Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Royal Law of Love

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture… you are doing well.”  (Jas 2:8; ESV)

Greetings again my brethren and friends!

Recent events in my life have me thinking about the matter of laws, how denominations and sects go beyond the scripture in the matter of what the scripture teaches on the matter by imposing unwieldy canon law, etc., on their flocks which God hasn’t imposed on the flock because he set in motion something better, the Royal Law of Love because it is superior to all of the “laws” men impose.

In the first century there was a controversy in the Church which centered on law, what law were the Gentile Christians to follow.  Certain brethren argued that Christianity was really a part of Judaism which meant that Gentiles were required to get circumcised as proselytes into the law covenant with Israel and observe the Law of Moses as many Jewish Christians continued to do (Acts 15: 1,2a).  Paul strenuously opposed that teaching and it was finally decided by the brethren and it was decided among the brethren in Antioch to send Paul and a few others to Jerusalem where the rest of the Apostles were and get a determination as to whether Gentile Christians had to come under Jewish law (Acts 15: 2b).  After the decision was made the following letter was sent to all of the ecclesias along the way Paul travelled back to Antioch:

"The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell."
(Act 15:23-29; ESV)

Both Christian and Jewish commentators have commented that the items listed in the letters have their origin in God’s covenant with mankind after the flood of Noah’s day and are incumbent on all.  So they have nothing to do with the Royal Law Christians are commanded to follow, though, Christians follow them as well.

So what is the Royal Law James wrote about and how is it superior to God’s law to the Jews?  It’s really a three-part law Jesus laid down to his disciples to follow.  The first two parts came out of the Law of Moses, God’s covenant with Israel.  We know we’re to follow it because Jesus added the third law, calling it a “new command,” or law, thus linking it to the first two, which he taught those who listened to him to follow.

As we all know, Jesus was very controversial though in what way is still debated to this day.  In his day, though, more than once some of the most learned men in Israel were sent to try and catch him in some sort of impropriety where his teaching was concerned and certain folks in the crowds were primed to be offended at his words.  So Jesus was very careful with his words at times.  On one such occasion Jesus was approached by a lawyer who asked him what the greatest law within the Law of Moses was.  Jesus’ answer was:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” 
(Mat 22:37-38; ESV)

Jesus’ quoted from what is known as the Shema which is recited by devout Jews to this day at Deuteronomy 6:4.  For Christians it certainly places our priorities in their proper places.  But there is more to that simple statement than meets the eye.  Simply put a true Christian led by God’s Holy Spirit will need no rules or law to follow in that respect since he or she will be pointed in the right direction in any situation by the Spirit because they love Jehovah so much that they would desire not to displease him ever.  Sure, we have the Old Testament and I’m not saying that it would be of no use to a true Christian in this or any other regard.  The Law does help us in gaining insight, but following the first command will give us the ability to move beyond the law code and know what to do in situations not mentioned therein.  Thus we know how to please him and make our sacrifices a pleasing odor to him.

The second part of the Royal Law is much like it and James connected it directly to the Royal Law:  “And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mat 22:39; ESV) “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well” James, Jesus' half brother would note many years later in expounding on what Jesus was saying (Jas 2:8).  Both quote from Lev. 19:18, which in Jesus shows the breadth and genius of his knowledge that he was able to draw from two different books of the Torah and connect them together in that way.

Once again this is something of an open-ended law, more like a statement of principle like the first one.  And once again it is superior enough that Jesus could say “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets" (Mat 22:40).  If we really love our neighbor as ourselves, then we need no set of laws or rules to know how to treat our neighbor in any situation which could conceivably occur.  We just do the same for them as we would want done to us.  Of course if we love our neighbors in the same way that Jesus taught in his parable of the Good Samaritan at Luke 10:30-35 we would also be proactive and live our lives in such a way that we would not only live our lives in such a way that we would bring no harm to anybody if at all possible, but like the Samaritan we would be ready to do good to our neighbor, which includes strangers as in the case of the parable.  So what we learn from this consideration is that the Royal Law of love is really a law based on principles instead of rules and will guide us in all situations.

On the night before Jesus died John recorded the last of the three parts of Royal Law of Love:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
(Joh 13:34-35; ESV)

Think for a moment on the implications of this law.  How did Jesus show his love for his disciples as well as all of mankind?  He died for them, didn’t he?  And he also left them an example for them, and all true Christians to follow in the way he dealt with them under all circumstances, including the times they were quite trying.  But this law is also a statement of principle as well and if we grasp its essence we will also know how to deal with our brethren in Christ with love in any and all situations.

In ancient times not only were Christians willing to die for Christ, but they were also willing to die for their brethren as well, that no harm might come to them.  In fact there are plenty of examples of both throughout the entire Gospel age to this point.  If we follow that last law we certainly wouldn’t want to impose power or a multiplicity of “laws” or rules on our brethren.  We would speak evil of none of them.  We would readily help them is it is within our power to do so, including helping them monetarily   if we can.  Yes, loving our brethren as Jesus did would move us to put up with the flaws in their characters and if me must readjust them, as “spiritual” Christians are told to do it would be tactfully, in the spirit of Galatians 6:1, where the next verse tells us that we will fulfill the Royal Law of Love if we do.  And that is the point of this discussion, isn’t it?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Israel: A Tree and a Vine and How They Help us Understand the Bible

In order to understand a number of passages in the scriptures it is necessary to understand certain symbolisms also found in God’s word.  Among those is that Israel is represented as a vine, and as a fig tree.  The last symbol is really a key to the prophetic series I just wrote since the whole point was that the fig tree, Israel, was budding, a symbol of both her restoration as a nation and the big clue that we are in the last days of this human society, or world (Matt. 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-31, Luke. 21:29-33).

There are a number of places in the Old Testament where Israel is likened to a vine, or vines in a vineyard.  The first place we are going to look at is found in Isaiah:

“Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” (Isa 5:1-7)

This is actually a prophecy of Israel’s exile from its land as well as the negation of his covenant with them (vs. 5; Eph. 2:14-15).  So this points towards the exile of the Jews which began in 70ad.  Yet we see that Israel here is present as a vineyard which produces no fruit.  Jeremiah takes the symbol a step further, “Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (Jer 2:21), thus we see Israel identified as a vine.

This knowledge is important because it helps us to understand more fully Paul’s words to the Romans regarding Israel and the Church:

“For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree…” (Rom 11:15-17)

Thus we see as regard’s the promise to Abraham Israel couldn’t fill the number of the Church, so Gentiles were “grafted into” the vine of Israel to replace her cutting off.  That doesn’t mean that Israel was replaced in God’s plan by the church completely, Paul informs us that God will return favor to Israel:

“For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.”  (Rom 11:25-28)

Now we look at some of the scriptures which refer to Israel as a Fig Tree.  We find our first on in Hosea:

“I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.” (Hos 9:10)

Note the “grapes” reference here, evoking the symbol of the vine we already saw in the form of the fruit of the vine.  In this verse we see Israel also likened to the first fruits of the Fig, and, by extrapolation a fig tree.  However, to nail the symbolism down properly we must go to the prophet Joel:

“He hath laid my vine waste, and barked my fig tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.” (Joe. I: 7)

So both the vine and the fig tree are used here as symbols of an Israel lid waste, again a reference to the exile which began in 70ad.  Knowing this helps us to recognize the significance of Jesus’ words to his disciples when he was asked about the last days to watch for the beginning of the restoration of the Jews to their homeland to know that they are in the last days, as we mentioned in the first article in our series on Israel in Prophecy (Matt. 24:32-35; Mk. 13:28-30; 21:29-33).

Thus we see how symbols relate and help us to come to a deeper understanding of important truths.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Final Battle

"And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.
(Eze. 39:1)

Now we come around to one of the most famous prophecies in the Bible, the prophecy of the attack of Gog, the prince of Meshech and Tubal, against the people of Israel.  Now we leave the realm of the past and present and enter that of the future.  That is always fraught with problems.

It is also why it is necessary to go back into the recent past and establish as a fact that for over one hundred years the Bible’s prophecies of the restoration and establishment as a nation were not only foretold with accuracy the events, but the events not only unfolded through the years exactly as foretold, but continue unfolding right before our very eyes.  This is how we can be sure that what comes next is indeed reliable.  The problem for us is to be clear where we enter the realm of supposition and where we tread on firm ground.  Failure to do that is why many end up being called false prophets when they were nothing of the kind.  What most don’t realize is that there is a big difference between faulty predictions and false prophecy.

Now, to find out why and get a sense of how we may know the attack is coming we need to skip ahead a little bit to verses 11-14:

“and say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,' to seize spoil and carry off plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places that are now inhabited, and the people who were gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell at the center of the earth. Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all its leaders will say to you, 'Have you come to seize spoil? Have you assembled your hosts to carry off plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to seize great spoil?' "Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord GOD: On that day when my people Israel are dwelling securely, will you not know it?”  (Eze 38:11-14)

The motive has two components.  The first is that Israel will be very profitable and have much “spoil,” that is, riches, to plunder.  Since time immemorial a Country’s wealth or riches generally consisted of its natural resources.  The Romans wiped out an entire people to get at the Gold their land had in the ground.  The same happened to a number of indigenous peoples here in the United States and elsewhere in more recent times.  Today when the most valuable commodity earth wide in an economy which depends on energy oil and gas are two such sources of wealth nations are very willing to go to war over.  Recently in Israel and off its coast it was discovered that Israel has a great abundance of both, enough to rival the Gulf Coast Arabs.  Energy poor, yet militarily powerful countries to the North, such as Russia and Turkey already look with greed on the discoveries so close and ripe for the picking to their South in a little country already loathed by the rest of the world.  Could the temptation at some point just be too much?

Well let’s go back now to the first part of the chapter:

“The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great host, all of them with buckler and shield, wielding swords. Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all his hordes; Beth-togarmah from the uttermost parts of the north with all his hordes—many peoples are with you. "Be ready and keep ready, you and all your hosts that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them.”  (Eze 38:1-7)

Take a moment and look at the photo at the top of the page.  There we find the locations of the peoples mentioned in the verses we just quoted.  Russia and Turkey in the North are quite prominent and both traditionally hate Israel.  Both are energy poor and would find the energy wealth of Israel a tempting prize indeed.  That is, if the potential pieces we see falling in place are tempting enough.  They are also joined by Iran in the attack and reinforced by the Arab states to the South and West.  But something is missing:

“After many days you will be mustered. In the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land whose people were gathered from many peoples upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste. Its people were brought out from the peoples and now dwell securely, all of them. You will advance, coming on like a storm. You will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your hordes, and many peoples with you. "Thus says the Lord GOD: On that day, thoughts will come into your mind, and you will devise an evil scheme and say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will fall upon the quiet people who dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having no bars or gates,'” (Eze 38:8-11)

I did it this way because of something very important noted in this passage.  Missing from the list of peoples attacking Israel in this prophecy are the Arab people which immediately surround it, the ones we saw in the 83rd Psalm.  Something happened to them.  We get a clue to that in verse eight were we are told that the Jews are “restored from war,” that is, who just fought and won a war.  So somehow the long war prophesied in the 83rd Psalm comes to a successful conclusion, by some sort of victory and the people of Israel appear to be secured, secure enough that they think they can now cut back on  their military and enough the fruits of peace.  But as we see here their military vulnerability makes them easy pickings in the minds of Russia and her allies and they invade Israel intent on plundering “spoil.”

“You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army. You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. "Thus says the Lord GOD: Are you he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them? But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord GOD, my wrath will be roused in my anger.” (Eze 38:15-18)

So Russia will attack as the description of Gog’s force as coming from the “uttermost parts of the north” indicates.  God brings him against the land and they are “like a cloud covering the land.”  I recently listened to a discourse which proposed that Obadiah prophesied in more detail as to what will go on at the final invasion and battle.  The speaker believes that verse eleven of Obadiah predicts that the forces of Gog and his allies will successfully invade the land Israel and occupy it, setting the stage for Armageddon and God’s liberation of his people in such a way nobody will be able to deny what happened and who did it.

But where are Israel’s allies?  Well, the speaker addressed that as well.  He believes that Edom represents Israel’s “brothers,” the Christian nations who are mostly allied with God’s people.  It appears from verses ten through fourteen of Obadiah that they will stand aside and do nothing on Israel’s behalf.  That would further make the point that God alone will be Israel’s deliverer.  For those who don’t think that possible just look around us today.

There is a campaign to isolate Israel going on among the Christian nations as my dear readers read this post.  Holocaust deniers have pretty much overtaken academia and the media and they are working their magic with their propaganda blaming all the ills of the Middle East on Israel.  We see demonstrations at our universities demanding divestment of university holdings of Israeli investments and Israel is vilified on campuses.  We also see a constant stream of UN resolutions treating Israel as an invader and of “Palestine” and human rights abuser as Israel defends herself from constant attack.  All of this is designed to pry Israel’s allies away from her and will be successful if the speaker we listened to interprets Obadiah correctly.

However it finally plays out, one thing is certain; God will destroy Gog’s forces in such a way there will be no doubt who is responsible for Gog’s defeat (Eze 38:17-39:24).  It is our belief that this, on one level, will be the Battle of Armageddon mentioned in the New Testament (Rev 16:12-16).  As with many other prophecies in the Bible we believe there are often several levels to prophecies, but that is another topic for another time.

So what is the end, why should we look forward to all of this and why should we be in expectation of it?  That, my readers, is mentioned at the end of this prophecy:

“"Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwell securely in their land with none to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies' lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore. And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD." (Eze 39:25-29)

Yes, Israel will be restored to her rightful place as the shining one among the nations.  She will stray no more because she will be the example for the nations during the millennial reign of the Lord.  Ezekiel then goes on in Chapter forty to describe the temple he saw in his famous vision and the conditions we can look forward to then.  So, dear readers, we can see why the prophecies of Israel are so important to us and why we should be familiar with them.  This series was by no means comprehensive.  There are many more prophecies of Israel’s restoration and delivery and her role in the kingdom to come.  It is our hope that this series will inspire our readers to become more familiar with these prophecies and to pay more attention to world events so that they may know where they stand in the prophetic stream of time and not be dismayed and frightened as world events play themselves out to their inevitable end.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jacob’s Trouble

Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.
(Jer. 30:7; ASV)

Now we come to one of the most discussed prophecies regarding Israel and her restoration among Bible Students, the one we refer to as the Prophecy of Jacob’s Trouble.  The prophecy is recorded for us in the thirtieth chapter of Jeremiah, and like the 83rd Psalm is full of much for us to think about and filled with both darkness and promise.  That’s because just like the 83rd Psalm, it is being fulfilled even as my readers read this.

I know the last sentence in the foregoing paragraph will surprise some of our regular readers, but in the spirit of letting God’s word speak for itself let’s see why we believe we can make that claim.  Part of th proof starts with the very first three verses of the chapter:

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you. For behold, days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah, says the LORD, and I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall take possession of it."  (Jer. 30:1-3; ISV, underlining by me)

First let’s note that this prophesy begins with the bold statement “Thus says the LORD,” so the prediction is directly from God, in his own words.  So we are assured of its fulfillment for what he declares comes true (Isaiah. 55:8-11).  The rest of the prophecy, though, doesn’t support the thought that this prophecy would see fulfillment in the tie of the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon because it tells us that it would come after a destruction so thorough that people would say that it was “incurable” (vs 11).  That didn’t happen until the destruction of Israel as a nation in 70ad.

So that places the return of the Jews to the land of Israel past that, to our time, which is what this series discussed, the many other remarkable prophecies already discussed which point the way.  So at God’s due time the Jews returned and set up their nation.  But it is not without trouble:

“Thus says the LORD: We have heard a cry of panic, of terror, and no peace.” (Jer. 30:5)

We’ve already seen how true these words are.  The 83rd Psalm predicted the trouble and lack of peace as well and Israel is in a continuous state of war, one going all the way back to its creation in 1948.  Just the weekend before which this was penned ( August 10-11, 2013) there was an announcement of an impending release of “Palestinian” prisoners, many of whom murdered Jews in their sleep with axes!  So the war never ends.  This is consistent with the next part of the prophecy:

“Ask now, and see, can a man bear a child? Why then do I see every man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labor? Why has every face turned pale?” (Jer. 30:6)

Here is where we come to the idea that “Jacob’s Trouble” is ongoing.  Any woman who ever gave birth can knows how it works out.  The pangs start out far apart and not really strong.  Then as time goes on they continue and grow closer together and stronger, more painful, until the baby is born.  Naturally fear and even terror become more pronounced, especially with those giving birth for the first time.  But the real point is that the process of giving birth takes time, lots of time.

The verse above draws that parallel for “Jacob,” or Israel, as verse seven informs us.  Jacob’s Trouble is not a sudden event, it plays out over time and we believe that time began in 1878 when the time for exile ended.  Although the Jews did begin their return then, the Ottomans continued to place roadblocks in their way.  Britain occupied the Holy land and at first tried to expedite the return of the Jews, only to later place roadblocks of its own as the creation of the modern state of Israel drew near because of politics.  However, like childbirth, Jacob’s Trouble does have an ending point:

“Alas! That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it.” (Jer. 30:7)

We do not take this to mean that Jacob, or Israel, will be spared trouble.  Rather, we take the verse to mean that Israel will be spared what to the human mind will appear the inevitable conclusion, destruction at the hands of the enemies overwhelmingly arrayed against it.  That deliverance, though also expressed as one reads on in this chapter of Jeremiah, will be the subject of the next prophecy we plan to examine, the prophecy of Gog of Magog.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The prophecy of the 83rd Psalm

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.
(Psa 83:18)

For many years this psalm was known to me chiefly because of the golden verse for this post.  It is one of the four times that the name of God, Jehovah, occurs in the King James Version of the Bible and I used to quote that verse at the door often while I was a Jehovah’s Witness.  Yet I did not realize the wonderful prophecy it contained, largely because of the Replacement Theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But once again I have Hal Lindsey to thank for bringing my attention to this prophecy by means of an episode of his show some years back after I exited the Witnesses and became more interested in Last Days prophecies and Israel once the blinders came off.  In it Mr. Lindsey posited that the pieces were all falling in place for this prophecy to be fulfilled.  But as I pondered the prophecy his explanation didn’t quite satisfy me.  This one of the prophecies the expositor I look to didn’t cover.  So I listened to mature Christian teachers when they mentioned the prophecy and did research into it to come to the conclusions I have.  So let’s dive right on in:

A Song or Psalm of Asaph. Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God. For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.
(Psa 83:1-2)

So who was this Asaph?  According to Wikipedia:

“In the Old Testament there are three different men with the name of Asaph. The Asaph identified with these twelve Psalms is said to be the son of Berechiah which is said to be an ancestor of the Asaphites. The Asaphites are said to be one of the families or guilds of musicians in the Jerusalem temple. These pieces of information are clarified in the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. In the Chronicles it is said that Asaph was a descendant of Gershom the son of Levi therefore he is identified as a member of the Levites. He is also known as one of the three Levites commissioned by David to be in charge of singing in the house of Yahweh. In 1 Chronicles 6:39 David appoints a man named Heman as the main musician or singer and Asaph as Heman’s right hand assistant and the Merarites at his left hand.[3] Asaph is also credited with performing at the dedication of Solomon’s temple in 2 Chronicles 5:12.[3]

As an officer within the Jerusalem religious system, Asaph would have participated in both the public and private side of that system. He served as an official for several years, starting with King David and serving King Solomon as well, if he is the same Asaph mentioned in 2 Chronicles 5.12. During his long term, Asaph surely saw the best and worst of other officials. His complaint against corruption among the rich and influential, recorded in Psalm 73, might have been directed towards some of those officials. The words he used to describe the wicked come from the same lexicon of words used by officers of the cultic/sacrificial system.”

So here Asaph prays to God not to stand idly by while his enemies make trouble.  But what sort of trouble is it which has Asaph so perturbed:

“They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones. They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee: “
(Psa 83:3-5)

Note the underlined portion because it is key to where I’m coming from.  Here we find out what has the psalmist so upset.  He sees nations conspiring to wipe Israel and the Jews off the map.  Since Aspah lived in the days of the Kings David and Solomon, the golden era of ancient Israel, this certainly wasn’t going on in his day.  So he is obviously talking about future events.  It is our belief that what he foresaw is taking place now.  The next portion of the psalm tells us who and goes to why we think so:

The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarenes; Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.
(Psa 83:6-8)

The key to understanding this is to go take a look at a map of the ancient Middle East.  What one discovers is that the nations described are the ones surrounding Israel back then.  Those same lands are under Arab domination today with what is left of the original inhabitants all followers of the prophet Mohammad.  Hal Lindsey saw in the Arab Spring the pieces falling into place for a future fulfillment of the psalm when the Arabs would attack the Jews.  Here is a picture with the list:

But look at verse four again, “They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.”  This is exactly what the nations which surround modern Israel have said since the foundation of the Jewish state.  Within days of the creation of the state of Israel all the almost all the Arab nations listed in the psalm attacked and those words were essentially their battle cry.  And the war never really ended, that is one of the dirty little historic histories we don’t see in the media.

The war for Jewish annihilation has hot and cold periods.  The hot periods are well known, the 1956 war, the six day war of 1967 and the Yom Kippur war in the 1970s are all examples of the hot periods.  In between Arabs conduct a guerilla war with Arabs slipping into Jewish communities and murdering them in the night, sometimes whole families of Jews including infants.  Another phase of the colder war is also carried on in more modern days, rocket attacks.  Rockets are launched into Israel by the thousand by so called “Palestinian” fighters.  They are deliberately aimed at civilian population centers with the purpose of indiscriminately killing Jews and striking terror into their hearts.  So the Jews have been under an ongoing siege since day one in 1948.

For the foregoing reasons it is our belief that the fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 83 is ongoing and will continue parallel with Jeremiah’s prophecy about “Jacobs Trouble” until it’s on conclusion is reached , possibly when the Arabs think Israel is in a weak enough position they might be able to prevail.  But there is a part of the prophecy they would do well to read:

“Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison: Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth. Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna: Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession. O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind. As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire; So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm. Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O LORD. Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:”
(Psa 83:9-17)

Yes, at some point they will feel emboldened to either attack on their own or join another conspiracy and God will give the children of Israel victory over them.  But that victory will be for a purpose, the one mentioned in our golden text:

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth.
(Psa 83:18)

Amen, Asaph, amen!

Next we will take a look at the prophecy about “Jacob’s trouble,” which is found in Jeremiah chapter thirty.

Friday, July 26, 2013

"I will send for many hunters" Israel In Jeremiah 16

“For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes. But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations."
(Jer 16:17-18)*

Thus ends one of the more remarkable prophecies found in God’s word which reveals both how the Jews would return to Israel, but when it would start.  The two golden verses tell us when.  More than 120 years ago a famous Pastor figured out what was meant by those two verses, that Israel would endure a period of rejection by him and scattering among the nations of equal length to the time of favor they enjoyed when he began dealing with them more as a nation with the death of Jacob.

1842 years later that time of favor came to an end with the conversion of the Roman centurion Cornelius and his family, as foretold by the prophecy of the seventy weeks in the book of Daniel (9:24-27) and that favor didn’t return until another 1842 years passed.  That period ended in 1878 when Jews were permitted to own property in the holy land and began their return with the founding of Petah Tikvah, the Gate of Hope.  I explained those two verses first because what follows in this study will bear the explanation out.

“Then you shall say to them: 'Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the LORD, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.'
(Jer 16:11-13)

The entire chapter mostly focuses on the Jews being thrown out of the land of Israel.  The first 10 verses prophesy destruction on an unprecedented scale and humiliation.  This passage tells us why, their unfaithfulness to God.  However, this passage and the remarkable prophecy we are examining both indicate that he wasn’t talking about their exile to Babylon.  They would be exiled “into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known,” that is a land not within the realms they knew of.  That would prove to be all too true after their exile by the Romans.  They ended up in the far-flung parts of the empire, but mostly in Eastern Europe, an area only known as the realms of barbarians in Jeremiah’s day.  Their dire situation there with its pogroms aptly fit the last declaration in these verses “for I will show you no favor.”

What comes next was so remarkable when it was pointed out to me by a book** first published 124 years ago that I was taken aback at how accurately it portrayed what actually happened throughout the 20th century to the Jews:

“"Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,' but 'As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.' For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.
(Jer 16:14-15)

Think about that prophecy for a moment.  The exodus to the land of Palestine, as it was known in 1878, began with a trickle out of the North, Russia that is.  But as time went by the trickle increased.  But it wasn’t enough in God’s eyes.  So he did something about it as the next verse prophesied: 

“"Behold, I am sending for many fishers, declares the LORD, and they shall catch them. And afterward I will send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and out of the clefts of the rocks.
(Jer 16:16)

The first part of verse 16 fits the Nazis under Hitler like a glove.  Under his supervision the Jews were imprisoned in concentration camps and during WWII his troops hunted the Jews down to destroy them taking millions of Jewish lives in the process.  That persecution provided the impetus for the speeding up of the Jewish return to their homeland and then the creation of the nation of Israel.

But it didn’t end there.  By returning to verse fifteen we find that they would also be brought back from “all the countries where he had driven them.”  Once the Jews established the nation of Israel the Jews started flooding into the nation, often prompted by more persecution from other “hunters,” the Muslims of the Arab world which did their work so thoroughly that there are Muslim lands with virtually no Jews in them.  However, the exodus would continue when communism fell and Jews who’d been persecuted under that system now became free to flee to Israel.  So the exodus from the “North” entered a second phase and the flood became such that now, for the first time in almost 2000 years there are more Jews in Israel than in the rest of the world combined.

But that’s not the only jaw-dropping prophecy I plan to cover.  Next will be a Psalm which I believe to be in the process of being fulfilled right now as its being carried out over a longer period of time than most prophecy scholars realize.  I will see you then.

*  All quotes from the English Standard Version (ESV)
**  The Time Is At Hand by Charles Taze Russell pages 216-217.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Can These Bones Live?

And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" 
(Eze 37:2-3)*

The question above was asked of the prophet Ezekiel more than 25 hundred years ago and it led to one of the most beautiful prophecies regarding the restoration to the Holy land as a people and a state.  Chapters 37 and 38 of Ezekiel’s book together not only prophesied the resurrection of the nation of Israel from obscurity and death, but also tell us what will happen in the future.  That’s why it is important to pay attention to them, the 37th chapter is already largely fulfilled and that fulfillment not only sets the stage for, but assures us that the 38th’s fulfillment can’t be far off.  So let’s take a closer look.

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" And I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know."
(Eze 37:1-3)

That is the passage in context.  We know that after Jerusalem fell in 70ad the Jews were scattered among the nations more thoroughly than ever before.  For all intents and purposes they were dead as a nation, though they weren’t quite dead as a people.  They were in effect the bones of the nation, disarticulated and strewn about in the dry valley as targets of hatred and persecution.  No nation so treated before in the history of mankind ever came back from such a state, so the prospects where like a dry valley filled with bones indeed.  But something happened.

Then he said to me, "Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD."
(Eze 37:4-6)

So what we now see is a promise.  God promised his people, the Jews, that they will be resurrected as a nation.  Though they were scattered abroad that would not be a permanent state.  As mentioned before, no nation ever destroyed and scattered abroad so thoroughly in human history ever came back from the dead as a nation.  Some, as the Carthaginians, who were also destroyed as a nation by the Romans, remain dead to this day as peoples and their languages, if known at all, are mere curiosities for modern academicians.  Thus was the State of Israel, even its language was reduced to the status of a liturgical language only used by Rabbis.  But God promised his people they would be restored as a nation.  But as if that weren’t enough:

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.
(Eze 37:7-8)

As if promising their resurrection as a nation weren’t enough Ezekiel is given a vision of the gathering of the people to the land and rebuilding the body of a nation.  We already mentioned the beginning of that rebuilding in the first article of this series.  It began with the Berlin Congress in 1878 where the Ottoman rulers agreed to allow Jews to own land in Palestine.  In the same year the community of Petah Tikvah was founded and the return of the Jews began with a trickle of Jews making the journey from Eastern Europe to found and build other Jewish communities and begin the transformation of the Palestine landscape from desert conditions to the wonderful state it enjoys today.

In 1917 something else happened which laid the foundation for a Jewish state in Palestine, the UK agreed to the creation of a “Jewish homeland.”  This was the next step toward the restoration of Jewish polity and the agreement defined the boundaries of that homeland to include what is now Jordan in addition to the territory Israel now has.  That new homeland would be renamed Transjordan, though the Jews still continued to use the name of Palestine for their homeland.  Few people realize that the Palestine Regiment which fought on behalf of the UK in WWII was Jewish, not Arab.

So all the pieces were in place for a Jewish nation, yet in the vision there was no life.  Ezekiel tells us what happened next:

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live." So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
(Eze 37:9-10)

And that is exactly what happened.  In 1948 the Jews in the Holy Land created a nation and war broke out immediately as the surrounding Arabs nations tried to destroy the fledgling Jewish state.  But they won against all odds and became a mighty nation which over the decades won battle after battle against all comers in what amounts to an ongoing 65 year war as of this writing.  Something most people don’t know is that between the Jewish “wars” with their neighbors the Arabs waged guerilla wars with Arabs sneaking into Jewish communities and murdering Jews, including children, in their beds at night as well as the constant bombardment by rockets lobbied at Jewish cities as terror weapons in the tradition of Nazi Germany’s rocket campaign against the United Kingdom in WWII.

The rest of the 37th Chapter of Ezekiel continues the thing of the resurrection of the nation of Israel and even proclaims that they will be governed by the Messiah, the Christ, in verse 24, calling him “My servant David.”  But that is future yet, beyond the prophecy which appears in the 38th Chapter.  Instead of going there, though, we’re first going to continue to look at some wonderful prophecies concerning both the gathering of the Jews, and the implacable hatred and war against them by the Arabs first.  We will next look at what Jeremiah had to say on the subject of the restoration of the State of Israel.

*All scripture citations in this post are taken  from the English Standard Version (ESV) Courtesy of the E-Sword bible Study program.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Israel in Prophecy

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near."
(Matt. 24:3; ESV)

Sometime around 1978 I saw a book in the Salvation Army store named The Late Great Planet Earth authored by Hal Lindsey and read it with great interest after purchasing it.  At the time I was in a faith which believes in Replacement Theology and brushed off most of what Dr. Lindsey wrote, but one thing kind of stuck with me at the back of my mind for years, the role of Israel in the prophecies of the last days.

I left my previous faith some years ago and now had the opportunity to take a closer look at the prophecies concerning the Return of the Jews to their homeland and the restoration of their national polity with the creation of the state of Israel.  But there is more, there are prophecies yet to be fulfilled, and it was with wonder that I studied the subject and listened to mature Christian men of knowledge expound on the subject.  Some of those men filled in gaps for me so that I see the wondrous whole.  So I decided it is a great time to discuss this subject of import.

The above verse was part of a group of prophecies which Jesus gave his disciples in answer to the question, "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" (Matt. 24:3; ESV)  Although the context closely followed the declaration of Jesus that the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matt. 24:2), the wording of the question as it was preserved for us asks a greater question, what would be the sign of Jesus “coming” (Really “presence” instead of “coming” as the word here is παρουσιας G3952), thus pointing to something much greater than just the destruction of the Jewish system.  It is with that understanding in mind that we must approach the great prophecies Jesus gave in answer to that question.

Some of those answers applied specifically to the fall of the temple, of that there is no dispute in our mind.  Others had a dual fulfillment, one then and one in the “last days” and some in the last days only.  Where confusion generally runs is in trying to figure out which fits into what category.  We believe that this particular statement may apply to both ages because it references the sign of spring when the fig tree shoots for its foliage from its buds.  The obvious meaning is that of seeing the signs of fulfillment beginning to appear.  In many places the Bible does tell us that one of the signs of the “last days” would be the restoration of Israel to the holy land (Jer. 30, Is. 2:2, Mic 4:1).

In my studies I read several books written over a hundred years ago which predicted with astounding accuracy that restoration based on the word of God, though the author expected them all to happen much sooner than they did.  Still, the accuracy of his words struck me as remarkable.  However, just as Charles Taze Russell did, I’m going to let the Bible speak for itself instead of using his words.

It was in 1878 that the tree of prophecy concerning the restoration of Israel began to sprout forth.  The great historical event historians remember that year for is the Berlin Congress where British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the first Jew to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and other leaders of Europe gathered in Berlin to craft an agreement.  The idea was to hammer out certain details regarding the status of certain nations which used to be part of the Ottoman Empire but were given their freedom under the Treaty of San Stefano which was signed earlier that year.  What is given scant attention if at all about the treaty is that Prime Minister Disraeli insisted on attaching a provision onto the treaty giving the Jews the right to purchase and hold property in the Holy Land.  It was provision which would have enormous consequences later on.

One thing modern academia doesn’t like to admit is that, although the Jews were dispossessed of their homeland, the land was never entirely devoid of Jews.  There were two major cities with large Jewish populations, Haifa and Jerusalem.  However they lived under marginal conditions where persecution was an ever present reality and they weren’t allowed to own land, etc.  Outside of the cities the land was a desolate waste, as reported by people who traveled through the area, including such luminaries as Mark Twain.  But all of that changed with the congress of Berlin.

Shortly after the treaty was adopted a group of Jews purchased a large tract of property and founded the town of Petah Tikvah, or Gate of Hope, for Jews to immigrate to.  Although it had rocky beginnings, Petah Tikvah is still around and one of the major cities in Israel to this day.  So began the return of the Jews to their homeland and the eventual restoration of the state of Israel in 1948.  In the next post we will talk about some bones and what they have to do with predicting the restoration of the Jewish state.