The Shemitah and The Yovel: Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part IV
A Habitual Rebellion
Restoring What We Never Knew We Lost
The return of Ephraim and reunification of all Israel has taken a key place in Jewish thought since ancient times. In fact, a key identifying feature of Messiah would be that He would end the exile of all the tribes, reunite Judah and Ephraim, and initiate a period of peace and prosperity sitting on the throne of David. Consider, for example, Hosea 11, which begins with a well-known reference from Matthew 2:13-15 cited as one of the proofs of Yeshua’s Messiahship. Yet the remainder of the chapter very rarely gets any notice in Christian circles. Here is the full chapter:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. As they called them, so they went from them; they sacrificed to the Baals, and burned incense to carved images. I taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by their arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them. He shall not return to the land of Egypt; but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent. And the sword shall slash in his cities, devour his districts, and consume them, because of their own counsels. My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, none at all exalt Him. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, the Holy One in your midst; and I will not come with terror. They shall walk after the Lord. He will roar like a lion. When He roars, then His sons shall come trembling from the west; they shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt, like a dove from the land of Assyria. And I will let them dwell in their houses,” says the Lord. “Ephraim has encircled Me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Judah still walks with God, even with the Holy One who is faithful. (Hosea 11:1-12 NKJV, emphasis added)
It is quite clear from the last verse of this passage that the Lord is addressing Ephraim, the House of Israel, not the Jews of the House of Judah. At the time of this prophecy (c. 760-720 BC), the Northern Kingdom was falling further and further under the dominion of Assyria, and at the same time clinging ever more tightly to their rebellion against the ways of the Lord. Judah also suffered from Assyrian oppression, even enduring the devastating invasion of Sennacherib in 701 BC in the days of King Hezekiah (715-687 BC), but there was yet a degree of faithfulness in Judah which manifested in a massive revival during the early years of Hezekiah’s reign. It was not until a century later, in the time of Jeremiah, that Judah had departed so far from the Lord God and His ways that the prophet received the instruction, “Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you” (Jeremiah 7:16 NKJV; see also Jeremiah 11:14 and 14:11).
An Expedient – and Deadly – Ignorance
What had caused the Lord to abandon His people, and in particular Ephraim, His favored son? As the record of II Kings 17 shows, they rejected the commandments of God and followed after false gods. The indictment against the kings and people of Israel and of Judah is consistent and persistent throughout Scripture. Yet what modern Bible readers fail to grasp is that neither Ephraim nor Judah completely rejected YHVH, the Lord God. Rather, they mixed worship of the One True God with the worship of false gods. In this they followed the example of our ancestors at Mount Sinai when they compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf for them to worship as YHVH God:
So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” (Exodus 32:3-6 NKJV, emphasis added)
Half a millennium later, when Jeroboam of Ephraim led the Ten Tribes in their rebellion against the House of David, he repeated the same apostasy. Jeroboam perceived a threat to his power in God’s commandments through Moses establishing a central place and form of worship for all Israel. As He said,
These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God with such things. But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go. There you shall take your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, the heave offerings of your hand, your vowed offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks. And there you shall eat before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice in all to which you have put your hand, you and your households, in which the Lord your God has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 12:1-7 NKJV, emphasis added)
Later, after King David was installed as the ruler over all Israel, God designated Jerusalem as the central place of worship, and in that city David’s son Solomon built the Temple of the Lord. From that time forward, Jerusalem was the place where the people of Israel went to celebrate the three great pilgrim feasts of Unleavened Bread, Shavuot (Weeks, or Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles). Yet this presented an obvious concern for Jeroboam: if the people had to go to Jerusalem, the capital of the king against whom he had rebelled, every time they wanted to make a sacrifice to the Lord, and at minimum three times a year, then it would not be long before they decided to transfer their loyalty back to Rehoboam. Therefore Jeroboam took action to remove this threat and consolidate his control over Israel:
And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.” Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi. Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made. So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense. (I Kings 12:26-33 NKJV, emphasis added)
Notice that Jeroboam did not institute the worship of any false gods, but rather offered the people an alternative way to worship YHVH. In other words, Jeroboam established as the official religion of his kingdom a paganized worship of YHVH based on the practices of the nations Israel had displaced in Canaan. In doing so, he violated a very specific commandment of the Lord:
You must not worship the Lord your God in their way. (Deuteronomy 12:4 NIV)
A few generations later, the mixture of these pagan practices had so diluted the truth of God’s ways that King Ahab and his Canaanite (Phoenician) consort Jezebel had little trouble establishing worship of Baal and Asherah as the state religion. God answered Ahab’s apostasy by raising up the prophets Elijah and Elisha, and finally established Jehu son of Nimshi as the new king of Israel with the mission to destroy the House of Ahab and reestablish worship of YHVH. Jehu did very well with the first half of that mission, but failed in returning to the Lord. Instead, he deemed it better to continue with the paganized practices of Jeroboam, resulting in this indictment:
However Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan. And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in doing what is right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin. In those days the Lord began to cut off parts of Israel; and Hazael [King of Syria] conquered them in all the territory of Israel from the Jordan eastward: all the land of Gilead—Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh—from Aroer, which is by the River Arnon, including Gilead and Bashan. (II Kings 10:29-33 NKJV)
From that point on there was no turning back for the Ephraimite kingdom of Israel. The Ten Tribes slid further into rebellion against God’s Law until He had to bring judgment upon them and drive them from the land, just as He had promised. Ironically, and tragically, the people of Israel went into exile thinking they were doing nothing wrong. They did repent, at least as far as they understood repentance. They were not shaking their fists at God in defiance, but actively seeking His blessing. And yet God was not pleased, which is why He warned them repeatedly with words like these:
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink!” The Lord God has sworn by His holiness: “Behold, the days shall come upon you when He will take you away with fishhooks, and your posterity with fishhooks. You will go out through broken walls, each one straight ahead of her, and you will be cast into Harmon,” says the Lord. “Come to Bethel and transgress, at Gilgal multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days [years]. Offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving with leaven, proclaim and announce the freewill offerings; for this you love, you children of Israel!” says the Lord God. “Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord. “I also withheld rain from you, when there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, and where it did not rain the part withered. So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, but they were not satisfied; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord. “I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, your vineyards, your fig trees, and your olive trees, the locust devoured them; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord. “I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; your young men I killed with a sword, along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord. “I overthrew some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; yet you have not returned to Me,” says the Lord. “Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” For behold, He who forms mountains, and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning darkness, Who treads the high places of the earth—the Lord God of hosts is His name. (Amos 4:1-13 NKJV, emphasis added)
One who knows little of the Torah would miss the mocking, almost sarcastic, tone of the Lord’s words in verses 4 and 5. The people bring sacrifices and thanksgiving offerings, as well as their tithes, all of which God requires in His Law. However, they bring their sacrifices to unauthorized altars at Bethel and Gilgal which rival His holy place at Jerusalem. Moreover, they offer grain offerings with leaven, which the Lord expressly forbids. And of course those who administer these religious practices are priests established according to the traditions of men, not according to the requirements of God. They are not descendants of Aaron, nor even Levites, the family and tribe God designated for the holy service of His Temple. Yet the people continue in these errors, not even aware that what they do has angered the God they think they are serving to the point that He is ready to cast them out of His sight.
And so, ignorantly or knowingly, but most likely a combination of both, the Ephraimite Kingdom of Israel defied God and went their own way. This pride and arrogance is what Rabbi Cahn explained in his book, The Harbinger: The Ancient Secret that Holds America’s Future. When adversity came to ancient Israel, rather than turning back to God in the way He desired and prescribed, they lifted their voices in defiance and in praise of their own strength, and in the process asked God’s blessing on their efforts. The key passage Rabbi Cahn cites is in Isaiah:
The Lord sent a word against Jacob, and it has fallen on Israel. All the people will know—Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria—who say in pride and arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will replace them with cedars.” Therefore the Lord shall set up the adversaries of Rezin against him, and spur his enemies on, the Syrians before and the Philistines behind; and they shall devour Israel with an open mouth. For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still. (Isaiah 9:8-12 NKJV, emphasis added)
Notice that the prophecy is against Ephraim, not Judah. Not long after this prophecy by Isaiah, the Northern Kingdom ceased to exist, just as the Lord promised. In fact, He had promised it long before, by the mouth of Moses. In his farewell speech to all Israel, Moses explained that their continued rebellion would result not only in their exile, but in God making their cities and land like the Cities of the Plain – Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim:
I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today (for you know that we dwelt in the land of Egypt and that we came through the nations which you passed by, and you saw their abominations and their idols which were among them—wood and stone and silver and gold); so that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I follow the dictates of my heart’—as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. The Lord would not spare him; for then the anger of the Lord and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in this book would settle on him, and the Lord would blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord would separate him from all the tribes of Israel for adversity, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this Book of the Law, so that the coming generation of your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, would say, when they see the plagues of that land and the sicknesses which the Lord has laid on it: ‘The whole land is brimstone, salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, nor does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and His wrath.’ All nations would say, ‘Why has the Lord done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ Then people would say: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt; for they went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. And the Lord uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day.’ (Deuteronomy 29:14-28 NKJV, emphasis added)
All of this has happened, except that part about the land being brimstone, salt, and burning. The fact that it is not indicates the mercy of God according to His word through Hosea:
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I set you like Zeboiim? My heart churns within Me; My sympathy is stirred. (Hosea 11:8 NKJV)
In time, God will reverse the exile of Ephraim and restore the entire Kingdom of Israel. This is something Jews have known for centuries. Although there is difference of opinion on the specifics of the prophecies, there is an expectation that all Twelve Tribes will be reunited when Messiah comes. In fact, one reason Jews reject the claims of Yeshua as Messiah is because He did not restore the Kingdom. Christians understand that Yeshua came for the purpose of paying the debt of humanity’s sin and redeeming a people to Himself, but they do not understand that Messiah still has much work to do in restoring and ruling the Kingdom of Israel upon His return. But Yeshua’s disciples understood this. That understanding explains the question they asked in their last conversation with Messiah:
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:4-6 NKJV, emphasis added)
This question is about to be answered.
Part V looks at the principles of the Shemitah and the Yovel for indications of the end of Ephraim’s exile, seeking to place this in the context of Messiah’s coming.