40 Days and Nights

The number 40 is a very intriguing number. It shows up 146 times in Scripture and it seems like it has 40 purposes. Testing, trial, probing, correction, warning, encouraging… it is likely we don’t even know all of God’s reasons behind the repetitive use of this number. For brevity sake, I won’t list every occurrence, but here are a few uses of this number as they appear in Scripture:

~ The rain fell on the earth for 40 days and nights while the family of Noah were safely aboard the Ark.

~ Moses spent 40 years in Egypt, 40 years in Midian, and then 40 years in the Wilderness. The latter with the rest of the Israelite’s who would not see the Promised Land.

~ The spies spent 40 days investigating the Land promised to Israel.

~ Jonah warned Nineveh for 40 days that their sins would bring about destruction.

~ Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days to symbolize the sins of Judah.

~ Elijah fasted for 40 days at Horeb while Yeshua (Jesus) fasted for 40 days and nights before his ministry began.

~ Saul, David, and Solomon each ruled for 40 years.

Obviously there are many more examples and one of the most amazing appearances of the number 40 isn’t even found within the text, it is that many believe that 40 different authors were used to write the Tanach (OT) and B’rit Chadashah (NT). That may or may not be true as Moses certainly didn’t record his own death and there are questions about a second author in Isaiah. Regardless, clearly the number 40 has great meaning to the God we serve.

The month of Elul

Friday evening the new moon (Rosh Kodesh) will be visible, and that celestial event, as it does every month, marks the beginning of the new biblical month. According to the Hebrew calendar, that month is called “Elul,” and Elul, a 30 day month, is somewhat of a somber month in that it precedes the holiest time of the year. This is the time of the year when one begins to do some serious introspection, repenting, and drawing closer to both God and to His will for you as an individual and for this nation (Israel) to which we belong. The month of Elul ends on Yom Teruah, the Day of Trumpets (aka, “Rosh Hashanah”) and that begins what has been traditionally called, “The Days of Awe.”

The Days of Awe are truly the time when one really digs deep within themselves and seeks to have God reveal to them anything that might indicate where they have fallen short of God’s expectations. It is also a time when one might seek to make right any wrongs we have with one another. Pride is set aside and we walk in pure humility before God and neighbor in a true spirit of reconciliation. These 10 days end at the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. This day has always been tied to not only our own sin, but the sins of our nation. It is a time of fasting, prayer, rebuilding, and maturing. It should be that we have been reminded of our sins while being made aware of those things we didn’t realize were sin. We then lay it all out before God cleaning the slate, if you will, before beginning the next annual cycle in our walk.

40 Days and Nights

If you did the math above, Elul being 30 days and the Days of Awe being 10, you realize that Friday evening marks the beginning of 40 days that end on Yom Kippur. I doubt that fact is incidental, in fact, recognizing it now almost seems like a call by God to make use of that time in a manner beneficial to not only us as we walk individually before our God, but also beneficial to our community at large. The closer we draw to God, and the more we walk in humility before Him AND our neighbor, the better our community (or nation) will function as a whole.

In the spirit of being United 2 Restore, I am suggesting that we all take at least some time out of each of the next 40 days to pray, repent, and reconcile so that we might receive not only forgiveness but also direction for the days ahead. All of us setting aside time each day will mean that as a united body we will stand together daily in prayer, lifting each other up. It also means that as we do this as one people, we will start to draw closer together and truly begin resembling a nation. To borrow part of a verse from Esther 4, if we have “come to the kingdom for such a time as this” then it is time that we collectively begin to act like citizens of that Kingdom. Let us take the next 40 days, beginning on Friday evening, Elul 1, to pray, repent, and reconcile to whatever degree we are capable of. May you be blessed and may HE be exalted!

If you are in agreement, I ask you to share this article with others. Shalom to you all!

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Restoration 101: Users Guide

Over the last three years or so, we have been using the phrase, “Revolution for Restoration.” So many people have come to this understanding and are in full agreement that the time is now to draw closer to one another awaiting the day that God makes us one in His hand. But how does one go about a revolution like this? What exactly is expected of each of us? How does this revival of epic proportions even begin?

Well, I would be entirely remiss if I didn’t begin by saying that this great revival begins when it is God’s timing for it to begin. We cannot force God’s hand in anything, He alone is God and He alone will do what he has appointed for Himself to do. With that said, the concept of restoration has become so prevalent throughout those who identify as Israel that perhaps this great gathering is closer than we might think? After all, why would so many have such a strong drive to unite with all of God’s Israel when just 40 years ago or less, this wasn’t even a consideration?

With His timing seemingly within reach, I find myself influenced by many aspects of Scripture as I consider those questions asked above. To address those questions I offer the following three points for consideration. Perhaps we all might glean something that we can use to discern God’s purpose for us in the days ahead?

1. Cycles of Righteousness – The Feasts of God (see Lev. 23) have been called “Cycles of Righteousness” by various teachers throughout time. The reason is that they run in an annual cycle and they each feature various aspects through which we can learn. They teach about the history that each feast was derived from, they carry a meaning that is relevant to the day in which you live, and they also point forward at work that God would do, in general, through His messiah. In doing this, the feasts reveal aspects of God’s heart and desire for His people as they reveal His righteousness. Since they repeat on an annual basis, they have been called, “Cycles of Righteousness.” The repetition of His Holy Days, year after year, helps to drive home the points being made, keep them fresh on our minds, and allow us to build on what we learned the prior year. The learning truly never ends.

For the purposes of this article, I am only going to look at an aspect of the first two fall feasts, Yom Teruah (Trumpets, AKA “Rosh Hashanah”) and Yom Kippur (atonement/ coverture). Yom Teruah is a high Sabbath that marks the beginning of the month of Tishri (generally in September) and traditionally the Jews have viewed this as the anniversary of the first day of Creation. It also marks the first of 10 days known as “the Days of Awe.” It is during these 10 days when one, traditionally, is expected to dig deep into oneself and recall all areas where they might have fallen short not only before God, but before each other. It is also the time when we ask God to reveal those areas where we fell unknowingly short. It is a time to reconcile our differences, repent and go and make peace between one another. We then stand before God at the end of those 10 days, on Yom Kippur, another High Sabbath and perhaps the highest of all, having reconciled any and all differences we had not only with God but with each other. It is a time of individual and national cleansing.

Revival can not come, restoration cannot happen, if we stand at odds with our brothers and sisters. God “hates” division among the brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19) and if we love God then we must love what He loves and hate what He hates. And if God hates division, then we must also hate division. Therefore, if we seek revival and restoration, we must take the Days of Awe very seriously and make peace with those we have wronged while repenting of those things we knew… and didn’t know of… before God.

2. Changing the culture – Our congregation has been following a triennial Torah Portion for the last 4 years or so. Last week we brought the book of Genesis to a close and when we did, a realization came to me. Joseph was able, seemingly single-handedly, to change the entire Egyptian culture. As we consider his time in Egypt, we see him begin as a slave with few personal rights. Yet despite all he had gone through in getting to Egypt, he retained a positive demeanor and managed to continue reflecting the character attributes of God. He impresses Potifer, makes an impact on at least one of his jail-mates, and then wins over Pharaoh to the point of being placed above all of Egypt, save for Pharaoh. His decisions and actions save the Egyptian people and through the entire process the Egyptians go from extreme xenophobia to an all out embracing of not just Joseph, but of Joseph and all the Israelites in that land. This is made obvious when Jacob dies, as all the elders of Egypt, including all the elders of Pharaoh’s house, travel with Joseph and his brothers to Canaan to bury Jacob. We even see that the Egyptians mourned over Jacob’s death for 70 days.

Joseph changed the culture of Egypt, not so much with words but with actions and a godly character. His walk reflected the one He served, which was Pharaoh perhaps in the flesh, but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in his soul. Joseph “walked in the name of YHWH.” This means he walked in a manner consistent with the character and reputation of YHWH and it was that, above all else, that changed the Egyptian culture. This is what happens when our walk does the talking. Words are fine, there are times to answer questions and share truths. But nothing speaks louder than a walk that consistently reflects the one we serve. The the world around us sees God in our actions, and even hears Him in our words, lives are changed.

3. Going to your brother – A friend and mentor of mine, Frank Houtz, read Matthew 5:23-24 at our last Sabbath meeting. Like so many verses before this one, I learned that I had been hearing this backwards despite reading it properly. The verses state that if you come to the altar with a gift and then remember that your brother has something against you, that you are supposed to go to him and reconcile this and then come back and offer that gift before God. This verse is not telling me to go apologize and make right something I did wrong to my brother, it is telling me to go and make peace with a brother who has a problem WITH ME. What a humbling realization! This verse is telling me to push the button marked “PRIDE” and go to a brother who might have wronged me, and make peace. This could mean that I have to walk away from that meeting allowing that brother to think he was right and I was wrong the entire time even if I wasn’t. Talk about humility! And do note, these verses are dealing with a “brother,” a fellow believer, not a stranger or enemy. Yet Yeshua’s statement is not unique… we have others like it. The ancient sages once taught that the ones on the receiving end of a wrong-doing have an obligation to present an opportunity for someone to reconcile a wrong they have committed against us. That isn’t us going into that situation saying, “Here I am, I was right, apologize to me,” it is us standing before them in humility hoping they too see the need to make this right and reconcile. We also have 1 John 4:20 which reads, “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”

There are more verses like this that extend from loving your neighbor in Lev. 19:18 to Proverbs 25:21 which commands us to feed even our enemies (Paul quotes this in Rom. 12:20). This line of thinking even extends to Yeshua saying, “turn the other cheek” when confronted with an evil person. The theme of these, seemingly; to humble ourselves before all others in a manner that encourages peace. Loving neighbor isn’t exactly the easiest command to follow because sometimes our neighbor isn’t as cooperative as we might like. Yet, God’s will is for us to love them and love is shown, not spoken.

Bringing it all together

Everything that has been shared to this point is dealing with our relationship to not only God but all those we encounter, whether “brethren” or not. Are we willing to humble ourselves before a brother who wronged us for the sake of peace? Can we find it within ourselves to offer food (or meet any other need) to an enemy? Are we able to love a neighbor who abhors us? Is it possible to walk among the strangers without compromising our values or allowing the light of the one we serve to diminish from within us? Can we change the culture we find ourselves in by reflecting the one we serve?

Brothers and sisters, I truly believe we are able to take all the correct steps but I also know it will take great commitment, strength, and humility. It all must begin with us on our knees, daily, in order to address our own shortcomings and repent of those areas we have fallen short in. It will take us reaching out to those we have wronged and making those situations right. But even more, it will take a willingness to reach out to those who have wronged us, making peace on our end while praying that they do the same from theirs. It will mean us truly walking Torah as the spirit of Torah has been revealed to us. It is no longer enough to claim we walk in Torah, it is time to let the world see the Torah in our walk. We know what to do, it is time to do it.

As the fall feasts approach, I encourage you to take this time to seek the face of God like you never have before. This Revival, this “Revolution for Restoration” begins with each one of us getting right with God and each other. We have an opportunity right here, right now… to become part of the answer rather than part of the problem. And as more and more of us accept the challenge to humbly become part of the answer, then we will change the culture in which we find ourselves and bless the nation of Israel at large to which we belong. This house is being rebuilt one stone at a time, and only through love, peace, and mutual understanding will each piece properly fit.

We are all standing at a fork in the road. One path leads to an extended visit in the wilderness while the other leads to the Promised Land. The former really doesn’t take much work, our pride alone almost guarantees a lengthy stay in the wilderness. The latter will take work, it will take great amounts of love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In other words, it can no longer be us, me, I… it has to be Him through us or restoration and revival will remain but a dream.

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United 2 Restore: from Concept to Quest

If we will find out tomorrow that the things dividing  us today will not be as important we we currently believe them to be, then perhaps it is time to put them aside and stand United 2 Restore.

I always wonder what each scene was like when the God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe, spoke to one of His prophets. Was it a loud thunderous voice or was it a soft-still voice? Was it the prophet’s own voice in his own head, just speaking things that were obviously beyond his ability to speak? Perhaps each time is different? In whatever method God used to speak to the prophet Ezekiel on this particular day, what he heard and recorded in what is now called Ezekiel chapter 37, has ramifications that appear to be relevant to us this very day. What is written in this chapter, and in particular the verses below, have become the foundation for what we call, United 2 Restore.

At some point, two people represented abstractly by two sticks, would become one in the hand of God. This event is one of the most prophesied events in biblical history yet remarkably one of the most misunderstood and over-looked. The two verses below, reveal a work that takes place before God makes the two sticks one in His hand:

37:16 “As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions.’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.’ (17) Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand.

We have two sticks, one is for Judah and the other for Joseph. The English translation here has Ezekiel joining them one to another into one stick. However, this doesn’t exactly capture the essence of the underlying Hebrew for this verse. The word translated as “join” is the word קרב ( qârav ) and it means: to bring or draw near, to approach. So instead of the idea that Ezekiel takes the two sticks and joins them so that they are one, it is his job to simply take the two sticks and treat them as if one… holding them close, drawing them near, until God does His work:

37:18 “And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, ‘Will you not show us what you mean by these?’– (19) say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand.”‘

The picture that should be taken from this is not that Ezekiel will come back from the dead and be the one who brings Judah and Joseph close to one another but rather that those who are part of these two sticks should recognize the need to draw close to one another until God makes the two one in His hand. We don’t make the two one, we don’t usher in the Kingdom… we simply recognize that God is going to do this work and we should accept this whether or not our current theology is in agreement or not. Of course, accepting this, and walking in one accord with those represented by the other stick, is not an easy task when we ponder some of the current theological differences between Judah and Joseph. But before addressing that, we need to make sure we understand the answer to the question, “Who is Judah and Joseph?”

Two Sticks, Two Houses, Two Nations, Two Witnesses, Two People

The glory years of Israel, as a nation, seem to be the years that David was king. When David died and Solomon became king, things were still good but as time went on the light that was the reign of David began to fade and when Solomon died, the nation of Israel divided into two different kingdoms. To the south went the tribe of Judah along with Benjamin and part of Levi. This kingdom was called “Judah” and they continued, more or less, to walk in the statutes and commandments of God. To the north went the remaining tribes and the picture presented by their lives is a stark contrast to Judah. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was seemingly full of corruption and idolatry. As time went on things only got worse and Israel continued to fall away from God. Despite prophetic warning, a rebellious Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was attacked by the Assyrians as punishment for their evil ways. Taken into captivity, and unrepentant, they eventually were scattered from Assyria into the nations as prophesied first in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 but repeated many times throughout the writings of the prophets. Though some returned, the vast majority, perhaps a million or more, did not. History records these Israelites as, “the lost sheep of the House of Israel.”

Judah remained in covenant but would itself taste a time of captivity for their own sins. Taken into Babylon, Judah would ultimately return during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and we know them today as the Jewish people. So if one of the sticks is for Judah, and Judah appears to be the Jewish people, then the Jews are one half of the picture presented by Ezekiel. The question then becomes, “Who is Israel?”

The answer is found in the words of Yeshua, commonly known today as Jesus. He stated in Matthew 15:24, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” In a sense he was doubling down, if you will, on a statement made earlier in Matthew 5 when he said to his disciples, “Go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” To what degree his message of “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17) relates to Judah can be the subject of future discussion. For the purposes of this article it seems clear that Yeshua was placing the weight of his mission on calling those who were still scattered into the nations and already known in that time and culture as “the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” For those who are not Jewish but who have come to see Yeshua as messiah, your identity should be clear. If he came to call the lost sheep of the House of Israel, and we have heard his voice and come in faith and his sheep hear his voice, then are we not the lost sheep of the House of Israel that he said he had come for? Is the other stick in the hand of Ezekiel made up of a group of people almost entirely ignorant of the fact that in the first century their “religion” was seen as a sect of Judaism? Would this also not mean that those who see themselves as “spiritual Israel” have simply lacked a piece or two of the puzzle that would have helped them see that instead of just “spiritual Israel,” they are in fact as much “Israel” as anyone can be? Two sticks, two people… the Jews and the Christians? Two witnesses, a great ones, as they have stood at odds over time yet have each, in their own ways, testified of the same God and the same coming Kingdom.

I realize that today the term “Christian” has a negative light in many circles. To the Jewish person it might represent turmoil considering the history of forced baptisms and in some cases death in the name of Jesus. Even within Christianity, there are certain sub-sects like the Hebrew Roots Movement or even Messianic Judaism which tend to shy away from the word for various reasons. I am not trying to offend by using it, I am simply trying to communicate, to make sure it is understood what is being stated here. The two sticks are two people, unique, separate, and only when God makes them one in HIS hand, do we cease being separate and unique.

Turning a Concept into a Quest

This is where the concept of United 2 Restore was born. In Ezekiel we have two sticks that represent two people. Once they were one, they divided and became two very different people, and one day they will be reunited and no longer so different. The picture that is provided in Ezekiel is one of mutual respect and understanding. You see, if Ezekiel was commanded to make them one, then either Judah becomes Joseph or Joseph becomes Judah… or war breaks out as either side attempts to make the other like themselves. Instead, Ezekiel was told to “draw them near,” not make them one. So, we draw near to one another but remain unique and separate until God makes us one. This means we need to learn to respect one another, get along with one another, knowing that God is going to do a mighty work, again, whether that work agrees with our current understanding and theology or not! It will happen because that is what God has stated will happen.

Yet, being United 2 Restore goes beyond just Judah and Joseph. We have the Samaritans out there who are part of Joseph and are said to be a people of 1000 today but who are likely in the millions and don’t know it because of their years in exile as well. They, as a people, are largely ignored by Judah and all but unknown to the rest of Joseph. But addition to a group like the Samaritans, we have a great obstacle that still, to this day, stands before us… racism!

As we watch the daily news feeds we see people fighting and separating based on the color of their skin. This problem might actually be exasperated by the people of God because we are well aware of the fact that God created all human-kind regardless of skin color. And yet, especially on the side of Joseph, we have congregations that are all black or all white. I know of places where a black Baptist church and a white Baptist church appear on the same street, within 100′ of one another. Between 10:00 and 10:15am on a Sunday morning, 100 cars come down that road, park, and the congregants go their separate ways. We are still segregated and in our holy meeting rooms of all places. Friends, if WE can’t get the racial problem right, how can we expect the world to have a chance at getting it right?

Being United 2 Restore means understanding that God’s plan of reunification is apparently a little larger than our own theological understanding. Though we should each hold on to the essence of what makes us each who and what we are, we should also be able to recognize that God, ultimately, will make two separate groups of people into one. Recognizing this requires us to at least draw near to one another, to acknowledge that, though the eyes of God, we are indeed family. What does draw near look like? Well, that is probably better left up to each individual and their current level of understanding. Still, we are to draw near, draw close, understand the fact that even if today we are separated by seemingly miles of theological points, through the eyes of God, all of His people are the same one family, the same one body, the same one house, the same one nation. To the eternal (timeless) God, this is already a done deal and it is our understanding of this that needs to catch up to God.

Thus being United 2 Restore means sacrificing for the good of the whole. It means that we are to understand that the nation is more important than the individual. It means that obscure doctrinal points (like pronunciations of names for example) are simply not more important than the well being of the community to which we belong. Being United 2 Restore means respecting one another even if we don’t agree on every point of understanding because one day, in God’s timing, we will stand together before Him as one. And friends, the things that we have allowed to divide us today, those things that we have allowed to stand between us and our drawing near as the picture in Ezekiel reveals… will no longer carry the weight that they seem to carry today. And if we will find out tomorrow that the things dividing  us today will not be as important we we currently believe them to be, then perhaps it is time to put them aside and stand United 2 Restore.

We ask you, Israel, whoever and wherever you are, to stand with us, add your voices to ours, become part of a Revolution for Restoration… turn a simple concept presented by a humble prophet into a quest that will one day change the world. Become part of an awakening that was started by God but that currently rests to draw near to all who are His until the glorious day that He makes us one in His hand. Blessed be the day when we are one, and blessed be He that makes us one!

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