm or focus group, so to speak. (2) Zechariah reports that “two-thirds shall be cut off and die, but one–third shall be left.” Then (3) John describes this “two thirds” as “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues.” So (4) if the martyred two thirds comprise such a “great multitude,” then the tribulation redeemed (comprised of both the two-thirds who are slain for their faith and remaining one-third who survive) must comprise a mighty throng indeed. In other words, Satan’s “last hurrah” may be more like a whimper. It is my sincere prayer that Satan’s “success” will be comprised primarily of his God-given (though temporary) authority to rule the earth—and not of his ability to drag people too their eternal doom. I’d sleep better at night knowing that the devil’s impending “fifteen minutes of fame” is more temporal than spiritual. Unfortunately, I can’t be sure I’m right in this case. It could be nothing more than wishful thinking and unwarranted transference on my part.
Anyway, it matters not (in the long run) how many of the neo-saints will “survive” until the end of the Tribulation. There will be enough for God’s purpose. Two “human races” will inhabit the Kingdom of God on planet Earth—redeemed mortals (who will replenish the earth’s decimated population) and transformed immortals (who, I presume, will inhabit bodies like that of the resurrected Yahshua). So every redeemed soul since Adam will walk the earth during the Kingdom Age, one way or another. Mortal or immortal, “dead” or alive, we are loved by Yahweh. Win, win.
That being said, if Zechariah’s two-thirds/one-third revelation applies to both Israel and the church of the Tribulation, then the greatest revival of all time is being forecast for those dark days. I sincerely hope this is the case.
Israel’s origins and calling ought to shed some light on God’s use of it/them as a universal symbol. And indeed, the scriptures spend an inordinate amount of time explaining what Yahweh did to set them apart from the world. It doesn’t begin with Israel (Jacob), of course, but goes back to His grandfather, Abraham. But the very name God gave to him (meaning “Father of Many”) explains why he couldn’t be recruited as the basis of the metaphor. Abraham may be the “father of faith,” but “God’s family” isn’t everybody, or even a broad swath of humanity. That metaphor implies their separateness, their sacredness, their holiness. “Israel,” then, is one family set apart from all of the others for God’s glory and purpose, symbolically, at least.
But the story of the “Israel” symbol definitely starts with Abraham—known then as Abram (meaning: Exalted Father). When we first hear of him, God apparently had it all worked out: “Now Yahweh had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram departed as Yahweh had spoken to him.” (Genesis 12:1-4) Abram didn’t start out “great.” He wasn’t even the head of his own household when he had left Ur of the Chaldeans (with his father, brother, and nephew) to settle in Syria. Yahweh, rather, plucked him out of obscurity and pagan culture to be the progenitor of the unlikeliest family you could imagine.
The crux of the promise is that the whole world would be “blessed” through Abram. “To bless” in Hebrew (barak) is related to the act of kneeling (a knee is berek). There is thus an implied hierarchy—the one giving the blessing is understood to be greater than the one receiving it. “To bless in the OT means to endue with power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity, etc. It is frequently contrasted with qalal, to esteem lightly, curse…. The OT sees God as the only source. As such, He controls blessing and cursing. His presence confers blessing, and it is only in His name that others can confer blessing. Indeed, God’s name, the manifestation of His personal, redemptive, covenant-keeping nature, is at the heart of all blessing.”—TWOT. When Yahweh tells Abram he would be a blessing (Hebrew: berakah), He’s saying the patriarch would be a gift, the source or conduit of blessings, bringing prosperity to others.
With twenty-twenty hindsight, we can easily identify what would make Abram such a blessing to the world: Yahshua of Nazareth—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—was his direct descendant. Thus God looks at Abraham’s covenant bloodline and says, “Whoever blesses you, I will bless, and vice versa: a curse upon you or your progeny is tantamount to a curse upon My Messiah.” God’s family is a package deal: you can’t love Christ and at the same time hate His brothers and sisters—whether genetic or metaphorical.
If we ignore the symbols, God’s attachment of Israel to a confined geographical location might seem odd. But again, the message is holiness, separateness, consecration. National borders reinforce that concept. “And Yahweh said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward, for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever….” A few things bear mention here. (1) Lot and his progeny were not included in the promise. They would receive an inheritance of their own (basically, today’s Jordan, Israel’s neighbor to the east) outside of the Land of Promise. (2) The gift was permanent: although Abram’s children might be evicted from the Land for bad behavior from time to time, it would always belong to them. And (3) the Promised Land was intimate enough for one man to comprehend. It wasn’t the size of a continent. You could see much of it from a hilltop on a clear day, and a man could walk its entire length and breadth in a few weeks.
Yahweh continues: “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered. Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.’” (Genesis 13:14-17) Abram was seventy-five years old when he arrived in Canaan, well into middle age considering the life expectancies of the day, yet he had no children. So this promise was an eye-opener. Note that God is not necessarily talking only about “Jews” here (although subsequent prophecies would define the Land exclusively as theirs). Abraham (in his persona as “Father of Many”) also sired Ishmael (by Hagar), and after Sarah died, Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah, by Keturah. And there were doubtless others as well: Genesis 25:6 mentions “the sons of the concubines (plural) which Abraham had,” who settled east of the Promised Land—purposely separated from Isaac, the child of promise. The fact is, anybody born in the Middle East today could conceivably have Abraham’s blood running through his veins.
But only one of his sons was “chosen” to be the child of promise. Yahweh later told Abram, “‘One who will come from your own body shall be your heir.’” Still childless at this point, Abram had been wondering about adopting one of his hired servants as his heir. But God set him straight on that point. “Then [the theophany] brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in Yahweh, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:4-6) Like the “dust of the earth,” the “stars of the heavens” is a euphemism for “more than you can possibly count.” Every year that went by made the promise sound more and more unlikely: not only was Abe not getting any younger, it was clear that his wife Sarah’s biological clock was winding down. But Abram had come to terms with the fact that “impossible” is not in Yahweh’s vocabulary. He didn’t have to know how God would fulfill His promise—he simply believed He would.
Granted, there was one false start—the whole Hagar affair, in which Sarah gave Abram her young handmaiden as a concubine, so he could father the son he so obviously wanted. Physically, it worked, but in every other way, it was a total disaster. Ishmael was Abram’s son, but he was not the child of promise, and God made that clear. Abram’s covenant wife Sarah would bear him the chosen one. Covenants, it would seem, are extremely important to our Creator.
“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Yahweh appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.’ Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying: ‘As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations….’” This was almost ten years after Ishmael’s birth. The name change says it all. It was as if God was telling him, “You’re going to keep doing this until you get it right.” “Exalted Father” would henceforth be called “Father of Many.”
God’s covenants—His promises made and kept—are inviolable. The sooner we come to terms with that fact, the sooner we can relax and enjoy His company. He told Abram, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:1-8) It bears repeating, however: God didn’t give the Promised Land to all of Abraham’s descendants. It would belong exclusively to the child of the covenant—Isaac, who (as promised) was born to Sarah the very next year.
Up until this point, it’s hard to see how the promise “in you [Abram] all the families of the earth shall be blessed” would become a reality. Other than a whole lot of time passing and his faith finally being rewarded with a son, very little had happened that would define Abraham as a “blessing” to anybody. In truth, he had screwed up more often than prevailing over his sin nature. (Somehow, I find great comfort in that.) But that was all about to change—with one of the most amazing, terrifying “dress rehearsals” in the entire Bible. “Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am….’” Abraham was used to hearing Yahweh—actually, talking face to face with Him (in the form of a theophany). There was no question that the One standing before him was the God who had made such amazing promises to him—and delivered (so far), even when it didn’t seem possible.
In short, Abraham believed God, and trusted Him implicitly. But what came next must have shaken him to the core. “Then He said, ‘Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you….’” A what? A “burnt offering” (Hebrew: olah—literally, “that which goes up,” as in smoke—from the verb alah, to go up, ascend, or climb) was, in Levitical usage, a voluntary sacrifice made for atonement, homage to Yahweh, and celebration before Him. Total dedication is implied, for the innocent offering was to be killed, bled, and completely consumed by fire.
In our privileged post-Calvary position, we know Yahweh to be a God of surprises—who sometimes does counterintuitive things, things we wouldn’t expect or anticipate, in order to make a point or impart knowledge or separate His faithful from the world. But Abraham’s entire experience with God up to this point had been pretty straightforward—God says, “Do this and I’ll bless you,” so he does it and is subsequently blessed. Even when Abe had screwed things up (which happened frequently enough), Yahweh had never broken His promises to him, for the covenant had not been subject to the patriarch’s behavior. But this just plain didn’t make sense. Sacrifice the Child of Promise? It’s one thing to “believe in” rather vague and nebulous promises, like “you’ll have many descendants, and they will someday own this entire country.” It’s something else entirely to believe strongly enough to obey a specific command like this, one that seemed to be antithetical to the whole program as God had revealed it so far.
But Abraham did believe with this sort of extreme, “unreasonable” trust. It wasn’t blind faith, however. The God whom he was obeying had proved Himself time after time. I’m pretty sure Abraham was utterly convinced that after he offered up Isaac as he’d been told, God would “simply” raise him from the dead. After all, the promise depended on Isaac, did it not? (That being said, I’ll bet he didn’t tell Sarah what he was about to do.)
So he proceeded to do what God had instructed him. “Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him.” They all knew they were going to the mountain to make a sacrifice. The firewood was a dead giveaway, even if Abraham had said nothing about it. “Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.’ So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together….” The imagery here is starting to pile up, so let’s pause for a moment to examine the details.
First, consider the location—a mountain in the land of Moriah. If you’re not familiar with geographical place names in Canaan, this might sound like something out of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. But actually, you know the place quite well: it’s Jerusalem—or at least, where Jerusalem would someday be built. At this point in history, however, nobody lived there, not even the Jebusites, from whom David would win the city in battle almost a thousand years later. Yahweh was taking Abraham and Isaac to where Yahshua would one day be slain. Note that the journey was complete “on the third day.” If that doesn’t ring any bells, keep reading.
I have a theory. I can’t prove it, of course, but you’ve got to admit, it would all be awfully poetic. I’m virtually certain that God was leading Abraham to the exact spot where the crucifixion would take place two thousand years later. In 33 AD, it was an ancient quarry outside Jerusalem’s city wall, on the road north toward Damascus. But in Abraham’s day it was a rough limestone escarpment, a low bluff. Where did the two servants stay? I believe it was the future site of the temple mount—not quite so far up the hill. (The temple was built on the summit of Mount Moriah within the city walls, while the crucifixion site was at an even higher elevation in Abraham’s day, but “outside the camp,” so to speak.) The temple (or at least its prototype, the tabernacle as described in Exodus) is a complex metaphor for God’s entire plan for our redemption. The two locations are only a few hundred yards apart. They saw God’s designated destination on the “third day,” then, because the ultimate destination for God’s plan of redemption was Christ’s resurrection from the dead—which took place on the third day.
Who’s who in this prophetic dress rehearsal? It’s clear that Abraham represents Father Yahweh, and Isaac represents His Son, the real Child of Promise—Yahshua, the One who would be “sacrificed as a burnt offering,” so to speak—crucified. The wood, placed on Isaac’s back for the short final journey is (obviously enough) a metaphor for the cross Yahshua Himself bore from His trial to Golgotha. Note that Abraham (playing the part of God) prepared the wood before they even left home. Note too that the father and the son “went together.” Abraham was convinced that they would both return together, even though it would require a miracle.
The “two young men,” Abraham’s servants, were left behind to ponder and pray. Symbolically, I would surmise, they represent Israel and the church—the two groups who were directly affected by (and vitally interested in) what the father and his beloved son were doing farther up the hill—witnesses to the events before the world. This would make the servants metaphorical of the same two groups we’ve been considering in this chapter: Israel, God’s literal chosen family, and the true church, their symbolic counterpart. It was the servants’ job to tend the donkey—a useful but unclean beast that may be taken to represent the heathen world with whom Israel and the church must both dwell. The donkey was left behind because you can’t achieve God’s purity using unclean means.
So there they were, hiking up the hillside, Abraham carrying the knife and the censer of live coals (indicative of the fires of judgment), and Isaac hefting the firewood. And here, as they say, is where the penny dropped. “But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, ‘My father!’ And he said, ‘Here I am, my son.’ Then he said, ‘Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?’” Good question. “And Abraham said, ‘My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.’ So the two of them went together....” One wonders how far they got before Isaac figured it out: he himself was to be the lamb for the burnt offering.
The record, though, is maddeningly taciturn at this point. “Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood….” Okay, let’s do the math on this thing. We aren’t told how old Isaac was at this point, but if he was strong enough to carry a load of firewood a few hundred yards uphill, he was no longer a child. I’d guess he was between twelve and fifteen years of age—that is, old enough to extricate himself from this predicament, if he had been of a mind to. Abraham was an entire century older than the lad, after all. Isaac could easily have overpowered his elderly father and run away, no doubt yelling back over his shoulder, “I’m telling mom!”
But no. He allowed his father to bind him and lay him upon the altar. He didn’t resist—perhaps he even assisted. In short, he showed the same trust in Yahweh’s provision that Abraham was displaying. I have no doubt that Abraham explained the whole thing to him, recited the theophany’s instructions, and told Isaac that God would surely raise him back up again from the dead, because the promise of universal blessing depended on him. To which Isaac doubtless replied, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but yours be done,” or something like that. “And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son….”
Weeping and trembling, Abraham was prepared to do exactly what Yahweh had told him to do. “But the Angel of Yahweh called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ So he said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me….’” There’s a hurdle we need to get over, here. Not that God sometimes asks us to do things we don’t understand. Rather, it’s that He sometimes changes our instructions just when we’d least expect it. He guides us, directs us, and blesses our course—and then suddenly throws up a roadblock, forcing us to detour. I can guarantee that Abraham was delighted to learn that he’d been “punked” like this. But we believers need to be prepared for anything that comes our way—knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that God’s will is sovereign, and that anything He allows to happen to His children is for our own ultimate good—even if we don’t understand what’s going on.
A personal example: three times in my life I found myself with the financial rug pulled out from beneath my feet—losing my job, finding myself with no apparent way to feed my family. But each time, God had something better (albeit different) planned for me. I had lessons to learn, trust to develop, horizons to expand. Like Abraham’s (and Isaac’s) ordeal, it didn’t feel very good as I was going through it, but God always revealed His plan eventually. I needed but to open my eyes and observe: God was ordering my steps.
And so it was here: “Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, Yahweh-Will-Provide [Yahweh yireh]; as it is said to this day, ‘In the Mount of Yahweh it shall be provided….’” What was provided? To Abraham, it was a ram—symbolically, a grown-up male lamb, God’s consistent metaphor for innocence, but with horns, indicating authority as well. But to us, it was the “Lamb of God who takes the sin of the world” as John the Baptist would later phrase it. Or look at it this way. What was provided was a substitute: the ram for Isaac’s life, and for us, the substitutionary sacrifice required to atone for our sins. Abraham had no idea how right he had been when he’d told his son, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” Read that: “God will provide Himself as the Lamb....”
Abraham didn’t have to go hunting for the ram. It was right there “behind him.” All he had to do to “make use of it” was turn around—a picture of our repentance. We’ll never see God’s grace if we’re not looking in the right direction—in the final analysis, toward Christ. The ram was “caught in a thicket by its horns.” This is not only a blatant preview of the crown of thorns that was mockingly jammed onto Yahshua’s brow during His trial, it points out how Yahshua would be “caught” and crucified: He was compelled by His own authority (symbolized by the ram’s horns) to lay down his life in defense of His sheep.
I think we’d all have to agree that our God is not easily impressed. He is essentially holy, after all, while whatever holiness we have is borrowed. Our usual pitiful efforts invariably fall very short of the mark, no matter how much we want to please our Heavenly Father. That being said, listen to Yahweh’s reaction to Abraham’s act of faithful obedience: “Then the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: ‘By Myself I have sworn, says Yahweh, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Genesis 22:1-18) Abraham, it would seem, had elicited these great and wonderful promises from Yahweh by exercising faith, demonstrated by his obedience, to an extent that hadn’t been seen on the earth for a thousand years—not since Noah had built the ark.
Or had he? Yahweh was obviously pleased. But the promises made “because you have obeyed My voice” were virtually identical to (if a bit more flowery than) the original covenant, the one that was practically unilateral: “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3) The only thing “new” here was the promise of political ascendency—but that could be implied in the former promise to make Abram a great nation. God did not force Abraham to obey Him, but being omniscient, He knew the man’s character. He knows our character as well—and the shocking thing is, He loves us anyway.
Thus it was confirmed: Abraham was the father of faith, and Isaac was the son of promise. We’re still nowhere close to “Israel-as-a-symbol,” however. The family would have to continue, and eventually grow. And for that to happen, Isaac would need a wife. But there was a problem. Canaan was populated by idolaters. The only reliable (or at least logical) place to look for a God-fearing bride was back in Haran, with the extended family Abram and Sarah had left behind—worshipers of the One True God, though not “chosen.” But Yahweh had moved Abram to Canaan for a reason—the setting apart of a people for God’s special purpose. Abram believed God—even if he didn’t understand the entire Plan. And he knew that sending Isaac back to Syria to find a wife could have torpedoed the whole “Promised-Land” principle. Once again, he found himself on the horns of a dilemma.
So the father of faith did what we should all do in such situations: he put the whole conundrum in the hands of Yahweh. “Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, ‘Please, put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by Yahweh, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac….” Arranged marriages were the norm back then. It may seem like an odd idea to us, but that’s only because we don’t usually trust our parents to make perfect choices for us—as if we always make good ones. Abraham wouldn’t be making the choice of a bride for Isaac, however—and truth be told, neither would the servant. The whole thing was left up to Yahweh. What a concept.
Any number of things could have gone wrong—and probably would have if they were trying to pull this off in their own wisdom. So the servant pressed for clarification. “And the servant said to him, ‘Perhaps the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land. Must I take your son back to the land from which you came?’ But Abraham said to him, ‘Beware that you do not take my son back there. Yahweh, God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, “To your descendants I give this land,” He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there. And if the woman is not willing to follow you, then you will be released from this oath; only do not take my son back there.’” (Genesis 24:2-8) The whole expedition was based on Abraham’s unshakable faith in Yahweh’s provision.
We’re all familiar with the story—how the servant showed up in Syria, and ten minutes later, God dropped the perfect “candidate,” Rebekah, practically into his lap. It was almost (cough, choke) as if Yahweh had arranged the whole thing ahead of time. We’ve all heard the saying, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.” That’s true enough with human endeavors, I suppose, but when we’re trusting Yahweh to guide our steps, then “too good to be true” can get to be yawningly routine. We may not recognize the blessings for what they are in “real time,” but it never fails: “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) The caveat, of course, is that for this to be a reliable life-strategy, we have to actually “love God and be called according to His purpose.” Genuine faith cannot be substituted with tradition, presumption, or “a form of godliness.” Even if we can fool all of the people all of the time, we can’t fool God.
It is not my purpose here to recount every detail of Israel’s long and storied history—but only to explore how we got from point A (Abram) to point B (Israel as a symbol for the family of God). Yahweh took His sweet time building the family into something that could reasonably be called “as numerous as the stars in the heavens.” Isaac would father only two sons, and even before they were born, God chose one of them (implying rejection of the other) to be the next “child of promise.” “And Yahweh said to [Rebekah]: ‘Two nations are in your womb; two peoples shall be separated from your body. One people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23) If He was going to continue whittling each successive generation down to a single individual, this was going to take a while. But “the younger,” it turned out, would be Jacob—a.k.a. Israel—whose twelve sons would (finally) jump start the chosen nation.
The most reliable way to track the people of promise is to simply follow the promises. Abram/Abraham had been given some amazing, though sweepingly general, promises. Yahweh continued that practice with Isaac (i.e., not with his older half-brother Ishmael). “Then Yahweh appeared to him [i.e., Isaac, when he had gone to dwell in the land of the Philistines] and said: ‘Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.’” (Genesis 26:2-5)
This was mostly a restatement of the original promises to Abraham. Two “refinements” are made. (1) It was now made clear that the Land of the Philistines—think today’s Gaza Strip and points north along the coast—were included within the Promised Land. And (2) Abraham is said to have kept Yahweh’s laws (and yes, the word is Torah) half a millennium before Moses delivered them to his descendants. How is that possible, especially considering the fact that the bulk of the Torah depends upon a tabernacle and priesthood (which Abraham obviously didn’t have) for compliance?
The answer lies in the principle that the Torah (i.e., “the Law of Moses”) is meant to be a witness—a story told to the world by the nation of Israel—of how Yahweh was going to provide redemption and restoration to a fallen human race—all of us. The means of that transaction (for that is what redemption is—a “deal” buying us back from the condition of slavery to our sin) was to be the sacrifice made by Yahshua on Calvary—the very thing that had been rehearsed by Abraham and Isaac, two thousand years before the fact, in the very same place. God’s “commandments, statutes, and laws” are to this very day “kept” when we bear witness of the salvation available to mankind through Christ’s sacrifice. We are “keeping the Law” as Abraham did when we pursue the Great Commission: “Go…and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing [i.e., immersing] them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20) Conversely, we are “breaking” the Law of God when we refuse to believe Him—to trust Him enough to at least try to obey Him.
It’s sometimes hilarious how God works things out. He even knows how to use our screw-ups for good. In this case, Esau (the elder twin, and Isaac’s favorite, truth be told) had sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of red stew, earning him the nickname Edom (“Red”). Isaac was about to bestow the firstborn’s blessing on him anyway (which in this family was more than a little significant), but fate (or was that Rebekah?) intervened. Mom sent Jacob in to see the nearly-blind old Isaac, pretending to be his brother. And (to make a long story short) Isaac gave the blessing to Jacob, thinking he was speaking to Esau: “Surely, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which Yahweh has blessed. Therefore may God give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren, and let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be those who bless you!” (Genesis 27:27-29)
Had Isaac forgotten what Yahweh had told the pregnant Rebekah about who would serve whom? God had made it clear that the line of promise was to go through Jacob, not his minutes-older brother Esau. Isaac’s lapse didn’t change anything. The blessing—and the Abrahamic promise—went to Jacob, just as God had ordained. When he discovered the ruse, Isaac came to his senses, repented, and recognized Yahweh’s hand in the matter. Esau, needless to say, was not quite as understanding. Okay, he was positively livid, to the point that Isaac and Rebekah feared for Jacob’s life.
So they sent Jacob to stay (where else?) with Abraham’s people in Paddan Aram (i.e., the plains of Syria, where Haran was) for a while (characterized as “a few days” in Genesis 27:44)—at least until Esau had time to cool off. And Isaac again blessed Jacob—this time knowing who he was really talking to—“May God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may be an assembly of peoples; and give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham.” (Genesis 28:3-4) Even though he was leaving the Promised Land, it was made absolutely clear to Jacob that his inheritance was in Canaan, not Syria. The “blessing of Abraham” demanded that he return, for this Land was God’s gift to His chosen. (I’ll explore Israel’s symbolic connection with the Land more fully in a bit.)
Also, as with his father Isaac, it was abundantly clear—especially to Rebekah—that Canaan was no place to find a suitable bride. The pagan Hittite women (yes, plural) whom Esau had married had become the bane of her existence. So Jacob was sent to the house of his uncle (Rebekah’s brother) Bethuel, and ended up marrying two of the daughters of Laban, Bethuel’s son. Close family marriages would be forbidden in the Torah, half a millennium later (see Leviticus 18), but at this early date, marrying one’s second cousin wasn’t considered a problem. Between Leah (whom Jacob had not intended to marry) and Rachel (whom he had), and their two handmaidens who later became Jacob’s concubines (again, not by his design), the family finally took off: twelve sons (and an unspecified number of daughters) were fathered by Jacob/Israel—and a nation was born.
But it was what happened on the journeys (both coming and going) that defined Jacob’s place in God’s plan. “Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, Yahweh stood above it and said: ‘I am Yahweh, God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants….’” This took place over fifty miles north of where he had grown up, so at the very least, Jacob was getting a glimpse of the scale of his geographical inheritance. It wasn’t just a plot of land—a ranch, so to speak. It was the whole country. Jacob had no children, or even a wife, at this point, but as with his father and grandfather, Yahweh was promising him that he would. By the way, just because this took place in a dream, don’t suppose it wasn’t “real.” Dreams and visions were a common way for God to reveal Himself in the Old Testament—along with theophanies and Shekinah manifestations.
Next, God repeated the unlikely-sounding promise of vast numbers of descendants. “Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you….” The promise God had made to Abraham, and then to Isaac, was now Jacob’s as well. And the pledge to bring Jacob back to the Land from wherever he wandered would apply in a general sense to his progeny as well. This is also true symbolically to the whole “family” of God. We believers would all find ourselves set apart from the world in a “place” of God’s choosing—not geographical, so much, but spiritual. It’s called holiness.
Jacob took his dream very seriously, and took note of where it happened. “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!’ Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously….” Bethel means “the house of God.” (The former name of the place was Luz—probably meaning “almond tree.” If you’ll recall, the almond in scripture is symbolic of watching, awakening, or vigilance. This dream was definitely a “wake-up call” for Jacob.) He was familiar, of course, with how God had appeared to Abraham and Isaac in other places, and he was well aware of the divine promise that rested upon his shoulders alone (now that Esau was “officially” out of the promise-picture). But to our knowledge, Jacob had never heard from Yahweh personally before this. If there had been any doubt in his mind as to the basis or reality of the promise, this encounter dispelled it forever.
In response to Yahweh’s promises to him, Jacob now made a few of his own. At first glance, it appears as if his “covenant” with God was laden with conditions and caveats. But I don’t think this is really the case. All he was saying (I think) was that if the God of his dream was really who He said He was, then He could be relied upon to bring His promises to fruition—which would require that Jacob survived until he could return to the Land of promise. Jacob’s “conditions” weren’t outlandish or greedy. He was merely asking God to be as trustworthy as his father and grandfather had sworn that He was. “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then Yahweh shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:12-22)
That last promise was a bit of an “eyebrow raiser.” How, precisely, does one render a tithe to a God who has revealed Himself only in a dream? There were no Levites or priests at this point—the mechanism for tithing had not yet been established (although Abraham had given a tenth of the spoils of war to Melchizedek, probably a theophany—see Genesis 14:18-20). For His part, Yahweh may have been thinking, I’m about to give you twelve sons. I’ll take one of them, Joseph, the firstborn son of your beloved Rachel, as your “tenth” for a few years. Close enough.
A few decades later, Jacob—now with four wives, eleven sons, and a semi-miraculous degree of material prosperity—was reminded by Yahweh that Haran was not his home. “Jacob saw the countenance of Laban, and indeed it was not favorable toward him as before. Then Yahweh said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you….’” We are given more detail in the account Jacob related to Rachel and Leah: “Then the Angel of God spoke to me in a dream, saying, ‘Jacob.’ And I said, ‘Here I am.’ And He said, ‘Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and gray-spotted [see Genesis 30 for context]; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’” (Genesis 31:2-3, 11-13)
Yahweh had met Jacob’s “conditions,” and indeed, had surpassed his expectations in spectacular fashion. But Jacob still had one more hurdle to get over. His name said it all: Jacob (Yaaqob) literally meant heel-catcher (because he had grasped Esau’s heel on his way out of Rebekah’s womb—the word for “heel” is aqeb). Basically, it meant he was a supplanter: the name is derived from the verb aqab, meaning to follow at the heel, assail insidiously, circumvent, or overreach—in common parlance, to trip someone up. It implies a crafty, calculating manner. And as his troupe came near to where Esau lived, his calculating mind kicked into high gear. His brother too had grown rich and powerful—and Jacob had no reason to doubt that he still held a grudge against him after all these years.
So Yahweh set about teaching Jacob that He could be trusted not only against devious weasels like his father-in-law Laban, but also against more—shall we say—physical threats, like Esau. Having broken his troupe into two bands, he sent them on ahead, hoping to placate Esau before they actually met face to face. Then, still playing all the angles, he prayed in desperation and fear, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, Yahweh, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your family, and I will deal well with you’: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children. For You said, ‘I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’” (Genesis 32:9-12)
We can castigate Jacob for being slow to trust Yahweh, but let’s face it—we all usually act the same way (or at least, I do). There’s nothing wrong, of course, with working hard, being careful with one’s finances, planning ahead, and doing what we can to insure against unforeseen disasters. But at some point we have to realize that (1) life is risky, (2) you can’t plan everything, and if you did, you’d miss out on half the adventure, and (3) God is sovereign. At some point, a believer has to put himself in the very capable hands of his Savior, and say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15) Isaac had learned that lesson as a boy; Jacob wasn’t quite there yet.
Yahweh knew He had to sit Jacob down for a little chat, and this was the perfect time. He was isolated and introspective. But this time God didn’t resort to dreams and visions. This time He’d appear as a theophany—a physical being who would leave behind physical reminders of their encounter. “Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, ‘Let Me go, for the day breaks.’ But he said, ‘I will not let You go unless You bless me!...’” This is a strange account, any way you slice it. There is no doubt that Jacob realized (at some point) that his “opponent” was God in flesh. Why were they wrestling? Ordinarily, Jacob would have tried to talk himself out of any situation like this—negotiate, deal, or maybe offer a bribe. But the Visitor wasn’t having it. This “battle” was going to be fought on God’s terms.
He could have crushed Jacob like a bug, of course, and we get the feeling that they both understood this. But God let Jacob try his hardest, do his best, test himself, discover his limits. That is the lesson we all must learn: as strong (or clever, rich, beautiful, or privileged, etc.) as we are (or think we are), we are no match for God. The remarkable thing about this encounter is that even knowing he had “lost” the wrestling match, Jacob still stubbornly refused to let go until the Victor blessed him. A blessing, as I said, implies a hierarchy—the one giving the blessing is understood to be greater than the one receiving it. It’s based on the word for “knee.” The recipient kneels (one way or the other) before the blessor. In order to be blessed, one must acknowledge the superiority of his benefactor. And that’s what Jacob was doing here—admitting his limits, vulnerability, and inadequacy before God. So Yahweh let go, no doubt smiling to Himself, “Now you’re getting it. From now on, you’ll rely on Me, not on your own abilities.”
It was God, not Jacob, who instigated the “wrestling match.” And there’s a lesson in there somewhere for us. Yahweh doesn’t want us to bow and scrape before Him in obsequious obeisance, feigned or not. He wants, rather, for us to talk with Him, tell Him what’s on our minds, ask Him to supply our needs, and question Him about the things we don’t understand. Yes, of course we are to approach Him in reverence—even awe—but He apparently wants us to “wrestle” with Him, remind Him (as if He could forget) of his promises, His love, and His mercy; and hold on to Him for dear life—for that is what He is: Dear Life. In our daily struggles, how many of us have the presence of mind to say, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!”
Yahweh was happy to bless him, of course. That was why He had made such a dramatic appearance. The blessing came in the form of a whole new identity: “So He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Jacob.’” My name is “Sneaky Cheater.” Thanks for reminding me. “And He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, [i.e., “Prince with God”] for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed….’” Jacob’s new name Yisrael is a compound of two Hebrew words. That first part is derived from the verb sarah, meaning to persist, exert oneself, persevere, or prevail—thus to have power (as a prince has power—you’ll recall that his grandmother’s name was Sarah, meaning “princess”). El means God. So the name might alternately be rendered, “he who struggles with God,” “he contends with God,” “God strives,” or perhaps “God prevails.” Every lexicon I consulted renders it a bit differently.
Names in most cultures are meant to be encouraging, meaningful, or hopeful. (In America, we mostly just give our children names we think sound nice.) In Hebrew, one’s shem is not merely his “name” (what you call him), it is also an expression of his character, his reputation. So Yahweh’s “name” is holy, and the returning Messiah’s name is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” Thus it is not terribly surprising that Jacob—now Israel—asked the theophany what His name was. “Then Jacob asked, saying, ‘Tell me Your name, I pray.’ And He said, ‘Why is it that you ask about My name?’ And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [the Face of God], ‘for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.’” (Genesis 32:24-30)
A similar thing happened when Manoah, the father of Sampson, encountered the “angel of Yahweh.” He too was told, “Why do you ask my name?” and was denied a straight answer. Here’s what I think was happening. If the theophany had said (truthfully enough) “My name is Yahweh,” then we could have gotten the mistaken impression that Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, was a mere man—or at least looked like one. The concept of presenting Himself to us in a “diminished manifestation” for a specific and temporary purpose would have too much to comprehend.
But the theophany wasn’t “the pre-incarnate Christ,” either, though theologians make this mistake on a regular basis. He wasn’t “Jesus.” Christ—the Messiah—was “anointed” to fulfill a specific role: to save us via His sacrifice—to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That’s why His name was Yahshua—Yahweh is Salvation. None of these Old Testament appearances of “the angel of Yahweh” or theophanies of other descriptions had come for that purpose (even though, as manifestations of God, they actually were all the same Person, sharing the same divine identity). Rather, they were there to impart critical information or encouragement to someone who needed it.
For that matter, the reigning God-King of prophetic promise, though still called Yahshua (I presume), will bear a very different shem than did the Suffering Servant who appeared among us so long ago. In the end, John saw Him this way: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God.” (Revelation 19:11-13) Isaiah writes of Him, “The government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) In the end, the “name” of all these various theophanies, messengers, and manifestations is Yahweh—the self-existent One. (For more on this subject, see Volume 1, Unit 2 of this present work.)
Anyway, Israel’s new name is central to our understanding of what Israel signifies in God’s lexicon of symbols: the family of God. If we are in His family, we need not scheme, calculate, maneuver, or strategize a way to reach God. Those things were all linked to Jacob’s name—the heel-grabber, the supplanter. Conceptually, “Jacob” is the one who tries to earn his way into heaven. He uses his piety or penance, his wits or wealth, to try to win God’s heart. Jacob, in short, represents religion: man’s search for God.
Israel, by contrast, contends with God, holds onto him for dear life, asks Him the hard questions, listens to the answers, and in the end learns to trust Him implicitly—in short, he prevails with God. Israel, then, represents relationship with our Creator—that connection which is instigated by God and received with thanksgiving by us. We’re family—with all the complex dynamics that implies.
Let us, then, explore a few of the ways in which Yahweh’s relationship with Israel reveals His intention toward the rest of us who have come in faith, receiving the gift of life. We will soon discover that Israel is not so much different from us as it is a picture of us. If the salvation of the human race is God’s objective—if the prospect of fellowship, of reciprocal love, with a race of beings endowed with free will was (as I believe) the only reason Yahweh went to such ridiculous lengths to create, and then save, us—then Israel is the parable God told us to reveal what’s going on.
I’ve quoted this scripture before, but it bears repeating: “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of Yahweh, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Psalm 78:1-4) The Hebrew word for “parable” here is mashal, meaning a proverb, a parable, a byword, or a similitude. Strong’s notes that a mashal is “a pithy maxim, usually of metaphorical nature, hence, a simile (as an adage, poem or discourse).”
Israel is perhaps the greatest parable of all—an object lesson on a national scale, addressed to the entire world. Yahweh is heard warning Israel that if they refused to heed His word, “You shall become an astonishment, a proverb [mashal], and a byword among all nations where Yahweh will drive you.” (Deuteronomy 28:37) If we don’t learn from Israel’s mistakes, we will endure the same discipline.
Israel’s call out of Egypt
Probably the best-understood of all of Yahweh’s symbols is that of Egypt. It is not just a country, a nation, but is clearly metaphorical of the world, and specifically, of bondage within it. It is a place of contrasts—lush beauty and barren deserts, political power and abject slavery, total dependence on God’s bounty (provided through the waters of the Nile) with total ignorance of the God who actually provides the river’s annual miracle. False gods are given lip service and showered with resources, though no one seriously believes in their power to help or inflict harm. Political power shifts back and forth between the pharaohs and the priests, while the populations supporting them languish in poverty and dread. Monuments to false gods and dead kings dot the landscape, while little is built to improve the lot of the common man.
Does any of that sound familiar? It should. It describes the state of “civilized” humanity virtually from the beginning—at least since the advent of city-states under Nimrod, a few generations after the flood of Noah. It didn’t begin—or end—with Egypt, but echoes throughout history, right down to the present day. Oh, the names of the false gods have changed, and the politicians (usually) use promises and intimidation these days, instead of standing armies, to keep the sheeple in line. Oil or gold or corn (or marijuana) may have replaced the waters of the Nile, but 21st century America, Iran, Greece, or Zimbabwe still look—in their essentials—pretty much like ancient Egypt. The rich prosper, the poor struggle, the gods are imaginary, the priests prey on the fears and superstitions of the gullible masses, and Almighty God is ignored (or maligned) by the vast clueless majority. The human condition often looks a great deal like a disease.
Why Egypt? You’ll recall that Yahweh had called Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to a new land—not Egypt, but neighboring Canaan. So why do we see them, half a millennium later, in bondage in this foreign land? The story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) makes it abundantly clear that Yahweh Himself orchestrated the whole thing: He wanted Israel to experience bondage in a world foreign to them. It’s strange—the promises God had made to Abraham hadn’t mentioned anything like this. Had He forgotten? No, but sometimes the journey on which God leads us is just as important as the destination.
It’s all about our ability to perceive the truth. It’s the first thing they teach you in art school: we see by virtue of contrast; we learn by observing or experiencing change. The difference between black and white is far easier to perceive than between blue and purple. A polar bear in a snowstorm is hard to see if he isn’t moving. The more blatant the contrast, the more indelible the impression.
By the time Moses was called by Yahweh to deliver the Israelites from bondage—four centuries after Joseph—they could hardly imagine what freedom might have even looked like. Yes, the work they were required to do for their Egyptian masters was onerous; yes, they were treated as fourth-class citizens—as slaves, as human property. But after four hundred years, they had learned how to live with it. They had their vegetable gardens and their fishing nets, their flocks and their families. Their homes were humble but secure, for the most part. Their numbers had grown from a few dozen souls to millions—600,000 families. Nobody was contemplating riots and revolution: there was still as much to lose as there was to gain. Their quiet dystopia was to be preferred to scourging and death. Life was tough, but tolerable. Freedom, hope, and risk were not part of the vocabulary of Israel: they were in bondage in the world, with no apparent way out—and that was almost okay. When you live in darkness, light can come as an astonishing epiphany.
The point is that God wanted Israel to experience first-hand what total transformation looked and felt like. This wasn’t like quitting a bad job and landing a slightly better one, or like being sick and then getting well again. It wasn’t even like repenting from your heathen ways and “getting religion.” No, this was going to be more like rising from the dead. Like I said: contrast. If Israel hadn’t spent all that time as slaves in Egypt, they (and we) would not have had an adequate picture of what Yahweh’s salvation was all about. What God wanted to teach us would not have been clear if all the Israelites had had to do was fight off the occasional gang of Girgashite bandits in Canaan.
Keeping that in mind, we note that Moses didn’t just waltz into Pharaoh’s throne room and announce, “We’re outta here—bye.” Nor did the king say, “Okay, thanks for coming. Have a nice road trip back to your Promised Land. Don’t forget to write.” It was more like, “Over my dead body.” Pharaoh, you must remember, was the most powerful monarch on the planet at the time of the exodus. His authority among men was unquestioned. For his part, Moses had to be absolutely convinced in Yahweh’s deity and direction to have told Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” for Pharaoh had the legal prerogative of cutting off the prophet’s head because of his temerity.
As with any resurrection, there were some “logistics” to overcome. Israel was “dead,” so to speak, so they’d have to be made aware of the Lord of Life, and His interest in them. That, in turn, meant that the entire Egyptian pantheon (with which they were quite familiar by this time) would have to be dethroned, publically humiliated. So one by one, through a series of increasingly nasty plagues, the gods of Egypt were proven to be powerless: Hapi, (the “spirit of the Nile”) and Khnum (its “guardian”) were proven powerless. Nut (the sky goddess), Set (the protector of crops), Osiris, (the lord of the underworld), Isis (the “earth-mother” goddess of life), and Ra (the all-powerful sun god) were all toppled in turn. Finally, the only “god” who was in a position to do anything tangible—Pharaoh himself—was brought to his knees before Yahweh with the slaying of his firstborn son, the heir to the throne—along with every other firstborn son in the land, man and animal alike, who was not indemnified through the blood of the Passover lamb.
Was the carnage really necessary? Afraid so. Egypt (i.e., the world) had refused to set its prisoners free. They had been given numerous chances. Pharaoh had been asked politely—Moses had said “please.” The king could have said “yes” at any point. The contrast of four hundred years of bondage with complete freedom under God would have been quite sufficient for the “resurrection” symbol to have been appreciated. But there was another dynamic in play here—something other than “merely” bringing the dead back to life. It’s the issue of free will, the most fundamental gift God gave to the human race.
Israel, you see, didn’t understand that they possessed the privilege of choice. How could they? They had been held in bondage until all memory of such things had faded into misty obscurity. Pharaoh’s arrogant take on free will was that it was his privilege, as king, to restrict or deny free will to those beneath him—in other words, everybody. In essence, this has been Satan’s goal throughout our history: to somehow deny to mankind the ability to make our own choices. The devil’s trick with Eve in the garden, you’ll recall, had been to offer two bogus alternatives, the illusion of choice: either disrespect Yahweh for restricting your options, or disobey Him and experience evil and good. Both of these options led to death. It never occurred to Eve to simply honor God by being content with what He had already given her. So Pharaoh, like the snake, was willing to let Israel choose between bondage and death—knowing that if they ever tasted liberty, they’d never willingly serve him again.
The irony is that when he had first been asked to “Let my people go,” it was only to go three days into the desert to worship their God, and then (presumably) return to their labors. We’ll never know what would have happened if Pharaoh had said yes. His negative response was the opening ante in a high stakes poker game that ultimately cost him everything he had: “I’ll see your blood, and raise you frogs…. I’ll see your hail and raise you locusts…. The life of every firstborn son in the land? I think you’re bluffing. I’ll call: Egypt is all in.” What Israel ultimately won in this “game” was not just their temporal freedom from an arrogant and foolish king. It was a new appreciation of their free will—their God-given right to make significant choices affecting their own destiny.
All of this has universal ramifications, of course. The death of The Firstborn, Yahweh’s only begotten Son Yahshua, made it imperative that all of us exercise our privilege of free will: either receive the Sacrifice God made on our behalf, or reject Him. That explains why Satan is still trying desperately to keep people in bondage in the world, unaware that their sins have been forgiven if only they’ll receive the gift of salvation. If he can keep us distracted, ignorant, desperate, or terrified, we may never realize we’re already free. The door is open. All we have to do is walk out, into the waiting arms of our Redeemer.
Having “walked out” of Egypt, Israel was soon given an opportunity to learn how their newly won free will worked. For all intents and purposes, God said, “Okay, you’ve just seen Me do the impossible for you ten times in a row. But now you’re stuck here on this beach, with cliffs to the right, an Egyptian fortress to the left, Pharaoh’s entire army breathing down your neck from behind, and ten miles of Red Sea lapping at your toes. So the question is, do you trust Me?”
Wait a minute, they said. Nobody told us that freedom will would entail faith. Actually, the Passover ritual, with the lamb’s blood irrationally smeared on their doorposts, had said precisely that. But the Israelites were still kind of new to this whole “trust Yahweh” thing, so “naturally,” they balked, not being able to imagine any way out of their pickle other than a bloody, pointless death—the one thing that was even worse than slavery. So they turned against Moses, as if he were in charge. It’s tempting to take the ex-slaves to task for their lack of vision, of course, but let’s face it: you and I routinely do the same thing—question Yahweh’s motives, power, or wisdom, even if we have decades of Christian experience behind us. It takes a mature believer indeed to see disaster looming, and say “Here we go again, Father. I can hardly wait to see what You’re going to do to deliver me this time. Whatever it is, I thank You in advance.”
It hadn’t occurred to anyone—even Moses—that Yahweh might part the waters of the Red Sea so the Israelite millions could walk straight over to Mount Horeb on the dry sea bed. The lesson we all need to learn at this juncture is that we can’t always predict what God might do for us. Sometimes He takes us on convoluted detours, and sometimes He opts for the direct route—even if it looks impossible. Our job is simply to trust Him and follow the pillar of fire, wherever it may lead.
The next lesson was that the world can’t achieve its own goals by following God’s commands. This was as true for Pharaoh as it was for the Pharisees of Yahshua’s day: it’s not what you do so much as why you do it. The armies of Egypt saw the Israelites “escaping” across the inexplicably dry sea bed, and decided to follow in their footsteps. Were they following Yahweh’s instructions? Not really, even though they were doing precisely the same thing the Israelites were. The Egyptians were merely imitating tactics that seemed to be working for their opponents. They were demonstrating the difference between faith and presumption, between relationship and religion. How we perform isn’t nearly as significant as who we follow. Pharaoh’s forces drowned in the returning waters because they were pursuing Yahweh’s chosen people instead of pursuing the truth. They were seeking military victory, not the Mountain of God.
That being said, I must admit that doing what God said to do—even without having a relationship with Him—is usually better for the “doer” that doing something else. There are a myriad of Torah precepts (the non-Levitical stuff) and New Testament instructions that are simply good advice. Don’t steal or murder or seduce your neighbor’s wife. Don’t drink alcohol in excess. Love, don’t hate. Make the punishment fit the crime. Don’t drink blood. Don’t marry your sister. People who live according to Biblical standards, even if by accident, tend to be healthier, more secure, more prosperous, etc. That’s because the “blessings and cursings” of God’s word are usually built into the precepts; they’re seldom externally (or artificially) imposed consequences for compliance or rebellion. God didn’t find it necessary to order us not to jump off the roofs of tall buildings. But some things aren’t quite so obvious.
Having watched God burn their last bridge to the world, so to speak, there was no going back for Israel. But here in Midian (northwestern Arabia), there was no safety net, no familiar, sustainable dystopia, no reserves of resources. Without Yahweh’s provision, they would all starve to death—if they didn’t die of thirst first. I find it fascinating that God allowed them to get a little hungry for a few days, using up the last of the provisions they’d brought with them, before He did anything to provide for their ongoing needs. It was a trust exercise. We generally hate it when He does that, but it’s invariably for our own good.
When they reached the other side of the Red Sea, God could have led them directly north to Canaan, the Promised Land, where the barley harvest was just coming in—ripe for the raiding. But instead, He took them south, to a desolate mountain called Horeb (sometimes referred to as Sinai). I’m sure it felt like another one of those detours of which God is so fond, but in truth, the Horeb experience was central to His plan for Israel’s unique destiny, for this is where the Law—more properly, the Instructions—were to be given. No one died of hunger or thirst there, though the people were certain they were doomed. As Mark Twain once put it, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
God knew exactly what He was doing. Moses—forty years later—explained it all to the children of the exodus generation: “Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which Yahweh swore to your fathers. And you shall remember that Yahweh your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” The key to our spiritual success is humility. “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of Yahweh.” (Deuteronomy 8:1-3) Bread would keep body and soul together—for a while, anyway. But the Word of God could keep your soul and spirit intact—eternally.
Israel, then, was not to enter the Promised Land empty handed. They were to bring with them Yahweh’s Torah, His Instructions, a complex, multi-leveled prophecy that would one day be fulfilled in every detail in the life and mission of Yahshua of Nazareth. And just as Israel was to bring the Torah to Canaan, that which Israel symbolizes (the family of God) is supposed to bring what the Torah represents (Christ) to their own “Promised Land”—to the life of the believer, the place where the battles are fought and the inheritance is delivered. In other words, “Christians” can’t get by on religious rites, rules, traditions, or dogma. Religion is no substitute for a relationship with God—there’s no point in living like a Christian if you don’t actually have Christ living within you.
Does this fly in the face of the Great Commission, in which we are instructed to “make disciples of all nations”? No, not really. The symbolic geography of the thing is revealing. Canaan (metaphorical of the life of the believer, where the battles against evil must be fought) is situated between Egypt (indicating bondage in the world) and Babylon (the birthplace and headquarters of rebellion and idolatry—a place from which we are commanded to flee). We are, so to speak, between a rock and a hard place—two separate manifestations of evil. But our lives as believers (symbolized by living in Canaan) are where God has “chosen to make His name abide.” The point is that we cannot “make disciples of all nations” if we are in bondage to the world—a slave to its attractions and distractions—or if we are in fact worshiping something other than Yahweh. The Christian’s spiritual “home base” must be in Israel’s Promised Land, from which we are to go forth, bearing witness in “Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”
Israel’s relationship to the Land.
It can be a little disconcerting that Israel’s Promised Land wasn’t very big, as these things go. We could have hoped (considering how “big” our God is) that it would have encompassed the entire globe. Or at least a hemisphere or a continent. But no; the Land God gave Israel is only about the size of New Jersey.
This is apparently the geographical equivalent of what Yahshua told us to expect concerning the relative size of His kingdom during the age of grace. He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) Just as Israel’s footprint (whether geographical or demographic) wouldn’t be big enough to impress the world on behalf of their God, neither would that of Yahweh’s family at large.
You may protest, “What about Roman Catholicism?” I must be candid and forthright, here. While I have no doubt that there are believers within Roman Catholicism, it is obvious to anyone who has ever read the Bible that the organization itself does not comprise the “family of God.” Christ’s letters to Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis in Revelation 2 and 3 make that perfectly clear. Besides, a world-dominating religious organization (comprised today of about a fifth of the world’s total population) cannot, by definition, be described as “the few” who have found “the narrow gate.”
It would appear that when it comes to the Promised Land, “size doesn’t matter.” What does matter is (1) Yahweh’s sovereignty, (2) Israel’s privilege of occupancy, based on their obedience, and (3) location, location, location. Let us take these factors in order, paying attention to how the symbol of Israel relates to its larger counterpart, the family of God.
(1) If there is one thing Satan covets above all else, it is the sovereignty of God. Yahweh selected this one tiny plot of land for Himself—to be owned and occupied by His chosen people, the apple of His eye—so “naturally,” Satan covets it. But in a larger sense, God owns the hearts of us who love and revere Him. So Christ promised His disciples that He—in the form of the Holy Spirit—would dwell within them after His departure. Not surprisingly, the only stated “condition” for our successful union with God is the same as Israel’s was: obedience. “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you…. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:15-18, 19-21, 23)
Like Israel’s place in the Promised Land, the Holy Spirit puts us believers squarely in the cross-hairs of Satan’s unwanted attention. Wherever we are, God is within us. That is why were told to expect tribulation in this world. It goes with the territory. But greater is He who is within us than he who is in the world.
(2) Several terrifying passages (notably Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28) detail how Israel’s occupancy of their land would be contingent on their behavior. For example, Moses reported that good things would happen “if you [Israel] heed the commandments of Yahweh your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them. So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right or the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” (Deuteronomy 28:13-14) But bad things—up to and including their expulsion from the Land—would happen “if you do not obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today…all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” (Deuteronomy 28:15)
Seen under a microscope like this, it might seem as if God was threatening to abandon them to their fate if they didn’t toe the line. But that’s not an accurate assessment. We must understand that their ownership of the Land was unconditional and permanent—even if occupancy was not. Yahweh was under no illusions. He knew what they were like: “Understand that Yahweh your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deuteronomy 9:6)
When Abram was at Bethel (literally, “the house of God”), “Yahweh said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him: ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.’” (Genesis 13:14-15) So it’s more like a loving father warning his recalcitrant three year old that if she did not behave herself, time-out was in her future, and her favorite toy would be taken away for a time. The promise was repeated to Isaac: “Live in the land of which I shall tell you. Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father.” (Genesis 26:2-3) And Jacob was given confirmation in a dream, when God told him, “I am Yahweh, God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.” (Genesis 28:13) The Land, then, was deeded to Israel.
But if they turned and followed gods other than the One who had given them their homeland, Yahweh reserved the right to throw them out for a time and turn the Land into a curse, like Sodom and Gomorrah. Speaking hypothetically (or is that prophetically?) Moses describes the reaction of the nations to the carnage: “All nations would say, ‘Why has Yahweh done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ Then people would say: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of Yahweh, God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt; for they went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. Then the anger of Yahweh was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. And Yahweh uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.’” (Deuteronomy 29:24-28)
Is there a larger context? Can Christians get “thrown out” of their own “Land,” the intimate presence of the Holy Spirit? Sort of. Concluding his first letter to the saints at Thessalonica, Paul admonishes them to “warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (I Thessalonians 5:14-22) How in the world is it possible to “quench the Spirit” of Almighty God? That is, how does one extinguish the Spirit’s influence in his life? By failing to heed the other things on the list—being unwilling to contend for the truth of God’s word, being inconsiderate, impatient, vindictive, grumpy, out of touch with God, unthankful, unwatchful, or gullible.
Another way for a Christian to “get thrown out” of the Spirit’s presence is to cause Him sorrow. Paul, again, writes, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32) It’s a constant theme in God’s word: if we love God, we are to show it by loving our fellow man—especially our fellow believers. As with Israel’s ownership of the Land, the Spirit won’t desert us—but it is within our power to cut off communication. That should be a terrifying thought.
(3) The Promised Land has well-defined borders, and its location was strategic. God chose this particular place for a reason. It was situated at the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Thus for strictly logistical reasons, it would be coveted by arrogant land-grabbing potentates for millennia on end. Under Satan’s influence, people invariably covet what God has and is. The Land of Israel was, once again, chosen to place them at the epicenter of the world’s ambition.
Israel would arguably have had less “trouble” if they had been given, say, Antarctica or Madagascar or Iceland. But God wanted them to be at the heart of the action, in the geographical, economic, demographic, and spiritual center of the world. The Land may be tiny, but it’s also the hub around which the collective soul of humanity revolves. Symbolically, it was situated midway between Egypt (signifying bondage in the world) and Babylon (the home of idolatry). The most powerful kingdoms of the ancient world appeared in turn, revolving about Israel’s hub like a big game-show wheel of chance—Egypt to the south, then Assyria, Babylon and Persia to the east, Greece to the north, and Rome further west, all of them leaving their grubby fingerprints on God’s Holy Land before crumbling into dust. Even written language finds its center in the Promised Land: alphabets to the west are all written from left to right, while all languages spoken in lands to the east are written from right to left.
Why? So that God’s message might be spread throughout the earth—one way or another. They were intended to be a light to the gentiles through their rehearsal of the Torah’s precepts. But (since God is omniscient) there was a back-up plan. Ezekiel warned Israel of their impending Babylonian captivity, and then said, “I will scatter to every wind all who are around him to help him, and all his troops; and I will draw out the sword after them. Then they shall know that I am Yahweh, when I scatter them among the nations and disperse them throughout the countries. But I will spare a few of their men from the sword, from famine, and from pestilence, that they may declare all their abominations among the Gentiles wherever they go. Then they shall know that I am Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 12:14-16)
Those “few” who were spared returned to the Land of Promise, where the post-exilic prophet Zechariah pointed out the central role Judah and Jerusalem would play in unfolding world events: everyone would covet Jerusalem; it would be like whiskey to an alcoholic, or heroin to an addict. They wouldn’t be able to leave it alone: led by Satan, they would be drawn to God’s Land like moths to a flame. “The burden of the word of Yahweh against Israel. Thus says Yahweh, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him: ‘Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples, when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem. And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.’” (Zechariah 12:1-3)
Yahweh’s chosen people, of course, will be right there in the heat of battle. It is not their destiny to sit it out on the sidelines—as much as they may wish for God to “choose somebody else” once in a while. They are the Forrest Gump of nations—somehow always in the thick of it. And Yahweh has ordained that their most spectacular (and scary) roles will take place within the Land he gave to them. The very fact that Israel is now “officially” back in the Land of their inheritance is a heavy-handed clue that God is about to wrap things up—that the myriad of predictive prophecy is on the cusp of fulfillment.
Back in Deuteronomy 28, Yahweh had promised exodus-generation Israel that if they obeyed His commandments, they would dominate those who would have run roughshod over them, but if they refused to revere Him, they would eventually be “vomited out” of the Land, just like the previous tenants had been. We all know what happened. In Israel’s latest bout of spiritual flu, the Promised Land has been “driving the porcelain bus” for the better part of two millennia now. Only in the last century or so has the Promised Land been able to “keep anything down.” Israel felt well enough to get out of bed and go to work back in 1948, but recurring waves of “Muhammad’s Revenge” are a constant inconvenience to this day. The fact is, Israel won’t finally get “cured” until they—as a nation—admit that they’re sick, that they’re in need of a cure, and that this cure is none other than the Messiah their fathers crucified so long ago.
That’s the whole point of the Day of Atonement, the day in which Israel is required by God (the Great Physician) to afflict their souls, admit their guilt, and respond to the prescribed “treatment.” It’s no coincidence that the chapter I quoted above, Zechariah 12, also describes (in verses 10-14) the definitive Day of Atonement, when Yahshua the Messiah—the One they pierced—will be seen in Jerusalem, precipitating the very sort of “affliction of soul” required by this holy convocation. He is literally the “cure” for that which has been making the Promised Land vomit out its idolatrous inhabitants since the days of Joshua.
The titles Messiah or Christ literally mean “the Anointed One.” It is no coincidence, then, that James writes, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:14-15) However efficacious this procedure might be for us, it is the only thing that can cure Israel of her chronic illness. She must be anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit (see Zechariah 4:1-6) in the name of Yahshua if she is ever to live at peace in the Promised Land. The “elders of the church” are already praying fervently for her recovery.
Yahweh has even revealed when He intends to raise Israel back up to health: “After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” (Hosea 6:2) Two days—that is, two thousand years—after the onset of Israel’s near-fatal illness (when they crucified the Anointed One) pinpoints their national deliverance to the year 2033. The Day of Atonement that year falls on October 3, if you’re interested. Of course, there’s no reason individual Jews can’t utter the prayer of faith of which James speaks before the big day.
Not since the days of David and Solomon has the Land of Promise been fully occupied by the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even today, they inhabit but a limited portion of what Yahweh deeded to them. If you’re interested in tracking down what the real borders of the Land are supposed to be, I’ll refer you to my comprehensive study of Biblical prophecy, The End of the Beginning—chapter six: “Ground Zero,” elsewhere on this website.
Israel’s relationship to the Torah
The second book on this website is called The Owner’s Manual—What Every Christian Should Know about the Law of Moses. Volume I is a systematic exploration of the (supposed) “613 Laws” that the Jewish sages (led by Rabbi Maimonides) have identified in the Torah. Volume II is entitled, appropriately enough, What Maimonides Missed, for he missed—or purposely avoided—quite a lot. The Owner’s Manual explains why Christians should pay attention to the Torah, for it is the foundation of our entire faith, a window into the mind of Yahweh, and a glimpse (in symbolic terms) of His plan for our redemption.
But the Torah is unquestionably written to Israel. Its commands, precepts, and instructions are addressed to the Chosen People alone—never to anyone else. Within its pages there are (by my count) 283 places where we read “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and say…’” or words to that effect. Sometimes (especially in Deuteronomy) the words are those of Moses, but they are clearly (based on previous revelation) the precepts of Yahweh, addressed to Israel alone. Not surprisingly, over half of these “say-this-to-Israel” instances are found in Exodus—when they had just recently left their chains behind in Egypt. In addition, there are 61 times when God punctuates the precept by saying “I am Yahweh,” as if to say, “That is the only reason you need for obeying my Instructions. I am God: I know what I’m doing. Trust Me.”
That leaves the church in a bit of a quandary. Are Christians—and specifically gentile believers—supposed to keep the Torah’s mitzvot or not? I’ll offer a few “hard-to-swallow” examples to make my point.
(1) Exodus 22:18 says, “You shall not permit a sorceress to live.” The King James puts it, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” The Hebrew word here is kashaph—a verb meaning to use witchcraft, to practice sorcery, to whisper a spell, to utter an incantation, or practice magic. So it’s not restricted to females. At least one of Judah’s kings, in fact, was guilty of this: “[Manasseh] practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery [kashaph], and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of Yahweh, to provoke Him to anger.” (II Chronicles 33:6) Judah obviously dropped the ball here in allowing him to live, for “Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem.” (II Chronicles 33:1) On the other hand, the same passage records Manasseh’s downfall, repentance, and restoration. This is the rough equivalent of, say, Adolph Hitler repenting of his sins in 1943 and becoming a contrite and humble Christian—nobody could have seen it coming. If Manasseh could repent, anybody can.
But the precept commanding the execution of anyone practicing sorcery made more “sense” (in our minds, anyway) in theocratic Israel—when there was no king other than Yahweh Himself, ruling through the Torah. Sorcery was, at best, a truce with false gods, and at worst, consorting with demons. By the time Israel had abandoned Yahweh’s direct hegemony in favor of a human king, the game was already lost. Careful study reveals that even David, Israel’s greatest king and arguably God’s favorite human, though an enthusiastic and devoted worshiper of Yahweh, didn’t have a very good handle on the Torah’s precepts. By the time they got to David’s direct heir Manasseh (fourteen generations down the line) Torah observance had all but disappeared.
In fact, Manasseh’s grandson Josiah, while trying to reinstitute the worship of David’s God Yahweh, was shocked and horrified when they found an old Torah scroll in the temple and read it to him. Realizing for the first time just how far his nation had fallen, he went into deep mourning. It was only then that the prophetess Huldah pronounced God’s sentence of wrath upon Judah, but tempered her words with encouragement for Josiah: “‘Because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and you humbled yourself before Me, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you,’ says Yahweh. ‘Surely I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place and its inhabitants.’” (II Chronicles 34:27-28) Good news, bad news. Josiah’s good intentions would be rewarded, but Judah had become so corrupt by this time, the idea of executing sorcerers because they undermined the worship of Yahweh would have addressed but a droplet in an ocean of apostasy.
We’re all familiar with centuries-old tales of “burning witches at the stake” in Britain and New England, ostensibly driven by a literal take on Exodus 22:18—“You shall not permit a sorceress to live.” But most of us realize that there was probably no real witchcraft involved at all. The accusations most likely arose from things Paul had identified as the lusts of the flesh on the part of the accusers, such things as “hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy…and the like.” (Galatians 5:20-21) “Witchhunting” was used as a way to settle old scores, to elevate oneself over one’s neighbors, and to use “polite society” as a weapon with which to murder your rivals. All it took was a grudge, a bit of political power, and the stomach to use torture to extract a confession, and you could rid your village of anyone who didn’t quite fit in. I’m in no position to swear that all of the victims were completely innocent, but this is not what Yahweh had been talking about.
There is an oft-repeated myth floating around these days that says Christians are supposed to be “tolerant.” And yes, we are instructed and expected by our God to tolerate and forgive affronts against ourselves—turning the other cheek, as it were. After all, “they know not what they do.” But we are never to tolerate sin, in the sense of deeming acceptable what God has forbidden.
So theocratic Israel was commanded to execute anyone found practicing sorcery, for it invited demons into the household of faith. But today, neither Israel nor any gentile government can truly claim to be under Yahweh’s exclusive suzerainty. Sorcery may be illegal in places, but so is killing sorcerers. So as with a hundred other Torah precepts today, we no longer have the divine authority to execute witches. Vengeance belongs to Yahweh alone. That being said, it is clear that God does not want us to compromise with Satan by tolerating sorcery, witchcraft, divination, or necromancy in our midst. We are to condemn such practices, speak out against them, and warn our brothers and sisters of their potential for spiritual harm, and outlaw such things if we can. But remember King Manasseh: a dead witch cannot repent.
Although “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Exodus 22:18) was to be taken literally in theocratic Israel—meaning that they were to execute people found practicing sorcery—perhaps we in this age should use a slightly different shade of meaning of the verb “to live” (Hebrew: chayah). Brown-Driver-Briggs notes that the word can mean “to live prosperously,” as in II Samuel 16:16—“May the king live.” It’s the rough equivalent of the Britishism “God save the king.” The point, applicable in any age, is that sorcerers (witches, if you will) should not be allowed to prosper and flourish in any God-fearing culture, but (at best) are to be driven into the shadows, shunned by society until they repent of their sin.
(2) Same song, second verse: homosexuality was roundly condemned in the Torah (and elsewhere in scripture), earning its practitioners the death penalty. “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:13) In case you were wondering, the epithet “abomination” is the strongest language in the Bible. The word is toebah—something morally disgusting, a detestable thing, an abhorrence, an atrocity, an object of loathing. There is no way to Biblically defend the “gay” lifestyle. Modern “seeker friendly” preaching notwithstanding, God is on record as hating the practice of homosexuality. (Don’t take it personally, my “gay” friends—He’s also on record as hating greed, lack of mercy, failure to trust Him, theft, sex outside of the marriage covenant, treating one’s parents disrespectfully, and scores of other things we humans do on a regular basis. We have all fallen short of Yahweh’s standard of perfection.)
It is a little-known fact that many of the practices of Islam stem from Muhammad’s brush with the Torah—filtered through the Talmud—during his exile in Medina (then known as Yathrib). Three of the town’s five tribes were Jewish, and as he listened to the rabbis, he picked up stories about Adam, Noah, Abraham, and other patriarchs, a smattering of Torah precepts, and rumors of a coming Messiah—who he eventually took to mean himself. This is where Muslims get their aversion to pigs, for example, and where they learned that homosexuality is a bad thing. (Somehow, at least in the Middle East, they never quite got the connection between homosexuality and the common practice of raping little boys.)
In recent years, we have been inundated with YouTube videos of Muslims capturing homosexual men in their midst and throwing them off the roofs of tall buildings. And then, “on June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a terrorist attack/hate crime inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida…. Initial reports said Mateen may have been a patron of the nightclub and used gay dating websites and apps.”—Wikipedia. The liberal press, torn between defending Muslims like Mateen and homosexuals like his 102 victims, naturally blamed the whole thing on the guns he used.
My question is, if Muslims take the precepts Muhammad cherry-picked out of the Torah so seriously, why don’t Jews and Christians? That is, why don’t you see adherents of Judeo-Christianity slaughtering homosexuals in the streets? The answer, as with “burning witches,” is that now that we’re saddled with human governments (rather than living in theocratic Israel), we no longer have the authority or mandate to execute simple sinners. Our overriding principle is “Love your neighbor as you do yourself.” That most certainly includes encouraging repentance and reconciliation with God (something we all need)—and it’s hard for a dead man to repent.
As with the fate of sorcerers, we might want to look at the “death” prescribed for homosexuals with fresh eyes. Yes, muth ordinarily means physical death, but the word is also used symbolically or metaphorically. For example, Solomon writes, “His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin. He shall die [muth] for lack of instruction, and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.” (Proverbs 5:22-23) “The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of wisdom.” (Proverbs 10:21) “Harsh discipline is for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates correction will die.” (Proverbs 15:10) In other words, the death prescribed for the homosexual may not be so much physical as spiritual.
And the “executioner” might just be the sinner himself. Spiritual suicide. One of the passages often used to teach against the practice of homosexuality actually portrays it as the punishment inflicted by God on people who have turned their backs on Him. If you suppress My truth, He says, you will be condemned to living a lie: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness…. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting.” (Romans 1:18, 24-28)
There are any number of precepts in the Torah that follow the same basic pattern: a person who sins in a certain symbolically significant way was to be put to death under the rules of theocratic Israel. But if we applied these rules generally, the majority of the population would be condemned: murder, rape, disrespecting your parents (oops: there go two-thirds of the teenagers); sex outside of marriage (and remember, Yahshua included simple lust in this one—there go 95% of us); Moloch worship (including getting an abortion); the daughter of a priest working as a prostitute; letting your ox run amok; kidnapping; and the list goes on. I’m not saying, “Don’t follow the Torah; it’s impractical.” I’m saying, “Look deeper—look at what Yahweh really wanted us to know.” Sin leads to death—if not physically, then spiritually. We are made mortal for a reason: our impending physical deaths, the result of sin, are meant to be a parable, teaching us that our spiritual lives are vulnerable as well. Our souls (the component of our being that makes our bodies alive for a time) are capable of living forever—but only if they are made alive by the indwelling Spirit of God.
(3) Another category of Torah precepts we should consider are its personal property and personal injury laws. They are based on justice, mercy, love, restitution, and balance. Under Muslim Sharia law, you could steal a crust of bread in your desperate hunger and get your hand cut off for your trouble. Not so in the Torah. Law and conscience tell us that theft is wrong, as is irresponsible behavior, shoddy workmanship, anger-driven violence, etc. The Torah teaches us how to deal with such things. I’ll refer you to The Owner’s Manual (elsewhere on this website) for the details and specifics.
But perhaps it would be helpful to contrast the Torah’s solutions to “sin/crime” to what we usually do in our legal proceedings. One or two examples will suffice. Allow me to quote a few paragraphs from The Owner’s Manual, Volume 2, Chapter 11:
“Whether through malice or negligence, injuries inflicted are to be met with payment in kind. The stark logic and equity of God’s law can be somewhat startling when compared with the anemic shadow we see in our own legal statutes. Consider this hypothetical scenario: a guy walks into a bar (no, this isn’t the beginning of a joke) and has a few too many beers. Another patron comes in and says something that offends him, so our drunken subject expresses his opinion to the contrary with a pool cue, breaking the man’s arm.
“Under our laws, he might be arrested for being drunk and disorderly with a side order of assault, jailed for a month at taxpayer’ expense, slapped with a fine (which goes to the county, not the victim), and released on parole (again, at taxpayers’ expense). The victim, meanwhile, goes to the hospital to get his arm set, misses four days of work, sticks his insurance company with the bill (after paying a hefty deductible), and then weighs the option of hiring a lawyer to sue his assailant for damages, deciding in the end that since the inebriate with the pool cue is probably as broke as he is stupid, suing him would be an expensive exercise in futility. The insurance company spreads out their loss over the future premiums of a hundred thousand policy holders, the county uses the perp’s fine to cover court costs and police salaries, and the victim’s employer builds the cost of his recovery time into the price of their product, passing it on to you and me.
“Yahweh’s law works a bit differently. The witnesses would take the offender to the town’s elders and explain what happened. Upon confirmation of the facts, he would be required to (1) pay out of his own pocket all of his victim’s medical expenses; (2) make good the loss of income the victim (or his employer) would have incurred due to his injuries; and then (3) have his own arm broken with a pool cue. Direct, just, and dare I say, downright poetic. At this point, of course, the perp (having sobered up) is saying to himself, ‘I think I’m losing my taste for beer. Thank God I didn’t shoot him in the kneecap.’
“The whole thing could have turned out quite differently under our laws, of course. Yahweh’s instructions prevent this scenario as well: the victim does decide to sue, and hires the slickest lawyer he can find. He wins his civil case and is awarded four thousand dollars in actual damages (though neither his insurance company nor employer ever get reimbursed for their expenses) and four million in punitive damages. The offender’s insurance company negotiates it down to two point five mil and passes the loss on to their policyholders. Justice has not been served here. It has been mugged and left for dead on the sidewalk.”
And how about theft? We read, “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep…. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double.” (Exodus 22:1, 3-4) The Owner’s Manual (Volume 1, Chapter 8) again: “Contrast should be drawn between God’s system of criminal justice and man’s. If you’re a thief, western nations generally send you to prison, which takes you out of polite society for a while, but does no practical good for your victim. Prisons are expensive—a wasteful and inefficient use of public funds. Worse, they often serve as trade schools for criminals….
“Only Yahweh’s law makes sense for everybody concerned—thief, victim, and tax-paying bystander. If you steal something and it’s found in your possession, you are to give it back to your victim, plus another just like it. But if you’ve already disposed of it, you must repay him four times its value. And that’s if its value is only intrinsic (money or jewelry, for example). If the stolen item also has functional value—if its owner used it to earn his livelihood or function in society (today that would be one’s car, tools, or computer) you’d have to repay five times the booty’s value.
“Repayment begins by selling what you own—your own home, car, or possessions. But what if you don’t have enough to pay the victim back? Obviously, you’re not allowed to steal to make restitution. Under the Mosaic Law, you yourself would be sold into slavery, the proceeds going to the victim. I guess in today’s world that might translate into prison time, but with a twist on our flawed system. We allow inmates to work in prison industries and earn themselves a small income, because we’re fixated on rehabilitation for criminals, not restitution for their victims. Under God’s economy, whatever the thief earned would be returned to his victim, until the entire debt was paid. If you’ve stolen a $50,000 Mercedes Benz, you’re on the hook for a cool quarter mil. Let’s see. At six bucks an hour…. Gee, looks like crime really doesn’t pay.”
It seems to me, therefore, that much of the “nuts-and-bolts” stuff in the Torah makes far more practical sense—even today’s world—than our less-than-prudent system of jurisprudence. If thieves knew that when caught they would have to pay back multiples of what they had stolen, they may do the math and figure out that honest labor was an easier way to make a living. If murderers (or adulterers, sorcerers, or whatever) knew that they would forfeit their lives by doing so, they probably wouldn’t. If litigious snakes out for a quick payday knew that if they lost their contrived case, they’d have to pay the defendant whatever they’d sued him for, they’d think twice. God could have phrased the “second-greatest commandment,” Love your neighbor as you do yourself—it’s cheaper that way.
(4) All that being said, some eighty or ninety percent of the Torah doesn’t describe dealings between people, but rather “Levitical” stuff—laws concerning priests, the tabernacle, sacrifices, rituals, and holy convocations (“holidays,” if you will). None of this can be performed today as mandated, for the simple reason that there is no temple in Jerusalem, and the priesthood of Israel has been scattered to the four winds, even if Israel as nation is now back in the Land. Jews all over the world (not all of them, of course) attempt to celebrate their Sabbaths, Feast days, and Jubilees. But they can’t—not as Yahweh prescribed. Without a temple and priesthood, they’re forced to invent plausible alternatives.
Nobody stops to think that a Passover Seder or celebration of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) is technically illegal anywhere other than in Jerusalem—the “place where Yahweh chose to make His name abide.” Resting on the Sabbath day has virtually nothing to do with the outrageous hedge of pointless rules the Jewish sages have built around it over the centuries. They can’t figure out what Yom Teruah (the Feast of Trumpets) is all about, so they change the name to Rosh Hashanah (the “head of the year,” a.k.a. New Year’s day), even though Yahweh placed the New Year seven months earlier, in the spring. Without a temple or the Ark of the Covenant, the complicated and provocative sacrificial rituals of Yom Kippurym (the Day of Atonement) cannot be kept, so instead they fast, wear uncomfortable shoes, and generally do their best to get into the spirit of the day. And in truth, I don’t fault them for their efforts. At least they know that something must be done. Without reference to Yahshua the Messiah, none of it seems to make much sense. But Yahweh commanded it, so they do the best they can.
The point is, the Jews never had to know what these days were all about. If they had simply (okay, it’s not that simple) kept Yahweh’s ordinances, they would have remained in the Land and prospered. Until it actually happened, how were they to know that the Passover foreshadowed their Messiah’s atoning death, or that the Feast of Unleavened Bread predicted the removal of sin from the world as He lay in the tomb? Nobody understood that the Feast of Firstfruits was a prophecy of Christ’s resurrection, or that the Feast of Weeks would mark the beginning of the church with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But they didn’t have to know—they only had to act out the symbols as God had directed through Moses: simple obedience.
It is not without significance that in the wake of the resurrection, as many as one third of the inhabitants of first-century Judea put two and two together and recognized Yahshua as their Messiah. This earned them the undying hatred of the religious elite, especially the Pharisees who finally managed to seize power away from the priesthood after the Romans destroyed the temple in 70AD. Within a century of the resurrection, led by Rabbi Akiba and his warlord/false-Messiah Bar Kochba, they managed to banish and ostracize these “completed Jews” from all Jewish life in the Land of promise. Yahshua had specifically warned them that this would happen: “And Jesus, answering them, began to say: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am He,” and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet…. But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them.’” (Mark 13:5-7, 9) That, of course, didn’t stop Emperor Hadrian from expelling them along with the rest of the Jews when his troops crushed Bar Kochba’s rebellion in 135.
But I digress. There are still three “feasts of Yahweh,” plus the Sabbath itself, that are yet to be fulfilled. If the Feast of Weeks in 33 opened the “church age,” then it will be closed with the fifth and next convocation on the calendar, the Feast of Trumpets, a.k.a. Yom Teruah (literally, the day of shouting or blowing the shofar). If you’re familiar with the Biblical imagery (in both Old and New Testaments) surrounding the so-called “rapture” of the church, it’s hard to miss the connection. The sixth convocation on Yahweh’s holy calendar (ten days after Yom Teruah) is the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippurym), predicting the second coming of Yahshua and Israel’s long-overdue recognition of their Messiah.
The last of the seven “appointments” follows five days later: the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) can mean only one thing—the sojourning of God with man. It’s the commencement of the Millennial kingdom of Christ. Not coincidentally, the Sabbath (the seventh-day rest from our labors) indicates (since “one day is as a thousand years”—II Peter 3:8) the same thing: the last of seven one-thousand-year periods since the fall of man into sin. Since Sukkot is an eight-day feast, the eighth (or “great”) day is prophetic of the eternal state, in which we will inhabit a new heavens, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem—in intimate fellowship with our God, immersed in Him forever.
(5) There is one Torah precept in particular that has been singled out to help us get a handle on the difference between Israel’s relationship with the Law and that of the gentile church. Circumcision was chosen as the “test case” that would reveal the difference between Israel’s function—it’s “job,” if you will—and that of the church.
Circumcision—the cutting off of the foreskin of the penis—was introduced long before the Law was given: “And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Genesis 17:9-14)
The rite, then, was to be a physical sign that a covenant existed between God and the circumcised male. One didn’t have to be Jewish or otherwise related to Abraham to enter into this covenant. It was built into the Torah, of course, but it seems almost an afterthought—a corollary to the new mother’s purification ritual: “If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Leviticus 12:2-3) Yahshua’s mother Mary, not surprisingly, complied with the Law in every detail, bringing the eight-day-old Infant to Jerusalem (a short walk from Bethlehem) to be circumcised as prescribed (see Luke 2:21-24). Note that she brought the “poor girl’s” option as a sin offering—a pair of turtledoves. (She wouldn’t realize until much later that she had also brought the “rich girl’s” option—a spotless lamb, Yahshua Himself.)
The “eighth-day” rule may be the key to understanding the larger context of circumcision. Yahweh, above all else, wants us to trust Him, so He told the Israelites to sacrifice the firstborn male of every clean animal: “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me. Likewise you shall do with your oxen and your sheep. It shall be with its mother seven days; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.” (Exodus 22:29-30) His own “firstborn Son,” after all, would be sacrificed to atone for our sins. Yahweh wanted Israel to “rehearse” that fact—to firmly implant it in their national psyche. A “firstborn” son is by definition an “only male child,” and there is no guarantee a couple (whether human or animal) would bear any more offspring—Abraham and Sarah hadn’t. So a great deal of faith in God’s subsequent provision was required here.
On a completely different level, eight is the Biblical number of new beginnings. It is the number following seven—completion or perfection—so it heralds something new and different, something beyond our normal everyday experience. Thus sacrificing a firstborn animal, or having a newborn male child circumcised, on the “eighth day” was (in God lexicon of symbols) indicative of a new paradigm, something we had not encountered before—uncharted waters. As you may have noticed, I am firmly convinced that seven—as in six days of work followed by a Sabbath rest—describes the entire human experience from the fall of Adam through the definitive Millennial Sabbath, the reign of Christ among us: seven thousand years total. But what follows that? The “eighth day” is the eternal state. At least, that’s the way it’s presented in the imagery of the final convocation, the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles. So God, I believe, is telling us that circumcision on the eighth day has some bearing on everlasting life.
Circumcision itself is a counterintuitive procedure, involving, as it does, the most sensitive part of a guy’s anatomy—and one that (as any urologist will tell you), was flawlessly, ingeniously designed to begin with. Why alter it? The Hebrew words used to describe the procedure (or state) tell the tale. Quoting from The Owner’s Manual, “The word used for the act of circumcision is namal: “to become clipped; to be cut down or off.” (Strongs) But there is an entirely different word used for the state of being circumcised: mul is ‘a verb meaning to cut short, to cut off.… To “circumcise the heart’ was to remove the hardness of heart and to love God. Used in the causative sense, the verb gives the meaning to cut off, to destroy.”’ (Baker & Carpenter) We gain a bit more insight when we consider the alternative. The word for ‘uncircumcised’ is arel, which comes from a verb meaning ‘to consider uncircumcised, forbidden, to be exposed. It indicates setting aside or apart as not available for regular use.’ (B&C) Circumcision, then, signified that the barrier of sin that separated us from Yahweh had been removed, cut off, destroyed—a process that involved blood and pain, but one that made us available for God’s use.”
Add to that the “eighth day” component, and we are reminded that the results of this state of being cut-off from our sin come to fruition in eternity, and have eternal ramifications. This dovetails nicely with the concept (repeated often in scripture) that God isn’t nearly as interested in physical circumcision as in what it represents—being permanently separated from our sin. For example: “Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” (Jeremiah 4:4) In other words, it does no one any good to be circumcised in the flesh if that which circumcision symbolized—the cutting off of our sin—wasn’t part of the formula.
Besides, if physical circumcision was what saved us, then it would be impossible for women to enter the kingdom of heaven. But permanent and irrevocable separation from our sin is made available to all of us—male and female, Jew and gentile—through the “process involving blood and pain” that Yahshua endured for our sakes, “making us available for God’s use.” This makes it doubly ironic that in the Mosaic Law, the rite of circumcision is couched as part of the mother’s purification ritual.
One does not get himself circumcised on the eighth day: it’s mom’s job to make sure it gets done. (There’s an old joke about a newborn chatting with his toddler brother. He said, “I understand I’m supposed to get circumcised tomorrow. Does it hurt?” To which his brother replied, “Hurt? After I got circumcised, I couldn’t walk for a year.”) Seriously though, follow the symbology of the thing. One’s mother is responsible for having her infant son circumcised on the eighth day. But since mothers are metaphorical of the Holy Spirit (as fathers are of Yahweh), it is clear that one must be born of the Holy Spirit—as Christ pointed out in John 3—if he is to be separated from his sin for eternity, and thus made worthy to stand in the presence of a holy God.
Circumcision thus became the perfect “test case” to clarify the difference between how Israel and the church were to relate to the Torah’s precepts. The whole issue came to a head in the early church, recorded in Acts 15. At time went on, more and more gentiles and Samaritans were coming to saving faith in Yahshua, and the Jewish disciples in Jerusalem were thrilled. “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses….’” The question had to be addressed at some point: did a gentile have to convert to Judaism first in order to become a believer, or was it possible to “take the direct route” from paganism to Christianity? Was this merely a Jewish sect, or the definition of a new relationship with Almighty God? Mind you, we’re not talking about gentiles adopting the outrageously complex “hedge about the Law” with which the rabbis had obscured the Torah for the past half a millennium, but “merely” becoming Torah compliant, following the “rules” as Moses had delivered them—something everyone agreed were good and beneficial, conducive to life and godliness.
Peter had personal experience with failure, repentance, and gentiles coming to faith, so he waded in: “Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith….” Point (1): The Holy Spirit had indwelled and empowered the gentile converts, without reference to their keeping the Torah. Should our “standards” be stricter than the Spirit’s?
“Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?...” Point (2): The Jewish believers themselves weren’t saved by keeping the Torah, for nobody had ever kept it to perfection. So it didn’t make sense to set the gentiles up for the same kind of failure. To require circumcision (or any other precept) of sincere gentile converts was tantamount to “testing God”—not a good thing.
“But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they….” Point (3): Although the Jews alone had been instructed to perform the rites of the Torah, this performance had nothing to do with their salvation. We are all saved by grace through faith in the atoning power of Christ’s sacrifice, if we are saved at all. God gave the Jews a different job to do than He did the gentile Christians. The Jews’ job was to rehearse and reflect the plan of God by observing the rites of the Torah; the Christians’ job was to go into all the world and make disciples for Christ, immersing them in name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the name of Yahweh. Don’t look now, but neither Israel nor the church has even remotely accomplished what was required of us.
Peter wasn’t the only one who had witnessed gentiles coming to faith first hand. “Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, ‘Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written [in Amos 9:11-12]: “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, so that the rest of mankind may seek Yahweh, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says Yahweh who does all these things….”’” The “Tabernacle of David” that was in ruins wasn’t the temple or the wilderness tabernacle, exactly (though these things pointed in the same direction). It was the “house” of David, Israel’s royal dynasty, whose throne (God had promised) would be occupied forever by David’s direct descendant—the Messiah. This restoration would be essential not only to the Jews, but also to “the gentiles who are called by the name of Yahweh.” That’s us—the church.
James thus drew the only logical conclusion he could: “Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:5-20) It’s not that these few prohibitions “outweigh” circumcision in significance. James’ point is not that they are required for salvation—nothing in the Torah is. But these four things were endemic in the pagan rites being practiced in Greek culture, so Christians should make it a point to separate themselves from the satanic cultures in which they must live. Their pure and holy lives wouldn’t save them, but would certainly demonstrate to their neighbors that there are differences between paganism and Christianity. Today, depending on where you live, the list might look a little different—eating blood isn’t a particularly prevalent problem these days, but substance abuse (for example) is.
The bottom line is that God’s instructions to Israel haven’t changed. Their mandate is to perform the literal precepts of the Torah “throughout their generations.” The fact that this is impossible without a temple or a priesthood should drive Jews to their knees before Yahweh, asking Why—what did you want us to see? There is but one possible answer: Yahshua the Messiah.
The church’s instructions haven’t changed either. We too are to do what seems “impossible.” (Have you read Yahshua’s commands in the Sermon on the Mount lately?) And the Torah? We are to pay attention to what the Jews are supposed to be doing. That’s why Yahshua said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)
So, while we gentiles are not told to keep the Instructions delivered to Israel per se (like circumcision), we are certainly supposed to be Torah observant. That is, we are to examine and discern the fundamental principles that the precepts of the Torah are designed to convey—and do our best to adhere to them. Israelite males are to be taken by their mothers to be circumcised in their flesh on the eighth day of life; Christians, meanwhile, are to be irrevocably separated from our sin through a process involving Christ’s blood in pain, instituted by the Holy Spirit—a process having eternal ramifications that makes us available for God’s use in this world. They are exactly the same, and completely different.
The Ten Commandments are pretty straightforward and easy to comprehend. Paraphrased for modern ears, they state: “Yahweh alone is God, so don’t worship or serve anything else. Don’t make visual representations of what you think He may be like, for He will provide His own image for you: Yahshua the Messiah. Revere the name of Yahweh, and don’t associate with it anything that is worthless, empty, or deceptive. Observe the Sabbath, for it explains both God’s redemptive program and the timeline He has ordained to bring it about. Honor your maker. And don’t murder, cheat, steal, lie, or covet what others have, for in doing so, you show disrespect for God and lack of trust in Him.” Compliance here looks pretty much the same for an Israelite as it does for a Christian (with the possible exception of the Sabbath rule, which is more symbolic than practical). The Christian should, by God’s design, look for deeper meaning in the Torah’s commandments.
Other Torah precepts may require a bit more introspection. Sexual immorality is a picture of idolatry—giving to someone else what rightfully belongs to your covenant spouse—so it is to be avoided at all costs. The dietary laws not only teach us how to remain physically healthy, but also to be discerning about what to put into our bodies. The laws of ritual purification underscore our need to become spiritually clean on an ongoing, recurring basis—over and above our salvation experience—for sin cannot exist in the presence of God. The laws are too numerous to mention here, but the story is always the same: what Israel was instructed to do throughout their generations is a picture of what Yahweh wants the whole world to know about how we may share a relationship with Him.
Israel and the church in tabernacle symbology
The wilderness tabernacle was a symbol-rich illustration of Yahweh’s plan for the redemption of mankind. I’ve discussed many of its features previously (notably in The Owner’s Manual). Although Israel was assigned to build, transport, and maintain the tabernacle, and its priests were to perform their duties there, it wasn’t about Israel in any direct or fundamental sense. As usual, Israel was “merely” chosen to communicate God’s word to the world.
That being said, Yahweh’s very first indication about the purpose of the tabernacle is this: “Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) The “them” here is Israel, of course. But if my contention is true that God intended Israel to function as a symbolic microcosm of all believers throughout the ages, then we might expect His desire to “dwell among them” to manifest itself in the design of the sanctuary—beyond the fact that the Shekinah would come to physically indwell the Holy of Holies. And I believe it does—in some rather unexpected ways.
It has always struck me that the specifications for the tabernacle were excruciatingly detailed in scripture, but the subsequent temple built by Solomon (while clearly built on the tabernacle’s basic pattern) was not nearly as exhaustively described. Moreover, God Himself is said to have directed the design and construction of the tabernacle, but not the temple. Rather, we see (in II Chronicles 1-5) Yahweh simply gave Solomon wisdom and then let him run with the project. So over and over again, we read that Solomon did this, or Solomon did that. Yahweh provided the inspiration, Moses the pattern, David the finances, and Hiram, king of Tyre (a gentile!) much of the technical expertise, labor, and building materials. Solomon, as they say in show biz, was the “director” and “producer.”
Things were added to the design of Solomon’s temple (for instance, the two free-standing pillars standing outside the Holy Place), and things were also subtracted. (For example, although we’re not told, we can be reasonably certain that the roof of the temple didn’t remotely resemble the four-layered cloth and leather arrangement of the wilderness tabernacle.) The proportions were maintained, though the temple was scaled up—its dimensions were doubled. The materials and construction details were quite different in the temple, but the layout and furnishings were just as they had been in the tabernacle.
What stayed intact—and this is important—was the way the priestly rituals were carried out, utilizing the altar, laver, menorah, table of the bread of the presence, the altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant. The positions and proportions of the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place stayed the same. There was still only one entrance—on the east. What the priests did within the temple/tabernacle environs still told the story of how mankind was to be redeemed and cleansed, how God was to be our light, how He provided for us, and how we were to communicate with Him through prayer.
One little-known fact that I find intriguing is that construction of Solomon’s temple was begun exactly one thousand years prior to the passion of Yahshua—in 967 BC. This is one of the odd “coincidences” that led me to the epiphany that every millennium from the fall of Adam onward (the event that necessitated God’s plan of redemption in the first place) was marked with a spiritually significant event. I’ve discussed all of this at length elsewhere, so I won’t rehash it in detail now. Suffice it to say that this led me to the realization that the Sabbath principle—six days of work followed by one day of rest—was a picture of God’s ordained schedule for man: six thousand years since Adam’s sin in which to “work things out with God,” followed by the seventh Millennium (see Revelation 20:4—where the thousand-year “time unit” is actually spelled out), the earthly kingdom of Christ upon the earth—allowing us to rest in His grace. That’s why the six-plus-one pattern shows up in so many places, and in so many ways. It’s vitally important that we comprehend Yahweh’s timeline.
Anyway, the tabernacle’s design, as described in Exodus, is in itself a parable describing how God planned to buy us back from our sinful state. There are several design elements in the tabernacle specifications that present two separate entities working together side by side, completing each other in balance and harmony. I believe these two “entities,” however they’re presented, represent the side-by-side nature of Israel and the church. We are not the same thing (as is sometimes taught), nor has Israel been replaced by the church. Rather, we are both God’s people, albeit in different ways—two branches on the same tree, as it were, called out of the world for separate, specific, and significant tasks.
(1) Perhaps the most convincing evidence that there are two groups in God’s vision is the instructions concerning the “ceiling panels” of the tabernacle. The specifications are included in a passage that tends to make most people’s eyes glaze over, but try to stay awake: these are the very words of God, and He never tells us anything without a very good reason.
In Exodus 26, He describes the curtains that cover the sanctuary—the “roof,” if you will. The greatest detail is provided with the first (the inner) set, but the differences are intriguing. There were to be four layers in total, listed from inside to outside. The first was linen (indicating imputed righteousness); the second was made of goats’ hair (speaking of the sin that’s concealed by grace). Covering the goats’ hair was a layer made of rams’ skins, dyed red—the same picture presented to Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah: the slain sacrificial animal—a prophecy of the Messiah’s bloody sacrifice. Finally, the whole thing was to be covered with the skins of an aquatic animal, like a dugong or porpoise (errantly translated “badger”)—concealing the whole thing from disinterested passersby.
Why would God want it concealed? It’s because obedience borne of faith was required: redemption was possible only if you entered through the single portal provided by God, encountering first the altar of sacrifice and the laver of cleansing before entering the sanctuary. God’s redemptive act could only be seen from inside the sanctuary—the linen ceiling panels, speaking of our imputed righteousness. Both our sin and Christ’s sacrifice were to be hidden from view.
But the four layers of the redemptive process don’t tell us who is involved—who the participants of redemption were. That factor is revealed in how the curtains were to be assembled. Let us, then, consult the text: “Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine woven linen and blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them. The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits. And every one of the curtains shall have the same measurements….” Here we see the inner layer, made of linen and decorated with the costliest of embroidered needlework.
The dimensions are significant. The tabernacle was ten cubits wide (that is, about fifteen feet), ten tall, and thirty cubits long in total. Since the linen strips were to be 28 cubits long, they would hang down on either side of the tabernacle structure (the side “walls” were to be made of vertical planks of gold-plated acacia wood) but they wouldn’t quite touch the ground; they’d be a cubit short on each side. The lesson is that our imputed righteousness cannot be polluted or influenced by contact with the world. The two things are to remain separate—literally at “arm’s length” (which is what a cubit is) from each other.
Each linen strip was four cubits wide (about six feet), and there were to be ten of them—a total assembled length of forty cubits (sixty feet). Since the whole structure was to be thirty cubits long, the assembly hung over the back “wall” of the sanctuary as it did the sides. But it was not to touch the ground here, either, for part of the first strip was to hang down over the edge in front.
Here’s where the revelation comes in: there were to be two sub-assemblies of five curtains each. “Five curtains shall be coupled to one another, and the other five curtains shall be coupled to one another. And you shall make loops of blue yarn on the edge of the curtain on the selvedge of one set, and likewise you shall do on the outer edge of the other curtain of the second set. Fifty loops you shall make in the one curtain, and fifty loops you shall make on the edge of the curtain that is on the end of the second set, that the loops may be clasped to one another….” The curtains in each five-curtain sub-assembly were to be held together with fifty loops of blue-dyed yarn spaced evenly down the edge of each piece, making the loops about ten inches apart.
The two sub-assemblies, however, were not held together with the usual loops of blue yarn, but with golden clasps: “And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains together with the clasps, so that it may be one tabernacle….” It’s as if God wanted to be sure we couldn’t miss the significance of having two separate “groups” of linen panels. There were five strips in each group, five being the number symbolizing grace—indicating that both Israel and the church would be receive their imputed righteousness (the “linen”) through grace, not by works. Moreover, there is a “heavenly” component to each sub-assembly, indicated by the blue yarn holding the 4-cubit-wide strips together.
But the two sub-assemblies (Israel and the church) are joined together not by these blue cords, but by clasps made of gold—the symbol for immutable purity, that is, Christ Himself. It is He, and He alone, who binds His chosen people Israel to His other chosen people, the church.
Note too that wherever one strip or sub-assembly is attached to another, fifty points of connection are specified. The number fifty crops up several times in scripture, invariably leading us to a celebration of our liberty in God’s love, as demonstrated by both Jubilee and the Feast of Weeks—a.k.a. Pentecost, scheduled fifty days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The second layer of the tabernacle covering is now described: “You shall also make curtains of goats’ hair, to be a tent over the tabernacle. You shall make eleven curtains. The length of each curtain shall be thirty cubits, and the width of each curtain four cubits. And the eleven curtains shall all have the same measurements….” Note that there were eleven curtains this time, not ten. And these were to be longer—long enough to reach the earth on both sides (and the back) of the tabernacle. The goats’ hair, after all, represents our sin, the filth that we accumulate via contact with the world.
This second curtain is where we can begin to see the symbolic differences that prove this isn’t all just a coincidence. “And you shall couple five curtains by themselves and six curtains by themselves, and you shall double over the sixth curtain at the forefront of the tent….” God is practically screaming at us, pay attention to the shift in symbols, folks: (1) goats’ hair, not linen (2) a new curtain configuration, one group of five, and (3) another group of six. Now that we’re talking about sin (the goats’ hair), one of the groups is characterized by grace (the number five); but the other one is seen pursuing a remedy for sin through human means (the number six). Moreover, the “six” group comes first, “at the forefront of the tent.” To me, it seems obvious: the thing that drives Israel’s approach to the forgiveness of sins is the religion of Judaism—a manmade solution whose stubbornness (indicated by the doubling over of the first curtain’s width at the entrance to the sanctuary) is keeping them separate from the other group, the church. The good news is that in the end (as witnessed by the linen inner layer), both groups, Israel and the church, will have received imputed righteousness through grace (the number five).
The curtains were to be joined, as before, with fifty loops yarn. “You shall make fifty loops on the edge of the curtain that is outermost in one set, and fifty loops on the edge of the curtain of the second set.” Since no change is indicated, we may presume blue yarn is still the medium to be used. But (4) the sub-assemblies are joined to one another differently: “And you shall make fifty bronze clasps, put the clasps into the loops, and couple the tent together, that it may be one….” Bronze clasps were to be used this time, not gold. In our symbol lexicon, bronze or brass indicates judgment—which in Biblical parlance denotes not so much condemnation as it does separation based on a legal decision—dividing the guilty from the innocent. That is, Israel is separated from the church because it is embracing manmade strategies (six) for dealing with sin, while the church knows from the start that it has no hope for salvation other than by grace (five) through faith. It’s religion vs. relationship again.
We are now informed of the parts that hang over the edges. “The remnant that remains of the curtains of the tent, the half curtain that remains, shall hang over the back of the tabernacle. And a cubit on one side and a cubit on the other side, of what remains of the length of the curtains of the tent, shall hang over the sides of the tabernacle, on this side and on that side, to cover it….” If that doesn’t quite seem to match the architectural realities of a tabernacle measuring ten by thirty by ten cubits, bear in mind that the Hebrew is particularly hard to sort out here. The actual word order is this: “Curtain the half of the tent in the curtains remaining and the remnant of the tabernacle the backside over shall hang that remains of what is left on the other side and a cubit on one and a cubit the sides over hang it shall of the tent of the curtains in the length to cover it and on that side on the other of the tabernacle.” Pictures would have been nice. (Of course, if you Google “tabernacle images,” you’ll see a wide range of tent-like structures that bear very little resemblance to what is described in the Torah. The curtains were supposed to “hang over the sides of the tabernacle,” but are invariably depicted held out at an angle with cords and pegs like a tent—destroying the entire symbol.)
We still have two layers of roof panels left to go, but the record deals with them in this summary statement. “You shall also make a covering of ram skins dyed red for the tent, and a covering of badger skins above that.” (Exodus 26:1-14) I can only conclude that the specs for the goat-hair curtains would also be followed for these last two layers. This means that Israel and the church would remain at odds in their approach to the “ram’s skins dyed red,” that is the blood of Christ shed for the atonement for our sins. The church again is characterized by grace, while Israel typically tries to use the wisdom of man to approach God.
From our vantage point inside the sanctuary, we in the church can see the five-plus-five configuration of the inner linen layer, and we are therefore confident in our hope for Israel. But alas, they can’t yet see the solution, for they are still standing outside the tabernacle, looking at the porpoise-skin covering concealing the glorious truth. Until they repent and enter from the proper direction, availing themselves of the altar of Christ’s sacrifice and the laver of cleansing, they will not be able to see what awaits them within the tabernacle: light, provision, communication, and salvation.
(2) The menorah, or lampstand, was to provide light within the tabernacle. It was, in fact, the only light source within the sanctuary. Its design and construction are extremely specific, leading me to the conclusion that Yahweh wanted us to learn some important spiritual truth from its symbol-driven configuration. The instructions for building it are found in Exodus 25:
“You shall also make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be of hammered work. Its shaft, its branches, its bowls, its ornamental knobs, and flowers shall be of one piece….” The first thing we’re told is that it was all to be made out of a single piece of pure gold, even though (as we shall see) it had all sorts of features that looked as though they might be separate—added on. God wanted us to know from the very beginning that being an effective light-bearer depended on unity. This unity, however, was forged in adversity: first the gold itself had to be made pure, melted in the crucible so all of its impurities could be removed; and second, the different design elements were all to be “hammered work,” joined not by extraneous fasteners, but by being heated in the forge and beaten together until they were one indivisible piece of metal.
Is this not a picture of Christ and His relationship with both Israel (in her final state, redeemed and restored) and the true church—His called-out assembly? Hammered work? Does the phrase “wounded for our transgressions” or “bruised for our iniquities” ring any bells? Yahshua was literally hammered when they drove the nails into His flesh, and we are instructed to count it as joy when we are similarly persecuted, for our afflictions mirror (and honor) His. And so it is with the menorah’s design: “And six branches shall come out of its sides: three branches of the lampstand out of one side, and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side….” These branches don’t stand on their own: they must be, rather, “welded” (so to speak) into the central trunk—Christ Himself.
It God’s old and familiar six-plus-one pattern again, the pattern of creation and redemption, repeated ad infinitum throughout scripture. This time, however, the “six” component is broken up into two groups of three (the numerical symbol of accomplishment). Without both groups in place doing their work, the menorah would be out of balance and insufficiently brilliant to provide light within the sanctuary. Without being “part of” Christ, the six branches have no function, no unity, and no purpose. There is no point being a Jew (or more properly, an Israelite) without having a relationship with one’s Messiah; and there is no point in being a “Christian” (in the broadest sense of the word) without being “welded” into Christ—i.e., not in manmade religious tradition, or the Pope, or Mary, or a bunch of saints, or in some sort of Christianesque feel-good philosophy).
The hard part of this design for many to comprehend is that for the menorah to work, it has to work as a unit. The Tanakh or Torah can’t be taken alone, nor can the New Testament. Both Israel and the church are incomplete without reference and deference to each other—and to Yahshua. Though they are not the same thing, they are a mirror image of one another. They complete each other—but only if held together in and by the Messiah.
Even God’s “decorative elements” are symbolically significant. “Three bowls shall be made like almond blossoms on one branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower, and three bowls made like almond blossoms on the other branch, with an ornamental knob and a flower—and so for the six branches that come out of the lampstand. On the lampstand itself four bowls shall be made like almond blossoms, each with its ornamental knob and flower. And there shall be a knob under the first two branches of the same, a knob under the second two branches of the same, and a knob under the third two branches of the same, according to the six branches that extend from the lampstand. Their knobs and their branches shall be of one piece; all of it shall be one hammered piece of pure gold….” The almond evokes a rich pattern of symbology in scripture. For the details, I’ll refer you to Volume 3, Unit 3, Chapter 14 of this present work. Suffice it to say here that the almond signifies vigilance or awakening, because the almond tree blossoms so early in the year.
Of course, the lampstand was to be functional: “You shall make seven lamps for it, and they shall arrange its lamps so that they give light in front of it….” The menorah was to stand against the south interior wall of the sanctuary, its light shining toward the north wall, where the table of showbread stood. The fuel was to be pure pressed olive oil (see Exodus 27:20)—metaphorical of the Holy Spirit and reminiscent of Yahshua’s agony on the night of His betrayal in Gethsemane (literally: “olive press”). It was the job of the attending priests to make sure that the lights never went out, night or day—just as it is, even now, the job of believing Jews and Christians to ensure that the witness of God’s word never goes dark in this world. So we should not be shocked or dismayed to discover ourselves being “pressed” by satanic forces in this present world.
“And its wick-trimmers and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made of a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils….” Even the “utensils” used to keep the light going were to be pure gold, with all that signifies. I take that to mean that we should resist the temptation to use the world’s methods to reach the world from within the household of faith. (Remember, the menorah was positioned within the sanctuary—it wasn’t visible or useful outside.) God sees the “utensils” as part of the menorah—they’re all made out of the same talent of gold. In practical terms, this means that while we are to forgive sin and have mercy on sinners, we are not to condone sin in order to make people feel “comfortable” in church. The ends do not justify the means.
Finally, we are reminded that all of these symbolic design elements are God’s idea—not man’s. “And see to it that you make them according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” (Exodus 25:31-40) I can practically guarantee that Moses didn’t comprehend more than a fraction of what these instructions meant. How could he? But Moses didn’t play fast and loose with Yahweh’s Instructions, telling his art director Bezelel, “Just make it pretty—you know, dress it up: maybe an almond or grapevine motif. Or perhaps oak-leaf clusters or pomegranates.” No, he was extremely careful not to change anything God had said, even though he didn’t have a clue what He might be intimating between the lines. Why don’t more of us do that?
(3) The menorah, as I said, was positioned to direct its light toward the table of showbread, which stood against the north interior wall of the tabernacle. The instructions for the construction of this small table were given immediately prior to those for the Menorah in Exodus 25. The bottom line is the table’s stated purpose: “And you shall set the showbread on the table before Me always.” (Exodus 25:30) It is not the table, exactly, but the bread that was to sit upon it that seems (to me, anyway) to point toward this same side-by-side arrangement that God keeps hinting at—of Israel and the church being together but separate.
The designation “showbread” doesn’t really do the word justice. The “bread” component is simple enough: it’s the Hebrew lechem, which also carries the broader connotations of food or the provision of grain. Yahshua’s birthplace was called Bethlehem—beth (house of) lechem (bread). See Volume 1, Unit 3, Chapter 6 of this work for a discussion of how God uses Bread as one of the seven key symbols revealing His own nature.
The other component of “showbread” isn’t quite as easy to sort out. The Hebrew noun is paniym, the plural (or intensive) of paneh, meaning “face.” But based as it is on the verb panah—“to turn”—we begin to understand that one’s “face” in Hebrew usage is actually a complex indicator of relationship or interaction—as in our word “interface.” TWOT notes, “In the Bible the ‘face’ is described not merely as an exterior instrument in one’s physiology, but rather as being engaged in some form of behavioral pattern, and is thus characterized by some personal quality. It is only natural that the face was considered to be extraordinarily revealing vis-à-vis a man’s emotions, moods, and dispositions.” The same thing would apply to God’s “face,” of course.
If one is “facing” you, you are in his presence; you are before him; you have access to him. Lechem paniym in the tabernacle service, then, would indicate bread that brings someone before the face of God—into His presence and favor. The message is that in order to receive Yahweh’s provision, you must face Him, stand before Him—see Him face to face. That, however, is technically impossible for us mortals, for as He told Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20) That is, we cannot endure being in the unfiltered, undiminished presence of Yahweh’s glory, for we are sinful, mortal creatures: God and sin cannot coexist.
How, then, may we come face to face with God? How can we receive the provision of life from His hand? There is only one way. God must somehow become our bread. We must assimilate Him into our bodies. How? “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst….’” Or even more counterintuitively stated a moment later, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:35, 54-58)
The showbread (better translated “bread of the presence”) is therefore symbolic of Christ within us. “You are what you eat” is an important nutritional maxim for keeping our mortal bodies healthy; but its spiritual ramifications are even more essential. If our souls are to live eternally in God’s presence, we must be “in Christ,” and He must be “in us.” But in the symbology of the tabernacle, there are still some surprises in store for us. Let us review the instructions for the bread itself:
“And you shall take fine flour and bake twelve cakes with it. Two-tenths of an ephah shall be in each cake….” These “cakes” or loaves were larger than we’re used to. Actually, they were huge. An ephah was .635 bushel. (Some sources say it was a full bushel—over nine gallons.) At two-thirds of a bushel, two tenths of an ephah works out to about a gallon (4.4 liters) of grain per loaf. (The NLT translates this: “twelve loaves of bread from choice flour, using four quarts of flour for each loaf.”) Each loaf (or “cake”) would have been round and (depending on whether or not it contained leaven) somewhat flatter than it was wide.
Considering the large size of the loaves and the dimensions of the table on which they were to be displayed (about three feet by eighteen inches), it is clear that God meant to cover the table of showbread with them. They would have been displayed in rows, each one leaning against the next, like fallen dominoes. “You shall set them in two rows, six in a row, on the pure gold table before Yahweh….” So we can surmise that the loaves would have been about nine inches across. This six-plus-six side-by-side configuration would have been pretty much the only way all twelve loaves would have fit on the table—by God’s design. What was he trying to tell us? If only Israel’s twelve tribes were in view, He could have specified a long, narrow table, or maybe smaller loaves. But as it is, we’re forced to consider what six (the number of humanity) sitting next to another group of six might mean. Call me overly imaginative, but what I see here is the same thing we saw with the ceiling curtains and the design of the menorah: Israel and the church, side by side, one the mirror image of the other.
This observation is reinforced by what we read next: “And you shall put pure frankincense on each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to Yahweh….” Frankincense, indicating purity attained through sacrifice (See Volume 3, Unit 1, Chapter 8) was to be sprinkled on each row separately. Since Yahweh points out that this was to be for “a memorial,” we must ask ourselves, a memorial of what? Who provides our purity through His sacrifice? The Messiah, of course—the One who was “bruised for our iniquities.” The church—by definition—received this truth from the outset: it’s what makes us the ekklesia, the “called-out” of God. Israel, on the other hand, has not yet (as a nation) embraced Yahshua as their Messiah, though hundreds of prophecies conspire to inform us that they most definitely will. It’s the central theme and promise of the Day of Atonement. So our “frankincense” is applied separately: Israel and the church come before God’s paniym (face or presence) at different times and under different circumstances—but both of us through the “Bread of Life,” Christ Himself, or not at all.
That being said, there is a deadline for individuals—regardless of their heritage or geneology—to come into the presence of God through the Bread of Life provided by God. (That is, beside the real deadline we each face—death.) I’m referring to the Sabbath—when the fresh loaves were to be brought into the Holy Place and arranged on the table of showbread. “Every Sabbath he [the priest] shall set it in order before Yahweh continually, being taken from the children of Israel by an everlasting covenant. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, by a perpetual statute.” (Leviticus 24:5-9)
The ultimate Sabbath is the seventh millennium of fallen man’s tenure upon the earth—the Kingdom Age. That is when we will come before the face of God, appearing as the risen Christ, the reigning King. But if, by that time, we have not “eaten the flesh of Yahshua, or drunk His blood,” so to speak—that is, assimilated Him into our lives—we will be given no further opportunity to do so. The Bread is, after all, for the priests—Aaron and his sons—symbolic of us who minister before Yahweh and intercede with Him on behalf of those around us. This is of particular importance to us living today, for unless I am mistaken about a great many things, we are now on the very cusp of the Kingdom Age. Now is the day of salvation.
Sometimes scripture is surprising for what it doesn’t say. We aren’t specifically told that the bread of the presence was to be unleavened (as we might expect). The rules for the normal minha, or grain offerings are spelled out in Leviticus 2, the salient verse being: “No grain offering which you bring to Yahweh shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to Yahweh made by fire.” (Leviticus 2:11) But the bread of the presence (or a representative portion of it) wasn’t to be offered on the altar, even though it was said to be “from the offerings of Yahweh made by fire.” Yes, the showbread was made from grain provided by the people, brought as an offering (and not from what the priests grew themselves, since they had no land). But it was intended specifically for the consumption of the priests. So it’s unclear whether the rules concerning ordinary grain offerings being unleavened apply here.
If the bread was unleavened, it would symbolically reinforce the truth that Christ, as “the Bread of Life” was sinless and incorruptible. But if not, it would indicate the same thing the presence of leavened bread in the rites of the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) did—that we are to “come just as we are” before God, relying upon Him to atone for our sins, cleanse us from our unrighteousness, and make us “new creatures” in Christ—for we cannot provide these things for ourselves. (Of course, twelve puffy leavened loaves might not even fit on the table as described.)
But in context, we aren’t told how the bread was to be made, other than that it was to be made with “fine flour”—that is, grain from which the husks had been removed by threshing and winnowing. The symbolic idea was that nothing worthless or extraneous was to be part of the recipe. This was, in a way, a variation on the “frankincense” symbol—of purity attained through sacrifice. In this case, it is holiness perfected through adversity.
(4) As we scan the tabernacle specifications for “two things side-by-side in a relationship with God,” we should consider the two cherubim associated with the Ark of the Covenant. I may be reading into this something that just isn’t there, so take this with a grain of salt. That being said, I find it interesting, if not downright significant, that all of these indicators that “Israel stands side by side with the church” are all listed together in one contiguous Torah passage (Exodus 25-26).
Anyway, after Moses describes the construction of the Ark of the Testimony, we see the instructions for making the integral “mercy seat” that was to serve as its “lid.” “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold; two and a half cubits shall be its length and a cubit and a half its width.” The word translated “mercy seat” (Hebrew: kapporeth) actually means “a propitiatory”—something that propitiates, that is, appeases or conciliates; it’s something that pacifies, resolves, or reconciles. Strong’s defines kapporeth as “a lid, something that covers (from kaphar, to cover)” but Brown-Driver-Briggs contends that “the older explanation ‘cover, lid’ has no justification in usage.” Another related word (and possible root) is kopher, meaning, “a bribe, the price of a life, a ransom.” It’s not hard to see how the basic idea—to cover—takes on a variety of subtly related shades of meaning. The same root, in fact, is used to describe the covering for our sin, as in Yom Kippurym—the Day of Atonement.
Here’s where the “two-things-side-by-side” theme shows up: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub at one end, and the other cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim at the two ends of it of one piece with the mercy seat. And the cherubim shall stretch out their wings above, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and they shall face one another; the faces of the cherubim shall be toward the mercy seat….”
Cherubim (the plural of Cherub—Hebrew kerub) are generally thought to be an order of angelic beings, though the word is of uncertain derivation. Considering the prohibition against making graven images for the worship of “anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” in the Second Commandment (see Exodus 20:4), we are surprised to find cherubim specified as a decorative element here in the mercy seat and in the tabernacle’s linen embroidery. And we see cherubim employed not only here in the tabernacle, but in both Solomon’s temple and Ezekiel’s vision of the Millennial temple as well. We are never told what they actually look like, but apparently they were depicted as winged humans—just as we to this day envision “angels” to look like (but no, cherubim are not the chubby winged toddlers found in Renaissance artwork).
I would only note that the word “angel” (Greek: aggelos, Hebrew: malak) simply means messenger, envoy, or ambassador. This says (to me, anyway) that perhaps the two cherubim flanking the mercy seat could be indicative of human agencies tasked with delivering God’s truth to the world—and by that, of course, I mean both Israel and the church (again). I realize angels are immortal spirit beings, but the redeemed among us also have eternal spiritual life, as Yahshua pointed out in John 3. So the theory that these two cherubim represent Israel and the church is admittedly a stretch, but not by much.
The mercy seat is often depicted (e.g. in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark) as two figures kneeling atop the kapporeth, with their wings outstretched, touching in the middle. But the Instructions clearly state that the two cherubim were to be positioned at the ends (qatsah—the edge, a coastline, border, or outskirts) of the mercy seat. Note that the Ark of the Covenant was only two and a half cubits (three feet, nine inches) long, so each extended “wing” would be less than two feet long if they touched, and the Instructions don’t actually specify that they must—only that they had to reach out toward one another.
If you believe the stories (as I am inclined to), only one man in modern times has actually seen the Ark of the Covenant and lived to tell the tale. His name was Ron Wyatt, a devout amateur archeologist who found the cavern in Jerusalem in which the ark and some other significant temple artifacts were stored on January 6, 1982. I related the story in detail in The End of the Beginning, Chapter 13 (elsewhere on this website). He described it not as it is invariably portrayed by illustrators today (consult Google images for a plethora of examples), but as the Torah itself pictured it—with the two cherubim standing at the ends, facing each other with wings outstretched. Wyatt said the wings on the side facing the front of the ark rested at the angels’ sides, while the wings toward the back reached out and touched each other, meeting in the center, making the thing look, for all practical purposes, like a golden throne. (Ron Wyatt died in 1999, but I personally had the story, as presented in The End of the Beginning, vetted by his widow in 2003.)
Moses’ record on the subject concludes, “You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I will give you. And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 25:17-22) The “mercy seat” in the Most Holy Place was to serve as a meeting place between Yahweh and Moses, the place where (after the children of Israel had left Mount Sinai) God (in the form of the Shekinah) could converse directly with His prophet. (After the Torah was complete, of course, they only time the Most Holy Place could be entered was on the Day of Atonement, and then only by the High Priest.)
God Himself described the “meeting place” as “between the two cherubim.” What was He trying to tell us? If we go back and paraphrase the text, not with an eye toward the physical construction of the Ark of the Covenant, but focusing on the symbolic truths that God meant to communicate to us through it, the story may become a bit clearer:
“Make the Ark’s cover—the place of propitiation, reconciliation and atonement—from pure gold, for immutable purity is My very nature. But make it on a scale welcoming to humanity—not overly impressive or intimidating—for I will manifest Myself in human form for your everlasting benefit: the propitiation for your sins, after all, is that which reconciles man with God. Two immortal messengers, both made immutably pure through the crucible of adversity, shall face each other, seeing Me standing between them, but from opposite points of view. When all is said and done, the propitiatory covering and these two messengers will all be one piece, focused on Yahweh, their God. I will give the two messengers wings with which they will take my message to the world, reach out toward each other, and guard the testimony contained within the Ark. I, Yahweh, will meet with you there, and speak to you concerning the propitiation for your sins that I have provided—explained through both the commandments given to Israel and the grace made manifest in the life of the church.”
Or something like that.
Looking at the “mercy seat” in this light, it becomes a bit easier to visualize the two cherubim as symbols representing Israel and the church. These messengers both “see” God, but from different directions—they perceive separate sides of His nature and plan, so to speak. Israel sees the seemingly harsh, unbending holiness of God—and their utter inability to live up to His standards in their own strength. Persecuted for millennia, whether for good reason or no reason at all, they have been “hammered” together into one indivisible nation, called out of the world for God’s purpose. Yahweh, it would seem, is forcing them into a corner (or at least toward the qatsah—the edge) where the only things preventing them from falling into oblivion are their hope of propitiation for their sins and their vision of Yahweh.
Looking at things from the other side, the church too sees the holiness of God, rejoicing in the provision He has made for us to partake in it. We too recognize our utter depravity before Yahweh, but gratefully receive His remedy—His ransom—the most precious substance known to man: the blood of Christ, Immanuel, God with us. Like Israel, we too have been “hammered” by the world’s hatred, marginalized at the edge of civilization, but we are prevented from falling into the abyss by our anchor in grace and our vision of His impending return in glory.
Like it or not, Israel and the church are two sides on the same coin.
Israel’s role in the crucifixion of Christ
It is ironic (and not a little painful) that when so-called “Christians” want to persecute the Jews, they invariably accuse them of being “Christ killers.” This is wrong on any number of levels. (1) Only a small minority of political and religious elites were personally culpable for having Yahshua crucified by the Romans. (2) Persecuting Jews today for something their ancestors may (or may not) have done a long time ago is tantamount to hanging me because my great-great-great grandfather may have been a horse thief. It’s patently unjust, even if it is an answer to their own prayer: “Let His blood be upon us and upon our children.” (3) A large minority of Jews in Judea—including priests (Acts 6:7) and even some Pharisees (Acts 15:5)—became believers (“followers of The Way,” as they were then known) in the decades following the resurrection. (4) At first, the church was comprised entirely of Jews—it was considered a Jewish sect, giving it “cover” as a recognized and tolerated religion under Roman law. (5) Christ Himself had prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34) If He could forgive ignorance and hatred under such circumstances, we should as well. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Why is Christianity no longer considered a sect or offshoot of Judaism? The divorce of Christianity from Judaism was a two-step process. First, early in the second century A.D., with the temple gone and the old order out of favor with the Romans, the Pharisees under the influential Rabbi Akiba seized the reins of religious authority in Israel away from the priests and Sadducees. As part of his power grab, he forced the growing Jewish Christian populace to choose between being a follower of the Christ and being a Jew—to forsake one thing or the other. Most chose Christianity, which cost them both their Jewish heritage and religious tolerance (spotty as it was) under Roman rule. Then, in 133, a revolt broke out, led by Simon ben Kosiba, a brutal warlord whom Rabbi Akiba declared to be Israel’s Messiah, giving him the title Bar Kochba (“Son of a Star,” a reference to Balaam’s messianic prophecy in Numbers 24:17). Emperor Hadrian crushed the rebellion in 135, killed its leaders, scattered the remnants of Israel to the four winds, salted the land to make it barren and worthless, and changed its name to Palestina (after the long-extinct Philistines) in a vain effort to permanently sever the Jews’ emotional attachment to the Land.
The second step began when Constantine seized control of Rome from Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, on October 28, 312, giving him sole control of the Western empire. Constantine attributed his success to divine intervention on the part of the Christian God, and within a year, he and Licinius (the leader of the Balkan provinces) issued the Edict of Milan, once again making Christianity (which Akiba had divorced from Judaism two centuries earlier) an officially recognized and tolerated religion in the Roman Empire. (Contrary to popular misconception, Christianity did not become the “official” state religion of the Roman Empire until 381—forty-four years after his death.)
Constantine presided over the first Council of Nicaea in 325—convened to sort out the Arian heresy. One unplanned outcome of the conference was the beginning of the process of ridding Christianity of “all things Jewish”—this time from the gentile perspective. Constantine’s biographer Eusebius reports, “...It appeared an unworthy thing that in the celebration of this most holy feast [the Resurrection] we should follow the practice of the Jews, who have impiously defiled their hands with enormous sin, and are, therefore, deservedly afflicted with blindness of soul.... Let us then have nothing in common with the detestable Jewish crowd; for we have received from our Saviour a different way.” How could they have missed the fact that the “practice of the Jews” was done according to Yahweh’s explicit Instructions—not Israel’s own preference?
So the Council disconnected the date of Christ’s resurrection from the Jewish (i.e., God-instituted) lunar calendar, which placed it on the Feast of Firstfruits, Nisan 16, and placed it instead on “Easter,” the pagan celebration of Ishtar (a.k.a. Astarte, Asherah, or Semiramis), which had been celebrated for centuries on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. All of the Torah’s rich symbolism was thus thrown away because of Rome’s knee-jerk anti-Semitism. Before Constantine was through, the entire Judaic foundation of Christianity would be rendered so obscure it’s a wonder any of us would ever be able to see the connection.
How in the world did Rome fail to comprehend that they—in the role of Israel’s gentile overlords—were every bit as responsible as the Jews for the crucifixion of Yahshua? If the Jews, racially, were “Christ killers,” then the Romans—i.e., gentiles as a class—were guilty of the very same crime. The Roman procurator Pontius Pilate may have melodramatically pretended to wash his hands of the whole affair, but the fact remains: he acceded to the wishes of the Jewish rabble demanding Yahshua’s blood—when he alone had the authority to say “no.” It was Roman soldiers who wielded the flagrum and drove the nails into His wrists and feet. Both Romans and Jews were complicit in trying to hide the fact of the resurrection. And both Romans and Jews tried desperately to stop the spread of Christianity after Pentecost. No one in the story is innocent—except, of course, for the Sacrifice Himself.
Moreover, we must come to terms with the fact that God Himself had arranged for the Messiah, the anointed Lamb of God, to be born into Israel’s royal family, to minister to “the lost sheep of Israel,” and to die in Jerusalem for the sins of the whole world. It would have been theoretically possible, I suppose, for gentiles to be solely responsible for the sacrifice of God’s Anointed, but a less-likely scenario is hard to envision. First, Moses had clearly presented to Israel the choice between blessing and cursing, life and death. But then God had informed him in no uncertain terms which path they would choose, despite the repeated warnings: “And Yahweh said to Moses: ‘Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.” (Deuteronomy 31:16)
Later, in “prophet mode,” Moses predicted that Israel would turn their collective back on their Savior: “Then he [Jeshurun, i.e., Israel] forsook God who made him, and scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation.” (Deuteronomy 32:15) Who is this “Rock”? In reality, He is Yahweh Himself, for the psalmist writes, “Oh come, let us sing to Yahweh! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.” (Psalm 95:1) Yet the One who was “scornfully esteemed” was revealed by the prophet Isaiah to be a human Sacrifice: “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” (Isaiah 53:3). This whole chapter (Isaiah 53) foretells the mission and passion of Yahshua the Messiah—to the exclusion of every other man who ever walked the earth.
And let us not forget that Israel’s prophetic role, as custodians of the Torah, was to rehearse throughout their generations the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah. It was they to whom God assigned the task (and privilege) of making burnt offerings, sin offerings, trespass offerings, and peace offerings, along with grain offerings, drink offerings, new moon offerings, firstborn offerings, etc. All of these, and more, pointed directly toward the self-sacrifice of Yahshua. We should not be shocked or dismayed, then, that the people God assigned to participate in the dress rehearsals also performed the play.
That being said, no one in his right mind can place the guilt of crucifying the Messiah solely on the shoulders of the Jews. This too is something God had arranged and revealed prior to the event. At the time of Christ’s advent, the only tribe wielding any authority or influence as a tribe was Judah. The ten northern tribes had been scattered to the wind seven centuries previously by the Assyrians, and Benjamin had been effectively absorbed into Judah. The priesthood (by law, sons of Levi) had no political power. But the Sanhedrin—which did wield some authority—had finally, after a long struggle, yielded to Rome’s vassal Herod in the last year of his reign—i.e., just after Yahshua was born. The litmus test was who had the authority to pronounce the death penalty. During Yahshua’s trial, “Pilate said to [the Jewish leaders], ‘You take Him and judge Him according to your law.’ Therefore the Jews said to him, ‘It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.’” (John 18:31) That’s right: the Jews could not legally crucify their Messiah by themselves: they needed gentile assistance.
Jacob/Israel had prophesied on his deathbed concerning the tribe of Judah—Yahshua’s tribe. He had said, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [meaning ‘whose it is’] comes.” Once there, the lawful rule of Israel was to remain with Judah—it would never pass to another tribe. (It’s worth noting that Herod was not a Jew, but an Idumean usurper.) The Messiah-King—the One to whom the scepter ultimately belonged—was also prophesied to come from the line of David. Again, Yahshua qualified, both biologically and legally. “And to Him shall be the obedience [or ‘gathering’] of the people.” (Genesis 49:10) We who would ultimately obey, gather ourselves to, revere, and worship the One to whom the scepter of Israel belongs are not exclusively Jews or gentiles, but would be comprised of people from every nation, tongue, and tribe under heaven. As ironic as it sounds, we are all “Christ killers,” saved by grace, or not at all.
Israel’s ultimate destiny
My working premise here has been that Israel is a symbolic microcosm of all of humanity (or the believers among us, at least)—a compact, comprehensible tool God uses to teach us essential lessons about ourselves. What is true of them in specifically defined terms is true of all of us in a more general way. They have had their moments of triumph and spiritual lucidity, and in historic terms, so have the rest of us. But far more often, Israel has failed miserably, chosen poorly, and suffered for their national crimes—the very picture of the general course of the whole fallen human race. Paul writes, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham.” (Romans 9:7-8) In other words, whatever Israel is takes a back seat to what it means. Nevertheless, we are assured that a remnant of literal Israel will be saved, and again, Christianity is characterized as those who have passed through the “narrow gate,” forsaking the “broad highway that leads to destruction” that is chosen by the vast majority.
The means of our salvation is parallel as well. Christ alone, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” is the only portal to reconciliation with Yahweh. Israel got to see Him “up close and personal” through their Laws, their prophets, and finally with their waking eyes. We gentiles saw Him as well, but only from afar, as in a sweet dream or misty legend that stirred the hope lying dormant within our hearts—the hope of a better life, of peace with a Creator we somehow knew must be out there somewhere, waiting for a response to His love.
Because Yahweh has declared His undying love for Israel (despite their failures) the world has, in their rebellion against Him, chosen to attack the Jews at every turn. They don’t even know why they hate them—they just do. The same thing is true, in a larger and less focused sense, of the ekklesia—the called-out assembly of Christ: we are hated by the world because we are at peace with God. I hesitate to call these believers “the church,” however, because the religious organization that calls itself the church these days is in itself a large part of the problem.
Columnist Michael Snyder asks, “Is a belief in the strict, literal interpretation of the Bible ‘a sickness’? Pope Francis appears to think so. Just a few days ago, multiple reporters heard Francis describe fundamentalism as ‘a sickness that is in all religions’—including Christianity. But precisely what is fundamentalism? If you go to Google, it is defined as ‘a form of a religion, especially Islam or Protestant Christianity, that upholds belief in the strict, literal interpretation of scripture.’” Francis was quoted as saying, “A fundamentalist group, even if it kills no one, even it strikes no one, is violent. The mental structure of fundamentalism is violence in the name of God.”
In other words, the Pope, the leader of the largest branch of “Christianity” in the world, thinks that an unshakable belief in anything—even in the God of the Bible—is tantamount to violence, and is therefore evil or sick. But does this make any sense? I think not. While Muslims are commanded by their scriptures to kill non-Muslims, Christians and Jews are commanded by their scriptures to love one another and not to murder anyone—but the Pope can’t seem to perceive the difference. Francis is on record as espousing “Chrislam,” a compromise between Christianity and Islam, while opposing “fundamentalist” Christianity. He apparently believes that the road to peace is paved with the surrender of one’s convictions.
Christ would beg to differ. He said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’” (Matthew 10:34-36, quoting Micah 7:6) Speaking to the apostate so-called “church” of the Last Days, the risen Yahshua also said, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16) Christ abhors compromise.
The Pope is not alone when he expresses his contempt for “fundamentalism” of any sort. Because it insists, “I believe my God to be the one true God,” fundamentalism implies that all other “gods” are false, inadequate, or destructive. Therefore the only way for real belief to be a good thing would be for the deity being worshiped to actually be God. But compromise (Pope Francis style) says, “I don’t honestly believe that my god is real, nor is yours. Our religions are all a scam. Thus there’s no real basis for conflict, is there? So let’s all wallow in non-committal mediocrity instead. It’s safer that way.” Joshua’s plea to “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” doesn’t fly in the Vatican these days.
Lukewarm compromise actually seems to make sense for most people today, who by definition have no deeply held beliefs or convictions. Neither secular humanists, Hindus (including their many derivatives), apostate Christians, nor “hypocritical” Muslims (their word, not mine—meaning those Muslims who are reluctant to kill or die for Muhammad’s cause) have any reason to attack their neighbors of other “faiths,” except, of course, for good old fashioned lust, greed, or pride.
But fundamentalist Muslims (note: they aren’t “radical”) believe their scriptures when they say, “Fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them, take them captive, harass them, lie in wait and ambush them using every stratagem of war.” (Qur’an 9:5) Or, “Fight them until all opposition ends and all submit to Allah.” (Qur’an 8:39) Meanwhile, fundamentalist Christians believe their scriptures when they say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:6) Or “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Or, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (I John 4:7-8)
And what about “fundamentalist Jews”? Actually, there’s no such thing. A Jew who really believes the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets will soon discover that the Talmud and the Mishnah (although based on the Tanakh) are unauthoritative and contradictory. And if he prayerfully pays attention to what God was saying in the Tanakh, he will end up kneeling at the cross of Christ: he will become, for all intents and purposes, a fundamentalist Christian, for the “Jewish scriptures” reveal their Messiah—Yahshua—between every line. Frankly, cutting the story off with the book of Malachi leaves it hanging in midair, like a joke without a punch line. It feels like making a date with God and then getting “stood up.”
And that’s a crying shame, for in the final analysis, the Jews really only got one thing wrong: they insisted that the Messiah’s mission must come to pass in a single divine advent. I don’t know how they expected it to work, but they assumed that the “suffering servant” passages and the “reigning king” prophesies would all be fulfilled at the same time. I guessed they missed the Messianic significance of all those “early and latter rain” references. “Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem! Rejoice in Yahweh your God! For the rain he sends demonstrates his faithfulness. Once more the autumn rains will come, as well as the rains of spring.” (Joel 2:23 NLT) “And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love Yahweh your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.” (Deuteronomy 11:13-14)
Jeremiah chastises Israel for their unwillingness to repent: “They do not say in their heart, ‘Let us now fear Yahweh our God, who gives rain, both the former and the latter, in its season. He reserves for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these things away, and your sins have withheld good from you.” (Jeremiah 5:24-25) And in a passage we’ve already seen, Hosea repeats the same repentance theme, while specifically tying the “former and latter rain” theme to the coming of the Messiah: “Come, and let us return to Yahweh; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days [read: after two thousand years] He will revive us. On the third day [i.e., the Millennial Kingdom of Christ] He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3) The prophecy practically screams that “there will be two Messianic advents, separated by two thousand years, and they will occur, like the rains in Israel, at different seasons—first in the spring, and then in the autumn. You count on the sun rising in the east every morning; you can count on this as well.”
Yahshua promised His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3) And later He said, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” (Revelation 3:12) To anyone who loves Yahweh and reveres His Messiah, these are words to make the heart beat faster in anticipation of the wonderful day when he will bring it all to pass. What these (and many other) passages lack in specifics and details, they more than make up for in splendor and majesty: there is no downside here—He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
But if Israel is a symbolic microcosm of believing humanity at large, then we would expect to see far more detailed—and more numerous—prophecies concerning their glorious future. And that is exactly what we find in scripture. When researching The End of the Beginning, I was shocked to see how many times and how many ways God repeated the promise to redeem and restore Israel. I didn’t actually count them, but there seemed to be ten times as many declarations covering this subject as there were any other yet-to-be-fulfilled prophetic theme in the entire Hebrew Bible. And invariably—whether overtly or between the lines—these restoration promises are tied to Israel’s long delayed recognition and acceptance of their Messiah-Redeemer, the One we know to be Yahshua the Messiah: Jesus Christ.
(That being said, there is also probably ten times as much material warning both Judah and Ephraim of their coming judgment as there are prophetic indications of this “light at the end of the tunnel.” Israel’s suffering because of their national sins was well deserved—and completely avoidable. Her restoration and redemption, on the other hand, will be—as it is with all of us—the product of grace through faith: completely unearned and undeserved. Yahweh won’t force Israel’s national repentance, you understand, but He has informed us that it will take place, at the end of the age.)
I don’t intend to quote them all, but these passages detailing Israel’s coming redemption will serve to make my point: God hasn’t replaced Israel with the church, nor is the church to be absorbed into Israel. God is dealing with us separately, for His own glory and purpose. This is not to say that salvation may be attained by any means other than grace through faith in Yahweh’s provision—“the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” But He has assigned a different role, a different job, to Israel than He did to the church.
The following passages are a mere taste of the glorious future Yahweh has in store for redeemed Israel. I have restricted my survey to the Old Testament prophets. Their words explain why Paul could confidently inform us (in Romans 11:26) that “All Israel will be saved.” Let us consider them prophet by prophet:
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of Yahweh’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills. And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2-3)
“For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
“He will swallow up death forever, and Yahweh, God, will wipe away tears from all faces. The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth, for Yahweh has spoken. And it will be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God. We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is Yahweh. We have waited for Him. We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” (Isaiah 25:8-9)
“Jacob shall not now be ashamed, nor shall his face now grow pale. But when he sees his children, the work of My hands, in his midst [note: this requires Jacob’s bodily resurrection], they will hallow My name, and hallow the Holy One of Jacob, and fear the God of Israel. These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding, and those who complained will learn doctrine.” (Isaiah 29:22-24)
“And the ransomed of Yahweh shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10)
“‘With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says Yahweh, your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:8)
“‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,’ says Yahweh. ‘As for Me,’ says Yahweh, ‘this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,’ says Yahweh, ‘from this time and forevermore.’” (Isaiah 59:20-21)
“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but Yahweh will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for Yahweh will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also your people shall all be righteous. They shall inherit the land forever.” (Isaiah 60:19-21)
“I will direct their work in truth, and will make with them an everlasting covenant. Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the posterity whom Yahweh has blessed.” (Isaiah 61:8-9)
“For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns…. You shall no longer be termed Forsaken, nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate…. You who make mention of Yahweh, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth…. Indeed Yahweh has proclaimed to the end of the world: Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Surely your salvation is coming. Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.’ And they shall call them The Holy People, the Redeemed of Yahweh. And you shall be called Sought Out, a City Not Forsaken.” (Isaiah 62:1, 4, 6-7, 11-12)
“For behold, I create Jerusalem as a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in My people. The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying.” (Isaiah 65:18-19)
“‘Before she was in labor, she gave birth. Before her pain came, she delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her children. Shall I bring to the time of birth, and not cause delivery?’ says Yahweh. ‘Shall I who cause delivery shut up the womb?’ says your God. ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all you who love her. Rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her.’” (Isaiah 66:7-1)
“‘Behold, the days are coming,” says Yahweh, ‘That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness. A King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely. Now this is His name by which He will be called: YAHWEH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
“Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it. And it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it. ‘For it shall come to pass in that day,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘That I will break his yoke from your neck, and will burst your bonds. Foreigners shall no more enslave them. But they shall serve Yahweh their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.’” (Jeremiah 30:7-9)
“‘At the same time,’ says Yahweh, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.’ Thus says Yahweh: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness—Israel, when I went to give him rest.’ Yahweh has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel!’” (Jeremiah 31:1-4)
“Behold, the days are coming, says Yahweh, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know Yahweh,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says Yahweh. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
“Behold, I will bring it health and healing. I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth. And I will cause the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel to return, and will rebuild those places as at the first. I will cleanse them from all their iniquity by which they have sinned against Me, and I will pardon all their iniquities by which they have sinned and by which they have transgressed against Me. Then it shall be to Me a name of joy, a praise, and an honor before all nations of the earth, who shall hear all the good that I do to them; they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and all the prosperity that I provide for it.” (Jeremiah 33:6-9)
“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says Yahweh, ‘that I will perform that good thing which I have promised to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah: In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David a Branch of righteousness. He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: YAHWEH OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.’ For thus says Yahweh: ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; nor shall the priests, the Levites, lack a man to offer burnt offerings before Me, to kindle grain offerings, and to sacrifice continually.’” (Jeremiah 33:14-18)
“‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant,’ says Yahweh, ‘for I am with you. For I will make a complete end of all the nations to which I have driven you, but I will not make a complete end of you.’” (Jeremiah 46:28)
“Thus says Yahweh Our God: ‘I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they will go there, and they will take away all its detestable things and all its abominations from there. Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:17-20)
“‘Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters [Samaria and Jerusalem—see Ezekiel 23]; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you. And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,’ says the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 16:60-63)
“Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for which I raised My hand in an oath to give to your fathers. And there you shall remember your ways and all your doings with which you were defiled; and you shall loathe yourselves in your own sight because of all the evils that you have committed. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have dealt with you for My name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways nor according to your corrupt doings, O house of Israel,” says the Lord Yahweh.’” (Ezekiel 20:42-44)
“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:24-28)
“Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, Yahweh, have spoken it and performed it,” says Yahweh.’” (Ezekiel 37:12-14)
“I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever.” (Ezekiel 37:23-25)
“So I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel, and I will not let them profane My holy name anymore. Then the nations shall know that I am Yahweh, the Holy One in Israel. Surely it is coming, and it shall be done,’ says the Lord Yahweh. ‘This is the day of which I have spoken…. So the house of Israel shall know that I am Yahweh their God from that day forward…. I will bring back the captives of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 39:7-8, 22, 25)
“Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24)
“And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Daniel 12:1-4)
“Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head.” (Hosea 1:10-11)
“Then I will sow her [Israel] for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’’” (Hosea 2:23)
“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek Yahweh their God and David their king. They shall fear Yahweh and His goodness in the latter days.” (Hosea 3:4-5)
“Come, and let us return to Yahweh. For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3)
“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?… My heart churns within Me. My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger. I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst. And I will not come with terror. They shall walk after Yahweh. He will roar like a lion. When He roars, then His sons shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt, like a dove from the land of Assyria. And I will let them dwell in their houses, says Yahweh.” (Hosea 11:8-11)
“Then Yahweh will be zealous for His land, and pity His people. Yahweh will answer and say to His people, ‘Behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them. I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations.’” (Joel 2:18-19)
“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy; your old men shall dream dreams; your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days…. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of Yahweh shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as Yahweh has said, among the remnant whom Yahweh calls.” (Joel 2:28-29, 32)
“Yahweh also will roar from Zion, and utter His voice from Jerusalem. The heavens and earth will shake; but Yahweh will be a shelter for His people, and the strength of the children of Israel. So you shall know that I am Yahweh your God, dwelling in Zion My holy mountain. Then Jerusalem shall be holy, and no aliens shall ever pass through her again…. Judah shall abide forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted. For Yahweh dwells in Zion.” (Joel 3:20-21)
“‘On that day I will raise up the tabernacle [i.e., the dynasty] of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages. I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old. That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ says Yahweh who does this thing. ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says Yahweh, ‘When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed. The mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel. They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them. They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them. They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,’ says Yahweh your God.” (Amos 9:11-15)
“I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel. I will put them together like sheep of the fold, like a flock in the midst of their pasture. They shall make a loud noise because of so many people. The one who breaks open will come up before them. They will break out, pass through the gate, and go out by it. Their king will pass before them, With Yahweh at their head.” (Micah 2:12-13)
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of Yahweh’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:1-2)
“‘In that day,’ says Yahweh, ‘I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted. I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation. So Yahweh will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever.’” (Micah 4:6-7)
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting. Therefore He shall give them up, until the time that she who is in labor has given birth. Then the remnant of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. And He shall stand and feed His flock in the strength of Yahweh, in the majesty of the name of Yahweh His God. And they shall abide, for now He shall be great to the ends of the earth. And this One shall be peace.” (Micah 5:2-5)
“Do not rejoice over me, my enemy. When I fall, I will arise. When I sit in darkness, Yahweh will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of Yahweh, because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light. I will see His righteousness.” (Micah 7:8-9)
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which You have sworn to our fathers from days of old.” (Micah 7:18-20)
“For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of Yahweh, to serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring My offering. In that day you shall not be shamed for any of your deeds in which you transgress against Me. For then I will take away from your midst those who rejoice in your pride, and you shall no longer be haughty in My holy mountain. I will leave in your midst a meek and humble people, and they shall trust in the name of Yahweh. The remnant of Israel shall do no unrighteousness and speak no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth. For they shall feed their flocks and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid. “Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! Yahweh has taken away your judgments; He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, Yahweh, is in your midst. You shall see disaster no more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Do not fear, Zion, let not your hands be weak. Yahweh your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you with His love; He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:9-17)
“Therefore thus says Yahweh: ‘I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy. My house shall be built in it,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘and a surveyor’s line shall be stretched out over Jerusalem.’ Again proclaim, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘My cities shall again spread out through prosperity. Yahweh will again comfort Zion, and will again choose Jerusalem.’” (Zechariah 1:16-17)
“‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ says Yahweh. ‘Many nations shall be joined to Yahweh in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that Yahweh of hosts has sent Me to you. And Yahweh will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem. Be silent, all flesh, before Yahweh, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!’” (Zechariah 2:10-13)
“Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘I am zealous for Zion with great zeal. With great fervor I am zealous for her.’ Thus says Yahweh: ‘I will return to Zion, and dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth, the Mountain of the Lord of hosts, the Holy Mountain….’ Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘Behold, I will save My people from the land of the east and from the land of the west. I will bring them back, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. They shall be My people and I will be their God, in truth and righteousness.’” (Zechariah 8:2-3, 7-8)
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you. He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem. The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:9-10)
“And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. And it shall be that whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, Yahweh of hosts, on them there will be no rain.” (Zechariah 14:16-18)
Could there be any question about it? Israel’s ultimate destiny is to be redeemed and restored by the grace of Yahweh. God has not turned His back on her, even though she has endured His well-deserved discipline throughout most of her long history. In that Israel will arrive late to the party (i.e., after the “church age” per se has concluded), she is in many ways like the prophetic church of Laodicea, described in Revelation 3. Yahshua tells them, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:19-21)
And is not God’s advice to Israel exactly the same as that which was given to the tardy Laodiceans? “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.” (Revelation 3:18) That is, (1) attain immutable purity, though at the expense of adversity or even martyrdom. (2) Put on the covering of imputed righteousness that God alone provides, that your sins may be hidden. (3) Open your eyes to the truth of God’s love and self-sacrifice on your behalf—something that has been right in front of you all along, though you refused to see it.
The words of the prophets outlining the glorious future of Israel have several recurring themes, you’ll notice. (1) Yahweh will keep His covenant with Israel, fulfilling it in every detail. (2) Their King will reign forever from the throne of David. (3) His capital city will be Jerusalem—Zion. (4) This will all happen “in the latter days”—that is, we shouldn’t be troubled if none of this is reality just yet. (5) With Israel’s repentance, her sins will be forgiven—her former pride will be replaced with humility, reverence, and a contrite heart—on a national scale. (6) The Israelites will be repatriated to the Land of Promise from their exile all over the world. And (7) under the Messiah’s rule, Israel will prosper materially, demographically, and spiritually—for as long as mortals walk the earth.
And if, as I contend, Israel is a symbolic microcosm of all of believing humanity, these seven themes will apply to the rest of the world in a more general (or metaphorical) sense throughout the Millennial reign of Christ. The bottom line is that if Yahweh can keep His promises to the nation of Israel, who—let’s face it—hasn’t exactly been the epitome of spiritual perfection, then He can, and will, keep His promises to us. We have only to trust Him. That’s all He wants.
(First published 2019)