Be Stirred, Not Shaken

"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled…" ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands…" ~ II Tim. 1:6

Tag: holy days

Book of Ecclesiastes & the Feast of Tabernacles

A while back I was speaking with someone and they mentioned their group was getting ready to go through the book of Ecclesiastes, and they weren’t really looking forward to it. They said they’d always kind of struggled with this book and found it depressing and nihilistic—basically “life sucks and then you die”.

I was surprised. Apparently I’m in the minority, but I’ve always loved Ecclesiastes. In college it was my go-to set of scriptures (along with the latter half of Romans 8) when I was having a bad day, when I felt shaky on my foundation, when I needed a dose of perspective. What I’ve always taken from Ecclesiastes is that buying into this carnal and physical world—the pleasures, the pursuits, the ambition, the struggles—is ultimately a path to destruction.

If I were to paraphrase Ecclesiastes, it would be thus:  all you try to accomplish on your own on a physical level will eventually pass away, so look to God now and follow His ways above all else and you will succeed. To me that is actually a very encouraging, inspiring message. We may have it hard in this life or we may have it easy, but the only thing that ends up mattering is not how far we got in our career or how big our house was, but how much our character reflects Christ’s.

A few weeks later while studying the holy days and their meanings, I learned that the book of Ecclesiastes is traditionally read by the Jews every year during the Feast of Tabernacles. I didn’t see the immediate connection, so I decided to look into it more. And the more I studied, the more it made sense and gave one of my favorite books of the bible even deeper meaning.

The Book of Ecclesiastes Summed Up

At its heart, Ecclesiastes asks the question, “In what direction is your life headed? Toward man or toward God? Toward death or toward life?” In its very lyrically-written 12 chapters, the narrator tries to find fulfillment and happiness through all the things man values—seeking after human wisdom, the pleasures of food and drink, great accomplishments, hard work, wealth, having children. His take on it all? It’s all vanity (futile, meaningless). People live and die, civilizations rise and fall, everything in life has a time and purpose, but it all eventually passes away. All of the work of man will come to nothing, and only God’s way works and lasts.

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The Day of Atonement & Covering the World

The meaning of the Day of Atonement

When I was a kid, I was told that the meaning of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was “at-one-ment”, or becoming one with God.  For something that’s a linguistic lucky coincidence, it’s surprisingly not too far off in terms of the end result, but it’s also a massively over-simplistic view of the Day of Atonement and misses a lot of the day’s meaning.

In fact, as a kid I always had trouble connecting this idea of “becoming one with God” or drawing near to Him (which seemed like a good thing) with the command to fast on this holy day (which seemed like a bad thing, like I was being punished somehow).

The day’s name itself tells us that there’s more to the story, though.  Kippur means “expiation”—making amends for something, reparation of guilt and that guilt being cancelled, or when another takes the punishment for sin.  Kippur comes from the root word kaphar, which means to placate, reconcile, extend mercy, cancel, or cover over.  The Israelites were told that the Day of Atonement was a sabbath of solemn rest, when they were to afflict their souls and the priest was to make atonement (literally “covering”) for them, to cleanse them from all their sins (Lev. 16:30-31).

It’s the concept of “covering” that this study dives into.  Like two sides of a coin, there are two separate-but-related “covering” aspects of the Day of Atonement and drawing near to God.  The first is Christ’s sacrifice covering the sins of (by finally being applied to) the whole world, while the second involves removing the covering (or veil) that Satan has cast over the whole world to separate them from God.

One way to look at God’s holy day plan is as two harvest seasons that kind of mirror each other—the firstfruits in the spring, and the rest of mankind in the fall.  In this scenario, the Day of Atonement is really the flip side, or final fulfillment, of the Passover.  When Jesus gave His life and was resurrected, He made it possible for humans to receive God’s spirit, have their sins wiped clean, and eventually become spirit beings as God’s children in the kingdom.  As He breathed His last, the veil on the temple sealing off the Holy of Holies was ripped from top to bottom, granting initial individual direct access to God.

However, this access to God’s spirit is currently only extended to a small group of people, His firstfruits.  In the final fulfillment of the Day of Atonement after Christ’s return, His sacrifice will be applied to all mankind, their sins will be blotted out, and the dark veil that shrouds the world (along with its creator, Satan) will be entirely, permanently removed (Is. 25:6, Lev. 16, Rev. 20).

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Year of Jubilee & Pentecost — Inheritance & Freedom

“Count Fifty”:  Pentecost & the Year of Jubilee

Fifty is an interesting number in the bible.  Many significant numbers (such as seven or twelve) have common threads that show up throughout the entire bible and weave in and out, but there are only a few places where the number fifty is of great significance.

In general, fifty symbolizes complete perfection, the completing of a cycle, or the ending of an old cycle and beginning of a new one.  The concept of firstborn or firstfruits is also associated with the number fifty.  For instance, God redeemed the tribe of Levi as a substitute for the firstborn of the land of Israel, and consecrated them to serving Him in the tabernacle.  Levites would begin service in the temple at age 30, and finish their service at the age of 50 (Num. 4:3, 39, 43, 47).  The tabernacle itself, and later the temple, was measured off in various segments of fifty curtain loops, knobs, cubit lengths, etc. (Ex. 26, 27, 30, 36, 38).

And then there are two major events in the bible that revolve around the number fifty.  The command for the first is found in Leviticus 23, where God outlines the Feast of Firstfruits, or Pentecost.

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath [during the Days of Unleavened Bread], from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord…they shall be holy to the Lord for the priest” (Lev. 23:15-17, 20).

The Israelites are told to count seven cycles of seven days (symbolizing perfect completeness), and on the next (eighth) day, to observe a holy convocation.  This holy day also included a peace offering, which was a joyful celebration, symbolic of eating a meal with God.

The second event, the Year of Jubilee, was commanded only a few verses later:

“And you shall count seven Sabbaths of years for yourself, seven times seven years; and the time of the seven Sabbaths of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, on the Day of Atonement you shall make the trumpet to sound throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you; and each of you shall return to his possession, and each of you shall return to his family” (Lev. 25:8-10).

Leviticus goes on to explain that the fiftieth year was to be a rest for the land (coming on the heels of a 49th year rest as well), “neither sow nor reap what grows of its own accord, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine” (Lev. 25:11).  But more importantly, inherited land that had been lost or sold reverted back to the original family owners.

God, in His omnipotence, knew that despite all the measures He instituted in Israel to maintain economic and societal equality, some people would still get themselves in way over their heads—drowning in debt, without family to fall back on, unable to support their families.  While all of Israel had received land as an inheritance in the Promised Land, some would give up or lose their inheritance through misfortune, ineptitude, or negligence and be forced to sell themselves into slavery or indentured servitude.  The Year of Jubilee was the societal failsafe.

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Passover & the Days of Unleavened Bread: Our Betrothal to Jesus Christ

There are myriad topics, allegories, and themes that can be used to learn about God’s holy days. It’s always interesting to see what filters or “lenses” I’m viewing the holy days through each year as they come and go, particularly during the Passover season. This year there have been a few larger themes playing through my mind, in particular the holy days as picturing the marriage of Jesus Christ to His anointed bride. Passover represents each and every one of us individually, as well as us collectively, entering into covenant with God and Jesus Christ. There are two types of covenants symbolized here—blood and marriage. It’s the marriage covenant and what it can teach us that I’m focusing on here.

The Bride of Christ

When looked at through one filter, the bible is a love story.  It is the story of God bringing the whole world into His family, starting with His Son and His bride.  In studying the marriage customs of ancient Israel, we can see how the holy days are an allegory for this process.  We’re told in Revelation of the actual wedding ceremony in heaven, the marriage supper of the Lamb. “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory,” John relays, “for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:7).  This happy occasion does not happen out of the blue, though.  Instead, there are several important steps in this relationship that bring the bride and Groom to this point.   If we tried to look at the marriage allegory only through our modern wedding rituals, we’d miss much of the deep and rich meaning laid out for us.  It’s not perfect and all-encompassing—all analogies and allegories break down at a certain point—but the spring holy days help teach us about God’s relationship to us and how He will bring us into His family as His son’s pure bride.

Christ frequently used the rituals of this very familiar, very exciting event to illustrate things about Himself and what would happen in the future.  He based several parables and sayings around marriage, including that of the marriage supper (Matt 22:2), the ten virgins (Matt 25:6, 10), and the bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20).  Paul took this theme further, telling us that “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church”, and that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church—even laying down His life for her (Eph. 5:23, 25).

Weddings in ancient Israel consisted of three main stages:  contract, consummation, and celebration. The contract stage, which is largely pictured by the spring holy days, involved making the marriage contract, paying the bride price and giving the bride gifts, and the departure of the groom, after which both bride and groom made themselves ready for the coming ceremony, consummation, and festivities.

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