Just after Messiah Yeshua fed the four thousand, “the Pharisees and Sadducees came up and, putting Yeshua to the test, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven. But He replied to them, ‘When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, “There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.” You know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but are you unable to discern the signs of the times?’” (Matthew 16:1-3)
At another time Yeshua said to the crowds, “Whenever you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And whenever you feel a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how is it that you do not know how to analyze this present time?” (Luke 12:54-56).
It seems that weathermen in Yeshua’s day did a better job of forecasting the weather than some modern TV pundits. But Yeshua’s point in these Messianic proverbs focused on spiritual discernment: how are we doing in analyzing the present time? Are we properly discerning the signs of the times?
A time to remember and mourn
In Micah 7:1-6 the prophet spoke about spiritual, ethical and political rot engulfing his entire country. In today’s Israel, Left and Right, secular and religious are all pointing an accusatory finger at each other during this season – each accusing the other of being the source of all rottenness. Local Messianic Jewish believers have also been influenced by these trends.
We have been tracking these general developments in five newsletters over the past six months (February 22, March 15, March 28, April 30, July 4). Fast approaching on the Hebrew calendar is the Jewish Memorial Day known as the Ninth of Av (Tish’a B’Av) – the exact day on which both the First and the Second Temples (Solomon’s and Herod’s) were destroyed (the first by Babylon and the second by Rome). The days of the Jewish calendar preceding the Ninth of Av are known as ‘the Dire Straits’ or ‘Bein ha’meitzarim.’ For Orthodox Jews this is a time of extreme sobriety, where Israel reminds herself of her sins (which led to the destructions of both Temples and our two exiles among the nations). For religious Jews, marriages and celebration (and even the eating of meat) are forbidden during this time. It is a time of spiritual mourning. Religious Jews try to avoid conflict with their fellow Jews during this time; this would include sidestepping civil disturbance and violent behavior.
Still waters run deep
God has been known at times to choose unusual spokesmen. Two biblical examples include a donkey and a professional curser/‘witch doctor’ like Balaam. The God of Israel sometimes turns to artists, musicians and actors as His mouthpieces when prophetic voices lack courage or remain silent. During the 1960’s, folk, pop and rock anthems were penned, pleading for the world to discern the signs of the times, to analyze what was going on at that ‘present time.’ These voices may not have spoken with clear revelation or full understanding, yet some of these songs stirred a generation to take a deeper look at what was happening. One such song was For What It’s Worth, written by Steve Stills and recorded by the rock group Buffalo Springfield.
Steve Stills wrote his rock anthem (considered one of the best protest songs of that period) on November 12, 1966 after observing police breaking up a hippie protest directed against an enforced 10 pm curfew at Sunset Strip clubs in West Hollywood. In the year 2000, this song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Some of the piercing lyrics include the following:
- “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear . . . I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down! . . . Battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong . . . A thousand people in the street singing songs and carrying signs, mostly saying, ‘Hooray for our side.’”
Still’s sympathies were obviously with the demonstrators, yet he wryly noted that American society seemed to be heading toward a kulturkampf, a clash of cultures. He realized that even ‘his side’ was prone to narcissistic self-justification, and that, unless sectarian trends were tweaked, the broader culture could be torn to shreds. His earnest plea was for everyone to stop, to take a deep breath and to consider what might bring unity and social healing to a divided nation – because the problems and solutions were not exactly clear. But one thing was sure: if left unattended, these infected wounds could end up destroying his beloved country.
This same soul-searching is needed in Israel today. As thousands demonstrate in an anarchistic manner against the government, blocking freeways, train stations and airports, screaming in front of politicians’ homes and offices, and with doctors calling wildcat strikes at major hospitals, the social fabric of Israel is fraying. When ex-politicians and ex-generals publicly call for Israel’s allies to abandon her, and for Israel’s army reserves to abandon their training and commitment to the IDF (an army highly dependent on its civilian contribution), most Western democracies would define such behavior as treasonous. When cells in a body start attacking other cells in that same body, most medical professionals would call this pathology ‘cancerous.’ How should these events in today’s Israel be defined?
The present victorious coalition in Israel is attempting to limit the self-usurped role of the judiciary in shaping the country. Yet a significant minority in the opposition is concerned and fearful about some of those changes: some do not trust extreme and influential minority elements in the coalition – elements with a proven record of thuggery and anti-democratic activities. Yet the pervasive fear tactics used by the puppet-masters of the minority opposition have whipped up anxiety among many of the undecided, stampeding them to join the marching masses and to oppose the coalition which has won recent elections with a significant majority. These civil disturbances have as their goal to shut down the country and to throw out the current government.
The whipping up of these fears has created a new dynamic – one which is leading to even deeper divisions among Israelis. Widening cracks are appearing on the surface of a country that has always pulled together in crisis.
Kamtza, Bar Kamtza and sinat hinam
For nearly 2,000 years, every time the Ninth of Av rolls in, Jewish people remember the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, two Jews who had a history of great bitterness between them (recounted in the Babylonian Talmud (TB) Gittin 55b-56a). A mistakenly sent missive to Bar Kamtza invited him to attend a feast at Kamtza’s mansion. Upon his arrival, Bar Kamtza was publicly embarrassed, humiliated and expelled by Kamtza from that celebration. The narrative explains: “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop [Kamtza], this shows that they agreed with him. [Bar Kamtza said] I will go and inform against them to the king. He went and said to Caesar, ‘The Jews are rebelling against you.’” The story continues, explaining that the Jewish religious rulers consulted a Sage and judge, Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas, to come up with an acceptable solution which would lower the flames on this potentially disastrous situation. Judge Ben Avkolas made what seemed to him to be a reasonable ruling, sticking with a status quo decision. Years later the famous Rabbi Yoḥanan bar Nafḥa declared: “The excessive humility of Rabbi Zekharya ben Avkolas destroyed our Temple, burned our Sanctuary, and exiled us from our land.”
The schwerpunkt of this story is that needless quarrels and internal tensions among the Jewish people actually catalyzed attacks by their Roman conquerors, leading to a major Jewish tragedy. The rabbis call this dynamic ‘wanton or baseless hatred’– sinat hinam in Hebrew – in their discussion in TB Yoma 9b:
- Due to what reason was the First Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there were three matters that existed in the First Temple: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and bloodshed . . . Why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was wanton [or baseless] hatred [sinat hinam] during that period. This comes to teach you that the sin of wanton hatred is equivalent to the three severe transgressions: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed.
King Solomon warns us: “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out” (Proverbs 17:14). When politicians stir up strife in order to achieve their goals and cement their control over the flock of Israel, sometimes these waters of division cannot be easily controlled or safely contained.
The nation of Israel needs your prayers – that the God of Jacob would still the turbulent waters roiling across the Promised Land, and restore a soft and repentant heart to His people speedily and in our day.
Years ago, a dear prophetic friend shared a spiritual principle with me. When one comes into a country or a specific geographical location, one enters into an area under specific spiritual strongholds and influences (as per Daniel 10:13, 20). For example, if one travels to a land where the enemy has invested heavily in manipulation, hierarchy and control – one needs to ask God to deal ruthlessly with one’s desire for hierarchical control. For if we come onto the spiritual battlefield having common ground with the enemy (see John 14:30), he will have an open door to amplify his own spiritual ‘radio signals’ through us. And we should not be surprised if we begin to see a rise of ungodly control and manipulation manifesting in our relationships there.
Israel is described in the Scriptures as struggling with specific national sins: rebellion against divine and Davidic authority (1 Kings 12:15-19); rebellion against the Word of God through establishing false traditions (Jeremiah 2:13); mocking the messengers of God, despising His words, scoffing at His prophets (2 Chronicles 36:16). These dynamics still influence aspects of the spiritual life of modern Israel: many scoff at the existence of God, the truth of the Scriptures, and the Messiahship of Yeshua, David’s Greater Son; a significant minority of Israelis hold to a rabbinically-catalyzed rebellion against the Messenger of the New Covenant and His followers; a significant minority of the population look fondly on civil disturbance, socialist revolution, and crude propaganda.
The Bible talks about malevolent and biting words associated with curling of the lip: “All they that see me laugh me to scorn. They shoot out the lip, they shake the head” (Psalm 22:7); “Behold, they belch out with their mouth. Swords are in their lips” (Psalm 59:7). Some Israelis finds themselves attacking each other with wanton hatred, employing hateful sarcasm and poisonous language to label and condemn others whose take on developments is opposed to their own. Some Israeli Messianic believers have fallen under similar influences.
- Can we take a moment or two and pray that God will purify the speech, not only of the sons of Levi (see Malachi 3:3) but also of all of Levi’s people? As Solomon noted, “one who loves purity of heart and whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend” (Proverbs 22:11).
In their hugely popular hit song “You can’t always get what you want,” the Rolling Stones sang about mass demonstrations in their generation, noting that sometimes protestors are actually looking forward to clashes with security forces, and often are quite happy to raise a ruckus: “I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse, singing, ‘We’re gonna vent our frustration; If we don’t we’re gonna blow a fifty-amp fuse.’”
How should we then pray?
- Pray for the healing touch of God – His heart and sanity – on Israelis who are caught up in baseless hatred
- Pray for God’s heart and perspectives to transform the hearts and minds of Israel’s politicians at all levels
- Pray for the raising up of Ezekiel’s prophetic Jewish army throughout the earth
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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