Perseverance and Hebrews 6: The Midrash Solution

Perseverance and Hebrews 6: The Midrash Solution

(Hebrews 6:3-9 with Numbers 13-14)


In the United States, many people who had at one time professed allegiance to Jesus Christ have turned away from their previous commitment. We refer to a person who once knowingly professed the faith — but has since renounced it — as an “apostate” (from the Greek, “one who stands away” from what he once professed). Theologically, how do we account for apostates?

Most of us would agree that people who deny Christ (whether they once professed Him or not) are lost. But what route did these apostates take to earn this “lost” label? Do genuine believers always persevere in their faith? Is our assurance of salvation merely tentative — subject to revision? Bible-believing Christians are divided over this issue. For many, the text of Hebrews 6:3-9 is a deciding factor, and there are certainly a number of interpretative routes we could take.

An Important Perspective

I would like to demonstrate that interpreting this passage from a Midrash perspective clarifies the controversy. By Midrash, I mean that the writer to the Hebrews is intentionally and consciously drawing principles from Old Testament texts, in this instance Numbers 13:1-14:45. He applies the principles of this text to a current (somewhat parallel) problem within the Hebrew congregation, the result being Hebrews 6:3-9.

Since most Jews had memorized the entire Torah and were fluent in the rest of Old Testament, I would argue that the original readers of Hebrews understood this clearly.

If we demonstrate that Hebrews 6:3-9 is derived from Numbers 13-14, we have significantly increased the context of Hebrews 6. By looking at the combined contexts, we can determine if the apostates of Hebrews 6 were likely genuine believers or if they were tag-alongs, merely associated with God’s people but never personally regenerate.

Much of the Book of Hebrews is one Midrash after another (you might recall my previous article on the Melchizedek Midrash). The early chapters quote one OT verse after another, so we are not left to guess.

The writer initiates a Midrash on the wilderness wanderings in chapters three and four, leaves it in five, and returns to it in chapter 6.

Summarizing Numbers 13-14

In Numbers 13-14, the Lord instructs Moses to send out 12 spies to case out the Promised Land. They sample and bring back its produce. Sadly, 10 of the spies lack faith and therefore advise the people against attempting to conquer Canaan. Two spies (Joshua and Caleb) admit that the task is challenging, but they affirm that the land is an amazing land and that God is an amazing God. Through faith in God, they can conquer the land.

The people choose to disbelieve that God will honor His promise and they side with the spies who have determined to pull back from Canaan. God becomes angry and Moses pleads with the Lord to be gracious.

God determines not to strike the people, but condemns them to wander for 40 years in the wilderness without a home. The younger generation and those who trusted in God (like Joshua and Caleb) would enter the Promised Land in time; the rest would die in the wilderness as a judgment.

Upon hearing this, the people realized they had aroused God’s anger and contemplated the severity of His discipline. They pretended that their distrust of God was just a minor fluke, and they determined that, upon further consideration, they would attack Canaan.

Moses warns them that if they do, God will not protect them. It was too late; the die had been cast. There was no opportunity for repentance; the wrong could not be righted.

Comparing Selected Texts

Let’s look at selections from Numbers 13-14 (my suggested “mother text”) and compare them to portions of Hebrews 6 (my suggested Midrash) to see if they indeed line up. You must be the judge.

Numbers 13:23, 27-28 And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs… And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. “

Hebrews 6:4-5 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come…

Numbers 14:1-3 passim, Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! …Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?”

Numbers 14:21-23 passim, …none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.

Numbers 14:39-45, When Moses told these words to all the people of Israel, the people mourned greatly.  And they rose early in the morning and went up to the heights of the hill country, saying, “Here we are. We will go up to the place that the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.”  But Moses said, “Why now are you transgressing the command of the Lord, when that will not succeed? Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, lest you be struck down before your enemies. For there the Amalekites and the Canaanites are facing you, and you shall fall by the sword. Because you have turned back from following the Lord, the Lord will not be with you.”  But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp.  Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.

Hebrews 6:6-8 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Numbers 14:29-30, “your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun…”

Hebrews 6:9, Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.

Since the Tribe of Levi sent no spies, and since they appeared to be more faithful, they were apparently excluded from the “under twenty” curse. It is natural to understand Numbers 14:30 as including ellipsis from verse 29, which would carry the qualifying thought over into verse 30. In other words, it could be understood as “…not one who have grumbled against me shall come into the land…”

So there was a faithful contingent, Joshua, Caleb, the Levites, and those who were over 20 but did not grumble against the Lord.

Putting It All Together: My Conclusions

1. Hebrews 6:3-9 is based upon a history lesson from Numbers 13-14. In my judgment, the Hebrews text truly is a Midrash, and earlier references to the wilderness wanderings in Hebrews fortify this conclusion (see 3:7-4:11). The writer to the Hebrews has the wilderness wanderings in mind.

2. In the case of the Children of Israel, they were enlightened by God’s Word and saw God work miracle after miracle, witnessing His power. They ate the manna. Yet the evidence suggests the majority were not truly regenerate.

In their hearts, they wanted to return to Egypt (Numbers 14:4), and they wanted to worship foreign gods (Numbers 25:1-3). Earlier they even coaxed Aaron to construct a golden calf in Moses’ absence (Exodus 32:1-4). They secretly retained their idols, as is suggested even at the end of Joshua’s life, when he admonishes them to “ …put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23).

If the reader believes that the children of Israel who behaved in this way were not true believers, then it is reasonable (or at least logically possible) to assume that the people to whom they are compared — the apostates mentioned in Hebrews 6 — were never truly regenerate either.

Even if one chooses another interpretation, it seems to me that we have to concede that this interpretation is at least viable.

3. Both the Israelites in Numbers and the apostate of Hebrews 6 had seen God’s power via miracle after miracle. God’s Word enlightened both groups. Both witnessed God leading His people. Both tasted the “produce” of the age to come, whether the fruit of Canaan or the work of the Spirit Who previews what is to come. Both preferred to return to their former status. And both groups are doomed to judgment and beyond repentance.

4. Instead of viewing Moses as God’s appointed deliverer, the unbelievers came to view him as a false leader — although they had trusted him at first. They wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb (and probably Moses, too) in Numbers 14:10 and appoint another leader. In Hebrews 6:6, the apostates were essentially agreeing with those who crucified Jesus, that he received the just punishment for falsely claiming to be the messiah and lead people astray through his sorcery.

Both groups were mistaken; the children of Israel continued to whine against Moses, but they had to continue under his authority, like it or not. So one day the apostates will join the rest of creation and confess, “Jesus is Lord.”

Bottom Line

So what happened in Hebrews 6? If we add Numbers 13-14 to the context, it seems that the tares sowed among the wheat proved themselves tares.

Mysterious Melchizedek: A Working Theory of Hebrews 7

Mysterious Melchizedek: A Working Theory of Hebrews 7

By Ed Vasicek

Part One: The Loud Silence

The writer to the Hebrews (perhaps Apollos?) is trying to convince tottering Jewish believers to remain true to Yeshua as Messiah. He is also trying to comfort these believers who are shaken up because some of their peers had turned away from faith in Jesus Christ and returned to non-Messianic Judaism.

The writer is out to prove that faith in Jesus is better than Judaism without Jesus by proving that Jesus is Superior to anything Judaism has to offer. He has proved Jesus’ superiority earlier by asserting His deity. Now He is proving Jesus’ superiority in His humanity.

The Melchizedek argument is intended to demonstrate that Yeshua (in his humanity) is superior to Abraham, the man considered the Father of the Jewish faith.

Jewish imagination did a lot with Melchizedek, and during the medieval times, some rabbis viewed him as none other than Noah’s son, Shem. The Jewish Encyclopedia gives many examples of Jewish creativity:

 According to Midr. Teh. to Ps. xxxvii., Abraham learned the practice of charity from  Melchizedek. Philo speaks of him as ‘the logos, the priest whose inheritance is the true God’ (“De Allegoriis Legum,” iii. 26).

The writer to the Hebrews has a different goal in mind. Here is his argument: Abraham recognized Melchizedek as spiritually superior to himself. Jesus is of the order of Melchizedek (his successor), so therefore Jesus is greater than Abraham.

Christian commentators embrace a number of views about who this Melchizedek is. Some view him as the pre-incarnate Son of God, an angel, a specially created man or being, etc. The purpose of this series is not to examine the various positions, but to offer this author’s paradigm for understanding this mysterious priest-king. My interpretation is fallible. The text is not. I grant you permission (not that you need it) to completely or partly disagree with me!

My main idea is this: Melchizedek was a mere mortal man whose background was purposely glossed over so he could become an amazing type of Jesus Christ. The loud silence of the text in Genesis is crucial. Thus the Melchizedek mystery is unlocked from its vault by the key of midrash. The writer to the Hebrews inserts and turns the key.

I. Who Was Melchizedek?

To understand this passage in general, you must understand that it is a midrash, an elaboration of a text based upon an ancient Jewish way of thinking. Midrash majors in bringing out meanings of texts that are not immediately obvious. These unobvious meanings, once developed, may be called “mysteries.”

In this case, the author is bringing material out of a text based upon what is not said in the text, since we would have been expected much more to have been said. The author builds his case upon a “loud silence.”

This is an important question: Why would God briefly introduce a figure like Melchizedek in Genesis 14, say very little about him, and then declare that the Messiah would be a priest after his order? My answer: To keep Melchizedek intentionally mysterious so that he could be a type of the Jesus.

If we knew more about Melchizedek, he would no longer be a type (a foreshadowing) of Jesus!

Note the Argument from SILENCE: a case of intentional mystery.

Here are the only First Testament verses that mention this extremely important man, Melchizedek.

Genesis 14:17-20 passim, Tree of Life Version:

Now after he (Abram) returned from defeating Chedorlaomer …Then Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine—he was a priest of El Elyon. He blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by El Elyon, Creator of heaven and earth, and blessed be El Elyon, Who gave over your enemies into your hand.”

Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

Psalm 110:4,

“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.’”

Notice Melchizedek appears with no genetic credentials. This does not mean that he had no genetic credentials, but that the Scriptures intentionally fail to mention them — even though he is an extremely important personage. There is no record of his parents, birth or death, and thus appears in the record as seemingly timeless. He seems to surface out of nowhere and then returns to nowhere.

Verse 3 (ESV) reads, “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.”

Note the word “resembling.” This should make it clear that he is not the Son of God, but merely resembles (in type) the incarnate Son of God.

Although his credentials are omitted, his identity is clearly stated. He is the real earthly king of a real earthly city. He is not “king for day” or “priest for an hour.” The people of Salem knew him. He was no phantom.

His dynasty — or at least part of a dynasty name tradition — probably continued up to and including Salem’s king during the time of Joshua, Adoni-zedek. Salem is the same city as Jebus’ or Jerusalem. This Canaanite king is mentioned in Joshua 10.

Besides being a king, Melchizedek is also presented as a real earthly priest of El-Elyon (God Most High). It was not unusual for small “city-states” to have a king who was both king and priest.

There were believers in the One God, believers who apparently abstained from idolatry. Job, for example, is thought to have been alive at this same time. His friends, although theologically misguided, also had knowledge of this one true God.

Later, we read of Jethro who was a priest of God yet not a Hebrew. Balaam, though corrupted, was also a gentile prophet of God.

Although the Canaanites worshipped a particular god (among others) known as “El,” El was worshiped as an idol. We are right to assume that either during the time of Melchizedek, the Canaanites in Salem refrained from idolatry — or at least Melchizedek did. We can assume this because Abraham recognized Melchizedek as God’s true representative. This priest may not have known God’s Personal Name (Yahweh), but He at least knew Him by one of His titles, “God Most High.”


Part Two: The Argument from Midrash

There are different approaches to the subject of midrash (or its plural, midrashim). Put simply, a midrash is a Jewish style of elaboration, exposition, or “mining” of a text. The idea is to find both obvious teachings and teachings not immediately obvious — but still latent within the text. In my view, when a New Testament author “unlocks” teachings not immediately obvious, he has uncovered a “mystery.” Jesus did this to prove the resurrection from the Torah, much to consternation of Sadducees (Matthew 22:29-32).

The Book of Hebrews is one midrash after another. For example, chapter 6 is a midrash of Numbers 13-14. Chapter 7 is a midrash on Genesis 14:17-20 and Psalm 110:4. And it highlights the “loud silence” in these Old Testament texts.

To our thinking, midrash can sometimes be a bit of a textual stretch. That is why we trust the New Testament writers: they were supernaturally inspired of God. On the other side of the coin, we should demonstrate hesitation toward non-canonical midrash.

II. How Does Melchizedek Provide a Type of Christ?

Let’s compare and contrast Jesus and Melchizedek. The Genesis text offers no mention of Melchizedek’s genealogy. In His deity, the Son of God is actually without genealogy. Like Jesus in His humanity, Melchizedek was not a descendent of the priestly tribe of Levi or the specific priestly family of Aaron (13-14). Thus no priests in the order of Melchizedek descended from Aaron.

Melchizedek’s name foreshadows Who Jesus is: He is both the King of Righteousness and the priest who provides peace (“Salem” equals “shalom” which translates to “peace”). Unlike the Old Testament kings who could not qualify as priests, Jesus can be both King and priest, but a priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Thus the believer can draw near to God through Jesus. He makes intercession before God’s throne as our guarantor; He assures our continued salvation and status before God (25).

Just as there is no record of Melchizedek’s priesthood ending (but he did die, and his service as priest did end), Jesus’ priesthood is actually eternal (16). Again, the argument from silence paints a picture of one who appears to go on simply because we lack the information as to when he died. This lack of information is intentional on God’s part. If we had a record of Melchizedek’s death, then he would not accurately foreshadow our eternal and immortal priest. If we knew more about the man, he would have little value in foreshadowing Jesus.

III. How Does the Genesis Text Prove Melchizedek (and thus Jesus) Is Greater than Abraham?

Since the Jewish people revere Abraham as the Father of Judaism, if the writer to the Hebrews can successfully argue that according to the Old Testament Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, he can embolden the wavering members of this congregation to stay the course and continue following Jesus Who is of Melchizedek’s superior order. He can also demonstrate that those who have forsaken Jesus and returned to non-Messianic Judaism have returned to something inferior.

It might seem obvious that a Messiah Who is deity has to be greater than any mortal. No Jew, for example, would assert that Abraham was greater than Yahweh. The writer to the Hebrews has proven that the Messiah had to be deity based upon a variety of Old Testament passages. This is something mainstream Judaism did not see.

Yet we must remember this: the reason we accept Jesus’ deity is because He proved it through His humanity. It was in His flesh that He asserted that He and the Father were One (John 10:30). It is in His bodily resurrection that He is declared to be the Son of God (Romans 1:4). If we prove He is a dependable teacher of God’s truth, then we have to accept His claims to deity. So the writer to the Hebrews is getting to the same point another time through a different route.

By proving that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham, the writer to the Hebrews will burst the bubble. If anyone can be greater than Abraham, than perhaps Jesus’ claims to be greater are not as audacious as they seem (John 8:53, 58). If the Old Testament suggests that Melchizedek is greater than Abraham, and if it prophesies that the Messiah will be after the order of Melchizedek, it follows that the Messiah is greater than Abraham, and thus pre-Messianic Judaism (represented by Abraham) is inferior to Messianic Judaism/Christianity (represented by Jesus).

Here is the argument: Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and Melchizedek blessed Abraham (6). One pays tithes to a priest who is somehow spiritually privileged in a way the contributor is not. Melchizedek is, in at least some sense, the “greater man of God.” Second, blessing another suggests the one blessing is superior in some way. When Jacob blessed his sons, he was conveying the blessing downward. In Jacob’s case, he was reverenced because he was older and was their father. In that sense he was superior. But Melchizedek’s blessing is from a priest to a layman. In at least that sense (his position), he was superior to Abraham.

The writer to the Hebrews follows the tradition of Midrash by extending the Genesis text even further. Since some of Levi’s genes were present in Abraham (Abraham was his great-grandfather), in a sense Levi was paying tithes to Melchizedek. Since Levi’s descendent, Aaron, would become the first priest in the Aaronic order (the priesthood under the Law), the Aaronic priesthood (through Abraham) acknowledged the superiority of the Order of Melchizedek.

It might seem quite a stretch, but there is a clear logical path to what the writer is asserting.

The Law appointed priests based upon inheritance (descent from Aaron), but the Father prophesied He would appoint the Messiah as a priest by an oath (Psalm 110:4). Thus Jesus was appointed priest by God’s intentional oath (20-21).

Although some have tried to look for incidents in Jesus’ life where the Father implied such an oath, my view is that the oath was given back in Psalm 110:4. It did not need to be repeated. Still, other possibilities exist, as when the Father expressed His pleasure with the Son (Matthew 3:17), or at His resurrection or Ascension.

IV. Since Jesus’ Priesthood is Superior to that of the Torah, the Law has to be upgraded.

Hebrews 7:12 (ESV) reads, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.”

Some later Jews expected the Messiah to adjust the Torah, reflecting this same idea. In Vayikra Rabba, sect. 9, fol. 153, and Rabbi Tanchum, fol. 55:

Rabbi Phineas, Rabbi Levi, and Rabbi Jochanan, from the authority of Rabbi Menachem of Galilee, said, In the time of the Messiah all sacrifice shall cease, except the sacrifice of praise.

In many instances, Jewish traditions were embraced for centuries before they were codified in writing. Either way, the Hebrews text makes it clear that, with the Messiah-King-Priest comes a change in Torah!

Some of God’s Law is based upon the character of God and thus changeless; some commands are based upon the unique purposes He has for Israel or the church.

When our kids were young, we drew up a self-made will, saying our minor children would be raised by my sister, but there came a time when that clause was no longer irrelevant, and we drew up another will.

The King of the Universe knows what He is doing. God never ad-libs, nor does He have to cover up. When Moses compiled Genesis 14, Moses included precious little about Melchizedek, a man of whom we would expect to read chapter after chapter. This was intentional. It was a loud silence that the writer to the Hebrews expounds.

God stacked the deck so that the Old Testament priest, Melchizedek, would be a rubric to describe the priestly ministry of the incarnate Son.

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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,

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.