Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

COMPASSION

 

God often chided the Israelites for adhering to ritual worship while foregoing the far more important compassion and mercy embedded in the spirit of the law. In Proverbs 21:3, Isaiah 11:1-17 and Malachi 3:5, for a small sample, God speaks about this issue:

“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”

“To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to me? Says the Lord; I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When you come to appear before me, who has required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination to me; the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot bear; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble to me, I am weary of bearing them. And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; but away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil. Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”

“And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those who oppress the hireling in his wages, and widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, says the Lord of hosts.”

Jesus displayed His honor of compassion in His parable of the good Samaritan, recounted in Luke 10:30-37. He added further depth to the account by having the compassionate person a Samaritan, one who was looked down upon by the Jews, contrasting him with Jewish religious elites, who failed to follow the spirit of Jewish law.

“And Jesus, answering, said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the next day, when he departed, he took out ten dollars, and gave them to the host, and said to him, Take care of him; and whatever you spend above that, when I come again, I will repay you.

“Which, now, of these three, do you think was neighbor to him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He who showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus to him, Go, and do you likewise.”

Jesus, of course, honored mercy and compassion in His own doing as well as His speaking by offering His own body as a substitutionary atonement for the wrongdoings of a helpless human race. He also showed compassion in other ways, such as His mercy toward Peter, who had denied Him three times during His incarceration. In John 21, Jesus forgave Peter three times for that, and Peter went on from there not only to fulfill Jesus’ parting commandment to feed His sheep, but also to become a giant of a Christian in the process.

The account of Joseph in Genesis 37 through 45 is an early portrait of Jesus’ compassionate nature. It foretells in detail the tender love that Jesus showed, even toward those who hated Him.

“Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them who stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known to his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard. And Joseph said to his brethren, I am Joseph; does my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were terrified at his presence. And Joseph said to his brethren, Come near to me, I ask you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt.

“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here; for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years has the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in which there shall neither be plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me here, but God: and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”

But the account of Joseph involves more than this central character. Joseph’s revelation of himself before his brothers was triggered by another compassionate event that pointed to Jesus as well, the offer of Judah, Jesus’ forefather, to offer his substitutional enslavement in place of his youngest brother Benjamin, just as Jesus died in our place on the cross.

God’s focus on compassion often links it with selflessness. But there is another factor in compassion: in its concern for others, it involves love of pure selflessness.

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SHOWERED WITH BLESSINGS

 

Christian news outlets seem to have a common theme these days – a lamentation over the decline in Church attendance. This same theme can be seen in the frantic way that some Churches are trying to keep their flocks: daycare, latte machines, happy messages. Given the manner in which the Church seems to be falling away despite the almost hysterical attempts of pastors to stop the outward flow, it’s natural to wonder whether the exiting masses really ever understood what they had signed up for. Maybe those who evangelized them didn’t give them the big picture. Maybe the neophytes expected to get some blessings out of the deal, of the material kind.

Jesus’ parable of the sower comes to mind. In Matthew 13:18-23, Jesus explains this parable to His disciples:

“Hear, therefore, the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom, and understands it not, then comes the wicked one, and catches away that which was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside. But he that received the seed in stony places, the same is he that hears the word, and immediately with joy receives it; yet has he not root in himself, but endures it for a while; for when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he is offended. He also who received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this age, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. But he who received the seed in the good ground is he who hears the word, and understands it, who also bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

I see this falling away as a good thing. Those who had accepted a materialistic Jesus, expecting Him to come promptly down the chimney bearing goodies or handing them a check from Publishers’ Clearing House, were worshiping a different god than Jesus anyway. I’ve seen Church spokespersons leading such people astray with blatant misrepresentations of who Jesus actually is, and what He actually represents. You can still see them on television hawking their wares. I once attended a Church where a young couple participated with fervent prayers for the removal of a cancer that was afflicting the wife; when she eventually died, the husband refused to come back to Church.

Jesus never promised such things; rather, He treated the material world with disdain, focusing instead on the spiritual world to come. In John 18:36 and Matthew 6:24, Jesus made this clear:

“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from here.”

“No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

Those who received the Word of God in good soil are of a different sort. After the pseudo-Christians have left the fold, these others will remain, whatever the circumstances that try to draw them back into secular society. They see a more noble Jesus, and in their staying the course God in return is developing them into a people having a common trait, the possession of valor.

God will indeed shower them with blessings, but of a more spiritual nature. God will clothe them in riches of character, endowing them with an abundance of faith, courage, selflessness and compassion, those qualities that Jesus will treasure in His Bride, the Church. Just like Jonah, they will enjoy the spiritual companionship of souls that they have rescued with a true knowledge of God.

“And the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the preaching that I bid you. So Jonah arose, and went to the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came to the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes . . . And God said to Jonah . . .And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, in which are more that one hundred twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

GOD’S MERCY TOWARD PETER

 

I’m grateful to God for Jesus’ having selected Peter to be a disciple. I can’t speak for anyone else, but before the Holy Spirit got hold of him, Peter was a lot like me – willful, impetuous and slow on the uptake. With some spectacular exceptions, he never quite seemed to get the point of what Jesus was saying. Worse, he denied Jesus to save his own neck. Not just once, but three times. It’s there in the Gospels in all the sordid details. In Matthew 26:33-35, for example, Peter, as usual, thinks that he’s good enough to follow Jesus on his own merit. He can do it all himself without help from God. Jesus rebukes him for that, saying that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crowed. Sure enough, as Jesus was being abused by the religious “authorities”, Peter denied any association with Him three times. At the sound of the rooster, Peter realized what he had done and was devastated by his own lack of faith.

The lesson, of course, is that without God we can’t do anything, even come to Him. Peter’s failure of faith was made all the worse by Jesus statement in Matthew 10:33,

“But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father, who is in heaven.”

After that Jesus was crucified and died, leaving Peter to fret, and continue to do so as he thought, for the rest of his life over what he had done. But Jesus didn’t leave Peter in that state. Instead, the resurrected Jesus came back to Peter, as recorded in John 21. Three times He asked Peter if he loved Him, each time following Peter’s affirmation of love with the command to feed His sheep. In those three exchanges, Jesus forgave Peter three times for his denials, thus canceling out the terrible consequences of what Peter had done. But it didn’t end there.

Beyond the forgiveness, Jesus also was sharing with Peter something of immense importance. He was including Peter in His own acts of speaking His Word to mankind, in that act increasing the Church. The first account of Peter’s fulfillment of Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, after he has been filled with the Holy Spirit, is given in Acts 2:22-41. In that account, Peter’s bold exhortation resulted in the salvation of three thousand souls. It may be seen in that first fulfillment of Jesus’ command that when Jesus talked about feeding His sheep, He wasn’t talking about material food. Instead, the food of importance was the spiritual one, speaking the words of the Gospel to the salvation of souls. Having followed the prophet Jonah in ducking away from God, Peter was now following that same prophet in voicing God’s displeasure with sin and exhorting the people to righteousness.

In the second instance of fulfilling Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, Peter again spoke before a crowded audience, this time bringing five thousand souls to salvation through the Word of God.

In the third instance, Peter became involved in dialogue with the Italian Cornelius. This act, of course, involved the mighty, loving Arm of God, the Holy Spirit, who had to overcome Peter’s Jewish attitude of repulsion by Gentiles to accomplish that task.

In fulfilling Jesus’ commandment to feed His sheep, the first time Peter speaks the Word of God to the salvation of three thousand souls. The second time Peter feeds Jesus’ sheep with the Word of God, five thousand souls are saved. Until this time, the Church was pretty much limited to Jews. (Even the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptized by Philip was probably a Jew, Ethiopia having enjoyed a long Jewish history extending back to Solomon and the queen of Sheba.) Now comes the third time that Peter, empowered by the Holy Spirit, obeys Jesus’ command to feed His sheep, as described in Acts 10, and this time, after healing another lame man and raising Tabitha back to life in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter through the Word of God extends the Church, and salvation with her, to the entire Gentile world.

The immediate importance of this fulfillment by Peter of Jesus’ threefold commandments to feed His sheep, beside its obvious demonstration of God’s merciful love, is the support it gives to the assertion that God not only welcomes but desires the active participation of Peter, and consequently of mankind itself, in the sharing of His grand plan of salvation. Man is thus a participant, albeit with the necessary input of the Holy Spirit in the process, of his own salvation. Can anything demonstrate more fully than this the loving intimacy of sharing with which God relates to mankind?

THE SHEKINAH GLORY

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:16 and Ephesians 2:19-22 Paul asserts that the Church is a temple indwelt by the Holy Spirit:

Know you not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Now, therefore, you are no more strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone, in whom all the building fitly framed together grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.

The facts embedded in these passages are no surprise to Christians, who generally accept without question that believers are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and comprise, as the Church, a holy temple. What some of us may not be aware of is that this temple and its indwelling by the Holy Spirit was represented numerous times as the Glory of God in the Old Testament. An example taken from 1 Kings 8:6-11 is given below:

And the priests brought in the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, into the inner sanctuary of the house, into the most holy place, even under the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread forth their two wings of the place of the ark, and the cherubim covered the ark and its staves above. And they drew out the staves, that the ends of the staves were seen out in the holy place before the inner sanctuary, but they were not seen outside; and there they are to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the lord made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord.

A passage of the same flavor can be found in Exodus 40 regarding the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

Interesting as this passage and others like it may be in their apparent correlation with Paul’s understanding of the Church as constituting a temple and of its being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they’re still not all that surprising. It’s not a difficult reach, in this context, to view Solomon’s temple as a type representing the Church and the Glory of God descending upon it as representing the indwelling Holy Spirit. Nor does it conflict in any way with our conventional understanding of Scripture.

This situation changes rapidly when we investigate the meaning of the phrase “Glory of God”. In the original Hebrew this Glory that Paul understands to be the Holy Spirit is named “Shekinah”.

There still is no problem so far, because in the English language nouns lack gender attributes. Not so, however, for the Hebrew language. The noun “Shekinah” does possess a gender attribute, which is female. Turning to the Internet, the Wikipedia entry for “Shekinah” begins as follows:

“Hebrew [Shekinah] is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew ancient blessing. The original word means the dwelling or settling, and denotes the dwelling or settling of the divine presence of God, especially in the temple in Jerusalem.” An accompanying figure shows the Shekinah, or the Glory of God, indwelling the temple as described in 1 Kings 8.

Noting the female gender of this indwelling Shekinah, we find here by comparing the indwelling presence of the Glory in Solomon’s temple with the description in Ephesians 2 of the Holy Spirit indwelling the human temple that Scripture itself, by furnishing this direct comparison, supports an interpretation of the Holy Spirit as a female Entity. This does appear to conflict with conventional Christian thought, as driven by the use in Scripture of the male pronoun in reference to the Holy Spirit. I fully explain in the novel “Buddy” why that viewpoint of conflict is actually a misperception.

Those who are opposed to any attempt to place a feminine label on the Holy Spirit would insist that in the original Hebrew, any gender can arbitrarily be placed on an inanimate object. They miss an obvious point: the Holy Spirit is not inanimate.

This gender attribute in 1 Kings 8 was simply lost in the translation from Hebrew to English, which could have been a result of the lack of gender precision in the English language. But there is an associated gender misrepresentation in Isaiah 51:9, 10 that appears to be more deliberate. What the translators did in that passage was to substitute the grammatically incorrect ‘it’ for the gender-correct ‘she’ in reference to the Shekinah. In their desire to maintain a fully masculine Godhead, they neutered the female.

The inclusion of femininity into the Godhead endows our vision of God with a greatly enhanced attribute of love. The pervasive notion of an all-masculine or genderless God denies that beauty to Him and the other Members of the Godhead and renders Him alien to us.

NAOMI

 

In the Scriptural story of Ruth, read and recited every Shavuot (Pentecost) in the Jewish community, Naomi returns in sadness and poverty to her homeland in Israel following the deaths of her husband and two sons. She brings with her Ruth, her daughter-in-law who refused to leave her. Another daughter-in-law, Orpah, remains behind in Moab. A love story awaits Ruth in Israel, where she and the wealthy Boaz meet, are attracted to each other and marry. A son, Obed, is born through the union. Obed himself eventually gives birth to Jesse, who, in turn, is the father of David. The genealogy continues from there to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which list the forbears of Joseph and Mary, respectively, earthly parents of Jesus Christ.

The story of Ruth is a love story on multiple levels. At the most direct level, it involves Boaz and Ruth, Jewish and Gentile ancestors of Jesus Christ. At a higher level, Ruth represents the Church while kinsman-redeemer Boaz represents Jesus Christ, demonstrating the love involved in that spiritual union. Naomi is far more than a mere extra in this beautiful passion play, representing none other than the Holy Spirit. In my novel Buddy, I was moved by these representations of Ruth and Naomi to point to their relationship with each other as an answer to a theological question that I had posed:

“In Deuteronomy Chapter 6 is found one of the most beautifully hope-filled passages in the entire Bible. Moses, being guided by the Holy Spirit, addresses the nation of Israel, saying,

“’Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.’”

“The practical implications of this one sentence are immense. Jesus in Matthew 22 called it the great commandment, to be observed above all else, and by repeating it during His incarnation He extended its application beyond Israel to the Church as well. It tells us that we can love our God with all our hearts, which means that we were created to do just that. It also implies that God can love us back, for love is not unidirectional.

“The theological implications of that commandment are no less profound. It means that Jesus’ work on the cross was a demonstration of his love. Yet further, it says that our God is one, forming the basis of our monotheism, despite later passages that amply demonstrate His Trinitarian nature.

“Therein lies a question of exceeding import to every person who wishes, in obedience to Jesus’ words in Matthew 22, to love God: how can God be one while being several?

“In the book of Ruth is found another beautiful passage that has tugged at the strings of countless hearts over the centuries since it was written. It has evoked tears and inspired poems and love stories and been held up as a golden example of devotion and loyalty.

“‘And [Naomi] said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.

“‘And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me’.”

“These words of Ruth were originally directed to her mother-in-law Naomi, but, as in all Scripture, they were written under the direction of the Holy Spirit, who had in mind a much greater application, one in which both Ruth and Naomi were but types. Embedded in this song of Ruth, as a matter of fact, is an answer to the question of our monotheism toward a Trinitarian God. The answer itself is quite beautiful as well as being a wonderful promise to mankind.

“Ruth, I would say, is a type of the Church; and Naomi of the Holy Spirit. Therein is the answer: the link between God as One and God as a Multiplicity is love within a perfect Family setting, as Paul declared in his letter to the Ephesians:

“’For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and his church.’”

“The connection between Naomi and the Holy Spirit suggests a love of God that is so beautifully magnificent as to dwarf His other attributes. It is a story that begs to be told, and I attempt to tell a part of it here. The medium that I use for this treasured task is a novel that chronicles the extraordinary love that God shows toward four severely handicapped individuals, two having an affliction of the body and the other two of the heart. Many of the events described in the novel are based on fact.”

There may be yet another level to this story, a prophetic one. Ruth and Orpah, both of Moab, were married to Naomi’s Jewish sons, who may be thought of as representing the marriage between Church and Jesus in the material domain. Naomi continues to represent the Holy Spirit, at this point indwelling the members of the Church. As the crisis unfolds with the death of the sons representing Jesus and the subsequent persecution of the Church, that part associated with Orpah falls away back to the Gentile-secular world, while that part associated with Ruth follows the Holy Spirit into fellowship with a revived Israel and union with the resurrected, spiritual Jesus, represented by Boaz.

RUTH

 

The little book of Ruth gives us one of the loveliest stories in the Bible. In it, one may find strong representations of Jesus, the Church, and the Holy Spirit all interacting harmoniously and lovingly, as we ourselves can anticipate in our future spiritual relationship with God. At a higher level than the tale itself, Ruth plays the role of the Christian Church, while Boaz represents Jesus Christ. Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi is sometimes mistakenly misrepresented here as Israel or an individual, but in truth the story carefully and deliberately places her in the role of the beautiful and noble Holy Spirit.

This narrative that begins with such desolation of spirit finds Naomi returning from Moab back to her homeland in Judah, having lost her husband and two sons. The loss, emotionally wrenching as it is, also places her in jeopardy of starvation. As she begins her sad trek back, she releases her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth, having lost their husbands, to return to their families in Moab. Amid much tearful keening over this parting, Orpah sets off back to her family. Ruth, on the other hand, refuses to part. In her adamant insistence on staying with Naomi, she delivers the following immortal words of devoted love as she clings to her beloved mother-in-law:

“Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, will I die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and also more, if ought but death part you and me.”

Naomi must have imparted to her daughter-in-law Ruth much wisdom and understanding, particularly of the loving nature of God. She also demonstrated this love through her own interaction with her daughters-in-law. Ruth was able to internalize this profound heart knowledge, returning this love with the fervor that Jesus commanded in Matthew 22:37 and 38 as He echoed the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4 and 5:

“Jesus said to [the Pharisee], You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment.”

Upon her arrival at Naomi’s homeland, Ruth’s circumstances rapidly began to change as God Himself returned Ruth’s love for Naomi with unforeseen blessings. Ruth’s departed husband had a close relative in the wealthy Boaz, who showed an interest in her from the first time he laid eyes on her. Appreciating that interest, Naomi gave Ruth an understanding of Jewish law, under which a close relative of a widow’s late husband could claim her as his own wife; moreover, Naomi also gave Ruth advice on how she might win his affection. In a few short but stirring paragraphs the tale becomes a love story between Boaz and Ruth, with the romance culminating in their marriage. The union produces a child, placing Ruth firmly into the Jewish fold as grandmother to the great King David. In the first chapter of Matthew, Ruth is further honored with inclusion into the bloodline of Jesus Christ.

Much later in time, the Apostle Paul echoes this union between Boaz and Ruth in Ephesians 5:31 and 32:

“For this reason shall a Man leave his Father and Mother and cleave unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”

We of the Church have a beautiful and noble Mother-in-law as well. In fact, She is the same Person who Naomi represented to Ruth: our wonderful, loving Holy Spirit. With Her guidance, the Church shall marry Jesus and will participate, as the beautiful story of Ruth suggests, in a fully-gendered relationship with Him, and that also will bear fruit, as plainly described by Paul in Romans 7:4:

“Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.”

This romantic relationship is beautifully captured in the Song of Solomon, which describes anything but the brittle sterility of a non-gendered union.

The marriage between Boaz and Ruth reprises an earlier marriage that also foretold the union of Jesus Christ with His Church. This was the marriage told in Genesis Chapter 24 between Isaac and Rebekah, wherein Isaac was a figure of Jesus and Rebekah represented the Church. This union also bore fruit in the twelve Patriarchs who formed the beginning of the twelve tribes of Israel and in Judah carried the bloodline to Jesus.

Appropriately, during the Jewish Feast of Pentecost, called in Hebrew Shavuot, it is traditional to read the Book of Ruth. This tradition links the Pentecost with the Holy Spirit through Naomi and her representation. Since the Holy Spirit rushed in to indwell believers at the first Pentecost after Jesus’ resurrection, the Feast of Pentecost has even more directly honored the Holy Spirit among Christians. Yet further, this indwelling of the Holy Spirit was foretold in the coming upon the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple of the feminine Shekinah Glory, as described in Exodus 40 and 1 Kings 8. I note this connection in the Introduction to my novel Buddy, and expand on it in my book Marching to a Worthy Drummer.

THE MIGDAL EDAR STORY

 

During one Christmas season our pastor gave his Church a special treat. He began reading the familiar Christmas story from Luke 2:7:

“And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Pastor looked up at us and said, “How sad that man couldn’t find a more appropriate place for the Son of God to be born. Plan B it was, then,” which echoed our own thoughts. But then, smiling, he continued at Luke 2:8:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

As our pastor recited this oft-told story, I formed my own familiar mental imagery: a large grassy field with flocks of sheep mixed with cattle, and the barn where Mary, Joseph and Jesus dwelt surrounded by the usual barnyard animals: cows, donkeys and, yes, perhaps a sheep or two. My mind drifted into a contemplation of the poverty surrounding Jesus’ birth. Of course it was appropriate, given the humble character of Jesus’ sojourn in the flesh. But being born in a manger certainly couldn’t have been plan A for Joseph’s family.

But then our pastor embellished on the story. It wasn’t well known, he said, that the region near Bethlehem where Jesus was born was a rather special place. He quoted another familiar passage, the prophecy in Micah 5:2 foretelling of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem:

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

Pastor didn’t stop there. He went on to read another passage out of Micah, verse 4:8, which is much less well-known:

“And thou O watchtower of the flock [Migdal Edar], the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.

Before commenting further on the function of Migdal Edar, pastor took us back to Genesis 35:19-21:

“And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day. And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.”

Pastor put his Bible aside and looked at his congregation as if he had something momentous to tell us. And well he did. Finding his voice, he said that the region where Jesus was born was under the watchtower of the flock, a special lookout of the shepherds there because of the importance of that particular place. It was, he said with emotion, the place where lambs were born and raised for the Passover sacrifice. The manger of Jesus’ birth was, in fact, the birthing place for these special lambs, so maybe while it didn’t represent plan A for Joseph, it certainly did for God.

Pastor topped off that shocking disclosure by saying that, according to the Passover account in Exodus 12, the lambs had to be perfect in every way. When birthed, they tended to struggle some, putting themselves at risk to injury. There was a procedure in place to prevent this: upon their birth, these lambs were wrapped in swaddling clothes.

I was so enthusiastic about this revelation that I attempted to share it with other Christians, some of whom were rather cynical about it. It seemed that if this were to be true, they already would have known about it. Faced with that negativity, I pursued the topic on my own on the Internet, where I found a wealth of commentary regarding it, all of which was positive and some of which furnished excellent justification for accepting it as truth. I recommend the interested reader to do the same, simply by Googling “Migdal Edar”, or, alternatively, “Migdal Eder”.