Fox Byte 5775 #51: Nitzavim (You Are Standing)

נִצָּבִים

Famous literary figures with identity issues. Top row: Oedipus Rex (Bénigne Gagneraux, The Blind Oedipus Commending his Children to the Gods), Beauty’s Beast (illustration by Walter Crane), The Frog Prince (illustration by Paul Meyerheim), Rapunzel’s prince (illustration by Johnny Gruelle). Bottom row: Hansel and Gretel (illustration by Arthur Rackham), Sleeping Beauty (illustration from Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories), Snow White (illustration by Alexander Zick), Cinderella (illustration by Anne Anderson).
Famous literary figures with identity issues. Top row: Oedipus RexBeauty’s BeastThe Frog Prince, Rapunzel’s prince. Bottom row: Hansel and Gretel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella.

The worst fate a person can endure?  That would be loss of self.  It is not the same as selflessness, a desirable state of humility which YHVH honors.  Loss of self means removal of what defines a person as a person.  We see this in loved ones who slip slowly away through the ravages of progressive dementia.  Little by little they forget who they are until in the end there is nothing left of them but the memory carried in the hearts of those who once knew them.  It is a tragedy as old as humanity. 

Some of our best stories spring from this loss of identity.  Nearly 2,500 years ago Sophocles dramatized this phenomenon in Oedipus the King, a tale of a man whose birth was accompanied by a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother.  The parents attempt to circumvent the prophecy by ordering the infant slain, but to no avail.  Oedipus is saved and brought up by foster parents, completely ignorant of his identity.  Eventually he fulfills the prophecy.  When at last the secret of his identity is revealed, his mother commits suicide and Oedipus puts out his own eyes.

This motif of hidden identity and forgotten knowledge manifests not merely in classic Greek drama, but in every literary form.  It appears even in fairy tales, where protagonists like Beauty’s Beast and the Frog Prince lose their humanity.  Rapunzel’s prince retains his identity, but he wanders in blindness.  Similarly, Hansel and Gretel lose their way in the forest despite their best efforts.  Princesses also succumb to identity loss, as we learn from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.  Even Cinderella’s true station in life is a mystery to her prince.

The fairy tales generally have happy endings, or at least the Disney renditions make them so, but that is not the case in every tale of this sort.  One might say this identity issue is a perpetual human condition.  We make it worse by ignoring our history, severing the connection with our fathers and mothers of ages past.  This ignorance, whether self-inflicted or imposed by other forces, is the foundation of George Santayana’s famous warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  It is also a reflection of prophetic truth uttered by two men of God in the 8th century BCE:

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.  Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest.  Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.  (Hosea 4:6 NASB)

Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst.  (Isaiah 5:13 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #47: Re’eh (See)

רְאֵה

Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)
Farmer Maggot and his dogs. (Source: Deviant Art, ©2010-2015 ringbearer80)

It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados.  Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot?  Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance.  In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders.  It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy.  As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop.  Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return.  And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart.  Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot.  He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:

Thank you very much indeed for your kindness!  I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it.  It’s a pity:  for I’ve missed a good friend.

Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality.  How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten?  How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear?  And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people?  In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.

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Fox Byte 5775 #18: Mishpatim (Ordinances)

מִּשְׁפָּטִים

Even hell must abide by the Laws the Creator has established for the seasons.  (It's so cold that now HELL has frozen over:  Michigan town falls victim to record cold temperatures, Daily Mail, January 8, 2014)
Even hell must abide by the Laws the Creator has established for the seasons. (“It’s so cold that now HELL has frozen over: Michigan town falls victim to record cold temperatures”, Daily Mail, January 8, 2014)

How would one describe hell?  Dante does a nice job in his Inferno, depicting levels of escalating unpleasantness corresponding to the earthly misdeeds of the unfortunate sufferers.  It is important to note that Dante’s descriptions, however grotesque, are not without a certain order.  In other words, hell is not complete chaos.  There is an organization, a hierarchy, and a supreme authority that keeps it functioning.  If there were no order then hell would splinter into a million pieces and never cause harm to another soul.  And thus Dante reflects something that Yeshua explained about the infernal realm:

And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand.  If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?  (Matthew 12:25-26 NASB; see also Mark 3:23-27 and Luke 11:17-22)

This principle of diabolical organization is something C.S. Lewis explains as the rationale for his masterful work, The Screwtape Letters:

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.”  The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint.  It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps.  In those we see its final result.  But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.  Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern.  (C.S. Lewis, 1961.  The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  New York:  MacMillan.)

If Yeshua and these literary masters are correct, our conclusion is that hell must be organized and lawful, to some extent at least.  But why is that so?  One would think that Satan, the enemy of the Most High God, would do everything opposite what God does.  That would mean he would preside over a completely lawless, chaotic realm.  Yet that cannot be so for a fundamental reason that Satan knows only too well:  without Law, nothing can function.

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The Shemitah and The Yovel:  Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part VIII

Walking Through The Open Gate

The Vision of the Dry Bones is the most graphic illustration of God's promised restoration of the Kingdom of Israel.  The establishment of the State of Israel opened the way for Judah (the Jewish portion of Israel) to return to the land, but to the way for Ephraim (Northern Israel) is only now beginning to open.  (Ezekiel's Vision, The Coloured Picture Bible for Children, available on Mannkind Perspectives.)
The Vision of the Dry Bones is the most graphic illustration of God’s promised restoration of the Kingdom of Israel. The establishment of the State of Israel opened the way for Judah (the Jewish portion of Israel) to return to the land, but to the way for Ephraim (Northern Israel) has remained closed until now. (Ezekiel’s Vision, The Coloured Picture Bible for Children, available on Mannkind Perspectives.)

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)

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The Shemitah and The Yovel:  Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part VII

Managing Expectations:  Case Studies in God’s Processes

The Scriptures tell us that God designated two men to be Nazirites from the womb:  Samson and John the Baptist.  The engraving Samson and Delilah, by Gustave Doré, features Samson's uncut hair, the sign of a Nazirite.  Their hair indicated their special status as set apart to God, and in the case of the Bible's two most famous Nazirites, that the Holy Spirit rested on them for similar purposes of judging the nation of Israel and proclaiming the Lord's salvation.  In John, the Spirit's presence manifested in uncompromising preaching; in Samson the Spirit imparted supernatural strength.
The Scriptures tell us that three men were designated to be Nazirites from the womb: Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist. The engraving Samson and Delilah, by Gustave Doré, features Samson’s uncut hair, the sign of a Nazirite. Their hair indicated their special status as set apart to God.  In the case of the Bible’s famous Nazirites, the Holy Spirit rested on them for purposes of judging the nation of Israel and proclaiming the Lord’s salvation. In John, the Spirit’s presence manifested in uncompromising preaching; in Samuel it was unquestioned authority to anoint the kings of Israel; and in Samson the Spirit imparted supernatural strength.

Ancient Hair Care

One of the most colorful characters in the Bible is Samson, the Judge of Israel from the tribe of Dan.  His story is in Judges 13-16.  It begins like this:

Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children.  And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.  Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean.  For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son.  And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.”  (Judges 13:2-5 NKJV, emphasis added)

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