The Ragtag Remnant: Beauty in the Rubble

As the people of Messiah Congregation can attest to, prompted by the Lord, I spent seven months teaching through the books of Nehemiah, Ezra, Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi. These books focus on the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and the Jewish people as the first exile ends, and the return begins. In the wake of the pandemic, at the time, this prompting gave direction, invigoration, and hope that the Lord would complete what He had started.

As the Book of Ezra opens, the Lord stirs Cyrus to make a proclamation, allowing all the provinces of his kingdom to restore and worship their own gods in their temples.

Cyrus, or Koresh, means “keeper of the furnace,” and if you recall, Isaiah writes of Israel and the judgment leading to their restoration, “Behold, I have refined you, though not as silver. I tested you in a furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10).

It is one thing to prophesy the judgment leading to destruction and exile; it’s quite another to name the ruler who would open the way for their return some thee hundred (300) years prior to the events depicted in Jeremiah, Ezra and Nehemiah. God names Cyrus. Think about that, God named Cyrus, not his parents, the keeper of the furnace – the one who would do His will.

As Ezra 2 unfolds, those responding to the stirring of the Lord (Ez. 1:5) are accounted for; an accounting that is virtually identical to the one in Nehemiah years later. So what? With all of the ups and downs of the next 20 plus years, they make it, it wasn’t pretty, but they reconstructed His Temple.

It wasn’t a glamorous crowd, this ragtag remnant, perhaps not one that any of us would want to be part of, but they responded to the call to do God’s work, here is the meaning of some of those names from Ezra 2:

“The children of a flea,” the children of the one whom “God has judged,” the children of “the lost, the wayfarer,” the children from the “pit of the father,” the children of the one whom “God saved,” the children of the one who says “Jehovah is Father,” the children of the one “hidden or distant.”

It is as if the Lord is saying: “I build on fleas, upon those whom I have judged, the wayfarers, those delivered out of the pit, the hidden, the unseen, those at the bottom unafraid to join their hands in My work.”

The beautiful lesson of these names, is that there is room for all of us, and for everyone to join in His work.

So they set out, and after months of travel, Ezra dedicates one phrase to their journey, “When they arrived at the House of the Lord …” What? That’s it? Yup.

And what did they arrive to? A heap of rubble. But that’s not how they saw it, they arrived at the House of the Lord. Then some among the leaders gave according to their ability for the work yet to do, and they began to keep the fall feasts. Yet, they first built the Lord’s Altar (Ez. 3:2). There were no gates, no outer walls, no foundation, no structure, but they built the Altar. Why?

They arrived at the House not yet seen, and there, in faith, they built the Altar. The rubble was a testimony of past failures, and God’s judgment; but the Altar would speak to His promises, faithfulness, and to the future hope.

As you look to the pages of God’s Book, the people of God built altars in times of crisis, victory, and when they experienced defeat. Altars are places of worship to the Lord expressed as an act of sacrifice, where the one offering experiences a new beginning (Ro. 12:1). It is a place, where in the face of His magnificent grace, we have an attitude adjustment.

We cannot approach His Altar without believing in Him, desiring Him, and recognizing that He is worth far more than we have to give. He is worth all that we are, all that we will or could hope to be. Yet, by grace through faith He receives us in Messiah (Eph. 2:8-10).

We have entered an age of pressing, surrounded by voices of doubt and frustration. Yet, we cannot leave the work of God – believing in the One He sent – in stalemate: we press on.

As you face your rubble, speak God’s promises to it, just as that returning remnant did. They did not return to a pile of rubble, they returned to God’s House, even in the midst of the rubble.

Place this, dear reader, in your heart, the words of the apostle Paul, “Things no eye has seen and no ear has heard, that have not entered the heart of mankind – these things God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9).

Certainly, in Christ, your latter days will be greater than your former days, when you trust Him (Hag. 2:9). Hallelujah!

Be well. Shalom.

Water: Provision Before the Strife

The unusual command of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19) is immediately followed by the tragic events of the death of both Miriam and Aaron. Sandwiched between these two moments of national mourning is the disqualification of Moses from leading Israel into the Promised Land.

I’ve taught in great detail on the incident recorded in Numbers 20:1-13, known as the incident at the waters of Meribah (20:13), the waters of strife.

The water had ceased flowing; and the rabbis connect this to the death of Miriam. The people panic. Moses, knowing that the Lord will provide water, does not panic, but scolds and responds bitterly, as we read in Psalm 106:32-33 , “And they provoked wrath at the waters of Meribah and Moses suffered on account of them; because they embittered his spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips.”

This incident is a lesson for those being led, and those leading: 1) don’t panic, and 2) don’t be reactionary.

Why?

Just prior to the incidents described in Numbers 20, the Lord gives the suprarational command of the Red Heifer. While that is a subject too broad for this blurb, this command depends not only on the ashes of a Red Heifer, but also water.

In order to fulfill this command there would need to be fresh water in the camp, and the Lord knows this. He will provide.

Israel panicked. Moses reacted, bitterly. Yet, the Lord still provided (Num. 20:11).

How often when we find a lack somewhere in our lives, do we panic or begin to explore our own means of provision; or we react bitterly to the need, due to years of strife and struggle? In those moments, turn to the Word of God. His promise. And read what He has said.

He had just commanded the unusual, suprarational command of the Red Heifer (Num. 19), a key component of which is fresh water. At times we forget what He has commanded in the face of need, not recognizing that in the command there is also the supply necessary to do it, and to do life.

Water would flow, they just had to ask. Life would be restored. They just had to trust.

It is a blessing to know that even when we respond in a less than graceful manner, even in our frustration, that He will still provide.

Meditation: Psalm 1:1; Philippians 4:19; James 4:1-3.

Blessed into Blessing

The כֺּהֲנִים/cohenim, the levitical priests, served God in place of the firstborn sons of Israel, called to that service after the sin of the golden calf. They would minister before the Lord and the people, as intermediaries between heaven and earth. Adopted as firstborn sons, by their service, they would raise up and continue the Father/child model of discipleship.

Perhaps the longest continually spoken blessing in the world was given by God to Aaron, and his sons. It has been spoken for some 3,500 years; in both the synagogue and the church.

Called the בִּרְכַּת כֺּהֲנִים (birkat kohanim), the priestly blessing, it is at heart, a short blessing reminding God’s people of His protection, His grace, and His fatherly embrace that lifts us up in and for peace.

It reads:

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ

יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ

יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

“The Lord bless and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His face upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24-26).

The Torah specifies that God is doing the blessing, while the priests speak it:

וְשָׂמוּ אֶת-שְׁמִי, עַל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַאֲנִי, אֲבָרְכֵם

“And they will put my name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them” (Num. 6:27).

According to tradition, a blessing increases what we already have, and the priestly blessing connects today to tomorrow. We have life today, may He increase it for tomorrow.

As Messiah Yeshua/Jesus was ascending to heaven, Luke records, “And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Lk. 24:50-51).

Here we see Yeshua blessing His disciples by “lifting up his hands.” In rabbinic literature, the priestly blessing is also known as nesiat kapayim, the “lifting of the hands.”

Yeshua, our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16), lifts His hands in blessing over “the congregation (ecclesia) of the firstborn who are written in a scroll in heaven” (Heb. 12:23), among whom He is the Prince and perfecter (Heb. 12:2), the “firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Ro. 8:29; cf. Col. 1:15, 19; Eph. 1:10-12).

As Peter explains, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession …” (I Pet. 2:9). You have been chosen, adopted (Ro. 8:14-15) into heavens priesthood, to serve Him here and now, connecting heaven to today and tomorrow, to build up the lives of those around you.

Your position at birth matters not. Born-again by faith in Messiah, all who call upon His name are now adopted, repositioned, and set for ministry, priestly service, to speak words of His blessing, coupled with actions of blessing delivering His provision (Jas. 2:14-17).

If you are reading this, you are blessed. Yes, you are. You are also an adopted and renewed priest in Messiah, part of that congregation of the firstborn, now doing a priestly service before the Lord and before people (Ro. 12:1; 15:16).

In Jewish tradition, for grace after meals there should be bread on the table, as a sign that God will again increase and safeguard what we have, food.

What bread is on our tables? What bread is before us? The Living Bread from heaven, Yeshua. The source of all blessing, life, and peace. May He continue to increase His presence in our lives, so that we continue to be a blessing in the lives of others.

You have been blessed into blessing. May it be, כן יהי רצון, “according to His will.”

Be well. Shalom.

It’s Time for a Release

When the Torah records the unusual command of Shemitah (meaning: release or let drop), the seventh year rest for the Land of Israel, it mentions the location where the command was spoken: Mt Sinai.

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בְּהַר סִינַי לֵאמֹר

“And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai saying …” (Lev. 25:1).

Why is the location regarding this command specifically recorded? After all, all the commandments of the Torah, the instruction of God, were given on Sinai.

During the Shemitah the agricultural lands in ancient Israel were not to be sown, or reaped. The land would be in rest. Any fruit that grew on its own was rendered ownerless, and was freely available to all (Lev. 25:6).

Every seven years the children of Israel had to exercise faith, and trust the promise of God’s Word that He would supply: “I will command My blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth produce for the three years” (Lev. 25:21). One year of faith-obedience bringing three years of blessing.

Why was this so difficult? It wasn’t the land rest that proved difficult, but the release of debt (Deut. 15:1-2), thereby a release of the lives indebted to you. To release, you had to lose what was owned to you. Why? “Because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed.”

To believe such an unbelievable, and illogical command, it must come from heaven, or the place where heaven and earth kissed: Sinai.

To another mount:

While the word “trespass” is more traditionally used in the Disciples Prayer (the Lord’s Prayer), the Greek is debt: “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).

The word debt refers to both the financial and non-financial obligations to or of another. The way Yeshua is using it above speaks first of our debts to God; what have we withheld that is rightly due Him? Not only financial, but perhaps concerning an unforgiving spirit by our failure to forgive, as an example. Second, it speaks of debts owed to us, again: financial, non-financial, or both. These debts often become a grudge against someone or several someones.

In the context of the Prayer, the prayer of release follows the prayer for daily bread, or supply. As He promised in the Torah, He will supply, as we walk in faith-obedience, see above.

I believe Yeshua is referencing Shemitah in the Disciples Prayer, and it’s meaning of release; as release from an obligation, either real or imagined, owed to us by another, frees them, and us. Giving both them and us, rest.

Could it be financial? Certainly; but concerning His immediate audience, it would seem that He has those many non-financial “debts” that cause divisions in mind.

Forgiveness of sin, “trespasses,” “a falling short,” is taught in Matthew 7:14-15. This reinforces the idea that Yeshua is teaching the need for a cleaned slate, not just of personal offenses or debts, but also the falling short in every facet of interpersonal life that so often ensnares us.

Doing so will bring forth the fruit of rest: spiritual, physical, familial, and social.

But can it really be? Yes.

Yeshua’s command came from a mount (Matt. 5 – 7), amplifying what had come from the previous mount. Then, He exampled for us forgiveness from Golgotha, or Calvary: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34): the person in Whom all of the promises of God are yes and amen (II Cor. 1:20), released us from bondage that has kept us from them.

Such forgiveness, of debts and trespasses, could only come from heaven; and in Yeshua, the Word from heaven made flesh (Jn. 1:14), we find the grace and mercy to release and let drop the issues and struggles that dig so deeply into our soul, ensnaring us, once again to old patterns of behavior and thinking.

It’s time for a personal release.

Be well. Shalom.

When it mattered …

The Book of Ruth is simple, beautiful, and a deep lesson for us today. Throughout this short book, faith is demonstrated in loving-obedience: Ruth to Naomi, Naomi to Ruth, Boaz to his kinsman, Boaz to Ruth, and all to the Lord.

Hear Ruth, the Moabitess, as she pleads with Naomi:

“Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you stay, I will stay; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do to me, and more, if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17).

Death and poverty prompt Naomi to leave Moab, and return to Bethlehem; to the ancestral inheritance of her family. In poverty, she tries to send her daughters-in-law away. Orpah reluctantly returns to her home. Ruth stays with Naomi.

Unfolding during the time of the Judges, when Israel is yet maturing as His covenant people, Ruth, as biblical literature and history, is beautiful.

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem with nothing. The family land is yet unredeemed. Ruth must go to the fields of surrounding landowners and glean from the harvest. By the Torah, this is permissible as a means of support and dignity for the poor; but in that era, not necessarily practiced. Ruth would have to rely on covenant-kindness, for her as a stranger, and Naomi as a poor Israelite; but also, the faithfulness of a yet unknown landowner.

The Torah commands:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:9-10).

There are many such commands regarding kindness in faith shown to the poor, the stranger, the widow and orphan in God’s economy. Kindness that ensures life, and human dignity.

Ruth finds her way to the fields of Boaz, a kinsman redeemer of Naomi’s family. Most of you know the story of the events from that point: Boaz directs his laborers to show kindness to Ruth, not chasing her away, but leaving sheaves of grain for her to find; ultimately leading to Boaz redeeming Naomi’s family inheritance, and his marriage to Ruth.

Faith-obedience, expressed as loving-kindness is the underlying message of this precious book. Naomi shows kindness to Orpah and Ruth by releasing them from any obligation to her. Ruth shows kindness by clinging to Naomi, then going out into the unknown to glean from the harvest.

But it is the kindness of Boaz that is our focus. He allows Ruth to glean, ensuring her safety. And ultimately he redeems Naomi’s family inheritance, lifting them from poverty. He could have gone the way of his generation, even the unnamed “so and so” (פְּלֹנִי אַלְמֹנִי) who was a closer redeemer (Ruth 4:1), and refuse to redeem the land and family, but he did not do so.

Still the concluding blessing for all started with the kindness in the field, see Leviticus 19:9-10 above.

The series of events that followed brought forth family: Obed, to Jesse, to King David, and generations later Messiah Yeshua/Jesus. Hallelujah!

We also live in an age where everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes, not necessarily feeling an obligation to anyone but self. Laying aside what is right, for what is expedient, and the holy for the accessible.

When it mattered, Boaz did the right action in faith-obedience to the Lord. It was a command of kindness, that in the immediate sense caused Boaz loss, but ultimately, blessing to him and gain for the world.

In the moment of need, we will not know the end result of kindness shown. Yet, we are directed to the act nonetheless. The kindness itself is the blessing, and right action in faith-obedience to Him sets us in the way He has ordained.

In faith, obedience to His Word, even when uncomfortable, will keep us in the way He has prepared, and bring us to the place He has prepared for us (Jn. 14:3).

Our Kinsman redeemer, Yeshua, has shown us extraordinary kindness; and in His example, He has called us and prepare us to walk (Matt. 4:19; 5:44-48). Amen.

Be well. Shalom.