Hated by the world for being Israeli, and hated by Israel for believing in Jesus, Israeli believers are in a tough spot right now. Around the world, even some who support Israel are losing confidence in the ethics of this war with the numbers of dead civilians and devastation in Gaza increasing daily. The nations, as Zechariah predicted, are turning against Israel. The death count makes the other important facts about this conflict hard to see. Within Israel itself, the people are unifying in solidarity in the face of global opposition and the constant threat of terror, and yet Jewish people who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah are not considered part of the people of Israel either.
"Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets in Israel. They fired a thousand of them. And they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them", said Bill Clinton in an interview last week .
The situation in Gaza for ordinary people is reaching a very serious crisis. Soon, they will run out of food and water. And Hamas will not agree to stop firing. Israel faces impossible choices: Stop the military operations in Gaza and allow Israeli civilians to live under a barrage of rockets, constantly running for cover to the sound of sirens… or face global fury of epic proportions for the fate of Gazan Palestinians.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that this time of the Jewish calendar is actually known as the time of “dire straits” or “desperate straits”. Whatever Israel chooses to do at the moment is going to bring trouble and distress. How can we pray?
As the Gazan death toll increases, the world’s disapproval of the Jewish states also mounts. With zero deaths on one side, and well over 100 on the other, people are turning against Israel. The only Israeli to die in any connection with this war so far has been an old woman in Haifa who had a heart attack as she was running for the bomb shelter when a siren sounded in the middle of the night. People in Israel are profoundly grateful for the army and its unrivalled “Iron Dome” defence system (which has become “more popular in Israel than hummus and falafel” according to Business week  ). But more than that, in addition to admitting there has been “a bit of luck” regarding the total failure of any Hamas rockets to achieve their goals, there is talk of prayer and of God’s protection.
Even as we who believe the Bible may know that of course the God of Israel has not been sleeping or slumbering on the job, it is important to remember to also take a Biblical view of those who are seeking to harm Israel at this time.
“I just want to hug my Arab sisters and brothers!” Said a new Jewish believer from an Orthodox background. “But I don’t know any!” In the midst of talk of bloodshed and hatred, Israel is not without hope. There have been riots on the streets of Jerusalem with violence escalating after the kidnappings and murders, but in one of Israel’s largest cities, hundreds of youth from Israel and the Palestinian territories have joined together as One New Man to worship Yeshua at the Elav conference. They are finding that their love for Yeshua spills over into love for one another, and join to declare the kingdom of God in Israel - in unity.
This new believer who longed to meet Arabs shared her amazing testimony of how Yeshua changed her life. She said that she used to hate Arabs, but since she has been transformed by Yeshua, a great love has grown in her to make connections with her Arab brothers and sisters, and to express her love for them. At this conference she found them. Arab believers from Israel itself, and also from Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jordan. On Saturday night, she washed the feet of an Arab sister in the Lord.
In Israel there are lots of volunteers. Volunteers who come to work on a kibbutz, young German volunteers who come to serve Holocaust survivors in retirement homes, and Israelis also have a very positive attitude towards community service and volunteering. At school they even have to do some compulsory volunteering! If that isn’t a contradiction in terms, I don’t know what is.
The Hebrew word for volunteering, hitnadvoot (התנדבות) also has connotations of generosity, willingness, and nobility. The word for generosity, nedivoot (נדיבות), is similar to the word for prince or noble: nediv (נדיב). All of these words come from the same three letter root - נדב. This root word appears many times in the Bible, and grasping a fuller understanding of its meaning can help us better appreciate the dynamics of a healthy relationship with God.
The Presbyterian Church has now sadly decided to boycott Israel. The Bible says that God placed the people of Israel there on purpose, but when looking at the sufferings of the Palestinians, this denomination has decided that it cannot possibly be true. They have also embraced gay marriage, struggling to believe that God knows best when he warns his children to steer clear of that path. Like many in the West, this segment of the Church holds Biblical wisdom in one hand and their own ideas of justice in the other, but have chosen to trust the latter. They subject the Scriptures to their ideas of right and wrong, and twist its meaning until it agrees with theirs.
As the media blares out increasingly alarming news about Iraq, it can be all too tempting to bury our heads in the sand and ignore these uncontrollable matters that seem so far away. But God’s people are calling out to us from Baghdad, pleading with us not to ignore their plight, or to forget the plans of God for the area.
The situation is very serious. As if Al Qaeda was not extreme enough, another even more radical organisation fighting for “the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” (Al-Sham includes the areas of Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan) or ISIS for short, is on the rampage. ISIS is a threat not only to Israel, but also to the more moderate Muslim states in the Levant, and is causing utter chaos and devastation.
God never promised us that life would be trouble-free, in fact Yeshua specifically promised us that “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). The question is not whether we will experience difficulties, but what how we respond when we find ourselves in a pickle.
Habakkuk was a man in a tight spot. His book is one of angst and woe, desperately seeking God’s help in times of trouble. But after outlining all the desperate straits that he and his countrymen are in, he ends on an extremely interesting and unusual note. The last verse says this:
“God, the Lord, is my strength, and He maketh my feet like hinds' feet,
and He maketh me to walk upon my high places.
For the choirmaster. With my string-music.”
Nowhere else in the Bible is this phrase found except at the beginning of Psalms. It seems to be in the wrong place. Why does he say that, right at the end? The clue might be in the Hebrew meaning of the word we translate as "choirmaster"...
What do a harvest festival, 49 days, and a passionate love story have in common?
Shavuot means 'weeks'. God said, "Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you." (Deuteronomy 16:9-10) Offerings of barley and wheat are made, and the 'seven species': pomegranate, grapes, olives, wheat, barley, figs and date honey are celebrated. It's a thankgiving time for the goodness of the land. It's a time of 'bikurim' or firstfruits. It's the time that the Torah was given to Israel and they agreed to follow it, making them a covenant community, and it's also the time that the church or body of Messiah was born at Pentecost. New birth... First fruits.
The word Pentecost comes from the 50 days that are counted from Passover to Shavuot - seven weeks is 49 days, and 50 days if you count the feast itself. The parallel events of the Torah being given at Sinai and the Holy Spirit being given in Jerusalem are no coincidence. Both signified a birth of the two religions, if we may call them that, and both were from the hand of God. One happened seven weeks after the Passover and liberation from Egypt, and the other seven weeks after the crucifixion and resurrection of our Passover lamb, Yeshua the Messiah. Both catapulted faith communities into action.
And traditionally, the book of Ruth is read during the feast, because the story is set at the time of the barley harvest, and Shavuot occurs between the barley and wheat harvests. Also, it is in the instructions for how to celebrate Shavuot that God includes this commandment: “when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:22) This was the set up for the love story. Well - part of the love story...
Tomorrow is Jerusalem Day in Israel. The Pope has been carefully picking his way through the political minefield of Jerusalem's holy sites and places of importance on the last day of his trip to Israel. There is no city like it on earth - none with so much atmosphere and none with so much conflict and controversy. It's a central point for the three main monotheistic faiths, but is there a better connection to God if you worship in Jerusalem? No, of course, not. However, the Bible does portray Jerusalem as the most important city in the world, and in Scripture it is called the 'City of God'. It becomes clear that man didn’t chose Jerusalem, God did! So how important is this city to God, and why?
Sometimes we use the word “leper” to describe a persona non-grata… someone rejected by the majority, and left out in the cold. It’s an experience most of us have at one time or another, and it’s one that Yeshua understood and cared about. The Talmud even describes a “Leper Messiah”, and includes a story about how the Messiah would be found caring for lepers:
“His name is 'the leper scholar,' as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.” (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 98b) "'When will the Messiah come?' — 'Go and ask him himself,' was his reply. 'Where is he sitting?' — 'At the entrance.' And by what sign may I recognise him?' — 'He is sitting among the poor lepers...'" says the Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a). The passage goes on to describe the Messiah carefully bandaging the wounds of lepers, instead of shunning them.
While many of the Laws in Leviticus draw distinctions between those deemed acceptable and those considered unclean and untouchable, exluding lepers, those who are blind or with physical defects, and women who are bleeding, we see the powerful ministry of Jesus overcoming each of these ailments, one by one, and welcoming them back into the camp.
Monday and Tuesday are two very significant days for Israel - a day of mourning followed by a day of rejoicing. Monday is the annual Memorial Day for all those who have died in Israel's struggle to exist, either in the armed forces or as a result of terrorism. It is a day of solemn recognition that there have been many casualties in the birth and continued existence of the State of Israel.
As often seems to be the way in the Jewish way of life, the bitter and the sweet are juxtaposed - almost without time to catch a breath. Tuesday is Israel's Independence Day, when the nation breaks out into a huge party to celebrate its reestablishment after a 2000 year exile.
“The achievements and witness of Jewish believers during the Holocaust and especially in the Warsaw Ghetto are essentially unknown to most present day Jewish believers. We stand on the shoulders of these heroes of the Holocaust – the Jewish believers of the Warsaw Ghetto – and their story, as much or as little as we know, must be told.” Dr. Mitch Glaser 
Did you know that there were about a quarter of a million Jewish believers at the time of the Holocaust? And that several thousand of them were trapped to starve and die in the Warsaw Ghetto along with their brethren?
Have you ever counted the days till an event you’re excited about? Time can go so slowly when you’re watching it. They say “a watched pot never boils” meaning that the more we pay attention to the time, the more conscious we are of it going slowly. I have certainly had that experience in a lecture or two. God, unsurprisingly, is aware of this phenomenon, and has capitalised on it to drive a powerful truth home. I am talking about the Biblical tradition of “Counting the Omer”, which overlaps with the forty days of the resurrection.
Yeshua walked the earth for forty days after coming back to life. Forty days! Do you know how long that is?
One of the greatest things about Israel is that it’s a safe place for Jewish people to come and not feel nervous about their Jewish identity. As Golda Meir said; “Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbours think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here.”
As tension increases in the Ukraine and the Middle East, Israel is roundly criticised, and people often forget that Jews have been kicked out of scores of countries and made very unwelcome in others. Thanks to God now they at least have one place they can truly call "home". But abroad, the underlying hatred sometimes brims over, and Jewish people are attacked - just for being Jewish. 2014 has seen some terrible incidences of anti-Semitism already, particularly amid the recent upheavals in the Ukraine.
As believers in Yeshua celebrate his earth-shattering purchase of redemption through his death and resurrection, Jewish people all over the world celebrate the redemption of Israel with the feast of Passover. As with much of the New Covenant we now enjoy, Jesus' atoning sacrifice for us was gloriously forshadowed in the way that the angel of death "passed over" the Israelites.
God's second favourite miracle?
Second to saving the world at calvary, I think that the Passover miracle is God's favourite. He talks about it all the time in scripture, and made it the beginning of the whole Jewish year (see Exodus 12:2 - Biblically, it's not Rosh HaShanah in the autumn, as tradition now has it). He even defines himself by the event: At the beginning of the ten commandments he introduces himself like this: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery". He used to call himself 'the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob', or 'I AM' until this point... But "the one who brought you out of Egypt" is what he calls himself repeatedly from the Exodus onwards, literally hundreds of times. I think he's quite excited about the whole Passover saga, and I have to agree, it's full of rich beauty, meaning and power...
Passover is the time when the Jewish community remember the seminal event of their rescue from Egypt, and as we know, it was Passover when Yeshua was crucified as our sacrificial lamb. There are a multitude of parallels between the two events, quite deliberately.
There is a telling passage in Deuteronomy 18 where Moses tells us, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen”. (verse 15). And later in verse 18; “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers . And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.”
No prizes for guessing who that prophet might be with hindsight, but John the Baptist wasn't a hundred percent sure so he sent some people to his cousin, Yeshua, to double check. “Are you The Prophet?” they asked. Philip felt pretty sure, and told his brother, Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph."
Let's look at Yeshua's qualifications – is He really The Prophet “Like Moses”?
Do you know the names of Moses’ parents? Probably not, I’d venture. And there’s a reason for that. They are somewhat shrouded in mystery, and revealed only later on, with a scandalous punch. But the message of Moses’ family background is one that brings great hope to us all this Passover.
As we come closer to April 14th, Jewish families will be doing a blast of serious spring cleaning. In Exodus 12:19, God commands the people of Israel to make sure that absolutely no leaven (yeast) is to be found in their houses for the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, starting with the night of Passover. This means that there is a purge of all vaguely yeast-related products and a thorough sweep of the house. Of course, yeast represents sin, and the process of hunting down the leaven reminds us that there can be sin hidden away in our lives, invisible to others, but there. Passover is about redemption, deliverance and victory - we can bring out all our hidden sin in hope of liberation, and bring out those skeletons from the closet.
As Moses can tell you, sin in our past and in our families before us need not hold us back any longer in slavery - this is a festival of freedom!
Perhaps like me, you might have had the feeling that Cain made an honest mistake, was rebuked by God, went a bit crazy and then killed his brother Abel from jealousy. I have often felt rather sorry for Cain in this story, and perhaps it is because we tend to sympathise with his experience... we try hard to please God, but fail, and this story resonates with our suspicion that we are not quite doing it right. Even though Cain was rightly punished for the murder of his brother, I felt it was sad that he was left to wander the earth alone.
But when we look at the actual text of the dialogue between God and Cain, things are not at all the way they might first appear. The story ends with a note of redemption that I initially missed…
Purim is the Jewish holiday taken from the book of Esther that reminds us that God is always at work even when He seems absent, and His plans for you can never be thwarted! It is difficult to find a more dramatic, fast-paced, riveting, and suspense filled plot than in the short story of the book of Esther - have you read it lately? It is traditional for Jewish people to read the book aloud as a story at Purim - feel free to join us! The feast will be celebrated full force at the weekend, with fancy dress costumes, parties, and gifts given to the poor. Here are some thoughts about the meaning of Purim from the book of Esther...