Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

Table set on Shabbat eve
There is yet one more feast that should be considered since it features in those that were designated feasts of YHWH in Leviticus 23. It is the Sabbath.

The Sabbath (Shabbat)

In the feasts listed in Leviticus chapter 23, the Sabbath stands at the head. “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.” (Lev. 23:2,3) This feast is separated from the other festivals in several aspects:

 1.            It is identified as different, by being separated from the other feasts by another phrasing of: “These are the feasts of the Lord, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.” (Lev. 23:4)

2.            Its character also separates it - it is a weekly feast celebrated in the home, as compared to the annual feasts that follow.

3.            It is the only ritual that is included in the Decalogue. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exod. 20:8)

4.            It pre-dated the giving of the Law, indeed the basis of the festival lies in the creative acts of the Lord. “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Gen. 2:1-3).

5.            It is identified as important to a nation that was in slavery and therefore had no rest. “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deut. 5:15)

 The special character of the day was reinforced every week while they journeyed from Egypt to Canaan. The Israelite nation was fed miraculously by manna. It arrived fresh each morning, and they were commanded to collect only sufficient for the day’s need. They were being tutored to trust YHWH for their daily bread. Those that collected extra to lay aside for the following day found that it rotted and bred worms. For the first five days of the week, this was the pattern, but on the sixth day, they were commanded to collect enough manna for two days, for the seventh day was the Sabbath and they were forbidden to collect on that day. For the Sabbath YHWH added two more miracles. The first, that on that day alone, no manna was provided (even though some did go out to gather); and the second, the manna collected on the sixth day lasted for two days. Manna collected on the first, second, third, fourth and fifth days was only good for the one day, but manna collected on the sixth day lasted for two days, for on that day alone, it did not rot and remained edible.

 It is from this section of the Torah, the passages that give instructions for the gathering of the manna, that the Jewish people source the prohibition against baking and cooking on a Sabbath. Moses said to wilderness generation, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’” (Exod. 16:23)

 Similarly, the prohibition against lighting a fire, “Then Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said to them, “These are the words which the Lord has commanded you to do: Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” (Exod. 35:1-3)

         The Rabbis identified the Sabbath-breaking episode in respect of the manna, as one of the 10 tests that finally exhausted the patience of God. Ezekiel identified Sabbath-breaking as a particular element in the rebellion of Israel and a partial cause of the decease of those that were redeemed from Egypt but died before reaching Canaan. “Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. Yet the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness; they did not walk in My statutes; they despised My judgments, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them’; and they greatly defiled My Sabbaths. Then I said I would pour out My fury on them in the wilderness, to consume them. (Ezek. 20:10-13, see also vv. 17-22)

 The importance of the Sabbath is such that the Lord used offers of blessing for those that observed the feast, as well as the prospect of punishment for those that disregarded it.  Indeed, the existence of the nation’s capital, Jerusalem, depended on Sabbath-keeping. Faithful Jeremiah declared the warning of judgment as well as the promise of blessing. “And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the Lord, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever… But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.” (Jer. 17:24,25,27)

 Isaiah, the prophet, emphasized the blessing for the Sabbath-keeper. “If you turn away your foot … From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the Lord honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:14)

More Next Time

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Temple illuminated at the 'Kindling of the Lamps'
The Feast of Tabernacles (Continued)

The Messiah and the Kindling of the Lamps
 The following day, the day of Shemini Atzeret, Jesus again came to the Temple. Entering the Court of Prayer and standing in the shadow of the giant Menorahs He proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Like the Shekinah glory, which was revealed to Israel in the cloudy/fiery pillar, to guide them to Canaan, Jesus declared He was Israel’s Messiah and promised to lead any who would accept His Messianic claim. Those that followed Him, would be as if they were following the glory pillar that gave light to Israel. As Simeon remarked when the baby Jesus was first brought to the Temple, “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. (Luke 2:32)  John intimated as much at the beginning of his gospel where he transliterated the Hebrew word ‘Shekinah’ to σκηνοìω [skenoo) in the first chapter of his gospel where it is normally translated ‘dwelt’. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14) Here he said that the Shekinah that departed at the time of Ezekiel had returned in the person of the Messiah. God became flesh and ‘Shekinah’d’ among us, and we beheld His glory. John had witnessed the Shekinah glory, radiating from Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration. This is not an overstatement of the claims of Jesus, because in the following confrontation with the Sanhedrists the Messiah declared, Before Abraham was I am’. When He took the sacred Name of YHWH to Himself His opponents were enraged and “took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” (John 8:59)
 Leaving the Temple, the Messiah and His disciples observed a man that had been blind from birth.  Probably located near the double Gate at the entry to the Temple Mount, the blind beggar announced his condition while pleading for alms. This encounter promoted a query from the disciples. They asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) They were merely phrasing their question in the context of the Rabbinical teaching of the day. Since this man has been disadvantaged from birth, it must be the result of a judgment of God, a judgment on sin. Therefore, there were only two alternatives available. God’s displeasure must have been provoked by the sin of the individual or the sin of the parents.  The Rabbis taught that everyone is born with an evil inclination and a good inclination, and these are present in the fetus in the womb.  If the evil inclination has dominance in the unborn child, then he or she could be born with a physical defect as a result. The second alternative regarding the sins of the parents was also common teaching.  Based on such verses as Exodus 34.7, they taught that the Lord by no means cleared the guilty, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.” Jesus answered, using the context of the feast and the ceremony of the Kindling of the Lamps. He said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.(John 9:3-5) The blind man had been selected to be a symbolic expression of the work of God. In healing this poor wretch, the Messiah did something unusual – he made clay of spittle and dust and then anointed his blind eyes, telling him to go to the pool of Siloam to wash! Bearing in mind the context of the festival where the water of Siloam was emblematic of the Holy Spirit, Jesus used this symbolism in one more telling sign. The earth that the Messiah used represents sinful man (Adam), who is of the earth, earthy. The use of spittle was significant. When an individual was spat upon, it was because he was considered contemptible, beneath the normal courtesies of life. No doubt, those who despised such beggars had often spat upon this poor man. That which represented this despised son of Adam was washed away by that which represented the Spirit of God. The man born blind was given sight! This miracle was a Messianic sign because the Rabbis taught that since this particular affliction involved the judgment of God on sin only Messiah would be able to cure it. This is clear from the subsequent criticisms of the Pharisees. Since this miracle took place on the Sabbath, the legalistic Jews took the newly sighted man to the Pharisees to explain. Some persevered in their opposition - This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others were ambivalent. They said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” (John 9:16) There was a division among them. The man who was the recipient of the miracle had the clearest understanding. All his life they had taught him that only the Messiah could alleviate his condition. Now cured he concluded, it must have been the Messiah who did it, for “since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind.” (John 9:32) Hearing such a clear statement from someone they had always despised, the Pharisees returned to their standard teaching, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” (John 9:34) This man was excommunicated from the synagogue.
 At this point, the previously sightless man had not seen the Messiah.  He was still blind when he was sent to the pool to wash. So when Jesus found Him later and asked, Do you believe in the Son of God?” (John 9:35) and he responded, “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?” Jesus said to him something that could not have been uttered before the miracle. You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” (John 9:37) His response was heart-warming. “He said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ And he worshiped Him”. (John 9:38) What a day for this poor man.  It started like any other, with his begging by the Temple steps. But a meeting with Israel’s Messiah, “the light of the world”, brought him physical sight, and then later spiritual sight. The new start his physical healing provided was complemented by a new spiritual start. He had been truly ‘born again’.
 So the actions of the Messiah at the Feast of Tabernacles were in complete harmony with the context of the festival with its two central ceremonies. He offered ‘living water’ and ‘light’ and to illustrate this to the glory of God, He healed a blind man, by the use of living water from the pool of Siloam, and brought light to his darkness. Moreover, He did this on ‘Shemini Atzeret’, the day when God sought extra fellowship with His people.

More Next Time

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Feast of Tabernacles

The Pouring of the Waters

The ordinances in respect of the water libation and the use of palm branches and the fruit of the trees applied for each day of the feast, but it was at the end of the festival that they were both incorporated into a much larger ceremony.
The Pool of Siloam

On that day, the pilgrims left their booths with a Lulabh  in their right hand (to fulfill Leviticus 23.40) and an Ethrog, a citrus fruit, in their left hand. Dressed appropriately for the festival they divided into three separate groups. One group attended the morning sacrifice in the Temple. Another group traveled in procession to a place ‘below Jerusalem’ called Moza, where they cut down willow branches that they used later in the Temple to adorn the altar.  The third group formed a separate procession. They followed a priest carrying a golden pitcher. He led them down to the pool of Siloam where he filled the pitcher with water. This part of the ceremony was based on Isaiah 12.3. “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” They sang the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms120-134) as they returned to arrive at the close of the morning service, where they were joined by the two other groups. A threefold blast on the trumpets welcomed the priest as he entered through the water gate, a gate so called because of this ceremony. Here, he was met by another priest bearing a pitcher of wine for the drink offering. The two priests ascended the rise of the altar, one going left and one right, to pour out the libations through funnels to the foot of the altar. Immediately after, the Levites led in the singing of the great ‘Hallel’ with responses from the people.
The Water Gate is the right hand gate

This ceremony had a certain symbolism. Originally commemorating the smitten rock when God, through Moses, provided water in the wilderness, the water came to represent the Holy Spirit, and the pouring out of the water was looking forward to the time, and perhaps a prayer for it to come quickly, when God would pour out His Spirit upon the nation.

The ceremony continued with blasts on the trumpets, during which those from the company that had processed up from Moza decorated the altar making a leafy canopy about it and hanging fruits on the branches.

Shemini Atzeret

“On the eighth day you shall have a sacred assembly. You shall do no customary work.” (Numb. 29:35) The Rabbis interpreted this to mean that those who attended the feast were asked to stay a day longer, as if the Lord was reluctant to see them return home.

The Messiah and the Drawing of the Water

There is a record in John, of Jesus attending the feast of Tabernacles. Traveling separately from His disciples, He attended the festival without advertising Himself.  However, towards the middle of festival, He entered the Court of Women, otherwise called the Court of Prayer or the Treasury, to teach, and there he met further opposition from the Jews of Jerusalem. On the last day of the feast, He attended the Temple once again, and witnessed the ceremony of the Drawing of the Water. During the singing of the designated Psalms, the people had joined in with responses, offering their Hallelujahs, their Hosannas, and the Messianic greeting, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Ps.118:26) At a pause in the ceremony, Jesus cried out in a clear voice, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37,38) The ceremonial water had been drawn from the pool of Siloam, a pool of living (or running) water, and the pouring out of the water in the ceremony was looking forward to the time when God would pour out the Holy Spirit upon the nation.  Jesus drawing on this very pertinent imagery, and responding to the Messianic greeting, promised that those who received Him as Messiah would receive the Spirit of God. John explained it so.  ‘This He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’. (John 7:39) Jesus fulfilled this promise from His place of ascension, on the day of Pentecost.

 At this festival, Jesus claimed to be the promised prophet, the ‘weller-forth’, the expected One, and any who exercise faith in Him will be like the pool of Siloam –a reservoir of living water – out of which are drawn waters to be poured out as water libations before Jehovah. Not only will they bring joy to the heart of the Lord, and not only will their own thirst be quenched, but because of the living water within, they will be a blessing to others also, just as the pool of Siloam will be used by the Messiah to bring sight to a blind man.

Next Time: The Messiah and the Kindling of the Lamps