Dying in the Wilderness
There is this problem among the people of God: the expectation that He will come along and fix everything that is wrong in the world in an instant. I suppose that perspective comes from the hope that one day we get to live happily ever after in some kind of undefinable paradise where the biggest problem we have for all eternity is deciding what we would like to eat. For time immemorial, Jews and Christians of all varieties have engaged in this hope, expecting that Messiah will make everything all better without us having to do much of anything. Messiah will indeed make everything all better, but the belief that it requires little if any effort on our part, or that it will be a pleasant experience, is nothing more than wishful thinking. Such is the warning to ancient Israel, both the Jewish and non-Jewish parts of the nation:
Woe to those who drag iniquity with the cords of falsehood, and sin as if with cart ropes; who say, “Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the purpose of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come to pass, that we may know it!” (Isaiah 5:18-19 NASB)
Alas, you who are longing for the day of the Lord, for what purpose will the day of the Lord be to you? It will be darkness and not light; as when a man flees from a lion and a bear meets him, or goes home, leans his hand against the wall and a snake bites him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness instead of light, even gloom with no brightness in it? (Amos 5:18-20 NASB)
The Apostle Paul issued the same warning to followers of Messiah Yeshua in his day, noting the direct linkage of those believers – both Jewish and non-Jewish – to the people of ancient Israel:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. (I Corinthians 10:1-6 NASB)
This is the same apostle who admonished his readers to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). The application of his words is not limited to the ancient Mediterranean world, but to followers of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ) down through the ages to this very day. It is important to understand that Paul is not advocating a gospel of works for salvation, but is instead issuing an exhortation for us to take responsibility for what YHVH has given us freely by virtue of faith in Him and His Messiah. From the very beginning our Creator has intended this to be so. Consider His first recorded words to our first ancestors:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28 NASB)
To put it another way, we are intended to rule with God over the part of creation He has placed under our jurisdiction (Exodus 19:5-6; Revelation 5:9-10, 20:4-6; I Peter 2:9-10; II Timothy 2:11-12). More importantly, we are to rule with God as His bride (Isaiah 62:4-5; Revelation 19:7-8).
What does one call the bride of a king? Is it not a queen? The question, then, is this: does the King of the Universe desire a queen who is fully capable of ruling in His Name and whom He trusts to do so, or is He content with a fat, lazy queen who screams at her servants if her food is not cooked to her definition of perfection?
If we think of our eternal destiny in these terms, we begin to see the necessity of trials and tribulations to make us ready for our Creator’s ultimate purposes. As we mature in our relationship with Him we should grow ever more eager for the test rather than building ever more elaborate schemes to avoid it. The eager ones who seek to please their Master will prevail, but those who seek to avoid pain most likely will succeed neither in avoiding pain, nor in prevailing over anything.
This is the subject Ken Rank addresses in his article, “Dying in the Wilderness”, recently published on United2Restore. Be careful! Ken makes some paradigm-shifting observations here. Reading this may cause you to question everything you have been taught about the End Times.
January 6, 2016
Originally published on United 2 Restore
We are part of Israel; we are children of the Most High God. He loves us, He will care for us, He will sustain us . . . and He will leave us in the wilderness with our spiritual baggage intact unless we learn how to get beyond the minutia that we allow to divide us.
Every story that God has seen fit to place in Scripture is there for a reason. It might be to preserve our understanding of history. Perhaps it is being used to edify and encourage as we walk through life in modern times. Some stories speak to us about future events; they are more prophetic in nature. Or, it might also be that a story is all of these things and more. One thing is for sure, God wasted no ink. Each word, sentence, paragraph, and book is there for a reason.
There are a few stories that I believe are particularly relevant at our current point in time. The book of Job stands out from others. Job is unique in that his story truly transcends time. Every human being has gone through a trial or a pain and the story of Job shows us that there is light at the end of every tunnel when we fix our eyes, and keep them, on the Lord. But two other stories really stand out as related not just to this Hebrew Roots Movement we see today, but also to this growing desire to see and be a part of the restoration of the whole House of Israel. Those two stories are Joseph’s life (Genesis 37-50) and the story of the Exodus. It is the latter story I would like to focus on today.
When Israel was in Egypt (read “world” or “nations” here) they were as a dormant tree. They were Israel, but there was no life in them in regard to their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God sent a Prophet back into the land (a picture of messiah) and an awakening began. Picture a tree coming out of its winter slumber. There was a time of trial (perhaps the word “tribulation” can be used here) before they ultimately were able to leave Egypt and head toward a land of promise. Their trek was rough, they were chased, but ultimately they were delivered, if you will, and they made it safely through the water and to Mt. Sinai. There they received instruction (you might call that “discipleship”) and God sustained them.
The story, for most of these Israelites doesn’t end well. The Israelites walked in fear, they were insecure, and that manifested itself in the form of murmuring, back-biting, and idolatry. It is as if the Israelites simply came out of Egypt with too much spiritual baggage to fully walk as God intended for them to walk. A decision was ultimately made: those who were 20 years of age and older would not see the Promised Land. Instead, they would be cared for, loved, even sustained, but would ultimately die in the wilderness they wandered in.
The Messianic Movement
The Messianic movement began in the early 1970’s when “Jews for Jesus” exposed the more Jewish aspects of the Christian faith. The thought was predominately to show a more Jewish Jesus to Orthodox Jews. That action, however, had a side effect; it began to open the eyes of many non-Jewish Christians around the world to a more “Hebrew Rooted” faith. Indeed, Jesus was Jewish and his followers were too. In fact, the entire New Testament is a very “Jewish” book, a fact that becomes clear as one reads through a more Hebraic perspective.
Slowly over the years more and more “gentiles” began to trickle into Messianic synagogues but they were never fully accepted as part of the family. I am not seeking to lay blame on anyone or make statements that might question intent or inflame others, I simply believe the focus was on the Orthodox Jewish community and the non-Jews were simply not part of that plan. Thus, over time, independent non-Jewish congregations began to develop around the country and eventually the world. This sub-culture that came from this seemingly combines mainstream Christianity with aspects of Judaism, and is what has became known as the Hebrew Roots Movement. Today, there are literally thousands of congregations around the world and probably hundreds of thousands (or more) Christians who also identify with the more Hebraic aspects of the Christian faith. These people continue to see Yeshua (Jesus) as messiah, but also embrace the commandments while believing they are at least a part of Israel. This is not replacement theology; it is just a people seeing the depth of what it means to be part of the family of God.
One might view all of this as a revival or an “awakening” similar, perhaps in part, to the awakening of Israel in Egypt. Yeshua told a parable in Matthew 24:32-34 about a fig tree. He depicts the fig tree as asleep, in its winter slumber, hibernating if you will. He states that when we see it bring forth new life, new stems and leaves, and it begins to grow again that we are to know that summer is near. He went on to say that the generation that sees this happen won’t pass away before all is fulfilled. Most scholars believe the fig tree to be Israel but they have mistakenly interpreted the point of the parable, in my humble opinion, to Israel becoming a nation in 1948. While that event is of great importance and God’s hand has been clearly on it, the nation state of Israel is secular, messiah is not King at this time, Torah is not the law of the land, and God’s Israel awaits it’s reunification with the entire family of God. In other words, the parable is not speaking about a secular nation but rather is speaking about a people awakening to who they are and what their part in God’s plan is. In one sense, these are the “Lost Sheep” regaining their identity and desiring to walk in the statutes and commandments of God. I said, “in one sense,” because I do believe this parable is dealing with the whole House of Israel and not just those in the nations who, until now, have not understood what it meant to be part of Israel.
Old habits die hard
When these groups of Hebrew Rooted Christians were still part of mainstream Christianity, they were not taught methodology. By that I mean they were not taught hermeneutic rules (rules of interpretation), nor languages, nor historical analysis, nor anything else that might have helped them reach their own conclusions as they worked through Scripture. Instead, they were taught facts and they were taught how to repeat the facts, as each denomination understood them. Instead of the teacher giving the student the tools necessary to reach his own conclusions, the teachers were in a sense cloning themselves, perhaps inadvertently, and perpetuating the denomination in the process.
This lack of methodology and the parroting of facts didn’t change when most of these Christians began to walk this more Hebraic path. These followers of Yeshua were given additional insight by the Spirit, and they were allowed to see an additional truth or two. This awakening (or perhaps a “paradigm shift”) is a work of God, not the work of diligent man and his improved study habits. Thus the student, who still lacks the ability to methodically make connections biblically and historically, goes down the same road of polarization that we have seen between the denominations. The moment our facts are shown to be in conflict with the facts of others, the Hebrew Rooted Christian does what has always been done in the church when it has been confronted with conflict. We get mad, we lash out, and then we divide from other brethren. The reason there are over 40,000 denominations and sects of Christianity is simply because we never learned to sit down with somebody who comes to a different understanding than we do, and just TALK to them. Instead, we yell, fight, name call, polarize the situation and ultimately burn bridges of communication. We remove any chance of “proving all things” because we were too insecure and ill-equipped to fairly and prayerfully “consider all things.”
Throughout all forms of social media, which I still think is a great way to network and share information, we find people who did not properly inspect where the information they are now accepting as truth came from. This isn’t their fault as they lack the tools to properly inspect the information themselves, forcing them to rely on the work of others. The result is when a person like this is confronted about a particular conclusion; they lack the ability to defend it. Remember, they didn’t dig out the facts and prove them, they simply read them in a book or on a website, thought it made sense, and repeated it as truth. So, their response to conflict is to lash out and cause strife and division because they have no ability to defend, nor explain in detail, what they believe. Thus the Hebrew Roots Movement, which I maintain has reached some great truths, is exposed as an immature movement full of spiritual baggage, just like it was when Israel came out of Egypt. Because of pride, insecurity, and a lack of quality discipleship, the movement, which is part of a great awakening of God, fights against itself as well as the rest of the church. Ephraim (Israel in the nations) can’t get along with Ephraim! How then can he possibly think he can get along with people who don’t see Yeshua as he does? Does Ephraim not see that the covenant is made with the House of Judah AND the House of Israel? At least at this time, Judah does not see Yeshua as messiah and yet God is still going to include them in the covenant. That means the line in the sand that we have drawn based on our understanding, needs to be revisited. To do so would mean fighting against the culture we were born into, one that demands that everything look, think, and act like we do, or we reject it.
Will we die in the wilderness?
We are part of Israel; we are children of the Most High God. He loves us, He will care for us, He will sustain us . . . and He will leave us in the wilderness with our spiritual baggage intact unless we learn how to get beyond the minutia that we allow to divide us. The division, brethren, is preventable. Throughout the history of the church right on through the current state of the Hebrew Roots Movement, most division is based on our own understanding, or lack of it. Doctrine has become the litmus test as to who should or should not, be considered family. Not to weaken the need for sound doctrine, but our understanding, especially in this fallen state, should never have become that litmus test, and yet it is. We seemingly look for things to use as fodder in a fight against our brethren. A sword does not sharpen in a sword fight that chips and dulls the blade. We sharpen a sword when the metal is rubbed smoothly against other metal, patiently.
I know many of you who are reading this understand what I am saying and have gone out your way to re-open doors of communication with those we once alienated over our perceived superior understanding. These were doors to family and friends who are now where we were, not all that long ago. And let us not forget that our understanding is a gift from God, a gift we profane, when we use it to beat down others! Still, even today, we all know many who are still stuck in the quagmire of destructive behavior which continues to paint the efforts of us all in a bad light. As Paul wrote:
“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and striving about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3:9)
Indeed, not only unprofitable and useless, but if we can’t rally around the weightier matters of God’s Law, and cease dividing over things only we think are important, we will have some very serious repercussions to deal with. In addition, we will answer for all we have said and done especially as it relates to how we treated others. I fear the result of our actions will be that history repeats itself and that we will be left in the wilderness while the next generation walks into the Kingdom where messiah will reign as King. Stop for a moment and imagine how the Israelites felt who went through the entire Exodus and Sinai experience only to find out they were too spiritually damaged to see the Promised Land. That might be us; we might have a little too much Egypt in us to be part of what is yet to come. God will not allow us to profane a Holy thing and right now too few of us know how to handle a Holy thing.
Yet brethren, we do have hope, we CAN do this . . . I am truly convinced of this! But it will take work, it will take love and patience, and a willingness to let it be about everyone else but ourselves. When we can get to that point, when we can remove “self” and make it about God and His Israel . . . then we will see the Promised Land! If we don’t, well, if we don’t history will repeat itself but this time we won’t be reading about it, we will be living it.