To the fourth generation and the time of the judgment of God
“He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generations.” – from The Ten Commandments (Ex. 34:7)
“Let no one deceive you, for that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God.” – 2 Thessalonians 2:3
How long is four generations? When God addressed the old and childless Abraham telling him he would have a son, He also told him the future of that one seed. That child, Isaac, would multiply into a nation and be held in captivity in a distant land. Then God would visit that nation in “the fourth generation”, which was four hundred years (Genesis 15, 17), when YHVH would judge that nation and its idolatrous gods. That was the prediction of the exodus of Israel from Egypt that would occur 430 years later. The reason given for the four hundred year hiatus was that the iniquities of the nations of Canaan had not yet come to fullness, which would culminate in the fourth generation. At that time Joshua (after an additional forty years due to Israel’s disobedience) would enter the land and bring judgment to those peoples as they continued unabated in their corruptions and sin (which are enumerated in the Torah). It was the time of the fullness of those nations.
That principle was later codified in the Ten Commandments, which says, “for I YHVH your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” In other words, iniquity un-repented-of is cumulative and increasing until the fourth generation- four hundred years- at which time divine judgment is forthcoming.
Is there an historical pattern that may be observed to each fourth generation? First, Israel itself was formed in the fourth generation: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the tribes of Israel. We see in the Biblical history that the first temple in Jerusalem was constructed by King Solomon four generations after the Exodus, in 967BC (1 Kings 6:1). Then we see the temple and Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 486BC, at the end of a similar period from the completion of the temple. From the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian exile in 386 BC and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the foundation for the second temple under Nehemiah, it is at the end of the fourth generation that the Messiah would come to Jerusalem (see the prophecy of Daniel 9), and the destruction of the second temple in 70 AD. In his Antiquities of the Jews XII:322, Josephus says in approximately 80 AD that “the desolation of the Temple came about in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel, which had been made 408 years before.”
These events were spoken of by Israel’s prophets well before their occurrences, each admonishing the people to turn from their iniquities lest judgment befall them. In each case the prophet’s warning was ignored, and the judgment became historical reality. Ezekiel was told to lay upon his left side for three hundred ninety days, each day representing one year of the iniquity of Israel, and to prophesy the coming judgment, if repentance was not forthcoming (Ezekiel 4).
Still later, the Muslim Ottoman Empire ruled the Holy Land from 1517 to 1917- four hundred years- when it was conquered by the British, a time that Jews were returning to the ancient land after a 2000-year exile. In 1948 the nation of Israel was re-born three years after the devastating holocaust of the Jews in Europe.
Is there something that we might learn in our own days from these past events and the pattern of their having occurred? It may be said that America, the freest and most prosperous and blessed nation of the modern world, founded on Judeo-Christian values, is now nearing its fourth generation. The first colony established was Jamestown in 1608, an economic enterprise by the British Empire. But if one counts from the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth for the sake of religious liberty in 1620, a group of dedicated people who profoundly influenced the foundations of what was to become the United States of America, we approach the fourth generation, making 2020 the four hundredth year. In either case it is the fourth generation Biblically, based on the pattern of Abraham.
The great changes in America that have transpired in just the last generation are remarkable. Many things that were not only unheard-of but unimaginable in the 1950’s are fast becoming daily fare of normality in the 21st century. That includes the forced lawful recognition of same-sex marriage, casting off the age-old and essential definition of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, and thus the re-definition of family. It would also include the rampant use and legalization of drugs, abortion as a form of birth control, and widespread accessibility to the most rank forms of pornography, the breakdown of family and great increase in divorce, regular mass murders, all being a renunciation of inherited Godly values. Many are they who have spoken out of the need to return to those values. And the great power of America (though with an astronomical national debt), especially through the media and the granted freedom of expression, has greatly influenced nations around the planet in this decline.
Yeshua (Jesus) spoke of a time which would be “at the time of the fullness of the Gentiles (nations)”, when the salvation and knowledge of God would have been heard around the world, and then would return to Israel (Luke 21:24, Romans 11:25). For the first time in two millennia of dispersion, the Jewish people have not only their own nation again in the ancient Land of Israel (a phenomenon unparalleled in history), but many are coming to re-examine the Jew Yeshua, and seeing him as the promised Messiah. At the same time we are witnessing in our time a real decline in the formerly Christian world of the West, the casting off of Godly morality for an atheism of hopelessness, especially in Europe, where Islam is increasingly filling the religious vacuum. We hear daily of outrages throughout the world, threats of nuclear war, and the vicious chaos and violence of perennial unhappiness in the Muslim world, especially Iran the cradle of the Islamic Revolution since 1979, and their hatred and unceasing threats of destruction to the West. The proliferation of sophisticated weaponry has cast a pall of fear and anxiety across the world’s population.
The planet seems to be a gathering hurricane, and we here in Israel are at the eye of the storm. We all watch daily as truth and history are twisted and distorted in an effort to divide the Promised Land in two, forcing two nations onto this tiny piece of real estate, and that in the name of a peace which is in no way guaranteed to arise from such a division, judging from the daily rhetoric of the Muslim world (including our immediate neighbors the Palestinians). But we are also aware of the prophetic Biblical picture before us of a time that God would gather all nations down into the valley of Jehosaphat (which is the Hebrew for “the judgment of God”) for their iniquities, including the dividing of God’s land ( Isaiah 14:2), the historical Land of Israel (Joel 3, Zechariah 12-14, Ezekiel 36-38, etc.). It is the approaching time of the milo hagoyim– the fullness of nations.
It is in God we trust.
Elhanan ben-Avraham, born in 1945, is a professional artist, poet, writer and father of two, grandfather of four, living in Israel since 1979. He has served in the IDF, taught the Bible internationally, published two illustrated books of poetry, and painted two large Biblical murals in public buildings in Jerusalem, among many other works. He and his wife live in a quiet village in the Mountains of Judah.
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Parashat Mishpatim – Exodus 21:1 – 24:18
״And I will give you the tablets of stone and the Torah and the commandment that I have written, to instruct them.״ – Shemot/Exodus 24:12
These words are spoken to Moshe HaShem after the giving of the Decalogue – the Ten Words – and a block of ancillary commandments. He calls Moshe to come up to Him on the mountain, where He promises to give him the two tablets of stone. We should notice the root yod, resh, heh appearing twice in the text: first as hatorah
“the Torah”, perhaps literally, the instruction – an abstract noun formed by adding a tav prefix to the root; second as the verb lehorotam, the Hif’il infinitive with a 3mp suffix, “to teach them”. In both cases, the first letter of the root yod, has reverted to its older form vav, as is typical with many first yod verbs. Rashbam tells us that “These are the ‘tablets with G-d’s writing’ that He would give Moshe at the end of the forty days.” Umberto Cassuto is very definite:  “Just as they were proclaimed by G-d, so their writing must necessarily be the writing of G-d, graven upon the tablets ‘The tablets were God’s work, and the writing was God’s writing, incised upon the tablets’ (Shemot 32:16, JPS).”
We use the word Torah today to refer to the whole of the five books of Moshe, sometimes (by metonymy) the whole of the Tanakh and, in the Orthodox world, all the rabbinic writings. How is the word being used here? Just how big were these tablets and how small was the writing?
Rashi tries to have his cake and eat it by assuring us that “all six hundred and thirteen commandments are included in the Ten Words/Sayings.” Other commentators suggest that just the Decalogue itself was written on the tablets, while a few have individual choices: the first and the second or the first and the fifth. Either way, for Moshe to be able to carry them down the mountain, they must have been of limited size and – so that they could be read and used by normal people with the naked eye – very limited content. Gunther Plaut is worried that this is far too small, arguing that “the expression ‘the instructions and the commandment’- seems too large for the Decalogue.”
Ramban claims that “this is identical with what He said in D’varim: ‘and I will give you the whole instruction — the laws and the rules — that you shall impart to them’ (D’varim 5:28, JPS).”
Following that thought, Gersonides, the Ralbag, suggests that “the teachings and commandment” refer to “the stories, which are of value for developing the character and the intellect, and the rules by which to achieve success.”
Ibn Ezra notes that some interpret the phrase to mean, “The written Torah and the oral commandment”, but insists that “rightly, He is speaking only about the tablets. This is proved when He says, ‘that I have written.'” This focus on the written and the oral components of the Torah is a major theme within mainstream Judaism.
Sforno opens this up a little more: “‘and the Torah’ – the theoretical part of it; ‘and the commandment – the practical active part of it; ‘that you may teach them’ – I will give them to you so that you may teach them, for although all is written, as our Sages say, ‘Is there anything in the Prophets or Writings which is not intimated by Moshe in the Torah?’ (b. Ta’anit 9a), and as some of our Sages say, ‘The major part is written, a minor part is oral’ (b. Gittin 60b), yet behold that the allusions (or implications) which are found in it, be it theoretical or in deed, cannot be understood by the majority of Israel save through a righteous teacher. Therefore the opinion of the other Sages who say, ‘The major part is oral, and a minor part written’ (b. Gittin 60b), is also correct.” This is why Jacob Neusner refers to Judaism as “the Judaism of the Dual Torah.”
Hirsch picks up the same point made by the Rashbam and Cassuto earlier and then goes on to give the classic Orthodox position about the relative merits and status of the written and oral Torah: “‘that I have written’ – in accordance with what we are told in 31:18 at the end of Moshe’s stay on the mount – ‘When He finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of God’ (Shemot 31:18, JPS). The written Law is only an instructor’s text book, by reference to which the real teaching – which is to be retained for verbal tuition – is to be kept intact and ensured.” Within Orthodox Judaism, the Oral Torah has precedence over the Written Torah. Or perhaps it would be kinder to say that the way the Oral Torah interprets the Written Torah takes precedence over the plain meaning of the Written Torah text. As believers in Messiah Yeshua, we have to disagree with that; we know that “All Scripture is breathed out by G-d and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV). We place the Written Word, both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures – as the indelible record of G-d’s relationship with our people – above all else.
The modern scholar Nahum Sarna points out that “the stone tablets … follows the widespread ANE practice of recording important public documents, particularly treaty stipulations, on imperishable materials” and Gunther Plaut reminds us that “scholars distinguish between various expressions used for the tablets and assign different sources to their use: Stone Tablets [E], Tablets of the Pact [P], Tablets of the Covenant [D].” Whether we accept or reject the Documentary Hypothesis, it is important that the Torah has several ways of referring to the tablets and that Moshe and subsequent generations took care to preserve the Scriptures. Proverbs links Torah and commandments again – “Keep my commandments and live, my teaching, as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 7:2-3) – while Rav Sha’ul speaks of the writing of the Ruach: “not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NASB).
Yeshua instructed His disciples to include His teachings in their outreach and disciple-making: “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20, NASB) and Luke tells us that the early church in Jerusalem did just that: “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42, NASB) as they passed on the words and teachings of Yeshua, appointing deacons to deal with more practical matters when the apostles said, “we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word” (6:4, NASB). The written Hebrew Scriptures and the words of Yeshua were the foundation of the life and praxis. Yeshua said, “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63, NASB), affirmed by Simon Peter: “the words of eternal life” (v. 68, NASB).
In these days, when the world is in turmoil and the foundations of many are being shaken in all sorts of directions, we need to know where our foundation is. Where is our base and upon what are be basing our lives? Where are our tablets of stone?
Rav Sha’ul lays out an architectural picture for the Gentiles who are coming to faith in Yeshua at Ephesus and Asia Minor: “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the L-rd” (Ephesians 2:19-21, ESV). In this picture, Sha’ul sees the teaching of the prophets and the apostles, centred, focused and pivoted on Yeshua as the foundation supporting the building of the people of G-d. He repeats his metaphor – Yeshua as foundation – to the Corinthians: “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Messiah Yeshua” (1 Corinthians 3:11).
We must have a foundation, a fixed and absolute point on which we can place our feet and rest our minds, knowing that we are secure in our G-d, knowing that “the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind” (1 Samuel 15:29, NASB>), that “The L-RD has sworn and will not change His mind” (Psalm 110:4, NASB). G-d, our G-d, is very clear: “I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it” (Jeremiah 4:28, NASB). He has spoken to save the world, He sent His Son – Yeshua – to redeem the world and He will return to rule the world. This – rather than the text itself, important though that is – the rock on which we stand: our faith in the unchangeable nature, grace and favour of our G-d, poured out towards us in Yeshua. He is our rock and our fortress; scholarship, other texts, the words of teachers, are nothing if we do not have Him. As the refrain of a Victorian hymn says:
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
— Edward Mote (1797-1874)
He is the foundation, our tablet of stone, our Torah and commandment, written by the finger of G-d that we may be instructed and instruct others.
 Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1983, 965-223-456-7
Further Study: Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 118:21-23; Luke 20:9-18; Acts 4:8-12
Application: Are your feet firm upon the rock, or do you waver in the breeze, blown about by every wind of scholarship or doctrine? Do you know the certainty of G-d’s Torah and commandment, instructed by Him? Time to touch base with those stone tablets and know the certainty and permanence of G-d and His word.
Jonathan and his wife, Belinda, lead Messianic Education Trust, which is an educational ministry based in England. It is a part of the Tikkun family of ministries, serving the Messianic Jewish community in Israel, Cyprus and the USA , as well as former republics of the Soviet block.
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Commentary on Parashat Mishpatim (Ordinance or Statute)
Shemot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18
Before you read this blog entry, I ask that you please stop for a moment and ask God to open your heart to what I have written, as I am well aware that this topic may be sensitive for many people.
Our weekly Scripture portion opens with a very interesting verse, Exodus 21:1, which is usually interpreted in a negative way, because I believe we misunderstand the essence of what the Lord is saying to us in it:
“And these are the ordinances (statutes) [המשפטים] that you shall set before them.”
(*All quoted scripture is my translation directly from the Hebrew.)
God tells Moses that He is about to give statutes (המשפטים) to the Children of Israel. I chose to translate the Hebrew word, “המשפטים” (mishpatim) as “ordinances/statutes” and not “judgments” since they are far more than just a set of laws. And we know that the Lord never uses a word without a specific purpose!
According to Wikipedia, a statute is, “…a formal written enactment of a legislative authority that governs a state, city or country. Typically, statutes command or prohibit something, or declare policy. Statutes are rules made by legislative bodies; they are distinguished from case law or precedent, which is decided by courts, and regulations issued by government agencies. Statute law is written by a government’s legislative body and signed into law by its executive.” So we see that a statute is a bit different from a law, and is actually more of a boundary that serves to protect someone or something.
Sadly, many view the statutes of the Lord negatively, as it conjures up the idea of a burdensome law. Instead, I believe we can view His statutes positively, understanding that He gave them to us to not only know what is right, just, and good, but also to have abundant life!
Throughout the Scriptures, we see some very positive references to the statutes of the Lord. King David wrote about his love for them in many places, one of my favorites being Psalm 119: “I have chosen the faithful way; I have placed Thine ordinances (statutes) before me.” Psalm 119:30
When Yeshua announced that the Kingdom of God was at hand, He made it clear that sin had no place within the Kingdom: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent of your sins and believe the Good News.” Mark 1:15
But how do we know what constitutes sin? When we understand God’s statutes, or boundaries! The Lord’s statutes bring awareness of sin, making us aware that we need to be rescued from them before we can inherit the Kingdom of God. But does that mean that the Kingdom of God is a lawless place where one can do whatever s/he wants? Absolutely not!
My dear brothers and sisters, the statutes of the Lord are good; we know that they ultimately point to Yeshua, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one can come to the Father (or enter the Kingdom) but through Him.
We now can better understand why Psalm 119:156 says, “Your mercies are many Lord, as your statues bring life in me”.
Yeshua Himself set an example in the way we are to walk with the Father; He clarified for us areas in which we needed better understanding. Moses played a similar role for the Children of Israel as he set the example of what it was to walk with the Lord in line with His statutes.
When Moses declared the Word of the Lord to the Children of Israel, they responded, “We will do!”: “Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!” Exodus 24:3
Then they responded:
“Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will hear!” Exodus 24:7
But this principle was not just for the Children of Israel. I am amazed at how everything comes full circle in God’s economy! This concept of hearing and doing is also echoed in the New Covenant, by Yeshua and His other disciples. Ya’akov (James) wrote, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” James 2:17
Rav Shaul (Paul) also wrote something similar: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of the Messiah. ” Romans 10:17
The Lord’s statutes are a blessing, not a curse. He gave them to Israel – and in turn to all who would be grafted in to the Tree of Israel – in order to help us to choose life. They are not a heavy burden, but are instead boundaries, which in turn, bring us freedom in Him.
Freedom in Yeshua is not lawlessness! If we love Him, we will obey Him and His statutes. And we will know true freedom.
This article originally appeared on Hope for Israel, February 22, 2017, and reposted with permission.
Moran is the Founder and Executive Director of Hope for Israel, which is a service and resource-providing ministry that aims to bring the hope of the Messiah back to Israel. It is also a resource center for current and timely news updates concerning Israel that provides daily prayer alerts, Bible teachings, and weekly blogs in order to help believers across the world understand what God is doing in the Land, how to pray for Israel and filter everything through the Word of God.
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Sowing with tears, reaping with joy
“Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” – Ps. 126:5
In the book of Revelation we read, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).
We find the same topic in the Old Testament, e.g. Isaiah 25:7-8, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.”
Have you ever wondered why this topic is so important in God’s word, so that both Isaiah and John speak of the day on which God will wipe away all tears? It touched me when I realized once again how much God wants to write on our hearts that a day will come when all tears will be wiped away – and HE himself will do it! This means of course that God is well aware of tears.
Tears are unavoidable
Tears are an unavoidable reality, otherwise it would not be written that he will wipe away every tear. Not from those who weep, but from every face. Tears are a reality. Obviously we enter God’s kingdom and presence with tears. But what does that mean? This is not what we expect. After all, who wants to get into situations which drive him to tears? This is not the life and future we are yearning for.
We would prefer to be without tears now. Everything the world undertakes is intended to eliminate tears as far as possible. The goal is fun, ease, recreation – no tension, no stress. But this is incompatible with tears. Of course, some people’s eyes stream with tears when they laugh. I hardly believe God wants to wipe away these tears. Sometimes we also shed tears when we yawn, but these are not relevant here, either.
Before looking at a Psalm to take us deeper into this topic, it is important to realize that it is an unbelievable promise that the day will come when God will wipe away all tears. What a future, that God himself will wipe away the tears from each one of us! In other words, there will come a day of final and absolute comfort. When our tears are wiped away we are comforted. God says, “The moment is coming in which you will experience comfort in its fulness.” We need comfort because tears are an unavoidable reality.
…like men who dreamed
Psalm 126 speaks of those who come home, literally Israel returning to its land, but also the church returning home to God’s presence. “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”
This Psalm shows us that there is a home-coming. The moment will come when we all return home. We are all waiting for this moment, longing for the day we finally arrive at the father’s home. We can’t imagine how this will feel! The Psalmist attempts to describe it. It is simply a dream, i.e. something we actually cannot imagine. “Our mouths were filled with laughter” means that our whole being is full of laughter. Suddenly everything inside us relaxes and breaks open when we are at home. We will no longer have to make an effort to worship God because our whole being will break out in praise.
After the Psalmist realizes this, he looks back and says of the path which leads to this home, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” These are tears which are sown. Scattering seed, going out, and sowing obviously have to do with tears’ reality. Why? If sowing drives us to tears, that means it is strenuous, costs us a lot, takes energy out of us, and makes us sad. We weep from grief and helplessness because we are stretched to our limits. And when we reach our limits and sense that there is no more we can do, tears come.
God lets us reach our limits
Obviously God does not protect us from tears in this life. He does not protect us from being stretched to our limits, from mourning, from experiencing our helplessness, does not protect us from getting into situations where we can do nothing but weep. Otherwise we would not read about tears. When we are following and serving Jesus, we often have the feeling that he should prepare a nice level path for us and remove every pebble. Then the enemy comes and says, “Is that a path of life which leads to limitations, which is filled with tears, helplessness, suffering and perseverance?”
We know where these tears come from; this is nothing theoretical. We are taxed to our own limits. The better we know ourselves, the more we realize how limited and narrow our heart is. The more we have the courage to see the extent of our need, the more we begin to suffer over ourselves. This can drive us to tears, to our extremities, to helplessness. We intended something quite different, but we realize that it wasn’t so easy. There is a deep chasm between what is in my head and what is really in my heart. Recognizing this can drives us to tears and to cry, “Lord, help!”
When Paul experienced this he wrote, “What a wretched man I am! “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24). He suddenly saw what was really inside him and he lost every illusion about himself. Therefore he cried out, “What a wretched man I am!” Paul, such a gifted man, with so many achievements, ended by saying, “What a wretched man I am!” This is the cry of one who has reached his demarcation line. Paul weeps over himself because he has seen who he really is.
But there is another kind of weeping, as well; namely, when we daily reach our perimeter in our relationships to one another, to say nothing of those to whom we bring the Gospel. We would like everything to be smooth and relaxed. We are constantly looking for a method which would make this possible, where there are no sharp edges and no offenses. And then we realize that there is no such method. At this moment we reach our limitations.
We reach our limits over and over again. If someone says he has never done so, I have my doubts as to whether he is really spreading the Gospel and has ever encountered sin in his own life and in others. God not only doesn’t protect us from reaching our own boundaries, he even says, “When your experiences drives you to tears and you want to give up because it’s so difficult, that’s the best condition for sowing.” How do we sow? We sow with the promise that there will be a joyful harvest. God does not want me to give up or shrink back. He wants me to begin sowing hope exactly at the point where I suffer over myself and where my inner narrowness is so obvious that it hurts me; where I have the feeling that no one can help me; where I say with Paul, “I’m the last. I’m miserable! There’s no help for me.” This is exactly where Jesus expects us to sow hope and his word.
What made the great men of the Bible into the models they are? For example, what made Abraham into the man he is ?- He is called a friend of God and father of those who believe. If anyone was ever driven to tears, then it was Abraham. He had to take his own son and walk three days to the place designated by God. There he was to sacrifice this son, the joy of his life; his own son, whom he had longed for all his life. Isaac had embodied his future and his experience of God. I can imagine that Abraham died a thousand deaths. If anyone has been driven to tears, then he was! In such a situation, every one of us would have said, “That’s it. God can’t ask any more of me. Now it’s enough.” It would have been understandable if Abraham had reacted in this way. And in the midst of this, Isaac asked his father, “Where is the lamb?”
When we are in overwhelming situations we often experience the same thing. Everyone can see that something is not right. And now this difficult question. Abraham’s answer? No excuses, nor simply, “I don’t know.” Rather, in this moment Abraham sows a seed which will later bear fruit in the lives of Isaac and the whole people of Israel. For he says, “God will take care of it.” Abraham didn’t understand what was happening and he had no answer. But one thing he knew, “In this situation, which I don’t understand, which is so unbearably painful, which brings me to the end of my ablilities, I know one thing: God is here. He will take care of it He will provide a lamb.” Into this difficult situation Abraham sowed trust and hope.
Now let’s look at Moses. Moses was deeply disappointed by the people after he had invested everything in them and they had seen miracle after miracle. But as soon as he was absent for a few days, the people fell into deepest idolatry. Moses was shattered. Every one of us would have been. Morever, even God comes and says, “I understand you. Come, we’ll stop trying with this people and I’ll start over again with you!” Which one of us would not have said yes or would not have been honored that God wanted to begin a new generation with me!
Moses became a friend of God because at this point of deepest disappointment, where he experienced his own confines, he did not choose the easiest path, but said, “No, Lord, for your sake. For your sake I won’t give up. For your sake I’ll continue with this people. What would people think of you?” Moses’ awe of God was more important to him than his own disappointment. “Lord, I don’t want others to think evil of you and dishonor your name.”
Sowing trust and hope
The men of God who bore fruit in his kingdom and set so much in motion are people who God brought to their limits, to the point of tears. But in the midst of these limits and difficulties, they sowed trust and hope. They sowed with David’s words, “And yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. If I only have you…” (Psalm 73:23).
We usually can’t see the connection between tears and limits on the one hand and God’s special presence on the other. But this is just the point. We are all on the way home, and it is a reality that on this path these two aspects belong together. Whoever does not sow God’s kingdom in the tears he sheds will not be able to reap. “They go out weeping, carrying seeds to sow.”
When we reach our limitations, God doesn’t hold it against us that we weep and struggle. But he says, “Keep going, trust me; sow hope, sow trust; give me the honor; trust me that I will reach the goal with you; trust me that I will fulfill what I have planned; don’t run away from this situation or start looking for your own solutions!” If we seek our own solutions we will reap only our own fruit. God says, “If you sow trust in me, I will let you reap my fruit. And this fruit will be joy.” As we read in the Psalm, “They will reap with songs of joy. They return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.”
“Yet I am always with you.”
I want to encourage you in two things. First, we should not be dismayed and think something unusual is happening, or that God is infinitely distant when we reach our own cut-off point and are driven to tears. And second, we should not begin complaining, but realize that he is with us in the midst of everything. God waits for us to begin sowing and say, “Yet I am always with you. No matter what you allow, I know that you are good. I know that you will break open my boundaries. You will lead me out into a wide place. It is written, ‘He brought me out into a spacious place’ (Psalm 18:19). I know that you will do it. I know that you will turn my inner desert into a blossoming garden. I won’t give up, no matter how many rocks I have to clear away. Lord, I won’t give up because I know that after all the tears and struggles you will do what you said, namely wipe away all these tears. And then ‘with joy they bring their sheaves, in joy they harvest.'”
What do we reap? We reap the experience of God’s unspeakable presence. Is there anything more wonderful than standing in front of the father and hearing him, say, “Now all suffering is at an end.” Finished. All problems, all struggles are over. This awaits us. Even if it sounds like a dream, and even the Psalm says it is like a dream – it is still God’s reality. He says, “I will lead you into this reality, if you are determined.” And our answer will be, “Lord, it may cost me tears but I will continue to approach you. I will not allow myself to be held up. Even if I don’t understand and can’t put everything together, I know you are good. For if you weren’t good, all life would be meaningless. If God weren’t faithful, everything sould be hopeless. So I say, Lord, it is you. You are faithful, and I will experience it. And I’ll keep going until it is tangible in my life.”
Laughter which will fill our whole being
Thank God that we do not have to wait for this comfort until we see him face to face. God is so endlessly merciful that he gives us a taste of his comfort even now. But this taste cannot be compared, is not even a glimmer of what God has ready for us. It is not just a sentimental wish, but God’s reality. If we set our sights on this comfort and reaffirm daily, “Lord, I want to attain that”, we will know in a new way that our tears are not the sole reality. Joy is God’s goal for us. Rejoicing is God’s goal for us. The laughter which will fill our whole being is God’s goal for us.
Marcel is the director of “Community of Reconciliation” (COR), which he founded in 1988. He came to Israel in 1994 with his wife Regula and their four now grown children. Marcel serves as an elder in a messianic congregation in Jerusalem. He is involved with other leaders in Jerusalem and nationwide, facilitating fellowship, unity and cooperative efforts to advance God’s purposes for the messianic body in Jerusalem and in Israel.
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Seeking the kingdom first
Yeshua wanted to teach His disciples to rely on God’s provision rather than their own frantic efforts. He contrasted them against the idolatrous, non-Jewish world. The pagans prioritized mammon and expended all their energy fretting over the pursuit of materialism: “All these things the Gentiles eagerly seek” (Matthew 6:32).
Unlike the idolaters who consume their years seeking after material goods, the disciples of Yeshua should seek the kingdom of heaven. He told His disciples to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (6:33). After all, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things … and all these things shall be added” to the one who seeks first the kingdom and God’s righteousness (6:32-33). Clement of Alexandria transmits a similar saying of the Master not known from Gospels: “Ask for the great things, and God will add unto you the little things.”
What does it mean to seek first the kingdom?
The “kingdom” is the kingdom of heaven, i.e., the Messianic Era. Recall that the Master introduced the Sermon on the Mount with an ominous warning, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). To seek the kingdom first means to prioritize attaining the reward of entering the kingdom—i.e., the resurrection of the dead and the Messianic Era.
What does it mean to seek “His righteousness”?
In Matthew 5:20, Yeshua contrasted the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees against the type of righteousness necessary for entrance into the kingdom. The rest of the sermon describes the righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees—the righteousness of God—an application of God’s Torah that internalizes His righteous standard. To seek God’s righteousness means to apply His Torah as Yeshua explained it in the Sermon on the Mount. That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about: the instructions for seeking first the kingdom.
If a disciple will set aside anxiety over materialism and instead apply his or her efforts toward entering the kingdom and practicing God’s righteousness, the person need not worry, the LORD will supply him his material needs.
- Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)
- Do not worry about tomorrow’s trouble, for you do not know what the day will bring. Tomorrow may come and a man will be no more so he has worried about a world which never belonged to him. (Talmud, b.Yevamot 63b)
- It is sufficient for trouble to come at its time. (Talmud, b.Berachot 9b)
This article originally appeared on First Fruits of Zion and is reposted with permission.
First Fruits of Zion specializes in the study and teaching of Scripture from its historical, linguistic, and cultural context. Using the latest scholarship, ancient Jewish sources, and extra-biblical literature, we present a Messianic Jewish reading of the Bible and early Jewish-Christianity. We do this by publishing books, ebooks, magazines, journals, study programs, audio and audio-visual resources, and presenting new material through seminars, conferences, and guided Israel tours.