Tuesday, 10 December 2013

First we take Syria, then we take 'Palestine'

There's no denying that some Christian Zionists come over as extreme and, not to put too fine a point on it, as nut cases. But to claim as some do that they are to blame for the troubles in the Middle East is crazy.

Watch this clip from Memri of a Saudi Jihadi Leader tearfully but creepily pray  to his god for martyrdom and slaughter. His only reasons for living are to take Syria, shoot Jews in the head and to behead unbelievers.

I've yet to see John Hagee or any Israeli settler preach the beheading of Arabs while waving knives.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Palestinian Child Sacrifice

During the Cold War, Sting hoped 'the Russians loved their children too.' Sadly, if Australian Darly Johns is right, Israel cannot entertain the same hope about their Palestinian neighbours .

Johns was so affected by media pictures of dead and wounded Palestinian children, allegedly the victims of Israeli aggression that she decided to do something about it. She went as a volunteer peace activist in the Palestinian Authority but when she arrived she was greeted by a far different reality. Johns discovered to her horror that Arab children are actually the victims of child abuse from their own society.

The following video is one of the most moving and disturbing I have ever seen. In it, Johns tearfully recounts how she came to realise that many of the children whose pictures she had been presented as evidence of Israel's cruelty had in fact died while attacking Jewish men, women and children at the behest of their elders.

The video includes clips of Palestinian children reciting hatred for the Jews and expressing a deep desire not for peace, but for war and Israel's demise.

Subtitles are all in French and Hebrew, but the following is a translation of most of the statements by the Arab children and where they can be found on the six-minute film:

1:38 - [Announcer] Her uncle was a martyr and went to Paradise. He's now in heaven! [To the young girl] Your uncle?

1:45 - [Girl] He's in Paradise.

2:42 - [Boy] We should show how our fighters resist. Like the young engineers Mohammed Sawimih and Abu Gnadl.

2:50 - [Interviewer] What did they do?

2:53 - [Boy] They are young engineers who set death traps. They blew up tanks of the Jews.

3:03 - They threw stones on the tanks. We went to see when they buried the martyrs. And a tank arrived and we threw stones at it, and the soldiers fled.

3:22 - It's true that we are a small country, but we have young engineers who can make grenades and bombs to blow up the tanks and cause the [Israeli] soldiers to flee.

3:37 - [Boy] We don't want peace!! We don't want peace!! We want war! We don't want peace. We want to die like all the martyrs in Jenin.

3:51 - [Interviewer] What chance is there for peace, if the children are educated to die? The youth do not forget those who died as martyrs?

3:54 - [Boy] How can we forget them? We do not forget them. We do not forget the blood of the martyrs. It is a martyr, he is with Allah. We do not forget him. We fight until we [also] die as martyrs.

4:44 - [Boy] Allah willing we will have a future, and I will be just like Sheikh Mahmud. That is my future.

4:52 - [Interviewer] Who is this Sheikh Mahmud who you want to be like?

4:55 - [Boy] He was an engineer of planes and everything. He built bombs and sent martyrs to blow up everything, buses and everything.

5:03 - [Interviewer] Do you see your future as a martyr?

5:06 - [Boy] No, that's not my future... [Interviewer] Then what is your future?

5:09 - Our future is for Israel to disappear. That is our future. That Israel will disappear, Allah willing.

In the interview Johns expresses her opinion that the willingness of Palestinian parents to encourage their people to die is like the ancient pagan practice of sacrificing virgins. She concludes the interview with the observation that the Palestinians 'never had any other intention except to eliminate Israel.'

Friday, 8 November 2013

Clash of the Titans

On Saturday 9 November (tomorrow), at 9:00am EST (3.00pm GMT) Michael Brown will be debating Stephen Sizer on the subject of ‘How Christian Is Christian Zionism?’
Stephen Sizer is the leading UK evangelical opponent of Christian Zionism and Israel, and Michael Brown has wanted to engage him in debate for some time.
For listening information, click here

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Remembering Raymond Loewy

Today, in a Google Doodle, Google commemorates the 120th birthday of Raymond Loewy, the Jewish designer who achieved fame for the magnitude of his design efforts across a variety of industries. 

He was featured on the cover of Time magazine on 31 October 1949 and, amongst other things, designed the iconic Coca-Cola bottle, the streamlined Greyhound bus, the John F. Kennedy postage stamp, steam trains for the Pennsylvania Railroad, the interiors of NASA's Saturn I, Saturn V, and Skylab, Schick electric razors, several models of Studebaker cars, and the logos of Exxon oil, Greyhound, Nabisco, Shell and the United States Postal Service.

I confess that I knew nothing about Loewy until today but the scale and scope of his design work is staggering. A true genius.

Visit his website here.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Stephen and me

In 2009 Rev Stephen Sizer likened me to a Holocaust denier. This is what he wrote.

Holocaust Denial?

I was saddened but not surprised to read Mike Moore cynical ‘review’ of Professor Ilan Pappe’s ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ in last month’s Evangelicals Now
Don’t get me wrong. EN is a fine newspaper. I subscribe, as does our church. I read it avidly. I even contribute occasionally when asked. I just find it a little strange to read such a one sided and wholly negative ‘review’ of a book by a Jewish author about the Palestinian Nakba reviewed by a pro-Zionist Christian in an evangelical paper.
Thankfully it is a crime in some countries to deny the Holocaust. It is a shame that it is not yet a crime to deny the Palestinian Nakba, as Moore does.
The simple fact is that one in four refugees in the world today, according to the United Nations, is a Palestinian. Where did they come from? Over 500 towns and villages erased from the map of Palestine in 1948-1949.
Far from ‘leaving no trace’ as Moore suggests, there are over 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN today who still have the keys and title deeds to their homes in what is now Israel. (see here and here for more information)
I took the liberty of asking Professor Pappe to respond to the specific criticisms which Moore makes. He replied:
1. The interview in Germany. I gave a press conference that was published also in that newspaper. On the day the interview appeared there I published a special note to all the German press that I deplore and rebuke the positions of this newspaper and have nothing in common with its agenda and views.
2. I did not say that I am using oral histories instead of military archives, half of the book is based on the latter!, I am using them in conjunction. I do have my doubts on the reports of the IDF, as one would and should have about them today.
3. The basis for the allegation of expulsion in the first five chapters of the book are based on the Israeli military archives not on a post modernist notions. I never declared myself to be a post modernist and I am not a post modernist scholar.
4. Katz’s thesis is reliable but in any case it is not the basis for the Tantura affair, which is only two pages in the book, but my own research into the archives and oral history.
5. Finally, none of the professional Israeli historians refute that the half of Palestine’s population was expelled, they do not share the shame that I feel about it.
Evangelicals Now is highly regarded for its factual reporting and balanced book reviews. Mike Moore’s review was neither.
You can read the review and decide for yourself here 
Stephen Lendman has written a much more balanced review for Global Research here  
Watch Ilan Pappe on the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine here
Ilan Pappe’s website
And here is one of the best sites for maps showing the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Because Stephen Sizer’s blog does not permit comments, I emailed the following:
Dear Stephen,
I was shocked to read your critique of my EN ‘review’ of Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine for a number of reasons.
After our conversation at Starbuck’s in Guildford High Street earlier in the year, I left feeling that your views on the Israel/Palestine issue had mellowed a little. I realise now it must just have been the excellent Starbucks coffee. That rich, dark roast always leaves me feeling that all is well with the world.
Knowing your strong convictions about Matthew 18:15ff, I wonder why you didn’t contact me before going public and suggesting to the entire world that Mike Moore is a virtual Holocaust denier. But don’t worry, I’m not going to set the police on you. Thanks to your blog, I’m now nearly famous. A number of people have brought the blog to my attention.
Do you seriously believe that because I reject Ilan Pappe’s revised history of the tragedy that befell the Palestinian people as a result of the establishment of the state of Israel, I ought to be prosecuted and sent to prison? I do not deny that for the Palestinian people who lost their properties and livelihoods, the establishment of the state of Israel was indeed a nakba. I do deny, however, that the Nakba was the direct result of a deliberate policy on the part of the Ben Gurion government to ethnically cleanse the land. To equate the Nakba with the Holocaust is a gross insult to the memory of the six million European Jews who were systematically exterminated through starvation, hard labour and gassing.
There is plenty of documentary evidence from the time that Israel was established to prove that the Nakba was caused by the Arab leaders and not by the Zionists. Here are just a few quotes:
‘The fact that there are these refugees is the direct consequence of the act of the Arab states in opposing partition and the Jewish state. The Arab states agreed upon this policy unanimously and they must share in the solution of the problem.’ (Emile Ghoury, secretary of the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee in the London Telegraph, August 1948)
‘The most potent factor [in the flight of Palestinians] was the announcements made over the air by the Arab-Palestinian Higher Executive, urging all Haifa Arabs to quit... It was clearly intimated that Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.’ (London Economist, 2 October 1948)
‘It must not be forgotten that the Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees’ flight from their homes in Jaffa, Haifa, and Jerusalem.’ (Near East Arabic Broadcasting Station, 3 April 1949)
‘The mass evacuation, prompted partly by fear, partly by order of Arab leaders, left the Arab quarter of Haifa a ghost city... By withdrawing Arab workers their leaders hoped to paralyze Haifa.’ (Time, 3 May, 1948)
‘The Arab civilians panicked and fled ignominiously. Villages were frequently abandoned before they were threatened by the progress of war.’ (General John Bagott Glubb (Glubb Pasha), Daily Mail, 12 August 1948)
‘The Arabs of Haifa fled in spite of the fact that the Jewish authorities guaranteed their safety and rights as citizens of Israel.’ (Monsignor George Hakim, Greek Catholic Bishop of Galilee, New York Herald Tribune, 30 June 1949)
Many more of these types of quotes can be found at www.standwithus.com/pdfs/flyers/biglies06.pdf.
You did not have to give EN the benefit of the doubt as to whether the review was commissioned or sent unsolicited (as you think likely). An e-mail to John Benton or me would have satisfied your curiosity. It seems that you and I are both bad at guessing the psychodynamics of the other.
Ilan Pappe, according to your blog, denies that he gave an interview with National-Zeitung but, rather, that he simply ‘gave a press conference that was published also in that newspaper’. Either Ilan Pappe is telling porkies or else National-Zeitung is, because National-Zeitung states in an introductory paragraph (pardon my poor German):
Original: Im Gespräch mit Erhard Düvel von der National-Zeitung meinte der Autor, dass der 14. Mai 1948 für die Völkergemeinschaft kein Grund zum Feiern sei.
My poor translation: In conversation with Erhard Düvel of the National-Zeitung, the author meant that 14th May 1948 should be no reason for the celebrations for the people partnership.
Pappe claims that he did not say he was using ‘oral histories’ instead of military archives but he then tells you that, in the case of the alleged Tantura massacre, he researched ‘the archives and oral history’. Furthermore, he says on page xv of the book that he distrusts written Israeli military reports and prefers, instead, Arab sources and oral history. He has his doubts about the written reports of the IDF, ‘as one would and should have about them today’ (my emphasis). Why should one doubt reports written at the time but have no doubts about oral accounts sixty years after the purported events? I am of the conviction that, as a general principle, the faintest ink is more reliable than the best memory.
Pappe states, furthermore, that his allegations of expulsion in the first five chapters of the book are ‘based on the Israeli military archives not on post modernist notions’. Then he should have made that plain in the book.
Although Pappe may not have declared himself to be a postmodernist and denies that he is ‘a postmodernist scholar’, he certainly speaks as a postmodernist. In February 2007, you recommended that I read The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, adding that it was ‘emotive but also accurate language’.
I responded by pointing out that your choice of Pappe was most unfortunate, as he was probably the very worst of the ‘new historians’. Most anti-Israel writers, I said, at least claimed to base their findings on documentary evidence but in the introduction to his A History of Modern Palestine, Pappe admitted to personal bias and political partisanship:
My bias is apparent despite the desire of my peers that I stick to facts and the ‘truth’ when reconstructing past realities. I view any such construction as vain and presumptuous. This book is written by one who admits compassion for the colonized not the colonizer; who sympathizes with the occupied not the occupiers. [My emphasis].
Furthermore, in the Spring 2001 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies, Pappe published an article defending Teddy Katz’s Tantura thesis, insisting that Katz’s conclusions were correct, even if his facts were not, since historical research need not be based on facts!
If that is not a postmodernist speaking, I have never heard one.
Pappe told you that Katz’s thesis ‘is not the basis for the Tantura affair, which is only two pages in the book, but my own research into the archives and oral history.’
Really? First of all ‘The Massacre at Tantura’ takes up five pages of chapter 6, not two. Secondly, Pappe says the chapter is based on his ‘own research into the archives and oral history’. Which archives? Those Israeli archives he avowedly distrusts? However, as I pointed out in the EN review, the section features about a dozen quotes and citations, only three of which are sourced, one of them to a previous book by Pappe himself.
Professional Israeli historians may not ‘refute’ (sic) that the half of Palestine’s population was expelled’ but few of them share his ideas about the reason they were ‘expelled’.
I’m grateful to you for allowing readers of your blog to read my review and to judge for themselves whether it is ‘balanced’; I’d be most surprised, however, if any disagreed with you. But what do you mean by ‘balanced’? And what do you mean when you say Evangelicals Now is ‘highly regarded for its factual and balanced book reviews’? If by ‘balance’ you mean my review should have contained some praise for Pappe, then you fall short yourself because I’ve seen some very unbalanced reviews by your good self. In an EN review, you dismissed one of Julia Fisher’s books on Israel as ‘inflammatory’ because you interpreted her concern for the Palestinians as a statement that they should get off their backsides and do something to make a better life for themselves (or words to that effect). You have written off Paul Wilkinson’s For Zion’s Sake even though his research was based on primary documents, as well as summarising Barry Horner’s 400+-page Future Israel as a ‘nasty little book’ (my emphasis)?
Contrary to what you claim, Stephen Lendman’sreview of The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is not ‘a much more balanced review’ than mine. His review is as totally positive as mine is almost totally negative. I say ‘almost totally negative’ because I at least acknowledge the possibility of barbarism on the part of the Israelis. Lendman, however, has nothing but praise for Pappe and nothing positive to say about Israel in his review.
Neither Lendman nor the website which hosts his review is ‘balanced’. The Global Research website speculates whether 9/11 was an inside job’ (which, incidentally runs counter to the theory to that the Israelis were responsible for the collapse of the twin towers, a theory that you brought to the attention of readers of CZ. Lendman has numerous articles on Ziopedia, a website whose raison d’être includes the following unbalanced statement:
'We consider Israel to be the most racist and evil country on this planet, an illegal political entity, controlled and protected by a Mafia-like criminal network with a 19th century style colonialist and social-Darwinist agenda. We fight for Israel’s replacement with a free, united, egalitarian and secular Palestine.

'The "Holocult"

'We refuse to believe in self-evident truths and known facts, promoted by psychopathic liars like the Zionist masters of deception and enforced by criminal codes. We refuse to believe in dogmas that have become such a taboo that mentioning even the slightest doubt in some of their most non-sensical [sic] beliefs, leave alone in their three core dogmas - a plan to kill most, if not all European Jews, 6 Million Jewish victims, and the use of chemical slaughter houses - is treated like medieval heresy, punished by job loss, financial ruin, social shun, and - in thousands of cases - even prison.'
In conclusion, Stephen, I’m very disappointed and dismayed that you chose to critique my review in this manner. I do not understand your almost pathological aversion to Israel nor your willingness to embrace anyone, however extreme and however anti-Christian, who shares your negative opinion of the only democracy in the Middle East.
After we met in Guilford earlier in the year, I shared with some interested friends that I thought you had become more reasonable. After reading your blog, I find myself regretting my naivety.
With best wishes as ever,
Yours for the salvation of Israel,
In response, Stephen wrote the following brief reply.
Dear Mike,
I did not accuse you of being a holocaust denier. Come on now. . . I have not knowingly changed my views since we last spoke. I do believe the Nakba and ethnic cleansing of over 500 villages listed in my pre-1948 Time Atlas and UN documents leading to over 5 million displaced Palestinian refugees registered with the UN today is historical fact.
By the way – I am working closely with the police and Leeds university authorities identifying those associated with Seismic Shock and his/her campaign of harassment that is now putting lives at risk.
If Zionists are going to insist on the right of return for Jewish people worldwide then I equally identify with those who insist on the right of Palestinians to return to their homes or receive compensation.
I simply believe the Zionist cause is not served by rubbishing the integrity or credibility of academic research through this kind of book review.
I hope you have a good Summer.
This was my reply.
Thanks Stephen.
I didn’t say you had accused me of being a Holocaust denier. I wrote that your had ‘suggested’ I was a ‘virtual Holocaust denier’.
After all, your blog is headed ‘Holocaust Denial?’ and you state, ‘Thankfully it is a crime in some countries to deny the Holocaust. It is a shame that it is not yet a crime to deny the Palestinian Nakba, as Moore does.’
If the English language means anything, your title suggests that my review is tantamount to Holocaust denial and the sentence I quoted implies:
a) You approve of criminalising Holocaust denial
b) The Palestinian Nakba was an event similar to the Holocaust
c) so similar, in fact, that denying it should be a criminal offence
d) Mike Moore denies the Nakba
e) Therefore it is a shame Mike Moore cannot be prosecuted for his review and EN for publishing it.
As I said, I didn’t deny the Nakba. What I deny is that the Ben Gurion government was responsible for it. The blame for the Cataclysm lies squarely with the leaders of the Arab nations.
I hope your summer is good too.
Best wishes as ever,
Yours for the salvation of Israel,

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Tabernacles and the nations

Sukkot, or Tabernacles, is the third and final of the great pilgrim festivals of Israel when all the males of Israel had to appear before the Lord at the temple In Jerusalem. The ancient rabbis saw a significance in the festival not only for Israel but also the nations, and the  prophet Zechariah foresaw a day when the Gentile would go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival with the Jews. Thousands of Gentiles from around the world travel to Israel every year to keep the festival. Although I'm not criticizing Christians who make the annual pilgrimage to Israel for the festival each year, are they really fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 14, or is there an even greater significance to the festival? What is the significance of Tabernacles for Christians today?
1.      Tabernacles is a Happy Festival
In the Jewish calendar, the Festival of Tabernacles always falls on the 15th day of the seventh month, Tishri. In the West, we follow a different calendar, and this year Tabernacles fell on October 13th.

The ancient Israelites were commanded to live in tabernacles for seven days, so that future generations might remember that God made Israel live in tents after redeeming them from Egypt. Tabernacles is a joyful celebration at which religious Jews remember God’s care and provision for Israel when they travelled from Egypt to the Promised Land, living in tabernacles.

There are several names for the festival. Its Hebrew name is ‘Sukkot’ but it is also ‘the Festival of Ingathering’, because the festival celebrates the gathering of the final harvest of the year.

It is also the ‘Season of our Rejoicing’ because it is the only festival at which the Jewish people are commanded to rejoice for seven days.

Tabernacles is such a great festival that some Jews refer to it simply as ‘the Festival’.
2.    Tabernacles is a Harvest Festival
In Deuteronomy 16:16, all the men of Israel were commanded to go to the temple in Jerusalem three times every year: at Passover; at Pentecost and at the Feast of Tabernacles. All three festivals occurred at harvest times.

Harvest in the Bible is full of symbolism about God’s purposes for Israel and the nations. Jeremiah 2:3 tells us that when God chose Israel, she was ‘holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest’. Where there are firstfruits, harvest will follow. When God described Israel as ‘the firstfruits of his harvest’, he intended that the people should know he would one day have a full harvest from among the nations.

Throughout the Bible, the concept of Israel as the ‘firstfruits’ of God’s harvest occurs in different ways. For example, in Genesis 12:1-3 God called Abraham to be ‘a blessing’ and promised that through him ‘all families of the earth will be blessed’.

The writer of Psalm 67 seems to have Genesis 12:3 in mind when he prays for God to be 'gracious' to Israel and 'bless' Israel and make his face shine on Israel so that the nations will know God’s salvation. As it goes with Israel, so it goes with the nations. According to Genesis 12 and Psalm 67, the nations cannot be blessed with salvation apart from Israel being blessed first.

The psalmist's prayer for Israel also recalls the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-26: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you, and be gracious to you…’  
Although the high priests had pronounced the Aaronic blessing on Israel for hundreds of years, the writer of Psalm 67 knows the nation was not experiencing them in their fullest sense. Only when the Messiah came could Israel know the blessings of God’s mercy, his grace and the shining of his face in their fullest sense. The songs of praise celebrating the coming of Messiah, sung by Mary, Zachariah and Simeon in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel, are full of the themes of blessing, light, grace, mercy and peace. The Aaronic blessing could be experienced by Israel in their fulness  only when Messiah came. But after Messiah had come in grace to bless the Jewish people with peace and shine the light of God on them, he sent out his apostles to proclaim salvation to the nations.
3.    Tabernacles is a Prophetic Festival
When God was about to redeem Israel from Egypt, he declared that Israel was his ‘firstborn’ son. Just as the ‘firstfruits’ carry the promise of a full harvest, so the ‘firstborn’ in a family anticipates even more children. So if Passover looks back to when God redeemed Israel his ‘firstborn’ from Egypt, the Festival of Tabernacles looks forward to a time when he will have a family from all the nations.

According to the instructions given in Numbers 29, seventy bulls were offered over the seven days of the festival, starting with 13 on the first day and finishing with seven on the last day. The later rabbis taught that there were seventy nations in the world and that at Sukkot the 70 bulls were offered on their behalf.

Zechariah 14:16-19 foresees a time when the nations will keep the Festival of Tabernacles, and over the last thirty years, Christians from all over the world have begun to go to Jerusalem each year to keep the Festival in the belief that they are fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy. Although I am not trying to prevent Christians going to Jerusalem at this time of the year but I think the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy is far greater than those Christians imagine.

In Revelation 7, John sees a vision of 144,000 people from all the tribes of Israel. Chapter 14 presents a similar vision but with additional details to help us understand chapter 7 better. 

Chapter 14:1-7 tells us that the 144,000 were ‘redeemed from among mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb’ and in chapter 7, the vision of the 144,000 ‘firstfruits’ is followed by a vision of a vast crowd of people from all nations, so great that no one can count them.

Here we see both Israel, God’s ‘firstfruits’, and the full harvest from all nations. After the vision of the 144,000 ‘firstfruits’ in chapter 14, John sees the Son of Man, Jesus, reaping a great harvest from the nations with the sharp sickle in his hand.

The letter of Ya'akov (James) is probably the earliest New Testament letter, written when almost all believers were Jews. In verse 1 of the letter, Ya'akov addresses his readers as ‘the twelve tribes in the Diaspora’ and in 1:18 he calls them ‘a kind of firstfruits of God’s creatures’. I suggest that the letter of Ya'akov is addressed to the 144,000 (or at least some of them), as the ‘firstfruits’ of the harvest of God and the Lamb.

If we look a little more closely at Revelation 7:15-17, we see that the believers from the nations are keeping the Festival of Tabernacles! On the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles, on Mount Zion in Jerusalem thousands of Jewish men dressed in white robes with palm branches sing the ‘Great Hosanna’. But in John’s vision, the people in white robes with palm branches singing the ‘Great Hosanna’ are all from the nations, not Israel!
Here is the true fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy. The nations are keeping the Festival of Tabernacles in the heavenly Jerusalem!
4.    Tabernacles is a Messianic Festival
Without water, there can be no harvest. At the time of Jesus, a joyful thanksgiving service was held in the temple on the last day of Tabernacles. Priests drew water from the Pool of Siloam and poured it out at the altar of sacrifice where the 70 bulls for the nations had been offered. The water ran out the temple gate, into the Kidron valley and through the Judean desert toward the Dead Sea.

It was said in the second temple period: ‘He that has not seen the joy of drawing (and the pouring) of the water, has not seen joy in this life.’

In John 7, when Jesus attends the Festival of Tabernacles, we are told: ‘On the last day of the festival, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink… Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’.”’

John explains that the ‘living water’ which will flow out of his people is the Holy Spirit. But where in the Old Testament is there a ‘Scripture’ that says ‘rivers of living water’ will flow from the heart of those who believe in the Messiah? No Scripture that says that, so what does Jesus mean?

It will help us if we remember that in Ephesians 2, 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Peter 2, Messiah’s people are called his new, spiritual temple.

In Ezekiel 40-48, the prophet sees a vision of a glorious future Jerusalem complete with temple. In chapter 47, he sees a river of life-giving water flowing from the gate of that temple. As the river flows through the desert, it refreshes the land and causes trees to grow in abundance. Could Ezekiel’s vision be a picture of Messiah’s spiritual temple?

John’s vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 & 22 is a parallel passage. John sees a New Jerusalem, from which life-giving water flows and he tells us that the New Jerusalem is the bride of the Lamb. In Ezekiel’s vision, trees grow in the desert but on either side of John’s river, the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden grows. In the book of Revelation, the entire earth has returned to the perfection of Eden. But Eden in Revelation is even better than the original. It is filling the earth and instead of just one Tree of Life, there is a whole harvest of them and their leaves bring healing to the nations!

Is this not what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of living water flowing out of the hearts of his people, his living temple? Since he ascended to heaven and poured out his Spirit, life-giving water has been bringing new life to the nations. In Ezekiel’s vision, the river of life starts as a trickle from Jerusalem but becomes a great river bring life to the desert. The river of life began flowing as a trickle from the apostles in the temple on the Day of Pentecost. Since then the life-giving water of the Spirit has become a great river that is bringing life to all nations. Christians are called to bring life to the world and that river continues to flow from us.
5.     Tabernacles is the Final Festival
The three great pilgrim festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, set before us a single picture of God’s Messianic Harvest programme for the world.

According to Leviticus 23:10,11, on the day after the Sabbath at Passover, the people were to bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of their harvest to the priest. The priest waved it before the LORD and the one who offered the sheaf was accepted before God.

At the Passover on which Jesus was crucified, on the very day that the first sheaf of the harvest was waved before God, Jesus rose from the grave. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul describes Jesus as ‘the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep’. The first sheaf of the barley harvest was a picture of the resurrection of Jesus. Just as the sheaf of the firstfruits was offered as the guarantee of a full harvest, the resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of our resurrection.

After the Passover Sabbath, the people had to count fifty days to the day of Pentecost. On that day they presented two loaves of bread at the temple as firstfruits of the wheat harvest.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, the very day on which the two ‘firstfruit’ loaves were lifted before God in the temple. On the day of Pentecost, like all religious Jews, the 120 disciples would have been present in the temple when the Holy Spirit fell on them. In the very temple where the two loaves were offered to God, the 3,000 Jewish souls who believed Peter’s message were presented to God and the Lamb as the ‘firstfruits’ of a coming world-wide harvest of souls.

Five months later came the final harvest of the Jewish year, the Festival of Tabernacles.
The firstfruits at Passover related to Israel, as did the two loaves presented at Pentecost (Jews and Gentile proselytes to Judaism were converted on the Day of Pentecost) but the final harvest at Tabernacles anticipated a gathering of not just Israel but all nations into the kingdom of God.

But the harvest of the nations will also affect Israel because Paul recognises in Romans 9-11 that something has gone wrong as far as Israel’s salvation is concerned. From the Tanakh (the Old Testament), we might imagine that after ‘all Israel’ was saved, the nations would be saved. But that has not been the case. Nevertheless, God still loves Israel and will be true to his purpose to save the nation he calls his ‘firstfruits’ and his ‘firstborn’.

Paul tells us in Romans 11 that God is using the Gentiles to make Israel jealous and that the ‘the fullness of the Gentiles’ will be the way God will save ‘all Israel.’

The gospel is to the Jew first, not the Jew only. By evangelising the Jewish people we help to bring about the salvation of the nations. Christian Witness to Israel is working to bring that great day. Pray for us and help us to ‘provoke the Jewish people to jealousy’ and thus bring about the salvation of Israel and the nations.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The Story of the Jews

The historian Simon Schama whose new book tells the story of the Jews

This evening, after preaching about why Christians should love the Jewish people, I arrived home just in time to catch the first episode of Simon Schama’s new BBC 2 series The Story of the Jews, based on his book of the same name. It was everything I expected from a collaboration between the finest television company in the world and a sophisticated, urbane, Reform Jewish historian.

Setting aside minor errors such as the ‘Israelites’ becoming ‘Jews’ at the Exodus from Egypt, the programme was sumptuously filmed and packed full of fascinating information. Much of the details about the Jewish community at Elephantine in Upper Egypt, for example, were new to me.

The two major focuses in the programme were Freud and Moses. Starting with Sigmund Freud and surveying the tragic history of the Jews, Simon Schama ended with Freud as he considered how and why the Jewish people have survived while their oppressors have turned to dust. Schama suggested that the answer lies in the fact that Judaism has the written Torah, the purported words of God mediated through Moses.
It was interesting to see Schama as a religious Jew – albeit not Orthodox – worshipping in synagogue and celebrating Passover with family and friends. But while it is true that the written Torah has played a part in Jewish survival, that is only part of the answer to his question.

I vividly recall the first radio broadcast by Jonathan Sacks, who retired today as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth. On Radio 4’s Thought for the Day spot on the Today programme, Rabbi Sacks asked the same question as Simon Schama asked tonight: What accounts for the survival of the Jews? Jonathan Sacks’ answer was that the Jews have survived because ‘the final chapter has not yet been written.’ He was wrong: the Jewish people have survived and will survive because the last chapter has been written. It was written in eternity, before the universe came into being.

Although Simon Schama’s explanation is closer to the truth, he expressed doubts about the total reliability of the Bible, as did a Jewish archaeologist he interviewed. The archaeologist (whose name escapes me) felt that the historical reliability of Scripture – for example, whether David and Goliath were real personages or whether David defeated the Philistine in battle – were of little concern, it was the metaphorical lessons that were important. But a book of unreliable metaphors, however inspiring, cannot guarantee the survival of a nation and a people.

In the end, the Jewish people survive because ‘He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep’ (Psalm 121:4).  

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Pentecost and the Plan of God

At the beginning of this month, I delivered the annual Alfred Edersheim lecture in Melbourne and Sydney. The title of the talk was 'Pentecost and the Plan of God'.  According to Jewish reckoning, Pentecost this year falls today, Wednesday 15 May. According to the Bible, Pentecost or Shavuot, falls exactly fifty days after the Sabbath following Passover, so it is the only festival of the Lord to which no date is assigned. Israel was to count fifty days from Passover, so that in celebrating Pentecost they would never forget the festival of their redemption.
The purpose of the lecture was to explore the relevance of the festival of Shavuot today in an attempt to relate the events that took place on the Day of Pentecost in the year 33AD to the plan and purpose of God for the world he created. What follows is the lecture.
According to Jewish tradition Pentecost, or Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, is Zeman Matan Torateinu: the ‘Season of the giving of our Torah’. In Acts 2, Luke appears to depict the events of the Day of Pentecost as a second ‘Mount Sinai experience’ for Israel. For example, both the Torah and the Spirit were given on mountains: the Law at Sinai and the Spirit on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
In the account of the giving of the Torah in Ex. 19:18-20, fire and the sound of a trumpet accompanied the descent of God on Mount Sinai. In Acts 2:2-3, the descent of the Spirit was accompanied by fire and a sound; a sound ‘like a rushing, mighty wind.’ It is significant that Luke does not say there was a ‘rushing, mighty wind’ but a sound ‘like a rushing, mighty wind.’
According to the rabbis, the world was divided into seventy nations and in tractate Shabbat 88b, the Talmud states, ‘Every single word that went forth from the Omnipotent was split up into seventy languages for the nations of the world.’ In Acts 2:4-5, the disciples of Jesus spoke words in the languages of ‘devout men from every nation under heaven.’
There was, however, a significant contrast between the giving of the Torah and the giving of the Spirit. In Ex. 32, after Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, 3,000 men of Israel died because of the sin of the golden calf. By contrast, in Acts 2:41, when the Holy Spirit was given, 3,000’ received the word’ and were baptised; in other words 3,000 people became spiritually alive in Messiah. This contrast is developed by Paul in 2Cor. 3, where he contrasts the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, the Law and the Gospel, ‘the letter’ and ‘the Spirit.’ The Old Covenant, says Paul, ministered death whereas the New Covenant ministers life. The outpouring of the Spirit of God on that momentous day generated a movement which was to spread through the world, toppling an empire and ministering life to countless millions until ultimately the whole earth will be ‘filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.’
What I propose to do in this lecture is to demonstrate that he events recorded in the second chapter of Acts reveal that Pentecost was the fulfilment of five distinct Old Testament elements: a Promise, a Psalm, a Pattern, a Plan and, finally, Pentecost itself.
1. Pentecost was the fulfilment of a Promise
From the very first page of the Bible God’s Ruach – his ‘Spirit’ or ‘Breath’ or ‘Wind’ – is at work at pivotal points such as Creation, when the Ruach hovered over the unformed and unfilled earth. At the Exodus, the Spirit of God empowered Bezaleel and his helpers to construct the tabernacle and the things pertaining to the worship of God; in Num. 11, the Spirit empowered the seventy elders of Israel, and Eldad and Medad, to prophesy – an event that made Moses wish all God’s people were prophets, a wish that came true at Pentecost. The Ruach was also at work at the establishment of the Hebrew monarchy when he came upon David in power and enabled him to conquer the Philistine giant Goliath. The work of God is never accomplished by human might or power but always by the Ruach of God.
In the New Testament, the Spirit was central in the ministry of Messiah and his apostles. In Lk. 1:35, the Spirit overshadowed Mary causing her to conceive the Messiah; in Mt. 3:16 the Spirit anointed Jesus at the Jordan river, setting him apart as Messiah; in Mt. 12:28, Lk. 11:20 and Acts 10:38 the Spirit empowered Jesus for his messianic ministry; in Heb. 9:14 the Spirit sustained Jesus for his atoning death, and Rom. 8:11 states that the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Spirit of God was present at the beginning of the God’s mission to the nations. The pouring out of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the fulfilment of at least two biblical promises made to Israel, the first being the promise of Joel 2:28-32:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit…
However, Joel 2 was not the only prophetic scripture fulfilled at Pentecost. The proclamation of the Word of the Lord to the house of Israel and the Ruach breathing life into 3,000 souls was a fulfilment of Ezek. 37:1-14, in which Israel is pictured as a heap of dry bones. In the vision, God promises to recall his people from exile, following which he will breathe life into them and cause them to become a great army. According to vv 27 - 28, God’s dwelling place will be among resurrected Israel; he will be their God, they will be his people and, when his sanctuary is in their midst forever, the nations will know that he is ‘the LORD who sanctifies Israel.’ Israel’s promised resurrection was to have an effect on the nations.
2. Pentecost was the fulfilment of a Psalm
Commentators on the book of Acts recognise a symbolic significance in the sound like a wind and the tongues of fire, and various interpretations of the symbols have been suggested but few interpreters, if any, link the phenomena to Ps. 104:4, which states that God ‘makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.’
In the readings for Pentecost, the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer includes verses 25-37 of Ps. 104 but, interestingly, not verse 4! But how fitting that with the coming of the Spirit, God’s messengers and servants should be initiated into their roles by the very elements God uses as his messengers and servants. God had spoken to Elijah 800 years before the events of Acts 2 through a ‘still, small voice’ rather than fire and a howling wind but at Pentecost he spoke with the unrestrained might and power of a spiritual tornado that uprooted three thousand observant Jews and Gentile proselytes from the kingdom of darkness and transferred them into the kingdom of his Son.
3. Pentecost was the fulfilment of a Pattern
One of the most divisive issues within Evangelicalism today is Supersessionism or, as it is more commonly known, ‘Replacement Theology.’ Put simply, ‘Replacement Theology’ is the idea that ‘the Church’ has replaced Israel in the plans and purposes of God and that all the promises and privileges that belonged to the Jewish people prior to the coming of Messiah have been spiritualised and transferred to a new ‘spiritual’ Israel. Some years ago, on Whit Sunday, the churches in a small town on the south coast of England organised a street party, complete with party games and jelly and ice cream, to celebrate ‘the birthday of the Church.’ The idea was to attract locals in the hope (I presume) that they, like the crowd that gathered at Pentecost in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, would want to know how to be saved. Apart from the fact that the Holy Spirit is a hard act to follow, was the Church really born on the Day of Pentecost in 33AD?
Look up the word ‘church’ in an English Dictionary and you will probably read that the word is based on a medieval Greek term kuriakon doma, meaning the ‘Lord’s house’. Ask a Christian what ‘church’ is and the response will more than likely be that ‘Church’ is people not a building.’ Ask a non-Christians what ‘church’ is and the answer will probably be that it is a building. Theologically, the Christian is correct but from the point of view of linguistics, the non-Christian is right.
How would the disciples of Jesus have understood his declaration in Mt. 16:18, ‘I will build my church’? Although Mt. 16:18 is the first occurrence of the word ‘church’ in the Bible, none of the apostles asked what a ‘church’ was. The Greek word ekklesia, translated ‘church’ in Mt. 16, means an ‘assembly,’ or ‘congregation.’ But Jesus, of course, would have been speaking in Hebrew or Aramaic, not in Greek, and the term he would have used was one with which his Jewish disciples would have been very familiar, Qahal.
In the Old Testament, Israel was God’s qahal, his ‘assembly.’ When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek in the third century BC, the translators of the Septuagint, as the Greek version was known, used ekklesia to translate qahal. ‘Church,’ in that sense, therefore, was a concept with which the disciples of Jesus were very familiar and, according to Stephen in Acts 7:38, God had an ekklesia, a ‘church’ or ‘assembly’ in the wilderness; that assembly being Israel. We must not think, therefore, that the Church was born at Pentecost in 33AD or that the Church has replaced Israel as the people of God. From the time of the Exodus, Israel was God’s ‘church,’ or assembly, and continues to be so.
If that sounds confusing, it might be helpful for us to look at the subject from another perspective.
Jer. 11:16 depicts Israel as ‘a green olive tree, beautiful with good fruit,’ and in Rom. 11:16-22, Paul draws on Jeremiah’s imagery to speak of Israel as an ‘olive tree’ of which Jewish individuals are the branches. Those Jews, or ‘natural branches,’ who refused to embrace their Messiah were broken off but believing Gentiles – like branches from an uncultivated olive tree – were grafted onto the cultivated olive tree of Israel. Whether cultivated or uncultivated, both varieties of branch are joined to the same tree and are nourished by the same sap that comes from the roots of the tree, namely the Patriarchs. At Pentecost, God did not cut down one olive tree and plant a new one, called the Church; he began to call people from all nations, not just from Israel, to be part of his beautiful green olive tree in order they might produce good fruit.
Something new did come into existence at Pentecost, however: a spiritual temple. In the Old Testament, a developing pattern may be discerned in the way God meets with his people. Before the Fall, God met and communed with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After the expulsion from Eden, Cain and Abel approached God as individuals, each at their own altar. After the call of Abraham, worship began to take place at a family altar and the mark of the faith of the patriarchs (as we observe in Gn. 12:8; 13:12; 26:17, 25; 33:18-20) was that they each pitched their tent, built their altar and called on the name of the Lord
At the Exodus, the family altar was replaced by a national shrine. The people lived in tents and, under the direction of the Lord, a tabernacle was constructed where his people might meet with their God. When the people settled in the land and began to live in permanent dwellings, Solomon erected a temple of stone to serve as the house of God.
Following the destruction of the temple in 586 BC, God foretold in Ezek. 40-48 that a better, bigger and perfect temple would be constructed, out of which would flow a river of healing water (47:1-12). There are biblical interpreters who insist Ezekiel’s vision must be interpreted in a strictly literalistic manner but such an approach raises a number of serious difficulties. According to Ezekiel's measurements, the temple will be so large that both the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives will have to be enlarged and expanded in order to accommodate it. A clue to understanding the true nature of Ezekiel’s vision can be found in Jn. 2:19, where Jesus speaks of his body as the temple. And in Jn. 7:38, on the final day of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus declares: ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”.’
‘This,’ says John, Jesus ‘said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.’ The Spirit was ‘given,’ of course, at Pentecost but which ‘Scripture’ foretold the Spirit flowing like a river of living water out of the hearts of those that believe in Messiah? The only Old Testament passage that speaks of ‘living water’ flowing out of anything is Ezek. 47:1-12, in which a river of water flows from the temple of God bringing life to wherever it flows.
A series of New Testament texts, including Mt. 24:1-2; 26:61; Acts 6:14; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-8; Rev. 22:1-5, lead us to conclude that The Body of Messiah, comprised of living stones, is the new temple, a ‘habitation of God in the Spirit’, out of which flows living water for the healing of the nations. At Pentecost, the Spirit began to flow from the followers of Jesus in the temple where multitudes were observing Shavuot, to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and, ultimately, to the uttermost parts of the earth.
In Ex. 40, when the tabernacle was erected, a cloud of glory authenticated it as the dwelling place of God. When Solomon dedicated the temple in 2 Chron. 7, fire fell from heaven and the glory of God filled the place. In Acts 2, God authenticated his new, living temple with a glory even greater than that of the previous temples. At Pentecost, God dedicated and authenticated his living temple that was destined to fill the entire world, not simply the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. And whereas, in times gone by, God was encountered in particular locations such as Eden, the altar, the tabernacle and the temple, since Pentecost Jews and Gentiles may meet with him not so much in a universal temple but as living stones in that temple.
The temple reminded people of Eden. It was built on a mountain from which flowed the Kidron stream and its architecture included cherubim, palm trees, gourds and other plants and flowers. It was a representation of Eden from which had flowed four rivers. The single river that flowed from Ezekiel’s temple caused trees to grow in the wilderness, the leaves of which brought healing. In John’s parallel vision in the final chapter of the Bible, the river flows from a temple city, the New Jerusalem, and on either side of the river grows the tree of life with twelve kinds of fruit, yielding fruit every month. Even the leaves of the tree bring healing to the nations. Little wonder, then, that the hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote that in Jesus ‘the tribes of Adam boast more blessings than their father lost’!
4. Pentecost was the fulfilment of a Plan
Immediately after the fall of man, in Gn. 3:15, God announced his plan to redeem his fallen creation. The call of Abraham was part of the divine redemptive plan, the end of which was that all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gn. 12:3). Israel’s calling was a missionary calling and the nation is described in Jer. 2:3 as ‘the firstfruits of [the Lord’s] increase’ that is, the firstfruits of God’s harvest from among all nations.
In Jer. 4:1-4, the Lord declared that Israel’s relationship to him would have a beneficial effect on the Gentiles:
‘If you will return, O Israel,’ says the LORD, ‘return to Me; and if you will put away your abominations out of My sight, Then you shall not be moved. And you shall swear, ‘The LORD lives,’ in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; the nations shall bless themselves in Him, and in Him they shall glory.’
God’s plan of redemption is fundamental to understanding Ps.67:
God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us. That your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For you shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations on earth… Then the earth shall yield her increase; God, our own God, shall bless us… and all the ends of the earth shall fear Him.
The first two verses of Ps. 67 remind us of the High Priestly benediction of Num. 6:24-26:
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.
They also bring to mind Gn. 12:1-3:
Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’
God repeated the promise to Isaac in Gn. 26:4: ‘… in your seed all nations of the earth shall be blessed.’ He made the same promise to Jacob in Gn. 28:14: ‘… in you and in your seed all families of earth shall be blessed.’
According to Genesis, before the nations could be blessed, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had to be blessed. At every festival the high priest blessed the people and in Ps. 67 the promise of the blessing of the nations is clarified. The blessing God has in mind for the nations is nothing less than their salvation. Could God have had anything less in mind when he promised to bless Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants? Could he have anything less in mind when he blessed the people through their High Priest?
The psalmist recognised that although God had blessed Israel in many ways, the nation did not possess the blessings invoked by the high priest in their fulness. Moreover, the nations were not saved.
Israel could not enjoy the blessings of Num. 6:24-26 in their fulness, nor could the nations be saved until Messiah, the seed of Abraham came. And Ps. 67 is a prayer that Israel will be blessed fully and that the nations will know God’s salvation, his Yeshua! In the songs recorded in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel, it becomes evident that with the birth of Yeshua, the invocations of the Aaronic benediction and the pleas of Ps. 67:1-2 were being answered.
In Ps. 67:1, the Hebrew poet appeals to God to show chanan grace, or mercy to Israel. In the Magnificat of Lk. 1:46-55, remembering that Mary spoke Hebrew, she sings:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour… his mercy [which in Hebrew would have been chanan] is for those who fear him from generation to generation… He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy [chanan], as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
In Lk 1:67-79, the blessings of Ps. 67, the high priestly blessing and the promise to Abraham all come together in the Song of Zechariah:
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
According to Ps. 67, as it goes with Israel so it goes with the nations, and the Psalmist appeals to God to bless Israel. Before the nations can be blessed through the knowledge of Yeshua Israel must be blessed and the New Testament constantly emphasises the principle ‘to the Jew first,’ as Peter declares in Acts 3:24-26:
All the prophets… proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness."
There is a pattern in Ps. 67: Israel is blessed; then the nations are saved; then ‘Israel’s God’ blesses Israel. Paul reveals a similar framework of thought in Romans 11: Israel has been blessed but has rejected the blessing; the nations are being saved and are rejoicing in God’s salvation and this will ‘provoke Israel to jealousy’. At the moment, says Paul, only a remnant of Israel believes the gospel but that will not always be the case. There will be a fulness. ‘All Israel will be saved’.
God has called Gentiles to provoke Israel to jealousy. That is our duty.
Although tongues might at first reading appear to be the predominant phenomenon on the day of Pentecost, tongues were not most important feature; the preaching of the gospel was the crucial factor on that day. The gospel was preached to the Jews first but by the time the book of Acts closes the nations are blessing themselves in the Lord and glorying in him. Pentecost was the launch pad for the final stage of God’s plan for world redemption, a plan that has nothing less as its goal than the salvation of the nations and the liberation of the cosmos itself from the effects of the fall of Adam.
5. Pentecost was the fulfilment of Pentecost
Shavuot/Pentecost, like the other festivals of the Lord, was highly symbolic festival. It was the second of the annual pilgrim festivals at which every male Israelite was to appear before the face of God at the house of God in Jerusalem. The ‘place’ in which the 120 believers were when the Spirit fell on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was the temple. The temple was the only place in which observant Jews would have been on the morning the Ruach of God came upon the disciples of Jesus. Had the 120 been in an upper room in another part of Jerusalem, those in the temple would have been unaware of the sound of the wind and the tongues of fire, and Peter certainly would not have been able to address thousands of his fellow Jews in the confines of Jerusalem’s narrow streets.
Shavuot was originally a harvest festival but by the first century of our era, as the Jewish people had become scattered among the nations, the festival had lost its primary harvest significance and become ‘the season of the giving of the law’ at Sinai. It is surely significant, then, that at the time when the Torah passage for Shavuot was being read in the temple the Spirit came down on Mount Zion. The Torah reading would have included Ex. 19:18:
Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.
Nevertheless, the harvest significance had not disappeared and two wheat loaves made from the firstfruits of the wheat harvest were waved before God in the temple.
At both Passover and Pentecost, firstfruits were presented to God as wave offerings in the temple. The offering presented the day after the Sabbath of Passover week, as specified in Lv. 23:10-14 was the firstfruits of the barley harvest, and barley was considered the poor man’s food. The firstfruits offering at Shavuot was from the wheat harvest, and in Ps. 81:16 wheat is the rich man’s food. In 1 Cor. 15:21-23, when Paul describes Messiah as the ‘firstfruits from the dead’ he is likening Messiah’s resurrection to the Passover firstfruits offering, which was presented to God on the very day Jesus rose from the dead.
The Shavuot firstfruits offering was a different picture. The firstfruits of the wheat harvest was offered in the form of two loaves with leaven. It would seem that this offering is a picture of the believers – Jews and Gentiles – being incorporated into the body of Messiah at Shavuot. And as the poor man’s food signified Messiah and the rich man’s food represented believers in Messiah, we are reminded that, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 8:9, Messiah became poor for our sakes that we might become rich in Him.
There is a further significance to the fact that two loaves were offered. The number two is strongly associated in the Bible with witness. In Dt. 19:15, at least two witnesses were required for an acceptable testimony in a court of Israelite law and the principle finds a variety of applications within the New Covenant as, for example, in Mk. 6:7 when Messiah sent out His disciples by twos in order to preach the Good News. According to 1 Tim. 5:19, congregations are not to receive an accusation against an elder without at least two witnesses and, says Peter in
1 Pet. 3:7, in the marriage partnership there has to be agreement between both spouses for prayer to be accepted by God. Without two witnesses there is only opinion and following Pentecost God had both Jews and Gentiles as his witnesses to the world.
Moreover, the offering of the loaves was accompanied by a number of sacrifices including, as we read in Lv. 23: 19, a peace offering, in Hebrew a ‘shalom’. When the Apostle Paul speaks to Gentile believers at Ephesus, he says in 2:14-18:
For [Messiah] himself is our peace [offering], who has made us both [Jews and Gentiles] one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
The Sages of Israel recognised that the nation’s destiny was to bless the world, and regarded the coming of Ruth the Moabitess into Israel as a foreshadowing of the coming of the Gentiles into the blessings of Israel. That is why the Book of Ruth – which celebrates the coming of a Gentile into the commonwealth of Israel at harvest time – is read in synagogues at Shavuot. Ruth was blessed by becoming a member of Israel and Israel, in turn, was blessed by her becoming the ancestor of King David and the Messiah. At Pentecost in 33AD, there were Gentile proselytes, as well as natural Jews, incorporated into the commonwealth of Israel. According to Rom. 11:11-15 and 25-26, Gentiles have been blessed by Israel and are, in turn, called to be a blessing to the Jews, not least by provoking them to jealousy.
The 3,000 Jews and proselytes who believed Peter’s preaching on the day of Pentecost were the firstfruits of a harvest that would culminate in a world-wide ingathering from all lands. Rev. 7 refers to the Gentile converts as a ‘great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues’ (note the many ‘tongues’ of Acts 2). In Rev. 14:4 the 144,000 are identified as ‘firstfruits to God and to the Lamb’ and it is to them, the first generation of Jewish believers, that James addresses his epistle. According to James 1:1), his readers were from ‘the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad’ and, as he says in v.18 ‘a kind of firstfruits of His creatures’. While Peter, James, John and the other apostles continued to reap the firstfruits of God’s harvest within the house of Israel, Paul says in Gal. 2:9 that he and his companions were reaping a harvest from among the nations.
What, then, do the events of Pentecost as recorded in Acts say to us? The events of that day bring together a number of threads from the Old Testament scriptures that hints (some more strongly than others) at God’s plan and purpose for his creation. The teaching of Pentecost encourages us to trust that God’s purposes for creation will continue to unfold until at last all Israel is saved, the people of God from all nations are gathered into the kingdom, and ‘the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.’
However difficult the task, however dark the days, the harvest nature of Pentecost encourages us to pursue mission in the knowledge that the firstfruits of God’s harvest which was presented to him on Mount Zion 2,000 years ago, guarantees a full harvest from all nations that no man can number. Therefore, we cannot afford the luxury of pessimism. In all our service, we can be ‘steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labour is not in vain.’ The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our God and his Messiah!