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.
Those who have leprosy might as well be dead. Never mind that the disease we call leprosy today may or may not be one of the skin diseases meant by the Hebrew word tzara’at (צָרַעַת). The fact is, whoever had it was cut off from the community:
Now the leper on whom the sore is, his clothes shall be torn and his head bare; and he shall cover his mustache, and cry, “Unclean! Unclean!” He shall be unclean. All the days he has the sore he shall be unclean. He is unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46 NKJV)
Think about that for a moment. Lepers could not go home. They could not have any kind of normal relationship with their family members, friends, business associates, or anyone else with whom they interacted before the cursed condition fell upon them. It did not matter what station of life the leper occupied; whether peasant or king, the disease cut them off from the life of the nation. Even mighty King Uzziah of Judah learned that. Although he reigned for 52 years in Jerusalem, the leprosy he contracted in the midst of his reign meant that he was king in name only:
King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He dwelt in an isolated house, because he was a leper; for he was cut off from the house of the Lord. Then Jotham his son was over the king’s house, judging the people of the land. (II Chronicles 26:21 NKJV)
How can a person shepherd the people of God when he is cut off from the House of God? Is there any hope for him, or for the people he is anointed to lead?
Yes, there is hope. That is why the Torah portion Metzora (The Leper; Leviticus 14:1-15:33) provides elaborate detail on the procedures for cleansing lepers. Once healed, the priests help them through this process to restore them to their place in society. In a certain sense, this is a resurrection from a type of death, and thus it is a symbol of what Messiah will do.
Connecting the dots in Scripture can be lots of fun – and challenging. The fun part is the “Aha!” moment when something finally makes sense. The challenging part is when that “Aha!” moment presents a different picture from what we have learned all our lives. Do we take that new revelation and run with it, knowing it can make waves, or do we set it aside and hope that it never comes up again?
This second offering of Pictures for Pondering may be a challenge. As with the first edition, posted last spring, these are images from Bible passages prepared originally for posting on YouVersion (the Bible App). The first edition presented some interesting perspectives on the Kingdom of Heaven, Law and Grace, and prophecy, but also some whimsical illustrations. This time there is an attempt at a unifying theme. Part of the challenge is identifying that theme. The other part is investigating it from Scripture to see if it is so.
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!”