Serving Jesus through discipleship

Archive for the tag “Israel”

The Rabbi as Shepherd

The image of the shepherd and his sheep is frequently used in Scripture as a metaphor for the relationship between God and his people. Not only that, God often chose shepherds to lead His people. Abram, Moses and Davie for example were all experienced shepherds. This image sent a powerful message to the people of Israel because even to this day, a flock of sheep in Israel is dependent on the shepherd for survival. Israel is not a land of knee high grass and abundant water. The shepherd must lead the sheep daily to graze on short tufts of grass an hillsides and to drink from widely scattered sources of water. Without the shepherd’s leading, the flock would die.

The shepherd/sheep image describes the intimacy, dependence, obedience and faithfulness that characterize the rabbi/disciple relationship as well. The rabbi walks ahead and leads his disciples by his voice. Just as sheep follow their shepherd without understanding why the shepherd leads where he leads, disciples follow the rabbi by faith, trusting him to lead them in the right way to the right place. Following the rabbi is just as much a matter of life and death for the disciple as it is for the sheep that follow the shepherd.


Shepherd (Photo credit: AfghanistanMatters)

In contrast to sheep who follow their shepherd, goats often wander on their own, away from the shepherd’s chosen path, the “path of righteousness.” Goats require extra attention from the shepherd because they think they know a better path.

In light of this, consider what Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-46, particularly verses 32-34, 41: “He will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on His right, “Come you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire.” The key difference between the sheep and the goats is that the sheep obeyed the shepherd; they did what He would do. The goats on the other hand, had no interest in what concerned the shepherd.


Practicing Faith in Community

They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law. – Mark 1:21-22

Originally the synagogue was not a specific building but a place where God‘s people gathered in His presence around His Living Word. It was sometimes called a place of prayer, because in the Jewish mind the verb translated pray means worship as well as prayer. Synagogue began before Solomon’s temple was destroyed, but the practice became essential to the Jewish faithduring the exile.

Ruins of the ancient synagogue in Kibbutz Bar'...

Ruins of the ancient synagogue in Kibbutz Bar’am in Northern Israel. The ruins are located within the site of the ancient village of Kfar Bar’am, about three kilometers from the Lebanese border. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As exiled Jews returned to the land of Israel, they brought synagogue – the practice of coming together as a community to study and worship in God’s presence – with them. by the first century in Israel, larger community buildings were built to serve as meeting places for synagogue. Soon the name synagogue was applied to the buildings where community study and worship of the Scriptures took place. So, during Jesus’ time, the synagogue was both a place and a group of people engaged in seeking God through the study of Scripture and prayer.

Synagogues played an important role in the lives of religious Jews who lived along the north and northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Although the Jews traveled to the temple in Jerusalem to worship three times a year, they worshipped regularly with family, friends and neighbors in the local synagogue. The Torah scrolls were kept in the synagogue, so people went there to read and study the scriptures and listen to the rabbis proclaim their interpretations of the text. Their children attended synagogue schools where they learned to read, write and memorize the text. Thus the community worship, expressed in a handful of small synagogues in Galilee, contributed greatly to the disciples’ preparation to follow Jesus, their Rabbi and become like Him in every way.

Christians today tend to think that the theology and teaching of the Pharisees was all wrong, but it was not. The Pharisees were faithful Jews who worked hard to obey God in all they did. That’s why they had so many applications of Bible texts: they were trying to obey God! Jesus called some of the Pharisees hypocrites because they didn’t practice their own teaching (and some of their own writings criticize this as well). Some other Pharisees were so set in their interpretations of the Scriptures that they refused to consider the interpretations of others – including the interpretations of Jesus. Despite their imperfections, the Pharisees made knowledge of the Scriptures and obedience to God top priorities in life.

Although many Christians today think that Jesus called His disciples away from the Jewish faith and community, that is not the case. Jesus and His disciples continued to participate in community life, including synagogue worship, throughout His ministry. Even when His disciples went out into the world beyond Israel, they sought out and continues to be a part of the faith community of the synagogue. This is not to suggest that you must join a synagogue to follow Jesus, but active involvement in a faith community is necessary.

Shrines of the Heart

A Shrine is defined the Encarta Dictionary as an object or place revered for its associations or history. There are other definitions as well, but this is the definition that serves for today’s discussion.

Heart is defined by the same dictionary as the source and center of emotional life, where the deepest and sincerest feelings are located and a person is most vulnerable to pain. Again there are other definitions which may apply to this discourse.

One of the many small shrines in the Imamiya S...

One of the many small shrines in the Imamiya Shrine complex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So a shrine of the heart is an object or place that is revered as the central element of our emotional life. For many that shrine is money! For others, the shrine is sex. Others may value cars, houses, boats, motorcycles, etc. In today’s political climate, some of these shrines may be abortion, so-called gay rights, women’s rights and other rights granted by the government such as welfare, humanism, etc. I think it would be safe to say that these shrines are our modern day idols. These ideas/ideals are increasingly consuming our time, talent and treasure; the resources God granted to us to do his will. Instead of dedicating these resources back to God’s work, we are chasing these vain idols.

Idolatry is nothing new! I have a theory that all sin is idolatry (think about it). The sin of Adam and Eve was putting their own pleasure before honoring God.

In Ezekiel 14:3 – 5, God again deals with idolatry in His people:

Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and have put right their faces their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?

Therefore, speak to them and tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD God, Any man of the house of Israel who sets up his idols in his heart, puts right before his face his stumbling block of his iniquity, and then comes to the prophet, I the LORD will be brought to give him an answer in the matter in view of the multitude of his idols, in order to lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel who are estranged from Me through their idols.”

God further tells Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel to repent and quit separating themselves from Him.

Our culture is becoming farther and farther removed from God. So much so, that even the church is moving away from God and taking up idolatry. You, however can be a change agent in your local church. It only takes one to start the movement. You and I can start by examining ourselves and tearing down those shrines that we have built that are squeezing God out and asking him to be Lord of our lives. It will be hard but it is necessary. Christian, repent.

Prove It

How many times has someone told you to “prove it” when you were telling a story of amazing events? I’ll bet it is not a few. Imagine this conversation:

1st person: “I aced my math test!”

2nd person: “You probably cheated!”

1st person: “No I didn’t!”

2nd person: “Prove it!

It doesn’t matter if you have proof or not. The doubting person in all likelihood will not believe you anyway because he doesn’t want to believe you!

I have often wondered why the Israelites continually disobeyed God. When you consider the miracles of the scriptures like the exodus, the battle of Jericho, Gideon’s battle with the Midianites, David and Goliath, etc, it would be a stretch to believe that those things happened and still rebel against God. In the case of the exodus, the people watched the miracles happen and still did not trust God. To not believe has to be an act of the will.

English: Ahab was king of Israel and the son a...

English: Ahab was king of Israel and the son and successor of Omri (1 Kings 16:29-34). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still God did not abstain from showing His power to the nation Israel. During the rule of Ahab (1 Kings 16:29 through 1 Kings 22:40), Ahab (and Israel) engaged in idolatry to the extent that God performed several miracles. In one of the miracles, God prompted Elijah to prove to Ahab and the Israelites that God was worthy to be worshiped. The BAAL worshippers were to set up an alter to Baal and Elijah was to set up an alter to the God of Israel. The deity that consumed the sacrifice on the alter would be proven to be worthy. The prophets of Baal called on their god all day to consume the sacrifice to no avail. Elijah called on the God of Israel once, at the time of the evening sacrifice, to consume the offering. Not only did God consume the sacrifice with fire but consumed the altar that it was on as well as the stones of the altar, the ashes under the altar and the water that surrounded the altar. Sounds to me like God was saying, “I’ll show you!” At this point, Jezebel, Ahab’s significant other, vowed to kill Elijah because he discredited (and killed) the prophets of her god.

Ahab? You will have to read the rest of the story for yourself and it will become clear that Ahab did not fear the Lord God of Israel.

Does God perform miracles today? I say, “Yes!” You don’t hear about them and the few people that do hear about them don’t believe them. What good would it do? If we don’t believe that the miracles of the Scriptures happened, why would we believe God is active today?

Do you believe your Bible stories?

The Wisdom of Solomon

God promised king David that his son would rule Israel, and God kept that promise through Solomon. Shortly after assuming the throne, Solomon prayed to God for the wisdom to rightly judge God’s people. Because Solomon did not ask for riches for himself but asked for the wisdom to serve God, he was granted great wisdom as well as the riches that he didn’t ask for. The wisdom of Solomon was legendary throughout the middle east. In 1 Kings 10, we find the story of how the queen of Sheba visited Solomon just to determine for herself if the stories of his wisdom were true.

English: The Gates of Paradise-Solomon

English: The Gates of Paradise-Solomon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is from Solomon that we have the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. At least sixteen times in the book of Proverbs, Solomon speaks about the benefits of the fear of the Lord. “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”, “fear of the Lord is the fountain of life”, and so on. In 1 Kings 11, we find that Solomon disobeys God by loving “many foreign women”. Because of his disobedience, the kingdom of Israel was removed from his house.

What happened to Solomon’s wisdom? What happened to “the fear of the Lord”? I believe what happened is the same thing that happens to us; the lust of the flesh and pride. I believe Solomon let his fame go to his head. He probably started thinking that the wisdom he had was his own rather than a gift from God. Because of his wealth, he felt he was entitled to the things of this world. He forgot that the wealth that he had was not his but God’s and was to be used for God’s purposes. Because of this, the kingdom was removed from him.

Is it any different for us? How much of God’s time, talent and treasure, which He has given to us to manage, are given back to Him and used for His glory? How much of God’s riches do we selfishly squander on our own pleasure incurring His displeasure? How long will He tolerate this before removing His Kingdom from us? Is Jesus your Lord? THINK ABOUT IT!

Doing the Right Thing

English: David's Grief Over Absolom; as in 2 S...

English: David’s Grief Over Absolom; as in 2 Samuel 18:24-33; illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Wednesday, in my devotional Bible reading, King David was fleeing for his life from Absolom his son who had usurped his power. I noted that Shimei, the son of Gera was throwing stones at David and his party as they were fleeing Israel. Joab, David’s servant wanted to kill Shimei, but David had mercy on him.

In today’s reading, Absolom, David’s son is dead and David is returning to Israel from his exile. David is in mourning for his son Absolom. The people of Israel were confused to say the least. What should have been a time of joy, the king’s enemies were dead, was instead a time of mourning. The people went by stealth into the city, as if they were humiliated. Seeing that the king’s demeanor was affecting the people, Joab the king’s servant and friend said to him, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives and of your concubines, by loving those who hate you and hating those who love you; for I know this day that if Absolom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the LORD, if you do not go out, surely not a man will pass the night with you, and this will be worse for you that all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.”

So David did as Joab advised him and sat in the city gate and all the people of Israel come to him. They argued among themselves that he had delivered them from the Philistines and they should reinstate him as king.

Finally, David was reinstated as king of Israel. As he was returning to Jerusalem, Shimei met him on the road to apologize for his earlier behavior. Again, one of David’s servants, Abishai, advised that Shimei be put to death. David’s response was “Should any man be put to death in Israel today? For do I not know that I am King over Israel today?”

Isn’t David’s reaction to Shimei Christ like? Although, because of our sin, we deserve death; yet because of our repentance we receive grace. Because of God’s grace, Jesus paid our sin debt and we received justification. It doesn’t quite sound fair, does it?

Your thoughts?

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