5 Ways My Faith Has Changed After Returning from Israel: The Feasts

My Faith Changed After Returning from Israrel

Have you ever tried to pick up the storyline of a movie after it was half-way over?  Not easy is it?

That’s what most of Christianity has been doing for about 2,000 years.  In fact, we celebrate this approach.  I had a pastor who founded three of the largest churches in my city actually tell me that he tries not to teach the Old Testament because it’s too confusing.  He sticks with the New Testament story.  When children are baptized or dedicated, we give them New Testaments to commemorate the event.  When new Believers ask what they should read, we tell them to start with John and stick to the Gospels.  We ignore the first two-thirds of the story.

This confusion and lack of understanding has hurt us as Christians.  We miss that God laid out His plan for humanity very early on.  The first Christians understood this plan.  They were Jews who had been rehearsing it for 1,500 years.  The plan is seen in the feasts.

You should take a few minutes to read through Leviticus 23.  God’s plan for humanity is described in it.  The cross (Passover).  The burial (Unleavened Bread).  The resurrection (First Fruits).  The Spirit (The Feast of Weeks).  The Second Coming (The Feast of Trumpets).  The Judgment (The Day of Atonement).  The New Heaven and New Earth (The Feast of Tabernacles).

God’s roadmap is there.

And understanding this roadmap makes reading the Scriptures – both the Old and the New Testament – much easier.  You see God’s hand moving to accomplish His plan through these feasts.  Jesus’ teachings take on greater significance.  As do the rest of the New Testament writers.

Understanding the feasts has changed the way I read the Bible.

Want to learn more?  Read Return to Eden here!

5 Ways My Faith Changed After Returning from Israel: Introduction

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Return to Eden: Part 7 – The Symbols of Sukkot

Pictures can unlock the Scriptures.  Truths are revealed when we can step back and see the common threads that tie it all together.

The lulav.  The etrog.  The sukkah.  The living water.  The Tabernacle in the midst of the people.  A week of celebration.  These aren’t  just details.  They are the images that God has chosen to use to reveal what His ultimate plan for humanity is.

On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.  And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord for seven days in the year. It is a statute forever throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month. You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All native Israelites shall dwell in booths,  that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  Leviticus 23:39-32 ESV

The lulav is actually a general term for a grouping of the different plants that God instructed Israel to decorate their dwellings with during the feast.  It specifically refers to the palm branches used, but also includes the etrog – a citrus fruit, the myrtle branch, and the willow branch.  In addition to each booth being constructed of these items, all four are combined into a single item that is left at the entrance of the booth, or sukkah.

The sukkah is the special booth that Israel was commanded to construct and dwell in during the feast.  It is important to understand that it became the tradition that continues today that the family should eat the evening meal inside the sukkah each night of the feast.  In the Eastern culture, eating a meal with someone was a picture of relationship.  Covenants were agreed upon this way.  That’s when Jesus renewed the covenant with His disciples.

Now, by the time of Jesus, further traditions had arisen around the Feast of Sukkot, none more important than the Water Libation Ceremony.  The Mishna (Jewish commentary on Scripture) describes it this way:

Whoever has not seen the celebration of the water libation has never experienced the feeling of true joy – great lamps of gold were hoisted, with four golden bowls at the top of each lamp. Four young priests-in-training would climb to the top, carrying immense oil jugs with which they would fill the bowls. Once lighted, there was not a courtyard in all of Jerusalem that did not glow with the light that emanated from the celebration in the Temple courtyard.

As the people sang, the righteous and pious men would dance before them while juggling flaming torches. The levites, standing on the fifteen steps that descend from the Court of Israel to the Women’s Court, played on lyres, harps, trumpets and many other instruments. Two priests who blew silver trumpets stood at the top of the stairs on either side of the entrance to the great gate of the Court.

All this was done to honor the commandment of the water libation.

(based on Mishna, Tractate Sukkah, Chapter 5)

Every morning during the feast, a priest would proceed from the Temple down to the Pool of Siloam where he would draw water from the pool with a special golden decanter.  He would be accompanied by thousands who were waiting for this moment each day.  After returning to the Temple, he would poor the water into a silver cup at the corner of the altar.

This was a ceremony that tied directly to the need for rainfall.  The fall of each year is the rainy season in Israel.  If the rains came, along with it came abundance and prosperity.  If it did not, then famine and death.

This ceremony was even more important on the final day of the feast, called the “Last Great Day.”  When the priest poured the water onto the altar, it was referred to as “living water.”

So as we turn to look at what these feast specifically symbolizes, these are the pictures that we must keep in the front of our minds:  greenery; fruit; the presence of God; living water; relationship.

Next Post: The Presence of God among Men 

Return to Eden: Part 6 – Paradise Restored

One glimpse of the camp of the Hebrews on the first day of Sukkot left the beholder nothing short of speechless.

The Tabernacle itself was always breathtaking; the tapestries and the gold and the sacrifices were beautiful.  But the presence of God was the most stunning feature.  To see the cloud of glory hovering over the Tabernacle instilled fear in any who saw it.  This same pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night that had guided the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the Red Sea on dry land, was a symbol of protection to the Hebrews and terror to their enemies.

But during Sukkot – the Feast of Tabernacles – the camp became something straight out of fantasy.  Every year during the forty years of wandering in the desert, the camp of Israel was transformed into a paradise.  Each dwelling was covered with palm fronds, willow and myrtle branches, and fruit.  And since the people dwelt encircling the Tabernacle – with God, Himself, in the center – it was simply amazing to see.

Don’t miss the imagery here.  The Hebrews are in the wilderness.  It’s dry; dusty; brown; barren.  And there are around two million former slaves encamping there, with the glory of God in the middle of them.  And then each one of these two million people’s tents is now overflowing with greenery and fruit and life.  What is God trying to teach them?

Walk with me through what we’ve already seen in this series.  The world was created perfectly.  There was a garden with life and relationship with God.  But man’s sin changed all of that.  So God had to send His only Son as the Passover Lamb to take away the sins of the world.  Jesus’ perfect body was broken as the Unleavened Bread.  He rose as the First Fruits.  His Spirit was sent on Shavuot to write the Torah on the hearts of mankind.  He will return at Yom Teruah – the Feast of Trumpets and judge the world shortly thereafter on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.  The only feast left is Sukkot , the feast that celebrates God dwelling among His people.

And that is the picture we seen in the wilderness.  We see a multitude of God’s chosen people dwelling in a beautiful paradise with God dwelling in the center of them.  The picture of Sukkot is a reminder of the Garden of Eden.  Sukkot is Paradise Restored.

But it isn’t really restored, is it?  The feast lasts eight days.  By the time the feast is completed, the greenery has become brown and brittle.  Sukkot is a reminder not only of Paradise, but that we are not there yet.  There is more that needs to happen first.

This is why the prophet, Zechariah, declares that during the reign of the Messiah, all mankind will be required to observe this feast (Zechariah 14:16-19).  Jesus will already have returned in power and glory; He will have judged the earth.  But mankind’s time on earth isn’t finished.  The world will still be broken.  Yes, Jesus will be ruling and reigning and it will be a wonderful time of peace, but the end of the 1,000 years sees rebellion and war again.

The Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) will be a reminder that Eden is not yet restored.  But the pictures of the feast have presented themselves in very interesting ways since the wilderness.

Next Post: The Symbols of Sukkot

5 Ways My Faith Changed After Returning from Israel: The “Big, Bad Law”

My Faith Changed After Returning from Israrel

While I came from a faith-background that treated the entire Bible as important, I was also told that the “Law” was unnecessary during the Christian era because of the work of Jesus on the cross.  Yes, it was important to live a godly life, but trying to aspire to honor the “Law” was not only unnecessary, but also a sign that you didn’t fully trust in Jesus.  It was considered “works righteousness” and a big no-no.

But upon returning from Israel I was willing to readdress the issue of the “Law.”  And one of the first things I learned was that the English translation of the word is lacking at best.  The Hebrew word is “Torah” and is more appropriately translated as “instructions.”  It’s a picture of an arrow being shot at a target.  The bull’s-eye, so to speak, is the Torah.  It’s the goal.  It’s the ultimate way to live.

I also learned that honoring Torah is both impossible, and simple.  Let me explain.  The “letter of the Law” cannot be completely kept today.  The sacrificial systems are no longer in place, along with the earthly priests and the entire Levitical system.  So in that respect, no one can fully “keep the Law.”

But on the other hand, honoring Torah is not a complicated issue.  While the Jewish tradition is that there are 613 commandments, it’s very important that we understand that not all 613 commands apply to each individual in each situation.  Many were applicable only to national Israel while they dwelt in the land of promise.  Many others were specific to the priests and Levites.  Still others are specific to gender or family situation.  Honoring Torah isn’t as difficult as we have been led to believe in traditional Christianity.

Moses said this himself.  At the very end of his life, Moses gave final instructions to the children of Israel just as they were preparing to enter into the Promised Land.  After completely recounting the detailed points of the whole Torah, Moses made this statement:

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?”  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?”  But the word is very near you.  It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.  Deuteronomy 30:11-14 ESV

Moses is essentially saying, “Don’t complicate this.  It’s not difficult to figure this thing out.  Do what’s right.  You don’t need a bunch of people to explain it to you.  You can do this.”  And just to be sure that those of us in the “Church Age” didn’t miss it, Jesus said the same thing.

First, Jesus made it abundantly clear in Matthew 5:17-20 that He didn’t come to “abolish the Law” but to “fulfill it.”  Once I started thinking for myself (something that in many cases I’ve found is discouraged within traditional Christianity), I found an interesting conundrum within what I was taught.  Jesus said He didn’t come to “abolish” the Torah, but Christianity has taught that His “fulfilling” it accomplished the same thing.  He came and lived a perfect life, died on the cross, and rose again, thus fulfilling the Law, and as a result we no longer have to obey the Law anymore.  Doesn’t that seem a little strange?  Jesus showed us what a life lived by Torah looks like, said He wasn’t doing away with the Torah, and now that means that we don’t have to live that way?  That just doesn’t make sense.

One Scripture that is used to justify this interpretation is found in Acts 15:10, when Peter states that asking Gentiles to “keep the Law” is asking them to bear a burden that even the Jews couldn’t bear.  Is this what Peter really meant?

But let’s allow ourselves to understand what the life of the Jew was during this time.  Religious leaders had continued to add rule upon rule to the Torah, in an attempt to prevent any chance of breaking even the slightest commandment.  Jesus fought against this attitude throughout His entire ministry (See Mark 8).  He didn’t want the religious rules to invalidate what was the heart of the Torah.  The Jews were loaded down with these rules and regulations – these additions to the Torah – that had made it a burden impossible to bear.

Jewish tradition calls the specific teachings of a Rabbi – the way that he instructs his disciples to keep the Torah – his “yoke.”  It’s the burden of obedience that those disciples were required to bear in order to live like the rabbi.  And Jesus told us in Matthew 10 that His yoke was a much easier burden to carry:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 10:28-30 ESV

So what is Jesus’ yoke?  What is His way of interpreting Torah?  In Jesus’ day, the way that the religious leaders would determine a rabbi’s yoke was to ask him what the “greatest commandment” was.  They asked Jesus this:

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your sould and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Matthew 22:35-40 ESV

That’s Jesus’ yoke.  Love God and love others.  If we get that part of it worked out, the rest is just details.  If God asks us to do certain things and not others, we obey.  If we have to determine between one path or another, think about those two questions.  That’s the yoke that we, as disciples of Jesus, are asked to bear.

Not so “big or bad” is it?

5 Ways My Faith Changed After Returning from Israel: Introduction

5 Ways My Faith Changed After Returning from Israel: Introduction

My Faith Changed After Returning from Israrel

Growing up in a good Christian home, you would think that my religious beliefs would be pretty set by the age of 33.

And they were.  But that all changed in May of 2008, when I spent two weeks in Israel.  It was an amazing point in history, as during those two weeks modern Israel was celebrating their 60th anniversary since becoming a nation.  It was a powerful mixture of the ancient and the modern; of Biblical history and Biblical prophecy coming together.  And the two weeks shook my beliefs down to their very core.  (To learn more, check out About David)  In a nutshell, I returned from Israel with an overwhelming desire to go back in time, as best as I could, to rediscover the faith that Jesus and the Disciples experienced, without the 2,000 years of religious baggage.

Here are 5 ways my faith has changed as a result:

  1. The “BIG BAD LAW” isn’t so big or bad anymore
  2. We can’t fully understand God’s plan, until we understand God’s feasts
  3. The Church is a part of the true Israel, not the replacement for it
  4. Being a disciple means more than going to church on Sunday
  5. God believes in me

Keep checking back as I explain in detail WHY my faith changed in these ways!

Return to Eden: Part 5 – The Conclusion of the Harvest

The harvest is over.  The work is nearly done.  Israel has spent the past four months working from sunup to sundown.  If they are to have enough food to provide for their needs over the next five months of autumn and winter, they had to have already gathered it.  And as night falls, all throughout the land, the sound of the ram’s horn – the shofar – is heard.  And everyone who honors the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, drops everything, puts on their white robe, and proceeds to the feast; to Yom Teruah – the Feast of Trumpets.

This appointment with God is unique in a couple of ways.  First, very little is said in Scripture about how to observe it.  There aren’t any special sacrifices or anything like that.  They are simply told to blow the shofar and remember.  Rather strange.

Second, it is the only of the feasts that takes place at the start of the month.  All of the other feasts begin at least ten days after the new month begins. This is important because the new month on the Biblical calendar doesn’t begin on a set date.  Because the Biblical calendar is a lunar calendar, it is determined by the sighting of the new moon.  The lunar cycle is 29.52 days.  Israel was instructed that the new month would begin only when the first sliver of the new moon could be sighted from Jerusalem.  That means that the month could be either 29 or 30 days long.  It depended on when the new moon could be clearly seen.  In fact, there is some evidence that by the time of Jesus, an idiomatic expression had become synonymous with the Feast of Trumpets: it had begun to be called “the feast where no man knows the day or the hour.”

The meant that every Hebrew would have to have be prepared for the feast in advance.  The only warning that the feast had arrived was the blast of the trumpet.  When that was heard, they were to drop everything and observe this feast.

The parallels are obvious.  As we near the end of the harvest of souls, we await the trumpet call of God.  All work must be completed by that moment, as the harvest will then be complete.  We don’t know specifically when that trumpet is going to sound, but we know when we hear it that we will leave what we are doing and celebrate the harvest.  But first, we must take stock of what has been done.

Ten days following the Feast of Trumpets, all of Israel would observe what is considered the most holy day of the year: Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement.  It is the day where Israel would take stock of the harvest, to determine what had been gathered.  Would it be enough?  But even more importantly, it was the day where the nation as a whole, would be held accountable for its sins.  The High Priest would sacrifice the lamb for the sins of the nation.  If each individual had confessed their sin, the lamb’s death would atone for it.  If they had not, they would be expected to atone for it themselves.

At the end of the Harvest, each one of us will be held accountable for our sins.  If we have confessed our sins, the Lamb of God will atone for them.  If we have not, we will be judge for them.  And for those who have received atonement, our works will be judged.  What have we done during the harvest?  Have we gathered wood, hay and stubble that will be burned in the fire?  Or are our works gold, silver, and precious stones that will be refined?

These are the shadows of the next two feasts on God’s calendar.  We can see the shadows of prophecy in them.  But the final feast is what we’ve been building to.  It is when God restores the Kingdom.  It’s when we return to Eden.

Next Post: Paradise Restored

You Might Be A Messianic If…

You Might Be A Messianic If...

Time to have a little bit of fun.  Here’s my list of the Top 10 reasons you might be a Messianic.  Please feel free to comment below with your own reasons!  All in good fun!

  1. You’ve tried to have an intelligent discussion about “Chrismukkah”

  2. People on Facebook wonder why you always post “Shabbat Shalom!” on Friday afternoon

  3. You refuse to call the Sunday after Passover, “Easter”

  4. You own a “Micro-Talit”

  5. You always spell “HalleluYAH” with the “YAH” in all caps and with a “Y” instead of a “J”

  6. People don’t believe you when you tell them that there is a book in the Bible called “Yaakov”

  7. You have Paul Wilbur, Joel Chernoff, Marty Goetz, and Ted Pearce on your iPod

  8. You’ve had to endure that uncomfortable silence when you’ve tried to talk to another Christian about “Yeshua,” and you realized they had no idea who that is

  9. You actually know what a “Micro-Talit” is

  10. Your spouse has caught you secretly watching Michael Rood videos online

Again, this is all in good fun.

Pass this on, and remember to add your own reasons below!