Elisha and the She-Bears

Elisha and the She-Bears

(2 Kings 2:23-25)

By Ed Vasicek

Whenever a new leader replaces a well-loved iconic legend, people have doubts. The bigger the shoes the more difficult it is to fill them. Of course, in the case of Elisha, the question was not whether he could fill Elijah’s shoes, but his cloak!

As Elijah’s disciple and servant, God would call upon Elisha to continue and exceed the ministry Elijah had carved out. Would the people of Israel respect Elisha as they had learned to respect Elijah? Would the transition be complete and speedy?

2 Kings 2 is about this transition. God would use several events to teach the people of Israel — even those who were not faithful to the Lord — to respect this new kid on the block. The account of the 42 young men torn apart by two she-bears is an important —albeit tragic— part of God’s agenda to teach the Israelites to heed Elisha.

Elijah, Elisha, and the “sons of the prophets” (the proto-type for disciples; I will use the term “disciples” for this group) had all been told that this was Elijah’s last day on earth. He would be taken up to glory alive, one day to return (Malachi 4:5).

Elisha, fond and supportive of his master, naturally wants to be at Elijah’s side during this solemn time.

The Biblical narrative format reminds us of a child’s story with repeated (“he huffed and he puffed”) incidents and language. Elijah is called to travel from one town to another, descending lower and lower until he reaches the low spot, the Jordan River.

Each time as he proceeds to the next location, Elijah tries to dissuade Elisha from following him. Each time, Elisha insists upon following his master, and each time Elijah acquiesces. Each time, Elisha is confronted by a group of disciples (“sons of the prophets”) who make sure Elisha understands what is going to happen, old news to Elisha. Each time, Elisha explains that he is aware of Elijah’s destiny, and urges the disciples to zip their lips. He wants to give Elijah the quiet, pensive time he needs.

In the last account, near the Jordan, Elijah takes his coat and touches it to the Jordan River. The waters recede. With 50 disciples left behind on the other side of the Jordan, Elijah and Elisha are alone. Elijah wants to leave his friend and replacement with a token of his support. Rather than a token gift, he gives Elisha an opportunity to request something.

Elisha asks for a double portion of the Spirit (we assume this means double the Holy Spirit’s power). Granting this request is out of Elijah’s domain, and he is not sure whether this request would be within Yahweh’s will. We assume Elijah brings the request to God in prayer (though the text does not so state). By divine inspiration, Elijah offers Elisha a sign. If he witnesses Elijah ascend into heaven, he shall have his request. If he is not privy to this event, he will not.

Elisha sees horses and chariots of fire whisk Elijah away, as though by a whirlwind. All that is left of Elijah is his coat, the same coat he had symbolically placed upon Elisha’s shoulders earlier (I Kings 19:19). Elisha takes the coat, touches it to the Jordan in the Name of the God of Elijah, and the waters part. He crosses over alone, while the 50 disciples gaze from a distance.

Elisha is now God’s prophet, Elijah’s ministry a memory. But would the people receive him? Or would they cling to the memory of Elijah, not even giving Elisha a true chance?

Unlike Elijah, who was a loner (much like John the Baptist), Elisha was a social person (more like Jesus). He is concerned with how he is perceived, so, when the disciples ask to search for Elijah, he eventually acquiesces. When they gave up searching, he essentially said, “I told you so.”

Although Elisha had been given a double portion of the Spirit, and although he had parted the Jordan and taken up Elijah’s coat, and although the disciples felt constrained to get his permission before they made a search, Elisha was still suspect. Everyone — the disciples and the (sometimes ungodly) people of Israel —had to learn to respect this new man, as they should

The tragic event of the youth and the bears is the final event in this process. Let’s begin by looking at the passage (2 Kings 2:23-25, ESV) itself:

He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.

This raises several questions.

First, “How old were these boys?”

While I conceive of these boys as delinquent adolescents, the age range is ambiguous. The Hebrew word na’ar is not very specific. According to The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Volume 2, p. 584), it can be translated as “boy, lad, youth, servant, attendant…also young man…”

The article continues (p.585) with this comment:

“While not all lexicographers agree, na’ar likely derives from nā’ ar…’growl.’ An Arabic cognate conveys the range ‘grunt, cry, scream, roar’… South Arabic derivative Tigre’ language of Ethiopia yields a verb: ‘instigate rebellion, noun ‘mischief, revolt,’ which sheds helpful light on the incidence of Elisha’s tormentors who were attacked by bears…the ASV translations, ‘young lads’ would be …appropriate.”

Second, what did their insults mean?

Interpreters have their differences. Some think they were mocking Elijah’s ascent up to heaven, and were telling Elisha to join him. Others add more weight to the geography. Elisha had been heading downward to the Jordan when he followed Elijah. Now he was making the return trip upward, encountering steep grades along the way, perhaps perspiring.

It is also possible that there is a double meaning, namely, “Elijah ascended up to heaven — right. Sure. And you barely climb this hill.”

Calling Elisha a “baldhead” is pretty self-explanatory. Elisha’s experience may discount the idea that a nice beard detracts from a bald head. J At least as far as these youth were concerned!

Third, did Elisha send the bears?

The text nowhere says that Elisha sent the bears to devour this “gang.” What Elisha does is to “curse them in the Name of the Lord.” In other words, he turns them over to God for appropriate discipline or judgment. He left room for God’s vengeance.

In the Torah, God had promised to discipline the people of Israel in this manner if they turned from him (as Israel had). Leviticus 26:21-22 reads:

If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins. I will let loose among you the beasts of the field, which will bereave you of your children and destroy your cattle and reduce your number so that your roads lie deserted.

The bears did not consume 42 boys, but tore them. We assume this meant this number of boys was killed.

Fourth (conclusion), what were the results?

As a result of this sad incident, the people of Israel understood that God Himself stood squarely behind Elisha. They had better respect him!

From this point on, Elisha works no more miracles in the “Name of the God of Elijah.” He is not just Elijah’s God, but Elisha’s.

Elisha would go on to work nearly twice the number of miracles of Elijah, and become the greatest miracle worker since Moses and until Jesus. Kings, leaders, and common people would consult him. He would develop deep relationships with the “sons of the prophets” and would, in many ways, foreshadow our Lord Jesus Christ.


Chiasm in 2 Kings 4 and in General


One great resource that uncovers an inverse parallelism in the Old (First) Testament  is Dave A. Dorsey’s book, “The Literary Structure of the Old Testament” (Baker, 1999). This is a must have for anyone serious about interpreting and teaching the Old Testament.

Chiasm or chiasmus is a writing structure, defined by Wikipedia: “Chiastic structure, or chiastic pattern, is a literary technique in narrative motifs and other textual passages. An example of chiastic structure would be two ideas, A and B, together with variants A’ and B’, being presented as A,B,B’,A’.”

So we have an outline with point A at the top, and A’ at the end.  We then work down (or up from the bottom) with similar or contrasting ideas until we reach center.

The importance of chasm cannot be over estimated. It leads us to the center point, which is the emphasis of a portion of Scripture.  Much of the First Testament and portions of the Second are written in this structure.  Finding the center point (1) helps us interpret the emphasis or main lesson of the portion, and (2) helps teachers and preachers put the emphasis where it belongs.

Chiasm transcends chapters.  Entire books or sections of books can have a broad structure, while sections have their own sub-structure.  Many scholars and commentators have noted chiastic structures in their works.  But there are many to be uncovered.

I prefer to avoid reinventing the wheel. But, because discovering chiasm is a fairly new idea, there is plenty of room for the pioneer.  In this case, I am pioneering defining the chiasm of 2 Kings 4.  Here is my outline:

Theme: Even Miracle Working Prophets and Wealthy  Women Are Completely Dependent Upon God’s Revelation and Grace

A. Multiplying Oil (1-7)

B. Curing An Infertile Couple (8-17)

C. The Boy Dies (18-25)

               CENTER: D. Elisha and the Wealthy Woman Can Presume Upon God and Are            Helpless Without God’s Intervention (26-31)

              C’. The Boy is Brought Back to Life (32-37)

B’. Curing the Diseased Stew (38-41)

A’. Multiplying Bread (42-44)

Now the interpreter can find the main thought of the chapter and put the emphasis where it belongs.

Method of detection

In this case, noting two similar miracles (multiplying of oil and multiplying of bread) alerted me to the possibility of chiastic structure. If you are reading Genesis, for example, and notice that  both Isaac and Esau are considered the firstborn even though they were actually second-borns, that clues you also to the possibility of chiasm.

If you haven’t explored the world of chasm before I suggest you take a gander at Dorsey’s book. But don’t stop there — be on the alert!


Review – Temple: Amazing New Discoveries That Change Everything About the Location of Solomon’s Temple

Many of us recognize Robert Cornuke as the man whom many believe discovered the real Mt. Sinai. He is also president of the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration Institute, and has been featured on major television networks including ABC, FOX, CNN, National Geographic, and the History Channel; he received his PhD from Louisiana Baptist University.

What I especially appreciate about the author is that he begins with complete confidence in the Scripture. If accepted tradition contradicts Scripture, Cornuke’s game is afoot.

Dr. Cornuke, in a few pages, argues convincingly that the Temple was built in the old City of David—as he documents the Bible avows—rather than atop what has been wrongly dubbed the “Temple Mount.”

Cornuke quotes a number of passages that equate Zion with both the Temple and the City of David. Since the “Temple Mount” sits outside the old City of David, Zion and the Temple Mount cannot be one and the same.

What we call the Temple Mount, he argues, is actually the plateau built by the Romans for the Fortress Antonia. The Romans built their fortresses at the highest elevation possible, building a plateau akin to the “Temple Mount.”

He argues a convincing case, offering a variety of evidences from the biblical texts, formally recorded history (especially Josephus—whom those who accept the Temple Mount as the true location—believe erred), ancient eyewitness accounts, and both older and very recent archaeological findings (2013).

Herod’s Temple was so thoroughly destroyed that all traces of it have vanished. Ancient pilgrims postulated that the Temple had been built on the highest part of the city, and thus dubbed that location the “Temple Mount.”

Cornuke garners convincing evidence that the Temple was actually located to the southwest of the Temple Mount on a smaller piece of real estate, within the Old City of David and with access to the Gihon Spring.

Although Herod’s Temple was destroyed without a trace—as Jesus predicted in Matthew 24:2—apparent remnants of Solomon’s Temple are evident underneath the suggested City of David location. The book actually contains a few photos of this subterranean archaeology.

This is not just an attempt at sensationalism, but a generally logical, thoroughly argued case that will appeal to readers open to consider this possibility. The evidence leads me, personally, to embrace Cornice’s conclusion.

To those of us who believe the Temple will one day be rebuilt—and that this rebuilding is associated with the End Times—the issue is more than just historical.

Getting back to the book itself, part one is both the real meat and bulk of the book: “The Temple.” Although not all arguments in this section are equally compelling, a number of them are quite so. Parts 2 and 3 (the future Temples and the Ark of the Covenant) make a few logical leaps, although I agree with his basic outline.

Dr. Cornuke does a good job summarizing the historical possibility that the Ark of the Covenant is now housed in Ethiopia, but the author stretches the Scriptures to teach that the Ethiopians will one day return it to the Temple for Jesus to use the Mercy Seat (Ark of the Covenant’s top) as His throne during the Millennium.

Make no mistake about it: this book is monumental. Its tight and compelling case for locating the Temple in the City of David (not the Temple Mount) is persuasive and positioned to become a popular viewpoint.

The author does repeat himself quite a bit, but this reinforces his points and will help readers who might otherwise find the subject confusing. The average layperson can readily understand this book. It is fascinating and the type of book that could become a “game changer.”

The Temples

By Ed Vasicek

[Note: Some things have changed since I wrote this article.  See my review of Cornuke’s Book posted just above this entry].

Midrash Detective

Many religions had multiple temples, but God revealed a different standard: He only permitted one central sanctuary. Deuteronomy 12:5 (ESV) states, “But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go.” In contrast, an altar was to be built wherever God made an appearance (Exodus 20:24), but not a building. Only certain types of sacrifices could be made upon these local altars.

Although there are many physical and spiritual aspects to the Temple (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, for example), we must limit our focus.

Preventing Confusion: The Temple vs. the Synagogue

Modern Judaism does not use the term “temple” in the same way the Bible does. Jewish congregations often name their synagogues (meeting places) with the title “temple.” Temple Shalom would be an example. In actuality, these synagogues are not temples in the Biblical sense. In the Biblical sense, the Jewish people have not had their Temple since 70 AD.

The Nature of the Tabernacle & Temple

The Temple (or Tabernacle) structure was not intended to house people. The structure housed sacred objects used in the sacrificial worship of God. Only priests were allowed inside. Sacrifices were always slaughtered outdoors at the altar. Incense, however, was offered inside within the holy place.

If you were a typical devout Jew, you never saw the inside of the Temple (or Tabernacle). When you went to the Temple, you actually went into one of the courtyards surrounding the Temple proper.

Jewish men who lived reasonably near the central sanctuary were expected to enter the courtyards of the Temple to celebrate the three main feast clusters of Israel. (Exodus 34:23). Many Jews made the pilgrimage to Israel just once a year (1 Samuel 1:3) while other might make the trip every few years or perhaps once in a lifetime. Villages would send a representative from their town to make the trip for each feast cluster, and the locals would send money with him for offerings to be made on their behalf.

The Tabernacle (Portable Tent Temple)

God commanded the construction of the Tabernacle. The detailed instructions are documents in Exodus 25-31.

The Tabernacle was a religious tent. It was taken apart and transported from place to place during the forty years of wilderness wanderings. When the Jews entered the Promised Land, they pitched the Tabernacle in a particular location (the most famous of which was Shiloh, Joshua 18:1).

The Tabernacle is called the “House of the Lord” and referred to as “God’s Temple”(Psalm 27:4, I Samuel 1:9). After over 400 years of service, the Tabernacle was retired when the Temple building was constructed during Solomon’s reign. One respected tradition says it was buried under the temple mount.

Solomon’s Temple (The “First” Temple)

The idea to construct a permanent building for God’s Name was initiated by King David with God’s hearty approval (2 Samuel 7:1-17). But because David’s life was filled with bloodshed, He informed David that his heir would construct the building. David, therefore, began to accumulate materials.

David’s son, King Solomon, completed the building in 959 B.C. Constructed atop Mt. Zion, it was considered one of the greatest buildings of the ancient world.

Solomon’s Temple stood for almost 400 years; King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon destroyed it in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:8-10), on the 9th of Av. This was a judgment upon the Jews because they had forsaken Yahweh and turned to multiple gods and idols, despite being warned repeatedly by God’s prophets (2 Chronicles 36:14-16).

The Second Temple

A. Ezra’s Temple (Second Temple, Version 1)

When the Persians allowed some of the Jews to return to Jerusalem, a group did so and began rebuilding the Temple in 535 B.C. Despite obstacles, it was finally completed in 515 B.C. (Ezra 6) upon Mt. Zion

But the new Temple was generic and merely functional, nothing like the architectural marvel of Solomon’s Temple. Ezra 3:12-13tells us some older folks who remembered Solomon’s Temple wept when they saw its meager replacement.

B. Herod’s Temple (Second Temple, Deluxe Version 2)

Herod’s Temple was a complete remodel and expansion of Ezra’s Temple. It was so extensive that it took nearly 78 years to complete. It was started about 17 BC and completed about 63 AD, seven years before it was destroyed! Like Solomon’s Temple, it was considered an architectural marvel, one of the world’s wonders.

In John 2:20, we see a reference to this remodeling project: “The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you [Jesus] raise it up in three days?’”

Of course Jesus was referring to the temple of His body (John 2:21).

All that is left of this temple is a retaining wall that was not really part of the Temple, but helped level and square off the Temple Mount. We call this the “Wailing Wall.”

The destruction of the Second Temple (also on the 9th of Av) in 70 AD by the Romans fulfills the prophecy of Daniel 9:25-26.

The Tribulation Temple

Although there have been efforts to build a “practice temple” to train priests in Israel, there is no functioning temple to be found. When the actual Temple is built, it will have to be constructed on Mt. Zion. Since the location is holy to Muslims (and a Muslim shrine exists either where the Temple once stood or near it), the Jewish people would provoke a massive holy war should they even consider rebuilding the Temple.

It will take an act of God—or perhaps a stray missile from a Muslim source—to clear Mt. Zion. The Tribulation Temple is where the Antichrist will demand worship

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”

Ezekiel’s Millennial Temple (Ezekiel 40-44)

Like the construction of the Tabernacle, the Millennial Temple is defined in great detail in Ezekiel 40-44. The tedious specifics reinforce the conclusion that this will be a literal temple, not some spiritual allegory. Ezekiel could not have been more emphatic.

Although there will no longer be a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:12), there will be other types of sacrifice offered at this Temple. Although one purpose of the sacrifices were to point to the Lamb of God, that was not their only purpose.

Some offerings, like the Fellowship offering (Lev 3; 7:11-35), were eaten by the priests and the people, a sort of religious barbeque. This is the precursor to the church dinner!

The idea that Temple worship can co-exist with the Gospel of the Grace of God is demonstrated in Acts 21; 17-26, where Paul shaved his head to take a Nazarite vow, which involved presenting a sacrifice.

It is during this time that God will restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6; 3:19-21). Jesus shall reign on Mr. Zion (Zechariah 6:9-15) from the Temple complex!

God’s Temple in Heaven

From Hebrews 9:11-14 (and in various portions of Revelation), we learn that the earthly Temple—in some way—corresponds to God’s Temple in heaven. The physical structures of the Temple represent realities we perhaps cannot fully grasp.

Hebrews 9:11-12 reads, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

God Himself as the Temple

After the 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom, Satan is released and leads a final rebellion, which is quickly quelled by the Lord (Revelation 20:7-10). This leads us into the Eternal State, which includes the New Jerusalem descending from heaven, a New Heaven and New Earth.

Will there be a Temple in the New Jerusalem? No! Revelation 21:20 states matters clearly: “And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”

God Himself is the Temple! The implication? All the functions facilitated by the Temple are no longer necessary! The New Heaven and New Earth represent complete harmony between redeemed creation and its Creator.

Temple Tantrum? Yeshua’s Cleansing of the Temple

Temple Tantrum?

By Ed Vasicek

Spring-cleaning finds its origins in the Jewish community, preparing ones home for Passover by removing even infinitesimal dust that might contain leaven. During the Passover season nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus decided to clean house, too. The house was his Father’s house, the Temple.

This event is known as the “Second Cleansing of the Temple,” and we are looking at the account of it recorded in Mark 11:15-19. The first cleansing occurred three years earlier and recorded in John 3:13-22.

Yeshua didn’t clean with detergent, kitchen cleanser, or disinfectant. This was to be a different kind of cleaning, an attempted spiritual cleansing from the grunges of corruption and snobbery.

Studying all three accounts (Matthew 21:12-16, Mark 11:15-19, Luke 19:45-48) suggests that Jesus used the whip on the animals, not the people. He did yell at the people and turned over tables. He was indignant. His anger was not a spontaneous tantrum, but a premeditated responsibility given him by the Father and revealed beforehand in the Old Testament. It involved indignation and intense emotion on Jesus’ part, for sure. But this was how it was meant to be.

The fact that three Gospels record this cleansing (and the fourth Gospel, John, an earlier cleansing) highlights the important nature of this event. John supposed that Jesus did and taught so much that all the books in the world (at that time) could not contain detailed accounts of them all (John 21:25). Putting these facts together leads us to conclude that the Cleansing of the Temple is rich with significance — not just a curiosity. Let’s look at and evaluate this event.

First, please note the two issues that provoked Jesus’ wrath.

The two issues involved were not about merchandising at large; Jesus was not a socialist.

The first problem was that the business conducted in the Temple court was a crooked, dishonest one. The high priest and his family were in control of these enterprises; the people despised their corruption and hypocrisy. These merchants cheated the people, taking advantage of their collaboration with the profiteering priests. This problem is fairly well known and often mentioned in commentaries and sermons.

The second problem, however, was one of the displacement of God-seeking gentiles during Passover. This second problem might even be the greater of the two.

Jerusalem became a crowded city at Passover time. According to chosenpeople.com,

According to the noted scholar Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem had a population of about 20,000 to 30,000 people. But at Passover, one of the three festivals that must be celebrated in Jerusalem mentioned in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16, the Holy City’s population swelled by perhaps another 150,000.

A crowded city meant crowded Temple courts. Since the gentile God-fearers were only allowed in the Court of the Gentiles (unlike Jewish men and women who could enter the inner courts), there was no place left for them; they were crowded out by the merchants and money-changers. Had they located their businesses outside the Temple courts, the high priestly family would have lost its monopoly.  We will develop this idea later, because it is a crucial point in understanding Jesus’ actions.

Second, it is helpful to understand the polar opposite viewpoints embraced by the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai.

These two main branches of the Pharisees were in constant tension. In general, Hillel was much more humanitarian and compassionate than Shammai. Hillel and his followers wanted to lead the gentiles to faith in the God of Israel and teach gentiles to conform to the minimal commands God gave to Noah after the flood (Genesis 9). Shammai wanted to keep Jews separate from gentiles as much as possible. If gentiles wanted to be saved, Shammai taught, they must become full converts to Judaism and Torah-observant. An echo of this controversy seems quite clear in the early church, as documented in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.

Jesus’ generally sided with the views of Hillel, except in the instance of divorce and remarriage where he embraced Shammai’s stricter interpretation. During Jesus’ day, Shammai’s followers were in the majority and thus controlled the Pharisees. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, Shammai’s views died out. Thus all modern Judaism has descended from the School of Hillel.

When we understand these distinctions, it leads us to postulate that the School of Shammai would have had little concern about leaving room for gentile God-fearers in the Temple complex, but we can assume that this was troubling to some within the School of Hillel.

Even after the Temple was destroyed, the debate continued. Should Jews seek to lead gentiles to fear God and study the Torah, or should they avoid gentiles and focus upon separating from gentiles?

Johanan said: A heathen who studies the Torah deserves death, for it is written, Moses commanded us a law for an inheritance; it is our inheritance, not theirs… An objection is raised: R. Meir used to say. Whence do we know that even a heathen who studies the Torah is as a High Priest? From the verse, [Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments:] which, if man do, he shall live in them. Priests, Levites, and Israelites are not mentioned, but men: hence thou mayest learn that even a heathen who studies the Torah is as a High Priest! … [b. Sanhedrin 59a]

Third, we must ask: “How could Jesus get away with creating a ruckus in the Temple on two occasions?”

If I walked into our city’s Farmer’s Market and began turning over tables and disrupting business, I would end up in the county jail. How was it that Jesus went free?

One answer might be that it was not God’s plan for him to be arrested at this point. And, it would be hard to argue against this. Nonetheless, how can we explain this from a merely human perspective?

The fact Jesus got away with this twice suggests public disgust with this corruption as well — everyone knew Jesus was right. It is feasible that other zealous Jews may have done something similar. The Talmud contains no mention of Jesus doing this at all, which might be expected if the Pharisees (especially the School of Hillel) considered Jesus’ behavior scandalous. The Talmud, however, includes curses on these corrupt priests who prospered from their corrupt enterprises.

Fourth, let’s look at the Old Testament prophecies that come to bear upon Yeshua’s cleansing of the Temple.

Messiah had a special right to purify the Temple; it was expected of him.

Malachi 3:1-3 [ESV], ““Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.  But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.”

The event recorded in the Gospels is the “substitute cleansing”: The full cleansing will occur when Yeshua returns to set up His Kingdom.

Throughout Scripture we see the “less literal” near fulfillment and the “more literal” distant fulfillment. One previews the other by virtue of a substitute, a sign of things to come (e.g., Zechariah 3:8). Maher Shallal Hashbaz substituted for Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14-16 with 8:14), the Magi for the Kings of the earth (Matthew 2:1-12 with Isaiah 60:5-6), John for Elijah (Luke 1:13-17, Malachi 4:5), Palm Sunday for Jesus’ future coronation, the Mount of Transfiguration for the Millennium (2 Peter 1:16-18), Pentecost for the pouring out of the Spirit on Israel in the Tribulation (Acts 2:17-21 with Joel 2:28-32), and, here, the Cleansing of the Temple as a predictor of the full cleansing.

The Messiah was expected to removed vendors from the Temple (Zechariah 14:21)

Zechariah 14:21, “And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day.”

In the first cleansing, John 2:17, “His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Psalm 69:9, “For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”

Hypocrisy in the lifestyles of those who utilized the Temple could not be ignored (Jeremiah 7:11). In addition to the anticipation that the Messiah would right what was wrong with Temple worship, Yeshua — as the Son of God — had unique authority: it was his Father’s house.

Jeremiah 7:11, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.”

God’s revealed will was to incorporate — not repel — gentiles to the Temple and to faith in the One True God (Isaiah 56:6-7).

Isaiah 56:6-7, ““And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

This incorporation of the gentiles is a major characteristic of the Messianic era. Thus, if you put all these Old Testament passages together, you end up with this expectation: The Messiah will cleanse the Temple, remove the traders, and pave the way for gentiles to flock to the Temple. This is — in miniature and in a token way — exactly what Jesus did.


The main reason all four Gospels record a cleansing is obvious: like the cross and resurrection, the cleansing of the Temple is a mater of prophetic fulfillment and evidences that Yeshua really IS the promised Messiah. He did what the Messiah was expected to do, but could only go so far because his own people rejected him and refused to believe in him. When he returns to reign, he will clean house fully!

The New Birth Midrash

The New Birth Midrash

By  Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

The term “born again” as a description of regeneration was coined by Yeshua himself and used by Peter in I Peter 1:23, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

Jesus’ teaching about the New Birth is a Midrash (explanation and application of an Old Testament text). In the text below, Jesus faults Nicodemus for not understanding the concept of the New Birth already, even if he did not recognize Yeshua’s terminology. Thus the concept of New Birth cannot be an original teaching of Jesus. Nor is its mysterious nature (like the wind) a new teaching. If it were, why would he expect Nicodemus to know this beforehand?

If Yeshua is teaching old material but adding a new phrase (“born again”) to describe that material, we must ask, “What verses did Yeshua draw upon?” My best guess is two passages in Ezekiel and one in I Samuel. Let me lay a foundation first.

The First (Old) Testament typically uses the phrase “circumcision of the heart” to refer to regeneration (see Deuteronomy 30:6, Deuteronomy 5:28-29 and Deuteronomy 10:16 for the phrase or concept).

Look at the text from John 3:1-11, verses that lead up to the well-know John 3:16,

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.

Nicodemus was not just a devout Jew; he was a Rabbi who was also part of the “ruling council” known as the Sanhedrin. It is important to observe that Yeshua expected Nicodemus to be familiar with His teaching that a man must be born of water and the spirit. This implies that whatever Jesus taught was also seen in the Old Testament. To put it simply, God has always regenerated individuals in the same way.

The key to unlocking this mystery is the fact that both the First Testament Hebrew word ruach and the equivalent New Testament word pneuma, can mean “spirit,” “wind,” or “breath.” The interpreter looks at the context to determine which of these terms seems most likely. In this instance, however, the translation is not so obvious.

Since the word ruach incorporates all three of these definitions, Jesus plays on this ambiguity by saying that whom the Holy Spirit regenerates is unpredictable because the “wind blows where it will.” He adds, “so is everyone who is born of the wind” (or spirit).

Here are the passages I believe Jesus expected Nicodemus to recall as a teacher of Israel. These passages deal with being born of water and/or wind. The first is Ezekiel 36:25-27:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Note here that God is the one who causes all this to happen. God sprinkles with clean water, God cleanses, and God provides the new heart and spirit (regeneration). The result is that the person regenerated lives a life of obedience to God.

Although not incorporating the idea of a divine breath, Ezekiel 18:31, we read, “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?”

This is the equivalent of telling a lost sinner that he must be born again! One the one hand, we know that God is the Sovereign who regenerates in a mysterious and unpredictable way (like the mystery of the wind), yet man is held accountable to acquire a “new heart and a new spirit.” Even in Ezekiel, we see the dual track of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

The second passage is Ezekiel 37:9-10:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Here the mysterious wind of God blows and breaths breath into the slain, and the slain are brought to life. Although we often think of this as an end-time revival of the Nation of Israel, it is also illustrative of the life-giving power of the “breath” (Spirit or wind) of the Lord. Remember that the terms breath, wind, and spirit are potentially interchangeable.

The third passage speaks of King Saul in 1 Samuel 10:6, “The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person….” Although the destiny of Saul is a matter of debate, it appears that he was regenerate and was spiritually transformed.

In conclusion, we can see that Yeshua was illustrating a First Testament truth when he spoke of the New Birth. This truth was so evident in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that he expected Nicodemus to immediately connect the dots. Yeshua clarified the nature of the New Birth, but his teachings on this subject were grounded in existing Scripture.

Have you been brought to spiritual life through the New Birth? The evidence of regeneration is faith in the shed blood of Yeshua to make you right with God, a belief that he also rose from the dead, and a willingness to turn to God through him.

The Original Good Samaritans

The Original Good Samaritans

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

When I was a child, I enjoyed reading Highlights Magazine, a publication for children; the magazine is still flourishing in 2012. One continuous feature of Highlights is a sketch with carefully concealed objects that blend into the picture. In today’s article, I encourage you to sleuth the hidden objects common to two Bible texts.

Most Christians, Messianic Jews, and even the non-devout are familiar with Messiah’s  parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:30-35. Jesus was responding to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” by means of this story. Lois Tverberg, in her book, “Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus,” suggests this parable is based upon a passage in 2 Chronicles 28. I agree with her.

You remember the essentials of the parable, don’t you? A Jewish man was going toward Jericho and was accosted by robbers who left him half dead. A priest and Levite (fellow Jews) passed by and ignored this man’s plight. A man from the despised Samaritan race, however, walked by and had compassion on the man. Luke 10:34-35 [ESV] reads,

“He [the Samaritan] went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’”

The tradition of Good Samaritan, however, seems to originate in an obscure passage, 2 Chronicles 28:15. The soldiers of the Northern Kingdom of Israel –Samaria – had slaughtered 120,000 Judeans and captured another 200,000 as slaves. The prophet Obed spoke a word to the Lord shaming the Samaritan Jews and admonishing them to return the captive Judeans to their homeland. Surprisingly, the people responded. As we read the response, be on the lookout for evidence suggesting that the Good Samaritan parable is a midrash (elaboration) upon these historical events. See how many similarities you can note. 2 Chronicles 28:15 reads:

And the men … rose and took the captives, and with the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them. They clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them, and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kinsfolk at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.

Do you catch the similarities? The city of Jericho is mentioned in both accounts. The people were clothed, given sandals, provided for, anointed, and carried on a donkey. The victims in both instances were Judeans while the heroes were Samaritans.

There are, of course, many differences between these accounts. We have a massive group involved in the 2 Chronicles passage, while only individuals are mentioned in Jesus’ parable. The Samaritans mentioned in the 2 Chronicles account were not the mixed race of Samaritans that existed at the time of Jesus. Ironically, the Samaritan Jews of 2 Chronicles (who were “racially pure”) were idolatrous while the Samaritans of Jesus’ day (of a mixed Jewish and gentile race) worshipped the one true God apart from idols.

In both the historical account and the parable, the emphasis is upon treating people humanely. Compassion is a key word. In the earlier instance, the people had to be admonished by a prophet before they would do the proper and compassionate thing. In the parable, the Samaritan’s conscience and heart were the driving force. No one but he and God could witness his actions.

As at look at both of these texts, I am reminded of something true about myself, and, I believe, each one of us. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I am accountable directly to him. He leads me through his Word and his Spirit, and, as I walk in the Spirit, I will manifest the fruit of the Spirit, which is love.

Yet sometimes I must be admonished to do the right thing. Like the Samaritan Jews who had intended to enslave their Judean brothers, I sometimes need to be motivated to do the right thing. This is one reason why I need the Body of the Messiah. And so do you.

I have long marveled at how many Christians consider church (or Messianic Assembly) attendance and church involvement optional. Sunday (or the Sabbath) is considered a family day; if we have no particular activity on our day of worship, then we will congregate. If we can find something we would enjoy more, then that is what we will do it. The concept of Sunday being “The Lord’s Day”  (or, for Messianic Jews, the Sabbath Day) seems all but lost.

Church or Messianic Congregation attendance is not necessary for salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. But church attendance and involvement (“body life”) are necessary for discipleship and balanced spiritual maturity. Like a piece of chicken on the grill that is never turned over, some believers are burnt on one side and raw on the other. We need both an individual walk and a corporate experience.

I am not among those who legalistically believe a believer has to attend church every Sunday (or a Messianic assembly every Sabbath) without fail. Family reunions or rare events do sometimes legitimately preclude church, in my viewpoint. But the default setting needs to be, “Church attendance is a priority.” Why? Is it just about giving the Lord the first day of our week? Or obeying the concept of Hebrews 10:25? Yes, those are valid reasons. But we also need to hear God’s Word preached, and we need the church body. We sometimes resemble the Jews of 2 Chronicles 28, on the verge of doing the wrong thing. God speaks not only through the man preaching the Word, but he speaks through the Body as we share in Sunday School or fellowship after the service. He speaks through songs and prayers and testimonies. Obed the prophet is not handy to confront us, but the fellowship of believers is even more special. Fellow believer: you need us and we need you.

The original Good Samaritans were not so good. But they did the right thing and became “good” because they heard and obeyed the Word of the Lord. The ideal is to be like the Samaritan man of Yeshua’s parable. I don’t know about you, but I am not always the ideal. I sometimes need an Obed.


A Jewish Roots Perspective on Palm Sunday

A Jewish Roots Perspective on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:1-22)

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

Disciples and Rabbis

Hundreds of sages or rabbis in the first century called disciples who would follow them to receive instruction in the Torah (the Law of Moses) and the oral interpretations of that Law propounded by notable rabbis. It was not unusual for a devout Jewish man to take a hiatus from his career for a month or two to follow a master teacher, traveling with him to minister in small towns and villages.

It seems that The Twelve followed Jesus part time for about two years and full time the last year and a half of his earthly ministry. This was an unusually long –but not unheard of – period of time.

There was nothing odd about a Jewish sage asking men to follow him as his disciples. The culture acclimated people to open their homes to traveling rabbis and their disciples. Jewish leaders established rules to regulate discipleship. For example, a married man could not leave home to follow a rabbi for more than 30 days without permission from his wife.

When Yeshua told his disciples (talmidim) to borrow a donkey and explain that, “the Lord needs them” (Matthew 21:3) — this was not unusual either. The Jewish ethic taught individuals to do what they could to support training disciples, thus promoting Torah study (during that time one studied Torah, he entered “the Kingdom of God”).

As a matter of fact, the Talmud instructs the disciple to prioritize his Rabbi even above his own father:

When one is searching for the lost property both of his father and of his teacher, his teacher’s loss takes precedence over that of his father since his father brought him only into the life of this world, whereas his teacher, who taught him wisdom [i.e., Torah], has brought him into the life of the World to Come. But if his father is no less a scholar than his teacher, then his father’s loss takes precedence…

If his father and his teacher are in captivity, he must first ransom his teacher, and only afterwards his father — unless his father is himself a scholar and then he must first ransom his father. (Bava Metsi’a 2:11)   [Jerusalemperspective.com]

Thus Jesus’ command to love him more than family (Matthew 10:37) or to “let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:21-22) take on new meaning when we understand that these particular teachings were more or less already in circulation.

Messianic Claim

What singled Jesus out from the pack was his Messianic claim which was substantiated by his miracles. The other sages claimed to be nothing more than Bible scholars who were out to train others; Christ claimed this as well, but he implied that he was the promised Messiah. Although a direct claim to be the Messiah would disqualify his authenticity to the Jewish ear (if one claimed to be Messiah, he was ruled out as a fraud), Yeshua admitted to being the Messiah in John 4:25-26 privately. Although he never mouthed the words, “I am the Messiah,” his claim was clearly understood by the religious leaders who sought his crucifixion.

PALM SUNDAY: The Crowd and Their Recognition of Jesus

The rabbis had a difficult time harmonizing how the First Testament presents the Messiah as coming “with the clouds of heaven” in Daniel 7:13 while coming on a donkey in Zechariah 9:9. They chose an either/or interpretation because they did not understand that the Messiah would come twice. In the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 98a, we read:

...it is written, And behold, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven while elsewhere it is written, behold, your king comes to you … lowly, and riding upon a donkey — if they are meritorious, [he will come] with the clouds of heaven; if not, lowly and riding upon a donkey.

Palm Sunday offers us a picture of Christ as King, and, in a sense, it relates to both comings. Let us explore this special day. Palm Sunday was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 and Psalm 118:24-27 .  Zechariah 9:9 reads,

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he,

humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Psalm 118:24-27 reads,

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Save us, we pray, O

Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  We bless you from the house of the Lord.

The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us.

Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!

Whereas Zechariah prophesies directly of Palm Sunday, Psalm 118 is an indirect reference; it is thought to picture The Feast of Tabernacles. Yet its implications could easily be understood as prophetic. The Seven Feasts of Leviticus are prophetic of God’s program of redemption. The last of the seven, Tabernacles, is associated with the millennial reign of Jesus (Zechariah 14:17-21). Palm Sunday was a preview – in modern terms, we might say a “commercial”– for his coming millennial reign.

The phrase “Hosanna” is a transliteration (two Hebrew words that are copied into Greek letters) meaning “save us now.” The Palm Sunday crowd connected “he who comes in the name of the Lord” with the Messiah; perhaps they thought of this Psalm and brought palm branches with them in their attempt to fulfill it.

The crowd that hailed Yeshua had merged from two sources: the large group that came from Bethany, where Messiah had just resurrected Lazarus and the crowd of disciples from Galilee, the home of most of his disciples.

When I was a student at Moody Bible Institute, I was blessed to have a class in the Synoptic Gospels with Dr. Paul Benware. I never forget how my mind cleared when he explained that the crowd who hailed Jesus on Palm Sunday (mostly from Galilee) was not the same crowd who yelled, “Crucify Him!” (from Judea). This information ruined some potential sermons on human fickleness!

Dr. Benware also informed us that it seems eleven of the Twelve disciples hailed from Galilee. Only one – Judas – was Judean.

Palm Sunday was an attempt to recognize Jesus as the rightful King of Israel, the Messiah, and the “Son of David.” This title would have been clearly understand as a synonym for the Messiah. There can be little doubt that the Palm Sunday crowd believed that Jesus was indeed the promised Anointed One.

PALM SUNDAY: The Kingdom of God

So this raises the question, “How is Yeshua King, and what is his kingdom? I will offer eight considerations regarding the Kingdom.

  1. In a sense, he came to set up his Kingdom when he told his disciples that the Kingdom of God was among them (Luke 17:21). His Kingdom rule within the family of faith is the Kingdom of God, in one sense of the term. In the Jewish mind (at least within the School of Hillel), one entered the Kingdom whenever one studied Torah.
  1. In a sense, his Kingdom visited earth and transcended time on the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18). The Transfiguration is one of the most under-appreciated events in the life of Jesus. Peter refers to the Transfiguration as the “coming” of our Lord. Matthew 16:28 ends with a promise that some standing there would see the Kingdom, and Matthew 17 begins with the account of the Transfiguration, the fulfillment of that promise. It was a time warp into the Millennium, a preview of what will one day be for a thousand years.
  1. In a sense, Jesus was crowned King on Palm Sunday by the remnant of faithful Jews who were both Jews without and within (Romans 2:29).

Daniel 9:25-27 leads some scholars (Harold Hoehner, Thomas Constable, et al) to conclude that Palm Sunday occurred on March 30, AD 33.

  1. In a sense, his Kingdom began when Yeshua instituted the New Covenant the evening before his death, for the New Covenant is the Kingdom covenant.
  1. In a sense, the Kingdom began at Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Spirit came with power and young men dreamed dreams.
  1. The Millennium. In the Lord’s Prayer, reference to “thy Kingdom come” was yet future; his presence alone did not fulfill the promised kingdom. One day, we will hear, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever“ (Revelation 11:15). His feet will touch down upon the Mount of Olives when he returns to reign on earth (Zechariah 14:4, Revelation 19:11-16).
  1. In yet another sense, the Kingdom comes when the Millennium gives way to the New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21-22).
  1. Sometimes the Kingdom of God may refer simply to heaven. Nicodemus may have been directed toward that Kingdom (John 3:1-21). The thief on the cross asked to be part of Jesus’ Kingdom, and Jesus agreed to allow him to participate, but he would participate in “paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The phrase “Kingdom of God” is a fluid phrase. Hillel believed one entered the kingdom whenever one studied Torah (David Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, pp. 17-21). Our best summary might be that God’s Kingdom is unfolding in various aspects, all racing toward the eternal version of that Kingdom, the eternal New Heaven and New Earth.

Although hundreds of people recognized Jesus as Messiah on Palm Sunday, they were a small minority. By the end of the 1st Century, perhaps 20% of the Jewish population had accepted Christ, but the leaders and the majority did not

[Source: An essay by Dr. Louis Goldberg found in the book, The Enduring Paradox, John Fischer, editor, Messianic Jewish Publishers, 2000, p. 114].

To those of us who follow Jesus, he is our King wherever we might be, in heaven or on earth, mortal or immortal. We are part of the Kingdom of God. Within the same week, the King of Glory (Psalm 24:10 with I Corinthians 2:8) would be crucified to atone for our sins; he would leave the ashes of our sins behind in the grave, and rise triumphant. His resurrection would declare him to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). He ascended to the Father’s throne on high from whence he shall return to reign.

What a marvelous Kingdom, and what a King! Have you bowed the knee to King Yeshua?


Jewish Roots Apologetics

Jewish Roots Apologetics

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

In  2012, a (presumably young) man was asking a difficult question on an internet forum in which I participate. It is a forum for conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, so all participants have expressed agreement with a pretty solid doctrinal statement.

[Note: “Sola Scriptura” is Latin for “Scripture Alone” as the infallible authority; here, by “Sola Scriptura,” the questioner is really talking about the truth of Scripture] 

He asked the following question:

Here is my conundrum: I was raised in a Christian home, and have discovered that I have never dealt with the most fundamental premise of my faith.  My starting point has always been Sola Scriptura.  How do I come to Sola Scriptura?  What authority tells me that Sola Scriptura is correct?  I agree to the testimony of Creation that there is a Creator (does not address our canon).  I see in my life how that when I follow biblical principles, I generally do well (but Ben Franklin’s saying would produce similar results).  I see the claims that certain assertions, prophecies, laws, and books within the Bible are the Word of God (Other books do as well).  But what authority grants these particular 66 books authority over my reason?

This man had been raised with a method of defending his faith sometimes called “Presuppositionalism,” a method of defending the faith (apologetics) popular among some (not all) believers who identify themselves as Reformed. Critics of this approach (myself included) suggest Presuppositionalism (on a practical level) boils down to “shout louder.”

Interestingly, those within the forum who advocated the Presuppositional approach had nothing of substance to offer this man. Because I believe God can use reason, I offered this man a brief defense I call “Jewish Roots Apologetics (Defense).” The man thanked me and said I had given him something to think about. Five months later, he is still struggling but hanging in there.

Shortly after I posted my response, I converted my answer into an article for my Midrash Key website. The slightly edited article is below.

Jewish Root Apologetics

When it comes to looking at the Bible from a Jewish Roots perspective, some people think such an approach is “interesting at best, novel at worst.” In reality, however, a Jewish Roots perspective is a great way to defend the conservative approach to our faith and beliefs; it also provides a simple, hands on, “in your face” apologetic (defense) of evangelical belief.

Since evangelical belief is derived from the Scriptures, how do you demonstrate the reasonableness of accepting the Scriptures? Here is a broad outline that is obviously crying for expansion, but is useful even in its simple state.

  1. The universe exists and so do I; complexity of engineered creation and human instinct/conscience both argue simply for a creator. It is natural to believe in the supernatural.
  1. One nation (and only one nation) stands out as God’s special nation, Israel. From it not only flow 3 of the world’s great religions, but it has continued to exist for nearly 1900 years without a homeland. Its people were the subject of attempts at genocide — and by all reason — should not have survived. Events occurring on the 9th of Av [see below] are logically more than merely coincidental, displaying God’s wrath –but continued interest — in this people. As a matter of fact, Israel is one coincidence after another.
  1. Israel came back into being in 1948. The Soviet dictator, Stalin, who was anti-Semitic, could have blocked the UN resolution. He was either on a manic high (it is postulated) at the time and let it ride or, some suggest, he thought that Israel’s existence would drive the Arabs to ally themselves with the USSR. For one reason (or non-reason), he did not block U.N recognition, which he could have. President Truman’s advisors and cabinet were against allowing the UN resolution, but Truman was for Israel, standing alone.
  1. Israel was significantly outnumbered time and time again, but kept gaining more ground every time they were attacked. Israel won all wars waged against them: in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2008. And they were outnumbered as much as 20-1 in terms of size of army, number of tanks, planes, and equipment.
  1. This survival of Israel must occur if the Biblical end time prophecies are to be fulfilled as promised. Thus if the Bible were true, we would expect Israel to survive.
  1. If Israel is God’s special nation, then the Hebrew Scriptures are therefore likely supernatural, or at least the most significant in terms of revealing God. The same First (Old) Testament evangelical protestants use is the Tannakh (Law/ Prophets/ Writings) of Judaism.

The Second (New) Testament writers quote from the vast majority of those books as Scripture, but quote none of the Apocryphal books as Scripture. At the time of Yeshua (Jesus), every OT book was recognized with the exception of Song of Solomon which was finally decided for inclusion at Yavneh (Jamnia) by the end of the first century CE.

  1. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) predict a Messiah who would atone for sin (Isaiah 53) and reign (Isaiah 2). This Messiah had to be cut off before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD (Daniel 9:25-27). Yeshua (Jesus) is the only viable candidate for Messiah previous to 70 AD. The details of his birth, life, and death are predicted in the Old Testament.
  1. Jesus founded the church and trained his authoritative emissaries (apostles) to lay the ground work, and thus their teachings were authoritative (Ephesians 2:20). There is no question that Jesus left behind a group of followers.
  1. Although we cannot be sure that every book belongs in the New Testament canon (except by faith in God’s providence), strong evidence exists for most of the canon. Most New Testament books were authored by apostles, and the rest by close associates of the apostles; thus it is reasonable to believe that they do belong. A few books have been questioned as canonical (esp. 2 Peter and Jude), but the bulk are clearly authoritative and present a thorough Christian belief system.
  1. Christianity is best understood as Trans-cultural Messianic Judaism. Much of Christianity today has a European slant and has been mixed with elements from paganism, but we need to remember that Christianity is actually a Jewish faith and is best interpreted from the Jewish perspective and a return to Scripture over accumulated traditions.

Conclusion: All of the above could be explained as remote and remarkable coincidence. Yet one can see that the a person truly seeking God is not without a clear, logical path to faith in Jesus.

Appendix: The 9th of Av

Here is a list of disasters that the Jewish people experienced ALL on the 9th of Av (occurs sometimes in July, sometimes in August in our calendar; the events listed below happened on the very day of the 9th of Av):

586 BC- First Temple destroyed by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar.

587BC – Judeans sent to Babylonian exile

70 AD —Second Temple is destroyed by the Romans, led by Titus.

135 AD- The Romans defeat Bar Kochba’s last fortress, Betar, and destroy his army. Bar Kochba himself is killed along with more than 100,000 other Jews. The Roman Emperor Hadrian turns Jerusalem into a Roman city.

1290 AD–King Edward I of England signs an edict expelling all Jews from England.

1306AD—The Jews were expelled from France

1492 AD – The Alhambra Decree takes effect, expelling the Jews from Spain and from all Spanish territories.

1914 AD – World War I begins when Germany declares war on Russia, setting the stage for World War II and the Holocaust.

1940 AD – Himmler presents his plan for the “Final Solution” to the Jewish problem to the Nazi Party.

1942 AD – Nazis begin deporting Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. [source: http://judaism.about.com and Wikipedia.org, edited]

Remembering to Bless God

Remembering to Bless God

By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective

We have been studying I Samuel in our Sunday night Bible study. In I Samuel 1:28, we read of one who “worshiped the LORD.” In the context, this one seems to be the very young Samuel, perhaps as young as 3 years old.

The text reads, “’Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.’ And he worshiped the Lord there.”

In Genesis 24:26-27, when Abraham’s servant was blessed in his search for a mate for Isaac, we read, “. .The man bowed his head and worshiped the Lord and said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.’”

There are other similar examples throughout the Old Testament (e.g., Genesis 24:48, Exodus. 4:31, Exodus 12:27, I Chronicles 29:3, Nehemiah 8:6).

There seemed to be two elements to worshiping the LORD in the above contexts: (1) bowing down, (2) blessing the Name of the LORD for some reason. In the case of Abraham’s servant above, the reason is stated: “‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the Lord has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.’” The blessing defines what is meant by “worshiped.”

The Jewish people have long embraced blessing the Lord or blessing his name. Thus “worshipping the Lord” would be understand as bowing and either reciting a memorized blessing (as the young lad Samuel probably did), or spontaneously blessing the Lord (as Abraham’s servant did).

The Jewish tradition is to bless God’s Name for the food he provided, not to “bless the meal.” We should understand statements, like Jesus “blessed the bread” (Luke 24:30) to mean, “he blessed the LORD for providing the bread.” Jewish leaders have written scores of blessings for every experience of life, a few of which date back to the time of Jesus. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the light of fire. (This is said before lighting candles)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. (This is said before eating bread)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the trees. (This is said before eating fruit)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine. (This is said before drinking wine)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who made creation. (This is said on seeing lightning, a high mountain or a great desert)
  • Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who made the sea. (This is said on seeing the sea)
  • One important blessing is said for new things such as: Wearing new clothes for the first time, tasting a particular fruit for the first time in its season, moving into a new home, the first day of a festival. “
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive and preserved us and enabled us to reach this season.”

[Source: http://www.icteachers.co.uk]

Many of these blessings developed during the Middle Ages, and we might argue about the practicality of them. Repeated blessings can easily deteriorate into meaningless repetition. Still, the idea of looking for opportunities to bless God is a valid pursuit, which is my point.

Although there are many commands to praise the Lord in psalm and music (see Psalm 145-150), this refers mostly to (1) singing Psalms acapella, as, for example, the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-124) which were sung as pilgrims were ascending to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival, or (2) celebrating with choirs and instruments at the Temple experience itself (for most, during a festival). Psalms may have been sung even while folks were laboring in the fields, much as slaves labored to spirituals.

Although Exodus 23:17 commands men to visit the Temple three times a year, many devout Jews made the journey only once a year, sometimes every several years, once in a lifetime, or not at all. Jews living near Jerusalem were much more likely to visit the Temple consistently for the three annual feast clusters. The Jewish leaders elsewhere would send representatives from each village to offer sacrifices on behalf of the rest of the Jewish population in that town. Actually seeing the Temple was a rare privilege for most and should not be correlated with a church gathering. The New Testament correlation is that believers are God’s temple, both individually (I Corinthians 6:19) and collectively (I Peter 2:5).

Especially before the advent of the synagogue (about 850 years after Moses), the weekly Sabbath centered on families. Reciting the Scriptures, prayer, singing a psalm, and intentionally blessing the Name of the Lord for his blessings or his attributes were the most practical ways to worship God within the routine of life.

Our challenge, even in the Messianic era, is to cultivate these habits. While we may practice most of the above, many of us need to add “blessing the Lord” to our list of habits. We should aim to bless (and thank) God frequently for the many joys and even the routines of life.