One of God’s most precious promises to the Jewish people is found in Isaiah 54. Israel will undergo a process of metamorphosis which will transform her from shame and humiliation, from barrenness and desolation, from being considered a rejected wife and a reproached widow. She will morph into a gloriously married woman, filled with joy and surrounded by her many healthy children:
- “For the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman, says YHVH” (Isaiah 54:1)
- “All your sons will be taught of YHVH, and the well-being of your sons will be great” (Isaiah 54:13)
The God of Jacob promises to anchor His blessing and restoration of the Jewish people on foundations carved out of precious jewels: “O afflicted one, storm-tossed, and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and your foundations I will lay in sapphires. Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies, and your gates of crystal, and your entire wall of precious stones” (Isaiah 54:11-12).
Israel’s bejeweled restoration is also reflected in the depiction of the New Jerusalem, the city whose gates are named after the Twelve Tribes of Jacob, and whose foundations (crafted of precious jewels) are stunningly parallel to Isaiah 54:
- “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel . . . The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass” (Revelation 21:10-12, 18-21)
How firm a foundation
Messiah Yeshua says that true disciples are those who don’t just listen to God’s words but act on them. The one who acts on His words is like a man who builds the foundation of his house on a rock. The house becomes impervious to the destructive power of flash floods (like those in the Negev; Psalm 126:4; the Hebrew afiqim [streams] refers to raging flash floods).
- “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock. And when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation. And the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great” (Luke 6:46-49)
Building on a firm foundation, using solid materials and following a trustworthy architectural plan is how Paul describes our calling as Yeshua’s followers. The work we do in our brief lifetime will be tested when we come face to face with God. Some of our works may be like gold, silver and precious stones. On the other hand, some of it may be wood, hay and straw.
- “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Messiah Yeshua. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:9-15)
A trustworthy architectural plan makes for a firm foundation. That plan is the apostolic and prophetic teaching of the Scriptures, anchored by Messiah Yeshua Himself:
- “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Messiah Yeshua Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19-21)
The Scriptures are the foundation stone that Messiah Yeshua gives us. It is His plan to equip us all for ministry – not just a few special ministers. Believers are meant to work together like a kosher construction crew, building up the body of Messiah qualitatively and quantitatively, bringing us to unity, catalyzing within us a greater maturity, and leading us into a deeper intimacy of relationship with Yeshua:
- “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Messiah; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Messiah” (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Just follow the instructions
The path is the same for all followers of Yeshua, whether you wear a collar or a t-shirt, silk or denim. The way we get equipped for a lifetime of productive and fruitful ministry is by getting to know and properly understand the Bible: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
And this apostolic teaching needs to be fleshed out by us with accuracy. We must take pains to understand and apply the Scriptures correctly. Paul exhorted Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:14-15). We are called to build our life and ministry on an accurate handling of the Scripture, so that in the end we might not be ashamed about how we used the Bible. This spiritual truth may not be the front-and-center focus for many, but it’s highly important and precious to Israel’s God.
YHVH makes a special promise to all craftsmen, and it also applies to those who minister God’s word: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before boorish (or insignificant or obscure) men” (Proverbs 22:29; the Hebrew word here is ḥă·šuk·kîm).
Here are some suggestions for those who aspire to greater accuracy in interpreting the Scriptures – especially in dealing with the 95% of the Bible that focuses on the Jewish people.
The Chosen People
God offends the mind to reveal the heart (see Luke 2:34-35). The choosing of one nation, the Jewish nation, to be God’s priority people (see Deuteronomy 32:8-10; Numbers 23:9; 1 Kings 8:51-53; Jeremiah 10:16; Zechariah 2:8; Romans 1:16; 2:9-10) has been a hard challenge for many non-Jews to accept (Jeremiah 30:16-17). But Paul adamantly emphasizes that this calling has not been done away with, nor has it been morphed into something different (Romans 11:28-29). The original conditions of the Jewish people’s calling remain steadfast (Galatians 3:15-18). It remains a holy covenant between two clearly defined parties – the God of Abraham and His nation Israel.
This priority calling is one of the main keys to accurately handling the Scriptures. It follows the journey of the Seed – from Genesis 3:15 through Romans 11:15 to Revelation 21:12, 14. An accurate understanding of what this Jewish calling means (and what it doesn’t mean) is vital in order to ‘accurately handle the word of truth.’
I have written a book on this subject – ‘Israel the Key to World Revival’ – which delves into this subject in greater detail. It’s available on line in printed or e-book versions.
Here are some foundational bullet points regarding the choosing of Israel:
- The divine calling on Israel and the gifts they’ve received from YHVH are irrevocable (Romans 11:29)
- The Jewish people are close to God’s heart (Psalm 148:14; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:1,3-4, 8)
- YHVH’s loving strategy will bring life from the dead/world revival to all the nations through Israel (Romans 11:12, 15)
- God’s gifts to Israel shape the destiny of the planet (Romans 9:4-5)
- God’s priority choosing of Israel does not mean that they are better than any other people (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Romans 3:9)
- God’s welcoming Gentiles into the body of Messiah (Ephesians 2:12) does not weaken or adjust His specific national calling on Israel or His purposes for them. His priority first-born calling is on the Jewish people alone (Exodus 4:22; Romans 9:4). Neither Hagar nor Ishmael are part of this covenantal bond.
- Ignoring or downplaying Israel’s calling brings a curse and judgment on any person or nation who engages in those behaviors, heart attitudes or action (Genesis 12:3; Numbers 24:9; Jeremiah 30:11, 16-17)
- The Jewish people have been strategically called to bring light to the nations and to serve/minister to them (Isaiah 49:5-6; Luke 2:29-32; Acts 13:47)
The judgments of God
Most people don’t like to think or talk about God’s judgments, but this subject is very much a part of His biblical and historical dealings on earth. Mankind’s disobedience and his violation of a trust relationship with the Almighty – these have been a sad part of history from the Garden of Eden to Noah, from Sodom and Gomorrah to the Red Sea, from the destruction of two Jewish Temples on the same calendar day, to the fall of Babylon, both past and future (Jeremiah 51:60-64; Daniel 5:17-30; Revelation 14:8; 18:2). These judgments are actual space-time realities (Isaiah 24:5). The prophet tells us that some people have learned God’s righteousness though these judgments, while others definitely have not (Isaiah 26:8-11).
One often-ignored aspect of God’s judgments is connected to Genesis 12:3. There it states that, even on an individual level, the person who sneers at/disrespects/relates with condescension/scorns/holds in contempt (the sense of the Hebrew mə·qal·lel·ḵā, usually mistranslated as “the one who curses you”) to the Jewish people will himself be cursed. The Bible places much stress on this priority principle. Therefore this should have our full attention when we consider God’s judgments.
If we are to use the Scriptures accurately, our focus on the judgments on Israel needs to be balanced by focus on the judgment on the nations (e.g., Revelation 6-9; Isaiah 41:11-16). Natan Sharansky’s definition of anti-Semitism, includes the use of double standards in criticisms of Israel. The U.S. State Department has adopted this definition as well. A Bible teacher who stresses judgments on Israel while downplaying judgments on the nations would fit the U.S. State Department’s definition of being a purveyor of anti-Semitic teachings. Also, teaching that anti-Semitism and the Holocaust are deserved judgments on Israel, or that Israel is the nation most opposed to Yeshua, are also dangerously close to that same line. Here are a few examples of such inaccuracy:
- “Jesus … took personal responsibility for the invasion that culminated in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem and the slaughter of a million Jews … when the divine ‘vengeance’ and ‘wrath’ against the Jewish people would be finally satisfied” (from Dalton Lifsey’s “The Controversy of Zion and the Time of Jacob’s Trouble”; Maskilim Publishing, 2011; p. 24, reviewed in https://davidstent.org/prophesying-the-destruction-of-zion/)
- “Israel’s tenure in the Land is marked by iniquity, rebellion, unbelief, and sin” (Lifsey, p. 262)
- “Nazi Germany was the rod of God’s chastisement, but the cause was Jewish sin itself both historically and presently … The Holocaust was judgment in exact proportion to Jewish sin” (Art Katz, ‘Israel In Flight’ from http://artkatzministries.org/category/articles/israel-and-the-church-articles/ reviewed in https://davidstent.org/he-being-dead-still-speaks/).
- “God’s servants ‘find pleasure in her stones and feel pity for her dust’ (See Psalm 102:13-14). I believe the stones and dust are not the ruins of antiquity but the ruins of modern-day Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Tiberias, etc. … God will not be arbitrary in bringing those judgments; but those judgments will be, as they have always been, in exact proportion to our sins” (‘Some Comments on Netanyahu’s Election in Israel: A Prelude to Coming Disaster?,’ Katz, ibid.).
When a harsh stress on God’s judgments against Israel becomes a major element of a man’s teaching, two questions should be raised here:
- Do these teachers exhibit the same anguish and tears that Paul exhibited in Romans 9:1-3; 10:1 when he discussed judgment on Israel? If not, something is out of line. For this subject to be taught in a way which represents God’s heart, there must be tears. If there are no tears, there should be no teaching on this subject.
- Do these teachers understand that grace is unmerited favor, and that God (Israel’s Father – see Isaiah 63:16; 1 Chronicles 29:10) delights to show unmerited favor to the Jewish people? What can be concluded when some teachers declare that Israel’s restoration to the Land in our day is not of God because, so they say, Israel is in unbelief and therefore does not deserve it? Some even teach that God is bringing Israel back to the Land in order to destroy both her and her Land.
For a different and more biblical perspective, consider Ezekiel 37:8-14, where the entire nation is brought back to the Promised Land in unbelief, by God’s loving grace.
To use the Scriptures accurately when teaching about God’s judgments, means that one should not insert imported meanings into biblical texts (that’s called eisegesis). Also, texts which are only describing sad events involving Jewish people but which lack clear prophetic/historical markers about the End of Days, carry no weight in establishing a ‘judgment eschatology’. Unfortunately, I am aware of three new publications which are sadly inaccurate in their use of Scripture regarding aspects of Israel-related eschatology.
As one studies passages dealing with judgments on Israel, figuring out the contextual and exegetical meaning there, one should not twist these passages in an effort to conform them to an eschatological scheme one wants to prove. The ancient Greeks called this method a ‘Procrustes’ bed’ and ‘the bed of Sodom’ was the term used in rabbinical teaching (Sefer Ha-Yashar, Va-Yera; 58-62).
End of Days perspectives
The Scriptures aim a significant focus on Last Days prophetic events. Many prophecies were given through the Jewish people in order to prepare them and the rest of mankind for upcoming challenges. We bless those teachers who call believers to consider the importance of these prophecies! In light of the fact that over the years various cults and fringe movements have their origins in unusual and anti-Biblical eschatological outlines (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc.), it is important to approach (and communicate) End of Days teaching with care, humility, measured cadence and accuracy.
Students of the Bible need to take time to consider and weigh what each passage in question actually says. No skating quickly across thin ice! If accurate equipping is to happen, it is important that people are given the opportunity to think, chew and to come to their own conclusions. The best forum for such interaction between teacher and student must by nature be personal – kind of like how Yeshua worked most intensively with only twelve of His disciples.
Whatever conclusions the student or teacher comes to about Last Days events – perhaps regarding timing issues or the order of Last Days events, or even concerning certain events themselves – it is essential for him to have wise and mature sounding boards as a safety measure, in order to avoid maverick conclusions or sectarian tendencies.
Straightening what is bent
“Consider the work of God, for who is able to repair what He has bent?” (Ecclesiastes 7:13). Some might say that I am an observant Jew. That would be true, in that that over the years I have observed how new-fangled teachings have breezed through town. Novel emphases which some new teachers feel are “the key to God’s real thrust to the Jews for the End Times” have had their heyday and then slowly faded away. Recently there have arisen unconventional focuses on (supposedly biblically based) ground-breaking roles for Ishmael and Egypt, trends which are sweeping through some charismatic and prophetic circles (see https://davidstent.org/the-isaiah-19-highway-prophecies-amidst-the-potholes/). Most of these above emphases lack biblical foundation and interpretational precision. Not all that glitters is gold, and not all that trumpets ‘a new take’ on the Middle East or the Jewish people is necessarily accurate. It’s good to remember that every man’s way is usually right in his own eyes, but it is YHVH who weighs our hearts (Proverbs 21:2).
As we study the Scriptures and aspire to faithfulness and accuracy, let us remember that teachers of the word are called to help build up the body of Messiah: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Messiah” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Our teachings about Israel – whether they be about Israel’s priority calling, the judgments of God, End of Days events, or the peoples of the Middle East – need to be based on accurate and careful interpretation. Shepherds are called to strengthen, guide and guard the flock of God toward greater balance, love and stalwart clarity: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the witness-community of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).
“In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach” (Titus 2:7-8)
How should we then pray?
- Pray for a revival of love and care for God’s word to sweep through the body of Messiah, especially among Messianic Jews
- Pray for the raising up of believers who are both committed and capable to accurately handle the word of God, especially concerning the Jewish people
- Pray that God would shine the spotlight of His clarity on areas of inaccuracy and false teaching that are appearing with increasing frequency
- Pray for the raising up of the Ezekiel 37 prophetic army among the Jewish people
Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the very practical enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do.
In Messiah Yeshua,
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