When out of order is really in order
There are times when we are reading the Bible that we come a place where, in the middle of an event, it seems as if an unrelated story or series of verses appears within the text. We know that every word in the Holy Scriptures was written by G-D’s design, so that means that these seemingly unrelated verses must, in some way, be related to the text found both before and after them.
One such text is found in Genesis 38, which is the story of Judah and Tamar. This chapter is found folded between chapter 37, which tells of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers, and chapter 39, which continues the narrative of Joseph’s life in slavery. Basically, if you read chapter 37, then turn past chapter 38 to chapter 39, we find a seamless continuity of the narrative of Joseph’s life.
So, we must ask why the story of Judah and Tamar is placed in-between chapters 37 and 39 in such a way that it breaks up the story. When reading the text, it almost feels as if we turn the page and find that someone has bound a page from another book in the wrong location. Or, to put it into more modern terms, it seems as if for a few minutes, the channel gets changed and we begin to view a completely different program.
Yet, because we know that the Bible is perfectly constructed, we know that chapter 39 was placed where it is in the text because it belongs there. Knowing this, we, as the intended audience, must take the time to read the text to find the connection between these two seemingly disjointed events. Then we can find how these chapters become part of the Torah (instructions) for our lives.
So, let’s take a look. In chapter 37, we read that Joseph’s brothers hate him enough to kill him. Judah convinces his brothers that instead of killing Joseph, it would be better for them to sell him into slavery. After selling Joseph into slavery, his brothers inform their father, Jacob, that an animal has killed Joseph. Then, we read that Jacob mourns the death of his son.
As we enter chapter 38, we find that Judah experiences the loss of two of his sons. Judah learns first-hand what his father went through when he and his brothers lied to Jacob about the death of Joseph. Judah feels the deep loss and pain of losing not just one, but two of his sons. It is this experience in Judah’s life that causes such repentance in him when later he is willing to become a slave in the place of Benjamin to keep his father from experiencing the pain of losing a second son.
Genesis chapter 44:33-34 says:
So now, please let your servant remain as my lord’s slave in the boy’s place, and let the boy go up with his brothers. For how can I go up to my father and the boy is not with me? Else I must see the evil that would come upon my father!”
As we see this subplot involving Judah, we realize the two stories are not separate; they are intertwined. Judah’s painful experience in chapter 38 shaped his life so dramatically and unto true repentance that he is willing to give his life for his brother. The placement of chapter 38 isn’t a mistake; it isn’t out of proper order at all. In fact, it is the events of chapter 38 that brings the story of Joseph and his brothers into proper order. Chapter 38 also brings the repentance, which makes it possible for Joseph and his brothers to be brought back into proper order.
Eric Tokajer is author of With Me in Paradise, Transient Singularity, #ManWisdom, OY! How Did I Get Here?: Thirty-One Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before Entering Ministry, Jesus is to Christianity as Pasta is to Italians, God Has No Plan "B", and his most recent book Galatians in Context.
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His perfect plan (Part 2)
PARASHAT MIKEITZ (FROM THE END)
BERESHEET (GENESIS) 41:1–44:17
I titled my last blog, “His Perfect Plan”, which focused on the reason I believe the story of Judah and Tamar appears in the middle of Joseph’s story. I wrote that I believe the reason for this is to emphasize the importance of God’s sovereign will, and the fact that it cannot be thwarted. God’s plan was for Messiah to fulfill two roles, of which Joseph and King David were very important forerunners (Messiah Son of Joseph, Messiah Son of David). King David was a direct descendant of Perez, who was the son of Judah, from which the Redeemer was prophesied to come. Isn’t it amazing to see God’s plan come to fruition, even in ways that we cannot possibly foresee?
In our portion this week, we find three very important verses that I believe put an even stronger emphasis on God’s perfect plan:
When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he made himself as a stranger to them and spoke to them harshly. And he said to them, “Where have you come from?” And they said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” But Joseph had recognized his brothers, although they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams which he had about them, and said to them, “You are spies; you have come to look at the undefended parts of our land.”
Joseph’s brothers came down to Egypt for food, and when they came to Joseph, he made himself as a stranger (non-Israelite) to them. Scripture says that Joseph spoke harshly to them, and as I was reflecting upon this, I was trying to imagine the emotions that Joseph must have felt when he saw his brothers. Was there anger and bitterness at that point? Were there hard feelings, un-forgiveness, or a desire for revenge, all which would be natural feelings for one in Joseph’s shoes?
But then comes a crucial point, at which Joseph remembered the dream he had years before, about his brothers. It was the dream about them bowing down to him:
And he said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
I believe that God reminded Joseph not just of the dream that he had, but also reaffirmed to Joseph that He was in control, and that He had a plan! God’s amazing and perfect plan was to bring life and redemption to Jacob (Israel) and his family, which would ultimately lead to the children of Israel’s redemption from the hand of the Egyptians, which came about 60 plus years later.
But I’d like to also to point out to something even greater, which is that in the same way that Joseph knew his brothers, but they did not recognize him until an appointed time, so it is with Yeshua our Messiah. He knows His brothers (i.e. Israel, the Jewish people), but Israel as a whole will not recognize Him until an appointed time which God alone knows:
And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born.
I would like to close with one more point from this week’s Torah portion, which is a challenge for us, followers of Messiah:
And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
A more accurate way to translate verse 15 from the Hebrew is:
And Joseph replied to Pharaoh to say, “Without me, God will answer the peace of Pharaoh.”
Joseph made it clear to Pharaoh that it was not his ability to interpret the dream, but rather God’s ability, which would bring peace back to Pharaoh.
My dear brothers and sisters, if you are in Messiah, you are a new creation, which means it is not about you, but all about Him. That knowledge ought to give you the power to forgive and forget, as well as to walk by faith, trusting that He who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion in Messiah Yeshua. (Philippians 1:6)
This article originally appeared on Hope for Israel and is 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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Of Arabs, Jews and gallbladders in Israel
Very few of you have thought for a moment about your gallbladder today, for the simple reason that it is going about its wonderful functions without making news. So it is with the daily life of Arabs and Jews in the nation of Israel. Approximately 20% of Israeli citizens are non-Jews, mostly Arab Muslim and Christian, and Druze (an offshoot of Islam), who freely go about their lives here in every area of society, contrary to media reports and negative world opinion.
Our world is now anchored in the muck of The New Age of Confusion. It is informed and misinformed and deformed by a percolating media daily producing fake news in place of fact news, that is as misinformed as it is corrupting. There is a biased spin roving around the planet and echoed by the United Nations that Israel is a racist and apartheid nation- something that could not be further from the truth.
I would like to take you by the hand and lead on a tour throughout Israel, where you will see everywhere and always Jews and Arabs (both Muslim and Christian) working together in every walk of life- in all hospitals as doctors and nurses as well as patients, in universities and garages, at printing houses and restaurants, in government offices and even in the Knesset (parliament) where Arabs have their own representative parties.
An Arab judge, Salim Joubran, sat on the supreme court of Israel, and Arabs serve in the Israeli police department, and even up to high positions (voluntarily) in the military.
You will see Arab families and Jewish families having picnics in the parks, shopping together and working together peacefully in the malls and the supermarkets, and enjoying the Mediterranean beaches and cafes unmolested, far healthier than the strained relations between blacks and whites in many American cities.
All are free to practice their own religion and wear their traditional dress. There are prosperous Israeli Muslim villages like Abu Ghosh where Jews daily enjoy the many restaurants and shops. At the same time you will see black Ethiopians integrating into the Israeli society- in the markets and in the military, etc. But these things go on quietly every day and do not make news, or appear in your media at all. No, Israel is neither racist nor apartheid.
On the other hand, in the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza, even in the Judean city of Bethlehem, a Jew can take his life in his hands if he ventures therein. Even the proposed Palestinian state would be Judenrein– Jew-free- as it would be called an Arab-only state, where a Jew could neither live on that land of our biblical ancestors and their tombs, nor take any part in its function. That, it would appear, seems to fit much more the definition of ‘racist and apartheid’.
There are many well-intentioned people among the Arabs who call themselves Palestinian who would be glad to have a peaceful co-existence with their Jewish neighbors. But it is never the quiet and peaceful people of the land who are the driving force, but those zealots who make and carry out threats on those people, who carry the day.
Having served in the IDF in Judah and Samaria, I know for a fact that this is the case, having spoken directly with some of those inhabitants of the Palestinian camps such a Balata near Nablus. Fear is the great driving force in the Islamic world. The State of Israel is the only nation in the Middle East where Arabs are free and without fear.
A fog of confusion and electronic misinformation has covered the Earth, and today one must wield a very sharp sword to cut through that blinding fog to get to the Truth.
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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Hanukkah Riddle: The Elusive Origins of the “Shamash”
The hanukkiah, or Hanukkah lamp, follows two traditional designs: a branched candelabra or a straight row. The eight lights (one for each festive night) are supplemented by a ninth light, identical but set apart from the others. Whether it burns oil, electric or candles, the hannukiah is so familiar you would never guess it has a short history.
A rabbi at Yeshiva.org, when asked about an unusual hanukkiah which someone had inherited, remarked, “The first use of an eight-armed menorah for Chanuka is not known, although there are some dating back over 500 years.” The Israel Museum’s earliest hanukkiah on display is from the 14th century. But in commemorating an event from 165 BC, that’s fairly recent! What did these ceremonial lamps look like before 1300 AD? Apparently no one knows.
Even more mysterious is the shamash, the ninth light bearing an Aramaic name that means “servant”. What is its purpose? Rabbinic sources offer contradictory answers.
The Talmud (Shabbat 21-23) testified that during or after the second Temple, Jews were lighting Hanukkah lights in their homes. But the passage only mentioned eight lights… no “shamash”. That name first appeared in the 16th-century summary of Jewish law, Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 671-673), applying it to the Talmudic description of an extra light sometimes kindled in the same room with the Hanukkah lamp.
This light was recommended for utilitarian use, so that the ceremonial lights would remain holy (for viewing enjoyment, rather than mundane work). According to Jewish law, it was not attached to the hanukkiah; on the contrary, it was placed far enough away to be disassociated with the holy lights. And since its distinction was in NOT being holy, it was made of materials inferior to the Hanukkah lamps.
However, Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director at United with Israel, reveals the opposite attitude, which is now standard Jewish practice:
“Although it is clear that the actual Chanukah candles possess much sanctity, is there any inherent holiness to the shamash? While we might instinctively think not, especially considering that it may be used for mundane purposes, some authorities rule that the shamash must not be used for anything truly demeaning. This teaches us that even the shamash is not just ‘any’ light source, and it has a degree of holiness.”
This is confusing, since the Talmud (Shabbat 21b) and Shulchan Aruch (OC 671:5) both state that not only is the shamash ordinary, but “if there is a blazing fire” or “a torch” in the room, it’s not even necessary! Rabbi Enkin acknowledges this contradiction without explaining it: “Most people do not realize that this primary candle is not truly required, though its use has become nearly universal.”
Indeed, all Ashkenazi (western) Jews light the shamash first and use it to light the Hanukkah candles. The Sephardic Jews (from the Middle East and Mediterranean region) light the hanukkiah with an unrelated fire source, saving the shamash for last. But both communities light the shamash – always. Both customs likewise attach the shamash to the hanukkiah, despite the command to keep it separate.
The first comment on the conflicting traditions was from “the Rema”, Rabbi Moses Isserles, who lived in 16th-century Poland. See a thorough explanation here. But this sage simply reported that the shamash was already an established custom in his area, without explaining how or when. Who changed these ancient laws, and by what authority? I queried the popular “Ask the Rabbi” site. Their reply: “We haven’t a clue!” They referred me to “one of the foremost experts in Jewish history today“; he had no answer either.
While many see the trail ending here, the hanukkiah riddle continues, fueled by unexplained archeological discoveries in Israel.
The first was an ancient hanukkiah offered in a recent California auction. The description indicated a truly historic find:
“JUDAEA. Second Temple / Roman Era (circa 70-200 CE). Ceramic nine-spouted Hanukkah lamp…with nine wick spouts in a line along the front and a single central filling hole….The decorative motif and general form share similarities to the Beit Natif type, commonly dated to the Third Century CE or later. However it appears to be an early, transitional form, extending the dating to the period between the Jewish War (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE).“
It’s peculiar that this artifact was even allowed to leave Israel. Dr. Meir Ben Dov, archaeologist and Field Director for the Temple Mount Excavations in Jerusalem, examined it in 1988, and called it “an object of extraordinary significance. It is undoubtedly the earliest Hanukkah lamp extant. It is also possibly the oldest Jewish ceremonial object to have been discovered to date.” Its uniqueness is heightened by comparing it with its closest relative, the single-spout “Beit Natif” hanukkiah. Nevertheless, for three decades Israeli archeologists, museums and the Antiquities Authority remained strangely uninterested.
Instead, this one-of-a-kind lamp sat for years in a small New York museum, which recently sold it for $17,500. Considering that at the same auction a Samaritan tablet from 200 years later went for $850,000, the world’s oldest hanukkiah traded hands for peanuts.
If this hanukkiah style was birthed in the 1st or 2nd century, why was it ignored by Jewish communities for over 1000 years? And why aren’t Israeli experts excited about “possibly the oldest Jewish ceremonial object” ever found? I propose a logical theory.
Since contemporary rabbinic sources like the Mishnah showed no awareness of a tradition that made the shamash one of the holy Hanukkah lights, we can assume that the innovation was hatched outside their authority. The theory is strengthened by specific elements on this lamp.
First is the inscription: “with God’s help“… in Greek. Try to imagine a Greek-speaking Judean community so devoted to God that they celebrated Hannukah in the shadow of the recently destroyed Temple, but they did so apart from the Mishnaic rabbis. Only one group comes to mind: the Hellenist Nazarenes, who had gathered in great numbers around the apostles in 1st-century Jerusalem (Acts 6:1).
Moreover, the decorations (“vine scrolls, grape bunches and grape leaves”) and the same oil shared by all the lights are images from the New Covenant (John 15:1-8, 1 Cor.12:13). So is the concept of a shamash identical to the other lights: “the Light that gives light to all men” humbling Himself to live as one of us (John 1:1-14).
A similar archeological find escaping scholarly attention is an intriguing photo in the 1906 edition of the Jewish Encyclopedia: an undated Hanukkah lamp “found in Jerusalem excavations” sometime before the Encyclopedia’s publication, which closely resembles the Greek-Judean hanukkiah.
A third witness is a portrayal of the other “new” design, a nine-branched candelabra, also dating back to the 1st-2nd century. This one was unearthed in the ancient Golan town of Sogana (renamed by local Arabs as el Yehudiye). The engraving is thought to be from the arch of the town synagogue. But no scholar has commented on this appearance of a hanukkiah design that Jews would not use for the next 1000 years.
Of Sogana little is known beyond a bare description by the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus (Wars of the Jews 4:1). The town wall was fortified by Josephus himself during the 70 AD Judean rebellion against the Romans. Yet despite its potential to withstand attacks, Sogana unaccountably surrendered rather than fight to the death (as neighboring Gamla did). Josephus made no attempt to explain Sogana’s strange decision, undoubtedly made over his objections. But as a town only a few miles northeast of the places where Yeshua spent most of His time, we might imagine a strong Nazarene presence there, which motivated them to obey the New Covenant instructions (Romans 13:1-7) to “submit to the governing authorities“, namely King Agrippa who represented Rome.
So although the evolution of the shamash from profane to holy mystifies both religious and secular experts, these tantalizing archeological clues have provoked no interest… a mystery in itself. The answer to both riddles might be buried in our unknown history as a community.
Messianic Jews effortlessly make the connection between Hanukkah’s “servant light” and Yeshua, God’s Righteous Servant and Light of the world. What if these 1st-century hanukkiot incorporating a “holy servant” into the Festival of Lights were Nazarene teaching tools, which contemporary rabbinic authorities tried to suppress?
It wouldn’t be the first such discovery. The afikoman, the centerpiece of the Passover celebration, is equally shrouded in mystery – the only element in the Seder left unexplained… or explained poorly. Yet Messianic believers clearly see Yeshua’s sacrifice in every move silently made with that middle matzah, as it is broken, hidden, sought and returned, then shared. Likewise the remembrance of the Akedah, the sacrifice of Isaac, was unaccountably shifted during the Mishnaic period, from Passover Eve to the day after the Feast of Trumpets (day two of the rabbinic Rosh Hashanah). One rabbinic scholar explained this move as an attempt to weaken the Nazarene claim that the Akedah was fulfilled in Yeshua’s atonement.
But the shamash also speaks to those who don’t know Yeshua. Recognizing that it carries strong human symbolism, one Hasidic site proposed that “because the shamash lowers itself to serve the others, it ends up with an exalted position on the chanukiyah.” This is a close paraphrase of the Messianic passage fulfilled by Yeshua: “By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great.” (Isaiah 53:11-12) Paul’s declaration also comes to mind: “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him.” (Phil.2:8-9)
Perhaps the origins of the shamash were deliberately hidden by God, in order to make the connection with Yeshua even stronger: “However, we know where this man is from; but whenever the Messiah may come, no one knows where He is from.” (John 7:27)
A joyous Hanukkah to all!
Hannah Weiss lives in Israel with her husband Hillel, their three children and two grandchildren. Besides writing on issues relevant for followers of Yeshua, she also works as an English writer, editor and translator for Israeli exporters and academics. Hannah is part of a small home fellowship, Restorers of Zion, which serves the Body of Messiah by focusing on neglected or dysfunctional areas of Scriptural teaching and practice.
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Calling Jonathan Edwards
If you’ve never read the famous sermon by Pastor Jonathan Edwards entitled “Sinners in the Hand of and angry God” you should. Here’s a link where you can read it when you’re done reading this blog.
Edwards preached this sermon in 1741 in the midst of a revival that became known to history as the “First Great Awakening” because it was so widespread in the English speaking world. Many scholars say that it was the foundation of the Evangelical movement that most of the readers of this blog identify with. So it’s part of our theological DNA.
But even more than that, I think this sermon from 277 years ago is HIGHLY relevant to what’s happening in our world today.
It is truly astounding how Western countries which maintained a Biblically-based culture for hundreds of years have, in just a few decades, completely jettisoned it and have even become radically post-Christian. We watch in alarm and sadness as the countries where we grew up rapidly dive deeper and deeper into the Abyss and we wonder how it happened so quickly.
I think “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” answers the question.
The central thesis of this sermon is that all of humanity is being drawn towards Hell by the power of Sin and that it is only the mercy and “pleasure” of God which allows us to sit in His Hands for a time, time we should make use of by repenting and living lives holy and pleasing to God so that when our inevitable death comes we can avoid being cast into everlasting torment.
Edwards was saying this about individual sinners like me and you but he was also saying it was true of humanity as a whole. The theme of URGENCY, because God’s patience could run out and He could remove His Hand from underneath us at any moment, runs through the entire sermon.
Brothers and sisters, I’m not a prophet, but I think it’s very likely that that moment Edwards was warning about has come. God has removed His Hands from underneath the Human Race, and we’re plunging towards Hell at spectacular and increasing velocity.
So, with this in mind, read the sermon and if it speaks to you, share it with your pastor (who might have already read it in seminary) and share it with others who maybe don’t yet feel a sense of urgency. Because of all the things that is sorely lacking in the Church today a sense of urgency to be about the work of the Kingdom is the thing which I believe is most badly needed.
The Age of Grace is rapidly coming to an end and the time before our Lord Jesus Christ returns to this Earth, at which point it will be too late for anyone who has not yet accepted the Gospel, is imminent.
Aaron is a member of Jerusalem Assembly, House of Redemption.