Category Archives: Jewish Holidays

The Power of God through Plagues

I love Passover. It is my favorite Jewish holiday and by far the most delicious. The array of traditional Passover dishes is magnificent. I wish you could have tasted my grandmother’s chicken and matzah ball soup—not to mention her homemade gefilte (stuffed) fish. (By the way, do not ever ask a Jewish person what parts of the fish they used! That would be a big mistake.)

As a Messianic Jew, I have found Passover more meaningful now than I did before coming to know the Lord. As you know, the Lord’s Supper—one of our most cherished spiritual ceremonies—grew out of the Passover Seder. You can find all the intricate details by going to our website and reading further or buying one of our Passover books listed on the back of this newsletter. Each book includes a Messianic Passover Haggadah (Passover guide) with Jesus at the center of the service—and some wonderful recipes.

If you want to observe the Passover as fulfilled in Jesus, the Lamb of God, you can this year! Passover lasts an entire week. Though we usually celebrate the Seder on the first two nights, any night during that week will do. I know it would be a wonderful experience for you, your children, Sunday school class, or small group.

It will also further prepare your hearts for Good Friday and Resurrection Day, especially since the first night of Passover and Good Friday coincide this year!

Each year at this time, I try to address a Passover-related topic in detail. This year, it will not surprise you that I would like to help us better understand the role that plagues play in the plan of God, especially during Passover.

THE TEN PASSOVER PLAGUES

The recitation of the ten plagues is a central part of the Passover Seder and one of the most memorable moments during the Seder for Jewish children. Traditionally, we dip our little finger or a spoon into a glass of red wine and put the drop of liquid onto our plates while loudly reciting the name of each plague. We call out the plagues in English and Hebrew: blood (dam), frogs (ts’fardei’a), vermin (kinim), flies (arov), pestilence (dever), boils, (sh’chin), hail (barad), locusts (arbe), darkness (choshech), and death of the firstborn (makat bechorot).

The recitation of the plagues is not an isolated moment in the Seder. It is part of the overall recounting of the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage. There are two reasons why we drop the wine on our plates. One reason is that it more dramatically portrays the plagues as judgments falling upon the Egyptian slavemasters. The other is because Jewish tradition tells us to reduce our joy (symbolized by the sweet wine) by one drop for each plague that fell upon the Egyptians.

The lesson here is clear: even though the Egyptians enslaved us, we recognize they are fellow human beings and God’s creation. Therefore, our rabbis teach us we should not rejoice in their judgment but rather remember God’s love for all peoples and nations.

We will now look briefly at the three primary purposes for the plagues. First, God uses plagues to bring judgment upon the ungodly. Through the plagues, He also reveals His power and character. Lastly, they fulfill prophetic events.

JUDGMENT

The great German theologians and early twentieth-century biblical scholars Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch coined the term “penal miracles” in their well-read commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. In other words, there were plagues, or miracles, that also served as judgments and punishments upon the disobedient.

Each plague brought judgment upon the Egyptians, who were otherwise unwilling to allow the Jewish people to leave Egypt and worship the one true God. This chastisement is an excellent reminder that God is loving but also righteous and holy and takes offense at human sin. At times, He brings about temporal judgment upon humanity. He did so with the flood, the plagues, and even the captivity of the Jewish people by pagan nations.

REVELATION

Jewish people understand that God brought the plagues upon the Egyptians as divine judgments designed to move both the Egyptians and Jewish people into action. Biblical plagues are purposeful. While they bring terrible consequences upon the disobedient and rebellious, God often mysteriously uses them for purposes beyond punishment.

Take note of Uzziah, Naaman, and even Miriam, Moses’ sister. God struck each of them with leprosy to accomplish His divine purposes. Like the healing of the blind man in John chapter nine, plagues fell upon individuals for the glory of God and the good of mankind. “Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3).

God used the plagues to judge the Egyptians and reveal His power, holiness, and presence in human history. Still, God’s will and works are always for repentance and a turning away from sin to the one true God.

Exodus 7:1–7 shows Moses speaking of plagues as signs and wonders. Throughout the Scriptures, signs and wonders usually describe the miraculous, but in Exodus 7, the words are interchangeable with the word for judgment:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall speak to Pharaoh that he let the sons of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and My wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst.” So Moses and Aaron did it; as the Lord commanded them, thus they did. Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three, when they spoke to Pharaoh. (Exod 7:1–7, emphasis added)

FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY

God sometimes uses plagues to fulfill prophecy, as when He promised to deliver the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and return them to their land of promise. “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the sons of Israel from their midst” (Exodus 7:5, emphasis added).

Ezekiel 36:23 parallels Exodus 7:5 and refers to another day of deliverance and restoration for Israel and the Jewish people: “‘I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,’ declares the Lord God, ‘when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight’” (Ezek 36:23).

Both passages show that one of God’s great purposes in bringing the Jewish people out of captivity and back to the land of promise was for them to be a sign to the nations testifying that the God of Israel is true and all-powerful. In effect, the Jewish people’s deliverance through the ten plagues and their return to the land of Israel reveals the prophetic fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant found in Genesis 12:1–3. Moses predicted this result in chapter six of the book of Exodus:

Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.” (Exodus 6:6–8)

We must view the exodus, including the plagues, as one means by which God fulfilled His promises to Israel and, as we later see in the book of Revelation, His future judgment upon mankind.

WHERE DOES THE PANDEMIC FIT IN GOD’S PLAN?

It would be appropriate at this moment to compare COVID-19 to the plagues and try to understand where this pandemic might fit in with the purposes of God. I am not suggesting that God directly imposed COVID-19. There have been many terrible plagues throughout history that have devastated humanity. Although the coronavirus was exceptionally destructive, we have no reason to believe that the spread of this virus is the result of God’s direct judgment.

We must tether our understanding of the divine purpose of plagues, world wars, and the greatest tragedies of human history to Scripture. But, of course, the Bible does not speak about the coronavirus, the Black Plague, or the Spanish Flu. Therefore, the adage, “Where the Bible is silent, so am I,” is appropriate here. We must avoid conjecture and not speak for God before He has spoken to us.

On the other hand, we cannot deny that God used plagues as judgments and will do so again in the future. COVID-19 has awakened us to the possibility that plagues, along with other signs, will take place in the end times before the second coming of the Messiah. This view of plagues is also traditional Jewish teaching. Bible-believing Christians, Messianic Jews, and religious Jewish people would agree that “pestilence” or plagues are signs of the coming of the Messiah and will take place in the “last days.” The Messiah Himself declared this to be true during the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:10–11): “Then He continued by saying to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven.’”

Hopefully, one day, we will look back and see the good our heavenly Father accomplished through this global trial. We pray that somehow blessings will come for all through this time of pain and suffering (Romans 8:28). We also pray that we will remember in the light the lessons we learned in the darkness. Perhaps these lessons will even prepare us in some way for the future.

Let us pray the Lord will use the experiences and losses of the last few years to shape our character, reorder our priorities, and draw us closer to Him. May the pandemic remind us all that the Lord is coming soon and that we need to prepare. And what better way to get ready for His return than to continue doing what He told us to do by committing ourselves to evangelism, discipleship, and training a new generation of disciples until He returns! (Matthew 28:19–20).

Stay faithful, vigilant, and filled with His Spirit. The Lord is coming soon—Maranatha!

Leave a comment

Filed under evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Passover

Afghanistan and the Story of Purim

The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan last year brought conflicts to the surface that surprised most of us! We thought we had made more progress in our relationship with the Afghan people, but to our disappointment, we had not. Tribalism, radical Islam, and anti-Western sympathies were boiling below the surface of this nation of almost forty million people. The Taliban was waiting patiently for the United States to leave to make their next move and take over the country, which is similar to what happened in Iran some years previously. We once again learned not to underestimate the power of radical Islam over its adherents. Indeed, the only force powerful enough to break the hold of fierce Islamist belief and nationalism is the gospel.

Americans realized this disturbing reality for the first time in 2001 when four hijacked planes undertook a deadly mission to terrorize our country. Last fall, we honored the heroes and the fallen at our Chosen People Ministries-sponsored event in New York City, 9/11 and the New Middle East. I hope you will take some time to view the conference, which is available on our website, 911theconference.com.

Afghanistan in the Bible

People often ask me if the United States appears in the end times. I do not see any special mention of our nation in biblical prophecy. However, some of the more general statements about the absence of godliness in the last days and the events Jesus predicted in the Olivet Discourse apply to all people—especially the moral and spiritual decline intensifying as we approach the Second Coming. I am sorry to say we see this in our own country. One would have to don blinders not to see how our world is once again embracing the lifestyles prevalent during the days of Noah, which God’s judgment ultimately submerged.

We can also ask this same question about Afghanistan. Is this nation mentioned in the Bible, and what does the future hold for Afghanistan according to the Scriptures? Regarding this topic, we have more to say than we do about our own country, as Afghanistan is mentioned most intriguingly in the Bible and is part of a critical story describing Israel’s survival.

Afghanistan was part of the Persian Empire from the sixth century to the fourth century ʙᴄ, although the Bible does not use the proper name for the modern nation. However, you can quickly identify the geographic region when you understand the geography and alignment of countries in the ancient world.

For example, Daniel’s vision in Daniel 2:31–45 predicts the Babylonian and Medo-Persian domination of Israel, ultimately giving way to Greece and Rome—a prophecy detailed in chapters two, ten, and eleven. Eventually, all these powerful ancient kingdoms who were hostile to the Jewish people, along with one future pagan nation, will be crushed by the stone cut without hands as Daniel predicted:

In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy. (Daniel 2:44–45)

Ultimately, all human governments, including Persia and Afghanistan, are temporary and will fall in weakness and humility at the feet of the One and only true Creator and King!

Afghanistan and the Persian Empire

This month, we are thinking quite a bit about Persia as we observe the Jewish holiday of Purim that was initiated in the book of Esther. Most Bible students know that the Persian Empire played a significant role in the history of Israel and appears many times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Persia is mentioned 240 times in the Bible. The great Persian kings, including Cyrus, Darius, and Ahasuerus (Artaxerxes), are identified many times as well.1

However, what is not usually known is that the area comprising modern Afghanistan was part of the Persian Empire for centuries during a critical period of the biblical story. Though Iran and Afghanistan are two distinct and unique modern nations, a few remaining historical ties still unite both countries. For example, the Persian dialect of Dari is one of Afghanistan’s official languages. Also, many Afghan people speak Farsi and celebrate the Persian New Year.

The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550–330 ʙᴄ)

The period when the region encompassing modern Afghanistan was part of the great Persian Empire spanned two hundred years—from the ascension of Cyrus the Great (Cyrus II) in 550 ʙᴄ until Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 330 ʙᴄ. After Alexander’s death, the conquered kingdoms of the Macedonian leader were divided into four sections.

Most ancient historians would agree with this statement by the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art regarding the scope of Alexander’s Empire: “The Achaemenid Persian empire was the largest that the ancient world had seen, extending from Anatolia and Egypt across western Asia to northern India and Central Asia.”2

Cyrus, the “anointed ruler,” created a vast empire including Israel and Afghanistan. The prophet Isaiah predicted his rise to power almost 150 years before he became king: “Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut” (Isa 45:1).

Cyrus the Great played a critical role in restoring Jerusalem as Jeremiah predicted (Jer 25:11, 29:10), and Daniel confirmed (Dan 9:24–27). He gave Zerubbabel permission to return from exile and rebuild the Temple (2 Chronicles 36:20–23; Ezra 1:1–11; Isaiah 44:28; 45:1–7). This move was consistent with Cyrus’ view on ruling disparate cultures with varying religious beliefs. He allowed diversity, unlike other ancient rulers. The Lord used Cyrus’ philosophy of inclusion and cultural expression for the good of the Israelites, whom the Babylonians had conquered. The Babylonians also destroyed the Temple, took many Israelites into exile, and forced them to adopt Babylonian religious practices, as the book of Daniel describes.

Esther might be the most significant book of the Bible written during this period of the great Persian Empire.

In Esther 1:1, the author details the geographic expanse of Ahasuerus’ kingdom. “Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces.”

Ahasuerus was mentioned in Ezra 4:6 because he ruled during this period, “Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” The context is that Israel’s local enemies were trying to stop the rebuilding of the Temple and were antagonizing Israel’s rebuilders from the reign of Cyrus until the reign of Darius (Ezra 4:4–5).

From the boundaries mentioned in Esther, the identification of Ahasuerus (thought to be Xerxes, 485–465 ʙᴄ), and the extent of his kingdom, the events of the book of Esther took place during the reign of this Persian king. Therefore, the nation of modern Afghanistan was a part of the extended Persian Empire.

So, when we think about biblical Afghanistan, we should consider that whatever we read of Persia is also true of what is now Afghanistan. Unlike Isaiah’s specific prophecies regarding Assyria, Ethiopia, Egypt, Babylon (modern Iraq), Arabia, Edom, Philistia, the city of Damascus, and other identifiable nations or geographic areas, whatever the Bible tells us about Persia should include the country Afghanistan.

As a result, we learn quite a bit about the future of Persia and Afghanistan.

Lessons for Today for Afghanistan

As we know from the text, Haman tried to destroy the Jewish people and failed! As a result, the Jewish people were allowed to punish their enemies in Susa, the capital, and throughout the provinces of Persia, which would have included lands that are part of today’s modern Afghanistan.

Esther chapter nine mentions the results of Haman’s failure: “Thus the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying; and they did what they pleased to those who hated them” (Esth 9:5). Additionally, the Jewish people killed 75,000 of their enemies throughout the provinces: “Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces assembled, to defend their lives and rid themselves of their enemies, and kill 75,000 of those who hated them; but they did not lay their hands on the plunder” (Esth 9:16).

By God’s grace, the Jewish people and the promises of God remained alive because the Lord Himself intervened to save His people. As promised in the Abrahamic Covenant, those who cursed the Jewish people were cursed. The entire book of Esther should be viewed as the unfolding of God’s covenant with Abraham and His promises to bless those who bless Israel and to curse those who curse her. His plan to bless the world through the Jewish people was far from over at the time of Esther. The Bible was still to be completed, the Messiah was to come, and the future repentance of Israel that would initiate the Second Coming were all ahead. Therefore, no one could have destroyed the Jewish people (Zechariah 12:10; Matthew 23:37–39; Romans 11:25ff.).

New Hamans Arise in Every Generation

There are new Hamans on the world scene today seeking the destruction of the Jewish people. Israel is under attack, and antisemitism is on the rise worldwide. We understand that all forms of Islamic extremism seek the destruction of Israel. Indeed, almost every manifestation of Islam opposes the existence of the modern State of Israel, though various brands of Islam express this antipathy in different ways. Some are more violent than others. We see Hezbollah and Hamas nestled on the very borders of Israel, perched and ready to attack when they are able. This everyday threat is difficult for Israel and the Jewish people. In these instances, the threat to the Jewish people is more than a person—a modern-day Haman—it is in the ideology, nationalism, and religious fervor of many throughout the Middle East.

We hope and pray that the new Afghanistan will not tolerate terrorism against the West and Israel the way they have in the past. Indeed, those who perpetrated the events of 9/11 twenty years ago found safe harbor in Afghanistan.

According to an article that the website Breaking Defense published in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan:

Israeli officials are nervously watching the situation in Afghanistan, believing that the collapse of the government over the weekend will enable Al-Qaida to renew its efforts to perform terror attacks against both American and Israeli targets around the world. Defense sources here say that the feeling among the Taliban and Al-Qaida is that after defeating the US in Afghanistan, the “gate is wide open” to launch terror attacks from inside Afghanistan. One source added that the US should get ready [for] Al-Qaida [to] attempt to perform terror acts against American “interests” in the very near future. “There is no doubt that Al-Qaida will take advantage of the situation in Afghanistan to recruit more people and plan terror attacks” one of the sources said . . . . “The situation is bad, very bad,” [Mordechai Kedar, a senior Israeli analyst on Islamic issues] said, adding that while Iran and the Taliban are not allies, certain Islamic groups in both countries may find common ground in targeting non-Islamic nations.3

The rise of global antisemitism has begun to permeate our society and is often subtly wrapped in the guise of anti-Israelism. We see this virulent form of anti-Jewish behavior growing more prevalent on our campuses today. Unfortunately, an anti-Israel position is usually wed to an anti-Jewish sentiment in today’s world.

As followers of Jesus the Jewish Messiah, we should be sympathetic to the Jewish cause. Historically, most faithful Christians have been pro-Israel and pro-Jewish without being anti-anyone else. But today, the winds of change are in the air. Therefore, re-reading what the Bible says about Israel and the Jewish people is essential. Unfortunately, we see a growing disinterest in Israel within the church today that concerns us.

God Is Faithful to His Promises

The promises in Jeremiah 31:35–38 rest upon the foundational passage in Genesis in which God promised Abram that He would bless those who bless the Jewish people and curse those who curse the Jewish people and that through them He would bring blessings to the entire earth (Gen 12:3). God created the Jewish people to be a bridge of blessings and revelation to the nations.

The Lord will not allow anyone to destroy His chosen people—the Jewish people. He promised that the land of Israel would belong to the descendants of Jacob, and we can expect God to keep His promises and bring “curses” upon those that seek the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.

The Future of Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s future is in the hands of new leadership. We know that individuals and nations who mistreat the Jewish people are touching the apple of God’s eye. Unfortunately, there is a price to pay for this behavior. Attacks against Israel and the Jewish people will one day be met with God’s judgment. The book of Esther and the price Haman and his followers paid stand as witnesses through the ages of God’s desire to protect His chosen people.

Modern-day Iran has been hostile to modern Israel—we hope and pray that the new Afghanistan will not follow suit. Perhaps the example of Cyrus will inspire the leaders of both Iran and Afghanistan to cherish the freedom of religion once again and establish policies that show respect for the vast differences among their citizenry. It would be an excellent beginning for peace that we know only a relationship with the Prince of Peace, Jesus, can fully satisfy! Until then, we follow the words of the Prince of Peace, who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Peace begins with prayer! It now appears that the new Middle East will not be as friendly to the nation of Israel as we previously hoped, as it is still only a minority of Arab nations that have joined in the Abraham Accords. Therefore, we must pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6) and for God’s shalom to reign in Afghanistan, Iran, and throughout the new Middle East. Let us also pray for our troops and their families, the Afghan people who are suffering under the Taliban, and the nation of Israel.

1 Our Daily Bread, “Iran in the Bible: The Forgotten Story,” January 24, 2020, documentary, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mURWJfSpS7k. This excellent video on the biblical history of Persia is worth viewing.

2 Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, “The Achaemenid Persian Empire (550-330 ʙᴄ),” October 2004, under “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History,” https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/acha/hd_acha.htm [accessed August 30, 2021].

3 Arie Egozi, “Israel Braces for Renewed Terrorism Coming from Taliban-Led Afghanistan,” Breaking Defense, August 16, 2021, under “Global,” https://breakingdefense.com/2021/08/israel-braces-for-renewed-terrorism-coming-from-taliban-led-afghanistan/ [accessed August 30, 2021].

Leave a comment

Filed under Holidays & Festivals, Israel, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Messianic Jewish, Middle East

Esther: The Right Place at the Right Time

Your Mission to the Jewish People will soon celebrate the Jewish festival of Purim. This holiday is one of the most joyous on the Jewish calendar. I am sure you know the story, but please allow me to summarize these critical events in Jewish and biblical history and share a few thoughts and lessons we can learn from them.

INTRODUCTION

During this festival, Jewish communities read the entire background of Purim in the book of Esther. The story describes the Jewish people’s deliverance from certain destruction at the hand of Haman, a leader in the Medo-Persian Empire during the reign of King Ahasuerus (Xerxes). Ahasuerus ruled from 486 to 465 bc.

In the story, lots (or purim in Hebrew) were cast in the presence of Haman to help select the date for him to carry out his plan to destroy the Jewish people. Hence the name of the holiday, Purim, comes from the Hebrew word for “lots.”

It is important to recognize the tale’s heroes and how God used them to deliver the Jewish people from Haman’s wicked plan. By God’s providence, Ahasuerus chose Esther to be his new queen through a national beauty contest. She replaced Queen Vashti, who had refused the king’s command to appear at a banquet celebration. The other hero is Mordechai, Esther’s cousin (Esther 2:7), who raised her and played a critical role.

But the true hero of the story is God Himself, who sovereignly arranged all the events to work toward the good of the Jewish people. The name of God never appears in the book of Esther, but His presence and providence are evident throughout the book.

He is not silent! We hear His voice through the actions of Esther and Mordechai!

JEWISH PURIM TRADITIONS

Jewish people celebrate the deliverance from Haman’s evil plot by reading the book of Esther, shaking groggers (noise-makers), and yelling out “boo!” every time the reader mentions the name of Haman and “yay!” when we hear the names Esther and Mordechai. During Purim, we also eat hamantaschen, cookies shaped to resemble Haman’s hat or ears. Children celebrate by dressing up in fun, colorful, and creative costumes and by putting on plays that re-tell the story of Esther (yay!) and her triumph over wicked Haman (boo!).

In Israel, people flood the streets in costume to celebrate, and some ultra-Orthodox Jewish men drink alcoholic beverages until they cannot tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman.

THE MAJOR THEMES OF PURIM

During this time, we center on God’s power to orchestrate the events of life while remaining behind the scenes! Purim shows us how the hidden hand of God guides, empowers, protects, and accomplishes His divine purposes on earth.

The festival of Purim focuses on God’s covenantal faithfulness. It celebrates the deliverance of God’s chosen people and shows the Lord’s faithfulness to the covenant He made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “. . . I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen 12:1–3)

The promises of this magnificent covenant play out through the story of Purim—the destruction of Israel’s enemies, the exaltation of the nation’s heroes, and the blessing upon those who bless Israel, like King Ahasuerus.

THE RIGHT PERSON IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME

One of the great lessons of Purim and the book of Esther is that God puts His children in the right place at the right time to do His will. The first puzzle piece is that the king chose Esther as queen and put her in the right place at the right time.

The God of Esther is still putting His people in the right place at the right time today! Revisiting the book of Esther during Purim greatly encourages us to accept the places where God puts us as well as the people He puts in our lives!

Mordechai also saved the king’s life by being in the right place at the right time to hear the plot of the two assassins who had lost their jobs in the palace (Esther 2:21–23). Of course, Esther was in the right place at the right time to receive the information from Mordechai to save the king’s life. Ahasuerus was also the right “pagan” king for the right moment—another king might not have ultimately listened to his wife!

The story reaches its zenith with Mordechai telling Esther, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). As a result, Esther took the challenge and approached the king even though she could have died for visiting uninvited!

The Lord went before Esther, and she received a favorable outcome to her request to save the Jewish people. So, the Lord switched the lots. Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he prepared for Mordechai, and the king permitted the Jews to fight back and destroy their enemies. So, Mordechai became the king’s most valuable advisor instead of Haman.

Purim is a reminder that God’s all-powerful and invisible hands hold and guide us during difficult times. The Lord is always good and has a purpose for our lives, just as He did for the Jewish people. Indeed, He often allows us to experience suffering so that we may become more and more like His Son.

HEROES FOR THE MESSIAH

Esther was a heroine and was willing to die for her people. Yeshua also loved His people and was ready to perish for them. The history of the Jewish people, the church, and Chosen People Ministries is filled with stories of brave and godly women who served the Lord faithfully, who faced dire and challenging circumstances, and even risked their lives to bring the gospel to the Jewish people.

Allow me to introduce you to one of these godly ladies, a founder and early pioneer without whom Chosen People Ministries would not exist today. Her name was Augusta Sussdorff.

Born in 1867 to German immigrants, Augusta Sussdorff was one of the Mission’s earliest workers. Rabbi Leopold Cohn spoke at her youth group at Hope Baptist Church and invited people to come and sing at the Mission. Augusta and a friend volunteered. Their presence drew more Jewish women and girls to the ministry. Previously, the Mission’s audience was primarily male. Rabbi Cohn was passionate about women studying Scripture and encouraged Augusta to join the Mission full time, which she did around 1912.

She conducted many programs at the Brooklyn headquarters, including mothers’ meetings, sewing school, and Bible classes. Augusta also made home visits, greeted people at the medical clinic, brought clothing to the poor, helped English-speaking immigrants find jobs, and served on the board of Chosen People Ministries when this was quite unusual within Christian work.

She served with the Mission for more than fifty years and continued volunteering long after her retirement.

Ms. Sussdorff was incredibly dedicated to faithfully serving the Jewish people so that they would experience the love of Jesus and hear the message of salvation. To honor Augusta Sussdorff, we are creating a scholarship in her name for women in the United States, Israel, and around the globe who are serving with Chosen People Ministries but have trouble raising their missionary support.

This scholarship is part of our Foundations ’22 campaign, as encouraging godly women to serve the Lord with Chosen People Ministries is a part of who we are. We are praying that more and more women will join the ranks of Chosen People Ministries as missionaries, students at our Feinberg program, volunteers in our VIP program, and so much more.

What better way to re-affirm our back-to-basics approach to 2022—refocusing on evangelism, discipleship, and training—than to help future Augusta Sussdorffs give their all for the salvation of Israel!

Leave a comment

Filed under Anti-Semitism, Brooklyn, evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, New York City

The Story of Hanukkah

Happy Thanksgiving on behalf of the entire Chosen People Ministries global family! I hope you will be able to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal with your loved ones! If you lost a friend or family member during the last year or two, I also pray the Lord will fill your heart with heavenly comfort and peace.

I am very thankful to God for you and the ways you have stood with Your Mission to the Jewish People this year. Your prayers and support mean so much to us!

We have so much to be grateful for in spite of the circumstances, as our staff continues to reach Jewish people with the gospel both in person and online.

Our outreach has even increased this past year as so many Jewish people are looking heavenward for answers.

Our work among elderly Holocaust survivors in Israel has increased as the need has been overwhelming. Chosen People Ministries—Israel has provided love and company for the lonely, food for the hungry, and of course, the good news of Jesus to these precious Jewish souls. Many young Israelis also attend our online ministry events when we cannot meet in person. We need your prayers as we resume in-person outreaches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and throughout this country of almost seven million Jewish people.

In New York City, we recently commemorated the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 by honoring our heroes and reminding Americans of our unbreakable bond with Israel in combating terrorism. More than 40,000 people joined us for the event online and in person.

We thank God for all He has done in our 127th year of faithful ministry, and we are looking forward to the greater things He will do through you and our global staff in our 128th year (John 14:12). We are focusing on reaching Israelis in Israel and wherever they travel after the army with the gospel, expanding our outreach through videos, podcasts, and social media, and preparing our next generation for leadership in Jewish ministry through our Brooklyn-based and now online Charles L. Feinberg seminary program!

We have so much to be grateful for in Jesus, our Messiah. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The Story of Hanukkah

I also wish you an early Happy Hanukkah, which is one of my favorite holidays. Growing up in a Jewish home in New York City, I loved each day of this eight-day festival because my parents gave us presents every night as we lit the beautiful Hanukkah candles.

We also eat wonderful foods like potato pancakes (called latkes) smothered in applesauce or sour cream. In Israel, delicious jelly donuts are also a Hanukkah staple. OK… so it is not the healthiest of Jewish holidays! We make our Hanukkah foods with lots of oil as both oil and light illustrate two of the great themes of the holiday.

Let me explain.

The story of Hanukkah takes place during the biblical “silent years”—the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments. In 168 BC, the Jewish people rebelled against the Syrian-Greek General, Antiochus the Fourth, whom the Jewish people called “Antiochus the Madman.” This evil Seleucid king took the name “Epiphanes,” which means “God manifest,” as he believed he was the manifestation of one of the Greek gods. Antiochus wanted the Jewish people to worship him rather than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which was at the heart of the reason for Israel’s resistance.

A priestly family called the Maccabees led the rebellion. They lived in a town called Modi’in, which is just a few miles

from Jerusalem. As the story goes, the representative of Antiochus entered the village and demanded that the Jewish people in Modi’in bow down and worship a statue of Antiochus, upon pain of death. In doing so, they would affirm belief in the gods of the Greeks, loyalty to the madman, and rejection of the God of the Hebrews.

This godly family waged guerrilla warfare against the mighty Greek-Syrian army and managed to defeat Antiochus. This victory was a miracle as once again, Israel beat the odds and defeated a much larger and more powerful enemy. Jewish people traditionally view this as God’s blessing upon the Maccabees for their faithfulness to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

After their victory, they traveled to the Holy City of Jerusalem to rededicate the Temple. The victorious band of priestly guerrillas was horrified as they entered the Temple.

They discovered that Antiochus had sacrificed a pig on the altar, signaling the Syrian Greeks’ contempt for the Jewish people. The Maccabees tore down the stones of the altar as it was deemed beyond cleansing. According to Jewish tradition found in the books of Maccabees (1 Macc 4:36–59; 2 Macc 10:1–8), the Maccabees set the defiled altar stones aside until “a prophet” comes, who would tell them what to do with the stones (1 Macc 4:45–46).

Then, according to tradition, they discovered the eternal light in the Temple had only enough oil to last for one day. So they immediately began to make fresh olive oil to keep the eternal light from being extinguished. According to tradition, even though it usually takes eight days to complete and cure the oil, the one day’s worth of oil miraculously lasted for eight!

We do not know whether the story is true or not. However, I was raised in a very traditional Jewish home and taught to believe it was true! Either way, the victory of Hanukkah is one of the great stories of both Jewish heroism and God’s loyalty to His chosen people. For these reasons and more, the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah.

The festival is far more than an opportunity to enjoy the

beauty of family gatherings, Hanukkah parties, or even giving presents. The holiday is more than a wonderful time of playing games with our families, like spinning little tops called dreidels and singing some of the most moving songs within our Jewish tradition.

Jesus & Hanukkah

My wife and children love the holiday as it beautifully connects to our Messiah Jesus in so many ways. After all, Yeshua, Jesus, is the Jewish Messiah. He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), so there is nothing like the lights of the Hanukkah candles to remind us that Jesus the Messiah is the true light that illuminates mankind.

But there is more! Hanukkah is recorded as observed by the Jewish people in the New Testament—not in the Old! John wrote that Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication, a title that commemorates the rededication of the Temple after the desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes.

In John 10:22–30, we read:

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give

eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

In the midst of this moment of intense and heated debate with the Jewish leaders of the day, Jesus makes one of the most remarkable declarations about His person found in the entire Bible.

He is not only the light of the world, but He is God in the flesh!

This message of His incarnation, light, and the deliverance He offers humanity through His death and resurrection is the message we hope to bring to every Jewish soul.

So please pray for Your Mission to the Jewish People—that the Lord will fill us with His Spirit, enabling us to continue our ministry to the Jewish people in Israel, the United States, and throughout the world.

The Future of the Middle East

I am also grateful for the Abraham Accords and other movements bringing peace and hope to a new and changing Middle East! But even more, I look forward to the reshaping of the Middle East when Jesus returns to reign as King!

We are grateful for your faithful partnership. Have a Jesus-centered and joyful Thanksgiving and a Happy Hanukkah!

Leave a comment

Filed under evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Israel, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Messianic Jewish, Middle East, New York City, Thanksgiving

New Opportunities in the Jewish New Year!

Shalom and happy Jewish New Year! Fall is an important time of year for your Jewish friends and for Your Mission to the Jewish People. More Jewish people think about atonement and forgiveness of sin during this season than at any other time of the year.

We recently enjoyed a very fruitful season of high holiday services during which we introduced Jesus to Jewish people as the fulfillment of these great festivals. I believe the holy days are biblical types predicting the atoning death of our Messiah, especially the holiday of Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement described in Leviticus chapter 16 and further detailed in Isaiah chapter 53!

We held services both online and in person and had thousands attend. Please pray for the follow-up to these evangelistic events—that many Jewish people who do not know the Lord will hear the gospel and find salvation! We have now found a way to link seekers together through a series of online small Bible study groups that have been very effective. We praise God for the Jewish people who gave their hearts to Jesus through these online Bible studies!

EXCITING NEWS

Recently, Mr. Woods, one of our loyal supporters, sold the home he and his wife lived in for many years and—in honor of his wife’s wishes and upon her passing into the presence of the Lord—donated the proceeds to Chosen People Ministries. This enabled us to establish a Challenge Grant fund, which increases the finances available to be used for ministry among the Jewish people. What a great gift in memory of his wife, their commitment to the Lord, and love for the Jewish people.

Initially, we plan to use a total of $100,000 ($25,000 per project) from this fund to move four key ministry projects forward during the next twelve months. 

The Charles L. Feinberg New Missionary Training Fund

We plan to use up to $25,000 this year to subsidize students attending our Charles L. Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies in Brooklyn and globally online. 

The Israel New Missionary Fund

We will provide another $25,000 from the Challenge Grant fund to support new missionaries in Israel who are unable to raise support for themselves, especially during these days when many local churches are not yet scheduling speaking engagements. 

The Twenty-First Century Evangelism Fund

We are working on new websites, videos, evangelistic podcasts, digital outreach booklets, and much more. I am especially excited about the new evangelistic Hebrew website we are developing. I cannot tell you how much

we need to reach younger Israelis, and this is an excellent way. Digital evangelism is the future! 

The Mission Support Fund

We find it takes one worker behind the scenes to support every three missionaries on the field. We simply could not get the work of evangelism and discipleship done without those who handle the “back office” work in New York City, Jerusalem, and around the globe. We have some major infrastructure projects planned, like upgrading our infotech systems that uphold our church, missionary, finance, and administrative ministries.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE NEW YEAR AND A NEW CENTURY

It is my hope to continue moving Chosen People Ministries ahead in the twenty-first century in the power of the Holy Spirit using all the tools these new times make available to preach the gospel. We wholeheartedly believe the everlasting, glorious, unchanging good news—that the Messiah has come, that His name is Jesus, that He died and rose for the sins of Jews and Gentiles, and that by believing in Him we will receive the gift of eternal life!

I am so appreciative of you and your love, prayers, and support of our 127-year-old ministry to God’s chosen people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Media, evangelism, Israel, Jewish Christian Dialogue, Jewish Holidays, New York City

Forgiven

Shalom and Happy Jewish New Year! I am greeting you with a Happy New Year because Jewish people around the globe recently celebrated the Jewish New Year, called Rosh Hashanah. This month, we begin the Hebrew year 5782. Jewish tradition dates the new year from when creation is believed to have taken place.

I was born into a very traditional Jewish home in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Queens. I am not quite old enough to be a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, but I became a Mets fan, which is almost mandatory if you grew up in Queens!

I spent my childhood in a tightly knit Jewish community. I had a large and loving extended Jewish family surrounding me, and almost all my friends were Jewish, as were most of the kids at school.

I had my Bar Mitzvah at the age of thirteen, as is usual for most Jewish boys. I studied at Hebrew school for five years in preparation for this major event and rite of passage. As part of our training, we read through the Bible, studied Hebrew and the Jewish traditions, and celebrated all the Jewish holidays at synagogue and at home.

The Time Has Come—Again!

The Jewish New Year is not like the secular New Year. In Leviticus 23:24-25, you will not find the words “new year” used to describe the festival; instead the Bible describes the day as the blowing of the trumpet. On this day, according to the rabbis, God opens the books of life and death. Jewish people have ten days to get right with God, so the Jewish New Year begins a sobering and serious season of reflection. The trumpet blown on Rosh Hashanah is called a shofar (a ram’s horn) in Hebrew, and it is sounded to call the Jewish people to repentance before the Day of Atonement, the most sacred day of the Jewish year that follows ten days later.

According to Leviticus chapter sixteen, the high priest offered sacrifices of a bull and a goat on the altar. He then sprinkled the blood on the mercy seat to make atonement for sins not previously atoned for because of disobedience or ignorance. It was only on this day of Yom Kippur that the high priest stepped into the Holy of Holies, beyond the veil, and did what human beings could never do for themselves. The Hebrew Scriptures clearly teach that none of us can do anything to merit forgiveness of sin. The “making of atonement” is always done by someone other than ourselves.

The Ten Days of Awe

At the end of these ten days of repentance (known as the Days of Awe), we sound the shofar once again. Tradition tells us that God shuts the books of life and death as His last act on the Day of Atonement. At that moment, the fate of every Jewish person is sealed for the coming year. If we performed an adequate number of good works and thoroughly repented of our sins, then we will have a good year and find favor with God. If not, we will experience some type of judgment during that year. The results of our efforts—repentance, prayer, and fasting—last only a year as the process must be repeated annually.

However, as believers in Messiah Jesus, we have complete confidence that Messiah died for our sins “once for all,” according to Hebrews 7:27. We are forgiven! That is the reason I wish my believing friends a Happy New Year and Day of Atonement.

The psalmist promised that one day God would remove our sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). In Jeremiah 31:31–34, the prophet told us that the day is coming when the Lord will write His law on our hearts and forgive our sins. This hope of forgiveness caused the Jewish people to look forward to this great day of redemption throughout the darkest periods of Jewish life.

The Prophecy of the Binding of Isaac

The binding of Isaac in Genesis chapter twenty-two presents a beautiful prophetic portrait of this predicted hope of an ultimate sacrifice for sin. In this chapter, which is read every year in synagogues on Rosh Hashanah, God asked Abraham to climb Mount Moriah and sacrifice his son, Isaac.

Abraham and Isaac began walking toward the mountain. On the third day, Isaac innocently asked his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” What a haunting question! Abraham responded that “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:7–8).

Upon their arrival, Abraham bound his son and laid him on the altar. At that moment, I am sure Isaac thought his question was answered and that he was the sacrifice. But when the patriarch raised his knife, the angel of God stopped him!

The angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
(Gen. 22:11–12)

Abraham looked toward the bushes and saw a ram caught in the thicket by his horns, and he sacrificed the ram instead of Isaac (Gen. 22:13). The horns that trapped the ram are why in traditional Judaism we sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Hearing the sound from the ram’s horn reminds us that God provides the sacrifice.

We also understand that the Temple, the holy place where God ordained sacrifices to be made, was built on this same Mount Moriah. “Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (2 Chronicles 3:1).

My heart of faith wholeheartedly believes that Genesis chapter twenty-two points to Jesus. He is the beloved Son of the Father, just as Isaac was Abraham’s promised beloved son. Jesus was willing to lay down His life, but unlike Isaac, who was spared, Jesus was slain. Ultimately, He was crucified and died on this same mountain range within eyesight of the Temple Mount where many thousands of animals were sacrificed between the almost-death of Isaac and the atoning death of our Messiah Jesus.

Abraham named the sacred site, as described in verse fourteen, “Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.’” He identified God Himself as the provider of the one sacrifice that really counts! In the fullness of time, God allowed His Son to die on a cross made of unhewn wood to accomplish what neither the potential sacrifice of Isaac nor the blood of bulls and goats for centuries could ever achieve. It was on Mount Moriah where God provided the gift of His only beloved Son, and it is through His shed blood that, by faith, we find everlasting atonement for our sins. We have peace with God through the death of Jesus, who died and rose for our sins.

As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

He did not stop there, though. The rabbi from Tarsus continued:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Messiah died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Messiah died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:6–9)

Having embraced this great salvation through the Messiah Jesus when I was nineteen years old, I can tell you that it is true, and this decision changed the way I have observed the Jewish high holidays for all these years. I personally know the joy of forgiveness, and I hope you do as well!

Please pray for Your Mission to the Jewish People as we proclaim the glorious message of Yeshua’s atoning work as prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. I also hope this will help you pray for your Jewish friends. Please pray, as we share the message of salvation through the “greater” son of Abraham during the rest of this month. Finally, please pray the Lord will open the eyes of our beloved Jewish people to see that He is the true Messiah for all.

Thank you for your prayers and support of our 127-year-old ministry among the Jewish people. Your partnership is deeply appreciated.

Leave a comment

Filed under evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians

The Christmas-Hanukkah Connection

Shalom,

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! I love this season of the year: lights, joy, lots of presents, and the ability to freely focus on our faith in Jesus—the reason for the season. When I say the reason for the season, I am including Hanukkah, not just Christmas!

There is an amazing connection between the two holidays. It is a bit hidden, but I am sure that, once you see it, you will be as thrilled about it as I am. We find this extraordinary link in John 10:30, where Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.”

We know from the gospel that the events in John chapter ten occurred during the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22–23), also called Hanukkah. The Hebrew word hanukkah means “dedication.” It is still the most often used name for this great holiday.

Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah!

Curiously, the only biblical mention of Hanukkah is in the New Testament. The origin of Hanukkah is in the intertestamental literature, particularly in the First and Second books of Maccabees, which many people consider significant records of Jewish history.

The story of Hanukkah serves as the stunning backdrop to the words of Jesus, particularly in John chapter ten and especially in verse thirty.

The saga begins with a well-known historical figure—Alexander the Great.

Upon his death in 323 BC, Alexander’s kingdom was divided among four of his generals. Eventually, the lands that included Israel came under the control of Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 BC. His name alone tells the story—the word epiphanes means “revealed” or “manifestation” and refers to the Greek gods who often took on human form. In this instance, Antiochus probably had Zeus in mind as he desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem by sacrificing to Zeus (1 Maccabees 1:54; 2 Maccabees 6:2).

Antiochus demanded loyalty from the Jewish people to Greek culture and the Greek gods. He sent his emissaries with a statue of himself to each village in Israel and made them bow down to it. According to Jewish tradition, the emissaries entered the town of Modi’in and demanded that the Jewish people bow down and worship the Greek gods and their representative, Antiochus.

But a family of Levitical priests was living there. Mattathias and his five sons refused to bow and began a revolt. Mattathias cried out, “Let everyone who has zeal for the Law and who stands by the covenant follow me!” (1 Maccabees 2:7). His call is one of the grand statements of loyalty and unity that every young Jewish child learns at his mother’s knee.

His family and followers fled to the Judean foothills and waged guerrilla warfare against the Syrian Greeks for the next three years, between 167–164 BC. When Mattathias died, Judah became the leader of the rebel forces.

During that time, Antiochus perpetrated one of the most heinous acts against the Jewish people recorded in all of history. After defeating Antiochius, the Maccabees discovered that he had sacrificed a pig on the altar in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Israel. The Maccabees retook Jerusalem and wanted to cleanse the Temple. However, when they realized that a pig’s blood had defiled the altar, they took it apart and stacked the stones off to one side. In a very intriguing tradition recorded in 1 Maccabees, they left the rocks for someone more powerful to do the cleansing (1 Maccabees 4:46).

They built a new altar, and according to Jewish tradition, only had one day of oil left in the Temple’s eternal light (the seven-branched menorah), although it took eight days to cure olive oil to keep the light shining. The miracle that took place, according to tradition, was that the oil lasted for eight days, which allowed the Maccabees to prepare the oil needed and prevented them from being extinguished.

This legend provides the rationale for why we celebrate Hanukkah over eight days and why the symbol of light is so important. It reminds us that the ner tamid, the ceremonial light that shone in the Temple, must never be extinguished. Of course, the physical Temple was destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans conquered Jerusalem. Many Jewish people fled, and the Romans took the remaining Jewish people as captives. The menorah and other holy implements were looted and brought to Rome by the armies of Titus. To celebrate the victory, the Romans engraved these historical events inside the Arch of Titus, which you can still see today in the Roman Forum, near the Roman Colosseum.

The Declaration of Divinity

Jesus made His declaration of divinity in John 10:30 amid the grand traditions observed during the magnificent Hanukkah celebrations at the Second Temple. These traditions are described in the Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic commentaries on the Bible.

The story of Hanukkah, which would have taken place fewer than two hundred years earlier, was well-known by the Jewish people at that time. The average Jewish person living in Israel would have known that Antiochus Epiphanes, also called “Antiochus the Madman,” had declared himself to be a god. The Jewish people were commanded not to have any other gods but the Lord and were forbidden to worship idols (Exodus 20:3–4).

Indeed, the order to bow down and worship a statue would have been especially repugnant to the Jewish people. To this day, Jewish resistance to incarnation is rooted in the Jewish rejection of idolatry and the belief that God cannot be corporeal.

Resisting the claim that Jesus is God in the flesh has been viewed as a testimony of Jewish loyalty throughout the centuries. The fact that any Jewish person can overcome thousands of years of Jewish faith and tradition and accept Yeshua’s deity is a miracle.

The Deity of the Messiah Is Rooted in the Hebrew Bible

I was raised in a modern Orthodox Jewish home and taught to reject this possibility out of hand, not only for Jesus but for anyone.

I remember when I was thinking about becoming a believer in Jesus and was confronted with the idea that Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. After reading the Gospels and seeing the way Jesus acted and spoke, I concluded that if anybody was God in the flesh—it would be Him. I am so glad that the Lord worked in my heart and enabled me to accept this glorious and fundamental truth—that Jesus is God, fully divine and fully human.

If Jesus was just a very bright and articulate itinerant Jewish rabbi, then you and I are still walking in our sins and face judgment on the last day. But because He is God in the flesh, His death provides a perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins, allowing you and me to receive forgiveness of sins and stand in the presence of the Lord forever.

I came to realize that the Hebrew Scriptures actually did teach that God could appear in the flesh. Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6–7, and several other prophetic passages in the Old Testament teach that God would take on flesh one day.

I understand why the Incarnation rubs Jewish people the wrong way. We were raised celebrating Hanukkah and taught that bowing to any corporeal God is idolatry.

I would agree that the Bible teaches against idolatry. Isaiah wrote with a combination of anger and humor, it seems, concerning how idolators worship:

Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.”
(Isaiah 44:16–17)

Yet, we do not worship a God made of wood or stone but one who became a man while fully retaining His divine nature—a glorious mystery!

There is no stipulation against the true God taking on flesh. Without the Incarnation, Jesus would not fulfill the Messiah’s prophetic description and qualify as the Savior of the world. There is no other way to be the Messiah as no human being could accomplish what the Bible prophesied the Messiah would achieve. The deity of the Messiah is essential to His Messianic role in the story of redemption.

With this background, we understand that Jesus’ declaration that He and the Father are one was a declaration that He is God in the flesh. There is no other. Antiochus Epiphanes was a fraud; the statue was merely an image that was eventually destroyed.

Jesus is not an idol made of wood or stone, nor is He just a man or a great rabbi or miracle-worker. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that teach us that the true Messiah and Savior of the world would be God in the flesh.

Dear friend, it is the Incarnation that forms the magnificent bridge between the holidays. I cannot tell you how happy I am that our Messiah Jesus chose Hanukkah to declare Himself God in the flesh. What could be more appropriate? What could be more Jewish?

I hope you enjoy the additional teaching on this great topic in this newsletter.

We are so grateful for your prayers!

Blessings and Merry Christmas,
Mitch

Leave a comment

Filed under Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Uncategorized

Nothing Can Keep the Gospel Locked Down!

Dear brothers and sisters,

Merry almost Christmas and thank you for your prayers and partnership. Chosen People Ministries, Your Mission to the Jewish People, is positioned to reach thousands of Jewish people during December, and I am excited. We could not be where we are today without God working through you!

I am especially pleased with the opportunities we have for online evangelism. We are now in the midst of evangelistic campaigns in the United States, England, and Israel. We are offering a booklet about the Jewish holiday Hanukkah entitled Hanukkah: A Bright Light for Dark Times, who we know is Jesus, the Light of the World! We have been speaking to Jewish people about Jesus on Zoom and in person as restrictions allow, and a growing handful of Jewish people in Israel and across the globe are coming to faith. We have baptized some new believers in the past few months too. God is moving!

No one, and nothing the devil can throw at us, can keep the gospel locked down!

FACING HARD TIMES IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

Our dedicated missionaries are working through the many challenges facing them daily in their ministries. And the Lord is using these hard times, caused by COVID-19, to bring out the best in our staff. They are more creative, sacrificial, and dependent upon the Holy Spirit than ever before!

I am concerned, however, with our missionaries who have been enduring hard times in hard places! Your prayers can help our staff power through the challenges by His Spirit.

Let me tell you what these wonderful missionaries are facing.

Our staff in Israel and Brooklyn face regular opposition from religious Jewish people who protest our Bible studies and services—especially at our Greater Tel Aviv Messianic Center in the suburb of Ramat Gan. Some of our staff also face the challenge of having limited resources, as the regions where they serve do not have an abundance of local churches committed to Jewish missions. I wish we could send the staff everything they need, but we cannot as our resources in the United States are also limited.

Our missionaries here at home are also having a tough time because the opportunities to speak in churches—one of the primary ways our missionaries raise their support—is still severely limited because of the pandemic.

We are not sure when churches will fully reopen their doors to our ministries.

Our staff who work in hard places need the freedom to travel to other places to raise prayer and financial support, but it is impossible for our overseas staff to come to the United States to raise support right now.

Our global staff also face the challenges of working in countries plagued by government instability. For example, the governments of England, Israel, and Argentina are under pressure. Policies are changing and uncertainty rules, which make people hesitant to give to missions, even if they can.

COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS

We have to admit that even though we have endured some tough times over the last nine months, we also know there is a lot to be thankful for!

I hope you were able to gather with your family to celebrate Thanksgiving. Yet, I imagine you may have limited the number of your guests to protect your more vulnerable loved ones as we did. Our heavenly Father also protects those He loves. In one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture, Isaiah wrote:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you (Isaiah 43:1–3).

Like our heavenly Father, we are “wired” to protect those we love!

We do have so much to be thankful for in the midst of hardship, including the freedom to express our faith, the availability of Bibles and other Christian literature, and loving families, even though we might have to see them via Zoom.

God is good—all the time.

Let me list a few reasons why I am so thankful this year.

1. Our online outreaches have been very successful.

2. Many Jewish people have come to faith during the pandemic.

3. There is growing interest in the gospel among ultra-religious Jewish people. We have never received as many inquiries from religious Jewish people as we have during the last few months.

4. The Chosen People Ministries staff is healthy. We are still working mostly from our homes, but some of us are also in the office a few days a week. And our congregations—at least some of them—are meeting again in person, following their own state and local requirements.

There is a lot to be thankful for each day, even in light of what we have lost. The Lord always makes up for our hardship, but in His way.

He promised Israel, “Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, My great army which I sent among you” (Joel 2:25).

He loves each of us so deeply and personally. Jesus taught His disciples this as well. Matthew wrote:

Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:31–33).

And He loves those who are preaching the gospel through Your Mission to the Jewish People.

I am grateful for you, too, as it is because of your sacrifice and generosity that the Lord cares for our dedicated staff worldwide, especially those serving in hard places! We currently have staff working in areas that cover 96 percent of the world’s Jewish population, which today is about 15 million!

We are thankful for you, and we pray regularly for the needs of our broader Chosen People Ministries family. Please feel free to send us your prayer requests at chosenpeople.com/pray. We want to thank God for what He is doing in your life and pray for your needs.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving and early Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Your brother,
Mitch

Leave a comment

Filed under Digital Media, evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays

Lessons from the Festival of Booths

Shalom and welcome to my Sukkah! Before I enter, I want to stop and say the special prayer.

ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו לישב בסכה. אמן.

Barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha-olam, asher kidishanu b’mitz’votav v’tzivanu leisheiv basukkah. Amein.

Blessed are You, Lord, our God, king of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to dwell in the sukkah. Amen.

I wish you could walk around Brooklyn with me this week. It is a BIG PARTY! Sukkah booths are popping up everywhere.

The Feast of Tabernacles is all about joy, unlike Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which are somber and sober.

And there is much to celebrate, especially for followers of Yeshua the Messiah, even in the midst of this pandemic, economic hardship, and social unrest.

The Bible enumerates a number of Feast of Tabernacles essentials.

Leviticus 23

Again, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘On the fifteenth of this seventh month is the Feast of Booths for seven days to the Lord. On the first day is a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work of any kind. For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the Lord; it is an assembly. You shall do no laborious work. (Leviticus 23:33–35, emphasis added.)

There is more information about the festival in verses 39–44:

“On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” So Moses declared to the sons of Israel the appointed times of the Lord. (Leviticus 23:39–44, emphasis added.)

Let us look at some Sukkot basics.

The Date

Sukkot is observed in the seventh month on the fifteenth day of the month for a total of seven days. There is one additional day. and then Jewish tradition adds a ninth day.

Sukkot is also called the Feast of Ingathering

“Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field. Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord God” (Exodus 23:16–17).

Sukkot, like the other feasts, is God’s spiritual classroom

The game “Show and Tell” must have been God’s idea! He uses the physical to teach us about the spiritual. By touching, seeing, hearing (as in the case of the shofar), and even tasting (matzah, etc.), the festivals are His spiritual classrooms, where all of our senses are engaged to teach us profound and beautiful spiritual truths.

The Major Symbols and the Lessons

The holiday is filled with lessons, but we will look at three, based upon the biblical text and traditions of the festival.  

  • God Provides

The lulav and etrog teach us that God provides for His children.

We are commanded to take “the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40–41).

We weave the following elements together to form what is known as the lulav, which represents the four species mentioned in the biblical text.

Etrog

The foliage of beautiful trees is p’ree eitz hadar (פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙), which literally means “fruit of beautiful trees” and refers to what we call the etrog—a fruit that looks like a large lemon.

The palm branches

The palm branches, orlulav, is a frond of the date palm tree.

The boughs of leafy trees

The boughs of leafy trees refer to thebranches of a myrtle bush.

The willows of the brook

The willows of the brook refer to the branches of the willow tree.

The palm branch, myrtle, and willow are combined into what is called a lulav. We use three willow branches, two myrtle, and one long palm frond to which the others are tied.

The joyful shaking of the lulav reminds us that God provides through the harvest.

He causes the rain to fall, the sun to shine, and the seeds to germinate. Our job is to harvest what He creates. It is difficult for those of us who are not farmers to appreciate this firsthand. Some of us do not even go to the grocery store these days, choosing instead to have our food delivered!

Still, we are commanded to be happy because God is our Provider! Waving the lulav and etrog is an expression of joy—joy that is tied to the harvest.

Mustering up authentic joy is not easy in the midst of a pandemic. Our lives have been so disrupted, and many of us have endured such significant loss; of a loved one, a friend, a business, income, education, fellowship with others in worship, and the joy of everyday life. We miss our normal lives, and we are eager to recapture what we have lost.

Yet, God commands us to rejoice—even in the midst of suffering.

In some ways, this has been the story of Jewish life and history—smiling while suffering!

For followers of the Messiah Jesus, the command to rejoice during Sukkot reminds us of the words of Rabbi Paul again, who wrote, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (Philippians 3:1), and also, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

So, what is the secret to having joy? Should we rejoice when everything around us tells us not to? Are we speaking about some type of Jewish stoicism that ignores the hardships we face?

Not at all!

Sukkot reminds of God’s care for the Israelites through the desert wanderings.

We are encouraged to ask the Lord for the same provision and care today as we travel through the desert of this life. He provided the manna, quails, and even water out of a rock for our ancestors. He has not changed!

The Jewish people, my ancestors, experienced this supernatural provision. According to Moses:

He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ (Deuteronomy 8:15–17)

Yeshua said much the same, but a little differently in the Sermon on the Mount, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). And also, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” (v. 30). And He concludes, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (vv. 33–34).

Hardship and suffering purify our souls as we learn to distinguish between our needs and wants and to thank God who provides our “daily bread”. This is what we learn from fasting on Yom Kippur and what we learn from the lulav and etrog—God always provides.

Applying the Lesson

Which grows out of the first…

The Lord wants us to serve Him by serving others.

Sukkot calls upon us to be thankful and generous, be grateful to God for all He has done, and to rejoice, but also to remember the poor and those who do not have what they need.

You might look for one needy family this week and give from the abundance God has given to you. I believe God will bless and reward your generosity as you care for others the way God has cared for you.

As Yeshua said, again in the Sermon on the Mount:

So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2–4)

  •  God’s Protects

Moses commands the Jewish people to live in booths for seven days. Moses wrote, You shall live in booths for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in booths, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:42–43).

The Hebrew word for booths is sukkot סֻּכֹּ֥ת—the plural, which is where we get the name for the holiday.

The booths are not built for long term occupancy; they are God’s classroom. These flimsy structures with see-through roofs are supposed to remind us of the structures we lived in while travelling in the Sinai desert for forty years.

Let me put it this way: If built correctly, without nails, with a see-through ceiling, and a fragile foundation, you would not want to be in a sukkah during a strong wind!

The Sukkah also reminds of the frailty of human life.

According to Jewish tradition, we are supposed to eat and sleep in the sukkah booth for seven days. The rabbis compare the sukkah to the human body, which is frail and eventually wears out. It reminds me that we are Chevrolets, built with planned obsolescence—we are designed to eventually wear out.

I love the old hymn that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” We need to view ourselves as perpetual tourists and live with the future in mind. A famous rabbi, Samuel ben Maier, commenting on Leviticus 23:43, believes the booths also call us to humility and to appreciate the simple things of life. He wrote:

Why do I command you to do all this? For the Lord your God brings you to a good … and you will eat and be satisfied, etc. As a result, your heart may become haughty and you will credit yourself with all this as your own achievement. (Deuteronomy 8:7–8) In order that this will not happen, and to show the Israelites God’s part in their success, they will move out of their solid houses as a reminder to the time when they had not been blessed with any of these benefits which they enjoy ever since inheriting the land of their forefathers. (Rashbam Leviticus 23:43)[1]

This lesson is repeated in the Shulchan Aruch, which means “the prepared table,” one of the guiding manuals on Jewish spiritual life.[2]

Jewish tradition suggests that God is our sukkah, and He is all we need. He protects us from life’s dangers. He guards and guides us through the twists, turns, and turbulence of life.

Unless He wants us to learn lessons from hardship or maybe He is simply calling us home. We agree with the rabbi from Tarsus, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). And David wrote in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

God uses the desert to bring us to our knees. Deserts are not very hospitable to human life. The days are too hot, the nights are too cold, the water is scarce, and the oases few and far between. We have lived in a type of desert for the last six months, and we have learned more than we wish about life and death through the pandemic.

The pandemic has driven many of us into the arms of a loving, caring, and protecting Savior to seek protection. We have been humbled! The pandemic has revealed our weakness and limitations. We also recognize that we cannot easily defeat our enemies, especially when they are invisible. It is really hard to fight what you cannot see. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the battle we are really fighting as believers, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:12–13).

We are fighting against far more than an invisible virus; we are doing battle with the world forces of darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness. This battle will not be won with worldly weapons but with the power of God by His Spirit and the spiritual armor He provides to fight; truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, and the shield of faith.

So, it is time to read a Jewish children’s story! We learn so much about Jewish life and lessons from these stories. this is one for Sukkot.

Debbie and Danny were very unhappy.

When they tried to fast all day on Yom Kippur they hadn’t been able to go without food past 2 o’clock. Even though their parents had told them that when they were older they would have the self-discipline to be able to fast all day on Yom Kippur, they wanted to do it now.

And when they had tried to blow the Shofar after Rosh Hashanah family services they hadn’t been able to make a real sound; just a little squeak. Now their parents were telling them they were too young to sleep overnight in the Sukkah. It wasn’t fair.

Debbie and Danny had helped their parents build the Sukkah. In fact, the reason their family had a Sukkah of their own this year was because of Debbie and Danny. Their father had said he didn’t have the time to build a Sukkah this year, but the kids had offered to help with everything. When the Sukkah was finished their father was proud of how much they had helped. They carried a table and chairs into the Sukkah and prepared to eat their meals in the Sukkah. But when the kids said they wanted to bring their sleeping bags into the Sukkah and sleep overnight their parents said, “NO”.

First their parents said it was too cold to sleep in the Sukkah. Then they said the kids were too young. Finally, they said that it wasn’t safe.

Debbie and Danny said a Sukkah was as safe as a house. A Sukkah was God’s shelter for the Jewish people for all the years when the Jews lived in the desert after they left Egypt. And a Sukkah was the shelter Jewish people used in the Land of Israel when they were harvesting their crops and thanking God for the harvest. They reminded their parents that:

‘It is a Mitsvah [commandment] to build a Sukkah.’

‘It is a Mitsvah to eat meals in a Sukkah.’

‘And it is a Mitsvah to sleep in a Sukkah.’

Their parents were impressed that Debbie and Danny had such a great desire to do Mitsvot [commandments] so they agreed that the kids could sleep overnight in the Sukkah on Saturday night.

When Saturday night came Debbie and Danny were eager to sleep in the Sukkah. They had decorated the Sukkah with drawings and old Shanah Tovah [Happy New Year!] cards. They had hung different kinds of fruit and vegetables on the Sukkah. Now they got in their sleeping bags, ate a night-time snack from the fruit hanging on the Sukkah, and went to sleep.

In the middle of the night they were suddenly awakened. The Sukkah was shaking, but it wasn’t from the wind. The ground itself was shaking. It was an earthquake. They heard a loud crash. A tree had fallen on their house. They were scared. Then they remembered that they were in God’s Sukkah. They didn’t feel so frightened. They said the Sh’ma [a traditional Hebrew prayer from Deuteronomy 6:4] a few times and they felt even better. The earthquake stopped.

Their parents came out and they seemed to be more upset than the kids. The tree that had fallen had landed on the roof above the bedroom where the children slept. They might have been hurt if they had been sleeping in the house.

Thank God the kids had been sleeping in the Sukkah.[3]

  • Lesson #3.  God Gives us Hope

Like the children of Israel, we have a destination. Ultimately, it is not we who are going to Him, but rather He is coming for and to us.

If we pass from this life and enter His presence, or if we are taken up to meet the Lord in the air, the end of the story is all about His coming back to the world He created to establish His kingdom in a renewed and reclaimed earth.

Heaven ultimately comes to earth.

The sukkah reminds us that, one day, as promised, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea. In fact, a day is coming when the entire earth will become his sukkah booth and tabernacle. We caught a glimpse of this with the coming of Jesus the Messiah, who, according to the gospel writer John, dwelled—literally tabernacled—among us.

I love Sukkot because it reminds me of the glory ahead. Knowing Him is a foretaste of the glorious future God has prepared for those who love Him. The sukkah reminds us of what is to come! As John wrote:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5)

Invitation:

Are you joyful? Do you feel protected? How are you doing right now in the midst of our season of trouble and trial when it comes to hope?

If you have never received Jesus as your Messiah, now is not too soon.

Pray this prayer with me:

If you are a believer and you are running on one or two but not three of these cylinders; joy, safety, and hope, then maybe you need to dwell in God’s sukkah booth for a while. You have all week to find or build one! Either way, I urge you to turn to the Lord and experience His provision that will give you joy, sense His protection, once again enjoy a sense of safety. In Him, you will also find hope. We are not locked down by the present if we know the Lord and believe that He is with us. In fact, the hope we have for better days is good practice learning how to hope for the best days when He returns.

Chag Sameach and Happy Sukkot…may you always dwell in the presence of the Lord.

God’s Sukkah is Safe

A Story of Hope

With the help of his two young neighbors, Justine and Duane, elderly Mr. Roth builds a sukkah, a little hut built by Jews to commemorate the harvest festival and to remind them of generations of homelessness. After the two children spend the night in the hut, they go to the market with Mr. Roth to buy foods for a festive Sukkoth meal to be shared in the hut. While they are at the market, a firestorm that has erupted in the hills rapidly obliterates their neighborhood. Miraculously, the only building left untouched by the rampaging flames is Mr. Roth’s sukkah. Amid the ghostly stillness at the scene, where not even the crickets have survived to chirp, can be heard another miracle–the cries of Mr. Roth’s cat, Tikvah, who has managed to escape the fire.[4]

And guess what Tikvah means—hope! The author was trying to tell the children that the sukkah was more than a little tent or temporary shack, it is a symbol of the hope we have in a God who always cares for and protects His children.

May the Lord fill your heart with hope, as even if things do not work out well for us on earth, we put our trust in the One who has overcome the world and has gone before us to build a mega-sukkah—a mansion where we will live forever. And nothing—not a wildfire, hurricane, pandemic or far worse—can destroy what He is building for those who love Him.

Let me summarize and close:

God is always faithful to provide for our needs—it is His nature.

Provision should lead to our taking action by providing for others.

He protects us, which should calm our fears and enable us to trust the One who protected the Jewish people in the desert.

We can have hope because a new world is coming for those who love Him, and we will live with our glorious God and Messiah forever.


[1] Rashbam, “Rashbam On Leviticus 23: 43,” Sefaria, accessed October 2, 2020, https://www.sefaria.org/Rashbam_on_Leviticus.23.43.1?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en.

[2] Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 639:1. According to very important Rabbinic document, the Shulkan Aruch – the Prepared Table, we are told the following about the Sukkah, “What is the Mitzvah of sitting in the Sukkah? That he should eat, drink, sleep, lounge, (Tur) and reside in the Sukkah all seven days, both in the day and in the night, in the same manner in which he resides in his house the rest of year. And all seven days a man makes his house temporary and his Sukkah permanent. How so? The fine dishes and linens, should be in the Sukkah; and drinking vessels, such as glass cups and mugs, in the Sukkah; but eating vessels after eating (Tur), such as pots and plates, outside of the Sukkah. The lantern should be in the Sukkah.” “Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 639,” Sefaria, accessed October 2, 2020, https://www.sefaria.org/Shulchan_Arukh%2C_Orach_Chayim.639?lang=bi.

[3] Allen S. Maller, “A Succot Story for Children: God’s Sukkah Is Safe,” The Jewish Magazine, accessed October 2, 2020, http://www.jewishmag.com/126mag/succah_children/succah_children.htm.

[4] Polacco’s story is based on the firestorm that ravaged her hometown of Oakland, California. Actual framed photos of family members shown on bureau tops and posters of sports idols on a bedroom wall helpÿ20convey the reality of the event and of the personal losses suffered. Polacco’s vibrantly colored illustrations pulse with energy and emotion as the characters bend with the whipping wind, comfort each other in the temporary shelter, and rejoice in the sukkah when Tikvah is found. Good Sukkoth stories are rare; rooted in an actual event as well as in ages-old tradition, this one is a priceless gem

Ellen Mandel, review of Tikvah Means Hope, by Patricia Polacco, Amazon.com,  https://www.amazon.com/Tikvah-Means-Hope-Patricia-Polacco/dp/0385320590?pd_rd_w=7BZfa&pf_rd_p=3fdb7f7b-31a2-4f37-b9bc-1469e3d4fb18&pf_rd_r=4P0M388T0HVKA6JFQ5PY&pd_rd_r=e4469531-db4c-4746-9a31-7579e745830b&pd_rd_wg=met5J.

Leave a comment

Filed under Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays

A High Holiday Sermon – Reminder: The Hope of Restoration

Introduction

We gather each year on the first night of Yom Kippur to hear Kol Nidrei, a traditional and moving prayer that serves as Israel’s appeal to wipe away sins by annulling the obligations of the previous year—vows that we made between the previous Day of Atonement and today. It is written in Aramaic, and its origins are disputed. Some scholars say it was written during the Gaonic period (ninth century), but many others have suggested the prayer was born out of the dark days of the Inquisition when many Spanish and Portuguese Jewish people were forced to convert to Catholicism under threat of death or expulsion.[1]

Although we are not sure why or when the prayer was created, once it was paired with the soulful melody that now makes the prayer so moving, the impact of Kol Nidrei on the hearts of Jewish people is certain. Whether religious or secular, this Yom Kippur tradition has become one of the most powerful prayers in Jewish life and faith. It is not unusual to have non-religious Jewish people attend synagogue each year on erev (the evening of) Yom Kippur simply to experience the Kol Nidrei prayer.

There are a variety of ways to present Kol Nidrei, some with unique adaptations. The following version was presented at Beth Sar Shalom—Brooklyn, and I thought it was especially creative and beautiful. Listen to it if you have a moment!

Versions of the Prayer

A traditional version of the prayer:

All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas, whether called ‘ḳonam,’ ‘ḳonas,’ or by any other name, which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next (whose happy coming we await), we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect; they shall not bind us nor have power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligatory; nor the oaths be oaths.

The leader and the congregation then say together:

“And it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them, seeing all the people were in ignorance” (Num. xv. 26).[2]

A more modern translation/version:

All vows we are likely to make, all oaths and pledges we are likely to vow, or swear, or consecrate, or prohibit upon ourselves between this Yom Kippur and the next Yom Kippur, we publicly renounce. Let them all be relinquished and abandoned, null and void, neither firm nor established. Our vows are no longer vows, our prohibitions are no longer prohibitions, and our oaths are no longer oaths.

The whole community of the Children of Israel, and the strangers dwelling among them, shall be forgiven, for all of them were without premeditation.—Numbers 15:26

O pardon the iniquities of this people, according to Thy abundant mercy, just as Thou forgave this people ever since they left Egypt.

The Lord said, “I pardon them according to your words.” (three times)—Numbers 14:20[3]

Rabbi Eric Solomon, a reform rabbi, writes so poignantly about the impact of the Kol Nidrei,

Kol Nidre may have been initiated by the personal need of the marranos to repent for a forced conversion, but its power has reached far past that narrow scope. When we daven the Kol Nidre together as a community, we are looking beyond the simple meaning of the words; we are beginning to focus inward, preparing to unleash our darkest memories, and paving the path towards genuine reflection on God and repentance.[4]

The Appeal of the Prayer

Clearly, at the heart of the prayer is the request of the penitent beseeching God to withhold His judgment and to be merciful for not fulfilling vows of obedience, promises of changed behavior and keeping mitzvot. There is also an underlying understanding that when we live in obedience to God, we are blessed and when we do not, we are judged. Kol Nidrei is an appeal, asking God to release us from the promises we could not keep. The prayer expresses a desire to be forgiven for making unkept vows and for not meeting God’s expectations.

At its core, Kol Nidrei expresses our desire for forgiveness and God’s blessings. Somehow, we all know, in the depth of our souls, irrespective of our theology, that we are worthy of judgment and are in desperate need of forgiveness.

I cannot disagree with these sentiments. The Bible is very clear about these matters. Judaism typically does not affirm the depravity of man in the same way that Christianity does. Yet, the regularity of committing sin is obviously recognized by the very nature of Yom Kippur.

Biblical Blessings and Judgments

The Bible teaches that there is a causal relationship between obedience and blessings, and between disobedience and judgment. It is a theme woven throughout Scripture in more places than we can count, and it generally describes the nature of our relationship with God. In very summarized terms, when we do what He says, we are blessed and happy, and if we do not, then we are judged and, well, not very happy. Israel’s experiences of these blessings and judgments vary throughout the Old and New Testaments, but I am sure no one would argue this pattern is fundamental to Scripture.

Blessing and judgments are embedded in the very covenants the Holy One constructed to guide our relationship to Him.

The themes of blessings and judgments are tied to His perfect nature. He is holy and just, and we are sinful. Yet, God calls upon us to act against our nature and live righteously. If we do, we will be fulfilled and happy. If we do not—if we fail to act righteously—then judgment should be expected. If He should ignore our rebellion against His standards and do nothing about it, then He would appear to be unholy, unjust, unrighteous, and even weak, making demands that not even He could fulfill.

Would we really want to worship a God who had no standards? What if there were no ultimate justice? Or would we worship a God who had standards but did not act upon them? As uncomfortable as judgment might be, we would still rather adore and follow a holy and righteous God who enforced His standards…would we not?

Yet, the Bible teaches that this same God is also loving, gracious, and merciful. As He proclaimed to Moses when He passed by him on Sinai,

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:5–7)

We also read in the Bible of His willingness to override His justice and to show mercy, which is not getting what you deserve for your sinful behavior, and grace, defined as receiving what you could never merit.

God’s Covenants

Again, these relationships, on a larger and national level for Israel, are embedded within the covenants He made with mankind, including a promise to not destroy the world again by a flood (Genesis 9:9–17) and built into the two great covenants that form the foundation of Jewish national existence; the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant.

In the Abrahamic Covenant, the Lord promised Abram and his seed that He would preserve them as a people (Genesis 12), they will possess a land with boundaries outlined in Genesis 15, receive blessings from God (Genesis 12), and be used by God to bring these blessings to the world (Genesis 12:3).[5]

This covenant is described as without time or conditions. The Lord takes responsibility to fulfill these promises sometime in the future without fail.

The promised blessing (Genesis 12:2, “And I will bless you”) may be understood as including the people, the land, and Abram’s reputation, but seems to focus on the promise that God’s blessings are linked to His presence with His people.

The blessings go beyond the land to the hope given by God that His presence will remain with the Jewish people throughout their existence as a nation. Israel would be a nation that would ultimately know the presence of God in their midst. As the Lord promised to Abraham,

I have made you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:6–8)

These manifold blessings will be mediated through Abraham, reside with those who bless the children of Abraham, and flow to the entire non-Abrahamic world. If Israel is disobedient, then according to the covenant with Abraham, the Lord Himself will take the responsibility of turning the hearts of the Jewish people to Himself (Romans 11:25–29). Leviticus 26: 45 says, “But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord.”

The Mosaic Covenant is a bit different. The covenant God made with Moses is causal in nature, and both judgments and blessings are linked to the behavior of the Jewish people; blessings for obedience and judgments for disobedience.

These two covenants determined the history of Israel. When the Jewish people were faithful, they were blessed and remained in the land, and when we were disobedient, the Jewish people experienced God’s judgment and were removed from the Land on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant.

722 BCE – The Assyrians dispersed the northern tribes.

604–586 BCE – The southern tribes go into Babylonian captivity and the Temple is destroyed.

AD 70 – The Romans disperse the Jewish people and destroy the Second Temple.

AD 132 – The Jewish people are further dispersed by Roman Emperor Hadrian.

However, the Lord never allowed His chosen people to languish in captivity for too long and brought Israel back from exile—on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant. Today, almost seven million Jewish people have been gathered back to the land of Israel, but certainly not on the basis of obedience to the Mosaic Covenant! Their return is tied to the unmerited grace described in the Abrahamic Covenant and is part of His unfolding purposes predicted in Ezekiel 36–37 and Romans 11:12; 15; 25–29.

Two Passages that Predict the Future of Israel Based Upon the Covenants

Perhaps the two passages of Scripture that are well-known and speak so profoundly to this causal relationship and pattern—Disobedience:Judgement::Obedience:Blessings—are found in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, which are perhaps my least favorite passages of the Bible.

Deuteronomy Chapter 28

This chapter outlines the blessings and judgments that would befall Israel on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant. There are fourteen verses of blessings and fifty-four of judgment. The following three verses at the end of Moses’ discourse summarize the nature of these judgments:

It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. (Deuteronomy 28:63–65)

We see that this has transpired and is a sober and serious reminder of God’s judgment for our sin.

Leviticus Chapter 26

This chapter is similar but includes more of a focus on grace and the Abrahamic Covenant. The two covenants are interwoven in this text. Chapter 26 begins with two additional reminders of God’s Mosaic commandments, and then, in verses three through thirteen, outlines the promised blessings of obedience.

For example,

If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land. (Leviticus 26:3–5)

However, Moses then presents twenty-five verses (Leviticus 26:14–39) of severe judgment for disobedience. Again, this is a reflection of the Mosaic Covenant and the result of our disobedience to the covenant demands. The Mosaic Covenant is a standard of holiness that reminds us of God’s expectations and standards that we will never achieve on our own.

Principles of Spiritual Restoration

We can learn so much from God’s plans and purposes for the nation of Israel. These principles govern our lives as well. Though the Mosaic Covenant is specific to the Jewish people and the Jewish people are the main focus of the Abrahamic Covenant, by virtue of its promises, it extends to the nations as well. 

The hope of restoration is also seen in the midst of His judgments—a reminder of the promised future God has prepared for the nation of Israel on the basis of the Abrahamic Covenant. We read in Leviticus chapter twenty-six:

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land. For the land will be abandoned by them, and will make up for its sabbaths while it is made desolate without them. They, meanwhile, will be making amends for their iniquity, because they rejected My ordinances and their soul abhorred My statutes. Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:40–45)

Personally, as a Jewish believer, I do not view the high holiday season as valuable for purely evangelistic reasons, though many Jewish people come to faith in Jesus during this special time of the year. I also do not fast and pray on Yom Kippur simply on behalf of the sins of my Jewish people and family. I have learned that the true value of the high holiday season, for me and all who cherish their Messianic heritage, is remembering that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a renewing and restoring God, and I take advantage of this season of the year to seek forgiveness and find the renewal that I believe is tearfully sought by the Kol Nidrei prayer.

I suggest we can draw two principles from God’s covenantal relationship with Israel that apply to our lives and are especially evident during the high holiday season.

The Lord will respond to our repentance with grace, mercy and forgiveness. Remember the words of Leviticus 26:40–42,

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me—I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.

Notice the language. Moses certainly has the Abrahamic Covenant in mind. This covenant was made with Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham…in backwards order. This is the covenant that promises grace as the Lord staked His holy reputation on fulfilling what He promised. The day will come when Israel will experience these blessings again as the Lord will cause the hearts of the Jewish people to turn back to Him.

It is the reason we cry out for mercy on this holy day—because God is a God of restoration who keeps His promises. One day, Israel will turn from her disobedience and be totally restored as they live in the land, experience the blessings of God presence, and the nations will also enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom on earth.

Theses verses remind us that judgment falls upon the chosen people because of our failure to obey the commandments in the Mosaic Covenant. But, the hope for Israel’s restoration is based upon a different covenant and different promises—those found in the Abrahamic Covenant. Even when Israel sins and is in exile, the Lord will still keep His holy hand upon His people. Not because of their obedience, but because of His faithfulness. “Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will remember for them the covenant with their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 26:44–45).

If we were completely honest with one another, we would admit that our lives are a battleground! We are constantly struggling and battling against sin. The reason most people do not see this is because the battle is within. We are constantly sinning, repenting, and asking the Lord for renewal and transformation by the power of His Spirit. If not, then we are feeling defeated or, even worse, have given up. The good news is that God is a forgiving God by nature, and constantly extends His grace and mercy to those who have been bought by the blood of Yeshua! There is always hope for overcoming the sins that beset us. Victory is available but it might not look like the spiritual victory described in some Christian books or trite spiritual formulas. The battle for holiness that rages in our souls is one we will fight until we are perfected.

My hope and prayer for all of us is that we will seek the Lord and His strength while realistically recognizing the darkness of our souls. We should continue to fight the battles within our souls. Why? Because we know that the war was won on Golgotha as He said, “It is finished.” But we must keep fighting until He comes, knowing that He understands our frame and weakness and is always available to give us help, strength, and as Paul wrote, “Who is the one who condemns? Messiah Yeshua is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us (Romans 8:34).

So, please do not give up! Remember that the fight for spiritual growth is part of walking with God. It is a battle worth winning though there will certainly be losses along the way. We need to expect some losses and remember that restoration is always available and begins with repentance.

I love Kol Nidrei. It is an honest prayer reminding me of my failures and the multitude of ways even the best among us break our promises to God and man. We might as well admit it! Though we believe in Yeshua, we still break His holy commandments written in both the Old and New Testaments. Does God cast us off for our sins? No! Jesus told us that time and again.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (John 6:37).

And again,

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:9–10).

Like Israel, we are secured by a grace covenant through the death and resurrection of the Messiah Yeshua. When we find ourselves drifting from Him, we must remember that He will not forget us as He does not forget Israel—He always has His hands upon us. There is always hope for grace and restoration, and Yom Kippur and the entirety of the high holiday season is a wonderful time to rededicate ourselves to the Lord, repent of our sins, and find grace that leads to restoration. This repentance and seeking His grace should continue every day of our lives.  We really need to live a repentant lifestyle, which leads to a grace-filled life, filled with His powerful and comforting presence every day.


[1] For more on the origins of this important Jewish prayer, see Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, ed., All These Vows: Kol Nidre, Prayers of Awe (Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Pub., 2011).

[2] Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. “Kol Nidre,” http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/9443-kol-nidre.

[3] Rabbi Ruth Adar, “What Does Kol Nidre Mean?,” Coffee Shop Rabbi (blog), September 29, 2015, https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/2015/09/29/what-does-kol-nidre-mean/.

[4] Rabbi Eric Solomon, “Kol Nidrei Collection,” SaveTheMusic.com, accessed September 25, 2020, https://savethemusic.com/collections/the-kol-nidre-collection/.

[5] See the excellent Journal article in the Masters Seminary Journal by Dr. Keith Essex on the Abrahamic covenant: Keith H. Essex, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 10, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 191-212, https://www.tms.edu/m/tmsj10n.pdf.

Leave a comment

Filed under Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Uncategorized