Dr. Seth Postell, our very own Academic Dean (who TODAY celebrates his 50th birthday!! 🥳), shares his story on how growing up Jewish he came to know Jesus as Messiah!
Read Seth’s Book “Reading Moses, Seeing Jesus“.
As mad and as hideous as 2020 has been, there has been breakthrough after breakthrough for the gospel in Israel. There has been much suffering, but it has been precisely the hardships and insecurities produced by the pandemic that have caused so many to look up.
As Israelis have been searching for answers, we have been producing videos and literature telling the truth about Jesus as rapidly as God gives us strength! We’re seeing a voracious hunt for hope and insatiable appetite for truth across Israel and the nations.
Over the last ten years or so, we have been seeing exponential growth in the number of Israelis investigating faith in Jesus, with 2017 being a peak year in numbers watching our evangelistic videos.
However, 2020 has broken all our records.
We now have had a whopping 154 million views of all our videos put together, 35 million of which come from Israel alone.
When I tell you that the population of Israel is just 9 million, you can see how significant this breakthrough is.
We have had 6.4 million views on our Hebrew language YouTube channel just this year!
We’ve also had 52.6 million views on our English ONE FOR ISRAEL YouTube channel.
The quantum leap is staggering.
“I watched video after video and started to do my own research.”
“Since I found myself watching video after video without stopping I decided that I wanted to go deeper and sit with someone who can explain things to me because I still have a lot of questions.”
This person then asked us to help them find a congregation, having come to the conclusion that it was very important to them. We are receiving messages like this almost every day.
2020 has been a very intense year, but God has been turning a lot of the troubles to good. We may feel everything is breaking, but God is bringing breakthrough.
It wasn’t the remarkable relevance of the portion of Scripture for that week which caught my attention as much as all the bowing involved. Isn’t bowing supposed to be off limits for Jewish people? To anyone except God? Mordecai the Jew certainly thought so in the book of Esther, and it got him in a lot of trouble before God saved the day.
Each week, there’s a section of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) called the Parashah to be read in synagogues across the world, and an accompanying portion from the prophets called the Haftarah. The Haftarah for that week was 1 Kings 1:1-37, the part where Solomon nearly gets usurped by Adonijah. The text tells us that Nathan the prophet advises Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, to let King David know what’s going on and to plead for their lives. Adonijah on the throne would likely end up in the execution of Solomon, Bathsheba, Nathan, and all opposition. Bathsheba follows Nathan’s advice and enters to see King David, bowing low. Nathan does the same. Long story short, David affirms Solomon as king and the story gets back on track. But the bowing – is that ok? I decided to check.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT BOWING?
What happens when a believer meets a monarch or dignitary and are supposed to bow? Or when they are expected to give cultural greeting where bowing is the norm? Can it ever be acceptable?
I was aware that Mordecai the Jew refused to bow to Haman in the book of Esther, and Daniel’s brave friends refuse to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. In the book of Revelation, John falls to his face a couple of times when an angel speaks to him and is rebuked, and reminded to worship God alone. References like these certainly give the sense that bowing down is something which should be reserved for God. What would a search of the Scriptures for references to bowing reveal?
The first (and therefore key) reference to bowing in the Bible occurs in Genesis 18:2. Abraham receives three mysterious visitors and bows before them to honor and welcome them. However, it transpires that one of them is Adonai, the LORD Himself, in the flesh. So fair enough! It was standard practice in the honor culture of the Middle East to show respect in such a way, but it’s a beautiful detail that the first to receive this treatment in the Bible is God Himself.
However, Abraham does a lot of bowing to all kinds of people in Genesis. In chapter 23 for example, we read about the death of Sarah in the Torah portion, or parashah for the week, which corresponds to the haftarah about Adonijah. Abraham looks to purchase some burial ground and bows to the people of the land after they first offer it to him for free, then willingly sell it when Abraham insists on paying. Verses 7 and 23 record that he bows down to them in appreciation, and we see a lot of honour given both ways throughout the passage.
There’s also a lot of bowing when Jacob is trying to reconcile with his brother Esau in Genesis 33. The penitent Jacob bows down seven times, and in fact his entire family – all the wives, children, servants and their children – all go to bow down before Esau. The only one of the twelve sons of Israel who does not bow down is Benjamin, but reason Benjamin wasn’t there bowing with everyone else was that he hadn’t been born yet! But interestingly, guess who Mordecai was descended from:
“There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capitol whose name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shim’I, son of Kish, a Benjaminite…” (Esther 2:5)
Later on, we have Joseph and his dreams in which his entire family bows down to him – including his parents! God himself had given those dreams, so it’s hard to imagine that his brothers bowing to him was an offense to God. It seems that bowing as a show of honor and respect is not inappropriate, but that worshiping anyone except God is where the problem lies.
The prophet Isaiah has a lot to say about those who worship idols and bow down to man made objects. In three separate chapters we see God referring to himself with the phrase used in Revelation: He is the First and the Last. In each case, the chapter goes on to mock those who worship and bow before idols.
In the light of these Biblical principles, here are a few questions to help us apply them to our lives:
Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash
Christopher Columbus may have lost his status as an unqualified hero but blanket condemnations of the explorer might be missing the mark. There is a lot of historical territory surrounding Columbus that has only been discovered by a few, and relatively recently. Did you know, for example, that one of his main goals was to prepare Jerusalem for the return of Jesus?
Reams and reams have been written about Columbus over the ages – the good, the bad and the ugly. Snippets of information found about his life often result in wild speculation, such as the fact that he wrote to his sons in Hebrew – was he secretly Jewish in a time when to acknowledge such a thing resulted in death? We may never know. Was he a good guy who did some bad things? Or a bad guy who did some good things? Was he, like Martin Luther, a mixture of both? Native American friends will surely find his memory unsavory to say the least, but while not excusing the inexcusable, the fact is (as King David can testify) people are complicated. Additionally, it is now becoming apparent that some of the more shocking horrors attributed to him in recent years have been based in misunderstandings and bad interpretations of his writings.1
Columbus scholar, Pauline Moffitt Watts, has identified the two main themes of the writings of Columbus as being: the conversion of all peoples to the Christian faith, and the re-conquest of Jerusalem (Watts 1985: 92)2. There is a letter from Columbus dated 1493 to the King and Queen of Spain spelling out the fact that liberating Jerusalem was his end goal, and ten years later he wrote to the Pope saying, “This enterprise was undertaken with the purpose of expending what was invested in aiding the holy temple and the holy Church.”3 He wrote:
“Jerusalem and Mount Sion are to be rebuilt by the hand of a Christian; who this is to be, God declares by the mouth of His prophet in the fourteenth psalm. Abbot Joachin said that he was to come from Spain.”4
He saw himself as destined to have a hand in restoring Jerusalem in preparation for the coming King. He didn’t give up on this passion till the day he died. In his will, signed the day before his death, Columbus stipulated that a fund should be set up for the purpose of liberating Jerusalem.5 Today such talk of conquest and liberation may be unpalatable but his keen eagerness to prepare the way for Jesus to return is quite evident from his writings.
1492 was a year of significance. It simultaneously marks the famous voyage of Columbus and also the tragic expulsion of Jews from Spain. During the very year Jewish people faced the gruesome height of the Spanish Inquisition, the door to a new safe haven opened. “America was discovered”, if we can forgive all the problems with that phrase. Just as Israel was a nation started by God for a purpose that would bless the nations, so too, it seems, was the United States of America.
Columbus may not have realized his dream of seeing Jerusalem back in the hands of God’s people, but as a consequence of his ventures, he helped to preserve the people of Israel at a critical time in history. Though not in the way he imagined, he has been used in God’s purposes to prepare the way for Jesus to return to a nation and a city that will welcome Him home.
The millennial, apocalyptic scenario that stirred Columbus did not die with him but made the transatlantic crossing with the Puritans who founded the “New Jerusalem” in New England. Through the Puritans these ideas entered into the American mainstream where they have had a powerful grip on American imagination, helping to shape a particular vision of the place of the United States in history and the way Americans understand themselves and their destiny. (Delaney, p.287)
It is with gratitude that we think about the formation of the United States of America. Not blind whitewashing, but genuine appreciation of what God has done both with, despite, and for sinful humanity. In the USA, the opportunity to start a new life was opened for people from all over the world, including almost half of the world’s Jewish population.
For centuries now, the US has provided a home for millions of American Jews, but it has also been a great blessing to the state of Israel in more recent years. Israel simply wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for the rescue of our American allies. President Nixon, another unlikely character, literally saved Israel from annihilation during the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
More than just blessing Israel, the US has been a blessing to all the nations of the earth with the gospel. It’s impossible to calculate the resources generously given by American Christians to advance the kingdom of God throughout the whole world. As a global center for missions, a staggering number of people have been sent out from the US. Many dedicated Americans have gone to the far corners of the earth and even sacrificed their lives for the sake of the gospel.
So this Thanksgiving, we’d like to say a hearty thank you to God for the United States of America, for the flawed explorer, Christopher Columbus, and also for the cartographer who produced the faulty map he used that was so badly mistaken. In the providence of God, they ended up opening a door of hope for Israel and of blessing to the world.
Columbus knew and wrote in Latin and Spanish, rarely in Portuguese or Italian, but some of his works were only translated into English as late as 1991, so have not received much scholarly attention.
In Defense of Columbus: An Exaggerated Evil
2. Pauline Moffitt Watts, Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus’s “Enterprise of the Indies” The American Historical Review, Volume 90, Issue 1, February 1985, Pages 73–102
3. Carol Delaney, Columbus’s Ultimate Goal: Jerusalem, 2006, Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology, Stanford University p.265
4. As cited in Delaney, Ibid p.266
5. Ibid. p.266
Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash
It’s an intense time we’re living in. It’s not the first time things have been so critical, and it certainly won’t be the last, but many families have taken a number of serious blows. Covid has been wreaking havoc on families here in Israel with some 1.6 million suffering from acute emotional distress, according to one report.1 But the Bible offers us great hope.
As we try to get back on our feet from the devastation of Coronavirus, good family relationships are key to a stable society. Families can be a source of strength, comfort, security and encouragement to help us weather all kinds of storms. How can we help strengthen our families?
Life is stressful even without pandemics. This fallen world is no stranger to tragedy, loss and brokenness, but many of our coping mechanisms were taken away by the lockdowns. We can’t just go and visit friends, give or receive hugs, share meals with extended family or even stroll around where we’d like to.
Speaking to Tel Aviv based media outlet, ILTV, psychologist Dr. Kamila Forkosh Lavan warned that at least 20% of Israelis have been emotionally traumatized by Covid-19.
Dr. Forkosh Lavan warned that children were taking the brunt of the stress. They have been put in and then whipped out of their schools and kindergartens at a dizzying speed, all while at a stage of life critical for forming relationships and social bonds. This young generation has received the message that other people and the outside world are a source of danger rather than delight. Social situations now cause anxiety like never before for many children, and their social and educational development is suffering as a result. It’s not just children who are suffering either – lack of access to entertainment and other facilities mean that people of all ages are losing their ways of handling stress and blowing off steam. The elderly don’t have access to lifelines of visits and seeing family, and family shabbat meals and holidays are no longer times to get together.
In order to try to support families and repair the damage, Forkosh Lavan suggested that maintaining calm at home would give children the message that they did not need to be afraid, and that the same applied within society in general. Certainly, an atmosphere of peace at home can be a great bulwark against a raging storm outside.
Families can look very different, but there are some important principles God has put in place to give us that strong foundation in life. The Torah has many instructions for healthy, happy families, including the importance of marital faithfulness, respect for parents, and family times such as Shabbat and the feasts. Following the Torah kept the families of Israel remarkably strong throughout the millennia, especially when out in exile.
Ironically since returning to Israel and becoming more secular, families have been sadly suffering. Over 130,000 households are now single parent families – that’s one in eight children growing up with only one parent at home, the fifth-highest rate in the OECD.2 Abortion is legal, easily accessible and state-funded. Approximately 40,000 Israeli babies are aborted every year, 3 killing children who had a right to live, and leaving women with heavy emotional baggage to carry.
While God has been clear and consistent throughout His word about the sanctity of marriage, promiscuity is rampant in Israel and same-sex unions are celebrated. But you cannot have the security of loving families without the commitment of loyalty and covenant. In giving us His laws God is not stealing our freedom, but showing us the path to healthy communities built on the foundation of loving homes. As is so often the way, we think we know better than God, and only when we’ve gone too far down our own path we can see it has taken us far away from where we wanted to be. God knows us and He loves us. His law is good.
It all reminds me very much of Elijah’s battle with Jezebel to win back the heart of the people. Our society suffers from a chronic fracture between children and fathers, but this is something God longs to address. He is our ultimate Father, and He is able to turn hearts around.
Elijah’s prayer, so short and simple, seems as pertinent today as it was on Mount Carmel almost three thousand years ago.
“Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:36-37)
This passage about turning hearts back is referred to by the prophet Malachi, saying that God would send Elijah to, “turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Malachi 4:5-6). Later, Luke’s gospel reveals that John the Baptist was the one Malachi spoke of, preparing Israel for the Messiah:
“He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17)
John the Baptist, the unborn cousin of Jesus, was filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb and was the first to recogize the Messiah! His calling was to prepare the way of the Lord, and point to the One who can bring healing between fathers and children, between Israel and their God.
At ONE FOR ISRAEL we are not only appealing through media for the lost to turn to God, but we are also building up believers to minister to their communities. We train Jewish and Arab believers in counselling and pastoral care, and equip men and women to work with those who have experienced all kinds of trauma, loss and family breakdown.
1. ILTV https://youtu.be/x5WRwM10zmA
The God who moves kings and kingdoms has not stopped doing so.
We are seeing nations shift, peace treaties established, and alliances develop at an extraordinary pace. There seems to be rapidly multiplying peace in our Middle Eastern neighborhood, as well as calls for a revived Ottoman Caliphate. However every move, every alliance, every leader was known by God from before the world began. Moreover, events are moving consistently in line with Scripture.
Although much of Christianity has whittled the faith down to individual sin, salvation, and a personal relationship with God, the truth is that the God who moves kings and kingdoms has not taken His hands off the wheel.
God is at work both on the micro scale of our individual lives, and on the macro scale of world events. Whether it’s elections or Coronavirus, abortion laws or peace treaties, we need to make sure that we are not so myopic as to see our faith as purely about us. God’s greater story is being being played out on a global scale.
With a Bible in hand and and eye on current affairs, we can be watching and praying as God moves among the nations. We are seeing this great story of redemption played out live in full technicolor. God is steadily steering the world towards its destiny, which has been written down for us in Scripture, in black and white.
It’s a remarkable thing to think that we have a guide to future current events right there on our bookshelf.
God has consistently moved through kings and rulers, tribes and nations, disastrous exiles and amazing miracles. Was it a coincidence that just as the huge Jewish population of Spain were being expelled that Columbus sailed the ocean blue, opening the door to a new safe haven? Or that the Romans just happened to have laid fantastic infrastructure throughout their huge empire in time for the Apostles to go on the road with the gospel? Is it unrelated that, despite plans for a Jewish state being long established and waves of Jewish immigrants already arriving, the reestablishment of Israel took place right after the Holocaust? It’s hard to say that these remarkable coincidences were due to God’s handiwork with absolute certainty, but the Bible shows how God can and will orchestrate world events to carry out His greater purposes.
So often when we think of “end times” we think of very dark and frightening horrors to come, but if we follow the example of Jesus in fixing our eyes beyond that, to our glorious destination, we remember that the end of the story is spectacular.
But at the end of days the mountain of Adonai’s House will be established as chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills.
Peoples will flow up to it. Then many nations will go and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Adonai, to the House of the God of Jacob!
Then He will direct us in His ways, and we will walk in His paths.”
For Torah will go forth from Zion, and the word of Adonai from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples and decide for mighty nations far off. They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation nor will they learn war again.
Picture by Mat Reding on Unsplash
There is not just one miracle catch of fish recorded in the Gospels, there are two… but with a key difference. It’s to do with the nets.
These stories speak great truths into what we’re seeing as we hold out the word of life in Arabic, and we want to share the exciting things that are happening – and how it all relates to you.
Jesus calls His disciples into partnership with him. We’re going fishing!
Can you imagine Jesus Himself inviting you to go fishing with Him? Well that is what has happened. Just as Jesus called the first disciples, He also calls us to join Him:
He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
This, of course, is a metaphor for evangelism. Here at ONE FOR ISRAEL, we’re using the internet to find those who are looking for answers and searching for hope.
We are casting the net far and wide with the offer of eternal life: the Good News of Jesus. We do everything we can to put it in places on the internet where it will catch the attention of Hebrew and Arabic speakers, wherever they might be around the world.
And they are responding. We have many amazing stories of Arabic speakers not only from the Middle East, but all over the world who have watched our videos and come to faith.
And now here is how the miracle catch of fish stories relate to what we’re seeing in our Arabic outreach…
First of all, there’s a similarity in the hard work of the disciples in their tireless efforts to catch those fish. The disciples were professionals who knew how to fish, and they had worked HARD. It wasn’t lack of effort or expertise that was the problem. In a similar way, there has been a lot of faithful work in the 10-40 window of the Arabic speaking world, and many who have toiled for years will have felt that their efforts have been in vain. The ground has been fairly unyielding, to say the least.
Yet one word from the Master and the fish veritably jump into the nets!
I remember hearing Brother Yun (also known as the “Heavenly Man”) speak about the miracle catch of fish story, saying how he imagined the fish would have been overjoyed to swim close to their Creator and obey His word! They rushed towards the boat and into the nets in a manner that defies nature. It also defies rationality. Why would throwing the net over the other side make any difference at all? Under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t. But nothing is normal when He is with us. All that matters is Jesus and our willingness to obey His word. Whatever He says to you, do it, as Mary sagely advised.
In speaking of the Spirit, Jesus told Nicodemus:
“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8)
So this is what we are seeing. After a long period of hard labor and apparently fruitless fishing, we are now seeing miracles. Many people in Arabic speaking countries are hungry for the truth, and are coming to faith in unprecedented numbers. David Garrison was so impacted by the miraculous response among Muslims to the gospel in our days that he documented it in his well-researched book, A Wind in the House of Islam. Something supernatural is certainly going on, and the Spirit of God is the One who is bringing the awakening. Why suddenly now?
God has determined that now is the time to bring many from the Muslim world to faith in Jesus.
We are seeing miracle catches of fish in these waters.
According to our friend, Joel C. Rosenberg,
“More Muslims converted to faith in Jesus Christ over the past decade than at any other time in human history. A spiritual revolution is underway throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. As a result, a record number of ex-Muslims are celebrating Christmas this year, despite intense persecution, assassinations, and widespread church bombings.”1
Now. About those nets.
Here is the crucial difference between the two stories of the miracle catches of fish. In the first story, the nets were not able to handle the enormous catch of fish:
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But at Your word I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break. (Luke 5:5-6)
There were so many fish, the nets were breaking! So, the next verse tells us, they called to others to partner with them to bring in the nets.
And here is the second account, after the resurrection of Jesus:
Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. (John 21:11)
In the second incident, the nets did not break. This speaks of strong partnership in the gospel.
In the first story, the disciples were not ready for such a miracle catch and had to call for help and partnership after the event. In the second, the nets were strong, well connected, and holding together. There were no holes, gaps, or weak connections.
This is a perfect picture of our partnerships in the gospel as believers. We are not the only ones reaching out to the Arabic speaking world – we are working in partnership with others. This enables us to do a much better job as Fishers of Men. If we work together, we are able to bring in huge hauls of fish. We’re revival ready!
There has been a tremendous change in the unity between believers within Israel, and we are also working in unity with others in the body of Messiah from other countries.
Our Arab team uses every opportunity to spread the word of God, exposing lies against Christianity and showing how we can trust the truths of the Bible. We have Spirit filled media experts who can make excellent evangelistic videos, but all that is of no use unless they are seen and heard. We are proclaiming the message, but can you help us reach our audience?
How then shall they call on the One in whom they have not trusted? And how shall they trust in the One they have not heard of? And how shall they hear without someone proclaiming? And how shall they proclaim unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim good news of good things!” But not all heeded the Good News. For Isaiah says, “Adonai, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Messiah.
But I say, have they never heard? Indeed they have, for
“Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:14-18)
By partnering with us financially, your gifts can literally send the good news of Jesus to be seen and heard all around the world.
Want to come fishing with us?
Photo by zhan zhang on Unsplash
Shemini Atzeret is translated as the Eighth Day of the Assembly. It’s sort of strange that there’s an eighth day of the assembly, given that Sukkot is a week-long feast, but in the very passage that dictates there are seven days of Sukkot, we see God also mandating the eighth day:
“For seven days you are to bring an offering by fire to Adonai. The eighth day will be a holy convocation to you, and you are to bring an offering by fire to Adonai. It is a solemn assembly—you should do no laborious work.” (Leviticus 23:36)
“So on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruits of the land, you are to keep the Feast of Adonai for seven days. The first day is to be a Shabbat rest, and the eighth day will also be a Shabbat rest.” (Leviticus 23:39)
The number seven and seventh crops up over and over again multiple times in the instructions regarding Sukkot, but the number eight also has significance, as we shall see as we look at the eighth day of the assembly: Shemini Atzeret.
Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, takes place in the seventh month which is now known as Tishrei. The funny thing is that things got majorly switched up in Babylon. An ironic fact, given that babel is the Hebrew word to confuse! The word Tishrei is an ancient Akkadian word from Babylon meaning “beginning”. It was back in Babylon that the Jewish people began to mark their new year as starting in the seventh month of God’s calendar. For this reason, the Feast of Trumpets which is on the first of the seventh month is now usually called Rosh Hashanah instead, which means “Head of the Year”. But it is no such thing. According to God, the beginning of the year starts with the month of Passover in the Spring.
So what is the true significance of the seventh month, if it’s not really the beginning of the year? Clearly it is a very significant month with three major events in it: the Feast of Trumpets on the first day of the month, Yom Kippur on the 10th, and Sukkot on the 15th at the full moon. Plus, the number seven should be catching our attention.
What clues can we find in the Bible?
All the men of Israel assembled themselves to King Solomon at the Feast in the month of Ethanim, which is the seventh month. (1 Kings 8:2)
Back in King Solomon’s time and before the exile, the seventh month was known as Ethanim.
Not Tishrei, which means beginning.
But what does Eithanim mean?
The Hebrew word “eitan” (as in the name of our own wonderful Eitan Bar) means steady, stable, constant, strong, permanent, like a rock. Eithanim is the plural. Why is it plural? Because the name of the month refers to water, and in Hebrew water is plural, so the adjective matches it.
The name of the month “Eithanim” refers to steadily flowing waters, constant rivers that do not run dry.1
Today in Israel, Shemini Atzeret is also known as Simchat Torah (celebrated on the following day out in the diaspora) in which there is great dancing, jubilation and rejoicing in the street with Torah scrolls. The yearly cycle of reading through the Torah now begins again at the end of Sukkot in accordance with the Babylonian “beginning”. Simchat Torah seems to be a relative latecomer to the party, but back in the time of Jesus, the levity related to water: living water.
Throughout the summer, Jewish prayers include thanksgiving for dew while there is no rain, but at Sukkot it is tradition to start praying for rain in earnest. Water is a big deal in dry, dusty Israel. Water has the power of life and death. Already by the time of Yeshua, it had become tradition on Shemini Atzeret to hold a water libation ceremony at the temple in Jerusalem. Water was drawn and poured lavishly over the altar amid much rejoicing.
Shemini Atzeret is the apex of zeman simchatenu, the season of our joy. In fact, the Talmud goes so far as to say, “He who has not seen the rejoicing at the place of the water-drawing has never seen rejoicing in his life”! (Tractate Sukkah 51a).
John the Apostle tells us that it was in this context, on the last and greatest day of the feast, that Jesus stood up to give this pronouncement:
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Yeshua stood up and cried out loudly, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, ‘out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)
This idea of “living waters” is an important and familiar theme in Scripture (Isa. 55:1, Ezek. 47; Zech. 14:8), and something His Jewish audience would have understood well. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, He has the ability to give living water that flows and flows forever:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
As we said, water is plural in Hebrew, and living waters are called “Maim Chaim” (מים חיים). Both words are not merely plural, but denote a pair – a pair of gloves, a pair of eyes, a pair of waters (above and below) and a pair of lives (this life and the life to come). The living water Jesus is offering gives life not only here in this temporary world, but also in the world to come.
This takes us back to the reason for Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of the Assembly. Seven is the number of completion, but eight pertains to eternity, and the world to come.
The ultimate celebration of Shemini Atzeret, which comes after the seven days of Sukkot in the seventh month of Eithanim, points us to the eternally flowing water of life that Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman: the eternal joy of life together with Him in the world to come.
“Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never be thirsty. The water that I give him will become a fountain of water within him, springing up to eternal life!” (John 4:13-14)
Would you like a drink?
Photo by Vishal Banik on Unsplash
Did you know that book stores in Israel are forbidden to sell the New Testament in the Hebrew language?!
But that won’t stop us from evangelizing! We just released a new Bible App (android & iOS) in Hebrew which has the entire Bible in it (New Testament too!) – all in the Hebrew language and completely free of charge!
In order to try and oppress our app from enjoying exposure among the Israeli public, anti-missionaries try and malevolently write negative reviews on our app (on App Store & Google Play), intentionally rating it with a very low score of just 1 star, in order to cause Jewish people to not want to install the app.
Even if you don’t know Hebrew, please install our new Bible app and rate it 5 stars (you don’t have to write a review). The higher the average is, the better the app stores will expose it to our people!
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The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot as it’s known in Hebrew, is a God-ordained feast with a fantastic point behind it. Or perhaps a range of very meaningful points. There’s the mysterious command of the four species of plant required, the aspect of inviting guests (ushpizin) into your sukkah, the harvest festival of rejoicing or the water libation ceremony to name a few. But here we’re going to look at one aspect in particular: those ramshackle little dwelling places – the sukkot themselves.
‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will live among you’—it is a declaration of Adonai. ‘In that day many nations will join themselves to Adonai and they will be My people and I will dwell among you.’ Then you will know that Adonai-Tzva’ot [the Lord of Hosts] has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:10-11)
God, THE LORD, says He’s coming to live among His people. And that God sent Him, if you can get your head around that. And like all of His words, it all came to pass exactly as He said.
And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We looked upon His glory, the glory of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Jesus, who was God incarnate, came to live on earth with us… and was sent by God.
This word incarnate means He in carne, meat, or flesh… God clothed in human skin.
Paul the apostle talks about our life in the flesh like this:
For we know that if the tent, our earthly home, is torn down, we have a building from God—a home not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, after we have put it on, we will not be found naked. For we groan while we are in this tent—burdened because we don’t want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)
Our earthly life in the flesh is likened to living in tents. So Jesus descended from glory to live in an earthly “tent” of human flesh.
But surely that’s not what Sukkot is all about? Isn’t it to do with remembering the time of the desert wanderings after the Exodus from Egypt, on the way to the Promised Land? Aren’t these temporary dwellings to remind us of the fragility and transience of this life? That’s certainly the impression you get from the instructions in Leviticus 23 at any rate:
You are to live in sukkot for seven days. All the native-born in Israel are to live in sukkot, so that your generations may know that I had Bnei-Yisrael to dwell in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt. I am Adonai your God. (Leviticus 23:42-43)
In Jeremiah 2, God talks about this time of desert wandering with the Israelites as a honeymoon period, after the official betrothal ceremony of the Sinai covenant. It was a seminal time in Israel’s story, and a part of the journey God doesn’t want us to forget.
The building of temporary shelters is a very practical reminder.
Not only were the children of Israel tent dwellers at that point, but their God also dwelt in a tent: the tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting. God had been very clear and specific about how His tent should be, according to the heavenly pattern, which He showed to Moses on Mount Sinai.
But interestingly, the writer of Hebrews refers to this tabernacle as
“the first tent”.
In Hebrews 9:8 we are told that:
“the way into the Holies has not yet been revealed while the first tent is still standing.”
Initially God’s presence was housed in the desert tabernacle, by God’s own initiative. Later, King David would build the temple for God, but this was David’s initiative, not God’s. However, that same Shekinah glory would later dwell in the earthly tent of flesh – flesh from the house of David, no less. David really did help make a suitable home for God in more ways than one.
Yeshua the Messiah, the Nazarene from the line of Judah, would be the THE LORD Himself tabernacling among us in a tent of human flesh.
But there’s more! There are more than two tents. Before ascending again to the Father, Yeshua promised not to leave us as orphans but to send that same Holy Spirit, the Shekinah, to dwell in US! Yes – WE are now the tents, the tabernacles of the Lord.
And Paul was a tent-maker.
Like so many other key figures in the Bible (Gideon, David, Peter, and Jesus, to name a few) Paul’s profession was no accident.
His income may have come from constructing tents in the natural, but spiritually, his job was to make people into spiritual “tents” too. Everyone he brought to faith becomes a miniature tabernacle, purified by the sacrificial blood of Messiah and made worthy of hosting the Lord of Hosts.
The Shekinah, the very Spirit of the Lord, tabernacles in us today. As born-again believers we have all become miniature tabernacles, carrying the presence of God wherever we go. And one day we will tabernacle with Him in glory in the permanent home He has prepared for us.
Watch Dr Seth Postell from our Bible College explain how the Messiah is God Himself in flesh – according to the Hebrew Scriptures!