Monday, December 12, 2016

A Holy Zeal or A Life of Compromise?

In my last post, "Taking a Stand for Holiness and Righteousness", I wrote about the account of the Maccabees reclaiming Jerusalem and YHVH's Temple.  I shared a horrific account that is recorded in the Book of Maccabees 2 where a mother of seven was faced with either standing for the righteousness of YHVH, or compromising her faith and encouraging her sons to do so as well.  I also mentioned a man by the name of Mattathias, who began a revolt against the wicked Antiochus Ephanes, who captured Jerusalem and profaned the Temple of the Most High. But I did not go into detail about the compromising Jews of the time.

According to 1 Maccabees 2, Mattathias was mourning over the desolation of Jerusalem and the Temple. He and his sons tore their clothes and put on sackcloth.  The king's officials came to town and demanded that the people offer pagan sacrifices.  Mattathias was considered a leader of the town, and so the king's officials told him that he should lead by example and do as the king desired.  Mattathias replied:

 "I don't care if every Gentile in this empire has obeyed the king and yielded to the command to abandon the religion of his ancestors. My children, my relatives, and I will continue to keep the covenant that God made with our ancestors. With God's help we will never abandon his Law or disobey his commands. We will not obey the king's decree, and we will not change our way of worship in the least." 1 Maccabees 2:19-22

But as he finished speaking, another man (a Jew) approached and decided that he would compromise and follow the king's order to offer pagan sacrifices.  This ignited a holy zeal inside of Mattathias, and he killed the man right there on the altar!  He then went throughout town shouting: 

"Everyone who is faithful to God's covenant and obeys his Law, follow me! With this, he and his sons fled to the mountains, leaving behind all they owned." 1 Maccabees 2:27-28

Thus began the revolt that led to the eventual reclaiming of Jerusalem and the Temple.  

Mattathias' zeal for holiness is one example of many that have been recorded throughout history.  One of the first can be read in Exodus 32.  The Israelites were waiting for Moses to return from the mountain, but they became impatient and pressured Aaron to fashion a golden calf to replace Moses as their mediator.  Aaron compromised and did what the crowd demanded. 

And Aharon saw and built a slaughter-place before it [the golden calf]. And Aharon called out and said, "Tomorrow is a festival to YHVH.
Exodus 32:5 (ISR, emphasis mine)

Aaron and the Israelites decided when and how to worship YHVH. They also implemented pagan elements into their worship.  This was NOT what YHVH commanded and so YHVH instructed Moses to have the Levites strike down those who had participated in the profanity.  The Levites obeyed with a holy zeal:

 And Mosheh stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Who is for יהוה? Come to me.” And all the sons of Lĕwi gathered themselves to him. And he said to them, “Thus said יהוה Elohim of Yisra’ĕl: ‘Each one put his sword on his side, pass over to and fro from gate to gate in the camp, and each one slay his brother, and each one his friend, and each one his relative.’ ” And the sons of Lĕwi did according to the word of Mosheh. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.
Exodus 32:26-28 (ISR)

Another example of holy zeal can be found in Numbers 25.  A Levite by the name of Phinehas rose up against a man and woman who were also profaning holiness of YHVH at the Tent of Meeting. 

While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.” Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman’s stomach. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
The Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”
Numbers 25:1-13 (NIV, emphasis mine)

YHVH approved of Phinehas' actions, and made a "covenant of peace" with him!

 The Father is set-apart and He expects His people to be set-apart as well!  

For I am יהוה your Elohim, and you shall set yourselves apart. And you shall be set-apart, for I am set-apart. And do not defile yourselves with any creeping creature that creeps on the earth. For I am יהוה who is bringing you up out of the land of Mitsrayim, to be your Elohim. And you shall be set-apart, for I am set-apart.
Leviticus 11:44 -45 (ISR)

For years the Church has used the term "holy" instead of simply saying "set apart", and I think this has been a huge mistake.  The word "holy" sounds so vague and gives the impression that it is unattainable. But YHVH has not and will not command His people to do something that is impossible for them to do!  He has even given His people the Torah - His Instructions - so that we can know what to do and HOW to do it!  Being set-apart IS possible! 

I have strength to do all, through Messiah who empowers me.
Philippians 4:13 (ISR)

One of the atrocities that Antiocus Ephanes enforced during the time of the Maccabees was sacrificing a pig in the Temple of YHVH.  We can read about that and even agree that it was horrible, yet many today do not give a second thought about defiling their bodies by eating pork - even though this goes against Yah's commandment (see Lev 11 and Deut 14). Our bodies are called the Temple of the Holy Spirit and of Elohim (God)!
Or do you not know that your body is the Dwelling Place (Temple) of the Set-apart Spirit who is in you, which you have from Elohim, and you are not your own?
1 Corinthians 6:19 (ISR) 

 And what agreement has Messiah with Beliya‛al? Or what part does a believer have with an unbeliever? And what union has the Dwelling Place of Elohim with idols? For you are a Dwelling Place of the living Elohim, as Elohim has said, “I shall dwell in them and walk among them, and I shall be their Elohim, and they shall be My people.” Therefore, “Come out from among them and be separate, says יהוה, and do not touch what is unclean, and I shall receive you. And I shall be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says יהוה the Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:15-18 (ISR, emphasis mine)
We say that YHVH and His Word "never changes" (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8), but do we really believe that? 

When we as YHVH's children define for ourselves what is or is not set-apart, we are profaning His set-apartness! Where is the holy zeal for the things of Yah?!  Sadly, just as some of the Jews in Mattathias' day, Believers today have compromised, preferring lives of comfort over holiness, preferring to fit in with the crowd instead of being a "peculiar people" set-apart for the Most High! 

YHVH sets the standard for holiness - we don't. 

YHVH defines sin - we don't.  

 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
1 John 3:4 (NIV, emphasis mine)

The only thing we do rightfully decide for ourselves is whether or not to walk His Way.  

His Way leads to life.  

Man's way leads to death. 

 There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.
Proverbs 14:12 (ISR)
 See, I have set before you today life and good, and death and evil, in that I am commanding you today to love יהוה your Elohim, to walk in His ways, and to guard His commands, and His laws, and His right-rulings. And you shall live and increase, and יהוה your Elohim shall bless you in the land which you go to possess. But if your heart turns away, and you do not obey, and shall be drawn away, and shall bow down to other mighty ones and serve them, I have declared to you today that you shall certainly perish, you shall not prolong your days in the land which you are passing over the Yardĕn to enter and possess. I have called the heavens and the earth as witnesses today against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore you shall choose life, so that you live, both you and your seed, to love יהוה your Elohim, to obey His voice, and to cling to Him – for He is your life and the length of your days – to dwell in the land which יהוה swore to your fathers, to Aḇraham, to Yitsḥaq, and to Ya‛aqoḇ, to give them.
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (ISR, emphasis mine)

 And there shall be a highway, and a way, and it shall be called “The Way of Set-apartness.” The unclean does not pass over it, but it is for those who walk the way, and no fools wander on it. 
Isaiah 35:8 (ISR)

Personally, I have had to admit that I was wrong.  I have had to repent from doing things my way, even  aspects of "worship" - just like Aaron and the Israelites!  Oh, how merciful Yah has been to me!

I no longer want to live a life of compromise.  I want to have a holy zeal for things that please my Heavenly Father.

What about you?

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Taking a Stand for Holiness and Righteousness

Many times throughout history groups of people have been faced with heart wrenching events that tried their stamina and tested their faith.  America was founded by men and women who fought with all their being to establish a home and country where they could live free from tyrannical oversight.  A great pilgrimage took place primarily for a people who desired to worship God according to their understanding of the Bible, and not according to a monarch's interpretation. However, while worthy of remembrance and reflection, it is not the history of America that I want to revisit.

The Hebrew month of Kislev, which corresponds with the Gregorian month of December, ushers in a time of remembering another, more ancient battle for freedom.  It is the month when many people observe the celebration known as Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah).  This holiday is observed in order to remember one of the most heart breaking and mind numbing accounts of profanity, blasphemy, and cruelty that I have ever read about! The historical account is best described in the Book of Maccabees, but the Jewish historian, Josephus, also has a written account of what took place in Jerusalem under the tyrannical reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.

After the death of Alexander the Great, four rulers took over his reign, one of which was Antiochus Ephiphanes.  Antiochus was an evil man, to say the least.  He arrogantly entered YHVH's Temple, stealing all the precious, holy items. He also profaned the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar!  However, this was not enough to satisfy Antiochus.  He demanded that all Jews reject the Torah (Law) of YHVH, meaning that they were not to keep the Sabbath, the Feasts of YHVH, nor were they to circumcise their males or abstain from eating pork.  Unfortunately, many people caved under the pressure and rejected the Torah of the Most of High, and embraced a Greek lifestyle.  It was more important to them to live a comfortable life than to take a stand for holiness and righteousness!

One of the more heart wrenching accounts to read concerns a mother of seven sons. She was forced to witness each one of them being tortured and ultimately killed for their refusal to profane their bodies with eating pork, thus breaking one of YHVH's commandments:

2 Maccabees 7 

On another occasion a Jewish mother and her seven sons were arrested. The king was having them beaten to force them to eat pork. Then one of the young men said,
What do you hope to gain by doing this? We would rather die than abandon the traditions of our ancestors.
This made the king so furious that he gave orders for huge pans and kettles to be heated red hot, and it was done immediately. Then he told his men to cut off the tongue of the one who had spoken and to scalp him and chop off his hands and feet, while his mother and six brothers looked on. After the young man had been reduced to a helpless mass of breathing flesh, the king gave orders for him to be carried over and thrown into one of the pans. As a cloud of smoke streamed up from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely, saying,
The Lord God is looking on and understands our suffering. Moses made this clear when he wrote a song condemning those who had abandoned the Lord. He said,
The Lord will have mercy on those who serve him.

After the first brother had died in this way, the soldiers started amusing themselves with the second one by tearing the hair and skin from his head. Then they asked him,
    Now will you eat this pork, or do you want us to chop off your hands and feet one by one?

He replied in his native language,
    I will never eat it! So the soldiers tortured him, just as they had the first one, but with his dying breath he cried out to the king,
    You butcher! You may kill us, but the King of the universe will raise us from the dead and give us eternal life, because we have obeyed his laws.
10 The soldiers began entertaining themselves with the third brother. When he was ordered to stick out his tongue, he quickly did so. Then he bravely held out his hands 11 and courageously said,
God gave these to me. But his laws mean more to me than my hands, and I know God will give them back to me again. 12 The king and those with him were amazed at his courage and at his willingness to suffer.
13 After he had died, the soldiers tortured the fourth one in the same cruel way, 14 but his final words were,
I am glad to die at your hands, because we have the assurance that God will raise us from death. But there will be no resurrection to life for you, Antiochus!
15 When the soldiers took the fifth boy and began torturing him, 16 he looked the king squarely in the eye and said,
You have the power to do whatever you want with us, even though you also are mortal. But do not think that God has abandoned our people. 17 Just wait. God will use his great power to torture you and your descendants.

18 Then the soldiers took the sixth boy, and just before he died he said,
    Make no mistake. We are suffering what we deserve, because we have sinned against our God. That's why all these terrible things are happening to us. 19 But don't think for a minute that you will avoid being punished for fighting against God.
20 The mother was the most amazing one of them all, and she deserves a special place in our memory. Although she saw her seven sons die in a single day, she endured it with great courage because she trusted in the Lord. 21 She combined womanly emotion with manly courage and spoke words of encouragement to each of her sons in their native language.
22 I do not know how your life began in my womb, she would say,
I was not the one who gave you life and breath and put together each part of your body. 23 It was God who did it, God who created the universe, the human race, and all that exists. He is merciful and he will give you back life and breath again, because you love his laws more than you love yourself.

24 Antiochus was sure that the mother was making fun of him, so he did his best to convince her youngest son to abandon the traditions of his ancestors. He promised not only to make the boy rich and famous, but to place him in a position of authority and to give him the title
    Friend of the King. 25 But the boy paid no attention to him, so Antiochus tried to persuade the boy's mother to talk him into saving his life, 26 and after much persuasion she agreed to do so. 27 Leaning over her son, she fooled the cruel tyrant by saying in her native language,
    My son, have pity on me. Remember that I carried you in my womb for nine months and nursed you for three years. I have taken care of you and looked after all your needs up to the present day. 28 So I urge you, my child, to look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing, just as he made the human race. 29 Don't be afraid of this butcher. Give up your life willingly and prove yourself worthy of your brothers, so that by God's mercy I may receive you back with them at the resurrection.

30 Before she could finish speaking, the boy said,
    King Antiochus, what are you waiting for? I refuse to obey your orders. I only obey the commands in the Law which Moses gave to our ancestors. 31 You have thought up all kinds of cruel things to do to our people, but you won't escape the punishment that God has in store for you. 32-33 It is true that our living Lord is angry with us and is making us suffer because of our sins, in order to correct and discipline us. But this will last only a short while, for we are still his servants, and he will forgive us. 34 But you are the cruelest and most disgusting thing that ever lived. So don't fool yourself with illusions of greatness while you punish God's people. 35 There is no way for you to escape punishment at the hands of the almighty and all-seeing God. 36 My brothers suffered briefly because of our faithfulness to God's covenant, but now they have entered eternal life.[a] But you will fall under God's judgment and be punished as you deserve for your arrogance. 37 I now give up my body and my life for the laws of our ancestors, just as my brothers did. But I also beg God to show mercy to his people quickly and to torture you until you are forced to acknowledge that he alone is God. 38 May my brothers and I be the last to suffer the anger of Almighty God, which he has justly brought upon our entire nation.
39 These words of ridicule made Antiochus so furious that he had the boy tortured even more cruelly than his brothers. 40 And so the boy died, with absolute trust in the Lord, never unfaithful for a minute.
41 Last of all, the mother was put to death.
42 But I have said enough about the Jews being tortured and being forced to eat the intestines of sacrificial animals.

It was this tyrannical, deviant behavior, and the *compromising of many Jews* (see note below), that fueled the righteous indignation of the Maccabees - a small group of Jewish men who rose up under the leadership of a man name Mattathias. Mattathias died and his son, Judas Maccabeus became the leader of the revolt. They fought back to regain Jerusalem and her holy Temple.  After many years of fighting, Jerusalem and the Temple of YHVH were reclaimed and rededicated. An eight day celebration was instituted to commemorate this victory. 

Chanukah is the Hebrew word meaning "dedication", thus this time each year the Feast of Dedication is observed.  Hanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights, and many people celebrate it by lighting candles on a nine branch Hanukkiah (not to be confused with the seven branched Menorah, which was commanded to be in the Temple). Hanukah is mentioned in the Book of John:

 Now Hanukkah was taking place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking around in the Temple inside the open porch of Solomon.

After reading the historical accounts of the "Jewish Revolt",  I have contemplated the level of faith and faithfulness it took for those men (and women) memorialized for taking a stand.  Scripture states in multiple places that true followers will "stand firm to the end". In fact, Revelation 21:8 states that the cowardly will be thrown into the lake of fire! 

 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (ESV)
I don't know if my family and I will ever be faced with such unthinkable atrocities or not.  My prayer is that we won't, but if we are, my prayer is that we will have the faith to take a stand for holiness and righteousness! 

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
1 Corinthians 16:13 (NIV)

 For more (and probably better) information about Chanukah, I encourage you to check out the following:



  *This bit was added after I first published the post, and I plan on elaborating on this in a future post.