The Shemitah and The Yovel: Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part VIII
Walking Through The Open Gate
An Enduring Standard
We see from Scripture that the Creator’s processes are lengthy, thorough, and often completely different from what humans desire or expect. This should not be a surprise. YHVH says quite plainly that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Nevertheless, He does tell us what we need to know, and He reveals things at the appointed times to those who bother to seek Him. What we often learn is that the answer has been there all along, but we have never understood it correctly until the right time and until we approach with the right heart. When it comes to the purpose of the Lord’s processes regarding His people Israel, the answer has been staring at us for about 3,000 years. He spoke it through Moses to prepare the people for their first great meeting with Him at Sinai:
In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 19:1-6 NASB, emphasis added)
A kingdom of priests. A holy nation. That is what our God told our fathers that He wanted to make of them. Remember, He did not speak this process exclusively to the Jews, although the ancestors of the Jews were there in the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi. The Lord God spoke this as well to all the non-Jewish Israelites gathered at the foot of Sinai, regardless whether they were physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or had joined with the people during the sojourn in Egypt. All were Israelites, and all were called to become this kingdom of priests, this holy nation which would be the instrument of Holy God in redeeming the entire earth to Himself. Tragically, most of those called would not be chosen. They would be sifted out in the process that began with the Exodus from Egypt, and which continues to this very day.
That we of this present generation are part of the same process is an undeniable tenet of Scripture. The Apostles of Yeshua testify to this truth using the very same terms that God Himself used in His instructions to Moses:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14 NASB, emphasis added)
Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: “Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,” and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. (I Peter 2:1-12 NASB, emphasis added)
John to the seven [assemblies] that are in Asia. Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 1:4-6 NASB, emphasis added)
And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” (Revelation 5:7-10 NASB, emphasis added)
The apostles Paul, Peter, and John had no need to define kingdom of priests and holy nation. God explained those terms long ago in His words to Moses, which of course is why Yeshua admonished us to study Moses:
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? (John 5:45-47 NASB; see also Luke 16:19-31, Luke 24:26-27, and Acts 15:19-21)
It should be no surprise, then, to see that Moses delivered one of the earliest and most detailed prophecies of the return of the tribes from exile. As with so much else of importance to us, this prophecy came in Moses’ farewell speech to the people:
So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. The Lord your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the Lord, and observe all His commandments which I command you today. Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:1-20 NASB, emphasis added)
It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul referred to this prophecy in Romans 10 in his explanation of how Messiah Yeshua made it possible for us to be reconciled to our God and to have our hearts corrected so we could follow His Commandments. It is no wonder, either, that Yeshua Himself referenced the witness of the heavens and the earth to the fact that God’s Law (Torah) remains in existence to this day. The Torah is the great standard by which YHVH has measured His creation from the beginning, and it is the measure which determines whether His people are ready to return to His land and serve as His Kingdom of Priests. If it is true, as II Kings 17 says, that the departure from Torah was the cause for our exile in the first place, then it is equally true that the precondition for Israel’s return is adherence to God’s Torah standards. In fact, that is precisely what Moses said: once all the blessing and curse of the Law comes upon us, and we in our exile realize what has happened, and then “return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today”, then He will circumcise our hearts and bring us back to the land.
Are We There Yet?
But how close are we? Is there any way to know when this exile will be over, when God will begin to regather all the tribes, and when Messiah, the Son of David, will reign over reunited Israel? Yes, there is a way to know.
The truth is that we are in the window of restoration even now. Remember that with God there is a process, and that His processes do not reach completion quickly, instantaneously, or without partnership from His human creation. Remember also that this is contrary to the expectations of the world and even of His people. Christians, for example, are expecting that at some point Jesus Christ will return to the great surprise of everyone, gather His people to Himself, and start a period of limitless happiness. Jews are waiting for the same thing, but they are not expecting a Messiah named Jesus Christ, nor do they acknowledge that this would be the second coming of Messiah. Very few people, Christian or Jewish, anticipate that there is some responsibility on the part of God’s people in this process, and that it will take far longer than we expect.
And yet we are in the window even now. Remember that calculation of Ephraim’s exile? By looking at the prophecy of Ezekiel 4 and the details of God’s judgment in Leviticus 26 we understand that Ephraim’s exile is to last 2,730 years. But when did it begin? The exile of Ephraim, like the exile of Judah, began in stages and will end in stages. With the uncertainties still surrounding the dates of many ancient events, we cannot know exactly to the day when this exile began. Most certainly it was nearing completion with the Assyrian conquest of Samaria in or around the year 722 BC. However, the beginning of Assyria’s conquest occurred much earlier, sometime around the year 734 BC when Tiglath-Pileser III (Pul) first defeated the Ephraimite kingdom and began deporting Israelites. It may even have begun even earlier, perhaps when Assyria’s capital city, Nineveh, responded in repentance to Jonah’s preaching. That would have occurred sometime around 770-760 BC. Let us consider that this process took place within a Yovel period of 50 years. If so, then a commencement during the 760s BC would bring the beginning of the end during the 1960s AD. And what happened in the 1960s? A Yovel ended on September 14, 1966, and nine months later Israel regained control of Jerusalem in the Six Day War.
It is difficult to underestimate the profound prophetic implications of the Six Day War. God’s astounding victory through the Jewish State of Israel got the attention of many Jews and Christians who had been watching for Messiah’s coming. The Christian world experienced a renewed interest in the Second Coming of Christ. This sparked a wave revivals and the rise of many prophecy-focused ministries that began to investigate the ancient prophets for clues of Messiah’s imminent return. These prophetic investigations contributed to an interest in “Jewish things”, such as the Feasts of the Lord, the Hebrew Calendar, and the writings of the sages, in an effort to make sense out of the “Old Testament” prophecies and their echoes in the Apostolic Writings. At the same time, the Messianic Jewish Movement was taking shape among Jews who had embraced Jesus Christ as Yeshua haMashiach, the Messiah of Israel, and who wanted to maintain their Jewishness rather than adopt a completely Christian identity.
Perhaps inevitably, these two phenomena collided. By the 1990s, a number of Christians worldwide were awakening to the fact that our beloved traditions of Sunday worship, Christmas, Easter, and many church practices are not found in the Bible. In fact, those who were paying attention began to realize that these traditions were merely that: traditions of men preached as doctrine in place of the Commandments of God. An awakening began and accelerated as Christians drew near to Messianic Jews in an effort to find out more about how God intended His people to live. Over the next decade the number of non-Jews in the Messianic Movement swelled, far exceeding the number of Jews. This has brought a considerable amount of tension and conflict as this new movement seeks to define itself. These are non-Jews who have come out of Christianity’s various denominations in an attempt to follow Messiah Yeshua’s example of living by Torah. They have no desire to become Jews, and thus are not entirely welcome in the Jewish community. At the same time, they are not willing to return to the errors of the church, and thus are not entirely welcome in the Christian community either. Who are these people? We could call them Hebrew Roots believers, but there is a better name: Ephraimites.
The Ephraimite Movement, or perhaps the Etz Yosef (“Tree of Joseph”) movement, is a recent phenomenon, and is in fact a sign that the end of the exile is upon us. It is an awakening among both Jews and non-Jews that God’s promises to Israel are not yet complete, and that His very Name is at stake in bringing them to fulfillment. This awakening has manifested in greater openness to one another, seeking dialogue on the basis of our mutual faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. If Jews are not yet willing to recognize Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah, they are at least recognizing the fact that His followers are beginning to come back to Torah, and that alone is common ground for discussion. Certain organizations, like the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, seek to facilitate that discussion. Others, like the newly-formed United2Restore, actively cultivate Ephraimite awareness among Christians, Jews, and Hebrew Roots believers in the interest of looking toward and contributing to God’s restoration of the entire nation of Israel in the land.
Interestingly enough, these efforts began to come into focus during the Shemitah cycle that began in September 2000, and have gained steam within the last Shemitah cycle (2008-2015). This process, therefore, is coalescing around the end of the prophesied 2,730 year sentence of Ephraim’s exile. At the same time, a distinct group of people identifying themselves as descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes have been recognized as such by Israel’s rabbinical authorities and are even now returning to their ancestral homeland. They are the Bnei Menashe, descendants of the tribe of Manasseh of the House of Joseph who settled in the India-Myanmar (Burma) border region centuries ago. It is no simple coincidence that Manasseh was among the first tribes exiled by the Assyrians long ago, and that they are the first to return. In view of all these developments, there is now serious talk about assembling an Etz Yosef (Ephraimite) National Congress in Israel in May 2015 to discuss these matters and see what the Lord would have His people do.
These developments are accelerating in this Shemitah year, and there is no indication of them slowing down as we move into the Yovel of 2015-2016. Is it coincidence? Perhaps not. After all, the Shemitah and the Yovel are all about the restoration of people and land. In this case, the ultimate restoration is the people of God to the land of God so that we may do the word of God. Our ancestors sold themselves to other masters – gods of their own imagination which promised the world, but delivered only death. We had been married to the Creator, YHVH Himself, but we chose to keep the benefits of His Name while indulging in the pleasures of the flesh. We, today, are no different from our fathers of Ephraim and Judah, for we have perpetuated the sins of Jeroboam and the excesses of the Pharisees. We have maintained a form of godliness, but we lack the power thereof. Nevertheless, we have retained a memory of our God, and, like the Prodigal Son, we will one day come to our senses, remember who we are, and run back to our Father. That is why the Prophet Hosea had this message to us:
For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols [teraphim]. Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days. (Hosea 3:4-5 NASB)
The last days are upon us. The Babylonian world system is undergoing judgment. The long-expected Great Tribulation is the crucible in which the Lord God completes the preparation of His people, the House of Jacob, so that they may become His Kingdom of Priests. This is the dawn of the day of which Jeremiah foresaw:
“Therefore behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers. Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen,” declares the Lord, “and they will fish for them; and afterwards I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and every hill and from the clefts of the rocks. For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity concealed from My eyes. I will first doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted My land; they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable idols and with their abominations.” O Lord, my strength and my stronghold, and my refuge in the day of distress, to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, “Our fathers have inherited nothing but falsehood, futility and things of no profit.” Can man make gods for himself? Yet they are not gods! “Therefore behold, I am going to make them know—this time I will make them know My power and My might; and they shall know that My name is the Lord.” (Jeremiah 16:14-21 NASB, emphasis added)
The way is opening before us. The question now is whether we are willing to step through the gate and walk into His freedom.
 The Bnei Menashe quite likely are descended from the Half-Tribe of Manasseh which, along with the tribes of Reuben and Gad, inherited the regions of Gilead and Bashan on the east side of the Jordan River. Those three tribes were the first parts of Israel taken into exile by Tiglath-Pileser III. If the Scriptural pattern of exile is any indication, we should expect that the next descendants of Etz Yosef to be identified will be the tribes of Reuben and Gad.