New Kingdom – New Structure

Please read Matthew 9:14-17, 27-38 & 12:1-21, Mark 2:18-28 & 3:1-12 & Luke 5:1-11, 33-39 & 6:1-16

It was the Jewish month of Elul, the sixth month in the calendar God had established in the Torah (God having given this mitzvah (commandment) to Moses concerning Nisan: “This month shall be for you the head of months, the first of the months of the year” Exodus 12:2), and the twelfth month in the ‘civil’ calendar the Sages had developed in line with the agricultural year and their teaching that God had created man on 1st Tishri. The summer fruits had ripened, and the grape harvest begun.   Juicy grapes were being picked, eaten, and crushed to make sweet wine.

It was now a year since Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) received his call and began summoning Israel to repent and be baptised in the Jordan River as a sign of that repentance. 

 Yochanan had been imprisoned by Herod for several months now (http://blog.renewal.asn.au/2020/06/13/confronting-power-and-expectation/) and his situation continued to look dire, but his disciples remained faithful to him and his calling. It was a call to teshuvah (repentance), and teshuvah was associated with fasting.

David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and spent the nights lying in sackcloth on the ground.  The elders of his household stood beside him to get him up from the ground, but he refused, and he would not eat any food with them. 2 Samuel 12:16-17

When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly. 1 Kings 21:27

Yet when they were ill, I put on sackcloth and humbled myself with fasting Psalm 35:13a

The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.  When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.  This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink.  But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence.  Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” Jonah 3:5-9

So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with Him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,  we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. Daniel 9:3-5

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Nehemiah 1:4

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:12

Likewise, the month of Elul was associated with teshuvah and fasting. Traditionally, the beginning of Elul marks the start of the Jew’s spiritual preparation for Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew: רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה – literally meaning “head [of] the year”, the ‘civil’ Jewish New Year), and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which follows 10 days later.

According to the Jewish sages, on 6th of Sivan (Shavuot/Feast of Weeks/ Pentecost), seven weeks after their Exodus from Egypt, Moses first ascended Sinai to receive the Torah

40 days later, on the 17th Tammuz, the tablets with the 10 Commandments were broken when Moses came down from the mountain and saw Israel’s horrific sin in idolatry with the golden calf .  

Moses then interceded for Israel for another 40 days – during which we see the first mention of the Book of Life when Moses asked to be stricken from “the Book You have written” if God would not make an atonement for His people (Exodus 32:32-33). At the end of those 40 days, on Elul 1st, Moses was called back up to Sinai.

Over the following 40 days, as the people were in repentance below, Moses on Mt Sinai received the revelation of the name YHVH (Exodus 34:4-8) and the Second Tablets. He returned to camp on 10th Tishri, when the repentance of the people was complete, carrying the 10 Commandments written on stone tablets. Tishri 10th would become the most holy day of the Jewish religious calendar, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) – the only day of the year when the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies in the temple to present the blood for the atonement of Israel’s sins. He also ceremoniously laid – via confession – all Israel’s sin on the head of a male goat chosen by lots. This scapegoat was then led outside the camp into the wilderness, signifying the removal of sin from the people. Thus were the entire year’s sins forgiven and removed, making the way for reconciliation with the holy God.

These last 40 days, from Elul 1st until Yom Kippur, had become the Jew’s season of Teshuvah (repentance) – in commemoration of those 40 days and nights of Israel’s repentance as Moses communed with G-d on Mt Sinai.

In Aramaic, the word “Elul” means “search,” it is the time of the year when Jews must search their hearts and repent of all that misses the mark of G-d’s perfection.

Thus, during the month of Elul, Jews engage in teshuva beyn adam laḥavero  (reconciliation between human beings). This requires acknowledging where we have made mistakes, treated others badly, been selfish or self-absorbed; and apologizing; and making amends, repairing the damage we have done to others; and then seeking forgiveness and forgiving others. 

Teshuvah (repentance) was understood to be a three-stage process:
1. We must regret our actions, confront the reality of what we have done, apologize and make recompense.
2. We must reject that flawed conduct for ourselves, acknowledge that is not the way for people of God to behave.
3. We must resolve to live differently in the future, and if confronted with the opportunity to sin again, we must behave differently, for that is when we know we have truly repented.

According to the Rabbis, after the reconciliation month of Elul, on Rosh Hashanah (New Years Day), God decrees His judgment on each person, whether fit for the Book of Life or not. People then have one last opportunity during the following 10 Days of Awe to affect that proclamation before God seals it on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), which is the day they believe God seals a person’s destiny for the coming year. On Yom Kippur the nation sort t’shuva beyn adam lamakom (reconciliation between human beings and God). This was done through the priest’s sacrifices for the people with the blood placed on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies.

At the beginning of this month of teshuvah (repentance), Yeshua had proclaimed His sermon on the Mount, searching and exposing the hearts of all the people before the light of G-d. After that He had declared the paralyzed man’s sins forgiven, and proven His authority to do such by healing him. Then He had called the tax collector Matthew (Levi) to be one of His talmidim, and then accepted the invitation to dine with Matthew and all the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ invited to celebrate Matthew’s acceptance by Christ.

Neither Yochanan’s talmidim, nor the Pharisees could understand why any man of God would be openly dining and celebrating with his talmidim at such a time as this, during the repentance month of Elul.Next, Yochanan’s talmidim (John’s disciples) came to him and asked, “Why is it that we and the P’rushim (Pharisees) fast frequently, but your talmidim don’t fast at all?”  Yeshua said to them, “Can wedding guests mourn while the bridegroom is still with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them; then they will fast.  Matthew 9:14-15 CJB

Also Yochanan’s talmidim and the P’rushim were fasting; and they came and asked Yeshua, “Why is it that Yochanan’s talmidim and the talmidim of the P’rushim fast, but your talmidim don’t fast?”  Yeshua answered them, “Can wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, fasting is out of the question.  But the time will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them; and when that day comes, they will fast.  Mark 2:18-20 CJB

Next they said to him, “Yochanan’s talmidim are always fasting and davvening (offering prayers), and likewise the talmidim of the P’rushim; but yours go on eating and drinking.”  Yeshua said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is still with them?  The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; and when that time comes, they will fast.”  Luke 5:33-35 CJB

Repentance was not the only focus of Elul. The Jewish Sages also teach that “Elul”, spelled in Hebrew “Aleph-Lamed-Vav-Lamed”, is an acronym for the verse in Song of Songs 6:3: “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine.” The Rabbis’ declare that, according to this verse, the relationship between God and Israel is like the relationship between a pair of lovers. The Pharisees recognised God as the Bridegroom, the “Beloved”, and the nation of Israel as the Bride, “I“, in this scripture. So, when Yeshua referred to Himself as the “bridegroom” it was a declaration of the incarnation (the He is God), which was both an affront to the Pharisees and a comfort and affirmation to Yochanan’s talmidim.

Interestingly, each of the four Hebrew words of this verse ends with the letter Yud. Numerically, the four Yuds together equal 40, corresponding to the 40 days between the first of Elul and Yom Kippur. More important was the anticipation in this verse of the final goal – a state of closeness to God. The month of Elul was a time of preparation for being with God as lovers, as bride and groom.

The entire purpose of Yochanan’s talmidim’s and the Pharisees’ fasting was to show a longing for the day God would show up and show favour to Israel again. Yeshua, the “Beloved“, was right there with them! There was no need for fasting at that moment, a wedding banquet is always the time for feasting and joy in celebration of the beloved and His bride coming together.

Yeshua’s talmidim had, right in this moment, what Israel looked forward to at Sukkot, “the time of our joy, when ‘God brings us into His inner chamber’ and we take refuge in the shade of the Sukkah, a feeling of love between the Almighty and the Congregation of Israel can be felt, like a bride and groom, like a pair of lovers”. The tax collectors and sinners who had experienced Yeshua’s forgiveness instinctively knew this, but the religious Pharisees found it difficult to comprehend.

Yeshua‘s response had not only declared Himself God, Israel’s Bridegroom, but also predicted His death that would bring their atonement: “the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch would tear away from the garment, and a worse hole is made.  Neither do people put new wine into old wineskins, or else the skins would burst, and the wine be spilled, and the skins ruined. No, they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”  Matthew 9: 16-17 HNV

 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, or else the patch shrinks and the new tears away from the old, and a worse hole is made.  No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the skins, and the wine pours out, and the skins will be destroyed; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins.”  Mark 2:21-22 HNV 

He also told a parable to them. “No one puts a piece from a new garment on an old garment, or else he will tear the new, and also the piece from the new will not match the old.  No one puts new wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed.  But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.  No man having drunk old wine immediately desires new, for he says, ‘The old is better.'” Luke 5:36-39 CJB

Yeshua was bringing something new, the fulfilment of reconciliation with, and closeness to, God that Torah and the Prophets had promised. That fulfilment was in His presence, it was in coming to Christ acknowledging their need of God’s forgiveness, it was dependent on relationship with Him. That fulfilment was the establishment of the kingdom of heaven on earth. It was not a righteousness that they earned through obeying all the dictates of the Pharisees, but a righteousness which was given to them in response to hungering and thirsting for His kingdom. It was not the exaltation of David’s earthly kingdom but the descent of God’s heavenly kingdom to permeate throughout the earth. This new kingdom needed to be put in new structures, trying to use it to stitch together the kingdom of Israel would just result in more tearing, trying to fill the religious structures of Judaism with it would burst them. The Pharisees were not ready to embrace it, they kept declaring, “the old is better“.

Yeshua was establishing a new kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world, the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Jewish nation was a kingdom of this world that God had established and blessed in this world to bless all the nations of this world, to bring His Son into the world through Israel.   But His Son, although also the Son of David, had not come to raise up the kingdom of Israel.  He was that rock from Daniel’s vision, which was cut out of the mountain without hands and grew to fill the whole world.  The Kingdom of Heaven was not a fix for the kingdom of Israel, but a new kingdom birthed out of Israel in fulfilment of the Torah and the Prophets.  It was the new garment that should not be used to try to patch the old.  It was the new wine that could not be contained in the old but required a new wineskin, a new structure.   It was the fulfilment of what Yochanan the Immerser had been preparing the people for with his message of “repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, and thus an encouragement to Yochanan’s talmidim.  Yet so many in Israel were not looking for a Messiah to establish a heavenly kingdom, but for a Messiah to fix and empower their earthly kingdom, to raise Israel over all other earthly kingdoms. 

The Pharisees questioning Yeshua this day were not ready to embrace G-d incarnate, they kept declaring “the old is better“. There is a principle in halacha that a rabbinic decree remains in force even when the original reason for the decree is no longer relevant.  All that is permitted is stitching something new to the old rabbinic decree, but Yeshua had come to replace those decrees which had been added by men and were contrary to the Father’s will, with the true decrees of the kingdom of heaven. This contrast between man made decrees and God’s holy law incited much conflict between Yeshua and the religious leaders whose trust was in their own righteousness through obedience to those decrees.

Things operate very differently in the Kingdom of Heaven to how the religious leaders had organised them in Israel.  Essential to their old garment were all the extra laws they had made regarding the Sabbath.  All the laws, mitzvah, that God had given Israel were a reflection of the laws of the kingdom of heaven. Yet men had taken those mitzvah and, in attempting to enforce obedience to them, had changed and added to them. They thought they were explaining and improving on what God had written, but God incarnate had come and He kept directing their practice back to His original intent. Yeshua was establishing the structure of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Here He began with a foundational concept in Judaism – Shabbat (the Sabbath).

One Shabbat during that time, Yeshua was walking through some wheat fields. His talmidim were hungry, so they began picking heads of grain and eating them.  On seeing this, the P’rushim (Pharisees) said to him, “Look! Your talmidim are violating Shabbat!”  
But he said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and those with him were hungry?  He entered the House of God and ate the Bread of the Presence!” — which was prohibited, both to him and to his companions; it is permitted only to the cohanim (priests).  “Or haven’t you read in the Torah that on Shabbat the cohanim profane Shabbat and yet are blameless?  I tell you, there is in this place something greater than the Temple!  If you knew what I want compassion rather than animal-sacrifice meant, you would not condemn the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of Shabbat!” Matthew 12:1-8 CJB

One Shabbat Yeshua was passing through some wheat fields; and as they went along, his talmidim began picking heads of grain.   The P’rushim said to him, “Look! Why are they violating Shabbat?”  
He said to them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and those with him were hungry and needed food?  He entered the House of God when Evyatar (
Abiathar) was cohen gadol (high priest) and ate the Bread of the Presence,” — which is forbidden for anyone to eat but the cohanim (priests)— “and even gave some to his companions.”  
Then he said to them, “Shabbat was made for mankind, not mankind for Shabbat; So the Son of Man is Lord even of Shabbat.”
Mark 2:23-28 CJB

One Shabbat, while Yeshua was passing through some wheat fields, his talmidim began plucking the heads of grain, rubbing them between their hands and eating the seeds.  Some of the P’rushim said, “Why are you violating Shabbat?”  
Yeshua answered them, “Haven’t you ever read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the House of God and took and ate the Bread of the Presence” — which no one is permitted to eat but the cohanim.  
“The Son of Man,” he concluded, “is Lord of Shabbat.”  Luke 6:1-6 CJB

As we saw back in http://blog.renewal.asn.au/2020/06/06/yeshua-taught-in-their-synagogues/, God had commanded the people rest and honour Him on the seventh day (Shabbat), and the Pharisees had interpreted this by defining thirty-nine categories of activity that they declared forbidden on Shabbat. The third of these was ‘Reaping’  (Hebrew: קוצר Koṣer) – removing all or part of a plant from its source of growth; and the sixth was ‘Winnowing’  (Hebrew: זורה Zoreh) – sorting undesirable from desirable. Rubbing a couple of grains in your hand to remove the husks before eating them was considered “winnowing” and therefore forbidden.  Yeshua used the Torah, which they claimed to be enforcing, to illustrate how they had misunderstood God’s command and in so doing were condemning the innocent. Then concluded by saying that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. As the king of the kingdom of heaven, Yeshua is the one to define what His commandments entail. The rest that God had commanded did not consist of the Pharisee’s laws, but rather of walking in step with the law giver, the Lord of Shabbat.

The old is better“, the Pharisees declared.

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue. A man there had a shrivelled hand. Looking for a reason to accuse him of something, they asked him, “Is healing permitted on Shabbat?”  
But he answered, “If you have a sheep that falls in a pit on Shabbat, which of you won’t take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, what is permitted on Shabbat is to do good.”  
Then to the man he said, “Hold out your hand.” As he held it out, it became restored, as sound as the other one. 
Matthew 12:9-13 CJB

Jesus returned to the synagogue. A man with a withered hand was there. Wanting to bring charges against Jesus, they were watching Jesus closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. He said to the man with the withered hand, “Step up where people can see you.” 
Then he said to them, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” 
But they said nothing. Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did, and his hand was made healthy.
Mark 3:1-5 CEB

On another Shabbat, when Yeshua had gone into the synagogue and was teaching, a man was there who had a shrivelled hand.  The Torah-teachers and P’rushim watched Yeshua carefully to see if he would heal on Shabbat, so that they could accuse him of something.  But he knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Come up and stand where we can see you!”
He got up and stood there.  Then Yeshua said to them, “I ask you now: what is permitted on Shabbat? Doing good or doing evil? Saving life or destroying it?”  
Then, after looking around at all of them, he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” As he held it out, his hand was restored. 
Luke 6: 6-10 CJB

Just as the Pharisees had forbidden any playing of musical instruments during Shabbat worship, for fear that the musician might be tempted to tune their instrument and thus violate the thirty-eighth category of work they had determined to be forbidden on Shabbat (Fine-tuning / Repairing a Utensil (Hebrew: מכה בפטיש Makeh Bapetish), so also they had forbidden any act of healing on Shabbat for fear that a person might need to grind herbs or the like to prepare the medication and thus violate their forbidden category of work of Grindingav melachah  of tochen, ie breaking a large object into smaller pieces which can serve a new or better purpose). ‘Healing’ in this context of being forbidden on Shabbat was considered broader than just the act of taking medicine – it also included any other action which had a “curative effect.”

Yet, a bedrock principle in all of Jewish law is that protecting a person’s life (in Hebrew, pikuach nefesh) is of paramount importance. If there is any question about a person’s life being in danger, then not only are they allowed to violate Shabbat, but they are required to do so. It is this requirement that Yeshua alludes to in His answer. God had established Shabbat for the doing of good, not the doing of evil by using it as an excuse to fail to care for one’s fellow. Yeshua kept Shabbat as He had ordained it in Torah, but not all the complicated additional laws that had been devised, which necessitated the people’s dependence on the Pharisees for guidance in every situation, and by which they judged others. Shabbat had not been commanded for the sake of all these rules and regulations, but for the sake of man drawing closer to God.

The old is better!” They insisted.

But the P’rushim went out and began plotting how they might do away with Yeshua.  Aware of this, he left that area. Matthew 12:14-15a CJB

At that, the Pharisees got together with the supporters of Herod to plan how to destroy Jesus. Mark 3:6 CEB

But the others were filled with fury and began discussing with each other what they could do to Yeshua.  Luke 6:11 CJB

They had no answer for Him. He was turning their world upside down – disregarding their rules that had taken generations to develop and refine. “Leading the people astray“, they concluded. Pronouncing a man’s sins forgiven. Calling Himself “Lord of Shabbat”. Openly disregarding their law forbidding healing on Shabbat, and that done in the holy synagogue which was dedicated to teaching the people to obey such. These Pharisees were sure they knew what Yeshua was – a false teacher. The ignorant masses needed to be protected from such. “For the sake of the people” they had to get rid of Him, so all these masses could be brought back to what they considered to be ‘true Judaism‘. “The old is better!”

Yeshua had been welcome in the Capernaum synagogue, and taught there most Shabbats, until now. As His popularity had grown and his teachings became more obviously different to theirs the synagogue leaders had been becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this man who filled their pews. They had gone from welcoming the new life He brought to looking for reasons to expel Him. Instead of rejoicing in God’s goodness healing the man’s withered hand they had been horrified and angered at Yeshua’s lack of any attempt to please or appease them. They would not countenance such insubordination in their sacred space. They had an obligation to protect the people from such “false teaching” – teachings which differed from theirs.

Yeshua healed them all…

Such distain from the religious officials did not deter the crowds. So many were sick and had needs that their leaders could not meet. They came to Yeshua and He healed them all, so more kept coming.

Jesus left with his disciples and went to the lake. A large crowd followed him because they had heard what he was doing. They were from Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the area surrounding Tyre and Sidon.  Jesus told his disciples to get a small boat ready for him so the crowd wouldn’t crush him. He had healed so many people that everyone who was sick pushed forward so that they could touch him.  Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down at his feet and shouted, “You are God’s Son!”  But he strictly ordered them not to reveal who he was. Mark 3:7-12 CEB

Now it came to pass, while the multitude pressed upon him and heard the word of God, that he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret;  and he saw two boats standing by the lake: but the fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets.  And he entered into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the multitudes out of the boat.  And when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught”.  
And Simon answered and said, “Master, we toiled all night, and took nothing: but at thy word I will let down the nets”.  And when they had done this, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their nets were breaking; and they beckoned unto their partners in the other boat, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.  
But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  For he was amazed, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken;  and so were also James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.”  And when they had brought their boats to land, they left all, and followed him.  Luke 5:1-11 ASV

Many people followed him; and he healed them all but warned them not to make him known.  This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Yesha‘yahu (Isaiah 42:1-4) the prophet,
“Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will announce justice to the Gentiles.  He will not fight or shout, no one will hear his voice in the streets; he will not snap off a broken reed or snuff out a smouldering wick until he has brought justice through to victory.  In him the Gentiles will put their hope.” Matthew 12:15b-21 CJB

The lake (Sea of Galilee) became His synagogue, and the boat His ‘Seat of Moses’ where He sat to teach the people. Matthew again links Yeshua’s life to the Messianic prophesies. When they had rejected Him in the synagogue He had simply left – and preached elsewhere, and kept healing and doing miracles, and the multitude followed Him.

As Yeshua went on from there, two blind men began following him, shouting, “Son of David! Take pity on us!”  
When he entered the house, the blind men came up, and Yeshua said to them, “Do you believe that I have the power to do this?”
They replied, “Yes, sir.”  
Then he touched their eyes and said, “Let it happen to you according to your trust”;  and their sight was restored. Yeshua warned them severely, “See that no one knows about it.”  
But instead, they went away and talked about him throughout that district. As they were going, a man controlled by a demon and unable to speak was brought to Yeshua.  After the demon was expelled the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Isra’el,” they said.  
But the P’rushim said, “It is through the ruler of the demons that he expels demons.”
Yeshua went about all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and weakness.  
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his talmidim, “The harvest is rich, but the workers are few. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers to gather in his harvest.” Matthew 9:27-38 CJB

New Structure

After another night spent alone on the mountain in prayer, Yeshua made the momentous decision to choose twelve. This was the foundation of a whole new governmental structure. Another step forward in establishing the kingdom of heaven on earth. Although Yeshua had many talmidim (disciples) following Him, only these 12 are ever mentioned by name as disciples in the gospels. In our next blog we’ll examine the meanings behind this and significance of the twelve.

It was around that time that Yeshua went out to the hill country to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.  When day came, he called his talmidim and chose from among them twelve to be known as emissaries (apostles):  Shim`on (Simon), whom he named Kefa (Peter); Andrew, his brother; Ya`akov (James); Yochanan (John); Philip; Bar-Talmai (Bartholomew);  Mattityahu (Matthew); T’oma (Thomas); Ya`akov Ben-Halfai (James, son of Alphaeus);  Shim`on (Simon), the one called the Zealot; Y’hudah Ben-Ya`akov (Judas, son of James); and Y’hudah (Judas) from K’riot (Iscariot), who turned traitor.  Luke 6:12-16 CJB

REFERENCES

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4. Parsons, John J. Cheshbon HaNefesh & Self Examination. Hebrew4Christians. [Online] [Cited: 29th July 2020.] https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Holidays/Fall_Holidays/Elul/Cheshbon/cheshbon.html.
5. Weinberg, Rabbi Noah. Spiritual Accounting System. Aish HaTorah. [Online] 22nd May 2002. https://www.aish.com/h/hh/gar/sa/Spiritual_Accounting_System.html.
6. Schneerson, Rabbi Menachem M. “I Am My Beloved’s, My Beloved is Mine”. The Rebbe – Living Torah. [Online] 12th Sptember 1990. https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/livingtorah/player_cdo/aid/1600166/jewish/I-Am-My-Beloveds-My-Beloved-Is-Mine.htm.
7. Levanon, Rabbi David Dov. Elul’s Intimate Relationship. Yeshiva. [Online] [Cited: 1st August 2020.] https://www.yeshiva.co/midrash/3959.
8. Yolkut, Rabbi Elianna. What’s Love Got to Do With It? The Power of the Jewish Month of Elul. Haaretz. [Online] 26th August 2012. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/the-pregnant-power-of-elul-1.5291133.
9. Breslov, Rebbe Nachman of. Preparing for High Holidays during Elul. Beth Shalom Synagogue. [Online] [Cited: 1st August 2020.] https://bethshalomsynagogue.org/preparing-for-high-holidays-during-elul/.
10. Simmon, Alan Goldman & Rabbi Shraga. 17. Tochen – Part 2: Healing on Shabbat. Aish HaTorah . [Online] [Cited: 11th August 2020.] https://www.aish.com/jl/jewish-law/shabbat/17-Tochen—Part-2-Healing-on-Shabbat.html.
11. Wineberg, Menachem Mendel. Tochen – Grinding. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 11th Aufgust 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4740282/jewish/Tochen-Grinding.htm.
12. —. The 39 Melachot. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 11th August 2020.] https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/102032/jewish/The-39-Melachot.htm.
13. OU Staff. The 39 Categories of Sabbath Work Prohibited By Law. Orthodux Union. [Online] 17th July 2006. https://www.ou.org/holidays/the_thirty_nine_categories_of_sabbath_work_prohibited_by_law/#38.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…

* What was the most important thing you learnt from this study?
* Concerning communion, Paul wrote: “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup” (1 Cor. 11:28). What can we learn about properly examining ourselves from the Jew’s teshuva during their month of Elul?
* How was Jesus’ declaration about the bridegroom both an affront to the Pharisees and a comfort to John’s disciples?
* What was the Pharisee’s response to Jesus? Why do you think they responded in this way?
* Have you ever concluded that another minister was a false teacher? If so, on what basis and how have you responded to that?
* What was Jesus’s response to those who accused Him of being a false teacher? Give examples.
* How did Jesus respond when He disagreed with a teaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees or leaders of the synagogue? Give examples.
* What was the significance of healing in Jesus’ ministry?
* What have you noticed in these scriptures that is similar to your culture, and what is different?

Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem (486 – 430 B.C.)

Read Esther; Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-7; Daniel 9
& Malachi

God protected His people, and the fulfilment of His word, through an orphaned young Jewish woman…

One of Darius’ sons, Xerxes, succeeded him in 486 BCE. He had little talent for economics and revelled too much in court pleasures and in lavish building projects. His treatment of subjugated peoples was also brutal, contrary to the habits of his predecessors (1).  In 483 BCE. Xerxes held a one hundred and eighty day feast for his officials, followed immediately by a seven day feast for all the people in the citadel of Susa (fortified part of the capitol city of Persia where his palace was located), at the end of which Queen Vashti refused to obey his command to come so he could show off her beauty. Her punishment was to be banished forever from Xerxes’ presence and stripped of her royal position (Esther 1).  

Xerxes then went to quell rebellions in Egypt and Greece, initially accomplishing great exploits but suffered a humiliating naval defeat against the Greeks in 480 BCE.  So he returned to his magnificent feasts and desired once again to have a queen.  All the most beautiful virgins in the empire were brought together for six months of beauty treatments and preparations and from these Esther was chosen (Esther 2).  She kept her Jewish identity secret and they were married at the end of 479 BCE.  

Four decades after the temple was built the work of rebuilding Jerusalem hadn’t progressed much further than that and now all was under threat with Haman’s murderous plot to have all the Jews in all the provinces of Persia killed, destroyed and annihilated.  This time their salvation came not from a mighty warrior or a foreign army, but from a young Jewish woman whom God had placed as queen for such a time as this. 

Awareness of the plot, and fasting and prayers of the Jewish people to avert it, took place not in the temple in Jerusalem but in the Persian city of Susa (2).  The Jewish diaspora was now large not only in Babylon but throughout the Persian empire, and particularly in the main centres of power like Susa. The Jewish people were saved and empowered to destroy their enemies (Esther 9:1-19).  Mordecai then wrote letters to all the Jews in all the provinces of Persia to establish a new yearly celebration feast, Purim, commemorating their sorrow being turned to joy. This innovation did not come from the religious establishment in Jerusalem, but it was accepted and adopted throughout Judaism.   Purim continues to be the most joyous Jewish celebration. 

Each new generation needs to be led back to God…

Xerxes was assassinated in 465 BC, and after the lead assassin was killed Artaxerxes succeeded to the Persian throne in 464 BC.  In the seventh year of his reign, 457 BC, Artaxerxes permitted the Jewish scribe and priest, Ezra, to lead an expedition of about 5,000 Jews back to Jerusalem to settle there, teach the people the Law of Moses (Torah) and present offerings to God from Artaxerxes, and gifts for the temple (Ezra 7-8).   What Ezra found when he arrived was that the initial fervour of the returned captives had faded, the work of rebuilding the city of Jerusalem had seen little progress since the temple was rebuilt, 60 years before, and this next generation, from the priests and leaders down, had forsaken much of the Torah

The lessons of the Babylonian captivity appeared to have been so quickly lost, and Haman’s threat of annihilation the decade before left no positive effect in the Promised Land.  While the Jews in Babylon had continued working hard to maintain their distinct identity as the people of God through observance of Torah and customs, the next generation of those who had returned to the land of Judah quickly became complacent with their identity secured in their land and temple.

Money so easily corrupts, and when that happens in the spiritual leaders…

The high priest, Eliashib, had himself become compromised so the priesthood was corrupted and the reading of the Torah to the people ceased.  Eliashib was allied with Tobiah the Ammonite who, along with Sanballat the Horonite, sought to keep the children of Israel weak and the city of Jerusalem without a wall.  Eliashib’s wealth suggests that it may have been some form of business partnership. 

Without guidance from the Torah, many had taken foreign wives and started participating in the abominations of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.      To Ezra’s horror, even some of the priests had taken foreign wives who continued living and raising their children as pagans with all the practises that God abhorred.  

True Leadership Vs Self-Interested Leaders who Hinder God’s work…

Ezra wept bitterly in identificational repentance before the house of God until the men, women and children of Israel gradually joined him in weeping and repentance prayer.   What Haman’s attempt at annihilation failed to do, the priest’s tears accomplished – God’s people in Jerusalem repented and returned to Him (Ezra 10:1-6).  

Ezra weeping over the sins of his people
Ezra praying, by Gustave Doré (colour added later)

Ezra gathered some of the heads of households and together they questioned all the men who had taken pagan wives until each one promised they would put away those wives and bring a trespass offering to Yahweh (Ezra 10:16-44).  However, this was only half the problem and the rebuilding of Jerusalem remained stalled because key leaders of the community such as Shechaniah, who had married his daughter to Tobiah, and Meshullam, who had married his daughter to Tobiah’s son, remained allied to their enemies even as the high priest was.  One of the high priest’s grandsons had married the daughter of Sanballat.

Godly Leadership Needed in both Church and State…

Ezra exemplified the Torah and prophets’ ideal of priest. He is credited with being the “Father of Judaism” and founder of the modern Jewish religion (3).  Yet there was only so much he could accomplish with both the civic and religious leaders of the land aligned to their enemies.  Ezra’s purity of life and teaching of the people appeared to have little impact on their leaders.  But God heard his prayers.  Thirteen years after Ezra’s arrival, in 444 BCE, Artaxerxes gave his Jewish cupbearer, Nehemiah, letters of authority to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city.  Under Nehemiah the walls of Jerusalem, which had remained desolate for the last 93 years of Jewish habitation, were repaired in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). 

Nehemiah directing the building of the walls of Jerusalem

Countdown to Messiah begins…

Here Daniel’s fourth vision’s countdown of sevens to Messiah begins:

“Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble. After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.”   Daniel 9:25-26 NIV

Daniel was clearly told when the 69 sevens would begin their countdown until the Anointed One / Messiah would come, and be put to death. The first seven sevens would begin with a decree involving the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem.  So there was to be another ‘seven sevens’ (49 years) and then ‘sixty-two sevens’ (434 years) before the Anointed One was to come, and would be put to death, a total of 483 years – time for more kingdoms to rise and fall.

What it takes to Repair Spiritual Walls…

As the physical walls of the city were repaired, so were the spiritual walls. Nehemiah gathered all the people together for Ezra to read the Scroll of the Law of Moses (Torah) to them.  They listened intently and followed God’s directions for the Feast of Tabernacles with great joy.  All the people came together again in response to the reading of the Law, this time with fasting confessing their sins and the iniquities of their fathers then uniting in a great prayer of worship, repentance and covenant commitment to walk in God’s law and obey everything in the Torah (Nehemiah 9&10).  This has become known as “The Covenant of Faith”. (4)  What Ezra had begun 13 years before was now coming to fulfilment. 

Ezra reading the Torah scroll to the people

Godly Leaders Care for the Poor…

Nehemiah was a very rare and exceptional leader who walked in the fear of God, unlike the governors before or after him.  He served as governor in the land of Judah for 12 years at his own expense because of his concern that the ordinary people were already too poor and heavily burdened even though there was a very wealthy upper class in Judea.  He called a great assembly of the people to shame the wealthy into ceasing their unbiblical practises of charging their brothers interest, selling them and their families as slaves, and selling their land as repayment for debts (Nehemiah 5).  He demonstrated a much greater commitment to both the Torah and the temple worship than the High Priest Eliashib, who served only his own interests.

When Nehemiah returned from his promised time back with the king of Persia he found this corruption had manifest itself again and took decisive action to set things back in order both in the temple and in the people’s obedience to Torah, removing Tobiah the Ammonite from his residence in the temple storeroom, re-instituting the Levitical worship and cleansing them of everything pagan (Neh. 13).

To the end of the OT Prophets…

Malachi was also written during the first period of seven ‘sevens’ (49 years since the decree to rebuild the walls and city of Jerusalem).  Like Ezra and Nehemiah, he rebukes corruption in the priesthood and the infidelity of the people, calling for repentance. Like Daniel, he elicits Messianic expectations:

“Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the LORD of hosts”  Malachi 3:1

References

1. Stevenson, John T. Israel After The Exile. John Stevenson Bible Study Page. [Online] 2000. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/14ezra.html.
2. Goldberg, G. J. Esther: Her Point of View Josephus’ Version with Commentary. Thematic Concerdance of the Works of Josephus. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://josephus.org/Esther.htm.
3. Carlson, Thomas. Exile to Babylon and Diaspora. Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug 2016.] http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/faculty/thomas/classes/rgst116b/JewishHistory.html.
4. Astor, Berel Wein adapted by Yaakov. Ezra and Nehemiah. Jewish History.org. [Online] [Cited: 28th Aug. 2016.] http://www.jewishhistory.org/ezra-and-nehemiah/.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on some of the following questions…

* What are some of the things we can learn from Esther’s story?
* How had the Jews in Israel, who could attend the Temple and participate in sacrifice and worship there, become less faithful to God than the Jews in the Persian cities?
* How can you help your people keep fervently focused on God and not backslide like the Jews in Israel had done?
* How are you reaching the next generation?
* What were the sins of the Jewish leaders and how can we avoid being seduced by such sins?
* What qualities did Ezra and Nehemiah have that made them good leaders?
* What have you seen happen in your nation when gifted leaders lack godly character?

A New Judaism – without Land or Temple (586 – 537 BC)

Read Exodus 19-35:3; Leviticus 7:22-27, 11-20, 23-27;
Deuteronomy 4-26; Jeremiah42-52; Ezekiel 29-34
& Daniel 3-8
The Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s temple, and the city of Jerusalem, with fire. This destruction, and later disasters in Jewish history, are mourned with fasting by the Jews every year on 9th Av. This day of mourning is called Tisha B’Av. (Image from an 1850 painting by David Roberts).

Judgment brought repentance and renewed religious fervour…

The loss of the temple and sacrificial system left a vacuum in Jewish religious life and identity that had to be filled with something.  Sin (failure to keep Torah) had brought this destruction upon them, but there was no more sacrifice for sin without the temple where such sacrifices had to be made.  So how could the people find any redemption?

There was only one thing they could do, seek redemption through repentance and obedience to the commands of the Torah that could be followed outside of the temple, such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, purity laws, and dietary prescriptions (1). The captives set about purifying their religion by rejecting all foreign gods and practices, focusing on that which God had commanded through Moses (2).  They gave up all idolatry and were never again led into its evil practices as they been wont to do before.  A vital sense of repentance was created and private devotion and prayer encouraged.  Their elaborate nation-wide ceremonials, great festivals and temple sacrifices were replaced with local community prayer, fasting and Sabbath observances.  The latter included assembling the people together for prayer and the reading of the scripture (3). Study of the Torah became the focus of practice, with weekly meetings in public study houses (1).  The result was the rise of the Synagogue among the Jews dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire (4).   Having Jewish life in the dispersion revolve around the Synagogue, and the teachings of the Synagogue, protected the Jews from the integration that had caused the northern kingdom of Israel to disappear into the melting pot of nations.

Priestly role of teaching Torah now open to all men…

This rise of the Synagogue in turn resulted in a significant shift in the role of teaching the people the meaning and practice of the Torah. From Moses until the end of the first temple period the Levitical priesthood had been responsible for the whole sacrificial system; maintenance of the tabernacle and then the temple; ministering to God through music, song, prayer and incense; and with teaching the people Torah observance, reading the books of Moses to them and explaining the meaning (Deut. 17:18-20; 28:58-63; Deut. 30:9-10; Deut. 31:24-26; Joshua 1:8; Joshua 23:6; 2 Kings 22:13; 2 Kings 23:3; 2 Kings 23:21; 1 Chr. 16:37-40; 2 Chron. 18; 2 Chron. 31:2-3; Ezra 6:18; Neh. 8; Neh. 10:28-29; Neh. 13:1 & Daniel 9:13).   Jewish religion had centred on the Temple and the Temple was the domain of the Levitical priests, only they were qualified to serve in its precincts.

There were no such restrictions on service in the Synagogue.   As Synagogues were established wherever ten Jewish families could gather, many of them did not have any Levites as members, so the reading of Torah and leading of the services often fell to those of other tribes.  Thus a new class arose as scholar, teacher and spiritual leader to explain God’s expectations to the common people – the Rabbi (4).  Although not an official title until after the destruction of the second temple, the function of rabbi began to develop during the Babylonian captivity. 

Aramaic was the international language of the ancient Near East. It is a Semitic language, closely related to Hebrew. The Jews in Babylon quickly adopted the Aramaic language as they started businesses, traded with their neighbours and rose to positions of political power and social influence.  The language of the Torah remained Hebrew. As increasing numbers of Jews, particularly the younger generations, spoke Aramaic in their everyday lives, the Synagogue Torah reading increasingly included explanation of the meaning of the text in Aramaic. (5) 

From repentance, to observance, to legalism…

The necessity of remaining as a distinct people while scattered throughout the Babylonian empire expanded the rabbinical role from just reading and explaining the Torah to ‘building a fence’ around the Torah, legislating additional laws and enforcing cultural traditions and customs to keep the Jews separate from all other peoples (6).  Thus began the development of oral traditions added to the Torah to explain its meaning in practice as a minority in a pagan society (7).  Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah, plus additional laws instituted by the rabbis, plus the customs of the community, became jointly known as halakhah and all became binding on every member of the community as Jewish Law or “the path that one walks / the way” (8).  Whereas the prophets speaking God’s heart to His people made it easy for the most simple person to understand what God requires of us; “to act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8), the teachers of the law made it so intricate and complicated that only highly trained scholars had any hope of understanding all the requirements they attributed to God.

Halakhah  הֲלָכָה, is often translated as “Jewish Law” although a more literal (and more appropriate) translation is “The Way” or “the path that one walks”.  The word is derived from the Hebrew root ‘Hei-Lamed-Kaf‘, meaning to go, to walk, or to travel. Halachah is “the way” for a Jew to walk through life, “the way” a Jew is directed to behave in every aspect of life; encompassing civil, criminal and religious law.

During the Babylonian captivity teachings began to emerge in connection to the Torah that were not in the text. These involved interpreting, modifying and enacting rules of conduct for every aspect of Jewish life. This body of teaching continued to be developed over the following centuries so that it was quite extensive, dictating every aspect of Jewish life, by the time of Christ.

Halakhah was developed from three sources:
1) Mitzvot D’Oraita (Commandments from the Torah)- the 613 mitzvot (commandments) that were developed by the rabbis from what God gave the Jewish people in the Written Torah. Some are direct quotes from scripture but others have a fairly tenuous relationship to what is written in the Torah. These 613 mitzvot are subdivided into 248 positive commandments, “mitzvot aseh” (commandments to do), and 365 negative commandments, “mitzvot lo ta’aseh” (commandments not to do).
2) Mitzvot D’Rabbanan (Laws Instituted by the Rabbis) – these rabbinic laws are also referred to as mitzvot (commandments) and are considered to be as binding as Mitzvot D’Oraita. Mitzvot d’rabbanan are commonly divided into three categories: gezeirah, takkanah and minhag.
…..a) Gezeirah (literally “fence”) are the fence rabbis built around the Torah – laws instituted to prevent people from accidentally violating a Torah mitzvah. For example, a gezeirah commands Jews on the Sabbath (Shabbat) not to even handle an implement that could be used to perform ‘prohibited work’ (such as a pencil, money, or a hammer), because someone holding the implement might forget that it was Shabbat and perform prohibited work.
…..b) Takkanah (literally remedy or fixing) is a rule unrelated to biblical laws that was created by the rabbis for the public welfare. For example, the “mitzvah” to light candles on Chanukkah, a Jewish holiday instituted after the OT was written.
3) Minhag Mitzvot are customs that developed for worthy religious reasons and had continued long enough to become a binding religious practice, often referred to in the NT as “traditions of the elders“. These ‘traditions of the elders‘ are considered a binding part of halakhah (the ‘Oral Law’ / the ‘Way’), just like a mitzvah, a takkanah or a gezeirah. (8, 9)
The word “minhag” is also used in a looser sense, to indicate a community or an individual’s customary way of doing some religious thing. For example, it may be the minhag in one synagogue to stand while reciting a certain prayer, while in another synagogue it is the minhag to sit during that prayer.

Imagine how audacious it would have sounded when Yeshua (Jesus) came and claimed to be “the Way” (John 14:6).   Instead of following “the law” of the community, He was the embodiment of “the law” of God. He challenged the culture of His people with the culture of His kingdom.

“…the God we serve is able to save usBut even if He does not

585 BC King Nebuchadnezzar celebrated his conquests by making an image of gold, thirty metres high and three meters wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.  Then he summoned the provincial officials to the dedication of his image, among them were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who would now have been in their thirties and spent half their lives in Babylon.   These three refused to fall down and worship the image of gold that Nebuchadnezzar had set up and so were tied up and thrown into a blazing furnace that had been heated seven times hotter than usual in the king’s rage.    The soldiers who threw them in were consumed by the flames, as were the ropes that bound them, but Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were walking around unharmed in the furnace with a fourth man whom Nebuchadnezzar described as looking like a son of the gods.  Such was the impact of this that Nebuchadnezzar promoted these three faithful ones and decreed that anyone who spoke against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses turned into piles of rubble. (Daniel 3)

A true friend urges repentance…

Three years later Nebuchadnezzar had another dream which greatly disturbed him.  Again, none had the wisdom or courage to give the king the interpretation of his dream except Daniel.  The dream contained a warning that Nebuchadnezzar would be cut down and appear destroyed, left wandering with the wild animals and eating grass like cattle for seven “times” until he acknowledges that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men, at which time his kingdom would be restored to him.  Daniel pleaded with Nebuchadnezzar to repent and renounce his sins by doing what is right and being kind to the oppressed.  Twelve months later, as Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted up in pride declaring: “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my power and for the glory of my majesty,” God’s judgment fell upon him and he became so insane that he was driven away from people and lived out in the open eating grass.   In due season Nebuchadnezzar repented of his pride, raised his eyes toward heaven and his sanity was restored, and with that his kingdom as well. (Daniel 4)

Wrongdoing brings fear, which brings rebellion…

Back in Judah, the Babylonians had allowed some of the poorer survivors of their conquests to remain to tend the land and placed Jedediah, a grandson of Josiah, over them (2 Kings 25:22). He was soon murdered (2 Kings 25:25) and the people, fearing that Nebuchadnezzar would avenge his death, decided to flee into Egypt (2 Kings 25:26). Jeremiah had warned them against taking this decision (Jer.42:9-22.) but was overruled and, along with his scribe Baruch, was dragged along with them (Jer.43:6-7). They settled in the Egyptian town of Tahpanhee (Jer.44:1), and built a Jewish community there, keeping many of the customs of their heritage but continuing in disobedience to God and every direction He gave them through the prophet Jeremiah.   Tradition has it that they eventually stoned Jeremiah to death (13) (14) (15).  In 569 BC Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt in fulfilment of Jeremiah 43:8-13; 46:13-26 and Ezekiel 29:19, taking captives back to Babylon.

Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 BC and was succeeded by his son, Evil Merodach in 561 BC.  Just five years later Evil Merodach was succeeded by Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law Nabonidus. Then in 553 BC Nabonidus left his son, Belshazzar, to reign as coregent in Babylon while he travelled west into Arabia to gain more land and rebuild temples in the Assyrian city of Harran. (13)    Neither Nabonidus nor Belshazzar were popular with the people, having alienated the priests, politicians and military alike.

The historic/prophetic context of Messiah’s coming…

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel, who was now about 67yo, had a prophetic vision while lying on his bed.  Scripture records five interwoven prophetic visions which Daniel received over a period of 68 years.  These fuelled Jewish Messianic expectations and speculations.  The first, as we had seen, was back in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, 604 BC, when as a teenager Daniel had a vision of the king’s dream of a great statue with golden head, silver chest, middle and thighs of bronze and legs of iron that was struck by a stone that became a great mountain which filled the whole earth (Daniel 2).   In Daniel’s second recorded vision, 52 years later, the great sea of humanity was stirred and four different beasts came up out of it (Dan. 7:2). These were four kings (Dan. 7:17) who correlated to the four kingdoms depicted in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2:31-41).  

The significance of these four beasts was that they were Gentile kings whose kingdoms would rule over Israel one after another until the coming of Messiah

As in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, they were judged by the Ancient of Days who gave everlasting dominion and glory and a Kingdom to “One like the Son of Man” (Daniel 7).   These first two visions both began with a depiction of what already was ruling over the Jews – the Babylonian Empire.

First Beast – Head of Gold –
Babylonian Empire

The first beast in Daniel’s vision was “like a lion and had eagles’ wings” (Dan 7:4).  The lion is used as a symbol for Babylon in the book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:7; 49:19; 50:17), and eagles symbolize Babylonian armies (Jeremiah 49:22).   This correlates with the head of fine gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s image, whom Daniel had identified as Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God had given the kingdom of Babylon (Dan. 2:37-38).  Nebuchadnezzar was the Babylonian ruler who had conquered the Jews in his expansion of the empire. (14)  “Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it.” (Dan. 7:4).   This could be referring to Nebuchadnezzar’s mental break and restoration (Dan. 4:19-37) or just to the weakening of the kingdom after his death.  

Daniel’s third vision, just two years later and still under Belshazzar’s rule, was of a ram and a goat and the fierce king who would arise in the latter time of the goat’s kingdom (Daniel 8).  This was depicting the next two kingdoms that were yet to rule over Israel, and correlated with the next two beasts of Daniel’s earlier vision.

In 539 BC, the first major event predicted in these prophetic visions took place, Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians.   Belshazzar sought to display his greatness by holding a massive feast for a thousand of the Babylonian nobles, gave orders that the gold and silver vessels from the temple in Jerusalem be used for the wine as they praised the gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone.  The sudden appearance of a hand writing on the wall revealed what they had been too busy revelling to notice – God’s judgment had arrived and the kingdom of Babylon had been given to the Medes and Persians.  That same night Belshazzar was slain by the Medo-Persian army who had diverted the Euphrates River so they could enter under the city wall through the lowered water.

Second Beast – Chest & Arms of Silver – Ram with Long and Longer Horns Medo-Persian Empire

The second beast was like a bear (Dan. 7:5).  The second kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream had been the chest and arms of silver, which would arise after Babylon (Dan. 2:39a).  This kingdom is seen in Daniel’s third vision as a ram with two long horns, one longer than the other, and none could stand against him as he came from the east butting westward, southward and northward (Dan. 8:3-4). That ram is identified as the kings of Media and Persia in Daniel 8:20.  The bear of Daniel 7 is described as being “raised up on one side”, just as the ram had one horn longer than the other, and Persia was stronger than Media. The combined strength of the Persians and the Medes led to the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC with the resulting extension of their empire over much of the Middle East, including Israel. Isaiah had prophesied the Medes overthrow of Babylon 175 years before (Isaiah 13:17-20), noting their disdain for silver and gold, the very gods that Belshazzar was worshipping when they broke into the city, overran it and killed him (Daniel 5). (15) Jeremiah had also prophesied that God would raise up the Medes to destroy Babylon (Jer. 51:11, 28-31).

As we continue on our journey towards Messiah’s birth we will see how accurately Daniel’s prophesies foretold what was to come and how each historical fulfilment increased the expectation that God would send their Messiah.

References

1. Thomas, Christine M. Exile to Babylon and Diaspora. Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. [Online] Winter Quarter 2006. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/faculty/thomas/classes/rgst116b/JewishHistory.html.
2. Hooker, Richard. The Jewish Temples: After the Babylonian Exile (538 – 332 BCE). Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/Exile1.html.
3. Tidwell, Josiah Blake. The Captivity of Judah. Bible Hub. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://biblehub.com/library/tidwell/the_bible_period_by_period/chapter_xv_the_captivity_of.htm.
4. Dell Markey, Demand Media. What Effects Did the Babylonian Exile Have on the Jewish Religion? The Classroom. [Online] 18 Aug 2016. http://classroom.synonym.com/effects-did-babylonian-exile-jewish-religion-7222.html.
5. Spiro, Ken. Babylonian Exile. SimpleTo Remember.com Judaism Online. [Online] [Cited: 16th Aug 2016.] http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/babylonian_exile/.
6. Landis, Brad. A Hedge Around the Law. Bradlis7. [Online] 9th October 2013. [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://s.bradlis7.com/2013/10/a-hedge-around-the-law/.
7. Jacobs, Louis. Encyclopedia Judaica: Halakhah. Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0008_0_08206.html.
8. Rich, Tracey R. Halakhah: Jewish Law. Judaism 101. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewfaq.org/halakhah.htm.
9. MJL. Halacha: The Laws of Jewish Life. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 7th March 2020] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/halakhah-the-laws-of-jewish-life/
10. Emil G. Hirsch, Victor Ryssel, Solomon Schechter, Louis Ginzberg. Jeremiah. Jewish Encyclopedia. [Online] 1906. [Cited: 26th Aug 2016.] http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8586-jeremiah.
11. Bible Pages. The prophet Jeremiah – where did he die? Bible Pages. [Online] 28th July 2016. [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://www.biblepages.net/eya124.htm.
12. Sacred Texts. Chapter XXXII Of The Death of the Prophets; How They Died, and (where) Each One Was Buried. Sacred Texts. [Online] [Cited: 26th Aug. 2016.] http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/bb/bb32.htm.
13. Timeline for the Life and Times of Jeremiah. Generation Word. [Online] [Cited: 22nd Oct. 2016.] http://www.generationword.com/notes/jeremiah/prelim-notes.pdf
14. Rashi. Daniel – Chapter 7. Chabad. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/16490/jewish/Chapter-7.htm#showrashi=true.
15. Walvoord, John F. 6. The Medes And The Persians. Bible.org. [Online] [Cited: 23rd Oct. 2016.] https://bible.org/seriespage/6-medes-and-persians.

In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and consider the following questions…

* What is your response to difficulty and hardship?
* What has God taught you through the troubled times in your life?
* What were some of the healthy responses that the Jews had to their great losses?
* What were some of the unhealthy responses that they had to their losses?
* In seeking to live wholeheartedly for God, how can we avoid becoming legalistic or judgmental?
* Has your church made up extra rules to try to make your people pure and righteous?
* What are the customs in your church? How do those customs strengthen your community? Do any of those customs cause any problems?