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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gleanings from the Hebrew Calendar

Tishah b’Av (8th/9th August 2011)

The ninth of Av is the traditional collective symbol of the Jewish people’s greatest disasters, failures, sufferings and exiles. Its stature as a 25 hour day of fasting is shared only with Yom Kippur. On the 9th Av in 586 B.C. the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonian forces of Nebuchadnezzar with many deportations at that time. On or about the same time some 600 years after the Babylonian captivity, in 70 A.D., the Roman legions of Titus destroyed the second Temple. Again, on or about the same day in 135 A.D. Bar Kokba’s fortress at Betar fell to Hadrian’s army, marking the end of the last vestige of Jewish self-government until 1948.

For all of these tragedies to coincide on one day takes some interpreting but received wisdom suggest that they are all of a piece. All periods of exile stem from the first events in 586 B.C. which had been brought about by God’s will to punish His people who had besmirched their capital, strayed from His teachings and sinned greatly (especially guilty of the sin of idolatry).

The liturgy of Tishah b’Av includes the five poems of the Book of Lamentations. Observance of this day requires a rigorous confrontation with one’s own weaknesses. It is a day of fasting - and a day when those that observe it are forbidden to wear leather shoes, to bathe, to wash anything. They do not greet friends or acquaintances and the Torah is not studied except for those passages that are immediately relevant to the day. Tefillin are not worn until afternoon prayers because they are considered ‘glorification’.

But even if it is a day of great mourning, at the heart of it there is still hope because Jeremiah’s lament contains the words:
"Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly For the salvation of the Lord." (Lam.3:22–26)

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

The Suffering Servant of Isaiah

No study of the cross in the T’nach is complete without a consideration of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, who not only dies for sin and transgression but is also exalted. Isaiah, chapter 53 especially, is the counterpoint to Psalms 22 and 110. As the centre chapter of this most remarkable section of Isaiah’s writing (chapters 40 to 66), it is clearly the beating heart of his message of consolation. It describes the price that will be paid by the Servant of YHWH to enable the mercy of God to be exercised while the righteousness of God is protected. It is one of the most important passages, perhaps the most important passage that the prophetic writings of the T’nach have given us. In some senses it could claim to be the deepest and the loftiest. That it applies to the Messiah of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth is clear. He was in focus in 42.1-7
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands shall wait for His law.” Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk on it: “I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, And will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the Gentiles, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the prison, Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
Matthew records the events that fulfilled the first section of this prophecy;
And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen, My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased! I will put My Spirit upon Him, And He will declare justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel nor cry out, Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets. A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench, Till He sends forth justice to victory; And in His name Gentiles will trust”  (Matt. 12:15–21).
Simeon also refers to the Isaiah prophecy when, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he said,
For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30–32) This makes direct reference to Isaiah 49.6 which reads: “Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:6). This helps to direct our attention to the central theme of this study, which is, that the sacerdotal structure of Israel was designed to be salvific for the world, not just the nation. The execution of the Messiah, ordered on the Temple mount at the instigation of the High Priest, and performed within sight of the Temple, was in fulfillment of those prophetical pointers that indicated that the sacrifice, which was within the priestly culture of Israel, should benefit all peoples, as Isaiah reported the words of YHWH: “You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth”.
Chapter 53 is especially pertinent to our purpose in that it describes in some detail the decease of the Servant. Accepting that it applies to Jesus, the first three verses refer to His life and His ultimate rejection by the nation’s leaders. “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him” (Is 53:3).
Verses 4-9 is the central message, describing as it does a substitutionary sacrifice, in accordance with the principles on which the Hebrew religion was founded—from the Passover sacrifice at the time of the exodus from Egypt, to the Levitical offerings that were the cornerstone of the Tabernacle and Temple ministry. Verse 4 reads; Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted” (Is 53:4). The word ‘stricken’ in this verse and again in verse 8, For the transgressions of My people He was stricken, helps us understand what was entailed in Jesus, the Lamb of God, bearing away the sins of the world. It is a word used in connection with leprosy—leprosy being understood as the stroke of God against sin.     Because of Satanic activity, our first parents had disobeyed the clear command of God and incurred the consequence that God said would follow, “…in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen.2.17). They did not immediately fall to ground but were subject to a ‘living death’, a process of dying; the Hebrew could be translated, “dying you will die”.  Leprosy, also called ‘the living death’, was considered a visual of the stroke of God in the Garden.  The Hebrew for leprosy, ‘tsara’ath’, is related to the Arabic word that signifies ‘to strike down or scourge’. Tsara’ath (leprosy) was considered the scourge of God.  This truth is re-emphasized in the T’nach where God judged individuals who rebelled against His will and struck them with leprosy.  When Miriam rebelled, “... the anger of the LORD was aroused …and … suddenly, Miriam became leprous, as white as snow” (Num.12:10). Uzziah contracted leprosy when he discarded the priestly protocol       contained in the Mosaic law: “leprosy broke out on his forehead … because the LORD had struck him” (2 Chron.26.19).
Two words that are strongly connected with leprosy are ‘naga’ (touch, reach, strike); and its derivative ‘nega’ (stroke, plague, disease).   In Leviticus chapter 13, there are         instructions for the diagnosis of leprosy, and in chapter 14 instructions for the          performance of those rituals required in those cases of leprosy that had been cured.  In these two chapters ‘nega’, translated ‘plague’ in the KJV and sometimes ‘plague’ and sometimes ‘sore’ in the NKJV, is used some eighty times.  Again, the connection is - the plague (nega) of leprosy is the visual of the stroke of God.  In Isaiah 53, both these words occur, but there the plague is sin, and because of that plague, God’s Messiah must suffer God’s stroke, that is, He was ‘smitten of God’. The substitutionary aspect is emphasized. To repeat—of the Suffering Servant it says, “He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due” (Isa.53:8). And again, Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isa.53:4). In connection with the image that sin is a plague; the Isaiah passage equates salvation to healing: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed”. (53:5)
It is evident that the provision of salvation for humankind through a substitutionary sacrifice was not an exercise in fire-fighting, undertaken by God because He had been taken unawares by the activity of Adam and his posterity. He knows the end from the beginning (Isa.46.10). Not only did He know that the sacrifice would take place, but He knew when, where, and how. So much so, that He included the date in the prophetic calendar He gave to the Jewish nation, and He included details of the execution in the T’nach. When the Ethiopian statesman read from this very chapter of Isaiah’s narrative of the Suffering Servant, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter ... For His life is taken from the earth” (Acts 8:32,33),  he asked the question, “... of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” (Acts 8:34) The only answer that could be given is—He is referring to Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, the Son of God and the Savior of the World.

More Next Time:

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Messiah and the Ritual of Israel (Continued)

Solomon's Temple

We return to an earlier theme which we had left some weeks ago, that of the Messiah and the Priesthood of Israel.

A great change in the worship of YHWH took place after David had conquered the Jebusite town of Jerusalem on the southern slope of Mount Zion. He understood that sacrificial offerings could only be made in the place that the Lord selected, as revealed in the Torah: Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see; but in the place which the Lord chooses, in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you” (Deut. 12:13–14). He subsequently understood that Mount Moriah was to be that place (1 Chron. 21:28-22:1).Then David said, ‘This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel’ (1 Chron. 22:1: See also 2 Chron.6:20; Ps.132:13). So he set in train the arrangements that would result in replacing the Tabernacle with a more permanent building on what was to be known as the Temple mount. While David had the vision to build, it was Solomon, his son, who had the privilege to construct the First Temple.
But continuity is the watchword in the worship of the Lord, so the patterns received by Moses were incorporated in the blueprint for the Temple. Indeed, history tells us that the Tabernacle was disassembled and stored in an underground room beneath the Temple itself, while some of the Tabernacle furniture was absorbed to be used in the Temple services. This preserved the continuity in the worship of YHWH that was required of Israel by maintaining a connection between the Tabernacle and the Temple. As with the Tabernacle, the blueprint for the Temple was provided by God to one of His prophets, namely David. Then David gave his son Solomon the plans for the vestibule, its houses, its treasuries, its upper chambers, its inner chambers, and the place of the mercy seat; and the plans for all that he had by the Spirit, of the courts of the house of the Lord, of all the chambers all around, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries for the dedicated things; also for the division of the priests and the Levites, for all the work of the service of the house of the Lord, and for all the articles of service in the house of the Lord. He gave gold by weight for things of gold, for all articles used in every kind of service; also silver for all articles of silver by weight, for all articles used in every kind of service; the weight for the lampstands of gold, and their lamps of gold, by weight for each lampstand and its lamps; for the lampstands of silver by weight, for the lampstand and its lamps, according to the use of each lampstand. And by weight he gave gold for the tables of the showbread, for each table, and silver for the tables of silver; also pure gold for the forks, the basins, the pitchers of pure gold, and the golden bowls—he gave gold by weight for every bowl; and for the silver bowls, silver by weight for every bowl; and refined gold by weight for the altar of incense, and for the construction of the chariot, that is, the gold cherubim that spread their wings and overshadowed the ark of the covenant of the Lord. ‘All this,’ said David, ‘the Lord made me understand in writing, by His hand upon me, all the works of these plans’ (1 Chron. 28:11–19). So all that was intended for Israel to observe in their approach to God was multiplied, strengthened and given extra impetus by the man ‘after God’s own heart’.
Solomon and the Temple
Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba, succeeded to the throne of Israel, and in keeping with the wishes of his father, took responsibility for the building of the Temple. David had already organized the priesthood into 24 courses, so that when the Temple was fully commissioned and operative they would be able to fulfill all the duties expected of those members of Israel that were responsible for maintaining the testimony of the nation as a ‘kingdom of priests’.
When the building was completed, Solomon sent particular invitations to the elders and dignitaries of Israel to join him in a service of dedication. The strength of Israel, its manpower, was already required to come, for the dedication service was diarized to coincide with the pilgrim feast, the Feast of Tabernacles, in the seventh month.
But first, the ark had to be brought to its new home. David had embarked on such a project when he brought the ark up from the house of Obed-Edom. Solomon, no doubt with an acute knowledge of the problems that David had encountered, made sure that those who had been commissioned for the care of the ark, and were properly authorized to carry it, were the only ones to bear it. So it was with great ceremony and also with acknowledgement of the principle of blood sacrifice that Solomon brought the ark to the Temple. Before the ark was placed in the inner sanctum, Solomon and Israel’s leaders offered many sacrifices in honor of the arrival of the ark of the covenant, thus simultaneously dedicating the new brazen altar. It is mentioned that the ark still housed the two tablets of the Law, confirming that the Mosaic Covenant with its sacerdotal culture was still in place. It was only after Solomon felt that proper honor had been shown to the sacred chest, was it taken into the Holy of Holies to be lost from sight to all except the High Priest. When David brought the ark to Jerusalem he had an honor guard of thousands of soldiers lining the route, while Levitical musicians and singers performed the Psalms, especially Psalm 24: Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, The Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O you gates! Lift up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory (Psalm 24:7–10).  Solomon took care not only to equal the dignity accorded the ark by David, but to exceed it.
Solomon had built a high dais from which he could be seen to offer obeisance to the Lord. It also allowed him to turn to face Israel and bless the assembled company. From his high platform he offered a prayer of dedication connecting the building of the Temple with the inspired wishes of his father David and the Davidic Covenant.
The prayer of dedication acknowledged that the Temple was only a shadow of reality, since God dwelt in heaven, and not behind the veil. Nevertheless, he was confident that he had the listening ear of YHWH and so petitioned God that since this house, this Temple, was to be known as the place where God had placed His Name (in accordance with the revelation made to David), that those that offered penitential prayers towards it should receive forgiveness. Jesus Himself initially acknowledged the Temple as the Father’s House, although early in His ministry He indicated that there was a change afoot. He instructed His disciples to pray towards heaven, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name … forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:2–4) for He was already instituting a dispensation when prayer could be made directly to the Father without priestly mediation. His words to the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar elucidated the principle: “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father … the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–24).
But Solomon’s prayer of dedication, together with its answer from heaven, would avail for rest of the Mosaic dispensation, i.e. until the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. The dedicatory prayer concluded: Now, my God, I pray, let Your eyes be open and let Your ears be attentive to the prayer made in this place. Now therefore, Arise, O Lord God, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength. Let Your priests, O Lord God, be clothed with salvation, And let Your saints rejoice in goodness. O Lord God, do not turn away the face of Your Anointed; Remember the mercies of Your servant David” (2 Chron. 6:40–42). The responsibility imposed on Solomon by David, and that by the command of the Lord, together with the description of how that responsibility was discharged, re-enforces the continuing principle that has been evident since Abel – that the only approach to God was through blood sacrifice. Moreover, the channel through which that approach could be made was the Aaronic priesthood, and the only place where that approach was possible was Jerusalem. In particular, the strict sacerdotal guidelines promulgated in the Decalogue, made the inner courts of the Temple (now consecrated as the place where the Lord had placed His Name), the focal point of any approach to God, whether individual or national.

More Next Time:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Living for God in an Uncertain World

The Book of Esther (Continued)

The Unseen Hand of God was still at work

That night the king could not sleep and so called for the journal of recent events to be read to him. Mordecai’s act of loyalty was listed in the records and so was brought to the attention of Xerxes, who asked if this faithful citizen had been rewarded for his deed. When he was advised that nothing had been done for him, he decided that Mordecai should be honoured without delay. He called for a counsellor and Haman was escorted into his presence. Haman, armed with less than the complete picture, believed that the king wished to honour him, and suggested a public reward that he would enjoy, that is to be dressed in the king’s robe, and ride the king’s steed, and have a herald precede him declaring the greatness of his person. Even as Lucifer said, I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14), so Haman echoed that ambition in his unimaginative request. But Lucifer learned that pride comes before a fall, and Haman did likewise. When he found that he had to personally escort and praise the very man who refused to honour him, he was inconsolable. The inevitability of his fall was then predicted by his nearest family and friends when they began to understand that Mordecai was receiving help from an unseen source.

True to his promise the king attended Esther’s banquet where she unfolded the plight of her people and herself. She still did not identify herself as Jewish at this point, only that she would be one who would suffer from this plot formed against one of the nations of the empire. The king asked who had done such a vile thing. Haman was accused. Xerxes, in some distress left the room, while Haman remained to plead for his life with Esther. When the king returned, he believed that Haman, in his absence, had behaved improperly towards his Queen and ordered his execution. The gallows that had been prepared for Mordecai was used to carry out the punishment, so fulfilling for Haman, the proverb whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7).

The king’s signet ring was given to Mordecai to reverse the effects of the edict. Haman’s property was confiscated and given to Esther, and Mordecai was appointed to oversee it. So now the Jewish nation celebrates this great deliverance annually at the feast of Purim.

Is Esther a book of coincidences or is it the providence of God?

No. 1: Out of a myriad candidates Esther was chosen as queen. (No coincidence – as Mordecai expressed, ‘who knows if you have come to the throne for such a time as this?’)

No.2:  Mordecai learned of an assassination plot. (No coincidence, according to the ancient Jewish writings. It was accomplished only with the help of God).

No.3 : The king could not sleep, learns of Mordecai’s loyalty and thus was prompted to reward him. (Xerxes, like Nebuchadnezzar before him, had to be compliant to the will of God.)                     

Other Examples of Providence

Are we confident in seeing the unseen hand of God working for the protection of His ancient people in Esther? Are there any other Scriptural incidents in which God is working His purpose out in hidden ways? It seems there are many.

For example, Eliezer, Abraham’s servant was sent to look for a bride for Isaac. He prayed, “Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master (Genesis 24:14). Rebekah was that woman. It was a sensible test, inasmuch as Eliezer was looking for a woman who would demonstrate ‘hesed’, that is, ‘loving-kindness’, a quality highly thought of by God and men. Rebekah demonstrated ‘hesed’ to a stranger and Eliezer identified the hand of God in the incident. He said, Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren (Genesis 24:27, KJV).

Also the life of Joseph demonstrated the guidance and protection of God. The unseen hand of God is apparent in his elevation to a position in Egyptian life where he could exercise influence for good to the nations of that part of the world. This was in spite of several obstacles. He summarised his experience: God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. (Genesis 45:7, ESV)

The life of William Cowper also springs to mind. Having endured many setbacks and suffered severe depression, he moved to Olney where he became great friends with John Newton. He and Newton co-authored the Olney Hymnal, of which Cowper authored 68 of the hymns. They include: “O for a closer walk with Thee” and another which he wrote after reading of the forgiveness of God in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It suggests that Cowper knew something of the working of God in providence.

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform

He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill

He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread

Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by fearful sense but trust Him for His grace;

Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour

The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain.

God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.

We must be assured that God is working His purpose out as year succeeds to year. Let us make sure we are a part of His plans for ‘who knows whether we are where we are for such a time as this’. How can we ensure we are in the centre of God’s will? Let us imitate Eliezer who said, “I being in the way, the Lord led me”. Walk according to light you have and more light will be given.