Counting the Omer is keeping the commandment to count 50 days (seven Sabbaths plus one day) between the offering of the first fruits of the barley harvest (often called First Fruits) until the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) (Leviticus 23:15-21). This year The Barking Fox is counting the omer with modern pictures of people named in the Bible.
One of those songs I recall singing in church as a youth begins like this:
Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness;
And all these things shall be added unto you,
(“Seek ye first”, by Karen Lafferty, 1971)
It is a good song taken directly from Scripture. This particular chorus is from Matthew 6:33, as rendered in the King James:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these thing shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33 KJV)
Like so many things in my Christian upbringing, I do not recall a succinct explanation of this instruction by Messiah Yeshua (Jesus Christ). Perhaps it was assumed that we would absorb the meaning in our Sunday School classes or in our own study of the Bible. Even the Biblical instruction I received in my Christian school never included a full disclosure of what the Kingdom of God is, or a definition of righteousness. This is not to say that my Christian upbringing was without value; I owe an incalculable debt of gratitude to the teachers, pastors, and counselors who labored lovingly to help me become a disciple of Jesus and to impart their love of the Word of God and the God of the Word. However, there were some holes in my education, particularly regarding the specifics of certain key terms in my Christian vocabulary.
Righteousness was one of those terms. Simply put, it is being right according to YHVH’s standards. Moses provides the details in the Torah. The rest of the Bible elaborates on that foundation, providing examples of how God’s people succeeded or failed in meeting those standards. When we get to the Apostolic Writings (New Testament), we see those standards demonstrated by the example of Yeshua, and then we find commentary by the Apostles. Consequently, even though I cannot recall anyone giving me a definition of righteousness when I was young, it was easy enough to figure out what Yeshua meant when He commanded us to seek it.
But then there is that problematic term, “Kingdom of God”. What exactly is that? The Bible tells me about the Kingdom of Israel and about the Kingdom of Heaven, but in my church upbringing it seldom occurred to me that the two might be the same. And in fact they are the same. Much Christian teaching has attempted to separate the two, but doing so leaves the Kingdom of God as nothing more than a nebulous, over-spiritualized concept. The Kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, is a concrete, definable, knowable entity, and all the people of God are part of it. It matters not whether they are Jewish or of Gentile background. The terms of the New (or Renewed) Covenant tell us that YHVH has executed this agreement only with the people of Israel and Judah (see Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:8-11). Isaiah 56:4-8 explains that foreigners will join themselves to the Lord and come into His Temple, the house of prayer for all nations. Paul tells us how this will happen, explaining in Romans 11 how non-Jews are “grafted into” the olive tree of Israel along with Jews, and in Ephesians 2 how faith in Messiah Yeshua makes these former Gentiles part of the Commonwealth of Israel. As if there were any doubt, John records the proclamation of the angel at the end of this age that the kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15). With that kind of Scriptural foundation, no wonder the ancient carol proclaims, “Born is the King of Israel!”
One of the compelling images I recall from childhood is the opening scene of Branded. This Western TV drama starred Chuck Connors as a United States Army officer unjustly charged with cowardice. Week after week the series opened with Jason McCord, Connors’ character, being drummed out of the service at a remote post in the American West. As the garrison assembles, McCord is marched to the front and center of the formation, where his commander removes from him every vestige of his connection with the Army – his hat, rank insignia, and even the buttons on his coat. Last of all the commander removes McCord’s sword from its sheath, breaks it over his knee, and tosses the broken hilt out of the fort’s gate. The shamed officer then walks out of the fort as the doors close behind him. Now on his own, branded for life with the mark of a coward, he must find a way to clear his name.
What if someone had exonerated Jason McCord? Such things have happened before. There is provision in the law to excuse an offender, either when the accusation is proven unjust, or when a duly constituted authority bestows clemency in an act of mercy. The law, however, remains in effect. Should another man, or even the same man, desert his post in an act of cowardice, he would be guilty of the same offence. Even if the entire United States Army deserted, requiring the President to recruit an entirely new force, the deserters would still be guilty according to the statutes and regulations governing the military service. And should the law change somehow, perhaps refining the definition of cowardice and clarifying the penalties, the law would still be in effect, and those subject to it would be wise to learn the changes lest they find themselves inadvertently in error.
How interesting that such a principal gleaned from a 1960s TV Western is actually a principal of the Word of God. While some may argue that the Law of God has no application at all in an age when Messiah Yeshua has won forgiveness for all who believe on Him, in actuality His work of redemption secured a prophesied change in the Law, not its abolition.
At some point in my youth I grew curious about why we Christians celebrate Christmas in December. When I asked my elders where to find Christmas in the Bible, they pointed me to Luke 2 and Matthew 2. Although those famous passages explained the details of Jesus’ birth, neither they nor anyone I asked could explain how those accounts got translated into the festivities of December 25. The best answer I got was something like this, “We really don’t know when Jesus was born. It probably wasn’t in the winter, but since we don’t really know, December 25 is as good a day as any.”
That answer never satisfied my curiosity as a child, and it should not satisfy any serious believer in Jesus, especially when we consider the high quality of Luke’s gospel. Dr. Luke was a meticulous scholar who recorded great detail both in his gospel and in the book of Acts. His accounts, such as those in the first two chapters of his gospel, included evidence he had acquired from people who witnessed the events. In particular, he must have talked with Mary the mother of Jesus to understand her thoughts and words. How is it possible, that she would forget when her Son was born, or that Luke would not tell us that detail? It truth, it is not possible to overlook such an important detail, and in fact Luke did tell us. All we need to understand the answer is a little Bible knowledge, not only of the scriptures, but of the Hebraic context in which they were written. Most of what we need is in Luke 1, with a little help from I Chronicles 24. We begin with the story of a priest in the Temple at Jerusalem: Please click here to continue reading