Friday, December 20, 2019

Two Festivals Of Light

Christmas and Chanukah share similarities, these celebrations come at the same time of year and both are marked by either lit menorah’s in Jewish homes or lights on homes and Christmas trees. Both holidays center around historic individuals that brought deliverance to the oppressed. The Maccabees overcame the oppressors of the Jewish people by brute force and the power of their own might and gave them back their temple worship. Generations later came Jesus the Messiah, who through the power of the Spirit paid the price demanded by sin, offering himself as the ultimate sacrifice to save mankind from the oppression that comes from eternal separation from G-d and the final death. 

Here we will put both events into historical context. Both events took place during particularly turbulent phases of Jewish history.

The Land of Israel was thus sandwiched between two of the rivals and, for the next 125 years, Seleucids and Ptolemies battled for this prize. The former finally won in 198 B.C. when Antiochus III defeated the Egyptians and incorporated Judea into his empire. Initially, he continued to allow the Jews autonomy, but backed down in the face of Jewish opposition to his effort to introduce idols in their temples, but his son, Antiochus IV, who inherited the throne in 176 B.C. resumed his father's original policy without excepting the Jews. A brief Jewish rebellion only hardened his views and led him to outlaw central tenets of Judaism such as the Sabbath and circumcision, and defile the holy Temple by erecting an altar to the god Zeus, allowing the sacrifice of pigs, and opening the shrine to non-Jews.

When a Greek official tried to force a priest named Mattathias to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew murdered the man. Predictably, Antiochus began reprisals, but in 167 BCE the Jews rose up behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation.

The family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for "hammer," because they were said to strike hammer blows against their enemies. Jews refer to the Maccabees, but the family is more commonly known as the Hasmoneans. Like other rulers before him, Antiochus underestimated the will and strength of his Jewish adversaries and sent a small force to put down the rebellion. When that was annihilated, he led a more powerful army into battle only to be defeated. In 164 BCE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the Maccabees and the temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah which is known as the Festival of Lights.

The kingdom of Judaea was independent until 63BC when it was conquered by the Roman General Pompey the Great. After that the Romans made it a client state with kings who controlled domestic life in the kingdom but could not wage war or conduct any other foreign policy efforts without the consent of Rome. They also had to pay taxes and in some cases had to provide troops. In 6 AD Augustus made Judaea a Roman province after one of the kingdom’s leaders was accused of cruelty and breaking Jewish law. This came about around the time of the birth of Jesus.

For to us a child is born,
to 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 of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.   (Isaiah 9: 6-7)

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirin′i-us was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20)

Saturday, December 14, 2019

God Tested Abraham

After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Mori′ah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 22: 1-2)

It would be normal for one to begin to have their doubts about God or perhaps even their own sanity after hearing such a command, and yet Abraham trusted the Lord to the extent that he was duty bound to comply. Who of us could possibly even begin to understand such trust and faithfulness?

So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together. (Genesis 22: 3-6) 

Abraham’s action is a picture of a future time when the Creator himself would enter the world in the person of Jesus Christ and he himself would carry a wooden cross upon which to be sacrificed for the sins of the world. Who among us would sacrifice our own son’s life in order to save the life of another? This passage portrays the innocence of this father’s son Isaac, just as God’s son Jesus was innocent and sinless under the law. Abraham was so trusting of God that he said to his son, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” His comment reveals a supernatural faith and it is what God wants us to see in Abraham and try to emulate in our own lives.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22: 9-12)

This was an incredible testing of Abraham’s trust and loyalty to God, which along with Abraham’s acting on God’s command gives us a shining example of what faith is in action. It’s like a stool, without three legs it would be incomplete and would not be a stool. Trust, loyalty and action are the three legs that make faith complete and valid before God. 

And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place The Lord will provide; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.” (Genesis 22: 13-14)

As a response to Abraham’s show of trust and loyalty through his action the Lord provided for Abraham’s immediate need at an extremely stressful moment. We should keep that in mind and draw close to the Lord, we are living in very stressful times.

And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22: 15-18)

This will be the last of this series on Abraham. There was much to be gleaned about what it takes to have a perfect relationship with God as we looked into this incredible man’s life!

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Sarah Gives Abraham A Son

This commentary was previously inadvertently posted out of sync with the Bible narrative, I removed, corrected and rewrote it as there is much to be drawn from this event. 

The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. And Sarah said, “God has made laughter for me; every one who hears will laugh over me.” And she said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would suckle children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”
And the child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. (Genesis 21: 1-14)

It may seem that Sarah was acting harshly however Abraham showed a kind heart and loyalty toward Hagar and Ishmael, there was something more at play though. Sarah knew early in life that she was barren and that Abraham wanted an heir, and although God had made it plain that Abraham would father a son through Sarah, they both showed distrust in God’s word and she gave her slave woman to Abraham, and Ishmael was born from that union. That event was devoid of faith in God’s promise and was in essence a carnal act of disobedience, not one not of faith but of the flesh as they acted on their own accord outside of the will of God. In today’s world Ishmael would be considered the bastard son and hardly fit to be the heir of God’s promise. As a result the descendants of Ishmael would be forever filled with animosity and murderous envy towards the descendants of Isaac which is in essence a repeat of Cain’s envious murder of his own brother Abel. 

Centuries later the Apostle Paul would use it as an example to instruct the first Jewish Christians who were confused about the law and whether or not they were still required to remain under and observe Jewish law, when Christ himself had paid the penalty for all mankind who have failed under the law.
“Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, the son of the free woman through promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,
‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in travail; for the children of the desolate one are many more than the children of her that is married.’ Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave and her son; for the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.’ So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”(Galatians 4:21-5:1)

Paul referring to Mount Sinai is pointing out how God gave Moses the law that no man can follow perfectly, which is the requirement for acceptance by God. Failure under the law resulted in sin and the requirement for sin is death and eternal separation from God. He likened it to Jerusalem and living under the Law. “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

It is written: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10)

There is no one on earth that has ever kept the Ten Commandments perfectly let alone the infinite number of associated laws that were tacked on for the Jews by their Jewish legislators of old. In modern day society we have a vast number if civil laws that spring in essence from those original commandments and we routinely fail under them as well.

Paul goes on and refers to Sarah, a free woman whose son was heir of the promise and through whom Christ the Messiah would come and pay the penalty for the broken laws of all of mankind. He points out that we as believers have positionally cast out the slave, that is our former state, and accepted the freedom provided through Christ. We are to stand fast and not submit again to a yoke of slavery which is sin under the law. 
“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.” Here Paul is referring to the union of believers we know as the church, and makes a distinction between the believers and unbelievers implying that the church is the bride of Christ. “For it is written,‘Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and shout, you who are not in travail; for the children of the desolate one are many more than the children of her that is married.’ Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.”