Israel as a Divine Council, Part 5: The Camp of Israel and the Court of Heaven

Milky_WayWere the terms of the Covenant and the distinctive mark of the number seventy the only evidence that Israel was intended to be a replacement Divine Council, it would be remarkable enough, but as we continue to search the Scriptures, we find still greater proofs in the design of the camp of Israel in the days of the Exodus. But first, we must understand the meaning behind another strange company: that of the cherubim.

The word kheruv is related to the Akkadian term karibu, which referred to an intercessor between the Divine and man. Isaiah (6:2) seems to describe the same creatures, though he dubs them the seraphim (“burning ones”) instead. They were familiar figures in the ancient near east, adorning the thrones and chariot-thrones of its kings. Ezekiel’s vision of the cherubim accompanying the chariot-throne of Hashem as he came to visit his people in exile fits perfectly with the iconography of both Israel and Babylon.

Ezekiel, like John, describes each as having all four faces—the lion, the man, the ox, and the eagle—whereas Isaiah did not see their faces directly at all, as they were covered by their wings. We find that just as there are four cherubim here around God’s throne, there were four cherubim in the Holy of Holies in the Temple: Two rendered on the Mercy Seat of the Ark, and two built into the room that overshadowed the Ark. Before that, in the Tabernacle, the two cherubim on the Ark were accompanied by two woven into the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies (Exo. 26:31).

In Ezekiel’s vision, the prophet was facing north, and described the face of the man first, suggesting that was facing him (south), the face of the lion on the right (east) side, the bull on the left (west) side, leaving the eagle facing north (Ezk. 1:4, 10). This corresponds with the placement of the camp of Israel. Each of the tribes had their own standard, or symbol. In Numbers 1 and 2, we see God giving Israel our orders as to how to set up camp: The twelve tribes were gathered into four camps, headed by the tribes of Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan, respectively. Each of these camps stretched out in one of the four cardinal directions from the camp of the Levites, which stood in the center with the Tabernacle and the Ark, and each had its own standard. According to the Midrash Rabba, “The banner of Reuben was red, and in the centre painted [as a] mandrake. . . Judah’s banner was the color of the sky, and in the centre the picture of a lion. . . Dan’s banner had the color of sapphire, and an image of a serpent in its centre. . . then an ox representing Ephraim” (Num. Rabba 2, as quoted by Rapaport, Midrash, p. 105). Since the mandrake root looks rather like a man’s figure, we have three out of four of the faces of the cherubim represented in Israel’s tribal standards. But what of Dan? “Jacob had compared Dan to a serpent [in Gen. 49:17]. Ahiezer substituted the eagle, the destroyer of serpents, as he shrank from carrying an adder upon his flag” (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Dan,” p. 273).

Thus, the very camp of Israel represents the throne of God surrounded by the cherubim, which again is symbolized by the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle, surrounded by the four cherubim who guard it. Like the cherubim, the four camps of the tribes of Israel were not there to protect the Holy One, but rather to protect and intercede for those who might draw too close to him unprepared. It was always the Lord’s intention that peoples of other nations would seek him out to worship and offer their own sacrifices (Num. 15:14). It would be the task of the camp of Israel to explain to such individuals how they were to approach the Holy One and what they needed to do to prepare themselves both spiritually and physically.

There is yet another association in these four living creatures that many Biblical commentators are wary to explore, but which the editors of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia note (ISBE, “Astronomy”)

7. The Standards of the Tribes

“Neither the Mosaic law nor the Old Testament generally gives us any intimation as to the form or character of the standard (deghel). According to rabbinical tradition, the standard of Judah bore the figure of a lion, that of Reuben the likeness of a man, or of a man’s head, that of Ephraim the figure of an ox, and that of Dan the figure of an eagle; so that the four living creatures united in the cherubic forms described by Ezekiel were represented upon these four standards” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Pentateuch, III, 17). A variant of this tradition gives as the standard of Reuben, “unstable as water” (Gen. 49:4 the King James Version), a Man and a River, and of Dan, “Dan shall be a serpent in the way” (Gen. 49:17), an Eagle and a Serpent. These four forms are also found in the constellations in the four quarters of the heavens. Aquarius, the man with a stream of water, and Leo were the original zodiacal constellations of the two solstices, Taurus was that of the spring equinox, and Aquila and Serpens were close to the autumnal equinox, the latter being actually upon the colure.

8. The Cherubim

This distribution of the four cherubic forms in the four quarters of heaven gives a special significance to the invocation used by Hezekiah and the Psalmist, “Thou that dwellest between the cherubims” (Isa. 37:16 King James Version: Psa. 80:1 the King James Version). The Shekinah glory rested indeed between the golden cherubim over the ark in the Holy of Holies, but “the Most High dwelleth not in houses made with hands” (Acts 7:48), and the same cherubic forms were pictured on the curtains of the heavens. “Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee” (1Ki. 8:27); ‘Thou dwellest between the cherubim,’ filling the infinite expanse of the stellar universe.

Mazzerot_Cherubim

“The fact that these living ones are twice said to be filled with eyes ‘before and behind,’ ‘round about and within’ is symbolic of the fact that these beings are not blind instruments who act as automations, but sentient creatures who see and know and understand,” writes Barnhouse (Revelation, p. 97). This is certainly true. However, the “eyes” that both Ezekiel and John reported seeing may also refer to the lesser stars that dot the constellations that the faces of the cherubim represent.

The Bible, of course, forbids astrology. The reason that it does is not simply that it is foolish to expect inanimate stars to guide our course, but because the pagans literally worshipped the stars as gods. The Bible itself equates the stars with the angelic beings (Job 38:7,  Daniel 8:10, Revelation 1:20 and 12:4). The title “Lord (or Eternal) God of Hosts” speaks of Hashem’s dominion over the heavenly beings and the stars worshipped as gods by the nations. By containing the four principal constellations of the zodiac in the cherubim around his throne, Hashem’s message to Ezekiel in the prophet’s vision is very clear: The destruction of Jerusalem was not the defeat of Israel’s God, and when he comes on his chariot-throne to visit his people in exile, the constellations that the Babylonians worshipped as gods were reduced to his honor guard.

While the four principle corners of the zodiac are represented in the faces of the cherubim, there are some important distinctions: Scorpio has been replaced with Ophiucus/Aquila, representing the serpent-catching eagle, and the positions of Taurus (the Bull) and Aquilla (the Man, pouring out a river) have been swapped to put Man opposite the Scorpion/Eagle instead of in the adjacent quarter. These changes serve several purposes, not least of which is to make the twelve tribes in their array around the Tabernacle impossible to map to the zodiac.

But more than that, the arrangement of the camp of Israel and the faces of the cherubim are a calculated insult against the Adversary and the Archons. The Tabernacle was arranged so that its entryway–and therefore, the orientation of its “throne-room” faced east, towards the camp of the Lion of Judah. From this position, we would normally expect to find the camp of Ephraim, signified by the bullock or ox, to be to the right hand. In Canaanite belief, the bull was sacred to Baal, the viceroy (and therefore, right hand) of El. However, in the camp of and the arrangement of the cherubim, it is Reuben, the “Seen Son,” symbolized by Aquarius, who sits to the south, at the right hand, and the camp of Ephraim the Bull is behind Hashem’s back.

The insult continues: Scorpio, the Scorpion would lie to the north. Scorpio lies right next to Serpens and Ophuichus, the Serpent and the Serpent-Holder, and in fact the path of the planets passes right between the two constellations so that it was really a toss-up which would have been considered the twelfth sign of the zodiac. The “serpent of old,” of course, has long been associated with the Adversary in Scripture (Gen. 3, Rev.12:9), as has the scorpion (Luke 10:19, Rev. 9:3). In the Camp of Israel and in the faces of the cherubim, the serpent-scorpion has been replaced with the eagle, the seizer and devourer of serpents (Ophiuchus and Aquila).

600px-Bowditch-equatorial-stars-0-180.svg

First the Serpent of Old is set to the left hand, with the “beheld Son” (Reuben) of Man, who pours out a river of living water (John 4:10-14, 7:38-39) set at the right hand of God, then he is cast out of the company altogether, replaced by his immortal enemy.

If the four principle camps in the Exodus that surrounded the Tabernacle represented the four principle corners of the zodiac, it follows that the twelve tribes together represent a new zodiac, or mazzerot, a new order of the heavens. Indeed, the Jewish sage Philo argued that they represented exactly that: “Then the twelve stones on the breast, which are not like one another in colour, and which are divided into four rows of three stones in each, what else can they be emblems of, except of the circle of the zodiac?” (“Life of Moses II”, XXIV.124). It is neither necessary nor particularly beneficial to attempt to map each tribe to a particular set of stars. The point of the twelve tribes in the camp was not astrology but anti-astrology, for men to cease looking to the astral “gods” of the nations and to look instead to the Holy and Eternal One who had graciously come down to dwell in our midst.

Sanhedrin1The seventy elders of the Sanhedrin represent a replacement for the seventy fallen Archons ruling over the nations, the four principle camps around the Tabernacle represent the four cherubim and the four principle corners of the zodiac, and the twelve tribes replace the twelve constellations of the zodiac. Every element of the camp of Israel set the nation up as a new Divine Council. And when Hashem chose Mt. Zion and Jerusalem as the resting place of his glory, he did so in direct contrast to the gods of the pagans, who secluded themselves atop tall summits that were nearly impossible to climb. Instead, the Holy One chose as his sacred mountain a place where his chosen new council would be able to live with him, draw near to him, and take part in his government.

The fall of Israel into idolatry was not simply a tragic betrayal of the truth and love of God, as terrible a crime as that is, but was a fall on a cosmic scale, a failure to redeem the world from their unjust “gods” and into the peace, justice, and security that Man once knew as the sons of the true Father God. Such a crime could not but result in a punishment almost too much to bear: The Curse of the Law.

Israel as a Divine Council, Part 4 – The Divine Sanhedrin

Sanhedrin1When the Holy One, the Eternal Creator of those worshiped as gods by the nations, entered into covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and ratified that covenant with their multitude of sons at Sinai, it must have shaken the powers of heaven (cf. Mark 13:25). They had been given dominion over the whole world, over every nation of men. Their Father, disgusted at man’s constant rebellion, had withdrawn from human affairs, seemingly forever. The Serpent of the Garden must have thought that he had won, that the promise of the Seed of the Woman who would destroy him (Gen. 3:15) would surely now never be fulfilled.

And then the God of gods appeared to a simple shepherd in Ur of the Chaldees, and made a deceptively simple promise:

“Get out of your country,
and from your relatives,
and from your father’s house,
to the land that I will show you.

I will make of you a great nation.
I will bless you
and make your name great.
You will be a blessing.

I will bless those who bless you,
and I will curse him who curses you.
All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you.” (Gen. 12:1-3)

Christians, content in the fact that the Messiah is superior to all who came before and all who came after him, that Messiah has given a new covenant that fulfills the promise to Abraham, and not understanding the full importance of the events in Babel that immediately preceded Abraham’s call, can easily miss the importance of this statement. It is, in every way, the original Good News: The Eternal One was not just taking a simple, almost hilariously small and unimportant nomadic tribe as his own people. He was throwing down the gauntlet to the powers who had set themselves up as gods to men: “Through this simple shepherd and his children, I will bring back the blessing which was lost to all mankind!” From that time on, the entire history of the Middle-east is one of the nations and their gods attempting to ensnare and/or destroy Israel so as to negate the promise of God.

Jabal al Lawz, aka Mt. Sinai

Jabal al Lawz, aka Mt. Sinai

God’s intent was made even more obvious at Sinai. The Eternal offered the following covenant: “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice, and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession from among all peoples; for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation” (Exo. 19:5-6). And Israel accepted: “All that the LORD has spoken we will do” (v. 8). After giving the Ten Commandments and a few of the laws derived from them, the people once again accepted the covenant being offered and Moses sealed the covenant with a sacrifice and the sprinkling of the people in its blood (24:3-8, cf. Luke 22:20). Immediately after this, God spoke to Moses and commanded him to select seventy elders of the people and bring them up on the mountain to meet with the Eternal (vv. 1, 9-11). Later, God commanded Moses to select seventy elders who would receive the Holy Spirit and share the burden of leading the people with Moses (Num. 11:16-17). Because seventy elders plus Moses communed with the Holy One at Sinai, Israel’s Great Sanhedrin always numbered seventy, plus the High Priest.

Why seventy? Is this connected to the seventy who went down into Egypt with Jacob (Gen. 46:27, Deu. 10:22)? And why were seventy bulls sacrificed during the Feast of Sukkot (Num. 29:12-32)? Why do we keep seeing this number?

The Egyptians mourned for Joseph for seventy days (Gen. 50:3). When traveling to Sinai, Israel passed through Elim, where seventy palm trees were watered by twelve pools of water (Exo. 15:27, Num. 33:9). Adoni-bezek, who was conquered and captured by Israel, boasted that he had reduced seventy kings to beggars at his table (Jdg. 1:7). Gideon’s seventy sons ruled Israel (Jdg. 8:30, 9:2) and were slain for the price of seventy pieces of silver (vv. 4-5). After this, Abdon ben Hillel judged Israel with the aid of his seventy sons and grandsons (12:13-14). Ahab had seventy sons, whom Jehu slew (2Ki. 10:1-7). Israel was enslaved to Babylon for seventy years (2Ch. 36:21; Jer. 25:11, 29:10; Dan. 9:2), during which Tyre, once Israel’s ally but later her jealous enemy, was desolate (Isa. 23:15). And of course, as we have already seen, Genesis 10 lists seventy nations who were ruled over by seventy angelic princes.

Yeshua likewise appointed seventy messengers to go before him, whom he empowered to overthrow all the works of the Adversary just as he had the Twelve (Luke 10:1, 7), a point that will shortly become very important.

What is the unifying thought behind all of these instances of the number seventy? In each and every case, we see either the leadership of Israel, the rulership of the nations, or Israel’s history intersecting–often catastrophically–with that of the nations around her. The seventy rulers of Israel are supposed to stand in opposition to the seventy princes of the nations, but when they don’t, when Israel compromises and rebels, that same number seventy is stamped on Israel’s punishment.

Israel in CovenantThe message is clear: Israel must either be a divine council, or else be punished by the fallen angelic divine council which rules over the nations.

The importance of Israel on the spiritual plane can scarcely be exaggerated. For example, when Israel sacrificed the seventy bulls on Sukkot, the seventy elders of Israel sacrificed for the nations. This was recognized by the rabbis who, after the second temple was destroyed, said, “Woe to the peoples of the world who have lost but know not what they have lost! Because while the Temple stood the altar atoned for them, but now who atones for them?” (b.Sukkah 55b). Since “apart from shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22), it stands to reason that Israel’s intercession for the nations is the reason that “the times of ignorance [regarding idolatry] therefore God overlooked” (Acts 17:30) until the day could come for the whole world to be reconciled to the Most High God through his Messiah. (Perhaps the loss of the temple sacrifices during the seventy years of exile to Babylon is the reason why the Babylonian empire lasted such a short time in comparison to the empires that preceded and followed it.)

Understood in this light, the Masoretic variant in Deuteronomy 32:8 is not false, but is simply too narrow. Israel is certainly called God’s son (Exo. 4:22, Hos. 11:1), as are the individual Israelites called his sons (Isa. 43:6, 45:11), and given that the number seventy is stamped on Israel’s patriarchs and her government, it would not be unreasonable for a person to conclude that “sons of God” really meant “sons of Israel.” However, as we saw in the Targums, that was only one-half of its true meaning.

Israel as a Divine Council, Part 3: The Fall of the Nations

Only by understanding the true importance of Israel’s position as a son of God and the Ekklesia’s true relationship to Israel can we hope to understand the Eternal One’s prophetic plan. But in order to understand Israel’s position, we must first understand the events surrounding God’s second use of that mysterious phrase, “Let us,” in Genesis 11, at the fall of the tower of Babel.

"Let us build a tower to the heavens . . ."

“Let us build a tower to the heavens . . .”

As commonly told, the tower of Babel comes across as a charming fairy-tale explanation for the origin of the many languages of mankind and a cautionary tale against hubris, but nothing more. Certainly, it could be completely excised from the Bible without so much as interrupting the flow of Genesis. So why is it there, so prominently in the opening chapters?

It turns out that the story of Babel is crucial to understanding not simply the origin of languages, but the origin of paganism itself. Many readers of the Bible catch the name of the city, so obviously related to Babylon, the “mother of harlots” (Rev. 17:5), and understand that something in the origin of polytheism must be hinted at here, but even then, the full import of the story is lost. Babel is not simply about how mankind rebelled against the true God and began worshipping imaginary deities. It is the story of how very real and very potent spiritual forces were given lordship over all of mankind–save only one tiny tribe that the true Creator chose for himself.

Part of the reason that the true importance of Babel has been for so long lost is a scribal error that has crept into one of the key passages in Scripture commenting on it. Deuteronomy 32:8 reads, in the Masoretic Text, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the children of men, he set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.” However, the Septuagint version reads the final clause as, “the angels of God,” while the Dead Sea Scrolls contain the variant, “the sons of God.” So which is correct?

tableofnationsgenesis10The reference in verse 8 to the Most High giving the nations their inheritance and separating the sons of Adam is an obvious call-back to the tower of Babel event: “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there on the surface of all the earth” (Gen. 11:8). This was many centuries before the Holy One covenanted with Abraham, let alone the sons of Israel (Jacob). Of course, the Lord of Time could have spread apart mankind in a way that anticipated Israel, but if so, the intent of the phrase is ambiguous at best. Some have pointed to the fact that there are seventy nations listed in Genesis 10 and seventy sons of Israel (Jacob) who went down into Egypt in Genesis 46:9-27. While those numbers are far from coincidental, they still do not adequately explain Moses’ reference.

Let us read again the verse, this time in context, with the final clause of verse 8 corrected to match the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Remember the days of old.
Consider the years of many generations.
Ask your father, and he will show you;
your elders, and they will tell you.

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he separated the children of Adam,
he set the bounds of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.

For the LORD’s portion is his people.
Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.
He found him in a desert land,
in the waste howling wilderness.

He surrounded him.
He cared for him.
He kept him as the apple of his eye.

As an eagle that stirs up her nest,
that flutters over her young,
he spread abroad his wings, he took them,
he bore them on his feathers.

The LORD alone led him.
There was no foreign god with him. (vv. 7-12)

There is an obvious contrast being built here, and it isn’t simply saying that Israel is equal to all the nations (though this isn’t false, as we will see). Rather, it is contrasting the nations which were apportioned among the sons of God, angelic beings in the heavenly court, with Israel which the Creator himself took as his own special nation, rescuing Israel from slavery without the aid of any other god of the nations.

We can find further confirmation in the Aramaic translations of the Torah. After the Babylonian exile, a large number of Jews ceased to speak Hebrew conversationally, and therefore needed the Scriptures translated into Aramaic, the language of Babylon and Syria (see Neh. 8:8). These Aramaic translations were not merely word-for-word, but often contained expansions to explain to the masses what the Torah meant. Originally passed down in an oral form, they were eventually written down in several “Targums” (lit. “translations”) in the late first century. These became the standard liturgical text for Jews in the Middle-east, with the Torah being read first in the original Hebrew, then recited in the translation (b.Berakhot 8a). While they were not inspired or canonical (though the early rabbis took them as authoritative, often citing them as “our Targum”), they do present a very useful window into the broadly accepted interpretations of the Scriptures in Yeshua’s time. For example, passages with oblique references to the Messiah are outright attributed to him in the Targums.

In the Palestinian Targum’s (or Targum Yerushalemi’s) paraphrase of Deuteronomy 32:8, we see that not only must “sons of God” be the original reading, but that it can refer to both Israel and the angelic beings:

When the Most High made allotment of the world until the nations which proceeded from the sons of Noach, in the separation of the writings and languages of the children of men at the time of the division, He cast the lot among the seventy angels, the princes of the nations. With them is the revelation to oversee the city, even at that time He established the limits of the nations according to the sum of the number of the seventy souls of Israel who went down into Mizraim (Egypt).

The only way that the Targum’s paraphrase makes sense is if the original Hebrew read, “Sons of God,” which the Targum read to refer to both the heavenly host and to Israel. And as we will see, the Targum is absolutely correct in its interpretation.

What Deuteronomy tells us is that the nations didn’t simply start worshiping idols after Babel out of mere stubborn rebellion, but because the Eternal God had set the spiritual entities that the idols represent over them:

Take therefore good heed to yourselves; for you saw no kind of form on the day that the LORD spoke to you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire. Lest you corrupt yourselves, and make yourself an engraved image in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth; and lest you lift up your eyes to the sky, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the army of the sky, you are drawn away and worship them, and serve them, which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole sky. But the LORD has taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be to him a people of inheritance, as at this day. (Deu. 4:15-20)

We catch glimpses of these “princes” over the nations throughout Scripture. Perhaps most notably, Daniel 10 describes the power of the prince of Persia in holding back an angel sent to answer Daniel’s request for twenty-one days–obviously, this can’t be referring to Darius. Only the intercession of Michael, Israel’s “prince,” allowed the angel to pass. The angel further warned Daniel, “When I go forth, behold, the prince of Greece shall come” (v.20), again, not referring to any human ruler, but to the angelic “prince” set over the sons of Greece. The LXX translates “prince” as archon. Jude (v.9) would later refer to Michael as the archaggellos, or “archangel,” not referring to one of the four cherubim (as in Jewish belief) or in one of seven archangels who stand closest to God (as in Catholicism), but instead referring to Michael’s status as the spiritual guardian and ruler of Israel. Paul refers to these entities as ”the principalities . . .  the authorities . . . the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and . . . the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). The word “principalities” is the Greek archas, meaning a prince or ruler, just as in the related terms archon and archaggelos. We will likewise term these more powerful angelic authorities Archons for the sake of convenience: They are above mere messengers, and far above demons, but by no means deserve to be called gods in anything but a sense of irony.

Israel in CovenantThis arrangement of a High or Father God who “begat” the gods and set them over specific nations is actually attested to in pagan mythology as well. The ancient Mesopotamians believed in Anu (or An, lit. “Heaven”), the father of all the gods, but each city had its own principle god that it held to be their own lord. For example, in Eridu this god was Enki, lord of the earth and the absu (abyss, the source of fresh water). Enki was believed to have brought kingship down from heaven to man. He was further believed to be the master of all Me, a word that means civilization, science, magic, and fate. Likewise, Babylon had Marduke as its patron, and Assyria Asshur. A similar arrangement can be found in Egypt. Atum was the uncreated father of all the gods of Egypt, but the Egyptians reserved their greatest devotion for Osirus/Horus, who was believed to be incarnate in the Pharaohs. In the Ugaritic (Canaanite) religion, the father of the gods was El–the same name as often used for the Biblical God–but most Canaanite devotion was given to El’s vice-regent Baal. The Greeks in turn knew El as Cronos, and believed him to have been outright overthrown by Zeus, which was in fact their name for Baal.

While the pagan conceptions of this uncreated Father-God fall well short of the glory of the incomparable Holy One, the fact that each of these cultures recognized that their most important gods were subordinate to another, more distant One is nevertheless an astounding admission that coincides with the Bible’s own teaching that while the pagan world “knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks. . . and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures” (Rom. 1:21, 23). Only Israel could claim to be in a direct covenantal relationship with the uncreated Creator, the true Father of the principalities set over the nations. That relationship, once enjoyed by all mankind together, was now known only to a few.

If that were the only significance of Israel’s covenant with the Eternal One, it would still be astounding, but it turns out to be only the tip of the iceberg. Psalm 82 contains an astonishing rebuke of the angelic princes set over the nations:

 A Psalm by Asaph.

God (Elohim) presides in the council of God.
He judges among the gods (elohim).

“How long will you judge unjustly,
and show partiality to the wicked?”
Selah.

“Defend the weak, the poor, and the fatherless.
Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy.
Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.”

They don’t know, neither do they understand.
They walk back and forth in darkness.
All the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I said, “You are gods, (elohim)
all of you are sons of the Most High.

Nevertheless you shall die like men,
and fall like one of the rulers.”

Arise, God, judge the earth,
for you inherit all of the nations.

Many commentators, and even translators, uncomfortable with the image of the God of the Bible sitting in a council of other gods, interpret the “gods” of verse 1 to really mean “judges” or “great ones.” However, Dr. Heiser argues in “Should the plural אלהים of Psalm 82 Be Understood as Men or Divine Beings?” that the only reading that takes into account the full context of the psalm is indeed “gods.” In ancient Hebrew, elohim does not refer to a creator or to the other powerful qualities we associate with “God” in the English language–the three “omnis” of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience–but is rather what Dr. Heiser calls “a place of residence term.”

 It labels the entity in terms of its residence, if you will. [Hashem], the lesser gods, angels, demons, and the disembodied dead are all rightful inhabitants of the spiritual (i.e., non-human) world. They may be able to cross over to our world, as Scripture tells us, and certain humans may be transported to their realm (prophets; Enoch), but their proper domain and our proper domain are two separate places. Within the spiritual world there is ontological differentiation, rank, and power: [Hashem] is an אלהים, but no other אלהים is [Hashem]. That was what an orthodox Israelite believed about [Hashem]. He was not one among equals; he was species unique. Our modern term (17th century) “monotheism” is deficient for describing this, since it carries the mental baggage of identifying “g-o-d” with a single set of attributes held only by [Hashem]. However, the thought behind the term–that [Hashem] is utterly and eternally unique–remains completely intact. Our translations and our theology ought to make this clear. We have nothing to fear from letting the text say what it says.

As Dr. Heiser goes on to explain, the final line makes it clear that these “gods” which God is judging are those which rule over the nations, the same princes and principalities that we have been exploring at length. Calling them “the sons of the Most High” is another confirmation. Moreover, it makes it clear that they themselves are not men, since they will die “like” men. He further points to other passages that speak of the “sons of God” in connection with the council of the Most High, such as Psalm 89:5-7:

The heavens will praise your wonders, LORD;
your faithfulness also in the assembly of the holy ones.

For who in the clouds can be compared to the LORD?
Who among the sons of God/the gods (Heb. elohim) is like the LORD,

A very awesome God in the council of the holy ones,
to be feared above all those who are around him?

Hesier continues:

“Psalm 89 rules out the notion that [Hashem’s] council of אלהים sons of God refers to an assembly of humans because it explicitly places that council ‘in the clouds.’ There is no text in the entirety of the Hebrew Bible that says or suggests that there are a group of human judges in the heavens ruling with [Hashem] over the nations. That position is offered only because of a perceived threat to monotheism, not because it has any textual merit.”

As a final argument, Psalm 82 is expressly quoted by Yeshua in John 10:34 in defence that his own Divine claims were not automatically to be rejected as blasphemous: “If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture can’t be broken), do you say of him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You blaspheme,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God?’” (vv. 35-36). As Heiser points out, if Yeshua thought that the elohim of Psalm 82 were simply human judges or rulers, quoting it would either weaken the impact of the Divine claim that he had just made (vv. 30-33) and would immediately make again (vv. 37-38), or else would amount to saying “you mere mortals can call yourself gods, so I can, too.” Neither one fits the argument.

Both Jewish and Christian theologians have long believed in Satan, the Adversary, as some kind of fallen ruler of the demons. In the case of Judaism, Satan’s role has been de-emphasized over the centuries in response to what has seemed to the rabbis to be a lurid preoccupation with the Devil among Christians, but the earlier rabbis of the Talmud and the Midrash had much to say about him. Both faiths have struggled with the idea of how to reconcile the existence of a Prince of Darkness with that of the God of Light without falling into a Zoroastrian dualism. In the end, both have come to understand that the Devil as a created being who fell into rebellion, but who was allowed to have a kingdom. This kingdom is comprised of other fallen angels and spirits with which he could tempt and dominate mankind–but always constrained by the will of the Sovereign Creator.

This idea is not far from that of the Divine Council paradigm as expressed in Psalm 82 and Daniel 10. When mankind rebelled at Babel, the Holy One scattered mankind over the face of the earth and set seventy angelic princes over them. These princes may or may not have been fallen in their hearts at that time, but either way they were charged with guiding mankind in giving just judgments, protecting the weak and the fatherless, and rescuing the needy from the wicked. They failed in their task, and in fact encouraged mankind in wickedness. Perhaps they were motivated by envy, and hoped to cause God to utterly destroy mankind by driving us to the very depths of depravity. If so, their plot failed. The Creator judged against them, telling these immortal beings that for their sin they would die like the men they were oppressing, and replaced them . . . with a nation of men.

Israel as a Divine Council, Part 2: Sons of God

Heavenly HostThe book of Genesis contains three very rare instances of the Eternal One speaking of taking an action, but doing so with a plural. In the first, on the sixth day, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). Lest anyone think that someone other than God himself actually created man, the next verse reads, “God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them.” So, while God spoke to a plural “us,” when it came to actually making man, the Holy One worked alone. The second time, Hashem says, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22)–that is to say, experiencing both good and evil, both weal and woe. The third instance is similar, taking place at the Tower of Babel. The Lord says, “Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Gen. 11:7), but then, when Genesis records the actual action, the Holy One himself gets the credit: “So the LORD scattered them abroad from there on the surface of all the earth” (v. 8).

So who is God speaking to in these three instances? It cannot be, as some Christian pastors have suggested, other members of the Trinity, since otherwise we would expect to see this sort of plural construction throughout Scripture. Nor can it be some sort of “royal we” (“We are not amused!”) for both the same reason and because there is no “royal we” in ancient Hebrew. No, there must be someone outside of himself that God is speaking to.

While for the most part, Scripture concerns itself with matters of this world, from time to time it gives us a glimpse into the heavenly throne room where the King of the Universe sits . . . and he does not sit in solitude. As with any earthly king, the Most High has his attendants:

Behold, there was a throne set in heaven, and one sitting on the throne that looked like a jasper stone and a sardius. There was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald to look at. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones. On the thrones were twenty-four elders sitting, dressed in white garments, with crowns of gold on their heads. Out of the throne proceed lightnings, sounds, and thunders. There were seven lamps of fire burning before his throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. Before the throne was something like a sea of glass, similar to crystal. In the midst of the throne, and around the throne were four living creatures full of eyes before and behind. The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. The four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within. They have no rest day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come!” (Rev. 4:2-8)

 

I saw, and I heard something like a voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousands of ten thousands, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who has been killed to receive the power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, and blessing!” (Rev. 5:11-12)

While the Revelation given to the Apostle John is probably the best-known example of this apocalyptic throne imagery, he is far from the only case. Job (ch. 1-2) relates times when the “sons of God” were gathered together to report to the Most High. Isaiah (ch. 6) saw the throne room when given his commission as a prophet. Daniel (7:9-10) and Micaiah (1Ki. 22:19-23) received similar visions, while Ezekiel (ch. 1) saw the Lord riding forth with his entourage on his royal chariot-throne to visit his people in their exile. These heavenly courtiers do not simply sing the Holy One’s praises all day (though that is indeed part of their function), but take an active part in God’s government: God asks them questions and requests volunteers to carry out his tasks, sends them forth to find the one worthy of opening the scroll of the Revelation, etc. The take part in judging and dispensing justice, as in Daniel’s vision. They speak to summon those the Lord has sent for. And when God commands it, they send forth armies to protect his own even here on earth (2Ki. 6:17, cf. Mat. 26:53).

Most of us simply call these entities “angels,” but that name is somewhat of a misnomer. The words translated “angel” (Heb. malak, Gr. aggelos) simply means “messenger,” and can refer to a human messenger just as easily as a supernatural one. And while there is certainly are supernatural beings that carry messages between heaven and earth, not all of them have this particular function. Indeed, many of them seem to have been created with a far greater grandeur and purpose than most realize.

There is a class of spiritual being that in the earliest books of the Tanakh are called “sons of God” (Gen. 6:2, 4; Deu. 32:8 (DSS, cf ESV); Job. 1:6, 2:1, 38:7) and “sons of the Most High” (Psa. 82:6). By the time of the prophets, this phrase had ceased to be in vogue, doubtless due to the prophets not wishing the risk of mixed messages when they rebuked Israels compromises with paganism. By the time of the New Testament, both Jewish and Christian literature refers to these beings only as angels and demons (“demon” originally being a Greek term referring to a minor god). Nevertheless, while the terminology changed, the idea of the Eternal One having a Divine Council of spiritual beings clearly remained strong throughout the era of the prophets and into the time of the New Testament. (The term “Divine Council” is taken from Dr. Michael Heiser’s work on the subject, much of which has been published at thedivinecouncil.com, and more of which will be available in his upcoming book. As this work can only give the outlines of the concept due to space considerations, readers are encouraged to study Dr. Heiser’s work for a much fuller treatment.)

But why does the Bible call these beings “sons of God”? Doesn’t John 3:16 call Yeshua God’s “one and only Son” (NIV, cf. the ESV)? Not exactly. The word translated “one and only” in the NIV and “only begotten” in most older translations is monogene. Earlier translations (as reflected in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, #3439) assumed that this was a combination of mono, “only, single, one,” and ginomai, “to cause to be (“gen” -erate), that is, (reflexively) to become (come into being), used with great latitude (literally, figuratively, intensively, etc.)” (Strong’s, #1096). GenusandSpeciesHowever, more recent studies, having access to a wider body of Greek literature, now recognize that monogene comes from mono and genos, which means a “kind” or “type of” (see, for example, Thayer’s Lexicon). It is closely related to the Latin word genus (pl. genera), which we use today to designate a division of types of animals more specific than “family” but less specific than “species.” Therefore, the actual meaning of John 3:16 is that while God may have many sons, Yeshua is the “unique kind” of Son.

To understand what makes Yeshua unique, we first have to understand what it means to be a son of God. So what do the spiritual, or angelic, beings have in common with Adam (Luke 3:38), Israel (Exo. 4:22), disciples of the New Covenant (John 1:12), and the Messiah himself? The answer is that each is a unique creation of God which was made for the purpose of bearing his image.

This brings us back to the first of the “us” statements God makes in Genesis: “Let us,” he said, speaking to the same Divine Council seen by Isaiah, Macaiah, John, et al., “make man in our image, after our likeness.” The angelic (for lack of a better term) sons of God in heaven, just like man below, are made in the Holy One’s image. However, verse 27 makes it clear that man’s image is not derived from that of the heavenly host; rather Adam, like the heavenly sons of God, was made directly by God in his own image.

The “image of God,” as Dr. Heiser points out, obviously cannot refer to mankind’s visible, physical form (“Image of God,” retrieved from michaelheiser.com on February 12, 2014). Nor, he points out, could it refer to some attribute dependent on mankind’s physical ability, such as intelligence, rationality, or free will. That would imply that geniuses are more “in God’s image” than other men, or that infants, with their still-developing brains, are not worthy of protection against murder (see Gen. 9:6, where the injunction against murder is specifically linked to God’s image). It would also imply that the image can be taken away by inflicting brain damage or by breaking the will through torture. “Spiritual” qualities, such as the ability to believe in God or our conscience, what we mean when we say, “a soul,” are all dependent to at least some extent on our intellectual capacity, and therefore wouldn’t work for the same reasons.

Instead, Dr. Heiser argues:

The preposition “in” should be understood as meaning “as” or “in the capacity of.” Humanity was created “as” the image of God. The concept can be conveyed if we think of “image” as a verb: Humans are created as God’s imagers—they function in the capacity of God’s representatives. The image of God is not a quality within human beings; it is what humans are. Clines summarizes: “What makes man the image of God is not that corporeal man stands as an analogy of a corporeal God; for the image does not primarily mean similarity, but the representation of the one who is imaged in a place where he is not. … According to Gen 1:26ff, man is set on earth in order to be the representative there of the absent God who is nevertheless present by His image (Clines, “The Image of God in Man,” 87)”

Every human, regardless of the stage of development, is an imager of God. There is no incremental or partial of the image via some ability, physical or spiritual. No member of the animal kingdom, regardless of any cognitive ability it might have, is an imager of God. . . (ibid., pp. 10-11)

This understanding lends clarity to the Old Testament passages. Being created as God’s imagers means we are His representatives on earth—the only qualification for this is that we are human. This is why the creation of humankind as God’s image in Gen 1:26–27 is immediately followed by the so-called dominion mandate of Gen 1:28. Humanity is tasked with stewarding God’s creation as though God were physically present to undertake the duty himself. Genesis 9:6’s requirement of capital punishment for murder is because the intentional killing of an innocent human was tantamount to killing God in effigy.

So let’s apply that definition to the various “sons of God” and see if it fits:

  • The angelic sons of God were all created directly by God (they “neither marry nor are given in marriage,” Mat. 22:30, cf. Luke 20:35) for the purpose of bearing his image, that is, functioning in the capacity of God’s representatives, whether by participating in his heavenly government or by bearing his messages to mortal men.
  • Adam was likewise created directly by God for the express purpose of being God’s image, or representative, in the physical plane. Eve was Adam’s co-image, equally being made after God’s likeness (Gen. 1:27). While the image was passed on to Adam’s children (5:3, 9:6), those who followed were no longer the direct creations of God. That, combined with the marring of the image by man’s sin, is the reason why humanity at large is no longer termed “sons of God” or “children of God.”
  • Israel, unlike all other nations, was directly created by the Holy One, who entered into a unique covenant relationship with the Patriarchs which he ratified at Sinai. Israel’s purpose was to both bear the glory of the Lord with her and, by keeping his Torah, collectively be his image to a fallen world.
  • Those born-again into the New Covenant symbolically and spiritually die in order to be spiritually raised into a new life characterized by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit–and in so doing, truly become “a new creation” (2Co. 5:17, Gal. 6:15) directly by the hand of God for the purpose of bearing his image as well as that of his Messiah.
  • And the Messiah himself? His body was a direct creation of God via the virgin birth. But what makes him the unique Son of God is that of all of the above, he is the only one who bears God’s image perfectly, without the stain of error or distortion of sin, by virtue of being the incarnate Word, Wisdom, Glory, Presence, and Messenger (Angel) of the Lord. As such, he alone is worthy to be the Holy One’s ultimate representative and viceregent over Creation.

Israel as a Divine Council, Part 1: Introduction

The degree to which the Bible interacts with the mythologies of Israel’s neighbors is a fact that is all-too-often better known and understood by its critics than by its believers. Jews and Christians often find themselves confronted with claims by atheists and neo-pagans alike that the ancient Jews simply stole from the legends of the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and of course the Canaanites in creating their own holy books. Unfortunately, while these parallels are well known to scholars, an understanding of them has not filtered down to the lay level. Indeed, many believers reflexively reject seeking out and understanding these cultural similarities. After all, Sola Scriptura! Others, unfortunately, find their faith in the Bible–and therefore, in the God of the Bible–undermined or destroyed because they were never prepared to deal with such a line of attack. It is a shame and a tragedy that both the Jewish and the Christian worlds have failed to prepare their young people for such challenges–especially since, properly understood, comparative religious studies of the ancient near-east pose far more opportunities to better understand the Word than to undermine it. After all, the Bible wasn’t written in a vacuum! Just as understanding the nature of Epicurean philosophy and its impact on Greco-Roman thinking helps one to understand many of the details of Paul’s letters (such as his dissertation on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15), understanding the pagan worldview helps one to understand the arguments of the prophets against the pagan paradigm.

These legends also provide extra-Biblical support for pre-historical events such as the Flood or the Tower of Babel. We would be right to be suspicious if only the Bible contained a record of a worldwide Flood that wiped out nearly all of humanity. The fact that the Flood legend is so ubiquitous in so many cultures all around the world, with versions appearing even in Native American tales, isn’t evidence that the authors of Scripture “stole” it, but rather that the Flood was indeed a primordial event that affected all of mankind. Pagan mythology and theology serves a similar purpose. After all, even most ardent fundamentalists understand that the Bible’s claim isn’t that the gods of the pagans are non-existent, but that they are demonic entities that are not worth worshipping (Deu. 32:17, Psa. 106:7, 1Co. 10:20).

Moreover, since all of humankind shares a common ancestry, and therefore a common history, why should it surprise us that certain motifs concerning the spiritual world appear in both Israel and in its near-eastern neighbors? In fact, the Bible’s first eleven chapters are almost entirely devoted to “correcting” ancient near-eastern mythology. For example, there is a great deal of debate today on how (or if) to reconcile the creation account of Genesis with our modern scientific knowledge. Neither young-earth creationism, nor old-earth progressive creationism, however, can really claim to interpret the text according to its original historical purpose. To suggest that the ancient Hebrews would have read into Genesis 1:1 the creation of a universe over 30 billion light-years across is, of course, ludicrous. To the ancients, “the heavens” referred to that which they could see with the naked eye: Sky, clouds, the sun, moon, and stars (which included the “wandering” stars, or planets), etc. They did not, and could not, distinguish between the atmosphere and outer space, let alone interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic space.

They also had no conception of, and no concern about, our current scientific debates about the ultimate origin of a universe that was largely invisible to them and which we have only begun to perceive in the last century via our powerful (and in some cases orbital) telescopes. Nor would they have cared about the extent to which evolution played a role in the development of the earth’s life-forms, or if it did at all. Atheism and materialism were not even on the table for discussion.

What was on the table for discussion was the means by which the visible world was created and by whom. All Ancient Near-East (ANE) pagan systems personified nature into their gods. These gods, in turn, were not eternal, but arose (evolved) spontaneously from a chaotic, primordial world which they proceeded to shape and vie over.

No, not this Tiamat. (And if you recognize this picture, you watched the same Saturday morning cartoons as I did.)

No, not this Tiamat. (And if you recognize this picture, you watched the same Saturday morning cartoons as I did.)

For example, the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish tells us that Abzu and Tiamat, the personifications of fresh and salt water, mixed together and created the gods. Apsu wished to kill them, but Tiamat prevailed in keeping them alive. Ea, the chief of the gods, killed Apsu in his sleep, leading to Tiamat seeking revenge. Marduk in turn killed Tiamat in battle and divided her, using half of her corpse to form the earth and half to form the heavens.

The Egyptians and Greeks had myths of a similar sort, with the structure of the world and the very laws of nature arising from the emergence, marriages, births, wars, and deaths of the gods. The chief point of Genesis is to correct these pagan traditions of personified nature. In their place, Genesis asserts that in the beginning was one God, transcendent and separate from the visible world, and that he alone created the natural entities and forces that the pagans worshipped. God did not bring the world into being by strife, nor with the help of (or death of) other gods, but simply by the Word of his power. The deep (Heb. tehom) was not a god or a monster, but was simply the primordial ocean over which the Spirit of the Living God brooded before acting to create, and so forth. This is the plain-sense, historical interpretation.

Does this mean that Genesis has nothing to speak to today’s issues, or that it is ahistorical and simply a polemical device for countering paganism? Not at all. First of all, its polemical value is anchored on being a true, historical account by the One who created everything. And if that is the case, then we should expect that as our scientific knowledge of creation expands, we should find confirmation of God’s account. Secondly, the major difference between paganism and philosophical materialism is that paganism personifies the natural elements. (Though given how non-theists tend to personify “the Universe,” “the Cosmos,” and “Evolution” when speaking of the design in nature, there’s an even thinner line between the two than may be apparent at first glance.) The Bible’s response to paganism would therefore answer materialism as well–and such a response would have to be rooted in real, verifiable natural history in order to be effective. Moreover, if the God of the Bible is truly all-knowing and eternal (outside of the created dimension of time), we would expect that he would anticipate future attacks on his sovereignty over creation just as much as those in the past. But now consider the inverse: Just as the Bible acts to correct the errant beliefs of paganism, paganism in turn must have distorted an original knowledge of the Creator: “Because, knowing God, they didn’t glorify him as God, neither gave thanks, but became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and traded the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed animals, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:21-23).

"Let us build a tower to the heavens . . ."

“Let us build a tower to the heavens . . .”

Paul is not speaking of all individual men having a knowledge of the Creator from Creation, which they all then individually rejected in favor of paganism, but rather of the original rejection of the Most High by men thousands of years before at Babel.

To be continued . . .

What Does “Reforging the Menorah” Mean?

The menorah for the coming Temple

The menorah for the coming Temple

When Israel was commanded to build a Tabernacle for the Eternal Creator so that he might dwell among his people, God also gave Moses detailed descriptions of the furnishings, including the famous Menorah, which became a symbol of Israel for thousands of years. The Menorah (literally “light bearer”) was the sole illumination for the Tabernacle, and had to be built to very particular specifications:

“You shall make a menorah of pure gold. Of hammered work shall the menorah be made, even its base, its shaft, its cups, its buds, and its flowers, shall be of one piece with it. There shall be six branches going out of its sides: three branches of the menorah out of its one side, and three branches of the menorah out of its other side; three cups made like almond blossoms in one branch, a bud and a flower; and three cups made like almond blossoms in the other branch, a bud and a flower, so for the six branches going out of the menorah; and in the menorah four cups made like almond blossoms, its buds and its flowers; and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, and a bud under two branches of one piece with it, for the six branches going out of the menorah. Their buds and their branches shall be of one piece with it, all of it one beaten work of pure gold.” (Exo. 25:31-36)

The Menorah had to be completely unified from the moment of its creation, being built by hammering out a single block of gold. Its branches could not be created separately and then welded on. This symbolized the complete unity that God expected of his people, which in turn was to reflect the complete unity of the Holy One himself.

Hear, Israel: the LORD is our God; the LORD is one. (Deu. 6:4)

And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their good, and of their children after them:(Jer. 32:39)

I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh; (Eze. 11:19)

In the New Covenant Scriptures, Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) called for his followers to have the same unity.

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice. They will become one flock with one shepherd. (John 10:16)

I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them through your name which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are. . . that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; (John 17:11, 21-22)

The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul. Not one of them claimed that anything of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. (Acts 4:32)

For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby. (Eph. 2:14-16)

Tragically, because of the sin and rebellion in the heart of men, this unity has never been realized. Israel of course eventually split into two nations, the northern and the southern kingdoms, and by the time of the New Testament period, the people had been further scattered across the Roman world and split into numerous sects: The Pharisees (who became Orthodox Judaism), the Sadducees, the Herodians, the Galileans, the Hellenists, the Essenes, etc.

The Church has fared no better, and it was actually prophesied in the final book of the Bible that this would be the case.

I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. Having turned, I saw seven golden menorahs. And among the menorahs was one like a son of man, clothed with a robe reaching down to his feet, and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace. His voice was like the voice of many waters. He had seven stars in his right hand. Out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining at its brightest. When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. (Rev. 1:12-17)

Seven cities, seven assemblies, seven lamps, no unity.

Seven cities, seven assemblies, seven lamps, no unity.

Instead of a unified body symbolized by seven lampstands unified as a single Menorah, Revelation reveals the churches to be separated from one another by a loss of love and fellowship, the rise of elitists and false prophets, spiritual deadness, and lukewarmness–all of which began with the rejection of the Jewish followers of Yeshua by the mostly-Gentile Christians. [link to Judenrein Christianity article] The result has been that the Menorah has been broken, each of the seven branches snapped off of their base and setting themselves up as their own individual lampstand.

The Menorah can no more be welded back together now than it could when it was first created. Instead, it must be melted back down by great heat and hammered back out again.

I will bring the third part into the fire,
and will refine them as silver is refined,
and will test them like gold is tested.
They will call on my name, and I will hear them.
I will say, ‘It is my people;’
and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zec. 13:9)

. . . that the proof of your faith, which is more precious than gold that perishes even though it is tested by fire, may be found to result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. (1Pt. 1:7)

Beloved, don’t be astonished at the fiery trial which has come upon you, to test you, as though a strange thing happened to you. (1Pt. 4:12)

Reforging the Menorah Ministries is dedicated to the reunification of all of God’s people, both Jew and Gentile. This reunification cannot be accomplished by purely human strength, but must be accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit:

‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD of Hosts. (Zec. 4:6)

That means that the Reforging the Menorah movement is NOT:

  • A political movement, nor do we have any political designs on any nation, though we do support Israel.
  • A cultural or legalistic movement. We are not calling for Christians to live as Jews, nor Jews as Christians. We do, however, support Christians who wish to learn about Israel’s feasts and Jewish life and thought.
  • A movement intent on abolishing important distinctions or theological controversy. We recognize the importance of good dogma and good traditions in the Body of Messiah, and we also recognize that there are fundamentally important debates within the Body–but our intent is that these debates be held in a spirit of brotherhood within the Body. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Since we believe that the first split in the Body of Messiah was actually the rejection of the Jewish followers of Yeshua by the Gentiles, our first focus is on healing that rift by education, edification, and fellowship, and most especially, by showing the full importance of the Biblical teaching that the Gentiles who have put their faith in Israel’s King have been adopted as fellow-heirs to Israel (Eph. 3:6), grafted into Israel’s family tree (Rom. 11), and peaceably annexed into God’s kingdom as God’s people and the work of God’s hands alongside Israel (Isa. 19:24-25). We believe that because of this adoption, every Christian should look upon every Jew they meet as a brother or a sister–whether or not the Jew feels the same.

While we have our own prophetic perspective (described in Rabbi Mike’s books When the Stars Fall, soon to be re-released, and the forthcoming Reforging the Menorah), this Israelology is not dependent on having any particular stance on the Millennium, the past or future fulfillment of the Olivet Discourse, or one’s belief–or lack thereof–in the Rapture.

Indeed, we believe that regardless of the specifics of one’s eschatology, that it is clear that we are living in prophetic times. But rather than chase after prophetic voyeurism, we believe that it’s past time to roll up our sleeves and be about our King’s business, to make straight the way of the Lord!

Shalom u’vrekhah (peace and blessings),
Rabbi Mike

Announcing the Creation of Reforging the Menorah Ministries

It has been so long since I actually posted that it looks like WordPress has completely changed around the interface in my absence. That’s sad.

Her fault, this time.

Okay, I could make another excuse about my kids–I do have a new baby that I’ve been playing with, after all. But I’ve not actually been idle all this time.

Well over a year ago, I posted the first part of an article entitled “The Curse of the Law.” And anyone who thought it was interesting waited. And waited. And waited. And plotted my downfall.

Much as in the case of the still-missing second volume of When the Stars Fall, the problem wasn’t that I had nothing to write–it was that every thing I thought of to write led to more questions, which led to more research, which led to more writing, which led to more questions . . . you get the idea.

Basically, the questions raised by the second half of the book of Revelation led to writing a whole new book (which is still in pieces, but about ready to do the proposal on). The parts of said book that I intended to post here led to still more articles and research.

In short, I’ve been having a lot of fun.

RtFM_seal_400 (2)So I guess this is as good a time as ever to announce the genesis of a new ministry that I’m working on that is distinct and separate from my work at Congregation Beth HaMashiach (cbhm.org). So without further ado, I’d like to announce the creation of Reforging the Menorah Ministries. We hope to bridge the gap between Christians and Jews–and for that matter, between Christians and Christians–through a ministry of teaching via podcasts, blog posts, and books. I’ll let the introduction on our website,  explain it:

Throughout the past two millennia the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth has remained divided between Jew and Gentile and has even fractured within those groups; this is sometimes due to dogma, sometimes to ethnicity, frequently to both. Such segregation and infighting damages the witness of all, and is contrary to both the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) and the Apostolic writings of the New Testament. As implied by its name, our ministry is dedicated to mending relations between those disparate parts, or “candlesticks” as symbolized in Revelation 1:20, and forging them into a single whole: a seven-branched menorah to shine light into the darkness (see Zec. 4).

Our goal is not to enforce a particular form of worship. Indeed, we believe such legalisms are contrary to our King’s will. We strongly oppose attempts to force Gentiles to proselytize through a perversion of the circumcision ritual as described in certain of the Apostle Paul’s writings. Likewise, we condemn the application of “Confessions of Faith” that amount to outright refutations of the Jewish way of life, which continue to create a stumbling block that prevents Jews from recognizing their Kinsman-Redeemer. In our view, the Church neither replaces Israel (the Jewish people) nor is wholly separate from them. Rather, the Gentiles of the Church are adopted into Israel as fellow-heirs (Eph. 3:6), grafted into Israel’s family tree (Rom. 11:17-24), and therefore should regard every Jew as a brother or a sister. Toward this end, we work to achieve understanding and cooperation by celebrating those customs common to all, exhorting the roots of our faith, and exploring those areas of disagreement or outright contention in the hope of finding the truth in Scripture.

If you enjoy our teachings and have a congregation in either the Atlanta, GA or Tampa, FL areas, please see our Booking page for information on scheduling us to teach classes in-person.

The website is still under construction, but we’re already loading up some articles there (including some “golden oldies” from this blog). We’ve got four podcasts, a series on Hosea, in the can, but due to life issues are holding off on posting the first of them until we’re sure we can reliably upload them on a weekly basis.

In the meantime, I’ll be posting some excerpts from the Reforging the Menorah book here, both to explain what our ministry is about and (hopefully) whet some appetites.

There are a few complications on the horizon, but Hashem willing, this will be the beginning of me getting back into the game. I hope you’ll enjoy the ride.

Shalom.