Windows on the Word



Thank God for Israel


Thank God for Israel!!

At 4:00 pm on Friday, Iyar 5th, 5708 (May 15th, 1948), David Ben Gurion (who would be the first Prime Minister of the new state)  stood in the Tel Aviv Museum (today known as Independence Hall) and opened the ceremony to which about 250 guests were in attendance – by invitation only.  The group spontaneously sang Hatikvah – which soon became Israel’s national anthem.  Behind Ben Gurion hung a large picture of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, flanked by Israeli flags – which were soon adopted as official. Ben Gurion announced to the crowd, “I shall now read to you the scroll of the Establishment of the State…”.  The full reading took about 16 minutes and ends with the words, PLACING OUR TRUST IN THE “ROCK OF ISRAEL”, WE AFFIX OUR SIGNATURES TO THIS PROCLAMATION.  Ben Gurion concluded by saying, “Let us accept the Foundation Scroll of the Jewish State by rising” and calling on Rabbi

Fishman to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing. After the last of the signatories of the Declaration had signed, the audience again stood and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra played the “Hatikvah”, the Israeli national anthem, ( הַתִּקְוָה ) which literally means ‘the Hope’. Ben-Gurion concluded the event with the words “The State of Israel is established! This meeting is adjourned!” 

Sunday at the local Yom HaShoah ceremony in my city, one of the Rabbi’s present again reminded everyone that Jewish people always take their past with them forward into the present.  [I mentioned this in last week’s Nugget, and the same Rabbi mentioned it again this year.]  He gave the example of the children of Israel taking the bones of Joseph with them as they left Egypt.  And so on the day of the re-birth of the nation, there were so many reminders of Israel’s past going all the way back to the time of the Bible.   For example, the Declaration was a three-part scroll (Heb: מגילה – Megillah).  This was a clear and strong picture of the connection between modern Israel and its ancient past in the time of the Bible since all of the books of the תנך – T’nakh (Old Testament) were written in Hebrew on scrolls.  The very first paragraph of the Declaration begins: ERETZ-ISRAEL (Heb: אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל) – the Land of Israel, was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books (the Bible).


Israeli Independence Day is called Yom HaAtzma’ut 

( יום העצמאות ).  The root of this Hebrew word HaAtzma’ut is etsem ( עצם ) and has several meanings: “bone, substance, matter, essence or core of something or someone.”  The Hebrew word atsma’ut (עצמאות), meaning ‘independence’, comes from atsmi which means one’s own personal being and bones. This gives new meaning to the Ezekiel 37 passage on ‘the valley of dry bones’ (which was partly fulfilled on this day) since the Hebrew root etsem is part of both the word ‘bone’ and the word for ‘independence’!


Israel is the only nation that God created and this goes back to the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) What nation EVER died and then revived after 2,000 years?  Only Israel!  What language EVER died in common use and then revived after 2,000 years?  Only Hebrew! The language of Israel and the Jewish people.  Read the history of the War for Independence, and actually, all of the history of ‘Modern Israel’ since 1948, and you will find plenty of miracles. Israel’s first prime minister, David ben Gurion said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”  Actually, according to the prophet Jeremiah (16:14-16), the first Passover and the exodus from Egypt was a small miracle compared to the rebirth of the nation which we have seen in this generation. Truly, the People of the Book have returned home!  

Birth of the Miracle Nation


Birth of the Miracle Nation

Mah Nishtanah HaLila HaZeh MiKol HaLayLot …And so begins the Passover Seder as the youngest person

present traditionally gets to ask what is know as “the Four Questions”. In Hebrew, we actually “sing” them and it turns out that the “Four Questions” are really four answers to one big question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?”  I recently heard a Rabbi speaking about Passover and the Four Questions.  He said, “The Talmudic way of studying Torah is questions and answers.  Not statements.  Jews live on questions.”  The Hebrew word for ‘questions’ is שאלות (she-eh-lot), but in the case of the phrase “The Four Questions”, the word קושיות (koo-she’ot) is used. It is from Hebrew root: קשה – ‘ka-sheh’ which means ‘difficult’.  The Rabbi’s say this is a question in which you must really dig and search for the answer.  The writers of the Passover Hagadah built in the “Four Questions” so that the answer is the story (Heb: מגיד – Maggid) of the Passover (Heb: פסח – Pesach).  This method of teaching is also evident in the New Testament. Read the four Gospels and note how often the Scribes, Lawyers (experts in the Law of Moses), Pharisees, Sadducees and others come to Jesus always asking questions.  And how did Jesus answer them?  With more questions!  


Freedom (Heb: חופש – cho-fesh) is a major theme of Passover celebrations. The children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for 430 years to the day (Exodus 12:41) until the night of Pesach. On THIS night, Nisan 14th, the exact night the 430 years ended, God birthed a nation and led them out of Egypt! God had promised Jacob in Genesis 46:4: “I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again”. The children of Israel went from being slaves (Exodus 1:11) to being an army (Exodus 12:51) in one night. Every miracle that God works in has two components: physical and spiritual.  On the night of Passover, God did not just free slaves, but He redeemed the children of Israel as well. (Exodus 12:21-28) The blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of each home was a mark of that salvation. Notice that salvation must be at the individual level. For Israel, it was home by home. It depended entirely on the application of the blood of the Passover lamb to the doorpost of the house. The freedom was at a national level – the children of Israel went out of Egypt en-masse. 


The nation of Israel was born, not by fighting a revolution, but through prayers from below and miracles from above. God choose Moses to lead Israel, not because of his military prowess – although Josephus tells us that he was a military commander of renown when he served in Pharoah’s court. But God choose Moses because he had a heart willing to pray for his people and intercede for them. Even to die for them! (Exodus 32:32). The books of the Torah are replete with example after example of Moses interceding with God on the behalf of Israel. Moses did not care for his own welfare, but only for His people – Israel.


The entire T’nakh (Old Testament) is full of miracle after miracle that God worked on behalf of Israel. The Ten Plagues upon Egypt were only plagues from the Egyptians viewpoint. To the children of Israel, these were miracles that Moses worked on their behalf so that eventually, Pharoah let them go! The modern Hebrew word for ‘miracle’ is ניס – nes. In Biblical Hebrew, miracle is often the translation of the Heb: אות – ot, Strong’s #0226. I love to read Exodus 14 and picture in my mind the great miracle (Heb: ניס גדול – nes gadol) of the parting of the Red Sea! Jewish tradition says that Nahshon ( נַחְשׁ֖וֹן ) was the very first person to step forward into the Red Sea. Nahshon was a prince of the tribe of Judah (1 Chron. 2:10) and grandfather of Boaz (1 Chron. 2:11). He is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:4 (there his name is spelled Naasson). The writer of Hebrews specifically says that the children of Israel were able to cross the Red Sea because they had faith. (Hebrews 11:29)


But the miracle working God of the Old Testament has not gone on vacation!  If the birth of the nation of Israel was a ‘Night to Remember’, so was the re-birth!  According to the prophet Jeremiah (16:14-16), the first Passover and the exodus from Egypt was a small miracle compared to the rebirth of the nation which we have seen in this generation. Read about the miracle of November 29th, 1947 – the night the UN voted ‘yes’ for the partition. The people of Israel danced in the street.  Also, on this EXACT SAME DAY, the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls (containing the Isaiah scroll which prophesied of this rebirth), were purchased by Professor Eleazar Sukenik.  The events surrounding the re-birth of modern Israel in 1948 was also a nes gadol – big miracle! What nation EVER died and then revived after 2,000 years?  Only Israel!  What language EVER died in common use and then revived after 2,000 years?  Only Hebrew! The language of Israel and the Jewish people.  Read the history of Modern Israel since 1948, and you will find plenty of miracles. Israel’s first prime minister, David ben Gurion said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”  Israel is the land of miracles and almost every Jewish holiday is a celebration of some miracle!  In the end, Israel will be saved from her enemies the SAME WAY that Israel has always overcome – with prayers from below and miracles from above.   So let us stand in solidarity with our Jewish friends during their time of freedom and let us continue always in prayer for them.  And watch out for those miracles.  They will appear!


Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be said, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.  Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the LORD, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.” – Jeremiah 16:14-16

Life on the Edge


Life on the Edge


In the last Nugget, we discussed the steep and jagged cliffs, often called the cathedral cliffs, that ring the western shore of the Dead Sea and guard the entrance to the Judaean Desert (Hebrew: מִדְבַּר יְהוּדָה Midbar Yehuda).  This steep and treacherous area is the home of the Ibex.  The English KJV uses the word ‘hind’ – translated from אַיֶּ֥לֶת (ah-yeh-let), with the plural, אַיָּל֑וֹת (ah-yah-lot).  The word is first mentioned in Genesis 49:21 in Jacob’s prophecy of his sons: “Naphtali is a hind let loose: he giveth goodly words.”  Job 39:1 and Psalm 29:9 speak of the time of year when the hinds give birth – which is right now in March.  


Saul pursued David relentlessly for many years and almost killed him many times, but God always helped David to escape. When David was finally delivered from King Saul, he wrote his thanksgiving prayer down in the form of 2 Samuel chapter 22 which was later placed into the Psalms as Psalm 18.  The verse I am most interested in is 2 Sam. 22:34, “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet: and setteth me upon my high places.”  [also Psalm 18: 33]  David had intimate knowledge of the habits of the Yael because he often lived in their habitat at Engedi: “And it came to pass, when Saul was returned from following the Philistines, that it was told him, saying, Behold, David is in the wilderness of Engedi. Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to seek David and his men upon the rocks of the wild goats.” (1 Sam. 24:1-2)  [The phrase ‘wild goats’ refers to the Ibex.]

During the ten years that David lived in the Judean wilderness, “on the run” so to speak from Saul, he had to learn to trust in God alone.  However, one teacher that God sent to David were the graceful Ibex whose home he shared.  In 2 Sam. 22:34, David made particular mention of the feet of the Ibex.  This is because their feet is their most important asset. His hooves have a sharp outer rim and a soft inner pad, which provides traction on slippery rock surfaces. The rugged and trecherous terrain that is the home of the Yael is also his protection. The Ibex can climb up or down the sheer cathedral cliffs of the Dead Sea region.   The high places are their home!  When enemies approach, they climb even higher so that the enemy cannot follow.  What appears to be a precipice of danger to us, is a very safe place for the Ibex.


Like David, we also can learn much from the Ibex.  At the beginning of 2 Samuel 22, David wrote of God, “The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer.”  As the Ibex make their homes high on the rocks, David said God was his rock! When enemies come upon the Ibex their safest place is often the most dangerous looking place – on the edge of some precipice where no enemy will dare climb. There the Ibex is safe.  Perhaps the times in our life that appear to be dangerous is actually just the Lord putting us out of harm’s way.  

Again David wrote, “The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.” Psalm 104:18  The ‘high hills’ referred to are the cathedral cliffs and the wild goats are of course the Ibex.  The word ‘refuge’ is also important.  The Theological Workbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) says of the Hebrew word, מַחְסֶ֥ה (mahx-seh): “while it is used literally of taking shelter from a rainstorm (Isa 4:6; 25:4; Job 24:8) or from danger in the high hills (Ps 104:18), it is more often used figuratively of seeking refuge and thus putting confident trust in God.” (Deut 32:37)  David says the cliffs are the place of trust for the Ibex and God was the place of trust for David.  


God gave the Ibex sure-feet on the rocks, and He gave David sure-feet on the slippery slopes of life so that he could skillfully  maneuver.  The New Testament word for trust is faith. Hundreds of years after David, the prophet Habakkuk (חֲבַקּוּק) wrote his book reiterating David’s words as a closing doxology to the life of faith (אֱמוּנָתֹ֥) which is often life on the edge: “The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” – Hab. 3:19   

Eden in the Wilderness


Eden in the Wilderness


Steep and jagged cliffs ring the western shore of the Dead Sea guarding the entrance to the Judaean Desert (Hebrew: מִדְבַּר יְהוּדָה Midbar Yehuda).  The geographical term for the Judaean Desert is a “rainshadow desert”.  Rainshadow deserts occur in many places on the earth and are formed when prevailing westerly winds from the sea bring moisture laden air inland.  As the air rises to pass over the hills of Judah, the moisture condenses as rain and falls on the windward side of the mountains.  By the time the air mass reaches the leeward (or eastward) side of the Judaean hills, ie, the Dead Sea region, (better known as the Salt Sea (Hebrew yam HaMelahch: ים המלח) the air is dry and no rainfall occurs.  [The avg. rainfall for the Salt Sea region is less than 2 inches per year.]

Nestled in the midst of these towering limestone cliffs dotted with small caves is the oasis of Engedi  or Ein Gedi: עֵ֥ין גֶּֽדִי (Heb: aiyn gedi).  Aiyn means ‘eye’, but it also means ‘spring’ – like a spring of water.  [It is also a letter of the Hebrew alphabet (ע).] Gedi means a goat kid (or baby).  So Ein Gedi is basically the spring of the baby goats referring to the Ibex which make their home on the rock cliffs.  The waters of an oasis originate deep within the earth and flow up to the earth’s surface and therefore do not depend upon rain water. Thus, the Engedi oasis can exist in a rainshadow desert and provide fresh water for the Ibex and many other animals of the region.   

According to 1 Samuel 24, David sought refuge from King Saul in the “strongholds of Engedi”.  The word ‘strongholds’ does not refer to a fortress, but rather to the natural topography of the sheer cliffs that mark the region.  In one of the many limestone caves that pocket this region, David also spared King Saul’s life as detailed in the 1 Samuel 24 narrative.

There is a parallel spiritual component to every life experience and God uses everything that happens to us in the physical realm to teach us lessons in the spiritual realm.   Since the desert is a place of limited resources (ie, food, water), it has often been used by God as a training ground to develop in His people faith in Him as their all sufficient provider.  God allowed David to spend ten years hiding in the Judaean Desert from King Saul before he actually became King of Israel.  Why?  God was developing character traits in David that he would need as king and that could only be learned in the ‘desert areas of life’.

God declares many times in His Word that He is able to bring forth water (always a symbol of fruitfulness) in desert areas.  Isaiah writes, “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart…  for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” (Isa. 35:6)   One of my favorite verses has become Isaiah 58:11, “And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”  Surely Isaiah was thinking of Ein Gedi when he wrote this powerful verse.  The spiritual meaning is a great comfort. When our soul is “in drought” … when we are in the desert of life where resources are very limited … God HIMSELF will provide our needs.  He is our garden to rest and regain strength.  And Isaiah says God will do this CONTINUALLY (Hebrew תָּמִיד֒ – tah-mid). God desires to be our inward source to satisfy our soul even in the most severe trials that come our way.  He does not want us to be dependent upon external circumstances for our peace and joy, but only upon Himself!  So, He sends us to the desert, like He did David,  in order to strip the external things from our life so that we can learn that we do not need them anyway.  We only need Him.   He is our ‘Eden in the wilderness’.

The Glorious Land


The Glorious Land


In all the T’nakh, the word אֶ֥רֶץ – eretz (Heb: ‘land’) occurs 2,400 times making it the 4th most frequently used noun in the Hebrew Bible!  Which makes it a pretty important topic!!  Eretz first occurs in the Hebrew text in Genesis 1:10 and is translated as ‘Earth’, however, the majority of the time, the word eretz refers to the Land of Israel.  The phrase, ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ is 

אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָ֑שׁ (eretz zavat chalav vd’vesh) and occurs 20 times in the T’nakh and of course always refers to Israel.  God Himself ‘coined’ this phrase and used it five times to describe Canaan – the land He was giving to Israel: Exodus 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3; and Lev. 20:24. 

It is important to know God’s perspective on Israel and the Biblical names for this land.  It was also referred to as the Land of Canaan (Gen. 12:5; 17:8) and of course became the land of Israel. Ezekiel said it was, “… the glory of all lands” (Ez. 20:6, 15)  while Daniel said it was “the glorious land” (Dan. 11:16, 41). Moses explained that it was a land that God cared for in an unusual way: “A land which the LORD thy God careth for: the eyes of the LORD thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year.” (Deut. 11:12)    


From the start of their existence, the Jewish people are bound up with the land of Israel.  The reason revolves around the calling God had for Abram’s descendents.  God laid out His plan at the very start in the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12:1-3, saying, “in thee [Abram and his descendents] shall all families of the earth be blessed.”  If the Jewish people were to be a blessing to all people, then they needed to be centrally located to the nations to carry out this task.  Israel is a natural land bridge between three continents: Africa, Europe and Asia.  Trade routes that connected the known world criss-crossed Canaan making it the hub of the world.  God states specifically that the blessing rested upon Abram being in, “a land that I will shew thee.” Gen. 12:1    

The Israeli Declaration of Independence, drafted on May 15th, 1948 begins: “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.”  I love the phrase, “eternal Book of Books” which refers to the Bible of course.  The pens that wrote the Bible were held by hands of Jewish writers from the land of Israel.  Daniel’s use of the phrase, “the glorious land” certainly is fitting for the place that produced the Bible.  

The Lowest Spot on Earth


The Lowest Spot on Earth


Last week we studied the Jordan river which begins at Israel’s highest peak, Mt. Hermon (elevation 9,232 ft. ), flows down what is called the Jordan Rift Valley and empties into the Dead Sea (elevation – 1,200 feet below sea level).  The name ‘Dead Sea’ is the English name while the Hebrew is: יָ֥ם הַמֶּֽלַח  – ‘yom HaMelach’ – ‘salt sea’.  It is first mentioned in the T’nakh in Genesis 14:3 as the general area where the king of Sodom, Gomorah and Zoar among others lived.  Previously in Genesis 13, Abram had given Lot the choice of land.  Gen. 13:10 says, “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD...”.  God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wicked ways in Genesis 19, but since the salt sea is mentioned in Gen. 14, we know the location of Sodom and Gomorah was not the current spot of the Dead Sea, but it was very close to the area.  Some archaeologists believe Sodom was at the north east tip of the Dead Sea.   Numbers 34 tells us that the Dead Sea was the eastern border of the promised land. 


In the ancient world, salt (Hebrew: מֶּֽלַח – melach) was often used as currency because it was precious.  The Latin word ‘salarium‘ designates a type of payment using salt as the currency – which is how Roman soldiers were sometimes paid.  The English word ‘salary’ derives from this Latin word and the saying, “he was worth his salt” refers to this idea.  Ancient Jewish commentaries say that Lot went to Sodom “for the salt” (ie, the economic value) and this explanation fits with Genesis 13:10 and helps us to understand the clear symbolism of God’s punishment to those who looked back at Sodom (like Lot’s wife) by being turned into a pillar of salt.

As you can see in the computer image at right, the Dead Sea lies in the Jordan Rift Valley which extends from Mt. Hermon to Eliat (and actually continues on underneath the Red Sea towards Africa). The water that flows into the Dead Sea is trapped and has no outlet and therefore has a very high salt content.  The salinity of the water of the Dead Sea is about 32%, much higher than the ocean.  Even though this is too high for any life to inhabit the waters (hence its name), the mud of the Dead Sea contains great healing properties for those with skin diseases and Dead Sea skin care products are famous worldwide.

Sometimes God’s path for our life includes “low spots” and maybe we also feel “trapped” – like there is no way out.  A good Bible example is found in the life of Elijah who was no doubt the greatest of the prophets.  The New Testament book of James specifically mentions Elijah as being a man of prayer and a man whose prayers were answered.  But when this great prophet and man of prayer was in a very “low spot” in his ministry, he asked God to take his life! (see 1 Kings 19)  However, Elijah was one of only two people (Enoch being the other) that would never die, but would be taken directly to heaven.  God intervened in Elijah’s life and sent an angel who cared for him so that eventually he not only continued his ministry, but it was even larger than what he had before the ‘low spot’.  Ezekiel 47:8-9 is a future prophecy that one day, God will heal the waters of the Dead Sea so that it will bring forth “a very great multitude of fish”. As God did for Elijah of old, and as He will do for the Dead Sea in the future, God can bring healing and great productivity out of the ‘low points’ in our life if we trust Him with them. 

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