Wednesday, March 26, 2014

God's Manifest Presence

This was not written by me, but was a devotional I came across this past week from a ministry in Israel.  The devotional was written with the weekly Torah portion in mind, from Leviticus 9.

Manifestation of God’s Presence: Aaron Begins His Ministry
“This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.”  (Leviticus 9:6)
On the eighth day, the day following an entire week of purification, Aaron and his sons began their ministry by offering the required sin offering, burnt offering and fellowship offering.
After Aaron had done all that the Lord had commanded through Moses, he stretched out his hands and blessed the people before stepping down from the altar.
But the people were not only blessed once.  Moses and Aaron blessed them again after they returned from the Tent of Meeting.  At this, the fire of God came upon the offerings and consumed them.
“Then Moses and Aaron entered the Tent of Meeting, and when they came out, they once again blessed the people.  Then fire issued from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offerings and the fat portions on the altar.”  (Leviticus 9:23–24)
With this remarkable manifestation of the Glory of God, the people felt such an awesome experience of being in the presence of the Lord that they shouted for joy and even fell down on their faces!

Sadly, this incredible time of worship was followed by sorrow because of a tragic incident in which fire from the presence of God also came in judgment.
The sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, who had just a short while earlier been instructed on the Temple service, changed the pattern of worship given to them by God through Moses.
In perhaps a grandiose, irreverent or drunken display of their ministration before the people, they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord (maybe offering incense at the wrong time) and, therefore, they perished:
“So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.”  (Leviticus 10:2)
After reading about the spectacular event of God's fire consuming the offering and other miraculous, supernatural events in the Bible, some of us long for a dramatic manifestation of the Shekhinah glory of Adonai; however, we must keep in mind that the experience of the Israelites at this time was out of the ordinary.  

The fire of God did not consume the offering on a daily basis.  The people continued their worship, sacrifices, and offerings even when they did not “feel” anything special and nothing exceptional happened.
Likewise, our spiritual life should not be a pursuit of supernatural, dazzling encounters; neither should we think something is amiss in our relationship with the Lord if we are not continually riding an emotional “high.”
Just as a marriage relationship should not require continual thrills to stay committed, so should our hearts remain steadfast in our relationship with the Lord even when there seems to be no fresh fire.

 [This is not to say that the Lord will not give us supernatural manifestations today.  He can and He does, according to His sovereign will and purposes]

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Under the Fig Tree

I learned something today that suddenly clarified a passage of scripture for me.  I love it when the understanding of a Jewish idiom can make the light bulb go on.

The passage comes from John 1, as Yeshua was building his team of disciples, beginning with verse 43:

On the next day Jesus wanted to set out for Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 

Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, "Come and see.”

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 

Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!”

What is going on here?  Obviously, there is something in this dialogue that gives Nathanael a major "aha" moment that Yeshua is the Messiah.  But a surface reading does not really tell us why.  Also, it seems like Yeshua is saying that Nathanael is the righteous one.

Here is a Jewish Roots clue.  The term "under the fig tree" is an ancient Jewish idiom that means studying the messianic prophecies.  The idiom stems from Micah 4:4, in a passage describing the future messianic kingdomEach of them will sit under his vine, and under his fig tree.

Our first clue to the fact that Nathanael was a scholar of the messianic prophecies is his comment regarding Nazareth.  He knew that scripture clearly taught that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but wasn't so sure about the Nazareth connection.

[The prophecy regarding Nazareth is a bit more hidden (Isaiah 11:1 speaks of the branch, which is netzer in Hebrew, and the town of Nazareth, (netzret in Hebrew), means "branch town").]

When Yeshua first spoke to Nathanael, He was referencing the second part of Isaiah 53:9:
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.

Yeshua was not calling Nathanael righteous. Yeshua was quoting the very prophecy that Nathanael had been studying, in order to emphasize that He Himself was the Messiah.

This is why Nathanael responds with Hey, how in the world did you know that about me??

Yeshua then further confirmed that He knew Nathanael was a studier of the messianic prophecies when He said He saw Nathanael "under the fig tree."

Of course, Nathanael knew that only the Messiah could know that about Him without being told, which is why he acknowledged Yeshua as the Messiah:  Son of God and King of Israel.